About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Iraq isn't Vietnam, but that ain't no good news...

Americans clearly still have to get over Vietnam and its huge impact on the country's psyche. That's good, because it was an unqualified catastrophe. But please stop making the parallel between that war and the Iraq quagmire. The comparison is at best superficial, and in fact dangerously misleading.

In Vietnam the US was waging a proxy war against the Soviet Union. It grossly miscalculated the necessary effort, as well as the support that its puppet government in South Vietnam really had, and ended up cutting its losses by withdrawing its troops. War lost, lives wasted, pride wounded, international credibility seriously affected – yes, those things are in fact in common with the outcome of the Iraq invasion.

But in Iraq the actual war has been won, in a matter of weeks. When Bush declared the cessation of ground operations three years ago he was, for once, telling the truth: the Iraqi army (such as it was) had been annihilated by the “shock and awe” approach of the most powerful military in the world. But that, as we now all too painfully realize, was just the beginning, not the end.

The reason Iraq isn't like Vietnam is because Iraq has become what Vietnam probably would have, had the US actually won on the ground. There, it never got to that point – fortunately, one might say in retrospect – and that's why any further parallel between the two situations is specious. Iraq has descended into a sectarian war where American troops are the common target, because they are hated by everybody. The number of Americans dying in Iraq is much smaller than those that lost their lives in Vietnam, but the Iraq quagmire – unlike the Vietnam one – has no end in sight.

So, what to do? Pulling out abruptly is not an option, first because we have a moral responsibility having caused this mess to begin with, and second because that would leave Iraq open to the influence of Al Qaeda and Iran, most certainly not welcome outcomes for either the US or the international community. Staying the course, as the White House used to say, is obviously foolish, and we keep seeing the consequences every day. “Surging” the troop level looks a lot like the gambler who has lost almost everything and desperately raises the stakes in the vain hope of getting his money back with a last desperate attempt. Seems like the only way out is a long process involving action on multiple fronts: phasing down military involvement, maintaining financial support to rebuild the country's infrastructure (which we have destroyed) conditional on the achievement of political goals, as well as rebuild international trust and engage the diplomatic help of Europeans, Iranians and Syrians, to say the least. Alas, something tells me that the latter approach is way too sophisticated for the cowboy running things from the oval office, as I'm sure we'll find out in a few hours when he will address the nation with his “new plan.” Is it 2008 yet?


  1. Almost two years still to go...

    Yeah, the "more troops" idea sounds desperate, and even most military experts seem to be against it. I am NOT opposed, in principle, to such an increase IF there was a reasonable and feasible plan justifying it. Who knows, with a proper plan it might be possible that the total withdrawing from the troops would come EARLIER than without such increase, and leave things less bad there (one can dream). But of course, given the record of these guys, I'm not holding my breath to this "miraculous" silver-bullet any time soon, be it from Republicans or Democrats...

    So, all hail the Islamic Republic of Iraq! Or maybe they'll just massacre the Sunnis and join Iran...


  2. What really scrapes my DNA is these retired American generals who talk about the Iraq problem as if were solvable if we just throw enough force and money at it. Not all problems have solutions.

    Also, they refer to the enemy as if it is separate from the Iraqi people. The insurgency is the Iraqi people, a strong enough percentage at least. I'm afraid that the longer we stay the worse it will get.

    But Bush will no doubt blame others for his failure.

  3. In all the times I have heard you put down Bush and what has happened in Iraq, this is the first time I have heard you at least offer your own solution. So I credit you for that, nothing drives me more crazy then when everyone just Bashes Bush for Iraq, Everyone wanted to go, we all know it. The difference is now half of us pretend we didn't want to go, ever(Dems).Although I disagree with your solution.
    You admit that pulling out abruptly is not an option due to our moral obligation in Iraq, but say that slowly phasing down military action would somehow work?
    You can't just say maintain financial support to rebuild their infrastructure conditional on achievment of political goals. Since with a lower military presence, it is very likely that political goals will not only not be met, but the current goverment would easily be overthrown. So you better have a plan for when these goals are not met. What will you do without a stronger military presence, just take your money and split?
    I was one of the few that did not want to go into Iraq in the first place. Whats done is done. Idisagreed with Bush then, but happen to agree with him now. I pray that a stronger military presence will help stabilize Iraq enough so that we can bring our boys home sooner than later.
    Even though I disagree with your solution, I credit you for at least providing one. Thats not easy to do because now everyone (like myself) can Bash you. Having an idea leaves yourself open for critisism, but it shows guts for that very reason. I wish more people that critisize Bush (like every liberal does constantly) would at least have the guts to say what they would do.

