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When A Good Idea Goes “Wrong”: The Iraqi Campaign and Southeast Asia

Posted by intellisg on May 9, 2007

good-idea.jpg“America has to take a firm position and if it leaves with its tail between its legs, it is going to be very damaging for America, very damaging for all of its friends… particularly in Southeast Asia, that we will all be greatly alarmed because our security will be greatly affected.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently on May 6, 2007 (AFP)

Nearly a week has passed since President Bush vetoed a bipartisan proposal in the senate that fully funded additional troops into the Iraqi theatre so that the US can responsibly end the war. At face value, the decision to undertake a “strategic retreat” signals a reversal of the White House’s position towards the proposals of the Baker-Hamilton report. It might seem even to be a tacit acknowledgment, that the shit has hit the fan and its time to slowly back track and go back into the car and drive somewhere any where except out of Iraq.

This article will paint in broad and long strokes what actually went wrong with the Iraqi campaign inspired by “the war on terror.” It will also explore what long and disturbing shadows the Iraqi campaign will cast against countries in South East Asia.

(1) Warning: Not using your brain is hazardous to your country’s health

One of the reasons accounting for the ineptitude of US foreign policy is the failure to reason. This followed directly from the intellectual failure to address itself to the practical necessities of sustaining such a complex military, social, political and economic campaign in Iraq before, during and after war.

Even the most fervent critics of US foreign policy in Iraq today (Congress, press and foreign policy community) must bear their fair share of culpability in failing to question the political and ideological assumptions upon which the war on terror was premised. It begs the question how did they get it so wrong?

A clue to the anatomy of failure lies just around the period when the Bush administration came into power. Scant attention was paid to the guts of foreign policy and even less to nourish and reinvent the highly successful postwar US policy based on:

“Patient but firm and vigilant containment of Soviet expansionist tendencies and pressure against the free institutions of the Western world.”

This was first formulated by G. Kennan which served the US foreign policy initiatives successfully for nearly 60 years “ending world tyranny.” Neither was any self examination conducted why this preferred tool of statecraft was eventually jettisoned in favor of the illusions to justify a military campaign against Iraq.

Dangerous delusions such as:

“All human beings want what we want – freedom,”

To paraphrase Bush; hence democratization should be easy. Though reality suggests it to be woefully inadequate; it may be a palpable truth that the Iraqis like all people in the rest of the world gravitate towards freedom, but to suggest for one moment, they even desire the American is ludicrous. Neither the Iraqis or the Arabs trust them.

In the International community the same vein of mistrust seems to color the Bush administration. Most nations are appalled by America’s flaunting of its dominance; its use of preventive war, particularly the invasion of Iraq, the unprecedented illegal detention and torture of suspects which continue to mire US legitimacy as a bona fide peace keeper. All this militates against the prospects of forging a sustainable peaceful environment that allows trade and commerce, people and community and politics and hegemony to co-exist. Peace is still very far away.

(2) The Mistaken Metaphor – War On Terror.

One of the reoccurring criticisms often directed at the US invasion of Iraq is the idea that the “war on terror” remains a mistaken metaphor. It embodies a tendency to think of international conflict in theological terms that has long been present on the American right, with the increased power of evangelical Christianity has reinforced.

A Homeland Security Planning Scenario document published in July 2004 describes the terrorist threat facing the US as being perpetrated by the Universal Adversary – a description that is echoed repeatedly in Bush’s many references as a war against evil. Conservative evangelicals count heavily both in funding the Republican Party and as voters. There is not much doubt that they form the principle audience of Bush’s apocalyptic rhetoric. Increasingly this compact between politics and religiosity remains a stumbling block against any prospects of the Bush administration to leverage on its broking power as an impartial peace maker in the Middle East and especially Iraq. As a result it is increasingly viewed as a superpower with an overtly religious agenda. That has alienated the both the international Muslim secularist and general populace in Iraq, thus boosting terrorist recruitment.

