September 22, 2004

September 21: Today's Reason to Not Elect George W. Bush

Edward of Obsidian Wings asks a straightforward question: "What have our 1,000 troops died for?"

This question has a straightforward answer. The first 100 died (and the first 500 were maimed) to liberate Iraq from a dreadful tyrant who had no operational ties with Al Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat to the U.S., and posed little threat to his neighbors.

The next 900 died (and the next 4500 were maimed) because:

  1. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to show that we could conquer, occupy, and control Iraq with a small force all by ourselves so that the Syrians and the Iranians would be scared of what we could do with the rest of our army.
  2. Nobody in the White House dared propose any change in policy when it became clear to everybody that Cheney and Rumsfeld were wrong.

Further conclusions to draw from this straightforward answer are left as an exercise for the reader.

Obsidian Wings: Did 1,000 troops die for nothing?: In what could only be described as an attempt to get in touch with the basest instincts of his inner hack, David Brooks shamelessly spins and distorts Kerry's foreign policy speech at NYU in his column today. There's plenty to call him on among all that drivel, but this was the most revolting bit of hackery I've read by him ever:

Kerry's new liberal tilt makes him more forceful on the stump, but opens huge vulnerabilities. Does he really want to imply that 1,000 troops died for nothing?

Let's be honest; that's a shamelessly loaded question. There are families still mourning each of those soldiers, and Brook's taunt is invoking their pain to score political points here.

Moreover, as is usually the case with Our Dreadful Mr. Brooks, he's asking the wrong question. If he wants to look seriously at the issue he's clubbing Kerry with, I'll turn it around for him. What both candidates should be discussing is a much harder, blunter question: What did those 1,000 troops die for?

I still, against reason it seems at time, hope a stable democracy will arise out of the ashes of chaos in Iraq, but even that is looking more and more like wishful thinking, so that unanswered question haunts me: what did those 1,000 troops die for?

I'm treading where angels should fear to here, I know, but I'm sick of being gagged with spin and false optimism.... Given what we now know about WMD, Hussein and 9/11, and the increasing unlikiness of democracy in Iraq, what do you tell the families of the fallen? What did their loved ones die for?

Posted by DeLong at September 22, 2004 09:19 AM | TrackBack

If you're reading our site, why not comment here?

By the way, I love your site.

Posted by: hilzoy at September 22, 2004 09:27 AM

Ah, comments don't accept html. I meant: on Sebastian's post about Social Security "reform".

Posted by: hilzoy at September 22, 2004 09:29 AM

Two things. First, all of your commentary and the commentary from the other site is right on target. Second, Brooks acts like it's a black and white issue. It's not as simple as admitting that we made a mistake, if you feel that we made a mistake, and moving on. As Bill Maher has said, we got Iraq pregnant, and now it's our job to take responsibility for our actions.

Posted by: Brian at September 22, 2004 09:30 AM

Do we have good authority for this claim? The US can't come up with 300,000 troops now, so how could it then?

Posted by: Henry Reynolds at September 22, 2004 10:16 AM

The Medium Lobster explains that the 1000 soldiers died to give the Freedom of Chaos to the Iraqis -- and predicts that this Freedom truly is on the march, throughout the rest of the world as well.

Posted by: joe at September 22, 2004 10:20 AM

There are people who care about some of the other people who have died too.

Posted by: Jack at September 22, 2004 10:21 AM

Well put. But Juan Cole is suggesting the number of U.S. troops wounded is over 30,000. Has the DoD changed the way they count the number of wounded and if so, why?

Posted by: pgl at September 22, 2004 10:23 AM

Bush has himself clearly set the terms for which he should be removed from office.

WMD's - no.

Greeted like liberators - no.

Mission accomplished - no.

Etc., Etc. ,Etc.

But why Kerry.

If for no other reason the Republican controlled congress is in dire need of adult supervision.

Bush has not vetoed any major spending bill - as a result deficits are a national embarrassment. You would think the Republicans could at least get this right.

A Democrat represents a form of needed check within the system.

Posted by: nm puff at September 22, 2004 10:30 AM

We know what those 1,000 (technically 900) troops died for:
*to protect America
*to remake/liberate the Middle East
*to send a message to the Islamists

Anybody who's watched any White House figure speak in the past 2 years would know this, and that's the problem - not intentions, but accomplishments. Anytime you question their actions, they just shift the debate back to their intentions. True, their intentions are admirable - who wouldn't want to make the Middle East freer and the US safer? - but they haven't actually accomplished any of the goals they said they would. The question isn't "what did the 1,000 die for?", but "did the deaths of the 1,000 accomplish what we'd hoped?" And the answer is the world's loudest no--as Cole points out, the Iraqi people aren't even really "liberated" yet - they still can't determine their own destiny, and the fear and violence that ruled in the Hussein era have by no means disappeared.

