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The Dogs Of War Are Back

“As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”  — Proverbs 26:11

Peter Beinart writes in detail [1] about how he, a supporter of the Iraq War, fell for the arguments for war last time, and how we are now going through a repeat of the same thing with Iran. Excerpt:

How is this possible? How is it possible that Trump—who during the presidential campaign boasted about his supposed opposition to the Iraq War—has now embraced an outlook so similar to the one that guided Bush in 2002 and 2003? How can Bolton and Netanyahu remain unrepentant [2] about their role in promoting war with Iraq and yet be taken seriously when they make similar arguments about the supposed nuclear threat from Iran? Why can’t America learn from its recent past?

There’s no single answer. Part of the explanation is partisanship. Politics is today such a team sport that people often downplay or overlook even the grossest offenses by their own side. More than 60 percent of Republicans, according to a March Pew Research Poll [3], think the United States was right to invade Iraq. George W. Bush’s approval rating among Republicans, according to a January CNN poll, is 76 percent [4]. I suspect that those numbers reflect tribal loyalty more than any considered judgment about the war’s impact. But they make it easy for Republican officials to claim, as Bolton does [2], that the real mistake wasn’t Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq but Obama’s decision to withdraw them. Since many Republicans won’t even admit the Iraq war was wrong, it’s hard to apply its lessons to the current debate over Iran. It’s particularly hard since doing so would mean admitting not only that Bush was wrong in waging war with Iraq but that Obama was right in striking a deal with Iran. When was the last time you heard Trump admit that Obama was right about anything?

If you missed Army officer John Q. Bolton’s essay in TAC last week [5], in which he describes America through his own eyes, having gone through several deployments, you really need to read it. Excerpts:

Though only 1 percent of the nation is in uniform, the more alarming trend is that military service is increasingly a family affair [6]. Coupled with the localized recruitment and basing in the West and Southeast, we are quickly evolving into a praetorian military culture. The tenor of discussion while I was home reflected this reality.

I found people expecting me to confirm things they already believed about our military in order to affirm their confidence in America. The trouble is I don’t share that confidence. My 40 months deployed since 2006 have left me with a hard edge. To be sure, I am proud of my country and certainly feel a strong desire to continue service past my thankfully short time left in uniform. But I temper that loyal desire with hard-earned realism about the capacity of the military to deliver on the blind faith the public reposes.

Perhaps condescendingly, I felt most people back home were naïve or at least perpetually misinformed. Consideration or debate beyond the platitudes didn’t occur [7]. No matter their education or worldliness, most Americans retain their supremely American-esque limited interest in politics and foreign and military policy. Much-needed realism, if not satire, is absent [8] from our sacred military, because the public either regards it as sacrosanct or detestable. Worst of all, the public is apathetic about their military [9].

From otherwise considerate and intelligent friends and family I heard comments like “Hope your killing lots of those f–kers” and “Kick some ass over there,” despite the lack of any serious, let alone existential, threat to the American homeland posed by extremists in Afghanistan. Even well-meaning people, it seems, don’t want to understand what our policies hath wrought, at home and abroad.

Many consider it patriotism, but this feeling [10] is specious, insipid, and self-destructive. Calls to “do something” ignore the two-fold genesis of terrorist threats against us: domestic instability in Islamic countries and American actions. The truth is that America is exhausting itself in internecine wars of choice across the greater Middle East [11]—actions that exacerbate [11] instability. War has bankrupted our nation during a time of effective peace, without any discernible threat comparable to the costs, though the media certainly doesn’t help [12] the public see the threat clearly. The wars have also contributed to our fractured politics, as we ignore guns versus butter by using debt and conduct specious freedom versus security arguments.

I know a guy who went to Iraq. Rush Limbaugh conservative kind of guy. Came home decorated. Describes the war as “a waste.” Won’t talk about it further. I found out recently from a relative that when he was in Iraq a decade ago, he had to pick up the pieces of one of his friends, blown to bits by an IED. He’s only now able to mention it in words. For a decade, he has carried that darkness inside.

A friend of mine’s husband also went to Iraq. He came home changed. Won’t tell his wife what he saw or did, but will not go into a church. Says God can’t forgive him.

In the last years of my father’s life (he died in 2015), I would take him to the VA clinic for some of his treatments. There I would see men younger than I, in various stages of physical brokenness. Maimed — and not just physically. These were men who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of them had their little children along with them. This was their life now.

And for what?

So. When I see things like this, written by those who had been strong advocates of the Iraq War, alarm bells go off:

Weigel is talking in that piece about Russia’s war on Ukraine [13]. Weigel has been writing about this strongly for some time, though mostly in a church context (he defends the Ukrainian Catholic Church against Russian Orthodox aggressors). I don’t blame Weigel, a Catholic, for being upset over what’s going on in Ukraine, and I find it hard to defend Russia’s actions there (even as I recognize that the situation is a lot more historically complicated than the simplified “Russian imperialism” narrative some prefer).

What concerns me is that “freedom is never free” was one of the slogans tossed around in the march up to the Iraq War — as if American freedom depended on invading and subjugating Iraq, and turning it into a liberal democracy. Similarly, with Trump now arming Ukraine, I fear that writers like Weigel will prepare Americans to enter into another foreign war that is not our business. In this piece, he speaks of the bravery of Ukrainian Catholics in resisting Russian paramilitaries active in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded. Weigel writes, “The war in the Donbass is real, however, and the West needs to take it far more seriously.”

Meaning what, exactly? Arms for Ukraine? What is the end goal here? My own personal sympathies are more aligned with Ukrainian political independence, but above all, I see no reason at all why the United States should involve itself militarily with a war that’s not only on Russia’s border, but is in a country that historically is seen as the cultural heart of Russia (Orthodoxy began in Kiev).

The main theater of war at the moment is not the Russian geographical orbit, but, as usual, the Middle East. It appears that Israel and Saudi Arabia are preparing for war with Iran — a war that the US will surely be dragged into, given how close we are to both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and how masterfully both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed Bin Salman have groomed Donald Trump. This conflict has been building for many years, but now it looks like it’s on the verge of breaking out beyond proxy conflicts.

Beinart’s piece talks about how the forgetfulness of the US public leaves us vulnerable to manipulation into embracing yet another Middle Eastern war. It’s worth going back to January 2003 and reading Catholic neoconservative Weigel’s magisterial First Things essay contending that America’s moral duty was to invade Iraq. [14]Excerpts:

As a tradition of statecraft, the just war argument recognizes that there are circumstances in which the first and most urgent obligation in the face of evil is to stop it. Which means that there are times when waging war is morally necessary to defend the innocent and to promote the minimum conditions of international order. This, I suggest, is one of those times. Grasping that does not require us to be “pagans.” It only requires us to be morally serious and politically responsible. Moral seriousness and political responsibility require us to make the effort to “connect the dots” between means and ends.


International terrorism of the sort we have seen since the late 1960s, and of which we had a direct national experience on September 11, 2001, is a deliberate assault, through the murder of innocents, on the very possibility of order in world affairs. That is why the terror networks must be dismantled or destroyed. The peace of order is also under grave threat when vicious, aggressive regimes acquire weapons of mass destruction—weapons that we must assume, on the basis of their treatment of their own citizens, these regimes will not hesitate to use against others. That is why there is a moral obligation to ensure that this lethal combination of irrational and aggressive regimes, weapons of mass destruction, and credible delivery systems does not go unchallenged. That is why there is a moral obligation to rid the world of this threat to the peace and security of all. Peace, rightly understood, demands it.

