July 13, 2007

Thinking about Iraq: McCain vs. RI's Senators

Mac Owens

I have my disagreements with John McCain regarding immigration and campaign finance, but when it comes to understanding the Iraq War, he—unlike our RI senators—is a real mensch. Here are some excerpts from his speech the other day.

Let us keep in the front of our minds the likely consequences of premature withdrawal from Iraq. Many of my colleagues would like to believe that, should any of the various amendments forcing a withdrawal become law, it would mark the end of this long effort. They are wrong. Should the Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous, and more arduous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement.

No matter where my colleagues came down in 2003 about the centrality of Iraq to the war on terror, there can simply be no debate that our efforts in Iraq today are critical to the wider struggle against violent Islamic extremism. Already, the terrorists are emboldened, excited that America is talking not about winning in Iraq, but is rather debating when we should lose. Last week, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy chief, said that the United States is merely delaying our “inevitable” defeat in Iraq, and that ‘the Mujahideen of Islam in Iraq of the caliphate and jihad are advancing with steady steps towards victory.’

If we leave Iraq prematurely, jihadists around the world will interpret the withdrawal as their great victory against our great power. Their movement thrives in an atmosphere of perceived victory; we saw this in the surge of men and money flowing to al Qaeda following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. If they defeat the United States in Iraq, they will believe that anything is possible, that history is on their side, that they really can bring their terrible rule to lands the world over. Recall the plan laid out in a letter from Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before his death. That plan is to take shape in four stages: establish a caliphate in Iraq, extend the “jihad wave” to the secular countries neighboring Iraq, clash with Israel — none of which shall commence until the completion of stage one: expel the Americans from Iraq. Mr. President, the terrorists are in this war to win it. The question is: Are we?
As my friend Brent Scowcroft has said recently, "The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. . . If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution." Natan Sharansky has recently written, “A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison." Should we leave Iraq before there is a basic level of stability, we will invite further Iranian influence at a time when Iranian operatives are already moving weapons, training fighters, providing resources, and helping plan operations to kill American soldiers and damage our efforts to bring stability to Iraq. Iran will comfortably step into the power vacuum left by a U.S. withdrawal, and such an aggrandizement of fundamentalist power has great potential to spark greater Sunni-Shia conflict across the region.

Leaving prematurely would induce Iraq’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Egypt to Israel, Turkey and others, to feel their own security eroding, and may well induce them to act in ways that prompt wider instability. The potential for genocide, wider war, spiraling oil prices, and the perception of strategic American defeat is real, Mr. President, and no vote on this floor will change that. This fight is about Iraq but not about Iraq alone. It is greater than that and more important still, about whether America still has the political courage to fight for victory or whether we will settle for defeat, with all of the terrible things that accompany it. We cannot walk away gracefully from defeat in this war.

Unlike McCain, our senators cannot distinguish between a civil war and a jihadi “strategy of chaos” that targets the will of the American people. They live in a fantasy world in which we can fight an al Qaeda from a distance, much as President Clinton conducted military operations in Bosnia. But there is no immaculate form of warfare, especially when it comes to counterinsurgency. Sen. Whitehouse may have an excuse for advocating such nonsense, since he has no military experience, but Sen. Reed, a graduate of the US Military Academy, doesn’t. He apparently slept through his classes—both at West Point and while on active duty—on counterinsurgency.

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Yea. From the same folks that told us about flowers and candy, how the entire effort wouldn't even cost $1 billion, how we've turned the corner ten times... The same folks who have been wrong about every prediction. Same breed that predicted the Vietnam withdrawal domino effect that would cause the entire region, and than the entire continent, to fall to communism.

As for Reed, what exactly are your credentials to opine on this topic, Mac?

Posted by: Jake at July 13, 2007 1:14 PM

Mac is too humble to answer your attempted barb, so I will:

Mackubin T. Owens is Professor of Strategy and Force Planning at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel in 1994. He was wounded twice during the Vietnam War and awarded the Silver Star medal. Dr. Owens earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dallas, his M.A. in economics from Oklahoma University and his B.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
That enough for you?

Posted by: Marc Comtois at July 13, 2007 1:45 PM

...and more on Mac's writings here.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at July 13, 2007 1:50 PM


Not that Mac needs anyone to defend him, but since he's too classy a gentleman to go around listing his own credentials, I'll just mention that Colnel Owens (ret.) is a Professor of Strategy and Force Planning at the U.S. Naval War College and was awarded the Silver Star for his Marine Corps service in Vietnam, and let you decide if that's good enough for ya'.

Posted by: Andrew at July 13, 2007 2:03 PM

Reed is a politician – and I mean that in the pejorative sense of the word.

This is the guy that “served” in the General Assembly during the RISDIC era, and never raised a peep about what he had to know was going on around him (that is, if he himself wasn’t also an active participant).

Reed is one of the guys who voted for the infamous midnight bill to give state pensions to teacher union bosses who weren’t even employees of the state. He then pulled this cockamamie excuse about “not knowing what was in the bill.” In other words, “I’m not a crook, just incompetent.” More likely, he was a “good soldier” for the leadership and obediently voted for it because those were his instructions from the leadership.

Now his shtick is to provide some “military service” cover for the liberal Democrat agenda in order to ingratiate himself with the Senate and Party leadership.

In other words, Reed is reflexively liberal / socialist, but in the end, when “push comes to shove” Reed’s #1 loyalty and agenda is to advancing Reed.

Posted by: Tom W at July 13, 2007 2:08 PM

And as for Whitehouse, he's the quintessential empty suit - a trust fund baby looking for a purpose for his existence.

Like Patrick Kennedy, he stands for the proposition that within a particular family tree, Darwinian evolution exists but can operate in reverse!

Posted by: Tom W at July 13, 2007 2:12 PM

Mr. Owens, thank you for your service to the country.

This is going to be a long struggle, much longer than some Senator from Rhode Island's career in Washington. I have the utmost respect for George Bush and John McCain's decision to go on record in support of a campaign that is going badly. Things will improve as long as we have the will to see it through.

Posted by: Michael at July 13, 2007 2:16 PM

"That enough for you?"

It certainly gives him some credibility on the topic, yes.

He is still, however, wrong on the substance, just as the military analysts who warned of the fall of Europe to communism post Vietnam withdrawal were wrong.

Posted by: Jake at July 13, 2007 2:36 PM

"Reed’s #1 loyalty and agenda is to advancing Reed"

And McCain's loyalty lies where, exactly?

Posted by: Jake at July 13, 2007 2:37 PM

I accept much of Mac's assessement, specifically that Iraq's neighbors will become more involved if the US left, that a bloodbath might occur and that al-Qaeda's aim is to create a caliphate, starting in Iraq.

But I question the civil war versus jihadi "strategy of chaos" point. In a Shiite majority country like Iraq, a US pullout will almost certainly mean civil war and I don't know if a Sunni al-Qaeda type movement could succeed in implementing its vision in Iraq given that there is a Shiite majority. Also, there is an existing reluctance of many tribal Sunnis to support al-Qaeda.

So my question to Mac is: is it possible that a US withdrawal might lead to the decimation of al-Qaeda in Iraq by the Shiite majority or at least a civil war that occupies al-Qaeda fighters?

Withdrawing from Iraq will not "solve" any problems. The US is going to have to deal with Islamofascism for decades to come.

But perhaps it would allow the US to focus its resources on defeating al-Qaeda in environments more suitable to the American way of war (symetrical conflicts with overwhelming force) without allowing the enemy to define the battlefield?

After all, the best way to protect political prestige is to win.

Posted by: Anthony at July 13, 2007 2:38 PM

>>"Reed’s #1 loyalty and agenda is to advancing Reed"

>>And McCain's loyalty lies where, exactly?

I'm no McCain fan, but one has to give him credit for the courage of his convictions even when it is against his political self-interest.

His support for the recent immigration bill he had to know would make him even more unpopular with the Republican primary-voter base, yet he proceeded.

In the same vein, his steadfast support for the Iraq policy he has to know is "swimming against the tide" of general public opinion.

I've yet to see Reed take any stand that supports his convictions, whatever they may be (other than a reflexive lean to liberalism / socialism) ... much less any stand at variance with the prevailing wisdom in the Democrat Party or its power base (such as the teachers unions).

Posted by: Tom W at July 13, 2007 4:26 PM

Dear Marc,

Doesn't make him a United States Senator since there is one important thing he lacks: the ability to get elected. Respectable, very much so, electable, are you kidding me??

By the way, in that bio, PHD from the University of Dallas?? in Texas?? Education in Texas, I'd drop that one. Rest of it is very nice, why mar it with that?

Even with that resume, sometimes he's wrong, sometimes he's right, nothing special. For what he is, he's more right then wrong so I guess that's OK.

On another point, anyone who has ever thought of voting for McCain needs to do some real soul searching.

Tom W,

As usual, you only justify some of us making your life miserable by doing things politically that you hate. Thanks for the reminder. (By the way, Kennedy, Reed and Whitehouse stay as long as we want them to. The PCC on the other hand will soon be dead. I give it an election cycle.)

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at July 13, 2007 10:24 PM

With all due respect, no matter where we engage al Qeada throughout the world, there will be no 'symetrical conflict with an overwelming force.' That in itself is the basis for debate and arguement for this war. If we were to disassociate ourselves from Iraq, we will be forced to engage the phantom enemy somewhere else. Their warfare tactic is unlike anything we have faced. There is no organized, civilized-like conflict. There are no 'forward edges of the battle area'. Our next conflict with al Keada, whether it be in Africa, the Phillipines, Great Britain, or in our own back yard will be in the same manner as how we are engaging in Iraq. We certainly have the ability to engage with overwelming force, but at what cost? Ramadi has 400,000 residents. We could level it in hours at the expense of tens of thousands of innocent lives. This enemy, whose mindset is similar to those who beat Napoleon, can only be defeated if we allow patience to override our prevailing want for instant gratification. Their frame of mind is rooted through generations of persistant patience. Their Koran allows them to seek revenge for 10,000 years. Our next president, republican or democrat, will have to stay the course as President Bush is taking now, whether he or she likes it or not.

Posted by: jim at July 13, 2007 10:30 PM

So, Bobby

I'll address some of the substantive points raised in these comments in a later post, but I did get a kick out of your shot at my PhD from the University of Dallas. Between classes on ropin', bronc-bustin', and fixin' the John Deere, thar in Dallas, I still managed to get a little Latin and Greek. Yeah, that program in the educationally retarded state of Texas actually requires competence in two languages. How much Latin and Greek do you have? Have you ever read Thucydides, or Sophocles, or Aristotle in the Greek? How about Titus Livius (Livy) or Virgil in Latin? I'll make a deal with you. You translate Book V of the Nichomachean Ethics by sight and then you can say anything you want about edumacation in Texas.

Posted by: Mac at July 13, 2007 11:04 PM

I was kind of hoping for someone to question Mac's credentials (knowing their extensiveness beforehand), just to see the patheticness of the follow-up responses.

Anyway, the overall point is a valid one: if we leave too quickly, it will make a bad situation far worse. Power vacuums always get filled. It's a complete illusion, if not outright delusion, to think that just ignoring the enemy is going to make it better. They don't evaporate the minute we leave. It just emboldens them to do more and reinforces their Islamifascist supremacist beliefs. It reminds me of a saying "When you give a mouse a cookie, he'll ask for a glass of milk", etc. They aren't going away, just because we leave. John McCain's been wrong on a number of things recently, but he's dead on on this one.

As Bobby rightly pointed out, we're not fighting an enemy like we have in the past (like the Nazis), who, despite their depravity and evil, still had some ingrained cultural will to not only live and even thrive (of course, in their case, to dominate most others to serve them).

Basically, we're fighting a "religious-based" radical ideology, more than a specific enemy. It's not Islam, but it is a vocal segment of it. In the long run, I actually think they pose a far more dangerous threat to our civilization than any Nazi could have dreamed, because they really don't care if they live or die -- and in many cases, they have little to lose to begin with. Until we come to grips with what that ideology is and the threat that it poses, we're not going to be safe. When you don't acknowledge who your enemy is, and what they believe, how can you possibily succeed in containing or eliminating them?

As for Iraq, personally, I don't think we're ever going to "leave" completely, at least not in the foreseeable future. I don't think it would even happen with a complete Democratic sweep in 2008 -- even they know what will happen as a result, and it's not "peace and security." We've been building bases there and I fully expect us to use them for a long time to come. We're still in Germany, Japan, and South Korea after all -- and although we have our occassional disagreements with them, they're definitely our friends.

The most that is likely to happen [in Iraq] is that our forces with no longer be in a position of day-to-day patrolling of streets and being in neighborhoods -- which at least from a non-military perspective, I don't think is a bad thing for us to focus towards. We'll probably still have tens of thousands of troops there for many years to come.

Signaling to the enemy well in advance that you're leaving the country and giving it up for dead is a sure recipe for prolonged disaster -- and an invitation for even worst ones in the future -- which is why your beloved Dems, as nutty as they can be when bloviating on C-SPAN at 3am, probably don't have the cahones to send us completely in that direction, because it will come back to haunt them.

Posted by: Will at July 14, 2007 1:04 AM

Dear Mac,

Very fair question.

A quick reminder if I may: I attended Bishop Connolly and Portsmouth Abbey.

In other words, I did Gallic Wars by sight in 9th grade. (I wonder if at either school the standard is still that high??) Don't ask me to do it today. However, with a 3 month refresher course, those i-stems are such a pain, never mind ablative absolutes, I'd be back where I was.

Now I know what you're thinking. Where does Mr. Political Science Major/ Economics Minor at then SMU but left school to join the Dukakis campaign get talking about anybody else's degree?? Simple: over 200 campaigns in 37 states.

Wait a minute, to be fair, I'll drop Texas (which means I lose my 92 San Antonio - Balcones District Coordinator during the Texas Primary for Clinton experience) so it's still over 200 campaigns in 36 states. As I'm sure you'll agree: there are things you've experienced in real life that the classroom just can't duplicate.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at July 14, 2007 2:40 AM

Campaign life is real life? How absurdly amusing.

Posted by: smmtheory at July 14, 2007 11:11 PM

Mr. President, the terrorists are in this war to win it. The question is: Are we?

Hardly, Senator. America is not at war. America is at the mall. The average citizen couldn't care less what happens in Iraq, so long as they're home in time for American Idol.

Posted by: Brian at July 15, 2007 11:44 AM
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