These facts are well understood already by both military and intelligence analyst in the US and throughout the world – the failure to pay closer attention to winning the real war on terror – hearts and minds. It harks back to the nightmarish Vietnam era in the 60’s where the US won every single battle, yet somehow managed to lose the war as they packed off like a traveling circus from Saigon. All the evidence suggest, Iraq will be a repeat of history circa 1965.

The fact remains the war on terror is not only misguided and counterproductive, but that much of the damage has already being inflicted at a level and degree which can only be described as irreparable. The irony is since 9/11, US power and influence in the world has declined more than at any other time in its history. The war in Iraq despite its grandiose plan – undermined precisely the same US supremacy that it was supposed to underpin. The goal of the Bush administration may have been to secure American primacy in a stable world order, but the upshot has been to create a situation in which the main obstacle to a stable and just world is remains paradoxically the US.

(3) Summary – Long & Short

No doubt as mentioned earlier intellectual inertia played a part in this story of a good idea that went so wrong. Along with the ineptitude of many who should have questioned the merits of such a long drawn out enterprise where the bridge proved simply too far. But as long as the Bush administration’s view of the world has a delusional detached quality that goes beyond such errors of judgment, it may be truer to say, they need to deal with the enemy within rather than those who choose to kill and maim American G.I’s in down town Baghdad – In short, the US remains its greatest enemy that I am afraid is going to be very damaging for America, very damaging for all of its friends… particularly in Southeast Asia, that we will all be greatly alarmed because our security will be greatly affected……there lies the broken dreams of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

A catalogue of failure and mismanagement that goes beyond such errors of judgment that it can even be called delusional at worst and at best a good idea that has gone so “wrong.”

(By Scholarboy & Astro Boy / Socio / Politics / Strategic Studies EP992827 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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23 Responses to “When A Good Idea Goes “Wrong”: The Iraqi Campaign and Southeast Asia”

  1. inspir3d said

    hi, nice essay, clear and straight to the point.

    i’m just interested to know a little more how and why “in Southeast Asia, that we will all be greatly alarmed because our security will be greatly affected.”

    what security threats does a mishandling of the Iraq problem pose to SEA? and why are we to be ‘greatly alarmed’
    i’m not sure the implications of the problems of US foreign policy in Iraq on Asean are clear.

  2. astroboy said

    Hi inspir3d,

    I see where u coming from. Actually when we researched the article.

    We discovered that much of the implications were long term in nature and impossible to predict with any level of certainty.

    Lets face it, if you look around neighboring countries in S.E.A such as Malaysia, Indo, S. Thai and Mindanao which are predominantly muslim. They may all disagree on many things but they are unanimous in their disagreement, the war on terror has been a mistake.

    How would this sentiment of resentment translate into threats. Its anyone guess but after a long discussion he hazard to put a definite answer bc its anyone guess.

    A very constructive point Inspir3d. We could have taken on an elephant this time :). That was why scholarboy suggested the words, “broad and bold” strokes. He felt very strongly the topic should be a 2 parter. Retro, I agree with him

    Well spotted and we will definitely take on board that constructive point in our next article. Thanks. I think another will be coming out this afternoon. Will be better than our yarn. Got to get the brain going again la, seems like yrs LOL

    I feel very encouraged by this. Have a nice day.

  3. astroboy said

    bfr I forgot, dear readers we will be focussing on foreign policy for this week.

    As we believe that many of our new and old readers want to read more abt it.

    We did a survey in the net and discovered only 5% of material typically generated by bloggers fitted this category.

    The 5% is based on original works and solicited over a 6 month period.

    We felt that given the importance of politics in the international sphere as to how it may affect Singapore. This would certainly be an area that we will be focussing in as it remains unexplored.

    So I believe a series of indepth discussions will be held on topics like: What is wrong with the UN? What can we learn from US Liberal policy etc.

    I will be an exciting week as some of seniors will be collaborating with Dr Chandra and his team to produce a very indepth analysis into are of political hegemony etc.

    That of course will be for some of our really advanced readers.

    Stayed tuned the goodies are back! And remember dont drink too much coffee and have a nice day.

    Astro Boy

  4. V said

    S’poreans have short memory. S Jayakumar, then foreign minister, said in 2003 that America’s invasion of traq is a right thing and the S’pore govt supports it because it is a war on terror, iraq has WMD, and the war will make the region safer. Now we all know whether the world is a safer place and where the WMDs are. This is a dumb govt that perils the nation and its citizens unnecessarily.

  5. nacramanga said

    “S Jayakumar, then foreign minister, said in 2003 that America’s invasion of traq is a right thing and the S’pore govt supports it because it is a war on terror, iraq has WMD, and the war will make the region safer.”

    Q: Was he thinking? Or did an old man by the name of Uncle Sam just pinch him by the nose the lead him up the garden path?

    You decide, but not everyone has short memories. Some of us believe in this funny thing called, history.

    I think there are many lessons which we may all draw out of this article. Some ppl will see nothing, others will see it as a beginning of sorts. I really is up to you.

    For me this article just says: if we dont think for ourselves. Then someone will just come along and do the thinking for you.

    It really doesnt really matter whether it is a politician. Or some CEO who is trying to tell you the idea his company is the next best thing since sliced bread. Or even a pastor who drives a sports car that tells you. If you dont give Jesus 10% of your salary. Then you are going to burn in the hottest place in hell – Oh I forgot, please remember he loves you! Or even someone in TV.

    No we never ever forgot. It was supposed to be for ALL of you to connect the dots.

    We in the brotherhood promote international peace, fellowship and understanding.

    We r not into the brain washing business. You can go to other places for that. We will never tell you what to think. We can suggest but that is really all. It is against our credo to do so.

    But you have the right to fair and accurate info so that you can connect the dots yourself.

    I challenge anyone to take issue with this article. Never ever say the internet is full of lies. That may be true outside here. But here you are as close to the truth as you can get.

    Very well done and well spotted! You have begun your journey. You have started to read between the lines.

    The sleeper must awake.

    Nacramanga.

    Pls note readers we will be opening this SLF @001 only for comments.

  6. I believe Singapore is in a position where we find ourselves trying to be everyone’s best friend. I think that is an untenable position. There will always be some friends who are more ‘best’ than others.
    The quote that was used mentions that if America leaves Iraq, it would be damaging for South-East Asia. That might be the case. But if America remains in Iraq, it could be damaging for Singapore.
    Singapore has chosen not to speak out directly against what America is doing. We have chosen to support them – if not cheerleading at the front we are in the stands wearing Team America’s T-shirt and waving the big hand. I don’t have a crystal ball, but in the long run, this could possibly hurt our relations with our neighbours in SEA if it has not already happened. And that could compromise our security in the long-run.
    So while Prime Minister might have a point, i believe America’s involvement and our association with America could one day hurt us. Having said that, it can be seen that our government has been trying to build ties with the Middle Eastern countries and it is amazing to me how we can manage both sets of relationships. I wonder if our ‘convictions’ about issues changes depending on who we are talking to?
    The thing is, when someone is angry with you for being friends with their enemy, rarely do past friendships with that individual who is angry matters.
    How many times have we seen in history and personal life where all the goodwill that is supposedly built up in the past destroyed cos of one indiscretion.
    Singapore is really walking on a tightrope and I do hope we never fall off.

  7. scholarboy said

    This is a good point Ian. I dont always get intelligent FB. All I seem to get is my fair share of snide remarks from female readers who have no business trawling here thats why I hardly ever respond.

    During the research for the article. I came across a kernel that may shed some light as to why Singapore foreign policy is leaning towards the US.

    Countries like France and Germany never got any contracts in post Sadam Iraq bc they opposed the US.

    This simply suggest to me, there is an undeniable economic dimension here that goes beyond just good will.

    The US these days isnt what it used to be. Its intolerant of dissenters and the general attitude appears to be,

    Either you are with us or against us.

    So that doesnt inspired anything in the way of rational discourse etc or even provide scope to agree to disagree.

    You may after all be so right Ian, we may be just too small to say, “no.”

    Thks. SB

  8. scholarboy said

    Nac is this obscure – can I have some FB pls?

