October 25, 2004
It's Kerry Endorsement Season!
Speaking of the NYT, they are, predictably, in mega-anti-Bush-overdrive-mode right now. There was the Ron Suskind piece--all but portraying Bush as a theocratic fanatic on par with UBL--and clearly aimed at terrorizing wavering secular elites in a city or town near you! There was the Gordon series--which methodically, via three meaty installments, hammered in on many of the Administration's screw ups in Iraq. And, today, this staggeringly awful story (that rings so out and out FUBAR and, in many ways, sums up so much of what went awry with the Iraq occupation). When I read it, my first thought was: "criminally negligent." I went to Sullivan's blog and, lo and behold, that was his exact, verbatim take too. Well yeah, it takes your breath away, really.
And yet--war is a complex and hugely difficult business. What might look like the most critical site in all of Iraq to secure must, in the real world, compete with many other sites for attention (not to mention real, live insurgents trying to kill our forces). We must make sure we are not too wont to carp from the sidelines incessantly--whether from the halls of academia or the editorial rooms--about how our policymakers are so hugely incapable of handling basic tasks that we would have handled so much more swimmingly (of which more below).
Put differently, isn't there something a bit too easy about this rash of elite defections by those who supported the Iraq war? Lawrence Kaplan touches on that here. No true, as people like Dan Drezner (perhaps a wee bit self-defensively) note, this isn't a case of hindsight being 20-20. Critics were pointing out, in real time, the missteps of this Administration in Iraq (yes, B.D. included--particularly re: the fact we never had enough troops in theater--despite being mocked for so contending by 'the Rummy is always right' amen corners of the blogosphere). And, as I've often pointed out, a CFR task force report pre-invasion explicitly warned against Jacobin-like de-Baathification writ large and, more important perhaps, a full-scale disbanding of the Iraqi army.
But still, waging a war of this scope is bound to produce myriad unintended consequences. Major ones. When you support such a mammoth endeavour--you need to be prepared for major problems too. The risks of failure, miscalculation, unintended consequences--all are high. So, let's be blunt. Aren't we seeing, with all these 11th hour Bush defections from war supporters, a bit of the old adage that 'victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan'? At least to some degree, no?
Now, going through old archives playing gotcha is a hugely lame game. And I'm certainly not going to engage in it or (heaven forbid) invite someone do the same to me. But how many of us, way back when, were so absolutely sure that major de-Baathification was a lousy idea? That a wholesale disbanding of the Iraqi army was wholly dumb (there are still smart counter-arguments about why disbanding the army was a good idea)? That our rapid initial victory may, in some respects, have proven somewhat 'catastrophic'? That the U.N. HQ would be blown up minimizing (though this is changing, of which more below) a U.N. role post-conflict? That a rash of beheadings and kidnappings would terrify NGOs and hamper reconstruction efforts? And so on.
Worth noting too, I'm far from sure Laura's right when she writes about the Iraq situation that "(t)his is one of those times when changing horses midstream is the only rational thing to do." Especially, as I've extensively detailed, when the alternative horse doesn't appear to care too much about forging a democratic Iraq.
Folks, let's all stop and take a deep breath for a second. Review Kerry's long voting record (his hyper-reticence to use American forces (or even proxies) overseas whether Desert Storm, Bosnia, Central America and so on--save the uber-safe Kosovo vote and disingenuous Iraq position). Think of how his Vietnam stance reveals much about his worldview. Think of wrong war wrong place wrong time. Ask yourself, will he see Iraq through given such rhetoric? Given his voting record over the decades? Given, as best we can espy it, his worldview? Given his snub of 'parrot' Allawi? I could go on. But I think the answer is pretty clear. It's, much more than likely, a no.
Now, of course, people like Drezner and Adesnik are asking: maybe Kerry's a gamble--but at least he's not a proven train wreck. While Adesnik think "accountability", in the main, is the issue that has gotten waverers on board for Kerry--the real core grievance appears to be best reflected, instead, in this Adesnik graf that
As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.
Let's put all this in plainer English, OK? What Dan and David are saying, I think, is: When this Bush team effs up (and they have effed up a lot), are they able to (on a bare-bones constitutive level, say): a) even recognize they have effed up and b) then move to redress the eff up?
For David and Dan (and likely Andrew Sullivan too) the answer to both "a" and "b" above appears to be no. I, contra them, think the answer is yes and yes to both (Abu Ghraib, admitedly and importantly, aside).
The greatest misstep of the Iraq war, of course, was that we never had enough troops in theater. But as even the Michael Gordon NYT series points out:
According to United States officials, Mr. Bremer raised the troop issue in a June 18 video conference with Mr. Bush. Mr. Bremer said the United States needed to be careful not to go too far in taking out troops. The president said the plan was now to rotate forces, not withdraw them, and agreed that Washington needed to maintain adequate force levels.
A few quick points here. One, note that Bremer ulimately did get an increase from the 108,000 February low. Note too, of course, that the time for a mammoth 350,000 thousand influx of troops was likely at the beginning of the occupation. Real 'shock and awe' (read: boots on every corner) showing Iraqis that America was going to guarantee their security and stability would have been most effective then.
Later, (ie, now) a massive influx of troops could send the wrong message about U.S. intentions in the region--perhaps that we aim to have a permanent Mesopotamian garrison, for instance. Therefore, in my view, we need to focus like a laser on a serious 3-5 year 'train and equip' effort of nascent Iraqi forces--while calibrating our force posture to meet the needs posed by the insurgency, the need to secure the country, the requirements of reconstruction.
That number could yet increase, of course. But does anyone believe Kerry is more likely to increase our troop posture in Iraq than Bush? Or really 'train and equip' better (someone smart on T.V., if there are any anchors so capable, needs to dig in the weeds with a Susan Rice about how, precisely, a Kerry team will train and equip Iraqi forces better than currently underway).
Would the party of Howard Dean go for this? Would John 'wrong war, wrong place, wrong time' Kerry authorize the deployment of an extra 50,000 GIs to Iraq (recall, he explicitly mentioned that any increases to the size of our military did not entail increases to our force posture in Iraq). Bottom line: the most critical mistake of the Iraq war, namely that we never had enough forces in theater, is more likely to be effectively redressed by Bush than Kerry.
Another point. Note the fascinating snippet from Gordon's piece re: the Bremer-Franks contretemps (the latter saying slow reconstruction efforts was hampering security, the former saying the opposite). My view, of course, is that Bremer had it right. Security needs to be established first--it is the 'critical enabler' to all that must follow (reconstruction, democratization, etc etc). But here's my point: Bush has empowered John Negroponte to move funds from reconstruction to security. He's doing, to put it differently, what David and Dan think he is unable to do, namely: a) recognizing an eff up and then b) redressing said eff up.
Money quote from a Richard Armitage press conference:
Since the U.S. Embassy opened in Baghdad on June 28, our officials have worked side by side with Iraqis and Coalition forces, to implement this strategic approach. In the past 12 weeks, disbursements of U.S. assistance from the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) have reached $1.217 billion. During this same period, Ambassador Negroponte conducted a comprehensive six-week review of spending priorities under the IRRF to ensure that our spending is directly keyed to our objectives. The Ambassador consulted with his entire Country Team, including Multinational Force-I Commander, General Casey, as well as with the Iraqi Interim Government. The adjustments that I will now outline are based on the recommendations of Ambassador Negroponte's review.
You might scoff that USD2B is de minimis, of course. But, for starter's, note a) it's not an insignificant amount, and, further, it showcases that b) Bush understands that reconstruction cannot proceed, willy-nilly in utopic fashion, without security and c) that he is capable of shifting course to redress such eff ups.
Another example? Drezner pointed to a lack of adequate supplies to prosecute the Iraq war effort. Yep, smells FUBAR, all right. But, in the very article Dan links, we read:
The lack of key spare parts for gear vital to combat operations, such as tanks and helicopters, was causing problems so severe, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez wrote in a letter to top Army officials, that "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with rates this low."
Why, you ask, didn't we have enough spare parts and gear to begin with? Rummy, again? Piss poor planning? No proper preparation? Oh, doubtless such too rosy assumptions played a hand. Or Rummy's cocksure arrogance and hubris. But, as the WaPo article points out, so did things like this:
All of a sudden, at the end of July , the insurgency started to do that IED business all over Iraq," he noted, using the acronym for "improvised explosive device," the military's term for roadside bombs. In response, the pace, or "operating tempo," for U.S. troops jumped, causing them to use their tanks and other armored vehicles at much higher rates than had been expected.
Did Dan and David know that we would face a scourge of IED attacks? Probably not. Did I? No. Should Pentagon planners have war-gamed that out when thinking of their supply/gear requirements? Probably more than was done--but who knows, really? This is a tricky business--but the point here, again is: a) the eff up was noted and kicked up the chain of command and then, b) redressed.
I could go on, of course. Everyone loves to yelp on about Fallujah. We were either a) dumb not to have razed the town to the ground (Kerry would have been tougher!) or b) dumb if we had razed the town (international opinion re: an American Jenin!). No one, it seems, stops to ponder whether a) it was smart to stop when we did (get adequate troops positioned), b) whilst wearing Zarqawi down with air attacks, to c) make a final push later in a manner that might minimize civilian casualties given more time to plan the operation and wear down hard-core insurgents. (Or not--but let's question ourselves a little bit, OK--keeping in mind that policymakers are making decisions in real time, on the ground, with real lives at stake).
Regardlesss, the point, again, is merely to showcase that Bush has shown flexibility in his war tactics. He did so with Sadr (successfully, so far). He did so in Fallujah. He's adjusted forces levels up and down via rotation schedules and the like. He's tried to remedy supply chain issues and getting enough body armor and gear to theater. He make midcourse changes too by bringing in Brahimi to help with electoral modalities. He did so by bumping Garner for Bremer and than expediting Bremer's exit. Some of these changes were forced by events. Some were thought through. Some make sense. Some might prove to have been ill advised. But, again, Bush is not some raging Messiah who believes he possesses the Truth--facts be damned! (There's some pragmatic Harvard MBA in all that born-again evangelicalism!)
Folks, I'm not trying to be a Bush apologist. Regular readers know that I've been hugely angered by some of this Administration's actions. There have been massive mistakes committed (most notably, the assumption that Iraq would be a cakewalk--where are you now Ken Adleman?-helping contribute to the troop lite issue). I've called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation, in this blog, over Abu Ghraib.
But my point here today is to query: a) don't these 11th hour Bush defections (from war supporters like Dan, Josh, and David) feel a bit too easy somehow?; b) is Bush truly incapable, per David, of adjusting his decision-making process to reflect reality in a manner that is, at least arguably, competent?; and c) has Bush's Iraq effort really proven that awful all told?
On this last, go read Chrenkoff (whom I've jokingly referred to as Pangloss!). There's meat in his regular dispatches--true blue good news. It's not all doom and gloom in Iraq. Really. And, if you think he's too rosy-colored, go read Jim Hoagland too.
The big but underreported news on the U.N. front is that efforts by employee unions and some senior U.N. officials to get the world body to pull out of or delay the January elections have been rejected by Secretary General Kofi Annan and his tough-minded elections director, Carina Perelli.
We are engaged in an effort in Iraq that will likely prove generational in duration and is of the utmost strategic import. There is far too much easy grousing from the sidelines and wails of despair from those who might demand instant gratification and success. To be sure, massive blunders have occurred in Iraq. But real adjustments in course, contra popular belief, have been undertaken to address them.
Reality check, including for those snidely inhabiting their so-called 'reality based communities' (showcasing a good amount of lock-step group-think in the process)--the U.N.'s top official in charge of Iraq elections sees no reason for delaying Iraq elections. Nor does Kofi Annan--whom is working the issue in conjuction with the (big, bad unilateral) United States.
Now, you can be sure, may of the 600 voter registration centers Hoagland mentions are about to become even more temping targets than Iraqi police recruitment centers for varied insurgents and/or terrorists. Have we planned for that? Will the stations be adequately protected? Or will dozens be destroyed? If so, will the elections perhaps be scuttled? Rendered illegitimate? Or, instead, will we eke out an Afghanistan scenario, if more violent, but in toto nevertheless a giant step forward for Iraq in its voyage towards a democratic future.
We don't know, really, none of us. But we do know Bush is trying, hard. And that he is capable of acknowledging errors and adjusting his policies. Will Kerry try as hard in Iraq? I doubt it. Given that judgment (it's my view, fell free to disagree and tell me why I'm wrong about Kerry), and given my further judgments that a) Bush is not some raging messianic figure wholly divorced from reality and b) he therefore can make cogent, strategic adjustments--I think Bush, at least if your main issue is Iraq and the GWOT, is your "better bet". Contra the WaPo. And, yes, contra good people like Dan Drezner, David Adesnik and Josh Chafetz.Posted by Gregory at October 25, 2004 12:09 PM
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
--Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Grading Bush's Speech: B-
An Open Letter to POTUS
Who Me? The Secretary of No Responsibility
Kerry's Bad Advice
"Last Throes," Or 12 More Years?
We Get Comments
Leiter's Provocative Query: What Are The Root Causes of a "Reverse Philosophy Brain Drain"?
What Next for Iran?
B.D.'s Conscience Caucus
English Language Media
New York Times
New York Observer
The New Yorker
Real Clear Politics
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
Katrina vanden Heuvel
The American Scene
Winds of Change
Central and Eastern Europe
Across the Bay
Bliss Street Journal
American in Lebanon
Safire and Company
The Reliable Source
B.D. In the Press
The Sunday Times(UK)"If It Makes America Look Bad It Must Be True, Musn't It?"
The Guardian "Trial and Error"
Online Journalism Review "Feeling Misquoted? Weblogs Transcripts Let the Reader Decide"
Online Journalism Review "Bloggers Rate the Most Influential Blogs" (see chart)
The Sunday Times (UK) "Rise of the Virtual Soapbox"
Middle East-Peace Process
U.S. Foreign Policy