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June 13, 2005

Toward A More Adult Foreign Policy

TigerHawk, just back from South America, has already managed to wind me up:

Greg Djerejian is worried that the Bush administration -- Rumsfeld and Cheney, at least -- are too damned positive in their public discussion of the prospects for successful counterinsurgency in Iraq.

So that's why we haven't yet prevailed in Iraq ... apparently all we need is a little more negativity here on the homefront.

Seriously, it's a good post and worth reading despite my disagreement with several of his conclusions. I read the Belgravia Dispatch from time to time with interest and considerable frustration: interest, because I believe Greg is honestly grappling with his support for this administration in light of what he sees as troubling missteps and a persistent failure to correct them. Frustration because, for all his insight, he has some blind spots and gets a few things wrong. Worse, I can't rebutt with what I know of our readiness situation. However, I continue to read it as penance for my well-known if occasionally sardonic cheerleading for the BushReich.

Djerejian links a Chicago Tribune piece in which various officers describe the difficulties of patrolling 30K miles of desert with 4000 Marines and Iraqi National Guard units that had to be disbanded. As always, I'm struck by the marked difference in tone between the quotes from Marines on the scene, advisers behind the scenes (wonkish and pessimistic) and the writer of the piece (gloomy). Not that pessimism isn't warranted, but it's a formula I see repeatedly - one analysts invariably miss.

Predictably, Djerejian is outraged:

This is one of the reasons I've always been so infuriated by Donald Rumsfeld. He's constantly dangled 'train and equip' (yes, like ill-fated Vietnamization) as some form of panacea. Be patient little ones, he avers, as we train the Free Iraqis--only they can pick up the mantle and finish the job. His Jacksonian disdain for really seeing true democratization take root in Iraq is plain for all smart people who care to see. But quit the unpatriotic carping Djerejian, and get on the train [no pun intended], right? Don is the Man with the Plan! Except he's always pushed doing the train and equipping job too quickly--tossing inflated numbers out to a gullible public and often fawningly imbecilic Pentagon press corps (look 'ma, 150,000 Iraqi troops fully trained! And it's not even summer yet!). As I've said for months and years now, you can't rush 'train and equip'. It'll come back and bite you in the ass, to put it plainly.

Who else is going to finish the job, if not the Iraqis? The French? Dear God in heaven, not the U.N.?

I'm always mystified by this line of attack. We can't stay there forever. We have to train the Iraqis to take over their own security. Constantly reminding them of their failures is hardly calculated to build confidence (sadly lacking at the current moment) or bolster recruitment and retention, is it? Exactly what is it he proposes we do as we take on the admittedly difficult long-term job of training and equipping the Iraqis to defend themselves? Of changing an entire culture?

Perhaps we should stand on the sidelines and hold up scorecards? "Well gol-dang...you all ran away again. Gonna have to give you a 1.5. Really, at this rate you'll never be ready." The insurgents will certainly like that strategy. While we're at it, we can maintain a running commentary ... I like to think of it as "keepin' it real":

"Don't think we have the terrorists on the run...we're just settling in for a long battle ahead. This could take ten years."

"Why can't you Iraqis be more like us - learn to take orders, show up on time, stop this silliness about not entering mosques with guns..."

"You can't rush to train and equip - you people won't be real soldiers for years."

But Greg isn't finished. He continues:

...should we be suprised that the President's numbers are at the worst levels they have been at since he's assumed the Presidency? As a supporter of this Administration, dare I suggest it's in part because people sense drift in the Iraq war effort? (On the domestic front, don't miss Newt Gingrich's quite surprisingly Carter-like malaise musings here). And that they want straight talk (no, "death throes" ain't gonna hack it)? Which is that we will likely need to be in Iraq for at least several more years full stop. In at least the numbers we are currently in theater with.
As a Bush supporter, let me give my level-best, most honest criticism here. We never put enough troops in theater and barely have enough there now. We are resource-constrained, and doing the best we can short of increasing the size of the military (which is getting increasingly problematic, see here) or re-instituting the draft (not kosher in the era of Paris Hilton and the Apprentice).

