Victor Hanson—liberal universalist with a gun
reading Victor Davis Hanson some time ago, regarding him as an unbearably wordy, contradictory blowhard sending out vast flumes of overheated gas in every column. But on an impulse I just looked in at his latest at NRO
. He tells us that what we’re fighting for in this war is a “free and tolerant mankind.” Apart from the wildly hubristic fantasy that we should fight to transform the whole of mankind
, Hanson’s notion that what we’re trying to do to mankind is make it “tolerant” should not be passed over lightly. This is the language of post World War II liberalism, arising from the fatally wrong-headed notion that what was objectionable about the Nazis was their “intolerance”—rather than their utter barbarism, tyranny, and inhumanity.
Having defined the ultimate evil of Nazism, not as the ultimate violation of the moral law as traditionally understood, but as the violation of liberal tolerance, postwar liberalism then set about dismantling all the existing ordinary particularisms of our own society (including, in the case of the EU, nationhood itself) in the name of preventing any resurgence of Nazi-like evil. This was the birth of political correctness, which sees any failure on our part to be completely open to and accepting of the Other—and thus any normal attachment to our own ways and our own society—as the equivalent of Nazism.
Hanson also echoes the utopian democratic universalist dogma of Podhoretz, Decter, Bush, and Rice, that all people in the world are basically alike and therefore capable of organizing and maintaining democratic governments. I have criticized that view at length elsewhere, and so will say nothing further about it here except to quote Hanson:
Americans believe that freedom and consensual government—far from being the exclusive domain of the West—are ideals central to the human condition and the shared aspirations of all born into this world. That is the great hope we embrace now in Iraq, that as we rout those who advocate fundamentalism and intolerance, millions of others will gain confidence and join the struggle for democratic change.
Next, Hanson gives a modern liberal rendition of America’s past wars:
What are the values for which hundreds of Americans have now fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq? They are not new or hard to fathom, nor are they the easily caricatured images of American popular culture. Rather they are the same principles for which Americans died at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, and Pusan: the guarantee of free association and expression, the tolerance of different ideas, a respect for the rule of law, and the right to enjoy equality under the aegis of consensual government. So this is what we believe in and this is what we have made it our mission to preserve.
Hanson’s ludicrous claim that the soldiers in America’s past wars were fighting for “tolerance of different ideas” is an example of how democratic universalist ideology has replaced reality in his heads of so many contemporary American intellectuals. The American Revolutionists were fighting first and foremost for national independence from Great Britain, not for “tolerance of different ideas.” The Marines at Iwo Jima were fighting to defeat a barbarously aggressive imperialist Japan, not to defend “tolerance.” But this is the way you reconstruct history when you view it through the lens of liberal ideology.
Now get this:
We believe we can win this war of ideas and values with more, not less, freedom and with greater knowledge and understanding, not a retreat into the dark prejudices of our enemies. [Emphasis added]
Does any rational person actually believe that there is any danger that we Americans may “retreat into the dark prejudices of our enemies”—as though there were anything comparable in America to the oppressions and hatreds of the jihadists? Yes, that’s what Hanson believes. It’s what he must
believe, because he has made the great mistake of post World War II liberalism: he has defined evil as intolerance, instead of as evil. Therefore, if Americans decided, say, that it’s not such a great idea to continue the mass immigration of Moslems into this country, in Hanson’s mind that
would be “retreating into the dark prejudices of our enemies,” which would make us as evil as our enemies, which, by destroying our moral advantage over them, would spell our defeat in the war against them. According to Hanson’s logic, in order to defeat militant Islam we must remain utterly tolerant and open to Moslems
. If we came to the conclusion that Islam itself is a problem for us, that would mean we were just like the terrorists.
This is the madness of the liberalism that now calls itself conservatism.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 30, 2004 10:21 AM | Send
I have noticed that Hanson uses the word “fascist,” but never the term “communist.” He does this even in describing regimes and politicians who were lifelong communist party members. Other times, Hanson brags that we “overthrew a right-wing regime” in the Balkans. The old National Review would have found this odd.
Two uncles of mine, both now deceased, fought on Iwo Jima. I can well imagine their reaction to Hanson’s claim of what they were fighting for.
Hanson is occasionally quite good, as in his books reflecting the overwhelming power of democratically based states like ours when they go to war. However, he has a Jacobin streak, as when he enthusiastically endorsed Sherman’s March, really an extended series of war crimes, as proper vengeance on the Southern elite. Civilized standards of warfare have always excluded attacks on non-combatant populations or the infliction of militarily unnecessary damages to their property.
An incisive post by Mr. Auster. VDH has deteriorated since about September 15, 2001. Part of it is too much writing; but most of it is as Mr. Auster says: a capitulation to liberalism, just more militant.
Hanson has always been open about being a Democrat and a liberal. The question is why NRO publishes articles which praise our intervention in Somalia and the Balkans and which call for Manhattan-project-sized government programs to research alternative energy sources.
Sherman’s Marches to Savannah and then through the Carolinas won the war, pacified the South, and made a peaceful re-unification of the country possible. He understood the fundamental problem, which was that the fighting will of the South had to be utterly defeated if the country were to be saved. He did it not through the mass slaughter of soldiers, but through the destruction of property. I regard Sherman as one of the outstanding men in American history. His strategic thinking and his politics had nothing to do with the democratic universalism that animates Hanson and today’s neocons. Thus it does not help advance our argument against the democratic universalists today to say that what is most objectionable about them is their admiration of Sherman.
“Hanson has always been open about being a Democrat and a liberal.”
Has he really? I never noticed this. If that is the case, then he is all over the map in his arguments. For example, in a Claremont Review of Books essay on Napoleon, we wrote, “Lest we think Napoleon perverted the French Revolution’s idealism, we should remember that he in some sense embodied the very brutality of that entirely unnecessary event.”
Open about being a liberal might be hard to document; certainly a Democrat.
Hanson’s Who Killed Homer?, a critique of the modern study of classics, is a sadly missed opportunity. The lessons he thinks we should draw from the Greeks are standard 1960s-liberalism: egalitarianism, democracy-ism, feminism, etc. He’s only angry that leftist classicists don’t appreciate the progressiveness of the Greeks. The Romans and Christians are almost entirely ignored, since they’re not as easily caricatured.
As for Hanson’s books on the inevitable superiority of the western army, how does he explain the many centuries when despotic or even slave armies of Islam utterly demolished western armies in North Africa, the Near East, and southeastern Europe?
In other words, even in Hanson’s “better” books that are admired by conservatives, he was actually carrying out the mission of modern pseudo-conservatism: celebrating and defending the achievements of liberalism against leftist assaults.
Hanson’s book Mexifornia is even more inspiring in light of his liberalism. It shows that liberals are being mugged by reality on the subject of immigration. Hanson lives in the midst of Mexifornia, and actual experiences produced a far different opinion than if he were sitting around the faculty lounge at, say, Cornell, pontificating about immigration.
Did anyone read the comapnion screed by Barbara Lerner?
More typical neocon pap about democracy, as well as the typical refrain that all would have been well if we had just handed power over to Ahmad Chalabi.
Of course, there is also the typical assumption that the Iraqis trust the US so much more than the UN (as far as I can tell, on average Iraqis feel about the same about the US and the UN) and that most Iraqis have an ideology represented by the American Enterprise Institute and feel betrayed whenever the neoconservative script is not followed and liberated whenever it is.
Perhaps NRO’s recent retreat from messianic democratism was simply a decoy.
I can’t imagine what Mr. Jose is talking about in his attack on Barbara Lerner’s article. I see no “neocon pap about democracy” in this article. However, I’m glad he brought our attention to it. This is very useful article, laying out a coherent plan that might have been followed in Iraq, that Rumsfeld wanted to follow, that would have been vastly better than the plan we actually have followed, but which was squelched by the administration. The essence of this plan is that it did not involve trying to create an entire Iraq constitutional democracy before handing over power, but rather of handing over power very quickly to a small group of tested, pro-Western, democracy-leaning strong men including Chalabi who already had a multi-ethnic force of 10,000 Iraqis that could have helped restore order and do it with an Iraqi face.
One of the frustrating things over the last year has been the absence of debate over alternative strategies; you would hear about different ideas, but they were all fragmented and hard to make sense of. I’d heard a lot about Chalabi, whom the neocons favored and others opposed, but didn’t know what to think myself. This is the first article I’ve seen that lays out what the pro-Chalabi plan was. I think we would have been infinitely better off in Iraq today if we had gone this route.
Without exaggeration, the State Department is one of the primary evil forces on earth. Their institutionalized bias is always: (1) In favor of the status quo, preferring to deal with an established government, however tyrannical and murderous, than with reformers or revolutionaries; (2) anti-military; it is a turf battle to constantly prove that diplomacy, not force, is the answer to the world’s problems, hence every Defense Department proposal must be opposed.
The State Department has constantly opposed any assistance to the Iraqi National Congress, even when Congress appropriated moneys and State simply defied the law and did not spend it. State consistently opposes providing money and computers and so on to help the Iranian dissidents throw out the despotic mullahs; read Michael Ledeen’s old columns about Iran.
None of this has anything to do with Colin Powell. It has to do with the institutionalized civil service levels from top to bottom at State. What is needed is a President who knows enough about State to take the advice that bubbles up from their bureaucracy very cautiously, with more than a grain of salt. Also, we need a President who knows enough about history and culture to reject Wilsonian crusades in the first place. Instead, the picture I get is that Bush listens to a variety of voices and then tries to compromise among them so that everyone is happy and Powell won’t think that Rumsfeld is running the whole show and is the only voice heard. Thus, disastrous State Department advice has to be followed on occasion. The Barbara Lerner article is perfectly in accord with these impressions of how Bush operates.
I’m sorry, re-reading the article there was a lot less about deomcracy than I had thought.
I guess my main problem is that I don’t think that Chalabi is trustworthy nor do I think that Iraqis would have seen him as an “Iraqi face” on the occupation.
Not certain about Talabani and Barzani, but I question the wisdom of putting Chalabi in charge of any part of Iraq.
I know a lot of people (Mowbray, Ledeen, Perle) tend to think that Chalabi is God’s gift to Iraq and that the only reason people don’t trust him is the state department, but from his record in Jordan I would hesitate to trust him with any power.
Does this article then exonerate Mr. Rumsfeld from the charges laid out in the Fallows’ article?
That’s a very interesting question. While the Fallows article fails to give an adequate explanation for the refusal of Rumsfeld et al to plan for the occupation, it nevertheless adds up to a damning picture. Lerner’s article suggests that Rumsfeld had more in mind than Fallows lets on. But Lerner doesn’t touch on the specific refusal to think ahead that Fallows discusses. Either way, there were unforgivable failures: to plan for riots, to impose order immediately after the fall of the government, to impose our will much more forcefully on the Iraqis, and so on. But (and this is pure speculation on my part), it may be that Rumsfeld, having been cut off on the pro-Chalabi approach by the State Department, lost interest in the postwar Iraq situation since he felt that the State Department would stop any sensible actions, and he never had much faith in our democratization efforts.
VDH is the darling of what I call the “liberal hawks” at LGF. The problem with liberal hawks is they’re always fighting a two front war: first against militant islam, second against the alleged threat of reaction and militant Christianity at home. This is especially apaprent in neoconservatives and Jews that complain the US and Europe are basically one step away from another Holocaust, in addition to BOTH being complicit in the original. Needless to say, Israel and domestic secularists would be following a stupid geopolitical srategy if they were to lump in the numerically and militarily significant forces of the Christian West with the anti-civilizational forces at work in Islam and the Middle East.
Agricola seems quite right in his evaluation of Hanson’s wild claims about Western military superiority dating from the time of the Greeks. My own evaluation of Hanson was that, while a fellow-traveler of the neocons (except on the immigration issue)he is an old-fashioned glorifier of war, in the tradition of Bernhardi, perhaps using neocons and the global democratic ideology as camouflage for attitudes no longer socially acceptable when openly expressed. I may have been optimistic! He may really believe the ideological stuff.
By the way, when “tolerance” was used in the 1940s, it usually referred to tolerating religious and ethnic differences, at home in the United States. Nobody ever used in a global sense, and not even liberals ever pretended to tolerate all ideas. Everyone was conscious that among other things we were fighting ideas — bad ones.
Davis has indeed long made no bones about being a Democrat, and while he hasn’t been as open about being a liberal, it should be clear that he’s no conservative. For one thing, whenever he talks about the important aspects of Western civilization that we need to preserve, his laundry list always includes “secular rationalism,” thus writing off most of Western thought between Justinian’s closing of the Academy in 529 and the rise of the Enlightenment. (For Davis, Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas were apparently just Catholic Wahabists.)
Second, already alluded to by David, is his constant use of the term “fascist” for societies he dislikes. (I’d add his use of the term “apartheid society” to describe ancient Sparta and the ante-bellum South.) While there are racial policies analogous to apartheid, and political movements analogous to fascism, Hanson uses the terms far too freely, to the point where they become simply terms of abuse rather than aids to understanding. (The policy of removing American Indians to reservations is arguably analogous to apartheid; slavery in the Old South is not, as white Southerners didn’t try to remove their slaves to bantustans. Ba’athism is arguably a form of fascism; Wahabbism is not, nor was Franco’s movement in Spain (though it contained quasi-fascist elements).) In fact, the terms “fascism” and “apartheid” have gotten so over-used as terms of abuse, by Davis and others, that it’s probably best to reserve their application to Italy between 1922 and 1943 and South Africa between 1948 and 1994, respectively.
“VDH is the darling of what I call the ‘liberal hawks’ at LGF”.
I guess everyone except me knows what LDF stands for? I hope this site does not succumb to internet disease, wherein the English language is reduced entirely to abbreviations.
How could Hanson have devoted so much study to the Classics and failed to learn what they teach about human nature? HRS
That’s what I mean when I describe him as contradictory. He veers wildly back and forth between a classic tragic view of life and pumped-up liberal optimism. The former is his unprincipled exception, just as are his critical views on immigration.
Bravo Mr. Auster. I too grew weary of reading VDH.
However, I could not place my finger on or express in words just what caused my increasing uneasiness with reading him. You have explained it perfectly.
Mr. Auster sees Sherman’s March, and its focus on destruction of civilian property, e.g., burning civilian homes, as necessary to overwhelm the fighting spirit of the South. Is there any evidence that this occurred? Didn’t the South fight on until there was no ability whatsoever to continue? Certainly splitting the South contributed to the final victory of the Union, but that is a different question than the deliberate and gratuitous destruction wrought on civilians. We should not try to justify assaults on civilian non-combatants and their property in any case. I am glad to see we have largely avoided this in Iraq. Contrast WW II, with attempts at terrorizing civilians through indiscriminate incendiary bombing of cities packed with refugees, which were later found to have aided the German war effort, as destruction of businesses left people with nowhere to turn for employment other than the government defense effort. Hanson’s comments approving Sherman were of a gloating nature, and rife with class hostility. While there is much to admire about Sherman, this is not part of it.
If Mr. Auster thinks that the wanton destruction of civilian property, burning of fields, cutting down of fruit trees and general havoc wreaked by Sherman on non-combatants helped to re-unify the country after the war he is deluding himself. Americans killing Americans in open battle was damaging enough but for an American to march through, systematically terrorizing his own innocent countrymen is inexcusable. The outcome of the War Between the States was ‘in the bag’ by the time Sherman marched to Georgia—it was nothing more then the vindictive total warfare which has become so common in the last century.
Let’s bury our anger over Sherman’s March. As a diehard Southerner, I question it; but as a military enthusiast, I accept it might have been necessary and have saved lives. The South was hardcore. Like our war against Japan, the Civil War was a war decided by one battle, Gettysburg, which is similar to the Battle of Midway. Lack of accurate tactical intelligence on the part of the Japanese and the Confederates is present in both cases. The magnificent Jeb Stuart was out of contact with his commanders. Similarly, if the clouds had not cleared and our scout plane had not spotted the Japanese fleet at the END of its point of no return, who knows what would have happened. Possibly, a far bloodier war would have ensued.
