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September 18, 2005

Joe Biden Is Worried...

Well that just about tears it. I really don't see how any responsible world leader can ignore a warning of this gravity:

The Bush administration's mishandling of Iraq has brought us to the brink of a national security debacle. To salvage the situation, the administration must fundamentally change course inside Iraq, in the region and at the international level.

Stabilizing Iraq is a political as well as a military challenge. The administration is taking a huge gamble by going forward with a referendum for a constitution that is more likely to divide Iraq than to unite it.

A majority of Sunni Arabs are likely to vote against the constitution, but not the two-thirds needed to defeat it. That will further embitter them.

This argument should, perhaps, not surprise us coming from a Democratic Senator. This is, after all, the same party that's been trying to work out how they can overturn this troublesome process called representative government since November. The theory being that if the minority cannot get their way, they are entitled to feel "embittered" against the process. Seeing the undoubted attractions of this idea doesn't stop one from instinctively loathing it.

There must, you see, be something wrong with the whole process, because the Right Side didn't win. Not only that, but the Wrong Side now controls all three branches of government. This is, we are solemnly informed, de facto evidence of some sinister plot.

A sinister plot called Democracy, whereby the people get to vote for the representatives of their choice and, in turn, their duly-elected President appoints a Cabinet and members of the judiciary. Politics being, in the end, a numbers game, if the people elect more conservative than liberal Presidents over time, the Courts inevitably come to reflect the will of the people as well. The fact that "We, the People" seem blithely unconcerned about this horrid imbalance of power is due, no doubt, both to the obstructionist efforts of the loyal opposition and to the centrist nature of both parties in their modern-day incarnations. But this comforting thought never seems to occur to the conspiracy theorists - they're far too busy trying to figure out how to vest supreme and unbridled power in the hands of nine unelected and completely unaccountable jurists so they can restore a more proper sense of "balance" to the Force.

Since civics is no longer taught in our public schools, We the People are fortunate to have civil servants who double as civics teachers. Without Senator Biden's helpful commentary, we might be tempted to think over 200 years of successful history evidence that disgruntled minorities can take their frustrations out by pontificating down at the corner store rather than picking up a Kalishnikov. But then it's brown people we're talking about here, isn't it? And you know what "those people" are like - they're really not ready for democracy:

The consequences for U.S. interests could be devastating. Sectarian violence might escalate into a full-blown civil war, drawing in Syria, Iran and Turkey and turning Iraq into a new Lebanon. Even worse, Iraqi Sunnis could forge stronger alliances with foreign jihadists, turning a swath of Iraq into a pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan for a new generation of terrorists.

Yes, Senator. Iraq could erupt in violence, just like it did after the January elections. Wasn't that pretty much what you predicted? "A recipe for civil war", I believe you called them. What was that you said on CNN?

"The Elections Are Going To Be Much Messier. We Are Left With A Bad Choice In Holding Elections And A Worse Choice Of Not Holding It."

Or on the Charlie Rose show:

"It's Going To Be Ugly."

Or in December of 2004:

"Biden Believes Iraqi Elections Scheduled For January Should Be Delayed To Stabilize The Country And Gain Wider Support For The Vote From Sunnis. The Situation Is Still Salvageable, He Said."

Here we see the same, tired argument that got us into Iraq in the first place. It's the same limp mantra that paralyzes the United Nations and the EuroWeenies and prevents them from taking action, even when confronted with clear evidence of evil as in Bosnia. The notion of Consensus-uber-Alles: the idea that nothing is worth doing unless we can get absolutely everyone to agree to it. As long as there is even one holdout, the prized agreement has not been attained and we must delay, delay, delay.

All notions of right and wrong, all questions of individual loyalty, conscience, or duty are subordinated to the tyranny of Mass Agreement (which is value-neutral). It does not, after all, matter to what we all agree so long as we all do agree. The very fact that we all agree (though this chimeric state has almost no chance of actually occurring) guarantees that we have done the Right Thing. How can it not be the right thing - after all, we have all agreed that it is so!

