Friday, August 26, 2005

Darling Responds, 1.5

Battling off some tech issues, as well as some other pesky obstacles, Dan Darling pens a lengthy response to the second part of my Epilogue series (though not as complete as Darling would like - finally, someone as wordy as myself). Absent some typically long-winded introduction, though, I think it better to cut to the chase.

First, Darling takes me to task for going after a "red herring" by stating that one of the outcomes I would like to see from the Iraq campaign is a realization of the limits of democracy promotion through military invasion. Darling:

I think that this is something of a red herring because the vast majority of the American public did not invade Iraq for the purpose of setting up a democratic state. That was seen as a tangible benefit and is something I think that the majority of Americans expect we do every time we invade a country, but that wasn't the rationale that got 70% of the American public into supporting the war....As a result, I wasn't terribly surprised when a large number of the Americans became dissatisfied to hear talk about the goal of the United States setting up a democratic state inside Iraq as the primary rationale for our presence there even if they supported such an outcome. By any reasonable standard, that's what is known in marketing as a bait-and-switch.
For me, it matters little whether or not I'm fishing for herring, as long as the end result is the same: that the American people have lost (or as Dan might say, "never had") the taste for preventitive invasion justified by the goal of the democratic domino theory. In addition to that, I would hope that a little skepticism emeges along the lines of potential "bait-and-switch" maneuvers in the future. As long as this skepticism is not crippling or absent empirical analysis, it would be a net positive.

Dan does acknowledge that certain denizens of the policy elite did harbor such democratic ideals:

That said, a large number of people within policy-making circles (not just the neocons) did believe that a US invasion of Iraq offered the opportunity to set up a stable democracy in the Middle East and saw that as one of the major goals of a campaign against Saddam Hussein....Moreover, I would submit (and judging from his comments it seems that Eric came away with a very different impression of An End To Evil than I did) that even the most bloodthirsty of these folks have been sated by the realities of the war in Iraq.[emphasis added]
I'm not so sure as Dan on that last point, and I think to some degree Dan is seeing what he wants, and not necessarily what is there. After all, the Fukuyama piece I cited in Part II was a response to fellow neo-con Charles Krauthammer, who Fukuyama said was:

....strangely disconnected from reality. Reading Krauthammer, one gets the impression that the Iraq War-the archetypical application of American unipolarity-had been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully vindicated.
That because Krauthammer was still touting the virtues of our embrace of "unipolarity" - a belief that America's status as the sole superpower, with unrivaled military ability, enables us to take a more interventionist role in foreign policy abroad. In other words, we should take advantage of this unique moment in history to take out our enemies and other undesirables through the use of our vastly superior military might. Sounds a little thirsty to me.

In the very pages of the
Weekly Standard, as recently as December of 2004 William Kristol advocated a number of steps to be taken against Syria, because:

The Iran and Saudi problems may ultimately be more serious than the Syria problem. But the Syria problem is urgent.
Kristol, with a nod toward the handcuffing realities of the current troop strength noted:

It would be good, of course, if Secretary Rumsfeld had increased the size and strength of our army so that we now had more options. He didn't, and we must use the assets we have. Still, real options exist. We could bomb Syrian military facilities; we could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, a few miles from the border, which seems to be the planning and organizing center for Syrian activities in Iraq;
Those options, if employed, would either fall under the rubric of invasion or would ignite a new war - the opening of a second front in the current Iraq conflict. One can extrapolate what the "more serious" problems of Iran and Saudi Arabia might require. And one can wonder what Kristol would be urging as a course of action if the size of the military were in fact as large as he would like.

