Thursday open thread: Out now edition

Still no volunteers for Thursday Playlists. So: politics.

Do any of our five or so readers still think the U.S. should stay in Iraq longer than the few months it would take to effect an orderly withdrawal? Matt Yglesias offers the following:

I still hear it often said, including by liberal-minded people, that all serious experts agree that we need to stay in Iraq, or even that the consensus on this score is so overwhelming that it’s inevitable that we’ll stay. Neither is true. Quite a lot of who’ve thought deeply about this problem have concluded that the best thing to do is simply to cut our losses and leave.

Read the post. He (and Steven Simon) has the goods.

The most common argument I hear from liberals who are still committed to keeping troops in Iraq is actually the same thing Bush was getting at with his bizarre Vietnam/Cambodia analogy a few weeks ago: that a U.S. pullout would unleash a horrible bloodbath. Well, that’s a possibility, although there are a whole lot of other possible and much less dire outcomes and I’m not in a position to judge their relative likelihood.

But what we do know is that a horrible bloodbath is happening right now in Iraq. One of the most maddening things about the discourse about the war in this country is the tacit denial that, to the best of our knowledge, hundreds of thousands of people have died since the 2003 invasion who would not have died otherwise. See James Wimberley’s post (via Yglesias) on the various studies that have been done, including the infamous Lancet study and others that corroborate it. (This American Life did some very good reporting about the study and why it was ignored.) Conservatives have shouted down the shameful fact of this massive loss of human life; it’s disgraceful that our corporate media have been cowed so much that (as Wimberley shows) the median American underestimates the deaths Bush’s war has caused by almost two orders of magnitude.

Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths

But you know, open thread, so speak ye of what you will.

23 responses to “Thursday open thread: Out now edition”

  1. Dave says:

    Okay, yeah, (pseudo-)open threads always kill the conversation. Anyway, here’s the funniest damn thing I’ve seen all week, via some Unfogged commenter or other.

  2. Dave says:

    And then the most unintentionally hilarious yet completely dispiriting quote of the day: Joe Lieberman: “The fact that it didn’t get enough votes says that Congress doesn’t have the votes to stop this strategy of success from going forward.” (Emphasis added.)

  3. Rachel says:


  4. Dave says:

    (flapping meat sound)

  5. Jen says:

    Bake at 200 degrees, then douse in ice water.

  6. I just don’t know what to say about #4.

    So how about that new Broken Social Scene/Kevin Drew album?

  7. Tim Wager says:

    Here’s a topical playlist:

    “Meat is Murder,” The Smiths
    “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth,” Dead Boys
    “Uncle Meat,” Frank Zappa
    “Meatmen Stomp,” The Meatmen
    “Another Piece of Meat,” Scorpions
    “I Would Do Anything for Meat (But I Won’t Do That),” Meat Loaf

  8. Kate The Great says:

    And now love equals meat. This feels bizarre, and yet many people I know love a good steak; I salivate over steak the same way I salivate over a particular man’s body.

  9. brooke says:

    God bless you Kate

  10. Kate The Great says:

    What? What’d I do?


  11. jeremy says:

    perhaps brooke thought you were “salivating over” his body?

  12. Kate The Great says:

    snort. He wishes. After my comments regarding his sex, he’s probably drooling over the T in my “The”. Or maybe it’s my ignorant comments on anarchy.

    Gee. I’ve always wished for a guy to go goo-goo over my words.

  13. Scotty says:

    One of the questions I am interested in regarding the U.S. occupation of Iraq is how would we feel if say, France was in the situation we are in, and they completely disengaged in Iraq, leaving an ever-escalating civil war in their wake? Would we be calling for the U.S. to send peacekeeping troops? Would we be crying out for humanitarian aid? (The reason I put another country in our shoes is to try to get a little political distance.)

    The likely situation that would arise if the U.S. were to completely disengage is the implosion of Iraq, the spread of regional war, stress placed upon its neighbors by an increased flow of refugees, and the further destabilization of world markets by an astronomical rise in oil prices. (Yes all of these things are happening right now, but I think the situation would be much worse than it presently is.)

    Yes, the war should have never happened, and yes, the U.S. occupation is going poorly, but (I think) the region would be worse off without it.

    I don’t think that Iraq will become a liberal democracy, and analogies to postwar Germany and Japan are ridiculous, but what could happen is a calmer transition into whatever Iraq will become, than the shock of what will happen upon a U.S. withdrawal.

    The biggest question is: what would the U.S. do if the nightmare scenario I described does happen? Will we have to move all our forces back to the region and start over again?

    I don’t know…I understand the reasons why people call for withdrawal, but just from a policy perspective, it seems to me like a “hope for the best” kind of strategy — not that what I’m suggesting is any different.

