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10 February 2007

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Tim

Thank you Ali for your comment, and thank you Col Lang for posting it.

I think this post raises the question: "What are we truth-seeking, republic-loving, Constitution-reading Americans to do in these times?"

I do not serve in the government or the military, and my direct influence over government policy is, shall we say, minimal. I did my part at the ballot box, and was especially proud to have helped elect Jim Webb. Of course in a country of 300 million we as individuals must accept a large measure of powerlessness, but beyond voting for national office every two years, what can a citizen do?

My feeling is to take a cue from Warren Buffett. When he was offered internet-boom Kool Aid, an analagous situation to the 'bubble' of happy fantasy policy of the Bush years, Buffett did nothing. That is, he did nothing different - he kept investing in companies with value, kept doing the things he knew were right and knew would make him successful.

I believe that there is a valuable lesson here that many of us average American citizens could (re)learn. In practical terms, I think a Buffett approach to good citizenship in the Bush era means three pretty basic things.

First, get smart. I'm no professor, but I think reading a few books about the history and culture of the Middle East, perhaps even at the expense of a few hours with Fox News or the Washington Post would help us challenge the Kool-Aid drinkers. One can even supplement this new found knowledge by talking to a few of the millions of citizens and immigrants who might know something first hand about Iran, Iraq, Syria, or North Korea.

Second, it means to realize that our leaders are not divine, not omniscient, and not even necessarily (but hopefully) smarter than us. They are simply fellow citizens with a job to do, and it is our duty to make sure they are doing it. We can learn a lot about this from Britain, where politicians are given the respect they deserve, which can be a great deal or none at all.

Third, as Ali said, we citizens have a bitter pill to swallow indeed - that our country, our ideals, and our reputation as a nation and as individuals have been significantly diminished by this administration. We as citizens were presented with a test, and we failed. I know I did. I 'supported' the war in Iraq (not by actually doing anything tangible of course, but just by telling my friends and family I did), even though I knew better. Yes, there is dishonor in this, but I/we deserve it. That is what a bitter pill means. It's bitter.

The lesson I think is one for the long term. In the long term, I feel that if we as individual citizens learn more, question more, and challenge more, then next time we won't drink the Kool-Aid, and will have the ammunition we need to debate and vote intelligently.

Jay McAnally

"...The truth was evident; they just balked at the bitter pill. It is there that civic courage failed." Ali
Thank you both for a perfectly brilliant reminder of the painfully obvious. (and for the "new" word -- Au fond. I like it!)

Antifa

The odds that historians will record the 2000 and 2004 elections as stolen outright for George Bush are excellent.

This man, his Presidency, and his wars were not and are not supported by over half of the voting public in America.

The only result of Bsh pursuing Iraq further, or pursuing war in Iran, is compounded disaster followed by abrupt impeachment.

Serving Patriot

COL,

Thanks fro promoting the comment! Ali says it all - too bad it cannot be broken out for distribution beyond the blogoshpere.

SP

Leila

Maybe I'm just a cosseted San Francisco liberal (ok Oakland, same thing) but I object to the statement "there was barely a whisper of protest in the US body politic".

Don't you remember all those peace marches every month in the run-up to the war? half a million in San Francisco alone, on three occasions, and there were marches in every major US city and many small ones. Millions did turn out in the USA. And repeatedly, I might add.

Perhaps if Ali writes from abroad and only watched the US media reports, he isn't aware of this. The press tried to downplay it. People were outraged, people took to the streets. Just because our voices were dismissed and denigrated doesn't mean we weren't speaking up.

My father-in-law, an architect and kind of a curmudgeon, got himself to SF from his suburban hideaway to march - he was outraged about Iraq. He's not the sort to go to protest marches at all. I think many who normally don't take to the streets did so in the early months of 2003. We couldn't stop the war but we registered our protest. It's the fault of the media for ignoring it.

lina

"The American voter gave this luckless President a second term and a mandate despite his stubbornly uncorrected blunders. The truth was evident; they just balked at the bitter pill. It is there that civic courage failed." Ali

Out of some 120 million American voters, a paltry 113,000 in the state of Ohio ushered in Bush's second term. Thank you very much. And it wasn't lack of civic courage as much as effective propaganda, the likes of which we've not seen since Herr Goebbels.

