June 30, 2005

Grading Bush's Speech: B-

I've now had a chance to read the transcript of Bush's speech. To me the best parts of the speech were those that well communicated his strong resolve to see the effort through, such as: "for the sake of our nation's security, this [abandoning the Iraqi people] will not happen on my watch". In this vein, the explicit refusal to endorse the concept of an exit date was, if not surprising of course, nevertheless commendable. Also positive? His reminder, and a fair one, that his administration has been able to successfully unseat Saddam, hand-over sovereignty to the Iraqis, and allow for relatively successful nation-wide elections amidst a difficult security situation. The bad? Well, for one, there was nothing really new in the speech. Unlike some, I guess, I'm not terribly discomforted by the conflation of 9/11 with Iraq that has become something of a Bush mantra (a tiresome and frustrating one, for Bush's many critics). After all, one can make serious arguments that the post 9/11 strategic climate made action in Iraq--if not an outright imperative--a policy decision that was not without a good deal of merit. Regardless, and these past debates aside, it is now incontestable that Iraq is a (if not the) critical theater in the war on terror. If we were to retreat before a sustainable, viably democratic Iraq polity were in place--we would invite a Taliban era kind of Afghanization of Iraq and, of course, significant instability through the region--thus providing assorted extremists, jihadists, neo-Baathists and terrorists with a tremendous victory (alternately, I guess, if democracy proved chimerical and we deemed anarchic conditions the biggest danger vis-a-vis terror threats--we could end up, more or less, passing the keys to another brutish strongman, one dressed up as a democrat perhaps--which would put the devastating lie to our democratization agenda. Either outcome is too ugly to contemplate and must be averted at all costs). As Bush put it well, quoting UBL (when are we going to capture him, btw?): "Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden: "This third world war is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."

My relative comfort with his continued evocation of 9/11 themes aside, I must say I found his continued, seeming endorsement of the so-called "flypaper" argument, particularly in the context of such an important speech, somewhat offensive ("There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said, "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us"). You know, to me, "flypaper" has always been something of a bogus spin-infused alter-narrative more than anything close to an accurate policy diagnosis/prescription. Put differently, it has always screamed rationalization-of-potential-debacle--much more than exemplar of brilliant strategic foresight. Relatedly, see such Sully synopsis/reader feedback, for instance:

The first is that the open Syrian border is a deliberate policy, the fly-trap theory, if you will. According to this theory, we want the jihadists from Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere to come to Iraq so we can deal with them there. The only problem is that the mayhem this causes in Iraq undermines the political project, generates casualties among U.S. soldiers, and so weakens morale at home. It also means the possibility of turning Iraq into Jihad Central, making it harder and harder for us to leave - ever. Flytrap would make sense if we didn't have to sustain American morale.

This is risible fare, in my book. And I am pretty certain in people like Abizaid's too. Some intrepid journalist should ask the good commander if he "wants" Jihadists flowing in from Saudi Arabia and Syria. I'd bet you a helluva lot that the answer would be a resounding no--likely accompanied by an incredulous chuckle. I mean, why get all angry with Damascus about the porous border and their alleged nefarious role (whether by simply ignoring or, perhaps, facilitating insurgent movement into theater)? Flypaper, friends! Hell Bashar, be sure to keep that border mighty porous so as to open the floodgates to all 'dem nasty flies! Ridiculous, no? Another issue with flypaper (that its generally dim and too credulous adherents don't appear to rigorously contemplate) is the assumption that the number of jihadists (whether hailing from Saudi, the hinterlands of Algeria or, even, the Parisian banlieu or Barcelona suburbs) is somehow finite. It's not, last time I checked, which is another major problem with this "thesis." Put differently, you can kill thousands of them; but the ranks will still get re-filled with newbies. All told frankly, I suspect that one of the reasons flypaper-mania has gained widespread credence and popularity is because of the way Bush and other advocates like to portray the narrative: better to fight the terrorists in the far-away over there rather than in the streets of Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. It therefore has something of an appealing, populist, seemingly easy logic to it--but it's mostly bunk, at least in my book.

But I digress, and so back to the speech. As I said and to briefly recap, Bush was strong on showcasing America's resoluteness--while also fairly pointing out some real accomplishments achieved in Iraq. And yet, he was somewhat poor in that he covered very little new ground (with B.D. being less concerned about the 9/11 themes than the flypaper crapola). There are a couple other topics well worth covering from the speech. First, one can begin to sense encroachments of greater realism in Bush's remarks. Witness: "(o)ur progress has been uneven, but progress is being made" or "(t)he work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous" or "(t)o complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents" [ed. note: I quote this here because I am gratified to see him recognize we are speaking not only of "terrorists", but also "insurgents"), and "(w)e have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve." Yes, some of this is boiler-plate. But, taken in aggregate, it is clear he is signaling to the American people the struggle ahead will likely be a long one.

If anything was new in the speech, it was the additional detail Bush provided on the 'train and equip' effort of the Iraqi forces. It is clear that the prominence he placed on this issue showcases how critical "Iraqification" is to the overall U.S. strategy now. Indeed, Bush more of less described 'train and equip' as the very epicenter and kernel of our overall strategy there: "Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." He went on in some detail about elements of how that effort was being implemented, which was more noteworthy for evidencing just how firmly Bush sees this as our exit strategy than for any of the actual policy details (which all make good sense, and some of which, incidentally, Rumsfeld had already discussed on his recent talk show rounds last Sunday--such as the importance of better Iraqi Interior and Defense Ministry coordination down the chain of command).

There was also this very interesting part of the speech:

Some Americans ask me, "If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops?"

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.

Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.

