Blogs > HNN > The Fallacy of the Impossibility of Withdrawal

Jul 1, 2005 6:24 pm

The Fallacy of the Impossibility of Withdrawal

Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

As calls to set a timetable for withdrawing American troops grow with each new casualty, President Bush and other critics of such a move argue vigorously that announcing such a deadline would grant the insurgents a major political and strategic victory: the former by vindicating the violent, even terroristic methodology of the insurgency itself, the latter by allowing rebels to bide their time and overwhelm government troops once American forces have departed.

However convincing at face value, these arguments beg the question: Are the only options in Iraq maintaining an unpopular and costly occupation or handing the country over to "former members of Saddam Hussein's regime, criminal elements and foreign terrorists" (as President Bush describes them)?

The answer is manifestly no, and the fact so few people within the corridors of power can imagine an alternative policy reveals a powerful yet fallacious line of reasoning at the heart of arguments to "stay the course" in Iraq: that a US troop withdrawal would automatically leave a security vacuum in its place.

But such an outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion; the problem is that few Americans, especially politicians, are willing to consider the alternative: apologize to the Iraqi people for an invasion and occupation that (whatever our intentions) has gone terribly wrong; ask the UN to take over the management of the country's security, lead negotiations to end the insurgency, and oversee redevelopment aid; and leave as soon as a sufficient number of replacement forces are in place.

There are four reasons why such a development, however distasteful to the Bush Administration and many Americans, is the best hope for achieving the peace and democracy most everyone wants to bring to Iraq.

First, it is increasingly clear that the insurgency is unwinnable as long as the US remains in Iraq. Even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld now admits that it could take a dozen years to defeat it. Given such a forecast, he explains that "Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency. We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency."

Is this our gift to the Iraqi people, what 1,700 American soldiers have died for--a cancerous insurgency that will devour the energy, revenue and personnel of the Iraqi government for the foreseeable future? In most any other country, such an admission by one of the war's chief architects would lead to his resignation, or even indictment for what former senior CPA official Larry Diamond describes (in his new book Squandered Victory) as the "criminal negligence" of the US-led occupation.

The fact that US diplomats have had secret talks with insurgents confirms that the Bush Administration is worried that it cannot defeat the insurgency and is exploring the option of a "peace with honor" to extricate America from what even the President (jokingly, no doubt) calls the Iraqi "quagmire." Must we repeat rather than learn from the disastrous history of our withdrawal from Vietnam a generation ago?

Indeed, if the US is talking to insurgents others can too--particularly others who haven't been involved in the occupation of Iraq and all the disastrous consequences it has led to in so many areas of life in the country. While some elements of the insurgency (particularly the criminals, Baathists and foreign jihadis cited by the President) want to transform Iraq into some sort of neo-Taliban state, the clear majority of insurgent are ordinary Iraqis who see themselves as patriots defending their country and will lay down their arms once Coalition forces have left the country, as long as their leaders are involved in negotiating the temporary presence of peacekeeping forces necessary to maintain order.

Second, while Republicans have rightly criticized systematic corruption at the United Nations, the Oil for Food scandal pales in comparison with the level of corruption in post-invasion Iraq. Whether it's $9 billion in cash literally gone missing from CPA offices, repeated no-bid contracts to Halliburton and even the managers of the Abu Ghraib prison, or the smaller scale but ubiquitous corruption infecting every sector of the Iraqi economy under our tutelage, the US has proven itself incapable of managing the reconstruction and development of the country or supporting an environment in which Iraqis can do it themselves.

A new international regime, which separates the management of the country's security from its reconstruction and the immense profits (and potential for malfeasance) tied to both is the sine qua non for establishing a democratic future for the country. The UN system can't do it alone, but with a sufficient level of supervision and expertise by donor countries and Iraqi professionals, it can help Iraqis rebuild the country with their own skill, labor and resources. In such a scenario it will be much easier to persuade countries such as France, Germany, and others who largely stayed clear of involvement in the invasion and occupation, to contribute the necessary funds and personnel to enable Iraq's stability and reconstruction. More important, it will give Iraqis a working stake in the peaceful development of their country.

Third, most Iraqis and other critics of the occupation believe the US has no intention of withdrawing its troops from Iraq or relinquishing its de facto control of the country's all-important petroleum resources. President Bush declared in his speech tonight that"as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," but such blithe delcarations are belied by the massive construction going on at US bases across the country and remarks by senior US officials, who have admitted that we intend (with Iraq's "permission," of course) to station tens of thousands of troops in more or less permanent bases across the country for the foreseeable future.

All that's needed is a Status of Forces Agreement signed by an Iraqi government that could not survive without a continued US presence--or in lieu of that, a security situation which makes asking us to leave practically impossible in the foreseeable future--to realize the grandest aspirations of neocons and security hawks alike: a large and long-term US presence in the heart of world's major oil producing region as we enter the Age of Peak Oil.

Such a situation might seem ideal in the context of a new cold war with an energy-hungry China, but it would likely fuel a much hotter war against a mushrooming pan-Islamic insurgency across the Muslim world. The United States would be much more secure if it took the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent in Iraq and devoted them to developing sustainable alternative energy technologies and transforming the global economic system so that our standard of living no longer depends on billions of people living on $2 a day or less, and entire world regions such as Africa and the Middle East structurally marginalized from the formal flows of money and goods in the globalized economy.