The other wonderful aspect of Consensus-uber-Alles is that it forever ensures the tyranny of the minority over the majority: a thing the Founding Fathers feared just as much as its obverse; for no action can be taken without securing the agreement of the most fractious and disgruntled members of the group. That delay provides a visible incentive to further disrupt the proceedings for anyone (insurgents, anyone?) who does not want a Constutition ever to come to pass seems not to have occurred to the brilliant Senator Biden. Why does he think they are fighting? Perhaps we should just defer the Iraqi Constitution until everyone in the entire country is united in glorious unison. Anything else would indeed be a miserable failure of the Jeffersonian model of representative government.

Oh: and while we're at it, let's involve several groups who have, so far, steadfastly refused to help and are famous for not taking action when faced with problems larger than a hangnail:

For this policy to work, the administration must do what it has failed to do thus far: involve the major international powers and Iraq's neighbors in a stabilization strategy. The administration should create a contact group with countries such as France, Japan, Britain and Russia, along with organizations such as the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. As constitutional negotiations resumed, the Iraqis would see a united international front and be more likely to make difficult compromises.

That should speed things right up, assuming you can figure out how to get them to reverse several years of inaction, Senator.

The administration must also develop a regional strategy that either forces or induces Iraq's neighbors to act responsibly. In some instances, that would require the administration to engage regimes that the United States would rather not work with. But that's exactly what we did in the Balkans to get to the Dayton peace agreement and with Afghanistan's neighbors in the "six plus two" group and the Bonn conference. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt could help temper the demands of the communities with which they have influence. Tehran and Damascus would be more likely to end their dangerous meddling if they saw the rest of the international community lining up with us. The president should immediately name a senior envoy to the region and organize a regional conference.

Oooh. A regional conference. That ought to impress Iran, just like all those UN sanctions impressed the heck out of Saddam. "You'd best toe the line or we'll... we'll... convene a regional conference!"

But then Biden says something I have to agree with. And he even coins a jazzy new phrase, credibility chasm:

At home, President Bush must close the credibility chasm that is threatening the most important weapon our overstretched troops have: the support of the American people. He must convince Americans that he is leveling with them about the situation in Iraq and that he has a coherent strategy for securing our fundamental national interests and bringing our troops home.

To that end, the administration should develop concrete goals for training Iraqi security forces so that they can operate independently, building a political system that enjoys legitimacy and rebuilding basic services -- and establish a reasonable timetable for meeting these goals.

I could not agree more. Let's start with quelling the insurgency in Congress. You and your Democratic brethren could be doing a lot more to support what we're trying to accomplish without undermining the confidence of the public in the war effort, and you know it. Your destructive and irresponsible rhetoric during wartime is not only shameful, but it actively undermines both the morale of our troops and public trust in our government. There is a line between honest criticism and constant carping.

Calling for a timeline is completely irresponsible, and any simpleton can tell you why, though Greg Djerejian does a fairly good job of summing it up here. I disagree with him on the efficacy of Krepinevich's oil spotting paper as I noted earlier. At the time I was unable to read his piece in Foreign Affairs, as the link was inoperable for several days, so I was going on David Brooks' surface treatment of his 'idea'. I didn't know, for instance, that he advocated doing this while drawing down the total number of troops, or I'd have greeted the theory with even more derision than I did at the time.

I meant to come back and revisit the whole thing. There is, as we have seen to our cost, a vast difference between taking ground and holding it. What makes him think that areas 'pacified' with only 120,000 troops would necessarily stay pacified? Hasn't that been our biggest problem to date - that as soon as we move out of an area, the insurgents move back in? Is it not in the nature of a spreading 'oil spot' that, as it spreads, it must, of necessity, cover more surface area, not less?

But somehow, magically, we can cover more territory with fewer troops. Got it. My husband's comments were even more scathing when I ran it by him, which made me feel marginally less snarky. There's nothing wrong with the theory; in fact, we're actually doing this in some areas right now. It's just not the silver bullet he wants to pretend it is. If warfighting were that simple we wouldn't be in the jam we're in. Forgive me if I am somewhat skeptical when a new! theory springs fully-formed like Aphrodite from the brain of a Major from Vietnam - the hidden secret of life that (shhh!) no one else thought of (but just happens to be something we're already doing).

The world seems, these days, to be full of experts like Biden and Krepinevich. Unfortunately for us, no one is letting them run the show. I wonder why that is?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at September 18, 2005 07:05 AM

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Another awesome essay, Cassie! I bow to your brilliance. :)

Posted by: FbL at September 18, 2005 10:08 PM

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