Paging Dr. Kissinger

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Since I seem to be about the only one posting these days, I’ll fill the dead airtime by disagreeing with many Democrats and, according to the polls, a majority of Americans.

We should not withdraw from Iraq. It was a mistake to go in. It was an obvious mistake. It was boneheaded and willful and pre-ordained. But Congress closed its eyes and supported it. The media closed its eyes and supported it. The American people closed their eyes and supported it. So now we’re in it, there’s no changing that, and we can’t just throw up our hands and walk away because it’s turned into the mess we all should have known it would be in the first place.

Napoleon once said, “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” In other words, don’t try, don’t give it a good effort, don’t go half way: do it. I don’t think there’s any way we can take this particular Vienna; that is, I don’t think we can win, at least not in the terms laid out by the Bush administration. The residents of Iraq will never — in any of our lifetimes, at least — like us. They aren’t going to thank us for trying to share our infidel god’s blessing, democracy. That’s because Iraq is not going to be a democracy — a shining example in the heart of the Middle East. It’s going to be what it has become: the heart of the long blood feud between Sunnis and Shia. And that’s what it’s going to be until a person or government sufficiently repressive comes along to put a stop to it. (See, e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and pre-war Iraq.)

That can’t be us. For us, Iraq is now about saving what face we can. The “solution” is not to withdraw; it’s to draft and re-invade. Massively. To carpet the country with so much military force and so many soldiers that the insurrectionists and civil warriors (I think what’s happening in Iraq now is both an insurrection and a civil war, two simultaneous wars) can’t breathe. To what end? To demonstrate that, sufficiently roused, we can. They aren’t going to like us; we should at least make sure they respect what we’re capable of. Right now they don’t, and why would they? Having foolishly set out to take a Vienna that was never there to be taken, we have to at least demonstrate the ability to make it miserable if we wanted to. Then get out and flood the place with all the humanitarian aid we can afford. Make war — not half-assed, but with a will — then make peace with a will.

It stinks. But I don’t see that we have (or ever had) any other choice, once having invaded. It was a horrible, unbelievably naive (or cynical) and sophomoric idea. But the withdrawal that should happen in response is not to withdraw the troops from Iraq. It’s to withdraw the fools who put them there.

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27 Responses to “Paging Dr. Kissinger”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    The name of this post refers to the fact that what I propose is much the same as what Kissinger and Nixon were trying to do in Vietnam. It was, of course, a bad idea and a bloody failure.

    Here’s the difference between North Vietnam and our enemies in Iraq: North Vietnam was never going to attack us. They had no interest in us, per se. There was no need to make a point before we left. We didn’t need the NVA to respect what we could do. All they cared about was Vietnam; they just wanted us (and the French and any other possible colonizers) out. Once we left, the fight would be (and was) over.

    That is not the case with the enemies we face in Iraq. Unlike the Vietnamese, these folks have larger ambitions, believe in violence as a good, and live by the feud. (All of which are equally true of many fundamentalist Christians, btw.) It’s important that we leave them with a healthy respect for us as an enemy.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Why is it important that they respect us? I’m not sure that should be a priority. I’m not sure more force would make that happen anyway.

    I’m not for an outright withdrawal either, and I have no suggestions. But I’m not sure why I should care if Iraq respects the US.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m not referring to Iraq. In all but name, there is no Iraq right now. I’m referring to the enemies we’re currently fighting in what used to be Iraq — the Sunni and Shia extremists, who extend across the entire Muslim world.

    And we don’t need them to respect us personally. We need them to respect our will and capabilities as an enemy. Be wary of us. I don’t think it’s possible to make religious zealots like these fear you; they will willingly risk death, torture, or imprisonment in exchange for an express ticket to paradise. But it is possible to make them respect you as an enemy; to demonstrate to them that even if they blow themselves up in our midst and go directly to paradise, they won’t have thereby accomplished anything in this world. They may be better off, personally, in paradise, but the children and grandchildren they leave behind won’t be. The world won’t be any closer to Arab or Muslim rule, any closer to a caliphate, because America has as much strength of will as they do, and therefore their death, personally redemptive though it may have been, was futile. They don’t blow themselves up to get to paradise, after all. They do it because they believe they’re advancing their cause by doing so. We have to make them doubt that.

    If we don’t instill in them the belief that we’re the kind of enemy who, when it wants to, has the willpower and endurance and strength to withstand that kind of brutality without giving an inch, batten down the hatches. Because then they won’t just hate us, they’ll have contempt for us.

    Getting them not to hate us is a long-term project. In the meantime, we have to make them at least respect us.

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Very interesting thoughts.

    My initial reaction is that your thesis is good, but that in short we aren’t respectable people right now.

    You say we “have to” make them respect us, which of course isn’t true. Especially because we “won’t” do it. On your side of the argument, though it makes sense, it isn’t politically viable right now, so it won’t happen.

    I’d argue the other side of the coin as an option, too, that we could earn respect by confessing our “sins” (if you will), begging forgiveness that our foreign policy is dictated by self-interest and not the good of mankind, etc. Not politically viable either. Won’t happen.

