Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

November 16, 2007

Scott Adams and the Surge

Filed under: culture, media, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 5:33 pm

Scott Adams, author of the comic strip Dilbert, asks the question: “What If It Works?” It is basically a reiteration of the the themes of “A War We Just Might Win” which I’ve written about before. The question is whether people like myself can ever give Bush credit even for a minor success in a myriad of failures.

I guess the first question is: is the surge the success? Violence against American troops in Iraq has gone down. However, people are still dying in suicide attacks. Better than it has been? Yes. Is this good enough? Well, I don’t really know what people are expecting in Iraq. What do the levels of violence in Iraq have to drop to in order for “victory” to be achieved? In my mind, because we don’t have clear goals, we are left with subjective judgments of things getting better or worse but we never actually know how close we ever are to being done. The U.S. could have declared victory and gotten out a long time ago. I think what people are expecting is a day where having a military base in Iraq is going to be as peaceful as having a base in Germany or Japan. Realistically, that day is still far off in the future.

A related question is: is the violence decrease actually due to the increase in troop strength? Again, I believe there are other factors coming in to play. One of them being: solitudinem fecerunt, pacem appelunt (they made a desert and called it peace). Many people have been killed in Iraq (which we literally don’t count), however estimates place it in the hundreds of thousands and approximately 1.8 million have left to become refugees. Number of deaths will go down when there is less of a population to kill, a cold reality that would have happened regardless of any significant change in strategy. The second and most significant factor is that the U.S. has brokered some deals with the Sunni tribal leaders, in exchange for some questionable help in rooting out Al Qaeda in Iraq, in combination with a cease-fire of the Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi army. Hammering out compromises between these groups is the key to a lasting peace and a stable government. However, Americans tend to be more focused on current violence levels in determining relative success and failure of the administration and surge policy than whether political progress is being made. I think the feeling is that the two go hand in hand, however I think that much of the current decrease in violence is due to promises made to various groups and now it is up to U.S. to deliver diplomatically. The country can quickly revert if negotiations go awry, but that is assuming that the United States set up a situation where success is possible. By making deals with the Sunni tribal leaders, did the United States empower moderates or extremists? I’m of the opinion that the United States is tending to give primacy to extremist factions on one side. This tends to discredit moderates on the opposing side making the diplomacy more difficult, if not impossible.

OK, so the diplomatic outlook looks bad, but the Bush Administration can still pull it out right? Technically? Yes. Probably? No. To understand probably not, we need only look at what the Bush Administration considers a good diplomat: John Bolton. The Bush Administration has been exceptionally poor at consensus building both domestically (70% are against the war and record disapproval ratings) and internationally (the small and dwindling members of the coalition of the willing). This mind-set of exceptionalism and my-way-or-the-highway thinking makes compromise and negotiation difficult to say the least. However, that isn’t to say that Iraqis will not find some way to overcome their differences, but this might very well come in spite of, not because of the role the U.S. played.

The other schizophrenic property of U.S. policy in Iraq is, just how supportive of Iraqi sovereignty are we? From privatization of Iraqi oil fields for U.S. companies to the minimal role that Iraqis are playing in the reconstruction of their own country, it is unclear whether the U.S. is in Iraq to liberate the people, or to liberate the market. I feel that current U.S. policy is more geared for latter, rather than the former. In this respect, the U.S. policy can be counterproductive to peace when it comes at the expense of profit and will weaken and embarrass the government of the people we claim to support if it means condemning a U.S. firm like Blackwater.

But, what if it works? What if staying the course, somehow, in someway, brought a democracy in Iraq that was stable enough to allow a few permanent U.S. military bases with virtually no resistance like Germany or Japan. Was what the U.S. did the best way to accomplish this? A black mark on U.S. credibility that will take decades to repair. A vast public debt that has resulted in the private wealth of a few individuals paid for in lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. A retreat of democracy of freedom and liberty here at home and repression abroad that we can no longer effectively condemn like Pakistan or Burma/Myanmar. Torture. How else could have the American political capital of good will and treasure been spent?

To Bush’s credit, he did visit some of our veterans. I highly recommend checking out the pictures, especially #11. I do not feel like I have this President’s ability to smile handing out t-shirts to disfigured veterans. I can’t look at a photo like that and help but feel that this war was such an unnecessary waste on so many levels.

So, what if it works? It would still remain unclear if anything to do with the surge or U.S. policy was the actual cause of the success. Even if that were the cause, I don’t think this war was worth the price we paid for the end we accomplished. There are other, better ways to promote democracy, freedom and combat terrorism that do not involve invasion.

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