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November 27, 2006

Jonathan Chait thinks the unthinkable...

From his LA Times piece (and you should read the whole thing, not just my selective quoting):

THE DEBATE about Iraq has moved past the question of whether it was a mistake (everybody knows it was) to the more depressing question of whether it is possible to avert total disaster. Every self-respecting foreign policy analyst has his own plan for Iraq. The trouble is that these tracts are inevitably unconvincing, except when they argue why all the other plans would fail. It's all terribly grim.

So allow me to propose the unthinkable: Maybe, just maybe, our best option is to restore Saddam Hussein to power.

He goes on:

At the outset of the war, I had no high hopes for Iraqi democracy, but I paid no attention to the possibility that the Iraqis would end up with a worse government than the one they had. It turns out, however, that there is something more awful than totalitarianism, and that is endless chaos and civil war.

One can only expect that Mr. Chait finds this next quote, well, quaint, outmoded, and astonishingly naive...

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. John Stuart Mill English economist & philosopher (1806 - 1873)

Oh, there's no doubt we screwed the pooch in Iraq, and that Rumsfeld's Way of War was certainly an incomplete doctrine if you were going to do something other than fight the Big War. Rumsfeld's Way of War is really more of the Way of A Campaign, and especially a campaign that is a supporting effort.

Too many invalid assumptions were made, and weak, uncoordinated planning between the relevant US agencies, not to mention the seemingly deliberate sabotage by some elements of the US government directed at others, such as the strife between the CIA, State, and Defense. And that was all the professional bureaucrats there - the long-termers, a problem that spans Presidents and parties. But, President Bush was in charge, and he failed to take heed and bring those people to heel. Of course, I know from long experience in government myself they can be a hard breed to bring to heel.

I also know that nothing is as ever clear while it's happening as it is after the dust has settled, which is one reason I don't get as shirt-rendingly shrill as some when things turn out to have been a cock-up. I get shrill when people won't fix what is now clearly wrong, and this President seems to have left that to his successor, not that he'd get much done now, anyway. They can wait him out.

But that's a digression.

Chait is on to something. Perhaps not Saddam, but whoever rises in his place. The ultimate in realpolitik. Who cares what's going on somewhere as long as it doesn't affect us directly. The silence of the grave is preferable to chaos... at least as long as it isn't our personal grave.

Problem is, Mr. Chait - as long as your doctrine prevails, little advances, really, and the rule of law is really eroded, until we're completely back to the rule of men. Tribalism Resurgent.

I can hear the intake of breath, and see the fingers poised over the keyboards of some readers - Rule of Law? What part of torture, and illegal wars have you missed, Donovan?

Heh. The fact that we discuss torture, the fact that people can call the President a liar who made up an excuse for war and should be sent to The Hague to stand trial, the fact that terrorists are tried in courts and have lawyers (whatever limits may be placed on them because the terrs are truly dangerous people), and that Famous People and Faceless People make these claims... yet there hasn't been one "disappearance," or "death under suspicious circumstances," or mass arrests and imprisonments, and that government policies are challenged in multiple venues argues that the rule of law is actually working quite well, despite what the loons at DU think. Or the loons at Freeper during the Clinton administration.

But Chait is essentially arguing that peace at any cost is preferable.

I'm in Mill's camp.


Comments on Jonathan Chait thinks the unthinkable...
J-P briefed on November 27, 2006 09:13 AM

America was founded not on pragmatism and self-interest, but on the idea that people had dignity that no man could take from them. If we can even for a minute advocate the brutal oppression of the Iraqi people because it serves our "best interests," then we have forgotten who we are, and become the tyrants our forefathers sought to rid themselves of.

J-P briefed on November 27, 2006 09:14 AM

America was founded not on pragmatism and self-interest, but on the idea that people had dignity that no man could take from them. If we can even for a minute advocate the brutal oppression of the Iraqi people because it serves our "best interests," then we have forgotten who we are, and become the tyrants our forefathers sought to rid themselves of.

FbL briefed on November 27, 2006 09:31 AM

I say this in the deepest sincerity and with a true perplexity: How does someonelike Chait sleep at night? The self-absorbed, sanctimonious, immoral SOB!!!

jim b briefed on November 27, 2006 10:25 AM

We seem to have attained a world confluence of events that virtually assure things will indeed get a lot worse before they get better.

Most Americans have a two week memory.

The similarity between now and the period preceding WWII is bizarre.

The election of Democrats, has assured things will decay. If you doubt that letís talk about it in .. oh say 2 years.

Will America again be great? I think so. I hope so. But I think it will take a crucible of the proportions of WWII or worse to achieve it.

... and music plays in the background
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental thing apply
As time goes by.

jim b puts on his Fedora, and buttons his trenchcoat, he takes out his Zippo and lights up a Camel.... and ambers towards the door.

