Regime Change and Precedent

    After all the screaming about Bush's botched trumped-up war in Iraq, looks like the left is getting its own takedown in Libya - with the rise of ISIS, inability to form a stable government, oil wealth not covering all the expenses - our over-optimistic fantasies of the future by overthrowing Qaddafi seem horridly misguided 3 years later. Somalia on the Mediterranean is our new dystopian future. After pride comes the fall.

    I happened to revisit my concerns from 3 years ago, and note the not-terribly-tough prescience of Russia using our intervention to justify invading Crimea and Donbas.

    Way too much optimism on my part about the Arab Spring helping out here, and now we're back in Iraq, with Syria another chaos point - 3 years didn't improve my outlook at all. What seemed self-serving and overly hasty seems worse today - ad hoc policy tossed together like a Middle Eastern salad. I can only wait for the next act. NOT.


    From 2011 comment (on this thread - don't know how to link specific comment)

    This isn't about Obama - it's about US foreign policy and precedent and what that means for world order and peace.

    You ignore the caveats I actually stated, such as:

    - what happens when China wants Taiwan back and uses this excuse (hey, an oppressed minority rebelling somewhere)

    - similar with Russia using Ossetia to break away from Georgia

    - we trained rebels who popped out of the Dominican jungles to take over Haiti - yes, it matters who the rebels are, doesn't it? And some of those leaders were ex-Qaddafi bigwigs. How far will the apple fall from the tree?

    - I don't think Arabs need dictatorships, thank you, but the way things go, the biggest chance is they'll end up with another one. (which could be installed by oil companies who prefer stability over democracy - see Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran in the 1950's when we overthrew Mossadegh for the Shah Jr., etc.)

    - bringing up Qaddafi's actions from the 90's, when he's been an American ally for the last decade just sucks, the height of hypocrisy. We ask leaders to change, he changed, and now we're going to pull out an old traffic ticket as evidence? Can't do better than that? Aside from hysterical post-rebellion charges of atrocities, isn't there one thing you can point to in the last decade to say he was a worse dictator than others?

    (hint: I also noted that Qaddafi had supported Charles Taylor and others in committing atrocities in Africa of awful proportions, includig hacked off limbs by the thousands. Believe it or not, an act of international terrorism doesn't have to involve an American to leave us appalled, but somehow we always need an act against America to make it to the front page).

    - oh yeah, drones running surveillance, intercepting communications, firing missiles - sounds like war, but somehow we've made the position that this is above the fray, not an act of war.

    So go ahead and pretend that I'm only doing this out of some need to bash Obama.

    Actually 1 slight optimism I have is that since UK, France and Italy led the regime change (sorry, "popular rebellion"), there's a better chance they'll have an EU-like standard forced on them to ensure democratic values take root. Perverse, no?


    Here's the way I see it "big picture":

    The status quo western way to handle radical Islamic movements like Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and things like Palestinian terrorism before that,  is to let the strong men dictators deal with it, even support them when possible.

    That wasn't working out! The newer movements were reacting to that as much as previous grievances.I.E., "if the U.S. won't get out of Saudi Arabia,we'll start bringing the civilian U.S. down."

    To ignore Arab spring yearnings, especially those with huge public demonstrations, like in Libya or Egypt, would send a signal that the status quo was still being supported. I am therefore very open to trying something different, anything different. To the point of being willing to give some mulligans. Whether or not the the choice of reaction in individual cases is wise is something else, affected by the individual environment. That requires specialized knowledge, which is why I am so critical and often dismissive of our often idiotic "intelligence" services.

    One problem I do very much see with "the left" is that they let Bush Derangement syndrome over Iraq and the Neo-Con philosophy involved with that turn them into nattering nabobs of negativism about any democratic movement and supporters of strong man dictatorism by default of not offering any alternatives.

    (BTW, for general I.D. purposes, I really don't consider myself part of "the left.")

    More thoughts:

    Obama has proven himself so far to be way more hard linen on these issues than even I expected from his hard line statements and white papers from his first campaign. He is close to pure neo-con believer in many ways, certainly "U.S.A and the west, #1". Not skeptical enough, pro-West all the way, not creative enough in dealing with all this. (The irony of all the 2008 brouhaha about Rev. Jeremiah Wright strikes me now as hilarious.) This kind of takes me to the comment I just made on your Rudy thread! Obama is no clueless child of white bread America who doesn't get alternative cultures including all those of Islam.  Inquiring minds want to know: did something happen to him in Indonesia as a kid that he didn't admit in "Dreams of My Father", did something he learned in his early Africa trips that he didn't put in "Dreams of My Father", that made him so pro-U.S. classique version? Or is this the result of some things he has learned as president, something we are not privy to?

