2007 April 03 Tuesday
Robert Dallek On Nixon And Kissinger

Vanity Fair is running excerpts from Presidential historian Robert Dallek's new book Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power. Dallek spent years going over phone transcripts and other now public records of the Nixon Presidency. One excerpt covers the period of the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel while Nixon was distracted by Watergate.

Although Kissinger spoke to Nixon frequently during these four days, it was usually Kissinger who initiated the calls, kept track of the fighting, and parceled out information as he saw fit. On the night of October 7, according to a telephone transcript, Nixon asked Kissinger if there had been any message from Brezhnev. "Oh, yes, we heard from him," Kissinger replied, volunteering no more. Nixon had to press, asking lamely, "What did he say?"

At 7:55 on the night of October 11, Brent Scowcroft, Haig's replacement as Kissinger's deputy at the N.S.C., called Kissinger to report that the British prime minister, Edward Heath, wanted to speak to the president in the next 30 minutes. According to a telephone transcript, Kissinger replied, "Can we tell them no? When I talked to the President he was loaded." Scowcroft suggested that they describe Nixon as unavailable, but say that the prime minister could speak to Kissinger. "In fact, I would welcome it," Kissinger told Scowcroft.

What is striking is how matter-of-fact Kissinger and Scowcroft were about Nixon's condition, as if it had been nothing out of the ordinary—as if Nixon's drinking to excess was just part of the routine. They showed no concern at having to keep the prime minister of America's principal ally away from the president.

The whole article is very interesting.

If you read the full article pay especial attention to the sections on Vietnam. Note how what Nixon and Kissinger said publically about Vietnam contrasted with their private conservations. Then consider Kissinger's latest statements about Iraq.

"A 'military victory' in the sense of total control over the whole territory, imposed on the entire population, is not possible," Kissinger told The Associated Press in Tokyo, where he received an honorary degree from Waseda University.

The faceless, ubiquitous nature of Iraq's insurgency, as well as the religious divide between Shiite and Sunni rivals, makes negotiating peace more complex, he said.

"It is a more complicated problem," Kissinger said. "The Vietnam War involved states, and you could negotiate with leaders who controlled a defined area."


"I am basically sympathetic to President Bush," he said. "I am partly sympathetic to it because I have seen comparable situations."

Kissinger opposes a pull-out from Iraq even though he has a pretty dim view of the US position in Iraq. But what is he thinking about Iraq in the privacy of his own mind? Does he worry more about saving face for himself over his support for the war or does he think we should stay longer in order to avoid admitting defeat?

I used to think that top leaders surely must have more information and much greater insights than I do about the world. I no longer hold that opinion. It isn't so much that my estimation of my own views has risen but rather that my estimation of the understanding and insights of elected leaders (both American and foreign) has declined.

The trick to understanding the world is to figure out who has the right information. A lot of times the right person to turn to is someone directly doing something out in the world away from the top halls of power. Lawrence Auster points to a Powerline blog post that is supposed to come from an American soldier in Iraq who works in intelligence gathering. This soldier reports that the Iraqi government is so much like the Iraqi Shia militias that they are almost the same thing.

The Iraqi government and security forces are so thoroughly infiltrated by the Shia militias that you could say that the militias are the government and you would not be far off. Iraqi police in Southern Iraq are not in the fight against the militias at all. Top CF targets walk the streets freely in every city. In most cases police stations are manned by JAM members in police uniforms who actively aid the terrorists. On the rare occasion that a Shia terrorist is actually arrested by an ISF unit, he must be turned over to CF immediately or he will be released by the police or courts.

In addition, politicians from the city council to the CoR, if not Maliki himself, make calls and appearances on behalf of the terrorist, often threatening the job (if not the life) of the offending ISF leader with the audacity to actually do his job. Imagine our Congress, and governorships, and police departments staffed with members of the Crips and Bloods. Imagine being a citizen, a victim of or witness to a crime committed by one of these gangs. What would you do? Where would you turn? Ignoring for the moment the systemic corruption, this is the “government” we hope to turn this country over to.

Does Kissinger understand this? How does he really see Iraq? I'd love to sit next to Kissinger at a computer screen and go over in detail some posts by soldiers serving in Iraq (e.g. see this one) and ask him how he thinks we can as a nation gain some benefit from continuing to stay in Iraq. I also wish Nixon wasn't dead so that we could hear from him on Iraq. Would Nixon take the same position of supporting Bush while sort of painting a bleak view of Iraq?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 April 03 09:57 PM  Politics American Presidency

Stephen said at April 4, 2007 12:29 AM:

I'm currently reading Kissinger's 2003 book, "Ending the Vietnam War - A History of America's Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War". The final paragraph of his forward reads in part:

"As these lines are being written, America finds itself once again at war - this time with no ambiguity about the nature of the threat." [my emphasis]

He's not so smart.

Stephen said at April 4, 2007 12:36 AM:

That said, while he probably regrets writing the above line, there are bits of wisdom (though many here would say its obvious)...

