Tuesday, February 27, 2007

No Excuses

From National Interest online.

I am tired of hearing the excuse, “If I had known then what I know now” in relation to one’s position on the Iraq war. Let’s be honest. The translation seems to be: I thought I was voting for what Russian Interior Minister Plehve recommended to Tsar Nicholas II in pursuing hostilities with Japan: a “short, victorious war”—a cakewalk, a liberation—not for a long hard slog.

There is no excuse. The body of knowledge about Iraq’s WMD program is essentially what it was back then when the vote took place. We knew what the risks of an occupation of Iraq would bring. The 2002 vote was a judgment call about whether or not Saddam Hussein could be trusted to remain in power without endangering the national security of the United States.

Let me say I am not looking for apologies or admissions of “wrongdoing.” Nor am I suggesting that people cannot change their minds. In fact, I care less about how one voted on the Iraq war and much more why—what was the strategic thinking underpinning that decision? Was a vote cast out of deep held conviction and a careful assessment of the situation? And don’t keep talking about intelligence. Most decisions are made on the basis of imperfect intelligence, fragments of information and lines of speculation. It is very rare that one is going to have 100 percent perfect intelligence in hand. And so leaders have to be prepared to exercise judgment. And I would hate to believe that many of those who supported the war did so because it was safer to be “with the majority”—to go with the flow—just as I have a problem with those who voted against the war because of an instinctive, reflexive dislike about the use of American power.

So, no more shouted taunts about repudiating a vote. Instead, these are the questions we should be asking:

—On what basis did you come to the conclusion that Iraq was a looming threat to U.S. national security? Were you prepared to accept the proffered intelligence because it confirmed your predispositions about Saddam Hussein and his regime? How closely did you examine what was presented to you?

—How did you “rank” the threat posed by Iraq against what was already known about the progress being made by North Korea and Iran?

—Did you feel that dealing with Iraq would be “easier” than tackling North Korea or Iran, and did you believe that there would be a de-proliferation “demonstration effect” as a result? And can you explain the basis for your reasoning?

What all of this navel gazing at the 1998 and 2002 votes on Iraq—and let’s not forget the 2002 vote could not have taken place without the 1998 assessment about Iraq, passed by a broad bipartisan majority and signed into law by President Clinton—is not doing is helping us to understand how and why those who would be President after 2008 determine the difference between annoyances and irritants and true pending dangers to national security. Or how they plan to manage threats. Or their understanding about the limits of military power to bring about political solutions.

I want to know lessons learned. Based on what you know now about Iran, what is your recommended course of action? Don’t tell me how you would have voted differently in 2002. Tell me today how you assess the security challenges we face. That seems to be a much more productive conversation.

First all Americans and realists must recognize the factbasedreality that every word spewed out by the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government is a LIE, that the entire Bush government is people with pathological liars, and that this fascist government does not deserve one nanoparticle of the peoples goodfaith, goodwill, or trust.

The point is that - anything pimped by the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government MUST be support by real facts and vetted intelligence as opposed to fictional partisan hype, exaggeration, disinformation, propaganda and patent LIES!!!!!

In hard cold terms - the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government have NO CREDIBILITY!!!

Iran, the Iranian government, the mad mullahs, and the Iranian people all have unique and often conflict wants and needs. Until American leadership examines and comprehends or is at least aware of these various often conflicting wants and needs - America cannot possibly undertake any serious or "realist" policies with Iran, the Iranian government, the mad mullahs, or the Iranian people

The terrible swift sword of America's hypersuperior half a trillion dollar a year military is always an option, though quite often not a very affective one.

Diplomacy, real statecraft, negotiation, and a return to the rule of law, the Constitution, and the core principles that formally define America will return America to a place where military action taken against Iran, - if such a LAST RESOART horrorshow end is necessary - will be based on truth, vetted facts, the principles and policies all American can support - and not the nefarious machinations, radical deceptions, unholy designs, and obscene abuses, of the fascist warmongers and profiteers the Bush government.

There is no hope for America, Americans, or any freedom loving people on this wild and violent planet ever reaching any peaceful settlements or agreements while the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government, commandeer, pervert, and betray America and remain in power.

Our only hope for reaching any arriving at any sane remedies, or solving any of the many terrible crisis facing America - is IMPEACHING all the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government.

