“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


A wise and a good man may indeed be sometimes induced to comply with a number whose opinion he generally approves, though it be perhaps against his own. But this
liberty should be made use of upon very few occasions, and those of small importance, and then only with a view of bringing over his own side another time to something of greater and more public moment. But to sacrifice the innocency of a friend, the good of our country, or our own conscience to the humour, or passion, or interest of a party, plainly shews that either our heads or our hearts are not as they should be. – Jonathan Swift.

(Read previous three posts. Fourth in a series)

In order to envision the exit from Iraq, as we said, it is important to have a clear view of why we invaded in the first place.

It is also important to have a clear view of why the occupation went so badly awry.

When America invaded Iraq, we think there were two basic principles, enshrined in the Rumsfeld strategy, that guaranteed the disasters of occupation that followed.

1. The unwillingness to commit a sufficient number of troops; and
2. The plan to implement economic “shock therapy” in Iraq at the point of a gun.

1. If one X rays the unwillingness to commit troops, two things strike the impartial observer. The first is that to raise the number of soldiers from the United States alone, given the American troop commitment world wide, would have meant implementing some kind of draft, or major call up of the Reserve, in 2003. This, in turn, would have meant that Bush would have to make the case for sacrifice to the American public. That case was iffy at best. It was in Bush’s interest to wage this war in such a way that the American public’s involvement would be kept at a spectatorial distance.

However, if American troops weren’t available, how about foreign troops? Here, Rumsfeldian politics kicked in. The Defense Department analysis of the first Gulf War was that foreigners – other Coalition members, like the Saudis and the French – had too much influence on the decision making that went on during that war. Rumsfeld was determined to control Iraq from the Pentagon, and he sacrificed a real commitment of international troops for that end. Why was he determined to control Iraq? It was not only because the war was waged as part of the grand strategy we outlined in the previous post. It was also because:

2. The ideology of the decision makers was such that Iraq was considered a test case for the Forbes end of the Republican party.

As the first American proconsul in Iraq, Jay Garner, has testified, the main concern of the Americans around the newly minted CPA was not to hold elections, or to secure the country, but to radically change the economy. Privatization was the name of the game. The grand strategy was all very well, but Iraq, as a specific prize, became irresistible for the same conservative ideologues who have desired, for the past thirty years, to inflict such wonders as the flat tax and privatized Social Security on the American public. After thirty years of frustration, here was an opportunity not to be missed.

What was missed was the lessons of the very recent past. In Poland and Russia, where shock therapy has been tried, one thing became evident – the sudden transformation of a socialist system into a radically privatized system causes an immediate spike in unemployment, and a lessening of the living standard for the majority of the population. I will leave undiscussed, here, whether in the long term the majority gains from these policies. I don’t care, in this instance. What concerns the argument is that Rumsfeld wanted to preside over an occupation with a force half to a third of the size that military men advise, while zapping the economy in such a way that, among a heavily armed population, the unemployment of young men would rise, and the living standards of average families would fall.

To put it briefly: this was insane.(1)

It is interesting to speculate what Nixon would have done, in 2002, given Rumsfeld’s analysis of the Middle East. Nixon was an order of magnitude smarter than Rumsfeld. Nixon would have seen at once the flaw in the Neo-con plan. The kind of regime change they wanted to effect in Iraq was, in Nixon’s time, effected by proxies. Whether it was a Marxist Chilean president or a lefty Guatamalan, one thing about America was that we preserved our distance while exercizing our power. Nixon would immediately have looked for a way not to involve American troops in the overthrow of Saddam.

Thank God Nixon is dead. Rumsfeld’s stupidity – and the man is stupid in that peculiarly bureaucratic way that Gogol’s portraits of bureaucratic chiefs captured – Rumsfeld, one feels sure, would have risen high in the Czar’s service – has accidentally produced a situation that is much happier for the Iraqis, although not, in the short term, for the Americans. We think, given certain modifications of Rumsfeld’s grand strategy, even the American interest can be served if we conduct our exit correctly.

In our next post, we will go through some myths about Iraq.

1. I want to be straightforward in these posts. However, I must put in an aside here. There is a defense of Rumsfeld that has gone the rounds of the conservative commentators that goes like this: compare our situation in Iraq to the situation in Germany in 1945, or the situation that Lincoln faced in 1860, etc. etc. In these situations, there were enormous initial problems. But we admire Lincoln and Truman today because those situations were corrected.

There is a problem with this way of looking at history as composed of self contained individual events, like pearls on a string: it isn’t human. It is recommended by the Tramalfadorians in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. However, I don’t have a tramalfadorian brain, yet.

So, from a simple human point of view: there is a fundamental difference between unprecedented and precedented situations. Lincoln as an improvisor in 1862, going through Generals, is a man we can admire. But if Lincoln was fighting his Civil war ten or twenty years after another Civil War had been fought, we would be much less forgiving of his faults. In fact, we’d think he was an incompetent redneck from Illinois. And we’d be right – in that situation.

Rumsfeld presides over a Department with almost 75 years of institutional memory about various wars and occupations. He ignored it all. We are now paying a price for that piece of arrogance. Conservatives call it tradition – liberals call it progress – Hegelians call it the Spirit – but all agree that events in history are connected. Military men weren’t bs-ing when they said that standard military operating procedure calls for a ratio of a certain number of soldiers to a certain occupied population. Rumsfeld’s over-ruling this is less like Lincoln improvising in 1862, and more like an Intelligent Design scientist challenging the “Darwinian bias” in school biology textbooks in 2003. It is a sign of fundamentalist ignorance. And it shouldn’t be forgiven.

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