In Handbasket: Iraq; Apparent Destination: Hell

by Belle Waring on April 6, 2004

Can it really be the case that there are enough US troops in Iraq if wounded marines have to rely on those Blackwater…er…private operatives for rescue?

With their ammunition nearly gone, a wounded and badly bleeding Marine on the rooftop, and no reinforcement by the U.S. military in the immediate offing, the company sent in helicopters to drop ammunition and pick up the Marine.

This is really bad. No wounded Marine should ever be ducking under a hail of bullets with anything but supreme confidence in his heart that a bunch of other Marines are about to come save his butt, any second now. These soldiers-for-hire sound very competent, as they should be, since they are all former Navy S.E.A.L.s or whatever, but having to rely on them to rescue wounded troops is proof that things are going very, very badly wrong. Go read Juan Cole for more informative and terrible news (N.B. this post, “Incompetence or Double-Dealing in Colaition Management of Iraq?”) You can color this actual supporter of the invasion of Iraq (not the popular CT contributor position) depressed. Please, don’t say you told me so. I know you told me so. I have to talk to my mom every week and she is pushing the “I told you so” line with much more emotional oomph than any of you guys can muster, trust me on this.



bryan 04.06.04 at 7:56 am

Your mom told you so.

Actually I was for it too, the humanitarian reasons stuff – feel pretty stupid now.


Matthew 04.06.04 at 9:03 am

I would not “tell you so” and I hope no one will, because you are being honest and consistent.
What’s unacceptable is the intellectual dishonesty and the constant rationalising and spinning that some are currently emitting in response to that disaster.


toni 04.06.04 at 10:19 am

It’s very fluid there. Before Saddam there were 20+ years of coup after coup after coup. That’s how Saddam got his skills. The existing Iraqi government is just not bottom-heavy enough for plotters not to see opportunities to hijack it.

Some substantial group has to move in in a big way and have not just coup support but also popular support. Probably it’ll be al-Sistani. He’s the elephant in the room.

seems very realistic to me. It has the lines:

“Even if a new regime were established after, rather than during, a U.S. military campaign, the first government to replace Saddam could falter quickly if U.S. forces did not intervene to prevent coups. Faced with vaguely similar situations in Korea and South Vietnam in the 1960s, the United States chose an unsuccessful policy of standing aside during coup attempts. If such a policy were adopted in Iraq, a coup could produce a successor regime that renounces commitments made by an initial, more favorable post-Saddam government (e.g., to give up WMD). For this reason, even if the first new regime were imperfect, the U.S. military would face strong pressure to protect it from coups.

In such a case, however, the United States would in effect become responsible for how well the new Iraqi government functioned, since American forces would be propping it up. Moreover, given the currently widespread support for democratization, Washington would likely be called on to push Baghdad toward more representative governance. Such an assignment could enlarge exponentially, with the United States eventually attempting to remake Iraqi society into a fully functioning Western-style democracy, as it did during its postwar occupation of Japan.

Short of full occupation, however, U.S. forces would be constrained by the need to respect the sovereignty and authority of a new, imperfect Iraqi government. This constraint would complicate the already difficult task of remaking Iraq, magnifying the potential for nationalist resentment against the U.S. presence. A full occupation would be bad enough in the eyes of the most ardent Iraqi nationalists; an Iraqi government nominally in charge but in practice dependent on U.S. support could fare even worse, particularly if it faced constant U.S. pressure to remake the country along American lines. In short, occupying Iraq would be a challenge, but preserving Iraqi stability and friendship without occupation could prove even more difficult, unless some way were found to minimize the threat of successive post-Saddam coups.”


Belle Waring 04.06.04 at 11:06 am

My mom’s answer to any and all arguments I made was, “yeah, maybe, but even if that’s true, I wouldn’t trust these incompetent bastards to run an elementary school bake sale.” Chalk one up for mom.


troy 04.06.04 at 12:19 pm

I like your mom :)

I only get short with ideologues; honest disagreements are very educational to explore civilly (of course).

Like I said in the other thread, I would have been FOR this intervention had it gone down differently. MUCH differently.

