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September 06, 2014

Military Interventionism [WeirdDave]

Alright Morons, I'm on vacation in Cabo San Lucas. Because of that I won't be helping with the garden thread this week, but because I think so highly of y'all, I'm still going to do an OT thread. It's not a big deal, Hurricane Norbert is in town (I emailed my mom this information, and she sent back an entire list of things to do, stockpiling food, filling the tub with water and the like. It's not that bad, just lots of rain, but I told mom "too late, soon the living will envy the dead". Mom's a Floridian, she takes hurricanes seriously.) and the word of the day is wet. An earnest hotel employee tried to get me to sign up for an ATV excursion today "It's a great time to go, there's no dust like there usually is!" Mud wasn't mentioned. He also told me they only get 9" of rain a year, I replied "did you have to have it all today?" So here I am, Thursday night, midnight, sitting in the hotel bar drinking Modelo beer, wearing a Panama hat, looking at the white in my beard in the mirror and contemplating Hemingway. There are a bunch of birds outside making a sound like someone is squeezing a flock of ducks. Seems like a good time to write about war in the Middle East.

Since this debate is going on now, let me take a moment to point out something that tends to get dismissed out of hand most places. I want you to stop for just a moment and consider just how close to working the so called "neocon" strategy came to working in Iraq.

First, a disclaimer. This is not an endorsement of nor an advocacy for further military actions in the Middle East. It is not a rejection of such actions either (in fact I personally support them as long overdue, but that's neither here nor there for the purpose of this thread). No, this is simple a look back, with the full advantage of hindsight, at the objectives of the neocon strategy, and at how they were or weren't achieved.

Before I get into that, let me tell you what started this train of thought. "Neocon" is almost universally a dirty word. It's a dirty word on the Left because they are reflexively Anti-West and anti-military, not to mention that it's often a code word for "Jews" over there. On the Right it's dismissed because it conflicts with both the isolationist/libertarian faction as going way too far, and by the hawks as not going far enough. On top of all that, it ultimately failed, and as Tacitus said "Inquissima haec bellorum condicio est: prospera omnes sibi indicant, aduersa uni imputantur". Still, when considering the facts on the ground, nation building in Iraq came damn close to success. A couple of mistakes in the Bush administration made it harder than it should have been, but not unrecoverable, and two huge policies of the Obama Administration relegated all of the blood and treasure we spent to the category "an utter waste". Under a different administration the Middle East might be relatively (for it) peaceful today (not necessarily a McCain administration, he always struck me as more of a "solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant" kind of guy. Guess he was the choice though).


In hindsight, Bush made four big mistakes. #1 Not pressuring Turkey harder to allow the second axis of attack. I realize building a coalition is an exercise in plate spinning, but really, we should have pressed harder on this one, I bet we could have found the right arm to twist. Because we lacked the second front, our troops could not properly secure the territory as we advanced, being hell bent on keeping the pressure on Sadaam's retreating forces. In some cases weeks or months went by before we could properly occupy or assess the land. Who knows what weapons (of mass destruction?) walked with Mohammad during that time (Syria, I'm looking at you). #2 Rumsfeld's "light footprint". Fuck that. If I'm occupying a country I want troops so thick on the ground that when an Iraqi uses the outhouse, there's a soldier there noting down the size of his pecker in inches, it makes the population much less likely to believe that they can get away with mischief. #3 "The Surge" was waaaaaay late in happening, see #2. #4 Giving Iran a pass on all of their material and personnel support of guerillas. The first time a bomb casing saying "Made in Tehran" shows up at the scene of an IUD attack, Iran should have lost a military unit, say a patrol boat. The second time, a base. And so on. Remember, with significant forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, we had Iran surrounded. Totalitarian regimes, especially Islamic Totalitarian regimes, are just like children: they'll push and push and push until they are forcefully shown their limits. We had the moral capital and the force in theatre to make it stick. Iran wasn't going to crucify their military on the cross of western might. Still, Bush left office with a relatively peaceful Iraq all but secured. Then Obama came in and it all went to hell.

Obama's mistakes are legion, but there are two gigantic ones which I'm sure y'all know (I'm writing this from the perspective that Obama would have wanted a conclusion to the war that was favorable to the west. I don't actually believe that he did). He didn't secure a status of forces agreement, and he shunned the Green Revolution in Iran. Neither one would have required any American blood, and both could have been spun by the administration in terms that would appease all but the most rabid parts of his base. Think about that. A (relatively) peaceful Iraq, slowly building it's prosperity and a pro-western regime in Iran no longer trying to undercut the former, and you have huge block of stability right in the heart of the Middle East. All of the rest of the "Arab Spring" could have unfolded exactly as it did and the region is still stable (although I doubt it would have been nearly as cataclysmic as it turned out to be).

All of that being said, you'd think that I'd be a huge neo-con, wouldn't you? I'm not, and it's for the same reason I'm not a Communist. Communism is a wonderful system, it truly would lead to Utopia-unless it's being attempted by human beings. In that case it's an utter disaster. The neo-con strategy requires a long term commitment, and representative democracies just aren't up to the task. Unless the perceived threat is apocalyptic in nature, they lose interest. They lose focus. Opposition parties ferment dissent for their own short term political advantage. It all goes to hell. The mistakes I pointed out above were perhaps inevitable. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I told my wife "If we do this, it's going to be a generational commitment, or it's going to be a waste of lives". Sadly, I was right. How many are going to die because of that? Would that I was wrong.

* For those of you whose Latin is rusty, the two quotes from Tacitus translate as "This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone
" and "they make a desert, and call it peace". Interesting guy, Tacitus. He also said "Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset" ("Because they didn't know better, they called it 'civilization,' when it was part of their slavery"). I could do a dozen columns on that quote and how it perfectly describes the welfare state.


Talk to ya soon!

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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