March 21st, 2006

What I’d be thinking right now if I were a terrorist/Islamicist

It’s the three-year anniversary of the Iraq war, and I’ve read a host of discussions as to how Iraq is doing at this point. Yesterday I linked to Wretchard’s excellent post on the subject (or at least tried to link to it; I hope I’ve been more successful this time). Alexandra has compiled a nice roundup of blog commentary on the subject, and today Dean has posted links to commentary from the Iraqi blogosphere.

Let’s just take a moment and let that last one sink in: the Iraqi blogosphere. Three years ago, such a thing did not exist; or, rather, the Iraqi blogosphere was limited to a single pseudonymous blogger known as Salam Pax, posting clandestinely and at great risk.

Alexandra writes:

The Bush administration says Iraq is not in a civil war, but that terrorists are desperate to foster one, desperate to foment a civil war which would conveniently propel them into the spotlight.

There is no question that one of the important lessons of this war for the enemy (a lesson already learned in Vietnam, but driven home now in modern form) is that the “spotlight”–i.e. worldwide and domestic US press coverage–is worth its weight in gold.

At this point in time, winning the propaganda war is the way to go for militarily weaker entities, be they states or stateless terrorists, if they ever hope to win against the US and its interests. It is actually the only way to do so at present; even the acquiring of nuclear weapons by our enemies would not really change that picture, since it’s highly unlikely that any of those entities would ever achieve parity with the US on that score. Such weapons would merely up the ante and cause more carnage; they wouldn’t change the general equation.

The “spotlight” is another word for propaganda, which I’ve written about here. I’m not an expert on the history of propaganda (although some of my commenters seem to be); maybe some day I’ll take a look at this text. But it’s my impression that, prior to the 20th Century, propaganda was more local in scope due to limitations in communication. It’s only with WWII, and certainly since the advent of television and satellite communications, that propaganda has become not just an adjunct to some wars, but the main weapon of those wars.

All the world is now a vast propaganda stage, and we men and women (and children) merely players (blogs, of course, are part of this).

When I was researching and writing my “change” posts, especially this one, I came across the following quote (taken from this must-read article about the fall of Vietnam) offered by the American officer in charge of negotiating the withdrawal of US troops from the area:

“You know you never beat us on the battlefield,” I said to Colonel Tu, my NVA counterpart.

“That may be so,” he said, “but it is also irrelevant.”

Colonel Tu was a smart man, was he not? As I wrote in that same post close to a year ago:

Lessons learned from Vietnam: all that is necessary to win a war against the US is to turn domestic public opinion against it, even if you are militarily outclassed, even if you are defeated in every battle. It’s a lesson that was not lost on our current opponents. In a sense, our recent task in Iraq has been to reverse that perception…”

It is as true today as it was then. And how do we stack up in that respect? It’s a mixed bag. Yes, we are still in Iraq, despite the complexity of the situation, and the fact that (whatever we might call it: civil war, crime, feud, insurgency, or terrorism) killing is still going on. But there’s also a perception that the only real reason we are there is because George Bush is a stubborn man, and because he happened to have been re-elected by a slim margin. The message of so much of the cacophony of the media is that the American people have to a certain extent accepted their framing of the war as an utter failure, and a chaotic civil war situation, and they want out, the sooner the better.

This perception has its own consequences; I’m afraid that it cannot help but fuel the violence there, even if this is not the intent of its proponents. This is not to say that criticism of the war is verboten. But it is to say that it must be careful, measured, logical, and not motivated by partisanship or irrational hatred.

A great deal of the rhetoric against the war focuses on the toll it’s taken on our military.

That’s an interesting message. On the one hand, we all mourn every military life lost; the human toll is devastating and dreadful (see this).

But the harsh and terrible truth is that, if we are not prepared to incur military losses, we may as well not have a military and not fight at all. We have now advanced so far in the laudable goal of minimizing casualties that the numbers posted on the previously linked antiwar website for the three years of this war–2317 US deaths, 1860 in combat–are considered unconscionable.

“Ah, warmonger!” I can hear some of you cry at what I am about to say next. But pointing out that this is a relatively low death toll, as three-year wars go, is not the same as saying that any of these deaths should not be mourned. They are mourned, and should be mourned, deeply.

But if the message of that mourning is that that is an unacceptably high number, the message is that if an enemy mounts a war of attrition against us, the numbers don’t even have to be very high to defeat us. A slow, steady trickle will do.

Many who are against the war would answer that it is not the sheer numbers that are the issue here, it’s that those deaths are wasted because the war was not necessary, but rather was the whim of a single demented and/or deluded man: George Bush. That’s where all those old arguments about the causes of the war take us. If a person believes, truly believes (for whatever reason) this theory of the war’s genesis, then of course a single death in that cause would be one death way too many, and Bush would be no better than a murderer.

I’m not going to debate that one again here (although it probably won’t stop anyone in the comments section from doing so). I do have a question, though, for the less rabid antiwar critics among you: does a war have to be “successful” in its goals, ex post facto, in order to be justified? Because if the answer is “yes,” there’s a Catch-22 built into every war of the future, and that is the following: while the war is going on, there’s no way to know its end result. Success? Failure? And that leaves almost any war (except the rare case of some sort of unequivocally “just war,” some large-scale invasion of this country by a foreign power, highly unlikely to ever occur) subject to a drumbeat of defeatism and second-guessing while that war is going on, because the outcome is always unknown and the course of every war is to have its ups and downs, short-term.

If every fluctuation along the way is met with cries that the deaths are in vain and we should withdraw, the propaganda value to the enemy is always going to be immense. If a message of weakness is delivered while the war is underway, the enemy will be heartened by the news, whether or not that is the intent of those mounting the criticism.

Messages of weakness of resolve during an ongoing conflict can backfire by prolonging that conflict and increasing the death toll. It’s a paradox for those who have valid criticisms of a war, and who are motivated not by partisanship but by realistic appraisals (and I certainly do believe such people exist among the war critics).

The answer, as I said before, is not to silence all criticism of a war. That would be a very bad direction to take. But my impression is that it used to be that war critics themselves were more likely to weigh such factors before speaking out during a war effort; I would appeal to modern-day critics of this war to be more mindful of the consequences of their current speech, as well.

There are many valid criticisms of the war that can be made, especially in details of its execution (see this, by the way, for some excellent recent criticism of the conduct of the war, from an Iraq war proponent). But focusing on the death toll itself sends a very different message to the enemy, and that is this: all you really have to do to win is to increase that number, slowly but surely.

And that, unfortunately, is relatively easy to do. It turns out that death tolls rarely decrease.

44 Responses to “What I’d be thinking right now if I were a terrorist/Islamicist”

  1. Jamie Says:

    Steve, as I see it you’re possibly falling into the habit of believing that our operations in Iraq were primarily motivated by a desire to unseat Saddam, and that dealing with the subsequent “insurgency” is just mopping up, not part of the original plan. That’s not very eloquently put, but I hope I can clarify my point:

    The goal, always, was to establish a “petri dish” of moderate democracy in the Middle East, as huan said way up the thread. Unseating Saddam was part of it. Dealing with the “insurgency,” whether homegrown or foreign, is part, because it has to be. But just as important a part is hovering over the nascent democracy while it figures out how to be self-sustaining. As such, it’s the second general election, and the third, that count even more than the first: the first shows the will of the Iraqi people to attempt this experiment; the second and third show their will to continue it even though some potentially large minority will be disappointed by the result.

