Saturday, April 17, 2004
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The neocon mea culpas
James Joyner observes that multiple neo-conservatives have published op-eds today critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of Iraq. The kicker is David Brooks' New York Times column. Brooks still thinks the invasion was the right thing to do, but allows:
Matthew Yglesias doesn't accept Brooks' argument that invading Iraq was still the right thing to do:
Now, since back in the day I wrote a memo to liberal hawks urging them to support the war, I suppose Matt could blame me, except that I doubt my arguments tipped the scales either way.
Like Yglesias, I care about process issues. I've been saying for some time that the Bush administration has f@#&ed with the foreign policy process in serious ways. That said, I still side with Brooks over Yglesias -- provided the United States sees Iraq out to the end. If Bush -- or Bush's successor -- were to turn tail and withdraw from Baghdad without leaving a stable popular government in its wake, then I'm afraid Yglesias would be correct. From a humanitarian perspective, invading Iraq was the right thing to do. From a national security perspective, invading Iraq and then withdrawing in the face of insurgent attacks would be far worse than not invading in the first place.
And this point, I suspect, is what drives so many of Bush's mainstream opponents around the bend. It's one thing to have opposed the Iraq invasion -- that's a reasonable position to hold, and I said so at the time. However, responsible politicos recognize that it's irresponsible to advocate withdrawal after the invasion. The damage to the United States of pulling out in the midst of insugent violence would be severe. This is why Howard Dean, even when he was riding high in the polls, advocated sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.
During this campaign season, Bush's mainstream opponents are forced to support staying in a country that most of them did not want to invade in the first place. They didn't want to break the country -- but they're nonetheless stuck with the proof of purchase.
UPDATE: Niall Ferguson compares the Iraq of 2004 with the Iraq of 1920.posted by Dan on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM
Looks like Kerry is getting set up to me. No matter how bad a position Bush leaves him in, the mistake will be Kerry's if he withdraws.
Much of the center-right blog-world seems to be abandoning Bush, while making sure the party is relieved of responsibility for supporting Bush in the first place.posted by: bob mcmanus on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Precisely. What looks like the most probable outcome to me is that next January, President Kerry is confronted with an Iraq in such bad shape that there is no reasonable hope of creating a stable popular government (or, at least, an acceptably non-tyrannous, un-dangerous to its neighbors stable popular government). Defining the bad result in Iraq as Kerry's fault for withdrawing our troops at that point seems somewhere between dishonest and insane.
And the "Bush=Bad regardless what happens" bleat from Yglesias is suppsoed to shock us... how, again?
Sorry, Yglesias' credibility was already zero. This statement from him reminds me why I don't read his stuff.
I doubt anything COULD, Dan.
Like Yglesias, I care about process issues. I've been saying for some time that the Bush administration has f@#&ed with the foreign policy process in serious ways
Sorry, but I have a great deal of problem evisioning this as a bad thing. A quuick look at the foreign policy of the Clitnon years, (for that matter, a look at the Clinton years as a whole) to see the effects of NOT messing with policy. It is said that in hell, there wil be nothing but law and policy, and that each will be followed to the letter. Clinton and his minions got so wrapped up in policy issues the idea of actualy getting anything accomplished became secondary.
I remain firmly convinced that had Al Gore been in charge on 9/11 we'd still be getting attacked, and Gore and his cast of Warren Christopher look-alikes would still be arguing with the UN over the color of the chairs at the negiation sessions.
I'm not convinced that President Kerry is going to have to withdraw any troops. If BushCo is nuts enough to attack Najaf, we'll be left with the choice of either getting our troops out ASAP in the face of a widespread insurgency or bombing Iraq into the stone age.posted by: Enzyme on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Matt states that part of the reason that support of the war was utterly unjustified was the complete incompetence of this administration. You've been repeatedly stating that the policy process in this administration is messed up. Then, how could you possibly believe that the administration would execute the democratization process correctly?