  9. nacramanga said

    Look here SB there r alot of cracko’s out there.

    I can prove it, if u dont believe me.

    Consider this statement.

    “I never read their stuff. I just read to the aggregators. But I know they write obscurely and I half the time I dont understand them. I thought it is just me, but apparently by gold fish seems to think the same thing.”

    SB just put down your bunny cup and think abt that statement for a while.

    They never read but they know it is obscure.

    So what r we talking here? That’s right ESP or some form of Vodoo.

    Or r they members of the Kundalini sect in S.India who have mastered astra projection capabilities to read minds and articles without reading them.

    Think boy!

    This says nothing abt nothing and even less about the art of nothingness.

    Its like saying I cant read and write but I can tell you everything u need to know abt English literature. And you better believe me! Bc I am so and so.

    Sure. And my name is Minonotaufu!

    Understand! You r writing well. I see no reason to change the format or even the style, that doesn’t mean I am not open to suggestions providing its based on some facts that I can get a handle on.

    Till we get some real and honest constructive and unbiased feedback from ppl who actually bother to READ our stuff.

    I don’t see any reason why we should change. Like I said, there r plenty of cracko’s out there.

    Do u believe me now SB?

  10. nacramanga said

    I am just asking u to think SB.

    U just need to ask yourself who is the bigger cracko? The cracko who leads or the cracko who follows another cracko?

    That’s the only thing rational ppl really ever do -They think for themselves!

  11. It’s all about security.

    Singapore relies on American supremacy and the stability it has engendered in the past decade. She relies on the West being the main power in the world, all these engagement with China is a matter of being reactionary.

    Note that we’ve never left the orbit of US foreign policy? Same as Israel.

    Highly pragmatic nations that do not want a change in the status quo. I think our leaders fear a China that will take over as the preeminent power in Asia. This is why we spend so much capital on aligning ourselves with the US openly at this juncture.

    Again, it is likely that we can walk the tightrope, but when all this is said and done, the biggest variable that could change everything is if the violence in Southern Thailand becomes more than just Pattani nationalism, and that AQ affiliates take the advantage to turn that place into a full scale Islamic insurgent zone, then the proverbial crap will have hit the fan.

    It’s quite possible to view American engagement in Iraq as a way to ensure that the fronts against radical militancy do not expand. Let the attrition continue, some of you who have followed the Iraqi situation closely might have realised that the Sunni tribes are actually getting together to battle AQ on Iraqi soil. I believe that this is what the US actually intended, to stay long enough until the insurgents actually turn the tide of tribal opinion and public opinion against them.

    The Iraqis are tribal first, sectarian second, and Muslims third, IMHO. By making Iraq secure, the groundswell of support for localised insurgency will decline, and perhaps this will allow the same sentiment to reverbrate around the Islamic community throughout the world.

    A long shot from me perhaps, but note that none of our neighbours, Mahathir aside, have actually said or done anything contrary to our Iraq policy.

  12. Harphoon said

    Hi,

    To me its good that both AB and SB left the issue of what would happen in S.E.A open.

    It compels the readers to resolve the equation with his or her analysis, so that’s good.

    Whatever the final outcome in Iraq. I feel that its strategically important to recruit the Iranians into the equation. I really cannot see how the US can resolve it themselves. God knows they have tried for the last 5 years and they dont seem to be even making the barest headway.

    Much of the sectarian conflict in Iraq especially between the Shia and Sunni’s has deep historical roots.

    So without garnering at least tacit support from the Iranians in the way of soft power to influence much of the geo-politics and religious landscape in within Iraq. I really don’t see how the US is going to make any progress.

    Bear in mind the US has a beef with Iranians concerning their nuclear program. So it will be very interesting to see how they juggle the need to balance Iraq yet deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

    One of the main problems in Iraq is the real fear that it would just implode into another Iranian style theoracy – that I believe is the worse case scenario that not only the US is looking at. But this remains a very real and present threat to the rest of the gulf states which have through the years hardly progressed politically in the last 50 years. Many of them are still very old traditional family run oligrachies and fiefdoms. I think they too have a vested interest in what’s going on.

