June 15, 2005

Friedman on Iraq

Seems like Tom Friedman has gotten Eschaton all hot under the collar today. Guess he touched a nerve. And that the truth hurts (Friedman: "Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.") After all, any casual reader of Kos or Atrios over the past months knows full well they have been rooting for an American failure in Iraq since, well, since at least the time of Kerry's defeat.

Golden oldie time.


Bush has spent the last year blaming all his ills on 9/11 and Bill Clinton. Well, those boogeymen are now done. Bush is now inheriting his own presidency, and he has a serious mess on his hands. The big silver lining, and it's significant, is that Kerry won't be tarred for cleaning up Bush's mess. Had Kerry gotten us out of Iraq, he would've been blamed for "losing the war". Now Bush will ineptly lose it for himself.

Or Atrios, the day of the January 30th Iraqi elections (this almost his sole comment on the going-ons in Iraq on that historic day):

"Hercules Down

Horrible. Possibly very horrible.

...good. Reuters is saying up to 15 killed which, while horrible, is much less horrible than it could have been."

Am I the only person who read this and couldn't help pausing for a second and wondering what the "...good" refers to? That something tragic happened the day of the successful elections--or that 'only' 15 British servicemen were killed? I report; you decide. [ed. note: Yeah, let's assume his basic human decency and grant him it's the latter. But still, the stench of disingenuousness positively leaps off the blog page].

But enough about liberals and Iraq, and on to the substance of Friedman's op-ed...Friedman is distinctively gloomy in his piece but, like B.D., doesn't think the gig is up (but we are at yet another Friedman "tipping point", it seems). One of the best lines in Friedman's op-ed is this new (to me) coinage re: the "Rumsfeld Doctrine": "Just enough troops to lose." Friedman neatly contrasts this with the "Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force." Somewhat relatedly, he also has this to say poo-pooing the notion of 'train and equip' as some kind of grand panacea:

Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don't think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don't have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.

Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country's main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.

But might we give Ibrahim Jaafari some more time before giving up on him? Karzai, after all, came to power amidst a relatively peaceful Kabul and environs. It has been a tougher slog for Jaafari who must spend a good deal of his time on constant security crises. He still could end up being more of an effective uniter than Friedman gives him credit for today.

I'd also quibble with this part of Friedman's piece:

Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don't. As Stanford's Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, "Squandered Victory," puts it, we need "a bold mobilizing strategy" right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas.

O.K, sure. Let's have a "bold mobilizing strategy." But simply saying double this and re-double that is all a bit on the facile side, no? The diplomatic effort to get the Sunnis on board--as Steve Weismann recently reported in Friedman's own paper--is going pretty strong all told. How to re-double it? Just by having our Ambassador on the ground (Friedman, quite understandably, complains we don't have Ambassadors in Amman, Kabul or Baghdad right now)? That certainly wouldn't hurt, but probably wouldn't constitute doubling our efforts to get the Sunnis on board. We're working with the EU and the U.N. too now specifically on the Sunni integration issue. Maybe we should get the Arab League more heavily involved in dialogue with wary Sunni constituencies in Iraq as well. I'm sure there has been a bit of that here and there, but perhaps that's one area we we could ratchet up involvement (Jordanian and Egyptian high-level envoys, say). And then the troop thing. Double that too Mr. Friedman advises! But where would the other 139,000 boots be coming from, exactly? Or 50,000, for that matter? All this said, it's on the "energizing" efforts related to the Iraqi constitution-writing process that Larry Diamond and Tom Friedman might have a helpful point. On this, see the talented Spencer Ackerman:

And on fewer issues does Diamond show victory was more needlessly squandered than with the U.S.-brokered Iraqi interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), completed in March 2004 with much U.S. jubilation and much Iraqi bitterness. As he recounts the story of how the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council drafted the foundational document, the sheer fact of American sponsorship of the TAL overshadowed its liberal elements to the Iraqi public, creating the widespread impression among Sunni and Shia Arabs (if not Kurds) that its unpalatable provisions were an American attempt to disenfranchise them. The CPA never recovered the initiative. Distrust of the TAL and the process that produced it hangs over the nascent attempt at crafting a permanent replacement. In short, what happened last March is not an experience we should want to repeat.

