Posts Tagged ‘iraq war’

Look, I get it. A big majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq, independent of any UN inspections. Congress voted with substantial majorities to authorize the use of military force.

But I can’t help but notice a similarity among the names touted for key administration positions: every single one favored the invasion of Iraq in 2003. John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Michele Flournoy, Susan Rice — they all supported the initial invasion. Yes, there are lots of reasons to pick someone for a job, especially one running a large bureaucracy. And I also dislike litmus tests generally; a good nominee will necessarily have some flaws.

Still, were there really no Iraq War opponents available? None? Zero? Couldn’t find anyone?

21 Senators opposed the AUMF. Were they just not “serious” enough? Want to appoint a Republican? How about Brent Scowcroft? Want to appoint someone with military experience? Maybe former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Hugh Shelton is more your speed.

Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in no small part because of his opposition to the Iraq War from the beginning. It gave him liberal credibility against Clinton, and signaled a clear break from the Bush administration policies of preemptive war and a national security state run amok.

Instead, he has shown himself to be, on the state of our military and national security state, to be of a piece with his predecessor. Worse, he has shown that the only way for a Democrat to be taken “seriously” on national security is to be a hawk.

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We just can’t stop winning in Afghanistan!

I just can’t stop thinking about all the victories! A huge NYTimes story trumpets new successes of our brave boys in uniform! We’re on the path to victory! Go get that Taliban, G.I. Joe! Etc.

Yet, amidst all the yakking about our glorious victory over the (godless? over-god-filled?) Islamofascists, we keep forgetting the essential political problem with any “victory” in Afghanistan. Our entire operation is based on a loony, extremely corrupt Afghan government, headed by a stooge.

Whenever someone demands that I acknowledge that “the surge worked,” I point out that the “surge” only half-worked. The military tactics worked fine; the political ones failed. And the political element, in the end, is the linchpin of the whole affair. (see here; “a new U.S. strategy to stem the violence in Iraq and help the Iraqi government foster conditions for national reconciliation“).

What exactly do we accomplish with an extended stay in Afghanistan? What is our political mission? And if we can’t define that, maybe we should stop being so sure that we are “winning.”

The United States won every major military battle of the Vietnam War. We still lost.

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(Warning — video is pretty graphic and not for the faint of heart.)

For good commentary and coverage, check Greenwald (1, 2, 3), Fallows, and Al-Jazeera.

A few points:

(1) The video is nauseating to watch knowing that the men in the video are carrying cameras, not an RPG. I had difficulty sitting through it.

(2) These kinds of attacks happen all the time. Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan highlights an unfortunate truth of waging war — there will be many, many civilian casualties, very few of whom actually constitute a threat. Acting as if we can wage war without civilian casualties is folly. The only reason this video seems painful is because we are forced to see what is done in our name. It is important to note that these soldiers are not “defending America”; they are protecting America’s interests.

(3) As has been noted elsewhere, the true scandal is not the shooting, which does follow the rules of engagement. A cameraman adjusting a telephoto lens looks a lot like an insurgent adjusting an RPG. Certainly the crew of Crazyhorse in the video assumed this to be the case. This was a mistake on their part, and the result is beyond horrific. If anything, we should not lay blame on the soldiers in the helicopter; we should instead reevaluate exactly what kind of threat constitutes enough cause to engage. If the current rules of engagement are producing unacceptable levels of casualties, then we should probably change the rules. The problem here is not the choice made by soldiers under duress in a combat zone, but the policies and procedures that brought them to that point.

(4) That said, “following orders” is not an acceptable defense for war crimes. If I kill someone I believe to be a threat, and it turns out he is not a threat at all, I am still responsible for the life that I have taken. We, as a nation, are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. That is the burden of a failed war.

(5) The secrecy behind this only protects the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex from domestic criticism, not our troops. The notion that this video would be “dangerous” because our enemies would see our callous disregard for human life is absurd. I am pretty sure that our enemies already think that. This is as silly as not releasing the pictures from Abu Ghraib because they will endanger our troops abroad. They already know what’s in the photos! Why would it be so bad to release them? It’s not bad PR for our troops abroad; it’s bad PR for our generals and political leaders at home.

(6) Even considering civilian casualties shows how much our notions of war have changed. The idea of a major armed force going into a conflict with some notion of wanting to reduce civilian casualties seems rather demure, considering that our army once firebombed Dresden and Tokyo (not to mention dropping two atom bombs on civilians) during World War Two. My point is that civilian casualties were not unknown in previous wars; they were simply made unknown by the governments and propaganda machines covering the war. This is simply an extension of that urge.

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James Kwak has a post up at Baseline Scenario explaining his disdain with Richard Posner (I don’t have a huge problem with Posner, since he strikes me as intellectually curious, but this is beside the point) Kwak brings up an important point about the way that we frame debates, and specifically people who change sides:

Wait a sec. Being wrong for decades gives you “enormous credibility”? So if, say, James Inhofe were to admit that he is wrong and that climate change is occurring, then he would suddenly be an important voice on what to do about it? If James Gilleran (former director of the OTS) were to write a book about the problems with lax regulation and what needs to change, would you buy it?

To answer Kwak’s rhetorical question, yes. This happens all the time. Richard Posner changes his mind, so he gets a fawning profile in the New Yorker. Alan Greenspan admits he made a mistake, and the whole world turns and listens. Diane Ravitch, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, says that No Child Left Behind was a failure, and she gets attention (including from me).

What about the people who were right the whole time? What “expertise” or “credibility” do they get for it? The anti-Iraq-War contingent, that ~20% of Americans who were against the war from the beginning, are still the “far left,” not to be trusted on issues of the national security by the Beltway elite. Obama still has to trot out Gates and Petraeus to defend his policy, since they were a part of the Bush team. The folks who tried to stop the reckless deregulation of financial markets are still relegated to the sidelines, while Wall Street insiders like Tim Geithner or previous deregulators like Larry Summers are running the show. Teachers’ unions, who at the time were the biggest opponents of NCLB, have found themselves as the biggest target for education reformers.

Apparently, being right after being wrong is more “credible” than being right the whole time. What is it that Thoreau said? “An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him for it or not. The inefficient offer their inefficiency to the highest bidder, and are forever expecting to be put in office.”

And then we put them there.

(Side note: I’m looking forward to 13 Bankers, the new Johnson/Kwak book coming out at the end of the month.)

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From an AP story about the sentencing of Pfc. Steven Green, who raped an Iraqi girl before murdering her family:

Steven Dale Green, 24, of Midland, Texas, will instead serve a life sentence in a case that has drawn attention to the emotional and psychological strains on soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although it is good that the case has drawn attention to these problems, I think it would be nice if the case had drawn attention to the horrible abuse of the Iraqi people.

I mean, should we feel bad for what the war does to our troops (and ourselves)? Yes.

But we should feel far worse about how it has hurt the people we were specifically supposed to “help”:

In March 2006, after an afternoon of card playing, sex talk and drinking Iraqi whiskey, Pfc. Green and three other soldiers went to the home of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Green shot and killed the teen’s mother, father and sister, then became the third soldier to rape the girl before shooting her in the face.

Granted, I believe the death penalty is wrong in all cases, but remind me: Who should I be feeling sorry for again?

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