    At home I really believe managing the preception is key. Thats one of the reason why we kept it open ended. Its just tough to predict especially when it comes to dealing with sentiments of estrangement and detachment that many muslims may feel. Lets face it many of them don’t see the US invasion of Iraq as fair anything, not the ones I know at least.

    Anyone who tells you different, I think is just burying his head in the sand or is so open minded his brains have spilled out.

    So in my view there is a need to balance the apparent need to support the US and still manage the prevailing sentiment internally and regionally.

    A hubris. Nice nut cracker.

  13. at82 said

    My opinion on why Singapore is supporting US is that it wants US continue to be active in the world stage instead of becoming isolationistic.

    Remember Singapore govt always believe that for a small nation like S’pore to survive and prosper there must always be some tension between the powers in its region.

    China always had great influences on SEA for a long part of the history while USA had only became actively involved in SEA after WW2. There is no other power that can challenge the influences of China in SEA except US for the foreseeable future (I don’t think Japan is ready to take over from USA yet.)

    The plan is probably to hope that US win in middle east and thus remain active in SEA to balance China, while S’pore buildup friendship which China. This will enable S’pore to benefit from the tensions between China and US by leveraging on its friendships with both of the powers.

  14. astroboy said

    “This will enable S’pore to benefit from the tensions between China and US by leveraging on its friendships with both of the powers.”

    Power broker? Nice one / dat frankly didnt occur to me, but I will try to ferret something out of it, could be another conspiracy theory 🙂

  15. Azmodeus said

    Going through this article, I believe what was lacking was just as what Inspir3d had mentioned.

    The lack of a stroke to link the failure of Iraq to SEA and Singapore.

    The host of demons that could emerged from the Pandora’s box in the likes of an imploded Iraq, could mean alot of things. There could be too many scenarios, most of them bad, should the Americans leave the mess which they had created in the past 4 years without a proper cleanup.

    One could hardly imagine the multitude of possibilities of a region rifed with infighting of Shi’a and Sunni Muslims over territory and of course, oil. Throw in the Kurds and who knows in time, both Muslim communities might find themselves a common enemy to exterminate, and before we know it, we find ourselves another Rwanda. Surrounded by hostile external influences in the likes of Iran, Syria, and possibly hidden Al’Qaedan agents, no one would expect the 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves to be left alone for long.

    The ripple effect that could spread throughout the middle east from Iraq could negatively affect Singapore’s interests in the long term just as Astroboy had mentioned.

    If I would go as far as to speculate Singapore’s motives behind their support of the Iraq war; they might be drawn to believe that with the advent of American forces in the long term stationed in Iraq, could possibly bring about a much stable middle east, opening a vast middle eastern market ripe with investment opportunities. Undeniably, their support of the Iraq war in the first place would undoubtedly put them in a prime position to take advantage of any contracts from Iraq as well, thereby forging a much closer relationship with the only world superpower after the cold war.

    Yet, with the political and economic landscape of America changing with the coming of their next presidential elections, one would hardly dare to put their money on further republican candidates. Would any dare to hazard a guess on the foreign policy of the next American president? The political decision to put Singapore closer with the current American administration might just as well put off the rest of our geographic neighbours, with no bargaining chips with the forecoming change in American leadership.

    The ripple might spread further to the local context, Islamic fundamentalism would always be here to stay in the region, the local governments too weak, or too estranged to remove their influence. After 911 and successful attacks by Islamic radicals in other parts of the world, which would only serve to embolden their actions, strengthen their resolve. Putting our foot in with Bush’s folly in Iraq could only draw unwanted attentions.

    Coming back, this is a good article in all, and I agree with Scholarboy that this article deserve to be a two parter. I hope to see your next instalment on this in the new future.

    Have a good day.

    Regards,

  16. scholarboy said

    Azmodeus et al,

    I think there are really many good points here that I didn’t think abt – power broking, ripple effect, walking the tightrope etc.

