Tag: Rationale for the Iraq War

The Eight Questions

At the risk of going all-Syria, all-the-time here, I thought this article was worth a post. You remember the Powell Doctrine? These were eight questions that Colin Powell asked about foreign interventions before we engaged in them. They are not definitive and this isn’t a game where if you get answers to five of them, you can go ahead and bomb. But they do a very good job of clarifying the thinking about a war. Foreign Policy goes through all eight with Syria. I’ll add my comments but also contrast them against the motivations of the War in Iraq. Note that my answers to the latter will be based on what we knew at the time rather than what we know now. I think you could make the argument that the case for the war in Syria is weaker than the one we had for Iraq.

1. Vital national interests at stake? Hardly. The United States hasn’t cared who governed Syria since 1970, and it did business with Bashar al-Assad’s regime whenever doing so suited it. … Nor is defending the norm against chemical weapons a “vital” interest, given that other states have used them in the past and they are not true weapons of mass destruction anyway.

I agree with this. By contrast, Iraq had a supposed vital national interest of Saddam’s WMDs and the concern that they would be turned against us or Israel. That concern turned out to be bogus (as might this one). But at least it was a legitimate one. Saddam was also a sponsor of terrorism, paying out bounties to the families of Palestinians who blew themselves up in suicide bombs.

2. Clear obtainable objective? Nope. If you can figure out what the Obama administration’s actual objective is — defend the chemical weapons norm? reinforce U.S. credibility? weaken the regime a little but not a lot? send a warning to Iran?, etc. — you have a better microscope than I do.

Agreed. By contrast, our objective in Iraq was regime change and the destruction of the WMDs. Goal one happened, although it didn’t as well as we’d hoped. Goal two had already been achieved.

3. Costs and risks analyzed fully and frankly? Well, maybe. I’m sure people in the administration have talked about them, though it is hard to know how “fully” the risks and costs have been weighed. But let’s be generous and give the administration this one.

I won’t be generous. The supposed costs and risks are being hand waved. No one is really talking about the risk of a broader conflict or a terror response. Obama is talking about how this will be a “limited action” but the Syrians may not agree to limit it the way he wants to. This isn’t a game of Civilization.

In this case, this a flaw that the Syria debacle shares with Iraq, where I don’t think the risk of a full-on civil war was accounted for. In fact, if you read Cobra II, you’ll know that Rumsfeld made it a priority to fight the war on the cheap and over-ruled concerns from the State Department about the long term problems.

4. Other nonviolent policy options exhausted? Hardly. As I’ve noted before, there has been a dearth of imaginative diplomacy surrounding the Syrian conflict ever since it began. Oddly, the administration seems to have thought this whole issue wasn’t important enough to warrant energetic diplomacy, but it is important enough to go to war.

Agreed. By contrast, we spent a decade trying to find a peaceful solution to Iraq including pressure from within the Arab world.

5. Plausible exit strategy to avoid entanglement? Not that I can see. Barack Obama, John Kerry, et al. seem to recognize the danger of a quagmire here, so their “exit strategy” consists of limiting the U.S. attack to airstrikes and cruise missiles and maybe some increased aid to the rebels.

This is the one point where the Syrian issue scores over Iraq. It never was really clear what the endgame in Iraq was and we did become bogged down in a sectarian conflict. Our footprint in Syria is likely to be orders of magnitude smaller. Once we stop bombing, that appears to be it.

For now.

6. Have the consequences been fully considered? It’s hard to believe they have. Whacking Assad’s forces won’t do that much to restate any “red lines” against chemical weapons use, and as noted above, that’s a pretty modest objective in any case. But military action might also help bring down the regime, thereby turning Syria into a failed state, fueling a bitter struggle among competing ethnic, sectarian, and extremist groups, and creating an ideal breeding and training ground for jihadists. It may also undercut the moderate forces who are currently ascendant in Iran, derail any chance of a diplomatic deal with them (which is a far more important goal), and even reinforce Iran’s desire for a deterrent of its own. Is there any evidence that Obama, Kerry, Rice & Co. have thought all these things through?

Nope. By contrast, the theory behind the Iraq War was that we would frighten other nations into abandoning WMD programs (which worked with Libya) and turn Iraq into an ally against other gulf regimes. The latter did not work out and it turned out our post-war planning foundered on the rocks of incompetent management from Bremmer and Rumsfeld. But there was a lot of thought into what was going to happen after Iraq.

