Colbert on Civil War

"National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, meanwhile, traveled to the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Tuesday to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the Shiite community’s most revered spiritual leader. Al-Rubaie emerged to tell reporters "the way to forming the government is difficult and planted with political bombs. We ask the Iraqi people to be patient, and we expect forming the government will take a few months." "  Forbes


Stephen Colbert of the "Colbert Report" is a new hero of mine.  Last night he said on his show that "people" should stop hyperventilating over the words "civil war" in connection with Iraq because "civil war" is spelled "exit strategy."  This is amusing no matter how grim the prospect.

For Rubaie to go to Sistani with his hat in his hand is confirmation for every Sunni in the world of the character of the emerging government in Iraq.

Nevertheless, I would urge "people" not to get their underwear in "a twist" just yet,  Iraqis are remarkably tough folk.  They are engaged in settling scores that are a thousand years old while re-distributing political and economic power in the only ways that are left to them in the situation that we inadvertently created.  The elections "thingy" does not work peacefully in the absence of an electorate that accepts its common identity across ethno-religious group boundaries.  There is no "Iraqi People" except in the minds of foreigners who do not understand the ethnography of Iraq or in the minds of Arabs who see what they want to see.

Rumsfeld or someone said that Democracy is a messy business.  This isn’t democracy unless one thinks that bullets count more than votes in places like Iraq, but it IS a long term process of settling issues of power and wealth among the communities in Mesopotamia.

I have said for a long time now that Iraq was in a state of civil war.  Civil war does not = exit strategy for me.  We are where we are in Iraq as a result of our own foolish actions and misconceptions.  Yes.  Casualties are up.  Yes.  They may get even higher in numbers.  Does that mean that a final crisis is upon us?  No.  Iraqis would not accept that and I think that they would be right.

Can we walk away?  I have seen my country walk away from people who trusted it too many times.  If the "American People" want to walk away from those who have sided with us in Iraq. then we should start preparing for refugee re-settlement.  There will be no forgiveness for those who sided with us in a post US Iraq.

For my part, I will have nothing to do with abandoning them and I believe that US soldiers in Iraq would not want that either.

Pat Lang

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18 Responses to Colbert on Civil War

  1. jonst says:

    Well, there are lots of ways to look at things. I’ve seen my country (up close and personal too)stand far too long, and far too close, with people, and regimes, it had no business standing with. At great cost to America. And to Americans.
    It is not Iraq I am primarily concerned with anymore. Concerned as I could argue I am to the extent there was any way to prove such sentiments. No. It is not Iraq, or Iraqis, I am sorry, and a bit ashamed, to say. Rather, it is America, the Republic, which I am more concerned with. Correctly or not, I see it in great and grave danger. I think our way of government is being threatened by this administration. I think the war needs to end now for us. Or there is a good chance our democracy will end. I don’t wish to be influenced anymore by the insidious psychology of ‘previous investment’. Yes, it’s going to be a defeat. A disastrous one. For all concerned. But it’s going to have to be face…sooner, or later. I prefer sooner.

  2. Eric says:

    I’m with murtha on the whole damned thing.
    I personally don’t see the troops doing anything except playing referee in a death match.
    Who has sided with us and needs to be protected, in your opinion, Pat? How Many?
    I could perhaps be convinced, and I don’t know much about it, but I don’t see it right now.

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I don’t know how many and don’t care how many and who they are. This is a matter of honor.
    Murtha is a nice man who could not be described as much of a thinker. His idea that you could withdraw US forces to surrounding countries (read Kuwait) and then re-intervene is not a serious prposal. Once out, our forces could not be re-introduced for any reason except to save the embassy. pl

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    This is a matter of honor. We will have to bring back with us however many Iraqis we have compromised.
    The Vietnamese communists are still crucifying the Christian leaders of the montagnard tribes who sided with us. pl

  5. Eric says:

    I have no disagreement with bringing out however many. It would be the honorable thing to do.
    I was not clear. I was talking primarily of staying in to protect them. And staying does not make a #### bit of sense to me.

