Being Objective About Objectives

Since my last post, the Middle East broke out into yet another war between right-wing militarists and Islamist militias, and President Bush went on a rhetorical offensive to shore up support for the war in Iraq (he hardly seems to mention Afghanistan anymore).

Even though I haven’t posted on my blog for a while, I did manage to get into a political debate over the Heeb message boards to get my political argument fix for the month. You can read the thread in its entirety if you wish (I stopped responding when I got bored of repeating myself), but I’m going to excerpt a particularly important bit, in an exchange with board member “Hesed”:

Do I believe that Israel can do anything about Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon militarily…hell no!
So, would you agree that the IDF’s stated objective is a sham?

But maybe if they pound the sh!t out of Lebanon for long enough it may bring enough attention to Hezbollahs unlawful agression to force them to start acting like the political party they profess to be.

Isn’t that the same line of reasoning Hizbollah is using to get the Israelis out of Shebaa Farms? I suppose if I pounded the sh!t out of your neighbors long enough I could get you to admit that pounding the sh!t out of someone could constitute lawful agression.

Niether side can reasonably expect the destruction of the other party, which are their stated aims. Instead, Israel played right into Hizbollah’s hands, increasing support their support even among their traditional enemies, the Maronite Christians. Few Lebanese would have endorsed an ‘open war’ against Israel before the bombing, but now Hizbollah is enjoyed unprecedentedly broad support among Lebanese civilians.

I know, I know, it doesn’t make any sense–Israelis turned against their government’s illegal warmongering en masse when they got the [Censored] pounded out of them by terrorist bombs, right? I mean, if Iraqis bombed Washington to make a point about the illegal occupation of Iraq, the hawks in Congress would have to pull their troops out of Baghdad, according to your logic. Maybe I’m crazy, but bombing people invariably turns them against you and drives them into the arms of your enemies.

Those of you who have read this blog over the past few years probably recognize my argument; military actions like the invasions of Iraq or Lebanon are based on the faulty logic of neoconservative military aggression. And speaking of neocons, Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker wrote a story published on August 21st, detailing the American involvement in the IDF’s planning for the war with Lebanon; according to Hersh, the war was kind of a ‘wet run’ for a ground invasion of Iran by the U.S. armed forces. If I had read the story before I posted on the Heeb boards, I would have worked it in to my ramblings, but I was too busy defending myself from logically faulty arguments, such as:

Now, Hesed, your strawmen are multiplying way beyond necessity. Calling Israel’s self-stated objectives “unattainable” does not mean I am saying there are no objectives. (or not).
Then why did you not volunteer that to begin with?

Hey, when you make the statement: Quote: Given that the objectives of the IDF are unattainable


Quote: So, would you agree that the IDF’s stated objective is a sham?

without yourself volunteering the idea that there is indeed another legitimate objective, then by omission you ARE saying that you don’t believe that there is any objective at all, which infers that you believe (and want the rest of us to believe) that Israels actions are just pointless, indiscriminate slaughter.

Often I get into arguments with people who have trouble reading what I write because they aren’t used to what I will call, for lack of a better word, precision. By saying that a certain objective is unrealistic, there is neither need for me to supply a “legitimate” objective nor for readers to infer anything “by omission,” a setup for a strawman if I ever heard one.

At any rate, Hesed soon declared that semantic arguments are just pissing matches and I didn’t feel like giving a Logic 101 seminar, so I dropped it (unless you count this post as not dropping it, to which I suppose I would have to cop). Nonetheless, the point about legitimate objectives got me thinking about the recent wars in the Middle East in terms of the gulf between expectations and reality; that is to say, the objectives versus the objective facts.

So, for example, in the case of the Israeli-Lebanese war, the (stated) objective of the military operation was to drive Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon and to secure the release of the two kidnapped soldiers. The consensus of the Heeb message board was that the secondary objectives were to weaken Hezbollah both militarily and politically, through the use of force. As we are all aware, none of these objectives were achieved. Hezbollah have become heroes even in the Sunni quaters of the Arab world, and their military capacity (as measured by the number of rockets launched at Israeli civilians in Israel) was undiminished up until the ceasefire. Not only that, but instead of cleaving the Lebanese elite from Hezbollah as a result of the collective punishment of the IDF, Lebanon has become cleaved to Hezbollah. (So much for the Cedar Revolution.)

As I mentioned at the top of this post, Bush is out on the road right now trying to drum up support for the war in Iraq, which has now been going on for over three years and does not show any signs of abating, no matter what you hear on Fox News. As Bush’s offensive is rhetorical, it got me thinking about the way rhetoric is being used to defend what the majority of the country (if polls are to be believed) is indefensible, i.e., “staying the course” in Iraq.