The real puzzle here is why Tony Blair ruined his place in history for this folly.

We've seen this movie before:

"The adventure that came to be known as the Second Crusade was another folly. It failed in its undertakings and by its failure added to the presitige of Islam. It came at the wrong time, for the wrong motives, and was led by the wrong people. But it began with high hopes, intense excitement, and a sense of destiny. It was led by two kings. Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany were princes in the grand tradition, possessing gifts of command and organization and a highly developed sense of the operations of governments in their own countries. Once they were outside their own countries, their understanding failed them."

(from Robert Payne's The Dream and The Tomb)

1MaNLan

Very interesting, clear and insightful post. Thank you. Everyone should read this and reflect.

But, I wonder, When Gen. Shinseki asked for a few hundred thousand troops in the run up to the Iraq war (only to get retired early for his troubles)....what was that about? I have read interpretations that he was actually speaking for the "brass", as a way of obliquely warning against the invasion (since, as the thinking goes, we really did not have hundreds of thousands of troops to send). Is this intepretation incorrect or overstated in your view?

Perhaps it is just a question of WHICH brass was for and against (and which side won the argument), but seems to imply that at least a sizeable minority was not for this invasion "thing". Could it be that a sizeable majority was against the invasion, and not sold at all on the geopolitical merits of the gambit? If so, we can draw the lesson that speaking of any country's brass as a monolithic entity, agreeing to go in one direction for one purpose...is going to lead us astray in our attempt to understand. When powerful people after all, even generals, do not agree, their "resistance" can and will come out in all kinds of ways, whether they "toe the line" or not.

Perhaps, like Yamamoto or Lee, the gens, "more or less", decided to go along with the (neocon) program to the best of their ability, since this was their duty. However, I still marvel at the utter lack of post invasion, stabilization plans. To me, this implies a gaping hole in the "planning machine". Sheer incompetence? An outcome of dissention in the ranks with no one takng responsibility, post invasion? It says much, but...exactly what? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Babak Makkinejad

Ali:

US went to war for emotional reasons not rational ones.

Duncan Kinder

Now we have Petraeus and his big brained clique bumped up. Instead of resigning they soldiered on as the brass dallied with big kinetic operations. Finally it looks like they'll be allowed to fight the war in manner they hope could win it. Too late; they know the odds are heavily stacked against them but its their job to go on trying until a merciful POTUS throws in the towel.

The American voter gave this luckless President a second term and a mandate despite his stubbornly uncorrected blunders. The truth was evident; they just balked at the bitter pill. It is there that civic courage failed.


This is a military example of what Thomas Kuhn referred to as a "paradigm shift."

The United States entered the Iraq War governed by the paradigm that high tech "shock and awe" techniques would suffice to win the Iraq war.

A part of this paradigm was that there were no meaningful lessons to have been learnt from Vietnam or - interestingly - the host of other guerrilla insurgencies that nevertheless had enjoyed so much success during the 20th century.

Indeed, there is a case that the United States entered into the Iraq War precisely to prove to itself that Vietnam had no meaning.

(To a remarkable extent, the United States appears to be engaged in an internal struggle against its experience in the 60's rather than an external struggle against some foreign foe, and Iraq just got caught in the crossfire.)

Paradigms take a long time to collapse. Einstein, for example, spent the last half of his career trying to disprove quantum mechanics; and it was fifty years before Cartesians would accept Newtonian physics.

An adoption of a guerilla centric paradigm would have massive implications for American society. For example, I recently have been reading H. John Poole's books. If we were to adopt his approach, then more than just basic training for infantry would have to be changed. Much of his proposed training would have to be begun earlier - during high school or even junior high school. Essentially, if we were to adopt Poole's suggestions, then athletic programs should be revamped, so that ninja type stealth could be developed. Versions of capture the flag or of hide-and-go-seek could accomplish this.

And this would mean a downgrading - or even elimination - of high school football.

Paradigm shifts require this sort of restructuring. So people resist it.

jonst

Leila,

I was thinking the same thing. There were tons of demonstrations. They were ignored or downplayed.

Babak,

Most emphatically, the USA did not GO to war for "emotional reasons". The majority of the people were talked into supporting the war with "emotional" lullaby's. The USA (BushCo and weak Dems) went to war for supremely logical reasons:

1.oil
2.currency concerns (world shifting to Euros for purchase of oil)
3.oil
4.oil
5.tossing red meat to the Rapturists, the End of Days, types, the new heart and soul of the GOP.
6.oil

Chris Marlowe

Most of my background has been in the corporate world, so I look at things in terms of "How does this serve our best interests, and how much will it cost?"

In 2002, it was clear to me that there was no end game to Iraq. Nobody could answer what the desirable outcome would be, and when it would be achieved. This sent off alarm bells in my head.

It may sound funny for someone in the corporate world to call on military officers to resign for a bogus war on moral grounds. After all, what is so moral about the corporate world?

The reason is because officers are responsible for the lives of the men and women under their command. I have made mistakes in business, but no one has had to pay with their lives for my mistakes. War is a much more unforgiving business; people die, and irreparable holes are torn in the lives of the people they leave behind.

This brings us to the issue of occupation. Most occupations begin for good reasons; the occupier brings order to chaos, and freedom to the people. But inevitably, the reasons wear thin, and at the end of the day, the argument is , boiled down to its essence, might makes right. That is why I reject occupation and colonialism as an acceptable form of rule, even though one could make a very cogent argument that most Africans lived better under colonialism in the early 20th century than as independent nations with their own corrupt rulers.

Was Saddam Hussein a bad man, responsible for the deaths of many of his countrymen and women? Yes. But he was not a menace to anyone in early 2003. He was completely boxed in.

I believe that the whole idea of a world economy based on petroleum is a disaster on all levels, and the sooner we change to alternative means of energy, the better. I don't know of a single oil-producing nation where people have benefited significantly from oil revenue; in most cases, it has supported the rise of corrupt oligarchies. In the consumer economies of North America and Europe, and now China and India, we are just beginning to realize the cost in terms of environmental damage and global warming, which will become much worse in the upcoming decades.

It is my belief, that in 100 years, the history books will write about Operation Iraqi Freedom as the last hurrah of Texas-based petroleum oligarchs in their bid to corner, what was at their time, a vital energy resource. I don't think a "war on terror" will even be mentioned.

The only way out for the American people is to make a clean break with the past, and to take a more active role in politics. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance, not just against external threats, but against internal enemies who attempt to corrupt the system. All Americans are responsible for this war because we did not do enough to stop it, and we allowed a corrupt corporate media machine to spin this in the Bush administration's favor.

That is why we need to make a clean break with the past if there is an election in 2008. My dream ticket would be Obama/Webb.

Ali, I must disagree with you when you say "luckless president". The whole problem with George W. Bush is that he has never had to pay for the bad decisions he has made all his life; that is why he has never learned from his mistakes; he didn't need to. The luckless people are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost their families, homes and lives, as well as the thousands of Americans dead and wounded, the vast majority of whom are good and decent people who died for a bad cause.

VietnamVet

Ali and Colonel;

Excellent post it is but imbued with an excess of British rationality. Afghanistan alone would have been long tough haul to establish a democratic western leaning government; a fact documented by the Soviet Union’s failure and America’s Vietnam experience. If rational realists were in charge of the USA, the first Abrams tank would never have crossed the Kuwait border.

