Monday, July 09, 2007

After Iraq - Liberal Isolationism?

A long leader in The New York Times yesterday advocated a withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible. The paper's previous position was that, though the war was plainly a disaster, US troops should stay 'to mitigate the chaos' that would follow a quick withdrawal. The new position is much more fatalistic - chaos may, indeed, ensue, but staying is no longer an option. The NYT goes round the usual block of international and regional cooperation to deal with refugees, civil war and so on. It also advocates keeping strike forces in the region to attack terrorist bases, more of which will, of course, spring up in Iraq after the pullout. At the same time, the paper doubts the Bush's administration ability or will to achieve any of this; apart from anything else, too many diplomatic boats have been burned and, it might be added, the depth of the Sunni-Shia rift is now such that a regional war is far more likely than cooperation. What is most interesting is the barely concealed hint of liberal isolationism at work here. The leftish NYT is throwing up its hands in despair and, as it does so, indulging in some mild blaming of the Iraqis, a tactic neocons have lately deployed to excuse their own failings and which carries the nasty implication that foreigners are just not good enough for the American Way. Iraq has been a catastrophe, the full effects of which we have yet to feel. These effects will be made infinitely worse if the result is a new US isolationism. But the NYT is right - somehow the Americans have to get out if their power and authority are not to be weakened yet further by this engagement. The problem is there is currently no conceivable aftermath that is not utterly horrific.

29 comments:

  1. Perhaps somebody should organise a concert in aid of Iraq...

    Actually, though I'm being facetious, this is what most anti-Bush solutions amount to. They demonstrate a willingness to strike the right tone without actually changing anything.

    The truth is that whatever the US does, it will be seen as a failure. We're at a point where it's impossible to even recognise success, when difficult foreign policy decisions are impossible to make in a media age where every American casualty takes on the significance of 1000 and every decision is second-guessed by the analysts on Fox News or CNN.

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  2. But what is wrong with blaming Iraqis (even mildly)? Are they exempt? Or, in a Bunting/Milne/Pilgeresque fashion, is everything always our fault? Saddam was a Sunni who the Saudis feared, but saw as a bulwark against Iran. Saddam repressed his pro-Iranian Shia majority. Now he's out of the way, the gloves are off. Perhaps we should have left the monster in place, allowed the Russians and French to do their dodgy deals with him and continue to get blamed for that too. Allahu-Akhbar!

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  3. Lots of Iraqis are guilty as hell, no doubt about that. But blaming them for not, in one bound, overleaping their history and culture and landing safe and sound in the bosom of Abe Lincoln is, well, silly.

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  4. You can't seriously be suggesting FOX News seriously questions its political/ military establishment's decisions, Chip. I'm afraid if we can't recognise people like Sean Hannity & Bill O Reilly for the fascist apologists they are then we've really lost the connection between our senses & or minds.

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  5. I'd like to point out my admirable restraint in being content to describe O Reilly & Hannity as "people" as opposed to, for example, "assholes."

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  6. Really the problem stems from the, historically, ridiculous theory of how victors in a war are supposed to behave post-victory that has prevailed in the last sixty years.

    The version that held for all of known history until yesterday (c.1950) was that the winner of any military confrontation got to decide everything and woe betide anybody who demurred. He won. He chose.

    The new version is that, upon winning a war, the victor should then spend vast quantities of his own treasure putting the loser's territory back in better shape than when he first arrived;he must on no account seek to deprive the vanquished nation of any of its own treasure, chattels, goods or produce; he should get out as rapidly as possible - having no rights whatsoever to tell the vanquished what to do; the defeated, by the very nature of their defeat, are worthy of the sympathy due to a crying child; the victor, none. He should accept all criticism thrown at him from all sides and shall allow everyone else to get morally superior on his arse.

    In other words: winners are not allowed to win and gain the fruits of such.

    cf. Israel.v.Palestine/The Arabs

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  7. It is now completely impossible to discuss this subject on the internet with any degree of seriousness.

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  8. 'The political leaders Washington has backed are incapable of putting national interests ahead of sectarian score settling' and then 'Ideally, it could spur Iraqi politicians to take the steps toward national reconciliation that they have endlessly discussed but refused to act on.' I don't really see how this is 'blaming them for not, in one bound, overleaping their history and culture and landing safe and sound in the bosom of Abe Lincoln is, well, silly.' They seem quite reasonable observations to me, not 'nasty implications'. Sometimes, dear Brutus, the fault lies in ourselves and not in the neocons or even liberal establishment of the USA.

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  9. The solution to this is so simple that I can't believe everyone has missed it. We need to pick a side we like, either Shia or Sunni, and then kill everyone on the other side. Then we can go home. Or we can just go home and let the Shia and/or Sunni kill everyone on the other side.

