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The Collective
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Anyone who has been reading this site of late knows that I have been critical of the administration over the issue of Iraq. Further, long-term readers will know that I was initially in favor of the invasion, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I accepted the assertions that Saddam Hussein was indeed actively pursuing a variety of WMDs and that he was actively sponsoring terrorism. The fact that he was a vicious dictator and the fact that I believed that the Iraqi people could be made better off without him in power and the fact that it was possible that a Saddam-less Iraq could be good for the security goals of the United States and its allies added to the factors above led to my support.

Now, the lack of WMD destroyed the initial rationale for the invasion, although once we had invaded, I had hoped that there would be a competent attempt to help the Iraqis construct a post-Saddam reality for themselves.

Clearly, none of what was presented to us has come to pass and this leads me into my current stance, especially when it comes to the administration and its ongoing war boosters. I do not know what the exact next step ought to be, although the strain on the military alone seems to dictate a drawdown whether we like it or not. As such, I have not advocated a specific course of action in regards to Iraq for some time, although I have been especially critical of what clearly seems to be unwarranted boosterism over the ability of the administration to fix this situation, and have especially found the notions that there is a dichotomy to had between “victory” and “surrender.” Those are not the two choices on the table, and anyone who asserts that they are the two choices are one of the following: not very smart, radically uninformed or delusional (and the categories are not mutually exclusive).

However, such false dichotomizing is indicative of an ongoing problem with Iraq, and that is the inability of many to try and make a reasonable, empirical assessment of the situation. Instead, we get over simplification, especially from the administration. Although, to be fair, the oversimplification isn’t just coming from the admin. For example, there aren’t going to be any “immediate withdrawals” save in the context of an utter disaster. It will take time to withdraw and the way we withdraw matters. As has been noted by those who are being serious about the situation, there are no easy solutions here, and none of the options are especially good ones. We need to figure out the least bad options and proceed from there.

As such, this is what much of my criticism has been aimed at: the desire for an honest assessment of where we are. The critics of the administration may have to concede that elements of the surge have worked. However, the administration and its boosters need to recognize that the goal was never simply an increase in security in specific areas of the country. No, the security increase was to be a first step towards far larger goals, which include political reconciliation and state-building. There is no evidence to suggest that the broader goals are being met.

Some examples:

So, instead of serious assessments, the administration wants to write Petraeus’ report and supporters of the administration are making highly dubious historical analogies.

We ended up where we are right now based on insufficient criticism (at least in terms of scope and depth—I am well aware that there were pre-war critics who turned out to be right) and an inadequate public discourse. Put another way: the administration is acting now about Iraq the way it acted about Iraq prior to the invasion—as if there is an easy route to success if we would just let them do what they want. However, we let them do what they wanted and the situation is a mess that is unlikely to be fixed any time soon. As such, it would be useful if the administration would be a bit more somber, a bit more reflective and a bit more honest with itself and with us over what can and cannot be done and what the costs will be. Facile assertions about “victory” or “cutting and running” or even talking about AQI are not policy positions, but instead sloganeering at best.

There is no doubt that what happens in Iraq, and perhaps more importantly the perception of what is happening in Iraq, will affect electoral outcomes in this country. This fact drives the public discourse, without a doubt. However, what happens in Iraq long-term is almost certainly more important than what happens in the 2008 elections, so it certainly would be nice if all parties (in all senses of the term) would engage in a serious, somber assessment of the situation, instead of trying to use the situation to score crass political points.

In short: all I want is a real assessment, not an assessment that simply serves a specific short-term political calculus (whether that calculus is being made by the Democrats or the Republicans. If we don’t do that, then we will not formulate appropriate public policy for the situation.

To summary the summary of the summary: good policy requires good information.

Yeah, I know.

But, a man can dream, can’t he?

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: US Politics | |

14 Comments

  1. “the assertions that Saddam Hussein was indeed actively pursuing a variety of WMDs and that he was actively sponsoring terrorism.”

    Honestly, I never saw how that story was even remotely plausible.

    I’ll admit to being briefly-briefly-tempted when Tony Blair was speaking more or less the same words. But lies, all lies. I knew from the get-go Bush and Co. were pathological liars and warmongers, but I really did not, at the time, think Blair and Co. were. But they were, and I don’t believe in a “hell,” but if I did, I’d believe they could all look forward to some serious warmth one day.

    Comment by MSS — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  2. […] Now, in light of the upcoming Petraeus report he gives this take on Iraq. Here is a small part of it: Anyone who has been reading this site of late knows that I have been critical of the administration over the issue of Iraq. Further, long-term readers will know that I was initially in favor of the invasion, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I accepted the assertions that Saddam Hussein was indeed actively pursuing a variety of WMDs and that he was actively sponsoring terrorism. The fact that he was a vicious dictator and the fact that I believed that the Iraqi people could be made better off without him in power and the fact that it was possible that a Saddam-less Iraq could be good for the security goals of the United States and its allies added to the factors above led to my support. […]

    Pingback by An Assessment Of Iraq » The Moderate Voice — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  3. I’d have to suggest the GAO’s report on Iraq. By far the least partisan IMO.

    Comment by Davebo — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  4. “We ended up where we are right now based on insufficient criticism”.

    Sorry, don’t agree. From what I remember there was a huge anti-war mobilization. Certainly the largest ever demonstrations in Britain - millions took to the streets.

    As for the “pre-war critics who turned out to be right”: I suppose you mean in terms of the outcome of the invasion. Well, they weren’t geniuses. Perhaps a look at the history of Iraq and a passing knowledge of US foreign interventions over the last 50 years or so might have given a hint of what was to come.

    And everyone knew that the attack would constitute a criminal war of aggression. And I mean everyone. You may recall all the fun at the United Nations, with Powell’s pathetic address, and the threats and bribes with which America attempted to sway the Security Council into voting and legalizing the war.

    There was plenty of criticism. And everyone knew the war was a criminal act. That was not where the problem lay.

    Comment by james — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 6:53 pm

  5. You are a total idiot. You seem to only be able to quote the Washington Post
    and ignore all other information (particularly of a positive sort). It seems to me there are plenty of instances of improvement on the political and reconciliation front in Iraq. Look at what has happened in Anbar and agreements apparently made in Baghdad on oil revenue sharing. I’m just glad you don’t make policy. Just go ahead and admit what your really are – a defeatilst.

    Wayne Elkins

    Comment by Wayne Elkins — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 7:48 pm

  6. Wayne,

    Anbar does not success make, it is a small part of a far bigger puzzle.

    There has been preliminary agreement on a possible oil deal, but nothing has been formally agreed upon.

    You really make my arguments for me to the point that you post almost reads like a parody of what I am talking about.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

  7. Well I didn’t go through the whole list of non-benchmark improvements which you can find on several reputable blogs and even media reports. Several/many areas improving besides Anbar. Reports from on the ground observers showing huge improvements from the Iraqis themselves. You give no credit to the military or “shudder” the Administration for any gains only mindless criticism for mistakes (real or wrongly perceived). The aftermath of a brilliantly conducted invasion has indeed been messy but evidently you have no historical perspective. Germany and Europe (and Japan) took much longer to stabilize than we so far have given Iraq/Afghanistan and at much greater cost comparatively.
    Wars and their aftermaths never follow their initial strategies but take perserverance and changes in direction to successfully conclude. Just look at the bloodbaths of the Pacific, the Italian campaign, the Dieppe Raid, etc. The Japanese had their own form of Suicide “Bombers” that wreaked havoc on our military. We survived and overcame because we did not flinch or weaken in resolve.
    Our military is the most effective/efficient in history. Let’s give them and this Administration the support they deserve so they can complete the mission.

    Wayne

    Comment by Wayne Elkins — Tuesday, September 4, 2007 @ 10:19 pm

  8. I would first respond with this:

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has offered his condolences to an American citizen for the September 11 terror attacks on the U.S.

    But he said however he would not offer condolences to President George W. Bush until the U.S. leader did the same over the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis that Baghdad blames on 11-year-old U.N. sanctions against Iraq.
    http://archives.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/meast/10/20/gen.iraq.letter/

    I would then respectfully ask the desk bound white men of the United States, and their associates, who’ve become well known worldwide for spouting brainless bravado like …”We survived and overcame because we did not flinch or weaken in resolve”, to wake up and realize what you’ve actually done.

