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April 1, 2003

Max Sawicky has some well-wrought remarks about Professor De Genova and what people on the “left” should actually hope for in Iraq. A couple of excerpts:
Hoping for a Mogadishu has elements of the perverse, since the episode entailed mutilation of American servicemen. It’s also kind of stupid from a radical standpoint, since more than a few hundred Somali bystanders were killed in the murderous crossfires (for which I do not blame U.S. troops). Nor is it possible to interpret the event as any sort of victory for any sort of progressive force. Somalia had no visible sign of a progressive movement and continues in a wretched state today, the absence of U.S. occupiers notwithstanding. De Genova has attempted to explain what he meant, but basically what he says he meant is what most people thought he meant. They just don’t take it the same way he does.

Does the “hard,” “far,” or “extremist” left hope for a thundering U.S. defeat in Iraq? Should it? As far-left HQ in Blogovia (truth be told, Blogovia is a pretty pale shade of red), MaxSpeak would like to argue the contrary. It makes no sense for someone of the further left to look forward to a U.S. defeat. Does that mean we roll over, wag our tails, and assure everyone we want the quickest victory possible? Nope. Wrong again.

Fast forward to how a U.S. defeat would unfold. There would be a protracted war shading into volatile occupation, with many U.S. casualties. Of course, this would also mean many more Iraqi casualties, not to mention the destruction of the country. Iraq would come to resemble the West Bank. Does the degradation of the West Bank confer any sort of victory upon its oppressed inhabitants, much less the Left? Is there any bonus there for the Israeli working class? I think not.

The consequences of an agonizing, protracted U.S. presence in Iraq might provide schadenfreude to those who really hate America (like those right-wing militia people who praised the WTC attack). But it also promises a much less congenial political environment in the U.S. than we have now, which is no walk in the park. Continual war in Iraq means pressure for rising repression at home; we don’t have much yet, but Ashcroft has a lot of potential. Fury over casualties translates into violent, racist, reactionary movements that we see the seeds of already. […]

My response to the “now that we’re in, let’s hope for a quick and painless victory” is fat chance. “Victory” is nearly a non sequitur, since we are defining victory as presiding over a grateful, liberated population. The likelihood is not victory, but destruction, followed by decades of insecurity fueled by the extremists’ fair share of hundreds of millions of Muslims. My hope is for an exit, the sooner the better. I don’t want the U.S. to lose, and I don’t want it to win. I want it to leave. How this can happen I’m not exactly sure, but it will involve declaring some kind of victory and effecting some kind of withdrawal.

[09:04 AM]
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Comments on Max Sawicky:

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:48 PM:

This is sorta tangental, but it's been roiling in my brain for awhile, and this looks like a good place to put it.

I get increasinly frustrated by the whole left/right, for/against thing, because it turns into a contest of volume, and there is no way to win that, especially as it works to define 'left' (=bad) as 'doesn't agree with current administration policy'

I mean, yes, it's possible to create a similar consitent media machine which generates comparable volumes of viewpoint, but doing that is in and of itself a defeat, because it involves adopting tactics that say "individual opinions don't count" and "facts are irrelevant", steps that return political debate to the status of a contest in ability to enact doctrine.

There is no right and left in this process of doctrines, not in the one the administration follows nor in the one they say they follow nor in the one they say their opponents have; no principled conservativism, no actual socialism or concern for worker's rights, and pretending that the form or the content of the process of creating agreement by volume of repetition is about any of those things cedes victory to the expousers of whichever doctrine arrived on the fax this morning.

It's about choices.

Can you teach facts about biology and geology?

Are you allowed to have sex for fun?

Can you depart from your birth class by a means other than marriage?

Can you practice a non-Christian religion or no religion without consequence or prejudice?

Can you participate in an economy which creates, rather than concentrates, wealth?

Can you expect your government to deal fairly, respectfully, and constructively with those of other nations?

Can you have your vote counted?

Can you have your voice heard?

Can the United States derive long term benefit from subjugating Iraq?

John Quiggin ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 04:26 PM:

Like Max, I've given up on the "now that we're in, let's hope for a quick and bloodless victory" line, which I initially adopted.

I've been thinking about exit strategies, and the best one I've come up with involves a lengthy pause while a liberated zone is established in Southern Iraq. I've discussed it a bit further here

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 05:02 PM:


Good points, and ones I've often considered. The whole concept of two parties, diametrically opposed, is of course a fiction, and an unproductive one at that. Start out with the many ways in which "right" and "left" and "liberal" and "conservative" and "progressive" keep having their meanings altered, corrupted and reversed. And, in all seriousness, the distinctions between "Democrat" and "Republican" are minute; I see the distinction more or less as: Republicans think they know better, and that the people (who may or may not have elected them) should get in line and do as instructed. The Dems also think they know better, but at least appear to listen to the populace and adjust their stance accordingly. Another distinction is the good ole' Who's-Been-Bought-By-Whom one.