"A conventional war is about control of territory; a guerilla war is about the security of the population. As the guerilla army is not tied to the defence of any particular territory, it is in a position to determine the field of battle to a considerable extent and to regulate the casualties of both sides. Whereas in a conventional war, a success rate in battle of 75 percent would guarantee victory, in a guerilla war, protecting the population only 75 percent of the time ensures defeat. While the conventional army is bound to lose unless it wins decisively, the guerilla army wins as long as it can keep from losing."
Stephen said at April 4, 2007 12:39 AM:

and more oddly familiar circumstances...

"Both [French and then US] armies, relying on superior firepower, strove for a war of attrition. Both saw that strategy turned against them by an enemy who, fighting in his own country, could exhaust them with his patience and generate domestic pressures to end the conflict. Casualties kept mounting while criteria to define progress remained elusive."
Stephen said at April 4, 2007 12:44 AM:

sorry, can't stop myself...

France was being whipsawed as America would be a decade later: whenever it concentrated its forces around population centers, the Communists would dominate most of the countryside; when it attempted to move out to protect the countryside, the Communists would attack the towns and forts, one by one."
Stephen said at April 4, 2007 12:51 AM:
At the end of 1966, North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong told Harrison Salisbury of the New Your Times that, although the United States was far stronger militarily, it would lose in the end because more Vietnamese than Americans were prepared to die for Vietnam."
Peter Jones said at April 4, 2007 3:54 AM:

Randall, the crucial point that you ignore is that America is only involved in Iraq in the first place because it *chose* to be involved.
The American intervention in Iraq was from its genesis in 1990 (ostensibly to liberate Kuwait, but as we all know to secure oil supplies) was and is a unilateral, massively disproportionate naked, ruthless, violent aggression against a backward ill-equipped nation unable to defend itself against the raging, tyrannical bloodthirsty bully (no I'm not talking about Saddam here but the good ol' US of A).
Where your analysis falls down Randall, is that for no doubt patriotic reasons of your own you cast American GIs as 'victims' (the death toll of 3000+ compared to what the European nations suffered in world wars 1 and 2 is trivial), when they are the invading, aggressive foreign occupiers - and in the final analysis it was lust for oil that was the casus belli of this nasty little quagmire, together with neo-con (Israeli) interests.
Yes, I agree with you the war is wrong and flawed, but I find your inability to accept moral resonsibility on behalf of America and playing the 'victim' card (when the opposite is true) perplexing.

Wolf-Dog said at April 4, 2007 7:30 AM:

Kissinger is worried about what will happen after the United States leaves Iraq. And he is not worried about the internal chaos that will get much worse in Iraq, he is worried about how much more powerful and aggressive the emerging Islamic empire will become after the U.S. leaves Iraq.

rtove said at April 4, 2007 4:30 PM:

I've always believed Kissinger was the model for Chauncey Gardiner in "Being There" (Kissinger's sphinx-like verbal delivery lending his typically banal observations a wise feel and his surprise elevation to power reflect the character). Kissinger's signature insight was that a pragmatic rather than idealistic approach was sometimes necessary in dealing with adversarial states. wow. For his part, Nixon wasn't much of a thinker. His post-presidency foreign policy books, for example, were empty of any interesting ideas. (Fortunately, a hack Republican president today has more infrastructure in the form of conservative think tanks, etc. to lean on). It isn't surprising that an intellectual mediocrity like Nixon would have been impressed by an intellectual mediocrity like Kissinger, with the stature of both inflated by a media broadcasting to a public with 10 or so fewer IQ pts. than even today's public.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2007 7:25 PM:


Milton Friedman said that Richard Nixon was one of the smartest people he ever met. Friedman said he spent hours with him in private and found him a very different man than the one we saw in public.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2007 7:27 PM:


I suspect that Kissinger didn't understand Vietnam all that well. As for what we could have accomplished there and whether the war was winnable with better leadership, read David Hackworth's About Face and Stuart Herrington's Silence Was A Weapon.

Stephen said at April 4, 2007 8:35 PM:

I think that blaming leader ship is a bit of an easy way out. We're not talking one leader, rather we're talking all Presidents from Truman onward. None of them could solve the problem. The way I see it, there were two fundamental problems:

First, the US had an intellectually unchallenged policy of guaranteeing democracies its military protection (oh, except for the democracies it decided to destroy itself). This inflexible rule locked all the Presidents from Truman onward into a spiral of incremental commitments because none of them could disengage if it meant a democracy might fall to communism. Eisenhower in the 1950s didn't think a Vietnam war winnable because it would inevitably involve a western-model army in an unwinnable guerilla war (he preferred drawing the anti-communist line in more cohesive countries such as Laos or perhaps Thailand), but he was locked in to the policy of protecting fledgling democracies regardless of the cost. Churchill was more pragmatic, he thought it best to draw the line at Malaya, while Eden thought that the fledgling democracies in indochina were thinly disguised dictatorships not worth protecting.

