Category Archives: Iraq

JHU Loss in Iraq

I got this e-mail yesterday. Damn this war.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We learned late today of the tragic death of one of our own in Iraq.

Nicole Suveges, a graduate student in political science who was working
in Iraq as a civilian, was among four Americans killed an explosion
Tuesday in the offices of the district council in the critical Sadr City
section of Baghdad.

Two U.S. soldiers, a State Department employee, an Italian translator
working for the Defense Department, and six Iraqis also were killed,
according to news reports.

Nicole was in Iraq as a political scientist working in the Army’s
Human Terrain System program, advising the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of
the 4th Infantry Division. A statement from BAE Systems, the company
that employed her, said she helped Army leaders working to reduce
violence in the community and rebuild local infrastructure. Her
intelligence and savvy, combined with her experience as an Army
reservist serving in Bosnia in the 1990s, reportedly made her especially
effective in her work to improve the lives of everyday Iraqis.

I am told that Nicole also was using this second tour in Iraq — she
had previously served there as a civilian contractor several years ago
— to complete field research for her planned dissertation. She was
exploring the process of transition from an authoritarian regime to
democracy. She was investigating especially what that process means for
and how it affects ordinary citizens.

Members of the Political Science Department describe Nicole as an
extraordinarily bright, engaging, kind person, intellectually curious
and outgoing. She also was known as an active citizen of the department,
regularly attending seminars and helping to organize graduate student
activities. As a former Reserve soldier herself and as a person in her
mid-30s, she brought a different and valuable perspective to the
intellectual life of the department.

Nicole was committed to using her learning and experience to make the
world a better place, especially for people who have suffered through
war and conflict. In that, she exemplifies all that we seek to do at
Johns Hopkins: to use knowledge for the good of humanity.

This is the third time in a little over a year that we have learned of
the death in Iraq of a young member of the Johns Hopkins community. Last
year, Lt. Colby Umbrell ’04 and Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh ’03, both
of the U.S. Army, were killed in action there. Their deaths and
Nicole’s diminish us all. But their lives — lives devoted to
service to others — honor us and our university. We are better for
their having been among us.

Wendy and I join all of you in offering our deepest sympathy to
Nicole’s husband, to her family, to her colleagues and to her


Bill Brody

Sadr City Update

Let’s all breath a sigh of relief that Iraq hasn’t lapsed back into all-out civil war. Sadr was threatening war, but now Iraqi troops are being welcomed into Sadr City. It looks as if the negotiated truce is holding.

The spin, of course, will be that the surge worked. This, of course, would be wrong. There has not been some magical improvement in the Iraqi troops within the past few months. In fact, the reason for the peace is because Maliki agreed to this condition (among others, I’m sure): No American troops.

Sadrist leaders said they had demanded that American soldiers remain on the sidelines of the military incursion.

“We stressed that the occupation forces do not come in,” said Selman al-Freiji, a senior Sadrist leader in Baghdad. “We welcome the entrance of Iraqi troops.”

Let’s get this straight. No American troops = tenuous peace. They welcomed the entrance of Iraqi troops.

On the flip side? American troops = provoking the militias.

Sayah said he was relieved that U.S. troops were not playing a central role in the operation, which would have provoked the militias. He said U.S. forces should leave Iraq.

Our presence is a destabilizing force. Our presence helps prevent peace in Iraq. Our presence is entirely counterproductive. If our goal is a stable Iraq, then our objective should be to stop occupying Iraq.

The Republican party is completely delusional when it comes to the war. Please, stop trying to feed me this bullshit that if it wasn’t for us, then Iraqis would have nothing to do other than fight each other and al-Qaeda — full of foreigners — would magically take over. While we’ve been in Iraq, the Iraqis have engaged in ethnic cleansing and there has been massive urban warfare in Sadr City for the past month. This fighting, mind you, several years after Bush declared “Mission Accomplished.” I fail to see how the US has prevented any of this bloodshed. Instead, we have taken part in it. We have fueled it. Then, when the Sadrists demand that US troops have no presence in Sadr City, they manage to negotiate a truce with Maliki’s government. There is no reason to think that the Iraqi people don’t have the ability to negotiate amongst themselves, unless you have neo-colonialist pretensions about saving the savages from themselves. The Republicans will tell you that a savage civil war is the inevitable consequence of a withdrawal, but the experience with Sadr City seems to indicate that the opposite is the case.

It’s time to leave Iraq.

Iraq Reading

Required reading:

On the uptick in deaths in Anbar: The Anbar Problem No One is Talking About. The deaths further reveal the Sisyphean nature of our task in Iraq.

The consequences of our reliance on mercenaries: Iraq Contractor in Shooting Case Makes Comeback. Last year, Blackwater massacred Iraqi civilians. Now, they’re back in business without so much as a slap on the wrist. The reason they got their contract renewed was that we had no other choice. We have a dangerous reliance on mercenaries. This needs to end.

Truce in Sadr City?: Outlines of a Truce for Sadr City. The thing that pisses me off is that fighting has been going on for over a month, and yet this has not dominated the news cycle. Of course, this is not surprising given that our media has become a propaganda factory for the US government.