    My guess is Obama's just a product of a fairly conservative banker grandmother who worked the B-29 assembly line in Kansas and ex- military grandfather (who I'm still inclined to believe he might have had some CIA/military intelligence duties), with mixed feelings/abandonment issues re: his hippie/3rd world development mother.

    Joni Mitchell made a comment about the cuthroat biz types who figured out how to grow their hair and come in and co-opt the hippie movement & related business. Somehow I feel the same with Obama - he knew how to get his ticket punched with the PIRG & other community projects, but it was part of a path elsewhere.

    Which is also why I laughed at the Rev Wright stuff - I know a number of people who went to church (or at least aligned with one) because that was where their business was or it was expected in their circles. Men of course are classic stereotypes of being dragged to church for the wife. I can't really imagine his church membership being sincere (and of course can't imagine him being a Muslim either - possibly some crypto-Buddhist-Christian-worldview tied more pragmatically to the business/political world - in short, a yuppie)

    Rather than his "constitutional lawyer" helping to respect the constitution, it seemed to enable a capacity for weasel words and actions that always seem to split the baby, though the neocons always seem to get the bigger slice of this abomination, for what it's worth.

    My feeling is that nature abhors a vacuum. Yes, the strongman approach (or "he may be a sonuvabitch but he's our sonuvabitch" strategy) has overall served us well, though the voices of those who suffered from it have gotten louder and harder to ignore.

    I'd hoped that the EU could fathom the need to have an access program for infant aspiring democracies on its periphery, but if the slow inaction of Egypt didn't dissuade me, its cooperation in dismembering Libya did. Not as a mulligan for failed democracy and support for protesters, but for a craven grasp for oil reserves and an end-around from Qaddafi's bank.

    Sadly, the US doesn't seem to be worried about burnishing its image abroad anymore, thinking that the tough uncaring man (too many Marlboro commercials?) is preferred to Rosinenbombers. Who will fill our moral vacuum along with the Mideast power vacuum? Sadly, I haven't a clue.

    I think it's a larger problem. The US and other democratic countries have yet to figure out how to midwife democracy. Sometimes it goes relatively smoothly and peacefully. Other times, it's insanely chaotic and brutal. So I agree with you that America's interventionist hubris is stupid and dangerous, but what is the alternative? Retreating into self-absorbed isolationism or self-serving realpolitik?

    I guess it's naïve of me to think we might plan ahead, do real analysis or try to foster democracy through other than military means (I think we kinda used to do that before we started dismantling our foreign service and undermining the UN e.g. by withholding funds for years.)

    Our entry into Iraq of course could have had "building democratic institutions" as part of the  gameplan, rather than "let's divvy up the oil contracts quick before they catch on it's all been sold off". Of course we ignored any expert opinion on what the real facts were on the ground and replaced it with glib statements of pony-out-of-horseshit fantasy that of course never materialized.

    Did we do better in Libya? well, we bombed rather than boots-on-the-ground - e.g. the Clinton doctrine vs. the Bush doctrine. We smuggle weapons to the opposition in Syria. But how did we respond to the Arab Spring? rather meekly and unhelpfully - basically guiding Egypt to place its 2nd son-of-a-bitch in charge after Mubarek (and making sure Israel had its druthers covered). Silently ignoring Bahrain's crackdown of its own protesters. And then turning Arab Spring into a military approach to regime change rather than the painful but more convincing peaceful movement as seen in Tunisia and Egypt. But what did we do to help Libya after the overthrow? Or did we just tuck tail & run after the Ambassador got whacked? were there any plans to limit the "chaotic and brutal", or do we just resign ourselves to "to make an omelette a few eggs have to be broken"?

    Syria even messier - we're running a foreign policy to please everyone - GOP, Israel, protesters - and go between supporting & arming violent overthrow to complaining that Syria is using violent measures. Syria dumps its chemical weapons and we sit around grousing they're not doing it fast enough when the delay is on our end carting them away. And then oops, ISIS appears and we find we need Syria after all - reverse course.

    Do I want an isolationist government? No, actually I'm happiest with the support we gave for Ukraine, except again I don't see the institutional support post-regime change (which Ukrainians handled themselves without air cover), though at least the sanctions on Russia have been helpful. An economic version of "bombing from high" though - do we know how to implement programs on the ground like Soros did post-Wall? or it's still a lesson we leave to the private sector, free hand of the market & governments? the EU certainly has enough rules and constructs for new members, which is why I thought they could take standards for say Bulgaria and Romania or the never-ending "early talks" with Turkey, and use these some carrots & sticks with Ukraine, Algeria, Tunisia, potentially Libya, to foster democratic institutions and real structures and processes as a concrete path to some recognizable version of enlightened government, rather than another retreat into "let's do it ourselves" which turns into Monty Python playing "Burn the Witch! Burn the Witch!"

