Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thoughts from Colorado

Darrell, a guy up in Denver who used to blog for the paper and who stays in touch, sent me this little piece from his state senator. It's got some nice points.

Hessians: The public hasn't focused on it, but many of the Americans fighting in Iraq are private contractors, not US armed forces. The other day mercenaries working for a company called Blackwater killed civilians causing the Iraqi government to revoke their license.

These private security forces are necessary because not enough qualified people volunteer for the US armed forces. They put me in mind of the Hessians.

Hessians were German mercenaries, from the principality of Hesse, hired by the British to help fight against American patriots during the Revolutionary War. George Washington famously defeated the Hessians on the day after Christmas 1776. He crossed the Delaware River to engage the sleeping Germans at Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessians were somewhat the worse for wear after having celebrated Christ's birth a little too enthusiastically the previous night. Britain at that time was a wealthy world power and had more money than it had citizens who wanted to risk their lives in the wilds of America. I think it would be fair to say that as world powers go, the British were on the enlightened side, but they clearly were motivated, in their imperialistic wars, by self-interest.

One of the Administration's falsehoods about the war that particularly galls is the allegation that we are engaged in self-defense. If the Administration actually believed this they would propose a draft and engage America in this war as we engaged in the Second World War when we were actually acting in self-defense. We wouldn't have to hire Hessians.

Conservatives use World War II as an example of a war that Americans fought to the end. Wistfully they wonder why we have lost our nerve, or courage, or guts. But World War II was a real threat to our country's continued freedom. The Axis--Germany, Japan, and Italy--were three major modern powers. At the time we were attacked, Germany alone had already overcome Austria, Czechoslavakia, Norway, Denmark, Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the European half of the USSR and parts of Africa. Iraq has failed to defeat Iran or occupy Kuwait. Iraq is a war of choice. World War II was not.

The Administration never uses its best argument for fighting in Iraq because it would entail admitting that all the other arguments they have made are wrong. If the Administration said, "We now get that we were hopelessly out of touch with reality when we thought that the words 'freedom and democracy' would automatically command the same respect that they do in the United States and result in a stable democratic Iraq. And we admit that our incompetence in disbanding the Iraqi army, not preventing looting, engaging in Debaathification and not admitting that an insurgency had begun exponentially increased the violence and instability in the region resulting in thousands of deaths that may have been preventable. So we have completely screwed up, but now because of this war, al Qaeda really does have a presence, and the people of Iraq are being murdered every day, so we have a moral obligation to leave the country at least no worse than when we got there. And we have learned something about fighting an insurgency, so we think that we might actually be able to help. So this is why we need to stay."

I just made a decision box on whether to leave Iraq now or stay. The box has four squares.

On the top of the box are two choices, stay and leave. On the side of the box are two methods of doing this, competent and incompetent. So we can stay in either a competent or incompetent manner or we can leave. It is obvious, I assume, that if we can't handle the war in a competent manner we should leave.

What is the evidence on the issue of whether we can act in a competent manner? The record that we have established thus far is pretty much an unbroken string of incompetence. Most of this was caused by the ideological, non-reality based, approach of the Bush administration. Has the administration learned a lesson?

On September 13th President Bush spoke to the country about Iraq. Here is an excerpt from that speech: "...a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny al Quaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambition of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists...A free Iraq will set an example...A free Iraq will be our partner..." I honestly don't know what he means by "free." I think it is just rhetoric. It is hard for me to think of a country as "free" when four million people are refugees, basic services are unavailable, and many people are afraid to go outside for fear of being killed in rampant violence.

President Bush is about my age. For most of our lives we talked of the "free world" as opposed to communist dictatorships. So by "free" he probably means a country that holds elections rather than having a dictatorship. I agree that this is a huge step in the right direction. But if the government that is elected is a Muslim fundamentalist theocracy that believe in the subjugation of women and the death penalty for numerous religious crimes, then the concept of "freedom" becomes a little blurred. And if the President feels that a country is "free" because of an election, and he ignores the violence and destruction that our "liberation" has caused, then we need to work on our definitions. It is not clear that the President has come to a sufficiently sophisticated understanding of the war to believe that he can conduct it in a competent manner. Or if he has a more nuanced concept, he has decided to talk to us as if we can't understand anything complex.

The book Fiasco by Thomas Ricks, which is extremely critical of our war effort, praises General Petraeus as a person who gets that fighting an insurgency requires addressing the basic needs of the population. Is this enough?

Can we get to the box that poses the "stay-competent" question?


Please forward this to people who you think would like to read it or make a comment. Anyone who would like to use this as an op/ed, column or blog, you have my permission. Hope you are well.

Ken Gordon
Majority Leader
Colorado Senate

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