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Al Qaeda Runs Falluja Now

second-battle-fallujah

The people who attacked us on 9/11 now own the key battleground in a war we launched ostensibly in response.

NYT (“Iraq Fighters, Qaeda Allies, Claim Falluja as New State“)

Black-clad Sunni militants of Al Qaeda destroyed the Falluja Police Headquarters and mayor’s office, planted their flag atop other government buildings and decreed the western Iraqi city to be their new independent state on Friday in an escalating threat to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose forces were struggling to retake control late into the night.

The advances by the militants — members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — came after days of fighting in Falluja, Ramadi and other areas of Anbar Province. The region is a center of Sunni extremism that has grown more intense in reaction to Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and the neighboring civil war in Syria.

Assertions by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters that they were in complete control of Falluja were disputed by government security forces and an alliance of tribal leaders who have joined them. By nightfall, the security forces and tribal militia members had recaptured a part of the main street and a municipal building.

Mohamed al-Isawi, the head of the Falluja police, said in a telephone interview that he was gathering men in an area north of Falluja, as a staging ground for what he hoped would be a decisive battle to retake full control of the city.

“We succeeded today with the tribesmen in getting back the main street of Falluja after a big fight,” Mr. Isawi said, “and now we are keen to fight the terrorists and liberate our city from any traces of the criminals.”

But Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters still appeared to have the upper hand, witnesses and others reached by telephone said, and there was no question that the group had scored a propaganda victory against Mr. Maliki, whose authority over Anbar Province has been severely undermined in the two years since American forces left the country.

The group’s fighters cut power lines in Falluja late in the day and ordered residents not to use their backup generators. In one area of Falluja, a militant said over a mosque loudspeaker: “We are God’s rule on Earth! No one can defeat God’s will!”

The group advanced hours after a short period of calm had returned to the city, where the traffic police and street cleaners resumed work during the day and mosque loudspeakers exhorted stores to reopen so hungry residents could buy food.

The calm evaporated when the militants appeared at the close of Friday Prayer — which had been moved by local imams to a public park, away from the combat zones — and seized the stage, waving the Qaeda flag and daring the authorities to evict them.

“We declare Falluja as an Islamic state, and we call on you to be on our side!” one fighter shouted to the crowd, according to witness accounts.

Referring to Mr. Maliki’s government and its Shiite ally Iran, the fighter shouted, “We are here to defend you from the army of Maliki and the Iranian Safavids!” The Safavid dynasty ruled present-day Iran and Iraq hundreds of years ago.

The resumed fighting included other areas of Anbar Province, including its largest city, Ramadi.

It has pitted Qaeda-affiliated Sunni extremists, who now control large amounts of territory in the desert province, against the forces of the Shiite-dominated central government, backed by local tribesmen who are not strong supporters of the government but, in this struggle, have decided to side with the army and the police against Al Qaeda.

The fight has become a severe test of Mr. Maliki’s ability to hold the country together.

The combat scenes in Anbar, which was the heart of the Sunni insurgency during the American occupation and was where more than 1,300 American soldiers were killed, have provided the sharpest evidence yet of a country descending into a maelstrom of violence.

For the Qaeda militants in Iraq, who are fighting under the same name as the most extremist Sunni rebels in Syria, the gains they have made in Anbar appear to be a significant step toward realizing the long-held goal of transforming Iraq and Syria into one battlefield for the same cause: establishing a Sunni Islamist state.

Let’s stipulate at the outset that these gains may not be permanent and that the al Qaeda of 2013 is a very different animal than the one of 2001. Still, it’s depressing news given the investment of American blood and treasure to turn Iraq into a viable state that would serve as a bulwark against extremism in the region.

It’s worth pointing out, too, that there was no significant al Qaeda presence in Iraq prior to the 2003 American invasion. Advocates of the so-called “flypaper theory” nonetheless thought it was a good thing when militants under Qaeda’s banner flooded into Iraq to fight American forces. After all, the refrain went, it was better to fight them there than to fight them here. And, certainly, we killed them by the bushel, including such many “senior leaders” and “number three officials” that it became a running joke. Yet, American forces are long gone and they’re still there, running the city that was arguably the most epic battleground of the war.

Aside from regime change itself, it’s not clear that we accomplished a single one of our objectives in that conflict. There was no nuclear program. The chemical weapons cache consisted of a few leftovers from the world wars. The Maliki government is corrupt and incompetent to provide basic security for the citizenry. And now al Qaeda is running major outposts.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What infamous words did GW Bush use to announce the invasion of Iraq to his cabinet?

    “Hold my beer. Watch this!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The same thing I said back in 2003, when all of this mess began:

    When you rush headlong into destabilizing a region that has been characterized, indeed typified, by bloody sectarian and tribal rivalries for over a thousand years, under the insane belief that sprinkling some democracy dust around will eradicate that historical reality, don’t be surprised if you end up with bloody sectarian and tribal infighting once you leave (which eventually you will have to do).