    Another question is: are we creating greater resentment for the U.S. by staying? I think the U.S occupation is certainly radicalizing young Iraqis, but wouldn’t world opinion of the U.S. sink even lower if the situation I describe above were to come to pass?

    There is little doubt in my mind that this war will wind up being the beginning of the end to U.S. unipolarity. Maybe from an international perspective, that’s not such a bad thing.

  14. Tim Wager says:


    I’ve been thinking about your comment here all morning long. I think it’s a good thought experiment you propose in the first paragraph:

    how would we feel if say, France was in the situation we are in, and they completely disengaged in Iraq, leaving an ever-escalating civil war in their wake?

    Of course, as a nice liberal goodnik, my first thought was that I would want to help try to keep the peace, by sending in troops, for instance, or humanitarian aid. Later, however, I thought, “Hasn’t the US has already done such a thing in the recent past, coincidentally enough, with France? In Vietnam?”

    Of course, not every intervention of this sort necessarily turns out so badly. I do think that the US and the UN managed to do some good in Serbia, though my knowledge of that mess is certainly imperfect. (Yes, I know that the analogy between Vietnam and Serbia leaves much to be desired, but let’s just say the two wars are in the same historical ballpark.) Intervention in a civil war is not always good policy. It seldom yields the desired result, and may just extend the violence and get more people killed.

    The central thing I find troubling in your argument is that you assume that things will get much worse in Iraq if the US pulls out all troops. That may be the case, yes, but it seems to me to be the flip side of the pre-war Rumsfeldian sunny optimism (“We will be greeted as liberators.”). I don’t necessarily disagree with your assessment that the entire region will be destabilized by a US pullout; I certainly fear it and wouldn’t be surprised by it at all.

    However, continuing with bad policy through inertia and a sense that reversing it will probably be worse doesn’t make solid sense to me. I do agree that there will probably be many bad consequences of a US withdrawal, but I also think that there are ways to try to plan for these consequences while also effecting a withdrawal on a stepped-up schedule.

    One way, for instance, might be to sit down and talk with representatives of the governments of Syria, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, along with various Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish factions in Iraq. Together, they and we might be able to figure out some kind of less violent and more stable way to resolve a very, very messy situation. It might not work, but it seems to me worth the risk. At the very least, by making these other powers more explicitly active in trying to resolve things in Iraq, we could share the blame with everyone else if and when it all goes to shit.

  15. Dave says:

    Ha! I knew Scotty would show up sooner or later.

    U.S. unipolarity is a pipe-dream conceived at SAIS and other fever swamps in the early ’90s.

    It’s a terrible idea to fight a war without a clear and achievable goal. What is our goal in Iraq?

    Is our goal to create a functional, sovereign government in Iraq? Then we should give up now, because the political situation is such that this is an impossible task.

    Is it to prevent a sectarian bloodbath and ethnic cleansing? Then we are failing.

    Is it to mitigate the bloodbath? Then we have no way of measuring success against a hypothetical world in which we don’t maintain the occupation.

    Is it to create stability? We are likewise failing. At best, we are postponing a day of reckoning.; likely, we are making the eventual explosion worse by arming various sects and tribes and giving them time to gather strength.

    It must also be pointed out that the situation in Iraq has gotten steadily worse since the initial euphoria of the invasion wore off. Bush and his generals would be ecstatic to return to the casualty levels and political situation of 2004 or 2005. Is there any reason to believe things will get better? Is there any conceivable secret plan beyond what the Army’s acknowledged counterinsurgency expert could come up with? Is there some pixie dust lying around somewhere unused?

    The graph in the post (click for a bigger version) uses a logarithmic scale, not linear. That means the straight trendline of civilian Iraqi deaths indicated by the IBC numbers shows an exponential increase over time. Coupled with the complete lack of political progress within Iraq, I don’t know how you could have a more compelling picture of failure to achieve any war aim worth achieving.

    Would I think less of a country for invading another country, destroying its government and social institutions, occupying it for years, then leaving and allowing a civil war to rage unchecked? Well, yes. But the problem is the initial invasion. Once we invaded, failure was inevitable. I really don’t think there’s anything we can do now that has a plausible chance of improving the situation in Iraq. So it’s better to stop trying to do anything. (See this from Yglesias on this point.)

    Should we try to mitigate the disaster we’ve created by means other than occupying the country? Sure, let’s talk. We should be taking in more refugees, especially Iraqis who have helped the occupying forces and are now in danger. We can work with regional powers — who also have a huge stake in stability in Iraq — to try to work something out.

    But the status quo is a disaster. It’s time to cut our losses.

  16. Scotty says:

    Dave, I guess the biggest difference between how you and I feel about this is that I feel that there is a vast potential for things to get worse with a U.S. pullout, and I feel that there’s less of a bottomless pit with a U.S. force in place. I really don’t things have gotten nearly as bad as they might.

