26 April 2007

Send In The Clowns

Oh, the Democratic candidates' debate wasn't that bad, actually. The raving lunatic fringe was well represented by former Senator Gravel, who ranted, raved and waved his hands about like someone's kooky grandpa who'd been at the cooking sherry, but he probably won some new fans with his willingness to come out swinging at the other candidates, most of whom were frantically making nice with each other.

Dennis Kucinich did his bit for the quietly demented, with perhaps his high point coming when he held up "My pocket copy of the United States Constitution which I carry with me always." The maddening thing about Kucinich is that he's right about some things (don't ask me to be specific at the moment, but he is), but probably does those causes more harm than good because he's so clearly a space cadet. I don't remember dropping acid with him back in the 60s and plotting to remake the world by abolishing money and getting everyone to love each other, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that I did.

Edwards didn't do himself any favors, but probably suffered no real damage, either. He was slightly blindsided by a question about what good hedge funds did for America, and didn't improve matters by a folksy story about how his hardworking dad couldn't afford to take his family out to a restaurant. He's still going nowhere unless Clinton and/or Obama screw up royally.

The rest of the candidates were/are insignificant minnows. Somebody needs to tell Bill Richardson to shut up and go on a diet, but he probably figures - correctly - that he hasn't got a chance, so why put himself through the trouble. Why are Chris Dodd or Joe Biden even in this thing? Beats me, unless it's part of a strategy to pad their résumés for post-Senate employment.

That leaves Hillary, who did slightly better than I expected (not well enough to win me over, but I'm no longer promising to leave the country rather than vote for her), and Obama, who didn't do quite as well, largely, I think, because he kept himself on too tight a leash for fear of goofing up. He'll need to show a bit more confidence to get his message across.

All the candidates were lacking when it came to Iraq, falling over each other in their hurry to have been more against the war than anyone else and at an earlier date, an especially difficult feat for those who actually voted for it. But as much as the American public have turned against the war, none of the candidates has offered anything in the way of a solution apart from a Vietnam-style cut-and-run. The only debate is over how fast we should retreat; not a word was offered on what might happen to Iraq and its people in the wake of our withdrawal or what longterm consequences that might have on global or national security.

It's possible that there is no alternative, especially as long as there's no national will nor presidential leadership capable of seeing things to a more successful conclusion. But the Democrats' Congressional strategy of scheduling America's defeat a year or so in advance offers the worst of both worlds. If they're certain - as many of them are arguing now - that we've already lost, why one earth leave troops there to be sitting ducks for another year? And if there's still a chance that we can accomplish something there, why announce to the enemy the date on which we plan on surrendering? George Bush has undoubtedly made a colossal mess of this war, and unless he can pull some astounding rabbits out of a presently invisible hat, will go down in history as a disastrous president. Looking bad alongside the record he's compiled is no mean feat, but the Democrats are making a pretty good run at it.


DK said...

Actually, I heard a couple of the candidates - notably Richardson and Kucinich - advocating immediate withdrawl from Iraq (in lieu of leaving the troops there for a year) while strengthening diplomatic ties with neighboring countries who would, in theory, help to keep the peace and prop up the country.

And much was made of the proposal to, upon withdrawl, petition the international community for help instead of waving our dick in their face like we did the first time around. I don't know where you were when these things were being repeated ad infinitum, but I was in front of my TV, taking notes.

Larry Livermore said...

You are correct, but then Richardson and Kucinich aren't exactly serious candidates, are they? Well, I'm sure they're quite serious, but they're likely to have considerable trouble being seen that way by most voters.

I personally would agree with asking the international community and neighboring countries for help, and prior to withdrawal, i.e., before things had degenerated even further. But I wouldn't count on getting it.

DK said...

I was just pointing out that the Democrats aren't the messageless goons they were in 2004. Whether they stick to these messages is another matter entirely, but at least they don't have John Kerry out there bleating about his secret plan to end the war.

Well okay, Gravel is a messageless goon, but accusing the other candidates of covertly supporting nuclear war was priceless. Guy's got balls, if nothing else.

And as much of a mooncake as Kucinich might be, he's a good balance between rational thinker and angry hippie, and his health care plan sounds awesome. Tonight made me remember why I liked him last time around.

Anonymous said...

----- If they're certain - as many of them are arguing now - that we've already lost, why one earth leave troops there to be sitting ducks for another year? -------

Easy. So we have enough time to make arrangements so as to make our departure as painless and constructive as possible, but for us and for the Iraqis.

And your the of "let's not give anybody a pullout date because Mohammad bin Boogeyman will know about it" is simply fear-mongering intended to dissuade people against the war from discussing pulling out in concrete and specific terms.

