The Iraq War

2009 11 12
Galbraith


For several years now I’ve been reading articles by Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere, and scratching my head at the mini-bio that accompanies the pieces. I knew that he had a consulting gig, and that that consulting gig took him to Northern Iraq, and that he was an advisor to the Kurds, and pretty damn tight with them. And it struck me as odd that the mini-bios didn’t really tip you off much about possible conflicts of interest. Here’s an example, from the NYRB:

Peter W. Galbraith, a former US Ambassador to Croatia, is Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and a principal at the Windham Resources Group, which has worked in Iraq. His new book, Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies, has just been released. (October 2008)

Doesn’t tell you much, does it?

Anyway, this irritated me just enough that I almost wrote a post about it a while back, going so far as to actually research the issue extensively (googled for 20 seconds). But I couldn’t figure out what his consulting group did, actually, and I thought it would be irresponsible to insinuate anything on a blog as widely read and respected as Explananda. (So much for citizen journalism.)

So it was with considerable interest that I just noticed this piece in the NYT about Galbraith. The NYT seems to be following the lead here of some Norwegian journalists (so much for NYT journalism). Anyway, here’s the lede:

Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.

Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.

In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.

Dude, that is one seriously sweet consulting gig. I was so distracted by the minor concern that Galbraith’s writing might be influenced by his consulting work for the Kurds, and was at least worth noting so that readers could make up their own minds, that I never even imagined a multi-multi-million dollar Norwegian oil angle.

Wowsers. Anyway, the article raises a whole bunch of ethical issues. I’m curious to see how the NYRB and other publications deal with this. Galbraith had an enormous financial interest in Northern Iraq as early as 2004. His readers should have been told this. The publications who published his writing should explicitly address this issue, and update their online archives to reflect those interests clearly.

UPDATE: The NYRB has this displayed prominently on their website now. Which is as it should be, I think.


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2009 08 03
Recently read: Sowing Crisis


Rashid Khalidi. Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East

I read and enjoyed Khalidi’s The Iron Cage back in January, and so got this, Khalidi’s latest book, out of the library shortly afterwards (I’m only getting around to writing about it now). Sowing Crisis is a more sharply polemical book than The Iron Cage and I liked it a bit less, partly because I have a limited appetite for polemic and partly because Khalidi isn’t really great at it. (He’s not awful; just not great.) Nevertheless, there is a lot in this wide-ranging review of American foreign policy to learn from and by stimulated by. Khalidi’s main objective seems to be to try to get Americans to understand how non-Americans see American foreign policy. This is a worthwhile project, and Sowing Crisis is a worthwhile book.


Nada (0)

2009 03 04
Recently read: Descent Into Chaos


Ahmed Rashid. Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia

At roughly 500 densely packed and depressing pages, this not an easy book to read. But it added immeasurably to my appreciation of the current position of the US and its allies in Afghanistan and Central Asia and of how that position came to be so desperate. Ahmed Rashid is an famously well-connected veteran Pakistani journalist. His book takes us from the weeks before September 11, 2001 right up to 2008, pausing from time to time to provide some historical perspective to his main narrative. It’s a valuable book to have on hand as we watch policymakers struggle to discover a way out of their—and for a substantial subset of this site’s readers, our—current predicament in Afghanistan.

Rashid gets his book off to a poor start with a long and unremarkable introduction that reads like just another litany of Bush’s misdeeds. It’s all true, of course, but you can find this sort of thing in any number of places, if you still care to, which I don’t. As soon as the book proper is underway, however, Rashid starts to unpack his case in copious detail and to draw on an almost uniquely broad range of sources and experiences. (When I’m interested in a subject I have an insatiable appetite for detail about it, but it did occur to me that readers who take a less Aspergerish approach to a subject might wish that Rashid’s editor had succeeded in forcing more of these details into the footnotes.)

The main thing I took away from Rashid’s book is how reliably most actors in the region have made a bad situation worse whenever they’ve been given a choice about how to proceed. Afghanistan is a poor, landlocked, and long-troubled country, but it’s been made much, much worse than it ever needed to be by the cascading effects of a series of poor decisions by just about everyone involved.