Instead, all the human emotions of pride, greed, anger, and fear culminated in the Iraq Invasion to kick some Muslim ass; propelled by Agitprop generated by the Pentagon and the White House, disseminated through Corporate Media and enabled by a GOP Congress.

Will

i had to break down again and use my Systrans translator
au fond= at the bottom
but I blundered into an amazing discovery IT TRANSLATES BACK AND FORTH INTO ARABIC.

here's a sample. Judge the quality for yourself
the recent interview with the Iranian Defense Minister
http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/D76EA8F8-5E62-4A48-8FD3-9D4EE1A3272A.htm

هدد المرشد الأعلى للثورة الإسلامية الإيرانية علي خامنئي بالرد على أي هجوم أميركي بضرب مصالح الولايات المتحدة في أي مكان من العالم.

"The guide threatened high for revolution Islamic the American Iranian on Khameni in the reply on any attack in beating services of the United States in any place from the world.
"

Babak Makkinejad

Jonst:

I disagree.

Many many American officials inside and outside of USG, analysts, savants etc. pointed out to the folly of the Iraqi venture - they mustered many many rational arguments based on considered opinion and experiences of individuals involved with the region in general and Iraq in particular. Their arguments could not persuade the electorate, their representatives, or USG officials of the Bush Administration.

When one disregards multiple and over-lapping rational arguments that are advising against an specific possible course of action by not proffering rebuttals but persists on that course, one is no longer making decisions based on rational reasons - ergo emotional reasons.

Anyway, many people like short and victorious wars - it caresses their collective ego and feeds into that all too common love-hate feeling that we all have with the fellow members of our species
.

D.Witt

Thank you for your post Ali--I believe you have made some good points, but also have glossed over some of your key points: As others here have noted, there were massive demonstrations across the US (I participated in NYC), and there was pushback by those of us who realized that the bait-and-switch was on, using the 'GWOT' as cover for imperial warfare in Iraq.

It cannot be stated enough that the Bush regime has broken many laws, including the Constitution itself, in order to prosecute its war. As Bushco's handmaiden, the Republican National Party committed numerous illegal acts to influence the vote, including key states Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida. Starting with the fact that Bush was appointed POTUS by judicial fiat, leads me to belive that your conclusion is a simplistic toss-off.

To be sure, there are many Americans who believe (or used to) that Iraq presented a real threat to the US, however, this also has to do with the basic psychological makeup of some individuals who are predisposed towards following authority ( see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_Wing_Authoritarianism).

It is a sad fact of life that the 'art' of coercing the public to go along with wars and national adventurism is a highly practiced art, and one that has been around a lot longer than Bush and Cheney--in its essence, the dynamics of the US war in Iraq are very similar to the Spanish-American war, right down to the 'yellow journalism' that stoked support for the war, the demonization of the enemy as a scourge and a threat to the US, and the promise to bring 'freedom and democracy' to our new acquisitions.

This sort of war could be started in any type of government, and perhaps some Americans were falsely cosseted by a belief in our government as provided within the Constitution--the US is in a Constitutional crisis, precipitated by a well-planned attempt to grab and tighten the reins of US power, in an attempt to consolidate an American Empire. However, much like Iraq, there was never a post-conquest plan, both situations were all about grabbing the power as a means to it own end, which is why both situations have ended up on the rocks of reality.

Matthew

Consider another view: Iraq is not a disaster if your goal is to atomize the ME and fuel the American War Economy. I know it's easier to think that people are dumb than it is to think they are evil, particularly, when they speak English and have been elected.

Also consider the alternative. Without war, our politicians have to face the looming Social Security crisis. That's why Iran is doomed.

chimneyswift

Ali, I agree very much with the majority of what you say. However, it is a matter of conspicuous failure on the part of US leadership to ignore the cultural and historical reality of the region and the country.

