June 25, 2007

Four Modest Proposals

By Michael J. Totten

Dan Simmons (the science fiction writer) has written a fascinating and well-informed essay about four ways we can get out of Iraq.

It isn’t possible for anyone to agree that all four options are good ones. They’re contradictory (and absurd) on purpose. But the whole thing is a delightful and thought-provoking out-of-the-box read by a clearly intelligent person.

It’s impossible to excerpt this piece. You really just need to read it.

I can’t resist, though, revealing his third modest proposal: Give the keys of Iraq to the Iranians and join the insurgency. It’s a terrible idea. But it’s a modest proposal, not a serious one, and it works both as a joke and as a strictly intellectual exercise.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 25, 2007 02:15 AM

Agreed, great article. Personally I can't see how the US and its allies can prevail in Iraq without dealing with Iran and Syria first. And dealing with Iran and Syria will also solve Israel and Lebanon's problems too. But how can it possibly sort out Iran? Afganistan's still a basket-case. Probably best to leave it to Israel to nuke everybody and call it a day.

Posted by: Greg at June 25, 2007 04:25 AM

Hi -

Just went and read it.

He's basically correct: proposal #4 is the only really good one.

Proposal #2, turning the war over to private contractors, will be very, very attractive for any future Presidents who wish to avoid bogging the military down. Deniability, freedom of action without restraints, all of that is lovely: it also confounds any sort of insurgency, since private contractors would be completely free to use the same tools (blow up kids in front of a school? Fine, we'll blow up kids in front of a mosque), using the revulsion and anger to effectively shut down the insurgency.

The problem, of course, with that option is that it is infinitely open to corruption, and lowest-bidder mentality for those insurgencies where no one will actually be looking closely at what is going on.

Sad that it comes down to this, but as Simmons points out, this is pretty much our own damn fault, as the good stuff going on is drowned out by the media, who could be won over if the White House could be bothered to go over to full-court press.

Posted by: John F. Opie at June 25, 2007 06:11 AM

Holy Shit! That is a very entertaining read!

I kinda like the idea of privatizing the war. Expecially the bit about the PMCs not being bound by the Geneva Convention.

Posted by: jonorose at June 25, 2007 08:15 AM

As a science fiction fan, I used to love Dan Simmons. He was my favorite. I found his last-minute insertion of Islamic terrorists into the end of the Ilium series clunky and strange, but I didn't connect the dots. I then found these letters on his website. He's a smart guy, but his nasty, demeaning, arrogant tone of his work on modern politics makes me want to lose my lunch. As far as I'm concerned, he joins Orson Scott Card in the illustrious category of Former Writers Warped From Looking Into The Snake. He's ruined forever for me. It's a shame.

#3 is the smartest idea of the set if questions of morality are not considered. It's also the most insidious and maevolent, because it assumes that any U.S. relinquishment of political control over Iraq will lead to genocide and thus removes that option from serious moral consideration - unless, of course, you were willing to help the regional Sunnis expand and inflame the bloodbath. Rather cleverly, Dan puts the bloodbath right up front and in the hands of the Sadrites, so if we were to fund a Baathist insurgency in response, it wouldn't look so bad, relatively.

No, maybe #1 is the most insidious and maevolent, for the psychological warfare it wages against withdrawal advocates.

No. It has to be #4. "Prevail". Like giving an alcoholic another fifth of whiskey and telling him "prevail".

Posted by: glasnost at June 25, 2007 08:16 AM

We love it here at Daley Koos. We want to implement all four proposals simultaneously. But seriously, Dan Simmons has one of the clearest heads on this issue.

The idea that the US could cut and run from Iraq like it did from Vietnam---without creating a thousand times more bloodshed in the process---is pretty obvious when you think about it.

Posted by: Daley Koos at June 25, 2007 08:19 AM

Like these proposals, our elected/electable officials and our state department refuse to acknowledge that

1. the cold war is over

2. alliances change

3. terrorists and their supporters are the weakest enemy we've ever dealt with. The fact that they loom so large says more about us than it does about them

The only proposals, modest or not, that will work will acknowledge that the commies are not the enemy anymore; Islamist and terror-supporting groups and nations are. We need to stop using enemy Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia and the Sudan as pawns in our old great game/cold war feud with China and Russia. We're not playing with the pawns, they're playing with us.