Glenn Greenwald is sharp, as usual, detailing and criticizing the Pentagon’s illegal domestic propaganda program and how our media is complicit in all this. Read both this entry, CNN, the Pentagon’s “military analyst program” and Gitmo, and this entry, How the military analyst program controlled news coverage: in the Pentagon’s own words.

More Fighting in Baghdad

More violence in Baghdad: Iraqi civilians flee fighting in Baghdad militia stronghold.

The American push in the Sadr City district — launched after an Iraqi government crackdown on armed Shiite groups began in late March — is trying to weaken the militia grip in a key corner of Baghdad and disrupt rocket and mortar strikes on the U.S.-protected Green Zone.

But fresh salvos of rockets from militants arced over the city, wounding at least 16 people and drawing U.S. retaliation that escalated civilian panic and flight to safer areas.

One rocket — apparently aimed at the Green Zone — blasted the nearby city hall. Three 122 mm rockets hit parts of central Baghdad, including destroying some playground equipment in a park. An Iraqi police station was damaged by a rocket that failed to detonate, the U.S. military said.

I’m going to reiterate this. The stated purpose of the surge was to decrease violence in Baghdad to create space for political reconciliation.

No political reconciliation. Violence on the rise.

The surge has been a complete strategic failure.

The boulder has rolled back down the hill.

Utterly predictable and utterly preventable.

Remember, this is not the work of “terrorists” nor Iran. This was instigated by Maliki, who is using our soldiers to fight his civil war. This is despicable.

It is time to leave Iraq.

Iraq: Still a Mess

We’re still fighting in Baghdad. Goodness, I thought the surge was supposed to end this. Instead…

Until Maliki’s push into the southern city of Basra, U.S. troops were not intensely engaged in Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood of roughly 3 million people that was among the most treacherous areas for U.S. forces early in the war.

But the southern offensive set off a violent chain reaction that spread quickly to Shiite sectors of the capital and has severely strained the cease-fire Sadr imposed on his followers in August and recently reaffirmed. U.S. troops, fighting at times Tuesday on foot and backed by air support, are now engaged in the kind of urban battle within Sadr’s stronghold reminiscent of the first years of the war.

Let’s repeat that. We’re engaged in the same sort of urban warfare that we were engaged in during the first years of the war. Just what have we accomplished in Iraq?

Meanwhile, we’re too busy talking about Reverand Wright to talk about the fighting in Iraq:

“Sadr City is under the American hammer and nobody is monitoring it,” said Leewa Smeisim, the head of the Sadr movement’s political bureau.

Iraq is on the brink of an all-out civil war. As I noted before, Sadr has threatened all-out war. His followers are “growing more eager for an all-out war to defend themselves,” as the Washington Post’s story says.

Here we are, in a very dangerous situation. Why doesn’t the press grill John McCain on this? Why do we focus on the Distraction of the Day?

Remember, this is why we’re voting for Obama. To end this endless war.

Sadr Threatens Open Warfare

Sadr has threatened open warfare. I just want to know that if Sadr declares all-out war, can we then consider the war a failure? I’m just curious how far the right moves the goal posts. I mean, we’re supposed to be there to prevent a civil war, right?

They’ll probably argue that we have to help Maliki and his militia-dominated “national” government win. This, despite the fact that the current faction in power has better ties with Iran than al-Sadr. I thought we were supposed to prevent Iran from gaining influence, right?

The article mentions one way in which we are contributing to the tensions: “Tensions have been increased by the construction of a wall in the district by US and Iraqi forces.” I’m confused, isn’t the US supposed to be the stabilizing force in Iraq?

One final thing. Irony alert: “The [Basra] operation was criticised by US commanders as poorly planned and as failing to achieve its stated aims.” Hm. Pretty much like the entire Iraq War.

The right’s entire argument for staying in Iraq is a joke. They bring up the specter of genocide, even though ethnic cleansing occurred while we were there. We’re taking sides in an armed intra-Shiite battle for power; this is the opposite of preventing civil war and the opposite of political reconciliation.

It’s time to leave.

On the Surge

I wrote an op-ed for my school newspaper about the disaster that is the troop surge.

I hesitated sharing it because I do not think it is particularly well-written. I’m not really sure if I know enough to be commenting like that. Furthermore, while the second line is biting, I do not like it.

Sadr City

Alright, I pull up the NY Times front page, and this is what I see: Headline: “Fight for Sadr City a Proving Ground for Iraq Military.”

Then, this: “American commanders see the struggle for control of Sadr City, the stronghold of Shiite militias, as an opportunity to shift more responsibility to the Iraqis.”

I swear, this is the same exact shit they said about Basra and look how that turned out. Defeat, along with high defection rates.

How long do we have to stay in Iraq to fully train one side to fight in a civil war?

The Blackwater Massacre of September 16th

We’d do well to remember the date September 16, 2007 in our future chronologies of the so-called “war” in Iraq. Stretched beyond what we could handle or maybe just for monetary considerations, the US decided to hire mercenaries, and events like the Blackwater Massacre of September 16th is what we get.

