Terrorists, Iraq, and the U.S. Military

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were on Meet the Press Sunday morning to discuss Iraq. Since it is impossible for a Republican to say the word “Iraq” without “al-Qaeda” in the same sentence, I was treated to another round of “why it is important to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq.” My head starts to hurt every time I hear a politician say we need to fight terrorists over there (always said in the context of Iraq because there’s little debate over the military’s presence in Afghanistan), so they don’t follow us here.

Senator Graham lectured his listeners on the reasons why al-Qaeda was in Iraq, advising us they were there to disrupt the fledgling democracy in Iraqi. You see, al-Qaeda hates freedom and democracy. They’re not in the terrorism game to triffle with any particular country… they’re engaged in a broader “War on Democracy,” much in the same way we’re in a “War on Terrrorism.”


First of all, if al-Qaeda’s primary adversary is democracy, why are they screwing around in Iraq? If they think a western style democracy has a chance in Iraq, they may be the only ones. You know what? After the outcome of elections in Iraq, I’m not sure the Bush administration really wants Iraqis to choose their own government either.

I’ll admit I don’t really know why al-Qaeda does what it does. Maybe al-Qaeda really does exist solely to disrupt the spread of democracy. However, look at their history. Al-Qaeda materialized during the first Gulf War, from the remains of resistance to Soviet-Afghanistan occupation. If I recall, it’s organization and growth was fueled by “outrage” over U.S. troops stationed near the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia. After the first Gulf War, an al-Qaeda member attempted to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993. They “declaired war” on the U.S. and it’s interests (the 1998 Fatwa). They bombed two U.S. embasies in east Africa. They bombed the U.S.S. Cole. They were responsible for 9/11.

Fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan didn’t have anything to do with fighting democracy. Remember the Cold War? The Soviets were supposed to be the enemy of democracy too, remember? Their remaining body of work has a pretty clear focus: the good ‘ole U.S. If they do harbor a philosophical animosity towards democracy, it seems they’re pretty narrow-minded as to what constitutes a democracy… those countries with the initials: U.S.A. (or those nations it attempts to “build”). Heck, they talk a good game… but with their single-minded focus on the U.S., they seemingly eschew the raison d’etre of the rest of the radical, militant, Islamic world: the destruction of Israel.

I’m not sure if this ties in neatly with the rest of the post, but consider this. Al-Qaeda was using Afghanistan as a base of operations until the U.S. struck back in late 2001. Afterwards they set up shop on the border region in Pakistan. Instead of following them there, The U.S. invaded Iraq. As I understand it, there was no al-Qaeda activity in Iraq until 2003 – when the U.S. occupation was underway. Maybe al-Qaeda will use the same logic after we pull out of Iraq, and invade Italy.

Or consider this… if “we” were always so concerned that al-Qaeda was going to follow us home, you could by extention reason that al-Qaeda was going to follow us where ever “we” went. Therefore, “we” (Bush and the occupation sunshine gang) should have damn well known that al-Qaeda was going to follow us to Iraq (causing destabilization – rather than the sunny projections of the “neocons”)… and just stayed put in Afghanistan/Pakistan. That way they wouldn’t have followed us anywhere.

Oh well, at least the Meet the Press segment was interesting.

Saying the obvious

I’ve been trying to post this entry for most of this week. Between the news, blogs, and private discussions I’ve been trying to put my finger on how I feel about the POTUS.

By the way… I like saying POTUS, particularly when it comes to this president. When you stress the first syllable, with a slightly snide curling of the lips, it kind of sounds like an insult. “Shut up you potus!” (Maybe it’s just me.)

Everyone’s got an opinion about the big lug, but I can’t decide where my feelings lie.

In recent weeks rumors have circulated that George “I was a cowboy president” Bush would relent to reality and begin a draw down on the number of troops in Iraq. The other day he gave a speech which puts those rumors to bed.

Violence has spread to the green zone, the most secure area in Iraq and the epicenter of “the surge.” The White house is beginning to hint that the Iraqi government isn’t meeting the benchmarks Bush himself suggested as a barometer of progress. The U.S. military is on pace to surpass 1200 deaths this year, which would eclipse the previous high (849 in 2004) by a little more than 40 percent.

You may be saying to yourself, “sure there are more deaths, but there are more servicemen deployed, doing more fighting, so there’s naturally going to be more casualties.” There’s just one problem: according to The Brookings Institution (bottom of page 5), 113 soldiers died in the seven weeks prior to the surge (in Iraq), and 116 in the seven weeks after the surge. To me, this suggests the increase in fatalities could be due to the actions of the enemy, rather than our troops presenting more targets.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Mr. Bush continues to assert that we’re making progress… that we’re going to “win” this “war.” I think he actually believes it too… that’s what I find so troubling. Lots of folks accuse Bush of lying, and I may have said it too… but I’m not really sure. Part of me thinks he really believes what he says. Part of me thinks he ignores evidence that runs contrary to his worldview. If he’s right, then the evidence must be wrong – or so he thinks. And personally, I’d sleep better if I thought he was just lying. More and more it sounds like the ravings of a “true believer,” or a delusional fanatic. At this point, who’s fanaticism is more dangerous – our own political leader, or the ones we’ve been fighting? I’m afraid the difference may be narrowing every day. What’s worse? This arrangement of dueling fanatics serves to fuel each other.

