Considering the role of US military force

The neoconservative movement had at its core the principle that in addition to self-defense, a valid use of American military force is to spread American ideals such as democracy, human rights, and justice throughout the world. The movement has now been thoroughly discredited as a result of the misconceived and botched regime change in Iraq (and to a somewhat lesser degree in Afghanistan). However, I believe that it would be a mistake to throw out that core idea without careful consideration.

In fact, there are many grave injustices around the world, cases where entrenched local governments, extremist insurgencies, or endemic regional conflicts are bringing great harm to millions of individuals, and which endanger the unalienable right of all human beings to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if I can use that phrase. There have been cases where the judicious application of American military force has made a positive difference, especially when American have played a major or leading role in multinational interventions under the auspices of the UN or of NATO. Unfortunately, there have also been many cases where American intervention has created a bad situation or worsened an already bad one, in some cases even more so than in Iraq. How can an idea that seems so obviously good cause so much harm? Are we wrong to think that American might can improve the lives of people living under the yoke of tyranny or sinking into chaos?

There are important lessons to be learned from our adventure in Iraq. I think that perhaps they can all be summarized in two small proverbs: "Don't bite off more than you can chew" and "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink". We didn't--and perhaps couldn't--commit adequate forces to the Iraqi occupation/rebuilding/democratization effort. It may be that we do not possess an adequate amount of men and materiel to do this, but certainly our leaders grossly underestimated the magnitude of the effort that would have been required. Also, the essence of democracy (dēmos "the people" kratia "power, rule") indicates that there are inherent contradictions in an external power attempting to forcibly impose democracy on an occupied people. It is possible to impose the forms of democracy, but how can you impose the habits of thought and the view of the world that must underly any effective practice of democracy? I don't think it's very easy to do that, and it may in fact be impossible. It certainly hasn't worked in Iraq.

I think that the most important lesson about Iraq and Afghanistan, though, is the importance of using our own democracy effectively. There are two really important things that we did not do, which could have prevented a great deal of trouble. First, in a time of national hysteria immediately after the twin tower attacks, we rushed into military action without any attempt by our leadership to seek calmness and an informed discussion of our options. That is, the people, basically out of fear, relinquished their role as the dēmos and submerged their thinking to that of the mob. Calmer voices were available, for example those who assessed the attacks not as an act of war, but as a particularly horrible and disgusting mass murder by a band of psychotic thugs. There is a real difference between those two perspectives. Of course, the advantage of the act-of-war interpretation is that we could spring into action and let the chips fall where they may. (This had tremendous advantages to a political party determined to cement itself into power, and to a presidential administration determined to inflate the power of the executive.) As has often been said, the army isn't a democracy, and therefore, once the army and its commander in chief took the lead, democracy fell by the wayside. The much more accurate "band of psychotic thugs" perspective, on the other hand, would have required international cooperation to a much greater degree, and it would have required a slower, more thoughtful approach, with things like evidence, laws, jurisdictions, and so on. As I have blogged elsewhere, there was even some indication that that approach would eventually have compelled Mullah Omar to give us bin Laden and the other al Qaeda leaders, if we had hard evidence (Sharia law doesn't like circumstantial evidence very much, and that is all we had during the few weeks leading up to the Afghan invasion). But the bottom line is that there was no evidence then that another attack was imminent, and in any case, a thorough investigation, looking for evidence, creating diplomatic connections to get access to international police work--all that would have been a perfectly adequate way to protect ourselves from another 911-style attack. We had time to let things calm down, to allow the dēmos to play their role, both individually and through their elected representatives, and to gather the hard evidence needed to convince the naysayers around the world that al Qaeda were indeed the perpetuators. If after this period of consideration, Mullah Omar had still refused to give us access to the murderers of thousands of our people, and if as a result the American Congress had declared war on Afghanistan, then that war would have been on an entirely different footing. Those who opposed it would have had the clear message that a calm, reflective dēmos, which included them, had considered the matter fully and openly, and had adopted a certain clearly specified and limited course of action. This message would also have been clearly understood around the world, and most importantly, by the Mullah. I personally believe that we could have broken up al Qaeda and jailed its leaders without any significant military action, had we followed that route. But we didn't.

The second thing we didn't do, to some extent with Afghanistan, but to a very large extent with Iraq, is to give the dēmos access to the information they needed to make an informed and rational decision. In fact, access to information was limited selectively, to paint a picture that was very inaccurate, and to mislead the people into backing military action in a direction and to an extent that was miserably mismatched with American and Iraqi interests. I don't need to belabor this, because most people have now understood it.

There is an obvious connection between these two points: a calm and involved dēmos can do nothing without free access to the best possible information, and good information is wasted on a hysterical public. It should be one of the foremost roles of government in America to ensure that the people are fully and accurately informed, including information that may not agree with the government's agenda. Furthermore, it should be central that whenever possible, the people as well as Congress be involved in important decisions such as the use of military force, and that their involvement not be detoured by hysteria or demagoguery. For example, government should not fan hysteria, but calm it, whenever possible. (Don't get me wrong: there are emergencies that require immediate response by our military and that can not wait for calm reflection by the dēmos. But this wasn't the case in Afghanistan, and definitely not the case in Iraq.)

What am I saying here that pertains to the neoconservative notion that America can use her military might to enforce and promote American ideals?

Well, I think that we should consider the principle itself, that is, whether American should ever go to war in the cause of justice and democracy, in the absence of an imminent military threat. By consider I mean that this principle should be the focus of a national debate, in the media, the Internet, and in Congress. I believe that once all possible sides of the debate are heard, an overwhelming majority of Americans would most likely agree in principle that such an action could be justified, but only under a certain very constrained set of circumstances. It is quite odd that in spite of the fact that America has gotten involved in that manner over many decades, above all during the Cold War in both overt and clandestine actions, this debate has never taken place in a meaningful manner. In my opinion, its importance rises to the level of a Constitutional Amendment. I admit the possibility that the result might be other than what I expect, and I could live with that if the debate were honest and thorough.

However, assuming that the dēmos decided that America could, in principle, use its forces in that way, then the next and even more important step would be to implement a set of supporting rules and facilities, and then to make a decision about specific instances where our military could lend a hand.

First and foremost, we should never make a move unless we are invited by the victims of violent injustice to intervene. Furthermore, the people who invite us must be willing to participate before, during, and after our involvement. Once we have been invited, there must be a period of research, the information must be published for public consumption, and there must be a public debate, and a debate in Congress. There must be an official, constitutional Declaration of War by Congress (or an alternate form if one is created by an amendment as mentioned above). Our involvement must be limited, what the French call a coup de pouce. It could be large or small in terms of expenses and personnel, but it must always be clearly limited. If things start to go wrong, as they often seem to do, the limits could always be extended, but only after the same kind of honest and thorough public debate as during the initial declaration. Once there has been a national debate followed by a Congressional declaration, then at that point the military force of the nation will be led by their commander in chief to implement their mandate, with little if any further dickering by either the people or Congress (although it is Congress who will have established rules guiding and constraining the military). That is, the people and Congress need to debate the various issues before the flag goes up, and, once they have committed the military, no "micromanaging". On the other hand, if things go wrong and the people lose their appetite for some particular intervention, and time runs out on the declaration, then the military will just have to withdraw, doing so in a manner to reduce the deleterious effects as much as possible.

Anyway, this is all just an attempt to sketch a possible framework where neoconservative-style interventions could be done in a manner consistent with American principles. I think that the interventions we have done recently, in the absence of such a framework and with the contravention of the dēmos, have been disasters. I think that our best course, until we can go through some kind of process along the lines I have outlined, is to stick with what is already has been established and which is in our Constitution: Congress must declare war, and decisions by the president to go to war without a declaration must involve true emergencies. I think that a fairly good model can be found in Article VI of the Articles of Confederation, which discusses the exigent circumstances under which an individual state can go to war:

No State shall engage in any war without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, unless such State be actually invaded by enemies, or shall have received certain advice of a resolution being formed by some nation of Indians to invade such State, and the danger is so imminent as not to admit of a delay till the United States in Congress assembled can be consulted; nor shall any State grant commissions to any ships or vessels of war, nor letters of marque or reprisal, except it be after a declaration of war by the United States in Congress assembled, and then only against the Kingdom or State and the subjects thereof, against which war has been so declared, and under such regulations as shall be established by the United States in Congress assembled, unless such State be infested by pirates, in which case vessels of war may be fitted out for that occasion, and kept so long as the danger shall continue, or until the United States in Congress assembled shall determine otherwise.
The key concepts are that "the danger [must be] so imminent as not to admit of a delay till the United States in Congress assembled can be consulted", and that the response must go on "so long as the danger shall continue, or until the United States in Congress assembled shall determine otherwise". (I admit that the context is fairly different, but I believe that the concepts are still relevant.) This is not what we have seen either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. The resolutions for the use of force that were issued by Congress contained so many hedge words and conditionalities that they were almost useless except to eliminate Congress and the dēmos from the process. Basically, what we have is a kludge, an attempt to force the system we have, designed in the 18th Century (note the arcane phrases "some nation of Indians" and "infested by pirates" in the Articles of Confederation extract quoted), to work with the goals articulated by the neoconservatives of engaging militarily in the name of democracy and justice. It was a huge misstep to try to create a framework for such a drastic new role for America on the fly as we have done.

In summary, I think we need to start the debate about the underlying principle immediately. We need to decide once and for all, as a nation, whether and how our military forces will be used. The result has to be comprehensive and specific legislation, preferably one or more constitutional amendments. Until this happens, we need to disengage as cleanly as possible from all military interventions short of declared warfare or responses to true emergencies.


Gay sex versus adultery

Army generals and Republican presidential candidates are swarming around the media making the following two-part assertion: gay sex is like adultery, and therefore it is immoral. This is just a short comment on this paleoconservative point of view.

First, on the surface, gay sex is nothing like adultery. Gay sex is some kind of sexual act between two or more people of the same sex. The marital status of the participants is completely irrelevant. Adultery is when a married person has sex with someone other than his or her spouse. The two concepts overlap, obviously: both involve sex, and, if a married person has gay sex with someone other than his or her spouse, I suppose that that would constitute adultery. In fact, if a person in a gay marriage has heterosexual sex, which would obviously have to be with someone other than his or her spouse, then that too would have to fall into the definition of adultery. But the very fact that we can compare the two things, to talk about how they differ, how they overlap, and how they interact, is proof positive that there can be no equation of the two.

What I think is going on here is that gay sex and adultery are both things that Army generals and Republican presidential candidates are expected to disapprove of, or in other words, that they are expected to consider immoral. That, and the fact that they both involve a sexual act, are the only ways that gay sex is "like" adultery. Strangely enough, the public statements made by these individuals imply that the reason why gay sex is immoral is because it is like adultery, which is completely circular. The reason it is circular is that if the main reason why the two concepts are similar in some people's minds is because they are both immoral, then the immorality of one of the concepts can't be the reason why the other is immoral.

But there is another, much more important problem with the statements from General Pace and Senator Brownback: since about 1970, it has been widely understood, even in America, that fully consensual adultery is not immoral. This started with the so-called "open marriages" of the 1970s, and it continues today in various permuations. That is, many people around the world believe that the basis of the older conception of adultery as immoral, being based as it was on the idea that a wife is the property of her husband, and therefore that adultery is a form of theft, is completely passé. Nowadays, what most people see as the problem with adultery is cheating. That is, dishonesty between married people, which can of course cause immense problems and undoubtedly contributes to the high divorce rate, is considered to be immoral, just as any other kind of lying, cheating, or dishonesty is.

To summarize this last point: lying and cheating and other forms of dishonesty are considered immoral by most people; adultery often involves all of the above; therefore, adultery is immoral.

But what about "open marriage", or wife-swapping (so-called), or group sex, to name a few situations where husbands and wives sample the fruits of someone else's tree, openly, with full consent, and therefore, with no dishonesty? Is that immoral? I believe that most Americans think that it is either not immoral at all, or at least that it is much less immoral than the stereotype of adultery based on sneaking around. Furthermore, I think that sneaking around sexually by unmarried people who believe themselves to be in a committed relationship with their partner is considered to be almost as immoral as actual adultery, by most people. In other words, it's the dishonesty, not the sex, and not the marriage, that is most relevant to morality, to most people.

If adultery per se is not immoral, which as I have just explained is a very widespread belief today, then the whole logic that gay sex is immoral because it is like adultery and adultery is immoral, falls apart.

In fact, just as adultery has lost its status as an automatically immoral act because of wives' loss of their status as property, I think it fair to say that for most people in America, and, I dare say, even in the Army and the Senate, gay sex is not necessarily immoral. Like adultery, it can be immoral: sneaking around dishonestly to have gay sex would do it, unprotected gay sex when there is the possibility of transferring AIDS would also count.

So in effect, there is another similarity between gay sex and adultery, one that is probably not understood among certain Army generals and Republican presidential candidates: they are similar in that (1) both were once considered immoral, and (2) now, except for situations involving other kinds of immorality such as dishonesty or harming other people, they aren't.


Some 2nd Amendment musings

OK, a federal appeals court panel in Washington, DC, has made a decision that the 2nd Amendment's right, commonly referred to as "the right to bear arms", means that all individuals have a right to own firearms, in this case, handguns and un-safed shotguns and rifles. If the history of American legal tradition is maintained, this decision, like other similar ones before it, will be overturned. However, as a random philosophizer, I feel compelled to write down some of my reactions to the decision as it stands today.

First, let's get the full text of the 2nd Amendment in front of us:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Much has been written about the strange wording of this amendment. To me, the key has to do with the expression "to bear arms", and also with "to keep arms". "To bear arms" means to act militarily. For example, a nation can bear arms against another nation. It does not mean, as commonly supposed, "to carry a gun", although of course in modern times, using firearms is usually part of bearing arms. You can also see the lexical connection between "military action" and weapons if you look at a word like "army", and reference it to its French source words "armée" (cf. Spanish "armada" for a similar connection).

There is also a more specific meaning of "to keep", basically "to maintain in readiness". Applied to the military domain, the phrase "to keep arms" would mean "to maintain materiel in readiness". Once again, there is a connection between this more specialized meaning and the modern gloss "to own guns", but there is clearly a bit more to "keep" than mere ownership.

The framers, in a stylistically elegant but ultimately misleading turn, put the two phrases "to bear arms" (i.e., to serve militarily) and "to keep arms", (i.e., to maintain military materiel in readiness) together in a single phrase, "to keep and bear arms". However, there was a reason why the two phrases could be joined together in this way, and the clearest source for this is in the 1777 Articles of Confederation, which was the law of the land while the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were in conception. Here is the key extract from Article of Confederation VI:

[E]very State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.
This is the very likely source of "well-regulated militia", and it also comports with the "maintain in readiness" meaning of the phrase "to keep arms". To me there is no doubt whatsoever that this foregoing phrase from the Articles is exactly what is being described more concisely and with a different rhetorical purpose in the 2nd Amendment.

As for why "to bear arms" (i.e., to serve militarily) was considered so important, we have to understand that one of the major innovations of the Constitution relative to the Articles, was the centralization of the armed forces under the command of the president. As can be seen in the extract from Article of Confederation VI, the states were to have a much stronger role. In normal circumstances, it was Congress who declared war (Article of Confederation IX):

The United States in Congress assembled shall never engage in a war … unless nine States assent to the same
But the states continued to have an important role (e.g., Article of Confederation VII):
When land forces are raised by any State for the common defense, all officers of or under the rank of colonel, shall be appointed by the legislature of each State respectively, by whom such forces shall be raised, or in such manner as such State shall direct, and all vacancies shall be filled up by the State which first made the appointment.

