The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
I almost agree wholeheartedly with Patrick Cockburn on this:
The four wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past 12 years have all involved overt or covert foreign intervention in deeply divided countries. In each case the involvement of the West exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war. In each country, all or part of the opposition have been hard-core jihadi fighters. Whatever the real issues at stake, the interventions have been presented as primarily humanitarian, in support of popular forces against dictators and police states. Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power and establishing stable states.
I agree with Tim Black on this:
Under Cameron’s gaze, the problems in Mali are simply collapsed into a grand narrative in which good people fight bad people, just as Blair, alongside President George W Bush, proceeded to view world affairs through the prism of the ‘war on terror’.
The narcissism of this essentially Blairite approach to foreign policy is as incredible as it is reckless. In each case, they really do think this conflict is about them. Arbitrarily chosen, far-flung trouble spots act as ad hoc stages on which a Western leader can show the people back at home just what a good person he is. For Cameron, it was Libya and now neighbouring African states. For Blair, it was the Former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq.
It was a grisly irony, then, that while Blair spoke of the necessity of intervention in north Africa, of trying to do the right thing, the stage of his most infamous display of doing the right thing – Iraq – appeared once more on the fringes of the world’s news bulletins: a suicide bomber, aided by several others, had attacked a police headquarters in the northern city of Kirkuk. At least 36 people were killed and 105 were injured.
At some point, there has to be the recognition that as Camus would say détruire n'est pas créer and that destroying monsters ( which is more often than not about seeking them desperately) isn't the same as fixing problems that are so complex that they require something more than the use of force.
That said power, faith and money have pierced Blair's eyes and ears, which explains why he isn't just irrelevant, but the epitome of what political success can do to the people who are more ambitious and self-righteous than anything else.
Sentence of the day from Daniel Drezner:
Unless and until the GOP acknowledges that Iraq was a tragedy and a mistake, it will be as enfeebled on foreign policy as the Democratic Party was on this issue for a generation after the Vietnam War went south.
That will happen when the next Republican president candidate was a minor on 9/11 and will thus have no problem dissociating it from the Iraq war.
I disagree strongly with the following assertion by Norman Geras:
Whatever you may think about it, similar to and/or different from the intervention in Iraq, the Libyan action is a vindication of sorts for Tony Blair and his doctrine of liberal intervention.
What!? Why by the same token isn't it a vindication of the crusades or simply of war in general? Geras's assertion is as true as saying as the financial collapse of 2008 is a vindication of Marxism.
It isn't all about the concept, the context does matter so do actions and their consequences. I'm sure that if people look hard enough they can find events to vindicate all the wrongs in history and those who made fanatically, in spite of evidence, the conscious decision to do the knowing full well that smart people like Geras will always find reasons in the future to clean their dirty hands. Juan Cole has a persuasive post, which explains why Libya 2010 isn't Iraq 2003.
Sugary excerpt from Lionel Barber's review of George W. Bush's memoirs Decision Points:
Like Tony Blair, painted in the book as a fervent supporter of the invasion of Iraq, Bush is a moralist. Like Blair, Bush insists all the major intelligence agencies thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the threat of WMD falling into terrorist hands was too great to bear. Like Blair, he cannot understand why more people still do not accept the moral argument for removing Saddam. “I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced human rights,” he writes.
I'm tempted to accept this excerpt with a quote from John Steinbeck: only fools do not learn fro experience. However, neither Blair no Bush are fools, they are just complaisant moralists who believe that God made them kings because it/s/he knew they could make the right decision based on faith, on what it/s/he wanted them to do. What is the difference between Bush, Blair, other political leaders who believe religiously that God is on their side and Ahmadinejad?
Purely as a piece of cinema, The Hurt Locker is probably the better film [better than the Green Zone], but politically it is nowhere, and indeed it suffers from the same syndrome as many Hollywood Vietnam pictures – they are all about Americans and how they feel, and the poor natives appear as mere ciphers.
(...) the problem with The Hurt Locker is that it poses as realism, that it pretends to portray what happens over there. But it doesn’t; like all realism, it’s a subjective fantasy clothed in the appearance of objectivity. But while The Hurt Locker performs the very same techno-philic detachment which enables a man in a humvee to run over a child, making the entire country into a bomb to be defused makes it seem as if the problem starts and originates there. They set the bombs, you see, and they are the ones who would put a child in harm’s way. And while the movie has the courage to admit that the war hasn’t gone well, this is akin to the brave honesty of admitting that the Titanic’s prospects look dim after hitting the iceberg.
America's regime of sanctions on Iran are ineffective but we're likely to see more of them.
What's the point of sanctions if it's known that they don't work? Well, it is to give the appearance of action, resilience, and of strength when as the sanctions against Iraq for example showed that they always lead to the inevitable: confrontation or acceptance of the feared outcome. The US is using sanctions to gain time in the hope that the situation will either change in Iran, i.e. another revolution, or on the world stage that would force, Russia to join the US and its allies to form a block to have Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. My opinion is that neither possibility is likely.
Before making Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola famously made a list of all the things that should go into a Vietnam war movie. If I were to make such a list for Iraq, it would include: Egyptian interpreters who don’t understand Iraqi Arabic and their American bosses who don’t have a clue they are making up both questions and answers, US soldiers who spend their entire tour in Iraq never leaving the base, and grizzled Mississippian truck drivers earning over $100,000 a year hauling the pork chops and ice cream from Kuwait that feed the troops. But the most important thing I would include is the casual killing of innocent Iraqi civilians, not from malice but from fear and misunderstanding.
Three scenes are absolutely wrong. In one, Sergeant James escapes his base and roams Baghdad by himself, lost and confused, looking for an Iraqi he suspects of killing a boy. No, Americans never leave the base by themselves. In the second, the soldiers wander around their base, drunk out of their minds. One of the exceptional features of the Iraq war is it is probably the first war ever fought without alcohol or drugs. And, in the last and worst, our boys have their guns aimed at an Iraqi they suspect to be a car bomber. Despite his repeatedly not obeying their orders to back up, they don’t shoot him, even though they themselves might die.
I repeat, I have massive admiration for the American soldiers in Iraq. In my experience they are brave without being brutal. It is an honorable military: the most honorable and the least vicious I have hung out with. But its primary ethos is one of limiting US casualties. In the film, Sergeant James is a cowboy, eager to risk his life, yet ever careful of not risking the lives of Iraqi civilians. In my experience this is the wrong way around. The cowboys in the US military are never reckless with their own or their comrades’ lives, but careless with those of the Iraqis.
