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Thursday, July 15, 2004

IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: Was War To Topple Their Mass-Murdering Regimes Worth It?

The original communication from someone called "Del" appears at the end here. It was sent directly to me, rather than posted as a comment on the buggy site here. My replies might be of interest, especially since they concern both 1) his view of my underlying political beliefs and, more to the point, 2) whether or not our wars with the Taliban Afghanistan regime and the no less mass-murdering one in Iraq last year, along with our military and political policies in both countries since then, have been worth it.


More generally, the prof believes that American power in the world is basically a benign force; believes too that the US is a decent, unusually tolerant country with built-in capacities for steady if carefully conceived reform; and dislikes utopians and extravagant ideologues of the left and right extremes, whether in domestic or foreign policies. And, to be blunt, he not just dislikes but detests and stands flat-footed against the garbled silly pc-dogmas about American life and politics and our country's foreign policies that aging, grudge-laden professors of tediously self-righteous convictions have tried to impose on the rest of us in academia for three decades now.

Could you ask a heroin addict linked by need to our favorite warlords in Afghanistan to define "benign" above for me? Or you could ask one of the victims in Iraq?



Despite the sarcasm in the second paragraph, thanks for the comments. Here are some replies tossed out in semi-systematic ways off the top of my head.

1) Buggy views.

In your first paragraph, you've unraveled a good summary of my underlying convictions. Well done. Too bad you spoiled it with the follow-up paragraph.

You could have noted my being in favor of intervention to stop genocide, wherever it is. Hence the US State Dept alone --- unlike the EU countries, whose peoples are busy on long vacations, never mind the Arab countries whose populations can never, apparently, protest anything malevolent, however mass-murderous, if its perpetrated by Arab governments or terrorists --- has called for international action to stop the genocidal warfare against tropical Africans in the south and now the west of Sudan, Christians or animists, whose main crime is apparently to be black and not Muslim. That war has been waged with ferocity for two decades now by a militarist Arab government in power. Over two million people have died. The recent slaughter in Dafur, in the western part of Sudan, is being carried out apparently by local Arab auxilliaries of the vicious military government in Khartoum.

Even Kofi Annan has urged action once or twice, not more: don't want to ruffle the European peoples on vacation or the Arab countries, you see. To judge by the evidence, you can't expect the Arab governments or peoples to act at all to stop such genocide. If a few hundred thousand people are being slaughtered by vicious Arab regimes or militaries, or even millions as in the Sudan, they just don't seem to care . . . at any rate, as long as the victims are infidels or, in the case of Saddam Hussein, as long as he's the newest and latest strongman Arab champion full of bluster toward the naughty West.

France and China, joined by Algeria and Pakistan in the UN Security Council, ensured that the recent resolution on the Sudan was innocent huffing-and-puffing, nothing more. Nobody in the EU, apparently, wants to jeopardize their economic stakes in the Sudan, any more than China does. As for the Muslim members of the Security Council, their governments appear totally indifferent to any slaughter of the infidels. See this link for more.


2) Drug addicts.

For what it's worth, I'm opposed to legislation that outlaws drugs. People who want them will find ways to get them, while the illegality increases crime and makes urban streets unsafe. The real profits accrue to organized mobsters, whether in Columbia or the Middle East or Miami. We'd be much better off allocating some of the money in the war against drugs to education, starting early . . . as with cigarettes.

The rest of the money could be spent on far more productive and needed programs. Our streets will also be much safer, too, once addicts stop preying on innocent people around them to get money for an illegal fix. As with alcohol, drugs, of course, shouldn't be sold to minors. Another benefit as well, come to that: the organized gangs --- including now African-American and Hispanic ones now as well as those run by whites for decades --- will have fewer profits to share, exactly like the liquor-runners in Prohibition; so as they fight ever more fiercely for the shriking pot of money, they might begin killing off one another in droves . . . something that also happened to the mobsters after Prohibition ended in 1933.


3) Afghanistan:

More than 1 million political refugees have returned to the country; women are no longer treated as slaves; the brutal Talibans are no longer whipping them or forbidding music; and a consensual government has emerged for the first time in decades. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are hiding out in caves somewhere in the mountains, not openly training in terrorist camps. The war against terrorism, as the president has repeatedly argued, will go on a long time.


