Monday, December 05, 2005

The Perils of Withdrawal (from Reality)

(This is being cross-posted from thepartyline)

The problem with Christopher Hitchens’ article is illustrated in its title: “The Perils of Withdrawal”. It contains the deceit that the perils he mentions belong only to the plan advocated by Murtha and those who believe that the American military have done pretty much all they can in Iraq. Since the US will have to withdraw from Iraq within the next two or three years (for political and logistical reasons) the real question is why does Hitchens expect the military headed by Bush and Rumsfeld to mitigate these perils in the time remaining, and is what little we can achieve in Iraq worth the extra risk. An interesting pro-staying-the-course essay would delve into these topics but for the most part this essay is an exercise in name-calling and avoiding the point.

First he asks why those who favor a shorter timeline for Iraq don’t also advocate one for Afghanistan. For one, Afghanistan is much smaller than Iraq so if we managed to get out of Iraq we would have plenty of troops free to continue multilateral defense of Afghanistan. More generally, they are two different countries and I find it is a gross oversimplification to say that the same logic apply to both. Also of course, the nation (especially the media) has a small attention span. If things are going as badly in Afghanistan as they are in Iraq its certainly not making the front page and thus there isn't popular support for a resolution. I have no problem with Democrats choosing their battles.

He then gets to Murtha.

If, as Murtha says, the presence of American troops is the cause not the cure for Islamist "insurgency," then the logic would be the same in all cases: withdrawal at least to a more distant point where (presumably) their presence would not incite mayhem. Leaving aside the question of what geographical point that would be (U.S. ships were targeted in Yemen before 9/11 and in the Jordanian Gulf of Aqaba after it), this argument does have its attractions.

This is flawed logic. Murtha argues that American troops are *a* cause of the insurgency. This is just one of many arguments Murtha makes for his timeline (the main one being that we’ve accomplished all we can). Here Hitchens is implicitly saying that Murtha believes the case for his timeline can rest entirely on this argument.

But there is another deceit here. This whole foray into an Afghan/Iraq metaphor is not argument against Murtha’s logic. Rather, it's just a charge of hypocrisy. There is value in exposing hypocrisy but here it serves to let Hitchens avoid making the negative case against t. (I’ve given up on seeing a positive case by now).

He then throws in some more insult our intelligence:

It was said even then that the attack would fail, because (remember?) if you killed Osama Bin Laden, then a thousand more would rise up to take his place. This line soon mutated into, "No war on Iraq: It's a distraction from the hunt for Bin Laden."

Look at the arguments he pulls to fabricate a charge of hypocrisy. The first “thousand more” argument would be advocated by an anti-Afghan war crazy. The second “distraction” argument is a mainstream one which even I have used. He offers no proof that any individual has actually held both of these positions, much less that many have.*

Finally we get back to Murtha:

There is some evidence that Murtha is wrong and that the Baathists and Bin Ladenists in Iraq are increasingly targeting civilian Iraqis—especially Kurds and Shiites—rather than those coalition forces who enjoy the benefits of "force protection."

This does not contradict Murtha’s claim that the insurgency is fueled in part by US presence. It merely underlines the horrible tragedy which is life in modern Iraq and that the situation is not improving even with US troops there. It is important to note here Hitchens is disagreeing not just with Murtha, but with General Casey who said in a September 2005 Hearing, “the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.” To me, there is a heavy burden of proof which Hitchens makes no serious attempt to overcome.

The rest of the piece is just a wish list of what Iraq could be without any explanation of why he thinks we are going to get it. He says we should stay till asked by the Iraqi government to go but ignores their request for a timeline.** Murtha has a timeline. Is it to short? Should we pull out in one year or two? I don't really know. The factions in the Iraqi government haven't come to an agreement on the issue either. But instead of choosing and defending a timeline, Hitchens attacks those who have. Not with facts and logic, but with sloppy invective and caricature.

*Another deceit that jumped out at me here was this smear against

In spite of furious opposition from the MoveOn left and the Lindbergh right, and endless talk about a "quagmire" from many liberals, most Americans did back the intervention in Afghanistan because of the self-evident link between al-Qaida and the Taliban.

MoveOn did not oppose the war in Afghanistan. I wouldn’t be a member if they did. There has been a strong push by the right and to demonize MoveOn as being radical despite the fact that it focuses on popular liberal causes and explicitly stays out of intra-party disputes. MoveOn does a really good job raising money to counter the right though they may be a little inexperienced at running contests and protests (see the Hitler commercial which MoveOn did not produce but got tarred with anyways). It and groups like it are vital if liberals are ever going to be elected in this country.

** This technically isn't a contrdiction though I find it difficult to see why would should trust Iraq to tell us when to leave but not when they tell us to set a timetable.

Update: I've made some changes to since my first posting but I don't want to keep fiddeling with it. I could modify it endlessly but let me add only that I realize that Hitchens isn't obliged to argue about what I want him to. Still though, I feel my other arguments are valid.


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