The problem with Streithorst's arguments is that he makes two key and false assumptions. The first is that the most important quality of a movie whether it is about war or anything else is its accuracy, the fact that it portrays what it is meant to portray as it is. One has only to pick a few random movies of the last decade which were deemed to be serious and wonderful to watch to realize that in Hollywood and elsewhere the most important quality is the entertainment value. The second assumption, which renders Streithorst's arguments moot is that he thinks that the Academy, the people voting for the Oscars care about reality, about accuracy and that they are not motivated by other factors, which they consider to be more essential such as politics, commercialism and glamour. The point is that I doubt seriously that the people who voted about the Hurt Locker cared or will care about its inaccuracies and would be shocked to know that reality in Iraq is very different for all that mattered was that the movie felt real to them.
Yep, feelings trump reality!
The last image of “The Hurt Locker” expresses a theme I’ve often tried to articulate. In the film, the main character cannot completely return to America, to the norm of a life back home. In a sense, he’s in Iraq whether he’s physically in a supermarket in the States, or in a bomb suit walking into the hurt locker.
That image rings true to me, but I’d take it a step further: I’d say that we, as a nation, now contain this explosive ordnance within us. Within our national psyche. We have generations of combat veterans and military family members woven throughout the fabric of our entire culture. Some of us have to walk down those dusty streets. We have to approach that which might tear us apart. We have to try to defuse what is explosive within.
What is wrong with Karen Armstrong? When she writes about her experience at a conference in Cairo, I have to wonder in what she lives:
(...)if the professors felt so enraged, what on earth could it be like on the streets of Cairo, where this level of frustration, aggravated by economic and political discontent, could make many people easy targets for extremist propaganda?
But the mood of our conference changed. During the last session an American theologian managed, with some difficulty, to take the floor and spoke on behalf of us all. We had, he said, been deeply impressed by the pain in the room; we knew that "the eight horrible years of George W Bush" had inflicted grave damage on the region, and would do everything in our power to work with Al-Azhar for a better future. Immediately, one of the most vitriolic of our assailants responded with generosity and the conference was finally able to issue a firm and positive joint resolution.
So far, Obama has not given the concrete sign that we felt was essential. But the Chilcot inquiry has also raised hopes. If there is any hint of whitewash or cover-up, the consequent disillusion will only exacerbate an already inflamed situation. In Cairo, we discovered that a frank acknowledgment of culpability could turn things around. In our dangerously polarised world, we may not get such an opportunity again.
Wow....I think that for one Karen Armstrong is way to religious to understand the
Camusian difference between culpability and responsibility, and she fails to get the fact the problem here isn't for the west to acknowledge some type of culpability to turn things around in the streets of Cairo or Islamabad, but rather to live by its own ideals while stopping to treat the poor as victims and as incapable of taking control of their own destiny. Karen Armstrong has a Mother Theresa like view of international affairs for she believes in guilt, in atonement and in all the disturbing sentiments, which always to Imperialism, paternalism, and just wars, which are later found to be unwinnable. The point here is that the "West" which doesn't exist except in the mind of those who love to divide the world into archaic categories doesn't have to bear a cross for the fact that shit happens and that more often that not, it strays away from the least unjust path because it is too complex and because it believes that national interests justify the use of any means. Thus, the question here is solely one of responsibility and of the continuation of Hobbes's state of nature in spite of progress and modernity. To put things simply: should we just accept that we are all barbarians and be done with ethics and accept that might makes right.
The goal of the Chilcot inquiring shouldn't be the same as those Witch trials in Salem that is to burn the guilty to appease angry mobs. The aim should be to make those who had power to assume responsibility of their mistakes in judgment and more importantly to force the electorate to realize that democracies only function when they realize that they shouldn't be waiting for "the one" but rather should force the imperfect leaders that they have to live by the principles that make their country what it is.
There are three irritating things about this strictly legalistic opposition to the attack on Iraq. First, it is delusional. It is based on the massive self-deception that international law and its brave defenders and practitioners – lawyers – kept the world in tip-top shape until that cowboy George W Bush and his heel-snapping poodle Tony Blair came along and ruined everything.
(...) The second irritating thing about the legalistic opposition to the war in Iraq is that it is deeply dishonest, duplicitous even. Many of those who moan about the illegality of Iraq were fervent supporters of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Yet that futile and fatal intervention also did not win the support of the UN Security Council, and thus was ‘illegal’. A Guardian writer penned the 10 Days to War drama, and the Guardian has been singing the praises of Wilmshurst’s performance at Chilcot over the past week. This is the same Guardian which in 1999 slated those who said Bill Clinton and Tony Blair should wait for UN backing before bombing Yugoslavia. The UN is not ‘the only legitimate law-giver’, the Guardian insisted. Indeed, the UN constitution is a ‘recipe for inaction’, and ‘its imprimatur cannot be the sole trigger for international action to right an obvious wrong’.
The third and most irritating thing is that the legalistic-not-political critique of war (well, of certain wars) is inhumane. Judgements about military interventions are made, not from the basis of what is good for humanity, or from any analysis of what terrible consequences the war might have for those on the receiving end and for international peace more broadly, but rather from the lawyerly approach of making sure that all the boxes are ticked and all the right procedures were followed. Legal niceties are elevated over people’s lives, over questions of democracy, sovereignty, stability, equality.
I agree with O'Neill on his main point that the law isn't the main tool to define just or rather unjust wars, that other factors have to be taken into considerations, and those who fail to at least, accept that the complexity of the concept of "just war" are ideologues and hypocrites. I think that even if the Iraq war could have been justified (my feeling is that it couldn't have been, but I'm willing to consider the possibility that I'm wrong) under the international law principles established by Wilmshurst and others, it would have still been an unjust and I'm making this statement, of course, with the help of hindsight. The main reason is that it was both unwinnable, unnecessary, and too expensive since its most touted accomplishment is the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. International Law is a tool among many other indispensable to determine the justifiability of a war. If the French without the backing of the UN had intervened and had stopped the genocide, what would be the argument of legal scholars today who wouldn't have a crystal ball to know that that unlawful intervention had stopped the dead of hundred of thousands innocent people. The point is that even as a lawyer, I'm forced to accept the despairing realities that laws are minimal, but essential tools to address grave societal problems and that more often than not it doesn't provide an acceptable solution to issues, which politicians and the people should have the guts to confront directly.
