Bush's War, NYT's Quagmire

Thursday, January 11, 2007

An article -- and its editorial slant -- in the New York Times about the President's proposed troop increases for Iraq illustrates perfectly a point articulated recently by Burgess Laughlin in a letter to the editor of The Objective Standard:

One shouldn't be surprised that an entity's actions follow from the entity's nature. As a political entity, the USA is a welfare state. ...

Just as the welfare bureaucracy of the USA endlessly drains the resources of productive citizens, all in the name of altruism, so the "War on Terrorism" is endlessly draining the resources (and lives) of the USA, all in the name of altruism.
Case in point: Our declared objective in deposing Saddam Hussein was not national security (i.e., the protection of the individual rights of American citizens from a foreign threat), but the ability of Iraqis to choose their own government (regardless of whether said government would protect individual rights or respect those of Americans).

As a result of this immoral and impractical objective, we now have an Islamic government in Iraq (which the Times unabashedly calls "Shiite"). In the sense that our efforts to defeat Islamic terrorism are being systematically hamstrung by our obeisance to an Islamic government in the name of "democracy", the Times is right on the money in calling the mess "Mr. Bush's war". However, when offering an alternative to Bush's troop buildup, the Times, hides its own complicity in the mess partly behind the following recommendation.
We have argued that the United States has a moral obligation to stay in Iraq as long as there is a chance to mitigate the damage that a quick withdrawal might cause. We have called for an effort to secure Baghdad, but as part of the sort of comprehensive political solution utterly lacking in Mr. Bush's speech. This war has reached the point that merely prolonging it could make a bad ending even worse. Without a real plan to bring it to a close, there is no point in talking about jobs programs and military offensives. There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq.
Notice that our government, by the lights of the Times, has a "moral obligation" to Iraq -- but not to our own security. In any war, including the one of which the conflict in Iraq is but a part, the two basic options are to fight or to surrender. In the context of Iraq, where we find ourselves now whether one agrees or disagrees we should have gone there in the first place, there are several viable options that would constitute continuing to fight the broader war -- even including a withdrawal from all or parts of Iraq premised on the notion that our forces could be better used elsewhere.

But this never comes up. Indeed, the Times even seems against the idea of shifting our focus to the more pressing problems of Iran and Syria. "What [the nation] certainly did not need were more of Mr. Bush's open-ended threats to Iran and Syria." Note the description: "open-ended" vice "empty". It has been the emptiness of the threats -- not the threats themselves -- the West in general and America in particular have made against Iran that have emboldened it to: sponsor terrorism, make numerous declarations of its intent to wipe out Israel, and develop nuclear weapons.

All the leftist media (exemplified here by the Times) does is note how injurious war is to America -- as if war is normally a walk in the park -- while failing to mention that it can have a more noble and practical purpose than the deliverance of an entire nation from a secular dictatorship to, ultimately, an Islamic one.

The false alternative put forth by the Times -- of needless sacrifice of American blood and treasure versus surrender -- shows that the Times, despite its carping, fully agrees with the President's stated objective in the war! We see this clearly when we go back to its story on the proposed increase in troops. Its title? "Promising Troops Where They Aren't Really Wanted":
As President Bush challenges public opinion at home by committing more American troops, he is confronted by a paradox: an Iraqi government that does not really want them.


Redha Jawad Tahi, another Shiite member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim's party, took a similar view. "You can't solve the problem by adding more troops," he said. "The security should be in the hands of the Iraqis. The U.S. should be in a supporting role."

The plan sketched out by Mr. Bush went at least part way to meeting these Shiite concerns by ceding greater operational authority over the war in Baghdad to the government. The plan envisages an Iraqi commander with overall control of the new security crackdown in Baghdad, and Iraqi officers working under him who would be in charge of military operations in nine newly demarcated districts in the capital.

The commanders would report to a new office of commander in chief directly under the authority of Mr. Maliki. The arrangement appeared to have the advantage, for Mr. Maliki, of giving him a means to circumvent the Ministry of Defense, which operates under close American supervision. "The U.S. agrees that the government must take command," Mr. Abadi said.

The arrangements appeared to suggest that Mr. Maliki would have the power to halt any push into Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold that American commanders have been saying for months will have to be swept of extremist militia elements if there is to be any lasting turn toward stability in Baghdad. ...