    It was a fool’s errand from the outset, masterminded by people who had absolutely no understanding of the powerful motivators in operation within Iraq. The outcome really shouldn’t surprise anybody.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 1

  3. Paul Hooson says:

    Just like South Vietnam and South Korea, many governments just cannot stand on their easily without long-term U.S. military support. Iraq is another good example, once you enter a war like this, you bought the country for many years before it can stand on it’s own.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  4. swearyanthony says:

    Someone wanna ask Rumsfeld and Cheney for their reaction?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    @James Joyner

    Something I’ve been hoping you would write about in depth (unless you did and I missed it): whether the U.S. really has the ability to win its wars any more. I’ve heard arguments convincing to me as a layman that our leadership is permanently stuck in a 2nd Generation Warfare mindset which is easily disrupted by the 4th Generation tactics of our modern enemies, but that’s something you would know much more about than I.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  6. matt bernius says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    Seconded… I’d really like James’ perspective on this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    If you’re still not convinced that we lost the war in Iraq,

    I hate the phrase “the war in Iraq” — it implies, and sounds like, as if there was an ungoing war in that country that we just happened to join. The more accurate phrase is “the war ON Iraq” that we started and engaged in.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  8. Woody says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I suppose one should start by asking: What is meant by “winning a war”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. Bird Dog says:

    Elections have consequences. A different president would have negotiated a different Strategic Framework Agreement. Events in Iraq are a a precursor to what will likely happen in Afghanistan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 10

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I know the question was directed at James, but I’ll offer some perspective:

    We have the same ability to win wars that we always did, assuming we use the historical definition of “winning” a war (anybody who has ever fought in one – including myself – will usually tell you that nobody really wins in a war).

    Namely:- destroying the other guy’s ability to make war and/or his determination to continue doing so – and thereby stopping active hostile action – before he can do that to you. That is a simple matter of throwing ammunition and explodey things and other assorted ugliness downrange at him and his cities and his civilians until he quits or none of the above are left standing.

    To some extent we are much more hampered by public opinion and the concept of wars being televised in real-time (and living color!) in people’s living rooms. So, I’d say that we haven’t lost either the ability or the capacity to “win” a war. We have lost the ability to wage effective war. In its stead, we have the ability to wage limited war, and in return we get limited results.

    We defeated Germany in WW2, at least in part, by burning cities like Dresden and Essen to the ground. Imagine what would happen today if people watched something like that happen on CNN.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Aside from regime change itself, it’s not clear that we accomplished a single one of our objectives in that conflict.

    Which were? Aside from overthrowing Saddam and, as you note, James, ending non-existent weapons programs; the administration never articulated credible objectives. Not to the public, and apparently not to the military. I recall reading, I think in Rick’s Fiasco, accounts of the military leadership speculating about why we were invading Iraq even as they were planning it. The leading speculation was that that we wanted to slap around the weakest of W’s axis of evil nations as a lesson to the other two. (A lesson they learned, that they’d better have nukes.) Absent evidence to the contrary, I think it was to end the oil embargo and to let W feel macho.

    James, if you know what our objectives were, let us in on the secret.

    And what @Woody: said. How can we win if we can’t define “win”. It came down to what Orwell said, we had to kill enough of the people who wanted us to leave so that we could leave.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. Stonetools says:

    Yeah, but war is exciting! Read Bing West’s book on the Fallujah campaign for an excellent blow by blow description of the US campaign to take the city. Stirring stuff!
    And yet. This is just proof that Clausewitz was right. War is the pursuit of politics by other means- or should be. Bad policy inevitably means bad war. And all that valor and blood is spent in vain.
    I for one was cautiously in favor of the Iraq War at the first, until January 2003, when it was clear that there was likely no WMD. But the Bush Administration plunged ahead unaware, and now after 4000 dead and, hundreds of millions of dollars, there is little to show for it.
    I will say that there may be one good result: the liberation of the Iraqi portion of the long suffering Kurdish people. But then that was an unintended consequence, not a war aim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Exactly.

    My own position on Iraq was nervous support. I said and wrote at the time that it was a 51/49 decision on my part. I operated on the assumption that our motivation was sufficiently strong, and the administration sufficiently determined, to do a Japan/Germany “re-boot” of Iraq. (Yes, humorless ones, that was meant to be flippant.)

    I knew it had gone wrong when we saw the looting and the excuses offered that we had too few men to do anything about it. Occupations 101, Lesson 1: Place boot firmly on neck.

    We invaded and rather than creating a new and undeniable reality on the ground – something we are easily able to do given respective levels of power – we created a power vacuum. A vacuum into which militias flowed like water.

    If you’re going to invade and occupy a country, any country, a degree of ruthlessness is required. It’s not something easy to accomplish. We accomplished it with Germany and Japan by virtue of extraordinary violence. By the time US troops got to Germany, the cities were piles of individual bricks, the people were hungry and beaten and a worse enemy (the Soviets) was on the horizon. By the time we reached Japan we’d burned their wooden cities to ash and made two cities go up in a puff of smoke. They were, in short, beaten.

    I don’t think that kind of indiscriminate obliteration was required in Iraq, but the next step still required absolute American control. Some institutions had to be wiped out, others had to be strengthened, others still had to be introduced. We did none of that. We planned for none of that. Mr. Bush and his Republicans had an ideological faith that democracy would just magically occur once Saddam was gone.

