Answers to common pro-war arguments by Michael Schwarz

From Michael Schwartz:

Below, queries from Dick Flacks raising what he
thinks (and I agree) are key issues that people
have about the war, and about the prospect of
American withdrawal in particular. With the
Baker Commission coming out against withdrawal,
these arguments are particularly relevant now.
Below his queries are my first best effort to


Michael: I think we need to strengthen antiwar
arguments on two fundamental points:

1. Complete US withdrawal will lead to full scale
bloodletting and disaster; our troop presence (
whether ‘more’ or not) provides some buffering to
stave off the worst. How do we argue against
this? I know you’ve said some things about this,
but it remains the basic Democrat reservation
about withdrawal.

2. Not stated but I think the strongest reality:
US withdrawal leaves Iraqi oil in the hands
of…Islamic fundamentalists, Iran, terrorists,
etc. Or perhaps even more fundamental: wouldn’t
US withdrawal really turn the Middle East over to
anti-western control? And what will the world
look like then? Should we try to answer this and
how? I think this is the sort of fear that
unites the policy elite against full withdrawal.

It seems that they can’t bring themselves to make
a public case that the whole thing IS about oil (
and geopolitics) and therefore the US should
stay. What do you say to these points? Who has
addressed them? I know that there is an argument
that US withdrawal, with Arab state engagement in
Iraq, will lead to more stability. Note that
George Packer in New Yorker dismisses this line
of thought as fantasy. Comments? best, Dick

Very apt queries, and very important to answer.

The biggest issue is #1, and I have tried to
address it in many different ways, because it is
the key reason why people are reluctant to call
for withdrawal. Their reluctance is based on a
genuine concern for what might happen in Iraq,
and even on the realization that the Americans
have caused this horrible civil war.

But this image, as plausible as it appears, is
simply wrong. I have argued this point at some
length in my recent commentary, “The Myth of
More,” and the rebuttal can be stated very
succinctly: our troops are creating the
slaughter, not limiting it. We are creating it
with our offensives that plow through cities,
using air strikes and artillery and tanks to blow
away homes and neighborhoods, and systematically
invading houses and killing or arresting the men
in them. (This has probably, by itself, accounted
for more than half of the 600,000 deaths so far).
We are creating it by driving the militias who
protect cities from criminals and outside
invaders underground, and making the cities
vulnerable to invasion by suicide bombers (Shia
cities) and death squads (Sunni cities). And we
are creating it by creating lawlessness that
encourages both criminals and motivates residents
to seek revenge, which they then undertake with
desperate acts like death squads (Shia against
Sunni) and suicide bombs (Sunni against Shia).

George Packer, in an otherwise excellent article
in the New Yorker falls for the beguiling logic
that the US must stay to limit the damage. After
skewering all of the half measures advocated by
Democrats and other Washington critics of the
war, he backs off of advocating withdrawal with
this comment:

“But it is also true that wherever American troop
levels have been reduced-in Falluja and Mosul in
2004, in Tal Afar in 2005, in Baghdad in
2006-security has deteriorated. In the absence of
adequate and impartial Iraqi forces, Sunni
insurgents or Shiite militias have filled the
power vacuum with a reign of terror. An American
withdrawal could produce the same result on a
vast scale.”

The simple refutation of his argument is that he
is exactly wrong: in each and every one of these
cities there was dramatically less violence
before the US came, went way up when the US tried
to conquer the town (often successfully) and
dropped again after it left and the insurgents
took over again (when it has left). The horrible
violence took place exactly while the US was

For the situation in Falluja, see Nir Rosen’s
brilliant articles based on his living there
while the insurgency dominated the town between
the April and November attacks by the US. It was
the most peaceful time since the fall of Saddam,
for a very simple reason. The insurgent militia
was the police force, under the control of local
(fundamentalist) Sunni religious leaders. While
they imposed a very oppressive form of religion,
there was almost no dissent against this regime,
and certainly no violent resistance. This is not
a regime I can get excited about, but it
certainly was not a reign of terror for the vast
majority, since they supported it. And the
oppressed minority did not mount any significant
resistance. When the US arrived in November,
they destroyed the town completely. Since then
they have run it as a prison with checkpoints to
get in and out, and identity cards with retinal
scans needed to enter the city. Despite this
severe repression, fighting has renewed as people
have returned. Residents of the city have
registered 300 claims against the American army
for shooting civilians, and there are daily
battles. These will certainly continue until the
US leaves, and the insurgents once again
demobilize or expel the Iraqi army and police
that have been part of the occupation.