  6. Charlie Green says:

    I agree with Pat. This one of my two points of opposition about unilateral withdrawl.
    The other is that we embargoed and bombed Iraq, a sovereign nation, into chaos and poverty. Then invaded them without real provocation.
    The only way I can see we could manage to protect our buddies would be to welcome them to the non-existent premanent bases we aren’t building. Which will only make our troops pinned targets.
    There is NO graceful and moral withdrawl strategy. Just like there was no legal invasion strategy.

  7. clare says:

    The people who most wanted the war don’t want Arabs. I remember in my district in 1975, Rep Talcott a rightwinger and war hawk, “a lot of people feel we already have too many Asians.”
    Might have got Leon Panetta his seat. But it reflects the view of Limpbowel and other ardent supporters of this administration.
    Still it is a worthy cause and decency might win out.

  8. ckrantz says:

    Can we walk away and where to?
    As I see it what happens in Iraq will effect the whole Near East for decades and with it the American position there. What ever future Iraqi state or states emerge will clearly be a vital interest.

  9. tequila says:

    Col. Lang, I was wondering what you thought about the Zogby poll of troops in theater:

  10. Norbert Schulz says:

    I agree that for the U.S., given they would leave, it would be the only honourable thing to do bring out those who helped their cause. If not, these people would be killed, no doubt. Getting these people into trouble in the first place, the U.S. does indeed owe them one.
    In face of the recent port brouhaha, I doubt that the American audience would be overly thrilled with bringing Iraqi helpers back to the U.S. – after all it seems, the image of Arabs as U.S. hating, bomb throwing hotheads seems to have been engraved in Americas mind (tongue in cheek) by the relentless pushing of such images in the U.S. media. Insofar, I guess clare is spot on.
    New Iraq will want to try to exercise sovereignty sooner or later. Their elected government does not want the U.S. in Iraq at all, except for the Clalabis there.
    That’s the classic dilemma the U.S. faces when they want ‘designer democracy’ – that is, only when it suits their interests. Given the U.S. standing there, popular governments will make decisions that generally will not be in the U.S. interest.
    Leaving would offer the U.S. huge advantages. One would be to recover U.S. forces from overstretch, others would be to be able to again focus on Afghanistan and this guy named Bin Laden.
    Withdrawal would also deprive the foreign elements in Iraq the justification of U.S. occupation to blow up civilians – if they continue anyway after a U.S. withdrawal, they will face the wrath of a majority population, an unhealthy thing for them, that will probably resemble Algeria’s bloody campaign to crush the GIA.
    As for the Sunnis, they will have a reason to keep on fighting no matter what, be it only to ensure that they will not become totally marginalised under Shia rule. I guess a de-facto split of Iraq into three territories seems pretty unavoidable, and in that case the Sunnis will be the big losers (unless the stories of hidden oil wealth under their territory are true). They might eventually get a strong Salafist element, but with the U.S. absent that will focus on the Shias, and that will only make worse the inevitable Shiite backlash.
    I guess History knows no justice, and her sense of humour is vicious.
    Loyalty and honour not neccessarily require the U.S. to stay.
    I think that honour and loyalty are distinct from saving face, no pun intended.
    The insistence to save face even when wrong was what iirc brought Hezbollah against the U.S. in the 1980s. France and the U.S. sent a peacekeeping force to Lebanon that was supposed to be and stay neiutral. Reflexively both U.S. and France began to merrily meddle in local politics. The consequence was that they became a party to the conflict. For this France and the U.S. paid a high human price when suicide bombers hit their respective barracks. Reagan’s decision to leave then was right IMO, but nevertheless he insisted on the face saving measure to shell and bomb Shia villages, pouring oil on the fire and giving the Shias an actual reason to continue violence against the U.S. for the next decade.
    After all what the U.S. did to Iraq, the only image that comes to my mind is a tribal rape-marriage. A guy rapes a girl, gets her knocked and then is forced by tribal elders to marry her ‘because he owes her one’ (and to avoid a costly blood feud). Well, in these cases usually nobody asks the bride, and such liaisions are rarely lucky. Sometimes divorce is a blessing.
    In my (idealist) mind, leaving Iraq and declaring to right a mistake by doing so, would be a good thing to do (and anyway, it cannot cost Bush a re-election). But then, that aint gonna happen until Bush is 90, if ever.
    And the consequences would be dire: Accountability internationally. Unthinkable. After such an admission those who dreamed up the whole mess would almost certainly face war crime charges (I have principles I-IV and VI a in mind) – iirc the Nuremberg standards are universal. Now I could live with that, taking the rule of law serious requires as much (I am that old fashioned). But I guess America doesn’t have the stomach for that.
    There is a face saving way to leave: Comply with a polite Iraqi request to please respect the will of the Iraqi people (yeah I know it’s a bad joke, but I’m talking of face saving) and respect Iraqi sovereign and go and negotiate to ensure that it doesn’t look like leaving Saigon.