Come to think of it, perhaps we could use some of that refreshing honesty on the home front too - just think how much better off we'd be. I can just imagine President Bush now:

"You know, many have called for me to apologize to the American people and admit my mistakes. They demand "straight talk". I haven't done so in the past because frankly, I didn't see the utility. I thought it would be like handing a knife to our enemies.

"But now I see how important your feelings are, and I come to you in a spirit of honestly, humility, and healing. [wiping Clintonian tear from his eye] My Fellow Americans, we don't have enough boots on the ground - we never did - and I don't know where we'll get more.

"Sure, we could draft your kids, but that would take years by the time we passed a law, selected them, recruited and trained them up and to tell the truth, can you imagine the shrieking on Capitol Hill? I think we all know the political backlash will result in our early withdrawal from Iraq. Those who advocate a draft have no other end in mind - they never have had: let's be honest about that at least. And the military is 100% against it. That should count for something.

"Those 150,000 troops Rummy mentioned? Heck, we all know the Iraqis aren't ready: frankly they're just darned worthless and I don't know if they'll ever be ready. Just thought you oughta know.

"Finally, everyone has been calling for a timeline for our withdrawal from Iraq. Well, frankly, it's a fricking quagmire. I'd say we'll be there at least ten years, mebbe more. Who can say? Our critics are right - we just didn't plan sufficiently going in."

"Now some will say, 'Mr. President, it's all fine and dandy for you to admit your mistakes and apologize, but what are you going to DO about this?' And the truth is, not much is likely to change. This in an uncertain situation: hard to predict. We've always known that. Our resources are finite, domestic support for the war is cyclical and my political opponents are circling for the kill. And now I've given them all the ammunition they need to finish me off.

I used to see this war on terror as a great contest: a test of wills in which the world's greatest superpower fought a far weaker enemy. I thought the end inevitable as long as we did not falter. And indeed throughout human history the greatest generals have averred that the victor is always he who holds out the longest: who has the will to prevail. That seemed to be the enduring lesson of Vietnam - that we failed because we gave in to defeatism and the petty cynicism of little minds.

"But I now realize the importance of acknowledging our feelings. I've been far too concerned with the morale of our troops on the battlefield and with maintaining the confidence of the Iraqi people as they endure constant attacks from the terrorists. I never spared a thought for the agony of pundits sitting in front of their TV sets listening to my administration's too rosy assessments. Yes, it's time to put down the crack pipe and admit the truth. Good night. "

Why, oh why can't otherwise brilliant people see that leaders cannot and should not behave like policy wonks? One does not inspire and lead a nation (nor a multi-national coalition) by issuing dispassionate analyses of our chances of success on a weekly basis (assuming this were possible), or by sharing Cabinet-level briefings with CNN.

A leader does not share his doubts with those he leads. That does not inspire confidence. It does not take a Masters in Psychology to see that. Nor is public hand-wringing and second-guessing helpful in an antagonistic situation when dealing with vitriolic and unprincipled opponents both foreign and domestic. As TigerHawk astutely observed:

The problem, though, is that it is not merely the administration's job to describe what is going on. It also must advocate for its position that the United States should stay in Iraq as long as it takes to defeat the insurgency. Is the best way to do that to admit that it may take as long as a decade to beat these bastards -- most counterinsurgencies take at least that long -- or is it more likely to sustain adequate support for the war by arguing the optimistic case? The answer to this question is not obvious, especially in light of history that suggests that the United States might have eventually succeeded in Vietnam had it been willing. Indeed, the lesson of that war is that contemporary perceptions of success and failure do not necessarily hold up over time. So the question remains, if it is necessary for a president to advocate for a policy in order to sustain the national commitment necessary to win, is the national interest really served if the administration abandons optimism for "realism"?

Yet another reason TigerHawk is a daily read for me.

Posted by Cassandra at June 13, 2005 05:25 AM

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