2004 July 23 Friday
Best Strategy Toward Iran Considered In Light Of 9/11 Report

The US National Commission On Terrrorist Attacks Upon The United States has released its final report on the 9/11 attack, the history of events leading up to that attack, the performance of US national security-related agencies and departments, the activities of various other countries, and, last but not least, what we now know about Al Qaeda. Among the surprises was a report that many of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran on their way to meetings in Afghanistan.

The hijackers' passports were not stamped by Iranian authorities, the report says, but it leaves unresolved the question of whether that reflected a deliberate effort to provide assistance to Al-Qaida. It says Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, believed to be the mastermind of the attacks, has said the hijackers were taking advantage of a well-known Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports.

Commission Chairman, former New Jersey Republican Governor Thomas Kean, says that in spite of Iranian leniency toward Al Qaeda in terms of allowing Al Qaeda members to pass through Iran there is no known Iranian government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

"We don't know of any current relationship," said Kean. "We do know that when people wanted to get through Iran to Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden, including a number of the [September 11] hijackers, they were able to do [that] without marks in their passports that would indicate they'd been through Iran. But there is no evidence whatsoever, for instance, that Iran knew anything about the attack on [September] 11 or certainly assisted it in any way."

Such involvement can not be ruled out. Short of direct support we also can not rule out the possibility that some top figures in the Iranian government may have known about the 9/11 attacks in advance. There are other associations between Al Qaeda and Iranian officials that are disturbing.

Just eight months before the September 11 terror attacks, top conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh received a four-week visa to Iran and then flew to Tehran—an apparent stop-off point on his way to meet with Al Qaeda chiefs in Afghanistan, according to law-enforcement documents obtained by NEWSWEEK.

There is evidence that the Iranian ambassador to Malaysia allowed two of the 9/11 hijackers to stay at his residence in Kuala Lumpur.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has information linking Tehran to two of the September 11 hijackers, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, according to intelligence officials.

Almidhar and Alhazmi stayed at the Kuala Lumpur residence of Iran's ambassador to Malaysia during a January 2000 meeting of al Qaeda operatives, the officials said.

If these Jihadists stayed with the Iranian ambassador it is hard to believe they didn't tell him they were endeavoring to kill a large number of Americans.

Iran-Al Qaeda relations were not closer. Why? Well, it was not because the mullahs in Iran didn't wish it. Bin Laden turned down Iranian overtures because the Iranian mullahs are Shias, not Sunnis.

A preliminary report from commission staff, released last month, stated: "Bin Laden's representatives and Iranian officials discussed putting aside Shia-Sunni divisions to co-operate against the common enemy."

The offer is said to have been turned down by bin Laden, who was reluctant to alienate Sunni supporters in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, in the wake of September 11, Iran sheltered al-Qaeda militants fleeing Afghanistan.

Being mere Shiites the Iranians just weren't good enough to be allowed an important role in the efforts of purist Wahhabi Sunnis to blow up thousands of Americans. That'll teach those Iranians a lesson. There is a cost to their apostasy. They could be fighting alongside Wahhabi Sunni Arab Muslims dying in the battle against the Great Satan. But since they insist upon believing the wrong version of Islam they will be denied that pleasure in this world and in the next world.

But we now know that the price the Iranians paid for being Shiites is nothing compared to the price Saddam Hussein paid for being secular. Secular Saddam was even more distant from Al Qaeda than those Shiite Persians.

One week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no "compelling case" existed for Iraq's involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government were weak.

Not only did Osama bin Laden resent the Iraqi government's secularism, Kurtz's classified memo stated, but there was no confirmed information about collaboration between them on weapons of mass destruction.

The mullahs had the advantage of geographical proximity to then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to put them near Al Qaeda even as the mullahs were angry at the Sunni Muslim Taliban for their mistreatment of Shia Muslims. The proximity allowed the mullahs to play bit roles with scraps of help like letting Al Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran without getting their passports stamped. No doubt by being obsequious toadies to the Al Qaeda celebrities the Shia mullahs found other little ways to associate themselves with the big league prestigious global Al Qaeda organization. But the mullahs, saddled with their pariah status as Shias, couldn't get any Persians assigned to really important tasks like, say, the 9/11 hijacker teams. That must remain a bitter disappointment for the mullahs even to this day.

A Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force chaired former Carter Administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Bush I Administration CIA Director Robert M. Gates and directed by Dr. Suzanne Maloney argues among many other points that the United States should promote democracy rather than regime change in Iran.

Promote democracy, not regime change. "The United States should advocate democracy in Iran without relying on the rhetoric of regime change, as that would be likely to rouse nationalist sentiments in defense of the current regime even among those who currently oppose it." The United States should focus instead on promoting political evolution that would lead to stronger democratic institutions internally and enhanced diplomatic and economic relations abroad.

I have serious doubts that the United States can do all that much to promote democracy in Iran. At the same I think regime change would be extremely costly for the United States. Iran has three times the population of Iraq and an invasion would result in a large domestic insurgency against a US military which is far too small to take on the invasion let alone the post-war occupation. However, regime change might be the only way to stop the Iranians from eventually developing nuclear weapons. Therefore my guess continues to be that mullahs are going to succeed in developing working nukes.

From the body of the CFR report Iran: Time for a New Approach the CFR writers claim Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state. (PDF format)

Ultimately, any U.S. policy toward Tehran must be conditioned by a credible assessment of the current regime’s durability. The breach between the countries began with a revolution, and many argue that it cannot conclusively end without another comprehensive transformation in the nature and composition of the Iranian government. Moreover, recent political ferment within Iran and expectations of a demonstration effect from regime change in Iraq has given rise to persistent anticipation that such a revolution is imminent. Although largely overly optimistic, these forecasts have helped shape U.S. policy toward Tehran, conditioning the administration of George W. Bush to reach out to putative opposition leaders and making U.S. policymakers reluctant to engage with the current regime in order to avoid perpetuating its hold on power.