Hard-line Shiite politicians have been saying with growing vehemence that these American goals amount to an attempt to deprive them of the victory they won at the polls, and that instead of placating Sunni Arabs, a minority of about 20 percent in Iraq's population of 27 million, the United States should stand aside and "allow the minority to lose." For Americans, whose best road home lies in drawing the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together, it amounts to a collision with the hard history of Iraq. [bold added]
The article's main focus is on the fact that the Iraqis -- or at least the ruling Shiites with militias to protect in Sadr City -- do not want American troops in Iraq. It claims that America's best way out of Iraq is through "drawing the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together" (whatever that means) as if we should be there to protect Iraq's ethnic minorities from each other rather than American citizens from Islamofascist belligerence. At the same time, the article implicitly criticizes the United States both for not protecting (1) the Sunnis well-enough from the Shiites and (2) the sovereignity of the Shiite government from ... the United States.

Two things should be clear that when one sweeps aside the principle of individual rights in favor of the imaginary rights of ethnic groups: (1) There is no way to achieve actual peace. (2) There is plenty of guilt to be passed around when peace mysteriously fails to materialize from all the gunfire, smoke, and carnage -- provided someone is willing to accept it. (I have a feeling that the "Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds" aren't going to help us there.)

This article, although it does report the real story, it also buries it and evades its true significance: Bush's plan for increased troops in Iraq still represents a failure to protect American interests.

Prime Minister Maliki clearly has no interest in protecting the rights of all Iraqis -- as one could predict from the fact that he hails from a sectarian political party. President Bush, by continuing his fundamental error of not insisting on a separation of religion and state in Iraq, has not significantly altered his doomed course -- as one could predict from his own religious conservatism. And the New York Times busies itself by carping about it all (but for all the wrong reasons) -- as one could predict from its leftist devotion to the idea that the purpose of our government is to sacrifice the productive to the unproductive.

All are collectivists and all are therefore failing to advocate the one principle that could cut through the fog and guide American policy (and Iraqi policy too, for that matter) in Iraq: that the sole purpose of government is the protection of individual rights.

Clearly, the Times recognizes that our stated goals in Iraq are not achievable and revels in the fact rather than offering criticism from the premise that America's interests are not being served. Its only recommendation is to stop fighting. Either way, American interests are subordinated to the desires of the most powerful faction of thugs in Iraq. And when that happens, the Times, although an active accomplice, will have Bush as a scapegoat.

Whether Iraqis want more troops in Iraq is of precisely zero significance. Whether America will be protected better by such a move should be the only consideration.

-- CAV


American Individualist said...

I'd like to comment, not on the New York Times article per se, but on a brief passage from Gus's commentary, and how I think it relates to a certain Objectivist commentator: “In the context of Iraq,” Gus writes, “where we find ourselves now whether one agrees or disagrees we should have gone there in the first place, there are several viable options that would constitute continuing to fight the broader war -- even including a withdrawal from all or parts of Iraq premised on the notion that our forces could be better used elsewhere. But this never comes up.”

True, this appears to becoming an increasingly subtle point un-grasped by many Americans, including some Objectivists. In yesterday’s TIA Daily commentary on Bush’s speech on the (non-)war, Robert Tracinski writes that it would be “disastrous” if the United States leaves Iraq. Well, that all depends on where America’s military leaves to go. If all US troops left Iraq with the goal to decimate the ruling regimes and their most ardent supporters in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, well then, why would we need a single US troop to remain in Iraq? “The War on Terrorism” would effectively end. Tracinski of course understands and argues for this strategy, in his own way. But because he still clings to his belief that Americans need some kind of presence in Iraq -- specifically, that we need to help bring representative government to Iraq -- he believes an American withdrawal from Iraq per se would be “disastrous.” Perhaps he would object to this characterization of his position, but he certainly doesn’t make explicit the distinction I just made.

I used to buy into Tracinski’s whole representative government argument for the Middle East. There are some merits to it, but like the term “democracy,” I think those merits ultimately serve as cover for the self-sacrifice that, essentially, he appears to support with his position on Iraq. That position is that our troops should be sacrificing their lives to bring the hope for “representative government” to Iraq. Well, my view now is unabashedly, in the words of Yaron Brook, let the Iraqis earn their own freedom!

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for adding your comment here. You have somehow helped me make a vital connection about Tracinski. I will try to elaborate, but I may need to think this through some more before I can fully articulate my conclusion....

Consider the following notes to myself.

Tracinski's positions on Iraq and on the past couple of elections have been based largely on the premise that the political debate cannot be moved very far due to the overall intellectual climate among the American people.

In a short-term sense, this is true. But intellectual battles are very long-term affairs and must be fought on a daily basis or not at all.

There is a certain amount of merit to Tracinski's position, which I would distil into the following question: "What are the chances of an Objectivist being elected President of the United States today?"

Obviously, the answer is, "Not a snowball's chance in hell." The next obvious question the becomes, "What DO we Objectivists do to affect the political debate?"

Tracinski's answer is "Take what you can get." This seems an acceptable answer, except that what he seems to mean is "Gauge what concrete measures you can 'get away with' advocating and base your arguments on that."