Mr. Auster wrote (about Barbara Lerner article):
“This is very useful article, laying out a coherent plan that might have been followed in Iraq, that Rumsfeld wanted to follow, that would have been vastly better than the plan we actually have followed, but which was squelched by the administration. The essence of this plan is that it did not involve trying to create an entire Iraq constitutional democracy before handing over power, but rather of handing over power very quickly to a small group of tested, pro-Western, democracy-leaning strong men including Chalabi who already had a multi-ethnic force of 10,000 Iraqis that could have helped restore order and do it with an Iraqi face.”
This article is a typical CYA after the failure piece for the benefit of DoD and/or Rummy.
I think a plan different from the muddle-thru “plan” Bremer and Co are executing likely would have brought only marginally better results. Our main problem in Iraq is the fact that we are fighting with one hand due to a Politically Correct Rules of Engagement. The only thing absolute majority of Iraqis (with possible exception of Kurds) understand is armed violence widely applied. Everything else they consider a sign of weakness.
But even a liberal application of power against bad guys cannot guarantee pacified Iraq. In Checnya Russian applied power (but not bribe money) very, very liberally for more than 10 years. And Checnya is still not pacified.
Speaking about DoD plan:
1. General Garner looked like a bumbling fool at his “listening tour” through Iraq. Possibly unfair characterization of the man, but he looked out of his place.
2. Most people agree that allowing a wide-spread looting after fall of Bagdad was a huge mistake that set occupation on the wrong foot. Just shooting a dozen looters would have calmed the rest. Lerner and, it appears The Plan, are silent about that.
3. 600 US soldiers are killed after was was “over”. Hundreds, may be thousands of perpetrators were captured. Not a single one was executed. It is 600 to 0. Bad guys are not stupid. You survive shoot-out and you will live.
Needless to say Lerner does not mention what plan has to say about this.
4. Chalabi did not have 10000 trained fighters, at best he had a few dozen. Once in power he could have recruited the rest. They would have performed just as bravely as Iraqis trained by US Army (10% switched sides, 50% deserters, etc).
But I would agree with Mr. Auster that DoD plan is superior to State Dept/Bremer/Sanchez failed approach. If only Bush would have let our boys to do the job and appointed Chalabi as a Pinochet-lite strong man, things might have been quite different.
Mik writes: “But even a liberal application of power against bad guys cannot guarantee pacified Iraq.”
I agree that it cannot guarantee a pacified Iraq. But it certainly would have had a better chance of achieving a pacified Iraq long enough for us to have stabilized the country and handed power over to some successor government. Frankly, the way it appears now, unless Iraq pacifies spontaneously in the next few weeks (since _we_ are not doing anything to pacify it), it’s hard to see how we can hand over “power” to anyone, since _we ourselves_ don’t have power over the country.
A female friend said to me this evening something like this: “When I supported the war, I thought I was signing onto a war in which we had gotten over the Vietnam syndrome. I didn’t sign onto a war in which we just park ourselves somewhere and allow our people to be killed.”
Rumsfeld has been having a tough time of late, certainly sincer the the war “ended”. I don’t doubt that the State Dept. and the civilian idiot Bremer (who has no business being there) are, along with Bush and his advisers, to blame for the failed policy. I fully expect Rumsfeld will not be the next administration’s Sec. of Defense.
Any Iraqi associated with the U.S. like Chalabi will be assassinated as soon as (he) is given power. Obviously, someone like Al-Sadr would be unacceptable to the U.S. So, perhaps this former Saddam general is a good “in between” candidate for leadership. However, a military man as leader of a country—particularly a general—signifies that a “junta” has been born, and we all know how “friendly” and “incorruptable” they are! But, a military leader MAY be better for the U.S. than a religious fanatic.
“This is the language of post World War II liberalism…” Or rather the language of Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
I found “The Soul of Battle” to be quite an invigorating read. Not for the prose— good heavens, no. Hanson is the Stephen King of military history, burying the germ of a promising idea under a ton of verbiage, much of it repetitive.
It did bring to mind, however, a real classic: “Marketing Warfare” by Al Ries and Jack Trout, a concise and entertaining application of Clausewitz’s main themes to commercial competition. (This has spawned a whole genre; you can now learn business from Atilla, Sun Tzu, Elizabeth I, Jesus, Churchill, etc.)
If you read “Soul” after absorbing Ries and Trout, it suddenly turns into a blueprint for the destruction of liberalism! Talk about trampling through the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored…
Have you all have realized the plan of the neo-cons yet?
Check out the book The Pentagons New Map—this makes clear the plans of the neo-cons and Bush’s administration. This is a pro-Bush book and recently released this month, its all there in black and white.
[LA note: Please do not copy entire articles into this discussion forum. Post the link to the article instead.]
“600 US soldiers are killed after was was “over”. Hundreds, may be thousands of perpetrators were captured. Not a single one was executed. It is 600 to 0.”
Well, we may not have executed anyone, but I think it is fair to say that we killed a lot of the enemy in battle, so we probably have a better score than that…
>>Most people agree that allowing a wide-spread looting after fall of Bagdad was a huge mistake that set occupation on the wrong foot.<<
The “broken window” school of policing holds that if you enforce laws against offenses like petty vandalism, turnstile jumping, aggressive panhandling, the criminal element will correctly perceive that the authorities (1) care and (2) are in control. Conversely, if you let one broken window remain broken, one subway car remain covered with graffiti, the criminals will correctly perceive that no one cares or no one is in control, and soon all the windows in the building will be broken and all the subway cars will be covered with graffiti. You’d think that any cop could have told Bush, Rummy, et al. the looting following the fall of Baghdad was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that we were in control. I’m not saying that our leaders necessarily should have talked like Mayor Daley at the time of the 1968 riots (“Shoot to maim looters and shoot to kill arsonists”), but that would have been a good deal better than what Rumsfeld actually did, which was to sound like the fatuous black “leaders” making excuses for the rioters.