This concept of peace-as-order can also enrich our understanding of that much-bruited term, the “national interest.” The irreducible core of the “national interest” is composed of those basic security concerns to which any responsible democratic statesman must attend. But those security concerns are related to a larger sense of national purpose and international responsibility: we defend America because America is worth defending, on its own terms and because of what it means for the world. Thus the security concerns that make up the core of the “national interest” should be understood as the necessary inner dynamic of the exercise of America’s international responsibilities. And those responsibilities include the obligation to contribute, as best we can, to the long, hard, never-to-be-finally-accomplished “domestication” of international public life: to the quest for ordered liberty in an evolving structure of international public life capable of advancing the classic goals of politics—justice, freedom, order, the general welfare, and peace. Empirically and morally, the United States cannot adequately defend its “national interest” without concurrently seeking to advance those goals in the world. Empirically and morally, those goals will not be advanced if they are pursued in ways that gravely threaten the basic security of the United States.

In eradicating global terrorism and denying aggressive regimes weapons of mass destruction, the United States and those who walk this road with us are addressing the most threatening problems of global disorder that must be resolved if the peace of order, the peace of tranquillitas ordinis, is to be secured in as wide a part of the world as possible in the twenty-first century. Here, national interest and international responsibility coincide.

Remember all that? And this:

This “regime factor” is crucial in the moral analysis, for weapons of mass destruction are clearly not aggressions waiting to happen when they are possessed by stable, law-abiding states. No Frenchman goes to bed nervous about Great Britain’s nuclear weapons, and no sane Mexican or Canadian worries about a preemptive nuclear attack from the United States. Every sane Israeli, Turk, or Bahraini, on the other hand, is deeply concerned about the possibility of an Iraq or Iran with nuclear weapons and medium-range ballistic missiles. If the “regime factor” is crucial in the moral analysis, then preemptive military action to deny the rogue state that kind of destructive capacity would not, in my judgment, contravene the “defense against aggression” concept of just cause. Indeed, it would do precisely the opposite, by giving the concept of “defense against aggression” real traction in the world we must live in, and transform.

Some will argue that this violates the principle of sovereignty and risks a global descent into chaos. [Emphasis mine — RD] To that, I would reply that the post-Westphalian notions of state equality and sovereign immunity assume at least a minimum of acquiescence to minimal international norms of order. Today’s rogue states cannot, on the basis of their behavior, be granted that assumption. Therefore, they have forfeited that immunity. The “regime factor” is determinative, in these extreme instances.

And this kicker, near the essay’s end, taking a shot at bishops of his own church — including the Bishop of Rome — who warned against the US going to war in Iraq:

There is a charism of political discernment that is unique to the vocation of public service. That charism is not shared by bishops, stated clerks, rabbis, imams, or ecumenical and interreligious agencies. Moral clarity in a time of war demands moral seriousness from public officials. It also demands a measure of political modesty from religious leaders and public intellectuals, in the give-and-take of democratic deliberation.

Two months after this essay appeared, the United States invaded Iraq. The war was unstoppable by that point, obviously, but this essay provided an intelligent (if wrong) moral and religious rationale for that war.

Where are we in 2018, as the result of America’s actions in that war?

Large portions of the Middle East have been laid waste because of sectarian and tribal hatreds unleashed by America’s overturning of the order there. Ancient Christian communities have been decimated. Iran has gained de facto control of much of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people — mostly Iraqis, but some US troops — were left dead or wounded.  [15]

In February 2003, roughly contemporary with Weigel’s article, this Patrick Buchanan column appeared, warning against the war. [16]Excerpt:

No one knows for certain how it will play out. Europeans, Arabs, and many Americans fear a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq will lead to a Middle East upheaval in which Islamists, hell-bent on a war of civilizations with the West, could come to power.

Neoconservatives, wild for war, predict a “cakewalk” that liberates the people of Iraq from a bloody tyrant and begins the democratization of the Islamic world.

Militarily, Iraq does not appear formidable. An Iraqi air defense, unable to shoot down a single U.S. plane in 40,000 sorties in ten years, cannot long withstand U.S. air power that can deliver 1,000 smart bombs and cruise missiles on target each day. And Iraqi ground forces cannot long resist Abrams tanks that can guarantee the kill of an Iraqi armored vehicle with every shell fired. Thus the great question: What comes next?

The War Party sees the occupation of Iraq, like the occupation of Germany and Japan, as an opportunity to convert hostile Arab nations into peace-loving, pro-Western societies. Faced with U.S. military supremacy, the Arabs, they believe, will, at last, accept our benevolent hegemony and the permanent presence of Sharonist Israel in the heart of the Middle East.

The antiwar camp fears that the result of a U.S. invasion of Iraq could be a Middle East that more resembles the Europe of the 1930s than the Europe of the 1950s. Impose democracy on the Arab world, and what is to prevent the new regimes from reflecting the resentment and hatred of U.S. power and Israel now pandemic among these peoples.

Buchanan was right. Weigel was wrong. Europe was right. America was wrong. And yet, here were are in 2018, marching down the same damn road to a war that is not in America’s interest.

On the conservative Christian side, First Things — the leading intellectual journal of religious conservatism — went all in for the Iraq War, and suffered a massive loss of its authority because of it. The Republican Party used to be considered the party of foreign-policy and national security expertise. You’d have to be a fool to think that after Iraq, given that, as Beinart said, the GOP establishment learned not a damn thing from its grave errors. What the Republican Party and other neoconservative institutions lost in Iraq was credibility, which is to say, authority. Who can trust their judgment on such grave matters, when it proved so catastrophically wrong? If there was a “charism of political discernment,” that charisma bled out in the desert of Iraq.

Today, almost every major institution of American life — public and private — suffers from a crisis of authority and confidence. See the Gallup polls. [17] The only one that can boast of a majority of Americans’ confidence is the US military. Whether that is merited or not is a good question, but the main thing to keep in mind is that the military does not determine its own policies. It is sent into war by the elected civilian leadership — most importantly the Commander in Chief. According to that Gallup poll, only 32 percent of Americans have “a great deal” (19%) or “quite a lot” (13%) of confidence in the president. Forty-seven percent have “very little” or “none”! The numbers are comparable for Congress.

And yet this president, in whom half the country has no confidence, is poised to lead us into another Middle East war. And where is Congress?

What kind of loyalty should the American people have to a government that repeatedly sends its soldiers into wars that we can’t win? A National Guard veteran of Iraq told me a few years ago that he and his fellow vets can’t stand it when people see them in uniform, and approach them to thank them for their service. This man told me they know that people mean well, but they see soldiers as symbols that allow them to feel good about themselves, and the country. These civilians, he said, don’t want to hear about the killing, the screams, the pain, the struggles their families back home have endured during repeated deployments. They don’t want to see the broken bodies and shattered minds of vets. To be honest, the vet I’m thinking about didn’t put it so eloquently. He spoke bluntly and profanely: “They don’t f–king want to know what we’ve really been through.”

I’ll leave you with this anecdote from a conversation I had over TAC’s 15th Anniversary Gala Event a couple of weeks ago. A TAC reader asked me if I had read Kelly Vlahos’s story in this magazine about Iraq and Afghanistan “burn pits.” I had not. Here’s that story. [18] Excerpts:

One look at Brian Alvarado and you wonder how he can still be alive. Especially when you get a glimpse at his pre-deployment photograph—a Marine in his service uniform, full-faced and ready for whatever war would dish out—and think, “is this really the same person?”

Unfortunately, yes, Alvarado served two tours 10 years ago, and for a time he patrolled “hell,” which is what the guys called the open air burn pits on major U.S. military installations like Air Base Balad in Iraq. When he got home, according to his wife, he was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma (throat cancer) and began chemo and radiation in 2008. Today he can hardly speak and eats and drinks through a G-tube. His features are skeletal, his neck the size of man’s wrist. He is 5-foot-9 and weighs about 70 pounds.

For Alvarado and his wife Rocio, coming to terms with the cancer was one thing, but how he may have gotten it—from the burn pit itself— is another. He is one of thousands of U.S. military servicemembers and contractors who say their proximity to the pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, which burned—unregulated, in the open air—hundreds of tons of solid waste a day, have left them with progressive health conditions, including respiratory failure, debilitating nerve damage, and rare forms of cancer.

“There was no protection, no mask,” Alvadrado said through his wife, who interprets his indiscernible speech, or reads from the mini-white board he carries with him to communicate. “They gave us a gas mask, but it wasn’t for that. It was more for nuclear, biological chemicals. It was never mandatory for us to wear that.”


“When we got to the work area we had an initial briefing with our superiors and we were told to keep an eye on our people, that you were going to get the ‘Iraqi crud,’ and that everyone gets sick when they come down here,” recalled Jessey Baca, who served in Iraq as an Air Force Sergeant, also interviewed in Delay, Deny, Hope You Die [a documentary about the burn pits — RD]. “And no doubt, within a week, people were falling out, getting sick.”

But it was civilian doctors, not the VA who began putting together the symptoms of veterans they treated and followed the path to not only their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the burn pits. Both Drs. Anthony Szema, formerly of Stony Brook School of Medicine, and Robert Miller of Vanderbilt, studied sick veterans, finding in lung biopsies irrevocable damage caused by heavy metals and carcinogens in small particulates that could only come from breathing in toxic air.

“Humans are supposed to breathe clean air,” said Szema in the film. “Any particle in the air can trigger asthma. And when you burn particles in an open air setting at a low setting, at low temperature, low heat, it generates thousands more times the particles than when you use an incinerator. And when you burn particles, when you are burning carcinogens, it exposes a person when they eat it, inhale it, sniff it, get it on their skin…which can cause cancer.”

But it turns out the military had an inkling of what was happening as early as 2006. In 2008, Army Times reporter Kelly Kennedy unearthed what is now referred to as the “Curtis Memo,” an Air Force study of the Balad pit by Lt. Col. Darrin L. Curtis, who said one of his research mates called it “the worst environmental site I have ever personally visited.” It listed a number of possible contaminants at the site based on the trash, including arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, cancer-causing sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and various metals.

While burning trash in war is hardly new, the size, scope, and length of the burning in these wars was, and as Curtis wrote in 2006, “today’s solid waste contains materials that were not present in the past that can create hazardous compounds.”

“In my professional opinion there is an acute health hazard for individuals … also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke,” Curtis concluded. “It is amazing that the burn pit has been able to operate without restrictions over the past few years, without significant engineering controls being put into place.”

The reader recounted the burn pits story at length, and pointed out that they had been constructed and operated by Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton. KBR had been awarded a $7 billion no-bid contract by the Bush administration to cover its work in Iraq. My interlocutor — a conservative, I hasten to add — talked at length about Dick Cheney, Halliburton, and the war.

“After all that, do you really expect me to be upset because President Trump paid off a porn star?” he said.

His point was that having swallowed Iraqi camels, we are now straining at gnats with Trump regarding his personal corruption.

A fair point. But now, Trump is beating the drums of war — a war of choice — with Iran. Do you trust Trump to avoid being drawn by our allies Saudi Arabia and Israel into military conflict with Iran? Do you trust the United States to do the right thing in the Middle East, regarding war? Do you really think that this time, it will be different?

Do you really think that the Iraq War strengthened America, and American institutions? Do you really think we can afford another one? Can you in good conscience urge your sons (or your daughters) to serve a government that is so reckless with the lives of its soldiers, and such foolish stewards of its own authority?

Read John Q. Bolton’s essay, right now! [5]

99 Comments (Open | Close)

99 Comments To "The Dogs Of War Are Back"

#1 Comment By JonF On May 14, 2018 @ 4:56 pm

Re: But your statement that Orthodoxy began in Kyiv is simply wrong: Orthodoxy began in Jerusalem in A.D. 33.

True, but Rod’s statement concerned Orthodoxy in Russia, and that did begin in Kiev. Which was also the seat of the Rurik dynasty that originally ruled all the Russias (that is, the assorted princely states that became de facto independent of Kiev). The modern Russian state had its genesis in the new city of Moscow, which was founded after the Mongol invasion, and the princes of which (also Ruriks) initially served the Khan as his chief tax collector– thereby getting quite rich– google “Ivan Moneybags” for an example.

#2 Comment By JonF On May 14, 2018 @ 5:02 pm

Re: I appreciate the efforts of social scientists and journalists to bring rigor to the reporting of civilian deaths in wartime, including by trying to get evidence on the deaths of named individuals, but those numbers strike me as being hideously low

I find “low” figures much more credible than high ones: throughout history exaggerated estimates of deaths in wars and natural disasters have polluted our historical accounts, generally (with some rare exceptions*) when serious effort is made to dig into the details the high numbers are reduced by at least an order of magnitude.

* The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is one such exception: the final toll was even higher than first thought. But a tsunami is the least survivable sort of common disasters there is: even a nuclear exploration is slightly more survivable.

#3 Comment By VikingLS On May 14, 2018 @ 5:02 pm

“Rusty, I might be inclined to read – even agree – with one of your posts if you didn’t imply that everyone who opposed Obama or HRC did so over birth certificates or other bad faith issues.

It really gets old.”

Which is probably his intent. I doubt Rusty is very interested in persuading you of anything. He just wants to mock you and perhaps gain the admiration of other liberals. That’s what trolls do.


As others pointed out, it wasn’t that long ago Trump was threatening the North Koreans and we were assured that that war was imminent.

Now for a lot of people Trump is so upsetting as a concept that ANY response to Trump other than condemnation is seen as supporting his every move.

So for the record I am NOT claiming that Trump is playing 4th dimensional chess, or that he’s a genius, or that I admire him. Any response that implies I believe these things is a lie.

Trump may be trying to see if he can posture long and loudly enough to get some concessions from Iran. There was a long chain of events before we went to Iraq that just haven’t happened with Iran, at least not yet.

If Trump DOES go to war in Iran, Democrats REALLY ought to consider lowering themselves enough to give Jim Webb another look.

And I will say that if Trump does take us to war, I don’t see how it is any worse that I gambled on his talk about a less aggressive foreign policy, than it was when I made the same gamble on Obama. Obama really didn’t in the end have all that much going for him, but he wasn’t McCain.

#4 Comment By Mark VA On May 14, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

Thank you, Dr. Hosken, for the corrective of Mr. Dreher’s opinion that Ukraine is a “country that historically is seen as the cultural heart of Russia (Orthodoxy began in Kiev)”. It is understandable, however, why some Westerners have difficulties distinguishing Belorussians, Russians, and Ukrainians from each other. The cultural heart of Russia is Orthodox Muscovy, by the way;

Historian Norman Davies, who lives in Eastern Europe, speaks many of its languages, clarifies this history in the first link below;

It is my hope that young Slavs (plus Romanians and Hungarians) will learn from their history, and those west of Russia will form a confederation of equals, along the lines of Intermarium. Young Russians should interpret this as a new era, in which they are welcome to play a constructive part. In the meantime, NATO should offer logistical help to Ukraine – Ukrainians will do the rest;

We should also remember that China’s One Belt One Road Initiative will moderate Muscovy – China will protect its investments;



#5 Comment By Captain P On May 14, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

Erik H says:
May 14, 2018 at 2:53 pm

For bonus points, can anyone explain why we should suddenly trust the government of Iran at their word?


That’s why the deal has an inspections regime – because the EU, US, Russia, and other signatories DIDN’T trust the Iranian government’s word. Critics can wish the inspections process was omniscient, but in reality it is the most robust inspections program ever agreed to.

#6 Comment By Tiktaalik On May 14, 2018 @ 5:17 pm

Dr. Robert D. Hosken
For a person who has studied Russia for 50 years your knowledge of the Russian history is somewhat below par.

>> Russian Prince Dolgoruky conquered it and moved the capital of ancient Rus along with the seat of Slavic Orthodoxy to Russia, eventually to Moscow.

There wasn’t such thing as a separate Russian ethnicity in the 12th century and definitely Yury Dolgoruky wasn’t ‘Russian’. He was a son of Vladimir Monomakh , Grand Prince of Kiev (and probably the grandson of Harold Godwinsson) and as the eldest Ryurikovich had all rights to the Kievan principality, which he affirmed. Framing dynastic struggle as a conquest by different nationality is highly misleading. And he didn’t moved anything anywhere, because he struggled to become the Grand Prince of Kiev.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On May 14, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

I am going to second, third, whatever, James’ comment. Part of the problem is that not only are there no consequences if you fail as a politician or a pundit, largely being wrong is not even seen as a failure.

And before we make this a class war, part of it is simply the way we treat opinions. We have many many commenters here who were SPECTACULARLY wrong about the 2016 election, and remain as arrogant and strident in their opinions as ever. Nobody holds them to account for their repeated failures.

If you are strident in your opinions, and they don’t bear out, you need to to be less strident. This notion has been rejected in this age (not just on TAC) instead the response is to double down.

The elites reflect that. However there is a difference. Some guy in a combox is an unpaid volunteer and giving his opinion isn’t his job. If a guy is giving his opinion for free and he’s wrong, well you get what you pay for.

If a pundit, or an analyst, or politician are wrong, they failed at their job. Most people who fail at their jobs eventually lose their jobs. Not them.

Yet if the pundit or politician is RIGHT but tells people things they don’t want to hear, apparently the response is to find some excuse to accuse them of racism, as happened to Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. There isn’t any reward for being right about something the country wanted you to be wrong about.

This isn’t a new thing, or an American thing, it’s a human thing.

#8 Comment By Purchase, NY On May 14, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

Erik H – “The problem with this piece and so many other pieces on TAC regarding Iran is that they rest on the premise that there is a stark, binary choice:

1) Stick with the Iran deal; or
2) Go to war with Iran.

Can anyone explain why these are the only two choices? Why do we HAVE to go to war with Iran if we don’t stay in Obama’s foolish and foolhardy deal with Iran? “

There’s also the best choice of all.

Which is to reflect on what we’ve done and act on the knowledge that we’re incompetent and have bad judgment, that we screw things up and make them worse, at least as regards the Middle East, and that we far more urgent problems here at home that need our government’s full attention.

We should heed the sage counsel of our first and greatest president, pull up stakes, and leave these creeps to fight it out (or not) among themselves.

#9 Comment By MikeCLT On May 14, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

All the experts said Trump was leading us to war with North Korea. It didn’t happen. Trump led the two Koreas to talk peace by making it clear to North Korea that there would be no US concessions or aid. Prior to that North Korea had the incentive not to make a deal to solve the problem. Who knows if it will work but at least the most interested parties are talking. Let’s see what happens there.

Perhaps it is the same thing with Iran. Trump will give them nothing and force them to negotiate with Israel, Saudi Arabia etc. Trump is not launching another war. He also gets to sit down with the Europeans, Russian and Chinese who are all parties to the Iran deal. Something better may come out of it.

Let’s wait and see. Trump is not stupid. He has many faults but stupidity is not one of them.

#10 Comment By Lamm2 On May 14, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

This interview from a few days ago is helpful to round things out:

“In his first televised interview in almost a year, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss a wide range of issues facing the United States Armed Forces at home and across the globe.”

Defending the Nation with Secretary of Defense James Mattis | Ricochet

#11 Comment By DRK On May 14, 2018 @ 7:38 pm

Now, they’re about to sit down for a historic meeting and I have yet to see any Trump critics give the President credit. He accomplished what Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama failed to do. That’s just a fact.

Except that it isn’t. The leaders of North and South Korea met in 2000 (Clinton administration) and again in 2007 (43’s administration) . Nothing came of either meeting. Do not count your chickens before they’re hatched.

Do, however, consider getting your news from a news source that actually has some knowledge of historical events.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 14, 2018 @ 7:44 pm

But they make it easy for Republican officials to claim, as Bolton does, that the real mistake wasn’t Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq but Obama’s decision to withdraw them.

Except… it was Bush who withdrew the troops, after the government of Iraq declined to enter into a renewed status of forces agreement for our troops to remain there.

When Trump says Iran is supporting Al Qaeda… … he is showing extreme ignorance of the hostility between Sunni and Shia Islam, or what Al Qaeda, and ISIS for that matter, have always said about and done to Shia Muslims.

#13 Comment By Hugh On May 14, 2018 @ 7:48 pm

skin in the game: bring back draft, male, no deferments, let the whole population including the elite bear the risk and burden of our militarism.

#14 Comment By TR On May 14, 2018 @ 7:51 pm

I wish you would leave this kind of stuff to Larison. It’s just too painful. And then Matt in Va. comes in and depresses me too. And then we have to listen to arguments about Hillary again. Can’t everyone agree that she’s gone for good and not worth our time?

Weigel is a real piece of work. On the one hand he’s the author of a biography of JPII which claims he pretty much destroyed the Soviet Union single-handedly, and on the other hand he has no hesitation in ignoring the pope’s clear opposition to the Iraq war. Suddenly Saint John Paul (as I’m sure Weigel would insist I call him) lost all his charism.

Weigel also insisted that there was no anti-semitism in Poland. This shortly before Poland passed the anti-Holocaust laws.

#15 Comment By Q On May 14, 2018 @ 8:03 pm

Erik H, make your case. What is another option? Spell it out.

#16 Comment By B Albright On May 14, 2018 @ 8:06 pm

As Americans with no personal stake in the military, we have no sense of the enormity of the cost of war. What if our leaders, civilian and military, were required to seek a tax to pay for every military commitment? And they must include costs for veteran care and rebuilding. They would have to seek more money when costs overrun, as they will. If we are willing to sacrifice our military, surely we should agree to pay for it. Might that change our sense of when military action should be considered?

#17 Comment By l’autre J On May 14, 2018 @ 8:55 pm

Two months after this essay appeared, the United States invaded Iraq. The war was unstoppable by that point, obviously, but this essay provided an intelligent (if wrong) moral and religious rationale for that war.

As a general point, the lesson that never seems learned around these parts because unpossible is that “moral” and “religious” are inadequate substituents for “ethical”.

Btw, Weigel’s argument is from a time long ago when conservatives still considered liberal democracy a relatively good thing and murderous dictators bad.

Where are we in 2018, as the result of America’s actions in that war? Large portions of the Middle East have been laid waste because of sectarian and tribal hatreds unleashed by America’s overturning of the order there. Ancient Christian communities have been decimated. Iran has gained de facto control of much of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people — mostly Iraqis, but some US troops — were left dead or wounded.

Many or most Americans, as this selfcentered p.o.v. illustrates well, misused Iraq as a proxy arena for American domestic arguments. The anti-war people are this way, the strongly pro-war people finally also. Lost along the way, the realities of Iraq and legitimate needs and aspirations of its citizens.

Stepping back from American narcissism, there is a long term pattern one can choose to see in the Middle Eastern wars of the past 30-40 years. There is a rough recapitulation of the pattern of wars of Europe across the 20th century in the Middle East with an 80 (early on) to 30-40 (currently) year lag.

There was a period of feudal cooperations and competitions of fairly new nation-states, ruling families and cliques, and their smaller scale imperialisms across the region from the end of colonial reign in the 1940s. Roughly resembling Europe from the 1850s to the early 1900s. Israel figures prominently in this history of tribal and feudal disputes from 1940s to 1980s.

The Iran-Iraq war and the Kuwait war combined correspond roughly to the region’s World War 1, i.e. the full Industrial Age war machinery and militaries, along with the employment of WW1 technologies like poison gas, trench warfare, massed charges, deaths in the hundreds of thousands and millions, etc. It consolidated a lot of lesser parties into alliances. After the Kuwait War, the Middle East- like 1920s-1930s Europe- consolidated into three competing groups with alliances, contrasting ideologies, grievances, etc. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq and a period that followed was parallel to World War 2 in Europe. In that the most aggressive of the three power aggregates, the one geographically in the middle between the others and most militaristic and fascist with a mass murdering dictator, and shortest on material resources, was destroyed. Also, in 2003 most of Iraq was rapidly de facto partitioned between parties aligned or misaligned with the two surviving- and competing- alliances, much as most of Germany was in 1945.

Since the mid/late 2000s the reality of the Middle East significantly parallels the Cold War in Europe. The politically important military technology is nuclear weapons, the tactically important military technologies employed in actual fighting are electronics, tanks, and air power. One alliance is centrally driven by a dated, theological, ideology and imperialism that calls itself a revolutionary movement seeking (Islamic) Revolution- along with a liongstanding set of historical ethnic scores and grievances and resentments. It’s economically poorly functioning and maladapted and kills and tortures its dissidents, and its young people aspire to a life more like those in the West. Militarily it is ‘winning’ in marginal areas. Politically it is grandiose and its opposition seems weak and disunited. But no one believes in the notional positive substance of the “revolution” anymore. The Islamic Revolution is, like Soviet Communism, a degenerate and reactionary thing run by old men now, with an imperial and ethnic dominance agenda and opportunistic allies of no ethical worth. The faith makes no converts anymore.

The other side, like the West during the Cold War, can be regarded as engaging in a lot of hypocrisy and decadence. It can be convicted of being both too conservative and too liberal. However, all the critiques in detail and of philosophical Contradictions (and there were a myriad) missed that the West’s notion of human nature and good order and its ability to change were superior. LIkewise, there are a myriad critiques of Israel and the Sunni Arab countries it is tacitly allied with, but the critiques never get at what is fundamentally right about them and why they will probably prevail, overall.

Trump represents a Reaganesque figure in this period in the Middle East, the grandiose and remote clever provincial with undue military means and a political tin ear whose effect is mostly to worsen and chaotize the level of confrontation. But Reagan, despite similar problems, finally inadvertently backed into a deal with a more than willing Gorbachev. And a few years on the major problem resolved itself in collapse of the side that could not reform or readjust itself.

Relative to that big picture, siding with Assad on the basis of the material prosperity and psychological comfort of the ethically discredited Syrian Christian minority (which is small enough that it could be resettled in an Alawite-run coastal enclave after the pretty inevitable partititioning of the country) is kind of scurrilous.

A fair point. But now, Trump is beating the drums of war — a war of choice — with Iran. Do you trust Trump to avoid being drawn by our allies Saudi Arabia and Israel into military conflict with Iran? Do you trust the United States to do the right thing in the Middle East, regarding war? Do you really think that this time, it will be different?

The context here is that religious conservatives have been wrong or reasoned wrong, in retrospect, about just about every war or warfare since at least the end of the Cold War.

With that record, wouldn’t the rational conclusion be exactly not to double down on the urgency to judge and pontificate and side vocally from a nominally religious conservative position? To step back and require humility and restraint of judgement, even a withholding of judgement, informed by religious conservatism?

You could then put on the other hat, the one you’ve discarded mostly, of speaking from a position of being an American. Which is to say, a person participant in the long and pretty successful and profound open-ended American experiment in selfgovernment and selfreform. Which is a serious, many-generation, project to solve the problem(s) of the world. Some waited out, others taken on head-on, yet others overcome en passant.

As opposed to being a unceasing warrior-citizen for the invisible but continuing, though crumbling, empire of Christendom.

#18 Comment By Noah172 On May 14, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

VikingLS wrote:

If Trump DOES go to war in Iran, Democrats REALLY ought to consider lowering themselves enough to give Jim Webb another look

Funny you mention him. He opposed the JCPOA. Not that I think Webb wants war, but his JCPOA opposition is, to me anyway, quite noteworthy.

Rand Paul and Gary Johnson also opposed the JCPOA. Ditto the Republican antiwar clique in the House of Representatives: W. Jones, Amash, Massie, Duncan, Sanford.

I think everyone should bear the above in mind when discussing the JCPOA within our domestic politics, whatever one’s opinion of Trump or Obama.

#19 Comment By Mark VA On May 14, 2018 @ 10:59 pm

Just finished reading George Weigel’s beautifully written piece on Lviv and the Garrison Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (“Freedom is Never Free”). Nowhere in this short post does Mr. Weigel call for any direct US involvement in Ukraine, now or in the future. Instead, he does say this:

“Since the invasion of the Donbass by Russian “little green men,” Father Sus has conducted 76 funerals in the garrison church. Each of those young lives, sacrificed to defend a country against an aggression the West would prefer to ignore, is a powerful and poignant reminder that freedom is never free.”

It seems to me you have, Mr. Dreher, perhaps inadvertently, created a straw man argument for your readership. However, if you see something some of us don’t, please let us know.

#20 Comment By Erik H On May 14, 2018 @ 10:59 pm

Captain P says:

That’s why the deal has an inspections regime – because the EU, US, Russia, and other signatories DIDN’T trust the Iranian government’s word. Critics can wish the inspections process was omniscient, but in reality it is the most robust inspections program ever agreed to.

The problem with those inspections is that plenty of sites are still completely off limits. Where do you think they will conduct their R/D in such a scenario? With that being part of the deal, you are left to trust the mullahs. To do so, given our history with them, would be nothing short of naive.

Q says:

Erik H, make your case. What is another option? Spell it out.


Re-institute the sanctions that were in effect prior to the deal and put economic pressure on the regime. Hopefully, the people of Iran (who allegedly hate their leaders, and for good reason) will eventually topple the regime.

Other than that, I would heed the counsel of PurchaseNY above and disengage from the area militarily.

Now, Q, since I answered you, do the courtesy of answering my question – why are the only two options war or continuance of the Iran deal instituted by the last administration?

#21 Comment By Miguel On May 14, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

“I see no reason at all why the United States should involve itself militarily with a war that’s not only on Russia’s border, but is in a country that historically is seen as the cultural heart of Russia (Orthodoxy began in Kiev).”

Ok, what about Kiev is the cradle of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church started also in Kiev? But also Ukraine is the gate to the south of russians. If they loose all control/contact with it, they are effectivelly cut from the Mediterranean, and they cannot afford it.

“vicious, aggressive regimes” (…) “irrational and aggressive regimes”. Interesting descriptions to use. I am convinced every government/state/political group… alas! individual citizen, has created interests and supports its agendas. Aand, especially in the case of governments and states, the means to reach its ends are less relevants. The same happens with some persons, or every person depending on the amount of presure.

But if every government/state is willingful to act as better services its interests, was is a viciuos regime? If so many americans claim its government has acted recently so much in disregard of ethics and law, is the same can be said of every nation…

I don’t think the outcome of currents events will be essentially different from thee main trends which can b found on books of history related to the babilonian or asirian empires. Or the roman empire, at least the pagan and latin. The byzantines were far from perfect, but they had learn the hard way to mistrust military force, and if able to avoid its use, were more than happy, even to pay their invaders to leave them alone.

But the U.S. has a fiat currency which can increase its value if there is more production, as with military industry during wars. And a huge military industry which can produce a lot… if there are wars.

#22 Comment By Noah172 On May 14, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

I second Polichinello’s comment. Excellent point about Obama knifing Qaddafi after, let’s remember, Bush negotiated Qaddafi’s surrender of WMD. Really earned that Nobel, Barry.

The JCPOA is not a great agreement for its stated purpose of preventing Iranian nuclear weaponization. It may have been the best agreement achievable, however. It depends on whether one thinks the sanctions in place before the agreement, or which could have been imposed in its stead (like what Trump is trying to do now), would have put enough pressure on Iran to concede more in negotiation. I’m skeptical, but then non-military pressure brought Rocket Man to the table — but then again Nork is, compared to Iran, more isolated, resource-poor, and dependent on a single trading partner (China), and thus more vulnerable to sanctions pressure. So who knows.

I don’t think Trump wants direct US-Iran war, much less an Iraq-style forcible regime change and occupation, but, like Polichinello, I think Trump is looking for proxy fights with Iran (Israel bombing Iranians and Hezbollah in Syria, our support of Saudi in Yemen, probably more Israeli cyberattacks and assassinations in Iran, needling foreign firms which do business in Iran, and so forth).