It has been something of a consciously undertaken challenge on the part of several prominent liberal bloggers to counter the US media-myth that "There was no way one could have anticipated the obstacles we have faced." This is the same point you incidentally reinforce when you write:

"Neither would have had a chance to fully appreciate the nepotistic incompetence and blinkered ideological foolishness of this administration. Au fond it's the rigidity of PNAC dogma that doomed this operation from the start."

This was indeed a huge part of the issue. Just as large a part, however, was the historic background that makes Iraq such a horrible place to attempt to occupy. I agree that the "blinkered ideological foolishness" of the PNACers was almost impossible to anticipate, especially in its magnitude. However, the history is there for anyone with an openness to learning to find. Presumably, anyone planning a complex geopolitical operation would have responsibility to undertake such exploration.

Furthermore, as Chris Marlowe writes:

"In 2002, it was clear to me that there was no end game to Iraq. Nobody could answer what the desirable outcome would be, and when it would be achieved."

All that being said, your points about the duty and likely conduct of a uniformed military are very relevant and they ring true. Thank you for them, and thank you, Col, for bringing them to us.

arbogast

I must raise my voice in loyal opposition.

I believe that Ali is wrong in almost every respect.

What has happened in the US is service to a foreign power by elected officials and members of the press. Of course, none dare call it treason, but I challenge you to find another accurate description.

Rupert Murdoch, Judith Miller, Feith, Wolfowitz, Peretz, Libby, Cheney, Bush, etc. etc.

These are the people who cooked up the Iraq adventure and deceived the American people.

I do not believe there is a historical precedent.

Algeria? Algeria was a long-time colony of France. Thousands upon thousands of French lived in Algeria, were born in Algeria, had spent their lives in Algeria. Almost all Algerians spoke French, and many French spoke Arabic.

Where, in the name of God, is the parallel? There is none.

Oil? It was the United States that was preventing Hussein from exporting oil.

Israel has always wanted American troops to protect it in the Middle East. Now, it has them.

The next step in this master plan is the saturation bombing of Iran. For what? To prevent fictional IED's from entering Iraq? Of course, and pigs can fly.

The entire scenario was planned by people who do not, by the remotest standard, have the best interests of the United States at heart.

Kevin Hayden

I agree with Leila. Unlike the first Gulf War, supported by 86% of the public, this war had 40% opposing it by an American public unconvinced, in spite of the mass media sycophancy blare.

Bush did receive majority blessing once, in 2004, but by less than 2%. If that truly reflected the US, that means less than 156m for and more than 144m against.

I do find that disconcerting just the same, but as we now see, there remains over 90m supportive despite an abundance of evidence of the folly and corruption. Talk about Kool-Aid drinkers!

But then, there are those who still persist in the beliefs that Vietnam was not lost by flawed policymakers, nor that the South lost our own Civil War. It is ideology triumphing over reason that we most have to work on changing.

That's the ultimate test of the odds for a nation advancing: can enough people think instead of succumbing to the lure of unthinking submission to ideologues whose real purpose is repression?

matt

Greetings:

I would like to 'second' a few of the comments above regarding the role of american citizens in sharing the responsibility for this mess. I wholeheartedly agree that ALi's post was observant and onpoint, yet i too feel that it belies a lack of understanding that the locus of Bush's presidency was indeed election fraud in FLA ('00) and Ohio ('04). It is often considered 'bad form' to really go on about this topic - very easily marginalized as some sort of liberal 'crank', but reality is reality. The result of the election system in America can (should) be held responsible - not the voters themselves... It was the result of those events that brought the true believers (wolfowitz, feith, et.al) into their positions of authority.

I was at a professional conference a year ago with many college historians present. I was engaged in a social conversation at an evening cocktail party with one young fellow (adjucnt or assistant professor) who was obviously reading Mann's "Rise of the Vulcans" and quoting from it at length. (also citing at length natan sharanky's recent book). I found myself in a real disagreement with him and the "Trump Card" of his argument with me went along the lines of "well, look - elections have consequences..." (How many times did we hear william Kristol utter that banality on Faux News Sunday?)

It was at that point in our coversation that i said, "yes, indeed. They certainly do! So let's talk about how this president basically stole the presidency in 2000.

Silence. Followed by the slightly arrogant head shake that nonverbally announces "we've reached the end of this conversation."

Exceedingly small consolation, but i think that history will treat the manner in which this "cabal" came into power as a significant part of the story. A part of the story that i feel Ali minimizes.

thanks. love the blog !

Eaken

Tim - Thank you for the nice thoughts, but you are preaching to the choir.

Leila - Thanks to you and your father-in-law for protesting.

Chris Marlowe - I agree with you regarding the "luckless president" comment. The first thing that popped into my head upon reading that sentence is how lucky Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the NGO and SIGs are to be leading (I use this term loosely) a country which would vote them into office not once, but twice!

This is not about luck and all about wishful thinking. They are two very different and distinct things.

Bob Gaines

This is a splendid example of the comments being more insightful than Ali's post, good and useful as it is.

Ali's cynicism about generals may be warranted, but it is certainly a sad commentary on those who make it to the top of the profession. I wonder if he would be quite so sanguine if he or his children were facing death because of their commanders' moral cowardice and calculation.

Ali is simply wrong to assert that "there was barely a whisper of protest in the US body politic" before the war began. (It was different, of course, once the "rally round the troops" effect took hold.)

As Leila pointed out, there were many demonstrations in the US, beginning in the fall of 2002. Over half a million turned out in NY City on February 15, 2003, joining with protests around the world that day. (Here's a useful compilation of pictures of the world-wide protests from 2002 to 2005: http://tinyurl.com/37tmjo)

And many Americans wanted to avoid a war. A September 2002 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes* found: "In the current debate about whether America's goal should be to seek to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction or to achieve regime change the public comes down on the side of disarmament. Asked to choose between two arguments 68 percent chose the one that said that "If Iraq allows the UN to conduct unrestricted inspections, the U.S. should agree to not invade Iraq.""

Even after the Administration's mendacious 6-month campaign to promote the war, the Gallup poll on the eve of the invasion found that only 56% approved of the way the president was "handling the situation in Iraq." (Not surprisingly, approval jumped to 71% a week later.)

*Program on International Policy Attitudes: A joint Program of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland
http://www.pipa.org/

Cloned Poster

Will, can you think about your post and post it again.

zanzibar

In defense of those that opposed the strategic blunder called Iraq occupation despite the intense attack of lacking courage, patriotism and appeasing the enemy.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 was opposed by 133 Representatives in the House and 23 Senators. These representatives of the American people showed real judgement and demonstrated real courage.

Even at the peak of the hysteria in late 2002 over 35% of the American public in polls opposed the invasion.

Several prominent ex-General Officers in the military, diplomats, military analysts/strategists and political leaders warned about the folly and predicted the outcomes. Many citizens voiced their opposition by marching, writing letters to editors and their representatives and making their voices heard by other means.

Of course to no avail. There never was unanimity nor overwhelming public support here in the US for this folly. But the corporate media shilling for themselves and the military-industrial-media complex amplified the war propaganda for private gain.

Now we know that the Decider and his "rasputin" were hell bent on using US military power to show who was boss around the world egged on by the neo-cons and the American Likudniks who dominated this Administration's national security policy apparatus. We also know that it is highly unlikely anyone will be held to account for the treasonous act of deliberately cherry picking intelligence and misleading the country into attacking a sovereign nation that posed no direct threat to the US which has now cost America so dearly in blood, treasure and international credibility. And destroyed the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqis. As citizens we should reward those politicians that demonstrated good judgment in the face of intense personal pressure and punish those who were feckless or had poor judgment for the most critical decision to commit lives to danger.

Pudentilla

Let us not forget the role the corporate spokesmen...oops, I mean media, played in the 2000 and 2004 election. There's plenty

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