    Supporting national sovereignty and nurturing democratic NGOs are no-brainers. That's not the hard question. The hard question is whether, when, and how to support regime change. There is the obvious question of the mechanism: invasion (Iraq), bombing (Libya), sanctions (North Korea), proxy (Syria), or diplomacy (Egypt). That's the question people usually focus on because it's the most tangible, but not that's not the heart of it. Because no matter how soft the gloves, if you help topple a regime, you don't know what will rise from the wreckage. It may be the stable democracy you've been hoping for. Or it may be your worst nightmare.

    The Tunisian / Serbian / Ukrainian (Orange) & Georgian (Rose) revolutions weren't bad. Were these "diplomacy" or something else? And no, not talking just about NGOs, but more talking about a willingness to engage on something other than military level. We've lost that knack or inclination.

    Yep, sometimes it works out. Except for the Yugoslavian states, most of eastern Europe democratized pretty smoothly (though you might argue that argue that it took 50 years of Cold War brinkmanship to accomplish regime change).

    But those were easy cases. The hard cases are the countries that have been hollowed out by strongmen who have destroyed institutions and fanned sectarian factionalism. You can't nudge those countries into modernity by funding a few NGOs. So do you stand by as these dictators slaughter their citizens? Or do you assist their opponents and risk even more deadly anarchy?

    We have to be a bit careful about these tear-jerking dictators slaughter their citizens cases, as rebels who may not be terribly nice know how to play the umps and get support where they're not completely innocent. (e.g. probably the Syrian rebels did a false flag incident with chemical weapons to get us playing hardball with Assad). Eastern Europe was a special case, as it just crumbled - certainly very few totalitarian regimes just give in. But what's our policy - any time people get out to protest, we defend them? I can appreciate Benghazi complaining about rights, but there are also century old grudges re: eastern Libya vs western Libya - these kind of cultural/regional/religous/ethnic divides exist all over the world in say half the countries on earth.  If you recall the Ayatollah's revolution against the Shah, it seemed like it could be a great boon for democracy - even carried regularly by BBC radio -  until he flew from Paris to Tehran and we saw the bloodshed and real "revolution" begin.

    I think there's another probably countervailing point I wanted to make, but too distracted right now....

    I would say that we do it when we have a reasonable chance to significantly help a country's citizens without subjecting them or ourselves to unacceptable loss of life. These are all loaded terms, of course. Dick Cheney surely believed that we had a reasonable chance to significantly help the Iraqi people with "acceptable" losses, but the fact that Dick Cheney is a fool and a piece of shit mean that the principle itself is invalid. There have been cases in history when American leaders applied the principle more judiciously.

    I agree with you that in the Middle East these days, there just isn't much we can do that has much chance of helping without high risk of making the situation worse. That said, I still say Libya was a close judgment call. We took a chance; it didn't work. On the flip side, what would have happened if we didn't bomb? Khadaffi wasn't exactly a pillar of stability at that point. I suspect that Libya would look even more like Syria than it does now, with Khadaffi fighting a stalemated civil war against Islamist rebels.

    I read many articles that claim Khadaffi had the war mostly won when we got involved and it was just a short matter of time until he was totally in control. There lies the problem I have with some of these foreign policy questions. I can read several conflicting articles on American issues and sort the propaganda from the facts. But when I read several conflicting articles about far flung nations like Syria or Lybia I just don't know who is mostly objective and who is spinning for their agenda. Was Khadaffi close to restoring his oppressive regime or would it have spiraled down to a stalemated civil war? Several foreign policy experts disagree about that question.

    As well as the question "how repressive was Khadaffi?" especially post-9/11.

    We made Hugo Chavez out to be some monster when as far as I could tell he was a fairly progressive populist who made his people's lives better with the oil money & other resources at his (grabbed) disposal (unlike his successor). Compare that to the myriad of leaders stuffing money away in Switzerland and bankrupting their countries. But Chavez was so bad we've had to try regime change through a proxy coup, along with sanctions. He must have been more primitive than Saudi Arabia - maybe some kind of North Korean state, no?

    I agree. Its seems to me the sole policy rational for our treatment of Chavez and even Cuba is because we can. I certainly would not want to live under Castro. But by any objective standard even Cuba was less repressive than the Soviet Union and China. So why did Nixon open the doors to China and continue the boycott of Cuba? China is just too big to ignore and Cuba, just because we could.

    I dunno, given the current state of Venezuela, I'd say the assessment of what Chavez was doing to the country was fairly accurate. He just had the good sense to die before it got ugly. Apres moi...

