On War# 269: Why McCain is Wrong

By William S. Lind
July 28, 2008

Senator John McCain’s position on the situation in Iraq is wrong on two counts, which means his criticism of Senator Obama is also wrong.  The twin pillars of McCain’s assessment of the war are a) the surge worked and b) because the surge worked we are now winning.  Neither of those views is based in fact.

The first represents the long-recognized logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, i.e., because one event occurred after another, it was a consequence of the first event.  Because the cock crows before sunrise, he thinks he makes the sun come up.  Because violence in Iraq dropped after the surge, McCain claims the surge caused the reduction in violence.  He is quick to add that he supported the surge at the time, which Obama did not.  In the real world, neither rooster nor Senator has quite so much reason to strut upon his dunghill.

The reduction in violence in Iraq, which is likely to prove temporary, has four causes, the least of which is the surge.

In order of importance, they are:

  1. Al Qaeda’s alienation of much of its Sunni base, a consequence of its attempt to impose its Puritanical version of Islam before it won the war and consolidated power.  This is a common error of revolutionary movements.  The smart ones back off and take a “broad front” strategy until the war is won, at which point they cut their “moderate” allies’ throats.  Al Qaeda’s non-hierarchical structure, coupled with the message it employs to recruit, may prevent it from adopting a broad front strategy.  If so, that may prove a fatal weakness.
  2. A change in policy by the U.S. Marines in Anbar Province whereby they stopped attacking the Sunni population and started paying it instead.  As the FMFM 1-A argues, in 4GW, cash is your most important supporting arm.  The Marines’ new policy, which has now spread to the U.S. Army and beyond Anbar, enabled the locals to turn on al Qaeda and its brutally enforced Puritanism.
  3. General Petraeus’s decision to move U.S. troops off their FOB’s and into populated areas where they could protect the population instead of merely protecting themselves.
  4. Last and least, the surge, which made more troops available for #3.  Absent the other three developments, the surge would have achieved nothing.

In his first assertion, Senator McCain is claiming credit where credit is not due.  In his second, that we are winning in Iraq, he fails to understand what “winning” means in a Fourth Generation conflict.

The current reduction in violence in Iraq does not mean we are winning.  Nor does al Qaeda’s incipient defeat mean we are winning.  We win only if a state re-emerges, the state we destroyed by our invasion.  A reduction in violence and the defeat of al Qaeda are necessary preconditions for the re-emergence of a  state, but they are not sufficient to ensure it.

A state will be re-established in Iraq only if and when authority comes from a person’s position in the state hierarchy, e.g., governor, minister, mayor, army or police commander, functionary, etc.  Services must also come from the state.  At present, as best as I can determine, this is happening seldom. If at all.  Rather, authority derives from non-state bases such as relationship to a tribe, clan or militia, and services are provided by the U.S. military, NGOs, and Iraqi militias or religious organizations.  An Iraqi who holds a nominal state office may have authority, but his authority is not a product of his state office.  A local Iraqi government may provide some services, but the government in Baghdad is seldom the source of the resources or authority to provide those services.

In fact, the relative peace now prevailing in Iraq is largely the product of deals the U.S. military has made with real non-state Iraqi authority figures.  These deals were both necessary and prudent, but they represent de facto acceptance of the reality that there is no state.

So McCain is wrong on both counts.  The fact that a Presidential candidate is fundamentally wrong on so important a subject as the war in Iraq is disturbing.   More disturbing is the nature of the errors.  Both represent carryovers of Bush administration practices.  The first, stating that the surge is the cause of reduced violence, represents the Bush White House’s cynical practice of assuming the American people are too stupid to understand anything even slightly complex.  The second, claiming we are winning the Iraq war, represents President Bush’s policy of making statements that are blatantly at odds with reality and figuring that if the truth catches up with them, it will do so too late to alter the course of events.  It was the latter practice that got us into the Iraq war in the first place.