In the late 70s, the CIA weighed stability in the country against the chance to goad the USSR into a debacle, and chose the latter. On December 24, 1978, Brezhnev took the bait, and the Soviet army blundered into the country, against the advice of his top generals.* Seeing the chance to trap the USSR into a painful “Vietnam” of its own making, the US then poured money into resistance fighters in the region. That decision reflected another ranking of priorities: the prospect of stability and the development of democracy in Pakistan was trumped decisively by the goal of encouraging resistance to the USSR in Afghanistan. Accordingly, the US channeled money and arms through Pakistan, entrenching and legitimizing the military’s intrusions into the country’s political life, and encouraging the slow-spreading poison of radicalism, militarism, criminality and drug-trading in the entire region.

After the withdrawal of the USSR, there followed several years of horrific fighting between rival warlords. The success of the Taliban movement owes something to popular disgust at the instability and corruption sown by these warlords. It also owes something to money and logistical support from the ISI, Pakistan’s highly secretive intelligence agency, which sought to cultivate ties in Afghanistan in order to train and encourage Kashmiri militants and provide Pakistan with strategic depth in the event of a full out conflict with India.

As it happens, after September 11, 2001, it was Pakistan which ended up providing strategic depth to the Taliban, after Taliban forces were routed by US air power and US proxies on the ground. It was there, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan (which are, in fact, anything but Federally Administered), that the Taliban and Al Qaeda found refuge, in some cases with the support of the ISI, which continued to play a dangerous double game of privately supporting and publicly (sometimes) condemning militant groups, for both ideological and strategic reasons. The ISI’s continuing support for the Taliban and other militants was a sore point for US-Pakistan relations, but the Bush administration continued to believe, against all evidence, that Musharif was their man, and refused to push Pakistan too hard on the issue.

The US went into Afghanistan without a clear policy on the issue of “nation building.” Bush had trouble walking back from his earlier campaign pledge to avoid such activities, and Rumsfeld remained, to the end, deeply hostile to the notion and employed all his considerable bureaucratic savvy to thwart the efforts of others in the US administration who wanted a more substantial engagement with the country. After much dithering, there was briefly talk from Bush himself of a Marshall Plan for the country, but the idea quickly slipped away as if forgotten as other priorities loomed into view.

The main other priority looming into view was a new war on a different front. At precisely the moment that the US faced the daunting prospect of stabilizing Afghanistan, it turned its attention to Iraq. I have long seen it written that the war in Iraq provided a distraction from Afghanistan that seriously jeopardized that mission. But until Rashid’s book I had not grasped the details, or understood how much evidence there really is for the proposition. Efforts to establish Karzai’s new government in Kabul were undermined by a policy Rashid calls “warlordism,” that is, providing financial and political support to warlords who then worked to undermine the government in Kabul. With resources diverted to the coming war in Iraq, Washington had clearly determined that nation building in Afghanistan would have to be done on the cheap, and warlordism seemed to offer a shortcut to the difficult and resource-intensive process of establishing and extending Kabul’s legitimacy and reach.

Stand back for a moment and marvel at the various trade offs involved here: The US pursues the Iraq War at the expense of the larger mission in Afghanistan, and loses both. The Bush administration’s uncritical support of Musharif helps set the conditions for the ISI’s continuing support for the Taliban. This in turn vastly complicates the hope of achieving even minimal security in Afghanistan, and plays a role in allowing Al Qaeda figures to escape and plan more attacks (the more recent London and Madrid bombings were almost certainly plotted from within the FATA). Having sacrificed security in Afghanistan to the goal of maintaining solid relations with Pakistan, US policymakers were then forced to watch conditions in Afghanistan destabilize Pakistan, further diminishing their leverage with the country.

There’s much more like this in Rashid’s book, if you can stomach it, buttressed by a wealth of supporting facts and argument. Since the book’s publication conditions on the ground have further deteriorated. As the new administration tries to salvage the mess handed down to it from its predecessors, I hope Rashid’s book gets the attention it deserves.

* I’m simplifying to make a point, at the risk of giving the CIA far too much credit. The decision to invade might well have been made without any CIA involvement, as Brezhnev was intervening in a complicated conflict involving the USSR’s communist allies in Afghanistan and their enemies.


Nada (0)

2009 01 30
Recently read: The Forever War


Posted by in: Books, The Iraq War

Dexter Filkins. The Forever War

The Forever War begins in Afghanistan in 1998 and devotes a few opening chapters to that time and place, but most of the book is devoted to Iraq and the three and a half years that Filkins spent there as a reporter for the New York Times. Filkins touches on political events and characters, but he does not really attempt the sort of larger structural analysis of the situation in Iraq that many books on the subject offer. He also provides an indirect look at the terrible forces at work on Iraqis during those bleak years, but unlike reporters like Anthony Shadid or Nir Rosen, Filkins doesn’t speak Arabic, and so much of what we learn from him about Iraqis and their lives is filtered through translators, and an honestly confessed cultural incomprehension on his part.

What we really get from Filkins in this book is a very finely written account of what it is like to be a reporter in a war zone. He travels through Fallujah days before the four contractors are killed, then travels back in in the company of Marine’s taking over the city block by block. He jogs through Baghdad in the early days of the occupation, before it becomes too dangerous. He travels to the South of the country to talk with the Mahdi as they clash with government forces. And he noses about the city, with a surprising tolerance for danger, writing about kidnappings, politicians, ethnic cleansing, disappearances, and more.

Filkins attacks his subject from a variety of angles over a series of chronologically and thematically disconnected chapters, none of them very long, some as brief as a single page. Taken singly, the anecdotes are compelling and readable. Cumulatively, they build an atmosphere and a complex impression of his subject very effectively.

Filkins’ time in Iraq covered the very worst years for the country after the beginning of the occupation. Recently, and after his book came out, he returned (he’s currently on assignment in Afghanistan) to Iraq and wrote a frankly astonished piece about how far the country had come since he left it, if not politically then at least in terms of safety and stability. My own sense is that the country is more likely than not to collapse into a full blown civil war within the decade, rather than emerge slowly but surely from the carnage of the last few years. But we’ll see; with a bit of luck I’ll be wrong again. Certainly Filkin’s most recent piece on Iraq is much lighter than this very dark book about that troubled place.


Howls of outrage (3)

2008 11 25
Friedman


I let my subscription to the New Yorker lapse a little while back, but my friend and occasional commenter here, Alif Sikkiin, lent me a recent edition with a profile of Thomas Friedman by Ian Parker. Alif and I had pretty much the same reaction to the piece: that Parker cuts him down a bit, but ends up according Friedman far more respect than he deserves.

I just wanted to make a quick note on this bit of the piece (on p. 62):

Friedman understood the political and cultural context of Iraq well, but the prospect of war required him to make a choice—yes or no—and this did not come naturally. He knew that the judgment, once made, would become separated from its analytical roots. (In the event, that process was assisted by a clumsy comment Friedman made to Charlie Rose in May, 2003: he said, approvingly, that the American presence in Iraq was akin to saying “Suck on this” to Islamic terrorists.)

Apart from this talk of “analytical roots,” which gives the wholly misleading impression that Friedman has ideas, this seems to me an implausible reading of Friedman’s comments on Charlie Rose’s show. Go watch the video. Friedman is speaking passionately, but he’s also being very deliberate, and you can see that he’s choosing his words carefully. It would be bad enough if he had expressed the view that Parker attributes to him, since that view approves of actions that hurt innocents in order to annoy and depress adversaries (much in the way that terrorists do). But I don’t think that’s what Friedman is actually saying. Rather, the target of the “Suck on this” seems to be the broader Middle East, and an entire culture he finds fault with. It wasn’t terrorists that Friedman wanted the Iraq war to send a message to, it was everybody in the region.

Whatever. The final word on Friedman is always going to be Matt Taibbi’s review of “The Earth is Flat,” which has to be one of the best reviews ever written.*

* This review—same publication, different author—is another old favourite.


Howls of outrage (3)

2008 08 09
Recently read: “The Dark Side”


Jane Mayer. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

After the scandal of Abu Grieb, the Bush administration insisted that the torture and abuse of detainees had been the work of a few bad apples. But of course the abuse was only a manifestation of a much deeper rot, for which top officials bore primary responsibility. I’ve sometimes had the impression of similar excuse-making in the attitudes of even some of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration, in the claim that the Bush administration represents a radical and unprecedented break with the past. It strikes me as naive to depict the Bush administration as a few bad apples, in an otherwise upright tradition legal and ethical conduct. On the contrary, the Bush administration seems to me part of a larger moral and legal rot that is systemic, and has unfortunately deep roots in American political culture (alongside much more admirable tendencies and traditions).

Jane Meyer’s new book The Dark Side has helped me to reflect on, and to a certain extent, modify, these assumptions. Mayer is familiar with the Church Committee, and with past American abuses of power. She doesn’t base her argument for a significant break with the past on what the Bush administration has done so much as on the legal arguments that the administration has advanced, most often in secrecy, to defend and support its policies. Much of this is new, and its long-term consequences are likely to be wretched.

A great deal of the action in Mayer’s book is, for this reason, legal. The new legal doctrines advanced by David Addington, Cheney’s legal counsel for the period covered by the book, and John Yoo, among others, were fiercely resisted by other lawyers in the administration. Meyer meticulously details the legal arguments and maneuvers used by various parties to this debate against the background of events in the so-called War on Terror.

Mayer book is, as far as I can tell, balanced, careful, and accurate, while rarely engaging in the pointless he-said/she-said style of reporting that so many journalists use to avoid the implications of their reporting. When an official lies, she points it out, clearly and unequivocally. A book like this is difficult to ignore, if you care at all about moral and legal issues surrounding torture and the Bush administration’s policies. If even a quarter of the book is accurate, the United States would only need to be a country serious about following its own laws for hundreds of people, from the President on down, to be put on trial for torture and other serious crimes.


Nada (0)

2008 07 16
Recently read


Rory Stewart. Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq

“Those hopeless clods, blundering into Iraq without knowing a damn thing about it. They botched an occupation which might otherwise have gone smoothly. Imagine if individuals of character and integrity, with a real understanding of the West’s colonialist history in Iraq, an understanding of Muslim sensibilities, and a bit of bureaucratic savvy to boot, had been a part of the occupation.”

Except that, of course, the incompetence of the upper management in Iraq notwithstanding, there were many people of real ability, depth and nerve involved in that adventure. Rory Stewart was one of them, and he served as deputy governor of Amarah and then Nasiriyah, both in the South of Iraq. He is also a writer of real ability. He has written a book about his experiences, the upshot of which is bleak for anyone inclined to lean heavily on the incompetence defense for the disasters of the occupation. For he seems to have gone at the work of reconstruction and occupation with great energy, skill and determination, and he left with virtually nothing to show for it. Prince of the Marshes tells his story, and tells it well.

Vera Brittain. Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925

Vera Brittain lost her young fiance in World War I, and then two dear friends, and finally her brother. In 1915, she left Oxford to work as a nurse, caring for wounded soldiers, first in Britain, then Malta, and finally France. Her account of the war, and its shattering effects on her entire generation, is powerful, bitter, and moving. At the close of the war, she resumed her studies at Oxford, and on graduating moved on to a career as a novelist, journalist, and activist for internationalism and feminism. The whole tale is engaging, and Brittain writes persuasively and incisively about her causes, especially feminism. But it is the four deaths, and the struggle that follows to accept and understand the senseless waste of talent and energy they represented, that are so moving, and that form the emotional core of the story.

This is a wonderful book, tying together the personal and the political together in way that illuminates each. I got it out of the library after reading about it here. I’m grateful for the recommendation.


Nada (0)

2008 05 05
One man’s modus ponens…


…is another man’s modus tollens.

I really wanted to read this review, but after reading its first sentence, I realized that logic prevents me from doing so1:

If you are interested enough in epistemology to be reading this review, then you must read the marvelous book being reviewed.


1. Chris, this post is meant to make us philosophy types chuckle. No need to point out all the ways in which logic does in fact allow me to read the review and not the book. Just go quietly back to preventing future deaths of little kittens, OK?

(Thanks to noz in comments for helping me figure out how to make makeshift footnotes.)


Howls of outrage (5)

2008 03 24
Post hoc ergo clusterfuck


Posted by in: The Iraq War

I’m interested in selling the rights to the title of this blog post for $50, O.B.O.


Nada (0)

2008 03 13
Memories


Posted by in: The Iraq War

I see that Iraqi troops may soon be deployed to wrest the port at Um Qasr from the hands of the militias that now control it.

It seems like only yesterday that I was making my way onto John Aschcroft’s watch list by sending an email to the White House that criticized the raising of an American flag by American troops at Um Qasr during the first hours of the 2003 invasion.


Nada (0)

2007 09 18
Blackwater


I wonder how the Iraqi government’s move to kick Blackwater security contractors out of the country is going to play out. My (rather hazy) impression is that while Blackwater contractors in Iraq only number about a 1,000 (nobody seems to know for sure, but that’s the number I’ve seen floating around), they do stuff that the U.S. considers pretty important. It therefore seems a bit much to believe that they’re currently packing up and preparing to go home, whatever the Iraqi government thinks it can order them to do.

My guess: The U.S. leans hard on the Iraqi government over the next little bit and a (secret, of course) “compromise” is reached according to which Blackwater will lease the very same contractors to another outfit, or will set up a dummy company employing the same contractors. This way everyone can claim that “Blackwater” no longer has contractors in the country, when in fact it does.

UPDATE: Wrong! I’m surprised at how quickly and publicly the Iraqi government capitulated. Wow.


Nada (0)

2007 09 13
Deeply unpopular proposed law mysteriously fails to generate support


This piece by James Glanz in the NYT on the attempt to get the proposed Oil Law through Iraqi Parliament has a rather striking omission: In 26 paragraphs I don’t see a single mention of Iraqi opinion on the subject, which was trending toward a very negative view of the proposed law the last time I checked. It seems to me that anyone trying to arrive at a sensible view of the proposed law, and a sensible view of the significance of the possible failure of the proposed law, would want to know that the proposed law is widely unpopular. I understand that Glanz is trying to write about political developments in the Iraqi Parliament. But to some extent perhaps Iraqi politicians are responsive to public opinion, in which case we won’t be able to chalk up the failure to get the law passed entirely to a refusal to “compromise” (which is good, right?) or a tendency to be “glacial” (which is bad, right?).

Indeed, if I recall correctly, when a draft of the law first appeared it was criticized as the product of secret negotiations dominated by foreign oil companies, yada yada. Is there any substance to these criticisms? Of course, I am a widely recognized authority on the subject of complex, Arabic-language foreign investment laws. But, sadly, today is a Thursday, and I make it a firm rule not to comment on such matters on a Thursday, so you’ll just have to look elsewhere for enlightenment.

Anyway, I suspect that here Glanz has succumbed to the temptation to squeeze the story into the “stasis narrative” that is obligatory when writing about Iraqi politics. And no wonder it is obligatory: It’s hard to look at Iraqi politics these days and not think “Arrrr. That thar be stasis.” And of course the failure to pass such an important law, for all its imperfections and unpopularity, would obviously be a real setback at this point for someone hoping for a bit of momentum in the political process and the sort of stability that might allow for new development. But the situation is more complicated than that: there are actual people with actual opinions on the matter; they might need to be consulted on the matter; they might even have actual reasons for their opinions. And breaking the political stalemate will mean thwarting them, for better or worse. All this matters too.


Howls of outrage (2)

2007 08 03
Gates, Petraeus’s Right Hand Man: Surge Strategy Invalid


Posted by in: The Iraq War

As quoted in this post, the executive officer to General Petraeus, Colonel Peter Mansoor, was quoted as saying:

“If eventually the Iraqi government and the various sects and groups do not come to some sort of agreement on how to share power, on how to divide resources and on how to reconcile and stop the violence, then the assumption on which the surge strategy was based is invalid, and we would have to re-look the strategy…”

Yesterday Defense Secretary Robert Gates provided the minor premise:

“I think the developments on the political side are somewhat discouraging at the national level,” Gates said. “And clearly the withdrawal of the Sunnis from the government is discouraging. My hope is it can all be patched together. In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation, which, let’s face it, is not some kind of secondary thing.”

For those in Congress who really want to end America’s involvement in this war–and in the end this crowd may be smaller than it appears–Monsoor and Gates have provided all we need. Now we not only have a mantra, but a syllogism:

(1) If reconciliation fails, then the surge strategy is invalid.

(2) Reconciliation has failed.

(3) Therefore, the surge strategy is invalid.

Politically, this is all the cover any antiwar legislator needs.

Of course, it is likely that Gates, Patraeus, et al. will point to security improvements to make the case for progress. Anyone paying attention, however, knows that security is miserable, as is life for the typical Iraqi. But even here the official goalposts remain years away:

“I think the key is, not only establishing the security, but being able to hold on to those areas and for Iraqi Army and police to be able to provide the continuity of security over time,” he said. “It’s under that umbrella I think progress will be made at the national level.” Mr. Gates would not give a timetable.