Making matters worse, the Democratic leadership in congress finds itself too inept, apprehensive, or both, to do anything about it. They seemingly want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be against the war in Iraq, but they don’t seem to want to do anything which might make them in any way responsible. This is either a political calculation (geared towards the next election – which may back fire), or a true act of cowardice; borne of a fear that the consequences of their actions (in an admittedly volatile region) could land them in private sector employ (or early retirement).


I was having a light conversation with a coworker this afternoon about the ideal form of government for emergent democracies. I’ll bet you have this kind of discussion about as often as I do… not very.

So imagine my surprise when I opened up The New Republic this evening and saw an article about George Tenet. Well alright, I wasn’t surprised at all. He does have a new book out, after all. No, the real surprise is that I read the article at all. I’ve had my fill of George Tenet stories, three or four times over. The point of the article was to discuss the reason he might have sat on the truth about pre-invasion intelligence, leading up to our debacle in Iraq. Here’s an excerpt:

In a parliamentary system, high officials often have an elected seat in the legislature. If they leave the government, they still have a bully pulpit, maintain a public role, and may even try to supplant the leader they once served. In America, the choices are stark: Return to the Podunk from which you came, join a think tank, or find an office on K Street.

No wonder that they linger in their appointed posts, swallow their pride, and behave like good soldiers. Nearly everyone wants to be invited back to play another day.

There’s a tie in to my water cooler conversation at work lurking in there somewhere. I recalled an article (or now that I think about it, it might have been an episode of The West Wing) which suggested the U.S. system of government was not ideal for fragile or new democracies. The suggested problem was the power we placed in our executive branch of government (re: one person). I thought it was pretty timely to bring up that point… and it made for an interesting discussion.

Then WHAM! I get whacked with another point in favor of someone else’s form of government. My conversation and this article didn’t cover the same ground, but they complimented each other, leading me to a few new conclusions.

I don’t mean to sound un-american, our form of government has served us pretty well for 200 plus years. I just think it’s healthy to remember nobody/nothing is perfect, and our current mess is a prime example. It seems the right (or wrong) combination of imperfect person with imperfect system can occasionally produce a perfect storm – especially when a balance of power is upset…

Six odd years ago we essentially gave one man a little too much power, hoping he would save us from the evil that lurked in our world. I think it’s vital that we recognize this as a mistake. We can’t sit on our high horse (which wasn’t that high to begin with folks) and pretend we are immune to the kind of fervor that casts dark shadows in other parts of the world, and in other times.

I got your counterinsurgency manual right here

The Pentagon survey found that less than half the troops in Iraq thought Iraqi civilians should be treated with dignity and respect. More than a third believed that torture was acceptable if it helped save the life of a fellow soldier or if it helped get information about the insurgents. About 10% of those surveyed said they had actually mistreated Iraqi civilians by hitting or kicking them, or had damaged their property when it was not necessary to do so.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | US Iraq troops ‘condone torture’

Whether we should have gone in the first place is a well worn topic. This however is a reason why we shouldn’t be there anymore. This is how you create ill-will, enemies, and ultimately… terrorists.

Pot, meet kettle

In only the second veto of his presidency, Bush rejected legislation pushed by Democratic leaders that would require the first U.S. combat troops to be withdrawn by Oct. 1 with a goal of a complete pullout six months later. “This is a prescription for chaos and confusion and we must not impose it on our troops,” Bush said in a nationally broadcast statement from the White House.

Bush vetoes troop withdrawal bill – Yahoo! News

I suppose it makes for a good sound byte, but it’s positively dripping with irony.

Bush is right that he has every constitutional right to deploy troops, as Commander in Chief. The Democrats are right that they have the constitutional right to cut of funding… and there was little question they would move to do so – when Bush deployed the troops, given the election results from last November.

My question is, if Bush can rail against Democrats for “not supporting our troups in the field with the funding they need,” why can’t Democrats rail against Bush for essentially abanding the additional troops he sent there as part of the surge… knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to pay for them? Remember, the surge strategy was implemented AFTER the elections, and AFTER the Democrats in control started talking about more funding oversight.

The truth of the matter is, if the troops are in danger of inadequate funding… they’re both to blame.

Broder: the supreme arbiter of Washington Politics

This week my stroll through the conservative blogosphere has brought me to several criticisms of Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader (and a Democrat from Nevada). If you’ve been paying attention, the big hub-bub this week has been Reid’s statement that the war in Iraq “is lost.”

David Broder has been held up as an unimpeachable voice of respect in Washington, and his suggestion that Reid should resign (in response to Reid’s comments) has been eaten up by conservatives across the land.

I thought this column by Media Matters contributor Jamison Foser was an interesting rebuttal…

Media Matters – “Media Matters”; by Jamison Foser