Saturday, March 8, 2008

We Need a Chamberlain - Not a Churchill

The surge has worked, and Iraq is showing some hopeful signs of order. We've missed several opportunities to get out: the capture of Saddam, the initial elections, and the ratification of the new Iraqi constitution. This is yet another opportunity to leave, but like all the others we'll ignore it. We'll stay until we are driven out, and we will lose thousands of other lives and trillions of dollars we can’t afford.

So why do we remain in Iraq?

Some suppose it is because of our dependence on oil. This is nonsense. The Chinese and Japanese are far more dependent on Mideast oil than we are, yet they have no troops on the ground there, and no carriers patrolling the Gulf. If Iran launched an attack in the Gulf, and (improbably) was able to close the Strait of Hormuz, all economies would suffer, but ours least of all. We're still the largest energy producer in the world, and we get most of our imported oil from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. We import relatively less oil from the Mideast than any other major power except Russia, and any dramatic spike in shipping costs would significantly reduce the comparative advantages of overseas vs. domestic manufacturing. We'd see more American made goods in Walmart and we'd ship fewer dollars to China The flexibility of our economy means that we would be the first to recover from such a shock, and we'd gain a greater competitive advantage over the rest of the world than we have now.

Some suppose it is because we are fighting al-Qaeda. But we're an easier enemy for al-Qaeda in Iraq, because our natural tendency is to fight to a stalemate. If we leave, they'll be fighting among the Saudis and the Iranians, and that will be a desperate fight to stay alive, not to maintain stability. By keeping our troops between the Sunni's and al-Qaeda on the one hand, and the Shiites and Iranians on the other, we sacrifice our lives for the purpose of keeping all of our enemies alive. Any stability we preserve guarantees that al-Qaeda lives to attack another day. It makes no sense.

Some suppose it is because of a commitment to democracy. But we have no troops on the ground fighting for democracy in Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states.

I've just finished reading Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq, by Michael Scheuer. It is an uneven book, but it is a very strong indictment of American policy in the Mideast during the past few decades, and our conduct of the War on Terror. Scheuer was the former head of the CIA's Bin laden unit, so he speaks with some authority. He says American policy is misguided because:

1) We suffer from an undue allegiance to Israel, spending our resources defending a state that is not critical to America's interest.
2) We support dictatorships in the Mideast, triggering resentment from Muslims.
3) We maintain troops in the Gulf states, triggering resentment from Muslims.
4) We support the Saudi royal family.
5) Our military measures against terrorists like Al-Queda are too weak and insufficient. We fail to destroy our enemies, because we attempt half measures in order to limit criticism from Europeans.

He doesn't deny that al-Qaeda is a real enemy of America, and goes to great length to point out the egregious failure of the Clinton Administration to take Bin Laden seriously, and its failure to take advantage of numerous opportunities to capture and kill him.

Scheuer has studied the writings of Bin Laden. He disagrees with the notion that al-Qaeda and its sympathizers hate America because of our free, secular society. He takes Bin Laden at his word that he hates America because of our policies, and those policies happen to be the same ones - support of Israel and Arab dictatorships, troops in the Gulf, and friendliness with the House of Saud - - that Scheuer criticizes. Don’t for a minute assume this author is some closet Bin Laden supporter - one of his primary points is that we have never treated al-Qaeda with the savagery they deserve. Bush waited to attack in Afghanistan because he was soliciting the favors of allies that had nothing to offer militarily, and this gave Bin Laden time. Bill Clinton had many opportunities to capture or kill Bin Laden, but he didn't act because he wouldn't risk the civilian casualties that would have been necessary to get him. He was more afraid of negative European headlines than attacks by Bin Laden against America.

Just because your enemy wants you to do something doesn’t mean it is a mistake to do it. Our interests should dictate whether we have troops in the gulf, and whether we send money to Hosni Mubarak. Our interests should dictate whether we support the Saudi royal family. We shouldn’t continue to this just because Bin Laden wants us to stop.

So why will we stay in Iraq until we are driven out?

When you fill up the tank of your car, some percentage of the money goes to the Saudi Royal family. Most American's didn’t know this, but until the late 1970's all the money the Saudi Royal family got from selling oil was split 50/50 with us. Aramco was owned by a consortium of oil companies - mostly American, and it had an exclusive licence to pump Saudi oil The Saudis bought out our share in 1980. But lots of that money still gets recycled back to American oil, engineering and construction companies that maintain the oil, pipeline and shipping infrastructure in the Kingdom. The Gulf states have similarly lucrative contracts with US companies.

Should there be a revolution in Saudi Arabia, and some new tribe take over control of the Gulf, these arrangements would be null and void. That is why our military is there - not to prevent disruptions in oil supplies, but to protect the flow of construction and engineering contracts, and to protect the interests of financial partners in many endeavors. If there was any sign of trouble, the ships and ground forces would move in. We would say publicly it was about protecting our oil supplies, but it would really be to protect the profits and contracts of American companies that do business with the royal family - any new tribe that took over Saudi Arabia might choose to do more business with the Chinese, Japanese or Europeans.

From the perspective of a powerful interest group of politicians and businesses, the relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf states is very lucrative. From the perspective of America as a whole, the costs of maintaining a forward presence in the Gulf and the risks of war that such a presence entails - the costs are too great to bear.

As I've said before, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t think the executives of these companies huddled together and planned all this. To them, their Saudi partners are friends. They know Saudi Arabia and they've lived there, and in their world view the Saudis are more sympathetic figures than they appear to other people. Oil engineers like to build things, and because of environmental sensibilities they just don’t get to build anything in our country. So they like the Saudis. Similarly Bush and Cheney aren’t getting suitcases full of cash from Prince Bandar - they are meeting with a friend of an important domestic constituency and a seeming ally of America. And the Saudis are a public, albeit somewhat erratic, enemy of al-Qaeda. This isn't about evil men (except for Bin Laden), but rather mistaken policies.

We went to Iraq because of the confluence of four factors
1) Legitimate worries about WMD,
2) Concerns about a potential alliance between powerful enemies - Saddam and Bin Laden. There was good reason to fear this - all one need to do is recall the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 to realize that enemies often make deals with each other for the sake of dealing with a common adversary.
3) A sincere, but misguided, American belief in the power of democracy.
4) The opportunity for special interests to build a second, and equally lucrative, "House of Saud" relationship with an Iraqi government.

The first proved - in hindsight - a mistake. The second was successfully averted. The third will prove futile in the long run. The forth is the real reason we will stay at almost all costs.

We have good reason to be proud of our troops. The military effort against Iraq was breathtaking, and the occupation has been extraordinarily humane, but any historical standard. Go and read After the Reich: The Brutal History of The Allied Occupation for a comparison. The change in tactics that we adopted after the surge showed the fundamental attribute of a successful army - an ability to learn from experience and adapt accordingly.

But it will be all for nothing. Our position is unsustainable in the long run, because there is no constituency for democracy in Iraq, and American politics will not support a brutal occupation. Colin Powell's "pottery barn" analogy is flawed. Just because in a post 9/11 world we needed to make an example out of Saddam does not mean we "own" Iraq, or bear any responsibility for it. Once we dragged him out of his hole we should have left.

Left to what? We'd save hundreds of billions a year - money we are borrowing from the Chinese and Saudis. There would be a surge of sectarian violence in Iraq, but it would be smothered by the regional war that would ensue. Iran, Turkey, the Saudis and Syria would fight over the spoils. Al-Queda would be more intensely invested in this fight than in the fight they have with us, and they would likely be snuffed out.

And this brings me to Neville Chamberlain. History has given him a raw deal, and has labeled him a coward for his policy of appeasement, even though his successor, Winston Churchill, didn't:
I do not propose to give an appreciation of Neville Chamberlain's life and character, but there were certain qualities always admired in these Islands which he possessed in an altogether exceptional degree. He had a physical and moral toughness of fibre which enabled him all through his varied career to endure misfortune and disappointment without being unduly discouraged or wearied. He had a precision of mind and an aptitude for business which raised him far above the ordinary levels of our generation. He had a firmness of spirit which was not often elated by success, seldom downcast by failure, and never swayed by panic. when, contrary to all his hopes, beliefs and exertions, the war came upon him, and when, as he himself said, all that he had worked for was shattered, there was no man more resolved to pursue the unsought quarrel to the death. The same qualities which made him one of the last to enter the war, made him one of the last who would quit it before the full victory of a righteous cause was won.

Chamberlain's appeasement was not motivated by cowardice, but by two realizations that are undeniable. The first was that his nation was not prepared to go to war for the issues presented at the time, and the second was that Woodrow Wilson's peace had saddled the Germans with legitimate grievances against the European order. Chamberlain sought to appease those grievances, in the hope that the impulse to German radicalism could be alleviated.

We find ourselves in a similar situation today. Our nation is not prepared to fight to a savage victory unless we are attacked again. Our nation is not prepared to fight to a stalemate when Iraq explodes again, and to bankrupt our economy in the process. Our nation is not prepared to fight for the House of Saud. Nothing we do in Iraq can prevent another attack. Nothing that is politically supportable now will prevent another attack.

So we need a Chamberlain. Someone with the courage to withdraw from Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, and dismantle our base in Quatar. A one-term president who is prepared to stand by and watch the regional war that ensues there. Someone willing to watch a revolution in Saudi Arabia, and see oil go to $12 a gallon - without intervening. Someone willing to stop the aid we give to Mubarak, Jordan and the Palestinians. Someone willing to leave NATO - an organization that is worthless for US Security - so we can bring 90,000 troops home from Europe.

This will cost the career of a courageous politician, but the nation will survive and eventually prosper. Hard medicine, to undo the bankrupting policies of several decades, but medicine we can take better than any of our competitors. I do not see how al-Qaeda could attack under such circumstances, because they would be in a war of survival in that environment, as opposed to the slower war of attrition we have now. The rocket attacks against Israel would cease, because those rockets would be needed on the Tigris. Israel would be the decisive ally of the winning Arab power in the regional war, and so the Palestinians would be forgotten - as surely as Jordan forgot about them in 1970. The fulcrum of Middle East tensions shifts immediately from the Jordan to the Euphrates. Israel winds up being the indispensable ally of the winner, rather than the way it is now in our seemingly "stable" situation - where Israel is the common enemy of all.

We have no national stake in those events, any more than the Japanese do. Any power that won would need to sell oil on the world market as surely as the Saudis and Iranians and Venezuelans and Canadians do now. I know of no historical example where a power permanently refused to sell a fungible, non-military commodity for political reasons. And the nations of the Middle East have nothing else to sell on world markets.

There could well be another attack. But in contrast to the last we would have freedom of action to destroy al-Queada wherever they are. We would have no fragile international order to uphold, no sensibilities to weigh - we could strike as needed.

Iraq is just the latest in our decades-long policy of tying ourselves to fragile regimes in the Mid East. Now have foolishly fought our way onto the poor ground of Iraq, and we owe it to ourselves to be honest about our situation. The belief that this is somehow a "forward strategy" where we can fight al-Qaeda on their turf is mistaken. If we withdraw, we force them to fight even more savage foes. Our troops could be protecting our borders, not Iraq's.

Consider the worst that can happen. al-Qaeda takes over Iraq? But in doing so they get a fixed address, something to lose, and an addiction to oil revenue. Iran develops nuclear weapons? Then the Saudis will buy some, and you'd have a stalemate or a local exchange. al-Qaeda takes over Pakistan? The Indians will deal with them. All of these outcomes present fewer scenarios than we have now where a Mid East power would see it in their interest to attack America. Muslims have more natural grievances with the Chinese, Russians, Indians and even Europeans than they do against America.

Retreat is a fundamental strategy of war. If we leave now - when the surge has shown success - we'd be making it clear that we are leaving of our own accord, at a time of our choosing, and for purposes of our own. By killing Saddam we've demonstrated that no leader that is our enemy is safe. The surest way of following up that demonstration is that we have full freedom of action to pursue our interests. This retreat must be total - we must end any support - military, financial or political - for any regime in the Mideast.

Let the Chinese and Japanese suffer the heavy burdens of playing that futile game.

The right policy to towards the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Israelis was stated by George Washington:
Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

Neville Chamberlain had the insight to realize his nation would not fight to protect a Europen order that they had no interest in. There are times when nations need Chamberlains, and times when they need Churchills. Bush has the dogged persistence of Churchill, at a time when such doggedness serves not the nation, but a narrow set of special interests.


R. Lobstah said...

"Chamberlain's appeasement was not motivated by cowardice, but by two realizations that are undeniable. The first was that his nation was not prepared to go to war for the issues presented at the time, and the second was that Woodrow Wilson's peace had saddled the Germans with legitimate grievances against the European order. Chamberlain sought to appease those grievances, in the hope that the impulse to German radicalism could be alleviated."

There are a number of false premises in your commentary. Two are located in this quote from said commentary. The reason Britain was ill prepared for war with Germany was Chamberlain's business sense. He was unwilling to spend the money to prepare England for war. Any information brought to his office regarding Germany's breaking of the Treaty of Versailles was ignored or rationalized precisely because Chamberlain was unwilling to see any reason to spend money on arming Britain. Yes, the British public was not willing to go to war for the issues presented but not all issues were made public (Germany's growing might was kept secret by Chamberlain and his cabinet). This went on for a decade before the outbreak of war and Churchill's ascendancy to the PM's portfolio. You can't give credit to Chamberlain for comprehending a bad situation that he created with his misguided business sense. The second problem is in calling the Treaty of Versailles, Woodrow Wilson's peace. Wilson had little to do with the Versailles Treaty. The French had been heavily atrophied in all ways during WWI. They had also suffered defeat and Paris' capitulation to the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War. Bismarck's army marching through the Arch De Triomphe in 1871 was still fresh in French minds in 1919. It was this that led French "honor" to require a severe treaty with Germany following WWI. This severity was opposed by Wilson but he was ignored by his more embittered allies. One can't blame an American President for the Treaty of Versailles.

A number of your premises seem strong when written on paper with misnamed facts and spun interpretations of them but we have another major disagreement which is strongly analogized by the issues above. A nation makes treaty and binds itself through these contracts. Of course, in the world of Realpolitik, these treaties are subject to change, whatever this may say about national honor. It is not long that a nation will be trusted to any degree when it does not follow its legal obligations and one can find examples of honorable and even free nations where broken words were closely associated with the revelation that freedom had taken large steps towards inglorious servitude. Hitler's Germany, Arafat's Palestine, Stalin's USSR, Mao's China and many more, less famous, examples dot the valleys of sorrow that is power for its own sake. The Camp David Accords were signed by the United States and this treaty formed an alliance between the US and Israel. It would be a shame upon our nation and would undermine our word if we were to break this treaty with either the Israelis or Egyptians. Of course, if either party breaks their part of the bargain then the obligations to that party by the others is null and void.

In your commentary you also suggest that Germany was right to break the Treaty of Versailles as the peace offered when they surrendered after WWI was unfair. However unfair the treaty they, at the time of the agreement, thought it more reasonable to agree to this treaty then to continue the war. They made an solemn agreement and should have been held to it by Chamberlain. Folks as business savvy and amendable as Chamberlain might then have been willing to lighten Versailles in negotiations from a position of strength rather then concede every demand to Germany from a position of inadequate martial ability. I do not quite understand why you would attempt to convince Americans who read this blog to be comfortable with dishonoring ourselves. You not only suggest dishonor but imply that one of the benefits to this dishonor would be the appeasement of our enemy Bin Laden and his Al Qaeida. At least Hitler used to publicly state that he respected the British and wished them to be friends with Germany as he planned for German conquest of the world. Bin Laden says no such thing.

Sweating Through fog said...


Thanks for your considered comment.

I agree on a few of your points and disagree on others. I think Chamberlain knew the dangers he was facing, and I think he increased British military strength all through the late 30s. Thy were significant, but not enough to please Churchill. I think Chamberlain knew what he was up against, but he also knew the mind of his citizenry. I hadn't heard that he suppressed knowledge of German military strength.

I take your point on my mistaken characterization of "Wilson's' European order - the British and French (especially) were far more harsh than Wilson really wanted.

The Germans were wrong in many things, but overthrowing the treaty was not one of them, in my opinion.

Regarding treaties and whether they bind us. I do not think we have binding treaties with the Saudis, Egypt, or Pakistan that obligate us to give them financial aid and support them against domestic enemies and foreign. I'm not sure we have binding treaties with anyone - even the Israelis. I think Camp David and Oslo were treaties between Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians. We signed the agreement as a witness only but I don't think we are bound in a legalistic sense. I could be wrong, but I've checked this and so far have found nothing.

Regarding national "honor" - I see no moral claim that we owe allegiance to Egypt, the Saudi Royal family, Pakistan, or the Palestinians. i don't think we have any perpetual obligation to the Iraqis and Afghanis. If I thought there was any chance that we could sustain democratic nations there I would stay. But I think we've written checks we can't cash, and I see no honor in losing more blood and wealth there - especially when we are presented with an opportunity to leave. The French left NATO decades ago, and we should eave now. NATO has no military value - it is a completely one way obligation on our part.

Israel gives me pause. This is one area where I disagree with Scheuer. I see no moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians. And I do think ties of democracy, culture and history do bind us to the Israels. But that too is limited by what serves our interests. I really think that a more volatile Gulf region would motivate one regional power to ally itself with them - because that power would win.

The reason I want to withdraw is not to benefit al-Queda, but harm them. And to put us in position to strike wherever and however we want if we are attacked again, without consulting the Saudis, Pakistanis or Europeans. This supposed "stability" we are protecting is the surest way to keep them alive - all they have to do is lay low and bide their time. And while they do so our occupation gives them a recruiting issue. If we leave they'll have a harder fight than they have now.

I see no honor in continuing policies that won't work - policies that inhibit effective action against Bin Laden.

R. Lobstah said...

Stanley Baldwin, during his time as PM of the UK permitted Churchill access to top level secret information. He never thought to revoke this permission and Chamberlain never knew about it so didn't revoke it either. This, and Churchill's network of intelligence men in the British government, provided him with all the information that Chamberlain received. They both had the German and British numbers regarding ship building, factory production of armaments, all kinds of figures regarding the building up of armies by the Germans and the PM did not share this information with Parliament, let alone the public. One can argue whether this would have made any difference as regards public opinion about armament but we'll never know because Chamberlain's business sense was the dominating influence in government until one crisis after another left Germany realizing that England was impotent and each viagraless response by Britain was reinforced by the sense that Germany was justified in it's desire to overthrow Versailles and more.

The opposite is true regarding Chamberlain's build up of Britain's defense. There was little training of men, development of anything but the navy and even the Admiralty was kept under strict fiscal restraint. Relative to Germany's growth, Britain was falling backwards and both Churchill and Chamberlain knew it. One of them was responsible for knowingly allowing his nation to weaken while the other railed against it. The defeat in France and the events in Dunkirk show that not only did Chamberlain fail to satisfy Churchill, he also failed to fulfill the requirements to stave off the Germans. His policy failed and we should not emulate it.

Oslo and Camp David were very different things from each other. Oslo was signed as an agreement between the PLO and Israel. The Palestinians have been breaking it from the beginning thus Israel should not feel itself obligated to that process. Camp David was an agreement between Egypt and Israel (the Palestinians were not involved) which, at the same time, in order to guarantee the peace, the US and Israel pledged themselves as allies. Egypt too became an ally with the US but in a much more limited scope. The US is obligated to assist Israel if attacked by certain parties. Israel, and Egypt, are given money every year. Israel is obligated to spend this money on US products, exclusively. Israel and the US, due to Camp David, practice war games together, test weapons systems together and Israel is also obligated to assist the US under certain scenarios. This is the definition of alliance. As for the Saudis, Pakistanis and the Iraqis, we have no written treaty that I know of. I do think we are obligated to assist the Iraqis as we did dismantle their government and should do our best to leave the country as stable as it was when we left it. We seem to be on our way towards that stability under Gen. Petreus.

I agree that any alliance is based on mutual interest. This mutual interest is obvious to the parties when the treaty is signed. Most treaties provide contingencies for when the parties may desolve the alliance. Israel has been a good ally and even if Israel were, G-d forbid, off the map, the region would remain hateful of us. We have a common enemy with Israel. We have common interest in weakening the power of oil and ending our dependency on it. We have worked together in the field of science and cooperated in gathering information vital to national security. We have some common values but beyond that we have a solemn pledge which binds us to one another. This alliance is not the least reason to maintain our bonds with Israel. The attacks against us are not the least reason to treat our enemies as such. If Bin Laden wants us out of Saudi Arabia, we should put more troops there. If he wants us to betray Israel, we should reinforce Israel's ability to defend its people. If Bin Laden wants us to stop global warming we should turn the sky into a massive blanket that turns the oceans to steam. We are at war and we must win.

Personally I think we should, as taxpayers, recoup the money we spent to liberate Iraq. If I don't see the tangible benefits to this war then my children should. If not then I am only a slave, working to benefit the masters who wage wars only for their own benefit. I agree that the war is a burden on our economy and a smart policy will see us benefit, not only by creating a new ally in the region and the destruction of more then a few of our enemies, but also in improving the opportunities my children may have in their future work.