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A Long Lunch July 27, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille, politics.

It felt like I should have been an unemployed writer. Sitting in some cafe in Paris. With wine. A lot of wine. But, no, it took place here in the south of France, on a day much too hot to have an intense discussion. It was so hot we all had to get an ice cream after it was over.

I knew it was only a matter of time before this would happen. I made it about 3 weeks. Topic: Iraq. For this first time it was a Frenchman, an Italian, and me (an American). We all basically agreed that the US was going to have to withdraw. I think the other two wanted to make sure that I thought going into Iraq was a mistake (I did, but I never thought it was going to be as big a mistake as it turned out to be, but I didn’t tell them that… hmmm, hopefully they won’t read this!). But the real discussion was over what will happen next. And what shape will Iraq be in when we leave (will it improve or crash? I think it will crash and then slowly start to improve).

Another sticking point was the arrogance of the US to think that it can change a government without consulting the people first. What started this was me saying that if one were all-powerful, Hussien (sp?) might be someone you’d want to fix, though there are other higher priority things that a being of limited power might want to take care of first – by diplomacy.

At any rate, what was planned to be a 1 hour lunch was 2.5 hours by the time we left. We were talking in English and we were talking quite intensely, but no one seemed to mind (it was a crowded outdoor seating area at a small restaurant). There was, thank goodness, beer. I was exhausted by the time we got back.

Everyone have a good weekend. I’ll be back on Monday when I have Internet again!



1. Krista - July 27, 2007

It sounds like the beginning of one of those unfortunate jokes… A Frenchman, and Italian and an American walk into a bar, er, restaurant…

One of the things I love about much of Europe, though, is that it’s OK to have an intense conversation with friends over some wine, no one hates anyone when it’s over! 😉

Happy Weekend!

2. carlbrannen - July 28, 2007

Uh, not that invading Iraq was the most brilliant thing the US and Britain have done in the last couple hundred years, but back in 1944 the US changed the government of France by force and I don’t see them complaining so much about it now.

3. Fred - July 28, 2007

History revisited and the uncanny ability for Americans to wash the stains out of our sordid minds. It took the full might of a Machiavellian FDR delivering a ‘heavy’ backhanded threat at Wall Street combined with a propaganda machine engineered by ‘communist’ Hollywood to jar and maintain the American people into action against the Axis powers. Who are the real patriots? Read the speeches and articles from the U.S. during the mid 30’s through the invasion of Normandy and please tell me where the majority of industrialists, Republicans, Middle-Americans and privileged Democrats were leaning and with a loud voice, mind you. George C. Marshall and his intimate staff took great pains during the entire war to prevent their efforts from being sabatoged within our own ranks of government and the private sector. It’s a miracle that the British held the fort for so long while we dealt with our own selfishness. The whole continent of Europe was engaged with a Fascist movement in which they were collectively not equipped to deal with. The heroic and cunning actions of the French people were instrumental in our coordinated efforts to defeat the German army and Vichy regime. We turned the tide in an incredible time of 30 months. Yep, we know all about blunders of the Third Reich (here’s a lesson: don’t rely on the ‘kindness of strangers’ to acquiesce their natural resources for your benefit) and the opportunist Soviets preying on a horrendous world condition. They would have sacrificed another 20 million poor souls to secure Eastern Europe. The French have always given us our full due for restoring their independence. They simply don’t want to bend over every time we sneeze, unlike a number of political movements currently in lock-step with our present administration and it’s political counterpart. Oh yeah, I would like to thank the Dutch for the millionth time for being the first country to recognize the United States of America, for their sacrifices to aid and abet our fledgling navy at the time and keeping the supply lines open from the southside. From the official website of our embassy in The Netherlands:

On November 16, 1776, a small American warship, the ANDREW DORIA, sailed into the harbor of the tiny Dutch island of St. Eustatius in the West Indies. Only 4 months before, the United States had declared its independence from Great Britain. The American crew was delighted when the governor of the island, Johannes de Graaf, ordered that his fort’s cannons be fired in a friendly salute. The first ever given by a foreign power to the flag of the United States, it was a risky and courageous act.

An understatement to say the least as this was the beginning of the end for the Dutch trading empire and it’s dominance of the seas.

