November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld Out, Gates In

Donald Rumsfeld, tremendously belatedly, has finally been pushed out of office. It took the loss of the Congress to ultimately force Bush's hand. Well, better than late than never. We now have a chance, under Bob Gates, for a fresh top-to-bottom review of Iraq strategy. We now can hope that new civilian leadership in the Pentagon--not wedded to the disastrously failed policies of the past--can take a meaningful fresh look at Iraq war strategy. Is this some panacea? No, of course it is not. Will the situation in Iraq likely deteriorate further, making Gates’ job even harder by the time he assumes office around January? Likely, yes.

But, as I said, at least there is hope now. We will have a Secretary of Defense who displays pragmatism and humility, not recklessness and hubris. We will have a Secretary of Defense in favor of occasionally speaking to our enemies, not intimating mindlessly and unpersuasively that the war might be expanded to new theaters willy-nilly (see Gates' co-chairing an excellent CFR task force calling for dialogue with Iran back in '04). We will have a Secretary of Defense who would never play Secretary of State, needlessly alienating allies with talk of "Old Europe", or battering our reputation in the Middle East by using gratuitous phrases like the "so-called Occupied Territories". We will have a Secretary of Defense who will display a much more sophisticated understanding of the myriad challenges presented in Iraq and Afghanistan--not to mention the war on terror more generally (an increasingly empty phrase in need of a radical rethink, of which more soon). And, not least, we will have a Secretary of Defense who understands the import of the Geneva Conventions, of the advisability of treating detainees in our custody with respect and dignity, in accordance with what we used to call American values. In short, we will have a competent pragmatist armed with fresh strategic lens, not an arrogant well past his prime and beholden to the failed policies of the past.

I will have more on Rumsfeld another day, but suffice it to say I take no particular joy in beating up on him on the day he has finally stood down. I am too despondent about the war, and feel too much disgust at his handling of it to feel any giddy euphoria really (though, of course, I am hugely gratified by this development today). What is clear is that history will remember him as a hubris-ridden figure who abjectly bungled the Iraq war. Given his obvious talents and accomplishments manifested earlier in his career, it is sad for him that these will be but footnotes now (as will be the fact that he will become the longest serving Defense Secretary ever next month), with his epitaph now mainly the massive carnage his flawed strategy unleashed in Iraq.

Regardless, what we saw yesterday was American democracy at its finest. We saw the public mount a critically needed intervention, because without it a President well beyond his depth would have likely continued to cast his lot with discredited cocksure ideologues and/or Jacksonian nationalists like Rumsfeld. In Gates, we have an anti-ideologue and a realist. In his role with the Baker-Hamilton commission (a welcome dose of bipartisan sanity in an increasingly moronic Washington, media and blogosphere), he will have had access and been influenced by distinguished peers grappling with what to do next in Iraq in a climate characterized by sober appraisal of the national interest, rather than the agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing afoot in all the usual quarters.

There is a final irony worth noting too, perhaps. With pragmatists and Bush 41 alum like Baker and Gates rising to the fore, the son who marched headstrong into Iraq (like the father wouldn't after liberating Kuwait) is now being forced to lick his wounds and crawl back towards the protective umbrella of his father's former advisors. Neo-con exuberances, faith-based adventurism, and utopian aspiration passing for persuasive policy are now necessarily going to be relegated to the back-seat, in favor of essentially needed sobriety and realism (Gates is far closer to Scowcroft, say, than ribald fraudster types spouting off endless inanities at NRO and the Standard). While it is true Cheney is still around (one of his father's advisors too, but a changed man now no longer respected by his former colleagues in Bush 41), he is a much diminished figure who, to boot, just lost his main ally today.

This too belated Thermidor will now have key players like Gates grappling with how to salvage a viable Iraqi state and revitalize America's standing, power, and image on the global stage. This will likely mean talking to Iran and Syria, while resuscitating the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process (just today 18 Palestinians met a brutal death in Gaza, so that it is high time that American diplomacy ratchet up its efforts to stem the endless cycles of bloodshed in the Holy Land--as Presidents across both parties have traditionally assiduously attempted for decades-- rather than continue to throw up our hands in hapless, ineffective inertia). There is also a volatile situation in East Asia which calls for seasoned, sustained crisis management (rather than absurd calls to arm Japan with nukes and other such claptrap being peddled about by varied hacks). Related, we must look to reappraise and fine-tune our relationships with the Chinese and the Russians, as well as other key countries like Pakistan and India (with all due respect, our Secretary of State rather urgently needs a talented Deputy Secretary to back her up in this).

