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Posted by on Feb 26, 2007 in At TMV | 31 comments

Lieberman in WSJ: The Choice on Iraq

Senator Joe Lieberman wrote an OP-ED for the Wall Street Journal called “The Choice on Iraq”. In it he defends the surge and calls on the Democrats to change their approach towards the war / surge.

What is remarkable about this state of affairs in Washington is just how removed it is from what is actually happening in Iraq. There, the battle of Baghdad is now under way. A new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has taken command, having been confirmed by the Senate, 81-0, just a few weeks ago. And a new strategy is being put into action, with thousands of additional American soldiers streaming into the Iraqi capital.

Congress thus faces a choice in the weeks and months ahead. Will we allow our actions to be driven by the changing conditions on the ground in Iraq–or by the unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington? What ultimately matters more to us: the real fight over there, or the political fight over here?

If we stopped the legislative maneuvering and looked to Baghdad, we would see what the new security strategy actually entails and how dramatically it differs from previous efforts. For the first time in the Iraqi capital, the focus of the U.S. military is not just training indigenous forces or chasing down insurgents, but ensuring basic security–meaning an end, at last, to the large-scale sectarian slaughter and ethnic cleansing that has paralyzed Iraq for the past year.

He goes on to write that the situation is much better right now than, say, a month ago: there is a new commander, a new strategy, there are more American troops on the ground, the U.S. is in a better position to fight extremists while empowering moderates, andsoforth, andsoforth. Although the situation has improved – so he writes – nobody can say whether the surge will work or not. It might work, it might not work. It looks good for now, but nobody can be sure about its outcome.

However, all of that doesn’t matter to opponents of the war in Congress. They already ruled out that the surge could be successful before it even started. Despite this ‘knowledge’, despite being ‘sure’ that the surge won’t work, that it’s a waste of money and of lives, the opponents of the war strangely refuse to actually do something about it by, for instance, cutting off funds. A nonbinding resolution here, a nonbinding resolution there, but how about actually doing something effective?

Anyway, Lieberman’s main message is not that – his main message is; lets give the surge a try. Because we simply don’t know whether it will work or not, because there is so much at stake, and because the situation has changed quite drastically (for the better) recently, opponents of the war and its supporters should agree to let the entire debate rest until the summer when general Petraeus will be able to say whether or not significant progress has been made.

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  • “his main message is; lets give the surge a try. Because we simply don’t know whether it will work or not, because there is so much at stake, and because the situation has changed quite drastically (for the better) recently, opponents of the war and its supporters should agree to let the entire debate rest until the summer when general Petraeus will be able to say whether or not significant progress has been made.”

    Lieberman is an idiot. Firstly, he doesn’t make a case why Americans should give yet another tactics change in Iraq (remember, this isn’t the first one!) a try, and he doesn’t even say it’s the last try. Secondly, many experts with real knowledge in the field say it won’t work. Thirdly, contrary to his propaganda speeches, the situation hasn’t improved. Fourthly, there’s a price to pay for this, every additional day the US occupies the cities , troops die. Fifthly, the timeline that came with the surge didn’t only say ‘Summer’, it gave explicit benchmarks that should have been met by now and that were missed (Iraqi troop support).

    So, this is wrong in every single aspect. Lieberman never had any real experience in military matters, and after this debacle, he should really stfu and not talk about problems he doesn’t understand a f***ing s*** about.
    😐

  • A point on that – on whether or not the war in Iraq is part of the global war on terrorism: it is. Some people have argued that it’s not, that the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was non-existent, that Bush et al. lied about it, etc. Be that as it may, it seems to me that it’s quite difficult to deny that Iraq has become a major part of the war on terrorism over time / after the U.S. invasion. Reports indicate that the war in Iraq has increased terrorism, we all see terrorist attacks being carried out on a daily basis, in short: Iraq is an important battlefield in the ‘GWOT’.

    I have a few problems with what you’re saying here.

    First, by all accounts, it’s our presence in Iraq that is drawing interest from global jihadists. They are organizing there to fight us, and without that cause to rally around, it might not be such a hotbed there.

    Second, most of the violence is sectarian and not caused by the foreign fighters. The Center for Strategic International Studies thinks that only 4-10% of the insurgency is made up of foreign fighters. Our soldiers are mostly being killed by Sunni insurgents, people that were pissed off that they were kicked out of the government and/or the army.

    Third, the way we’ve been fighting the Iraq war and the terrorists has exacerbated the problem of terrorism. Everytime we kill just about any Iraqi, we sow the seeds for their family members to become terrorists. Hell, everyday we occupy their country, we drive up recruiting for terrorists.

    So yes, there are terrorists in Iraq, but they are there because of us. They are growing in strength because of us. How is staying going to improve the situation?