The second problem is that the US saw Vietnam in geopolitical terms rather than as merely a local revolution. Even during Kissinger's time, the received truth was that North Vietnam was a proxy for China, and China was a proxy for the USSR. Only when the US looked afresh at the various Chinese pronouncements on North Vietnam (going back over a decade!) did they realise that the Chinese leadership had been signalling for years that their policy was that Maoist revolution must grow from within a country, rather than be imposed by China. Similarly, it wasn't until Nixon's time that the US discovered that the USSR wasn't in the business of working with China to impose their control on Vietnam. In fact, Kissinger says that the US hadn't even considered the possibility that the USSR and China wouldn't cooperate until a North Vietnamese negotiator in Paris let slip a comment to the effect that the US shouldn't take any comfort from the Sino-Soviet split.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2007 8:51 PM:


I do not believe in collective guilt. I'm too individualistic to accept moral responsibility on behalf of America.

As for morality: Iraq raises difficult questions. Suppose a populace is ruled by fear of a brutal dictator and suppose the populace is so brutal themselves that freed of that dictator they will turn on each other. Is it morally wrong to free them from the dictator? Or is it morally neutral because they are so bad that they do not deserve to be restrained in the first place?

Here's one American soldier's view of the Iraqis:

I also see the worst; the "militia members" (gang member is a more appropriate term) the ones who take advantage of poor and the weak. Some of them are just dumb asses brainwashed by manipulators. Others are hard core sociopaths. This group is probably 50x the size of the best, but still a small minority when compared to the majority.

The majority; the ones who just don't care. They don't care if Americans get killed. They don't care if Iraqi's get killed. They don't care if they are tormented by militias and they don't care if America builds schools, paves roads or provides clean water. They just DON'T CARE. They seek the path of least resistance. They want to be left alone. They are content to live in mud huts and walk barefoot through miles of shit. They don't care.

I know some people don't want to hear this. They want to believe that ordinary Iraqis are our friends and are actively working to build a better society for themselves. But they're not. The ordinary Iraqi is not our enemy. But they're too indifferent to be considered our friends. Some people will say that it's just that the Iraqi's are scared of the terrorists. And they are scared of the terrorists, sort of. The real consideration is who can make their lives more uncomfortable the militias or us.

Here's another US soldier on the Iraqis he deals with:

An overwhelming majority of Iraqi’s themselves do not see Al Qaeda as freedom fighters. They see Al Qaeda for what they are. I will not explain why Al Qaeda in Iraq should not be thought of as freedom fighters, morally equivalent to American minutemen, as it should be obvious. If it’s not, let me know and I’ll address AQIZ more in depth.

There are several native Iraqi terrorist groups which are Sunni. I don’t have a lot of expertise in this from personal experience, as I operate in a predominantly Shia area. However, part of my job is to spend about 10 hours a week reading classified intelligence reporting, CIA assessments, State Department cables, interrogation reports, etc., so that I can operate more effectively. I have been here for almost 11 months, which means that I have spent about at least 400 hours this last year exposed to unadulterated “real deal” information. My job also sees me interacting with the local population on an extraordinary level, both "inside the wire" and "outside the wire," in specific ways not afforded to the normal American soldier.

Sunni terrorist groups kill more Iraqi’s than Americans. They fund their operations by kidnapping, extortion, carjacking, thefts…all directed at Iraqi’s who have nothing to do with coalition forces. They torture, rape, behead, electrocute, power drill, shoot and stab Iraqi men, women and children. They blow up markets filled with Iraqis. They do not have the popular support of the Iraqi people. If coalition forces were not here, AQIZ would be operating in exactly the same way. There is no program to their violence. They have no political platform, other than destruction and their own power. All of the Sunni terrorist groups have names. If you believe there is a Sunni based terrorist group that you would like to posit is fighting for freedom, and which you think is equivalent to America’s minutemen, I would like for you to provide me with the specific name of the group, as there are many. I will look into the specific group about which you would like to make this claim. I will read the classified reporting on the group. I will read the interrogation reports. I will speak directly with those professionals who have had direct dealings with them. Without sharing any classified information, I will engage in a dialogue with you about the group you name for the purpose of determining if they should be thought of as moral equivalent's to freedom fighters.

The main terrorist group I deal with is Moqtada Sadr’s Jaysh Al Mahdi (JAM). There are several facets to JAM, and not everyone who is a member of JAM is an insurgent. There is not a lot of accountability for different elements within JAM, and you hear a lot about splinter factions. However, even those in JAM who do not engage in terrorist activities themselves, cover for, enable and empower those in JAM who do engage in terrorist activities. JAM does not have the popular support of the Iraqi people, even within the Shia. In my area, JAM funds their operations by kidnapping, extortion, and black market gasoline. Because of the weak governmental structure in our area, JAM has been able to co-opt the police department, tribal leaders and civil government. They assassinate police officials and anyone who gets in the way of their operations. Their motivation is their own power. They kill more Iraqi Army, Iraqi police, and regular Iraqi citizens than they kill Americans. They have no political platform other than power. The local population hates JAM. JAM will hang out, drink and smoke Hashish, then go out and accost people for not having the right haircut. They break bones, shave people’s eyebrows and mustaches off (a strong cultural insult), and destroy people’s homes. They have a torture chamber in a dug out basement in our area in which they torture by electric shock and kill via electric drill. It is not American soldiers who get brought to this basement.

JAM should be thought of as a combination of the Branch Davidians and the Sopranos (Mafia). Once you understand the character of the insurgency over here, it is impossible to romanticize the insurgents. It is impossible to posit a moral equivalence between a principled resistance movement according to Western democratic values, classic liberalism and egalitarian principles, and the insurgents in Iraq. If you continue to do so, then I demand that you also recognize the neo Nazi Aryan Nations, the KKK, the Branch Davidians, the Crips and the Bloods, and Columbian drug gangs as legitimate resistance movements, equivalent to America’s minutemen, and thereby unworthy of being called terrorist. I challenge you to come up with an argument for moral equivalence that cannot also be applied to these groups.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2007 8:56 PM:

From the Living Intentionally blog by a US soldier working in intelligence in Iraq here is the soldier's view of how much Iraqis do not care about freedom and democracy.

What I object to is what the Iraq war has become, and the fact that great Americans are dying on a daily basis for people who do not appreciate or understand what we are doing. Make no mistake, many people from this culture know the words to use when talking with Westerners....words like freedom, democracy and human rights. When the Westerner leaves the room these words cease to have meaning. They do not speak this way with each other. They mutually recognize that using these words is part of the expected hussle. There is a Westernized elite who own the concepts and desire to live within the framework, but they have no power here, and their desire is to get a US visa as quickly as they can and move to Detroit.

There is nothing in this culture that gives it a framework to understand the notion of consensual government for the common good, outside one's self, kinship or tribal structure. This truth works itself out in this culture in a way that is very masochistic to Western eyes.

Any individual, minimal cooperation we receive is due to perceived self-interest. It's not about appealing to a higher good, or humanitarianism, or sense of wider duty. It's about finding where your interests coincide with the individual, at that moment in time. Creativity in shameless dissembling, if resulting in benefit to one's self, is respected and admired.

I've heard it said that the desire for freedom beats in the heart of every person. This is probably true. But the desire for freedom for one's neighbor, independent of one's own self-interest, does not, and this is the true test, which the Iraqi people have failed.

I worry that we are shedding the blood of America's best on a mistaken assumption about the latter.

The war in Iraq is based on false assumptions about the universality of human nature and human strivings and values. There's not a universal moral code for humanity. Even claims that the US is the bad moral agent in Iraq assumes a common moral code from which to make that judgement. But the Iraqis do not see questions of right and wrong in the same way we do.

Stephen said at April 4, 2007 10:37 PM:

...the desire for freedom beats in the heart of every person. This is probably true. But the desire for freedom for one's neighbor, independent of one's own self-interest, does not...

This is the best summation I've ever seen.

Peter Jones said at April 5, 2007 3:44 AM:

But Randall, the point is that America only interfered in Iraq in the first place and set this whole hoorid cocatenation in train for the simple reason that it wished to secure oil supplies after the Kuwait invasion.
Everything else is an unfolding consequence of Gulf War 1.
It might escape peoples' notice that Saddam was an American ally up and until 1991, especially as he was used to bait the Iranians.

Ned said at April 5, 2007 6:42 AM:

I get tired of hearing that the whole Iraqi/Middle East mess is all about America's attempt to secure oil. This kind of blather has been especially prominent in the left-wing European media (yes, I realize that's somewhat redundant, but see, for example, Der Spiegel's "Blood for Oil" issue). Here are some facts to consider:

Fact #1. Kuwaiti oil exports dropped almost to zero following the Iraqi invasion - Desert Storm and took about four years to recover to prewar levels (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/Kuwait/Oil.html). Since then, Kuwaiti production has increased only modestly and the largest oilfield, Burgan, appears to be nearing exhaustion (http://www.energybulletin.net/10878.html).

Fact #2. Since the US invasion, Iraqi oil production has dropped substantially and is now at the same level of about a decade ago (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2005-10-10-iraq-oil-usat_x.htm).

Fact #3. The US is a petroleum importing country. Iraq is the #7 petroleum exporter to the US, and Kuwait is #13 (http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html). The combined total for these two countries comes to about 7% of all US imports.

Fact #4. Since 2003, the date of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the inflation-adjusted price of crude oil (per barrel) on the world market has increased from $28.42 to $58.30 in 2006 (http://inflationdata.com/inflation/Inflation_Rate/Historical_Oil_Prices_Table.asp).

