Iraq Intervention? More like Ceaseless Escalation

By Elliott Colla, author of Baghdad Central

While visiting Baghdad last year, I was struck by what Iraqis said every time I tried to apologize for the 2003 invasion: “Don’t apologize for that. We needed an invasion to get rid of Saddam Hussein.” And then they would add, “But you do need to apologize for the occupation.”

Each person then went on to tell me their occupation horror stories. Like the ubiquitous stories of ‘the night when US soldiers broke into our house’: “Unlike the secret police of the Baathist regime, US soldiers would go upstairs. They’d go through our bedrooms, can you believe that?” People told me stories of near-death experiences on the streets with trigger-happy occupation troops. People told me terrifying anecdotes of harrowing encounters, like the one about the produce truck at the American checkpoint, and the military linguist who translated the word “pomegranates” as “grenades,” and nearly got two men killed in the process. Oftentimes—too routinely to be mere coincidence—the electricity would suddenly go out as they were narrating some traumatic detail, and I would listen to them in the darkness. Somehow, it was fitting.

This week, I remembered how my Iraqi friends had somehow managed to distinguish between invasion and occupation. I still do not understand how they did it, especially since the latter was so obviously the natural outgrowth of the former. Of course, they were so eager to see the end of Saddam Hussein that they could accept intervention, even if they could not accept all its consequences.

What reminded me of this distinction was listening to how American political elites talk about intervention.  Like the people I met in Baghdad, they also seem to imagine intervention without consequence. But there is a difference: barring a significant shift in power, American elites will not pay the costs of this American intervention just as they did not pay for the last one. Nor will they suffer any meaningful consequences. Herein lies the magical power of interventionism as an ideology in American life.

The architects of the invasion sought to remake Iraqi society and they did. In our name and with our tax-dollars, American politicians and generals pursued an unpopular war with gusto. The Iraq intervention may have been invented by neo-cons but it was also supported by a wide swath of liberals. Forget the millions who protested in the streets: intervention was one of the very few points on which the two parties, their corporate sponsors, and their pundits, could agree during the last decade of nasty partisan fights. The list of cheerleaders is as long as it is illustrious—for every Dick Cheney, there were two Thomas Friedmans and a David Brooks. Together, Democrats and Republicans gave the world a living example of what the free-market, withered-state American dream would look like. And the picture has only grown uglier with age.

The corruption, criminal neglect, torture, indiscriminate violence, murder and manslaughter perpetrated under American auspices deeply injured an Iraqi society already poisoned by the totalitarian violence of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, not to mention years of war and sanctions. By deliberating collapsing the Baathist state while also increasing the level of violence on Iraq’s new mean streets, the Americans pushed ordinary Iraqi citizens to find and create new sources of safety and security. With no local or state governance to support or protect them, Iraqis did what people will always do in such situations: they abandoned abstract, complex and state-dependent notions of open community (like a civic nation) in favor of concrete, austere and immediate notions of closed community (like family). As Fanar Haddad, Sinan Antoon and Zaid al-Ali have shown, the security vacuum our interventionism created gave rise to the sectarianism and tribalism we see today.

Ceaseless Escalation

After creating Hell once, you might think Americans would hesitate before doing it again. But our interventionists have never paused and never blinked. In 2011, before the last troops had even left Iraq, we began bombing Libya to liberate the people there from the tyranny of another dictator. Of course, once the Qaddafi regime collapsed, it was chaos—not freedom—that broke out. The next year, a bi-partisan alliance of interventionists demanded action against Iran. In 2013, another popular front of interventionists clamored for action, this time in Syria—and all while repeated their favorite mantra: “We can’t just stand by and let this happen, can we?”

It is on this point that we need to correct our language. For it was common knowledge that in 2013, like in 2011 and 2012, “we” were not just “standing by and letting things happen” in Libya or Iran. And with regard to Syria, “we,” like the Saudis and Qataris, had already been intervening—with covert action and diplomatic support—to overthrow the Asad regime.

Similarly, against the backdrop of American covert action against the Baathist regime, and the bombing campaigns that began during the buildup to the Gulf War of 1991 and continued unabated for more than a decade, it is not accurate to think of the 2003 invasion as an “intervention,” if by that term we mean an extraneous force suddenly inserted into Iraqi history. Rather, the invasion was the culmination—and escalation—of a long history of American military involvement in Iraq. Likewise, the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan was itself the culmination of more than a decade of covert action and military involvement. What proponents of intervention call for now, as before, is not intervention in the sense of a one-time action from outside. What they demand is an escalation of an already existing military entanglement. And, once the operation is underway, they can be counted on to demand that the military be given support until victory is accomplished, as if that were a possibility.