There’s a book or two, and a Frontline episode, that could explain how we got into this particular handbasket in 2002-2003.


james 04.06.04 at 12:39 pm

Elections, elections, elections.

Not ideal, given the political and security chaos in Iraq, but since the refusal of the US to go to the UN in any serious manner straight after the war it is now the only way to achieve unambiguous legitimacy for the governance of the country.



David 04.06.04 at 2:28 pm

I originally opened up the comments to say that this situation was entirely predictable, if not inevitable. It is for this reason that I have been against the war in Iraq.

But I see James’ remarks about elections. How Naive. It’s a common misconception in western countries that elections solve everything. I give you the examples of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Russia. Elections work well when by an infrastructure that we all take for granted: That the elections will be fair;
the winner will not repress the loser.

It is that support structure that the occupying powers are trying to put into place. However, other forces, through design or ignorance, are trying to prevent this from happening


No Preference 04.06.04 at 2:42 pm

If I read you right, Belle, that was the most graceful and convincing acknowledgement of being mistaken on this issue I’ve seen so far. The fact that you’ve had hardly any competition doesn’t detract from it.


Rich Puchalsky 04.06.04 at 3:12 pm

matthew: “I would not “tell you so” and I hope no one will, because you are being honest and consistent.”

Honestly, consistently, wrong. Let’s not fetishize honesty and consistency; I’d rather have people be lying flip-floppers if that’s what it takes to help them arrive at conclusions that are congruent with reality. Usually the people who pride themselves on being honest and consistent are the last ones to give up on an untenable idea, because they are so invested in being consistent, and because they’ve honestly told everyone their position and feel that they’d look bad if they changed it prematurely.


james 04.06.04 at 3:37 pm


I don’t see how any of the points in your post are in any way incompatible with mine.

I acknowledged (albeit somewhat euphemistically) that conditions were less than ideal for elections, and don’t claim they would “solve everything”, just that they seem the only way to absorb the tension and conflict in Iraq through peaceful channels (though, as you point out, the Sunni population might be even more paniced by the prospect of being outvoted).

Hardly deserving of Naive with a capital N, surely!


Rajeev Advani 04.06.04 at 5:05 pm

I would have been FOR this intervention had it gone down differently. MUCH differently.

I would have bought more tech stocks in 2000 had the market NOT crashed. Let’s avoid tautology here. Was your ex-ante decision for or against the war? (For, I believe, is still a defensible decision, but in the spirit of John Quiggin’s last post I think it is time to concentrate on the present)


different and prior david 04.06.04 at 5:35 pm

I’m kind of freaked out to hear that Daniel Davies is Belle Waring’s mom.


paul 04.06.04 at 5:50 pm

I can only hope the pinheads with their “I support our troops” paraphernalia — supporting the troops != supporting military adventures that will kill those same troops — see this and realize how little support the troops are getting.

Who’s behind Blackwater Security, et al? Who’s making money out of the shortsightedness and blinkered ideological mistakes that are coming to light now?


Anne C. 04.06.04 at 6:08 pm

I am a war-supporter who thinks the administration has handled things badly, but at the same time, it seems to me some other outcomes look pretty bad as well. The problem was that sanctions were terrible – were ruining the country and sending it to hell in a different handbasket – and yet we couldn’t ease the containment system without giving more power and freedom of action to S.H. In a way it seems easy to say that it was a terrible idea, because you are not acknowledging other possible bad outcomes. And it seems to me the essential difficulty about this debate is that the opposition did not begin in earnest until we already had massive forces in place, and withdrawing those forces and making a threat that we then did not act on – I think that would have had terrible consequences. We could easily have seen an end to sanctions and a revitalized, empowered Saddam Hussein within a few years. Is that such a great alternative?

That is, war supporters are accused of having too rosy a picture of democracy down the road, but anti-war people had too rosy a picture of the status quo and how unstable it was.


Walt Pohl 04.06.04 at 6:08 pm

The whole series of events is incomprehensible to me. I’d like to jump 20 years in the future to read the books that will explain it to me. Even if you accept the most cynical motives for their behavior, it’s hard to make sense of it all. For example, lying about WMDs is the dumbest possible lie: one that will inevitably be discovered. At this point, Iraq is well on its way to costing the Republicans the Presidency, perhaps even Congress, and well on its way to totally discrediting neoconservativism.