As we recall from the 2000 election, Bush was supposed to be our first “CEO-in-chief.” The man has a degree from the Harvard School of Business, after all. And the mark of every efficient manager is the implementation of goals and the definition of metrics to monitor the progress of those goals–setting objectives and then finding ways to measure the success or failure of the plans to implement them.

And this got me thinking that if I was ever allowed into the White House press room, I would have to ask the following question of the Administration:

“How will we know if we have failed in Iraq? What are the metrics we’re using to guage our success or failure?”

Now, in a certain sense this isn’t a fair question to Bush & Co., because defining a standard for failure would leave precious little wiggle room to justify a continued presence in Iraq if such a standard were met. If Bush or his proxies were game, of course, there would be many metrics to chose from, ranging from quality of life indicators to measures of political stability to geopolitical strategic goals.

As we see from both Israel and Hezbollah’s declaration of victory, in the world of asymmetrical warfare, the definition of victory becomes subjective, and likewise the definition of failure.

Bush’s speechwriters, by the way, are masters of rhetoric. What they’ve done is to redefine victory and defeat in the most politically advantageous terms regardless of the situation on the ground, which is what you have to do when you’re fighting a losing war.

The president has repeatedly stated that “failure is not an option” in Iraq–talk about a logical fallacy! And how does he justify this? Simple: as long as we still have troops in Iraq, we can’t lose. The only way we can lose is by withdrawing. QED.

Te problem is that this hyper-simplification puts the cart before the horse. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the speech the President gave to the American Legion National Convention on August 31st:

Still, there are some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they’re patriotic, but they could be — they could not be more wrong. If America were to pull out before Iraq can defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable — and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemiesSaddam’s former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al Qaeda terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban. They would have a new sanctuary to recruit and train terrorists at the heart of the Middle East, with huge oil riches to fund their ambitions. And we know exactly where those ambitions lead. If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities.

Notice the construction of this paragraph; if we were to pull out, says the president, the following bad things would happen. But then, all of these things have and are happening. Given that the worst case scenario stated by the President has already been achieved, it’s little wonder that Bush must redefine defeat as withdrawal, instead of saying that defeat would have to be followed by withdrawal. It’s the recipe for an unending occupation, because we can neither recognize defeat nor realisitically expect victory.

Now, even as Bush contradicts the recent Pentagon report saying Iraq is “on the brink” of civil war, even some of the war’s staunchest previous supporters are realizing that this war is not winnable. Viz, Thomas Friedman, one of the last prophets of neoliberalism, who finally admitted in his August 4th column:

It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war.

Bush supporters would reasonably object that we aren’t finished in Iraq and that it takes time to acheive objectives; until the tide turns, any project might be deemed a failure if you judge it before it’s completed. If you were to look at World War II and judge the success of our objectives in the spring of 1942, for example, you’d be hard pressed to say things were going well for the Allies. But then, the war in Iraq has already lasted longer than World War II, and things keep deteriorating. So, the question isn’t really whether or not we’ve acheived victory in Iraq (because everyone admits we haven’t), but whether we can reasonably expect to reverse the course towards failure that Bush has pretty much admitted we have been charting so far. So much for “staying the course.”

Even though there’s a constitution and a parliament, by almost any non-political metric, things are steadily worsening for Iraqis since the bad old days of the massively corrupt Oil-for-Food program. From violent deaths per day to access to health care to women’s rights and freedom of movement, the effect of our involvement in Iraq is clear. And every poll of Iraqis shows that Iraqis themselves recognize that the American presence is only destabilizing the country as opposed to preserving or working towards peace.

What Bush has done is to place our troops in the middle of the civil war. And it is a civil war, make no mistake. You can call it “high sectarian violence” or “anarchy,” but everyone still calls it “the war in Iraq” and if you don’t believe coalition troops are in the thick of it, you don’t really understand the scope of the situation.

Of course, Bush isn’t responsible to the Iraqi people; he’s supposedly responsible to the American people. And here’s where he clearly lays out the true measure of success or failure in our little Iraq adventure during the American Legion speech:

You also know what it takes to win. For all that is new about this war, one thing has not changed: Victory still depends on the courage and the patience and the resolve of the American people.

As the latest polls (and hopefully the mid-term Congressional elections) demonstrate, the American people have run out of patience. In this war of convenience, that’s really the only metric that can really be applied.


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