Inevitably, the distance established by geography and political separation complicates any accurate understanding of Iran’s domestic politics today. Still, certain broad conclusions can be drawn from a careful consideration of the recent patterns of politics in Iran. Most important, the Islamic Republic appears to be solidly entrenched and the country is not on the brink of revolutionary upheaval. Iran is experiencing a gradual process of internal change that will slowly but surely produce a government more responsive toward its citizens’ wishes and more responsible in its approach to the international community. In contrast to all of its neighbors—and to the prevailing stereotypes inculcated by its own vitriolic rhetoric—Iran is home to vigorous, albeit restricted, political competition and a literate, liberalizing society. Even after the recent political setbacks, Iran today remains a state in which political factions compete with one another within an organized system, where restrictions on civil rights and social life are actively contested, and where the principles of authority and power are debated energetically.

I agree with their argument that Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state and first made that argument here well over a year ago. Even if a domestic rebellion could be fomented so-called moderates who might replace the mullahs would probably continue with Iran's nuclear program anyhow. So nothing short of an invasion and extended occupation would stop Iran's nuclear program if the United States decided to go down the regime change route.

I disagree that the Iranian government is going to gradually become "more responsive toward its citizens' wishes". It might do so in some areas but not in any way that threatens the control of the mullahs or the ambitions of the mullahs. I fail to see how Iran's internal political developments are going to work to our advantage to any substantial extent.

Here is where the CFR folks see signs of hope:

Conservatives’ overriding interest in retaining power means that they have an increasing imperative to avoid provoking international tensions, so as to preserve and expand the economic opportunities available to Iran in general and to their own privileged elite cohort in particular. Some conservatives appear to favor a “China model” of reform that maintains political orthodoxy while encouraging market reforms and tolerating expanding civil liberties.

For this reason, Iran’s economy offers an ever-more important avenue of potential influence by outsiders. High global oil prices have boosted the overall growth rates of the Iranian economy, but structural distortions—including massive subsidies, endemic corruption, a disproportionately large public sector, and dependency on oil rents— severely undermine the strength of the Iranian economy. Iran’s economic woes pose direct, daily hardships for its population, whose income measured on a per capita basis has fallen by approximately one third since the revolution. With as many as one million new job-seekers coming into the market each year, the single greatest challenge for any government in Iran will be generating conditions for job growth. Iran needs a substantial and sustained expansion of private investment sufficient for its productive capacity in order to meet these demands, including as much as $18 billion per year in foreign direct investment.

A "China model" is our hope? Hello McFly! Has China's economic development made it more or less able to stand up to and compete with the United States? Answer: More. Has China undergone much political liberalization as a result of its economic development? Answer: No. If Iran takes off economically that will strengthen the mullahs, not weaken them.

A slightly more plausible model is Libya. Maximal leader Khadafy opted to give up support for terrorism and his nuclear program in exchange for foreign investment and trade. Could the Iranians be induced to accept such a deal? Maybe. Not counting on it though. The mullahs (and a substantial portion of the population as a whole) seem to have a burning desire to become a nuclear power.

The CFR folks admit the Iranians are trapped in their own religious ideology.

Tehran’s approach to Washington remains one of several decisive exceptions to the general trend toward moderation and realism in Iranian foreign policy. In formulating Iranian policy toward the United States, ideological imperatives continue to outweigh dispassionate calculations of national interest. Iran’s strident opposition to Israel is also the product of self-defeating dogma. These exceptions may be slowly abated by erosion of Iran’s revolutionary orthodoxies, the growing importance of public support as a component of regime legitimacy, and the increasing difficulty of international integration.

It is worth noting that Cuba, North Korea, and even Saudi Arabia are trapped in various sorts of wicked ideologies. These sorts of ideological traps can last for decades or, in the case of religious beliefs which find support in cultures, even longer. Heck, look at the ideological trap of the neocons. Their mental trap appears remarkably resistant to empirical evidence that undermines its myths and assumptions.

Jim Lobe paints the CFR report as part of a move by realist opponents of the neocons.

These new factors have intensified the three-and-a-half-year-old struggle within the Bush administration between the hawks, particularly the neo-conservatives for whom the security of Israel is a core commitment, and the realists, who are led by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell, in turn, is backed by a number of top alumni of past Republican and Democratic administrations, including Bush Sr's former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Brzezinski, and Frank Carlucci, who served as national security adviser and defense secretary for the late president Ronald Reagan (1981-89) and also participated in the task force.

The neocons have a number of factors now working against them when it comes to their ambitions for Iran regime change:

  • The US has already tied down a large fraction of its military in Iraq and has no reserves to draw upon for an even bigger intervention.
  • The neocons were the leading advocates the policies that have tied down all those US forces.
  • The public at large is beginning to separate out regime change from terrorist fighting as it becomes clear how regime change has taken forces away from terrorist fighting.
  • An Iran invasion would be much more expensive than an Iraq invasion.
  • The opponents of the neocons feel emboldened and are much more organised now than they were previously.
  • A lot of people who initially supported the neocons on Iraq now think they are either irresponsible lunatics, ignorant fools, suffering from divided loyalties, ideological nutcases.
  • Bush may lose his reelection bid which will deprive the neocons of positions in the Executive Branch.

The big wildcard is whether Al Qaeda will succeed in launching another large attack in the United States. If thousands more Americans are killed how will the American people respond? On one hand that will make Americans a lot more hawkish once again. On the other hand an attempt to convince the American public of Iran's role in supporting Al Qaeda will face a much higher standard of evidence than the standard the Bush Administration had to pass for its arguments in favor of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. My guess continues to be that the neocons have so undermined their own credibility with their Iraq misadventure that they have reduced the US threat to the theocrats in Teheran. The irony of this outcome is that for a long time the Israelis have seen the Iranians as a far greater threat than the Saddam. So the neocons have damaged not only US security but Israeli security as well.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 July 23 11:54 PM  MidEast Iran


Comments
Fly said at July 24, 2004 11:21 AM:

“At the same I think regime change would be extremely costly for the United States. Iran has three times the population of Iraq and an invasion would result in a large domestic insurgency against a US military which is far too small to take on the invasion let alone the post-war occupation. However, regime change might be the only way to stop the Iranians from eventually developing nuclear weapons. Therefore my guess continues to be that mullahs are going to succeed in developing working nukes.”

I believe this assumes the US would occupy Iran as it has Iraq. By using Iraq as a base the US can launch strike teams into Iran. I suspect the US could take out any base or force it wished. That should make it possible to seek out and destroy nuclear facilities. The US could also support other groups wishing to fight the mullahs by providing weapons, money, and air support. (I have no expertise in this area and am only passing on assessments I’ve read on military forums.)

I’ve also read that Israel could destroy an Iranian reactor before the Russians supply fuel rods. (Due to the long flight distance it would be hard but they can do it.) This is important because Iran will need that reactor to make Plutonium. A plutonium bomb is technically more difficult to make but is far smaller than a Uranium bomb. Iranian missiles couldn’t carry a Uranium bomb to Israel or Europe. Thus Israel might strike the Iranian reactor just prior to fueling. (Again I’m not an expert and am only passing along what I’ve read.)

Randall, overall I believe you’ve stated the situation well and covered the important points. Excellent post that I hope many people read.

I still think the Bush strategy is far deeper than a neocon plan for democracy in the ME. As you’ve read Stephen den Beste, you know what I think our government is doing.

Dan said at July 24, 2004 5:31 PM:

It appears some neo-con on Washington got confused and made a spelling error. thus we invadaed IraQ not.IraN. Could of also been a typo. Dan

gcochran said at July 24, 2004 6:48 PM:

How could anyone possibly believe that this Administration has a "deep strategy" ?

Brock said at July 25, 2004 6:36 PM:

Would we be safer today if Saddam were still sponsoring terrorist training camps?

Would we be safer today if Iraq were stil a haven for terrorists?

For all the reasons stated we could not have invaded Iran and occupied it as we did Iraq. It wasn't an option.

Randall, you made a good list and collected a lot of good links. It's helpful when making important decisions to have as much information on hand as possible. However, I don't see any suggestions as to what we should do. Lots of complaining; not a lot of constructive advice. If you were the fellow elected in November, what would you do? Sit on your hands? Wait for Iran to empower some terrorist group to nuke New York or Tel Aviv?

There is some doubt as to whether or not Iran was directly involved in 9/11. However, there is no doubt at all that Iran has been and continues to be involved in terrorist activities throughout the world. Just a week or two ago two Iranian "UN diplomats" were expelled from New York for activities that looked more like terrorist scouting than tourism.

It's also pretty certain that even if Iran didn't substantially help al Qaeda before 9/11, they are now the principal provider of safe haven. Most of the Al Qaeda leadership is in Iran, with freedom to move about the country.

Let's see what your suggetions are for solving this:
"Jordan To Supply Soldiers To Iraq" - hmm, none.
"Coalition Provisional Authority Failures Highlighted" - finger pointing, no helping hand. hmm.
"Carroll Andrew Morse Addresses Objections To Iraq Partition" - Preditiction Iraq will descend into Civil War; no suggestions as to how to avoid it though ...
"Shiite, Sunni Tribes May Fight Over Fallujah Killings" - Liberaliation not in the cards; no help offered.
"Position Of Women In Iraq Worsens" - No mention of the rape-rooms being decommissioned. No suggestion for overcoming the democratic exercise of old-world culture. I'm seeing a pattern here ...
"Will The Kurds Try To Secede From Iraq?" - Not yet. Not that you helped ...

It goes on and on.

SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. You don't like the options we've tried; fine, that's your right. However, I'd like to hear your plan. Think the Iraq invasion only have a 1 in 10 chance of working? Show me 2.

Are you having a debate, or just complaining to the fellow pessimists who already agree with you?

Randall Parker said at July 25, 2004 8:29 PM:

Brock,

Al Qaeda's terrorists were not trained in facilities run by Saddam.

We would be in a stronger position to deal with Iran if we hadn't alienated much of the rest of the world with our Iraq misadventure. We'd also have a lot more in the way of military forces available to threaten the Iranians.

Would we be safer if we hadn't increased Arab hatred and Al Qaeda recruitment by invading Iraq and then mishandling the aftermath?

My suggestions: I have made a great many of them. I've argued for better foreign language training for CIA and military types. I've argued for Iraq's partition (better to avoid a civil war and to at least give the Kurds a chance at democracy as well as keeping some friends in the region). I've argued for an energy policy aimed and defunding the Arab oil sheikdoms and Wahhabis. I've argued for a far better immigration policy aimed at keeping out terrorists and at keeping the West from becoming more Muslim.

Way early on before the invasion and before Bush showed just how inadequate he really is I argued for educating the women in Iraq and similar places and for educating a more liberal elite. Mind you, I don't think we can do much to reform Iraqi society. But we could have made at least token efforts to address underlying issues like the educational level of women. But it seems clear that Allawi is going to become another strongman. He's already shot several insurgents just to show his security forces how he expects his government to function. He'll probably win an election and then become another Mubarak or Putin. The US government will call it democracy. We can pretend that there is a democracy there magically transforming Iraqi society.

You are seeing a pattern in your own imagination.

Fly said at July 26, 2004 12:02 AM:

Hmmm, should I just stand back and watch. No I don’t think so. Randall, your last comment about “imagination” deserves a response.

