July 11, 2005

A Neo-Con Speaks Out

Eliot Cohen speaks very openly to the WaPo in a short Q&A. It has become increasingly rare to find bright (neo)conservatives willing to buck party orthodoxy and the approved talking points ("last throes"!)--who have the requisite integrity to be honest and forthright about some of the missteps that have rendered so difficult the Iraq effort.

Excerpts:

But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.

I did not know, but I might have guessed.

Another passage:

Question: Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?

Cohen:

Pride, of course -- great pride. And fear. And an occasional burning in the gut, a flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns.

It is a flicker of rage that two years into an insurgency, we still expose our troops in Humvees to the blasts of roadside bombs -- knowing that even the armored version of that humble successor to the Jeep is simply not designed for warfare along guerrilla-infested highways, while, at the same time, knowing that plenty of countries manufacture armored cars that are. It is disbelief at a manpower system that, following its prewar routines, ships soldiers off to war for a year or 15 months, giving them two weeks of leave at the end, when our British comrades, more experienced in these matters and wiser in pacing themselves, ship troops out for half that time, and give them an extra month on top of their regular leave after an operational deployment.

It is the sick feeling that churned inside me at least 18 months ago, when a glib and upbeat Pentagon bureaucrat assured me that the opposition in Iraq consisted of "5,000 bitter-enders and criminals," even after we had killed at least that many. It flames up when hearing about the veteran who in theory has a year between Iraq rotations, but in fact, because he transferred between units after returning from one tour, will go back to Iraq half a year later, and who, because of "stop-loss orders" involuntarily extending active duty tours, will find himself in combat nine months after his enlistment runs out. And all this because after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops.

A variety of emotions wash over me as I reflect on our Iraq war: Disbelief at the length of time it took to call an insurgency by its name. Alarm at our continuing failure to promote at wartime speed the colonels and generals who have a talent for fighting it, while also failing to sweep aside those who do not. Incredulity at seeing decorations pinned on the chests and promotions on the shoulders of senior leaders -- both civilians and military -- who had the helm when things went badly wrong. Disdain for the general who thinks Job One is simply whacking the bad guys and who, ever conscious of public relations, cannot admit that American soldiers have tortured prisoners or, in panic, killed innocent civilians. Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war, and for the blithe disregard of the bungles by some who think they were right in favoring it. A desire -- barely controlled -- to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high and that I really shouldn't get exercised about them.

There is a lot of talk these days about shaky public support for the war. That is not really the issue. Nor should cheerleading, as opposed to truth-telling, be our leaders' chief concern. If we fail in Iraq -- and I don't think we will -- it won't be because the American people lack heart, but because leaders and institutions have failed. Rather than fretting about support at home, let them show themselves dedicated to waging and winning a strange kind of war and describing it as it is, candidly and in detail. Then the American people will give them all the support they need. The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth -- an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight. [emphasis added]

Amen, Dr. Cohen. Amen.

P.S. Don't miss Cohen's thoughts on the Iraqi insurgency and its prospects either. He is not overly sanguine, and sees the insurgency lasting several years yet likely, but he still nevertheless believes that the U.S. will prevail. If our leaders do their part, that is.

Posted by Gregory at July 11, 2005 01:43 AM | TrackBack (2)
Comments

I could not imagine that the policy I advocated would be executed by men unworthy of my brilliance, men who did not share my idealism, sense of history and general smartness. There was nothing wrong with the policy I advocated. It isn't my fault. It isn't my fault.

Posted by: JEB at July 11, 2005 02:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

hmmm joe. that's not quite how i read it. there's some of that, to be sure, ie washing his hands/culpability from the sometimes debacle in Mesopotamia. but i see more a smart hawk legitimately dismayed by some of the errors made, who is also particularly biting and emotional perhaps somewhat b/c of his son's impending deployment. i also think he's too hard on bremer and doesn't explain what he'd do differently given manpower shortages on things like 'stop loss' etc. so like many so called arm chair critics, he's often light on concrete policy recommendations. but i still think we need to hear from more conservatives like cohen that the time for straight talk and no B.S. is well upon us, which he stated quite clearly in the bolded portion of the excerpt above, and thus my assorted amens.

Posted by: greg at July 11, 2005 02:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"i also think he's too hard on bremer and doesn't explain what he'd do differently given manpower shortages on things like 'stop loss' etc."

There's a number of things there that he would have done differently. For example, he notes the failure to ramp up recruiting after 9/11, but before Iraq, which would have been a big help in terms of manpower.

I'm not sure it's fair to criticize him for not suggesting solutions to the *much* harder problem of what to do from here on, when we probably wouldn't be in this situation if the easily foreseen problems had been handled in a timely fashion.

Posted by: Jon H at July 11, 2005 04:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Funny how things change when it's one of your own that will be doing the fighting.

Posted by: shinypenny at July 11, 2005 05:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

He's not exactly an armchair critic, inasmuch as he has served on the Defense Policy Board, and not exactly light on policy recommondations, as an author of the PNAC manifestos. He is one of the many instigators of the invasion of Iraq. Better he should serve than his son.

Posted by: Viacondotti at July 11, 2005 05:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

jon h: you're right that cohen does mention a post 9/11 recruitment drive to bolster the size of the military...

Posted by: greg at July 11, 2005 05:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"A desire -- barely controlled -- to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high and that I really shouldn't get exercised about them."

Cohen probably realized that Richard Perle outweighs him by more then 50 pounds and would beat his ass.

Posted by: Mike at July 11, 2005 06:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For this president, the war is the defining decision of his tenure, and he knows it. Whatever his faults may be, a lack of determination is not one of them. And in war, character -- and above all persistence -- counts for a very great deal.

*sigh* excuse me Mr. Cohen, you just wrote a very thoughtful column acknowledging you didn't see the incompetence with which the war would be carried out...

...and in the very same column you pass over Bush's incompetence... cuz he's RESOLUTE! Didn't you learn ANYTHING from your first error of judgement? Apparently not!

Cohen demonstrates the enormous, virtually impermeable blind spot Bush lovers have for W... did he even once point the finger of blame at the president in his article? Or Cheney or any of the architects of the war?

No!

He names the 'civilian and military high command', Paul Bremer, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the CPA, and the generic 'we'. "It's not Dear Leader's fault; it's his incompetent subordinates!"

Mr. Cohen, after so much wasted lives and treasure, you've only gotten halfway there. Why the need for such tragic consequences before you realize what's going on? I truly hope your son doesn't have to die before you finally 'get it'.

I reject the notion the only choices were to continue to support repressive Arab regimes, or wage war.

This war was a bad idea, period. The incompetence only compounds and magnifies the error.

Posted by: renato at July 11, 2005 06:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, the entire article is more supportive of Bush than the excerpts you quoted. But I would agree that the extent to which Dr. Cohen acknowledges regret is significant.

The real problem is that all we seem able to do in Iraq is repeat the same things over and over until the Iraqis assume control. On Sunday it was reported that insurgents are returning to Falluja. This is the third time they will retake the city. And yet this news is reported matter of factly as if it is just a part of the natural order of things.

Iraq has begun talking to Iran about military ties; perhaps Iraqis are planning for a nuclear-ready Iran (see Dr. Sokolski's article at www.policyreview.org), in which the balance of forces in the region will shift. This does not mean that moderate regimes in the Middle East are doomed. The future of regimes there rests with their own people. But it does look as if the region is about to change in ways that will require us to change as well.

Posted by: David at July 11, 2005 06:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've had some personal anxiety about Iraq with a nephew in the Rangers a daughter's boyfriend in the Marines, but both have now come home in one piece, thank god.

This is not the U.S. Army that I served in, where anything that could go wrong always did, and large numbers of troops were drunk all the time when they weren't in the stockade. The all-volunteer force is a huge success, and don't let them ever change it back.

So I have been willing to forgive plenty, and have supported Bush and Rumsfeld all the way, and still do. I think reasonable people can differ about the optimal force levels, and the mistakes in occupation policy don't seem that bad. The cost in lives is well below all professional estimates before the balloon went up, and 1,750 compares favorably to the 7,000 we lost when building the Panama Canal.

The strategy of going into Iraq was obviously the best one, and we would not have had that policy under President Gore or President Kerry, so I think the present situation is much better than it might have been. The dominos are falling, including that kleptomaniacal institution on the East River. The international picture can truly be called salubrious, versus where we could have been today. And lately there are very positive signs that most of the Iraqi population is supporting the new government and is losing its fear.

My confidence was shaken badly, however, by the events at Abu Ghreb, and the aftermath of it. Somebody around the level of Sanchez should have paid a price, if not Sanchez himself (I don't know enough to say). But I feel there was a very marked lack of honesty about the blame for Abu Ghreb on the part of the Defense Department and the press. In my mind there was no excuse for a prison commander who did not make unexpected inspections of every corner of his domain regularly. Just guessing, I think the problem was the person in command was incompetent for any job in Iraq, and was sent to command Abu Ghreb so she wouldn't be able to screw up anything else--which Sanchez, or whomever, deemed more important. Whoever assigned her to that job should have paid with his career for underestimating and overlooking the potential propaganda problems all over Islam of an overcrowded jail with 10,000 Iraqis incarcerated under female American command. And it goes without saying an investigation should be launched to root out any other female officers who are not suited to their assignments--pronto. Yes, it seems to me obvious that our biggest faux pas in the entire WOT to date was the result of the liberals' success in changing the rules about women in combat. And to this day, nobody will say so out loud.

Posted by: exguru at July 11, 2005 08:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Exguru,

You minimize the impact of the punchline when you take the long way round to get to it. It also helps to have a punchline that is funny.

Posted by: excomic at July 11, 2005 09:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Exguru,

You minimize the impact of the punchline when you take the long way round to get to it. It also helps to have a punchline that is funny.

Posted by: excomic at July 11, 2005 09:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

EXGURU: "The strategy of going into Iraq was obviously the best one"

What strategy?


Army Historian Cites Lack of Postwar Plan
Major Calls Effort in Iraq 'Mediocre'
By Thomas E. Ricks http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A24891-2004Dec24.html
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page A01

"There was no Phase IV plan" for occupying Iraq after the combat phase, writes Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, who served as an official historian of the campaign and later as a war planner in Iraq. While a variety of government offices had considered the possible situations that would follow a U.S. victory, Wilson writes, no one produced an actual document laying out a strategy to consolidate the victory after major combat operations ended.

Posted by: Steve J. at July 11, 2005 10:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

EXGURU -

Post-war planning non-existent
by WARREN P. STROBEL and JOHN WALCOTT

Knight Ridder Newspapers
Posted on Sun, Oct. 17, 2004
http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/9927782.htm

WASHINGTON - In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.
The slide said: "To Be Provided."

Posted by: Steve J. at July 11, 2005 10:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When Cohen writes: "Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war," I wish he was right in front of me so I could say:

"You pathetic son of a bitch. How dare you tar anyone who opposed the war with this kind of slur. We don't take 'ghoulish glee' in what's happening. We are horrified by how the war has turned out and aghast at the prospect of how things could unfold there if the neocon agenda is allowed to continue unchecked.

"We told you that yes, Saddam was a very evil man, but he was no threat to America. We told you that the people who take his place could be worse. We told you that the fact that neocons create their own reality makes it very unlikely they could NOT make a mess of Iraq. And we told you that the White House is more concerned about profits for Halliburton than any other stated goal. You think we like being right about these things? You think we're happy about the gathering shitstorm that is brewing in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East?

"No, asshole! We keep pointing this stuff out because until neocons like you come face to face with reality, the chances of you and your ilk continuing to fuck things up stand at 100%.

"And don't say you weren't talking about liberals or Democrats in general, but only some lunatic fringer. I don't say Jerry Fallwell, who called 9/11 the punishment for America's radical homesexual agenda, represents most Republicans -- and he represents a lot more Republicans than any straw man you're going to prop up to make your point.

"And by the way, a lot of conservatives opposed the war from the get-go, too. Pretty much anyone who wasn't marching along blindly in lockstep with Bush's drumbeat for war opposed the war. There are lot of power pundits who should so fucking ashamed of their war cheerleading that their hands should twist into knots the next time they think about pontificating advice about anything to anyone. And Thomas Friedman -- that means you!

"Cohen, you think you're the only one with friends or family in the line of fire in this mess that the neocons have gotten us into? You think you have some special insight into this, and that Iraq is still somehow "worth it"? Go fuck yourself, Cohen. You were wrong then, and the best thing you could do now is say we should pull out of Iraq immediately to minimize U.S. casualties. And when you're not doing that, sit down and shut up."

Posted by: Sean B at July 11, 2005 02:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

according to exguru it's all the women's fault.

Fuckin' brilliant. Once again, it's not Dear Leader's fault; it's his incompetent subordinates! Especially the women! Send 'em back to the kitchen, and get 'em barefoot and pregnant like God intended!

Asshole.

Posted by: renato at July 11, 2005 02:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war

he can't stand the fact we were fucking right.

Ghoulish glee? Neocon asshats went to war with ghoulish glee, that's the only ghoulish glee I see around here.

Fuck Cohen. The more I read and consider the article, the less sympathy I have for his misgivings. He hasn't learned a goddamn thing from this episode other than regret that the incompetence has touched him personally. If he didn't have a son in the military he'd still be in the Jonah Goldberg Cheerleading Camp. Fucking typical.

Just like the asshats who scream that we have to be willing to sacrifice some freedoms in the WoT... until the police state begins to affect THEM, then they whine about it.

Posted by: renato at July 11, 2005 02:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So Renato - you have the answer then?

You wrote "I reject the notion the only choices were to continue to support repressive Arab regimes, or wage war."

Ok - its all yours - what do you do to fight the global war on terror?

lay it out for us -

1 - Invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban

2 - ?

Oh - and Dear Leader - do you know about a place called North Korea? Do you have any idea or clue what goes on there? Actual concentration camps my friend - right now - today

Don't throw around such terms - people who do so are...assholes

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 11, 2005 02:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Still playing the "too little armor!" drum. As Rumsfeld said, even the most heavily armored tank is no match for a big enough bomb. You can't win by turtling yourself in with heavier armor. Technologically and strategically, offense will always eventually overcome defense.

The best way to stop roadside bomb casualties is to kill the bombmakers. And I say this as a guy whose kid brother spent last year tooling around in Humvees. When everyone starts using Strykers, the insurgents will just start using bigger bombs as their baseline.

Posted by: Jon at July 11, 2005 03:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What Cohen failed to consider is that war is unpredictably dangerous and frought with risk. When you invade a country with the intent to topple its regime, particularly of the size and complexity of Iraq, in an increasingly hostile area of the world, you are buying into a broad range of uncertainty and complexity that can lead to disaster.

War proponents make the argument that the risks of NOT invading were even greater but I think those risks were more understood and manageable. Furthermore, there was a policy of escalatory containment and destabilization that could have significantly reduced those risks and made us much better prepared if we did need to attack.

That is why I was opposed. That said, I did not think that the war was going to be the disaster its become -- that took the screw ups in execution (as Cohen notes).

There were three major missteps in the execution: 1) the "we're right and we don't need you" approach to diplomacy (especially from Defense and OVP) that denied us allies, the Northern attack axis, and credibility as an international intervention (not a US intervention); 2) Rumsfeld didn't know what he didn't know about how unprepared they were for Phase IV (many of us did know). 3) Rumsfeld's insistence that we could do the operation with fewer troops than the Generals wanted -- further dooming us particularly during the critical period of the war -- the 3-6 months just after Baghdad fell and the insurgency formed.

As disasterous as Iraq has been to this point, there is still great uncertainty about the road ahead and the ultimate implications of OIF. You cannot rule out that Iraq will muddle out of this and serve as some catalyst for reform throughout the Middle East. Nor can you rule out that OIF will inspire broad violence and malace toward America and a century of terrorism and war directed at the U.S. To me, all of that is a lot more sobering than the difficulty of dealing with a tin pot dictator with aspirations but inability to build WMD.

