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Wednesday, 02 July 2008


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Interesting post. My opinion is probably the complete opposite of yours! The problem is that we could be here all day debating just one small aspect of Iraq, so instead I thought it would be quicker to ask if you have read Fiasco by Thomas Ricks (the title gives you a little hint as to his opinion!). The chronology of the lead-up to the war is pretty much the same in Fiasco as in Herman's piece, but thereafter their opinions differ...

Oh, and thanks for the post! I'm very flattered.

If you mean that the fiasco referred to by your author was the 3+ years *after* the invasion, then we have no argument. Herman's opinion was much the same as your man's.

However, the essence of Herman's essay is that war with Saddam (and it was definitely Saddam they were after despite the silly claims of the Lefties that it was oil) was inevitable, or at least, it was inevitable with a president who had a clear view of American interests and the strength of character to see it through. It might not have been so 'inevitable' if Bill Clinton had still been around, at least, judging by his half-hearted actions prior to Bush's presidency.

Again, Herman isn't certain that all is well in Iraq, but what he does say, and it seems to be supported by other observers, is that thanks to Petraeus there is a genuine gleam of hope - but only if the Yanks stick it out. As I indicated above, if 'Oprah' Obama pulls out the troops too quickly, all will be lost. Let's just hope that he's another lying liar and that when he gets the top job he weasels out of his campaign rhetoric.

No, it's not I'm afraid! Thomas Ricks very much thinks it was a balls-up from the planning stage onwards. And reading it for myself, I found it reflected a lot of my views.

I think the problem with discussing Iraq is it is still quite a sore and very divisive issue, particularly if you listen to the more shrill voices on the left and right. The rhetoric was designed to do this - to divide, to mock, not to persuade. Subsequently, it makes it very hard for any two people with opposing views to sit down and try to find some common ground.

I suppose the one thing you would find the overwhelming majority agreeing is that Saddam was not a nice person at all, and had to go. Everything after that though is pretty contentious!

I don't quite follow you. Is your man saying that the planning of the *war* was a fiasco, or the post-war planning? If the former, it doesn't bear scrutiny since we won in under 3 weeks! If the latter, then we (including my man) don't have an argument. However, was your man's book written before or after the 'big surge'?

It was written just shortly before the surge.

I think we are singing from the same hymn sheet as respect to the war - no-one can argue the invasion was anything other than a walkover, and clearly the post-war 'planning' left a lot to be desired. Ricks does spend a long time going over the Clinton-era strategy of 400,000 soldiers (which Herman mentions), and what the Bush administration did with it.

I suppose that brings us round to the issue of whether Iraq should have been invaded in the first place. I can see the problem Clinton had: something had to be done, but there was no way the American people would want to incur the casualties required to oust Saddam. The plan showing 400,000 troops just made that decison easier for him to say no. So instead he carries out a pointless air campaign, and continued sanctions, not weakening Saddam one iota. What would you do?

"no-one can argue the invasion was anything other than a walkover"

Although, if you remember, there were plenty of doom merchants to be heard before the event. In a lifetime of being wrong about many things, I was one of the few who reckoned it would take a fortnight or so.

Comparing Clinton's actions to Bush's is not easy because Bush had the impetus of 9/11 behind him which was an enormous aid to winning public opinion. On the other hand, Clinton had the support of a unanimous Senate and a 360-38 vote in the House to support his 4-day aerial bombardment. One is entitled complain, given his and other Democratic leaders' rhetoric (see post above), that a president of character might have shown more pugnacious leadership.

However, I think Clintonian failures of nerve, well-based or not, are irrelevant. After 9/11 Bush had all the support he needed, including Democrat support, and it is to his credit that he decided on war - when others might have shrunk from the risk.

There were lots of doom merchants - I can't say I paid much attention to them. No-one can match the US in a conventional war. But in an unconventional war...

To my mind, the post-invasion was always going to be the critical part. Bush & co screwed up - but hey, that doesn't mean to say that that a properly thought out and resourced post-invasion plan wouldn't have.

But the issue that really interests me is this; if we are to intervene in countries ruled by deeply unpleasant dictators, it's clear that usurping them or least having troops on the ground is pretty much the only way to affect any change. Sanctions make no difference. It might be possible to support opposition groups within the country, but that can often backfire. The only way to be certain is to invade. In countries like Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea, Kazakhstan - there would be no other way to do it.

Let's say for a moment that we can identify a dictator we all want rid of. The question for countries prepared to intervene is the resources involved. There was a book out by Joseph Stiglitz recently called "the three-trillion dollar war" - a costing of what Iraq has cost so far. Now the Bush administration has screwed up, but I have no doubt that deploying the 400,000 troops of so in the Clinton-era plan would not have been that cheap either. So my question is whether the game worth the candle?

Oops, small typo in 2nd paragraph - should read "that doesn't mean to say that a properly thought out and resourced post-invasion plan would have failed".

First, unlike those I call the 'neo-Kamms', I am not in favour of removing tyrants *unless* our national interests require it - and, yes, I know that good men can disagree over precisely what is in our national interest. Even so, morality, or human rights, or those sorts of things are not, in my view, sufficient reason to spend our blood and treasure.

