A ruinous adventure.

The objective of war is to marshall organized violence in order to intimidate or defeat an adversary for the purpose of imposing a political outcome against its will. Wars can be offensive or defensive in nature, preventative, pre-emptive or reactive, and can be waged out of necessity or choice (necessary defensive wars being the most justified under jus ad bellum standards). The point is to use enough lethal force to secure a preferred political end-game. In recent years this has given rise to something known as “effects-based strategy,” whereby military planners think of a desired tactical effect and plan their deployments accordingly. I shall not detour into how the “fog of war” and an adversary’s will and preparation play a role in determining real, as opposed to desired combat effects. Suffice it to say that the idea that one can go to war with an eye to a specific effect is problematic, and that is even more true at a strategic level than it is on the battlefield.

Instead, let us consider Iraq as an exercise in effects-based war-mongering. Leave aside the bogus WMD justifications for attacking Saddam Hussein’s regime. Let’s look at the real reasons and see how well the invasion and occupation of Iraq achieved those ends.

Dreamt up by the feverish minds of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century (which included Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle and Wolfowtiz among its members), the invasion of Iraq was designed to remove a stable but hostile authoritarian regime in order to replace it with a US-friendly regime that would give US companies privileged access to Iraq’s oil supplies (with fuel retail prices coming down as a result) and which would allow the permanent stationing of US troops on its soil. US military assets in Iraq  would come from the transfer of troops and weapons from Europe and Saudi Arabia, since the former’s presence was made unnecessary by the end of the Cold War and the latter were a source of hatred in Islamicist circles and a potential source of domestic instability for the House of Saud. The idea was to create a land-based aircraft carrier in Iraq, numbering up to 100,000 troops with a full complement of weapons, in order to intimidate Iran and Syria while bringing fight against al-Qaeda to home soil. Having such a force forward-deployed in Iraq would also reduce rapid response times to other theaters, Central Asia in particular.

This scenario (the strategic “effect”) rested on the assumption that Hussein’s successors would be compliant if not democratic, that Iraqi Shiia and Kurdish populations would welcome US troops even if the Sunni population did not, that Baathists could be purged from the public bureaucracy without loss of efficiency and that any resistance could be defeated with overwhelming force. It assumed that Iran would be intimidated by the move. In order to produce the “effect” the war would have to be successfully prosecuted through its four phases (stage, thrust, seize and hold), and the international community would have take up the task of post-war nation-building as soon as Saddam’s statues had dropped from their pedestals.

Very little military input was sought in the making of these assumptions, and none of them proved correct.

Instead, Sunni and Shiia Iraqis violently resisted the occupation while the Kurds turned to in-fighting and irredentist actions in Turkey, the post-Saddam government (although elected and laboriously installed) has proven corrupt, unstable, unreliable and less than obsequious to American demands, the Iraqi armed forces dissolved into the resistance and have not yet reconstituted, the public bureaucracy collapsed and national infrastructure destroyed, both yet to be resurrected, all while Iran strengthened its influence in Iraq as well as in the broader Gulf region.

The last item is important. The US enemy d’jour, Iran, is in a better geopolitical position today as a direct result of the occupation next door (which allowed it to funnel advisors and material to Shiia resistance groups, particularly the Mahdi Army). Iraq is no longer a buffer between the Persian and Sunni Arab worlds, but instead is contested ground. Meanwhile, the Arab world is convulsed by domestic dissent to the point that US backing is not enough to stave off popular protest or Iranian influence amongst Shiia minorities in the region. As for the human cost, 4500 US troops were killed in the nine year occupation, more than 30,000 have been wounded (with many of those suffering catastrophic injuries that would have been fatal in previous wars), and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have died through no fault of their own as a direct consequence of the war. Corruption and ill-discipline infected the ranks of US civilian and military personnel as the occupation wore on, to the point that Abu Ghraib and Blackwater excesses are among the most potent images left in its wake. There is no permanent US military base in Iraq.

So what was the overall effect of this effects-based war?

Iran is regionally stronger now than before the invasion. Its influence in Iraq is greater now than before 2003. The Malaki government in Baghdad is neither democratic nor pro-US and instead is more susceptible to Iranian influence than ever before. The Kurds have not proven to be reliable US proxy counter-weights to Sunni and Shiia factions in Iraq, and instead have fomented trouble with a key US ally, Turkey. The Assad regime in Syria is in trouble but the US had nothing to do with that and can do nothing to force a preferred outcome there. The Sunni Arab street is in revolt against US-backed regimes. Anti-US  forces elsewhere have learned from the Iraq resistance and modified their tactics accordingly (the use of IEDs being the single most important lesson now shared by jihadis and others world-wide). The Afghan occupation–which was the only post 9/11 US military action that enjoyed broad international support and which was largely neglected during the height of the Iraq conflict–now languishes even as it spills over into Iran in the guise of stealth spy drones and special forces incursions.

While the US has been preoccupied with its wars, major rivals China and Russia have found opportunity to re-arm and expand their spheres of influence relatively unchecked (the 2008 Ossetian-Georgian war being an example). There has been an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder issues within returning US service ranks, and the US public has grown tired of fruitless war rather than proud of it as the “liberating” gesture that it was supposed to be (or sold as). Oh, and the US teeters on the edge of bankruptcy as a result of  deficit war spending and the price of gas at the pump (which soared after the invasion) is at record highs while Russian and other non-US companies negotiate contracts with Iraqi oil suppliers.

From a US strategic standpoint, the invasion made the regional situation worse, not better. The attack on Iraq was legally unjustified, ill- conceived, based on false assumptions and counter-productive in the end. Although military skills were honed and weapons advancements made, by any political measure the US is in a weaker position in the Middle East than it was before the invasion, and its major rivals are demonstrably stronger at a time when the entire region is less stable now than it was in early 2003.

Unless one subscribes to the view that preventative wars of choice are waged by the US in order to fuel the military-industrial complex, the Iraq War was a defeat. Although orderly, the circumstances of US military withdrawal from Iraq were not of its choosing, and the political situation it left behind is unstable, deteriorating and not protective of US interests. One does not have to be a Realist to understand that many lives were wasted in armed pursuit of an impossible effect in Iraq (although it was US realists who argued the most vigorously against the invasion in the months before it happened). It was, in other words, a cluster**k of epic proportions.

Doing things for effect is not the same as doing things right, or being right. The US going to preventative war in Iraq by choice and for effect was not right and was not rightly done. It was wrong and criminally stupid to do, and no amount of patriotic gloss can alter that fact.


52 thoughts on “A ruinous adventure.