Finally, an insurmountable collection of evidence is emerging that American forces have systematically committed war crimes in Iraq and continue to violate international law in their actions across the country. The longer the United States remains, the greater the chances that senior officials will face criminal charges, or at least international censure, for the conduct of the invasion and occupation of the country.

While it is perhaps unlikely that senior officials will ever stand trial for their actions in an international venue, the loss of American prestige and respect across the world that our actions have brought on is incalculable. Moreover, when tied--quite naturally--by people across the global south to our support for the policies associated with the dominant neoliberal model of globalization, the Iraqi occupation and the increasingly open imperial endeavor it represents has contributed to the victories of populist anti-American candidates across Latin America, and now Iran.

Even those who support a timetable for withdrawing American troops might respond negatively to the suggestion that America apologize for its invasion and occupation of Iraq. Certainly the President's speech before the troops offered no hint of remorse for the pain and suffering the invasion brought to Iraq.

Such knee-jerk patriotism disappears, however, when you actually visit Iraq as I did (that is, without a massive security detail and living with Iraqis) and see the disaster that the occupation has produced first hand. Observed close up, without the filter of an obsequious news media, the overwhelmingly negative consequences of the occupation become impossible to ignore: the 100,000 dead (the majority of them civilians); wide scale violations of human, political and civil rights; the destruction of the country's health, education and other crucial social systems; the massive unemployment; a violent and destabilizing insurgency that is likely to last a generation or more; the rending of a delicate social fabric that managed to survive a bloody British occupation, several wars, and the even bloodier rule of Saddam Hussein (which we should never forget was made possible in good measure by decades of support from administrations as far back as President Kennedy).

In Alcoholics Anonymous apologizing and making amends for the hurt one has done to others are among the most important steps in the long path towards sobriety. Clearly President Bush, who believes Iraqis should"put the past behind them," isn't about to engage in soul searching about the mission and consequences of our Iraq adventure. But if Americans can admit to--and in doing so, comprehend--the damage our government has wrought in Iraq in our name and with our consent, we will take an important first step in ending our addiction to an unsustainable corporate-led, consumer-driven culture, and the wars and systematic violence, oppression and exploitation it requires world-wide. In doing so we will begin the long but necessary task of building a sustainable and peaceful future, for Iraq, for ourselves, and for the world at large.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

There are two problems with the program proposed here:
(1) the window of opportunity for a "new international regime" (e.g. UN-run) for Iraq closed some time ago, if indeed it was ever really open, and
(2) the Bush administration officials who cowed a largely spineless Democratic opposition in Congress, and an apathetic couch-potato electorate into accepting a predictably blunder-ridden plunge into an Iraqi quagmire have not yet been brought to account, and LeVine suggests no plan for achieving this essential accountability.

The "war" in Iraq has already been "lost" and the only choices remaining are a massive increase in American involvement (e.g. a military draft) or various forms of cut-and-run. The likelihood of a cut-and-run as soon as the Bushies can find some kind of covering spin is overwhelming. The principal question remaining is thus that of proper punishment of the guilty. If the Congress can impeach a president for having an affair with an intern, it can surely impeach officials, such as a president, vice-president, and defense secretary, who deliberately betrayed the country in order to win an election by running on fear.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Your basic problem, N, is that you often tend to think and argue in rigid arbitrary categories, like "Jihadist". People are people, countries are countries, power structures are power structures, and ideologies are ideologies. If you repeatedly conflate these things so that hundreds of millions of people, for example, are labelled and characterized based on some remote possible affiliation to an abstract idea, such as "Jihadism", you will remain hopelessly unhistorical and your unworkable proposals, e.g. "going after Jihadis", will continue to be subject to ridicule (by many not just me). I will not pretend, ala Heuisler, that this observation amounts to some sort of "kindness", but I think it is fair and hope you will reflect on how different you sound from a normal historian or political analyst, and ask yourself why this is.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Your ridiculous and incessantly repeated unhistorical fantasy about Saddam and Osama being in league is becoming tiresome. Why persist in associating yourself with conspiracy theory nutcases ?

American involvement in World War II constituted a war against Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan which had attacked or declared war upon the U.S. It was not, and did not need to be, propangandized by a tongue-twisted U.S. president as a "War on Blitzkrieg", a "War on Sneak Attacks" or other such patent BS. And it was not hatched by crooked and corrupt draft dodgers. Attacking Iraq because a bunch of Saudis hijacked four of our planes made and makes about as much as sense as an invasion of Mexico would have made in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Manchmal geehrter Herr Heuisler,

For one who claims to want to "argue ideas", your post above is notably devoid of them. Let us bypass the hypocritical bluster therein and return to the question at hand:

Secularist Iraqi dictator Saddam and religious fanatic/terrorist/underground conspirator Osama have very little in common except their lack of moral scruples, their largess based on American oil-addiction, and their dislike of the Bushes. Billions of people around the globe have made publically clear their disapproval of the policies of the current American president. Are they all therefore supporters of Saddam ? Millions of people make their livlihoods in oil production and distribution or in allied or dependent activitiess. Are they all therefore members of Al Qaeda ? Of course not.

