Chuck Hagel on Winning And Losing

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Foreign Policy, War

An interesting op-ed that comes right out and says, “We’re not gonna make this thing any better, and we never really were.”

From Washington Post:

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis — not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation — regardless of our noble purpose.

Well, that last statement is only partially true. We have imposed democracy before, but it was the boot-on-neck variety. Hagel is ultimately right, though, because this option is no longer viable for any nations wanting to be seen as a beacons of truth, justice and all that other stuff. Boot-on-neck democracy is always mean and messy, and that doesn’t sit well with the citizens of the free world.

What’s sadly ironic is that Saddam was the evil glue that held together these different tribes. He was Iraq’s boot for decades, albeit a far more repulsive and bloody one; but a boot nonetheless. Now he’s gone and unless you want to resort to his brand of sickness, you’re not going to keep Iraq from splitting apart.

In any event, read the whole thing from Hagel. These are some bitter pills to swallow, but I’m convinced that we need to be taking our medicine sooner rather than later.


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19 Responses to “Chuck Hagel on Winning And Losing”

  1. sleipner Says:

    I agree with almost everything said here, except that it has now become clear that Saddam was the lesser of two evils…we are the greater.

  2. Thor Says:

    Fuck you, sleipner!

  3. ES Says:

    Senator Hagel is wrong about one particular item: the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. The group’s recommendations have already been undermined by both the administration and the Pentagon. In regards to the Pentagon’s manueverings on the subject matter, just take a look at Thomas Rick’s article in the Washington Post on eithe the 20 or 21 of November. That article said the JCS study group looked at the data and came up with three options: “Go Short”, “Go Home”, and “Go Long”. The first two options have already a milestone tied to it, which leaves the “Go Long”. That is really no different than “stay the course” mantra the administration has being uttering for a while.

  4. GreenDreams Says:

    Thor, from an Iraqui’s standpoint sleipner is correct. Under Saddam, terrorism and Islamist fanatics were kept at bay, women could go out in public alone, work and attend school, and were not required to wear the burqa. The country had an educational system that was the envy of the middle east, the oil was flowing and so was the electricity, the water and sewers. The cafés were lively and filled with people who chatted, ate and drank with no fear of being killed where they sat. An Iraqui citizen is now 58 times more likely to die of violence than under Saddam.

  5. BenG Says:

    Thanks, I needed to hear this from the people responsible for this unprecidented foreign relations disaster. Of course, many Repubs will dismiss Hagels statements as ‘centrist catering’ and ignore his honest, soul beaing, public confession of wrong-doing. After all, he is part of the congress that has, as he admits “been funding this war dishonestly, mainly through supplemental appropriations, which minimizes responsible congressional oversight and allows the administration to duck tough questions in defending its policies. Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibility in the past four years.”
    For me this is exactly what is needed instead of the finger pointing nonsense we’ve been hearing. This is important stuff that someone finally has enough guts to talk about REALISTICALLY–to hell with the campaign strategy bullshit !
    And the point about who is the greater evil? Nobody’s saying Bush is more evil than Saddam, not in this country at least. But his decissions have done great harm to Iraqis and Americans, for all the reasons outlined in this op-ed.

  6. grognard Says:

    First off the Pentagon is no longer run by Rumsfeld, Gates will be completely on board with the Baker recommendations.
    Second, it’s one thing to say we should leave but extracting ourselves from this mess won’t be easy. The militias have infiltrated the military and other government agencies, as soon as we turn over a mixed Sunni/ Shiite area to the Iraqi army the revenge bloodletting begins. There will be a lot more bodies pilling up and we will have no choice but to let the ethnic cleansing go on and not get involved.
    Third ,the Iraqi government is corrupt, it will only be a matter of time before someone gets the factions aligned and assumes a dictatorship. To keep things halfway together we will have to fund this thug, until we can get out.
    In short this is going to be one very nasty experience, the only silver lining I can see is that as the regional powers are drawn into this calamity the Arab/Israeli conflict will pale in comparison. The Islamic world will consume itself over Iraq.

  7. Bucco, Privateer of Heretical Polemics Says:

    It is a damning indictment of our political leaders when the blunt honesty of knowledge, as well as experience, is ignored and demeaned by those stillpandering to the ignorant passion of delusions of out-of-touch constituencies..

    As one who’s just to the right of Trotsky, I give Sen. Hagel kudos for the courage of his honesty in the face of a constituency that is emotionally still celebrating their 94-95 Husker football teams and the culture of that day.

    Bucco

  8. Around the web | alexking.org Says:

    [...] Chuck Hagel on Winning And Losing [...]

  9. john Says:

    I think Bush and some generals have an obvious ‘bias to action.’ They do not like to admit failure but they are only digging a bigger hole – kind of like the gambler that plunges away his life’s savings by believing he’s going to win it all back with the next bet.

  10. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there.

    He’s right, but do you know why? An American officer has the answer:

    “A lot of us feel like we have our hands tied behind our back,” says Cpl. Peter Mattice, of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. “In Fallujah, [insurgents] know our [rules of engagement] – they know when to stop, just before we engage.”

    Ironically, with all of the complaining about the Iraq campaign, it is people like sleipner who are all to eager to apply the ropes.

  11. BenG Says:

    Yea, it’s fustrating cause nobody’s sure what action should be taken. I get the ‘it’s not fair’ complaint that Jimmy D. has. We don’t play under the same rules as they do, and war ain’t pretty. I get that you can’t blame us for the high death count cause we’re not the ones doing all the carnage, but we did set the stage. And, yes, you can’t keep sayin we shouldn’t be there under these circumstances, cause we are and it is what it is.
    I recently heard that, prior to the ‘Axis of Evil’ speach given by Bush during the State of the Union, the Iranians were actually involved in the cause against terrorism by helping to expell the Taliban in Afghanistan. The slap in the face they received by that speach supposedly turned their efforts around against us. Not sure if this is true, but that type of aggressive irritation to all who “stand against us” is not the way to get things done. This is why I’m quite convinced that until we have new leadership nothing positive will get done. We’ve burnt all of our bridges.

  12. Justin Gardner Says:

    Thor, that’s strike one. If you do it again, you’re gone.

    However sleipner, I know you like to stir the pot, but what you said was crazy. We are nowhere near the brand of evil that Saddam will be remembered for long after he’s gone. So please, save the rhetoric. It makes you look silly.

    We don’t play under the same rules as they do.

    See, that’s the thing I don’t understand why more hawks don’t understand. The more we act like them and take on their tactics, the more it appears as if they’re winning.

    That’s also why we need to fight a smart, prolonged campaign instead of thinking that we can go into incredibly dysfunctional countries (with a variety of hatred between groups that we can’t really understand) and try to get them to embrace our way of doing things. This policy/doctrine/wishful-thinking was almost doomed to fail from the start, and Bush’s lack of follow through sealed its fate very early into the post-war Iraq.

  13. Charlie Says:

    Senator Hagel has an excellent handle on a bad situation. Let’s hope he runs for President and can put the U.S. on a better course for leading the world.

  14. sleipner Says:

    Justin – I merely look at the deaths per year in Iraq during and after Saddam’s regime…we are responsible for FAR more deaths per capita than he is…and in contrast to his regime, our culpable deaths are increasing rather than decreasing.

    Granted our evil was far less deliberate and directed (though that’s an arguable point), but cronyism and unfettered profiteering is capable of just as much evil as direct malice and dictatorial will.

    There are two main causes of the debacle in Iraq. One is the centuries of strife between the rival religious and political factions in Iraq, no doubt exacerbated by the excesses during Saddam’s regime. The other, and far more important factor, is the dissolution of governmental, military, and police structure (not to mention infrastructure) caused by our (illegal) invasion, and the lack of any modicum of competency in our subsequent half-hearted attempt at reconstruction. The biggest problem by far was the placement of political allies rather than people with the competence and will to actually fix the problems at hand. Tens (perhaps hundreds) of billions of dollars have gone awry, or have been wasted on useless endeavors that did nothing to advance the situation in Iraq. Halliburton and their ilk have made a killing (literally) but have done little to fix the problems there, despite the tens of billions they have extorted.

    That is why I posted what I said above – because I truly believe that our administration and its reprehensible and irresponsible policies has become a bigger threat to the Iraqi people than Saddam had ever represented, and in result, that they have emboldened and augmented the funding and capacity of extremist Moslem terrorists worldwide.

  15. Abu Nudnik Says:

    I second Thor’s emotion.

  16. Abu Nudnik Says:

    …and Jimmy the Dhimmi too. He’s bang on. What president will let the men fight? This is the question. Patton was kept too long on the leash, Lincoln, thank God, let Sherman go “into the hole.” You Americans (I’m Canadian) fight like boy scouts. Your protesters nitpick over every act that soils moral perfection (like your Islamist enemies, by the way). You are truly made of a Purtian stock, that’s for sure! Goodness is precious: forget about perfection. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

  17. wj Says:

    sleipner,
    It appears that you are saying that America is responsible for not only any deaths inflicted by our forces, but also for any deaths inflicted by anybody (American, insurgent, simple criminal, etc.) in Iraq. Which would seem to imply that you do not consider anybody else responsible for their own actions. Or I suppose you could be taking the position fo collective responsibility: everybody (at least everybody in the country) is responsible for anything anybody there does.

    The trouble with this lovely thesis is that it leaves only one moral option: in order to avoid being responsibility for deaths everywhere, someone (presumably America, as the ones you hold responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world) must impose the kind of draconian control that Saddam imposed . . . and impose it worldwide. At minimum, we should immediately strive to impose it in Iraq. Pardon me, but I have a problem with that.

  18. rachel Says:

    Ha. This whole “Who has done more evil to Iraq, Saddam or the USA?” argument reminds me of the old conundrum: is malice worse than stupidity, or is stupidity worse than malice?

    The answer, of course, is “Yes.”

  19. sleipner Says:

    The calculation for responsibility for deaths in Iraq is simple. Since our invasion was unnecessary, unjustified, and illegal, we are responsible for any death that occurred in excess of those deaths that presumeably would have occurred had Saddam stayed in power – and since his regime was relatively stable, those were relatively few by 2003.

    In addition, his infrastructure was relatively sturdy, despite a decade of embargos, and culturally his country was relatively moderate, allowed women in most roles in society, and was, except for the guy on top we didn’t like, one of the better regimes in the Middle East.

    Instead of that relative stability, people are dying by the hundreds of thousands, millions have been made into refugees, and there is no government or infrastructure to speak of.

    So where am I wrong in saying we are worse for Iraq than Saddam was?

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