Together, the twin pillars of McCain’s Iraq assessment, both built of sand, give substance to the Democrats’ charge that a McCain Presidency would represent a third term for George Bush.  They also raise the question of whether they are honest mistakes or, like the arguments the Bush White House used to sell the Iraq conflict, simply lies.  One would hate to think that McCain’s “straight talk” comes from a forked tongue, but the parallels with Bush administration practices are too obvious to overlook.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind

Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 26 responses so far

26 Responses to “On War# 269: Why McCain is Wrong”

  1. loggie20on 29 Jul 2008 at 6:44 pm 1

    We won in one breath and in the next we cannot withdraw because Maliki don’t know the conditions on the ground in ‘sixteen months’.

    Mc Cain does know that the win is an illusion and that there is no need to pull out of the new colony.

    Despite whatthe clueless ‘elected’.

    He thinks Maliki is as ignorant as he.

  2. Duncan Kinderon 30 Jul 2008 at 12:50 am 2

    We win only if a state re-emerges

    Rather than getting bogged down in a fruitless discussion of what is meant by “winning,” I would assert that any reasonably civil society that might emerge that is sufficiently stable to last through the intermediate future would be a result that we could live with.

    The problem with aspiring to an Iraqi state is that the nation-state in general is on the decline as an institution. To strive to achieve a state, therefore, is to pit ourselves against the general tide of history. ( Although some sort of jerry-built Iraqi state stable enough to last through the intermediate future would nevertheless also be something that we could live with ).

    Indeed, one of the few benefits we could get from the Iraq War would be the opportunity to witness the emergence of a post-state society from which we could learn. The nation-state is going to continue to decline – and the challenges thereby posed will come to our doorsteps.

    ( Of course, this benefit would not be worth the enormous and unnecessary cost of the Iraq War and could not be a justification. )

  3. Barryon 30 Jul 2008 at 8:23 am 3

    Iraq is finished as a state, it was inherently vulnerable – and a tempting target – because the minority Sunnis ruled over the majority Shia.

  4. Maxon 30 Jul 2008 at 9:20 am 4

    “We won in one breath, and in the next we cannot withdraw”

    That effectively underscores the hypocracy.

    I tend also to agree with Chalmers Johnson.

    “We know we didn’t have an exit stratigy, because we never
    intend to leave.”

    And that maybe fine, perhaps most now believe in America’s
    destiny and ever expanding aquisition of empire.

    However, spare me ALL the BS, about WMDs, Alquida, Nation Building, concern over evil tyrants, etc, etc.

    We let the lawyers and salesmen run the country, and we get
    what is deserved.

    Just come clean and say it the way it is, and let the AMERICAN
    poeple decide and vote on these issues on that basis, without the incecent fundemental dishonesty.

    Duncan, interesting from the purely acedemic perspective, but in
    reality, YOU are dreaming, in technicolor enhanced IMAX Super HD.

    “one of the few benefits we could get from the Iraq War would be the opportunity to witness the emergence of a post-state society from which we could learn.”

    MaXimillian

  5. Maxon 30 Jul 2008 at 10:42 am 5

    We’re talking about a country with an average
    temperature in July of 97.10 degrees f.

    http://www.idcide.com/weather/az/bagdad.htm

    Violence ALWAYS declines in the HOTTEST summer months,
    do some homework, look at the stats.

    http://www.Icasualties.org

    Then, listen to what the “Good” General has to say,
    judge for yourself.

    http://tinyurl.com/5va4fp

    M

  6. Barryon 30 Jul 2008 at 11:00 am 6

    Those pushing for Saddams overthrow did so understanding it would be a stake though the heart for Iraqi power, the divisions in Iraq that democracy would unleash are common to many Arab countries. What Mr. Lind calls winning would look like something else to the neocons

  7. Maxon 30 Jul 2008 at 6:55 pm 7

    “What Mr. Lind calls winning would look like something else to the neocons”

    Maybe, YOU mean, Like THIS ?!

    http://tinyurl.com/5h5vgg

    A FORMER Pentagon adviser who was an early advocate of invading Iraq has been looking into entering the potentially lucrative oil business there, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

    Since you brought it up.