The term "intervention" implies that an action is discrete rather than ongoing, and that it marks a break in a chain of history, rather than a continuation of an existing routine or an expansion of  an old repertoire.  But that is not what American interventionists call for. A more accurate term for them is escalationist—how else should we refer to people who only ever reach for one blunt tool—military action—when they encounter any of the many vexing problems of the modern world? When it becomes clear, as it always does, that intervention has not resolved the issue (or that it has exacerbated it) the escalationists will always be there to say, “Of course, any military campaign needs to be coordinated with a political/economic/humanitarian strategy.” But by then, it is already too late. Escalationism is the ideological platform for militarizing every policy issue that arises.

It is a truism that escalationists are inconsistent, arguing in favor of intervention against weak states and against it when status quo alliances and interests might be disturbed. It is also true that the hypocrisy and selectivity of escalationists debases whatever values and norms—human rights, humanitarianism, even regional stability—they touch. Yet these debasements pale in comparison to what escalationism does to policy debate in this country. While military intervention has a very poor track record of resolving real-world social and political emergencies, arguments for intervention always transform the process by which such issues are addressed in government. Escalationists know, as anyone knows, that on balance American military intervention has caused far more intractable problems in the world than it has ever solved. However, intervention does ensure that generals, intelligence agencies, and the public-private security industry have a privileged place at the table when policies are debated and decisions are taken. Indeed, the history of the last fifty years is one in which the center of gravity for American foreign policy has shifted from the State Department to the Department of Defense and NSA.

This is a horrendous development for American democracy for the following reasons: when escalationists demand militarized solutions to the problems of the world, they are effectively arguing that military and intelligence officers and businessmen—not elected officials—should be the ones making the critical decisions when it comes to foreign policy. When elected officials clamor for intervention, they are, in effect, forfeiting their right and duty to address how these issues impact the lives of American citizens. Given the restriction on information in military operations, and the secrecy of intelligence institutions and security corporations, arguments for intervention are also effectively demands that policy deliberations take place far from public scrutiny and that decisions have only an oblique relation to public accountability. Admittedly, it is doubtful that most escalationists think of themselves as hostile to the basic principles of democratic governance but in essence, their position is fundamentally at odds with the values of transparency and accountability.

Accountability?

To his credit, Obama ignored the war drums in 2012-13, a real feat in a town where interventionism is pumped directly into the water supply along with fluoride. But when the Syrian conflict spilled across Sykes-Picot lines this June, it became hard for Obama to ignore the escalationists. True, it is not that America has been sitting and watching Iraq from outside. On the contrary, American involvement in the Iraqi military and intelligence has remained sizeable. And even if American occupation troops were withdrawn in 2011, American advisors—and military contractors—have never left. The bombing campaign that Obama initiated last week is not an intervention, but an escalation of a direct military involvement that goes all the way back to 1991.

Again, we are bombing Iraq to save it. Again, our bombs are humanitarian. Again, they will save lives. Again, they will protect national interests. Again, the engagement will be short, limited to airstrikes, no boots on the ground. Time will tell what the scope of this escalation will actually be, but if recent history is any indication, we should not think aerial bombardments will meaningfully change the nature of the civil war(s) now linking Syria to Iraq, nor should we expect to learn the true scope of the intervention anytime soon, nor should we be surprised if it escalates into something that was never initially advertised.

It is disconcerting that this escalation takes place in the shadow of a widespread consensus—that unites experts the American public and the Iraqi public—that the last American escalation in Iraq was such a complete failure.

Given this dismal history, it is hard to interpret the bombing campaign as anything more serious than a we-have-got-to-do-something gesture. Even if this smaller intervention promises to be more of the same, only less so, the Obama administration is speaking (again) as if intervention has no cost or consequence. In that regard, we might remind ourselves of some of the more salient costs of the last decade of intervention in Iraq:

   150,000 – 600,000 + Iraqi deaths directly caused by the US invasion and occupation. The number is likely higher.

   2 ± million Iraqi refugees. Many more internally displaced.

   4,400 + American military deaths. Another 5000 violent deaths among foreign contractors and coalition military personnel.

