Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A More Positive View

Just to balance the pessimism in Chris Bray's piece, I offer this summary assessment of the status of the war in Iraq by Karl Zinsmeister at the American Enterprise Institute. Everything he says, I see as accurate and agreeable. Here are some snippets:

... nearly every war is riddled with disappointment and pain, Iraq certainly included. But judged fairly, Iraq has been much less costly and debacle-ridden than the Civil War, World War II, Korea, and the Cold War—each considered in retrospect to have been noble successes.

... the U.S. general in charge of our National Guard put his casualties in some perspective: “I lose, unfortunately, more people through private automobile accidents and motorcycle accidents over the same period of time.”

... Fully 86 percent of Iraqi households reported having satellite TV at the end of 2005. The number of Iraqi commercial TV stations is now 44, and there are 72 commercial radio stations (there were none of either prior to 2003).

... A majority insist that despite the war, life is already better for them than it was under Saddam Hussein. By 5:1 they expect their lives will be even better one year from now.

... Since the January 2005 election, however, not a single Iraqi army unit has been defeated in battle, and not one police station has been abandoned. ... the number of Iraqi security forces killed is now declining. Monthly deaths of Iraqi soldiers and police climbed steadily to a peak of 304 in July 2005, then fell just as steadily to 193 by December 2005.

... Iraq is now creeping away from murderous authoritarianism to face the more normal messes of a creaky Third World nation: corruption, poverty, health problems, miserable public services. And that is vastly preferable to what came before.

1/31/2006 12:51 PM

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At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 5:44:00 PM, Blogger Balloon Pirate said...


No Conservative think-tank views will ever sway me. They're the ones that got us into this godawful mess.

Here's a snippet from River, a blogger from Baghdad who writes about everyday life in her city with clarity and an honest eye:

Now, nearly three years after this war, the buildings are still piles of debris. Electricity is terrible. Water is cut off for days at a time. Telephone lines come and go. Oil production isn’t even at pre-war levels… and Iraqis hear about the billions upon billions that come and go. A billion here for security… Five hundred million there for the infrastructure… Millions for voting… Iraq falling into deeper debt… Engineers without jobs simply because they are not a part of this political party or that religious group… And the country still in shambles.

This was from a post comparing where Baghdad is now, three years after the occupation, to the three years after the end of the first Gulf war.

You can read her here: http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/

She had originally called her blog "Riverbend," the name of a folk song about meeting at the river and talking about life. She has recently changed the name to Baghdad Burning. I wonder why.

Additionally, I have a nephew, a Marine, who recently returned from a tour of Baghdad and parts north, and a son, a Lt. in the Air Force, who is currently in Southern Iraq. Neither of them have given me any indication that there is any sort of sustained reconstruction, or even any sort of understanding of the military's role in this thing.

Admittedly, these are just reports from a Grunt, a Butterbar, and a twentysomething Iraqi girl. But everything I'm reading tells me that this has been a waste of time and a waste of lives.

And that's a lot closer to the truth than anythig from The Enterprise Institute.


At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 11:48:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I don't think it's fair to say the conservatives are the ones who got us into this mess. I can't picture us doing any differently if Gore had been elected. The difference is that the Republicans would be moaning about the way the war was being managed. The "godawful mess" has been there and been growing worse for decades at least. We kept sweeping it under the rug.

911 is a hard fact of life that cannot be brushed aside or wished away. It may not have been Saddam's direct responsibility, but I believe we would have invaded Iraq anyway. We learned, or should have learned, on that day that there was something terribly wrong in the Muslim world. We really knew it all along, but underestimated the nastiness factor. There is a fountainhead of implacable fanaticism fostered by certain interpretations of Islam which must somehow be capped. How you gonna do it? Well, how did we do it for Christians? The religious wars and the politics of religion in Europe promised to continue forever. It was the rise of constitutional democracy with intitutionalized norms of religious freedom that finally did it.

Afghanistan was obvious, and generally agreed on, although some did call it a quagmire for a while. Basically the first step was to deny the fanatics a refuge. After that, if you have internalized the need to change how do you address the problem? Everybody says, go after Saudi Arabia. That's where they come from, right? Fortunately or unfortunately, there was no way to do that. Saudis have a Samson option. Blow the oil facilities and the world economy faces economic collapse. (Our dependence on oil is another issue.)

Solve the Palestinian problem? Can't be done. Free Lebanon? Syria had our number after the bombing of the marine barracks. Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have all been, and continue to be our allies in this effort. If we want to sponsor any countervailing social concept, what's it going to be? Where's it going to be? If you have made up your mind that doing nothing is not an acceptable option, then the easiest route to justify is Iraq. Iran is a problem, but there's more hope for change there, or was anyway.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 12:20:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I believe that Riverbend has been using Baghdad Burning for some time now. She strikes me as a spoiled member of Saddam's favored class, suffering from the loss of his protection. It's true that women will suffer as Iraq reverts to its non-secular nature. The US tried to ameliorate that with the legislator quotas, but even MacArthur couldn't really change the heart of Japan. We have to let Iraq work out its own destiny. Is there any reason it can't, intrinsically, be on a par with Turkey?

