Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Debunking The Defense Myth Part II

Having laid the groundwork for the lack of historical justification for the prevailing narrative that Republicans are better suited to handle issues of national security and foreign policy in Part I of this post, I want to shift focus to the most current example of Republican led foreign policy, that espoused by the Bush administration.

A closer look at Bush's record reveals that simply being a Republican does not, surprisingly enough, bestow sound judgment in the arenas of foreign policy and national security. As
Matthew Yglesias laments, sometimes the only substitute for intelligence, knowledge and understanding is actually intelligence, knowledge and understanding. The lack of depth in comprehension of the complex realities of foreign policy, and the seemingly incurious approach to being brought up to speed, has led the current Republican president through a series of national security stumbles, miscues and disasters. And there is no end in sight.

Upon entering office, the Bush team did not display the ability to grasp the threat of stateless, international terrorism, although according to Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke and others, they did seem monomaniacally obsessed with Iraq. In defense of the Bush administration, few understood the magnitude of the al-Qaeda threat before 9/11. There were, however, repeated calls for more action from some, including intelligence figures like Richard Clarke, FBI agent John O'Neill, and oddly enough L. Paul Bremer who had this to say in
February of 2001:

The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it.
Instead of heeding these warnings, or the threats in the now infamous August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.," which contained intelligence regarding, among other things, "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings," the Bush team remained aloof with an Attorney General that the 9/11 Commission described as "largely uninterested in counterterrorism issues before Sept. 11 despite intelligence warnings that summer that Al Qaeda was planning a large, perhaps catastrophic, terrorist attack."

Then came the tragedy of 9/11 and the shock and suffering resulting from the brutal attack. So what do the Bush administration do after 9/11? Aside from hounding Clarke and others for evidence that Saddam was behind the attack, to no avail, and despite Rumsfeld's famous complaint that "there were no good targets" in the desolate country, they somewhat reluctantly launched an invasion of the Taliban led al-Qaeda haven in Afghanistan (possibly at the
behest of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who promised his support for an invasion of Iraq in return for Bush's action in Afghanistan).

The was a commendable move, although in reality it was a no-brainer as there were few alternatives for any administration to take. Undoubtedly successful in toppling the Taliban regime (this part of the process seems to come easily for the Bush team), the overall planning and lack of follow through has led to some regrettable outcomes. With an eye on the impending and long cherished goal of invading Iraq, and under the guidance of Rumsfeld's theories of lighter, smaller troop contingents, Afghanistan saw the dedication of too few U.S. ground forces to be fully successful from a military point of view. Although planners were able to use proxy fighters from the Northern Alliance to unseat the Taliban, these bought-off contingents proved unreliable in the siege of Tora Bora, and through our lack of troop strength, we allowed Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and al Zawahiri to escape the trap.

With the Taliban disbanded, and al-Qaeda on the run at least, the Bush administration proceeded to doom the overall mission in Afghanistan to failure by almost immediately diverting troops, intelligence, money, humanitarian resources, and overall focus to Iraq. As a result, the installed Karzai government now is in control of Kabul alone, with the various warlords retaining their fiefdoms throughout the remainder of the country. The Taliban has reconstituted and is re-emerging as a threat. Democracy and rebuilding in Afghanistan are long forgotten endeavors. According to
Juan Cole, there is also this little nastiness to contend with:

Then [Bush] let the poppy growing industry come back with a vengeance. Afghanistan's GNP is $5 billion a year. At least $2 billion of that is poppies, and Afghanistan has become the top source for heroin in Europe. With al-Qaeda and the Taliban still powerful in the country or its borderlands, Afghanistan is on the way to becoming a terrorist's dream -- a place worse than Colombia from which narco-terrorism can be funded and launched. This looming disaster will certainly blow back on the American homeland. Yet Bush is doing nothing to avert it.
All I can say is, "Thank God Al Gore wasn't in office on 9/11." How could a Democratic administration possibly have gotten Afghanistan so right? These are the experts though, so perhaps the comparison is unfair.

But while Afghanistan still looked like a success, and the public opinion in the World was still largely behind the United States, the Bush team, as noted above, began the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. With our image in the Muslim world hanging in the balance, instead of directing efforts at the root causes of terrorism or making progress in any major policy area of concern that could improve our standing in this region and stave off the rise of jihad minded philosophy (such as a re-invigorated involvement in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process or addressing the overall economic and political inequality in the Muslim world), the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, a second Muslim country after Afghanistan, which only served to reinforce the propaganda of Bin Laden that the U.S. and Israel were leading a crusade against Muslims worldwide.

It was during this time that the Bush administration also committed another strategic blunder. Instead of showing concern and regard for the opinions expressed by the U.N. and our other allies, who urged that more time be given to inspectors and that other diplomatic solutions be exhausted, the Bush team deliberately berated and belittled the U.N. calling it toothless and warning of its descent into the dustbin of history (these attacks on the U.N. are consistent with the neo-conservative views on multilateralism). There was also a concerted effort to undermine France and Germany by driving a wedge between these countries, termed "Old Europe," and those in the recently democratized Eastern Europe, who were largely more amiable to our invasion plans. The result was a coalition with fewer nations providing fighting forces than in Gulf War I, and with most nations providing only a handful of non-combat troops in general.