  • Alan G

    I agree with the above comments and would add the following:

    It’s true that war opponents in Congress and elsewhere have an agenda and a bias. I know it’s true of me; I’ve always opposed the war and will always give a pessimistic reading of the situation.

    But Lieberman has a bias too, and a strong one: He’s established himself as a strong Iraq War supporter, and thus has good reason to give an optimistic interpretation. Since he hasn’t changed his stance even as the public (including Connecticut) has, he’s essentially betting that things will get better and he’ll be proven right in the end (and gain the subsequent political points).

  • kritter

    How is solidifying Shiite control over Baghdad going to help with a policy of national reconciliation? By choosing a military approach over a political settlement, we are alienating the Sunnis even more than ever. Is there any doubt that they will allign with al queda, who is using this war as to recruit and regroup? The worst thing we could do is to choose sides in a civil war and be perceived as enablers of ethnic cleansing. Petraeus was hand-picked by Bush after his plan developed by a neocon think tank, was rejected by Casey, Abizaid and the JCS- are they now discredited? What about Colin Powell, who also thought this wouldn’t work?

    If this doesn’t work by the summer, what will the next sales pitch be? Will we still have too much at stake to begin drawing down? The consequences then will be the same or worse than they are now.

  • Rudi

    It’s interesting that Oliver North went on a fact finding visit to Iraq with Lieberman and McCain. While the politicians came back with pro-surge talking point, ON says that the soldiers in Iraq had a different take. Liberman and McClown have mortage their futures with W, a few more dead Iraqis and US soldiers – nevermind.

  • doctormatt06

    Ok….I’m sick of this. The war has been going crappy for the last (almost) 4 years and Bush is given a resounding pronouncement by the ISG to diplomatize the Middle East in regards to Iraq, and then work on drawing down U.S. presence in urban Iraq. So Bush’s ideas run contrary to that, and Democrats KNEW (or at least me and all of my Democratic friends) that this is what he would do, and you’re saying we came in with an agenda towards this? I gave up on George Bush when the Iraq War started, because I told myself. Iraq was run by a secular dictator, who ruled over a populace of fundamentalist Shiites, if Saddam were to go, there would be no Democracy, but yet another fundamentalist Islamist Republic. America has an awful record of supporting the worst people in countries (like say..ermm…Saddam????) and then having it come bite us in the butt one day. I’m fearful to say it, but I have a feeling Iraq is going to breed a world of hate for the U.S. in the future, and I don’t think all of the Democracy building and Bush ideas in the world can fix it.

  • Paul Silver

    It seems to me that most reports agree that when the US military stations themselves in an area of Baghdad it remains relatively free of violence. From hearing the stories of families that are being decimated by the violence there I am in favor of the escalation if only to demonstrate to all observers that relative safety and security is possible if there is sufficient political will. But I am in favor of this only in the context of a large and committed diplomatic effort to bring the stakeholders in the region together; and serious consideration of Biden’s partition proposal.

  • From hearing the stories of families that are being decimated by the violence there I am in favor of the escalation if only to demonstrate to all observers that relative safety and security is possible if there is sufficient political will.

    It’s unfortunate that the Iraqis are paying in blood for our foreign policy mistakes, I think there we can agree. But it’s not just an issue of political will that is tearing apart Iraq.

    The United States does not have the number of troops necessary to pacify the country, and our presence there is used as a rallying cry by the insurgents.

  • truflo

    Anyway, Lieberman’s main message is not that – his main message is; lets give the surge a try. Because we simply don’t know whether it will work or not,

    This kind of thinking is truly appalling, Michael. Our soldiers lives are not dice to be rolled with fingers crossed and eyes shut tight in the hopes that things get better for awhile and in that while political opportunists like Lieberman can claim to have been correct. The frightening lack of connection between your throw-away statement above and the reality on the ground in Iraq is utterly shameful, but also typical of those who supported the war from the start.

    And if it doesn’t work, and 500 more lives are lost, what will you say then? Shrug your shoulders no doubt and move on the the next topic.

  • Truflo. First read my entire post. Then comment.

  • Michael:

    I am about as well read on the war as anyone who blogs or comments here and I have to tell you in all sincerity that Lieberman has squandered his credibility.

    He has thrown his lot in with an administration that has repeatedly lied and obfuscated and worst yet, is blabbering that everyone who doesn’t buy into its lies and support its serial failures is not supporting the troops. In other words, they’re traitors.

    In all deference, I suggest that it is time for you to find someone who is pro-war with more credibility than Liebermann. Good luck.

  • truflo

    Apologies Michael, I missed the continue tab and so over-reacted, not to Lieberman’s position, but to yours. Perhaps an upfront statement of disagreement might have been helpful and saved me from looking foolish.

  • Shaun, it seems that I have to repeat to you what I told Truflo: First read my entire post. Then comment.

    Why should I “find someone who is pro-war with more credibility than Liebermann”? I’m not pro-surge.

  • Truflo: no problem and… why, this way I keep it exciting! 😉

  • Michael,
    You may not be “pro-surge” but you seem to ambivalent to the point where you offer tacit support of it.

  • Chris, that’s a very strange conclusion. Let me quote two key paragraphs:

    Lieberman’s point that one cannot be 100% that the surge will be successful or not, is quite right. I am a ‘critic’ of the surge; I don’t believe that the results will last, but, on the other hand, I cannot possibly be 100% that it will fail either. However, when talking about what policies to persue, it seems to me that one should focus on the most likely possibility. The most likely possibility is that it will, indeed, fail: Shiite terrorists have fled Baghdad for now, but something tells me that they’ll most likely return right after the surge ends.
    […]
    Now, in response to Lieberman’s main point: if one fears that the surge will not work and that hell will break loose even more than now no matter what (unless the U.S. is willing to double the troops and stay in Iraq until, say, 2020)… should it really be expected of one to wait and see what’ll happen in the coming six months before one starts calling for a withdrawal? And, how says that if this surge won’t work, they won’t simply come up with another new strategy while repeating the same argument to stiffle debate (lets give it a chance, it might work, etc.)?

  • Michael:

    I have again read your entire post. The notion that the “surge” strategy should be given a chance because there has been relative calm in Baghdad over the last month — other than several massive car bombings — is charmingly naive.

  • In essence I’m saying: 90% chance that it won’t succeed, that’s why I don’t support it, 10% chance that it will succeed (random figures, purely to make a point) but that when one thinks about it like I do, it’s a bit strange for people to expect of us to agree with Lieberman and simply ‘wait’.

    I’m, indeed, not ruling out that the surge will be successful because, well, how can we be completely, 100% sure that it won’t?

  • C Stanley

    Chris,
    As someone who IS pro-surge, I can assure you that Michael has not seemed ambivalent at all from my perspective. In fact, as someone who also tends to agree a lot with Michael, it’s quite irritating to me when he repeatedly calls it the escalation surge LOL.

    He’s entitled to his opinion and he certainly is in good company with it, so I’m not criticizing him for it. It’s just funny that people read into things what they think they see (I’m assuming you see Michael’s criticism of the surge as lukewarm because he previously was a supporter of the war, though you may have other reasons for seeing it this way.)

    To clarify, I support the surge only as a last effort; I think that grave mistakes have been made in a situation that did not allow room for error, so I think at this point we have to adjust to a strategy of salvaging what we can. I also think it would be morally wrong to leave precipitously because we owe more than that to the Iraqi people (particularly the Sunnis who would likely be slaughtered), and I think it would be wrong for our troops because it would confirm that politics took precedence over policy.

    I say this because: If Democratic leaders really felt that the surge had little to no chance of success, then the only responsible thing to do would be to pull the funding. Since they won’t do that, I’m forced to conclude that either they really do think there is some chance for success or that they are putting their political concerns above their concerns for the troops (being afraid that the big bad Rovian Republicans will label them as peaceniks). Either way they are playing political games- either not admitting that the plan makes sense because it would hurt them politically to do so, or not acting in a way that is consistent with their true beliefs about the plan.

    And, my support for the surge would end if I thought it was truly an escalation; if this was the first of many “last efforts”. But think about it; unless you believe that Bush is insane enough to order a draft, there are simply NO MORE TROOPS. The whole point of the surge is that we’re taking everything we’ve got left and throwing it at the security problem (even to the point of accelerating training to put new troops into the theater more quickly), in an attempt to give breathing room for the political and economic growth.

  • Shaun: how did you come to the conclusion that that’s what I am saying? That’s what Lieberman is saying. I was summarizing his OP-ED.

  • Thanks, I think, C.Stanley.

  • Michael,
    Alright, maybe I got the wrong impression from what I read, and I did read the entire thing 🙂

    But given that, how do you think we should proceed?

  • Chris that’s a fair question and… I actually don’t have an answer right now. I was always for a gigantic plan – some kind of new Marshall plan… but at this moment I don’t know exactly what the best solution is. Personally I think, though, that we should work towards a three-state solution. Or better a very loose union. Most forces to Kurdistan. If the situation gets worse trying to limit the damage, help refugees, make sure that Iran doesn’t install a puppet government, etc.

    The sad thing is… I think that it’s too late for the U.S. to bring peace and stability to Iraq. I think that the Shia and Sunnis will battle it out sooner or later and that the one will dominate the other (the Shia will win of course).

  • If Democratic leaders really felt that the surge had little to no chance of success, then the only responsible thing to do would be to pull the funding

    I agree. Their lack of spine on this issue has reinforced my opinion that we really need a viable third party in this country.

    And, my support for the surge would end if I thought it was truly an escalation; if this was the first of many “last efforts�. But think about it; unless you believe that Bush is insane enough to order a draft, there are simply NO MORE TROOPS.

    I think people are calling it an escalation because there isn’t a set timeframe for their redeployment. The whole notion of a “surge” is just to escape comparisons to Vietnam anyways.

    And for the record, I think announcing a draft would be the quickest way to end this war.

  • Michael,
    I’m glad to see there is more support for the Biden plan.

    I don’t think we have the right to interfere with what’s going on in Iraq, but there is something that tugs on me and says we have to do what we can to help the Iraqis out. I think splitting the country would the best solution given my mixed feelings about it.

    But then there is the problem of Turkey and the Kurds, and I dont think there is anyway to keep the east from joining with Iran. Although, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if that’s what they want. The Sunnis might opt to become part of Saudi Arabia for all we know.

  • But then there is the problem of Turkey and the Kurds

    Yes and that will truly be a problem. That’s why we should – perhaps – work towards a very, very loose union, with a weak central government, etc.

  • C Stanley

    I used to think the Biden plan made a lot of sense but it really is difficult to accurately assess what the Iraqis and their neighbors really want- and I can’t see that we should impose partition on them if they feel they’d be stronger as a unified country. Obviously there are many who want to disrupt the unity at all costs, but who knows what the average man on the street really thinks? And who’s to say that partitioning would stop the violence? Biden did put a lot of thought into incentives, ways to divide the oil revenue, etc…but still it seems to rest on best case scenario coming true (reminiscent of the whole planning of the war, in fact.)

    And Nasrallah’s comments that were quoted/paraphrased in the Sy Hersch piece were very interesting. In another thread I commented about this, that I see from his comments that people in that region may see the US siding with partition as a veiled attempt to WEAKEN the country. Even though Marlowe correctly pointed out that Nasrallah would have ulterior motives for saying this (because his preference would be for Iraq unified under Shiite leadership), I still think that his thoughts on this may resonate with others in Iraq and neighboring countries. So I think we have to be careful about advocating for anything other than a unity govt.

  • C Stanley,
    I think partition is slowly becoming a reality through ethnic cleansing and the civil war. My hope is that a partition plan would speed up this process without the violence.

  • C Stanley

    My hope is that a partition plan would speed up this process without the violence.

    But the question is, why would you think this? The various factions won’t be satisfied with their geographic and economic distribution unless a political solution could come about, so we are back to square one with needing a strong central government to allocate political power fairly among the groups. Otherwise we’d end up with three regions that would still be warring against each other; the only difference is that they’d be crossing into the other’s territory to do so.

  • kritter

    CS- I agree that we can’t force the Biden plan on the Iraqis-its not up to us, although we can strongly suggest it. I honestly can’t see them living with a strong national unity government, either, unless it is one that is totally dominated by the Shiites, and supported by Iran. That’s the direction that it seems to be going in right now. The Shiite death squads are holding back, Sadr has gone underground. Why not? That way they know the US will fight the Sunni insurgency for them. If that’s how it ends up, you might see brutal ethnic cleansing as part of the power struggle, with the remaining Sunnis fleeing or forced to accept a submissive existance without their share of the oil revenues. If that happens, I would expect the surrounding Sunni countries to get involved- leading to regional war. We’re stuck there infinitum.

  • From Mike’s site:

    it seems to me that it’s quite difficult to deny that Iraq has become a major part of the war on terrorism over time after the U.S. invasion.

    I’ll deny it. Al Qaeda simply isn’t a major player in the Iraqi conflict, today. It’s a battle between factions fighting for political supremacy. Those al Qaeda elements that are there, are there to get experience fighting against the Americans. They fight us on their own terms, at their own time, and if the fight gets too hot, they’ll simply leave.

    Even if we completely destroyed al Qaeda in Iraq the civil war would continue to rage, and al Qaeda, as an organization, would continue to thrive.

    Will a withdrawal of U.S. troops cause even more chaos? Most likely… yes.

    I used to think that too. But today death squads roam the streets in Baghdad, ethnically purging entire areas of the city. Islamists are busy purging “peaceful” Basra of all opposition. Millions are fleeing the country and over 100 Iraqis die daily. In Lieberman’s 6-9 month “waiting period” another 15,000 to 30,000 Iraqis will die violently.

    These are the things that I believed a continued U.S. presence would prevent. What’s your horror scenario?

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