Michael Yon says that we who oppose the Iraq War should stop drawing grand conclusions from the Haditha incident until we know all the facts:

In the absence of clear facts, most people know that a rush to judgment serves no one. What word, then, properly characterizes the recent media coverage of Haditha, when analysis stretches beyond shotgun conclusions to actually attributing motive and assigning blame? No rational process supports a statement like: “We don’t know what happened, but we know why it happened and whose fault it is.”

Yon goes on to say that delays and coverups are bad, too. They “only make a bigger mess that is harder to clean up.” He seems to me to be a clear-headed guy trying to stay above partisan positions. If you read his post, which I recommend, please do so without preconceived ideas about Yon’s political agenda. I’m not sure I agree with his positions entirely, but they’re worthy of consideration.

But something else struck me about the post. He has witnessed, he said, some accidental killings of Iraqi civilians by American soldiers. One of the Iraqis was a child:

I was present on a day in Baquba when there was a controlled blast of some captured munitions, and somehow the guard towers had not been informed of the upcoming explosion. When the blast occurred, there were children playing near the perimeter, and they flushed and ran. A young guard fired on the children, killing one. He thought they had triggered the blast, something children had often done. I sat up in that same guard tower a day or so later. Soldiers will always talk during nighttime guard duty. The men in his platoon were very upset about the incident, as was the soldier himself. He made the wrong decision, but despite that he had not been warned about the explosion, and that Baquba was a dangerous place where we regularly were losing soldiers, he might never forgive himself.

Yon describes a trend among insurgents in Mosul to kill children who get too close to American soldiers. The enemy, he says, murders children on a daily basis. Yon is not making a “they do it, too” excuse, just creating context. Iraq is a very dangerous place. Mistakes will happen.

Yes, they will, which is a big reason why a military solution was the wrong tool for our political goals in the Middle East.

Back in April 2004, when the war was only a year old, Gen. John Abizaid, said “There is not a purely U.S. military solution to any of the particular problems that we’re facing here in Iraq today.” I’m going further, and saying that a purely U.S. military solution isn’t and never was appropriate to the problems we were or are facing in Iraq, or the Middle East, or from global terrorism. We who oppose the war for its brutality and injustice should not forget to make this point.

Let’s step back from the war for a minute and think about grand strategy, or America’s primary political goals in the Middle East. I realize that the Bush Administration’s explanations of those goals have wandered all over the map. I want also to make a clear distinction between goals and motivations — whatever dark impulses motivated Bush and Crew to become fixated on Iraq is another topic entirely.

The grand objective, as near as I can tell, is to counter Islamic terrorism by enabling a more secure, prosperous, democratic, and pro-western Middle East. And, hey, that sounds like a plan. It even (dare I say it?) sounds like a liberal approach to dealing with Islamic terrorism.

Problems come into view as we get closer, however. This strategic approach was developed by that collection of overeducated twits known as the “neoconservatives.” While Bill Clinton was in the White House, the neocons huddled at Project for a New American Century, hatching bold ideas about “benevolent global hegemony,” meaning American domination of the planet, and securing America’s status as the World’s Only Superpower — now and forever. Think old-fashioned nativism gone way proactive. For more on PNAC’s plans, see Bernard Weiner’s PNAC Primer.

Even though most[*] of the neocons got their military education from watching John Wayne movies — or from the mint condition first edition set of Horatio Hornblower books they found in Father’s upstairs study one day when Nanny was distracted — they see themselves as a tough, hairy-chested bunch not given to the womanly pursuits of diplomacy. Why bother, when we’ve got the biggest, baddest motherbleeping military on the planet?

In the 1990s the neocons devised a plan to politically restructure the Middle East, beginning with Iraq. By means of “preemptive war,” the U.S. would remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Once this was accomplished, the Good Democracy Fairy would flit about the land, spreading the pixie dust of free market capitalism, and they would all live happily ever after. When the other Middle East nations saw how happy Iraq was, they’d want a visit from the Good Democracy Fairy, too. And if not, well, we have the biggest, baddest motherbleeping military on the planet. No problemo.