7. Support from the American people? No, no, and no.

By contrast, our intervention in Iraq had the initial support of 50-60% of the public. The public has apparently learned their lesson.

8. Genuine and broad international support? Not really. The British Parliament has already voted against military action, and Germany has made it clear that it’s not playing either. Russia and China are of course dead set against. America’s got the French (oh boy!), the Saudis, and (quietly) the Israelis, along with the usual coalition of the cowed, coerced, or co-opted.

The Left mocking Bush’s Coalition of the Willing but we had a lot more support for that than Obama does for Syria.

Now, I am comparing apples and oranges here. Iraq was a full-scaled invasion and a ten-year occupation. Syria is “just” a police-action bombing, similar to what Clinton did to Iraq in 1998. But run Clinton’s bombing through that list. Clinton’s bombing had goals (I mean, besides attracting attention away from the Lewinsky scandal). We attacked the WMDs and destroyed almost all of them. We’re not doing that here. We’re “sending a message” that we don’t like the use of chemical weapons. In that sense, the Syrian attack is basically Hans Brix’s strongly worded letter taped to a Tomahawk missile.

But the point is that this action has not been thought out, is not the result of a long involved policy decision and is attracting — at least within the beltway — very little debate.

I always harp on about process — following the Constitution, following the rules, following procedure. The reason I do is because I think that if you create a good process you will, more often than not, get a good result. The problems in our country are mainly a result of a “do something, anything” mentality and a tendency to defer to government power and action in any crisis. It’s very clear that the process within this Administration when it comes to war is haphazard, sloppy and politicized. This time, it may only cost us a few billion in treasure, a few hundred Syrian lives. It may cost us a lot more.

How much will it cost, though, if we ever a real foreign policy crisis?

Revising the story..

If you hear Joe Biden and John Kerry talk, they all but are 100% certain Bashar Assad himself used chemical weapons on people to justify the WH’s recent need to create a diversion from all the scandals popping up. Unfortunately for these two, and the people that like them feel the evidence is a slam dunk, even the LSM finds some doubt. With that country in chaos, who’s to say that the chemical attack – if there really was one, in the first place – wasn’t the work of some loner, or even done by the supposed rebels themselves in order to give the West an excuse to come barging in? This is the Middle East we are talking about and the death cultists have never had a problem killing a few of their own while blaming the other side, in order to get the Western press to show them sympathy. They shrug and just declared the dead martyrs, as if that makes the action something noble.

Then you have revelations like the British Intelligence services – the same ones that the left these days accuses of having lied when they said they were absolutely certain Saddam Hussein had WMDs back before the Iraqi war to justify that conflict, I must interject – saying that this was not the first time Assad’s troops have resorted to a chemical attack. If that is so, I think those of us that are skeptical of the left and the callous way they are able to politicize everything to serve their narrative and agenda, should be doubly weary about the call to arms. Again we should demand to understand why this time makes a difference, one so big that we now need to start yet another “Kinetic Action” led by the Nobel peace prize winner’s crew, when Syria was totally ignored for months. Especially when this WH has lied to us repeatedly about what happened in Benghazi, the enormous spying campaign on law abiding citizens, the DOJ selectively enforcing laws against the enemies of this administration while giving their friends passes, the IRS being used to target anyone they consider to be on the already mentioned target list, our Homeland Security Department indicating that Americans that value the constitution and their freedoms are a greater threat to the state – read this administration – than the Islamic radicals at war with us, and most important of all, the incestuous relationship between the media and this administration that has such a large chunk of our media constantly delivering the lies and propaganda from this administration as factual news.

Look how well Libya turned out for us. The French got their oil, and the place is a fucking disaster otherwise. And then look at how well this WH’s policies have worked out in other places like Yemen and Egypt. The ME is in an uproar and the rest of the world sees this WH as rudderless. And that’s because these fucks are lost and have no clue how to play the big boy game they so decried that cowboy that was in the WH before them for was messing up. Fuck between Clinton and Kerry as our top State reps I cannot see why anyone still takes this country seriously.

Back to Syria. Ask yourself who has something to gain by us now wasting a few billions on a meaningless campaign to destabilize yet another country in the ME? And again, why now? Then look at the crowd that was so distrustful of government when the issue was Iraq and the intelligence there. See how they are now ready and willing to drop to their knees and suck Obama’s cock on what is clearly far flimsier evidence, for some perspective. This action isn’t about the chemical attack or what is going on in Syria, and you should not buy that lie from these people. Don’t lose sight of what matters, and that is that our governments are fucking us over and robbing us of our freedoms. Syria is just a side show. Nothing but a distraction.