4. Kevin - July 28, 2007

well – lets not get into comparing Iraq to WWII. That is such a flawed comparison its not even worth discussing – other to note that you may recall that the legitimate French government was overthrown by the Nazis – and there was an active resistance movement (de Gaul and the free French?). The Nazis , btw, were trying to conquer the world and establish a 1,000 year reich and
in the business of rapidly occupying nation after nation establishing extermination camps that murdered ~10 million people. To boot – they were in league with Japan which had bombed Pearl Harbor unprovoked. So ummm – yeah – very very very different situations indeed.

at any rate Gordon – I feel that every time I go abroad and this subject comes up I get put in the same situation. I guess there are a few questions:
(1) if you could have magically fixed everything in Iraq – knowing that you would succeed and establish a democratic government – would you be justified in just doing it without consultation to the Iraqi people?
(2) was there any chance in it actually working – even in principle – given realistic constraints?

I think the answer to both of these is no. The second should have been obvious to everyone (it was to me). Its not even a new mistake – imperialists have been making this mistake for literally thousands of years. Its one thing to have the military power to overthrow a regime – its entirely another thing to “fix” social, economic, and political problems that are so deep. To start with Iraq has something on the order of 20 million people – and its their home. They can’t go home and back to suburbia after their tour of duty. They are home. As long as there is political discord and such horrible conditions – the insurgency will ALWAYS be there. There will always be more death squads – and no (realistic) amounts of US occupying forces will ever stop it. And even if you did start the draft and send 5 million Americans there – you could only hope to establish a police state.

The fundamental flaw with the first point – and I think you hit the nail on the head – is the horrible arrogance and irony of Bush et al. deciding on what the people of Iraq want. Almost certainly they didn’t like Saddam – but polls show now that only about 50% think the situation is any better than under Saddam. Thats quite remarkable – only 50% think its any better than a brutal tyrant who ruled with an iron fist and gassed his own population.

At any rate – for my part I have always thought that this was an unjustified and indeed unjustifiable war. I was always thought it was going to be a complete disaster. For that matter – I think it will only get dramatically worse. I think regardless if the US leaves immediately, withdrawals slowly, or stays indefinitely – the situation can only be bad, worse, or devastating horrific (in that order).
The only thing that really matters is what the Iraqi people want. Which I think they are quite clear about – starting withdrawal now and huge reparations which will cost probably hundreds of billions of dollars.

Unfortunately – that just won’t happen. Iraq is too much of a prize for those in power to give up. Even those politicians who are talking about leaving are not really talking about completely leaving – essentially ever. Unlike Vietnam where they could just leave a devastated country which still hasn’t recovered (and may never) Iraq sits atop too much oil and has too much strategic importance for those who like to think the world is like a game of Risk and we can go where and when we want.

But I digress..

5. Kurt L. Hanson - July 28, 2007

Presenting the Iraqi people with a better government and social institutions modeled on Western values and ideals is a noble cause which unfortunate for US and them no one has the vision and the courage and the know-how to implement.

So the prosperity of Hong Kong, post-WWII Japan and South Korea is a fluke, and in comparison to North Korea and Cuba cannot be understood the causes for why and what brought these diverse social orders to exist the way they do today? I can understand gordonwatts unable to reach consensus with his educated, opinionated friends on a course of action to bring a better way of life to the people of a horrific, post-Saddam regime, because few if any Americans are proud of the American flag on the Moon, or of the Wright brothers accomplishments, or of any and all the technological innovations that have brought the highest standard of living to a people anywhere on the face of the earth, ever. There is nothing a Western person could feel proud of to then spout off to another person whose culture and daily life’s goal is a practice of ritual prayer to some perverted, archaic thoughts of a Creator called Allah. No Western person should feel so pompous to expect mere words of how great our Western ways are in comparison to theirs …

I will mention the Hubble Space Telescope to the Iraqis and Saudis and all those in power in that region. And their people offer what to offer the next generation of youth something to be proud of? Organize a bunch of Islamic men in power together and the best you can hope for is a reinterpretation of some passage of the Koran, and another Wahabism branch of Islam is in vogue.

Whoop-te-do …!

Ten-speed bicycles, radios, television, Wankel rotary engines, the transistor, the computer, telephone, airplane, sewing machine and on and on and on, what a nice little system we in the West have got over here. What a great way of life. Nothing in comparison comes from an educated Islamic mind in those regions of the world. Nothing. All that Western oil money those Islamic governments have had over the decades and all they want are French real estate to vacation in, French wine, French cars and cheeses and yes those infamous very loose French women to cajole the day away with. I’m trying to be funny now …

I say this in a friendly way: lay off the alcohol fella’s …, your spines are bending. I’m saying this to the posters in this blog and in reference to that disappointment of a President of the United States. What with all that power and resources at his disposal, his handling of the events over the last five, six years shows the difference between the best and the brightest, the smart men, and those few wise men who infrequently do pop up on center stage and talk the talk, and walk the walk, and by God DO IT! They get the job done.

Democrat, Republican, arrogant American nor the pedantic, Godless European, no one has nor can they find words to talk to the Iraqis, or anyone in that region. Looming over the horizon are the dark clouds forming as we write these words in a blog, … the Iranian Islamics want nuclear things to make big, really big booms in the near future …

Has anyone heard any news, anything at all out of the United Nations recently? I have not.

I suppose everyone has had enough of this, though I could expound on each paragraph alot more …, I’ll bid ya’ all adieu.

6. carlbrannen - July 29, 2007

Gosh, I certainly don’t think Iraq is similar in any way to WW2. They are vastly different in every imaginable way. I was simply pointing out that with the French, the concept of “regime change”, as a positive form of foreign policy, is not entirely alien to their own country’s experience.

During the war, there were two alternative choices for the French government. One was Petain, elected by the National Assembly which gave him full powers in the face of a military and political emergency (the defeat of France). The other was was declared by a French military leader (in absentia), who happened to be our buddy.

The Vichy regime was acknowledged by the United States to be the official government of France until after the war. Vichy was overthrown by a military invasion force headed up by the US. The Vichy government then went into exile in Nazi Germany, it did not willingly give power to the new regime backed by the US. That’s “regime change of a legitimate government” by any reasonable definition. To get otherwise, you pretty much have to reserve “legitimate” to mean what the Red Queen wanted in the book Alice in Wonderland.

The “lesson” of Afghanistan was that regime change is a cheap and easy process that makes everybody happy. If we’d been treated to happy crowds and flowers in Iraq instead of bombs and bullets, the lesson would be drilled even deeper. Fortunately, we stubbed that toe good and hard on a relatively small “rock” rather than trying the same thing with Iran or China. We’re probably safe from the urge to kick anything around for another 25 years or so.

7. Fred - July 29, 2007


Your points are accurate and well taken.

8. Kurt L. Hanson - July 29, 2007

The comments within this blog I’ve saved for reference to the book I’ll write ten, fifteen years from now. Eerie how similar attitudes towards the conduct of war were expressed in the speeches given and tomes written during the months and years the US Civil War was being fought. And while Lincoln finally found Grant after two years into the war to take the Union to victory over the Confederates, George W. has the Pentagon crowd, and those guys at the Pentagon will never forget who did what when. Whether it be fifteen or fifty years there will be more than regime changes in that area of the world.

What’s needed are a team of strong-willed men and women who continue to push a vision that the West is the Best, second to none. Believing the Islamic, religous based culture and government is inferior, and that this is the root cause for the dissension of dialog leading to constructive acts that will change that region of the world.

Our involvement in Afghanistan has just begun. Iran is probably going to have their nuclear facilities destroyed in the future. And Iraq is growing and evolving into a machine that will someday take care of itself and its people. Strong-willed and determined individuals will monitor the events over the decades to bring stability to the region.

What the area doesn’t need are those who cannot focus on a vision for constructing positive goals. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

9. WhatsWrongWithThisGuy - July 29, 2007

Kurt, I can’t wait to see China’s vision applied to the US. I hope you are still alive when your kids have to learn chinese…

10. Fred - July 30, 2007

你好 Kurt,

11. gordonwatts - July 30, 2007

Wow. I was offline for the whole weekend – I wondered what kind of comments this would accumulate. I think this is the longest amount of text that any of my posts has ever generated — and thanks to everyone for keeping their comments civil. One thing I really worry about on the web is the lack of civility.

WhatsWrongWithThisGuy — now is the time for your Children to learn Chineese! 🙂

Kurt, I have to say that I strongly disagree with you! 🙂 Wait, I agree that our involvement in Afghanistan is just starting. We still have a hope there. And the reason we have a hope is because of the connections we had before the war to the various tribal warlords (both good and bad). We got the country to build a gov’t out of that. Things are pretty bad there now — the gov’t seriously functions only close to the capital — but if it weren’t for the Taliban it seems like most of the country would like to see it get better. And, you know, I think Afgan’s could have pulled it off excempt for the festering sore we opened up in Iraq. To say that Iraq is heading towards stability – our forces seem to be playing nothing more than whack-a-mole (or what ever it is called), and are streched already to the breaking point. Or distraction has allowed many others to stir; I’d much rather we concentrated on fixing things up with Russia. I think China, economically, is a much bigger threat than anything else — and there is only one way to fight that — make the US enconomy stronger. This is not to mention the on-rushing global warming problem — the sort of problem that requires some foresight, no army is just going to conqure it! Too bad we are sending all these resources into bullets! And, wow, I hope we have learned from this mess we are currently in before we or anyone else tries to “fix” Iran.

