Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yes we can't... A belief we can change in

Speaking of the dogs that do not bark, the most conspicuous silence maintained during the Democratic primary campaign was on the subject of Iraq and how, or how not, to leave it. As the greatest single issue in the 2006 American congressional election was, by general acknowledgment, ending the war in Iraq, and the public delivered a powerful mandate to the U.S. government to end the war and get out of Iraq, why has so little been said about this by the Democratic candidates? William Pfaff
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The New York Review of Books is a treasure trove of goodies and like Forrest Gump's chocolate box, you never know what you are going to pull out. The present edition has a marathon book review-bibliography of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by
Thomas Powers, entitled: "Iraq: Will We Ever Get Out?", where, after an exhaustive review of ten books on the subject he comes to the following conclusions:
There is a working assumption among the American people that a new president enters the White House free of responsibility for the errors of the past, free to set a new course in any program or policy, and therefore free—at the very least in constitutional theory, and perhaps even really and truly free—to call off a war begun by a predecessor. No one would expect something so dramatic on the first day of a new administration but it remains a fact that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and the power that allowed one president to invade Iraq would allow another to bring the troops home.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the current presidential campaign have promised to do just that—not precipitously, not recklessly, not without care to give the shaky government in Baghdad time and the wherewithal to pick up the slack. But Obama and Clinton have both promised that the course would be changed on the first day; ending the American involvement in the Iraqi fighting would be the new goal, troop numbers would be down significantly by the middle of the first year, and within a reasonable time (not long) the residual American force would be so diminished in size that any fair observer might say the war was over, for the Americans at least, and the troops had been brought home.

The presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain, has pledged to do exactly the opposite—to "win" the war, whatever that means, and whatever that takes. Politicians often differ by shades of nuance. Not this time. The contrast of McCain and his opponents on this question is stark, and if they can be taken at their word, Americans must expect either continuing war for an indefinite period with McCain or the anxieties and open questions of turning the war over to the Iraqi government for better or worse with Obama or Clinton. Which is it going to be?

Getting out of Iraq will require just as much resolution as it took to get in—and the same kind of resolution: a willingness to ignore the consequences. The consequence hardest to ignore will be the growing power and influence of Iran, which Bush has described as one of the two great security threats to the US. Israel shares this view of Iran. No new president will want to run the risk of being thought soft on Iran. This is where the military error exacts a terrible price. A political conflict transformed into a military conflict requires a military resolution, and those, famously, come in two forms—victory or defeat. Getting out means admitting defeat.

Is it possible that the new president will have that kind of resolution? I think not; to my ear Clinton and Obama don't sound drained of hope or bright ideas, determined to cut losses and end the agony. Why should they? They're coming in fresh from the sidelines. Getting out, giving up, admitting defeat are not what we expect from the psychology of newly elected presidents who have just overcome all odds and battled through to personal victory. They've managed the impossible once; why not again? Planning for withdrawals might begin on Day One, but the plans will be hostage to events.

At first, perhaps, all runs smoothly. Then things begin to happen. The situation on the first day has altered by the tenth. Some faction of Iraqis joins or drops out of the fight. A troublesome law is passed, or left standing. A helicopter goes down with casualties in two digits. The Green Zone is hit by a new wave of rockets or mortars from Sadr City in Baghdad. The US Army protests that the rockets or mortars were provided by Iran. The new president warns Iran to stay out of the fight. The government in Tehran dismisses the warning. This is already a long-established pattern. Why should we expect it to change? So it goes. At an unmarked moment somewhere between the third and the sixth month a sea change occurs: Bush's war becomes the new president's war, and getting out means failure, means defeat, means rising opposition at home, means no second term. It's not hard to see where this is going.

We are committed in Afghanistan. We are not ready to leave Iraq. In both countries our friends are in trouble. The pride of American arms is at stake. The world is watching. To me the logic of events seems inescapable. Unless something quite unexpected happens, four years from now the presidential candidates will be arguing about two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one going into its ninth year, the other into its eleventh. The choice will be the one Americans hate most—get out or fight on.
That is about the best summing up of the situation that I have read yet. The entire article is well worth looking at.

