In Opposition to the Opposition

Having a respectful and patriotic opposition can be valuable during wartime as much as during peacetime, helping to ensure that ineffective policies are changed and that excesses are not allowed. Still, the constant signals of a willingness to abandon Iraq prematurely — which factions in the United States have been sending around the world for years now — have made victory more difficult, first, by undermining, rather than honing, wartime policies and, second, by giving our enemies a concrete goal that is much easier to achieve than military success and giving our allies a reason not to risk putting all of their wagons in our caravan.
As Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman wrote in rebuke to Hillary Clinton:

“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia,” Edelman wrote.
He added that “such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.”

It is hardly fanciful to see increasing zeal for some sort of forced withdrawal plans beginning in the fall as being related to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s promise of a “hot summer.” Perhaps one can give anti-war forces in the government the benefit of the doubt that they are only being cynical, rather than traitorous, in their posturing, as John Podhoretz writes:

Even more cynically, [Harry Reid] was able to stage the all-night session precisely because he knew Republicans wouldn’t let the proposal come to a vote. The 120-day proposal isn’t a serious effort to end the war: It’s just a feel-good, symbolic gesture. Democrats don’t have to take any responsibility for it because it will never get beyond the gesture stage.

Podhoretz’s thought on responsibility is in some respects an answer Jeff Jacoby’s observation that, “for all the clamor to quit Iraq, there is little serious discussion of just what quitting will mean.” If political leaders don’t believe that their feints will actually be permitted to make contact, they needn’t worry about the results of “success” as they manipulate the nostalgic hysteria and romantic ignorance of what Jacoby terms “the surrender lobby”:

If US troops leave prematurely, the Iraqi government is likely to collapse, which could trigger violence on a far deadlier scale than Iraq is experiencing now. Iran’s malignant influence will intensify, and with it the likelihood of intensified Sunni-Shiite conflict, and even a nuclear arms race, across the Middle East. Anti-American terrorists and fanatics worldwide will be emboldened. Iraq would emerge, in Senator John McCain’s words, “as a Wild West for terrorists, similar to Afghanistan before 9/11.” Once again — as in Vietnam, in Lebanon, in Somalia — the United States would have proven the weaker horse, unwilling to see a fight through to the finish.
Yet none of this seems to trouble the surrender lobby, which either doesn’t think about the consequences of abandoning Iraq, or is convinced a US departure will actually make things better. “If everyone knows we’re leaving, it will put the fear of God into them,” Voinovich declares. Sure it will. Nothing scares Al Qaeda like seeing Americans in retreat.
Three decades ago, similar arguments were made in support of abandoning Southeast Asia to the communists. To President Ford’s warning in March 1975 that “the horror and the tragedy that we see on television” would only grow worse if the United States cut off aid to the beleaguered government in Cambodia, then-Representative Christopher Dodd of Connecticut retorted: “The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now.” So Washington ended military aid, and Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, which proceeded to exterminate nearly 2 million Cambodians in one of the ghastliest genocides of modern times.

When it comes to blame, Podhoretz may prove incorrect if the Democrats have brought their jabs too perilously close to the precipice at which they will plummet, missiles with their own momentum. As the political theater riles its audience, in turn requiring ever greater histrionics on the part of the players, eventually, the violence will spill out into the streets, as it were. The buffoon who goads the mob into action cannot avoid responsibility, because he has no excuse for ignoring those horrific outcomes that are, at the very least, sufficiently plausible to merit consideration.
And as the blogger at Ace of Spades argues, those horrific outcomes will not be limited to a cleansing domestic genocide or two in Iraq:

Who wins in a genocide? Who wins in an all-against-all civil war?
Well, who, exactly, has been trying to push the country towards exactly that? Al Qaeda and the Sadrist jihadi militias, and their Iranian backers. Once the country descends into civil war, the entire population will be forced to support the only armies capable of protecting them. Which, absent the US military, is only Al Qaeda (and the Sunni insurgent groups which will be compelled by circumstances to rejoin with them) and the Iranian-backed Sadrist militias. …
The likely winner in an Al Qaeda vs. Iran/Sadr battle will be both. Not Al Qaeda, not Iran and their toady Sadr. Both. Just like Hitler and Stalin could agree to take half of Poland each, Al Qaeda and Sadr will be more than willing to take over half of Iraq each. It gets them what they want — power, and a base from which to attack America. There will be a few flare-ups as Sadr ethnically cleanses the Sunnis from Baghdad and other Shiite-controlled areas, but once that easily-achieved ethnic cleansing/genocide is over, the two joint rulers of Iraq can put aside their differences and focus on the real enemy — America.

If the anti-war movement succeeds in forcing a premature withdrawal, America (and the rest of the West along with it) will certainly face bolder attacks by terrorists, as well as established national entities. Moreover, the United States will have no choice but to conduct future defensive wars in a more vicious fashion in order to convince the enemy of the day that we’re serious. The bloodshed will be all around and compounding. Genocide in Iraq. Terrorism in the West. And ultimately, World War II–degree military actions in multiple directions.
As Charles Krauthammer explores in an NRO piece, however, the possibility of sectarian balance can be a component in a script of American victory, as well as defeat:

[Shiite lawmaker and close Maliki adviser Hassan al-Suneid’s] coalition would not or could not disarm the militias. So [General] Petraeus has taken on the two extremes: (a) the Shiite militias and their Iranian Revolutionary Guard enablers, and (b) al Qaeda, with the help of local Sunnis.
For an interminable 18 months we waited for the 80 percent solution — for Maliki’s Shiite-Kurdish coalition to reach out to the Sunnis. The Petraeus-Crocker plan is the 20 percent solution: peel the Sunnis away from the insurgency by giving them the security and weaponry to fight the new common enemy — al Qaeda in Iraq.
Maliki & Co. are afraid we are arming Sunnis for the civil war to come. On the other hand, we might be creating a rough balance of forces that would act as a deterrent to all-out civil war and encourage a relatively peaceful accommodation.
In either case, that will be Iraq’s problem after we leave. For now, our problem is al Qaeda on the Sunni side and the extremist militias on the Shiite side. And we are making enough headway to worry people like Suneid. The Democrats might listen to him to understand how profoundly the situation is changing on the ground — and think twice before they pull the plug on this complicated, ruthless, hopeful “purely American vision.”

Forcing and guiding the creation of such strategy shifts for victory is how political opposition ought to work. It may be, however, that too many Americans (let alone Westerners) are too infatuated with the promise of political and cultural victory against their own domestic enemies to tolerate, much less promote, innovative and persistent attempts to secure a victor’s peace.

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Rhody
Rhody
14 years ago

Edelman’s just Dick Cheney’s mouthpiece. Sad to say, there seems to be an element in the military that is more devoted to Cheney than to the service of the U.S. of A.
If Bush were smart, he’d have begun the pullout after Saddam was captured. At that point, the U.S. would’ve achieved every goal he set out, and he could’ve had victory and been remembered as a great president (his other accomplishments, or lack of, notwithstanding). Instead, he overplayed his hand, and we’re all paying for it.

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

Some of us more than others.. like all the people that have to listen to dreck that denigrates the effort of our armed forces.