In 2004 Mosul was occupied by the Americans and
there was steady warfare. Then, in November, the
US transferred its troops to fight in Falluja,
and the insurgents quickly overthrew the
government the Americans had imposed. There was
with almost no fighting because the virtually all
the Iraqi soldiers application handed over their
guns, voluntarily left, or joined the insurgents.
The only times there has been fighting since then
is when the Americans have periodically tried to
re-impose an outside regime.

Tal Afar was run by the insurgency almost from
the beginning and was a peaceful town except for
a short period in 2004 when the Americans
invaded, briefly held the city, and then left,
leaving devastation in its wake. The insurgents
immediately re-established control and it was
peaceful against until the US came again in 2005.
This time, the ordered everyone to leave except
military age men, who were all suspected of being
insurgents (an assumption that was either correct
or a self fulfilling prophecy). In the ensuring
battle US air power and artillery and tanks
annihilated parts of the city (much like
Falluja), and Shia troops fighting with the
Americans distinguished themselves with their
bloodthirsty brutality. Since then, the US has
occupied Tal Afar with a ferocity that echoes
Falluja and includes an unemployment rate that
approaches 70%, though the control system is not
as rigorous. Fighting has continued and, with
large numbers of American troops there, the
violence is most often US troops triggered when
American soldiers invade homes to arrest or kill
suspected guerrillas and their sympathizers.

For Baghdad in 2006, see my “The Myth of More”
article. The brief story is that there was
plenty of violence in Baghdad, and then the US
came in with full force early this year. Since
then the number of deaths have quadrupled! The
number of insurgent attacks has tripled. The
number of car bombs and IEDs has doubled.

See “The Myth of More” to see why US presence
pours gasoline on the fire, and does not buffer
it at all. In fact, a reduction of US troops
should bring about a reduction of internecine
violence, as well as removing the main source of
violence. I am attaching it, as well as another
commentary that also addresses this question in a
less direct way. If you see ways to add to
either of them, let me know, because I agree with
you that this is the nub of a lot of people’s
doubts about withdrawal.

Now, #2. The answer to this is a complex yes.
The oil is located in the Kurdish north and the
Shia south. So if the country gave these regions
autonomy, the Kurds would be secular and almost
pro American. But the Shia would be indubitably
fundamentalist. If the country stayed together,
we could expect it to be dominated by
fundamentalist Shia who are likely also to be
pro-Iran. But we have lived with Iran
controlled by fundamentalist Islamists for 25
years, and no catastrophe has befallen the supply
of oil. The same would also be true in Iraq.
As the American leadership has been saying right
along (in denying that oil is at the heart of
this war), we can always buy their oil on the
open market. That would not change. And the
alternative…slaughtering hundreds or thousands of
Iraqis in an attempt to control their oil, is
actually the expression of an imperial desire to
steal someone else’s resources, and then use that
control to impose on those people a set of
policies that they detest. In the end this
effort will fail and it will also destroy the
American economy in a much quicker and more
efficient way than buying oil from

Would withdrawal “turn the Middle East over to
anti-western control.” Again the answer is
“yes.” It didn’t have to be “yes,” but now we
have made it so by trying to impose a US client
regime on Iraq. And, in all likelihood, the new
regime would forge an alliance with Iran and
might effectively dominate the Middle East
politics. So the US could face a hostile region.
(Ironically, the US invaded Iraq to bring down
the two regimes that were truly hostile to the
US, and may have created a new reality in which
the whole region is hostile to the US) The fact
is that this is almost certainly inevitable now.
Either the US will accept this result now, or the
US will fight on and achieve exactly the same
result after sacrificing thousands of American
lives, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis, and wrecking the American economy.

And, ironically, the American people should be in
favor of the US facing a hostile Middle East.
We need a multipolar world in which they is no
dominant power. As we have seen since 1990, a
unipolar world gives so much power to the hegemon
that it can use either military or economic
measures to impose policies on the world that
sacrifice precious resources in order to preserve
its own power. The process of imposing these
policies always involves resistance and friction
that ultimately wastes the power and resources of
the hegemon and therefore sacrifices the lives
and the welfare of its citizens. We are already
seeing exactly the process.

A balance of power is the best defense against
such rapacious dominance. Even a balance of
terror would be better than the unipolar world
the Bush Administration is seeking to establish.

Michael Schwartz

Posted in war

3 thoughts on “Answers to common pro-war arguments by Michael Schwarz”

  1. There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

    The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

    How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be – Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

    Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

    From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

    This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

    This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

    We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.


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