    That said, unlike Cuba, rift with Venezuela never amounted to much more than words. 

    I guess Clinton was evil as well because he spawned Bush. All our actions in the 90's were just setting up a post-9/11 security state and financial meltdown of 2008.

    I don't buy it. Chavez was taking care of his own people and of course got re-elected in a popular vote. I don't know of anything too draconian that he did without decent reason, and I'm pretty used to criticizing Communist governments. Poverty in Latin America is a centuries-old problem, and balancing prosperity/growth and the rights of the caudillos with the horrid plight of the underclass is much harder there than in the US where we can't even get it right - did Chavez have a reputation for tasering people in the street and death-by-chokehold and lots of police shootings of civilians?

    I'd say the only reason we cared about him and try to overthrow is he had oil. Exxon-Mobil and Halliburton have excellent lobbyists in the White House, and we're well able to focus on the trifles of our competitors and ignore the beheadings of our friends.

    If Khadaffi was about to fall, then the US bombing made little difference. It he was not about to fall, US bombing may have avoided a Syria scenario. Lurker draws an excellent contrast in terms of lives lost down thread.

    But yes, the whole discussion invariably collapses into speculation

    And if Khadaffi almost had the uprising won the bombing destabilized the country. Lybia is not over, it's just beginning to fall into chaos. No one knows how it will play out and the final tally of dead. We may yet see a "Syria scenario" with multi-parties involved in a civil war. But as I said down below this focus on the number of dead is ridiculous. War is not ok for the people living through it. The extreme suffering war causes extends way beyond the number of dead. I'm rather surprised to see you use such a simplistic determinant.

    We may yet. I hope not though.

    Of course counting bodies is a crude way to attach a statistical measure to the horror of war, but it's useful for comparing the scale of atrocity.

    There are a number of very big differences in  GW Bush and his Iraq invasion, and the NATO intervention in Libya, some big ones:

    1) Iraq was a peace. Repeat: Iraq was at peace. There was no ongoing civil war. We started the killing and violence and invaded a sovereign nation, fired the government, the troops and put our guy in charge, patrolled the streets, ravaged the cities that resisted, tortured those who resisted in Saddam's jails.

    2)  Libya was not at peace, there was an ongoing civil war and fight to overthrow Gaddafi. We helped get rid of Gaddafi, aided the formation of a government of Libyans.  We never invaded, never occupied, never arrested and tortured people because we never had boots on the ground in Libya.

    3) We have had over a hundred thousand casualties in Iraq, none (zero) in Libya unless you count the ambassador and aides who were not occupiers or combatants.

    4) As you mentioned, Libya was a NATO operation, Iraq was not.

    5) The Libya operation was approved by the UN Security Council, the Iraq War and occupation was not.

    6) The Iraq War cost somewhere from $1-3 trillion, the Libyan bombing a tiny fraction of that, likely less than 1%.

    And if you believe that Vladimir Putin is so cautious that he needs 'precedent' for his actions, I would disagree.

    What you also ignore is that GW Bush and his action in Iraq and Afghanistan was tacitly supported by Putin, and whatever Putin did in Georgia, which frankly I could give a #$%*, may have been part of the deal with the GWB White House. Bush and Putin: Best of friends:

    GWB: "I was able to get a sense of his soul.

    Once Saddam was ousted and his military commanders put out on the streets, the Middle East crumbled. We now have Islamist fanatics ( or those using Islam as a cover) attacking on multiple fronts we also have Middle East armies unwilling to fight toe-to-toe against the fanatics. The only diplomacy is getting Middle East governments to send their armies into harm's way. I see no real solution to the strife in the Middle East.

    Actually Putin actively backed us in getting the Northern Alliance moving in Afghanistan (I heard they carried in suitcases of cash on camel/horseback, but maybe it was bank transfer)

    Despite the differences between Libya and Iraq, the lack of consideration of what precedents and expectations overthrowing Qaddafi set is problematic. Syria and Iran certainly dial this into their negotiating strategy, and we don't know yet where instability in Libya will lead - that people's uprising in Benghazi didn't exactly take root as a democratic movement, and roving militias are hardly our ideal partner in democracy. building, as we've seen in other MIdeast countries as well.

    GW Bush administration:

    "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

    We are still studying, and counting the losses, the destruction and the dead.

    Churchill on war:

    Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

    Words attributed to Karl Rove 

    This is a reason it's important to set the record straight on the 'why' of Operation Iraqi Freedom and its actual precedent, or more to the point, the precedents of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement that led to OIF. See explanation of the law and policy, fact basis for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    Thanks for the link, though I disagree on a number of issues.

    First, containment is not de facto "broken" - sure, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and we all wish for easy disarmament. But if containment fits US interests vs. the other realistic alternatives, ride it.