Let's see where we are now - the US needs foreign oil, military actions in Kuwait and Iraq caused both countries to decrease production and exports, oil prices more than doubled, the US gets no special deals on Iraqi or Kuwaiti oil but pays the same market price as everybody else, and anyway these two countries are relatively minor oil exporters to the US, all of this was entirely predictable, yet the wars were "all about oil"? How can that possibly be so? Not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been squandered and which could have been used to purchase oil or fund alternative energy research.

If the US had used its considerable military power to bully special deals on oil from Middle Eastern countries, I would agree that this was all about oil. But this is clearly not the case (although a good argument can be made that it should have been). I agree completely that the US invasion never should have taken place and that the US is foolish even to be involved at all in this part of the world. And I think Randall summarizes the moral dimension nicely. But I believe the Iraqi war has more to do with buying into the silly neocon argument about all peoples yearning for democracy, as well as making the Middle East safe for Israel. But please don't say it's all about oil - it isn't.

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2007 9:05 PM:

Peter Jones,

1) Oil was not the biggest motive for overthrowing Saddam. Several motives were involved and I wouldn't put oil in the top three.

2) Once we tossed Saddam out of Kuwait it was not inevitable that we'd overthrow Saddam. Had Al Gore won the 2000 election (and it was close) then we would not have invaded.

3) Saddam was America's ally until 1991? See my post Where Iraq Purchased Weapons 1973-2002. That facts of that chart do fit with the standard leftist script.

Peter Jones said at April 6, 2007 5:39 AM:

Sorry to bore you with the same old theme, but after the war of 1991 left Iraq with stasis of Saddam still in power (the'nightmare scenario') but wounded and angry a bloody debacle was necessary to resolve the whole horrible, impossible situation - rather like a wounded lion caught in a gin-trap that no-one until foolish Bush had the gut or the heart to dispatch.
Saddam was dispatched - as we saw last year in full technicolor astrological-karmic* fashion (a biblical 'Herod-esque' morality tale to delight children with for centuries to come), but at what price? Why the enormous price paid the suffering of the Iraqi people.

*For all you sceptics out there.

Stephen said at April 6, 2007 5:54 PM:

Randall said: "Saddam was America's ally until 1991? See my post Where Iraq Purchased Weapons 1973-2002. That facts of that chart do fit with the standard leftist script."

But Randall, if weapons supply were the sole criteria, then an objective observer would have to conclude that Iran was America's ally...

Stephen said at April 6, 2007 6:03 PM:

Perhaps this leftist assessment explains things better than the simplistic "no weapons, no ally" argument:

"...When the war first broke out, the Soviet Union turned back its arms ships en route to Iraq, and for the next year and a half, while Iraq was on the offensive, Moscow did not provide weapons to Baghdad.[30] In March 1981, the Iraqi Communist Party, repressed by Saddam Hussein, beamed broadcasts from the Soviet Union calling for an end to the war and the withdrawal of Iraqi troops.[31] That same month U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he saw the possibility of improved ties with Baghdad and approvingly noted that Iraq was concerned by "the behavior of Soviet imperialism in the Middle Eastern area." The U.S. then approved the sale to Iraq of five Boeing jetliners, and sent a deputy assistant secretary of state to Baghdad for talks.[32] The U.S. removed Iraq from its notoriously selective list of nations supporting international terrorism[33] (despite the fact that terrorist Abu Nidal was based in the country)[34] and Washington extended a $400 million credit guarantee for U.S. exports to Iraq.[35] In November 1984, the U.S. and Iraq restored diplomatic relations, which had been ruptured in 1967.[36] "


30. John W. Amos II, "The Iraq-Iran War: Conflict, Linkage, and Spillover in the Middle East," in _Gulf Security into the 1980s: Perceptual and Strategic Dimensions_, ed. Robert G. Darius, John W. Amos II, Ralph H. Magnus, Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1984, p. 65.

31. Cordesman, _The Gulf..._, p. 717; Robert O. Freedman, "Soviet Policy Toward the Persian Gulf from the Outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War to the Death of Konstantin Chernenko," in _U.S. Strategic Interests in the Gulf Region_, ed. Wm. J. Olson, Boulder: Westview, 1987, p. 55.

32. Freedman, "Soviet Policy...," p. 55.

33. Joe Stork and Martha Wenger, "U.S. Ready to Intervene in the Gulf War," _MERIP Reports_, nos. 125/126, July-Sept. 1984, p. 45.

34. Freedman, "Soviet Policy...," p. 63; _New York Times_, 10 Nov. 1982, p. 5.

35. Stork & Wenger, "U.S. Ready to Intervene...," p. 45.

36. _War in the Persian Gulf: The U.S. Takes Sides_, staff report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, Nov. 1987, Committee Print S. Prt. 100-60, pp. 21-22. Hereafter cited as S. Prt. 100-60.

Randall Parker said at April 6, 2007 6:45 PM:


But in 1981 did the US become a major supplier of arms to Iraq? Read carefully what you excerpt above. We sold Iraq some civilian jetliners. They didn't say we sold them tanks or fighters at that point.