There were hundreds of people warning about exaclty this, BEFORE, the war started. So this is the real quesiton then -- how can you believe that an administration with policy failure, afte rpolicy failure -- is possible of conducting a nation building process that they didn't plan for at all?posted by: Jor on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
The problem is that the people claiming that Bush was incompetent were exactly the same people who had for years proven their own incompetence. How exactly are we to take their word on foreign policy?
BTW enough of the "it is all going to blow up!" "quagmire!" BS. Enough people have cried wolf with regard to this issue that those warnings no longer mean much. Besides the arrogance those claims demonstrate is repulsive.posted by: John on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
The denials of those who claim to call themselves conservative boggle my mind. By their reasoning we shouldn't call a patient ill until they've been lowered six feet under, because otherwise we couldn't be sure.
Among the conservatives raising the alarm about the increasing potential for an explosion in Iraq have been McCain, Buchanan, Gringrich ("US policy in Iraq went off a cliff."), Lugar, Perle - yes Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Pat Buchanan, Kissinger, Novak - yes, Robert Novak who did it by channelling to public domain that the generals are about to mutiny about low troop levels, and now Mr. "we were still right to invade Iraq" Brooks.
Now if anyone still wants to call deep concern about the possible imminent meltdown of the Iraq situation left-wing alarmism then they ought to see a doctor for a prescription of Thorazine because they're clearly not operating in the same reality as sane people do.
Iraq is in serious trouble. It is about to get into more serious trouble. This is why people like Fareez Zakaria and Brooks are scrambling to as Matthew Yglesias put it so eloquently- cover their asses - by reminding everyone of anything they'd ever said that could remotely be construed as having voiced a reasonable doubt about Iraqi success.
We don't have to go over the edge. Given Dan's correct assessment of the completely dysfunctional foreign policy complex in Iraq however, it's good odds to take that it will become a genuine d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r complete with b-l-o-w-b-a-c-k.
This is why as a conservative, I agonizingly but firmly voted against GW in 2000. I realized then what a yipper snapper like Yglesias just realized recently. Execution is not just important, it's everything. If results and delivering are what matter, then execution is job number one. Even a really bad idea can be turned around if it's executed well. But the best idea in the world ain't worth spit without follow through.
In retrospect, it was the right bet to make. If there are those still out there who like Dan believe that Iraq is too important to fail, then they ought to start asking not who has the right ideas but who has the best execution.posted by: Oldman on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Good post, Oldman.
I would just add that last summer, the Pentagon itself commissioned a report on Iraq, saying we had until November of last year to turn things around, and that the failure/success of this mission would be decided by August of this year at the latest. None of the 7 things the report recommended have been followed, or at best, only partially followed.
It's all very well to say we can't leave. But if we're not promoting democracy there, and our soldiers can't prevent civil war and/or anarchy, what exactly is all this blood and treasure getting us?posted by: Carl on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
At first I supported invading Iraq. But my support was contingent on getting a broad coalition (including Arab nations) on board.
There was a path to make this possible. However, it was lost when we abandoned the weapons inspectors who were in Iraq.
And as we know now the entire logic for war was flawed (even if it was still justified). There were no weapons of mass destruction.
From that point my support of the war was lost. I could not beleive that America, the nation I had learned in school was the fairest and most just on the face of the earth, would invade another nation based on flimsy evidence, misleading statements, and outright lies.
Iraq might be screwed for generations or might be on its feet in a few months. I don't know what is going to happen there. But America's credibility in the world is deeply, deeply damaged. The extent of this damage is not as graphic as troops getting killed in Iraq, but in the long-run it will be more burdensome to our ability to be the leader of the free world.
This is why Bush's foreign policy being f**ked up is not just something to be ignored. And most importantly it is why we need to show that as a nation, as Americans, as voters, we have the good sense to punish the mistakes of our leaders and restore our internation credibility.
These are the real stakes of the election, and why Anybody But Bush is an entirely legitimate election strategy for voters simply concerned with America's place in the world.posted by: Rich on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
You might wish to look at yourself in the ethical moral mirror, and look at your posts the past few months.
