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« Pulp and Hardboiled Linkage | Main | Hopes for Barack; Worries About Barack »

March 02, 2008

Maybe there's a cheaper way...

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards,

I noticed that on Bloomberg there's a story on Joseph Stiglitz, who has written a book on the cost of the Iraq war:

March 1 (Bloomberg) -- Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, author of a new book that claims the Iraq war will cost the U.S. more than $3 trillion, said the final tally is likely to climb much higher than that.

"It's much more like five trillion," Stiglitz said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. "We were trying to make Americans understand how expensive this war was so we didn't want to quibble about a dime here or a dime there."

I guess I'm getting numb to bad news or something, as that didn't even get my pulse racing. No, what actually registered with me was a bit in the next paragraph of the same story, in which we got a justification for the cost that should go into the record books:

The 2001 Nobel winner's initial estimate of $3 trillion drew criticism from Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who said that the number ignores the price the U.S. would pay if Iraq became a terrorist state.

Hmm, let's see if I understand Senator Brownback’s logic. Assuming that any predominantly Islamic country is at risk of becoming a terrorist state, I checked Wikipedia and found this article that considers some 30-40 countries to be majority Moslem. If we invade each it’s gonna cost us, at the lower of Mr. Stiglitz’s estimates for the Iraq contest, between $90 to $120 trillion. But at least we'll be safe from terrorist states.

Of course, sadly, this may underestimate the cost, as not all Moslems live in Islamic-majority countries. To come up with a more realistic estimate of our upcoming Brownbackian military expenditures, we need to consider the cost of pacifying the entire Moslem population, world-wide.

Assuming the lower of Mr. Stiglitz's numbers, we have committed ourselves to spending around $109,000 per Iraqi man, woman and child to safeguard ourselves for the past five years. Of course, since only about a third of the Iraqi population could physically qualify as serious menaces, the number is actually more like $330,000 per adult male Iraqi--um, I mean, potential terrorist.

(And if one assumes that only one adult male Iraqi in 10 is actually what you'd call an insurgent, the number we've committed to spending climbs to over three million dollars per serious antagonist. Gosh, we could have bribed them all with fully-paid-off houses in nice L.A. neighborhoods for a third that price. Well, fairly nice L.A. neighborhoods, anway.)

Anyway, according to the same Wikipedia article, the number of Moslems worldwide may be as large as 1.8 billion. That means we might have to spend $196 trillion to keep ourselves safe from the threat of Islamic terrorism -- at least by our remarkably expensive military invasion methods.

Safe for a few years, anyway.

Of course, there are other threats as well that military invasion might not be the best way to deal with. What will cost to bribe, say, our current crop of foolish or mendacious politicians to retire, say, tomorrow?

It's gotta be way less than $3 trillion.

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at March 2, 2008




Comments

As much as it pains me to say anything in the defense of a mouthbreathing God-bothering theocrat like Senator Brownback, I don't think it's unreasonable to point out that inaction also carries costs. If you go to the doctor when you have fever, chills, and a sore throat, you can easily measure how much you're paying for the office visit and the lab tests and the medications. Can you easily measure how much you would have paid had you ignored your illness? Maybe you would have gotten better on your own. Maybe it would have been strep and you would have just gotten worse and worse until you were hospitalized or, if you had continued with your plan of hoping that things will just work out okay, things might have gotten even more bleak. How much would your not going to the doctor have cost you, given that you didn't take that path?

That said, Brownback is still a moron.

Posted by: Mitchell on March 2, 2008 12:16 PM



How about buying panty piddling paranoids like Brownback, who are convinced - convinced! - that the Towel Heads are going to Conquer the World and haul us off to the ovens, lifetime supplies of adult diapers and paranoid-schizophrenia medicines?

Militant Islam is as grave a threat to America as a baby rabbit is a threat to an elephant.

Posted by: Peter on March 2, 2008 12:35 PM



Iraq differs from other states in that it holds a huge percentage of the world's oil. When a crazy takes over a poor state, it bothers us little. Having a crazy take over Iraq, could cause a lot of trouble.

Posted by: Jon Claerbout on March 2, 2008 1:05 PM



If we had solar panels that were above 80% efficiency, they could be used for pretty much every power need we have (even in "sunny" Rochester). About 10 years ago, the best we had were around 18%, now there's a couple of companies producing cells that are above 40%. If a fraction of the money spent in Iraq were put into funding further research, I have no doubt we'd have our 80% efficient panels now and could start to bring down those terrorists states by simply eliminating their money supply.

Instead, we decide to waste our money trying to lay claim to the oil fields in Iraq so we can hold off China when they come a knockin'. Leave it to the 'pubs to fail to understand, once again, fiscal responsibility.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on March 2, 2008 1:46 PM



There is often much to be said for doing nothing. I long for another "do-nothing" President. W. G. Harding is looking better and better (even Mencken later admitted he had been wrong about him).

Posted by: Lester Hunt on March 2, 2008 3:40 PM



The time-honored way governments pay for wars is through inflation. Traditionally governments pay off their unsupportable debt in cheaper monetary units. The Germans inflated the mark after the first world war to the point that a loaf of bread cost millions. The French and English and Italians have done much the same.

The government is already welshing on its commitment to keep social security benefits from being eroded by inflation. By eroding the value of the dollar, the federal government is taxing us all for its miserable and unnecessary war, which conservative columnist George Will rightly called the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on March 2, 2008 5:10 PM



100 years ago, the British governed Egypt for 25 years. Egypt is not Iraq, but it's about as close as you get.

Population of Egypt, circa 1908: about 10 million. Number of British soldiers needed to control it: about 5000. All costs paid by: Egyptian taxpayers. Number of militias, private armies, political parties, ethnic mafias, etc, in Egypt: 0. Number of assault helicopters, main battle tanks, UAVs, etc, owned by British Army: 0.

Read all about it.

The $64 trillion question: what changed?

Posted by: Mencius on March 2, 2008 8:05 PM




There was zero chance of a jihadist takeover of Iraq before we invaded, and zero chance afterwards, despite all our efforts to piss off the locals. Official estimates say that something like 100 untrained, unarmed fanatics sneak into Iraq each month - most motivated by our occupation: somehow they're supposed to be on the verge of taking over the country, even though the Kurds (20% of the population)have no use for them, even thought the Shi'ites hate them - the Shi'ites who make up 60% of the population and run the feeble-minded government we installed.

Even the Sunni Arabs had no use for them, except as highly expendable ammunition.

Iraq is no threat to the US and never was. We're getting nothing out of the occupation.
Yet there are still people (not as many as before)who think that invading and occupying Iraq was a great idea. I wonder why.



Posted by: gcochran on March 2, 2008 8:29 PM



I suppose this post and the following comments perfectly illustrates that intelligence in one area doesn't equate to intelligence in another.

I'm thinking y'all should get out more.

What I mean is... place a dollar value on your freedom... what's that worth to you?

How much of a risk factor are you willing to place on the continuation of same?

Posted by: Luther McLeod on March 2, 2008 9:52 PM




McLeod, explain to me, using only generally known facts, how invading and occupying Iraq did anything for my freedom or safety.

Just for the sake of argument, even if Iraq had been a threat, it surely wouldn't have been the only threat in the world, and it's hard to believe it would have been the largest threat. Are we to spend infinite amounts of money on every threat, no matter how large or small? How's that supposed to add up? Seems to me that you have to budget - and in doing so, you have to put dollar values on life and freedom. Consider that money spent on defense reduces economic growth, which decreases the cash available for _future_ defense.. We have to consider threats a centaury from now, too.


Posted by: gcochran on March 2, 2008 10:32 PM



Thanks to everyone for their comments.

Mencius,

I can't read 500 + pages on my tiny little viewer! Please enlighten us with your ideas on what changed! (BTW, isn't it sad how much better that book is written than most history produced today?)

Mr. Cochran:

Thanks for stopping by again, and for responding to Mr. McLeod very much as I would have hoped to.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 3, 2008 12:52 AM



Why the old-school 'Moslem' instead of the standard 'Muslim?'

Posted by: bdr on March 3, 2008 1:29 AM



While I disagree with the ongoing American deployment in Iraq--simply because I think it is ill advised solution to the terrorist problem-- the comment by Steiglitz is pure ideological boilerplate.

From a purely economic point of view, the "investment" in Iraq can be thought of earning "interest" in the form of freedom from terrorism. I think it is a malinvestment, since U.S is not getting much bang for the buck and the numbers seem to confirm it, though it does appear to have at least a minimal return. What the U.S is definitely getting, is a massive local economic stimulus in the form of contracts for the industries which supply the military.

A close analogy would be aged health care. From a purely economic point of view, spending money on the age earns you nothing. In fact the aged are net consumers of resources. The return on that investment is negative, however just as in the above scenario there is a local stimulus to the economy through jobs at hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, etc.

Therefore, for Steiglitz to be a consistent economist, i.e. looking at things from a profit and loss point of view, he should be arguing against aged health care in the same breath he is arguing against the war in Iraq. No chance in hell that that is going to happen.