Let’s be clear about Trump’s natsec advisors. They are too hawkish. They are too ideological. They are too trapped in Cold War thinking about Russia.

But here is what they are not, at least AFAICT: neocons who want Iraq-like nation-building crusades.

John Bolton is very bad, but he is not a neocon. Words have meanings. He rejects the label, and other neocons reject him in their company. Bolton supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but he opposed (or at least later regretted) a long-term occupation of the country. He thought we should have just toppled the dictator and walked away (a la Libya 2011). That’s not good, mind you, but it is qualitatively different from what we actually did in Iraq.

If we had just walked away in 2003, what then? Chaos, for sure. But ISIS? Or Iraqi civil strife spilling over into Syria (a Syria not yet weakened by the droughts of the late aughts)? Or the same degree of Iranian influence in Iraq as we see now? Walking away from Iraq in 2003 might have better or worse (possibly much worse) for the region than our occupation, but walking away would have meant far less American loss in blood and treasure (again, look at Libya — bad for the region, but cost us very little directly, especially relative to Iraq).

BTW, for anyone interested in Bolton’s kill-Saddam-walk-away view of Iraq, see this C-SPAN interview from November 1, 2007:


James Mattis is not a neocon, even if he is too hawkish. In 2003, he offered skepticism in private of the Iraq War (although he followed orders in participating in it — blame the politicians and public, not the troops). He publicly said Iraq was a mistake in 2015, once he was retired from the service. If Mattis thinks direct confrontation (versus proxy) with Iran is a bad idea, it’s not happening, because this President is more deferential (for good and ill) to Mattis than to pretty much anyone else in the administration.

Pompeo is the most worrisome to me. He seems to be the closest to neocon ideology. He was one of the few Congressional Republicans, and one of the very few outside leadership, who supported Obama’s aborted strike on Assad in 2013. If Pompeo can negotiate a good deal with Rocket Man (and it looks promising so far), then I’ll feel better that he really just wants to squeeze Iran non-militarily to bring it to heel rather than go all 2003 on the mullahs.

Let’s also look at Trump’s military actions after 16 months in office. Trump has given us so far a much lower level of American casualties than Obama at his equivalent point in office (May 2010, that is). Trump has continued the engagements he inherited from Obama, but has otherwise not started any new ones, other than the two strikes on Assad in April of last year and this past April — strikes which everybody realizes were carefully orchestrated to send a message without in fact starting a larger conflict with Assad and Russia. (Not defending the strikes, but explaining.) Trump put a relatively low level of US investment into fighting ISIS (to great success), and in Afghanistan he had a small troop increase, nothing like Obama, but seems to want to stay the course with bombings and spec op raids rather than a wider escalation.

I think — I hope, maybe naively — that this record points to someone who wants to avoid 150k Americans patrolling the streets of Iranian cities, even if he doesn’t pull back from the Middle East as much as I want him to, or he implied he would during the campaign.

#23 Comment By Nelson On May 15, 2018 @ 12:59 am

It’s all our fault. Ron Paul was right all along and we derided him as a silly old man.

Actually America’s primary problem is lack of humility. We think we can do anything we want and be successful at it.

Sometimes this serves us well, such as the Revolutionary War and the Apollo program. But often it leads us down a wrong path and we are too prideful to admit it. The Vietnam war is the most obvious example and the Iraq war is the biggest contemporary example but it also manifests it in other ways, such as suburbanization and giving up communities in favor of a car centered culture. Or somehow confusing asset bubbles with real growth.

Anyway the point is we need both humility and wisdom, yet both seem to be in short supply.

#24 Comment By galanx On May 15, 2018 @ 1:47 am

Just like to mention that Ukraine is overwhelmingly Orthodox. Over 70% of the population declare themselves Christian; of that number about 65% call themselves Orthodox, while about 6% are Greek Catholic. Of Orthodox, a quarter of the population follow the Ukrainian Church, 15% follow the Russian Orthodox, and 15% don’t choose one or the other.

#25 Comment By anon On May 15, 2018 @ 2:11 am

God save us from the “morally serious.”

#26 Comment By JonF On May 15, 2018 @ 6:50 am

Re: Trump has given us so far a much lower level of American casualties than Obama at his equivalent point in office (May 2010, that is).

That’s a little like saying Obama’s economy was worse at this point of his presidency. Yes it was, but because he had inherited the Great Recession– and likewise he had inherited two hot wars, so of course there were going to be more casualties.

#27 Comment By VikingLS On May 15, 2018 @ 7:37 am

Just as a side note, the war in Ukraine are about two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, not about the entire country. Cradle of Russian Orthodoxy or not, Kiev is not anywhere near Donbass or the Crimea.

#28 Comment By Noah172 On May 15, 2018 @ 9:49 am

JonF wrote:

he [Obama] had inherited two hot wars, so of course there were going to be more casualties

Obama massively escalated in Afghanistan, increasing our troop levels threefold (and his starting point was already 2-3x higher than the numbers Trump has there now). That was a choice. Obama could have chosen differently — just as Trump could have made different choices (better or worse) than what he has done. Trump, in 16 months, has given us only a small (I mean small) fraction of the American casualties which Obama gave us in his first 16 months (still more than I would like, but less bad is better, FWIW).

#29 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 15, 2018 @ 9:58 am

Ron Paul was right all along and we derided him as a silly old man.

I voted for Ron Paul in the 2012 presidential primaries, but in SOME respects he WAS a silly old man. His notion of returning the economy to the gold standard would have resulted in 30 percent and up unemployment. There are many things wrong with capitalism, but you don’t make a successful transformation by jamming the gears and bringing the colossus to a halt when millions of people depend upon its operations for their livelihood. He would have been much better on foreign and military policy, but on the whole, if he were actually president the result could be a disaster.

There are many areas of domestic policy I would not let Noah172 anywhere near, if I had the power to make such decisions, but today he is speaking like an eminently qualified candidate for secretary of state. (He may have some enemies lurking in his mind that would cause me to qualify that statement, but what he has said here is quite perceptive.)

#30 Comment By Hound of Ulster On May 15, 2018 @ 10:10 am

there are some more hot-headed nationalists in Russia who do want to annex at least Donbass and Novarossyia in addition to Ukraine, but, interestingly, not the northwestern bit that used to be part of Poland (Lviv). And the argument over the position of the local Orthodox jurisdiction is getting increasingly nasty, which is adding fuel to the fire. Ukraine it seems is paying the price for having been history’s speed bump on the way to empire.

#31 Comment By theMann On May 15, 2018 @ 10:32 am

War is the health of the State, and taxation is its lifeblood.

The income tax came, and the US has been making war against the world ever since, and will continue to do so for so long as it has the money.

Now it is particularly repellant that the Israeli and Saudi governments have some, perhaps final, say in our governments wars of choice. Are we willing then, to hold our Representatives accountable to betraying both the Republic and Christian civilization? These foul creatures are not only warmongers without limit, but the twice fold traitors of human history as well. I just won’t hold my breath until an Evangelical acknowledges that fact.

#32 Comment By Q On May 15, 2018 @ 11:20 am

Erik H, thanks for responding. I wasn’t suggesting that you were wrong to say that there were only two options; just wanted to hear what you think the other options are.

#33 Comment By VikingLS On May 15, 2018 @ 11:21 am

@Hound of Ulster

There are some hotheaded Russian nationalists that want to take all of Europe like the National Bolsheviks (who happen to be close political allies of Gary Kasperov.). Trust me, if there’s a wacked out notion involving Russian power, there’s some idiot in Russia who likes to talk about it.

Doing it is another matter. 🙂

It really doesn’t surprise me about Lviv, that the part of Ukraine that’s most western, not just geographically, but culturally and politically. Very big Maidan area.