I believe reconstruction is working some places, but not where the soldiers are needed. There is still the natural corruption to deal with as well as all the criminals that Saddam released into the streets. The key indicator mentioned in the article is that attacks on pipelines have decreased dramatically. Yes, the mess is a lot bigger than we imagined. But to me, that is all the more reason to confront the problem, to clean out tomorrow's Saddam and nurture guys like Sistani and Alawi.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

You've got to be kidding.

Gore would have NEVER invaded Iraq.

There was no good reason to invade that country.

Sanctions were working. There were no WMD's there. All the information that lead to that conclusion was either week, unsubstantiated or completely fabricated, and this administration knew it. There was no link between Hussein and Bin Laden.

It was a stupid, stupid mistake that got us nowhere, and has sown nothing but bad will towards the United States.

Bush did it because he wanted the oil, and he wanted to do something his daddy didn't. And if that sounds overly simplistic to you, it's because he's an overly simplistic man.

I believe Gore would have gone after the Taliban. Had Bush done that, instead of shifting focus from Afghanistan to his little Waterloo in the dessert, perhaps we would actually BE safer now, as opposed to merely inconvenienced.

But that's all speculation.

Thanks a lot, Ralph Nader.

What we have now, is a middle east that's even more hostile to the west, and specifically the US. We have more terrorists, and more organizations that have anti-western views taking more and more control.

After 9/11, Iran--Iran--offered us condolences. Iran offered us information on the whereabouts of terrorists. Iran was making overtures and sending signals that it was ready to become a more responsible world citizen. Rather than accepting this, we put troops on its borders, and the President labels it a rogue nation. Now, it has another loose cannon in charge, who is openly flauting US and UN sanctions, and restarting its nuclear program.

WTF can we do about it?

Not a damn thing.

Because, JJ, despite what you might thing, the Army is broken. How do I know? Because my Air Force son is training Army motor pool soldiers in security tactics while in a war zone, while contract workers do much of the security work he was trained to do at non-war-zone bases. It's broken, because it's stretched too thin, doing too much with too little, and does not have the resources it needs. Iran, North Korea, Palestine...hell, any third-world backwater dictator in just about anyplace in the world, can pretty much moon the US with impunity, because we've got our hands full in Iraq, and we pretty much can't do dick anywhere else.

And, yes, JJ, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, this fuckup is purely and entirely the fault of the Neocons who control the White House, Congress, and SCOTUS.

And I could even make a case that the disasters of 9/11 were at least partially the fault of this Administration, because of the warnings that were out there about Bin Laden that were largely ignored, because they didn't come from people this administration trusted...in other words, nonpolitical appointees.

And the fact that seemingly intellingent people like you STILL don't see this is enough to make me scream in frustration.


At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 1:10:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

This is a very emotional issue, I know. But screaming is generally counterproductive and tends to terminate analytical thought processes. I'm not a conservative, by the way. I don't care for Mr. Bush and dislike most Republican policies.

However, I don't think Bush is stupid or simple-minded. The political effectiveness of the Bush crowd should convince you that they are not lightweights. And in their current positions, they have access to the best analytical minds in the country, should they choose to avail themselves. You think that they are too paranoid to do so (pot::kettle), and you may have some justification for that. Bush apparently blew off a lot of advice about handling the post-invasion because of his distrust for the State Department, also not entirely unjustified. There were voices in the govt, including Clinton of course, who warned him about Al Qaeda. The most famous of them is John O'Neill, who predicted Osama and Al Qaeda and predicted 9/11, but couldn't penetrate the FBI bureaucracy. So. ... Yes, I do think the government failed us on 9/11. They were told it was coming, repeatedly and with emphasis. O'Neill knew that they'd be back to the World Trade Center. We should have realized after '93 how vulnerable it was. Why wasn't the Pentagon red-teaming it? Bunch of bureaucratic turf warriors! Bush is responsible for this as much as Clinton, and he knows it, but the fault lies as much in the whole DC culture. For one thing, we're not watching them closely enough.

One reason we don't check them for competence is that we always impugn their motives. Rather than protecting against bunglers, we're servicing our pet paranoia. The oil libel is tiresome. It should be obvious by now that we're not going to get much oil from our iron-fisted control of Iraq. So why not leave now if the cow won't milk? The Haliburton thing is a little annoying too. Yes, there's probably a certain amount of corruption going on, more on the Iraqi side I think, but you've got to believe that Dick Cheney models himself more on Dick Nixon than Spiro Agnew. He wants the praise of history more than the warbucks, and I doubt he's personally getting any of the booty.

So why not leave? I think their motives in this regard are sincere. They believed, for whatever reasons that we can idly speculate on for years, that this was the best course of action. They really are trying to accomplish something.

One thing you should remember about your political enemies. They don't really know that they're evil, so that argument is not going to change them.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 1:29:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

My father was in Europe collecting German prisoners when the Battle of the Bulge was going down. He had personal experience with both sides. He thought that we had the most inept, stupid, immoral, chaotic and disorganized army that had ever been fielded. He hated the Army. They couldn't do anything right.