    Apparently “winning” is to them applies mainly on an
    excusively personel level.

    YOU elected them, TWICE, TWICE.

    M

  8. jaylemeuxon 31 Jul 2008 at 12:56 pm 8

    “Violence ALWAYS declines in the HOTTEST summer months,
    do some homework, look at the stats.”

    indeed. when Gen. Petraeus gave his first surge brief to Congress in September ’07 in which he testified to a drop in attack levels, I immediately noticed that his window of measurement went from October 06 – during the height of Ramadan, when attack levels jump – to August 07, when the only people dumb enough to be conducting operations are us.

    granted, the parameters alone couldn’t account for the entire drop in attacks, but I believe they were designed to embellish it.

  9. Mycophagiston 01 Aug 2008 at 11:22 am 9

    The war is over. We lost. Naturally its “winding down.”

    Let’s raise a glass to the victors, Iran. And they did it without losing a man through combat. Almost unprecedented! It wasn’t easy for them, they couldn’t have done it without our consistant help…

    Dave

  10. niculothon 04 Aug 2008 at 12:39 pm 10

    McCains definition of victory is that America is still in Iraq and no Americans are dying – by that definition the Germans won WW2.

    Nic

  11. Maxon 05 Aug 2008 at 8:47 am 11

    Nic writies;

    “McCains definition of victory is that America is still in Iraq and no Americans are dying – by that definition the Germans won WW2.”

    Once again, that brings the analysis full circle.
    This election (although you won’t hear it in the mainstream media)
    is about the limits and expansion of American imperialisim.

    The die has been cast.

    The upcoming choice comes down to 100% commitment to imperialism,
    or to 70% commitment.

    MaX

  12. Barryon 07 Aug 2008 at 4:26 am 12

    Richard Perle is asking about getting into the oil business?

    Why so tentative, he already has excellent contacts, aften all big oil was pulling his strings when he floated the idea of the invasion. We know this because the ostensible reason doesn’t make sense

  13. jaylemeuxon 07 Aug 2008 at 4:50 pm 13

    “McCains definition of victory is that America is still in Iraq and no Americans are dying – by that definition the Germans won WW2.”

    I’m not clear on what you mean-where are the Germans occupying?

  14. jaylemeuxon 07 Aug 2008 at 5:04 pm 14

    “In fact, the relative peace now prevailing in Iraq is largely the product of deals the U.S. military has made with real non-state Iraqi authority figures. These deals were both necessary and prudent, but they represent de facto acceptance of the reality that there is no state.”

    I’m having trouble reconciling what I see as a theoretical contradiction here. If the deals gave power and resources to non-state elements, and Lind asserts that 4GW is about just the opposite -restoring the state- how can they be labeled ‘necessary and prudent?’

    The only possibilities I see are:

    1. By ‘necessary and prudent’ Lind means that they will reduce casualties, which is the humane thing to do considering we can’t win but we’re not likely to withdraw anytime soon.

    2. They’re necessary because unless casualties drop and the American people see some glimmer of real or imagined hope for victory, the political current against the occupation will soon force our government to withdraw whether they want to or not.

    [CR: Jaylemeux — very good point. I missed that one. Comments anyone?]

  15. Maxon 07 Aug 2008 at 6:35 pm 15

    “I’m not clear on what you mean-where are the Germans occupying?”

    I think Nic’s saying that the US while STILL occuping Germany,
    even after the fall of the wall, and some 50 years since the last
    great war.

    Apart from the occasional druken accident. Americans aren’t
    dieing in Germany. And not withstanding the costs, our welcome,
    or nessesity.

    And that’s McCain’s vision for Iraq, with a benevolent
    US occupation in perpetuity.

    “the united states is the roman empire, and NYC is rome”*
    *John Lennon

    Max

  16. Maxon 07 Aug 2008 at 6:54 pm 16

    “They’re necessary because unless casualties drop and the American people see some glimmer of real or imagined hope for victory”

    Exactly.