Well, OK, I made up the part about the fairy. But a search through PNAC’s own Clinton-era archives on Iraq reveals that the neocons were adamant that Saddam Hussein must be removed, by force of arms if necessary, and before U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan could carry out his own evil schemes in the region. But the PNACers were always a little hazy on the “what comes next” part.

The neocons wasted no time after the 9/11 attacks re-framing their Iraq plans as an antiterrorist measure. Late in 2001 PNAC executive director Gary Schmitt wrote, ominously, “If two or three years from now Saddam is still in power, the war on terrorism will have failed.” The reasoning behind this conclusion, however, was based on facts not in evidence, or even in reality. Saddam, Schmitt said, was behind the September 11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax attacks; he possessed weapons of mass destruction up the yinyang, and he is determined to strike the United States.

As we’ve learned from the Downing Street Memos and elsewhere, the Bush Administration adopted this argument and had already made up its feeble collective mind to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein by March 2002. Thus, after a year of ritualized saber-rattling that served various political ends, we invaded.

The unpleasant side effects of the White House obsession with Iraq are many. Partly because of a loss of focus on Afghanistan, the bulk of al Qaeda slipped across the Afghanistan border and has morphed into something more dangerous and scattered throughout as many as 90 countries. Our activities in Iraq are costing the U.S. somewhere between $6 billion and nearly $10 billion a month, which I’m sure the government of Iran considers money well spent. The Pentagon’s counter-insurgency offensives in Iraq, which have resulted in the loss of thousands of civilians, are a major source of anti-American sentiment in the region. And Iraq appears to be growing less secure. “The American project in Iraq is unraveling,” says David Ignatius in today’s Washington Post.

Let’s see, what were those original political goals again? To counter Islamic terrorism by enabling a more secure, prosperous, democratic, and pro-western Middle East? Yeah, we’re doing a heck of a job.

I come from a family with a tradition of American military service going back to the Revolution. So although I was never in the military, I want to think well of our soldiers and Marines and give them lots of benefits of doubts. Many of you will disagree, I’m sure. But I think that if any good comes from our misbegotten Iraq adventure it will be from the hard work and dedication of our troops.

But regarding our principal political goals in the Middle East, a military solution was the wrong solution. Even against the terrorists who no doubt would like to strike the U.S. again, the military should be only part of the toolkit. There are times when a military solution is very appropriate — I certainly didn’t mind going after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But it’s one thing to send troops after objectives like al Qaeda training camps, and another to send troops to spread American hegemony or to make the world safe for free markets.

Soldiers are not diplomats, or ambassadors, or policemen. And they’re also not robots who won’t make regrettable mistakes, or who never snap under stress.

Sometimes when I’ve badmouthed the war, some rightie will come along and sneer, What is it about bringing democracy to the Middle East you don’t like? And, y’know, I’m fine with bringing democracy to the Middle East. And if it could be done by means of a military solution, maybe that would be an argument for the Iraq War. But real-world examples of formerly totalitarian nations that were democratized successfully by means of a military intervention by another nation are darn hard to come by.

As I explained in more detail here, Japan after World War II is not a pure example. By a constitution adopted in 1889, Japan had established a democratically elected parliament long before World War II. Early in the 20th century Japan made serious strides toward democratizing itself before the military establishment seized power in the 1930s. People who understand Japan better than I do tell me the government of Japan after the war is not as different from the government of Japan before the war as most American imagine.

So can anyone think of another example of a nation “restructured” from totalitarianism to democracy by an invading force? I’m drawing a blank.

When we “discuss” the war we all tend to get drawn into issues like the number of civilians and soldiers killed or the evils of war profiteering by military contractors. But while our President continues to make surreal, meaningless speeches promising “victory,” we need to turn the argument away from whether a military victory can be achieved to whether our political objectives can be achieved.