Read the first sentence of this New York Times article and then we’ll translate it into plain English: “Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case.”

These mercenaries murdered Iraqi civilians. “Violated deadly-force rules”? Wow, what an interesting way of putting it.

Of course, that’s not the worst part of it. They might even get away with it. Again, I refer to the Times article: “Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing.” We don’t have any laws to punish these guys?

The laws we do have are later described as “deficient” by Mr. Price, who is quoted in the article, but the term deficient is laughable. It doesn’t capture the intent of hiring the mercenaries. Creating legal black holes has been the modus operandi of the Bush administration. The Bush administration tortures and gets away with it. The Bush administration gets telecoms to eavesdrop on people and Congress lets these telecoms get off free. The laws are deficient for two reasons: One, the Bush administration doesn’t care about the rule of law, and two, Congress has cowardly abdicated its role as a check on the executive branch.

When these mercenaries get off with maybe a slap on the wrist, we’ll see the same damn old story about how the Democrats spoke their bravest and tried their darnedest, but just fell short. This will be a lie. At this point, the Democrats have revealed that they are complicit, active agents in the undermining of the rule of law. This will be further revealed with the Blackwater Massacre of September 16th.

We will look to September 16th in history as another black mark in this despicable age.

[Note on the word massacre: Some may consider it too harsh, but we have called lesser events massacres in American history (see Paul Revere). Futhermore, what else do you propose we call a slaughter of innocent civilians?]

The Return to Searching

I have lost track of an important part of my self-identity. There used to be a searching me. I would spend nights thinking about life and life’s purpose. I would ponder over the meaning of abstract concepts (like love and morality).

I was searching for a complete theory of everything — of morality, government, etc. I have since decided that such an abstract all-encompassing theory is not the right way to go about things. In addition, I discovered two fundamental truths: 1) Life is absurd and 2) Love everything. Maybe figuring out how these “answers” worked together discouraged me from further searching.

But my quest for a life philosophy is still incomplete. These answers have no grounding. Can they have grounding? What sort of grounding can they have?

Furthermore, these aren’t fully practical guides for living my life. They are good broad philosophical stances (or commands, in the case of the latter truth), but they can’t tell me what to do in certain situations.

In a certain way, this year has been devoted to practical personal improvement. I like to think that I’ve made some strides: I’ve introduced new paradigms into my life (more on that some other time). What I’m missing, however, is an attachment between these purely practical considerations and my metaphysicals considerations.

That sounds like a very interesting project which I have no idea how to begin. I will start by writing junk in my notebook, like always.

I have a different project, which I think I will link up to this other project eventually. I am trying to answer a question: Are ethics contingent on human nature?

I believe this question cuts to the very nature of ethics and understanding ethics will help me apply it in my life.

Tomorrow: What sparked this question and how I intend to explore it.

Note on politics: The surge has not accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish: There was no political reconciliation in the Iraqi government. And now, Bush intends to draw down 30,000 troops? Surely, the violence of the insurgents and sectarians will increase! What was the purpose of the surge, then, except to buy 6 more months and to keep us in Iraq indefinitely? Our military is not big enough to do what Bush wants done. Our military is not structured for nation-building. We should withdraw.

Option three

I found this comment interesting:

Good note, and criticism of Peggy — who was too enthusiastic when enthusiastic, and is too negative now she’s negative.

Bush is a pro-life, pro-tax cuts, pro-gov’t spending, pro-amnesty, pro-Democracy in Iraq (and the ME) … positive president. He’s right on life, taxes and Democracy, wrong on spending and amnesty.

But he’s always pretty positive. And has reason to be, as does the country, although not the journalists.

Both Bush, and perhaps Peggy, should be making jokes about the low low low unemployment, low inflation (small misery index), decreasing budget deficit…
and steady progress in Iraq.

All we have to do in Iraq is continue being willing to fight, and we will certainly win.
Maybe in 10 years. Maybe in 40 years.

Keep fighting …
or lose.
Those are OUR two choices, and also the bad guys.

But, as the Iraqi people get more experience with us and with them, and realize they DO have a choice, more are deciding to take the responsibility to fight against terror.

Noonan feels Iraq is lost, she is wrong. We are, slowly, winning.

Dan, you keep doing fine, and this was another good one. (and I love Peggy…)

[emphasis added]

There is a possible third option: fight and lose.

Communism and neoconservatism

Conservatives like to trot out the example of the USSR when they say that communism doesn’t work. They laugh at the whiners who say that it was the execution, not the idea, that failed.

Strangely enough, the simple example of Iraq doesn’t similarly discredit neoconservatism. They blame the execution of the war, even though it was flawed from the beginning.

Neoconservatives would use a hammer to conduct surgery and when the patient dies, they’d complain that the doctor didn’t hit hard enough.