    Think about how often the people who lose elections in the United States throw around the word “disenfranchisement.” And we have going on two and a half centuries’ experience at this representative government thing, a lot of it in relative isolation with no significant threats to its continuance. Iraq doesn’t have either time or isolation on its side; it’s a brand-new democratic country peopled by three big ethnic factions with centuries of bad blood between them, and with allies of at least the Sunni faction slavering at (we hope it’s “at,” anyway) the borders for an opportunity to come in and subvert the democratic process. al Qaeda in Iraq has had it; they may not realize it yet, or they may want to go down fighting, but the biggest challenge we face in Iraq going forward is getting to that second and third election.

    This is not, perhaps, sufficient as a milestone for withdrawal. Unfortunately it’s like a definition for obscenity: all legal wrangling aside, basically you know it when you see it. By the time the Iraqis have fashioned a coalition government and made it through some hotly contested votes within their parliament, we’ll be able to see whether they, the people, appear to have the stomach to accept that representative government contains within itself the absolute certainty that some people are always going to get the dirty end of the stick on every issue.

    If the Iraqi people, down the line, were to take to the streets and loot and riot violently, kidnap political opponents, declare fatwas against one another, stuff like that, well, maybe we’d have to regroup and turn to a more realpolitik short-term policy of aggressively supporting the faction that’s best for us – but we’re nowhere near that point yet. (It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that we have problems of these sorts ourselves sometimes, too. Maybe we’d find ourselves with the political will to keep biting our fingernails and waiting for the next election… Time will tell.) Iraqi nationalism has a good shot, though it’s not by any means a shoe-in; I just want to see it have the best chance possible.

  2. Ymarsakar Says:

    No, it isn’t that we are too good for our own good, it is that we are too afraid of our power to unleash the full might of this battle station. To quote star wars, and steal Lucas’s stuff.

    We are so powerful, our leaders are afraid to unleash the full might of the Marine Corps, the Special Forces, the Navy, and the Air Force.

    They are scared not that we will fail to take a military objective, that they take on faith, rather they are afraid of how it will LOOK.

    If they were worried about failing, then they might not worry about it failing, you might think. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, since LBJ worried both about how many casualties would look and he also worried about failing.

  3. douglas Says:

    I guess you could say we’re too good for our own good…

  4. douglas Says:

    Probably no one will read this now, but…
    After thinking about it for a while, I realized that the reason people like Steve are SO upset about the casualties we’re sustaining from things like IED’s, is because we’re SO GOOD that other causes of injury of our forces have nearly been eliminated, from a statistical standpoint. Sure, there have been a number of injuries from firefights, but they have been relatively few. Cursed by our own efficiency and ability to protect our troops!

  5. douglas Says:

    Mark Steyn:
    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1139395658749
    “A NEW study by the American Enterprise Institute suggests that, aside from the terrific press, continuing this policy would not have come cheap for America: if you object (as John Kerry did) to the $400-600 billion price tag since the war, another three years of “containment” would have cost around $300 billion – and with no end in sight, and the alleged death toll of Iraqi infants no doubt up around six million. It would also have cost more real lives of real Iraqis: Despite the mosque bombings, there’s a net gain of more than 100,000 civilians alive today who would have been shoveled into unmarked graves had Ba’athist rule continued. Meanwhile, the dictator would have continued gaming the international system through the Oil-for-Food program, subverting Jordan, and supporting terrorism as far afield as the Philippines.”
    How ’bout them numbers?

  6. Ymarsakar Says:

    Link

    Melannie Phillips has a nice shot of anti-Israeli propaganda in the US. The Harvard incident, if you recall.

    She makes a good example of what happens when you allow the enemy to own the battlespace of men’s minds. You are forever on the defensive. Powerline, good though it is, can only defend against such a document. To truly defeat their propaganda, requires that they be pushed on the defensive. Otherwise, Powerline and other blogs will forever be on the defensive, trying to prevent an eenmy victory.

    The terroists don’t know enough of history and they don’t care goesh.

    They believe what they see. You can’t change their beliefs in American weakness, until you change what they see. Since President won’t change any real military or civilian policy, such as execution of terroists caught on the battlefield through tribunal or commander decision, nothing much happens.

  7. Goesh Says:

    Battle of Okinawa (82 day campaign) involving 548,000 Americans: 4718 Army KIA, 4022 Navy KIA, 3443 Marines KIA
    Total WIA: 36,681

    If I were a terrorist, I would not ignore America’s ability to bleed and die in time of war.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    All the strength a civilization may rally, is found in past generations and the core beliefs that made everything possible the first time around.

    Endlessly reinventing yourselves is nothing but a waste of time.

    Google Shintoism.

    Another point that I think needs to be made, is what happens when enemy propaganda works.

    And what happens, really, is that you get someone like steve, who cares about Americans, to fight against the war effort because he doesn’t want to see any further helpless soldiers die in a gruesome and helpless manner.

    The primary component to break someone spiritually is not pain, pain is nothing that a strong warrior cannot withstand. No, the primary component in spiritually breaking someone is making them feel helpless.

    The strongest man is nothing but fodder, once he is made helpless in his mind.

    The enemy uses IEDs, not because it kills Americans since militarily they don’t do much at all, but because they know the media will cover it and people like steve will SEE it. Ever hear of seeing is believing? Our eyes are genetically programmed to believe what we see, a legacy of our prey/predator days of survival. And the single reason why propaganda became such a powerful tool with the advent of television, as Neo noted.

    There are two kinds of people the terroists seek to influence. Those who support America, and those who don’t support America.

    For the supporters of America, which I assume steve is part of, the images of American casualties break your heart because they seem so helpless. Like little kittens strangled out in the rain, while the strangler gets off scott free and laughs about it. Look at those little kittens, crawling through the mud, don’t it break your heart?

    The Way of the Sword is as much mental as physical.

    For those who seek to destroy America, the terroists are able to provide IED and VBiED and Mosul suicide IEDs for those anti-Americans to use to buttress their positions politically, and to weaken the proponents of America.

    The policy makers of America thus are hampered in two separate fronts. The domestic enemy, which is the great majority of the Democratic party. And domestic allies, the great majority of Republicans. Both complain and assault the policy makers.

    Look at the recent debate about body armor. It came exclusively because of IEDs. Now improved body armor might save one life, but what would save more lives would be to execute the terroists once they have been drained of information rather than releasing them to kill more Americans.

    But there is no political force to propose such legislation, because you don’t see it on tv. And you don’t see it on tv because the terroists and our domestic enemies don’t allow you to see it on tv. The terroists try very hard not to allow their enemies to understand just how valuable American stupidity in catching and releasing terroists are, to their jihad. As was noted here before, the terroists gain more and more experience after they get out of jail. It is one of the reasons why Israel is still fighting Palestine. They don’t kill the terroists they do find. Here we have a 10 year old child with 3rd degree burns and in critical care, not recieving proper medical treatment because their family can’t afford it. Then we have the terroist that tried to blow the child up, sleeping in the NEXT POCKING ROOM, treated by the American military doctors because he was a CASUALTY of the other side. That, is more of a problem than any kind of “body armor”.

