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May 23, 2007

Al Qaeda in Iraq?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:59 AM *

From CNN today:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush is expected to use declassified intelligence about Osama bin Laden to defend his Iraq war policy during a commencement address Wednesday.
Declassified because Bush is in trouble, with his approval ratings heading for places that not even Nixon got to.
The intelligence says that in 2005 bin Laden planned to use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in the United States, according to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Bin Laden planned to use Iraq in 2005. Bush started his war in 2003. How in the world does this show any kind of link between al Qaeda and Iraq? How can this possibly justify the Iraq war?
Johndroe said the intelligence was declassified so Bush could discuss it during graduation ceremonies set for 11:15 a.m. at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
How very convenient. And how very pathetic.
The speech will be aimed at defending a key part of the president’s war strategy — the contention that the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq because al Qaeda would fill the vacuum in the Middle East.
Oh, I see. Once you’ve started kicking the tar baby you can’t stop because that baby got tar on you.

Surely bin Laden noticed that the US was in Iraq in 2005? This presupposes that bin Laden thought that the ongoing occupation of Iraq wasn’t a reason for him not to use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in the United States. Presumably the continuing occupation (and the increasing chaos that goes with it) still isn’t a deterrent.

“This shows why we believe al Qaeda wants to use Iraq as a safe haven,” said Johndroe. He added the president will talk about al Qaeda’s “strong interest in using Iraq as a safe haven to plot and plan attacks on the United States and other countries.”
And how will staying in Iraq for another ten years and 50,000 US deaths help that situation? From al Qaeda’s point of view any chaotic failed state would do. Why do you suppose Iraq is a chaotic failed state today?
The decision also coincides with an ongoing push by the Democratic majority in Congress to force an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Which majority was caused by, and which push is powered by, the overwhelming repudiation of Bush’s Iraq war by the American voters.
Bin Laden and a top lieutenant — Abu Faraj al-Libbi — planned to form a terror cell in Iraq in order to launch those attacks, Johndroe said.
Al-Libbi was a “senior al Qaeda manager” who in 2005 suggested to bin Laden that bin Laden send Egyptian-born Hamza Rabia to Iraq to help plan attacks on American soil, Johndroe said.
Or, possibly, a guy who once delivered pizzas to someone with a name similar to someone who may have belonged to al Qaeda. Notice that this is still 2005, two years after Bush started his war.
Johndroe noted that bin Laden later suggested to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, that America should be his top priority.
If I recall correctly, the word at the time was that bin Laden had sent to al-Zarqawi words to the effect of “Why are you shooting at Muslims? America should be your top priority.”
That was followed in the spring of 2005 with bin Laden’s ordering Rabia to brief al-Zarqawi on plans to attack the United States, Johndroe said.
Possibly by putting Lite-Brites on bridges in Boston.
Johndroe added the intelligence indicates al-Libbi later suggested Rabia should be sent to Iraq to carry out those operations.
Is Iraq really a good place for anyone to plan operations outside of Iraq? It strikes me that the international airport isn’t really in good order. That the embassies aren’t routinely issuing visas. Aside from getting combat training in operating against real US soldiers who are using real US tactics and real US equipment, from al Qaeda’s point of view what advantage does Iraq have over any other place in the world?
But al-Libbi was captured in Pakistan and taken into CIA custody in May 2005. After al-Libbi’s capture, the CIA’s former acting director, John McLaughlin, described him as bin Laden’s chief operating officer, the No. 3 man in al Qaeda.
Which means that this “intelligence” was almost certainly extracted under torture, which means that it’s almost certainly a complete fantasy. As in “nonsense.” As in not based on “reality” as you and I understand the term. Al-Libbi would have confessed to wanting to form a terror cell in Grand Fenwick if that’s what his questioners wanted to hear.

More desperation from the Bush White House as they attempt to defend the indefensible.

Comments on Al Qaeda in Iraq?:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 12:09 PM:

I wondered what kind of 'Al Qaeda' information they were pushing, when I saw the newspaper headline this morning. I figured it was another bright shiny object, but that it doesn't even fit into the chronology of this universe shows they're really trying to stretch things to fit their storyline.

#2 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 12:15 PM:

Ah, the old safe haven line of BS.

Look, before it was Afghanistan, now it's Iraq, and even if we could secure Iraq, they would just go elsewhere.

They're international terrorists. They don't have a nationality, they just. want. to. kill. us.

Before we invaded, AQ activity in Iraq was lower than AQ activity in Indonesia. Now, of course, we're drowning in new recruits.

BTW, al-Libbi? Scooter al-Libbi? Heh.

#3 ::: Sternel ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 12:34 PM:

I feel very bad for the families of those Coast Guard Academy graduates, who thought they were celebrating their graduates' achievements. No such luck, folks... Surprise! You're on Candid Propaganda!

#4 ::: Dana King ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 12:47 PM:

This el-Libbi isn't any relation to Scooter Libby, is he? Given the kind of intelligence Bush has used to date, you can't rule it out. Maybe Scooter's pardon is conditional on ratting out Cousin Abu.

#5 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 12:56 PM:

even if we could secure Iraq, they would just go elsewhere.

That's it, we must conquer the world to save it from terrorism...

wait, did I say that out loud?

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 01:12 PM:

Bush is expected to use declassified intelligence

It's about time he started using intelligence, any kind of intelligence, after all those years of not relying on that thing between his ears.

#7 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 01:33 PM:

OT - AKICIF: I would like to have postcards made with a picture of flag-covered coffins coming off the plane at Dover.

I plan on sending copies to my Representative and Senators every time the death toll in Iraq goes up. On them I'm going to write: These soldiers died because you gave Bush a blank check. I'm holding you personally responsible for every casualty."

Can anyone tell me where I can get the above image and permission to use it in this manner?

Thanks!

#8 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 01:38 PM:

You have to understand that W is relying on secret technology* not available to us mere mortals that permitted him to know in 2002 that Al-Qaeda would be using Iraq in 2005.

How could we question the prescience of the president? Do we want the terrorists to win? Don't we know that they hate our freedom, and the best way to protect ourselves is thus not to exercise it?

* The latest astrological techniques, I imagine.

#9 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 01:40 PM:

"Where were you going, al-Libbi, when we captured you?"

(sounds of pouring water)

"I was going to Rummy World!"

#10 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 02:16 PM:

I would like to have postcards made with a picture of flag-covered coffins coming off the plane at Dover.

You'll find the images on The Memory Hole, and since they were taken by US government employees in the course of their duties, there's no copyright.

#11 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Which majority was caused by, and which push is powered by, the overwhelming repudiation of Bush’s Iraq war by the American voters.

Yeah, but this worked before his (re-)election campaign. It's all part of the old-fashioned "Big Lie" strategy: You tell a big enough lie, and people can't believe it's not the truth, because "Why would he lie?" Despite all the facts having been out, the White House's press spin managed to keep enough people confused until after the election ...

Is Iraq really a good place for anyone to plan operations outside of Iraq? It strikes me that the international airport isn’t really in good order. That the embassies aren’t routinely issuing visas. Aside from getting combat training in operating against real US soldiers who are using real US tactics and real US equipment, from al Qaeda’s point of view what advantage does Iraq have over any other place in the world?

