I had intended to

I had intended to write more about Iraq yesterday but I ended up spending the entire evening working through several years worth of notes to come to a final determination about how many English settlers and Indians there were in New England in 1675 and, equally important, how many — particularly how many Indians — were left by the end of 1676. As regular readers will understand, this is part of revising the draft of my dissertation which I’ve mentioned several times over the last few months.

The headline, if you can call it that, is that 1675 and 1676 went really badly for the Indians. But finding out just how badly, and precisely how it went badly, and for how many people, is a complicated matter. At least a thousand New England Indians, and probably many more, were shipped overseas as slaves that year. Most went to the Caribbean. But I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to piece together as many details as I can about what happened to about 200 of these deportees, from what is now southeastern Massachusetts, who ended up, of all places, in Morocco.

Specifically, in Tangier.

In any case, that took the place of Iraq last night. But back to Iraq.

First a few observations.

I’m struck by how few people have made this point. For about a year the administration’s line was that we did not need nor even particularly care if we got support from our European or Arab allies. Then, when we finally went to them for support, they either said ‘no’ (French, Germans, et al.) or gave it grudgingly (Turks). And this we’re supposed to see as a betrayal. That doesn’t make any sense. A betrayal implies some earlier agreement, formal, tacit or implied. Not only did we not have this, we spurned it.

Now, I know this is a sort of simplified version of events. But I think it captures the essential truth of what’s happened. And I think it gets to the problem some us — or, I’ll speak for myself, I — think we’re facing.

I don’t have much truck with those who don’t believe Saddam is a threat. He is. Not an imminent threat, but one we needed to face sooner rather than later. A number of readers have sent me this link to a response to Ken Pollack published on the Carnegie Endowment website. Some of its points are good. Others turn on detailed knowledge of intelligence estimates which just aren’t available to the public. But the key error I see in the argument is about our ability to sustain containment over time.

I think the authors are right when they say that as long as we’ve got Saddam under the gun, and with a bunch of inspectors running around the place, he’s not going anywhere. He is contained. I’m not worried about him developing nukes as long as those inspectors are there and they’re able to work in concert with the leads our intelligence agencies are able to produce. What I doubt is that the current situation is sustainable. I’ll say more later about why I doubt it’s sustainable. But, for the moment, that’s my criticism.

But some necessary actions can be done so disastrously and foolishly that it becomes a serious question whether or not to do them at all.

We’re in one of those situations.

If we could turn back the clock a year and we had the choice of a) doing exactly what we’ve done or b) waiting a year or two for a more favorable moment or until a new team was in place who knew what they were doing, I think option ‘b’ would unquestionably be the better choice.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that choice. The administration has already done massive damage to our standing in the world. And they’ve managed to create facts on the ground — intentionally and unintentionally — which make pulling back arguably more dangerous than pushing ahead. The question is no longer what the ideal thing to do is. It’s more aptly described as which of the really bad alternatives is best to choose given the jam the administration has backed us into.

More soon on what the damage is to our standing in the world and what those facts on the ground are.

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