January 13, 2004

Why We Went to Iraq

Some say we went to Iraq to get Saddam Hussein’s weapons. Others say we’re there to establish a foothold of democracy in the Middle East. A smaller number say it was our exit strategy from Saudi Arabia.

All those reasons are valid. A good decision is rarely right for one reason alone. Good decisions can be justified on all manner of different grounds.

Still, there is one over-riding reason we went to war in Iraq, and it’s the one reason hardly anyone wants to talk about. It isn’t even remotely politically correct or nice or diplomatic. But that’s just too bad. Life isn’t a game of Model UN.

The real reason can be explained in two ways. First, here is Banagor (via Winds of Change).

The reason we are fighting this war is not because nineteen hijackers crashed into a burning building and a handful of others cheered, but because the entire Muslim world not only cheered, but then turned around, pointed at "The Jews" and said that it was their fault, denied they ever did it, denied that it ever could be them, screamed that they hated us anyway, danced in the streets, printed up posters about the heroes who did the deed all while denying they ever really did, and then increased their threats to tell us that if they didn't get more capitulations that it would happen yet again.
And here is Thomas Friedman in Slate.
The real reason for this war—which was never stated—was to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s.

This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as "martyrs," and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something—to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it's not very diplomatic—it's not in the rule book—but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

Yeah, I know. This is dangerous bloodthirsty warmonger stuff penned by everyone’s favorite New York Times punching bag. That doesn’t make it not so. Some things are true even if Thomas Friedman believes them.

We have Gaddafi capitulating over weapons of mass destruction. The Iranian mullahs and the nutcase in North Korea are backing down (at least in public) on their own weapons procurement. And now via Roger L. Simon we learn that Syria's Bashar Assad splits with Hezbollah and offers to negotiate with Israel without preconditions.

It isn’t at all likely that Boy Assad would suddenly cave if Saddam Hussein had successfully stood down America.

Fighting a war in Iraq may very well prevent us from fighting other wars someplace else. Getting tough gets results.

And as Dennis Miller recently said on CNN:

I feel more politically engaged than I've ever felt in my life because I do think we live in dangerous times, and anybody who looks at the world and says this is the time to be a wuss—I can't buy that anymore.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 13, 2004 09:27 PM
Comments

"Everyone’s favorite New York Times punching bag"?

Did MoDo or Krugman ghostwrite the piece?

Posted by: Chris Lawrence at January 13, 2004 09:52 PM

It's funny.

Like Dennis Miller, I've never felt so more alive when so many are trying to kill us off.

It's kinda fun to be so misunderestimated.

Posted by: SLO Jim at January 13, 2004 09:53 PM

Did MoDo or Krugman ghostwrite the piece?

Nah. It's just that I don't know anyone but me who likes Thomas Friedman.

The left hates him because he's supposedly a "warmonger for Bush." The right hates him because he's supposedly a "left-wing idiotarian."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 13, 2004 09:58 PM

Michael does have a gift for cutting through the BS. Great read. And I like Friedman. Even when I don't agree with him, I am forced to acknowledge his attempts at being objective and fair. As a result, I actually listen to him, rather than dismiss him as a yahoo.

It WAS in our interest to flex our muscles and pound the hero of the terrorists into the ground. Bin Laden made it clear that our "cut-n-run" tactics in Somalia was being used as a recruiting tool, painting the USA as a paper tiger, a decadent nation without the courage to stand up for its principles. Today, we actually have real friends in Iraq, as we are fighting and dying for them.

Posted by: Scott at January 13, 2004 10:23 PM

The closest thing we've got here in America to Tony Blair: Tom Friedman is my hero. :)

Posted by: Grant McEntire at January 13, 2004 10:28 PM

Okay, so, this is maybe a little off topic but...is it possible to be a liberal neo-conservative? Sounds like a contradiction in terms but it kinda seems to fit alot of us (socially libertarian, fiscally moderate liberal hawks) who dream of uncovering an American Tony Blair.

Any thoughts, Michael?

Posted by: Grant McEntire at January 13, 2004 10:57 PM

We're at war in Iraq because we felt weak after 9/11 and needed a win to make ourselves feel better. This isn't about Arab and Muslim psychology, it's about our own.

The proper way to address the threat from al Qaeda is to attack al Qaeda. Since it is abundantly clear that Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda, this war is a dangerous diversion.

Posted by: Mithras at January 13, 2004 10:58 PM

Yes, Mithras, go on pretending that 9/11 was just a problem confined to one small band of people - Al-Qaida sequestered in one remote country - Afghanistan.

Go on forgetting about the 12 year Mongolian clusterf%#k quagmire that was our Iraq policy.

Go on voting for people who claim (rarely in so many words, but that is the implication of their second guessing) the it would have turned out better if we'd let Saddam go on ruling Iraq and lifted the sanctions and dropped the inspections. He would've promised to behave.

Also, I was surpised to hear that stuff about how the Iraq invasion was done to make us feel better about ourselves. I know the Left likes to talk about self-esteem a lot, and I know Mithras believes all or most of the worst possible things about U.S. foreign policy and those who make it but I was still startled to see that he (she?) is a subscriber of the Norman Mailer Doctrine.

Posted by: John in Tokyo at January 13, 2004 11:20 PM

It wasn't about making us feel better. It was about sending this message: Don't you fuck with us.

Have you ever stood down a bully, Mithras? That's how it's done.

Some comedian (I forget who) once joked that if he ever gets sent to prison he will eat someone's eyeball. He didn't mean that it would make him feel better about his new digs.

It's nasty. I know. But this is war, not a Dr. Phil show.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 13, 2004 11:33 PM

By the way, Michael, I agree with Tom Friedman's point here but I thought that Paul Berman expressed the same idea much more eloquently. Hitchens, of course, writes the most eloquently of all, but, as always, in his unique polemical style. Berman's letter(s) read(s) more as an appeal that I would show to an undecided.

Fred Kaplan is incoherent, as usual. What's different about his article this time is that it is sandwiched in between much better pieces from much better thinkers and it makes his idiocy stand out more than usual. If I were anti-War (we should change that term to regretting-War or something - any good ideas?), I would be angry and accuse Slate of bias in pitting such a weak and muddled anti-War writer against A-list hawk pundits.

Posted by: John in Tokyo at January 13, 2004 11:35 PM

John in Tokyo-
That "12 year Mongolian clusterf%#k quagmire that was our Iraq policy" seriously degraded Iraq's military and caused it to scrap their WMD. All at the cost of $1 billion per year, as opposed to the $1 billion a week we are spending now. Who advocated dropping the inspections? Not I. Who advocated dropping sanctions? Not me, either. The people who complained about sanctions killing Iraqis were wrong - Saddam had plenty of money to feed and provide medical care to his people, but he chose not to. He killed his own people, we didn't. At least, until now.

The United States of America is worse off for having invaded Iraq. It was a policy pursued against our own self-interest. It may help the Iraqis in the long run, but it has done us very little good. It has tied down our combat capability, inflicted a division's worth of casualties - combat and non-combat, and been a propaganda disaster.

I do not "blame America first" or subscribe to some author's views on U.S. foreign policy. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I opposed the invasion of Iraq, and think it has been bad for our country. Our country, understand? Our country has been deluded into following policies contrary to its self-interest in the past, and when it does, I reserve the right to criticize it. So, go to hell.

Posted by: Mithras at January 13, 2004 11:46 PM

John,

I've mentioned this before, but I'll agree with you by mentioning it again.

Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism is far and away the best book I've read about September 11. Every person interested in this subject should buy that book immedietly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 13, 2004 11:49 PM

Incidentally, for those who do not know, Paul Berman is a left-liberal Democrat. When he uses the word Liberalism in the title, he means liberalism as opposed to terrorism, not in conjunction with it. He is not making an Ann Coulter argument.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 13, 2004 11:51 PM

Michael-

I feel more politically engaged than I've ever felt in my life because I do think we live in dangerous times, and anybody who looks at the world and says this is the time to be a wuss—I can't buy that anymore.

Look at that quote again and tell me, "It wasn't about making us feel better." Of course Miller feels more engaged - more alive - than ever before. He gets to be tough vicariously. "It was about sending this message: Don't you fuck with us." That's not about how you feel? Sure, Michael.

And yes, I have experience with facing bullies. If you want to stand a bully down, don't go after some other guy who had nothing to do with the bully.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 12:00 AM

If you want to stand a bully down, don't go after some other guy who had nothing to do with the bully.

We killed Osama. He is DNA on rocks in Afghanistan. (Probably.)

Osama bin Laden is just one (dead) guy. This war is much bigger than him. It is, as Paul Berman explains in his highly recommended book, a war against Islamic totalitarianism, both fundamentalist and secular.

Did you get my point about the comedian, the jailhouse, and the eyeball? I know it's gross, but so is war.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 12:12 AM

We killed Osama. He is DNA on rocks in Afghanistan.

Uh, he is? Why do you think that?

I am not arguing that there isn't a larger conflict outside of al Qaeda. I am arguing that the means to win that larger war are primarily political, not military, as the Army Chief of Staff has hinted recently and Wesley Clark has said explicitly. And in terms of both tying up our military assets and in botching our political war, the Iraq invasion was a mistake.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims and Arabs are moderates. They might not like us much, but they don't necessarily want to kill us, either. Those people need to be won over. We have to show them we're the good guys, not just assert it. And we don't show them that through dubious wars. You want to intimidate the real radicals, the suicide bombers, fine. I am with you. But you cannot intimdate 1 billion people, and in fact, it's counterproductive to even try.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 12:21 AM

Oops, here's that link on bin Laden. I hope.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 12:24 AM

"Nah. It's just that I don't know anyone but me who likes Thomas Friedman."

I like him frequently but when he's wifty it's pretty scary. But he's not mendacious, which puts him ahead of many other pundits.

"We have to show them we're the good guys, not just assert it. And we don't show them that through dubious wars. "

The Iraqis are glad we took Saddam off their backs. They are not happy with some of the details of our occupation, but they are very happy to be rid of Saddam. The surrounding Arab nations are of two minds: OTOH, they hated and feared Saddam. (The only Arabs crying for Saddam aside from his former cronies are the Palestinians.) OTOH, now we are turning over all sorts of rocks and saying "stop coddling terrorism or this could be you." But that's what we should be saying. we should not be trying to make nice to those people - being a pushover is what got us into this mess.

This was not a dubious war - it was a strategic blow, a judo move, in exactly the right place.

Posted by: Yehudit at January 14, 2004 12:36 AM

Mithras,

Hmm. Interesting link. Tom Ridge is saying the supposed Osama tape is authentic.

I still have my doubts, though. It doesn't add up to me. Why would such a narcisistic person like Osama bin Laden not want to prove we didn't get him by making a video? And I don't mean one of those cheap videos of him climbing around on rocks in the background with some other guy doing the voice-over. I mean, wouldn't he want to really prove he survived the Afghan invasion?

I think he would. He would need credibility, proof that he is too crafty for the Americans. And he hasn't done it. So I'm skeptical.

But I don't know. I'm speculating, obviously.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 12:38 AM

Heya Michael,

Thanks for the link.

A few points for Mithras:

1) You can criticize all you like. But you also have to accept that others have a right to criticize you as well, and say that you don't have that right, even though you do. That's part of freedom of speech.

