Conservatism and Iraq

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine the other night. My friend is a conservative Republican and he admitted to me that he donated to Obama’s campaign. I was really surprised by this and when I pressed him why, he really didn’t have a concrete reason. We began to talk about the differences in the policies between McCain and Obama. We first discussed their differences in domestic policy and my friend pointed out that he didn’t what what conservatives call a “nanny state”. From my view, it seems that conservatives believe that many of our domestic problems are rooted in the value of personal responsibility or lack thereof. If you are not doing well economically, then it is largely due to your not willing to put in the work and dedication it requires to advance economically. I think there is certainly some truth to this, but I tend to lean towards the more liberal or Democratic assessment that much of the reason why folks struggle is because of the lack of opportunities that they have to move forward. You know the saying “The man is keeping me down”…..there is truth to that notion I believe.

What’s fascinating is that when it comes to Iraq, conservatives seem to pull a switch-a-roo in their governing philosophy. The Republican argument is more or less that we need to stay in Iraq and continue to support the Iraqi government in the process of political reconciliation. Conservatives are supporting a more lengthy occupation in Iraq in order to create larger window of opportunity for the Iraqi government. We should remain patient while we spend billions of dollars in order to give Iraq a greater chance for success, even though the Iraqi government has shown very little in the way of political progress. In essence, what conservatives want for our Iraq policy is that we “nanny” them into success.

It’s fascinating that conservatives are willing to sacrifice almost 500 billion dollars, thousands of troop casualties (not to mention those who have been injured) in order to give the Iraqi government more time or more opportunity, rather than commit the necessary funds for a more inclusive healthcare system for it’s own citizens, or better public schools, or college scholarships. If you are an single mom in Michigan who has lost her manufacturing job, then her problem is lack of personal responsibility. But if you are an Iraqi Parliament leader and you’ve failed again and again to create political progress, you just need more opportunity.

I think that even though the issue of the Iraq war is being overshadowed a bit by other issues, it will return front and center in the general election and I think Obama is stronger than McCain on this issue. Obama’s message will resonate while McCain will insist that if you support an exit from Iraq that “you just don’t understand”.

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19 thoughts on “Conservatism and Iraq

  1. I’m not taking sides here, but in the interest of promoting mutual understanding… I think that many conservatives look at their own lives and the lives of those around them and think the single mother actually already has a lot of help while the Iraqi citizens have next to none. They may have grown up in single mother homes themselves and pushed through these hard things or they have helped single mothers in their immediate vicinity.

    By the same token, conservatives could stand to remember (and are slowly?) the strong social network, family help and social benefits that single mothers around them having–something harder to find in many communities and neighborhoods.

    Both conservatives and liberals could stand to remember more often that the other side isn’t uncaring usually. More often they have a different idea of what caring means.

  2. Parke, I don’t think conservatives are uncaring. I just disagree with some of their policies. I readily admit that personal responsibility is very important, as well as equal opportunity. I think parties work towards relevant but also incomplete and partially flawed platforms. We could benefit from learning from each other, working together, etc.

    But saying that if you favor one position that you just inherently don’t understand war or the military is a totally silly position and if that’s McCain’s answer to the Iraq question, then he’s gonna lose on this issue.

  3. Not looking for an argument here just wanted to make a few points.

    As far as the general issue of govt programs. I have family who have been on govt support for literally decades. I’ve struggled seeing them this way and always hated how if you make x amount above the threshold you lose the support. To me that is the other side of The Man(govt) holding you down. I can’t in good faith from what I know(very little)think that more taxes for social programs is the answer. There are at least flaws to it.

    About Iraq I always thought the desire for troops to stay was not only to help the govt but also to protect from a crazy civil war. I know you probably think republicans have already allowed enough killing so whats the difference? But there might be legitimate concern for peace even after we screwed everything up. Just wanted to point out that some conservatives might see it as a logical point rather than just lolly gagging around.

