Winning Wars: Winer vs. Clausewitz

We’ve done the “Have we won in Iraq?” thing a couple of times recently, without ever really answering the question.  The problem is that there’s no clear definion of “victory” given the vagueness of our objectives.

Weblog pioneer Dave Winer, though, thinks it blindingly obvious:  “We won in Iraq, a long time ago.”

Remember when our troops marched into Baghdad, took the place over, drove Saddam into a hole and arrested or killed the government. Then we disbanded their army.

When you go to war that’s what victory looks like.

[…]

Winning in war or sport is not vague or ill-defined. When the clock runs out in football the team that’s ahead wins. When two runners are in a race the first to cross the finish line wins. When you fight a war, when you take the other guys’ capital and disband their government and army, that’s winning.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.  Wars, as Clausewitz taught us, are politics by other means.  War, he said, “has its own language but not its own logic.”  Had our political objective in Iraq stopped at regime change, then, absolutely, we would have won the instant we captured Saddam.  Game over.

Alas, our objectives were much more nebulous than that.  In a speech on February 26, 2003, President Bush outlined his goals in lofty fashion.  A follow-on document, National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, outlined them in, well, outline fashion in November 2005.

Let’s go through them.  My comments are in red, everything else is original.

VICTORY IN IRAQ DEFINED

As the central front in the global war on terror, success in Iraq is an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism. Unlike past wars, however, victory in Iraq will not come in the form of an enemy’s surrender, or be signaled by a single particular event — there will be no Battleship Missouri, no Appomattox. The ultimate victory will be achieved in stages, and we expect:

  • In the short term:
    • An Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency, meeting political milestones; building democratic institutions; standing up robust security forces to gather intelligence, destroy terrorist networks, and maintain security; and tackling key economic reforms to lay the foundation for a sound economy.

    It’s reasonable to say that this is happening to the degree we could reasonably have expected, if perhaps not at the level we’d hoped.

  • In the medium term:
    • An Iraq that is in the lead defeating terrorists and insurgents and providing its own security, with a constitutional, elected government in place, providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region, and well on its way to achieving its economic potential.

    The first part of this is very much happening.  But, surely, the neighbors aren’t yet inspired.   Economic potential?  Not so much.

  • In the longer term:
    • An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.

    Quite successful here, although violence could flare back up.

    • An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.
    • An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region

    Certainly not.  Then again, these were the “longer term” goals.

To his credit, the president made it clear from the get-go that there would be no immediate, satisfying victory.  That “Battleship Missouri” line made frequent appearances in his speeches.  Regardless, he set incredibly ambitious goals that we haven’t achieved.  Beyond even the example to others rhetoric, we’re short even of the more mundane “An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.”  To be sure, most of these aren’t military goals.

Dave argues,

There is no such thing as winning an occupation. You either continue to occupy or withdraw. It’s semantic nonsense to apply the verb “win” to the noun “occupation.”

There’s a lot of truth to that.  But occupation can be a transitional step to achieving one’s political goals.  The postwar occupations of Germany and Japan did just that.  Indeed, they achieved precisely the kinds of lofty, seemingly pie-in-the-sky goals we’ve thus far failed to reach in Iraq.

To be sure, Iraq isn’t Germany or Japan.  Iraq wasn’t a homogeneous, modern nation state but a volatile collection of sectarian groupings forced together under a nearly arbitrary colonial map and held together by ruthless strongmen.  Still, a large part of our problem — aside from setting the bar too high — was our unwillingness to be seen as an Army of Occupation.  Pretending that an illegitimate, sovereign-in-name-only government was really running things made things much worse than they had to be.

Regardless, we’re where we are.  And it’s not “victory”

The question at this point is whether we continue trying to achieve the political objectives set forth at the outset and reiterated repeatedly since then or declare the war lost and cut our losses.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    In comments to my posts on Afghanistan over the last couple of days over at my place there’s been some relevant discussion. Basically, victory, defined as defeating the enemy and going home is not going to happen either in Iraq or Afghanistan. The alternatives we have before us are either a greater military, diplomatic, economic, and development engagement with the region than we’ve ever known before or withdrawing from the region to a significant degree.