Actually, that's the one argument that kinda-sorta makes sense: Our being over there makes everything a mess, but at least we can "control" the airport and everything. If we relinquish that control then things like the airport would start running, and anyone could use it ...
... You know, unlike any other international airport in the world.

Josh jasper @ 2

BTW, al-Libbi? Scooter al-Libbi? Heh.

Yeah, I noticed that. Did you also see
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe? A little close to John Doe for me ...
If I thought that a) they were clever enough, b) they cared enough, and c) they were honest enough, I'd think they were trying to signal what they were doing ...

Greg London at 5

They're international terrorists. Even if we could secure Iraq, they would just go elsewhere.
That's it, we must conquer the world to save it from terrorism...
wait, did I say that out loud?

Yeah, you did, but you're probably not alone. My own thought was
"Crap, wait'll the radical right realizes they can stop terrorism and immigration at the same time:
"They're international terrorists! To win the War on Terror we must kill all non-Americans!"

sheesh!


Serge @ 6

Bush is expected to use declassified intelligence

It's about time he started using intelligence, any kind of intelligence, after all those years of not relying on that thing between his ears.

New from the FDA: Declassified Intelligence! Now cleaned, processed, and safe for Public Consumption.


Seriously, I don't know which is scarier:

That they are actually trying this, or that the
track record of the American public suggests it might actually work!

#12 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 03:28 PM:

Thanks novalis@10 -- Found the photos, uploaded the one I thought the most appropriate, and ordered postcards.

If anyone else wants to remind their Congress-critters of the blood cost of the battle for oil, here are the links:

For images of flag-draped coffins:

http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/coffin_photos/dover/

To order postcards:

http://www.vistaprint.com/vp/ns/splash/splash_postcards.aspx?xnav=TsrItem&xnid=aPostcardsCardsNotesStationery&dng=1061560

#13 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 04:37 PM:

I plan on sending copies to my Representative and Senators every time the death toll in Iraq goes up.

What, you're planning to send 'em on a daily basis?

#14 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 05:02 PM:

You have to understand that W is relying on secret technology* not available to us mere mortals that permitted him to know in 2002 that Al-Qaeda would be using Iraq in 2005.

The question, of course, now becomes whether W's secret future-seeing technology saw the Iraq of 2005 as we knew it, or the Iraq of 2005 if we didn't invade.

Of course, either way he was right...er...wrong...um...something.

#15 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 06:34 PM:

Aside from getting combat training in operating against real US soldiers who are using real US tactics and real US equipment, from al Qaeda’s point of view what advantage does Iraq have over any other place in the world?

Because the people there hate Americans with the very special kind of hatred that could warm an entire house on chilly desert nights?

#16 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 10:03 PM:

It might be better to fax, rather than sending postcards.

Postcards might get held up in any anti-Anthrax screening process that still exists. And I'm sure after the first few they'd be routed to the circular file.

#17 ::: mullah cimoc ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 10:43 PM:

mullah cimoc say now time for him aemriki making the full investigation for discover:

1. Who starting this war?

2. Who faking the WMD intel?

3. What am him neocon? Am he the dual national israel citizen, or maybe him wife,
she a israeli citizen? Why so much israel connection. What him third party
country providing the fake wmd intel?

4. Why the nobody at us military academy at west point teach ameriki soldier read three volume treatise by chairman mao tse tung on guerilla warfare? So obvious for anyone study this subject: foreign occupier never succeed against determined guerilla resistance unless garrison entire country, this meaning every city, the town, the village. This taking the 1,000,000 ameriki soldier.

So much the suffering and destroy too many people even the aemriki people. USA woman take the LBT (low back tattoo) and the son he becoming the gay man with the beautifyl finger tip. Why this happen?

Am usa media so control for him google: mighty wurlitzer +cia and learning
him usa press not the free now.

so many aemriki boys, them die for who? Who the making this war.

#18 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 11:41 PM:

I heard that Shrub's speech at New London was, um, not as successful as they had planned. Seems he'd do his pause for cheers and applause, and nothing ... would ... happen. After a long wait - an obviously long one - the applause would start. [Conclusions are left to the reader.]

#19 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 12:00 AM:

I was amused hearing this on NPR; they were pointing out that the claims about connections may be newly \classified/ but they're not newly \presented/; Mr The-Rules-Don't-Apply-To-Me announced the alleged communications two years ago, when they were "found".

A friend teaches at USCGA, but hasn't posted in LJ about today; will be interested to hear what they're willing to say.

#20 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 01:12 AM:

Here is a question I have, from the terrorism thread.

Was there no other way to remove Saddam and get rid of the Baath power structure, other than to wade our way into the mess we're in now? Sanctions and U.N. reprimands seemed to not be working. And I happen to agree with the Christopher Hitchens type arguments for invasion, many of which centered on humanitarianism; especially where the Kurds were concerned.

Should we have done nothing?

GIANT BLARING DISCLAIMER: I am not saying the current course was the ONLY course. I am not saying that at all. I am wondering what people think we could have done differently in order to remove a nasty dictator with a nasty government, without ending up with the shit pie we've got currently.

Was it even our job to remove a nasty dictator? Should we get out of that business altogether?

#21 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 07:50 AM:

s/Osama bin Laden/Emmanuel Goldstein/

#22 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 07:57 AM:

PublicRadioVet: your question presupposes that your people have the right or duty to "remove Saddam and get rid of the Baath power structure".

How'd you feel if my country -- I'm not American -- tried to remove George W. Bush and get rid of the Republican party power structure?

Hint: what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And that's the rotten premise at the heart of the whole Neocon debacle: the idea that "we" are somehow more righteous, wise, far-seeing, and responsible than "them", and therefore get to tell them how to live their lives.

This isn't a descent into moral relativism; I'm not denying that Saddam was a nasty dictator and the Ba'ath party was a repressive fascist organization. But you know something? The USA ain't so bright either. (And as for my folks, don't worry, I'm not excusing them, either: they just spent the period 1939-45 gaily massacring their enemies' civilian population and systematically starving to death folks in the countries they occupied in pursuit of their war aims.)

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 08:57 AM:

"Mullah Cimoc" (17), ISP 67.166.109.28, shirin_hassan77@yahoo.com:

I know you've successfully trolled a number of political blogs. I'm embarrassed on their behalf. "Cimoc" is "comic" spelled backward, and your ESL-speak is not the least bit convincing.

Knock it off.

#24 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 09:06 AM:

Yeah, I'm sure a lot of mullahs use Comcast out of Utah.

#25 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 09:23 AM:

PublicRadioVet writes:

Was it even our job to remove a nasty dictator?

No.

Should we get out of that business altogether?

Yes.

#26 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 09:29 AM:

Was there no other way to remove Saddam and get rid of the Baath power structure, other than to wade our way into the mess we're in now?

Yes: let the Iraqis do it. It's their job. As the last few years have shown, the Iraqis have a certain degree of skill and courage in the insurgency game. And if they had failed, at least the body count would have been lower than what we have at the moment. There are lots of historical examples of successful revolutions; rather fewer of successful impositions of democracy.

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 10:11 AM:

If you need nasty dictators, how about Teodoro Obiang Nguema? Should the US go topple his regime? After all, Teodoro supposedly eats his opponents' testicles. (Teodoro had his predecessor put in a cage, displayed in a theatre, and shot, so there's a real need for democracy there.) Oops! Condoleeza Rice called him a "good friend."