    As far as the 500 billion you mentioned I can’t even begin to comprehend that issue however its a slippery slope to pull the “you could put that money over here”. Even though I see it as a valid point… all administrations(elephants/asses) do the same thing. I mean we could say the same thing about Yankee players and CEOs salary’s… that go to a single individuals!

    And just because John McCain tells someone they don’t understand may be bad politically speaking but it doesn’t make it not true. haha that was taking logic too

    man you should install the comment notifier plugin so when you reply to comments people get emails. otherwise commentors might forget to check back. πŸ˜‰

  4. randy, thanks for the comment. I would agree with you government programs aren’t perfect and that they can sometimes have negative consequences. I’m not saying one approach is all good and the other all bad. I’m suggesting that both can be right and it takes leaders who are willing to rise above the politics of both in order find solutions that can integrate rather than divide.

    as far as your comment about iraq, i think the sectarian tensions in that region that would lead to civil war have been very strong for many, many years. in the end, these sects will need to learn how to coexist on their own. right now, us being there is making these tensions worse. our presence limits the violence to a certain extent, but it will NEVER root out the division in that part of the world. also, right now we are actually aiding sunnis in order to strengthen their opposition to the shias. Does that sound like we are helping avoid those kinds of tensions? Like I said before, we have a terrible track record of climbing into bed with all different shady characters and we seem to not be learning from our mistakes. we supported osama bin laden when afghanistan is being invaded by russia. we supported saddam hussein in his conflict with Iran. we continually make things worse for ourselves and I’m hoping new leadership can begin to turn things around somehow for the better.

    And I don’t really care about the Yankees or CEO’s because my tax dollars don’t pay their salaries. That’s a totally false analogy.

    John McCain’s comment assumes that if you disagree with his military strategy then you don’t understand the military. That is completely illogical. There are many, many individuals who are considered military and foreign policy experts that totally disagree with his Iraq policy. John McCain could use a course in logic. Maybe you can be his “logic” advisor. πŸ˜‰

  5. What’s you current view on the involvement in Iraq Zach?

    As ridiculed as it was, the “Surge” (or at least the continued approach) has actually led to a reduction in violence, this has to be a good thing.

    I really think the troop presence provides a degree of security that would not otherwise be there. I really do not think there is an obvious solution to the problem; I think the military commitment may be needed for many more years, with a structured withdrawal. But the sceptic in me fears that much time must pass and significant education needs to occur before religious factions start to lose the hatred and co-exist.

    I just still feel once you’ve disrupted a country in that way, leaving before it has settled down is the worst thing you could do.

    And while I’m here, any chance of having Goodbye Sky Harbo(u)r at the Roundhouse? πŸ™‚

  6. a reduction in violence is a good thing, no doubt, but that does not constitute success in the region. i guess it comes down to whether or not one believes U.S. forces occupying the region is good for the Iraqi people for the long term. If you consider Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Blackwater killings, and our propping up of the Sunnis, I would say that the longer we stay in the region, the more damage we will ultimately cause.

    I would characterize my view to be less concerned with tactical or military improvements and more with how our efforts are perceived by the people in the region. i don’t believe we are helping and it is, for better or for worse, up to the Iraqi people how this will play out. We should be withdrawing our troops in a safe and rational manner in order to allow Iraqis to be responsible for their future.

  7. Well if you class peace as, at least in part, a reduction in violence, then I’d argue that a reduction in violence, at least in part, constitutes success.

    Your use of Abu Graib and other atrocities I find slightly unconvincing; it seems you take these to prove the whole military presence is essentially bad. One could argue that the US police should be disbanded if you look at the amount of wrongdoing they have committed; but it ignores the amount of good they do and the order they bring.

    I also think your assumption that people in the region, particularly those in the areas the US occupy, want the US out is presumptive. I wouldn’t be comfortable on stating that either way.