Anyway the actual conflict is about two regions in Ukraine (though I would say anybody who thinks of Crimea as Ukranian at this point is denying both the reality of the current situation, and horrible consequences of trying to force the Crimean BACK under Ukraine.)

#34 Comment By Alex (from SF) On May 15, 2018 @ 11:43 am

Re-institute the sanctions that were in effect prior to the deal and put economic pressure on the regime. Hopefully, the people of Iran (who allegedly hate their leaders, and for good reason) will eventually topple the regime.

Other than that, I would heed the counsel of PurchaseNY above and disengage from the area militarily.

Now, Q, since I answered you, do the courtesy of answering my question – why are the only two options war or continuance of the Iran deal instituted by the last administration?

Firstly, we’re not getting sanctions re-imposed: even our European allies will be reluctant, to say nothing of China and Russia. Secondly, even if we could somehow re-impose sanctions, hoping for a people’s revolution in Iran is an absurd strategy. Note how easily the regime crushed the latest rounds of protests. Even if you buy the dubious premise that the Iranian people would all like to topple the current regime, as long as that regime controls the Revolutionary Guard, no people’s revolution is going to bring it down.

As for disengaging, that is exactly what the nuclear deal would have allowed us to do. With the deal in place, we would have been doing what we could to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which are the main real threat they pose to us. We could then have disengaged by ceasing to be involved in the Israeli/Saudi vs. Iranian power struggle. If the deal falls apart, then we’ll be left with two choices: 1) war, or 2) living with a nuclear Iran. 2 may be a viable option (and is probably where we end up at this point) but the deal at least gave us some chance of preventing or at least delaying it.

#35 Comment By ludo On May 15, 2018 @ 11:43 am

I found the following comment by a reader of the Intercept quite masterful in its summation of the continuing Constitution-subverting dynamic/processes in play within the American ´home front´ as a direct result of these Middle Eastern wars (almost as though the experiment were as much directed constitutionally intra-nationally as it is belligerently internationally):

´As soon as the Bush administration chose to speciously characterize the attacks of 911 as acts of war, rather than merely crimes, the rule of law went right out of the window. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war soon followed and claimed the right to affect regime change in any country that purportedly harbored or gave aid to “terrorist” groups. In turn, the combat capable male inhabitants of those countries were gratuitously defined as enemy combatants. Captured enemy combatants were no longer designated as prisoners of war however, rather they were defined as “detainees” (see Yoo memo) and thus not legally “entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions or any other domestic or military law”. Absent those protections, detainees were sent to black site CIA prisons where they were mercilessly tortured to provide moral justification for the Bush administration’s iniitial departure from the rule of law.

´Because Clinton had already authorized extraordinary rendition to nations who were known to practice torture during his administration, President George W. Bush was already comfortably positioned to green light the rendering of hundreds of so-called illegal combatants to CIA controlled sites abroad for an extensive torture and interrogation program under the euphemism “enhanced interrogation”. When coupled with “indefinite detention” (see: section 412 of the Patriot act; October 26, 2001), any semblance of due process went right out of the window.

´In keeping with the Patriot Act, any sovereign nation is potentially at risk of being unilaterally accused by the executive branch of the US government of knowingly providing “material support or resources” to a designated FTO, or harboring those that do . So too, any grouping of indigenous persons who reside within any sovereign nation that itself is accused of harboring a Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) or an affiliate is immediate subject to being painted with the same broad brush. These are the fruits of that legislation:


´Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA director should be seen for what it truly is: the next phase of a carefully calculated process by which the moral fabric of American Society will eventually become unraveled as a necessary precursor to its own assimilation into the transnational corporate ethos of the emerging global economic and political order. It is in this context that Gina Haspel can be seen as the latest incarnation of a cultural anti-hero who initially embodies, and then ultimately exemplifies, a seismic shift in the culture’s moral center of gravity.¨´


#36 Comment By cka2nd On May 15, 2018 @ 12:14 pm

Ken Zaretzke says: “In the early 1950s the CIA engineered the assassination of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in order to put the Shah of Iran at the top. For decades the Shah served U.S. interests which were essentially about profits for the military-industrial complex.”

A correction: Th US/UK coup of 8/19/53 overthrew PM Mohammad Mosaddegh, but he was not assassinated. According to Wikipedia, he was imprisoned for three years and then held under house arrest until his death in 1967.

#37 Comment By Tiktaalik On May 15, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

Mark VA
>> It is my hope that young Slavs (plus Romanians and Hungarians) will learn from their history, and those west of Russia will form a confederation of equals, along the lines of Intermarium.

I hope that these guys will learn from the history and will not try to play limitrophe states game again. It made them very little good last time.

BTW, had Mr. Weigel somewhere tell the history of Catholicism in the lands of the modern Ukraine? The part of forced subjugation of Orthodox community to Catholicism in the form of so-called “Union” from the end of 16th century? The tide turned only in the 17th century after Polish defeats by Russia.
Still the chasm between the western and eastern parts of the country is huge.
And as a matter of fact, it was the western part which initiated the hostilities. The ‘eastern president’ was unlawfully ousted and one of the very first action of new power is to scrap the Language Law, relegating Russian to the third-tier. Given that it’s the language of choice for the Eastern part of the country the tension went skyward.

And, btw, Mr. Weigel shall know better –‘little green men’ were in Crimea, in Novorossia there were ‘vacationers’, hehe

#38 Comment By Franklin Evans On May 15, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

Noah, I can’t abide the comparison, not for either president. Criticisms of Obama beg several questions, the first of which is: did he make that decision personally, or did he make it on the advice of his chiefs of staff?

By any account, Trump decides something, then tasks his chiefs of staff to do it. Do we know if any of them dissent to his decisions? Do we know if he asks for their advice first (again by any account, he does not).

If hindsight is going to be invoked, it really needs to be 20-20. I see too many gaps.

#39 Comment By SteveM On May 15, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

Re: JonF, Noah172, Obama’s causalities”

It is more complicated that either commenter notes. Obama greased over $100 BILLION in weapons deals between the American Merchants of Death and the repressive, retrograde, autocratic, kleptocratic, head-chopping House of Saud.

Obama then gave “Our friends the Saudis” the OK to bomb Yemen back to the stone age. Obama initiated the Saudi carnage, Trump is following through with the additions of mass starvation and a cholera epidemic. The U.S. War Machine is doing its part in providing the Saudis with refueling, logistics and intelligence support. (The “intelligence support” includes targeting Yemeni wedding parties to slaughter.)

Obama also catalyzed the dystopian wreckage in Libya and his CIA funded the “moderate” jihadist lunatics in Syria that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and endless misery. Again, Trump picks up in Syria where Obama left off.

Let’s look at the Big Picture when we talk about “causalities” catalyzed by atrociously incoherent U.S. Global Cop Gorilla interventions.

#40 Comment By cka2nd On May 15, 2018 @ 12:48 pm

JonF says: “I find ‘low’ figures much more credible than high ones: throughout history exaggerated estimates of deaths in wars and natural disasters have polluted our historical accounts, generally (with some rare exceptions*) when serious effort is made to dig into the details the high numbers are reduced by at least an order of magnitude.”

I’m well aware of the dangers of exaggerating the numbers of the dead, JonF; it is one of the crosses I bear that a Trotskyist like me has been forced to defend the records of murdering swine like Stalin and Mao against the modern falsifiers of history. But as anyone who has gone to a demonstration in Washington, DC or pretty much anywhere else can tell you, police estimates of crowd sizes are invariably too low by a ridiculous degree. And I do not find really precise, granular figures – down to the single digit level – to necessarily be more credible when discussing either civilian deaths in wartime or, say, the number of victims of Stalin’s terror. I am no fan of Robert Conquest, but in responding to one of his critics, his argument that the extremely precise figures presented by said critic relied too much on police and NKVD reports found in the archives made some sense to me. Precise estimates of the number of civilian dead in Iraq due to or since the 2003 U.S. invasion that rely on reporting tools (as if there haven’t been millions of displaced persons, some of whom have not been able to report the names of their lost ones) and ignore established and tested demographic methods risk undercounting those numbers. I’m no expert, but I am skeptical of numbers that look too good, too exact.

