Thursday, May 24, 2007

An Unrequested Response to QandO's Mr. Franks

I have some tenuous connection with QandO, having been invited by Jon Henke to participate in the first incarnation of the now defunct Inactivist, so I pop over there now and then and check things out. At the moment, Memeorandum is linking to a series of questions Dale Franks raises under the title Questions for Our Liberal Friends. I don't see myself as a liberal or a conservative, but they are good questions deserving some sort of answers from both sides of the political spectrum as well as from outliers like myself. Since I now find myself on the withdraw sooner rather than later side of the question, I thought I'd take a whack at addressing his questions.
First, I'm wondering what you think the result of an American withdrawal would be? And we really have to ask that about two spheres, the internal Iraqi results, and the effect on America's security.

Addressing the second point first, my guess is that the long term effect would be good for America's security. Personally, I do think there is something to the "keep the terrorists shooting at us over there" argument, but it's not a reasonable long term strategy. I do buy into the "blowback" theory -- that is, that the primary motivating factor among Islamic terrorists is the continued U.S. military presence in the Middle East (followed closely by U.S. support for Israel); thus, I think any significant reduction in that presence bodes well for a reduction in terrorist activity. Our presence in Iraq, however, is but one piece of that problem.

The first part of the question presupposes that a U.S. troop withdrawal now versus a withdrawal later would lead to different results. ("Now" meaning sometime within, say, a year.) I'm not so sure. To me, the best analogy to Iraq is Yugoslavia. Once the strong dictatorship is overthrown, be it Tito or Hussein, the resulting civil war among the ethnic and geographical factions that were, after all, involuntarily united in the first place is probably inevitable. The better question, if that is true, is what sort of support, if any, the varying factions (e.g., the Kurds) should continue to receive.
Do you reject the "you broke it, you bought it" idea?

I take that to mean something along the lines that the U.S. has created the current situation in Iraq and is therefore now obligated to stay the course to fix things. Yes, I do reject that notion as here applied. If I thought a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, albeit with some sort of finite endpoint, was more likely than not to resolve matters, I might think otherwise; but as I do not, the question resolves to one of sunk costs and cutting losses.
Do you think the Iraqis will find a way to cobble their state together? Do you think it will descend into a civil bloodbath? If so, then why don't we have any responsibility to try and prevent it? Compare and contrast with Kosovo and Darfur. What if Iraq turns into a Taliban-like cesspool, and becomes a base for terrorist operation against the US in the same way Afghanistan was?

No. Yes. Because one does not have a moral obligation to attempt to prevent the inevitable. I have already compared Iraq to Yugoslavia. I think Darfur muddies the waters here unnecessarily and should be considered as a separate topic. Finally, the answer to "what if" type questions is "we'll see." Do I think the U.S. did the right thing by invading Afghanistan and wiping out, at least temporarily, the Taliban? Yes. Does that mean the U.S. should remain in Afghanistan forever? No. Does it mean the U.S. should take appropriate retaliatory action whenever and wherever Taliban-like cesspools provide safe havens and bases of operations for terrorist attacks against the U.S. Hell, yes.
Do you think that the Iraqis can build a stable, functioning democratic state? If not, why? Are they just not suited for Democracy as a people? If so, what are their deficiencies?

Ever? Sure, why not? In the near future? No. As individuals, we are all suited for democracy. As cultures, separated by long historical rivalries on tribal, ethnic, religious, etc. differences, I doubt the various populations of Iraq are collectively capable of sufficient peaceful coexistence for the sort of democracy I suspect Mr. Franks has in mind to work. Again, witness the breakup of Yugoslavia.
The other half of the question is what effect will it have on American security? Will it embolden terrorists? Will our withdrawal make it more or less likely that terrorists will begin marshaling forces for another 9/11 style attack? Why?

I think I've replied to some of that already. One problem with these questions and these sorts of discussions, however, is that neither "side" has adequate information. Has the Bush Doctrine worked in terms of preventing subsequent 9/11 type attacks or was 9/11 a one-off in the first place? I don't know. Neither does Mr. Franks and neither does anyone else, especially those of us who do not have access to classified intelligence information.
On the Global War on Terror more generally, will a withdrawal from Iraq help or hinder that effort? Or do we need to make an effort at all, other than some Special Ops stuff here and there, and intelligence, prevention, and law enforcement operations otherwise? What would be the US's military role after a withdrawal from Iraq? Does the US military actually have much a role beyond repelling an invasion?

As previously mentioned, I supported and continue to support U.S. military operations of the Afghanistan Taliban "cesspool" variety. Personally, I would never preemptively rule out any U.S. military operation or deployment of military power. For that matter, based on what the public was told, I supported the Iraq war at the beginning and might support a preemptive use of military force in the future. Whether that is consistent with a generally libertarian point of view doesn't bother me in the slightest. On the other hand, I don't see America's options when it comes to international terrorism or international policy generally to be limited to the sort of either / or dichotomy implicit in the question. Surely we can consider options in between an entirely isolationist, "guns at the border" U.S. military policy and one of the U.S. as "global cop on the beat," especially when much of that "beat" views the "cops" in question rather like U.S. urban minorities have historically viewed the police as merely being enforcers for "the Man."
Are we doomed to fail at achieving anything worthwhile in Iraq? Why? Is it something organic to Iraq, or simply a problem with the current president? Would another administration be able to achieve some reasonable level of peace and stability?

