Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Inadequate Solution

The overlong post I worried about over a week ago has been resolved.

Very short version: if one side of a conflict has shown it can tolerate a certain level of anxiety, casualties, expense, stalemate, etc, then it is possible that it can keep that up indefinitely. Slight increases are not likely to change their response in the short run. A large increase in perceived cost, casualties, or projected duration is needed to demoralize that party. Not only a change in fortunes, but a perception of change can be sufficient discouragement. For example, the public’s surprize in Vietnam that the North Vietnamese could even launch something as formidable as the Tet Offensive was a discouragement, even though we won decisively. The Spanish defeated superior forces in Mesoamerica because the societies had been decimated (sometimes literally) prior to the arrival of the intimidating looking and sounding Spaniards. The Indians believed the forces of gods and nature were arrayed against them.

Nothing but duration is defeating the American effort in OIF at the moment. We hoped to be gone, we don’t like even temporary stalemates, we get discouraged. An alternative view: Baghdad is in stalemate, and there is fatal violence there. Other than that, not much is wrong in Iraq. We had hoped we could persuade the Sunni Arabs to join a coalition – they won’t. Like the Palestinians, they are insisting that they receive all they think they deserve, no compromise. They may persist in this belief until the ground changes. If we leave, the Shia will wipe them out. I hope it doesn’t come to that. (Alternatively, you could blame it on the Shia for being reasonable about everything but Al Sadr. But I suspect even if he were liquidated, the Sunnis would find some other reason not to come aboard.)


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good post, AVI!
I concur with your analysis, but would add that propaganda (some true, but mostly false or skewered) from our own MSM, hollywood, musicians, and politicians, shortened our national patience, as well as the timidness of President Bush (and the GOP leadership) to speak often about Iraq, and address the repeated accusations made by some Democrats.

I know he did address Iraq, but not enough.
The MSM and most Dems pounded the war effort everyday.
The President and Republicans forgot that if a lie is repeated often enough, and if it isn't vigorously refuted at least as often, people start to believe it.

The same tactic was used in the domestic arena also.
The economy is bad, culture of corruption, etc..

And when the NYT published classified data for the terrorists to read, there should have been hell to pay, but there wasn't.
If the AG and President say it's damaging but don't act on it, why would the public take it seriously?

There are other factors, but these combined with our collective lack of patience will cause us alot more preventable heartache in the future.

I wish I were wrong. I even pray I am wrong.

copithorne said...

The Iraq Study Group said the situation was grave and deteriorating.

Most people -- even people such as Colin Powell and Robert Gates see us losing in Iraq. You'd be hard pressed to define any objectives by which we are winning or succeeding.

You are able to tolerate the killing and maiming of your fellow citizens. You are able to tolerate stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from future generations. And you see your capacity to tolerate these things as the virtue of patience.

To me, it comes across more as insensitivity.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No. Neither Gates nor Powell has said we are losing in Iraq. They have said we are "not winning" - something quite different. I would not be hard pressed at all to define any objectives by which we are winning.

You posit a false choice in which if we do not go to war, then no fellow citizens are killed or maimed; also a false choice in which not spending money on war guarrantees more money later. Not if the enemy is real would this be true. Only if it is illusory, or defeated by other means, would that be true.

You must first be honest, copithorne, or no discussion can take place. I wonder that you claim to understand the teaching of Jesus, but will not or cannot manage inconvenient moralities.

copithorne said...

Quotes from Colin Powell:

the situation in the occupied Arab country is "grave and deteriorating and we're not winning, we are losing."

"If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question... is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish... is it something that is really accomplishable... do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"

Here's the reference

You say you wouldn't find it difficult to measure the objectives by which we are winning. But then you didn't do that. Colin Powell can't see these objectives. I can't see these objectives. You are asking people to die for these objectives. Is there any chance you would share those objectives with us?

If you are able to rationalize that war is peace and spending other people's money is saving other people's money and people being killed is people being saved then it's true that our discussion does not take place in the context of a shared perspective on the meaning of words.