That’s why I suspect that in the end it will turn out that their motives were not particularly cynical: To acheive this level of incompetence, you need to turn to an ideologue.


Robin Green 04.06.04 at 7:35 pm

Walt, I agree that it was bound to be discovered – but the focus on WMDs was because it was the only possible explanation that (if believed) gave the invasion any shred of credibility under international law.

Even now, they can (and do) still argue that they “honestly believed” that saddam had WMD “programmes”. Giving them some kind of figleaf.

Why is international law becoming so important? Could a little thing called the International Criminal Court have anything to do with it?

A British newspapers reported a while ago that high-ranking British military chiefs had demanded a “cast-iron” legal opinion from the UK Attorney General that the war was legal. They seemed to be concerned about answering for their crimes if it was not.


Robert Lyman 04.06.04 at 7:41 pm

I’m having a hard time understanding why anyone thinks the whole country should be perfect after a year.

John Q. gave a 7-year timetable for admitting he was wrong. As a war supporter, I’ll take the same timetable. If after 7 years we don’t have a strong, successful democracy in Iraq, then I’ll say the invasion was a bad idea and I regret supporting it.

In the meantime, thuggish behavior which echoes, on an extreme scale, the LA riots and the killing of James Byrd does not mean that there is no hope in the long run. These events make me sick and frightened, but the rational part of me tries to put it in perspective.

Really Belle, what did you expect? Violence and brutality were predictable and should have been expected. I wish things were perfect, but we’re a long way from Slaughterhouse Five or Apocalypse Now here, so let’s not freak out, OK?


Robert Lyman 04.06.04 at 7:43 pm

BTW, I didn’t mean to say that I endorsed apparent incompetence or military reliance on private contractors. I just think the gloom-and-doom is getting a bit thick at this rather early juncture.


David Sucher 04.06.04 at 8:15 pm

The seven year time-frame is realistic. The only problem is that we let ourselves into this war without hearing such a schedule.

And if there is anything about Vietnam and about which both left and rigfht might agree that is a very very very bad idea to enter America into a war without some substantial consensus.

There is no way in the world that this country will hold out for seven more years of what is happening now. I am not advocating but merely observing what is.


W. Kiernan 04.06.04 at 11:43 pm

I’m not trying to be offensive, Belle, but how old are you? Seems to me anybody – well, anybody halfway smart (you’re obviously twice that) – my age who lived in the U.S.A. through the sixties, knew better. Someone must have studied the degree to which age is correlated to support for the Iraq adventure, don’t you think?


troy 04.07.04 at 2:44 am


I meant “go down” wrt intervention in the past perfect tense, eg. 2000 – 2003, not events of the past year.

This intervention was basically doomed after Bush’s failure to follow up on his “show their cards” comment about seeking a final vote at the UN.

Or perhaps it was doomed when Bush, Blair, and Aznar had their pre-invasion rally on some god-forsaken rock in the middle of the Atlantic.

Nobody wanted this war outside the profiteers (and Kurds).

I find Hitchen’s most recent argument somewhat persuasive, but feel intervention needed to be finessed like NATO’s into Kossovo. Pehaps it needed to be staged, first liberating Basra and Mosul, some sort of French “oilspot” strategy.


John Quiggin 04.07.04 at 4:06 am

“John Q. gave a 7-year timetable for admitting he was wrong”

I think you must be confusing me with somebody else. I gave several conditions (e.g. the discovery of nukes) under which I would admit I was wrong, but none involving a 7-year timetable.


Rajeev Advani 04.07.04 at 4:52 am

Troy: Sorry about that misinterpretation.

I disagree about the “turning point” of the intervention; the most convincing argument I’ve heard is that the intervention took a dive after the White House failed to embrace Sistani. I enclose “turning point” in quotations because — as Robert Lyman pointed out above — the doom and gloom is awfully thick right now, and it’s difficult to tell in the heat of the moment if something truly has “turned.”


Troy 04.07.04 at 8:36 am

Rajeev: I agree. Echo chambers are like that. My overall outlook on how Iraq is going to turn out in 2 years time hasn’t really changed since before the ground invasion started.