2) Saddam may, or may not, have had anything to do with 9/11. I think he did because I've read a ton of what Laurie Mylroie has written (I correspond with her often enough), and I believe what she writes. But that doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter if we'd have found WMD or not. In fact, I wrote a long time before the war that I didn't care if he did or didn't have them. What matters is that this is a war of conquest - for them and for us. Just because it doesn't fit the liberal paradigm on how the world should be doesn't make it necessarily untrue. In fact, it's the way the world has always been run. We set up societies so that we don't have to constantly live in such a world, but the societies are fictionalized borders which do not apply outside of the boundaries.

We needed to go to Iraq for a lot of reasons, but the best one is the simplest: they were the enemy. I mean they as in Saddam and his supporters. It doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks, because they aren't us. I recall something about Britain standing "unilaterally" against the Nazis for a long time, and nobody sane is now against the fact that Churchill chose to act in that way. He pleaded for a coalition and it took a long time before one actually emerged, and a huge disaster of our own before we entered the war fully on his side. Just because we are acting "alone" right now (and we are not), doesn't mean that we are wrong. And just because the world "hates" us for it right now doesn't make them right. Realpolitik can only go so far. It would have been very diplomatic to just accept Nazi rule on a negotiated basis for Churchill rather than stand up to them. It would have saved countless of English lives. But he knew that he couldn't do that. The same applies here. Sometimes you do have a moral stand, and ignoring it is absolutely wrong and reprehensible. Don't bother telling me that we supported Saddam at first because I know that we did. But that doesn't mean that the solution was to turn our backs on the problem because we messed up the first time. In fact, it means that we bore even more responsibility for removing him instead of less. We are not perfect, but we are far above the terrorists, dictators, mullahs, extremists, and general Muslim world ignorance which we are fighting today.

Posted by: Banagor at January 14, 2004 01:13 AM

Mithras,

I apologize for lumping you in with "blame America-firster" and putting arguments in your mouth - but that "making ourselves feel good" bit was pretty goofy, even it was a half-joking retort.

Still, I'm just baffled by your logic. I don't know where to begin. You believe that we should have continued sanctions and inspections (and troops in Saudi Arabia and no fly zones over the Shiites and Kurds, etc. etc.). But you don't say how long this would be - indefinitely? Yet you deny wanting to lift the sanctions (and you presumably deny or forgot that inspections only resumed under a credible - i.e. not empty - threat of invasion). But those are the choices: decades of continued containment or (eventual) lifting of inspections and sanctions (and no fly zones over Kurdistan and the South, continued troop presence in Saudi Arabia). Only by the grace of Saddam's own mule-headed thughishness had he not already achieved this. I should also mention that you and I and the rest of the world only know what we know about the state of WMD because of the invasion and the (ongoing!) post-Baathist audit. The mystery of course is far from being completely unravelled and among the surprises, we have found, to no one's surprise, evidence that Saddam retained critical know-how for future reacquisition. Why don't those currently harping on WMDs mention this, if only to belittle it?!

You write: "Saddam had plenty of money to feed and provide medical care to his people, but he chose not to. He killed his own people, we didn't..." And, surreally, you are using this to support the case for leaving Saddam and sons in place!! Have you forgotten who was blamed for all of this? Of course, this view was not mainstream in the U.S. and Europe, but it had gained suprising currency and influence before and immediately after 9/11. What's important is that it was completely mainstream and accepted wisdom in the Muslim world. Have you forgotten about Sheik Osama's fatwah? Do you not recall that items 1 and 2 at the top of Al-Qaida's long list of grievances were the Infidel Troops (including icky women soldiers) corrupting the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia and their deliberate poisoning of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi babies. This was his pitch to the rest of the ummah and it came in ahead of Israel and Kashmir and East Timor, etc. etc. And don't tell me that this was just Osama's extremist rantings. The same views or weaker versions were widely disseminated throughout the state-owned Islamic and/or Arab Nationalist press and through the (often state-sponsored) influential clerical schools (with their Friday-night mosque sermons, fatwahs, etc.) for close to a decade.

You argue that it has been a propaganda disaster, but forget that everything else has been a propaganda disaster. Yet you concede that it might help the Iraqis in the long-term. If it helps the Iraqis, that seems to me to be a long-term propaganda coup. Deeds, not words. So far, I think it has only been a propaganda disaster among left-wing ideologues (you buy that view and spread it) who now feel even less constrained in comparing Bush to Hitler. It is an unfortunate fact that a large percentage of our pundit class shares some ideological overlap with this subsection and it is even further regrettable that a majority of the Democratic candidates have chosen to pander to this crowd, but I suspect that this will come back to bite them on the ass. As for Europe, who cares. I'd rather be right than popular. They will eventually wake up to what's going on a few years down the road when Iraq is a better place. Although governments of England, Spain, Italy, Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and a few others already have. Finally, the Muslim world is already changeing more rapidly than it has in a long time. What happens next is unclear and wont be for several years. The message of deterrance is already starting to reach the intended parties. The message of Democracy is also starting to get through. Al-Qaida and its bretheren still have their grievances (they always would) but success and (promised) victory were always their chief recruiting tool. There is no point in declaring victory - it remains far away. But to try to describe success as defeat is, frankly, unbecoming, and to attempt to portray the deposition of one of the vilest regimes in modern history and a sworn enemy of the U.S. as some sort of setback is totally disgusting. I know that Hawks often get overblown in their rhetoric and I apologize if I unfairly lumped you with others of less patriotic arguments, but in all honesty I understand their exasperation. You are a defeatist. And you are trampling on our success at the precise moment when the germanation of a better future for the Middle East is just sprouting out of the ground.

Posted by: John in Tokyo at January 14, 2004 01:27 AM

Go John, go!
Mithras "The overwhelming majority of Muslims and Arabs are moderates. "
I believe this, but their votes don't show it. Cause they can't vote. Post WW II & Cold War policies & OIL have warped the Arab countries. Without Western force, they were NOT getting more democratic. In fact, the reverse, Tom F.'s bubble of terrorism.

The terrorists DO use force, and words. And Arafat's thugs DO beat up, and kill, those who disagree. If the terror thug force is not met with opposing force, in use (not mere 17 UN empty threats), the terror thugs win, almost by default.

The costs are large. It's really good, and important, to mention them. But the alternatives are bad, too; especially pulling out.

After the anti-Vietnam war leftists won the US policy debate and got out ... Pol Pot murdered over 2 million, over 25% of the Cambodians. The left did not murder them, but starting in the summer of love (67) they opposed the US in trying to contain and stop such commie crimes. The Killing Fields are part of the left's Vietnam costs of withdrawal, usually unmentioned (since it was on Rep. Nixon's watch, after all, both US parties guilty.)

After Bush cleaned up the Taliban in Afghanistan, before the 2002 elections, THAT was the democratic time to say containment, no invasion. The Dems wimped out, because ... politics, whatever. After that, and the surrounding buildup, Blix needed to say: Saddam is fully cooperating. Or else war. Blix asked for more time, and agreed that Saddam was NOT fully cooperating, not fully accepting the parole conditions of Desert Storm.

We don't need to attack Al Qaeda, the most. We need to support regime change in the Arab world away from human rights denial, and towards societies that have free speech. Societies where the leaders are not so afraid of words that thugs are sent to beat up dissenters. Lack of free speech/ free press is the largest root cause of Islamofascism.

Posted by: Tom Grey at January 14, 2004 02:45 AM

Wait, wasn't Dennis Miller basically backing up my "wood" thesis here?

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 14, 2004 02:57 AM

Kimmit, I'm confused. Refresh my memory: is your "Wood thesis" about how us chickenhawks sprout uncontrollable erections when we read our Tom Clancy novels. Or is it something about the connection between Dennis Miller and James Woods?

If the former, I strongly protest because I have never read Tom Clancy. Although I must admit to soiling the pages of copy of All Quiet on the Western Front.

Posted by: John in Tokyo at January 14, 2004 04:08 AM

Michael, re: bullies. Jonah Goldberg agrees with you.

Posted by: Jim at January 14, 2004 04:10 AM

Dear Michael,

I disagree with you where you write: Life isn’t a game of Model UN. Have you ever asked who are the members and which countries are they representing? They cut hands, stone and execute their citizens faster and easier than a blink of an eye! Life is a game of Model UN!

Regards,
Sheema Kalbasi

Posted by: Sheema Kalbasi at January 14, 2004 05:00 AM

Tom Grey
You couldn't in all likelihood have done anything in SE Asia to stop the killing fields in Cambodia in the early 70's. You lacked the ability to project effective power into the hinterland of SE Asia and were attempting to combat virulant Nationalism in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. (The fact that it was communist just meant the Soviets and Chinese (b*stards) were more then willing to supply with with the necessary means). The war in S Vietnam could never have been won, ditto in Laos and Cambodia, not unless you were prepared to carpet bomb cities in N Vietnam, Cam' and Laos (or indeed S China) or interdict supply convoys
in S China and Soviet flagged vessels in the S China Sea and hence escalate the conflict into something far more serious.

UK assessments at the time (I'm a Brit) from the Foreign Office focused on nationalism, ethnicity and colonialism as the main issues with political ideology (though important - it was in effect the glue cementing the others) behind these three issues. The UK Govt concluded that the war in South Vietnam was unwinnable but that the domino theory was incorrect - Burma and Thailand were not in serious danger or was Malaya (ditto Singapore and Indonesia (appreciate that last one was more suspect but for diff reasons)).

I don't think its fair to blame the anti-war movement for the Killing Fields. The US could simply not have sustained an unsuccessful war in three countries throughout the early 70's.

I'm not excusing Pol Pot. I wish the world had intervened but times were different then.

Hopefully we've turned a corner in history and
have started to face down despots and the like.

Time will tell.

Posted by: Neil W at January 14, 2004 05:05 AM

Kimmitt, he says he feels "politically engaged". If you can interpret that as a psychosexual metaphor, then I'm afraid you're the one needing a Rorschach test.

Posted by: Phil Smith at January 14, 2004 06:33 AM

Michael -

Great post. Good on you, as my Irish stepdad says.

Mithras, answer one thing, could you? How does one engage and defeat state-sponsored terrorists without engaging their state infrastructure? I keep hearing people say we should have engaged AQ while leaving their state sponsors alone - or while attacking Saudi Arabia, which would certainly resulted in the War of Civilizations.

So help me out here...

A.L.

Posted by: Armed Liberal at January 14, 2004 06:38 AM

"It's nasty. I know. But this is war, not a Dr. Phil show."

EXACTLY.

And the problem is that many people today can't function with anything that isn't the Dr. Phil show.

Posted by: Roark at January 14, 2004 06:39 AM

I was in this bar and the fat chicks there kept larfing at me when I asked them if they wanted to f*ck. One big bruiser chick kept on telling everyone I had a small penis and she knew that 'cause her brother told her -- and I only went to the movies with that SOB.

Anyway, it made me so mad, I had to go home and beat my wife. Because I cud. That will show girls.

/Tom Friedman

Posted by: anon at January 14, 2004 06:43 AM

"It wasn't about making us feel better. It was about sending this message: Don't you fuck with us."

Did it send that message? Or did it send the message, "Don't you fuck with us unless you actually might have nuclear weapons already, and unless you're a state as opposed to non-state actor that's much harder to find (even if it is the one responsible for the atrocity on 9/11 and the state had nothing to do with it). And yeah, maybe our army is bogged down in Iraq, and can't withdraw, so we couldn't invade you without a draft. And hey allies-- don't try to talk to us, you're just too wussy and annoying to be worth dealing with--and don't trust us when we tell you about the dangers posed by one of our enemies, especially if we're talking about weapons of mass destruction. Look, stop talking everyone. Don't FUCK with us."