All this to say, while the damage done has been huge, our country has faced dark hours before, and she has persevered. As I said above, Bush’s move today was no panacea, and he reluctantly took this step because of the ‘thumping’ he received--as tactical maneuver to deflate some of the Democrat’s momentum—not out of some sudden burst of profound sagacity. But still, he did it, and we must all hope that, now with the seismic shift in Congress and a new Defense Secretary, we just might have a sliver of hope that America's global position can now be ameliorated, both in Iraq and elsewhere, something so critically needed after the gross missteps commited these past years that have caused such a grevious loss of blood and treasure, as well as deep blows to our moral standing and repute.

Posted by Gregory at November 9, 2006 02:05 AM

Given his obvious talents and accomplishments manifested earlier in his career, it is sad for him that these will be but footnotes now (as will be the fact that he will become the longest serving Defense Secretary ever next month), with his epitaph now mainly the massive carnage his flawed strategy unleashed in Iraq.

You know, it's funny, because I've wanted him gone for a very long time. But in the event, I find myself blaming not him, but the President. JFK stood up to Curtis LeMay and other advisers who wanted to escalate over the missiles in Cuba. Johnson, as badly managed as it was, controlled the campaign in Vietnam. Nixon took responsibility for all the awful decisions his administration made. Bush I was clearly the decision maker on the Gulf War.

But this president seems to have completely abdicated his role as THE decision-maker. He seems to have this completely bizarre notion of delegation and loyalty. He does what his subordinates tell him, and then backs their decisions (not his own) to the hilt.

That's where the problem lies. It lies with this disengaged, ignorant and fatuous man, obsessed with power, but unconcerned with policy.

Posted by: jayackroyd at November 9, 2006 06:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agreed about Bush being the one responsible here. He should have fired him two years ago and it is incomprehensible to me why he did not. It is also incomprehensible to me that Rumsfeld could have been so clueless as to let Iraq devolve into tribal warfare by providing no security and never putting enough troops in there when it would have mattered. Maybe he can honestly answer that question now.

GD, are you so sure about Gates? I hope he is all you are saying he is. As soon as I heard he was part of the Bushies in Texas I thought, oh boy I hope this isn't another Harriet Miers appointment. Bush seems that clueless. I really hope Gates gets a major grilling in the Senate, at the least.

Posted by: napablogger at November 9, 2006 09:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The fish rots from the head - I can't see proper repairs getting started until Bush is gone. Still, I'm glad Rummy is gone, and as even a cigar store Indian would do a better job as Secretary of Defense, it's overall a plus.

Posted by: Alexei McDonald at November 9, 2006 09:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The way I've figured it all along, Bush will want to stay the course. They'll announce they have a bold new plan to win in iraq. "Whatever you want to criticise about the way it used to be, it's a brand new ballgame now. None of your criticisms apply any more." The hawks shout down any criticism with that line for at least 6 months. "It's all changing but it takes time to get the new system in place." From there it turns into "We just got set up with the new system, it takes time for it to get results.". And with luck they won't actually have to pull out for 2 years.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 9, 2006 01:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not going to suggest the coming of Gates is not a good thing but
I do think you seem to be misreading things. Why wasn't Rummy dumped before election? Obviously cause Rove was gambling that it was better to go after votes from conservative base rather than independents. If that tactic had worked would Rummy still be the man? Hard to believe Rove would have courted the base and then immediately turned around to give it the finger for no good reason - ergo Gates must have been plan B. But if that's the case does plan B really indicate a change of course? Not if you believe that the course has been in place for months now and was just waiting for the nuisance of the election to be over with. And the course is? Iraq is a lost cause: how do we get out of there without destroying the GOP and handing the Dems a huge majority in 2008? The move to quickly put Gates in place is a ruse designed to set the Dems up for failure or at least the appearance thereof. It would not have happened if Republicans had held onto power and does not indicate a change in course - the real course, that is, which has nothing to do with the ‘victory’ rhetoric conservatives have been spouting for months now.

How can anyone in their right mind think that an archly partisan administration like Bush's is going to suddenly turn on a dime and become sympathetic to its 'enemies' simply because they lost an election? They've made it clear since the contested 2000 election that they only care for democratic principles if those principles serve their interests - that ethos is at the very core of conservative ideology. These guys have absolutely no intention of 'working with' a Democrat controlled congress on Iraq because that would destroy their chances for 2008. This is why - and it amazes me how few people are picking up on it - this is why McCain keeps asking for more troops even though he knows there's no way that's gonna happen: he's putting his pieces in place for 2008. This has to be the case, he's too smart a politician for it to be otherwise - and if I'm right on McCain, which I am, it means I'm also right on what the nomination of Gates means.