    So how do we live with a mess where the best options won’t be pursued? What is a politically viable option in Iraq? I’ll admit that yours is a whole lot more viable than saying we’re sorry, but I don’t think it is a real option to either side of the power coin in the United States of America either.

  5. DeJon Redd Says:

    Just wanted to chime in and agree with JU’s opinion re: the idea of invading in the first place.

    [I’ll admit I found myself nodding a regretful head in agreement with Kevin Tillman when I read his opinion yesterday.]

    However, I’m selling JU’s suggestions for future action. It sounds to me like Juvenal supports a course of action along the lines of … “if it doesn’t work, get a bigger hammer and make it work.”

    I’m convinced that our “might makes right” philosophy in the middle East is producing catastrophic results internationally both in our bilateral relationships, and collectively as a global neighborhood.

    What am I talking about? ref: N. Korean, Hugo Chavez, Iran, our vulnerability to the burgeoning Chinese economony, European anti-American sentiment … the harvest from our actions is a bit disconcerting.

    I’ll admit Iraq is not a direct cause of most of the above list. But its hard to underestimate how much of a resource and credibility drain it has become…

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Okay, Knights Who Say Nay. We can’t do what we’re doing now, clearly, and we can’t just walk away. (Or can we?) So what do we do?

  7. DeJon Redd Says:

    That is the ultimate question … “What do we do now?!”

    Nixon’s Vietnamization sounds like a similiar variation to Al’s suggestion — minus the repentence (Al is such a preacher…)

    JU, your point is well taken about the difference between Vietnam and Iraq. The violent resisters in Iraq are more likely to wind up among us. But like I said, our current course of action is a greater motivator for their cause.

    When we left Vietnam, the result was bloody enough. And a U.S. pullout from Iraq would probably be even more so. But the alternative of staying does no one any good, especially the U.S.

    The threat of the great Muslim caliphate will still exist, but the U.S. can not use might to defeat that threat alone.

    I see our options like this…
    1) Allow our stubborn pride to exascerbate the problem and lead to more dead G.I.’s and more dead Iraqi civilians… All the while emboldening the enemy’s resolve to fight the U.S. for generations to come.

    2) Leave and employ other means in the fight. Maybe the next administration will know how to spell diplomacy.

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    But the alternative of staying does no one any good

    but the U.S. can not use might to defeat that threat alone

    Good points, but I didn’t propose staying or using might to defeat the threat. I proposed demonstrating that we at least have might, then getting out and using a flood of humanitarian aid to make peace.

  9. Michael Lasley Says:

    Maybe an indirect approach would be something productive. Starting to do more humanitarian work in countries with a large Muslim population. Iraq, yes, but others as well. Try to diffuse the situation from a different angle.

  10. DeJon Redd Says:

    I’d support the esteemed Prof. Lasey’s idea over any other I’ve heard. As a federally sponsored initiative, I think it would go along way in fixing what we’ve messed up so far.

    IMO this type of action would demonstrate that we have resolve in an even stronger fashion than persistent military action. American’s would still die at the hands of the blood-thirsty. I would just prefer they die digging wells for the indigent versus patrolling the streets with large rifles.

    Too bad its a nice pipe dream.

  11. Michael Lasley Says:

    Thanks Dejon — I know it’s a dream. I like to dream.

  12. juvenal_urbino Says:

    A Marshall Plan for the Middle East, IOW?

    What Americans would be digging these wells and getting killed? Are we talking military personnel, or more of an NGO, Peace Corps, etc., kind of a thing?

  13. DeJon Redd Says:

    Well now your questions come dangerously close to the realm of reality.

    But what do you think JU? The Peace Corps seems to be a good place to start. Their current budget of $370M would make it difficult to get the job done, but if you divert just a fraction of the DoD’s $419.3B budget I bet we could get the ball rolling.

  14. Michael Lasley Says:

    Peace Corps would be a good place to start. I’m not sure they have the people power to do it, but money might change that. I wouldn’t be opposed to the military doing this, either. Not a large outfit with heavy weaponery, but smaller groups of soldiers with resources. They don’t even have to dress like soldiers, if that’s what’d get us in trouble (a military presence sometimes pisses people off).

    Of course, this’ll never happen — not from a governmental level.

  15. juvenal_urbino Says:

    My concern would be how the country will react when these young Peace Corps volunteers start disappearing, showing up 3 days later in a videotaped beheading. Or how many people are going to volunteer to go.

    If you send military personnel of any kind, they’re going to be used as a pretext for the same kind of steadily increasing internecine violence we’ve seen in Iraq. Wherever our military goes in the Middle East, Sunni-Shia violence in that country is going to surge. Don’t you think? I’d think the gov’ts in most Muslim countries are going to say thanks but no thanks to an offer of that kind of help.