    So, in answer to Ben’s question of whether we can still win wars? Sure. Of course. Obviously. Just not with a domestic population that is unprepared for the gruesome work involved.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Ben Wolf: @matt bernius: @HarvardLaw92:

    I’ve written about this, at least at the edges, in articles including:

    “Smart Wars Don’t Need Selling,” The National Interest, September 10, 2013.
    ‘“Why Obama’s Plan to Strike Syria Makes No Strategic Sense,” The Atlantic, August 30, 2013.
    “It’s Not Too Soon to Tell,” The National Interest, April 10, 2013.
    “Hagel’s Three Questions,” The National Interest, April 5, 2013.
    “Washington’s Losing Streak,” The National Interest, March 19, 2013.
    “Was Afghanistan Worth It?“ The National Interest, March 6, 2013.
    “The Future of Conservative Foreign Policy,” The Atlantic, November 19, 2012.
    “The Day We Lost Afghanistan,” The National Interest, September 19, 2012.
    “Insurmountable Obstacles in Afghanistan,” The National Interest, April 26, 2012.
    “Ending the Afghan Slog,” The National Interest, March 19, 2012.
    “Why Obama Is Right to Withdraw From Afghanistan Early,” The Atlantic, February 2, 2012.
    “How Perpetual War Became U.S. Ideology,” The Atlantic, May 11, 2011.

    Links available at JamesJoyner.com/portfolio

    But, yes, as HarvardLaw92 alludes to, it depends on how one defines winning but, more than that, which objectives our national leaders decide to try and achieve through the use of military force and the constraints they impose on the use of that force. Most of the wars we’ve fought since WWII weren’t “winnable” given the nature of the objectives and the political will to carry them out.

    And, yes, as @michael reynolds points out, we’ve lost our will to occupy. I was likewise a reluctant supporter of the Iraq War—-a reverse John Kerry, in that I was against it for a long time before becoming for it—but was very frustrated that we expanded our apparent goals to something unachievable after toppling Saddam and yet simultaneously wanted desperately to pretend that we weren’t occupying Iraq. We bloody well needed to occupy the place to administer it and achieve our goals. Instead, we handed sovereignty back to a regime that couldn’t handle it and compounded our error by de-Baathification, which not only deprived Iraq of its most capable bureaucrats and security forces but turned those talents against us. The results were predictably catastrophic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. Ron Beasley says:

    Juan Cole has an informative post and apparently things are not as bleak as it might sound. The local Sunni tribes have joined the government troops to drive the ISIS out of most of al-Anbar province. The ISIS leader was one of those killed. The Shiite clergy blame al-Maliki for this because of his brutal treatment of the Sunnis in al-Anbar driving many into the hands of the ISIS. As Juan Cole says:

    Al-Maliki needs to decide if he is prime minister of Iraq or prime minister of the Shiite South. If he is the head of state for the whole country, he needs to find a way to make the Sunnis his constituency, as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. Stonetools says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Reading that article, sounds like what Iraq needs is a Mandela. Unfortunately , that kind of far sighted statesman is rare. Proves once again that leadership matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    It’s odd isn’t it, that we got along better with the Sunni tribes than Maliki seems able to. I don’t think at this late date we’re going to see Maliki learning and growing into a statesman. His voters are all Shiites, his patron is Iran.

    But if one guy should be worrying about this it’s probably not Mailiki but Assad. Iraq is majority Shia, Syria not so much. If you’re Assad you sure don’t want Anbar playing the role of Cambodia (to use a Vietnam analogy.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Woody says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    @James Joyner:

    To some extent we are much more hampered by public opinion and the concept of wars being televised in real-time (and living color!) in people’s living rooms.

    simultaneously wanted desperately to pretend that we weren’t occupying Iraq.

    The U.S. traditional media has a tricky situation when it comes to 21st century war. If they carry actual coverage, they are lambasted as anti-patriotic – even as giving aid and comfort to the enemy. If they self-censor (as they did in the Iraq War), Americans are completely uninformed about the largest single endeavor undertaken by any government. Meanwhile, foreign media – such as al-Jazeera – have no qualms about showcasing the horrors of war.

    Our national idea of America cannot encompass the negative aspects of war, occupation, and casualties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t think that kind of indiscriminate obliteration was required in Iraq, but the next step still required absolute American control. Some institutions had to be wiped out, others had to be strengthened, others still had to be introduced. We did none of that.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true–we did disband the Iraqi army, a move we later came to regret.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bremer#Disbanding_the_Iraqi_Army

    We also engaged in the “de-Baathification” of the Iraqi civil services, another questionable decision that certainly contributed to subsequent difficulties.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bremer#.22De-Ba.27thification.22_of_the_Iraqi_civil_service

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Woody:

    Which is the nature of the beast – people who are removed from the actuality of warfare are horrified by it.

    Truthfully, those who are actively engaged in fighting the war are often horrified by it as well, but they have the powerful motivator of survival and dedication to the mission to moderate that horror and keep them focused on the task at hand.

    In WW2, for example, newspapers printed what they were allowed to print, and the message presented to the public was carefully controlled, both to bolster public support for the war and to insulate the public from the ugly reality of just what modern warfare really means. Thus cocooned in their bubble, they remained highly supportive of, and more importantly contributing to, the war effort.

    Contrast that with embedded reporters sending video back in real time. That isn’t to say that reporters aren’t still constrained to a degree – as it relates to operational security anyway – but the ugly reality of the destruction and human suffering that are unavoidably involved in warfare makes its way to television sets largely unfiltered.

