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War for X

I think I should just say in re: the whole "blood for oil" issue that I don't think inquiring as to what the subjective understanding of the war's architects was is a really good way to think about these kinds of issues. For one thing, they doubtless had some disagreements. For another thing, I think that if you somehow used your mind-reading device to peer into the brains of the relevant folks, you would come up with some distinctly non-damning stuff. In this sense, I bet it probably really was a "war for the protection of the United States against a serious threat and to spread democracy and goodness all the world 'round."

The issue isn't really whether they never meant to spread democracy and goodness or never really believed in the threat, the issue is what's happening. We didn't stop an actual threat, we aren't getting an actual democracy, and neither the American consumer nor even American oil companies are getting the black stuff any cheaper than we could have just bought it from Saddam for. Israel is less, not more, secure than it used to be. The war wasn't fought in order to bog down US forces while enhancing Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf, but that's what it did and that's what's important.

July 9, 2004 | Permalink

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Right you are, Matt. Whatever the motivations, just look at the results.

Posted by: janeboatler | Jul 9, 2004 1:08:54 PM

> I think that if you somehow used your
> mind-reading device to peer into the brains
> of the relevant folks, you would come up
> with some distinctly non-damning stuff.

Matt,
Have you ever worked at a large corporate entity for an extended period of time? To the point where you start to get to know and work with some of the "big guys"?

People (or I should say "men") who get to those positions (e.g. Cheney, Rumsfeld) internalize a worldview that is so far from the way ordinary humans and academics think that it is literally not understandable. They are self-justifying to an extent that would astound a 3-year-old.

Sure, if you had a brain reading machine you might find that Cheney thought he had "good intentions". But the next question would have to be, what did those intentions consist of, all the way down to the root? And there I think you would find that much of what Cheney considers good is that large corporate entities and the corprocracy that surrounds them flourish. They literally cannot see any other way.

Just as an example - let's say oil prices go up. Way up. $100/barrel. The best reaction for the US would be to say "so what", and do what the Japanese did in the 1970s: find ways to make our economy 40% more energy efficient. NOT to torch off a war in a desperate attempt to keep the oil under our control. Let the Iraqis and Saudis have their oil and our dollars - who cares? We will get it eventually anyway.

But that mode of thought is literally inconceivable to someone like Cheney. Which is why peering into his brain to divine intentions is meaningless.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jul 9, 2004 1:12:15 PM

Don't you think it's a little too soon to declare Iraqi democracy a failure? There are a lot of Iraqi bloggers who would disagree with you.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2004 1:15:12 PM

This is a backhanded attempt to endorse Juan Non-Volokh's foolish ideas about the ESA, isn't it?

Posted by: praktike | Jul 9, 2004 1:16:29 PM

>>>The issue isn't really whether they never meant to spread democracy and goodness or never really believed in the threat<<<

This is a less interesting distinction than it would appear. If you need to believe that Saddam's regime was a direct and immediate threat in order to wage a war for whatever ulterior motive, you'll have no trouble persuading yourself of such a danger.

Posted by: son volt | Jul 9, 2004 1:17:47 PM

Is inquiring into the motivations (professed or deduced) of the architects useful as some kind of predictor for what they might do in the future, thereby helping you decide how to vote in November? Along with how they well they may have met their own objectives, of course.

Oh. If you are saying the election is better waged on competence instead of policy (motivations & objectives), for Kerry may get into trouble if he wins based on antagonism to the policy, that makes sense. Or that the American people in large measure still support the policy.

Sometimes I feel you are couching very pragmatic, concrete positions in the most abstract way possible.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 9, 2004 1:23:28 PM

Dave said: "There are a lot of Iraqi bloggers who would disagree with you."

OK, then you should be able to name at least a couple.

And besides, wouldn't it be prudent to wait until a legitimate countrywide election is held and seeing what the results are before giving much credence to the notion that Iraq can even be considered a "fledgeling democracy"?

Posted by: Bragan | Jul 9, 2004 1:30:11 PM

"This is a less interesting distinction than it would appear. If you need to believe that Saddam's regime was a direct and immediate threat in order to wage a war for whatever ulterior motive, you'll have no trouble persuading yourself of such a danger."

Is that why Bush told us that Iraq was not yet a direct and immediate threat?

"The war wasn't fought in order to bog down US forces while enhancing Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf, but that's what it did and that's what's important. "

That's because the overall war isn't finished yet. Now it's time to neuter the Iranian mullahs, and keep them from getting nuclear weapons. We can even use the troops that are babysitting Iraq now, since a lot of the troublemakers there are coming from Iran, and once Iran has its own hands full, they'll stop backing troublemakers in Iraq.

You can bitch about the way Iraq turned out all you want, but if Iran turns out the exact same way, it's still better than Iran's present head honchos getting nukes.

Posted by: Ken | Jul 9, 2004 1:30:49 PM

I think it is important to figure out the fundamental motives behind American foreign policy. Because these things are structural: that's why we can see the same patterns over decades - especially, hostility to any forces (Communist, Islamist, secular nationalist) that are independent of Western power.