Mr. Auster wrote (quoting a female friend):
“I didn’t sign onto a war in which we just park ourselves somewhere and allow our people to be killed.”
What is it about female conservatives? My wife, not at all interested in politics but as a conservative as they come, was against Iraq war from the begining. She was fine with any amount of damage we could do to the Iraqi regime from the air, up to and including turning the country into a parking lot. But she did not believe for a second that we are able to conduct a non-PC land war and occupation.
Apparently conservative women have a better insight.
I must confess that I was hoping, against all hope that El Presidente has sufficient backbone to conduct a first non-PC war since 1960. I was wrong.
Michael Jose wrote:
“Well, we may not have executed anyone, but I think it is fair to say that we killed a lot of the enemy in battle, so we probably have a better score than that…”
Of course we did. Anywhere from 7000 to 15000 Iraqis are killed. Probably at least 2/3 are the bad guys. It was not my point.
Swift and public execution of a bad guy carries a high value message of public order and security. As it is all Iraqi see that our boys defend themselfs but once shooting is over nothing visible happen to the perpetrators. This is a message of indifference, incompetence and weakness.
Re the administration’s failure to plan for looting and other disorder after the fall of Hussein, Seamus should read James Fallows’s long article in the February Atlantic. It’s far from the final word on the subject, and it leaves many questions to be answered, but it’s a devastating portrait of a conscious, deliberate decision on the part of the administration, especially Rumsfeld, NOT to think about or plan for post-war contingencies.
However, our discussion above about the “Chalabi option” may mitigate the criticism of Rumsfeld somewhat. I don’t know. We just don’t have enough facts.
A belated insight on one reason — perhaps the main one - why our operations in Iraq have gone badly: We have never decided whether or not it was really an occupation in the first place. I heard today yet more blather about “its not an occupation, but a liberation.” Even in the run up to the war, the advocates in the Administration and among the neocons, at different times, compared it to the liberation of France and to the occupation of Germany and Japan. Those are two entirely different “models” with completely different requirements and attitudes toward the people involved. I might also add that many, especially among the minicons, seem to have strange ideas about the post-World war II occupations which rather glamorize what went on in Germany and Japan.
“You’d think that any cop could have told Bush, Rummy, et al. the looting following the fall of Baghdad was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that we were in control.”
I pointed out in a thread a couple of months ago that Rumsfeld had to prove a point about the new Army he is building that can “go in light” and get the job done. We went in too light to get the job done as a result of grinding that axe. Insiders reported through Colonel Hackworth’s web site that the 101st Airborne was supposed to hit the northern part of Baghdad at the same time the main forces hit from the south. They would have controlled the airport, museums/university area, etc., far earlier had this plan been followed, and greatly reduced any opportunities for looting (and maybe even caught Saddam before he escaped to the north to Tikrit).
The plan could not be followed because we went in so light that our flanks were being attacked in the south. The 101st had to be diverted to protect the flanks and the convoys in the south.
Mr. Coleman would be doing a service if he could summarize the main points of this article. I got half-way through it and frankly found it too confusing to follow. Here’s an e-mail I wrote to the author, Michael Rubin, about it:
Dear Mr. Rubin:
Your article is very difficult to follow. You overwhelm the reader with bureaucratic details about the respective plans for the reconstruction of Iraq, without laying out the basic distinguishing principles of the plans so that a normal person can make sense of plans and then, perhaps, understand the details as well. The plans overlap, they contradict themselves, and so on. For example, was the plan to hand over instant sovereignty part of the “pro-Western strongman” approach as laid out by Barbara Lerner at NRO last week, or was it part of the “let the Ba’athists take over, we don’t give a damn” approach that seems to be favored by the UN? Then you say of the two major institutional contestants in this huge battle that the Defense Department adopted the State Department’s plan, while the State Department abandoned its own plan! This utter confusion follows the pattern of the last year, in which it has been impossible for the public—or at least for this member of the public—to understand the basic issues at stake in the debate over the reconstruction of Iraq.
You-all need to stop talking bureaucratic insider language and start speaking a common language. Our country is facing a staggering, unprecedented challenge, not just in Iraq but with regard to the whole “war on terror,” and there is no real public debate going on about it (other than “Bush lied!” versus “I love Bush, Stay the Course!”), because the public doesn’t understand the issues and couldn’t be expected to understand the issues given the way that they’ve been presented.
I would also like to say that I would have to question any interpretation by Michael Rubin. In previous articles on National Review, he has repeatedly pushed the idea that the Iraqis basically share the same ideology as the American Enterprise Insitute. He often states his own opinions and attributes them to Iraqis: “Iraqis feel,” “the Iraqis don’t trust…”
To the extent that any of his ideas involve gauging the opinion of the Iraqi people or are based on his beliefs of what they will react to positively, I would doubt them.
His talk about the FIF is also flawed, I think, in that he asumes that Iraqi exiles or an army composed of them will be seen as legitimate to Iraqis. I can’t help but notice that in his paragraph discussing the FIF, he seems to be endorsing Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress without naming them (he speaks againt Pachachi and Allawi, and therefore presumably against the INA, but wants exiles (the FIF would be composed entirely of “Iraqis living outside Iraq,” which for all intents and purposes means exiles) to play a major role, the only conclusion I can come to is that he wants Chalabi and the INC in power).