Your persistent perpetuation of the Saddam = Osama Big Lie is an insult to the intelligence of readers here. I will refrain from joining you in a juvenile pissing contest about personal resumes, and I do not claim to have a crystal ball in my possession, but it is surely more than likely that if the fascist mentality behind this sort of Big Lie were ever to truly prevail across America, you would not being sipping beer on the veranda, but would be lined up against the wall and shot along with many of the rest of us.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


The alternatives to the 2003 bungled invasion of Iraq are too many to list in full. So many, indeed, that it is barely credible that you are incapable of "noting" some on your own. I'll give you two from the long historical list:

(1) In early 1991 we could very probably have readily disposed of Saddam. We had the troops there on the ground, the local Iraqi support, international sympathy from almost every other Mideastern country and practically all of Europe, and the international sanction to do so (Saddam's war crimes).
(2) Rather than a botched half-assed invasion in 2003, we could have given Saddam an ultimatum and then sent in troops with the inspectors (the "armed inspections" idea floated by the Carnegie Institute at the time). You might say that this would likely have amounted to cutting and running and leaving a mess behind in Iraq (which is what Bush or his successor will most probably end up doing eventually anyway), but at least we would not have ticked off most of the world by acting like bumbling cowboys and there would have vastly greater resources for securing Afghanistan, neutralizing the maddrasses in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that are the real force behind Al Qaeda, and generally combating the "Dhimmi-Islamists" (or whatever your current favorite term for the Moslem fanatical fringe, from which you, for example, cower under your bed in fear of and routinely confuse with all of the Mideast and Europe).

Omar Granados - 7/20/2005

It is okay man. I was just listing an order of events of American involvement in different conflicts. So I made sense, I know what I am talking about. History is always written by the victors and it can always be translated and manipulated in any way. Peace hermana.

Sergio Ramirez - 7/18/2005

Forgive me hermano for getting upset, but I was calling attention to the hash you made of history. You seem to have some serious problems with chronology, cause and effect, attribution of events, and spelling.

Omar Granados - 7/18/2005

who is the moron you buffoon. Insult yourself or someone else. Look at his response. Jeez man get a life, this is not a war. This ia an opinion page. So your an idiot.

Sergio Ramirez - 7/17/2005


If this moron is your student, you've got a lot to answer for!

Omar Granados - 7/17/2005

So you are going to tell me that we had no direct involvement with these situations? After War World buddy, tehre was a collapse of the Old World Order. That means that the great empires ceased to exist. There was no more core and periphery in such a sense. We as America embarked on a journey of deceolonization and self-determination for the new liberated states. There was the policy of containment after the two new super powers emerged. That was a capitalistic United States and a Communist U.S.S.R. You said, "Our homeland was not attacked by any of your list. We were attacked by Japan in 1941 and the first place our troops landed was North Africa because the enemy was there. The second place was Sicily, was it not?". Do you really think that they have that capability? Did they have the resources or means to deploy such a military blow to the United States? No, these were all war torn countries in the midst of a civil war. Vietnam was controlled by Vietcong and liberated themselves from the French occupation on what was Indo-China. What did the U.S. do? They gave money and weapons and support to the French and the South supporters of the old ways to fight and defeat the Communists. The peope will and cannot be defeated. If they rise, nothing is able to stop them.

Scott M Ryan - 7/14/2005

Addressing your first point from your “long historical list”:
a. Local Iraqi support? Would this be the Kurds and the Shia’s – or the same groups that support the US intervention today?
b. Support of from almost every other Mideastern country and practically all of Europe? You are mistaken, as any action beyond the liberation of Kuwait would NOT have been supported by Egypt, Syria or Europe.
c. The international sanction to do so (Saddam's war crimes)? And this reasoning did not apply (only more so) to the 2003 intervention?
d. Finally, if a 1991 invasion of Iraq had taken place, along with ITS messy aftermath, I have little doubt that you would be criticizing THAT action in pretty much the same way that you do the invasion of 2003.

On a related issue:

There seems to be a preoccupation with how the events of 2003 have “just ruined” the fine reputation enjoyed by the US in the eyes of the world. Examples:
“Our credibility has been shattered and the international community is confused about our real motivations in the affairs of the international community.” Granados.
“…but at least we would not have ticked off most of the world by acting like bumbling cowboys…” Clarke.

What a bunch of simpleton cant. Who are we really talking about here? Let’s start with this list:
- the UN = corrupt, incapable of acting to enforce its own sanctions
- Russia = SH’s chief weapons provider – holder of billions in Iraqi debt.
- France = second only to Russia in terms of weaponry provided and up their necks in the Oil for Food scandal
- Germany = ditto the Oil for Food scandal
- ME autocracies/theocracies = well go figure

I guess that a “therapeutic” mentality fails to grasp the truth of the old axiom; “A country does not have permanent friends but permanent interests.”

N. Friedman - 7/10/2005

Mr. Hick,

The issue here is what motivates the Muslim regions. It is surely true that the West and the Muslim regions interact. However, in the scheme of things, the interpretation given to the interaction is seen by eyes raised in the Muslim tradition. And it is the Muslim regions which wish to change the order of things.

Were we in the West less dominant, the likely assumption, given the 1400 year history of interaction between the West and the Muslim regions, the Muslim regions would, as they did until they lost on the battle field, be on the offensive against the West.

Graham Hick - 7/10/2005

And PS, your assumption is that it's all the other culture's fault and that our actions have no reactions.

As for a replacement government being religious and possibly dangerous, I agree 100%.

Graham Hick - 7/10/2005

The problem is both cultural and political and financial. Our policies and our economies are tied together. That's my assumption. Just like one person doesn't usually destroy a marriage, this conflict isn't the result of just one or the other behaving badly.

This needs to be discussed honestly by all parties involved. I imagine if I was at the G8 this past week, I would have had to shovel my way out of the meetings. We need adults cooperating and making adult decisions.