Yes, the US was happy that Saddam attacked Iran. After all, the Iranians had just held a bunch of US diplomats hostage for over a year and the mullahs were hostile to the United States. But as the arms sales figures show, the US didn't become Saddam's biggest arms supplier or even close to it.

Peter Jones,

You state:

but after the war of 1991 left Iraq with stasis of Saddam still in power (the'nightmare scenario') but wounded and angry a bloody debacle was necessary to resolve the whole horrible, impossible situation

So then you seem to be arguing for the invasion of Iraq. You claim it was necessary.

Peter Jones said at April 7, 2007 4:37 AM:

Randall, perhaps 'inevitable consequence' rather than necessary would be a better choice of words.

Stephen said at April 7, 2007 5:54 AM:

The US bent over backward to extend the time over which Saddam could use chemical munitions against Iran - someone will burn in hell for that; the US pulled the strings to get extra lines of credit for Saddam to finance the war; the US did its best to stop Iran importing conventional munitions.

Not exactly Switzerland.

Randall Parker said at April 7, 2007 7:54 AM:

Peter Jones,

Once Bush Jr became President the overthrow of Saddam might have become inevitable. I am not sure. But once Bush was President and the 9/11 attacks happened then he could do what he already told a family biographer back in 1998 that he wanted to do.

But with a different guy in the White House the invasion was not inevitable.

So at this point if you were in charge of the United States would you pull out US troops from Iraq? I would.

Randall Parker said at April 7, 2007 8:21 AM:


Kuwait and Saudi Arabia already had plenty of motive to lend Saddam lots of money to fight what they saw as their enemy - Iran. The Iranian Shia mullahs made clear their animosity toward the Sunni rulers in the oil states.

Keep in mind that the US doesn't control all these actors. The Iranians leaders got it into their own heads to get hostile toward the Sunnis. Saddam got it into his own head to attack Iran and Kuwait. The Kuwaitis and Saudis saw it as in their interest to bankroll Saddam's work to prevent Iraqi defeat. The Kuwaitis saw it as in their interest to push for loan repayments afterward (oops).

The most powerful country in the world (at least for a little while longer) does not see it as in its interest to be neutral in all conflicts. True enough. Would you prefer the US adopt a position of pure neutrality in all the world's conflicts? How far back do you want to backdate that preference?

Stephen said at April 7, 2007 7:04 PM:

I'm not calling for the US to be neutral. I'm calling for it to be smart.

Randall Parker said at April 7, 2007 7:19 PM:


Our leftists have decreed that we can't discuss human nature as it really is. Therefore discussions of foreign peoples end up being ridiculous. Our mainstream intellectual debate is conducted in such a straitjacket that the likelihood of wisdom at the top is greatly diminished.

Consider: A US Presidential candidate has to mouth all sorts of ridiculously false platitudes as if they are true. People who sincerely believe the platitudes have an edge in sounding convincing. As a result fools get elected.

The Iraq war and occupation are not just a mistake. The mess is a symptom of deep intellectual problems in American society. These problems beset other Western nations as well. The myths and deceptions just cause missteps on the part of the US which are far more consequential for the world.


- Iraqis are genetically too stupid to create a liberal democracy.

- All the Muslim Arab nations have political cultures and economies that demonstrate common deficiencies genetic, religious, and cultural.

- Consanguineous marriage is both a symptom and a cause of the tribalism and backwardness of Iraqi and Arab societies.

- But we are supposed to ignore all this because to state it is "racist". The truth is "racist".

So you can complain about Bush or about America's foreign policy. But the complaints aren't going to be productive unless they are directed at underlying intellectual causes of the pattern of mistakes in US foreign policy.

Randall Parker said at April 7, 2007 10:22 PM:

For a summary of my view of why liberalism isn't a universal ideology and why liberals and neocons can't understand the Middle East see my post False Analogies Between Islam And Western Ideologies.

Stephen said at April 8, 2007 1:57 AM:

I'm a liberal, and based on that ideology, I don't believe an ideology can be successfully imposed on an unwilling populace.

Stephen said at April 8, 2007 3:13 AM:

Consider: A US Presidential candidate has to mouth all sorts of ridiculously false platitudes as if they are true. People who sincerely believe the platitudes have an edge in sounding convincing. As a result fools get elected.

I agree. As a society ages, its founding beliefs lose meaning and instead become mere chanted catch-phrases devoid of understanding or context; challenging such dogma becomes an heretical act. Eventually the society fractures under the weight of its own unexamined hypocrisies. Then something new is born.

Randall Parker said at April 8, 2007 8:28 AM:


But the liberal argument put forth by the neocons (and neoconservatism is a school of liberalism) was that the Iraqis wouldn't need liberal democracy imposed upon them. They'd just need to be freed from a small elite that was keeping them down.