  11. jonst says:

    Yes, I took it as a given we would have to accept a lot of people. As you note, just a simple matter of honor so I thought it just goes without saying. Perhaps nothing “goes without saying” in these times.
    On the other hand, and to elaborate a bit more on my position; I swore I would never stand by and see American GI’s thrust into the role of shields in a deadly civil war. That I would raise my voice to the extent such small gesture had any meaning or relevance. But even that vow pales now. The lawlessness I see taking place in Washington DC is now my main concern. I see the rewarding of incompetence, greed, cruelty, dishonesty, and downright cowardice. The mentality that provides a tax cut during a war. That sends too few troops to do a job with too little material to fight the war. And forces the top brass to stay silent about the shortages. A top brass that indeed DOES stay silent. At least on the record. All this tells me, correctly or not, that the main front in this battle is right here. Right now.

  12. BillD says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you for this post. Years ago we left another country and abandoned a lot of folks who deserved better. God help us if we do it again.

  13. Larry Mitchell says:

    Colbert does kick ass, and I’m glad that you brought up the topic of leaving. Of all the visuals of Vietnam in my mind, including some in my personal cache, the one that turns my stomach the most is the helicopter above the embassy turning away loyal Vietnamese during the final hours of the Vietnam adventure. I still wonder what happened to SGT Binh who beat the bushes with our company as well as any other friendly Vietnamese face I ever met. Yet I was among those who wanted the US to leave and not lose one more dead American in those jungles and towns.
    I have reevaluated those thoughts all my life and the only conclusion I have come to is that I never had enough accurate information to know what was the right thing to do. I could not completely believe the biased story coming from either side of the argument and probably didn’t have the tools to evaluate the information that I had. Yet I was an American voter charged with helping to run the country.
    This is the same position I find myself in again, and it’s one of the reasons I visit this website daily. On this topic, I am primarily interested in Col. Lang’s opinion on how we should have gotten out of VN and how we should get out of Iraq? What more could we have accomplished in VN, and what more can we accomplish in Iraq? Can this mission be accomplished with the troop levels and resources presently available? What should US citizens (large numbers of whom don’t even vote) be doing to help their country and their courageous military?
    Thanks for providing this great exchange of information.

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I am going to give my opinion eventually on the manner of our leaving Iraq, but I don’t want to prejudice the discussion just yet.
    VN? We screwed that up in much the same way as we have done in Iraq. We did not understand the situation and insisted that this had to be a sub-theater of the Cold War. I think we probably could have stabilized a two state solution there if we had been more perceptive in dealing with Vietnamese politics and by that I mean North-South politics. The arrangement that we now see with regard to China and Hong Kong (one country-two systems) might have worked, but we were prisoners of our own minds as we are too often.
    The sudden cut off of support by Congress at the end during the last communist offensive set the scene for the pictures you carry around. By that time there was little that could be done except try to rescue people. I know what you mean. The betrayal of Vietnamese and Montagnards was appalling.
    What outfit were you in? pl

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    27th Infantry? Yes. A number of us are haunted by the thought. PL

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes. We live in a world in which people who have great responsibilities to the country and to the soldiers they send abroad are just not living up to the duties thay accepted with the rank. pl

  17. Larry Mitchell says:

    Co B 4th Bn 9th Inf. (Manchu), 25th Infantry Div. OCT67 – OCT68. Two year draftee grunt. Met some fine men and try to visit with them annually.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  18. W. Patrick Lang says:

    1-I would have to know who was in the sample before hazarding a guess. Usually, the support people are more inclined to this kind of opinion but I would have to know who was in the sample.
    2-I would predict that the command in Iraq will do what it can to prevent this kind of polling. Nobody would want to have his troops polled in a combat zone. pl

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