The Talking Dog

July 8, 2007, Trust no one

After having done all it could to pour combustible fuel on the national bonfire and amplification to the pre-Iraq drumbeat for war... the Grey Lady insists that it now has religion, and hence, gives us this long jeremiad on why the United States should immediately get out of Iraq. Well well. The esteemed "news" institution that employed Saddam-WMD-confabulator Judith Miller and still employs court stenographer Michael Gordon, and who deliberately understated the extent of opposition to the Iraq War in order to hype that war with the twin goals of (1) getting a seat at the tough guys' table and, presumably, (2) increasing its own advertising revenues... now tells us that the war IT HELPED US GET INTO is too far gone... and... we should go home.

I've said before that just as irrationality (and irrationality among the informed/educated class who reads the Grey Lady) helped irrationally get us into Iraq in the first place, it now calls for an immediate withdrawal... again, all without a rational argument! Unbelievable, when you think about it. Just unbelievable.

First and foremost, we MUST stop permitting talk of the nonsense that Iraq is, was, or ever will be about "terrorism". Saddam more or less had terrorism in Iraq under control, albeit by sheer brutality. The joke is that Saddam hated al Qaeda and might have been more than willing to help us thwart OBL and the gang... because it served his own interests not to have Sunni extremists running around who might inflame his own population. And Saddam hated our current bete noire, Iran, and kept Iran largely checked in the region. The fact is, our own missteps have allowed al-Anbar province to become a proto-state for "Al Qaeda in Iraq", a more or less homegrown group with at best peripheral ties to OBL... our withdrawal will certainly not remove that group, nor will our staying necessarily remove it... If anything, our staying gives this particular group of terrorists a nice recruiting and rallying point. So, terrorism? No, no, no, no...

Look, folks: Junior wanted to call this "Operation Iraqi Liberation..." Karl, who, unlike Junior, could spell, insisted that even Americans could get something as unsubtle as calling this war about oil "O.I.L."... and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was born. But that's it: Iraq has the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world... and always will. The idea is that Saddam was a wild-card-- he might release that oil in an... uncontrolled way, with who knows what effect on Saudi (and Exxon Mobil) revenues. Hence, he had to be stopped... hanged by the Mahdi Army if necessary, damn the consequences.

Using the ideologically irrational (if not bat-shit insane) fears of neo-cons like Feith and Wolfowitz who sold themselves that Saddam was Hitler and meant to wipe out Israel (the same script now in play re: Iran) and the general irrational appeals to fear and jingoism (lessons of September 11th... the smoking gun had better not - 9-11-- be a mushroom cloud-- 9-11- 9-11) coupled with outright lies and Congressional laziness (or worse), as its cover, we got ourselves into Iraq in the first place with virtually no real national debate (lots of national shouting... but no grown-up debate)... and it looks like we may be having the "get-out" debate the same way.

Don't blame me: I came out against this war in August, 2002, when it became obvious to me that its purpose had nothing to do with Saddam WMDs-- we couldn't afford to have waited as long as August, 2002 if it really did. It's purpose (besides, you know, oil) was, in my view at the time, about winning the November 2002 mid-terms... and it sure worked out for that... not to mention the 2004 general election.

So, once again, I will make it easy. The proposal the Grey Lady offers of getting American forces out of Iraq as fast as logistics allows will result in a probable doubling, and possibly tripling, of world oil prices... our troops are not merely stabilizing conditions in Iraq right now... they are saving us from $7/gallon gasoline. They are preventing Iraq's chaos from blowing over into Saudi, Iran and the Gulf States. Take the Middle Eastern oil-patch out of circulation... or even threaten that-- and you run the risk of devastating the world economy. Worse still, countries with more coal than oil (the USA, Australia... China...) will rush to do the expedient thing and exploit that coal, accelerating our already potentially devastating global warming troubles, not to mention ordinary pollution effects like acid rain and lung disease.