The point Brock brings up is crucial. We have to choose between alternatives. Without discussing alternatives we aren’t discussing reality.

Randall: “Al Qaeda's terrorists were not trained in facilities run by Saddam.”

I’m guessing that the readers of this blog are well aware that Al Qaeda is only one “pointy” end of the Islamic threat.

“We would be in a stronger position to deal with Iran if we hadn't alienated much of the rest of the world with our Iraq misadventure.”

Most of the world doesn’t like the US cultural, economic, political, and military dominance of the world. They’ll happily root against us. This group includes Germany, Canada, and Mexico. Others are enemies. The French and Chinese (and maybe Russia) will actively try to trip the US up. Islamic nations will publicly denounce any non-Muslim country in conflict with Muslim groups. It’s a major tenet of the Islamic faith. If the US defends itself, most of the world won’t like it.

“We'd also have a lot more in the way of military forces available to threaten the Iranians.”

I follow a couple of military strategy blogs. The general consensus is that the Iraq invasion was critical for the US to exert military pressure throughout the ME.

“mishandling the aftermath”

I’ve followed the Iraqi situation closely. I’ve seen arguments on both sides of all sorts of issues. More troops. More aggressive military ops. Disband the Iraq military; don’t disband. Eliminate the Baathists. Retain the Baathists middle ranks. Etc.

Mistakes have been made. That is normal for such undertakings. Considering how bad things could have gone, I’m satisfied with the progress to date.

“Would we be safer if we hadn't increased Arab hatred and Al Qaeda recruitment by invading Iraq and then mishandling the aftermath?”

In the short run the terrorist threats go up. In the long run I believe we are safer draining the swamp.

Randall: “My suggestions: I have made a great many of them.”

I’ve read your suggestions and commented on most of them. Many are good. Language and cultural training; yep the US government agrees. Better energy policy; yep I agree but it doesn’t defund the terrorists sponsoring governments. Better immigration policy; yep, but it doesn’t stop the growing terrorist threat. Iraq’s partition; lots of reasons why that isn’t best right now but I agree it’s a fallback position that I believe is part of the US military contingency planning.

“He's already shot several insurgents just to show his security forces how he expects his government to function.”

Do you know this or are you reporting one of the many Iraqi rumors that plague that country? I’ve read different accounts on this story.

Allawi may turn into a strong man. That would be sad. Allawi would still be better than Saddam. The invasion of Iraq would still have served US interests in the ME.

“You are seeing a pattern in your own imagination.”

Randall, I’ve seen the same pattern. You provide excellent links and commentary. But the central theme is anti-Bush. Parapundit seldom report things that don’t support an anti-Bush agenda.

Knowing your interest in immigration issues I posted a link to Kerry’s position. From my perspective Kerry’s position is far worse than what Bush has offered. I’ve never seen you discuss Kerry’s stance. Given your passion on immigration issues that is strange.

From our discussions I gather that you feel Bush has betrayed your interests. (Mainly on immigration and social spending.) At this point your agenda seems to be getting Bush out of office. Perhaps you believe that a Bush defeat will allow the true Republicans to recapture the party. I don’t know and I dislike speculating.
The one issue that matters to me is the WoT. You show a better plan and I’ll back it. You show me how Kerry will wage war on Islamic terror better than Bush has and I’ll back Kerry.

I have no particular fondness for Bush. I didn’t vote for him. I’m not religious. I’m against his faith initiatives. I’m not in favor of increased social spending. I dislike his stem cell policy. I don’t like his support for a marriage amendment. Most of my friends hate Bush.

But since 911 have followed world events closely. As far as I can tell the Bush administration has a plan and is executing it. Brock stated it well, where is the alternative.

Randall Parker said at July 26, 2004 12:48 AM:

Fly,

My last comment about "imagination" Is because Brock is misrepresenting what I have said or not said. You have done the same. You perhaps missed my post John Kerry Favors Illegal Alien Amnesty. I have also repeatedly made the point that any Republican pandering on immigration will just be outbid by Democratic Party pandering. Of course Kerry is proposing something worse. But Bush, by proposing something as stupid as he has proposed, has set a higher bar for Kerry to outbid Bush. So Bush effectively has pushed Kerry even further to the Left on immigration.

My analysis of Bush versus Kerry is apparently confusing you both because I'm Right Wing. Why aren't I eagerly for Republican Bush's reelection as the lesser of two evils? Why isn't that clear to me? You would have it that I'm being small and petty. No, I think my analysis on this is up to my regular standards. I'm just telling you something you don't want to hear. I agree with the reasoning of Tyler Cowen and Virginia Postrel (who I hope you both know are libertarians and Tyler's an economist at GMU) who argue that Kerry will not feel as much pressure to spend as Bush has and will. This is hardly an original argument of recent vintage. The Republicans under Clinton tried to oppose Presidential policies that they would have supported had a Republican proposed them.

Al Qaeda: Precisely because they do not have a national territory to defend they are less deterrable than a national leader. They have lots of eager recruits who are willing to die for their cause. From the standpoint of US security Saddam was a very small threat by comparison.

Military blogs: Why should they be considered special experts? Our problem isn't an inability to fight set piece battles. Our problem is on many levels involving cultures, religions, tribalism, and much else. That is properly the domain of social sciences. Though of course most social scientists are either too leftie or too unrigorous and not too bright to be much help (a Ph.D. sociologist once tried to convince my freshman college self to go into sociology because in his words the field suffered from an IQ deficit and I could do well against such meager competition). That there is a consensus among some military blogs for some course of action is supposed to be a reason to change my mind? Why? If I think they lack a sufficient appreciation of relevant factors then I see no reason to choose their judgement over mine. I'm not a follower of the herd. I make my own judgements.

