Jordan and the Lack of an Iraq

August 16, 2007

Over at Slate, Shmuel Rosner points to one of the often-ignored side effects of the Iraq debacle: its effects on neighboring Jordan. To wit:

It was the powerful Iraq that provided the threat then [in 1991], and the weakened, chaotic Iraq that is threatening now. Jordan has a permanent “stability issue,” as one U.S. official describes it. In the past, it was intimidated by its two powerful neighbors, Israel and Iraq; now it is troubled by the weakest of the weak, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this problem. Jordan, despite its ambivalent attitudes toward democracy and civil rights, remains a fairly modern, fairly stable ally in a region where they are hard to come by. Jordan already suffers from instability caused by its large, more radically Islamic Palestinian community. (A former professor of mine, an expert on Jordan, claimed to know which American political scientist the monarchy hired to gerrymander districts several years ago).

However, to date, they have managed to contain the internal dissidents, more or less, with only very occasional attacks in recent years. However, if, as the article claims, 750,000 Iraqi refugees, some doubtless radicalized, have now entered the country, it may prove more than the secular monarchy can contain. That would not be a good thing.


Michael Totten on Iraq

August 15, 2007

I found this lengthy dispatch from independent journalist Michael J Totten on RCP today. Totten’s credentials definitely lean to the right; his publications list reveals articles for Pajamas Media, Reason, and WSJ’s Opinion Journal. Nonetheless, I think his assessment is pretty level-headed overall. There’s so much interesting stuff in there I don’t really know how to quote it, I’d recommend you read it all.

The main point I think to take away from Totten is that things are both terrible and great, improving and declining, and that it’s easy to read the tea leaves however you like. He seems to think we shouldn’t change our strategy much for the time being, but I read what he’s saying and draw a different conclusion. And so it goes.

Ross Douthat’s comments today on the war are pretty good as well. He takes a Max Boot piece in Commentary to task for making the lazy argument in favor of the surge. And indeed,  such lazy arguments in favor of the surge seem to be dominating these days.

The Rundown

August 15, 2007
  • Two big names have recently proposed reforming the farm subsidy system. One wants to retarget subsidies to family farms. The other wants to do away with subsidies altogether. The two people are John Stossel and John Edwards. Guess who proposed what.
  • Could Superfund survive a cost-benefit analysis? Almost definitely not. I am not sure what we should do about it.
  • Big media is out to screw the little guy. I know, that’s not really news, but on the other hand, it is.
  • Fred Kaplan weighs in on the draft at Slate.
  • Robert Samuelson calls for more clear-headed reporting on global warming, and makes the alarming and probably true assertion that we really don’t know how to solve this one. We probably shouldn’t do nothing though. Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias critiques Michael Gerson’s global warming hand-wringing.

Christopher Hitchens is an Unpleasant Man

August 14, 2007

I dislike Christopher Hitchens. Really, I do. It’s hard for me to decide whether he was more wrong as a Trotskyite or as a bitter liberal-bashing hawk. I’m going to call it a tie. Anyway, his new Slate piece, “Foolish Myths about Al-Qaida in Iraq,” is a doozy. This should give you the gist:

The facts as we have them are not at all friendly to this view of the situation, whether it be the “hard” view that al-Qaida terrorism is a “resistance” to Western imperialism or the “soft” view that we have only created the monster in Iraq by intervening there.

I hate to point by point a guy like Hitchens, but here I go.

The first thing to notice about [Zarqawi] is that he was in Iraq before we were. The second thing to notice is that he fled to Iraq only because he, and many others like him, had been driven out of Afghanistan. Thus, by the logic of those who say that Afghanistan is the “real” war, he would have been better left as he was. Without the overthrow of the Taliban, he and his collaborators would not have moved to take advantage of the next failed/rogue state. I hope you can spot the simple error of reasoning that is involved in this belief. It also involves the defeatist suggestion—which was very salient in the opposition to the intervention in Afghanistan—that it’s pointless to try to crush such people because “others will spring up in their place.”

