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annie- if you are arguing that the US has a moral or pragmatic argument for attempting to prevent Iraq from descending into genocidal violence- an argument with which I agree 100%- you'd best don some teflon/asbestos longjohns.

I made this argument six months ago on the SLOG and got my ass handed to me. For the hardcore antiwar crowd, the counterarguments are:

(1) It's already a genocidal civil war.
(2) We don't owe the Iraqi's shit.
(3) Bush has already fucked it up beyond all redemption.

I agree with what I think the thrust of your argument is- that we should take the time to try to manage our exit gracefully- but this is the miniscule minority among "progressives."

Posted by Big Sven | January 20, 2008 12:27 PM

'(That is hardly a far-fetched scenario; a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq issued in January 2007 by American intelligence agencies warned that the quick withdrawal of all American forces would probably lead to “massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.”)'

As opposed to what we have now, which is massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement, a situation which has persisted for years.

Also, could someone please note that we don't have an Army capable of accomplishing these stated goals? Counterinsurgency was not a competency of the Army which Bill Clinton ceded to G.W. Bush, and the latter has broken the Army we had, without replacing it with an Army we want or need for this task. If we continue on this course, the situation will just continue to slide out of what little control we may now have, as the tattered remains of our Army bleed away.

Posted by Paddy Mac | January 20, 2008 12:33 PM

@1: Yeah, I know, read the comments on my Feb. post. I'm a "liberal fascist," apparently.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 12:35 PM
We created the power vacuum that sectarian interests rushed in to fill, and we can hardly go around blaming Iraqis for failing to instantaneously suture ages-old ethnic rifts that were—no matter what any D appeaser said at the time—creaking audibly under the surface of the Saddam Hussein regime. matter what any D appeasr said...

Is this a Saddam is Hitler reference or ...?

Are you saying that ages-old ethic rifts were a legitimate reason for invading Iraq?

Posted by whatever | January 20, 2008 12:47 PM

No, of course not. I'm saying that Edwards and Clinton were acting as appeasers (to Bush & the Republican party) when they voted to authorize war, and the idea that the resulting chaos was somehow not foreseeable is bunk.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 12:50 PM

While I disagree with the position that we should stay in Iraq for a decade or more, I respect it. We certainly do bear a large part of the blame for what happened there. I just don't think it's worth any more American casualties or money, or worth the strain it puts on our military. Maybe that makes me a heartless asshole.

But what's this business about "any D appeaser"? Wasn't it more the pro-war Right's case that the Sunni and Shia really get along pretty well, so they'll all be happy and get along after we invade?

Posted by spencer | January 20, 2008 1:05 PM

We broke it, we bought it. If it takes more American casualties, whose fault is that? America's fault. And we are all guilty. Running out with a quick "hey, dudes, sorry about destroying your country" over the back of our shoulders isn't going to accomplish anything. Counterinsurgency might not either, but at least then the guilty party does at least some of the suffering.

Posted by Fnarf | January 20, 2008 1:11 PM

@6: Sure, it was a R talking point, but many Ds went along with it. Hence "appeasement," which obviously I shouldn't have used because it has all these foreign policy echoes--but again, I mean they were appeasing Rs who held those rosy views. Here's John Edwards in 2002:

(Videotape, October 7, 2002)

SEN. EDWARDS: Democracy will not spring up by itself overnight in a multiethnic, complicated society that’s suffered under one repressive regime after another for generations. The Iraqi people deserve and need our help to rebuild their lives and to create a prosperous, thriving, open society. All Iraqis, including Sunnis, Shia and Kurds, deserve to be represented. This is not just a moral imperative. It’s a security imperative. It is in America’s national interest to help build an Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors, because a democratic, tolerant and accountable Iraq will be a peaceful regional partner, and such an Iraq could serve as a model for the entire Arab world.

This is particularly aggravating because Edwards is pretending to acknowledge the sectarian difficulties--and then he spins it brazenly to argue that we should go in for those very reasons? Please.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 1:12 PM


As that great military leader Donald Rumsfeld stated: you go in with the army you have, not the one you wish you had, or the one your little brother sold for a couple of six-packs last Saturday night.

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | January 20, 2008 1:35 PM

We need to lay out a Democratic set of foreign policy/security principles.

They need to include defending us from attacks. (I mean real threats, imminent threats, not fake threats and not the 1% doctrine). They need to include a role for human rights intervention as well. And most of all: they need to include the recognition that in each particular case there is a limit to what we can accomplish and what we can afford.

If Iraq descends into genocide, then we should do what we practicably can do to stop it -- if there is anything we practicably can do to stop it.
If we can't -- that's too bad. We should stay out.

If we would need 900,000 troops to quell widespread genocide, or if the presence of our American troops would incite more genocide, then we should stay out. (If there are limited actions we can take that would work, then we should take those actions.)

To say if "we broke it we own it" or "we have a moral imperative to help" is wrong because it just assumes there are no practical limits. Those positions ignore that in every case we have to make sure that what we are to is going to achieve something, and is within our means.

If you are a bull and break up a china shop -- you do not own it. And if you try to put it back together, you are likely to wreak more havoc.

The Iraqis own Iraq. Not us. Even if we broke it, they own it.

Posted by Cleve | January 20, 2008 1:47 PM

What is it counterinsurgency props up? Not peace in the abstract, but a somewhat stable occupation of Iraq by U.S. military, and all the ways in which democracy in Iraq is a fraud so long as that situation persists. If you want to treat Iraqis as the wards of the U.S., and say that they are unfit for self-government for the forseeable future and until you say so, call your proposal what it is: imperialism. A little Chalmers Johnson might help you be a little more forthright here.

Hard to be an empire abroad and a democracy at home, especially when there are supposedly 50 other countries we should be combatting terror in as well. Bush's funding of the war via deficit spending has already pushed this country to the breaking point. The only way to keep it rolling, or expand it, is cut spending elsewhere. This would destroy the last vestiges of our social safety net, eliminate the already crippled programs we have to address environmental problems, let our city and transportation systems crumble, and basically hollow out what is left of the potential for real progressive politics in this country.

Posted by wf | January 20, 2008 1:53 PM

I'm so sick of "On the ground".

..."At the end of the day" needs to go, too.

Posted by Buzz Word Your Whole Fucking Existence Why Don't You, Canned Thought Motherfuckers | January 20, 2008 2:09 PM

Annie @8: OK, gotcha. For some reason I thought, by "D appeaser", you meant Dems who were against invasion and who suggest that things were better when Saddam was in power, i.e. that he kept sectarianism in check.

Posted by spencer | January 20, 2008 2:25 PM

Cleve @10, compare your hands-off, "so be it" approach to Iraq now, to the hand-wringing that goes on over the atrocities in Sudan or Rwanda. We "should have done something" there, but we didn't. You're advocating more of the same in Iraq. But because WE caused the situation in Iraq to go off, our responsibility there is much higher. Frankly, to me it doesn't fucking matter if it's harmful to the US. We DID destroy the china shop, and if we walk away we are nothing more than international vandals.

It's also a lie to suggest that Iraq's problems are primarily sectarian. They are primarily thug-related. Shiite and Sunni death squads do not represent ordinary Shiites and Sunnis; the people turn to them solely for protection in a destroyed security climate. The people of Iraq don't want sectarian victory; they want security, freedom, self-respect.

Posted by Fnarf | January 20, 2008 2:44 PM

There is no military answer. Instead, we need a diplomatic, economic, and social answer. The fact that no candidate has begun to assemble a team of diplomatic, economic, and social experts shows that they will continue the mistaken strategy of relying on the military to build a nation.

We need to withdraw the military, but as we withdraw 18 year-old soldiers, we need to replace them with experts on nation building. Relying on the military continues the Bush administrations mistakes and will lead to the same results.

Posted by Medina | January 20, 2008 2:46 PM

Liberal fascist.