Jeff Grybowski
Jeff Grybowski
14 years ago

Justin says: “Perhaps one can give anti-war forces in the government the benefit of the doubt that they are only being cynical, rather than traitorous, in their posturing …”
Comments like that, all but calling opponents of the administration’s policy “traitors” are precisely what stoke the partisan fires.
Perhaps, Justin, when all the world thinks we are crazy, it is time to sit back and honestly evaluate whether they are right.
Of course, if one believes that he is divenely-inspired in his prosecution of the war, as our president apparently believes he is, then it is very easy to ignore the nonbelievers and label them traitors, and even worse.
The history of the last century should be enough of a guide for the the errors of our recent past.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

I’ve got no beef with “opponents of the administration’s policy,” per se. It depends on what they propose as an alternative. Moreover, I understand that words such as “traitorous” oughtn’t be flung lightly, but I struggle to come up with a more polite adjective for supposed leaders who offer the enemy both a blueprint for and confidence to pursue our defeat.
Of course, it’s a nice rhetorical maneuver to express outrage at a single term and thereby avoid confronting the larger argument. However, some might reasonably call such a trick “partisanship over dialogue.”

Jeff Grybowski
Jeff Grybowski
14 years ago

Of course, you could avoid provoking outrage by not using the term in the first instance.
Debating the wisdom of a war is not traitorous. Reid offers a “blueprint” to our enemies for our defeat?
Justin, at least have the intellectual honesty to recognize that Reid and others think that the president has already delivered that blueprint to the enemy.
That is the essence of the debate.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

There’s a difference between believing that somebody is providing a blueprint to the enemy for our defeat (me on the Democrats) and believing that somebody has led us to defeat (the Democrats on Bush).
The administration has made some errors in the handling of the war (a trait not uncommon among war-time administrations) and has rethought its approach. The Democrats could have played (and could still play) a valuable role in developing and honing such approaches. Instead, they have advertised with increasing volume their willingness to declare the “quagmire” unwinable and to hang the war around the president’s neck as a political albatross.
On what grounds, by the way, do you accuse me of intellectual dishonesty?

Jeff Grybowski
Jeff Grybowski
14 years ago

Dismissing critiques of the current administration as traitorous is intellectually dishonest, because I know that you are smart enough to understand what the opposition’s arguments are.
Perhaps when a quagmire is a quagmire, it is not so crazy to just call it a quagmire instead of pretending that it is something else.
The opposition’s plan for winning the “War on Terror” (remember that? I know, it was so long ago that we worried about such trifles as bin Laden) is different than the adminstration’s. It calls for a withdrawal from Iraq, with a number of caveats. You may disagree with that strategy, but it is hardly an act of treason to disagree with you.
To dismiss those plans as traitorous is either dishonest or lazy. Indeed, I suppose it leads you to believe that a majority of your fellow citizens are traitors.
Of course, when you start believing that, you start to sound like a character out of Orwell or Koestler.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

Well, if the Democrats have concrete proposals for conducting the War on Terror outside of Iraq (despite their simultaneous assertions that al Qaeda has focused on Iraq and that we must flee from Iraq), they don’t present them prominently on their Web sites, as far as I can see. What “caveates” do you mean? Their plan to leave fewer troops in the area to train an Iraqi military even though they don’t believe that the Iraqi military and the larger American force can possibly stabilize the country? Their plan to negotiate with our enemies from our newly acquired position of weakness? I don’t know, Jeff, is stupidity a defense against treason?
I don’t believe that offering plans is traitorous. I believe that casting a war as unwinnable from the word “go” and then raising the pitch of opposition to the point at which one is willing to give the enemy a target date until which they must hold on is dubious. In other words, it’s not the alternative plans that I dismiss, but the behavior. (Indeed, the Senate Democrats’ Web site might as well be headlined “The War on Bush.”)
I’ve also been very specific about what segment of society I’m talking about. Don’t attribute to me radical excesses to which I don’t subscribe.

Thomas
Thomas
14 years ago

Justin says: “Perhaps one can give anti-war forces in the government the benefit of the doubt that they are only being cynical, rather than traitorous, in their posturing …”
In this formulation, “anti-war forces” are EITHER traitorous OR they are engaged in “cynical posturing”. There is, under these terms, no possibility of honest disagreement among people of good will. Once you have made this move, Justin, the chances for productive dialog are extremely restricted. I’m tempted to think that productive dialog is not one of your goals.
I think this kind of rhetoric is itself extremely descructive of opportunities to create a unified national purpose. It is, in short, bad for the U.S., and bad for all of us.