    Neither candidate is running on the basis of a major disengagement from the region. Sen. McCain has famously pointed to a South Korea-like presence for the foreseeable future. Sen. Obama’s plans for the troops withdrawn from Iraq are ambiguous. He’s said repeatedly he plans to leave some troops there. Whether that’s 10,000 or 80,000 is open to dispute. He’s also said that he plans on re-deploying some of the troops to Afghanistan and re-deploying others within the region. I’m not certain how many he actually plans to have come home but it’s pretty clear that he, too, plans a longer term military presence in the region.

  2. Michael says:

    The question at this point is whether we continue trying to achieve the political objectives set forth at the outset and reiterated repeatedly since then or declare the war lost and cut our losses.

    Which requires that we first ask the questions “Can we achieve the political objectives set forth”, and “How”? Trying to win isn’t a strategy.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Which requires that we first ask the questions “Can we achieve the political objectives set forth”, and “How”? Trying to win isn’t a strategy.

    Sure. I’ve never been a fan of the loftier of the goals and certainly the events of the last five years haven’t made them seem more achievable. The institutional goals are more reasonable.

  4. Hal says:

    Which requires that we first ask the questions “Can we achieve the political objectives set forth”, and “How”?

    Indeed. If you read the victory conditions James put up, you’ll see why the phrase “and a pony” has been firmly attached to the Iraq war.

    Too bad we can’t get McCain’s actual ideas on how he would achieve these, seeing as how it’s merely a clever ruse to ask such.

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    Economic potential? Not so much.

    I’m not sure the criteria you are using here. Full economic potential? Show me any country that is at its full economic potential. But there is some definite life in the Iraqi economy. Oil sales continue to climb. Not up to 1991 levels, but rising.

    It is easy to make the case Iraq is on it’s way to achieving it’s economic potential. The debate is only if it is ‘well’ on it’s way. Of course in this country we are debating if we are in a recession or not.

  6. Michael says:

    Sure. I’ve never been a fan of the loftier of the goals and certainly the events of the last five years haven’t made them seem more achievable. The institutional goals are more reasonable.

    Then as a fun little thought experiment, James, why don’t you list your goals for Iraq, and we’ll whittle it down to those that we can achieve with the presence of US troops, and see which ones are left to accomplish.

    If, at the end of it all, there are goals left, then you have justified your desire to stay. However, if there are none left, then you must reconsider your desire.

  7. Bithead says:

    Economic potential? Not so much

    Well, look; The lions share of that potential is in oil, and that’s dependant on bringing in experts to deal with the situation…. experts they clearly don’t have within the country. That said, things are currently on the way up, as I see YAJ noting in his response.

    An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region
    Certainly not. Then again, these were the “longer term” goals.

    Not so fast, James. Certainly they are an ally in the war on terror to the degree with which they have taken over the charge of security for their own country against such. After all, they’re troops we can deploy elsewhere, as both D’s and R’s keep pointing out. It’s nt hard to see where that goes once theyre totally taking care of their own.

  8. Bithead says:

    Still, a large part of our problem — aside from setting the bar too high — was our unwillingness to be seen as an Army of Occupation. Pretending that an illegitimate, sovereign-in-name-only government was really running things made things much worse than they had to be.

    Well, that’s multi-facited, James, but in both major cases, political.

    You have on the one hand the political opposition at home who would certainly be willing to use the phrase as a club… which would cause as many problems as avoiding the phrase would.

    OTOH, you would have the terrorists who would see the title of ‘occupier’ as a rally cry, and who would most assuredly find themselves opposition types here in the states to push that mantra for them.

  9. It is a fool’s errand to try and debate this topic in a comment thread since there is so little good faith to be found herein. Too much baggage, much of it not delivered to the correct destination.

    One simple question, is the world a better place because of the liberation of Iraq or not? I’d say, on balance, yes. Without reaching too far, I’ll guess others will say no. Of course, either response in and of itself neither justifies nor condemns the effort and its aftermath. But I digress.