"Mistakes have been made": How Clintonian. It also misses why mistakes were made. To take just one example, the neocons were warned that they would need a few times more troops. The experience of US troops in other theaters (e.g. Kosovo and Bosnia) was studied and provided firm estimates from experience. When General Shinseki tried pointing this out the vindictive neocons sent him out to pasture. The point was clear: try to raise reasonable points that would in any way call into question the quality of the strategy and you'd be punished. This is what annoys and angers me even more than the mistakes. Those neocons are ideologues who resist empirical evidence that gets in the way of their ambitions.

Precisely because so many groups are predisposed to look critically at US moves means that the US has to choose its interventions very carefully and has to plan and carry them out with sufficient resources. Just dismissing the hostility toward the US as inevitable misses the point that the extent of the hostility waxes and wanes depending on how the US conducts itself. The depth of the hostility has a big influence on the size of the terrorist threat we face.

You also seem to be missing the point (which I have made repeatedly to you guys) that it is Bush that is setting policy now. If I want to criticise current policy I have to criticise the people currently in charge. I've certainly criticised the US Senate for the 63 (it was 62 when I lasted posted on it) Senators sponsoring AgJobs.

Bush is blowing it big time on a number of scores. When I post, for instance, that his Medicare drug prescription plan has backfired I really believe it. I am speaking to fellow Republicans so that they will learn a longer term lesson from this. I want the Republicans to place their loyalties to their principles and to their desired policies ahead of an elected Republican President. I want them to make it clear to Republican elected officials that those officials can't screw over their base with impunity. I am looking forward a lot further than the next election.

As for whether Bush or Kerry will do better at the WoT: I do not see any clear indications of how Kerry will do on it. Can you point to specific Kerry policy proposals that you think will be worse than what Bush is doing?

gc said at July 26, 2004 4:36 AM:

I have to say that I agree with Randall.

A Bush win in this election will be seen as endorsement of Bushism, and will permanently drag the party leftwards.

Domestic Bushism = capitulation/active leftism on immigration, spending, racial preferences, and tariffs. Also bans on stem cell research.
Foreign policy Bushism = already covered. Major WMD debacle is inexcusable. He is to blame.

A repudiation of Bushism means that the Republicans will tack back to the right. Immigration in particular can easily put the Republicans in the White House in 2008 if they're smart about it. But the worst possible thing to do would be to eliminate any possibility of a mainstream right by endorsing Bushism.

There was much more in the way of solid fiscal Republicanism achieved during the 90's than during Bush's term.

Brock said at July 26, 2004 7:19 AM:

“Al Qaeda's terrorists were not trained in facilities run by Saddam.”

This is exactly what I’m talking about. You, me, Fly and hopefully all the other readers here know full well that Al Qaeda is just one head of the Hyrda known as militant Islam. Arguing that Saddam didn’t help that particular head is making a technical point to miss the bigger picture.

“We would be in a stronger position to deal with Iran if we hadn't alienated much of the rest of the world with our Iraq misadventure. We'd also have a lot more in the way of military forces available to threaten the Iranians.”

I agree with Fly more than you on this, but that’s not even the point right now. The point is that you’re not being helpful. Crying over spilt milk is useless. What should we do now? The Iraq “misadventure” is water under the bridge. You can only point out the failures of those in power so often before it ceases to become constructive criticism and starts to become Bush-bashing.

Way early on before the invasion and before Bush showed just how inadequate he really is I argued for educating the women in Iraq and similar places and for educating a more liberal elite.

But how would you do this? How could we possibly have educated the women of Iraq or incubated a liberal elite without first getting rid of Saddam? Do you think he women of Iran or the proto-liberal elite of Iran will have a chance in hell as long as the Mullahs are in power? Did they have a chance in Afghanistan while the Taliban was in power? The institutions that prevent liberal culture from being born must be forcibly torn down before liberal culture can grow. Tearing things down is usually messy, and always limited in effectiveness by the nature of the structure and the tools at hand.

Or at least, that’s my theory. What’s yours? That was exactly my question. Spell it out. How are we going to educate women without first getting rid of the strongmen that kill them and their menfolk.

“[W]e could have made at least token efforts to address underlying issues like the educational level of women.”

Instead we’ve made more-than-token efforts to kill the terrorists that kill the women. Given limited resources (and your preference for less government deficits), which would you rather have our troops doing? Are you advocating that we educate women while the terrorists rain mortars down on us without reprisal? If that’s what you’re advocating, spell it out.

In your answer, please use declarative sentences.

“Bush is blowing it big time on a number of scores. When I post, for instance, that his Medicare drug prescription plan has backfired I really believe it. I am speaking to fellow Republicans so that they will learn a longer term lesson from this.”

This is a valid argument, and one I’m glad to hear. I think the Medicare policy was boneheaded too – but I’m going to side-step it right now to stay on topic in this post.

Food for thought: When you make these arguments you may think you’re being fair and constructive (which I fully grant you), but look to the commenters you attract: at least 1/3 are unsubstantive Bush-haters agreeing with you. What does that say about your posts? Perhaps the message you think you’re conveying isn’t the one being perceived.

“You are seeing a pattern in your own imagination.”

Then my imagination is still running strong. In your replies both to me and to Fly you wrapped yourself in your criticisms as proof of your ‘help.’ I don’t see it. I see few if any real plans except vague recommendations that have no clear path to accomplishment. Investing is Arabic language skills is one of the few suggestions that I think could actually be implemented – although I don’t know what would have to be cut. What would you be willing to cut? Rifle training?

Or would you prefer more military spending?

“I'm just telling you something you don't want to hear.”

Sometimes, sometimes … be that as it may, I don’t mind hearing things that disappoint me as long as they’re constructive criticisms. If the posts at Parapundit occasionally disappoint me, it’s not the bad news that disappoints.

Anyone can point out the mistakes the infielders make from the safety of the stands. It takes a different kind of critic to show them how it’s done.