Posted by: POTUS B at July 11, 2005 03:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

POTUS B,

All your points boil down to Bush should not have let Rumsfeld and his neoconservatives at the Pentagon run this war. They went against prior military experience and planning when continually cut down the number of troops needed. They willfully disregarded the planning that came out of the state department. Having the military run the reconstruction meant that NGO's were less willing to work with us, because they traditionally worked with civilian control and if they worked with the military their neutraility would be compromised and their workers would be targeted. It also meant that other donor countries from NATO and elsewhere would be less likely to contribute. They didn't want their money going to the US military and exclusively coalition corporations.

I am reading Losing Iraq by David L Phillips. He makes the point that the State Department had a long list of sites that needed to be protected from looting: government ministries, the museum, the library, the Tuwaitha nuclear site, the Al -Qaqaa weapons dump, etc. We protected the oil ministry. All the rest were ransacked. Something like 17 of 23 ministry buildings were destroyed. We so minimized postwar planning that we flew Ahmad Chalabi and his militia into Iraq on military planes BEFORE we flew General Garner into the country. That summarizes what our postwar plan was.


Losing Iraq
http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0813343046-3

Posted by: KevinNYC at July 11, 2005 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting article in the WaPo today about leaked withdrawal plans:

Excerpt:

LONDON, July 10 -- The United States and Britain are drawing up plans to withdraw the majority of their troops from Iraq by the middle of next year, according to a secret memo written for British Prime Minister Tony Blair by Defense Secretary John Reid.

The paper, which is marked "Secret -- UK Eyes Only," said "emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006," allowing a reduction in overall U.S.-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The troop level is now at about 160,000, including 138,000 American troops, according to a military spokesman in Baghdad.

So much for no withdrawal timetable (they didn't think this was NOT going to leak I hope). The mistakes keep mounting.

Posted by: POTUS B at July 11, 2005 05:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

20/20 hindsight is an easy, certain, and safely intellectual exercise.

Actually jumping off into an inevitability foggy future of unknowns and unknowables takes a completely different set of skills and character traits.

I want to know if Cohen was vociferously warning against these allegedly "foolish" decisions at the time they were actually being made.

If so, he must be taken seriously. If not, he’s just another armchair egotist.

Posted by: Tom Paine at July 11, 2005 05:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also having the military run the reconstruction meant that we ignored all the expertise we had from prior campaigns. Anything the State Dept or, God forbid, the Clinton administration had done was willfully disregarded. Nothing they did or said could have any validity in the mind of the neocons. Anyone who spoke Arabic and wasn't a neocon was also considered suspect.

Posted by: KevinNYC at July 11, 2005 05:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

POTUS B:

You said: "So much for no withdrawal timetable (they didn't think this was NOT going to leak I hope). The mistakes keep mounting."

You assume this is a veiled admission of defeat.

It's nothing of the sort.

They think they'll have it substantially WON by then -- and they're right.

There's too many "losers" on this thread.

Posted by: Tom Paine at July 11, 2005 06:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Renato wrote "he can't stand the fact we were fucking right."


And isn't that really the most important thing today renato - that you are proven right and chimpymchalliburton is proven wrong

You don't have any suggestions to make of course - but at least you knew what NOT to do

Whats 50 million people liberated from dictatorship to you - better it never happened and everyone had listed to you

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 11, 2005 06:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As disasterous as Iraq has been to this point, there is still great uncertainty about the road ahead and the ultimate implications of OIF.

There's a new sign erected alongside the road.

Emerging US plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in [Allied troops] from 176,000 down to 66,000.

The shorter new sign: Elections ahead...proceed with caution.

At least that would be consistent with everything else we know about the Bush administration.

As to Cohen, he's still a prime mover among the lying bastards that got us where we are now. I'm still waiting for him and the rest of his cabal to appear before America...asshats in hand...and be completely truthful about what was said and done to get us where we are now.

Posted by: James Emerson at July 11, 2005 06:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Closer to 25-30 million, Pogue. It's more if you count Afghanistan, but Cohen wasn't writing about this.

I see this post of Greg's has elicited the usual temper tantrums from the people who did not think Saddam was a problem or who have convinced themselves that everything we know now we knew three years ago. It has not gotten much reaction from anyone (besides the usual suspect) who thinks that regardless of whether the assessment of Iraq as a threat was correct the neoconservative project of trying to make a liberal democracy grow in an Arab country was a wildly ambitious objective that might not have been reached even if the United States had done everything right.

The practical difference this makes is that the invasion of Iraq happened in 2003. We could not undo it now even if we wanted to. On the other hand we still have decisions to make as to how much time and resources and how many lives we want to throw into establishing a highly advanced and demanding political system in the midst of an inferior culture. These decisions are not made any easier by willful blindness -- or, if you prefer, idealism -- with respect to the difficulty of what we are now attempting to do in Iraq. My objection to Cohen is that willful blindness is what he brings to this table. He doesn't get much credit from me for ripping everyone else's mistakes while reflecting not at all on his own assumptions.

Posted by: JEB at July 11, 2005 06:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You don't have any suggestions to make of course - but at least you knew what NOT to do

yeah that's right motherfucker. In the words of the illustrious Poor Man, I knew not to shit the fucking bed.

Now that the bed has been well and truly shat upon, you want some suggestions for bailing us out of the mess YOU helped create?

YOU were the people who disdained anything us war opponents had to say in 2002/2003.

Not just that, YOU people, along with the Bush regime and the so-called liberal media, questioned our patriotism and loyalty. We were Saddam-lovers. We were terrorist-enablers.

YOU people didn't even want to listen to the fucking generals, who might have some notion about how to fight a war. The generals even thought the war was a bad idea, and when it was considered a fait accompli, generals like Shinseki tried to tell YOU people we needed far more troops. And what was his reward for telling the truth? He was disgraced and retired, and not very nicely either.

And now that Iraq is FUBAR, YOU have the nerve point the finger at people like ME? You didn't want our advice then, but now you do, from us "gleeful ghouls"?

The way I see it, we have no good options. We can leave and let the place go to hell and possibly destabilize the entire Persian Gulf. Or we can stay, and provide some small measure of security in what has not become 'flypaper' for terrorists, but rather a 'college' for terrorists, and nurse the small hope that eventually, after many more lives lost and hundreds of billions more spent, something resembling a stable, pro-western government might emerge (but I'm not betting on it).

What's the matter genius? YOU people were so goddamn certain you had all the fucking answers. YOU fix it. I have no idea how to fix what YOU people fucked up so goddamn well.

What the fuck is your major malfunction?

Go fuck yourself asshole.

Posted by: renato at July 11, 2005 06:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You don't have any suggestions to make of course - but at least you knew what NOT to do

yeah that's right motherfucker. In the words of the illustrious Poor Man, I knew not to shit the fucking bed.

Now that the bed has been well and truly shat upon, you want some suggestions for bailing us out of the mess YOU helped create?

YOU were the people who disdained anything us war opponents had to say in 2002/2003.

Not just that, YOU people, along with the Bush regime and the so-called liberal media, questioned our patriotism and loyalty. We were Saddam-lovers. We were terrorist-enablers.

YOU people didn't even want to listen to the fucking generals, who might have some notion about how to fight a war. The generals even thought the war was a bad idea, and when it was considered a fait accompli, generals like Shinseki tried to tell YOU people we needed far more troops. And what was his reward for telling the truth? He was disgraced and retired, and not very nicely either.

And now that Iraq is FUBAR, YOU have the nerve point the finger at people like ME? You didn't want our advice then, but now you do, from us "gleeful ghouls"?

What the fuck is your major malfunction?

The way I see it, we have no good options. We can leave and let the place go to hell and possibly destabilize the entire Persian Gulf. Or we can stay, and provide some small measure of security in what has not become 'flypaper' for terrorists, but rather a 'college' for terrorists, and nurse the small hope that eventually, after many more lives lost and hundreds of billions more spent, something resembling a stable, pro-western government might emerge (but I'm not betting on it).

What's the matter genius? YOU people were so goddamn certain you had all the fucking answers. YOU fix it. I have no idea how to fix what YOU people fucked up so goddamn well. I wish I had some sage advice to offer. I really do. But I feel like the dad whose grown son didn't listen to my advice, got drunk, got behind the wheel, and caused a terrible accident.

