Is The US Abandoning Afghan Interpreters To Certain Death? - Via Reason TV
"We are a nation of law unless we’re scared."
With the recent upswing in violence in Iraq, neocon voices who supported the war are crawling back out of the woodwork and into the media spotlight. In the process, many people have (rightly) questioned their credibility, since the Iraq War is now more commonly viewed as a boondoggle than a success.
One of the ways that neocons attempt to rehabilitate their credibility on Iraq is to point to the 2007 troop surge, which was followed by a reduction in fatality rates across the board. However, Stephen Walt, a International Affairs professor at Harvard, was recently interviewed over at Salon. He says that the popular meme about the Iraq “troop surge” being a success is false:
So, three questions to begin with. First, why did you say the “surge” failed in 2008?
The “surge” had two explicit objectives: 1) reduce the level of violence, and 2) enable political reconciliation among competing Iraqi groups. The first goal was merely tactical; the second goal was the real prize. It has been clear for some time that this second, more important goal was never achieved. Ergo, the “surge” failed.
Second, what problems have resulted from failing to realize this?
I see two problems. First, it made some Americans more confident that we could repeat the surge’s alleged successes in Afghanistan, which paved the way for Obama’s decision to escalate that war in 2009. Second, it fooled some people into thinking that the U.S. could have “finished the job” in Iraq if it had just been willing to stay there longer.
Third, what does this tell us about the broader failings of the neoconservatives?
It reminds us that their track record as policy analysts and forecasters is abysmal; they’ve been wrong about almost every important strategic choice since 9/11 (if not before). It also reveals that their basic worldview is flawed, and that they’ve never been willing to rethink it, despite all the evidence against them.
I would go even one step further: I don’t think the troop surge is the primary reason for the security gains that followed in 2008. It is a little-known fact that the U.S. government literally cut checks to insurgents to get them to stop fighting in 2007. Security increased not because there were more boots on the ground, but because the government paid off insurgents to stop fighting. This arrangement worked out for a few years while Sunnis sympathetic to anti-government forces waited to see if Maliki’s government would treat them fairly. Unfortunately, the Maliki government has largely alienated Sunnis in Iraq by cutting them out of electoral institutions. This has caused a lot of resentment in the Sunni community. That resentment has prevented the kind of political and cultural reconciliation that the Surge was supposed to lay the groundwork for. And now, of course, we have the latest wave of violence.
As the U.S. government continues to alienate its allies:
Citing two unnamed “U.S. officials familiar with the matter,” Reuters reports that the CIA “was involved in a spying operation against Germany that led to the alleged recruitment of [the] German intelligence official.” It goes on:
CIA Director John Brennan has asked to brief key members of the U.S. Congress on the matter, which threatens a new rupture between Washington and a close European ally, one of the officials said.
It was unclear if and when Brennan’s briefing to U.S. lawmakers would take place. The CIA declined any comment on the matter.
A BBC analyst explains that frustration with America is multipartisan in German politics:
"Outrage" runs across the political spectrum - it’s not just a "chattering class" issue. Wolfgang Bosbach, for example, who is the Christian Democrat [centre-right] head of the Bundestag committee which oversees interior affairs, questioned whether the US and Germany could be considered as "partners" any more.
It’s hilarious to me that the U.S. Government has prosecuted people for doing precisely what the CIA may very well have encouraged the above German intelligence official to do: sell intelligence secrets to a foreign government. American exceptionalism indeed.
Former head of CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, Michael Scheuer vs. Peter King and fellow congressman on US Foreign Policy, Israel and what inspires the terrorists to fight.
LTMC: A spirited exchange.
Iraqis can take care of their own problems. No U.S. intervention needed.
Peter Beinart has taken a big swing at Obama’s Iraq policy, labeling it a “disaster.”
Among Beinart’s criticisms are Obama’s failure to “push” Maliki’s government to be more inclusive of Sunnis:
Yes, the Iraq War was a disaster of historic proportions. Yes, seeing its architects return to prime time to smugly slam President Obama while taking no responsibility for their own, far greater, failures is infuriating.
But sooner or later, honest liberals will have to admit that Obama’s Iraq policy has been a disaster. Since the president took office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has grown ever more tyrannical and ever more sectarian, driving his country’s Sunnis toward revolt. Since Obama took office, Iraq watchers—including those within his own administration—have warned that unless the United States pushed hard for inclusive government, the country would slide back into civil war. Yet the White House has been so eager to put Iraq in America’s rearview mirror that, publicly at least, it has given Maliki an almost-free pass. Until now, when it may be too late.
