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The Reality and Legacy of the Iraq War
October 17, 2006
Ivan Eland, Mark Danner


David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux and I’m the president of the Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum this evening.

As you know, the topic tonight is the reality and legacy of the Iraq War, and we’re very pleased to feature a number of books that relate to this topic, two by one of our speakers, Mark Danner: the first being The Secret Way to War, which is related to the Downing Street memo that many of you may be familiar with. The second is really an incredibly important book called Torture and Truth, dealing with Abu Ghraib and other aspects of the War on Terror. As you may know, today there is a signing ceremony about policies regarding people who can be detained and so forth.

The other book that we’re featuring is by other speaker, Ivan Eland. It’s called The Empire Has No Clothes. We also have a copy of a policy report by Dr. Eland called “The Way Out of Iraq,” which is on the issue of essentially extricating the United States from Iraq through a partitioning arrangement or some other self-governing system.

For those of you new to the Institute, hopefully you all got a packet when you registered. You’ll find information about our books, upcoming events and other programs. I should mention that on our Website, which is, you’ll find a wealth of studies—thousands of studies—and articles and other information on foreign affairs and domestic policy and many other issues.

The Institute itself is actually an academic public-policy research institute. We have about 140 research fellows currently at different universities involved in various projects. We operate as a series of six different centers, one of which is called The Center on Peace and Liberty, and that relates to our event this evening. We also have a weekly e-mail newsletter called The Lighthouse, which is sent out to anyone who’s interested in receiving it, and you’re all welcome to subscribe.

The topic tonight, of course, is the issue. It’s the issue that has been haunting Americans since 2003, and certainly Iraqis. As many of you may know, a comprehensive new study from Johns Hopkins University, published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet, claims that as many as 655,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, and even with a reasonable margin of error, the scale of this study is pretty staggering.

But this comes on the heels of the recent National Intelligence Estimate Report, which was unanimously authored by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, that the U.S. invasion and occupation has and is fueling record terrorism. Indeed, the report claims that Iraq is the major worldwide ground for training terrorism. In other words, the country that’s being occupied by the U.S. with the U.S. military to stop terrorism is the major training ground for terrorism.

It is hence no surprise that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, is reviewing a proposal that Iraq be divided among three major factions into separate regions, a proposal that Dr. Eland made actually more than two years ago.

Clearly, the elections in Iraq have not resolved the main problem there. It’s not just a constitutional crisis. The violence of this month is beyond anything that we’ve seen before. Whether the civil war has started or is imminently to be started is perhaps a matter of opinion.

Is the Iraq war a hopeless quagmire that has been lost, or has the U.S. still the ability to foster a united, peaceful and prosperous country in Iraq? If the latter, how can this be achieved? Should the Iraq constitution be revised, and if so, how? Should the U.S. withdraw its forces, as I mentioned, with Iraq partitioned or in some other way, or use the threat of withdrawal to pressure Iraqis into some sort of settlement? Should the U.S. extract troops rapidly, pull out gradually, stay the course with current Bush administration policy, or escalate its involvement?

Hence, as you can see, there are many questions and these are not trivial issues. So we’re very pleased to have our speakers this evening on this topic.

Our first speaker is Mark Danner. Mark is professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and he’s the Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in New York. He’s the author of numerous books on international and domestic affairs in addition to the ones I mentioned. Other titles that he’s the author of include The Road to Illegitimacy, Beyond the Mountains, The Saddest Story, and The Massacre at El Mozote. Mr. Danner is the recipient of the National Magazine Award, three Overseas Press Awards and an Emmy, and in 1999 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. I’m very pleased to introduce Mark Danner.

Mark Danner
Professor of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley

Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s good to be here and I want to thank you all for coming, and the Independent Institute, David and Ivan and others here for being kind enough to invite me.

Goodness, that was a lovely introduction but also terribly depressing. You asked all those fine questions, and I think, do I have the answer to any single one of them? I don’t know. I am hoping tonight that this will be something of a dialogue with you and that you’ll have a lot of questions that perhaps will push along the discussion somewhere fertile.

And I’m going to begin by talking a little about our subject, the reality and the legacy of the Iraq War. Somewhere between reality and legacy, one thinks, there might be a few proposals, however timid, that will answer some of David’s extremely pressing and extremely intelligent, but also, as I say, very depressing questions.

George Kennan on the Unpredictability of War

I was looking through various things on the Internet today and I found a lovely quote from George Kennan. Kennan, as you may know, was the father of containment, that is, he wrote the documents that essentially motivated and shaped American strategic thinking for a half century for the Cold War. He essentially created containment.

And in the fall of 2002, he was passing his time as a 98-year-old in a Washington nursing home, and some very resourceful journalist came and actually interviewed him there. And this was the moment that the Iraq war was being sold by the Bush administration. As you remember, that fall there were disclosures every other day about weapons of mass destruction tubes that were going to be used in the nuclear program to make centrifuges. The New York Times front page was full of all these disclosures, and other newspapers as well.

And Kennan, sitting in his nursing home, was asked by this resourceful journalist what he thought of all this, and he said—his diplomatic career began in the ’20s, so he saw the entire—he was ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was ambassador to Yugoslavia. Head of policy—the first head of the policy-making shop in the State Department. Anyway, his comment was this:

“Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose, but in the end, you find yourself fighting for entirely different things that you’d never thought of before. In other words, war has a momentum of its own and carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it.

“Today, if we went into Iraq like the President would like U.S. to do”—this is September of 2002—“you know where you begin. You never know where you’re going to end.”

I was quite struck by this. He died not long after that. And I thought, well, of course he was right. We don’t know where we’re going to end. We’re still three-and-a-half years—well, four years—later. More than four years after he uttered those words. And the situation of having no idea where we’re going to end, even though we have a feeling we’re in the late stages. People who’ve come to forums like this one suggest solutions, suggest proposals, as if we’re at the end, but in fact, we may well not be at the end.

But I was struck by something in particular, which was his assumption that, as he put it, you know where you begin. You never know where you’re going to end.

One of the interesting things about the Iraq war is that as the ending has receded—you remember the ending? The ending was the President striding across the aircraft carrier. And it had been planned before the war. It was shaped for a political commercial. It was arranged very meticulously. That was the end of the war. Well, that end, of course, has run ahead of us like something we can never quite—like a car that we can never quite catch.

Achieving the National Security Presidential Directive?

But even as that end has disappeared, the beginning has gone away as well, which I think is unprecedented.

I thought if I wanted to answer George Kennan’s question—that is, where did we begin? What would the beginning of this war be—you could do worse than look at the National Security Presidential Directive that President Bush signed. It’s a top-secret document. He signed it just before Kennan spoke at the end of August of 2002.

Now, this is a document which is supposed to bring together all of the agencies of the American government onto the same page, as it were. This is our purpose in Iraq. Top secret, goes to all the agencies. This is what we’re going to accomplish. And we have this document now in the public realm because of Bob Woodward, who we can talk about (laughter) if you want to. Have many people here read his book, the new book?

Indulge me for a second and let me read to you words from another age. Now, all the agencies of the government got together and put this thing together. This is what the U.S. is supposed to achieve in Iraq.

“U.S. goal: Free Iraq in order to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery, and associated programs. Prevent Iraq from breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond. End Iraqi threats to its neighbors. Stop the Iraq government’s tyrannizing of its own population. Cut Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism. Maintain Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity. Liberate the Iraqi people and assist them in creating a society based on moderation, pluralism and democracy.”

The objectives under these goals: “To conduct policy in a fashion that minimizes the chance of a WMD attack against the United States, U.S. field forces, our allies and friends. To minimize the danger of regional instabilities. To deter Iran and Syria from helping Iraq and to minimize disruption in international oil markets.”

Now, I look at that. There’s something kind of poignant about it. You want to go through with your pen and cross out one statement after another. First come the statements that essentially have no reality now: “Free Iraq in order to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.” There weren’t any. “Their means of delivery and associated programs.”

“Prevent Iraq from becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond.” Well, the regional threat, in fact, I would argue, is now the most dangerous thing facing us, when we talk about, as I assume we will talk about tonight, withdrawal.

Again, “End Iraqi threats to its neighbors. Stop the Iraqi government’s tyrannizing of its own population.” Well, as David told you, I’ve written a lot about torture in the last few years. The UN last month issued a report in which essentially they said that torture is now prevalent in Iraq, much more prevalent than it was under Saddam Hussein.

Indeed, the bodies that are found that you read about in the newspaper every day, found on the streets of Baghdad and other cities are almost always tortured, show signs of torture, which is the newspaper phrase. Why? Because they’re meant as warnings for other people. They’re left out as kind of signposts to frighten people. That’s what those objects, those corpses, are for, and the torture is generally carried out in ways quite reminiscent of Saddam’s regime, notably using electric power tools and particularly electric drills.

So these bodies, these corpses—70 or so a day, more on some days—actually show signs of rather horrific torture that according to the UN is much more prevalent, much more widespread than during Saddam’s rule.

“To cut Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism.” David referred to the NIE that was leaked a couple of months ago—National Intelligence Estimate—that essentially argues—you know, the most controversial things are the things we all know, right? It essentially argues that the Iraq war has produced an enormous surge in, not only terrorism, but the training of jihadis, recruitment in terrorist organizations or jihadi salafi organizations.

Anyway, we can go through this line by line crossing out various parts of this sheet of objectives, until we get to the end, “to minimize disruption in international oil markets,” which I suppose it did decently well, although the prices went up very dramatically and now are coming down.