  4. Aureola Nominee, FCDJanuary 10, 2007 11:09 AM

    My two cents: Iraq is lost, and I don't mean the war; I mean the country. NOTHING that the US can do now will make Humpty Dumpty whole again. Instead of a secular dictatorship we now have - courtesy of the US, and I agree, NOT of the Rethuglicans alone - a Shi'a theocracy in the making.
    Troops out NOW! That's the only "moral obligation" in this desperate mess. Let the chips fall wherever they will, and then grownups can once again begin the patient and nuanced work of rebuilding good will.
    P.S.: And stay out of Somalia, for crap's sake!

  5. Spot on. Especially that last paragraph. I was just having this same conversation with a co-worker earlier this morning and cut and pasted that paragraph and sent it to him as a perfect summation of my thoughts. Thanks.

    What I wish the Democrats would owe up to is that no matter how badly Bush and Co screwed by getting us in the mess and no matter how badly he has screwed up the whole operation since then, we can’t just cut our loses and “bring the troops home.” As bad as our credibility with the world is right now, that would make it just that much worse. We have to fix it no matter what it takes.

  6. Jim Fisher said, "nothing drives me more crazy then when everyone just Bashes Bush for Iraq, Everyone wanted to go".

    Not so; I for one can't find anything that Bush has done that I can even remotely agree with. His entire presidency has been, and continues to be a deceitful shambles. As for the "everyone wanted to go" that is simply not true. I listened to most of the debate during that period and read extensively on the subject. There were untold numbers of people who were arguing forcefully and knowledgably against invading Iraq. And I am not "pretending" that I was against it - I was passionately against it from day one. That doesn't make me necessarily smart, just not afraid to go against what was being pushed on this country by a bunch of blood thirsty warmongers in the White House and other parts of the gov't. But alas, what does a dumb trucker know!

    And what is equally diheartening is that Bush the Fool is up to the same thing today. Sending 21,500 additional targets for the insurgents, (or whatever you call them) against all the advice of much of the military leadership, the majority of congress (even many Republicans)and certainly most of the citizenry.

    I truly believe that Bush is insane, to the extent that he has no ability to admit when he is wrong or accept any opinion that he doesn't agree with, and his picture of himseld as a great warrior (great coward more aptly describes him). He has failed at just about everything he has touched and he is a failure at being president of this country.

    I never cared much for his father, but in comparison GHWB was far the superior president. But he should have smacked his insolent son down long ago. The Congress should do it now!

  7. Dennis: "His entire presidency has been, and continues to be a deceitful shambles."

    Compared to what?


    It is no way arrogant to believe that democracy is a better way to govern a people. Democracy flows from the belief that both free-will and the rights that are an extension of that belief should be bestowed on each man and woman.

    Secondly, it is not wrong to defend Israel (which is mostly why we are in Iraq) because it is the only democratic nation in its region. Tons of people of different races move to Israel just so they can have a fair shake in the marketplace of life.

    So if you are motivated to think that there is something particularly arrogant and deceitful about those in the pop., who happen to be believers and who share their faith on occasion, then why on earth would you side INSTEAD with a great portion of the world that believes that there should be zero democracy or free-will at all?!

    It is a position that is wholly inconsistent with what you claim that you value.


  8. Secondly, it is not wrong to defend Israel (which is mostly why we are in Iraq) because it is the only democratic nation in its region.

    Sure it's not wrong. But what does it have to do with Iraq, since they were no threat to anybody, let alone the nuclear armed Israel?

    (well, before the war Iraq was no threat to anybody; now, courtesy of the US of A, they are a terrorist haven in civil war. Thanks Dubya!).

    Now, Cal, I do not understand where on Earth you found anything about "arrogant and deceitful about those in the pop., who happen to be believers and who share their faith on occasion" in Dennis' post... He never mentioned believers or whatnot, as far as I noticed (maybe it's your subconscious, or whatever it's called?). He was just venting against W and his administration, eh?


  9. J, Thank you for coming to my defense. I have been sitting here trying to decipher Cal's garble and must admit I can't make much sense of it. But I will attemt a response.

