Bush's "long bomb" Iraq strategy - Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman in the NYT.

No registration required.

There are several issues raised in the editorial, something for everyone: why the war isn’t political, Kyoto, conservation, and more. Please read it.

The concluding paragraph is good summary of what I’ve been worrying about - minus the table metaphor.

Is Friedman right?

I think that he is dead on. This whole thing could work, and it still conceivably can work, but Bush has made this a million times more difficult than it had to be. At the same time, the whole thing needs to be part of a broader plan. Post-war plans and exit strategy need to be ridiculously detailed - something I don’t believe has been done sufficiently yet. Other problems must be dealt with at the same time: Turks, Kurds, Israel, Palestine, etc. that it would take monumental vision and planning to pull this off.

That said, maybe things will turn out well. I don’t think it will be a disaster, but I don’t think there will be much improvement in the long run, unless these other things (among many others) are addressed.

Good points. Right now, if I’m not mistaken, we have the Turks and the Kurds in Iraq both pissed at us - and not in a good accomodation / comprimise sort of way either. That is an inauspicious start to working out regional disputes, since they don’t usually agree about much. However, the Iraqi Kurds and Turks are reasonable to deal with compared to lots of other players in the region. Doesn’t bode well for the future.

I don’t think so.

First of all, doing the right thing is far more important than doing it right. (This is Peter

Sorry for the premature postaculation.

I don’t think so.

First of all, doing the right thing is far more important than doing it right. (The title of this post is a quote from famous business writer, Peter F. Drucker.)

For war, “doing things right” comes down to winning the war. Friedman seems to have no complaint about Bush’s military approach.

Then, there’ Friedman’s ridiculous comment, “And don’t believe the polls. I’ve been to nearly 20 states recently, and I’ve found that 95 percent of the country wants to see Iraq dealt with without a war.” In fact, I do believe the the polls a lot more than Friedman’s perception. Just being in 20 states doesn’t tell what everyone in that state believes.

Furthermore, I disagree with Friedman’s preferred approach to the Israel-Palestinain conflict. However, that may be a whole separate debate.

I don’t buy Friedman’s thesis, but not because of his recognition that Bush isn’t motivated by the hope of political capital; I agree that Bush firmly believes in the rightness of his path, and that he knows it’s a huge political gamble. The place where I believe Friedman goes wrong is in assuming that Bush is banking his political future on the goal of transforming Iraq into a democratic and free society. That’s certainly a desire of the Bushies, but that’s not the goal, it’s more of a hoped-for consequence of the goal.

-I think Bush and his advisors understand that democracy isn’t something that can be miltarily forced onto a society from outside of it, and I have seen little indication that the bulk of Iraqi society, if they are clamoring for liberation at all, are clamoring for that particular sort of liberation. (I could be wrong. I guess we’ll see when the troops are on the ground.)

Rather, I think Bush is convinced that action against Iraq not only fits into the concept of preemption which is a key component of the doctrine he established in his National Security Strategy last September, but also upholds the rhetoric in that policy statement that we will “[build] a balance of power that favors freedom.”

But a deeper congruence with the Bush doctrine can be found in the establishment of control over the Persian Gulf and the ability to establish direct control over Iraq’s (and probably Saudi Arabia’s) distribution of oil (through Turkey as well as through the Gulf). Establishment of the strength to “dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States” is a guiding feature of the Bush doctrine. Those words aren’t referring to Iraq, and they’re not referring to strict military strength either.

Well, for a start, I’m not convinced that Bush/Blair are doing the “right” thing. Their actions aren’t congruent with their words on the issue. They are congruent with the “Full Spectrum Dominance” doctrine, and that’s quite worrying.

But, even giving them the benefit of the doubt, there are countless reasons why doing the “right” thing, or, rather, doing something for the right reasons, and doing it right, aren’t separate and distinct issues. “‘I think I can do it’ is not enough”, as the poem goes. If we go into Iraq in the way it looks like we’re going to do it now, the results are unlikely to be a liberated Iraq. The country is too fractured, it’s too important to the rest of the Arabic world (that’s Arabic, not Islamic), its infrastructure is too screwed by sanctions and bombing and general lack of investment or growth, its population is starving and desperate. This is not a good time to bomb the shirt off Baghdad and install US Military Rule.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If I want to fly a plane, I’ll learn how to do it. If I can’t fly a plane, I’m far better off admitting that than pretending I can do it and crashing into a mountain.

Agreed, completely.

What’s wrong with doing the right thing (whatever that is) and doing it right? Wouldn’t doing the “right thing” the wrong way just end up doing the wrong thing anyway?

The “famous buseness writer” seems to have his priorities reversed.

The problem with Friedman’s thesis is that it’s pure speculation.

He speculates that Russia is behaving the way they are because of the withdrawal of the ABM treaty.

He believes Europeans are behaving in part the way they are because of Bush’s withdrawal from Kyoto.

The problem with those statements is that they are unfalsifiable. We don’t know if things would have been different. Maybe they would have been worse. Maybe if Bush hadn’t shown early on that he was not going to be pushed around, the world would have done more pushing.

Sometimes you just have to admit that not all situations can be finessed through a suitable application of high diplomacy. Hitler could not be finessed into giving up his claim to Sudetenland. Stalin could not be finessed into not blockading East Germany. The North Koreans could not be finessed into giving up their nuclear programs.

In fact, I think the notion that this is all about poor diplomacy to be remarkably naive. The French have their interests. Their interests are not those of the U.S. when it comes to Iraq. The Russians have their interests. Those interests do not intersect the interests of the U.S. when it comes to Iraq.

Those are the facts. Russia and France have economic interests in Iraq. They were both agitating to get rid of the sanctions on Iraq, let alone attacking Iraq, long before Bush became President. They simply have no interest in a free and Democratic Iraq.

And in real hard geopolitical terms, these countries don’t even have an interest in combating terrorism, other than that which targets them. Thus, the Russians are willing to flatten the Chechens without going to the U.N., while demanding that the U.S. lay off Iraq. But the U.S. that is weakened by a war on terror is a U.S. less able to exert political and economic influence on Europe and Asia, which Russia and France see as their natural spheres of influence.

France also has an interest in becoming the center of the EU, and part of its game in opposing the U.S. is to isolate Britain and Tony Blair. Bush isn’t the only world leader playing real high stakes geopolitical hardball right now - Jacques Chirac has stuck his neck out a mile on this, because if he ‘wins’ then France has a chance to have a controlling influence in the EU. But if he loses, Britain’s power will rise, and Tony Blair, backed by the Eastern European countries and his close western European allies, will become the voice of the ‘new Europe’.

Friedman was right about one thing - if these gambles weren’t paid for in blood, this would be a damned fun show. Fifty years from now, we’re going to look back at this era and realize that we are now living through one of the biggest global power shifts in history. Fifty years from now, the world will not look anything like it does today.

Sam Stone: Chechnya’s a province of Russia, God help those poor bastids. So the Russians aren’t legally or morally bound to go to the UN to deal with them.
As for this being a fun show: reminds me of the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
Me, I’ll take boring every time.

Not to hijack, but Chechnya is only a ‘province’ of Russia thanks to tens of thousands of OMOD, Red Army (They even got their old flag back), and other troops occupying it.

Not that I am inherently oppossed to Russians being in Chechnya, but it would be like us seizing Manitoba, declaring it a province, and dealing with it as we see fit. Not exactly sporting!

Ah, good old Sam, inevitably refusing to consider that anyone could come to a conclusion that differs from his own preferences except through crass self-interest. If you had read a little more carefully, you’d see that Friedman is not, as you claim, asserting that Russia and France are simply retaliating for specific affronts, but that they’re resisting the attitude which allowed those things to happen and which will continue to do so if unresisted.

It isn’t all that “fun”, nor is it a “show”, either for people from countries which will be getting the gassed bodies of our sons home in bags, or will become targets for retaliation, or will have hobbled economies for years paying for it all. If you truly think it’s going to be a fun show, then it’s Pit time. Now explaini yourself.
As for Friedman: That was a nice bit of work, clearly intended at the decisionmakers in Washington more than the general public. He went as far as anyone could to give them credit for intending the vision Bush has only lately started to articulate, before showing that they can’t do it in the way they’ve been starting, nor can this crowd do it at all with the reputations they’ve built already both domestically and internationally. And that’s only if what we’ve seen so far is simply unrelieved bungling and not evidence of a plan that doesn’t match recent rhetoric anyway.