Regarding Sawicky, DeGenova, et al.:
I think DeGenova probably meant something totally other than what he comes off as meaning. And while I like to defend the liberals on this one, but such poorly (or better, carelessly) crafted remarks are shameful, and discredit the movement.

I don't want to see the US trounced in Iraq. It would be an object lesson against BushCo's arrogance, but it would mean even more casualties and probably lead to full-on world war. I don't want the US in Iraq in the first place, really, except that I do think Saddam should've been removed somehow, on purely humanitarian grounds. No, I've not got any ideas how that could have been accomplished...I'm a scientist, not a politician or general, so it's my job to point out that the emperor has no clothes, not to get him some. Now that we're in Iraq, I would like to see fighting ended quickly and as bloodlessly as possible, with a sensible post-war reconstruction plan implemented, maybe overseen by a UN panel of people who have not only general experience with occupation but also good knowledge of Iraqi history and culture and politics.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 05:37 PM:

The problem is, in strategic terms, the US is *already* getting trounced.

Option 1 - the troops on the ground pull it off before logistical exhaustion occurs; much of Baghdad and Southern Iraq are smoking ruins, but the port works and some of the oil fields are operable.

This is the best probable military outcome given the information available.

The US has takes a strategic loss on this; the Middle East becomes powerfully polarized anti-US.

Everything else is worse; a withdrawal with Saddam in power is incredibly bad.

The sitmaps the Agonist is putting up make me distinctly unease; formed units in a position to attack your lines of supply are not a good thing.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:23 PM:

And, in all seriousness, the distinctions between "Democrat" and "Republican" are minute;

I could argue that the political positions are, in fact, not minute, but I think there's an even more important point. The Republicans have built a party which is capable of impeaching a properly elected president on the grounds that they didn't like him; on stealing a presidential election using, among other things, force; and indulging in some of the most corrupt business to government relationships we've seen in fifty years -- maybe longer. They're capable of Iran-Contra. They're capable of this evil war. There's not a lot to admire in the Democratic Party, but there is this: they are not Republicans. For all the evil, stupid, venal stuff they've done, they've never behaved as badly as the Republicans.

It's very comforting to cry "a pox on both your houses" but come November, you're going to be faced with a Democrat, a Republican, and somebody who won't win. I'm an anarchist. I cannot tell you how much I hate trying to work with my local Democratic party. Worse, I'm allergic to meetings, and guess how most politics is done? However, there are things that have to be done, and the most important thing is to prevent Bush from being re-elected. I have vague, fond hopes of having at least a little influence in choosing what candidate the Democrats run. I just hope they don't choose the Devil himself, as that would give me some qualms.

bkw ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 01:44 AM:

fascinating. again, more anecdotal evidence that the majority of anti-war sentiment has nothing to do with the war, but everything to do with bush. just fascinating.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 02:58 AM:

"The problem is, in strategic terms, the US is *already* getting trounced."

How do you figure that, other than parallel universes?

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 11:31 AM:

fascinating. again, more anecdotal evidence that the majority of anti-war sentiment has nothing to do with the war, but everything to do with bush. just fascinating.

I don't a) see how you come to that conclusion, or b) understand what you're getting at. If the anti-war sentiment was primarily driven by pacifism, would that be better? (Your rhetoric doesn't lead me to believe that you're one of the people that thinks that pacifism is a noble ideal, but people's beliefs are always more complex than the stereotypes.) If the anti-war sentiment was driven by anti-capitalism, or anti-imperialism would that be better or worse? In point of fact, the anti-war movement appears to be "driven" by many different philosophies, a common goal shared by disparate groups and people.

I guess you could argue that I fall in the "anti-war because I'm anti-Bush" category, at least in part. I think that, quite aside from the disasterous idea of waging a war of agression and in the face of strong global opposition, the Bush administration is extremely unlikely to manage proper follow-through. I need only look at Afghanistan (a military action which I ended up supporting) to come to this conclusion. What was it that Teresa said? Bush hasn't taken good care of the war he's got, why should he be allowed to bring home a new one?

Bush _campaigned_ on an opposition to "nation-building." Yet, that is exactly what will need to be done in Iraq if we remove the Ba'athist party and try to create a genuine democracy there.