    It is not surprising that Bush wouldn’t pay any attention to catch and release of terroists. He doesn’t even pay attention to the Mexican border with the catch and release of Mexican rapists and murderers, doing their profession on American soil and American citizens. Why should Bush change military policy, if there is no public awareness of the problem?

    The terroists make us aware of problems that they want us to fix. The terroists hide problems that they don’t want us to fix, by making us take our eye off of the real problems.

    This kind of propaganda, the highest echelon propaganda available to humanity, is so subversive and so subtle that people like Steve, somehow thinks that his beliefs were made by his own free will.

    Only it wasn’t.

    Some may believe that nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. But they are wrong. If I can convince a nation to suicide, then that ability to persuade is more destructive than any nuclear weapon. Why? Because I can use it and nobody notices that it is I doing the killing. With a nuke, there is no subtlety, there is no doubt, there is no plausible denial. With propaganda, psychological operations, and subversive projects I can use them to their fullest extent, without getting caught. The genkai, thus, of propaganda is much higher than WMDs. The limit to that which is placed upon the weapon, in how it is used.

    In the end, people killed by nukes is obviously smaller than killed by bad ideas, purposefully bad ideas. (Nazi, Palestine, Stalin, Pol Pot, Japan, I could go on)

    It is far more efficient to convince your enemies to kill themselves, than it is to do the deed yourself. That has been human wisdom since the advent of time itself.

    The solution is not to convince people that the terroists are controlling their beliefs through carefully selected sound bites and images, the solution is to push back with counter-propaganda of the highest quantity and quality. PUsh the enemy out of the battlespace of men’s minds, back to their dark dungeons of despair.

    It will be a hard fight. Because the Islamists have had decades to fortify their position. We will not win this war by being defensive minded. We have to attack, audacity and more audacity is required.

    In storming the fortress of men’s minds, controlled by Islam, we will take horrendous casualties. But those casualties on D-Day were required, if only because the French betrayed themselves and their allies in giving Hitler a set of fortifications.

    If we lose, then future generations will have nothing but contempt for those of us who fought a vile and wasteful struggle. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. – Duke

    If we win, then all will be forgiven.

    There is no substitute for victory.

    Know thy enemy, and know thy self. Do yourself a favor and study psychology and propaganda.

  9. Goesh Says:

    11/20 -11/28/1944 (8 days): Battle of Tarawa – 1085 Marines KIA, 2292 WIA 727 Navy Personnel KIA

    11/24/1944 USS Liscome Bay sunk, 644 men lost

    VFW Magazine, August 2005

    …talk about war dead

  10. notherbob2 Says:

    Speaking of propaganda, would you say that you have been propagandized about US casualties in the GWOT? No?
    Look at the official death count figures and then read (WARNING! Contains dangerous right wing spin) “Lies, Damn Lies, and (MSM) Statistics”: Not only does it include eye-opening statistics, but there is a knock down and drag out fight in the comments section that (for once) is educational and enlightening (almost like neo-neocon’s).
    Teaser: “In 2004, more soldiers died outside of Iraq and Afghanistan than died inside these two war zones (900 in these zones, 987 outside these zones).

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Great post neo-neocon. I check your blog every day for new insights. Seldom disappointed.

    For more on this topic, I direct everyone’s attention to a 3-part series on “The American Thinker”. The topic is Prospects of Terror: An Inquiry into Jihadi Alternatives. Very thoughful, cogent, concise analysis. Enjoy

    http://www.americanthinker.com/articles.php?article_id=5345

  12. kung fu Says:

    Snowonpine,

    To the left I want to say the Vietnam war ended a long time ago. To the right I want to say WWII ended an even longer time ago. This is a different world, this is a different war. Yes, we can admire people from the past, and perhaps whole generations, but you are really spinning your wheels.

  13. snowonpine Says:

    Looking back at what we in the U.S. endured in WWII as well as in the Great Depression that preceeded it, I can’t help but compare the shared sense of a common American history, shared common values and mental toughness of the WWII generation to ours and find our generation severly lacking. Today many lack that sense of shared history and core values, things that used to be taught in the elementary and primary grades and then reinforced by church and family. Moreover, the relative luxury and plenty we have lived in compared to the WWII generation has softened us, not toughened us. Liberalism made it its mission to destroy this old indoctrination system and in largely succeeding has made our generation much easier prey for the leftist propaganda available daily in our papers, the nightly news and on the lips of almost every Hollywood star who fancies him or herself an expert on foreign affairs and national defense.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Hey— I think this should be said: for all of you commenters above who have served (yes, even Steve)…

    Thanks.

  15. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I have discussed this issue, this war, with many people who oppose it.
    I have heard far more discussion by those opposed in the media and on the ‘net.

    I have come to the conclusion, after literally thousands of hours of discussion either participated in or watched, that there is no good faith and no truth in the opposition.

    This is not to say that opposition to the war cannot be based on truth and spoken in good faith. It’s that nobody I’ve seen has actually taken the opportunity.

    We have all kinds of tactics, such as moved goalposts, deliberate misstatement of fact (lie), the recently-named Casualty Insensitivy Card (congratulations on that felicitous concept), and subject-changing.

    It isn’t necessary, but it seems to be ubiquitous.

    It’s gotten to the point that I don’t bother engaging people on the subject.

    Why explain, for the eighty-leventh time, that the famous Sixteen Words were not a lie, when I am morally certain that the person making the case knows it as well as I do? To argue is to allow that you might have your facts wrong and then take appropriate action. Just to take one example, have you ever seen anybody who claims the Sixteen Words were a lie ever accept that they were not? It is not, as I say, a matter of anybody actually believing it, but that some people think continually saying what they know to be false is useful in some way.

    Now, I don’t like to do this, but I figure if anybody wants to insinuate I am Casualty Insensitive, here’s some history.
    My father was an Infantry platoon leader in WW II. He often talks about the dead guys in his platoon. I was an Infantry officer, scheduled to go to Viet Nam. However, my brother, an Air Force C130 nav, was killed in a crash on Taiwan, so I got off orders. In my next station, adjutant to a Nike Hercules ADA group, I was in charge of, as part of the S1′s zillion extra duties, the Notification and Survivor Assistance duties assigned to our unit. I personally notified two families of the loss of their loved one, and acted as survivor assistance officer for one, a duty which ended about five years ago.
    So you can take your casualty insensitive card and stuff it where the sun don’t shine.
    I hate to do this, as I say, and I am minded of Gresham’s Law, or a version of it, that bad behavior drives out good behavior.

  16. J. Green Says:

    In a Washington Times piece by Thomas Sowell a few weeks ago, he said that undermining our resolve makes the threat of force less credible. It ocurred to me that this was only have of the equation. The reason it is imperitive for critics to be critical AND responsible is that: “Undermining the perception of US solidarity abroad, makes the threat of military force less credible, and the use of military force more necessary.”

