Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Iraq and the war on terror...

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Cindy Sheehan's protest at George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas retreat is starting to get widespread media coverage, much of it very sympathetic. It is hard to argue that a mother who has lost her child to war does not possess the political right to argue her opposition to that war and how it has been fought. IMO, her association with prominent left wingers like Michael Moore doesn't undermine her credibility. Her motivations are explicit and, whether you disagree with them or not, she has every right to express them and be heard.

But, it just makes you realize the way in which the discourse on Iraq has changed. The expediency of Saddam's conquest feels like such a distant memory that it is becoming increasingly hard for the case against his brutal dictatorship to retain its resonance in people's minds. Fear was the emotional fulcrum for the widespread support of the invasion. In my opinion, a justified fear. And yet, it is now difficult to reconcile that fear with the weak, fragile man we see on television and in newspapers, inevitably awaiting his execution at the hands of the Iraqi people. Support for the war continues to slip further and further into the myre... and many people, from both sides of the political spectrum predict that it will be a political liability for the Republican party at the 2008 election.

As somebody who supported the war in Iraq I think a lot of people's feelings are misplaced. There is an emerging "the war was a mistake" consensus defining, as I wrote previously, the legacy of Tony Blair in the UK and clouding the debate and analysis of Iraq in the US media. An examination of the Bush administration's approach in Iraq is inherently wrapped up in partisan bickering. Consequently, there is an analysis vaccuum. I think that popular opinion has been entrenched so vitriolically into two competing corners that the American people have become disenfranchized on the issue... No one person can stand up, and from an intelligent, objectively critical standpoint, argue alternative solutions for the problems that we are experiencing without being stigmatized as either a neo-con imperialist or an anti-war pacifist. Ironically, considering my previous statements on this blog, Bill O'Reilly has been the only person to really impress me with some very fierce analytical pieces about where the situation in Iraq is going wrong.

The war in Iraq has transformed from a battle to liberate a nation from the throes of its tyrannical government and to iradicate the threat that it posed to the wider world... into a battle to craft and sustain the rebuilding of Iraq in the face of terrorist insurgents, who are attempting to undermine those efforts.

I'm no expert. For me the main mistakes have been obvious ones: the disbandment of the Republican guard, disabling an already established mechanism to retain civil order in the country... and the economic decisions made early on by Paul Bremer to dramatically remove trade restrictions which has destablized, and antagonized individual Iraqi's in the short term, regardless of whether it will serve their interests in the long term. We should have recognized the importance of stability in the wake Saddam's removal, and the subsequent power vacuum.

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But there is a larger issue on the horizon that concerns me. I read a story from the AP today about Arab television stations widely showing a video from Iraqi insurgents portraying them plotting to attack US troops while proudly displaying US equipment they'd obtained in battle. It also featured a man yelling "As you bomb us, you will be bombed!" showing a group of individuals packing explosives into bombs. It is not naive of me to state that within the Arab world these men are increasingly viewed as freedom fighters and many, even in parts of the West would reach the same conclusion, considering these insurgents reactionary responses of the Iraqi populace to the massive loss of civilian life they have suffered in the war.

But these men are not simply freedom fighters. They are Islamic extremists and part of the intangible, fragmented and complicated network of terrorists who we are at war with as a consequence of September 11th and attacks in Bali, Madrid, and London. Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching one the beheading videos widely available on the internet will be aware of the relish with which these "freedom fighters" are devoted to violence, and a general hatred for all things Western. These aren't men simply endowed with the political objective to end the "US occupation" in Iraq.

The problem is that political terrorism, as opposed to this brand of fundamentalist terror, is a different sociological phenomena. There is a difference between Basque seperatists, the IRA, and Al Quaeda whether you like it or not. The difference isn't a moral one, it is a difference in terms of the threat they pose, and the potential remedies at your disposal to fight back.

The IRA had clearly identified objectives, their existence could be intricately charted throughout the history of conflict between Britain and Ireland, and their success thrived from the sectarian unrest in N. Ireland. This definable threat posed by terrorism motivated by clear political objectives has now been met and arguably conquered by the British Gov't. If anyone is unaware, the IRA released a statement two weeks ago declaring an end to using violence as a means to accomplish their objectives.


The peace process in N.Ireland worked because it helped, in a small way, to reconcile the sectarian divide by reaching out to the Catholic community. Issues they had with policing were dealt with. The police force, a Unionist symbol, was disbanded and re-established as an authority representative of both communities... And ultimately, a clear political process was established via which the political objectives of the IRA could be pursued peacefully. At every step of this process the IRA's advances towards laying down their "armed struggle" were a pre-requisite to moving forward. This was not, by an stretch of the imagination, the appeasment of terrorists. This was a concerted effort to transform the environment in N.Ireland that was allowing the IRA to be viewed by the catholic community as their safeguard and protection from apparently despotic Unionists.

Inspite of the new convenient political designs of Islamic extremists, as declared by the London bomber caught in Italy, "to end the US occupation of Iraq," none of the possibilities that exist in confronting political terror can potentially remedy the threat we are faced with. The rules of N.Ireland, and perhaps other parts of the world, do not apply to a brand of ideological extremism that demands its own supremacy... because its supremacy is undermined, not by our military acitivities... but by our mere existence. Freedom is the reason why Islamic facistic theocracies will not exist in a hundred years time. Freedom and self determination and free expression and democracy... the natural course of humanity... it's where we are all heading... it's what empowers us all as people and poses a threat to the institutions and ideas of the past that exist fundamentally to empower the few at the expense of the many. As I've said before, Islamic extremism is about a crumbling ideal of Islamic supremacy flailing in its last throes, attacking its bane (freedom) on the streets of London, and, of course, in the world trade center buildings. Islamic extremism is not political terrorism. It is pure, unadulterated facism, emboldened by the ferocity of their religious orthodoxy.

My point is that the political objectives of terrorists in Iraq is the means by which terrorism in the wider world is flourishing... because it now has the moniker of "freedom fighting" against an "occupation."

One of the things that I think a lot of people in the U.S. don't understand is the importance of international legitimacy in terms of how an action is perceived in the rest of the world. And this is a problem that has plagued the action taken in Iraq from day one. Do you have any idea the difference if it were United Nation and Nato forces keeping the peace as opposed to US troops on the streets of Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf? The entire operation would be transformed... And before anyone dares to imply that the U.N. and Nato would not be as capable in this task as the U.S. please refer to Eastern Europe and the remarkable peace keeping missions that have been successful over the past decade in the wake of their war torn savagery.

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It's one of the reasons why I talked about multilateralism before. Unilateralism is a failed notion. The proposition of John Bolton, that only the US matters in world affairs, is inherently flawed. No individual nation can singlehandedly intervene in parts of the world for the good of the world efficiently without encountering the types of problems that the U.S. has suffered in Iraq and Vietnam. Where it must act, as in Iraq, it should. And, unfortunatley, because of the preposterous attitude of the French on the UN security council we were left with absolutely no choice. But the reality is, where there is an opportunity to internationalize the military activities in Iraq we have to do so as a matter of the greatest urgency. And, to the extent that nations are unwilling to co-operate, the Bush Administation must start to take some responsibility for its tone in international diplomacy. You can not send someone as offensive as John Bolton to the United Nations, who seeks to undermine the influence of the rest of the world in world affairs, and then bemoan the rest of the world's disinterest in taking part in the peace keeping struggles in Iraq.

At some stage this will have to happen... because the United States, with a splattering of UK and Australian forces, the latter of which are so few they barely deserve mention, cannot halt the Iraqi insurgency. They cannot do this because their presence in Iraq is the fundamental cause of the insurgency and the magnet which draws militants from all over the Arab world to fight there. It doesn't matter how many you kill, or how many organizations you disrupt, they will keep coming, and coming like an endless, never ending stream of fighters, and suicide bombers. And by just training Iraqis to keep the peace themselves all we are doing is simply rebuilding the Republican Guard that we disbanded, so we can leave Iraq in a state of civil war to fight amongst itself, with financial aid and support for the side that we want to win. Is that the exit strategy? Is that the ethical basis upon which we say that Iraq has been a just war?

Or are we instead going to try and win this war and leave Iraq as the beacon of democracy and prosperity that will be a force for change in the region?

John Kerry was right, in my opinion, during the 2004 election when he said:

"Last spring, after too many months of delay, after reluctance to take the advice of so many of us, the president finally went back to the U.N., and it passed Resolution 1546. It was the right thing to do, but it was late. That resolution calls on U.N. members to help in Iraq by providing troops, trainers for Iraq's security forces and a special brigade to protect the U.N. mission, and more financial assistance and real debt relief. But guess what? Three months later, not a single country has answered that call, and the president acts as if it doesn't matter. And of the 13 billion that was previously pledged to Iraq by other countries, only $1.2 billion has been delivered. The president should convene a summit meeting of the world's major powers and of Iraq's neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly, and he should insist that they make good on the U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific but critical roles in training Iraqi security personnel and in securing Iraqi borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq's future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq's oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process. Now, is this more difficult today? You bet it is. It's more difficult today because the president hasn't been doing it from the beginning."