Wars are not fought on the basis of economic profit or loss statements, just as health care is not justified on economic grounds solely. Moral issues dominate the decisions. I feel that the U.S is harming itself by its strategy in Iraq, but not because it is impoverishing itself, rather its strategy is wrong.

Rather Steiglitz is pushing his own political issues cloaked in the prestige of his Nobel Prize.
He cheapened the honour when he opened his mouth.

Posted by: Slumlord on March 3, 2008 4:25 AM



My apologies for coming on a little 'testy' earlier. An instance of overly indulged libation.

I suppose I really should read his book before commenting... but if this article in the Taipei Times and its quotes from Mr. Stiglitz are any indication as to the thoroughness of his 'study', them I am not particularly convinced as to the accuracy of his numbers. I sense a political bias in his representations of his work. I'll overlook for now his being asked by Mr. Obama to serve as an adviser in Obama's 'possible' administration.

In my opinion, an isolationist approach to the dangers that this country faces is no longer a viable option. Mr. Stiglitz avers that he is not calling for that. That he just thinks the money could have been better spent. Honestly, I doubt his sincerity.

I'm not going to do anyone's research on why invading Iraq was a good idea. The information is easily available. One might agree or disagree with the reasons of course. I happen to think it was a good idea... an action that in the long run will have done much in protecting and ensuring not just this country, but the 'world's', freedom and safety. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: Luther McLeod on March 3, 2008 7:11 AM





McLeod: so, it's a secret? Iraq turned out not to have a weapons program, turned out not to have been supporting jihadism, while promoting Arab democracy via and occupation turned out to be counterproductive. All obvious in advance, of course, but increasingly I realize that the word 'obvious' has no meaning.
You must have other reasons. I wonder what they are.

Posted by: gcochran on March 3, 2008 10:14 AM



Slumlord:

Your analogy with health care is, alas, all too apt, although not in the way you mean it. In health care as well as in America's international military commitments, we are breaking the bank, and cost issues will indeed, eventually, eventually overcome simple-minded moralistic arguments. (Although the economy will likely have sustained mortal injuries by the time that occurs.)

As I pointed out in a recent posting, Healtharchy, which you can read at http://www.2blowhards.com/archives/2007/11/healtharchy_or.htmlour, our current spending on health care is indeed utterly wasteful and wrong-headed, and chiefly serves to enrich the health care industry with relatively little impact on the nation's health. It's at least as wrong-headed as our Iraq policy, and far more expensive.

As for military matters, obviously I would advocate fighting to the last man and dollar if we were, say, being invaded, but last time I noticed that's hardly the case in Iraq, and the failure of people like several of our commentors to notice such an incredibly significant distinction shows the deleterious effects of decades of imperial propoganda on people's ability to recognize the proper interests and priorities of their own government.

I don't know how much history you've read, but you might pay more attention to such incidents as the relationship of Louis XIV's endless wars with the French Revolution, or the relationship of Spain's endless military commitments during the 17th century with its eventual economic implosion, the fact that Britain beat Napoleon chiefly as a result of a superior financial system, or even the history of the Soviet Union, especially in Afghanistan. Military commitments generally, and hot wars specifically, are incredibly expensive and need to be very carefully disciplined if they are not to do far more harm than good. The effects of military Keynesianism on Great Depression America were quite salutary, but we're not operating at 50% of our industrial capacity today; time for this country to learn some new lessons about the profligate use of military power.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 3, 2008 11:18 AM



Friedrich -

Trying to make a logical argument against the war in Iraq is a complete exercise in futility. Many people, including many in positions of power, are scared so totally completely s***less of Islam ("The Clash of Civilizations! Eurabia! Islam's Bloody Borders! Dhimmitude!") that they believe it's justified, indeed necessary, to fight Muslims at any time, any place, for any reason. Unless millions of Americans somehow manage to grow a pair of cojones there's always going to be a significant degree of support for these military (mis)adventures.

Seeing the most powerful nation in the world reduced to a sniveling mass of paranoid schizophrenics is revolting. Especially since just six and a half years ago people laughed at the very thought of Islamic military strength.

Posted by: Peter on March 3, 2008 12:05 PM



My answer to Mencius' What Changed? question: the media.

Up to WW I foreign affairs were for all intents and purposes a gentlemens club concern. The percentage of the population that could concern itself with such matters was miniscule in the West, not to mention a place like Egypt. The media amounted to Lord Curzon's faction arguing with Lord Fitzroy's faction. And the media was limited to weeklies or monthlies read by 2% of the population. The People was so immersed in the struggle for survival that it could barely take note of, never mind participate in such arcane matters. Plus, technology did not deliver much, by today's standards, in the way of death and destruction. Or cost as much. Plus, wars were for the most part skirmishes, again by today's standards.

Posted by: ricpic on March 3, 2008 2:32 PM



For some reason, it irritates me when gcochran reaches the right conclusions for the wrong reasons. It probably shouldn't. It's not exactly as if the world has a surplus of isolationists who are also certified geniuses.

Forget Bush, Cheney, aluminum tubes, hydrogen balloons, yadda freakin' yadda. Forget the whole 20th century. Apply the standards of 19th century jus gentium - or 18th century, or even 20th century before WWII, or any other freakin' time in human history - and you'll see about a zillion certified casae belli for the US to invade Iraq.

For one thing, it's undisputed that Saddam's intelligence service tried to assassinate GHW Bush - when the VP was Dan Quayle. What do you think Lord Palmerston would have done about that?

(And not supporting jihadists? What about the rewards paid to Palestinian suicide bombers? What about Abu Nidal? What about Salman Pak? What about that Koran verse in Saddam's handwriting on the Iraqi flag? If you think there's some huge gulf between al-Qaeda and the PLO, you're believing some awfully strange guff from some awfully strange people. They are all just a bunch of gangsters. Their ideologies, religions, whatever, are a dime a dozen.)

If there is one thing that can be said for the disastrous occupation of Iraq, it's that jihadis are sneaking into Iraq rather than into New Jersey. They are not "motivated by the occupation." This is Wilsonian nonsense. They are motivated by the desire for power and glory, like everyone who fights. At least we've made glory available locally.

(Do you have some other theory as to why there have been no organized jihadi attacks in North America since 2001? What, is it due to the prowess of our razor-sharp Homeland Security department? The geniuses at FBI?)

Contrary to Wilsonian dogma, military occupation of a foreign country, whether the natives are Arabs, Eskimos, Japanese or Finns, is not a difficult problem. The reason the US is finding it impossible to occupy Iraq is that its own domestic political system has made it impossible.

Here's what you would have to do to successfuly occupy Iraq, Lord Cromer style. Establish an Iraqi government whose employees are Iraqis and whose executives are internationals. Establish an Iraqi army whose officers are Americans and whose soldiers are Iraqis. Suppress all political parties, mafias, militias, etc, hanging as many people as necessary. Set up a transition plan which involves handing over a stabilized Iraq to a real ruler, probably a Gulf prince. Better yet, split the country into emirates and pick a Gulf prince for each. It's not like there is some great shortage of Gulf princes.

The irony is that Lord Cromer's advice would be exactly the same as gcochran's: get the hell out. Because you can't do any of this. Why is an effective program of colonial administration impossible? Why can't the US military turn Iraq into a civilized country? Because of Americans who'd whine about Iraqi "human rights."

In reality, those Americans don't give a flying crap about Iraq or Iraqis. We saw how much they cared about Vietnamese human rights in 1975. Their real motivation is the same one held by pretty much everyone in politics: defeating their real enemy. In this case, the US military, which they hate like poison. (I live in San Francisco. Don't try to tell me I'm wrong about this.)

The US military's error in Iraq, in Vietnam, and even in Korea, was to think that it could win a domestic political victory by winning a foreign military victory. Its enemies were on to that game. There was no way they would let it happen. After all, the result would be jingoistic imperialism Disraeli style.

So I agree with gcochran: staging these civil wars by proxy in these pissant nowhere countries is a waste of time, money and lives. If the US military wants to take over Washington, it should grow a pair and do it the old-fashioned way.

But I don't think borrowing Noam Chomsky's talking points is an effective way to understand this situation. The Iraq disaster can only be understood as a continuation of the postcolonial disaster, and the postcolonial disaster can only be understood by understanding colonialism.

And no one who understood colonialism would ever suggest that colonialism couldn't possibly work. In fact, it worked quite well. (Until people started trying to turn it into postcolonialism.) gcochran is trying to fight Wilsonism with Wilsonism, which just doesn't make sense. He needs to learn to love his inner Tory.

Here's another good source on colonial Egypt. Note that the author is a nom de plume - I wouldn't be shocked if it was Cromer himself. (Here's the New York Times review [PDF].

Posted by: Mencius on March 3, 2008 3:26 PM



BTW, here is my source for the 1907 budget of British Egypt.

I'm not exactly sure what an Egyptian pound was, but you'll see that the budget is balanced including occupation fees (141,375 Egyptian pounds, for 5500 British soldiers). Colby says this is "part of" the cost of maintenance - I'm not sure what part.