   $2 – 4 trillion expense to US taxpayers. The final amount will grow over time.

Obviously, the costs of the war cannot be measured solely in bodies and dollars. The well documented (but largely unprosecuted) accounts of torture and human rights abuse in US detention centers and prisons in occupied Iraq need to figure into any reckoning, as do the long list of documented cases of negligent and criminal violence on the part of occupation forces and security contractors. Similarly, there has been no deep accounting for the corruption that ran rampant through the occupation administration, nor for the widespread profiteering and fraud on the part of defense contractors and development firms. Only a fraction of these cases have been prosecuted. When Obama’s Justice Department decided not to pursue Bush administration officials for torture, lying, and malfeasance, they sent a clear message that the past was to be forgotten, the slate wiped clean.

Escalationism is a frail ideology that cannot survive without a steady diet of indemnity and recklessness. But in Washington, that greenhouse of unaccountability, it thrives like a weed. We have yet to reckon with the costs, mistakes and crimes of a decade-long US occupation in Iraq, and yet we are starting another round. It is not just that we have failed to learn from the past or have forgotten to pay the piper. We haven’t even bothered to look at the last bill because we imagine someone else will clear the dishes and pay the bill. Someday, the escalationists will be forced to live with the consequences of their ideology, but for now, it will be—once again—the Iraqis who will have to suffer and survive.

Elliott Colla is associate professor in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is also the author of the acclaimed murder mystery set in American-occupied Iraq, Baghdad Central of which The Independent wrote: “A murder mystery set in post-Saddam Baghdad is as good as it is daring.”


Baghdad Central

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25 Responses

  1. But. It sounds so good, and measured. And wise and appropriate. When The Only President We’ve Got. Tells us. So very solemnly. That for freedom’s sake. It must. And it will. Mark my words. It WILL. Be done. (Applause)

    • Jesus Christ Obama has already promised no ground troops you guys are acting like this is Iraq 2.0!

      This is very clearly a intended to save religious and ethnic minorities from physical destruction and protect the one stable society in all of Iraq which is Kurdistan! But it’s for oil you say! Well yes, the worlds most precious commodity should not be in under the control of medievalists.

      • Yeah, I saw on FOXNews how Kurdistan is for sure now a stable society around which a New Middleast Order can coalesce. But is Obama not trying to keep forcing the “nation” frame on that whole much larger fractious violence tribal we-broke-it “thing” we conveniently shorthand as “Iraq?” Which is a word on a map, but if democracy means anything at all, the “dēmos,” ‘the people’ in and around the arbitrary old lines that demarcate “Iraq” sure don’t seem to think of themselves in their various parts, affinities, fears, hatreds, organizing principles and loyalties as anything close to a “nation.”

        I guess one uses that “society” term when one can’t talk in terms of a “nation” thing that can be dealt with by our business interests and their extensions into outfits like the CIA, US AID, our military and its contractors and all that. If Wiki is at all correct, “Kurdistan” is a nice reification, link to en.wikipedia.org, consistent with the Narrative “we” are working from, but hardly a “thing” except as that plays into the manipulation of opinion that is still sort of necessary to keep us ordinary people busy funding the actions of our Empire. The CIA World Factbook does not even have an entry for “Kurdistan,” link to cia.gov, and wishes from here and no amount of air attacks or other such military-mediated “humanitarian assistance” will make it so. Nor, demonstrably, from generations of failure by those who keep doing the same old foolish idiotic shi_ in our names all over the world, will extending the Game, under the same rules and with the same players and with all the same perverse sick incentives and deadly feedback/blowback loops, make it so. All, of course, for the benefit of the Very Few and the careerists and Machiavellian sneaks and ambitious policy wheelers and dealers who Make It All Happen.

        You think “Obama,” a nice reification for the whole Imperial Apparatus under the Beltway Bubble and in all the echo chambers of the Global Networkcentric Incompetentababble Apatosaurian Battlespace give a shi_ about dead and dying “wogs?” Other than as markers in the Game?

        These folks are planning on RUNNING EVERYTHING THAT’S LEFT as the planet goes to He77, thanks to the processes that the Very Few have set in motion, as all nicely laid out in planning and policy documents like this: link to acq.osd.mil The heedless or evil (or both) careerists and sneaks have been taking advantage of the idiot consumption affections of the rest of us, manufacturing demand for oil and iCrap and weaponry like autonomous battle robots and nanoweapons and an infinity of assault rifles, and Grand Doctrines like PNAC and Counterterrorism and Nationbuildingbyoverthrowinganddestabilizinganykindof comitybasedmovements.

