Friday, August 25, 2006

This Is How We Roll

The Watcher's Council top post this week was Right Wing Nuthouse's expression of frustration about the course of the U.S. effort in Iraq, his rebuke of the administration, and his reaffirmation of his support for the war and its goals.

I'll get to the full list of council winners soon, but this post was so striking and strong I wanted to give it special treatment. This has been a hot topic in these parts lately. And, to my mind, he hits this just about pitch-perfect. This is how you dissent from your own side without repudiating the values that made it your side in the first place. This is how you use the stinging power of rebuke in a bid to make your friends stronger, not your enemies. This is how you critique your allies without falling into the bilious language and the falacies of those who merely hate them.

The evidence that has been piling up the last three years against this Administration’s management of the war can no longer be dismissed as the rantings of dissatisfied bureaucrats or the partisan attacks of critics. Fiasco by Thomas Ricks, a respected military correspondent for the Washington Post, is an absolutely devastating account of the war and how the civilians (and some Generals) in the Pentagon not only made massive and continued mistakes in Iraq but also when confronted with the facts on the ground that refuted their rosy forecasts of progress, refused to change direction. This not only cost American lives but also helped the insurgency grow.

But perhaps the most damning record of stupidity and spin comes via the book
Cobra II by Michael R. Gordon and General (Ret.) Bernard E. Trainor. Much of the book is a heartbreaking recitation of erroneous assumptions, overly optimistic assessments, and finally, a risible refusal to admit mistakes and change course.

Lest one think that these books are the products of left wing loons or authors suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, the one common thread running through both volumes is the massive amount of research and unprecedented access to documents that went into writing them. To deny the reality of all that these authors have uncovered is too much of a stretch, even for a Bush partisan like myself. Facts are facts and if the Administration had confronted many of the problems –- insurgency, militias, disenchanted populace, the extent of foreign assistance to the insurgents, and sectarian factionalism to name a few –- it may be that a different outcome to the war could have been salvaged.

Here is another blogger with whom I agree (as far as I can tell) on the essential diagnosis of the problem America woke up to on 9/11, which of course had been there all along, a plague bred in the corpse of the Cold War.

We also agree largely on the vision of what ought to be done about it. Not just to make it go away ("kill all the Muslims" would make it go away), not just what would be the quickest and easiest fix, but what solution would work and at the same time be most humane and most in keeping with our national virtues and ideals. What we could be most proud of afterward. A solution that would show the world how different we are from our enemies.

The most recent statement of that I've read is in a Newsweek piece by Michael Gerson, their token pro-administration voice in the "Is America safer?" issue. Gerson claims this is genuinely George W. Bush's outlook:

[A]s long as the Middle East remains a bitter and backward mess, America will not be secure. Dictators in that region survive by finding scapegoats for their failures—feeding conspiracy theories about Americans and Jews—and use religious groups to destroy reformers and democrats. Oil money strengthens elites, buys rockets, funds research into weapons of mass destruction, builds radical schools across Africa and Asia and finds its way to terrorist organizations. Terrorist organizers exploit the humiliated and hopeless—channeling their search for meaning into acts of murder—and plot, as London 2006 proves, to surpass the mad ambitions of 9/11.

In the traditional diplomatic view, this chaos can be contained through the skillful management of "favorable" dictators. But what if the status quo in the Middle East that produced Muhammad Atta and his friends and successors cannot be contained, or boxed up, or bought off? What if the false and shallow stability of tyranny is actually producing people and movements that make the whole world less stable? And what if the problem is getting dramatically worse as the technology of weapons of mass destruction becomes more democratically distributed?

On this theory, President Bush set out a series of policy changes from the weeks after 9/11 to his second Inaugural in 2005. Threats would be confronted before they arrive, the sponsors of terror would be held equally accountable for terrorist murders and America would promote democracy as an alternative to Islamic fascism, the exploitation of religion to impose a violent political utopia. Every element of the Bush doctrine was directed toward a vision: a reformed Middle East that joins the world instead of resenting and assaulting it.

Whether it's Bush's or not, that was essentially my outlook on it at the start of the war. Not to turn Iraq into Indiana. But maybe into something closer to Turkey. A lot of Muslim people there still hate America and Jews. But generally they're too busy succeeding in their own lives and running their own destinies to really reach the boiling point with that hatred.

Yes, democracy doesn't always guarantee peace; the example of 1930s Germany was no secret. But I was willing to ride on the hope and give it a chance here. It seemed the best alternative, by which I mean the most likely to succeed WITHOUT involving us in something purely destructive and merciless. That wasn't "doing it on the cheap;" that was meant to be "doing it consistent with our civilized and humane values."

RWNH is not merely venting. I urge you to read the whole piece. He gets specific about what he thinks is wrong -- I have pretty much the same list, though I've not expressed it as succinctly as he does. But he never forgets he wants this to work, however long the odds now look. And he offers specific perscriptions for it.

For if there is a victory to be had in Iraq – and one can just barely make one out in the distance amidst the blood and ruin – it will take courage on the part of the President to confront these problems and do what is necessary in order to reverse course. And this will entail both risks and probably a larger casualty count among Americans fighting there.

Yes we need more troops –- a lot more at least temporarily. Order must be brought to Baghdad and its environs and to do that we would need, according to General Trainor, is perhaps as many as 50,000 more Americans to both police the area and ferret out insurgents and the death squads.

For that to happen, the President would have to admit he and Donald Rumsfeld have been wrong all along and that in order to achieve stability, the additional troops must be sent. It is of the utmost distress to me that this President has failed to take responsibility for past mistakes and admitted to error in prosecuting the war. The grudging admissions of mistakes just isn’t getting it done. If he is serious about winning in Iraq (and he has called Iraq the “frontline” in the war on terror”) then he is going to have to go before the American people and explain why additional troops are necessary.

I'm not one given to "dittos." But I'll give one here.