We have been told by Sir John Chilcot himself that the Chilcot inquiry is not a trial, and that nobody will be either acquitted or found guilty; we all know that is not true. A public judgment is being made as each section of evidence is given. In particular a quiet judgment has been made of Tony Blair’s conduct. It may never lead to his being tried in any court, but there is nevertheless a public verdict of his responsibility for the British action in Iraq.
It was Mr Blair who was responsible; his evidence shows it. He was the Prime Minister who had won two landslide elections. He could cajole, coax, threaten, anger and flatter to get his own way, a war leader who was the nearest thing to a parliamentary dictator since the wartime Winston Churchill.
These assertions raise the essential point of accountability in a democracy. The electorate by electing/choosing its leaders should bear a lot of the blame for their mistake in judgment. It is too easy not to say what was not heard them or what didn't convince enough politics and media analysts to force a change of actions. The argument isn't that illegalities are justifiable in a democracy because political leaders get elected, but to make the point emphatically that when an act falls in that dangerous and frustrating gray zone, the people must turn the guillotine away from the elected and question their own judgment and the way their elective process and system of government work in those situation. I have the strong suspicion that in both Britain and America, the problem was that there stopped to be any counter powers when it was pompously declared that we were in the age of terror. At that moment, fear ruled and the populace and the elites who wanted to be protected at all costs stopped caring about the morality of the means to achieve what was considered to be the most just of end: their survival.
Thus although it must feel good to hit on Blair, it is more instructive to realize and accept that there is a Blair inside of most of us, that is someone who becomes blinded by the necessity to fight just wars everywhere when they are potential dangers to avoid domestic catastrophes.
I just can neither bring myself to quote nor to comment this story because it is so crazy and so unfortunately so American that it scares the you know what out of me.
Another proof via Eliot Weinberger on the London Review of Book Blog that Bush and Chirac couldn't get along because the first was persuaded that he was elected to do God's work who had so little faith in him that s/he/it needed to lead him every step of the way:
In 2003, George W. Bush called Jacques Chirac to persuade him to join the Coalition of the Willing in the jihad against Saddam Hussein. Appealing to their ‘common faith’, Bush said:
Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East… The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled… This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.
A little hazy on his Book of Revelation, Chirac sought enlightenment from Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne. Romer told the story in the university’s journal, Allez Savoir, and Chirac himself later confirmed the conversation in an interview with the journalist Jean-Claude Maurice.
When you see Christopher Hitchens become dull and conventional, you know that something is out of whack. Is it just me or are those two, Hitchens and Alterman stuck in 2002? I think that the trouble with liberalism is that it is a lot like love in the sense that few liberals dare to question it because it is both intoxicating and addictive. Baudelaire was lamenting in two centuries ago that he was bored in France because everybody resembled Voltaire, I am bored right now because everybody resemble these two thoughtful people who are stuck, passez moi l'expression, in their own shit, which wouldn't be too be bad if they still had an imagination.
Remember the Wehrmacht? It was a formidable fighting force. The modern German army, the Bundeswehr, is also very effective. Thing is, it is reluctant to fight or even place itself in danger.
[…] Some of this counterinsurgency toll is the work of U.S. and other special forces in the separate American-run Operation Enduring Freedom — the more secret of the Afghan campaigns. Still, NATO is at war here.
That, however, is a fact Europeans are reluctant to accept, just as the link between slaughter in Madrid, London or Amsterdam and the Afghan-Pakistani terror nexus seems unconvincing to many Europeans floating on an Iraq-comforted wave of moral smugness.
[…] One German retort I’ve heard is that it’s no good having the United States demand that its allies fight and die in southern Afghanistan when Washington refuses debate over the role of its pampered friend, Pakistan, in the violence.
That’s a fair point. Still, it’s time to bring on the Bundesmacht and past time for continental Europe to overcome its pacifist mirage and accept that these are dangerous times demanding serious defense budgets and sacrifice.
Well, what else is there to say after reading that? The problem with Cohen is again that one gets the impression that history is destiny and that there is fundamentally wrong with Europe because it has been so many times on the wrong sides of history. I think that it is shameful always to come back to World War II when one needs to slam the Germans and the Europeans for what is perceived to be at best pacifism and at worst cowardice. I believe that it is impossible to dissociate Afghanistan from Iraq and then not to focus on the central issue, which is one of American leadership. Europeans didn’t become Europeans yesterday, and yet the world didn’t come explode and the west managed more or less well to stay united. To me, the issue is therefore not what not the Europeans are not doing in Afghanistan, but why the Americans are unable to use Nato effectively in that region of the world and to lead. Maybe the proper answer to the Afghanistan situation is that in spite of Merkel and of the Sarkozy’s revolution, Europeans don’t trust the American’s leadership because there is a competence crisis. My guess is that for all the glamorous images of the reconciliation between American and Old Europe, things will remain at a stalemate until the next US administration.
Joschkar Fischer gave an interview to Spiegel in which he talks about his time as Germany Foreign Minister under Schröder. Fischer revisits the reason why Germany chose not to support the Iraq War. He makes convincingly the point that the decision had nothing to do with anti-Americanism, but more to do with a concern that America was taking on more than it could chew. Sugary excerpt:
It wasn't a quarrel. The chancellor sent me to Washington on Sept. 18, 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. I met with several people there, including President George W. Bush and (then Deputy Secretary of Defense) Paul Wolfowitz. There was talk of 60 countries that were supposedly supporting and funding terrorism. After that I became deeply concerned that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were next in line. I thought it was a big mistake from the very beginning. A horrible government was in power in Baghdad, but I was convinced that this should not be at the center of the response to this crisis.
[...] Schröder said that no matter what the United Nations Security Council decided, we would not be part of it. This sidelined the German position of abiding by the Security Council's decisions. And it put us in a tight spot. As fate would have it, we became a member of the Security Council on Jan. 1, 2003. There was also the risk that we would end up having to oppose all of our Western partners. If Russia and France had agreed to the war, we would have joined Syria as the only naysayers. […] We were truly in a bind. I made it clear that if we were isolated I would not be a part of it, and that I would resign. But for Schröder it was clear that he had given the German public his word during the campaign, and that he couldn't back down now. It would have forced him to resign.
[…] In my view, we couldn't have let ourselves be isolated in the end. There would have been some damage on the domestic political front, but we would have come to an agreement. The truth is that it became much easier for us once Paris and Moscow had taken a clear stance, the right stance. While we're on the subject, allow me to set something straight. It was repeatedly claimed that there was an anti-American axis. That's nonsense. We and the French were deeply concerned that the United States was biting off more than it could chew in Iraq, and that it was taking a fatally wrong step. We told ourselves that we could not afford a weakened United States. The concern was that the United States would ultimately leave behind a vacuum that neither the Europeans nor anyone else could fill. That's precisely the situation we are in today.
David Chandler apparently has something against France and Bernard Kouchner. In his most recent article, he argues that France has become more gun-ho than the United States. However that in this case, Kouchner’s and France’s readiness to whack Iran is nothing more than bravado for they know full well that they won’t be the ones doing the whacking. Sugary excerpt:
In fact, the foreign policy pronouncements of the new French government of Kouchner and Sarkozy have striking parallels to that of Blair and his foreign minister Robin Cook’s incoming Labour government in 1997. Kouchner, like Blair before him, is able to make grand statements of foreign policy mission in the knowledge that responsibility will have to be taken by someone else – the United States.
For Kouchner and the new French Sarkozy government, it appears that US problems in Iraq and divisions over Iran are an opportunity to stake a claim of French leadership. Like Blair’s approach to the Kosovo crisis in 1999, this activist foreign policy depends on the fact that the US has already talked up the threat and is the only country with the capacity to carry out the threats that are made by others.
[…] Kouchner’s confidence in taking a warlike stance over Iran stems from irresponsibility rather than responsibility. Free from any final decision-making - or any substantial military role if there is a conflict - Kouchner’s warmongering rhetoric can only increase the tensions in the region, further destabilising the relationship between the US and Tehran. Rather than a moral or ethical stand, Kouchner’s position seems both craven and parasitical, both exploiting the US position and willing to risk thousands more lives in a region already torn apart by Western grandstanding.
Chandler is partly right to argue that France believes that they can take advantage of the Iraq war to become a bigger force on the international scene. However, something deeper is going on here that has everything to do with the ways mighty powers use force for the argument that Kouchner made by talking about using force wasn’t a Idealist argument, but a Realist one. He implied that there might not be any other way to solve the Iranian crisis than war and this fact makes diplomacy unnecessary for any compromise would be unacceptable. Charles Bremner tries to explain to France’s new tough approach and has an interesting answer:
Unlike President Chirac, with his sanguine view of a multipolar world, Mr Sarkozy believes that the biggest international danger at the moment is the threat of a confrontation between Islam and the West. In his first big foreign policy speech he said: "We would be wrong to underestimate the possibility of this happening: the affair of the (Danish) cartoons of the Prophet was a warning sign of this."
If Bremner is right, then the rest of Sarkozy’s term will be anything, but annoying for he seems to believe into tough talk, but the question is whether he is ever going to be willing to do something that looks bad on camera and that makes him unpopular such as taking the initiative in the name of his vision of the world to take action alone or rather alone with the United States.
Bernard Kouchner has an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune in which he explains why he went to Iraq and what France wants to do in Iraq. He writes that France wants to be a mediator and to help the Americans succeed in Iraq not only because America is France’s ally, but also because it is in the interest of France to do so. Sugary excerpt:
What can France do to help this ravaged country recover hope? First, it can be modest. No one imagines that we have a magic formula. But as one Iraqi official said when I asked him what France could do, "It can offer a fresh look." Another official added, "Restore our self-respect."
Everyone knows that France did not support the coalition's intervention in 2003. Although the invasion ended a brutal dictatorship, the methods used to build a secure and democratic Iraq have failed. It is time to start anew. There can be no lasting military solution to this crisis. The solution has to be political. The Iraqis themselves, including those most hostile to the American presence, may not want the foreign troops to leave immediately, but a withdrawal must nevertheless be planned, in consultation with the Iraqi authorities. At the same time, a broad-based government of national unity must be established. France is prepared to act as mediator in this endeavor.
Yes, France can help to provide a fresh look. It can do so because it did not take part in the 2003 intervention and because it is bound to Iraq by longstanding ties of friendship and because it has a broad spectrum of contacts with all of the country's communities. And it can do so because we are the allies - sometimes troublesome, as true friends are - of the Americans.
I wonder if France can really help the US in Iraq by simply serving as a mediator and whether mediation can be effective in this case given the fact it would probably view suspiciously since it is instigated by another Western country. I like and respect Kouchner very much, but I think that his time as foreign minister will at least tell us whether idealist rebels can make good foreign ministers especially in times when inaction may be less dangerous than action, but still objectionable. On the subject of Kouchner, he had to apologize to Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, for calling for his ouster in an interview in Newsweek.
I’ve read several articles on Bernard Kouchner’s visit to Iraq and too many of them show a worrying trend, which is a stubborn and illogic insistence that France or rather Chirac’s France doomed the Iraq war. The argument is that because France was opposed to the second Iraq war is divided the West, which crippled the war effort. I know that it is hard to follow but the point that many article are making is that Sarkozy is rectifying Chirac’s mistake, which was not only to refuse to participate in the war, but to weaken the western alliance for anti-American reasons when France’s participation would have made Iraq a success story. In the New York Post for example, Amir Taheri writes the following:
ONE key promise that Nicolas Sarkozy had made during his presidential election campaign last spring was to "correct foreign-policy mistakes" made by his predecessor Jacques Chirac.
Chief among these was Chirac's desperate efforts to prevent Iraq's liberation from Saddam Hussein's regime of terror. Chirac failed to save his friend's regime but managed to sour relations with the United States, Great Britain and more than 40 other democracies that joined the Coalition of the Willing to liberate Iraq in 2003.
Sarkozy's moves to correct the mistake started before his election, when he met President Bush at the White House in 2006 and described Chirac's policy as "arrogant."
The surprise visit paid to Iraq by France's new foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, this week is another move by Sarkozy to shed Chirac's legacy. No better man than Kouchner could have been chosen to signal France's change of policy. For Kouchner is one of a handful of people in the West who recognized the murderous nature of Saddam's regime and called for its overthrow as early as the 1980s.
In the Times of London, Bronwen Maddox continues the same line of argument by stating that,
Kouchner’s arrival follows the corncobs-and-hamburger informal summit between George Bush and Sarkozy. It shows that Sarkozy intends to put clear distance between himself and his predecessor Jacques Chirac, even on the most sensitive subject of Iraq, where Chirac had broadcast to the world his satisfaction at having foreseen the US’s predicament.
[…] What is there for France in involving itself in Iraq? A lot, given that it has no need to take responsibility for the outcome. It stands to gain the step forward on the world stage which Chirac had been seeking by opposing the Iraq invasion, wanting to set up France as an alternative pole to that of the American superpower. At that time Kouchner was a rare French voice in at least tolerating the invasion, calling his fellow officials “America-phobic”.
