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25 May 2007

This excerpted article is being posted at the special request of an interested and valuable critic. It turned out to have complexities arising from the ever present Neocon movement. Our comments adjoin.

"Yes, it is central to the fight against Islamic radicalism."

BY BOB KERREY - in the Opinion Journal from the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

The New School in New York graduation ceremony was honored by the presence of Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. She delivered the commencement address.

Ebadi is a heroine in the same class as Joan of Arc and many others. She sees the world realistically and observes that progress has been made during her lifetime.

"This brave woman, who has been imprisoned for her criticism of the Iranian government, had many good and wise things to say to our graduates, which earned their applause. But one applause line troubled me. Ms. Ebadi said: 'Democracy cannot be imposed with military force.' What troubled me about this statement--a commonly heard criticism of U.S. involvement in Iraq--is that those who say such things seem to forget the good U.S. arms have done in imposing democracy on countries like Japan and Germany, or Bosnia more recently."

Vietnam is a much closer analogy. Both Germany and Japan had home bases they could not flee from. Bosnia was similar, and school there is not quite out. None of these three involved a terror organization able to hide while it reaches around the world. Somalia is a much better analogue. And what of the score or so of other Twentieth-Century US military interventions that did not succeed in their stated goals.

Let me restate the case for this Iraq war from the U.S. point of view. The U.S. led an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein because Iraq was rightly seen as a threat following Sept. 11, 2001. For two decades we had suffered attacks by radical Islamic groups but were lulled into a false sense of complacency because all previous attacks were "over there." It was our nation and our people who had been identified by Osama bin Laden as the "head of the snake." But suddenly Middle Eastern radicals had demonstrated extraordinary capacity to reach our shores.

All this is accurate. But we must ask simple questions. If we were in the Middle East to "protect" American interests, what were those specific interests and why did they irritate bin Laden so? If we are not there to "protect" American interests, why are we there?

"As for Saddam, he had refused to comply with numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions outlining specific requirements related to disclosure of his weapons programs..."

Oil has a particular importance, and is a stated reason why we are in Iraq. Again a question: for the trillion or more dollars Iraq will have cost by the time this historic episode plays out, what could we have done to develop alternate energy sources? "Stealing and extorting billions" seems like small potatoes by comparison. Moreover, the weapons inspectors saw the danger rather differently. They visited every suspected site and found nothing. Unless we withdraw soon, American dead will soon double the 9/11 number. By the time Iraq is stabilized, Iraqi deaths as a result of our presence may well eclipse Hussein's awful total. And what of the Iraqi diaspora we created? That dispora is mostly comprised of the Iraqi middle class, the folks who could have provided the infrastructure needed for democracy to take root and survive?

"No matter how incompetent the Bush administration and no matter how poorly they chose their words to describe themselves and their political opponents, Iraq was a larger national security risk after Sept. 11 than it was before. And no matter how much we might want to turn the clock back and either avoid the invasion itself or the blunders that followed, we cannot. The war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is over. What remains is a war to overthrow the government of Iraq."

At the first meeting with his National Security Council Mr. Bush asked those present, including Paul O'Neill, for an excuse to attack Iraq. What 9/11 did was to provide Mr. Bush with that excuse. 9/11, in and of itself, had no bearing on any existing threat from Iraq. But because of our presence, Iraq is today in fact more dangerous--it is a superb training ground for jihadis. Worse than that, it is a prime motivator for martyrs in the cause of Islam (suicide bombers to us). How long do we defend an inept Iraqi government that cannot even provide security for its people? Is it inept because it is staffed in a manner after our own?

"Some who have been critical of this effort from the beginning have consistently based their opposition on their preference for a dictator we can control or contain at a much lower cost. From the start they said the price tag for creating an environment where democracy could take root in Iraq would be high. Those critics can go to sleep at night knowing they were right."

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have supported friendly or pliable dictators at the expense of human rights. Turkey's movement toward democracy is so far the only such successful example in the Middle East. The basis arose from Ataturk, an insider, not via external imposition such as we are trying.

"The critics who bother me the most are those who ordinarily would not be on the side of supporting dictatorships, who are arguing today that only military intervention can prevent the genocide of Darfur, or who argued yesterday for military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to ease the sectarian violence that was tearing those places apart."

Whatever the true history of past genocides, their sheer magnitude was such that only military action could have stopped the dictators from completing them. Genocide ultimately must be dealt with by nations of the world agreeing to make genocide an international crime and acting in concert to stop it and remove the perpetrators from power. One could argue that that was why we went into Iraq. But then the question becomes, what of the other genocides, before and since, that we have ignored?

"Suppose we had not invaded Iraq and Hussein had been overthrown by Shiite and Kurdish insurgents. Suppose al Qaeda then undermined their new democracy and inflamed sectarian tensions to the same level of violence we are seeing today. Wouldn't you expect the same people who are urging a unilateral and immediate withdrawal to be urging military intervention to end this carnage? I would."

Does Mr. Kerrey really believe the Kurds and Shias, left to themselves could ever establish a democracy? As it happened, al Qa'ida has in fact grown to the point of being able to undermine us in places they could not before. Al Qa'ida wasn't part of the Iraqi equation until we came along. And there are reports that Irani influence in Iraq has grown as well. As to the military intervention, it has been steady escalation of terror from the get go. Who wants to continue escalation? Mr. Kerrey's implication that we can defeat al Qa'ida in Iraq is a pipe dream. Al Qa'ida is now comprised of hundreds of individuals and cells in dozens of nations. It is a hydra with too many heads to defeat within any one country's borders. Armed forces are the wrong weapons when the real war is over ideas, international justice, and equality among nations.

"American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq's middle class has fled the country in fear."

If al Qa'ida has this power now in Iraq, why did that happen? Iraq is not even al Qa'ida's home base. If we are so great in action, why did the Iraqi middle class have to leave? Do we continue to follow the incompetent Bush administration, Kerrey's words, escalating al Qa'ida's power, adding to the casualty list, all the while weakening our own powers and influence? Are these events in America's best interests? Are not these factors also truths? Does "supporting our troops" include sending ever more to death and injury?

"With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power. American lawmakers who are watching public opinion tell them to move away from Iraq as quickly as possible should remember this: Concessions will not work with either al Qaeda or other foreign fighters who will not rest until they have killed or driven into exile the last remaining Iraqi who favors democracy."

"Not trusted?" Mr. Kerrey, surely you jest. That is the neocon line, Bush propaganda. We hope you have not bought into it. If the 2006 election means anything at all, it is that Bush is no longer trusted. The fear mongering that went into justifying Vietnam, the dominoes, never came about! America regained its footing after that "humiliation," won the Cold War, and became a responsible world-leading society--until 9/11 gave the Neocons their chance. If we are still a responsible nation, then clearly we must start behaving like one.

"The key question for Congress is whether or not Iraq has become the primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11. The answer is emphatically 'yes.'"

The answer was "no" until Bush went into Iraq! But now one battleground is indeed in Iraq. It is just the wrong one, fought in the wrong way. The primary battleground is over ideas, ideas about what is right. If it is right for us to be in Iraq, we fail to see the logic. Germany and Japan were trapped within their borders. Al Qa'ida is not so restrained. And it is even less restrained (and more capable) today than it was on 9/11. A surge will not change that. A win by WWII means and results is pure fantasy.

"This does not mean that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11; he was not. Nor does it mean that the war to overthrow him was justified--though I believe it was. It only means that a unilateral withdrawal from Iraq would hand Osama bin Laden a substantial psychological victory."

We are troubled that you think it was justified. There were many alternatives, some of which would have damped down al Qa'ida instead of empowering them further.

"Those who argue that radical Islamic terrorism has arrived in Iraq because of the U.S.-led invasion are right. But they are right because radical Islam opposes democracy in Iraq. If our purpose had been to substitute a dictator who was more cooperative and supportive of the West, these groups wouldn't have lasted a week." Are you saying we should have installed Uncle Samssein? We fail to see any logic. The problem is not the government we installed, but that we are there. How we behave as occupiers was/is in many ways dictatorial. Iraqi women today have less freedom and are more in danger than they ever were under Hussein. More people die daily, routinely, all because we are there.
"Finally, Jim Webb said something during his campaign for the Senate that should be emblazoned on the desks of all 535 members of Congress: 'You do not have to occupy a country in order to fight the terrorists who are inside it.' Upon that truth I believe it is possible to build what doesn't exist today in Washington: a bipartisan strategy to deal with the long-term threat of terrorism." Here is a paragraph we agree with. But we must note that it is not consistent with most of the material above it. We are, frankly, confused.
"The American people will need that consensus regardless of when, and under what circumstances, we withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. We must not allow terrorist sanctuaries to develop any place on earth. Whether these fighters are finding refuge in Syria, Iran, Pakistan or elsewhere, we cannot afford diplomatic or political excuses to prevent us from using military force to eliminate them."

Mr. Kerrey is still a politician and HAWK at heart. We suggest he study how the British in Queen Victoria's day extinguished the Thugs of India. In our times it will take more international cooperation than exists at present to eradicate terrorism. Individual rogues require police; national rogues require international military and peace-keeping forces. If there is a war, it is over ideas of what is right and what is wrong, and how we arrive at those ideas. Those issues too are international concerns.