Or how about Islam Karimov? He reportedly boils his political opponents alive. Oops! He too's our ally in the Global War on Terror.

No, no shortage of nasty dictators.

As to Iraq -- the Kurds seemed to be doing well enough with the UN no-fly zone. And Saddam was an old man with ambitious sons. He would die, or be overthrown, sooner or later. In the meantime what was he going to do to us? He wasn't allied with al Qaeda, he had no weapons of mass destruction, he wasn't sponsoring terrorism against the US ....

If the Iraqis themselves had a revolution the new government could ask for UN assistance if they felt a compelling need for foreign fighters in their country.

Other than Georgie Boy wanting to show that his dick is bigger than his dad's by going On To Baghdad when his father, wisely, decided not to, why are we there at all?

Tell you what -- if the Chinese were to invade the USA because they wanted a regime change here, and they captured George Bush and put him on trial for war crimes (even though I personally think that the day he's out of the White House can't come too soon and that putting Bush on trial for war crimes is a splendid idea), I'd be out blowing up Chinese trucks. So, I suspect, would you.

#28 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 11:47 AM:

All right, I give up. I try not to post on political threads because I'm about as political adept as an earthworm, but Bush is on television even as we speak, and I swear to God: he just said that "the Middle East looked like a cozy place for a while" (implications, before the war, but Wiser Heads in Washington realized that it was really a nasty powderkeg so we had to Do Something--like attack Iraq).

What planet does this man live on? Was there ever a time in the 20th Century when the Middle East looked "cozy"? Except maybe, by stretching a point so far it snaps and allowing for post-War euphoria, for about 12 minutes right after the first Gulf War? Was there ever anyone on THIS planet who was naive enough to be that mistaken in the last 40 or 50 years, at least?

Honest?

#29 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 11:48 AM:

All right, I give up. I try not to post on political threads because I'm about as politically adept as an earthworm, but Bush is on television even as we speak, and I swear to God: he just said that "the Middle East looked like a cozy place for a while" (implications in context, before the war, but Wiser Heads in Washington realized that it was really a nasty powderkeg so we had to Do Something--like attack Iraq).

What planet does this man live on? Was there ever a time in the 20th Century when the Middle East looked "cozy"? Except maybe, by stretching a point so far it snaps and allowing for post-War euphoria, for about 12 minutes right after the first Gulf War? Was there ever anyone on THIS planet who was naive enough to be that mistaken in the last 40 or 50 years, at least?

Honest?

#30 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 11:52 AM:

James McDonald @ 13 - Yes, I'll be sending them out daily.

What I'd love to see is thousands of these postcards cascading over every Senator and Representatives' desks, like the scene in the courtroom in _Miracle on 34th Street_.

Maybe it's a waste of time, but I have to do something. (I also call or write my Congress-critters every week.)

#31 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 11:58 AM:

Postcards go through the security check for Congressional mail just fine. It's -letters- that get held up to check for anthrax et al.

#32 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 12:19 PM:

My apologies. I have calmed down somewhat, and realized that Bush might have meant (in the same context) that the Middle East looked "nice and cozy" for terrorists. In other words, it could have been his idea of sarcasm.

(Told you I should stay off political threads.)

But it was still a stupid phrase, and in a different way still contrary-to-reality, in my opinion, And there is no excuse for us to go making it "more cozy" for said terrorists.

#33 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 01:17 PM:

Jim @ #27: This seems to be the crux of our problem in dealing with the third world. We dethrone one bad guy and shake hands with three others. I think we as voters really need to push for some consistency in this department. We have no credibility as a dictator-cop when we let other dictators who play "nice" off the hook.

Maybe we need to forget the whole "cop" thing altogether, as some have said.

If this is our goal, to cease being the World Police, I think we need to do the following:

1) Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
2) Close the Europe bases and get out of Europe.
3) Reconsider our NATO membership.
4) Reconsider our UN pressence.

The UN seems especially problematic to me because it is the UN which relies on the US to do the heavy lifting in terms of humanitarian military intervention, like Kosovo. We can't refuse the role of World Police and at the same time remain as the UN's military Big Stick.

I know lots of people who insist that America must maintain its global military pressence for security purposes. I am not really sure anymore. I'd be happy to see us bring home some or all of our manpower and hardware, re-open some of the west coast bases which Terry mentioned in a different thread, and develop a consistent foreign policy where we cease aid and support to dictators (ALL dictators!) and only send our ships, planes, tanks, and men abroad when the U.S. has been directly threatened or attacked.

The humanitarian in me that fears the malice and cruelty of the Middle East Islamists, who seek the creation of the Caliphate and the imposing of strict Islamic law across a wide sphere, balks at the idea of America letting them get away with it. But I also can't see America waging that fight alone. It's too big of a fight, and will cost too much, and in the end, if the Muslims truly do desire a Caliphate, I guess we can't stop them. We just need to make sure more 9/11-type attacks on U.S. don't come to pass.

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Where we've heard of Al-Libbi before:

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

"This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear," one source said.

However, sources said, al Libbi does not appear to have sought to intentionally misinform investigators, as at least one account has stated. The distinction in this murky world is nonetheless an important one. Al Libbi sought to please his investigators, not lead them down a false path, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the statements said.

That account was from 2005. So the public has known, for two years, that Al-Libbi's statements are unreliable. And here's Bush, right now, using them as a justification for his actions in Iraq.

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Charlie Stross #22 wrote "And as for my folks, don't worry, I'm not excusing them, either: they just spent the period gaily massacring their enemies' civilian population and systematically starving to death folks in the countries they occupied in pursuit of their war aims."

A more pertinent point -- in this year of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and the 150th anniversary of the Sepoy Rebellion -- is how the British ruled an empire that covered a quarter of the planet, and how they felt entirely justified in acquiring said empire.

When I look at the arguments made by the Bushies for the war in Iraq, it's no stretch to compare them to the arguments made in the nineteenth century for expanding the reach of British control in Africa and Asia. The primary difference being that 21st century Americans are being brought up not to be racist, while nineteenth century Britons were brought up to be racist. (This last is a point made very effectively by Michael Mann in Incoherent Empire.)

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Public Radio Vet # 33 wrote: "The UN seems especially problematic to me because it is the UN which relies on the US to do the heavy lifting in terms of humanitarian military intervention, like Kosovo."

The UN Charter permits the organisation to create its own armed force -- the UN Guard. You might want to find out why this hasn't happened (big hint: Who are the permanent members of the Security Council?).

#37 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 01:52 PM:

And today Shrub is trotting out the line about 'if we don't fight them there, we'll be fighting them here': "They are a threat to your children," Bush said. "And whoever is in the Oval Office had better understand that…. If we leave, they follow us."

There are days when I think that Al Qaeda is learning from Bush much faster than Bush learns from anyone.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:02 PM:

P J @ 37... If we leave, they follow us.

To Crawford, Texas?

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:25 PM:

PublicRadioVet @33: Get out of NATO? NATO is basically the USA's big stick -- a force multiplier with shitloads of logistic forward bases and a big pool of extra cannon fodder! Next you'll be suggesting leaving the UN -- a body that the USA founded, which costs peanuts to run, and which gives it enormous leverage.