To quote T.E. Lawrence, nothing is written. That said, it cannot be unreasonable to believe that the Middle East will view any new U.S. administration as an opportunity for change. Change for the better or for the worse? Who knows?
Oh, yeah, and one final question: What if you're wrong?

Yes, we all need to answer that question, don't we? Well, that again depends on how wrong and with what consequences. I'm not making a cheap comparison here to Mr. Franks, but let me invoke the psychology of the drug addict or alcoholic who, as miserable as he may be, nonetheless fears life without the known risks and rewards of his addiction. The dangers of the unknown are more frightening than the dangers of the known, but that's no argument for avoiding a change when the evidence indicates change is called for.

Is that the case here, new and unknown risks included? I think so. I'm not sure either side in this dispute can, as Mr. Franks desires, "show his math." Would a relatively quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq be painless? Of course not. Pain, per se, isn't the issue. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree even now about the various pros and cons here, but is whistling past the graveyard really worse than standing silently at the graveyard, waiting in the certain knowledge that more dead are on the way if we continue to act as we have?

10 comments:

Mona said...

Well said! I don't accept a Rothbardian notion of absolute non-intervention, but the rascals we elect must be, above, all pragmatic and put this nation's interests front and center. (Milton Friedman said in a Reason interview once that he did not think libertarianism dictates a foreign policy view; I disagree to the extent of a libertarian embracing nation-building as a jolly good project -- Hayek and all -- but otherwise take his point.)

What bothers me most abut Franks and other obstinate hawks is that they continue to pillory the Scowcrofts and Howard Deans, whether Republican or Democrat, as some sort of anti-American lunatics. Is it not time to admit that perhaps those who carefully laid out a case for not invading Iraq, and who proved correct in their concerns, might be the better folks to consult for fixing the mess now?

Thoreau said...

I agree with pretty much everything you said.

I especially like the way you turn around the "What if we fail?" question. And you also apply the concept of opportunity costs, suggesting that the bloodshed in the aftermath of US withdrawal in the near future will probably not be very different from the bloodshed in the aftermath of a US withdrawal in the distant future.

Anonymous said...

Great! So all the USA has to do is basically whatever the enemy wants, whenever they want it, and that should appease them.

Wonderful strategy.

D.A. Ridgely said...

Anonymous:

That certainly isn't what I said, but I might turn that around and ask if your position is that the U.S. should be able to do anything it wants anywhere it wants and expect everyone else in the world simply to accept it.

ItAintEazy said...

It seems like most of those questions should have been applied to the self-same flaghugging uberhawks BEFORE the fuck-up in Eye-Rack.

larry, dfh said...

Tito wasn't overthrown, he died. Helmut Kohl and GHWB were first and second to recognise the autonomy of Croatia, which seems to be the first group to initiate ethnic cleansing.

D.A. Ridgely said...

I could make a lame joke, given how long Tito ruled, and say that he had to die first and then be overthrown; but you're right. Point taken.

Gsnorgathon said...

...let me invoke the psychology of the drug addict or alcoholic who, as miserable as he may be, nonetheless fears life without the known risks and rewards of his addiction. The dangers of the unknown are more frightening than the dangers of the known, but that's no argument for avoiding a change when the evidence indicates change is called for.

Beautiful.

DrBB said...

Are we doomed to fail at achieving anything worthwhile in Iraq? Why? Is it something organic to Iraq, or simply a problem with the current president? Would another administration be able to achieve some reasonable level of peace and stability?

Who's "we" kimosabe? The fact that he blithely phrases the question this way tells you everything about why the project is failing. And then he does the classic wingnut two-step, laying out a set of false dualities that are oblivious to the real answer, which he thinks is a devilishly clever way of exposing the "liberal" bias. Comes from debating only people you agree with. Lazy.

Yes, I think the effort is doomed. Why? Because social engineering on that scale is enormously difficult under any circumstances, and could be achieved--if at all--only with the greatest amount of planning and exhaustive attempts to understand the cultures involved. Whereas these buffoons went in not knowing there was a difference between shi'a and sunni and spent years blundering around without the remotest clue as to what they were doing. They actually threw out the State Department's plan for how to pacify the country and replaced it with the brilliant idea of trying to put a known international scam artist in charge. Their war plan didn't even include securing known weapons depots despite the fact that the ostensible reason for the invasion was to, um, secure and eliminate WMDs.

In short, the number of idiot mistakes were legion in a project with little if any margin for error, far too many to recover from at this point even if you grant the possibility (or wisdom) of "democratizing" someone else's country for them when you don't even want to bother learning their language. Which is almost always how this sort of thing is done, and thus why it almost always fails.

News flash for neocons: people generally react poorly to an occupation no matter how "benign" its intentions. This is something sane people already know, having looked at a little bit of late-20th century history. Staying longer and smashing more stuff is generally not going to miraculously make it better. Sunk costs are not a reason to sink more costs.

Anonymous said...

Great! So all the USA has to do is basically whatever the enemy wants, whenever they want it, and that should appease them.

I think it's pretty well known that a certain Osama bin Laden thinks that a continued American presence in Iraq is just dandy. The old schemer seems to believe that it has something to do with bankrupting the U.S., and rallying people to his side.
-- sglover