Posted by: Katherine at January 14, 2004 07:06 AM

Back to the subject of Osama bin Laden's current state of health: I agree with Michael that he's most likely a stain under a pile of rubble in an Afghani cave. The audio tape means little; they are easily faked and a previous tape that the CIA said was probably bin Laden was given to independent Swiss experts who said it probably was not. The Bush administration may have its own motives to make it appear that Osama is alive and still dangerous even if they really believe that he's dead.

It's been about two years since bin Laden has produced a videotape that proves conclusively that he's alive which leads me to believe that he's not in a position to do so.

Posted by: Randal Robinson at January 14, 2004 07:12 AM

my "Terrorism in the 21st Century" prof thinks Osama (and Zawahiri) are "almost certainly alive" though has very limited ability, if any, to communicate and coordinate attacks. Given his limited communications ability she's not so sure how killing him would harm Al Qaeda, though she obviously thinks we should continue going after him--she thinks he's been very good at structuring the organization to generate successors.

Posted by: Katherine at January 14, 2004 07:28 AM

"Did it send that message? Or did it send the message, ... Don't FUCK with us." -- ala MoDo

Please..its "DON'T FUCK WITH US, PERIOD!". No further explanations or qualifications needed.

Re: Bin Laden. I agree with Michael. He is worm food. How hard is it for them to get a digital camera and take a picture of him with today's newspaper? He could flood the internet with it and prove that he is alive. But he didn't.

Re: Bin Laden / Zawahiri coordinating attacks. I don't think they personally coordinate every attack. They are the ones that provide leadership, and monetary and structural support.

Brian

Posted by: Brian at January 14, 2004 07:47 AM

The fact that the US military is in Iraq right now doesn't mean it can't attack on short notice another country in the Middle East. What it can't do is occupy another country while it is still in Iraq. Gaddafi knows the US military could destroy his country's military/infrastructure without a full-scale invasion. The threat of attack is what's on his mind, and on Assad's and the Iranian mullah's, not the threat of occupation. And it's enough of a threat to make a difference.

Posted by: Peter G at January 14, 2004 07:52 AM

Beating up the class loser because the school yard bully punched you doesn't solve much.

I understand the need for aggression, and I understand the humanitarian case for war, and I even believe that you're right, Michael, that this is the real reason we went to war.

But I think it's a pretty lousy reason. Every leader in the Middle East -- and al Qaeda -- knows what we know: that Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The message we've sent is not that we'll respond to terrorism -- it's that we'll do whatever we please. It's a message that isn't going to quell terrorism.

Whatever has happened in Iraq won't change a wit what al Qaeda can or cannot do. The new global terrorist organizations are decentralized, independent of states, and unconcerned with territorial holdings. As Dr. Record, the Army War College Professor who wrote the much talked about monograph on our war on terror, has pointed out: the war on terrorism is more analogous to the war on drugs than to a traditional war.

The idea that we have to send some sort of "don't fuck with us" message to the world -- especially when we send it the wrong way -- is unworthy our tradition and our values.

Posted by: harry at January 14, 2004 08:12 AM

"Beating up the class loser because the school yard bully punched you doesn't solve much."

But beating up one of the schoolyard bullies, one of the tougher ones, will do much in the way of making the other bullies think before they mess with you.

Some say Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Other don't. Some say Bush said it. Others say he didn't. I think the message we are sending after 9/11 to the world is that the US will do whatever it takes to prevent this type of attack from ever happening again to us.

Also, given your statement that Al Qaeda and their ilk are "... decentralized, independent of states, and unconcerned with territorial holdings ...", I only see the need to put even more pressure on those countries support these organizations to stop or face the consequences.

Brian

Posted by: Brian at January 14, 2004 08:24 AM

Harry: Every leader in the Middle East -- and al Qaeda -- knows what we know: that Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

It doesn't matter. Re-read Thomas Friedman's excerpt again.

This isn't about revenge, nor is it a police operation. The only way we are going to prevent more huge terrorist attacks against us is to defeat Islamic totalitarianism, which is its cause. We had to start somewhere. Why did we start in Iraq? As Friedman said...because we could. (Also because he deserved it.) It is - perhaps - the only Arab country that would accept US forces as liberators.

Think about what an occupation of Saudi Arabia would look like. That would be a damn mess, to say the least.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 08:33 AM

AL asks: How does one engage and defeat state-sponsored terrorists without engaging their state infrastructure?

I was also wondering the same thing – how could we engage al Qaeda while ignoring the billion dollar terrorist economy that supports them?

Should we treat al Qaeda as a criminal organization, round up the usual suspects and search all the back alleys and hookah joints? Al Qaeda is small part of the state-sponsored worldwide jihad that has already caused the deaths of millions. Searching back alleys wouldn’t do much to stop that.

Funding terrorist paramilitaries is how Arab nations fight wars. As Mark Steyn said, the Arab armies make Belgium look butch. – their armies are so weak, terrorism is the only tactic they can use.

These nations like to pretend that terrorist groups like al Qaeda are not connected with any government. This is a lie. For example, Saudi charities are present at every stage of terrorism. The Kingdom, (Abdullah et al), knows what these charities are doing, and it allows them to survive and thrive. The Saudi government has currently frozen less than 4% of terrorist funds. The best way to fight this state supported war is to recognize the man behind the curtain and directly target him.

Saddam was one of many of those men. Hopefully, the rest can be disabled through diplomatic means, or through economic isolation. The Saudis are already vulnerable, and many Muslim moderates regard them as ‘usurpers to the throne.’ They only have the respect that money can buy. We’re already (very slowly) withdrawing our diplomatic support. Disabling these brutal, kleptocratic regimes IS our humanitarian goal; in the long run, it’ll benefit us and the Arab world.

Posted by: mary at January 14, 2004 08:34 AM

I guess the point of (missed) contention here is this: Totten and Brian are arguing that invading Iraq will make some Middle Eastern countries shape up. I'm arguing that it won't make al Qaeda do anything.

It's at least an open question as to how rouge states will respond to the invasion. Perhaps Libya felt some pressure. North Korea doesn't seem to have noticed. Uzbekistan got a pile of money for its totalitarian government and Musharraf got cover to consolidate power. Yemen still bought some long range missiles and Syria hasn't closed down any Hezbollah offices. But, who knows, right?

And as to how al Qaeda? Deterred? Most likely just the opposite. Another glaring symbol of American aggression ready made to rally the troops. And since there's absolutely zero evidence that Hussein's secular government aided al Qaeda financially or strategically, it's no big deal to bin Laden that he's gone. The groupd doesn't need any state sponsorship at all. And attacks in Turkey and southeast asia seem to indicate that they're a long way from incapacitated.

Posted by: harry at January 14, 2004 08:43 AM

Criticizing Bush and Co. about lack of WMDs, false Al-queda link, refusing to listen to experts on likely post war reconstruction projects, is reasonable and justified. Yet the fact still remains -- the war has made some good things happen, and has made other even more positive changes possible. I'm glad we had a President with the guts to do it.

Too bad he doesn't also have the guts to do the same thing in the West Bank and Gaza, where it is even more needed: invade, disarm or kill the fanatics on both sides, and help the Palestinians build a decent nation.

Posted by: Markus Rose at January 14, 2004 08:44 AM

Mary reminds us that millions - millions - have been killed already by Islamic totalitarians. Our 3,000 dead in New York is a very small percentage of the total.

You don't fight a war by only going after the individuals who hurt your own side. We will never ever ever defeat Islamic totalitarianism if we play by those rules.

Hitler and Mussolini never attacked America. Didn't matter.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 08:45 AM

The war in Afghanistan was the proper response to 9/11. The Iraq war was a blunder and this thread here, beginning with the blog quote and the Friedman quote, is one giant, chest-pounding rationalization.

And most muslims did not cheer 9/11. They were as appalled and horrified as everyone else in the world. Some here are exploiting a minority and extrapolating in order to justify a position.

Posted by: poputonian at January 14, 2004 08:45 AM

Markus,

Yikes, do you really want to occupy the West Bank and Gaza? That really is a quagmire, and has been for decades.

I like the fence. The two sides need a forced separation. If Palestinians cannot get into Israel to kill people they will have to find something else to do. Perhaps then, if they have an attitude adjustment, we can help them. If not, at least they will be contained in a cage until the attitude adjustment eventually sets in.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 08:48 AM

Harry: I guess the point of (missed) contention here is this: Totten and Brian are arguing that invading Iraq will make some Middle Eastern countries shape up. I'm arguing that it won't make al Qaeda do anything.

I agree with you there. I guess we differ because I see a larger problem than you do.

Poputonian: chest-thumping

It's war, not Oprah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 08:56 AM

Michael,

I can agree in part that totalitarianism makes the terrorists job easier (though I think this need to label it "Islamic totalitarianism" is stupid -- totalitarianism everywhere has the same pernicious results). It's a lousy form of government that perpetuates the poverty, ignorance, and anger that makes terrorism possible. I disagree that invading Iraq has done anything to lessen it. In fact, our invasion's most direct effect on Middle Eastern and Asian government was the strengthening of our cover for the totalitarian governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. While it's great that we've gotten Libya to stop their pathetic efforts to build WMDs, we've welcomed its despotic leader back into the world. And yes, I'll say it again, Uzbekistan got a pile of money.

As I've just said, terrorism is a stateless enemy, unlikely to be deterred by the deposition of totalitarians. We could knock off every government in the Middle East and we'd still face southeast and middle asia and even countries like the phillipines. We've even got extraordinarily violent terrorists living in our own country, ones who aren't Islamic and aren't poor and don't seem to mind that we're a democracy.

Posted by: harry at January 14, 2004 09:05 AM

Well said Katherine!

It is also worth pointing out that many on this thread and the pieces qouting are dangerously equating all muslims as cheering jihadists, which CLEARLY isn't true.

Also worth pointing out that in Iran there were several demonstrations in sympathy with the victims of the 11th September attacks.

Its crude and ignorant to over generalise. I think thats one of the biggiest obstacles to reasoned debate on this and many issues.

Posted by: Neil W at January 14, 2004 09:05 AM

I like the fence too (makes better neighbors!), but the "cage" is more like an Israeli protection cage in a sea of predator Pali/ terrorist sharks.

There's no Israeli cage stopping the Palis from developing Gaza, building factories, or following prior semite footsteps into Egypt. The Arab borders closed to Palis are, and have long been, a disgrace to Islam.

Posted by: Tom Grey at January 14, 2004 09:12 AM

Harry,

Sure, there are non-Islamic totalitarians just as there are non-Islamic terrorists.

But Belarus and the IRA aren't causing us any trouble right now. (Neither is Uzbekistan, but that could change in an instant.) And, besides, we have to start somewhere.

We will have to deal with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We'll get to them one way or another. No one said Iraq was the end-game.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 09:14 AM

Neil: It is also worth pointing out that many on this thread and the pieces qouting are dangerously equating all muslims as cheering jihadists, which CLEARLY isn't true.

Have you read Thomas Friedman's books? I've read them all. He does not ever say or even remotely imply that all Muslims are cheering jihadists. He's a liberal Democrat, he lived in the Middle East, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Middle East reporting. You will not find him or any other half-way intelligent person saying "All Muslims are X."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 09:18 AM

Michael --
Friedman also called for US troops in the West Bank.

I do wish that Israelis and Palestinians were able to solve their problems themselves, yet they seem unwilling to do so. I'd be more patient, since it really is understandable why the conflict is so intractable (two peoples, one piece of land, more or less).

The two problems I have with infinite patience are:
1)Israel's role as a major recruiter for Al-Queda and other anti-American, Islamist groups, as a result of the incendiary measures it needs to take in order to maintain the occupation, which are broadcast daily to the Arab world.
2) There may be a limited window of opportunity for a two-state solution, after which "facts on the ground" will cause both sides to tragically revert to unworkable maximalist positions -- transfering Arabs vs. one binational state.

If the wall/fence/barrier reduces terrorism, then, to paraphrase Howard Dean, I suppose it's a good thing. Just kidding. I do worry somewhat that if the Intifada stops many "Likudniks" and their many US supporters will conclude (again) that it is not necessary to make any real compromises for peace. But I think (and pray) that if the terrorism stops, such views will turn out to be a minority in Israel.

I, too, would like the Palestinians to find something else to do besides kill Israelis, though I have a hunch that what it is they might do instead is get really smart (for just about the first time, I might add) and simply start demanding Israeli citizenship.

Posted by: Markus rose at January 14, 2004 09:25 AM

Poputonian: chest-thumping

I stand corrected.

Posted by: poputonian at January 14, 2004 09:29 AM

Harry – the evidence (financial, political) to prove that the current wave of Islamist terrorism is state-sponsored is fairly overwhelming.

Islamist groups in Southeast Asia are Saudi sponsored (that is, according to the people who live there)

Islamist groups here are also state-sponsored. The totalitarians are the source of terrorism (although for some reason, they don’t like to admit this – I wonder why?)

These state sponsored groups aren’t really comparable to indigenous, independent groups like the IRA or ETA.

On what evidence do you base your claim that these organized paramilitary groups are a stateless enemy?

Posted by: mary at January 14, 2004 09:33 AM

Michael-

Tom Friedman drives some of us crazy for reasons other than those stated. I have a problem with the vacillation and the moodiness. I really don't mind that he's a liberal Democrat or that he's basically not a Bush fan...it's the 'one week it's this and the next week it's that' swings that drive me bonkers. Give it a month and he will be writing something diametrically oppossed to what you have posted here and will mean it with the same level of earnestness. It does not compute!

I would agree with you about Paul Berman's book. I had no idea who he was until I read the Prospect article via your website and felt I needed to read the whole book. Damn, that man can think and he can write. I've already bought copies of it to give to my two (token) liberal, anti-war friends. I'm going to be interested to see what happens. Much of the trouble the Democratic Party faces today can be traced to the fact that they are listening to the likes of Paul Krugman rather than Paul Berman.

Posted by: DennisThePeasant at January 14, 2004 09:46 AM

Good job, Michael. I thought I was the only person around who thought that the whole post 9.11 series of invasions was, beneath all the inept public rationalizing, just a clear and sane way to say to the Muslim matrix: Do not fuck with us again. Friedman's piece back in June encouraged me to think I was not crazy. Jonah Goldberg weighed in similarly, then Glenn Reynolds and now you. So I am (for all you loving lefties out there) now in truly diverse company.

Re Islam. It may well be that most Muslims are moderates, but that is not really significant. They do not, nor can they, really act on that position without being accused of treason to the Muslim nation and collaboration with the Western kufrs. Hence, the general silence from them. This is not a war on terrorism. It is a war with Muslim terrorism. Iraq is just one place to take it on.

Posted by: Stephen at January 14, 2004 09:57 AM

As long as the U.S. maintains its pre-eminent position in the world, it is more than likely that it will be continue to be labeled the aggressor and bully in foreign affairs and resented by less powerful nations.

World opinion would have overwhelming condemned Americans had the we waged a consistent campaign against terrorist training camps and their networks prior to 9/11. Our European allies would have vehemently argued that our use of force was murderous, illegal and disproportionate to the threat of harm they were capable of inflicting. Perhaps 9/11 could have been prevented, but at what cost?

And, is it just my imagination or is Markus moving a little more to the right?

Posted by: d-rod at January 14, 2004 10:43 AM

This is not a war on terrorism. It is a war with Muslim terrorism.

This sort of sentiment is troubling. Irish nationalism eggs on the IRA and radical christianity inspires violent militias (and the crusades and the inquisition, etc.). Islam is a religion. It's not inherently violent and neither are its Middle Eastern adherents.

Terrorism is a result of desperation, fear and ignorance. It's been around since the beginning of time. It has no fundamental connection to any religion or ideology.

Not only would it be profoundly immoral to fight this war as if we're up against all of Islam, it would be completely impossible. No nation, no group of nations, not even every non-Muslim country in the world united together could destroy Islam.

We're fighting terrorism. Period.

Posted by: harry at January 14, 2004 10:43 AM

Harry,

No one here said we are at war with the Islamic religion.

Nor are we at war with the Basque ETA.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 10:49 AM

I have to admit, when you say says macho things like "he's dna on rocks", I get kinda sorta moist and stiff all at the same time.

Posted by: anon at January 14, 2004 11:06 AM

"dna on [the] rocks"....

To clarify the last post, I am beginning to wonder if warblogging is just a form of pornography. It could help explain how Michael, Roger, Jeffie, et. al., get deeper and deeper into their denial and obfuscations.

These days, Simon is definitely a hardcore war pornographer.

Posted by: Beau Cake at January 14, 2004 11:26 AM

[T]here is one over-riding reason we went to war in Iraq.

There really are so many good reasons for the liberation - intimidating the bullies with the dough, turning tyrannies into democracies for our sake, doing so for their sake, saving lives, and stopping Saddam's WMD program. The case is overdetermined. But I think creating democracies for our sake is the salient reason, not the bully scaring. Bullies have to be scared every so often, lest they forget. Who needs the bother? Democracies don't need to be scared every so often. The long-term gain for us is that creating freedom elsewhere causes security here. This was stated in the last two lines of the Berman book. Michael, what were those lines again?

Posted by: Jim at January 14, 2004 11:41 AM

Armed Liberal wrote the following on Winds of Change:

Can I propose a corollary to Godwin's Law??

All discussions of geopolitics are ultimately reduced to psychosexual accusations about those who may in any way support war.

I'll suggest that we can call it 'Kimmitt's Law,' and note that fruitful discussion about issues of war pretty much ends about at that point.

I'd also suggest that Kimmitt and friends may want to make their points about the psychosexual defects of those who believe that force has it's uses to a Tutsi or Bosnian Muslim. I'm sure the Dutch soldiers in Srebenca were concerned that they might appear overly butch as the Serbs came down the road, and that a careful explanation to the Hutu mobs or Serbian patramilitaries that their actions really came from a feeling of sexual inadequancy would have done the job in turning them back.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 11:41 AM

Jim: This was stated in the last two lines of the Berman book. Michael, what were those lines again?

"Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 11:43 AM

Hitler and Mussolini never attacked America. Didn't matter.

First: Godwin's law. Second: This is beyond absurd. Hitler and Mussolini were military allies of a country which had attacked us and declared its intention (since carried out) to militarily seize US territory. Further, both Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and directed their naval vessels to destroy US shipping, making your statement false on its face.

But, again, this is very revealing. "Oh, if only I could have lived during WWII and fought the fascists! That would have been ever so much more satisfying than living in a unipolar world with significant security risks."

Finally, I thought Paul O'Neill made it clear that we invaded Iraq because Bush just kind of wanted to and was looking for an excuse.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 14, 2004 11:53 AM

Harry - Terrorists tend to be educated and relatively wealthy. This has been true throughout history. There’s no desperation involved. As an Irish catholic who frequently visited Ireland during the troubles, I know that the IRA does have one thing in common with other terrorist groups. For the most part, they’re doing it for the money & power.

You said "radical christianity inspires violent militias (and the crusades and the inquisition, etc.)."

They may inspire them because the zealots work together. According to this Columbia University publication, fanatical Christian groups are working with the Islamist Muslim government in the Sudan to enslave children:

A fanatic Christian guerrilla group, the LRA has made an 11-year bid to overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Yoweri Museveni and rule the country in accordance with the Ten Commandments...

..It is widely believed that the mission of the LRA is actually that of the Muslim government of Sudan. On the United States' list of terrorist countries, Sudan is seen as the larger offender in Uganda--where an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 citizens are internally displaced--because of its long-time military support of the LRA.

And while it seems an absolute anomaly that a Muslim government would be supporting a Christian rebel group, a deeper reading shows why: The policies of Uganda's Museveni have been to open markets to the West, while those of Sudan have been to spread the Islamic revolution throughout Africa.

Uganda supports the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a minority Christian rebel group that has been battling for greater autonomy in Sudan since 1983. Sudan supports Uganda's LRA.

Posted by: mary at January 14, 2004 12:00 PM

I was referring more to your writing style than your actual psychosexual makeup. Not that there's anything wrong with your wearing psychosexual makeup.

To learn more about the various porn theories of culture, checkout the UTNE reader about ten years back discussing yuppie porn, yuppie porn having little to do with sex itself and more to do with bling bling.

But then, I'll match Armed Liberal's Law with Asimov's Law: Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

You still make me wet.

Posted by: Beau Kakay at January 14, 2004 12:07 PM

Harry,

We are not at war with terrorism. Terror is a tactic. Might as say we’re at war with malfunctioning toasters.

We are at war with an ideology. That ideology is (for lack of a better name) militant or fascist islam. Not all muslims are terrorists, but virtually all terrorists are muslims. The culture, values, and societal norms that spawned Osama and millions of (at least tacit) supporters is what we are at war with.

We are in the middle of WWIV (or III, depending on how you count the cold war). This war is much more dangerous than the cold war. Why? Because one of the players is not a rationale actor. We could expect the Soviets to act in their own self interest. We have demonstrated proof the Islamists will gladly sacrifice anything and everything simply to strike out at the ‘other’, be they Jews, Americans, Christians, Hindu’s, or simply non-extremist Muslims who don’t share their nihilistic vision of nirvana. This is a war that will continue for at least 20-50 years…

Those who say we need to go get AQ miss the big picture. AQ is the product of this ideology, not some aberrant answer to perceived injustices the USA has committed. You should all hope and pray that President Bush’s efforts in Iraq work. Because unless this ideology can be crushed, and muslims shows the way to integrate into the modern world, there will truly be a clash of civilizations. And the outcome will be the genocide of 1.5 billion people. When a weaker and inferior culture refuses to give up, eradication has always been the outcome.

If the islamists get lucky enough to truly do serious damage to the USA such as a nuke in the harbor scenario, or a successful smallpox attack, or a dirty bomb in Manhattan, there will be no stopping the impending storm. Already the conditions are ripe for a massive blood letting in Europe, as the happy, clueless socialist societies are starting to realize they’ve got a huge problem that they can’t fix. Watch how Europe handles this intractable problem. They’ve gone insane twice in the last 100 years; I suspect before 2015 we’ll see a third time… Although this time it won’t be the Jews riding the trains…

Posted by: FrancisB at January 14, 2004 12:22 PM

And the outcome will be the genocide of 1.5 billion people.

Hardly. We couldn't do that even if we wanted to without destroying the planet with nuclear winter.

More importantly, we don't want to do that, nor will we ever want to. Look at what we did to Germany and Japan sixty years ago. We waged a total war against them, but it wasn't anything like genocide.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 12:34 PM

Hey Michael,

What are your qualifications for discussing the possible outcomes of war, esp. wrt nuclear winter (which btb has been largely discredited.)

