Saturday, August 06, 2005

A Day That Lives In Infamy

Sixty years ago this month, the United States launched the world’s first and (so far) only) nuclear attack when it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Born from fear that Nazi Germany would acquire this dangerous technology first, the American effort to develop and build nuclear weapons was a triumph of science and organization that persisted well after the German threat receded. History is filled with the debate over the justification for attacking Japanese cities with atomic weapons. Most military leaders of that era do not believe the bombings were necessary

The most compelling argument to many Americans is that the attack prevented the horrible casualties that would have resulted from invading Japan. This line of thought trades military casualties for civilian ones. The non-combatants (them) are killed in order to spare combatant lives (us). The trade off is an unfortunate inevitability of war, where force multiplies force in an ever widening cycle of destruction. In World War II, this cycle led the United States, the nation that first recognized the dignity of the individual, to become the first to use a weapon of such inordinately discriminatory destruction.

American fear further nurtured the nuclear to age as the United States and the Soviety Union sought to maintain a balance of terror during the Cold War. At the time we deeply feared Soviet might and nuclear weapons. The US was first to develop and implement virtually all of the nuclear technologies during the Cold War. The Soviets followed as best they could, maintaining at sufficient semblance of parity to keep the Americans looking for the next advantage. Along the way nuclear technology spread to other nations seeking to demonstrate their status as Great Power. We know now that the Soviet threat was largely hollow. However, the technologies we pioneered are spreading. As long as nuclear weapons are viewed as legitimate tools of war, all nations will seek to possess them.

The United States is in a unique position to stop the nuclear proliferation it initiated in the first half of the last century. The American military is pre-eminent in the world. No other military can seriously threaten the United States or its interests. Even without its nuclear arsenal, America can still manage any potential threat. The 60th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Japan would be a fitting time for the United States to renounce the first use of nuclear weapons and to call for a serious program to eliminate these weapons from the world’s arsenals.

Yes, I know that arms control has had limited, if any success, in controlling nuclear weapons. But these efforts have been focused primarily on managing these weapons and technology. No great effort has been made to “put the genie back into the bottle.” And this is one genie that should go back into the bottle. The destructive power of non-nuclear technology is bad enough but nuclear technology adds the threat of long-term environmental damage, sufficient to destroy the ability of this planet to support life.

Perhaps that is the inevitable fate of our species and the civilization we have created. I prefer to think otherwise. I want to believe that even though history offers little support for this belief. Twenty years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan briefly talked of eliminating their entire nuclear arsenals before their respective national security institutions smothered the idea. This anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an opportune moment to look for ways back to that path not taken. different direction

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Constitutions and Calendars

The Iraqi Constitutional committee has committed to presenting a draft constitution by the August 15 deadline established by the Transitional Administrative Law Convention. With less than two weeks left, however, the committee has yet to agree on the form of government, the role of Islam in government and law or even the country’s name. Chris Allbritton has a good summary of the constitutional differences here. The unresolved issues are the heart of the ethnic and religious conflict that has roiled Iraq since the US destroyed the secular regime of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist party. Regardless of the August 15 outcome, disagreement over how mutually suspicious, hostile tribes will co-exist within a single political entity will continue to bedevil American occupiers.

US insistence that Iraq “get on with it” rather than take additional time to look for acceptable compromises or build the trust necessary for cooperation in a hostile political environment demonstrate that the process is not for Iraqis. Rather, the process is cover for an American “cut and run” that will save the Republican party from the wrath of voters, now increasingly skeptical of the war and the leaders who created it. An Iraqi constitution will create the facade of national unity that will allow the US to draw down troops and allow BushCheney to declare “victory”..

This is a tried and true method. It worked well for the British, mired in Iraq after destroying the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Winston Churchill worked diligently to create a government that functioned sufficiently well that the UK could withdraw troops that it did not want to maintain in Iraq. Too costly. He even brought in a monarch who had hoped to rule Lebanon but settled for Iraq. That and a few Royal Air Force planes was enough to allow an orderly withdrawal and continued behind-the-scenes influence.

The scheme worked well enough for the British and other western powers. Less so for the Iraqis. Government under the monarchy was unstable and weak. It was overthrown by a military coup in the late 1950's and a Ba’athist coup about five years later. But Iraqi self-government gave the British a much needed exit.

BushCheney is hoping to do the same. But their plan has a fatal flaw: they don’t plan to leave. Oh sure, they will draw down troops with all the ceremonial fanfare possible (can you say “Mission Accomplished”?) but troops will remain. Even now, American forces and contractors are constructing large, permanent military bases in Iraq. The Largest American Embassy in the World will continue to influence in Iraq and the region.

Actually, a “cut and run” strategy might be the best. It would immediately defuse the insurgents’ major issue, the presence of foreign occupiers. Iraqis would be forced to address their differences on their own. But that won’t happen. BushCheney doesn’t want to leave. They went to war to establish bases and will abandon their dream reluctantly, to the detriment of both America and Iraq. Nor do the Shi’ite leaders want to see American troops leave yet, at least not until the Sunnis are, once and for all, rendered incapable of regaining control of a national government. Unlike the British,
the Americans are not leaving Iraq. Not yet.

So the insurgency will continue. Juan Cole reports that the insurgency has grown in sophistication and capability over the past year. The rate of attacks on American and coalition forces has increased from 47 to 68 over the past year. He also quotes the Baghdad Times:

“...Iraqis of all stripes ... have two demands with regard to the next meeting of Arab leaders, in a couple of days at Sharm el-Sheikh. The first is that the Arab countries should be more vocal and active in condemning acts of terrorism in Iraq, and should do more to stop the infiltration of foreign jihadis. But their other demand was that the Arab nations should pressure the United States to announce a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Despite BushCheney’s plans, we will leave Iraq. . Sooner or later, like the British, Americans will tire of the death, destruction and expense of maintaining our presence in Iraq. If we are lucky, the US will (also like the British) make a somewhat orderly exit. Or it could be more unpleasant. Think Iran. Think Saigon. Whatever the result, thank Bush/Cheney.