Delusions

T. Boone Pickens told a Congressional caucus that US oil companies were entitled to contracts to develop Iraqi oil, thanks to the fact that over 5000 Americans died, 65,000 wounded, and $1.5 trillion spent to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein.   Pickens is criticizing the fact that Iraq’s oil auctions are based on the best offer and not on rewarding the US for all it has spent in Iraq.  Instead, contracts have gone to China and BP so far.

And, of course, there is nothing the US can do to make Iraq comply with such a request.   President Bush explicitly denied that it was a war for control of oil, and  President Obama has already pledged to withdraw the troops.  Most Iraqis realize that the American people don’t want a long term major US commitment.

In Afghanistan President Obama is struggling with the decision of whether or not to send more troops there, and if so, what their task will be.   While former Vice President Cheney says Obama is “dithering” (Bush and Cheney dithered on Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008, to be sure), the fact is that this is a very consequential decision, and there is no need to hurry.    The President is correctly taking the time to examine the options and not simply make an easy political decision of going with McChrystal’s recommendation.   His job is to make the policy call, the general’s job is to figure out how to implement the policy effectively.

Striking about each of these “wars” is how early military victory — the US defeated the Taliban within a month, Saddam fell within weeks of the initial attack — turned into lengthy quagmires with no clear exit strategy or no sense of what victory would look like — or if it were even possible.

The US went into these wars guided by the heady ideology of neo-conservatism, a belief that the US was a “unipolar polar,” uniquely capable of creating a new world order which would expand democracy, reinforce market capitalism, and be good for American business.    Their argument seemed powerful.  The US economy in 2001 had a budget surplus, and the early Bush tax cuts were designed to rekindle another economic boom, negating the impact of the stock price collapse in 2000.   The Soviet Union was dead, there was no other major power on the horizon, so the US seemed at its peak — economically vibrant and the only major superpower.    The world was ours if we have the will to use our power and shape reality to fit our ideology and interests.

The thing holding the US back, the neo-conservatives argued, was too much concern with what the rest of the world thought about us, timidness in foreign policy, and a lack of will to do what is necessary to reshape the world.   Unipolarity doesn’t last along time, the neo-conservatives warned, we should use the power while we have the chance.   It was a heady, bombastic, and extremely confident ideology.   It mixed idealism (spread democracy and enforce human rights) with raw self-interest (protect US control of oil reserves, promote US corporate interests).   It’s audacious confidence attracted hawks, it’s lack of concern for what others (especially “Old Europe”) thought of us attracted nationalists.

9-11 was the pivotal moment for this group.   The attacks would give the American people the will to take the aggressive moves necessary to reshape the world.   Most did not doubt success was likely.   Afghanistan seemed to fall quickly, as few questioned the move to eliminate a regime as hated by the left as by the right.   After 9-11, the quick victory over the Taliban seemed to demonstrate US resolve and power — even if Bin Laden himself slipped away.   But, as Donald Rumsfeld noted, Afghanistan doesn’t have many targets.   The place to really make their move and assert US dominance was Iraq.

The plan was to take Iraq, install a pro-American government, show that democracy can work in the Mideast, and make sure oil is in the control of pro-American forces.    These actions would put Iran, Syria and every other nation in the region on alert that the US is willing and able to use its power.   That would also allow the US to achieve peace in Israel by weakening those who support the Palestinians, and geopolitically trump Russia, China and the EU in the quest to secure long term oil supplies.  The war wasn’t really about WMD in Iraq, even though that was the way it was sold.   Nor was it about how repressive Saddam was — others in the world, including our allies in Saudi Arabia, are just as repressive.  It was about a grand vision of reshaping politics in the Middle East, and assuring another “American century.”

“Everyone wants freedom,” the President claimed with confidence.   The neo-conservatives boldly predicted that the “modern, secular” Iraqis could not only make democracy work (some said it was ‘racist’ to claim otherwise), but even pay the cost of their “liberation” with oil revenues.  Instead, Iraq and Afghanistan have become symbolic of America’s decline.  When the US leaves, Iraq will not be a true democracy, not be pro-American, and won’t even give the best oil contracts to US companies.   It will have tarnished US moral legitimacy in the eyes of much of the planet, made American military threats less credible (not only didn’t we succeed in Iraq, but the public is sour on war and the world knows it), and fed into an economic crisis which continues to threaten the very status of the US as a major super power.

In Afghanistan the situation is even worse.   Because of the size and demographics of the country, an Iraq-like “surge” won’t stabilize things.   In Iraq security improved when the US chose to make allies of their former Sunni adversaries.  Few expect the US to become allies with the Taliban in Afghanistan.   If Obama chooses to continue with an unclear, open-ended mission this risks becoming a conflict that could eat his Presidency alive.   Yet to end it inconclusively would at the very least be humiliating to the US.

After 9-11 the US suffered numerous delusions, which together created a self-image of a country second to none, economically vibrant, and with the right approach to politics and economics.   In my last post, I outlined the delusional thinking which over thirty years set up the current economic crisis.  Senator Fullbright once called this kind of attitude “the arrogance of power.”   As a country we — especially the political leaders — got so caught up in the belief that we are something special, we are the best, we’ve found the right way to govern the country and run the economy, that we started to embrace delusions as reality.    We saw ourselves as superior to others, yet isolated ourselves in an orgy of consumption, with little regard for trying to understand the rest of the world, or even acknowledging that reality of the suffering that takes place over so much of the planet.   The cause of our current woes was delusional thinking.

Unfortunately, it continues.    The anti-Obama rhetoric from the right tries to deny reality by blaming everything on Obama, with weird claims that he’s trying to impose socialism or somehow destroy our way of life.   The left focuses on health care and the politics of the moment.   The President has spread himself thin by tackling numerous issues, but has yet to really focus the country on the challenges ahead with a clear and coherent vision about how to move forward.

I will only be optimistic about the future when most Americans become realistic about the present.

Advertisements
  1. #1 by Mike Lovell on November 16, 2009 - 17:47

    It seems to me, in my constant military thinking that it has been decades since we have approached a war with any clear thinking of objectives that could be iterated with a definitive endgame in mind. Everything seems to be more politically oriented now instead of figuring out a way to end any war with an outcome that isn’t seen as worthy to sacrifice soldiers’ lives in.
    I watched the CBS news, or 60 minutes last night…I dont remember which one it was where they spoke f the Paladins that went out in search of IED’s in Afghanistan. They actually allowed some language (which I thought wasn’t allowed on tv) at one point, and even allowed soldiers unfiltered opinions to be left in the broadcast when it comes to defining the worth of the mission/victory outcomes.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on November 17, 2009 - 21:00

      I’ll have to look to see if I can find that clip on line. I agree with you about the “political” way of thinking of war in recent years. I think a lot of politicians don’t fully grasp the meaning of their decisions for real people and families.

  2. #3 by classicliberal2 on November 17, 2009 - 00:42

    “The President is correctly taking the time to examine the options and not simply make an easy political decision of going with McChrystal’s recommendation. His job is to make the policy call, the general’s job is to figure out how to implement the policy effectively.”

    Conservatives rarely demonstrate any understanding of that division, much less of why it exists (it’s why they routinely refer to the President as “the commander-in-chief,” instead of “the President”). These days, Obama is routinely raked over the coals in right-wing circles for failing to allow McChrystal to dictate the policy. It’s the job of the civilian government to set policy, and Bush, contrary to the claims that were made throughout his administration, never allowed the military to dictate his course of action, either. The thing at which he excelled–and this is where the confusion on that point is sourced–was in making a public show of deferring to the military as a means of using it as a fall-guy for his own blunders.

    It’s what he did throughout his time in office.

    The Iraqi invasion was carried out with a woefully insufficient force; when forced to pour thousands more troops into the country, Bush essentially blamed the military, asserting that he’d given the commanders on the ground everything they’d asked for. In reality, the administration–Bush and Rumsfeld–had rejected the initial invasion plans drawn up by the military–at least half a dozen of them, in fact–on the grounds that they used too many troops. When Eric Shinseki gave a more realistic estimate of the troop-strength that would be required, his replacement was announced, and he was treated as a lame-duck until he left.

    The same was true of the “intelligence” used to justify the invasion. Bush, Cheney, and everyone in the administration lied, lied, then lied some more, put the lash to the intel community to cook up something–anything–that would support those lies, then, when the monstrous sham of it was revealed, Bush gave us “intelligence failure” as an explanation, blaming the intel community.

    And so on. The defining moment of the Bush administration came during the press conference at which he was asked what mistakes he’d made and what had he learned from them, and he couldn’t come up with a single mistake.

    The problem with making a policy call about Iraq or Afghanistan is that you first have to come up with a policy. Once the neocon’s mad dreams of world domination are no longer official doctrine, you have to come up with some reason why we’re there, and what we hope to accomplish. There aren’t really any good outcomes. There weren’t any before the U.S. had attacked, either.

    “Striking about each of these ‘wars’ is how early military victory — the US defeated the Taliban within a month, Saddam fell within weeks of the initial attack — turned into lengthy quagmires with no clear exit strategy or no sense of what victory would look like — or if it were even possible.”