Posted by: unpossible at January 14, 2004 12:49 PM

We are once again a country infected with manifest destiny. We are once again the chosen people to fix the world's problems. That's B.S. We went into iraq for many reasons. And Freidman is right. It's because we could. They were not a threat to us physically, but most likely to our economic interests, which coincidentally is every place in the world. We did it to stand up tall to the world and stare all of those "bullies" down. This view absolves us from any role in creating the world in which it now stands. It also is an ignorant view. We can not continue to act as we see it, disreguard the rest of the world's opinions, and expect to lead it.

Posted by: josh at January 14, 2004 12:53 PM

Michael,

- I disagree; we could do that if we wanted to. It wouldn't have to be all nuclear, much could be biological, and by destroying the capabilities of agriculture, embargoing, etc. you could easily set up a situation where you could directly cause hundreds of millions of deaths. And don't forget this wouldn't occur for another 20+ years, as we are trying to NOT do this.

- I suspect there is massive research in biological weopons going on right now that may never see the light of day. Orone day everyone in most nations will be asked to get a flu vaccine or some such thing in preperation for such a possibility. And then you'll read about some massive epidemic happening over there...

- As for never doing wanting to do this. That's true today, but at what point will the West throw in the towel on trying to save Islam? After 1, 2, 3 or 4 nuke attacks on American soil?. Do we tolerate 2-3 airline hijackings and building ramming (maybe a nuke plant) per year (because no defense is perfect). Will we be willing to live with anthrax, smallpox, chemical weapons scares forever? How far do you expect Western compassion to go on?

- History shows time and time again that civiliztaions can and have completely eradicated competing civilizations. Hell, look at the genocidal war done on the American Indians. The veneer of civilization wears thinner than you believe.

- Yes, look at Japan and Germany, you had cultures that surrendered, and were thus spared. But until they did surrender, we waged the most total war we knew how to at that time. Maybe militant Islam is 1 or 2 crushing defeats away from surrender (of this ideology). I hope so for its sake.

Francis

Posted by: FrancisB at January 14, 2004 12:53 PM

Totten's Law: As a thread about war progresses, the probability that an argument that I don't like approaches one. When such an argument is made, the thread is over and the person who has made the argument has lost.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 01:03 PM

This has probably been run to death by now, but the reason I dislike Thomas Friedman is because he is quite willing to sacrifice Israel in order to appease various people and regimes. Thomas is certainly not anti-Israel the way Noam Chomsky or others are, but he is not pro-Israel either. I think in his heart he just wishes Israel would go away.

Posted by: Mike Silverman at January 14, 2004 01:09 PM

Heh. Shouldn't there be some law about ending the thread when someone starts explaining the easiest way to kill $1.5 billion people? Gosh.

Posted by: harry at January 14, 2004 01:17 PM

Armed Liberal -

How does one engage and defeat state-sponsored terrorists without engaging their state infrastructure?

One doesn't. That's why we went to Afghanistan.

I keep hearing people say we should have engaged AQ while leaving their state sponsors alone.

You keep hearing that from whom? I'd like to have a word with them.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 01:19 PM

Heh. Shouldn't there be some law about ending the thread when someone starts explaining the easiest way to kill $1.5 billion people? Gosh.

I think each of those 1.5B people is worth much more than a dollar, but

Yes. It's such a discomforting topic. Let's continue to work under more civilized pretensions... It could never come to that.

Back to your slumber all...

Hey, what do you think of Paris Hilton? Slutty or pretty? I just don't know what to think after that article in Teen Beat...

Posted by: FrancisB at January 14, 2004 01:24 PM

But you cannot intimdate 1 billion people, and in fact, it's counterproductive to even try.
**************************************************
But it is productive or should be allowed to be productive without responce to allow 1 Billion to intimadate 5?

Posted by: Daniel Kauffman at January 14, 2004 01:47 PM

But then, I'll match Armed Liberal's Law with Asimov's Law: Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent
**************************************************
Because by the time they get around to violence it is usually too late? ;-)

Posted by: Daniel Kauffman at January 14, 2004 01:48 PM

Mithras: Totten's Law: As a thread about war progresses, the probability that an argument that I don't like approaches one. When such an argument is made, the thread is over and the person who has made the argument has lost.

Well, the first part is obviously true, as it would be on any blog. But I haven't shut down any thread because I don't like arguing. I enjoy this, and I'm glad to have readers who, for the most part, are pretty intelligent. And yes, Mithras, I put you in the intelligent camp. So there is no need to be overly defensive. I wouldn't have linked to your site the other day if I wasn't willing to discuss these things with you.

Mike Silverman: I think in his heart he [Thomas Friedman] just wishes Israel would go away.

Mike, Thomas Friedman lived in Israel and he loves it dearly. I read his book From Beirut to Jerusalem and it was that book that knocked me out of my previously pro-Palestinian position.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 02:02 PM

Michael, I think he used to be very pro-Israel (I've read From Beiruit to Jerusalem also) but lately he seems willing to force Israel to compromise her security if doing so would advance what he sees as US aims in the region. There's also his silly Saudi Peace Plan from 2002. inally, Friedman seems too willing to believe in "the Arab street" and what it says about Israel affects his views as to what policies Israel should take --- mind you, Friedman is still better on Israel then almost any lefty columnist, but he is not a steadfast supporter either.

Posted by: Mike Silverman at January 14, 2004 02:05 PM

John in Tokyo-
"Making ourselves feel good" was meant seriously. If you can't question your own motives and acknowledge that people who think they're acting rationally sometimes aren't, then constructive self-criticism is beyond you. Put it another way: People who say things like, "Those savages don't understand anything but force" are actually referring to themselves.

[Y]ou don't say how long [sanctions and inspections] would be - indefinitely?

Why not? It would have been economical compared to our present course, we'd be better off propaganda-wise, and half our combat divisions would not be tied down. It was important enough to invade, but not important enough to pay attention for a long time?

[Y]ou presumably deny or forgot that inspections only resumed under a credible - i.e. not empty - threat of invasion.

I forgot or denied no such thing. The Iraqis were complying - not perfectly, but the head of the inspectors thought their cooperation was good. Of course a full range of military action backed up inspections. (And how has it helped our image to invade a country that was cooperating, albeit imperfectly?) Diplomacy is war by other means, after all.

But those are the choices: decades of continued containment or (eventual) lifting of inspections and sanctions.

"Decades" - absurd. How old was Saddam? Do you really see no other endgame to sanctions & inspections than capitulation? Even if you're right, and Saddam lived to 110 with his grip firmly on power, we'd still be hundreds of billions of dollars to the good (plus interest).

I should also mention that you and I and the rest of the world only know what we know about the state of WMD because of the invasion and the (ongoing!) post-Baathist audit.

Not to be overly sarcastic, but what WMD? Anyway, your argument is circular: We must invade to assure ourselves there is no threat. Plenty of people in positions to know before the invasion thought the threat was contained, and said so.

Saddam retained critical know-how for future reacquisition. Why don't those currently harping on WMDs mention this, if only to belittle it?!

Because it was so little. For example, the illegal missile program that was on two CD-ROMs. Or the centrifuge buried under a rose bush ten years ago. The only way they could have had less capacity is if they had shot their scientists.

You write: "Saddam had plenty of money to feed and provide medical care to his people, but he chose not to. He killed his own people, we didn't..." And, surreally, you are using this to support the case for leaving Saddam and sons in place!!

No, I was distinguishing my position from those who blamed America for causing Iraqi deaths during the sanctions. I supported sanctions. Clear?

What's important is that it was completely mainstream and accepted wisdom in the Muslim world. ... The same views or weaker versions were widely disseminated throughout the state-owned Islamic and/or Arab Nationalist press and through the (often state-sponsored) influential clerical schools (with their Friday-night mosque sermons, fatwahs, etc.) for close to a decade.

So, here's the nub. This is the political conflict that I was referring to. Yes, their press is a joke, and the things people will believe is dismaying. But those are the facts of the situation. What to do about it?

You answer: invade, and then threaten invasion for any government that is hostile to ours and has some level (or an unknown level) of arms. (Or, a la Totten, it's all very much like punching a schoolyard bully in the nose.) I say, it's much more complex. To put it glibly, our invasion of Iraq is great fodder for the Arab conspiracy theorists. It proved exactly the opposite point that we had hoped to make about our care in making accusations. It failed to show us as the "good guy" - it showed us to be blunderers, at best.

The source of the problem with Arab and Muslim society is two-fold: a sense of helplessness combined with a sense of inferiority. The helplessness stems from authoritarian rulers and a pace of world change that is outstripping the region's ability to keep up. It would be great to make the authoritarian rulers go. But how to do so? And what would happen if we did? As someone alluded to (it may have been you), toppling the Saudi regime is a non-starter, for obvious reasons. And democracy in the Middle East might produce one person, one vote, one time. So, our ability to liberalize ME governments is limited - whether we use force to do so or not.

If it helps the Iraqis, that seems to me to be a long-term propaganda coup. Deeds, not words.

I'm with you there. I think it much more likely, though, that the end result is that we install our Saddam to keep order. (The old Saddam was once our Saddam, too, but he got too big for his britches.)

So far, I think it has only been a propaganda disaster among left-wing ideologues (you buy that view and spread it) who now feel even less constrained in comparing Bush to Hitler.

The right-wingers compared Clinton to Hitler and said he smuggled cocaine and had murdered dozens of witnesses to his crimes. What's your point?

It is an unfortunate fact that a large percentage of our pundit class shares some ideological overlap with this subsection and it is even further regrettable that a majority of the Democratic candidates have chosen to pander to this crowd, but I suspect that this will come back to bite them on the ass.

Crap, frankly. A large percentage of the American public is troubled by this administration for a whole host of reasons. They seem deceptive, manipulative and venal, not least in their conduct of this war and the occupation.
You're just slandering sane, rational people who love their country by equating them with the far, far left.

Finally, the Muslim world is already changeing more rapidly than it has in a long time. What happens next is unclear and wont be for several years. The message of deterrance is already starting to reach the intended parties. The message of Democracy is also starting to get through. Al-Qaida and its bretheren still have their grievances (they always would) but success and (promised) victory were always their chief recruiting tool. There is no point in declaring victory - it remains far away.

As for real change in the political climate in the Middle East, I will believe it when I see it. Frankly, I believe you've played right into the extremists' hands.

But to try to describe success as defeat is, frankly, unbecoming, and to attempt to portray the deposition of one of the vilest regimes in modern history and a sworn enemy of the U.S. as some sort of setback is totally disgusting. ... You are a defeatist. And you are trampling on our success at the precise moment when the germanation of a better future for the Middle East is just sprouting out of the ground.

And I think you're engaging in wishful thinking and rationalization.

You and Totten misunderstand the goals of the terrorists. They want to radicalize and polarize the Middle East even further, in order to topple the repressive governments of Pakistan and Saudi and replace them with their own repressive governments. The strategic goal of 9/11 was to enlist our aid in achieving those goals. So far, we've cooperated with bin Laden by helpfully making it look like we're at war with Islam. He doesn't need to score any points right now, while we're busy making own goals. I only propose we stop doing his work for him.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 02:42 PM

So there is no need to be overly defensive.

I was trying to be funny. Ah, well.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 02:43 PM

Mithras, the goals of the terrorists is to kill as many infidels as possible.

Posted by: Mike Silverman at January 14, 2004 02:48 PM

Mithras: I was trying to be funny.