#41 Comment By Q On May 15, 2018 @ 1:04 pm

“Not wrong to say there were more than two options”,

#42 Comment By Noah172 On May 15, 2018 @ 3:28 pm


Any President, any leader of any organization, consults his subordinates, makes decisions, and directs his subordinates to execute (even if they disagree with the decision, else they resign). Your comment doesn’t make any sense: Obama surely consulted his natsec team on Afghanistan (he had pledged during the campaign to win the righteous war in Afghanistan, versus Bush’s bad war in Iraq). Maybe some of his team argued against a massive surge, maybe others wanted to go even bigger, but in the end the decision was his, and his team executed.

Be aware that senior military officers generally take their obligations to obey lawful orders from their civilian superiors and stand aloof from partisan political debates very seriously. Mattis, for example, in explaining why he did not resign from the service if he had misgivings about the Iraq invasion, said that, while he would resign rather than obey unlawful orders, he owed it to the enlisted troops, who don’t have the luxury of resigning in protest, to give them the best leadership he could in battle, with their lives on the line.

You are also quite wrong that Trump doesn’t consult his natsec team. (Some of areas of domestic policy may be another matter.) If anything, Trump admits that he is deferential to “my generals,” as he puts it. On Afghanistan, Trump said in his speech last summer that his instinct was to pull the plug, but his team (I don’t remember if he named names, but he meant Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly) persuaded him to stay the course. Trump has also loosened rules of engagement (ROE) in every theater, giving military commanders broader latitude to launch strikes and pursue individual targets. Trump admitted that Mattis changed his (Trump’s) mind about the efficacy of enhanced interrogation. Trump agreed to the spec ops raid in Yemen in his first weeks in office (which was planned under Obama, and would have occurred with Obama still in office if not for weather holdup) on the counsel of his advisers.

#43 Comment By Mark VA On May 15, 2018 @ 4:42 pm


Thank you for your comment, but I’m not sure what your point is regarding Intermarium. Precedent in the form of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569 to 1795), strongly suggests that united, Central-Eastern Europe can withstand aggressors from East and West, but divided it cannot. Consensus on this point is increasing in Eastern Europe, outside naysayers notwithstanding;

Your assertion that the Uniate Church exists as a result of “subjugation” is curious. Please see the 1596 “Union of Brest”, and p. 505 of “Europe” by Norman Davies. The issue was the insistence on jurisdiction over them by the Moscovite Patriarch, whereas these Orthodox were only willing to recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople. Hence they approached Rome;

The issue is unresolved to this day, and remains a thorn in Moscovite side. Their usual opening move in any talks with the Catholic Church, is to insist on the dissolution of the Uniate Churches and their return to the “Third Rome”. At any rate, doesn’t common sense suggest that if these Orthodox were “subjugated” and are unhappy with Rome, they would have dissolved their ties with Rome by now? Welcome to the real world, Tiktaalik.

#44 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On May 15, 2018 @ 8:29 pm

VikingLS says:
Anyway the actual conflict is about two regions in Ukraine (though I would say anybody who thinks of Crimea as Ukranian at this point is denying both the reality of the current situation, and horrible consequences of trying to force the Crimean BACK under Ukraine.)

No kidding. One of my coworkers is an ethnic Russian from Crimea here on a work visa. He had to replace his Ukrainian passport with a Russian one in order to fly. Traveling to Crimea also seems to necessitate going through Russia first these days.

#45 Comment By George Hoffman On May 16, 2018 @ 12:28 am

The late Chalmers Johnson called this phrase of our decline as the sorrows of empire in which there would be endless wars as our country acts like the proverbial bull in the china shop.. These wars since the 9/11 attacks are part of the end game of our fall from grace which began with the foreign policy debacle during the Vietnam War. That military blunder marked the beginning of the end of the extent of our grand vision of an ever expanding military empire since the end of the Second World War. We crossed our Rubicon in the Mekong Delta. It triggered the Balkanization of our society that Pat Buchanan astutely predicted at an RNC convention in 1992 with his “culture war” address in Houston. Yet we refuse to acknowledge even now the center could not hold back then nor acknowledge the narcisstic wound to the body politic of the myth of American exceptionalism among nations. We no longer believe in that kind of fantasy. But a light bulb burns its brightest just before its filament burns out. We are victims of our own friendly fire. That’s my subjective analysis being a cynical Vietnam veteran and why I identify with the collapse of morality after the First World War rather than the triumphalism of the Second World War. We are addicted to war even though George H.W. Bush proudly proclaimed after our blitzkrieg victory in the First Gulf War when he ironically said “we have finally kicked the Vietnam Syndrome.” But we are war junkies that have relapsed during our recovery from the shame of our defeat in Vietnam. War is just another addiction which seems the appropriate internal response to the opioid crisis with our economic decline. Even if the war hawks somehow convince the American people to privatize FDR’s social safety network to feed the beast at the Pentagon our decline is our fate. But given my age, I will miss that phase though I was there at the beginning when I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam. We are going through what the Soviet Union did during its collapse after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It just took us longer because we had much larger and more dynamic GNP. As Normam Mailer said about the demise of Communism in the Cold War, we just outspent the Soviet Union rather than won. Ideology from the perspective of the right or the left to explain our current crisis in this essay reminds of the heated debates that medieval scholastics had arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of spin. Ideology will not save us. And denial is more than a river in Egypt as they saw in the rooms of recovery meetings.

#46 Comment By beard681 On May 16, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

The only hope of reeling in the impulse to empire (before the entire economy collapses) is to institute universal military service. That is the only way the mass of America will realize the stupidity and waste of the bloated military. It will also give the average american “skin in the game” rather than having them be bystanders easily shamed into “supporting the troops”.

#47 Comment By Erik H. On May 16, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

Alex (from SF):

Let the Europeans, Chinese, and Russians make the choice: access to our markets or access to Iran’s. Iran has a $400 billion economy … how does that compare with ours? In short, it won’t take much to persuade the Euros, Chinese, and Russians to choose our market over Iran’s. Even selectively applied tariffs could persuade them, given the enormous disparity between the size of our market and Iran’s.

Your second paragraph still relies on the unproven premise that it’s either “war or leave the Iran deal in place,” but you haven’t really offered anything to show why that is the case. We could disengage now and it wouldn’t make a difference militarily. Nor would it make a difference regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The deal that was in place left certain installations completely off limits for inspections, while requiring significant advance warning for places that were open to inspection (thereby allowing them to clean up the mess, so to speak). Worse yet, some violations, if found, were not able to be reported publicly, per the agreement. In short, the deal did as much to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions as having no deal.

If Obama actually had confidence that the deal would have been effective, he could have put his money where his mouth is and submitted it to the senate as a treaty for ratification per the constitution. He did no such thing and further, made no overtures in that direction. That speaks volumes.

#48 Comment By Sisera On May 16, 2018 @ 6:44 pm

“Trump ran a Pat Buchanan-esque campaign. But in office he has had no problems hiring the same disastrous failures who cheerleaded for the Iraq War and were still behaving as if it was a good think as late as the 2016 Republican presidential primary debate.”

Trump is susceptible to flattery. Abject psychopaths like Bolton, Netanyahu, etc. are great at flattery and are able to play Trump like a fiddle.
It may be that Trump is Pat Buchanan minus 50 IQ points; Trump may not even be bought by the neocons, he’s just too daft to discern basic neocon propaganda.

#49 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 16, 2018 @ 10:02 pm

Its worth noting that the only reason Crimea was ever part of Ukraine is that Nikita Krushchev transferred it by administrative fiat. Krushchev had a sentimental attachment to Ukraine, and it was all part of the USSR anyway, so what difference could it possibly make?