4) Victims in Iraq?

1. Are you referring to the hundreds of thousands of bodies uncovered in Iraq mass graves since last year's war?

2. Or to the million deaths in the Iraq war with Iran? Or to the tens of thousands of Kurds killed in their villages in the late 1980s, first by biological agents (they didn't work well), then by poison gas, then followed up by elite Iraqi security forces that simply shot most of them?

3. Or maybe --- despite the exaggerations by the propaganda machine in Baghdad ---- you're referring to the tens of thousands of Iraqi children who died for lack of effective medical help and medicines during the oil-sanction period, first between 1991 and 1996 when Saddam refused to accept a UN offer to allow oil sales in exchange for food and medical purchases, or from 1996 until 2003 when tens of billions of dollars worth of oil sales were siphoned off by Saddam and his gangster regime, with the lavish help of UN officials, French, German, and Russian companies (and politicians most likely), and whoever else could be bought off easily by the dough.

Only fair to add that nobody knows the exact sums skimmed off by Saddam, thousands of other top-Baathist authorities, UN administrators --- or Kofi Annan's son in Geneva --- or hundreds and maybe thousands of foreign businessmen and bankers. All the money, we do know, was funneled through a French bank --- at the demand of Jacques Chirac, Saddam's friend and patron ever since Chirac was Prime Minister in 1976 and approved nuclear energy transfers to the Saddamite regime --- but we're talking at a minimum about several billion dollars, and most likely far more than that. Despite the subpoening of the bank's records by a US House of Representatives subcommittee, we'll probably never get to the bottom of this rotten barrel.

That said, the third key point here still sticks out: whatever the payola and kickbacks and outright lies surrounding the oil-for-food program, tens of thousands of Iraqi children died --- even if it's the fault of the Iraqi regime --- and yet nobody in France, Germany, or the rest of the EU, or on the left in the US, seemed to care.

The moral? Leave aside the grafters and gangster-politicians and businessmen and Saddamites in Iraq. During all these years of oil sales, the rest of the Europeans, Russians Arab street, US left, and others could always claim to have clean hands during all these years of oil sales . . . maybe, who knows? The most important thing for you.

5) One more point about Iraq: Bush Flaws

The Bush administration's conduct of the occupation has been flawed from the start, for a host of reasons --- including intelligence failures, inter-agency disputes over how to run the occupation, the failure to have ready an occupational authority full of knowledgeable people (including Iraqis), the failure to vet initially a few thousand Iraqi policemen to deal with lawlessness (plus US MPs, combat troops not being trained at all for such activity), and above all --- the key lesson about the Vietnam fiasco --- the failure to appoint an Iraqi transitional authority like the one in Baghdad today to be in charge by the end of last summer. The use of combat units for dealing with terrorist and insurgent suicide bombers also looms as largely futile, something the Israelis could have instructed the Bush administration about.

More generally, such counter-terrorism in urban areas can't be effectively carried out for practical and moral reasons by large combat forces representing a democratic country, let alone one trying to encourage a consensual elected government in Iraq. Combat troops aren't even trained for such missions, and they're bound to cause huge casualties. Nor should they have been the ones called on at the start to deal with a surge of lawlessness in Baghdad and elsewhere.

What is needed are essentially three things:

1) Good intelligence, which means working with some local Iraqis (whether they cooperate out of conviction or for monetary reasons) who have a clear idea where the terrorists or insurgents are hiding in their neighborhood.

2) Small anti-terrorist special forces --- with an Iraqi guide or two --- to enter and attack them. At a minimum, special forces can pinpoint the location for a smart-weapon attack . . . the ways the Israelis have done to destroy the leadership and infrastructure of Hamas, and now Al Asqa and Fatah.

3) And a competent government and competent security forces that are Iraqi --- seen as Iraqi even if they can't please every Shiite radical or Sunni hater of Americans or even the far more moderate Kurds in the North. American military power can't substitute for a vacuum here. We can help, and in a variety of ways, including military assistance and training; little else. Needless to add, it also takes time to build such a local government in a country like Iraq, not only divided internally between the three main ethnic-sectarian groups, but just emerging from a 30 year nightmare totalitarian regime.

If, with US aid, the Iraqis can't develop an effective government and competent security forces with public support, then there's little that even a super-power can do to influence the tendencies either toward dictatorship or civil war and break-up . . . the main question that's left whether that civil war will be very bloody or not.


6) One Other Observation: the war and occupation worth it.

Despite the errors, bungling, and other problems of the Bush administration, I stand by the intervention in Iraq, believe it will still work out generally well ---- provided the standard isn't some Danish-like democracy (not in the cards anywhere in the Arab world: Turkey is still far from that standard), but rather a consensual government of competent leaders to then establish a constitution after its election and develop a more civilized form of rule in Iraq --- and believe, too, that the repercussions of that in the Middle East will redound to our benefit in the years and decades to come.

More generally, all the horrendous scenarios conjured up by its most zealous opponents from day one of the war to topple Saddam's brutal regime --- or even before it --- have turned out to be simply wrong:

  • No huge flight of refugees, hundreds of thousands according to a UN report in the winter of 2002-2003. The only refugees hurt were those shelled by Iraqi forces trying to keep the civilians inside the cities who wanted to flee in the south.

  • No meltdown of the oil fields, or any serious destruction whatever. Iraq's economy has finally begun to grow again, after a decade of stagnation and predatory exploitation by the Saddamites. It will probably grow around 60% this year. And of course the oil resources have been given to the Iraqi transitional government and will belong to the Iraqi people next year after elections.

  • No priceless loss of antiquities and other art objects . . . rather, only a few dozen missing, the rest carried off by the caretakers for safe-keeping.

  • No uprising of the Shiites in a fanatical religious jihad, the standard prediction of the media back in April and May in 2003. The insurrectionist activity of al-Sadr in two cities --- he's essentially a Mafioso warlord thug, maneuvering for power in Iraq as sovereignty moves to the Iraqis themselves --- was contained and his gunmen slaughtered whenever they confronted US forces. He has now agreed to behave himself, whatever that means by the local standards that prevail in that part of the world.

  • At most, as an upper-end estimate, the insurgents and foreign terrorists seem to number around 20,000. They could be lower. And though they can cause bombings and terror, they aren't a mass-based insurgency at all . . . a la Michael Moore, who claims they're like the American Minutemen in our Revolution. Even Le Monde, the leading Parisian daily, called his film Farenheit 9/11 pure "propaganda".

  • No huge civil war across ethnic and sectarian lines. Whether Iraq will fully hold together in several years time is another matter. There's no way to tell right now.

  • No mass insurrection by the aroused populations anywhere, even in the Sunni areas. Falloujah is probably now a hot-bed of terrorists, a good place to contain them. They will, if the Iraqi forces that are trained can get good intelligence, be generally destroyed in the months to come, provided that we switch to the sort of tactics that were mentioned a little while ago.


7) Buggy vote in November

Whether I'll vote for Bush in November is another matter. I respect his personal steadfastness and commitment to Iraq and his anti-terrorist policies, but there are all these problems in pursuing our occupation just mentioned --- and besides I'm a Democrat. Kerry seems a good candidate who has developed a responsible position on Iraq, however much he's straining to distance himself from policies that the administration has implemented that are almost indistinguishable from his own as he's stated them the last several months. Nor --- save for the rejection of the Kyoto Treaty, which would never have passed the Senate that had originally rejected it by a vote of 95-0 anyway --- am I happy with the environmental policies of the administration.

As for its economic policies, an administration has limited macro-economic leverage for coming out of a recession, and the Bush White House is no exception: the Fed (independent anyway) can reduce interest rates, something that it did and at record-lows, and Congress can vote tax cuts for a fiscal boost above and beyond what automatic boosts you get as taxes fall off and unemployment benefits rise. Whether the tax-cuts that were made have been enough, or are equitable, is debatable, but these have been discussed at length by the buggy prof in two earlier articles this last month on this site, and there's no point in repeating myself.

What matters are not the size of the deficits these days or next year or even in 2008, but what will happen if the 2003 tax-cuts are made permanent, instead of elapsing as they were publicly intended to; and if they do become permanent, which government programs will be cut and how much as compensation.

One more remark about Democrats and Republicans. The demonization of Bush by the Democratic left --- or some talky, very vocal but small number of radical bloggers, professors, and media types like Michael Moore --- sends a shudder of disgust up and down my spine, exactly as the demonization of Clinton by the right-wing did during his tenure in office. To call this icky mud-slinging partisan politics is too kind. To call Michael Moore an engaged activist is way too kind. It's a form of political pathology, which needs to be analyzed by a psychologically adept analyst, fully aware of abnormal psychology and how personal identity-problems and churning frustration and rage get projected into the political arena.

My hope is that both Kerry and Edwards stay far away from this hoked-up pathological miasma.


8) Kerry on the Allies: All Strange Stuff.

So if Bush's foreign policy on Iraq and Afghanistan is sound but flawed in its application, what about the Kerry foreign policy that he's identified himself with? It turns out to be a mixed bag too . . . generally sound and responsible on Iraq, and with some impressive advisers on foreign policy like Richard Holbrooke --- to whom I'll return in a moment or two --- but full of gas-bad prattle about working better with the allies.

With the allies?

That's what George Bush's administration did in the wars with Taliban Afghanistan and over Iraq. Consider the evidence. In West Europe, of the 11 EU NATO members, 6 supported us strongly over Iraq in 2003 --- despite public opinion opposed to such support (save in Britain once the war started); the opponents were France and Germany, plus tiny Belgium and even tinier Luxembourg (250,000). In East Europe, all the existing NATO members there --- 10 in all (7 new this year) --- supported the administration; the Poles and Czechs even sent military units to Iraq, as did Australia and Britain. For that matter, close to 20 NATO countries now have small forces in Iraq right now.

So does Kerry mean that we should strive harder to woo France led by Chirac and Germany by Schroeder, plus tiny Luxembourg and Belgium? And if we did succeed, what exactly would NATO do in Iraq that the 20 countries with small forces there aren't already doing?

In Afghanistan, if you want a standard of what to expect from NATO --- really, scarcely much more whatever we did or do --- both the UN Security Council and NATO supported the war against the Taliban regime in 2001. Since then, the US's NATO allies have seen about 5000 peace-keepers in all. They can't even get out of Kabul. Exactly what forces would be available for Iraq, now that Chirac won't even allow NATO trainers to be on Iraqi soil.

Seems restrictive, that Chirac-view --- no? That's not the real question. The real question is whether . . .


9) . . . France Is A Friendly Country?

Well, maybe at times a small majority of its population --- trends in public opinion move up and down on this count --- might be somewhat friendly; but not its government anyway . . . not now, not formerly, not likely in the future whatever its political stripe or whoever is president, a socialist like Mitterrand or a conservative like Chirac.

Tersely put, French diplomacy pursues its own interests in a fairly narrow but fully predictable manner: stymieing and reducing US influence, first in France, then in Europe, then globally . . . all in order to boost French power and influence. That has been the main objective for decades, even if, from time to time --- as in the Cold War or in 1991 in the Persian Gulf or over Kosovo --- there will be overlapping national interests between French and US concerns.

In pursuing that over-arching objective, French governments have expelled US and NATO forces off French soil (1966) when it seems politically and diplomatically useful; refused overflight for US planes in an anti-terrorist raid on Quaddi's Libya (1986); will gone to war without UN approval over Kosovo when French leaders decide that the country's interests are at stake (or will intervene in the Ivory Coast, a supposedly sovereign country, and elsewhere in Africa to maintain a zone of influence with brutal and corrupt regimes. And it still has never returned to the integrated military structure of the alliance, though it did offer in 1995, generously, provided we put the US Mediterranean fleet under its command for NATO. Overall, as the record shows, French diplomacy is more concerned with checking US power and influence than with anything else. That's true in the war on terrorism. .

Is France then an enemy state?

No --- just an unfriendly one, out to maximize French influence and prestige wherever and whenever it can; and that means using leverage in NATO when it can to counter US initiatives, not to forget the UN Security Council. As for NATO, we'd be better off if France weren't in it at all.

Back in the pre-Chirac era, by the way, President Mitterrand said openly that he regarded the US as France's greatest adversary, hard and domineering, and that the French should concentrate on defeating our country diplomatically in numerous ways: " we are at war with America." "It was, he admitted, "a war without death," but nevertheless was "a permanent war, a vital war." See this link.