Well, I did think the first part was funny. :)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 02:58 PM

The strategic goal of 9/11 was to enlist our aid in achieving those goals. So far, we've cooperated with bin Laden by helpfully making it look like we're at war with Islam

Wow, I had no idea Osama was so crafty. What better way to topple the corrupt regimes of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and draw the Muslim world to you, the “strong horse” than by getting your ass kicked out of Afghanistan, blowing up some muslim women and children and other arabs in 3rd world countries, and sending out “best of” home made video’s once every few months.

I know that if I were a muslim youth, I’d rush to join up with the winning team of Osama and Co. And I’d be more than eager to rush in the back of a pickup truck to Iraq, to see if I might get lucky enough to see a US soldier before they kill me and my fellow jihadi’s by the truck load…

I would say, that given the war in Iraq, and the pressure being placed on AQ by the Pakistani’s and SA, that UBL’s popularity has gone down, not up. Your’re right that UBLs goal is to take create a muslim ‘superstate’ ruled over by him, the next Caliphate. But as for us ‘doing his job’ I simply don’t believe it.

However, I think the region is just starting to realize that the US isn’t quite the paper tiger he said it was. On the contrary, countries are starting to line up and trying to appear nice to us. Look at Libya for example

And by the way; we are at war with militant Islam. If it helps UBL to get all those who believe this ideology together to come attack us, then good. Better an enemy known than one hidden. A seen enemy is easier to kill. But I believe the popularity of this corrupt ideology will decline the more they start to realize that 1) it’s a one way trip to a body bag and 2) it’s not getting them anything.

Posted by: FrancisB at January 14, 2004 03:16 PM

Never underestimate the ability of people who have their emotions stirred up to do things contrary to their own self-interest.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 03:21 PM

Mithras: Never underestimate the ability of people who have their emotions stirred up to do things contrary to their own self-interest.

You may think we hawks base our ideas on stirred up emotions. But I base my positions on my reading of military history. It's all intellectual. I'm not saying I have no emotional response, but I am saying it doesn't dictate my opinion.

I had an extreme emotional response for the first few days after September 11. During that brief period I retreated into pacifism and isolationism. That was my stirred-up emotions talking, not my intellect. Then I coolly walked myself out.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 03:40 PM

I should add by way of explanation that one of the reasons I retreated into isolationism right after 9/11 was because I feared we would retaliate with extreme vengeance and cause a wicked amount of unjusitified damage. I was not a pacifist before 9/11. Far from it. I think I just feared my own angry response, and taking a brief rest in the far-left calmed me down. Then I walked away from it, partly because I thought others on the far-left were babbling crazy nonsense and that freaked me out far more than anything Bush said.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 14, 2004 03:52 PM

I guess this thread has focussed more on Tom Friedman than anything else, so heres my 2cents worth.

My first encounter with his writing was his famous book "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and I was most impressed by his account of truly amazing events in the early 80s.

He gives a good perspective on life in Beirut, the persistent fighting between the factions and groups, the tribe-like mentality of these groups and also describes Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon.

However when he travels to Israel and begins to describe Israeli society, the writer changes style and begins to over-analyze and criticise Israel. Friedman describes Israel as a person with a "holocaust complex" too afraid to risk peace by offering a state to the Palestinians.

I thought that his analysis wasn't based on solid facts, and he seems to contradict himself because he was well aware that the PLO would never accept Israels existence, yet suggests that Israel had a good window of opportunity before the first intifada, to strike a peace deal.

What REALLY bothers me is his articles as a NY times journo. They are so inconsistent. One minute he supports Israels right to respond to terror, the next minute he says that they just provoke more terror. One minute he supports the removal of Saddam, the next he casts doubts.

He doesn't take a consistent stance and stick to it. And don't tell me that implies he is neither left nor right wing. That doesn't make him an independent thinker.

Sometimes I think he rolls a dice to determine how he will write his next article.

Posted by: Jono at January 14, 2004 04:06 PM

"Mithras: Never underestimate the ability of people who have their emotions stirred up to do things contrary to their own self-interest.

MJT: You may think we hawks base our ideas on stirred up emotions."

Um, I think Mithras was referring to OBL and friends, not MJT.

"Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others."

Folks, believe it or not, it really is that simple.

Anyone seen Big Fish yet? Makes a nice allegory for this moment in history. Just because the truth has been stretched doesn't mean the truth wasn't there to begin with, even if you have to discover it yourself...

Posted by: sparrowhawk at January 14, 2004 04:32 PM

Or, as this famous neo-conservative said:

"by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to the proposition that principle of morality and considerations for our own security will never permit us to acquiesce in a peace dictated by aggressors and sponsored by appeasers. We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom."

FDR, Four Freedoms speech, 1941

note: never includes now. and tomorrow.

Posted by: sparrowhawk at January 14, 2004 04:38 PM

Michael:
You may think we hawks base our ideas on stirred up emotions. But I base my positions on my reading of military history. It's all intellectual. I'm not saying I have no emotional response, but I am saying it doesn't dictate my opinion.

Actually, I was responding to FrancisB's statement, "the popularity of this corrupt ideology will decline the more they start to realize that 1) it’s a one way trip to a body bag and 2) it’s not getting them anything." But I guess you're right, it could apply to Americans, too.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 04:53 PM

Michael,

Please check your mail, I sent you my response. Ran to four an a half pages single spaced, but I think you'll like it. I'm seriously considering sending it to my faculty advisor from college, even though doing so may disintegrate the Peace Studies department at my school. Probably about time.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at January 14, 2004 04:55 PM

Jono -- "What REALLY bothers me is his articles as a NY times journo. They are so inconsistent. One minute he supports Israels right to respond to terror, the next minute he says that they just provoke more terror."

To me that inconsistency is really objectivity. The crux of the problem -- lack of Arab acceptance of Israel's existence -- will not change unless Israel recognizes Palestinian grievances and stops creating additional ones. Friedman paints a morally ambiguous picture regarding Israel/Palestine, encouraging self-criticism and challenging self-righteousness on both sides. The Saudi peace initiaitve indeed was a big step forward, in that it showed that Arab states are finally willing to accept Israel if the Palestinians are given a offer they can accept. That is a tremendous change from previous decades in which it was the Arab states that were threatening Israel and the Palestinian population which was relatively docile. Putting a fence around 50-70% of the West Bank, and continuing to build settlements on the outlying area in order to "lock in victory" will lead to disaster, not security. If you think I talk nonsense, if you think this really is a Manichean struggle, suit yourself. Friedman would tend to agree with me, as would most of the rest of the world, and Colin Powell (who Bush seems to listening to a bit more these days).

Posted by: markus rose at January 14, 2004 05:20 PM

To me that inconsistency is really objectivity.

No, it's inconsistency. For example, he wrote a couple days ago, "What is clear is that Osama bin Laden achieved his aim: 9/11 sparked real tensions between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim East," adding that we need "to help moderates win the war of ideas within the Muslim world."

Maybe he should have thought about that before expressing this attitude: "The 'real reason' for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. . . . Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine." Not exactly interested in helping moderates or easing tensions there, is he?

He's done a similar backflip on the wisdom of transferring sovereignty quickly in Iraq. When France proposed it, Friedman said wanting to transfer power before a constitution had been written was proof they wanted the U.S. to fail. When it became U.S. policy, Friedman said it was the only way we could succeed.

Posted by: Swopa at January 14, 2004 06:23 PM

markus:
To me that inconsistency is really objectivity.

It still comes across as inconsistency, and uncertainty in his style of writing.

Friedman would be better suited to say that there are advantages A,B & C and disadvantages D,E & F to a particular strategy. That style of writing appeals to every moderate person, because no strategy is simple and there are always associated risks and benefits.

Instead, he actually condemns Israeli retaliation when they target a car full of Hamas operatives with a missile and no civilians are harmed.

Its one thing to point out that checkpoints and security measures aggravate and humiliate some Palesitnians. But Friedman has gone so far as to often oppose their use !

This is coming from a guy who should have brilliant insight due to his experiences as a journalist in the region.

Look at how he flip-flops. First he backs the Saudi peace plan (which supports the PA), then he criticises it to bits and says the PA have to go.

http://www.geocities.com/emorseraf/george_w_sadat.htm

I loved the chapter in his book where he discussed how an Israeli soldier was photographed shoving a Palestinian at a checkpoint, and it made the front page of the major newspapers the next day. He then discusses at length how millions of people are shoved every day, yet the media seem to find the Israeli soldier doing it as very newsworthy.

I also found it revealing how he exposed so many Israeli politicians as not supporting a Palestinian state in the 70s and 80s. It simply wasn't on the agenda.

But Friedman totally ignores the hostile Arab states and the wars of annihilation waged against Israel. He complains about pizzerias being bombed, yet doesn't conclude from this that security measures will prevent those outcomes.

The Saudi peace initiaitve indeed was a big step forward, in that it showed that Arab states are finally willing to accept Israel

What was so groundbreaking about it ? It didnt show any Arab acceptance of Israel, only hinted that some Arab states might consider it after Israel surrenders to the Palestinians.

Libya threatened to quit the Arab league if they accepted the peace plan.

Anyone who thinks a Palestinian state will mean instant recognition of Israel is deluding themselves.

If Palestinian statehood was the only grievance between the Arab states and Israel, then the Arab world wouldn't be demonising Jews, creating conspiracies of a Zionist lobby and fueling terror groups.

If it was a matter of Palestinian statehood, relations might still be diplomatically tense, in a similar way they are now between USA and France, but certainly not as bad as they are at present.

Putting a fence around 50-70% of the West Bank, and continuing to build settlements on the outlying area in order to "lock in victory

Who said such a thing ? 60 settlements are being demolished. The fence doesn't encircle the West Bank, it creates a security barrier.

And by "victory", you must mean security. If you meant anything else by it, then Israel would be adopting more brutal tactics.

Posted by: Jono at January 14, 2004 06:26 PM

I will lay off the war on terror as a war against an ideology discussion because I think Michael's and his supporters have done a great job. But I can explain Thomas Friedman with one phrase "cognitive dissonance". When a mind is faced with two incompatible facts, it creates a new reality to harmonize them. Friedman has not yet reached the harmony stage. You see the international liberal in him believes that all people just want a better life and that economic opportunity is the solution to all conflicts. The realist in him sees that the Palestinians have turned into a murderous death cult. He has not yet found a way to reconcile his two realities so he goes spinning back and forth. The realist in him, the thing that makes him brilliant is the basis of his support for the Iraq war. He understands that the call of the Jihad can only be broken when a real alternative is offered and when the people are made to see how wrong they are to support such a nihlistic movement. This cannot be done by the West making concessions or appeasing the dictators. Only by forcing change whether through violence or hopefully otherwise. The big hope for 2004 is that the Iranian freedom fighters will finally take down the Mullahs. If this happens the mid east as we know it is finished and the War on Terrorism will inevitably be won.

Posted by: Doug at January 14, 2004 06:39 PM

"Tom Friedman drives some of us crazy for reasons other than those stated. I have a problem with the vacillation and the moodiness. I really don't mind that he's a liberal Democrat or that he's basically not a Bush fan...it's the 'one week it's this and the next week it's that' swings that drive me bonkers. Give it a month and he will be writing something diametrically oppossed to what you have posted here and will mean it with the same level of earnestness. It does not compute!" -- Dennis The Peasant

It does compute. Friedman is merely trying to keep his hallowed status as media sage by securing his bases. This makes him mush.

As to Mithras, s/he is free to say anything, but it would be nice if s/he would read it over before posting.

Posted by: Joe Peden at January 14, 2004 06:43 PM

Vodkapundit diagnoses it this way: "As usual, however, Friedman gets the disease right and the cure wrong."