He pauses, turns and says, "Goodnight Chesty, wherever you are."

jim b exits stage right.

Harvey briefed on November 27, 2006 03:34 PM

Actually, putting Saddam in power *might* be a good idea.

After he's dead.

I'm just thinking that more dead people holding elected offices means fewer stupid laws getting passed and screwing with people's freedoms :-)

ry briefed on November 27, 2006 10:54 PM

ďBut Chait is essentially arguing that peace at any cost is preferable.Ē

Actually, I beg to differ. Iím no fan of Chait and The New Republic (and I donít agree with his general doom and gloom tenor here, or declaring failure in the Vietnamization program(though what Iíve read of de Atkine( doesnít leave me real confident in this regard either. Iím just not ready to call this patient dead yet.)), but he is not arguing that at all in my mind.

Seems to me more like pure Machiavelli-esque thinking to me, ĎIt is better to be feared than loved.í(Leaving out the rest of that chapter from The Prince). The only real error was going provocative in saying we should put Saddam back in power.

Peace at any price? Maybe. But not as you mean it, as the Chamberlain inspired epithet, John. More like shaking hands with Pinochet or Noriega or any of the other royal turds weíve done over the years to get the job done. Heís thinking brick by brick.

Maybe people get angry that this solín is pragmatic and ideologically/morally un-satisfying. Tough.

Youíll live. The people on the ground might not. That matters more than you feeling good about ideological purityóin my book anyways.

Tough. Weíll take the win and try to use it as a stepping stone to the next goal in winning the Long War. Youíll get over it just like how all those men who served from 1945 to 1991 lived with not seeing their goal realized.

Nobody liked Containment on a moral basis. But the slumbeech worked to end the advance of Global Communism by Ďwars of national liberationí and ultimately the USSR itself. But for 50 years people lived behind the Curtain. Which was better? Having a policy that handed us something tangible and good---while being suboptimal---- or going for broke and losing it all (there sure were a lot of missiles and divisions in the Warsaw Pact that we might not have been able to overcome in a Rollback policy.)? Iím with Patton. Give me a so-so plan that gets me something tangible today. Iím not much for vaporware or promises of better things tomorrow when there is something to be realized today. Know when to cash out of the card game with something instead of holding out for the one big pot and possibly losing it all.

Stabilizing Iraq is a tangible good. Even our quasi-allies in the region, the Saudis, are so worried about spill over that theyíre building a border fence. Chaitís right in that we donít have enough to control the whole country or to put it in lockdown (does anyone here really dispute that?). What happens if we wind up having to do stabilization operations elsewhere in the region if, say, the violence boiled over into Saudi or Iran or Syria (non-zero possibilities)? Do we have the capability to handle it? What happens if the Kurds tire of the nonsense and declare independence (bringing Iran and Turkey into a fight with them)? Nice quaterlateral war right there, and do we have enough to win and perform reconstruction operations if we won?

Stabilizing Iraq is an imperative. That hasnít changed since the day we toppled Saddam. Itís brick by brick. First we get control, even using a slumbeech to do so like we did in S. America, then we move on to other things like creating the institutions for a working democracy (like we did in S. Korea 50 years ago). Itís an awfully big cake you all are talking about. I donít think we can take it in one bite. It prevents a buttload of worse alternatives from coming to be. Thatís reward in and of itself. Perfect it isnít, but itís a damn sight better than the possibilities weíre staring at (like say a President Hillary/Obama/whoever who decides to withdraw with honor, which is anything but that.).

And where were you guys when Dusty advocated much the same thing a few days ago? Letting one faction annihilate the other and then cooperating with whoever was the winner was something he advocated. Itís the same strategy really since it winds up shaking hands with a bloody handed bastiche and faction that is far less than the ideal ally; his faction being more feared than the others as a result of winning the internecine fighting. Pure Machiavelli.