Chirac succeeded in shrinking support for the invasion to a devastatingly slender column, but the strategy then backfired.
The instinctive deep support for the US from Central and Eastern European countries, and at the start for the invasion itself from Italy and Spain, isolated him in his antiAmericanism, with his lone companion Gerhard Schröder, then German Chancellor. Both have been replaced by pro-US leaders.
Grandstanding aside, what can France contribute? It is helpful to have a country other than the US, Britain, or Iraq’s immediate neighbours, try to seek out common interests among Iraqis. US attempts to broker a deal are inextricably bound up with its urgent desire to reduce troops; the pressure on Bush – and his successor – is visible to the world.
I’m not buying it. I think that a lot can be said about Chirac and France’s refusal to participate in the Iraq war. It is possible to say that the French suspicion toward American power played a role in Chirac’s decision to say no to war. However, to focus merely on that is to offer a partial account of history for it is to say that France was solely responsible for the Iraqi crisis, which led to the war in 2003 and that Chirac had no other motives, but to want to hurt the American effort in Iraq. The point is that Chirac even if he may have right for the wrong reasons was right and that Sarkozy and even Kouchner never dared to say that they were in favor of the war in Iraq because they couldn’t defend it by simply arguing that the opposition was America-phobic. I agree that Sarkozy is signaling that he isn’t Chirac and that he indeed believes that he sees the world as divided between the West and the rest meaning that he would rather be wrong, but on the side of Bush than right, but on the side of the side of the rest of the world. That fragmentation of the world worries me. It is a reaffirmation of the so-called clash of civilizations, which implies that the West and the rest of world are so different that it is always preferable to be on the side of those who shares your values and your “blood” than to be on the side of those who don’t share those values and have a different culture. In other words, allegiance is absolute no matter the issue and no matter right and wrong. I don’t agree. The world isn’t divided between the West and the rest. Moreover, America is larger than the West because it is the symbol of the extraordinariness of human potential. I believe that the world needs America not just to stand there and to survive, but to be itself: to be good and to continue to be idealistic and to believe in difficult and sublime dreams. America isn’t just a country. It is a grand and sublime idea, which is that anything, even the impossible can happen with hard work and good deeds. It is for that reason that I thought that Chirac and Villepin went too far in expressing their rightful opposition to the war, they forgot that America was larger than the Bush administration and its childish rhetoric on French surrender and old Europe.
Bernard Kouchner, France’s Foreign Minister made a “surprise’ visit to Iraq yesterday. Although the visit doesn’t astonished me given the recent intimate meeting between Bush and Sarko, I still wonder what must the French diplomatic officials who were there during the 2003 Iraq crisis must be thinking. Charles Bremner, the Times of London’s Paris correspondent wrote the following about Kouchner’s visit:
Under Mr Chirac, Paris refused Iraqi requests to train the security forces and invest in reconstruction and it sought a firm timetable for the US retreat.
France, which once had close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime, has been criticised by the Iraqi Government for giving priority to its relations with Sunni leaders. [Emphasis added] Paris now wants to balance this with closer links with the Shia Muslim and Kurdish leaders who control the government, according to Dr Kouchner's aides.
Dr Kouchner has long had a friendship with President Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish President of Iraq and has also established a relationship with Adel Abdel Mahdi, the Shia Vice-President.
France is also keen to restore its influence in a region in which it has long been one of the main diplomatic powers. The opening to Iraq is matched by a new dialogue with the Hezbollah opposition in Lebanon.
Bremner seems to imply that Chirac said no to the Iraq war because he was close to Saddam Hussein and that to me is a rewriting of history. Anyway, I think for me the more important question is what will Kouchner and more importantly Sarko will do next. I wonder if they will go beyond symbolism to express their support for the failing Iraq enterprise. The most striking thing about the new French diplomacy is that it is implicitly erasing whatever marks Chirac and Villepin (who was the Foreign Minister at the time) made by making what many consider to be their only real accomplishment, that is their opposition to the Iraq war, something passé and that no longer matters. It is funny how rapidly a page can be turned in international relations.
James Meek has a review of Jeremy Scahill’s The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. The book is about the increasing use of private armies by some governments including in messy conflicts about its implications by focusing on a firm, Blackwater, which provided the US with some private soldiers in Iraq. Meek argues that Scahill’s book is incomplete because it fails to address important questions:
Even within the confines of Scahill’s theme, there are frustrating omissions. He writes about how much higher the daily pay of Blackwater guards in Iraq is than the pay of regular US troops, and the staggering sums Blackwater as a company is paid by the US government. But he fails to analyse the more difficult and more important issue about the money: is the government getting extra soldiers on the cheap, or not? The cost of a long-service professional soldier is reckoned not only in his daily pay but in how much it costs to train him, the cost of lifetime medical care (whether he is injured or not), and the cost of his pension if, as many do, he retires in his forties. Blackwater and other mercenary firms don’t pay to train their recruits: they hire ex-military men, and if there’s extra training, the recruits pay for it themselves; nor do they offer the same health and pension benefits as the military.
The most unfortunate thing about Scahill’s book is the way that, in serving its narrow subject, it manages to make the careless, callous US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq sound like a vicious plan that partly succeeded, rather than a monument to political incompetence such as the world has rarely seen.
Julian Baggini has a great post on Blair and his justification for the war in Iraq. It is worth reading because as always Baggini looks at this issue from a different perspective:
So, Blair’s point is that if we allow the brutality of the resistance of baddies a reason not to confront them, we actually end up treating people better the worse they are. And that’s kind of crazy.
Except that, of course, you can’t just ignore that factor either. You don’t try to take on a nuclear armed North Korea, because it would be catastrophic if Kim Jong-Il retaliated. So, actually, in a strange way again, sometimes, if someone gets too bad and powerful, you do have to back off.
Francis Fukuyama writes in Haaretz about the history of his famous book, “The End of History and the Last Man.” He tries to untied the bond that many have made between his argument for there is no alternative for a modern society than free markets and a democratic political system and the Bush foreign policy, which has emphasize the need to spread democratic to the world especially to the Middle East. He writes that he never argued that there was a universal desire to live in a liberal society and that he never argued that every country would end up having an American model of social or political organization. He also asserts that America should use his military to spread democracy. Sugary excerpt:
To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so. This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care and education they lack at home.
But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society - that is, a political order characterized by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law. The desire to live in a liberal democracy is indeed something acquired over time, often as a byproduct of successful modernization.
