Wednesday, April 11, 2007

McCain at the Virginia Military Institute

John McCain delivered a very important and moving speech today.

An excerpt:

The war on terror, the war for the future of the Middle East, and the struggle for the soul of Islam — of which the war in Iraq constitutes a key element — are bound together. Progress in one requires progress in all. The many complex challenges we face require more than a military response. This is a contest of ideas and values as much as it is one of bullets and bombs. We must gain the active support of modernizers across the Muslim world, who want to share in the benefits of the global system and its economic success, and who aspire to the political freedom that is, I truly believe, the natural desire of the human heart. No matter how much attention their ruthless tactics receive, terrorists are not the true face of Islam. Devout Muslims in Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and in Iraq, aspire to progress for their societies in which basic human needs are met for more than the privileged few and basic human rights are respected.

The United States needs stronger alliances, coalitions, and partnerships worldwide to engage this long and multidimensional struggle. We need to pay careful attention to America’s image and moral credibility. And in this broad effort, the outcome of the war in Iraq will play a pivotal role.

On my trip I traveled to Baghdad, Ramadi, and Tikrit, met with Iraqi cabinet officers, our top military leadership, including Generals Petraeus and Odierno, and with embassy officials, including our new ambassador, Ryan Crocker. I also had the privilege of spending time with our soldiers, from generals to privates. Their courage and resolve in this frustrating war is an inspiration, and serves as a reminder of our obligations to avoid the expediency of easy, but empty answers or the allure of political advantage to choose the path in Iraq that best honors their sacrifices.

We’re going to need their courage more than ever. The divisions in Iraqi society are deep, and the need for greater security critical. Innocent Iraqis are still being murdered, and our soldiers are braving dangers no less threatening than in the past. Every day we read about or watch on television the latest car bombing, IED explosion or sniper attack. But something else is happening, too. There are the first glimmers of progress under General Petraeus’ political-military strategy. While these glimmers are no guarantee of success, and though they come early in the implementation of the new strategy, I believe they are cause for very cautious optimism.
It is just as important when building relationships with other countries that we not only prove reliable partners in peace and diplomacy, but show determination and squelch our reputation of retreating at the first signs of adversity, breaking promises, and leaving the helpless at the mercy of tyrants. I would argue that the latter has been our legacy far more than the former, at least in the past 30 years.


sirocco said...

America _has_ no special standing regarding moral credibility. This admnistration has pissed it away via Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, launching a needless war on baseless grounds, etc. Y'all know the drill.

It will take at least a generation to get that credibility back, if it can be done at all.

I have no problem whatsoever with "showing determination" when the cause is right. I am all for supporting efforts in Afghanistan. However, "showing determination" when the cause is wrong (Iraq) is mistaking mindless, stubborn stupidity for "determination".

More generally, it's interesting McCain has chosen to tie his campign closer to the Iraq war. It's against the general trend of political opinion, of course, but consistent with the hawkish views he's held throughout. It's probably necessary to rejuvenate his status among Republican primary voters.

Who knows -- between now and summer 2008 pigs might sprout wings and things in Iraq really might turn for the better ... in which case McCain will have hit the jackpot.

Kralmajales said...

Perfectly said...I wish I had something to add to Sirocco's mastery of language and in this case the truth.

I will say this. McCain's speech sounded like the first step in "rolling back" his tough on the war approach. All this stuff on diplomacy and connecting with the world, I bet is his first step in backing off the surge when it fails. He must finally be reading his mail and noticing that even Republicans (although privately) do not like this war, find it to be wasteful spending, and that it is about to be the death knell of their stranglehold on power in the next election.

I can wait to watch them run. Especially the 1/3 of Republican Senators up for re-election this coming fall.

McCain sees the fundraising, the polls, and the fact that true moderates like Romney (conservative suck up...moderate Republican in truth) and Giuliani (liberal Republican) are beating him.

People say its his occasional dissing of the administration, but this guy is the most conservative, in truth, candidate in the race. His stance on the war must be backed off, if he doesn't, he will never attract the independents in some of the open primary states that he has relied on in the past to help him.

I assure you, I would vote for Guiliani and even a a heartbeat over conservative John McCain.

Framer said...


International moral credibility in a nation state is a myth. There really is no such thing. And to boot, there never was such a thing. Only interests.

