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Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Tom Grey

I had JUST read Brooks (quoted somewhere else) and thought of you, Marc. Thanks for your perspective.

But if you are right that Iraq is more dire, how can you really want Kerry, who is so eager to bring more troops home sooner? Or is that after more are sent their sooner.

My suggested alternative is pretty neo-con: hold elections in January where they can be held. Based on local, geographic regions, NOT national party proportional representations.

And yeah, maybe get ready for 10 years -- or however long it takes for Iraqis to decide to stop Iraq terrorists; or as some "elected" Iraqi gov't asks for the US to leave.

(maybe it goes north to future-Kurdistan?)


Should a letter to the editor be in order?

Marc Cooper

why not?

Michael J. Totten


Well, you showed up David Brooks. He's clearly wrong.

I think he has one salvageable point, though. If El Salvador could *eventually* become a sort-of normal place with a demcratic government, Iraq can (in theory) pull through as well. The fact that Iraq is Hell today doesn't mean it is destined to be Hell in ten years. History moves forward. Things change. It could go either way.

Michael J. Totten

It's worth pointing out that Guatemala was in even worse shape than El Salvador not long ago. I was just there at the end of last year. It's still a rough place with a *lot* of problems. But it is slowly improving. Some parts of it are even nice. Most important, there is no more civil war or dictatorship. These things do end, often with freedom and democracy on the other side.

It's also worth pointing out that Guatemala and El Salvador both had a totalitarian superpower backing one side in the conflict. Iraq doesn't.

Marc Cooper

mjt.. I dont agree with you regarding Guatemala. You would have needed an space telescope to measure Soviet "backing" there. Fact is, Michael, that Guatemala had an elected government that we overthrew in 1954 citing it as an immediate threat (!) That touched of a half-decade worth of civil war and turmoil that took 80-100,000 lives. I think Guatemala is a superb lesson in NON-interventionism. It's still not back to where it was in '54.

To Tom:
Maybe we should have elections in irag in January, declare victory and go home. I dont think the American people signed up for a teny-yeat trillion dollar bout in nation-building in Iraq. The $200b we have already spent there could have been used in a "covert" program of a magnitude big enough to overthrow Saddam a dozen times.
Indeed, MY perspective is that the Iraq debate conflates two different arguments. If the argument is that Saddam was threat to us and we needed to get rid of him when and how we did.. then I can flatly say, Not True. He was a threat-- but not to us. And if you believe he WAS a threat, then why didnt we blame Bush 41, DefSec Cheney and the whole rest of the Republican apparatus for not offing him in 1991?
Whatever the "threat level" from iraq, I find it frankly absurd to place it at such a level that it consumes our armed forces and our national treasury. That dog just won't hunt. Sorry.

If the second argument is strictly that Saddam was a totalitarian dictator and it was the right thing to do get rid of him (even if he was not a tangible threat to us).. then I would say: well, this is NOT the way to have done it. Not at the cost of a decade of occupation, hundreds of billions, and thousands of lives. If it was just about getting rid of Saddam, well then, there were many many other ways to do it..from covert programs, to intl blockades, to a multi-lateral invasion that would have been smart enough not to dismantle the entire Iraqi state and wind up "owning" Iraq-- as Powell wisely put it.
Fact is GW Bush was right... in 2000.. when he campaigned against nation-building. Too bad he flip-flopped.

Tom Grey

"I find it frankly absurd to place it at such a level that it consumes our armed forces and our national treasury. That dog just won't hunt. Sorry."

Were you sorry when the Kerry led Peace Now folk helped get the US out of Vietnam ... and let the evil commies commit genocide?

I'm sorry. Actually I was only a little sorry at the time, having just voted for Carter (because Ford pardoned Nixon). I'm truly sorry that Vietnam consumed so much, in lives and cash, but I'm proud the USA was trying to fight evil. Even if we gave up and lost that Cold War battle. And never seriously pursued nation building, so as to learn how to get it right.

Cuba is still waiting for elections. The USA has done a lousy, lousy job of nation building in Latin America -- the old libertarian in me agrees with your pre-2001 idea of isolationism.

But in the face of oil-money funded suiciders, NOT nation-building has become the threat. The evil side of oil money plus Islamofascism will be fought by America, either before they use nukes, or after. I want before.

Will you admit that if Iran gets nukes; and then terrorists get a nuke and use one, that you were wrong?
It's an asymmetrical question though, I know -- I have the probability of Iran getting nukes (in 4 years) at 10% if Bush is re-elected; at 40% if Kerry is re-elected.

Funny, if Kerry were to make stopping Iran from getting nukes a real issue, the probability goes down for both. I wish he would do that. Creating a self-negating prophecy is one of the purposes of a democratic campaign.

Randy Paul


Regarding peace in Central America, I would also mention the efforts of Oscar Arias Sánchez, the former president of Costa Rica. His Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech has a great nota bene:

"I know well you share what we say to all members of the international community, and particularly to those in the East and the West, with far greater power and resources than my small nation could never hope to possess, I say to them, with the utmost urgency: let Central Americans decide the future of Central America. Leave the interpretation and implementation of our peace plan to us. Support the efforts for peace instead of the forces of war in our region. Send our people ploughshares instead of swords, pruning hooks instead of spears. If they, for their own purposes, cannot refrain from amassing the weapons of war, then, in the name of God, at least they should leave us in peace."

Greta ost, Marc.


I beg the question on two grounds: The UN has ignored (or profited from) the situation in Iraq for at least the last 11 years so they're irrelevant here, and Iraq is not nearly as close to apocalypse as you portray it, according to bloggers who live there (even Riverbend).

I respect your background and knowledge and righteous anger, Marc, but that's not enough. What's the solution? Elect Kerry, don't worry be happy, and leave the house every day in full body armour? Our government, every goverment, kills unjustly, bungles diplomacy, fails to convert enemies and makes war. And war is a blunt instrument, no doubt about it. If you examined any one day in WWII, you would say stop it, it's senseless, it's murder.

In context, Iraq and the ME is worth fighting for and changing, but that's only my opinion.

Marc Cooper

Randy.. this is an excellent point. Arias' intervention was also key in bringing peace to both Nicaragua and El Salvador. He also had to take on U.S. unilateralism head on. When Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize I was able to interview him at length the next week (1987) in Costa Rica for Playboy magazine no less... after some odd twists and turns the piece wound up in Penthouse! At that moment several internal US documents had just been declassified.. specifically Oliver North's notebook in which he vowed to smear and destroy Arias. It was quite a moment when I showed those pages to him because he had not seen them. he was really aghast. Arias had always been a very pro-American moderate and he was at a bit of a loss as to why there should be so much rage focused on him. Those were astounding times-- much like now. Remember we had a sitting president of the U.S. arguing that if we didnt stop them in Managua we'd be fighting them in Harlingen, Texas! How often American politics descends to a comic book level.

Marc Cooper

To PJ and Tom: I find EQUALLY absurd the argument that Kerry is going to abandon the world and the US and surrender to Islamic fascism. Sorry, guysm but that's just crap-level political spin. and I am NOT a kerry supporter. Democrats have --unfortunately at times-- shown just as much capacity to make war as Republicabns. And whatever Kerry's legion faults, I find Bush to be unimpressive to the point of worrisome. I have no evidence that he much understands or cares about international relations, it seems his approach is rigied and manichean, stubborn instead of resolutue, reckless instead of sober and strategig. I have absolutely no doubt that the war in iraq had compromised our overall war on terrorism and that we will pay for for decades to come. And no, I dont believe for a moment that Iraqn is any more or less likely to develop nukes under Kerry or Bush. I do know that Bush's butt buddies in Pakistan already have nukes-- as well as an intelligence service deeply entwined with the same Islamo-fascists we are fighting.

PJ: You better ask yourself whqt it MEANS to sy Iraq and the Middle East is worth fighting for.. and you better conuslt the history books to see what the Brits encountered when they tried to extend their empire over a billion muslims who didnt want it.

Yom.. Not being a Swiftie.. Im not going to re-debate Vietnam with you. The bulk of the genoice was created by B-52's. napalm and Agent Orange dropped by the U.S. Lyndon Johnson knew the war was lost in 1968 and went ahead anyway out of hubris and arrogance. Nixon cut a peace deal in 73 that he could have had in 69, a million deaths earlier. We are just going to disagree on this.What Kerry did in 71 was honorablke. I would have done the same-- except I would not have had the courage to enlist in the first place. I actively resisted the draft then, and I would do it again. The war was a dishonorable imperial adventure with no redeeming features. Other than that..... ;)

The problem here remains what I said earlier: you are conflating two issues which are not the same 1) is defense of the UNited States which no doubt includes some pre-emptive and aggressive action and 2) is the cock-eyed notion that we are going to "win" Iraq or win the Middle East. It's not even a mater of opinion, guys. You aint gonna win there..because victory as you are defining it is impossible. I am not willing to commit the next 50 years of the future to fighting a crusade to convert and domesticate the Mulsim world. Maybe it's an honorable gial (I dont think so) but it's certainly a chimeric illusion. Be careful, try hard enough and you will create abnaother Vietnam.

Josh Legere


What is your take on the Contra revisionism from ex radicals like Horowitz and Radosh? Were the Contras alright guys? Did the Sandinistas have a Stalinist wing that needed to be opposed?

Any recommended reading on that moment in history? I feel ignorant on the subject. I want to go to La Liberdad in El Salvador real bad but I hear nightmare stories of 15 crack addicts pulling guns on tourists for surf wax. Don't know if the El Salvador myth of ongoing instability is true or not. It just seems like a tragic mess.

What can we learn from El Salvador to apply to Iraq if anything?


David Brooks is the single most unfortunate addition to the Times' op-ed page since Tom Friedman...and Nick Kristoff...and Maureen Dowd (okay, she's funny sometimes, but given the giants who used to grace those pages...)


"Butt buddies"? Nice.

I have consulted history, Marc, and my beliefs about how to interpret history differ from your beliefs.

See ya.

Michael J. Totten

Marc: "I find Bush to be unimpressive to the point of worrisome"

You really ought to reel in the hyperbole.

Michael J. Totten

That was a joke, by the way.

Michael J. Totten

Josh: "Any recommended reading on that moment in history? I feel ignorant on the subject."

I recommend "With the Contras" by Christopher Dickey. He actually marched around in Nicaragua with them.

No, they were not good guys. They were the remnants of Anastasio Somoza's National Guard. That doesn't mean the Sandanistas were a treat either, though. But I'd take them over the Contras. And I'd take the elected post-Sandanista president Violetta Chamorro (who was formerly a conservative Sandanista believe it or not) over both of them. She is/was a bit of a nut, but at least she was a lower-case "d" democrat.

Marc Cooper

Josh.. re the contras.. what MJT said. Ive read David's and Ron's accounts of the Sandis and they are way off. The Sandinistas had some unfortunate and worrisome aspects but they were a whole helluva a lot better than the family-based tyranny they overthrew. They also had learned from the Cuban experience and while not Boy Scouts, it's an oversimplification to say they were Stalinist totalitarians. They did turn power over peacefully when the lost the election. and MJT is right, Violeta was a nut-case. Im not sure she was any better than the Sandis. History has shown all sides in Nicaragua to be pretty feckless. Dickey's book is excellent.
As to El Salvador.. I think it's doable, La Libertad is marvelous. It's probably somewhat dangerous too. I'd keep my eyes open!>

Frydek Mistek

PJ & Tom,
The USA's role in the 1989, "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia was undoubtedly crucial, but not for the reasons you might believe. The Soviets sealed their fate when they rolled the tanks into Prague, deciding for us what brand of, "Socialism" we needed. However, books smuggled from the west along with Rock & Roll and jazz enabled people glimpse the freedoms we were not able to enjoy. It took 40 years but in the end we liberated ourselves.
Military intervention did not bring democracy to Vietnam. Cuba still has Castro despite the Bay of Pigs and subsequent embargo, nor did direct support of military regimes turn central America into a bastion of democracy.
The point is that over the long term, the USA can effectively counter Isalmo-fascists and tyranical dictatorships. Not by invading and forcing Amercian values down peoples throats, but by supporting policies that enable people to liberate themselves.
Note(this posting is about Iraq not Afghanistan or WWII where the US was directly Attacked).


This discussion was entirely readable and no "Steve"! God has rewarded us!

Michael J. Totten


I was recently in the El Salvador airport. Now, I know it's asinine to judge a country by its airport (I went through it twice, but didn't get out) but it IS extremely nice and impressive, much nicer than the airports in Guatemala, Belize, or Costa Rica.

Guatemala has more problems than El Salvador does right now. And it was okay. I mean, it was *rough* don't get me wrong. 17-year old boys with rusty shotguns guard the stores downtown. But I did not feel threatened at any time. No one bothered me. I had a good time. I would go again. I would go to El Salvador, too. You'll be fine if you. Just don't look like a walking victim if you stumble into a slum.

Randy Paul


In addition to the Dickey book, I would also recommend Walter Lafeber's "Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America" and for background on Guatemala, Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer's "Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala."

There has been some recent good news in Nicaragua (I'm thinking of former President Alemán's 20 year jail sentence for embezzlement), but this article by Tina Rosenberg is not encouraging:


Randy Paul


Regarding the Belize City airport, when I went there in summer 1992, the one thing I remember above all were the people sitting in their lawn chairs on the terminal observation deck waving at the planes as they landed. What it lacked in order and efficiency, it more than made up for in charm and graciousness.

Marc Cooper

Ahh Randy.. what heartfelt nostalgia you evoke for Belize.. what an amazing place. I once spend a very long weekend there with a detachment of British Marines (details of that sojourn are sealed however until yr 2055).


I'd also recommend Kinzer's book on the Iranian coup d'etat in 1953, which was the template for the latter Guatemalan coup, Brazillian coup, Chilean coup, etc. that the CIA sponsored and directed...
A very interesting critique follows in Kinzer's book on how Americans' lack of knowledge about what happened in 1953 informs their later lack of understanding of the Iranian hostage crisis and what led to 911. No, Kinzer doesn't say that 1953 caused these, nor that they were desirable, merely that not understanding events like the overthrow of Mossadegh has disastrous consequences much like those of not knowing the history of the Guatemalan coup or the Sandinista revolution...

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