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Cold Facts

November 25th, 2004

I usually answer comments in the “comments” section, but this one I wanted to answer up front. It comes from a comment to the post “Cold Numbers” on The Expat, a post duplicated on Blogd. From that comment, by Ishmael:

But saying that Bush is going to “stay the course, so…” as if it is a bad idea, you are putting him in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. What would you be saying if he suddenly announced that, after all of those casualties, the US was going to be pulling out of Iraq?

If it were as you say, then he put himself into a “damned if you do/don’t” situation, not I. But it is not as you say. Your argument is the classic “either-or” fallacy–you assume there are only two courses of action: Bush’s way or hightail it out of there. There are other options, some of which are still open but Bush will never take, some of which could have worked but Bush pissed them away or simply wasn’t capable of doing.

The former sort include admitting he made mistakes and opening up Iraq to true international participation (not limiting his “coalition” to simply those who, for whatever reasons, will bow to him and do whatever he wants). If Bush were to collect a true team of skilled diplomats, not just yes-men and party hacks, and get them to represent him, giving them full powers to act on behalf of the U.S., there could still be a chance to open the doors and assign true legitimacy to a peaceful, democratic change in Iraq. But it would mean opening the doors not just to the French, Germans and Russians, but to key powers in the Middle East–like his father did before–and letting go of total U.S. control of the oil fields and of business contracts. Our men and women died, supposedly, for peace in Iraq, not for the oil fields or Halliburton contracts, so we should not give a rat’s ass about them if they get in the way of succeeding there. But in order for this to be pulled off, Bush would have to truly open his arms to the international community, and that would mean doing what Bush pledged he would do in the 2000 elections: be a humble nation. Something Bush has done anything but since he was elected. And that includes saying aloud that he made real mistakes, and that we need help.

And guess what: that is God’s own truth. We do need help. We can’t do everything by ourselves. Doubt me? Look at the casualty counts. Look at the situation on the ground. Are you really so naive as to think that an election where the Iraqis choose between U.S. puppets in January will really solve the problem? If you do, then you also probably thought that the summer handover of power was gonna calm things down, too. They didn’t. It won’t. We’re building bases in Iraq, permanent bases. We’re going to be there at least ten years. Period. It’s not going to get better. It is only going to get worse.

The latter was to have formed a true coalition from the beginning, especially getting the Arab states involved, get them truly involved, because no primarily external influence is going to make people in Iraq feel that there’s even a chance of being free. But the other Arab states don’t want to get involved, so that means we would have to get them involved, not an easy task. If Bush could have done that from the beginning, shown that he wasn’t going to maintain an iron grip of control and use the country for his own purposes–if the people in that country believed that they really could have their independence and freedom, that they could get the real deal even if it meant a parliamentary democracy to balance the internal groups, then there wouldn’t be a fraction of the insurgency there is now, and it would be fought from within. But all of that would require (a) humility, which Bush does not have an ounce of, and (b) an extremely high level of diplomatic skill to balance and handle the vested interests of all the different participants–diplomatic skill which Bush isn’t even within light-years of having.

And then there’s the other “coulda” option: not invading Iraq in the first place. Believe it or not, it is not the worst option. The worst option is another Vietnam, which is where we’re headed (Vietnam actually started much smaller than Iraq did). The worst situation is that in ten years, we’re still occupying and yet hundreds of our soldiers are dying every month, sometimes every week, because we just can’t bear to let go of the region. You phrased the mindset yourself: we stay like we are now or we pull out. That’s how Bush thinks: there is no other option. And if that’s how we stay for the near future, if we refuse to leave unless we can leave a stable, orderly and truly Democratic Iraq, then we’re not leaving anytime soon–and the longer we stay, the more of our people die, the greater our investment will be, and the less willing we will be to leave, lest we make it seem that those who died did so in vain.

Hussein was a butcher. But so are a dozen other dictators around the world. Kim Jong-il is a far bigger butcher of his people than Hussein ever was and he has a real nuclear program and we know it. There are butchers and madmen on the thrones in many countries, killers of their people all, and yet we survive despite them staying in power. Hussein would have been a nightmare for his people, but now we are a bigger nightmare than he was for the Iraqis, and they are no more free. How many thousands of U.S. soldiers are you willing to send to be killed so we can be “more secure” by invading and occupying them so they become a quagmire? Face it: Iraq. Was. Not. A. Threat. Bush wildly overstated what Hussein was doing and would do, and don’t try to say “we all thought Hussein was an immediate threat,” because I didn’t, and most people didn’t. Bush sold that to the people, got it pushed through Washington with political tactics, and sealed our allegiance to his plan with the blood of our soldiers, after which Americans became afraid to admit Iraq was a mistake for fear of besmirching them (something impossible to do, each one died with personal honor completely removed from the actions of the president, no matter what the outcome in Iraq).

We could have lived with Hussein. I have yet to hear anyone who favors the Iraq War explain how North Korea was and is a lesser threat to our security–it obviously is not. And yet Kim is still there, his people are still dying, he’s really making nukes, and he’s really got ties with terrorists, but somehow it’s not as big a problem as Hussein would have been? Please. As galling as it may sound that we might have left Hussein in power, he was contained and containable, and there are far worse things than that. And we are headed straight for one of those worse things right now.