Because we can always achieve military victory. I suspect we still are capable of rendering the entire nation of Iraq into a lifeless wasteland if we put our minds to it. But I doubt that would have the desired effect of enabling a more secure, prosperous, democratic, and pro-western Middle East

[*] Please note that the word most is not a synonym of all, so those of you who attempt refute this post by naming the few PNAC members will real military backgrounds will be subject to merciless ridicule.

10 thoughts on “Tools

  1. “those of you who attempt refute this post by naming the few PNAC members will real military backgrounds will be subject to merciless ridicule.”

    Always happy to help, maha. Just let me know who needs ridiculing, and how much. I’ll make ’em cry and then tell their mamas about it.

  2. Excellently stated, in my humble opinion, maha. I don’t disagree with a single word of it and I appreciate your mention of the “political” objectives that are necessary to focus on. Just throwing up our hands and saying, “Eh. Made a mistake. Sorry about that,” is not what I hope the left is saying.
    We’ve got some tough choices and difficult work ahead if we’re to try and make anything of this hash we’ve been left with. We sent in the mititary and they did above and beyond what was expected of them. The fault does not lie with them.
    The next step should be made by the wiser heads of our nation (wherever they may be!) along with the international community. And I think that what our nation needs to learn most of all is – how to listen.

  3. I am very cautious about things like Hadita. My first response to hearing about it is to I blame the idiot politicians who placed them in that situation by starting a war they had no idea how to finish, with vague objectives to accomplish and then keeping them in a place where anyone could try to kill you (and occasionally does) for years on end through frustrating backdoor (stop-loss) policies.

    In that kind of environment it’s all to easy to see mistakes happening. But I disagree with Yon and I disagree with him strongly whenever he talks about the openess of the military and when he gives examples it looks for more like they are trying ton influence him than just saying “write what you saw.”

    Moreover, we have seen time and time again that they are not very open. Many times it HAS taken that “reporters prybar” to get them to take serious action rather than a perfunctory adherence to law and then sweep it under the rug. Now, I can understand that — they have a job to do. But maybe because I am trying to become an attorney I feel than an adversarial relationships between the press and the military (and the government in general) is healthy. Neither side should lie. But the military should force the press to dig for the whole story, and the press should have the guts to do it anything else I think is not only mistake but far too easy to turn to advantage by either side or third parties.

    …and Sam, I really don’t think there is anything anyone can do anymmore, I think we have failed.

  4. I read Micheal Yon’s article carefully and also scrutinized his online magazine. And I think he has much in common with Rumplestiltskin, one spins straw into gold and the other spins yarns into gold.. But that’s just me, a typical New Yorker always looking for the hook.

  5. When my son was in Iraq as a machine gunner on a humvee, he had to make decisions constantly. Once a car was coming fast and did not move over when repeatedly signaled to do so. Training his gun on it at the last second the Iraqi man looked up and saw he was about to be killed and took his hands off the steering wheel and rolled off the road- he had just not been paying attention. I’m just glad my son didn’t shoot and have to live with it- also another time he almost blew away a SUV full of special forces in ‘native’ dress and beards- at the last second they identified themselves. In an environment when you have to make judgements in seconds when assumptions can kill you, people here need to understand that very little is simple there. the sad part is that now there is little our military can do without taking sides in a civil war and just being there creates a steady drip drip of casualties.

  6. In my blog I look at the previous times US servicemembers face similar wars – the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1913) and the Vietnam War. I observed …

    Like Vietnam and the Philippine, what is happening now is the natural outgrowth of placing good, decent American servicemembers in impossible situations, ordering them to do the absurd, and riding them until they break. As before, the guerrilla fighters are ghosts. Like during the Philippine war, our soldiers have come to fear even the children.

    No excuses, just the reality of the hell we have put them in.

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