Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Epilogue, Part I

Professor Schadenfraude

Nadezhda issued
a call for restraint to those, such as myself, who find themselves amongst the anti-Iraq war body politic. Echoing a common admonition, Nadezhda warned against sounding too triumphant about Iraq's declining fortunes:

We may relish watching the Bushies deservedly squirm, but just as hope is not a plan, neither is schadenfraude.
The message, is multifaceted: gloating about an Iraq that ends up less than "as advertised" by the neo-con illusionists could come across as unattractive and arrogant - an attitude that further alienates tacit war supporters who find themselves left to reconcile their earlier position of support with the reality of the aftermath. The last thing this country needs is a further entrenchment of polarization sparked by a tempestuous whirl of cognitive dissonance. Further, such triumphalism might look more than callous if violence, death and disfigurement continue apace in that beleaguered nation. The Iraq invasion remains to this day something that I hope that I am horribly wrong about - that somehow a happy ending lies just around the next "corner." Being right about this, after all, means an outcome that could easily be calamitous, and will almost inevitably be extraordinarily destructive to so many lives. Keep that in mind if you happen to be right and that is indeed the result.

In light of the potential dire outcome, self-satisfaction cannot be allowed to take the place of sound policy - at least to the extent that the political opposition has been given a voice in forging policy to begin with (more on that below). Like it or not, we still have an obligation to try to salvage some semblance of peace and stability for Iraq - for of the sake of the Iraqi people, for our own sake and, without sounding melodramatic, for the sake of the world.

If you want a taste of what could be looming on the horizon of a failed state in Iraq, read this post by
Dan Darling. Though I disagree with some of Darling's assumptions, there should be enough plausible outcomes there to cause even the staunchest Bush critics to pause for reflection. It doesn't require a visionary to imagine how a failed state in the center of the Middle East at a time of struggle within the Muslim world between Salafist jihadists and moderates would be a bad thing. If Darling's post isn't enough to snap you to attention, though, consider this article in the Boston Globe via Von at Obsidian Wings (with his commentary to follow):

US troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on US and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said yesterday....

[Pentagon Spokesman] Boylan said the suspected lab was new, dating from sometime after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. [emphasis added]
We invaded Iraq in part to ensure that Saddam's regime would never be able to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. It turned out, ultimately, that although Saddam had evil intent aplenty, he did not have an active WMD program -- and thus no WMDs to share. Yet, because we invaded, the terrorists are now manufacturing their own weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The bitterest of ironies. The reasons laid out by Von and Darling (two war supporters I might add) are part of why I disagree with Matt Yglesias (whom I rarely disagree with) when he calls for a US withdrawal from Iraq after the elections and finalization of the Iraqi Constitution. Maybe I am naive in clinging to hope, but I still believe that such calls are premature. At the very least, they serve little political purpose - as one of TIA's correspondent's points out below.

Jonnybutter provided an
insightful counter to, or clarification of, Nadezhda's position that is worthy of a closer examination. I believe Jonny threads the needle between counterproductive schadenfraude and deft strategy, between what is needed for policy and what is needed for politics - and how the latter enables the former.

[Nadezhda's] argument and conclusion are quite right, in terms of policy. But we shouldn't confuse politics with policy - the Bushies never do. I'm not advocating being just like them, but rather suggesting we must deal with them as they are: they see politics as a zero-sum game, as War; their opposition (us) is weak and on the defensive, politically. Making them bleed, politically, is a good thing - I'd say an essential thing. It's a necessary but not sufficient component, not a total solution...But we have to be able to hurt our opponent when possible, and be responsible leaders at the same time.[...]

Schadenfraude is indeed worthless - worse than worthless, really. Come-uppence-facilitating, political exploitation, and even constructive revenge, on the other hand, are very useful. Change politics or change nothing.[...]

That said, I agree with you that the 'left's' calls for 'withdrawal now' are foolish both policy-wise and politically. The administration will draw down in the coming year regardless, and has said so - they have to do it whether they want to or not.

The 'opposition' to this government agrees: the short and long term welfare of the country comes before politics. But does the current government believe that? Clearly, no. Part of leadership in this context is admitting that frankly, openly - knowing the difference and asserting it. Of course we should support belated, salutary policy changes in Iraq, but we also must make the present government pay, politically, as much as possible along the way. It's a duty, IMO.
That to me is the balance: that we must find a way to learn the lessons from the Iraq campaign, act on those lessons in the future and tie the baggage to the political movement that has played the ruthless, zero-sum game since 9/11, or perhaps since the Clinton administration, when winning at all costs meant impeaching a President over sexual relations after investigating everything else from haircuts to travel plans. Post-Clinton, this has been Karl Rove's GOP, crudely stomping on the bipartisan spirit in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy: calling Vietnam veterans like Max Cleland, who left half his body on the battlefield, a traitor and suggesting his wounds were the result of a beer drinking R&R accident as retaliation for Cleland's rather sound objections to the Patriot Act, timing the vote on the Iraq war to coincide with mid-term elections the better to bludgeon opponents with, insinuating that John Kerry lied to get his THREE Purple Hearts, the Swift Boat Vets, playing on homosexual bigotry, and every other dirty trick that Karl Rove and his comrades in arms have perpetrated over the past decade plus.

In other words, in order to get sound policy, we must play the political game that exploits the weaknesses of the GOP, the way they have exploited and/or manufactured ones for the Democrats. It's that or holding your breath waiting for the Bush administration to come around to admitting error or listening to their critics and opponents when such would be prudent. Remember, Bush still has never admitted doing anything wrong. You think he's going to start now?

The Fall Guy

Speaking of waiting for Godot Bush the "Leader" or Bush the "War President" to emerge from his cocoon to address the listless policy that has left Iraq careening precariously near the cliff, the meme du jour amongst many Bush supporters left perplexed at the worsening situation in Iraq, the incipient talk of withdrawal and a defining down of objectives is that all ills "lay squarely at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld" - as
Von and others he cites put it. Here's the thing though: a leader would have recognized Rumsfeld's shortcomings and done something about it long ago.

If Rumsfeld really is the problem (he may be one of the problems, but not the only one by any stretch in my opinion), at what point does Bush (who happens to be the Commander in Chief, the self-proclaimed "CEO President") share the blame? Do we have to wait until year four of his second term before someone points out that he either endorses his Secretary of Defense's policies or has to do something about them?

What Bush supporters, who are quick to erect the Rumsfeld-as-scapegoat defense, are eliding or avoiding, is the fact that Bush has never been a strong leader, never a wise leader - though he has been quite a capable politician and salesman. Now, I would be the first to admit that the vast majority of Presidents come to office with little to no foreign policy experience and even less military experience. With that in mind, no one should have expected Bush to come up with a military plan on his own. But a wise leader is not the leader who thinks of every policy on his own (that is impossible after all), but rather the leader who is capable of recognizing good policy when one of his or her well trained subordinates or task forces comes up with it. When various intelligent experts battle it out and the leader judges who among them is carrying the torch of knowledge.

In the Bush White House, however, that is almost impossible to achieve since there has been a disciplined, and defiant, dearth of process. Bush has a distaste for debate, has never encouraged dissent, even behind closed doors, and during his tenure has sought to shield himself from, not seek out, opposing viewpoints. From populating the ranks of the Executive branch, the CIA and the CPA with cronies and industry insiders, to hiring journalists to shill for Administration policies, to allowing faux journalists like Jeff Gannon into the White House press corp, to rigorous admission standards and tests for crowds appearing at campaign stops, ideological purity has trumped ability and unison has been favored over the dialectic. Choosing good policy in that kind of dysfunctional environment would be nearly impossible for someone many times more intellectually curious than our current President. For Bush, the results have been all too predictable.

Now he is left uncertain of how to proceed in Iraq - not comfortable with shifts in rhetoric from GWOT to G-SAVE, pledging to stay the course while the Department of Defense makes plans to bring troops home, backed into a corner by the knowledge that the National Guard and Reserve systems are on the verge of meltdown. He is, to paraphrase Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the War President in His Labyrinth. Will he sack Rumsfeld? I can't say, but if so, shouldn't Cheney go too? But do you really think Bush has the self-assuredness to forge ahead without those two? Or even one of the pair? Personally, I doubt it, but who knows. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

But whatever you do, don't blame Rumsfeld. That would be folly. This is the leader that you voted for.

(In Part II, I will offer what I see as some lessons to be learned from Iraq and what policies could be adopted going forward to create the best chance for something resembling success in Iraq)

<< Home

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