I did all I could to prevent it, but you went and did something stupid. It's in your hands now. I can't help you and besides, you don't really want my help.

Suck it up. Take responsibility for the mess you and Cohen and others created.

Posted by: renato at July 11, 2005 06:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

" It has not gotten much reaction from anyone (besides the usual suspect) who thinks that regardless of whether the assessment of Iraq as a threat was correct the neoconservative project of trying to make a liberal democracy grow in an Arab country was a wildly ambitious objective that might not have been reached even if the United States had done everything right."

hmm. Looking at the political process, there is some steady progress in Iraq. A surprisingly pragmatic leadership class, that seems generally able to compromise its way out of tangles, at least so far. Apparently a real commitment to federalism AND democracy - the Shiites realizing that federalism is the price they have to pay to get majority rule. Etc, etc.

And all this WITH the documented incompetence. Its hard to beleive that Iraq wouldnt be doing BETTER if, say, the early looting had been prevented. If the CPA had been better run. Etc, etc.

Posted by: liberalhawk at July 11, 2005 07:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me follow LiberalHawk in challenging the premises of your argument: since when have the neocons ever enforced a party line discipline? Unlike our goosestepping opponents over at the Daily Kos, I've seen people like Bill Kristol and George Will call for Rumsfeld to be sacked (or fall on his sword) for abu Ghraib, I've seen the failures of the post-war planning pilloried at least as much from our side as our "loyal (?) opposition," I've seen John McCain say much more sensible things about the stupidity of abusing prisoners than any MSM blowhard (e.g., Andrew Sullivan), and I've seen the military veterans in the Senate -- Hagel and McCain again -- more effectively dismantle the facade of enough troops/all the troops that have been asked for promulgated by this administration.

I guess the cliche is just to appealing to pass up, but I don't think the neocons can justly be accused of ignoring bad choices or inconvenient facts.

Posted by: wayne at July 11, 2005 07:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Paine --

Announcing (or leaking) a withdrawal timetable (166K to 66K in early 2006) is a mistake when the outcome is in doubt (as it is). This is why the Administration and most of the Senate rejected the idea floated by a few Democrats. See thread "A Lifeline to Terrorists" in BD and "Defining Victory" in nationalinsecurity.blogspot.com for more on why.

I do agree that a withdrawal timetable that is linked to anticipated positive events is better than one simply linked to dates. But not much better. Any time you create expectations of exit by a certain date, its a problem.

I don't share your complete confidence ("They think they'll have it substantially WON by then -- and they're right") in victory, but I do believe it is likely we will leave Iraq in some muddled mess that can be called victory.

I like what Richard Clarke said to George S. on Sunday morning (paraphrasing): "If we leave now, there will be some degree of chaos. If we leave later there will be some degree of chaos. The analytical question at this point is whether possibly getting to the better level of chaos is worth the price to be paid." The other question is how much the insurgency is politically fueled by US occupation and the US withdrawal will serve as a catalyst to defuse the insurgency.

Too many "losers" on the board? I think the level pessimism on BD is consistent with what I hear from security analysts here in Washington -- Republicans included.

Posted by: POTUS B at July 11, 2005 08:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

LH, I agree it is hard to believe that mistakes did not badly damage our cause in Iraq. I do not, in fact, believe that, and per your other point both Shiites and Kurds have produced political (and in the Shiites' case) clerical leadership of a quality greater than I had expected. To endure many months of the most barbarous assaults on one's coreligionists without calling for revenge requires a sense of political and moral purpose that commands respect in any language.

Having made a commitment to such people the United States has an obligation to make it good. That obligation cannot, however, be allowed indefinitely to take precedence over all our other commitments. It is simple foolishness to talk in terms of extending our present deployment in Iraq years and years into the future, as some people have, based on historical precedents of insurgencies that have taken X number of years to suppress. Not only do we need to consider this; so do our allies in Iraq. Ultimately whether this project succeeds or fails ultimately depends on them -- another reason for impatience with someone who repenting of none of his own ideas is sure things would be well if only American policy were worthy of his own idealism.

Posted by: JEB at July 11, 2005 08:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess the cliche is just to appealing to pass up, but I don't think the neocons can justly be accused of ignoring bad choices or inconvenient facts.

Communism was a pretty good theory too until the Soviets got ahold of it.

Neoconservates can never separate themselves from the debacle that is Iraq. It was their baby, it has their DNA, and it was their people in the administration who claimed paternity for it (along with the Chalabis). So if the baby gets a premature burial due to the innate incompetence and political skullduggery of its adopted father, we have mainly the theoretical seminists to blame, for...as we all well understand...the adopted father is blameless.

They should have known...

Posted by: James Emerson at July 11, 2005 08:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It is simple foolishness to talk in terms of extending our present deployment in Iraq years and years into the future, as some people have, based on historical precedents of insurgencies that have taken X number of years to suppress. "


I cannot think of one place on the planet where lacking 135,000 troops is likely to as much harm as a premature withdrawl from Iraq could. If there ARE any such places you have in mind, we should be focusing on EXPANDING the forces available (which is being done, albeit belatedly) In fact I can think of a couple of places that some have spoken of using American ground forces where I think it would be a ghastly mistake, one which would make Iraq look like a picnic.

Now should we plan to keep 135,000 troops in Iraq for the next 12 years??? if that happens we would CERTAINLY need to rethink our strategy. But thats clear WITHOUT speaking of a schedule for withdrawl. Instead lets look at a schedule for our strategy. We should have a couple of hundred thousand trained and capable Iraqi troops by the end of 2006, working for an elected govt under a permanent constitution. If we dont, then we need to take a very hard look at why we dont, and what the alternatives are.

Posted by: liberalhawk at July 11, 2005 08:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If we leave now, there will be some degree of chaos. If we leave later there will be some degree of chaos. The analytical question at this point is whether possibly getting to the better level of chaos is worth the price to be paid."

theres chaos and theres chaos. several car bombs a week in Baghdad, that fail to stop the political process, is far different from an AQ-Baathist takeover, or an open genocidal civil war turning into a regional conflict.


Id say Clark misphrased things - if we leave now there weill be some disagree of chaos, likely leading downward to a disaster in Iraq. If we leave when Iraq is ready to take over the burden, we will leave an Iraq moving forward, but with the embers of an insurgency to deal with.

"if i stop giving you antibiotics, now you'll have an infection. If keep giving you antibiotics, till your body is strong enough for you to get better, and not die, you'll have an infection. The analytical question at this point is whether possibly getting to the better level of infection is worth the price to be paid." Er, thanks, doc.

Posted by: liberalhawk at July 11, 2005 08:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes James - its ALWAYS someone elses fault isn't it

You are covered - if things go well, its to your benefit and you can always carp about everything that wasn't done perfectly

If they go badly - you can say you were always against it - and yet still never have to offer any kind of suggestion on how to bring the fight to the enemy

I wonder - do you attach anythy thing like this level of blame to the Clinton admin that - lets be honest - ignored the gathering threat of islamic facism during its 8 years in office

Would that level of inaction meet with your approval today?

Or is it just Iraq you are against - you would have rather we not gone in there and instead...what?

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 11, 2005 09:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If we leave now, there will be some degree of chaos. If we leave later there will be some degree of chaos. The analytical question at this point is whether possibly getting to the better level of chaos is worth the price to be paid."

In plain terms: Do we want to lose, or do we want to lose badly?

Without the needed troops to stabilize the country, how can the administration prevent further chaos? The stateside political corollary is how can the administration increase the number of troops thereby stabilizing the region when doing so is a tantamount admission that it botched the entire endeavour?

Election 2006 is just around the corner. What are the odds that an administration which has only shown interest in maintaining it's political power will find the political courage to possibly lose a domestic election by attempting to straighten out Iraq as proscribed?


What are the odds?

Posted by: James Emerson at July 11, 2005 09:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

POTUSB -

My reading of events didn't show the drawdown plan was announced or leaked by the Administration or its allies. It seems to simply be one of many estimates and "what-if's" that are constantly prepared by the DOD.

As you point out, the Administration has no reason to leak the memo because it takes away its surprising positive effects if it comes to pass, and just makes Bush's party worse off in the 2006 elections if it doesn't.


Posted by: kevin at July 11, 2005 10:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

True that the administration has been wrong from time to time. Of course, the only people that have been more consistently wrong than the Administration are the anti-war protesters.

They were wrong about Baghdad being Stalingrad.
They were wrong about Saddam using WMD on our troops.
They were wrong about there being thousands of oil well fires.
They were wrong that the war would cause limitless additional terrorist attacks on US soil.
They were wrong that Saddam would fire missile after missile against Israel.
They were wrong that the Arab Street would explode.
They were wrong that we needed to postpone the election until there was more stability.
They were wrong that Iraqis couldn't form a democratic government.

Could they really have been wrong about many more things?

And now, after they have been consistently wrong for 3 years, they have the gall to criticize others for being wrong?

And, moreover, they CLAIM to want American troops to come home. And yet the chickensh*ts won't even pick up a gun, go to Iraq, and try to help get our troops home.

Posted by: Al at July 11, 2005 10:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sean B writes:

When Cohen writes: "Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war," I wish he was right in front of me so I could say:

"You pathetic son of a bitch. How dare you tar anyone who opposed the war with this kind of slur. We don't take 'ghoulish glee' in what's happening. We are horrified by how the war has turned out and aghast at the prospect of how things could unfold there if the neocon agenda is allowed to continue unchecked.

*sigh*

Sean, Cohen said "ghoulish glee of SOME who think...", not EVERYONE who opposed the war.

I take you at your word he's not describing you. I know from experience he's not describing the majority of Americans who took that position.

On the other hand, I've had US citizens opposed to the war tell me "the bigger the American body count in Iraq, the better."

Perhpas you haven't met these people, but they do exist.

Posted by: kevin at July 11, 2005 10:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gods, Jim- how tedious.

It's just 50 good years as a meat popsicle, and then shuffle off. What better way to spend your time, or give your life, than to trying to make the world a better place. A better place for your citizens to live and play in.

Mahone is right, and you know what the kicker is? We eveil neo-cons appear to be the current version of the "I'd like to sing the world a song" aspirations of your hippie grandparents, while you greens and peaceniks seem to care nothing except for your selfish hides.

Cowards. Tell me, do you at least blush when you write such stuff?

Posted by: Tommy G at July 11, 2005 10:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The practical difference this makes is that the invasion of Iraq happened in 2003. We could not undo it now even if we wanted to. On the other hand we still have decisions to make as to how much time and resources and how many lives we want to throw into establishing a highly advanced and demanding political system in the midst of an inferior culture . These decisions are not made any easier by willful blindness -- or, if you prefer, idealism -- with respect to the difficulty of what we are now attempting to do in Iraq. My objection to Cohen is that willful blindness is what he brings to this table. He doesn't get much credit from me for ripping everyone else's mistakes while reflecting not at all on his own assumptions.

inferior culture? sorry JEB, but I don't think that the problems that Iraq is likely to have adapting to "democracy" are primarily "cultural"; rather they are the caused by the fact that Iraq as a single political entity is a dubious proposition at best absent a repressive dictatorial approach to governance. The Kurds seemed to adapt to democracy quite well, the Shia community seems to be supportive of democracy, and there is no reason to suspect that Sunnis are culturally incapable of democracy.

Perhaps you meant "immature" rather than "inferior", because as a single nation Iraq has obviously not "matured" to the point where national identity trumps ethnic, regional, and religious identity. (Of course, the US fought a civil war because we weren't that "mature" after 80 years as a nation... )

Cohen is a PNACer, and his critique is the equivalent of that of a Coca-Cola executive who supported the idea of the "New Coke", then blames the marketing department when it turns out everyone hates the New Coke. Cohen still thinks his idea of invading Iraq was good, and is now scapegoating the people put in charge of the invasion, rather than questioning whether his idea was so good after all.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 11, 2005 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pogue,

Bush and company did nothing about the growing Islamist threat until 3,000 Americas died. In fact, they shifted America's priorities away from Al Qaeda to Iraq which, of course, was under the grip of a secular tyranny, not "Islamofacists." Ashcroft did not put terrorism among his priorities. Rice did not. Cheney took over the terrorism profile, but, of course, he found time in to meet on Iraq and on energy policy before doing anything about terrorism.

The Bush administration only woke up to their misplaced priorities after 3,000 Americans died. Before 9/11 they had done shit on Al Qaeda. Even then, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and even President Bush wanted to attack Iraq on 9/12. During the invasion of Afghanistan, Bush shifted America's priorities again to Iraq and away from Afghanistan. Even while Bin Ladin was in or around Tora Bora, Bush told Tommy Franks to start working on the Iraq war plan. We never had many troops in Afghanistan, because they were being held back for the Iraq invasion. Our top Special Forces who had were searching for Bin Ladin were repositioned to Iraq deprived us our troops with the training and language skills to work in Afghanistan. Bin Ladin remains free today while enormous amounts of energy, focus, dollars and soldiers lives were directed towards Iraq which turned out not to be a threat in 2003. Now in 2005, it is our biggest threat.

I don't know how you think Iraqis are liberated. Life in Iraq seems to be worse in 2005 than in 2002. To me it is still an open question how Iraq will turn out. Calling Iraqis liberated is as premature as saying Misson Accomplished in 2003.


Al, oil fires was stated concern of none other than Donald Rumsfeld.

Posted by: KevinNYC at July 11, 2005 11:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Its just a treasure when I read things like that Kevin - life in Iraq is WORSE now than it was under Saddam eh

I'll just bet you were one of those "we are cozy with too many dictators" sorts in the 1980's ( if you were past the acne phase then ) - and now we are toppling dictators and your Mooresque take on things is how much better off the Iraqi's were under Saddam

How can you actually think such a thing? Did you see those ten million people go to the polls - and mark themselves for death from the terrorists - for just the CHANCE at directing their own lives

Any one of them has more courage and moral clarity in their purple stained finger than you do in your whole body

As for your expected tirade about what the Bush admin DIDN'T do in their 8 months in office about OBL before 9/11...could you share your thoughts on how well Clinton dealt with this threat in his 8 years?

See - this is the difference - I understand that the Bush admin didn't do enough before 9/11...but you "its all chimpymchalliburtons fault" sorts have such blinders on that you actually don't even consider what anyone did before that evil Bush and the neocons stole the election(s)


Why don't you go over to Iraq and ask the folks there about your opinion of 2005 V 200

Your mighty quick to suggest OTHERS live under murderous dictatorships there kevin

So much for "pay any price, bear any burdon"

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 12, 2005 12:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

kevin --

I don't think the leak was intentional. But don't be naive enough to believe the "standard plans" line. That isn't how it works. The plan under discussion is at a political level meaning it is under consideration by the Principals and was likely done at the direction of the Principals.


Posted by: POTUS B at July 12, 2005 02:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

p. l., I meant exactly what I said. I don't think you disagree with the characterization either, strongly inhibited though you may be from saying so. As to whether Sunni Arabs are incapable of sustaining a democracy, well, let's hope so. Whether or not one sees any reasons to doubt this depends on whether or not one has one's eyes open.

Posted by: JEB at July 12, 2005 03:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems obvious that HMS Britannia has sprung a few leaks over the last few months. I can't help but believe the DSM group of documents, and now the withdrawal timetable were intentionally released by one or more persons with an axe to grind or a ballast valve to open.

I wonder if the British have a word for "deep throat."


Pogue --- I can't believe the Iraqi bloodstains on our hands caused by our dirty little war somehow makes us superior to Saddam Hussein, not to mention safer from Al Queda. Oh sure...most of our bloodstains came from fighting a determined nationalistic insurgency whereas Saddam Hussein's came from: gassing insurgent Kurds...weaponry provided with a handshake from Rumsfeld; massacring insurgent Shias after PGW-I because the elder President Bush openly encouraged the Shias to revolt then allowed Saddam Hussein the use of his heavy helicopters to brutally suppress them; not to forget mentioning Iraq going to war with Iran when it suited our leaders geopolitical interest of the moment.