As an interesting exercise for you, compare your behavior to Glenn Reynolds. Here we have two professors with behavior that is fairly execcrable.
Glenn is the obvious worse case, but how guilty are you of shilling for Bush and demonizing the anti-Iraq-war crowd?
Did you cross any lines? Do you have any regrets.
Please post your answers as a blog entry. This will be worth 30% of your final grade.posted by: anon on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I would like to discourage the continued practice of scoring this war on humanitarian points. That's really a no-brainer. For all the relevance, and support, it may have held, it is not the premise on which this war was sold to Americans.
The "ABB" position is not an automatic endorsement of Kerry. It exists on it's own merits.posted by: wishIwuz2 on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
The denials of those who claim to call themselves conservative boggle my mind. By their reasoning we shouldn't call a patient ill until they've been lowered six feet under, because otherwise we couldn't be sure.
Ironic; sounds like the argument the left used not to invade Iraq.
posted by: Bithead on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
As Oldman writes, execution matters. If I were pretty sure Kerry would do what our host realizes is essential -- fix what we broke in Iraq, and replace it with something better than a Saddam, or a Somoza or a Chalabi -- that is actaully Democratic, I'd have to vote for him. Why? Because, right now, Iraq is the center of the war on terror. How we resolve it will probably determine how it comes out. Even if Iraq was not the centerpiece of the WoT in saddam's day,it surely is now.
Kerry, in his statements, keeps hunting for the Iraqi out. (We'll give it to the UN; We'll give it to some sort of stable government.) Kerry is smart enough to know that a rapid pullout will be Somalia/Lebanon all over again to those who like to see us as weak. And as a result, that kind of pullout can give us the BLOWBACK Oldman tells us about. But Kerry is also smart enough to persuade himself that his extra-special super-competant way of pulling out would not bring those same kind of results, because of the nuance he'll bring to the operation. Bush, on the other hand, will stick. That may be because he has no better ideas -- but he will stick.
Looking back over the past year, it really does appear that the problem has been "not enough troops". And that's a real problem -- because I do not believe we American's have the will to send more troops to Iraq. To do that would require something like a draft (aka electability killer). I do not believe that ANY administration would have invaded Iraq if they realized the number of troops it would take to provide security in that country. But this administration managed to con itself on the way to conning the rest of us. And so...
I feel like to get the benefit out of Iraq, we have to finish it. Bush will -- and may take unpopular steps after he gets his second term to make sure it is finished. Kerry might, if he can't see his way out of it, and won't do anything that would offend his constituencies. Right now, I'll go with "will" over "maybe". But very unhappily. Maybe, after the war is over,we can get Bush involved with an intern...posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I feel like to get the benefit out of Iraq, we have to finish it.
Finish what? What concrete goals constitute "finishing Iraq"? Really, what's "finished"?
Your man Bush has stated he's going to hand power over to the Iraqis by June (he's already given the responsibility to the UN) - and he's a man of "will" so he's gonna do what he says - or not?)
I'm not trying to persuade you or anyone to vote for Kerry - vote for whoever you want, because it won't make a damned difference to the outcome.
Bush is going to pull out, Kerry is going to pull out, sooner or later. You already got shafted once, you're gonna get shafted again. You cheerleaders will be left yet again on the sidelines making yet again another grand set of rationalizations (or tearing out your hair in recrimination - "I Should Have Known").
Get this part straight: the powers that be do not share your idealistic fantasies. They do not. In so far as your fantasies converge with their reality, it is coincidence.posted by: BP on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
We have Bremer today saying the security forces won't be ready by June 30. (Yes, that is stating the obvious, but it kind of stomps on your thesis.)