Since then the liberal neocon argument has been that a small minority of insurgents are ruining Iraq for the rest of the Iraqis and that the Iraqis haven't been able to fight the insurgents because the Iraqi majority just wasn't trained enough to do the work. Hence the need for US fighters.

So the debate about Iraq in the mainstream press is mostly a debate between liberal factions. The liberals who want a withdrawal have been far less effective than they could be because they aren't willing to state why exactly the whole intervention in Iraq is doomed. They can't state it because to state it requires they admit that some of their beliefs are wrong.

No, we aren't all born to be free. No, we do not all want freedom for others. In Iraq the vast majority cares very little about the freedom of others as that soldier said who I quoted and you picked up on a few days ago.

Ned said at April 8, 2007 12:34 PM:

Another possible cause of the American invasion of Iraq may have been the failed assassination attempt against Bush I in Kuwait in April of 1993 using a large amount of explosives packed into a Toyota Land Cruiser. Saddam Hussein hated Bush I and was suspected (but not proved) of being behind it. President Clinton made a typical Clintonian response by firing some cruise missiles into Baghdad, three of which missed their targets and crashed into homes, destroying them along with their occupants. I suspect the Bush's have long memories.

Stephen said at April 8, 2007 8:15 PM:

If you think neocon equals liberal then you have a warped view of 'liberal'. That said, we touched on this before and discovered that the US (ie your society) doesn't use the same dictionary definition of liberalism as the rest of the world (me).

PS: Do you realise that by accepting the new US definition of liberalism, you are actually buying into the propaganda your compatriots are continually fed?

Stephen said at April 8, 2007 8:25 PM:

Ned said: President Clinton made a typical Clintonian response by firing some cruise missiles into Baghdad, three of which missed their targets and crashed into homes, destroying them along with their occupants

Dam that Clinton for pressing the wrong buttons on the cruise missile keypad. I bet he wasn't even trained to fire them. Typical.

Less snarkily, if the US had found any evidence supporting the assassination theory during their sifting through Iraq, it'd have been trumpeted around the world. My guess is that Iraq (as usual) didn't have anything to do with it.

Randall Parker said at April 8, 2007 8:43 PM:


Liberalism has factions. Neocons are a liberal faction.

Dictionary definition of liberalism: Well, we should explore what your assumptions are. Do you think we were all born equal? Do you believe we all have rights? How universalist is your liberalism?

Randall Parker said at April 8, 2007 11:10 PM:


I agree with Stephen about the Kuwait assassination theory. Bush wanted to take out Saddam for the reason he hold a Bush family biographer back in 1998: he saw it as an easy undertaking that would bolster his popularity.

Bush had a much simpler reason to invade Iraq which makes the whole fiasco even more ridiculous:

“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father’s shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “Suddenly, he’s at 91 percent in the polls, and he’d barely crawled out of the bunker.”..

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”

Peter Jones said at April 9, 2007 3:23 AM:

Sorry to bang on about the same theme, bur aren't you physically revolted bt the news pictures coming out of Iraq, of the daily suicide bombings in which tens or hundreds are blown to pieces, of the puddles of blood lying on the ground, the bodies with the faces burned black, the little children whose lungs were internally burned with chlorine gas.
I am an atheist, but Easter has just passed, and it was a time for reflection on the christianity of my childhood, and the example of the life of Christ.
How sad it is that in 7th year of the 3rd millenium this wholesale slaughter continues!
Well, my point is that Americans *must* accept moral responsibility for the disaster we see unfolding.America went in.America made a mess.America now wants to walk away.
'Why', 'Let the islamic savages and morons destroy each other' goes the cry they're only a load of dirty sand-n*ggers anyway'.

Ned said at April 9, 2007 6:05 AM:

Randall -

I like the Herskowitz article. I think it goes a long way toward explaining the invasion of Iraq. But I would not ignore the possibility that the failed assassination attempt on Bush I also played a role. Look at this quote from the Washington Post in 1993 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/iraq/timeline/062793.htm):

Clinton was persuaded to act by three kinds of evidence, a senior intelligence official said last night. First, key suspects in the plot confessed to FBI agents in Kuwait. Second, FBI bomb experts painstakingly linked the captured car bomb to previous explosives made in Iraq. Third, unspecified intelligence assessments concluded that Saddam meant seriously the threats he has made against Bush. Other classified intelligence sources supported this analysis, the official said.

The combination made the CIA "highly confident that the Iraqi government, at the highest levels, directed its intelligence service to assassinate former president Bush," said the intelligence official.

Clinton had harsh words for Saddam -- Bush's arch-nemesis during the Persian Gulf War -- in his Oval Office address. After listing the Iraqi leader's offenses against the world and his own people, Clinton said: "This attempt at revenge by a tyrant against the leader of the world coalition that defeated him in war is particularly loathsome and cowardly."

What seemed to happen was that in 2003 a perfect storm of reasons came together to cause the invasion. Now we have a perfect mess.

Randall Parker said at April 9, 2007 11:05 PM:

Peter Jones,

America is not a monolithic place. But I'm repeating myself.

