Monday, December 5, 2005
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Political science enters the White House
Scott Shane had a New York Times front-pager on Sunday about the chief architect of the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" that was released earlier this week. Turns out it's a political scientist that I know:
There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."This is roiling elements of the mainstream media and liberal blogosphere. It's telling that the Indianapolis Star, running the same NYT story, has as its headline, "Iraq plan appears intended to win the war at home" (the NYT has the more neutral "Bush's Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst"). Laura Rozen, for example, scoffs that, "The strategy is mostly designed as PR for the American public." The indictment would seem to be that the Bush administration is more concerned with the domestic politics of the Iraq war than with actually winning on the ground in Baghdad.
As someone who's been more than a little displeased with the administration's handling of Iraq, let me state that this charge is absolutely true. The implication that this is somehow misguided is a bunch of horses**t.
Yes, this week's events were aimed primarily at a domestic audience. But that's because, as Shane points out in the Times piece, the military already knows what its mission is in Iraq -- doing everything possible to supply security in the short run and training the Iraqis to provide security in the long run (with logistical and air support from the U.S.). For all the analogies to Vietnam that are floating around, the administration's actual plan is almost a Vietnam in reverse -- to move from 1968 (having U.S. forces doing the bulk of the fighting) to 1961 (having U.S. forces providing a training, advisory, and logistical role). As Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, this goal has actually started to seep into the military's strategic culture. One could even argue that this plan has achieved quite a bit.
Now it's true that there are other plans out there for consideration. It's also true, as James Fallows points out in the December Atlantic, that the administration didn't really have an actual plan until the summer of 2004, and the administration deserves all the hell it can catch for that Mongolian cluster-f**k. But the plan it has now has been in place for some time. John Dickerson points out in Slate that this fact is bedeviling certain Democratic critics:
There are reasonable grounds for criticizing the Bush/Casey strategy for dealing with the insurgency as flawed. It may be too little too late, or it may be based on rosy assumptions. But Kerry doesn't challenge it on any substantive basis. He can't, because to do so would acknowledge that Bush is offering a solution to the problem of U.S. troops inspiring insurgents.Which brings us to the purpose of this week's events.
The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket (though do read Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard for a more.... creative explanation).
The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory. And my suspicion is that they're right -- so long as that definition contains criteria that can be verifiable by non-governmental sources.
So, yes, in part what happened last week was an exercise in public relations. But it was also a completely proper use of PR.posted by Dan on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM
note what Kevin Drum has to say on this point; or rather, note the interesting links he includes, that you might want to peruse and highlight yourself...
lcposted by: lamont cranston on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
I know its preaching to the choir, but I agree. It is obvious that longterm war strategy must take account the full spectrum of human affairs, incorporating cultural anthropologist to economic advisors to PR folks.
And while Americans accept the idea that we need to win the "hearts and mind" of those abroad, when it comes to protecting the rear end of the war threatre (the support at home) any effort will seem Orwellian to a cynical public. And the muchado about nothing regarding DoD paid propoganda in Iraq also shows that the idea of "winning hearts and minds" sound great as a concept, but Americans (or at least the media) is squirmish when they actually see it in action.
This kind of war is all about 50% PR - and we are in the losing side.posted by: StrategyUnit on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
Not sure I agree.
If its true that military leaders wanted to add troops last year (a la McCain, Shinseki, others), and were denied by Bush because of domestic political considerations- that is misguided.posted by: RL on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
check out Kevin Drum's post on this, and the links it contains, which you'll find of interest...