    Americans are an odd bunch – they’re rah rah patriotic about wars, but they want them to end quickly, they don’t want civilians in war zones to suffer and they don’t want US soldiers to be killed fighting in them. Winning a protracted war – as most wars tend to be – in the age of real-time television is probably an impossibility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    I’ll amend that to “we did none of that well.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I think better preparation of the public might help. Mr. Churchill’s “Blood, toil, tears and sweat,” is the right way. Mr. Bush’s “Let’s cut taxes and all go shopping, this thing’ll pay for itself, yipee!” would be the wrong way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  23. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: On that I think there can be no dispute…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    No argument at all. The Bush admin stepped on its whang with respect to both Iraq and Afghanistan from the outset, and Churchill’s approach would have been much more productive.

    That said, while it would have been mitigated by the fact that they were being bombed themselves, I think that the British public would have been less resolute if they had been watching Dresden burn (or more to the point, had seen the incinerated civilian corpses) on television. It’s just the nature of the beast – humans are horrified by the reality of war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. stonetools says:

    I think one of the problems is that Americans, liberal and conservative alike, are afflicted by World War 2-itis. We should understand that World War 2 was the exception among American wars, not the rule. The plain fact is that most of the wars the US has ever fought look much more like the Iraq War than like WW2-limited wars of uncertain length with ill-defined and shifting objectives. This is going to be unpopular, but Americans are going to have to learn to be better at fighting these wars, because frankly, there will be more of them and WW2 ain’t coming back ( I expect many down votes for this, but hey, facts..)
    I also don’t think the Powell Doctrine is that helpful, because the Powell Doctrine pretty much says don’t fight any wars unless we have WW2 conditions. I think that Clausewitz may be the better guide. We should be really clear not only about what we want to accomplish, but about about the politics of what we want to accomplish. We had no business trying to go into Iraq without understanding the politics of the place-and should be very clear about our politics. ” Can I count on political support for the long haul, when things go pear shaped, as things often go into war?” should be a question every President asks.
    Now talking about fighting limited wars like this isn’t likely to be popular here, because the overwhelming sentiment is that we shouldn’t get into these kinds of wars. But the fact is that inevitably we seem to get into these conflicts, whether we want to or not and irrespective of whether we have Democratic or Republican Administrations. I think realistically, we are going to be involved in more of them at some point. Sorry about that, but that’s how I see it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    I don’t disagree. The term “limited war” is an oxymoron.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  27. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Far be it for me to rain on anyone’s parade, but as Fouad Ajami has written, those are the lands of “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and, my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger”. And believe you me, the old USofA will always be the stranger and fit to be either milked or slaughtered.

    Islam is the millstone. If you plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. What you have is a hope. Ideological sanctuaries don’t breed much success.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @11B40:

    Islam is the millstone.

    Religious fanaticism, coupled with poverty, are the millstones. Let’s not fall into the ideological pit of asserting that all Muslims are unavoidably evil and bent on world domination.

    Because my Iranian neighbors – he the surgeon and she the pediatrician, both delightful and warm people who regularly invite me, a Jew, into their home for dinners and parties – argue against that one.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    It’s an interesting paradox. Modern media makes it all but impossible for us to fight wars because it shows the civilians the truly awful nature of it. At the same time modern media shows us the brutality of regimes like Mr. Assad’s and therefore creates a desire to get involved. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

    The American people were turned from neutral to emotionally supporting Britain in WW2 by newsreels of Hitler and Poland. Once we were in, our media softened the edges sufficiently to allow the story to be cast as simple good vs. evil, with no Japanese or German babies burning from US incendiaries. But then, in a sort of grim coda, Americans were shown some of what had happened at Dachau and Treblinka and had a sort of ex post facto justification for any level of violence visited on the Germans.

    1) See what they did.
    2) See a cleaned up version of what we did.
    3) See a still worse version of what they did.

    And of course the sequel: a strong, democratic, peaceful modern Germany. Just for god’s sake, let’s not talk about how we sat on the sidelines getting rich while our eventual allies died. Let’s recast it all as a narrative where we saved them, rather than the other way around. And let’s not dwell too much on what some of those allies were up to on their own.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  30. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I believe that @stonetools: point is that limited war is the norm. He’s correct. WWI and WWII were our only essentially “unlimited” wars out of the long list of military actions we’ve fought in the last hundred years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @gVOR08:

    And I would agree, except to say that unlimited warfare has always been the norm – until the invention of television and global communication in real-time.

    So, the more accurate way to state that is probably to say that WW2 was our last unlimited war, not to characterize unlimited warfare as being somehow unusual. Television has pretty much permanently changed the nature of warfare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Well, that’s not quite my point. My point is “real wars” of the WW2 type aren’t going to be the kind of wars that the US will be fighting in the foreseeable future. The wars we will fight-and lets face it, we are going to fight some-are going to be of the “limited” variety. We should focus on doing a better job of fighting those.
    Now the first option here should be avoiding war whenever we can-but that’s not always an option (see9/11).
    If we have to fight, lets be realistic about we can accomplish. We’re not going to be able to turn Afghanistans into Swedens or Iraqs into Switzerlands. We’re not going to achieve all our objectives, even if our objectives are limited. Above all, we need to know when to GTFO.
    A good example of a limited war, I think , is Libya. A lot of people want to put Libya in the failure column, but IMO it’s a success. We took the opportunity to overturn a power-mad dictator and install a pro-Western regime at limited cost to ourselves. Now that regime is weak and is fighting against an Islamic insurgency, but its better than what they had before.
    Now if we look at Iraq( and this is going to REALLY unpopular) having a weak, semi-democratic regime fighting to put down a Sunni insurgency in the southern Iraq, while tolerating a semi-independent Kurdistan in the north, is actually an improvement on power mad tyrant who twice invaded neighboring countries, and ruthlessly suppressed Shia and Kurds. Now I don’t think that was worth 4000 American dead ( and uncounted Iraqi), which is why it goes into the failure column for me, but it would have arguably been a success if we could achieved the current result in a much less costly way.
    The point is that in the future we are going to be faced, not with WW2 situations, but with Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan situations, and we are going to have to learn when and how to fight these “limited” wars, and to be realistic in our expectations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. Liberal Capitalist says:

    This is just the continuing nightmare that was brought upon us by inept, ignorant leadership.