Fly said at July 26, 2004 9:38 AM:

(I wrote this before reading the morning comments.)

In mulling over Randall’s comments I’ve been asking myself why I’m satisfied with current progress in Iraq.

I had low expectations from the start. I expected far more coalition and Iraqi deaths. I expected more Muslim antagonism to the US. I expected that we’d be experiencing sniper attacks, car bombs, and Madrid style attacks in the US. We are at war and I expected our enemies to be more successful at this stage. (On the other hand I thought Canada would have been more supportive but I was out of touch with long term Canadian resentment toward the US. I did expect we’d have proof of WMD in the form of coalition and civilian deaths. At this point I consider the lack of WMD an intelligence failure.)

Parapundit and other sites provided many links and excellent commentary showing how difficult progress in Iraq would be. Makes me appreciate the progress that has been made.

Reading different pundits offer totally opposite solutions and then complain no matter what the Bush administration does, makes me discount the complainers. (As with the “Boy who cried wolf.” that might mean I discount valid criticisms.)

(Here’s my response to Randall’s reply. I liked his reply and believe he made many good points.)

Randall: “You perhaps missed my post John Kerry Favors Illegal Alien Amnesty.”

That post is an excellent example of the point I’m trying to make. You used that post to attack Bush, not Kerry. You didn’t discuss the items in the Kerry proposal that make it far worse than what Bush has offered.

From the linked post, Randall: “There is no good Presidential choice for those who think current US immigration policy is a disaster. George W. Bush of course favors amnesty while calling it something else as well. Bush's half-baked foreign worker permit program will most likely increase the influx of illegal aliens rather than decrease it.”

Randall: “You would have it that I'm being small and petty.”

No Randall. I have great respect for you. I don’t engage in lengthy debate with those I don’t respect. I believe I understand the position you take and I don’t think you are being small or petty. I believe you have an agenda.

I see nothing wrong with having an agenda. As I’ve stated previously concerning the WoT, I have my own agenda. I object when people point out your agenda and you call it their “imagination”.

Randall: “Virginia Postrel”

I read an interesting post by her on Bush hatred before visiting your site.

http://www.dynamist.com/weblog/archives/001221.html

Randall: “Military blogs: Why should they be considered special experts?”

I seek out experts in every field. I read what professors say about Iraq and Iran and then I go read blogs written by people who live there now. I read what experts say about the Iraqi and Afghanistan situations and then I read blogs of people who were there. When I want to know about Saudi Arabia, I read news reports and then read blogs of people who have lived there or are living there now.

When I want to know about nuclear threats, I listen to the people who actually worked with nuclear weapons.

When I want to know about covert operations I listen to the people who have done them and maintain contacts with those are doing them today.

The quantity of expert knowledge available on the Internet is staggering.

IQ is not a replacement for first hand experience.

Randall: “If I want to criticize current policy I have to criticize the people currently in charge.”

Certainly you do. Constructive criticism is critical to US success. But you also have to weigh the alternatives, including Kerry who is the only present alternative to Bush.

Randall: “Can you point to specific Kerry policy proposals that you think will be worse than what Bush is doing?”

Yes, I could list many such points. I could also list several ways in which Kerry would have an advantage over Bush. You follow the political blogs. You know these issues well. I’ve no doubt you could, if you desired, make a balanced presentation of the Bush and Kerry positions from memory without half trying.

(Gc and Brock, I’m reading your comments now.)

Randall Parker said at July 26, 2004 10:10 AM:

Fly,

By your own admission your issue that you have placed ahead of all issues is the WoT. Since you didn't even vote for Bush in 2000 my guess is that you are to the Left of myself. Well, I'm judging Bush from the Right. The WoT is not my only issue. But even on the WoT I think Bush has squandered resources on Iraq that would have been better spent elsewhere.

Also, my view of Iraq can be best expressed by paraphrasing MacBeth: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere best done well".

In other words, Iraq should have been done well if it was to be done at all. Iraq amounted to a diversion of resources from other fronts and therefore exacted opportunity costs. Where are the compensating gains? I do not see them.

We gained little or nothing on the WMD front by invading Iraq. Saddam Hussein's government was not part of a multi-headed terrorist hydra. Saddam's support for Palestinian terrorists was meant to win him support on the Arab street. He was not coordinating worldwide terrorist acts the way Iran's mullahs do. He was not in league with Al Qaeda. The only argument left for invading Iraq was the neocon theory of spreading democracy to transform all of the Arab countries. Well, they have botched that one.

Fly, you say:

Parapundit and other sites provided many links and excellent commentary showing how difficult progress in Iraq would be. Makes me appreciate the progress that has been made.

Think of it from a business perspective. Imagine some CEO decided to invest in some business that faced incredibly stiff competition. Imagine that the investment was losing money but that through all sorts of exertions the money being lost was being limited though still the losses were large. Well, that's Iraq. You can appreciate some clever tactics the military has developed. But they are still in an investment that is a net loss for the United States.

As for the irrational NYC Bush haters: What is your point? I am not one of them. I do not reflexively hate the guy because he's of the other party. I am not a New Yorker. I am not motivated by what motivates them. Again, you seem to have me confused with his left wing critics. My motives and analysis are both very different from theirs.

Brock,

You say:

But how would you do this? How could we possibly have educated the women of Iraq or incubated a liberal elite without first getting rid of Saddam? Do you think he women of Iran or the proto-liberal elite of Iran will have a chance in hell as long as the Mullahs are in power? Did they have a chance in Afghanistan while the Taliban was in power? The institutions that prevent liberal culture from being born must be forcibly torn down before liberal culture can grow. Tearing things down is usually messy, and always limited in effectiveness by the nature of the structure and the tools at hand.