  17. Goesh Says:

    If I were a terrorist field commander, I would continue to deeply appreciate the military tactics of the West, in particular when my wounded are given the same quality of care as your wounded. Nothing inspires me and my men more than weakness. An enemy that cannot kill an opponent is weak and fearful, a fundamental law of nature.This perverse behavior of caring for my wounded not only in the long run preserves them to again fight at another time, it highly educates them in the ways of my enemy. Most of my foot soliders will not stay long in the hands of the enemy, American or Iraqi – all they have to do is tell them they were in it for the money and pledge to be good. They can tell my enemy all that they know about me, because they don’t really know much about me their commander. My soliders sole purpose is to kill you, your children and your way of life, nothing more, and until you accept this, you cannot possibly defeat me. Your beliefs and stated words remain sharply distinct from your actions and that gives me hope. My time is measured by the standards of eternity, yours is measured by the immediacy and whims of your material emotions. I would regard your nation as an apple with a solid, healthy core but a rotting exterior. Lastly, I would not see a need to hit you again in your home land at this time because I believe time is on my side.

  18. grackle Says:

    Okay, then you are conceding my point. We are there to prevent 18 K jihadists from taking over. Which means as long as jihadists can kill some Iraqis from time to time, we have to stay. Got it.

    No Steve, you don’t “got it.” What I hope is that the US will leave when the Iraqis are able to field an army that can act independently, a viable police force & a fully formed government. Then if the Jihadists killed some Iraqis from time to time, the Iraqis could do their own retaliatory killing.

    The Bush administration erred by talking of “defeating” the terrorists by completely stopping terrorism in Iraq. It is just too easy for Syrian, Iranian & Baathist terrorists to set off IED’s for a total stoppage as apparently envisioned by the Bush administration to be practical. If Iraq ends up with a government friendly toward the West I suspect that terrorism in Iraq will continue even after the US leaves the field, becoming a permanent aggravation in the mode of Hamas & Israel. The Iraqis themselves seem somewhat inured to the terrorist violence, not half as impressed by it as the American MSM, perhaps because Saddam murdered so many more than the terrorists have.

  19. John F. Opie Says:

    Hi -

    As usual, outstanding post. :-)

    Just one comment on propaganda. Obviously, it’s been used down the ages, both white (we’re so wonderful) and black (you’re eating babys again! Third time this week! And you didn’t even pay for the catsup!).

    It was the Nazis and the Soviets that made it a science, using modern advertising tools. The Soviets in particular, along with the ChiComs, made it into an art form for the masses, as well as making it intellectually respectable.

    But read Mitrokhin to see how it was the KGB (and its predecessors) who turned it into a geopolitical tool that more often than not operated in third countries with an indirect approach. Their legacy is part and parcel of what we have to deal with in the third world today: they have in many cases successfully painted a fully incorrect picture of the US in the memes that dominate many developing countries.

    That is why we are also having such enormous problems in countering it. It’s been part and parcel of the revolutionary memes that many of these countries raised an entire generation in, not perhaps explicitly, but certainly there under the surface. It’s going to be hard to turn that around, when it is so easy for enemies to exploit the fertile ground that the KGB and the ChiComm equivalent called the Ministry For State Security have sown.

    And the black propaganda against the US continues to this day.

  20. strcpy Says:

    Steve has dropped into a “nice” version of the chickenhawk argument. Essentially saying eveything but the term. It’s an interesting tactic that smarter people with fairly controversial ideas use – say the same thing but in a “sane” way. Yet it still equates to the same thing.

    The problem is that if we want to go by those that have slogged it out, those that have sat in what he wants, or any other litmus test for being in the miltary then the war is popular in the sense that the vast majority want to stay there and support Bush.

    That’s not really something that is open to debate – voting patterns are so overwhelming that the only way you can say it is that the military fixed ballots such that soldier could not vote anything but what the whitehouse says. So, if what Steve says is true then he should be an overwhelming supporter of the war, yet he is not.

    What does that tell me? Steve really doesn’t care about what he says he does. That not liking the war is the first priority and he has then worked backwards. If some of those “backwards” reasons do not work, then move the goal posts.

    This is what many of the above posts are politely pointing out. I’m not going to be so polite – you use stupid logic I’ll point it out.

    I suggest you either choose another line of saying the Iraq war is wrong (if you simply drop the idea few will remember that you said this), or become consistent and support the war.

  21. grackle Says:

    Steve says: First of all, I wish my opponents would quote me correctly. What I have been saying in this venue is: I thought the war was a mistake, and I and many others anticipated many of the difficulties we have in fact encountered. (We’re not supposed to plough that field today, so, that’s that.)

    Yeah, I think we all saw your predictions. Thanks for letting us know about those & be sure to remind us from time to time, lest we forget.

    In addition, I have not called for a peremptory retreat. I simply want our people in a position to minimize this particularly helpless and therefore gruesome form of death. When people say: What’s wrong with the Iraq war now? That’s the part the bugs me, and I say so. Of course, there are other things that could bug me, but they generally don’t.

    The anti-warriors evidently believe this: That if the US left now that Iraq would be locked in stasis, that since there are x number of terrorists now that Iraq could count on not seeing more, that the partially manned & trained Iraqi military & police force is ready to take on all comers, that if they, the anti-warriors are wrong & the Jihadists took over Iraq, it would be ‘manageable.’

    Support the troops? Sure. I’m sick and tired of seeing some youngster in his dress blues — as I was 35 years ago — on the TV screen with a thing about how he and several buddies were blown apart by a roadside bomb. I’m being honest about how I feel about this: that’s why I can’t take any pleasure in this, at all.

    Has anyone asked Steve to “take pleasure” in any aspect of the war? I missed it if they did. One must always pay close attention to the implications, which in this case implies that unnamed others(pro-warriors?) do “take pleasure” in the blowing up of soldiers. I’m going to write it off as the product of an inept prose style instead of deliberate insult.

    And I feel I am supporting our people by stressing this point, because I know if I had to go through this day after day, I’d want someone at home asking why I had to put my life at risk in this form on a daily basis.

    Steve evidently believes we pro-warriors are insensitive to the risk for US soldiers in Iraq. Once again the Casualty Sensitivity Card is played. If one debates an anti-warrior long enough the Casualty Sensitivity Card will turn up. Steve, believe it or not, we pro-warriors also ask “why.”

    When I joined the military, although only 17 & stupid to boot, I knew that there might be a point when I would have to subject myself to possible harm. That submerged fear was always in the back of my mind. But that was the deal, that was the contract & if death came in combat I took it for granted that I would not be able to choose the circumstances.

    Given that our military-political goal of disarming Saddam was achieved, and given that we have had several elections and even wrote a constitution for them, I do not see the point in continued American exposure to lethal conditions. That’s not the same as a withdrawal. I simply think it would be best at this point — as I said a couple of weeks ago — for the US to put its forces in selected and relatively secure areas and then stay there unless for specific missions, a la Swarmer last week. That way we could maintain an unfortunately still necessary presence, but, at the same time, be out of harm’s way (most of the time, anyway.)

