Thursday, May 1, 2008

Will McCain Be Worse Than Bush?

(Originally posted April 30th, 2008 at 11:54 pm EDT on Ye Olde Low Budget Ideaworks)

Impossible, you say...

George from Wilmette, IL writes:

I have a hard time believing that McCain is worse than Bush. His most off-the-wall ideas will never be put into effect. I have to agree with Senator Obama that any of the three credible possibilities to become our next president would be an improvement over Bush.

I realize that it’s a hard thing to wrap one’s mind around. After all, Bush is a nightmare wrapped in a catastrophe inside a disaster. It’s a real challenge to think of a single thing Bush has touched that hasn’t turned into a flaming wreck. The idea that John McCain, with his carefully cultivated image as a maverick, could be somehow worse than that requires imagination of even worse problems than we’ve faced for the past 7 years. What could be worse? is the obvious question that comes to mind.

McCain has famously said he doesn’t care if American soldiers are in Iraq for 100 years. He clearly envisioned their role during that period as peacekeepers, and mentioned Korea as an example of what he had in mind. Evidently someone forgot to tell him that North & South Korea are two distinct countries. They have borders and each has a flag. They have armies. Their soldiers wear uniforms, making them rather distinctive. It’s pretty easy to tell when you’re in the presence of one side or the other.

Compare that to the situation in Iraq. Our soldiers are caught in the middle of sectarian strife, a sort of low-level civil war. Unlike our civil war (and the standoff between North & South Korea), the antagonists do not have uniforms, defined territory, flags or a demilitarized zone. Rather, the situation is characterized by random acts of horrific terrorist violence, widespread corruption, enormous internal migrations and generalized chaos. To the extent that there has been a recent decrease in violence (although that’s starting to pick up again), it has largely been due to decisions made by local sheikhs based on increasing hostility to foreign terrorists and largess from the U.S., which has been buying temporary peace at the expense of long-term stability. The Sunni sheikhs make no secret of their continued enmity towards the Shiites, and with U.S. military assistance have been stockpiling arms in anticipation of future conflict with the Shiites once our forces leave the country. Having destroyed the (admittedly hideous) standing government (as well as the country’s infrastructure) and dismantled the Iraqi military, and failed totally to plan for the aftermath of the conflict, we seeded the ground for the insurgency that subsequently developed. Having done so, we essentially gave Iran much greater influence over events in Iraq than it might have otherwise had. So having set the stage for sectarian antagonism, we’re now funding and supplying with arms one side in the conflict with the expectation that that will tamp down the tensions long enough to give us a graceful exit. But given the conditions we’ve established in Iraq, what reason do we have for expecting the outcome, at some point after our departure, to be an explosion of sectarian violence on a scale heretofore unseen in Iraq?

There’s a lot more to the situation, making it even more complicated than I’ve indicated above. For much more learned discussion on all of the above plus much more see the following:

Fact Check on McCain and Political Progress in Iraq

Not a Great Day for Iraqi Politics

The Myth of the Surge

Yet McCain sees Korea as a model for the future? How can this be? Well, it happens that McCain’s foreign policy team is dominated by neocons—yes, that same illustrious bunch who touted the war i Iraq with visions of Iraqis greeting our soldiers with flowers—just like Parisiennes in 1944. When Barack Obama talks about changing the mindset that got us into the war, this is a prime example of what he’s talking about. These are people who view every conflict through the lense of World War II, never mind the evidence. Because they can’t conceive of a conflict in terms other than of established states with armies, fixed territories, etc., they continually misread modern conflicts as outward manifestations of traditional warfare conducted by other means. Many of the same people, by the way, misread Vietnam in a similar way—Vietnamese nationalism couldn’t possibly have been a significant factor—instead, war supporters tended to describe the conflict as one directed from Moscow and/or Beijing. This despite the fact that Ho Chi Minh’s government was extremely distrustful of both & played one against the other to maintain support while avoiding being swallowed or manipulated by their putative allies. Thus the U.S. negotiated for a long time with the Soviets but avoided negotiating with the North Vietnamese and NLF for as long as possible.

The upshot of all this is that persistent misidentification of a problem precludes a solution. We have every reason to expect, therefore, that a McCain presidency will result in a significant extension of our involvement in Iraq because the mindset dominating his foreign policy shop has managed over the past 7 years to learn absolutely nothing from experience.

There’s an old joke that went around the Soviet Union during that country’s occupation of Afghanistan:

Question: Why are our troops still in Afghanistan?
Answer: They’re still trying to find the people who invited them in.

Let’s do whatever we possibly can to ensure that we don’t end up telling that joke about ourselves.

No comments: