Appeasement

We arrested one of Moqtada’s lieutenants.
Nouri al-Maliki made us let him go.
If the government of Iraq lacks the political will to face down its own terrorists, exactly what are we defending?

So our army in Iraq captures a senior Mahdi Army thug. Then Moqtada al-Sadr gets to Nouri al-Maliki, who says we have to let the thug go, which we do.

Of course, we didn’t have much choice, if we wanted to continue to pretend that the al-Maliki government is sovereign. On the other hand, an Administration not so fanatically committed to staying in Iraq until “Iraq is able to sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself” (or until we don’t have any soldiers left, whichever comes first) would have had more bargaining leverage.

“Yes,” we could have said, “of course it’s your country and he’s your citizen, so if you really want us to let the murdering bastard go we will … on our way out the door.” Why should our soldiers shed their blood for a government without the political nerve to fight the terrorists in its own ranks?

But put aside the substance for just a moment. Let’s think about the politics. Imagine, if you will, that the current President were named “Clinton” or “Gore” or “Kerry” instead of “Bush.”

Can’t you just hear the screams from the Republicans and the American Legion and the neo-cons and Fox News and the Washington Times and the talk shows about what a bunch of wimps the Democrats are to let themselves get pushed around by a government that exists only because we keep propping it up?

After all, we would be told, the Mahdi Army has been killing our guys; why should we let one of its leaders loose to kill some more of them? Rush Limbaugh would be demanding, “Who the hell is this Prime Minister Malarkey, and why are we letting him push us around?”

But so far, not a peep from the Right on this, as far as I can see.

Political double standards aren’t exactly news; both sides use them. But this is pretty gross, don’t you think?

Here are the relevant paragraphs from the story in the Lebanon Daily Star.

In another apparent set-back for US forces, Maliki ordered the release of a leading member of Sadr’s political organization who was detained by US troops.

Sadr’s movement said that Sheikh Mazen al-Saeedi, a party precinct captain in Baghdad, was seized by US troops late Monday, but he was released Wednesday and driven back to a Sadr’s office in Baghdad.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “Appeasement”

  1. I agree that Sadr and his guys are thugs. The very term I use for most of the Cheney Administration. Still I'd rather hear more details – not that I expect them in the US press. I don't see the point in issuing condemnations based on limited info.
    The term "appeasement" is always a sign that someone is arguing in bad faith, don't you think?

  2. "Of course, we didn't have much choice, if we wanted to continue to pretend that the al-Maliki government is sovereign."
    I'd be interested to see your definition of "sovereignty". Presumably it's one under which Iraq isn't sovereign, but are the grounds on which it denies that sovereignty so non-contraversial as to justify that "pretend"?

  3. so michael, do you think that Cheney engages in carbombings and murdering his opponents like al sadr does… or is your definition of thug so loose that it means nothing.

  4. The joy of having the world's most technologically advanced military is that car bombs become passe. Why use a car bomb when you can use a million dollar cruise missile?

  5. The joy of having the world's most technologically advanced military is that car bombs become passe. Why use a car bomb when you can use a million dollar cruise missile? Or is it only thuggery when you use coercion on the cheap?

  6. "so michael, do you think that Cheney engages in carbombings and murdering his opponents like al sadr does… or is your definition of thug so loose that it means nothing."
    So, Steve, I expect you will agree then that people who break kneecaps with a bat aren't "thugs" because your definition is so "tight" that it only extends to "carbombings and murdering [political] opponents," a definition so tight it lets almost any criminal off the hook as a "thug."

  7. "so michael, do you think that Cheney engages in carbombings and murdering his opponents like al sadr does… or is your definition of thug so loose that it means nothing."
    So, Steve, I expect you will agree then that people who break kneecaps with a bat aren't "thugs" because your definition is so "tight" that it only extends to "carbombings and murdering [political] opponents," a definition so tight it lets almost any criminal off the hook as a "thug."

  8. Steve:
    If you'll check out the front page of the Washington Times, you'll see that the Administration is openly floating a plan to displace al-Maliki in a coup and substitute a "government of national salvation." You might also notice that Tony Snow announced that the White House was opposed to partition, as opposed to saying that partition was a matter for the Iraqis to decide democratically. As a matter of law, Iraq is sovereign. As a matter of fact, key decisions have to be cleared with the Green Zone, the Pentagon, and the White House.
    Here's the thought-experiment. If Moqtada al-Sadr managed to become Prime Minister and asked us to leave, would we leave? More to the point, would we allow him to become PM in the first place?

  9. Here's a thought experiment: Suppose that the Iraqi government doesn't want to follow your policy preferences, doesn't at this point WANT us to leave? Quite yet? Would there then be any way to distinguish between Iraqi sovereignty, and our "pretense" that they're sovereign? I mean, given that you've just dismissed evidence that contradicted your belief in Iraqi non-sovereignty as pretense, is that belief falsifiable, short of the Iraqi government acting they way YOU want them to?

  10. Brett,
    I'm having a difficult time understanding what you're trying to say. So I'll just point out the areas of confusion:
    From your first post
    1. "…but are the grounds on which it denies that sovereignty so non-contraversial as to justify that 'pretend'?"
    Who or what is the 'it' you refer to? The sentence makes no sense unless you specify the subject.
    From your second post
    2. "Suppose that the Iraqi government doesn't want to follow your policy preferences…"
    And what preferences would these be? By the way, I'm assuming you're refering to Mark here. Still, you might want to make that a little more clear.
    3. "I mean, given that you've just dismissed evidence that contradicted your belief in Iraqi non-sovereignty as pretense, is that belief falsifiable, short of the Iraqi government acting they way YOU want them to?"
    You might as well give me a cubix on this one. I think I'd actually rather take my chances with the cubix. What 'evidence' are you talking about? I don't recall there being any point at which Mark cites nor refutes any evidence. Again, the rest of your sentence makes no sense unless you make it clear what the 'evidence' is and how it relates to what you're trying to say.

  11. Karlos, in the first comment, "it" clearly refers to Mark's definition of sovereignty. If, in a comment consisting of a brief quote and two sentences of my own, you really lost track of the subject, you've got problems…
    My point, to be painfully clear, is that if Mark is going to dismiss as "pretense" any evidence contradicting his belief that Iraq's government isn't sovereign, he is rendering his belief non-falsifiable, and hence meaningless.
    In the hope that his belief does indeed have some real content, I ask that he tell us what would constitute evidence contradicting that belief. And, since Iraqi sovereignty can't reasonably be dependent on the Iraqi government agreeing with Mark as to what is in their best interest, I ask that it be evidence that doesn't require the Iraqi government to agree with Mark's policy preferences.
    For instance, I assume that, were the Iraqi government to tell us to leave, and we left, that would count for Mark as evidence of Iraqi sovereignty. But suppose the Iraqi government doesn't want our troops to leave just yet? How would an Iraqi government that thought our troops should stay a little while longer establish it's sovereignty in Mark's eyes?
    Clear?

  12. At this point, the Iraqi government doesn't seem to be sovereign over most of Iraq, in terms of governing the actions of Iraqis. It's just a shifting collection of militias.

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