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Thanks to everyone for your thoughts.

This is a huge topic.  We have achieved a certain exchange of viewpoints (although not much agreement, but that's to be expected) based on certain common understandings or problems we identified.  However, on other points we seem to be writing from wildly divergent narratives that make it very difficult to avoid irritating misunderstandings.

For example, take 9/11.  I can understand how reasonable people might argue that the fact of 9/11 was "used", "exploited", or even "enhanced" by various, bottom-feeding Western interests and powers to produce the situation we are in today.

But the idea that 9/11 itself might not be a fact, i.e. that some or all of the 9/11 operation itself might have been non-al-Qaeda, has been hinted at far too often here.  As is typical with such rhetoric, allegations are rarely specific; it is always questions that are being raised and never answered, or if answered, never accepted.  Questions that are designed to inhibit debate, not foster it.  Questions that depend on the truism that we will never know, with metaphysical certainty, all that happened on that day and the period leading up to it.  When points are specific, they are hypothetical, or involve some other form of rhetorical legerdemain.  A certainty or perfection is demanded before committing to anything, when life demands that we commit, and even act, in the face of uncertainty, error, and failure.

I'm not suggesting those of you who use this type of rhetoric are irrational -- I assume you are all decent, rational people unless I can prove otherwise :-P  Nor am I unfamiliar with the alternative theories re 9/11 -- I have considered them, and find them...how to put this nicely...well, I find them lacking in explanatory power i.e. useless.  Too often, they are used to maintain a self-congratulatory echo chamber that is well insulated from new ideas and information.  

And yes, that happens with my supporters as well, and I try to fight it when it does.

A typical example is the persistent reliance on, and faith in, boilerplate Progressive solutions and rhetoric, all quite reasonable, but all ignoring the fact that UN envoy de Mello, who represents these progressive ideals and policies as much as is humanly possible, tragically encountered the same problems and resistance as did those trying to implement Neo-Con ideas.

But, but, but!  Having failed, the Neo-Cons changed their strategy, and now we have the so-called Surge.  The modest progress so far is nevertheless far more that conventional wisdom expected.  Will it be enough?  Have we learned anything from our failure?  Impossible to say until more time has passed...but at least we tried something new.

Meanwhile, when they even acknowledge the problem, Progressives in my experience tend to blame the US for insufficient support, or the wrong kind of support, or just for being there with guns, as if Iraq was a peaceful garden before we arrived.  Are European Progressive ideas so finely engineered that they can't possibly share space with America's more rough and muscular Progressivism?  Did Bush have de Mello killed?  Bizarrely, I find myself having to consider that some people here just might answer:  yes and yes.

Without much of a consensus on 9/11, or the state of things in Iraq, or other issues of that type, it becomes very difficult to advance complex points when I have no idea how to judge if my audience shares enough of my assumptions to make the exercise worthwhile.

So, I plan to give this topic a rest.

I like the eurotrib blogging system (scoop) and I may drop by from time to time with polite but devastating comment-fu, here and there.  So you'll have that to look forward to.

Until then,

- John

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Sat Jun 21st, 2008 at 02:09:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not quite sure where you got the impression that this place was crawling with 9/11 troofers. I have the impression that the basic facts are not considered terribly controversial: A group of hijackers operating out of Hamburg, Germany seized four planes and flew three of them into buildings in New York and Washington, causing between 2500 and 3000 fatalities. Whether the hijackers were Al Qaeda or not depends, I suppose, on your definition of Al Qaeda. It seem pretty clear that they considered themselves fedayeen of some sort, but their precise motivations are a bit hard to uncover on account of all of them having a severe case of being dead.

Where you might find some divergent opinion is the significance of this event. On the face of it, it doesn't seem too terribly important. New Yorkers were and are still more at risk for death-by-mugger or death-by-traffic-accident than death-by-fedayeen. It seems quite disproportional to start wars or suspend the constitution over something that is by any cold-blooded, statistical measure much less significant than - say - hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or earthquakes in California.

If one wants to be even more cold-blooded, one might actually even argue that the casualties on 9/11 were "collateral damage" - it's been reported that there was a CIA office in one of the towers, which by Israeli Defence Force standards make the entire city bloc a legitimate military target in the hunt for terrorists (if you disagree with my designation of the CIA as a terrorist organisation, I refer you to the School of the Americas and the ongoing, CIA-supported terrorist campaign against the civilian population of Colombia).

Now, I disagree vehemently with the Israeli definition of military target, but it seems a little bit hypocritical to endorse IDF murders in the Gaza concentration camp out of one side of the mouth and complain out of the other side of the mouth about terrorists when what goes around eventually comes around.

