Home > #NewsCorpFail, World Events > Disaster in Iraq foretold: Well, not quite

Disaster in Iraq foretold: Well, not quite

June 14th, 2014

Along with the rest of the neocon crew, Andrew Bolt is blaming the collapse of the Iraqi state on Obama’s withdrawal of US troops in 2011. Exactly how Obama was supposed to repudiate an agreement signed by Bush, and maintain an occupation force against the wishes of the Iraqi government (he tried, but failed to negotiate an extension) is not explained. But, no matter.

At least Bolt and the rest warned us that Iraq was still too fragile to be left on its own, and that an indefinite occupation was needed. Well not exactly. Here he is in 2009, gloating over the fact that Obama was going slow on withdrawal and thereby disappointing his supporters. That could be read either way, I guess, but there’s no warning that Bush’s timetable needed changing.

More striking is this piece from 2007, claiming that “the war has been won“. Here’s what he has to say about future prospects

Violence is falling fast. Al Qaida has been crippled.

The Shiites, Kurds and Marsh Arabs no longer face genocide.

What’s more, the country has stayed unified. The majority now rules.

Despite that, minority Sunni leaders are co-operating in government with Shiite ones.

There is no civil war. The Kurds have not broken away. Iran has not turned Iraq into its puppet.

And the country’s institutions are getting stronger. The Iraqi army is now at full strength, at least in numbers.

The country has a vigorous media. A democratic constitution has been adopted and backed by a popular vote.

Election after election has Iraqis turning up in their millions.

Add it all up. Iraq not only remains a democracy, but shows no sign of collapse.

If I were an American reading that, I would have said it was time to bring the boys and girls home, as Bush agreed to do in October 2008.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, World Events Tags:
  1. Midrash
    June 14th, 2014 at 17:48 | #1

    Its just a question of who you dislike most amongst all the people who said silly things, or at least more than the could possibly know (even if they had been right) on the Iraq war. Start with Kevin Rudd and Richard Butler on WMDs!
    Bolt probably went to hear General Jim Molan [?m] (who seems to have done an excellent job keeping the peace – appointed by the US C-in-C during the first elections).
    He would have given a very upbeat account of American staff planning and forces like the Rangers. And given the success, for a while, of getting Sunnis to resist the insurgents, and the first glimmerings of conventional coalition building in politics there was something for outside optimists who felt compelled to express opinions to go on.
    But I side entirely with the realists. If the US and the egregious Tony Blair had, in some way out hypothetical, known what they were about and, contrary to fact, had the economic and military strength and political stamina [I'm plagiarising here a shrewdly dispassionate Australian politician at the time] the enterprise might have been supportable. Similar realism saw that the one person who really needed EVERYONE to believe in the WMDs was Saddam Hussein! (OK not Hans Blix).
    Howard’s crime was not to really support the American ally as he needed to in order to impress. We lost one soldier in Iraq. He shot himself in his bunk room.

  2. June 14th, 2014 at 18:12 | #2

    As one of the 200,000 people who marched in Melbourne in 2003 against this war, what can I say? It was a crap idea then, it still is.

    War is a crap idea, but this one was a particularly crap idea. What do we have an international criminal court for, if not the Saddam Husseins of this world?

  3. Megan
    June 14th, 2014 at 18:32 | #3

    Please, no links to News Ltd. Ever.

    It lends undeserved credibility (and lucrative ‘clicks’), even when being used to criticise or illustrate their – ubiquitous – lies, distortions and fabrications.

    Linking to other websites is an accepted courtesy amongst civilised people, but one that News Ltd doesn’t deserve – being neither civilised nor extending that courtesy unless they wish to send flying attack monkeys who might lose their way if forced to use a search engine.

    Didn’t JQ have such a policy position once?

  4. June 14th, 2014 at 18:33 | #4

    Someone I knew used to say a quote which went something like “it gives me sharp, but sweet delight/to think how often I was right/ how often, and alas, how long/ the world persists in being wrong”
    I can’t find it anywhere! Does anyone know it? It sounds like Ogden Nash maybe.

  5. Sancho
    June 14th, 2014 at 19:26 | #5

    A line from Hunter at Daily Kos is the best summary I’ve read so far of the right’s reaction to this:

    You can’t even mock that—the smugness, the self-satisfaction, the absolute assurance that blowing the holy hell out of a country entirely unrelated to 9/11 because Suck On This was a genius plan that would never, ever go wrong or have longer-term consequences.

    Humans have been going to war longer than we’ve been eating food, and yet the entirely predictable outcome of terrible warfare decisions always comes as a surprise to those who made them.

  6. John Quiggin
    June 14th, 2014 at 19:32 | #6


    I don’t link to current News Corp publications, but if I’m making an archival point like this, I think it’s necessary to document the quote and show it’s not out of context

  7. J-D
    June 14th, 2014 at 19:58 | #7

    No, your initial statement is incorrect: it is not just a question of who you dislike most amongst all the people who said silly things.

  8. alfred venison
    June 14th, 2014 at 20:49 | #8

    one outcome of this is that the obama administration will almost certainly approve the keystone pipeline in the name of energy security. -a.v.

  9. Midrash
    June 14th, 2014 at 21:09 | #9

    So what is your criterion for choosing for ridicule a selection of a person’s erroneous statements about the Iraq war rather than any of the many other erroneous utterances or writings of thousands of people, many much weightier than Bolt, and politically right across the conventional left-right spectrum?

  10. Megan
    June 14th, 2014 at 21:13 | #10

    @John Quiggin

    I think it’s necessary to document the quote and show it’s not out of context

    I respectfully disagree and restate my original point.

    If there was ever an accusation or argument presented about accuracy or context, that could be dealt with on its own merits.

    News Ltd has quite an acuity with its memory hole when it likes, anyway. So a simple “cut’n'paste” into a document kept safely with a copy of the original link would be even better protection in case of dispute.

  11. Midrash
    June 14th, 2014 at 21:22 | #11

    Thanks for the nice quote. Strange that none of the combination of words I’ve tried in Google discovers a source. Please let us know if you find where it’s from. Likewise the origins of this which you might enjoy:

    Oh what a tangle web we weave
    When once we practise to deceive [traditional from somewhere]
    But you can handle it with ease
    When you have practised it for years

  12. Midrash
    June 14th, 2014 at 21:23 | #12

    ..tangled web….