    Some of the arguments against containment were that it was too costly or too much trouble, but that's obviously bullshit compared to the 1000x higher cost and troubles of Gulf War II & its aftermath. Containment worked great for the Cold War, all things considering - much better than the annihilation of WWII battles.

    But I've explained myself to questioning Europeans that sometimes a policy like containment is no longer acceptable - that the risks of the status quo are too dangerous to sit around waiting guess-and-see - especially if the conditions and danger inside are unknown. Which is why I supported the pressure for inspections, even though I thought Bush a duplicitous asshole. With an event like 9/11 the situation and risk assessment had radically changed, and with too little concrete knowledge of the situation inside Iraq - largely a black hole - and a recent security disaster, the US had little tolerance for uncertainty. And with the continued deadlock and lack of improvement in the Mideast, sometimes like pool with no obvious shots, the only real option is to "break up the table" to come up with a better position.

    Second, Blix and the UN inspectors were rather satisfied with progress by Jan 2003, and that progress continued into March. Again, the issue for us is "serving US interests", not "we told you to, and you didn't do it". Demanding disarmament and proof of no weapons is a huge operation, and proving a negative is rather difficult - proof? we couldn't prove it even after occupying the country. Our biggest concern was nuclear weapons, and we discovered Iraq definitively didn't have them. Unaccounted for chemical weapons were likely unusable & ineffective after that amount of time. Biological weapons were more controversial, but we still have no proof that any existed, and if they did, it was a small program. So why did we have to follow through with an invasion that didn't fit our strategic interests? Delays would have strengthened our hand, not weakened us. But for the unthinking, any stepdown would only be humiliation and defying of our authority - using a very unimaginative definition of "noncompliance".

    Posted: February 15, 2003

    UNITED NATIONS — U.N. inspectors have not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and are slowly gaining Baghdad's grudging cooperation, top weapons inspectors said yesterday in a measured report that derailed U.S. efforts to broaden support for war.

    The inspectors also said they still could not account for 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, and an exasperated Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned members of the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein was playing "tricks" on them.

    Powell may have accused Hussein of tricks, but it's been well documented that Powell and the CIA lied about Hussein's capabilities numerous times on a number of key points. You can read the background documentation here.

    Blix was happy with UN progress as early as January, surprised that things were going that well. But progress wasn't good enough for a regime that was intent on using any discrepancy no matter how small, even if those discrepancies were based on lies and flawed analysis. As Ambassador Wilson noted, by March the inspectors were going wherever they needed without hindrance. But success wasn't part of the Bush gang's playbook - they wanted the t-shirt and the green light, even if they had to light it themselves.

    Posted: March 08, 2003

    UNITED NATIONS — The United States and Britain, undeterred by largely upbeat reports yesterday from U.N. weapons inspectors, asked the Security Council to impose a firm deadline on Iraq's Saddam Hussein, giving him 10 more days to fully disarm or face war.

    Pulling defeat from victory - how quaint. We associate Stalingrad with Hitler's foolish refusal to retreat an inch in the face of disaster and crushing defeat. The Charge of the Light Brigade is a symbol of futile attack to preserve honor against debilitating odds. Perhaps we can figure out the exact metaphor for Gulf War II - say a foolish  grandstanding act pretending to serve our interests while instead subsuming those interests to a generation of chaos. Well done, George - you're now synonymous with "lying your way to war against your own best interests" - the gang that couldn't shoot straight, or perhaps just didn't want to.

    Grand metaphors from history are difficult to come by because there has never been a neophyte with less qualifications and greater resources in his arsenal than George W. Bush.

    Nice post, Peracles. And great discussion.

    Eric (not verified) I read 9 words of your link and stopped.

    "Did George Bush lie his way into Iraq?


    I have no time for lawyering shills all too ready to make excuses to justify the legal case for Bush wars or Bush torture.

    Benjamin Ferencz, Nuremburg prosecutor of Nazi criminals after WW2, said Bush should stand trial for the supreme international crime of aggressive war in 2006.

    My link -  935 lies told by the Bush administration to get us into the Iraq war.

    Bush also started himself and 'the White House' on CIPRO before the first anthrax letter was mailed. I don't see that discussed very often. Richard Cohen of the Post did mention it was common DC knowledge that there was going to be an anthrax incident just after 9/11. Link

    Bush then used the deaths from anthrax to gin up his WMD fear mongering about Saddam and anthrax in his SOU 2002. It was pinned 10 years later on US made anthrax from a US Army facility, coincidentally pinned on a 'lone nut' who conveniently committed suicide before any official indictment or trial. 