The Struggle for Iraq

The reality of the Iraq War. Well, my second document that I want to talk about briefly is today’s newspaper. Did anybody read The Times today? It’s a wonderful piece on the inside by Michael Luo. The inside pages. Why? Because it’s no longer big news when there are more than a hundred deaths in Iraq in a day. This particular piece is remarkable because it’s about a place called Balad.

Balad is north of Baghdad. It’s a town I visited before. It is distinguished for our purposes by being situated next to an enormous American base. In fact, it think it’s the biggest—one of the biggest bases in the world, certainly the biggest in Iraq. So you have an enormous number of American troops, airplanes, all kinds of American equipment. I believe there’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken there. It’s like this little chunk of America, although it’s not so little.

On Friday, in the town of Balad, right next to the forward operating base Anaconda, as it’s called, 14 Shiite workers were found—or the bodies of 14 Shiite workers—were found beheaded lying in the streets. They had been kidnapped on their way back from work, and there was an immediate reaction, which is the drama of—this is sort of the cycle that you’ve had since at least February.

So you’ve got Sunni insurgents seizing, kidnapping Shiite workers, beheading them, leaving the bodies on the street. Instantly you had death squads, Shiite death squads out in the street. Now, this is in broad daylight in a good-sized small city next to a major American base. Shiite death squads basically came out on the street and set up checkpoints. Stopped a car, drove a car across the road, stopped everyone driving.

When they saw by the ID cards, the names on the ID cards, that the people in the cars were Sunnis, they brought them out of their car and shot them in the head. And they did this to 40-odd people or more. The numbers are not quite clear now. And for at least two days, which is the essence of this piece, the Americans did nothing. The Americans essentially sat there, and what’s more important for our purposes, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police did nothing.

So the town was given over to company-size units, great number of people out on the streets controlling traffic and killing whoever they wanted to. And this happened for an entire weekend until the Americans finally, finally showed up.

Now, the interesting thing is that this is the top of the story, but if you read down to the end—which you should always do in The New York Times, much as you probably don’t want to—you’ll see that there’s a subsidiary story, which is in the capital killings—now in the capital the United States, together with its Iraqi allies, has been conducting an operation that is meant to reduce dramatically the violence in Baghdad, and there’s a political reason for this. It’s not just that you want to reduce violence, but there’s a political goal, which is to convince the Shia to give up their militias, and the only way they’re going to give up their militias is if they can be convinced that they’re safe.

So the Iraqi military originally in June—the new Iraqi government announced that they would have this program to pacify the capital. They began running sweeps. You immediately had an upsurge in violence, an upsurge in car bombs, an upsurge in death squad killings. This went on for several weeks and finally the United States decided to add its forces to the effort.

Now, what you have here is simply troops going—they cordon off a neighborhood with armored vehicles and they go house to house, essentially, searching, trying to find arms, trying to find insurgents, arresting a lot of people and so on. They do it neighborhood by neighborhood. The result of this has been a very large upsurge in violence within Baghdad, an upsurge, certainly, in the number of attacks on Americans.

Anyway, let me just give you the near end of this piece. “The police in Baghdad reported the discovery of the 64 bodies, all of which appeared to have been shot at close range and showed signs of torture.” Now, these are 64 Sunnis. “‘In the largely Shiite neighborhood of Ur, two car bombs, one of which was aimed at a large Shiite funeral gathering, exploded almost simultaneously Monday evening,’ an Interior Ministry official said. The other bomb went off nearby about 200 meters from a busy market.”

Now, the numbers killed here are listed as at least 22 people were killed, so you have 64 who were killed at night and tortured, picked up at night, usually at checkpoints or by death squads driving around, and then you have the Sunnis reacting, if you can call it that, with car bombs in marketplaces. This is the kind of war that is essentially going on now, particularly in Baghdad, Shiite death squads, Sunni insurgents.

It is the post-February war. This particular stage of the war began with the destruction of the Askari Mosque in Samarra in February, which is the beginning of, for our purposes, the present. When we talk about the reality of the Iraq war, that reality began essentially in February when you had—there are a lot of debates about civil war. Is this a civil war? Isn’t it a civil war? Essentially, in February, for all practical purposes, it became a civil war.

Now having listened to David’s introduction, I’m determined to say something positive, although I’m not quite sure, frankly, where I’m going to get that.

In my view, and I’ve been to Iraq three times during the war, beginning in the fall of 2003 when the Americans in Iraq were still denying there was an insurgency. In my opinion, the situation in Iraq is deteriorating quite rapidly. I say in my opinion. You can see it.

And one thing to remember when you look at the scene in front of you, when you look at the newspaper or look at the television screen every night, what you’re seeing is rather a truncated view simply because the journalists there are now under so much threat and so much stress. Very difficult to get around. When there’s a car bombing—

When I first went to Iraq in the fall of 2003, when a car bomb went off, and you felt the shake of a car bomb, you would run up to the top of the hotel, or wherever you were, to see where it was and then drive to the scene, and it was considered an enormous journalistic coup if you happened to be close by when a bomb went off, because you were there immediately on the scene. I was quite close to the bombing of the Red Cross headquarters in October of 2003, which was the beginning of the so-called Ramadan Offensive.

Now, no one goes out and looks at the results of car bombings or tries to report on the street. It’s too dangerous. You’ll get shot. So most journalists in Iraq tend to be reporting from their hotels. The hotels are highly guarded. I worked out of a CBS bureau there a couple of times when I was there. They’ve reserved a couple of floors and people—there is a closed-circuit TV system so people can—no one who isn’t part of the bureau can even get into those floors of the hotel. The level of security required is absolutely unsustainable, as far as I’m concerned, for decent reporting.

Which essentially means that everyone who’s here trying to see Iraq from the United States through they eye of the news media is essentially looking through—I mean, it’s as if you have this enormous history painting full of incident, full of bloodshed and event, and you’re looking at it through a very narrow straw. You can see a very, very tiny part of it, which is one of the reasons why, when the Lancet study that David mentioned was announced, I wasn’t one of those people who absolutely dismissed it out of hand, as many people did. As he said, the estimates in it of Iraqi deaths are somewhere in the 600,000s, and I’d urge you to read it.

The problem with getting into a debate about numbers of dead is, even if you look at the lower level estimates of dead in Iraq, which would be 60,000, which is on the Iraq Index site of the Brookings Institution, that number, for a country the size of Iraq, is absolutely extraordinary. Iraq is one-eleventh the size of the United States, roughly, so we’re talking about, if you put it on the scale of the United States, 660,000 dead, and predominantly civilians. So the level of killing is absolutely overwhelming.

Am I getting you optimistic yet? I’m not sure.

The Way Forward

Let me try to talk a little about what we can do. I know I was reading on the Independent Institute’s site today some of my co-panelist’s work, Ivan’s work, and I know that he, along with a number of others—very distinguished people like Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Peter Galbraith, the former ambassador to Croatia—advocate a partition. I’m using that word advisedly. There are several different versions of this plan, and, of course, Ivan Eland can speak for himself about it.

In my opinion, that is not a good idea. It won’t end the bloodshed. I spoke, I guess, 10 days ago to the Iraq Study Group, which is James Baker and Lee Hamilton’s group, meeting now in Washington, whose heavy burden it is to try to help George Bush get out of Iraq, essentially. That’s their job, and they look like men who are working under a heavy burden, believe me.

I tried to tell them what I thought the general direction had to be, but it’s something I’ve been saying, and I say this advisedly now, for a couple of years, and it may well be that the moment has passed. It seems to me that we can talk about a number of principles here.

The first principle is that the war cannot be won militarily. Certainly not by the United States. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that the U.S. has very few troops there. The number now, it’s been creeping up, by the way, although this hasn’t been covered in the press, but it’s somewhere in the 140,000s at the moment. The number of troops has been insufficient from the beginning and only recently have American troops started to fight the war as it’s being fought on the ground. That is, only recently have they begun fighting a counterinsurgency.

Essentially, if we track back why this happened, why we’re in this place, we find ourselves going again and again to the very top of the government, to the leaders at the very top of the American government. Not to the generals, but our leadership. And one of the distinctive things that the leaders did was refuse, really for the first couple of years of this war, to admit that there was an insurgency, and that it needed to be opposed with the techniques of counterinsurgency that the American military knows how to deploy. It doesn’t like to deploy them, but it knows how to deploy them.

And one of those techniques, or one of those principles, is you don’t use a lot of firepower. You try to win over neighborhoods and win over areas politically. And the United States has not been doing that until very, very recently, and it’s too late. By too late I mean that the insurgency, particularly in Anbar Province, as an intelligence report from the American military that was leaked about two months ago said, the insurgency is endemic in Anbar Province. It’s not going to be defeated there by military means.

Another point to make about the impossibility of defeating the insurgency militarily is that according to the latest Pew survey of the Iraqi population, 46 percent of Iraqis believe that it’s justified to attack Americans. Now, when you have that number, that percentage of people who in essence support attacks against you, it’s almost impossible to win a counterinsurgency because you essentially rely on the population—when a counterinsurgency works—to give you intelligence, to give you information about where the insurgents are, who they are, what they’re doing, etc. And the United States has failed at that essential political task to convince the population to be on its side.

So Principle 1 is, this war cannot be won militarily.

Principle 2, it seems to me, is that worse is better than worst, which is to say that I think now the United States is facing a regionalization of this war. That is, the horrible possibility—and the possibility, by the way, that al Qaeda has tried to promote—is a regional civil war, a civil war between Sunnis and Shia. This was the explicit policy goal or strategic goal of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He wrote it in a rather famous letter that was captured by the American military and leaked.

And that policy has had success within Iraq. We’ve gone from an insurgency stage to a sectarian fighting stage, and U.S. policy, unfortunately—the encouragement of elections, in particular, elections in which the Sunnis at the beginning didn’t take part—has exacerbated and in effect helped this policy toward sectarian conflict. The question is whether the sectarian conflict that’s running through Iraq will broaden to the wider region.

And, you know, I’m wary. I wrote a lot about Yugoslavia for a number of years, covered that war, and I’m wary about comparisons of Iraq to Yugoslavia. They’re obviously extremely different, but there is one similarity, which is that both countries sit astride a rather large civilizational or sectarian dividing line. In Yugoslavia, it’s Orthodox Christian Catholic and Muslim, in Europe, and in Iraq, it’s Shia and Sunni.

So on one side of the dividing line, you have the Shia on the south of Iraq, and you have the Iranians on the other side, the Sunnis of Anbar and the Syrians, the Jordanians, the Saudis. You’re talking about this major dividing line in the middle of the Middle East, in the middle of the Arab world.

So, second principle, it’s better to have what’s worse than to have what’s worst, and what’s worst, it seems to me, would be a regionalized civil war with escalating violence in which other countries would increasingly become involved. I think that is absolutely possible.

And I think it bears saying now that people use this as a bogeyman to tar—to mix my metaphors—those who call for a pullout of American troops. They say there’ll be a regional civil war. Well, it shouldn’t be used that way, but it also isn’t created, in my opinion, out of thin air. I think it is a possibility.

Third principle is there needs to be a political settlement within the country. It obviously follows logically from it, there’s going to be no military settlement.

And fourth, which goes along with third, is that neighboring states have to be involved, have to be actively involved.

And fifth, the U.S. has to be willing to negotiate, to put things on the table.

Now, I’ve given you those last three points one after another. These all very intimately related. In fact, the only way the United States, I think, will get out of Iraq without there being an escalation and a regionalization of the war, which I think has to be the goal, and I’ll finish here—is that it has to sit down with the players in Iraq and with the regional players, who are absolutely critical, to come up with a political solution.

Now, saying that isn’t saying very much, because the content of that solution is what is going to be extremely difficult. I advocated this in essence a couple of years ago. I advocated it in front of Baker and his friends a couple weeks ago. I think we can get into specifics in question and answer but I’ll throw out at least a few.

I think the Sunnis have to be brought to the table in a way that the Americans started to do a year ago but have not followed through on. One of the reasons I think partition, in whatever form it’s described, is going to be difficult and make the situation worse is that there is no oil guarantee. You know the basic situation here, which is that the Sunnis famously don’t have oil in the middle of the country. There’s no guarantee of revenue sharing that I think will satisfy them and that will work politically.

That’s one problem with partition. Another is, obviously, cities that are multi-ethnic, of which there are many, including Baghdad most famously, but also Kirkuk.

So, the Sunnis have to be brought into the process more vigorously, and that means keeping promises to them. The United States got them to participate in the referendum last fall, which I covered—that was in November—by telling them that after the referendum on the constitution, there would be further negotiations about questions of autonomy. That is, about whether, for example, the Shia’s provinces in the south could withdraw from Iraq.

Those negotiations haven’t taken place. In fact, as you probably know, within the last week, the Shia in parliament pushed through a law. The Sunnis boycotted the session that would make possible a Shia state in the south, which is what the Sunnis are essentially fighting against. I mean, that is the road of partition. So the Sunnis have to be brought into the process.

Secondly, the Shia have to be restrained, to some degree. Now, the Americans presumably, and the Saudis, can help bring the Shia into the process. It is a fact of international life that the Iranians are a critical player when we talk about the Shia in Iraq.

And here we get to my final complication, which I can then lay at the feet of Ivan Eland so he can solve it, which is that a solution, a negotiated solution—and we’re not talking here about a solution that the gunplay will stop, the killing will stop. Iraq is going to be a very violent place for a long time. But a solution that will tend things toward stability, toward less killing, and allow the Americans to start leaving.

That solution depends partly on U.S. policy toward Iran, and U.S. policy toward Iran is now tied up very intimately with other regional questions, including, obviously, its nuclear program, including its support for Hezbollah, including Israeli interests. The U.S. is going to have to be able to, in my judgment, be willing to make a kind of grand bargain with Iran. It’s going to have to be willing to actually start to withdraw troops at a date certain, whether or not it announces withdrawal of troops, which is going to be politically very difficult for President Bush, and it’s going to have to realize that making compromises that it doesn’t want to make is justified and wise if the prospect is a worsening war that will kill more Iraqis, kill more Americans, but above all, leave the Middle East in a situation of regional civil war.

OK. There’s my optimistic scenario. (laughter) I’ve talked too long. I will turn things over to my colleague here. Thank you very much.

David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

By the way, before I introduce our next speaker, one of the publications that we produce at the Independent Institute is a quarterly journal called The Independent Review, and I mention that because in this issue, there is among the articles a very important one that relates to what the U.S. has been trying to do in Iraq, and it’s on the question of so-called nation building.

And the usual thing that is said is, to use the model of Germany for example, as an example of nation building after World War II, which was what allegedly was going to be done in Iraq. And I urge you to look at that article and I think you’ll come away with quite a different picture of what actually happened in Germany and what nation building attempts actually do develop.

So our next speaker is Ivan Eland. Ivan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty here at the Independent Institute. Ivan is actually located at our Washington office and is out here visiting for this event and some other things. He received his PhD. in national security policy from George Washington University. He’s been a principal defense analyst with the Congressional Budget office, evaluator in charge of national security and intelligence for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In addition to his book, The Empire Has No Clothes, that I mentioned, he’s author of the book Putting “Defense” Back Into U.S. Defense Policy. His articles have appeared in many journals, including Arms Control Today, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, Mediterranean Quarterly and others. His popular articles appears in newspapers around the country. Many of you may have seen the piece in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2004, Dr. Eland received the Medal of the President of the Italian Republic from Mikhail Gorbachev for his work as “one of the world’s best-informed experts on White House foreign and military policy.” Delighted to introduce Ivan Eland.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, Independent Institute

Thank you, David. I’m glad to see everyone here tonight. We have a depressing subject, as Mark has pointed out. I agreed with many of his comments except the partition idea. I think a little better of that solution than he does. I started writing about it in 2004, and I’ll admit that it’s not a panacea, it’s not a perfect solution, and of course if they would have adopted it before this, they would have been better off.

I think there’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that there are no good solutions to Iraq, and the good news is just leaving is not as bad as most people think.

Mark was mentioning the intelligence community consensus that Iraq is making terrorism worse because it’s a motivator and a training ground for terrorists. They get combat experience especially, and it’s also the fact that we’re a foreign occupier drives much of the suicide bombing in the world. Robert Pape, who is a professor at the University of Chicago, has done an exhaustive study on suicide terrorism, and I recommend everyone reading it because it blows away a lot of the myth that this is related to Islam. Suicide bombing was not invented by Islamic peoples.

And I also did some research back in 1998 where I predicted a catastrophic terrorist attack if we didn’t change our foreign policy, and I came up with 63 different incidents where U.S. foreign policy led to blowback terrorism. And, of course, one of them is military operations and being a foreign occupier overseas. So this link shouldn’t have been surprising to anybody, but apparently it was to the administration.

So when we have this rise in terrorism, we come to the point of—well, and many in the liberal community are saying, well, we’re against this war, but now we’ve kind of broken the china, and now we’ve got to help glue it back together. But of course, that premise—there’s an assumption there that the U.S. is having a positive effect in Iraq, and I’m not sure that that’s really true. I think that the British commanders who recently said that the foreign occupation was leading to more terrorism everywhere, and, of course, the intelligence community backs that up.

So if we want to be real hardcore realists and that our security is the most important, then, of course, we should get out of Iraq and do so quickly. However, I do have some sympathy for the view that we did break the china and we should attempt at least some sort of a solution. And so for our own security, certainly getting out is good because we’ll reduce over the long term—and it’s going to take awhile because, of course, we’ve ginned up all this hatred around the world—but for our own security, of course, getting out sooner rather than later would be a good idea.

In Vietnam, of course, we acted like the investor who makes a bad investment and then can’t bring themselves—and this is human nature—bring themselves to believe they made a mistake, so, of course, they ride the stock down instead of selling and getting what they can and reinvesting into something better. And I think the government is operating the same way in this area.

In Vietnam, we stayed in because we couldn’t get out because our prestige would be damaged. Well, of course, what happened was, we stayed in and our prestige went lower and lower and lower the longer we stayed. So if the situation is dire, perhaps we should withdraw.

Now, of course, the public seems to be sleeping through this entire thing, frankly. The public ignored warnings before the war that Iraqi—and this was by the intelligence community—that Iraqi WMD would not be used or given to terrorists unless the U.S. provoked Saddam. Well, of course, this was a two-day story and went by the wayside. And I was just thinking, wow, the U.S. intelligence community has just passed judgment and it’s not good on the President’s policy. And they say they don’t get into policy, but obviously, this finding should nix this war. But, of course, it didn’t.

And, of course, in Hungary, we have repeated mass protests when the Hungarian government lies about the economy, but, in the US, few people seem to care that Bush keeps telling whoppers, many whoppers, about this war. And war is much more significant, I think, than the economy. The economy is important, but in Hungary, they seem to still participate in their government. Maybe it’s a new thing for them and they haven’t become as slumbering as the U.S. public.

But, of course, some people say if we get out we’re going to have this chaotic state that’s a haven for terrorists, and the civil war is going to intensify and that sort of thing. I say to them that civil war is here and it’s already a haven for terrorists, and all these people are going to do exactly what happened in Afghanistan. They’re going to take all these skills that they learned and they’re going to migrate back to their home countries, or to the US, or wherever they migrate, and start doing what they’re doing in Iraq here.