Yet Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is asking the Bush administration to risk precisely that--and he's right to do so. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Zebari implored the U.S. to reverse its recent laissez-faire approach to the Iraqi political scene, warning that the permanent constitution--and hence the future of Iraq itself--is in grave danger if the parliamentary drafting committee is left to its own devices. "If we are unable to write a constitution with consensus, what is the alternative?" Zebari told the Post's Robin Wright last week. "This process would be prolonged and people will start to walk away. Walking away means the possibility of chaos, division, or even civil war. There are people who are fomenting that [conflict] now." Of course, Zebari's alternative--U.S. intervention in the drafting--could produce that same destabilizing result, with our interference becoming an excuse for the sectarian intransigence that could consign the constitution to failure. Should we chance it?

The answer is yes.

I agree. Radicals will say it's a ginned up American constitution anyway--so why not risk getting more heavily involved in the drafting if we can maybe make a difference? Yep, let's do our utmost to help get a viable constitution teed up. As Ackerman points out, Khalizad was instrumental in doing so in Kabul. Will this be a big part of his initial portfolio as he gets set up in the Green Zone? I sure hope so.

Posted by Gregory at June 15, 2005 12:04 PM | TrackBack (15)

Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq? Sure we do. But that discussion starts with the fact that the Bush regime has not, and will not, deal in good faith with the Iraqis, the international community, or the American people. Once those facts are understood by everyone, the solution to the Iraq problem becomes obvious ---- regime change in the United States is the first necessary step to a stable and peaceful Iraq.

The solution to Iraq requires the active cooperation and participation of the international community, especially with Islamic nations and most critically with Iraq's neighbors. But that cooperation will not be forthcoming because everyone knows that Bush cannot be trusted, and that "success" in Iraq for Bush will be interpreted as a green light for further military agression in the region.

It is that co-operation that is key to the "doubling" of efforts to involve the Sunnis in the political process, and the "doubling" of feet on the ground in Iraq to restore order. But when Bush sends the big "fuck you" to the international community by insisting that someone like John Bolton represent the US at the UN, you aren't going to get that co-operation.

Its not that liberals want to see Bush fail in Iraq --- we know that he has failed in Iraq, and that he is capable of nothing but failure in Iraq. The Bush regime is the reason we are in such a mess in Iraq, and getting rid of the Bush regime is the only way out of that mess.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at June 15, 2005 11:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers?"

Oops - wrong, Friedman. What? I've got to do my job *and* yours?

We don't serve the president, we protect and defend the constitution.

Successful "soldiers" haven't fought for a "leader" for several hundred years, they've fought for an ideal.

Posted by: Tommy G at June 16, 2005 01:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, liberals don't prefer the Iraqi insurgency to the United States, just to its government. Thanks for the clarification, p. l.

Greg is quite correct that Zalmay Khalilzad will have to play a very high-profile role in Iraqi politics for the next year or so. He will need to be the public source of ideas that each of the various Iraqi ethnic groups would reject if they came from one of the others; he will have to be the guy willing to point to unpleasant truths everyone is aware of but no one wants to dwell on. If Iraq's way forward needs to be a political path rather than a primarily military path American policy there will need to be managed by a civilian on the scene, not by Central Command or a rolling committee in Washington.

For Khalilzad, Afghanistan was just the rehearsal. The real show starts now.

Posted by: JEB at June 16, 2005 02:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ah, the "liberal traitors..." pretty disappointing to see you stoop down to this level, Greg. It's almost pathetic.

I don't mean to trivialize this, but one can say that, say, the Atlanta Hawks are not going to make the playoffs next year because of an inept coach or front office while still being a fan of the Atlanta Hawks.

Why is it so hard to believe that some people don't have faith in the Bush administration without believing that they hate the United States? Didn't you, on this very site, impugn the ability of a prospective Kerry administration to win the war in Iraq? If Kerry had won, would that make you a traitor?

I understand allure of scoring cheap partisan points, but come on. You and JEB are really lowering the quality of the debate around here...

Posted by: just me at June 16, 2005 03:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Frankly, I don't think it's a question of whether its "it's a ginned up American constitution," but rather whether or not the government that comes from it can provide some jobs and basic security.

No one's going to give a damn if it works.

Posted by: TW. Andrews at June 16, 2005 01:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course Liberals want to see Iraq fail. They hate Bush more than they love liberty, freedom, decency, and modernity. Why else do they celebrate jihadis and hate GWB? Luksiaks post is a perfect example. Bush drives him to derangement because he points out the central flaw in Liberals love for anti-American tyrants: the societies in which they operate are supremely broken in all forms, and pose a massive threat to the US. If AFGHANISTAN could operate as the base for 9/11, then these Muslim tyrannies must be destroyed, transformed, or deterred.

This to put it mildly is a slap in the face to those who think the world is comprised of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and religiously believe in useless and broken institutions that have failed so many times it's laughable (the EU, UN, Arab League, etc). These broken institutions are not even worth a warm cup of spit.

Friedman is wrong about pretty much everything, but himself. As a Liberal he surely knows that Liberals really do hate the idea of the American Dream (guilt, probably, over their wealth, plus pseudo Marxist desires for dictatorship) and romanticize beyond belief the "Other" which is seen as "authentic" and morally superior.

The problem really is cultural. Sunni Arab tribal society has not adjusted to the fact that they lost when Saddam lost and they will no longer run the country with him. Thus the traditional hit-and-run banditry and killing. Mobility, ambush, and deception. That works up to a point. However, politically the Shias and Kurds WILL fight them, they are the vast majority (80%) and have their own militias, of various states of fighting ability.

The Arab League, Jordan, Syria, Saudi, the toothless UN and the idiotic EU are about as useful as skis in the desert. What WILL stop the insurgency is a combination of Shia and Kurdish militias, backed by the US, marching through the Sunni heartland destroying EVERY piece of property they can find as Sherman did in his march to the Sea (exempting the ordinary farmer of course as Sherman did). This will concentrate the minds wonderfully of the people who make the terrorist campaign happen, the Sunni Tribal Chiefs. Take away their property (and hence their position as Tribal Chief) and they get the message. Stop. Constitution or not is irrelevant. Only making the price for continued fighting too expensive for the Tribal Chiefs.

A word on the failure of the Powell Doctrine. The Powell Doctrine put an emphasis on a "global test," not only did US military action require universal domestic support, clear goals, and an exit timetable and strategy, it also required universal foreign support and thus extremely limited scope of action. Bush stopped and let Hussein survive the first Gulf War because his coalition demanded it, wanting Hussein only "punished" not removed. That's a recipe for inaction and such limited scope that it practically begs people like bin Laden to attack you with impunity.

The Powell Doctrine led to inaction in the face of Mass Terror, which in turn led to the Bin Laden Doctrine: the US can be easily defeated by killing enough soldiers or citizens or both because it lacks the will to fight even if it faces destruction. This Doctrine is sincerely believed throughout the world and this belief is very dangerous. It will inevitably lead to another, much worse 9/11.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at June 19, 2005 09:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CJR linked to this archived BD today.

I'm just wondering, does it make you feel like a fool to look back at statements like

But did POTUS purposefully lie to the American people on the WMD issue? I don't think a judicious examination of the evidence bears that out.
Drezner also writes: "If Bush gets re-elected, he and his team will view it as a vindication for all of their policy decisions to date. Whatever groupthink occurred in the first term would pale besides the groupthink that would dominate the second term."
Does Dan really believe that a Bush victory will have Doug Feith feeling "vindicated" so that group-think would prevail via some Libby-Bolton-Feith axis? Er, I think not. Nor do John Negroponte or Zal Khalilzad, I suspect.
...just to cherrypick a couple? Based on what I see on today's page, you've conveniently forgotten how wrong you were that day.

Posted by: Jimmy Havok at June 28, 2005 04:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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