Thursday, July 31, 2008

Peace Is At Hand....

One of Henry Kissinger's finer moments:
In October [of 1972] Kissinger euphorically reported to the world that "peace is at hand" in Viet Nam. Then, as it has so many times before in America's longest and strangest war, the peace proved once again elusive. As the Paris negotiations dissolved in a fog of linguistic ambiguities and recriminations, Richard Nixon suddenly sent the bombers north again. All through the year, Nixon and Kissinger labored at a new global design, a multipolar world in which an equilibrium of power would ensure what Nixon called "a full generation of peace." But at year's end, the design remained dangerously flawed by the ugly war from which, once again, there seemed no early exit.
If you don't study history, or even if you do, you may find that it repeats itself - today, Henry Kissinger "has McCain's back", and argues that peace is at hand in Iraq.

This is an example of a smart man, even one whose foreign policy mistakes are something of legend, lowering himself to writing a base, simplistic diatribe - something one might expect in an undergraduate speech class, but that somebody of Kissinger's background and intelligence would have to know is an unadulterated heap of crap. But Kissinger's not trying to convince himself. He's trying to convince people at the margins of the Republican party who are sick of the war that they should back McCain. And he's counting on them not to think very hard about his claims and assertions.

Kissinger opens with one of the famously nebulous "They say"-type assertions, that allow you to fabricate a claim that you put into the mouths of people who don't actually exist.
Above all, [supporters of a deadline for withdrawal] argued, the war was lost, and withdrawal would represent the least costly way to deal with the debacle.
I'll grant that you will be able to find isolated individuals who took that position, but they're exceptions. Which of course is why Kissinger fails to identify any actual people who hold this position - to do so would only serve to highlight how exceptional it is. He's also conflating two issues - the question of whether the war is lost, and the question of whether withdrawal is the "least costly" (and here it's not clear if we're talking lives, dollars, political influence, something else, or some combination thereof) option. It's possible to believe that we're winning, but that we should still get out of Iraq on a short timetable.

Kissinger attempts to argue that there are three reasons why "events" have overtaken arguments in support of withdrawal. He claims that al-Qaeda (and here he seems to mean the real thing, not "al-Qaeda in Iraq") "seems on the run"; the Sunni insurrection "has largely died down"; and the Shiite dominated central government has "at least temporarily" suppressed Shiite militias that challenged its authority. In other words, even in pitching this as a great success, Kissinger can't bring himself to claim any concrete achievements. He couches his claims in appearances or as temporary. He continues, "Of course, we cannot tell now whether these changes are permanent or whether, and to what extent, they reflect a decision by our adversaries, including Iran, to husband their forces for the aftermath of the Bush administration." That's kind of important, don't you think? If we're going to be declaring that "peace is at hand", we don't want to be in a situation where "at year's end, the design remain[s] dangerously flawed by the ugly war from which, once again, there seem[s] no early exit" - do we?

Kissinger apparently has forgotten the mantra of the past five years, "Iraq is not Vietnam". He quickly resorts to the standard, Vietnam War line that we must try to mind read our enemies, and we can't do anything that could potentially make our enemies see us as weak.
Any appearance that radical Islamic forces were responsible for a U.S. defeat would have enormous destabilizing consequences far beyond the region.
This may sound incredibly empowering to our enemies - they get to dictate our foreign policy. Except, of course, that it's not really about what our enemy might want - it's about Kissinger. If the shoe were on the other foot, and somebody were telling him "Your policies strengthen the enemy" - for example, "Staying in Iraq provides terrorists with a powerful recruiting tool, in attracting people to plot against us, kill our soldiers, and potentially attack civilian targets," he would be dismissive. If the enemy flat-out said something like, "I'm trying to draw you into a protracted, unwinnable war in the Middle East in order to weaken your military", they would presumably be deemed to be lying. Facts, schmacts - the enemy never benefits from Kissinger's policies, but always benefits from the policies of those who oppose him.

Kissinger paints a portrait of how he sees things magically unfurling from this point forward, concluding,
American deployment is transformed from abdication into part of a geopolitical design. Its culmination should be a diplomatic conference charged with establishing a formal peace settlement.
Hey - let's hold it in Paris!