The “clear and hold” line was, of course, the line offered in the run up to the surge. That was why we needed more troops. How’s that working? Let’s go to those on the ground:

But some officers in Iraq sharply disagreed with the assertion that the United States finally has enough personnel to bring security to the country. “I believe we have enough U.S. troops for this specific operation,” said a U.S. military strategist there, referring to Phantom Thunder. “I do not believe we’ve ever had enough troops to do all of the tasks we should be doing in Iraq.”

In terms of the fighting, the question may be academic. “There isn’t much more land power available for use in Iraq and Afghanistan,” retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, a former Army chief of staff, recently commented. “We are now ‘all in’ ” – that is, in poker terms, the U.S. armed forces have put all their chips on the table. …

A senior commander in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that U.S. plans do not call for holding cleared areas. Rather he said, the “Battle of the Baghdad Belts,” as some in the military call the new offensive, is a series of raids designed to reduce attacks on the capital and thus support the main effort, which is to improve the security of Baghdad’s population.


Nada (0)

2007 07 27
Solidarity


Norm writes:

A question I have put several times and have not heard an answer to is this: why did not more people who felt they couldn’t support the war in Iraq also not oppose it – in view of the plain fact that opposition meant leaving Saddam’s regime in power, free to continue torturing and murdering Iraqis? OK, they judged the consequences of the war would be worse than the consequences of leaving Saddam in power. But too many of them in doing that, even without taking the side of Saddam’s regime or of the subsequent Iraqi ‘resistance’, were rather more focused and vehement in their animus against the war effort and those prosecuting it than they were in expressing solidarity with democratic forces in Iraq or expressing anything much at all about the enemies of democracy there.

I don’t see what’s wrong with the answer he supplies here himself, which, contrary to what he suggests, he must have heard all over the place, if he was listening: that we opposed the war because we thought even worse things would come of it than Saddam Hussein in power – something we were right about, as Norm now accepts. As for the rest of it, I think we’re back to the argument from silence again. But here’s how it seems to me to work: Norm can construe rhetorical emphasis in opponents of the war in ways that are deeply unflattering to them, but when fairly obvious and problematic issues of rhetorical emphasis are pointed out in his own work, it’s not supposed to be an issue worth worrying about.

Anyway, at this point we’ve whittled down the charge against the bulk of the anti-war types to the fact that we put too much emphasis on our criticisms of the war and not enough on expressing solidarity with Iraqis. Prior to the war, I think the following suffices: we had our hands full. We were trying to stop a disaster, and although it’s hardly the most pressing issue, it’s hard not to be ticked off at people who made a silly game of pretending that trying to avert this disaster meant we had some sort of defective moral sensibilities.

The more important point is that after the war, the criticisms of corruption in the so-called reconstruction were in significant part expressions of solidarity with Iraqis. Criticisms of long-term basing ambitions in Iraq were also in significant part expressions of solidarity with Iraqis. So too were criticisms of many of the other decisions, large and small, that forced Iraqis into a bitter choice between collaboration with a corrupt neo-colonialist invading force with long-term designs on the country and a wretched sectarian insurgency. And, again, Norm had very little to say about these aspects of the occupation (beyond the issue of torture), perhaps distracted by the moral idiocy of the critics of the war, which I suppose is just one more reason to think them naughty.

I’m pretty sure the occupation was doomed anyway, and that no amount of complaining from critics could have saved it. But as long as there was hope we really did need as much focussed criticism as possible of precisely those aspects of the occupation that exacerbated a bad situation. Ritualistic denunciations of the insurgency – people who were widely understood to be wicked, who weren’t listening anyway, and who weren’t accountable to voters – just weren’t a priority.


Howls of outrage (2)

2007 07 24
Let me guess, the plan to protect the Green Zone is codenamed “Stalingrad”


A review of a recent book on Xenophon’s Anabasis passes on a little tidbit about the Iraq War that I hadn’t heard before: “Early plans for the current administration’s invasion of Iraq included a program of infiltration with the code name ‘Anabasis.’” (( The author’s footnote reads: “Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006), p. 6. I am grateful to Page Dubois for calling my attention to this instance of classical reception.” ))

That’s actually pretty funny, in a dark way.


Howls of outrage (2)