    Bush never went into to Iraq to bring "freedom and democracy" to the Iraqis. That was 3rd or 4th on the list after his previous "reasons" were proven to be shams.

    Trying to impose "freedom and democracy" on a tribal people is much like peeing up a rope. It just isn't going to work. If people want "freedom and democracy" they must make it happen just like it happened in this country.

    Further more although Iraqis may not yet be ready for "freedom and democracy" as we knew it (BB - before bush),they are surely smart enough to look at how Bush is doing every thing in his power to weaken "freedom and democracy" in the US. Why would they want the Bush version of "freedom and democracy".

    The policies of the Bush and Company in the Middle East are prime factors causing instability there, with the disasterous invasion and occupation of Iraq being the most egregious. His conduct of the presidency is a shambles by comparison to any other presidency on record. Other presidents have screwed up, but they have had the intelligence, decency and respect for the country and its people to learn from their mistakes. At least Nixon resigned and LBJ decided not to run again. Not Dummy Bush. This blithering idiot keeps blundering and stumbling, sending more guys and gals to become cannon fodder to make a vain attempt to salvage his miserable reputation.

    And Cal, you invariably invoke religion in all your posts. I have not done that. So if you please, when speaking of this damnable mess in Iraq.

    Seven hundred forty days left before the US is once more a free and democratic nation.

  10. Dennis: "Other presidents have screwed up, but they have had the intelligence, decency and respect for the country and its people to learn from their mistakes."

    OR MAYBE GW has inherited a divided nation, and world of far more complicated problems than we had some twenty to thirty years ago.

    My family use to vote democratic. I don't remember when all this took place, but that particular affiliation ended when Jimmy Carter took office and did twenty times the damage that GW ever did or will do. He effectively demonstrated for the rest of the world that one can gain no legit respect with world leaders by being the consummate pacifist. Pacifists cause wars. Not being willing to confront a deadly evil with deadly force is the very reason we are at war today.

    My family's change of political prefs began not long before my older sis met Ronald Reagan and his wife on Delta flight. She was a flight att. but was not working just riding that day. They had most of the flight to discuss various issues. She asked his advice on how to make better decisions with regard to political matters, and then in turn told RR that if he would be a righteous man, God would give him favor and he would be elected.

    And he was.

    Being an inwardly righteous person is what it takes to not screw up. Can you find it within yourself to appreciate what that means? And even at that, people will still claim that you are wrong for being "right". That is why I don't trust 8/10ths of the criticism of GW. If a person in leadership wants to confront evil, wherever it may be found, there will always be those who simply hate a leader for that.

    It's time to stop listening to the screaming (reactionary) heads.


  11. C: Secondly, it is not wrong to defend Israel (which is mostly why we are in Iraq) because it is the only democratic nation in its region.

    J: Sure it's not wrong. But what does it have to do with Iraq, since they were no threat to anybody, let alone the nuclear armed Israel? "

    It's a whole collective of a threat by different entities against Israel. Some countries would mind greatly using their nukes against others, some will obviously not. I believe Israel will not use theirs unless it is the most dire of circumstances.

    Wasn't it Hitler that got us on the track for bombs of total annihilation?


  12. Cal, It was your beloved Reagan that drove me from the Republican party.
    I refuse to be drawn any further into your religious rants. Beyond those severa words I will not dignify your inane comments with a response.

  13. Dennis said...

    "Cal, It was your beloved Reagan that drove me from the Republican party.
    I refuse to be drawn any further into your religious rants. Beyond those severa words I will not dignify your inane comments with a response. "

    We all have to make our choices, Dennis. To come to an impasse is just another one of many.

    That will not be the way I prefer to live, but it is your right to do so.

    best regards,

  14. Dennis,
    Perhaps you did not want to go to Iraq, But my point is valid. Most Democrats wanted to invade Iraq. When I said "everyone wanted to go", yes I was exaggerating. That does not change the fact that if only the Democrats voted on invading Iraq we still would have went. Yes there was debate and dissension from the main flow, but majority of both partys agreed to invade Iraq. Now the Dem party has used Iraq as a marter against Bush. At what point should we have pulled out according to all these Democrats that wanted to go and now say we shouldn't be there? And what would that have accomplished?

  15. Jim,
    I agree, most Democrats did vote to go into Iraq, but only after they swallowed, hook line and sinker, the line of deceit shoved at them by the administration. They did what was, at the time, the POLITICALLY EXPEDIENT thing instead of the RIGHT thing. I hold that against them just as surely as I hold Bush and Co. responsible for cooking the intteligence in order to take us to war.

