Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Everything to Regret

As part of two separate intra-blog forums, I submitted a piece on what might have been had we not invaded Iraq. Today, Francis Fukuyama offers his own insights to the conversation (via Laura Rozen):

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Americans would have allowed President Bush to lead them in any of several directions, and the nation was prepared to accept substantial risks and sacrifices. The Bush administration asked for no sacrifices from the average American, but after the quick fall of the Taliban it rolled the dice in a big way by moving to solve a longstanding problem only tangentially related to the threat from Al Qaeda - Iraq. In the process, it squandered the overwhelming public mandate it had received after Sept. 11. At the same time, it alienated most of its close allies, many of whom have since engaged in "soft balancing" against American influence, and stirred up anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

The Bush administration could instead have chosen to create a true alliance of democracies to fight the illiberal currents coming out of the Middle East. It could also have tightened economic sanctions and secured the return of arms inspectors to Iraq without going to war. It could have made a go at a new international regime to battle proliferation. All of these paths would have been in keeping with American foreign policy traditions. But Mr. Bush and his administration freely chose to do otherwise.[...]

With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. If the United States withdraws prematurely, Iraq will slide into greater chaos. That would set off a chain of unfortunate events that will further damage American credibility around the world and ensure that the United States remains preoccupied with the Middle East to the detriment of other important regions - Asia, for example - for years to come.

We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.
I can only hope that the story has a surprise ending in which many of the looming catastrophes are averted. My fear is that my intuition, reason and prognosis way back in late 2002 and early 2003 will be vindicated. Thus far, my intuition has had a nagging habit of being proven right.

About That Part II....

A heavy workload, as well as the firm softball outing later this evening, have pushed back the release date of Part II of my series analyzing the conventional wisdom surrounding "mistakes" made in Iraq. It should hit the newsstands RSS feeds tomorrow. In the meantime, my blogmates and I have some shorter, non-series based posts up at Liberals vs. Terrorism. Go read.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pondering Infallibility, Part I

When asked by reporters at a White House press conference last year to name one mistake he had made in his prior four years as this nation's leader, President Bush was notoriously reluctant to admit any error claiming he was put on the spot by the unexpected query. Though the question was repeated numerous times along the campaign trail, Bush remained resolutely tight-lipped, unaided apparently, by the extra time to think up an answer. For most of Bush's critics, and even some allies, the Iraq war (from the decision to invade to the post-invasion period) would provide Bush with the richest quarry to go mining for the ever elusive answer; the response that would begin, "The one mistake I made as president was...."

I have
already acknowledged that President Bush, like most presidents, had little foreign policy or military experience upon entering office and, considering this, it would be unrealistic to expect him to concoct the Iraq war plan himself. But he is in charge of managing his cabinet, and marshalling the debate in order to arrive at prudent policy decisions chosen from the alternatives offered and argued. He is also tasked with changing directions and directors if and when the situation calls for such adjustments. As such, a healthy portion of the blame or glory for Iraq must rest at his feet. A recent article appearing in Survival by Professors David C. Hendrickson and Robert W. Tucker (offline only), distills a menu of possible gaffes that Bush could choose from vis a vis the Iraq campaign:

The dramatic contrast between the administration’s hopes and the reality it confronted has sparked a wide-ranging debate over 'what went wrong'. According to a legion of critics, the planners of the Bush administration made a series of critical mistakes that have turned what might have been a successful war and occupation into a fiasco. The most common critique takes roughly the following form: though the war plan to topple Saddam was brilliant, planning for the peace was woefully insufficient. The United States did not have sufficient troops to restore order in Iraq after the US invasion and was thus incapable of stopping the widespread looting that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad. Though the US State Department had made a comprehensive study of the problems of occupying Iraq, its conclusions were ignored by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, to the extent that the director of the State Department study on the Future of Iraq, Thomas Warrick, was prevented by the administration from joining Jay Garner’s team. The administration erred, according to the critics, in disbanding the Iraqi army, which might have played a valuable role in restoring security to the country, and it erred further in its harsh decrees proscribing members of the Ba'ath Party from participation in Iraq’s public life – a decision, like that which disbanded the army, needlessly antagonising the Sunnis and pushing many of them into the insurgency. The Bush administration also needlessly antagonised the international community – including both the United Nations and its European allies – and made it much more difficult to obtain help for the occupation and reconstruction of the country. It was too slow in making funds available for reconstruction and created a labyrinthine bureaucracy for the awarding of contracts.
When a critic raises any of the above mentioned "mistakes" on a blog, in an Op-Ed piece, on a panel discussion, on a talking head TV program or some other similar venue, there are almost inevitably defenses offered and justifications for how and why the alleged error is really not what it appears to be. What if Bush's defenders are right? What if the real reason Bush has such a devil of a time coming up with a mistake he can point to is that he hasn't made any (if not in the decision to invade, at least in the occupation)? As I have done on occasion before, I want to examine the possibility that the conduct of the Iraq campaign has been flawless. Or at the very least, the conventional wisdom regarding the litany of mistakes alluded to by Hendrickson and Tucker greatly exaggerates the extent to which alternative policies were available and would have ameliorated the current situation in any meaningful way.