If not, - American must hazard and endure more patent lies, more obscene abuses, more radical deceptions, more derelictions of duty, more perversions and betrayals of the Constitution, and the principles that formally defined America, more erosion of the peoples rights, freedoms, protections, and priviledges, more wanton profiteering and NEVERENDINGWAR.

War is what the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government profit from, and war is what they conjure, and war is what the seek, and war is what they perpetuate, - so neverendingwar is all America will ever know, hazard, or endure while the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government commandeer the American government.

"Deliver us from evil!"

The question you ask is crucial right now but far from straightforward.

The generation of future leaders who lived through appeasement and World War II thought they had learned the lesson that appeasement of dictators is always wrong; hence, Eden's decision to launch the Suez invasion in 1956 and Johnson's rationale for deepening the US commitment to Vietnam in the mid-1960s.

A later generation thought they had learned from Vietnam that America's only proper business was to come home, or to act only in defense of truly vital interests. However, others argued in the 1970s and 1980s that we had failed by not using enemy methods against the enemy. In this view, we needed to sponsor insurgents against enemy proxy states and compete more aggressively in the realm of ideology (democracy vs. tyranny) rather than pursue realpolitik.

In response to Afghanistan and Iraq, it is easy to foresee a similar range of different answers to the question of what these wars should tell us.

I would argue that strategy is not the lesson to be drawn from the outcome of events. It is a way of reaching some larger but still finite goal that can be achieved in stages. Grand strategy is the pursuit of such a goal on a global scale: in time of peace, over several decades, or in wartime, over a few years.

Our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq can't be understood without a larger finite grand strategic goal. Unless we have clarity on that level, policy may continue to be a succession of efforts to sub-optimize.
Intriguing commentary david billington, - but the problem is born in the use or rather misuse and mangling of language that defeats any hope of mutual understanding.

For example the term "appeasement" evidently means one thing to you, and quite another to me, and until we reach some common agreement on what exactly that words means, our communication is distorted.

Forgive me if I am misinterpreting here, but appeasing say Saddam Hussien, or Jong Il for example, - is no different than appeasing the House of Saud, of Khadaffi, or Musharef for that matter. The point being the term "appeasement" and all it's derivatives has been perverted and mangled to imply some kind of slime against Clinton, or democrats specifically, - but somehow does not hold any attachment to Bush or republican who are equally if not more accountable for appeasing dictators.

And again, the use of the words "tyranny and democracy", belie the basic factbasedrealities of both terms in practical applications, intrinsically opposed to, conflicted with, and countradicting to the academic definitions.

From my perspective, - invading and occupying soveriegn nations, (regardless of how nasty their leadership may be), slaughtering and maiming thousands of that nations civilians, marauding that nations resources, deceptively selling the justifications, cloaking the accounting, shapeshifting the ultimate objectives, and profiteering wantonly in and from the insidious process is the definition of tyranny, and has absolutely ZERO connection, relation to or involvement with the term and very idea of "democracy".

Inversely, - the word and the very idea of democracy is betrayed and perverted in the context of a government sanctioning torture, rendition, or the denial of habeaus corpus, or due process, freedom of speach, protections againts unnecessary government intrusion into the peoples private lives, the radical erosion freedom of speech, assembly, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

My point is these words mean nothing now. They are impotent and moot constructs "possessing no more moral dignity or substance than a shout", or trigger terms intended to incite hatred and/or disdain based on and rooted in rank ignorance, or associated with unsubstantiated partisan slime and scurrilous slander, - in affect rendering these words, these terms, and these ideologies or idea's - meaningless.

Please define the terms appeasement, democracy, tyranny, and the even more nebulous thing you call "Grand strategy", and get back to me.

Because from where I sit, the apparent strategy is certainly not grand, has nothing to do with democracy, and is far more accurately defined as fascism, apparently appeases our worsed enemies (House of Saud abundantly funded and nurtured wahabi maddrasses and jihadist mass murder gangs), and is a bloody, costly, noendinsight perpetuation of tyranny and wanton profiteering.

The truth will set us all free! Let's look into it.
Tony Foresta,

I agree with your point that language can be abused and that the United States has not always been consistent in the way that it applies concepts like appeasement and tyranny. We will pay a price for this if we haven't already. But it is not always a simple matter of deciding what is what.

During the Second World War, our principal allies were the USSR (a genocidal tyranny), Great Britain (a colonial empire), and Republican China (a one-party state). Since Japan and Germany both declared war on us, we had to fight them. But would you say that we were hypocritical to support Britain, Russia, and China because they too were defective? Do you think choices in the end are always black and white, or do we confront choices that are sometimes ambiguous? What should we do in those cases?