It’s a pity, too - we in most of the civilized world have a strong tradition of making the sacrifices and offering the lives needed to make the world a better place. That had a window of achievability, if it had been understood and grasped by those with the power to do so, but instead that willingness has been perverted into serving goals that don’t match our traditional ideals. Exceptions to that exist for those who think some of the highest ideals we stand for is kicking bad guys’ asses and keeping brown people in their places - those ideals are being served and those who support them seem to be happy.

Anything worth having in Manitoba, by the by?:stuck_out_tongue:


Ah, good old Sam, inevitably refusing to consider that anyone could come to a conclusion that differs from his own preferences except through crass self-interest. If you had read a little more carefully, you’d see that Friedman is not, as you claim, asserting that Russia and France are simply retaliating for specific affronts, but that they’re resisting the attitude which allowed those things to happen and which will continue to do so if unresisted.


Ah, good old ElvisL1ves, still unable to read.

I didn’t say Friedman was wrong - I said his thesis was unprovable, and that you can make arguments for the opposite contention.

I’ll let my original message explain itself. Apparently you missed the part where I said, if these gambles weren’t paid for in blood. In other words, if this were a movie. It’s the same sentiment Friedman expressed, but given your cursory reading, maybe you missed that too.

Good old Sam, still unable to format a message. Sigh.

We’d never have been able to get this far without YOU Sam.

I think each passing day makes the bomb longer and longer. It is like we keep getting false starts on fourth down and it is pushing us farther and farther away from the end zone. And the game clock is ticking until it is too hot for us to go anyway, but each 5 yard penalty really starts to hurt. With each week, the anti-war movement finds stronger voices; with each week there are more reasons not to go to war; with each week war becomes technically more difficult; with each week the Iraqi military becomes more entrenched and Saddam’s bunkers and hideouts become better stocked.

There are things that Friedman doesn’t mention that I believe strengthen his essay. First, we have now managed to not even rustle support from Turkey. This was a raw deal for Nascent Democratic Iraq to start with and now is just a raw deal for Nascent Iraq and for the US. Turkey wanted to move up to 80,000 troops 270 km into Northern Iraq, effectively occupying Iraqi Kurdistan (and squashing the only democracy and active opposition within Iraq) under auspicies of them being under US command. They were going to come in with the Americans, which was going to create all types of problems for the Kurds (who should big our biggest allies in this war). Now, the US is not going to go in through Turkey, but Turkey is still saying that they are going to move troops into Northern Iraq should hostilities start. And the Kurds have said that they will fire on Turkish troops. Wicked.

Also, he doesn’t mention the whole distraction from rebuilding Afghanistan thing. I think this is quite a salient point that would buttress the argument significantly. Yeah, establishing Iraq as a democracy is a noble goal. But the path there is lined with landmines. Yeah, it would be great to establish a mini-US in the middle of the Arab world, but things are not looking good to that end right now. But why are we so concerned with the Arab world as opposed to the Muslim world in general? Iranians aren’t Arabs. Pakistanis aren’t Arabs. Abu Sayyaf aren’t Arabs. The Chechens aren’t Arabs. Afghanis aren’t Arabs. And we already have control of Afghanistan. Perhaps Afghanistan won’t be the shining example to the Arab World in particular, but it can be a shining example to the Muslim World in general. And a war in Iraq will only distract from the one-tenth finished job of putting Afghanistan back together.

Lastly, there is North Korea. Like it or not, North Korea has looked far more threatening, far more resistant to military threat, far more close to getting anything resembling a Truly Scary Weapon, and far more unpredictable than Iraq. By summer they could have nukes capable of hitting the West Coast, and will definitely have nukes capable of taking out Seoul and Tokyo. We should deal with them before the summer, obviously.

Lastly, as much as we hate to admit it, we need international law. We need a forum to voice discontent when North Koreans are hostile to our airplanes over international waters. We need a forum to enforce some semblance of international standards of diplomacy and conduct. We are going through kind of a rough spot, and it can only get rougher if we decide to turn our back on cooperation with the rest of the world. We don’t need more antagonism in the world. If we expect other countries to abide by rulings which they find unpleasant, we need to abide by rulings which we find unpleasant.

Sigh … war could be fun to watch if it didn’t kill people, huh? THAT’s a moral stand you want to get credit for - or reflective of your habitual fantasizing? Well-weaseled there, Sam. Next time (and it probably won’t be long, given your habits).

edwino, a very well stated discussion, even with 2 “lastlys” :slight_smile: