Tag Archives: iraq

Before we start a new war with ISIS, let’s remember how we stumbled into the last two

Summary: As we gear up for new wars in Syria and Africa, and rejoining old wars in Iraq, let’s a pause to think. Success will depend on learning from our failures since 9-11. Our greatest failures have been our initial failures: seeing the situation incorrectly and beginning before we have accurate information about our foe. The combination creates almost insurmountable barriers to success, barriers that we construct. We can do better.

Learn from mistakes

Contents

  1. Familiar bad news about our new wars
  2. Reminders from the past
  3. We’re winning! Like always.
  4. Let’s remember the great advice we need the most
  5. For More Information

(1)  Familiar bad news about our new wars

It’s become the one of the two standard themes for the starts of our wars: US intelligence tells us that we know little about our enemies. As Eli Lake explains in “ISIS Baffling U.S. Intelligence Agencies“, The Daily Beast, 14 August 2014 — “It’s been two months since ISIS took over Iraq’s second-largest city. But U.S. analysts are still trying to figure out how big the group is and the real identities of its leaders.” Excerpt:

The U.S. intelligence community is still trying to answer basic questions about the jihadists who tried to wipe out Iraq’s remaining Yazidis and who now threaten to overrun the capital of the country’s Kurdish provinces.

In a briefing for reporters Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said the government is re-evaluating an estimate from early this year that said the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had only 10,000 members. These officials also said intelligence analysts were still trying to determine the real names of many of the group’s leaders …

While many U.S. officials have warned publicly in the last year about the dangers posed by ISIS, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community lacks a consensus estimate on its size and the true identities of the group’s leadership may explain why President Obama over the weekend said the U.S. was caught off-guard by the ISIS advance into Kurdish territory.

{the usual fear-mongering follows, presented as analysis}

The second theme which marks the start of our wars: errors and outright lies about the wars. The sinking of the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, Saddam’s WMDs and alliance with al Qaeda, and Afghanistan’s key role in 9-11. Let’s hope that what we are told about our enemies in this new phase of the Long War is more accurate than what we’ve been told so far.

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The nation responsible for the record high oil prices we pay is …

Summary:  Why are oil prices so high? After inflation they’re above 1980 record highs. Peak oil enthusiasts have explanations (usually wrong, like their forecasts). There are many factors at work, including one simple but hidden reason: American foreign policy. The USA has played a large role in the suppression of oil production in three major oil producers, including two nations with some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves — and having the greatest potential for increased production. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that we’ve intervened in three oil producing nations, and high oil prices are an accidental by-product of our good intentions.

America & Oil

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Contents

  1. Iran
  2. Iraq
  3. Libya
  4. Another perspective
  5. For More Information

(1)  Iran

After a long history of interference in Iran’s government, we initiated an ever-tightening and broadening array of sanctions on Iran after the 1979 revolution — continuing until today. See a list here; Wikipedia has details on US sanctions and the UN sanctions the US promoted. For analysis see the Council on Foreign Relations and the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

For analysis of sanctions impact on Iran’s oil industry see this USIP report: part one and part two. They’re working. Iran produced 6 million barrels/day of oil in 1974.  In July their exports hit a five-month high of 600 thousand b/day.

Iran has vast untapped reserves. See the EIA’s report on Iran.  From the EIA:
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Iran's oil production

EIA, 10 December 2013

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(2)  Iraq

Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, in August 1990 the UN imposed a broad array of financial and trade sanctions on Iraq, which lasted until the US invasion and subsequent destabilization of Iraq.

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After 13 years of failed wars, do we know our warmongers?

Summary:  After 13 years of wars that failed at great cost in money and blood, our hawks urge that we start yet another war — in Syria. But we have learned. Some have found the courage to name our warmongers. This experience has been dearly bought, and might yet prove insufficient. Further lessons might prove even more expensive.

The War on Peace

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Don’t Fight in Iraq and Ignore Syria“, Anne-Marie Slaughter, op-ed in the New York Times, 17 June 2014  — That she sings this is unsurprising. That so many still listen is sad, an astonishing Failure To Learn.

