Iraq = FAIL

There is nothing more pathetic than someone who continues to grasp at his delusions after the real world has told him he’s a fool. A good example is the hack economist sited in the last post, who approvingly repeated a Wall Street Journal claim that a rise in teenage unemployment was caused by minimum wage increases.

Apparently someone pointed out to him that, um, dude, unemployment is up everywhere. He writes in a newer post, “It’s true that unemployment rates for all groups were rising over that period, and the rising jobless rate for teens might have been because of the general economic slowdown and not necessarily as a result of the minimum wage hikes, and that’s a valid criticism.” Actually unemployment rates for teens did not increase as much as unemployment as a whole.

Anyway, then the economist writes, “However … ” and follows this with a bizarre word salad of a “rebuttal” that boils down to “because I said so.” He still refuses to compare teen unemployment increases with unemployment increases among other Americans, including skilled workers, for the same time period, which the most basic logic dictates is the first thing he should have done before drawing conclusions of any sort.

Now we’ve got Marty Peretz, the man who turned the once-fairly-decent New Republic into mostly a suckfest, writing “Sorry, But The Verdict Is In On The Long American Excursion In Iraq. And It Is Favorable.” I’m serious.

First, a number of bloggers have already smacked Peretz for blatant racism against Arabs in this piece; see Jeff Fecke and Glenn Greenwald. I have nothing to add to what’s already been said about this, so I’m wading further into the article.

Peretz implies, but weasels around arguing directly, that the decision to invade Iraq will be justified by the eventual outcome — “Iraq is on its way to making its own inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian history, and it will be a relatively democratic history.” He bases the argument that invading Iraq was “right” on three “pronunciamientos” — his word, not mine —

  1. Gordon Brown said so.
  2. Tom Ricks thinks it’s too soon to evacuate. (To me, the question of when and how to leave is separate from the question of whether we should have gone in the first place.)
  3. Fouad Ajami said so. Fouad Ajami is the new Ahmed Chalabi. In fact, he’s an old pal of Ahmed Chalabi who no doubt noted the, um, opportunities to be had in playing the role of “good Iraqi” to delusional neocons.

Robert Dreyfuss:

More than anyone else, it was Chalabi who convinced the neocons that he and his Shiite religious friends would install an American-friendly democracy in Iraq, and they suggested that the US invasion of Iraq would create momentum that would topple the domino next door, in Iran. Unfortunately, Chalabi and his allies, including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party — that would be the party of Prime Minister Maliki, who supports the purge — were Iran’s friends and allies, and in some cases, outright agents. Oops!

Over the past several months I’ve tripped over a bucketful of arguments that the invasion of Iraq should be considered a success because Saddam Hussein is dead and Iraq is now more or less a republic. Yes, but as I remember our objectives at the beginning of the invasion were (1) destroying al Qaeda — didn’t happen — and (2) saving the world from Saddam Hussein’s dreaded weapons of mass destruction — which didn’t exist.

Basically, the apologists are saying that the invasion was justified because we’ve cleaned up some of the mess we made doing it.

Or, put another way, we wanted to set a fire in the fireplace and burned down the house, but we saved the photo album and the silver candlesticks, so it’s all good.

But in the great chess game of international relations, the truth is that Iraq was a bad move in our part. We were lured into taking a pawn so we could be checked by the rook. And after we were lured there was no “good” move left to us that wouldn’t damage us further.

Since the rest of Peretz’s column is just repeating the dubious claims of the self-interested Fouad Ajami, I want to move on to the comments. A commenter named roidubouloi wrote,

Let us grant for the sake of argument all of the wonderful achievements recited by Peretz above. If Bush, or Peretz for that matter, had said to the American people in 2003 that we will go to war in Iraq to achieve these ends at the loss of some 4,000 American lives and many more grievous injuries, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost, a cost to the United States of roughly $1 trillion, the exhaustion of our military, and the erosion of our diplomatic stature in the world, including … our ability to deal with more threatening problems including terrorism, what do you suppose the reaction would have been? Anyone suggesting such a thing would have been branded forever as insane. That, however, is the most favorable possible description of what actually occurred.