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

Oooh, here’s an idea… maybe the anti-war proponents can offer a viable solution to preventing all the bloodshed and/or genocide that is predicted should we follow their suggested retreat plan instead of whining about being shown up for the spineless and heartless stooges they are!

Justin Katz
14 years ago

Thomas,
Two honest questions:

  1. At what point were anti-war leaders open to dialogue?
  2. What indication is there that they are open to it now?

They’ve been crying “quagmire,” calling for impeachment, badmouthing the war effort, and reading from the Vietnam script for years now, regardless of the accuracy of their charges at the time. I don’t see any chance of their giving sincere audience to pro-war arguments, and I’m not interested in “a unified national purpose” if it’s the wrong one.

Jeff Grybowski
Jeff Grybowski
14 years ago

Justin, it is quite apparent that you cannot defend your traitor line of attack. You disagree with the alternatives to the administration, whether they be diplomacy, gradual withdrawl, or something else.
But you have yet to make any case whatever for “treason.” I will take your use of the word as hyperbole and leave it at that.
As for the larger issues involved, I have no more expertise on these issues than the next regular guy who reads the newspapers. That is why I remain skeptical of both sides and I am cautious of becoming so entrenched in my position that I dismiss the opinions of others with the waive of the hand and a throw-away epithet.

Bobby Oliveira
14 years ago

Dear Smmtheory,
Let’s look at what you just did:
Let’s be generous and say that suppirt for the war hovers around 38%. (By the way, you can’t run a war successfully with anything less than 65& so just getting to 50 doesn’t get it done)
This means that 62% of the folks disagree with you. Instead of coaxing them to your side, you just called them spineless and heartless. Nice way to win friends and influence people.
The 50’s are over. The whole “you’re a commie” deal doesn’t work anymore. The last election showed the cat’s out of the bag.
Worst of all, you lose us in the middle. There’s a good number of us who usually vote “Left” but get it on Iraq. We can ignore that the President is a discurious type who was encouraged to lie, we can ignore what Dick Cheney said about “flowers”, we can ignore that the Generals were ignored. I figure, to this right, we might be in Iraq for 20 years or more.
What we can’t ignore is things like “mission accomplished”. We can’t ignore you, Don Carcieri style, smearing folks we call “friend”. If you lose us, you’re down to just your little fringe element. That’s not a good place to be.
Your side needs to reasess the whole “with us or spineless” motif. It’s not helping anything.

msteven
msteven
14 years ago

What Rhody said in the first comment is an interesting point. He is correct in that if the troops left after Saddam was captured, then ‘the mission’ could have been considered a success and all is well and good for the President, politically speaking. I have no doubt that Bill Clinton would have done that. Yes, if this Administration were only concerned with pleasing the American people, then it may have done that or certainly would have pulled out the troops by now. Regardless of the consequences to the Iraqi people and ultimately the safety of our own people. I do not agree that anyone who is against the war is a traitor. But the sad reality is that this has become a political pawn, rather than a sincere disagreement over policy. Yes, based on what I see and hear, I believe that the Democrats are in glee over what is happening in Iraq. It provides a battering ram against their opponents. I believe in the original intent of the war. So did a majority of voters and congress at the time. And congress had access to the same intelligence the Administration. It was not as it the Administration controlled the intelligence that was provided to congress as some have said Things have not gone according to plan. So now the people have changed their minds and the rhetoric comes out 1 Lies about WMD. The view that the administration purposely lied about Iraq having WMD to go to war is powerful emotionally, yet intellectually absurd or dishonest. Not to mention that a lot of evidence of the materials to build WMD’s was found. I cannot see how a serious person who has followed this could possibly believe that Saddam had no intention of building WMD’s. 2. We were not… Read more »