    For vested interests,
    Reduction in US casulties is worth any cost, in order to divert
    attention and critisism at home. That specificaly means making deals
    with anyone, and no matter how unsavoury and ephemeral, meaning until the US election has been decided.

    It’s working to a degree.

    Both sides play it up, with help from the US Militaries own leadership.

    The alternative is to conciede defete, and that’s not in the
    American vocabulary.

    MaX

  17. Barryon 10 Aug 2008 at 11:18 am 17

    Max – Big Oil (which is what you seem to be talking about) is a fraction of the big business intrests in the US, do you really think they would be allowed to damage the whole economy in pursuit of a few extra profits. Even if they were not worried about being caught (and n the real world they would be) they have investments other than oil and arms.

  18. Barryon 10 Aug 2008 at 11:46 am 18

    Mearsheimer’s explanation for why US troops are still in Europe is that they are the only thing stopping another war starting. It only seems logical behind occupying Iraq for the next 100 years .

    [CR: Barry — interesting. What is his rationale?]

  19. jaylemeuxon 10 Aug 2008 at 1:37 pm 19

    “I think Nic’s saying that the US while STILL occuping Germany,
    even after the fall of the wall, and some 50 years since the last
    great war.”

    His wording compares Germany to the U.S., not Iraq.

  20. Barryon 10 Aug 2008 at 3:12 pm 20

    Professor Mearsheimer thinks the long period of peace in Europe will prove to be, like the previous one after France tried to conquer Europe (but before WW1) the prelude to further wars. I ought to make clear he was dead against attacking Iraq.

    [CR: Could be. How does he factor in the advent of nuclear weapons?]

  21. Barryon 11 Aug 2008 at 6:23 am 21

    Presumably (haven’t finished the book) Germany would have to acquire a nuclear capability to deter nuclear threats from the Russians. Once they both had nukes conventional military adventures – pressure on weak allies ect. would be feasible. Mearsheimer’s failure to predict the Ukraine would decide not to acquire nuclear weapons is now – in the light of current events – begining to look like failure to predict stupidity.

  22. Maxon 11 Aug 2008 at 10:08 am 22

    Jay Writes,

    “His wording compares Germany to the U.S., not Iraq”

    Agreed, however taking the larger perspective, Perhaps the idea, or at least what I come here for, and in as much as possible, is to work with pepole and ideas.

    That includes keeping a very open mind, and occasionaly
    giving the benefit of the dougbt.

    http://tinyurl.com/5axstu

    I’ll be the first to admit that not everyone
    expresses or writes thier thoughts clearly,
    all the time.

    At the sametime I’m not here to lecture, nor particuarly to EDUCATE or do homework for anyone.

    I assume that most here bring an interest, with a reletively elightened and free thinking background, I merely pickup on thier ideas, feed the debate, and see where it goes.

    M

  23. jaylemeuxon 13 Aug 2008 at 1:20 am 23

    Max-
    I wasn’t trying to make a statement about his communication skills, if that’s what you’re implying. I was honestly confused (I still am) and thought that he meant exactly what he said.

  24. Maxon 13 Aug 2008 at 7:35 am 24

    “I was honestly confused (I still am)”

    Fair enough.

    Rich has taught me many things, one is the imperative of reading
    for true comprehension. A cognitive and practiced skill, and sometimes
    really quite chalanging.

    I can’t say I’m much good at either.
    Much less writing.

    Having said that, If we each come away with, and retain even 30% of what’s put forth on this forum and it’s partners, the worlds a far better
    place.

    You’re insights and commentary are allways interesting and
    stimulating.

    M

  25. Maxon 16 Aug 2008 at 7:05 pm 25

    “Big Oil (which is what you seem to be talking about) is a fraction of the big business intrests in the US, do you really think they would be allowed to damage the whole economy in pursuit of a few extra profits. Even if they were not worried about being caught (and n the real world they would be) they have investments other than oil and arms.”

    http://www.chomsky.info/audionvideo.htm

    The Middle East in the Context of the Presidential Elections and the “Surge” in Iraq. Arab-American

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