        But suddenly, you say, in spite of all that other stuff and all the lies told so convincingly in the past, “This is very clearly a intended to save religious and ethnic minorities from physical destruction and protect the one stable society in all of Iraq which is Kurdistan!” (emphasis in original). Really believe that? And the other part, that “But it’s for oil you say! Well yes, the worlds most precious commodity should not be in under the control of medievalists.” Yeah, much better under the control of people like Tony “I want my life back” Hayward, link to en.wikipedia.org, and Saudi sheiks, and the whole “War is actually nothing but a racket” crowd, right?

  2. The points made in this article are well-taken.

    It was the Central Intelligence Agency that was complicit in the overthrow of Prime Minister Qasim in 1963 that resulted in the installation of a Baathist regime in Iraq. In the 1990s the State Department funded the Iraqi National Congress and assisted the Iraqi National Accord to attempt to overthrow the Baathists. Now ISIS is the entity that is being bombed by the U.S. to protect a regime that is a close ally of the fundamentalist Islamic government in Teheran.

    The CIA also inspired the overthrow of the popularly-elected Syrian civilian government in 1949 that gave rise to a series of military juntas and Baathist domination for decades that has culminated in the current civil war. The rationale for CIA intervention in 1949 was that its legislature would not approve an oil pipeline desired by U.S. oil companies. We are now supplying the Free Syrian Army with guns and other aid to overthrow the Baathists in Damascus.

    The CIA overthrew the moderate nationalist Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 due to his opposition to Western oil interests – this eventually resulted in the Iranian Revolution that brought the Shi’ite fundamentalists from Qom to power in 1979. The U.S. military later provided signal intelligence training to a bizarre Islamo-Marxist cult currently trying to destabilize the Iranian government.

    The U.S. has failed to understand the complexities of these religiously and ethnically diverse countries and become embroiled in non-stop intervention activities after they toss out popularly-elected governments.
    . .

  3. Elliot, ISIS has reignited a religious/sectarian war in Iraq and Syria. I’m not quite sure how from this reality you can deduce that it is America who is doing the escalating if they intervene to defend well functioning society like Kurdistan from religious barbarians.

    • Jon – contemporary sectarianism in Iraqi society has a history, and yes, sadly, it is tied to the dynamics of the decade-long occupation. See the links in my essay for more information. I’m all for defending Kurdistan. I am just skeptical that this is something the US can actually do, and do without doing harm.

      • The Kurdish Peshmerga is armed to the teeth and is likely to take advantage of the ISIS-Shia conflict to advance their own territorial consolidation.

        While nominally an ally of Iraqi government forces, the Kurds are viewing this as an opportunity to expand their power base within northern Iraq.

  4. Great article. I do have a question though. When you say that the Syrian conflict spilled across the Sykes-Picot lines it sounds like the US /UK had nothing to do with this. I have read other reports where it is claimed that the US and UK fermented this uprising in order to bring about regime change in Syria. Do you believe there was a hidden hand in Syria?

    • The U.S. had, along with Syrian expatriates in the U.S. and Europe, had provided millions in financial backing to the Free Syrian Army and diplomatic recognition for the Syrian National Coalition – that is undeniable. The State Department and CIA played key logistical roles in funneling lethal and non-lethal aid to the FSA.

      What eventually grew out of that instability in Syria were Sunni extremists known as Jabhat Al-Nusra, who gave their allegiance to al-Qaeda and had a significant percentage of foreign fighters under their control. ISIS, with primarily non-Syrian combatants, later came into Syria from Iraq and battled all rebel groups as well as the Syrian army.

      A number of brigades then defected from the FSA and were organized under the umbrella group known as the Islamic Front. The Islamic Front received their funding primarily from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil-producing states. The Islamic Front later met with Western diplomats in Ankara, Turkey but were not interested in allying themselves with the U.S. or European states.

      Most Syrians want Assad deposed, however they fear being under control of Islamic extremist forces such as ISIS. Assad has portrayed himself as anti-terrorist to gain support among Syrian civilians.

      170,000 have died in the civil war in Syria.

      • A couple of points to add:

        - Based on comments from Cameron and Sarkozy, the FSA and Syrian rebels (the Syrian working class primarily) believed NATO would assist them in a fashion similar to that of Libya so they escalated there resistance. But because the euphoria over Libya was short lived and it became a complete disaster that assistance never came.