Opening:

For the last two years, many people in the foreign policy community, myself included, have argued repeatedly for the use of force in Syria — to no avail. We have been pilloried as warmongers and targeted, by none other than President Obama, as people who do not understand that force is not the solution to every question. A wiser course, he argued at West Point, is to use force only in defense of America’s vital interests. …

Slaughter is a foreign policy insider , served under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as director of policy planning at the State Department (2009–11), and is now CEO of the New America Foundation (bio here). She was one of the major advocates of our disastrous intervention in Libya.

On the other hand after 13 years of futile war there is progress. Acknowledging the obvious truth is the first step to reconnecting with reality: “A Warmonger By Any Other Name“, Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, 18 June 2014 — Opening:

It’s a little strange that Slaughter opens with these lines.

  1. She has been a consistent supporter of using force in foreign conflicts, which is how she has earned a reputation for always being in favor of military action.
  2. Not only has she supported intervention time after time, but she has been an outspoken and vocal advocate for these views.
  3. She is notable among Syria hawks for having made some of the most outlandish arguments in favor of bombing Syria.

No doubt she has argued for more aggressive policies because she believes them to be preferable to the status quo or any other alternatives, but that is exactly why she doesn’t get to complain when critics point out the problems with her consistent hawkishness and advocacy for military action. Slaughter is one of the liberal hawks that made a point of celebrating the Libyan war as a success and as vindication for their interventionist instincts. As far as I know, she has never faced up to the negative consequences of the Libyan war on Libya or the surrounding region, nor has she applied any of the lessons that might have been learned from the Libyan intervention to her arguments on Syria.

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Examples of blind allegiance to tribal truths, keeping us weak & ignorant

Summary: Truth has become a tribal thing in America. Scores of posts have documented this on the Right and Left. Today we have two fun examples by the Left, with sublime but blind confidence in their tribe’s truths. Our tribalism divides us, making us weak. Our blinders keep us ignorant. The combination probably makes reform impossible for America.

Spirit Of Truth

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Contents

  1. Matthew Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama
  2. Tribal truths about climate vs George Will
  3. For More Information

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(1)  Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama (blindly)

An analysis by Matthew Yglesias  VOX, 16 June 2014 — Excerpt:

The US military is the finest military in the world, the sharp spear of the mightiest empire in human history. But the considerable virtues of America’s fighting forces do not give it any particular expertise in micro-managing Afghanistan politics.

And the fundamentals in Afghanistan have simply never been very good for a peaceful and democratic settlement. The country is not only divided between sectarian groups, but sandwiched between two rival regional powers … and neither power having any particular interest in democracy and pluralism. Throw in the well-known phenomenon of the resource curse and the country’s lack of stable institutions, and you’ve got a recipe for problems, problems that a bunch of heavily armed young people — no matter how well-intentioned or well-led — are not capable of solving.

This is a searing indictment of Obama’s war policy. During the 2008 campaign he advocated boosting the war effort in Afghanistan, despite 7 years of futile but expensive effort. Which he did starting in early 2009. Now our failure is obvious to all who look (although many prefer to see with closed eyes).

Surprise! This was in fact a defense of Obama, and by implication an attack on Bush Jr, titled “The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave“. In this excerpt Afghanistan was swapped for Iraq, and resources for oil. Yglesias writes it with no sign of awareness that his logic defending Obama’s Iraq withdrawal also condemns Obama’s Afghanistan surge.

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Choose to follow those who were right about our wars, or those who were wrong

Summary: Each major decision point for a great nation is an intelligence test of its people. As is the decision to re-involve ourselves in Iraq. The architects of the failed war urge action, based on the usual threat inflation. Those who correctly forecast its futility urge caution. Have we learned anything from our long failed War on Terror?