    The Iraqis wrote their own constitution, the US didn’t do it for them. It’s that dang Template again – every event has to be fitted into The Anti-warrior Template. Steve wants US troops to go & stay inside “secure areas” & “out of harm’s way.” I’m sure the terrorists would love that! And how is that different than “peremptory retreat”? Readers, you tell me.

    On the other hand, if the Iraqis and the 18 K (or is it 24 K? that’s still less than 1/10 of 1% of the population) insurgents want to do their thing: let them! We aren’t going to be able to sort it out, if such a tiny number of insurgents can hold a nation of 27 million at bay, they certainly won’t be defeated by 150 K Americans, many of whom are in vulnerable support roles to begin with.

    Even a nation of millions is vulnerable if the military, police & government aren’t strong enough for independent action.

    We are told again and again that we are winning. Ok, fine. Winning exactly what? Well, there are 150 K Iraqi forces, a huge success. And furthermore, the insurgency is showing all the signs of weakening. Well, why can’t we draw back? Well, because 150 K Iraqi forces is no match for 18-24 K insurgents. This is nonsense. Either there are a lot more insurgents, or they are a lot more successful than we are admitting, or there’s some other reason why our people are there. So let’s get real.

    Steve, I don’t believe anyone knows the full extent of terrorist infiltration, except perhaps the terrorists. But don’t you think that if US troops were to withdraw to “secure areas” that Syria & Iran would see a perfect opportunity for mischief, as Syria did before, in Lebanon? Shouldn’t the US wait until Iraqi police, military & the new government are all 3 strong enough to withstand determined & utterly ruthless outside aggression? Yes, keeping things together while an army & police force is built from scratch takes time & is dangerous for our troops & having to stand by while various factions squabble about the government is frustrating. But it is most certainly worthwhile. As you’ve hinted yourself, the alternative is unthinkable.

    And as for goalposts — just how big do we want the Iraqi army to be before we can — this time for real — actually pull out? (I have already said that a permanent occupation doesn’t bother me, and if we can keep our people in secure locations, go for it: but I’m not the person who has to be convinced.)

    Steve, hiding in “secure locations” as you propose is not occupation, it’s capitulation. Occupation troops patrol turf & look for trouble, not hide out in secure enclaves.

    What level of security/stability do we need in Iraq? Just asking for some honest goal posts. Perhaps then we can talk about some of the more hopeless reasons why we’re stuck: like the in-fighting among Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. And, in fact, we can’t afford to stand by and let one group or another secede or genocide another. That would be a terrible blow to America’s standing. But, of course, if we start talking about that then we have to talk about the rationales and tradeoffs for the invasion, the pre-planning, errors, misconceptions, etc. Another time.]

    Honest goalpost #1: When our generals say the army & police force is ready for independent duty.

    Honest goalpost #2: When a stable government is fully formed.

    All wars have rationales, tradeoffs, errors, misconceptions. WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, all had rationales, tradeoffs, errors, misconceptions. If rationales, tradeoffs, errors, misconceptions are the litmus for Steve, then Steve would be against any war.

    This is a war against Wahhabism.

    Then we should have invaded Saudi Arabia, since it has more oil, and is a Wahhabist state, UNLIKE SADDAM’S IRAQ, which was a secular dictatorship.

    One assumption here is that the US invaded Iraq to steal the oil. Anti-warriors are full of these cynical assumptions. Like many false assumptions it rests upon half-truths. True, in the past in the Middle East the US has formed alliances designed to keep the oil flowing, thus the alliance with Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest producer of oil. Any administration that did not take steps to insure a steady oil supply would be bereft in its duty, since oil is essential to the economy.

    But after 9/11 many have realized that while oil is certainly important, there has to be a new priority, which is to respond to the war that has been waged against the US & others in the West & that has existed at least since the American hostage-taking in Tehran in 1979. Some of us are beginning to realize that this war is a World War.

    Perhaps I should mention the fact that Saudi Arabia also has a secular government & is not quite a “Wahhabist state.” Not that the Wahhabis aren’t powerful in Saudi Arabia, the founder of the Wahhabis was also a co-founder of the modern state of Saudi Arabia. However, there are also powerful religious factions in Iraq. In fact there is no Middle Eastern country in which Moslem religious leaders are not powerful & important. Consider if Pat Robertson were 100 times more powerful than he is. Compared to a Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, Robertson is a wimp in terms of power yet we cannot dictate what he preaches to his followers, can we?

    One might also point out that Saddam is a Sunni & Wahhabis are also Sunni as is Osama bin Laden. Saddam’s dictatorship cooperated with Moslem leaders, leaving many aspects of Iraqi existence to the supervision of the mosques. The government was ostensibly secular, yet life under Saddam was as traditionally Moslem fundamentalist as most ME states. No mini-skirts, no lipstick, no women in schools or other Western depravities.

  22. Ymarsakar Says:

    Fighting wars you can win: Definitely. You pose the question of maybe countries shouldn’t go to war, on the idea that you can’t predict the outcome. Not really the same, I don’t think.

    That’s not what Neo did.

    We are there because we are waiting for what?

    We are waiting for you, Steve, to bring us the critical logistics supply that is required to win the war. We are still waiting.


    IMO, political realities made it difficult for Bush, initially, to explicitly explain this threat. He’s doing a better job now – though there is obvious room vor improvement.

    Bush wouldn’t know how to tell you about this threat, even if he wanted to and could afford to politically. So there are 3 barriers preventing Bush from explictly explaining the threat.

    It’s hard for me to understand why people don’t get this.

    They just don’t care. As Steve said, he doesn’t care how many Iraqis are murdered in the streets, it doesn’t affect him.

    My second point was, and is, that we have NO SPECIFIC GOALS.

    Bush would be brain dead to tell you the specific strategic and tactical goals of this war, just so you can blab it on the internet and tell our enemy. You do understand that Al-Qaeda data mines the internet on a regular basis, right?

    This is so not secure.

    Problem is, I’m not getting them.

    Which is a good thing, it shows that military security has not been cracked or “leaked”.

    BUT that’s not how this war was sold to the American people, and that’s why they are tired of it.

    WWII wasn’t sold to the American people, since Roosevelt said he wouldn’t get involved in foreign wars…

    War isn’t a commodity to be sold and bought.

    that’s the party line that is currently being put out there

    There is no party line, since there is no party propaganda apparatus. Show me Bush’s propaganda apparatus and then you can talk about party lines.

    Having spent quite a bit of time sitting immobilized in an APC or an Amtrac I can tell you my heart goes out to anyone who has to sit knee in the crotch of the guy sitting across from you, utterly helpless, waiting to be blown up.

    A warrior is never helpless. Those people you see helpless in that vehicle, are not warriors.

    Do we switch on to full appeasement mode from here on out?

    So long as American soldiers don’t die, I don’t think steve cares about what else happens.

    I simply want our people in a position to minimize this particularly helpless and therefore gruesome form of death.

    I suppose helpless children must be protected now and again.

    I’m being honest about how I feel about this: that’s why I can’t take any pleasure in this, at all.