It's a fair point that the answer may be "no" of whether it still pays or makes sense for us to hemmorage money and our countrymen and women in the cause... whatever that cause is. Frankly, if it encourages us to conserve and build solar and wind generators as if we really needed them to win a war... then I would say "get out yesterday". But given the real likely effects of economic and geo-political disruption which, as usual, will probably let the Bush Cheney class profit anyway while causing still more suffering to everyone else... do we really want to do this?

The Grey Lady (and the rest of the commercial media) might at least have the decency to ask these actual relevant questions... Naturally, they don't. As with telling you the real story of what we are doing in the so-called Global War on Terror... it probably comes down to us-- the ultimate independent media... without any particular agenda, save hopefully reason and the truth... people with no ads to sell, no Beltway party invitations to compete for...

Well. We'd damned well better ask these questions ourselves. Again: we who knew enough not to go in IN THE FIRST PLACE are the ones who can best be trusted to talk about this now. Seriously. Which really does knock out the likes of the Grey Lady and its feckless (and gutless) editorial page. As bad as the United States staying in Iraq is, we must face up to the fact that leaving will cause a shit-storm. Are we prepared for it? Are you driving a Prius? Do you have your solar-collector and wind-generators up and running? Can you walk to work if it came to that? Can you grow your own food?

These are deadly serious questions-- that have to be asked before we can blithely just pick up and leave Iraq. Just as the benefits of a cost-free removal of Saddam were sold to us... we only see the "benefits" (or at least reduced cost in terms of American casualties-- we only care about American casualties)... without the cost of what will happen if we leave-- both to the Iraqi people (God help them) and the rest of the Middle East, not to mention geo-political and petro-political stability.

Will somebody please God-damned ask these questions... and do the cost-benefit analysis of leaving Iraq that was never undertaken before we got stuck there? Or are we no longer capable of objective thinking?


I shall call this piece "Iraq: Come for Stupid Illegal Reasons, But Stay for the Oil".

Um. No thanks.

The idea that gas prices will go through the roof when we leave just doesn't hold water... especially since all the experts aren't talking about leaving the region, per se, but rather about strategically relocating to the borders, the safe zones, etc. That probably means Kurdistan, Qatar, etc. with a strong presence in the gulf, all able to occasionally swat the bad guys, whoever they may be at the time.

Do you really think that our soldiers are "... saving us from $7/gallon gasoline... preventing Iraq's chaos from blowing over into Saudi, Iran and the Gulf States"?

On what factual basis are you claiming such things? Why didn't the Iranian revolution "blow over" into southern Iraq? Has it perhaps occurred to you that you have drunk the neocon koolade to buy these kind of arguments?

Yes, there will be refugees from Iraq, but the thing is, there have already been well over a million... so where is there any evidence of the violence spreading beyond Iraq's borders? Do you honestly think that the U.S. and Europe is going to allow massive shitstorms to spread from Iraq and disrupt the world's supply of oil? Somehow, I doubt it.

As for Iraq, well, they're already exporting a pathetic amount of oil compared to what they once did. OPEC can easily cover and downturn, and, infact, has been doing so for a long time now.

So, really, your $7 gasoline sounds pretty far-fetched. That doesn't mean that we won't face increasing energy concerns into the future, certainly, but it's silly and naive to blame that on Iraq, as opposed to, say, Americans using several, several times as much non-renewable energy as any other nation.

Frankly, we can help make up for our stupidity in Iraq really quickly by simply raising the CAFE standards on vehicles.

Leaving Iraq will actually give the Iraqis an incentive to unify or at least to achieve regional stability and autonomy, as those forces in favor of stability will no longer be seen as quislings and collaborators. A strong man -- or a selection thereof -- will emurge, and everyone will start playing nicey-nicey if they want a piece of the pie.

I suspect that there will be a lot more that the U.S., the U.N., and everyone else can do to actually help the Iraqis once we step back and let them sort out a few things by themselves. And though it may be a bit bloody at first, it's better than the permanent gut wound of indefinite fighting and indefinite occupation.