Bobby Oliveira
14 years ago

Dear Msteven,
The one minor disagreement I have with you is this:
I think the Adminsitration messed with the intelligence when they didn’t need to.
Why did they do this?
To speed up the schedule on a political timetable is why.
Again, for me, all the President had to say was “We need to punch somebody in the mouth and this guy took a shot at my dad.” Would have worked for me.

mikeinRI
mikeinRI
14 years ago

msteven, I appreciate much of what you said. I do have a little difficulty with your assertion that Republicans would act the same if a Democrat were President. Weren’t Republicans, in general, supportive of President Clinton’s actions in Yugoslavia?
Furthermore, in Britain, Labour PM Tony Blair has faced scorn from the liberals and those of his own party over his decision to join the US in Iraq. The conservatives have been more apt to support Blair’s positions in the Middle East.

msteven
msteven
14 years ago

Mr. Oliveira:
You think the Administration ‘messed with the intelligence’ to speed up the schedule to attack Iraq. And the ‘real’ reason for the war is because Bush wanted to punch someone (due to his anger over 9/11 presumably) and because he wanted revenge for someone wanting to harm his dad from the Gulf War.
And I assume you have some explanation for the other countries that were involved in the coalition – be it Spain, Australia and of course, Britain. Not to mention the ones that provided money but not troops. Let me guess, it was out of fear that the cowboy Bush would use the military to come after them if they didn’t support him. Would that be accurate?
MikeinRI:
I didn’t mean to ‘assert’ that Republicans would act the same, I don’t know that to be fact but I would not be surprised as politics today seems to be all about the ‘team’. And I do have a belief that, for many, support of policies is more about who endorses them and who has the current political power than ideology.
As far as Clinton in Yugoslavia, I don’t recall Republicans being supportive of that. To me, it seemed like anytime he used force, even in Iraq, it was not supported. Maybe some of it based on a general mistrust – which may well have been earned.
As far as Britain, I saw the fact that Tony Blair would be a liberal Democrat here and became unpopular as a result of his actions support my view. Yet I admit I didn’t follow who he was unpopular with there. Maybe things aren’t as partisan there since they have a three rather than two-party system.
I appreciate the words and response.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

As far as Clinton in Yugoslavia, I don’t recall Republicans being supportive of that. To me, it seemed like anytime he used force, even in Iraq, it was not supported.

My recollection (although I’ll admit that I didn’t pay as much attention back then) is that conservative complaints against Clinton’s use of force was its scaled back, aloof, nature. It wasn’t “don’t hit Iraq; quagmire; imperialism; bring the boys back home.” It was “if you’re going to do it, don’t do it like that.”

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

This means that 62% of the folks disagree with you. Instead of coaxing them to your side, you just called them spineless and heartless. Nice way to win friends and influence people.

Too bad you can’t prove that 62% of the folks disagree with me. But let’s look at how out of touch you are. I’m not even Republican or Democrat. I’m not a left-winger or a right-winger. I’m the guy in the middle bozo, the middle that you think I’m cutting out. How does that shake your flowers dude? The middle is not the group that votes “Left” but gets it on Iraq. You aren’t even describing yourself with that, because you still don’t get it on Iraq.

Bobby Oliveira
14 years ago

Dear Smmtheory,
Not only do I have poll after poll after poll but I have a recent election which proves my point.
It should also be noted that I have suggested a 20 year committment in Iraq is necessary so what is it again that I don’t get??
MSteven,
What coalition? Yes, the British showed up and the Spanish brought dixie cups, the folks from Scandanavia gave us leg warmers, there were some nice picnic baskets provided by one of the African countries and that was about it.
We both know that the moment shock and awe happened, whatever WMD stuff there was moved to Syria. Problem was instead of telling the truth about the matter, we got lies and confuscations.
I believe we needed to punch somebody in the mouth. This Islamic fringe element deals from a 13th century mind set. Therefore, you must communicate with them in a 13th century manner.