Veruka Salt's Army

If we're going to start off with a mistake to analyze, we might as well begin with the one that even neocons like William Kristol and David Brooks have gotten on board with: "we never had enough troops in Iraq, and we still don't." These troops, it is argued, were and are needed to stop the looting, provide security to citizens, guard sensitive weapons sites and other arms caches, seal the borders, quash what was the nascent insurgency, and now hold territory seized by insurgents rather than ceding it back when our limited forces withdraw, etc. Hendrickson and Tucker provide a survey of some of the more noteworthy troop level recommendations:

One persistent criticism is that the invasion was mounted with altogether insufficient US forces. The Bush administration, writes Larry Diamond, ‘was never willing to commit anything like the forces necessary to ensure order in postwar Iraq’. Diamond believes that ‘around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war’, but also insists that ‘different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement’, were needed, including ‘vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement’. Others have put the numbers needed much higher. According to one study, the same ratio of peacekeepers to population as in Kosovo would generate a force requirement of 480,000 troops for Iraq; if Bosnia were the model, 364,000 would be required. James Fallows, in his incisive critique of American war planning, notes that the original army plan (prepared in the 1990s by then Centcom commander Anthony Zinni and later updated) called for an invasion force of 400,000. Over time, in response to the persistent objections of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it was pared back so that only some 200,000 forces were in theatre at the time of the invasion. Of these, less than half were actually in Iraq itself when Baghdad fell. One division, scheduled to invade Iraq from Turkish territory, had been refused admittance by the Turks and was in transit to Kuwaiti ports; most remaining forces were marshalling in Kuwait.
The problem is that many of these critics are asking for "the world" in terms of the type and number of troops, when in reality there were and are considerable logistical constraints that required a leaner force and precluded the use of the specialty forces that Diamond and others claimed were needed. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we went to war with the Army we had.

But two large qualifications to the critique stressing insufficient US forces committed to Iraq must be made. The first is that the United States did not actually have the requisite ‘different kinds of troops’ that critics, not unreasonably, insist ought to have been sent. Secondly, and more seriously, a much larger force at the beginning would have substantially decreased the ability of the United States to maintain higher force levels over the course of the occupation. Indeed, experience from spring 2003 to autumn 2004 indicates that ground forces were stretched extremely thin by the pressures of maintaining a force in the 108,000–150,000 range, as compared to the 300,000–500,000 that critics have called for, with unsustainable reliance on National Guard and reserve units and a ‘broken’ mobilisation system. A large number of American troops at the beginning would only have been possible if there had been a rapid drawdown by the following year. Once the problem is seen as one of maintaining a force over a protracted period (say, 3–5 years), there was simply no way to generate those large numbers within existing force constraints. It might be argued, of course, that had the initial invasion force been 300,000–400,000 troops, the later problems confronting the occupiers would have been substantially reduced, but this is unlikely. Even if considered probable, it would still have been a big risk. [emphasis added]
Given that the National Guard and Reserve systems are near meltdown now, I can't imagine what a two or threefold requirement in terms of numbers would have caused, and how much sooner. It should also be noted that a larger troop presence might have increased the nationalistic backlash that has fueled certain strains of the insurgency. A more ubiquitous troop presence would have confirmed the suspicions of some that the US intended to establish permanent control over Iraq, and that would have created, or exacerbated, a different set of problems.

Hendrickson and Tucker also look to the specific problem of looting which, it has been argued, occurred because of the lack of sufficient troop strength in Iraq and the astonishing lack of preparation for such looting regardless of troop levels.

What is misleading about this interpretation is not the contention that Centcom ought to have had a well-developed plan to deal with the looting but the assumption that it would have successfully mastered the problem had it done so. This seems implausible. The criticism too readily assumes that if problems are foreseen there must in principle be a solution to them. In all probability, however, a war plan keyed to the problem of postwar disorder would itself have inevitably confronted a substantial gap in time between the disintegration of the state and the arrival of forces of sufficient size to establish order, creating a window of opportunity for looting that even a far-sighted plan could not have closed. There is, moreover, substantial evidence that some of the destruction was carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents and could not have been guarded against even had a determined effort been made to do so. That the deliberate fostering of anarchy was part of Saddam’s plan is also suggested by his release of some 100,000 criminals from Iraqi prisons several months before the invasion. Nor was the anarchy confined to Baghdad: looters arose from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south and attacked an astonishing array of targets across the country. A different plan could in all probability have prevented the worst consequences of the looting, such as the destruction of irreplaceable cultural sites and important government ministries, but it is difficult to see how the larger consequence of widespread anarchy, with all its implications for the success of the American mission, could have been avoided. In large measure, this consequence flowed directly from the breakage of the Iraqi state. Seen in broadest perspective, the breaking of the state in effect destroyed Iraq’s immune system, making it vulnerable to a host of ailments. Among these were criminal anarchy, the ease with which foreign terrorists set up shop on Iraqi territory, widespread access to arms and a protracted insurgency. These consequences followed from the act of war itself. They may have been mitigated by a fundamentally different war plan, but they were likely to ensue even if military plans had been informed by greater foresight and better calculated to meet the dangers presented. [emphasis added]
A related complaint is that the diplomatic abrasiveness of the Bush administration undermined the effort to include the international community in the process - more precisely, it led to the failure to get sizable troop commitments from other nations. But as Hendrickson and Tucker point out, no matter how deft a diplomatic touch the Bush administration had employed, public opinion in the nations being courted was so hostile to the military excursion that it is unlikely that there would have been more cooperation in terms of military support - at least initially. Further, American military brass are not always fond of working with their foreign counterparts and such multilateral military conglomerates can cause a host of logistical and coordination headaches. In many ways, we are better off alone, with multilateral forces coming in after the fact in order to help keep the peace. As Hendrickson and Tucker put it, the US forces "make the meal" and the NATO and UN forces "do the dishes."

Unfortunately, the situation was so bad after the invasion that it was even less likely that those involved, or those on the sidelines, would ramp up support with more troops - even if John Kerry were elected. Nations that would be willing to contribute to a peace keeping mission mostly require there to be a "peace" to "keep." In Iraq, there was no such calm, evidenced by the tragic blow to the international effort that came with the assassination of UN envoy Sergio de Mello. In such an environment, enhancing cooperation from allies was near impossible regardless of the Bolton-esque brusqueness of many of the Administration's actors.

This is not to say that the critics who point out that more troops were needed are wrong, or that it would have been better if our troops were trained for the various tasks required by nation building, or that a legion of Arabic speaking translators would not have greatly assisted along many lines. Nor does it excuse the Bush administration's atrocious track record on the diplomatic front which trounced even these remote possibilities. It is just that these might not have been decisions to be judged as mistaken paths chosen as much as predetermined actualities. In other words, once a decision to go to war was made, the realities concerning our military were what they were. The realities of world public opinion, and competing interests of foreign governments, were also actual impediments that needed to be recognized. And we must acknowledge the possibility that even in the perfect world in which we would have had 400,000 well trained troops, such a heavy handed footprint could have fueled its own variety of backlash and failed to forestall the looting and anarchy that ensued. Of course, these realities should have factored into the decision to go to war in the first place. Perhaps that is where the error lies.

I will continue this line of discussion in Part II, looking to other areas commonly cited as mistakes.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Darling Responds, 2.0

Dan Darling has written another response to my three part "Epilogue" series. In this piece, Darling focuses on the use of the military component in the counterterrorism effort. As with most parts of this discussion, I think that there is actually less disagreement than might come across due to the point/counterpoint structure. For instance, in the first couple of rounds, we mostly disagreed on the level to which the neo-con and interventionist camps want to continue "World War IV" - though it seems as though we both agree that the most strident versions of this doctrine would not be a wise course of action (ala the second part of Podhoretz's apparent "contradiction"). We both agree that the American people don't have much of a stomach for democracy promotion military campaigns (hence Podhoretz suggesting we use WMD as the proximate casus belli vis a vis Iran), and we both hope that the after-effects of Iraq do not cause the American people to eschew the use of force in all settings.

Similarly, we disagreed somewhat over the policymaking process in the Bush administration, but nothing major and my guess is that we might agree as to what type of dynamic would be most conducive to best practices even if we choose different ways to characterize the current operation of the Bush White House.

Again, in penning a response to my characterization of the use of the military, Darling clarifies many points that I don't really have an issue with - even though he does take issue with where I put my emphasis. In my post, I was emphasizing the use of intelligence and law enforcement because I believe that is where we need to shift our focus - this because of the amount of time, energy and resources devoured by our military campaign in Iraq. That being said, as I maintained all along, military options should not be ignored completely. They are just extremely problematic in a counter-insurgency setting and as such should be weighed with all appropriate factors.

Dan makes the point that military force is best suited for removing sanctuary to terrorists, whether such shelter is located in failed states or a compliant states. Law enforcement and intelligence, Darling states, are not tools that can achieve these ends. In this statement, I agree with him completely. The tricky part, of course, is determining at what point the provision of sanctuary is sufficient enough to warrant use of military assets. Further, whether such military force will succeed in truly disrupting the sanctuary, whether we can control the territory and deny the reemergence of such sanctuary and, relatedly, whether in the process we will be alienating such large segments of the target population that we will actually exacerbate the situation. To illustrate his point, Dan responds to this paragraph from my post:

Just fill in the blank in this sentence: "The War on Terror would be going so much better right now if we would only invade [insert country]." Is there such a country out there where invasion would not do more harm than good? The answer is no if you truly understand what counterinsurgency means, and what steps we must take to marginalize and isolate the violent extremists from the moderate majority.

Invasion is a means, not an end. In the case of the war on terrorism, it is a tool you use to deprive the enemy of its sanctuaries as well as to establish/expand secure areas, both of which are recommended by the CGSC document. If you want me to give you a list of countries that the war on terror would be better off if al-Qaeda didn't have a safe haven there, I can come up with quite a few for you. The counter-insurgency recommendations in the CGSC document are wonderful, but you cannot expect them to work by only carrying out some of them and not others.
I don't dispute that Dan, or anyone else for that matter, could come up with "a list of countries that the war on terror would be better off if al-Qaeda didn't have a safe haven there" - but that was not the question. The question was which country would we be better off if we would invade.

The example of sanctuary that Darling relies on most in this post are the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) training camps in Pakistan. The problem arises when you take Darling's abstraction into the real world. First, would an invasion of Pakistan, or other use of military assets, really uproot the terrorist training facilities? I'm not so sure. If you look at our current operations in Iraq, we have actually created more sanctuary for Salafist jihadists than existed before - at least so far. Unless we controlled the countryside and the local population in Pakistan, there would be little to forestall a mere relocation of assets and facilities. Intelligence on their locations would be difficult given the likely hostility of the local population (more below). Thus, while we would obviously like to "establish/expand secure areas" that is not always possible even using military force. You could even create fewer secure areas, as in Iraq.

For example, I'm not sure we could sweep into Pakistan and root out those camps using military force without creating a substantial backlash which would only increase sympathy and support for the people we would be trying to neutralize. In Iraq, we at least had the advantage of the good will we earned for removing the odious Saddam Hussein. In Pakistan, we would confront a population that would be considerably more hostile to our presence, at least and especially in the regions housing the LeT camps. The prospect for establishing and maintaining secure areas in such a nation would be remote at best. The more likely outcome would be more sanctuary to our enemies.

Consider also that Pakistan is more than six times the size of Iraq, population wise - which would make for a considerably more difficult peace-keeping operation. And then you have to consider the way this would play out in the Muslim world in general. The perception of the US/Christian crusader would be fortified, accruing to the benefit of propagandists like Zawahiri and Bin Laden. Not to mention the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons - though this part of the story is superfluous in a way because even if Pakistan did not have nukes, the above would still hold.

I don't doubt that Darling is well aware of these factors, and I don't mean this to sound as if he were disputing the above. But when you consider the real world effects, and prospects for success, the result of the use of military force in many settings becomes less than palatable. Even if, in the abstract, it would be great if these regions and nations did not provide sanctuary and solace to certain of our enemies. That is why, although imperfect, we need to focus on the use of intelligence assets and law enforcement - even if we have to expand the capacity of each. There might also be ways to use smaller special forces units to target specific facilities that would fall short of all out invasion - or other military assets less likely to provoke all out war. These types of measures should be considered on a case by case basis with a careful appraisal of risks and rewards. We also need to find creative ways to compel Musharraf (and other leaders in his position) to control his own country, while providing him with the various forms of support needed to achieve this - not an easy task for him considering the intractability of the Islamists in Pakistan. These solutions are not perfect, but this about picking the best of a bunch of options that are less than ideal.

By the way, given how difficult the process is to root out actual Al Qaeda and jihadist sanctuaries - so problematic that we actually tolerate their existence in some locales - can someone remind me again why we invaded Iraq - which had neither? I know Saddam supported Palestinian groups that committed terrorist attacks in Israel, but the connection to Al Qaeda and other international jihadists was so tenuous that the Iraq invasion seems to have capitalized on all the negative effects listed above without any of the benefits. In fact, using the Al Qaeda sanctuary test for military action, invading Iraq now makes a lot more sense than it did in March 2003.

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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Darling Responds

Dan Darling has posted his first part of a series of responses that will address my own three part series on the future of Iraq, entitled The Epilogue. In the process he also challenges certain of Nadezhda's arguments, and may address other of the Liberals Against Terrorism authors to varying degree.

Darling mostly glosses over some politically charged rhetoric on my part, offering, in kind, some mild retorts, but I think it best to avoid the political tit for tat. So, following his lead, I will table that discussion for now. I will respond, however, to a section from Darling which was a response to my lament of the lack of a dialectic in the Bush White House. First the relevant portion from
my post: 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 Darling:

Another point that needs to be made as clearly and as loudly as possible is that it doesn't matter if the Bush cabinet is dissent-free, shields itself from opposing viewpoints, and populates the upper and middle tier with a combination of insiders and cronies. This strikes me as pretty similar to how Italy or France operates, yet the French government is still quite capable of designing capable foreign policies and implementing them. Absent the unlikely event of an impeachment, which I suspect is what many of Eric's colleagues if not Eric himself actively desire, if for no other reason than that it would be the payback in full they feel they're owed after what happened to Bill Clinton.
First the easy part. I have never called for the impeachment of Bush, and last time I checked, no one on this site has either. Please, correct me if I'm wrong. Payback for Clinton in that way would be counterproductive and rank politics of a nature I do not endorse. While I'm on the subject I should point out that Dan makes too much of my statement to the effect that the Democrats should exploit weaknesses the way the Republicans have - a comment that came immediately after a laundry list of complaints about Karl Rove's political strategy and methods. No matter the efficacy, I would never suggest that the Democrats adopt tactics of a kind similar to Karl Rove. It might be due to my own lack of clear writing that gave this impression, but I was not endorsing such a path (nice Boromir analogy by the way Dan). I was merely referring to the fact that the Democratic Party should, nonetheless, not be so timid. It should be aggressive on important issues of policy, and not be resign itself to be reactive. It should be possible to begin to attack the weaknesses of the GOP while not engaging in Swift Boat style misinformation campaigns/media manipulation or homosexual bigotry.

On the substance of Dan's other point, I am not sure he accurately describes the typical operation of the Italian or French executive branches. He certainly doesn't describe the American version. Appointing cronies and insiders is one thing, but quashing internal dissent and robust debate is quite another - and hardly typical of either Republican or Democratic administrations (as an aside, did Dan just praise the French government or am I reading too much into it?).

Numerous White House insiders have described the situation as I recounted, from Paul O'Neill to John DiIulio to Richard Clarke. In the case of O'Neill, his critique was made as a contrast to the conduct in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in which he worked, as well as the Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations - which he had significant contacts with. As O'Neill observed, decisions in the Bush White House, unlike his predecessors, were made by an insular group of insiders, Bush himself was more "disengaged" and less interested in debate between the principals, and the key decision makers tended to base their decisions on their own predetermined preferences, not on the result of honest, empirical inquiry launched without a desired outcome. The suggestion by Darling that this is not a flawed process is a bit shocking. Quite the contrary, it is healthy to have a sincere debate, helpful to use empirical-based research and inquiry, and necessary to show leaders a broad range of possibilities. The dialectic is crucial to insure that even outcomes that are not the best case scenario are examined and planned for.

Many critics point to the potency of "group think" in terms of leading the Bush administration to make so many errors in Iraq that were otherwise obvious, even to members of its own State Department (whose work on the Future of Iraq Project was scrapped at the eleventh hour due to perceived pessimism). Unfortunately, those dissenting voices were cordoned off, ignored and on occasion the speakers were relieved of their offices. That is how otherwise implausible predictions were able to harden into principles that guided policy - much to the detriment of the overall mission. These included prognostications about the overall ease of the Iraq campaign, the likely reception we would receive in terms of candy and flowers, the effect on the region in terms of democratization, the costs of the campaign and the ability of Iraqi oil to finance reconstruction (Larry Lindsay was fired when he contradicted Wolfowitz and went public with the claim that it could exceed $100 billion - which is, in retrospect, an extreme underestimation), the expectation of an ineffective and short-lived insurgency, the duration of a troop presence (Wolfowitz in Congressional testimony claimed we would be down to 30,000 by Autumn 2003), the possibility of Chalabi enjoying a popular mandate or, in the alternative, the popularity of secular leaders, etc. In fact, I think most major blunders vis a vis Iraq can be traced back to this proclivity on the part of the Bush administration to remain so inverted and single-minded in its policy formation.