Posted by Mark Kraft at July 9, 2007 12:41 PM

"These are deadly serious questions-- that have to be asked before we can blithely just pick up and leave Iraq."

Remember these people? They kind of already did that. And they're pretty credible. James Baker, Sandra Day O'Connor, former SecDef William Perry, etc.

Might I suggest actually reading their report? It might help alleviate many of your anxieties.

Posted by Mark Kraft at July 9, 2007 1:14 PM

I ask you, everyone... was that so hard? A rational, well-thought out rebuttal, complete with factual and reality based suggestions. Of course, this sort of thing is happening here rather than in the mainstream media or in the halls of power...

I don't think I'm not drinking neo-con kool aid here because the neo-cons aren't selling this flavor: they are by and large too busy screaming about surrender-monkeys and defeato-crats (and attacking Iran!) even to rationally defend their own Iraq handiwork and fantasies through the brutal prism of real-ekonomik. That's left to me-- who always thought this war was a bad idea... in no small part because we would be moving and smashing pieces around the board, leaving us in a less desirable overall position than when we started.

I concede that it is more than a fair point to say that, by and large, the market has ALREADY factored in a good part of the cost of the United States abruptly withdrawing from Iraq-- or as you (and the Times) observe-- the withdrawal light, because we will insist on eating our cake and having it too by maintaining permanent Iraq bases while withdrawing most of the patrols and combat troops.

I also concede that forced adjustments to a more fuel-efficient world by the brute market forces of higher oil prices will ultimately be necessary, and may be a good thing. OTOH, around half of Saudi oil flows through a single group of junctions located by and large in an ethnic Shia area... while Saudi Arabia is thankfully stable at the moment, one cannot deny that a chaotic Iraqi failed state could have nasty repercussions if they impact Saudi Arabia. As to the Iranian revolution example... Iraq wasn't then a failed state: the [elite!] Republican Guard were always available to keep out Iranian "spillover"... as are currently British and American troops.

No question I am laying out a worst-case scenario (actually, that could be $9, 10, or $11/gal. gasoline...) But not considering such a scenario is the same kind of cognitive error made when getting us into Iraq in the first place.

In the end-- the price of getting out is probably favorable to the price of not getting out... but we'd damned well better know what both prices are.

Will the Europeans allow shit-storms associated with our getting out? Short answer: yes. Will WE? Well, that's just it: that's why I think we're still there, and why, in some form, we're going to be there in some form (at least until the oil runs out!)
Will we make the appropriate energy use adjustments? Well... we haven't yet...

The bigger, unasked question is whether we can any longer afford to continue to carry the role of the British navy in the 19th century-- that of both maintaining a colonial empire and serving as the world's stabilizer and maintainer of open lanes of commerce... and what role Iraq will have on that as well.

Anyway, thanks Mark... excellent points all.

Posted by the talking dog at July 9, 2007 1:15 PM

"while Saudi Arabia is thankfully stable at the moment, one cannot deny that a chaotic Iraqi failed state could have nasty repercussions if they impact Saudi Arabia."

As compared to now? Saudi Arabia's borders are secure, and their internal disputes -- which already exist and have existed for many years, in large part because they're essentially a US-backed dictatorship.

They had some problems a few years ago, so they (rather strictly) rounded up a few thousand -- mostly innocent -- people, no doubt using them as leverage to get at the true "baddies". Neighbors snitched on neighbors, and the leaders presumably bought off everyone else.

They're far more capable of maintaining stability in their own country than Saddam ever was, even during his heyday... in large part because they're an exceedingly wealthy country with no real "losers" per se. Compare the situation there to Iran, which has had several terrorist acts over the last year or so... quite possibly fomented by the US / British governments.

As for using the Iranian revolution as an example... agreed. Iraq didn't lose its south because it wasn't then a failed state. But neither are the Saudis, the Jordanians... or the U.S. military, who seem determined to maintain a permanent presence in the region. Frankly, I don't even think that such a large presence will be necessary to prevent "spillover".