  13. Sancho
    June 14th, 2014 at 22:47 | #13

    Midrash is rehearsing an argument that’s going to become annoyingly common, which is, “Hey, this lefty and this lefty and this lefty also supported the invasion, so it was bad judgement and bad luck all round. Let’s stop trying to place blame”.

    It’s convenient, because by shouting about Kevin Rudd and Christopher Hitchens non-stop, you can try to obscure the fact that almost the entire progressive movement accurately predicted this outcome, while almost the entire conservative movement went in without a second thought.

  14. June 14th, 2014 at 22:56 | #14

    While not knowing much about Iraq, it does seem that allowing the Syrian conflict to fester has had a role in the rise of ISIS.

  15. alfred venison
    June 14th, 2014 at 23:21 | #15

    have you guys read the guardian. iran has sent troops in to fight isis with apparent usa support. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/14/iran-iraq-isis-fight-militants-nouri-maliki -a.v.

  16. faust
    June 14th, 2014 at 23:26 | #16

    Sure the war could have been “won” but the invasion opened the Pandora’s Box of sectarian strife. There are people whose insight on Mid East policy dictates that they are a “must read” but Bolt isn’t one of them.

  17. Bernard J.
    June 15th, 2014 at 00:45 | #17

    @John Quiggin

    Perhaps you could consider what I’ve encouraged other commentators do, which is to use archive.today or Webcite to archive the pages. It’s useful for when tracks are later attemtped to be hidden, as well as preventing unnecessary counts being handed over to undesirable sites.

  18. Megan
    June 15th, 2014 at 00:56 | #18

    Rupert Murdoch is, arguably, directly responsible for the deaths of about 1 million Iraqis under the US/UK/Aus illegal invasion.

    Without his propaganda it probably wouldn’t have happened.

    Without his near monopoly control of our news media, it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened.

    This is not just Bush/Blair/Howard’s war, but far more importantly Rupert Murdoch’s.

    The Nazi propagandists were also tried at Nuremburg. Bolt and Murdoch should remember that.

  19. June 15th, 2014 at 07:28 | #19

    Further to Megan’s and Bernard J’s comments, which I support, I don’t think the ‘do not link’ site has been mentioned?

    It allows you to cite internet locations without increasing ‘clicks’ for them.


  20. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 09:01 | #20


    I don’t know the reason John Quiggin chose Andrew Bolt’s statements over others as the target of his ridicule. Maybe it is just because he dislikes Andrew Bolt more. Is that a bad reason? It seems like an adequate reason to me. I can’t think of any reason why John Quiggin should not dislike Andrew Bolt.

    If you were choosing somebody’s statements about the Iraq war as a target for ridicule, what would be your criterion of choice?

  21. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 09:07 | #21

    ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave
    ‘When first we practise to deceive’
    is not a traditional anonymous quotation, but comes from Walter Scott’s Marmion.

    Your second couplet I do not recognise, but JR Pope wrote in A Word Of Encouragement
    ‘But when we’ve practised quite a while
    ‘How vastly we improve our style’

  22. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 09:16 | #22

    More precisely, Hans Fritzsche, head of the radio division of the Propaganda Ministry, was a defendant at the trial of major German war criminals, but was acquitted, He was regarded by commentators as the least important of the defendants and there was speculation that the only reason he had been included in the indictment was because the head of the Ministry as a whole (Joseph Goebbels) was already dead. However, if Goebbels had still been alive, it is hard to see how he could have escaped indictment, conviction, and execution.

  23. Lt. Fred
    June 15th, 2014 at 10:48 | #23

    Two points:

    First, a question: where did Andrew Bolt stand on the Iraqi Surge/”Sunni Awakening” strategy? It has entered mythology as a magnificent success, building David Petraeus’ reputation as the military genius man-on-a-horse problem solver that he’s been dining out on for the last eight years. And yet, in large part, that strategy is responsible for the effectiveness of the recent Sunni offensive. When you bribe people not to shoot you, they will perhaps start against once you stop paying them, particularly if you’re bribing them with firearms.

    Secondly: I would like to see the two major strategic minds of our generation, Bob Brown and Andrew Bartlett, on the Sunday shows to discuss these new developments. This might seem like a strange choice, but it isn’t if we accept that a Strategic Mind must 1) have parliamentary experience and 2) not be a complete moron. Literally everyone else, it seems to me, totally whiffed Iraq 2, invalidating their views on the Middle East forever. Throw Andrew Wilkie in for fun. Why talk to anyone else?

  24. Megan
    June 15th, 2014 at 11:04 | #24

    The publisher of Der Sturmer, Julius Streicher, was found guilty and sentenced to death.

  25. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 11:31 | #25

    Megan :
    The publisher of Der Sturmer, Julius Streicher, was found guilty and sentenced to death.

    Sorry. Of course you’re right about that.

    I thought of Fritzsche first because he did hold an official post at the Propaganda Ministry during the war, whereas Streicher held no official post during the war.

    I could say a good deal more about Streicher’s status, but it doesn’t seem worth it (although I am intrigued by having just read on Wikipedia that Fritzsche’s case was helped at Nuremberg by evidence of his having twice tried to stop publication of Streicher’s newspaper).

    I will, however, point out that even if we describe Streicher as ‘a Nazi propagandist’, we can’t describe him as ‘the Nazi propagandists’.

  26. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 11:35 | #26

    @Lt. Fred
    Only people with parliamentary experience qualify for consideration as ‘strategic minds’?

    So not John Monash, for example? (I hesitate to nominate a contemporary equivalent.)

  27. Megan
    June 15th, 2014 at 12:14 | #27


    If I said: “today is Sunday” I fully expect that you would point out that, at this very moment, it is Saturday in certain places.

    I neither know nor care what makes you this way.

    In 1921 Streicher joined the Nazi party. He was one of Hitler’s closest confidantes and held several high offices. In 1940, under pressure from other sections of the Nazi organisation (over his excesses) he was stripped of office but remained close to Hitler.