And, you should note that the Spanish troops are coming out precisely because there WON'T be the handover to the UN that the Spanish Socialists think is appropriate. There will be a "handover" to a "sovreign" Iraqi goverment, but no troop withdrawals. Until there are some kind of Internationally supervised elections, any government in Iraq will be our creature and will not have much in the way of legitimacy. Matter of fact, it's good to see the UN involved with this, because that's the only way the pre-election government will have even the barest shred of credibility.
Oh,and if Bush did yank the troops on June 30, there would be no impediment for my voting for Kerry, because the damage already would have been done by November 7. In that case, Bush can join the Buchanan, Fillmore, Pierce and Nixon in the Pantheon of massively failed American presidents.
I never delude myself that governments or politicians are idealistic. But I do believe this President is fixated on the WoT to the exclusion of all else, and that he is incapable of admitting defeat. I dpend on his illusions, not my own.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Appalled Moderate? You're an idiot. Look up the definition of sunk costs.
Then consider in addition your reasoning. Chimpski lied to himself, and lied to us, and screwed it all up, but I am going to vote for him to finish the job right.
Jebus, d00d.posted by: anon on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
We have president Bush explicitly saying that the handover will take place come July 29. Last time I checked, Bush was the boss, not Bremer. That's stating the obvious, I know, but it kind of stomps on your thesis.
Of course, come July 30 Bush might go back on his word - but like you say, he's a man of iron will and determination, no? Fixated, was the word you used, I believe.
And the Spanish are withdrawing because the Spanish PM has been harping for six months on the fact that he'd pull out troops from Iraq if elected. Now he's elected. The troops are getting pulled. Quelle surprise.
Kerry, Bush - what's the difference: anyone with half a brain could see before the invasion that rebuilding the Middle East was going to be a multigenerational task. Unfortunately it wasn't sold as a herculean endeavor. And here you are, still thinking Iraq's problems will be fixed within the short confines of another presidential term.
Brother, if we stay in Iraq, it will be a hot potato not only for Bush and Kerry, but for the 2008, and possibly the 2012 elections as well. No way either the Dems or Repubs will let it hang on the radar that long. Your touching faith in Bush notwithstanding (or some liberal hawks' faith in Kerry, for that matter).
Hey, at least I'm not "fairly execcrable".posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Maybe Kurdistan will succeed at least. Arabs are pretty much a lost cause. If they cannot make anything of themselves with all the wealth of the Persian Gulf, when will they ever come through?
There are just no plans to simply pull the troops on June 29. Zip. Zero. Nada. Instead, we have more troops and rotations out cancelled. All we're gonna get on June 29 is a change in the form of government.
As for the longer-term, I agree with your assessment of the problem, but maybe not the political consequences. if we have a high level insurgency -- like what we got, then, eventually, we'll decide the whole mess is unwinnable and pull back. But if it settles back down to the low level instability of March, Iraq will just be background noise, and the press can get back to important stuff, like Michael Jackson's legal problems.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Dan's comments are based on the assumption that Neocons and Bush are engaging in honest discourse and that they place the national welfare on a higher priority than their personal interests/agendas. This assumption of Dan's I find hysterically funny given the massive amount of evidence to the contrary.
Long term problem. Decades at least.posted by: Ben on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I'll shoot this question to you.
I think it's pretty clear that Bush, at this point in time, has made mistakes in Iraq of such severity that a result of civil war and anarchy, followed by US pullout is a possibility.
Now then, it would seem that the result of something like that is Bush going down in history as a really lousy president, who made the US less safe.
I know you think the US government is a profoundly corrupt tool of our elites. So, do you believe that Bush -- who is already pretty rich -and as an ex-President will have an opportunity to get filthy rich -- will continue on his current course because the folks "pulling the strings" will demand it? What point does personal vanity (let alone duty to country) kick in and the man do what he thinks will get him that place in history that tends to obsess our presidents?posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I don't think the military side was handled badly at all. Rumsfeld is one of the better brains in the Bush administration and his war plan worked just fine. Wars are extremely messy and militaries are always duplicating effort here, forgetting something there. Where do snafu and fubar come from?