Moreover, the desire to live in a modern liberal democracy does not necessarily translate into an ability to actually do so. The Bush administration seems to have assumed in its approach to post-Saddam Iraq that both democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which societies would revert once oppressive tyranny was removed, rather than a series of complex, interdependent institutions that had to be painstakingly built over time.
The problem that I have with Fukuyama is that I have the impression, which could be wrong, that he waited until the Bush Foreign policy became a disaster to take his distance with the neocons and with their ideology. I have the feeling that had Iraq been a success, Fukuyama would be taking credit for the ideas that led to it by arguing that his book was the catalyst behind them.
Brendan O’Neil argues that the current hostage crisis in Britain just shows how impotent the war in Iraq has made Britain since all that the British can do is to watch their 14 captured seamen paraded on Iranian television and to be outraged at the evilness of Iran:
The Iranian captive crisis has provided some striking snapshots of Britain’s standing: its isolation post-Iraq; the emptiness of its foreign policy; a view of the military as victimised, vulnerable. The affair shows Britain is the loudmouth of international affairs - it talks big, but it lacks the strength or coherence to back the talk up.
What I wonder is whether Blair’s weakness isn’t having a negative impact on the situation in the sense that the Iranians knows that he doesn’t have the support of his people and that he is his way out and cannot therefore afford to make the mistake of confronting him. One of the biggest drawbacks of having an impotent leader at the top of an important such as Britain is precisely that they can’t deal with any crisis or with any international issue precisely because their interlocutors have no faith in their ability to keep their word and to act.
Joseph Nye imagines in the essay American Foreign policy after Iraq and argues that it will neither go back to a narrow realism and remain within the new unilateralism, which based on the erroneous assumption that “the unipolar distribution of power in the military context was sufficient to guide foreign policy." The most important point of Nye's essay is the following, which he makes at the conclusion of his article:
The paradox of American power is that the world’s only military superpower cannot protect its citizens by acting alone.
Should we start writing an ode to the glory of the multipolar world?
Paul Slovic attempts to explain why people ignore mass killings. He argues that it is harder to react and to act when killing happens on such a large scale as it does with mass killings. Sugary excerpt:
The answer may lie in human psychology. Specifically, it is our inability to comprehend numbers and relate them to mass human tragedy that stifles our ability to act. It’s not that we are insensitive to the suffering of our fellow human beings. In fact, the opposite is true. Just look at the extraordinary efforts people expend to rescue someone in distress, such as an injured mountain climber. It’s not that we only care about victims we identify with—those of similar skin color, or those who live near us: Witness the outpouring of aid to victims of the December 2004 tsunami. Yet, despite many brief episodes of generosity and compassion, the catalogue of genocide—the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur—continues to grow. The repeated failure to respond to such atrocities raises the question of whether there is a fundamental deficiency in our humanity: a deficiency that—once identified—could be overcome. […]When writer Annie Dillard was struggling to comprehend the mass human tragedies that the world ignores, she asked, “At what number do other individuals blur for me?” In other words, when does “compassion fatigue” set in? Our research suggests that the “blurring” of individuals may begin as early as the number two.
Slovic is right, I wonder if scale is a more important factor in the setting in of compassion fatigue than distance that is whether one feels that the mass killing can endanger one’s own life. In other words, I wonder whether the silence or rather the manufactured and inactive outrage expressed by most about what is happening in Darfur can be explainable not only in the fact that hundred of thousands are dying by also that they are dying in Sudan, a country that is located away from most of them and that is at the center of a continent used to poverty and to mass killings. The Iraq war is still defendable not because there aren’t Mass killings, but because there exist American interests. Defenders of the Surge and of action even though it is unclear whether it will stop the killing can argue for the mass killing in Iraq should be stopped by the use of American troops, because the war in Iraq is in some way about America’s safety and the mass killings may happen in American streets.
Mahmood Mamdani argues in a provocative that there are many similarities between Darfur and Iraq and the only difference is that one conflict is named Genocide and the other a Civil War. Mamdani's argument is that the naming of these deadly conflicts has to do with politics because genocide is a" label to be stuck on your worst enemy, a perverse version of the Nobel Prize, part of a rhetorical arsenal that helps you vilify your adversaries while ensuring impunity for your allies." In other words, the US and others are less risk averse when it comes to Iraq and are willing to intervene because the perception is that the civil war can be stopped while they are most risk averse when it comes to Darfur because a genocide is harder to stop and to police. In other words,:
What would happen if we thought of Darfur as we do of Iraq, as a place with a history and politics – a messy politics of insurgency and counter-insurgency? Why should an intervention in Darfur not turn out to be a trigger that escalates rather than reduces the level of violence as intervention in Iraq has done? Why might it not create the actual possibility of genocide, not just rhetorically but in reality? Morally, there is no doubt about the horrific nature of the violence against civilians in Darfur. The ambiguity lies in the politics of the violence, whose sources include both a state-connected counter-insurgency and an organised insurgency, very much like the violence in Iraq.
The New York Times has this excellent article on Hillary and apologies, which show that she can apologize, but she is also caught up in the fact that she has to be tough, which is a point that I have made several times. The two best quotes from the article come from Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown:
Gustav Seibt argues that the many intellectuals who supported the Iraq war were not only arrogant, but also didn't care about Iraq. He writes that those "intellectuals hawks" were focused on the wrong issues such as pacifism, anti-Americanism, and appeasement instead of addressing the overriding issue of what the war meant and what it was going to be its consequences. Sugary excerpt:
Most of those behind the war – the exception being Herfried Münkler – didn't even concern themselves with Iraq, international law, the chances and risks of a war in the Middle Eastern context. The vast majority of arguments for the war were drawn from European experience of the last two or three generations. Thus, one wrote about the overriding issues such as pacifism and anti-Americanism, appeasement and anti-Semitism, rather than addressing the thing itself.
First and foremost was an attempt to draw broad historical analogies. The fall of Saddam, a desirable enough goal, was compared directly with the fight against Hitler, the democratisation of Iraq with the democratisation of West Germany and Japan after the Second World War and the chance for democratic change throughout the entire Middle East was compared with the end of the East bloc and the quick establishment of civilian democracies afterwards. But virtually nobody had anything to say about the actual domestic situation in Iraq today.
