Friday, January 05, 2007

sadly, i am not the Walrus

Via Jim Henley and Patrick Lang, the mysterious Walrus has some predictions for our adventure in Iraq:

So anyway they are now confronted with a mess - and as the Kagan powerpoint presentation points out, failure will be cataclysmic.

Of course what they really mean is that failure will be cataclysmic for them and their backers.

If America backs out of the middle east leaving Iran intact, the following will happen:

1. Iran is now the recognised regional power in the Middle East and will have a very large say in dictating what happens to the remains of Iraq.

2. Israel will be faced with the need to make some form of accomodation with the Islamic powers in the region.

3. Successive Congresses will bind the President and the military industrial complex hand and foot to prevent a repeat of this folly.

4. Right wing thinktanks and their associated pundits will be discredited.

5. Congress will have to reform taxation to pay for the war (remember when Iraqi Oil revenue was supposed to cover the cost of all this?)

6. A decade of soul searching and reform about the electoral system, the media, campaign finance, lobbying and similar issues will occur - sharply reducing the powers of the current ruling class to manipulate Americans so easily.

In other words, for Bush and his friends, defeat really is "unthinkable", just as it was to Kaiser Wilhelm when Wilson proposed a "victorless Peace" to Germany in 1917. Unless there is victory, the entire NeoCon world gets swept away, as do the Likudniks.

For that reason, expect a savage campaign to clear Baghdad of insurgents - which will fail with the loss of a great deal of American and Iraqi blood, followed by an all out bombing attack on Iran.

For the NeoCons, there is no other choice available to them, that is the tragedy.

Henley nitpicks that the conservative establishment shouldn’t get off so easily:

[A] handful of mostly Jewish and Catholic east coast writers and professors were never going to make the Republican Party do anything it didn’t want to do. The tune was always going to be high military spending, control of oil production and exaggerating foreign threats for domestic political advantage. The neocons just provided some lyrics.

I agree. Also, I’d say that 1 and 4 on the Walrus’ list have happened already, even if the administration and its supporters haven’t realized it yet. 3, 5, and 6 are more touch and go. I’d like to believe those things would happen, but if they didn’t demonstrably happen after Vietnam, why now? Compared to Vietnam, Iraq has been a masterpiece of targeted diplomacy and precise, restrained force. Also, so far in Iraq 1/20 the number of U.S. troops have died that did in Vietnam.

I agree with the basic premise, though, which is that defeat in Iraq (or, more sensibly phrased, “ending the carnage”) will be very bad for the conservative establishment. But it also should be obvious by now that digging in further will only make things worse for them in the end. So why press forward when ever-decreasing returns and increasing costs seem inevitable?

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’d say it’s because the costs of continuing the war—as perceived by the administration and its ever-dwindling supporters—have not yet become greater than the costs of ending the war. In reality, as for LBJ and the Democratic establishment in 1967-68, the war has already cost the administration more than it realizes. So far, it has cost the party control of Congress. Next the White House. At least in the public eye, the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war is pretty thoroughly discredited, as is a hawkish, interventionist foreign policy more generally. On the domestic front, many of the gains of the Republican Revolution of the ‘90s are now at risk.

But Bush plows ahead anyway, seemingly unaware of the consequences. Matt Yglesias cites Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon’s recent Foreign Policy article to help explain why:

Imagine, for example, the choice between:

Option A: A sure loss of $890

Option B: A 90 percent chance to lose $1,000 and a 10 percent chance to lose nothing.

In this situation, a large majority of decision makers will prefer the gamble in Option B, even though the other choice is statistically superior. People prefer to avoid a certain loss in favor of a potential loss, even if they risk losing significantly more. When things are going badly in a conflict, the aversion to cutting one’s losses, often compounded by wishful thinking, is likely to dominate the calculus of the losing side. This brew of psychological factors tends to cause conflicts to endure long beyond the point where a reasonable observer would see the outcome as a near certainty.

I hope that the administration will realize how much the conservative movement stands to lose before it decides to escalate the conflict, and instead decides to back down. But the evidence so far points the other way, and Bush is really only focused on shoring up his cherished legacy in the next two years until he retires—he either doesn’t understand the political consequences for the GOP or doesn’t really care. I don’t think Bush will bomb Iran because then he would probably be impeached. Since he personally stands to lose if he starts another war for no good reason, I don’t think he’ll do it.

A simpler way to put it is we have a man-child in charge who is hopelessly out of his depth and no one is able to stop him from making things worse.

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