The biggest failure in Iraq has been a failure of international diplomacy. A failure that is intentional and that many who read my blog I know agree with. But it is a failure that is endangering all of us, and will prolong the US efforts in Iraq indefinately. Sadly, after the appointment of John Bolton I don't see any measures being taken by the Bush Administration to redress this. We must wait until 2008 in the hopes that a Democrat, or the next Republican President might recognize the importance of multilateralism and diplomacy in international affairs. Like I said, an individual nation cannot seek to unilaterally make military interventions in the world, for the sake of the world, without incurring these types of consequences. As a basic principle, we need each other. Whether it is in three years time, or in ten or twenty years, eventually the peace keeping force in Iraq will be internationalized. The time it takes will simply be the means by which Islamic extremism can sereptiously thrive off the perceived "occupation" of US troops in Iraq.

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Neovo said...

Couple of points about iraq.

Dictatorship is always better than social chaos, it's not ideal but lesser of the two evils IMO.

I think if anything the war has done is undermine UK/US intelligence, the UN, our political process and also our(electorate) trust of our government/representatives. All this can be witnessed in poll turnouts.

A lot are common people of iraq who have been attacked and in 'warfare' have every right to defend themselves and their land. The other side of this of course is that the 'invasion'was always going to be like this and many who experts on the region expected no less yet whether these warnings were taken into account is whole new discussion because the war could at least pay for itself in the long run considering natural resources in the region.

Anonymous said...

As I read your article I found myself questioning why you would have supported this war in the first place. As I looked at the in IRAQ from the begining as nothing but a fire storm, I may be biased. If the administration had done this war as a part of the war on terrorism one only needed to count the people in Iraq to see that this was ill advised. Sadam was a horrible man and leader, but He also was quelling a much more hostile group of people who sided with IRAN. In fact the biggest mistake was probably taking on the sadam issue before dealing with the Iran issues, and Korea as well. I was for the war in Afghanistan, but even there we have not yet won the fight. I wish I had not been for that war, but I beleived this president when he said america would make it a better place. That would ahve take the kind of resolve he had only reserved for IRAQ.
Peace To you
Peace to the people of the world

Neovo said...


Iraq was attacked because it was so weak from all the saunctions and UN resolutions and they knew there wouldn't be much of a fight. A point even Chomsky made also.

Graham said...

Thanks for your comments nauk & anon,

I disagree that the social unrest in Iraq is worse than the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and I think Iraqi's relish to see their former leader meet justice speaks to that fact. The social unrest in Iraq is a consequence of some fairly turbulent events in a short space of time... it is working towards something better, and I know that somehow we will get there. Ultimately, because we have to.

The notion the world would be safer with Saddam, a man with insane tyrannical designs, who had used WMD's on entire villages, who had wrought murder and carnage throughout that nation, and who, without question, if in possession of the requisite weaponry would pose the most clear, and significant threat to Israel that any nation had ever faced, arguably in the history of the modern world. Saddam was a liability to the stability of the region, and to the wider world in an age where so many are intent of causing us harm, and in that context, considering the nature of the weakness of his regime, and considering the manner in which he flouted inspections, and security council resolutions, and the integrity of the international community... I don't see how you can justify his continued presence in the region. That's just my personal opinion.

Military intervention isn't always the best remedy for the problems we face, for instance North Korea, and Iran. Iraq was an entirely different proposition. It's infrastructure and position of power was severely weakened by the first gulf war, sanctions, and the nature of Saddam's rule.

My point was that the failings of Iraq has been as a result of poor planning for the reconstruction effort, and that this clouds the debate surrounding war. The forming consensus, "the war was a mistake," is convenient, and doesn't ask the far more important question.

What can we do differently to make this work?

The situation in Iraq isn't reflective of a mistake in removing Saddam's administration, it's reflective of mistakes that were made in the aftermath of war.

Neovo said...

Saddam had to be removed of that their was no question, i am not debating that. But without UN support and going it alone has not paid off and has lacked any credibility. He wasn't a threat to west, Israel maybe. But the war was planned months before the attack actually took place as broadcasted on our box, some commentators say as early as August of the previous year.

Now that it is done yes they need to deal with reconstruction and gain trust of the arab population who look at anything from the west and particular US with suspicion which is harder said than done.

Dirty Kafir said...

Interesting post, but the video which you alluded to was taken in Afghanistan by Al Qaida, not Iraq. Hardly any rational case can be made that Al Qaida are freedom fighters.

Secondly the plight of Cindy Sheehan is quite interesting, but it is also interesting to note who she aligned with because it defines what is being protested. I will not and do not adcovate attacking Sheehan at all. Everyone symphathises with her, but there are certain groups which have aligned with her that are using her plight and her son's death for political gain.

The Communist Party USA is one group that supports her. The UC-San Francisco Communist gropu calls for the violent overthrow of the United States government. Members of this group were on the bus to Crawford, TX with Sheehan. Code Pink calls for both an end to all military recruiting, against the military draft and at the same time backs Senator Charles Rangel who proposed the draft in Congress. Michael Moore is secondary, as is Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. It should be perfectly clear these groups are using Sheehan to better their own causes, not to show support for the mother of a fallen soldier.

And sorry, but anyone who says a dictatorship which tortured and killed thousands of innocents to stay in power is better than social chaos does not know what a dictatorship is.

Graham said...

I disagree with Cindy Sheehan, especially with the notion that the U.S. can simply pull out from Iraq. But, I do find the attempt to undermine her sincerity on the basis of any political affiliations particularly disingenuous.

Why is it neccessary to take steps to pigeon hole an individual to somehow make his/her voice less pertinent.

Cindy Sheehan obviously has sincere objections to the Iraq war. She has every right to express them however she sees fit. I disagree with her that the US can at this current time seek to dramatically withdraw from Iraq, without causing absolute chaos in the region. With the decision to act came the responsibility to guarantee stability in the region.

But raggin on Cindy Sheehan, because of the people who stand beside her, is frankly a little below the belt considering what she has sacrificed and earned for the sake of her country.

Right On! said...

It's not that she lacks the political right or integrity to protest, it's that she's not doing this for the reasons she says she is.

I watched her on TV last night, and when they approached the topic of her new organization, she went from grieving mother, to a smiling gleeful greedy media whore. She knows the media will help her plug this new fascination she has with denying that her visit in 2004 with Bush was even remotely pleasant. She's using her son as a plug for her own gain, and that is disghusting.

Graham said...

That's a pretty big presumption on your part, and one, to be frank, I don't think you have any basis upon which to assert. Is it that ridiculous to imagine that via losing her son to a particular war, she wants to become actively politically involved in fighting against that war.

Why do people constantly feel the need to not simply disagree with Cindy Sheehan but self servingly ridicule her motives... when her motives are completely explicit. It's like this habit of "pigeonhole to demean" that has become a constant facet of our political discourse.

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NYgirl said...

Sorry to jump in so late with my two cents :-) While you & I do disagree on Bolton, I agree that the Bush administration should make a greater effort to expand the coalition of the willing. However, I hope that they would do so in a way that would not support dictators. While the Cold War needed to be fought & won, we did make some mistakes during our efforts: I hope we don't repeat them.

Graham, I agree with you on Cindy Sheehan. Although to me, it is clear that she is being manipulated, I do not think that is justifies attacking her. She is a woman who is going through a very difficult time, we should all be sympathetic to her plight.

Eban said...

Hey Graham, sorry to opt in so late. I feel realy bad for Cindy Sheehan, I just find her motivations questionable.

In this I am speaking as a person who served under Bush #1 during an Iraq war.

We are a 100% opt-in force, there is no draft. Also Cindy Sheehan was saying very diferent things the first time she met the President. I truly feel that this poor woman is being controled for political purposes.

Just look at the release made by her family today.

This is a bad situation all around. You know that I am not a 100% Bush suporter, but I do believe in the office of the President. Have we come so far as to think that the leader of the free world is acountable to one family, twice no less?

I think that some people need to get a grip. Not you per se, I always enjoy your take on things, I mean the party line followers. There has to be an end to the madness.

This is not a left or right issue, it is an issue of the office of the President. I hate to say it, but this is cheapening the sacrifice made by others, some of those who I call friends.

Graham said...

Hey Eban, glad to have your input, as always :)...