So staying around is not going to improve the situation, and, of course, the British commander made the statement that the British forces were making things worse. And if you talk to U.S. military commanders, they’ll tell you the same thing. They don’t say it in public, but that’s the reason. And, of course that’s the reason the Sunnis are primarily fighting, is because of the U.S. occupation.

The U.S. government wasted much of the aid money sent in and the rest went to unanticipated security requirements. And I don’t think Congress is going to provide much more. And, of course that makes the assumption that the aid is going to do what needs to be done in the first place, which is problematical.

Another thing is I think that we need to keep this in perspective. Everyone says this isn’t Vietnam because it’s much more strategic. It’s right by the Persian Gulf. And I think I have to at least mention this, because underlying all this policy and this feeling that Iraq is too important to withdraw from is the 1973 oil embargo, and, of course, the gas lines have been seared into people’s minds. But, of course, the gas lines in 1973 were caused by government incompetence and not the OPEC embargo.

And even sharp oil price increases don’t seem to throw industrial economies into recession. Germany from 1998 to 2000, the oil price went up 211 percent and the German economy didn’t go into recession, and, of course, we saw the recent price spike in the United States, and the economy didn’t go into recession. And it’s very difficult to cause general inflation by the price of one commodity increasing, because people have less to spend on other stuff so other prices go down.

We don’t seem to get nervous that 70 percent of the semiconductors come from East Asia and say that we need military forces to defend these semiconductors, but we seem to say that 21 percent of the oil that we consume comes from the Persian Gulf and that we need to be over there and have military bases surrounding the place.

And, of course, we used to defend oil—if you believe in defending oil, which is a dubious enterprise, according to most economists, I think, because markets do work, and the oil’s going to be produced by even radical regimes because they need the money. It’s going to be sold.

But if we say, well, why are we so nervous about this, we defend this oil, and it’s sort of a baseless fear of oil dependency. And so I think we need to reassess the oil question, and a lot of this, if that’s put into perspective, then, of course, Iraq becomes a lot less strategic to the United States. It’s just cheaper to pay high oil prices occasionally, because the market price always goes up and down, than it is to spend all this money for all these forces to defend it.

I digressed there for a minute from Iraq, but I want to put that in—because oil underlies everything, whether you believe that we did this for oil, or whether you believe we did it to help Israel, or you believe we did it to settle old scores with Saddam, or whether they actually believed the weapons of mass destruction. Underlying this to some extent, is always oil in the background.

What the U.S. Should Do

Now, my solution for Iraq is to announce a date certain for U.S. withdrawal, and that should be fairly quickly, and this would motivate Iraqi groups to negotiate a genuine agreement for self-determination, a conclave, if you will. And I think Mark is right. You have to bring in representatives from Iran, Syrian, Jordan, the surrounding countries, Turkey, because any sorts of agreement for self-determination would have to at least have some input, even though the Iraqis should be making the decision. But it should have some input from these countries so we don’t have a regional war.

Now, the way that Iraq is going is toward decentralization, so when I talk about a decentralized solution, I think we already have a decentralized solution on the ground. We have militias from every group running around, the Sunni insurgency, the Peshmerga militias in Kurdistan, and the two Shiite militias. And I think Mark is right that the Shiites won’t stop fighting until they feel safe, and I don’t think the Sunnis will stop fighting until they feel safe.

Everyone assumes the Sunnis are fighting because they’re mad that they’re no longer in control of Iraq, but I also think they’re fighting because they fear domination by the other groups because they’re left out of the government. They’re technically in the government, but as Mark pointed out, they were promised by voting on this constitution that these issues would be solved later. Well, of course, I’m not sure why they were gullible enough to believe that, but anyway, they did and so they participated in the process and so now they’re faced with the Shia passing this thing through parliament that says, well, in 18 months, we’re going to have a referendum to go on our own way.

And so the Shiites also want autonomy that the Kurds already have. The Kurds already have the equivalent of a separate state. The Iraqi government is not in Kurdistan, and, of course, we just had the dustup about the flag. The Kurds don’t want the Iraqi flag flying in Kurdistan.

So it doesn’t sound like most Iraqis really want to be part of Iraq. The Sunnis, as Mark pointed out, are the only ones that really want to, and they, of course, are afraid of the oil, they won’t get any oil.

So I think a decentralization agreement could be hammered out, and I think one lever to use to do this would be the U.S. withdrawal. If the U.S. threatens to withdraw—of course this is the only pillar that’s holding up the essentially Shiite-Kurd government, and so, if the U.S. threatens to pull out, it would give it a tremendous incentive for these groups to negotiate with the Sunnis and perhaps share oil revenues or even oil wells.

Now to date, the U.S. has tried to impose a US-style federal system that most academic researchers say won’t work in a society that has so many ethnic and religious cleavages, simply because federalism really requires a lot of cooperation.

Now, what I’m advocating is a confederation, which is a looser form of government, and perhaps the central government would only have control over foreign policy or—as Mark pointed out, there’s various proposals between Galbraith, Gelb, myself and others. I would probably have the least central government of all of those proposals, simply because I think most of the power should be in the local government. And frankly, the militias will govern—that already exist—will govern these areas. Or, not govern them, but be the police forces for these areas.

So I don’t think we’re trying to impose this from above, and, of course, that usually doesn’t work. You need a political culture for democracy before you’ll ever get the institutions and that sort of thing, and it usually has to bubble up from the surface. People have to have a certain degree of economic development, studies have shown, before they can sustain a stable democracy.

So if most Iraqis don’t want to really live in a unified Iraq, then perhaps we ought to take that into consideration. And it also strikes me as being somewhat ironic that we are fighting for democracy, and yet the polls show that most Iraqis want us to leave. So if we follow that, then we should leave, so I think we ought to pay attention to that.

So we have this reality on the ground, which is sort of a quasi partition, and I think we need to come up with this agreement that includes oil sharing or oil revenues to act as a hammer or a lever to get the Shiites and the Kurds to negotiate this with the Sunnis.

By the way, a similar settlement was reached to end the Sudanese war, which killed four million people. You had a regional autonomy with oil sharing. So I don’t think it’s impossible to do this. The bitterness in Sudan was probably much greater than the bitterness in Iraq, but the sectarian violence is ready to slip off the edge in Iraq, and so I think now’s the time to try to reach this grand peace settlement before we’re at a point of no return where the ethnic animosities are so great that we can’t go back.

So if we had this weak or nonexistent central government, I think it solves one of the causes of violence. As I mentioned, the Sunnis are basically fighting, at least, the US, because they want the foreign occupier out. The second source of violence is the fact that Iraq has had a history of a centralized government which one group used to oppress the other groups.

Now, as I mentioned, both the Shiites and the Sunnis are afraid that that government, that tradition is going to hold. Well, one of the groups is going to get control of the government and oppress the other group. So if you have a weak central government, or a nonexistent one, I think that reduces the violence.

I do agree with Mark. This is not a panacea. You’re not going to eliminate all the violence, but I do think that when people are scared, they do lash out at the other groups and they do keep their militias. That’s the main thing, is they keep these militias active and therefore it’s a problem.

And when we had this debate just the last couple days in the paper, where the Prime Minister said we’re not going to disband these militias until the end of the year or the beginning of next year, and then the next day, the White House issued a press statement saying, well, that’s not true. The Prime Minister has told us he’s doing it right now. And also, the Prime Minister does not want to go after one of the big militias, which supports his government. The militias are in the government, and these death squads are run by the militias.

So to me you have the situation where the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to be too eager to get rid of these Shiite militias, and he’s also said that he predicts a U.S. withdrawal. Now what does that tell you? Well, he’s keeping his forces—his powder dry for the civil war coming up. He doesn’t want to disband these militias because he knows what’s going to happen. And I think the Prime Minister himself, implicitly by those statements, is predicting that this war is going to escalate, and he wants the forces on the ground to fight it.

So you’re not going to see these militias disbanded. And it seems to me that the greatest army it the world, if they can’t disarm these and disband these militias, and they haven’t done so, then how do they expect a weak Iraqi government to weed these people out of the security forces? I just think it’s sort of ridiculous. So we keep this façade going that this is going to happen, and I don’t think it is.

So now we’ve reached the problem. Some critics of the partition idea, or the decentralization, talk about the Turkish problem, that Turkey does not want its own Kurds to get the idea of joining with the Iraqi Kurds and taking a big chunk out of Turkey. But I think that that’s probably been overstated simply because the Turks really want to get into the EU really badly, and, of course, that will end their bid right there, and the Europeans are looking for a way to freeze out the Turks from the EU.

Also, any settlement should bring in the regional countries, I agree, so you’d want Turkey at the table as well on that, so that could help as well.

Also, I think the prospect of getting into the EU makes the Turkish Kurds less likely to bolt and go join their much poorer cousins in northern Iraq. I think economics does have an effect there, and I think if that’s the case, then the Turks will be less inclined to do anything rash like invading Iraqi Kurdistan. Also, you know, the Turks have basically dealt with an autonomous state, quasi state there, since 1991. The Kurds have ruled themselves, and the Turks, of course—this has been a reality on the ground.

Now, of course, a confederation might be a little bit better than a partition because it gives the Turks a face-saving way of saying, well, this is still Iraq, even though it’s not.

So I think that the Turks have dealt with the quasi state there, and I think a confederation over a partition might give them some face-saving way of saying, well, this is still Iraq so we don’t really have to do anything about this.

Now, the other problem, of course, might be Iran, and people say, well, won’t Iran have greater influence there than they would before? And I’m sort of always amused by that because Lieutenant General Odom, which we had him speak at a forum that we had in Washington, DC, and he said, “Well, you know, I was against the Vietnam war because I thought it helped our enemy, the Soviet Union.” This man is very conservative. He used to run the National Security Agency.

Then he said, “And I was against this war.” And he was against it, very vociferously. He was one of the few people that had a military background that was against the war. And he said, “I was against this war because it helps our principal enemy in the region, Iran.”

So the invasion itself took a 400-pound gorilla in the region and created an 800-pound. So Iran already has increased influence in the region, and I think it would be limited if we partitioned or decentralized Iraq, simply because the Iranians would only have influence over the Shiite one-third of Iraq, or the lower portion of Iraq, and right now, they have more influence because they influence the government, which has at least nominal control over the whole country.

So Iran is going to have greater influence just by the track which we’ve gone down and can’t get out of now, or at least having difficulty getting out of. So, I mean, increased Iranian influence is here to stay.

And, of course, we also have to keep in mind, is this region really as strategic as we thought it was. If not, then maybe we shouldn’t worry about that as much. But I think that we can mitigate the Iranian influence by a partition.

Now, of course, the other criticism is that some populations are too intermingled, especially in the cities, to have a confederation or a partition. I think current ethnic cleansing is lessening this problem to some extent, as minorities flee to the safety of their groups.

But I also think that’s not really the solution. The fallacy is that autonomous regions need to be contiguous. I think you can incorporate ethnic or religious enclaves that are non-contiguous, and the same is true with oil, of sharing the oil. You don’t have to necessarily have contiguous spaces if you partition or have autonomous regions. Of course, we don’t really necessarily have to limit it to three autonomous regions. You could have more autonomous regions.

There also could be some mutual deterrents where if you had a minority in—I should say, Shiites in the Sunni area, the Sunnis might be deterred from attacking them by the fact that their minority could be attacked by the Shiites. Now that doesn’t appear to be too likely now since we have this intra-religious warfare, the sectarian warfare, but I think if you had a settlement afterwards, and you got things calmed down a bit, that mutual deterrents might work a little better.

So I think you may always have some intermingling of populations, but there can be workarounds for this, I think.

Also, the confederation may have an advantage over a partition in that the intermingling populations don’t feel like they’ve been closed off completely from their parent or a majority area.

Now, some people argue that partition will lead to civil war and point to the case of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But I think when Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia, they would not allow the Serbs living in those countries, or those areas, to affiliate with the Serbs in Serbia, and this caused the civil war, not the partition itself. So if you let the minorities in the regions, in the others’ regions, affiliate with their home majority region, perhaps that will help.

Now, also, Yugoslavia is not necessarily the model that has to take over here. I think there have been successful partitions before: Czechoslovakia, most of the Soviet Union, etc. And so we don’t necessarily have to always point to Yugoslavia. And very frankly, I think, as I said, we have a de facto partition on the ground and these militias are there and they’re not going to be disarmed, in my view. So we’ve got to really point to the fact that Iraq is somewhat already de-centralized already.

Now, my plan is to get the Iraqis to recognize the reality on the ground and to get the violence attenuated after the U.S. leaves. I don’t make any promises that it’s going to completely go away, but I think this is really the only thing that’s going to work because these people don’t want to live together. That’s the bottom line, and they’ve got each in their armed camp, so what do you do?

Does it make sense to keep them together artificially? I mean, Iraq was an artificial state from the very beginning. Or do you try to separate them, although imperfectly, in the best manner that you can? And I think the natural state of affairs—I don’t want to over prescribe this. I’m just making suggestions, because I really think the Iraqis have to determine this or it’s not going to work. But I think that’s where they’re going, and the two, the Kurdish camps and the Shia are going the same way, and the only thing that’s blocking the Sunnis from doing that, I think, is the fact that they’re not going to get any oil.

But as I say, I would give them either—I might even give them the oil wells, adjust the boundary so that they get the actual oil wells. They don’t have to depend on a revenue-sharing agreement that might be cut off after the whole thing is signed.

Now, that said, as I mentioned, I originally started advocating this in 2004. We might be at a place where even this won’t work, but I think this still is the best shot we have of getting out of there. And I think it also gives the President some face-saving way to get out of this, because—and you have to figure that into account because there’s a reality there, and if he says we liberated Iraq from Saddam who’s a vicious dictator, and now we’ve negotiated this settlement where Iraqis get their own self-determination, and this is the best chance they have for peace and prosperity, and then withdraw, I think that’s his best option.

And I don’t know if he’s going to take it or not. I’m not convinced that the Baker Commission is going to come down with that. Baker has made some negative comments about partitioning. So when Biden gave his presentation before the Commission, he said that he did receive some receptive nods from some of the other members of the Commission, so we’ll see.

But I think this is the only shot that we have left, and it may not work, but it’s the best thing. And there’s not a whole lot of people coming up with great solutions, and so I and some others are offering this one.

Thank you.

David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

We have time for questions. The gentleman right here.

Audience Member

Yes. Thank you. A lot has been said about the Iraq Study Commission, and yet, one of the things I heard recently that apparently they’re not going to come out with any sort of recommendation that Bush hasn’t signed off on in advance, and that disturbed me a great deal, because in my mind, that negates the entire purpose of having an independent study group.

Do you have any insight in terms of what they might come out with, other than what you’ve already commented on?

David Theroux

Mark, since you’ve testified.

Mark Danner

Well, I think Ivan’s right. First of all, I don’t think they’re going to come out with a partition plan. Baker has publicly criticized that notion. In my testimony there, he, among other things, criticized the idea of a date certain for departure, arguing that such a date certain would eliminate the incentive of people in the area—and I think he meant in particular the Iranians and the Syrians, probably—to come to a settlement.

I think what was said in the press about they’re not going to come out with something that Bush doesn’t approve beforehand, I wouldn’t take that very seriously. I think that there was never a question that they would come out—I mean, Baker emphasized that they were going to issue a unanimous report, first of all, that there weren’t going to be two reports.

And given that, and given Baker’s closeness to the Bush family and to President Bush, I think it was always unlikely they would come out with a report that would be something Bush would have to denounce in public or that would criticize him. The idea is to help him out, basically. They want to, I think, issue a report that can have a chance of guiding the policy of the country and I think increasing, people—notably on the Republican side.

I mean, you’ve had some very serious Republican criticism lately of U.S. policy. The most notable one was John Warner, who’s been a very staunch defender of the administration. He went to Iraq, came back, said policy is drifting sideways. We need to do something or look at this again within a few months. Lee Hamilton himself said this. The co-chair of the committee also said that there needs to be something within a few months.

All of these things are coming together around a kind of receptive moment. It’s like they’re shaping a receptive moment for a report to be issued, which would give them a kind of portal through which to change policy. So I think the idea that they’ll issue a report and the administration will denounce it, or they’ll just issue something supporting the current policy, I think that’s unlikely. I think they want to do something that will have an effect.

And I think a lot of people within the Bush administration know they’re in trouble. So, having said that, what they’ll actually say, I don’t know, but they clearly want to have an impact. That much I think is pretty obvious.

Audience Member

Thanks. Two questions for Mark. In 2005, there were reports that the U.S. was considering the Salvador option in Iraq, and I wanted to get your thoughts on that.

I mean, there’s a certain logic to the U.S. relying on the Shia militias, because they were mainly facing the Sunni insurgency. I mean, it’s a step further to say that the U.S. has actually helped organize death squads, and you were mentioning that in Balad, the military stood aside all this.

And I wanted to get your thoughts on that. And the second question was you stressed the importance of involving Iran, but the signs, at least in my view, are pointing to even possibly an attack on Iran. That’s certainly what Seymour Hirsch is speaking about.

Mark Danner

You find that somewhat contradictory, do you?

Audience Member

Well, no, no. In terms of the Bush doctrine and the overall strategy that led it into the war, it’s consistent to attack Iran.

Mark Danner

No, no. I meant—

Audience Member

Anyway, I wanted to get your take on what you thought of the threats on Iran, too.

Mark Danner

Well, I think, first of all, the Salvador option question is a very good one, and when I look at what’s going on in Iraq now, I’m reminded a little of Salvador, which I covered, particularly the bodies, the mutilation of the bodies, using them as public icons of terror, essentially. And it’s true that before you started having these large-scale death squad killings, there was this sort of flurry, a little eruption in the press, about the Salvador option. It’s clear that people within the administration were leaking this, certainly some within the Pentagon. And Newsweek did a piece. A number of papers did pieces on this.

The question is to what—that stuff was leaked, then you started having death squads. The question is, do we conclude from that that the U.S. was involved in the creation of these things, and the answer to that is I don’t know. I don’t have any evidence of it, certainly. It bears saying and emphasizing that a lot of these guys who are cruising around at night, and picking up people, and torturing them, and killing them are connected to the Ministry of the Interior, and a lot of them are wearing police uniforms, or sometimes army uniforms.

In fact, a few months ago on Iraqi—the main television station—there was a thing. You know how those announcements run along the bottom of the screen on the television when there’s an emergency or whatever? The thing that ran along saying the government advises, when people come to your door in uniforms, not to let them in unless they’re accompanied by American forces. Which has got to be a little bit disturbing.

On the Iran question, you’re right. You know, you’re right. The administration has been rattling its saber on Iran. A lot of people thought that there would be an attack before the election. I’ve never thought they were actually going to stage an attack, partly because I think there are a lot of people in the military who are against it. I mean, the military is very, very upset with the—the upper ranks are very upset with the administration, for all sorts of reasons, not just the Iraq war.

