Michael H Goldhaber on Sat, 6 Jan 2007 00:35:07 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Iraq: The Way Forward

I have recently completed the following paper that I thought might be  
of interest to nettimers.


Michael H. Goldhaber
blog  http://www.goldhaber.org

Iraq: The Way Forward

We have reached a crucial turning point in American history. The  
November elections and current polls have made clear that Americans  
have soured on the Iraq war, and want the troops to be withdrawn  
rapidly. One question now is how best to try to influence the new  
Congress to act successfully to help end, if not the complex of war,  
revenge and banditry now swirling through Iraq, then at least direct  
American participation. But that question cannot be tackled in  

Because the war ? and the ?war on terror? in general ? have brought  
America?s reputation for competence, justice and humanity to a new  
low, through the debate on the war we have reached a rare ?teachable  
moment.? The assumptions that that have surrounded America?s military  
posture ever since World War Two can now be brought into public  
question as never before. This opportunity is not to be missed. If it  
is the chances are that the failures in Iraq will be accounted for as  
mere errors in planning or execution. Pressure for further unwise and  
unwarranted military adventures will continue unabated.

On the whole, Americans, and even most of their Congresspeople ? not  
to mention the President ? remain remarkably uninformed about the  
rest of the world. As a nation, our attention is focused inward, to  
an extent that most of the rest of the advanced world probably cannot  
match, if only because so much of their attention is focused on us.  
Even today, after nearly four years of war and occupation in Iraq,  
how many Americans can differentiate it from Iran?

Most Congresspeople won that position after serving in state or local  
office ? hardly a route that rewards any special understanding of the  
rest of the world. Once they get to Washington, they find themselves  
overwhelmed by lobbyists and others who want to influence them in a  
particular parochial direction, not impart general global knowledge  
or wisdom. (Recently, the Congressional Quarterly journalist Jeff  
Stein interviewed Silvestre Reyes, the House Intelligence Committee  
chairman designate. Among other things, Reyes did not know which of  
al Qaeda and Hezbol?lah was Sunni, which Shi?ite. When pressed, he  
guessed wrong. This may not be the most important quiz question in  
the world, but it is rather germane to deciding how to handle some of  
the critical issues we face in Iraq and the Middle East in general. )

Still, while Congresspeople are more expert in domestic issues, that  
does not mean they are neutral when it comes to Defense Department  
appropriations and support of the military. Ever since World War II?s  
expenditures helped lift the country out of the Great Depression, and  
incidentally made the US by far the world?s dominant military and  
industrial power, keeping that supremacy has been tied to keeping  
domestic jobs and maintaining ?the economy.? The very idea of  
?national defense? has lent some sense of unity to an otherwise  
possibly fractious country.

A huge military has been taken to be a vital necessity as well as a  
source of pride, but what it is for is much less asked. There has to  
be some sort of default answer, of course; if we were apparently  
without enemies the giant force would eventually come to seem a  
senseless and unimportant use of substantial funds. In essence, every  
so often the Pentagon?s backers are faced with a situation of ?use  
it, or lose it.?  However, Americans? general lack of curiosity about  
the world makes it easy to conjure up opponents, with only an  
occasional small war or military action needed to prove the point,  
couple with a much rarer fuller display of the military?s vaunted  
power.  For most of the time since 1945, the Cold War against  
international Communism centered in Moscow neatly supplied the main  
bogeyman. But it has been fifteen years since the fall of the USSR.  
The supposed ?clash of civilizations? with Islam came as a godsend to  
those many who have reasons to favor continued huge military  
investments. That led directly to the Iraq invasion. There was simply  
nowhere else that America?s huge military could with remote  
plausibility get any kind of a real workout.

The visibility of Iraq debacle thus provides a huge and rare  
opportunity to challenge the country?s basic assumptions about the  
military. Already among the neo-cons, it is being bruited about that  
the war was fought with the wrong ?doctrine.? Had we just used the  
right instruction book, we would have gotten the whole vast toy to  
work properly. In truth, the very idea that we should or can fight  
?global jihad,? or what the neo-cons are now beginning to style a  
?global insurgency,? needs to be debunked.

The US?s real power in the world has been economic and cultural.  
Today that influence is not strengthened but undercut by our world- 
faring military. Having supposedly overpowering might does us  
absolutely no good and a great deal of harm. It leads us to mess with  
what is none of our business. The global jihad is a phantom largely  
of our own making; if we fail to pump it up, it will diminish. Being  
an exemplary world citizen is a much better course for this country,  
in every respect. That will not rid us of all enemies, but it will  
assure us many more friends.

If we want to avoid future Iraqs, we had better understand the  
rareness of this ?teachable moment,? when the country is forced to  
look outward and does not like what Bush?s adventurism has led us to.  
It will not do simply to advocate a troop pullout.  We must strongly  
make the case as to why the war was so utterly wrong, and why  
America?s basic assumptions about being the world?s sole superpower  
are dangerously mistaken. If we don?t, we can leave the impression  
that Iraq was a mere aberration, poorly planned and unnecessarily  
botched in execution. That is likely to lead, in just a few years, to  
another war intending to prove this hypothesis, and so on, to worse  
and worse.

Among the underlying assumptions that got us into Iraq were:
1.   The 9/11 attack was military in nature and could only be  
answered militarily;

2.   It makes sense for the US military to roam all over the world,  
in support of US ?interests;?

3.    As the world?s sole superpower it is our right to make sure  
nations are not developing ?weapons of mass destruction (it turned  
out Iraq wasn?t, but if it had been the war would still have been a  
mistake as well as a crime);

4.    The US should enforce our standards of what a decent society is  
by military means.

These assumptions have never made sense, and they certainly do not  
now. They assure that the US will suffer disdain and ignominy, that  
there will be needless attacks against us, that no reasonable system  
of world law can ever be established, that internally we will be  
stuck with a counterproductive fortress mentality, and eventually  
that we will face clear decline as a society.

Instead of accepting these wrong assumptions, wee should be a  
wholesale reform of our military and foreign policy including, though  
not limited to the following elements.

1.   become an exemplary world citizen  by:

a.   cooperating with the growing sphere of international law and  
international courts of justice; dedicating much of our currnt  
military strength to international bodies for use for humanitarian  
purposes such as responding to natural disasters, helping refugees  
get to safety, keeping cross-border invasions form occurring, and  
aiding regional efforts to prevent gross human rights violations.

b.   Paying out reasonable amounts of foreign aid for purley civil  
purposes, especially in such fields as health, human rights, workers?  
rights, education, environmental help, including fighting global  
warming anti-corruption help; help in holding fair elections and  
maintaining a vibrant free press and fair judiciary;

c.   Being a model at home in these same terms ? improving our own  
democracy, revising our penal system to make it less punitive, being  
exemplary in terms of supporting diversity and assuring equality;  
greatly strengthening fair labor standards, raising minimum wages,  
developing green industries;

d.    Replacing expenditures on arms and military bases by non- 
miltary expenditures that improve the country and are handed out in  
the same locales, so that almost no one suffers from the needed  
reduction in military spending.

This whole effort can be aided by Congressional hearings, beginning  
now. In addition, these hearings ought to examine how we got on the  
wrong course, and especially who was responsible for the most  
egregious excesses of the current ?war on terror.? We must close the  
Guantanamo prison and others like it, and make amends to those  
wrongly treated anywhere and everywhere.

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