I lived in Russia for a while, had many good friends, lost a lot of them as a result of American unilateral warmongering. Funny thing is, it was our intervention in Kosovo. Was this brought up as a problem for the US then? I'm pretty sure that it wasn't just the opinion of the Russians I knew.

Were we right or wrong in in Kosovo? Certainly blowing up a Chinese embassy was pretty bad for relations. I would argue that it was far worse than Gitmo or Abu Ghraib. In my mind, we are entirely justified in shooting non uniformed enemy combatants upon capture. Its what we did back when we actually fought wars to win.

I digress. The biggest problem we face today in relations is our unwillingness to be feared. Hit us hard enough, and we will go away. In fact, you don't need to hit us hard anymore, just make it consistent. We lack the resolve to hit back harder, and the fortitude to stay with it until finished. This has what has led us to disdain in the rest of the world. Take away our ability to prevail and we are just another nation, which is what the world wants from us. They are not looking for a moral compass.

sirocco said...


Well, I disagree with your initial postulate ... which is going to lead me to disagree with your ultimate conclusion as well.

I do agree with the importance of interests in international relations, and the alignment of those interests is going to remain in a state of flux forever. If we think it's in our interests to, say, intervene in Kosovo (or Iraq) at the expense of changing the vector of our relations with Russia for the worse, then we do so. It's an (admittedly inprecise) calculus which all nations follow.

However, in this milieu things like "international moral credibility" do matter. If nothing else, they can be thought of as a form of "currency" (along with other things like "military might" or "trade agreements" for example) which can be spent in the international relations "economy". Like any currancy, it can be used as a lever to get other actors in the economy to behave in a manner which sligns with your interests.

Unfortunately, just as this administration has blown through the monetary surplus it inherited, it's been equally profligate in blowing through the "moral surplus" it inherited as well. It's not just financial deficits from this administration our children will be digging out from under.

(As an aside, your reference to the Chinese Embassy bombing is a non sequiter. It was, or at least could be reasonably claimed to be, an accident. Nothing about Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, etc. can be claimed as such.)

Of course we are feared ... it's why the way enemies attack us is through terror. They know any other means will meet with rapid and horrifying destruction. Modern terrorism is simply an international form of guerilla war -- and as history has shown, you don't defeat that with standard tactics. You defeat it by getting the populace to side with you rather than against you.

You defeat an insurgency by becomeing a better choice than the insurgents, not by becoming a more feared or more hated choice.

Further, claiming we have to stay in Iraq, a war of choice we started for reasons which have turned out to be false, in order to ensure people stay scared of us borders on psychotic. "I'm wrong, but I am gonna keep beating the s*** out of you anyway so you'll stay scared of me!" is most certainly _not_ the demeanor I would like most associated my country.

Framer said...


I would argue with you, "what moral surplus?" When and if such a thing did exist, it only existed as applied to interests between the US and another country co-existing. Take away the shared interests, and it disappears entirely.

We should have bought enough "moral surplus" to last for 1000 years in France, but the wheels were falling off of that long before George W. Bush hit the scene.

And again, the Chinese embassy thing did matter, its just that our media ignored the international "conspiracy theory" junket surrounding it. Not so much Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Gitmo is far from a concentration camp, and Abu Ghraib, while terrible, and extremely unfortunate, was an aberration. The people responsible have been or are being tried and sentenced.

Do you wish to compare Abu Ghraib to the daily violence meted out by Al Quaida? There is no comparison at all.

We wil never be a "better choice" for Iraqis or anyone until we can prove that we will see something through. How much credibility did the Bay of Pigs buy us? How about allowing millions to be slaughtered in the aftermath of Vietnam? What about leaving Lebanon to the mercy of Syria? Or how about leaving the initial uprising of Shiites in Iraq in the nineties to fend for themselves and end up in Saddam's mass graves?

If I were an Iraqi, I would think long and hard about uniting with the US against persistant tyranny, no matter what the payoff. Evil thugs and murderers will still be in Iraq two years from now. Will the US or the government they support?

Until the US proves it can take a bloody nose, and still see things through, nobody will gravitate to our side in our war against terrorism, at least as far as there is any degree of personal risk involved. And as long as terroroists do not fear that we will see them to their end, the bloody noses will still keep coming whether we directly engage them or not.

You defeat an insurgancy by crushing its soul and convincing others that it has no chance of succeeding. Al Quaida certainly isn't concerned with the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis. They seem to have got the memo on how to win a war. Obviously, our war planners thought as you did initially, which is why we were failing. I must admit that I fell into the same trap as well.

We are weak and have been for some time in the world's eyes. No this may just be the way things are, and it is indeed all we can expect. I would hope that this wasn't the case, however.

sirocco said...


You are correct that "moral surplus" isn't useable with nations which believe their interests are diametrically opposed to yours. It does come into play, however, when dealing with third party nations.

"You defeat an insurgancy by crushing its soul and convincing others that it has no chance of succeeding. Al Quaida certainly isn't concerned with the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis. They seem to have got the memo on how to win a war. Obviously, our war planners thought as you did initially, which is why we were failing. I must admit that I fell into the same trap as well."

The flaw in your argument is we never really tried the (generally accepted), in a consistent way, to apply the strategy I outlined. The proper approach, right after the fall of Baghdad, would have been to properly secure certain specified areas, properly and quickly rebuild them, then spread out from there (an 'oil drop' strategy).

We didn't do it. We just assumed the Iraqi people would fall into our arms and didn't actually work to gain their trust. As recently as two years ago I think it was still doable. Now, I think it's too late (barring a _massive_ commitment, including a draft, hundreds of thousands more troops there and hundreds of billions of more dollars spent).

Your approach _can_ work with an overwhelming presence on the ground. Even then, any success tends to be temporary -- the populace remains disgruntled and the next generation becomes insurgents again.

Framer said...


The problem with the hearts and mind argument is that it is entirely rational to us as Americans, because it is how we do things.

Iraqis have been living with a violent and capricious dictatorship for over 40 years. They do not respond to the same stimuli.

Our best chance was to help them defeat Saddam 15 years ago. We abandoned them then. Of course they do not trust us. Would you bet the life of your family on American protection anywhere outside of the US?

The hearts and mind strategy has worked in Northern Iraq after we kept our word about protecting them for years before the war. Quite frankly we have put enough money into infrastructure and the Iraqi economy, and have done so from the beginning. This can never be successful as long as the population thinks they will be killed as collaborators tomorrow. Do you think that allowing murderous thugs like Al-Sadr become part of the "political process" helped ease fears or create new ones?

I believe that we have always tried to gain their trust. I would submit that our biggest mistake was misunderstanding the causes of their mistrust. and while it appears Petraeus is trying to address this, others seem intent on inflaming it.

sirocco said...

Hmmm ... the people of, say, Eastern Europe lived under a dictatorship for decades, but they adjusted fairly quickly when given the chance.

I would suggest it is not living under a dictatorship that is causing the problem, it's being in a place where we were not wanted in te 1st place.

In fact, your example helps prove the point -- the Kurds _did_ want us in the first place (which, not coincidentally, helped us win their "hearts and minds"), and things there are going (relatively) well.

Elsewhere in the country, where we were not wanted and (I would argue) our "hearts and minds" attempts have been disjointed at best, things are going not so well. As I hinted at, throwing money at the problem without (seemingly) an overall strategy is NOT the way a "hearts and minds" strategy works.

Soooo ... we really haven't tried that approach. We've talked about it, but we never really instigated it on anything other than a purely local, uncoordinated level.

None of this is surprising, nor was any of it unforseeable. Nor is trying to "crush" the insurgency going to improve matters in the way we are going about it.

You can make your case if you go far enough with it. I laid out the outlines. I think we _are_ sufficiently big and powerful enough to effectively occupy Iraq and snuff out resistence there. It would take a draft, tons of money and 4-8 years more, but we could do it.

I don't think there is (or ever was) political or popular will to do it. Also, insisting on keeping doing something that was wrong in the 1st place doesn't make it right in the end.

Anonymous said...

And the crowd was silent . . .

Farewell St. John, we knew ye well! Or we thought we did!

Framer said...

Sorry for the delay in getting back, darn capitolism and such.

Comparing the situation in Iraq, and Poland for instance, is apples and oranges, as the culture, and tactical situations are completely different. But I suspect that you knew that. Ukraine seemed pretty intent on moving away from a totalitarian regime, but they continue to have problems with the transition. Additionally, as bad as Soviet Communism was, it was not nearly as harsh to Poland as Sadam's Baathism has been to the average Iraqi.

To say that NOBODY in Iraq wanted us there is complete revisionism. It is simply not true. There were large chunks of the population that certainly welcomed the change, and American forces. Read the articles back at the beginning of the war.

How do you know that nothing was done at a local infrastructure level? We certainly don't get reporting on that, but it is happening. You just have to look harder for news of it.

Fortunately, we will get a chance to see a strategy more focused to my way of thinking. If I am wrong I am wrong, and I'll admit it. I do believe that Petraeus deserves a chance, he has been effective to this point, even without all of the troops he has requested.

Look, I don't believe that we can turn Iraq into Germany or Japan. Turkey would be be a best case scenario, but probably unlikely. I would settle for Egypt at this point which would certainly be a huge win for us.

I do know, however, that playing the same games we are playing with Iran simultaineously with Saddam would have been a pretty bad deal. And that was where we were headed. France and Russia would have ended the sanctions shortly.

We will get to discuss this more on further posts. I'm sure that Frank will be back shortly.

And as always, thank you for your feedback Sirroco.

Anonymous said...


Of course the overall situations vis-a-vis E. Europe and Iraq aren't perfectly comparable. However, you seemed to claim that simply living under a "capricious dictatorship for 40 years" was sufficient to cause far greater difficulties in bringing peace to the area, and I gave a counter-example to indicate it can't be _just_ that. More must be involved.

Nowhere did I say NOBODY in Iraq wanted us there ... in fact, I conceded the Kurds as a group did. Obviously, some number of Iraqis did as well. However, in general, it's not like Iraqis were begging us to come invade their country on their behalf.

Further, I said I _did_ think there were attempts to improve infrastructure, etc. at the local area. My claim was this occurred in a disjointed, unorganized manner, rather than in a better planned way where we secured an area 1st, then improved the infrastructure there.

As I have noted in this thread (and previous threads), I agree Petreus has the right approach (finally), but the wrong degree (by an order of magnitude). Had we tried this immediately after capturing Baghdad, then the number of troops we have there now may very well have been sufficient.

However, four years later things are in a far worse state, and the insurgency has far more traction. So now, if we are going to try things this way it is going to take a far greater commitment (similar to software -- the earlier you catch the bug, the cheaper it is to fix).

Finally, an aside ... throughout this thread I have been making a central claim which neither you nor anyone else who may have read this thread has challenged: that regardless of where we stand now and what we think is necessary going forward, we were wrong to be in Iraq in the first place. Is this point simply not generally in dispute any longer?

And as a P.S. ... I always enjoy posting here...

Framer said...

I won't even grant you that. We do not know what the world would look like now if we hadn't went into Iraq. You cannot simply look back on history, remove an event, and assume that everything would have been rosy. Things would be different, but we cannot know how or to what degree.

What is, is. Obviously it would have been great if we had known some things that we knew now back then, but we didn't. In fact, we don't even know what we think to know now to be the absolute truth. Things can often seem obvious in retrospect, especially from a detached view void of context.

I do know that Saddam Hussein is no longer a problem to us, I also know that our military is far more prepared for the decades of conflict ahead, I realize that Iraq didn't go as planned, and I also realize that the world will never return the way we believed it to be the day my first daughter was born on September 10th, 2001.

For us to forget any of those lessons, and try to hit a "reset" button is simply not an option that rational people should pursue.

Anonymous said...


I didn't think so ... honestly, I don't see how one could agree with my claim and still make a coherent argument for your position on matters. I was just curious because there was no explicit denial.

You are, of course, correct to say we can't go back and remove an event, or know what the world would look like now had we not invaded Iraq. That's irrelevant, however. It's _entirely_ possible to look back and make judgments over whether decisions were correct or incorrect, and made for correct or incorrect reasons.

This is especially true since the consequences which have ensued were forseeable and, in fact, were foreseen. The administration simply "pooh-poohed" them away.

Our invasion of Iraq was an incorrect decision made for trumped up reasons. (My opinion, of course ... your mileage may vary.)