For me, war is war and spending other people's money is spending other people's money and killing people is killing people.

If you see any dishonesty on my part, I invite you to point it out.

I don't claim to understand the teachings of Jesus Christ. I'm just a student. I don't know what inconvenient moralities you perceive me to be overlooking. "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God" may be inconvenient to you since it interferes with your plans. But I don't think it is inconvenient. I think it is a wise blessing and instruction and we would all profit by following its counsel.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Let me then take another tack. War is war, you say, which as a tautology is of course true. Spending other people's money is spending other people's money.

Okay then. Is war ever justified? Your tautology would suggest not. Are governments allowed to spend any money, or is that forbidden because it is spending someone else's? If killing is killing, then is all killing the same? Is none ever justified? Are some worse than others?

If you believe that no war is justified, then you are entitled to use the formulation "war is war," because you are forbidding all of it. If that is your position, as it was Gandhi's, then all the Jews of Europe are dead and Germany ruled Europe from 1939. I don't call that moral, but at least it is consistent. If, on the other hand, you believe that war is sometimes justified, then you can no longer use the formulation "war is war," for you are differentiating them on some basis which remains unrevealed.

I would make a similar argument for your other tautologies. If you are wishing to be a purist and say all is forbidden, you have at least the virtue of consistency. I would ask in return what actions you believe are allowable in the face of evil. If you have exceptions - which I find the more defensible view - then you come under obligation to give evidence that this war does not meet moral standards. We would then be into the cost/benefit, plus/minus type of evaluation you seem to abhor.

As to understanding the teachings of Jesus, yes, you do claim to understand them, and you do so at nearly every turn. I am no longer troubled that you do not see this, and see your comments as innocent. Such things happen for many reasons, and I will not guess what yours are. I am satisfied that any reader who drops by would pick up your earnest but hectoring and self-satisfied tone. If you did not intend that, then I would say that your thoughts leak out, revealing more of yourself than you would wish.

I give partial credit for the Powell quote. But here is more of it: "We are losing - we haven't lost - and this is the time, now to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around," he said.

The ISG report is irrelevant. Gates comment is as follows: Asked point-blank by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., whether the U.S. is winning in Iraq, Gates replied, "No, sir." He later said he believes the United States is neither winning nor losing, "at this point."

copithorne said...

For me, it very nearly impossible to justify starting wars. This is the position of almost all churches and most nations. This was the promise of John F. Kennedy that I was brought up with and has been broken.

I notice that you are unable to come up the criteria by which the United States is winning or succeeding in Iraq.

I don't understand why you see the ISG report as irrelevant -- a report which Gates would have signed off on as a member. They are ten people whose ideology you would find inoffensive who spent a lot of time evaluating the situation in Iraq. You are saying you have a greater insight or expertise into the situation of Iraq than they do but you don't seem to feel responsible for presenting reasons or evidence why this would be the case.

My fellow citizens will continue to be killed and maimed to spare George Bush (and his supporters?) the pain of having to take responsibility for his mistakes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Our goal was to remove a dictator and install a democracy. Both of those have been done. We had additional goals of crippling terrorist networks, especially those affiliated with Al Queda, and destroying illegal weapons programs, including WMD. This has also been accomplished.

Our longer goals, on which everything depends, have included stability of democracy, reconstruction of infrastructure, and hampering the terrorists sufficiently that they give up. These are of necessity works in progress, and are very uneven in their success. 80% of Iraq is safe, even by American standards. Baghdad has ongoing violence.

You make reference only to people who agree with you as authorities, and expect that to be convincing. There are authorities who say different. You may choose to disagree with them, but arguments why one group is correct and the other not would be more to the point.

That you think the position of almost all churches and most nations is not to start war, then history must start at 1960 for you. Pacifism has a long but not solid history in Christianity. In its present form, it was almost unknown until the mid-20th C. More usually, various sects have declared that no human government was good enough to invest Christian lives in, and the more important work of the gospel should have our attention. That is a respectable but distinctly minority position for 2000 years.