Beinart also criticizes Obama for his failure to “push” the Maliki government to allow American troops to stay in Iraq past 2011:
Under an agreement signed by George W. Bush, the U.S. was to withdraw forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. American military officials, fearful that Iraq might unravel without U.S. supervision, wanted to keep 20,000 to 25,000 troops in the country after that. Obama now claims that maintaining any residual force was impossible because Iraq’s parliament would not give U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution. Given how unpopular America’s military presence was among ordinary Iraqis, that may well be true. But we can’t fully know because Obama—eager to tout a full withdrawal from Iraq in his reelection campaign—didn’t push hard to keep troops in the country. As a former senior White House official told Peter Baker of The New York Times, “We really didn’t want to be there and [Maliki] really didn’t want us there.… [Y]ou had a president who was going to be running for re-election, and getting out of Iraq was going to be a big statement.”
In recent days, Republicans have slammed Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. But the real problem with America’s military withdrawal was that it exacerbated a diplomatic withdrawal that had been underway since Obama took office.
I encourage you to click through and read the whole article. For now, I’d like to address the problems with Beinart’s argument.
First, there is a reason why Beinart uses a vague, ill-defined term like “push” to describe efforts which the Obama administration could have used to prevent the current violence in Iraq: Beinart is afraid to come out and say what he actually wants the Obama Administration to do.
Beinart’s preferred course of action would require the Obama administration to break a legally binding treaty signed by Obama’s predecessor, on the grounds that leaving troops in Iraq after 2011 would have been better policy. Why? Because the diplomatic pressure that Beinart thinks the Obama administration should have applied to Iraq only matters if the Maliki government thinks there will be consequences should they decide not to cooperate. What consequences does Beinart propose? In the realm of international affairs, “consequences” generally require a threat of force. Nations generally only have two forms of force at their disposal: (1) military intervention, or (2) economic sanctions.
This means that getting Maliki’s government to cooperate would likely require either the threat of a second military intervention in Iraq (potentially to oust Maliki), or the threat of economic sanctions against Maliki’s government. The latter course would essentially guarantee that Iraq plunges into chaos by causing economic disruption and humanitarian disasters—an environment that violent fundamentalism thrives in. So in any sane world, we’re pretty much just looking at the threat of another military intervention. Something I doubt would win the U.S. many friends in the Middle East.
Second, even if we assume that leaving troops in Iraq after 2011 would have been good policy, in order to do so legally, Obama would need to renegotiate the treaty signed by George W. Bush. That would require the cooperation of the Maliki government—something Beinart admits has been non-existent from day one. The only other alternative is to break the treaty signed by George W. Bush.
Breaking that treaty would be unconstitutional under Art. VI, cl. 2 of the Constitution, which states that treaties lawfully entered into by the U.S. Government are the “supreme law of the land.” Treaties signed and ratified by the U.S. government have the same legal status as federal law. So if Obama can’t convince Maliki to renegotiate the terms of the treaty, Beinart’s plan would require Obama to violate Art. VI of the U.S. Constitution. As stated above, Beinart admits that the cooperation from the Maliki government has not been forthcoming. So all we’re left with, practically speaking, is breaking treaties and violating Art. VI of the Constitution.
If Obama did what Beinart is asking him to do, many of the same people who claim Obama didn’t do enough to intervene in Iraq’s affairs would in turn claim that Obama was engaging in (yet more) executive overreach and disregarding the limitations of his office. And in this case, they would be correct. Unilaterally breaking a legally binding treaty would be a clearly impeachable offense.
With all this in mind, I don’t view Beinart’s take on the situation in Iraq as all that pragmatic. More to the point, his insistence that the renewed violence in Iraq requires American intervention to solve is another example of the same brand of American Exceptionalism that Beinart himself has written about the decline of. This idea that the violence in Iraq can only be cured by a “better U.S. policy” is a conceit of star-spangled origin. Iraqis are capable of solving this problem themselves. We should let them do so before the U.S. becomes embroiled in yet another sustained military intervention that requires years to extract ourselves from.
LTMC: Unintended consequences in all the places.
Reason Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Matt Welch, recently had a televised exchange with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton over the recent violence in Iraq. I want to talk about the exchange, because it contains a good example of a frustrating rhetorical trick that many foreign policy hawks use when discussing U.S. intervention in Iraq.
First, a bit of context. During the discussion, Bolton defended the Iraq War by quoting a line from a WW II-era essay by George Orwell where he said that pacifism was “objectively pro-fascist” (Orwell later recanted this view). Welch did a good job today of unpacking Bolton’s misguided citation to Orwell:
Since the end of World War II, America has never once been in a situation even remotely like England’s in the early 1940s. Paradoxically, this helps explain why U.S. interventionists of all stripes lean so heavily on the rhetorical crutch of 1938-42 geopolitics: “Munich,” “Neville Chamberlain,” “appeasement,” “objectively pro-fascist,” and so on. They seek to cloak their arguments in the unearned virtue of opposing Adolf Hitler, portray their political opponents as actively working for the enemy, and above all remove the foreign policy crisis du jour from the realm of elective debate. Because if we’re up against Hitler 2.0, there is no choice, except between teams “With us” and “Against us,” and the only real question is where, exactly, to draw the red line beyond which the U.S. must use force in order to maintain “credibility.”