Using Saddam was a mistake. But essentially heís talking about using a strongman to unify the country, a puppet we will then replace 15-25 years from now, and get into a position to have a credible threat of force for other things like bashing heads of a small number of anti-govít groups instead of half the farkiní country. Itís getting us into a position to have a stronger diplomatic hand vis. DPRK and Iran. Diplomacy doesnít work real well when the other side knows you have nothing to force them to change and the deals youíre offering are the better alternative to being bombed and kicked out of power by main force. Itís giving us a reserve to call on if we wind up having to go super-kinetic in Afghanistan again. But it isnít ideologically satisfying. It isnít the story book ending of the good guys, might for right guys, winning a total victory and coming home to lasting peace. When has the story book ending been reality?
ďI say this in the deepest sincerity and with a true perplexity: How does someonelike Chait sleep at night? The self-absorbed, sanctimonious, immoral SOB!!!Ē
We typically fall asleep on the couch reading Fuzzy, which annoys The Wife. ;) We donít necessarily like the choices we make, wondering how weíre going to explain them at The Pearly Gates, but thatís what the situation on the ground looks like. Using ĎThe Hammerí like CPT Bauer thinks is prudent ( is off the table for various reasons (either weíre wimps or that it tries to make everything into a nail because we have a good hammer or that it just isnít applicable to each and every case. Take your pick, but I think all three might apply at any given time.) just isnít in the cards. The Japanese solín, hitting them so utterly hard that they change their entire culture in response, just isnít going to happen---accepting political and social reality isnít a crime. You arenít going to un-wussify the country in two weeks, much less the world. So what have we left? The tried and true brick by brick that requires us to shake hands with pure farkiní bastiches is just about all we have. Utterly ideologically and morally unsatisfying it is. So what? Weíll live. Weíll have a Ďtwo steps forward and one step backí situation in the Long War. Weíll be giving the Iraqis something we long promised them: a road to peace and freedom and liberal democracy, and economic improvements that come with those ideas/institutions so 50K kids and old people donít die a year from lack of health care or a Sunni be afraid of a Shia or some 20 year old kid wonít take $20 to plant an IED since itís the best work around while his family lives below the poverty line experiencing real, not relative, poverty(lack of food, lack of housing, and lack of stable work).
So Iíll take that accusation of being an SOB, Fuzzy. Iíll take it and enjoy it. Itís pretty fitting anyway; but at the end of the day simply saying Ďsupport the Troops and how dare Chait and ry stab them in the back!í doesnít keep one more Troop or one more Iraqi alive nor does it get the dying over so people can have normal, meaningful lives in the long term. Iíll take it and enjoy. A real badge of honor for me such a charge is because it shows Iím being intellectually honest about the situation and thinking beyond next week to the total fight. Iím a SOB, but Iím an SOB thatís going to get us thru this with the lowest total body count and a world that isnít FUBAR because I am willing to take half a loaf. I can live with that.
Itís going to be a long night of reading.

ry briefed on November 27, 2006 10:59 PM

Ack. What happened to the spacing and paragraph breaks at the end? Damn cut and paste from Word. Iím still getting error messages, John. Somethingís still not right with either my Ďputer or connection, or with the site. Sigh.

FbL briefed on November 27, 2006 11:28 PM

So Iíll take that accusation of being an SOB, Fuzzy. Iíll take it and enjoy it. Itís pretty fitting anyway; but at the end of the day simply saying Ďsupport the Troops and how dare Chait and ry stab them in the back!

I think you misunderstood why I called Chait an immoral SOB. "The troops" were not foremost in my mind when I wrote that. I was thinking of the idea of putting Saddam back in power so that the entirety of Iraq is living in fear and terror again (vs. only certain sections now) and America isn't taken seriously on the war/foreign policy front for who knows how wlong (the latter of which has repercussions that are truly staggering and terrifying).

FbL briefed on November 27, 2006 11:30 PM

And as far as the rest of what you wrote, Ry, I have no comment because I'm too tired to understand it.

John of Argghhh! briefed on November 28, 2006 06:47 AM

Ry simply demonstrates to me, over and over again, why I would not have succeeded at General or beyond.

I simply don't let myself think like that. I spend too much time looking backwards.

Anyway Fuzzy, boiled down, what Ry said was: Ignore Saddam per se, that's just a hook to get you to read, find a right proper strongman to rule, vice govern, who will be able to kill enough people to impose his will (which we are not able/willing to do) and accept a shit sandwich as being preferable to diarrhea soup. At least the bread is edible.

He essentially pointed out that's what we did with the Soviets, because we knew we didn't want to meet them in an all-out war.

And that it worked, while it wasn't perfect.

Ry likes his plan because IIRC, he also believes the Iranians will act rationally (within their context) and not go slinging nukes around once they have them (something I feel is probably inevitable).

Ry seems to be advocating a containment strategy for the entire region.

I think none of us understand Islam well enough to really think that one through.

Rivrdog briefed on November 28, 2006 10:30 AM

I remember a sophomore PolySci course (over 40 years ago), in which ALL the known forms of government were discussed and analyzed.

On the final exam, we had an essay question in which we had to rank those known forms of government as to their ruling efficiency.

The correct answer had to say that the most efficient form of government is what was then known as a "benevolent dictatorship". The professor had told us that the thing that most closely resembled a "benevolent dictatorship" was Tito's Yugoslavia.

Hmmmm. This is probably a case where the theory is correct, but no good examples fit it.

ry briefed on November 28, 2006 02:48 PM

ďRy simply demonstrates to me, over and over again, why I would not have succeeded at General or beyond.
I simply don't let myself think like that. I spend too much time looking backwards.

Not sure if Iíve been snarked, back handed compliment, or what. This could be a subtlety Iím not handling well or an honest lament Iím not understanding (being a lowly Ferret instead of a Bear).