My Idea of Sacrifice

Geeze, don’t you morons see that if we leave Iraq, a civil war will break out. We’ll have Muslim fighting Muslim and then oil prices will go up (which I don’t really understand since they’re both on the side of evil). Good thing we can send our soldiers there to die in a far-away sectarian conflict. Otherwise, we might have to pay more for gas, and that’s a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.

End the war

I heard this morning on the radio that Nancy Pelosi was giving a speech and then hecklers started shouting, “Impeach Bush” or something like that. It gave me an idea: We should go to every politician’s speech and shout, “End the war!”

The time for decorum is over. We should disrupt them at every chance, so they can’t ignore us.

Anti-War Right

I have a crazy idea that won’t quiet down: I want to stage an anti-war right protest.

There are a few big problems. I guess the biggest is that I haven’t even been to any protest. I wouldn’t know the first thing about putting one together.

The other problem: Is there even an anti-war right? I guess there has to be. Surely, there’s a good number of disaffected libertarians and old-school isolations. Maybe there are even some people who share opinions similar to mine. Yet I’m worried that such a protest will attract 9/11 truthers. Ick. But are they any less nuts than our candidates who would nuke Iran or those who think Armageddon is just around the corner and it should be nudged along?

The last problem: I’m worried about the smear machine.

A Flashback

There’s no especially good reason for putting this flashback up, but I found it interesting…

Entry from June 8, 2006, A Good Day in Iraq:

The big news today is the death of Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. It’s a good day.

Something that piqued my interest… When Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki announced the death of Zarqawi, the press broke out in applause. Just wondering what the reaction of the American press will be if bin Laden is captured.

Another interesting thing… The Washington Times, in Democrats call Zarqawi killing a stunt, reported this: “‘This is just to cover Bush’s [rear] so he doesn’t have to answer’ for Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military and his own sagging poll numbers, said Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat. ‘Iraq is still a mess — get out.'”

That’s my Congressman, the one who represents my district. I wish I could get the full text, but if he’s dismissing this as a stunt, that’s disgusting.

Perhaps the bigger news today is the appointment of an interior minister, defense minister, and national security advisor in Iraq. This just might be a turning point in Iraq’s struggle for stability.

On one hand, the digital age has given us collective ADD where no story lasts for any appreciable amount of time. On the other hand, I have this amazing ability to publicly archive my past thoughts and reference them in a simple manner.

Trickle Down Empire

Alright, I’m confused, but maybe somebody out there can help me out. I think it will cost an unacceptable amount of money to rebuild Iraq into a “democracy.” If we want an empire, I don’t think it makes sense to have a net sink when it comes to cash. Or does “trickle down” apply to empire too? An expansion of corporations in Iraq magically produces wealth in America? Shouldn’t we be doing a little bit more exploitation, so we get something out of the deal? Somebody should tell the Iraqis that they can’t have their cake and eat it too.

And yeah, I don’t know what the point of that writing was and what the level of sarcasm was. I’m just trying to get back in the habit of writing in the weblog.

The Civilian Component

Since I read a book on the Marshall Plan, I’ve been dismayed that there was never an economic plan to rebuild for the Iraq War. I’ve recently been using it as an argument that Bush was never serious about the war and as an argument as to why the surge will not work. This requires a large civilian component, I realize. The military is not made for nation-building, but if we want a democracy, we have to nation-build. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll find that this sounds familiar because I had a similar complaint after the State of the Union. I only wish I had the necessary historical knowledge all along.

In light of the importance of the civilian component for victory, I point you to this article in the New York Times: Military Wants More Civilians to Help in Iraq. This is really, really, really, really important, and I hope that I see it hammered in the blogosphere, but I doubt it. I’m going to quote liberally from the article.

As evidence of the importance of civilian reconstruction, military officers involved in the internal debate are citing a recent classified study, conducted by the Joint Warfare Analysis Center of the Defense Department, based in Dahlgren, Va., that suggests violence in Baghdad drops significantly when the quality of life improves for Iraqi citizens.

Relying on surveys and other data on those wounded and killed in the violence as compiled by the military, the study found that a 2 percent increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30 percent decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17 percent decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence.

The study did not examine the security benefits of adding troops to Iraq or compare it to the nonmilitary portions of the new strategy, according to those who have been briefed on the classified document.

But its emphasis on the importance of reconstruction is being cited by senior military officers and Pentagon officials as more evidence that Congress and the government’s other civilian departments must devote more money and personnel to nonmilitary efforts at improving the economy, industry, agriculture, financial oversight of government spending and the rule of law.

People can talk about the lack of troops, but in my mind this is what lost us the war in the first place. We never took seriously the rebuilding of Iraq (or perhaps suspected that major corporations would magically rebuild). Even if we did what we did, when people don’t have jobs, they become criminals. In Iraq, the criminals pose as religious fanatics. Unless we take seriously this civilian build-up, I guarantee that if any violence is quelled, it will quickly crop up again. These are good statistics to back-up my prediction.

Here’s a quote on why we’re in this situation in the first place:

The mounting tensions between the Pentagon and other departments are in some ways the mirror image of those that roiled the government before the 2003 invasion. Then, State Department officials grumbled that the Pentagon was usurping its role in planning the postwar civilian occupation; today, the military is eager to see others step in.

