Thursday, November 08, 2007

On the Kahl essay

The overall assumption behind the Kahl essay is that the US has at least four specific aims in Iraq, and that they are all altruistic. They are: (1) Helping create and maintain a "stable equlibrium" in the sectarian and regional sense (the recent centerpiece of that being the arming of Sunni tribes in Anbar); (2) Degrading AlQaeda in Iraq; (3) preventing genocide; and (4) deterring any further extension of Iranian influence, so as to "prevent any wider conflict". Naturally there is a lot wrapped up in this, but the first and most important point to notice is that no one in the Arab world thinks those are American objectives. On the contrary, on point (4), states of the Gulf think it highly likely there will be a US and/or Israeli strike against Iran, contrary to Kahl's point about preventing any wider conflict. Palestinians and Israelis are convinced there will be an American supported military attack on Gaza once the Annapolis conference is over, something that contributes skepticism about this idea of "preventing genocide" as a policy objective in and of itself. War in south Lebanon is less immediately anticipated, only because the defenders are seen as much more capable and dangerous (as opposed to a feel-good bombing attack on Iran, or a gallant attack on civilian areas of Gaza). The condition of Iraq, in the view of people who are bracing for the effects of this bellicose American-Israeli policy, is completely secondary and derivative. Moreover the idea of a set of altruistic aims and objectives there seems ludicrous.

What then to make of the Kahl essay? If you look at some of the sensible remarks in his Mother Jones interview of last month it seems hard to take him as a regime propagandist, for the current regime, that is. On the contrary, the idea suggests itself that he is an ideologue for the coming Democratic administration. Because if you assume that a Democratic administration is going to abandon the warlike ambitions with respect to Gaza, South Lebanon, Syria and Iran, then his altruistic package of Iraq aims and objectives might arguably make sense. But how likely is that? Democrats are just as AIPAC-compliant as Republicans; and the remarks of the "mainstream" Democratic candidates for president indicate they intend to outflank the Republicans on Iran and other defence issues to the right, not to the left. So what sense does it make to try to shape Democratic party opinion with respect to Iraq on the basis of assumptions about regional policy that will seem just as ludricous under a Democratic administration as they do now under the Republicans?

It follows from this line of thinking that the whole point of shifting the PR focus on American efforts from the national-level national-reconciliation theme to a bottom-up balance and equilibrium theme, is deeply enmeshed in a bi-partisan PR strategy. Republicans like it because it is a talking point for the "surge"; mainstream Democrats (presumably) are expected to like it because it will be part of their justification for a continued American military presence in the country, namely to prevent such an equilibrium from falling apart. But apart from the PR strategy, where does the truth lie? And more specifically, how in the name of all that is held sacred, can you talk about Iraq policy based on a hypothetical American regional policy that might come about in the future, but where the change in public attitudes that alone could bring that change about, is precisely what you are helping to suppress (by glossing over what the current regional policy is)? It beats me.


Blogger D. Ghirlandaio said...

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
For an academic one should add:

Sincerity is not a methodology.

1:49 PM  
Blogger badger said...

how true that is

4:45 PM  
Blogger Eric Martin said...

the remarks of the "mainstream" Democratic candidates for president indicate they intend to outflank the Republicans on Iran and other defence issues to the right, not to the left.

That is an overstatement. The Dems have been pretty bad on their Iran/military rhetoric, but the GOP has made it impossible to outflank them to the right.

We're talking about Mitt "Doublte Gitmo" Romney, John "Bomb, bomb Iran" McCain and Rudy "Norm Podhoretz and Daniel Pipes are my advisors" Giuliani.

This is, of course, more an indictment of just how far the GOP has veered into bellicosity than it is a defense of the disappointing rhetoric clung to by the Dems.

9:44 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Words. The point is there isn't any reason to think the Democrats will change to a policy of stability, given their AIPAC-compliance and the fear of seeming weak on Iran. The Kahl piece is concerned with ideology more than with actual aims. The Republicans had their propaganda for keeping troops in Iraq, the Democrats will have theirs, and the seeds of it are here in the Kahl piece.

10:27 AM  
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