But I digress. My core point is that the fundamental facts - the identities of the hijackers, the serial numbers of the planes, etc. are substantially (albeit, I must admit, not universally) accepted hereabout.

Nor am I quite sure how de Mello's demise, however tragic, signals a massive failure of any progressive agenda. Aid workers sometimes get shot when they go into war zones. That's always tragic, but Iraq is hardly unique in this respect.

Yes, some engineers, diplomats and doctors will be injured and killed if we send them to help rebuild Iraq. Those who choose to go should be aware of that fact. And stuff is going to get blown up as well, sometimes even before (or frustratingly fast after) it's completed. However, from looking at conflicts past and present, I would hazard the guess that the cost both in money and human lives would be lower than that of continued occupation.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Jun 23rd, 2008 at 11:19:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
John in Michigan USA:
But, but, but!  Having failed, the Neo-Cons changed their strategy, and now we have the so-called Surge.  The modest progress so far is nevertheless far more that conventional wisdom expected.  Will it be enough?  Have we learned anything from our failure?  Impossible to say until more time has passed...but at least we tried something new.

Now that has me interested, In what way was it "Different?" to my mind it just appears to be "More of the same" and what would you call the major achievements of the surge?

As for the 9/11 denialists, people do appear here every now and then and get subjected to reasonable rigour. I've not seen anyone whose denial has survived examination, although there are some questions that still deserve examination.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Jun 23rd, 2008 at 11:36:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here are some articles that describe how the Surge is different.

"The Patton of Counterinsurgency" -- Don't be distracted by the tone of the article, which may seem a bit over the top, but concentrate on the details of the strategy.  The Surge's modest increase in troop strength was only a part of the change, and probably not even the most important part.   That is why I sometimes call it the "Surge" or "the so-called Surge".

"Anatomy of the Surge" -- defines the pre-Surge policies that failed, discusses the blunders and false starts that preceded the Surge, and looks at the source of the perception that the Surge was just more of the same.

"Perseverance Pays Off in Baghdad" -- discusses the indigenous Shiite efforts similar to the Sunni Awakening Councils.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) -- these are the engineers and civil society types that go in after understandings have been reached with local powers (e.g. Awakening Councils, which go by various names depending on what part of Iraq you're talking about), and after Iraqi or coalition forces have cleared an area.  I don't have articles handy at the moment, but Google should provide.

I have suggested, and other commenters here have acknowledged, that the situation in Iraq might be improving, based on coalition casualty reports, Iraq Body Count, media reports, bloggers in-country, etc. I will leave you to do your own research.

The question of how much of this is due to the Surge, and how much due to other factors, will have to wait for another diary or comment; for now, I just want to convince you that in fact we are not just doing more of the same in Iraq.

There are some reports that even the UN is slowly coming back into the picture in Iraq.  But my point is that after the de Mello disaster, the UN, and by extension, the non-coalition community, gave up on the Iraqis, whereas we did not.  That is why it is sometimes so frustrating to be lectured erm advised by our UN EU friends about how we need to try this and that instead of guns.  Your thoughtful suggestions did occur to us, and we are implementing them.  In spite of all the boys and their toys stuff on YouTube, we really don't just ride around Iraq blowing things away.  But it is a very, very tough neighborhood.

Could it be that whatever media sources you are using for information on Iraq, simply haven't picked up on these stories yet?

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Mon Jun 23rd, 2008 at 06:26:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the links, although I am sure that you could find more reputable sources if you tried. The Weekly Standard and WSJ have an unfortunate habit of playing fast and loose with the facts (or, to put it a bit more bluntly, lying through their teeth) to the extent that I am not entirely comfortable relying on their descriptions of reality (or, to put it a bit more bluntly, if the Weekly Standard told me that the sky is blue, I'd look out my window before agreeing).

The second thing I note is that the articles describe a shift emphasis away from empowering the central government and towards empowering existing local power structures. They describe negotiated peace and even alliances with local armed groups that may or may not support the central Iraqi government. They describe infrastructure projects (using primarily local labour, I note :-P). Pay off the young men who would otherwise form the militias (or - even better - give them honest work to do for an honest wage). [1]

In other words, it looks like the US strategy is moving towards what has been suggested here on ET already. I have to admit that this surprises me. It appears that even the Bushies' strategy for Iraq is saner than I have been giving them credit for so far.

Further, this movement is correlated with the apparent success (at least as measured by the metrics we have examined so far). So - keeping in mind that correlation is not quite the same thing as causation - I would be tempted to claim some level of vindication for The Plan(TM).

- Jake

[1] As an aside, I cannot help but note that this kind of program would never get approval if it were proposed to mitigate crime in the slums of a US city. Why, using state-created jobs for the explicit purpose of reducing unemployment and unemployment-related crime, that's positively Socialist! Or at least French :-P

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 07:05:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... describe a shift emphasis...

That should be "a shift in emphasis" obviously.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 10:47:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it looks like the US strategy is moving towards what has been suggested here on ET already.

The temptation to snark the hell out of this remark is very hard to resist.

But I will.

Instead, I will just say that I would very be interested in seeing links showing that The Plan(TM), or something like it, was seriously considered on ET 18 or more months ago i.e before or during the time when we were formulating the Surge strategy.

Absent that, wouldn't be more accurate to say that JakeS has just unintentionally appropriated, and implicitly validated, major elements of the current US strategy in Iraq?

Seriously, you ET'ers need to realize that whatever sources of information you rely on for Iraq have not served you well in this case.

Maybe you should broaden your reading list?  I'm not talking about Commentary, Weekly Review, and the WSJ editorial page, which are of course partisan sources.  Thank you for being willing to read them at least.

Start with Michael Yon:

...whose work is endorsed by none other than Joe Galloway...yes, The Joe Galloway.

Also check out:


and go from there.

You may have heard of some of these, but based on your general take on Iraq you need to pay more attention to them.  They are invaluable, first hand sources.  They tell the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Only a close-minded partisan would dismiss them as partisan.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 11:30:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Instead, I will just say that I would very be interested in seeing links showing that The Plan(TM), or something like it, was seriously considered on ET 18 or more months ago i.e before or during the time when we were formulating the Surge strategy.

Absent that, wouldn't be more accurate to say that JakeS has just unintentionally appropriated, and implicitly validated, major elements of the current US strategy in Iraq?

It validates the reconstruction part of the US strategy. I won't attempt to asses the military part of it, because my information regarding that part is insufficient and so is my expertise in the area. But the emphasis still given to the military component in the official propaganda (see your links, for instance) gives me the impression that the Surge is 1/3 sanity and 2/3 staying the course.

I expressed surprise at the presence of any sanity at all, because frankly I didn't expect that. But that doesn't make it impressive.

Since I didn't sneak peek at the Pentagon's Iraq strategy while formulating mine - and since I haven't kept abreast of the developments in Iraq beyond noting the development in the American casualty figures occasionally, I think it's fair to say that this is a case of parallel evolution. We can argue about who discovered the strategy first, but I am happy to concede the honours, because I haven't seen it spelled out before.

But the major premises - that the central government isn't viable, that there needs to be more building and negotiation and considerably less reliance on purely military solutions have been around since forever, or at least since before I started frequenting the site (which was before the Surge started).

Seriously, you ET'ers need to realize that whatever sources of information you rely on for Iraq have not served you well in this case.

I am not sure I see how they failed us. The task was to come up with a viable strategy for Iraq. We did.

You raised a number of objections in another thread, and I made a number of replies, but I haven't seen anything so far that would kill my plan dead if sufficient political will to implement it existed.

Another task was to determine whether it would be wise for Europe to support the current US stance in Iraq. So far my impression is that it is not.

This is based partially on the fact that the US strategic stance still appears to be sufficiently far removed from what I think would be most effective that it might very well be more effective to use European resources to set up a separate effort. And partly on the fact that the apparent long-term objectives of the US in Iraq (basing rights, containment of Iran, installation of one or more pliable client states, securing the Iraqi oil for US-based corporations, padding the pocketbooks of various and sundry war profiteers, etc.) are not particularly savoury.

Finally, none of the current American stance addresses the part of the problem that resides at least partially outside Iraq, namely documenting and dealing with the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed fairly massively by all sides in the conflict. So far, the US and their European fellow-travellers appear to be in complete denial that there might be a problem here, which is not exactly the most constructive attitude, to put it mildly...

So while our information was incomplete, it wasn't sufficiently incomplete to substantially change the strategic picture; at least not from where I sit.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 12:43:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Instead, I will just say that I would very be interested in seeing links showing that The Plan(TM), or something like it, was seriously considered on ET 18 or more months ago i.e before or during the time when we were formulating the Surge strategy.

So I went trawling for diaries and stories on Iraq deom 18+ months ago, and I found this:

A few notes: both "plans" were proposed by Americans and were not particularly well received in the comments. Cskendrick's "part 2" contains a putative "neocon dream scenario", part 3 is his own "plan" and "Fixing iraq is his idea of what ETers would propose to do based on feedback to part 3. I have to say that the basic stance of ETers seemed to be "Iraq is FUBAR", so the only reason we propose plans of action for Iraq, if we do, is when provoked with "you need to do something" or "what would you do?".

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 02:14:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As an aside, I cannot help but note that this kind of program would never get approval if it were proposed to mitigate crime in the slums of a US city.

Surely you must be kidding me?  In the US we do this stuff all the time.

Well, not the Surge, but community-building.  The difference is, it is done primarily on the local level, recently quite successfully in cities like New York which were supposed to be the intractable, textbook examples of the failure of capitalism.

Unlike the socialists, we haven't lost site of the fact that government doesn't create jobs, it just re-allocates them, usually badly and with "unexpected" side-effects.  That is why we try to keep the efforts local, and try to keep in mind that the only long-term solution involves jobs that are real, i.e. self-sustaining without subsidy.  Unfortunately, we too often forget, (arrg! Ethanol! How I hate thee!) and disaster ensues.

One of the enduring misunderstandings that Europeans have about the USA is, they assume that if the national government isn't doing something, then nothing real or substantial is being done.  And in most European countries, that would be a fair assumption.  

Worse, the European press, reflecting and reinforcing the group-think of the European governing elites, goes to ridiculous extremes to perpetuate this stereotype.

But in the US it is the opposite:  All the real work goes on in the private sector, both for-profit and non-profit, and at the state and local level.  Our federal anti-poverty, etc. programs are some of the least effective American institutions that exist.

Indeed, part of the reason the so-called "Surge" strategy has been so popular with the troops is, community building comes naturally to them.

They are citizen-soldiers.

Will it work?  I dunno.  But Iraqis are certainly beginning to take notice.  Europe should too.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.

by John in Michigan USA on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 12:53:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
John in Michigan USA:
One of the enduring misunderstandings that Europeans have about the USA is, they assume that if the national government isn't doing something, then nothing real or substantial is being done.

It's not a misunderstanding, because it mostly isn't.

It's nice that the US is a veritable capitalist utopia of convivial communality, but if all anyone can see is the shanty-town poor when you visit the rougher areas, it's hard to be convinced that there's a plan at all, never mind that the plan is working.

If you don't have a government ethic of communality - which the US doesn't, particularly - then it's no surprise that federal programs don't currently work.

That doesn't mean they can't in principle, it means you no longer have the culture to do them properly, which isn't quite the same thing.

So if you're going to tell me that the glories of free enterprise have stepped in to fill the gap across the US, I'm going to have to ask what evidence there is that this has made any real difference.

If the private sector is so all-powerful, it should surely have solved the problem by now. It's not as if there's been a lot of hostility to private efforts from Washington for the last decade or so.

And yet - the trend has been for lower wages, longer hours, poorer infrastructure, and more unemployment. What's wrong with this picture?

As for job creation - are you saying the New Deal didn't actually work at all? The freeways, the dams, the infrastructure were just pointless make-work?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 01:36:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know whose comment you are replying to, it doesn't appear to be mine.  I never said or implied that the US was capitalist utopia, I just said that the private sector, and state and local government, is where the real action is.  Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

__
I am the most conservative Unitarian-Universalist you will ever meet.
by John in Michigan USA on Fri Jun 27th, 2008 at 06:49:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unlike the socialists, we haven't lost site of the fact that government doesn't create jobs, it just re-allocates them,

This is simply false. If you have involuntary unemployment, the state can indeed create jobs out of thin air.

They may not be meaningful (then again, they may be - railroad construction and operation, for instance, is something The Market(TM) does badly if at all). But even if they aren't meaningful - even if it is just a matter of digging holes in the ground - it will still stimulate demand for other, worthwhile production.

If the government finances this through direct taxation of wealth (and/or the high incomes that usually correlate with wealth), or runs a temporary deficit, the net result is a transfer of demand to the present - where it can pull an economy out of a recession - from the future - where it, if the economy has been managed properly - will be recouped during a boom. Or from such excess demand harvested during a past boom.

All the real work goes on in the private sector, both for-profit and non-profit, and at the state and local level. [My emphasis]

If you need charity, then the government isn't doing its job.

Snark aside, you're not even right about the government not doing constructive work. Right off the bat, I can think of only two parts of US infrastructure that works as well as or better than the German equivalent: The National Park Service and the Interstate Highways. Both are Federal operations.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 12:07:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why wasn't any of this viable in the first couple of months after the invasion? Or, if it was, why wasn't it attempted? If I am not mistaken the level of violence is still higher than it was in 2003.

So, Bremmer and Rumsfeld are out of the picture and saner heads are finally taking charge of the US strategy, and hopefully once Bush and Cheney are out as well things will improve some more?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 25th, 2008 at 07:12:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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