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May 19, 2008



Osama Bin Laden's demise was a julabint victory for our nation. I, myself find it difficult to believe this demon was hiding in plain sight in a mansion with the latest modern conveniences in an upscale retirement community; a far cry from the reports generated by the Bush administration that he was hiding out in the remote mountain caves between the borders of Pakistan and Afganistan. The neighbors claimed to be astonished when it was confirmed Bin Laden was residing in their community. The Pakistani government claims not to have known the whereabouts of Bin Laden for years. Although his name was not on the mailbox, this residence was a fortress. How comforting for the inhabitants to realize their next store neighbor wasn't exactly the pillar of the community .It must to be hard to be the President of the United States in these trying times; with nuts like Donald Trump's breaking story is that he was the individual who was able to produce your birth certificate; while you were playing Clark Kent, sitting on this important story. I admit I have not been your biggest fan lately but accolades are due. Mr. President, Job well done.

lord rev dyjuan d barnes YAHWEH

our government was the one whom created all of these people and now the chickens have come home to roost....... besure that your sins will and do find you out

Eric Chen

Late addition to this post, but here is another President Clinton statement in favor of Iraq liberation - this one from July 22, 2003 (CNN with Larry King):

"Let me tell you what I know. When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for. That is, at the end of the first Gulf War, we knew what he had. We knew what was destroyed in all the inspection processes and that was a lot. And then we bombed with the British for four days in 1998. We might have gotten it all; we might have gotten half of it; we might have gotten none of it. But we didn't know. So I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say you got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change, not just continued sanctions."

"It is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons. We might have destroyed them in '98. We tried to, but we sure as heck didn't know it because we never got to go back in there. And what I think -- again, I would say the most important thing is we should focus on: What's the best way to build Iraq as a democracy?"

"We should be pulling for America on this. We should be pulling for the people of Iraq."

Eric Chen


While I was a student at Columbia, I started a group in Facebook called "Save Iraq to save Darfur" (something like that - it's been a while). In the 1990s, we tacitly permitted hundreds of thousands, probably millions, to suffer and die in places like Iraq (where we refused to aid Iraqis who took us at our word and revolted against Saddam), the Balkans, Somalia, and Rwanda, because - from our policy-makers, to the American public, to our military - while we presented ourselves as the liberal victor of the Cold War, we refused to pay the cost of humanitarian intervention in non-permissive environments.

On 9/11, President Bush became a liberal. We could have chosen a radically different strategy in the War on Terror limited to killing folks and blowing things up, but President Bush chose to attempt liberal reform. The peace-building in a non-permissive environment we're learning in Iraq is what we refused to try in the 1990s.

I'm dismayed that self-described liberals don't recognize that our mission in Iraq - most of all how our military is being used in Iraq - is essentially liberal. If we fail, one of the tragedies of this episode will be the end of liberalism as a viable principle in our foreign policy.

We really didn't have much to do with restructuring the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WW1. As the West's leader after WW2, though, we eventually inherited some, but not all, of the British role in the region, which of course, was greatly affected by our competition with the Soviets.

T.E. Lawrence is interesting. He's been widely quoted as an authority of Western intervention for all the Middle East, but his writings actually only reflect his experience as an equivalent of a modern-day Green Beret dealing with specific outlying groups, comparable to a Green Beret with the Montagnards during the Vietnam War.

About TE Lawrence, from Small Wars Journal: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2008/04/lawrence-and-his-message/


Eric, thanks for your response. I read the Bush quote above, and fear that he leads us away from the catalysts that brought these painful times about. Professor Nacos has reminded me that current events override history now, but I can't separate the oppression Bush refers to from the events of the early 20th C when we and the British restructured Persia, Palestine, and Israel. From the eastern side of the "fence," it would look as if we were the oppressors. I wonder what T.E, Lawrence would say now. Thanks again for your thoughtful reply. Tony.

Eric Chen

Tony: "This an instance of Kool-Aid guzzling of the First Degree,"

You could be right - we'll find out. It's a contest. If we fail, this episode will demarcate the limit of the American-led progressive revolution and liberal world order. If we succeed, it will mean the enclave of tribalism you favor will have been opened and transformed.

At least, if we choose to be defeated by the anti-liberal forces against whom we are pitted, we can honestly say we failed while upholding our most cherished principles.

President John Kennedy, 1961:

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

President Bill Clinton, 1998:

"In the century we're leaving, America has often made the difference between chaos and community, fear and hope. Now, in the new century, we'll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the past, but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace."

"The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world.

The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government -- a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people. Bringing change in Baghdad will take time and effort."

President Bill Clinton, 1998:

"The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and law-abiding member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.

The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else.

The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life."

President George W. Bush, 2004:

"For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability, and much oppression. So I have changed this policy. In the short-term, we will work with every government in the Middle East dedicated to destroying the terrorist networks. In the longer-term, we will expect a higher standard of reform and democracy from our friends in the region. Democracy and reform will make those nations stronger and more stable, and make the world more secure by undermining terrorism at it source. Democratic institutions in the Middle East will not grow overnight; in America, they grew over generations. Yet the nations of the Middle East will find, as we have found, the only path to true progress is the path of freedom and justice and democracy."


If our mission was well-founded and based on accurate intel and cultural understanding, a learning curve, steep or gentle, wouldn't be applicable. And if our "liberal plan" were so attractive to the rest of the world, the apparent necessity for killing off all the hard cases wouldn't aply either.
" Through the liberal prism, Iraq made the most sense as the next battlefield in the War on Terror given its cosmopolitan interests, volatile sectarian mix, pivotal regional importance, dangerous leader with track record, corrupt tyrannical government, decade-long US/UN role in Iraq, the effect of that decade-long mission on US image, and President Clinton's established policy of regime change for Iraq. Iraq was suited for influential liberal reform in ways Afghanistan couldn't match. Final ingredient: when al Qaeda staked Iraq as critical in their war against us, Iraq became completely the central battle of the War on Terror. Perhaps al Qaeda recognized the larger threat to them from liberal reform in Iraq."

This an instance of Kool-Aid guzzling of the First Degree, with a complete disregard for the civilians who lived in the Middle East for, oh, maybe ONE MILLION YEARS?

Eric Chen

Professor Nacos,

The difference is the change in the state of our Iraq mission since last year. People who have been unable to acknowledge that OIF is a critical battle in the War on Terror - both for us and the enemy - have failed to recognize that our increased success in Iraq over the last year has come largely at al Qaeda's expense.

The Bush administration's strategy in the War on Terror has been an essentially liberal strategy. Before 9/11, we had a rhetorically liberal but actually realist-dominated American foreign policy.

Through the liberal prism, it's understood that we could not win the War on Terror if we restricted ourselves to (as you've called them before) "traditional" military methods. In other words, if our only strategy in the War on Terror was to deploy our military exclusively on search and destroy missions - an approach many critics of Bush's liberal strategy have advocated - then we would have orchestrated our own defeat. However, due to basic security need against a skillfully murderous enemy, our military has been forced, often against its will, to remain the main actor in President Bush's liberal strategy, forcing soldiers to convert from war-fighters to peace-builders. al Qaeda and the movement they represent cannot be defeated by death and destruction alone - they grow from it, exploit it; ultimately, they can only be defeated by their world reformed. Similar to how we've dealt with extremists in our society, we cannot realistically expect to exterminate radical Islamists, but we can hope to marginalize them. The ambitious liberal challenge is to marginalize them within the same communities that spawned them.

It's a necessary part, but not sufficient in and of itself, for 'Team America' (yes, it's a movie reference) to battle head-to-head with terrorists in the Middle East and Central Asia, while the Muslim world spectates. We had to somehow compel the Muslim world to engage the terrorists as their problem, not just ours, along with the underlying conditions that foster and enable the terrorists, in a manner that moves the region towards liberal reform that marginalizes the terrorists' movement.

I can't say President Bush had a masterplan or even the resources to bring about these changes upon 9/11, but he did set a clear liberal direction. The liberal way was the harder way because it wasn't our way before 9/11. It's meant a costly learning curve demanding time, understanding, and patience from the American public, along with the blood and treasure, while working with foreign peoples on incremental changes tailored to their social and political cultures. It's been made harder still for our peace-builders, in and out of uniform, and local partners by the dedicated sabotage and assassinations by terrorists who blend into the environment better than we can.

Through the liberal prism, Iraq made the most sense as the next battlefield in the War on Terror given its cosmopolitan interests, volatile sectarian mix, pivotal regional importance, dangerous leader with track record, corrupt tyrannical government, decade-long US/UN role in Iraq, the effect of that decade-long mission on US image, and President Clinton's established policy of regime change for Iraq. Iraq was suited for influential liberal reform in ways Afghanistan couldn't match. Final ingredient: when al Qaeda staked Iraq as critical in their war against us, Iraq became completely the central battle of the War on Terror. Perhaps al Qaeda recognized the larger threat to them from liberal reform in Iraq.

As hard as our learning curve has been in what was already necessarily a 'long hard slog', we've made progress. Despite the exposure of sectarian conflict - much fueled by al Qaeda - Iraq has not splintered, and Iraqis are now compelled, albeit slowly and cautiously, to find a way to live together sans dictator. The depredations of al Qaeda in Iraq against mainstream Muslims have exposed them in the region while many of their former Sunni allies have turned against them and, slowly and cautiously, sided with the Americans. The Shia-majority government is now engaged in battle against Shia extremist elements in what seems to be a substantive step toward a post-tribal society. In other words, at least in Iraq, the 'Team America' battle seems to be becoming their battle.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is the battle against the physical enemy, and it is an important battle, but it also infertile ground for liberal reform. In Iraq, there are still many hard incremental steps to take and a costly learning curve to endure, but there we have the ingredients for liberal reform that can advance towards marginalization of al Qaeda as movement and phenomenon. If the liberal strategy works, I'd also like to see what gradual effect liberalized Iraqi Shia may have on Iraq's neighbor to the east, not as enemies, but as friends.

So, what's changed since last year regarding perception of al Qaeda and the War on Terror? Iraq. But to understand the change, you need to see like a liberal.

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