I dimly remember that in some college political science course the professor told us that nations had a hierarchy of interests, and that sensible nations don’t rush off to war over every foreign policy objective. For one thing, costs and risks have to be weighed against potential gains. The history of human civilization is littered with once great nations that exhausted themselves through war.

So sensible nations only go to war when the survival of the nation and its most vital institutions are facing a real and present threat. They don’t go off to war, suffer the loss of lives, weaken the economy through debt, deplete the military, and erode relations with other nations because some tinpot dictator on the other side of the world who was no direct threat to us is a bad guy who once insulted the President’s daddy.

No, the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq are not a “success.” They are a fail. The only thing history has to determine is the size of the fail.

Other stuff to read, unrelated: the New York Times, “If Reform Fails,” and Barry C. Lynn and Phillip Longman, “Who Broke America’s Jobs Machine?

Set the Iraq Record Straight

As we settle into collective amnesia over Iraq, the Brits actually are holding a public inquiry into how they got themselves into that misbegotten adventure. In today’s news we learn from Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to Washington, that at least some people in the British government had realized before the invasion they had no solid proof of weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq.

The UN weapons inspectors were not given time to finish their jobs, Sir Christopher said. This was no secret. Blix’s briefing to the UN Security Council in February 2003 basically said, Ladies and gentlemen, we’re inspecting up a storm, but we haven’t found WMDs. We need more time to know what’s going on. The Bush Administration’s response, even before that report, was to undermine Blix.

The problem, Sir Christopher said, essentially is that the Bush and Blair administrations had gotten themselves so solidly committed to war that when evidence for a cause didn’t turn up, they had to fabricate one.

Sir Christopher Meyer said the “unforgiving nature” of the build-up after American forces had been told to prepare for war meant that “we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun”. … Asked about Tony Blair’s meeting with Bush at Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, where, some observers believe, the decision to go to war was made, Meyer said: “To this day I’m not entirely clear what degree of convergence was signed in blood at the Texas range.”

Again, this is not news to most of us who followed events closely at the time. However, it’s important to rub the nation’s nose in the truth about how we got into Iraq. If you young folks will indulge me, let me draw your attention to the aftermath of Vietnam.

With Vietnam, once the Paris peace accords were signed in 1973 the American public didn’t want to hear about Vietnam. Attention was paid to the fall of Saigon in 1975, of course, but that was an exception. Once the U.S. was out of Vietnam, few people wanted to talk about it or think about it. We were tired of it.

This was understandable, but the problem with not talking about it is that there was no processing of what had happened. Everyone’s opinions, impressions, and knowledge of the war remained frozen in place as they were in 1973. And the problem with that came to light during the Bush II Administration. People talked about the “lessons of Vietnam,” and it became apparent that entirely different sets of lessons had been learned.

For some of us, the lesson of Vietnam was that you don’t commit to a foreign war on trumped-up reasons, and without clear (and essential!) goals and an exit strategy.

For others, the lesson of Vietnam was that it’s wrong to dissent against war because it will lead to defeat. Therefore, war dissenters have to be shut up and the military effort supported without question.

The latter position, of course, is held by the same people who whine incessantly that liberals want to take away their “freedoms.” But I digress.

I realize the Obama Administration probably figures it can’t afford to stir up more hard feelings on the Right by making them admit they screwed up while he’s trying to push through health care reform and other vital issues. But I don’t see what difference it would make. The people who would be worked up into a snit over facing facts about Iraq are the same ones fighting the Administration already. How crazier can they get? What trouble could they possibly stir up that they aren’t stirring up?

In a just world, Bush, Cheney, Rove et al. would be too ashamed to be seen in public, if not serving time. We cannot sweep this under the memory rug, or else in a few years the Next Generation of evildoers will be staging a comeback. And that comeback will be built on the uncorrected lies of the Bush Administration.

The Unrelease

I’m about to butt heads, and not with righties. I understand there’s a lot of anger at President Obama because he changed his mind about releasing more prisoner abuse photos. I respect a difference of opinion on this matter.