    In Iraq and Libya, the US overthrew dictators.  In Syria, it didn't.  The Iraq Body Count Project has Iraqi casualties at about 115,000. Libyan casualties are around 15,000.  In Syria, the number is over 220,000, and rising.  Iraq has double the population of Syria.

    Anyone still think the US was wrong to overthrow the dictators?

    YES! Lurker, only trouble with your Republican amnesiac math is:

    1) ISIS military is run by ex-Saddam officers, political run by an Iraqi nutcase, all let loose when Bush 'Got Saddam' and his Consul Bremer fired the Iraqi Army and police in 2003.

    2) these same guys got their armaments from the Iraqi Army we financed and trained who ran away from bases, an Army which Bush said pre-election 2004 would be 160,000 strong and good to go in 2004. Trouble is they did go, dropping their guns, leaving their tanks and artillery for the former Saddam guys to use.

    3) leading one to surmise, Syrian casualties are due largely to our invasion and chaos in Iraq, which formed the core of the men and the heavy/light weapons to fight in Syria.

    4) there would have been no casualties in Iraq, ours or Iraqi, if Bush hadn't invaded Iraq in the first place, the nation was at peace, repeat, it was at peace until Bush ordered the invasion!!!

    And now our "great enemy" Iran is fighting ISIS, the same bad guys that we hate.

    Then there's the nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees that fled to Syria during our war that likely strained resources and had some effect on destabilizing the country.

    What is worse about lurker's post is it assumes that all that matters is the number of dead. Most of the Iraqi refugees in Syria lived in extreme poverty and more than 50 thousand girls and women were forced into prostitution to survive. But hey, they're alive so no harm, no foul.

    Good points.

    When I slip on the lightly scuffed boots of Paul Bremer, (don't ask me how I came into possession of them), I remember how inexpensive it was all supposed to be: Wolfie laughing in derision at Shenseki's numbers, Rumsfeld not sending all the troops that were put on line to prove we were getting a bargain, etcetera. Well, how was one to think it would not be easy? Reading all those interminable studies published by the War College in the Nineties would have been a good start. The regime change policy formation at that time was also a battle in the Agency and Department Wars that had been decades in the making. It is easier to research the conflicts between agencies than the divides within each. It is getting harder to reassemble the pieces of either as time goes forward. But it is pretty clear that there were winners and losers. (I say more about this below)

    Our Foreign Policy does resemble Macbeth as it successively moves against each enemy after being shown their identity in dreams. But the casual dress failure to make Iraq a functioning state obscures what many see to be a policy triumph: There are no instruments in place for a concentration of power of the kind achieved by Saddam Hussein happening there. There is the problem of ISIS but they are not a State that will ever get a bank account or get a seat at the U.N. A similar lack of state power can now be seen in Libya and Syria. If I were a secular Arab and paranoid, I would see the events since the Iraq invasion as the beginning of the dismantling of any vestige of the Arab Nationalism movement that emerged in the twentieth century. Poof. One could be forgiven for seeing this result as coming about as the result of a well executed plan.

    I am not in any way making an argument for or against that movement, just noticing it is headed for the other side of the sod. The groups that count that as a good thing in itself cannot be disappointed in the results.

    The expression "regime change" is unfortunate. It sounds like changing a hard drive on a computer where all the functioning parts will do what they always do but now with new information. There certainly are instances that are more like that than others. The CIA assisted overthrow of Allende by Pinochet is an example. Anaconda was dealing with the same teams it lost contact with in short order. The war in the Philippines was not like that. It took years of "counterinsurgency" to change the status quo. It was a island and became more of a cage match than anything else. Iran, Panama, Bosnia, and Afghanistan had very different experiences after their respective decapitations.

    I put off expanding on the agency wars mentioned above because bringing this stuff up so easily overpowers the senses with important issues that do not convey the point I wish to make. In the lead up to the Iraq War 2, John F Lehman did his part to attach Al Qaeda to Iraq What is getting harder to document is that Lehman reacted to the bombing of the USS Cole as pointing to a State actor because it was too disciplined, organized, and well funded to be a bunch of guys on their own. Lehman was on the 9/11 Commission and performed balletic movements to shrug off his early dismissal of Al Qaeda as the principle cause while castigating those who were too slow to prove him wrong. The transcript of the Commission interview of Clarke shows Lehman in good form. At the time, most of the energy spent in the interview was on finding upon which donkey to pin the blame for the failure to stop the attack. Underlying this struggle is the difficulty of talking about non-state actors with enormous influence. Lehman turned out to be correct, in a way. There was support from Sudan. Not the actors he was looking for.

    The point I wish to make is that non-state actors are not bound by the same rules that constrain established nations but neither are they aliens imported from another planet. Both Clarke and Lehman did not get it right on a fundamental level. I submit we haven't moved much further than their failure to understand each other.