    On the day of the invasion, I was dumbstruck by the sheer folly of our actions.

    My degrees in Political Science, Geography and Sociology gave me the basic rudimentary information that we were ABSOLUTELY incorrect on our actions.

    Working for a large US Multinational, I was the only one in the room that did not stand up and cheer that day.

    I did not support this, I spoke out against it, and I did not “support our troops” (R) (C) because what our troops were doing was morally and legally wrong.

    1,000,000 dead. Can you fathom that? YOU OWN THAT !!!

    What we have – with the vast political gap in our country today is a direct result of actions taken on March 19th, 2003.

    The terrorists did not win.

    We lost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  34. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    We should differentiate between raids, invasions and occupations. (Let’s leave genocide off the menu.) In a raid you basically punch a guy in the face. In an invasion you punch a guy in the face and kick him in the balls until he begs for mercy. In an occupation you do all that plus you sit on him until he sees things your way.

    The Bush administration never did figure out what they wanted in Iraq. They wanted the benefits of occupation with a commitment of resources appropriate for a raid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  35. al-Ameda says:

    In 2003 we went to war in Iraq for no reason related to the security and defense of the United States, and in so doing we, effectively, caused a shift in the power in that region away from our perceived interest to others, most notably Iran. Was all of that worth trillions of dollars and 4,000 American lives, not to mention innumerable civilian deaths?

    George W Bush is responsible for the biggest foreign policy mistake of the past 40 years (Benghazi notwithstanding, of course).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  36. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s an interesting paradox. Modern media makes it all but impossible for us to fight wars because it shows the civilians the truly awful nature of it. At the same time modern media shows us the brutality of regimes like Mr. Assad’s and therefore creates a desire to get involved. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

    Well, I think we are just going to have to be realistic about war is. People were told in the past that war is glorious. Modern media just shows us that war is hell. We are just going to have to accept that, rather than thinking its like the Hollywood version. I think a problem, especially for liberals , is the inevitability of collateral damage even in a “good war.” Liberals will talk about WW2 as an example of a “good war” but frankly, we incinerated hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians to win it. To use a modern example , as horrible as the “drone war” is , Hiroshima was much, much worse-and that was just one raid ( and not the bloodiest one, either).
    I think that any administration that goes to war will have to be honest. Tell folks:

    Its going to be bloody, innocents will die, we will make mistakes, and the people we fight on behalf of will not be infinitely grateful. Let’s just tell people up front and then let them decide if they want this.

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  37. michael reynolds says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    That number is b.s. There are a lot of estimates from a lot of different groups. You chose by far the highest and one of the least reliable, being based on a poll in 2007, when the war still had years to run.

    That’s not in any way to diminish the importance of the number that died — probably something in the area of a quarter million — but we’d be better off sticking with reality.

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  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    I think perhaps that we are going to have to eventually accept that maintaining economic and political hegemony on a global scale, and achieving a stable state of peace in a region where we meddle (and have meddled) with the politics and leadership to the detriment of the native populations involved, are probably mutually exclusive goals.

    We can’t, for example, really assert that removing Hussein while propping up the House of Saud (just as en example) are really equivalent actions.

    Unless, of course, we accept that the consequences of that meddling for the people they rule(d) are less important to us than a steady supply of petroleum is. We’re pertty much past the point (if indeed it ever existed) that we can get to have our cake and eat it too in that regard.

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  39. Andrew E. says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I certainly believe watching the conflict on television and reading about the horrors in print are a powerful disincentive for a prolonged public support of any war but I think the public would have continued to support WWII as it presented a clear existential threat to our survival.

    The Vietnam War was sold as an important piece of a Communist world takeover, even though Vietnam as a country posed no direct threat. The government obviously used the emotions of 9/11 to sell a shadowy existential Iraqi threat and its connection to a larger Muslim threat. In both cases I think a good percentage of the public, especially with Iraq, understood the survival of the country was not a sake, that “winning” the war, the requirements and consequences of beating the country into submission, was unnecessary and cruel. And despite the hysteria of a certain political persuasion and their media enablers, our existence is in no way threatened by middling Middle Eastern powers. I think most of the country has finally come to understand how screwing with Iraq has exacerbated the chaos we were supposedly supposed to contain.

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  40. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We should differentiate between raids, invasions and occupations. (Let’s leave genocide off the menu.) In a raid you basically punch a guy in the face. In an invasion you punch a guy in the face and kick him in the balls until he begs for mercy. In an occupation you do all that plus you sit on him until he sees things your way.

    I think this is useful, with the added proviso that successful occupations are very rare. We invaded the Philippines in 1898, stayed till 1946, and even now -despite lots of US help-the Philippines is in trouble (another example of a failed occupation may be the US South post Civil War).
    We should really, really try to avoid occupations.

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  41. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Andrew E.:

    but I think the public would have continued to support WWII as it presented a clear existential threat to our survival.

    That one I’m not so sure about. The US public was entirely removed from any actual war tactics being employed against them, and we had isolationists even after Pearl Harbor. I think that the sense of outrage would have been tempered by the desire for revenge over Pearl Harbor, but it’s probably foolish to assume that a daily diet of televised atrocities would have had no effect at all.

    Indeed, had it not have been for Pearl Harbor, it’s doubtful that we would have entered the war in Europe at all. Public sentiment, and by association political / presidential rhetoric, was pretty strongly against it. Until Pearl Harbor happened, and then everything changed.

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  42. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Unless, of course, we accept that the consequences of that meddling for the people they rule(d) are less important to us than a steady supply of petroleum is. We’re pertty much past the point (if indeed it ever existed) that we can get to have our cake and eat it too in that regard.

    Well, this is why I talk about realism. Let’s be blunt, while we are still mostly driving gasoline-fueled cars, there will never be a time where we can just say “Let the Middle East burn, we don’t care.”
    We can talk about pivoting all we like, but eventually, we are going to pivot right back at some stage-which is why I see more limited wars in our future.

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  43. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    This wiki list includes a list of 41 wars since 1950 with US participation. With obvious exceptions, these are limited wars. Even Gulf I was limited and successful if one accepts the stated goal of liberating Kuwait. In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq I don’t believe the fundamental problem was limitations on the wars. The problem was mismanagement, or perhaps more correctly absence of management. The Bush administration never defined realistic goals or a realistic exit strategy.

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  44. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    You’re forgetting three of our most successful occupations. 1) The occupation of Native American lands, 17th century to present. 2) The occupation of much of Mexico, 1846 to present. and 3) The occupation of the Kingdom of Hawaii, 1893 to present.

    The best occupations cease to be seen as occupations at all.

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  45. Mike says:

    I wonder if bush Cheney rummy et al were really Iranian agents bc the Iraq debacle is really a big gift to Iran. Thank u gentlemen. History will be harsh on u

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  46. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @gVOR08:

    I agree, but I’m not sure how my statement that WW2 was our last unlimited war conflicts with that either.

    Consider Korea. For a multitude of somewhat valid reasons, we more or less remained behind an imposed constraint at the 38th parallel.

    Vietnam – we remained in a defensive South Vietnam posture, when the obvious goal of unlimited warfare would have been to have bombed and strafed and burned North Vietnam to the ground.

    And so on and so on. The idea that we can have a neatly contained war that stays within politically determined limits is a fool’s errand. Korea – all these years later we have the same stalemate. Vietnam – we might as well admit that we sacrificed there for absolutely no return at all.

    Aside from the stopping genocide actions in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda / Somalia, pretty much every post-Vietnam conflict that we’ve had other than Afghanistan has been about petroleum.

    Afghanistan was/is about trying to conduct warfare against an ideology. I don’t think anybody would or should be surprised that one failed.

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  47. 11B40 says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Greetings, HarvardLaw92: ( @ Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 13:02 )

    Quoting: “Let’s not fall into the ideological pit of asserting that all Muslims are unavoidably evil and bent on world domination.”

    And I asserted the above where exactly. If there is a pit, you’re standing in it and seeing the little bit of blue sky over you and your neighbors.

    My understanding is that a socio-political ideology, even under a thin veneer if religion, is different from people. Challenging an ideology is different from declaring people evil, no ???

    As to the goals of that ideology, something pretty close to world domination seems to one of them. It might be time to give that Koranny-thingy another more careful reading.

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  48. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    In sort of a tongue-in-cheek way, I’d suggest adding all those NATO bases all over Europe to that list as well. 68 years later, we’re still figuratively occupying Europe.

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  49. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @11B40:

    And I asserted the above where exactly. If there is a pit, you’re standing in it and seeing the little bit of blue sky over you and your neighbors.

    You mean besides this statement?

    If you plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan.

    You are making the blanket assertion that Islam, and by association the Muslims who follow it, are unilaterally bent on claiming the entire world.

    Short version? You are making the asinine assertion that every Muslim is a terrorist. Speaking from experience, every Muslim that I have ever met & know (which is quite a few) hates terrorism, pretty vocally.

    Hoes does one go about “constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam” anyway? Care to be more specific?

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  50. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Shhh. Don’t tell them.

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  51. Mike says:

    @HarvardLaw92: yes my time in Germany was rough from 99-02.

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  52. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    IMO those are better described as “colonizations” not “occupations.” The distinction is the large scale displacement of natives and the settlement of our people.

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  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @11B40:

    My understanding is that a socio-political ideology, even under a thin veneer if religion, is different from people. Challenging an ideology is different from declaring people evil, no ???

    As to the goals of that ideology, something pretty close to world domination seems to one of them. It might be time to give that Koranny-thingy another more careful reading.

    LOL, on that standard you might as well change your statement to

    If you plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating [religion], you don’t have a plan.