  1. Well said. For me, the key word is “criminally”. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was about as clear-cut an act of aggression as you’re going to find. The judgement at the first Nuremberg trial declared aggression to be “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” This landmark trial resulted in eight convictions of aggression and five death sentences for crimes including aggression. Though the apprehension, trial and conviction of any of the organisers of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is as likely as a blizzard in Basra, were these people brought to justice the precedent this would set could provide another powerful disincentive for the waging of aggressive war. And it might last longer than the Nuremberg precedent which has been all but forgotten by the country which played the most prominent role.

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  3. I’m proud to say I was one of the many who in 2003 thought the invasion was a terribly stupid idea. If only those protesting were listened to, this complete and utter screw up might never have happened. When you hear the drums of war beating for Iran, Syria, North Korea or Pakistan, stop and think about the Iraq war, and how nothing good has come of it.

  4. Pablo. I was somewhat surprised to read this very limited explanation of USA strategic objectives in Iraq. You seem to think that US objectives can only be construed in military terms. According to your tunnel view of the objectives it is a failure. I would agree that the campaign was vastly more difficult than anyone was prepared to envisage, let alone plan for. But with the benefit of hindsight the way Al Qaeda and the Sunni fought in Iraq was inevitable. We can agree numerous mistakes were made and an incredible degree of naivety existed.
    Far from being a failure the invasion of Iraq has been an almost complete strategic success, especially given the resources committed by the enemy, including all of Lenin’s “useful idiots” in the West.
    In order to really understand what the neo conservatives were trying to achieve you need to go back to the premise of Samuel P Huntingdon and the example provided by Germany and Japan of militarist nations ruled by dictators. Consider the geostrategic environment in 1991 after the first Gulf War. Bush Sr decided that Saddam Hussein was best left in power after being removed from Kuwait in order to provide a regional counterweight to Iran. America and its allies had won the Cold war and the general consensus was that a peace dividend was due.
    Contrast that with post 911. It was obvious that Al Qaeda had successfully completed the first steps initiating the clash of civilisations suggested by Huntingdon. The conspirators were Saudi and the close relationship with the ruling Saudi royal family precluded any state on state action.
    The only way to guarantee long term American security was to defeat the threat posed by Islamist jihadists in the same way that winning the cold war meant defeating communism spread. The only way to do that is to bring democracy and self-determination to the populations among which the jihadists live. It is important to distinguish between the free spread of Islam and the violent jihadist imposition of Islam. Is It is difficult to see prosperous and growing Turkey wanting to put all that at risk by funding the violent spread of Islam. There was no democracy in the Arab world but in 2001 the jihadists had attacked America and held the strategic initiative.
    Any sensible observer, and the US have many, would recognise the difficulties of “winning” in Afghanistan. Britain and Russia had both been defeated in the country at the supposed height of their powers. Allowing Afghanistan to be identified as the central front of the war on jihadism would mean inevitable strategic setbacks of the same nature as Vietnam. Another front needed to be opened, preferably one that had an oppressed, but intelligent and educated populace. Iraq fit the bill. The objective was not to immediately turn the country into a Western democracy but to start it firmly along the path. That start would provide an example for other Arab peoples to demand their own freedoms. It is no surprise that Arab nations viewing the violence of the war between America and Islamism in Afghanistan and Iraq kept silent rather than immediately demanding their own freedoms. But a few years on
    I recognise you use the words “legally unjustified”, rather than illegal. Those who call it illegal should recall that only the threatened veto of a French president now convicted in a court of law stood between Bush Jr and a UN resolution specifically authorising the action. 10 years of sanctions and force to stop Saddam Hussein using his air force against his own people should have convinced anyone of the morality of the action, even if the strict legality was thwarted by a corrupt leader with his own agenda.
    You say the invasion was about oil, an aircraft carrier and continuation of the military complex. As I have argued here before the trade in oil simply does not recognise ideology. Saudi has long been the balancing producer. America buys much of its oil from Venezuela despite the substantial ideological differences between the two. There was no need to overthrow Iraq to buy its oil. The GDP of Iraq was around $15bn in 2003 including oil exports. Miniscule in a global context.
    There are no American military in Saudi. Kuwait serves as a staging point but I will agree that having a US friendly government putting pressure on Syria and Iran was an objective on the way to achieving wider strategic goals.
    America has now left Iraq. Despite Republican wittering that is not a reflection of a weak Obama but of America honouring an agreement made by the previous administration. The wisdom of this vastly outweighs the benefits of a land based carrier. It gives the lie to any assertions of American imperialism. The US military remains in Germany and Japan because the successive governments of those countries recognise the benefits. It is better for the government of Iraq to be able to clearly demonstrate its independence even if that makes US short term objectives more difficult.
    Iran is currently stronger in the region in a relative sense but it remains democratically unsustainable. Those pressures will get worse as people observe the changes towards freedom wrought across the Arab world. The regime there may last a few more years but it poses no geo-strategic threat to America and its allies, even if it does get a nuclear weapon.
    As we move into 2012 the US can reflect on an extremely successful year in pursuit of its strategic objectives. Bin Laden is dead, Gaddafi is dead, dictators across the Arab world have been or are being overthrown and Al qaeda is almost a strategically spent force, ideologically and logistically. Dictators everywhere have been placed on notice that they cannot behave with impunity. It has stopped any financial responsibility for Iraq whilst leaving responsibility for the destiny of Iraq in the hands of democratically elected politicians. There is Sunni-Shia conflict as the struggle for power in Iraq continues.
    The real issue for America in the teens of this century is to bring its finances under control. Europe and America are suffering from too much spending and not enough productivity. The China bubble is in the process of bursting. Democratic market capitalism has many imperfections but it has clear technological, educational and financial advantages that should preserve our freedoms and prosperity.

  5. Phil:

    Thanks for the rebuttal. There was only so much I could put into a post. I will simply note here that in no instance other than post war Germany and Japan has democracy been installed by force. In both cases, unlike Iraq, they were devastated by war and the ruins were rebuilt by outsiders. In Iraq this has not happened, and the zero-sum political culture remains intact.

    I would argue that indeed it was a good year for anti-authoritarians in the Arab world and elsewhere, but that this happened in spite of, rather than because of US intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere like Yemen. Take it from someone raised in Latin America: the more the Yanks seek to impose their vision of the “proper” society, the more things turn out otherwise. In no instances, until after the fact, did the US want to see Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad and others fall–they just coat-tailed on events and added serious logistical support to rebellions where an overthrow was possible (in Libya, but not in Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, or Yemen). The US is covertly operating in these countries to move things in a favorable direction, but the sad fact is that now its attention is squarely focused on Iran, which is a consequence of the Iraq debacle and has nothing to do with democracy.