        - In addition to intel and training, the United States was directly involved in providing the rebels arms bought in Eastern Europe, flown into Jordan, and then transported into Syria.

        - The Islamic Front existed in name only – the frontline soldiers had no allegiance to each other. Furthermore, similar to the junior ranks of the Pakistani military not wanting to fight the Taliban under Musharraf, younger fighters within the rebel groups did not want to initially fight ISIS or al-Nusra but rather Assad’s forces.

        - The FSA is incredibly incompetent: they consistently lost battles to Assad’s forces and to Hezbollah. And even when they defeated Hezbollah the resources expended made the gains worthless. Additionally, one of the primary reasons ISIS was able to gain a foothold in Syria was that they promised to provide law order when the FSA would not.

        - It was only around the New Year when John Kerry and the State Department realized what a disaster the Syrian war had become. Saudi assurances (your good friend Prince Bandar principally) concerning al-Nusra and ISIS had not been realized and ISIS controlled a swath of land about the size of the UK. Since then the situation has become significantly worse.

        - The US precondition that any agreement with Assad had to involve him giving up power meant that the Geneva talks were always doomed to fail.

  5. No, ISIS is the (Sunni) reaction, not the cause of this phase of the religious/sectarian war after 10 years of de-baathification with little to no reason for hope. This is why Maliki is being blamed, although much of his Shiia backing has absolutely supports no concessions to the Sunni in the name of unifying Iraq — as with so much of the world these days, they place priority on immediate “security” and “control” (as they have for a decade). Fallujah III (barely reported in the United States) under Maliki and, I gather, Maliki reneging on promises of more Sunni opportunities in the Army and government, seem to have been a breaking point to “working within the system” He also reneged on a promise not to seek a 3rd term.

  6. Someone should forward a copy of this article to Hillary Clinton and any Democrat thinking about supporting her in the primaries. Elliot, your cogent analysis lays out unmistakably clearly the errors of “interventionism”, which her recent Atlantic interview shows she embraces.

    • So, the US utterly destroy a country and as a consequence we are now stuck with the genocidal ISIS ‘caliphate’. And supposedly the lesson learned is to completely disengage.

      US Progressives didn’t start this war, but their unwillingness to take responsibility for the damage done by their country does not impress me.

      • The “progressives” that might have a “prescription” for this particular malady of Empire and Great Game get about the same level of attention as did a famous, or notorious if you are a Ruler, dead one, Martin Luther King. They don’t even get streets and boulevards named after them, or national holidays. The world view and elements of a style of living and ethos, based on decency and comity and kindergarten virtues like “sharing,” are well laid out by some “progressives,” models that might keep stuff like the present set of horrors from repeating ad mortem. Those models are anathema to all the self-pleasing, greed-driven, authoritarian, heedless, tribal, enthusiastic, and a whole bunch of other ugly adjectives, set of arrangements and drivers that’s the current operating system and apps in the human mass.

        The military-corporate operations that are supposed to “save the Yazidis” and “defeat ISIS” are just a bunch of rackets, that because they are heartless and heedless of the future and the pain of the present, have no interest in or clue about setting up institutions and behaviors that might sustain and better the “general welfare.” It’s all a bunch of idiot little self-serving games that benefit a few individuals who have the skills and will to “run things” and carve off ever bigger slabs of our common human heritage for their own delectation. There’s a scale difference that’s killing the species, whether Yazidis or Kurds or Palestinians or Uighurs or Shia or Sunni or Cambodian or plain old ordinary Chinese or Huguenot or whatever. The Few, so far (and they are working on extending their individual personal lives indefinitely, link to aljazeera.com, though you can bet the technology will not extend to the benefit of the Egyptians and Indians who live off the stuff in our garbage dumps ), are limited to the stuff and power over others that they can accumulate in an ordinary human lifetime. And their almost universal motto is “Apres moi le deluge.” They know they are protected against ANY significant consequences in this life by their various tiers of “personal security’” and “the law” that they write and the enforcement mechanisms that they actually own, whatever the myths of “democracy” say. If there is a species awareness and a joint will to go on living, up against what looks like a universal death wish, it does not seem able to trump that egoism of the “potent.”

        As many writing here are pointing out, in great detail, how and why the Great Big Motherf___ing Hammers of the global rulership’s military and sneaky-petery are simply the wrong tools to make or repair the complexity of healthy interactions, of comity and decency and Golden Rulery, that’s needed now and henceforth. But that’s the only tools in the box, Big and BIGGER, and there are too many people on the clock who get paid for making, wielding and apologizing for their “deployment.” And not enough that are working on crafting and fostering sustainable models that keep a__holes like Bibi and the lovely people you see him schmoozing with in this video that says so much, albeit in Hebrew, link to aattp.org and in the raw, link to youtube.com, where the mindset of “settlers” also gets some air time, and our Obamanites and yes, lots of others, from hammering the crap out of the ordinary people whose sweat and blood create the wealth that pays for all those $469 hammers and $600 toilet seats and the really cushy digs and lifestyles of all the generals, admirals, strongmen, prelates and other predators that live off what could (but for the accretions of history and the worst parts of our own human natures) be a comfortable but not exaltedly luxurious living space for all of us.

        How much proof is needed that sowing dragons’ teeth all over the planet does not seem to be likely to work out according to the happy mythology written out here– link to theguardian.com? At least the Phoenicians lasted more intact and flexibly than any of our more “modern” Reichs: link to en.wikipedia.org

        CIA paramilitaries and Special Ops and the sneaks that foment and support antidemocratic coups and the corporate vultures that buy and sell the “legitimacy” and the extractable birthrights of whole peoples via suborning the “governments” of those “nation” things that our Rulers force-fit onto them, and Hellfires and GBUs and 30mm depleted-uranium cannon shells, and all the other sexy ordnance, serve the short-term interests of those who “deploy” and “employ” them. But none of that, all of which is now in ponderous motion under cover of a smokescreen of platitudes and invocations of decent but ignorant semi-altruistic motivations, has a prayer of “fixing” what made and is fostering the ISIS Horde, or sunni/shia exacerbations, or the inevitable tribal hardening of the Israeli Jewish population, none of that.

  7. I hope that the Americans are successful in rescuing the Yazidis. The world will thank those members of the US military and intel who take part. But please do not expect us to forget that the United States is an Imperial power and that the current suffering in Iraq/Syria/Kurdistan/ISIS “Caliphate” is a direct result of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and the American support of the proxy war fought in Syria and American drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, et al.

    I will repeat what I have said before: leave us – that is the overwhelming majority of the world – alone. We do not want your navy in our docks. We do not want your air force using our air fields and air space. We do not want your soldiers stationed in barracks in our towns and cities. We do not want your intel officers roaming our streets. We do not want your bombs falling on our families and friends. We do not want your modernity to be based on the exploitation of our natural resources and labour.

    We would like a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation.

    • Don’t think you have a mandate to speak for the majority of the world.

      Pretty sure, for instance, that many Polish people would like to see some US troops stationed there.

      As a German I also think it is perfectly desirable to have some US presence in my country. But I can wholeheartedly agree to the last statement. It is most desirable to have “a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation.”

      The US certainly has room for improvement on this aspect.

      • Nice to have US troops disbursing lots of US dollars “on the economy” in brothels, bierstubes and suchlike, paying rent on “bases,” all that crap. Yep, as you say, as a German that is “desirable.” Of course nothing bad could ever come from keeping on with the idiocy of NATO and the Überschwemmung of wealth in the direction of Bonn… By the way, I apologize on behalf of my fellow ordinary Americans that we have let our spooks spy on your spooks who are spying on us in the dead-end rounds of the Great Game, and for being unwise enough to know that our Stasi is not competent enough or organiziert genug to keep you folks from finding out that we were snapping secret selfies of Angela’s knickers…

        • “…. secret selfies of Angela’s knickers…” would probably have been the most tangible outcome of this wasteful exercise.

          Overall the US presence in Germany has a rather minor economic impact, after all this the largest economy and industrial heartland of the EU. The benefit I am alluding to is political in nature and includes the fact that this gets many impressible young US soldiers exposed to Germany. While living and working in the states I often encountered men who were favorably inclined to Germany due to having been stationed there earlier in life.

          It also firmly anchors Germany militarily and reduces the need for native forces which in turns means that our neighbors no longer have any reason to regard Germany as a military threat – this notion fortunately has been well shed and relegated to the last century. The latter is a key aspect that allows for European unification. Outsourcing military security to NATO and the US has been a key enabler for this.

