Thursday, October 21, 2004

Snapshot of my 2003-04 views on the War on Terror, part 1

Snapshot of my 2003-04 views on the War on Terror, part 1

7/30/03

Interesting POVs (aside from the reactive personal stuff) from folks I only know as basketball fans.

For me, the war in Iraq brings different reactions when I look at the situation from different angles.

Before our nation fast-tracked to war, I was uncomfortable with the idea since I feared two things. One, our downsized military would be over-extended. Two, I wasn't convinced that the civilian side of the house was capable of managing the all-important nation-building phase of the operation.

OTH, I supported the idea of finishing the job in Iraq even before the 9/11 attacks. Since the (1st) Gulf War, the US presence in the region was intrusive with no exit strategy and no solution for the essential problem - Saddam's regime. It reached a point where instead of helping the region, we were active participants in maintaining a harmful status quo. We engendered the kind of resentment that led to 9/11 without offering any apparent benefit to balance our presence. Where the US held a golden opportunity to make history in the region with bold strokes in the early 90s, we took a wrong approach that helped no one, except Saddam stay in power. A model of irresponsible intervention. Many Americans question why the US involved itself in Iraq last year with the war on terrorism still ongoing. To me, the US has never stopped being involved with Iraq since the Gulf War. The two are related, if not in the direct way that the administration claims.

Our mistake was not doing the necessary - the harder right - in '91. Because of our naive, misguided hopes of a "global" solution to Saddam's tyranny in 91, we stopped short of a reasonable, beneficial (harder) conclusion to the war. As a result, for over a decade, we left Saddam in charge, caused further suffering for the Iraqi people - too much of which we bear direct responsibility (sanctions) - and eroded trust in the benefit of American intervention. The reputation of our country has been hurt much less by intervention itself then by irresponsible application. Simply, before Iraqi Freedom, the US failed to keep its promise to liberate the Iraqi people. Our reluctance to follow through on our promise has allowed would-be demagogues like Osama bin Laden to ascribe villainy to American intentions, even Saddam himself to blame the US for Iraqi suffering. We created a mess we are finally setting about to fix.

The US became the de-facto world leader after the Cold War and it fell to us to lead the world towards a new order and a better world. 9/11 was the wake-up call to just how badly we performed under that charge. We spent years blinding ourselves to the unpleasant requirements of leadership. We were negligent leaders, and we are now paying the price. Today, we must solve the essential problems in Iraq while also undoing the problems we caused ourselves. If the past decade-plus of our poor decisions in the Middle East have caused Arabs to hate us, then we must show them the good we intended all along.

So, what we're doing in Iraq now is all-important. It's unfinished business. It's undoing years the damage from following a mistaken path. It's restoring the legitimacy of America as a responsible world leader. Whatever folks may have thought of the rationale for toppling Saddam's regime, we've burned the boats. The only exit strategy now is for America to restore a strong, tyranny-free Iraq, which means we can't leave Iraq prematurely with a weakened infrastructure and power vacuum. To do so would be definitive proof of the harm of American leadership. If we leave a power vacuum, some unpleasant folks with their own agendas, would-be (or actual) Saddams, are more than ready to remake Iraq in their own image. Whether the Iraqi people show gratitude for what we do for them isn't the point. We're playing for bigger stakes than just the adulation of a people. We need to do right by Iraq and the Iraqi people because we've staked the legitimacy of our global influence on the future of Iraq. For that reason, many nations and non-nation actors are eager to see us fail. Personally, I believe enough in America's potential good in the world to believe that if we fail in Iraq, a lot of people are going to be hurt . . . and the world will pay a larger penalty. Failure of leadership never ends well, not the least for the failed leader.

I don't particularly like or trust Bush as our president and I'm not convinced we're handling the rebuilding of Iraq in the best way. In our suffering economy, I don't know if we have or are able to invest enough into rebuilding Iraq and maintainence of our military presence. At the same time, it's tough for me to judge because it's reasonable to expect a difficult process - I don't know if I could do it it better if I was in charge. The guerilla phase is expected. It makes sense. America resolve and staying power are highly publicized weaknesses. The opposition has clear advantages and it makes sense for the enemy to directly attack stability and security, even in a low intensity fashion, alienate American forces from the Iraqi people, and run an intensive propaganda campaign, while creating unstable conditions so that the infastructure cannot be rebuilt. These folks don't want America to ever succeed as Iraq's benefactor. Understand, they would rather have the Iraqi people suffer greatly to help drive the US out, so they can take over (again). If we leave Iraq before we finish the job this time, well, if that happened, we'd actually deserve the hate so many Americans fear. Doing the right thing doesn't automatically mean we'll receive adulation for it, but that doesn't make it any less important to do the right thing.

I'm very, very proud of the job our military has done and continues to do in Iraq under very harsh conditions. It only further proves to me that while we have lost faith in so many areas of our culture, from religion, to sports, to government, to the courts, to big business, the American people can still believe in their military. I hope the job gets easier for our troops, they get more help, and we get better at dealing with the guerilla fighters, but I know that the bottom-line is that our soldiers will do the job set forth upon them by their country. I hope our nation's leaders prove they deserve the loyalty and service of these finest of Americans. I hope, as we enter a difficult era for our country in a changing world, the American people live up to the example set forth by the men and women of the military.

About the comment regarding how the U.S. only gets involved in oil-producing countries. I've got buddies who did time in Kosovo and Bosnia who'll say otherwise. The same person brought up Korea - I have two years of my life invested in the USFK that says something about that, too. Different situations call for different actions. Anybody who has served in the military can tell you that the US gets involved. Just because some Americans choose not to be aware of or involved in their nation's affairs beyond criticism-as-convenient, doesn't make our involvement any less real.


7/31/03

This is why global politics is so damn tough, even beyond the eccentricities and weaknesses of individual personalities. (one of my history profs claimed every political decision is due to "hubris") The fact is, Americans have no historical liking for war and the American people are uncomfortable with the responsibilities of a world leader. Heck, we've got our own lives to lead, families to raise and money to make, right?

Personally, I wouldn't be too upset if we DID take more of an isolationist route and only committed our military to compelling national interests. Isolationism runs strong in the American psyche. Three World Wars (including the Cold War) hasn't changed that. But that isn't the route we chose. As a nation, we have chosen to serve as the world leader, but most individual Americans of recent generations have chosen self-interest over service. It's a contradiction that causes problems.

I'm not trying to glorify the past decade of American intervention. I'm critical of it. My only defense is that we have done a lot of it, not always well or thorough enough, and with much of it, most Americans don't know about it unless they do their research. It's a complicated business. I was impressed with our work in the ROK while I was there, and even there, it wasn't problem-free. It'd be nice if the UN was a more viable agency, post-Cold War. The US has had to carry an awfully large load over the last decade. We didn't expect it, although we should have expected it.

Not taking out Saddam the first time was Bush Sr's failure. Somalia was Clinton's failure. The Rwanda debacle was a result of Somalia. I have a bad habit of blaming Clinton far too much, but the fact is, it would have taken a very special (and highly unpopular) president not to give in to the American people's aversion to the cost of war and the national focus on profiting from a booming economy. Heck, even obvious national interests suffered. While terrorist attacks on definitive American targets mounted during the decade, our president chose not to respond in any substantive manner. When I was in the Army, I assumed twice we would be going into action (embassy bombings and USS Cole) . . . and then nothing. Some symbolic airstrikes and empty reassurances. Don't blame the oil. Blame the leadership and the will of the American people.

They say that 9/11 awoke the giant. Well, I say we should never have been asleep. But that's another bad American habit. We would rather react than deal preemptively with problems. It was a better philosophy for the Cold War, but circumstances change. Thankfully, we've started to adjust to new realities. We should apologize to the world for being so late to adjust, and we have some explaining to do, but we're finally making those changes to our leadership philosophy.

The US isn't the only industry-economy that relies heavily on oil. Admittedly, there are reasons the Middle East matters more to international interests - not just American - than Africa does. We were a pretty big client of the region's oil producers anyway (although we were never dependant on Iraqi oil). The business relationship isn't going to change much, unless we go crazy-stupid and try to execute an impossible 19th century imperalist scheme. The war in Iraq may be putting money in some people's pockets (you'll always have profiteers), but it's not exactly a boon for the economy.

For a supposed imperialist power, the US does weird things like downsize its military and seek coalitions. Well, the 19th century ended a long time ago and some of the old arguments are outdated. The US doesn't want permanent ownership of Iraq or its oil (at least I hope not because that would be a suicide fantasy). It DOES want a stabilized, even democratized, nation and, ultimately, region. In a globalized world, you don't want the costs and poor production of owning another nation, you want a conducive environment in which business can flourish.