Posted by: saintsimon at November 9, 2006 01:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I predict that nothing is going to change in as far as the White House course for Iraq, DOD acquisition plans, or DOD top leadership. We'll see if Gates really intends to do anything more than hold the rudder steady for two years.

Posted by: J. at November 9, 2006 01:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You're dreaming. There will be no substantial changes under Gates.

Posted by: tregen at November 9, 2006 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My biggest fear is that a replaced Rumsfeld may recall shades of the replaced Westmoreland. Abrams may have had much more of a clue than his predecessor, but by the time he arrived on the scene, the American public had grown sick of the war, North Vietnam knew it, and so the result was that there was really nothing that increased battlefield success accomplished.

I definitely hope things turn out differently this time around, but I fear the worst.

Posted by: Andrew R. at November 9, 2006 02:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You're dreaming. There will be no substantial changes under Gates.

I gotta disagree here -- there will be major changes, but it is unlikely that the most necessary changes in strategy (such as a willingness to get serious about engaging Iran and Syria both of which have every reason to see the US remain bogged down in Iraq as long as possible, given Bushco's agressively hostile attitude toward them) will take place. (As absurd as it sounds, replacing Khalizad with someone like Jesse Jackson would go a long way toward establishing the impression that the US has changed its approach to Iraq).

Posted by: p.lukasiak at November 9, 2006 03:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Bush were smart, he would be using this imminent Democrat takeover to signal that an irresponsibe immediate withdrawal were about to take place. (A meeting with Murtha -- all smiles and friendliness might be good). This might frighten Syria and Iran (who do not want an implosion in Iraq) into It also might get Iraq's PM to notice that he is not serving American interest right now, and his reward might be the sort of pull out that guarantees the sort of civil war that might shorten his life expectancy.

Of course, what the US may end up doing is negotiating the gentle transition of Iraq into the Iran/Syria axis. Not sure there are many other peaceful alternatives, but, on the whole, that result is probably worse for the US than Saddam still in power.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at November 9, 2006 03:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting perspective on Gates, from a longtime associate (via Nicholas Gvosdev):

Gates has the all-important William and Mary connection, which is enough for me to give him the benefit of the doubt. His bio from his current job as President of Texas A&M:

One thing about Sec. Rumsfeld's mania for waging bureaucratic battles was that the Pentagon wound up with a lot of turf it really didn't know what to do with. Iraq reconstruction was one example; so was intelligence. Rumsfeld's replacement with Gates would create a situation I'm pretty sure has never existed before, in which the boss of the DoD's intelligence agencies will be a former DCI, while the head of the CIA (General Hayden) used to run the Defense Intelligence Agency. There's no guarantee that will help, of course, but the incidence of grabbing intelligence turf for its own sake should go down.

Posted by: Zathras at November 9, 2006 04:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iraq will break up under the rubric of a 'Federal State,' likely it will have the lifespan of the Hapsburg's proposed 'Federal State' of 1918. America will pull its forces back, to Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman. The lesson of why we these interventions fail will be lost in the small details of this administrations incompetence. Yet, some leaders of other nations will have noticed that U.S. has the ability to destroy, albeit lacking the ability create. There is no need to stay in Iraq; our very presence is destabilizing, who wouldn't hate foreign armies their country? Hindsight being less than 20 20, I wouldn't expect a clear consensus lesson to emerge. I wouldn't expect America to suddenly give up its peculiar and irrational world view either.

Posted by: Tom at November 9, 2006 04:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"We'll see if Gates really intends to do anything more than hold the rudder steady for two years."

Why would he bother leaving A&M just to do that, when it'd just leave him looking bad with one or two thousand more dead soldiers to his credit?

Posted by: Jon H at November 9, 2006 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why would he bother leaving A&M just to do that, when it'd just leave him looking bad with one or two thousand more dead soldiers to his credit?

Maybe because he owed Bush Sr a giant favor?

We can't really depend on this sort of logic because we don't know enough of the relevant facts.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 9, 2006 05:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It was clear by the time of the first Fallujah that Rummie had made disastrous errors in the Iraq war. A braver President less set on hard selling the dellusion of success would have hung a freedom medal on him and cut him loose three years ago. I doubt a new Def Sec would have made a difference to the doomed enterprise in Iraq; he might have saved our bacon in Afghanistan however.