    I do admit that things have changed on the Arab street, but I am not sure that the US invasion of Iraq had much to do with that. What I do know is that Bush. Cheney and company are nasty hypocrites who sent other peoples children to wars they ordered on what were essentially ideological whims rather than out of a need to defend core national security interests. Unless you believe that Islamicists present an existential threat to the “American way of life” (or even NZ, since John Key says that his support for American military adevnturism is to prevent terrorism coming close to home), then 9-11, London and Madrid were sidebars that help to justify but were never a basis for the PNAC vision of a post Cold War world. And Iraq had nothing to do with the Islamicist project anyway–that was as contrived as was the fictional yellowcake that caused Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and other traitors to reveal, for domestic political reasons,the name of a longtime CIA operative with extensive Middle East networks, networks that have now been disrupted as a consequence of her outing. But that is a digression…

  6. Pablo,

    Possibly a dumb question… . In Germany it was reinstalling democracy by force, in that Germany had a history of democracy.How relevant is Iraq’s previous somewhat democratic history?

    When I look around the interwebs I get the sense that the answer to the question “was Iraq ever a democracy in the sense a NZer would give that word?” would be “it depends” :)

  7. ” I will simply note here that in no instance other than post war Germany and Japan has democracy been installed by force.”

    I presume you mean by – external – force.

    And Anita, I’d be kind of careful of the argument that democracy can’t be established in countries that don’t have a history of it. Not only does the actual existence of democracy depend on the fact that people ignored this principle, it also implies that democracy should basically be limited to North America, Europe and AusNZ.

  8. Pablo

    Germany, France, any number of other nations where peacekeepers have been in. According to the UN http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/operations/success.shtml

    “Since 1948, the UN has helped end conflicts and foster reconciliation by conducting successful peacekeeping operations in dozens of countries, including Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia and Tajikistan.

    UN peacekeeping has also made a real difference in other places with recently completed or on-going operations such as Sierra Leone, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Haiti and Kosovo.”

    I think you meant the overthrow of a dictator by the West but force has been successfully used.

    The argument has commenced already as to whether the Arab spring flowed from Iraq or had nothing to do with it. There is little hard evidence either way. However the dictators were put on notice. You could argue that intervention in Libya to stop Gaddafi would have been politically harder if the West had let Saddam off the hook. The Egyptian military at mid to senior levels were convinced by their ties too US military leaders they knew personally that backing the people rather than the dictator was a good course of action. If Saddam were still in power would that intervention have been effective.

    I don’t assert there was a direct cause and effect but it is clear that Al Qaeda was simply not a player in the Arab Spring.

    Given the example of 911 London & Madrid I do believe that AQ would represent an existential threat if appeasement had been the chosen option rather than confrontation. If America had lost in Afghanistan that would have been almost as bad as appeasement. AQ was defeated in Iraq. Osama is dead and the AQ mid level leadership has almost been strategically eliminated.

    I would agree that the current administration was probably happy with the status quo given their rejection of everything the Bush administration stood for but the Bush doctrine was quite clear in its rejection of the short term benefit/long term detriment of “At least he is our sonofabitch”.

    The next few years will show democratically elected Islamic governments taking power as a result of the Arab spring. The people will get what they voted for and I would expect their governments to have their hands full ensuring the people are happy rather than focusing on a global caliphate.

    The world remains a dangerous place. Pakistan is an unstable nuclear power and as likely to be the root cause of a terrorist nuclear event as Iran.

    Given that Iran is Shia I just don’t see how it can provide any global Islamic leadership. That makes it a regional threat with the potential to temporarily disrupt oil supply lines but not an existential threat.

    What I am really struggling to understand is how an administration that is capable of the kind of decadal strategic thinking to defeat enemies and overcome any putative clash of civilisations is at the same time capable of doing things like putting Bremer in charge of de-Baathification, outing CIA agents and being unable to get a budget or sensible fiscal reform agreed. I do note that Al Maliki has stopped paying the Sunni Sons of Iraq (similar unemployed armed and disgruntled Sunni) and will soon reap the whirlwind so short term thinking is not confined to the Americans.

    I still think the world is a better place because of the invasion than it would have been if Bush had chosen appeasement and kicking the can down the road.

  9. Phil:

    My point is that other than Germany and Japan, democracy has never been forcibly installed by a foreign power. Peacekeeping does not count, and your list of countries is a who’s who of despotism and state failures. I also remain skeptical that the Arab spring will bring democracy to the region–some places perhaps, but the likely outcome will be a different sort of authoritarianism rather than democracy. As for appeasement of AQ and Iraq–one has nothing to do with the other. The fight against AQ was never existential although necessary. The invasion of Iraq was born of neo-imperial hubris rather than strategic necessity. The attempt by the Bush 43 administration to mix the two in its public justifications was just cynical spin-meistering.

    Anita: There is a bit of literature (to which I have contributed) on the impact of pre-authoritarian institutions on post-authoritarian outcomes. Although the record is mixed, places that have a prior history with democratic governance (even if elite dominated) tend to look to that past when reconstructing a post-authoritarian regime. The degree to which is does so is conditioned by the depth of democratic practice in society as a whole. Uruguay and the Czech Republic are examples of successful post-authoritarian reversions. But here again, the move to re-constitute democracy came from within, not from without.

    I am not sure that I would include Iraq is the ranks of countries with a pre-authoritarian democratic past, and especially not by NZ standards of practice. Occasional electoral contestation notwithstanding, what existed before Saddam was rooted in some deeply authoritarian cultural practice and social hierarchies. These are now re-appearing in force as Shiia and Sunni wrestle for the spoils of power.

    The key to promoting post-auhoritarian democracy is to get contenders to understand that zero-sum, “first-best,” maximalist approaches to securing power are collectively sub-optimal even if individually preferred, and as such are unstable over time. The contenders have to reach the view that “mutual second-best” strategies are collectively preferable over the long-run, because although no one actor gets its first choice preferences all of the time, all actors receive some of what they want over the long run. This is an even or positive sum outcome based on mutual compromise and concession, which is hard to do in post-conflict environments where hatreds run deep. Needless to say, Iraq has a ways to go on that score.