  10. Bithead says:

    One simple question, is the world a better place because of the liberation of Iraq or not? I’d say, on balance, yes.

    I, too.

    Trouble is, that question as stated, has us judging ‘improvement’ based on the pre-invasion situation, held in amber.

    A slightly more complex version of that same question involves our individual visions of what the world would be like absent such liberation.

    I know what my answer would be on that point as well. Trouble is, as you suggest, there are some who will not make such judgements in good faith.

  11. anjin-san says:

    One simple question, is the world a better place because of the liberation of Iraq or not? I’d say, on balance, yes.

    I am not sure that the use of a political buzzword like “liberation” can be included in a good faith argument.

    There are probably millions of citizens of Iraq who question weather the occupation of their country by a foreign power constitutes “liberation”, especially considering the caviler attitude that some of the occupiers have displayed towards the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by the citizens of that country.

  12. All those purple fingers make the use of the word liberation acceptable from my viewpoint. Saddam Hussein is gone and it took his overthrow to make anything else in Iraq possible, so, again, I feel comfortable with the use of the word liberation. Your use of the word occupation falls more into the aftermath, about which the endless arguments will continue, but few are still willing to say things would have been better if we had left Saddam Hussein in power.

  13. Hal says:

    few are still willing to say things would have been better if we had left Saddam Hussein in power

    2 million Iraqis fled the country. Another 2 million were internally displaced because of the ethnic cleansing. Don’t know where you fall on the reality scale, but even the most ardent denier grumbles but acquiesces to 10’s of thousands of civilians killed – *after* the liberation.

    Think that maybe those people might have a thing or two to say about your glorious war.

  14. Michael says:

    All those purple fingers make the use of the word liberation acceptable from my viewpoint.

    Saddam held elections too. There’s more to being a democracy than elections.

  15. Hal, I never used the word glorious. Please try and respond to what I actually wrote rather than what you imagine I may think. In fact, everything I wrote in this thread would seem to indicate that there is a balance of good and bad that has to be weighed in rendering a verdict. Well intentioned people can differ on their reading of the scale.

    But should your comment be taken to mean that you would prefer that Saddam Hussein had remained in power in Iraq? Or are you just flinging feces for effect?

  16. Michael, you do a diservice to all those people who risked their lives to vote in an authentic plebiscite to freely elect representatives for the first time in their history when you compare it to the sham elections in which Saddam Hussein routinely received 100% of the vote.

  17. Hal says:

    Hal, I never used the word glorious.

    Um, speaking of responding to what one says rather than what you imagine one says, take away the word “glorious” from my post and how does that change anything?

    Well intentioned people can differ on their reading of the scale.

    I suppose. But again, all my comment was doing was showing the other side of that scale, as opposed to your weighting of the mere fact that people voted.

    Or are you just flinging feces for effect?

    Wow, all that from the inclusion of the word “glorious”. Touche’!

    would prefer that Saddam Hussein had remained in power in Iraq?

    I doubt Saddam would have been in power if the UN inspections had continued to their logical conclusion (showing him to be a toothless paper tiger) and a real leader using the goodwill generated in the wake of 9/11 for the US to work to sack the man in a diplomatic fashion.

    The issue isn’t whether Saddam would still be in power. The issue is what’s the cost of getting him out in the means chosen. The cost has been overwhelming and in many ways incalculable. You make a false dichotomy by claiming that since I disagree – strongly – with the choice of removing him that I must therefore want him back in power. That’s a silly debate tactic that probably works well in spleenville, but back here in the real world it’s simply a well known hack tactic.

    Michael, you do a diservice to all those people…

    I always find it amazing to see raw, naked green lantern style thinking. Michael did no such disservice to them. He was merely pointing out that Democracy isn’t simply voting.

    The problem I have with people who seem to think like you do is that you think it’s all so easy. That a few purple fingers and now we’re done. Our own country and form of government is exceedingly rare. It doesn’t spring from the brow of Zeus. It doesn’t happen by chance or with little effort.

    Claiming that a bunch of purple fingers made it “worth it” seems incredibly premature and based on nothing but pure hope.