Posted by: Ali at November 9, 2006 06:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jon, Jon - his President asked him to do him a favor, and he feels a great debt to assist our young men and women who are fighting in Iraq today. Other than that, as SecDef, you really get a great plug for your resume, free flights around the world, great exposure, and great business contacts. What's the downside? Play it safe, let the functionaries do what they do, just mind the store, then go back to A&M in two years. Easy.

Posted by: J at November 9, 2006 06:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for an excellent post.

Posted by: Steve at November 9, 2006 06:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As soon as I heard the replacement I suspicioned this was a rescue mission by Bush 41 & friends of yet another one of Junior's failed enterprises. And it won't be without a cost. I believe Gates will call the shots in Iraq, much like Rumsfeld and Cheney before him. All of the remaining Cheneyites and neo-cons will be purged from the DoD and intelligence community. Dick's official duties will be reduced to ribbon cutting ceremonies for the next two years, should he remain around that long. The President will signoff on whatever is presented to him as "the solution" and will adopt it as his own. Iraq will "disappear" before the '08 campaigns hit their stride giving the Republicans some slim hope of retaining the presidency. George will then retire quietly to Crawford to clear some more brush...

Posted by: jim in austin at November 9, 2006 06:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

ribald fraudsters at WS?

Dare I remind you that WS has been calling for Rummy to resign for some time?

I fail to see that an election that has made Joe Lieberman, Tom Lantos, and Joe Biden Comm chairs is a victory for Thermidor. Perhaps the Scowcroftians will try to set up a friendly dictatorship in Iraq, with the aid of our enemies and not quite friends.

That kind of policy, which got us into the present mess in the ME, wont last with success, and the need for aspirations will return.

Hopefully the neocons will learn, not to accept realist love for dictators, but that their principle mistake was political, trusting the domestic royalists to pursue with sufficient vigor a policy of liberty at home. Maybe they will return to the party many of them once belonged to, the true home of aspirations for liberaty, for an ideal based internationalism, the Democratic party.

Posted by: liberalhawk at November 9, 2006 08:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So is it fair to suppose that Addington's stock is in the penny category?

Posted by: v at November 9, 2006 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I wish I could share in your optimism Greg, but unfortunately I can't.

At this point in time I don't think having a Sec. Defense with a proven history of fabricating intelligence to match preconceived policy decisions is a great idea.

Add in his history of lying to congress and I don't feel any better.

Posted by: Davebo at November 9, 2006 09:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Apparently I'm not alone in my musings:

Posted by: jim in austin at November 9, 2006 10:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So is it fair to suppose that Addington's stock is in the penny category?

Nope. Addington goes when Cheney goes.

Cambone, OTOH ...

Posted by: Anderson at November 9, 2006 11:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I agree with Davebo, Gates' record from being a part of the CIA "B Team" that grossly overestimated Soviet Capabiliites in the late 1970s, incontrast to the orginal Soviet estimates of the CIA's Soviet Experts that were much more accurate; to his indirect involvement in the Iran-Contra Mess as then Vice-Pres Bush Sr's National Security Assistant, Gates' career has been a rather shady one with a low premium placed on such things as honesty & intergity. That Bush is trying to get Gates & UN Amb Bolten approved by the Republican controlled Lame-Duck Senate is not reassuring to say the least!
(Senator Hee-Haw George Allen has now conceeded so the Democrats will control both Houses come Jan.) Suppose that trying to find anyone of ability to replace Rumsfeld as SecDef for what will probably be two stormy years of a lame duck administration was not easy. Perhaps Gates was the best Bush Jr. could get.

Everyone seems to be waiting around for whatever the Baker-Hamilton Panel proposes for Iraq. Indeed, think the anticipation of this report in the Media has been overdone, more like it was the Second Coming they were previewing! Hard to see how this report's conclusions can be anything other then a face-saving way of withdrawing from Iraq. Already there are stories saying we are going to increase the number of teams we have training Iraqi troops, that the Iraqi Army will be given more respondsibilty in fighting sectarian violence & that US troops will increasing withdraw to the bases & be hold in reserve and not be involved in so much in day-to-day operations, etec. Have not heard the phrase Iraqization yet, but surely that is only a matter of time! Important to realize that most, in not all, US Troops will be out of Iraq by Election Day 2008, if only because the Republicans are not going to give the Democrats such a Club as this unpopular Iraq War to beat the Republicans into a bloody pulp two elections in a row!

Finally, I must register my disquist at the last post in the thread about Max Boot's crazyed ideas about dealing with Iran. Author of this post proclaimed sneering that while we were Israel's ally, Israel was not our ally. Sorry but this sounds like rank anti-Semitism with its implcation that the clever Jews were Puppet Masters pulling the strings of their American Puppets. It is a most offensive smear.

