Thursday, September 09, 2004

Iraq is not heading in the right direction 

Whether or not the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein was strategically correct -- and I emphatically believe that it was -- the basic trends in Iraq are not headed in the right direction. If you have a lot of bandwidth, consider downloading this report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I've only gotten through the executive summary, but it does seem to confirm my sense that key security and economic indicators are getting worse.

I've always believed that the reconstruction and reform of Iraq would take five years or more, and considered it worthwhile for many reasons. However, one does get the sense that the Bush Administration does not have a clear strategy for long-term success, or is not propounding its strategy for fear of calling attention to the troubles in Iraq in the run-up to the election. Conservative bloggers seem to agree in their heart of hearts -- Andrew Sullivan, a supporter of the war, calls us out:
I take absolutely no pleasure in facing up to what the war has become in Iraq. But the bottom line is: we're not winning. And the gap between the president's rhetoric -which could have been crafted a year ago - and the reality on the ground keeps growing. One thing I've noticed from the pro-Bush blogs and pundits. None of them mentions what's actually happening in Iraq now. They daren't. If Kerry is at all smart, he will.

The problem is that Kerry is letting Bush off the hook, so the Administration feels under no pressure to tell us what it plans to do about Iraq during the next four years. The New York Times editorial page, which is right less often than a broken clock, certainly gets it right this morning:
[v]oters need a much clearer sense of what Mr. Kerry would do differently. His advisers provide a to-do list that is not exactly full of dramatic new ideas. Much of the Democrats' counterpolicy for Iraq involves the conviction that as president, Mr. Kerry could still get the broad international support that Mr. Bush failed to rally before the invasion. They also argue that if the administration were willing to offer allies a broader share in reconstruction contracts, the allies would be more willing to help with things like providing financial aid, training security forces and guarding Iraq's borders.

None of that would address the need for more international combat troops. That train has left the station, and nations with the capacity to help will be unlikely to sign on for what looks like a very unpromising enterprise, no matter who is in the White House....

Mr. Kerry's advisers say it is critical to provide security for elections in the Sunni region - without saying that their candidate would go any farther than Mr. Bush in attempting to subdue rebellious towns like Falluja. The Democrats do not want to go on record as supporting military actions that would kill more Americans - particularly since the Bush administration was right in not pursuing a strategy that would lead to house-to-house battles in an area filled with civilians.

One thing Mr. Kerry should certainly be stressing is the way Iraq has drained the nation's attention away from imperative antiterrorism missions. It is outrageous to hear Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney boasting about American successes in Afghanistan at a time when the Taliban is gaining a new foothold in the country, the warlords are in the ascendant and supporters of international terrorism are playing important parts in the American-supported government in Kabul. Mr. Kerry should also be pressing the Bush administration to get back into the game when it comes to pushing the Israelis and Palestinians to restart the peace process - a move he is unfortunately reluctant to make, given his anxieties about the Jewish vote in states like Florida.

Depressingly, I agree with virtually everything in these passages.

The hideous truth is that we are treading water in Iraq, continuing to fight every day but generally losing ground to the rising challenges there. We need a new strategy and we need it now, but we're not going to get it until after the election. The question voters face is whether the Bush Administration, which has an experienced team in place, has a greater private capacity to learn from its mistakes than it has been willing to acknowledge or even demonstrate to the public. If you think not, you have to balance that against John Kerry's astonishing inability to articulate any conception of foreign policy beyond his risible claim that other countries will put their soldiers into a deteriorating Iraq if Bush is no longer in the White House and we speak to the French in French.

When Kerry finally gets his team in place and oriented long about next March or April, what will he do differently? Based on his public statements to date, virtually nothing. So how does our choice look now?

If I were a nonpartisan optimist, I would say that we will choose between (i) an experienced foreign policy team that will hit the ground running after the election, learn from its mistakes, and innovate an Iraq policy free of the need to curry favor with any constituency, and (ii) a new team free of the need to justify previous wrong choices that has already formulated a bold new policy for dealing with Iraq, which policy it would love to share with us but for the electoral risks.

If I were a nonpartisan pessimist, I would say that we will choose between (i) a failed foreign policy team that has not been held accountable for its failure, which team is trapped by its prior bad decisions and burdened by the great dislike of George W. Bush outside of the United States, and (ii) a new team that will not be in a position to do anything until next spring, which team will then waste valuable months begging for help from non-existent allies and otherwise struggle on in Iraq with no new plan and less credibility with the military.



By Blogger Fausta, at Thu Sep 09, 09:55:00 AM:

Belmont Club concludes that "It is not American boots on the ground that constitute the long-term critical resource, but Iraqi ones"  

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