And also the downside of such an attack is so obviously detrimental in all kinds of areas, the oil prices, broader terrorism, Hezbollah. You know, it’s possible—Sy Hersh, as you mentioned did a piece suggesting that the Israeli attack on Hezbollah over the summer was partly a run up to a larger action on Iran by the United States. I think that’s possible that there were people thinking that. The thing is that the result of that was not very encouraging for those who want to engage Iran.

You’re quite right that my comments are contradicted partly by the administration’s general policy. I think in order to get out of this thing—and perhaps Baker will have something to say about that.

You know, the U.S. is going to leave Iraq. The political consensus has collapsed in this country, and I think nobody is arguing there’s going to be an indefinite commitment there. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think there’s very little support. The Republican Party support is starting to collapse. The question is how that’s going to happen.

And I think in order for it to happen in a way that starts things heading toward less violence and more stability rather than the other way around, the U.S. is going to need some kind of deal with the Iranians. It’s just a matter of geography and power.

Audience Member

I just have a practical question. You’re talking about sophisticated negotiations. You’re talking about patience in the world place. Would you give me the names of some people in this administration who can do that.

Audience Members


Mark Danner

I knew you were going to say that. Well, Ivan may know some.

There’s a quote in the Woodward book. I don’t know how many people read this, but it’s from Rick Armitage, who was the Deputy Secretary of state to Powell. And you’ll forgive my saying this: This may make broadcast impossible, but he said something like, their idea of diplomacy is to say, “You fuckin’ better do this.”

Audience Members


Mark Danner

He was talking about the Defense Department in the White House. And it’s true that this administration came in, and especially after 9/11, wanted to exercise American power, and that a lot of the Iraq war was really about a demonstration effect. There was supposed to be, not only in an ideological sense, but in a power sense.

The U.S. had been diminished by the attacks of 9/11. This was a way to return America to power, to predominance. And it would have its effect on North Korea, it would have its effect on Iran, because it would show them what the United States could do. And I think many people in the administration believed this and essentially believed that diplomacy was not for the big guy, the guy who could impose his will.

There have been moments of American predominance before. Maybe Ivan would want to comment about this. The famous one is right after World War II when American statesmen drew a very different conclusion, which was we can increase and keep our power by embedding it in multilateral institutions. And this administration—in a very radical way—does not believe that.

And I think it’s very important to appreciate that. They don’t think that. There would have been in the ’50s, they’re the equivalent of the rollback people in the ’50s, who believed that we should have helped the Hungarians. We should have gone to the Yalu, which we did, of course. Got thrown back.

Anyway, I’m sorry to go on about this. You may have a comment, Ivan, about the same question.

Ivan Eland

Well, I just think your point is well taken that the problem with this administration is that it overstated U.S. power. It thought we’re the only superpower. We’re just going to go do this and everything’s going to work out.

There’s a guy at the University of Virginia who went out and polled Middle East and Arabic experts, Arabist experts, and he asked them if they had been consulted by the administration before they did this, and he got zero. Yeah. Zero. Yeah. They just wanted to do it and they thought U.S. power would do this.

But even when we don’t have a major power competitor right now, it’s very difficult to change societies and customs and political systems and even economic systems by using military power.

And certainly, they did this, I think, because Iraq was low-hanging fruit, because North Korea and Iran were much bigger threats, both in missiles, nuclear and everything, and Iraq had none of this, right? We said they had weapons of mass destruction, but no one ever said they had a nuclear weapon. No one believed that. Absolutely no one believed that.

And so they did this because it was low-hanging fruit as a demonstration effect, I think, in one respect. There may be several reasons that they did it, but the real problem was it merely demonstrated how to beat the US. If people didn’t realize it in Vietnam, after Vietnam, they certainly do now. You can have ragtag groups that if they don’t want you in their country, a very small number of people can cause a lot of problem.

And as Mark pointed out, it’s up to 46 percent of the people who are answering in polls. That’s got to be an understatement, because people are not going to give their true feelings. But 45 percent is unbelievable. So you do have a sense of arrogance that they just didn’t. They just thought we can solve any problem.

And our foreign policy has been militarized over time. Ever since the Cold War, it’s been moving that way, and all the resources in foreign policy with the SINCs, the regional commander in chiefs. They have many more resources than the State Department, and we have this Army. There’s a pressure to use it. Madeleine Albright’s famous comment to Colin Powell, “We’ve got this marvelous big military. Why don’t we use it?”

And so, we have this military and there’s this sense of the military can solve all the problems. And of course, the military in guerilla warfare, it’s not really set up to do that because many of these things involve civil affairs, and reconstruction, and working with that sort of thing, and that’s not what the military is set up to do.

And in fact, our military—I disagree a little bit with Mark on this, because I don’t believe—the U.S. military has a counterinsurgency doctrine, but after Vietnam, they should have learned how to do this better, and what they said was, “We’re never going to do this again,” and they went to the Powell-Weinberger Doctrine, which was a conventional doctrine of—going back to Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. has—the military has always fought the same way. Get a mass of firepower, and just beat the crap out of whoever you’re going against, and unconditional surrender. And that’s the way they fight.

And wars are not political. They’re military. And of course, guerilla warfare is all political, so they don’t know how to fight it. And there are some people in the military that do, some of the special forces, but this has never been stressed up until—I agree with Mark on one thing is they’re starting to fight now, but it’s a little late.

Mark Danner

I don’t think we disagree on this question of counterinsurgency. I think the point is worth underlining though that military power can do certain things. It can destroy things really well, and this country is incredibly adept at destroying things at a great distance. We can do that. We can kill people. And that is useful. I mean, you can force people to do things by having the threat of destroying them.

The problem is that once you actually go in and destroy them, building something, a new order in its place, is extremely hard. It takes a political delicacy, particularly in a place that was as dysfunctional as Iraq.

I mean, Saddam Hussein—there was a thinking, I think, in neocon circles in the Pentagon, particularly this idea that you pluck out the dictator. Democracy’s a natural thing. You pluck out the thing preventing it, and then it will evolve. And perhaps they watched Eastern Europe. They thought that this would naturally happen.

But Saddam was a product of Iraqi dysfunction. He wasn’t just something that came in from outside. He was the means by which this dysfunctional polity was able to stabilize itself through the use of a lot of violence. And you needed before you went in to have some kind of solution to that particular problem.

It’s interesting what Ivan said about they didn’t consult Middle East experts. I mean, they consulted some. They consulted the ones who agreed with them, a couple very prominent ones who had a lot to do and who were quoted by Dick Cheney and others. I think it’s a myth that the administration didn’t know what they were expecting. They had no idea of what was going on in Iraq. How bad things were. The infrastructure. All that. It’s complete baloney.

You know, there are a lot of people in the State Department and the CIA who knew a lot about Iraq. The problem wasn’t that the government didn’t have the knowledge. The problem was that the decision makers didn’t want to hear or talk to the people who did have the knowledge because if they had and had listened to them, they would have gone into this in a much different way or, if they were rational, probably not have gone into it. So it’s a natural human thing. You don’t want to hear what you don’t want to hear.

Audience Member

This is a question for Dr. Eland. The idea of partition, or perhaps better yet, confederation, has a certain logic to it, and of course, you pointed out two of the problems, one being the division of the oil revenues and the other being the division of land, since so much of the land is actually really mixed populations.

That seems to be, I would think, the bigger problem. So for example, let’s take a particular problematic case, which is Baghdad itself, which is mixed, plus Baghdad of course has this certain mythic aura of being the seat of the government, and almost the equivalent of the Jerusalem for the Iraqis. How would you contemplate Baghdad would be split in this partition or confederation?

Ivan Eland

Well, like I said, this is not perfect, but I think one side of Baghdad tends to be Shia and the other tends to be Sunni. Of course, there’s intermixing of populations and you’re never going to get a perfect partition.

But I don’t think I want to over specify this. I’m offering some suggestions because the Iraqis are going to have to figure out how to do it themselves. And I think the one think that we’re seeing here from Day 1 is that the U.S. hasn’t thought that they’re capable of doing that, and there are going to be problems with implementation on the ground. I listed some of the things that could mitigate this as suggestions, but the Iraqis are going to have to figure it out.

And there’s not going to be an even split. There’s going to be people of the opposite sect on both sides of the line. But I think you can—as I say, you don’t necessarily have to have contiguous borders of the various regions, and I think also you don’t necessarily have to have just three regions. So there are a number of things that you can do to mitigate the problem, I think.

Mark Danner

Could I comment briefly on that? I think you put your finger on a major problem, which is Baghdad is overwhelmingly Shiite. It’s not a Shiite city, but it’s now a majority Shiite city—sitting in what would probably be, geographically, if you were partitioning the country, a Sunni zone.

I mean, to me, Peter Galbraith’s book also kind of says, well, Baghdad. What can we do about that? Well, I don’t really have an answer.

The problem is, when we look at Iraq, a massive amount of the violence is going on in Baghdad, and it seems to me that if you’re proposing a plan that’s supposed to reduce violence or head toward a solution, you need to have some kind of answer.

I guess I don’t know what it means to say they don’t need to be contiguous areas. Well, what do you do? What do you do with Baghdad?

One of the difficulties I have with partition is that this isn’t some idea coming from outside. This is what they’re fighting about. I mean, you know, the vote in parliament and the Sunnis—they are, I agree, fighting substantially to remove the United States. There’s that nationalist umbrella over them. But they’re largely fighting Shia because they don’t want the country partitioned. And, you know, this is right at the heart, the middle, of Iraqi politics.

