Stuck in the Pottery Barn

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Burned out car in Iraq

Can we go home now? [Alive In Baghdad / Flickr]

Barry Posen in the studio with Chris Lydon

Barry Posen (right) in the studio with Chris [Brendan Greeley]

So we’re in the Pottery Barn, to borrow a phrase from Colin Powell. And we’re standing there with some broken crockery in our hands. What do we do now? The news coverage we’re reading about Iraq seems to focus on the intellectual fun of dissecting pre-war intelligence and pre-war intent. You know the game, you play it every day: “Why are we in Iraq?”

But let’s ignore that question for a second and take what we’re looking at as a given. The United States has a presence in Iraq. There are people in Iraq who don’t want us there, and are killing Iraqis and US soldiers to prove it. You can see the conflict in Rumsfeld himself; he sometimes hints at timeline for withdrawal and sometimes states that a timeline is the worst thing we could do.

So what do we do now?

Barry Posen

Ford International Professor of Political Science, MIT

Author, Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks

[In the studio with Chris]

William E. Odom

Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

Director of the National Security Agency, 1985-1988

Author, America’s Inadvertent Empire

[On the phone from Washington, D.C.]

Thomas X Hammes

Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

Has studied — and helped train — insurgents since the late 70s

Author, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century

[On the phone from Falls Church, VA]

Extra Credit Reading

Chez Nadezhda, On Clausewitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and Post-Saddam Iraq, Among Other Diversions

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, If the Insurgents are Baathists

Whiskey Bar, A Visit from Juan Cole

Anger Management Course, Kissinger in Paris

Special thanks to Josh Cohen, editor of the Boston Review. Look out for Barry Posen’s article about the future of Iraq — along with eight or ten responses — in the January/February issue.

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  • John

    As colonialism ended in country after country, is there a way to leave Iraq based on a ‘model’ that works? is our only option choppers ferrying out the last soldiers and allies from the roofs of Baghdad a la Saigon?

  • Franz Hartl

    “Giggidy giggidy gigggidy� says Quagmire

    If we leave the place broken, and Turkey becomes a member of the EU, A Federal Europe will border the world largest clusterfuck. Europe needs to come to the table and help out. They won’t come help until we are seen as an honest broker, and that will never happen with Boy Wonder running the show over here in the States.

    So the solution starts at home, as a nation we have to Impeach this whole Bush adminstration for manipultating the populace into this disaster. Go back to the International Community, and say we got a little drunk with power, but we are going to sober up, and lets get back together. We are a such nice couple together. We know we need each other.

  • Obadiah

    Does anybody think that Iraq will come to stand as a symbol, rather than a country?

  • Franz Hartl

    To obadiah:

    Well the whole idea of an Iraqi nation is kind of a fiction isn’t it, A Britisish imperial construct.

  • A little yellow bird

    The cause of the trouble is the presence of the invading force. The invading force must leave. The Iraqis aren’t insurgents–they’re victims fighting defensively. The aggressor is in violation of the whole of the Nuremberg Code. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, “It’s all about withdrawal*, kid, and the rest is conversation.” (* And reparations, I might add… including a huge vacuum cleaner to suck up all o’ that depleted uranium earth-salting compound we’ve cleverly been disposing of for free in Yucca Mountain East, aka Iraq and Afghanistan.)

  • Brendan

    Can we really call the insurgents “victims” when they make a regular practice of killing fellow Iraqis?

  • Grumpy

    Here’s my take.

    1. Powerful interests in the USA (but not USA as a whole) want Iraq’s oil in order to protect their interests, economical and otherwise.

    2. These interests don’t bear the costs for Iraq, we do.

    3. You can’t persuade these interests and people representing them that Iraq is not in their interests, because in fact it is.

    4. What do we do to push these interests to do what we want them to do, not them pushing us to do what they want us to do? Or, in other words, how we make them bear at least some costs public pays for Iraq?

    Unless these questions are answered, we can talk as much as we like here, and they’ll do their thing their, and that means cluster bombs, phosphorus, Abu-Graib, Falluja, etc.

  • bloggeddown

    Get the foreign workers OUT. They never should have been brought in to begin with. Get the Iraqis back to work rebuilding as soon as possible.