We are at the Rubicon and suddenly all the politicians have taken out poles and started to fish.

As William Pfaff, for me the best foreign affairs columnist in the English language, writes:
If a new American government – an Obama administration, let us say – wanted to end the war it would also need to negotiate with the regional actors who are sponsors or defenders of Iraqi factions and have their own national interests bound up in the outcome. Iran is the most important. Until now, one of its interests has been to make life as hellish as possible for the Americans in Iraq, up to a certain point. I say this interest prevails only up to a point because Iran presumably does not want chaos next door, nor on the other hand, a war with America.

Otherwise the Turks, Saudi Arabians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Syrians all have their own stakes in the affair. To unknot this diplomatic conundrum a genuine ceasefire and compromise must be fostered among the Iraqis, with American and regional involvement. This – it must be noted – is true only if a future Obama government really wants to end the war and leave.

Would it really wish to do so? This remains to be confirmed. The Bush administration has always opposed leaving Iraq, and the Republican candidate, John McCain, proclaims his certainty that “victory” is possible. In both cases this means maintaining the huge permanent American military bases that have been built in Iraq, and a gigantic and permanent American political presence, radiating its influence (and military threat) throughout the Middle East. It also requires an Iraqi government which is a satellite of Washington.

This is the expectation or objective today in most of the American foreign policy community. It would seem to be accepted, as well, by Hillary Clinton.

It makes it plain why nobody during the Democratic primary campaign dared say anything of substance about withdrawal from Iraq. Even if the vast majority of Americans want peace and troop withdrawal, a large and powerful part of the American government and political and policy communities does not. It is a dynamite subject. It will remain one.
My opinion is that the United States won't be able to leave either war without relinquishing its role as the world's defining power. The incredible living standard of Americans that have a living standard depends in great part on the ability to define the world. This power will not be surrendered willingly.

Staying in the war will mean, however, such a drain on America's resources and influence that hegemonic power will slip through its fingers anyway and America will fade out of the Middle East like the Turks and the English before us.

The contradictions of power destroy power. The desire to dominate, dominates the dominator.

An uncannily apt historical example of what is happening to the USA would be the story of the Spain's wars in the Netherlands during the reign of the Hapsburgs. What broke the world's greatest power of the time was the "Thirty Years War". Before now, it is hard to find a better example of how a dominant position was pissed away than how the Hapsburgs ran Spain into the ground.

Only thirty years? Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates and many others speak of a war without end. Here is Secretary of Defense Gates speaking to the cadets of West Point on April 21rst of this year:
A drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq is inevitable over time – the debate you hear in Washington is largely about pacing. But the kind of enemy we face today – violent jihadist networks – will not allow us to remain at peace. What has been called the “Long War” is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies. To paraphrase the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, we may not be interested in the long war, but the long war is interested in us.
He even quotes Trotsky!

Americans have trouble believing in the iron laws of karma and the inevitable remorse of, "we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done."

The die is cast. DS


Jay Salter said...

David writes:

"My opinion is that the United States won't be able to leave either war without relinquishing its role as the world's defining power. The incredible living standard of Americans that have a living standard depends in great part on the ability to define the world. This power will not be surrendered willingly."


"Americans have trouble believing in the iron laws of karma and the inevitable remorse of, 'we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.'"

You’re absolutely right. We’re tar baby stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the world knows it, including most Americans who subconsciously already sense that we’ve crossed over the leadership summit and started down the slip face.

Our choice now is between another round of DolchstoƟ-style finger pointing or facing the hard but clear facts and dealing with them.

I listen to my conservative Republican friends whose spirits have reached a nadir and I’m filled with a quiet schadenfreude. But I can’t bring myself to hold their feet to the fire for more than a few seconds. They, like the rest of us, have been hoodwinked and played for fools. And they know it, though they’re not yet willing to openly admit it. Helping them accept those facts, rather than rubbing their faces in shit, seems to me a more healthy way to begin the inevitable dialogue. I guess I think Obama may think so too.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Unless your Republican friends own a oil company, a defense industry or a think tank, I doubt if Obama will worry much about them.