Posted by: David All at November 10, 2006 12:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I though the most interesting comment in this thread was Liberalhawk's:

"Perhaps the Scowcroftians will try to set up a friendly dictatorship in Iraq, with the aid of our enemies and not quite friends.

That kind of policy, which got us into the present mess in the ME, wont last with success, and the need for aspirations will return."

I think the decision to fght in Iraq was pushed by the neo-cons because they believed 9/11 highlighted a significant, long-term problem - that the U.S. was supporting non-democratic Arab regimes that had become breeding grounds for anti-American Islamacists. They had the experience of post-Soviet Eastern Europe in mind, and they thought though that establishing a democracy in Iraq was a bold, risky, but potentially fruitful way of dealing with this. Then of course, they and their allies in the administration so screwed up the implementation that they forever mooted the question of whether it could have worked.

Is Gates now in place to try to retreat to the earlier policy? (E.g. get the neighboring dictators to buy into establishing an Iraqi dictatorship they can live with.) I hope not.

Posted by: Matt at November 10, 2006 01:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is nothing particularly realistic or pragmatic in thinking that being the treasury for Persian Gulf despots, via oil extraction, for the next several decades, thus participating in the tyrannization of of dozens of millions of muslims, is a manageable state of affairs. I'll be damned if I know how to change it at this point, however.

"Realism" and "prgmatism" are relative qualities, I suppose.

Posted by: Will Allen at November 10, 2006 04:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Realism and pragmatism are historically opposites. The Realist approach in the ME is typified by things like Kissinger supporting the Shah in Iran in order to secure Iran as a friendly regional power aligned against the Soviets. That's Realism in the British "great game" sense. Pragmatism is the opposite - doing what seems best or easiest to do in a particular circumstance regardless of how it might fit into a global strategy. This is more like supporting the Algerian government in 1991 when they annulled a free election because Islamacists won it. There are both Realistic and pragmantic arguments for supporting the House of Saud and other autocrats in the Gulf states, and helping them control their citizens with a combination of secret police and hand-outs, in return for them controlling their militants, selling us their oil and buying our weapons. It's Realistic because it's part of a grand strategy to supress would-be terrorists and secure oil supplies. It's pragmatic because the alternative, pressuring them to turn into democracies, is difficult and unlikely to have a favorable outcome. Those arguments carried the day, more or less, for decades. The Neocons were perceptive enough to see that the deal was breaking down, and bold enough to propose alternatives. Unfortunately they were fairly arrogant, sloppy, ignorant of the region, and had little staying power. Now their effort has failed. That doesn't mean, though, that we need to go back to the old Realist or pragmatist approaches.

Posted by: Matt at November 10, 2006 06:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In terms of attainability, the first objective -- avoiding defeat -- is just a matter of will. The enemy can't defeat us; defeat occurs only if we choose to withdraw. The second objective is also attainable. We have proven that we can crush al-Qaeda and other insurgents when they attempt to seize and hold territory. The third objective -- blocking Iran -- can also be achieved. The pro-Iranian militias cannot take out-and-out control as long as we're around.

The fourth goal -- preventing Iraqis from killing each other -- has proven to be a bridge too far. There's little reason to believe that we can accomplish this with our present level of force. Indeed, it's not clear that we accomplish it even with higher levels. In any case, higher troop levels, and the death toll that would accompany them, are not politically sustainable.

As for promoting Iraqi democracy, we've done most of what we can do. A democratic system is in place. It's up to the Iraqis to make it work."

Look forward. Please.

(from Powerline)

Posted by: neill at November 10, 2006 06:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Robert C. Gates will be George W. Bush's Clifford Clark, said Arnold Kanter, who was a top official at state and currently a bussiness partner of Brent Scowcroft in a NYT article. Thank you, Mr. Kanter, for avoiding all the cant in this post and hitting the nail on the head.

Posted by: george hoffman at November 10, 2006 07:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Check out this great blog for excelllent comment and political analysis...

Posted by: Josh Lyman at November 10, 2006 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good point, George Hoffman. Clark Clifford is a pretty good analogy. In the later part of Johnson's administration he delt with constant requests for more troops, diminishing support from Congress, a frustrating and difficult process of empowering ARVN, the South Vietnamese army (called "Vietnamization") and go-nowhere negotiations with the enemy. Gates is going to face a similar set of ingredients, but also some significant differences. For example, Clifford had a better chance at Vietnamization because the South Vietnamese government, though corrupt and poorly led, had a lot more weight, reach, momentum, reality (whatever your want to call it) than Maliki's government. In retrospect, Vietnam was a more conventional war than this one, in that the lines of opposition were clearer and more externalized. It was a civil war more in the sense of the U.S. civil war, especially after Tet, when the Viet Cong had been marginalized. This is a civil war more in the sense of the Congo, where there are no strong institutions free from internal divisions.