As I believe Mr. Coleman requested earlier, I ask Mr. Jose not to use undefined abbreviations. Not everyone knows what FIF, INA and so on mean.
FIF = Free Iraqi Force (an army composed of Iraqi exiles to put an “Iraqi face” on the invasion).
INC = Iraqi National Congress
(Ahmed Chalabi, favored by neocons)
INA = Iraqi National Accord
(Adnan Pachachi, favored by State Dept.)
A long article at Salon says that Chalabi’s neoconservative allies have turned against him, or at least one has, that they realize he’s a fraud who fooled them with promises that the new Iraq would be friendly to Israel. Yet, given that Chalabi up to this point is just one member of a 25 member council which has no real power, how would he have delivered on this promise? The article seems filled with large assertions backed by very little fact. As always, it seems impossible to understand anything about Chalabi because all you read about him, like this article, is of a partisan nature.
The article would have us believe that every false hope about Iraq that the neoconservative have fondled, came originally from the untrustworthy Goldstein, er, Chalabi. He persuaded them about WMDs. He persuaded them the Iraqs would welcome the Americans. He persuaded them the occupation would be easy, and that Iraq was ready for Western style democracy. In fact, the entire set of pro-war beliefs that were embraced by the administration and the neocons and that now have been exploded seems to come from the head of this one man Goldstein, er, Chalabi. This is what makes the article seem less than reliable.
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This all smells suspicious. So now we’re to believe that poor, innocent, well-meaning neocons (liberals all) were cunningly deceived by an Iraqi rug salesman (Chalabi) into believing of the various fantasies (Wilsonian and other) that they have been broadcasting and trumpeting for the last year or more. Ha! Rats deserting a sinking ship! It’s CYA season for the neocons.
Actually, Carl is interpreting it differently from me. I’m thinking the article is an anti-neocon article aimed at tarring the neocons and Chalabi together. Carl is thinking it’s a pro-neocon article aimed at scapegoating Chalabi for the neocons’ mistakes.
Mr. Coleman writes:
“Insiders reported through Colonel Hackworth’s web site that the 101st Airborne was supposed to hit the northern part of Baghdad at the same time the main forces hit from the south. They would have controlled the airport, museums/university area, etc., far earlier had this plan been followed, and greatly reduced any opportunities for looting…
The plan could not be followed because we went in so light that our flanks were being attacked in the south. The 101st had to be diverted to protect the flanks and the convoys in the south.”
1. Franks went in without heavy division that was supposed to come from the North through Turkey. Our Muslem Turkish “friends” stabed us in the back. That division arrived after the fall of Saddam regime.
2. Changing of task for 101st seems well withing normal change of plans once shooting starts.
3. It seems most looting was done under watchful eyes of 3rd ID and Marines. If 3rd ID and Marines didn’t have orders to stop looting, why presence of 101st would have changed the situation?
It seems that allowing looting was a decision by Franks, unless he was overruled by Washington.
4. Bill Buckley famously said during Cold War:
There is no difference between a kitchen broom and a rifle if we are not going to use rifle.
Maybe we were too light, maybe not, I don’t know. How more boys on the ground would significantly help if we tied their hands behind their backs?
More boys on the ground and a soft, PC-way of war means more dead boys. There is a threshold for the number of dead guys, once it is reached boys are coming home no matter who is in White House. Who knows, with more guys on the ground we might have reached that threshold already.
Our host quotes Salon: “Chalabi’s neoconservative allies… realize he’s a fraud…”
There is very persuasive evidence that Chalabi is in fact a fraud: he speaks Arabic.
Mik’s wonderful common sense 4:15 am post hits the nail on the head. More boys on the ground isn’t going to get the job done. The job should HAVE been and should BE:
1) to destroy or capture and try the bad guys
2) to give Iraqis the chance to have their first free elections, and let anyone run. Hey, even the peanut farmer might support us on that one!
3) if they elected one of Saddam’s former general’s with ties to Chemical Ali (i.e. another monster), so be it—it would THEIR decision, and THEIR monster, not ours! All this talk about Chalabi is annoying. He will never be the Iraqi choice for a leader. It’s a State Dept./neocon pipe dream.
4) We need Iraqi informers/intel on the ground. I can’t remeber where, but I read a story some weeks ago that American intel in Iraq was embarrassingly poor. To protect these people’s families (which would help us keep them in our employ and on our side), we will probably have to give their families citizenship here. But that would be a small price to pay for the intel.
5) we need well-paid Iraqi soldiers guarding their own borders against Al Qaida and others who want to create havoc and mayhem. Maybe we aren’t (or weren’t) paying Iraqi military personnel enough to
Even if only some of these were followed, I think the situation would be much better there.
Mr. Auster writes:
“Yet, given that Chalabi up to this point is just one member of a 25 member council which has no real power, how would he have delivered on this promise?”
I think that the neoconservatives had intended to give Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) a lot more power, quite likely setting up the INC as the interim government.
See my post of April 30, 4:34 PM for links.
I have only read the first two paragraphs of the article, but I do agree that it is ridiculous. While Salon accurately states Mr. Chalabi’s positions (I think he agreed with just about every exploded pro-war belief, and helped to lend credibility to the neoconservatives’ assertions, but he didn’t create the ideas). Moreover, I see no evidence of the neoconservatives leaving him. If anything, David Frum, Barbara Lerner, Jed Babbin, Victor Davis Hanson, et al. are complaining that the problems in Iraq came as a result of us not putting Chalabi in power.
Mr. Jose is much more set in a anti-Chalabi position than I am set in a pro-Chalabi position. I don’t know enough to have an opinion. I’m just looking at the arguments. Doesn’t the Lerner article, as summarized by me, present an alternative course of action in Iraq that might have left us in a better position than our actual position now? What I don’t get is, the neocons put forth the utopian-sounding democratist agenda, but in reality, as it appears, they were trying to set up Chalabi and a few others as strong men, and not worrying about creating democracy, at least not right away. Yet for this more realistic, non-utopian/democratist position, they’re still attacked as a sinister misguided force. Why? Why the enormous hostility to the neocons over this? And once again, if the pro-Western strong man strategy had worked, wouldn’t we be in vastly better shape than we are at present?
Mik writes: “1. Franks went in without heavy division that was supposed to come from the North through Turkey. Our Muslem Turkish “friends” stabed us in the back. That division arrived after the fall of Saddam regime.”
The heavy division from Turkey was to be tasked with northern targets. Taking Mosul and Kirkuk and all areas between would have been plenty for one division. They were not supposed to be the northern Baghdad force.
As for the Turks, we promised them significant financial aid during the 1991 Gulf War in return for use of their bases and their support. After the war ended, they got nothing. We just told them, “Sorry; our executive branch promised you money, but our legislature did not approve it. That is the way our government works.” This was a topic revived in public discussion in Turkey during early 2003, and there was significant resentment in their legislature.
I hate to sound like an anti-war paleocon, which I am not, but if America is going to treat its friends in that manner, and then expect them all to roll over and do our bidding regardless, it is doomed to operate without many friends in the world. We can stop playing the victim about being “stabbed in the back” and start having actual reciprocal relationships with other countries. We could start by asking why Turkey was so much less concerned about Iraq than we were, given our relative locations. Maybe we could listen instead of talking, although this is not a strength among the neocons.
Mr. Levin’s point #3 is absurd. Chalabi has been smeared and undermined by the State Department and the CIA since the beginning. The only supporters Chalabi has had have been neocons in the Defense dept and outside of government, who hoped to oust Saddam in the late nineties with his help. A little background is here:
Like Mr. Auster, I find it very difficult to judge whether Chalabi is deserving of U.S. support. Two comments, though. The crazed attacks on Chalabi from the hard left make me more, not less, favorable towards him. In particular, the accusations that he is an embezzler stem from trumped up charges instigated by the Jordanian government at the behest of Saddam Hussein; anyone who makes the charge reveals himself to be contemptible. Second, anyone who thinks that democracy is a mistake in Iraq needs to come up with a candidate for strongman/U.S. ally to run the country. How flawed does Chalabi have to be to be better than whatever other alternatives are out there?
That is why Lerner’s articles seems important to me. Bush had advisors suggesting different post-war strategies to him, and he lacked the decisiveness to choose the one which might have worked because Colin Powell and Maureen Dowd had reservations.
In some ways, Agricola is my mirror image. He is more favorably disposed toward the man because of the way he is attacked.
I am more distrustful of Chalabi because of the way he is supported (specifically, the fact that so many neoconservatives had already coronated him in their heads, and how many still insist that he would solve things.
Briefly, on the points raised:
I think that breaking up Iraq is preferable to a strong man. If a strong man is needed, however, it seems to me that we would be better off with someone who has lived most of his life in Iraq. Not that it is Chalabi’s fault he was exiled, but I think he would be seen as an outsider.
I wouldn’t trust writings on National Review to be authoritative.
I think that the state department has flaws, but I doubt that it is the bastion of evil that Mr. Coleman suggested earlier, or that it is in the thrall of third-world dictatorships and betrays the US to them.
Not that the State Department’s actions have always been wise, nor that they have necessarily treated Chalabi fairly, but the absolute hatred of State at National Review that Agricola appears to share, at least in part, strikes me as the mirror image of the assertion of some paleocons that the neocons are an evil force dragging us into war for Israel.
Mr. Jose’s comments are all reasonable. I don’t take NR to be authoritative. Nor do I think the State Department is in thrall to third-world dictatorships, at least not all the time. But State Department officials opposed the war, and have an institutional bias against the kind of decisiveness necessary in Iraq now. They certainly won’t be on Mr. Jose’s side when it comes time to break Iraq into pieces!
Chalabi’s neocon sponsorship is not a count in his favor, but the history of that sponsorship is important. In 1998, neocons sought regime change in Iraq, and they knew that there would be no full-scale invasion; thus they supported Chalabi as a quasi-democratic friend of the U.S. They were forced to be more “realistic” in their approach without an American army in the wings. In our current context, championing Chalabi is no longer as “maximalist” as it was in the 90s.
Perhaps Mr. Jose is right, and Chalabi would seem too much like an outsider to be effective as an Iraqi leader. It seems also possible that outsider status would be beneficial, given the nature of the preceding regime. In any case, it’s hard to imagine who the insider candidate would be, who is neither associated with Saddam in some way nor associated with a particular religious faction.
Now a correction: although I still think that calling Chalabi an embezzler reveals the critic to be motivated by something other than the truth, I see that David Frum (!!) has some doubts about Chalabi’s association with the bank in question.
So clearly I’ve been spun in this regard, at least, and I apologize for my strong comment in my previous post.
