Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bush's War

President Obama seems to have no good options for dealing with the situation in Iraq.

John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker:

But, given the huge investment of manpower, money, and prestige that the United States has invested in the country over the past decade, it would be a brave or foolhardy President who’d simply step aside and watch the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham overrun Baghdad.

One cringes at Cassidy’s redefinition of bravery, but in truth Obama seems to believe that he does not really have to do very much about the darkness that is descending on Iraq. Much of the nation and especially the cognoscenti have already labeled Iraq: Bush’s War.

By that narrative, anything bad that happens in Iraq is the fault of the Bush administration. If he is listening to his enablers in the media Obama can just stand aside and watch Bush’s reputation get destroyed again.

Clearly, the Bush administration made mistakes in its conduct of the Iraq War. David Goldman, for example, noted that it was David Petraeus, no less who helped arm the Sunni militias that have now become part of the Islamist insurgency against the government of Nouri el-Maliki.

Point taken.

It would also be useful to imagine a scenario where the Bush-ordered “surge” had not taken place, or had taken place differently.

Effectively, this is historical analysis by counterfactuals. Cassidy too offers his own series of counterfactuals.

Beginning with this:

If Bush had not led the nation into war in Iraq we would not be facing the situation we are facing today.

If, in the aftermath of the invasion, Paul Bremer had not decided to disband the Iraqi military, we would not be in the quandary we are in today.

Cassidy adds:

If, in addition, Bremer and Rumsfeld had ordered enough U.S. troops onto the streets to preserve order, then Iraq might (and it’s only a might) have held together peacefully instead of degenerating into sectarianism, anarchy, and violence.

And also:

If Prime Minister Maliki, whom the United States eventually settled on as its favored Iraqi leader, had made a serious effort to reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds, rather than acting like a sectarian ward heeler, the departure of U.S. forces might not have created the political stalemate and institutional power vacuum that the jihadis, first in Anbar Province and now in Nineveh and Saladin, have exploited.

Of course, it is also true that we wouldn’t be having all of these problems if the British had not created modern Iraq after World War I. This means that we would have been facing different problems. For better or for worse, who knows?

Counterfactuals are very tricky.

Adding to his “what ifs” Cassidy notes some of the missteps and miscalculations of the Obama administration. They have often been noted, on this blog and elsewhere. There is no need to repeat them.

Cassidy is reasonably fair and balanced, but he wants to deflect blame from Barack Obama. He is not as fervent an Obamaphile as Frank Rich, but still, he is helping to form a prevailing narrative about the events in Iraq.

That narrative demonstrates clearly that Iraq was Bush’s war. He does not consider the other counterfactual: what would have happened if there had been no Iraq war?

Cassidy, among others, insists that the American public wanted out of Iraq and does not want to return to it.

He does not mention that the invasion of Iraq was America’s invasion, not Bush’s invasion. The American public was in favor of it, the United States Congress approved of it, so, anyone who treats it as Bush’s war is trying to exculpate the current president.

While George Bush has been notably silent about events in Iraq, Tony Blair offered his opinion today. Like it or not, Blair has exposed the difficulty with doing historical analysis through counterfactuals.

What if, Blair argues, America and Britain had not invaded Iraq and overthrown Saddam Hussein?

As reported by the Daily Mail:

Mr Blair hit back at critics who say false claims that Saddam had deadly chemical weapons fatally undermined the Blair-Bush justification for the Iraq War. Turning the argument on its head, he said it was essential to picture Iraq with Saddam still in power: he had used chemical weapons before and would have done so again.

And, confronted by the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, Saddam would have provoked ‘a full-blown sectarian war across the region with national armies’. ‘We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that “we” have caused this – we haven’t,’ said Mr Blair.

Analysis via counterfactuals is never easy. After all, you cannot prove or disprove the assertions by referring to facts. There seems always to be more than one “might have been.”

Let’s imagine that Obama, like his cheerleaders, believes that Iraq is Bush’s war. It would explain his apparent disinterest, his insouciance over what happens in Iraq. He is acting as though a bad outcome in Iraq will work to his political advantage.  Why should he try to intervene to save Bush’s legacy or to make it look as though Bush had had the right policy?

It is altogether possible that civil war in Iraq will make the war doves feel that they are right. It is altogether possible that they see it as a political boon.

By all appearances, Obama does not see the Iraq war as America’s war. He certainly does not see it as his war, even though, since he is the POTUS, not just the president of the anti-war left, it is.

Obama sees Iraq as a mistake, not as America’s mistake but as Bush’s mistake. He has pursued a policy of complete withdrawal since he believes that that is the best way to undo the damage that Bush wrought.

Of course, this is divisive. It assumes the existence of two Americas, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. If, as recent polls suggested, America is more divided politically than it has ever been, the reason must lie in the leadership, or lack of same, exercised by the president.

So, Obama is gambling that the American public can be persuaded to see Iraq as Bush’s problem. And yet, President Barack Obama has conducted Iraq policy for more than five years. He might not have liked inheriting the situation in Iraq; he might have felt that it would be bad politically for Iraq to be a success; he might have wanted to do what he would have done if he had been president in 2003—not intervene.