I trust your judgment and I'm just about to sit down to the US news networks... I'll do some reading also, and try to keep an open mind. I'm not comprehensively familiar with Cindy Sheehan, her previous statements, and the statment from her family but will check them out.

On a fundamental level I just disagree with her... that our interests our best served by pulling out US troops in Iraq. Rebuilding a nation is a process, and a long term commitment, and I think it's wrong to simply rebuild a mechanism via which Iraqi's can themselves combat the insurgency and then pull out, when in actual affect, we are doing nothing more than leaving them in a state of civil war. We must see this through... and ideally we must seek to involve the international community.

But, I get really frustrated that people are reticent to enter into a discourse about facts and policy, and instead see Cindy Sheehan's face on Michael Moore's website and feel they have a right to imply that she is behaving treasonously. I'm specifically referencing a certain Ms Malkin (shiver). I just think that it's actually via this kind of dialogue that we can understand the intricases of this war, and engage with the reality, instead of the politics... I like what Bush said, respecting her position, understanding her pain, but asserting why it's right to continue on in the pursuit of a viable, functioning, peaceful society in Iraq.

But, like I said, I'm not familiar with all the facts. Sheehan was an incidental aside in terms of what my post was saying. I do not know about the things she said in regards to Bush when she previously met him.

I'll keep on open mind. But, I do feel she has earned her right to express herself politically without being unfairly denigrated. In fact from a political perspective, those who support this war are far better served confronting the issues that Cindy Sheehan raises IMO. I think via such a dialogue people generally might understand the purpose of this action, and why the sacrifice of so many has been so vital to our future prospects of continued peace, in Iraq, in the surrounding region, and even domestically.

Eban said...

Trust me on this Graham, I rarely, if ever agree with Malkin. She is a right wing shrill if I ever saw one. My concern lies with Cindy herself. I truly believe that she is being manipulated in a horrible way. Her family statement just adds to my un-ease. A year ago she was praising Bush after meeting eith him face to face. look at waht is happening this year.

I put Malkin, Hannity, and most times Coulter in the same boat. I listen to them as much as I listen to the extreme socialist group that undermines the liberals.

We need to find our way back to real reason, on that I think we agree.

Have a great evening my friend.

Graham said...

I agree. Somehow we have to get past the typically entrenched positions on issues, if there's going to be a real refreshing vision for confronting some of the problems we face. It's just my personal opinion, but I think on both sides of the political spectrum that's what people are looking for right now. Of course, I scratch my head wondering where that might come from in the US or UK. Gordon Brown will be an adept, capable prime minister, but I don't see him being able to advance a powerful, inclusive, uplifting vision of Britain... and it appears David Davis will be his opponent in four/five years time. In the U.S. as I've rambled at length, likewise, not much impresses me.

Hey, maybe Hillary will rise to the occasion, Eban (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). If she gets the nomination, I gotta feeling she's going to be frequently winning the specialist podcast award you hand out each show.

Have a great weekend, Eban.

Bloghead said...

If the US government had just STOP supporting the Jews in overtaking palestinian land all this wouldn't have happen. That's the main KEY point. DOn't put your nose where it doesn't belong to! Kabish!!??

The US with it's military might are look on as a bully. And what happen to bullies? They always get their just deserves!

Look they have done great in WWII but
after that they think they have every right to meddle in other country affairs. Look at all the recent wars, the US always had a hand in it. Hey, wars make them rich!

They sell weapon to this countries and let the warring countries fight and destroyed each other lands!

Nice touch. No wonder, there are always people who want to be a terrorist. This people are hardliner who are prepared to die for their course. They even have a motto, "To win is NOT everything!"

That means they don't care if they win or die in the war. Heck, they don't even care if they killed fellow muslims!

Just look the case in Iraq. How many fellow muslims have they killed? They are like the charging bulls. They don't care about anything else in the world. They just charge at you like a maniac.

They have "burned all the bridges" behind them. There's no turning back!

As long as they can BOMB every American there is including the jews who started all this rubbish!

Enjoy your life while you can 'cause this will never end!

Universal Soldier said...

Just back from my hols and read this. Another interesting piece. The tragedy for Iraq is that a well planned war has been totally undone by an unthought out peace. If only some of us had read Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" we would have realised many of the problems that we would encounter.

Graham said...

Hope you had a great holiday Universal Soldier :).

What you describe is exactly the way I feel.

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