Saturday, March 18, 2006

On War

It's been three years since the war began.

To mark the occasion, protests were held around the state.

I've been there.

I went to a large rally at the state Capitol just before war broke out, three years ago. Speeches were made against the war, we waved out signs in protest... and then a group got up and starting lecturing us about Palestinian rights. A Palestinian flag was brought out, and some people started applauding. I hesitated.

Palestinians? I thought. Where the hell did that come from? A couple of other tangentially related causes spoke their cases, as well. This tends to happen at big rallies: they get hijacked.

We did eventually get back to opposing the brewing war--for all the good it did. The war started anyway. Millions of people rallied in protest all over the world, and nothing changed. So much for mass action.

Now new (or sometimes the same) marchers, in smaller numbers, are protesting the war itself.

In Connecticut, about 1,000 people on the New Haven Green chanted anti-war slogans and waved posters urging a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
"We need to have an exit date, and tomorrow would be good," said Kathe Joy of Guilford, a home health aide who attended the protest, which was organized by Connecticut United for Peace.

Several people said it with signs, waving messages such as, "Killing insurgents is not an American value" and "Support our troops with one-way tickets home."

Others called for more federal spending on education and social issues rather than on an overseas war.(AP)

But then what? This war stinks. The way we were dragged into it stinks, and the way it's been prosecuted stinks. But I don't think we can just walk away. How can we? It isn't as if things will get better if we leave--in fact, American forces may be the only thing standing between Iraq and a nasty civil war.

So what's the solution? Training Iraqi troops? More American troops? Should we look at this like more of a Bosnia or Kosovo situation, and start acting like peacekeepers?

One thing seems clear: people on both sides are getting nowhere fighting a war that ended in 1975:

"I want you to resist," state Rep. William Dyson, D-New Haven, told the crowd. "I want you to be defiant. You need to be defiant, and there is nothing to fear. Make sure you go and do something: Organize, resist."

Protesters were hopeful that Saturday's gathering will be a catalyst for more anti-war demonstrations in Connecticut, recalling how Vietnam-era protests swept the nation. (AP)

Sounds familiar, doesn't it. And therein lies the problem, both with the war and the protest "movement," pitiful and disjointed little shadow that it is. Iraq is not Vietnam. There are similarities, yes, but in many ways the current conflict is very, very different from the earlier one. The following is an excerpt from an article I read in a recent Foreign Affairs:

Contentious as the current debate over Iraq is, all sides seem to make the crucial assumption that to succeed there the United States must fight the Vietnam War again--but this time the right way. The Bush administration is relying on an updated playbook from the Nixon administration. Pro-war commentators argue that Washington should switch to a defensive approach to counterinsurgency, which they feel might have worked wonders a generation ago. According to the antiwar movement, the struggle is already over, because, as it did in Vietnam, Washington has lost hearts and minds in Iraq, and so the United States should withdraw.

But if the debate in Washington is Vietnam redux, the war in Iraq is not. The current struggle is not a Maoist "people's war" of national liberation; it is a communal civil war with very different dynamics. Although it is being fought at low intensity for now, it could easily escalate if Americans and Iraqis make the wrong choices.

Unfortunately, many of the policies dominating the debate are ill adapted to the war being fought. (Biddle)

I recommend reading the article for a fresh look at the developing situation in Iraq.

Not that this will change anything. Leaders on both sides are far too involved in refighting the cultural wars that tore the nation apart forty years ago to recognize the change in situation and times. How can we develop real solutions to the problem when we can't even recognize exactly what the problem is?

I just hope, for the sake of the men and women from Connecticut and from all over the United States, that things don't get any worse. But, knowing Iraq, they probably will.


Biddle, Stephen. "Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon." Foreign Affairs 85(2): Mar/Apr 2006.

"Connecticut protesters mark third anniversary of Iraq war." Associated Press 18 March, 2006.


Anonymous said...

we will not get past Vietnam until the generation obsessed with that era are all in rest homes

DeanFan84 said...


As the editor of CT's most widely read political blog, will you PLEASE GO ON THE RECORD as to whether you believe the Iraq Experiment is "winnable", or Humpty-Dumpty?

And listen, this isn't a cultural war, or a battle to score political points. Responding to 9-11 by occupying Iraq was just plain idiotic. We have given the jihadists the "justification" that their atrocities never warranted. I care about America's standing in the world community, nothing less.

This isn't Vietnam redux. At least the Containment Policy made some sense. However the lesson from Vietnam was that "nation-building" was never easy. Lucky for us, GW has flip-flopped in his new regard for the UN and nationalism.

MikeCT said...

Actually, there is a good deal of continuity in the arguments for imperialist occupation since the 19th century. For example, it's still portrayed as a "white man's burden" - our poor little brown brothers overseas will fall apart without their white overseers to take care of them. The U.S. never had a justification or right to invade. The Iraqis don't want us there. The troops don't want to be there. The best interests of Iraqis were never, are not, and will not be a concern of this government. The U.S. cannot resolve the internal tensions in Iraq. (I also don't buy this self-interested "they love us, we're just caught in the middle of a civil war" argument, for that matter.) Our presence makes things worse, both for Iraq and us.

All the more reason to get out to the rally today in Hartford at 2 pm.

Millions of people rallied in protest all over the world, and nothing changed. So much for mass action.

Thousands of people work on behalf of candidates every year, and many of those candidates lose. Why hold elections if our favorite candidates don't win? So much for democracy (pout).

Anti-war and progressive folks are a greater position of strength and influence today than during the Vietnam war, because the public was already with them before the war started. The changed political culture can be seen in the strong opposition before the war, the diversity and strength of that opposition, the fear on the part of the Bush administration, the lack of willingness to tolerate massive casualties, etc. As one commentator says: was the first time in history, hundreds of years of European imperialism, counting US as European, that a war was massively protested before it was officially launched. And now there are 2000 or so American casualties, it's causing an uproar. Didn't happen in Vietnam, didn't happen in Korea, and it certainly didn't happen in the Second World War. I mean the population just won't accept it anymore. And in the case of Iraq, they just have to lie massively about what's going on to keep people quiet.

As far as Palestinians and other issues - it is hardly a stretch of the imagination to consider that U.S. foreign policy in one part of the Middle East could be related to foreign policy in another part of the Middle East. Or that people could challenge the massive diversion of federal funds from pressing social needs to the war. Whether you want to publicly raise one or another issue is a strategic question, but you need blinders to imagine that these issues have nothing to do with one another.

Anonymous said...


How did leaving Afghanistan to its own devices work out in the 1990's?

Sorta like letting the other guys do their thing in South Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970's

Sometimes in the real world your choices are between bad and worse. When a strategy in Iraq is presented that is "bad", and makes the currect policies "worse", then we will have a real debate.

Otherwise what we have here is the idea if we leave everything will be rosy. History shows that doesn't work.

I suspect of course if one of the Clintons were running the war most of the present opponents would be "stay the course" people. This all about is screw the future for a shot at Bush now.

Scarce said...

Hard-headed conservative pragmatism again, right? Sorry wingnut, that won't fly. Why your kind wants to wrap any pullout in partisan politics Iraqi's and Americans are still dying. The question now is is the continued American prescence contributing to the bloodshed? In short, making a bad situation worse? From all reports that appears to be the case.

And for your information, if either Clinton had tried this bullshit the reaction would have been more vocal, more heated than to the Bush thuggery.

Anonymous said...

Scarce: Please see Colin Powell re: "Pottery Barn"

We "own" the Iraq situation and can't just walk away like a political party from an unpopular candidate

We leave Iraq in some semblance of good stead or trust me the bill will come due and be steep indeed

Scarce said...

And of course Powell wanted no part of an invasion of Iraq and used that as a reason for not going in.

We do not "own" the Iraq situation. We do not "own" Iraq.

You're fantasizing if you think there is a chance to leave Iraq in "good stead" (mealy-mouthed langauage --again). Are we to be permanent occupiers?

And FYI the bill is already huge: heading towards a trillion dollars; over 2200 American dead and another 15000 wounded, perhaps 100,000 Iraq's dead. What then is your idea of "steep"?

Anonymous said...

Times Square in cinders

I forgot, Jimmy Carter had the right response to problems in the Middle east. How high was the price for not confronting the Islamicists then?

Anonymous said...

"Scarce" means his focus on economics. He doubled the cost for half the wars

from the AP

"U.S. military spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will rise to $115 billion for this year – and nearly $400 billion since the fighting started – under an emergency request the White House submitted Thursday."

from the Washington Post

The prescription drug bill which liberals find insufficient has an annual cost about what both wars are running

"The White House released budget figures yesterday indicating that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost more than $1.2 trillion in the coming decade, a much higher price tag than President Bush suggested when he narrowly won passage of the law in late 2003. "

Bad numbers and wishful thinking. From the folks who complain the White House didn;lt do their homework. Pot, please see kettle

Scarce said...

Again, "headed towards". Republicans who couldn't even balance a checkbook these days with gargantuan deficits lecturing on the costs of their ill-advised war? The mind boggles.

Refer you lunkards to Columbia University's Economist Josef Stiglitz recent study where he pegged a longterm occupation (10 years)costing the U.S. $2 trillion.

If this Nobel winning economists projections are correct I was being 'conservative'.

Anonymous said...

ok, let's consult the AEI on the cost of inaction,filter.all/pub_detail.asp

"Factoring the contingencies into the analysis yields present value costs for the containment policy in the range of $350 to $700 billion. These large sums are in the same ballpark as the likely costs of the Iraq intervention seen from the vantage point of early 2006. Thus, even with the benefit of partial hindsight, it is difficult to gauge whether the Iraq intervention is more costly than containment.........

Had containment remained in effect, the historical record suggests that premature Iraqi deaths would have continued indefinitely at the rate of 10,000 to 30,000 per year. There is, of course, a great deal of uncertainty about the number of premature Iraqi deaths under either war or containment, but we think the weight of evidence points to a greater Iraqi death toll from a continuation of the pre-war containment policy. ..... What can be ruled out in light of the evidence is that the leading alternative to war involved little loss of Iraqi lives."

So we could have kept doing what we were doing and ended up spending lots of money, killing lots of Iraqis and leaving Saddam Hussein in power.

Is that your final answer?

MikeCT said...

So our only choice is between a murderous sanctions policy that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi kids and a continuing bloody occupation with no legal pretext. You really have to be well-indoctrinated to keep yourself in that box.

Anonymous said...

well, door number three was to let Saddam do whatever he wanted.

Yeah, that's the ticket

Genghis Conn said...

It's a bit different, Mike. Protests try to force elected officials to pay attention to them. Actual elections choose those officials.

But I should amend my point: mass action does work, but only when the government takes it seriously enough to act on it. Protest movements in the U.S. are easily dismissed, because they never get big, focused or serious enough.

The bloodless "revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon and the somewhat more bloody one in Kyrgyzstan are example of mass action working. Could you see a million Americans camping out on the Mall in D.C. for a month or more? The Ukrainans cared enough about liberty and democracy to do just that, despite the fact that they risked a great deal to do so.

Bottom line: Americans don't care enough about the war to do that. If a million or more Americans sat on the Mall for a month and said "Stop the War" over and over again, if they focused on that and nothing else--the war would stop.

But they won't. Americans effect change at the ballot box, not in the streets. That's just our way. If we were French, we'd riot or strike. But we aren't, so we don't.

So the war goes on, until we elect someone to stop it or change its direction.

Genghis Conn said...


The way it's being run right now, I don't think it can be won. Other solutions may work.

bluecoat said...

Anonymous said...
we will not get past Vietnam until the generation obsessed with that era are all in rest homes My blood has been boiling since I fist saw this comment at the top of this post. The meathead anonymous who posted it may be interested to know that some of the generation are homeless or permanently disabled, some are US Senators, some are still MIA and some are leading today's US Military or Federal Express.

Not everybody thinks the answer to world peace and prosperity is to wage war.

Scarce said...


You do know that the Steven Davis paper was an update of their March 2003 paper, right? And used then as a pretext, as a rationalization and justification for invasion.

War in Iraq versus Containment

So how much is an American soldier worth these days? WE know Iraqi's are so worthless we don't even bother to count them, but how much are American lives worth? Certainly Stiglitz's study with its annoying projections of longterm health costs for the disabled is so hard to quantify Davis and others of his ilk don't even bother. They're expendable. And of course merging the security of Israel with that of the containment of Iraq sure was convenient now, wasn't it?

Wingnuts, living in a parallel universe.