  10. Phil,

    I’d like to comment on two of your points.
    1) You wrote: “Those who call [the U.S. invasion of Iraq] illegal should recall that only the threatened veto of a French president now convicted in a court of law stood between Bush Jr and a UN resolution specifically authorising the action.” Your inference seems to be that UN Security Council authorisation of the invasion of Iraq would have made the invasion legal.
    This reminds me of US President Nixon’s famous 1977 statement to David Frost: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
    The United States is supposed to be, in John Adams’ phrase, “a government of laws and not of men”. Similarly, the United Nations is supposed to be an organisation governed by the Charter, and not by any single nation or group of nations, including the Security Council. The Security Council, like all other UN members and organisations, is bound by the Charter. If the Security Council authorises an action that violates the Charter, the action may occur but it still violates the Charter, ie, it’s still illegal.
    Whether it’s the President of the U.S. or the U.N. Security Council, the principle is the same: an action that trumps the law cannot be made legal by the fact that the actors responsible are those who are entrusted with enforcing the law.
    When President George W Bush authorised “Operation Iraqi Freedom” there was no imminent threat of invasion of any country by Iraq.
    The invasion of Iraq was thus an egregious violation of the Purposes of the United Nations (Article 1, Section 1: to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace);
    The invasion of Iraq also violated Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression) which authorises Security Council military intervention to respond to such threats in order to “maintain or restore international peace and security.”
    Again, had these violations of the Charter been approved by the Security Council, they would not then have been legal. Rather, this would have meant that the Security Council had itself violated the Charter.
    2) You wrote, later, “Given the example of 911 London & Madrid I do believe that AQ [Al Qaeda] would represent an existential threat if appeasement had been the chosen option rather than confrontation.”
    If you believe the Madrid bombings represented an existential threat to Spain, your belief is probably not shared by many Spaniards. War, as a response to the shocking tragedy of “11-M” (March 11, 2004, when 191 people were killed and and over 1,800 injured when 10 backpack bombs exploded on four morning rush-hour commuter trains) was not on the agenda. Rather, Spain addressed this crime with the instruments of criminal justice: the police, the courts and the law.
    It’s difficult to argue this was the response of a country that felt itself existentially threatened. Instead, one can argue that in Spain, the foundation of law and order that underpins all democracies emerged intact or even strenghthened by this test of fire.
    Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the United States, where the “War on Terror” continues to erode rights once guaranteed by the Constitution.

  11. In response to Phil, I think you have been sucked into the premise that the supposed ‘Islamist threat’ could ever have destroyed the Western way of life. For starters, in terms of disparity of military power, no Islamist group comes close to the technology possessed by the U.S.A. Militarily, the U.S.A remains invincible, especially given that they enjoy the support of NATO and the other industrialised nations.

    However, we allowed our way of life to be destroyed as a result of the threat of Al-Qaeda and other groups. Governments gained the power to spy on citizens on a whim, the rule of law was subverted and a climate of fear and xenophobia fostered against minorities, particularly Muslim minorities. The governments of the West actively defeated themselves by bankrupting their economies through aggressive wars. So yes, the Islamists posed a threat to us, but only if we played their game. We did, and now we are reaping the defeat.

  12. Phil, as far as I know, the “debate” about whether the Arab Spring was caused by the US interventions in the Middle East is a debate between you and the rest of the world. I have never seen anybody else advocate it. (Most of the commenters with pro-Bush views tend to see the Arab Spring as just an open door to Al Qaeda)

  13. @Peter Dyer: you can also add that Norway kept calm and carried on after Anders Breivik, who single-handedly put bullet holes in the moral credibility of the counter-jihadists.

    Additionally, the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement could also count as part of the “reaping the defeat”.

  14. Peter Dyer – To your first point, you are slightly lost in semantics and ignoring those parts of the articles of the UN that do not suit your point. Whether deliberately or not I will not conclude on. The article allow the Security Council to determine the legality or otherwise of its own actions. Until that is changed it is different from Nixon’s statement. Whether that is moral or not is an entirely different question but if you prefer the logic of might is right to the morality of self determination then I pity you. Having said that I can interpret the articles of the United nations in direction taken. You are quite happy to ignore the slaughter of the Marsh Arabs and the obvious need for continuous enforcement of the no fly zone. Were Saddam and his sons just cuddly misunderstood teddy bears in your opinion?

    On 2) Spain’s government panicked and paid an electoral price but that is almost an irrelevance. The existential threat is a decadal threat, not that of years. Communism could have won, the cold war was waged for over 50 years. If Bush had not stood up the islamofascists would have attacked the weakest links and steadily picked them off.

    Sovereignty means nothing unless it is accompanied by self determination and the rule of law. Your weasel words hide a legalist do nothing approach that would happily leave people oppressed as long as our.

    Alex – You make some fair points in your first paragraphs as long as you see the conflict only in a military sense. The jihadists would not be able to defeat the West militarily but over time and with the benefit of Western useful idiots who continually undermine our values and thus defences in the hope of appeasement your argument falls. The fall of the government in Madrid is an example of a democratic decision subverted by jihadist violence.

  15. Alex – ctd. Has the loss of freedoms through surveillance and excessive spending been worth the price.

    The spending on the wars alone had not been the cause of the fiscal crisis. Any reasonable reckoning, including Stiglitz, would have been readily absorbed by a strong America. Its excess consumption over production is a far greater strategic threat although recent economic signs indicate a certain resurgence in US manufacturing and a bursting of the China real estate bubble. the European nations experiencing problems now are caused by excessive welfare and government spending. Do you think that we should take a harsher line towards government spending?

    To suggest that we are reaping a defeat against the jihadists is just being blind to reality.

  16. Phil:

    Two quick points while I am on-line at the time you last commented. First, do you really believe that “jihadism” is an existential threat because it will undertake a cultural and value take-over of Western civilization, aided and abetted by useful fools and appeasing governments? I appreciate that you do not see jihadism as a military threat, but am having hard time believing that you really feel that Western values etc are a) under siege and b) incapable of co-existing with Islamic values. I reject the first notion and think that the second is a point of negotiation. In fact, if one looks objectively it is Islamic values that are increasingly influenced by Western values (e.g. the Arab Spring, in which jihadists have been noticeably absent), which is precisely why Al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups have declared war on them. The threat is to their way of life, now “ours.”

    Second, the invasion of Iraq may have been justified by some neo-cons as a show of resolve against Jihadism, but that was just a gloss put on what otherwise was a rather venal attempt at neo-imperial map redrawing, following on the UK colonial efforts of nearly a century ago. Since that colonial map drawing experience has led to the current imbroglios, I am not sure that the US version will fare any better.

  17. Pablo. Unanswered jihadism WAS a long term existential threat if left unchallenged and appeasement was the course taken. The Jihadists after 911 appeared to represent a viable alternative to the winners and relative losers of western capitalism. There were many converts to the cause. Bush made a decision that changed history.

    I certainly do not believe that the change would have taken place in years, it would have taken decades as I stated in earlier comments.

    The jihadists defeated themselves and are no longer an existential threat. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000415
    Only 12,000 odd civilian casualties in Iraq were caused by coalition forces against 4,700 coalition casualties.

    The Americans have now left Iraq and any reasonable person would conclude that their intent was not as nefarious as has been made out.

    The Arab spring represents ordinary people understanding that they can also gain freedom. The Coalition brought it to Iraq by force and many people paid a high price for that. Libya required the help of French and British armed forces, Egypt and Tunisia required only influence. The outcome in Syria remains uncertain but it seems highly likely that it is out of control of Assad. He is limited by Western public opinion to the havoc he can wreak on his own people, unlike Stalin, Mao or the people of iraq in the early nineties.

    You highlight the whole reason why Iraq has been such a strategic success. The Arab spring has happened and the jihadists were absent.

  18. DeepRed. – OWS are children without jobs protesting without point against things they do not understand.

    Their right to peaceful protest is one of those things we value. Try that with the Taliban.

    China announces a policy and offloads US treasuries, The US dollar drops whilst the market absorbs the adjustment to equilibrium value as the Fed prints the dollars needed to repay the bonds and China converts them to Yuan or Euro which bound upwards in value. US exports become much better value and the US economy booms. The US taxpayer is thankful and the Chinese taxpayer faces a bill for the nominal losses incurred by their central bank head.

  19. Pablo – As I said in my first response. the challenge facing Bush and the neocons was the realisation that they were being confronted by the start of the clash of civilisations. If they showed weakness the enemy would steadily prevail.

    Turkey has long been an excellent example of Islamic values co-existing with Western values. It is the militant jihadists who refused to allow any compromise that were the problem.

  20. Fukuyama has a timely piece
    “Gellner went on to argue that religion serves a function similar to nationalism in the contemporary Middle East: it mobilizes people effectively because it has a spiritual and emotional content that class consciousness does not. Just as European nationalism was driven by the shift of Europeans from the countryside to cities in the late nineteenth century, so, too, Islamism is a reaction to the urbanization and displacement taking place in contemporary Middle Eastern societies. Marx’s letter will never be delivered to the address marked “class.”

    Marx believed that the middle class, or at least the capital-owning slice of it that he called the bourgeoisie, would always remain a small and privileged minority in modern societies. What ­happened instead was that the bourgeoisie and the middle class more generally ended up constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems for socialism. From the days of Aristotle, thinkers have believed that stable democracy rests on a broad middle class and that societies with extremes of wealth and poverty are susceptible either to oligarchic domination or populist revolution. When much of the developed world succeeded in creating middle-class societies, the appeal of Marxism vanished. The only places where leftist radicalism persists as a powerful force are in highly unequal areas of the world, such as parts of Latin America, Nepal, and the impoverished regions of eastern India.”]

  21. Phil, I think calling the colonial style invasion of Iraq a strategic success is even clearer evidence of cognitive dissonance than the lack of governments action on climate change in the face of a clear scientific consensus on the fate that awaits our descendants.

    In fact, your argumentation technique is closely aligned with that of the infamous potty peer, Lord Monckton: start with nonsense and, with impressive verbosity, build upon it without ever conceding the original deception – in your case, conflating Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with al Qaeda and jihadism.

    I guess Dubya, also, has his useful idiots!

  22. Luc – Perhaps you could not read some of the big words and got confused. At no stage have I ever conflated Saddam Husseins Iraq and Jihadism. But good attempt at raising an all encompassing straw man. FAIL.

    Do you question the idea that the only way for the US to get strategic security is for the Islamic world to have prosperous self determination.

  23. Phil,

    1) As Willard Vandiver, a US Congressman from my native state, said in 1899; “I’m from Missouri and you have got to show me”.
    Referring to the UN Charter you wrote, “The article allow the Security Council to determine the legality or otherwise of its own actions”. Would you please show me the UN Charter Article you’re referring to?
    In the mean time, consider Chapter V, Article 24, which confers on the UNSC “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security…” and mandates that, “In discharging these duties the Security Council shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.”
    The United Nations is not a creation of the Security Council. The Security Council was created by the UN Charter. As such, and as I already said, the Security Council is bound by and subject to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. If it contravenes the Charter, it’s illegal, no matter how prominent or powerful the actor.
    If the Security Council, as you say, had the power to determine the legality of its own actions, it could authorize not only aggressive war, “the supreme international crime” but any and all the other crimes which flow from aggression, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity: torture, rape, the killing and enslavement of prisoners, forced relocation of civilians etc.
    But, as you say, might is not right. Power is, theoretically, subject to the law. That’s why the flagrant disregard of the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Charter displayed by the world’s most powerful country in the invasion of Iraq was so disappointing.
    Not to mention the 100,000 + Iraqi civilian deaths and the 3,000,000 refugees which were a direct consequence of US aggression.
    In a world where law had a less tenuous hold, the American leaders responsible for this crime would be called to account.
    I agree with you that leaders who commit crimes against their own civilian populations must be called to account. That, along with preventing aggression, is one of the ultimate goals of the International Criminal Court, an organisation which is slowly (painfully so) developing.
    But the way to address these crimes is not to use them retroactively to justify aggression which brings about the deaths and further suffering of millions of innocent people.
    2) I find your statement about Spain to be confusing and vague. “Spain’s government panicked and paid an electoral price…” Does that mean you conflate the 2007 verdict of the trial of the Madrid bombers with the 2011 defeat of the Zapatero administration? “If Bush had not stood up the islamofascists would have attacked the weakest links and steadily picked them off.” There’s no argument with this because it’s vague speculation. One could speculate, with at least equal justification, that, for several reasons, had the US not invaded Iraq, the world would be a less dangerous place. For one thing, contrary to Bush administration propaganda, there was no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq before the US invasion. Although Saddam Hussein was without doubt a brutal and ruthless dictator he was not an Islamofasicst. In fact, he was a bitter enemy of Osama Bin Laden.
    3) It’s Huntington, not Huntingdon.

  24. Peter – 1) In fact that very article you quote.
    Your interpretation is different from mine but this “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace” is all that is required to justify the removal of Saddam.

    Everything else is opinion. We will completely disagree about what is the correct opinion but a reasonable person could argue both sides.

    Try reading this profile of two reasonable people. It might challenge some of your conceptions.

    2) No. The incumbent govt of Aznar handled the Madrid bombing initial reaction very badly, blaming ETA when it rapidly became apparent that it was AQ. They paid an electoral price a few days later when Zapatero was surprisingly elected.

    The reason OBL chose such an attack was he thought that America was weak and would not strike back with sufficient conviction. He was wrong. It is now generally accepted that OBL miscalculated the American reaction. I have argued on these pages for a long time that the evidence from Lebanon 82, Somalia, WTC 1993, Aden was certainly that the American reaction would be limited and risk averse.

    You don’t seem to understand the point I made above. American strategic security will be based on Arabs and Islamic nations joining the community of free nations. Turkey is a fine example, far from perfect but prospering and reasonably democratic. It matters not a jot that Saddam was secular and a bitter enemy of OBL. America recognised it would probably have lost in Afghanistan as Russia and Britain before it. Why have another Vietnam.

    The fight against jihadism could go for as long as the Cold war and be far more destructive. In order to preserve its long term security and avoid decades of terrorist acts on its soil America needed to attack the root cause of the problem which is poverty and lack of freedom across the Arab/islamic world.

    Your argument that the world would be a less dangerous place if Iraq had not been invaded is the kind of logic that drove Chamberlain to declare he had achieved “peace in our time”

    3) You are quite correct

  25. I’m surprised even though Pablo mentions the neocons that no-one above really dwells on the critical issue: that while it made no strategic sense for the US, Iraq was Israel’s Public Enemy #2 and the US has spent its blood and treasure in making sure Israel now has a seriously weakened public enemy and furthermore, given the Israeli-Kurd relationship a huge boost for Israel has been cosying up to the Kurds all this time and guess whose tribal lands sits atop Iraq’s major oil fields?

    Fact is US politicians have betrayed their own constituents in favour of a foreign power but no-one’s allowed to say in the land of the free for that would be “anti-semetic.”

    Heaven forfend the US media would ever actually explain that to its own citizens.

    Then we have of course Israel’s Public Enemy #1, Iran. And it looks doesn’t it as if Israel is going to use the US as a proxy, again. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

  26. reid – Iran is a completely different and a much, much more difficult kettle of fish, and Iraq has shown the limits of American power (and the wasteful spending in Iraq shows scale of corruption in the United States, which in dollar terms is certainly by far the most corrupt nation on earth).

    I suspect that the effects of Iraq on the USA will be transitory. US imperialism has been chastened for a generation. The US economy will recover eventually – assuming that the USA doesn’t tear itself apart in a new civil war and some time in the next twenty years a strong president a la the two Roosevelts (Teddy and FDR) comes along and smashes the control of the congressional GOP RWNJs. Perhaps those are two big assumptions, but time will tell.

    My fear is the US invasion of Iraq’s long term impact will be it being seen as a precedent for a return to a pre-1945 global lawlessness in a multi-polar world. The United States has engaged in an unilateral war of unprovoked aggression and gotten away with it. The message is loud and crystal clear. Might is right. The U.N. has been badly weakened. Collective security via international organs like the U.N. is a crock that cannot be relied upon. If you are an enemy of a super-power, tool yourself up with nukes as soon as you can.

    To my mind, the lesson for a small but prosperous and rich country like NZ, soon to be in the nexus of the Pacific rivalry btween the USA and China, is that we must start thinking about developing a military capable of stopping (or at least making it unattractively expensive) any attack on our home islands by anyone.

  27. reid:

    I am not so sure that the neocons decided to invade and occupy Iraq in order to serve Israeli strategic interests (even though it is clear that a lot of them are hard core pro-Israeli if not Zionists). As I said in the post, there were other “reasons” for the invasion, and contrary to Phil’s mostly well reasoned assertions, the assumptions and the outcome the neocons believed in turned out wrong. Also remember that Israel is very cautious in its relations with the Kurds because it also has to maintain good relations with Turkey (currently under stress). So I do not see much tail wagging dog in that instance.

    Iran is another matter. There indeed US and Israeli interests dove-tail. However, the revolt against the Assad regime in Syria gives them an excellent window to disrupt Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon and in Gaza, since all land corridors for Iranian logistical provision of Hamas and Hizbollah have been cut due to the revolt, which has now become quite militarized (and clearly has foreign military involvement in it). Thus the saber-rattling against Iran can be downplayed while the proxy struggle continues in Syria–it is clear that the US, Israel and other Arab and Western states believe that the Allawite regime has lost its strategic usefulness, and that its collapse provides an opportunity to roll back Iranian ambitions in the Levant (since Assad’s successors will be Sunni-dominant and therefore disinclined to continue to offer support to the Persians).

    Having said all that it will be interesting to see if the Iranian naval exercises and trash talking about the Straits of Homuz results in a confrontation with the US Navy. It looks to be classic sucker ploy, and the US is obliging by moving an aircraft carrier and its complement into the Straits in order to ensure continued free passage through the international shipping lanes located there. So far the Iranians have stayed within their territorial waters, but with all that adversarial hardware bunched into such a tight space, mistakes and misperceptions of intent could well cause an armed exchange. That in turn, could allow for operations against Iranian nuclear targets under the cover a short conventional conflict at sea that diverts Iranian resources away from land-based defense. If this proves true, I would not be surprised if it is the IDF that does the special ops against those Iranian nuclear sites.

  28. Phil:

    “(Post 9/11)The only way to guarantee long term American security was to defeat the threat posed by Islamist jihadists in the same way that winning the cold war meant defeating communism spread. The only way to do that is to bring democracy and self-determination to the populations among which the jihadists live. ”

    The jihadists of 9/11 had noting to do with Iraq. Iraq then was an officially secular state. I’m not defending Saddam, just pointing out to you how your whole thesis is built upon an original, shall we say, misstatement.

  29. And Phil just to back up my post above, there is this, from you:

    “war between America and Islamism in Afghanistan and Iraq .”

    Iraq was certainly Saddamist, but not Islamist.

    And I’m afraid I can’t agree with Pablo when he calls your posts “mainly well reasoned.” Sure, they take the form of a logical argument, but their facts are sadly astray, as are their conclusions.

    For example, you assert ‘only’ 12000 Iraqis killed by coalition forces. For the sake of argument, let’s take that ludicrous figure at face value, but it’s rather like a well prepared city surviving a massive earthquake with no casualties and asserting that the tens of thousands killed by the resultant tsunami is unrelated.

    If it’s still wet tomorrow, I’ll parse some more of your posts, in-between the demands of a three year old and her mother, if I can.


  30. Luc – I will grant you the possibility that you can interpret that passage widely to include Iraq in the way you desire if you ignore everything else I have written on this post alone. When I wrote that I was mentally excluding Iraq, you quite rightly point out that 911 jihadists had nothing to do with Iraq. It is part of my hypothesis that the invasion of Iraq was meant to serve as a decent first example of an Arab country heading towards democracy. I don’t believe Afghanistan could provide that example and as I said above Iraq was much better suited. It had the double benefit of removing a threat to regional security.

    Take my thesis that America recognised it needed to bring liberty and self determination to the Arab world
    and go through the possible candidates shortly after 911.

    One of the biggest conundrums facing the US is the fact that most of the 911 hijackers were Saudi. Saudi is a fundamentalist non democratic country. Forcing change towards democracy in an ally would be problematic and potentially raise more problems than it would solve.
    Starting with an enemy that had long been a regional source of instability would be a much better idea. Iraq was obviously the best choice.

    Juan Cole makes the point that the securalists who triggered the Arab spring specifically did not want to follow the religious violence example of Iraq. He is correct in that. If Iraq had been an easy conversion to democracy then it would have been an easy inspiration as was originally naively envisaged.