Posted by Mr. Poe | January 20, 2008 2:56 PM

When the Democrats threw Rumsfeld out and Petraeus took command in Iraq, there was a new strategy: more counterinsurgency, less smash-and-grab. And as the "surge" troops come home, we'll see if it's just the extra troops or if the strategy itself can make a difference. Was it the age-old ethnic rivalries or just Bush/Rumsfeld's terrible leadership of the operation? This may well become clear in the next 10 months, and if we are still seeing declining violence statistics in Iraq, it could spell doom for a Clinton or Edwards who says we should walk away.

Primaries are won by playing to the base; the Presidency by playing to the middle. If Iraq is improving, Obama might be the only one left who is able to make that play.

Posted by smojax | January 20, 2008 3:31 PM

Most of us probably agree that invading was stupid, in hindsight. Most of us probably agree that the Ds didn't do a very good job reigning in Bush's worst offenses. Most of us probably agree that the war didn't quite go how we expected it to. But so what?

The problem really is: what do we do now? Yes, we broke it. But can we fix it? Really? Can we stop genocide? If so, at what cost (both in US lives and tax money)? And what happens if we stay another 5 years? Or 10? Or 20? And then leave. Will there still be genocide? Partition? Massive relocation? Yes.

The problems there are deep social problems that go back centuries, compounded by a wrecked economy and infrastructure. We can permanently camp 100,000 troops there, but that no more solves the Iraq problem than our troops camping out in the DMZ have solved the Korea problem (after more than 50 years).

There is no long term, permanent solution that can be achieved by military occupation. By simply occupying Iraq, we are making more enemies every day, loosing American lives, breaking our military, and deficit spending at record rates. Without instituting a draft, we can't maintain these troop levels for more than another year or two. It simply isn't sustainable. Period.

So we have to get out. The question is: how do we get out with the least amount of damage to Iraq? With the assistance of the UN or other country's support, can we try to fix some of the social, economic, and infrastructure problems as we leave? I don't really have the expertise to answer that. All I know is that occupying Iraq with 100,000 troops indefinitely is not the answer.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | January 20, 2008 3:48 PM

Oh come on, ANYONE that knew ANYTHING about why Saddam was such a mean S.O.B. knew that Iraq is not an easy riddle to solve. The Prideful, lead by King Dick and Prince George W. did not know their ass from a hole in the ground about Iraq. Now that Saddam is out of the way, all hell breaks loose. Stupid bastards.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | January 20, 2008 3:53 PM
No, of course not. I'm saying that Edwards and Clinton were acting as appeasers (to Bush & the Republican party) when they voted to authorize war, and the idea that the resulting chaos was somehow not foreseeable is bunk.
This is particularly aggravating because Edwards is pretending to acknowledge the sectarian difficulties--and then he spins it brazenly to argue that we should go in for those very reasons? Please.

annie these two quotes of yours seem to be at odds with each other. And why would you say "pretending to acknowledge"?

Except for Lieberman I don't recall any D saying that we would be welcomed by open arms.

Posted by whatever | January 20, 2008 4:26 PM

Reading this, I can't help but be thankful for freedom of speech. I wonder how the various remaining tyrants of the world would take such analysis of their efforts by their people.

It sure is good to live here.

As for Iraq, I sure am glad Jean Chretien et. al. kept Canada out of that mess. I supported the war (much to my chagrin), but I'm glad my country is not carrying the can for the past and future years required to figure this one out.

Posted by wet_suit | January 20, 2008 5:00 PM

A straight out neocon and pure shill for Bush/Cheney, Michael Gordon's reporting is one of the top shames of the New York Times, as reliable as Judith Miller or Jayson Blair. Today's Glenn Greenwald column on Salon tears apart this article, and you can easily find other well-documented criticism of his reporting errors.

Posted by anna | January 20, 2008 5:03 PM

@20: I don't understand what you're saying. How do those quotations contradict each other? Edwards failed to foresee chaos. From all indications, he recognized the sectarianism in Iraq and decided that democracy would magically fuse the population and forge a "democratic, tolerant and accountable Iraq ... a model government"--against all reason, I might add, because the Shia and Kurds were violently oppressed under Saddam and many Sunnis had been sitting pretty. That's some serious and systemic rancor that any discussion of sectarianism ought to have addressed. Edwards put a sunny spin on sectarianism, just like the Rs were doing at the time. Not cool.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 5:09 PM

@22: Here's that link.