It was enough to drive Paul O'Neill, a lifelong Republican, to cry foul and is a curious thing for any supporter or critic to try to defend as sound process. While I don't expect to convert Dan, or Paul O'Neill for that matter, to the cause of the Democratic Party, I do expect that we could meet on common ground to declare this method of policy making to be less than ideal - no matter the occupant of the White House. I think recent history is on my side.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Who's Driving the Bus?

In preparation for the start of my first semester as a graduate student, I spent a little time this weekend thumbing through my tattered copy of Stephanie Winston's Getting Organized. It's a nifty little book chock full of ideas for organizationally challenged individuals such as myself and it's something I like to review from time to time. While I'm never able to completely take its lessons to heart, I can usually employ them for long enough to substantially delay the point at which the wheels come entirely off the wagon. It's a modest goal to be sure, but we all have to aspire to something.

While this book covers many of the of the organizational challenges that we are likely to face in our daily lives, much of it is centered around a simple yet powerful concept that Ms. Winston refers to as "The Organizing Principle." The basic concept involves nothing more complex than making a list of priorities, identifying the tasks involved in accomplishing each priority item, and then scheduling a specific time to complete each task. Then, repeat as necessary. Not exactly what you would call rocket science.

Of course, there are right ways and wrong ways to going about this, and one of the wrong ways is to set up a list of priorities that is simply too vague. For example, one of my priorities this semester is to be a good student. But, if I write "Be a Good Student" on my list of priorities, I may have difficulty laying out the tasks involved in achieving that end. After all, what makes a student "good?" Is it someone who does all the reading? Someone who asks a lot of questions in class? Someone who writes great essays? Some combination of the above, plus other items not yet mentioned? I mean, it's great for me to have a grand vision about my scholastic career, but unless I have a very clear and specific understanding of what I wish to achieve as a student, I'm not going to have much direction as I proceed. Until I know exactly where I'm going, I'm not going to have much luck getting there.

With these ideas percolating in my brain, I sat down to catch yet another exciting episode of Meet the Press. This week's hero was Russ Feingold, who had been invited to expand upon his press release from the previous Thursday. As many of you know, contained within this release was a suggested target date for the completion of the military mission in Iraq. While this suggestion was certainly the headline grabber, this was only a one piece of a larger picture that predates this most recent step into the spotlight.
In June, Feingold introduced a resolution calling for the President to clarify the military mission in Iraq, lay out a timeframe for accomplishing that mission, and publicly articulate a plan for subsequent troop withdrawal. [Emphasis added]
In other words, Feingold is saying that Bush needs to review his own copy of Getting Organized -- either that or pick one up in the first place.

There's certainly no shortage of administration critics these days, and each one will give you a laundry list of gaffs and missteps that we should have avoided. But, as I watched Feingold this weekend, it struck me that one of the largest administrative blunders has been Bush's failure to clearly articulate a specific goal. Sure -- we hear a lot of talk about "fighting the terrorist threat", "making America safe", and "spreading freedom." But, while that's great rhetoric for a campaign stump speech, it's not very helpful when one is trying to flesh out policy. I mean, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of implementation, is it even remotely clear what we are trying to achieve?

Take "spreading freedom." This simple assertion can have numerous interpretations -- all of which seem to have been operative at one point or another. Are we talking about freedom from the tyranny of Hussein's rule? Or is it the freedom of self-determination? Does it mean a western-style liberal democracy? Economic freedom? The freedoms defined by our Bill of Rights? If you fail to define what is meant by "freedom", there is nothing clear to work toward.

Naturally, there is a political advantage to leaving our goals undefined. If the finish line is never drawn, your opponents cannot definitively identify failure. The elasticity of our objectives therefore turns discussion of progress into a he said/she said debate. This is, of course, familiar territory for the modern conservative movement and thus it's not hard to see why they're willing to tolerate such sloppy management.

But this isn't just about a face being shown to the world; direction is missing, not hidden. The longer our involvement in Iraq continues, the more glaring the absence of direction becomes. Part of this stems from the fact that reality has crushed some of our more hyperbolicly optimistic initial expectations. Yet, these failures shouldn't have left us completely adrift. New goals -- goals that serve our interests -- should have been devised to take their place. Instead, we now seem to be accepting any sign as an indication of progress. And it might be -- but to what end?

When Bush ran for president, much was made of his professional pedigree. He is the first president in our history to wield a MBA from that high office. Since his election, much has been made of his "grand vision" for peace and prosperity in the new century. But, there's more to the office than fancy rhetoric and a diploma that hangs on the wall. We need big ideas -- but more than that, we need specific ideas. We need to know what his vision is about in concrete terms. Only then can we begin to rationally work toward them.

Until then, we are most certainly headed nowhere at all.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Epilogue, Part III

Straight Shooting and Smart Targeting

As advertised in Parts
I and II, I said I would do my bit to offer advice for how to better conduct our operations in Iraq. Most of what I will say will rely on experts and seasoned policymakers, and may not be new to many of you, so to the extent that you were anticipating a novel approach, I may have to disappoint. Generally speaking, the extent of my wisdom lies in recognizing the brilliance of others, not in formulating unique approaches myself, though I occasionally have a moment of clarity. Enough with the caveats though.

The first thing that must be done vis a vis Iraq would be for Bush the "Leader" to level with the American people. The mythos of Bush is that he is the straight shooter from Texas, the un-nuanced anti-Clinton and the politician that doesn't care about polls. Well, if any of that is more than just clever marketing, it is well past due that he started showing it vis a vis Iraq.

Credibility gaps are dangerous disconnects to create between a leader and his or her public when trying to conduct a protracted war. The entire Iraq campaign was built upon a wobbly edifice of mismanaged expectations in terms of justifications, costs, difficulties, the reception we would receive, the duration our troops would be in Iraq, the political ramifications for the entire region, etc. The Bush administration has been slow to correct the early propaganda, instead relying on a series of events designated as the next tipping point, such as the deaths of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, the transfer of limited sovereignty, the election and the now-delayed Constitution. The more the American people hear about "tipping points" that never tip, corners that never turn and last throes that last forever, the more they will lose patience. To echo Joe Biden, Bush must at long last come clean about the struggle that lies ahead, the likely duration, the prospects for "success" (a term he should define somewhat) and the tenacity needed to realize any and all of those goals. And he must ask the American people to sacrifice - more than the soldiers and their families.

Bush must, absolutely must, ask the wealthiest Americans, who have benefited so immensely under his leadership, to forsake some of their multi-tiered, multi-packaged, multi-trillion dollar tax cuts so that we can continue to fund this war, purchase the armor for our troops and their vehicles, pay their
medical expenses, and not run up the deficit to dangerous levels so that it itself becomes a national security issue. There are more than a trillion good reasons why no nation in the history of the world has cut taxes during a time of war. Bush and his fellow Republicans have done it three times (at least). Time to admit your error Mr. President, and attempt to right the ship. If Iraq is truly as important as you've said it is, then show us the money.

Next I would recommend to all in the Bush administration, that they commit themselves to learn (or apply) the contours of counterinsurgency warfare. This will benefit their efforts in Iraq, and in the War on Terror in general. This passage from the Military Affairs article cited in Part II is a good place to start.

The focus of all civil and military plans and operations must be on the center of gravity in any conflict - the country's people and their belief in and support of their government. Winning their hearts and minds must be the objective of the government's efforts.
Got that? In other words, you must appeal to the actual people you are trying to....well, appeal to. A practical application of this could be informing how we conduct and oversee our detention facilities. We simply must do better than we have done at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and elsewhere if we want to even make a dent in the effort for hearts and minds. War supporters, most of all, should be leading this charge if they truly value success. But all too often they are the ones shouting the loudest that the horrific treatment of Iraqis, Afghanis and other Muslims is really nothing to be concerned about. "They're all terrorists," they say, despite the fact that many at Gitmo are innocent of all charges (12 year old boys?), Abu Ghraib releases between 70-90% of its captives, and that story of misidentified innocents is similar at Bagram and elsewhere. Here's the self-fulfilling prophesy: if you treat every Iraqi like a terrorist/insurgent, pretty soon every Iraqi is going to side with the terrorists/insurgents in one form or another. Apply that lesson to the battle for Muslim hearts and minds generally speaking. This is not, or shouldn't be at least, a controversial suggestion.

Then, take this lesson and extend it to all conduct of our military and intelligence operations - to the best of our oversight abilities - from roadblock/checkpoint rules of engagement, to intrusive home raids, to the use of anti-personnel cluster bombs in populated areas to name but a few. We must try to minimize and mitigate the alienation and creation of enemies that would result from otherwise callous policies.

Nadezhda, graciously, provided us with a mini-handbook for counterinsurgency 101, with strategies broken down in terms of efficacy:


-Emphasis on intelligence.
-Focus on population, their needs, and security.

-Secure areas established, expanded.
-Insurgents isolated from population (population control).

-Single authority (charismatic/dynamic leader).
-Effective, pervasive psychological operations (PSYOP) campaigns.
-Amnesty and rehabilitation for insurgents.

-Police in lead; military supporting.
-Police force expanded, diversified.
-Conventional military forces reoriented for counterinsurgency.

-Special Forces, advisers embedded with indigenous forces.
-Insurgent sanctuaries denied.


-Primacy of military direction of counterinsurgency.
-Priority to "kill-capture" enemy, not on engaging population.

-Battalion-size operations as the norm.
-Military units concentrated on large bases for protection.

-Special Forces focused on raiding.
-Adviser effort a low priority in personnel assignment.
-Building, training indigenous army in image of U.S. Army.

-Peacetime government processes.
-Open borders, airspace, coastlines.

That is an excellent starting point. Consume, vet, hone, integrate and repeat. Next I turn to Larry Diamond, a former official with the CPA in Baghdad. Many of you might be familiar with Larry Diamond's recommendations for improving the situation in Iraq, but for those that are, they bear repeating.

There are four key elements to a political strategy for diminishing the violent resistance in Iraq. First, the Bush Administration must declare that the U.S. will not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. Second, we should declare some sort of time frame (but not a rigid deadline) by which we think we can withdraw militarily - if Iraqi groups that are supporting or tolerating the violence will instead help build the new political order. Third, we need to talk directly to the (largely Sunni) political groups connected to the insurgency, some of which have been seeking to talk to the U.S. for almost two years. Fourth, we need an honest broker to help mediate these discussions and build confidence in the process; this might be a small international contact group including representatives from the United Nations and one or two of the European embassies in Baghdad.
I agree with each and every of those recommendations. Mr. Diamond then weighed in on the Bush administration's performance along these lines:

The Bush Administration is refusing to take any of these four steps. It won't renounce the bases because it wants them. It won't consider any kind of timetable, even without fixed deadlines, even dependent on the cooperation of the other side, because it doesn't want to look weak, and it doesn't really know when Iraqi forces will be ready to assume the burdens of maintaining order (against an insurgency that is fueled in part by the lack of an Administration strategy). It has refused to talk to the insurgent groups because, again, it fears this being misinterpreted as a sign of weakness, and because, once you have said about the insurgency, "Bring them on," they are just "evildoers," what is left to discuss? They have taken steps to bring the marginalized Sunnis into the political process. The Sunnis have a place on the constitution drafting committee in large measure because of American pressure. I do give the Administration credit for that. But this is only the beginning of a political strategy.
Diamond's advice would be wise to adopt for a few reasons. First, it is built on the notion of "marginalizing" the insurgents. By making our intention to leave, eventually, clear we could separate the nationalists and Baathists (who want us out of Iraq no matter what), from the foreign fighters, thus driving a wedge between the camps and better isolate the die-hards. Appealing to the Sunnis politically, and through offers of amnesty, would further support this effort. Synergistically, this should be our goal in the broader War on Terror as well, and I recommend Nadezhda's post on the subject of marginalization strategy as an excellent resource. The question is, will the Bush administration relinquish its designs on permanent bases in order to try to weaken the insurgency? It is becoming clearer every day that a decision will have to be made here one way or another.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, our armed forces cannot
stay in Iraq indefinitely, or much past the end of 2005 at its current troop levels, and our allies are heading for the exits, one after the other. Thus, if we do not contain the insurgency in some meaningful way prior to our impending troop reductions, the situation will deteriorate. If you think it's hard to whack a mole with the current troop levels, just wait until we have half that amount in country, relegated to remote bases. This makes Mr. Diamond's recommendations more than a passing criticism. Something must be done soon, because like it or not, many of our troops will be coming home in the next year.

In Part I of this series, I said I disagreed with Matt Yglesias' column which called for a withdrawal of US forces after the finalization of the Constitution and the subsequent elections. Instead, I argued, we must stick around in Iraq in order to stabilize the situation and forestall potential widespread violence. But perhaps I was being unfair to Yglesias. I mean to say that if the Bush administration has no intention or plan for altering the flow of events in Iraq, if they are not willing to make the hard choices to try to tamp the insurgency, then I think we should withdraw ala Yglesias. The current strategy is unwinnable, and will only result in a further bleeding of money, military assets, lives, credibility, intelligence assets, and collective foreign policy brainpower that could be better utilized in other hot spots around the globe.

So, the time is now Mr. President, or better yet two years ago. If you value the mission in Iraq, if you think it worthy of the sacrifices that have gone before it, it is time to put away the swagger, the bluster, the feel-good chest thumping, the "bring 'em on," the flight suit, the Mission Accomplished sign, and all the other accoutrements of the war president that you have seemed to covet. It is time to cut your record-setting vacation short and get down to doing the dirty work: abandon dreams of World War IV, admit error (at least internally), level with the American people, be realistic about turning points, repeal some of the multi-trillion dollar tax cuts to fund this war, demand leadership in the Department of Defense that grasps the nature of the counterinsurgency warfare as present in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, and take Mr. Diamond's advice, or at least vet his suggestions to come up with viable alternatives. You can't stay this course unless you change it, now matter how many times you change the name.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Epilogue, Part II

Wheat to the Left, Chaff to the Right

Dan Darling references many of the outright frightening consequences that a failed Iraq could lead to, as I mentioned in Part I. In addition, he talks about some of the political fallout, such as a setback for the effort of encouraging democratic change in the Muslim world - most of which I agree with. There are, however, points of departure between me and Mr. Darling. For example, Darling writes:

If the US withdraws and Iraq collapses and the Middle East destabilizes as a result, support among both the American public and the political establishment for any future military intervention is going to be out of the question for the immediate future. That's bad from where I'm standing because, for all the discussion of de-militarizing the war on terrorism, al-Qaeda is still out there, a point I would think would be rather painfully obvious by everything that's happened this summer in Ayodhya, London, and Sharm el-Sheikh among other locations worldwide.
I actually think that, with some clarification, the thing that Darling fears is what I hope for. If Americans do not walk away from the Iraq invasion with an understanding of the limits, if not the counter-productiveness, of military intervention in many contexts (particularly the ill named "War on Terror"), then that would truly be a tragic blunder and an unsettling harbinger of mistakes to be repeated in the future. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we should develop an across the board, knee-jerk prejudice against the use of military force when necessary, but we must lose this belief that military intervention is an effective solution in more ways than what is practical - or that it is an effective vehicle for mass social change.

Still, it's not that Darling's concerns are hollow. Whatever the outcome in Iraq, we must, as a nation, remain aware of the fact that certain military uses are necessary evils - for example invading Afghanistan to disrupt the Al Qaeda infrastructure and remove the Taliban government that was providing sanctuary was necessary and, if anything, was not given enough or as sustained an effort as needed. We must stave off the most extreme cases of a potential "Iraq Syndrome."

Nevertheless, I am confident that the American people would treat the next Afghanistan the same way - regardless of the onset of Iraq Syndrome. For all of this nation's virtues, and there are many, throughout its history America has never really shown an aversion to using force. After all, in the era of the "Vietnam Syndrome," in which America was supposedly so disillusioned by Vietnam that it was unwilling to project force around the globe, we engaged in military campaigns in Beirut, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, the Balkans in multiple versions, Somalia, the Persian Gulf - twice!, and Afghanistan. Not to mention proxy wars and "advisory roles" in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Afghanistan, numerous African nations, etc. In other words, don't fret about a gun shy America.

Let me frame a hypothetical to illustrate the distinction of life post-Iraq, even post-Iraq failure. The ruling regime in Sudan is destabilized, and a radical Islamist regime takes over which provides sanctuary and succor to Al Qaeda. Then there is another major terrorist attack on US soil that originates from the Sudan-based Al Qaeda leadership. My expectation is that the American people would recognize that military intervention would be necessary, and if the intelligence was available and reliable, hopefully we could have intervened in the hypothetical Sudan before the terrorist attack ever occurred.