lcposted by: lamont cranston on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
This was all about PR, I agree. However, I must ask why the administration is so in love with the Feaver/Gelpi hypothesis? So basically, if most people think a war is in our national interest and we are doing well there will be less pressure to withdraw them? Wow, groundbreaking, I am not sure how the White House got along before this. This has always been the case, and in recent times the notion that the public wouldn't tolerate high casualties emerged in cases where the locations were not easily framed as 'vital interests'--e.g. Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and now Iraq, not to mention the original Vietnam. The US public has tolerated heavy casualties when they felt that our vital interests where at stake--that has always been the trick, framing a conflict so the public buys in to this fact. All due respect, it seems like a 'no-duh' hypothesis to me...posted by: Bill Petti on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
I haven't read the Feaver-Gelpi book, but an interesting tidbit from it was cited in John Mueller's recent Foreign Affairs article:
"For example, the political scientists Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi have calculated, rather remarkably, that Americans would on average be entirely willing to see 6,861 soldiers die in order to bring democracy to Congo."posted by: brian j phillips on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
When "Americans" accept 6000+ US losses to bring democracy to the Congo is that before or after: a) they see pictures and bios of half a dozen casualties plastered all over their papers every morning b) they get beaten over the head with the "Congoan democracy is a lie brought to you by Pentagon hacks" meme and c) someone actually shows them Congo on a map and they realize it does not border on Ohio like they originally thought???
I'm not taking issue with anything you've said, and I basically agree with the guys who say this is a "yeah, duh" kind of argument, at least as gleaned through the multiple lenses of Dan's blogging of an article of a paper...
The problem in reality is much worse than Feaver or the White House seem to acknowledge. To wit: no losses are acceptable anymore for any cause, at least according to a fairly wide range of the media and, through its stranglehold on the thoughtboxes of the American public, the US itself. There was a window of 1-2 years post 9/11 when the cause seemed self-evident. Now, four years later, a single bomb in Baghdad is enough to "prove" the uselessness of US military intervention.
The upshot of this is, "long-term" thinking now means 18 months after a major incident. If a project cannot be completed in that time, it will not be allowed to be completed, and it may be wiser not to even attempt it, lest you be put in a possible of pulling out long before success can be attained.
But, as a Duke alum, I say bravo guys. You may not be as cute as JJ Redick, but it's nice to see the school recognized for something outside Cameron's lofty purview.posted by: Kelli on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
> To wit: no losses are acceptable anymore
A couple weeks ago I was sitting in a movie theatre in an upper-upper-class (or low-rich-class) neighborhood in the solid Christian, Republican Midwest. A neighborhood which voted 94% for W Bush in 2004. The people around me were mostly my age, meaning they had high school boys approaching age 18. The talk all around me? How to keep Army recruiters away from their childen, and more generally how to keep their children out of the Army.
I just find it strange that the political class in this nation which is most fervently in favor of "reshaping the Middle East" and aggressive war in general just seems to have other priorities when it comes time to convince its children to enlist. Dying as a PFC in Iraq is fine for poor ghetto children but not the scions of the upper class. And yes, I find this a "searingly pertinant" question.
As for the SCLM, do you mean Fox, Limbaugh, and Pinch's NYT (the WMD booster of all boosters)? Please.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
The Feaver-Gelpi hypothesis on public opinion about the war is the subject of serious debate among political scientists. John Mueller, of Ohio State University, said he did not believe that the president's speech or the victory plan - which he described as "very Feaverish, or Feaveresque" - could produce more than a fleeting improvement in public support for the war, because it was likely to erode further as casualties accumulated.
"As the costs go up, support goes down," he said, citing patterns from the Korean and Vietnam wars.
I agree with the theme of Kevin Drum and various commenters here - just what kind of debate is this?
On the one hand. the point made by Mueller seems like a simple re-statement of the law of supply and demand from economics - if all else, including the perceived benefits of continuing a war, are held constant, then support for the war (demand) will fall as casualties (the price) rise.
And Feaver's point is hardly shocking - if you can change the public's "demand" by persuading them that victory is achievable and desirable, the equilibrium "price", in this case a tolerance of casualties, will rise.
So - is the Times doing a terrible job of summarizing this? And what is the real debate?posted by: Tom Maguire on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
"I just find it strange that the political class in this nation which is most fervently in favor of "reshaping the Middle East' and aggressive war in general just seems to have other priorities when it comes time to convince its children to enlist."
It shouldn't come too shocking to you. Everyone loves spending someone else's resources--in this case, other people's children. If you look at the administration, who has any military service--Heaven forbid combat--record that really counts? Being in some state national guard doesn't carry much weight with me when I compare it with Sen. McCain's visit in a Vietnam POW camp.
