Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Sinners and the angry God

Fallows has another post up in which he discusses the Third Gulf War. Among the issues he addresses are the justifications put forward at the time for the war and the various reasons that he, among others, believed those justifications were mistaken. Among the most central is the "Saddam is bad" theme:
"Much of the stated case for war was in two parts: (1) Saddam Hussein is evil and dangerous, and (2) there is a quick and feasible answer to that question. I was saying about part (2): No, there is not a quick and feasible answer. In cases of life-or-death imminent existential threat or emergencies like Pearl Harbor, questions of practicality don't matter. But they sure do in a "preventive" war of choice -- which I hoped we would not launch."
Even when you think of the "smoking gun = mushroom cloud" sort of NBC-based arguments they came back to "Saddam is bad"; the nukes (or bugs, or gas) were dangerous because they were in the hands of a dangerous madman.

Well, we now know that the answers to both the "mushroom cloud" and the "easy-peasy" memes were "no".

But you still here people arguing in favor of this because "Saddam was bad and everyone is better off since we topped him."

And here I want to argue, instead; "We don't know that and we knew at the time that we were juggling nitroglycerine knocking the Saddam cork off the Iraqi bottle."

The Fallows post dismisses the "better off" argument fairly easily:
"First (we) are really in no place to say what makes Iraqis 'better off'. That is a question for actual Iraqis living in Iraq. But from what we can say as outsiders: Iraq under Saddam was no paradise, but the infrastructure of the country was completely obliterated during the war, leaving people who previously had electricity, running water, general physical safety and comfort with none of those. Second, a huge number of Iraqis died as a result of the war. Huge. Well over a hundred thousand."
Add to that the political trainwreck that has succeeded Saddam and the very real possibility of a future military coup...well, it's hard to say that things are "better". Some are, some aren't. It probably matters very little on the moral scale whether the "rape room" features Sunnis raping Shiites or Shiites raping Sunnis. Or variations of both.

Regardless of what comes out of post-Saddam Iraq, however (and it will be to the credit of the Iraqis if they produce something better than what we handed them) the problem with trying to give ourselves credit for anything is that we knew at the time that the problem wasn't Saddam; the problem was Iraq. The reality - and everyone who knew anything about Iraqi knew this at the time - is that Iraq in 2003 was a political disaster created by fucked up history, centuries of misgovernment, decades of poorly-managed colonialism, and the twenty-year-long depredations of the Tikriti mafia. Here's what I wrote back in 2010:

"(I)n a moment of hubris and willful ignorance we kicked it to splinters and had to lie our asses off to do it and what did we get in return? I don't think we even know yet. I think we will have no idea what we will see there for a decade, or two, and whether it will make us long for Saddam's mere brutality as a zek perishing in Stalin's lead mines may have pined for the Tsar."

And 2009:

"Was there really a time when we thought we could "make our own reality"? That with our tiny, undermanned colonial-period expeditionary force we could reshape the lands of Asia without butchery at a genocidal level? When we dreamed the dreams of the Caesars with the army of Marlborough and de Saxe, the political hardheadedness of Jefferson Davis and the economic discipline of Lindsey Lohan?

And now the dreamer wakes to the cold light of a cheerless dawn."

and 2008:

"Is there anything to be saved from this mess? Well it beats the fuck out of me. But I can tell you this: I don't know of a single functional democracy in what used to be the old Ottoman Empire. Not one. Not a damn one. Turkey - the closest thing to one - needed a ruthless dictator (that's what Ataturk was, though his intentions were good his methods were pretty hard) to get even that close. They didn't call that bastard the "Sick Man of Europe" for nothing. I'm not even sure how you'd go about making an impoverished former Ottoman province with a long history of despotism and corruption into one."

and 2007:

"Given the political and social history of the "country" of Iraq, no amount of foreign blood and treasure were ever likely to produce the originally stated outcome. An ethnicly and politically divided former Ottoman province was never a good candidate for "democratization". Once the Baathist lid was removed the Iraqi pot was almost sure to boil. By promoting sectarian, "Divide and conquer", politics we ensured that it would. Iraq is now effectively a failed state or nearly so. The "central government" does not have a monopoly on violence and is unlikely to have in the immediate future. In fact, the only institution that our Occupation has succeeded in strengthening is the Iraqi Army. Expect a military coup in Baghdad within a decade."

“But I'm also not stupid enough to believe that we're gonna produce anything worth the blood and treasure we're spilling in the Fertile Crescent. I don't see the point in kacking a Sunni Saddam to end up with a Shiite Saddam. So I'm a WASFer: We Are So Fucked.”

and 2006:

"If it has not become obvious by now, let me state the reality in simple English: the political leadership that ginned up this war has not idea where it is going, can not figure out a way to either lead or drive its' Iraqi proxies (who, in true cat fashion, have no intention of doing what we want just because it's either good for us, good for them or commonsensical), and is both unwilling and unlikely to accept the reality that it has sunk almost 25,000 lives in dead and maimed and untolled billions in treasure into what is unlikely to soon, if ever, resemble the original goal of a US/Israel-lovin', free-market havin', Western-values embracin' American client state in the Gulf."

And that's without all the stuff I posted back at the old Intel Dump.

Iraq was a mess. We knew it was a mess. We pretty much knew that the problem in Iraq wasn't Saddam, but the problem that was Saddam was because of Iraq.

The Bushies fucking knew that but went and did it anyway.

That's done and dusted. The dead cannot be resurrected, the money unwasted, the lives unfucked, the past undone.

But there is one thing; as Pierce says "This catastrophe killed more actual people than it killed the careers of the people who planned it and cheered it on. We should all be ashamed. And we're not."

And that, to me, is the most grievous crime and the most unforgivable sin of all.


Ael said...

The taint sure runs deep, don't it.

Swanditch said...

"The Bushies fucking knew that but went and did it anyway" raises the question "why did they do it?" They must have had another reason.

FDChief said...

Ael: And I know a certain ex-Veep that I'd love to have a clear running start to KICK in that taint, yabetcha.

Swanditch: Y'think? The real fuckstory about this is that the words "Project for the New American Century" haven't become the worst insult an American can utter. Fucktards.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

They did it so they and their buddies could sweep about half the Pentagon budget into their own coffers....and because they could.

And yes, we aren't sorry; but since the long fall is still ongoing with no parachute in sight? We WILL be sorry, sooner or later.

Ael said...

Interesting comment from Walt.

It goes deeper than Bush/Cheney.

FDChief said...

Syrbal: And because of Israel. And the PNAC. And Iran. And, frankly, because many of them were stupider than a goddamn bag of hammers.

But my thought is that we are unlikely to be any sorrier than the Romans were when Varus got his conge' and the Empire lost the east bank of the Rhine. Rich and powerful powers can take a lot of damage and not feel it.

But to me the problem here is that nobody had paid Varus' price. And without the penalty of failure there's no reason for future "leaders" not to repeat BushCo's venality. THAT is where I see the "being sorry" part, not the doing of the deed itself...

FDChief said...

Ael: Read that; good comment.

Again, ISTM that the real sin we're committing is that we are not punishing failure and rewarding success. Nations and organizations that do are the ones that succeed; we're well on our way to institutionalizing failure...

Swanditch said...

I don't buy the "they were stupid" argument. Cheney, for one, is an intelligent man.

Pluto said...

"I don't buy the "they were stupid" argument. Cheney, for one, is an intelligent man."

Agreed but he also has a very dark vision of how the world works. So dark that you or I would be in an insane asylum if we shared it.

My theory is that Cheney drove the invasion primarily because the aftermath distracted everybody else and let him prepare the US government for his apocalyptic vision of the future.

I completely disagree with his vision for the future and loath every aspect of the changes he put in place. We are a poorer, more divided, more petty nation as a result of those changes. And the consequences of the way that he did these things will echo throughout US history when the TSA is a sad old memory.

FDChief said...

The thing is, there's "stupid" as in "can't walk and chew gum". And under that definition, no, Dick & Co. aren't "stupid".

But then there's the definition of "stupid" as in "looks at a Claymore mine and believes it's full of yummy candy because they want to." THAT's the kind of stupid I believe these guys are.

They live in a wingnut echo chamber, where everything they hear sounds like their own voices telling them what they want to hear. With Iraq, they we obsessed with their own vision and to hell with evidence to the contrary. That's stupid.

So I wouldn't call Dick Cheney "smart". He's not; what he is is "shrewd". Shrewdness is the one-dimensional form of intelligence, the intelligence utterly focused on acquisition of what the person wants to the exclusion of everything else. That defines Cheney and his cronies; remember the Bushie that said that "we make reality"? That's those guys.

But in the big-picture, geopolitical savvy sense, there's little difference between shrewd and bone-stupid.

Custer was shrewd.