Excuse me for pointing it out, but you're regurgitating isolationlist talking points that would actually result in the US having a whole lot *less* influence in the world.

The UN seems especially problematic to me because it is the UN which relies on the US to do the heavy lifting in terms of humanitarian military intervention, like Kosovo.

Kosovo was a decade ago; when the degenerating mess in the former Yugoslavia unfolded in the early 90s, the EU military response was to commission a whole ton of logistic infrastructure -- things like the Airbus 400M military transport, and about 15 huge landing support ships. These are explicitly designed for supporting movements of troops ashore and into out-of-area missions; the US isn't the only country out there doing overseas peacekeeping work, or even working on the largest scale. Actually, the US has a pretty piss-poor record in that regard, spending less than half the European average on overseas aid and sending fewer overseas peacekeepers (Iraq aside) than France.

I think you ought to interrogate your sources of information.

Fragano @35: yup. A little historical nicety that isn't taught in British schools is what happened to the Indian Empire during WW2. A quick google on "Bengal famine 1942" would horrify quite a few people I know ... it's comforting to think that only the Other Guys starved their subject populations to death by the million, but it just ain't so.

#40 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:35 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 39:

You could say the British Empire had a history of doing so -- the Irish Potato Famine and the Scottish Clearances come to mind.

(Not that the US is any better in that department, the Trail of Tears, for one.)

#41 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:36 PM:

But Charlie, it seems to me a growing number of Americans WANT isolationism. They don't understand why we're in Iraq, why we keep troops in Europe, why we spend all this money to have such a large and forever-involved military operating overseas?

Maybe it really is time for the U.S. to enter an "isolationist" period. I'm willing to entertain that possibility, mostly because it seems like Wilsonianism applied in the 21st century is getting us nowhere.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:43 PM:

Charlie Stross #39: Yes indeed, and, at the same time, Churchill was saying something about not having become His Majesty's first minister in order to preside over the dissolution of the British empire.

(And how things change: Fifteen years later, Churchill would write, in his introduction to Peter Abraham's Colonial Office book on Jamaica, that the objective of the British empire had been to prepare backward peoples for the modern world and Britain had succeeded in doing so.)

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:54 PM:

PublicRadioVet: starting from the basics, the reason isolationism won't fly is that, like it or not, the USA is the 400lb gorilla in the global economy. You're deeply dependent on imports of strategic materials and finished goods (quick! What country was your TV manufactured in?), and you export a load of stuff too. To make all this buying and selling work requires a whole bunch of treaty frameworks and agreements (or would you like Disney, Universal Studios, et al, to be on the receiving end of a deluge of cheap counterfeit copies of their latest DVDs? No, don't answer that ...)

The USA can't disengage at that level because it needs the rest of the world, and vice versa. It may have about 30% of the global economy, but if you flip it around, US companies want access to the other 70% of the planetary economy. And US consumers like the televisions and Priuses and mobile phones.

Now, the military question is a different kettle of fish. And I'm inclined to think that a policy of not invading other countries would be a good idea. (Not everyone agrees: which neocon was it who said, back around 2004, "every so often we need to throw an uppity country up against the wall and show everyone else who's top dog" or words to that effect?)

Unfortunately it turns out that the two are interwingled. US economic throw-weight depends to some extent on having a hugely visible military presence overseas, with bases in roughly two thirds of all the countries on the planet, and just over half the military spending in the world. (Of the rest, 60% belongs to the EU. Luckily the EU isn't in the empire-building game now, and hopefully never will be.) This -- and the alliance system that was successfully managed from 1945 to January 2000 -- helped keep the dollar as the de facto planetary reserve currency. Surprise! -- having the dollar occupy that privileged position helped the US balance of trade and effectively allowed the US to export a load of debt. Effectively the rest of the world has been subsidizing the USA to the tune of about $200Bn a year -- in current money -- for the past few decades. But if you disengage, the dollar will lose primacy -- the US economy is smaller than that of the EU, and the Euro currently looks like a harder currency -- and at that point, lots of compound-interest chickens come home to roost (having grown to the size of the legendary Roc in the mean time).

Basically, it's a pyramid scheme. When it comes down, a lot of people are going to get hurt. (Including me; I may live in Scotland and pay my mortgage in Pounds Sterling, but over 50% of my income comes in US dollars.)

Hint: I don't believe there's an easy way out of this. (If there was, it'd have been taken years ago.)

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 02:59 PM:

But Charlie, it seems to me a growing number of Americans WANT isolationism.

Or perhaps not so much. Perhaps a growing number of Americans are looking at the Project for the New American Century and saying "If this is what foreign relations looks like we don't want any part of it."

I don't think anyone could give a rational explanation for why we're in Iraq because there isn't a rational explanation.

#45 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 03:11 PM:

>But Charlie, it seems to me a growing number of Americans WANT isolationism.

>Or perhaps not so much. Perhaps a growing number of Americans are looking at the Project for the New American Century and saying "If this is what foreign relations looks like we don't want any part of it."

The general ignorance that so many people have of anything outside the area in which they live doesn't help. If people from another area of the country are so different that they're considered to be bad (if not evil), how much worse people from another continent must be. The curiosity level isn't very high, either.

Add in that newspapers and TV have pretty much shut down foreign bureaus (resulting in foreign reporting being farmed out to locals, or bought from Reuters and Al-Jazeera), and you get an isolationist attitude fed from all sides.

#46 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 03:23 PM:

Ok -- I'm going to play devil's advocate:

Is the US going isolationist a bad thing?

(Considering the dog's breakfast the current Maladmnistration has made of foreign relations, perhaps refocusing on our own problems might be a good idea.)

#47 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Lori: not necessarily.

Thing is, back in the nineteen-teens, the standard political model for running a country was authoritarian (monarchy or dictatorship), and the standard goal for successful authoritarian rulers was chow-down-on-the-neighbours empire-building. Democracy was a rare flower at best; in the 1930s it appeared to be globally endangered.

These days, the boot is on the other foot. An outright majority of nations are democracies, the two largest economic superpowers are democracies (or a confederation of same -- the EU), the norms of international relations are such that classic empire-building tends to result in UN sanctions and military intervention pretty damn quickly (especially if there's oil at stake, he says cynically) and ... well, the world is a very different place.

Also, the capital-intensive nature of modern warfare tends to militate against the spread of conflicts.

The world appears to be a much less dangerous place than it was in 1919. And unless I'm misreading things badly, it should be fairly safe for the USA if it simply decided to sink back into being one among equals, and to work with the other top table democracies to keep things running smoothly. Nihilist bampots in the middle east aside, nobody is rattling the sabre at the USA, and it'd take so long to work up a plausible threat that taking a generation out from the Hobbesian struggle for survival isn't totally impractical.

#48 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 03:40 PM:

The opposite of what our current administration calls foreign policy -- i.e. unilateral militarism, refusal to engage in diplomacy, and allowing corporations run by their friends to loot the American people -- is not isolationalism: it's a sane foreign policy. We can do that and focus attention on the needs of the folks at home. In fact, we're going to have to. I truly believe that if we don't deal with it, the problems of our current health care system are going to become utterly intolerable, to the point where the country will be torn apart. (For a large subset of folks, they already are intolerable.)