If there is any real "spillover", it will be as a result of the U.S. turning its back on reformist organizations seeking human rights / free speech concessions, such as we've seen in Egypt. If Iraq taught the people of the Middle East anything, it's that the U.S. is prepared to sell out its supposed ideals for shortterm gains, and cannot be counted on. As a result, the reformers start to ally with the radical Islamists instead. See this video by PBS's NOW for more details.

That's not spillover... that's karma. "Spillover" simply does not have any meaningful effect on other countries, unless there's already fertile ground for it to grow.

There almost certainly *WILL* be longterm fallout from the GWOT and the war in Iraq for decades, but continued occupation isn't going to help us. Quite the opposite.

"But not considering such a scenario is the same kind of cognitive error made when getting us into Iraq in the first place."

So, if it took, say, 120,000 Iraqi deaths a year on our watch to keep gas prices below $4 a barrel, that would be okay?

Some, of course, would argue that the U.S. had no business there in the first place, and their continued presence is causing a longterm increase in terrorism, violence, and animosity towards the U.S. and their interests overseas.

I'm no fan of cognitive errors either, but what you are advocating is shortterm gain vs. the longterm gains we might actually accrue in the Middle East by being fair, credible, pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and simply doing what's right.

"Will the Europeans allow shit-storms associated with our getting out? Short answer: yes."

In Iraq, sure... but outside of Iraq? Not if it means that they don't get their oil. Most of ours comes from Venezuela and Canada. Most of theirs comes from the Middle East and from Russia. They will see to it as best as they can that their supplies from Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. aren't disrupted.

Can the U.S. afford to maintain the flow of global trade? I suspect we can... or will, regardless of whether you or I like it or not. I would argue that Iraq and Afghanistan were completely unnecessary conflicts from the point of achieving such goals, however, regardless of the other motivations involved.

In short, the U.S. really needs to pick their battles a whole lot better, ideally working within the context of the international community. Bush Sr. knew this. Bush Jr. did not.

EVERYONE wants the oil to flow... or at least everyone who counts.

Posted by Mark Kraft at July 9, 2007 4:20 PM

So, if it took, say, 120,000 Iraqi deaths a year on our watch to keep gas prices below $4 a barrel, that would be okay?

NOW you have landed on the reason for this exercise: if we had to stop hearing officially spouted crap like "9-11 smoking gun 9-11 mushroom cloud Saddam nucular weapons 9-11 Al Qaeda Saddam Saddam 9-11"... AND F***ing THINK-- we would realize the utter brutality of it all, and could objectively assess all this... WOULD WE STILL DO IT?

And I'm not ADVOCATING staying; I've never wanted us in at all. I am suggesting that we are there now... and I am saying that we damned well need to understand the IMPLICATIONS of leaving... if we continue operating in the national fog we've been in for nearly 6 years, then the odds of future misguided adventures continues to be high, and we will have learned nothing. I agree entirely that our national business would be better run as an ethical concern-- doing business with places like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, etc... running an international gulag network... all of this undermines our national interest, ultimately and substantially.

The question we also need to know is if our countrymen knew the simple brutal reality of the reason we are in Iraq-- control of a resource (btw, that control includes the ability to keep it in the ground while chaos reigns above)-- would they STILL have favored (or at least not opposed in strong enough terms) the initial entry, and then reelected the government that did it? And that is also worth the exercise... although frankly, I tend to fear that Americans might merrily and knowingly commit genocide to commit gasoline prices down for their SUVs. I hope I'm wrong... but I wouldn't bet that way, especially given the last two presidential elections.

And I disagree re: Afghanistan: rogue states harboring exporters of instability like OBL and AQ are bad for business, period... and there was a self-defense angle (though not an important enough one, apparently, to actually manage to put enough resources there to capture or kill OBL, Zawahiri, etc.)

So yeah-- I probably come out on the "get out now" side... the deeper you look objectively; certainly, the war is and always was morally troublesome. But we still have to do that looking... and I repeat... this kind of objective discussion is woefully lacking in the Times editorial, or in most of the commercial media.