You do not have to occupy a country
in order to fight the terrorists
who are inside it. -- Jim Webb

His quoting Jim Webb is curiously at odds with many statements above. Upon reviewing Mr. Kerrey's biography, we think his political roots may be showing through. At least his statements on the New School web site provide a very different (and optimistic) outlook than is apparent here. The New School emphasizes critical thinking, yet we see little of it in his writing above. Critical thinking will move us ahead; opinionated mind-sets (propaganda) will not. We can only hope Mr. Kerrey is too busy on important matters to think through how his article comes across to the "casuals" and "concerned" alike. Hawks and Neocons, of course, will love his hawkish attitude.

"Mr. Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska and member of the 9/11 Commission, is president of The New School."

Even though Mr, Kerrey is correct about the need for bipartisanship, it is depressing indeed to see a Democrat adopt some of the Caesar/Bush propaganda for the purpose of turning the Democratic party into hawks. His inclusion of the Webb statement is also very confusing--maybe it is Mr. Kerrey that is in a muddle; if so, his selection of that word in his title would be mere projection. Surely he is not so naive as to believe that a mere surge will establish a situation where a stable, democratic Iraqi government can come into being that will represent all peoples of Iraq. That could only happen if it were in the perceived interests of all concerned, including 20-odd warlords, three ethnic groups (one of them divided bitterly), and Iraq's neighboring states. Even then, al Qa'ida might have something to say about it. Given just what this adminstration has itself acknowledged (not their propaganda), democracy in Iraq is too remote to even consider.

Having said that, the US army happens to have a general, David Petraeus, now in command in Iraq who has a proven record as a conciliator and peacemaker to go with his bona fide record as a first-rate warrior. General David Petraeus, upon taking command, declared:

"We will have to share the burdens and move forward together. If we can do that and if we can help the people of Iraq, the prospects of success are good. Failing that, Iraq will be doomed to continued violence and civil strife."

Petreaus sees the situation in Iraq accurately. Our main quibble is that he should have been given this responsibility some three years ago and given full support and independence in settig policies. That is not and will never be the Neocon way, however. Still, Petreaus may be able to make progress, in which case the situation can be reviewed if it comes about. We hope we are wrong, but we think and fear it is now too late for even a man of his diplomatic and military skills. If he "fails" it will be because of circumstances beyond his control. In that event he can still hold his head high. He has our highest regard as a leader, so much so that we think he should consider running for president in 2008. We say that knowing nothing of his political philosophy. His diplomacy is what we care about, and he has shown more than any of the current flock of candidates. That may of course be accidental, even incidental to his assignments. But it is real enough.

The outgoing commander, Gen. George Casey, assesses Iraq society thus, if too narrowly.

"We liberated them from 35 years of tyranny but we can't liberate them from the fears and the prejudices that grew in those 35 years. I think they'll get past it, but if they don't, it'll be difficult."

Casey is typical American here; his own lifetime is his frame of reference. However, the problems in Iraq go back some thirteen centuries to the Sunni/Shia religious schism. The origins of prejudice go deeper and much farther back even than that; they arise from human pre-history in the jungle, savanna, icy wilderness, and wild seas: Natural History and Society development. Mythology, in all its many manifestations, has impeded social progress and science ever since it came into being in reply to natural questions regarding the nature of natural phenomena and human purpose in life and death. Such hardened religious prejudices (yes, plural) remain and will dog Petreaus as they did Casey. Hopefully, Petreaus will find a better pathway and be allowed to follow it. But we are not optimistic. Jim Webb has pointed out a path that we advocate on this site, one that Kerrey also saw fit to post in spite of his sell-out to the Bush propaganda and associations with the Neocons.

Can history and our military on the ground both be wrong? Either way, Petreaus could become a man of destiny.

For other commentary on the above article by Bob Kerrey, see: Andrew C. McCarthy's response in the National Review. Read about negative student responses to a graduation speech at The New School by John Mc Cain in The Villager.

Browse the New School website to find that Leo Strauss, the "founding father" of the Neocon movement, taught at The New School for eleven years. It is heartening that the current student body is showing some independence.

It is a bit odd to see an article like this from a Vietnam veteran who lost the lower part of one leg in combat, had a fairly progressive voting record in the Senate, who materially helped Jim Webb win his Senate seat in Virginia. He is also quoted as follows in Wikipedia:

"You can never, can never get away from it. It darkens your day. I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don't think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse." - Bob Kerrey

We could not agree more.


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