The current set of leaders in the US has been strong willed and pushing forcefully and continuously, just as you hope. They led and we got out of the way. We made a big mistake. We whould have been leading in a totally different direction. But I think it is now clear that the direction has been a disaster for the US. I agree with Kevin: our options are “bad, worse, and oh, my lord!” We are stuck — strategically and morally! Most Americans want us to withdraw — but I hope they realize no matter what course of action we take we will be paying for this mistake in cash for years to come. And when we withdraw the bloodshed that will occur will also be on our hands.

I think we are foo-bar’ed.

I really dislike this expression “Lead, follow or get out of the way” — because it implies there is only one direction that you can go. It is stupid: science would never have gotten this far (transistor? ha! digital computer? Probably not until much later than it did) if that dictum had been followed. If two people want to lead in different directions do they just sit there yelling at each other “lead, follow, or get out of the way?” at each other? There doesn’t seem much point or ability to make progress in that.

At any rate, I hope everyone had a great weekend. 🙂

12. gordonwatts - July 30, 2007

Fred — what does that say? My kid is too young to have started learning Chinese yet!

13. Kurt L. Hanson - July 30, 2007

Learn Chinese? Which specific dialect? Help us understand your intentions, your thoughts, ok WhatsWrongWithThisGuy?

… wow.

It is written the pen is mightier than the sword. A modern version of that idea perhaps could best be expressed,

McDonalds, Starbucks, Levi denim jeans and Apple computers are mightier than any nation’s military arsenal.

Five hundred years from today the entire world is more Western. Why? Because we have Santa’s bag full of nice little goodies that all the boys and girls of foreign lands, of future generations, will want. We do and they don’t.

How evil we are, the thought goes. The arogant American should know there’s more to life than those greasy french fries and MTV, right? I’m the type of American who should listen to hours of liberal Democratic party, European rhetoric on why this idea is so flawed, and cannot possibly be expected to do anything more than to cause even more of their people to hate US …, because I really don’t have a grasp of the realities of the situation over there enough to then understand all the complexities involved in the social, religous, cultural and economic blah, blah, blahs …

Interesting for me to note the timetables being imposed on the Islamic Jean-Claude Duvalier’s we’ve created in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ll all have to simply wait and see if this new foreigh policy tactic is fruitful …, you know, whether our intentions for the region can become implemented, functional to some extent with these guys, though … I heard members of the Iraqi parliament had their bags packed at the airport, some of them were all ready to board a plane, take a vacation somewhere. Their leaders already want to take a vacation …, an idiotic vacation, to play around for awhile, to have fun.

As I watch another day on the war on terror unfold, I sit back, eat my popcorn and watch the movie unfolding in real time. I’ll throw in my two cents, take my pot shots here and there to whomever is near.

WhatsWrongWithThisGuy just sat down next to me and said something over to me. With a disgusted look I mumble a few polite though insignificant words, shake my head, pick myself up from the theater seat and go sit myself down somewhere else.

What an almost pathetic people.

14. gordonwatts - July 30, 2007

Well, Kurt, I agree with “McDonalds, Starbucks, Levi denim jeans and Apple computers are mightier than any nation’s military arsenal” though perhaps not Apples (ha!, sorry, had to slip that in). This is something that I’m very nervous about in the US and why I’m nervous about China. I’d like to see all of us spend more time and resources on the economic side of things than we are now. Sadly, this is not a country of infinite resources. At any rate. I need to get back to work, this is much easier to talk about than work is to do!

15. Fred - July 31, 2007

Hi Gordon,

It closely attempts to translate into:

Hello Kurt,
The U.S. is beautiful and so are you. (Best intended to be said by Telly Savalas playing Kojak)

I do not speak nor understand Chinese but a few of my friends and co-workers are from various parts of China or have lived there for years. As you know, one of the benefits of living on the Pacific Rim is the integration of many cultures and ideas. Eurocentrism is too easy of a pill to swallow for most of us in the U.S. and I often catch myself falling into this trap. Fortunately for us, many state universities in this country (next door at UCLA in my case) offer the opportunities to become exposed to our own ignorances while also revealing to others the vibrant people, lifestyles and characteristics of this country. But WOW, watching that “War On Terror” film festival must require eating a ton of popcorn while playing musical chairs in a dark theatre with strangers sporting shot-up threads. Hmm, I’d better go check out the “The Simpson’s Movie” instead. Who says we don’t support Ruport Murdoch, News Corp. and The Peoples Republic of China?

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