That makes both winning and negotiating more difficult. (It was impossible to effectively negotiate during Vietnam only because the opposition couldn't see a reason to compromise, not because the people at the table had inssuficient authority to make a deal)

It's also a good analogy because, most likely, it'll be left to the next administration's Kissinger to finally win or lose.

Posted by: Matt at November 10, 2006 05:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The real question, now that the Democrats have gained control of Congress by focusing on foreign policy, is "what now?" And that's going to be tough, because opinion surveys show the public doesn't have a lot of confidence in any of the strategies on the table. This Public Agenda survey found only two options, better intelligence gathering and reducing dependence on foreign energy, get any real support from the public.

Posted by: William Hallowell at November 10, 2006 05:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is really what this site's Rumsfeld angst is really about. Its a commentary on Belmonts site. GD tell the truth, you want just what Cooper articulates .
"I often wondered why the Democratic Party never articulated a warfighting policy on Iraq. What they would have done differently. Oil spot. More troops. Less troops. Unconventional warfare. Expand the war to Syria, Iran. Withdraw to enclaves. More training. Whatever. You know the stuff a more competent SecDef would have done. Now I understand that all that was irrelevant. Deep down though they never said it was the deep conviction that there was no good way to fight Iraq; that the original sin was to fight in Iraq at all. And Marc Cooper is not only entitled to that opinion, but welcome to express it. After all, he may have been right. The pity is that few others were as forthright as he is.

Remember all those articles from Generals who were going to do it right? No one was going to take their advice. The contrary views were printed just because they were contrary, not because anyone was thinking of switching to any strategy other leaving town. All that stuff about reporting for duty. Bring back the adults into the Defense Department. Lessons from past counterinsurgencies. British approach. Responsible redeployment. Thank God for Mark Cooper. He's right. That's just a dishonest word for the process of just giving the Iraqis notice, providing some funding and security support and getting the hell out of Dodge. Like we did in Vietnam. That lasted nearly three whole years after responsible redeployment. In many ways its more honest to leave some money on the night table, slip on your pants and push the car down the road before starting it so she doesn't wake up. Let her dream a little longer."
GD the truth shall set you free.

Posted by: Moose at November 10, 2006 05:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hi. It's interesting to consider the repercussion of this administrative change -- the American people are definitely thinking about it.

The real question, now that the Democrats have gained control of Congress by focusing on foreign policy, is "what now?" And that's going to be tough, because opinion surveys show the public doesn't have a lot of confidence in any of the strategies on the table. This Public Agenda survey found that only two options, better intelligence gathering and reducing dependence on foreign energy, get any real support from the public.

Check it out at:

Posted by: amy at November 10, 2006 06:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"And, not least, we will have a Secretary of Defense who understands the import of the Geneva Conventions, of the advisability of treating detainees in our custody with respect and dignity, in accordance with what we used to call American values."

This seems entirely questionable to me: what evidence is there for this?

Against it is Gate's history at the CIA during the Eighties, when CIA was working with regimes in Central America that depended upon death squads and torture. I see no reason to believe he would object to them now when there's no record of him previously objecting to them. (Additionally, mining harbors is an act of war, I believe; neither were the contras great adherents to "American values"; plus there's Gates long history of distorting intelligence to suit the politics of his superiors; basically, the guy's record is that of a quite competent toady; an entirely unsurprising pick by Bush, but I think it's a mistake to expect much from it.)

Posted by: Gary Farber at November 10, 2006 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can someone translate that post by Moose into English? I mean, as it is, it sounds incoherent, but perhaps I just lack the translation key?

Posted by: john doe at November 10, 2006 07:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John Doe, I can make a try at it.

First off, you have to understand that Belmont Club is a blog devoted to supporting whatever the current administration line happens to be. They come up with good news from iraq and that kind of thing. Of course they're pretty despondent now, they assume that the evil democrats will erase all the gains the neocons have produced and we'll be in deep trouble.

Of course, for a while Belgravia Dispatch has been focusing on what wasn't working in iraq, and so Moose has the idea that BD has been doing everything in reaction to BC.