    This whole thing is such a fucking fiasco that it’s hard to imagine it getting worse, but I have limitless resources of faith in the human ability for inflicting pain and suffering, especially when religion is involved.

  17. Miller says:

    Perhaps I’m jumping into this a little too late to spark any sort of discussion (once again; friggin’ graduate school is a bitch), not to mention it’s a friday night, but has anyone heard of this news story which has, apparently, found a way to not be included in news reports? It’s a bit scary, but I wonder if anyone feels it may be a necessary action.

  18. Miller says:

    i’m not sure if that link worked.let’s try this again.

  19. Dave says:

    Why am I commenting at two in the morning?

    What else do you expect me to be doing?

    Miller: That looks freaky at first glance, but it seems we need more details. I’m already completely unhappy about the shoe-taking-off business, not to mention the ridiculous no-fly list.

    Scotty: More tomorrow, I promise, but for now, consider this story — Blackwater being investigated for smuggling arms into Iraq to sell to groups the U.S. classifies as terrorists. Any hypothetical argument for staying in Iraq, no matter how well-intentioned, must eventually meet the reality that staying in Iraq means the continuation of shit like this, shit that is (to put it mildly) detrimental to U.S. interests in Iraq and the Middle East.

  20. Scotty says:

    Yes, I know Dave, my brother, with all war comes corruption. War is after all the ultimate failure of “morality” and reason. Especially this kind of war: insurgency v. counter-insurgency.

    The Blackwater situation is just another example of the absurdity invited by the Bush administration into modern warfare. I find it strange that U.S. diplomats and the highest-ranking officials to visit Iraq are not protected my official U.S. military, but a private firm. Perhaps even stranger, however, is how few people seem to think it’s weird.

    The funny thing about this dialogue is that I feel like I’m coming off as being hawkish. You may or may not know that the contrary is actually true. My main concern is for the civilians of Iraq, and the bottom line is that I think with no U.S. forces, there will be even less security for average people. This to me is the most straightforward way I can summarize my position.

    If you or someone else could convince me otherwise, I’d agree in an immediate withdrawal.

    The other part of my position is that I think this war has been a vast waste on every scale imaginable from day one.

    My final point is that – on a personal level – I love the heck out of you.

  21. Dave says:

    Scotty, I love you so much that I wrote this post just for you.

    Your concern for Iraqi civilians is of course the only morally legitimate line of argument for staying in Iraq. But let me try again to clarify why I don’t find it persuasive:

    What we face with Iraq is a strategic choice under uncertainty. We have basically two alternatives: stay (with just about the troop strength we have now, give or take a few tens of thousands) or go (in an orderly but rapid fashion). (I exclude two other imaginable alternatives as essentially impossible: a vastly increased troop presence — politically impossible — and some kind of reduced but still substantial troop presence, on the order of 50-80k — not enough to do any good, still enough to cause problems and get killed)

    We actually know a fair amount about what will happen if we stay. The situation will probably continue to look a lot like it does now, getting worse over time. This is the only conclusion I can draw from trendlines like the graph in the post — things have steadily gotten worse over almost all metrics since the invasion. The lack of realistic chances for a political reconciliation means we can’t expect a dramatic improvement under current conditions. The fact that nobody really has any good ideas left means there’s no technocratic fix waiting in the wings.

    So we can expect that if we choose to stay, we’ll see hundreds of thousands more Iraqis and thousands more American troops die. We’ll see continued sectarian and factional warfare. We’ll see the continued growth in influence of Iran. We’ll see the Muslim world continuing to point at America’s imperialist project in Iraq — our Blackwater mercenaries riding around the cities in gigantic armored vehicles, killing without consequence, distributing weapons to whichever faction has ingratiated itself that week.

    We don’t know much about what will happen if we choose to go. There are reasons to think the civil war would heat up even more, ethnic cleansing would get more brutal, the country would be partitioned or remain intact but fall under the control of a strongman, possibly a client of Iran. But there are other reasons to think that our continued presence is making the situation worse and that if we pulled out, the political factions would have a real incentive to find a modus vivendi, the regional players including Iran would find it in their interests to work for stability rather than chaos, and the bloodshed and suffering would lessen and perhaps soon end.

    We just don’t know. So we’re looking at near-certain continuation of a truly appalling situation if we stay. If we choose to go, we face a range of uncertain outcomes, from scenarios in which things get worse (in the short term, at least), to something just about as bad as the present, to various scenarios in which things improve significantly.

    It thus looks to me like we should go, as difficult as that choice is.

  22. Scotty says:

    Allright Dave, I’m convinced. I’m going to get on the horn to the Whitehouse and get our troops home — right now.


    I know you’re quite possibly right. I hope we all get a chance to find out.

    And thank you for my personalized post. You’re quite a charmer.

  23. Demosthenes says:

    The worst rationalization i have heard for Bush staying in Iraq was essentially that “Jesus would want him to.” I thought that was interesting.