Second, I think you touch a real problem in discussing how a democracy can deal with another country that it has invaded. It is impossible to follow Machiavelli's advice to be as ruthless and cruel as you need to be to install fear, because 24-hour TV news would outrage your own public opinion. Even the tried and tested methods of the old British empire, in which we chose sundry local bastards to run the places we took over but only on the basis that they remained *our* bastards, would work today. I had assumed that that was what the Americans planned to do in Iraq, perhaps using that dodgy, USA-based, Iraqi crook whose name escapes me for the moment, but instead they fell for this nonsense of assuming that 1,500 years of Muslim-style governence could be replaced by parliamentary democracy overnight. Anyway, even that method is going to leave you looking tainted by association in the media.

Another strategy being discussed these days can be summed up in the expression 'trash 'n' dash'! In other words, in an age of pinpoint targeting you can actually inflict huge damage on a government and its bureaucracy without damaging the general public. To paraphrase the good Doctor, like a hanging in the morning, the thought that a missile could whistle in through your palace window, concentrates the mind wonderfully! You can even, 'in extremis', invade the place, remove and/or kill the government ministers and then withdraw leaving the locals to sort out what to do next - *not* upsetting the Americans becoming, I would guess, a fairly high priority in their future thinking! The other advantage of this type of power projection is that it is relatively cheap.

Anyway, all is not lost in Iraq - but it will be if the next president loses his nerve.

I agree that we should only act in national self interest, after all, so does most of the rest of the world! And I agree with you on the "our bastard" option. It would have been far better if this was the US intention - it would have saved a lot of lives. Exploit a faction within Saddam's inner circle, install them in his place after a coup. The new leaders would be in the American's debt. The end result would have been far from perfect, but certainly many times better than what we have today, i.e. barely managed chaos and hundreds of thousands dead. But then installing a new dictator is probably not the sort of thing liberal democracies can do, as you pointed out.

The problem with invading on humanitarian grounds is that at some point civilians will get killed, and then you will come under attack from your own media for hypocrisy.

The 'trash and dash' strategy does rather depend on how much control the govt you want to see eliminated has over their country. What you want to is leave the infastructure largely intact. If the govt is very weak then it won't take much to tip the balance in your favor - you are probably better supporting opposition forces like the US did with Pinochet, or in any number of other Latin American countries - Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, etc. As these forces are in country, they will have good intelligence, and will know when and where to strike. If the govt is strong like Saddam's in Iraq, it becomes all the harder because you don't know where to strike.

"it becomes all the harder because you don't know where to strike"

Not so, I think. You choose from a list such as this:

The presidential palace(s); the ministry of defence, the security police HQ, their treasury, their broadcasting centre, the HQ of the ruling party, the houses of the party leadership ... and so on. Minimal civilian casualties, maximum weakening of government grip.

Hi Duffy,

Sounds a bit too easy, really! You really need the intelligence on the ground to tell you where the key players are. Dictatorships and paranoia are frequent bedfellows, and as in any regime, there will be plans in case of attack, including attacks on key buildings and functions. The moment an attack is expected, all the leading players would be in hidden, secure bunkers. You won't catch all the players in the same building. In fact, I can't think of an instance in history where an outside power has decapitated a regime with no invasion force, and no significant internal support.

Anyway - I found this link to a lecture by Thomas E Ricks on his book Fiasco if you are interested. It's to an audience, some of whom are serving and former military. He does a 30 min talk followed by a very interesting Q&A which last an hour (!).

Tell me what you think.

I will check your link later on - thanks.

"an instance in history where an outside power has decapitated a regime with no invasion force, and no significant internal support."

Serbia, back in the 1990s; and also remember the way in which the Israelis actually pinpointed cars containing Hamas leaders.

Nothing's easy but we have the technology to disrupt and in the end destroy the very fabric and functionig of government - and there's always an opposition to every government that ever was - all they need is the secret policemean's boot lifting off their neck!

Hey Duffy,

I was about to post that it was a little presumptuous of me to ask you to watch a clip that is 1 1/2 hours long!! I won't be offended in the least if you don't look.

Serbia and Hamas are two interesting examples. In the case of Serbia, the NATO attacks certainly stopped Milosovitch's plans (though it didn't stop his troops in their ethnic cleansing). Once the Russians realised NATO was intending to put in ground forces, they told Milosevitch to back off, which he did. The campaign by NATO was imperfect, but it eventually forced Milosevitch's hand. I suppose in Milosovitch's case, the intention never was to kill him.

As for Hamas - no, I'd have to disagree. Israel's successes against Hamas made hardly any difference at all. In some ways I suppose it is a good demonstration of how hard it is to decapitate a regime. Any short-term successes Isreal makes at Hamas's expense are fairly meaningless - Hamas are playing a long, asymmetrical war.

If by 'smash and grab' we refer to the operation run by NATO in Kosovo, then I agree, it can work. After all, there are many UN policing operations in the world doing more or less the same thing - deterring one lot of people killing another lot of people. Modern gunboat diplomacy

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