    He was one of “the Nazi propagandists”.

  28. ChrisH
    June 15th, 2014 at 12:31 | #28

    Why should JQ deal with Bolt’s record rather than anyone else’s?

    Well, Bolt is one of the loudest mouths for the proposition that, somehow, Obama is responsible for current events in Iraq. He isn’t the only one: but he is one of the most favoured by our current Commonwealth government.

    And as JQ shows his past claims about Iraq are comprehensively inconsistent with saying, now, that Obama was wrong to implement his predecessor’s withdrawal strategy.

    If Abbott commits Australian troops to renewed intervention in Iraq he will do so with Bolt’s cover: and of course with Murdoch’s. Now is a good time to remind people of how threadbare that cover is.

  29. Fran Barlow
    June 15th, 2014 at 12:41 | #29


    Always thought the tangled web aphorism was Walter Scott.

  30. Fran Barlow
    June 15th, 2014 at 12:43 | #30
  31. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 12:49 | #31

    I don’t know what makes you the way you are either, so we’re even there. There is a distinction, though, in that I am curious about what makes you the way you are. There are plenty of things I am much more curious about, though.

  32. Ikonoclast
    June 15th, 2014 at 13:45 | #32

    Bolt the Dolt! It is amazing he can be so wrong and yet feel no shame. Right from the start of GW2 I said the WMD accusation was trumped up and that the invasion would be a costly failure. Right on both counts! Actually, one did not have to be particularly clever or prescient to make such predictions. It was all very obvious (the propaganda and the coming debacle) from day 1.

    If otherwise intelligent people (not Dolt tho as Dolt is not intelligent) could not see the obvious it must have been ideology blinding them.

  33. Tony Lynch
    June 15th, 2014 at 13:53 | #33

    Is a midrash where I think it is?

  34. Megan
    June 15th, 2014 at 15:03 | #34

    War criminal Tony Blair is on script:

    “By all means argue about the wisdom of earlier decisions. But it is the decisions now that will matter,” he wrote.

    “The choices are all pretty ugly, it is true. But for three years we have watched Syria descend into the abyss and as it is going down, it is slowly but surely wrapping its cords around us pulling us down with it.

    “We have to put aside the differences of the past and act now to save the future. Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force.”

    He is still dangerous and deluded.

  35. Lt. Fred
    June 15th, 2014 at 15:12 | #35

    I guess you might include a general on the panel, @J-D though our only notable one is currently obliged not to give his opinion on things. Jim Molan is disqualified under section B.

  36. Midrash
    June 15th, 2014 at 16:19 | #36


    @Fran Barlow

    Thanks to both for reminding me of Scott. I just tossed in “traditional” when I sensed that someone might come back and point out unnecessarily that the first two lines didn’t need my question.

    And thank you for a better pair of additional lines. The false rhyme of “ease” and “years” has always grated. (I’m told BTW that they
    are known as “the Vice-Chancellor’s corollary”.

    As I didn’t support the Bush-Blair folly (but quite admired Howard for getting only one soldier killed – and him by his own hand) I accept that many people got all sorts of things wrong and your “progressives” were not necessarily on the right side for reasons that could be regarded as well-informed rather than based on an ideology which gets things right sometimes – like the clock that is stopped at 2300 hours. As to the “conservative movement” if you just mean the neo-cons there is no argument, but you would have to argue the case for tarring all articulate people of conservative disposition with that brush. Consider in America for example the founders of The American Conservative and in Australia the editor of The Spectator (Australia) Tom Switzer.

  37. J-D
    June 15th, 2014 at 16:47 | #37

    Tony Lynch :
    Is a midrash where I think it is?

    ‘Midrash’ means a traditional Jewish story expanding on something from the (Jewish) Bible, or a compilation of such stories.

  38. Tim Niven
    June 15th, 2014 at 17:01 | #38


    It’s a question I’ve certainly wondered about: I knew plenty of very intelligent people who bought Iraq 2, and yeah I think worldview is definitely a part, although the same people (and one in particular) are also intelligent enough to think outside their worldview in very surprising and encouraging ways.

    And so I point the finger squarely at the media. And at the media habits of otherwise intelligent people. If you have to make a judgment about an important issue such as a war being drummed up, you will fare very poorly if your only source of “evidence” informing that judgment is the corporate media (especially the Murdoch media in Australia obviously). Doesn’t matter how smart you are, your best chance at a good judgment is dumb luck with such a terrible base of information. Same goes for Climate Change matters – the very same people I have in mind are wont to cite detailed analysis they read in The Australian to argue sea levels rising are no danger – and when I ask “OK but what did the scientists involved have to say in response to those points” a sudden embarrassed silence ensues. The fact is I think it’s probably very hard work to stay abreast of things and your favourite periodical probably provides a nice way to stop thinking so hard and just believe something comfortable.

  39. Ikonoclast
    June 15th, 2014 at 17:23 | #39

    @Tim Niven

    I stopped buying newspapers years ago. I watch a bit of TV news but I am highly sceptical of everything I hear on the TV news. I read several alternative news sources and comment sources on the internet. It really isn’t that hard to escape the MSM and get other news.

    Whenever a politician, of any stripe, talks on any news, I ignore him/her. I simply assume they are ALWAYS lying or spouting utter unfounded nonsense . I would say that 99% of the time this turns out to be correct.

  40. Patrickb
    June 15th, 2014 at 17:34 | #40

    I think this was an attempt at humour, quite a successful one if you ask me.

  41. Tim Niven
    June 15th, 2014 at 17:45 | #41


    I’m glad you don’t support the Murdochracy. Certainly scepticism is a good starting point – as for wars, it’s worth bearing in mind the typical chasm between the reasons told to the public and the real reasons. Still, I think sometimes in the corporate media in the straight news sections there is important information worth catching. But the commentary is truly bizarre, a genuine cultural curiosity – but still worth taking in their point of view if only to know what it is. As John Mill said, if you only know your side of the argument you don’t know much of that.