There is a pretty obvious point I think Hitchens misses here. Namely, that Saddam-era Iraq was not really ever a good staging ground for major acts of terrorism. If Zarqawi had become too much of a threat to Hussein, he would have been dead. Period. Obviously, Hussein’s propensity for killing people is not really one of his big selling points, but it did have a n undeniable dampening effect on domestic terror.

To say that the attempt to Talibanize Iraq would not be happening at all if coalition forces were not present is to make two unsafe assumptions and one possibly suicidal one.

Maybe I am missing something, but is anyone actually saying that the insurgents would quit if the coalition weren’t there? I haven’t heard that argument in any venue I would consider to be remotely mainstream, and indeed Hitchens fails to cite any examples.

We can not only deny the clones of Bin Ladenism a military victory in Iraq, we can also discredit them in the process and in the eyes (and with the help) of a Muslim people who have seen them up close.

This is where Hitch really drops the ball. He fails to make an important distinction, the same one many prominent war supporters continue to fail to make: a military victory isn’t even half the battle.

We cannot literally kill every insurgent, and if the political process does not make enough progress to stabilize society, eventually the insurgents will come back, and the result will be chaos. We can’t stay forever, nor should we feel obligated to do so. Now, I am no supporter of rapid withdrawal, but on the other hand, I would like to be out of Iraq before say, my still-unborn children reach adulthood. I just don’t think there are any easy answers here, and “stay the course” sure sounds like an easy answer to me.

The Rundown

August 14, 2007
  • Matthew Yglesias asks an important question — Would Rudy Giuliani Bomb Iran? (I’ll give you a hint: the answer is “yes.”)
  • In other scary war news, there have been murmurs about the draft again in recent weeks. Steve Levitt of Freakonomics fame makes a pretty persuasive argument against. Fortunately, the Pentagon’s official line is still that the draft is off the table.
  • Via Brad DeLong, Abu Aardvark points out that a Petraeus/Crocker report might, due to the nature of their respective positions, be somewhat schizophrenic.
  • Jesus Christ, why does Chuck Schumer want anything to do with copyrighting fashion designs?
  • The Democratic Strategist thinks election reform is a good idea. So do I. I’d like something even more radically than what the author would like, but anything is better than what we have now.

The Rundown

August 13, 2007
  • Rove resigns. What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
  • RCP has a lengthy Foreign Affairs essay/conversation on the role of the generals in the Iraq debacle.
  • This fantastic NYT recap of the War in Afghanistan to date from Sunday New York Times is a must-read. It does not paint a pretty picture.
  • Greg Mankiw summarizes a summary of a current study of the realities of the work/leisure trade-off in modern America. Good stuff.

Krauthammer on Beauchamp

August 11, 2007

For the second time in a week, I think Charles Krauthammer is more right than not. Shudder the thought. Much as I hate to side with the pro-war crowd on something pertaining to Iraq, Krauthammer pretty much has the idea here. This should give you the gist of it.

Except that it is now revealed that the mess-hall incident happened before he even got to the war. On which point, the whole story — and the whole morality tale it was meant to suggest — collapses.

Now, granted, I think Krauthammer takes a running dive over the too-far cliff when he says:

Why did the New Republic run it? Because it fits perfectly into the most virulent narrative of the antiwar left. The Iraq war — “George Bush’s war,” as even Hillary Clinton, along with countless others who had actually endorsed the war, now calls it — has caused not only the sorrow and destruction that we read about every day. It has, most perniciously, caused invisible damage — now made visible by the soul-searching of one brave and gifted private: It has perverted and corrupted the young soldiers who went to Iraq, and now return morally ruined. Young soldiers like Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

The problem with that little bit of over the top: it’s totally disingenuous. TNR supported the war. Krauthammer, as a contributing editor, doubtless knows this.  It’s more recent editorial position on the war, as Ross Douthat has pointed out, is to not really have a position at all, but I would argue that putting the publication on the side of the “virulent” left is taking it way, way too far.

On the other hand, I also think that people like Matthew Yglesias, linked two sentences prior, are going way too far to defend TNR for refusing to apologize when, as Krauthammer rightly points out, their so-called “minor detail” in fact completely alters the narrative.