But he sought the office. He insisted that he knew better how to conduct foreign policy. If he cannot accept responsibility for his own actions and his own failure, then that defines him more than it defines George Bush.

[Addendum: I just came across these words by Jonah Goldberg. They are very much on point:

Barack Obama, on the other hand, believed the Iraq war was a mistake from day one and that conviction informed every foreign-policy decision he has made since. He has said, insinuated, implied, hinted, and shouted as much almost every day of his presidency. So invested in the Iraq war being a mistake — and so invested in received opinion celebrating his foresight — he has not merely acted on the reasonable view it was a mistake, he appears to have done everything he can to make sure it is remembered as a mistake for all time. The Left wanted the Iraq war to be Vietnam, and Barack Obama has given them what they wanted. All that’s missing now are the images of Americans clinging to helicopters.]


Ares Olympus said...

What a load of nonsense. This isn't about blame.

In economics there's a fallacy called "sunk costs" which means if your ego is involved, and you refuse to made a hard decision because you've already invested so much in it. Sunk costs is a liability of ego, rather than a weakness of someone who doesn't have the same ego investment.

So whatever Obama "feels" about America's duty towards Iraq, it's likely to be MORE pragmatic than sentimental W who had to invade because Saddam tried to kill is daddy.

I remember in the movie Back to the Future, hero Marty McFly was largely clever and heroic, especially compared to his nerdy dad, but his weakness was when you called him "Chicken", then he'd do the stupidest thing like an wounded male ego.

So again, whatever Obama's "feelings" towards Iraq, it seems more likely about cold and hard calculation of what's in America's best long term interest, as and commander-and-chief must do, unlike the arm chair chicken-hawks who want espouse their version of reality with no skin off their backs whatever is best.

Iraq can't be "fixed" by the U.S. playing police officer, and it can't be fixed by bombing anyone.

Today my uncle proudly showed me his NRA membership card with the motto. I think it said "Fight and Defend."

Its rather scary to me to see basically a fight for political power on religious differences going on in Iraq, and imagining the USA 20 years in the future when some bright-eyed and bushie tailed NRA gang decides it would be a good idea to take over a town by force, and empty the bank to buy more weapons.

Its almost impossible to imagine how political compromise occurs once one political side advocates and supports armed rebellion as a means to solve political problems.

We had one civil war, and I don't want another one, but we probably have enough guns to scare any patsy majority into submission. We just need someone to fire the first shot, and the shock jocks to tell us what we're fighting for, and Iraq's miseries comes home to roost to the chicken-hawks.

Anonymous said...

It is the media's war since they used their power to convince so may Americans and politicians to support it.

Anonymous said...

Ha, Jonah Goldberg is so talented he has a logical fallacy named after him!
1. The belief that everybody you hate is exactly the same.
2. The belief that evidence that nobody takes you seriously means you are very serious.
3. Any attempt to popularize these beliefs in book and associated website form.

Anonymous said...

ME is a distinct Civ, with two major influences. 1. Ancient Arab social & political norms 2. Islam

1: * Ties of blood: family, clan, tribe, and their sub groups. * Power imposes legitimacy, but only forced. Loss of it loses all.

2. The only legitimacy and guide. Interpretations vary, leading to conflict.

Very simple. Change that, and problem solved. -- Rich Lara

Sam L. said...

Barry bought and paid for the election (with donated funds and donations in kind from the media), and it came with no guarantee or warranty. He bought it; he owns it.

Sam L. said...

I can't see "brave" and Obama together in any context whatever. I can't see him caring, either.

Incidentally, one of my non-robot words is "imperfect", and the "m" is imperfectly printed.

Dennis said...

As one cannot disengage from life without life coming to seek one out one cannot disengage as a country without conditions seeking the country's involvement whether they like it or not.

It would seem that after WWII that the Left and the Democrat party has done all it possibly could to lose wars that were already one won by undermining the troops and the countries involved only to create future wars. Democrats voted for these military engagements at the time and then are so afraid that the Republicans might actually win that they subvert that it.
If one is to fight wars then one needs to commit to winning the goals that were established or not get involved in the first place. When those goals are met, like pushing Al Qaida out of Afghanistan, aid the countries involved and then leave them to sort all of the rest of it out. Short term thinking is what helped initiate a long term investment of manpower, materiel, et al and it will ultimate lead to another war. One of the reasons war persist is that no one really wins them. Negotiated settlement always lead to the next war e.g. the Israelis and the Palestinians. As long as there are two people who can remember what they perceived as the wrong that was done to them the war will continue.
Unlike Clinton and his throw a way women American military people are NOT throw a way people. We should never think that because they had the desire to serve their country that they deserve to be "cannon fodder" or maimed.
What we are doing now is creating a greater future disaster for this country. Just what does anyone think a larger combined group of radical Islamists going to do? Until one can answer that question with something other than trying to kill us then one cannot disengage.