Note also that the government of Egypt has a "reserve fund" roughly equivalent to its annual expenditures. What a concept! Imagine if we could bring Lord Cromer back to life and let him run the US. The mind boggles, it really does.

ricpic, you're basically right. As you'll see if you read either Alexander's book or Colby's summary, domestic British politics, mainly of the Whig flavor, was a constant problem for the Egyptian administration and eventually led to its demise. You see the basic alliance, between liberals at home and nationalists abroad, forming already. The "Panislamic" movement is even mentioned!

Posted by: Mencius on March 3, 2008 3:45 PM



Mencius, I've said it before, but one last time: you have no idea what you're talking about.

Anyone who volunteers to blow himself up is not seeking a conventional kind of power.

By the way, here's a tip: one of the secrets of the genius racket is bothering to get your facts straight. You might try it.

Posted by: gcochran on March 3, 2008 4:35 PM



F von Blowhard: I think you have missed my point.

I agree that the U.S strategy in Iraq is wasteful and extravagant and there are better ways to fight this war. However social security is more likely to financially cripple the U.S than the funding of the Iraqi war. However I don't see Steiglitz--the Nobel Prize winning economist--criticising Social Security.

What irks me is that Steiglitz is using the authority of his Nobel prize to push a political agenda cloaked in an economic argument. If an economist has the view that political actions/programs are justifiable if they are economic, then I expect some intellectual consistency across the board; especially from a Nobel Laureate. If the war in Iraq is wrong for economic reasons, then social security is wrong for the same. U.S social security expenditures are bigger than U.S military spending and will be there well after the U.S has left Iraq: it is the economic cancer of the republic. Where is Steiglitz's concern on this issue?

No, I suspect according to Steiglitz political actions are wrong if they are economically unjustifiable and not in accordance with his political views and right if they are in accordance with his politics. He is pushing a political argument guised as economics.

I have a vague knowledge of the follies of both Spain and France and of how their wars economically injured them, however I don't feel the war in Iraq is as big an economic injury to the U.S as those wars were to their respective countries. The U.S is quite able to impoverish itself by non military means. Witness the persistent U.S trade deficit, the banking mess, structural government deficit's and lack of domestic saving. The war in Iraq is small change compared to these disasters.

No, Mencius is right; U.S domestic politics have effectively scuttled any chance of victory in Iraq. The solutions that need to be implemented are incapable of being so because of an infantile and shallow domestic culture. Don't get me wrong, there are people in the U.S that know what needs to be done, its quite simply that the domestic political situation ensures that these people don't get into power anymore. You might want to fight to the last man if the U.S. got invaded, but would your government let you fight? Let alone know how to.

Posted by: Slumlord on March 3, 2008 5:44 PM



gcochran, my exact words: "power and glory." Are you saying that jihadis are uninterested in glory?

One of the tricks of the Internet racket is that when you disagree with someone, it's customary to explain why. Otherwise, people might think you're just trading on your reputation.

I'm 34 and my cortex isn't what it was ten years ago. I'm sure you were smarter than me at my age. The curve isn't lookin' good.

Posted by: Mencius on March 3, 2008 6:18 PM



BTW, I think I've recommended it before, but Said Aburish's Saddam biography is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to understand the old Iraq. Plus, it's slightly out of date, so you can get a copy for $2. Unlike, say, Kanan Makiya, Aburish knows Arab nationalism from the inside.

Posted by: Mencius on March 3, 2008 6:23 PM



So, to win in Iraq the U.S. needs to get Genghis Khan on people's asses? Where people who submit are not hurt (as long as they didn't betray their own kind), but if they don't surrender, they, their families, and all their allies would be killed.

I'm just not a big fan of killing large amounts of people without just cause. Is that what it takes to do win? Which is what again? (Make Iraq democratic? a non-threat to the U.S.? take away its WMDs? siphon off crazy young men from neighboring countries?)

Also, as much as I severely dislike the people who throw around the word “baby-killers” in reference to the U.S. military, I almost equally dislike the soldiers who seem to think the U.S. needs to be more like Starship Troopers, that they are the ultimate U.S. citizen, a first among equals.*

*Note, this tends to happen to relatively new and young members of the armed forces, and I’ve never met anyone who actually experienced combat have this opinion, though I’ve interacted with the latter group far less than with the former.

Posted by: Rtother on March 3, 2008 8:09 PM




Last time I argue with an ignoramus. Nothing interested happened at Salman Pak: the Iraqis didn't train terrorists there. Look it up. Abu Nidal was old, doing nothing: when we started talked about him again, as a pretext for war, the Iraqis obligingly shot him. What do you want, egg in your beer?

As for that assassination attempt, no, I don't believe it: I think it was made up by the Kuwaitis, for obvious reasons. If it had been real, we would have heard more about it - would have caught people involved, since we've occupied Iraq for almost five years.

It's obvious that our invasion and occupation have furthered recruitment of jihadis. The International Institute for Strategic studies thinks so, the US National intelligence Council thinks so, and the 2006 NIE came to the same conclusion. And I, whose predictive track record on Iraq is better than any of them, think so too.
When we check out those we capture, 75% turn out to have shown no interest in jihadism before we invaded Iraq. If you can't figure this one out, you don't understand people.

The reason that we haven't seen any significant trouble from jihadis in this country since 2001 is mainly that they're few in number, broke, technologically impaired, etc: weak as a kitten even after we've tried out damnedest to maximize their appeal. 9-11 was an unrepeatable fluke: they're not much of a threat. As for those who think that they are, they are innumerate at best and quite possibly crazy.

As for imperialism and why it doesn't work anymore, it's worth noting that it didn't work in 1900: it didn't make the metropole stronger. To put it bluntly, it almost never made any money. People like Bismarck knew this and simply couldn't understand why anyone gave a shit about the scramble for Africa. But he was wrong: not about the payoff, but about the temper of the times. Nothing is as powerful as a stupid idea whose time has come: it got him fired.

Today the payoff is far worse. Nationalism sprouted everywhere as a result of widespread secondary education systems, mimeographs, and then transistor radios - so resistance is now the norm.
At the same time, the economic basis of colonialism and imperialism became more and more unfavorable, for the same reason that the phrase " rich as an Argentine" has become obsolete. You can't squeeze anything other than primary production out of a colony, and the real price of primary commodities has tanked relative to other products over the last century. Go ask a farmer about 'parity'.
Real wealth, most of it, is nowadays generated by smart, highly trained guys working in complex teams, some very large. The targets of colonialism don't have that kind of workforce (certainly not Iraq!), and if they did (say if we conquered Belgium) we couldn't get much out of them, because they'd sulk.

Oil is the closest thing to an exception, but it's awfully flammable.. As you may have noticed, invading Iraq hasn't gotten us any more oil.

There were never any practical payoffs to invading Iraq, just costs. Schrecklichkeit wouldn't have increased the payoff, and it's overrated - has its own costs. For example, Mencius, if you were king and started showing how dreadful we could be, I'd be forced to blow your fucking head off. How's that for a cost? Of course it also alienates everyone on Earth, and that too has costs.

I repeat, I don't know why some people today think that invading and occupying Iraq was a great idea: that is, I don't know of any set of rational reasons based on things that really happened and that consider costs. I used to think that we'd never know why the key players made the decisions they did - I figure the real reasons are probably boring and stupid, but that's just a guess. At one time I had reconciled myself to never finding out, but no longer. Now I think we can know. All we have to do is waterboard the key players, and just for the fun, the key cheerleaders and the most prominent pro-Iraq big-mouths.

Torture! What _won't_ it do?

Posted by: gcochran on March 3, 2008 10:32 PM



Rtother: Iraq is a bit like Yugoslavia. Local loyalties override national ones. A U.S foreign policy which insists on keeping the warlike factions in one political entity is bound to fail. Extreme brutality could suppress dissent for a while, but it would brutalise the soldiers administering that policy and likely fail in the long run.

The Israelis were able to stop the Iraqi nuclear weapons program by bombing the breeder reactor from the air. No costly ground war and its attendant evils. But then the Israelis weren't into democracy building in the middle east. Strategic objective without brutality.

As you rightly pointed out, what are the U.S objectives in Iraq? More importantly what are Iraqi objectives in Iraq? Maybe they want a say in the matter.

The U.S seems to have a clear social policy objective in Iraq but a very murky military one.
Social engineering i.e making Iraq a functional democracy, by the military is going fail if the power brokers in Iraq don't want democracy.

I've always felt that if the U.S wanted to avoid terrorism on its soil it could simply deport individuals it considers terrorists and stop people from areas suspect of terrorism coming in.
Put a blanket ban on people who originate from the Middle east or are suspect of terrorist links. It's one way of fighting the war without brutality.

Such a solution will never happen in a society that does not allow evaluative judgments on racial/ethnic lines.

So many guns, so little brains.

