November 27th, 2006

Realism for our times*

Robert Kagan and William Kristol have something to say in the Weekly Standard about the new yen for realpolitik:

So let’s add up the “realist” proposals: We must retreat from Iraq, and thus abandon all those Iraqis–Shiite, Sunni, Kurd, and others–who have depended on the United States for safety and the promise of a better future. We must abandon our allies in Lebanon and the very idea of an independent Lebanon in order to win Syria’s support for our retreat from Iraq. We must abandon our opposition to Iran’s nuclear program in order to convince Iran to help us abandon Iraq. And we must pressure our ally, Israel, to accommodate a violent Hamas in order to gain radical Arab support for our retreat from Iraq.

This is what passes for realism these days. But of course this is not realism. It is capitulation. Were the United States to adopt this approach every time we faced a difficult set of problems, were we to attempt to satisfy our adversaries’ every whim in order to win their acquiescence, we would rapidly cease to play any significant role in the world. We would be neither feared nor respected–nor, of course, would we be any better liked. Our retreat would win us no friends and lose us no adversaries.

What our adversaries in the Middle East want from us is very simple: They want us out. Unless we are prepared to withdraw, not just from Iraq but from the entire region, and from elsewhere as well, we had better start figuring out how to pursue effectively–realistically–our interests and goals. This is true American realism. All the rest is a fancy way of justifying surrender.

And the Washington Post seems to me to be suffering from multiple personality–or it just that this editorial was written by a committee? For the most part, the author[s] explain why Iran and Syria can’t be reasoned with, and do it rather well. They call for more than talks as a remedy; a “big stick” is needed. But there is a strange reliance on the supposed power of UN sanctions–not only a pipe dream at this point, but a worthless pipe dream, at that.

The Post seems relatively clear on what the problem is. But I’m afraid their solution more closely resembles a small toothpick than a big stick.

[* See this.]

21 Responses to “Realism for our times*”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    Hehe small toothpick. These people wouldn’t know what a stick was if they were the Roman centurions in charge of enforcing decimation.

  2. Steve Says:

    There’s a very common trope in movies, in which the unarmed hero is surprised by a bad guy. The hero stalls for time, asks questions, and incidentally gives the villain the opportunity to wrap up all the outstanding plot elements. Meanwhile, through a series in intercut shots, we follow the hero’s eyes as he locates, and puts himself into a position, to get a weapon for himself.

    There’s nothing wrong with talking any of these people. Talking _may_ encourage detente. But even if it doesn’t, talking stalls for time, and that’s what we need right now. And, while we have that time, we have to take it to the American people, that our armed forces as constituted are not big enough to decisively win this fight.

  3. Loyal Achates Says:

    It seems that if they were going to rely on us for security, stability, basic public services etc. they would be disabused of such illusions by now.

    If, more than 3 1/2 years after the occupation of Iraq, a man cannot get a clean glass of water or turn on his lights or travel anywhere in his capital city without armed guards, he will not believe the occupation is beneficial, no matter what you tell him.

  4. troutsky Says:

    Kristol fails to tell us just what he believes our “interests” in the region are. The ones he is willing to sacrifice an unlimited number of people and treasure for.I suspect it’s black and keeps moving parts from getting to hot.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Troll stevie again.

  6. Steve Says:

    Based on their prognostications prior to the Iraq War, Kristol and Kagan — as well as many others — have zero credibility on what the US should be doing now.

    The only neocon I know who still has credibility — to an extent — is Michael Ledeen, because he was the only one who has been saying forever that the problem is not Iraq, but rather Iran, but that we should push for regime change (from within) in Iran rather than invasion or bombing.

  7. Sally Says:

    … we should push for regime change (from within) in Iran rather than invasion or bombing.

    And what would that “push” be, apart from what we have been doing? Do you really think we’ve refrained from doing anything that would bring about “regime change (from within)” that we could be doing?

    No, I think that’s a barren hope. And invasion certainly isn’t in the cards at present. But bombing is. So here’s a strategy — start bombing them (border staging areas for terrorists, arms depots, and above all nuclear facilities), and then immediately offer to hold talks on ending the bombing. But the bombing would go on along with the talks until we had credible evidence that they were not just ending their own support of the Iraqi insurgency but were doing all they could to interdict and apprehend those insurgents. Apply the same to Syria.

  8. Steve Says:

    I doubt if the US or the rest of the world will support an open ended bombing of Syria and Iran.

    Nor do I expect the governments or peoples of those countries will want to talk to us while we are destroying their infrastructure or killing their people. But, you never know until you’ve tried it …..

    The main problem with bombing Iran is that there are about 15 M Shi’ites in Iraq who will immediately be turned against us.

  9. Steve Says:

    Troll stevie again.

