"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How to Shut Up a Lefty about Iraq

Mention Iran.

Works like a charm, I'll tellya. They have all the time in the world for the rush to war, cooked intelligence, the Downing St. Memo, Hans Blix, the sixteen words, unilateralism, not enough troops, the looting of museums, not enough electricity, Halliburton, Abu Ghraib, Valerie Plame, immoral, illegal, incompetent. (Well, the last one has some sting to it, but incompetence is inevitable wherever humans are involved.)

But just ask 'em what to do about a theocracy headed by a guy who believes his messiah and the Final Days are coming and wants to help it all along by developing nuclear weapons and...

...the sudden sound of crickets chirping is a welcome tonic to these mouthy times.

12 comments:

James F. Elliott said...

Tom, this post indicates that you have A) never actually discussed Iraq or Iran with a liberal, B) never bothered to comprehend liberal arguments against your position, and C) don't understand Iran, Iraq, or the Middle East.

Here's a few examples.

Tom Van Dyke said...

A) True. They grow silent when I mention Iran. That's why I wrote this. True story.

B)Acknowledged the leftist (liberal I don't like to misuse) positions. Have heard them ad infinitum, and know the script by heart. (See post.)

C) Mebbe not. Never been there. What shall we do about Iran? As always, the floor is yours.

James F. Elliott said...

Don't dodge the point, Tom. Besides failing to indicate how involvement in Iraq offers any substantive development or engagement with Iran, it's the entire premise of your "how to shut up a lefty" idea that's wrong:

But just ask 'em what to do about a theocracy headed by a guy who believes his messiah and the Final Days are coming and wants to help it all along by developing nuclear weapons and...

President Mahmoud Ahmahdinejad is the chief civil servant of Iran. The Iranian presidency does not entail the same types of powers we invest in ours. The U.S. should not care what lunatic things Ahmadinejad says because he lacks the power to do anything about them in the first place. The President of Iran is ceremonial except for his role as chief of the Iranian civil service. The power over foreign affairs, the military, and nuclear arms development rests solely in the hands of the Supreme Council and ultimately the Grand Ayatollah.

This was a concern in 2003, because Ahmadinejad is allied with the hardline conservative and millennial branch of the Supreme Council, and his election was feared to be a repudiation not just of the previous president's domestic moderations but of the Grand Ayatollah's moderation in foreign affairs (in support of the hardline millennialists). Fortunately, as Iran's economy has tanked of late, Ahmadinejad is less powerful and popular than ever, as are his theological allies.

It doesn't matter to us (by which I mean the U.S.) that Ahmadinejad is an end-of-days lunatic, because he lacks any authority to make his apocalyptic vision a reality. It's as if the Secretary of Health and Human Services called for the head of all brown people. It's disgusting, but if there's no real result, who cares?

There is further indication that Iran might actually be sincere regarding needing nuclear power for domestic use: Iran's economy lacks the investment power to develop its untapped oil reserves on its own. Domestic subsidies are absurdly high for gas and oil. No foreign investment is allowed. It might actually hurt their economy more to tap their oil reserves on their own than to do without. Consequently, Iran could run out of oil for domestic consumption as early as 2014.

And even if they were to siphon off some nuclear material to develop nuclear weapons, what other motives might there be? Well, there's the fact that we didn't involve ourselves militarily in North Korea with but a (false) whisper that they might have nuclear arms, and once they tested a paltry fission device, we subsidized all their energy needs.

So your argument might be summed up as "ignore the strategy with a 100% success rate in preventing the use of nuclear arms (deterrence) in favor of a strategy that strengthens the political outcomes in Iran's favor."

You need some serious perspective re-adjustments to your basic premise.

But let's challenge your post title again: How does mentioning Iran STRENGTHEN any argument about Iraq?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, at least you have a consistent answer for both cases: ignore it and do nothing.

I can respect that. It worked for Bill Clinton.

James F. Elliott said...

...ignore it and do nothing.

