Sunday, June 29, 2014

Drivel With a Chart

If this defense of the Obama administration's decision to withdraw our troops from Iraq in 2011 is the best that can be done, the defense side is pretty much done.

Right off the bat, this author's defense of the Obama decision to leave Iraq is just wrong:

Did President Obama usher in Iraq’s current crisis when he withdrew all U.S. forces and shattered the stability achieved by former president George W. Bush’s “surge”? Foreign policy hawks have vigorously promoted that narrative, but their account does not withstand scrutiny. For one thing, it is now abundantly clear the Iraqi government was not “stable or self-reliant” at the end of 2011. Further, U.S. boots on the ground would not have made it so. Before the troops came home, Americans watched for eight years as the United States failed to resolve Iraq’s internal conflicts.

Of course, the Obama administration justified withdrawal on the notion that Iraq was just fine. And war supporters believed Iraq was not ready to go it alone without our presence despite the fact that at that moment, Iraq was stable.

And while we didn't resolve Iraq's internal conflicts, we certainly did help reduce them to a low rumble and put in place democratic institutions that could tackle those internal disputes through politics rather than violence.

As for the internal conflicts, we did keep the Kurds inside Iraq where they provided the best units of the new Iraqi army when, in the Saddam era, the Kurds were completely separate from Iraq.

And we got the Sunni Arabs--who had every reason to hate us for wrecking their party by ending their minority-run dictatorship in Iraq under Saddam--to join us in large numbers in 2007 and work with the newly empowered Shia majority to fight al Qaeda in Iraq.

Further, even Maliki--who is the designated fall guy for Iraq's problems--subdued the pro-Iranian Shia militias in operations in the spring of 2008 with a military campaign.

So that was a pretty good record of reducing Iraq's internal conflicts and setting the stage for Iraq to be stable and self-reliant.

And as an aside, just what does the standard of "self-reliant" even mean when NATO nations needed much American support just to take on revolution-wracked Libya in 2011?

He says that Iraq's problems started with our intervention in 2003. Is he seriously trying to revive a notion of a pre-war kite-flying paradise on the Tigris and Euphrates?

Saddam was a bloody butcher using force to unsuccessfully keep Iraq together under minority Sunni Arab rule. The Kurds were autonomous (under our no-fly zone aerial umbrella); Anbar ran its own affairs as Saddam subcontracted rule to the tribes if they behaved; the Shias were barely suppressed with Baath party bully boys and the imported jihadis of Saddam's Fedayeen deployed to keep them down; and even the Baghdad region most under Saddam's control had criminal gangs given the power to maintain order on the streets.

In what alternate campus faculty world was Iraq stable and self-reliant before we invaded?

But what really gets me is the chart that the professor uses to prove our interventions make things worse rather than better.

Amusingly enough, after noting the dangers of cherry-picking cases, he ignores our continued presence in West Germany and Japan, ending our presence in 1952; and fails to include post-Korean War South Korea where our troops also still help provide security; while putting Afghanistan and Kosovo on as "ongoing." Either include the three biggest success stories of American long-term military presence or take Afghanistan and Kosovo off, since all are pretty much ongoing, aren't they?

And how do you treat Italy? They were an enemy that switched sides to being a friend. And a bonus is that our military presence continues to this day, too. In what world did our presence end in 1948? And Italy's revolving door governance is not the best measure of stability, is it?

And not all interventions are the same, meaning not all occupations have the same objective as the one in Iraq.

Grenada and Panama, for example, were efforts to change hostile regimes that were the problems. We weren't needed to keep internal divisions peaceful and there were no foreign threats to deter.

Kuwait was the victim of conquest that we reversed. Having reversed the conquest, pre-conquest governance was revived easily. Besides, we have had a continuous military presence in Kuwait since 1991, so how does the author claim our military presence lasted but a year?

Speaking of invasions, so our 3-year presence in South Korea from 1945-1948--after South Korea had been a colony of Japan for half a century--failed to leave a stable country? Well, yeah. And there was also that 1950 invasion by North Korea that ended the possibility that it might have worked out given some time.

Speaking of invasions. South Vietnam was stable enough with the Viet Cong largely defeated by 1973. But then there were those small matters of our Congress cutting off aid and our support plus the detail of a mechanized North Vietnamese invasion that prevented a longer view and a potential "yes" in the stable column,

Cambodia is on the list of countries we occupied and therefore tried but failed to make stable? Are you kidding me? In what alternate world was that what was going on? In fact, we conducted operations against North Vietnamese-controlled border areas being used as supply depots for the war in South Vietnam.

Our intervention in Lebanon was because of instability existing already and we were invited in by the government to deter attempts to defeat the government. Nor did this coded "success" end there as the next Lebanon entry shows.

That second intervention was partly the result of Israel's invasion, Syria's partial occupation, Iran's intervention with terrorism, and further demographic changes that the "stable" Lebanon's system would not change to reflect. Inflexible is not the same as stable. And we basically sat at the Beirut airport. In what Bizarro world did we "occupy" Lebanon?

And the chart rather implies, as the author's implication that Iraq was stable before we intervened supports, that these states were stable prior to our interventions. Even if most states were not stabilized after our interventions, doesn't the fact that we felt compelled to intervene indicate that continued instability was likely without us there? So isn't it pretty likely that all those cases would have been coded as unstable without our intervention? It is way too simplistic to simply count outcomes on even a well-constructed chart and say our presence is good or bad without pondering what our lack of intervention would have resulted in.

For Iraq, saying Iraq was not stable after 2011 ignores the fact that Iraq initially was pretty stable after we left. The Obama administration boasted of it and used that stability as a reason we could leave. If the author can say South Vietnam was not stable after we left when it actually took an invasion to destroy their government, Iraq should be coded as stable.

Sadly, South Vietnam and Iraq do share similarities. Both were ultimately successful military operations undermined by our refusal to defend what we gained by battlefield victory.

Really? Haiti and Somalia were stable and self-reliant until we arrived? Really?

Bosnia is stable? Huh. And I dispute the end date of 2004. In 2008 there were a couple thousand foreign troops in Bosnia from a number of nations, including America. And a European force continues to help stabilize the place to this day. Ah, the joys of being stable and self-reliant!

And what of his durations of interventions? We went to war with Japan and Germany in 1941. If that doesn't count because it isn't post-war, why is South Vietnam counted from 1964 when that war continued even after we left, making a mockery of the notion that a post-war occupation is what the author is portraying?

And what of Iraq's date range? Shouldn't that post-war occupation really start in 2009 when we formally ended our combat operations by ending Operation Iraqi Freedom and beginning Operation New Dawn?

The Dominican Republic wasn't so much an occupation as an effort to protect Americans on the island. Our few casualties in that intervention should be a clue. We did pressure the sides in the civil war to make a deal, and that worked.

Austria is an odd case since all foreign forces withdrew and refrained from interfering in a neutral state. Iraq did not have that kind of restraint from Syria, Iran, or the global Sunni Arab jihadi movement.

Honestly, the chart that provides the basis of the author's analysis is worthless as a tool to judge pre-intervention stability or the effects of our occupations in stabilizing a defeated enemy nation or in allowing an ally we successfully defend from an internal and/or external threat thrive.

The author is basically flinging poo from his monkey cage. If this article is the best that the defenders of the Obama administration failure to stay in Iraq can do to escape responsibility for the Iraq crisis, they can't make the case.

NOTE: I expanded a couple sections after publication to flesh out points that should have been clearer.