Regarding grand strategy, it is usually not a policy but rather a framework for policy set by the outcome of a previous world war or world upheaval. There is an implicit goal, but it is usually conceptualized as a state of affairs to be maintained rather than as a change to be achieved. However, sometimes underlying trends make it necessary to formulate a new framework in time of relative peace because the old framework is clearly on the way out.

The British began to rethink their long-term position after 1871 and especially in the years before 1914. The British did not convert their world position back then into something more durable and as a result their world position changed from what it was to what it now is.

It is still a matter of debate whether America even needs to think about a new framework. But we probably should begin to think about one if we are in fact entering a long period of relative decline. If the institutions that exist to integrate the entire world fail to do so, and if our security is threatened by this failure, we may have to decide whether to remain free and alone or whether to share power (ie. more than we presently do) with a larger community of nations.

You might read Daniel Drezner's article in the current Foreign Affairs (www.foreignaffairs.org) if you want a somewhat ironic glimpse of the future. I don't know if what Drezner describes will really outlast the things that have gone wrong under Bush, but it seems clear that Wall Street is looking ahead to a different kind of world in which America treats (or at least tries to treat) China and other great powers as partners.
Thanks for your intelligent response, and link to the article.

I do not think issues are ever black and white.

Your comments referring to the compromizing, "ambiguous" - and in my view necessary alliances the US established with the USSR, Britain, and China in response to the very real threats posed by Nazi Germany point to the kind of complexities and often "untidy" entanglements that are seemingly impossible to avoid in international relations, especially with regard to wars, oil, and global economics.

My issue with language (specifically th Bush government's mangling of language) is not hypocrisy, - but intentional distortion and/or deconstruction of terms, words, and language itself as an insipid means to perpetuate disinformation and DECEPTION.

So what we should do in these cases, - is be honest, genuine, and hold as much as possible to the facts, truth, and some level of integrity as humanly possible.

There is no utopian delusions of any government being untainted in some way or any leadership that is intrinsically good - but neither will I accept that the people should tolerate a government that is intentionally deceptive.

You point about Wall Street is poignant as well. The markets are apolitical, and a-religious and focused singularly on profit, and a different kind of world is certainly on the horizon.

Thanks again.
Nick, did you see Leon Hadar's blog on comparing the situation with Iran with the Gulf of Tonkin--people do need to be asking questions. Was heartened to read this in his post:

The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, has sharply criticized the administration’s increasingly combative stance, telling the New York Times that efforts to portray Iran as a growing threat are uncomfortably reminiscent of rhetoric about Iraq before the American invasion. He warned that the administration is building a case even as intelligence agencies still know little about either Iran’s internal dynamics or its intentions in the Middle East. “To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again,” the senator said. “This whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre.”
My recommendations are:

1- Repeal the presidential findings that has caused embargoes gainst Iran - u do not need Congress for that. This way you will show to teh Iranians that you are neither obdurate nor vindictive - you are willing to let bygones be bygone.

2- Get the Nuclear file send back to IAEA - you are only hurting yourselves by giving other states power over the resolution of an essentially bi-lateral issue.

3- Re-affirm your committment to the Algiers Agreements

4- Decalre a date for leaving Iraq.

5- Replan your policies in the Near East in the light of the increased Iranian power.

6- Begin the process of political negogiations between the two states so that the next President can have something to build on.

7- Try to keep EU, Russia, China, Israel, Saudi Arabia and others out of dealings with Iran - Korean Six-Party talks were a disaster for US.

8- Coordinate all of this with neutral states that are trusted by Iran (South Africa, Switzerland) and with Iran.

Even if the most maximal claims about Iraq's WMD had turned out to be true, Iraq would still have had no more destructive potential than, say, North Korea.

It is self-evident that North Korea represents no acute threat to the United States.

The Iraq war was about the Bush Doctrine, ideologically, but it was promoted - in and out of the White House- and supported - from AEI to American living rooms - because when perceived costs of aggression are low, aggression is popular and aggressors - and the supporters of aggression -prosper.

It works the same here as it does for Ahmadinejad in Iran.

You're right to look with skepticism for the deeper strategic understanding behind regretting one's vote. What you're seeing is an instinctive recoil a self-evidently bad experience. But that is the reaction of a fundamentally pragmatic nation-state. Thank goodness. Such basic reactions are the best we can hope for.
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