Youíve got me partly John. Iím not calling for a new Containment, even if I do keep bringing it back up. Half a loaf is really the take away message I wanted to get across (then just say that, dolt.). A partial victory is better than none at all.

I donít want to Ďfirewall offí or Contain the ME. Bad strategy as that generated the mess we have now and experienced in the recent past. Worse, that leaves the Iranians Numero Uno in the region, and plenty bold. More that we have a strategy thatíll get us where we want to go in twice the time we really wanted to take rather than never at all, if we have the cajones and thick enough skin to survive the opprobrium thatíll be hurled our way (see my fight with HE about US actions in S/C America for example) to do it.

And I think youíre being a bit unfair about my attitude toward Iran. Iím willing to see if theyíll act like big boys instead of a whinny child. At the same time I want the ability to kill Damien close at hand and ready if thatís what the whinny child turns out to be. Iíll take the soft kill if I can get it, even if using The Hammer would be more satisfying. I could try and describe it using Principles of Warfare, but Iíd butcher them(bloody amateur that I am). We donít have to devote military forces (which we havenít got to devote I might add) to this problem right now. So letís not do so (and having to try and close the border with Iran is doing exactly that). But letís get the force ready for when we need it (and doing reconstruction of Iraq for the next ten years the ideologically satisfying way isnít going to get us there.). Resource allocation imposed by reality we face. Spending all our time in Iraq does diddly about the Iyatollah flinging Shahab-3/4/5/? tipped with nuclear warheads at all.

Take the chit sandwich for now, thereís a McDonaldís up the way a bit, and a really good steak joint at the end of the long, muddy, soul trying road. If youíre willing to take the long way. Otherwise you risk not getting to the steak joint at all (and I want my Bloominí Onion, damnit.).

Itís the choice between something thatís (to be pulling numbers out of the air) 80% likely to work while taking twice as long over one thatís only 50-50.

John of Argghhh! briefed on November 28, 2006 03:12 PM

I think Economy of Force is the principle you're groping for, Ry.

It was a compliment, mostly. There's a 'but' in there, of course.

ry briefed on November 28, 2006 09:35 PM

"There's a 'but' in there, of course." Of course. But, Which 'but' are we going with this time? undisciplined? Only partly right/less than half right 90% of the time? Inexperienced? Ain't earned it? Illegible, un-readable, verbose, and sanctimonious? Vitrious(now there's some humor)? There's tons to pick from, Boss. Which one we picking today? ;)

Trias briefed on November 29, 2006 04:02 AM

In my view if the democratically elected Iraqi government can't hold it together than that's pretty much how it will go with some Shiite in power.

To hold it together really needs a loyal powerful military and the support of the people. I'm not so sure the current government has either. Iraqis appear to have turned to traditional power structure of their culture ie Islam and tribalism.

I don't think the US is capable of keeping nukes out of everyone's hands now. It's left it far too late to ensure responsible governments control such weapons and this Iraq attempt, even should it about face and succeed, will only delay it's coming.

Iran with nukes, North Korea with nukes, you name a non nuke nation, hell even Australia is heading that way. Philospohically i think we're too far behind and headed for a disaster we're largely unable to avoid.

John of Argghhh! briefed on November 29, 2006 05:42 AM

Trias - I fear you are correct.

Ry: Which one we picking today?

It's always more fun to watch you fly in a circle, with only one wing.

ry briefed on November 29, 2006 03:38 PM

I don't buy inevitability for the most part. There's too many decisions to be made along the way to say that it was inevitable. Reading thru Kagan's 'On the Origins of War' and the bit about debates and thinking held by the Spartans and Athenians prior to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Same thing can be seen there. It's the collection of choices that lead to it. Not fate. Iranian and DPRK achieving nuclear armed nation status can be halted. It's a matter of what choices we collectively want to make(like maybe choosing that stopping DPRK is more important than supporting the One China-Two Systems arrangement.)

That's, lots of nations now looking to join the nuclear club, also why I support ABMD research. Might be to little to late. We'll see. I have a real jones for the ABL to jump the last couple of hurdles (they're pretty dang high though). We once had B-52s up on a near constant basis. I find a defensive system more palatable than going back to 'we'll toss nuc ALCM if you don't play nice'. Knock it down or burn a hole in it that the electronics can't survive re-entry. Brilliant pebbles, held on a group of satellites, sent on a downward path into the flight path(so we don't have a cloud of junk potentially slamming into valuable platforms) of the missile would also be nice(but weaponizing space in such a manner is ample proof of warmongery and fascist tendencies, dontchaknow).

Well, it's what I've got John(flying on one wing). Of course we didn't exhaust all the possibilities(there's tons to pick from after all). I'm just going with those that are the most common. You got a special 'but' in mind?