Limited Blogging

December 01, 2003


As you may have noticed, I did not blog much over Thanksgiving weekend. We had people in the house, I was grading papers, and Saturday and Sunday I was trying to install Windows XP on J's computer - which turned into a nightmare.

I have been thinking about an Iraq post for a couple of weeks, turning ideas over in my head. The full thing will probably wait until after papers are returned. The direction of my thoughts at the moment is to figure out a credible Democratic alternative to the Bush policy in Iraq. Here is a sketch outline of where I think I want to go.

The Iraq war is a war of choice
We went into Iraq claiming to be part of the War on Terror.
The Iraq invasion hurt the short and medium term efforts against Al Queda in an attempt to pre-empt a long term threat.
Saddam Hussein was a fascist thug; it was a good deed to overthrow him ... but only if he is not replaced by his clone.
The Iraq invasion will work only if it
1, Creates a democratic state and
2, Furthers the culture war against, for lack of better words, Islamofascism, or Islamendom, or violent anti-modernism.

The Bush administration put the US on a path of intervention. They bought the problem, now the whole nation owns it.
It would be irresponsible to walk away from Iraq, the challenge for Democrats is to do better.
The question to ask fall into two parts, How did we get here? and Where do we go now?

How did we get here?
Bush argued that Saddam Hussein posed a clear and future danger to the U.S. and waged a pre-emptive war.
Those claims were backed by highly specific claims about American knowledge of details within Iraq.
While those overall claims have yet to be proven or disproven, their specificity has been disproven. (Everyone thought Saddam Hussein had stocks of chemical and biological weapons, plans to use them, and an active nuclear program. We found that his stocks are either destroyed or hidden, he had no plans to use chemical or biological weapons, and his development program was on hiatus until sanctions would have been eased.)
As Wesley Clark argues, the Pentagon got into Iraq by planning a war and not thinking about the aftermath. They made some assumptions, and while they have been pretty good about adjusting to changing conditions they were reacting rather than acting for the crucial first weeks after hostilities ended.
The United States is in the process of putting together a democratic government in Iraq - nation building.
For all of the above, it is in the national interest to review how we got here, figure out what decisions were made on the basis of faulty information, and improve our information-gathering and decision-making processes. That review will necessarilly be conducted in a partisan manner; the hope is that enough people will balance short-term political gains against long-term national interest.
Thus the challenge for Democrats is to position themselves as the people who just want to know how decisions were made so that they can improve the process. One way to achieve this would be the praise sandwhich, used by managers and teachers everywhere: Bush did a good job of rallying the nation after 9/11. He has not done well managing the war afterwards, for the same traits that gave us a simple and clear response then have interfered with national policy afterwards. We need to review the decision-making process to see if national leaders had the best information available to them and to see how we can improve that information in the future.

Where do we go from here?
We do not just "bring 'em home." That would be counter-productive, a betrayal of Iraqis even worse than our betrayal after the 1991 Gulph War. We would destroy American credibility and, with it, the credibility of democratic ideals.
We do build a stable democracy in Iraq.
We do work against Islamofascism.

Here I have to leave the outline. Democracy depends on the rule of law, and on a sort of institutionalized self restraint. Majorities refuse to exercise all power that they might otherwise use, knowing that they could one day become the minority. In a two-party situation, this means that the majority follows rules of procedure that both parties agree both let the folks currently in power act and leave folks currently out of power with a meaningful role. After all, they will switch some day. In a no-party or one-party situation, it gets tougher. People have to realize that the precedents they set now can and will come back to bite them when their party schisms.

Democrats can, based on the systematic pattern of behavior from the National Republican leadership, argue that the Republican party as an instititution has forgotten the basic principles of democratic rule. They are a current majority trying to make themselves into a permanent majority. In the process not only are they ignoring opposition spokesmen in Congress and changing the rules of the redistricting game mid-decade, but their assumptions about policy and dissent are crippling our actions in Iraq.

The recent brouhaha about elections in Iraq blew up because American officials on the ground ignored the complaints by senior Shiite clergymen. We had our plan, we were going to use our plan, we were not going to try to convince opposition figures to go along with it. We would just ignore him and hope he would go away - a pattern disturbingly like that shown by the content-segregated "protest zones" around Bush's public appearances. Of course, he did not go away.

So, Democrats can argue that they DO listen, that they know how to build a consensus, that they understand the workings of a democratic society, and that they would do a better job in Iraq. They can actually tie this argument into a claim that the national Republican party at home is engaged in a pattern of deception and misrule, subverting the spirit of democracy.

The other long-term goal from the Iraqi occupation is to strike a blow against Al Queda-style terrorism.
Muslim hardliners are engaged in an anti-modern confrontation that they hope to turn into a Jihad
Most of them practice an authoritarian version of Islam
I know little about the details of Wahabi-style fundamentalism as practiced in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
I do know that within Shiia Islam the common pattern is for Imams to read and interpret the Koran and believers to pick an Imam and then follow their rulings without questioning them.
In any case, the challenge is to discredit hardliners by offering an alternative and more attractive version of Islam
Iranian reformers, mostly Marxist Shiites, have been calling for an Islamic Reformation - more people reading scriptures directly, a lesser role for Imams - and the pluralism within Islam that comes with personal interpretation of scripture.
The long-term goal for U.S. policy should be to redirect Islamic energy from violent confrontation to constructive creation. That can be done through economic development, it can also be done through religious engagement.
The challenge is to draw on European models and adapt them to Middle Eastern and East Asian conditions.
Democrats, who are so committed to pluralism that many have trouble expressing their personal religious beliefs, are less likely to look like Christian imperialists as they work to bring pluralism within Islam.

I need to go now, but this is the direction my thoughts are leaning. If properly written up this would be 5,000 to 10,000 words. I do not have the time to write, revise, and footnote that many words.

That is the frustration of blogging - I think long, and I only have time to write short.

And so to grade papers.

Posted by Red Ted at December 1, 2003 09:21 AM | TrackBack