  18. sam says:

    The question at this point is whether we continue trying to achieve the political objectives set forth at the outset and reiterated repeatedly since then or declare the war lost and cut our losses.

    I take it from your commentary on the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, these, then, are the main political goals that remain to be accomplished:

    *An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.
    *An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region

    What would lead us to suppose that we could enlist the aid of the Iraqis in the first two items of the second bullet? Especially the “fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”, i.e., defanging Iran? And as for the first bullet, nebulous, indeed. With respect to that goal, when is enough enough?

  19. anjin-san says:

    Certainly when you look at the cost/benefit equation, the wisdom of removing Saddam by force is questionable.

    Really, how is the world better off? There is still no shortage of brutal dictators.

    We have sacrificed almost unprecedented national unity and world support we had after 9/11. Hundreds of billions of dollars that are badly needed at home have been bled away by the war.

    Our military is badly overstretched, leaving us in a poor position to deal with a sudden crisis elsewhere.

    Other dictators, seeing our willingness to topple governments we do not like, as well as our hands off approach to N Korea, are now highly motivated to develop nukes.

    And of course, their is the loss of life among our military, as well as the wounded, physically and mentally (and the GOP is hard at work to deny mental benefits to the troops it “supports”. Nice)

  20. Bithead says:

    Certainly when you look at the cost/benefit equation, the wisdom of removing Saddam by force is questionable.

    So, we’re judging such matters as freedom…by cost, now? No wonder we have no problem with government healthcare. “We can’t save you, it costs too much”

    I mean, I know you’re trying to hold you end up, but is that realy what you had in mind?

  21. Hal says:

    That is a good point. According to Austin’s logic, ousting Charles Mugabe should be worth several hundred billion. The yahoos in Sudan should be worth multiple trillions. At what point does Charles Austin suggest we stop with his logic? Clearly, he’s saying we’re better off with Mugabe in power if he isn’t for all out war resulting in a regime change in Zimbabwe.

    Clearly, we can’t do everything and we have to – at some point – pick and choose our battles. In Austin’s frame, there doesn’t appear to be any such calculation. Removing Saddam from power was worth any cost because we’re better off without him. Certainly, there’s a lot worse people in the world than Saddam and I’m curious as to why we didn’t prioritize the regime changes, and why skipping to Saddam was a priority.

  22. Thom says:
  23. Ursus says:

    I agree with Dave mostly. We declared war against Saddam’s Iraq, and that war was won in about three weeks time. AFATG, I’ve never really understood why Bush insisted on calling the occupation phase “war” and have always assumed that he was trying to maintain the nation’s interest. Frankly it would have been better for the country if more precise language had been used, that our continued presence was as peacekeepers in support of the Iraqi government under UN Mandate. Lefties would not have been able to argue with that so much.

    There is the bigger picture though, that we went to war for a variety of reasons (enumerated in the Congressional Authorization of Force, if anybody cares anymore), so there was the bigger question of whether or not we would be able to achieve our objectives for going to war in the first place. That is a different question though–“have we achieved our objectives”–and is not suitable for “did we win the war” which is obviously affirmative.

    To wit, we “won” the war in South Vietnam, but the collapse of the government after our withdrawal resulted in our inability to achieve the objective. To many people this is the same thing, but it’s not.

  24. Bithead says:

    According to Austin’s logic, ousting Charles Mugabe should be worth several hundred billion. The yahoos in Sudan should be worth multiple trillions. At what point does Charles Austin suggest we stop with his logic? Clearly, he’s saying we’re better off with Mugabe in power if he isn’t for all out war resulting in a regime change in Zimbabwe.

    Hmmm. Let’s see.

    Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

    To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.

    You know, it’s a wonder to me that the Democrats still invoke JFK as an icon, given how far away from his ideals they’ve traveled.

  25. MarkJ says:

    Hal,

    Think that maybe those people might have a thing or two to say about your glorious war.

    The problem with the above statement is that you’re accidentally–or willfully–giving Saddam Hussein a pass. You must have been smoking some good Maui Wowie for the past 20 years or so since, if you’d been attentive, you would have known that Saddam had initiated multiple wars against not only his neighbors but also against his own people with the end result being over a million military and civilian deaths. Does “Halabja” have any significance to you? Google it and see what pops up.