The logic in and of itself, of not disclosing any specific pullout date for the sake of tricking the terrorists, is not only nonsensical (because they will find out anyway), but it is also perverse and counter-productive (because it keeps the rest of the free world, including the rest of the American government, in ignorance, about what our intentions and long terms plans are).

Based on this logic, the other branches of the of the American government, all of the Iraqi government, all of the American people, all of the Iraqi people, and all of the rest of the world have to be kept uninformed, and kept absolutely in the dark about the scope, magnitude, timetable, and long-term intent of America's remaining presence in Iraq, in perpetuity, just so some Muslim teenagers and twentysomethings with grenades don't get wind of it? Hogwash. They just don't want to talk specifics about a pullout, including dates, because a pullout is political suicide for the Jihad-Against-Terror-peddling neocons and their ideology.

These are the irrefutable facts:

We're going to leave sooner or later. America cannot take over and occupy Iraq, and change its society from the inside out (as essentially was Bush's ostensible purpose for invasion) without bankrupting itself and committing so much of its armed forces to the endeavor as to render America's very standing as a world power vulnerable. It simply can't be done at a price which makes any sense. So we have to leave. And the sooner the better. Put the best possible group of Iraqis possible under the circumstances in power, arm them to the extent feasible, and focus on restoring our own country's treasure, security, and moral and political credibility.

Larry Livermore said...

I suppose it depends on how you view the Iraq operation: as a war, a police action, an imperialist invasion, or simply a colossal boondoggle. In any of these cases, however, I don't understand why you would announce in advance the date on which you are going to stop warring, policing, colonizing, or boondoggling.

Say it's a war: okay, we're in Germany 1944, Korea 1951, Valley Forge 1778, whatever: what would have been the effect if we'd announced, "We're going to stop fighting this war in exactly 12 months, no matter what"? Unless they were idiots, our enemies would just kick back and wait for us to leave.

But suppose it's more analogous to policing a crime-ridden city. The government pours money and resources in and floods the streets with police officers in a giant zero-tolerance crackdown on crime and disorder. But it's well understood that this crackdown is only going to last one year, and then all the extra police are being withdrawn. Wouldn't any half-intelligent criminal just wait until the money ran out and the cops went home?

Ditto for an attempt to colonize a country. If the British, on occupying India, had said, "We're claiming this country for God and Queen, but we're only going to leave our troops here until next year," chances are pretty slim that the colonization would have taken.

Okay, maybe if the the whole thing is just an especially deadly boondoggle - for which a case could be made - it wouldn't do so much harm to announce when it was going to end, but boondoggle or not, there are real enemies, and the fact that many of them are only "teenagers or twenty-somethings" (funnily enough, so are most of our own soldiers) has nothing to do with their ability to cause harm. I seem to recall that those who brought down the Twin Towers were in a similar demographic. If some Islamist terrorists ever get their hands on nuclear or chemical weapons, I don't think anyone - apart from yourself, of course - will be pooh-poohing it because they are "only teenagers."

You are incorrect in your claim that we "cannot take over and occupy Iraq." We have taken over and occupied other countries which were far more advanced than Iraq in terms of their ability to fight back. Countries like England, France, Germany, Spain, even little Holland, have taken over and occupied whole countries for a century or more. Perhaps what you mean is that we cannot do it with the limited military force and tactics presently being employed, and in that you'd be correct. And perhaps you also mean that given present political conditions, it's nearly inconceivable that America will ever be able to muster the force and will to win this particular war, and in that you may well be correct as well.

But a correct perception of the facts doesn't make those facts any less regrettable. America's failure will most likely have dire consequences for the people of the Middle East and ultimately for the West as well. In railing against the ill-conceived and poorly executed invasion, you neatly glide over the fact that the Iraqi people were suffering terribly prior to the invasion, and would have continued to suffer terribly as long as the Saddam Hussein regime was left in power. That the botched invasion will probably leave them even worse off in the long run doesn't mean that the status ante quo was tenable or tolerable.

Because of your anger and your eagerness to see Bush given a black eye, you're willing to support an outcome that will further destabilize that part of the world and almost certainly lead to a much more serious conflict in the future. Hopefully you'll come to see that despite the failings and shortcomings of the present administration, a wounded or defeated America benefits no one except those who hope to profit from the dual specters of chaos and/or totalitarianism.

Anonymous said...

It is presumptuous, to put it mildly, to assume the highly arguable premise that Iraqis are in a net "better off" position as a result of the Anglo-American of their country.

Granted, Saddam Hossein, who was literally put into power by the same governments which now purport to commence pre-emptive wars of "liberation" to rid Iraq of him, is out of power. Of the thousands of outcomes that have resulted from the invasion, that is one positive outcome.