Here I thought that you'd take one of two options: Ignore reality or equivocate on lefty vs. liberal. I didn't consider option three: Oversimplify.

Here's the point, Tom, and I'll grant that it's a tad complex because it has two clauses: 1) Iran is not the end-of-days panic-inducing problem neoconservatives make it out to be, and 2) the one (Iran) is not a sufficient answer to the other (Iraq).

So, again, I ask you to make your case: Why is Iran a sufficient rebuttal to any "lefty" or liberal arguments about the situation in Iraq. Have you considered that your lefty friends stay silent because they're shocked that you've whipped out a non sequitur that people who know what they're talking about don't freak out about?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, you got the short version and I left out the sequitur part. Iran supports terrorism and is about to throw the weapons inspectors out. Sounds familiar.

Why can't be dealt with is where Saddam would be today if left unmolested. What can't be dealt with is Iran's future either.

Sure if you take a snapshot of the moment, everything's copacetic. Iran, Islamism, terrorism, the 12th Mahdi?

Hell, it's just like the Kiwanis Club, except that the CIA overthrew their president in 1953.

No, I'm not panicked (altho Israel is---they live in the Middle East, I've been told), but when Iran throws the inspectors out, which they will, what do you want to do about it? We already know your hindsight answer for Iraq, and so far it's just more of the same.

James F. Elliott said...

Thank you for utterly failing to answer the question. I'll ask it again: How does our strategy in Iraq entail, in any shape or form, engagement with or containment of Iran? It's a rather important question because it underlies your whole point of contention.

As for "what's your answer," did you even bother to read the three pieces I linked you to? I wrote all three, so it should give you a fair idea of what I think (and not what you think I think), but I'll humor you and give you a brief answer.

To not freak out about Iran is to not talk war or airstrikes, which will do nothing but imperil our soldiers in the region (we can't overthrow Iran and we can't attack their nuclear facilities with great efficacy). That doesn't mean being inactive, either. You speak as if "Iran supports terrorism" means some sort of monolithic thing. Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, burgeoning Shia movements in Palestine and Syria, and the militias in Iraq whose political movements we are busy propping up with our lives and dollars.

So, if you want to marginalize Iran, here's a few ideas I've advocated from the start:

1) Spend lots of money and material providing reconstruction aid to Southern Lebanon and propping up the Cedar Revolution coalition. Give the Lebanese Shia a constructive political alternative to Hezbollah.

2) We must, must, must engage in diplomacy and work with the Syrian government. The Hashemites are cooperating with Iran because they are scared crapless of Iran's influence with the Shia community in their country. Prioritize and triangulate, help them to see that they should work with us, not Iran (Iraq seems to have pretty well demonstrated that they needn't fear us anymore). Do you want to take everyone on at once, or work on engaging Iran? Doing both is impractical.

Palestine's a mess. I don't have a good answer to that question. No one does.

Iran has a burgeoning middle class in the Western mold, it's women are far freer than in any other country in the region besides Lebanon and Israel, and it has a vibrant consumer and intellectual culture. These are excellent soft power pressure points for the U.S. to push on. The hardline millenial Shia (the ones who think the 12th Imam is imminent and should be hastened) are losing power and popularity. I remain unconvinced that we need to worry about the rest of the fundamentalist Shia any more than we need to worry about the end-of-days evangelicals in our own midst. If you'd been paying attention, my little tangent about Iran's possible need for nuclear power also provides a practical pressure point to apply.

All of these things are possible without giving in on a commitment to Israel's security or right to exist, unless one is a fanatical bonehead.

Comparing Iraq to Iran is about as intellectually dishonest as a person can be with a straight face. Where would Saddam be without the invasion? We can't know that, and to insist that he'd all of a sudden be some colossal tower of WMD evil is to be facetious to the point of blatant falsehood, an ideological answer to a completely hypothetical question. I've never been more disappointed in you. "It's Iraq all over again" is such a damned stupid analogy I can't even believe someone as smart as you would engage in it.