Marc Cooper has his own blog and he made a recent post that hit BC in the gut. He says that there's no way to win in iraq, and there never was. Rumsfeld's mistake was following Bush/Cheney's order to invade, not in any details of the management -- the war could have been done better but it wouldn't have made much difference, it was a mistake from the beginning. So now all we can do is try to get an orderly exit. Needless to say this has BC devotees wailing and gnashing their teeth and all. Here it is, I couldn't bring myself to do more than sample it a little bit.

The claim is that we won't try to salvage the war. We won't try to use more troops and more money and new hi-tech weapons to win in iraq. No stealth bombers. No Predator RPVs. No smart minefields. No cluster bombs. No Willy Pete. No torture. No subcutaneous transponders. No electronic implants in insurgent brains. No Daleks. We're just going to give up. We'll give the iraqi government notice, give them some weapons and some money, and pull out. All the talk about redeployment is just a smokescreen. The democrats will make Bush pretend he's redeploying while he actually does an unconditional ignominous retreat.

He figures the democrats who used to talk about alternatives were all just pretending, none of them wanted us to win, they just wanted the GOP to lose the war and pull out.

He feels emotional about it. Bush is going to surrender this war while pretending to keep fighting it, and it's all the Democrats' fault. He's very very upset.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 10, 2006 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What makes Gates qualified to run Defense? 2 years in the Air Force in the late 60s? Well that and he is a responsible and expert bureaucrat, which isn't a perjorative term. He also has spent several hours studing the drafts being circulated by Baker and the ISG.

Are those the reasons he was appointed? Of course not. He's loyal to the Bush family and the permanent government types, which overlap so much as to be one and the same. His real ace in the hole, he was almost indicted in Iran Contra. I forget if he lied to congress, the gold standard for Bush appointess. He lied to Walsh however, which is almost as good.

That's all water under the bridge however. His job is to find an exit which will do the least damage to his friends, none of whom are in the military.

Setting the snark aside, we will see how he feels about attacking Iran. If he didn't raise the question about that directly with Bush then he's crazy. If he's for it he's crazy. If he's against it and Bush knows that then things have really changed, maybe. Look up the legend of Colin Powell who was against ever major and most minor Bush foreign policies, if they can be called policies, and filled the SoS post just fine till he was shown the door.

Posted by: rapier at November 10, 2006 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Regardless, what we saw yesterday was American democracy at its finest."

You've said at least one thing I agree with. The difference between us, however, is that I think election day is always America at its finest. Would you be saying the same thing had the Republicans prevailed -- or would you be calling that American democracy at its worst?

"We will have a Secretary of Defense who displays pragmatism and humility, not recklessness and hubris."

Since the appointment of Bob Gates is nothing if not breathtakingly pragmatic, I can only presume that what really troubles you most is hubris -- a quality which lies almost exclusively in the eyes of the beholder. One man's hubris is another's courage. Where you see recklessness, another sees necessary risk. The pictures you paint are every bit as black and white as anything proffered by the neocons you despise. Your comparison of Gates as all things bright and beautiful (but not a panacea!) to Rumsfeld as envoy from the dark side is an equally shameless display of arrogance.

I'm fed up with arguments that frankly revolve around personalities, IQ's and motives instead of acknowledging that there is a legitimate dispute over the nature of the risks we face, and thus, inevitably differences in how we both assess and address them. While the current administration can certainly be faulted for doing a piss poor job of articulating the case for intervention in Iraq and for obscuring the actual status of events on the ground, the Democrats have refused to articulate other options at all. If hindsight is all you want, of course, it really doesn't matter who you vote for, does it?. The Democrats campaigned on a promise to change the course, but in what some might call an astonishing, historically ground-breaking, exercise of political hubris, they postponed defining the party's platform till after the elections.

We'd be far better off if the obsessive spleen spent on Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld et al., both in Congress and in blogs like this, had been spent demanding that Democrats come up with a viable alternative to the policies they've decried at every turn and and stonewalled wherever they could. They've steadfastly refused to put any cards on the table, as though this were nothing but a game of power poker. Anyone looking for real change should have called that bluff years ago. Fecklessness can be every bit as dangerous as releckness. It looks even worse if you're making judgments about intellectual honesty.

Ditto for superficial nostrums like "talking to Syria" etc. That's a tactic, not strategy, and without defined objectives, it's an utterly meaningless suggestion. You personally may have laid out such objective & strategies since I last dropped in, but I have yet to hear anything remotely like a plan from the party formerly known as the opposition. The idea that it may be difficult to accomplish much in the next two years is a ready-made excuse for a party that's had 6 years in the wilderness to prep. If they're not ready for prime time, just don't let them blame Bush -- for a change.