  16. Michael Lasley Says:

    You may well be right on both counts — the Peace Corps and the military. So maybe don’t start in the M.East. Offer it there — if it’s turned down, go somewhere else. If countries can see, somehow, that there is something behind the offer, they would likely view it differently.

    I think the US needs to start offering more — and more than just money (as we often back out of those comittments — plus, our commitments are relatively small in relation to what other countries give per capita). And since I’m mostly just dreaming here, I think it’d be nice to see our military do things other than just fight — they have lots of training in things other than fighting that could be used for things other than fighting.

  17. Al Sturgeon Says:

    The Redd-Lasley Plan would make us look like an abusive spouse: bringing home flowers after the last beating. (i.e. “Honey, I love you even though I beat you up when I feel like it, I really do.”)

    The Urbino Plan makes us look like an abusive spouse who’s chilled out (i.e. “I could’ve beaten you up again, but I’ve decided not to do so anymore.”)

    The Sturgeon Plan makes us look like an abusive spouse who has entered a 12-step program (i.e. “Hello, my name is Uncle Sam, and I’m a self-aholic.” “Hi Uncle Sam!”)

    No point. Just observing…

  18. Terry Austin Says:

    I say we give them what makes America great: McDonalds, WalMart, Starbucks, Krisy Kreme (or Dunkin Donuts), etc. Some sort of franchise on every corner. A McNugget in every bunker, this is my rallying cry!

    That will display our kindness and commitment to nation-building, and should a worker from one of these places turn up missing, well, who cares as long as the coffee is still hot? That’s the way we do things in America, baby.

  19. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Doughnuts. Is there anything they can’t do?

    If countries can see, somehow, that there is something behind the offer, they would likely view it differently.

    I don’t think so. The problem isn’t our sincerity, or their perception of our sincerity. It’s that no matter what our intentions, our enemies in the M-E will use the presence of American forces on Muslim soil as a pretext for violence. So even if the gov’ts of those countries believe our offers of help are sincere, they are likely to decline; the trouble our presence would cause would outweigh the benefit. Or so it seems to me, anyway.

  20. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I see your point, Al, but I don’t think the abused spouse analogy is quite apt, in this case. It would’ve fit Vietnam much better. In this case, if we leave, the abusee is going to come looking for us. It’s more of a “Fatal Attraction” sitchy-ation.

  21. Michael Lasley Says:

    JU — that’s why maybe we should just start somewheres else. Lots of places in the world needing water and medicine. And doughnuts. And hot coffee. And even if our heart’s not in the right place, even if we’re helping countries just so they’ll like us more, whatever. Everyone could still benefit from it. We’d have allies in countries that aren’t as economically developed. Countries that could pretty easily turn into the enemies training ground.

    Al — hadn’t thought of that, but that’s probably true. But I still think there’s some value in completely changing our strategy. Our current military strategy isn’t going as planned. So it’s kind of one of those situations where you have to completely rethink the strategy. Adjust the expected outcomes.

  22. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m all for our doing more to help the po’ people in the world, but I don’t see how that’s an exit strategy in Iraq, especially if the Iraqis aren’t among the po’ people we can help.

    What’re you drivin’ at, Big Dan?

  23. Michael Lasley Says:

    I guess what I’m driving at is sense Iraq is supposedly part of a larger war, we could start rethinking how to fight the larger war. Now, that doesn’t relate directly to Iraq. My dreaming lost sight of the original post. Apologies.

    But if we’re talking about finding some way to battle the Muslim Fundamentalists and factions and people who hate the US or each other, I think working with them to build something (maybe start with something smaller than a democracy, like a hospital) would be a good approach. It just might take some practice on our part in another country first, one with fewer enemies in it. Is that making any more sense? It’s fine if it isn’t. I’m really just making this up as I go. It wasn’t a well thought out strategy.

  24. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I get it, now. As a practical matter, though, do you think we, at this point, could get Muslim Fundamentalists anywhere to work with us on anything, even building a hospital?

    I’m on the fence about it, myself. It’s hard to imagine it happening, but there might be somebody somewhere. In Africa, maybe. Or India or Indonesia. If one of those gov’ts agreed to it, which I’m still pessimistic about.

  25. Michael Lasley Says:

    The scenario I’ve been talking about — yeah, I don’t think it’s all that practical. I just like it. As for Fudamentalist Muslims going along with it…I don’t know. I really only know about the zealots who we see on tv. I honestly don’t know how representative they are. I really am shamefully ignorant of all things Islamic. But at least it’d be a talking point with them other than whatever we’re talking with them about right now. Which just ain’t working.

    And since Africa is a potential hotbed for terrorist training, I’d think it’d be very wise to do more with nations on that continent.

    Sorry for getting away from your original idea for the post. You were talking more immediate plans for a solution in the country formerly known as Iraq; I somehow got sidetracked into a more long-term approach to fighting terrorism. Or something.

  26. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Meh. It’s all related. And we do need a strategy for the broader goal of getting people not to hate us quite so much. Something better than sending Karen Hughes over there to do a little soft-shoe number.

  27. juvenal_urbino Says:

    A related story.

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