Bush has been on the wrong course from the beginning, and at every turn, he “stays the course” and steers away from any possible workable solutions. So yes, I say it is a bad idea to “stay the course.” And I mean it. And I’m right.

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  1. Tim Kane
    November 27th, 2004 at 01:43 | #1

    I have fallen into the camp (school of thought) that says Bush invaded Iraq with the intention of staying, a very very long time. Thats what the 14 permanent bases were building represent – they represent the exit strategy, meaning no exit.

    I think Bush & co are anticipating a world where oil is increasingly scarce and they would have the post position in controling it.

    This implies a world view of unilateral self interest, meaning no intention of cooperating with the outside world. This is a dangerous course to embark on for a variety of reasons, but it is an extension of Bush cos. calvinistic economics view of each individual pursuing their own self interest as baring the best out come for individual and for all.

    This ignores the fact that individual action only thrives in a given set of conditions. There are some conditions where cooperation is the preferable strategy and course of action.

    As I have done on other blogs, I like to remind others of the book “The Evolution of cooperation” by Robert Axelrod, which asks, then answers the question “In what conditions does it pay to cooperate”. The answer is when two or more parties (or egos) are engaged in an iterative game where there is no discernable, foreseeable end. Such conditions are exactly that which describes international relations amongst the nations.

    Of course if one party tyres of playing the game they may plot a course for ending the game, that is destroying the other parties, ie. hegemony, like Rome had at one time, or the Chinese Emperors enjoyed in East Asia, and numerous bodies in between. For 1500 years of European Geopolitics, from time to time, an ascendent power attempted to do just that – become the new Rome. All failed. Only now have the Europeans decided that Hegemony is not possible and thus there is an iterative game going on of no foreseeable end and thus have embarked on a strategy of cooperation. The geopolitics of Europe for the last 1500 years resembles that of the Globe in the 21st century. To the Europeans, this seems quite obvious, and perhaps is sellable notion to Russia, China. (Furthermore, the Europeans also believe, as does the Japanese, South Koreans and every other first world nation but Bush Co, that social democracy is the end state of political evolution: a balance between freedom and fairness in law, Bush co is for freedom-without-fairness, ie. a banana republic or better yet, wahabist Saudi Arabia)

    Prior to Bush’s election global peace was only 50-100 years of political and economic evolution away. Each year he is in place, Bush push’s global peace and prosperity away another 50 to 75 years, such is the nature of the tragedy of his presence. The Bush alternative is an end of game strategy of one party having hegemony. This is dicey and expensive and in the end not a likely out come. In his famous book “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” Paul Kennedy’s thesis is that the shear cost of hegemony undermines Hegeomony itself. This is do to the principle in jurisprudence of the “carrot and the stick”.

    Carrot and Stick, in short, carrot is soft power, but less expensive to use, in this case coorperation amongst the nations. Stick, the use of force or sanctions, is much more decisive but the cost is exesive and in the end unsustaainable. The poster child for this assesment is the Korean Peninsula. To the south you have a democracy, where rules are made by consensus of democracy and thus require little “Stick” to maintain. Thus S. Korea is a prosperous state. To the north Rules are made arbitrariliy by one man, and are enforce by force, or the stick as a consequence N. Korea is empoverished.

    The emergene of Bush co is a travesty for the world. He is playing the end game of hegemony that cost treasure in money and lives and at best ends in the same state that cooperation would take you to and force used only when necessary. A sick set back for the world, and at our own hands this is.

    Given this long term policy implies that Bush was confident that it would bring about re-election or that possibly the election was gamed and fixed. Bush’s strategy in Iraq does not make sense if it is not sustained over a decade or more. This is also another reason why he isn’t for conservation. A world dependent upon oil will have to beg for it from President Bush.

    This is a stupid strategy for a democracy to embark upon, but a sound strategy for a dictator (egoist) to embark upon. None of this bodes well for the future. It is an anchronism that harkens back to fascism and Napoleonic grandeur. Sheer folly. Made manifest in the blood of American lives and our adversaries who would appose.

    The Europeans and the rest of the world (Chinese) are hip to the risk and the folly of the strategy and are biding their time and hoping for gravity to force Bush to fall back to earth, if it fails and it most likely will, then America can be scratched from the “superpower” role. Perhaps then cooperation is still possible, but my guess is that the Chinese will take their turn in hegemony and the 1500 year cycle begun with the fall of Rome will reproduce itself on a global stage. All of this would have been avoided if Bush had not come along and the global concensus of cooperation, backed by the combination of European, American and Allies combined might, been allowed to evolve in the first two decades of the 21st century. China and Russia could have been encouraged to evolve politically (small steps) to constitutional defined powers with evolutionary insitution build in and viola, you are there. A sort of expansion of the EU across the entire Eurasian mass. The threat of Islam could have been the unifying catalyst. Instead Bush has totally mishandled it. He will go down in history with Caligula, Hitler, Napoleon III, and other stupid, but dreadfully cruel men of great ego and eternal folly.

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