His arguments are, apparently:

1) But the American people are against it!

I see that, and it's certainly affecting the way at least the D candidates are talking about the continuing occupation. But how does it affect the fallout of premature withdrawal? Will we feel better about creating a catastrophe because, hey, the American people wanted to create the catastrophe?

2) We can't afford to sustain a long-term occupation of Iraq.

Sure we can, though it will involve sacrifice. Both Obama and Clinton want to increase the size of the military, for example, which is probably a good idea.


3) Gordon is a warmonger.

I couldn't care less whether Gordon is a warmonger. We already went to war, so... what now? How do we prevent our stupid, stupid actions from triggering a genocide? Any criticism of this piece should be substantive, not ad hominem.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 5:33 PM

The argument that "well its already a sectarian bloodbath" is bunk. Look at some major recent civil wars in places like the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, and you see that it could get much, much worse. If Iraq descends into a deeper circle of hell the blood will be on our hands.

Posted by markinthepark | January 20, 2008 5:38 PM

It's fascinating how no one even once asks, "well, what do the Iraqis want?" Since, like 80% of them want the US troops and their murderous "contractor" buddies out immediately. The fact that none of you who want to keep the war/occupation going address that is beyond dishonest, it's like some kind of reality denial--not to mention a total failure of empathy.

And have you noticed that the reporters basically never quote everyday Iraqis on what they want? If they did, they'd get quotes like this:

"Col. Juboory said Kaissar who had at first accepted collaboration with the U.S. forces "found the truth too bitter to put up with." The colonel said: "I worked with the Americans because being an army officer is my job, and also because I was convinced they would help Iraqis. But 11 months was enough for me to realize that starving to death is more honorable than serving the occupiers. They were mean in every way."

Posted by Original Andrew | January 20, 2008 5:44 PM

annie, Edwards quote clearly indicates that he anticipated trouble for Iraq or as you put it "pretending to acknowledge the sectarian difficulties" while your other statement was that "they voted to authorize war, and the idea that the resulting chaos was somehow not foreseeable is bunk"

See Edwards seems to have foreseen the problem when he "pretended" to foresee the potential need for US assistance.

He certainly isn't denying the potential for problems in Iraq in the statement you quoted.

Posted by whatever | January 20, 2008 5:48 PM

@27: Not denying the potential for problems is completely different from identifying potential problems and taking steps to avoid them (eg, voting against authorization for a foolhardy war). You're really turning backflips to make this one work. Edwards's rosy view was naive, not commendable.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 5:55 PM

Good points OA. But why would we care if the Iraqi people want us out? This is about what journalists and bloggers in the US think.

Posted by whatever | January 20, 2008 5:57 PM

Edwards was wrong on the vote.

I did the pathetic anti-war march thing because I always opposed it.

But the quote is not rosy. He indicates we'll have to work to make Iraq work. Reread his quote. Perhaps you are reading this with your special edition Obama rose colored glasses.

Posted by whatever | January 20, 2008 6:06 PM

Who died and made America the World Police?


Pull. The. Plug.

Bring the troops home and fulfill our NATO requirements in Afghanistan and Pakistan (hint, where al-Qaeda is, those guys who get 90 percent of their funding and volunteers from Saudi Arabia and 100 percent of their religious Wahhabi fundamentalist texts).

Iraq always was a quagmire. As Iran would be if we were insane enough to go there. Some of us said this BEFORE 2002. But few listened.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 20, 2008 6:19 PM


I'm really curious how you square your wish to keep the war/occupation going with the fact that the vast majority of the Iraqi people and their parliament want us to stop raping their country and leave.

I guess you don't have to ask yourself these questions--gawd knows no one else is--but we sent in a mechanized army that has destroyed that country, killed countless thousands of innocent civilians, and set up a puppet government that operates solely within the confines of the Green Zone. Why would the Iraqis want the people who murdered their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to hang around forever? Can you imagine what it would be like to live in an occupied country?

Since none of the worthless, ass-kissing MSM reporters will confront our leaders with these questions (it'd be so rude!) I'd appreciate your insight.

Posted by Original Andrew | January 20, 2008 7:42 PM

Hi Fnarf @ 19.

I didn't say it's hands-off on a blanket basis as to intervening in Iraq, or in general, for humanitarian reasons. You mis-state my position.

I said whenever we consider an intervention for humanitarian reasons (or security reasons), we have to consider whether it will work and whether we can afford it.

The alternative approach is to ignore those questions, and that is unrealistic, arrogant, somewhat imperialist, and naive.

There are humanitarian interventions we can afford that will work, and there are others that won't work or we cannot afford. Same for actions regarding security. Saving 20,000,000 Ukrainians from Stalin -- couldn't do it. Saving Eastern Europe from the USSR after WW2 -- sorry, couldn't do it. Helping in Bosnia -- could do it. Doing something in Sudan, Rwanda -- could've done it in Rwanda, should do more in Sudan.

Iraq in 2011, assuming they are all at each others' throats, and it's somewhat our "fault" -- it depends.

We'll have to see what we can do. If we can go in with lots of other nations (limiting our cost and exposure) and achieve something, sure. If the idea is we put in 1,000,000 troops for 50 years, and 5,000 of our troops will die every year, but the genocide will continue and there is no end in sight, hell no.

I understand that blanket rules are simpler and more satisfying. "We must intervene to protect ourselves at any cost." "We must intervene to stop genocide at any cost." It feels good to take a "firm stand".

But it's unrealistic. Every case is different and you have to withhold judgment until you figure out in each case what are we proposing to do? Will it work? and What will it cost & can we afford it?

Especially when we've already fucked it up terribly on both counts and we know just being in the Mid East with our troops strengthens Al Queda and exposes our troops to their fire. In many ways, we already know, the military solution just does not help.

If you want to start planning for a response to genocide I would argue we need to get Turkey, Algeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iran in a big concord where they send in troops and make the Iraqis stop killing each other. Maybe we should pay lots of the costs. I'm not saying we walk away like international vandals, I'm saying we need to be darn sure whatever we do works and is affordable and doesn't break more china in the china shop.

Posted by Cleve | January 20, 2008 7:56 PM

@32: I'm pretty sure no poll of Iraqis has ever asked, "Do you want US forces to stop raping your country and leave?" However, the most recent poll of Iraqis I can find--September 2007--did ask more nuanced versions of your question. While 53% of respondents say they "strongly oppose Coalition forces," 53% also want US and other Coalition forces to stay in Iraq, at least until security improves or the government is stronger. To be sure, the trends are such that more Iraqis are saying we should leave and fewer are setting requirements that certain goals should be met before that happens. But I see no indication that 80% of Iraqis are saying "troops out now," as you imply. Of course Iraqis aren't happy that their country is occupied--would you be? But I don't necessarily think we should look at the natural pride they're expressing on behalf of their country and assume that they're willing to embrace whatever deadly consequences might result from a US withdrawal.

Posted by annie | January 20, 2008 8:37 PM

Annie, Annie, Annie, you little liberal fascist. I see you are still up to your old tricks. America is not in Iraq to fight terrorism, it is there to create it. We are not there to save the people, we are there to take their oil, and kill them. You were always a big fan of Israel and their draft, so I can see why you like Obama/Clinton, and not Edwards. Isn’t it great Obama/Clinton want to expand the military! That’s just what America needs, more homophobic rabid Christian soldiers to impose your will upon the world. It is a win/win for you, no matter who wins the election: Obama or Clinton or McCain. You are going to sleep so soundly as our Genocide in Iraq grinds on year after year until America as a solvent economy goes the way of Rome. Congrats.