We could ally with all nations that are threatened by terrorism, including Russia and China, to create a trade/scientific/military alliance that might terrify the fairly weak and vulnerable Islamists (and Euro/Latin American fence-sitters) into getting out of our way. If that doesn't work, our new allies know a lot more about effectively fighting Islamists than we do.

Or we could try to weaken terror supporting groups and regimes by quietly attacking their intelligence agencies and their financial infrastructure.

Unfortunately, neither of these ideas will work unless we attack all of our enemies in this war. Iran and Syria are enemies, and so are Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and Yemen.

Since our state department and the majority of Democrats and Republicans refuse to acknowlege this, any modest proposal would have to deal with them. As far as that goes, I have no idea (short of some genuinely Swiftian thing) what to do.

Posted by: mary at June 25, 2007 10:27 AM

Mary: before we attack anybody, specially S.Arabia we have to cut our dependency in oil and/or find fuel alternatives. To go into an open war w/S.Arabia and cut our supplies would be useless. Without energy we would not last more than a month or so.We have a very sickening relationship with all those muslim countries. S.Arabia is financing Osama, like it or not. It is crazy. We need each other. Yet I also believe that commerce and private property is a civilizer. The poverty of the muslim masses is apalling considering how rich their leaders are. I do think that we have to stop playing games with Putin and the chinese and have a more "friendly" relationship with them. Russia could provides us with fuel also. And as much as I despise Chavez I would try to be more friendly with that character....

Posted by: diana at June 25, 2007 04:58 PM

Care to tell us where you draw the line between countries we have "sickening" relationships with and the other awful players that you think we ought to be sucking up to?

Posted by: Gene at June 25, 2007 07:48 PM

Suggestion No. 1 has possibilities except the Grand Duchy of Fenwick tried that with lamentable results.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at June 25, 2007 09:55 PM

We need to find a way of overcoming the tyranny of the violent loser who is willing to die. It is a cultural imperative of primary importance to all of us. If we convince ourselves it is too much trouble to defend against brutal jerks we must submit.

I'm willing to look at different ways of defeating the infestation of Iraq. I am not willing to give up the fight to Mookie al-Sadr.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at June 25, 2007 11:20 PM

First -- Michael, I love your blog. It's my favorite non-mainstream blog on the interwebs.

I don't find any of these to be particularly convincing or strong strategies for American Foreign Policy -- which is exactly what all of these would curtail (except for the 4th, but let's be honest, few have a stomach for the 4th), a massive change in American Foreign Policy. Like it or not like it, over the last 60 years, the United States has become the premier interventionist nation in the world; something that we were particularly proud of in the 1940s is now the burden of our grandparent's grandchildren. This isn't to say that American interventionism is necessarily a bad thing, it really isn't -- similar to how a child out of wedlock is a burden for his mother, he is still her most cherished possession. Both major political ideologies in the United States, conservative and liberal, are flush with interventionism, and most are largely directed at the same areas, it's just that international politics and domestic policy typically gets in the way of a united view on how to act with the rest of the world.

#1, #2, and #3 all involve -- in some respect -- total Iranian hegemony in the Islamic Middle East, which almost gaurantees a massive slaughter of Sunni Muslims and those less-than-eager to dive into the Iranian Islamic Revolution. There would still be a lot of Western cameras in Iraq and the destruction would be something unseen by the entire world: it would embolden Iranian sympethizers in the Middle East and strike fear into those who are not pro-Iranian. Further, it would cement Islamist movements in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and re-ignite passions in Gaza to act against Israel. Syria would be strengthened, and as a conduit, so would Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Aside from all of this, from the completely destructive effects that such a rampage would have on the world, the direct and most important effect would be on those people murdered themselves. Millions would be slaughtered mercilessly and it would be as a direct result of the American escape from Iraq. Where as noble voices, and not so noble voices, in America call for action in Darfur, or a response in Zimbabwe, or the handful of other humanitarian crises (sp) in Africa, the murder in an Iranian controlled Iraq would put those to shame. So often, we call ourselves to standup and prevent "another Genocide," and Iraq -- as festering of a pool of sectarian crap as it is -- is the one place where our military is present to prevent a total Genocide. Following through on 1, 2, or 3 would open the doors for such violence and would negate any and all duty that we have in any other country in the world (in preventing mass murder).

Posted by: MichaelBrazell at June 26, 2007 08:20 AM

One Brief question...

