Friday, November 18, 2005

Why Murtha is Right

The title of this post is lifted from a Newsweek article of the same name.

The body of the text is lifted from the comments to the previous post.


Let those of us who continue to call for an pullout from Iraq beginning today concede an important point:

It is completely, totally, criminally irresponsible to destroy a country and then leave it in chaos. There is absolutely no question about that. Here, then, is the question - the question no one who supports the indefinite continuance of a U.S. war in Iraq seems to be willing or able to answer.

The consequences of a U.S. pullout from Iraq beginning in November 2003 may well have been dire. By all serious accounts, the consequences of a U.S. pullout beginning today, two years later, would undoubtedly be much more dire.

What, specifically, do we expect to happen that will reverse this trend? When, specifically, will the trend reverse, and how many U.S. soldiers will have to die before those consequences sink back down to around the level they were two years and over a thousand US troops ago?

Put another way, those very few of us who were calling for a US pullout from Iraq were assured that by this point, Iraq would be closer to stability. We know today the opposite is true. Now, many more people, majority in some surveys, have joined the call for a pullout beginning today. Again we are told that Iraq, at some point in the future, will be more stable than it is today.

What caused those who argued against a pullout in 2003 to get it wrong, and what have they changed about their reasoning that allows them to get it right now?


Adam P. Short said...

Wanted to set a few ground rules here as I'm putting out a call for comments on other blogs I frequent.

1) Please post paragraphs. One-liners will be deleted.

2) Respond to me, not to one another. I will try to work the substantive ideas from the comments into front-page posts to keep the discussion going.

3) Remember Gresham's Law, and a related maxim - never argue with an idiot as it can often be difficult to tell which is which.

4) Try to lay off any references to Vietnam or World War II.

I'm really interested in some thoughtful feedback here. I will not censor any post no matter how wrong I think it might be as long as it adheres to the above rules.

Chris said...

I think in the beginning that many people were focused on 9-11, Osama Bin Ladin and remembered the short Gulf War. We had flags and patriotic slogans all over the place. We didn't know a Shiite from a Sunni, or what Kurdish means nor did we care. 9-11 hurt and we wanted revenge. We thought erroneously that this "war" was against Osama and his crony Saddam Hussein with the WMD and anthrax. The war was only to make us safer.

Well, war opened a Pandora's box of long simmering Islamic discontent in many parts of the world.

Now we have more evidence that the premise of the war was incorrect. The casualties of the war more extreme than expected. It is expensive and it appears it is going to drag on longer.

And lastly, most importantly unimpeachable patriots are speaking out against it.

heatkernel said...

Peter Dale Scott has written
an essay in favor of immediate withdrawal from Iraq. His main point will be obvious to anyone who has been following the course of the occupation of Iraq closely: that heavy-handed offensive operations inevaitably alienate the indiginous civilian population whose support is necessary for a foreign intervention to succeed. However, he backs up his argument with some interested and often overlooked examples from 20th century, such as the US presence in Thailand and the British counterinsurgency in Malaya. Highly recommended for its depth of perspective to those in the US getting ready to step up and make the arguments for immediate withdrawal, which now appears to be where the debate is turning.

Herr Gokmop said...

The US should pull out when Iraq is able to take care of itself. The question then becomes, "How do we determine when Iraq is able to take care of itself?"

Part 1: Define what it means "to take care of themselves". At a minimum, I would suggest that this means the following (but is not limited to the following):

(A) the Iraqi state has a functioning and sufficient military force to maintain order in its cities. This is tough to assess since the people best in the position to assess it are the US and international militaries, whose opinion can be biased...

(B) the Iraqi state has useful diplomatic ties to countries other than the US. This provides the country with someone to call on if it gets into trouble (other than *only* the US) and also forms the basis for future trading relationships and a place within the international community. If they have non-US ties, this will further legitimize the government as something that's not strictly a US puppet.

(C) The culture fosters accountability for acts of violence. A state is totally and completely screwed if there is the feeling that you can assassinate the chief of police or a local judge and stand a decent chance of getting away with it. This is ultimately an imprecise fuzzy "feeling on the street", but people have to have some level of confidence that law is in place, and those who break the law are going to get what's coming to them.

(D) The government have a reasonable tax base, or other revenue source it can use for ongoing operations

(E) Some level of control over the borders. Maintaining at least the perception that you control the borders is a big part of sovereignty.

Part 2: Once the assessment is made, how do we pull out? This needs to be done relatively slowly. There are a number of considerations.

First, all Iraqi businesses that were formed to provide services to the occupiers (bars, internet cafes, clothing stores, housing, you name it) will all fold. That's bad. Every dollar the US was pumping in just by nature of being there will vanish.

Second, there will be HUGE areas of unoccupied area in the city. Transition plans are needed to avoid creating ghost towns in the middle of Iraqi cities. Think of what would happen to New York if all the people in Manhattan suddenly left and you only had the Bronx, Brooklyn, etc left over.

Third, the security regime has to change completely from "the way the Americans preferred it" (Green Zone), to something that's workable for the ongoing Iraqi Defense forces. This includes reassessing which routes and highways need ongoing security.

That's all I can think of right now. I'm in favor of the US pulling out, but let's be realistic; you can't just take several hundred thousand people and move them thousands of miles and think nobody is going to be impacted. The first step is to assess when and how Iraq could be ready for it, and the second is to actually do it. I think these things can be done simultaneously with some good planning, so that small numbers of troops could start coming home immediately. As for when the last American would leave...that would be a while. Maybe 1-2 years.

The Liberal Avenger said...

When are we allowed to begin a serious discussion about bringing the troops home without being savaged as traitors and freedom haters?

We're coming up on year THREE of this disaster - the one that was supposed to be a "cakewalk" and was going to pay for itself. We're losing 3+ servicemen and women every day over there.

Do we have to wait for 3000 dead before we discuss it?

Adam P. Short said...


A post by a person named doug has been deleted because it was a response to another commentor.


Uncle Kevin said...

What we have here is clash between the "Pottery Barn" rule and the the "Humpty Dumpty" rule. Just because we "broke it" doesn't mean we can fix it.

The current argument for staying is to complete the process that Wolfowitz and company started. Basically, that would be constructing a government from scratch. They would argue it takes time and that they are meeting their "milestones".

What you are arguing is a classic systems engineering predicament. If one completes a flawed process will one have a flawed product? In otherwords, can you do everything right, and still get it wrong. Managers argue that no process is perfect so it is valid to execute a flawed process or nothing would ever get accomplished. My problem with this argument, in this context, is that not all processes will accomplish something. Proven processes can accomplish something. That's how we know how to cook. But just throwing food on the stove doesn't necessarily accomplish anything.

There are precious few, if any, examples of the current strategy actually accomplishing what we claim to be pursuing, and plenty of them to the contrary. However, arguing the Humpty Dumpty rule does pit the "it can't be done" crowd against the "hey, at least we're trying" bunch. And usually someone trying gets more support than effectively a "nay sayer".

The Greatness said...

I was looking at RAND's paper "America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq"

Relying on its "Iraq" chapter as a believable blueprint for Bushite nation-building (Paul Bremer called this document "a marvelous how-to manual"), the short answer for why we shouldn't leave yet is that no intervention save Kosovo has ever been completed in two years' time, and Kosovo is nowhere near the scale of the project in Iraq. Page 197 says "if Kosovo levels of troop commitment are used, some 526,000 foreign troops would need to be deployed through 2005. At Bosnian levels, this figure would be 258,000 by 2005; approximately 145,000 international troops would still be required to ensure security at Bosnia levels through 2008." The entire coalition has, I'm estimating, no more than 175,000 so we're not even covering our security requirements at Bosnia levels. Moreover, the RAND document always assumed a military presence in Iraq all the way to at least 2008. It states on p. 170 that "in the medium term ... there will be an ongoing struggle for influence within Iraq that will engage Iraq's neighbors, either overtly or covertly... it is likely that the protagonists in this struggle will use violence." Somewhere else they note Iran's success at using jihadis to influence Iraq.

So you could say that "the experts" always predicted this kind of fight, and to achieve a Bosnia level of success in nation-building, we need to do more, not less. However, given that it's been botched so badly and that the political will for doing more is a number not that different from zero, what is the "on the cheap" solution for getting Iraq more or less in the right direction? Perhaps we're already there, or soon will be after the parliamentary elections are held. But the flow of foreign insurgents into Iraq is troubling. It could be that our continued presence is the only thing producing these insurgents, and that they will leave if we do the same. But it could also be that the insurgents' main target is not the US but their "imperialist puppets" in the new Iraqi government. We should at least continue to assist in border security for the near future.

J Thomas said...

Great post. Glad to find you Ape Man.

There are basically 4 arguments against the war in Iraq:

1) No connection between Iraq and 9/11

2) Hyped and manufactured intellegence before the war

3) Mismanaged war and poor planning

4) Staying in the war is too costly

* 1 and 2 are simply false see here

* 3 has some validity but is way overblown.

* As for number 4: See this response.