Posted by: Slumlord on March 3, 2008 10:34 PM




I wouldn't have invaded Iraq, but since we are there, I'd try to control the situation on a local level. The best way to do this would have been to develop control over the delivery of water and/or electricity - or other controllabe resources. I'd divide the areas up into "blocks" appoint leaders of these blocks (natural leaders such as elders or the such) and tell them: If you want water, electricity and a cash stipend, you and your block will inform us of any suspicious activity. You will turn in insurgents. Something happens in your area and you can't tell me who did it; your water and electricity are turned off and we throw in a curfew. Things keep happening in your area and your block leader is replaced and your water and elctricity remain off.

If there is any Genghis Khaning to do, the Iraqis will have to do it on a local level.

It could also be a nice baby step toward self government.

Posted by: sN on March 3, 2008 11:15 PM



Nothing happened at Salman Pak.

Okay, this is a good one. Let's look at it. From the Duelfer Report - which I'll assume you trust, since it is all official and all (please tell me if you think otherwise):

M14, Directorate of Special Operations: M14, directed by Muhammad Khudayr Sabah Al Dulaymi, was responsible for training and conducting special operations missions. It trained Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Yemeni, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Sudanese operatives in counterterrorism, explosives, marksmanship, and foreign operations at its facilities at Salman Pak. Additionally, M14 oversaw the 'Challenge Project,' a highly secretive project regarding explosives. Sources to date have not been able to provide sufficient details regarding the 'Challenge Project.'

Sure. I'm sure this setup was just like the program in which Germany trains the GSG-9. After all, Germany and Iraq are just like Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Sudan. They all have a tremendous problem with those pesky terrorists.

In reality, Iraq had approximately zero need for counterterrorism "operatives." I can't imagine why any self-respecting terrorist would want to fsck with Iraq. Once one of the Lebanese terrorist factions kidnapped some Soviet intelligence people, presumably because they got confused and actually believed their own propaganda. Big mistake. And however bad the KGB was, the Mukhabarat were badder.

So the story you are believing does not pass the laugh test for anyone remotely familiar with either (a) Ba'athist Iraq, or (b) Washington. It is obviously for external consumption.

Washington propagates nonsense of this sort on a regular basis. Washington (of which I grew up a dependent) is very good at persuading its residents to believe nonsense. But Washington, at least in its capacity as global government, has two halves. These are called "DoD" and "State." You appear to be very good at filtering nonsense coming out of DoD. The State material appears to be giving you trouble. Perhaps there's some filter you could adjust.

And, as you'll see, this "counterterrorism" line, which isn't even close to believable, is the only line of defence for those who want to say "Saddam had nothing to do with terrorists." At least, it is the only explanation why they had an old civilian airliner at Salman Pak, and were using it for weapons drills - facts that no one at all disputes.

It also happens to be a completely unfalsifiable explanation. There is no way any after-the-fact report could reliably confirm or refute the thesis that the "operatives" (ie, jihadis) in Salman Pak were being trained for "counterterrorism" as opposed to the opposite. In fact, the class may have even used that cover story. No doubt the training is quite similar.

Where do you think the Fedayeen Saddam came from, anyway? Did they emerge from holes in the ground, like orcs? No - they came from camps like Salman Pak. And there were quite a few of them. (No one in Washington even suspected that anything like the Fedayeen Saddam even existed. What does that tell you about our so-called "intelligence community?")

Moreover, no one peddling this line seems to be willing to bother at all in making any other adjustments to reality that might render it more convincing.

For example, I have never seen anyone try to explain why Saddam had suddenly eschewed the company of terrorists. He was a terrorist himself, for Christ's sake. Had he become a Buddhist, or something? I'm not saying there is no possible answer - I just would like to be filled in if there is one.

As for that assassination attempt, no, I don't believe it: I think it was made up by the Kuwaitis, for obvious reasons. If it had been real, we would have heard more about it - would have caught people involved, since we've occupied Iraq for almost five years.

And you might well be right. But what is certain is that the Clinton administration accepted it, from top to bottom, from DoD to State.

(Have you read the latest Michael Scheuer book? It is actually more up your alley than mine. He really reams the Clintocrats, and he's no fan of Israel, neither. Hardly anyone has reviewed it yet, and I think there's a reason for that.)

And since the Clinton Administration accepted it, as did its successor, it was on its own a sufficient casus belli. By the standards of classical international law, unless Iraq had admitted the act, apologized and offered reparations, it was fair game. No WMD required.

When we check out those we capture, 75% turn out to have shown no interest in jihadism before we invaded Iraq. If you can't figure this one out, you don't understand people.

I certainly don't understand post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Of course Iraq draws jihadis. This is exactly what I said. It's a jihadi magnet. Fortunately, it is a jihadi magnet in the asshole of nowhere.

And do you really believe some random survey of jihadis of how jihadis turned to jihad? Where in the world does this information come from, and why in the world would you trust it?

For what jihadis are thinking, I strongly recommend the autobiography of Omar Nasiri. Nasiri claims to have trained at one of the Afghan camps in its heyday. There is no particular reason to believe him, but at least if you read his book you can evaluate his story on a personal and anecdotal level. I think it holds up.

It's obvious that our invasion and occupation have furthered recruitment of jihadis. The International Institute for Strategic studies thinks so, the US National intelligence Council thinks so, and the 2006 NIE came to the same conclusion. And I, whose predictive track record on Iraq is better than any of them, think so too.

I guess arguing ad authoritatem is like snorting cocaine - once you start, you can't stop.

The reason that we haven't seen any significant trouble from jihadis in this country since 2001 is mainly that they're few in number, broke, technologically impaired, etc:

But somehow, in the Middle East, they are all over the place, planting IEDs like they're going out of style. I guess they just can't afford the plane ticket. Or is it our intrepid consuls from Foggy Bottom, who bar the way? (Disclaimer: my father was a US consul. Twice.)

As for imperialism and why it doesn't work anymore, it's worth noting that it didn't work in 1900: it didn't make the metropole stronger.

Quite a quick and contentious redefinition! I would be happy to just make the periphery civilized. Or even just pacified. I am not fond of barbarians.

To put it bluntly, it almost never made any money.

To speak of the broad general pattern, not any specific numbers, imperialism was more profitable in 1800 than 1900, and more profitable in 1700 than 1800. This is pretty typical with ineffective state industries: they deteriorate.

The only problem with colonialism was that it got nationalized. Which was enough. Colonialism chartered-company style is profitable. Colonialism as a government department is a disaster.

Moreover, you are assuming that since the "end" of "imperialism," these countries have been somehow "independent." This is, to put it politely, shite. Note the grammatical structure of the word "independent" - it is composed of the prefix "in" and the suffix "dependent" - meaning "not dependent." At least in theory.

In practice I recently saw a New York Times article which used the phrase, quite unconsciously, "when Zimbabwe became independent in 1981..." Indeed.

You might say the Third World was "liberated," much as, when one is hungry, one liberates a chicken. In fact, if we graph the level of involuntary Europeanization of Third World communities, during the period of "decolonialization" it is monotonic. It just goes straight up. Native chiefs and leaders everywhere were replaced with what Africans call the "wa-Benzi."

When you talk about "independence," what you are really talking about is the skin color, language, or birthplace of the nominal chief of state of a country. This is a fine thing to talk about, surely, but does it deserve such a big word?

As a neutralist, I am interested in the relationship between the US and other countries. I have an idea of what that relationship could be, which more or less corresponds to the old jus gentium. It certainly does not owe anything to Woodrow Wilson, or to James Monroe. One way to see anticolonialism is to look at it as the post-WWII extension of the Monroe Doctrine to the entire globe, a thoroughly pernicious precedent.

Nationalism sprouted everywhere as a result of widespread secondary education systems, mimeographs, and then transistor radios - so resistance is now the norm.

Of course, neither of us can verify a broad historical judgment of this sort. If this is what you believe, you will have to keep believing it.

I recommend, however, that you find the Charles Francis Adams Jr essay "A National Change of Heart." (It's in Lee at Appomattox, which for some dumb reason is not online.) CFA Jr - who I'm afraid is my teen idol these days - lived and wrote in the era when Egyptian nationalism found its feet, and as a cultural critic he is unsurpassed. The essay is not about Egypt, but Britain. But one can assume the same remote effect.

CFA is asking why America and Americans became so much more popular in Great Britain in the second half of the 19C. His conclusion: that people were impressed with their power. The selling point was the Union victory.

The pro-American faction in 19C Britain was, of course, the Whigs. If you follow my link above to The Truth About Egypt, you'll see the British political forces that are giving Lord Cromer so much heartburn. They are all Whigs. Ie, of course, liberals.

I conclude that the "root cause" of nationalism is not resentment, it is not education, it is certainly not the mimeograph. Rather, nationalism works because it had - as history shows- a chance of success. (In fact, Arab nationalism had more than a chance of success - it had a certainty of success.)

This (in my interpretation) is why there's an insurgency in Iraq. Of course there is an insurgency in Iraq. The pattern, for the last 50 years of Iraqi history, is that the insurgents of the present are the rulers of the future. It is obvious to anyone with a brain and an AK-47 that the Americans are (a) pussies, and (b) going to leave sooner or later.

Since they are pussies - obviously, no Iraqi ruler in history would have tolerated a phenomenon like Moqtada al-Sadr - fighting them offers at least the possibility of riches, power and glory. The glory is most likely, but the riches and power are a definite possibility.

Why did Moqtada have a good chance of beating the US military? Why does he still have a good chance of coming out on top? Do you think this makes the American military happy? Do you think it's how they would handle things if they had it all their way?

What killed colonialism, as you'll see very quickly if you read the books I linked to above, was unproductive interference with the colonial governments, on the part of the domestic authorities.

At its worst, this interference took the form of a quasi-military, permanently unacknowledged alliance between domestic political and foreign insurgent forces. These allies were usually not relating on the basis of personal friendship, or even tactical coordination. However, each was more likely to achieve its goals as a result of the other's actions.

As Ayman al-Zawahiri put it: "The Democrats should not forget that they owe their victory [in 2006] to the mujahedin." Well, Ayman old chap, I'm afraid that one works the other way as well.

At the same time, the economic basis of colonialism and imperialism became more and more unfavorable, for the same reason that the phrase " rich as an Argentine" has become obsolete. You can't squeeze anything other than primary production out of a colony, and the real price of primary commodities has tanked relative to other products over the last century. Go ask a farmer about 'parity'.

Is there anywhere you or someone else has justified or expanded on these points? I confess that I don't really understand them. My impression of Argentina is that it is quite badly governed, but there are still quite a few rich people there, and the revenues of the government are not inconsiderable. But this may have nothing to do with anything.

Real wealth, most of it, is nowadays generated by smart, highly trained guys working in complex teams, some very large. The targets of colonialism don't have that kind of workforce (certainly not Iraq!), and if they did (say if we conquered Belgium) we couldn't get much out of them, because they'd sulk.

Quite true, although I still think you are understating the size and cultural level of the Sunni elite. How many of them fled to Syria? A million? That's not chicken feed.

And then again, the UAE did not have that kind of workforce. It has developed some of it, and it is developing more. Any area on Earth's surface that is well-governed is money.

But I agree that Belgium would be much preferable. As for making Europeans work for an occupier, though, the French did a pretty good job of it in the Saarland. Ever had a look at the methods they used? They certainly weren't pretty, at least not by Seymour Hersh's standards.

Oil is the closest thing to an exception, but it's awfully flammable.

It is indeed!

As you may have noticed, invading Iraq hasn't gotten us any more oil.

I had noticed that. As you may have noticed, if the US intended to invade Iraq in order to obtain oil (a much better idea, IMHO), it would have done things very differently.

There were never any practical payoffs to invading Iraq, just costs. Schrecklichkeit wouldn't have increased the payoff, and it's overrated - has its own costs. For example, Mencius, if you were king and started showing how dreadful we could be, I'd be forced to blow your fucking head off. How's that for a cost? Of course it also alienates everyone on Earth, and that too has costs.

Good to know, gcochran - I'll put you on my list of seditious traitors to be detained indefinitely without trial! No, really, I suspect that if you ever had the misfortune to meet me, you'd realize exactly what an unkingly person you're dealing with.

You are right that US foreign policy tends to produce alienation, but I think the mechanism is not quite what you think.

In most countries outside the US, the educated elite is basically hooked on the State Department party line. This situation is a direct result of the reeducation of Europe after 1945. The only country in the world with any meaningful right-wing political element is the US. This is not a coincidence.

The message they are chanting is: less Pentagon. For some weird reason, the Pentagon happens to be State's hereditary bureaucratic enemy. I can't imagine how that might happen.

Yet at a less conscious level, these elites also realize that the US is the cultural and political centre of the world. Thus they despise it for this reason as well. In fact, Third World elites tend to be if anything more cultured and civilized than the Americans they meet, if nothing else because the Third World still works much more as a hereditary aristocracy.

However, the governments of their countries are for the most part firmly under State's control. In fact, their only way to achieve actual, as opposed to phony, independence, is to become virulently anti-American in their rhetoric and policy. That way, anyone in their internal power hierarchy who decides he's willing to work with USG - State, DoD, or anyone - is a traitor and isn't shunned.

Look at Gen. Kayani, in Pakistan, for an example of how State does business. State promoted Kayani and fired Musharraf in a very simple way: it sent a high-level delegation to Islamabad and had them meet, alone, with Kayani. Imagine if Johnny Sack had showed up at the Bada Bing, and demanded that he meet with Paulie Walnuts - alone.

State can get away with this kind of cr*p because DoD is weak. DoD is weak because Bush is a lame duck, and the guy who's most likely to replace him is somewhere to the left of Che Guevara. Does promoting "democracy," ie bandit chieftains, in Pakistan favor the interests of US citizens, or Pakistanis for that matter? Heck, no. It favors violence and mayhem and death. But it promotes State, and that's all that matters.

As a neutralist, my position on the conflict between DoD and State is probably about the same as yours: a pox on them both. The US should shut down its entire foreign policy. It should close and sell its embassies, phase out its subsidies to its money-losing client states, bring its military home, and make it very clear that its nuclear umbrella protects only its own head.

But taking sides in the war between DoD and State is not, I feel, an effective way to accomplish this goal. From my perspective, you are being very critical of DoD claims and very uncritical of State claims.

Not being a genius myself, I am prepared to hear that there is some other answer to each, or all, of the points of fact that I have raised. As for the points of opinion, they are exactly that. But I have certainly at least looked into each of the matters I mentioned, which is why I brought them up. I hope you understand how I could resent your imputation to the contrary.

I apologize, however, for impugning your age and achievements, which deserve respect and certainly not my puerile mockery.

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 1:26 AM



I meant "is a traitor and is shunned," of course.

Although "shunned" is probably an understatement. Nobody seems to have put that video in which Saddam calls out the traitors on YouTube yet, which is really a shame.

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 2:37 AM



An Indian was once asked how the British had conquered and ruled India with so few men. He replied "The British didn't betray each other". Which gets us to "Their real motivation is the same one held by pretty much everyone in politics: defeating their real enemy. In this case, the US military, which they hate like poison." It would seem that the Americans do betray each other.

Posted by: dearieme on March 4, 2008 7:48 AM



The stories about Salman Pak were intended to further the notion that Iraq was behind 9-11. We, by which I mean the intelligence agencies of the United States, concluded that they were false, once we occupied the country and were able to investigate thoroughly. The DIA came to this conclusion, and they are part of the DOD.

" The facility was discussed in the leadup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a result of a campaign by Iraqi defectors associated with the Iraqi National Congress to assert that the facility was a terrorist training camp. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has since established that both the CIA and the DIA concluded that there was no evidence to support these claims. A DIA analyst told the Committee, "The Iraqi National Congress (INC) has been pushing information for a long time about Salman Pak and training of al-Qa'ida." Knight Ridder reporters Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel noted in November 2005 that "After the war, U.S. officials determined that a facility in Salman Pak was used to train Iraqi anti-terrorist commandos."[Seattle Times, 1 November 2005, p. A5]. And PBS Frontline - who originally carried many of the allegations of Iraqi defectors - similarly noted that "U.S. officials have now concluded that Salman Pak was most likely used to train Iraqi counter-terrorism units in anti-hijacking techniques."[3] "

The Senate Select Committee was at that time controlled by the Republicans and was well known for carrying water for the Administration: not an easy thing, when the Administration's public claims and private picture about Iraq were as wrong as anything has ever been.

"In reality, Iraq had approximately zero need for counterterrorism "operatives." I can't imagine why any self-respecting terrorist would want to fsck with Iraq."

Uh, this might have had something to do with it: "December 25, 1986 – Iraqi Airways Flight 163, a Boeing 737, is hijacked by Hezbollah militants while en route to Amman, Jordan. A shootout with security forces causes the plane to crash, killing 63 of the 106 people on board. "

Another stupid theory slain by a beautiful fact.

The survey of those captured jihadis came out of the US military, of course. Most had become interested on jihadism only after we invaded Iraq.
We created them. Most expected martyrdom, which is a hard way for them as individuals to gain power.

"I confess that I don't really understand them."
Too right. You don't know history, you don't know economics, and you don't bother to check the facts. You're embracing nonsense that was exploded years ago. Screw this.


More on Salman Pak: it turns out that the SAS

Posted by: gcochran on March 4, 2008 10:38 AM



The stories about Salman Pak were intended to further the notion that Iraq was behind 9-11. We, by which I mean the intelligence agencies of the United States, concluded that they were false, once we occupied the country and were able to investigate thoroughly. The DIA came to this conclusion, and they are part of the DOD.

Look at your uncritical trust in authority. "We?" I have no more reason to trust the intelligence agencies of the United States than I have to trust the intelligence agencies of, say, Pakistan. Nullius in verbum. I think for myself. I'd like to think that you are capable of doing likewise.

In fact, since I grew up in Washington (my father used to let me proofread his cables as a kid), I am very conscious of the fact that every time any agency inside the Beltway releases any information to the public, it is trying to accomplish something. There are no "impartial" or "expert" arms of USG - at least, none that I am aware of. Everyone has some kind of an agenda.

