Sunday, August 01, 2004

National Security - is W helping or hurting?

Many people have noted that the military has done a great job in Iraq, against terrible odds. I agree. We can win in Iraq. And we must.

The question I have is why did we end up invading Iraq?

For some it is simple - 9/11. There is no proof of that. If there were it would not be an issue today.

Others note how brutal a dictator Saddam was and say it is great that he is gone. I agree, but that doesn't justify an invasion - are we going into North Korea next, a much more brutal and repressive regime which has sworn to destroy us? And assuming that the argument "Saddam is bad" is a good one, it seems a good argument for an Iraqi, not an American. We were spending US blood and treasure to defeat Saddam, and pointing out how that benefits Iraqis isn't enough for me.

Others say "WMD." Fine, but that is just an acronym. The issue is did Iraq present a threat to our national security that justified an invasion and occupation? That question has not been answered.

Iran apparently has closer ties to Al Queda and both Iran and North Korea work on nuclear bomb-building. Our military is overextended. Was there a better alternative for our national security than invading Iraq? And is the Iraq war really part of the war on terror or something different that has hurt our campaign against Al Queda?

Many military experts predicted that an invasion would be a long and costly effort with little reward for us at the end - the risk wasn't worth the reward. Many (most) of the senior military leadership felt that invading and occupying Iraq would harm our national security. So it has, at least in the short run. The Iraqis win because Saddam is overthrown. Iran wins because an enemy is destroyed. Terrorists win because the Islamic world is enraged. What do we win?

These were questions that the administration dodged or that they believed would all go away when the Iraqi people greeted us as liberators (to quote Mr. Cheney AND Mr. Wolfowitz).

Mr. Bush endlessly repeats that an evil dictator is gone. True. I don't care. I want to know if we are safer and if it was worth the cost. I'm not Iraqi, I'm American. I put American interests first.

Rather than blasting each other with the same lines we have been using, how about we go to some non-partisan experts. I welcome your views on these three studies.

From The Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute: Bounding the Global War on Terrorism by noted national security expert Dr. Jeffrey Record. His take is that "The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security. The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, Al Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil."

He calls the war in Iraq "an unnecessary preventative war" that has "diverted attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable Al Qaeda." The Iraq war was a "detour" from the war on terrorism, he said.

Daniel Benjamin, a member of the National Security Council staff in the late 1990s, said, "The criticism does not seem out of line with many of the conversations I have had with officers in every branch of the military."

The essay carries the standard disclaimer that its views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Army, the Pentagon or the U.S. government. But retired Army Col. Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., director of the Strategic Studies Institute, whose Web site carries Record's 56-page monograph, hardly distanced himself from it. "I think that the substance that Jeff brings out in the article really, really needs to be considered," he said. Many of Record's arguments, such as the contention that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was deterred and did not present a threat, have been made by critics of the administration. Iraq, he concludes, "was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al Qaeda." But it is unusual to have such views published by the War College, the Army's premier academic institution.

In addition, the essay goes further than many critics in examining the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism. Record's core criticism is that the administration is biting off more than it can chew. He likens the scale of U.S. ambitions in the war on terrorism to Adolf Hitler's overreach in World War II. "A cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number," he writes. "The Germans were defeated in two world wars . . . because their strategic ends outran their available means."

He also scoffs at the administration's policy, laid out by Bush in a November speech, of seeking to transform and democratize the Middle East. "The potential policy payoff of a democratic and prosperous Middle East, if there is one, almost certainly lies in the very distant future," he writes. "The basis on which this democratic domino theory rests has never been explicated."

Bounding the Global War on Terrorism found at

IRAQ AND VIETNAM: DIFFERENCES, SIMILARITIES, AND INSIGHTS at It notes that most comparisons overplay the similarities and understate the differences.

Strategic Consequences of the Iraq War: U.S. Security Interests in Central Asia Reassessed at

Happy reading!


vrangel said...

There are two type of sites: link site and original content site.
Hybrids don't work very well.

Best example of a good link site is
Great content sites: and

On a subject of your post I think decision to invade Iraq was a masterstroke.
Every year ME madrasas spit out tens of thousands of brainwashed young men ready to replenish ranks of terrorists. Killing terrorists helps in a short term but its not a long term solution.
To solve the problem you have to address the root cause of it: failure of ME arab society as a whole.
It remains in a static trap which makes reforms impossible.
Iraq was the only available arab country where recent history and current conditions allowed us to succeed .

Our strategic goal is not to kill but to give them hope for a future.
Then young men will stop thinking about glorious death and instead go on to succeed in life.

Of course if it doesnt work out theres always a nuclear option. But at least we tried.

this we'll defend said...

I hope you were kidding about the nuclear thing.

You have an argument, and lots of people would choose one side or another. It would be an interesting debate. Why is the argument being made after the invasion instead of before it?

vrangel said...

Yeah, I forgot about WMD stuff.
WMD was instrumental in making the case for war.
The real deal is our long term goal of reforming ME.
You have to plant a seed somewhere and then make sure it grows.
Thats what we are doing right now.

vrangel said...

Nuclear thing is not as far fetched as you might think.
Theres always escalation of cruelty as war drags on.

In 1939 bombing german cities was suggested to Churchill by his advisors. He rejected it with indignation.
Few years later thousands of bombers were laying waste on them. Not because Churchill wanted it but because public demanded it after german bombings.

Imagime terrorists eventually blow up container nuke in US port. Or launch missile from a ship somewhere in the middle of an ocean.
Now imagine they do it again.
There would be tremendous internal pressure in US to respond in kind.
We better not let things get to that point.

~Jen~ said...

TWD - are you going to write about your experiences in the military? I love what 91ghost is doing on his blog. If you're up to it, maybe some time you could tell us more about your military life?

Frater Bovious said...

Thanks for those links.

Your point about arguing this before rather than after is valid, except I don't think anyone was sure we had time to argue about it.

On question I kept asking myself in the weeks before invading Iraq was, Why won't Saddam just let the UN investigators in? I used to think, well, he's obviously hiding something. He had first hand knowledge of what our military could do to his military. So, he knew he was toast if we decided. So, what was he hiding? I think a lot of us have forgotten the fact that he obstructed and generally screwed with the UN investigators.

Like I said, I figured he was hiding something. That just shows how you can fool yourself into thinking you understand your opponent. What seemed perfectly logical to me just wasn't so, apparently.

In retrospect, there seems to be four possible reasons. 1. He was hiding things, and most of them got moved to Syria or buried in the desert. 2. He didn't really believe we would come in. After all, he'd been playing this game with the UN for 10 years. 3. He's insane, or at least pathological, and really didn't care what happened to his people, he just by Allah wasn't going to be pushed around. 4. He didn't have any, but for some inscrutable reason didn't want to prove it.

I have a sick feeling it is number 3, with the possibility that number 1 is possible.

Having said all that, and duly noting that things aren't going like we all wanted them to, there are a couple of things to remember:

First, this ain't a TV show, and you don't wrap up a war in 30 minutes, or even in a 5 day made for TV mini-series. Just because we are not done there doesn't mean we are failing there. We also weren't finding Saddam until all of a sudden we did. We could find out tomorrow that they got Osama. It isn't going on our timetable.

Second, I still have seen nothing that makes me feel comfortable that Kerry has any better idea than W. Many times the devil you don't know is worse than the devil you do know. I have to stick with W at least for now, unless Kerry has something substantive to say besides the extremely weak "I'll do it better, no, really."

Kat said...

My thoughts are that the General may have a point about stretching the military or over reaching. The point that is made is about the dominoe effect but I truly think that, after Afghanistan fell and AQ ran over to Iran, we were considering the best method for containment. Sort of a grand plan buy one, get three free plan.