But then let's assess the negative outcomes. According to a study by the renouned British medical journal The Lancet, conducted in partnership with researchers at Johns Hopkins University, 655,000 Iraqis have been killed in the first three years of the war alone. To give you an idea of what the number represents, that is -2.5%- of the entire population of the country, which would be the equivilent of 7.5 million Americans dead.

And that's not counting people maimed, paralyzed, tortured, and psychologically devastated for life.

In addition, the infrastracture of the country, in virtually all areas, has been set back decades.

The military capabilities of the nation have been decimated to the point where the national government has no prospects to control even civilian militias in their own country, let alone threats from foreign countries.

There is no physical security for anyone, and may not be for years to come. Not even members of government have security in the persons or properties. A person can be kidnapped anytime. A bomb can go off anywhere, at any time, and kill anyone.

Their gold reserves, banks, natural resources and priceless artifacts (representing, aside from monetary considerations, their history and culture as a people), have been plundered to the tune of scores of billions of dollars.

Militias of various ideological persuasions (from Shia fundamentalists to Kurdish communists) armed to the teeth, and run amok, as do foreign special operations forces and intelligence agents with their own agendas.

On top of it all, the country is on the verge of civil war, and could well cease to exist as "Iraq." Instead it may be Balkanized and divided into an ever-warring, ever-unstable hodge-podge of states roughly coalescing into a Sunni Arabistan, a Shia Islamic Republic, and a Western-backed Kurdistan which will destabilze Turkey and Iran.

So, all things considered, I believe the case is pretty strong that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has been a net loss for the Iraqi people, and that's even assuming the Bush and Blair administrations' intents were genuine and altrustic in commencing the war (which they most certainly were not.) It certainly is not a premise that we can assume.

With regard to the pullout date, I don't buy any of the boogey-man arguments for not indicating to the American and Iraqi people a timeframe upon which hostilities and occupation will cease. But even accepting all of your reservations for declaring a pullout date openly, that issue can be solved by making the actual date of the pullout available to Congress in classified form.

Congress and the President (in consultation with the military and intelligence services) can deliberate privately, agree on a classified pullout date, and let the American people know that a pullout date has been set and that it won't be made public for national security reasons.

Anonymous said...

And if you argue simply that, despite things being worse for both the United States and the Iraqis, the invasion was justified because "the status ante quo was [not] tenable or tolerable," that's a very strange argument.

It's like saying that since the homelessness problem in the Tenderloin is not tenable or tolerable, then bombing and flatenning the entire Western half of the City of San Francisco is justified, in order to build housing for all the citizens, even if it makes the city as a whole worse off than it was before, kills innocent people, and results in the bombing entity going bankrupt.

There's a point at which you have to stop and think and employ a little cost-benefit analysis, and it wouldn't hurt to calculate the cost-benefit results of the people whose conditions you are purporting to improve!

Larry Livermore said...

Your analogy is deeply flawed. As you no doubt know, the American invasion did not bomb or "flatten" the country, nor did it do more than a fraction of the damage to Iraq's infrastructure. The vast majority of the damage was done and continues to be done by the various Iraqi factions, probably with some assistance Islamist foreign fighters.

The same is even more true of the death toll. The vast majority of Iraqis being killed are victims of terror bombings, not American combat operations, and the tens of thousands more who may have succumbed to disease, malnutrition or ancillary causes did so largely because the warring factions will not allow the infrastructure to be rebuilt. Do you think that the Americans, heinous as you no doubt believe them to be, have any vested interest in keeping the country without electricity or running water or sewage treatment?

Of course the Americans' policy of disbanding the Iraqi armed forces and allowing the nation's wealth to be plundered by looters was disastrous, but that was more a matter of stupidity and hubris than malevolence.

And while this botched war has certainly done the American and global economies no favors, it's ludicrous to suggest that it's capable of "bankrupting" the USA. If a minor regional war could do that, how is it that any country survived World War II with an intact economy, let alone, as was the case with the United States, a thriving one?

Anonymous said...

''''As you no doubt know, the American invasion did not bomb or "flatten" the country,''''

They didn't bomb the country? Oh yes they did. They certainly did bomb the country, with radioactive depleted uranium bombs, and with cluster bombs intended to maximize human casualties. In fact, the United States used 10,782 cluster weapons ALONE, according to the declassified executive summary of a report compiled by U.S. Central Command, which oversaw military operations in Iraq.


''''nor did it do more than a fraction of the damage to Iraq's infrastructure. The vast majority of the damage was done and continues to be done by the various Iraqi factions, probably with some assistance Islamist foreign fighters.''''''

This is an untrue and fairly outrageous statement, actually. First of all, the U.S. / U.K. invasion destroyed considerable amounts of Iraqi national infrastructure in the initial invasion. Moreover, if any Iraqis were fighting subsequent to the invasion, it was *in response to* the invasion. I mean, none of this was happening *before* the invasion, was it? Therefore, the blame for all the subsequent damage (including loss of life) does not belong to any Iraqi factions fighting to liberate their country from foreign invasion. The blame belongs to the foreign invaders who had no business invading the country and (intentionally or unintentionally) opening up the horrific can of worms in the first place.