Enter again Richard Holbrooke, a seasoned former diplomat of talent who could be Kerry's National Security adviser or maybe even his Secretary of State. Recently interviewed on TV by Bill O'Reilly, he was asked bluntly whether he thought France was a friendly country. He hesitated, seemed embarrassed, smiled sheepishly, and then said it was a difficult country to work with. The interviewer said that the hesitation and lame comment added up to seeing France as unfriendly --- again, its governments and the Gaullist nationalism, embraced from the Communist left and Greens through the Socialists, and the right-wing coalition parties. Holbrooke didn't disagree.


10) Anti-Americanism as the Basis of French Nationalism These Days

More basically, systematic anti-Americanism as a nationalistic rally --- call it nationalist ideology --- is firmly embedded in French political and administrative circles, political parties of all ilk (save for a tiny center-liberal formation in the right-wing party-coalition, the UMP), the media, and generally the intellectual classes. Again, all this has been analyzed at length in several buggy articles the last year, and no need to rehearse them again. You might look at Le Monde's review of Jean-Francois Revel's book on the zeal and depth with which anti-Americanism as an ideology is diffused in French thinking, at any rate in the circles just mentioned. See this link on Revel's l'Obession anti-americaine, and this wider analysis that deals with both Revel's book and a more scholarly one by another Frenchmen, Philippe Roger: "l'Ennemi americain. And the use of anti-Americanism as a pivot of French foreign policy to rally the nation and score domestic points is set out clearly in both books, especially Robert's.

Note that the International Herald Tribune's summary of the French debate about the two books --- both of which appeared in 2002 --- was all the more astute because John Vincour, its staff member, lives in Paris and knows French life and politics thoroughly. The whole Vincour article is set out in the second buggy article just linked to. It starts out tellingly:

"PARIS Two new books by French authors, one at the top of the best-seller list, the other described as a work of exceptional scholarship, are confronting the French with the proposition that their anti-Americanism is a self-inflicted national illness.

"For one of the authors, the anti-Americanism of the French is a willful delusion, an attempt by a dominant political and intellectual caste to mask its own failures and insignificance.

"For the other, French anti-Americanism is a centuries-old tradition - a layered accumulation of condescension and fear, vastly more significant than the French gift of a Statue of Liberty to the United States or the assistance of a Marquis de Lafayette - and a rare terrain in French national life where conflicting political and intellectual forces can find common ground. . . .


True, there has been a flurry of anti-French sentiment the last year in the US . . . mainly silly stuff, like boycotting French wine. It was a direct result of American surprise and disappointment to find that a supposed ally was doing what it could to form and lead a counter-blocking alliance against the US-UK initiative . . . judged vital to their national interests by the democratically elected governments in London and Washington and, come to that, in several other capitols in Europe and Australia. That's it, the whole shebang. The flurry will and has died down.

No surprise really. There's nothing akin in the US to the well-established anti-Americanism that dominates French diplomacy, politics, and intellectual life as analyzed not just by Revel or Roger but lots of other analysts on both sides of the Atlantic. The overwhelming majority of Americans know little about France, care little about it, and before 2003 had no knowledge of its diplomacy and objectives. They still don't, and in another two or three years, most will have forgotten the boycott-French-wine hi-jinks.

At least in Germany, the Christian Democratic opposition has been critical of Schroeder's diplomacy and the fights he picked with the US. Today, by the way, Chirac's standing in French opinion is less than half it was at the time of his opposition to Bush and the war with Iraq. Schroeder's standing in Germany is at an all-time low for a German Chancellor.


Back to Kerry then. Against this background, we have to ask once more: exactly what does he mean when he says that he would consult with the "allies" more diligently than Bush did in 2002 and 2003? Does he mean that he would give Paris a veto over US action? Obviously not: that would be an electoral fiasco this year, quite apart from his undoubted objections to such an action. But then --- as with Richard Holbrooke's waffling --- what exactly does he mean?

Replies: 2 comments


Stylistically speaking, you are a terrible writer. Your thoughts are ill-defined; the strength of your arguments is lost in a myriad of tangents and petty quibbles. Your style is insipid and pedestrian, and to top it off, you are a plagarist. I am shocked that you hold a PhD, but then it pleases me to note that your evils are confined to the "intellectual" circles of UCSB (lol!). Perhaps when you land a real job, you learn to be anything but a churlish philistine.

And to you a good day.


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