    The fact it turned out differently has no impact on US strategic objectives. AQ went to Iraq to fight America and lost. In the process it showed the Arab world that Islamist violence was the wrong path.

    Iraq has however provided the example of a move towards democracy away from dictators in the Arab world.

    There is no doubt in my mind that conservative Muslim voters have and will voted for religious parties who will form governments. Whether they follow the path of Turkey or Iran remains to be seen.

  31. Phil: “One of the biggest conundrums facing the US is the fact that most of the 911 hijackers were Saudi. Saudi is a fundamentalist non democratic country. Forcing change towards democracy in an ally would be problematic and potentially raise more problems than it would solve.
    Starting with an enemy that had long been a regional source of instability would be a much better idea. Iraq was obviously the best choice.”

    And of course, Saudi Arabia’s oil wells. How disruptive would “regime change” from outside be disruptive to the flow of crude?

  32. DeepRed – Do you drive/travel in a car/bus/plane. Do you use any plastic. Are all of your vegetables/meat organic.
    Unless your individual land use is inefficient and vastly higher than the global average you will be a beneficiary of cheap oil. Saudi rulers, their citizens who don’t have to work, foreign workers who like the money, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans and New Zealanders all benefit from cheap oil. Until a cheaper method is commercialised we all benefit from cheap Saudi hydrocarbons. You can attack the Americans for recognising that but that just raises a smell of hypocrisy.

  33. Phil,

    I think a very strong case can be made that, since and because of the US invasion of Iraq, the world is more dangerous. By initiating a war with a country which was neither making preparations nor even threatening to invade the United States or any other country, the US violated the Nuremberg Charter and the United Nations Charter.
    In doing so the world’s richest and most powerful country, ie the country with the greatest responsibility to lead by example, demonstrated brazen contempt for the rule of law.
    The unfortunate lesson for humanity is that might, not the law, is right. I’d say that makes the world a more dangerous place.
    If there is a parallel to 1938 Europe here, it lies not with those who resisted the unprovoked aggression of the world’s most powerful military but with those who appeased and enabled it.

  34. It’s New Years Eve and we are just mooching around waiting for guests to arrive for a BBQ, so to fill in the time, a final 2011 post for Phil.

    Basically, Phil, every single post of yours, as I mentioned above, starts with a statement that is clearly wrong in fact, to be kind, or possible delusional, to be accurate.

    And this is a beauty:

    “Take my thesis that America recognised it needed to bring liberty and self determination to the Arab world
    and go through the possible candidates shortly after 911.”

    Phil, by all means, take your nonsensical, in fact, offensive, thesis and put it where it belongs – in the rubbish bin.

    Phil, there have been many, many column inches written on the true reasons for the war the US launched with its illegal invasion of Iraq, and yours is the most self serving, post hoc, and plain ignorant of the lot.

    I think it’s pretty clear that Iraq was invaded for no clear reason at all. It was simply hubris that went looking for justification, and the second time around neo-cons adopted the spurious WMD claim as their noble motivation.

    They wanted to go to war with Saddam anyway, after Saddam outlived his usefulness.

    And they could.

    So they did.

    The war strategy devised by Rumsfeld was spot on. But as Colin Powell told Dubya, “If you break it, you own it.” We know the rest.

    The Arab spring happened along, and the reaction of the US, contrary to your thesis, has seen the US actually encouraging its dictator mates to hang on as long as they could.

    Happy New Year.

  35. “I think it’s pretty clear that Iraq was invaded for no clear reason at all.” – That is just stupid on a stick. You think the implementation of the neocon agenda had nothing to do with a change in Bush thinking after 911. Child.

    “They wanted to go to war with Saddam anyway, after Saddam outlived his usefulness.

    And they could.

    So they did.” What planet are you from?

    “Well gee whizz, afghanistan was fun lets invade another country for no reason”. Gaia save us, and you are offended???

    The US reaction to the Arab spring is a reflection of how far Obama is out of his depth. Leading from behind ffs. That and his repudiation of the Bush doctrine. Thankfully Sarkozy and Cameron stood up when it was needed. You would have to be a complete cretin to think that the Libyan revolution would not have succeeded without that intervention.

    Try Pablo’s favourite source for the neocon agenda even before 911. It does not take a genius to work out that what was not acceptable before 911 became acceptable after.

  36. Pablo – This discussion has degenerated into pointlessness. We agree the invasion of Iraq was a neo con project but differ as to the strategic objectives. You don’t ever seem to acknowledge the beneficial intent of neo conservatism and the democracy building history of the US whatever you may think of methods of execution.

  37. Pablo,

    My guess is you referenced the NZ Herald article to flesh out your original point that things didn’t turn out so well for the US as the result of the invasion of Iraq. Thus, this war did not turn out to be “part of a strategic plan that serves the political, diplomatic and economic objectives of the national interest”.

    For me, this statement of yours works better: “Doing things for effect is not the same as doing things right, or being right.”

    Basing a decision on whether to go to war purely on political, diplomatic and economic objectives of the national interest sounds a bit clinical. It’s as if you or I or anyone else were contemplating murder, based strictly on considerations of self-interest. Never mind the effect this action may have on the family of the prospective victim or on the community. Never mind that murder is against the law. Never mind that it’s wrong.

    (The exception on both levels, the personal and national, of course, would involve an immediate need for self-defense.)

    Aggressive war is murder. Though a decision to initiate war may be clinically made, the end result couldn’t be more personal.

    Ideally (and maybe this is what you mean) political, diplomatic and economic objectives of national interest would be considered by decision-makers who are broad and far-sighted enough to foresee and take into account the terrible long-term havoc that aggressive war wreaks on victims, on aggressors and on the international community.

    Unfortunately decisions to initiate aggression seem typically to be made by ambitious, short-sighted, ignorant and narrow-minded people who are incapable of considering this (or simply unwilling to) and who are pathologically disconnected from the immediate murderous personal consequences of their decisions.

  38. Phil: That is why we have to agree to disagree. Although there is an overlap in some of our views we tend to adopt very different starting premises and deviate from there. I simply do not see the Iraq invasion the way you do, and certainly do not believe for a minute that it had anything to do with the promotion of democracy and the Arab Spring.

    Peter: I was just highlighting the real “effect” of US war-mongering this past decade, as the economic crises, etc. can be traced back to Bush’s reckless and indeed criminal deficit spending and corporate toadying. As I said in the post, defensive wars are the most justified, although a case can be made that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P, of which I have written previously) allows armed intervention on behalf of vulnerable or defenseless populations at risk of violence from their own rulers or in places where their rulers cannot defend them. The R2P was invoked in Libya, although to be honest it was used more as a legal cover than as the real or main reason for the NATO intervention against Gaddafi (which did turn the tide against him).