The U.S./U.K. invasion is indisputably responsible for all of the subsequent damage and carnage. The only open question which remains, in my view, is whether some of these negative results were intentional or unintentional. Perhaps another day, I can share with you the mountain of evidence which tends to demonstrate that not all of this damage is unintentional.

'''''Do you think that the Americans, heinous as you no doubt believe them to be, have any vested interest in keeping the country without electricity or running water or sewage treatment? ''''

Again, we can discuss whether it was intentional or unintentional at a later time. But the fact that it took place, and the fact that it took place as a direct result of the U.S./U.K. invasion, is simply indisputable.

'''''And while this botched war has certainly done the American and global economies no favors, it's ludicrous to suggest that it's capable of "bankrupting" the USA. If a minor regional war could do that, how is it that any country survived World War II with an intact economy, let alone, as was the case with the United States, a thriving one?'''''

It is not ludicrous to suggest that a long-term presence in Iraq would bring the U.S. government grave financial hardship, perhaps to the brink of bankruptcy. Unlike World War II, wars cost a lot more these days.

By the way, the term "bankrupt" in reference to this subject is not mine. See what *Republican* Senator Chuck Hagel, who perhaps has a better idea of the government's finances that you do, has to say on the subject:

"It’s helping bankrupt this country, by the way. We didn’t think about any of that and not just the high cost of lives and the continuation of that but our standing in the world.

And I would define it this way. Are we better off today than we were three years ago? Is the Middle East more stable than it was three years ago? Absolutely not. It’s more unstable."

Larry Livermore said...

Bomb, yes. Flatten, not at all. Actual damage from the invasion was minimal compared with what has happened since.

Your final question is the most pertinent: are we or the Middle East better off today than before the war? No, we are not; things are considerably worse. But whether you attribute this to there being something inherently immoral about the US invading Iraq to topple a dictatorship, or to criminally incompetent management of that invasion is another question.

You can argue that the US and UK had "no business" invading or getting involved, but it's equally true that Saddam Hussein had no business ruling the country with an iron fist. The Iraqi people had no more say in choosing his rule than they did in the US/UK decision to remove him. As it turns out, Iraq probably is worse off today, but in your eagerness to bash the USA you seem to have forgotten to declare such impassioned support for the continuation of the Saddam dictatorship, which of course is in reality the flip of your vehement opposition to Western involvement.

There was no inter-communal violence before the invasion because Iraq was a police state. Apparently that's the way you would prefer it, but why not have the honesty to simply say so, rather than railing like a rag-topped mullah about the USA as if it were the sole source of evil in the Middle East, and without whom, the whole area would be restored to Eden-like status if only the Great Satan would dry up and blow away?

Senator Hagel's use of the term "bankrupt" is political rhetoric, not a financial statement. I will agree with you that the war is costing obscene amounts of money while accomplishing little or nothing, and to that extent is no doubt harming our economy.

Actually, the main place we differ is in how to end it while minimizing the harm likely to befall the Iraqi people and regional and global stability. You seem quite content to turn the country over to whichever gang of jihadists or fascists or warlords can muster the most weaponry and most vicious battlefield tactics; I hope against hope that the Americans can come up with something a little more efficacious and humane. But the way things look at present, you'll probably get your way.

Anonymous said...

-----But whether you attribute this to there being something inherently immoral about the US invading Iraq to topple a dictatorship, or to criminally incompetent management of that invasion is another question.-----

For the purposes of allocating fault, it is immaterial whether or not the results produced by the invasion were deliberate or not. It is sufficient that we agree the results were 1) more bad than good, overall, and 2) caused by the invasion. I happen to think much of the negative results (for the Iraqis, and for the region in general) have been deliberate, and benefit private U.S. contractors with ties to the administration, and hawkish rightwing elements in Israel (who have long sought to foment chaos within and Balkanize the Middle East). But we will leave that for a seperate discussion.

As for the parties to whom rulership of the country is left, it is the business of the Iraqi people to decide democratically, don't you think? Unfortunately, I don't think the Iraqis could ever elect someone to your liking. Your definition of "jihadists or fascists or warlords," as I've gathered from your other writings, probably includes the majority of the population of Iraq (which, of course, in a democracy, could and should vote to elect whomever they please, whether you like it or not).

All in all, I find it troubling that you refuse to accept any malicious, or even less than perfectly altruistic intent, on the parts of the Bush administration. The best we can get out of you is an admission of unintended incompetance. That is very troubling, and a conclusion not supported by a myriad of credible, documentary evidence.