    Get the UN in there to bolster the infrastructure – courts, police, schools, electricity, water, waste — and get the Arab neighbors to pony up on the personnel to staff it.

    Messy, yes, but it’s the best we can hope for.

  • Grumpy

    Brendan, according to John Hopkins/Lancet survey, more Iraqis are being killed by “coalition” forces, than by “insurgents”. Go figure who’re victims.

  • Jim from Andover

    Can the quests reflect on the possibilities of securing additional international support the help fix the mess we have initiated? How can this expand to other countries in Middle East? Other radical extremist hot spots around the world? It was touched on briefly tonight & appears to be one option short of leaving Iraq & the rest of the Arab tribes to civil war.

  • mnye

    Ask the guests about the permanent bases and whether pulling out of Iraq entirely is a serios possiblity, or if we have to stay in the Middle East as long as we need the oil.

  • Grumpy

    The guests keep talking about strategy, but what they discuss is in fact tactics, when to leave, how to leave, etc. Strategic question is will USA dominate and rule Iraq and the whole region or not, and it’s not even being discussed, it’s a given, and the answer is consensus “yes”. And no surprise.

  • Jim from Andover

    In viewing bloggeddown & Franz H comments I can’t imagine what this is going to cost US taxpayers to provide security, governance, and constant rebuilding of infrastructure. It was quoted earlier the its costing $1+B/wk & recent audits indicate that billions are unaccounted for & we haven’t re-built much of anything. This needs to be covered again Brendan & Chris!! Great program.

  • Brendan

    Grumpy, can you post a link to that survey? And everyone else, let me know on the thread what else should be on tonight’s extra-credit reading list; I got it by searching for “Clausewitz” and “Iraq” on Technorati.

  • drewscorner

    The thing I don’t get is what’s truly preventing our so-called NATO allies to join us and make much needed sacrifices in this increasingly fragile situation in Iraq.

    1) Is it that political egos, such as Bush, Blair, Berlusconi in one camp and Chirac, Shroeder, Putin (not NATO) in the other, simply clashed and still do with one another based on sheer principal. This bad blood goes back several years, particularly when Bush consciously decided to go-it-alone rather than allow the inspections of Hans Blix and the UNSCOM group to take their course (time), and then respond in consensus-like fashion once WMD evidence or intent would surface.

    2) Is it more the fact that NATO leaders in these states simply refused to get involved because but the political will was not there from the start, and that to rally a country into war and risk their citizen’s lives as well as jeapardize their treasury was not in their nation’s strategic interest? In other words, would the decision to enter a war, especially one led by Bush backfire politically and cost these leader their re-election prospects. I’d put Shroeder in this category, unless their was some of type of motive, like pride, or fear (i.e. Madrid bombings, etc).

    3) Or was the reason, more because these NATO leaders never trusted Bush and U.S. motives surrounding the spoils of victory? The fear here would much or a stratego-economic one, than a political backlash from their own citizens. As the pre-war buildup began, perhaps these leaders saw that Allied forces would be invited to fight at the US lead, but lose out on the lucracrative oil contracts after the war.

    4) Touched on earlier, was the decision for these countries to not engage in Iraq based more on general fear of terrorism than any other reason. Cowardly as that may seem from the US point of view, the motives of Al-Qaida were clear that anyone who invades an Arab country could find their country at odds with internal threats through a network of terrorist cells. Being not very far from the Middle East along with a sizable Muslin population in these countries, the indirect effect of involvement in an Iraqi invasion, would make any of these nations a more obvious target for future terrorist attacks. No European or Russian country wanted to see their own 9-11 on their soil — and that is exactly what happend with Spain after the Madid bombings.

    Which of the reasons resonated the most with our most trusted Allieds to not sacrifice a single drop of blood in Iraq and almost mock our knuckleheaded decision to invade without our best supporters.

  • Brendan–

    Sorry I missed the show, but I’ll bat clean-up on the charge made by Grumpy. A quick Google search revveals that it the research was funded by JHU and published in the British medical journal Lancet, October 2004. Lucky for us a professor at my alma mater has no qualms about offering the article gratis.