Blood for Oil?

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting piece up on the latest from wikileaks:

The entire article is worth reading, as it details how Gaddafi has progressively impeded the interests of U.S. and Western oil companies by demanding a greater share of profits and other concessions, to the point where some of those corporations were deciding that it may no longer be profitable or worthwhile to drill for oil there. But now, in a pure coincidence, there is hope on the horizon for these Western oil companies, thanks to the war profoundly humanitarian action being waged by the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner and his nation’s closest Western allies:

Is there anyone — anywhere — who actually believes that these aren’t the driving considerations in why we’re waging this war in Libya? After almost three months of fighting and bombing — when we’re so far from the original justifications and commitments that they’re barely a distant memory — is there anyone who still believes that humanitarian concerns are what brought us and other Western powers to the war in Libya? Is there anything more obvious — as the world’s oil supplies rapidly diminish — than the fact that our prime objective is to remove Gaddafi and install a regime that is a far more reliable servant to Western oil interests, and that protecting civilians was the justifying pretext for this war, not the purpose? If (as is quite possible) the new regime turns out to be as oppressive as Gaddafi but far more subservient to Western corporations (like, say, our good Saudi friends), does anyone think we’re going to care in the slightest or (at most) do anything other than pay occasional lip service to protesting it? Does anyone think we’re going to care about The Libyan People if they’re being oppressed or brutalized by a reliably pro-Western successor to Gaddafi

Well, yes, I kind of think these aren’t the driving considerations and there are several reasons for this.

First, the United States was not the driving force behind this war — Europe was. And the Europeans — being older and wiser than us — have a long long history of trying to appease oil-rich potentates. Their lack of support for Israel, for example, is heavily based on oil politics. And it was the UK that specifically released mass murderer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi — against the Obama Administration’s objections — in an effort to appease Libya on trade issues.

Second, the WaPo article that is the basis for Greenwald’s undermines the conspiracy mongering quite a bit. It notes, for example, that this influence process worked both ways. Gaddafi was trying to use oil to influence US policy. He was furious that he wasn’t getting more political consideration in exchange for oil. And the oil company production took a hit, not from nationalization, but from the unrest. Had Gaddafi been allowed to massacre the resistance, oil production would be higher today.

Third, the current action is not good for anyone’s business interests. The Left tried this “blood for oil” logic out in Iraq as well. They didn’t consider that the cost of the Iraq War (so far) would have bought us a quarter of a century of Iraq’s entire oil production. Going to war for Iraq’s oil would have one of the dumbest business decisions of all time. Not that the Last Administration was immune from bad decisions, of course.

Libya has about 40 billion barrels of proven reserves — about $4 trillion at current market prices — and is pumping out about 2 million barrels a day — $200 million worth. However, not all of that production is for Western companies and the marginal difference between what Gaddafi wanted and our supposedly nefarious oil companies would want is not nearly going to be worth the cost of the war (probably around $10 billion so far).

Note also the verbiage used: the oil companies were “considering” abandoning Libyan oil field. Not that they had.

Fourth, this thing did not start with us. It’s not like we started bombing Libya for no reason. His own people started a rebellion. Nor did that rebellion happen in a vacuum — it was part of a wave of political rebellion across the entire region.

Now all this having been said, I haven’t proven that the war didn’t start for oil. All I have done is spelled out four considerations of why this may not be the case. Companies and countries make dumb decisions and there’s no reason for them to have acted rationally.

In fact, I do think it likely that oil is influencing our actions here. But not an evil conspiracy smoke-filled room level. I think it’s more likely that the oil issue brought our particular attention to this country. Oil is why we noticed what was going on; it’s not necessarily why we acted the way we did.

Of course, this is the point where I have to note the inconsistency of the rest of the Left. There is far less evidence that oil interests informed our decision to go into Iraq than Libya, but it’s an article of faith among the Democrats that the former was an evil oil-motivated war while the latter is not. And however much they might be theorizing about oil interests in Libya, they have yet to make anywhere near the ruckus about Libya that they did about Iraq.

In that sense, I actually have to praise Greenwald for, unlike so many, not being a partisan hack. He’s just as conspiracy-minded with Obama as he was with Bush. That’s something, I guess.

Update: I should note that there is a catch-22 here. Had we not acted in Libya, the same people complaining that we acted because of oil would be complaining that we didn’t act because of oil.