    Hey, why not ask the Kuwaitis, the Iranians, the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Marsh Arabs about Saddam’s “glorious wars?” They’ll give you an earful and challenge your carefully crafted Weltanschauung.

    Or would doing this just be too much bother for you?

  26. Hal, it is Robert Mugabe. I’m sure liberating Zimbabwe is worth a few hundred billion dollars. Perhaps the EU wuld like to pony up this time though, given the exchange rates and our current commitments.

    I made no arguments that require we do everything or nothing, so I have no idea what logic you are referring to. Utopian thinking seems to be your specialty, not mine. As to picking our battles, the US has in fact made some hard decisions about which battles we will fight (Iraq, Afghanistan)and which ones we won’t (Iran, North Korea). You don’t like those decisions. Fine. I understand. I don’t necessarily like them either, but that’s beside the point. We aren’t trying to do everything because we can’t. Of course, it would be easier if we didn’t have to act with so few friends, but que sera sera.

  27. Annie B says:

    Mr. Joyner

    If you believe that Germany was a ‘united country’ or a ‘democracy’ for some vast historical time prior to Hitler, you are sadly under informed as to history.

    Germany was only “united” ( somewhat) under Bismark and “democratic” ( fleetingly) for a few years between the wars. How may of those years count as ‘democracy’ being … well… quite a question.

    Japan, of course, was ruled by a divine and absolute monarch – although there had been some movement to ‘western government’ as a management structure.

    Iraq has a FAR longer history of civilization and participatory government ( if not quote in the American mode ) than Germany. Unlike Japan Iraq has *never* had a divine God-Emperor (Well, not since the bronze age or thereabout ).

    By any rational standard Iraq is a far better candidate for democratic self-government than either of the main Axis powers. (I exclude Italy. If any place should be prepared for a republic, Rome must be.)

    By any historical count, the reconstruction of Iraq is far ahead of the ‘Marshal Plan’ schedule. (Please remember that Germany was violent until the 50’s, and that American troops are still stationed in both Germany and Japan to this day.)

    There are those in America seeking to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I suspect you may be one of them.

  28. anjin-san says:

    So, we’re judging such matters as freedom…by cost, now?

    Actually, yes. My personal opinion is that if the people of Iraq wanted freedom, they should have fought for it all by themselves. We have a lot of problems in our own country to deal with, and we are burning up a lot of our resources in Iraq, a country with great wealth of its own.

    The real cost of freedom is a willingness to die for it. Did the people of Iraq ever show that?

    History teaches us that more than one great nation pissed away its national treasure on foreign military adventures and ended up a second (or third) rate power.

    Don’t know about you bit, but I am an American. I think we should tend to our own garden. If people in other countries want freedom, they can earn it. Lots of folks have. “freedom isn’t free” right? Why do you think we can bestow it like a Christmas present?

    BTW, the money we have pissed away in Iraq could have done a hell of a lot of good for Americans. Health care, schools, firemen, safe bridges. Guess you would rather spend it building crap in Iraq that the government there does not even want…

  29. Hal says:

    if you’d been attentive, you would have known that Saddam had initiated multiple wars against not only his neighbors but also against his own people with the end result being over a million military and civilian deaths.

    And I guess if you were attentive you’d know that some of those – certainly the one against Iran – was fought with our full support – both diplomatically and materially. I guess you kind of missed the 1980’s.

    Or would doing this just be too much bother for you?

    Again, it appears to be too much of a bother for you to understand our involvement in your litany. So I guess we invade ourselves?

  30. anjin-san says:

    By any rational standard Iraq is a far better candidate for democratic self-government than either of the main Axis powers.

    During WW2, we bombed Germany and Japan until their societies became malleable. They were willing to do anything, anything at all to stop the bombing, even change. Do you propose we do that to Iraq?

    Iraq has a FAR longer history of civilization and participatory government

    That is interesting, because Iraq has only existed for 88 years or so. It is not really even a nation, just something some British and French diplomats drew on a map with leftover bits of the Ottoman Empire.

