June 18, 2004

Diplomats for Change

More disgruntled former diplomats!

Read their manifesto. Here's the link to their main site.

Look, anyone who describes this bunch as merely consisting of the serried ranks of lily-bellied, cocktail-sipping, pin-striped appeasement aficionados (you know, those cowardly Foggy Bottom folks out there serving in places like Riyadh, Amman and Jakarta day in, day out) hasn't a clue of what they speak.

This is mostly a very estimable bunch of former diplomats who have affixed their names to this letter.

Chas Freeman, for instance, is generally considered one of the top-notch intellects to have served at State for decades.

Jack Matlock, Princeton Lyman, William Crowe, Stansfield Turner, Robert Oakley--these are seasoned, non-partisan folks (indeed many of them, I suspect, veer towards the Republican side of the ledger).

Does that mean that I agree with their contention that:

Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted.

Oh, I don't know.

We certainly haven't always been loved by legions of gratitude-infused folks throwing garlands at the benevolent altar of the rosy, post-war Achesonian order.

And the death of the Soviet Union sure makes (risk-free) America-bashing lots easier to indulge in in all the predictable quarters, to be sure.

Note the "Diplomats for Change" group actually made public this letter a couple days back in Washington. So I'm a little late to the party.

I checked out the video of their public roll-out of the initiative at the National Press Club late last night off an Internet feed.

A couple people made comments that were, shall we say, a tad too emotive (it happens!).

But there were a lot of serious points.

Here are four takeaways of note:

1) The former diplomats and military officials were asked whether they thought U.S. policy had been hijacked (you know, the neo-con cabal that was steering hapless Georgie around so Sharon could annex the West Bank and such)?

Nope, they responded. That wasn't their take.

Dubya is a strong leader, they said. He knows what's he's doing.

He knows what policy direction he wants to move towards.

He's listening to the advisors he wants to hear from, on the issues he cares about, per his priorities, per his worldview, per his desired outcomes.

I think that's about right--though Cheney did often loom large, doubtless.

Another way to look at this, of course, is to ask whether Rummy/Cheney (and so Libby, Wolfy, Feith) ran circles around Powell/Armitage/Grossman.

I don't think so--but would note the Veep likely influenced Bush heavily where close calls needed to be mediated and Condi didn't step into the breach.

And that, per Woodward's book, Powell never really bonded with POTUS like he wanted to--which likely impacted at least some of the bureaucratic battling on NoKo, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel-Palestine, how pissed to be at Chirac (ok, everyone was pissed at Chirac) etc. etc.

Well, we'll know more about all this a few years hence, doubtless (Powell's memoirs will not be, er, uninteresting).

2) Robert Oakley made the point that, over the past six weeks or so, realism is creeping back into Iraq policymaking (see Fallujah, Najaf, Brahimi, Chalabi, and so on).

So why did they all sign this letter, given such positive trends?

It appears they believe that a full-blown newbie team is required--even with such 7th inning corrections as have been occuring of late.

Too little, too late, I guess, is how the Jack Matlocks and Phylis Oakley's are taking stock of the situation.

I'm not so sure they should be quite so disconsolate--particularly given the aforementioned mid-stream policy corrections.

But, of course, I'd be surer if Dubya had, for instance, sacked Rummy post Abu-Ghraib (or hinted he needed to fall on his sword) and put John McCain in to replace him (ed. note: boring and predictable recommendation, you sigh...Yeah, but it would make a real difference and signal a corrective course, wouldn't it?)

3) Former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak made the (screamingly obvious for so long) point that we needed to double (at least) the troop head count in Iraq.

Remember, security is the "critical enabler" for everything else we wish to achieve in Iraq. Sure, Fallujah and Najaf have quieted down (at what price is yet to be determined).

But car bombs going off willy-nilly slaying scores week in, week out--it certainly doesn't gain us too much by way of gratitude by beleaguered Iraqis, does it?

Of course, more troops are and were never going to be a panacea. Not by a long shot.

But it was likely smarter to have about 275,000 boots on the ground while not disbanding the entire Iraqi Army--than having 130,000 troops coupled with all the Jacobean fervosity surrounding de-Baathification efforts.

Would all have been rosy with more troops? No, of course not. But would things have been materially better? Yeah, I'm pretty confident they would have.

4) Chas Freeman, at the press club rollout, had some fun dissing Cheney. He quipped that yeah there was a nexus between int'l terror/al-Q and Saddam and the Baathists.

Because of the war, he went on, Hamas was helping the Sunni, Hezbollah the Shia, al-Q/jihadists helping the Baathists. Perhaps that was what Cheney was referencing, went the crowd-pleaser (judging from the chuckles among the assembled press corps)!

Still, of course, the 9/11 commission does state, as Lee Hamilton has pointed out, that "connections" between Saddam and al-Q had occurred in the past.

9/11 related contacts no (it's time for Cheney to drop Atta/Prague); but general contacts yes (so Cheney is right to scold the NYT re: their skewed coverage of this nuanced issue).

And, in a post 9/11 world, the fewer states with any links to al-Q, the better. (Note: Adesnik is less impressed).

More on related topics over the weekend.

Note: Katrina vanden Heuvel has the view from the Nation.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at June 18, 2004 11:11 AM