I could be wrong, but in proposal #2... As the party financing those fighters, wouldn't we be at least partially responsible for their actions? In other words, if we finance a bunch of professional mercenaries, I can see how the Geneva Convention may not apply to them, but there has to be some bearing on the country that is writing them the checks to do our dirty work. Am I wrong?

Posted by: MichaelBrazell at June 26, 2007 08:26 AM

Excellent article.

I am by no measure a Liberal nor a Leftie, and I liked all 4 ideas. Declaring defeat and pulling out our conventional forces reduces our local exposure and would freak out the Sunnis not just in 'Raq, but throughout the middle east - which could be exploited. It would cost a couple million Iraqis and other various Arabs their lives, but that is pretty much going to happen anyway as the situation deteriorates.

I also really liked the privatizing the war idea, but the weakness is it would be implemented so poorly that it would fail.

Yes; There are a lot of out of work commando quality people that are happy to shoot people for money. On the other hand, the English used German mercs during our Revolutionary war - and used them so poorly that they lost. The French used mercs during their war in Indochina and used them so ineptly that they lost there too. Given the Bush administration's record, I have no doubt that they could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, even given an army of supermen, with no cloying rules-of-engagement restraint.

Posted by: jaime at June 26, 2007 09:33 AM

Jaime, I am somewhat apprehensive to say that the 1 or 2 million Iraqi deaths that would certainly come about from an American withdrawal are an inevitability if troops remain in Iraq in some form. If we take the highest number of the IraqBodyCount -- which is around 72,000 deaths -- there is a large discrepancy between 72,000 deaths in ~four years and 1 - 2million deaths in the coming years (at least, under the presumption that there are not going to be Fallujah-like campaigns every month for the next 10 years).

Although who is doing the exploiting of those Iraqi Sunni's who face the wrath of Iran?

Posted by: MichaelBrazell at June 26, 2007 09:40 AM

Who would penalize us for the wrongdoing of our military contractors? Who is sufficiently without sin, especially sin of omission, to throw that first stone?

In real terms we can stall this in the UN forever with the payment of $2-4 billion in bribes. If we are going to abandon national morality to impose our foreign agenda with mercenaries, the first ones we should hire are the ones for sale in Turtle Bay. I think we can probably outbid the Russians and co-opt the Chinese sufficiently to carry the day. I think this should be a fully disclosed earmark, though. "UN Ambassadors, One Gross @ $2.88 Billion." Based on Oil for Fraud numbers, we should be able to co-opt the necessary support for bargain basement prices.

The other part of this is the old saw about the US not being the world's policeman. If we aren't, nobody else is.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at June 26, 2007 02:20 PM

Who would penalize us for the wrongdoing of our military contractors?

Lots of people. Hell, there are quite a lot of people who blame us for stuff we didn't even do...

Who is sufficiently without sin, especially sin of omission, to throw that first stone?

When has that ever stopped them?

Posted by: rosignol at June 26, 2007 07:33 PM

For your information the most of the lebanes are against this pro-western government led by siniora.
Hizbolla and Amal movement (shitte)
Free Patriotic Movement, Marada (Christian maronite).
SSNP, Communists, Leftists and many many others are the lebanese oppostion. and they are the majority. please make sure of yur information.

best wishes.

Posted by: Lebanese at June 26, 2007 07:36 PM

Thanks for turning me onto that great read! I'd quibble with a few of his terms--'surrender' is when you lay down your weapons and are either shot or taken off to a prison camp, so I think he means 'give up and go home'--but in general he touches all the bases in a good oldfashioned no-nonsense kind of way. It would be nice if anyone in Washington employed that kind of thinking.

I'm not a student of military history but it seems to me there are actually a few other military options here. The kind that would occur to Genghis Khan or Tamerlane, for instance. But I guess three of the four he mentions are pretty much the American way (the give the keys to Iran idea is a little too Florentine Renaissance for us, I'm thinking). But the fifth option, and the big one that he didn't mention, is 'none of the above.' In other words, in 2008 the new president will most likely order a 'phased withdrawal', which will try to incorporate elements of all of Mr Simmons' four plans--which will end up pretty much being garrison duty in the Sunni areas, low-level privately contracted proxy war against Iran in the Shiite areas, highly publicized troop returns at home, and an MSM blackout on US casualties among the forces left behind.

Any takers on that bet?

Posted by: Hope Muntz at June 27, 2007 01:15 PM
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