First, can I just say that, particularly given the uber-reluctant-to admit-mistakes and so stay-on-message Bush modus operandi--it's quite revealing that he would even discuss, in such a high profile and important speech--the whole issue of troop levels. In a way, this whole passage served as something of a quasi-admission that the adequacy of troop levels was at least an issue worthy of discussion. I do think that's significant--and it is worth noting too that the "right force level" can move up as surely as it can move down. Somewhat relatedly and worth checking out, from a Newsweek piece discussing Bush's war strategy as it relates to his conversations with the commanders in the field:

Those weekly teleconferences between the generals and the president are secret, and it is difficult to know with any assurance what has been said there. But according to a retired general who has spoken to Abizaid, the conversations do not involve much give and take. (The source declined to be identified because he is a friend of Abizaid's.) The president is generous with his praise and support for the generals, who by and large return his salute. Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute who is well connected to the Joint Chiefs, says, "There isn't much dialogue. It's 'These are the 14 things we are doing this week.' 'Great job.' 'Thank you, Mr. President'." Despite all the brave talk from generals who have read "Dereliction of Duty," it would be unrealistic to expect a more confrontational atmosphere. The military tends to be an optimistic institution, and generals do not win stars without being gung-ho and can-do. On split screen at these teleconferences is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has repeatedly said that his generals do not need—and have not asked for—any more troops and that the military is winning the war. The generals report to Rumsfeld, and he decides their next job. Also often present at the teleconference is Cheney, who has been equally outspoken about the war's progress. The generals may think they are being reasonably forthcoming about the problems on the ground. But Rumsfeld and Cheney, as well as the president himself, may have a tendency to hear what they wish to hear.

Again, and I'm sorry to appear to beat a dead horse over here, but I wonder: are the Generals really giving Bush the straight skinny as it relates to troop levels? What impact might Rumsfeld's 'transformationalist' biases have on his advice to the President? And Cheney's world-view on such issues? Unlike LBJ--who was choosing specific bridges to bomb in Vietnam in true over the top micro-managing fashion--is Bush perhaps too hands-off (on the other extreme) in terms of his involvement in tactical war decisions? Let me perhaps put this another way. Has he, per chance, been too consistently dependent on Rumsfeld (and perhaps Cheney) in terms of exerting operational control over this war? And might not the President, as he has matured now almost five years in office and given that Iraq will be his major legacy, might it not be time for the President to talk directly to his generals, in private, and really get to the bottom of whether some more troops, say in Anbar province (you run less of a risk of showing an overly onerous occupation footprint where, well, where you barely have a footprint to begin with...), might be necessitated? CEOs, after all, need to talk to their line managers every now and again without said managers' direct superiors necessarily present. It might not change the actual factual content of the information being relayed--but there can be changes in emphasis and tone that a smart CEO can digest and read between the lines--perhaps leaving him with different take-aways even. A final note on this specific issue. Bush said: "And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave." Really? This is too perilously close to Moveon.org and Mooreian disingenuous and hyperbolic speculations about U.S. perma-bases being erected through Mesopotamia. More men, in the short term, might very well reassure Iraqi moderates that America is fully serious about seeing the effort through and quashing the insurgency. Put differently, I'm not at all sure having a greater footprint in places like Tal Afar, or Ramadi, or Mosul--would this really further alienate fence-sitting locals from the horrific American occupier--or might it rather instead, show that an effort to create secure conditions is being more seriously pursued? After all, security and public order are what Iraqis crave more than anything else now. Would we be alienating them further by trying harder to achieve improvements on this score, even if it meant more U.S. and coalition troops needed to go in theater? I doubt it.

More on such topics another time, but to close on the speech, let me just say that I give it a B minus, all told. Big pluses for standing firm and making it clear we won't cut and run. Also for reminding us of some very significant accomplishments to date like the national elections of this past January. A sizable minus for there being so little that was new (perhaps an explicit repudiation of the "last throes" nonsense? an announcement of 20,000 additional men to Anbar Province? some announcement on a breakthrough in negotiations with less hard-core insurgents willing to play ball? an Egyptian or Indian contingent being sent in or such? etc etc). Still, the bottom line in all this is that we must signal fortitude and staying power. Bush did this. The question, however, is whether the resources currently devoted to the effort can do the job. Keeping in mind that public support lags steadily as one, two or three servicemen (and women) die day after day, seemingly inexorably, without an overwhelming display of American force beating back the insurgents more dramatically than any of Spear, or Matador, or Dagger, or whatever the counter-insurgency campaign de jour seems to have proven capable.

We aren't going to be run out of Iraq by the sheer might of an often desperate and nihilistic foe, not anytime soon anyway. But whether they will be decisively beaten, per the strategy enunciated by the President a couple nights back (keeping in mind that leaving behind a too lightly trained Iraqi Army in a millieu characterized by anarchic, quasi-civil war conditions constitutes a defeat, even if we were not "defeated" per se in battlefield terms), is perhaps just as dubious a proposition too. Put differently, how long will the American people accept a bloody stalemate, if it comes to that? Bush is gambling an increasingly trained Iraqi Army, in conjunction with successfully passed political milestones like a referendum on the consitution and such, will carry the day. He could be right. But it's still more by way of a big gamble than a hugely convincing war plan. And nothing about this speech really changes that perception among, say, centrist independents increasingly souring somewhat on the war--as compared to hard leftists deadly opposed from the get-go or chest-thumping, jingo rightists continuing to emptily cheer on the flypaper meme. Bush still, all told, controls the broad center on the war. But will he in four, or six, or nine months? I'm unsure. This speech bought him a bit more time--but perhaps not that much. People are getting tired of mere words--most often repetitive proclamations of certain victory ahead. Yes, Bush is right to make it crystal-clear we will hold firm and honor our committments to the Iraqi people (I disagree with some, by the way, who believe Bush's was subtly defining the mission down in his speech). But the public, more and more, is looking for convincing results on the ground that show tangible progress amidst the calls for fortitude and staying the course. It's not just the President who is becoming a bit more of a realist...


Posted by Gregory at June 30, 2005 05:34 PM | TrackBack (7)
Comments

I like how several good moves toward modernism and democracy have occurred since Saddam was taken off his throne of mass murder.

Too many critics of Bush assume that if the US simply pulled out of Iraq that there would be no more problem with muslim terrorists. 9/11 was a freak of nature, out of the blue, a one shot affair.

People died by the thousands during the 90s when there was supposedly no "war".

Posted by: Conrad at June 30, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

I thought that was a great post, good job.

Posted by: Guy at July 1, 2005 12:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As usual with the President's speeches I try to get past the uneven pace and the misplaced verbal gawfaws, which I wince at and have to laugh a little. Sometimes he's like that kid at Little Leauge who you just wish could hit a homer just once. I rty to get past that and get the heart of the matter.

The fact is for whatever purposes history decides we went to war in Iraq the fact is that its turned into something completely different. Right now it is where the jihadists are apparently making their stand. We need to show that we can defeat the terrorists on the ground. We arent gonna win this one with Cruise Missle strikes, we found that out in the 90's. Bin Laden himself referred to us as paper tigers. We need to show that this is not Beiruit, this is not Somalia. It was just a matter of time before this sort of situation happened in one of those nations (Saudi, Iraq or Syria). For instance if Saddam had died we would have had the same power vaccuum, the terrorists were already there. The Iraqi beaucracy was in shambles to begin with. Or if there were a coup in Saudi. The fact is that sooner or later the terrorists were going to hijack another country. We will not and cannot allow that to happen. It will not happen in Iraq.

The President was right to point out that there is a difference between the insurgent elements and the terrorists. I think we need to identify the Iraqi insurgents and bring them into the political theatre there. Get them invloved with leaders within Iraq. Once you can clear the soup out we can start to better deal with the varying jihadists groups within Iraq.

Also you show me where any President admits mistakes in the middle of a war while in office. Thats the simpliest political trap in the book.

Posted by: Christian Noel at July 1, 2005 02:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Put differently, how long will the American people accept a bloody stalemate, if it comes to that?"

Greg, you're a finance kind of guy. We're spending about a billion $ a week on Iraq. How long will Americans allow that to continue? How long can they?

We're losing a thousand lives a year. How long will the public stand for that rate of loss?

You know, a few billion $ here and a few billion $ there and before long we're talking serious money.

A few thousand lives here and a few thousand there and soon we're talking serious serious casualties.

But whose counting when freedom is on the march?

I guess the big shifts toward democracy in Iran and Saudi and Syria that have been brought about by the invasion of Iraq have made it all worthwhile. Not to mention the surrender of Bin Laden and the decommisioning of Al Qaeda.

Posted by: avedis at July 1, 2005 02:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush Words Reflect Public Opinion Strategy:

The White House recently brought onto its staff one of the nation's top academic experts on public opinion during wartime, whose studies are now helping Bush craft his message two years into a war with no easy end in sight. Behind the president's speech is a conviction among White House officials that the battle for public opinion on Iraq hinges on their success in convincing Americans that, whatever their views of going to war in the first place, the conflict there must and can be won.
"There's going to be an appetite by some to relitigate past decisions," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. But the studies consulted by the White House show that in the long run public support for war is "mostly linked to whether you think you can prevail," he added, which is one reason it is important for Bush to explain "why he thinks it's working and why he thinks it'll win."
For Bush, Bartlett emphasized, the public rhetoric matches the private conviction that his strategy will succeed. But it also leaves Bush in the difficult position of balancing confidence and credibility. The more optimism Bush expresses, the more criticism he draws from Congress and commentators that he is not facing the reality of a tenacious insurgency that, according to U.S. military commanders, remains as potent today as six months ago.
...

Posted by: georgio at July 1, 2005 04:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Previous poster*****I guess the big shifts toward democracy in Iran and Saudi and Syria that have been brought about by the invasion of Iraq have made it all worthwhile. Not to mention the surrender of Bin Laden and the decommisioning of Al Qaeda.**

*****I am not suggesting at all that any shifts towards democracy have taken place in Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia. What I was merely pointing out was that given the fragility of each of those regimes (the Iranians are reletively fragile with regard to their politicial landscape.). Those regimes are not entirely stable at all. It would be very easy for fundmentalists to take over and create a rouge state if the ruling despot were to fall. The Saudi royal family in paticular has such a firm grip on power that is soooo overstated when compared to their domestic popluarity that if they fell they would no doubt be replaced with even less easy to deal with fundamentalists. The reason for the fragility is the fact that so much power to run by so few making the govt easy to topple when in crisis. Democracies in my estimation tend to be inherently stronger in that the people are vested in it, there are more checks and balances and more transparency. However, we need to prove to people that democracy isnt just so rich Christian countries (as some may seem to believe) but is also works in an Islamic culture.

I am afraid some of our collegues believe this is some kind of movie. Where everything happens in about a 2 hour time frame, but never 3 hours because everyone knows that 3 hour long movies generally dont do as well as ones that run 90 minutes of which 60 minutes is devoted to infantile buddy jokes and hokey action scenes.

The fact is that we have seen change in Lebanon, we have seen change in Afghanastan, and even in the embattled Palestinian territories we have seen elections. It is the hope that a success in Iraq with the consititution being written, with the elections which will follow that we can use their govt as a basic model for other moderates in the region to use. These things will not happen over night, not should they be expected to. What we must prove to the moderates and democrats who do exist in the region is that it is safe to speak out, it is safe to come forward and lead their people out of the 8th century.

With regard to bin laden. Even if we caught him, it would not end terrorism of Al Queida. Just like the taking down of even the most prominent mob king (see Al Capone) did not end the mob's influence in Chicago, New York etc. Al Quieda is not a simple organization. It is complex and layered. Al Quieda has adjusted for our obession with bin laden and his capture. Many of these terror cells work within their own command and control protocols. Its very de-centralized.

Yes catching bin laden has symbolic value. However, as a practical matter I dont see what value it has. Many liberals obsess of the non-capture of bin laden because I think they feel that if we capture him the war on terror is over and we can go back to out pre 9/11 head in the sand post cold war foriegn policy of decadent indifference.

Based on what I have read in various sources (time, other blogs etc) I believe of all the countries of the 3 I listed Iran surprisingly has the best shot at becoming a democracy in the next 20 years. A recent Time magazine article showed an Iranian youth culture that seemed pacified with fast living and less restricted wardrobe rules. Thus pacifying the youth enough so perhaps they wouldnt notice that they still generally had no rights. Well except the right to vote in a farce of an election where a good many people including sitting members of parliment were prohibited from seeking further terms in the govt chamber.

Perhaps it will turn out that the election of a hardliner who plans on returing to true Islamic rule is exactly what Iran needs. To jar it citizens from their indifference.

But on a positive note let's give credit where credit is due. To the Lebanese for kicking the Syrians out, to the Afghans, to the Palestinians, and to the Iraqi;s who came in out in greater number than we privildged Americans to vote.

I really do think that some people believe that democracy in the Middle East is an impossibility. They say their culture is incompatible with democratic ideals. Yeah and pre WW2 Japanese culture was real condusive to democracy. It is possible and it will happen given time and proper example.


Posted by: Christian Noel at July 1, 2005 04:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Too many critics of Bush assume that if the US simply pulled out of Iraq that there would be no more problem with muslim terrorists. 9/11 was a freak of nature, out of the blue, a one shot affair.

There may be some that think that, but I've most often heard that "plan" suggested in hand with focusing more resources on Afghanistan (which sounds as if it's getting a bit sketchy lately) and defenses and security measures at home. Not a "okay, it's all over, everything's safe now" mentality. (Though those oblivious folks do exist.)

And on that tangent, is Afghanistan really unravelling a bit lately or just slipping into the news cycle a bit more often?

Posted by: TG at July 1, 2005 04:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And just to clarify, I sure as hell don't advocate the above "plan"...

Posted by: TG at July 1, 2005 04:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

As a partial defense of the fly paper theory, even if the supply of jihadists is infinite, isn't it still better that the experienced ones get killed and replaced by newbies? Given the amount of planning and logistical support that goes into an al-Qaeda operation, wouldn't the loss of experienced operatives make it much more difficult to pull off a terrorist attack?

--BR

Of course, the counterargument to this is that the jihadists in Iraq are gaining experience that they can later use in an attack on Europe or the US. However, I think you are too quick to dismiss the benefits of removing experienced international terrorists, even if they are quickly replaced by new recruits.

Posted by: BR at July 1, 2005 04:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BR writes: "As a partial defense of the fly paper theory, even if the supply of jihadists is infinite, isn't it still better that the experienced ones get killed and replaced by newbies?"

More likely, it'll be survival of the fittest. And the "best" of them will move out of front-line activities, and get more involved with strategy and tactics that involve less personal risk.

It's certainly true that Iraq gives them better experience than running around Afghanistan wearing hoods and looking a little silly.

The most promising jihadis - the smartest, the ones with useful skills, and the ones who know English or other European languages - probably wouldn't be wasted on skirmishes or suicide bombings if it can be avoided.

Posted by: Jon H at July 1, 2005 05:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah I think the insurgents running the show out there aren't sending their best and brightest down to the cafe to blow themselves up. Plenty of naive and uneducated men streaming in to send to do that. Or failing that, kidnap some random guy's family and tell him he drives this car or his family's dead (at least there's rumors of that going on).

It is certainly a big training opportunity for them. All we can do I think is keep the pressure on and keep them on the run as much as possible.

Posted by: TG at July 1, 2005 06:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I'm sorry to appear to beat a dead horse over here, but I wonder: are the Generals really giving Bush the straight skinny as it relates to troop levels?"

The Newsweek piece you quoted was pretty snarky and didn't have any hard evidence to back this. If you don't trust the generals to tell the truth, then how about the troops on the ground? I don't follow all the military blogs, but I haven't seen any calls for increased troops in the ones I read. All I read from them is how wrong the MSM is in its reporting.

Posted by: nash at July 1, 2005 06:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I really do think that some people believe that democracy in the Middle East is an impossibility. They say their culture is incompatible with democratic ideals. Yeah and pre WW2 Japanese culture was real condusive to democracy. It is possible and it will happen given time and proper example."

Islamic culture does present a few additional hurdles to overcome, with respect to democracy. In the west, the concept of popular sovereignty is pretty much accepted as the best form of gov't.

In my conversations with Muslims, I have witnessed disagreements between themselves over whether sovereignty lies with the people, or with God. In the case of the latter, there is no need for democracy, because God has already created the law (the Koran, the Sunnah). It only remains for there to be a way to enforce compliance with the law.

Posted by: Adan at July 1, 2005 06:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

--BR

Of course, the counterargument to this is that the jihadists in Iraq are gaining experience that they can later use in an attack on Europe or the US. However, I think you are too quick to dismiss the benefits of removing experienced international terrorists, even if they are quickly replaced by new recruits.****

***Well that is the nature of war. One side fights the other and each adpats to one another tactics and tendencies. The fact is that these terrorists are in some cases pretty well trained. They had 10 years against the Soviets, some of these people have made their way to Chechnya fighting the Russians there. In an earlier statement bin laden reffered to this as a world war or conflict. I think its safe to assume that some of the same fighters in Iraq have been rotated around by various terrorist operations in various countries. The only way to shut off the tap is to help angry, uneducated men in that region. I dont recall the exact stats maybe someone can look it up, but the Middle East has a very young population and a verrry high unemployment rate. I cant recall the exact figure but it is ridiculously high. I live in the U.S. and there are many young, aannngry under-educated men here and I see how they behave. Many are racists and have taken in by such organizations as neo-nazi's. Who help channel their anger at.....welll everyone it seems. So the dynamic is probably much the same in the Middle East. Young, ticked, unemployed,un-educated. Looking for someone to blame. Instead of blaming their own counter-productive governments. They blame the U.S. because the Mullah's drill it into their heads. Sometime someone should do an historical comparison between middle ages Europe and the modern Middle East. The Islamists there to me at least behave much like the old model Catholic Church. All powerful, all knowing, in command of the minds of millions. Nothing against religion but just for historical comparison. For the record my family got tossed out of France waaay back in the day as part of the Hugenot movement. So I am a Protestant.

I agree that I'd rather try to keep the terrorists on a spinning wheel of constantly having to replace esperienced operatives with novices.

In terms of our own tactics they also evolve. I believe there is a perception by alot of people that wars are fought on some sort of script. There is constant adaptation. The enemy does fight back in most instances (yes that is sarcasm). In the media especially people even in the opening days of a conflict ask "what is your exit strategy", when in reality they may not have begun to start to entrance strategy and that may evolve day to day as things happen.

Alot of vets I talk to who were in WW2 especially talk about improv and doing things on the fly. Alot of that still goes on today. You can plan all you want at the start, but like anything things change on the ground. Its why we need to make our military lighter, faster, more mobile.

There is only on exit strategy its called winning.

Are the Generals being straight with President Bush? Well I would assume yes until something shows up otherwise. The President is Commander-in-Chief but military men fight the wars. That has to be lesson of the LBJ Administration. Let those who know do. The President needs to worry about the broader picture, but the military men have to put the tactical part in place.

Posted by: Christian Noel at July 1, 2005 06:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Christian Noel writes: "Yeah and pre WW2 Japanese culture was real condusive to democracy."

Pre-WW2 Japan was more democratic than you realize.

They set up a constitutional parliamentary system, with popular elections, in 1890, based on the German system of the time. This was after a decade or two of proto-democratic organization of parties and things.

Things did go pear-shaped in the late 1920s, with a hard right turn towards militarism, the assassination of a Prime Minister, etc.

But they did have a significant history of real democratic government. Certainly far more than exists today in most Arab countries.

Posted by: Jon H at July 1, 2005 08:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good work, clear thinking. Pity clear thinking seems unpopular.

Posted by: collounsbury at July 1, 2005 10:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I apprecitate the historical perspective you bring. For arguments sake I will assume the facts you share are accurate. I cannot comment on the veracity as I ask you to excuse my ignorance of pre 1920's Japanese politics.

However, my main point was that taking a broken nation which whose populous was held down so long and trying to somehow not just install a governement but fundamentally rebuild the simple institutions of society which had been neglected in Saddam's Iraq. Things like an Information Minsitry that has actual information, A minsitry of education that actually educates. There was no real workable beaucracy on which to lay the foundation of civilization. So its a from scratch type thing.

Also even in Germany which we know prior to WW2 had a great society with a rich history of thought and education, even West Germany after WW2 took awhile to find its footing. Many of the era didnt think that would work out right either.

I also want to bring something else to the table. I keep reading posts from folks who talk about us not being able to challenge Iran or N. Korea right now. For the record the Iranians couldnt even beat Saddam in the 80's and no one knows the real fighting strength o f the North Korean army. I have a suspcion they are about as well fed and willing to fight as Saddam's army in 1991 (aaah the virtues of conscription at gun point)...These people's arguments seem duplicituous at best. On the one hand the are ripping the admistration for assuming given the info they had that Saddam had weapons. Yet at the same time they are ripping the adminstration for not saber rattling with the Iranians or the N. Koreans. Who by the way may or may not have a weapon. They seem to infer that they want the military option on the table for North Korea right now.

So would these people support a pre-emptive launch against the North Koreans tomorrow? Probably not, which is why once again liberals have very strange ideas about war and peace.

Posted by: Christian Noel at July 1, 2005 10:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It bothers me when I hear that the generals aren't telling Bush they need more troops --- then I read how the insurgents/jihadists are being supplied through Syria's porous Iraqi border.

Borders have two sides, and I'm not quite sure why its Syria's responsibility to keep men and material from leaving Syria and not the US/Iraq's responsibility to keep men and material from entering Iraq. After all, the Syria/Iraq border was porous long before the US showed up in Iraq -- in general, this border is literally a "line drawn in the sand" that nomadic/tribal peoples in the region have never really recognized as significant. So where does the US get off insisting that its Syria's job to make their Iraqi border impervious? Is the US even offering to pay Syria what it would cost to do so?

If the President isn't asking "what can we do to stop the resupply of the insurgents/terrorists through Syria?" then he is clearly incompetent. And if he's not incompetent, but the Generals aren't answering with "we need a sh*tload of more soldiers to patrol and secure that border" then they are incompetent---or lying to protect their jobs from Rumsfeld's wrath.

The way I see it, if 90,000 College Republicans signed up for Border Patrol Duty with the US Army, we could station one soldier for an eight hour shift every 21 yards for the entirety of the 360 mile Syria/Iraq border 365 days a year. Heck, we could even probably get some right-wing college professors to hold classes for these College Republicans when they aren't on patrol, or playing beach volleyball or holding keggers in the desert.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 1, 2005 12:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I was reading the post, I was thinking perhaps you'd write something that wasn't unfairly critical of Rumsfeld. Alas, it was not to be.

Quite frankly, Greg, you're showing your overwhelming State Department bias, which as is typically the case, consistently manifests itself in finding fault with all the other departments (usually Defense), but never State. Your constant whining about more troops rings hollow since you will not answer the question of where they will come from. Rumsfeld is not fighting with Colin Powell's army of 1991. He cannot devote 500,000 troops to one theater. He is overwhelmingly concerned with the looming confrontations in Asia (North Korea v. South Korea/Japan and particularly China v. Taiwan). He knows that if something were to happen in Venezuela, he's screwed. But don't worry, State will be there .... criticizing all the way. This mantra that Rumfeld is too stubborn to change is garbage. If he had more troops, he'd send them.

Remember, Greg, Defense's plan was to overthrow Saddam, replace him and get out. Nation-building was not part of the original scope of the mission. State insisted that we stay and install a democracy - which I agree with, but don't blame Rumsfeld for not having a plan to deal with it. Post-911, the administration approach to Saddam was appropriate. State's constant backstabbing of Defense wasn't and isn't.

Posted by: Charles at July 1, 2005 01:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There was no democracy in Japan prior to the post-war reforms instituted by McArthur

Whenever someone says "the arabs aren't capable of democracy" they should be told that this was the view of the Japanese in 1945

They often retort that Japan had "democracy" from 1890-? when the militarists took over

Look - Japan NEVER had democracy of the kind you would be familiar with - not in 1890 or 1910 or at any time until 1945+

The lived in a feudal system worshiping a god emperor

Some elites were given some voting rights - to a degree - but it was no more a democracy than England was after the Magna Carta

For the vast majority of people there was no democacy and no experience with it whatsoever


The plain truth is that Japan IS an example of a country and people with no experience with democracy who have adapted to it quite well

The real reason Japan is a less that perfect example is that the japanese had a history of obedience to central authority that is lacking in arab culture

The japanese thought of themselves as one people 100M strong

the arabs rarely think beyond their clan

This is what makes it a poor soil for democracy and this is the challenge

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 1, 2005 01:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Remember, Greg, Defense's plan was to overthrow Saddam, replace him and get out. Nation-building was not part of the original scope of the mission.

the primary reason we didn't follow the Rumsfeld plan you cite was reality --- Rummy's failure to plan for the immediate period after Saddam was desposed lead to looting and lawlessness in the very first phase of the occupation.... and things went downhill from there as the Baathist insurgency found its footing, al Sadr's Mahdi Army began its attacks, and "foreign terrorists" found their way into Iraq.

In other words, Rummy's "plan" was tried --- and was immediately found to be not merely impractical, but impossible to implement. From that point on, it was all bone-headed neo-con improvisation --- the neo-cons knew where they wanted to wind up (with a private petro-state that was openly supportive of US policy throughout the middle east, and hostile to both Syria and Iran), but had no idea how to get from Point A to Point Z (and no understanding that what they wanted to achieve was completely unrealistic....).

The only thing unfair about criticizing Rummy is that he is not solely responsible for the Iraq mess, and not blaming Bush, Cheney, and the whole neo-con cabal rather than just Rummy is scape-goating at its worst.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 1, 2005 01:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regime change in Iran ? Some people are starting to talk about supporting the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MKO). On balance, I think this would be a bad idea.

A worse evil? ...

p.lukasiak: 'the neo-cons knew where they wanted to wind up (with a private petro-state...' You have no evidence for this. They wanted a democracy, though I agree, without understanding that it was likely to be more friendly with Iran.

Posted by: DavidP at July 1, 2005 02:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You have no evidence for this.

One acronym is all the evidence you need.

PNAC

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 1, 2005 02:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It takes a very special kind of faith to allow one still to wonder if President Bush should spring into action as a hands-on commander-in-chief talking directly with his generals without his Secretary of Defense and Vice President as intermediaries.

There is no evidence -- as in zero, none, an absolute goose egg -- that Bush is either capable or desirous of playing such a role. Before his election he prepared to be a Presidential candidate, not a wartime President; he relies so heavily on Sec. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney because he has to. His orientation toward campaign politics rather than governance in any sense is reinforced in this case by the fact that much of the news coming out of Iraq is bad, meaning that close Presidential association with that news is likely to be damaging in terms of his approval levels. This means that from Bush's standpoint it is desirable as well as unavoidable that Iraq should be Rumsfeld's war.

I'm all for creative thinking about Iraq, but surely by this time we shouldn't have any excuse for ignoring evidence as to whether things we might like to see are possible or not.

Posted by: JEB at July 1, 2005 03:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

p.lukasiak: "the primary reason we didn't follow the Rumsfeld plan you cite was reality --- Rummy's failure to plan for the immediate period after Saddam was desposed lead to looting and lawlessness in the very first phase of the occupation"

Bunk. The Defense Department's immediate task post-Saddam was to find the weapons of mass destruction. Controlling looting and lawlessness was secondary. I know it's stylish to throw out crap like "the neo-cons knew where they wanted to wind up (with a private petro-state that was openly supportive of US policy throughout the middle east, and hostile to both Syria and Iran)". But if you were to weed out the cynicism, you'd realize that everyone believed the WMD threat to be real and paramount to their mission. Within days after the fall of Baghdad, they knew the stockpiles weren't there and were ready to hand off the reigns to Chalabi. State and the CIA undercut that maneuver. Democracy -now, which was always a secondary goal, became the new primary mission. Thus, the path towards where we are now was established.

Posted by: Charles at July 1, 2005 03:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

what, no abu ghraib? sheesh.

Posted by: al at July 1, 2005 03:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

'One acronym is all the evidence you need. PNAC' I've read a lot of that stuff. Just quote something and/or provide a link.

Posted by: DavidP at July 1, 2005 03:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The fact that there's suddenly a distinction being made between 'terrorists' and 'insurgents' is not that GWB et al. have achieved clearer, more nuanced insight into the reality in Iraq. It's because now that the word is out that we are sitting down and having talks with these people, the administration needs some kind of rhetorical cover against the appearance of "negotiating with terrorists." It's a paper-thin, transparent ploy, but it'll probably do for the true believers. "Those aren't terrorists we're talking with -- they're insurgents!" Of course, they were all terrorists two weeks ago, and they will be again when it suits the propagandistic needs of the moment.

Posted by: Dan at July 1, 2005 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Again, and I'm sorry to appear to beat a dead horse over here, but I wonder: are the Generals really giving Bush the straight skinny as it relates to troop levels?"


OK, here's my question to Greg. Are you saying there is not a single General, of all the Generals who have ever been or who now are involved with the war, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM, who is willing to speak up for more troops, even if it costs him a promotion (or whatever other horrors Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld have in store)? Does Greg really think that poorly of our military professionals that he believed they would ALL be so cowed by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld?

Because I haven't seen any of the Generals who have actually been involved in the Iraq War come out and say we need an increase in troops there. (If I'm wrong about this, please tell me!) And I can only see two explanations: (1) every single one of them is so cowed by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld that he is afraid to speak up, or (2) they are on board with the number of troops there. I'd like for Greg to come out and tell us he thinks that (1) is the correct explanation.

Posted by: Al (not al) at July 1, 2005 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Bunk. The Defense Department's immediate task post-Saddam was to find the weapons of mass destruction. Controlling looting and lawlessness was secondary."

You just made p.lukasiak's argument. Not enough emphasis was placed on enforcing some sort of semblance of order. Kind of makes it hard to establish a civil administration when all the infrastucture has been torched and looted.

"I know it's stylish to throw out crap like "the neo-cons knew where they wanted to wind up (with a private petro-state that was openly supportive of US policy throughout the middle east, and hostile to both Syria and Iran)". But if you were to weed out the cynicism, you'd realize that everyone believed the WMD threat to be real and paramount to their mission."

Now THAT'S bunk. There was significant disagreement within our own intelligence community as to the nature of Saddam's WMD programs. And the administration DID have other reasons for invading Iraq. Wolfowitz admitted as much in an interview with Vanity Fair. In fact, he strongly implied that for some in the administration, the WMD angle was not the most important reason.

"Within days after the fall of Baghdad, they knew the stockpiles weren't there and were ready to hand off the reigns to Chalabi. State and the CIA undercut that maneuver."

I wonder why? Maybe because State and CIA knew that a group of outsiders hand picked by a western power would never be able to put together a "democracy" that would be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the average Iraqi. Its pretty obvious from their actions, that the administration wanted a state friendly to the interests of the U.S. That's all we ever want.

Posted by: Adan at July 1, 2005 05:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. Why is it just move-on paranoia to think that the administration might want to reserve an option on permanent bases in Iraq? If doing so isn't in their plans, why don't they say so? Wouldn't that help politically both here and there?
2. If the president sent more troops--and, especially, if sending more didn't quickly have pretty dramatic effect--wouldn't that risk a collapse in support for the war when even hitherto stalwart supporters figure more troops must mean we're doing worse and worse, not even holding our own? And are there really more troops available to send--how many more reservists to call, how often can tours to extended? "More troops" smells to me like a non-starter. (Doesn't its being favored by Fatuous Friedman prove that it is?
3. You say the goal must be and is the establishment of democracy in Iraq. Suppose we do put up a constitutional elected government and a decent army, do damp down the insurgency, and pull out. What's the guarantee that that fine government we put in place won't be somehow brought down by a less democratic one in a few years? Are conditions in Iraq such that the survival of demcracy can be assured?
Maybe we leave 30,000 or so troops there. Could even they assuredly prevent the various sorts of slow-motion coups that might be brought off? Or breakaways by Kurds in the north or Shi'as in the south?
4. Isn't it obvious that no one in the adminsitration--except Powell, who was marginalized and then eased out--reckoned with anything resembling the prospect of what has actually occurred? That they had no idea what they were getting into? And that that's true of most of the commentators who favored the war? If the hawks' collective judgment going in was so deficient, is it to be relied upon now as to staying in and installing democracy in Iraq and spreading it throughout the region?

Posted by: Minerva at July 1, 2005 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

" There was no real workable beaucracy on which to lay the foundation of civilization. "

Huh? Are you serious? How about the power company? How about the police department? Believe it or not, the beaucracy was perfectly capable of providing for security, on of the most basic foundations of civilization. Sheesh.

In fact, evidence suggests that the reason we didn't adequately plan for the rebuilding effort was that we expected the beaucracy to remain largely intact. We never anticipated we would REALLY have to start from scratch.

Posted by: Adan at July 1, 2005 05:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Minerva:

Love to see our host take on your questions, because they are good ones. In the interests of furthering the debate, I'll take a stab.

1. Wanting a base in Iraq isn't the same thing as going to war to get a base in Iraq. We have bases in Germany. We didn't join WW II to get them. If I were the brass, I would say nothing now that could prevent me from getting base in a someday stable Iraq. We do have interests in the Middle east, after all. I would also not commit to having a base in Iraq, because it gives the conspiracy theorists something else to rant about.

2. More troops = more US targets = more US deaths = more lousy press coverage = apparent quagmire = plunging support for war = premature pullout. I think you have something here, Minerva. This also may be the explanation why no generals are demanding more troops. They understand the dynamic at work. Personally, I think we should have gone in stronger, or not gone in at all. But that train left the station long ago. What we have now is really hope we can get the Iraq forces online.

3. Those are the risks we run with our course. Nothing can be guaranteed. Except if we hadn't acted, there would still be an evil depotism in place in Iraq, and that regime would be doing its best to expand its power at the expense of its neighbors.

4. The commenters who favored the war glossed over the troops issue at the time. Maybe we can't blame them, because they weren't military experts. But it's hard not to look at someone like Andrew Sullivan, who pushed for this war so stridently, and then read his current criticisms, and start thinking lots of little four-letter words. Those who argued the case for war, without also arguing what the costs of the war would be, really did the country a disservice.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at July 1, 2005 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Those who argued the case for war, without also arguing what the costs of the war would be, really did the country a disservice.

here's the thing.... most people trust the President of the United States. Most people don't think he'd go to war unless he knew something that people like me didn't about Saddam's weapons programs --- hell, even I believed that Saddam had to be holding onto something, despite all the evidence to the contrary before the war, because The President, and the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State, and the National Security Advisor all swore up and down that there were WMDs in Iraq right up until the time they finally admitted there weren't any.

So I had to assume that they had rock solid information that I didn't have.

And, although I didn't trust the Administration's intentions, I had to assume that all of these really smart people had considered the post-invasion environment, and planned for it --- because that's their job.

I didn't support the war --- I was vehemently opposed to it --- but it remains shocking to realize the extent of the deception involved, and the complete lack of competence that has been demostrated. No one could have been expected to predict just how badly Bushco would botch this occupation --- so don't blame Andy Sullivan for not predicting it.

(and this is first time I've ever felt forced to defend Andy Sullivan...)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 1, 2005 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

***Huh? Are you serious? How about the power company? How about the police department? Believe it or not, the beaucracy was perfectly capable of providing for security, on of the most basic foundations of civilization. Sheesh***

****Ever go camping and you find this piece of fire wood that on the surface looks pretty good for a fire, except you pick it up and it is infested with little critters? Well thats what the beaucratic institutions in Iraq were like.

The police? The same police who's main job was mostly thuggery and traffic control? These organizations were full of baathists and Saddam loyalists. To leave them in tact as whole would have been a monstrous mistake. You think the police were going to suddenly become Mayberry P.D. It needed to be torn down and remade into something resembling a modern force.

I think as much as liberals feel there is a disconnect between what happened before , during and after the invasion, I also think many liberals fundamentally misunderstand what life was like in Iraq before the invasion. Makes me laugh when Americans say that they are somehow oppressed. Try living in Iraq for 35 years with Saddam.

You cant act as if these were properly functioning bodies within the state. The power company was a joke, many of these bodies were dilapitated at best, as Saddam and his henchmen lined thier pockets with the country's riches. The cops were more hazardous than the criminals at somepoints.

To my original point, sometimes you dont know how rotten something is until you pick it up, kinda like a piece of wood.

Posted by: Christian Noel at July 1, 2005 08:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Al wrote:

"Because I haven't seen any of the Generals who have actually been involved in the Iraq War come out and say we need an increase in troops there. "

Or at least a few colonels, or lieutenants, or sergeants somewhere. But I haven't been reading about any widespread calls for more troops by the rank and file. Only from the armchair generals in the media and on the left.

Posted by: nash at July 1, 2005 09:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Ever go camping and you find this piece of fire wood that on the surface looks pretty good for a fire, except you pick it up and it is infested with little critters? Well thats what the beaucratic institutions in Iraq were like."

Yeah, so are you really trying to tell me that the average Iraqi is MORE secure now, than he was during Saddam's reign? Or that delivery of basic services like electricity is MORE reliable now than it was under Saddam's reign? Or that unemployment is BETTER now than it was under Saddam's reign?

"The police? The same police who's main job was mostly thuggery and traffic control? These organizations were full of baathists and Saddam loyalists. "

What do you think the crime rate is now, as opposed to before we invaded? How many kidnappings and murders occur now as opposed to before? How many Iraqis die in car bombs and crossfires now as opposed to before?

"To leave them in tact as whole would have been a monstrous mistake. "

Funny, I think that completely disbanding them has been the monstrous mistake. We are starting from scratch, and we didn't have to. I'm pretty sure that we never intended to, either.

A quote from Jay Garner:
"... Our plan was to immediately get there, stand up the ministries, get the country running again as far as the civil functions are running, electricity, water, health, schools, agriculture, those type of things."

They expected the ministries to be reasonably functional. They didn't initially intend to start completely from scratch. They WERE going to use the Iraqi bureaucracy. I know what your trying to say. But we made our task much harder than it had to be by not having realistic expectations about a post-Saddam Iraq.

Posted by: Adan at July 2, 2005 06:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Or at least a few colonels, or lieutenants, or sergeants somewhere. But I haven't been reading about any widespread calls for more troops by the rank and file. Only from the armchair generals in the media and on the left."

The same leftist "traitors" who opposed the war and are now calling for more troops to ensure the aftermath of the invasion looks a little less like war of the worlds and a bit more like civilisation???

Pfffft. great use of irony there... Oh wait... No... You were serious!?!? *shakes head in amazement*

Posted by: Aran Brown at July 4, 2005 03:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, it seems to me that the "leftist traitors" are asking is "well, now that we're in this situation, what's the best course of action." More troops might or might not be the correct course, but maintaining the status quo of losing U.S. lives almost daily is not a happy prospect. And when is the president going to address the dollar cost of the war? Remember war bonds? If people really want to support the troops, hows about a bond drive? Use your wallet, not just a magnetic ribbon, to show your support.

Posted by: Greg at July 7, 2005 01:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

F. He failed completely. He had Scotty the liar tell everyone there would be something new and it was nothing but the same old nationalistic slogans. Its truly frightening that something so bad can be admired and that people could actually convince themselves that the almost constant dishonesty is noble and good.

Posted by: just pete at July 11, 2005 04:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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