    First of all, there are several Steves posting here.

    Second, I post here because of the quality of the blog-owners posts, not because of the other posters.

    Third, it has always surprised me that people consider any dissent from the general thematic political slant of a site to be “trolling”. I mean, what would be the point of having a blog where everyone spent all of their time agreeing with each other? Do we do this to test our ideas or just confirm our prejudices?

  10. Sally Says:

    So, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranians might die over…. [blah, blah, blah]

    Hey, it’s a rough world, justa, as you should know — your masters are the ones behind most of the current mayhem. When they decide they’ve had enough, then not only innocent Iranians will be spared, but so will innocent Iraqis, innocent Israelis, innocent Palestinians, innocent Americans — even innocent leftists, if that isn’t an oxymoron.

  11. Sally Says:

    To Steve:

    The only real objection that matters in your list is what the US will support, and I’ll admit that that’s the primary determinant of whether this war is won or lost.

    It hardly matters whether the Iranians or Syrians will actually want to talk to us or not while we’re bombing them — I threw that in for the benefit of all the nouveau “realists” who urge us to talk with Syria and Iran while both are actively supporting the bombers in Iraq. As for the “rest of the world”: they just don’t make a lot of difference one way or another in this case frankly. And as for the 15 M Shi’ites, it’s really past time we pulled ourselves together and got over the paralyzing fear that this step or that will somehow anger the crazed hotheads in that muslim sect or this, whether in Iraq or anywhere else — we need to do what’s right, explain ourselves as best we can, and let the Shi’ites, Sunnis, or what have you fall where they may. And bombing those who are bombing us IS what’s right.

  12. Ymarsakar Says:

    People who have been reading the comments on this site for a llong, long, time, should know who Steve is.

  13. Ymarsakar Says:

    There’s nothing wrong with talking any of these people.

    So you were one of those who wanted to talk about the Fallujah guys and the Sadr guys, right, back in 2005?

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    Btw. If anyone goes with Hollywood on how to defend themselves, they should watch mission Impossible II and I recommend that they emulate the ending that Tom did so well.

    This magical movie phenomenon… interesting to say the least.

  15. Steve Says:

    Sally: The reason why the 15 M Shi’ites is important is because if they (also) turn on us, then we have no hope of establishing control in Iraq.

    Now, we might be able to control Iraq with half a million troops, as General Shinseki said in 2003, but we don’t have that many available. We are already stretched paper-thin just accomplishing what little order maintenance we have.

    Bombing Iran — beyond any other considerations — will certainly make Iraq uncontrollable for the US.

    Might we get around this by increasing our armed forces (ground forces) by a factor of 2 or 3, as I have long advocated? Yes, and that’s why I am for it. Precisely for cases such as this.

    Furthermore:

    1. Yes, the American people will not support the bombing you forecast. I doubt you or people on your side will be able to persuade the American people to endorse such bombing by saying that the lives of the perhaps hundreds of K Iranians who will die “don’t matter”. But give it your best shot.

    2. Well, if you aren’t serious about talking to the Iranians and Syrians, then why bother saying so. Why don’t you just bomb them until you get tired. Let me know what kind of metrics you are following when you finally decide to stop.

    3. Iran is a major source of oil to Europe, and to Southeast and East Asia. I would imagine that Europe, India, and China would all have something to say about our bombing of Iran. They might even do something. Maybe at that point we will have to threaten to bomb them, too. I mean why not.

    4. “And bombing those who are bombing us IS what’s right.” No one is bombing us. Right now, Iraqis are killing each other, and killing Americans when we get in the way. We have the right to go after people in Iraq who are trying to kill us, sure. We do not have the right to indiscriminately kill Iraqis, and we do not have the right to bomb third countries.

    You seem to have forgotten that this was an elective war. We invaded another country because we were afraid that the tyrant (Saddam) would enable WMD distribution. Okay, we toppled Saddam, and we defused the non-existent WMD threat. When you invade another country you have certain obligations and responsbilities. That is why we are still there. But we can’t take it out on the Iraqis if they don’t want us there. It would take hubris to the nth degree to expect a people to want to be occupied.

    This why all of the Nazi Germany/Imperial Japan analogies break down. Those countries were defeated and occupied because they were waging aggressive war on their neighbors, and had occupied them. They in turn were defeated and occupied to prevent them from ever waging offensive war again. That is NOT why we are in Iraq. Our occupation of Iraq was incidental to the Saddam/WMD threat.

    Again, we held the Japanese and German people collectively responsible for the aggressive wars of their leaders. That is why we were able to bomb their cities. We can’t

  16. Steve Says:

    And we can’t hold the Iraqi people collectively responsible for the fact that there is no order nor security in Iraq thus making it impossible to control the violence. We created that situation, by dethroning Saddam, killing his sons, disbanding the army, de-Baathifying the bureaucracy, and almost disbanding the police.

