Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Our Elite Still Don't Get It

Today brings yet another stream-of-consciousness op-ed column from Tom Friedman in which he wishes Democrats to win the House and Senate by one-vote margins, ensuring the new majority party will "govern from the center", a wish that presumably means that in the future, American imperial over-stretches and international social engineering experiments will continue to be made, but that these efforts, unlike those of the current batch of incompetents, will be managed better. And just in case the reader is in danger of missing the point, and thinks Friedman is being critical of imperial overstretches and international social engineering experiments, the NYT op-ed columnnist squeezes in this qualification:

Yes, Mr. Bush's original vision of a unified democratic Iraq was compelling and important.

Despite everything that's happened over the last six years, our confederacy of dunces still thinks America has the right to treat countries around the world as wayward states that must be corralled into line and fashioned into "laboratories of democracy", depending on the whims of the dunces in question. So Friedman still thinks, and wants his readers to believe, that the war's aims, and the aims of its architects were well-meaning and justified because of "Bush's original vision of a unified democratic Iraq". The war was right, America was right, because our leadership's "vision of a unified and democratic Iraq was compelling and important". Compelling and important. Compelling and important to whom, for whom? And since when do "compelling and important" rank as metrics of international law or human rights? And if the "vision" was "compelling and important" where was the concern, where was the demand PRIOR to the war for a "compelling" and "important" post-occupation plan? Where were the questions, PRIOR to the war, about Iraq itself? (other than the opinions of the various exile groups).

As important as the moral parameters of the war are concerned, where was the recognition that a war planned in secret and in haste, lacking both adequate ground forces and international support, and devoid of any meaningful participation from or understanding of Iraq's people, was doomed to produce the chaos of today?

Part of the problem, I must admit, is an understanding of the very nature of war itself. Clearly there was a tension between the goals of "regime change" and "liberation", which most proponents of the war, and even most of the war's opponents either avoided or failed to articulate. Having now read through several of the books documenting the lead-up to, and the aftermath of the war, I'm struck by how little recognition there seems to be of the constraints of war.

Conservative critics of the war, if I can call them that, bemoan the lack of sufficient destruction carried out on the population, thereby acknowledging, however subtly, their recognition of the tension, and their preference for the destructive capabilities of war over its "liberating" impulses. But war in the modern era (Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, and, originally, Afghanistan) gave birth to the notion that wars could be quick, relatively devoid of American casualties, militarily effective, and politically thorough in their transformative impact.

But in the case of Gulf War I, the aims were considerably different than those embraced by the Bush neo-cons. All the military was called upon to do was evict Iraq's armies from Kuwaiit, not to conquer or recreate Iraqi society, all 25 million people of it. Similarly, the initial fruits of "victory" in Afghanistan have turned sour as American resources were diverted to Iraq and the realities of transforming Afghanistan cracked under the influence of deregulated warlords, drug entrepreneurs, and the new Taliban confederates coming back over the border from the tribal no-man lands separating Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military played an understated role, much of it through the air in league with tribal warlords on the ground, in initially rousting the Taliban and bringing to power an obstensibly western-friendly president. But wishing to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union in the mountains and wilderness of Afghanistan, and concentrate its military tools and minds on Iraq, the U.S. and its allies have left Afghanistan, aside from a relatively pliable government in Kabul, to the lawless wasteland it was throughout the nineties, a circumstance that ultimately paved the way for Pakistani intercession via the Taliban. And although the obstensible aim of invading Afghanistan was either to capture or destroy Al Qaeda leadership and prevent the continued existence of terrorist training camps, the final result of our invasion of that country has been to allow both Al Qaeda and the training camps to re-emerge.

In Iraq, the U.S. military did the destroying of the regime itself, but the path to victory was a mirage, as most of the Iraqi military disolved into the towns, choosing to either vanish from sight or live to fight another day, in another way, through means more favorable to its primitive environment and capacities. "Victory" in Iraq was further undermined by the lack of resources and planning needed to stabilize and reconstruct the country, the latter condition the need for which was both under-estimated by the invaders as well as at least partially caused by them and its allies through 12 years of sanctions.

The result has been to leave one country--Afghanistan--relatively unchanged from the days prior to 9/11 and to make another country--Iraq--considerably worse off, both to its people as well as to the west, as economic chaos, sectarian conflict, and any Arabic humiliation generated by the invasion helps to spawn a new wave of anti-western terrorists, if not anti-western inhabitants, and a new, ungovernable environment in which those terrorists and hostile elements can thrive and mutate.

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