    You can’t take enemy propaganda that demoralizes you… Okay. You ever hear of mental defenses?

    even wrote a constitution for them

    Now we’re verging on the “made up facts” branch of logic.

    they certainly won’t be defeated by 150 K Americans, many of whom are in vulnerable support roles to begin with.

    Sounds like the Iraqi police that bunked up in their stations, and allowed the terroists to slaughter everyone in the neighborhood. A bunch of cowards.

    Steve, enemy propaganda is going to affect your thinking regardless of the situation in Iraq. I say regardless because propaganda uses psychological attacks that bypass both armor and military power.

    So it doesn’t matter if we pull back in. Cause the enemy is just going to come up with some new trick to show you on tv and demoralize you. THEN, you will be complaining about that new trick and trying to get Americans out of harm’s way yet again.

    Don’t make me remind you about the Marine Corps barracks bombing that killed 220 Marines. You can pull in your helpless children all you want, steve, from the IEDs, but it’s not going to make your mental defenses against enemy propaganda any stronger. Nor will it save any American lives. You don’t win a war on the defensive, and you sure as hell aren’t saving lives in the long term by fortifying up.

    Link

  23. SonnyJim Says:

    Sorry Steve, I was just having you on.

    Seriously though; listen guy, as a broken Marine who now works for the Marines I can tell you that these golden youngsters have a lot less doubt than you do, especially the ones who are most forward squarely in harm’s way.

    As for you proposal to retreat to the firebases and only enter the countryside for occasional sweeps, it didn’t work for Westmoreland then, it won’t work for us now. When I go forward in a couple months I’ll be restricted to the safe areas, more’s the pity.

  24. SonnyJim Says:

    I thought 24k was as high as it went,… Oh I get it, we’re talking diamond size instead of alloy mixture – so 150k is like a tennis bracelet or something; Is that it?

  25. Steve Says:


    Where does the retreats end Steve? Do we switch on to full appeasement mode from here on out?

    First of all, I wish my opponents would quote me correctly. What I have been saying in this venue is: I thought the war was a mistake, and I and many others anticipated many of the difficulties we have in fact encountered. (We’re not supposed to plough that field today, so, that’s that.)

    In addition, I have not called for a peremptory retreat. I simply want our people in a position to minimize this particularly helpless and therefore gruesome form of death. When people say: What’s wrong with the Iraq war now? That’s the part the bugs me, and I say so. Of course, there are other things that could bug me, but they generally don’t.

    Support the troops? Sure. I’m sick and tired of seeing some youngster in his dress blues — as I was 35 years ago — on the TV screen with a thing about how he and several buddies were blown apart by a roadside bomb. I’m being honest about how I feel about this: that’s why I can’t take any pleasure in this, at all. And I feel I am supporting our people by stressing this point, because I know if I had to go through this day after day, I’d want someone at home asking why I had to put my life at risk in this form on a daily basis.

    Given that our military-political goal of disarming Saddam was achieved, and given that we have had several elections and even wrote a constitution for them, I do not see the point in continued American exposure to lethal conditions. That’s not the same as a withdrawal. I simply think it would be best at this point — as I said a couple of weeks ago — for the US to put its forces in selected and relatively secure areas and then stay there unless for specific missions, a la Swarmer last week. That way we could maintain an unfortunately still necessary presence, but, at the same time, be out of harm’s way (most of the time, anyway.)

    On the other hand, if the Iraqis and the 18 K (or is it 24 K? that’s still less than 1/10 of 1% of the population) insurgents want to do their thing: let them! We aren’t going to be able to sort it out, if such a tiny number of insurgents can hold a nation of 27 million at bay, they certainly won’t be defeated by 150 K Americans, many of whom are in vulnerable support roles to begin with.

    But that gets us back to the rhetoric of the war, and the goalposts issue.

    We are told again and again that we are winning. Ok, fine. Winning exactly what? Well, there are 150 K Iraqi forces, a huge success. And furthermore, the insurgency is showing all the signs of weakening. Well, why can’t we draw back? Well, because 150 K Iraqi forces is no match for 18-24 K insurgents. This is nonsense. Either there are a lot more insurgents, or they are a lot more successful than we are admitting, or there’s some other reason why our people are there. So let’s get real.

    And as for goalposts — just how big do we want the Iraqi army to be before we can — this time for real — actually pull out? (I have already said that a permanent occupation doesn’t bother me, and if we can keep our people in secure locations, go for it: but I’m not the person who has to be convinced.)

    What level of security/stability do we need in Iraq? Just asking for some honest goal posts. Perhaps then we can talk about some of the more hopeless reasons why we’re stuck: like the in-fighting among Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds. And, in fact, we can’t afford to stand by and let one group or another secede or genocide another. That would be a terrible blow to America’s standing. But, of course, if we start talking about that then we have to talk about the rationales and tradeoffs for the invasion, the pre-planning, errors, misconceptions, etc. Another time.

    This is a war against Wahhabism

    Then we should have invaded Saudi Arabia, since it has more oil, and is a Wahhabist state, UNLIKE SADDAM’S IRAQ, which was a secular dictatorship.

  26. Huan Says:

    The war against terror is a misnomer. This is a war against Wahhabism (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabism), a fundamental and militant Islam spreading among the Arabs and through the Middle East. Thus if you see this as the primary threat, then you have to formulate a strategy to defeat it.

    This administration belief is to fight fundamentalist Islam with liberalized Islam. They believe that if given the choice, most Muslims would not kill and maim innocent non-Muslims. Where would they cultivate a sufficient number of liberal Arab Muslims to stand against the fundamentalists? By taking those who would crave individual choice after years of being denied individual choices. Liberalism at its root is predicated on individual freedom. You start with those oppressed the worse and work your way up. Thus liberate the Afghans under the Taliban and follow up with Iraqi under Saddam. Risky? Very.

    Thus if you are about to undertake a massive social-political-religious transformation, do you declare you intent for all to hear, especially the target of your work? There was no way this could have or ever would be declared.

    So where do you start after 911? By declaring an apparent target of threat, in this case terrorists in particular and states that harbor and support them. But if you are bound by certain international laws, like the UN charter, what are your options? With Afghanistan it was easy in appearance, they had al Qaeda and refused to hand them over, thus with a blur the Taliban and al Qaeda was treated as one as the same. Now it becomes Afghanistan-al Qaeda attacked the US and thus we had the legal context to attack back. Done. But Afghanistan is far away from the core of the problem of Wahhabism that is in the Middle East (Afghanistan more Central Asian). Thus Iraq. Legal context? Violation of the ceasefire from 1991. As much as possible all the international actions could be interpreted as consistent with our international rights and obligations. The greatest stumbling block has been the blurring of the American public perception that the war against terror should only be targeting terrorists in general and al Qaeda in particular.

    What I am getting at is that while this administration has been poorer at PR than necessary, the nature of this war’s strategy does not lend itself to a PR campaign. While it maybe easy now to sell capitalism over communism, this wasn’t so clear 30 years ago, but at least it can be announced that was your intention. How do you go about declaring that we will turn moderate Muslims against their brethren the fundamentalist Muslims? How do you go about selling this to your domestic public and not let the international audience hear about it? I don’t think it can be done.