I know it's probably too much to ask from people who seek and maintain political power.

N. Friedman - 7/10/2005


In that I do not put words or thoughts into your mouth, have the courtesy of not putting words into your mouth.

I never said anything about pressuring France or the UN. That, in my view, is a waste of time.

I previously - look back and find the post from several months ago - told you rather clearly what I would do. My approach begins in Lebanon. Does that ring any bells?

Bill Heuisler - 7/10/2005

Okay, you've said what we're doing is wrong, and you generally have said what we might do is wrong. I agree with Mr. Hick, by the way, as you probably suspected. So, you leave the impression we should've done little beyond Afganistan except pressure the UN and France and Germany to diplomatically tell their Arab buddies to behave.

This seems almost comical and you're not particularly jocular. So, either Islamofascism is inevitable, given the Muslim ethos, or you think we can defeat it. How? Tell me what President Friedman would do.

N. Friedman - 7/10/2005


The problem with your analysis is that it is premised on the assumption that the Jihad is a product of US policy rather than a product of Arab and Muslim culture. Whether we should leave Saudi Arabia is a legitimate question. But consider, bad as that government is, the replacement is rather unlikely to be any better. And if the government is Islamist, the government will be far, far worse not only for the US and the West but for the Muslim regions.

N. Friedman - 7/10/2005


Countries make decision and weigh risks.

Think for a moment about the Vietnam war in which the US chose not to invade N. Vietnam. Evidently, the US thought potential relations with China and/or avoiding a repeat of the Korean conflict (and/or for some other reasons) more important than attacking and defeating N. Vietnam. Consider that, fairly early on, the "brains" in the US government had discerned that Vietnam could not be defeated with the sort of forces that the US was willing to throw at the fight. Yet, the US government proceeded anyway with large numbers of people believing, as you do, that the US has unlimited capability to affect events. Hence, 50,000 American kids were killed chasing, in effect, windmills in a defined, self-constrained war that was not winnable.

In the case of Iraq, the defined terms of the battle are not going to change. We are not going to divide the country into countries. We are not going to risk US Turkish relations over Iraq. What will happen is that the US, if there is a moment of stability in Iraq, will declare victory and withdraw. Whether there will be a victory is anyone's guess but the greater probability is that Iraq will become what it was before we arrived, namely, a non-country held together by a strong-man government and such country will continue in the mold of the Muslim regions, namely, as part of the factory for Jihadis.

Which is to say, we are in a futile adventure. We should, instead, focus on the possible, not quixotic adventures.

Graham Hick - 7/10/2005

Or, Uzbekistan, or apply pressure on Putin, or support Taiwan instead of China, or..., well, you get the idea. Some US politicans talk tough about doing away with realpolitik policies, but it's just that, tough talk. American capitialism and repressive authoritarianism, no matter if it's religious, militaristic, economic or all of the above, work together just fine(see Microsoft's recent desire to do away with offensive words to communist China on their blogs). We, as a nation, need to start having values that are more important than money, and then actually enact the policies that would follow.

But if I had all the right answers, I'd be president, no make that king, of the world.

Graham Hick - 7/10/2005

We could start winning the Jihad against us by no longer propping up "legitimate" Islamo Fascist regimes like Saudi Arabia.

Bill Heuisler - 7/9/2005

Policy? So it seems. But the illusory is seldom real. If they agreed with me what could they do differently? Nation-builders can't tell various groups to fight. Could President Bush see the future and pretend he doesn't?

Eagleburger, Brezinski and Powell agreed at the beginning Iraq must stay in one piece. That has always bothered me. Counter-intuitive synchronization by guys who've been there tells me there's an agenda hiding in the closet and tells me they're probably all taking the P.C. status quo over imaginative statecraft just for the calm headlines.

But events generally make the experts look bad anyhow.

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


The main centers of the Jihad are, in no particular order, (a) Egypt, (b) Saudi Arabia, (c) London, (d) Hamburg, (e) Iran, (f) Bekaa Valley, (g) Gaza/West Bank, (h) France and (i) Pakistan. Iraq was a minor player.

You may be correct regarding Kurdistan. I am not sure. I do know that there was a bloody intifadah in Turkey in which about 30,000 people died and I know that Kurdistan is entirely unacceptable so far as Turkey is concerned. In any event, the administration does not, evidently, agree with you. Their policy involves the illusory country of Iraq.

Bill Heuisler - 7/9/2005

No. And a falling out with Turkey does not necessarily - as a matter of fact will probably not - follow a new country called Kurdistan. Look at the map.

1)The mountains at the Turkish-Iraq border are 8 to 10,000 feet and form a natural no-man's land that no country can really call its own in spite of the fact the few passes are easily defended. The Kurds already control a large area between the border and Van Golu in de-facto, albeit uneasy, truce with Turkish Army units.
2) You never mentioned the country with the most at risk with a Kurdish renascence: Iran. Kordestan is a province of Iran just across the border from Halabja. It's not named that by accident, and Kurds also form a large minority in the Azarbayjan-E province to the north.
3) Syria's Kurdish minority has been an eminence grise in its government throughout all the years since Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (al-Tikriti) worked for the Emir of Syria, Nur al-Din in 1168 when Syria encompassed far more land than it does now. And who cares about the Assads' future?
4) Constraining a peoples' desire for nationhood in order to preserve the good offices of an established country is just as immoral as opposing Perestroika would have been in order to preserve East Germany's thralldom to the USSR.
5)Iraq is exactly the center of the Jihadi war on the map and strategically. You say it's not. Where is the center, if not Iraq? The Kurds are natural allies of the US and should be allowed greater autonomy as a matter of long-term policy, as well as a matter of morality.

To sum up: Turkey owes us one, remember the 3rd Armor? They have more to lose than we do since they will certainly not gain entry into the EU after the vote failure and the increase in immigration phobia in Europe. The Turkey-Russia tension hasn't abated in the 21st century and their allies in Azerbajan and Georgia are countered by their traditional problems with Armenia.
Audace! Toujours audace!

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


I do not deny that Iraq under Saddam had a role in abetting terrorism. I think that is entirely correct although Iraq is hardly the center of the Jihadi war.

Our government, were it to agree to Iraq's break-up, might better advance the project. Our government will not, for entirely pragmatic reasons, try to break up Iraq. The reason is one word: Kurdistan.

The Kurds, horribly treated by the "Iraqis," the Turks and the "Syrians," live in all three noted "countries." [Actually, Turkey is a real country with a powerful army.] Were we to break up Iraq, that would - and this is what our government fears - have at least the following problem: it would open the prospect and almost certainly cause a renewal of the terror war in Turkey by Kurds seeking to join Turkish Kurdistan with Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey, a very powerful country, is not, without a fight, going to allow the formation of a country on its border which, were it to form, would undermine Turkey.

While, when push comes to shove, the US must protect US interests, we should, if possible, avoid advancing those interests in ways that potentially place the US in a worse position. I do not see the benefit of undermining Turkey and/or having a falling out with Turkey. Do you?

Bill Heuisler - 7/9/2005

Perhaps the crux is your altruism vs my pragmatism. Frankly, Scarlet I don't give a damn about the "Iraqis".
We agree that the Islamofacists are waging war without - or in spite of - national boundaries or allegiences. We agree that we are in a war to the death, but somehow we disagree that the "center of the mass" should not have been attacked. The country, Iraq, is irrelevant to the greater WOT. The point? We must kill or quarantine the hosts of the virus in order to kill the virus.

Did you catch the Hitchens debate with Ron Reagan? Here's the best part:
"CH: Do you know nothing about the subject at all? Do you wonder how Mr. Zarqawi got there under the rule of Saddam Hussein? Have you ever heard of Abu Nidal?

RR: Well, I'm following the lead of the 9/11 Commission, which...

CH: Have you ever heard of Abu Nidal, the most wanted man in the world, who was sheltered in Baghdad? The man who pushed Leon Klinghoffer off the boat, was sheltered by Saddam Hussein. The man who blew up the World Trade Center in 1993 was sheltered by Saddam Hussein, and you have the nerve to say that terrorism is caused by resisting it? And by deposing governments that endorse it? ... At this stage, after what happened in London yesterday?...

RR: Zarqawi is not an envoy of Saddam Hussein, either.

CH: Excuse me. When I went to interview Abu Nidal, then the most wanted terrorist in the world, in Baghdad, he was operating out of an Iraqi government office. He was an arm of the Iraqi State, while being the most wanted man in the world. The same is true of the shelter and safe house offered by the Iraqi government, to the murderers of Leon Klinghoffer, and to Mr. Yassin, who mixed the chemicals for the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. How can you know so little about this, and be occupying a chair at the time that you do?"

CH is my kind of Lefty. People who talk about Iraq as a side-show of the WOT exhibit bipolar thought processes. I'm not referring to you, of course, but preparing you for the next sentence.

N, I don't care if Iraq as it is today - or was thirty years ago - survives as a single nation-state or as three or four. We must preach the pious prattle of nation-building while simultaneously removing the dangerous Islamofascist/Baathist enablers of Terror. What results in the Fertile Crescent has importance to me only in that it must no longer be a danger to the US and Western freedom and stability. We will leave that area as quickly as we left West Germany for obvious reasons - and our presence will have an ameliorating effect on the final political fall-out - but that is not our goal.

Am I getting anywhere?

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


You should be prepared, if you mean what you say, for a hundred years of war in Iraq, if not more. You are attempting to change something theologically driven that has existed for more than a thousand years.

I never suggested that we should be passive. I said that we should choose our battles and fight where the fight is not futile.

I note: the proposition that we shall dictate the battle fields of the fight is not logical. We can, by taking the fight to the Islamic regions, show that fighting the US is futile for the Muslims which, in turn, might reduce the number of attacks in the US.

And we can, by taking the fight to the Islamic regions, show that starting fights against the US will have serious and undesired consequences for the goals of the Muslims. Which is to say, I cannot imagine that the Muslims are pleased that we have, after one attack against the US, invaded two of their countries. More than likely they will think very carefully regarding further attacks in the US. But that does not mean that they will decide not to attack. That remains to be seen.

In an article on the OpEd of today's NY Times, there is an article by a college professor who notes an al Qa'eda strategy paper. In that paper, al Qa'eda writes of attacking Europe to weaken the US and drive us out of Iraq. That tells me that al Qa'eda recognizes that attacking the US had undesired consequences and that al Qaeda and the Islamists are on the defensive. Such, to me, suggests that you are correct that there is some benefit to the Iraq war. My point, however, is that Iraq is ultimately a trap as the goal we have set is utopian and unachievable. Which is to say, we almost surely will fail to achieve the goal of a tolerant government shared by Sunnis and Shi'a. And that means we shall not achieve the creation of a counter-ideology that is advocated by Muslims.