But I also think the reason given for the reversal is understandable — commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops. Even if it’s only a small chance this would happen, I might have made the same decision President Obama made. If something could stir up more violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East, and doing that something isn’t absolutely imperative for the survival of the nation, I would think twice about it, too.

Thers writes, “So there will never be a “good” time to release them. Release them now and face the music.” The ones “facing the music” are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while there might never be a “good” time to release the photos, there ought to be a “better” time, which is after most troops are withdrawn.

I realize this isn’t going to happen right away. But, at the same time, it isn’t as if we don’t already know there was terrible prisoner abuse, some of which caused deaths. I don’t personally need to see any more photos. I can barely look at the ones that are in circulation already.

So, I don’t think the President’s decision necessarily means that he’s got a Dick Cheney microchip planted in his head. What’s more important is that there are investigations into who ordered what, and who knew what, and who approved what.

When Failure Is an Option

Rush and other mouthpieces for movement conservatism are not backing down from their public wish that Barack Obama fails. As Dave Neiwert says, his excuse for this is the time-honored foundation of all conservative morality — That other kid did it first.

Limbaugh: Did the Democrats want the war in Iraq to fail?

[Crowd shouts:] Yeah!

Limbaugh: Well, they certainly did. And they not only wanted the war in Iraq to fail, they proclaimed it a failure! There’s Dingy Harry Reid, waving a white flag, ‘This war is lost. This war — ‘ They called General Petraeus a liar before he even testified! [Boos.] Mrs. Clinton — [Loud boos] … Said she had to suspend, willingly suspend disbelief for whenever one had to listen to Petraeus. We were in the process of winning the war and the last thing they wanted was to win. They hoped George Bush failed.

Dave’s comment:

It would be one thing if Republicans were simply warning that Obama’s stimulus plans were doomed to failure. We’d understand that. It certainly would mirror how we felt about the Iraq war: we believed it was a doomed enterprise that would not only cost far more in human lives than anything that might possibly be gained from it, but would actually worsen the conditions for terrorism it purportedly meant to combat. We recognized that Bush’s rosy scenarios might come to pass, but we doubted it deeply — and said so, and rightly.

But it’s another thing altogether to openly hope for failure — in the case of the Iraq war, because it meant American soldiers would die needlessly, an outcome no one who loves America would want; and in the case of the economy, because it means that America is doomed to slide into a Depression. It will mean that millions of Americans will lose their jobs, millions will slide into poverty, and misery will be rampant.

Of course, from the moment the invasion of Iraq became public discussion, any arguments against it evoked howls about “Fifth Columnists” and “Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys” from the Right. I do not believe most of them see a difference between expressing the opinion that X is a bad idea and wanting X to fail. There’s a huge difference, of course, but I suspect it would be easier to teach algebra to a gerbil than to teach that difference to your standard wingnut. I personally would not want to waste my time trying.

However, it’s also the case that when a wingnut evokes “Iraq” and the rest of us speak of “Iraq,” we’re talking about entirely different things. I go back to my contention that right wingers, like the Tamarians of Star Trek TNG, see everything as part of a vast mythology.

When most people think of the War in Iraq, they see the Mother of All Boondoggles; a hopeless mess that was entered into foolishly, for reasons that proved to be false, and without proper planning, that has wasted billions (at least) of taxpayer dollars, has taken the lives of 4,255 American soldiers (so far), has caused immeasurable stress and hardship for military and reservists’ families, has drastically decreased our military’s ability to respond to other (and possible real this time) crises, has eroded American prestige, has probably increased the risk of another terrorist attack, and has generally pissed off the planet.

When you say “Iraq” to a wingnut, however, out of the misty haze of his brain comes a mythical vision of good versus evil, where the shining forces of righteousness (righties) eternally battle the dark, malevolent Other (everybody else). And victory over the Other is not really about the Middle East or even 9/11. It’s about preserving Christmas and Jesus and gun shows, and the right of white Americans to hear no language but English spoken in the aisles of Wal-Mart. And, of course, conquering the Other requires unwavering faith. To doubt is to embolden the enemy. Through our very brain waves, we doubters gave strength to the Other; and because we refused to clap, the fairy almost died.