You are still missing my point. We are not creating better conditions in Iraq for women than existed under Saddam. We have replaced a mostly secular dictator with a competition between factions that disagree on many subjects but which agree on keeping down the women. Women in Iraq are less able to get educations or to work than they were before Saddam was overthrown. What is the point of invading Iraq if we do not have the resources to do the occupation properly? We are not making Iraq more secular. We are not raising up the status of Iraqi women. We are not making any lasting beneficial changes to Arab culture. At best we are putting in power a new boss who will rule as Mubarak and others of his ilk who will not be outwardly hostile toward us.

Fly,

Constructive criticism is critical to US success. But you also have to weigh the alternatives, including Kerry who is the only present alternative to Bush.

I am not going to stop criticising the Bush Administration just because an election is on. Republicans in power need to be held accountable from the Right. You seem to fail to understand this.

Fly said at July 26, 2004 10:10 AM:

GC: “But the worst possible thing to do would be to eliminate any possibility of a mainstream right by endorsing Bushism.”

Our priorities are different.

I believe the US can survive anything other than a terrorist nuclear attack on NYC. The only plan that I’ve seen that I believe lowers that threat is the Bush strategy.

I believe the Bush strategy shouts to the world that the US will not tolerate direct or indirect attacks on our homeland. I believe that may give pause to governments that might indirectly attack our country.

I believe the Bush strategy is awakening the US and the world to the danger of Islamic fundamentalism. Our citizens are slowly learning the nature of the threat we face. (Even the Moore propaganda against Bush pushed the Saudi connection.)

I believe that US military force in Iraq is a critical component of US pressure on ME countries to stop funding terrorism and teaching hatred in their schools and mosques.

I believe that constant military pressure around the world disrupts terrorist planning and operations. This won’t prevent Madrid type attacks but does decrease the probability of a NYC nuke.

Given my priorities the critical question is will Kerry be more successful at waging this war than Bush. On this point I believe reasonable people can disagree.

Fly said at July 26, 2004 12:12 PM:

Randall: “Since you didn't even vote for Bush in 2000 my guess is that you are to the Left of myself. Well, I'm judging Bush from the Right.”

Labels such as “right” or “left” don’t capture my views. I didn’t vote for Gore either. As you are for stem cell research and don’t appear to be all that religious, I’d say that your own identification with the right is limited. From your posts, I believe you and I share more views than you do with the “right”. Our priorties differ and our strategies for achieving our goals differ. I don’t think our long-term goals for the US are that different.

Randall: “He was not coordinating worldwide terrorist acts the way Iran's mullahs do.”

I believe that there is considerable evidence that Iraqi Intelligence was active against the US around the world.
The Iranian backed terrorism may have been more directly focussed on ME issues prior to 911.

I believe we’ve covered this topic many times before. Al Qaeda is a military arm of the Wahabi Sunni Islamic sect. Most of Al Qaeda funding comes from Wahabi sources. Most of the Wahabi money comes from Saudi oil. The US can destroy most of Al Qaeda but to end the long-term threat the US has to strangle the Wahabis. Given the Wahabi control of Mecca, the Wahabi influence in mosques throughout the world, and the strategic importance of Saudi oil, this is a difficult task that requires time and preparation.

The Iranian mullahs are a separate head of the hydra that cooperates with, competes with, and is enemies with the Wahabi head.

But that doesn’t address the many reasons for “Why Iraq?” Stephen den Beste has provided an excellent statement of the reasons.

Randall: “But they are still in an investment that is a net loss for the United States.”

If the CEO sees no good investment strategy he can sell his company and retire. The US doesn’t have that option.

Sunk costs are history. The CEO plans for the future by choosing the best present option. If only one option avoids bankruptcy then the CEO might follow that path even if the chances for success aren’t good.

Changing the terminology doesn’t change that I haven’t seen a better option than the Bush strategy.

Randall: “As for the irrational NYC Bush haters: What is your point? I am not one of them.”

Since you used Postel as a source, I thought that my linking to a recent article would provide an indirect answer your implicit question as to my familiarity with the pundits. (Randall: “who I hope you both know are libertarians”)

Randall, I would never call you an irrational Bush hater. From what I read in your posts you might be a very rational, well-informed Bush hater. Or not. It doesn’t really matter to me. If your links and commentary are accurate and knowledgable I don’t really care what you think about Bush.

Perhaps I should be more explicit. Your links and commentary are almost always accurate and knowledgable. You run a very high quality blog. But they aren’t balanced nor are you under any obligation to make a balanced presentation.

But when someone points out your agenda and you call it his imagination, I feel it necessary to respond.

Randall: “I am not going to stop criticising the Bush Administration just because an election is on. Republicans in power need to be held accountable from the Right. You seem to fail to understand this.”

I have never suggested you stop critizing Bush (even when our nation is at war). I have suggested that when criticizing a policy you look equally critically at the alternatives to that policy.

I have also said personal attacks on Bush and his team are not constructive criticisms but contribute to polarism.

gcochran said at July 26, 2004 10:17 PM:

My problem with you, Fly, is the key facts you cite are not mostly not facts at all. To the extent that any are true, getting the implication you want depends on selective quotation and distortion. Frankly, your whole worldview is hogwash. That's provable: have any of your predictiosn concerning Iraq come true yet? Just about all of mine have.

Saddam's Iraq was doing zip against the United States. It was not training or supporting anti-US terrorists. The stories that said otherwise have everyone of them been proved false. No hijackers were trained at Salman Pak, no Mukhabar agents were training Al-Qaeda in chemical weapons. It never happened. Iraq was not piling up banned weapons, and that was easy to see, if you were familiar with the scientific/ industrial demands of such systems and also of Iraqi capabilities, combined with the _fact_ that our national technical means saw nothing at all. Iraq was rotting, and that was _all_ it was doing. I said so before the war, but the evidence is now in - the Administrtion claims were all nonsense. I won't say a lie, because of _course_ none of the high decisionmakers are able to evaluate these questions.