While the war in Iraq had a legitimate humanitarian base among other reasons, it's hard for the US to commit troops to conflicts without an obvious national interest. For many people, solely humanitarian goals are just not worth draining resources and committing American lives to; the president (theoretically) answers to the American people. Unfortunately, that's the thinking that caused us to pull out of Somalia prematurely and avoid Rwanda. Today, I very much hope the US does right by Liberia, given the Liberian people's connection to America. The hard fact is - I don't like it, either - the best way to entice America's active involvement is business interest. If African nations can present themselves as viable participants in the global economy, then the US will more likely get involved. For peace activists out there, rationale for globalization IS world peace - the 21st century capitalist version of world peace. Whether it'll work or not, that's the path we've chosen as the de-facto world leader.

What I think about the flow of power from nation to business is another matter. Just because we made a choice, that doesn't mean I like it. After all, as a soldier, I served the American people. As a child, I pledged allegiance to the flag of my country, not to the dollar sign. But this is the best path we have available right now. Capitalist world peace may not entirely agree with me, but I'll take it before I advocate subjecting the world to the failure of communism.


7/31/03

The Cold War WAS the third world war. That's the one where the US beat the Soviet Union without a world-consuming "hot" war and communism imploded. True, the US had to maneuver to win the Cold War. That's what it takes in a winner-take-all contest against a committed opponent, unfortunately. It was a messy victory in places, and the process of cleaning up and transitioning to the new world order is still on-going.

To the credit of stubborn communist idealogues, they're still working gamely at undermining the US as a competitor so that the world leader that hurt their dreams can be removed. Weird people. Totally out of touch. I meet them at school all the time. No real values base beyond their discredited ideology. They just attack the US position, whatever it happens to be, and try their darndest to breed uncertainty.

Nobody wants to kill off the Muslim peoples of the world, including our president. The last I checked, we weren't sending in armies of missionaries either. You should find better sources than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. If you don't want to believe that the US isn't interested in genocide or in the humanitarian nature of our nation-building in Iraq, which is legitimate, then believe in globalism. It's in the global interest for the Middle East to be stable and the Arab peoples to be prosperous, preferably (but not necessarily) in secular democratic states. You can't barter with dead people and it's pretty tough to do with poor, oppressed people, too. The US actually has a great deal of faith in the Iraqi people, and hopefully, we can earn the same faith back from them over time.

If we have incurred hate since the Cold War, not including the passions of extremists and nut jobs, it is through irresponsible leadership that has allowed crafty power-hungry folk like bin Laden and Hussein to use the US as a foil to advance their own agendas. The only way to rectify the situation is for the US to shoulder the heavier load of leadership with commitment and resolve and work with the Iraqi people - and stay in Iraq - until the job is done.

How the administration advanced its case for war is a legitimate debate. I'm jealous about the workings of my country and I find that part of it pretty distasteful, even if I believe removal of the Saddam regime was the right thing to do. Still, that doesn't change the fact that it would be inexcusably irresponsible for the US to leave Iraq prematurely, before our work was done. The debate is good - it's the American thing to do - but it should not detract from our focus on nation-building in Iraq. We can't afford to back out on this one. Not now.

Who knows? If the US failed in Iraq and became discredited as a world leader, maybe the power vacuum would even allow communism to make a comeback. We definitely wouldn't want that to happen, would we?


8/1/03

quote:
No we wouldn't, but this is a flawed logic. Saying that you either have the choice of US leadership or communism is very narrow-minded IMO. The same "you are either with us or terrorists" George W. Bush bullcrap IMO. There are many more alternatives than just communism and capitalism, but it sure is easy to narrow the situation to this choice in order to preserve the system that strictly benefits the wealthiest.


I know. What I said was tongue-in-cheek directed at osman because he cites the Socialist Worker as one of his sources, which I'm quite familiar with - I like to keep abreast of the latest indoctrinations of the resident student retro-revolutionaries. I once participated in a debate at school (regarding Iraq, coincidentally) in which an ISO (International Socialist Organization) member actually read her statements DIRECTLY from the Socialist Worker, whether or not they actually addressed the specific topic being discussed. I'll say this about the SW. They make it really easy for their followers. They give neatly packaged answers, statistics even, and even tell you how, when and where to apply the propaganda.

It was a dig, but the serious point is more about the dangers of a power vacuum. I believe the US has staked its future as a world leader on Iraq. Our country has opened itself to criticism and as Americans, we're very eager to criticize our government (I do it, too), but what would happen if the US was discredited and disenfranchised as the world leader? What would happen? Would the world be a better place? I don't think so, and whatever we may think about the war, it's vital we succeed in Iraq.