    Sadly the fact is many people still do get their infotainment diet from the corporate media. Which is of course one good reason for John to be targeting Blot (as someone already mentioned). And I think if people of a less warm and fuzzy “we’re the good guys” worldview can be cajoling and provide some cognitive dissonance to the kinds of intelligent and well-meaning people who don’t try so hard to inform themselves about these matters, then we can have an impact on them, slowly and gradually however. So thanks again, John.

  42. Ken Lovell
    June 15th, 2014 at 21:29 | #42

    “it does seem that allowing the Syrian conflict to fester has had a role in the rise of ISIS”

    This is the kind of profound observation that has become pervasive on anti-Obama websites. The unspoken premise is that Obama could somehow have ended “the Syrian conflict” (perhaps by using some of his Kenyan witch-doctoring skills); being a slackarse he “allowed the conflict to fester” (i.e. he didn’t wave a magic wand to end a civil war on the other side of the world) and thus he is responsible for … well everything bad, basically.

    The amazing thing is that conservatives themselves have no shared ideas about foreign policy. None. They flatly contradict each other constantly. For example the Syrian civil war that Brookes refers to has generated conservative demands for everything from “keep a balance of power so the savages all kill each other” to “support the good rebels but not the bad ones” to “will nobody think of the Christians?” (whose only protector in Syria happens to be Assad). Yet remarkably, they don’t seem to feel that this is a problem. Total policy incoherence on their own part does not, apparently, detract from from the point that whatever Obama did, is doing or might possibly do at some time in the future, it’s wrong wrong wrong.

    href=”#comment-236029″>@John Brookes

  43. Midrash
    June 15th, 2014 at 23:55 | #43

    That ‘s some algorithm that catches us out before JQ releases our precious prose on the wider world. I have a post awaiting moderation which starts off with @ J-D and @ Fran Barlow and expresses thanks for the literary heads-up. Then @ Sancho in the same post I refer to the Bush-Blair folly. Oh dear!

  44. Megan
    June 16th, 2014 at 00:18 | #44


    For a genius, you’re pretty slow on the uptake.

    Don’t put any links in your comment and never try to reply to more than one comment at a time.

    And don’t forget to wipe.

  45. jrkrideau
    June 16th, 2014 at 00:38 | #45

    I’m not sure if he’s still dangerous but Tony Blair sounded very deluded this morning as I listened to him on CBC radio this morning.

    In contrast there was an interview on CBC radio some time this week with two retired US Army officers (One a Lt. General who, it sounded like, commanded the US pull-out from Iraq in 2011 and a Colonel who was David Pretarous’ (sp?) Operations officer.

    In the final roundup the Colonel described the original Iraqi invasion as a strategic disaster and the 2011 pull-out as a strategic disaster. hummn.

  46. Ikonoclast
    June 16th, 2014 at 07:00 | #46

    As Megan pointed out in earlier threads, the US ran arms to the Syrian rebels. Now they are surprised when insurgents bristling with arms invade north Iraq? The bottom line here is that Iraq’s borders were imposed by Britain, France and Italy in 1920 via the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. Like most of the rest of the Middle East borders, these borders are an artifact of colonial history.

    These countries are not stable or coalesced countries in the sense of being coherent polities united by history, language, common ties and common purpose. Of course, it is difficult to define what a “natural” country is. But the proof is in the pudding. If you can hold it together peacefully for a long time, say a century, without outside interference, even after a civil war, then it probably is a country.

    The West should stop interfering in the Middle East and stop running guns there. Of course, it won’t. There are two issues which guarantee the West will keep interfering, oil and Israel. One wonders what happens when the oil substantially runs out. Most liekely the Middle East will become a forgotten backwater. If fundamentalist religion (anti-education and anti-science) takes hold this will accelerate the decline of the Middle East back to medieval conditions.

  47. Collin Street
    June 16th, 2014 at 07:31 | #47

    > And at the media habits of otherwise intelligent people.

    Proof of the pudding here is in making the right decisions given the information to hand. The key facts — the ever-shifting reasons, the understaffing of the invasion, the poor post-invasion planning, blix’s inability to find any hint of wmds, etc — were not unreported.

    At the end of the day, if you need the important facts pointed out to you explicitly it’s not you doing the thinking, really. Join-the-dots isn’t drawing.

  48. Fran Barlow
    June 16th, 2014 at 09:37 | #48


    The latter was probably Scowcroft.

  49. Tim Niven
    June 16th, 2014 at 09:48 | #49

    @Collin Street

    A very good point, thanks.

    Although the media still have ways of presenting the facts in a biased way – which seem to exploit our inherent cognitive deficiencies when we’re being lazy – which it seems we often are.

    I’ve been caught out before reading stuff I’m inclined to agree with and not being switched on enough. And I hate that experience and try to do better. And so I find the best cure is a broad range of info for a rich source of competing claims. But I feat I may be unusual.

  50. June 16th, 2014 at 11:08 | #50

    Excuse diversion but Prof Q if you are reading this I wonder if we could have another Monday message board? I have just become aware of a previous comment by Midrash (held up in moderation, on a thread now closed), to which I’d like to respond, not to get into a stoush with Midrash, but because it raises some interesting questions.

    Basically Midrash accused me and some others of being lonely souls who just like to go on the internet to express our inferior opinions. However I think there are much more complex and interesting issues behind this, some of which were recently discussed in a post on Crooked Timber http://crookedtimber.org/2014/06/14/my-dirty-little-secret-i-ride-the-rails-to-read/

    The question discussed there, of whether participating on the net conflicts with or reduces our capacity for sustained solitary pursuits like reading (or writing), is very interesting I think, and I wondered if others here also had thoughts on it. (I’m aware in suggesting this that’s it’s also another opportunity for me to divert myself from my thesis, so maybe it’s better for me if Prof Q doesn’t see this! Only I was hoping it might be therapeutic to discuss the problem with others.)

  51. Uncle Milton
    June 16th, 2014 at 11:16 | #51

    Posts like this imply that Bolt is a serious commentator who it is important to smack down when he is wrong. But Bolt is just a polemicist. Of course what he is says is rubbish. He writes to tickle the prejudices of his readers. You might as well point to things Ian Paisley has said over the years about the Popes.

