Friday, June 13, 2014

The Strongest Tribe (Musings on Iraq)

A National Review article by Mario Loyola offered a scathing critique of President Obama's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, essentially casting all blame for the chaos over there, including the rapid ascension of ISIS, at his feet.  This is largely unfair.  Although the current President does hold some responsibility for current events, the lion's share of the blame still falls on his predecessor, President Bush, for the decision to invade Iraq in the first.
Interestingly, however, Loyola does touch upon a largely unspoken truth, one which I've yet to see offered in any publication, left or right: the real reason we invaded in 2003.  Not WMD, or to liberate Iraq, or even for their oil.
"We had gained, at a frightful cost in lives and treasure, a priceless strategic asset, namely the possibility of Iraq as a strong military ally, hosting U.S. forces as long as we needed to keep them there, engaged against the extremists in Syria and Iran, as well as al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their sympathizers among the Arab states."
This was not a happy accident.  This was the reason we invaded.  And for once, I'd like to see it addressed more than in passing.  The truth is that had the Bush administration been honest with the American people about their reasons for invading Iraq, the people would not have gotten behind it.  Congress would not have gotten behind it.  They would have told President Bush to go soak his head.  And it is because the Bush administration was dishonest about the reasons for the invasion that the American people eventually turned on the war and elected Barack Obama on his promise to bring the troops home.  So there's that. 
In withdrawing the troops from Iraq, President Obama was keeping his central campaign promise.  The Bush administration and their acolytes constantly forget that this is not Rome, wherein Caesar enacts his will and the people love him for it.  Presidents are still accountable to the people and cannot govern without their consent.  The people wanted the troops out of Iraq.  End of story.
But onto Loyola's central argument, which is that the Iraq War is essentially a proxy war between Wahabbists in Saudi Arabia and Shi'ites in Iran, started by the power vacuum created by the removal of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime.  The Americans had effectively pushed both sides back and had created a tentative peace, but one which would require our continued presence in the country as a mediator between the various squabbling factions.
Again, this was not a happy accident.  Intelligence analysts and really anybody with any knowledge of geopolitics in the region knew that Iran and Saudi Arabia would angle for the upper hand in Iraq.  I'd go so far as to say that the Bush administration was counting on it as a continuing justification for our presence in the region.  This is, effectively, the role that the British Empire played when they were in Iraq: impartial mediator, and in Loyola's own words, "the strongest tribe".  The purpose of eliminating Saddam Hussein's regime was precisely to create that power vacuum with the intent of filling it ourselves.
Meanwhile, we'd have all these troops in Iraq… all dressed up, and nowhere to go.  Except Tehran.  Lather, rinse, repeat.
Loyola skirts on the edges of telling the truth in his article, and he is correct that the withdrawal of American troops created a new power vacuum, which immediately began the same war all over again.  President Obama ought to have taken greater care not to allow that to happen.  But the truth is that this power vacuum does exist, and it will be filled by someone.  Unless Loyola is suggesting that we send all U.S. troops back to Iraq and resume our role as imperial overlords, the struggle for power will continue.  ISIS has come to stake its claim in the region, and the Iraqi government we left behind isn't strong enough to stop them.  Iran will act to preserve their interests, as will Iraq's other neighbors.  The only way to prevent this from spiraling into a full scale regional war is for somebody big enough to stop ISIS to come in and impose its will on them.
President Bush effectively created a situation wherein the United States could not leave Iraq without bloody chaos ensuing.  Conservatives can wave the bloody shirt of "losing all we gained" in Iraq all they want, but all of this blood is on their hands, not those who begged them not to invade in the first place.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Salon Lies About a George Will Column, Entire Left Believes Them

As will be readily apparent, this blog has been inactive for years.  However, the long descent of the once semi-respectable and groundbreaking online magazine Salon into yellow journalism and cheap click-bait has been bothering me for a while, and they've hit what I regard as a new low.

Salon writer Katie McDonough penned this column yesterday in response to this column from June 6.  From McDonough's column:

"Washington Post columnist George Will doesn't believe the statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Instead he believes that liberals, feminists and other nefarious forces have conspired to turn being a rape survivor into a "coveted status that confers privileges." As a result of this plot, "victims proliferate," Will wrote in a weekend editorial that ran in the Washington Post and New York Post."

What Will actually wrote:

"Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous ("micro-aggressions," often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

After this, Will begins to talk about the campus rape discussion, but McDonough's out of context quoting of Will's column paints a very different picture from what he actually said.  Further, she laments that Will takes issue with the inclusion of "nonconsensual touching" into the definition of sexual assault, making it sound as though Will thinks "nonconsensual touching" is okay, when in fact he was taking issue with it being lumped in with "forcible penetration" as though they are the same thing.  His actual point was that "sexual assault" is a very broad term which can range from forcible rape to an unwelcome pat on the butt.  Neither is okay, but to lump the two together is to cheapen actual forcible rape for the purposes of inflating statistics to make it sound, as Antoine Dodson once said, "They rapin' everybody out here."

McDonough continues, "But what is puzzling — about this editorial and the army of nearly identical pieces of rape apologia that find a way into national newspapers with some regularity — is how much one has to ignore in order to argue these points."  "Current data holds that only 12 percent of assaults on college campuses are reported. It seems like Will believes that hearing from any victims is hearing from too many victims."

But Will doesn't ignore that data.  He mentions it specifically in his column:

"The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20 percent."

But McDonough doesn't even attempt to address this point.  Instead, she continues to rail at what she imagined Will said and sets up this straw man, even going so far as to quote The Onion, to rail against "rape apologia".  At no point in the article does she attempt to address what Will actually wrote.  Instead, she cherry-picks a few quotes out of context and makes her article about that.

The worst part is that after this, I later started seeing similar articles popping up on other lefty websites.  It's like nobody actually reads past headlines anymore.  They just get outraged and reflexively parrot something they read on an overtly partisan and hackish website.

An important lesson to learn is that if you read something which seems to perfectly affirm your biases almost to the point of absurdity, it's probably bullshit.  If you only read things which perfectly affirm your biases, you're not only uninformed, you're becoming a lemming.  Reality rarely fits so neatly into our ideological boxes.  It's disconcerting how many people just went along with McDonough's characterization of Will's column rather than actually reading the column for themselves. 
One may reasonably disagree with what Will wrote, and I don't agree with all his conclusions myself (his use of a single college to disprove sexual assault statistics is dubious, at best), but please critique what he actually wrote, not some straw man you invent out of whole cloth.  In this case, McDonough's mischaracterization of Will's column borders on libel.