1) Afghanistand falls and AQ runs to Iran. Afghanistan is not economically viable and cannot represent a true change for democracy that is needed to show the ME what is possible.
2) Saddam is crazy and needs to go, but the reality is, Iraq presents the real bang for it's buck. But the first thing that we do is free up our resources from constantly doing no fly zones. That was just too expensive and used our resources with no end in site. Honestly, whatever the deal is with the WMD, I think this was a case of "cut line and bait".
3) Iraq gives us freeby #1 as it is centrally placed in the ME, has well educated people and oil for economy. This represents the most likely ability for the great dominoe democracy scheme. I think this is really the bonus part of the game. We were planning some security issues anyway. Good time to throw in wolfies plan that's been languishing for awhile.
4) Iraq gives freeby #2: containment of terrorists being filtered through Iran or at least the ability to interdict them. You can't think they weren't going through the borders of Iraq before we invaded and after Afghanistan. Whether that was with or without SH's consent. Seems they have their organization well planned our. Too planned out for the brief time it took to get underway after we invaded. So..yes, short term we get to fight over there instead of here.
5) Iraq Freeby #3: containment of Iran. Seriously, we are now on both sides of their borders. This is scaring them shitless but does give us some measure of pressure to place on them while the EU brothers do the diplomatic thing. As long as Iran felt they didn't have anything to fear, they would have kept on with the nuke program.

Of course, I blame France and Russia for foolishly believing these folks are only interested in energy. But, the milk is spilt now. All we can do is clean it up.

There you have it. My take on the strategic importance of Iraq. Of course, I'm an armchair general, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

RBP said...

Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal have an interesting take on Iraq. Particularly Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival:America's Quest for Global Dominance". In it Chomsky discusses America's unilateralism, not just in military matters but in international agreements such as the Kyoto accords, and the World Court.

this we'll defend said...

VRangel - you are right, no more hybrid-style links. I'll stick to commentary with an occasional link instead of making this blog a series of links. Thanks for the advice.

Jen, sure I will talk about my military experiences. Most of it is pretty boring, and the stuff that isn't boring is often stuff I am not allowed to talk about (no, I was not a super-secret delta-force green-beret navy seal commando in force recon. I was an ordinary line doggie and damn proud of it, but some things I did are classified. It makes them sound much sexier than they really are, so I kinda like that).

Frater - good points. I think Saddam was an evil idiot. I thought he had WMDs - I was shocked when we didn't find any. Point is, though, that the bogey-man of WMDs did not and does not justify pre-emptive war. The fact that WMDs exist does not mean they are an imminent and viable threat. Just War doctrine lays out what is required for a war to be a moral and correct decision, and one requirement is that a threat be imminent and likely.

People that say "we shouldn't wait until too late" don't understand the nature of "imminent" in the doctrine - we don't wait for the "mushroom cloud" as Ms. Rice irresponsibly put it. The point is that you don't attack to defend yourself unless you are sure it is at least more likely than not that that by waiting you will suffer more harm. It isn't that hard of a standard to meet, but it was not met here. Why? No delivery systems capable of threatening us even if that was Saddam's goal. There was no way for Iraq to reach out with the WMDs we knew he had in the 1980s. He didn't have the technology and was not even close to getting it. The "UAVs" that the administration said could be used in the US were laughably incapable, and the USAF told the administration. Giving chem weapons to terrorists would make a terrorist attack less likely to succeed. Chem weapons are notoriously unreliable and conventional high explosives much more effective so any risk of his "sharing" with terorrists was a bogeyman used to scare the uninformed into supporting the war. Professionals knew it was bogus and said so (but who reads "Parameters" or peruses the Strategic Studies Institute of the War College except dorks like me? certainly not our talking heads on tv news who seamlessly move from reporting complicated national security questions to the Kobe trial as if they were of equal importance and can both be summed up in 20 seconds).

Understand, of course, that if he did share weapons with terrorists then we would be right to destroy his regime as long as by doing so we increased our national security rather than decreased it. There was and is no proof of an Iraq-Al Queda alliance, only "contacts" and insinuation and innuendo and half-truths such as one terrorist recieving medical treatment (next stop: Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, etc. etc. all who did the same thing) or a part of Iraq not under Saddam's control contained Al Queda allies. Something more definite is needed before such a claim can justify a war, and even then war must be shown to be better for us than not going to war. It wasn't done. And if the links existed (as they did in Afghanistan for instance) we still need to show that an invasion would improve our security. No effort was made here at all because the adminstration believed (or pretended to believe) that the effort would be quick, easy, and "mission accomplished" would follow - oh, and Iraqi oil and allies would pay for it all.