Of course there are all kinds of ideologies that justify this dominating mindset, but the structures remain: the world is dominated by the historically imperialist powers of Europe, Japan, and the USA. If we ever want a measure of human equality, we have to recognize this and start thinking about how the structures that produce these inequalities and ideologies can be changed.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 9, 2004 1:39:57 PM

It's not their motivations that concern me. It's the way they hotwired the system to bypass rational debate and analysis of the threat and probable outcomes of an invasion.

And it's not just about Iraq. They approach every policy the same way.

Posted by: Sven | Jul 9, 2004 1:52:21 PM

Ken, you're out of your mind.

Now's the time to go after the mullahs - when we don't even have enough troops to secure Iraq? Iran is likely to put up stiffer initial resistance than did Iraq, so what are we talking here? You're talking the draft, at minimum. How much money: No one could even fathom a guess.

How many casualties?

Call it the law of unintended controversies: No matter how hard Iran might have been working on getting a nuke BEFORE we invaded Iraq, you can be they've quadrupled their efforts now, because they've seen the writing on the wall. That in turn means that our little adventure in Iraq has indeed made all of us less safe, not more - and the only way we're going to be more safe is if we have it out with the mullahs, then Syria, then lord knows who else.

You're destroying the village in order to save it, pal.

Posted by: Gil | Jul 9, 2004 1:55:54 PM

Ah, make that "law of unintended consequences." Brain cramp.

Posted by: Gil | Jul 9, 2004 2:02:11 PM

"Now's the time to go after the mullahs - when we don't even have enough troops to secure Iraq?"

Given that the troublemakers are being backed by Iran, giving the Iranian mullahs other things to worry about (like escaping with their hides intact) ought to quiet down Iraq.

If not, we can still afford to take a break from babysitting Iraq, let the new Iraqi government handle things, and help clean up what needs to be cleaned up afterwards.

"Iran is likely to put up stiffer initial resistance than did Iraq, so what are we talking here? You're talking the draft, at minimum."

Nonsense. The draft is one of the worst things we could possibly do to ourselves. Just jack up the enlistment caps - they're causing our military to turn people away right now - and get more recruits.

And we're supposed to be worried about stiffer initial resistance than Iraq? So it takes 6 weeks to complete the invasion rather than three? Big deal.

"How many casualties?"

Fewer than we'll get in the long run if Iran gets nuclear weapons.

"and the only way we're going to be more safe is if we have it out with the mullahs, then Syria, then lord knows who else."

Now you're catching on. No one said that this was going to be quick or easy. But it has to be done.

"No matter how hard Iran might have been working on getting a nuke BEFORE we invaded Iraq, you can be they've quadrupled their efforts now, because they've seen the writing on the wall."

As opposed to North Korea, who wasn't being threatened in any way, and in fact was being bought off, and still built nukes? They're going to build nukes whether we show them any writing on the wall or not - unless we stop them.

Posted by: Ken | Jul 9, 2004 2:12:32 PM

Wow - I hope this Ken dude is just trying to stir the pot. Becuase if there are people, in or out of the Administration, who actually think what he is posting here, we are in BIG trouble.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jul 9, 2004 2:19:09 PM

The latest from William Lind whose writings on military affairs appear at both the right wing Free Congress site and the left wing Counterpunch site. This is excerpted and downsized from counterpunch.

It is a safe bet that Israel is planning a strike on known Iranian nuclear facilities. How would Iran respond? It might attack the Americans in Iraq. America has about 130,000 troops in Iraq, a formidable army by local standards. But their disposition makes them vulnerable. Confronted by a guerilla war, they are spread out in penny packets all over the country. If Iran could mass quickly and use effective camouflage and deception to conceal at least the scope of its concentration, then suddenly attack into Iraq with two or three corps, we could face a perilous situation. Iranian success would depend heavily on how Iraqis reacted, but if Iran called its action "Operation Iraqi Freedom," promised immediate withdrawal once the hated Americans were beaten and waved the Koran at Iraqi Shiites, it might win the cooperation of Iraq's resistance movement. That would make American efforts to concentrate all the more difficult as convoys would come under constant attack. Logistics would quickly become a nightmare.

Such an action would be perilous for Iran as well. The danger with threatening a nuclear power with conventional defeat is that it may go nuclear. America might choose to do that through its Israeli surrogate or, on the theory that the bigger the crisis the stronger the "rally around the President" syndrome, directly. Either way, Iran would have no effective response.

But the mullahs now running Iran are, like Mr. Bush, in a steadily weakening political position. If they did not respond powerfully to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, they might well lose legitimacy with the hard-line base they now depend on. It is risky to count on them doing nothing, and they have few opportunities to do anything that would be effective.