BTW, if China or Russia was in charge of rebuilding Iraq, I'd be worried. Those aren't models I would wish on anyone. I don't know as much about Russia, but the lack of government responsibility and social services in China is appalling. The political circumstances of the region, and our own interests, dictate that we leave a viable, strong Iraq that promotes a secular democracy, if only as protection against the imposition of theocracy or autocracy. In this case, and maybe only this case, humanitarian, American and global interests coincide in a way that should benefit the Iraqi people, but only if the American people have the resolve to see this through to the end.

I'll be the first to say the US does not have a spotless track record as world leader (has there ever been a dominant world power that had one? is it even possible in the real world?), but I would think that it's important to uphold our PRESENT commitment to Iraq in order to own credibility for our FUTURE dealings with nations. Iraq is a test to establish a new base-line for the worthiness of the US to lead. It's a new world, and in it, there's no guarantee we'll stay on top. Sometimes, I wonder if Americans even deserve to be citizens of the most powerful nation in the world. If we fail in Iraq and thereby prove the inadequacy of the American people to lead, at least one of the aforementioned nations is eager, ready and willing to take our place.


8/2/03

A buddy of mine and I had a long discussion one night about how people respond poorly to hegemony and how the US is the modern representation of hegemony. The French, Spanish, English, Italians, Germans, Arabs, Chinese, etc, etc, have had periods of hegemony. Relatively speaking, the US actually has been one of the better hegemonic powers in history.

My buddy and I talked about why people resent the US, the difficult demands of power and the thankless responsibilities of leadership. At the end of the night, there were no easy answers. I wonder how many people really believe the resulting world order, whatever form it took, would be better if the US gave up its power. The workings of the real world, after all, is not a classroom exercise.

It makes sense that the US, as the world leader, should be the natural target of the disenfranchised. It's a cost of power. Some of our harshest critics, such as the French, really are in no position to compare themselves - they're not in any real position of influence. Other nations HAVE been targeted by Muslim extremist terrorism, not just the US. In fact, most terrorism of the late 20th was focused internally in the region and in Europe.

The latest "al-Qaeda" evolution of terrorism bases much of its rhetoric on the Gulf War and the subsequent "occupation" by American forces in the region. Does that mean we should have let Saddam have his way in Kuwait and the rest of the region in 91? (Remember, before we stopped him, Saddam had his own push for hegemony.) Bin Laden, who has his own Hitler dreams, has based much of his propaganda on the American garrison stationed in his home, Saudi Arabia, and the "subjugation" of Iraq by the West. That "occupation", of course, was part of the alternate path (sanctions, no fly zone, etc) we chose instead of toppling the Saddam regime in 91. In hind-sight, choosing a pacifistic coalition-oriented cap to the Gulf War was a mistake, and deferring to a dysfunctional UN only made matters worse. The net effect is we caused more hurt, betrayed the Iraqi people by leaving Saddam in power and helped terrorists cultivate anti-American resentment.

I wouldn't overestimate resentment of the US, either. Just because many (non-American) Arabs don't like us doesn't change the fact that the US is the best hope for the Iraqi people. They know it, even if critics don't like to admit it. We're responsible for Iraq until the nation is viable again. Many people criticize the US for not taking a more active hand in building a viable post-Soviet Afghanistan. We shouldn't make the same mistake in Iraq.

Many Americans are still pining for UN sanctioning of American action. I'm glad, for once, we took responsibility of our own action. The UN is a good concept, but the organization needs to be fixed to be an effective body for the new world order. We'll need a functional UN in the coming years. Hopefully, the war in Iraq will be the impetus for that over-haul.

Power is responsibility. Leadership is sacrifice. A good leader does not endeavor to be liked. He does his job, even when it's hard, even at personal cost. Even if his followers resent his power. After a decade-plus of irresponsible leadership - for which we are all at fault as Americans - the war in Iraq is a step towards responsible leadership.


8/5/03

War is as old as civilization, at least the history of civilization we're taught. If there have been societies that were large, powerful and prosperous without war, they're long gone, probably because of, well, probably war.

Human beings have fought wars long before the USofA was even an idea and they will do so after our country has been disenfranchised (that will inevitably happen one day - I just prefer it not happen in my life). The world does not begin nor end with the US. Wars have gone on since the US was a world power which have not involved the US, although every time one starts, the world judges the US action or inaction thereof - yet another pitfall of leadership.

You don't have to like the idea of war to recognize that it's part of the fabric of humanity. The world is a changing place and war is and has always been the most reliable means to change. It would be irresponsible as the world leader for the US to avoid the reality of war. If we removed war as an option for our nation, we could not fully engage in the changing world.