"Likely" means that if you don't hit first you will probably be hit yourself. Pre-emptive war is not against the rules of Just War doctrine - but going to war on a whim is totally out of the ballpark. Was it likely that Iraq would attack us, either directly or through terrorist allies? It was the considered opinion of non-partisan national security experts (both military and civilian) that the answer was absolutely not. He had no means to directly challenge us and he grew weaker by the day. He did not have nuclear technology and was nowhere near to getting it. Israel was quite concerned with this possibility but they didn't invade. Go figure. Maybe they knew something we didn't? Actually, they knew something we knew just as well, but we pretended not to. He was not a nuclear threat.

As discussed above, chem weapons are near useless to terrorists (but scary to the uninformed and easily frightened). Bio weapons either don't work at all or kill the terrorists before they can use them - and anthrax is so common that it shouldn't even be a factor that Iraq might share it because nutbags in bunkers in Idaho can get their hands on it already from numerous sources. So there was no likely threat from Iraq that justified invasion.

Your point about the war not being done but that we are winning is true. I agree. What bothers me is that even if the war were justified (which I don't think it was), there was no post-war planning. It was all based on ideology and hope. We had a golden window of opportunity immediately after we overthrew Saddam to remake Iraqi society. If we had established security, got services working again, NOT stupidly demobilized and abolished the Iraqi Army but put them to work securing Iraq, and honestly told the Iraqi people what was ahead of them, the insurgency would likely have not happened. Instead we didn't have enough boots on the ground to secure the country (remember that controversy? the administration twisted the concerns of military planners by proclaiming that yes we did have enough force to defeat the Iraqi military - which was never the point and never in doubt). The ineffective planning led to mismanagement (remember Jay Garner? the dispute over who should even take charge of post-war Iraq?). We abolished the Iraqi military despite the Army leadership's pleas not to, leaving hundreds of thousands of unemployed, angry, trained Iraqis wandering about aimlessly. We promised the Iraqis the moon and the sun but couldn't get the power to stay on or keep criminals from looting, raping, and murdering - it was total anarchy. As many said, life under Saddam was better than that. And, after some months, quite a few months, the insurgency exploded. Surprise. So now we are trying to get back to where we were after billions of dollars and hundreds of US lives lost. I do hope we win and establish a stable democracy but it won't be to Mr. Bush's credit if we do. It will be in spite of him. He has harmed our national security - not intentionally, but because he is incompetent. Those who try and twist the debate into one where Bush wants to fight terrorism and Kerry doesn't are ignoring reality. On 9/12 the American people were united in our determination to fight terrorism. We still are. The question is, who is likely to do a better job? By insisting that Bush will fight terrorism and claiming that Kerry won't the Republicans are saying they don't want to answer that question. Because they don't like the answer.

So perhaps Mr. Kerry might not do better, but I can't imagine that it is possible to do worse than Mr. Bush. Kerry would have to work really hard to screw things up as bad as Mr. Bush has done. I don't see that happening.

This election is about are we better off now than we were on 9/12? Bush claims we are safer. Too much evidence shows we are not, and our overextended military doesn't make me feel any better about our ability to respond to the real and growing threats facing us. We are less secure now and I want somebody who at least realizes that to be the one in charge.

this we'll defend said...
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RBP said...

In what book, essay, or speech does Chomsky blame Americans for 9/11? I'm no Chomsky-phile, but attributing a perpousterous claim like that, makes it easier to dismiss his other arguments. Why is the United States the world leader in vetoing UN security council resolutions? Why did the Reagan administration reject the World Court opinion that America stop it's involvement in trying to overthrow the Sandinista's regime in Nicauragau? The Reagan administration, not the Bush administration. Is this not unilateralism? And as far as being the worst imperialist in history? Name one empire that hasn't fallen?
Now I'm not going to the ends of the earth to defend Chomsky. The fact is, I agree with you more than I disagree with you. But everything I have read by him attributes blame for 9/11 squarely where it should be, on al Qaida. Nor does he say we deserved what happened.