One of my favorite French philosophers André Glucksmann was for the war in Iraq because it believed that the world could no longer accept the taking of hostage of a whole population by a dictator such as Saddam Hussein. Glucksmann based its support on the idea that le droit d’ingérence that is the right that the world has to intervene even with force to stop an injustice. Glucksmann still supports that idea because he believes that the status quo in too many parts of the world, particularly in Chechnya, is unacceptable and the Iraq war was right because it got rid of Saddam and gave Iraqis a chance to seize control of their future. For many intellectuals such as Glucksmann, stability, and peaces based on injustice cannot work in a world, which has know 9/11. It is because Glucksmann believes in action that he has declared his support to Nicolas Sarkozy because he believes that the left doesn’t understand the world has evolved and changed and that sometimes it is necessary to strike without overanalyzing or accepting to compromise with dictators such as Putin while people die because they were sold out in the name of peace and stability.
Gerald Baker wonders whom his critics will blame for the sorry of the world when Bush is gone. Baker writes that Bush bashing is just a convenient way for Europeans and Americans politicians to escape the fact that he isn't responsible for everything, to take on some ownership of the current reality by coming up with real ideas to deal with the mess in Iraq, Iran and in Afghanistan. Sugary excerpt:
When one group of Muslims explodes bombs underneath the school buses of another group of Muslims in Baghdad or cuts the heads off humanitarian workers in Anbar, blame George Bush. When Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, denounces an imbalanced world and growls about the unpleasantness of democracy in eastern Europe, blame George Bush. When the Earth’s atmosphere gets a little more clogged with the output of power plants in China, India and elsewhere, blame George Bush.
Some day soon, though, this escapism will run into the dead end of reality. In fact, the most compelling case for the American people to elect a Democrat as president next year is that, in the US, leadership in a time of war requires the inclusion of both political parties, and in the rest of the world, people will have to start thinking about what is really the cause of all our woes.
Now we are in a better position to understand the Muslim reaction to Abu Ghraib. Most Muslims did not view it as a torture story at all. Muslims were not outraged at the interrogation techniques used by the American military, which are quite mild by Arab standards. Moreover, many Muslims realized that the most of the torture scenes in the photographs—the hooded man with his arms outstretched, the prisoner with wires attached to his limbs—were staged. This was simulated torture, not real torture.
The main focus of Islamic disgust was what Muslims perceived as extreme sexual perversion. For many traditional Muslims, Abu Ghraib demonstrated the casualness with which married Americans have affairs, walk out on their spouses, and produce children without bothering to take responsibility for the care of their offspring. In the Muslim view, this perversion is characteristic of American society.
Moreover, many Muslims viewed the degradation of Abu Ghraib as a metaphor for how little Americans care for other people’s sacred values, and for the kind of humiliation that America seeks to impose on the Muslim world. Some Muslims argued that such degradation was worse than execution because death only strips a man of his life, not of his honor.
D’Souza likes to use the expression “sexual perversion” because to him that is what liberalism is all about and because it helps him to make the case that in fact liberalism are responsible for everything including Abu Ghraib because the torturers in Abu Ghraib were just imitating liberal behavior. I wonder what makes D’Souza an expert on liberalism and on Muslim society.
Peter Galbraith critiques the surge in Iraq and argues that it is a way for President Bush to avoid admitting defeat in Iraq by just punting away the ball to the next president:
President Bush's plan has no chance of actually working. At this late stage, 21,500 additional troops cannot make a difference. US troops are ill prepared to do the policing that is needed to secure Baghdad. They lack police training, knowledge of the city, and requisite Arabic skills. The Iraqi troops meant to assist the effort are primarily Kurdish peshmerga from two brigades nominally part of the Iraqi army. These troops will have the same problems as the Americans, including an inability to communicate in Arabic.
[...] At best, Bush's new strategy will be a costly postponement of the day of reckoning with failure. But it is also a reckless escalation of the military mission in Iraq that could leave US forces fighting a powerful new enemy with only marginally more troops than are now engaged in fighting the Sunni insurgency. The strategy also risks extending Iraq's civil war to the hitherto peaceful Kurdish regions, with no corresponding gain for security in the Arab parts of the country.
Marina Hyde compares Tony Blair unfavorably to Baghdad Bob and argues that he has lost touch with reality. Blair is going away and it seems to me that the harder people pound Blair when he is so close to the end, the more difficult it becomes to see the whole picture. Is it possible to argue that Blair's political career is going to be summarized in one word: Iraq? I don't think that it will be.
The Guardian has an excerpt of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book about the Iraq War, “ Imperial Life in the Emerald City.” It's a fascination reading. Sugary excerpt:
Unlike almost anywhere else in Baghdad, you could dine at the cafeteria in the Republican Palace in the heart of the Green Zone for six months and never eat hummus, flatbread, or a lamb kebab. The palace was the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the American occupation administration in Iraq, and the food was always American, often with a Southern flavour. A buffet featured grits, cornbread and a bottomless barrel of pork: sausage for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, pork chops for dinner. The cafeteria was all about meeting American needs for high-calorie, high-fat comfort food.
None of the succulent tomatoes or crisp cucumbers grown in Iraq made it into the salad bar. US government regulations dictated that everything, even the water in which hot dogs were boiled, be shipped in from approved suppliers in other nations. Milk and bread were trucked in from Kuwait, as were tinned peas and carrots. The breakfast cereal was flown in from the US.
Greg Sheridan argues in the Australian that John Howard's won its tit for that with Obama. He writes that by slamming the American presidential candidate, Howard was able to show to strengthen his security credentials at home and to make the point that Obama's position is wrong. Sugary excerpt:
The week began with an unusually vigorous attack by Howard on the position of the junior US senator from Illinois, Obama, that the US should withdraw its troops from Iraq. By saying that al-Qa’ida would be praying for an Obama win, Howard was in substance correct, but needlessly undiplomatic.
However, the consequences are not great. There will be five minutes of annoyance by congressional Democrats with Howard and then the whole thing will be forgotten.
In the very unlikely event that Obama becomes president and the equally unlikely event that Howard is still Prime Minister, some months later, say mid-2009, the two men will smile, grip, embrace and praise each other with all the customary enthusiasm. In the meantime, the Bush administration was very happy with Howard’s remarks.
Patrick Cockburn has a fascinating portrait of Muqtadar al-Sadr in the Independent. It's an essential reading to understand his rise to power and why he has become a threat to the United States. Long sugary excerpt:
Yet the source of his power has remained a mystery to the US and many Iraqi politicians. Few men have been so consistently underestimated. He is not a great orator, nor does he have huge charisma. His movement has limited resources. Until recently, his militiamen were unpaid and provided their own weapons. He does not have a powerful foreign backer. In spite of US efforts to link him to Iran and claim that he has fled there, he and his movement have traditionally been suspicious of the Iranians, and they of him.