This is a follow-up to Will lies shape our actions in the last chapter of our war in Iraq?, 13 June 2014
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Bloody Shirt

“Waving the bloody shirt” refers to the practice of politicians invoking the blood of heroes to criticize opponents. It’s a manipulative form of propaganda, used on emotionally driven mobs.  As in “Julius Caesar” Act III, Scene 2

You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it …

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Two thousand years later it is used against us: “Iraq veteran: This is not what my friends fought and died for“, John Nagl, op-ed in the Washington Post, 11 June 2014 — Excerpt:

For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize — watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.

… We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

The Post describes Nagl: “a veteran of both Iraq wars, is the headmaster of The Haverford School and author of the forthcoming Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War.” That is coy, even misleading. He was no simple soldier fighting our wars. Nagl was one of the architects of our wars (see his bio in Wikipedia).

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The best way to celebrate the 11-year anniversary of our Expedition to Iraq

Summary: On the 11th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, let’s remember who was right, who was wrong, and the consequences of our actions. Our amnesia about these things prevents us from learning. It keeps us weak and easily led. It’s unworthy of a free people, and makes effective self-government impossible. Let’s honor those who sacrificed their lives for this nation in Iraq by learning from that war.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, no known source (perhaps apocryphal)

Operation Iraqi Freedom

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That our actions were both wrong and unwise was quite obvious at the time. For evidence see these articles from the 19 March 2002 issue of The Republic, powerfully summarized by Katrina vanden Heuvel (Editor and Publisher) in “This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Horrific Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq“, 14 March 2014. It deserves your attention.

We should regard those writers with respect for going against the belligerent madness that held both Right and Left in its grip during those days, a mental fire skillfully fed by the senior officials of the Bush Jr team. Their articles read today as prophetic, although they were mostly statements of the obvious overlaid on sound journalism.

Building on their accurate predictions — and coverage since then — they summarize the results of our invasion and occupation (too mildly, in my opinion): “Iraq: Revisiting the Pottery Barn Rule“, John Feffer, The Nation, 27 January 2014 — Excerpt:

You might remember Powell’s famous quip about Pottery Barn. In his advice to President George W. Bush before the Iraq invasion, Powell warned the president of the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. The United States would be responsible, Powell implied, for whatever wreckage the military incurred in its headlong dash to unseat Saddam Hussein.

Pottery Barn actually has no such a rule, and it was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who “made up the whole thing.” But Powell, who apologized to Pottery Barn, still embraces the message.

“We were essentially the new government until a government could be put in place,” he told David Samuels in The Atlantic. “And in the second phase of this conflict, which was beginning after the statue fell, we made serious mistakes in not acting like a government. One, maintaining order. Two, keeping people from destroying their own property. Three, not having in place security forces — either ours or theirs or a combination of the two to keep order.”

We did none of those things, and Iraq, as a result, is broken. Nor has the United States made much effort to own it—that is, to own up to our responsibility for breaking the country. We gave up trying to sweep up the pieces. At this stage, all we do is take photographs of the damage, putting them in the newspaper accompanied by descriptions of the carnage. We mull over the consequences. We hope that our chickens don’t come home to roost.

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The best response when hearing about Benghazi

Summary: Recommendation: when you see someone ranting about Benghazi Benghazi BENGHAZI, ask why they are more concerned with the few dead in that incident than our troops pointlessly fighting now in Afghanistan. If he has no good answer, but continues to rant about Benghazi, spit on him. Or rather, tell them they deserve to be spit at (if this were a just world).

Learn

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Our troops fought and suffered in Iraq — 32 thousand injured or crippled, 4,489 died.

Our troops fight today in Afghanistan, still paying in blood for our mad foreign policy.

Most of the people (not all) seeking to exploit the few deaths in Benghazi either did not care about the toll those men or women paid — or cheered the war despite the toll, despite its obvious stupidity, as seen in the total failure of either war to produce significant gains for America. And they care nothing for the ongoing waste of lives in Afghanistan.

Lives of men and women spent carelessly, like bullets fired into the air by cowboys drunk on the strength.

Nothing shows our ovine nature like the passivity with which we allowed our leaders to led us into those war, enterprises both decked with lies, executed from start to finish incompetently. No wonder the 1% regard us with contempt, and believe that they can govern America better than we do.

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