    We can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube. We should stop with the stupid patrols that are getting our young men and women killed, redeploy to strategic locations within Iraq, and let them fight it out. It ain’t our fight anymore.

  17. Steve Says:


    There’s nothing wrong with talking any of these people.

    So you were one of those who wanted to talk about the Fallujah guys and the Sadr guys, right, back in 2005?

    Syria and Iran were involved in Fallujah? Tell me all about it.

    Sadr should have been taken out in 2004, by the Iraqi police and army that we never should have disbanded. We destroyed the central goverment in Iraq. We never should have done that.

  18. Steve Says:

    This just in:


    Faced with that situation in al-Anbar, and the desperate need to control Iraq’s capital, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving U.S. troops from there into Baghdad.

    “If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out [in al-Anbar], what’s the point of having them out there?” said a senior military official.

    Exactly.

    BTW, the article also mentions reinforcing Iraq with “as many” as _18 K_ additional troops for no more than six months. So: we are down to our last 18 K troops for no more than six months. We do not have enough troops.

  19. Sally Says:

    … if they (also) turn on us, then we have no hope of establishing control in Iraq.

    Well, then I guess we should do whatever we can to placate them, right? And not just them, but the Sunnis too. Why not try to keep the Iranians from “turning on us” too (any more than they already have)? Maybe we should hand over Israel to them — do you think that would that keep them from “turning on us”?

    Yeah, I thought so.

    For everyone else, this is an illustration of how terror works — it creates the creeping and finally paralyzing fear that if we do or don’t do this, that or the other, if we fail in any of countless ways to placate “them”, then millions upon tens of millions will “turn on us”, and then there’s “no hope”. In fact, for people so paralyzed, there’s already no hope — apart, if they’re lucky, from conversion. Such people simply wallow in a confused morass of fear, anxiety and resentment (the resentment being at those who won’t simply join them in their stampede).

    Furthermore:

    1. The lives of Iranians don’t matter more than the lives of Iraqis, Israelis and Americans — reasonable people will support the steps necessary to end Iranian support for the killers in Iraq, and to end Iranian threats against Israel and America.

    2. I’m quite serious about talking to Iran and Syria while we’re bombing them — which we should keep up until they give credible evidence that they have ceased to support bombings in Iraq, and ceased to threaten ourselves and our allies. If they can talk while bombing, so can we.

    3. “They might even do something”?? OMG!! But I thought Europe, especially, was a hotbed of the “No blood for oil!” crowd!? In any case, if they want to “do something” that would, among a good many other things, assure long term stability of their oil supplies, let them join us in finally coming down with real force on the Iranian regime that is busy fostering terrorists and threatening its neighbors.

    4. You’ve got both your facts and your morality wrong — we’re not indiscriminately killing Iraqis, but we have an absolute right to kill those who are killing us, either directly or through proxies.

  20. Ymarsakar Says:

    Steve, you’ve been saying that for the last 1 to 3 years. Give it up already. Find something other than to back. You talk about “emails” talking about specific tactics like shooting looters, but all you talk about are “not enough troops”.

    You have no idea what you are going to do with these troops, because you give almost zero time to talking about it.

    Your quote interestingly goes from Pace to some anonymous source. As if they were both the same. Interesting.

    All it really proves is that things change in war, but the position of the more troops squad never has. Consistency is an interesting phenomenon in war, because in most cases it is lethal.

    There’s a good argument to be made for more troops now because the politicians and military generals have allowed things to go into melt down mode, made from blackfive. But all I hear is some refrain of troops, troops, more troops. Unpersuasive.

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    Sadr should have been taken out in 2004, by the Iraqi police and army that we never should have disbanded. We destroyed the central goverment in Iraq. We never should have done that.
    Steve | 11.28.06 – 10:56 pm | #

    And you believe you can take out the leadership of the Baath without destroying the central government in Iraq, right. One reason I talk things over with you Steve, is because I know your position doesn’t make sense. The more you describe your position to me, the more I understand why it doesn’t make sense.

    This gives context to when you, steve, said “bingo” to Neo about taking out Sadr. You wanted to take out Sadr in a way that never existed back at the time and never would exist because of Arab politics. Neo wanted Sadr gone, through any means necessary or appropriate. Difference.

    Not only Bush is the one who likes to get other people to do their dirty work, but you also agree with him whether you know it or not. Bush wants to get the Iraqis to handle the terroists for him. You want the Iraqis to handle eye sores like Sadr for you. Interesting how Bush’s policy failed, but you seem to think yours will succede.

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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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