The real source of his vast influence among the Shia of Iraq - the Sunni see him as orchestrating the death squads that have killed so many of them - is that he promulgates a blend of religion and nationalism that they find deeply attractive. He comes from the deeply revered Sadr clerical family that provided so many martyrs under Saddam Hussein. Some American commanders may wonder if it is wise for the US to pick a fight with a religious leader regarded with cult-like devotion by millions of Shias. They may also reflect that he is not just popular with the poor masses of Shia Iraq - his picture also hangs on the wall in many Iraqi police stations and army barracks. Some of these will be the very people on whom US and Iraqi commanders will rely in order to regain control of Baghdad.
It is impossible to explain Iraq today without understanding the reasons behind the astonishing rise of Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement in less than four years. Muqtada appears to have come from nowhere. In reality, he is heir to a social and political movement with a history that stretches back almost half a century. In addition, he could not have become so powerful so fast had he not come from a family that provided some of the most revered leaders of the Shiah clergy in their long and bitter struggle with Saddam Hussein.
The New York Post is finally able to identify what is Barack Obama's first blunder of his young presidential campaign. It has something to do with his response to the attack of Australian Prime Minister John Howard against his plan for Iraq
Conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton should renounce her vote for the Senate resolution to use force in Iraq in order to become the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2008. Conventional wisdom in this case is wrong. Hillary Clinton cannot and should not renounce her vote because doing so would not make her unelectable but rather unattractively calculating. It may be hard to the Democrats to hear this, but nuance is good for it is precisely the lack of nuance, which lead the United States in the position in which it is today in Iraq because it fails to see the nuance between militant and radical Islam and Saddam Hussein. So when I heard Hillary’s answer in New Hampshire to a question, which asked her to renounce her vote on the vote without nuance, I was relieved that she didn’t take a bait, which she cannot afford to take. It is important to remember that Hillary cannot win in Iraq and she will never be able to satisfy true believers on either side, which will regard either a late conversion on the absolute condemnation of the war or a conditional support for the US presence in Iraq as a betrayal and as a proof that she is too careful and too manipulative. However, the truth of the matter is that Hillary’s biggest challenge isn’t to convince true believers that she is with them on Iraq, but rather to convince Americans that she can be Commander in Chief and thus, defend the United States against its dangerous and ruthless enemies. She cannot start this long and strenuous process to become a woman capable of being Commander in Chief by apologizing for using force in Iraq. Hillary’s model in this case shouldn’t be Gandhi, but Golda Meir. Golda Meir was able to be the Prime Minister of the State of Israel in one of the most critical time of its history because she convinced Israelis that she was always going to err on the side of their safety and never flinched when the time came to strike. Of course, instinct and judgment are vital qualities for a Commander in Chief, and I happen to believe that nobody can argue that Hillary’s instinct and judgment are the same as the ones of President Bush. I believe that those who aren’t going to vote for Hillary because of her views on Iraq were always going to find reasons not to vote for her so she shouldn’t worry about them. She shouldn’t despise them, but she should be resolute and says what she believes and asks them to respect her opinion and to vote their conscience as she did when she voted yes on the war resolution.
[…] there are many analysts or propagandists who resort to the notion that this sectarianism is a "deep structure", reflecting a latent atavism that has long underlain the politics of the region. The implication is that the overt violence of 2006-07 involves the emergence to the surface of deep and ever-present, hatreds. (Similar arguments about "ancient ethnic hatreds" were heard repeatedly in the context of the wars in Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, and Northern Ireland).
However, another analysis is more persuasive. This sees the Sunni-Shi'a conflict as essentially a recent development, a product of the middle-east political crisis in recent decades and, in the case of Iraq, of the spiral of violence released by the United States invasion of 2003. In this perspective, the origins of the conflict - and more generally of the Arab-Persian conflict - lie not in ancient hostility and grievance, but in the modern history of the region; in particular, the ways in which the twin revolutions of Iraq (1958) and Iran (1979) set in motion rivalry and insecurity between states and peoples that exploded first in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, and again, inside Iraq, from 2003.
“The big disappointment to me, well, it’s not the only one, but of the Iraq expedition was I hoped, I still do, that getting rid of a totalitarian slum next door, mainly with a Shia population, would have a positive effect by producing democratic ferment on Iran. And by the way, I think in the long run, that’s not a totally futile law or a romantic belief.” Christopher Hitchens.
USA today has an editorial on what it argues is the US lack of understanding of Iraq before and after the war. It focuses on the testimony of Paul Bremer, the former head of Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in which he admitted some mistakes without admitting the most important one, which that he had no idea what he was doing.
“[…] democracy is not the best way to end civil war. What is needed now in Iraq is assurance of two things: first, the country's territorial integrity; and second, the basic establishment of the rule of law. Neither is easily achieved through democracy. Democracy tends to come after establishing the rule of law and after achieving territorial integrity. They have the cart before the horse in constantly holding elections.” Ian Shapiro.
Russ Feingold, the Junior Senator from Wisconsin, is arguing that Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq and I have to admit that I don’t find his arguments convincing for two reasons:
Francis Fukuyama makes the point in an article in the Guardian that the Neocons have learned nothing from the last few years. How could they since there was nothing wrong with their policies, but only with the way they were implemented and with the people who implemented them?
Tony Blankley has succeeded in his editorial in taking fearmongering to the next level by making the following point:
If we are going to throw in the towel, then we should bring the troops home promptly, lick our wounds and prepare for the inevitable Third Gulf War, which we will have to fight under far worse conditions than currently. Either option is at least honest (although the latter is dangerously foolish).
But the current mentality in Washington -- to pretend that there is a third way between victory and defeat -- is morally despicable. Washington politicians of both parties are trying to salve their consciences for the ignominy of accepting defeat by fooling either themselves or the public into believing they are doing otherwise.
The only question that I have is if the US is fighting in Iraq just not to lose or to avoid a Third Gulf War, hasn't it already lost?
PZ Myers defends Jane Fonda over at Pharyngula. He makes the following point, “Jane Fonda was exactly correct on the Vietnam War; we should not have been there, we shouldn't have thrown away tens of thousands of American lives in that futile, destructive effort.” I think that Jane Fonda knows that she doesn't have anything to gain by marching or speaking against the war and that she does it not only because she believes that the war is wrong, but also because she is an informed activist. It is easy to dismiss her as part of loony left, but even when one doesn't agree with her points of view or find them outrageous, they are well thought out and based on information not just ideology.