Instead of abandoning foreign policy, how about we abandon imperialism? Despite what Bush and neocons think, they are not the same thing.

Note to Mary Frances at #28 -- don't listen to him. It's too crazy-making.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 03:49 PM:

Lori @45:
Is the US going isolationist a bad thing?

It's an impossible thing. Even if the US pulled all of its troops home, it would still be deeply enmeshed in the rest of the world. It's the world's largest debtor nation, many US companies own assets abroad or trade there, the economy depends heavily on trade, it's importing fossil fuels, it has huge movement of people in and out all the time, between immigration and emigration and the tourist trade.

Much of US foreign policy is around making sure that those economic entanglements are conducted either fairly or (preferably, from an American perspective) on terms favourable to the USA. Abandoning its role on the political and military world stage would require a consequent scaling back of its economic might.

The US could, conceivably, "pull out" of the rest of the world, but it would change a lot more than most isolationists realise - or would probably want.

#50 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 04:51 PM:

abi @ 48

The isolationists will go even more nuts without their imported everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. I'm not sure they actually read the labels on the stuff they're buying. They just want cheap (or inexpensive, which isn't the same) whatever.

#51 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 05:28 PM:

Can there be military isolationism without economic isolationism? Seems the Japanese mastered military isolationism and economic proliferation at the same time. Next to the U.S. they are the world's largest and best capitalist economy. Yet their foreign military footprint is almost non-existant. Maybe they're onto something? Or does the U.S. continued "umbrella" pressence Japan skew this picture?

#52 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 05:30 PM:

#50 "Can there be military isolationism without economic isolationism?"

That's a good differentiation.

#53 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 05:36 PM:

PRV @ 50

The Japanese constitution forbids it, explicitly. They had a big debate about what they should do in Iraq, and it basically boiled down to non-combat support.

Oh, on the other thread: she rants. [shrug] It's mostly mad-at-the-world stuff, I think. Been that way for years.

#54 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 05:37 PM:

Charlie #46, Abi #48, Lori #45:

The US has never been isolationist. Any claims that it has are pure myth. The US has historically been uninvolved in Europe, but that's largely because it was heavily involved in Latin America (the Monroe Doctrine dates to 1823, the Mexican War was from ), Asia (the opening of Japan in 1853, for example), and Africa (the First Barbary War was from ) almost since the foundation of the republic.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 05:41 PM:

Japan spent a lot of time being poor to pay for its economic leverage. Remember when "Made in Japan" meant shoddy and cheap?

The US has a lot of economic leverage without its military, but it's been spending pretty freely for a few decades. Being a debtor is a less powerful position than being a creditor.

And there are areas where America is dependent not just on imports, but on the ways it gets them. Oil is, of course, one of them.

America can still trade without military involvement in the wider world, but I wonder if the terms would be as advantageous? And if not, would big business sit still, or urge a return to deeper involvement?

#56 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 05:47 PM:

PJ, I had forgotten about the constitutional strictures placed on the Japanese armed forces following WW2.

And regarding the other thread, thanks for the heads up. I was trying very hard to figure out how/why this particular person had come to hate me with such force. Sounds it's way bigger than just me. I understand now.

#57 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 06:13 PM:

If isolationism means closing the borders to trade and immigration, withdrawing from the world, etc., then it's pretty obviously a bad idea.

But PRV's original question was about the extent to which we should be playing world's policeman, or alternatively playing the Great Game. I think it's a good question, and that stamping the "isolationist" label on it shuts off debate without addressing it.

It's possible to have a strong military capable of defending your territory, which you don't send off every few years to play world cop, or to kidnap ex-CIA-stooges who stop taking your orders, or whatever. It's possible to do this while remaining part of the larger world--involving yourself in trade, having some level of immigration, being part of world bodies, etc.
We know this because we can see a number of them--Japan and Switzerland are examples.

There's a moral issue about how to deal with genuine humanitarian crises, like the mass murder going on now in Sudan, or the Rwandan genocide. It's far from clear that our intervention is effective at stopping this sort of thing (note that we're not stopping the genocide in the Sudan, and didn't stop the one in Rwanda). But I can see the moral issue of not wanting to leave this sort of horror going on all over the world.

There's also a practical issue about whether an interventionist foreign policy pays off for the US. Keeping troops and bases all over the world makes us more able to exert influence. I'm not convinced this benefits us as a country, but maybe it does.

The biggest problem here is that it's very hard for citizens to evaluate whether our foreign policy is improving our position or not. It's easy to recognize disasters like Iraq and Vietnam, and it's easy to recognize huge successes like the liberation of Europe and the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after WW2. It's not so easy to work out whether helping get Allende bumped off made things better or worse for the US long-term, or whether our periodic interventions into Haiti, or our embargo of Cuba, or support for Israel have paid off for us.

When you can't measure the impact of your choices, it's hard to make good choices. It's also a big opportunity for the agency problem to pop up--when we help knock off Allende, how can you tell whether it's to protect some politically important US companies' investments, or is part of a subtle grand strategy of keeping the Soviets contained? Was the 9/11 attack caused by too much US intervention in the world, or too little?

This is a hard issue, but it's not at all clear to me that world cop is a role that pays off for the US.

#58 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 06:18 PM:

PRV@41:it seems to me a growing number of Americans WANT isolationism. They don't understand why we're in Iraq

Wow. You just insulted the intelligence of everyone who opposes the war in Iraq in one little sentence.

I understand perfectly well why we are in Iraq. Bush wanted a war in Iraq. He cooked the intel, he cherry picked evidence, he ignored all the weapons inspections going on, he ignored all the intelligence that didn't agree with him, he ignored all the military experts who advised him against it, and he invaded with absolutely no clue as to what he was doing.

By January 2003, the UN weapon inspectors were saying Sadaam was complying with inspections and that no WMD's had been found. They continued to repeat that view for three months until they heard the invasion was coming anyway and the got out while they still could.

The reason "Why" we are in Iraq is, at best, that Bush made an amazing sequence of unbelievably bad blunders in good faith. (i.e. he Barney Fifed his way into the war, put his bullet in his revolver and killed Otis the drunk.) The worst case is that he intended from the beginning, from 9-11 on, to find any excuse he could to invade Iraq, no matter the cost, no matter the suffering. (i.e. he Emporer Palpatined his way into the war).

Either way, it was a bad, bad, bad decision on Bush's part. And that's why we're in Iraq.


#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 06:23 PM:

PRV,

Re the other thread: look at it this way. It's like the twentieth "Pacifism is cool! you wear a uniform so I hate you" 18 year old kid comes up and spouts his views at you.

Your reaction to him is the product of twenty interactions, none of them good. He comes away wondering why you're so angry.

Multiply by years and hundreds of interactions.

#60 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 06:39 PM:

Greg, I'm not talking about dedicated anti-war people. I am talking about the middle Americans who might have supported Bush at first, but now find their enthusiasm waning because they don't get why we're still there, and are questioning why the military is in a lot of other places.

#61 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 07:02 PM:

I'm not talking about dedicated anti-war people. I am talking about the middle Americans who might have supported Bush at first

You know, the tendancy you have to bifurcate people into "middle americans" and "dedicated anti-war people" is not just a little aggravating.

a growing number of Americans WANT isolationism. They don't understand why we're in Iraq,

It's as if you have this vision in your mind that every "middle american" supported the invasion of Iraq, and now some of them are confused, whereas the only opposition to the invasion of Iraq were from the "dedicated anti-war people".

There are, in fact, people who would qualify as "normal" and even "middle america" who opposed the invasion of Iraq from teh beginning. Who never believed the accusations of WMD's and who never bought into any connection between Iraq and Al Queda or 9-11, who knew if we had invaded we'd be in a quagmire for years. So, not only are they "middle america", it turns out that they were "right".

I don't know if it's your intention to talk about the world as if its populated by nothing more than fringe pacificts and normal people, but I do wish you'd choose your words a little more carefully.

#62 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Greg at 60, thank you. You said what I intended to say.

Albatross at 56, I contend that our current foreign policy is clearly not improving our "position" viz a viz any damn thing: security, peace, economics, trade, humanitarian assistance, climate change -- you name it, we're f*cking it up. Does it need to be that way? I don't think so. Can it change? Not with this crowd in charge. One of their most dangerous characteristics is that they are firm believers in American exceptionalism, and this belief allows them to make extraordinary judgments and do astonishingly foolish things. Such as invading Iraq.

We need to find a way to counter that poisonous doctrine. Until we do, I fear that we -- this country -- will continue to elect people who will, when faced with adversity and crisis, reach for the military to solve it. And when that fails -- what will they do? Blow the world apart out of frustration?

#63 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 07:40 PM:

I contend that our current foreign policy is clearly not improving our "position" viz a viz any damn thing

Not so fast, you have to admit that the war on the environment is going quite well, all things considered.

I heard Lex Luthor just bought some property along the california coast, all of which was 30 feet above current sea level or higher, so I think that whole "buy inland, then turn it into beach front property" plan is going to pay off pretty well. I know Cheney is one of the venture capitalists, so they've got government backing, which always helps.

#64 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 01:31 AM:

Greg, I think the bifurcation is quite real. C'mon, does anyone remember the run-up to the war in 2003? Most of heartland America, most of the fence-sitters, were onboard. You had a scattering of resistance through the interior, but if you wanted rock-solid anti-invasion activism and sentiment in 2003, you had to go to the coasts.

It's these people from the interior, who truly believed that Iraq was a "terrorist threat", whom I believe have been cast into the greatest doubt on this subject. Lots of them really do not know anymore what Iraq is about. They only see their national guard and reserve units being deployed to a place that the news makes out to be a meatgrinder. They want to support the President, but increasingly feel like the President is out to lunch.

And it is from this sector of our society I suspect we're liable to see the greatest isolationist sentiment, once Iraq has played out and we've left the country and the Iraq civil war is in total bloom.

I could be wrong, but this is what I see happening.

#65 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 02:43 AM:

PRV @63:

It's these people from the interior, who truly believed that Iraq was a "terrorist threat", whom I believe have been cast into the greatest doubt on this subject. Lots of them really do not know anymore what Iraq is about. They only see their national guard and reserve units being deployed to a place that the news makes out to be a meatgrinder. They want to support the President, but increasingly feel like the President is out to lunch.

So why do you think all those people you mention *believed* that Iraq was a terrorist threat? Was it from a sober analysis of the facts on the ground, as they were available at the time--or was it something else? Speaking for myself, here in Australia, it certainly looked like the US government, in the months leading up to the invasion, did everything they could to conflate Iraq and al-Qaeda and 9/11. I believe something like 50% of the US population still believes these things are all linked. Even the Australian prime minister John Howard (who George W Bush once described as an "Iron Man" for his unwavering support on Iraq) went on TV before the war (and since) repeating all these same talking points.

#66 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 05:39 AM:

I'd just like to note in passing that foreign news coverage in the US media -- outside of specialist news magazines that focus on it as part of their main remit -- is dire. The New York Times typically carries as much foreign news as my local city fishwrap; CNN is just abjectly ... bad, and as for the competition, it's not worth getting started.

And those specialist foreign affairs mags? They tend to attract policy wonks with big shiny axes to grind. You can't automatically trust what you read in them to be free of wishful thinking conflated with playground geopolitics as invented by the bright but socially inept kids who've just discovered a map of the world and are playing "what-if" games with frontiers.

I recognized the Iraq invasion was unjustifiable and likely to be a bloodbath before it happened, but the point at which I realized all was lost was shortly after the invasion, when I spotted a news article saying that the State Department was having problems with Arabic speakers, and had shifted nearly all of its 600 speakers to Iraq.

600 Arabic speakers. There are around a dozen arab countries with a combined population around the same size as the USA, and it's been obvious for years that a major focus of foreign policy was going to be the Arab world, and yet they only had 600 speakers with basic conversational Arabic when they invaded and proposed to run an entire country?

Madness born of willful ignorance.

#67 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 07:44 AM:

PIPA has several years of US opinion polls archived, including polls taken from the runup to the Iraq war. A lot of their polls are interesting reading, including the one that indicated Bush voters were less likely to understand Bush's positions than Kerry voters were to understand either Bush's or Kerry's positions on issues.

#68 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 09:48 AM:

600 Arabic speakers.

I wonder how many Arabic speakers there are in any non-Arabic-speaking country's foreign office.

Arabic is not an easy language to learn. I tried, once upon a time, and all that's left of my efforts is a dwindling ability to spell out Arabic script. (I had had much less trouble with French and Russian, but moving to a non-Indo-European language was hard.)

I read an article in the last year or so about efforts to teach Arabic to English-speakers, and it said that after several years of study most of the students couldn't even make conversation in the language; some couldn't after five or more years of study. (This may be an artifact of a study program that emphasizes literacy over conversation, of course.)

Arabic is somewhat dialectified as well; I believe that due to its media dominance Egyptian Arabic is more-or-less the dominant dialect, but not everyone understands it. Most people who "learn Arabic" in the West learn Classical Arabic, which is not terribly useful when talking to or listening to actual non-classical Arabs. It's almost like learning Elizabethan English.

FWIW, Chinese is becoming more and more popular in US schools, sometimes even displacing French as "the" foreign language to study. So, we'll be all set when the time comes to invade and occupy China.

#69 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 10:29 AM:

I can't have been the only person to notice:

al-Libbi .... lose one l, one b... al-ibi... alibi

If, in thirty years time, you discover that they were *that* obvious, I suspect the US will get its own equivalent of Guy Fawke's day.

PublicRadioVet @33

Are the only two choices available for the US to be either 100% interventionist or 100% isolationist? Or is there a possibility for a middle path to be found?