Iraq has been such a colossal success, you're right, we should just do more of the same with Iran. Okay, let's accept that argument (grounded as it is in complete fantasy) for a moment. How? With what? I've already demonstrated that your understanding of Iran doesn't even come close to matching the reality on the ground. I'm open to refutation, Tom. So refute me. But here's a hint: You'll need facts and a cogent argument.

Tom Van Dyke said...

See previous reply, which remains unmolested.

I share your best-case scenario for Iran, and it may come as a surprise to you that not a word of it comes as a surprise to me. Or to the Bush administration, which has helped bring about the difficult economic conditions, and are giving Ahmadinejad all the rope he needs to hang himself. Both right and left should agree they're doing an excellent job.

(As if.)

To back off the acrimony for a moment, James, I don't mean to lump you in with those who repeat the litany of essentially false or irrelevant arguments I detailed in my original post. Certainly principled opposition to the decision to put Saddam and his lovely sons Uday and Attila out of business is possible and valid. It can even be found here and there on the right. The prudence of any decision can always be questioned, as history seldom reveals its alternatives.

However, since it doesn't reveal its alternatives, I resist anyone asserting with any certainty that a Saddamist Iraq right now would not have been a major and worse problem, per the Duelfer Report, with which you're no doubt very familiar.

For the rest of the lefties who do indeed shut up when asked what we shall do with Iran if their behavior grows any worse, the original post stands. Since they are incapable of any action that might carry moral complicatations, their answer about Iran would be "pray," except they don't do that either.

(And I did glance at your links. However, links are useful only as footnotes, and it's an imposition to expect a response based on them.)

As always, JFE, thank you for your challenge; you do keep us honest around here as a Jiminy Cricket waiting to tickle a conscience or to pounce and tear the flesh from the neck of a sloppy thinker.

You might, though, pick through the Israeli newspapers---they're so panicked (because they live within missile range) by this Iranian madman that they're ready to put a Likud government back in, and Likud was deadender warmongering meat just as recently as a year ago.

Likewise, the European left (likewise due to geographical proximity) is not as sanguine as its American branch over the 12th Mahdi. They're actually kinda sorta doing something about it in their Eurowienie rhetorical way. Shall wonders never cease. Must be one of those reality-based things.)

Evanston said...

I agree with JFE that attacks on Iran are currently hamstrung by the U.S. presence in Iraq. Even a proxy strike by Israel, which I believe is more likely, cannot take place right now.

I find the discussion about what's going on inside Iran, by anyone left or right, foolish. We don't know, folks. Iran does seem to be on a losing streak of late, though, with military defections to the West, supposed financial problems with the Russians stopping work on their nuke plant, and indications (see IraqTheModel) that the Arab vs. Persian split in Shi'ism is surfacing.

JFE asks "How does our strategy in Iraq entail, in any shape or form, engagement with or containment of Iran?" Simply put, installing a democracy in Iraq changes the entire dynamic in the middle east. While Iran claims to be a democracy, the vetting of all political candidates by the Ayatollah-ocrocy makes it just another dictatorship in a region full of strongmen. All of these regimes -- but Syrian, Saudi, and Iranian in particular -- recognize how the Iraqi change undermines their current stranglehold on their citizens.

Iran succeeded in stopping Saddam's attack in the 1980s, but as much as they have tried and will continue to try to infiltrate Iraq with Revolutionary Guards hiding among pilgrims the opposite is also true. Shia exposed to Iraq may find a real democracy, as well as a Iraq's brand of mild (Sistani-style) Islam, more hopeful than their current Armageddon-seeking culture. There is precedent. The Soviet Union fell because those who were tasked with bringing down the West subsequently discovered how superior (materially, if not morally) freedom can be and they lost the will to win.

The thing that has amazed me about Iraq, from the get-go, is that Bush wasn't just giving lip-service to installing a democracy. While I would have killed Saddam and then left the Iraqis (and foreign fighters) to kill each other, Bush is a true believer in democracy. He continues to try and provide hope for the people of the middle east, but ironically he is vilified by liberals. It's funny how the Democrats recently have embraced Realpolitik, a cold and calculating approach that they found so scandalous in the past in the third world (including when the U.S. backed Saddam in the 1980s).

So I'll say what I have from Day One -- "Invading Iraq is a ballsy move." I respect those who don't think that the benefits are worth the cost, particularly if their pre-war beliefs sincerely rested on fears of WMD. I'm actually fine with a pullout, now, of U.S. ground troops (while maintaining air bases at Al Asad, Balad, and possibly Kurdistan). I've "satisficed" (that is, I believe we have accomplished our primary war aims).

What I find astounding, to this moment, is that liberals have no respect for those who believe that the benefits have been worth the cost. There seems to be no room for discussion. You either agree that the war was a mistake or you're an idiot, evil person, or both.

Still, as a Christian I understand how blind most folks are, so I try to re-direct any discussions of Iraq not to Iran (as recommended by Tom) but to "what matters" in life. Values talks, although they may seem silly, return my family and friends (most of whom are liberals) back to discussions of things they worry about -- safety, economic growth, hope for their kids. On those topics there is much common ground, since political liberals most often live their personal lives very conservatively. And if we haven't moved on to something BIG (like March Madness!) we can talk about what they want for the people of Iraq. Naturally, they want the same things for Iraqis that they want for their own kids. So leaving BushHitler etc. out of the discussion, I believe we all hope that our efforts in Iraq will provide freedom and prosperity for Iraqis.
Please pray for them.

James F. Elliott said...

See previous reply, which remains unmolested.

I can't help it if a complete hypothetical totally ungrounded in fact and supported only by ideological belief remains "unmolested." Some things remain impervious to reason.

...per the Duelfer Report, with which you're no doubt very familiar.

We read very different Duelfer Reports, then.

Simply put, installing a democracy in Iraq changes the entire dynamic in the middle east.

This would be the democracy that elected a leadership beholden to the political wings of pro-Iran militias? Surely, you jest. Introducing a democracy is one thing. Introducing a liberal, Western-style republic is something completely else. Democracy also brought us Hamas as a political movement and Hezbollah as a major parliamentary figure.

I actually would have been far more supportive of a war predicated on the notion of overthrowing Hussein, which it wasn't.

...I believe we all hope that our efforts in Iraq will provide freedom and prosperity for Iraqis.

I would love to be wrong. I'll publicly say so if it turns out I was. I want, desperately, to be wrong. I actively look for reasoning that can allow me to support the occupation, even with reservations. But all rationality bids me to believe I am correct: we are stuck between total disaster and spending more lives and money in order to assure the ascension of a government we don't want.

I give up. You can't reason with people who hold their ideology more dear than reality.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You didn't read the Duelfer report, James. It's the size of an encyclopedia. You read the media's misrepresentation of it (see comment under MDV's post above).

The reality is, it doesn't matter why we got into Iraq at this moment. What matters, as Mr. Evanston points out, is whether we abandon the Iraqi people in the name of "morality" or whatever it is the left are in the streets marching for today.

As for Iran, I've asked three times what to do if their behavior grows worse. Cricket time, as predicted.

Evanston said...

Regardless of the differences between JFE and TVD, it hardly matters whether anyone is "convinced." The die is cast. The handover to Iraqis is past the tipping point.

Funny thing about democracy, it means that the people vote the way they wish. Sometimes you get Hamas. Sometimes you get Jimmy Carter. The beauty of it is not who is elected, but accountability and change.

While the Iraqi people (or Palestinian people or American people, for that matter) may not vote the way I wish them to, democratic governments tend to take better care of their people and be less warlike than tyrannies. I believe this is historically, demonstrably true. I also believe having a democracy in Iraq -- which we have achieved -- does change the dynamic in the middle east.

Let's just make a date to revisit this issue in March 2008. God willing we'll all be alive, have access to our keypads, and a beverage of choice to drink while sharing observations on the progress Iraqis have made.

Scott T. Allen
LtCol USMC (Ret)