    I agree entirely with your view that it is ultimately up to the Iraqi people to resolve the situation and indeed from what I’ve heard the Iraqi government is grateful for the support the US military is giving them. Iraq has the potential to be genuinely unstable in the way Afghanistan is and has been; but for the US military it would almost certainly have been in all out civil war at some time if not constantly since ’03.

    I appreciate your point of view, but I fear it is somewhat biased by your distrust of the original invasion. As sad and awful as it is, military intervention can and has actually helped countries. Of course we could talk until the cows come home about the mistakes that have been made in this one (and indeed the whole invasion I believe is still questionable).

  8. J.I.,

    Judging by the last poll I read, most Iraqis want us out immediately. To the tune of over 70%. That’s about the same percentage of Americans who want a time-table established for withdrawal in the next year.

    The surge is not working. Sure, it’s resulted in reduced violence in the urban regions compared to the last 3 years. Meanwhile, oil production is down (which is of paramount importance to a stable Iraqi government) and Iraqi security forces are STILL not being trained. The Iraqi Parliament has only recently begun to even attempt meeting a list of requirements that are frankly bare necessities.

    The truth is, America can not maintain an increased occupation and simultaneously maintain a safe homeland or an escalating war in Afghanistan. Not to mention the billions of dollars that are being spent that could go to our failing infrastructure, schools, health care system, and economy. We absolutely MUST leave immediately.

    Our increased troop levels are unsustainable. Period.

  9. Well I’ll take your word for the poll; I’d also be wary of polls in general, but I’m certainly not going to argue that Iraqis want the US there, because I simply don’t know and I could fully see why they would not.

    As for the idea of “homeland security”, this seems a strange idea to those outside America. Our armed forces (UK) are heavily commited, particularly in Afghanistan, yet there is no argument about the need for them to come home to protect us. Ultimately the US is not under threat of invasion (and hasn’t been in living memory) and the military can do nothing about isolated terrorist attacks. However this idea frequently seems to pop up in US political debate.

    You raise valid concerns and problems, yet I fail to see how withdrawing would train Iraqi security forces any better, or up oil production or “increase the peace”. In fact I honestly believe at least those three things would get significantly worse.

    The argument that its costing the US a lot to be there is valid… but selfish? You worry about how the Middle East would view you, imagine if you pull out too early because you didn’t feel it was worth the investment and the whole area wars for decades? It would be all your (and our) fault. I consider that THE worst possible PR outcome for the US. If troop levels are unsustainable then reduce them, that is quite different from leaving and with a reduction in violence that becomes possible.

    As for your infrastructure etc – Raise taxes! We survive over here with WAY more tax than you guys get. Yeah I know you’d never get elected with that approach!

  10. the bottom line is that in Iraq, the Iraqis need to broker their way to stability, not the US government. the different sects in Iraq will inevitably enter into some kind of civil conflict no matter how long we are there. AND WE ARE MAKING IT WORSE! we are arming one side against the other!

    obviously, you believe that the US is making things better there. yeah, they have been able to improve levels of violence with a troop escalation, but that troop level is not sustainable. they may be making some improvements and there are troops there are really doing some great work for the civilians……but those slight improvements aren’t worth this occupation and we are ultimately trying to hold the hands of the Iraqis towards progress by choosing one side over the other, which has shown itself to be an obstacle to progress. this is in no way a selfish policy stance. it is common sense.

    polls may be suspect, but 70% is pretty telling. and as far as taxes, i don’t disagree with you. we need to raise taxes in order to be an economically responsible nation.

  11. Whether the US occupation is making things better or worse is tricky to assess, and I don’t think its clear cut enough to write in capitals! Despite horror stories like the one’s you’ve mentioned.

    And I feel a degree of hand holding really is the duty of anyone who has invaded a country unless they deliberately tried to conquer it. I appreciate the line must be drawn somewhere though.

    Essentially the points we differ on are:
    1, Whether the invasion was ultimately doomed to bloody failure – You say yes, I’m not sure; and
    2, Whether the ongoing occupation is for the benefit of the country – You say NO (in capitals :p), I’m not sure, given how bad I feel the place could be if the US left. (It appears I sit astride the fence).

    Aside from that I think we are in complete agreement!

    See you at the Roundhouse!

  12. A safe homeland doesn’t necessarily mean having our troops lined up and down our coasts waiting for someone to show up. We are a large landmass that has various natural disasters on a monthly basis that require public servants such as National Guard troops. Right now, over 1/3 of our National Guard is serving in Iraq. The National Guard is integral to our safety in disaster relief, fighting drug trafficking, international law enforcement, air and sea port security, and various other duties that ensure a safe homeland.

    What is the duty of our country in Iraq? Is it only to subside violence? We caused it and our continued presence causes it. Is it to aid in increasing oil production that drives their economy? Oil production is down. Is our duty to aid in security training? Not happening nearly enough to combat al Qaeda. Is our duty to ensure that a government is established? They continue to blatantly drag their feet and even the legislation they pass is superficial at best.

    When do we say enough? When do we say to the Iraqi Parliament ‘use it or lose it’ concerning our military security. The sectarian violence is not going to go away. Someone is going to get screwed in oil revenues, which is really all this is about. How long is this our responsibility? At some point they have to take SOME steps toward democracy. At some point they have to take steps toward repairing THEIR crumbling infrastructure and quell the mass-exodus to the borders. Violence may be down, but the country is in shambles. We’ve given them a chance. The ball has been in their court for 4 years. Yet they continue to harbor petty religious differences that hinder any chance of progress.

    At this point it is far from irresponsible to leave. At some point you have to cut ties. We wouldn’t be the first country to reduce troops, you know. Did the UK cut and run when they reduced their troop levels? Is anyone calling Poland out for pulling out? Japan? Italy? Spain?

    Our responsibility is over.

  13. I take your point about the National Guard and your natural disasters etc. But are there figures on the troop commitment to Iraq in general? I was under the impression it was a few 100,000, a significant part, but not a vast chunk of your military (approx 1.5m). I’m not sure you’re that stretched in numbers; I appreciate the financial burden is significant though.

    But in terms of duty, well you went in, that provides a huge amount of duty, particularly if you care about your standing in the world and region, and furthermore you are the only world superpower, the only country capable of this level of intervention. And I’m sorry nation building is not a 4 year exercise! It would, if you were to police it, take decades of support. Hopefully troop levels could be reduced in the near future.

    As for others leaving Iraq, well lets be honest only the UK had a significant foothold other than the US and Basra is far more stable than Baghdad.

    A model for an imperfect militarily policed peace would be something like Northern Ireland, a place torn apart by sectarian violence, but with a small but constant British military presence (for a long long time, forget thinking 4 years is significant!) it has calmed down. They still have problems, but it is preferrable to saying “let Protestant and Catholic fight it out and see what happens”. I appreciate there are huge differences between the two cases, NI is part of Britain (and thus policing was done by an “in-house” army (NB: terrible mistake disbanding Iraqi army)), NI is FAR smaller than Iraq and the NI population is not as theologically angry as Iraq, so clearly its not a perfect example, but its an example of how military presence can help restore peace in a place of sectarian bloodshed.

    Again my concern is over leaving Iraq in a desperate state, I would not ever argue that life in Iraq is currently good, and I would be wary of arguing that the US presence is overall for the better, I can’t tell either way.

    I fear I am repeating myself here so I should probably stop!

    Quite literally – Peace!

  14. yes…..peace is good. it will be interesting to see how the current presidential race will effect the process in Iraq. If Obama wins the nomination, which he’s on the way to doing, and if he gets elected, we may have some early indications as to how the Iraqi government will react to a new administration.