    Speaking of Wolfie and Pontius Bremer, who can forget the Ode To Wolfowitz? Written on the occasion of his only visit to Baghdad October 2003, when a dead-ender fired rockets from a donkey at his Hotel, killing an 0-6 US officer, and rousing Wolfie in his PJ's.

    Ode to Wolfowitz

    O sweet, sweet Irony. How comforting thy terrible countenance became to the wise when thou chose to turn thy gaze to the proud and haughty and administer their comeuppance…

    O Wolfowitz...

    It was with great woe that the wise beheld thou in thy smug righteousness, when thou would not bear reproach for thy excesses and appetites, thy shock and awe, where mothers in Babylon wept...

    And the wise witnessed thee before the senate, with thy chest puffed up with proud boasts, demanding the senate yoke more taxes onto the necks of the poor, so thou could pry ever more no-bid contracts for thy Caesar and his coin masters...

    O Wolfowitz, Vice-regent of Neo-Babylon....

    After thou filled thy coffers with gold and heaped contempt upon the meek who dared beg for the crumbs from thy Caesar's table, thou devised plans to survey the land of the vanquished and behold thy spoils of war...

    Lo, how couldst thou neglect, that thy withering presence would greatly kindle the hot displeasure of the weak as they witnessed thy proud mouth boast of thy great works, of what was, and was to come…

    Even while yet, the great crowd still awaits thy showing of these, weapons o' mass destruction, that thy footman, Uncle Powell, did bellow in a wroth voice full of war, and swore an oath before the great assembly of the kings of the world, were hid of every shadow of every rock in Babylon...

    The vanquished, not able to bear the baneful discomfiture of thy haughty visage, made council to prepare for thee, a strong cup of trembling...

    In thy infallible omniscience, thou failed to heed the ministrations of thy Prefect, Pontius Bremer, who establishes his chambers in fortified walls and cities and makes for his daily company, fierce men of war and bravery renowned, and will not suffer to leave their presence...

    In thy fervent desire to make proof for thy Caesar of this, progress and security that thou hadst allegedly wrought amongst the vanquished, who have bitterly wept for the sake of their sons and daughters, thou proceeded to lay thy head in the midst of the maelstrom, thy heart made glad and confident by thy own proud boasts...

    With great marvel, the wise witnessed thee, shocked and awed from thine own bedchambers in thy underwear, after thou were served but a meager sip from this same cup of trembling thou pitilessly force to the lips of the weak, gourd after gourd...

    What jest greeted thee, when thou strived to strengthen thy trembling knees and made haste to clear thy throat with thy Caesar's customary gargle of, staying the course, dead-enders, Baathists, foreign instigators and such like, even as thou fled for thy life....

    Then thou sent again, thy footman Powell before the great assembly…

    Yet behold, in that strange and perilous hour, thy footman called forth with gentle supplications, peculiarly devoid of mischievous speak of irrelevant international bodies or Ye Olde Europe and entreated the selfless who bear the burden for the widows and orphans to remain in Babylon and forfeit life in honor of thy Caesar...

    O Wolfowitz...

    Wherefore dost thou now deny thyself the rapturous joy of a Mesopotamian sunset...?

    It was posted on, late 2003. as an email. In light of how things turned out, the line: "In thy fervent desire to make proof for thy Caesar of this, progress and security that thou hadst allegedly wrought amongst the vanquished....they witnessed thy proud mouth boast of thy great works, of what was, and was to come…" seems particularly prescient in irony.


     Feb. 7, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy: "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

    March 11, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars: "The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator."

    March 16, Vice President Cheney, on NBC's Meet the Press: "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly, . . . (in) weeks rather than months." He predicted that regular Iraqi soldiers would not "put up such a struggle" and that even "significant elements of the Republican Guard . . . are likely to step aside."

    And they investigate Benghazi for 2 years and forget those horrific fiascos that sent thousands of Amercans and 100 times more others to early graves.

    While we don't have the horrid soundbites on Libya, and I suspect these Iraq statements were deliberately mendacious, I'd guess a lot of people were similarly flippant and overly-optimistic with Libya. It's so close to Europe! Just get rid of Qaddafi and all will be okay!

    Perhaps, perhaps similar things were said in the run up to the bombing of Libya. That happened after I got a job as a caretaker of a ghost town with no electricity or internet and before I got solar panels and satellite internet. I couldn't really follow the story with much depth. But still, while both Obama and Clinton are too hawkish for my tastes it's hard for me to see either of them being that ignorant or flippant.

    But Bush on the other hand....

    Lots of people were similarly not flippant or overly-optimistic that leaving Qaddafi in power to 'get rid of'' the ongoing uprising against his 40 year despotic rule would mean 'all will be OK'.

    Iraq was a peace, Libya was in civil war. There is a difference there.

    Moat, I like "Friday Casual" as the metaphor for Bremer's reconstruction of Iraq.

    Thanks for the link to the transcript. A question came to mind about what is known of OBL's timing for the attack. Anything on that? 

    The timeline leading up to the attack is one of those "important issues that do not convey the point I wish to make." It would be off topic to travel too far into that here but it would be interesting to have a discussion about it for its own sake.

    I brought up the careless quality of the Bremer period because it is one of the contributing factors bringing about the degradation of international institutions that PP spoke of. The promises of easy success were mendacious. But the concealment of difficulty was not just about selling the project to the public and their representatives. The way the project was carried out broke important components of the instrument of war itself.

    We have become very skillful at blowing up SUVs filled with people who are skillful at blowing up other people. But the ability to build political structures and alliances that would allow some populations to become powerful enough to move past continuous conflict is not something our polity is getting better at. The neoconservatives are okay with that. They traded in the "strongman" method of proxy war for the dynamic black hole approach. 

    It will require a very concerted effort on many levels to alter the methods being used. An Executive agenda would obviously be necessary but not sufficient for the purpose alone.

    Actually our ability to blow up SUVs is overrated, as judged from our limited ability to contain ISIS. But feel free to expand on the breaking of our institution-building capabilities. "Dynamic black hole" is apt - whatever shit flows out of it, WE WIN!!! SYKE!!!

    As long as not succeeding is the goal and not a side-effect, it's rather hard to change the outcomes or better the techniques. Grover Norquist must be ecstatic that we're finding dozens of governments to drown in their own bathtubs, though the size of bathtubs have gotten recognizeably larger and surrealistic.

    I am replying to the invitation to say more as a new comment so that it looks better in a mirror.

    Going back to the matter of States working with non-State actors; the reason I focused upon Lehman was because of how diffuse he was regarding which State to blame. In the transcript I linked to, Armitage and Lehman joke about wanting to bomb the Iranian embassy after the USS Cole attack. The nine-eleven attacks put an end to such wild swings at the piñata. The attacks were organized by Arabs and were directly connected to the politics within and between Arab nations. The operations to take down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan as an attempt to hunt down fugitives did not confront the source of the agenda; the Arabs in Afghanistan were foreigners who would never have been hanging out there if not for the war against Soviet occupation. So, there is an understandable desire to mess directly with the Arabian political miasma.

    Running through the list of possible targets, the first one that comes to mind is Saudi Arabia. Many of the attackers came from there. A lot of the Al Qaeda fatwas name the place as one of the violated places. The Wahhabis are earnest Salafist. What's not to like?
    Oh, wait, our country is deeply intertwined with Saudi Arabia in matters of energy production, banking, and weapons procurement. Forget about it.
    How about Egypt? Scratch that, they have been carrying our water since the deal struck by Carter.
    Syria? While they make a nice leg on the tripod of evil, they are too busy representing the role of Iran's harlot to change the narrative now.
    The Emirates; need I say more? Yemen? Lebanon? Palestine? Jordan?  That leaves Iraq.

    Underneath all the disingenuous attempts to link Iraq to Al Qaeda was a deeply felt inadequacy to have any effect on the political environment in the Arab world at all. So the archives of AEI and PNAC started filling up with arguments for “breaking the rack” rather than discussing individual objectives. The utter lack of a strategy became a strategy in itself. Pentagon brass like Lehman and Rumsfeld started lining up their deployment lists and worker bees like Clarke and Tenet drew up lists of individual targets. The two sides of the instrument of war began to lose an important boundary between them. The military was carrying out an operation that would have been carried out by the CIA in the past. The CIA itself was busy fighting for position with the expansion of Military Intelligence on one side while being overwhelmed with tasks on the other. Clarke was right to say Iraq was a diversion but time has come to show that his project was one also. The absence of a coherent policy on the connection between state and non-state actors has us dissolving states on one end of the scale or chasing tribal members on the other end toward no strategic end than demonstrating our willingness to fight.

    What about the famed to-be-militarized State Dept, with own helicopters etc. (as seemed to be what Hillary was referring to as we pulled troops out of Iraq)? Do you think this may have been part of what occurred in Benghazi when rumored to be gun running for Syria, or only a CIA gig, or something else?

    It's interesting that 2 of our Axis of Evil antichrists have had to become partial allies to tamp down local unrest. If we didn't live in such jaded times, the irony would be priceless.

    Joe Liberman & John McCain were still joshing about Iran attacks long after 9/11, but maybe no one in the Administration does anymore - haven't paid that much attention.

    Thanks for the further background, Moat.

    Latest Comments