    There was no consideration given to an “exit strategy” for either country. There wasn’t one for Iraq because there was never any intention of ever leaving. Unless that’s understood from the outset, the Iraq policy becomes incomprehensible. Afghanistan seems to have been carried out solely because the American public wouldn’t have stood for ignoring it after Sept. 11th. Those running policy in the Bush administration didn’t want to go there. The very day of the attack, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were hyping it as an excuse to attack Iraq, and Bush was leaning on his people to find something that tied Iraq to it. This was when Rumsfeld, in hyping an attack on Iraq, made his infamous remark about there being good targets in Iraq, but no good targets in Afghanistan. By the time the Defense Policy Board met, Afghanistan was barely discussed–everything centered on Iraq, and Bush, within days, had signed the initial order to begin preparing for an Iraq invasion. The U.S. “war” in Afghanistan was carried out almost entirely through proxies–as others have noted, most big-city police forces have more men than the U.S. put into Afghanistan. The Taliban–that much-hyped source of evil–mostly changed to “our” side, a Northern Alliance made up of drug kingpins, local warlords, and their mercenary armies, and, as a consequence, it took less than two days for the proxies to sweep across the country once the land offensive began. The limited resources applied to the campaign were then immediately shifted to Iraq. Again, no thought of an exit strategy.

    The neocon’s vision of a “new American century” was never about expanding democracy; that’s nonsense for the peasants, excreted by the likes of Richard Perle. The neocon project was about U.S. domination of world resources in the aftermath of the Cold War. It was born in the first Bush administration (where it became a scandal and had to be abandoned), gestated through the ’90s in various venues, and was adopted, by Bush, as the official National Security Strategy of the United States in the aftermath of Sept. 11th. You’ll struggle in vain to find any serious, sustained talk of the miracles of democracy among those behind it. It was about Pax Americana, pure and simple. The “democracy” talk was offered to give it a sheen of respectability.

    So what do we do with Iraq and Afghanistan? The Obama has more-or-less adopted the Bush approach of just aimlessly muddling through it with no clear idea of what to do. In that sense, the neocons gave Bush one advantage over Obama: He and those around him had a goal. They were just clueless as to how to achieve it–that’s the sense in which they were delusional. Obama doesn’t seem to have clear goals for resolving either (admittedly impossible) situation. That’s a big problem.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on November 17, 2009 - 21:07

      Thanks for the thoughtful response! I think some neo-cons, like Francis Fukuyama, actually did believe the hype — though he changed his views when he saw it wasn’t working. I tend to think that people often have a convenient way of believing what they want to believe. I suspect a lot convinced themselves that this drive to control resources was good because it also would spread democracy. At the very least, I think Bush probably believed that, otherwise why not just install a pro-American dictatorship in Iraq which would guarantee access to Iraqi oil?

      I agree that Obama seems lost on how to handle these conflicts. I hope that Seymour Hersh is right in saying that Obama’s delay on Afghanistan may be a sign he’s taking charge and really thinking about what the strategy has to be.

      • #5 by classicliberal2 on November 18, 2009 - 03:28

        “I suspect a lot convinced themselves that this drive to control resources was good because it also would spread democracy. At the very least, I think Bush probably believed that, otherwise why not just install a pro-American dictatorship in Iraq which would guarantee access to Iraqi oil?”

        That seems to have been the neocons’ original plan–they were going to install Ahmed Chalabi, an international fugitive, head of the Iraqi National Congress, the man Bush re-imported into the intel process in order to corrupt the intel product, and a personal friend of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, and others in the administration. Perle has denied they planned to install Chalabi, but Chalabi was given his own paramilitary force, trained and equipped by the Bush administration, and they were all going to be airlifted into Baghdad to manage “security”–it’s pretty clear what they were up to, and administration sources anonymously admitted it in the press. Colin Powell objected, though, and managed to win the argument.

        As it turned out, installing a dictator wouldn’t have been possible anyway. The public in the U.S. wouldn’t have stood for it, a Sunni dictator would have meant reinventing Saddam, and a Shia dictator would have ended up an ally of the Iranian right. That’s why they found Chalabi so appealing in the first place–he was a Westerner. But that’s also why he wouldn’t work. He had no support in Iraq at all (when he later ended up running for election, neither he nor a single member of his INC won a seat).

        The neocons never intended the U.S. to leave Iraq anyway, and, except for the apparent desire to install Chalabi early on, the question of what sort of civilian government would be installed seems to have been regarded by them as of little importance.

        “I agree that Obama seems lost on how to handle these conflicts. I hope that Seymour Hersh is right in saying that Obama’s delay on Afghanistan may be a sign he’s taking charge and really thinking about what the strategy has to be.”

        He’s in a very bad spot at the moment. The Bush administration left him with absolutely nothing with which to work. They never planned to leave, and they took almost none of the basic steps that would make leaving easier (do you honestly think a simple, effective security force couldn’t have been assembled and trained in the YEARS the U.S. has been in these countries?).

  3. #6 by Josh on November 17, 2009 - 04:38

    Personally, I don’t dwell on whether or not most Americans are “realistic” about the present. I think many Americans aren’t delusional, they just don’t care to think about certain things (government, global warming, world events, the overall U.S. economy) because they are busy trying to live their lives as best they can. That’s just my impression.

    I completely agree with you about conservatives. They are very unfair toward the President, and I hope they will see this. Can’t really blame them, however, since I have made similar mistakes.

  1. Irak

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: