Thursday, March 22, 2007

Getting out of disaster and avoiding new ones

William Polk, co-author with George McGovern of Out of Iraq (2006), made a presentation on 01/12/07 to the House Progressive Caucus and the Out of Iraq Caucus. The whole short paper is worth reading. It's mainly about getting out of the Iraq War.

But he also raises a good question that, with all the other bad decisions and misdeeds of the Cheney-Bush administration, hasn't been asked often enough or prominently enough. He talks about the neocon nightmare goal of the Long War, essentially a recreation in even more retrograde form of the National Security State of the Cold War:

Is this just a fantasy? As an old Chinese proverb puts it, “every journey of ten thousand miles begins with a single step.” Iraq was the first and Mr. Bush warns us that he would like to take more steps. In fact, he took another step in Somalia.

Somalia presents a curious story. It is even harder to make the case that it poses a threat to America than did Iraq. What most of us know about Somalia is from the movie "Black Hawk Down." In that literally explosive film, you will remember that our brave young men went in to beat the bad guys, the vicious warlords who were looting, raping and killing their own people. The film opens with a gruesome scene of the warlords doing these horrible things. The UN had a peacekeeping force there, but we didn’t want it to do the job. So we mounted our own action [starting in 1992]. Our troops opened up with all our massive firepower. But then a curious thing happened: the whole population rose against our soldiers. We cut and ran, taunted by the very people we thought we were there to save. And then after we left what happened? The Somalis created their own movement to run the bad guys out of town. It was not the sort of movement of which we approve, a bunch of religious fundamentalists. They succeeded where we failed because they were, after all, Somalis, but now we have brought backthe warlords, the very people we went into Somalia to suppress. (my emphasis)
The Republicans have spent so much energy blaming Bill Clinton (with some real-world justification in this case) for the Somalia debacle of 1993 that it's easy to forget that it was Old Man Bush that made the initial commitment.

Just as our current President Bush imitated Poppy in going to war with Iraq but making an enormous mess of it, he's also introduced a new American intervention in Somalia. Why? Can we afford to believe the official story that bombing a couple of villages is really a targeted strike on high-levels "Al Qaida" bad guys? Did following a policy of backing Ethiopia in an intervention to restore warlord rule really make sense?

These are the sort of question the Congress, the press and most of all the public need to learn to ask again, and in a much more urgent way than we have become accustomed to doing. A Sunni jihadist group carries out a spectacular attack in the US on 9/11/01. And a little over six years later, we're intervening in Somalia to restore warlord rule? Is this kind of "regime change" really the best way to protect American territory from attacks from committed Salafist terrorists?

Two articles by Bipasha Ray in
Defense Analysis Bulletin #3 (Project for Defense Alternatives) 03/07/07, "US Aid to Somali Warlords" and "Destabilizing the Horn of Africa?", provide a number of links and brief summaries of several articles on the US role in Somalia, including a long article on the more general issue of warlordism with particular reference to Afghanistan and Somalia, Warlordism in Comparative Perspective by Kimberly Marten International Security Winter 2006/07.

As I said, William Polk's paper is mainly about the Iraq War and it's well worth reading. But Polk, a direct descendant of President James Polk, also adds some historical touches I liked. For example, since he's addressing two groups that call themselves "caucuses", he starts out talking about the origin of the word and relates that:

... the curious word "caucus" is deeply rooted in the American experience. One of the first practices that Captain John Smith observed when he met the Algonquians in 1607 was the way they got together to decide matters of high policy. As close as he could come to their pronunciation, their meetings was a caw-cawassough. The leaders of the Indians made no decisions without first holding a caw-cawassough or caucus. The practice was carried forward in later American history. It was in the "Caucus Club" of the Boston town meeting that Samuel Adams shaped American opinion in the years leading up to our Revolution.
He also makes a comparison of one aspect of the current situation to conditions in the Vietnam War, a comparison that actually makes good sense (unlike so many of the historical references and analogies we hear):

In government affairs, the siren song is compromise. Compromise always sounds practical. Sometimes it even sounds statesmanlike. And usually it also protects reputations whereas taking clear action may seem precipitous. Waiting to see what happens can rarely be faulted. So asking for more time seems sensible. A few thousand more troops, another 50 or so billion dollars.

That is what we did in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive. We "stayed the course" and refused to "cut and run." During those four years of waiting to see what would happen, an additional 21,000 young Americans lost their lives, that is almost as many as during the previous six years, scores of thousands of Vietnamese were killed and tens of billions of dollars were wasted. Then at the end we really did cut and run.

Today, we predict that if we do as President Bush asks, we will be saying to one another in a few months time – when another thousand or so American servicemen and women have been killed, five or ten thousand more are grievously wounded and end up in Veterans hospitals and we have wasted another 50 billion dollars – why didn’t we just face reality in January.
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