Posted by: yikes | Jul 9, 2004 2:28:57 PM

The more realistic critique of Bush's motivations goes to the political calculations. It would not suprise me if a motivating factor for war with Iraq was the calculation that electorates tend to like war victories (see Bush ratings after 'Mission Accomplished'.) I think they thought that glow would last a lot longer.
So, using Matt's criteria if we fought a war so that Bush could have a better chance of being re-elected and it works all we get is Bush re-elected as well as young lives lost and several billion dollars tranferred from tax payers to industries that generally support Republicans. So, motivationally speaking, that is a bad deal. Add to that the fact that they were incompetent in their planning and their expectations, we have even more to complain about.

Posted by: theCoach | Jul 9, 2004 2:31:34 PM

I'd like to believe there was more involved than the oil too. Point instead to a regression with variables such as remaking the middle east, getting Saddam while the public was a slattern, uniting the electorate around a flag-wrapped turd, second front for Israel, permanent presence in ME that isn't Saudi Arabia, avenging papa, channeling money to buddies among the military contractors, etc.

These are nice theories that allow us to pat ourselves on the back for our detective skills. I prefer them, but I'm also afraid they're too clever by half.

It'd be no shock if they were indeed mainly after the oil, and it's only incompetence, not lack of motive, that's prevented them/us from getting it so far. It'd still not be the only reason--just a higher value assigned to that variable in the regression.

Posted by: djangone | Jul 9, 2004 2:33:27 PM

Ken's serious. This is what Bush & Co. talk about when they talk about the war on terror being a long war.

It's a similar mindset to those who insisted throughout the Cold War was a military showdown with the Soviet Union, for even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of casualties, we would be saving more lives in the long run.

Except that didn't turn out to be the case. And the insistence that unless we confront he mullahs, et al, we are going to have more casualties in the long run now is based on a similar fallacy.

These folks are perfectly willing to accept Vietnam-type casualties, say 50,000 dead or so, to protect those who would be killed in further terror attacks here in the homeland... which, any way you slice it, are destined to number far fewer than 50,000.

It really is a destroy-the-village-to-save-it mentality. Fortunately, at some point Americans will wind up doing the math themselves, wonder what the hell is wrong with these people, and vote them the hell out of office.

Posted by: Gil | Jul 9, 2004 2:40:03 PM

Speaking of Iran, Matthew, you should check this one out.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 9, 2004 2:45:00 PM

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37953-2004Jul8.html

Posted by: praktike | Jul 9, 2004 2:46:53 PM

"These folks are perfectly willing to accept Vietnam-type casualties, say 50,000 dead or so, to protect those who would be killed in further terror attacks here in the homeland... which, any way you slice it, are destined to number far fewer than 50,000."

Not if the Iranians get a nuke, they aren't. These are the guys that said it would be worth taking a nuclear attack in their own country if it meant Israel could be destroyed. And Israel isn't even their Great Satan!

And how in the Hell do you figure we'll take 50,000 casualties in Iran? It took 10 years to take 50,000 casualties in Vietnam, and those guys had a superpower backing them! And our equipment was crap compared to what we've got now. Unless the Chinese start funneling massive amounts of men and materiel into Iran, there ain't no way we're taking 50,000 casualties. Unless, of course, Iran gets nuclear weapons.

Throw in Syria and anyone else you like (other than North Korea, which actually has nuclear weapons, and stands as exhibit A on why it's a good idea to stop other whackjobs from getting them as well, and why asking real nice isn't going to do it) and you're still not getting anywhere near that number of casualties.

Posted by: Ken | Jul 9, 2004 3:00:43 PM

Re: Blood for Oil

I think Matt made some kind of a point that blood for oil might, under some circumstances, be a reasonable exchange. I believe that's exactly what's going on here. Whether we actually got any oil for our blood just speaks to the competence of the strategy, not the goal.

The Persian Gulf has been a US "vital interest" ever since World War 2. Jimmy Carter himself said so, and it was not because they grow peanuts.

If preventing genocide was the point, why didn't we invade Sudan or Congo? If toppling dictators was the point, what's wrong with Zimbabwe or Myanmar? If terrorism was the point, why did we blow off Afghanistan?

The Persian gulf is of stategic concern to the US for one and only one reason. This is not to say it's wrong, necessarily. But if this is the point, don't you think the American people ought to hear the debate out in the clear? "Your son died so you can drive your SUV".

Posted by: Al Peck | Jul 9, 2004 3:18:19 PM

"no one said this was going to be quick or easy"- ken

um. actually, bush, rumsfeld, cheney, pretty much everyone in the executive branch said it would be quick and easy. they also said it would be cheap. whatever happened to that plan where iraq's oil production would pay the costs of reconstruction?

Posted by: Olaf glad and big | Jul 9, 2004 3:35:08 PM

Exactly Matt:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, however this road wasn't even paved thus.

Posted by: epistemology | Jul 9, 2004 4:14:35 PM

Dave:

While democracy in Iraq is a long term good, we are in a RELIGIOUS fight, and Saddam was secular. Iraq is LESS secular now. I know that the religious right in America thinks that is good, which is why they can't see straight to fight this enemy, but we need to address religious fanaticism. Not dictators that gassed people 20 years ago.

Posted by: epistemology | Jul 9, 2004 4:17:22 PM

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