On the question of whether Rumsfeld and crew sent our forces in too lightly equipped, and too small in numbers, see David Hackworth’s latest column at http://www.sftt.org/cgi-bin/csNews/csNews
The key point: More than a year after the assault commenced, we are now making moves to transport the tanks and armored vehicles that were left behind. Brilliant.
More attacks on Chalabi:
Newsweek claims he gave political and operational information to Iran. It’s an “officials said” story (no named sources), so take it with as many grains of salt as you like.
I assume Mr. Agricola’s 12:19 post was meant for me, as he had described my #3 point about Chalabi as “absurd”.
However, his apology is not necessary, as he may very well be right about Mr. Chalabi. Mr. Hechtman seems to have intel sources far better than any I could hope to have, so would tend to side with him (and Mr. Agricola) on Mr. Chalabi perhaps not being “the devil” he is being painted as. And if the State Dept. is villifying Mr. Chalabi, then perhaps Mr. Chalabi is in fact the Joan of Arc some think he is. However, as has happened in Afghanistan and in Iraq, assassinations of key U.S. Afghan and Iraqi leaders are commonplace, and as good as Mr. Chalabi is, I wouldn’t give much for his chances for survival—should he become “the strong man” of Iraq. I think, however, it is a mistake to “put our eggs in one basket”, and I agree with Michael Jose’s posit of “the breaking up Iraq”. I don’t believe, short of a dictator (the likes of which we just went to war with to remove), that any one man can rule Iraq. “Breaking up is hard to do”, but it may be the best answer to this mess. That still, however, does not solve the question of “whose army/militia” is going to rule “which province”, etc. It seems we will still be deciding those issues, and that (our deciding Iraq’s fate) can only lead to resentment and American lives lost.
Mr. Levin wrote: “Mr. Hechtman seems to have intel sources far better than any I could hope to have, so would tend to side with him…”
With a build-up like that…
I’m inclined to come down on Mr. Levin’s side. I’m not a fan of Ahmed Chalabi’s. When Saddam Hussein was in power, there were only two kinds of opposition groups: underground and exiles. In the 1990s, there were exiles camped out all over Washington trading information for access with various government agencies. So the State Department had their Iraqis, the CIA had theirs and DoD had theirs — which is Chalabi. And in true bureaucratic fashion, they’ve become fiercely protective of *their* Iraqis. The underground groups tended to be larger and more of them were religion-based. Shias could get Iranian backing, Sunnis could get Saudi backing and both could organize through the mosques.
The big problems with Chalabi are shared by all the other exiles. None of their factions are big enough on their own to impose their will on the entire country. The object of the exercise is to get all the American soldiers off all the streets in all the cities and replace them with loyal, dependable Iraqis. None of the exiles have that many men and simply giving them money won’t change that overnight.
None of the expatriates are well regarded by the people who didn’t go into exile. In the public opinion poll taken in February, Chalabi and Ayad Alawi (of the Iraqi National Accord) polled 0.2% each.
There was a meeting I heard about, supposedly held in August of 2002 on the theme of “Lessons Learned from the 1991 Uprising”. It was open to the Kurdish factions even though it was likely they’d end up on the opposite side from many of the others. It wasn’t open to any of the exiles. You had to have fought in 1991 to participate in this.
The same way Hamid Karzai is dismissed as “The Mayor of Kabul”, Chalabi or any other exile would very quickly be known as “The Mayor of Baghdad”. We’d have to prop him up and helping him help us would be more work than simply running the country ourselves.
As far as specific dirt on Chalabi:
1. He got his nephew Ali Allawi appointed as Minister of defense and the Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum and Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum are both inlaws of some kind.
2. He was the one who pushed for full de-Baathification, including dissolving the army and purging the ranks of the professions.
3. He got hold of the Baath party membership lists. It’s not clear what, if anything, he’s done with them, but it’s an odd thing for a minor faction leader to have exclusive use of.
4. The Graft for Food scandal seems to trace back to him. The accusation comes from the Finance Committee of the Governing Council (Chalabi is the Committee Chairman) and nobody outside the committee has seen the raw data.
5. Chalabi was associated with CIA and State in the early 1990s and there are some accusations of misapproprated government money from that time.
Salon’s got a recent 5 page hatchet job on him here:
I didn’t mean to suggest that I trust the State Department moreso than the Defense Department. As far as I can tell, they have their own man, Adnan Pachachi of the Iraqi National Accord, and I don’t know that I would trust him, either (particularly as he might be desirous of reversing Kuwait’s status as an independent state).
While concerned about the tendency of a lot of neoconservative columnists to set up the State Department as pure evil vs. the pure good of the Defense Department, I do not subscribe to the liberal’s idea that State (or the United Nations) is the magic solution for everything.
Mr. Hechtman is too kind. He seems to have a lot of (good) inside info on Chalabi that I could not hope to find. The best I can do is debka.com, and from what others have told me, their sources are not always reliable.
It’s interesting Mr. Hechtman brings up Pres. Karzai of Afghanistan. We aren’t hearing a lot about what is happening in that country, save for the assumption that some pretty serious Special Forces operations must still be going on with coordination from Pakistanian armed forces. Only today, Pakistan is protesting U.S. incursion into it’s country (which is most likely an attempt to mollify the radical Islamics in the area). Have we killed any Al Qaida there? How close are we to catching or killing OBL? The silence is deafening from the Admin., not that I would expect the bravado in “We will have him by the end of the year” that we heard last year.