Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Thomas E. Ricks Dialogue

This is Jim, writing the introduction to this piece. Thomas E. Ricks new book is The Gamble and it's a book I recommend and one that we all recommend. That said, we do not agree with all of Ricks' conclusions and for weeks I have been proposing an article where we do a Tom Ricks/us response or exchange. As Rebecca quickly pointed out when I first suggested it, "It should be C.I. to represent the US-must-leave-now view because C.I.'s our strongest voice. Thomas Ricks' view could be represented with all of us taking the role of Ricks but that might be too confusing because there would be many Ricks all tossing out questions. So it might be better for Jim or someone to just take the Thomas Ricks role and have an exchange with C.I. Simple enough except C.I. didn't want the role. And kept pushing it off on others. The argument being that I wouldn't have Thomas E. Ricks' points completely down and it wouldn't be fair to him. I offered C.I. the option to play the Thomas E. Ricks role and I could be the voice of withdrawal or Ava, anyone. But there was another concern: "Dominating the process." Whatever. Due to one repeated anecdote Ricks' continues to share, C.I. went along with a dialogue this week. This was part of the Iraq roundtable we did and we're pulling it out because Dona says it's a stand alone piece. I will freely acknowledge that Thomas E. Ricks could do a better job representing himself than I did and, in the dialogue below, you'll see one exchange where C.I. makes clear that what I'm advancing is not a point Ricks' has in his book or any other forum. For his writings online, you can click on the name Thomas E. Ricks and you can find out more (and order) his book by clicking on The Gamble. We all recommend this book and think it's the best one written on Iraq so far. That is in terms of information -- which it's packed with -- and in terms of writing. Dona would kill me if I didn't add that The Gamble is well written in terms of style. She has called it "the most graceful book" of this year in terms of the word choice and writing. That's the intro, that's the set up. Now the exchange.

Fortune Cookie

Jim: So now I'm being Thomas E. Ricks and I'll debate C.I., being C.I. The first issue I have is the refusal of the anti-war movement to address the genocide that will come in Iraq when the US pulls out. I was in Los Angeles, or Mill Valley, a liberal place, and this one man said, during my talk, we need to leave Iraq and when I asked, from the podium, what about the genocide, he didn't care.

C.I.: Yeah, 'Dad,' we've heard that story. And if you tell it one more time we'll be saying, "Yes, Grandpa, we've heard that story." You've blogged about it at least twice, I've heard you tell that story on two different NPR programs and, intentionally or not, it's starting to get offensive because you're creating a straw man and it's coming off as a slur. You don't know the person who spoke up -- or 'people,' since sometimes the story has two people. You didn't speak to 'em. I've been on the road speaking about Iraq since February 2003. I don't pretend that I can mind read the people who show up. There are some that I speak with after the discussion and I do know them better than the other ones. But you don't know the first thing about this person as you've repeatedly told this story. You have no idea if this person was genuine or a crank or a prank. And there are differences between the last two categories. Regardless this person is one person and you're wasting my time and you're wasting our time on this stupid, completely incidental story.

Jim: Well I would say that you're refusing to address the issue.

C.I.: I would say you're not addressing it. Again, two blog posts, two radio shows, you've never addressed the issue, you've advanced a slur, intentionally or not. You could use it for a jumping off point to discuss what you think will happen, but you don't. I have no idea why you're wasting my time with it, but I'll set a barrier with you right now on this because I haven't got time for the crap, I haven't got room for the crap, I haven't the need for the crap. February 19th, I addressed this issue. This is before the incident or the alleged incident took place.

Jim: Well you're one person.

C.I.: And the person you keep quoting is one person. Quit trying to extrapolate from one person. You want to have a conversation about this issue, start it.

Jim: Well I believe the Iraq War was a misguided war, a monumental foreign policy mistake, but I also believe that US forces cannot leave. When they leave, there will be a genocide and we need to be concerned about that.

C.I.: I accept that you're sincerely concerned and I think it is possible that a genocide could take place. Likely. Doesn't mean it'll happen. Doesn't mean it won't. It's one possibility. Another possibility is that the number of Iraqis already dead, over 1.6 million since the start of the illegal war, will continue to rise. That's a genocide as well and we can deliberate that. But the US presence has not brought peace, it is the cause of the violence, it is the reason for the bulk of deaths in Iraq -- either directly or indirectly. And that's a point I've yet to hear acknowledged by you. You seem to think the US can stop a genocide but you -- in your very strong, highly recommended book "The Gamble," -- acknowledge a genocide that already took place, the sectarian conflict which you label a civil war and I have no problem with that label but I think it can also be seen as a genocide. I further think that the problems much more serious and that the true genocide is what was done to Iraqi Jews, Christians and other religious minorities. Some of those were Sunnis, to be clear. And, Iraqi Christians for example, make up the hugest portion of the external refugees. The Jewish population is non-existent in Baghdad, it's dropped to less than 13 -- much lower by some counts -- and prior to the start of the illegal war there was healthy Jewish population in Baghdad. The civil war -- which was a genocide -- and the targeting of the religious minorities. The Catholic Church estimates Iraq had approximately 1.5 Christians in the country prior to the start of the illegal war and that number is now down to below 600,000. Other sources have higher numbers for pre-war and lower numbers for today. Many, though not all, Iraqi Christian groups had ties to the Catholic Church which is why I'm using it as the reference. There has been a genocide, there remains an ongoing one. And, just for the record, whether Christians are returning to Mosul -- as a US propaganda outlet with the Voice of America reported last week -- or not, the fact remains that the targeting that took place in Mosul is an example of the genocide and is an example of how the regime of Nouri al-Maliki will not do anything to stop it. The US military did nothing to stop it. It began in the summer of -- and Jim, I'll stay in debate mode, but please let me sketch this out because the religious and ethnic minorities get very little attention and they are connected to the attacks on other minorities -- 2008 and by November there was no ignoring it, even for al-Maliki. His response was underwhelming. You had the United Nations denouncing the targeting, you had the Catholic Church denouncing it, you had the Pope himself speak on the subject and you had inter-faith gatherings at the Vatican attempting to address the issue. With all that going on, al-Maliki's response was underwhelming and ineffective, as was the US response. Some Christians in Mosul believe -- rightly or wrongly -- that the Kurdistan Regional Government was behind the attacks. The KRG has denied that charge. Their security force, the pesh merga, did restore order. Whether that was because they started the chaos and wanted to make the region their own, I have no idea, no one does. There's been no investigation or pursuit of who was behind the latest wave of attacks. Again, the KRG denies that they were responsible. But I'm not seeing you discuss this at all when you raise the point of genocide.

Jim: When the US leaves Iraq, I believe a genocide will take place --

C.I.: Stopping you, define the equation. What's the genocide that's going to take place.

Jim: Well . . . Shi'ites slaughtering Sunnis.

C.I.: That would be the most obvious one. Shi'ites are in power, some have grievances, many Nouri's put in place are nothing but thugs, so, yes, absolutely, the Shi'ite majority could decide to go after the Sunni minority which was in power for many decades.

Jim: And if the US military pulls out, then there will be no way to prevent it from taking place.

C.I.: Have you been listening? When has the US military prevented the genocides in Iraq? It was the Kurdish pesh merga that stopped the targeting in Mosul most recently. It wasn't the US military -- the US military that does a back down whenever it comes into contact with the pesh merga, the same way Nouri's so called 'national police' and 'national army' does a back down. The pesh merga were there and -- regardless of who started the targeting -- it was the pesh merga that restored order. Or what passes for it in Mosul. It's a war zone, it remains one.

Jim: Okay, well that was an area in the disputed north and, as you point out, Iraq forces and US forces do not engage with the pesh merga in that area. I remember earlier problems in 2008 with Nineveh Province. How following Nouri al-Maliki trying to play the big dog by attacking Basra and the al-Sadr section of Baghdad, he was going to move on to other regions but he blinked when moving north and encountering the pesh merga.

C.I.: So you're point is you're agreeing with me?

Jim: No, I'm saying the Kurdish north is a complicated region and I don't know that we can use it as a template for the rest of Iraq due to various factors.

C.I.: We could debate that point but I'll move on to another issue. In the KRG and elsewhere in Iraq, throughout Iraq, there is an ongoing femicide. That's a genocide targeting women. The US military has prevented that how? I'm not seeing it. They've been on the ground in Iraq for nearly six years and there was no femicide before they showed up and there is an ongoing one now. There was violence against women, not on the scale that takes place currently and women had legal rights and legal avenues which they now do not have and they have a police force that thinks it can ignore the attacks on them. The most recent report on it is, PDF format warning, Amnesty International's "Trapped By Violence: Women In Iraq." Do the lives of Iraqi women matter less? I don't think you'd argue that. But there needs to be an awareness -- as evidenced by words on the subject from you -- that Iraqi women have been targeted non-stop, that the destruction of their way of life is not just about the bombings and mortars and whatever else someone wants to call 'normal' in Iraq. These behaviors, these attacks, are seen as normal because of who the US installed. They went with thugs, Shi'ites ones at first, and thugs don't have a lot of respect for women or anyone else who isn't a thuggy as they are. They don't have a lot of respect for democracy or anything else. And I believe we saw that thug attitude with the Sunni thugs on the US payroll in Al Anbar Province during the immediate after of the January 31st provincial election there. You have this idea that the US military is going to be able to prevent a genocide and I'm saying that the US military has been on the ground in Iraq for six years as various new threats have emerged and the US military has not solved them. In fairness to the US military, that's really not what they're trained in, nor is it what they should be used for. So my question to you would be, "How are they going to stop a genocide in Iraq?"

Jim: If a genocide began taking place before they left, due to their numbers, they, the US military, would be able to quell it.

C.I.: What numbers? Until January 2010, Barack's plan will only drop the number of US service members in Iraq from 146,000 or 142,000 down to the 136,000 or 132,000, that's ten thousand at most, as Martha Raddatz of ABC News has pointed out. Beginning in January 2010, supposedly, there will be a flight of 80,000 to 100,000 US service members out of Iraq -- between January of 2010 and August 2010.

Jim: And I've stated that I'm not on board with Barack's plan and that I think he will have to rework it, that situations on the ground will require him to rework it.

C.I.: Okay, well for this argument, pick a time, pick a point where the genocide will start.

Jim: Okay, I'll be fair. I'll go with November 2011 and I'll say there are 42,000 US troops there. The genocide starts --

C.I.: Shi'ite on Sunni?

Jim: Yes, and the US military steps in.

C.I.: Where I'm disagreeing with you is the fact that the US military steps in. If such a genocide takes place, it would have to take place with the ruling Shi'ite faction's approval. I don't see the US stepping in. I see the attitude being that it's a problem, an internal one, for Iraq to address, for the Iraqi government -- Shi'ite dominated to address.

Jim: Well I believe the US military would step in.

C.I.: And I believe the children are our future. What the hell's your point? February 23rd, in Baghdad, a press conference took place. It was Brig Gen David Quantock addressing the press, predominately the Iraqi press. They asked what happens, with Abu Ghraib reopening, if a new series of crimes take place there. Brig Gen David Quantock declared that if that happened, it would be the Iraqis issue to deal with because the US had turned the prison over and Iraq was it's own country with its own government. You used October 2011?

Jim: November.

C.I.: Okay, by November 2011, the US long ago turned over control of the provinces to Iraq. So why is the US getting involved in preventing a genocide. By Brig Gen David Quantock's own words, an argument can be made that should a genocide take place it would be an issue for the Iraqi government. He might -- or might not -- state that if the Iraqi government asked for US help, the US military might get involved. Well if the Sunnis are the ones being targeted and the Shi'ite majority dominates the government, who is going to ask the US military to step in? The minority voice in the Iraqi government? How does the US justify stepping in when the minority members of the government, not the rulers, are requesting assistance and Iraq is an allegedly sovereign nation-state?

Jim: Okay, well what I'm saying, and I think this is getting lost, what I'm saying is that as long as the US is on the ground in Iraq it prevents a genocide.

C.I.: And I've made clear that I understand your viewpoint but I disagree. I disagree because of the targeting of the Iraqi Christians and Jews, I disagree because of the targeting of Sunnis and I disagree of the targeting of all Iraqi women. I see a genocide, an ongoing one, that the US military has either been unwilling or unable to stop. You're saying one will take place when the US military withdraws. I'm saying one's already taking place and will continue to while the US military remains in Iraq.

Jim: I don't see how you can pin that on the US military.

C.I.: I believe it was then-Senator Joe Biden who said last April that we have armed one side in a civil war and that an illegitimate government is in place. Do I need to quote him directly? I can.

Jim: Sure, go for it.

C.I.: April 10, 2008. These are Joe chaired the hearing about the US and Iraq and he addressed early on the call for the US to remain in Iraq. He noted the so-called "Internal threat" argument

and how it was being used to make the US "support the Iraqi government in its battle with all 'outlaw groups' -- that's a pretty expansive commitment," how this meant the US was required "to take sides in Iraq's civil war" and that "there is no Iraqi government that we know of that will be in place a year from now -- half the government has walked out." He continued, "Just understand my frustration. We want to normalize a government that really doesn't exist." Senator Russ Feingold was in agreement and he wasn't the only senator in agrement. He askes that "given the fact that the Maliki government doesn't represent a true coalition, won't this agreement" -- he's talking about the then proposed Status Of Forces Agreement, which Democrats and Republicans on the panel were majority opposed to, so he was asking if this agreement wouldn't make it appear that "we are taking sides in the civil war especially when most Iraqi Parliamentarians have called for the withdrawal of troops?" That's Russ Feingold and Joe Biden. I could give other comments from that hearing, I could pull out my notes from it, but I think that establishes the fact -- and Barbara Boxer has made similar public statements about al-Maliki's thug regime, as has Hillary Clinton as has US House Rep Susan Davis and many, many more -- that our government does not see the puppet regime of al-Maliki's as a legitimate or functioning government.

Jim: Well I don't see what that has to do with my points.

C.I.: You're saying the US remaining in Iraq will prevent a genocide. I'm saying a genocide has taken place and is taking place and that the US military presence supports al-Maliki's regime, an illegimate one. He was the choice of the United States for Iraq's prime minister. He was not the choice of the Parliament. The White House overruled the Parliament's first choice for Prime Minister. Nouri's another thug who fled the country instead of fighting for it. After US forces did the work of desposing of Saddam, he showed up to strut around the country. He's not a leader, he's not legitimate. He's an exile who only returned when the US went in. To Iraqis, he's one more person the US installed and there is dislike for him and there is opposition to him -- within Parliament and within the country.

Jim: Well the parliamentary elections seemed to suggest he is popular.

C.I.: Just stopping this role play for a second, I'm unaware of Thomas E. Ricks' advancing that point in any way, shape or form. I'll respond to it but I do want it noted that he hasn't stated that. My opinion is, the provincial elections -- which only took place in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces despite the benchmark being ALL provinces -- were not a victory for al-Maliki. They were an indicator that Iraq is not a democracy. Like many a thug, Marcos, Pinochet, etc., al-Maliki abused the system. These elections were the equivalent of us electing our state legislature here in California and across the country. al-Maliki is the prime minister of the country. He had no business going around and campaigning. Can you imagine our outrage in this country if we saw, for example, Barack show up -- while in office -- to campaign for candidates in Colorado's state government, Maine's, etc. And remember too that this was different from the last election where people were voting for slates, here they were voting for individuals. So in a competative race, al-Maliki used his position -- undemocratically -- to attempt to influence the elections. His actions got the local candidates' covered when there were thousands of candidates competing for these 400 seats. Exact figures, I believe, were 440 seats with 14,428 candidates competing for them. So al-Maliki going all over the country to push candidates, he abused his office. And that should have been noted and called out. It's the sort of crap despots pull all the time and the fact that it was not called out by the US press is frightening because that wasn't democracy. It was an abuse of the process. But, repeating, I have never seen or heard Thomas E. Ricks' advance that argument or anything remotely similar to it.

Jim: Okay, well you're saying that al-Maliki is installed, that a genocide is ongoing daily already and that the US miliary can't prevent it. But when the US leaves, won't it get worse?

C.I.: It might, it might not. If forced to guess right now, I would argue it would get worse immediately after the departure of the US. I would also argue it would end in one way or another. The Iraqi people would rebel against the genocide or they would say they're fine with it. We, the United States, have set up the ongoing genocide by the choices that we made. This isn't about whether we should have started the illegal war or not. We shouldn't have. But I'm talking about the choices the White House made on who to support and on what to rank as important. The priorties set and the people installed created the genocide and these people are empowered and will remain in power if the US leaves completely in the next four years or less.

Jim: Four years!

C.I.: Whatever date barring a revolution in Iraq. Conceivably, the United States military could remain in Iraq for the next 20 years and a wave of subsequent al-Malikis would be kinder and gentler and some approximation of democracy might take place. But this, "The US must stay to prevent a genocide" -- when? When does the US leave? Every other month, there's another 'reason' the US has to stay. I accept that you are genuinely concerned on humanitarian grounds, I accept the fact that you're not a War Hawk latching onto humanitarian concerns as a guise to push for a longer war. But there's always been a reason why the US can't leave. The Iraqis need their own country, they need to run it, they need to do so without US interference. The US has set the stage for a genocide. It may or may not happen. al-Maliki's already making it clear, my opinion, that he sees himself as the strong-man who will replace Saddam and should he remain the prime minister after the next round of Parliamentary elections, there's even less reason for the US to remain in Iraq. I think the US should leave right now. And they can withdraw in 100 days, in less that that. We saw that when emergencies at home forced the Georgia armed forces to pull out quickly and return to the former USSR -- worded that way so no one thinks "The US state of Georgia pulled out of Iraq." You can look at the rate at which they left Iraq and it's very clear that the US can leave Iraq in less than 100 days and even get some equipment out though most of that equipment is out of date, has wear and tear and the Pentagon's yearly Christmas wish list makes the bulk of that equpiment obsolete. But there's always going to be some reason for the US to remain in Iraq -- some 'reason' or reason. And we've heard them over and over for the last six years. Either Iraq will stand on its own or it won't.