So what would you have America do about Iraq? Stay out of moral obligation and fight the insurgents even harder? Or just say how pathetically sorry we are for thinking that Iraqis could handle freedom? Or convene a UN conference and have the UN tell us what to do?

In other words, aside from chastisement what else do you have in mind?

Peter Jones said at April 10, 2007 3:10 AM:

Only one course of action can be considered 'morally right'.
The complete pacification and disarmament of the 'nation' of Iraq and a 'mandated' government up and until such time it is considered that the Iraqis can be trusted to run their own nation peacefully.

Ned said at April 10, 2007 1:32 PM:

Peter -

Please excuse me for intruding on what appears to be a lively debate between you and Randall, but consider this excerpt from retired US Army Lieutenant General William Odom before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in January(http://www.counterpunch.org/odom01242007.html):

ust for purposes of analysis, let us suppose we had unlimited numbers of US troops to deploy in Iraq. Would that change my assessment? In principle, if two or three million troops were deployed there with the latitude to annihilate all resistance without much attention to collateral civilian casualties and human rights, order might well be temporarily reestablished under a reign of US terror. The problem we would then face is that we would be opposed not only by 26 million Iraqis but also by millions of Arabs and Iranians surrounding Iraq, peoples angered by our treatment of Muslims and Arabs. These outsiders are already involved to some degree in the internal war in Iraq, and any increase of US forces is likely to be exceeded by additional outside support for insurgents.

I never cease to be amazed at our military commanders' apparent belief that the "order of battle" of the opposition forces they face are limited to Iraq. I say "apparent" because those commanders may be constrained by the administration's policies from correcting this mistaken view. Once the invasion began, Muslims in general and Arabs in particular could be expected to take sides against the United States. In other words, we went to war not just against the Iraqi forces and insurgent groups but also against a large part of the Arab world, scores and scores of millions. Most Arab governments, of course, are neutral or somewhat supportive, but their publics in growing numbers are against us.

It is a strategic error of monumental proportions to view the war as confined to Iraq. Yet this is the implicit assumption on which the president's new strategy is based. We have turned it into two wars that vastly exceed the borders of Iraq. First, there is the war against the US occupation that draws both sympathy and material support from other Arab countries. Second, there is the Shiite-Sunni war, a sectarian conflict heretofore sublimated within the Arab world but that now has opened the door to Iranian influence in Iraq. In turn, it foreordains an expanding Iranian-Arab regional conflict.

Several points are here. First, although the US does have the resources to commit 2-3 million troops to Iraq, it would be extremely expensive, disruptive to the economy and probably require the reintroduction of a draft. But so what? Notice what else General Odom said would be required - a reign of terror - the opposition would be "annihilated," not suppressed or persuaded to turn in their arms, and no attention would be paid to civilian casualties or human rights (in other words, if someone takes a potshot at your troops from a village, you go in and kill everyone, men, women and children, and then bulldoze the village). What do previous reigns of terror look like? Try the Holocaust, Mao's Great Leap Forward/Cultural Revolution, the Great Terror under Stalin, or Pol Pot's Cambodia - those were reigns of terror, and millions died in each one. Second, General Odom states that such a pacification would be "temporary." How long should the US be prepared to maintain this reign of terror? A decade? A century? Forever? And during this time, its forces in Iraq are acting like SS Einsatzgruppen in Russia? Suppose the Iraqis are NEVER ready for Jeffersonian democracy? What then? Third, even such a massive undertaking, according to General Odom, would not be successful in the long run because it would just draw in new combatants from outside Iraq and perhaps result in an "all against all" general Mideast war. But then I guess the US could just resort to its massive nuclear arsenal and start blowing entire Mideast nations away. Goodbye Syria, goodbye Iran, goodbye Lebanon, guess we won't be hearing too much more from you, blam, blam, blam!

Is this what you call "morally right?"

Peter Jones said at April 11, 2007 5:34 AM:

There are no easy answers.
But a humanitarian disaster is just as likely to ensue when the USA runs off with its tail between its legs.
Also consider, will turkey allow a state of murderous anarchy to prevail with the stablishment of a carved out 'Kurdistan' with designs on Turkish territory? ...and what of Iran, the big winners of the whole disaster gloating like Hyaenas while their two most detested recent enemies tear lumps out of each other, ready to move in and take their pound of flesh when the dust settles?
Yes, the whole morrass is impossible and America must choose whether to salvage on of two things:
1). The last rags of her honor.
2). Blood and treasure.

Consider the position of britain in 1914 when it declared war on a germany it knew to be invincible and the mightiest fighting machine the world had ever seen.Britain did so in order to honor the guarantee in the constituional documents of Belgium, a state it had created.
The war was the ruin of Britain that never really recovered, the death-toll was enormous and affected every family in the land, and although not generally acknowledged Britain came within an ace of suing for peace in 1917 - only the bailout from America saved hewr skin.

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