    The US is now seen as the leader of 2st century apartheid. Of white supremacy. Of unchecked greed and lust. You ‘overcame’, through deceit and destruction. And are now seeing the consequences. Becausene thing you’ll never take from even the most destitute, are their memories.
    No one’s got your back anymore.

    Lastly, I would absolutely challenge the assertion that “‘there aren’t going to be any “immediate withdrawals” save in the context of an utter disaster”.
    ‘Foreigners’ are the cause of most of Iraq’s disputes.

    Did any of you ever look at the list of Iraq’s sanctioned items? The Iraqis were living in poverty before we got there. Now we’ve dropped the equivalent of a large American city in their laps, full of Americans filled with hate and Pinochet leftovers, sucking even more of their pitiful resources and terrorizing their children.

    Because Bush and the Congress saw Iraqi’s flying those planes?

    Well here’s some good ol’ American bravado back at ya:
    Mess with my family like that and I’d fight to the death too.

    Nationalism is not terrorism.

    Comment by hazmaq — Wednesday, September 5, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  9. hazmaq:

    For what it is worth, I said “‘there aren’t going to be any “immediate withdrawals” save in the context of an utter disaster” because if the US started withdrawing right now, it would take months. As such, an “immediate” withdrawal is a fantasy unless there was an emergency withdrawal.

    And, also, politically, we are likely months away from even a partial draw down of troops. As such, as a practical matter, there aren’t going to be any “immediate withdrawals.”

    Wayne,

    Numerous things come to mind. However, I would note that you are utterly missing my point-I made no specific recommendations, all I ultimately said is that we need a realistic evaluation of the situation and that the administration’s view doesn’t appear realistic-however, I note that you seem to buy into the notion that the situation is one of victory v. defeat, which is (as I noted) a false dichotomy.

    And when you say the following:

    Let’s give them and this Administration the support they deserve so they can complete the mission.

    The issue is very much whether the administrations “deserves” any kind of support. They have not been realistic about Iraq since before the invasion-why, therefore, should we assume that they are being realistic now?

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, September 5, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  10. My own pre-war position was that I opposed the war mostly on the grounds that the U.S. is not the proper arbiter of who may govern Iraq. I incorrectly assumed that WMD existed, and I was equally wrong in believing that the U.S. would successfully and efficiently structure a new government. I am not among those who now claim to have always known this venture would become the disaster it has.

    I find it unfortunate that the lessons that many people seem to have “learned” are: a) Mideastern democracies are not possible, b)Deposing dictators is not a worthy endeavor, and c) When a war goes badly, it means it shouldn’t have been engaged.

    I don’t think any of these are true. If the war had been an astounding success (as I thought it would be at the time), I would still today be of the opinion that we should not have fought it.

    “Pre-emptive”, unilateral wars are a bad thing. Successful or not.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Wednesday, September 5, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  11. […] A blog is not a story - It can be as long or as short as you want. For a taste of the different styles, check out this post by Instapundit Glenn Reynolds and this post by Poliblogger Steven Taylor. […]

    Pingback by Innovation in College Media » Blog Archive » What’s a blog — Wednesday, September 5, 2007 @ 10:57 pm

  12. […] and countered by simplistic formulations like “but things are better in Anbar.” Sphere: Related Content Filed under: US Politics || […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » The Lack of an Operational Security Apparatus in Iraq and the Implications Thereof — Thursday, September 6, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  13. […] in Baghdad on oil revenue sharing” as evidence of his deep understanding of the situation. Sphere: Related Content Filed under: Iraq || […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Oil Law Compromise Collapsing? — Thursday, September 13, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  14. […] This also reminds me of a commenter who called me a “total idiot” and a “defeatist” because I questioned the analytical validity of those who said the surge was working. Specifically the fellow cited “agreements apparently made in Baghdad on oil revenue sharing” as evidence of his deep understanding of the situation. […]

    Pingback by Political Mavens » Oil Law Compromise Collapsing? — Thursday, September 13, 2007 @ 9:44 am

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