Hence, whatever damage we have caused to the Islamist's cause, the damage is peripheral. Hence, the loss of life on our side is, I think, not worth it. Instead, since life will, no matter what, be lost, we should focus on goals that are not futile.

Which is to say: we can still take the battle to the Muslim regions but, instead, focus (a) on achievable goals and (b) in places where the goals might be achieved, not in a non-country like Iraq.

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


I used the categories Shi'a and Sunni to describe Iraq as such terms are helpful to understanding why the Iraq project will likely fail.

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


I use the categories which I think apply to the topic. I think we are in conflict with a movement which includes hundreds of millions of people are passively involved, tens of millions are highly supportive and a million or so are more directly involved.

Historically, Jihad is central to Islam. Jihad is, as is said in a Hadith, the monasticism of Islam.

Bill Heuisler - 7/9/2005

Mr. Friedman,
Thank you for the detailed and skillfully written answer.
Problem. Your answer sets up conditions and conclusions that actually demand an invasion of Iraq.

The war on terror will cost American lives. But will more lives be lost if we remain passive? Emphatically, yes. My brothers in the Corps consider the fight in Iraq to be as necessary as the fight in the Phillippines or the fight in Italy sixty years ago. Death is a constant companion for them, but signifies the importance, the difficulty and the price they signed up to pay if they must. It's not a small matter to professional fighting men, it's part of the job and, in a perverse way, acquaintance and acceptance of death is what sets them apart from lesser men (civilians). They would rather die than see their country attacked again...or retreat again.

Look at the military situation. Religious and ethnic factionalism has advantages and disadvantages for any occupying force (for a long or short time). The divide and conquer principle works to split enemies and give friends reasons for alliance with you. Strategically, the broad river basin between Iran and Syria allows the occupier to strike the industrial centers of either or both terror sympathizers (500 miles east to Teheran and 500 miles west to Damascus). There we are positioned to interdict the main routes - trade and military - from the gulf to the Med and, with Turkey as ally, we cut off the Middle East from Central Asia and isolate Saudi Arabia from everyone but Jordan - another ally.

The war on terror will be fought in Iraq and Syria and Iran, rather than in New York, London and Detroit. We will kill the people who mean to kill us and we should do it quickly and harshly. My take? Iran nukes will not survive the delivery room and they definitely will not be allowed to deploy missiles or ICBMs. That may be the next war and we will be in a far better place to win it fast with interceptor/surveillance/rapid-strike bases in Iraq.
Bill Heuisler

N. Friedman - 7/8/2005


Fair questions.

1. I have noted a complete failure of dialogue between the sides of the Iraq debate. Were I merely to say my view regarding the Arab regions, someone like Peter would not even read my opinion because he would assume that I support a war he finds idiotic. Rather than proving that debate is solipsism, I hope instead to engage his intelligence (as well as yours). While Peter will no doubt squalk at my alleged ignorance, he at least reads what I write.

2. My objection to the Iraq war is purely pragmatic. As I am fond of noting, the boundaries of the Middle East were drawn to benefit Europeans and with little, if any, concern for the tribal/religious groups that make up that region.

In direct terms, Iraq is an illusion posing as a country. The reality is Sunni and Shi'a (and, perhaps, Kurds), with the Sunni believing that Shi'a are apostates of the worst sort and the Shi'a believing the same about the Sunnis.

I do not believe that such divide is a solvable problem within our lifetime so I do not believe that Iraq could possibly be made to serve as a model for a counter-ideology to Jihadism. Stated differently, the Sunnis are less likely, over the long term, to accept Shi'a majority rule than Mississipians, during the age of Jim Crow, would have accepted a black American President. Which is to say, the divide is one of religion and religious divides do not tend to disapear easily. And note: to Sunnis, the Shi'a are lower and more disreputable than blacks were to American racists during the age of Jim Crow.

I think that we should engage in the possible, not the utopian. And I think we should go after the Jihadis where they are mostly located. While I agree that fighting in Iraq likely makes terror slightly less likely to occur in the US because it draws some Jihadis out into the open and, more importantly, because it demonstrates that we will not immediately become dhimmi, that is only a comparative statement and it does not override the futility of making Iraq be what it simply is not and will not be. Which is to say, we likely shall get very little for all the loss of valuable American life. And, to me, spilling blood should not occur in a futile venture.

On the other hand, I think that we are all in for a lot of trouble and for a very, very long time no matter what we do. Which is to say, we ought to consider that we are witnessing, as Bat Ye'or is fond of saying, the third great Jihad - the first having been during the first 100 or so years of the Muslim era, the second being the Ghazis/Ottoman Jihad and, lastly, the contemporary Jihad -. The first two were stopped but at a terrible cost. The same is likely to be true of the current Jihad.

I do not see how the Iraq war will appreciably alter the basic chemistry of the Muslim regions. We are speaking of changing 1400 years of culture. One war is not likely to change what the centuries have created and reinforced.

Please note: I do not buy the argument that the West is the main cause of what ails the Muslim regions. I think that argument is the argument of a devoutly religious person steeped in the Christian or Jewish Biblical tradition that the sins of Israel caused Israel's disfavor with God and, hence, bad things to occur to Israel. In fact, the Jihad has its "roots" in Islam and in the Muslim regions and is about the Muslims and Islam first and foremost - albeit not exclusively -. Important factors include the Jihad ideology, the retreat of the European powers, the rise of oil power, the role of religion in Islamic society, the "failure" of non-religious solutions to the problems of the Muslim regions, the use of Jihad, without harsh consequences from the West, against Israel, etc., etc.

At this point, the Jihad genie is out of the bottle such that the "root" causes no longer much matter, pragmatically speaking. Which is to say, I do not think that solving "root causes" that anger Muslims will solve the Jihad againt the West any more than granting Germany, after Hitler came to power, a better treaty than the Versailles Treaty would have prevented WWII.

I might recommend a good book about Egypt which, despite the author's confused (in my view) opinions about cause and effect, clearly, meticulously and accurately describes the descent of the Muslim regions into a black hole from the dark ages they, prior to the current Jihad, were in - from the skillet into the frying pan, as it were -. The book is Portrait of Egypt: A Journey Through the World of Militant Islam, by Mary Anne Weaver (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). While I do not agree with her blowback theory or her focus on the Egyptian Israeli peace treaty speculation, her book is very honest and intelligent.

Lastly, there is the issue of Iran. Iran, beyond any rational doubt, will develop nuclear weapons. Iran will then be immune from consequences for supporting Jihadis in Lebanon and throughout the world. What is now something done quietly will come out of the closet with the West being in no position to respond, since Iran would threaten to use WMD if we defend ourselves. If we want to survive as a civilization, Iran must be dealt with and while it still can be handled. And that means not engaging in utopian projects like Iraq but dealing with what will soon be an unmanageably awful problem.

Consider: Iran has historically been among the most fanatical countries on Earth. Whatever one thinks of the deposed Shah, Muslim rule in Iran has, not only now but for centuries and centuries, been unimaginably fanatical. The notion that Iran can, once it possesses nuclear weapons, be deterred is folly. While Saddam, with nuclear weapons might have been the equivalent of a Stalin, Stalin was deterrable and, in fact, deterred. The mullahs are not - at least in any normal sense of the word -. They will, one way or the other, use nuclear power to advance the Jihad.

Bill Heuisler - 7/8/2005

Mr. Friedman,
You include caveats like, "...invade Iraq - not a good idea." in each post. Why?

Given your identification of the enemy, evidence of CBN weapons in Iraq, mass graves, strategic importance of the Tigris-Euphrates valley, provocations of Saddam after many warnings, connections of Iraq to terror and the recent vote in a new democratic Iraq, why was invading Iraq a bad idea?

My caveat: While I'm aware invasion of either would've been senseless, ludicrous and counterproductive, were I the President, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would have received far more attention - diplomatically and economically - from the mailed fist, as opposed to the velvet glove.
Why not, is my question?

Just curious.
Bill Heuisler

N. Friedman - 7/8/2005


I have used my terminology rather consistently. I have never, so far as I know, referred to "dhimmi Islamists." That is in your head and is another example of you employing gratuitous comments. I note that many people on this website are tired of your style of arguing. Such, despite the fact that you are a bright guy who often makes interesting points.

The "dhimmi" are the non-Muslim, non-pagan people of conquered (whether by Jihad war or threat of such war) non-Muslim nations. Those non-Muslims, before the time when Islamic political/military power was destroyed by the Europeans, resided within the Muslim regions by a treaty of concession known as a dhimma.

The dhimma is an important component of Muslim theology and finds its origins in the Prophets behavior and that of the early caliphs. The specific requirement found in the Koran is for such non-Muslims to pay, under required humiliating circumstances, a tax called a jizha. Other restrictions came from the restrictions employed against Jews by the Byzantine Empire. Such additional restrictions came to be incorporated into Shari'a (i.e. Muslim holy law) and were applied, thereafter, not only against Jews but against Christians - a bit of irony for the Christians who often fared worse under Islam than Jews did) and other non-Muslim, non-pagan groups as well.

The dhimma included restrictions on what clothing could be worn, what animals could be used to travel, etc.. The dhimma precluded the carrying of weapons by dhimmi, precluded self-defense when attacked by a Muslim and giving testimony against a Muslim and against having relations with foreign states - the last restriction being an important issue raised against the Armenians and leading to the genocide against them -. As I have noted: in those parts of the Muslim regions which desire to return to Shari'a (i.e. Muslim law), that means, for non-Muslims, a reinstatement of the dhimma.

Theologically, the dhimma is tied directly to the Jihad. Jihad begins and continues unless and until a nation submits to the dhimma. Pragmatically, the dhimma had a substantial economic and political significance that permitted the Muslims in the Muslim regions to thrive, to acquire and adapt to the higher culture that existed basically everywhere the Muslim conquered and to rule a large empire as a small minority group.

Your theory of what to do is premised on the view that Islamism is a fringe doctrine. Praytell, what is your evidence for that theory? Islamism is, so far as I know, classical Islam aiming to restore Islamic power as it was in the early years of Islam. The doctrine has widespread support among Muslims and is likely the view of the vast, vast majority of Muslims.

My question, you will note, was not so much whether we invade Iraq - not a good idea, as I have said repeatedly -. The real question is what we can do to defeat the Jihad. Tell me how your approach defeats the Jihad, as a doctrine of conquest, in that Jihad is not something specific to maddrassas but is part and parcel of - in fact, central to - Islam.

Bill Heuisler - 7/7/2005

Mr. Clarke,
I will answer you once, as I would soothe a barking dog.
Whacked out must be a pejorative that carries immense significance in your circles. The term means nothing of consequence to me and lowers dialectic to insult humor.