We could refuse war at all cost - and I do mean "all cost," because doing so would come at a very hard price, has come at a high price, both for ourselves and those we lead. We can only hope for a responsible and SUFFICIENT application of war when it is proper to do so. If the American people refuse war at all cost - in other words, if the American people reject the position of world leader - then our nation will be severely handicapped as the world leader, doomed to cause more harm than good.

There's a lot I disagree with about the president, but I have to give him credit for departing the wrong path we took for Iraq for over a decade, pushing ahead the removal of the Saddam regime, initiating nation-building in Iraq, and reexamining our relationship with the UN. This can still end badly for us if the US falls short of its responsibilities in Iraq, so I hope individual Americans don't screw it up by judging their own self-interests above that of the nation's or Iraq's best interests. That doesn't mean I'll vote for Bush in 04, but I have to give him his due on what he's done right.


8/5/03

quote:
I come to the conclusion that it is more of a war between the rich and ther poor

Just saw this. The Middle East is not a poor place. It's not like countries that produce oil are not paid for it. Unfortunately, the distribution of wealth in the region and the governments themselves leave a lot to be desired. (That's why in Iraq, it's not enough to remove the old government, it's important to install a functioning government that can be a model for the surrounding countries in the region. Difficult, since neighbors like Iran are making their own power plays in Iraq.)

Osama bin Laden, of course, is wealthy and comes from a wealthy family. Many of his top officers, if not his rank-and-file followers, have similarly privileged backgrounds. We're not talking about the Communist revolution here. From what I've heard, there isn't much said in his rhetoric about a redistribution of wealth from rich Arabs to poor Arabs.

It's a different discussion, but Saddam Hussein and members of ruling Iraqi elite are (were?) also wealthy.

To me, the issues are about power, framed in ideas about culture, or religion or whatever else. The US, of course, is the most powerful. Bin Laden is a would-be demagogue who may or may not be a religious zealot seeking a purified Islamic land, scrubbed clean of Western influences. Whatever he is, Bin Laden has always been markedly ambitious. What Saddam Hussein wanted when he was in power in Iraq was transparent and well-documented. He's always wanted more power; now he's lost his power and he wants it back.

I'm actually not a big fan of capitalism, and definitely not unfettered capitalism (coming from a union family and all), and before 9/11, I was not keen at all on globalisation. In terms of a new world order, though, I just recognize it's what we have to work with.

8/6/03

There are actually pretty good reasons to have gone to war with Iraq, even if the president's ability to sell the idea is very poor.

The American people do need a reality check on the changing world and our place in it. A lot of people are still thinking with a pre-9/11 mindset or even worse, a Cold War mindset. There are even folks who still cite the Vietnam War as though it's the be-all, end-all verdict of American foreign policy. The world has changed a lot since 89. It took 9/11 as a wake-up call, and we've switched to a more pro-active, even preemptive, foreign policy as opposed to the old reactive, containment-oriented foreign policy. We won the Cold War with the old strategy, but that was with a different opponent in a different kind of conflict. The Cold War is over and we face different kinds of challenges now.

Human interest alone is a tough reason to go to war. The Somalia failure debunked the myth that American involvement or the threat of our power alone can solve the deeper, complex problems of a country in crisis. Right or wrong, Clinton established a cap for military involvement in Somalia that the US won't cross for a humanitarian mission and the sad fact is, that level of involvement just isn't enough to get the job done in the more extreme situations. That doesn't mean the US should avoid humanitarian missions, it just needs to pick its spots. Liberia may very well be one of those spots. As for Korea and Iraq, they're not similar situations. nK is playing a dangerous game, but we and the ROK have played it with them for 50 years. A nasty Cold War inheritance that is alive and well. If we go to war with nK, we'll probably win, but the destruction in that entire theater, especially if nK goes nuclear, will make the damage of Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm combined look like a Basic Training battle drill. Hopefully, the graphic example of our warfighting capability and our commitment to its use in Iraq will help us deal with nK.

Clinton hand-off. The groundwork for Iraqi Freedom was actually laid in Desert Fox in 98 under Clinton. Clinton could have, and many argue should have, sent in ground forces in 98 and initiated the same process of nation-building we're engaged in now. Clinton basically sold out the highest level of enforcement for the UN resolutions as ineffectual bombings, which was a very bad Clinton habit that undermined both the US and the UN. (The fact that a generation of young Americans think of war only as impersonal bombing is a sad statement of the Clinton era.) After DF, there really was no place left to go regarding Saddam except for UN (ie, US and UK) forces to leave the region and end the embargoes - in other words, for the UN to surrender to Saddam - OR do what Bush did. In the intervening period between DF and IF, our grip was slipping, while there was no indication that the status quo had changed for the better in Iraq regarding Saddam's compliance with the conditions set by the UN resolutions.