    A fanatic is a fanatic, no matter which god he prays to, and every religion has them, so FIFY

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  54. stonetools says:

    I think a big problem for us going forward is restraining neo-cons like 11B40 who are earnestly thirsting for another “unlimited”, WW2 type war against the Muslims. Indeed, prior to 911, the preferred adversary was to be China. If militant Islamic fundamentalism recedes as a threat, I expect them to dust off China again. “There must be an enemy-and if there isn’t one, we must conjure one”.

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  55. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    LOL, they know. They get to enjoy prosperous economies (which we paid to help rebuild) without having to trouble themselves with the inconvenience of paying for a national defense. Why would they complain?

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  56. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    OTOH, we don’t have to worry about a revived Wehrmacht or Japanese Imperial Navy. Frankly, I think it’s been a good deal all round.

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  57. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    True, but Germany has the Bundeswehr (complete with an air force and a navy) and Japan does have a navy in everything but name. Just saying

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  58. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Yeah, but there are armies and ARMIES. Germany now has an army, but it’s quite capable of having an ARMY-and, IIRC, a damn good one. Also, too the occupation and Cold War had the effect of tamping down ethnic and border questions that were never quite settled by WW2-and which frankly, remain today. Even now there are Germans whispering, “East Prussia should be OURS” and some folks in central Europe are wondering, “Will the Germans ever want their old lands back?” Other folks are also unhappy about current borders, but aren’t saying anything because Uncle Sam is in the vicinity and Uncle Ivan isn’t very far away. Then there is Japan and their issues with the Russians in the Kurile Islands and with China in the South China Sea.
    People grouse about Pax Americana, both here and over there, but you know, there could be worse worlds. Maybe a limited Pax Americana isn’t all that bad.

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  59. Dave says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I’m coming a little late to this, but I think comparing WWII and the following occupations to Iraq can be deeply misleading. Part of the reason the rebuilding of Germany and Japan was so successful was that both were unified and industrialized countries with clear power structures before the war. Also, the ideology of the Fascists was that they could not be defeated by lesser, weaker humans, such as made up the US. By defeating them we not only defeated the entire country we also defeated a fundamental principle of their former leaders. This made rebuilding easier. In Iraq there was a dictator, but the country was hardly unified. There were divisions between Sunni and Shia but also numerous tribes which Saddam played off against one another. Many felt no loyalty to Saddam ( in contrast to so many Germans and Japanese) and many in the Iraqi Army did not put up much of a fight against US troops. This may allow some factions to rationalize that they were never wrong or defeated in the war and makes occupation much harder. Also I suspect your reasoning on the media in war time may be faulty. As mentioned earlier, news coverage in a war to extinction between major industrial powers will be covered and viewed differently than a war between a global hegemon and a bunch of tribesmen with AK47s, RPGs and some suicide vests and rightfully so. I don’t think you give Americans enough credit when you state that they don’t have the stomach for another Dresden (whose worth is still debated). In wars the stakes aren’t always the same.

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  60. Rafer Janders says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    And I would agree, except to say that unlimited warfare has always been the norm – until the invention of television and global communication in real-time.

    Not really true. In most of European history, for example, limited rather than unlimited warfare has been the norm.

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  61. dazedandconfused says:

    James,

    My only objection is to the terms “lost” and “Al Qaeda”.

    We did what we decided to do after being there awhile, set up a Shia government and leave. While the intent of that objective was wrong-headed, we were not beaten.

    Why must we call every Sunni outfit that claims Allah is on their side the same thing we called the guys who embarked on the multiple suicide missions of 9/11? It is not an accurate depiction and that is about the best that can be said for it. The religion is so deep in their culture they can’t do much of anything without bringing it, as it was in the middle ages for Christians. One of my pet peeves is in how the American public has been and continues to be encouraged to fear everybody that yells “Allah is great!” over there.

    They nearly all do it.

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  62. Dave D says:

    @michael reynolds: Not entirely true about the bit the media played in WWII. There was heavy government censorship over what was broadcast to the public so in a sense they did limit what the American public saw. This was to not offend the sensibilities of the public at large, and also because almost all of the film coming out of the war was being produced by military cameramen. However, they did release some very bloody awful footage of the marines in the pacific, which included a lot of americans shooting japanese wounded and corpses and a lot of dead marines as a result of beach landings. It was said this had two outcomes; first the purchase of war bonds surged, second enlistment to the marine corps plummeted and it wasn’t repeated. The reason they choose the pacific theater to test this out was because the japanese attacked us and the public was more vocal for their destruction. Also they weren’t white and if you look at the propaganda of the time there is a huge difference in the portrayal between the germans and the japanese. As a whole the media didn’t report on a lot of things in the way they did in Vietnam, but that was likely due to the lack of technology that enabled the government to have front line reporters when most publications didn’t. This was also before television which again limited access to information about the war, when all of your updates come as short movie reels before feature films.

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  63. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    That is more a question of scope that a difference in methodology.

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  64. wr says:

    @stonetools: The key difference between WW2 and every war since is that the Axis posed an existential threat to the US and its key allies. And while it’s fun to speculate about how the American people might have responded to raw battle footage, the fact is every knew we were fighting for our lives. (I use the “we” figuratively, since my parents were teenagers when it ended.)

    The wars since then have been wars of choice. We have decided to extend our power into various foreign arenas to achieve some kind of policy objective — often when that objective was no more important than getting re-elected.

    There was no reason to invade Iraq. There was no reason to invade Grenada. There was no reason to invade Vietnam — if by reason you mean an actual threat to our lives or way of living. Our political leaders chose to send young men to kill and die because it looked like a good way to get what they wanted.