msteven
msteven
14 years ago

Bobby Oliveira
Yes, current polls show clear lack of support for the war – as did the most recent election. And when the war was started, there was a majority who supported it and the people reelected the man who started it. And while I may agree with your suggested 20 year commitment, what do you think a poll of that suggestion would show? My point is – what is the relevance with dynamic polls. Isn’t this a policy discussion?
Also, the reality is that there were a number of countries that backed going into Iraq. Some with troops, others with money. The vast majority was the United States, as is most often the case. You said that the only reason Bush went was for revenge of his daddy. If that were the case, why would any other country supply anything – even dixie cups and leg warmers, for that purpose?
OK, so we agree that Iraq had some WMD and may have moved them to Syria. Not that I know that for a fact, but I believe it to be true. But I don’t recall the lies about it. My recollection is that since a nuclear bomb painted with the text “for purpose of blowing up United States” was not found, that was deemed “no WMD found” by the press.
I am confused by your last line. Are you saying that they must be dealt with via overt military action? That is what I got from your reference to 13th century mind set.

bobby oliveira
14 years ago

Dear MSteven,
Let me start at the end:
The only thing the Islamofascists are ever going to understand is violence. Anything less, they ignore. Moderate Islamists will never speak out until they know they are protected by violence. Those are the terms and conditions walking in.
The lies were about the “closeness” of a weapon and the connections to terrorism. Remember Condi Rice’s allusion to a “mushroom cloud”? If you start with that kind of rhetoric, you better produce something, anything.
If you take a rela close look, you will see that some “coalition members” benefitted from an increase in US aid right before joining the coalition. This was not the case before our first excursion in the area.
In a Democracy, no policy will work if it does not have support of the people. You can start low, but for some reason, somehow, folks have to move to acceptance. The reality is that the lies about well things are going, mission accomplished, the patriot act abuses, the prison, et cetera, have it impossible for the Administration to make a case to do the right thing. The biggest, still out there, is that you can have a war and a tax cut for the rich at the same time.
You don’t get to bungle something this badly for this long a time and then get rewarded.

smmtheory
smmtheory
14 years ago

Not only do I have poll after poll after poll but I have a recent election which proves my point.

The polls? That is no evidence fellow. Even the recent election proves nothing concerning a mandate to retreat from Iraq. I’m really getting sick of career politicians, twisting everything to suit their purposes and smiling smugly about results from tricked up data. Beating a retreat is spineless in front of the enemy and heartless toward the people we said we would set free. I really don’t care to coax the people who think otherwise to my side. If the truth hurts their feelings, so what! They need to grow up.

msteven
msteven
14 years ago

Dear Bobby Oliveira
We are in agreement on your first paragraph.
I don’t recall Condi’s allusion to a mushroom cloud but acknowledge I wasn’t watching or listening all that closely. In any case, while the ‘big kahuna’ was not found, “something/anything” was produced. – as in evidence of Saddam’s plan to build and use WMD’s.
In the next paragraph, you say that there was a ‘quid pro quo’ when it came joining the US in Iraq and US aid to that country. And that has gone unnoticed or been hidden from the press? There are way too many people that would love to have evidence of that. I simply do not believe you.
There is no doubt that “Mission Accomplished” may be the biggest PR blunder in history and it is true that war has been hurt by lack of support. But I do not agree that this lack of support is because of lies. Tell me how could the administration ‘lie’ about the what is going on there without having total media control? It is because of the number of Americans that have died against the little progress in controlling the sectarian violence. That is what has changed the public’s mind about the war.
We don’t have time or writing space to get into our differences on the so-called patriot act and prison abuses and the class warfare argument ‘tax cuts for the rich’.
I also don’t know what you mean by ‘rewarded’. Unless you mean that the war is all about George Bush and the only benefit/value of securing Iraq and making it more difficult for the terrorists there are to him personally. No value to the anyone else in this country. If that is your view, well, what can I say.

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