The reasons for and legal precedent, even arguments against, for IF were the same as DF. Only the degree and level of commitment differs, and of course, Clinton's salesman skills are far superior to Bush's. In fact, Bush never had to go to the UN for approval under the DF precedent, but he did anyway.

If you go past Bush and his inability to articulate intelligently, and listen to Slick Willy instead, Clinton actually explains the rationale for Iraqi Freedom far better than Bush does. He has to, of course, because for him to criticize IF would be to criticize his own decision-making for DF. Just because our current president isn't a gifted salesman like our last president doesn't make American action in Iraq any less (or more) justified.

About the UN. Since we won the Cold War, the US HAS worked hard to prop up the UN to take the load of managing the transition to a new world order, really our load as victor of the CW. Well, if the UN is the best the US could buy, then we sure got a bum deal. We built up the UN like it was the key to world peace. Instead of relieving our load, far more often, the US has had to bail out the UN. In the military, at least, we knew that just about the worst assignment to be stuck on was a UN op. At some point, the UN became a modern day League of Nations that became more about the politics of inaction rather than implementing real-world solutions. Perhaps, that suited a post-Cold War, pre-9/11 president like Clinton, but not so good for a post-9/11 president like Bush who is compelled to act. We pinned our post-Cold War hopes on the UN, and it failed us.

Just like in 03, lots of folks in 91 said that Iraq didn't pose an imminent threat to the US and called it a regional conflict. If we didn't want to go to war in Iraq in 2003, 1991 WAS the point we should have avoided it; however, once we sent in our forces to stop Saddam in 91, we were committed to Iraq. Again, the US involvement in Iraq never ended after 91 nor did our responsibility to the Iraqi people end. Sometime in the last decade, in 98's DF at the latest, or perhaps after the Saddam sons-in-law incident in 95, it became pretty clear what we had to do to the Saddam regime. It took a while, but we finally did it. It's unfortunate that the UN failed again, but I'm not sorry that we opted to call them out. We need the UN, and hopefully the UN will catch up.

I'm not convinced yet that Iraqi WMD doesn't exist nor am I convinced that our intel had all the WMD pinpointed before the war. There's this fantasy that the US is all-powerful and all-capable. I wish we were, but we're not. Despite the huge inspection process in the years immediately following the Gulf War (before Saddam made the inspections impossible to work), we didn't find Saddam's chem stash until his sons-in-law talked. He's good at hiding stuff, better than we are at finding it. It's possible we may never find it. It's unfortunate if we don't, but we know Saddam, and we know what he can and will do when empowered. It was better to do the responsible thing and take him out of power rather than the alternate - leave him in power.

I understand why people are opposed to the the war in Iraq. We have chosen a frightening risky path for reasons which don't sit well with our pre-9/11 way of thinking. At heart, Americans aren't anything like imperialists - we're isolationists. As a former soldier, I worry for our young troops out there risking their lives - and in some cases, dying - doing an incredibly hard job that most folks back home don't understand. I just hope that our civilian leaders and the American people especially will live up to the example set by our troops.

Anyway, agree or disagree with going to war, the bottom-line is what's done is done. Whether or not we wanted it, we're committed to Iraq. Even those against the war have to appreciate our responsibility for the rebuilding of Iraq and the necessity of enduring the hardships and challenges involved therein. (And, it's going to be messy for a while, even in the unlikely possibility we do everything right.) For the sake of the Iraqi people and for the future of our nation, the American people need to support success for the American mission in Iraq. We're committed.


8/6/03

Iraq vs Korea (post #90)

Remember, the US isn't the main player with north Korea. We're in a support mission in Korea - high-profile and influential, but still support. US has something like 35, 000 troops in-country while South Korea, due to their draft, has a standing military of something like 2 million and nearly every of-age Korean male is a qualified reservist. nK's military, on the other hand, has numbers off the charts both in men and equipment. (nK's draftees serve for 10-plus years compared to the 2-plus of ROK draftees.) nK still has a few allies but is facing growing isolation. With China changing its focus, nK's closest ally doesn't want them to go wild, either. The conventional thinking is that the DPRK would defeat the ROK in a head-to-head fight but add American (and UN coalition) support into the mix, and the good guys should win the fight, but only after horrific destruction in the theater (to include Japan, China, etc). Basically, if nK actually ever attacks, it would mean the death of their nation. nK survival is based on threat, not expansion. Very Cold War. Again, that's the conventional thinking.

nK is economically dysfunctional and military threat is their ONLY bargaining chip and leverage. nK threatens and makes demands, and we, as well as other players in the region, give in periodically and give them stuff and feed nK's people. nK's main source of revenue comes from selling military goods, not quite enough to maintain a gigantic, hugely expensive military. It's not unreasonable to surmise that nK survives on hand-outs. It all adds up to a dangerous game, but also one we've played for 50 years. The hope is that we can eventually wait them out like we did the USSR. It hasn't happened yet, but for now, in Cold War parlance, nK is "contained." The nuclear threat is serious, but it's also not new - for now, the wiser course is to play it out.