    Now we are caught in a bind, but Bush will only recognize one possible solution and that is more and bigger war. This war (except for the easy part which was toppling Hussein) has been unwinnable from the start and it gets worse every passing day. What does Bush intend to do, eventually kill 1.5 billion Muslims? That's what he will have to do if he continues on his present, insane course. That is unacceptable! There were a lot of Muslims, probably a majority, sympathetic to us after 9/11. Even Iranians demonstrated in the strees of Tehran in our favor, and there were many like demonstrations all through the Muslim world. But Bush in all his stupidity has not only driven the Muslims away, he has driven our closest allies away. No one wants anything to do with us (Bush) anymore and who can blame them. It's the old duck thing. If you look like Bush (shudder) and you sound like Bush (shudder,shudder) and you smell like Bush (shudder, shudder, shudder) you must be a Bush (arrrgghhhhh), and that is not a very popular or wise thing to be anymore. Ask Spain! Ask Great Britain! Ask Indonesia, it has suffered from being too close to Bush, and it is a Muslim country!

    There is far more than just Iraq at stake - its the whole region and the American people are not going to stand for his military madness much longer. Every country in the entire Middle east is going to have to be part of the solution or their will never be a solution.

    I can't see this thing having a chance at resolution until, one way or another, George Bush is relagated to chopping brush down in Texas. He lacks the judgement, the intelligence, and diplomatic skills to resolve this situation. He must GO. He has proven any idiot can start a war, It should be very clear that he does NOT have what it takes to end one.

    And thanks for writing post that makes sense even if I don't agree with all you say.

  16. Cal,

    The "nuclear-armed Israel" was to emphasize how much more powerful and rich they are (specially with the US giving them whatever they want even when they are wrong) compared to miserable Iraq. I also don't believe Israel would use their nukes at the drop of a hat, of course. Or at least I hope...

    On the other hand, Iraq did not even have decent working war aircraft when it was invaded in 2003 -- because it was all destroyed in the FIRST gulf war in 1991, of course. Hell, even their Scuds must have been pretty rusty at the time...

    So if you're worried about any threat around that area, Iraq was probably the least menacing one nowadays.


  17. G'day

    A couple of points from one of your invisible partners in the coalition of the willing. Most of us Australians were not willing to invade Iraq as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands who marched in protest when our Prime Minister John Howard was preparing to send us there.

    Despite the high reputation Australia's SAS troops have for the work they did, they shouldn't have been there.

    At least in the USA, President Bush had to get Congressional approval to send troops there. In Australia, this decision is made by one man, the Prime Minister, and no one else. This is a disgraceful situation for a democracy and Australia needs an amendment to its constitution to force the entire parliament to approve acts of war. It's quite unacceptable that one person can make the most serious decision a country can make - going to war with another - without reference to the country's elected representatives.

    There was a debate about the invasion in our parliament but no vote, though the Opposition Leader at the time, Simon Crean, did have the guts to stand on the dock, next to our fawning Prime Minister, and tell the troops that unlike the Prime Minister, he thought they should not be going to Iraq.

    People in Australia who criticise the Iraq adventure are still labeled anti American by the Aussie neocons, but like many of you in the US we are merely anti Bush, just like many of us here are anti our Prime Minister.

    But now we are behind the proverbial rock - do we take responsibility for our actions and try to fix the mess we've helped make or do we leave. Perhaps leaving is the best way we can help fix the mess. No one came to the aid of your ancestors when they had their civil war and no one came to the aid of my ancestors, the English, when they had their civil war.

    While my Prime Minister cut chort his summer holiday to announce that he supported the President's decision to send more troops, he's not prepared to send more Aussie troops or put them in the real front line. Unlike Bush, Howard can stand for re-election as many times as he likes and there's one due this year. He's luckily avoided the body bags so far, apart from one soldier who accidentally shot himself, and is not about to want to start seeing them arriving home.

  18. windmills said
    No one came to the aid of your ancestors when they had their civil war and no one came to the aid of my ancestors, the English, when they had their civil war.

    Although I see many of your points, and it is nice to hear views from all you guys from other countries. One difference between Iraq and our civil wars is that we were not completely surrounded by middle eastern countries with the complexity of situations that this brings.
    It is neat to hear someone chime in with "G'day"


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.