Posted by jeb666 | January 20, 2008 11:17 PM

As a semi-front lines observer of this conflict in Afghanistan(I'm currently stationed in Kabul), I'd like to just express my appreciation for posting this article. It paints a picture that I think a lot of people don't see in the press. I know little more than the general public in regards to the situation in Iraq however the situation here in Afghanistan is in my point of view a long term mission. I have been waiting to see an article address the middle ground that I think this situation currently resides in. There has definitely been no victory, however we are making great progress and you can see the benefits in the training and security we are providing in this country(Afghanistan)every day. This is exactly why a decision of when and how to pull out of this situation needs to be made with some great consideration. Believe me I am all for getting us out of this situation(and I can guarantee every soldier here would agree with me) as fast as possible, but you definitely don't want to leave to many loose ends either when you are dealing with an enemy such as our current one. All will not be well and good once the presence, be it U.S or UN, pulls out. The deep sectarian rifts that exist need a sense of security for them to mend. We may not owe anyone this service, but I think we may be doing the future a disservice if we don't. Just a humble opinion though. Thank you once again for posting the article and keep up the good blog. I've been lucky to be able to check in once in a while and I can't wait to get back to Seattle to be able to pick up your hardcopy.

Posted by C | January 21, 2008 1:48 AM

osama bin laden's grand strategy was to draw america into an open ended conflict that would
a. polarize the muslim world against us, &
b. bankrupt us.

bush, that fucking idiot, did exactly what al queda wanted.

ethical considerations aside, i am not willing to stay in iraq until the dollar becomes the peso. unless that oil start pumping, and pumping straight into the american empire's hands, this will have been a strategic blunder on par with napoleon's march on moscow.

and half of the success of the 'surge' is that we're now BUING THE LOYALTY of sunni insurgents @ $10/day/insurgent.

eventually you have to pay the credit card bill, and NONE of this war has been paid for yet. its all deficit spending.

how much violence between hindus & muslims did the raj prevent once it ended? the violence will come, now or later. humans are nasty apes, and monotheism isn't fucking helping.

Posted by max solomon | January 21, 2008 9:10 AM

BUYING the loyalty.

not BUING. i don't know what a buing is...

Posted by max solomon | January 21, 2008 9:16 AM

Annie -- I think the mistake you're making is to assume that the American people can be convinced to acknowledge our role in and the resulting responsibility for the chaos in Iraq. Furthermore, any candidate who attempts to lead responsibly, by educating the American public on this issue and laying out a course of action that would extend our occupation of Iraq, will lose.

It's difficult -- or impossible -- to say what the "character" of the American people is, with any hope of being taken seriously. But our voting record and the results of public opinion polls over the last 20 years would tend to suggest that the American people have come increasingly to be ruled by an unenlightened self-interest, and that we have been breeding a pool of politicians who will serve that unenlightened self-interest.

We want economic prosperity, but we're happy to see jobs go overseas if it means we can get access to cheaper consumer goods. We hate federal taxes, but want the federal government to fix all our problems. And we demanded a war in Iraq, but we were never willing to enact the draft that would have been necessary to win the war -- nor are we willing to extend the occupation to repair the damage we did by starting the war.

Most Americans are fundamentally at peace with those contradictions, and support for a candidate who attempts to correct the electorate's thinking about those issues is basically pissing in the wind.

Posted by Judah | January 21, 2008 9:36 AM

Annie @ 34,

You’ve made several good points in your post, but the fact is that there will never be a positive outcome from this sadistic war and occupation. If you think that, then you’re probably still waiting for Poland to thank Germany for their invasion.

We’ve committed the Supreme Crime—an unprovoked war of aggression—based on lies. No journalist can successfully spin that away. The Iraq War has totally destroyed our country’s moral authority, which is ironic since we used to try and convict foreigners for the very same crimes our nation now commits every day.

In addition to being a hideous tragedy for the Iraqi people, the war/occupation is also a potent symbol for the lies, hypocrisy, greed, and general lawlessness that are the primary features of the United States today. Most Americans may be able to ignore that, but the rest of the world sure doesn’t, and it’s telling that none of our leaders will ever be held accountable for any of this. Not only that, but people will keep getting their (dis)information from totally discredited liars like the “reporters” at the New York Times. You’re assuming there will be “deadly consequences” to ending the war, based on reports from people who’ve been 100% wrong about everything else; irony much?

It blows my mind that people want to keep this insanity going—which realistically it probably will for another 5 to 10 years—but then no one has ever listened to those of us who’ve been right about the war all along, so why start now, right?

Posted by Original Andrew | January 21, 2008 10:36 AM

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