Including, it seems, you. Why, I don't know. Perhaps it is because you, due to your age and achievements etc, actually feel that you are important enough for your opinions to have some kind of impact on USG's decisions. Perhaps this is even so, although USG hands out the perception of impact the way the Kaiser handed out the Iron Cross, Third Class.

However, I would encourage you to rediscover the delights of just observing the world as you yourself see it. You are hardly a stranger to the first person singular. Why resort to the plural? I would trust your personal observations completely, and I would assign considerable respect to your personal judgments. When you argue ad authoritatem, you discard that confidence.

Do you deny that there was a department M-14 of the Iraqi Mukhabarat, or that that department controlled Salman Pak? Do you really believe that it, or any other arm of the Mukhabarat, was in the same category as the German GSG-9, the US Delta Force, etc? Have you even heard the word Mukhabarat before?

Note that on the IIS org chart, M14 is designated "special operations." What do you think special operations at the Iraqi Mukhabarat involved? Rescuing cats caught in trees, helping old ladies across the street, and saving damsels in distress? Of course, maybe it all changed when Saddam became a Buddhist.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence.

The idea that Saddam had somehow, and for some reason, renounced the perfectly normal Middle Eastern practice of "terrorism," aka urban guerrilla operations, is an extraordinary claim. You would have to do an enormous amount of work to convince me of this claim.

The claim that the IIS M-14 was training urban guerrillas in hijacking and other black arts is an ordinary claim. It is like claiming that the sky is blue. I don't give a damn if the Iraqi National Congress, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Scientologists, or any other organization in which I have no faith whatsoever, tells me the sky is blue. I can see it with my own eyes, just as I can see the org chart for IIS and read the Duelfer report with my own eyes. If you need me to explain why I believe in these bits of information, I am happy to do so.

Uh, this might have had something to do with it: "December 25, 1986 – Iraqi Airways Flight 163, a Boeing 737, is hijacked by Hezbollah militants while en route to Amman, Jordan. A shootout with security forces causes the plane to crash, killing 63 of the 106 people on board. "

According to Wikipedia, the attack was probably ordered by Iran - through its arm the Islamic Jihad Organization, which Robert Baer identifies as a cover for the Pasdaran.

It should be obvious that my argument above does not apply to the Pasdaran, who are agents of a sovereign state which happened to be at war with Iraq at the time.

You can call it whatever you like, but "terrorism" is hardly the word for this kind of attack. Terrorism in the modern sense of the word is the attempt to terrorize, ie, to manipulate the policies of the enemy by striking fear into his agents or subjects through random attacks. It is an effective weapon against weak powers, who tend to make concessions in response to it.

(Look at the gall of Bandar bin Sultan - while attempting to procure a bribe from the British for a Saudi arms purchase, he threatened his interlocutors with "another 7/7." Lord Palmerston would have been apoplectic. Then he would have reduced Saudi Arabia to a howling wasteland. And he was a Whig, for Christ's sake.)

Iran, on the other hand, would have blown up as many Iraqi airliners as it could get its hands on. At least during the Iran-Iraq war. I wouldn't be surprised if the goal of this attack was actually to assassinate some individual who was on the plane.

The survey of those captured jihadis came out of the US military, of course.

Note that when the US military agrees with you, it suddenly becomes infallible. Do you see a pattern here? Also, I wanted a link, not a brushy trail leading vaguely toward Arlington.

Most expected martyrdom, which is a hard way for them as individuals to gain power.

As I said above: power and glory. I should have added money, but I don't think this is relevant to most jihadis, although (if you believe Nasiri) it certainly is for some.

Note how critical the prospect of victory is for all of these. There is certainly no money or power without victory. There may be some glory, but only in a pathetic kind of way that doesn't much appeal to the Arab soul, or any soul for that matter.

Even the kamikazes, who are the most recent equivalent of suicide bombers, were sent off with a narrative of how their actions would cause Imperial Japan to win the war, or at least survive it. It was not a very plausible narrative, but it did the trick.

Notice that despite the well-known fanaticism of the Japanese, which certainly at least approached the Palestinian level, all resistance in Japan, as in Germany, ceased upon occupation. Why was this? Read JCS 1067 for a clue. Why was there no Confederate insurgency? Check out the Lieber code, and look at the tactics the Union used when insurgency was tried.

Finally, read Trinquier and Luttwak on modern war and counterinsurgency. Are you saying these gentlemen don't know what they're talking about, either?

I can't wait to hear what you have to say about Salman Pak and the SAS. Perhaps it was actually the SAS that was using that old airliner, to practice helping old ladies across the street?

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 12:41 PM




It appears that the SAS _did_ train the Iraqis in anti-hijacking operations at Salman Pak: so says Scott Ritter, and what he says has held up. Try to remember that in those days we and the Brits were supporting Saddam against Iran.

But no more: there are better things to do than argue with someone who is fact-free. And uninteresting, I might add.

Posted by: gcochran on March 4, 2008 12:52 PM



Now you're citing Scott Ritter as a reliable source? Come back, "intelligence community," all is forgiven!

Note that Ritter, at least in the Wikipedia article you cite, also denies that there was an airplane at Salman Pak. Which simply isn't true. Source:

Duelfer said he visited Salman Pak several times, landing by helicopter. He saw the 707, in exactly the place described by the defectors. The Iraqis, he said, told Unscom it was used by police for counter-terrorist training. 'Of course we automatically took out the word "counter",' he said. 'I'm surprised that people seem to be shocked that there should be terror camps in Iraq. Like, derrrrrr! I mean, what, actually, do you expect? Iraq presents a long-term strategic threat. Unfortunately, the US is not very good at recognising long-term strategic threats.'

I'm afraid I find Mr. Duelfer more credible than Mr. Ritter.

The claim that the SAS were in Iraq, even in the '80s, is an extraordinary claim. It requires extraordinary evidence. It certainly requires more than Scott Ritter. And the '80s were a long time ago. No one is, or was in 2003, particularly interested in what happened in Iraq in the '80s.

What's interesting about this post facto Saddam, man of peace line, is that it's not packaged with any intelligible picture of what Iraq in the '90s actually was like. It has a kind of defense-lawyer quality to it - "if the Salman Pak doesn't fit, you must acquit." There is no explanation of why Saddam would not have his M-14 people, whose expertise was after all in special operations outside Iraq, practice hijacking, or teach it to the Fedayeen Saddam. I mean, if you have a spare plane to practice on, geeze. If I was Saddam and I found out that if I wanted to hijack a plane and I didn't have anyone who could do it, I'd be pretty pissed.

But if you don't want to argue, fine. In case you ever change your mind, gcochran, I'll be happy to debate you on any subject, any time (though preferably not in the next month or two).

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 1:43 PM



Also, gcochran, if you want to know what it looks like when someone convinces me that I'm wrong, it looks like this. The same link will also show you what it looks like when one tries to have a rational discussion on the public Internet with another intelligent grownup who happens to disagree with you.

Have you ever heard of D.J. Bernstein? He's basically my second favorite researcher in the world - after you, of course. I haven't interacted with djb personally, but I hear he's an asshole as well.

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 2:24 PM



How much was the containment regime costing/year? Just curious...please continue thumping chests commenters et al. and sorry for the interruption.

Posted by: MD on March 4, 2008 3:43 PM




Ritter said there was no Boeing plane there, and he was correct: it was an old Tupolev fuselage.

We've had Iraq in our palsied hands for years and we've never found any evidence that Saddam was plotting terrorism against the US or cooperated with Al-Qaeda.

You seem to value your conclusions over actual observations. You thought that Baathist Iraq couldn't have had a problem with airline hijackers, except that it did. They had to be training terrorists, but we can find no evidence of it, even though we have them by the balls.

As for whom to believe, you might pay more attention to people whose predictions have come true: Scott Ritter looks just fine on that score.
Do you? Did you forecast a guerrilla war? Did you foresee that the whole WMD story was a fantasy? I did - I've explained why. It involved knowing shit and thinking straight, and I see no sign that you're capable of either.

You can usually believe people making an admission against interest: for example, when the US government admits that almost every thing we said going into Iraq turned out to be wrong, which of course makes them look like the utter fools that they actually are, you can bet it's the case. Not least because it agrees with all the publicly available evidence.

As for the motivations of jihadist infiltrators into Iraq, see Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, page 150 and 151.
Studies by us and the Israelis concluded that most were radicalized by our invasion of Iraq. Anyone with a sensible picture of the world, and of human nature, would have seen that one coming. I did.
Of course the book is written by someone from the Naval War College, and I guess we can't trust _them - anymore than we can trust the Army War College, which also thinks that the Iraq adventure has been an abortion.

Did you see this coming? Did you foresee _any_ of the shit that came down in Iraq? No? Then why the hell should anyone listen to you? You seem to think that Saddam could paid for an invisible weapons program by re-exporting the wheat he bought under oil-for-food: I suppose he could have shipped out a couple of million tons in diplomatic pouches, eh? You suffer from bounded cognition.

Arguing with fools is a waste of time, we all know that, but I'm dumb enough to care about the country and get angry when fools rule and other fools cheer them on. But enough already. I could keep correcting your errors of fact and trying to explain the obvious as long as waters flow and grasses grow and it wouldn't do a lick of good.


