Friday, May 2, 2008

War! What Is It Good For?

... absolutely nothin', ya'll! (Edwin Starr, 1970). That is, except for gaining independence, freeing the slaves, saving the union, stopping Hitler, and a few other minor things.

I've been blogging for over a year and have studiously avoided blogging anything about the war in Iraq. I know it's an issue that provokes a great deal of passion, and I would never want to offend anybody. Let me preface my comments by saying that I don't think everybody who is in favor of staying in Iraq is a baby-killer or warmonger, nor do I think that those who oppose it are unpatriotic traitors or any other such straw man argument. Good people can disagree on this. But here's what I think, on this , the 5-year anniversary of "mission accomplished."

I was in favor of invading Iraq. I thought, based on the information that we had then, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein represented a potential threat as a state sponsor of terrorism who had once had and used chemical weapons and was currently in a long-standing violation of the cease-fire at the end of the Gulf War. I don't feel duped by the Bush Administration about that... I feel like the CIA, the British, the IAEA, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and a large majority of the congress and the American people believed that on good faith. When we didn't find large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, I believed (and still do) that Saddam probably had used the long period between our initial deadlines and our arrival to get rid of whatever he did at one time have, possibly to Syria. I also never faulted the Bush Administration for "going it alone" when the UN Security Council refused to give a specific authorization for invasion... the French and Russians, with their vetoes (as happened all the time during the cold war--the UN being worthless is nothing new), overrode a clear majority of the security council, and I always belived that both the presence of the "coalition of the willing" and the admittedly weakly-worded resolution 1441 that promised unspecified "consequences" was cover enough.

Of course, the toppling of Saddam took about three weeks and minimal loss of blood and treasure. Bush was greeted with the infamous "mission accomplished" banner on board the aircraft carrier, and "major operations" were over. Despite the embarassment of not uncovering any huge cache of WMD's, I felt like we had done a good thing. Saddam and his murderous, torturing regime were out of power, his sadistic sons were dead, and the rape rooms and torture chambers were out of business. When the Iraqis held their elections, I felt further vindicated.

Then came the long slog to put humpty dumpty back together again. Despite my approval of the initial invasion, I am the first to admit that there was a long period during which our reconstruction strategy was quite flawed. The sectarian fighting (bordering on civil war) and the importation of foreign terrorists calling themselves AQI (Al Quaeda in Iraq) threatened to overwhelm our efforts to build a stable Iraq, and the Iraqis didn't seem to be doing enough quickly enough to warrant our loss of life. It was tempting during that time to "declare a victory" and get the heck out. Many folks who had been against the invasion from the start were ablet to say "told you so." As one who had supported the invasion, I felt then (and feel now) that I was stuck with what Colin Powell called the "Pottery Barn" theory--you break it, you buy it. We had birthed this mess, and had an obligation not to abandon those tens of millions of Iraqis to their fate. Besides that, I felt (and still feel) that the idea that we would somehow be better off had we never gone was simply not true. Had we never gone in, Saddam would still be running the same evil, totalitarian, and potentially dangerous regime. But it was a lonely place to make a stand.

Then came David Petreaus and "the surge." I was, of course, hopeful that it would work, but I was skeptical. Then, miraculously, casualties came down, and things began to get better. I have a friend who is serving in Baghdad who emails me regularly, and there is no doubt from his letters that things are much, much better. Far from perfect, of course. But I think Harry Reid's oft-repeated quote of "this war is lost" was more than a little premature. What's more, we now have this AQI group repeatedly calling Iraq the central battleground of the worldwide jihad. Even if we brought that group into the area by our own poor choice in going in, that's where they are now. And it looks to me like we're beating them.

That's why I oppose a precipitous withdrawal from the region. Some troops are already home, others are on their way, and I hope more will follow as the generals on the ground decide it is safe. But I envision an immediate pullout ending with the equivalent of helicopters lifting off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975. And let's not forget that following that evacuation, there were the boat people, the refugees, the re-education camps, the killing fields in Pol Pot's neighboring Cambodia. I feel the US was at least partially responsible for those things then, and would not want to do the same thing now. (As an aside, I don't think it would have been necessary to go 100% back into Vietnam in 1975... aid to the south and air power might could have done the trick.) I think that a withdrawal followed by chaos in Iraq would be viewed (and correctly) as a retreat, and as weakness that would embolden those who hate us.

However, I would be very, very happy to see the whole thing over as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. But the part I want to see over is 100,000+ troops on long-term deployments taking regular casualties. It wouldn't bother me at all to have 30-50,000 troops stationed there as a regular duty station, without a full war footing. After all, we've got bases in Germany, Japan, South Korea, even the infamous Guantanamo Bay (a relic of the Spanish-American War of 110 years ago). All of those are after-effects of wars we WON. And some (like Korea) are still in harm's way. Notice that we don't have a base in Vietnam... because we lost that one.

Anyway, I guess that makes me "pro-war." Or at least "anti-withdrawal." It's one more reason (along with my personal key issue of being pro-life) that I can support John McCain in spite of my numerous other issues with him. Please notice before you drop flaming vitriol in the comment section that I have tried very hard not to disparage those who feel differently, only to walk through what I personally believe out here in public.


bekster said...

Well said, Larry!

I had many of the same thoughts and feelings you mentioned; unfortunately, however, I had many of those thoughts and feelings without fully understanding the situations at those times. Reading it all laid out like this as a sort of overhead view helps me to make much more sense of it all. Thanks. :)

Obviously, as you have stated, this topic is a point of contention for many people. Everyone seems to have his or her own opinion of "The War." But, I wonder what percentage of the populous actually speaks from a position of knowledge versus a point of ignorance. I have already admitted that I didn't always know what was going on during some of these events. However, I--and an overwhelming majority of people--have graced others with an opinion anyway at one point or another. Although I am showing my own hypocrisy here, the fact that people speak without knowing all of the truth exposes to me a weak link in the chain of American politics.

When people speak from a point of ignorance, they tend to grow words from their emotions. While the expression of emotion in itself can be a “good” thing (or at least is not necessarily a “bad” thing), the combination of strong emotion with untruth, though non-malicious, can work to the detriment of our society. I believe that the passionate word sticks harder than the bland fact. This principle can be a “good” thing when employed with a declaration of truth; however, if the words that are “sticking” are not based in fact, the ignorant speaker--who probably intends to promote truth--only serves to sow seeds of untruth. How can a nation that thinks things that are not true possibly make right decisions?

Does it really matter to the good of the nation as a whole what the common person thinks anyway? I think that this question has a two-sided answer. I would say, “Yes,” if those thoughts affect how he or she votes--or if they promote thought and action in people who do have the power to “made a difference.” I would say, “No,” if those thoughts only rile people up and promote discord. Still, there is something to be said for friendly, intelligent discussion. If the common person’s opinion does matter, then is it not better for him or her to be more informed of the topic about which he or she would presume to speak? The media--which could be a post (or five or six) unto itself--would claim to give the truth that people seek, but the things the media says can’t all be true because they are often contradictory.

Because it is so hard to know what the truth is, I believe that those who speak from a position of knowledge and experience need to be heard. Their informed wisdom can greatly benefit those who start from a point of ignorance, especially by helping them to make to more enlightened voting choices. For example, one of my best friends from high school is from Vietnam, and her father lived and served in Vietnam during its war. He experienced first-hand what happened when American troops pulled out too soon. Hearing him talk about his experiences strengthened my previously insecure belief that America needs to finish what it started in Iraq. Further, even though it doesn’t necessarily “make a difference” for me just to have a thought one way or the other, the information I gained from this primary source helped me to decide to vote in favor of McCain. (Of course, people who listened to other knowledgeable sources may have come out with different conclusions. That is only natural.)

Certainly, you have been--and still are--a major “knowledgeable source” for me. Whether in blog or in person, you have taught me so much about politics and a myriad of other things. I appreciate posts like this one (and the previous one) that spell out your informed thoughts with such eloquence for those of us who may not be as immediately smart about such things. Keep it up! As long as you keep writing, I’ll keep happily reading. (And commenting.) :)

C. S. Fox said...

Larry you need to go to and watch the daily news breifing from the Pentagon.
It's what you will not hear on the drive by media networks.
Also look up Glenn Beck and the Perfect Day. It's what the terrorist would do if they could get hear.

mbellison said...

Briefly, on the invasion: I was for it at the time too. I was also 14. I believed the president when he said that Iraq had WMDs and didn't fully understand the fact that nation building is not exactly easy. I was wrong. My excuse is that I was 14.

I distinctly remember around two years later, on a run, I asked you whether if the war in Iraq had made us less safe, would you still support the initial invasion. You said that if this turned out to be the case (which you did not think would happen), you would admit that the invasion was a mistake. It is clear now; we are now less safe because of the war, just read any intelligence document.

But none of this matters now; the relevant issue at this point is what we do now. You talk about AQI, but the reality is that they are on the ropes now because the Sunnis turned against them and formed local law enforcement groups called Concerned Local Citizens groups or Sons of Iraq. And the Shiites and Kurds hate AQI too. The only reason AQI exists is because we invaded, and when we leave, they will be demolished because no one likes them.

Another big problem is the intra-Shiite violence, Sadr likely being the worst offender. But he says himself that he only supports fighting the occupiers (us) and not fellow Iraqis unless they are supporting us. Not good, but there is reason for hope that once we start moving to pull out, political reconciliation will be more likely to occur.

There also needs to be an oil law so that the Sunnis can fully buy in without having to worry that the majority Shiites will screw them. The most recent draft oil law has encountered opposition from parts of all sects because it is seen as too favorable to foreign companies. Again, another problem with our presence.

There are no good options at this point. But a gradual American withdrawal combined with steady diplomatic efforts to reconcile the parties gives us the best opportunity at success.

bekster said...

Keywords: GRADUAL withdrawal

I believe the question is, just how gradual are we talking?

I don't envy anyone trying to figure out what to do in this predicament. It's like we've picked up a poisonous snake. It may or may not have been the smartest thing to do to pick it up in the first place (this point is certainly debatable, but at least SOMEBODY "picked it up" so that it couldn't bite anyone else), but now that we've got it, we are forced to deal with it. We can't simply set it down; it would just bite us. If our intention was to make the forest a safer place by getting rid of one poisonous snake, we must go through with smashing its head. Otherwise, we would only have made things worse by leaving the forest with an ANGRY poisonous snake.

mbellison said...

Obama said on Meet the Press today that he would be looking at a time frame of about 16 months, beginning a short time after he is inaugurated. By the time those 16 months are complete, we will have been in Iraq for 7 years. If reconciliation doesn't occur by then, it won't occur if we stay in Iraq for another however many years after that.

Goode Design said...

SIXTEEN MONTHS? that's ambitious! does he plan to leave all the equipment behind? Maybe we could simply sell the equipment to the iraqi's, turks & iranians. All funds raised will go to support the additional entitlement programs the government plans on implementing.

When are we going to tire of the BS around politicians?!?!

Coach Sal said...

Matthew, this is one more of those (hundreds? thousands?) times when I'll just say that you and I have to agree to disagree. You take it as an article of faith that the war has made America less safe. I believe exactly the opposite, and will even stipulate that withdrawal (and being seen as the "weak horse" in Osama's terms) is what would truly make us less safe. I believe that some of the greatest damage done to American security in this age of jihad was our withdrawal from Beirut in '83 and from Somalia after the "Black Hawk Down" episode, as well as our limp reaction to the bombing of the USS Cole... all of which are spun to this day as evidence of a USA that has no stomach for a real fight. Moreover, you assert that any good that has come in Iraq has come because of indigeneous Iraqi factors, giving no credit to the brave US soldiers and marines who made such developments possible. Any positive effects that post-date the surge are mere coincidence, any negative effects are our fault and would be remedied if we leave. Sorry, but I find that hopelessly naive. Thankfully, so does General Petreaus.

As for your line that if reconciliation hasn't happened in 7 years it won't ever happen, it's amusing to me that I read the exact same sound bite from Obama within minutes of reading it from you. Either you've risen higher than I thought, or you've gotten quick at drinking the kool-aid. Seems to me that the Cold War took a lot longer than 7 years. I'm glad Ike and Kennedy didn't do math like Obama. I do wish Obama would sound a bit more like JFK--I don't mind the part about "never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate," so long as it's coupled with "pay any price, bear any burden, defend any friend, oppose any foe." Without that, he's not JFK, he's Carter.

mbellison said...

Come on, my history education was good enough to realize that the War in Iraq, which is currently a nation-building endeavor centered on attempts at political reconciliation, is in no way similar to the Cold War, a diplomatic and ideological and sometimes military struggle (by proxy) between two superpowers. And my civics education was good enough to know that generals don't make policy, they implement the policies that civilians make. And the current administration policy is fatally flawed. Also, Petraeus is at odds with many retired generals on this issue.

If you want to maintain your position in favor of an indefinite presence in Iraq, you need to answer a few key questions. First, what is your plan to stop the violence? Second, if the violence doesn't stop, do we stay there indefinitely, or do we leave? At what point do we cut our losses?

Coach Sal said...

Well, Matthew, I have to agree with you for once. Your education in history and civics WAS pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. However, I would say that Iraq is a battle in a bigger conflict which is a clash of civilizations (or, if you prefer, between civilization and a 7th century barbarism). That conflict IS ideological, and will be long and fought on various fronts, including a kind of Trumanesque containment in places like Iraq.

However, I don't want to go back and forth indefinitely sparring on this. Were we on a run (which for me these days would sadly top out around 4 miles at 8 minutes+ a mile) it would be fun. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that we come at this from opposite premises. Your guy may win the presidency, and if he does, I really, really hope you're right. I'd rather lose an argument and an election than have my country lose a war. Take care. See you at graduation, if not before.

MichaelPolutta said...

"There are no good options at this point. But a gradual American withdrawal combined with steady diplomatic efforts to reconcile the parties gives us the best opportunity at success."

I cannot help but ask - How are you defining "success"? Unless we can agree on a definition of success there is no point to discussing anything.

Pete said...

In my opinion, success means the death of every terrorist & terrorist sympathizer on the planet. (You notice I said terrorist, not Muslim).

Our nation needs to grow a bit of a stomach again. Realize that travesties happen during a war. Like the war on drugs (a war against an ideal) the war on terror is likely to be a continual effort for everyone who takes office in this country (including mayors, governors & presidents).

I'm not very happy with our government spending on pork barrel policy, but one thing we don't want to do is castrate our country by removing our military presence throughout the world. Trust me, China won't think twice about going to those locations and they won't care.

The folks who signed up to be in the military have chosen to protect our nation. Has everything been done perfectly? no. Are there ulterior motives among some in office? probably.

I personally want them to fight to keep our oil interests available since we're the ones who went to drill them. At least until we tap our shale, coal & other options.

bekster said...

Okay... I wasn't gonna... but now I have to...

I understand and approve of the decision to go after those responsible for specific terrorist attacks on our soil. I even understand and approve of the decision to go after Saddam and his underlings.

HOWEVER, I do NOT understand the decision to declare a blanket "War on Terror." (Notice: I didn't say that I necessarily do not approve; I just don't understand, being the less-than-enlightened-about-these-matters person that I am.) If we are looking for "success," it seems to me that our goals should be ones that are (1) easily definable and (2) possible to attain. As a person in the general public who does not know the ins and outs of terrorist activity in the world and how it affects us, I am confused. Yes, it sounds nice and heroic to declare that we have had enough of terrorism, but can we really enforce such a thing? I happen to think that as long as there are people in the world, there will be "terrorism" in some form or another. I believe that it stems from human nature, and we we will be forced to reckon with human nature for as long as there are humans. In that sense, we were "defeated" before we even began.

I am not sure if it is even our "place" to go after terrorists who have not come after us specifically.

On the other hand, I do see two things:

(1) Certain terrorist organizations may not have come after us YET, but many of them may be "friends" with other terrorist organizations that HAVE bothered us. If we do not get them first, we might not live to regret it.

(2) In my ideal world, America is truly a "Nation Under God," and you can recognize a man as "friend" or "foe" by the color of his hat. The sheer number of stories written in which good triumphs over evil should be an indication that people, in general, WANT to have "evil" defined as their enemy and to be on the "good" side that wins. When you get past all the crap about intellectual enlightenment that mixes "just do it" philosophy with "tolerance," I really believe that people feel more comfortable and secure when things are black-and-white. It would make me feel good to know that Uncle Sam is the godly hero who fights for liberty and justice for all, defeating those who are truly evil. Most people can agree that terrorists fall into the "evil" category. Unfortunately, I am unsure as to if we fall into the "good" category.

I do not know what thoughts were floating around in President Bush's head when he decided to declare the "War on Terror." On the whole, I have tremendous respect for the man for his integrity. I know that I could not handle what he is forced to handle. But, if the "War on Terror" was just an excuse to go after Saddam, then I am disappointed. I feel that we already had sufficient reason to get Saddam, so we should have stuck with those reasons. I have already alluded to the fact that I don't think that defeating ALL of the terrorists and those harboring them is an attainable goal. If Bush wanted to be a good politician, he should have cut the aim into more bite-sized pieces. If his decision truly was a case of "good vs. evil," then I wish he had broken it down that way and called it what it was. It just seems that if we want "success," we should better define our goals, and then get behind them all the way.

Anyway, if you couldn't already tell, I have mixed feelings about the "War on Terror." Would someone who knows what they are talking about please explain it to me?

Coach Sal said...

Well, Becky, you have a point. I read some interesting points early on about our current "unpleasantness" which makes the exact same point--that you cannot fight a war against a TACTIC like "terrorism." One author wrote that a similar error would have been if after Pearl Harbor FDR had asked for a declaration of war against naval aviation. Our enemy then was the government and military of the Empire of Japan, and by extension, their allies in the Axis. Our enemy (officially since 9/11, but actually since 1979) has been fundamentalist, jihadist, radical Muslims, and by extension, their allies who support and/or supply them. But as a matter of political correctness, we don't want to use those words. Perhaps if we were clearer in our thinking and speaking, we would be better able to have success in this conflict.

Goode Design said...

Wars on ideals are complicated & difficult, yet it is still an ideal that pushes us toward the conflict. In a way, the war on terror always existed. But the conflict... the BATTLE, should have an easily defined target. It should be understood that war - all wars - have travesty & tragedy. It is important that we americans understand this will cost lives. But if the ideals we are defending or promoting are worth the effort, the cost is necessary.

Surely, everyone would agree that the cost of freedom is life. Beyond the theological discourse and the cute bumper-sticker sermons, freedom is a cause worth vast sums of blood, sweat & tears.

The problem with freedom: not everyone wants it. I'm perfectly willing to let folks give it up and live in a hole in the ground if they wish. But when they blatantly attack our freedom to enslave us to the same life they lead? oh HECK no!

The war in the middle east is a conflict we have been pulled into because it won't end. anyone who touches the region must & will become polarized to some degree. The true values & ideals that are driving the vortex of the storm are as old as Isaac & Ishmael. But the secondary conflicts spawned have been mistaken as the real issue.

The battles in the middle east are - at their core - a conflict of followers of the most high & followers of the counterfeit. We cannot stop the conflict. I'm not going to go into some exegetical and eschatological dissertation of how Armageddon will be decided (especially when you can watch the movie Armageddon & Deep Impact as well as read all the Tim LaHaye books yourself... real classics *sarcasm intended*). But the conflict itself was born from obedience & disobedience. The fight has its roots in heaven. It shouldn't shock us that this fight would seek to be on the biggest stage & fought by the largest "super-powers" on the planet.

I don't know that there is an explanation. If we dig far enough, we must realize that He works all things to the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose(s). Or as Gandalf would say: "So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." As we all know, what Gandalf says is almost as good as bible! [again, sarcasm.]