So to say, well, how about partitioning is to basically say, all right. How about this thing that was just voted in the parliament that the Sunnis boycotted? This is in the middle of their politics, and they may continue with it and so on. But the idea that that’s going to stop the violence seems to me incredible, because in fact, it’s one of at least two major causes of the violence at the moment. So I guess I have trouble seeing it as some sort of proposed solution.

Kirkuk is another problem. Kirkuk is this major flashpoint that is oil. It’s sitting on top of these enormous oil fields. The Kurds want it, not surprisingly, and the Sunnis want it. And the Turks don’t want the Kurds to have it. I mean, it’s not as if there’s a manageable way to figure that out.

So I think those problems to go on about them are not ancillary. They’re central. And in order to sort of call partition a solution, you need to have answers to that, and I don’t see them.

As a little bit of a follow-up to these last two questions—and this speaks to the issue of confederation versus partition. One big concern, it would seem to me, with confederation, is we have this history of a state that used to oppress the two groups that aren’t in power. And if we leave a confederation in place, even if we only give it formally the limited powers of foreign policy, despite what’s written on paper, it has to actually have the physical power to implement foreign policy that the other groups must abide by.

But if it has that power, what is to stop it from using the power to evolve into more than some sort of very minimal state that goes back to a different form of tyranny of one group oppressing the other two? It seems like this a very difficult issue if you stop at confederation, and for that matter, even partition, depending where you define groups.

So I guess as a follow-up question, it would be, what is the appropriate level for self-determination, which I know you’ve kind of said you don’t want to specify exactly from outside, but it seems like one that’s kind of crucial importance, in some ways.

Ivan Eland

Well, that’s a good point, but the foreign policy could be a consensus among the three, so the government might not necessarily have more power than just agreeing on the foreign policy. The three areas might not be able to agree on foreign policy, and in fact, a confederation might ultimately evolve into a partition.

But certainly, I wouldn’t want to give the government the power to coerce the other groups to adopt the foreign policy, because you’re right, a government with that power could go into other areas. But it’s also possible you have like a canton system that everyone agrees on the foreign policy.

In this case, since it’s a tense region with different interests, you may not have that, and they may decide that even foreign policy they won’t be able to agree on. So it could evolve into a partition. Maybe a confederation isn’t a stable arrangement, but certainly a confederation, I think helps with the Turks and it also helps somewhat with the mixing of populations.

But I’d like to go back to the other question, and that is that there’s no solution to Baghdad. If you agree that the regions, if they split up, say, into three regions, that all the land of that region doesn’t have to be contiguous, then you can have a Shiite area in a largely Sunni area.

West Berlin was an example of this occurring in the Cold War. West Berlin was affiliated loosely with West Germany.

Mark Danner

West Berlin owed its existence to the American and Soviet armies. How would Baghdad exist?

Ivan Eland

Well, there are militias that exist. All sides are going to be armed, so to say that it won’t work. And also, if you don’t like this solution, you need to flesh out your solution more.

Mark Danner

Well, no. I have no problem with that. Can I just comment?

First of all, I think you make a very astute point. I mean, the problem has to do with what are we talking about when we talk about partition? Are we talking about a confederation? If we are talking about a confederation, are we thinking this will evolve into separate states? I mean, these are not small questions, and there are a lot of reasons.

But the obvious reason is—the kind of hydraulics of this, the way you want it to work, the way you want to get from the civil war that’s happening now to presumably, less violence is to come out with some kind of arrangement where the Sunnis accept this. And why do they accept it? They accept it because they’re getting x part of the oil revenue coming out of the land of the Kurds and the land of the Shia, right?

Now, the question is, who is going to enforce that agreement? In other words, these two separate areas, that may become separate states, are given billions of dollars every year, in a resource that they have under their land, to this other state.

Now, if you’re a Sunni, you have to ask yourself, what do I have, an IOU here? What is this document? And if I get this document, who’s going to enforce it, exactly, the central government? Well, if it is a central government, it has to somehow have coercive power, in some way, right? And if the central government doesn’t have coercive power, and we’re talking about eventual full partition, what is this agreement, exactly?

I mean, if you’re the Sunnis, you’re saying, “Wait a minute. I’m going to be getting $5 billion a year from these other guys, or $10 billion a year, in perpetuity, and I’m supposed to simply accept that that will happen without fail forever? I don’t think so. I want to have a contiguous state.”

And I’m not speculating about this. This is what they say. This is what they say now. And from their point of view, all of this stuff about autonomy is simply a way to break up the state. That’s what they think is happening. And it’s a fair argument. From their point of view, that’s what’s happening, so that’s why they’re opposing it.

David Theroux

One thing I might add is the institution of property came into being for a number of reasons, but one reason was to have a boundary between different claims over land and other kinds of assets. So the Vatican exists as a separate entity, and clearly, if the Vatican was given authority to rule Rome, there’d be problems. The Swiss Guard in the Vatican protects the Vatican, but if the Swiss Guard invaded Rome, there’d be problems, and the same thing would be true if the Italian army invaded the Vatican.

Mark Danner

Which it has done.

David Theroux

What it has done, that’s right, and there are problems.

But I think another way to realize this is that if you take a city like Baghdad, or New York, or any other city, you have neighborhoods that are contiguous based on ethnic agreements, but the reality is that if there is a need—a perceived need—to police an area because of threats, proprietary gated communities arise, and the same thing would be true in these kinds of areas, and the degree of the gated-ness would respond to the security risk.

The other thing is that these people are used to trading with each other, even though they had differences, and if they’re part of the confederacy, it seems to me that—or any sort of partitioning arrangement—these people are not going to be autarchic areas. They’re going to have an incentive to trade in some level. So I don’t think it’s a do-or-die thing, necessarily, but it’s not a panacea.

Audience Member

One comment, and then a question. It’s my impression that prior to World War II, that there were a number of communities that existed between various ethnic groups in the Middle East: Jewish communities, Christian communities, Muslim communities, in ostensibly Muslim land. And so it wasn’t until really, I guess, around 1948 when Israel was established, that the Jewish communities in these various lands came under assault, and many of them moved to Israel.

One of the things about the partition, I think, is it’s already almost a fait accomplis. The Shiites want it. The Kurds essentially already have it, and the only people that are going to lose are the Sunnis.

Now, prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Sunnis, 20 percent of the population, controlled about 80 percent of the income and the resources. And so no matter what happens, they’re going to lose. I mean, they are going to lose revenue with a partitioning of the oil resources.

One of the things that I heard about was that the current wells that are under production now, that those will be divided by population. The revenue from those current wells will be divided by—on a per capita basis in the various three provinces. It’s the new wells that come up.

Mark Danner

It’s the opposite. It’s the opposite. The constitution says the opposite.

Audience Member

OK. I guess I misread it then, because my impression that the new wells –

Mark Danner

Professor of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley

New wells belong to the provinces.

Audience Member

Right. Well, this is what I’ve been saying. The new wells belong to the provinces in which they’re located. And in that case, the Sunnis would lose out. But they’re going to lose out anyway, because they had already had seized about 80 percent of the revenue from the resources, so they’re going to lose no matter what.

I attended a lecture by Orville Schell several months ago. He came back from Iraq. And one of the things that made a big impression on me was that the American bases there seem to be permanent bases. That it is not likely that there’ll be a total withdrawal of American troops. And I think you made the observation that I guess the base that’s near Baghdad, or at least one of the towns I guess north of Baghdad, where there are a lot of things going on outside the base that really didn’t get an American response for several days, and the Americans had the ability to more or less enclose themselves on these bases and not really be negatively impacted so much.

David Theroux

Which is a form of partition. Right?

Audience Member

Yes. Right. It’s a form of partition, but these bases –

David Theroux

The Green Zone is a partition.

Audience Member

But the permanency of these bases—is what I’m driving at, is that this more or less suggests an American motive that—of projecting power in the Middle East from these various bases, and I’d like to have a comment on that. I mean, it’s not likely—it seems extreme that we would leave these bases that seem to be permanent bases.

Ivan Eland

I think one of the reasons that they did this was they were losing Saudi bases and they felt they needed more bases to defend the oil. But of course, they defended oil against Saddam’s attack on Kuwait when they had no ground presence. We only got the ground presence after the threat was reduced, so this is sort of an imperial base type situation.

You’re right. They don’t want to give up these bases, but if the country is so unstable in a civil war, it’s very hard to have these bases. You can still have them, but you’re in armed camps, and are they really valuable for projecting power when the rear area’s in flame with revolution? The bases aren’t worth that much if the country is totally in total chaos.

So they might have to move the bases to Kurdistan or something like that, but, certainly, I think that was a motive as to why they went in there. But even if you believe in the dubious notion that we need to defend oil, you can do so offshore like we did in the Persian Gulf. We took the troops there when we needed to do it. You don’t need these bases.

There’s no enemy to seize the oil. There’s no Soviet Union to invade Iran or whatever the threat was during the Cold War, which is what they were worried about was the Soviets were going to drive down to the oil fields to get the oil. Well, what are the bases there to defend against? The bases are creating the instability that’s threatening the oil, so it’s counterproductive.

And one other point on the oil. I disagree that the Sunnis are fighting—that partition itself is the reason they’re fighting. Because there’s this notion that while Sunnis just don’t—they’re used to all this power, and all these revenues, and they don’t want to give up anything so they’re fighting. They’ve already lost it, and I think they’re realistic enough to know that.

The reason they’re fighting is because they want a share of the oil, and you can either have an international entity regulate the revenue sharing from the oil, or better yet, I would say, they need physical possession of the oil fields. So you need to adjust the border in the north and clearly give the Sunnis Kirkuk.