If you're a conservative or Iraq war supporter, or even just someone who's concerned about Iraq, you shouldn't take this as fatalism, just a sign that the hard work isn't over, Iraq isn't "liberated" yet, and won't be until we get the handover done right. Premature triumphalism solves nothing, and has probably made the problem worse. The question we have to ask ourselves: is getting Iraq right more important than getting [Candidate X/Y] (re-)elected? Based on [Candidate X/Y]'s recent actions re: Iraq, do you think he shares your priorities?

Posted by: Adam at September 22, 2004 10:43 AM

"There are people who care about some of the other people who have died too."

Well put. Yes.

Not sure that's directed at me, per se, but just in case, and so you know, I've posted on that as well. One example:

"We rushed into Iraq. We must set the bar higher. Dictators dreaming of getting weapons one day do not justify the deaths of thousands of innocents, let alone the utter chaos our botched efforts have created.

We must set the bar higher."
PS. Many thanks for the trackback Brad!

Posted by: Edward at September 22, 2004 10:58 AM

Mr. Brooks, these soldiers deaths' were avoidable, but they not did die in vain. They indeed died in defense of America, but not in the way you think. The principle they upheld, and that led to their deaths, was that of the complete subservience of the military to civilian authority, one the pillars that has sustained democracy in the United States. Bush was wrong to have sent them there in the first place and to deny or ignore that assertion, turns the American political system on its head, and threatens that basic principle for which they died.

Posted by: CSTAR at September 22, 2004 11:26 AM


Political Lysenkoism?

Posted by: CSTAR at September 22, 2004 11:42 AM

Dear Arrogant Adrian,

Seek professional help - soon!

Ann Landers

Posted by: wvmcl at September 22, 2004 11:43 AM

Adam, after reading your post about intentions and results my immediate thought was:

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." -Samuel Johnson

Posted by: bakho at September 22, 2004 11:44 AM

"Has the DoD changed the way they count the number of wounded and if so, why?"

Yes, injuries are immediately shipped to Germany. That way they didn't die in Iraq. Why, to fudge the books. Bush knows that after Viet Nam all eyes would be on him and if people really knew the level of incompetance him would be drummed fomr office, ala Johnson.

My guess is that early next year he will begin a callup of the draft. He has only parsed his words about not reinstituting the draft.

Notice how desparate he is, floating a trial ballon with that traitor Bob Novak about leaving next year?

Posted by: me at September 22, 2004 12:09 PM

it's not directed at you at all and I'm very impressed at the way you have handled the discussion on OW.

In particular pointing out that the sacrifice of many fine young people is something that it is the duty of the Commander in Chief to spend wisely, not something that people should pussy foot around, even at the cost of more lives, to avoid upsetting the bereaved.

Rather I am distressed the overwhelming tendency to see things from an American point of view. It is one of the reasons that the invasion is doomed to failure. The invasion was timed to suit the American electorate. Forces were deployed to suit American budgets with tactics that were designed to protect American sensibilities. That is only to be expected and if the US doesn't look after its own interests who will? Unfortunately with those priorities it is very hard to achieve what is best for Iraq. This is not a uniquely American problem, it is one of the chief things wrong with the British Empire which was worst managed when British intentions were best. When Britain was a small power on the make it had to take the world as it found it. Once it grew powerful, it lost the need to respond to much other than its own prejudices.

Posted by: Jack at September 22, 2004 12:13 PM

"The invasion was timed to suit the American electorate."

Yes, that remains the single most morally indefensible part of it, IMO. Worse than arguably breaking international law, worse than arguably being about oil, worse than argubably being an egomaniac's wetdream of social re-engineering, the idea that Bush made decisions based on the election calendar (which seems beyond clear to me) strips away any pretense of good intentions. Lives were potentially lost because of that self-centered concern.

Posted by: Edward at September 22, 2004 12:22 PM

I agree with the idea that the burden of justifying the loss of over 1,000 U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians should be borne by those who made the decision to go to war.

I would suggest further that we demand that those justifications be backed up by the actions of having more senior administration officials going to Iraq and going out to the areas most in need of democratic reform. I would also suggest that they be willing to send family members as troops. If they are not willing to risk their lives or those of their families for what they think is so important that we needed to go war, then why should anyone else?

That's what real leadership is about, and anything less is a failure of leadership.

Change the terms of the debate!

Posted by: Brad at September 22, 2004 12:29 PM

The question of why they died is tied to the question of HOW they died.

Most did not die while either attempting to capture suspects (police work) or kill and destroy enemies (military work). Most died while in convoy -- running supplies and mail and fuel and ammo and personnel from here to there.

So, most died because they believed in, were trying for, and put themselves at risk to accomlish free and secure travel, commerce, and construction.

It's not at all clear to me that putting more troops into the country would have reduced the number of deaths. If more troops required more convoys, one might suppose more deaths would have resulted. Seems to me like a mathematical model might be constructed were one looking for interesting exercises of the sort ...

Posted by: pouncer at September 22, 2004 12:55 PM

> If more troops required more convoys, one might
> suppose more deaths would have resulted.

That's assuming the logistic troops/frontline troops proportion remains constant with higher levels of trooops, which it doesn't.

Posted by: goethean at September 22, 2004 01:31 PM

The best part about Kerry's attacks on Bush's Iraq policy is watching the Republican spinsters sputter that Kerry's proposals are the same thing that Bush is trying to do now. Sweet! Now there's NO reason not to vote for JFK! We'll get the same tough anti-terror policy, without the attention deficit disorder!

Question: if Bush were of age today, would HE be fighting in Iraq?

Posted by: Lee A. at September 22, 2004 01:55 PM

Who knows what Brooks believes. But people believe him. Conducting an informal survey (and taking liberties with the notion of data) shows that drivel sells. In a survey of Google Hits its DavidBrooks:ObsidianWings--127,000:33,000.

Of course this is thrown off by many things, including the "David Brooks'" with advanced degrees.

But Brad DeLong comes in with 135,000, so I suppose this shows hope for persistant truth sayers/seekers, given the proper exposure.

Posted by: Drivel Sells at September 22, 2004 02:30 PM

Bakho - "and if your intentions are purely good, then you're going *straight* to hell." In some ways, pure intentions have oriented us towards non-concrete goals which we're not able to achieve. Pure intentions may be the straightest path to quagmire.

Brad - The idea we should have "senior administration officials going to Iraq and going out to the areas most in need of democratic reform," is great, but what makes you think that people who only know how to destroy democracy in this country would know how to build it elsewhere?

Posted by: Adam at September 22, 2004 04:46 PM

"In a survey of Google Hits its DavidBrooks:ObsidianWings--127,000:33,000. "

That's so sad...

Posted by: Edward at September 22, 2004 05:01 PM

What will the presnit tell the kin of the next 1000 to die? I hope there is no next 1000 or even a 1.
Bring them home now!

Posted by: dilbert dogbert at September 22, 2004 05:58 PM

I hate to throw a wet blanket on this conversation, but the Russians lost 20 million in WWII while the Chinese lost 50 million in the Chinese Civil War.

Assuming for purposes of argument, that the "War on Terror" is in some sense an actual war and not just a poltical stunt, then 1,000 is chicken feed.

There are 1 billion Muslims out there; they have been around for nearly 1400 years; and we have elected to pick a fight with the whole lot of them.

Don't worry about the 1,000 deaths froms the all volunteer - essentially mercenary - force the United States has deployed in Iraq.

This little party has only just begun.

Posted by: Mr. Cholestorol at September 22, 2004 07:05 PM

From what I've heard from most of the local troops who've managed to get out of Iraq alive, turning Iraq into a democracy wasn't their intention. They were in the National Guard to get money for a college education or to learn a trade. Had they know what the Bush regime was up to they would have never joined the Guard.

To me, this war in Iraq was started by Republicans and should be fought by Republicans. I believe that any Democrat or Independent soldier should not be sent to Iraq. Send only Republicans.

Posted by: vaughn at September 22, 2004 08:23 PM


Thank you for your comment. My intention was to convey that our "leaders" ought to lead by example if they want others to risk their lives. Wolfowitz in particular should be required to live in Baghdad until he can walk - unarmed and unescorted - from the eastern end of Sadr City to the airport on the west side.

I forgot to note in my previous post that my last initial is M. (in case Brad de Long wishes to disavow any of my comments)

Posted by: Brad at September 22, 2004 11:23 PM

If anyone ever gets a chance to ask Bush any questions, one should be why are his kids are not joining up to fight the WoT.

Posted by: spencer at September 23, 2004 05:36 AM

Let's see, John Kerry, in 1971 described the deaths of over 40,000 in Vietnam as the "biggest nothing in history". So why should David Brooks, or anyone else, think he has changed?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan at September 23, 2004 06:54 AM

Let's see, John Kerry described the Vietnam War, not the 58,000 American deaths, as the "biggest nothing in history." He wanted the war to end and the troops to come home. He did not want any more soldiers to die, but apparently this is now a sign of disrespect for our troops. Is cheerleading for war now the only way to show respect for the people who will fight and die?

Posted by: mas at September 23, 2004 12:53 PM