Now I wish I had finished Fiasco. I will do it eventually. Anyway, from what I can glean here, it looks like it may be Rummy’s fault. This is a massive strategic failure. So, even if the neocons counter me when I’ve argued that there was no plan, I can still claim that these “plans” lacked sufficient cooperation from other departments. After all, I will stress once again that the military is not built for nation-building.

Members of the Joint Chiefs and commanders in Iraq have been delivering the same message recently to the president and defense secretary about the necessity for other parts of government to join the effort, according to administration and military officials.

Oh good, it’s not just me who thinks it’s important. I just wish it had been stressed all along.

The entire United States Foreign Service numbers only 6,000 people, about the size of a military brigade.

This doesn’t sound good.

The officials said the commanders had also been expressing broader frustrations, including that the additional $1 billion in new money for reconstruction requested by the president may not be sufficient.

This doesn’t sound good either.

So, my fellow conservatives, when you complain that Americans don’t have the backbone to win this war, maybe we should all be asking if we have the pocketbook to win the peace. People moan about how this war is so far away, and that’s why people don’t protest. Well, it does affect us. Right in the wallet.

Are you willing to put up the necessary money to win the reconstruction? Are the American people willing to put up this money?

If the answer is no, then the only other option is to support a withdrawal.

An Ordinary Anti-War March

Can’t we stage an anti-war protest without communists? Without hate-slingers? Without Hollywood liberals? Can we have a march with just ordinary Americans? No Bush=Hitler signs. Just Americans voicing their displeasure for the Iraq war in a real and tangible way without worrying about being associated with radicals.

And if we do so, will the right-wing attack machine still call us unpatriotic? Cowards? Will they say we hate the troops?

I want to have a march without the anger. With no simmering hatred. With no ultimate agenda. I want ordinary people of all stripes and creed. All of us with just one clear message: Mr. President, we are the deciders. We are an engaged populace, and we think we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Or maybe you do need a plan. Maybe it can be: Let’s withdraw to Kurdistan and Afghanistan. I don’t know if that’s the right move.

I just want a march with no commies allowed.


Chalkboard Manifesto #211: global war on terror

You know what? Before the war in Iraq started, I had no idea that there was this big schism within Islam. I had no clue that there would be sectarian violence because I didn’t even know about the different sects. I didn’t know that al-Qaeda was Sunni and Iran was Shiite. I had no clue.

I wonder if President Bush had a clue. I wonder if Fox News knew. I wonder who in the media knew.

But the saddest thing is that even now, the people in charge can’t answer the basic question of which one al-Qaeda belongs to. See this old article: Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? And know that nothing has really changed. The American people delivered a rebuke to the near-criminally incompetent Bush admnistration, but who did they usher into Congress? Silvestre Reyes, the new House chairman of intelligence, can’t answer the question either.

My comic above is titled “global war on terror”. I meant it to be funny satire, but I don’t know if it’s so funny anymore.

It would’ve happened anyway

I think one of the worst arguments I’ve heard used to help support the Iraq War is that this situation would’ve happened anyway. By “this situation,” I mean civil war/chaos. I only heard it once, and I can’t remember the exact context, so I’m essentially reconstructing an argument, but I’m using this as a tool for understanding, not as a strawman to knock down.

One may argue that Americans unleashed the sectarian violence with the invasion of Iraq (and insufficient troop levels to secure the country). A reply is that “this would’ve happened anyway,” meaning that if we hadn’t invaded, everyone would still be at each other’s throats. This reply, however, depends on the fact that Saddam’s regime was on the brink of collapse before the invasion.

To me, this reply kills itself because it supports the containment strategy. Same results, but less American lives lost. Containment 1, Preemption 0.

But that’s not my main point. I had an interesting little thought. Couldn’t the “it would’ve happened anyway” argument actually support withdrawal? Think about it, if the bloody chaos would’ve occurred without American intervention, that means that the American intervention was not the cause. Typically, what I hear about Iraq is that “we can’t leave now.” But if the sectarian violence was unavoidable doesn’t that remove part of our responsibility to stay? Also, if civil war seems so unavoidable, it also seems less likely that we could’ve stopped it or that we could stop it now. Another point for withdrawal.

I’m not saying the argument is right or wrong, but it is a possible storyline that seems much more pleasant than alternative interpretations of the war that will be given by the right-wing: “The American people didn’t have the will,” and “The Iraqi people are not capable of having a democracy.” Now, you may say that civil war being unavoidable blames the Iraqi people, but it doesn’t. I can easily shift blame to the so-called insurgents.

Assume that Americans hadn’t intervened in Iraq. If Saddam’s regime had collapsed, we’d still see the same jockeying for power among groups within Iraq and foreign powers and insurgents. Perhaps the fanatics would have fueled further chaos in Iraq even without the American presence. Would the Golden Mosque still have been bombed?

I cannot give a definitive answer. I’m making the argument as a thought experiment, not out of personal conviction. In fact, I’m viewing it more from a propaganda angle than anything else — specifically, making withdrawal more palatable to the American people. Mostly, it reduces the guilt for what we did. So in the end, I guess it’s nothing more than rationalization.

The Return of Hobbes and The Problem with Saddam

The Return of Hobbes

“Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before us.” — Ecclesiastes 1:10.

A few of the things I’m reading about Iraq right now just scream Thomas Hobbes to me. Sullivan finds the description “more chaotic than civil war” from this commentary. The same part he quotes, I find most useful to quote:

“But I felt as though I was witnessing something more: the final, frenzied maturity of once-inchoate forces unleashed more than three years ago by the invasion. There was civil war-style sectarian killing, its echoes in Lebanon a generation ago. Alongside it were gangland turf battles over money, power and survival; a raft of political parties and their militias fighting a zero-sum game; a raging insurgency; the collapse of authority; social services a chimera; and no way forward for an Iraqi government ordered to act by Americans who themselves are still seen as the final arbiter and, as a result, still depriving that government of legitimacy.”

See if you can find the echoes of Thomas Hobbes. Here’s Part I, Chapter 13, paragraph 9:

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

In a word: bleak. Hobbes argues in Leviathan that humans need an absolute sovereign in order to have any semblance of order and indeed to have any society whatsoever. Thus, underlying the notion of the Hobbesian sovereign is the idea that any iniquity done by the sovereign is far better than the state of nature. Now, see Jonathan Chait directly follow this line of reasoning in his piece Bring back Saddam Hussein, in which he argues for exactly what the title says. Chait concludes: “I know why restoring a brutal tyrant to power is a bad idea. Somebody explain to me why it’s worse than all the others.” But Chait, if you want someone to agree with, go brush up on Thomas Hobbes.

I want to say something really nasty about his suggestion, but I’ve been starting to have my own doubts and wondering if Thomas Hobbes was right all along. Or rather, more specifically, and way different from what Hobbes actually argued, if a dictator is better than chaos. I did not think that Saddam should be put back in power, but I will confess that recently I’ve been pondering if it’s possible to put al-Sadr on our payroll. And for a while, I’ve been thinking that we wouldn’t have the same problems if we had done this the old-fashioned way — namely, installing a puppet dictator.

Fundamentally, I still believe Hobbes is wrong because it is possible for the sovereign to initiate war with the people (after a long train of abuses). Saddam seems to me a textbook case of Locke’s right to revolt. But I digress…

The Problem with Saddam

There are two problems with re-installing Saddam. 1) I doubt he’ll really do what we say. 2) If it does work, it’s just installing Big Brother USA as the dictator. Would the people accept it? Al-Sadr sure as hell won’t, and the rest of the Shiites definitely don’t want him back in power. Many have already formed their allegiances. How many of them will join Saddam’s government? I don’t think anyone will. No, Chait’s solution won’t result in what he thinks will happen. The Sunnis won’t want to join the US-supported Saddam, or at the very least, the number of supporters will be severely lessened. Moreover, the old dictator’s structures have been destroyed. He no longer has the army or police. How the hell is he supposed to get control? To do so, he has to wield force, and how will he do that without the initial support of a great number of people? Where are all the soldiers going to come from? They’re already in gangs. Putting Saddam in power is just asking to get our asses kicked by the now-armed Shiites, or at least asking for confrontation with a Saddam-led Sunni death-squad coalition. The Kurds won’t accept Saddam and will gladly fight for autonomy.

In fact, any dictator solution (aside from possibly putting al-Sadr on our side) has the same problems. If the US had any power in the first place, it could turn power over to a dictator. But it doesn’t, and a dictator would be hard-pressed to put himself in power even with US support. A dictator is more than a person. He needs an entire infrastructure with which to execute his reign of terror. Any solution relying on the appeal of personality won’t work. Chait argues: “Restoring the expectation of order in Iraq will take some kind of large-scale psychological shock. The Iraqi elections were expected to offer that shock, but they didn’t. The return of Saddam Hussein — a man every Iraqi knows, and whom many of them fear — would do the trick.”

No, it doesn’t. You can’t make me brush my teeth through large-scale psychological shock. I brush my teeth out of habit. His idea stems from an entirely wrong mode of thinking about government. Granted, brushing my teeth isn’t the same as instituting a new government, but the counter to large-scale psychological shock is the same. Shocking people into acting in an orderly fashion makes no sense. They need the “right” (not necessarily morally correct) habits to act orderly; they need the right social infrastructure. As Hart said, “Social institutions are the habits of society.” You can’t “shock” social institutions into place.

Alright, alright… It is possible to institute new orders through force, but 1) it is very difficult to install and to make it stick, 2) this is not equivalent to psychological shock, and 3) Saddam doesn’t have that kind of force anymore.