The German soldiers that he took back to the US, however, were just the opposite. For the most part they were decent, educated, disciplined, organized and clean. Although he thought the German nation was consumed with hatred and madness, he loved and respected them as people, and never understood quite how we managed to win the war at all.

Now, as to whether our military machine is dysfunctional today. I want you to think about two events: the tsunami off Indonesia last year, and the earthquake in Pakistan. These were missions of choice. We didn't have to do them. We could have let other nations take up the slack and get the credit. We could have just sent money. But no, we just had to get get involved in those quagmires. And surprise, we did OK. The logistical miracles involved were only matched by the stateside logistical incompetence after Katrina.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 1:49:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Here's another good article on John O'Neill from Oct 17, 2001.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 4:27:00 PM, Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

JJ--I don't impugn their motives. I'm certain of them.
Everything is a campaign for these guys. Theit weapon is politics, their goals are certain: Rollback of every New Deal initiative. A return to the gilded age. Power concentrated in the hands of a few, and sow seeds of doubt and confusion amongst the rest. Keep just enough of the majority believing that they (the bushies) are on their side to keep them in power while they roll back civil liberites.

And I never said Bush was simple-minded. He is a very shrewd, fiercely competitive political campaigner.

The problem is, that's his only strength. He's not interested in governing.

Perhaps I should have said single-minded instead.

His world is 'either your with us, or your with the terrorists.'

And you are showing much of that same single-mindedness in your evaluation.

Because I have been against this war from before its inception does not mean I believe we should cut and run. But we are in the cesspool up to our ears, and something needs to change.

And it's not, as you seem to think with your rather offhand comment, 'a certain amount of corruption,' it is corruption on a massive scale, with billions of dollars wasted. We're talking about throwing away more than the Gross Domestic Product of some smaller countries. And the people and companies that are doing the siphoning are still in charge! Ahmed Chalabi's in charge of their oil program, for chrissakes.

And I reiterate this is all--ALL--the product of this president. He drove us off a cliff here. Because all he saw was the campaign. All he saw was the soldiers in Baghdad, waving the flag and pulling down the statues of Hussein. No thought was given to occupation and reconstruction, and the only reason any thought has been given to it at all is because the cameras are still rolling, and he has to look presidential. And you still want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

You're right. Shouting and screaming does little to move the public discourse, but here's the thing: There ain't no public discourse. Hasn't been for years. Only soundbites, talking points and photo ops, while the powers that be continue to implement the policies they've been working towards since the fall of Nixon. Meanwhile, all the stuff that folks like me have been shouting and screaming about for years are coming true, and no one seems to have the balls to make the connection between the failed 'policy,' and the policymaker. Between the lie, and the president who sent us to a useless war using that lie as a fact.

He deserves impeachment, and imprisonment. Not the benefit of the doubt.


At Thursday, February 02, 2006 1:26:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

What we are doing here is public discourse. Maybe not too public, but public in principle. I don't think I am talking in sound-bites. I admit I am somewhat obsessive, but no match for the monomania of the President, or his detractors for that matter. The man wanted to get elected, for whatever psychological reason you care to believe, and he did. Now he wants to win the GWOT, or what I prefer to see as the war against violent Islamic extremists. And I do think that is a good thing.

People who get elected President, even Jimmy Carter, are power obsessed and egotistical. They have strong stomachs and attitude. People who pull their punches at crucial times do not get elected. The things they have to do to get elected are tedious, sometimes unpleasant, and occasionally revolting. Sometimes they succumb to an idealistic impulse, but not often.

I have strong opinions about the war. I've wanted to see Saddam forcibly removed since the Gulf War at least. Maybe that makes me a neocon. But I don't know for sure that we are on the right path, or whether it could have been the right path if we had executed better. As a matter of fact, I concede that you may be right about everything except one thing. The corruption may end up killing the effort. Civil war might break out in Iraq at any moment. The Iraqi economy might implode. Soldiers might mutiny en masse in Baghdad.

The one thing I'm confident you are wrong about is the strength of certainty you express in your opinions. I have been exposed to too many bright people that I respect who contradict each other, both sides with airtight arguments. Endless speculation is carried on with ingenious efforts to reconstruct events and plans from first principles, things that the President gets easily at his morning briefing along with his four-star breakfast.

I don't know. Maybe it's all a charade. Maybe the Administration is really a millionaire's scheme to get richer. Maybe Cheney is from Mars rather than Wyoming. Whatever. I will tell you this. I believe that Neil Armstrong really did land on the moon, and that Arlen Specter was right about the single bullet theory.

At Thursday, February 02, 2006 1:31:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I don't think you can know what Gore would have done for sure until you put him in the situation room on 9/11 and ask him what he's going to do now. I don't thing Gore would have been less effected than Bush, maybe even more so. I don't think Gore would have been less determined to change the world after that, maybe more so.

The stretch between deciding to do something and getting it done is usually filled with a lot of compromises and a little dealing with the Devil. We'll never know what really goes on.


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