More here and here, too.

Posted by: Jim at January 14, 2004 07:15 PM

As to Mithras, s/he is free to say anything, but it would be nice if s/he would read it over before posting.

Um, am I going on and on? Sorry about that.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 07:31 PM

"The left hates him because he's supposedly a 'warmonger for Bush.' The right hates him because he's supposedly a 'left-wing idiotarian.'"

I'll never forget how Friedman pleaded with Bush to admonish the American people to "lower their thermostats" after 9/11.

The man is a personification of the Lieberman/Dean Democratic Party: a strange version of King Crimson's Twenty-first century schizoid man.

Posted by: Marc S. Lamb at January 14, 2004 08:36 PM

The man is a personification of the Lieberman/Dean Democratic Party: a strange version of King Crimson's Twenty-first century schizoid man.

You know, the more I thought about it, the less sense your comment made. Now I think you were subtly parodying Friedman. Right?

Cat’s foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door.
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Blood rack barbed wire
Polititians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Death seed blind man’s greed
Poets’ starving children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 09:40 PM

Mithras,

"Um, am I going on and on? Sorry about that."

I don't perceive you that way at all. I'm more sympathetic to MJT's perspective, but you're great to have around.

"Get your enemies to read your works in order to mend them; for your friend is so much your second self that he will judge too much like you."

- Pope

Posted by: Sparrowhawk at January 14, 2004 10:13 PM

The right hates Friedman because he occasionally bothers to criticize the Israeli settlements.

Posted by: John-Paul Pagano at January 14, 2004 10:39 PM

Hi everyone the fact that Iraq was shooting at our planes every week was enough reason for me to go to war.The job after 9-11 is to cause 90% of the Muslim world to say when someone stands up and says let's go on jihad to the USA "ARE YOU CRAZY
THEY"LL KILL ALL OF US" and then they call the police.Iraq is just the first step in exerting enviormental pressure.If they refuse to learn depopulation WILL be the end result the "American street" will require this solution.

Posted by: jomo at January 14, 2004 11:09 PM

Thanks for sharing, jomo.

Posted by: Mithras at January 14, 2004 11:19 PM

Mithras,
John in Tokyo here. Thanks for responding to my post, all while debating 50 other commentators.

Your point by point just knocked the wind out of me. You say "why not?!" when I ask you if containment should have continued "indefinitely" but 2 seconds later call me "absurd" for suggesting that this would result in "decades" of containment.

You brush aside my contention that the only other alternative is the lifting of sanctions. But you failed to name any other possible scenario - aside from the oblique question about Saddam's age (for the record, I don't know but I believe he is in his mid 60's and, although you didn't mention them, I believe Uday and Qusay were in their late 30's).

Your description of Saddam's level of cooperation with the last round of inspections as: "not perfect," was quite cute. You managed to shrug off the fact that the inspections were only resumed after belligerent speeches by Bush in the SOTU and the UN and troop build up in Kuwait. I guess you have to de-emphasize the timeline in the 12-year history of inspections when you argue that continued containment was better than regime change.

Your theories on propaganda are also pretty weak. You don't acknowledge my point that Containment earned us 12 years of anti-American propaganda and hatred in the Muslim world. Did it not register with you when it was revealed that Saddam horded childrens' corpses at hospitals - denying immediate burial to their families - until he had enough for a parade of coffins and then would hold mass rallies (attendance coerced) to denounce the U.S. for poisoning Iraqi babies. These rallies were dutifully covered by Al-Jazeera and all other networks in the region. As I said, along with Infidel Troops in the home of the Prophet (pbuh), this led Osama's list of grievances - ahead of even Israel!! Your point about invasion being even worse propaganda is not true. In the long-term, a better, democratic Iraq will be the best propaganda. You even concede this before spouting leftist agitprop (which you had admirably avoided for the most part until that point) about suspecting that we will probably install "Our own Saddam."

The case for on-going containment is and always was pure trash. It amounted to deferring the problem to later, since all other options were unpalatible and no-one wanted to advocate lifting sanctions, withdrawing troops and the no-fly zones (protecting the Kurds) and giving Saddam free reign to do as he pleased. You, Mithras, have already denied that you wanted to lift containment. But Endless Containment was the real quagmire that determined, limited and constrained our ME policy for over a decade and shaped the series of political disasters that culminated in 9/11. (No partisan blame assignment here, both parties were responsible for this situation - Clinton made mistakes but Bush I created this mess. Both parties recognized that it needed to change - Clinton decreed "Regime Change" a policy in 1998 and many Democratic congressmen voted to give Bush the go-ahead for invasion in 2002.) The costs of war are heavy but alternatives were worse. Toppling Saddam was Objective 1 and we have accomplished this. Step 2 - bringing reform and a better future for Iraq and the region will be even harder and costlier. Nothing is guaranteed. But you are arguing that we should never have even tried, even though the outcome is far from certain. Do you realize how reactionary you sound?

Posted by: John in Tokyo at January 14, 2004 11:51 PM

Katherine

Not to be overly smarmy but does this my "Terrorism in the 21st Century" prof thinks Osama (and Zawahiri) are "almost certainly alive" though has very limited ability, if any, to communicate and coordinate attacks. Given his limited communications ability she's not so sure how killing him would harm Al Qaeda, though she obviously thinks we should continue going after him--she thinks he's been very good at structuring the organization to generate successors. mean your prof thinks OBL is "contained"?

Posted by: crionna at January 14, 2004 11:58 PM

"I guess the point of (missed) contention here is this: Totten and Brian are arguing that invading Iraq will make some Middle Eastern countries shape up. I'm arguing that it won't make al Qaeda do anything."

Al Queda is a parasite which can't do anything without a host. If the countries in the region become afraid to host and fund them and their cohorts, and even aggressively hunt them down and cut off their funds, and evenhelp Western agents follow the money trail, AQ will not be able to survive.

Also if the Middle East becomes less corrupt and more prosperous and democratic, there will be less fodder for AQ and friends. A suicide bomber (mother of two) exploded at a Gaza checkpoint yesterday, the first day of a program allowing Palestinians to go into Israel to work. She was sent by Hamas explicitly to shut down the program.

Posted by: Yehudit at January 15, 2004 01:36 AM

Michael:

A clarification - I was referring to comments posters and not Friedman (who I rate highly and will seek out his 'Terror and Liberalism').

Infact I was thinking less of the posters on this site and more on several others I have been visiting - call it annoyance hangover. Apologies for the lack of clarity.

Neil

Posted by: Neil W at January 15, 2004 03:35 AM

"Mithras,
John in Tokyo here...."

You have explained to Mithras why s/he should read his/her posts over before posting them. This will not deter Mithras in the least, but thank's for trying. A chaotic mind is a terrible thing to waste, according to Mithras.

Posted by: Joe Peden at January 15, 2004 10:46 AM

Mithras is not a troll.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 15, 2004 10:51 AM

Joe Pedan, if my mind is chaotic, I am not aware of it, which I grant you is not evidence either way.

Michael, thanks for the support.

Joe in Tokyo - let me keep this brief, since (a) I have an actual job to attend to (imagine!), (b) I think I've already been overly long, and © I think we're entering the realm of the theological here, where we each just assert matters of faith and no actual reasoning can occur.

Of course containment wouldn't have lasted decades. Someone would have knocked the bastard off sooner or later (perhaps with our help - the assassination prohibition is only an Executive Order, after all), or he would have gone to an unjustifiably natural death. Would his sons have retained power? I don't know. Saddam feared Uday, from what I hear, so maybe Uday was formidable. The rumor was he was just wildly vicious. There would have been a struggle for power among the military factions, the tribes and the foreign elements we see now. Someone might have come out on top (with our help!) that we could deal with. Was that opportunity not worth $1 billion a year waiting for?

Of course we had to hold Saddam's feet to the fire to maintain the inspection regime. Appropriately so. I don't see how that changes the fact that they allowed access to the inspectors (and in fact, allowed more access the more force we threatened) and the fact that they apparently were telling the truth when they said they had no quantities of banned weapons. You seem to imply that if a threat produce compliance, then carrying out that threat would somehow have been better. It's like arguing that if a law against theft deters theft, then it would be even better to arrest people for theft who you think might be thieves in the future.

As for the propaganda angle, I think this is where things get theological. Yes, sanctions were fodder for the Arab and Muslim conspiracy theory machine. But that's not to say there weren't equal accusations against Saddam, who was pretty widely reviled (at least by the moderates) in the Arab/Muslim world as "the bastard from Tikrit." I don't think any significant percent of the people of the Middle East blamed us for invading Afghanistan, which they saw as legitimate self-defense (and people despise the Taliban, who make Muslims look bad). But it's a whole different order of magnitude to invade a country that was apparently no threat to us, but which happens to control a great deal of oil and border on several other countries we might like to control.

Your argument appears to be: well they hate us all unreasonably anyway, so might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. And in the meantime, let's install a real democracy and then the haters will see the error of their ways. Well, that might be a tenable position if we had had any plan whatsoever to create a democracy in Iraq after the invasion. (No, hope is not a plan.) The Bush administration did no planning at all, which leads one to suspect either (a) they didn't really think they were installing a democracy (which feeds the sense of cynicism) or (b) they're fools. They don't seem very foolish.

It is against this backdrop that I say we likely will have to install our own new Saddam, not as leftist agitprop, but as a hard-headed assessment of the situation. How long can we afford the occupation? At some point we have to turn sovereignty and security functions over to the Iraqis, and the factions internally and externally are then going to come to blows. No amount of constitution-writing, education and example-setting on our part is going to avoid that. Do you choose to select a strongman to quell the factions, or allow the situation to dissolve into civil (and perhaps regional) war? I know which option I pick.

You accuse me of being reactionary, but my argument is that we did the wrong thing, not that we should do nothing. Afghanistan was right. Iraq is a dangerous diversion. The real problem is Saudi Arabia (with the madrassas and it's untouchable city of Mecca) and Pakistan (with nukes and significant, probably governmental material support for al Qaeda) where Osama is hiding out. Invading Iraq does nothing to address those problems, unless you have some wild theory that we going to now conduct covert operations against the governments of Saudi and Pakistan from Iraqi soil. In my view, the invasion was Bush's way of assuaging the feelings of powerlessness and desire for revenge that 9/11 inspired in order to win himself re-election and take advantage of a chaotic situation to set up a pro-U.S. strongman with control of significant oil resources. Bush and his advisors know very well how intractible the problem is, and he's garnering the maximum advantage from the situation in full knowledge that he's dumping the real problem onto the lap of a future president, while he poses as a "decisive" leader.

You can fool some of the people all of the time. Let's not be in that group, shall we?

Posted by: Mithras at January 15, 2004 12:57 PM

No, this is not accurate. Hussein was hated for decades by what was roughly called the Muslim Brotherhood and what is now roughly called AlQueda. They were mortal enemies, as they were with Assad's Syria. Both Muslim fundamentalist groups were funded by the West, including the United States, AND  Saudi Arabia (where every 3rd person is CIA). The fundamentalist textbooks sent to their schools in Afghanistan were published here in the U.S.  Syria and Iraq were SECULAR nations, which the fundamentalists abhor. They would puke if they read that someone called Hussein THEIR hero. Hussein was for decades a U.S. agent and partner, which made him untrustworthy to extremists and to some degree moderates.