For the rest of us, who think somewhat more analytically, if we are accused of wanting the war in Iraq to “fail,” I’d have to ask for clarification. What part of it exactly did we want to “fail”? We on the Left do have a pubescent fringe whose antics are lovingly documented by Michelle Malkin as representative of all of us, but the truth is that Democratic Party leaders and the huge majority of liberal political activists have been supportive of the troops all along, and have not spoken against military victory in Iraq. Nor am I aware of anyone who has opposed democratic elections in Iraq or hoped the government of Iraq would fail and be replaced by a junta of Islamic radicals.

What we’ve opposed, other than the damnfool invasion itself, is the incompetence and corruption. It’s the way the Bush Administration was perpetually six months (at least) behind in responding to ongoing developments. It’s the way billions of taxpayer dollars have been soaked up by corrupt contractors or just plain evaporated. It’s the way the Bush Administration was forever coming up with post-hoc strategies that were more about domestic consumption than real-world application.

Because we actually noticed this stuff, and commented on it out loud, we were not playing by the rules of rightie myth. “Winning” requires us all to shut our eyes, keep visions of John Wayne at Iwo Jima in our heads, and to speak only of honor, glory and resolve.

On the other hand, if President Obama’s stimulus programs fail, we and much of the rest of the planet will be plunged into another Great Depression. We might end up there, anyway, for policies that are too little and too late. But not acting pretty much guarantees it.

Now, it may be that righties really don’t want another Great Depression, any more than I supported Saddam Hussein or wanted Iraq to collapse into a failed state. (Note to wingnuts: I didn’t, and I didn’t.) They just don’t comprehend that we’ll end up there if we don’t get currency moving through peoples’ hands again, and fast. Whether they don’t understand this because they’re blinkered by ideology or just plain stupid, I’ll let you decide. The fact is that the Right hasn’t come up with a alternative plan beyond oh, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is what got us into this mess. Not an option.

Then you’ve got the faction (most righties, I suspect) who sincerely believe Barack Obama is an agent of totalitarian socialism who is trying to undermine republican government and turn the U.S. into a gulag. These are the same people who are insulted if you call them “John Birchers,” mind you.

If one really believes this, then I suppose it would be one’s patriotic duty to want Barack Obama to fail. I would argue it’s their patriotic duty to get professional help.

Update: See John Cole.

Waste and Fraud

It’s not really news that the Iraq “reconstruction” effort was and is the Mother of All Boondoggles, and that billions of taxpayer dollars have been pissed away in waste and fraud. But the New York Times has a new story about it, so I’ll comment anyway.

The Times got hold of a 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq being circulated in Washington. This report was not supposed to be released until February, after Dear Leader had left office.

An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.

The article doesn’t name the “Pentagon planners.” Want to bet it was the civilians who reported to Rummy — Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, etc.?

No takers, huh?

It’s been obvious all along that BushCo. was utterly incompetent to handle anything as complicated as a kids’ birthday party, never mind reconstructing Iraq. Other stuff we already knew:

  • The Pentagon has been lying its ass off all along about the “progress” being made in Iraq.
  • Much of the money allocated for various projects was diverted into a “spoils system controlled by neighborhood politicians and tribal chiefs.”
  • To this day, “the government as a whole has never developed a legislatively sanctioned doctrine or framework for planning, preparing and executing contingency operations in which diplomacy, development and military action all figure.”
  • Rummy didn’t think the U.S. would need to spend $1 billion to reconstruct Iraq. He was right; so far, we’ve spent $117 billion.

Among the overarching conclusions of the history is that five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the United States government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program on anything approaching this scale.

We’ve become a can’t-do nation.

The bitterest message of all for the reconstruction program may be the way the history ends. The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed.