If you wish to be taken seriously argue ideas. If you wish to insult me, please accept my cordial invitation to do so over a beer on my veranda. People with a smidgen of self-esteem do not wish to discuss issues with a pit bull in public. I prefer insult eye-to-eye. Also, understand that, among adults, your disagreement lends arguments greater import.

One Clarke quote illustrates fatuous thought: "And it was not hatched by crooked and corrupt draft dodgers."

This from a poster whose military experience is kept a guilty secret - who wouldn't recognize a draft dodger if they shared a cage - and whose knowledge of history and law would, perhaps strain a shot-glass. To say one person is a draft dodger might have merit. To say one person is corrupt may impress an audience. But to accuse a group of either reveals a tiny and tormented intellect with little access to sapience or to useful information.

Please read some history books, attend the daily news, and achieve a moderate education before insulting the knowledgable and commenting beyond your limited ken.
Bill Heuisler

N. Friedman - 7/7/2005


Apart from your unnecessarily harsh rhetoric, you are, I think, correct that pining about a significant connection between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda misses the mark.

That said, somebody who opposes the war in Iraq ought have a viable alternative. What, praytell, do you suggest? Consider, in that regard, that the Jihad - a unique form of warfare with, over the centuries, a substantial success rate- against us is not a mere reaction to US or Western actions but instead a product of the Muslim regions and addresses spiritual needs of millions of Muslims.

I, as you know, have never favored the Iraq adventure. However, I start with the view that regardless of what the US does, Jihad has been declared and will not end until - as in all Jihads - successful or decisively defeated. And none of that will occur by placating people who believe it their spiritual obligation to conquer the Earth. So, what do you propose to do?

Bill Heuisler - 7/7/2005

Mr. Granados,
The huge difference in the present case is that we were attacked by Islamofascists who were either wholly, or in part, trained, funded, supported, given succor and/or applauded by Saddam.

You wrote, "(think Vietnam, Korea, Africa, South America, Cuba, the list goes on and on)...." List of what? Our homeland was not attacked by any of your list. We were attacked by Japan in 1941 and the first place our troops landed was North Africa because the enemy was there. The second place was Sicily, was it not? They were as much a part of the Axis as Iraq is a part of OBL's Al Qaeda. To try and separate Iraq from the War on Terror is like trying to separate Sam Giancana from the Mafia, and is done largely for political reasons.

We are in Germany and Korea at their request, or had you forgotten? Imperialism? Please.
Bill Heuisler

Omar Granados - 7/6/2005

Some of the reasons that we are in other countries is because we can't afford to lose our power. Military bases such as Ramstein in Germany, in Saudi Arabia, South Korea near the DMZ is because our involvement with their affairs. The only reason we still have military bases is because in order to maintain out super power status is to have a vast and mobile military that can strike at any given moment. Most of these bases were put there because as a result of the Cold War. The Middle East has always been an area of exploitaition. Every nation in the Middle East has been unde imperialism and it is still suffering as a consequence of it. Now we cannot turn our back on the Middle East because we are stuck in their web of politics. We as the United States have a responsibility to try and create a balance as a mediator and not as a big brother who makes decisions. The Soviets lost money, credibility, power because they invaded Afghanistan and the United States in itx policy of containment supplied weapons and training to Jihad fighters such as Osama and then later tuened it against us. The munition and weapons such as SAM's that brought down or choppers earlier in this century were supplied by us. What do you say about that? We are critically involved and we conplicate the situation even worse (think Vietnam, Korea, Africa, South America, Cuba, the list goes on and on)....

Omar Granados - 7/6/2005

Wow... That was a good argument and a good point guys and gals. The window has indeed closed a long time ago and our image has been tainted once more. Our credibility has been shattered and the international community is confused about our real motivations in the affairs of the international community.

Bill Heuisler - 7/5/2005

Mr. LeVine,
Odd you should suggest an international solution to the Iraq situation. Even odder you should suggest integral parts (France & Germany) of the largest scandal in world history as central to your plan.

You stated, "the Oil for Food scandal pales in comparison with the level of corruption in post-invasion Iraq." That isn't true in monetary terms, in status of the suspected swindlers and in the deaths caused. Comparing 9 Billion to 31 billion, comparing Halliburton to Germany, France and Russia and comparing military contractors to Kofi and the boys and comparing contract overrides to starving people really can't be taken seriously on a history site.

Your opinion somehow becomes evidence. "...the US has proven itself incapable of managing the reconstruction and development of the country or supporting an environment in which Iraqis can do it themselves."
Proven incapable to whom? Have you assessed improvements in Iraq? Do you recall our multi-year reconstruction of Japan, Germany, Korea?

You suggest: "A new international regime...UN system can't do it alone, Iraqis rebuild." You gush, "In such a scenario it will be much easier to persuade...France, Germany...who largely stayed clear of involvement in the invasion and occupation, to contribute the necessary funds and personnel to enable Iraq's stability and reconstruction."

Right. They "stayed clear" because they were stealing oil money in a multi-billion $ deal with Saddam and the UN. Has this piece of history escaped you, Mr. LeVine?

Then you finish with,
"...Iraqis and other critics of the occupation believe the US has no intention of withdrawing its troops...".

Aren't we still in Germany? Did you complain about troops in Korea, Germany, Bosnia and other countries, or is the strategic center of the Middle East somehow off limits?
Bill Heuisler

henry tyrone slothrop - 7/5/2005

I am in total agreement with you. If the USA withdrew completely and prosecuted the architects of this foolish war a la Nuremberg, we might be on the road to some sort of cleansing of our sullied image abroad.