RBP said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
this we'll defend said...

I accidentally deleted my F'ing post. Dammit! Is there any way to get it back?

As for Chomsky, here is a quote:
we can seek to understand what may have led to the crimes, which means making an effort to enter the minds of the likely perpetrators. If we choose the latter course, we can do no better, I think, than to listen to the words of Robert Fisk, whose direct knowledge and insight into affairs of the region is unmatched after many years of distinguished reporting. Describing "The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people," he writes that "this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes
and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia - paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally - hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps." And much more.

He did not side with the terrorists - but he sure as hell suggested it was about US actions.

this we'll defend said...

Here is my comment that I stupidly and ineptly deleted. I also deleted a double post by JFM (no censorship here unless I admit to it).

JFM - with respect, I don't want Noam Chomsky in charge of our national security. Not that everything he says is wrong - our nation isn't perfect and he serves a purpose in pointing out our flaws. But I don't blame America for 9/11, I blame the terrorists. I don't think we are imperial even though we act like it sometimes. And I selfishly and self-righteously will choose to do what is in America's best interests without any guilt. I believe in a strong national defense and would not feel safer without it. He doesn't. That is why I don't care about his views on national security.

America's "unilaterlism" is a policy of the current administration, not an American "tendency." Our membership in NATO, troops in South Korea, defeat of Nazi Germany when we had been attacked by Japan, and membership in the WTO show how "unilateral" we are. Every nation acts for its own self-interest. Cooperation happens when that benefits those nations, and not when it harms them. Any politician that would put the interests of, say, a Ghanian ahead of mine is a politician that needs to go. That doesn't mean our interests should be or are adverse to the Ghanian - it might be in our best interests to help and it usually is. It builds a stabler world, allows economic growth which is good for all, makes it less likely that a Ghanian will want to harm America, etc. etc. But if an action is against our interests then we shouldn't do it and no nation on the planet does either. Selectively blaming the US for every wrong on the planet is to ignore reality.

Compare the Marshall Plan with the Soviet effort to rebuild Europe. Discuss how subservient Germany or Japan is to us after we totally defeated them only fifty years ago. Where is this hegemonic behemoth threatening the world? If we are imperialists we are the most incompetent ones in history. Or... we aren't imperialists.

The current administration's go-it-alone tendencies are a long step away from what the US policy has consistently been since at least 1942. The administration is paying for it too. It has become a liability in the current election, with Mr. Kerry pointing out that he would seek allies and cooperation. Our history is quite different from what Chomsky and others suggest, and the American people who were frightened and angered by 9/11 are reasserting themselves. We are not a threat to the world, instead we seek peace and cooperation.

Those who hold that the US is a selfish, unilateralist nation are short-sighted and just plain wrong, and I don't wish to debate them because I wouldn't be able to change their opinions despite the weight of history on my side. They will selectively point out all our errors in an attempt to prove that the US is a terrible nation. No, we aren't perfect. We make mistakes. We act selfishly. We have done wrong. And we are the best form of government in the history of man, not an evil empire preying on the helpless, innocent world.

Unlike most nations, we are based on an idea, not a religion or an ethnicity or even a geographic location. We are united by an idea - that makes us unique and, yes, exceptional. That idea allows us to learn from our mistakes and do what is in the best interests of the largest group without tryannizing smaller groups. "We the People" - what an astounding idea. Anybody "threatened" by that is not a person I want to hang around with.

RBP said...

Why did al Qaida attack the US on 9/11?
Certainly they were mad about something. Did they have the right? No. And who says they did? Not Robert Fiske, or Chomsky? This simple idea that 9/11 happened, because we're free and they hate freedom doesn't wash.
And to examine their motivations is not to somehow suggest that we deserved it. We should find out why, so that we may be better prepared the next time.

~Jen~ said...

Regarding your military experiences - whatever you could talk about that isn't classified would be great. I always love your posts on CB's site.

Frater Bovious said...
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