You’ll like this part:

¶When the Office of Management and Budget balked at the American occupation authority’s abrupt request for about $20 billion in new reconstruction money in August 2003, a veteran Republican lobbyist working for the authority made a bluntly partisan appeal to Joshua B. Bolten, then the O.M.B. director and now the White House chief of staff. “To delay getting our funds would be a political disaster for the President,” wrote the lobbyist, Tom C. Korologos. “His election will hang for a large part on show of progress in Iraq and without the funding this year, progress will grind to a halt.” With administration backing, Congress allocated the money later that year.

That was only $20 billion for a “show of progress” so Bush could get re-elected. Congressional GOP saw to it BushCo got every dime it asked for since. But Detroit auto workers? They can drop dead.

Iraq: Another Corner Turned

It’s been a while since we’ve turned a corner in Iraq. You might remember that we used to turn corners with some frequency. Iraqis held various elections resulting in a dysfunctional government; adopted a half-assed constitution that needed massive revision; and my favorite — giving Iraq back its sovereignty — are just a few examples. Now Charles Krauthammer says we’ve turned another another corner.

The barbarism in Mumbai and the economic crisis at home have largely overshadowed an otherwise singular event: the ratification of military and strategic cooperation agreements between Iraq and the United States.

Wow, and we only had to spend about $700 billion so far and occupy Iraq for 5-1/2 years to achieve that.

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times,

Reporting from Baghdad — Explosions tore through two police stations Thursday in the western Iraqi city of Fallouja, leaving at least 16 people dead, and a blast in a northern city killed two U.S. soldiers in the latest reminders of this country’s fragile security situation.

The attacks came on the heels of other large blasts this week that targeted Iraqi and U.S. security forces and left dozens of people dead.

With U.S. combat troops scheduled to begin pulling out of Iraqi cities and towns early next year, the bombings were an ominous sign of what Iraqi security forces may face on their own after the drawdown.

Iraq’s three-member Presidency Council on Thursday formally ratified a Status of Forces Agreement that mandates the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from population centers by June 30 and from the country by the end of 2011. Iraq’s parliament approved the pact Nov. 27. Ratification by Iraq’s president and two vice presidents was necessary for it to take effect Jan. 1, after the United Nations mandate governing the U.S. troop presence expires.

In other words, Krauthammer looks at a pile of shit and sees a pony.

Tom Hayden writes,

The agreement forces the Bush Administration and Pentagon to back down from long-held positions, especially over deadlines. The barracking of American troops in remote areas by June 2009 will be a retreat from offensive operations. More important, the language of the agreement in Arabic stipulates that all American forces, not merely combat units, will be withdrawn by 2011. …

…This is not “out now”, but that was never possible politically or militarily. It’s not literally “ending the war in 2009” as Obama promised. But this pact is officially known as “the withdrawal agreement” to all proud Iraqis. Read carefully, it is an agreed 2009 timetable for ending the war, the occupation, the troop presence and closing the military bases in three years.


Only a few weeks ago Prime Minister al-Maliki was praising Obama’s 16-month timetable. Obviously something or someone got to him. American embassy officials, according to press accounts, were button-holing Iraqi parliamentarians in the hallways in the days before the final voter. There are no registered lobbyists or even lobbying laws in Baghdad.

The Iraqis, finally, were fixin’ to just kick us out, and somehow the Bushies threatened or bribed enough people to make “the withdrawal agreement” look like a mutual agreement between Washington and Baghdad, just to let George W. Bush save face.

Oh, and we’re supposed to thank Bush for that.

It’s Armistice Day

It’s Armistice Day. Click here for a Wilfred Owen retrospective. See also last year’s post.

The soldier in the photograph above is my grandfather, Cpl. Robert John Thomas, on the day he returned from France in 1919. The lady with him is my grandmother, Dora Sabina Senter Thomas, and the baby is my father, Robert Thomas, born while Grandpa was on the Western Front. (My father never got a middle name because Grandpa didn’t like his middle name and didn’t want Grandma using it. And since Grandpa wasn’t available for consultation when Dad was named, the middle name got left out.)

It will be a few weeks yet before we know the plan for withdrawal from Iraq. In the meantime, props to The American Conservative for its retrospective on Bush’s War and the best headline I’ve seen today: “He Fought the Wars and the Wars Won.”