I'd suggest something like the following:

* First, gradually pull back the US military from its bases all around the world. Let the Japanese take over the ones in Okinawa, the Australians handle Pine Gap and North-West Cape, the Europeans use the ones in Europe etc. One of the big problems is that the US military is trying to do everything, and as a result, very few other countries who are allied with the US have any real incentive to do any of this themselves.
* Secondly, pay up your flippin' UN dues. The money is much more useful to the UN than the troops will ever be. The money can be used to do things that the US troops can't, such as solve problems like the growing prevalence of radical Islam without causing world war three. The UN is able to suggest things like gradual democratisation, extension of rights to women, etc etc etc, and they can point to examples of how this has worked that *aren't* reliant on the muscle of the United States of America standing there to enforce things.
* Thirdly, join in the growing world movement to eradicate (or at least greatly alleviate) third world poverty. Forgive some more third world debt, offer assistance which comes *without* strings attached, and offer things which are useful, such as training for new doctors and nurses, low cost medication, low cost birth control. Work to empower women in the countries where you're wanting to achieve change.
* Finally, accept that not everyone is going to do things the same way that the United States does. Most nations come from a completely different background to the US - about the only three which might have any historical similarity at all are Canada, Australia, and Israel (and on Israel, I'd say the differences outweigh the similarities). US-style representative democracy only works when the following conditions are met: 1) a large majority of the population aren't starving; 2) a large majority of the population are educated to the point where their vote can be an informed one; 3) a large majority of the population are literate; and 4) a large majority of the population can afford to take time out from the business of staying alive to pay attention to politics. In most countries where the US attempts to impose democracy from the top down, none of these conditions are met. It needs all of them.

All of these require for the government and people of the United States of America to accept that not everyone is happy to follow in their footsteps, and that not everyone wants their advice. It means accepting that you may not be universally liked, and accepting that you can't say "jump" and expect the rest of the world to be asking "how high?" on the way up. It means accepting this gratefully, rather than taking your bat and ball and stomping off home in high dudgeon (which is what the isolationist viewpoint smacks of).

It also means accepting that maybe, just maybe, you might have had a hand in *causing* some of the problems. I doubt the problem of radical Islam would have got as bad as it is if they hadn't had the very visible example of the United States coming in and acting the conquering emperor over most of their nations. In Saudi Arabia, the king keeps control because he's a puppet of the US. In Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, the United States interfered to try and keep control of the oil flows, and effectively showed the people of these countries precisely how powerless they were. Is it any wonder that they reach back in their history for a time when they ruled the known world? The first Caliphate, and the period before the Spanish Reconquista were the height of Islamic culture, world wide. It was their glory days. Now they're being trodden all over by a group of upstart infidels whose culture didn't even *exist* then. Is it any wonder they're getting all misty-eyed and wanting to bring those glory days back?

Oh, and just in case those of you in the US hadn't realised yet - check this link:

http://www.hanneblank.com/blog/2007/05/23/still-not-king-but-maybe-soon/

Hanne Blank has gone to the trouble of reading through a couple of rather obscure documents - NSPD-51 aka HSPD-20. Here's a quote from the above blog entry:

Any of y’all read National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51 or Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20? Came out from the White House in May?

No?

Can’t say I blame you, it’s a pile of some of the most deliberately obfuscatory governmental gobbledygook I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m a person who reads federal “abstinence education” policy for laughs.

Even if you haven’t read it, though, you should know what it says. Because it says, in far more words, that if something happens that the President considers sufficiently catastrophic — let’s say a big earthquake, or another Katrina-esque storm, or even an actual attack on a domestic target (launched by whomever… no reason we have to look outside our own borders for terrorists, natch, says the woman who was living in the greater Baltimore/DC area during the period of the Beltway Sniper shootings…) — the President may arrogate unto himself sole responsibility for the entire Federal government.

Sounds like you folks have a lot more to be worrying about.

#70 ::: Dick Mulliken ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 10:38 AM:

A minor point: Zarqawi wasn't really part of Al Qaeda. He was merely a successful Jordanian thug whom Al Qaeda briefly blessed.
A larger point: Al Qaeda's safe havens are in Munich, Birmingham, Tangier and points west.
Meantime, Bin Laden likes us in Iraq since it's a good training ground, a neat recruiting issue and it's expensive for us to be there.

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 11:02 AM:

I had to listen to one of the low-information-voter commuters this morning saying that 'GW really wants to bring our brave boys and girls home from Iraq'. (I refrained from crossing the aisle and strangling him with his own backpack. It was difficult.)

If Shrub hadn't started the war and turned it into an occupation, we wouldn't have troops over there to bring home.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 11:14 AM:

P J... Don't you like the idea that your vote is cancelled by the vote of that commuter?

#73 ::: meep! ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 11:20 AM:

"As in not based on “reality” as you and I understand the term."

Well, duh!! -- they've made it *very* clear that they scorn the 'reality-based' community. Which actually brings up a thought I was having during the Goodling hearings, when ?Lundgren was reading that long long piece about The Sopranos. And we know that Cheney and various other Rs are obsessed with 24. So they scorn us for living in a 'reality-based' world because they're living in ... TV-Land?

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 11:39 AM:

Serge, I look on it as my vote cancelling his vote. (It keeps me from going more insane. Now to find hearing protectors that block his conversation, such as it is ... this is, incidentally, the same guy who was complaining about having his IQ on the mail-in Mensa test scored at 140, after telling us he thought they allowed too much time and had cut it in half.)

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 11:46 AM:

P J... I look on it as my vote cancelling his vote

I much prefer your way of looking at it.

#76 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 12:20 PM:

If I can go back to the world policeman thing, I have an observation. The US is often talked about as being the world policeman, and that's well and good. Almost everyone agrees that policemen are needed. However, US policy on being the policeman often seems (at least from the outside) to be that the US government both sets the rules for the rest of the world and polices them.

Societies that do that on a smaller scale are called police states, and this is held to be a bad thing. A policeman needs to be working for someone greater, preferably someone elected by the people being policed.

The police should not be working for their own interests, but the interests of the policed populace. They should not set policy, but enforce clearly stated laws. If the US is to be a world policeman, US government needs to start listening to the rest of the world, and letting others set the rules they enforce.

#77 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Greg, I think the bifurcation is quite real. C'mon, does anyone remember the run-up to the war in 2003? Most of heartland America, most of the fence-sitters, were onboard.

I don't know what the public polls were saying on March 2003, the day before the invasion.

But I can tell you the reason those "middle american" people are "confused" is because they believed Bush when he said (1) Iraq had something to do with 9-11, that (2) Iraq has WMD's and is a threat to America, that (3) They will welcome us with flowers, that (4) We'll be out of there in 6 weeks, certainly no longer than 6 months.

And everything Bush told them was a lie. Not a mistake, or an interpretation, but a lie.

And their "confusion" is nothing more than dealing with the fact that their president lied them into a war.

Did it ever occur to you to wonder why the "coalition of the willing" was 98% American troops? Did it ever occur to you to wonder why the 2002 UN resolution demanding inspections was passed, but the 2003 UN resolution to use military force was not supported and eventually withdrawn by Bush?

Because most of the world didn't buy Bush's lies from the beginning. Most of the world knew there was no Iraq-Alqueda-911 connection, most knew Iraq no longer had WMD's, most knew that they would fight us as foreign invaders, and most knew it would years of quagmire occupation.

I knew Bush was full of crap before the Iraq invasion. A lot of people I know knew it too, including middle america people, and former miltary people.

But the entire source of that "confusion" you speak of is a large chunk of the American population who are trying to figure out how to reconcile the fact that their president and administration systematically lied to them to get their support for a war, and that they believed him and supported him, and now it's pretty clear that the emporer had no clothes all along, adn they're left dealing with the fact that they had, for some period of time, complimented him on his fine new threads.

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 02:22 PM:

albatross @ 56

There's a moral issue about how to deal with genuine humanitarian crises, like the mass murder going on now in Sudan, or the Rwandan genocide. It's far from clear that our intervention is effective at stopping this sort of thing (note that we're not stopping the genocide in the Sudan, and didn't stop the one in Rwanda).