Iraq is not going to be fixed until the USA can come to grips with the fact that Saddam represented some of the true political and economic aims of the Iraqis, and kicking him out does not automatically make things better.
It doesn't matter if the administration is liberal or conservative on this one, though Kerry will likely not surround himself with maniacs. In general he has also demonstrated a true understanding of the purpose of government, even in his Vietnam era comments about democracy, communism and dictatorship.
At this point I find both Bush's and Kerry's prospects of sticking it out in Iraq to be suspect. If you look at the model of Afghanistan, it's a model of criminal neglect. This Administration simply won't do the right thing unless it's ridden herd on and force to do it by overwhelming pressure.
From the 911 commission, to Homeland Security Department, etc., etc. the Administration has time and time again demonstrated that it refuses to do the right thing until events on the ground give it no other meaningful option.
For the record, it seems that I was wrong about Fallujah and Najaf. Furthermore, I have rarely been so relieved and happy to have been so wrong.
However the evidence makes clear that I was wrong not because of any virtue on the part of the Administration. What happened is that the Iraqis presented a united front, and that overwhelming pressure of reality I mentioned stared the Admin in the face and they blinked rather than do the inconceivable.
However anyone tempted to jeer at me should be reminded that we are substantially in a worse position than we were three weeks ago.
(i) We're looking at a troop escalation
So my error was in calling on just the wrong side a skin of the teeth cliff-hanger that was averted in last ditch blinking- and it wasn't the Iraqis who blinked. We'll be paying for that blink in blood btw, it was just that the other extreme was even worse.
If the Admin put someone really interested in making things work, like me for instance ;-) we could still turn this around. If put in charge of Iraq, I would hire both someone like BP and someone like Appalled Moderate. Both views would be important going forward in rebuilding Iraq. You two made a nice dialectic there!
Both sides are right. I doubt the Admin's sincerity, but I also aknowledge Bush's personal obsession. If there were only a way to bridge the two, such as convince Bush that the only way to succeed in his obsession was to appoint someone sincere and empower them. Then it could work.posted by: Oldman on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Why might it be that "From a national security perspective, invading Iraq and then withdrawing in the face of insurgent attacks would be far worse than not invading in the first place"?
Will the Iraqi people ever have a free and democratic country? Maybe.
Remember when above when I said I was wrong? Apparently the bright lights up at the White House decided to appoint "Deathsquad" Negroponte to be the ambassador to Iraq. In light of that, I feel justified in suspending my admission of error on the grounds that an Admin clueless enough to appoint Negroponte is going to go back and screw up the break they got in Fallujah and Najaf.
What was that Dan was saying about routinely screwing up foreign policy? Yeah...posted by: Oldman on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I have already documented the motivations driving Bush to invade Iraq: billionaire supporters of Israel, Big Oil, Big Defense.
However, when I checked today to see which US leader had pushed his nose the farthest up Sharon's butt, I'm afraid I had to give the award to John Kerry. An excerpt from
Heh heh heh. Looks like panic mode for Kerry.
Nope, the people who count are the billionaires and semi-billionaires -- Haim Saban, Davidi Gilo, Michael Dell, S Daniel Abraham,etc. All those guys feel Al Qaeda's crosshairs on their back and they want protection. LOTS of protection.
When they look at Kerry , they see an indecisive schmuck who pulls his putz and does Hamlet soloquies when faced with the smallest challenge. Someone who can't tell you the time without 20 caveats and qualifiers.
By contrast, Bush,Cheney, and Rumsfeld have been stacking up Muslims like cordwood in the last three years.
Guess who's going to get the nod?posted by: Don Williams on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
A comparison of 2000 campaign promises to actual implemented policies should show you that election year statements are all about getting into the office. After that, you can essentially start with a clean slate. No different for Kerry than it was for Bush (not that I like it).posted by: wishIwuz2 on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
A comparison to national priorities before and after the breakpoint of 9/11 may give you a clue on why some campaign promises never came to fruition.posted by: Bithead on 04.17.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
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