  15. Yes, quite.

    I do hope Obama does get in, he seems like a born leader and inspirational speaker. It will be interesting if he can deliver something approaching his promise. I also think it will be good for America’s world image to have a mixed race leader who had an Islamicly (!?) sensitive upbringing.

  16. From a few comments back…
    Zach,
    So basically you are saying government help needs to be balanced. Which I as a voter who has historically voted republican would even acknowledge. My general understanding (which could be a little off base i admit) is that democrats will tax me more for their programs. I don’t want democrats telling people how they can best spend their money.

    Your opinion on Iraq is respectable. I just wanted to state that smart people that are being honest can see it differently.

    And while the CEO, Yankees salaries may be a false analogy to you…you may have missed my point… again I was just stating that there is a problem with ideology when people see government as the answer(extreme democrats) when people have in good faith unreasonable amounts of money. I guess you may not see a connection but I see the divide between the poorest and the wealthiest to be like I said unreasonable and part of the problem.

    I was being facetious about the McCain comment but I think you got that. You are entitled to your opinion and I’m not trying to shoot it down. Its just that some people can tend to come off like they know for fact that the politicians they support are honest and trustworthy and that other side is full of malarkey. Which may sometimes be true but can’t always be the case and is why I get so sick of politics. Our messiah has already come and not acting like him is why we have the problems.
    What president has truly come in and unequivocally acted like they said they were… Nobody, (even who you choose) will solve all these problems. I see more hope not in government but in the decentralizing of power through means of technology. Most obvious the internet. Kiva has done more by getting people off their asses and also informing individuals than government handouts.(not to say handouts aren’t necessary but I’d rather error on the side of getting people into action.)

  17. randy, democrats would tax more. they would roll back the bush tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest. i don’t disagree with trying to keep taxes as low as possible. but the harsh reality we face now is that we’ve spent and spent and spent while we’ve cut taxes. our national debt is massive, the US dollar has plummeted (come travel with me in the UK and Europe to see how bad that hurts!) and we are in a terrible economic bind. you may assume that democrats will raise taxes for “their programs” but Bush has and laundry list of his own “programs” such as the Iraq War and out of control ear marks that riddled his term in office. McCain’s “programs” will include an open-ended occupation of Iraq, “more wars”, and sustaining more permanent military bases in the Middle East.

    So the question we must ask ourselves is what kinds of “programs” we want our tax money to fund? do we want health care to be more widely available or do we want to continue to sink money it to foreign occupations that end up mostly benefiting the stockholders of companies like Halliburton and Blackwater at the expense of ruining our reputation around the world.

    We also have to ask ourselves if we are up for sacrificing something as citizens in order to bring our national debt to a more reasonable level. Whether or not we like it, we are at war yet the general civilian population has not been asked to carry the burden in the slightest. We have vets who come back home with terrible health coverage. We have an education system that failing and not proving all kids with equal learning opportunities. We have serious problems and I think it’s time we are asked as a country to pitch in and create a better society. If you feel that John McCain is the one to lead us to solve these problems, then I can respect that. I disagree with it whole-heartedly, but can respect the choice. I am not meaning that Obama or HRC is all good and McCain is all bad. It simply comes down to philosophy and priorities. It’s not about who is going to solve all these problems single handedly, it’s about who will lead and inspire the people of this country to change it’s posture and direction.

  18. No doubt your assessment of current administration is accurate. Bush has over spent and its fair to say many hard nosed conservatives don’t like him for that. I’m not really for either parties programs generally speaking(although I see good in many that you mentioned).
    Oh and I don’t really support McCain. My original point about him was really a facetious comment like I said. Voters like me are stranded to be honest. I actually was so isolated that I was leaning towards Edwards since he was the one that came down on the corporations the hardest…Obama and Clinton just followed.
    As far as Clinton I get scared and as for Obama he apparently has done something to strike a chord.
    Do you think its possible Obama has many great and inspiring ideas but ideas could get tied up in congress and the senate? Thats what some pundit have been saying….oh well I’m rambling…sorry

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