Jim: Well, the genocide is the factor to me and you're sounding like the person at my book talk who said you don't care about a genocide.

C.I.: Then that's what you're choosing to hear. What I am saying is that a genocide is likely -- not absolute -- when the US finally chooses to leave. And we can have a serious discussion about who would be leading it and how it would most likely go down, which we haven't. But I am not saying, "You're wrong! There will be no genocide! The Iraqis will hand daises to one another, make peace signs and groove on the love." I'm saying it is very likely that violence will take place when the US leaves. Whenever that is barring the US remaining decades and even then it is still likely a US departure will lead to some violence.

Jim: But you're not concerned by it.

C.I.: I'm not saying that, I am saying that a genocide is ongoing -- saying and I wrote this back in February -- and that I think the thing to do is to weigh then and now when weighing possibilities. I am saying that an ongoing genocide is taking place and that the death toll from that is huge. I believe that if a period of violence took place after the US left -- likely -- it would be on a lower level if only because it would be much more brief. I also do not believe that the US can or should remain in Iraq and must choose a time to depart. The military was given various tasks. Many of those tasks were beyond their training. There is no military reason for US forces to remain in Iraq. The reason you're citing is fear of a genocide. I accept that you're sincere and genuinely concerned about that. I am saying that any killing and violence -- genocide on any level -- would most likely be brief and not result in the ongoing genocide that has led to the deaths of all the Iraqis. You like to point to Cambodia. I didn't know the US was officially in there. I think you mix actions when you bring that semi-secret war in. Iraq is more like Vietnam which you also frequently use as an example. Will there be refugees? Of course there will. There are people collaborating with the US. No one trusts anyone who collabortes with an occupying power. I'm sure we'll have a wave or two of Iraqi refugees brought to US shores and I'm sure at least one will hate democracy as much as Viet Diem did and he too will craft 'reasons' for a Patriot Act and for a war on a democracy. That's the point of suck-ups, they suck up to power and have no respect for a democratic process. There will be other refugees as well -- as there were with the Vietnamese -- but that's a given. The US destabilized the country. When that takes place, the departure of the occupying power always leads to displacement. I'm not historically ignorant, you're not going to overwhelm me by ticking off a list of countries -- some, such as Cambodia, which have no real relation to what we're discussing but it is 'fun,' I guess, to presume that Pol Pot's killing fields weren't supported by the US. I mean, if the comparison is Pol Pot to al-Maliki, let's have at it. I can certainly see similarities. But the comparison you're making is to the war in Cambodia -- which is an off-the-books war for most in the United States, one that is rarely acknowledged -- and the declared and illegal war on Iraq. The US supported Pol Pot. The 1970 invasion was about the establishment of the Khmer Rouge. Without the US approval and backing, the Khmer Rouge would not have risen to the level that it did. And had the US not began bombing the country in 1969 and continuing to do so for many years, the resistance to the Khmer Rouge might have been greater and able to defend themselves. To be clear, because this is off-the-books history that won't make the chat and chews, people can see John Pilger's excellent work on this issue and, also to be clear, Cambodia was attacked by the US because the US believed they were supplying North Vietnam. That made the bombings 'worth it' to the US White House and it made the support for the Khmer Rouge 'worth it' as well.

The US backed Pol Pot. Again, it's mixing apples and oranges unless your comparison is of Nouri al-Maliki to Pol Pot. In which case, I would be very interested in hearing that analogy. But, as presented, as name-checked by you, Cambodia is just given a shout-out due to the killings that took place there and the shout-out provides no historical context.

Jim: So there's no agreement on this issue?

C.I.: I'm allowing that you could be correct and some form of genocide or increase in violence could follow a US withdrawal. And I'm saying that the ongoing violence while the US is present, in my opinion, outweighs what could follow a US withdrawal.

Jim: But you don't know that.

C.I.: No and I don't -- and you don't -- know that a genocide will follow a US withdrawal. That is your guess based on many factors but it is a guess just as mine is a guess. The only way we'll know who was 'right' or 'wrong' or who 'won' is by what happens when the US withdraws. Neither of us is offering theories, they are, at best, hypotheses and a hypothesis has to be tested before it can prove or disprove or find an inconclusive result.

Jim: And that's where we'll leave it. I was attempting to offer the Thomas E. Ricks' point of view. You can read his book The Gamble.
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