    I would like to incorporate some of these into my next article bc I believe it adds value to the weight of reason.

    The bummer is that I need to do it all over again 😦 with AB, but I believe some of these pointers will go a long way to allow us all to crack the nut as Harphoon put it and get a better feel of the subject. 🙂

    Thanks alot and please do feel free to comment. Its always refreshing to get intelligent FB.

    Thx

    SB

  17. at82 said

    Astroboy

    “Power broker? Nice one / dat frankly didnt occur to me, but I will try to ferret something out of it, could be another conspiracy theory”

    Not a power broker. Singapore is too small to be that. What I mean by benefiting from the tension is that both power will try to woo Singapore to side with them or at least don’t act against them. Think wooing us with FTAs, advance weapons and what not.

    Cos although S’pore is small it is strategically located at a choke point. Even S’pore can’t influence the outcome of any conflicts by itself, it does have the ability to be a spoiler if it choose to side one of the power during a conflict.

    Afterall S’pore do have the facility to let US Aircraft carriers dock at our military port.

  18. at82 said

    AB,

    Also the fact that we are being held in high regards by the region’s superpowers, we are now “protected” from our much larger and often not so friendly Islamic neighbours.

  19. at82 said

    AB and SB,

    You might be interested in this.

    http://www.mahbubani.net/
    http://www.mahbubani.net/articles/MittonStraitsTime.pdf
    Sept 23, 2005
    ‘Controlled US-China tension good for Asean’
    By Roger Mitton, Straits Times
    US Bureau Chief

  20. scb said

    The US is incapable of gaining political foothold in the Middle East History has Shown that the US had never been successfull in Vietnam Its military might lies in its advance weaponries and its cultural strength(not neccessarily positive) lies in its pop musics The latter have great influences over the youngs all over the world but the former frightens nobody especially the youngs influenced by the American Arts> war is the least interesting to them! The US failures in the aforementioned regions in the past and present has in a way also show its inability to prove that it has an ideal political system and culture that others will adopt for own wellbeings> Singapore Leaderships pandering to the US has certainly dismayed many of its own citizens and our Muslim dominated neighbours needless to say are definitely irritated and agitated> I agree fully with the opinion that the sucking up to the US by the Singapore Leadership is unwise and could endanger its very own survival!

  21. jumanji said

    Hi Steamboy and AB

    I just want to say I enjoyed this article along with the latest from Harpoon.

    I think it was a wise choice for all of you to shift gears and write abt international affairs for a change.

    As for your article. It raises many issues. Firstly you mentioned a failure to think. I dont really believe that captures the reality of the mood. Directly after 9/11, the whole country was very galvanized. Even the Democrats came together with the Republicans and stood along a common line. So there was a very high emotional content that must be factored into the entire period.

    It is true, the US did not think through the whole plan and also true to say that US foreign policy has been at best an over simplification.But to suggest for one moment the fault lies only with the Bush administration is not in my view realistic. I know you all mentioned the press, intellectuals etc have to bear some measure of culpability and blame, but I do not really believe that it goes far enough. In truth this whole debacle involved the sizeable portion of the rational majority and it for one scares me to think how we could all have been hood winked by Bush. Or were we really hookwinked I wondered? Maybe we all need to believe that.

    Now the Bush administration appears to be playing the card, “well it is not our fault you Iraqi’s cannot stop killing yourself or even run your own country.” I am afraid the blame game has more or less started. I for one am not optimistic that the US will pull out in a manner that even allows it a modicum of respectability. Whether we like to admit it or not whatever way they wish to pull out now, it will be one where their tails will be firmly fitted between their legs.

    They have already lost the war and our govt is simply bizzare and incomprehensible to support the tailess pariah dog.

    I looking forward to the second instalment. I hope it will come out bfr the weekend. It will be a nice way to end the week.

    Thank you Sirs and do have a very fine day.

  22. […] When A Good Idea Goes “Wrong” : The Iraqi Campaign and South East Asia —– […]

  23. Jeannie Yu said

    Celluloid I really like your analysis and your blog that I heard abt here.

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