I assumed we’d “take Baghdad without much hubbub” (actual quote from me in early march 2003), but securing the country against “extremists” would prove to be very challenging.

I identified the carpetbagging nature of the occupation to be the main drivespring of resistance, and Chalabi and his corhorts to be one of the tenpins that could topple, leaving US interests/leverage weakened by the exercise.

Other fundamental mistakes need to be corrected before a stable civil society can materialize over there. The good outcome is going to be some sort of Musharraf enlightened despot / Turkish military balance of power, and one of the not so good outcomes will be federalization, terrorism like that seen during the postwar India/Pakistan partition, and a shiite republic bordering Iran.

Basically everything the DoD has done has been rather wrongheaded I’m afraid.


Robert Lyman 04.07.04 at 5:16 pm

John Q.,

You’re right. It was Chris, not you.


My point though: I still think the timetable was a fair one. And I don’t think the 12-month timetable is fair.


Tripp 04.07.04 at 5:20 pm

I’ve heard over and over the ‘didn’t you KNOW this would take a long time?’ question.

Excuse me for taking Bush at his word and believing that we would be down to 30K troops last September and be out by June.

Excuse me for thinking “Mission Accomplished” meant mission accomplished.

I was misled and possibly lied to, and it is disingenous to now ask why I believed the lie.


No Preference 04.07.04 at 6:06 pm

we couldn’t ease the containment system without giving more power and freedom of action to S.H.

Freedom of action to do what? His neighbors were not afraid of him. The notion that he would have molested them after what happened in 1991 is extremely far-fetched.

If after 7 years we don’t have a strong, successful democracy in Iraq, then I’ll say the invasion was a bad idea and I regret supporting it.

In the meantime, will you support similar interventions around the world, or has our experience in Iraq changed your mind about that?


Robert Lyman 04.07.04 at 7:19 pm

Excuse me for taking Bush at his word and believing that we would be down to 30K troops last September and be out by June.

Cite and link, please. If Bush said that, he was dreaming and his judgment is seriously questionable.

In the meantime, will you support similar interventions around the world, or has our experience in Iraq changed your mind about that?

Iraq has gone as well as I had hoped, better actually. So no, it has not changed my thinking on foreign interventions.


Rajeev Advani 04.07.04 at 8:49 pm

Just when I thought I was done posting on this thread, I noticed Belle had linked to a particularly vexing article by Juan Cole that I had commented on earlier.

Before he revised the post, Cole had openly flirted with the theory that the Neocons provoked the fight with the Sadrists in order to partition Iraq into three parts for the benefit of Israel. Needless so say, his willingness to demonize the Neocons to such an absurd extent made me lose nearly half my respect for him. Thankfully he has since revised that post, reducing his accusation against the Neocons and qualifying his remarks more thoroughly. Still though, he refuses to give up his handwavy theory that the Neocons pushed for invading Iraq solely to defend Israel. What he doesn’t realize is that, as Max Boot always stresses, the neoconservative movement is less a fragment of the Likud party and more just a general expression of hard Wilsonianism.

While I love Juan Cole’s analysis of Iraq, he’s much less thorough, and much less impressive, when he discusses US politics.


No Preference 04.07.04 at 8:59 pm

So no, it has not changed my thinking on foreign interventions.

Sorry to hear you say that. There was a large and obvious down side to the Iraq invasion even before it began – a heightened risk of terrorism; the erosion of international law; our plunge in international esteem; and the exacerbation of tensions with Muslims worldwide. The occupation itself has not gone well. Yet you don’t appear to see these problems, nor the evidence that our leaders misled us about the necessity of going to war. You are ready to follow their lead again. That is hard to understand.


Robert Lyman 04.08.04 at 5:35 pm

no preference,

you have only identified one point which is relevant here: “the occupation itself has not gone well.”

All the other stuff was evident (or, according to my belief not evident, and indeed false) before the war started. Those arguments haven’t changed a bit in the last 12 months. There is no need to rehash them now.

And my point is that the occupation is going as well as I expected it to before the war began; thus, what, exactly, about it would have caused me to change my mind?

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