Your vision of the great war with Islam strikes me as nonsense. I don't think its happening: I don't it's close to happening, even though the Administration you like so well is doing its very best to induce it, having turned Arab and Islamic opinion _tremendously_ more against the US than it was bfore. I thought that would happen - is it what you wanted? How does turning 98% of Egyptians against the US help fight Islamic terrorism? I'd really like to know.

As for us mindless anti-Admministration types - I have voted straight-ticket Republican for 30 years. The only Democrat I've _ever_ voted for was a family friend had lost his right arm in a cornpicker and needed a desk job - so we elected him County Clerk. I voted for Bush in 2000 - which was a terrible mistake. He's involved the US in a war without any purpose - and with no chance of success, because there can be no success without a purpose. That's unforgiveable. You can fantasize about long-range plans to remodel the Islamic world, but they'll never be more than fantasies. We can change them, all right, but it's most unlikely that they'll change the way we want. And we'll change ourselves, too - don't forget that. I believe that General Odom has called such plans the product of 'pixie dust'. First, there is no need: the Islamic world, altogether, is a weak threat, even if it wanted to be, which it mostly does not. Second, it is impossible to make the sort of long-range plans you talk about work. Can you think of anyone who ever has? Third, I don't think that American people are going to support it, so how is this magic plan, costing hundreds of billions of dollars and making zero sense to anyone who takes an honest look, supposed to get support for the decades it would require? It will never happen. Look, I'm more of a loyalist than 99% of the population, and I have found this crap utterly impossible to swallow. Do you expect Americans to support a policy of indefinite war, one that gives nothing in return? Think again, bozo.
As for alternatives, simple enough: just don't. Look, a policy of aggressive war, which is what we tried in Iraq, is not going to make this country safer. It's going to alienate everyone in sight. It alrrady has - today > 40% of young Canadians consider the US a force for evil in the world. Is that your idea of safety - alienating everyone? It sure doesn't do any good to say that the Germans or Nigerians are just silly to fear and distrust us - is that supposed to make the fear and distrust go away? Fear and distrust that were perfectly predictable - in fact predicted, by me?
Iraq was not a haven for anti-American terrorists before we invaded: it is somewhat now.

As for the conflating of 'terrorists' and 'anti-American terrorist' - I have no tolerance for it. It's a lie. We're against 'terrorism', so we have do get involved with the struggle between the Tamils and the government of Sri Lanka? Bullshit. So groups that never shown an interest in anything but Israel are a threat to the US? Bullshit again.

As for personal attacks on Bush, he deserves them. He's a bum. He's lazy: I have every reason to believe that I thought longer and harder about buying a swamp cooler than he did on invading Iraq. I went out and read a textbook on the thermodynamics of cooling systems. _His_ version of the CIA's fucked-up National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was ONE PAGE: you can't expect Presidents or their moronic, affirmative-action NSC heads to actually _read_ a 93 page document, anymore than you can expect them to know any history or anything about strategic weaponry. It's amazing how these guys can create or endorse the right subtle, long-range plan to remodel the Middle East when they can't be bothered to learn anything about the situation. I guess W is like Tommy and pinball: plays by intuition. A magical gift, expressed in the past by trading Sammy Sosa.

Fuck Bush. I say that with all sincerity, as a sixth-generation, lifetime straight-ticket Republican, one who helped designed the guidance sensor for Trident II, who has had his share of clearances, whose old friends shepherd half the countries's strategic arsenal, a serious amateur student of history and international affairs. Bush is a pinhead, a menace, an asshole. He should be arrested and sent to Gitmo as an enemy combatant. I can think of only a few individuals in American history who have caused this country as much harm as he has - I'd class him with the Rosenbergs. I know others whipped up this dish, but he sure never had to eat it. He should burn in hell.


Kurt said at July 28, 2004 1:30 PM:

gcochran:

I am also a life-long republican and have about the same level of animosity to Bush (and Bushism) as you do.

I will also add that Bush has presided over the largest expansion of government (and government spending) of any president since Johnson. Before anyone tries to justify it on the basis of national security, only 40% of the increase in spending is defense-related. Given the make up of congress, he does not appear to be "log rolling" as Reagan did, in order to get a reticent congress to support his policies. He has yet to veto a single spending bill during his term in office. The Bush adminstration has spent money like a drunken sailer. Aren't the Republicans supposed to be fiscally conservative? Bush appears not to understand the concept. The Economist (which is libertarian/Right wing) has had a series of scathing articles about Bush and Bushism over the past three years.

The war in Iraq was unnecessary and has caused us considerable loss of good will abroad. There are certain countries (Malaysia, Indonesia) that I used to visit regularly that I no longer feel comfortable visiting now, thanks to Bush.

On the issue of federal jurisdiction vs. states rights, Bush is even worse. For the past 30 years, the Republicans has championed state and local decision making over federal jurisdiction. Ashcroft has completely inverted this position. In the case of Oregon's suicide law and California's medical pot initiative; Ashcroft (ass-hole-croft) has done everything he can to upsurp states rights and impose a federal agenda.

I have been a life-long republican because I believe in free-markets, limited government, limited federal government vs. states rights, and fiscal conservatism. Bushism seems to stand in complete contrast to these positions. Bush is no republican by any meaningful definition of the word, which is why Bushism is precisely the word to use in describing what he is doing. As a life long republican, I believe I am entitled to an explanation for Bush's abandonment of these principles.

I despise Bush and especially despise the Neo-cons (neonazi-cons) who have hijacked his administration. As long as the republicans (REAL republicans, not advocates of Bushism) control the House (and Senate, but especially the House), I'm quite comfortable with President Kerry for the next four years.

If Kerry gets elected (but the real republicans maintain control of the House), I honestly think that he will not be able to do very much. Remember, all tax and appropriations bills must start in the House.


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