September 02, 2004

Bush, Kerry and Iraq

Walter Russell Mead:

For Bush, I think you would have to talk about an overall average. There are so many things. I'd give him a solid B to B+ in terms of managing relations with the great powers; that is to say, Russia, China, India, and Japan. I'd give him an A in South Asia. Bush gets points for the combination of dealing with President [Pervez] Musharraf--and getting Pakistan, which had been a Taliban backer, more or less on course--and preventing a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

[Concerning] Iraq, I guess I would divide between effort and achievement. I'd give an A for effort. I would also say that the administration made the right decision that Saddam Hussein was the next address to visit, but I think the administration obviously did not do a very good job of building international support before the war, and [it] clearly underestimated the risks and difficulties that would follow afterward. [Administration officials] also didn't take advantage of some of the planning that their own State Department was doing for postwar reconstruction. They have to lose some points there. I guess you are stuck with a C-.

Q: So you give him an A in Iraq for effort?

A: Yes. But in terms of achievement, just a C-. Saddam Hussein is gone, so you can't flunk him. But you might also say "incomplete." If six months from now, a year from now, we are looking at an Iraqi government that more or less has a security system evolving, if the Shiite situation has calmed down a little bit and [the government is] able to concentrate on the more dangerous insurgency in the north within the Sunni triangle, and if Iraqis are more and more taking the lead politically, well maybe it works out. But it is too soon to tell.

Yeah, that's about right. And don't miss this interesting part:

Q: The Kerry campaign is making much of the Bush administration's strained relations with European powers--other than Britain--and it is clear Kerry is mostly concerned about France and Germany. Would the French have been involved normally?

A: If you are going to fail Americans for not having good relations with France, then a lot of our presidents would have to come down in their grades, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who failed to have good relations with [Free French President] Charles de Gaulle even when we were in the midst of physically liberating France from the Nazis. I do think that the Bush people probably thought that in the end France will do what it so often does, which is sort of pounce and prance and drive everyone crazy and get all the limelight and then at the end of the day go along.

The real problem was Germany. It is interesting that the Kerry people have not made U.S.-German relations more of a focus, because, in fact, what has changed is that Germany sided with Paris rather than with Washington in this latest round. There are a lot of factors there, but I think the reality is that even before the invasion of Iraq, when Gerhard Schroeder was re-elected chancellor on a pledge to oppose Bush's policies no matter what, the die was cast. Bush at that point had not taken a lot of the steps seen as so provocative later...

Q: So, a B or a B- for relations with Europe?

A: Probably a B because, at the end of the day, the biggest loser of the past year was France, not the United States. A year ago, France was defying America and leading a worldwide coalition against us. Now, after failing to influence the leader of the new EU [European Union] Commission, it is stuck with the transport portfolio in the new EU Commission. So, in a sense, France paid a much higher price for this than Bush did.

They sure did.

Which brings me to my post of earlier today. There I asked whether Kerry's statement that "(w)hen it comes to Iraq, it’s not that I would have done one thing differently, I would’ve done almost everything differently" was more by way of honest, serious criticism or more merely evocative of the phenom of hindsight being 20-20.

To explore this issue, it helps to take a look at some of Kerry's contemporaneous policy statements re: Iraq just before the war.

Here's a pretty typical one from a few months before the war (January '03):

...we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. We all know the litany of his offenses.

He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. He miscalculated an eight-year war with Iran. He miscalculated the invasion of Kuwait. He miscalculated America's response to that act of naked aggression. He miscalculated the result of setting oil rigs on fire. He miscalculated the impact of sending scuds into Israel and trying to assassinate an American President. He miscalculated his own military strength. He miscalculated the Arab world's response to his misconduct. And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction.

That is why the world, through the United Nations Security Council, has spoken with one voice, demanding that Iraq disclose its weapons programs and disarm.

So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War. Regrettably the current Administration failed to take the opportunity to bring this issue to the United Nations two years ago or immediately after September 11th, when we had such unity of spirit with our allies. When it finally did speak, it was with hasty war talk instead of a coherent call for Iraqi disarmament. And that made it possible for other Arab regimes to shift their focus to the perils of war for themselves rather than keeping the focus on the perils posed by Saddam's deadly arsenal. Indeed, for a time, the Administration's unilateralism, in effect, elevated Saddam in the eyes of his neighbors to a level he never would have achieved on his own, undermining America's standing with most of the coalition partners which had joined us in repelling the invasion of Kuwait a decade ago.

In U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, the United Nations has now affirmed that Saddam Hussein must disarm or face the most serious consequences. Let me make it clear that the burden is resoundingly on Saddam Hussein to live up to the ceasefire agreement he signed and make clear to the world how he disposed of weapons he previously admitted to possessing. But the burden is also clearly on the Bush Administration to do the hard work of building a broad coalition at the U.N. and the necessary work of educating America about the rationale for war.

As I have said frequently and repeat here today, the United States should never go to war because it wants to, the United States should go to war because we have to. And we don't have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.

The Administration must pass this test. I believe they must take the time to do the hard work of diplomacy. They must do a better job of making their case to the American people and to the world.

I have no doubt of the outcome of war itself should it be necessary. We will win. But what matters is not just what we win but what we lose. We need to make certain that we have not unnecessarily twisted so many arms, created so many reluctant partners, abused the trust of Congress, or strained so many relations, that the longer term and more immediate vital war on terror is made more difficult. And we should be particularly concerned that we do not go alone or essentially alone if we can avoid it, because the complications and costs of post-war Iraq would be far better managed and shared with United Nation's participation. And, while American security must never be ceded to any institution or to another institution's decision, I say to the President, show respect for the process of international diplomacy because it is not only right, it can make America stronger - and show the world some appropriate patience in building a genuine coalition. Mr. President, do not rush to war.

And I say to the United Nations, show respect for your own mandates. Do not find refuge in excuses and equivocation. Stand up for the rule of law, not just in words but in deeds. Not just in theory but in reality. Stand up for our common goal: either bringing about Iraq's peaceful disarmament or the decisive military victory of a multilateral coalition.

Wow, where to start will all this (it's a bit like reading Derrida, no)?

How about here:

"Regrettably the current Administration failed to take the opportunity to bring this issue to the United Nations two years ago or immediately after September 11th, when we had such unity of spirit with our allies."

And, just after:

"Mr. President, do not rush to war."

It's Kerry vs. Kerry again.

I mean, which is it?

On the one hand, Kerry ostensibly seems to have wanted that Bush bring the Iraq matter to the UNSC (which could quite likely, even per Kerry above, have led to war given Saddam's history of obfuscation) right after 9/11 (er, and what about that little Afghan 'thang?).

But, on the other hand, a bit later it's the 'don't rush to war' theme.

As a Kerry foreign policy team will largely prove a Clintonista reunion of sorts--the above approach makes perfect sense.

Send mixed (but jingo!) signals borne of confusion and amateurism (the cavalry is coming to Sarajevo soonest!)--and then slow down so as to give more time for diplomacy and the 'process' (contact group, Yasushi, and so on)--since, of course, there was no real resoluteness or intent to go to war in the first place.

Result? All the attendant lack of policy direction, confusion in world capitals, whispering campaigns about a lack of American resolve--you know, perfect conditions for al-Q to flourish (or the Bosnian Serbs to massacre residents of Gorazde and such).

But back to the Walter Russell Mead interview and Kerry's contention that he would have done it all differently vis-a-vis Iraq.

The reality is, with Chirac and Schroder in power, a President Kerry (or Gore) would very likely not have gotten them on board the Iraq war effort either. So all this talk about working the U.N. and massaging the allies rings pretty hollow, doesn't it (especially given Colin Powell's yeoman's effort in gaining unanimous passage of 1441)?

In fairness, Kerry talks a lot about the importance of not ignoring post-war planning. Winning the peace is indeed critical. But this is pretty empty talk, isn't it?

Let's be plain.

Would Kerry have committed the 350,000 odd troops to theater that would have been required to truly help secure that country to get the reconstruction moving in earnest?

Would Kerry have oh so adeptly avoided all the pitfalls of disbanding the Iraqi Army?

Would his de-Baathification effort have been just-so; what Les Gelb calls (in a different context re: his confederation proposal) the 'Goldilocks' approach (not too much, not too little--just right).

Would legions of Arabists and other regional specialists have flooded the Green Zone, supplanted all nefarious Pentagon influence, and made all Najafians and Fallujans happy that we understood the regional dynamics to a tee, were there to help, and would not besmirch their national dignity?

Put differently, would we, to paraphrase Rodney King, have all gotten along swimmingly straight out of the gates?

Would Kerry have gotten Turkey on board in time for 'major combat operations' too?

Would thousands of Blue Helmets be assisting with patrolling Ramadi and Kufa (remember now; France would almost certainly not have approved a UNSC resolution authorizing such a deployment)?

Would specialized constabulatory forces be in country--helping minimize any alienation of the local populace--to help complement an extremely sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign expertly managed by a Les Aspin type?

I doubt it.

Don't get me wrong.

Kerry might have done a few things better here and there in Iraq.

But, I'd wager, the biggest difference between Kerry and Bush on Iraq is pretty simple. It's that Kerry would never have gone to war with Iraq in the first place (despite all the tough talk, war authorization vote, etc)

Now, you might think that's great.

But for those of us who think, given what we thought the intel was at the time, that it was a necessary war to wage in the post 9/11 era--that's ultimately the big difference between Kerry and Bush you should focus on as you make your pick come November.

So, back to Walter Russell Mead's grades. If Bush deserved an A for effort on Iraq--what would Kerry merit? Oh, say a C-/D+ in my book. And, as the effort grade is likely so pitiable, well--there's really no point in giving a grade to Kerry for 'execution' or 'achievement' is there? I mean, there wouldn't really be anything to achieve...

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at September 2, 2004 10:25 PM
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