This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Politicking: The War in Iraq

Here is the first part of several political blogs. Enjoy (or not):

Issue 1. McCain is for continuing the war in Iraq, Obama wants to pull out and put in more troops in Afghanistan.

On McCain's website, he outlines "The Importance of Succeeding in Iraq." On this point especially, McCain has disappointed me greatly. The man served in Vietnam, and was a POW for several years. He had an upfront seat for another time when American foreign policy was a complete failure. So he of all people should know the folly of taking a "Nixon stance" on this war: putting in more troops will not magically fix the problem. While I generally dislike blanket comparisons between events in history, especially wars, I think there are lessons from Vietnam that have been forgotten. In this case, it is that a failed foreign policy has resulted in a war of which the importance has been gravely overestimated.

The war in Iraq was admittedly illegitimate, based on faulty intelligence and a certain bloodlust in this country following 9/11. Even still, the Bush administration (specifically Rumsfeld) bungled post-war reconstruction so badly in the crucial time following the fall of Baghdad that it is no longer even possible to "win." For a comprehensive look at the Iraq War (from the perspective of someone who supported the war effort), I recommend The Assassin's Gate. There are other books on the topic of Iraqi politics and the war, and trust me, I've read more than I ever care to read on Iraq, past, present and future. (If you'd read all 1300 pages of Hanna Batatu's The Old Social Classes & The Revolutionary Movement in Iraq, you'd feel the same way too.) But Assassin's Gate is probably the most clear picture of what went wrong. It also includes a nice history of the neoconservative movement that lead us to the war in the first place. Fascinating stuff. But my understanding of the Iraq situation isn't just from reading books, it is also from talking to many soldiers who have served in Iraq, from the invasion to initial stages of reconstruction to very recently. It paints a very clear picture of what went wrong and why.

But success in Iraq? McCain states that, "The best way to secure long-term peace and security is to establish a stable, prosperous, and democratic state in Iraq that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists." That ship has sailed. There will be no "success" in Iraq without an indefinite troop presence that has to be maintained at the expense of our military personnel (and the burden placed on their families), and even then, actual stability (which has not occurred yet) will be difficult to achieve without a massive crackdown on the country, requiring many more soldiers than are currently serving and maintaining unsustainable troop presence. You'll be hard-pressed to find soldiers who haven't done at least one tour in Iraq, usually multiple tours. As McCain says, "When Iraqi forces can safeguard their own country, American troops can return home." We messed up big-time in Iraq, but while an unstable Iraq is certainly unfavorable, and a tragedy we caused, it is not nearly as serious as an unstable Afghanistan. While we randomly decided to invade Iraq, we botched Afghanistan. Now the argument is that we have to make Iraq stable, otherwise it will become a haven of terrorism like Afghanistan. Only, Afghanistan is quickly becoming a haven of terrorism again right under our noses.

Additionally, ignoring the importance of culture in these situations has disasterous consequences. An in-depth examination of Iraq's history reveals the complexities of sectarian conflict, the impact of western imperialism, and the underlying reasons for the success of the Ba'ath party. We have this naive view that democracy works for everyone. While I believe democracy is the superior choice, I also believe societies have to get there on their own. You can't "teach" people "freedom," nor does everyone want it. They have to develop it for themselves, on their own terms, with their own interpretations. These things develop over time, and are unlikely to occur as a result of "liberating" a nation from its dictatorship. I think there was a window of time where American forces were seen as "liberators," but de-Ba'athification created such massive instability that it is difficult to view invadors as "liberators" when the general populace is greatly worse off than before.

I think we have a choice. We can either stop a futile effort and concentrate on the most urgent problems in the Middle East, such as Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and the porous borders of Pakistan, to name a few (Afghanistan through finishing what we started, and the rest through diplomatic measures). But if we keep going in Iraq, Dr. Herring will have to change the title of his book to America's Second Longest War.

This is a secondary concern, but one that continues to nag me. One of the big reasons I supported Obama over Clinton comes down to a single vote: the one for the Iraq War. No, Obama didn't have the opportunity to cast a vote, so it might not seem fair. However, he did speak out publicly against the war while serving in the state legislature. This wasn't something he had to do; his opinion didn't matter at that point. The war could easily have been a big success, and his political career would have been tanked. But he still spoke out, and to me, that says a lot about his character. Clinton and McCain both cast votes to go to war. They can both claim now to have been "deceived" by the Bush administration but frankly, either they're both incredibly gullible or they just weren't willing to make an unpopular stand which would have scuttled their political careers. Anyone who was even slightly familiar with the politics of Iraq knew that claims of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda were suspect. That should have been a big red flag that the "intelligence" coming out of Iraq regarding WMD's may not be all that reliable, especially considering the sources of that intel. But they've stuck to the whole "Bush deceived us!" cry of foul, instead of owning up to their own personal mistakes. Every member of Congress who cast a vote to go to war in Iraq is responsible for this mess, as much as Bush and goons are responsible.

So, here is Obama's stance on the Iraq War, and here is his plan. Essentially, it breaks down as structured troop withdrawal, and international cooperation to provide humanitarian aid for reconstruction, which I believe is the only chance Iraq has to build a future that (might) not include eruption into civil war. As far as I can tell, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, John McCain's plan for Iraq is to keep doing what we're doing. Which isn't working. Despite claims to the contrary, Iraq is not stable. Yes, with an increase in troop presence, violence decreases. However, that troop presence is not sustainable, and neither is a decline in violence. I suggest listening to what the military has been saying, not what the Bush administration is saying, for an accurate picture of the future of Iraq.

The underlying theme of this topic is, of course, foreign policy. McCain doesn't specifically address the issue of foreign policy on his site, other than supporting international pressure on Syria and Iran, so I'm unsure what his actual stance is on foreign policy. I'm going to try to find out before I say much more on the topic. Since I have a great deal to say about foreign policy and diplomacy (I have a master's degree in it, I'd better have something to say about it), I'll leave that topic for the next blog.

So, if anyone is actually interested in politicking, comment away.


bob said...

I believe he has modified his plan lately.

LL said...

I haven't gotten to comment b/c holy crap I'm busy but I've really enjoyed your politicking posts and have read parts of them to JP during one of our "discussions". You have an excellent handle on the issues, you think much the same way I do, and you explain it better than I usually do.

So even though I can't engaged in an enlightening comment discussion, just wanted you to know I'm reading and enjoying the posts! (although I'm always thrilled to see pictures of Cora and her ducks too, mindless cuteness is a wonderful thing :)