Next, Darling says that I misread the John Podhoretz article that I
discussed here. According to Dan:

Similarly, the Podhoretz piece that Eric judges as "sounding of the alarm for the defenders of World War IV" strikes me as most being a long piece on US domestic politics with an endorsement of supporting democratic revolution in Iran (possibly contradicted to his later reference to a casus belli - you'd have to ask him) and a reluctant acknowledgement that we probably aren't going to get out of the nuclear issue with North Korea save through military intervention.
Really? What Dan doesn't say is that, while the piece does discuss domestic politics at length, that entire discussion is in the context of how domestic politics will impact Bush's foreign policy, what Podhoretz calls the "Bush Doctrine." Dan has it wrong if he assumes the Bush Doctrine, as enunciated by Podhoretz, is not a call for more military campaigns. Here is a typical paragraph from the Podhoretz piece:

In Iraq, the insurgents'a coalition of diehard Saddamists, domestic Islamofascists, and foreign jihadists have a simple objective. They are trying to drive us out before the seeds of democratization that we are helping to sow have taken firm root and begun to flower. Only thus can the native insurgents hope to recapture the power they lost when we toppled Saddam; and only thus can the Iranians, the Syrians, and the Saudis, who have been dispatching and/or financing the foreign jihadists, escape becoming the next regimes to go the way of Saddam's under the logic of the Bush Doctrine. [...]

The despots tyrannizing these countries all know perfectly well that an American failure in Iraq would rule out the use of military force against them. They know that it would rob other, non-military measures of any real effectiveness. [emphasis added]
Podhoretz, in warning of these goals, advocates that we press on with them regardless of the outcome, or domestic political "wobbliness." Here is Podhoretz talking about a group of "super-hawks" who have been criticizing the Bush administration for not being bellicose enough, nor as ruthless in the military campaigns it has started:

...the exponents of another line of attack on the Bush Doctrine that has emanated from a neighborhood on the Right where utter ruthlessness is considered the only way to wage war, and where the idea of exporting democracy is thought to conflict with conservative political wisdom. [...]

In then piling a commensurate heap of scorn on the idea of transforming "the entire Islamic world into a group of peaceful democratic states" (Helprin), these two eloquent and fiery polemicists are joined by the more temperate Charles R. Kesler, the editor of the Claremont Review. If democratization is to succeed in the regimes of the Islamic world, a necessary precondition is to beat these regimes into "complete submission" and then occupy them "for decades- not just for months or years, but for decades" (Kesler). Even then, our troops may have to "stay and die . . . indefinitely on behalf of a mission . . . concerning the accomplishment of which there is little knowledge and less agreement" (Codevilla).

Of all the attacks on the Bush Doctrine, this set of arguments is the only one that resonates with me, at least on the issue of how to wage war. I have no objection in principle to the ruthlessness the superhawks advocate, and I agree that it would likely be very effective. The trouble is that the more closely I look at their position, the more clearly does it emerge as fatally infected by the disease of utopianism - the very disease that usually fills critics of this stripe with revulsion and fear. [emphasis added]
And why does Podhoretz fault the super-hawks for their "utopianism" (as loose a use of the term as I've ever seen)? Because domestic political forces and sentiments would never abide by such a policy. What a shame huh?

Yet while Codevilla, writing in his study, is free to advise ruthless suppression of these limiting conditions, no one sitting in the Oval Office can possibly do so. And even so, the wonder is not, contrary to Mark Helprin, how "irresolute" and "inept" Bush has been but how far he has managed to go and how much he has already accomplished while working within those constraints and around those imperfections.
Now let's turn to the part of Podhoretz's piece that even Dan acknowledges seems to contradict Darling's claim that all Podhoretz is seeking is the fomenting of revolution in Iran, and reluctant, but inevitable military action against North Korea:

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.
Dan suggested that I'd "have to ask" Podhoretz if by "casus belli" he meant....well, "casus belli." But why (and do you have his phone number)? Is there a possible reading of this paragraph that does not indicate that the author is advocating the use of military force against North Korea and Iran with a "pit stop" in Syria on the way? Because, as Podhoretz put it, Syria presents "fewer obstacles to military action" - which is significant because Podhoretz is not advocating military action? Is the reader supposed to assume that the "pit stop" would be part of a diplomatic junket, with Condi out front, traveling to these hot spots? As in Iraq? If Podhoretz wants to disavow these statements, he very well can, but Dan can't do it for him, though I don't blame him for trying.

