Thursday, January 13, 2005

The War's War

Nadezhda is keeping tabs on the three-way slugfest between James Wolcott, Roger Simon, and Norman Podhoretz over the ultimate fate of the version of the Bush Doctrine that aspires to the concept of "World War IV," as first enunciated by Podhoretz himself in an essay penned in September of 2004 (although the roots of this doctrine are found in the prior literature and rhetoric of Podhoretz's intellectual brethren). The latest exchange of volleys was prompted by Podhoretz's most recent effort, which is something of a sounding of the alarm for the defenders of World War IV which Podhoretz perceives as being under siege by the vast forces of the Left, as well as some on the wobbly Right; a summons which Simon answers in real time.

In terms of wit, Wolcott is besting his rivals, as he aptly proclaims, "I will be as civil as I can be with a knife permanently wedged between my teeth." A glimpse at his acerbic humor reveals the glint of a well positioned dagger or two. Podhoretz is doing the heavy lifting, though, with a lengthy polemic that is informative in some respects, but too replete with partisan snipes, blatant misinformation, and bias to accomplish its stated goal of persuasion - whereas Simon's is merely a brief offering of praise for Podhoretz's work. Then again, if the goal is simply to rally the troops around the doctrine of World War IV, then Podhoretz probably offers enough red meat to inspire the predisposed, as evidenced by Simon's hasty response.

Among Podhoretz's more egregious prevarications is a shoddy, revisionist look at the Vietnam war, and a steady drumb-beat of aspersions cast on almost all manner of liberal or left-of-center thinker - save Truman and LBJ who escape the falling axe of his judgment. There are many other points of contention in this piece, small and large, minor embellishments and grand distortions, a couple of which I will examine below. But first some background.

The World War IV characterization itself tracks nicely with the bellicose manifesto
An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror penned by David Frum and Richard Perle (Pat Buchanon's take here), which was one of the most radical formulations of a solution to the Islamist terrorist threat to date. In that book, the authors advocate a series of invasions beginning with Iraq, and moving on to Syria, Iran, North Korea, and possibly Saudi Arabia, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East (although I would presume Libya would be dropped from the list at this juncture due to recent developments). Along the way, according to the authors, the US should jettison the UN, and treat France as an open adversary.

Podhoretz's most recent version of this checklist of targets is slightly toned down, but problematic nonetheless. Praising Bush's resolve and tenacity, as well as interpreting signs from the Administration's recent cabinet shuffle (such as the ouster of Powell, the retention of Rumsfeld, and the transfer of Condoleeza Rice to State), Podhoretz offers his prediction for the next four years:
From this, as I see it, four things follow. The first is that Bush will do everything in his power to abide by his vow and to keep its ancillary promise by moving in due course and with all deliberate speed from Iraq to North Korea and Iran (with, it is to be hoped, a pit stop in Syria, which has been dispatching jihadi terrorists and weapons across the border into Iraq and which presents many fewer obstacles to military action). The second is that, with Iran as with Iraq before it, the issue of WMD is only the proximate or immediate casus belli. The strategic objective, as defined and mandated by the Bush Doctrine's prescription for the greater Middle East, is to drain yet another of the swamps in which Islamist terrorists are bred and nourished. [italics in original]
To Podhoretz, the prospects of the continuation of World War IV necessitates Bush "sticking to his guns" in relation to the doctrine of preventitive war by rejecting calls for caution and instead launching a series of military campaigns. While not every member of Bush's cabinet subscribes to such theories, Francis Fukuyama responded to Charles Krauthammer's call for World War IV with the following observation:

[Krauthammer's argument] is emblematic of a school of thought that has acquired strong influence inside the Bush Administration foreign policy team and beyond.
Others, such as William Kristol, have been shifting their focus to Syria, viewing that nation as a more plausible target than Iran or Saudi Arabia. This appears to be something of a compromise offered from the WW IV set.

Embrace of the World War IV concept turns on the premise that the US is currently engaged in an existential struggle with the Muslim world, a characterization that frequently fails to distinguish between the radicals and the moderates in any meaningful way. As such, the US has no option other than to lead a series of invasions against states that are seeking our annihilation, or are creating the conditions necessary for others to achieve such destruction. There is little distinction between nation state and trans-national terrorist group. They are treated as one and the same. Iraq was not the end of the campaign, but merely the beginning, and one which has taken more time and resources than anticipated. Here is
Fukuyama on Krauthammer:

Krauthammer speaks of the United States as being in the midst of a bitter and remorseless war with an implacable enemy that is out to destroy Western civilization. This kind of language is appropriate as a description of Israel's strategic situation since the outbreak of the second intifada. The question is whether this accurately describes the position of the United States as well. Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist? And in general, does a strategic doctrine developed by a small, vulnerable country surrounded by implacable enemies make sense when applied to the situation of the world's sole superpower, a country that spends as much on defense as the next 16 most powerful countries put together? I believe that there are real problems in transposing one situation to the other. While Israel's most immediate Arab interlocutors are indeed implacable enemies, the United States faces a much more complex situation. In Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, we do in fact confront an enemy that hates us for what we are rather than for what we do. For the reasons given above, I do not believe they are an existential threat to us, but they certainly would like to be, and it is hard to see how we can deal with them other than by killing, capturing or otherwise militarily neutralizing them.
On the nature of the threat:

This is not to say that Iraq and Al-Qaeda did not pose serious threats to American interests: the former was a very serious regional threat, and the latter succeeded in killing thousands of Americans on American soil. Use of WMD against the United States by a terrorist group would have terrible consequences, not just for the immediate victims but also for American freedoms in ways that could be construed as undermining our regime. But it is still of a lesser order of magnitude than earlier, state-based threats. The global Nazi and communist threats were existential both because their banner was carried by a great power, and because ideologically there were many people in the United States and throughout the Western world seduced by their vision. The Islamist threat has no such appeal, except perhaps in countries like France that have permitted high levels of immigration from Muslim countries.
Fukuyama's appraisal of the situation opens the door for approaches other than a series of invasions - an alternative approach that Podhoretz and his ilk reject outright. An indication of the path endorsed can be seen in an argument that Podhoretz raised in stating the case for Bush's unswerving commitment to the World War IV mindset. It was in response to an article by Edward Luttwak which predicted that the second Bush administration would follow the pattern of most second administrations in moving toward the middle.

In backing up this thesis, Luttwak notes that Ronald Reagan became less rather than more hawkish in his second term, while Bill Clinton, after neglecting foreign policy in his first term, immersed himself in it with a vengeance once he was reelected....

What we see here is yet another of those famous "misunderestimations" of George W. Bush. In common with almost every pundit and every inhabitant of every foreign ministry on the face of the earth, Luttwak fails to recognize the exceptionally strong leader America has found in this President, or to take the measure of his boldness, his determination, and his stamina. The poll-driven Bill Clinton may have reverted to "the moderate mean," but Bush, although an immensely skillful politician, is not nearly so poll-driven. And while the Bush Doctrine was certainly inspired and influenced by Ronald Reagan, Bush will just as certainly travel a different road from the one Reagan took in his second term. [emphasis added]
That is a very interesting statement. Consider, for a moment, what Reagan was able to achieve by taking the moderate "road" in his second term. It was nothing short of a tectonic watershed moment in history. Brilliant really. He played willing partner to Gorbachev's dance of glasnost and perestroika. Relations between the US and the USSR thawed as never before, paving the way for the eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain, and an era of American unipolarity. But Podhoretz assures us that Bush will not follow Reagan's lead. And this is supposed to comfort us somehow?

Clearly the situations are not completely analogous, but Reagan's approach provides a valuable lesson. Reagan staked out strong positions, made clear his forceful intentions, and then, when the opportunity was right, he played the moderate. Bush should do the same. After leading us into Iraq and Afghanistan, and establishing his hawkish bona fides, it would suit Bush now to cultivate the soft power options that have been neglected and overlooked thus far. Not with the jihadists mind you. They are not going to produce a Gorbachev-like figure. But there are other avenues and leaders through which Bush can seek to influence the Middle East, and improve the United States' relationship with the Muslim world. It is a perfect time to do as Reagan did.

The second portion of Podhoretz's essay which stood out to me, was his characterization of the CIA and the State Department:

First [Bush] sent Porter Goss to the CIA with a mandate to clean out the officials there who (apart from providing faulty intelligence) had been hell-bent on sabotaging the Bush Doctrine. And then he turned his attention to the State Department. Under Colin Powell, it, too, had been actively undermining the President's policy to the point where it came to be described by those in a position to know as the "most insubordinate" State Department in American history.
It is odd that he takes a swipe at the CIA for "faulty intelligence" and claiming it was "sabotaging" the Bush Doctrine. A closer look reveals the fact that the CIA was quite cooperative with the Bush administration in making the case for war with Iraq, at least in terms of coming up with what would eventually come to be known as "faulty intelligence." Compare the CIA's appraisal of Saddam's WMD capacity before the preparation of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), and the conclusions which that document came to, and it is clear that Tenet's CIA went out of its way to appease those in the Bush White House who were demanding proof. The NIE consistently painted the worst case scenario of the Iraqi threat, stretching the existing intelligence to its limites and beyond. Even then, that wasn't enough to forestall the creation of the Office of Special Plans set up in order to cherry pick unvetted intelligence that the CIA was too reluctant to use.

Within that context, his assault on the State Department seems even odder. The State Department consistently had the most accurate assessment of Saddam's WMD arsenal, including the prescient conclusion that Saddam had no nuclear program. State also was the most prophetic in its predictions regarding post-war Iraq. They compiled the Future of Iraq Project which warned of insurgencies, advised against disbanding the Army, cautioned against widespread de-Baathification, warned of looting, requested more troops, and planned for other peacekeeping functions. In Podhoretz's world though, these are the saboteurs and traitors. The people that advised the President to ignore this vast expanse of scholarship and who accepted the now discredited intelligence from Ahmad Chalabi's organization (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith) are his allies. If the mission in Iraq is really a part of the Bush Doctrine and WW IV, wouldn't Bush be better served by honest advisors who deal in the truth rather than wishful thinking? Whose version of post-war Iraq would have been a better model to plan around? I think the answer is obvious.

In the sum of this piece, Podhoretz seems to be urging Bush to stay the course, despite the fact that he couches Bush's determination in terms of a fait accompli. One gets the impression that he is trying to convince Bush that he should be resolute as much as he is seeking to reassure the reader that Bush is firmly entrenched in the World War IV camp - a dual message that might be taking on a sense of urgency considering the recent momentum that the disengagement camp is building up. Throughout it all, is the meme of the defeatists threatening to erode the will of the World Warriors. Just as the mistakes of Vietnam were blamed on the anti-war movement, and not the fallacy of the strategy and policy, so too Podhoretz is laying the ground work for the blame-game should the Bush administration eventually decide that Iraq is unwinnable, and the cost too high. Perhaps we are witnessing the birth of an internet-driven phenomenon: revisionism in real time.

<< Home

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