  31. Hal says:

    Hal, it is Robert Mugabe

    Yep, my mistake.

    Utopian thinking seems to be your specialty, not mine.

    Not really sure how on earth you inferred that from my comments. Certainly I’ve never argued for Utopia in any form.

    I made no arguments that require we do everything or nothing, so I have no idea what logic you are referring to.

    I’m just following your logic evident from your comments. The purple fingers symbolizing the Iraqi votes makes Iraq “worth it”. Is that not the case? When challenged, you asked whether I preferred Saddam still in power. And then you claim Michael is denigrating those with purple fingers because he stated that voting wasn’t democracy.

    A circle has no beginning and no end, I guess.

  32. Annie B says:

    anjin-san

    Normally I do not chat but as you seem rational and open to information?

    1) I do not at this time suggest a more aggressive bombing strategy in Iraq as our current arms seem sufficient.

    (As in all wars, the weapons must adapt with the terrain.) But that said – war continues until one side wins. I think that we have won the major battles, and are ( short of sabotage ) set to win the entire war. And the peace.

    2) As to the ‘time’?
    a) 88 years is still longer than German had
    and
    b) I was referencing the *culture*. The names have changed, as have the structures ( tribal vs. congressional ) but the city-states of Ur and Sumner and Babylon had laws and governments when Europe had wandering tribes.

    Iraq is not some primitive, ignorant backwater. Iraq sits on some of the oldest civilized territory on the planet. If any people are capable of self-government, who better than them?

  33. Claiming that we can only depose Saddam if we then depose every other tyrant is a utopian line of thinking. You should be able to recognize it since you projected it onto what you imagined is “evident from my comments.” Of course, I neither claimed nor inferred any such thing.

    I did ask whether you preferred that Saddam was still in power, since you seem to twice infer that you do, but I will do you the courtesy of asking again rather than claiming you wrote it and acting self righteous and indignant.

    Your apparent willful attempt to equivocate Saddam’s sham elections and the first free elections in Iraq is pitiful. You should be ashamed. Make an effort. You may find it is worth it.

    You can have the last word by replying because I am through trying to reason with you.

  34. Hal says:

    Your apparent willful attempt to equivocate Saddam’s sham elections and the first free elections in Iraq is pitiful.

    Um, where the f did I do that? You are being completely delusional.

    You can have the last word by replying because I am through trying to reason with you.

    Well, if you would start trying to reason you could quit. But seeing as how you’re ascribing statements to me that I haven’t even made, I’m not sure I’d classify that as “reasoning”.

    Perfectly willing to discuss it, but seeing as how you’ve stomped off…

  35. anjin-san says:

    Iraq sits on some of the oldest civilized territory on the planet

    True, and it has been authoritarian for all that time. We cannot expect people to become like us simply because we wish them to. They have their own culture and their own ways of life. Simply sending in the army and deposing their government is not going to turn them into Sweden.

    We should not get too confident about winning either the war or the peace. At some point, we have to leave. Yugoslavia teaches us a lesson about what holds polyglot nations together. An iron hand. Remove the iron hand, and the nation will tend to fly apart.

  36. Hal says:

    We cannot expect people to become like us simply because we wish them to.

    One of the lessons of China, which seems to be ignored, is the shattering of the myth that capitalism and teh market create democracy. We now seem to have a rather large and prosperous economy (which pretty much owns our national debt, from what I can tell) which hasn’t produced the democracy many were sure would follow. Likewise in Iraq, the underlying theory seems to have been that if we simply give people the chance, they’ll choose our way of life in a heart beat.

    This isn’t to say that Iraq, or China or anyone else is “incapable” of democracy. It’s just that democracy (or a republic for the anal retentive) is exceedingly rare.

    One of the fundamental issues I’ve had with the war supporters is their fantasy that western style democracy is something trivial to bring about. In the extreme, such an attitude cheapens what we’ve accomplished here in this country. At at a minimum it’s simply incredibly naive regarding human history and how incredibly lucky the USA has been.