    This article comes back to mind now, and I remember also a mainstream journalist shredding its hype to pieces. This would have been Slate’s war correspondent Fred Kaplan– who has been no fan of the way the U.S. has prosecuted the war. Here’s his superb review, which spelled out exactly what the statistical significance of the survey meant:

    “It means that the authors are 95 percent confident that the war-caused deaths totaled some number between 8,000 and 194,000.” Thus: “This isn’t an estimate. It’s a dart board.” And his article proceeds to explain the rest of the stretches of statistical sampling.

    As a writer for Slate, Kaplan has the web sensibility to provide some hyperlinks to alternative research efforts. And wouldn’t you know it, some British researches have been tallying up Iraq Body Count, by counting each individual, derived from press counts and triple-fact checked. At the time, they had reported ~8000 civilian casualties before May 2003, and roughly the same number over the following 18 months.

    Sifting through their report from March 2005, I see that 6,882 deaths were attributable to U.S.-led forces before May 2003, and 2,388 post-invasion deaths (half of those coming from the two assaults on Fallujah) The total deaths caused by non-U.S.-led forces from May 2003 on was 14,131, six times the coalition number. (The report points out that this does not include 1,047 possible “crossfire” deaths).

  • joel

    I’m confused, Jon. Did you mean that 14,131 is six times 9,270?

  • joel

    Sorry, I missed the “from May 2003 on”


  • Andy Vance

    Kaplan’s a great writer, but he’s all wet on this one. He says that the estimate is a wild guess anywhere between 8,000 and 194,000, implying that all numbers in that range are equally likely.

    That’s not true. The closer you get to the high and low estimates, the less likely a number is correct. The most likely number is in the middle – 98,000.

    Also, as one of the study’s authors has noted, there are two factors that would lead one to believe the number is not at the low end of the scale:

    First, violence accounted for only 2% of deaths before the war and was the main cause of death after the invasion. That is something new, consistent with the dramatic rise in mortality and reduces the likelihood that

    the true number was at the lower end of the confidence range. Secondly,

    there is the Falluja data, which imply that there are pockets of Anbar, or other communities like Falluja, experiencing intense conflict, that have far more deaths

    than the rest of the country. We set that aside these data in statistical analysis because the result in this cluster was such an outlier, but it tells us that the true death toll is far more likely to be on the high-side of our point estimate than on the low side.

  • Andy– thank you for pulling this up. This exchange neatly illustrates the “power of the last word”: Grumpy’s last word was the Lancet report; mine was Kaplan’s retort, and yours– now ours– is Richard Garfield’s defense. And there is yet further correspondence.

    But the real last word belongs to the domain: I can’t tell you what the authors of the Lancet report are doing now, but the IBC is still the source to go to. We will learn in years to come how accurate their count is.

    Note that the IBS has presented the data on just who had caused the deaths (though oddly, isn’t showin up in the database presentation in its web page). And this was a the data that was needed to address Grumpy’s assertion.

    Of course there is a humanist component to this problem as well. When tragedies of this magnitude occur, we must stop ourselves from thinking “it’s just a statistic.” One effort calculates the deaths in a clinical fashion. The other one does its best to list each life ended. Which is one is “just a statistic”?

    The IBC fails horribly in one respect; the front of the website is pornographic with its image of a B-2 bomber dropping bombs. It has a web counter– so much for not being a statistic.

    If I were to design such a site, I’d do something akin what the NY Times did with “portraits of grief”– and duly honor each life. I’d have a little identifying information about each person, the name, at least, and as much as can be gleaned, how each died, and by whom. And you know what? Show the American lives as well as the Iraqis. They’re united in death, after all.

  • Andy Vance

    Jon, it’s also important to keep in mind that IBC and the Lancet Study methodologies are so vastly different that they’re likely not even measuring the same thing.

    Also, This American Life did a fascinating report on the Lancet study and how it’s been misunderstood.

  • Potter

    Barry Posen made some excellent points critical of the “Clear Hold and Build” tactic ( strategy?).

    Nobody really knows what to do.

  • A little yellow bird

    Brendan: Sorry about this response weeks late. Of course the “insurgents” who are causing mayhem are despicable. I meant, the Iraqis as a group have been aggressed against by we, the invading force; and in historically typical “war-paganda” language, the aggressor is stomping on toes when no one is looking, then acting innocent when someone fights back. They are not insurgents: they, at the outset anyway (and now with IED’s), were merely defending themselves.