Thursday, February 15, 2007

Will You Remember My Reply, When Your High Horse Dies?

One of the most curious spectacles surrounding the pre-surge debate - especially with respect to the differing proposals for the number of troops needed as put forth by the various proponents - was the magical goldilocks effect of Bush's final pronouncement. As soon as Bush's version of the surge was unveiled, most pro-war analysts, pundits and politicians whose plans had differed from Bush's in crucial respects treated his relatively limited surge as just right.

For those trying to follow the convoluted tale, it went a little something like this: First, the Joint Chiefs opposed the plan, but then later rolled over and played dead. The military brass then acted like the surge came at the request of the generals on the ground. It wasn't a political decision, but a military one. And the precise number that Bush called for was actually what the generals asked for. Except it wasn't.

The surge's most frequently cited masterminds, General Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan, initially called for a surge in the 80,000 troop range, but then when Bush announced a modified plan for roughly 20,000, they soft pedaled the differences and muted any criticisms (although that changed a little after the initial uproar died down and no one was really paying attention).

In the meantime, Bush administration water carriers like Rich Lowry tried, unsuccessfully, to convince us that Bush's 20,000 was basically the same thing as Kagan/Keane's 80,000. The same, only different. Others, like William Kristol who had called for hundreds of thousands more troops from the get go, were suddenly convinced that 20,000, deployed now, would get the job done.

All along, presidential hopeful, and notorious straight talker, John McCain, spun himself into a pretzel adjusting his recommended troop increases with the fickleness of a teenager in love. It depended on the day, the audience, his mood and the weather. That's what straight talk is all about.

But one thing was sure, Bush found the sweet spot - the winning formula. Right? Well, that depends. Surprisingly, or not, Bush's recommended surge of 20,000 troops is considerably lower than any of the other recommendations made by the "experts" who were relied on in arriving at this policy choice. Most "surge" proponents and "large footprint" military tacticians argue that several times the number envisioned by Bush's plan would be required. And even then, there's no guarantee of success at this late stage of the game.

The key difference is, though, that a bigger surge (or a larger deployment at the time of the invasion) would require significant sacrifice and commitment of the sort that the Bush administration has been loathe to undertake. Yet lock-step supporters of Bush's rather meager surge feel entitled to strike a sanctimonious pose as the only side with a plan for victory, and the only side with a plan that takes the suffering Iraqis into account.

Garance Franke-Ruta has a devastating rebuttal:

If our future were truly at stake -- if we really, really had to win in Iraq -- we would never stand for the president's piddling surge proposal, because it's just not going to be enough to fix the situation. To really stabilize the situation on the ground in Iraq would require a military draft and sending several hundred thousand more troops to Iraq for a period of years. After four years of botched plans and incompetent leadership, no one, left or right, wants to entertain such an idea. Heck, we did not want to entertain a commitment of that scope before we went to Iraq in the first place, because it was a war of choice, not of survival. Another radical proposal that's been floated calls for dissolving the military war colleges for a few years and putting all those strategic minds into the war effort, instead of teaching. We will never do that, either.

Why? Because America's failure in Iraq is not an existential threat to the United States. It is a horrible outcome for U.S. power, prestige, and authority, and it is a disastrous outcome for the Iraqis, to say the least, as well as a destabilizing outcome for the region, and for America's regional allies.

But America will go on. No one wants to say this. To say it sounds callous, and awful, and morally bankrupt. And yet it is true.

Sometimes I think I agree with the conservative critique that Americans don't have the will to win this fight. But we never did -- not from the start -- and I place conservative politicians first among the ranks of the unwilling. They wanted victory on the cheap, with neither unity nor sacrifice -- and managed to pour out our nation's coffers, anyway. Where were the conservative lawmakers working to resurrect the draft, to relieve the pressure on our citizen soldiers? Where were the conservative legislative advocates of deployments of an additional 150,000, 200,000, or 300,000 troops -- and for up to ten years? The conservative creators of a Manhattan Project-like intensive search for alternative fuels? The conservative attacks on war profiteering by military contractors? The conservative advocates for major tax increases and belt-tightening and yes, once again growing our own food in backyard Victory Gardens, or rationing fuel, if it came to that? That's the level of commitment existential wars require...

...Instead, Bush will fight hard for his unhelpful surge, more Americans will die, Iraq will grow ever more disrupted, and the inevitable day of reckoning will be delayed. But it will come. The disaster is foretold. It will be awful, a humiliation to be followed by an agony. But not for us the painful reckoning -- for the Iraqis. We will assuage our guilt with recriminations and hearings, and the sneering of the world. [emphasis added]

It is for these reasons that I am mostly unimpressed with the smug and self-satisfied who act as if they occupy some moral or strategic high ground because they support the surge. John Boehner may weep for the camera, but if the stakes are so high that even discussing a resolution condemning the surge leads to an emotional breakdown, why on Earth isn't he proposing to do more? Because more could be done. So put up, or stop the crocodile tears.

If you want to mount and ride the high horse, then you have to be willing to pay for the stable and upkeep. Real ponies aren't cheap, but rocking horses are.

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