The arguments Arab nations have against the U.S. are long-standing and, unfortunately, do not favor the U.S. and have nothing to do with a brief episode in Somalia. Whoever perpetrated 9/11 was not doing it out of frivolous impulse, thinking they were exploiting some Somalia-like reticence. They are fighting against U.S. hegemony and hypocrisy, long standing, and the continuing assault on Palestinians, the issue that underlies EVERYTHING concerning the west in the middle east. This is not a game, not for them.  No one who can read has any allusions about the U.S. arsenal in comparison with these virtually 3rd world nations. Except Israel, which has nuclear weapons. That was a mistake, because it was GUARANTEED to start an arms race in the region, justifiably so, if you believe that all men ARE men and reject the racist definition that some are not. Today our friends in Iraq are corrupt officials; the head of the Iraqi Congress is an embezzler, and this is well-known in Iraq. He was also one of the liars who told tall tales about nonexistent WMDs. Hatred for America is growing. It is mostly bush-centered in Europe, but Iraqis despise the occupation. The killing will not stop. The suicide bombings will not stop.

Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. To falsely accuse a nation or a people, the nebulous "they" of such a horrible crime, knowing there is no substance to it,  then exploit the lie to invade, destroy the infrastructure, slaughter thousands and confiscate the oil wells in a resource theft, is evil at its worst. We never saw the evidence about  9/11 against Al Queda, but it certainly seems plausible. What is not plausible is exactly who was on that plane. Several of those in the poster have turned up alive. They had had their passports stolen.

bush played the racism card when he insisted he would protect Americans against the "Iraqi type". Since there has never been an "Iraqi terrorist' per se, he is engaging in pure racism. Afghani, Iraqi, what's the difference? All Arabs are alike. The fundamentalists based out of Afghanistan masterminded 9/11, allegedly; therefore it is acceptable to kill Iraqis too, no matter how innocent they or even their wretched leader might be. You need a scapegoat? bush gives you a scapegoat. It is PURE racism.

Thank you for using the word "felt" weak. Because the U.S. Air Defense is the best in the world, knew all about using planes as weapons, and intercepted 67 planes the year before that had gone out of communication with the control tower. Our Air Defense could have easily shot all four planes out of the sky before they reached populated targets. There would have still been casualties, but minimal by comparison. Certainly we would not have "felt" weak with such a demonstration of destroying their project before fruition. But if people feel helpless, have internalized the frustration that goes with it, they are easily desensitized to bloody invasions (all planned long before 9/11; Carpetbagger and long-time thieves at Halliburton - a company not particularly liked by the soldiers in Kosovo who saw them pad every project they worked on - had a contract in place for a special service in Iraq one whole year before the invasion).

Had we not "felt" helpless and frustrated, we might have been horrified by the invasion of Iraq, but we had become desensitized, itching for a fight, as you imply. It is not terribly difficult to manipulate masses of people this way. It is called PsyOps (psychological operations), and the intelligence agencies in the U.S. do this particularly well.

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Against people who were innocent of the crime of 9/11? You would kill innocent people because you can't get to the guilty? I personally did not need the win. It did not make me feel better to vicariously kill innocent people, to follow the leader in Bearing False Witness. And I knew the delays on 9/11 were outliers.

WHY isn't the invasion of Iraq about Arab, Muslim or Iraqi psychology? Since it is the majority of them who are dying in their streets, their homes, and in their cities, don't they count? It is THEIR country that has been destroyed. If you can continue to dismiss them as invisible corpses that don't matter, alive or dead, perhaps then you have an inkling of why in Iraq they hated Hussein, but they hated America also.
Recall when bush sr called for them to overthrow Hussein in 1990. They did so in Basra in the No Fly Zone. bush ordered the zone opened to give the Iraqi military just enough time to get in, crush the rebellion and then get out.

The son pulled something similar in the latest invasion. Recall Fleischer using the carrot and stick in the runup to the invasion, saying that Iraqis could avoid an invasion if they got rid of Hussein. It was regime change they were after (they were not finding WMD).  One bullet would be a lot cheaper for everyone, he said. This was not to be dismissed: Iraqis know the horror of war and the ordeal of terrifying bombardment. It was a win-win situation for everyone, Fleischer said, esp. for them. They would be rid of a hated dictator AND they would avoid an invasion.

A few days later he yanked the deal from the table, saying that it did not matter what Iraqis did to get rid of Hussein. The U.S. would be invading their country IN ANY CASE, even if they did dispatch him. So if any iraqi had his hand over his service revolver, poised to save his country from invasion (which real "men" are supposed to do), it went right back into the holster.

Friends? I don't think so.

And for the democracy argument, no one should embarrass themselves in stating that Iraq is poised for democracy. The U.S. doesn't do democracy in the middle east.
Much has been said that Hussein was "our boy, " so the invasion was hypocritical. (Incidentally, in 1990 Kuwait was slant-drilling into the ground into Iraq to steal its oil, with the equipment supplied by a company affiliated with the bush family. Ambassador Glaspie was sent to Baghdad to give Hussein what is known as "the green light" to do what he wanted with Kuwait. You read about this from time to time in Middle East history in particular. For ex., Israel was given the "green light" to invade Lebanon, the massacres in East Timor committed by Indonesia were greenlighted by the US, Syria was given the green light to invade Beirut during the first Gulf War -- all of which proceeded unmolested). But a Newsweek article after the end of the Cold War (and before the set-up of Iraq) speculated on how the military was now going to regroup and redefine its mission. But several officials were sure they could locate another enemy. In fact, they were studying the issue and they thought Iraq, which was just then enjoying peace after a decade of war with Iran at the behest of the U.S., would make a good choice for an enemy.

On the radio recently Hannity argued that making common cause with Hussein/Iraq to fight Iran in the 80s was analogous to making common cause with Stalin/USSR to fight the Nazis in the 40s. It was Real Politick and therefore justified. We were FORCED to act against despotic regimes.

The analogy is worthless, however. It might have worked well if the U.S. relationship with Hussein BEGAN in the 80s, and it might have worked if our involvement in Iran only began in the 80s also (after their demonstrated dislike of U.S. choices by the taking of hostages and the overthrow of the Shah), but it didn't. In 1953, perhaps only roughly, but certainly meaningful, Iran was moving toward modernization with elected officials, in addition to also having the Shah of Iran as a ruler, and had just democratically elected their first President. (A Iranian woman was interviewed a year back and she said she cries when she thinks of what they had and what they lost). Not dissimilar to the growth of a modern Parliament of elected representatives in England while still retaining the Royal Family, but with power moving inexorably towards the more authentic representative of the entire populace. That natural process would have also taken place in Iran, while still recognizing the Shah. A republican U.S. president approved the CIA plan to overthrow the new President and reinstall the Shah, but this time as absolute power. Iran's short date with democracy was over. Eisenhower then had the State Department draw up plans for carving up the oil industry with the majors in the U.S., causing at least two State diplomats to resign in disgust because the limited number of suppliers was contrary to the best interest of the Iranian people and the American people. In 1963 in Iraq, the complete history is difficult to remember because there were a few coups. But in 1963, the royal family were overthrown in a bloody coup. A presidency and council followed. How much better that was than an oil-rich Kingdom where most people lived in poverty and illiteracy was rampant I cannot say. Obviously the king was ineffectual. Illiteracy and poverty were sky-high, and the oil proceeds certainly were not being funneled back into Iraq, despite it being the ground it came from. This new president declared his intention to modernize this poor country (when kings and dictators were the standard, all the riches tended to find Swiss bank accounts). During the recent invasion, a man in his 50s was interviewed in Baghdad and he described that period of his youth as one of intellectual foment and the goal of improving the standard of living for all. The new president started a program where students would travel to the U.S. to attend their universities. This man himself would return from the U.S. with an engineering degree. At the end of the interview, he was asked about the invasion. He admitted he felt a very strong duty to defend his country against an invasion. (That is a common male response. And the primal instinct to protect women and children is part of that. That is, if you believe that an Arab man IS a man.

Qesem(sp?), the president even allowed some communists on the governing council. This period did not last very long. In 1963 during a democratic U.S. administration, the CIA overthrew this govt. and assassinated Qesem and in its place installed the Baathist party (including Hussein, whose apartment in exile was being paid for by the CIA). They also handed over to Hussein and the rest of the coup group a list of 1000s of people to be killed, some known or suspected communists or leftists. During the 1980s the CIA would go on to help provide weapons to both Iraq and Iran in a war that would kill over one million people. The problem with violent overthrows, rather than transition, esp. with Iran, is that once violence and the injury and hatred of violence is introduced into a society, it becomes part of the political culture and is very difficult to undo. Hence, the 1979 overthrow of the Shah, avenging the CIA's 53 coup, was a natural consequence (wherein they proceeded to kill a few thousand "communists"). It is said in some circles that Qesem was crazy and bloodthirsty, but the CIA always says that about the leaders they overthrow, so the mere statement is not dispositive. Hussein, however, was a known misfit, a common thug. The CIA list of thousands to be killed included doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors who were part of Iraq's small educated elite, even pregnant women and the elderly. Hussein was personally involved in these killings AND the torture of leftists.

Fear of communism was of course the pretext used to justify all these killings. Might have had a case if Qesem declared EVERYONE a communist in a one-party (totalitarian) system, as opposed to merely influencing a negotiating process like socialists and libertarians must content themselves with in 2-party or multiple-party systems. That flies in the face of everything that has been traditionally Arab. There was plenty of oil wealth to raise the standard of living and educate the populace (literacy was actually, I believe, 100% when even the thug Hussein was in power; it was said that there was so much wealth from oil that the Iraqi Congress could make many mistakes and STILL the general populace ended up benefiting. But Russian style communism? Not likely. These are semitic peoples, the jews and arabs of this region, who practically invented the art of negotiating in the marketplaces of the middle east, and, far more so than we, the atheism of Soviet-style communism sticklerism is repugnant to Muslims, devout and not-so-devout. Remove the totalitarianism from communism (which can't be done, of course, which is why in the hoped-for denouement of the Cold War, the West had the better academic argument - even though the murderous contractions on both sides would have sunk a fleet of battleships), and you would have had an agent demanding that the resources of that country's commons should be funneled back INTO that commons, the essence of all nonprofits. But this is a digression.

The long search for a psychological breakthrough in the Israel/Palestine nightmare was ended when Sharon and bush came to power, and bush launched the either-or, good-bad paradigm, including all terrorists are evil. Without the ability to get the truth out in a compromised media, breakthroughs cannot happen. Israel could be defended based on complexities of real politick, but it cannot be defended when up against either-ors, no middle ground. It was founded on terrorism. The west gave Arab land away to European victims of western aggression and western-style jew hatred (which did not exist before the west starting exporting it to the middle east in the 20th century). And in terms of State terror, WMD and violations of U.N. resolutions, Iraq could not hold a candle to Israel. A VERY unstable situation.

So when you give credence to the fantasy theorizing that Iraqis love us, they welcome us, we saved them, we're their heroes, the impertinent question must be asked: You really think you can expect as your due the gratitude of a people after overthrowing the thug that "you" were responsible for saddling them with in the first place, for decades?

Still think we have the better argument in this one?

Bevin

Note: If you want to respond or ask any questions, I will try to respond in a timely fashion. I just ask that you not waste our time with the "blame America first" argument, which is too often a way of avoiding addressing inconvenient facts. This is not a game of "gotcha" for me, and I hope that tone was not in evidence. I also don't consider those internationalists in the CIA to be "America." In these matters, they are usually acting on the behest of international corporations who do very nicely with the entire world as their financial playground.

http://www.ccmep.org/2003_articles/Iraq/122103_no_more_mr_nice_guy.htm

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Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
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