  52. June 16th, 2014 at 13:23 | #52

    @Ken Lovell

    I was definitely not having a go at Obama over Syria. Rather at Russia and China for blocking any action until the damage was done.

    It really is amazing how Russia blocks UN action on Syria, but then just wades into the Ukraine without any approval from anyone…

  53. Uncle Milton
    June 16th, 2014 at 14:30 | #53

    Much more interesting than Bolt was Tony Blair’s delusional, if not outright deranged, contribution on the weekend that said that the current situation is not directly linked to the 2003 invasion.

    It read like a parody, but Blair was serious. He actually believes his own bull-droppings.

    History will not treat Blair kindly.

  54. J-D
    June 16th, 2014 at 15:20 | #54

    It is hard to define what a ‘natural’ country is because there aren’t any. An explanation of the problems of Iraq that says ‘all this happened because somebody drew arbitrary lines on a map’ is obviously wrong, because people drawing arbitrary lines on maps is the normal, natural way that countries get borders, and the normal, natural, predictable result of that is that some people find themselves inside a country that they didn’t particularly want to be a part of, but it doesn’t always lead to the kind of conflict we’re now seeing in Iraq. If there are going to be countries with borders, then people are going to have to draw arbitrary lines on maps. The only alternative is not to have countries with borders at all. More specifically, laying blame on the people who drew the current borders of Iraq is dubious if you can make no suggestions about how they could have done better.

  55. Jim Birch
    June 16th, 2014 at 15:22 | #55

    The Congressional Research Service recently estimated total US expenditure in Iraq from 2003 to 2014 at $57,184,400,000. Not a lot of positives to show for a significant chunk of money, military contractors excepted.

  56. Uncle Milton
    June 16th, 2014 at 15:29 | #56

    @Jim Birch

    57 billion here, 57 billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

  57. Megan
    June 16th, 2014 at 16:45 | #57

    @Jim Birch

    I’ve seen estimates more in the range of trillions??

    CRS isn’t publicly available but some reports are on the web. I found one from 2005 that put it at $192 billion to end of FY2005.

    Lies, damn lies and statistics.

  58. Lt. Fred
    June 16th, 2014 at 17:28 | #58

    Part of the problem, as Joseph Stiglitz writes, is that the US government has deliberately not accounted for the war honestly. He tries very hard (in Stiglitz, 2008) to beat the numbers into a form that will give a proper bottom-line, and comes up with about Three Trillion dollars, as a conservative estimate. Though he does also include future liabilities incurred through the war, like wrecked equipment and wounded soldiers


  59. Collin Street
    June 16th, 2014 at 18:12 | #59

    > Not a lot of positives to show for a significant chunk of money,

    It’s probably worth pointing out that this is the project the US sunk its national pension funds into, effectively. No wonder the US has a “debt” crisis.

  60. Ikonoclast
    June 16th, 2014 at 19:23 | #60

    A new study from Harvard puts all to date and future costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars at US$ 6 trillion or US$ 75,000 for every household in the USA.

    See the telegraph UK site.

  61. Doug
    June 16th, 2014 at 19:29 | #61

    Drawing borders in the case of Iraq had little to do with what the people on the ground wanted – it had more to do with great power rivalry and spheres of influence rather than local realities or interests.

  62. zoot
    June 16th, 2014 at 20:05 | #62

    If there are going to be countries with borders, then people are going to have to draw arbitrary lines on maps.

    Why do they have to be arbitrary? Can’t they be drawn in consultation with the populace who will be affected? I know it’s a bit airy fairy and democratic, but did anybody ever try?

    More specifically, laying blame on the people who drew the current borders of Iraq is dubious if you can make no suggestions about how they could have done better.

    Just off the top of my head they could have given the Kurds one contiguous area and avoided a lot of 20th century heartache.

  63. Collin Street
    June 16th, 2014 at 21:42 | #63

    Hrm. Is it better to be a member of a 30% minority or a 10% one?

  64. alfred venison
    June 16th, 2014 at 21:43 | #64

    neither iran nor turkey have been willing in the past to countenance giving up any sovereign national territory to found a kurdish state. there is no reason for them to become willing to in the present circumstance.

    I’m not sure if people are aware, and i’m no expert (but i studied under dreher, r.e. at sydney uni) but there is not one kurdish language. there are three main dialects and these are mutually unintelligible, except to people determined to be bilingual. this is a present practical problem for the kurdish parliament in exile (an organisation formed in 1995, and which has, not surprisingly, adopted a tricolor for its flag). surveys of kurdish literature start three times, once for each dialect, also anthologies. each dialect is heavily endowed with loan words and – depending on where it is spoken (and who they carried trade for in pre-modern times, located as they have historically been, along trade route intersections) – these loan words originate from turkish or persian or arabic.

    there are good reasons why a kurdish state was not formed after ww1 & remains problematic today. -a.v.

  65. Megan
    June 16th, 2014 at 22:08 | #65

    ‘Brown University’ in the US runs “costsofwar.org”.

    Their home page currently contains this:

    •The US federal price tag for the Iraq war — including an estimate for veterans’ medical and disability costs into the future — is about $2.2 trillion dollars. The cost for both Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan is going to be close to $4 trillion, not including future interest costs on borrowing for the wars. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet.

    They also mention about 7.5 millions permanently displaced people (never mind the millions of dead), but Morrison was up in parliament today crowing to a silent ‘opposition’ that he had ‘stopped the boats’.

    The ALP’s argument is that, no, it was their cruel and inhumane policies that ‘stopped the boats’.

    Tomorrow (Tuesday) the ALP caucus is going to re-affirm its dedication to cruel and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. Pay close attention to a group calling itself “Labor 4 Refugees” as this develops. They are guaranteed to silently buckle under – proving yet again that there is no reason for any decent and fair-minded person to advocate support for the ALP on any issue traditionally within the ‘Labor’ remit.

  66. rog
    June 16th, 2014 at 23:14 | #66

    @Collin Street

    > Not a lot of positives to show for a significant chunk of money<

    It should be pointed out that the same political ideologues also preach national thrift and economic austerity.

  67. J-D
    June 16th, 2014 at 23:23 | #67


    After the First World War, there was a series of plebiscites conducted in different parts of Europe to determine where particular boundaries should be drawn, but these still produced borders with minorities living on both sides of them who had voted the other way — that is, to give just one illustrative, people left living in Denmark who had voted to be part of Germany and people left living in Germany who had voted to be part of Denmark.

    Creating a contiguous area with only Kurds living inside it and no Kurds living outside it would mean forcing large numbers of people out of their homes: Kurds living outside that area and others living inside it.

    The 1920 Treaty of Sevres — the one Ikonoclast blamed for the present troubles — did provide for part of what is now Turkey to become an autonomous Kurdish region with the right to claim full independence (and the right of the Kurdish region of Iraq to adhere to it); this provision was dropped by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne because the Turkish nationalists were prepared to resist it and nobody was prepared to fight them to enforce it. Note, however, that even if such an independent Kurdistan had been created, the Kurds of Iran would still have been left outside it: the treaty-makers after the First World War had no legal power to interfere with Iran’s borders.

  68. J-D
    June 16th, 2014 at 23:24 | #68


    That makes it sound as if the Iraqi case was exceptional. It wasn’t. That description of how the Iraqi borders were drawn is a description of how borders are usually drawn.

  69. alfred venison
    June 17th, 2014 at 08:19 | #69

    @J-D but they conducted plebiscites in europe, as you said, in the wake of the german, russian & austro-hungarian empires, and they conducted no plebiscites in the wake of the ottoman empire. it was indeed handled differently in iraq, &c. -a.v.

  70. alfred venison
    June 17th, 2014 at 08:21 | #70

    and they did, without consultation, take land from persia, in modern western afghanistan, in order to create a buffer between the russian and british empires. -a.v.

  71. Ikonoclast
    June 17th, 2014 at 08:21 | #71

    I think from both a self-interested and a humanitarian point of view it would be best for the West to disengage from the Middle East. We have wasted lives and money (ours and theirs) making the Middle East a bigger mess than it was before. If we disengage we save lives and money all round.

    The people of the M.E. should be left alone to sort out their own region and adopt their own borders and governing systems. The whole problem is that we “Euros” (including USA, Canada and Australia) think we should be telling other regions how to run their lives and nations. Why do we thik that? It’s none of our business.

  72. Jim Birch
    June 17th, 2014 at 12:27 | #72

    That figure is total US military spending. It’s probably a pretty good figure, in itself, since it is based on examination of budgets. It doesn’t include other countries’ military spending, the cost to Iraq itself, impacts on human lives, and so on. Some of these are difficult or impossible to assess as dollar figures so the Congressional Research Service figure, though obviously incomplete, at least gives a solid lower bound that can’t be argued away.

  73. J-D
    June 17th, 2014 at 16:15 | #73

    @alfred venison
    There were no plebiscites in the former Russian Empire; neither it nor its successor states figured in the peacemaking after the First World War either among the victors or among the vanquished. The boundary between the Soviet Union and Poland was settled by force, for one example, and for another it was force that settled that Ukraine and Georgia would not become independent countries.

    Although there were plebiscites in parts of the former German and Austro-Hungarian empires, the major territorial decisions were made without plebiscites: there were, for example, no plebiscites in West Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine, Galicia, Transylvania, or Dalmatia, and the ban on Austrian unification with Germany was imposed without consulting the local population.

    Using plebiscites to guide the drawing of borders is the exception (note that this procedure was not used at in the settlement after the Second World War, for example); in this respect the Iraqi borders are typical of the norm.

    Possibly it would be a good idea to change the norm and to have plebiscites routinely used to guide the drawing of borders. The experience with them after the First World War shows they can’t guarantee fitting the borders exactly to the people’s will, but I admit they could bring them a lot closer. However, if we’re going to advocate that this should be the general principle, why would we think that Iraq is a good place to start applying it, or that it would have been a good trial zone in 1919 or 1920? Why don’t we want to see the system tested successfully in some less volatile areas first? I can think of plenty of zones in prosperous western countries, more settled and peaceful than Iraq, where there’d be a case for a plebiscite to ask people which country they want to be part of, but where there’s clearly no will for one in the national political leadership.

  74. J-D
    June 17th, 2014 at 16:16 | #74

    @alfred venison

    I’m not clear on which transfer of territory from Persia to Afghanistan you’re referring to, and don’t have enough to go on to do my own search for more information.

  75. J-D
    June 17th, 2014 at 16:18 | #75


    It is worth bearing in mind that there are people in the Middle East who actively solicit external intervention. I don’t think there’s any good general rule that appeals of that nature should always be responded to, but I also don’t think there’s any good general rule that appeals of that nature should always be refused.

  76. Fran Barlow
    June 17th, 2014 at 16:48 | #76


    It is worth bearing in mind that there are people in the Middle East who actively solicit external intervention. I don’t think there’s any good general rule that appeals of that nature should always be responded to, but I also don’t think there’s any good general rule that appeals of that nature should always be refused.

    Nor I, though I’d want an absolutely compelling set of reasons, plus ethical, technical and temporal feasibility satisfied before I’d support the latter. I’d set the bar very high indeed because the unanticipated consequences of intervention are impossible to evaluate. First, do no harm seems a good strong rule of thumb here.

    We really do need to unpick the advocacy for military intervention so that we can be certain about why we are intervening and what precisely we can realistically hope (and would want to) achieve.

    There never was anything like an adequate warrant to invade Afghanistan or Iraq. That was always going to end in massively incrementing misery and hatred, and a massive casualty list at extraordinary material cost. If we had been willing at the outset to bear these costs (frankly I don’t imagine many were) and our objectives had been to obtain freedom or social justice for those folk we could have achieved that easily without the casualty count and had plenty of change out of the few trillions in involved. Of course, Bush might not have got a second term and a bunch of military contractors would have had to find another means of embezzling public funds.

  77. J-D
    June 17th, 2014 at 17:42 | #77

    @Fran Barlow

    I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’d like to clarify the context of my earlier comment.

    Ikonoclast recommended that ‘the West … disengage from the Middle East’ leaving the locals ‘to sort our their own region’.

    I may have misunderstood, but I took this to mean not only no military intervention but no intervention of any kind, and I was responding with that in mind. When I referred to people in the Middle East soliciting external intervention I had in mind non-military forms of intervention, not just military ones.

    I think that if the bar is set high for justifications of military intervention, perhaps it should be set not as high for justifications of non-military intervention, or at least some forms of it.

  78. Fran Barlow
    June 17th, 2014 at 18:13 | #78


    Oh yes. I can agree with that. It seems to me that if one believes that a given regime is guilty either of malice towards its citizens or dangerous incompetence then one ought to offer the aggrieved citizens resettlement (assuming one can’t talk the regime into doing better) either in one’s own country, or perhaps a sponsored resettlement in a willing host country.

  79. Fran Barlow
    June 17th, 2014 at 18:15 | #79

    Oops … Forgot to edit the naughty words …


    Oh yes. I can agree with that. It seems to me that if one believes that a given regime is guilty either of m@lice towards its citizens or dangerous incompetence then one ought to offer the aggrieved citizens resettlement (assuming one can’t talk the regime into doing better) either in one’s own country, or perhaps a sponsored resettlement in a willing host country.

  80. June 17th, 2014 at 18:35 | #80

    I for one will never forget the horrendous fighting that established the border between Western Australia and South Australia…

  81. sunshine
    June 17th, 2014 at 21:31 | #81

    W.A. was almost a separate country to Australia . The government over there didnt want to join the proposed Commonwealth of Australia .There were lots of miners from the Eastern states over there for the gold boom who were going to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum to join, so the WA govt gave women the vote (some kind of first ). Their thinking was that as there were almost no women on the gold fields that would skew the result toward the urban population and give the ‘no’ vote a win. It didnt work and so we are the only continent country .

  82. rog
    June 17th, 2014 at 22:11 | #82


    A new study from Harvard puts all to date and future costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars at US$ 6 trillion or US$ 75,000 for every household in the USA.
    See the telegraph UK site.

    I remember Rumsfeld describing how the operation in Afghanistan was run, they just parachuted operatives with bundles of cash in saying ‘join us’ and ‘have some money’. It was that easy!

  83. Megan
    June 17th, 2014 at 23:50 | #83

    @John Brookes

    It was the same with NSW and Qld.

    No wonder they had to invent ‘State of Origin’, otherwise nobody would have noticed.

    There was some minor wrangling about a miscalculation somewhere up in the Border Ranges National Park which amounted to a few hundred metres one way or the other.

    Luckily it was sorted out in a rather more boring fashion than killing lots of people pointlessly – which is the US preferred method.

    Sure we sent drones, but so did NSW.

    That’s just the way the Parliament in Canberra works these days.

  84. alfred venison
    June 18th, 2014 at 08:29 | #84

    sorry if i gave the impression i was alluding to the post-ww1 settlement, i wasn’t. i was referring to the 1890s, see “the durand line agreement “in wikipedia for a start. talk about an arbitrary line in the sand drawn by imperialists.

    it was precisely in mixed areas that plebiscites were used. in order to determine in an area divided more or less evenly between two nationalities, which which of two possible countries they wanted to be part of. they were not used in areas where they was a clear majority of one nationality, like alsace or lorraine. -a.v.

  85. J-D
    June 18th, 2014 at 08:53 | #85

    @alfred venison

    You referred to territory being taken from Persia, in response to my observing that the victors of the First World War had no legal power to interfere with Persia’s borders. The Durand Line agreement involved no interference with the borders of Persia.

  86. kevin1
    June 18th, 2014 at 09:33 | #86

    @Fran Barlow #78

    Unfortunately some regimes would welcome this as an ethnic cleansing policy subbed out to humanitarian countries eg Myanmar and the Rohingya. Postwar resettlement is perhaps different: the 200,000 Vietnamese re-settled in the West arguably was constructive to both sides, reducing the incidence of retribution from the winners. But it does allow less constrained majoritarianism aka dictatorship. In the Albert Hirschman framing of the choice, when is exit better than voice?

  87. Fran Barlow
    June 18th, 2014 at 13:46 | #87


    Unfortunately some regimes would welcome this as an ethnic cleansing policy subbed out to humanitarian countries eg Myanmar and the Rohingya.

    I’m more concerned with achieving human dignity on a reasonable timeline than worrying how putative ethnic cleansers might make of the policy.

    In a somewhat better world, enabling flight and resettlement would rarely be needed, but we must take the world as we find it, and do the best we can for others when it stands to count. In many places, that would be the most cost-effective and timely solution, and would allow those who remained to work out what they wanted to do. It might also prevent the dominant ethnic/political group from scapegoating the minority/”deviant” group and force it to confront its own capacity for coherence or lack thereof.

    Had for example, an Afghan diaspora been created, it’s likely that over time, some of the ancient hatreds would have been broken down. Remissions can also be a very effective form of aid since the transaction costs tend to be quite low.

  88. J-D
    June 18th, 2014 at 14:13 | #88

    @Fran Barlow
    The word you’re looking for is ‘remittances’. ‘Remission’ and ‘remittance’ are not synonyms.

  89. Fran Barlow
    June 18th, 2014 at 14:33 | #89


    The word you’re looking for is ‘remittances’. ‘Remission’ and ‘remittance’ are not synonyms

    Indeed. Post in haste, repent at leisure. ;-)

  90. kevin1
    June 18th, 2014 at 15:59 | #90

    @Fran Barlow

    The Rohingya don’t have citizenship rights despite generations of residency and the Myanmar president in 2012 suggested getting rid of the 800,000 Rohingya to a third country via the UNHCR , who sidestepped it as they are not “refugees” until they have left the country. The UNHCR report that 500 of the 13,000 who fled Myanmar by boat last year died at sea.

    Who would take them anyway? In their Guardian article last Thursday, longtime observers Peter Mares and Peter Brown reminded us of the regional resettlement recommendation from the Houston report of a couple of years ago. Neglected is using the leverage of trade concessions to get resettlement commitments from countries such as ROK and Japan who take virtually no refugees at all; a missed Abbott opportunity.