  37. TallDave says:

    It’s a common misconception that Iraq was “held together by strongmen.” Iraq was a constitutional monarchy under the Hashemites, then a fairly liberal parliamentary state before the Baathists turned it into a Stalinist nightmare. Sunni and Shia had been mingling without much friction for centuries in Baghdad before Saddam destroyed the ties that kept society going.

  38. TallDave says:

    “We now seem to have a rather large and prosperous economy, from what I can tell) which hasn’t produced the democracy many were sure would follow.”

    Well, China is still very poor — poorer than Mexico — and is liberalizing rapidly as they develop. There are now local elections and property rights are increasingly secure.

  39. TallDave says:

    “It’s just that democracy (or a republic for the anal retentive) is exceedingly rare”

    In fact, it’s exceedingly common, so much so that it can reasonably be regarded as the natural endstate of all modern societies. Japan, Germany, S Korea, Taiwan, just about all of South and Central America, a dozen countries in E Europe… even when countries like Thailand or Pakistan undergo military coup, they typically restore democracy shortly after.

  40. Bill says:

    Re: Hal

    I am always fascinated by those like Hal. The left prides itself on its exquisite sense of nuance but then makes hamfisted arguments like Hal’s.
    The reason Iraq is “worth it” is its strategic and cultural value in the war against militant Islam. While places like Darfur or Zimbabwe may be “worth it” on one scale, Iraq is “worth it” on several scales. We are not fighting Mugabe, a fairly garden-variety totalitarian thug. We are not fighting the janjaweed, a particularly brutal and ugly group of genocidal bastards.
    If only we could be everywhere and right all wrongs! We can’t. We must pick our fights.
    Which brings us to Iraq. Saddam, another totalitarian thug, was flaunting UN resolutions dating to the first gulf war, known to have used WMD on his own people, suspected by virtually all Western intelligence agencies of having on-going WMD programs (BTW, did Hal see we recently transshipped 500+ TONS of yellowcake found in Iraq?) and known to support international terrorism, was a high potential target.
    In addition, the prospect of establishing a US ally in the heart of the historic caliphate, in the heart of Islam, as a modern, oil-rich, democratic counterpoise to the blandishments of a medieval Islam, made Iraq an object desirable far beyond other potential targets for US attention. There were reasons aplenty for deposing Saddam and the potential benefits were enormous. Iraq as a modern, moderate, democratic state is a dagger in the heart of Bin Laden-istic Islam.
    In the times following 9/11, we were not seeking to right the ills of the world, as worthy as that ambition might be, we were seeking to fight the rise of a murderous, jihadistic vision of Islam that had attacked us on our own soil, killed thousands, and openly threatened to destroy us.
    They attacked us and we retaliated in a way that was calculated to attack their psychological center of gravity, as they did to us on 9/11. Sometimes it is is as simple and elemental as that. It boils down to survival and you have to do what you have to do. Iraq was/is a high value target in the long term, strategic approach to the war against Islamo-fascism.
    Just trying to help out the nuance-challenged.

  41. anjin-san says:

    They attacked us

    Who attacked us? Certainly not Iraq. If you are suing “they attacked us” as a measure, we would have been more correct to invade Saudi Arabia…

  42. Michael says:

    Michael, you do a diservice to all those people who risked their lives to vote in an authentic plebiscite to freely elect representatives for the first time in their history when you compare it to the sham elections in which Saddam Hussein routinely received 100% of the vote.

    Perhaps, but I wasn’t out to make the Iraqi people feel good or bad. The fact remains that having an election, even a free and fair election, doesn’t mean they have a democracy.

  43. Bithead says:

    Claiming that we can only depose Saddam if we then depose every other tyrant is a utopian line of thinking.

    It may be somewhat closer to the mark to suggest that it’s a nifty way to set the bar so high that the party of defeat wraps another one up.

  44. Hal says:

    Well, considering that’s not even what I said, I guess you’re just arguing against that strawman burning in your head, Dr. B.

  45. Bithead says:

    A little too close for comfort, huh?

    Not what you said? Whose quote is that, anyway?