Posted by: JM Hanes at November 10, 2006 11:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear JM Hanes,

These are called off-year elections, where you have 468 or so people on each side running for federal office as representatives of their respective constituencies. There is no requirement, and it's a straw man argument, to deride them for not having an agreed-on fully worked out strategy for running the war. The president's job is to make and implement foreign policy, Congress advises and consents, and in extreme cases legislates, very broad goals, strategies, and limitations. The Dems who were swept into office want, as a body, to have a stronger role in advising and to be able to withhold consent if they feel it's justified. If we were talking about a Democratic presidential candidate, as we will be in a year or so, then your arguments would hold water. Suppose some individual Democratic candidate, say a former Secretary of the Navy, had a very specific strategy in mind. He's got a plan to talk to Syria, offer them something to do with their economy or with Lebanon, in order to secure their support in closing the Syrian border and negotiating with certain insurgent leaders. That's the level of detail you're asking for. The notion that one candidate in an off year election could get all the others in his/her party to sign onto it, is unrealistic. The notion that once elected as a Senator he could somehow implement that policy, is also unrealistic. To my mind, that makes your complaint more of a partisan cheap shot than a reasoned criticism.

Posted by: Matt at November 11, 2006 12:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You may not realize it, but you are confirming my own point about the value of floating ideas like "talking to Syria" in a vacuum. Of course, we are talking with Syria (and others) at any number of levels, we're just not doing so on an official, unilateral basis. It's certainly reasonable to expect those suggesting a change to offer an opinion on the benefits of doing so and, at the very least, hint at whether they have routine chit chat or negotiation of some kind in mind.

Your own argument might hold water if Democratic leadership had not framed this election as a referendum on changing course, and had John Kerry, as the Democrats' last presidential nominee, articulated a strategic vision and/or an identifiable plan two years ago -- a position which the Democrats could have been building upon, refining, or replacing in the interim. In fact, had Kerry managed to do so, he might be the sitting President right now. It's all very well to say that Democratic candidates just want to play a stronger role in the decision making process, but until you articulate what they intend to accomplish by doing so, you haven't made the case for electing a Democrat instead of a Republican.

You can characterize my argument as a partisan cheap shot -- or take any other cheap shot at it you like. I can only tell you that I think that we'd be in far better shape if the Democrats had spent less time perfecting the "just say no" approach to opposition and more time honing a platform and figuring out how to operate effectively as a minority -- something that I can also only hope that Republicans haven't forgotten how to do in the course of enjoying their majority in a most unseemly fashion.

Posted by: JM Hanes at November 11, 2006 01:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, "cheap shot" may have been a cheap shot. Sorry about that. And you're quite right about Kerry; or at least right to air the criticism - it is a presidential candidate's role to articulate policy they would be responsible for. I doubt though, that that would have helped him get elected. It's a fond hope that if candidates are candid and forthright about everything, people will appreciate and elect them for it. Rarely happens. I was Paul Simon's speech writer during his presidential campaign in '87 and '88, and I wrote or edited about 30 very detailed position papers on various issues. Senator Simon was a loser among losers that year. Modern campaigns operate on the assumption that wherever you stick your neck out, the opposition has opposition research looking for ways to spin it to make you look like an idiot or a knave, so specific proposals on controversial issues only help you if you can win by playing to your base. This tension between responsibility to the voters and consequences makes for a tough balancing act on the presidential level.

But congressional campaigns are a different matter. These guys have no responsibility to articulate a coherent foreign policy. they don't need one and can't exercize one if they have it. Their job is to criticize and scrutinize and check the executive on fp. The Dems did exactly the right thing here.

Posted by: matt at November 11, 2006 02:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> One man's hubris is another's courage.

Sure, and one man's red is another man's green....

This is a new twist on moral relativism that I've never seen, claiming that there are no virtues or vices, but that they are all the same...

Posted by: howard's at November 11, 2006 08:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To my mind, that makes your complaint more of a partisan cheap shot than a reasoned criticism.

Well, "cheap shot" may have been a cheap shot. Sorry about that.

No, you were right the first time. It was only a partisan cheap shot and hardly worth rebutting. Spend your time rebutting this stuff and they'll crank out more and more of it.

And then they'll blame you for not taking the time to present a detailed policy right down to troop movements at the squad level.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 11, 2006 08:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


We could sure use more Paul Simon democrats these days! I seem to recall thinking that he dropped out of the presidential running too quickly, and being disappointed. Right now though, I miss Sam Nunn the most.

Posted by: JM Hanes at November 11, 2006 07:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You see moral relativism, I see two sides to the story.

Posted by: JM Hanes at November 11, 2006 07:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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