Posted by the talking dog at July 9, 2007 5:45 PM

I'm not denyin that there were other reasons to invade Afghanistan, but maintaining the flow of trade wasn't one of them.

The most obvious reason was that they were sheltering OBL/AQ, but I would still argue that the way the U.S. went into Afghanistan was a failure and a hatchet job. A failure in that the existing Taliban leadership was willing to turn over OBL for trial, albeit to a more neutral country.

What it came down to was a distinct lack of cultural knowledge on the part of the Bush administration, who simply refused the relatively minor concessions needed to allow the existing Afghani government to save face with their own people. We should've given negotiation more time, while working with the UN to create a united front on the matter -- thereby increasing pressure on the Taliban. We could have established some sort of legitimate, agreed-upon way of having OBL and any others involved in 9/11 given a fair trial.

The Bush administration, however, didn't care about allowing others to save face. They didn't care about diplomacy. They didn't care about the UN or international law... even when those admittedly flawed systems could be used in a way that entirely benefited our nation.

Instead, we rushed into an assault that was largely spearheaded by a bunch of warlords, supported by the CIA, special forces, and air power. Our forces were completely inadequate to trap OBL, and, in some cases, actually went into battle (and died) in rented pickup trucks, without body armor.

Frankly, I think you're being far too generous to the Bush administration when you suggest that something needed to be done in Afghanistan. There's a big difference between "we need these terrorists turned over to justice" and "we need to invade Afghanistan"... and it shows a distinct lack of common sense to allow issues that are primarily ones of diplomacy and international cooperation be converted into ones that could supposedly be solved by troops on the ground.

Anyone familiar at all with Afghanistan knew it could lead to intractable occupation long before we got there, but we didn't just step into the trap... we rushed into it. And then, unforgiveably, we allowed ourselves to be distracted from it.

And so, over 4000 U.S. soldiers are dead, another 13,000 so badly wounded that they had to be sent home, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead. By the time the last body drops, we'll probably be talking about over a million people dead and several trillion dollars spent... and to what end?

So yes, I think you're being far too charitable to the decisions made by the Bush administration, which have consistantly scoffed at diplomacy and international cooperation, and which flew in the face of both military doctrine and simple common sense.

It's not what you do it's the way that you do it... and it's really hard to imagine how the Bush administration could've done things worse.

Posted by Mark Kraft at July 10, 2007 1:56 PM

Well, here's the problem: whether mishandled (as the Afghanistan campaign clearly has been, and btw, that mishandling should have been a key tip-off of what wouuld happen to Iraq)... there at least was a self-defense angle to it. Further, there was near universal international support for that operation (or at least, the opposition was muted).

And even your link re: "turn OBL over to a third country" notes that there were serious doubts as to whether the Taliban could even have made good on that, even if they really meant it.

Ultimately, the Bushmen have certainly made a hash of Afghanistan, and have, btw, turned it into one of the principle locations of our worldwide gulag operation. But initially, we went into Afghanistan in a relatively restrained way-- not all that many troops, those that went in relatively smaller units, heavy dependence on locals, etc. Of course, this also allowed most of the Taliban and AQ leadership to escape while we picked up footsoldiers and sheep-herders and taxi drivers and then subjected them to years of torture and abuse... but no plan is perfect. (And if Bush is involved, no plan is likely to have even been formulated!)

That said, if one doesn't concede that the entree conditions for our foray into Afghanistan (regardless of how badly mishandled the ultimate operation was) were different from Iraq, and more akin to a "self-defense" justification... i.e., all American foreign intervention is always imperialism all the time... then it becomes rather difficult to conclude that there are ever circumstances where military force is appropriate in defense of the United States. Not an aggressive situation like Iraq has been-- but actual defense. At some point, after you have been attacked, and another state is harboring your attackers, I'm not sure that you are obliged to rely on "diplomacy and international cooperation" and not something "that could supposedly be solved by troops on the ground".

I'm not sure I'm willing to do that... or if most people are.

Posted by the talking dog at July 10, 2007 6:10 PM