Come to think of it...until April Glaspie blew or sabotaged her meeting with Saddam by declaring to Saddam that "arab to arab conflicts are of no concern to us" leading Saddam to believe we wouldn't interfere with his Kuwaiti invasion...well up to that point, Saddam was our main regional guy.

Don't you ever tire of the lies and deceptions that seem to constitute our Middle Eastern foreign policy?

Posted by: James Emerson at July 12, 2005 04:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I can't believe the Iraqi bloodstains on our hands caused by our dirty little war somehow makes us superior to Saddam Hussein

And *that*, in essence, is why the Dems will lose in '06 and '08.

Posted by: Mike at July 12, 2005 04:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I have frequently urged, let us keep the debate civil and dispense with the name calling and the foul language. Neither adds anything and indeed subtracts from the dignity and the effectiveness of this discussion. There are thousands who read these threads and do not post. Think about them before you descend.

There is no question that there have been mistakes, miscues, and errors made. These errors began years ago when we supported despotic Middle Eastern governments in the name of stability. They continued as the rise of Islamic terrorism was conveniently ignored as was the growing influence of the Wahabi branch of Islam and the rise of Bin Laden and his ilk. There is plenty of blame to spread around including a fair share to the Clinton administration. This war started long before the 2000 election, we just didn't recognize it as such.

Currently, there is no question that the tensions between the military and the civilian direction of the war has led to some bad decisions. However, the primary lesson from the history of warfare is that the perfectly planned scenario will never happen and that bad decisions will occur. The American Civil War was a disaster for years until Grant starved out Fredericksburg and began a horribly expensive campaign of attrition that finally overpowered the South. All the planning that went into the Normandy landings did not anticipate the absolute disaster that was Omaha Beach where all but a handful of the first wave hit the beach face down. We lost about 19,000 dead at the Battle of the Bulge and a similar number at Iwo Jima. Should we have ratified the secession of the Southern states after Bull Run? Should we have capitulated to the Nazi's after 1000 landing troops had died and only a handful had made it to the beach? Were these all examples of bad planning or rather the inherent uncertainties of war?

I do agree there was inadequate planning for the risk of an urban insurgency. However, that is all water over the dam and whether you opposed the war or you supported the invasion, there is little constructive to be gained by chewing that cabbage still again.

It is clear that the insurgents/terrorists have no political agenda; are attacking their own citizens; and are intent on sewing chaos perhaps hopeful of inciting a civil war with the Shia. By attacking and killing ordinary Iraqis, however, they are not expanding their circle of supporters. Our presence there is the primary barrier to their achievement of their neferious ends. There is no choice but to see this through, to continue to train and equip Iraqi security forces until they can take over, to support the efforts to install a democratic government, and to hunt down and eliminate the insurgents. Even John Kerry made the argument that he would do these very things, only better. That was all he had to offer and that is why he lost the election. It is going to be costly and frustrating, but as of today, no one here has suggested any meaningful alternative and I certainly haven't seen any such in the more venomous comments above.

Finally, Mr. Cohen is a wonderful Monday morning quarterback. Where were his criticisms as the events he mentioned were unfolding? I don't remember seeing or hearing them at the time. I don't recall him stepping forward and urging more planning or a different course of action. I am afraid that time moves in only one direction and while we can learn from our mistakes, shouting matches over the past offer nothing useful for what we must do from here on.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at July 12, 2005 04:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

James brings up some good points that I don’t think get enough discussion: If you believe Powell’s Pottery Barn Theory – that if you break it, you buy it – then Iraq has been broken for some time and the US had a real hand in its destruction.

In that sense, we are only now getting around to paying the bill. The real question for those who believe we have a responsibility to stay because of OIF, is whether they believe we had any responsibility to act due to the prior situation created by our policies and botched interventions.

Personally, I think Bush 1’s role in the massacre of the Shia was a real low point in our history. Hussein was our monster, and it’s one more reason I believe we did the right thing by invading.

However, if you want to relate the US invasion to Saddam’s reign, I’ll have to disagree. I think you’d have to judge them both on intent, methods and result. Repression vs. Liberation is no contest. Ruthlessly using WMD and draining the marshland to kill your own people vs. letting the other side have unfettered access to mosques as sanctuaries is again no contest. As for outcome, the numbers aren’t in yet – on both sides. We haven’t walked out and the Iraqis haven’t begun to finish finding all the mass graves in the country. I’ll call this one incomplete, but I shudder to think what Saddam’s final casualty count will be. I take some solace in that at least he won’t be adding to to his present total.

Posted by: kevin at July 12, 2005 04:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wenn das der Führer wüßte

Posted by: Ellen1910 at July 12, 2005 05:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bravo Michael. Great post and I largely agree with most of the comments. We can also argue 'till we're blue in the face about whether the decision to go to war in Iraq was the right one. I personally don't believe it was, but regardless of that the decision was made and we have to face up to the here and now.

I live in a county miles from anywhere where the threat is low to me personally, nonetheless New Zealanders have lost their lives in Bali, and maybe in London. I as much as anyone beleive that the threat of Islamic terror needs to be addressed but put into context. Probably more people die on road accidents and from cancer globally in a month than have been killed in terrorist attacks in the past 5 years. I'm not arguing for complancency, but a sense of perspective here. Michael's quite right - the mudslinging that goes on here is pretty pathetic, and as one guilty of lobbing the odd salvo, the events in London have made me question why we are so up in arms at each other when the real enemy is elsewhere.

Debate and discussion is good. Taking potshots, slapping each other with tired cliche's and epithets is not. Lets try to spend less time arguing over what has been and spend some mroe time thinking about what needs to be. Again I'm not suggesting forgetting about what got us here, but lets not focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Renato in particular - take a breath before you post next time. Whilst your passion is evident, resorting to immature flames when you disagree with someone only serves to reduce the clarity of your argument meaning we can't see the point. Likewise random cheerleading from Tommy G hardly contributes to creating a useful and shared understanding.

I'd like to think these blogs provide and opportunity to engage in thoughtful and useful debate to help all of us understand more accurately what's happening in our world. In doing so we will develop more knowledge so that we can more effectively contribute to our greatest freedom - democracy.

Posted by: Aran Brown at July 12, 2005 06:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

At the risk of responding to a troll, I will take issue with Al's claim that the anti-war protesters were more consistently wrong than the Administration. Al claims that:

  1. They were wrong about Baghdad being Stalingrad.
  2. They were wrong about Saddam using WMD on our troops.
  3. They were wrong about there being thousands of oil well fires.
  4. They were wrong that the war would cause limitless additional terrorist attacks on US soil.
  5. They were wrong that Saddam would fire missile after missile against Israel.
  6. They were wrong that the Arab Street would explode.
  7. They were wrong that we needed to postpone the election until there was more stability.
  8. They were wrong that Iraqis couldn't form a democratic government.

I suppose that someone, somewhere, has made each of these predictions. But has anyone endorsed all eight of them? Number 2 is a round-about way of accusing anti-war protesters of believing Bush's claim that Iraq posessed WMD. My recollection is that most of the anti-war folks were pretty skeptical of this claim. Number 7 is an argument made by people who believed Iraq would become more stable over time despite the fact that the opposite was occurring. I don't recall any anti-war folks making it.

I opposed the war because I believed that after the attacks on 9/11, our number one priority should have been to go after al Qaeda and affiliated groups. The only one of the predictions listed that I came close to endorsing was the prediction of additional terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and it's too soon to know whether I was right about that. If I had heard the prediction that there would be "limitless" additional attacks, I would have dismissed that prediction as nonsense because the resources of al Qaeda and affilates are not limitless.

And now, after they have been consistently wrong for 3 years, they have the gall to criticize others for being wrong?

Who are these people you are referring to? Name names.

And while you are doing that, you might consider that those people haven't been running the country for the past five years. Unlike the Bush Administration, they aren't in a position to cause great harm.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at July 12, 2005 07:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Were these all examples of bad planning or rather the inherent uncertainties of war?

In all of those instances, we were not talking about "optional" wars. Of course there are going to be mistakes made during a war, but there is a difference between planning done "on-the-fly" by necessity, and planning that can and should be done before an unprovoked attack on another nation. Perhaps most critically, there is a difference between "bad planning" and "no planning" --- and the fact that there was no "Phase IV" planning for what our troops were supposed to do after they took over Baghdad is damning.

I do agree there was inadequate planning for the risk of an urban insurgency. However, that is all water over the dam and whether you opposed the war or you supported the invasion, there is little constructive to be gained by chewing that cabbage still again.

Sorry, but I have to disagree. The reality is that those who were responsible for the "inadequate planning" have not been replaced, but remain in power. How many Generals did Lincoln replace before Grant (who was highly critical of the Union war effort) finally took over? Failure in war has generally had consequences for those responsible for that failure --- but within the Bush regime, failure seems to be rewarded, while the "wiser heads" are consistently marginalized or gotten rid of.

(The only significant "leader" who I know of who has been replaced in Iraq was Garner, and his replacement seemed to be motivated by his "failure" to accomplish the completely unrealistic goals of the neo-con cabal that brought us this war, rather than "incompetence" in leadership. Karpinski took the fall for Sanchez, whose career does not appear to have been affected by his failures.)

Its not "water over the dam" until those responsible for the screw-ups are held accountable. This is especially true when we are being told to "stay the course". Such pronouncements require us to look at the record of the driver and navigator, and when that record is one of consistent traffic accidents and wrong turns, that needs to be pointed out.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 12, 2005 01:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I suppose that someone, somewhere, has made each of these predictions. But has anyone endorsed all eight of them? Number 2 is a round-about way of accusing anti-war protesters of believing Bush's claim that Iraq posessed WMD. My recollection is that most of the anti-war folks were pretty skeptical of this claim. Number 7 is an argument made by people who believed Iraq would become more stable over time despite the fact that the opposite was occurring. I don't recall any anti-war folks making it.

indeed, most of the "errors" of the left were the result of the left adopting the "conventional wisdom" being put forth as part of the Bush regime PR campaign.

#1) The "war" that the Pentagon planned on was based on assumptions of little resistance in the South, followed by a protracted siege of Baghdad. Had the war gone the way the Pentagon anticipated, "Stalingrad" would likely have occurred. It didn't -- Saddam left Baghdad virtually undefended, and there was no need for a "siege".

#2) I also don't recall the left "predicting" this, because by the time the war started, it was pretty obvious that Iraq had minimal, if any, WMD capability. The right-wing, of course, insisted that Iraq had WMDs stockpiled up the wazoo, and would use them in a war. (There were those on the left that were critical of putting 100,000 American troops in Kuwait if the operating assumption of the Bush regime was that Iraq had WMDs it could deploy, but that was more a criticism of the contradictions inherent in Bush's strategy, rather than a prediction that Iraq would use WMDs.)

#3) Again, the left accepted the conventional wisdom based on Pentagon planning and pronouncements. And the left did not so much "predict" oil well fires as point out the environmental disaster that could ensue if things happened the way the Pentagon expected them to.

#4) No one said "limitless", and the prediction was that the invasion would increase the threat of terrorism --- especially in the long term. And, based on intelligence reports, the left was absolutely correct in their criticism.

#5) Again, I don't remember the left claiming that Saddam would attack Israel. This was mostly a premise offered up by the right-wing that was useful to them in promoting the image of Saddam as a madman.

#6) This is true --- there was great fear in the "liberal" community that the invasion would do extraordinary damage to America's image abroad, and that an invasion would unleash an "explosion" that would destabilize places like Saudi Arabia. And although the liberals were right about the damage done to America's reputation, the "explosion" didn't occur as feared --- instead, we are faced with a slowly burning but uncontrolled fire in a munitions dump.

#7) This is precisely the opposite of what "liberals" were saying -- and indeed was what the Bush regime was saying until Sistani forced Bush's hand and got the direct elections he had been demanding for over a year. "Liberals" were pointing out that the continued series of puppet regimes was ill-advised, and that elections should be held.

#8) Again, it wasn't the liberals who were saying that Iraq could not form a democratic government --- it was the Bush regime that consistently resisted holding elections. Liberals have noted the difficulty of forming any stable democratic government in Iraq, given the ethnic, regional, and religious divisions in that nation. And so far, their observations have been proven correct -- certainly, the difficulty that Iraq had in even forming a government after the January 30 elections is far from encouraging, and the fact that in just over a month we are supposed to have a new Iraqi Constitution written when it does not appear that any work has been done on it suggests that the current government will fail in its primary mission --- which was to oversee the Constitutional process.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at July 12, 2005 01:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Debate and discussion over where we are heading is healthy, but in order to know where we are heading we absolutely must have working knowledge of the decisional roadmap that got us here...

As Grandpa used to say, "you gotta know where you been before you know which way you goin."

To loosely paraphrase Lukasiak...the chapter is yet unfinished, the page has not yet turned. Tomorrow's unwritten story shares an organic connection to yesterday's notations...indelibly written with the blood of America's finest.

We who question this war and this wartime president do so in part because it was sold to America through a coordinated campaign of lies and deceptions...and in part because it has been such a disaster, the consequences of which are yet unfathomed. But it is the needless and casual sacrifice of our young men and women...and the deaths of countless Iraqi thousands...which fuel the fires of our rage.

Posted by: James Emerson at July 12, 2005 04:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Luka,

I think your points are well taken, but not despositive. I am referring to the first post regarding responsibility for mistakes and how we deal with them. There is a tendency that has developed in recent years that any misstep leads to dismissal. If a politician or business leader makes a non PC comment, calls arise for his head. If under the direction of a political or military leader some untoward event occurs (I am trying to be neutral in describing the event) a chorus arises that they be fired. I think this reached a zenith during the Clinton impleachment, which I opposed, but which, I confess was cause for some glee, and I admit it.

If we look at history, political and military leaders which we venerate today, made their share of mistakes, but in times past, we were not so quick to discard them. Lincoln, a figure that I admire greatly, would never have been reelected under the current standard. The disaster at Anzio would have consigned Mark Clark and probably others to the trash heap of history. The list goes on and on. But the lesson, at least in my perspective, is that even the greats own failures.

It seems to me that we have to look at the individuals involved and ask the question whether we have another who with reasonable certainty can take up the reins and avoid similiar mistakes in the future. In most instances, dramatic changes in personnel and leadership do not happen easily, and in current context, they will inevitably give comfort to the enemy. That means that we have to accept the warts on our leaders as well as their strengths and abilities. I also believe that in the heated political atmosphere of the day compounded by the MSM, there is a tendency to magnify faults and minimize successes.
I think the prisoner abuse scandel is a case in point and I think the histeria over Gitmo is another. The abuses are not excusable, don't get me wrong on this, but there were far more important concurrent issues which, because they were more complex and more subtle, did not get the attention they deserved, having been pushed aside by the prison issues.

Another example is the argument that chasing OBL in Tora Bora should have taken precedence over Iraq. It is too convienient to forget that there was no practical way nor rational reason for dropping 100,000 troops into that area. We could well have suffered the same fate as the Russians who tried that tactic over and over in Afganistan. Further, the politics within Pakistan are very, very complex and there are credible scenerios whereby we could have found ourselves shooting it out with renegade Pakistani military units as the borders and alliances are ill defined in that area. We need to stay the course on the hunt for OBL and this is so obvious, that I, for one, cannot believe that he is not being actively pursued and will continue to be so until nabbed. I rather suspect that the recent incident involving the Navy Seals and the downed helo has something to do with that effort.

I think you are overstating the role that Sistini played in forcing the elections. There is no question in my mind that the Administration wanted elections as a vehicle to confirm the legitimacy of the war in the first place. However, there was a timidity in proceeding in the hostile environment that had developed and the fear that ordinary Iraqis would stay away out of fear. What Sistini brought to the table was the confidence that the elections could be pulled off notwithstanding the insurgency and notwithstanding the Administration's doubts and that he could control Sadar and prevent him from abusing the situation. That meant that the Kurds and the Shia would both participate in significant numbers. I think we are indebted to Sistini, but the quality of the result was a product of positive contributions from all concerned. The mechanism for the election was a product of good planning and good decisions on our part. (And we have arguments about our own election mechanisms here as well.) Sistini, in what I regard as a remarkable degree of confidence in the Iraqi people, insisted that they would participate if only they had the opportunity. In public, this played out a debate over the timing of the elections. However, the debate was not over the need for elections. I must say, by the way, that I felt very deep emotions over the success of the elections.

Finally, I want to call for some patience. Democracy is a messy, risky, and complex system. It took America a horrific civil war and well over 100 years from the Declaration of Independence until our own democracy was firmly rooted and reliably functioning. In the beginning, there was great pressure to form a monarchic structure a la John Adams, and fear that presidential transitions would fail. Further, democracy was accomplished without the ongoing threat of a constant insurgency, although there was some of that. The development of French democracy was a bumpy and bloody road. Iraq is not going to be resolved in any short time. We can only hope that in the near future, the Iraqis themselves will be sufficiently commited to stability that they will be able to take over the policing and the repression of the insurgency. Unless we believe that democracy in Iraq is an impossiblity, I fail to see any other approach.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at July 12, 2005 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To Cohen's point: "after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops."

On the one hand, it would of course have been better if the U.S. had gone into Iraq with the right number of troops. On the other hand, I am almost rather glad there wasn’t a huge boost in recruitment activities knowing what we know now. In some ways that would have been the worst con of all—convincing brave men and women to enlist with the idea that they were going to hunt down Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan, and then pulling a switcheroo and telling them they’d be searching (in vain) for WMDs in Anbar Province instead.

Given that even in late 2001 the Bush administration was already bound and determined to depose Saddam Hussein-- which may be why "we knew we would need more troops," as Cohen puts it-- I suppose it’s a small mercy that there aren’t thousands more troops pinned down in Iraq whose original plans had been to go after the people who actually attacked us on September 11th.

Posted by: Patience at July 12, 2005 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm very pleasantly surprised -- a calm, coherent posting by Mr. Lukasiak. I even agreed with most of it!

I'd like to add a few points for consideration:

1) When this war is over we should look at the lost opportunities that resulted from the mendatious acts of our "allies," especially the French. I'm speaking this time of the year lost due to Sistani's hostility and distrust of our motives, exacerbated by the French, but other issues/actions as well.

2) Mr. Harari in Lebanon was blown away by a bomb that would have spoiled our whole day had it gone off in NYC. No fingerprints, no one to blame beyond reasonable doubt. Most people say Syria, Syria says the Mafia or the Mossad... Now go back and look at Bush's rationale for this war; not WMD's - we always said that was the equivalent of getting Al Capone for tax evasion, a sincere charge but not our primary motivation, just something most easily salable to the international jury... the primary reason we had to fight a meglomaniac like Saddam was because he could put the resources in the hands of people like Osama, or abu Nidal, or the next crackpot, and we could no longer live in that environment -- walking on eggshells every time we went through an airport, for example.

This war has gone through so many transformations that we lose sight of the fact of how much we have accomplished.

Posted by: wayne at July 12, 2005 08:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Patience - its not about going after the actual people who attacked us on 9/11

They are all dead by the way

Or even their actual leaders - although we have gotten a lot of them and continue to hunt the rest

Its about preventing the next 9/11 - a WMD 9/11

That YOU don't understand this is clear - but don't assume the men and women in uniform are as confused

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at July 12, 2005 09:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I just want to say how impressed I am with the quality of debate on this thread towards the end - keep it up!!!

Posted by: Aran Brown at July 12, 2005 09:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Another example is the argument that chasing OBL in Tora Bora should have taken precedence over Iraq. It is too convienient to forget that there was no practical way nor rational reason for dropping 100,000 troops into that area."

I don't recall anybody saying that it would take 100,000 troops to deal with Tora Bora. But the larger issue here is the failure of the Administration to make al Qaeda its top priority. According to USA Today:

In 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures.

The CIA, meanwhile, was stretched badly in its capacity to collect, translate and analyze information coming from Afghanistan. When the White House raised a new priority, it took specialists away from the Afghanistan effort to ensure Iraq was covered.

One news report on this topic described the frustration felt by one of the members of the special forces. He and his buddies had worked hard to build relationships with the locals and win their trust. Just when this work was beginning to pay off, his unit was pulled out of Afghanistan. Like most professional solders, the interviewee wanted to stay and finish the job. But Bush had other priorities.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at July 12, 2005 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"#2) I also don't recall the left "predicting" this, because by the time the war started, it was pretty obvious that Iraq had minimal, if any, WMD capability. "

It wasn't obvious to Hans Blix in his February 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council who indicated that while he could not prove that there were weapons of mass destruction, he also clearly stated that he could not prove that there were not. There was no accounting for stockpiles that they last saw in 1998 that you can read about at Sipri. Here is a direct quote from Blix's organization about the state of things in 1998.

The basic problem, however, lies not so much at the technical as at the political level. The UNSCOM experience seems to demonstrate that the international will to constrain a determined proliferator is difficult to sustain indefinitely.

The fundamental issue is the policy pursued by the present Iraqi President and his regime. Iraq inhabits a difficult neighbourhood, but there is no reason to expect that another Iraqi regime would necessarily follow the particular policies Saddam has chosen to adopt. Although the international community has been reluctant, and for good reason, to endorse any policy of bringing about a change of regime, it may be time for the world to confront the limitations of an anachronistic interpretation of Article 2, paragraph 7 of the UN Charter. The principle of non-intervention should not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the Charter.

The costs of such multilateral intervention may be high, but the costs of not intervening may be higher.

Arab leaders and even Jacque Chirac warned Bush that an invasion could provoke a WMD response. It certainly wasn't obvious to soldier such as Major K. chronicled the exercises that soldiers went through preparing for the invasion.

#5) Again, I don't remember the left claiming that Saddam would attack Israel. This was mostly a premise offered up by the right-wing that was useful to them in promoting the image of Saddam as a madman.

That this idea was concocted out of whole cloth is utter nonsense. Perhaps you are too young to remember, but Saddam unleashed several scud missiles against Israel during the first Gulf War. It was a legitimate concern.

"#6) This is true --- there was great fear in the "liberal" community that the invasion would do extraordinary damage to America's image abroad, and that an invasion would unleash an "explosion" that would destabilize places like Saudi Arabia. And although the liberals were right about the damage done to America's reputation, the "explosion" didn't occur as feared --- instead, we are faced with a slowly burning but uncontrolled fire in a munitions dump."

Sure there was an enormous political trade off here, but it mostly had to do with sacrificing support from allies to drive a stake through Saddam and others belief that the U.S. would not act unilaterally in it's own interests and could be hemmed in by the United Nations vacillation (the kind that prevented the U.N. from making hard decisions on Bosnia or on Darfur). Two nations are free from tyrants. Even Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe conceeds that these are huge wins.

"#8) Again, it wasn't the liberals who were saying that Iraq could not form a democratic government --- it was the Bush regime that consistently resisted holding elections. "

You can't be this young. Kofi Annan and the Democratic leadership both were arguing up until the last day that the February elections this year needed to be postponed.

Posted by: bob at July 13, 2005 12:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Cohen's article reads like a neo-Con re-telling, a refixing of the facts -- we knew what we were doing, but the jokers on the ground screwed up Phase 4, while our son is fighting the good fight, (we're the victims here of the incompetents on the ground over there) -- so when the really bad news comes out of the Plame and Franklin investigations, the really bad news for the neo-cons, there will be this whole new story to hide behind

Posted by: Doppler at July 13, 2005 04:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
"Awake"
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
Search
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Columnists
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
Security
Books
The City
Western Europe
France
United Kingdom
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Central and Eastern Europe
CIS/FSU
Russia
Armenia
East Asia
China
Japan
South Korea
Middle East
Egypt
Israel
Lebanon
Syria
B.D. In the Press
Archives
Categories
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS RDF

G2E

Powered by