But, and this is the key, in the aftermath of the attack, while emotions are raw and fear is rampant, the American people must not allow themselves to be manipulated into thinking that another country unrelated to the attack or Sudan, say Iran, should be invaded also. I hope that we have learned our lesson from Iraq that we must keep our eye on the goal, and not be lured into diversionary excursions that actually drain the military, intelligence and financial resources needed to combat violent extremists while providing those same extremists with a boon in terms of support, recruitment, training and networking. Even if the war is sold with the specter of nuclear Armageddon, and even if it is packaged as the domino tipping panacea to all the world's ills.

Part of this learning process must be to come to grips with the reality that a John Podhoretz, David Frum, Richard Perle, William Kristol, Weekly Standard-style
World War IV - which envisions the United States marching from Iraq, to Iran, to Syria, and to other Muslim nations in between, "liberating" them, implanting democracy and expunging terrorism in the process is reckless beyond words. First of all, as even David Brooks has been forced to acknowledge, democracy doesn't necessarily prevent terrorism and, unfortunately, democratic nations (such as France, Spain, England, Italy, etc) produce jihadist terrorist too. Second, such nation building writ large, or even on a small scale, requires a confluence of luck, underlying institutional development, a willing populace, economic preconditions, internal pressure, and a host of other tangible and intangibles that are not easily brought about by external actors - let alone via the barrel of a gun. And that's just in the country that is the target of our largesse. Our own needs (financial, military, diplomatic, etc) must also enter the equation and limit these big dreams.

Instead, we must shift our thinking in the broader clash against violent extremists, and in Iraq itself, to the understanding that in both cases we are fighting a counterinsurgency.
Francis Fukuyama said it quite well, so I will return to him:
The War on Terror is, in other words, a classic counter-insurgency war, except that it is one being played out on a global scale. There are genuine bad guys out there who are much more bitter ideological enemies than the Soviets ever were, but their success depends on the attitudes of the broader populations around them who can be alternatively supportive, hostile or indifferent-depending on how we play our cards. As we are seeing vividly in Iraqi cities like Fallujah and Najaf, counter-insurgency wars are incredibly difficult to fight, because we must somehow destroy the enemy without alienating the broader population and making things worse. Counter-insurgency requires a tricky mixture of precisely targeted force, political judgment and extremely good intelligence: a combination of carrots and sticks.
Fukuyama touches on an important point for both Iraq and the War on Terror: when you use military force, you inevitably alienate the people you are trying to influence and in turn greatly assist your enemies. In Afghanistan, this was a necessary evil - mitigated in many ways by the appearance of legitimacy and of a just cause, even in the Muslim world. In Iraq, we were greeted with suspicion, mistrust and animosity - a platform unable to sustain such grandiose plans. This was only made worse by the inescapable brutality of war.

recently cited a succinct and informative article entitled Best Practices In Counterinsurgency which appeared in a recent issue of the Military Review. These experts on counterinsurgency point to something that has been much derided in the US press, especially when it was uttered by John Kerry in the past election.

Intelligence operations that help detect terrorist insurgents for arrest and prosecution are the single most important practice to protect a population from threats to its security. [emphasis added]
To see this in action, let's take Darling's examples of Al Qaeda still being "out there" which he cites in reference to his hope that Americans don't abandon the use of the military: the recent attacks in Ayodhya, India, London, England and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt "among other locations worldwide." What Dan doesn't address, though, is what, exactly, could military intervention have been used for in any of those settings? Could military intervention have prevented any of those attacks? Should we have invaded England? Would an invasion of Egypt have prevented or caused more terrorism? In urging us to keep military options on the table, he cites examples where only intelligence operations would have succeeded. This is true for most examples of terrorist attacks and prevention. When cells are embedded in non-hostile nations, the military is an ill-suited tool to remove them. The sanctuary in Afghanistan was the exception, not the rule.

Just fill in the blank in this sentence: "The War on Terror would be going so much better right now if we would only invade [insert country]." Is there such a country out there where invasion would not do more harm than good? The answer is no if you truly understand what counterinsurgency means, and what steps we must take to marginalize and isolate the violent extremists from the moderate majority. Dan Darling continues:

Given that the US withdrawal from Iraq will result in a recruiting bonanza for the group as well as an affirmation that everything bin Laden and his acolytes have been saying is correct, it puts the organization in a position where they can basically attack the United States with impunity without fear of anything save 1990s-style arrests and extraditions or token reprisals. The military option, in other words, will have been removed from the table for the immediate future during a period when it will be most needed.
Here I think Darling is misreading the situation in terms of what our responses would be, no matter the outcome in Iraq. There is no way the US government, no matter the administration or result in Iraq, would return to the same perspective on Al Qaeda that we had in the 1990s and early 2000s. You simply can't turn back the clock, nor should we. The US will aggressively use its intelligence assets to roll up cells, hound Bin Laden (maybe even find him, huh?), and strike out at any sanctuary we can locate (within reason, and within the confines of maintaining necessary alliances that exist even in the post-9/11 world). To suggest we were really using these resources in the 1990s is to belittle the many successes in this arena since 9/11.

The thought that Bin Laden would be able to sit back in open sight and strike us without retaliation would require more than a loss in Iraq. That being said, as mentioned above, it is unlikely that the military option would be the most effective anti-Bin Laden measure in most circumstances. But where it was needed, the American people wouldn't need any convincing. They might be doubting the lethality of Saddam at this point, but not Bin Laden. I wonder sometimes if the Bush administration has not had this formulation inverted. As newly declassified documents from the State Department indicate, we began planning the Iraq invasion less than two months after 9/11, with Bin Laden and his cohorts still alive and kicking.

(In Part III, I will discuss how we can better apply the lessons on counterinsurgency and marginalization directly to the Iraq campaign)

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)

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