Posted by: gcochran on March 4, 2008 4:54 PM



Ritter said there was no Boeing plane there, and he was correct: it was an old Tupolev fuselage.

And I'm sure this was clear to 99% of the people he said it to. Or to 99% of the people reading that Wikipedia page. His exact words: They say there's a Boeing aircraft there. That's not true...

Why didn't he say, "it was a Tupolev, not a Boeing?" Because whether it was a Tupolev or a Boeing has nothing at all to do with the question of whether it was being used to train hijackers, or counter-hijackers (or, probably the case, both).

Hijacking a plane isn't like flying it. You don't show up for your hijacking flight and say, woops, this is an A320, we're only certified to hijack the Tupolev, guess we have to scrub for today.

So this is a minor, but still beautiful, example, of the Johnnie Cochran defense-lawyer stuff you are falling for. Duelfer makes an easy and completely meaningless error in identifying the plane at Salman Pak. So do others. Ritter is telling his interviewer, and by extension everyone who reads his words, "there was no Boeing at Salman Pak." Which they take, being human, to mean: "there was no airliner at Salman Pak, and anyone who tells you so is a big fat liar." But later on, when people question him, he can come back and say that he was telling the truth. Because it wasn't a Boeing, it was a Tupolev.

And this is someone you trust?

Studies by us and the Israelis concluded that most were radicalized by our invasion of Iraq.

I think part of the problem is that you, like so many misguided people in this damned century, think of government as a kind of science. So when someone puts out a study, you think of them as honest researchers, like yourself, dedicated to sniffing out the real truth.

A study of physics or human genetics or whatever is a study. A "study" put out by Washington is intended to advance the institutional agenda of whatever put the study out. You can be confident that the right facts will be selected and assembled in the right order. It is most analogous to a defense lawyer's brief. The lawyer is never going to announce, in the opening argument, that his client is guilty as sin.

My mother, father and stepfather were all senior civil servants. In every case, I am going to pick their lying eyes over you.

Once you discard the official truth, yes: all we have to go on is our opinions of why jihadis go on jihad. Read the Nasiri memoir. It is worth all the studies produced by all the think tanks in Washington. And then some.

Of course the book is written by someone from the Naval War College, and I guess we can't trust _them - anymore than we can trust the Army War College, which also thinks that the Iraq adventure has been an abortion.

In fact my stepfather taught at the National War College (a different institution from either of the above) for many years. He also thinks the Iraq adventure has been an abortion, and for much the same reasons as you. I too think the Iraq adventure has been an abortion, but for different reasons.

We've had Iraq in our palsied hands for years and we've never found any evidence that Saddam was plotting terrorism against the US or cooperated with Al-Qaeda.

For certain values of the words "evidence," "plotting," and "cooperated." Note also the sneaky little appearance of "against the US" in this line - would it be better or worse if Saddam was "plotting terrorism" against, say, Kuwait? Or (gasp) Israel?

Again, what you are not doing is presenting any coherent picture of a Saddam who has become a mellowed man of peace. You are not showing us the real killers. You are not explaining why Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD crime lab chose to frame OJ. You are saying, "if the Boeing doesn't fit, you must acquit."

They had to be training terrorists, but we can find no evidence of it, even though we have them by the balls.

This word "terrorist," as I'm sure you agree, is ridiculous. Terror is a tactic, not an enemy, and "terrorism" carries an absurd moral opprobrium. A good neutral word for the practice is "urban guerrilla." A good Arabic word for it - this is what the PLO used to call themselves, in the good old days when they raided across the border from Egypt and Jordan.

I ask you again: what was department M14 of the IIS? What did it mean by "special operations?" Who were the "Egyptians, Lebanese, Sudanese..." it was training? Do you think they were Egyptian army or police officers, sent by the Mubarak regime for a special graduate class in counterterrorism and helping old ladies across the street? You have posed no answers to these questions, and this is not the first time I have asked them.

Here is a bunch of information released, to a friendly journalist, by the bureaucratic enemies of the people you trust so much on Iraq. Naturally you will not trust this group of anonymous sources at all. Should you be trusting any of them? Heck, no. Your spin filter does not appear to be in working order.

You can usually believe people making an admission against interest: for example, when the US government admits that almost every thing we said going into Iraq turned out to be wrong, which of course makes them look like the utter fools that they actually are, you can bet it's the case.

An excellent point in general. And it would be valid except for one fact: USG is not even a single agency, let alone a single person. It is a vast collection of agencies and people, all of whom are trying to get ahead in the world. Typically, they say whatever will advance their interests. This is called "spin" - the Ritter quote above being a perfect example - and I am very sorry to see someone of your intellectual stature fall victim to it.

Not least because it agrees with all the publicly available evidence.

You probably won't read the Hayes article, but I recommend you do so anyway.

What you're missing is that what you think of as the "publicly available evidence" is, in fact, a construct. It is not raw data. It is designed to lead the public's opinion in one direction or another. This is true for all information that comes out of DC, left or right, Sunni or Shiite. DC is not the Vatican. (Not even the Vatican is the Vatican.) There is no substitute for using your own brain.

Did you see this coming? Did you foresee _any_ of the shit that came down in Iraq? No?

No, in fact, I didn't. I thought the invasion was going to be a success, as it was. I didn't think the occupation would be so badly mishandled, but I'd like to think I now understand why a bungled occupation was (and, despite the surge and al-Sahwa, remains) inevitable.

The basic mistake in my thinking was in believing that the US military of 2008 was actually capable of governing an Arab country. Moqtada al-Sadr realized in about fifteen minutes that Osama was right - he was dealing with weaklings. Anyone capable of ruling Iraq would have had him dangling within a week after he had our man, al-Khoei, hacked to death. I also had a lingering faith in democracy, since abandoned. I thought the whole purple-finger thing was cool. This error is quite unlikely to be repeated.

Were any of your predictions about Iraq wrong? Or are you always and in every case infallible?

Then why the hell should anyone listen to you?

Because I'm not arguing as an authority. I have no authority. I, unlike you, am a nobody.

Therefore, all I can do is set out lines of reasoning that anyone can agree with or disagree with, as they choose. This is why when I cite facts, I insert links. When I quote sources, I explain why I trust them. When I dispute sources, I explain why I don't trust them. When I am not sure, I include them with the caveat that I'm not sure.

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 8:35 PM



gcochran: let me try explaining this in a completely different way.

Let's look at a subject you know something about. Suppose you say: "the human gene pool is not globally uniform, not even in the genes that construct the central nervous system." Someone else disagrees. He says: "there is no convincing evidence that statistical disparities in achievement are due to genetic rather than historical factors."

Who is right? You are, of course. And why? Because what your interlocutor doesn't realize is that it is not you who are asserting a received assumption which is unjustified at best, and preposterous at worst. He is the one doing that. His proposition, that the human gene pool is neurologically uniform, is the extraordinary one which requires extraordinary evidence.

Of course he has not brought his extraordinary evidence. He has just brought his big battalions. You are right, but they tie you up and burn you anyway.

My basic point about Iraq is this: there are two interpretations. Either the Mukhabarat was training "foreign operatives" for "special operations," or it wasn't. If the former, I am right. If the latter, you are right. And if you believe that some distinction can be drawn between "foreign operatives" etc. and "terrorists," one of us is crazy and we cannot have a useful discussion.

In order to disagree on anything like a level playing field, we must give the two propositions above equal evidentiary status. This is not the trial of Saddam Hussein, who is not innocent until proven guilty, or vice versa.

In fact, if anything it is your burden to establish that my belief that the Mukhabarat was training terrorists at Salman Pak was recklessly considered. Because this is what you accused me of in the first place.

(Of course, you may opt to apologize instead. As someone who has a lot of unusual beliefs, I work fairly hard to ensure that they track reality as closely as possible. Of course anyone can accuse me of error, but I am offended by the casual imputation of negligence. Should I not be?)

The first thing we need to establish in any discussion of practical epistemology in this ugly era of lies is who has the big battalions. For example, given equally strong and mutually inconsistent interpretations of reality, whose version is most likely to prevail in the good old "marketplace of ideas?"

Um, that would be the left's? Um, because they control the press, the universities and the schools? Have you not noticed this? Or do we really not live on the same planet?

Therefore, I start by marking down any perspective that has come from anywhere associated with the progressive movement, or even just agrees with it. In fact, I treat it much the way you treat the INC.

The INC is like anyone else, inside or outside government. It can tell the truth or it can lie. If it lies and says X, this is not evidence against X. If it says Y, and it may or may not be lying, the fact that it has lied in the past may discount any evidence it may produce (and thereby have a chance to filter) for or against Y. But it is not evidence for or against Y. Confusing these propositions provides an opening for a wide variety of mental denial-of-service attacks.

Rather, to answer the question of whether the Iraqi Mukhabarat trained foreign operatives for special operations, we must consider the actual facts of the matter. Is it more likely that they did, or more likely that they didn't?

Criminal investigators sometimes use the three-part test of motive, opportunity and propensity. If we want to know whether it is plausible for X to do A, we can ask: did X have a reason to do A? Did he have the chance to do A? And was he the type of dude that would do A?

