Got that title straight? Well, maybe not. But here’s Justin Logan taking on Eli Lake over the latter’s attacks on Barnett Rubin.
Matt Welch says that despite the rhetoric we’ll stay in Iraq a long time no matter who wins in 2009. I suspect he’s right.
No, what’s interesting about this deal is the fact that Mr. Hunt, thanks to his policy position, is presumably as well-informed about the actual state of affairs in Iraq as anyone in the business world can be. By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government — which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Mr. Bush laid out in January — won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.
Hunt’s policy position, in this case, would be his role on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. And, indeed, FIAB aside, it’s oil company executives who really have strong incentives to acquire rigorous intelligence about political developments in the Persian Gulf untainted by wishful thinking or political considerations. If Hunt Oil thinks the Iraqi state will be dysfunctional long enough to make it worth signing not-really-legal-in-Iraq teals with the Kurdistan government, then there’s reason to think they know what they’re talking about.
Photo by Flickr user Anthea used under a Creative Commons license
Along the lines of what I write about below, here Chris Matthew, Ezra Klein, Chuck Todd, and April Ryan talking about Bush’s newer, more explicit talk about his desire for a perpetual American military presence in Iraq:
It should be said that the difference between Iraq and South Korea isn’t just that post-armistice our troops stopped taking casualties in Korea. The bigger difference is that a US military presence in Korea was part of a larger strategic doctrine — defending the anti-Communist ROK government from the Communist government in Pyongyang as part of a larger strategy of containment — that made sense. What we’re doing in the Gulf right now is driven by confusion, hubris, and vainglory.
One line of thought that many liberals, myself included, have entertained from time to time is the idea that on some level George W. Bush knows perfectly well that Iraq is lost and just wants to kick the can past January 2009 so that he can blame his successor for the defeat. But what if this is wrong? Looked at from a certain point of view, the war is actually doing fine. In particular, if you think of the main goal of the war as simply being to maintain a large American military presence in a “strategical vital” country — as Bush’s resort to Korea analogies suggests — then the moment of maximum danger really came in spring 2004 when it looked for a little bit as if the Sadrist forces might team up with nationalist Sunni insurgents to present a common front against the occupation.
And, indeed, while the absence of political reconciliation is probably Iraq‘s biggest problem, it’s not a particularly large problem for the American military presence. On the country, a unified Iraq — especially one swayed by Iraqi public opinion — might be very likely to give the US the boot. By contrast, in a divided and chaotic Iraq one can easily imagine the main players resenting the US presence but preferring it to anarchy. Indeed, Bush seems to have convinced both the Maliki government and the Anbar Salvation Front that they need American troops to protect them from each other. Meanwhile, the Kurds want us to defend them from the Turks, and the Turks want us to keep the Kurds in line and there’s really no sign of an end to the tensions and violence.
From one point of view it looks like a quagmire, but from another point of view it’s more-or-less ideal.
And just the same, if American civilians are providing humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, we’re going to protect them. How in good conscience could we refuse to protect them and then allow humanitarian workers to be at risk for their lives or the work not to happen at all? Finally, it’s also Senator Edwards’ position that we will have troops in the region to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq from spilling over into other countries, for counter-terrorism, or to prevent a genocide. But in the region means in the region – for example, existing bases like Kuwait , naval presence in the Persian Gulf , and so forth. I hope this helps explain Senator Edwards’ position. Thanks for standing up for what we all believe in.
I still don’t know what this means. I understand how soldiers based elsewhere in the region could support a counter-terrorism mission in Iraq (this is the common position of Edwards, Obama, Murtha, and myself) by, basically, jetting into Iraq to blow some shit up if necessary, but otherwise sitting tight in Kuwait or Turkey or Qatar or some such. But you can’t try to prevent a genocide in Iraq with Kuwait-based hit-and-run missions. And, again, if you want troops in Iraq to guard humanitarian workers that might mean a ton a troops. Then again, it might not. It’s just very hard to say what this means, and I get the sense that the campaign’s being deliberately ambiguous about what they mean to do, in part simply because Edwards doesn’t want to foreclose more options than he needs to.
So, on Iraq I think Edwards and Obama are now better than Clinton (because of the difference over training) but it’s not totally clear to me what either of them are proposing.
A British polling outfit surveyed Iraqis about deaths in their household and came up with a tally of 1.2 million dead Iraqis as the central point of their estimate (obviously, with a big number like that, the confidence interval includes a wide range). Kevin Drum points out skeptically that this survey seems to indicate that car bombings are being massively underestimated in Iraq — out of 20 or so a day, only 2-3 are getting reported. I agree with him that this seems wrong, but it also seems implausible to me that families would be massively overreporting deaths.
New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz writes of George Shultz’s take on Walt and Measheimer that I should “Read him and take him seriously.” Well, okay. Shultz says: “Anyone who thinks that Jewish groups constitute a homogeneous ‘lobby’ ought to spend some time dealing with them.”
I’m not quite sure I understand where in the journalistic ethics manual it says “if you’re attacking critics of Israel, you’re allowed to completely misrepresent their work” but since it’s available online let me offer a link to the original Walt/Mearsheimer “Israel lobby” essay which says “This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby [...] Jewish Americans also differ on specific Israeli policies [...] The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals” and so forth.
I really hate to write on this topic so frequently, because I really do think Walt and Mearsheimer overstate the centrality of the “lobby” to US policy in the broader region, and I don’t want to be an obsessive on this subject. But it’s really absurd how frequently and eagerly major publications are willing to run silly distortions of their position. Surely if the Walt/Measheimer argument is so wrong, its critics ought to be able to rebut the actual argument.
It seems to me that looking at the most-alarmist writings of the incumbent political party’s ideological adversaries and noting that their concerns seem overstated is a solid “evergreen” story idea, so I don’t bregrudge Noemie Emery and The Weekly Standard for taking a stab at it. But as Gene Healy notes she sure did pick a strange lede:
The fascists are coming! Or rather, they’re already here, installed in the White House, planning like mad to subvert the Constitution and extend their reign in perpetuity, having first suppressed and eviscerated all opposition and put all of their critics in jail. Thus goes the rant of America’s increasingly unhinged left. If only, sigh many Bush partisans, wondering when this administration will get out of the fetal position and show some fighting spirit.
This is the kind of thing that gets people nervous.
Meanwhile, I would note that whether or not one thinks it likely that Bush will start ordering his political opponents to be not so much put “in jail” as abducted off the streets and then held incommunicado in secret foreign facilities for an indefinite span of time during which they’ll be tortured until, eventually, their coerced confessions as used as evidence for never releasing them, the point I would make is that Bush really has asserted his constitutional right to do this and the main opinion leaders on the right have agreed that there should be no meaningful constraint on his ability to behave in this manner.
Not only is John Edwards’ response to Bush’s speech good, but by presenting me with a convenient embedable video, he’s helping meet this blog’s desperate thirst for multimedia content:
UPDATE: That said, John Edwards’ stated policy on Iraq seems less-than-brilliant to me:
Edwards believes we should completely withdraw all combat troops in Iraq within about a year and prohibit permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. After withdrawal, we should retain sufficient forces in the region to contain the conflict and ensure that instability in Iraq does not spill over into other countries, creating a regional war, a terrorist haven, or a genocide.
It seems to me that these war aims (ensuring that instability in Iraq doesn’t spill over into other countries, create a regional war, a terrorist haven, or a genocide) are basically the same as George W. Bush’s and that, as from the beginning in Iraq, to achieve them you would need 450,000 or so troops in Iraq. Now, obviously, Edwards is proposing no such thing, but it’s not clear to me what he is proposing. As I’ve argued before, these nightmare scenarios of regional conflagration, genocide, terrorist havens, etc. all strike me as implausible. If we just leave Iraq, I bet none of it will happen. But the only way to ensure this stuff doesn’t happen is to baby-sit the civil war.
James Fallows notes that Rudy Giuliani’s around the bend:
Is this how he’s been all along? To start with, he doesn’t know anything. To be more precise: not a single sentence that he utters suggests any familiarity with what people have been saying and arguing — about terrorism, Iraq, the situation of the military, security trade-offs, etc — for the last few years. He’s out of date in two ways: He displays the “fashionable in 2003 and 2004″ assumption that if you say “nine-eleven, nine-eleven, nine-eleven!!” enough times, you end all debate about military policy. He displays the “fashionable about three weeks ago” assumption that if you say “General Petraeus, General Petraeus, General Petraeus” enough times, you’ve offered an Iraq policy. And through it all he seems totally self-confident. Hmm, have we seen anything like this combo before?
Meanwhile, Brendan Nyhan wonders if Giuliani really thinks people “should not be allowed” to criticize General Petraeus.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker made a couple of claims of burgeoning economic progress in Iraq, including a 6 percent GDP growth rate and a burgeoning cell phone industry. Brian Beutler notes that there’s not much too this:
Indeed, it’s typical for a country as damaged as Iraq to see its economy fluctuate wildly, resulting in spurts of growth much more substantial than 6 percent. In fact, Iraq’s GDP has varied greatly since the 2003 invasion. It climbed 46.5 percent from 2003 to 2004, after having fallen 41.4 percent between 2002 and 2003, according to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index. In other words, though 6 percent would constitute significant growth for a developed nation like the United States, it is nearly meaningless for a country that’s experienced as much turmoil as has Iraq. [...]
t Daniel Sudnick, who worked at the Coalition Provisional Authority as Paul Bremmer’s senior adviser for communications, described it as an “irony” that part of the reason the cell phone industry has flourished is that resistance fighters don’t often attack towers and other cell phone infrastructure, for a simple reason: They depend upon mobile phones, too.
One also suspects that macroeconomic aggregates in Iraq are going to be tainted by the broken windows fallacy. If a stray American bomb wrecks your house, and then you pay some guys to help rebuild your house, that shows up as GDP growth in the accounts. Similarly, if insurgents wreck huge swathes of the oil infrastructure and then the Americans put a lot of funds into trying to rebuilt it, that counts as growth. This kind of quirk doesn’t normally ruin the utility of GDP as an indicator, but it’s not something that was designed to be a welfare metric for war zones.
The main point of my maps post from yesterday evening turns out to have been substantially anticipated by Smintheus at Unbossed and also this McClatchey report that I missed when it came out on Tuesday.
I’ll also add that the maps, even with the additional detail provided in General Jones’ graphic, are still a bit hard to interpret. The color-coding of the density of violent incidents doesn’t give us any actual quantities. And perhaps most important, I don’t know anything about the population density of Baghdad or the disposition of American forces and other things. It’s also worth saying that whether or not reductions in sectarian violence in Baghdad are due primarily to ethnic cleansing is a somewhat academic point at the moment (though it would be nice if the administration could be honest about it) — the real issue is whether or not a politically stable new equilibrium emerges along post-cleansing borders or whether we just go to neighborhood-versus-neighborhood violence without endless American efforts to divide the parties.