  39. Phil. Your whole thesis seems to rely on the idea that democrcay was the end goal for the Iraq invasion planners. Please correct me if I’m wrong about that.

    Also. I’d like to see some support for that idea from the time. As I remeber it there was very little planning done for the post invasion time period. What planning was done assumed one of the exiles would be in charge after 6 months or so of a US pro-consul overseeing a US managed national forum that would decide on the new constitutional arrangements.

    al-Sistani put a spoke in the wheel by demanding elections to determine the new leadership and constitution. The US initially opposed this, IIRC, preferring a more easily managed process of regional caucuses of selected representatives, but were forced to back down.

    If that is all correct, and I stand to be corrected, it does seem strange to say that ‘democracy’ was the actual goal, given it wasn’t actually planned for.

  40. PB – Try Bush own words. N
    “Some citizens wonder, “After 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now?”

    And there’s a reason. We have experienced the horror of September 11. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact they would be eager, to use biological or chemical or a nuclear weapon.”

    “If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq, at peace with its neighbors.”

    Read Huntington or at least a summary of Clash of Civilisations. Read any number of neoconservative texts from the 90’s. Or try
    “Here is the crux of Mr. Bush’s liberty doctrine: “Our nation’s cause has always been larger than our nation’s defense. We fight, as always, for a just peace—a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.”

    He elaborated, “The twentieth century ended with a single surviving model of human progress, based on non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women and private property and free speech and equal justice and religious tolerance. America cannot impose this vision—yet we can support and reward governments that make the right choices for their own people. . . . And we will defend the peace that makes all progress possible.

    “When it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women, there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And their governments should listen to their hopes.”

    I can’t say I ever thought I’d be writing about such a thing, but what you see in those two paragraphs is the White House firmly aligning itself with Francis Fukuyama’s universalist “end of history” vision of the spread of the recognition by human beings of each other as free and equal—and against Samuel P. Huntington’s depiction of a “clash of civilizations,” in which the growing power of specifically Western liberal societies will inevitably be met with violent challenges from other societies with very different, antiliberal values.”

    I am not going to argue further about the goals of the invasion planners. I stated above there were mistakes and naivety. The events in the immediate aftermath of the invasion and the manoeuvring is not really of interest to me anymore. What is of interest is the strategic direction towards self determination and liberty.

  41. The events in the immediate aftermath of the invasion and the manoeuvring is not really of interest to me anymore. What is of interest is the strategic direction towards self determination and liberty.

    But the problem is that it is only by looking at what they did, and what they failed to do, that you can determine what their strategic goals actually were.

    Pretty speeches and rhetoric are about gaining political support. I tend to put more weight on actions than words. YMMV of course.

  42. Phil:

    Are you aware that Fukuyama repudiated his own End of History thesis and was an opponent of the Iraq invasion? Are you aware that Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations thesis has been universally derided in scholarly circles and only has appeal to those with pre-conceived notions about cultural difference and superiority? Shoot, the only people who really believe that sort of tripe are the Asian supremacists who hold that their cultural values are superior to those of the West–something that Huntington did not consider. As for reading other neocon literature–why bother with their imperialist ambitions and sense of God-given Right?

    I do not think that it is a good idea to take Bush at face value. All that talk about “freedom” and “democracy’ was nothing more than hypocritical lip gloss put on that pig of an idea known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

  43. “Shoot, the only people who really believe that sort of tripe are the Asian supremacists who hold that their cultural values are superior to those of the West–something that Huntington did not consider. As for reading other neocon literature–why bother with their imperialist ambitions and sense of God-given Right?”

    I also note that Phil has remained strangely silent on Anders Breivik and other terrorists who look like us, in spite of all that’s been discussed about the Norwegian neo-Quisling.

    Once again, Phil, let’s look at the 9/11 hijacker list, and play a game of ‘Spot The Iraqi’.

  44. Pablo – I added all those links in an effort to respond to PB for evidence at the time rather than post hoc. He chooses to ignore that and continue to focus on the immediate aftermath and you have a crack about their acceptability in academic circles. It is lucky Pascal was not advising the Brits on the outset of WWII. He might have foreseen Dunkirk and the yanks not joining in for 2 years and advised against declaring war.

    FWIW I never bought into Fukuyama’s thesis, it seemed somewhat hubristic. His repudiation was nuanced and I think I recently linked one of his most recent pieces on one of your posts. A big part of his problem was a headline grabbing title.

    Huntington is an entirely different matter. I have not read any kind of rebuttal of his analysis, let alone a plausible one. A link would be appreciated. He does not posit a definite outcome, merely a possible one given the situation of the world after the Cold war.
    I assume you are referring to the likes of this http://www.thenation.com/article/clash-ignorance

    ” Shoot, the only people who really believe that sort of tripe are the Asian supremacists who hold that their cultural values are superior to those of the West–something that Huntington did not consider.”


    You suffer from your own cultural hubris if you believe that a clash cannot happen unless the West allows it to happen. Those Asian supremacists you mention may well gain control of sufficient resources to make it happen. Certainly Al Qaeda had a degree of success until they over reached themselves.
    Huntington does not attempt to make any description of whether one culture is superior to another, he merely points out the reality that they are different.

    Huntington concluded that the clash is not inevitable. Certainly the coalition strategic victory in Iraq over AQ has made it much less likely to have as much impact as the cold war. Thank you George Bush ;^)

    it is simply a matter of bemusement that the same people who believed that communism could override human nature are so vociferous that people have different cultural beliefs. Ask Ayaan hirsi ali whether cultural differences are real.

    DeepRed – Try my first response to Pablo ” The conspirators were Saudi and the close relationship with the ruling Saudi royal family precluded any state on state action.”

  45. Should read “It is simply a matter of bemusement that the same people who believed that communism could override human nature are so vociferous that people do not have different cultural beliefs.

  46. ” He chooses to ignore that and continue to focus on the immediate aftermath and you have a crack about their acceptability in academic circles.”

    This is just false Phil. I discount the propaganda relative to the weight I put on their actions. The fact that there was so little planning for the post invasion tells us something. The facts of the dispute with al-Sistani tells us something about the truth of their propaganda.

    You just wave away those facts as it being ‘mistakes in the immediate aftermath’, as if there being an aftermath was some sort of unforeseeable consequence.

    If someone was planning a war to give a country democracy sexy freedom, then it’s not going out on a limb to expect allowing democracy sexy freedom would be in the plan; and its telling us something when they resist it.

    You seem to put much more weight on the propaganda than the actions; which would have made you an interesting observer of the USSR I suppose. I understand they had a very pretty constitution.

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