A Tale of 3 Neocons

[Author’s note: In my essay, I’ve mistakenly characterized The New Republic as neoconservative. Of course, if you read through, you’ll realize that this isn’t something I can easily correct, as it would change the character of the entire essay. Thus, I leave the essay as it is. Furthremore, despite the glaring error of source, it does not change the fact that I am criticizing legitimate neoconservative assumptions. I still think the essay was useful for initially articulating my conservative critiques of neoconservatism. ]

I’ve opened up 3 different articles on my computer. One is from Charles Krauthammer: Why Iraq Is Crumbling. Another is from the editors of The New Republic: Obligations. The last one is from Mark Steyn: ‘Free to lose’ isn’t good philosophy for the right wing. The only one that deserves any respect is Mark Steyn. While the other two simply bought into some utopian vision of the Middle East, Mark Steyn at least provides other justifications for attempted democratization. After re-visiting bits and pieces of Machiavelli and Burke, I’m convinced that the Iraq project was almost certainly doomed from the start — something at least 2 of the neocons should’ve realized.

Charles Krauthammer blames the Iraqis when he should be blaming human nature. He sums it up, “… [T]he problem here is Iraq’s particular political culture, raped and ruined by 30 years of Hussein’s totalitarianism.” Here, Krauthammer finally realizes something Machiavelli wrote down centuries ago. In Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 16, Machiavelli says:

“Infinite examples read in the remembrances of ancient histories demonstrate how much difficulty there is for a people used to living under a prince to preserve its freedom afterward, if by some accident it acquires it, as Rome acquired it after the expulsion of the Tarquins. Such difficulty is reasonable; for that people is nothing other than a brute animal that, although of a ferocious and feral nature, has always been nourished in prison and in servitude. Then, if it is left free in a field to its fate, it becomes the prey of the first one who seeks to rechain it, not being used to feed itself and not knowing places where it may have to take refuge”

I always admire Machiavelli’s ability to be so clear and concise in his writing. We see immediately that Iraq is just another one of those infinite examples of a people who have their freedom come to them by accident, and then have difficulty maintaining it. Thus, we should’ve expected this difficulty from the get-go. Krauthammer gives no indication of that, reducing the task to a simple one: “Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.” It reminds me of the argument I’ve heard several neocons make (including O’Reilly, I think), that the US has done its part, but the Iraqis have not stepped up and done their part. This view is patently false. You can see how delusional Krauthammer is here:

“It was never certain whether the long-oppressed Shiites would have enough sense of nation and sense of compromise to govern rather than rule. The answer is now clear: United in a dominating coalition, they do not.”

They have never governed by compromise or had democracy before, and yet, somehow, we wished for them to realize the intricacies of said rule. They say hindsight is 20/20, but I think you can forgive me because I’m only 19 and didn’t read Machiavelli or Burke until this year (last semester). But in Burke, it’s quite clear that you can’t destroy ancient orders and establish republican rule upon a tabula rasa. The French Revolution failed in part because of their disregard for tradition. Had I access to this earlier, would it have been that hard to make the connection to Iraq? I don’t think that was a fair expectation of the Shiites. It wouldn’t be a fair expectation of any oppressed people. It’s human nature, not the fault of the Iraqis.

Meanwhile, the editors at the New Republic finally reveal their supremely unconservative previous dogmatism. They regret their support for the war:

“At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom. But, as we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of ‘realism.’ Realism, yes; but not ‘realism.’ American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously.”

They’ve finally woken up to the conservative idea of giving respect to tradition. The neocon ideology consists of the belief that American power can transform the world, and we have the responsibility to change the world. Of course, they’re wrong. The history of revolution is a history of disappointment. [A line I was planning on using in my discourse, but I figure why not put it in now.] When even the people of their own nation, such as the French during their revolution, have trouble controlling their own destinies, how can we assume that American power can control the destinies of others? Finally, reality has kicked in. At least, to an extent…

Their proposed solution to the problem just will make it worse. The idea is to bring in more parties to the table:

A new campaign should lay the groundwork for agreements prior to the calling of a peace conference that would include Iraq’s parties and its neighbors, as well as the United States, the European Union, and Russia. What kind of agreement could be worked out? Separate states, a loose federation, a unified government?

They fall prey to the multilateralism they were criticizing all along. What a strange 180 degree turn. Multilateralism can be a good thing, but not in this context. Such a conference is only an invitation to more disagreement and dispute, not a recipe for solution. I’d argue that even a democratic convention was a problem from the beginning. We wondered why they took so long to come up with a constitution initially. There were delays because we were dealing with ancient disputes, and they weren’t solved by that one piece of paper — big surprise (not). I direct you once more to Machiavelli: “…Many are not capable of ordering a thing because they do not know its good, which is because of the diverse opinions among them…” (Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 9).

The necessary counterexample is the American constitutional convention that worked, but we had not just overthrown all our ancient orders. The Americans were not starting anew. The Iraqis were. Thus, I agree with Machiavelli, “This should be taken as a general rule: that it never or rarely happens that any republic or kingdom is ordered well from the beginning or reformed altogether anew outside its old orders unless it is ordered by one individual” (Discourse on Livy, Book I, Chapter 9). [Now, you see the origins of a possible more dangerous line of thought.] I’m not saying that it is altogether impossible to establish a democracy in Iraq; however, it is almost surely impossible to establish a democracy in Iraq by expecting the disparate people, used to living under the yoke of an oppressor, to come together and establish one.