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  65. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “The best occupations cease to be seen as occupations at all.”

    Yeah, well it helps if you murder huge amounts of the occupied people and then lock them away from “decent” civilisation so that no one has to confront what’s been done in their names.

    I’ve been reading up on the Nazi occuption of Ukraine at the same time as I finally read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and the similarities between the two occupations are truly horrifying., right down to the widely held view that the occupied were — Native Americans or Jews — were sub-human and good for nothing but killing.

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  66. Grewgills says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Religious fanaticism, coupled with poverty, are the millstones.

    Add in poor if any education and you have the trifecta. Education, economic stimulation, and time are the only real solution I can see.

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  67. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds:

    2) The occupation of much of Mexico, 1846 to present.

    These much of Mexico was very sparsely populated. Alta California and Nuevo Mexico were territories, not states, and Tejas was combined with Coahuila because the former was underpopulated.

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  68. michael reynolds says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    North Dakota is unpopulated, but I’m pretty sure if Canada invaded it, occupied it and held it, we’d be pretty pissed off.

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  69. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “North Dakota is unpopulated, but I’m pretty sure if Canada invaded it, occupied it and held it, we’d be pretty pissed off.”

    Only if they didn’t take South Dakota with it.

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  70. jukeboxgrad says:

    HarvardLaw92:

    It was a fool’s errand from the outset, masterminded by people who had absolutely no understanding of the powerful motivators in operation within Iraq. The outcome really shouldn’t surprise anybody.

    Yes, but I find it interesting to notice one particular person who correctly predicted the disaster. Recall that Bush I left quickly, instead of trying to remove Saddam. Let’s recall how this was explained (4/29/91):

    I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we’d have had to hunt him down. And once we’d done that and we’d gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we’d have had to put another government in its place. What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi’i government or a Kurdish government or Ba’athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

    I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it’s my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.

    Also here (audio):

    The notion that we oughta now go into Baghdad and somehow take control of the country strikes me as an extremely serious one in terms of what we would have to do once we got there. You’d probably have to put some new government in place, it’s not clear what kind of government what would be, how long you’d have to stay. For the US to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who’s going to govern in Iraq strike me as a classic definition of a quagmire.

    More here: 4/15/94, link.

    (Emphasis added.) Whole lot of quagmire talk going on back then. His evident knowledge of the situation tends to create the impression that the mess he subsequently helped create was created intentionally. After all, certain people did make a killing (link).

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  71. Stonetools says:

    @wr:

    You left out 911 which was not a war of choice. Even so my point stands. Among American wars WWII is the exception, not the rule. Most American wars are precisely wars of limited scope against non-existential threats. Now you’re advancing the traditional liberal argument that we should ONLY fight wars if there is existential threat. I’m pointing out the objective fact that we have fought and in the future will likely continue to fight these limited wars. I don’t like this fact but I’m acknowledging reality and saying that we have to do a better job of choosing which wars to fight and how to fight them. Please re read my posts in light of this.

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  72. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    While your point is not unmerited, please do lose the ahistorical “indeed typified, by bloody sectarian and tribal rivalries for over a thousand years, ” idiocy.

    The modern problems of the Levant and Mesopotamia are modern, not a thousand years old. One can write the same idiotic tripe about any region on the planet with any written record of history.

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  73. michael reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I don’t think you can entirely dismiss history. History includes the geography of national borders, cultural byproducts of religion, various other facts that contribute to current difficulties. You could of course say the same about the stresses in Belgium, the Balkans, Catalonia, etc… But the effects of history are still part of the modern story and useful for understanding just what bug has crawled up which crazy person’s butt.

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  74. Stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    True. But really, there has been an awful lot of nonsense written about thousand year Middle Eastern rivalries, while ignoring the fact that Europe was almost constantly at war for a thousand years prior to WWII. All of the Middle Eastern wars since 1945 combined don’t total as many casualties as , say, the battle of Stalingrad, but we don’t conclude that the Germans and Russians are doomed to be forever locked in mortal ethnic conflict. Indeed relations between those countries are quite good now, as they have been often in the past. Similarly, Jews and Muslims have often been tolerant of each other in the past, although Neo con propogranda have them at each other’s throats since ” time immemorial “.

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  75. Grewgills says:

    @Stonetools:

    You left out 911 which was not a war of choice.

    911 was a terrorist attack, not a war. We had two actual wars and one metaphorical war predicated on 911, but that is rather different. Which of those three was not a war of choice: the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, or the metaphorical ‘war on terror’?

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  76. michael reynolds says:

    @Stonetools:

    I don’t bring up ME wars as a moral counterpoint to European wars. I don’t think anyone but Genghis Khan or Mao ever equalled Europe’s talent for mass slaughter. But it does go to motivations, and it goes to understanding that maybe we should stay the hell out of feuds that don’t involve us.

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  77. Lounsbury says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I did not entirely dismiss history, as a former student of the region’s history i am very aware of it. I objected to the thousand years nonsense. The current issues are rather more the product of poorly digested late 19th century nationalist ideologies, the colonial period, the break-up of the Ottomans and the decolonisation period.

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  78. An Interested Party says:

    As to the goals of that ideology, something pretty close to world domination seems to one of them. It might be time to give that Koranny-thingy another more careful reading.

    I guess these Muslims didn’t get that memo…

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