    Actually, once we are out of there, some military dictator will take over, kill off a few enemies, dispose of the terrorists and we will be back to Iraq under the new Saddam. Meet the new boss - Same as the old boss.

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  10. Tom

    "Actually, once we are out of there, some military dictator will take over, kill off a few enemies, dispose of the terrorists".

    But that's what WE should be doing. You know: surrender or die type stuff. There is a reason that victorious nations became victorious. When they defeated you, you knew it and weren't allowed to forget it.

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  12. 'FOX News seriously questions its political/ military establishment's decisions'

    Andrew, I would never be so foolish as to tar everybody with the same brush, much as I wouldn't attack the BBC for its supposed liberal bias. Being so dogmatic and partisan is what got us into this mess in the first place. Or put it a different way: there are morons on both sides of the argument.

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  13. It is now completely impossible to discuss this subject on the internet with any degree of seriousness.

    On reflection, hasn't it always been so, Brit?

    Iraq has been a catastrophe, the full effects of which we have yet to feel. These effects will be made infinitely worse if the result is a new US isolationism.

    I tend to agree, Bryan. I was genuinely surprised to discover how many of my friends on the left wanted Timor not to upset the not-so-carefully-crafted balance of power in Southeast Asia and toss out the Indonesian occupiers. The same people who, a couple of decades ago were oh-so-righteous in their fury that Indonesia had occupied it in the first place. When I listen to them now, they all sound like mini-Kissingers in their zeal to maintain the status quo (and would be appalled to hear they do).

    While isolationism in America was once almost exclusively a manifestation of extreme right-wing views, it is no more their private preserve, as evidenced by massive Democratic majorities in Congress against most liberalizing internationalist legislation.

    Bush's missteps accelerated that trend.

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  14. Andrew, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly are not providing news, they are providing opinion and entertainment. They are not billed as providing news. While you (and I) don't care for their particular brand of entertainment, you appear to have a problem distinguishing between what is news and entertainment.

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  15. Liberals in America are not in favor of isolationism. They are in favor of internationalism... that is they think the US should build a consensus around the world and not act in isolation as the Bush administration has done.

    And yes, Hannity and O'Reilly are in the entertainment business. Anyone who mistakes them for newsmen needs to take a vacation.

    Finally, as to the Fox News bias... which group in the US had the highest percentage of supporters of the GOP ticket in the last presidential election? Did you say GOP party members? Wrong. Did you say white millionaires? Wrong. Did you say Fox News viewers? You are correct. And if you don't think that Fox News plays to their base then you don't understand how networks get ratings.

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  16. Susan B., of Philly,July 09, 2007 3:27 pm

    Um, isolationism in America was and is related to the fact that we have the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans between us and everyone else (except the Canadians, who aren't militant; and the Mexicans, who are poor and want to join us, not attack us). The natural barriers are still there and the 9/11 attack was the first time since the Civil War (1859-1864) that violence occurred on our home turf.

    As for the mess in Iraq... There are so many people to blame (Bush is only one among many; a catalyst, primarily), but blame doesn't solve much. I sit here praying my beloved 13-year-old son will not be forced into the military as a "peacekeeper" there when he grows up.

    If there's hope in the bottom of this Pandora's box, I sure can't see it from here.

    By the way, Recusant: Most historians believe the shameful way the Allied victors of WW I treated the defeated Germans led to the rise of WW II, Fascism, Hitler. Historically ridiculous? Hardly.

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  17. Susan B

    "By the way, Recusant: Most historians believe the shameful way the Allied victors of WW I treated the defeated Germans led to the rise of WW II, Fascism, Hitler. Historically ridiculous? Hardly."

    Susan, I think you would be hard pushed to find a reputable and thorough historian now who would agree with that view. The last, this side of the pond at least, was AJP Taylor.

    Germany was NOT forced into unconditional surrender and therefore people could claim she had not really been defeated but had been "stabbed in the back" by internal enemies (aka.The Jews.

    The financial reparations were never enforced, nor was Germany forced to repay the 'materiel' removed from occupied Belgium and France.

    No, the peace treaty signed in Versailles in 1919(note there was no treaty in '45, just abject surrender)was not, if anything, harsh enough. It did, however, allow the Nazis and numerous others to claim they had fallen foul of treachery and spinelessness from the German signatories.

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  18. Most historians don't actually blame Versailles for Hitler. Weimar Germany managed to undo most of its impositions/restrictions.

    The NYT's main Iraq war correspondent does not seem to agree with the leader writers. He is covering the successes of the 'surge', notably ejecting Al Qaeda terrorists from the bases around Baghdad from which they launch car bomb attacks. About four years too late the US is also (successfully) splitting the Iraqi insurgents from the 10% of foreign fighters by responding to their demands. Most Iraqis say: 'America good; Al Qaeda bad'.

    Speaking of which, 2/3rds of Al Qaeda's pre-9/11 leadership are captured or dead. Very small US deployments have resulted in the eradication of Al Qaeda in Somalia, Indonesia, the Philippines etc. Whereas once AQ could put thousands of men through Afghan training camps, they now have a handful of places in NW Pakistan or the southern Phillipines. They are reliant on amateurish groups like those here on 21/7 and last week, people who get their technical knowhow from 'Sheikh Google' rather than from men with burns on their hands and a few fingers missing.

    I doubt there will be a big US pullout, although that depends on how Congress assesses Petraeuss's report in September and the wear and tear levels on the US armed forces. The Brits will leave by Christmas. The US will keep a big presence in Baghdad and in remoter bases where they offend least. Iraq's neighbours will not want a Shia/Sunni civil war since it could spill into their minorities.

    The Democrats have a tradition of isolationism vide Clinton and Rwanda. Incidentally, the coverage of all this in the Christian Science Monitor or the Wall Street Journal is much better than in the NYT.

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  19. Should have added 'the despicable NYT'. Sorry

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  20. Should they stay or should they go.... It does not much matter to the Iraqis. Nor has it mattered for a few years. If the allied force has a reason to be in the area, it is to prevent interference from the surrounding area. While the Iraqi people settle things for themselves.
    It is not how the winners of such a war conduct themselves afterwards, but how the losers do that matters.

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  21. River of DeceitJuly 09, 2007 4:49 pm

    "The new version is that, upon winning a war, the victor should then spend vast quantities of his own treasure putting the loser's territory back in better shape than when he first arrived"

    Recusant, the Americans have no choice. If you bomb, invade and disable a countries infrastructure then you have a recipe for mahem. Especially in a country as fracturious as Iraq.
    Condoleeza Rice said "we don't do nation building". Tough Shit, if you want to take their oil without them trying to kill you, you've got no choice.

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  22. Just to add a few words from one of the leading eno-con thinkers, Richard Perle froma a few short years ago:
    "This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq, then we take a look around and see how things stand. This is entirely the wrong way to go about it. ..If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war...our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

    Insane is, I believe, the word that comes to mind.

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  23. And not just a leading eno-con but also neo-con...

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  24. And a registered Democrat to boot.

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  25. We are all going to pay mightily if the U.S. slips into another period of political/economic/social isolationism, and we are all going to have ourselves to blame in large part for our loud and patronizing second-guessings and criticisms.

    I'm reminded of when I and my family were visiting friends in Brooklyn in 2004 with the British Air attache and his family returning to London after a posting in Ottawa. It was July and he and I were looking in wonder at the flag and bunting-strewn street of these crazy, absurdly-friendly Brooklyners. "Where would we be without them?" I asked rhetorically, to which he answered: "Alone."

    "Always keep ahold of Nurse / For fear of finding something worse.

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  26. Bit tardy, but... wasn't there some chap who reached the Wimbledon final of 1877 (or thereabouts) and then didn't bother to turn up for it, preferring to go and play cricket instead as tennis is such a footling game in comparison

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  27. "And a registered Democrat to boot."

    Perle hasn't been a Democrat since before the Reagan administration.

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  28. Susan B., on schizo AJPT,July 09, 2007 10:20 pm

    I'm just getting back to this. AJP Taylor was an able historian, but he cannot possibly be the guy you want to cite, Recusant. Despite the confusion generated by his "Origins of the Second World War," he was a Germanophobe of the first order. In the late 1930s, he was one of the major opponents of appeasement and adamant in his book "The Course of German History" that the Germans had been nurturing fascism in their breasts since they were tribes in the forest. He was constantly terrified the Nazis would return and take over the world -- this well into the Cold War.

    Perhaps you're thinking of some of the other people who, like Taylor, actually lived *through* the period of history we're talking about and therefore might be more qualified to talk about it than those revisionist historians who weren't born until after the conflict was over. For example, consider W.H. Auden's lines from "Sept.1, 1939":

    I and the public know
    What all school children learn
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return....

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  29. what a varied turn out of commentators you have, Bryan - every other blog i read is generally rather left-wing, full of hippies and long-hairs. You have an odd & exciting assortment of crew-cut fascists & pot-heads, which is good (i think).

    i refused the post of Prime Minister last month because politics is so complexly removed from one's personal morality, with good motives having bad consequences, and so on, that i didn't feel up to the job.

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