    There are other things that could be done, such as pressuring persecutor governments to change their policies and allow greater scrutiny, as Human Rights Watch advocated in their report on “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar last year. However, at the same time the EU was lifting trade and economic sanctions and the International Crisis Group was awarding a peace prize to the Myanmar President. More recently Medecin Sans Frontieres has been banned from the country.

    Perhaps the Des Ball option of skilling up and giving support to the victimed group is a self-defense option of wider relevance.

  91. Fran Barlow
    June 18th, 2014 at 16:11 | #91


    It very much depends on what is politically feasible. Plainly, if the regime is willing to move away from repression and discrimination in the direction of respect for human rights and is willing to accept guidance from other states and assistance from NGOs then that is likely to be preferable.

    On the other hand, if that is not the case then resettling them elsewhere with state support may be the best option.

  92. Megan
    June 19th, 2014 at 00:55 | #92

    Today the High Court decided that the ALP’s designation of Manus was constitutionally valid and that the Minister, Chris Bowen at the time, need only “think” that the “national interest” is served when designating a place as an off-shore detention centre/refugee concentration camp.

    Under the Migration Act (as amended by the ALP with the LNP vote – to “fix” the problem with the ‘Malaysia Solution’ decision) the minister only needs an “assurance” from a designated country before he/she can send refugees there indefinitely for torture, suffering, death and anything else that might “deter” people from seeking asylum here.

    The only way we can stop this is by changing our legislature, the only way we can do that is by destroying BOTH the establishment parties at the ballot box.

  93. Paul Norton
    June 19th, 2014 at 09:31 | #93

    One point to be made about the lines on the map of the Middle East drawn up after World War I under Anglo-French auspices is that they bear a striking resemblance to the boundaries of he Roman Empire’s Eastern Provinces. That other regional and proto-national identities might have developed in the region in the 1300 years between the establishment of the Caliphate and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire seems not to have occurred to decision-makers.

  94. J-D
    June 19th, 2014 at 18:48 | #94

    The only way both establishment parties can be destroyed at the ballot box is by people voting for other parties instead. This would indeed change the legislature, but there’s no guarantee it would change it for the better; it could easily change it for the worse. Everything would hinge on which parties won the votes and dominated the legislature as a result. Would it be the Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australian Party? or the Greens and the Australian Sex Party? or Family First and the Christian Democratic Party?

  95. J-D
    June 19th, 2014 at 18:51 | #95

    @Paul Norton
    I’ve just looked at some of the maps of Roman provincial boundaries that can be found online, and I don’t see the striking resemblances with modern Middle Eastern boundaries that you suggest.

    The most striking resemblance I find between Roman provincial boundaries and modern ones is that the ancient Roman boundary between Gallia and Hispania is practically identical with the modern boundary between France and Spain. But that isn’t because the modern boundary was drawn by slavishly copying the classical one without considering changes that have taken place in the meantime; it’s because the Pyrenees form just as natural and logical a border now as they did then. If there are resemblances between Roman boundaries and modern ones elsewhere, I don’t see why they shouldn’t have the same sort of natural explanation.

  96. Megan
    June 20th, 2014 at 01:20 | #96


    Against my better judgement I will engage with you on this:

    This would indeed change the legislature, but there’s no guarantee it would change it for the better; it could easily change it for the worse.

    How specifically, do you imagine, could the legislature easily be changed “for the worse” in the event of any of those – or in fact ANY non ALP/LNP – mixtures being elected in numbers sufficient to legislatively outweigh the duopoly?

  97. Paul Norton
    June 20th, 2014 at 08:05 | #97

    J-D @95, on pp.30-31 of Adrian Goldsworthy’s The Fall of the West: The Death of the Roman Superpower (Phoenix Paperback: London, 2010), there is a map of the Roman Empire in the late 2nd century. The map shows boundaries for the provinces of Syria Coele, Syria Phoenice, Syria Palaestina, Arabia and Aegyptus that closely resemble the current borders of Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan and Egypt respectively. It also suggests a fairly close fit between what would have been the province of Mesopotamia in Trajan’s time and the current borders of Iraq. That is the basis of my comment @93.

  98. J-D
    June 20th, 2014 at 08:13 | #98


    I have my doubts about whether you will in fact engage with me, as you say you will, but I have no objection to answering your question.

    Australia could easily be changed for the worse if people were detained without charge for criticising the government. If the Australian Parliament was controlled by parties that supported that policy, it would be worse than having the Australian Parliament controlled by Labor and the Coalition.

    That’s just one example, of course. I could go through the declared policies of the specific parties I mentioned and find polices that would, if implemented, make Australia a worse place, but perhaps you would evaluate those particular policies differently from the way I would, so I’ve used instead an example where I’m reasonably confident that you’ll agree with my evaluation. However, if you can examine the declared policies of all those parties and say that you can’t find any that would make Australia a worse place, I will be mildly surprised.

  99. Megan
    June 20th, 2014 at 09:28 | #99


    Australia could easily be changed for the worse if people were detained without charge

    “Scott Parkin” and “Mohammed Haneef” spring immediately to mind, and they didn’t do ANYTHING let alone criticise the Government. The G20 anti-protest laws for Brisbane this year, the special zones for APEC in Sydney in 2007 and the Terrrsm Laws provide further examples.

  100. J-D
    June 20th, 2014 at 14:25 | #100

    Megan :

    Australia could easily be changed for the worse if people were detained without charge

    “Scott Parkin” and “Mohammed Haneef” spring immediately to mind, and they didn’t do ANYTHING let alone criticise the Government. The G20 anti-protest laws for Brisbane this year, the special zones for APEC in Sydney in 2007 and the Terrrsm Laws provide further examples.

    And do you think that’s got as bad as it could possibly get? that there’s no way it could possibly get any worse? if ten times as many people were detained without charge, for ten times as long? if they were detained incommunicado and unacknowledged, with no possibility of reference to the court system?

    Going beyond that, do you think conditions generally in Australia are as bad as any government could possibly make them? Do you think there’s no other country and no other period in history in which a government made conditions worse for people than recent governments in Australia have made them here and now? If you were writing a dystopian fiction and had to imagine the worst possible circumstances a government could create for people, would there be nothing you could imagine worse than Australia now?

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