    I am satisfied with the reasons and motives for the war on terror, and its progress thus. Bad PR included, as you cannot always declare your intentions.

  27. SonnyJim Says:

    Steve,

    Its not just the 18k jihadists, its the 24k jihadists that we’re really after. Of course, we’re after even 10k jihadists, they’re just not as valuable.

  28. Harry Mallory Says:

    Steve:
    “Having spent quite a bit of time sitting immobilized in an APC or an Amtrac I can tell you my heart goes out to anyone who has to sit knee in the crotch of the guy sitting across from you, utterly helpless, waiting to be blown up. But I guess it doesn’t bother everyone.”

    Been there Steve. (except for the blown up part.) Yes, that would suck. But then we make that a reason not to play in Iraq anymore and go home and ignore the problem. But what about next time, next country/region? If Steve demands we pull out because the IED thing sucks now, Why wouldnt somebody else come to the logical conclusion that Steve will demand that IED’s suck in Bosnia, or Afghanistan, Sudan maybe, or anyplace else. Where does the retreats end Steve? Do we switch on to full appeasement mode from here on out?

  29. Steve Says:

    Having spent quite a bit of time sitting immobilized in an APC or an Amtrac I can tell you my heart goes out to anyone who has to sit knee in the crotch of the guy sitting across from you, utterly helpless, waiting to be blown up. But I guess it doesn’t bother everyone.


    Unclear perhaps to you, Steve, but very clear to us pro-warriors. We pro-warriors simply can’t allow your clouded vision to leave Iraq to the Jihadists.

    Okay, then you are conceding my point. We are there to prevent 18 K jihadists from taking over. Which means as long as jihadists can kill some Iraqis from time to time, we have to stay. Got it.

  30. grackle Says:

    But the way our casualties are being incurred — IED’s — makes our people sitting ducks, with no opportunity to die trying. So, that’s why I want our people out of harm’s way.

    If I’m a terrorist I know just how to beat an army led by Steve: No frontal assaults, no pitched battles, just set off an occasional IED & Steve’s army would simply go away with feelings hurt because I never gave them a nice battle to feel good about. O we are so lucky the anti-warriors are not in charge.

    When anti-warriors are confronted with the fact of low casualties they invariably play the Casualty Sensitivity Card, protesting that any deaths are ‘too much,’ the implication being that pro-warriors are insensitive. This tactic seeks to confuse bureaucratic tasks, which should involve no personal risk, with military duties, which are understood & expected to sometimes be fatal. The extreme end of the continuum is the Chickenhawk taunt, purporting to believe only veterans with combat experience to be worthy to send the ‘boys’ off, some never to return, a stance that allows no fatalities, a stance that is ridiculous.

    In this war, however, it’s not even clear what we are fighting FOR.

    Unclear perhaps to you, Steve, but very clear to us pro-warriors. We pro-warriors simply can’t allow your clouded vision to leave Iraq to the Jihadists.

  31. Mike Says:

    it on someone else.

  32. Mike Says:

    Killing each other and then blaming it someone else.

  33. Mike Says:

    18 K insurgents in their death throws, thats the party line.

    Says who?

    We are going to train up the Iraqi Army, pressure local leaders to keep their militia’s in check and get out by ’08. I wouldn’t be suprised to see the Kurds get out the same day we do leaving the arabs to either form a government or form tribes and kill each other. The optimist in me hopes to see them form a government, but it seems pretty clear that killing each other is the arab lifestyle of choice.

  34. Steve Says:

    It’s been 55 years, surely someone has a plan?

    First, we were already in Korea in 1950; that was part of the problem. Second, the proper analogy would be the ongoing insurgency in South Korea, Germany, Okinawa, etc. which of course is non-existent and has been non-existent as long as we have been there.

    Like I said: if you want the US to permanently occupy Iraq, I don’t really have a problem with that. BUT that’s not how this war was sold to the American people, and that’s why they are tired of it. I don’t buy the argument that Bush basically deceived the American people about the goals or timeline of this war, either. Not unless you want to say that the whole Chalabi thing was an elaborate hoax by our government.

    I think it’s obvious that this administration screwed up big time, but, we won’t go there today.

    More to the point, however, the US and its armed forces is allowing itself to be controlled by no more than 18 K insurgents who are in their death throes: that’s the party line that is currently being put out there. And it is manifestly absurd. Either the insurgency is ending, in which case, we are in effect staying there because we feel like it (which is not what’s being sold to the American public, either), or, the insurgency is in fact a big threat to Iraqi stability, requiring the deployment of over 100 K Americans and billions of dollars. Take your pick.

  35. kung fu Says:

    “Messages of weakness of resolve during an ongoing conflict can backfire by prolonging that conflict and increasing the death toll. It’s a paradox for those who have valid criticisms of a war, and who are motivated not by partisanship but by realistic appraisals.”

    Yes, this is a terrible paradox. I for one opposed the war on the grounds that it would cause unnecessary death and suffering. But as you point out, isn’t it better to hope for American success now, on those same grounds of decreasing unnecessary death and suffering?

    And this is what’s most troubling about “rushing to war.” I sometimes wonder if the effort to “rush to war” is done intentionally to decrease war resistance because there are so many people who are far more reluctant to oppose military action once war begins. An overwhelming American victory early on (as in the first war with Iraq) means the bloodshed is limited, a good thing for all involved. Did Bush, Rumsfeld, etc count on the same drill this time? And now three years later here we are, and we are stuck. If we leave, surely things will be worse, which puts me in the position of saying stay on despite the fact that I didn’t want us to go there in the first place. Like you said, paradox.

  36. snowonpine Says:

    For a little perspective on casualties. Official statistics reveal that there were 16.1 million U.S. troops who served in WWII. The U.S. military sustained 291,557 battle deaths, 113,842 other deaths (due to disease, accidents, etc.) and U.S. troops incurred 671,846 wounds that were not mortal in WWII. Yet, we fought on and won. Today, our troops suffer some 3,000 deaths in three years of hard fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and its the Tet offensive or Mogidishu or the Beirut barracks all over again; “we’ve lost, lets cut and run.” To be blunt, the overrwhelmingly leftist U.S. media, the entertainment industry and academia are doing everything in their power to convince U.S. citizens that we’ve lost again and its time to bug out and they seem to be succeeding.

  37. nittypig Says:

    When the heck are we getting out of Korea? Is that country not stable, secure and democratic enough? What is our benchmark for withdrawal from Korea? It’s been 55 years, surely someone has a plan?

  38. Steve Says:

    We. Will. Stay. Until. The. Iraqi. Forces. Can. Adequately. Protect. Iraq.

    Define adequately. Period. Just define it, so we’ll know when we’re there. (I assume we are not there now).

    The whole point of this exercise was to get Hussein out and leave in his wake a reasonably functioning democracy. We’re staying until we’re sure that our leaving won’t result in the country falling into chaos and a new dictatorship, this time led by al Qaida.

    Yes, and “when will we be sure”? How do you define “sure”? If the insurgency is as weak as Bush’s supporters claim it is, then we should be able to leave now. On the other hand, if we can’t leave because the insurgents are threatening to overthrow the Iraqi government, then how weak can they be? That’s my first point: you can’t have it both ways.

    My second point was, and is, that we have NO SPECIFIC GOALS. I for one am not asking for a specific timetable. I would settle for some specific benchmarks. Problem is, I’m not getting them.

  39. Tom Strong Says:

    There’s certainly a case to be made that the Administration’s biggest bungle with regard to Iraq has been PR. And I know no small numbers of war supporters have made this argument – though usually not in mixed company.

    The problem with this argument is that there’s really been no shortage of propaganda for the war, and everyone knows that (hell, most of us are pretty tired of it). So warbloggers instead complain that the media is censoring the good stories because it wants to bring down Bush. And then the whole thing just grows a tinfoil hat and buries itself in the ground.

    If the Administration wanted to win people like me over – I’m a leftist and a war skeptic, but it’s hardly issue #1 for me – they could have. But the way to have done it would have been through changing other, seemingly unrelated aspects of their agenda – for me it would be tax cuts, Social security, gay marriage, and the erosion of checks and balances. But instead, they let far-right groups and Grover Norquist write the whole agenda for a divided nation. That’s a marvelous strategy for failure.

  40. nittypig Says:

    Propaganda was critcally important in WWI (slaughter of Belgian babies and all that). The allies were very sucessful in driving US public opinion, and arguably that won them the war. In that sense, once the stalemate set in the critical front in WWI was US public opinion. The Germans had some advantages in this front – historic US rivalries with Britain, large Irish and German immigrant populations that would naturally tilt against the allies. But the Germans made poor use of these assets, and most of the allied lies were widely believed in the US. Examples include the treatment of Belgian civilians, the sinking of US ships that were carrying munitions to the allies under a neutral flag and so on. The US press was basically complicit in all of this. Ultimately that’s why Germany lost the world war I, without US help it’s hard to see how the allies could have defeated Germany even if they could have held her off. There is a lesson in all of this although I’m not sure what it is.

  41. dicentra Says:

    In this war, however, it’s not even clear what we are fighting FOR. To overthrow Saddam? Done. To get his WMD’s? To the extent that he had any, Done. To make Iraq no long a threat to its neighbors? I’d say done.

    So — Why are we still there?

    ::blinks::

    You’re kidding, right? Did the memo not reach you? Well, OK. Here it is:

    We. Will. Stay. Until. The. Iraqi. Forces. Can. Adequately. Protect. Iraq.

    Because if we pull out before they can stand on their own two feet, Iraq falls to al Qaida and the Ba’athists. And won’t that be happy?

    The president hammers on this point repeatedly. It’s one of the few things you can count on him to say when asked when we’ll pull out.

    Here’s what he said yesterday:

    “As we make progress toward victory, Iraqis will continue to take more responsibility for their own security, and fewer U.S. forces will be needed to complete the mission. But it’s important for the Iraqis to hear this: The United States will not abandon Iraq. We will not leave that country to the terrorists who attacked America and want to attack us again. We will leave Iraq, but when we do, it will be from a position of strength, not weakness. Americans have never retreated in the face of thugs and assassins, and we will not begin now.”

    – President George W. Bush
    March 20, 2006

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/

    The whole point of this exercise was to get Hussein out and leave in his wake a reasonably functioning democracy. We’re staying until we’re sure that our leaving won’t result in the country falling into chaos and a new dictatorship, this time led by al Qaida.

    It’s hard for me to understand why people don’t get this. I got it the first time the president said it, in that first address after 9/11. Since then, he hasn’t gone off-message once.

    What is it going to take? Are we going to have to tattoo it backwards on your forehead? :D

  42. gcotharn Says:

    Outstanding post. I long ago realized that all back and forth conversations about OIF were futile, unless the parties could agree about what is the threat. So many times I observe emotional shouting about two different threats. Such is just noise.

    To me, the real threat is the backwardness of melding of tribalism and Islam – including the viciousness of the melding of tribalism and fundamentalist Islam. Even without the existence of WMD: that backwardness, in that region, and amongst that large population, is a serious threat to the life, liberty, and happiness of the world – including the U.S.A. The constant technological expansion of WMD makes the threat more acute.

    IMO, political realities made it difficult for Bush, initially, to explicitly explain this threat. He’s doing a better job now – though there is obvious room vor improvement.

    One of our contributions, as bloggers, is to help GWB explain this threat in an understandable fashion. I don’t want to overdramatize blogging – but I also don’t want to unfairly dismiss it. If this had all happened 15 years ago – when Bush would’ve had no internet, no blogosphere, no military blogs, and no middle American email lists to help support his cause, I see no way Bush could’ve stood up to the MSM and the world the way he has. The blogosphere maybe has not been decisive in contributing to OIF success, yet the blogosphere and email have played some type of definite role.

  43. Steve Says:

    I personally am not terribly concerned about Iraqi casualties. I’m not an ogre, but they just don’t register much with me. I am concerned about US casualties because I am a veteran and I know several young men — peers of my son — who are in the service. Granted, a guy goes to war and he may have to lay his life down. But the way our casualties are being incurred — IED’s — makes our people sitting ducks, with no opportunity to die trying. So, that’s why I want our people out of harm’s way.

    As for propaganda, I think Knightley has pointed out that journalistic promotion of atrocities (a large part of propaganda) goes back to the Russo-Turkish War of 1878. It may go back farther, for all I know.

    Fighting wars you can win: Definitely. You pose the question of maybe countries shouldn’t go to war, on the idea that you can’t predict the outcome. Not really the same, I don’t think.

    You go to war when you are either attacked (like Japan, or For Sumter), or when you are convinced that you have no choice but to fight (like WWI, the First Gulf War, or Israel in 1967). Wars fought on flimsly pretexts — Mexican War, Span Am War, Vietnam, THIS war — may or may not be successful, and are usually fought under a cloud of certainty about the NEED for the war, but you can’t guarantee what you are fighting to accomplish, because there is no real necessity in what you are doing.

    Most wars you are fighting either to stop a country’s aggression against its neighbors that will affect you down the road (Germany, both wars, North Korea), or you are fighting against a direct threat (Japan in WW2, the South, by secession). In those cases there’s not much room for either/or.

    In this war, however, it’s not even clear what we are fighting FOR. To overthrow Saddam? Done. To get his WMD’s? To the extent that he had any, Done. To make Iraq no long a threat to its neighbors? I’d say done.

    So — Why are we still there?

    We are there because we are waiting for what? What is the end state that will satisfy us? And this is where the insurgents have us tripped up. We have no real bench mark for leaving. I mean, they’ve already had several elections. So now we are basically there, presumably, because of the insurgents. So the insurgents are controlling us, even though they are in their death throes? You can’t have it both ways.

    If the US wants to stay in Iraq for 10-20 years I don’t really care, so long as our people are not being killed in wasteful ways. The problem is that I don’t think the American people signed on for that reality. I think they are getting impatient. That’s the problem.

  44. Cervus Says:

    Messages of weakness of resolve during an ongoing conflict can backfire by prolonging that conflict and increasing the death toll.

    This, I think, is the most critical point. Better a short, sharp pain than a prolonged struggle that erodes public support.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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