Make no mistake, our military was fully capable of taking out Saddam's forces alone, but the U.N. and the robust involvement of our allies were crucial to winning the peace. Given that Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld ignored, mistakenly, the advice of General Shinseki regarding the required troop strength, opting instead for roughly 100,000 troops, a larger troop contingent from our allies would have aided greatly in the law enforcement/stability efforts after the fall of the Hussein regime. Furthermore, with international bodies like the U.N. involved, there is infinitely more in the realm of humanitarian efforts and NGO participation which help to assuage hostile populations and smooth over the transitional periods. Herein lies the value of our allies and international bodies to our military endeavors, in this and providing the perception of legitmacy which should not be underestimated since we are in a war of perceptions.

Further reinforcing the lack of involvement from a multilateral presence, the Bush administration, in a display of petty showmanship, refused to let countries not in the coalition to bid on reconstruction contracts. Clearly it would have been better policy to increase the stake that the world had in a successful Iraq mission, not further alienate countries that could prove useful down the road.

It should come as no surprise that the Bush team has recently adopted the Democratic strategy, as spelled out by none other than John Kerry, in terms of appealing for the involvement of our allies in NATO and seeking to get the U.N. involved in the elections and interim government process. It may be too little too late, but it is worth noting that in this instance, even the Republicans agree that the Democrats had a better plan.

Of course, the flippant willingness to disregard our allies speaks to the general lack of understanding and poor post-war planning as carried out under the auspices of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, and others. Instead of relying on the sober, thorough and analytical work done by the experts and professionals working for the State Department's Future of Iraq Group, that entire body of work was completely ignored in favor of a series of last minute, slipshod reports put forth from the Defense Department and the Vice President's office, rife with the fantastical fictions promulgated by Ahmed Chalabi and his team of defectors known as the Iraqi National Congress.

That Chalabi's advice proved worthless is a gross understatement. It was far more destructive than that. In addition to informing the decisions regarding troop strength (as noted above), Chalabi convinced Wolfowitz and others that there would be no insurgency, that troops would be greeted with flowers, that U.S. forces would be able to be reduced to 30,000 or fewer by August 2003 (a claim Wolfowitz repeated to Congress before the invasion), that there would be no ethnic strife because Iraq had no historical indications of such a likelihood (a claim also repeated by Wolfowitz to Congress), that Chalabi would be able to command the mandate necessary to claim the mantle of leadership, that Chalabi would be able, as leader, to normalize relations with Israel, and many other falsehoods that led our policy makers down the wrong paths.

The absence of planning and understanding of the scope of the endeavor has led to many of the problems we now face. The lack of a comprehensive plan for reconstruction gave rise to looting (with the PR nightmare of U.S. troops selectively guarding the oil ministry), widespread crime, robust insurgency, continued infiltration of foreign elements, perpetual violence and instability, and the list goes on.

Remember, Bush's team are the geniuses, the "Vulcans," the foreign policy gurus. The experts who have a grasp on the world that eludes the Democratic mind. These are the "grown-ups" who put our collective mind at ease.

Adding to the list of bungles is our failure to adequately substantiate our justifications for the invasion in the first place. There are no vast stockpiles of WMDs, and there is certainly no nuclear program. As the
Council on Foreign Relations noted, the sanctions and inspections regimes left Saddam with no non-conventional weapons capacity, and a decrepit conventional arsenal to boot. There are no ties to al-Qaeda, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there are only slim chances for democracy, but more likely some form of Saddam-like strongman or a civil and/or regional war will ensue when our troops eventually leave the theater.

Further damning us, is the public and despicable manner with which we have mistreated large numbers of Iraqi civilians, as captured on Arab and mostly non-U.S. media. This includes first and foremost the Abu Ghraib torture and abuse scandal, an event that undermined our moral authority for years to come, especially considering that it was carried out under the legal cover provided by the Justice Department's now infamous memos justifying the use of torture. Add to this the unnecessary siege of Fallujah and the misguided siege of Najaf, and all the collateral civilian casualties stemming from these actions and the war in general, with the pictures of the dead and disfigured women and children being broadcast to the world on a daily basis.

Given the conduct of the war and its lead-up, it is no wonder that our involvement in Iraq has led to the unprecedented rise in popularity and support for al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, while our
own standing in the world has plummeted precipitously. Multiple intelligence agencies have noted that recruitment for al-Qaeda has been made much easier by this gift to Osama, and the potential for Iraq to devolve into a lawless state infested with terrorists is more than a possibility. The war against the spread of radical anti-American jihadist terrorism has been dealt a severe blow.

But this blunder was not cheap. In addition to the tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and over 1,000 coalition soldiers, the financial commitments of Iraq have greatly undermined key components in the effort to make the nation safer from attack. As Eric Alterman points out:

Statistics, [appearing in the New York Times], demonstrate an almost criminal negligence in ignoring airline, airport and port security at home, securing weapons-grade nuclear material abroad, rebuilding Afghanistan and adding to the size and effectiveness of our Armed Forces. Since 9/11, we have allocated less than $500 million to securing our ports and waterways against attack, despite the fact that shipping is the most unregulated method of transport in the world, and al Qaeda almost certainly owns ships currently plying the oceans.

We have also failed to fund the most basic programs for protecting chemical, industrial and nuclear facilities, which are obviously potential targets for terrorists. In fact, as Jonathan Chait pointed out well over a year ago in The New Republic, "The risk sufficiently alarmed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham -- a conservative Bush appointee -- that he requested $379.7 million to protect various Energy Department facilities where nuclear weapons are designed, manufactured, and stockpiled." In response, the White House approved just $26.4 million for Energy Department security. [emphasis added]
With this shortfall of funding as a backdrop, Bush continues to press forward with the multi-billion dollar deployment of a missile defense system that even the Pentagon's experts agree doesn't work. Not that al-Qaeda would attack us with an ICBM, but it wouldn't matter anyway because the system doesn't work.

This is the grasp of national security that I am supposed to put my blind faith in? These are the policies that represent the "course" that Bush is beseeching the voters to stay on? If these are the priorities of the Republicans, why should we fear a Democrat in office? Where is the evidence that the GOP has a handle on national security that the Democrat's lack.

A glance around the globe sees other non-Iraq threats receiving the same lack of attention, focus and energy. In North Korea, a nuclear program operated by an unstable totalitarian regime continues unimpeded, with no major diplomatic or policy initiative crafted to deal with the problem. If anything, as
Yglesias notes, we have weakened our position vis a vis the Clinton years through our lack of a coherent strategy and unnecessary provocation of Kim Jong Il, coupled with the uncomfortable realities of our current diminished military threat.

Nevertheless, there has been probably no greater non-Iraqi mismanagement than in relation to Iran. This is a country that the 9/11 Commission identified as having worked with al-Qaeda (Khobar Tower bombings), made overtures for collaboration in the future, is still harboring senior members of the organization despite U.S. and Saudi efforts to extradite, and which continues to inch closer to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. This is the country for which all the hollow and false bluster about Iraq holds true.

But instead of attacking or threatening Iran, we instead launched two costly wars to decapitate Iran's regional enemies: the Taliban to the East, and Saddam to the West. Further, Iran is exerting more control in Shiite dominated Iraq than ever before.

As Iran gains influence and power in the region, and approaches nuclear capacity, the US is left with fewer options to take due to our overstretched military and intelligence apparatuses. As Sy Hersh reported, senior intelligence officials acknowledged that "we know we can't attack them right now, they know we can't attack them, and what's worse, they know that we know we can't attack them."

Iran will be the unintended victor for our great mis-adventure in Iraq, and they will be emboldened by their increased prominence and our diminished capacity to respond with military force.

So let's look at the track record of this Republican regime, which by definition is better able to handle national security and defense policy than a potential Democratic one:

First, they failed to adequately appreciate the threat of terrorism, but their only comeback is "so did Clinton." Despite the fact that Clinton did in fact take this threat more seriously, that type of defense hardly makes the case that the Republicans are better.

Second, they mishandled the invasion of Afghanistan resulting in the escape of Bin Laden and his top advisers, allowing the Taliban to regroup and reassert itself, allowing the re-emergence of the poppy industry providing ample cash to finance terrorism in a lawless country, and creating a scenario in which the Karzai regime is boxed into a tiny area surrounding Kabul, leaving the prospects for national unity, let alone Democracy, very sliml.

Third, they mishandled the run-up to the war by alienating allies crucial for the reconstruction, built the war on false justifications, ignored the post war plan authored by the State Department's experts in favor of Chalabi's version of reality, through the conduct of the war they turned the opinion of the world against us and increased Osama's support in proportion to our decline in standing, increased Osama's recruitment efforts, and in the end Iraq's future remains as likely to end in Shiite theocracy, totalitarian rule, or civil war as it does in democracy.

Fourth, the all consuming expenditures in Iraq (with the leftover going to some new fangled SDI) have led to the gross underfunding of homeland security requirements that are of vastly more importance to the safety of American citizens than the caged in and disarmed Saddam Hussein.

Fifth, our complete and utter focus on Iraq, combined with the diminished military capacity resulting from our overstretched forces being pinned down in Iraq, has let other more palpable threats such as North Korea and Iran to increase in magnitude, strength and danger.

After reviewing the history and the current state of Republican foreign policy compared to Democratic foreign policy, I am left wondering how the so-called liberal media has allowed the unsubstantiated myth that Republicans are more adroit in matters of foreign policy than Democrats to continue even to this day, when the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that at least the current Republican occupant of the White House is in over his head. Come to think of it, maybe it was the individual and not the party all along. Imagine that.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?