Iraq is a different situation (yes, a part of the difference is that the cost of war in Iraq is substantially lower than it would be in Korea). One, we're more of a support player in a defensive mission in Korea, while we are the primary player as enforcers in Iraq. Two, the US mission in Iraq hasn't been to balance or indefinitely contain Iraq like we're involved in Korea. Three, as long as nK doesn't push matters past a certain point, the situation in the region is stable, whereas the Saddam situation has been a continuing source of instability in the region. No exit strategy, failure of policy, growing instability - we were compelled to change our course of action in Iraq. Four, we didn't agree to an armistice with Iraq like we did with nK and China. We assumed enforcement for the conditions of the UN resolutions that replaced the act of toppling Saddam's regime in 1991. Essentially, with the failure of Saddam to comply with the imposed conditions of his defeat in 1991, we finished in 2003 what was delayed in 1991. We implemented an exit strategy by toppling Saddam, but we also learned from history. We didn't turn a (cheaper, easier) blind eye to Saddam, resume business dealings with him (such as France had already done), and allow him to reconstitute his military threat, such as Europe did with Nazi Germany as it reconstituted before WWII.

I'm not saying we're doing the right thing with nK, but we do have a lot more help there (we ARE the help there, actually), a different situation, and a game with a long tradition. Think of Korea as the last major Cold War conflict. That said, I hope our caution with nK and reliance on the old containment paradigm doesn't hurt us. Iraqi Freedom is part of the new strategy of pro-active, preemptive action where we use our power to implement real-world solutions with actual end-state strategies. It was time for us to decrease our presence in the region, but on our terms, not Saddam's.

8/21/03

quote:
Originally posted by osman!


You're obviously biased having served in the military, of course you agree with everything your buddy Bush does.




I served the vast majority of my time under President Clinton as my Commander-in-Chief, actually. There's a lot I disagree with Bush about, and he hasn't earned my vote in 2004, but there is some truth to your statement. Yes, I do draw upon my experience in the military as a perspective in judging current events, particularly when somebody asks a question that involves the military. I also happen to be a college student who's spent most of his life as a civilian, and a fairly liberal one at that. I find that my time in service works together with my non-military experience to enrich my over-all perspective in a way that is foreign to many of my generational peers who have not served. That's not to say, of course, that all people who've served in the military think alike. Military folk are diverse, and we may view our shared experiences differently.

osman, do you have a military background to balance your perspective?

quote:


Why do you have to have a military base in every region you protect yourself? Oh right I forgot your're the sole world power and it is your got given duty to do as you please. Becuase if other countries won't do anything the World will in ruins, thus the world is your responsibility, and you are here to police.

But then why have millions of civlians died around the world. Since 1989 over 100,000 people have died in Liberia in a civil war. Yet what did the world police (the US according to you) do, nothing. Fourteen years later they send 150 troops, yeah great job of policing the world. Again I have to bring up Somalia, and Rwanda, there are so many more. Now you're going to say "oh we made some mistakes and no ones perfect", but according to your gov't those were not mistakes, it was their decision to stand by and do nothing. Thus the only thing they care about is money, and national interest, not civilization.




We've covered this already, extensively. Okay. When civil war trips into genocide in Africa, it is a different issue. Somalia clearly delineated the limits of UN and American endurance, at least pre-9/11, in Africa. Remember, post-Cold War, the US sought to share leadership responsibilities, with NATO, the UN - in general, coalitions. Somalia was an early post-Desert Storm test of UN effectiveness. The UN set about military-enforced humanitarian relief, which they started with US backing. UN troops are mostly symbolic, though. Eventually, the warlords (similar to Baathists and terrorists in Iraq today) decided that it was in their best interests to engage in brutal attacks on UN personnel. UN troops were massacred, so the US sent in our SpecOps forces. We did terrific things for a while - soldiers do amazing work everyday - but then the warlords blooded us, too, and it became clear that the problem was much bigger than our mission involved. Our president backed down. (I once saw an interview with a leftist who claimed the US should have WORKED with Aidid.) Yes, surrendering to Aidid turned out to be a big mistake, especially considering we now know al Qaeda was peripherally involved. Politically at the time, it made sense to back off. Post-USSR and pre-al Qaeda, folks like you appealed more to American public opinion - isolationism runs strong in our psyche. Sub-Saharan Africa isn't like the Middle East, Europe or Asia in terms of a global ripple effect nor does the region - at least, at the time - have an infrastructure that would encourage successful intervention. Our foreign policy aim lies more in global stability, a more realistic goal than global Utopia. The rest comes on a benefit-cost basis and to our credit, we give a lot.