What intervention? Nobody intervened in Rwanda; by the time the international community had decided that they could use the word "genocide" more than half a million people were dead. The only intervention I have heard of in Rwanda was the work of a single UN soldier, who, against orders, managed to hide and smuggle out hundreds of Tutsis.

In the Sudan, we have an international African force with some American and European logistical aid, but that force can barely protect the refugee camps.

The only intervention being done on a useful scale is in support of unilateral, and usually questionable, initiatives like the invasion of Iraq. The US can't even give aid without making using the logistics as a hidden subsidy for some constituency that's important to the administration (see the flap over buying aid locally in regions where emergencies occur).

Until I see intervention on a real scale other than as a cover for imperialism, I'm not going to believe in it.

#79 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Charles Stross @ 65

I recognized the Iraq invasion was unjustifiable and likely to be a bloodbath before it happened, but the point at which I realized all was lost was shortly after the invasion

I think a lot of people realized that the justifications were bogus early on, but the point where I saw the sheer incompetence and/or evil intent of the people planning the invasion was when I heard an interview with one of the experts tasked with recommending strategies, force compositions, and objectives for the peace-keeping phase after the invasion was successful. He and his team gave specific recommendations including a minimum initial complement of 6,000 MPs and civilian police trained in re-establishing civil order, to be followed almost immediately by a cadre of instructors to train the Iraqui police and MPs for their post-invasion duties. He said that every part of their recommendation was ignored.

Clearly the folks pushing the invasion has no intention of ensuring civil order; and the result couldn't have been anything else but a disaster for the Iraquis. Just as clearly, the planners cannot claim not to have been given the information they needed to make these decisions correctly.

#80 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 03:50 PM:

#70 PJ:

Oh, given how things are going now, I imagine Bush wishes he could bring the troops home. Preferably with the big UNDO button. Just not in a way that acknowledges his responsibility for the disaster that's already happened, and the much bloodier one that is likely to occur in Iraq when we finally do pull out.

#81 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 04:12 PM:

#76 Greg (and others):

One thing to remember here is that most people don't try to analyze this stuff at great depth. That's reasonable, right? Not everyone finds this stuff interesting, or has any background in the right things to evaluate it. Probably nobody is smart enough to reliably predict the outcomes of something as complicated as an invasion, occupation, and attempted establishment of a democratic state.

So, lots of citizens who weren't especially well informed turned out to be easy to spin into thinking that Saddam had somethign to do with 9/11, had WMDs and links to Al Qaida, and was going to be handing nukes off to Bin Laden any day now if we didn't invade. Some were also convinced, I suppose, that Iraqis really wanted democracy as imposed by our invasion. Or that our occupation would make us safer against terrorism.

None of those predictions turned out to be right. So many people have come to doubt the reasons that they originally thought the war made sense, right? Isn't this about what you'd expect? Isn't responding to more evidence by updating your beliefs, and accepting that you made a mistake in something in the past, what you'd like to see people do?

#82 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 06:22 PM:

So many people have come to doubt the reasons that they originally thought the war made sense, right? Isn't this about what you'd expect? Isn't responding to more evidence by updating your beliefs, and accepting that you made a mistake in something in the past, what you'd like to see people do?

Certainly. I was directing my post at PRV who seems to think that all of "middle america" supported the war at the beginning, and now some of them are "confused" (as if they don't know why they're confused). And who also seemed to think that only the peace activists were the ones who opposed the invasion.

#83 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 07:09 PM:

Greg 81:

Fair enough. The thing I wanted to get across (which I think you agree with) is that it's no shame for people to change their minds. It's *especially* no shame for people to change their minds when they were more-or-less following apparently better-informed people to begin with.

As an analogy, I'm willing to buy the idea of human-caused global warming, on the strength of the apparent majority of experts in the field who buy it. But you know, if the average temperatures start falling off, new evidence comes to light explaining climate change without CO2 concentrations being very important, etc., I'll be one of those unfaithful sorts who changes his mind on carbon taxes, more nuclear plants, and such. And that's really okay, since I pretty much have to take climate modelers' predictions on faith. (I could spend a few years studying the field enough to form an independent opinion, but there aren't enough years in a human lifetime to do that for many fields.)

#84 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2007, 07:25 PM:

it's no shame for people to change their minds.

Oh, no. That wasn't what I was getting at. I was more trying to straighten up the idea that "middle america" is somehow generically "confused", as if they don't know where the source of their confusion is.

Yes, you should always change your mind to follow the evidence, not change teh evidence to follow your mind.

#85 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2007, 01:16 AM:

Mary Frances @ 28

but Wiser Heads in Washington realized that it was really a nasty powderkeg so we had to Do Something-

Like light the fuse?

#86 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 01:58 PM:

Charlie, #66: I'd just like to note in passing that foreign news coverage in the US media -- outside of specialist news magazines that focus on it as part of their main remit -- is dire.

And right there you have a large chunk of the problem. Too many Americans -- and believe me, it's not just "middle Americans" from the heartland -- literally have no idea of what's going on in the rest of the world, or of what the rest of the world thinks about America. They don't know, they don't care, they don't WANT to know or care. It's not isolationism, although that can become one of the results; it's provincialism on a global scale. This, in turn, suggests that perhaps a great deal of the active resistance to Bush's War came, not from "hard-core peaceniks," but from people who (for one reason or another) have rather more of a global perspective. It's a lot harder to maintain those provincial attitudes when you routinely interact with people from other countries online, and sometimes get pointed to news coverage that doesn't come from the American mainstream media.

I'm sure it also doesn't help that the Administration has, in Faux News, the American equivalent of Pravda... and that many Bush supporters won't listen to news derived from any other source.

#87 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 08:45 AM:

#86 Lee:

It seems like a lot of the intellectual support for the war came from people who knew a fair bit about the outside world, albeit seen through strong ideological filters. But the rank and file of both the pro- and anti-war sides seem to come from people that don't know much about the outside world, probably because it's not common for Americans to follow news from the outside world much. I've certainly heard plenty of antiwar arguments that relied on little understanding of the world beyond US borders.

A little experience traveling outside the US, or even just trying to read and understand non-US-centric news sources, is really valuable. Nonsense about how the French and Germans are our enemies because they don't support the Iraq invasion is harder to sell to people who actually have friends who are French and German, and who've wandered around both countries a bit. ("Freedom fries," anyone? "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys?" Propoganda is bad enough, but stupid propoganda is just painful.) Discussing politics with people from outside the US gives you a different perspective, too--way too much political discourse in the US is shaped and narrowed to keep it within comfortable US bounds. (Sometimes, that's a good thing, other times bad, but it definitely happens.)

The net makes some of this a lot easier, right? Part of the vitality of the blog comments here is that they aren't all from within-the-US people. Good English-language non-US news sources are available, and if you have a second language, your choices are even wider.

#88 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:17 PM:

And now we get this example of your BATF in action:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-laos6jun06,0,5316421.story?coll=la-home-local

Those who know Lt. Col. Jack (not me - I don't know Jack, as is plain to all) say this has a peculiar odor. There even may be literary quality to the charges.

Anyone know anything further?

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