Next Darling claims that I am misreading the book An End To Evil, which
I discussed here. To some extent, I think Dan is soft pedaling the authors' recommendations vis a vis Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea (though he left Syria off the list when providing his own take). I don't have time to extract quotes, but I think Dan is giving Frum and Perle the same over-extended benefit of the doubt that he offers Podhoretz - a latitude that eventually morphs into a reading of the text not always supported by the actual words.

Nevertheless, Dan has a point that I was a bit sloppy in my characterization of the book as calling for the invasion of each of "Syria, Iran, North Korea, and possibly Saudi Arabia, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East." In some of those instances, the authors were only advocating fomenting internal coups and revolutions. For accuracy's sake, I should stick to this earlier characterization:

Among the many recommendations, the authors call for either direct U.S. military action, or simply fomenting and funding armed uprisings, against Syria, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Lybia, to name a few.
Let me state for the record, however, that I would be thrilled if Dan were right about all of the above: that the American people would not tolerate a democracy promoting military campaign in the future, that "even the most bloodthirsty" of the neo-cons and other interventionists do not want any more military engagements along these lines, that, outside of North Korea, John Podhoretz is not advocating for an extension of World War IV in Iran, Syria and elsewhere, and that at most, An End To Evil suggests that we might want to engage in behind the scenes options for regime change in some limited context. If I am misreading this school of thought to the extent that Darling suggests, then I can take one large sigh of relief - safe in the knowledge that I will not need to convince anyone of the wrongness of these ideas that nobody holds. While I don't necessarily agree with Darling's reading of these pundits, I agree with the sentiment behind his reading.

Moving on, Darling takes me to task for my characterization of military force in the context of a counterinsurgency. Darling disagrees with my statement that:

When you use military force, you inevitably alienate the people you are trying to influence and in turn greatly assist your enemies.
Dan doesn't believe that this formulation is correct in each and every setting. Perhaps this is true, but my argument remains valid in the overwhelming majority of examples, and as such should remain the heavily presumptive position. To illustrate his point, Dan points to two different military operations within the Iraq conflict. Dan is right that sometimes local populations welcome outside military presence in some limited context and duration, but the honeymoon period is but a fleeting moment, made shorter by the realities of collateral damage, disruption of daily life and other perceived wrongs (many not justified, but inevitable). Even then, when you take the Iraq invasion as a whole, and not isolate various actions within the big picture, it is clear that our military presence, actions and the propagandistic suspicions against us have alienated large swathes of the Iraqi population - even amongst Shiites who welcomed the toppling of Saddam. I stand by this argument to the extent qualified above, and our strategic class would do well to heed these warnings. Candies and flowers are rarely distributed, and even then, they tend to have a very short shelf life.

In another part, Darling clarifies his position on the "Vietnam Syndrome" as it relates to a potential "Iraq Syndrome." According to Darling, it is not necessarily the reluctance to use force, but the lack of resolve if the costs begin escalating in terms of human lives. Dan has a point here, and I think we were thinking of different facets of the story so I don't necessarily disagree with his arguments. Dan adds this question to the discussion:

An interesting experiment in alternate history would be what would public support for the war in Afghanistan have been had we lost 1,800+ troops there between the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2002, which is certainly plausible given the nation's history.
Here is what I think: the American people would have continued supporting that war en masse because the legitimacy and purpose was so clear. The way I read it, when the American people are convinced that a military endeavor is necessary, they will stick through it until the end (although, even then, there are always outer limits in terms of blood and treasure). The effort to hunt down Al Qaeda, neutralize their sanctuary, and capture Bin Laden would have sustained the Afghanistan campaign even through such heavy losses though. In Iraq, the Bush Administration is confronting a different specter: people are beginning to wonder why we got involved in the first place, was there deception involved - a form of "bait and switch" to borrow from Dan - was it truly necessary and a last resort, and what is the purpose in staying? Right or wrong, those questions, and the erosion of the various pre-war and post-war rationales, is the problem, not necessarily the loss of human life - though that is clearly the impetus that gives rise to such questions. Unfortunately, once those question enter the minds of enough Americans, there don't appear as many satisfying answers.

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