Anyway, so faced with blood, Clinton made his decision, which encompassed Rwanda, too. As Somalia, and Vietnam before it, showed, an inadequate intervention is worse than no intervention. At the limits Clinton set, we weren't going to be able to succeed in Africa. (Later on, Clinton was dragged by GEN W. Clark, CinC of NATO into Balkans intervention.) The UN had backed down in Somalia and we weren't going to get any help from our allies in a situation no one but us cared about at that point. Somalia projected to be a lengthy, bloody quagmire with no probable end-state success. The mission was humanitarian relief, not raze and rebuild an entire country. The threatened warlords made sure the stakes were as high as possible, and we weren't ready to go that deep. I think we could have made it work, but I also happen to have a lot of faith in America. It would have taken years, volumes of vitriolic criticism from folks such as yourself while the harsh realities of nation-building unfolded, dissastisfaction from the American people, and a lot of blood on both sides. Even then, if we had forged a nation under those conditions, I wonder how long it would have lasted in the regional environment. In 1993, it was too hard a road.

Perspective - before 9/11, we were restrained in the ME, too (to the anger of the Iraqi people who rebelled against Saddam), but even as difficult as they are, nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq is actually more promising than the Somalia situation. Today, it seems that Africa is starting to get its act together as a regional community, which is a key factor in why we're getting involved again. There's hope in Africa again for entry into the new world order, which gives us hope for a more fruitful involvement this time. The Marines we have in Liberia now aren't a fighting force so much as a signature statement of a larger commitment by the US. After all, all-out war isn't the only tool for any given situation, nor as I said, is war the only mission of the US military. For now, we are encouraging African-run change with less physical US involvement. It's a subtle diplomatic touch, surprising from the Bush admin, but fighting terrorism is different. Liberia does own historical ties to the US, so it's not exactly a universal test case, but it is yet another indication that our foreign policy HAS changed for the better since 9/11.

The US certainly went to bat for the UN in those heady post-DS days, and we did a lot of good work in Somalia, but our president set a limit for American involvement in a localised humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, any time a leader shows weakness, as we did repeatedly in the decade leading up to 9/11, it encourages aggressors around the world, as in Rwanda, as in al Qaeda.

Understanding why we do something doesn't mean that I think it was the right thing to do in hind-sight. The US ability to change the world is the best available but it isn't limitless, in means nor in domestic tolerance - we're not the angelic horde. But the fact remains we sit in a leadership position and whatever we do will bear consequences as a leader. Instead of denouncing the US (oddly, you seem to be against both American intervention AND non-intervention), it would be be more constructive to bend your energies to helping America lead in these difficult times. I'm not sure what you think the alternatives are - maybe you are a religious extremist, maybe you prefer the EU or China - but as an American, I am proud that you hold our country to such a high standard. It shows we've done some things right in the past 60 years.

Something else I wonder about you. Agreed - it is in our national interest to cure the world of terrorism and rebuild an empowered, democratic Iraq. Do you think it would be better for us, Iraq, the ME and the world if the US - warts and all - divested itself of the Iraq situation right now and left Israel to fend for itself?


quote:


Thus whatever you said about the US being a world provider is BS. Have you ever given changing your foreign policy a thought, that might help in taking you off the terrorists maps.


The price of power and leadership, no matter how benign, is that you become a target of the power-hungry and the disenfranchised fringe. Folks like Stalin and Hitler had their ways of dealing with the folk they found disagreeable. Thankfully, we try to be more tolerant, but unfortunately, our own democratic predilections backfire on us at times. Sometimes, the necessary thing is ugly and unpleasant. We can only hope we take the harder road with humanity in our hearts and hands.

I don't think it's in our or in the rest of the civilized world's interest for us to seek to co-exist with the 9/11 terrorists or have them dictate to us our foreign policy. I don't know how you feel, but I tend not to think of the 9/11 terrorists as a representative sample of the majority of the world's peoples, to include Muslims and Arabs.


Go to Part 2.

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