Newsflash: Iraq is still unsafe and expensive

PHOTO: American soldiers in Iraq

The Iraq war has recently been shelved by the media in favor of the election coverage and our economic recession. It’s the culmination of a trend that started approximately a year ago. I’d like to say that this is surprising, but this is the same media that helped beat the drums of war. This is the same media that has a history of covering trivial stories with an exhausting, and often wrongheaded, single-mindedness. OJ anyone?

But Iraq is still a disaster, whether or not the media covers it.

Certainly the election and the economy are big stories that should get their fair share of attention, but the fate of Iraq is intertwined with both. Iraq is still an important issue among voters, and our economy might look very different with lower oil prices and a debt that isn’t increasing day after day. However, I don’t want to downplay the possible effect of the establishment wisdom about the “surge.”

Senators McCain and Lieberman have gone as far as to say the “surge” has worked. Foreign policy “experts” Fred Kagan, Jack Keane and Michael O’Hanlon have recently said that “surge” has provided enough success for more Friedman Units in a op-ed for the Washington Post. Their message is old and tired, but it still resonates: Do you want to be the one to pull out the rug from under our troops on the eve of victory?

But the “surge” isn’t working, not by the president’s own criteria. Political reconciliation in Iraq hasn’t happened, despite the reduction in violence to merely terribly levels from a high of horrific.

I agree 100% with how Matthew Yglesias sums up the “surge is working” fallacy:

The case for the surge, and the war more generally, has long been bound up in a failure to think coherently about purposes and objectives. If, instead, you throw a bunch of troops into the mix, have them do a bunch of stuff, see what happens, and then define in retrospect whatever it is they’re accomplishing as the purpose of the mission, then, sure, new tactics are working. When our old tactics were aimed at having our troops wander around the desert and kill armed Sunni Arabs, we succeeded in doing that. Switch tactics to helping to train and equip these very same people, and now we’re succeeding at doing that. But what are we trying to accompish [sic]?

So, leaving aside discussion of any particular tactic, what’s the point of staying in Iraq? What’s the cost of staying there? What’s the probability of accomplishing our goals? Is the cost worth it given the probability? I haven’t seen anyone on the pro-war side effectively answer these questions (and please let me know if I’m missing a great argument that’s been made).

Meanwhile, there’s this blunt assessment from Juan Cole:

If someone came to you six years ago and said that for only $2 trillion, you could have for your colony a burned out country, a failed state, and a semi-permanent incubator of terrorism and hatred against the US, would you have ponied up the money? That’s what you’ve got, and that is what it cost you.

Indeed.

Flickr photo by soldiersmediacenter

13 Comments

  1. Ian

    Well, this is the consequence of American apathy. We go on not really giving a damn about what our government does and choosing to vote down party lines rather than care about issues and accountability and it bites us on the ass. We should also have to pay the price for what we have done in Iraq, which does not include just packing up and letting them try and handle things on their own. Somewhere lost in the “no cut and run” jingoism spouted by the right is a grain of truth. We wrecked that country and blew shit up all nice and pretty. We got Saddam in a noose and the bloated dead bodies of his sons. Now the country is in shambles and our politicians over here don’t want to do anything about it other than posture and wag their fingers about how it was a naughty thing to do. Well, we elected these assholes, so its our fault by proxy. You can’t just walk away from it all and act like it was all Bush. Although we don’t like it, we have a responsibility to the people of Iraq and in a broader sense the security of the world. We owe it to them to at least help them set up a stable government and begin to rebuild their infrastructure. Part of the problem is that its hard to rebuild a nation with a bunch of guys who are trained to destroy one.

  2. Chris

    Although we don’t like it, we have a responsibility to the people of Iraq and in a broader sense the security of the world. We owe it to them to at least help them set up a stable government and begin to rebuild their infrastructure.

    We do have a responsibility to the Iraqi people, but at the same time we have to A) make sure we’re not making things worse and B) maintain our own interests. That means we shouldn’t do anything that’s unsustainable, like continuing the occupation.

    What we should do is leave as quickly as we can, along with offering sanctuary in the United States for any Iraqi that wants it. Then we should pay reparations to whatever government emerges from the chaos we’ve created as long as that government isn’t hell bent on revenge (although, one could hardly blame them if they were).

  3. Ian

    You quote that but ignore my last sentence:

    Part of the problem is that its hard to rebuild a nation with a bunch of guys who are trained to destroy one.

    I’m not favoring unending occupation. I’m more talking about actual rebuilding, which our military was never designed to do. Seriously though… reparations? I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that we owe them money. We owe them what we destroyed, which was a large part of their infrastructure. We do not owe them a paycheck. Sanctuary is one thing I guess, but what if you have a million people who want it? How do you go about integrating these people into society as one large group?

    I agree with not making things worse, but I am not sure who wouldn’t agree with that. And as for maintaining our own interests, I think that is why we are still over there. Beyond just oil, we have an interest in having a pro-US government in the middle of a region with growing unrest towards the west.

  4. Chris

    In my opinion, having any presence over there at all not only makes things worse, but it also damages our interests more than it helps. Mainly because staying there pisses off Iraqis. We’re sowing the seeds of anti-American terrorism for a long time to come.

    And yes we owe them infrastructure, and probably the lives of well over 100,000 of their people. But what you’re proposing is an imperial solution to a problem caused by imperialism. Let the Iraqi people decide what they should do with our reparation money.