There is one more very relevant piece to this puzzle: why was the militia considered so important? I believe the answer to this question becomes more clear once we recall that before July 4, 1776, all of the people in the Colonies were British, and so ultimately were their militias. The famous Redcoats were their own national military force, equivalent to the US Army today. The colonial militias, a concept that stems from a similar tradition in England, was primarily a list of able-bodied men who were available to serve militarily (i.e., to bear arms) in case of emergency, along with a few usually wealthy individuals who would contribute supplies and leadership. In some areas, the terminology of "active" versus "inactive" or "reserve" militias was used: active militiamen trained regularly, had their equipment, and so on; inactive militiamen were basically on a list somewhere and wouldn't do anything unless a crisis arrived and they were called up. A pre-revolutionary example was the French and Indian War, in which quite a few colonists served in the militia of their colony, along with militiamen from other colonies and of course officers and men from the regular [British] army. When the Revolution arrived, most (but not all!) of the militiamen in each colony maintained their allegiance to the colony (now "state"), but changed their national allegiance to that of the United States, and the most familiar part of the war was between the same militias that had supported the British military during the French and Indian war, and the regular British army. Once the British gave up and the world recognized that a new nation had been born, much of the credit was given to the state militias.

To be perfectly clear, before the Revolution, we had two independent, allied military forces in the colonies, the regular British forces, loyal to the King, and each colony's militia forces, equally loyal to the King, but also loyal to their colony. If the same injustices and opportunities that triggered the initiation of hostilities had occurred in the absence of an independent militia, there could have been no credible uprising and it is unlikely that the United States would have come into existence, at least not in the 18th Century. But the existing militia, trained and organized during the previous campaign against the French and Indians, supplied enough of a force to get the attention of the entire seaboard, and also of anti-English powers in Europe who seized the opportunity to get in a couple of licks against King George, and the rest is history. So while the militias cannot reasonably be given credit for winning the Revolution alone, it is completely clear that in their absence, it is unlikely that the Revolution would ever have gotten underway.

The Articles of Confederation, which were written while the fighting was still going on, gave a good deal of the military power to the militias, even though they also made allowance for a centrally-controlled national military and naval force. To a large number of Revolutionary War veterans, who were an important block among those voting yea or nay on the federal Constitution, any attempt to eliminate the state militias would have been an absolute deal killer. However, the unwieldiness of the system required by the Articles, based as it was on state militias and a largely state-controlled central military, was one of the primary motivations for the Constitution. This was a difficult proposition: to gut the militia system with one hand, while affirming and guaranteeing its continuation with the other. But in effect, this was what the framers decided to do, and the 2nd Amendment was their most important instrument in assuaging the doubts of the veterans.

I believe that once the context of 1790 is understood vis à vis the military (and especially the militia) role of the states in the Articles of Confederation, compared to the changes proposed in the new constitution, then the strange wording and content of the 2nd Amendment becomes much more clear: it is a guarantee that the state [formerly, colonial] militia system would not be eliminated. It contains phrases lifted right from the Articles of Confederation which were surely chosen to make the connection completely clear between the new, reorganized state militias and the former militias, and it made the promise that this system would continue forever. It even contains a piece of blatant pandering to the former militiamen: the phrase "being necessary to the security of a free state"† was surely designed as a piece of basically meaningless feel-good rhetoric. In any case, it worked. The Constitution was ratified, and the new federal system became the law of the land.

The militias, however, basically withered away in the coming centuries. Even though the US Constitution today gives the state militias the right to wage war (Article I, Section 10)

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, … engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay
it is almost inconceivable that this could happen. The militias have become a source of manpower during natural catastrophes, and an adjunct to the regular military; their status as an independent military force no longer exists.

As the sacredness of an independent, powerful system of state militias has melted away over the years, the meaning of the 2nd Amendment has changed for most people. Since there is no longer a visceral attachment to the idea of a strong, separate militia, it has become very difficult to "get" the original meaning of the 2nd Amendment. Why have such an irrelevancy in the very Bill of Rights? What can it mean?

And a new meaning was invented: "to bear arms" can only mean "to carry a gun", and "to keep arms" can only mean "to own a gun". The part about "shall not be infringed" is clear enough. The part about "well regulated militias", well, that doesn't quite fit, so ignore it. And the new, 20th century version of the 2nd Amendment became "the right of all people to own and to carry as many guns as they like shall not be infringed". And that's the meaning that two out of three judges in the federal appeals court panel have decided on: there need be no connection at all to a militia or the possibility of service in a military force. Instead, everyone has the universal right to own and carry whatever weapons they want, and no law can be passed to limit that right, no matter how many people may be killed due to the absence of the law.

Well I hope sincerely that these two errant judges are slapped down as quickly as possible, and not just in order to save lives. I also think that it's important for Americans to know and to think enough about our own national history to understand why the courts have always insisted on at least a potential connection to militias when considering laws that limit the ownership or use of firearms. Judges Silberman and Griffith (and, sadly, millions of pro-gun zealots) have either not understood or have decided for reasons of their own to deny America's history and traditions.

† There is one other comment I want to add here: if the "free state" phrase is not just feel-good rhetoric, there is another, breath-taking possibility. What if "state" here means literally "State", as in Virginia and New York? This possibility actually has some credibility, given the strong tie of the militias to the individual states, and given the intense paranoia on the part of many Americans around 1790 that the federal system would take all power, not just military power, from the states. This interpretation would make an even stronger tie between the 2nd amendment and the militia clause in the Articles of Confederation, and would vitiate even more strongly the "universal gun ownership" argument. It would also suggest rather strongly that the word "people" as used in the 2nd Amendment refers "potential state militiamen". But I admit that the "State" interpretation may not be justified. Cool, though.


Mr. Cheney: the waiting game in Iraq is already over

Vice President Cheney has suggested that those in Congress who seek to bring the American military adventure in Iraq to an end--at least he no longer calls them "Democrats", because more and more Republicans are leaving the sinking ship of the administration's foreign policy--are undercutting the war† effort. His logic is that if we establish a time limit, the enemy‡ will be able to "wait us out". The problem with this logic is that there was never any serious question about who will win a waiting game in Iraq.

The Iraqi people, including Saddam Hussein even before the invasion, understand very well how much is is costing America to maintain a military occupation so far from their home base, in a region where there is very little support from neighboring countries. How much does it cost for an IED or a suicide belt, compared to the cost of an attack helicopter, a nuclear aircraft carrier, or a stealth bomber?

An useful parallel can be drawn between the colonial insurgents during the American Revolution, compared to the British soldiers. Once the fighting began, the British, who in effect became military occupiers of what was formerly considered their own soil, could no longer count on getting food and other support domestically. They were separated from their home base by weeks of sea travel. Once the French navy made it impossible for English ships to come and go freely, the war was effectively over for the British. The American rabble starved and had a miserable time of it at Valley Forge and so on, but anyone who looked at the situation in the longer term understood that in the end, England simply couldn't win the waiting game.

In fact, there no longer is a question as to whether we can win a waiting game. The actions in Congress and in the public polls can't cause us to fail, because what they clearly indicate is that we have already lost. This "war" is already longer than the American portion of World War II. Even though the Iraq action is, from the American perspective, much smaller than WWII (probably it doesn't seem so small to the Iraqis), we are war-weary even though much of its dust has been swept under the mass media rug in this country, and by "dust", I mean the toll in terms of death, injuries, broken lives and families, not to mention the true cost in $$$. For the American people, most of them, the thrill is gone. This wasn't true in the adventure's first year, although I'll never understand why it wasn't, but it certainly is now.

As usual, it is easy to complain about a war, but harder to suggest an alternative (although see my post on this blog called Cheapskate philosophizer's Iraq withdrawal plan). I think that we must withdraw, because as I just said, almost all of the violence in Iraq stands on one shared leg: the occupation. Once our military leaves, that leg will be gone and much of the support for the violence will be gone with it. So leave we must. But we also have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people to repair the damage we have done to them and to their country, and these reparations can most usefully take the form of foreign aid, not in the form of bringing in Halliburton and its clones to make thousands of millions rebuilding what our bombs have destroyed, but as aid to the Iraqi people as directly as possible. Let the Iraqis themselves rebuild what we have destroyed, on our dime but according to their preferences and on their timetable.

Will there continue to be violence once we're gone, and will the violence spread throughout the region? There will be, as there has been for centuries, violence among religious factions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Did anyone really think that we could stop that by establishing the neocons' erstwhile "stable democracy"? Does it contribute to the magnitude of the failure of our invasion and occupation to admit that there will still be civil, interconfessional violence there? I think not.

Will the violence spread throughout the region? Well, perhaps it will, but hasn't been obvious for years that foreign involvement against America in Iraq has been largely motivated by a perversion of the Bush-Cheney mantra that we are fighting them in Iraq so we won't have to fight them at home? That is, if you are really angry at America and want to harm Americans, then even if you could never amass the time, materiel, and other resources required to mount any kind of attack against the American homeland, you can still hitchhike to Jordan and go across the border into Iraq, where you'll be given the means and the opportunity to make your attack. In other words, our occupation forces are a magnet and an accelerant for violence in the Iraq region. I believe that the odds of regional violence will decrease, not increase, once we leave.

There could be one important exception, but it is a self-limiting one, I think. If Iran, in cahoots with the present Shiite-dominated national government, attempts to annex militarily part of Iraq, then there could be regional violence, because Iraq's and Iran's other [Sunni] neighbors would not sit still and let that happen. The most straightforward way to prevent it would be to have negotiations in advance with the Iraqi government and those of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and so on, in order to establish limits and consequences. Neither America nor Isreal should be present, although I see nothing wrong in those nations working behind to scenes to make the meetings happen. And even without formal meetings of that sort, the balance of power is fairly well known there, and while Iran can be belligerent against American-occupied Iraq without serious regional repercussions, I don't think the same would be true once the Americans leave. There is a somewhat similar, but (I believe) less likely possible scenario with the Kurds and Turkey, who of course fear that a stable and largely independent Kurdish nation will destabilize their own Kurdish region. However, there are also natural counterweights to any major action by Turkey against Iraqi Kurdistan, including the potential intervention by neighboring countries. Furthermore, Turkey's own ambition to join the EU, which would seriously harmed by blatant militarizing against the Iraqi Kurds, reduces the likelihood of action by Turkey.

The bottom line has three parts: (1) Mr. Cheney, we have already lost the waiting game and never had a chance to win it in the first place. (2) We must make reparations to the Iraqi people after we withdraw our forces, and we should do it in a way that maximizes the role of Iraqis in the rebuilding process. (3) Violence, and the threat of future violence, will go down only once our military forces leave Iraq.

Well, Cheney calls it a war, but it seems to me that while there was a very brief war against the former government of Iraq, which we won in a few weeks, and even declared victory, more or less, or at least displayed banners that said "Mission Accomplished", what we have there now is nothing more than a post-war occupation. Iraq is occupied territory, and while there are quite a few factions that are going around killing people, the one thing that unites most of them is their desire to throw off the yoke of the occupier.

Again, Cheney views the people who are blowing each other up as "the enemy", which I suppose is shorter than a more accurate characterization. But they aren't really our enemies in any conventional sense. First and foremost, once we leave, very few of them will have any interest in attacking us any more. To the extent that they attack Americans at all, their purpose is simply to get us to leave. But far more of the attacks are on their fellow Iraqis, and are motivated by both attempts to seize and to consolidate power that will remain after the current chaos resolves and the Americans leave, and by ancient animosities and recent grudges and the desire for vengeance against their former oppressors, or for re-vengeance by the former oppressors against those who have already taken vengeance. So it would at least be more accurate to call them "the enemies", since almost all of them are someone's enemy. But calling them "the enemy" as Cheney has done is a grossly misleading oversimplification of the problem. I'm 100% certain that he damn well knows that, and that his terminology was chosen very carefully in order to cast the Iraq occupation for the American electorate as a conventional war, with "enemies" and "victory".