Kissinger imagines himself clairvoyant, presenting a parade of horribles that a deadline would supposedly create:
  • "It will encourage largely defeated internal groups to go underground until a world more congenial to their survival arises with the departure of American forces." We're supposed to assume this hasn't already happened? Or that the factions presently paid for cooperating and working with the U.S. won't turn their backs on our interests (if not take up arms against us) the moment the payments stop? How is this changed by the presence or absence of a deadline?

  • "Al-Qaeda will have a deadline against which to plan a full-scale resumption of operations." Again he seems to be playing the cheap parlor trick of conflating "al-Qaeda" with "al-Qaeda in Iraq". The former group wasn't in Iraq before the U.S. invasion, and seems perfectly happy with us stayin in Iraq forever. But if Kissinger's describing the latter group, and if it's truly about to pop up like a jack-in-the-box the moment any pressure is taken off the lid, this argument belies Kissinger's claims about the success of the surge and how ready the Sunni factions are to join a unity government. Even if he means that Sunnis might again invite and support foreign fighters from al-Qaeda proper, his claim speaks ill of his notion that the nation is ready to reconcile.

  • "And it will give Iran an incentive to strengthen its supporters in the Shiite community for the period after the American withdrawal." Who are Iran's supporters in the Shiite community? I mean, other than people like Maliki and Chalabi? Really, we're going to have to deal with the fact that Shiite-controlled Iraq is going to be close with Shiite-controlled Iran, and continued occupation isn't going to create a magic separation barrier between the two states.

  • "Establishing a fixed deadline would also dissipate assets needed for the diplomatic endgame." For instance? (But making conclusory statements is more fun than, you know, making substantive claims.)

Kissinger goes on to explain that with a timetable, you might not have sufficient combat forces in place if things go to Hades in a handbasket. But he ridicules the notion that the withdrawal of forces could be measured against any new insurrection or resurgence of violence, with troops kept in place for longer if needed. He then proposes that McCain is going to withdraw a secret number of troops - presumably just the right number to keep anything bad from happening while giving us more manpower for fighting in Afghanistan - but that this mystical troop withdrawal won't threaten the stability of Iraq. Wonderful - not only is "peace at hand", we are now counting on McCain's secret plan to deliver it!

Toward the end, he delivers a real gem:
These considerations explain Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's conduct on the occasion of Obama's visit to Iraq. Maliki is negotiating with the Bush administration about a status-of-forces agreement for the residual forces to remain in Iraq. Given popular attitudes and the imminence of provincial elections, he probably wanted to convey that the American presence was not planned as a permanent occupation. The accident of the arrival of a presidential candidate, who had already-published views on that subject, reinforced that incentive. To reject the senator's withdrawal plan in front of a large media contingent would have been to antagonize someone with whom Maliki might have to deal as president.
At least it's not a repeat of the absurd "Maliki was ambiguous" argument raised by other McCain shills. But get this - Kissinger concedes that Iraqis want our forces out on a timetable, meaning that the Iraqis apparently see none of the dangers proposed by Kissinger or see them as a good thing. (If it's the former, it's classic Kissinger narcissism - nobody could know the situation better than him, even if they're living through it. If it's the latter, it undermines his entire thesis.) But beyond that, he's arguing that Maliki was happy to spit in the eye of the sitting President, and undermine the position of the Republican presidential candidate, because the Democratic candidate might win. Why wasn't Maliki concerned about antagonizing the President, or the other person "with whom Maliki might have to deal as president"? Kissinger's rationalization is insipid.

As you would expect, for his closing statement Kissinger falls back on Vietnam.
Thirty years ago, Congress cut off aid to Vietnam and Cambodia two years after American troops had been withdrawn and local forces were still desperate to resist. Domestic divisions had overcome all other considerations. We must not repeat the tragedy that followed.
Of course it could be that but for our war in Vietnam, that country would not be one of the five remaining communist nations in the world (Vietnam, Laos, China, Cuba, North and Korea). It could be that, but for the illegal war Kissinger supported in Cambodia, Pol Pot would never have come to power. It could be that a continued war in Vietnam would have resulted in a worse outcome than we presently see - a nation that is still communist and oppressive, but which has become our trade partner instead of our military adversary.

If the worst case scenario for Iraq was that it would end up, after twenty-five or thirty years, looking like modern Vietnam, would Kissinger truly want to roll the dice on endless war? (I suspect so, but he should at least have the honesty of admitting that he's gambling, and could bring about a much worse outcome.)

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