Afghanistan, too, is in need of far more assistance than it is getting in setting up the infrastructure necessary to run a country. I'm talking basic infrastructure, here. Roads, phones, sewers, water systems, not to mention local businesses and government. What would lead me to believe that we would do any better for Iraq? Worse, Iraq is 70% urban, and we've been bombing the hell out of its basic infrastructure. There's a lot to rebuild. So far, the only interest I've seen shown from this administration is plans which clearly benefit large corporatations with a history of donations to the Republican party.

There's a difference between being opposed to the war because of Bush, and being opposed to Bush because he does stupid, dangerous, evil things like this war. I see what I eat is not the same thing as I eat what I see. I am enormously sick of having my positions inverted for the convenience of someone's rhetoric.

Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 12:29 PM:

Graydon - I completely agree with you on the irrelevance of the left/right dichotomy, but I must take issue with your list of questions: to a very large degree the debate is actually over which questions should be asked. I suspect that one of the reasons the "right" has been so successful in recent American politics is that they have been able to center the discussion around the questions that they want asked, rather than the questions that the "left" wants asked.

Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 02:19 PM:

The thing that scares me most is that I have no idea whatsoever how the US military plans to take Baghdad. I am not aware of any historical precedent where an actively defended city that size was taken without either (1) reducing it to a pile of rubble in the process or (2) laying siege to it over a period of time, forcing it to surrender.

I do not think option 2 is exactly viable (unless the US government is willing to accept the death of millions of civilians due to starvation or prepared to somehow feed them outside Baghdad), not to mention that in the case of Leningrad the completely cut-off city was still not taken after two and a half years. And option 1 just scares the hell out of me, in terms of loss not only of infrastructure, but more importantly of human life.

I may be wrong--I'm no expert on military strategy--and the military may have developed a doctrine that allows them to carry out the operation without turning it into a second Stalingrad, but personally I do not see how they can do it. The superiority of the US and UK forces is largely a technological one, which will be all but negated if they have to fight their way through the streets.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 03:35 PM:

Yehudit -
The US/UK military forces are advancing.

They've got formed units in their rear, centred on large urban areas.

They're reliant on holding a number of bridges over large rivers.

Those formed units are in a position to attack those bridges.

Are they gonna? Don't know, but as a situation it sucks rocks.

Digging those formed units out of the cities is going to kill a lot of people and level large parts of the cities; taking Baghdad more or less has to kill a lot of people and level the place.

All of those points to bloody battles, with see-they're-not-so-tough results. It points to the areas of Iraq most potentially sympathetic to the US -- the South -- being the most damanged.

The logistics situation is bad; the ability to get food to all the southern cities is just not there, the ships can't offload fast enough and the ability to move the food around once offloaded isn't there, not for the whole of the population. Instant famine; it's spring, planting time.

All of this indicates that the strategic goal -- which is *not* 'take Baghdad', it's 'friendly democratic Iraq', at least in public -- isn't going to be met; they're going to get a starving, hostile Iraq, with destroyed or partially destroyed cities, prepositioned weapons caches, and a steady influx of anti-American fanatics and support for those fanatics from all the bordering states.

This retains the potential to go anywhere from an embarrassment -- take Baghdad, retreate hastily -- to a complete and utter clusterfuck -- years of occuptation, steady hundred plus casualties a week the whole time -- but the *good* scenario, the flowers-on-the-tanks scenario, depended utterly on things that haven't happened.

All the remaining possible outcomes for the US in this are bad, it's only a question of how bad.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 03:40 PM:

bkw - it's perfectly sensible to be opposed to war on grounds that the putative commander is chief is not competent to prosecute it.

War is one of those things were you're garunteed great expense; you want to be confident of greater benefit before undertaking such a thing.

Believing that George W. Bush wants to benefit the American people as a whole is extremely difficult -- not with those reconstruction contracts or the statements about prolonged military occupational government -- and believing that he is able to make a sufficent distinction between his ass and his elbow to accomplish such a thing is impossible.

It's a looting exercise, plain and simple, wrapped in the rhetoric of empire.

This worked for the Romans; there is far less excuse for it in an industrial culture, which is not able -- unlike the Romans, who started as poor farmers -- to profit from it.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 03:43 PM:

Robert -

Yeah, controlling the list of questions is important.

That particular list, the opinion of the present Republican party and administration is that the appropriate answer to all of them is 'no'.

Part of the point I'd like to make is that a traditional liberal position, or a traditional conservative position, would answer 'no' to some of those questions and 'yes' to some of those questions; there isn't perfect overlap, but there is some overlap (particularly with respect to the two questions prior to the last question, traditionally strong yesses in the United States.)

A political position which demands 'no' answers for all of those questions has appropriate names, which are not yet being applied to it, for reasons I do not believe to be accidental.