After getting Welch et al. to agree in so many words that they had no interest in defending Saddam Hussein, Bolton asked Welch a loaded question: “Why isn’t Saddam Hussein in power today?” Welch refused to squarely answer Bolton’s question. Unfortunately, avoiding the question made Bolton’s argument sound a lot more reasonable than it actually is.
The answer to Bolton’s question is straightforward. Saddam Hussein—a person we all agree was a bad dude—is no longer in power in Iraq today because Coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and forcefully expelled him from office. The problem is that the question is structured to make the answer sound like a concession. That’s why Welch didn’t want to squarely address Bolton’s question. It makes him sound like he’s conceding that the U.S. was right to invade Iraq.
What Bolton’s doing here is engaging in an act of rhetorical prestidigitation. The reason that the answer to Bolton’s question sounds like a concession is because it framed on an undue assumption. The question assumes that the Iraq War was justified because Saddam was a bad person. And any action which removes a bad person from power must be justified…right?
Bolton is asking a loaded question in the most literal sense: by silently making an undue assumption, Bolton is able to frame his question so that the “true” answer sounds like a concession. But it is clearly not self-evident that the invasion of Iraq was justified simply because Saddam Hussein was a bad person. Nor is it self-evident that any action which removes a bad person from power is justified.
First, Saddam Hussein is not the only world leader who violated the human rights of his citizens with impunity. This alone does not justify invading a country. The list of countries the U.S. would have to invade in order to stop systemic human rights abuses is as long as it is impossible to achieve.
Second, Bolton’s question also wrongly assumes that toppling Saddam was good for the stability of the Middle East. More specifically, Bolton and his Neo-con friends believe that establishing a Democracy in Iraq accomplishes two foreign policy goals: (a) suppression of radical Islamic fundamentalist groups in Iraq who, left unchecked, could establish terror cells that are a threat to the United States and to other Western nations, and (b) prevent Iran from obtaining more influence in the region.
These outcomes are not self-evident for reasons that have been articulated in numerous forums. In fact, many intelligent people believe that the invasion of Iraq made these outcomes less likely, not more. Here is Robert W. Merry writing for National Interest in 2012:
Saddam was key to maintaining that old balance of power and keeping Iran somewhat hemmed in. Iraq will not become the Western-style democracy Bush had in mind when he invaded, but south of Kurdistan it has become, and will remain, dominated by Shia. That is the greatest geopolitical gift handed to Iran since the Turks invaded Iraq in the sixteenth century.
Here’s F. Gregory Gause, making a similar point for Foreign Policy in 2010:
[T]he Iraq War … created two important vacuums in regional politics — one in the region’s balance of power and the other inside of Iraq, each with its own negative consequences for American interests…[t]he neo-cons and Bushies were right that the war would have a substantial regional impact; they were just wrong about its nature and direction.
You get the idea. The point is that the assumptions underlying Bolton’s question are false. Bolton’s using a cleverly hidden non sequitur designed to make Iraq War dissenters look like cheerleaders for tyranny. But the fact is that removing Saddam from power by military force is not self-evidently good simply because Saddam was a bad guy.
The primary flaw in John Bolton’s worldview—which he covered up by asking Welch a loaded question—is that he views foreign policy in Black & White terms. In Bolton’s world, U.S. policy in the Middle East is a struggle between the psychotic, murderous forces of what we might call the “Global Islamic Terrorist Jihad” (which sounds like a great villain for a video game), and the Enlightened Forces of the Free World. This worldview has all the nuance and political complexity of an elementary school playground at lunchtime. Unfortunately for John Bolton, foreign policy is more complicated than Red Rover.
Matt Welch and his colleagues are obviously smart enough to know all this. They are certainly smart enough to recognize a loaded question. They all knew the question stank, and that’s why they refused to answer it. And I’m sure given more time to martial their thoughts, they could have conducted the same analysis I’ve put here. Unfortunately, the TV-debate format requires participants to think on their feet, and the limited time frames make effective counter-arguments difficult to craft on the fly. It’s great for making overly-simplistic arguments that take time to dissect effectively. But bad for the muckrakers who are stuck doing the dissecting.
So many young men and women served and sacrificed in Iraq, but that’s not a reason to double down on a failed strategy. I’m glad we’re out of Iraq, we should stay out."
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