I think it's quite clear that the Mukhabarat had motive, opportunity and propensity for training foreign operatives. Again, this is a living-in-the-same-reality kind of thing.

On the opposite side, we can ask: did the Iraqi Mukhabarat have the motive, opportunity or propensity to stop training foreign operatives at some point before, say, 2001, or if you are really hardline to refrain from ever doing so.

Well, they certainly had the opportunity. I don't see much trace of either motive or propensity. At least, no one has showed me any such thing. I would certainly be be interested to hear it. So, I suspect, would others.

So, in my framing, it is not that I assert that Saddam was training terrorists. It is that you (and many others in your camp) assert that Saddam stopped training terrorists, or never did so. And you provide no evidence at all, at least none that I have seen, for this frankly astonishing claim.

My guess, therefore, is that a large part of the reason that the claim seems plausible is that the same claim is right now being made by a large number of progressives, who as we both know are out to lunch on many subjects. Who do you consider more reliable, a random progressive or a random Iraqi exile? What about a random US civil servant? Or a random general? Or even a random journalist?

For me, none of the above are particularly trustworthy. Which is why I so prefer this more analytical approach. Which is, as you put it, "fact-free." Considering the quality of the facts available to us, especially considering their sources, I will insist on regarding this as a virtue.

Posted by: Mencius on March 4, 2008 10:56 PM




"I'd like to think I now understand why a bungled occupation was (and, despite the surge and al-Sahwa, remains) inevitable. "

You don't. You're not even close.

Relying on large-scale ad-hominem arguments will get you nowhere. Start over. Look at facts: they're easier to ascertain than you think. This one isn't right-left, it's crazy-sane. Odom wasn't a left-winger, nor was Zbigniew Brzezinski, or Gregory Newbold. Neither am I.

The Administration was crazy and ignorant, stepped in deep shit, and has been reflexively trying to lie its way out ever since. Again and again and again, they lie. You could swear that the truth burns their mouths.

The left isn't lying about Iraq because they don't have to. In this case, the truth is their friend.

Has every prediction of mine concerning Iraq come true? Pretty much. I had the ease of the conventional victory pegged - estimated our casualties pretty closely. I thought we'd lose something on the order of 1000 KIA indefinitely once the guerrilla wear started: that was about right. I thought that Iraqis would exhibit the democratic talents of rabid flatworms. Parenthetically, when you were busy believing in purple fingers, were you high?
I knew the claims of a bomb project were false. Before the war, I predicted that the Administration would end up blaming the CIA
for that fiasco.

Getting to say "I told you so" for years at a time is not as much fun as you might think.

If you really believe that oil-for-food money was fungible and thus available for buying foreign weapons components ('wheat for calutrons'), you're not even at the 'consider a spherical chicken' stage. You should just give up.


Posted by: gcochran on March 5, 2008 12:41 AM



gcochran: you are the same person who does all this fabulous research, n'est ce pas? Because frankly, I'm beginning to wonder.

Posted by: Mencius on March 5, 2008 1:35 AM



GC,
When you dismiss any evidence that contradicts your position as a fabrication ("The Kuwaitis made it up, etc") it's easy to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you as insane. Perhaps such people should get mandatory treatment, as in the USSR in the 1970's? And as for schrecklicheit not working; this must be why Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Saddam, Mussolini, Peron, et. al. were all so unsuccessful as rulers, and why they were all assasinated soon after taking power...

Posted by: tschafer on March 6, 2008 2:01 PM



tschafer, the question is not whether terrorism can work for a long time on a state's own subjects -- it can. It can work for the lifetime of a ruler with nationalist legitimacy. The question is, can it work against conquered nations? Your list there is not encouraging in this regard. The only ruler on it who got away with it for very long was Stalin... and even he was killed in part as a consequence of his terror.

Posted by: Leonard on March 6, 2008 3:41 PM



Per Mencius' "what's changed?", Nick Szabo has a better answer:

It's no longer our highly educated and culturally unified mercenaries taking sides in wars between badly divided and largely illiterate native polities, as during the colonial era. National sympathies, stemming mainly from ties of a written language and shared religion, now unify millions of people at a time into cohesive, educated, and highly motivated political blocs that we try to control at our peril.
Posted by: sapper on March 6, 2008 9:49 PM



gcochran writes, with respect to the occupation of Iraq: "I used to think that we'd never know why the key players made the decisions they did - I figure the real reasons are probably boring and stupid, but that's just a guess."

My favorite theory (pilloried by the eXile here) is that Iraq was al Qaeda's state sponsor all along, and that the White House knew it from the beginning (i.e. 1993), but that it was also a state secret from the beginning, and so the war had to be conducted in a mode of doublethink - with Iraqi sponsorship of al Qaeda presented as a counterfactual, an alarming possibility, rather than something that had already been happening. This is a form of revisionist Mylroieism, in other words, with the difference being that where Mylroie claims that the intelligence agencies failed to make the connection, I say they actively obfuscated it.

Alas, the eXile never let me get to the second part of the theory, where I talk about how Iraq got Ames-strain anthrax through the British Ministry of Defence, back when David Kelly was head of microbiology. (If you don't like that idea, you can always blame the Russians.)

Posted by: mitchell porter on March 6, 2008 9:56 PM



Greg Cochran got booted off Free Republic a few months before I did in 2003- and had his every post deleted- his very existence on that site expunged.

He got booted for the same reason I was booted- for not turning off his brain and buying rationales for war more absurd than Hitler's for invading Poland and being totally 100 percent right about the Iraq war- the WMD- and what would happen.

It is beneath him to be doing a back and forth with true believing fraud "conservative" dopes who spew garbage that circulates through the third tier sludge gutters of reich wing propaganda sewers like Newsmax, WND, or the Weekly Standard- lies that still circulate among them like gospel truth- that the "WMD" were found- that Saddam and AQ were tight, that Saddam was behind everything from OKC to West Nile Encephalytis. These people are idiots- will always be idiots and facts have no value in their world.

Iraq was never a threat to anybody. There own damn neighbors didn't fear them (not including the satrap puppets of Kuwait). If the US government wanted Saddam as a friend he would have been their friend. A general was in the news the other day calling the much larger Iran with a much larger military a nation of "ants" that could be crushed at any time and all that mattered was timing and tact.

You have to be a truly retarded chump to buy the self serving imbecilic justifications from our DC oligarchs for this war.

Funny how the po' ol USA always seems to be gettin' attacked by these weakling third world countries run by "madmen". Good lord- wake the hell up. Must be cause we be all frees and stuff! Wipe the drool off your face, change your diapers, and put your baby tooth under your pillow for the fairy tooth lady if you believe that- but let the adults talk.

Posted by: Chris Dowd on March 10, 2008 9:36 PM



Decent work, Mr. Dowd! You even managed to throw in a Nazi reference. But I've seen that script before and Cochran does a better job. Maybe if you remove your mouth from his cock you might begin to think in an original manner. But a good effort all the same for someone of your abilities.

Posted by: Nobody on March 11, 2008 9:51 AM



Oh my, another anonymous pee panting diaper wearer with a potty mouth! Abilities? Yes- it takes a lot of abilities to tag yourself "nobody" and write ad hominems on the internet. About what I expect from the she males of the reich wing these days- the "conservatives" of the GOP.

Hitler? Why not? Isn't that what you bed wetting wimps do every three minutes with every Ahhh-rab and rug merchant who sits on an oil well or every Slavic Balkan bullyboy? Comparing? No- I am calling Bush's little idiotic war more obviously based upon lies than Hitler's little foray into Eastern Europe (psssst- for Hitler to equal this American adventure he would have had to said he feared South American Amazon Indian Anarchist revolutionaries and invaded Brazil 5000 miles away from Germany- not his next door neighbors who at least had messed with Germany in the last half century).

Now run off to the bathroom and clean the urine stains off the front of your school uniform.

And if you ever want to be a man and not a gutter sniping anonymous coward you can look me up in Boston. I am listed. But I won't hold my breath.

Posted by: Chris Dowd on March 12, 2008 12:10 AM



"...write ad hominems on the internet."

Interesting. Where could I find a good example of one of these "ad hominens" you speak of? Please Mr. Dowd settle down! A Nobody like myself really seems to get you in a state of foaming, infantile anger. Must be that repressed homosexuality coming to the surface again. There isn't anything wrong with being gay (and why pick on the transgendered?)
And no, I'm not "man enough" to go to Boston to find you. I happen to be a woman. Maybe if you take my advice from the other day, you could rise from the level of pathetic imitation to the dizzying heights of mediocrity. But it would be a mediocrity all your own.

Posted by: Nobody on March 12, 2008 12:17 PM



Whatever. An anonymous gutter sniping loser is beneath my time. Get ye back to Free Republic now- so you can trade your sophisticated and highly original one liners about the librul media and the legions of "leftists" allied with the Dunkin Donutz Moooslim coffee slingers out to destroy your 'merica.

Posted by: Chris Dowd on March 12, 2008 1:26 PM






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