Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bush's Blather and The Optimistic Case for Iraq

The 24-hour news cycle is midway through trumpeting Mr. Bush's 38-page plan for 'A Strategy for Victory' in Iraq.

Take the time to read skim it. It is utter blather. Something more likely to have been drafted on Madison Avenue than at the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, or the NSC.

Billmon succinctly summarizes:
  • Use lots of bullet points
  • Failure is not an option
  • If it moves, bomb it
  • Death squads
  • Phased withdrawal
  • Use more bullet points.
Across the nation, newspaper editorial writers were not impressed, either.
  • The Washington Post:"...the plan he released yesterday offered nothing new substantively."
  • The New York Times: "The document, and Mr. Bush's speech, were almost entirely a rehash of the same tired argument that everything's going just fine. * * * On the critical question of the progress of the Iraqi military, the president was particularly optimistic, and misleading."
  • The Boston Globe: No more than "restatements of the neoconservative ambitions that pushed the administration to war in 2003. They were fantasy-based then, and time has not made them more attainable."
  • the Los Angeles Times The speech "lacked a coherent definition of the U.S. military's mission" and the report failed to offer a "clear path forward... ."
  • The St. Louis Post Dispatch: "Bush is making the same mistake in his strategy for 'victory in Iraq' that he made when he started the war."
  • The Des Moines Register: "We've heard it all before."
  • The Salt Lake City Tribune: "... amounts to whistling past the graveyard."
  • And even USA Today: "Bush's narrative seemed at times more plucked from a black-and-white fantasy than the more complex reality."
Unnoticed by most was the far more informative and thoughtful 87-page report, newly released by the U.S. War College this week. It's written by W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane and titled "Precedents, Variables, and Options In Planning a U.S. Military Disengagement Strategy from Iraq.

The report, a pdf file, is dated October 2005. It is based on information through August and it's definitely worth a thorough reading if you care at all (as you should) about this abominable war.

For those who can't summon the time to read the original, we found that Old Hickory accurately summarizes the main points. Here are a few excerpts from his much longer review:
It's a sign of how things are going in the Iraq War when a pair of distinguished military analysts who are defending Bush's stay the course" policy sound about as pessimistic as the harshest war critics. That's the case with this paper... .

They make an insistent case for "staying the course". Or, more accurately, a case against setting a fixed date for withdrawal. But their description of the requirements for success dramatically illustrate the near-impossibility of the course they recommend. They also give a good sketch of the internal political difficulties Iraq now faces... .

* * *
Some of the examples they cite do offer real lessons that can apply to modern attempts at nation-building: the occupation of the Phillipines and Cuba in the wake of the Spanish-American War; the post-Second World War occupations and reconstructions of Germany and Japan; South Vietnam; Bosnia; and, Kosovo.
Quoting from the Terrill and Crane report, Old Hickory goes on:
[T]hey cite an anything-but-encouraging experience --
There is peace in Bosnia and Kosovo because of strong military forces deployed there, but the ethnic tensions that spawned fratricidal warfare remain, and the pluralistic democracy the international community wishes to establish is still a dream. Kosovo experienced deadly ethnic rioting as recently as March 2004. After 5 years of international control, that province elected as prime minister a former Albanian guerrilla leader who is being investigated for war crimes against Serbs by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. A recent alarming report by the International Crisis Group on the lack of progress in achieving liberal democratic stability opens with “Time is running out in Kosovo. The status quo will not hold.” Like the military, the effectiveness of the Iraqi police has been subject to disaster when challenged substantially by a serious enemy.
As for U.S. public opinion, Old Hickory resumes:
One of the lessons of the Vietnam War that became prevalent in the officer corps was the view that public support for a war effort was vital. Unfortunately, the conventional lesson that was taken from the Vietnam War experience was that public opinion had to be more effectively manipulated by the military through censorship and public relations.

* * *
It's perfectly valid for military analysts to look at public opinion in a value-neutral way - up to a point. But when public opinion becomes seen as a variable to be managed by the military in the same way as food supplies or stocks of weapons, that is a problem. One result of this approach is that the conventional view of the officer corps manages to overlook the role that over-optimistic and often just plain dishonest statements about the Vietnam War played in undermining public confidence in the war effort.

And, consequently, much the same thing has happened in the Iraq War. And it is the responsibility of citizens to make judgments about what goes in in wars and how the Pentagon and the incumbent administration are handling it.

* * *
[Terrill and Crane]present this as a technical problem to be resolved. I call it "healthy democratic instincts."
Finally, Old Hickory also dares venture into a subject that Mr. Bush remains strangely silent about, even now: persistent reports from un-embedded U.S. reporters and the foreign press that the U.S. is building several permanent military bases across Iraq.
The authors emphasize that it is critical to any "exit strategy" that's also a "success strategy" that the US not insist on permanent bases in Iraq. But there have been strong indications that permanent bases are very much part of what the Bush administration wants in Iraq. If their optimistic scenario is dependent on Bush making a clear policy of foregoing permanent bases there, then the optimistic view becomes virtually identical to the pessimistic ones.
Again quoting from Terrill-Crane, Old Hickory offers the opinion that --
[T]heir description of the option of setting a fixed withdrawal timetable is accurate enough:
The timetable option can only serve in the gray area whereby the Iraqi government may have only a small chance to survive, but the U.S. leadership does not wish to announce publicly that we have basically given up on Iraq. The timetable option allows the United States to appear before the world community as having provided Iraq one last chance before allowing it to sink into anarchy.
Unfortunately, an end-game something very like that is the only real option the Bush administration has left us in the Iraq War.
To paraphrase a frequent refrain from Old Hickory, Ouch! And that's the optimistic case for Mr. Bush's Iraq policy!


Bark Bark, Woof Woof has a very nice catch, relevant to the same topic: "[A]n address that President Richard Nixon gave to the American people on November 3, 1969 about his administration's plan for fighting the war in Vietnam."

History never repeats itself; at best it sometimes rhymes -- Mark Twain.

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