        • “our neighbors no longer have any reason to regard Germany as a military threat…” Of course there’s no residual load of Teutonic exceptionalism and sense of Destiny left in Germany. Is there? link to realtruth.org Nor the development of another form of conquest via economic means, link to theguardian.com and all the rest of what’s shaking in the Littler EUNations. Nor a huge arms manufactory that is very busy in the global trade, see link to economist.com and also maybe link to en.wikipedia.org, where Germany is only #7 or #5. And of course German business is happy to sell U-boats to the Israelis or almost anyone else with the purchase price. link to spiegel.de

          There’s lots of subtle and politically aware and astute people in Europe, particularly the people of Germany with their long history and pride and Otto von Bismarck as a model. And does it seem that NATO and the Encirclement Strategy are little but historical artifacts with no purpose other than to keep all of us tied to a deadly and outmoded form of the Great Game, a bureaucracy with a budget in search of, or busily creating, a “mission” to justify its continuation? And of course there’s all that money to be made from turning NATO into an engine of economic warfare too. Which maybe if the major players, now being re-cast as “opponents” again, were not still armed with enough nuclear weapons to kill the planet, might be a little more tolerable.

          “Outsourcing military security to NATO and the US has been a key enabler for this.” Yes, I would agree with that tightly packed epigram. And all that’s implicit and inherent in it. Did I hear a “Thank you” and maybe a smug grin in there somewhere too? Uncle Sucker makes this, too, possible?

          Plaudits to Germans for turning to solar power and away from dependency. But the undertones are all still how to advance the tribe’s interests at the expense of other tribes, and with externalities still being dumped all over the planet. Maybe that is the best we humans can do, at the interface between our personal ambitions and greeds and fears, and the apparently dysfunctional limits of how we can organize ourselves to keep the species alive — if that is actually a good idea or a real concern for us short-lived pleasure seekers. “We could do better, but we probably won’t…”

        • Human nature is what it is. The best way to overcome tribalism is mixing of the tribes.

          This is the positive aspect of EU integration. No borders and freedom to move and work anywhere within the EU countries. Hence Germany is attracting a lot of talent from Southern Europe.

          This can, of course, also be cast as a negative brain drain, but as multilingualism becomes the norm the South may very well attract more quality businesses, especially of the High Tech variety where quality of life can be an asset to lure talent. Due to the Ukraine crisis Spain is already experiencing more growth at this time.

          Since Germany’s economy is open to all EU citizens I really don’t see any problem with its current strength. And as to the submarines for Israel, I don’t recall torpedoes fired into Gaza – very hard to use them as suppression tools in urban warfare. There’s two main reason why they don’t have German tanks: (a) because the have American ones (b) because tanks can be used against Palestinians. Of course if (a) wasn’t the case Germany would be hard pressed to supply these weapons as well.

          For obvious reasons it is a cornerstone of German politics that Israel has the right to exist.

  8. This article is strangely detached and academic. Yes, ISIS is a reaction to the previous escalation, but this means the US is directly responsible for these genocidal maniacs.

    So what does the author propose the US is supposed to do about this?

    Simply leaving Iraq to its own devices after you broke it, is utterly cynical.

    • This is not an argument against intervention. It is against American interventionists who, given their track record of recklessness, have forfeited the right to be taken seriously.
      If intervention needs to happen in Iraq, let it be under the auspices of an authority that is disinterested and has the credibility and political will to do the job well.
      There is nothing cynical or academic in observing that the US lacks the moral legitimacy to intervene in Iraq, just as it lacks the political will to do it effectively. The US had a decade to show Iraqis that it was serious about good governance and development, and it utterly failed. We haven’t reflected on that experience as a society. We haven’t even bothered to seriously prosecute Americans who committed crimes in Iraq.
      The US owes Iraq many things, including reparations. But returning for another round is not one of them.

      • “An authority that is disinterested and has the credibility and political will to do the job well.”

        The lack of such an authority is exactly the problem. When a minority without means to support itself gets trapped on mountaintops there is no external actor that can act as quickly and decisively as the US military.

        For good or bad, the US imperial overreach has created global logistic capabilities that are unmatched by any other nation on earth.

        • Absolutely. But do it through the UN and let the US contribute things like logistical help; who would object? Bring other partners onboard not to give it the appearance of a sorely missed legitimacy, but the reality of it.

          To do this sort of job right (versus blowing things up) requires a degree of trust and credibility the US has little or none of.

          The way things are now being handled lands somewhere between lame and sanctimonious.

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