But that has to be an agreement amongst the parties, and to say that it can never happen, other conflicts have been—it sort of implies that this is out of control and irrational. I think these people fight for reasons. You find out what the reasons are and you try to work on that. And you have to have this conclave. And what I’m proposing may not work, but until I see other alternatives that are better, I think this is the best, and it’s an imperfect alternative, and it might even be too late for it, but it’s there and I think it’s the best shot.

Mark Danner

I’m not disagreeing with that. I think the partition thing is imminently reasonable, and I think it’s almost there.

David Theroux

We have time for two more questions.

Audience Member

Hi. This question is for Mr. Eland. I have a concern with how you alluded to the legacies of the Vietnam War as justification for expedient withdrawal of U.S. troops.

From what I understand, you use, I guess, the legacies of the Vietnam War as a reason for us today to look back and apply it to the Iraq war and say that we need to withdraw our troops immediately.

And what I was hoping that you could address in my question is, how would you respond to the suggestion that we must not abandon the Iraqi people to ethnic separatism, and religious violence, and extremism that may potentially worsen in the event of a partition, just as we abandoned the Vietnamese people 30 years ago to Communism?

Ivan Eland

Well, I don’t think that partition will necessarily lead to an increase in violence. I’m hoping to reduce the violence by this, and find out the sources of the conflict, and resolve those. And I don’t really want to abandon the Iraqi people, but I think the best solution is to get out quickly, because I don’t think the U.S. is having a positive impact there.

Even the generals admit that we’re making things worse, and when they start admitting that, then it’s time to pull out. And I just think that when the cause is lost—and we have lost this war. We lost it in the summer of 2003, and somebody really ought to say it. And some of the generals—the British guy came the closest to saying that this was the biggest disaster that we’ve had in a long time.

Mark Danner

Professor of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley

He did say it, and then the next day he retracted.

Ivan Eland

Well, he didn’t back off of his statements. He just said he wouldn’t—Tony and I are friends

Mark Danner

He didn’t retract it. He said. He just modified it. So we’ve all been saying the same thing.

David Theroux

That’s right. Yeah.

Ivan Eland

So anyway, I don’t see it as abandoning the Iraqi people. The real mistake was going in there in the first place. As Mark pointed out, the torture is worse, and I think if this figure on 655,000 additional deaths from the rate that Saddam was doing, as I understand how it is—is that correct, the study?

Mark Danner

Yeah, it’s correct.

Ivan Eland

And I heard figures that Saddam killed 300,000 during his reign. Well, if you’re up to 655,000 additional deaths, then we can’t even go to the rationale that we did a good thing by pulling Saddam out of power.

So the original problem, we’ve created ourselves. Perhaps we abandoned the Iraqi people when we invaded in the first place, and now we’re trying to mitigate that problem by getting out without turning the country into a wasteland of civil war.

But I don’t want to abandon the Iraqi people, because if I did, I would just advocate a U.S. withdrawal and sort it out yourselves. I think the U.S. should try to mediate, and use its influence, and use the influence of getting out to mediate this national conclave, so perhaps the groups can agree on something and reduce the violence. And we’ve done a disservice to the Iraqi people by going in in the first place.

David Theroux

OK, how about the lady right there? Yeah, you.

Audience Member

Hi. My question is whether or not the U.S. government is willing to modify or change the overall foreign policy, which is the fundamental problem creating the anti-US atmosphere throughout the world. There’s so much anger, and resentment, and disappointment, not only in the Muslim world, but the non-Muslim world toward the way that the U.S. government divided the international community, either U.S. friends or enemy.

When U.S. decided to attack Iraq, U.S. put a lot of pressure into the other countries’ government for support, and a lot of government have to go through very difficult decision whether or not they tag along with the U.S. and go to the war or being left out, or being completely excluded. So –

David Theroux

So do you have a question?

Audience Member

Yeah. My question is, so neither the government of the foreign country or the people are very happy with the United States, so what is the U.S.’s strategy to gain trust?

Mark Danner

Well, that’s a very large question, obviously. We talked earlier, I think, about the attitude of many in this administration regarding the use of force and American power. And these are people who believed for a long time that the United States had to seize what was called the unipolar moment—in other words, one pole, one strength in the world—and that this was an opportunity to demonstrate U.S. power and to organize the world under a kind of U.S. hegemony that would be benevolent, that would encourage globalization, encourage democratization eventually, etc. And this is what these people thought.

And you’re quite right to point out that one of the consequences was to alienate our allies, first of all, in the struggle over going to war with Iraq to begin with in the United Nations. And a secondary consequence was to anger many people in the world, including the very people that Condoleezza Rice, and George Bush, and others said the Iraq War was meant to influence in a positive way.

The President said very recently, the only way you can confront an ideology—speaking about Al Qaeda and Islamism—the only way you can confront an ideology is with another ideology. The notion being that by establishing democracy in Iraq, this shining example of democracy would give a different view to those young men who were tempted to follow Osama bin Laden and other Islamists against the US.

And we don’t know whether there was a shining example of democracy where Iraq is right now, if that would have come to pass. What we do know is that that didn’t happen, and that instead, the images that were given to the world, and particularly to young Arab men in the Middle East, was of a very large-scale destruction and violation of human rights, like Abu Ghraib, and other images that have been extremely useful to those who want to recruit for Islamist groups and Islamist parties.

I don’t know. You ask a broad question—how do you correct this, or what do you do? And I think it’s going to take a long time to change and to repair the damage that’s been done. A very long time.

And one thing that will help is a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which I think will happen. I think that people who say it will hurt American credibility and so on are right as well. Insofar as you conceive of this as a war and the way the President has conceived of it, it’s true that it will be an enormous victory when the United States leaves Iraq. It might be an enormous victory, it might be a mid-sized victory, but it will be seen as a victory particularly by the Sunni groups who are fighting the United States. That’s not a reason not to leave, that’s for sure, but when the President argues that this will be the case, he’s quite right.

It’s a consequence of—and I agree with Ivan completely on this—of a very profound mistake made by our leaders, and a refusal, once that mistake was clear, to do anything to correct it. And we’re still seeing the consequence. We’re in the world of that mistake still. We haven’t put it behind us and won’t for a long time.

Ivan Eland

Yeah, I just wanted to say, in defense of Bush—and I very rarely defend Bush—but I think we tend to, especially people who don’t like Bush, whether they be Democrats or Independents, we tend to focus that Iraq is—that Bush is such a bad president. And he certainly is. I’m writing a book on the presidents now, and he’s one of the lowest presidents that I have on my list. However, this foreign policy has been going on for quite a while in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Clinton, who was the champion of foreign interventions—he did four, I think, or maybe possibly even five, but I think it was four. Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and—well, Haiti almost. He surrounded the country, and then the guy, Cedras, was forced to leave. But he was about ready to do it. And then the other one was Somalia.

Mark Danner

He inherited that one.

Ivan Eland

Well, he did to some extent, but he expanded the mission—there was some mission creep under the first Bush administration, but Clinton expanded the mission from guarding food to fighting on one side of the civil war, which of course we always end up doing. Reagan did that in Vietnam.

So I think Bush is worse in degree, but not kind. We’ve been running this interventionist foreign policy since World War II, starting with the Democrat—Harry Truman was the one that made it permanent after World War II. We did not go back to the traditional U.S. foreign policy, which was more restraint militarily. After World War II, we had this permanent informal empire of bases, alliances, and military interventions.

And if you look at the military interventions, and you include the Soviet Union and all the threat countries that we felt were threats during the Cold War, you’ll see that the U.S. was the grand champion of foreign interventions in every category.

And so certainly this is the most stupid intervention we’ve done, because we’re in a ground war, a heavy ground war, and now we’re in a quagmire. Clinton was a bit smarter. He learned his lesson from Somalia not to use ground troops, so he bombed from the air in Kosovo. But he actually made the ethnic cleansing worse in Kosovo.

And the history of these—even Max Boot, who is a neoconservative proponent of U.S. interventions, admits that in the developing world—which is where they virtually have all been—the results have been mixed. But when you go through the list—and that’s sort of a positive assessment, because the results have been disastrous, I think, in almost every case, whether it’s Somalia or Lebanon, being driven out, and probably we’ll be driven out of Iraq, to exacerbating the situation in Kosovo with the ethnic cleansing.

So I think the Democrats have to be chided for this policy, because many Democrats say—well, I was listening to NPR the other night, and Susan Rice, Clinton’s former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, was saying, well, you know, the world hates us now because of Bush, and this has been a disaster, referring to Iraq.

And then she says, but I really think we ought to bomb Darfur, because we’ve got to prevent the genocide. And I’m thinking, like, well, OK, yeah, that’s great. You bomb from 15,000 feet like Clinton did, to the choice becomes saving U.S. airmens’ lives so that the war is still popular at home versus killing the people that you’re trying to help, which is exactly what they did in Kosovo.

What we really need to do is demilitarize the policy under both administrations. And during the Clinton administration, all the Democrats who opposed that sort of stuff shut up, because he was a Democratic president. And the same thing happened in this war, because in Washington, there were a lot of Republicans shaking their heads before we went into Iraq, saying, jeez, what are they doing?

Just because a president is of your party, you really have to ask more questions and demilitarize the policy, I think.

David Theroux

As they say, power tends to corrupt. I want to thank both of our speakers for their presentations.



David Theroux

And as you can see, both gentlemen have enormous insight and wisdom that has to be considered in all these difficult questions. For those of you who don’t have copies of their books, they’re upstairs. We encourage you to get copies. And I’m sure they’ll be delighted to autograph them. And we hope that you’ll join with us at our next event. Thank you, and goodnight.


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