  5. Ian

    Wrong. Say we give them umpteen billion dollars and then the government dissolves for whatever reason. What happens to the money? The government there isn’t stable or capable of controlling the country and in general, Iraqi’s aren’t very satisfied with it. Why do you think giving it more money than it is already receiving with zero guidance whatsoever is a responsible solution and will benefit the citizens and not the people running the government of Iraq?

    Also, get over this notion of sowing seeds of terrorism. Like I said in a previous post, we can’t be concerned with what people like bin Laden preach. He doesn’t dictate our policy. And regardless, the damage has been done by the loss of life of those 100,000 people. I just don’t see how its going to get considerably worse from here. Its untrue that having any presence over there makes things worse. Its just false, and I really fail to see how you think everything would be OK if we just got up and left.

  6. Chris

    There’d be a big difference between reparations and the money we’re giving them now. First off, The al-Maliki government is a beast we created. It didn’t rise from the popular support of Iraqi people.

    Reparations should be given in the absence of the desire to control the outcome in Iraq. We pledge $XXX amount to be given to the government(s) that rises from the ashes. They can do what they want as long as their stated policy isn’t revenge. And then our hands are somewhat washed of the whole affair. At least then, it’d be their problem and not ours.

    As for sowing the seeds of terrorism, I’m not going to get over the notion 🙂 There are very real and predictable consequences to our actions on the world stage. There are very real and legitimate gripes with the use of U.S. of American economic and military power. We should seek at all costs to minimize the legitimate backlash against our policies. Bin Laden may be crazy and we shouldn’t look to him to guide our policy, but part of what he says is true. Our money and military prop up the leaders of Saudi Arabia, which just happens to be home to a lot of holy sites for Muslims.

  7. Ian

    “And then our hands are somewhat washed of the whole affair. At least then, it’d be their problem and not ours.”

    See thats just irresponsible. You have to pick up your toys after you are done playing. You want to talk about producing a hostile country, picking up and leaving it to the dogs is probably the best way to go about it.

    When terrorists organize into a well formed military capable of overthrowing the US government, or any government for that matter, I might be concerned about their wants and needs. When some assholes in caves make videotapes about how we are imperialists, I could care less. I care about how we deal with existing governments, not some group of thugs high on religion. I have problems with our dealings with Saudi Arabia, but not in relation to how it affects terrorist mindsets.

  8. Chris

    “See thats just irresponsible.”
    I’m just recognizing the limits of our power and right to control the fate of Iraq.

    “I care about how we deal with existing governments, not some group of thugs high on religion.”
    And people aren’t born as terrorists, they are recruited from the general population. Being genuinely pissed off predisposes you to becoming a terrorist. So maybe if we stopped pissing off large sections of the Arab and Muslim populations we wouldn’t have to worry about so many terrorists in the first place.

  9. Ian

    Did you see the Muslim uproar over that one cartoon of Muhammad? or how about them wanting to kill the woman who allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad? Everything someone does somewhere gets some subsection of the Muslim population in an uproar. Big whoop, they and you can get over it.

    I don’t think some poor angry terrorist on the other side of the world is a great threat to the US, or even more important, a threat to me. The only way they become a threat is if some rich asshole like bin Laden gives them money. And that some rich asshole bin Laden is a Saudi prince, which means he has or had some sort of ties to their government. So if governments can watch over their money, the poor terrorist can stay a poor terrorist and just sit and be pissed off.

    And predisposes is a bad word, you are kind of connecting terrorism to a disease.

  10. Chris

    Those are illegitimate grievances, and they certainly aren’t extensions of our belligerent foreign policy. So I’m not sure what your point is 🙂

  11. Ian

    They are actually very relevant, since you want to be in the business of generalizing:

    “And people aren’t born as terrorists, they are recruited from the general population. Being genuinely pissed off predisposes you to becoming a terrorist. So maybe if we stopped pissing off large sections of the Arab and Muslim populations we wouldn’t have to worry about so many terrorists in the first place.”

    So you say pissing off large sections of the Arab and Muslim populations leads to people becoming terrorists. I say large sections of the Arab population are easily pissed off over pretty trivial matters. Extending the idea of how trivial these matters are, I say its pretty pointless to try and please everyone. There, its spelled out.

  12. Chris

    I’m gonna have to say that my generalizing makes more sense 🙂

    You’re making a leap to the idea that Arab and Muslims populations are somehow more easily pissed off than any other type of people, and I don’t think that’s true. And even if they were, it wouldn’t give us a moral green light to stomp all over them.

  13. Ian

    No my generalizing makes plenty of sense. I’m saying somewhere, someone will be pissed off about anything we do. Thats just how it is and you can’t make everyone happy. You are grasping at this idealist thought about some Arab kid’s dad being killed by one of our bombs and that kid growing up to be a terrorist cause he falls in with the wrong Osama bin Laden type crowd. You seem to assume that this way of someone becoming a terrorist is more logical than anything else, and beyond just that, you see it as inevitable due to our presence there. I don’t think its so simple and I personally don’t think that just having our soldiers standing on a street corner is going to make a rational person want to strap on a bomb and take out our civilians. I really think us pulling out and leaving that country to the dogs and outside influences like Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc have their way and sponsor civil wars, I think that would lead to hatred of the US in Iraq for a long time. Your solution is like causing a car accident where you don’t really get hurt, but the other person is bleeding to death, and you just leave them a check on the dashboard and tell them to feel better. While they may hate your guts for hurting them in the accident, you still have a responsibility to pay their insurance and get them proper care. In the long run, they will be glad you stayed and helped.