This is, in fact, not enough, for it leaves too many bad premises unchallenged and, in the case of Tracinski's war arguments, makes it appear that what Bush is doing instead of fighting ruthlessly is acceptable. (Actually, I may be overly generous here. Tracinski and company seem to actually believe this.) This is a grave mistake, for it allows the "welfare-state 'warriors'" to retain credibility for longer than they deserve and forestalls the debate about whether we as individuals and as a nation have the absolute right to defend ourselves -- a debate that will be the inevitable alternative to our ultimate defeat.

Conversely, I suspect that Tracinski would regard advocacy like that of John Lewis as futile. What concrete guidance does it offer us now, after all? This is more or less the kind of question I used to ask all the time when I encountered Lewis and others, such as Craig Biddle. This is, indeed, why I sided with Tracinski until very recently.

But Lewis et al. are doing what INTELLECTUALS do. In Lewis's case, a recent example of this is: compare the present war to a past one we fought and show how we once knew how to fight (and win) a war. Point out how and why we are failing now. At least get the rationale and the blueprint for the right approach "out there" so when the public is prepared for a real debate, the right approach might finally get some consideration.

I would even add that those in charge of military strategy -- if Lewis's argument got even wider currency today and they accepted it -- would understand that we would have to endure a period of strategic adjustment before we could really fight the war. But they would understand that we couldn't magically and instantaneously begin aping the our old, World War II selves.

And yet it is Tracinski who faulted the other Objectivists generally and Leonard Peikoff in particular for being pessimists! Pardon me, but whose whole approach seems premised on the notion that Americans can't grasp arguments beyond the concrete level here, anyway?

There is room for someone to make the some of the kinds of recommendations Tracinski makes (e.g. "Since we're there, what should we do?"), but such advice should be couched a lot more than it is in his case within the disclaimer of, "This is no way to fight a war, but, ..."

American Individualist said...

“But Lewis et al. are doing what INTELLECTUALS do. In Lewis's case, a recent example of this is: compare the present war to a past one we fought and show how we once knew how to fight (and win) a war. Point out how and why we are failing now. At least get the rationale and the blueprint for the right approach ‘out there’ so when the public is prepared for a real debate, the right approach might finally get some consideration.”

This, I think, gets to the heart of the issue.

Whenever I read TIA Daily and a news item about Iraq arises, I almost always gloss over it or even ignore it completely, because I know Robert Tracinki’s commentary is going to sound a lot like comments I can find in virtually any staple Republican-conservative publication. To be more specific: Tracinski argues as if he’s accepted the leftists’ defeatist position about the war on radical Islam as something that should be argued against on their terms.

I agree with and accept Tracinski’s identification that this is a regional war, not the narrow war in Iraq that the left wants to make it out to be (which they characterize as a “civil war”). And Tracinski calls on military action against Iran and Syria, for instance. But he rarely, if ever, seems to be explicit on exactly what he believes we must do militarily, in the way that John Lewis or Yaron Brook does.

I know that, at one time in the last few years, I believe right after the second fight for Fullujah, that Tracinki’s TIA partner Jack Wakeland came out against total war as a World War II relic that really doesn’t work in defeating our enemies anymore, at least not in the middle east. If I’ve got this correct and this is still the case over there at TIA, then I think this has much to do with why Tracinski sees it as so important, just as many right-wingers do, that we “succeed” in Iraq. If they’re not for total war, which does “work” but just hasn’t been remotely tried in years, then what are we trying to succeed at doing? Defeating the Iranian-Syrian-Saudi Arabia axis’ proxies in Iraq? Fighting to bring “representative government” to Iraq in the (clearly vain) hope that they’ll form some kind of free government there that won’t be hostile and threaten the US?

When I read Tracinski’s commentaries on Iraq in TIA Daily, it’s almost as if behind each commentary he’s hoping, praying, that something good will come out of that complete mess in Iraq, just as George Bush and his cronies are. Tracinski’s commentaries in this regard often involve this pattern: here’s the good news, and now for the bad news. And the bad news almost always is something fundamentally bad. For example, the good news might be that the current Iraqi leadership is fighting and making headway with the Iranian proxies; but the bad news is that they are giving support Iranian-backed politicos in the new government. So, obviously, the bad news *totally* wipes out the good news. There’s nothing good, ultimately, that can come of this. And yet, I increasingly see Tracinski as a commentator that *wishes* it to be otherwise, to fit his and Wakeland’s irrational positions on Iraq.

For example, Tracinski resigns himself to saying about Bush’s proposals to increase Iraqi troops in Iraq there it may have an outside chance of “succeeding” to quell the violence and then they can “build”. Build what? A government with Iranian-backed theocrats?

At best, you can say that Tracinki’s position is one of hope that, at least, a government not-hostile to America ultimately arises in Iraq. But, again, even if the Iraqis miraculously built a freer government than we have here in the US, I still say: let them earn their own freedom; don’t do it at the expense of sacrificing American lives.

If we pulled every last troop out of Iraq to fight the real, total war against the real axis of evil, the Iran-Syria-Saudi Arabia axis, and succeeded in utterly destroying those regimes, well, then there would be no “disaster” in Iraq. There would simply be a bunch of Iraqis going: What next?

But it seems that a total war that may get Middle Easterners to finally pause and reconsider their experiments and flirtations with Islamic regimes is, to the TIA duo, out of the question, archaic, something that won’t “work.” They certainly never advocate it.

I can go on and on here, so I’ll wrap up on this note: I’m very wary of Tracinski’s advocacy of fighting the regional war, because 1) I’m not clear on his position on exactly how he wants this war to be fought (does he want to bomb the hell out of Iran’s nuclear facilities, thus leaving the regime still in place to build again; is he in favor of knocking off the regime and, if so, how, or does he want total war, etc. -- what does he want?), and 2) I suspect that his advocacy of a regional war is a cover for his advocacy of keeping Americans in Iraq to help bring about “representative government” there, something I see more and more as an irrational, self-sacrificial goal. Tracinski doesn’t seem to want to make, or even identify the position, that we can still succeed in the middle east by pulling every last troop out of Iraq, but one can really only advocate doing this if he advocates a total war. Does Tracinski support total war? I don’t think so.

Gus, you are right, even if total war is something most Americans would not support, at least get the rationale and the blueprint for the right approach ‘out there,’ so that when the public is prepared for a real debate, the right approach might finally get some consideration. Unfortunately, the blueprint Tracinski seems to adopt is the typical pragmatist positions of the Republicans and conservatives, who notoriously allow the left to set the terms of the debate.

Gus Van Horn said...

I pretty much agree with what you say here. I do not recall Wakeland or Tracinski claiming that total war is archaic, but given some of their other views (i.e., what would come next after we devastated the Middle East?), this would come as little surprise.

On the subject of Tracinski's "hopeful" commentary, I have noticed this myself. I used to find it reassuring to read Tracinski, espcially when it still seemed like Bush might have something up his sleeve, but as time went on, I began to wonder, "Well? Just how much fundamentally bad news can one sweep under the rug?"

And then, as with Bush, Tracinski promised that he himself would provide some sort of intellectual foundation for his arguments. And as with Bush, I have been disappointed. While the "What Went Right?" series (I've seen 5 of its six parts and haven't checked to see whether its finale has arrived.) brings up some interesting and important questions, I have found it to be thin gruel.

As far as I can see, Tracinski seems to have become so enamored of the "virtuous cycle" type of argument that I see all the time among libertarians that he basically thinks that material progress can obviate the need for a fundamental philosophical revolution.

In the short term, a society can improve materially, but without a rational foundation or its culture changing on a fundamental level, it will lose whatever it gains and probably more. This is why we see some of the progress in India he discusses and yet, to put it in the way he might, we are "losing the American Revolution after we won it."

If the virtuous cycle argument trumped Ayn Rand's theory of how ideas drive history, America should already be colonizing Mars by now. Instead, we're about to nationalize the medical care industry!

Anonymous said...

Gus and American Individualist,

I just wanted to thank you for the excellent discussion you have had in the comments section. I have had the exact same questions about Tracinski and Wakeland that the two you have had. Seeing your opinions though has been amazingly clarifying for me. American Individualist might as well have been reading my mind because he stated my view of Tracinski exactly.

At least now I know that I am not crazy and also that I am not alone. Also, blogger NoumenalSelf is posting a multi-part writeup of his views on Tracinski's "What Went Right" series.


Bill Visconti

Gus Van Horn said...


Most of the thanks goes to A-I, who exemplifies something about this blog: I get some bloody good comments here sometimes that add lots of value to the posts and to my own understanding of the issues I discuss here.

As soon as Blogger gets its act together (so I can switch to "new" Blogger), I will make feeds/subscriptions to the comments available.

Your remark about feeling "alone" is very interesting, and probably describes perfectly the situation for many TIA readers who feel uncomfortable about Tracinski's analysis, but since it is a newsletter for subscribers only, have not had the chance to compare notes with others that much.

Many more, with a less thorough grasp of Objectivism (or fewer sources of news and analysis), may be very hard to reach for awhile. They will not only be alone, but possibly also intimidated by his "superior" grasp of Objectivism.

And thank you for mentioning the NS post. For the benefit of others, here is the link.