Thursday, March 13, 2008

The urgency of now


Asked whether waterboarding is legal,  he replies,  'It's torture, pure and simple.'  (Walter Pincus on C-Span, via BBC Parl., 5 Feb).  But we only ever used it on three people and we stopped in August 2003.  So that's OK then.

Barack Obama,  Hillary Clinton and John McCain all,  of course oppose torture,  but McCain has supported President Bush's retention of "muscular" techniques of interrogation.

Meanwhile,  the Democrat's candidates are displaying some nuances on Iraq.  On Thursday 10 Jan, Obama said,  'I will end the war responsibly.  I will be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were as careless getting in.'  (C-span, 13 Jan).  On 26 Feb,  though,  he quoted Martin Luther King's words:  'the urgency of now' apparently ...  is to withdraw from Iraq.

John McCain,  on the other hand,  has said that the US might be in Iraq for 100 years: unwise words, which his Democrat opponents have seized upon with glee.  There is a tendency amongst commentators in the UK  (for example, on Channel 4 News)  to see McCain's policy as merely a continuation of  Bush's. There is more to it than that.  The first three and a half years after the fall of Saddam Hussein,  in spite of some positives  (sovereignty for Iraq, elections),  saw a failure to provide the basics of order and security.  During this time,  I believe,  McCain called consistently for sufficient forces to be deployed to do that.

A change came about after the Democrats took control of Congress in November 2006,  not that they can take the credit for that  (much like some theologies believe that God created the world as a reaction to evil,  to the fall of Satan/Lucifer and his fellow angels/devils,  not that I'm comparing Bush to... ).  First, Rumsfeld was sacked (he should have gone in April 2004);  then a reasonably competent team was put in place  -  Gates, Ryan Crocker  (I'm not imagining,  am I,  that after the end of Bremer's period as viceroy,  the US went for several months without even an ambassador in Iraq?),  Petraeus;  above all the "surge".  And McCain naturally supported the surge when,  lest we forget,  reaction was largely,  and overwhelmingly in Europe,  one of derision at the time.

And still the uncertainty of the Democrats' position goes on.  The main reason Samantha Power resigned as one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisors was that she called Hillary Clinton a "monster",  but as Le Monde (9 Mar) put it,  the interview she gave on the BBC World Service "added to her difficulties".  There she seemed to play down or minimise  (that word relativiser again)  Obama's commitment to withdrawal from Iraq ('The Interview', 7 Mar 2008, can be heard here).

Regardless of the nuances,  both Democrat candidates have said that they will at least begin to "end the war",  that is to withdraw American forces from the struggle against violent extremism,  whatever the circumstances on the ground.

If the last 5 years have taught us anything,  it is that this is not struggle that can be undertaken half-heartedly.  As has been said often enough,  the security gains of the last year are fragile:  the smallest lowering of the guard can be fatal.  Though the number of insurgent attacks taking place fell to November 2007, they have remained stable through to January 2008,  at levels that are still unacceptably high.  (New York Times, 12 Mar)

I think you should take politicians at their word, at least in the pessimistic direction.  So,  while anybody who is motivated to vote for Obama or Clinton because of their promises to "end the war" could be disappointed,  those who think it vital that the US remain engaged in the struggle have a strong reason to support McCain.

Updated 16 Mar

Update 17 Mar:
Samantha Power's remarks are not actually in the BBC World Service interview I cited,  but in another interview - see here.  They are talking about withdrawing combat forces within 16 months (not about 1 or 2  brigades per month,  as Le Monde had it):
He will of course not rely upon some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or as a U.S. senator.  He will rely upon a plan,  an operational plan that he pulls together,  in consultation with people who are on the ground,  to whom he doesn't have daily access now, as a result of not being the president. So to think,  I mean it would be the height of ideology,  you know,  to sort of say,  "Well I said it,  therefore I'm going to impose it on whatever reality entreats me" ...
...

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