Finally, I come to Mark Steyn. I respect him only because it seems as if he gives short shrift to this utopian version of events. For the other neocons, the crux of the invasion of Iraq lies with the democratization of Iraq. See Krauthammer: “Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.” (Wow, that “always simple” makes me giggle every time.) Mark Steyn recognizes the original conservative argument: “In a discussion of conservative core values, Connerly suggested it wasn’t the role of the federal government to impose democracy on the entire planet. And put like that, he has a point.” He agrees with the idea that it isn’t an inherent role of the federal government to do such a thing. I cannot stress enough how radical a break that is with the traditional neoconservatives. [10 points for the double-oxymoron.] They see the awesome American power as giving us a responsibility to the world (at least, this is the picture I got from Fukuyama, who came to speak at our campus). It’s the Spiderman idea: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Steyn doesn’t want that; he just wants to combat a foe.

Thus, when you compare him to the other neocons, you find his argument highly surprising:

”I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds — first, for ‘utopian’ reasons: If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists’ preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats). But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective: Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads. It’s one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective. In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang.”

The first part is their traditional argument, but he doesn’t give it priority. He says that even when our policy fails, it makes problems for the bad guys of the world. Thus, he inherently recognizes the moral propaganda component of the war. I wonder also if there’s an argument in there that deposing dictators and leaving chaos in a region leaves us better off than promoting stability. I withhold judgment for now on whether he’s right or not, but I respect Steyn because although he supports the Bush Doctrine, he’s arguing from completely different grounds than the other neocons. The others are (or were) delusional radical idealists; they departed from the conservative position because of wishful thinking. Steyn trashes the president’s wishful thinking:

”The president doesn’t frame it like that, alas. Instead, he says stuff like: ‘Freedom is the desire of every human heart.’ Really? It’s unclear whether that’s the case in Gaza and the Sunni Triangle. But it’s absolutely certain that it’s not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, Toronto and New Orleans. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government ‘security,’ large numbers of people vote to dump freedom — the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, seat belts and a ton of other stuff. I would welcome the president using ‘Freedom is the desire of every human heart’ in Chicago and Dallas, and, if it catches on there, then applying it to Ramadi and Tikrit.

That kind of argument is more like Reflections on the Revolution in France than Thomas Paine’s liberal answer, The Rights of Man. Bush reminds me of Lafayette, whom Paine quoted in The Rights of Man, “For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.” The horrendous results of the French Revolution proved otherwise. The results in Iraq are showing otherwise. It’s disgustingly simple-minded to think that way. I guess I respect Mark Steyn because that quote from him falls exactly in line with my fundamental beliefs about government. People do not so easily come across freedom, nor do they so quickly desire it. To me, his opposition to Bush’s wishful thinking proves to me that he’s a different, more intelligent (and intelligible), strain of neoconservative. I don’t see that The New Republic or Krauthammer would be so similarly quick to disagree.

Stay the Course

Stay the course!

“The American military’s stepped-up campaign to staunch unrelenting bloodshed in the capital under an ambitious new security plan that was unveiled in August has failed to reduce the violence, a military spokesman said today.

“Instead, attacks have actually jumped more than 20 percent over the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan, compared to the previous three weeks, said Gen. William Caldwell, the military’s chief spokesman in Iraq.”

Ah, but I forgot this from the New York Times, so therefore it must be left-wing liberal bias trying to destroy American resolve in the war. Yes, that’s it.

Remember, everyone: Stay the course! George Bush is a courageous genius!

They Don’t Just Want to Kill Each Other

For some reason, I feel like there might be this impression that the sectarian violence was inevitable in Iraq. That these people have always fought each other and always will. With that frame of mind, one may think that their only goal is to kill each other, since that’s what they’ve always done. That if civil war exists in Iraq, the only objective of the Shiites and the Sunnis is to spill the blood of the other. That the objective is merely to fight.

We must think further than this.

The name al-Sadr keeps popping up in the news. His Shiite militias commit murder after murder. And I find myself constantly lamenting, “Why didn’t we kill him when we had the chance?” We did have that chance in the beginning of the war. I’ll refresh myself on the exact history later when I can find it.

If you think all al-Sadr wants is to kill people, you’re mistaken. Even Osama bin Laden has his dreams of an Islamic caliphate.

Now, the question is what kind of influence does al-Sadr wish to wield? Would he try to destroy the nascent democratic government in Iraq?

I can only propose a guess based on a knowledge of human nature and its lust for power: Yes.

The other question, though, is: What kind of influence does Iran wield over al-Sadr? Can Iran conquer Iraq via proxy (namely, al-Sadr)? It’s not so far-fetched when you consider what has happened with Hezbollah and Lebanon.

And of course, I have one more question: What should the US do about al-Sadr? Even if you don’t follow my paranoid line of questioning, al-Sadr’s militia poses a threat to Iraq’s government. A government needs to have a monopoly of force.