And to be fair, President Clinton's lack of a military past bothered me too when he would launch attacks or participate in foreign excursions too.posted by: Yagij on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
If someone defended President Bush against the criticism that he has never vetoed a spending bill by insisting that it would be wrong to veto every spending bill, I wouldn't think much of that defense. If someone responded to criticism of the thousands of Congressional spending earmarks by denouncing the idea that Congress should never earmark money to be spent for any purpose, I'd say the response rather missed the point.
So what am I supposed to say about Dan's contention than a White House that has never done anything but talk about the Iraq war in language aimed directly at its domestic audience is only doing the smart thing by publishing a "strategy" full of language aimed directly at its domestic audience?
Since Dan knows Dr. Feaver, perhaps he'd care to ask him if the public's doubts about whether we are headed for victory in Iraq might have anything to do with growing doubts about its President. Does he know what he is doing? Is he not just leaving the war to subordinates while he spends his time giving campaign speeches, complete with visual effects and cheer lines, to safe audiences? Is this "strategy" a real strategy, or is it just more spin?
My own view is that the "strategy for victory" is more an agenda than a strategy: a list of desirable things that we will try to accomplish in Iraq within a limited timeframe -- a timeframe that military leaders know is a lot shorter than the President has chosen to acknowledge. If Dan is right about anything here, it is that this "agenda for victory" is mostly a product of the military on the ground in Iraq; no goal listed in the document depends on the President for its achievement.
No doubt this is a very good thing. But in terms of maintaining public support for the war effort, having a weak, disengaged President go out and proclaim that a war still being fought nearly two and one-half years after he declared it over is going according to his plan is not going to cut it. In the long run PR only works if it bears some relation to events. A PR offensive that falls flat on its face, as this one will, is not "a completely proper use of PR." Dan's acquaintance Dr. Feaver might have done better to stay at Duke.posted by: Zathras on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
"So what am I supposed to say about Dan's contention than a White House that has never done anything but talk about the Iraq war in language aimed directly at its domestic audience is only doing the smart thing by publishing a "strategy" full of language aimed directly at its domestic audience"
The problem is that theyve never laid out in detail what theyre trying to do. It was stay, the course, trust us, central front, yadda, yadda. Now theyve laid out for the public the things you used to have to go winds of change or fourth rail to find out - the details (relatively speaking) of train and equip, of clear and hold,etc. Now its true they didnt say exactly how many Iraqi battalions they think will be up to level 2 in the next 3 months, which provinces they will be deployed to, etc. For fairly obvious reasons, given its a public document.posted by: liberalhawk on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
Dan's contention that there is not something disturbing about this is a load of horsesh*t. It's all about politics and not strategy. The administration's domestic initiative is designed to counter the growing legitimacy of some Democrats' calls for withdrawal. They aren't willing or able to defend their policy so they are launching a PR campaign. The next phase is to call anyone proposing withdrawal a quitter. Quitting a losing game makes sense so Bush has to say we're winning.posted by: elliottg on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
IFOFD I support the invasion of Iraq for strategic reasons as part of the GWOT. I know they have F@#$%^& it up form the beginning. I am close to believing it is deliberate for the purpose of creating a permanent Republican Majority at all levels of government because I am so disgusted w/ how the aftermath of the invasion has been handled.
This is the problem I have w/ the PR campaign. One, it does not go far enough in telling what the goals are and explaining them. Two nor does it begin a conversation about any other possible outcomes. Three, it makes no attempt to hold anyone responsible for the incompetence leading to this campaign(saying we made mistakes is not enough). As a result despite the need for a good one if it doesn't correct these errors it is useless for turning public opinion.
Let me set the stage for why I make this argument.
The reason is the American people bought into the invasion because of the Threat of Jihadist obtaining nuclear weapons to use against us at home or abroad. We were assured that we had Iraqi allies whom were capable and had the support of the Iraqi people to reinstate a functioning government(arguments about republican democracy or quasi-authoritarian state irrelevant to most people). This meant that von Clausewitz's dictum "War is a continuation of politics by other means" would be put into effect(we would invade) and then be reversed, i.e. politics would resume.
The rebuilding of democratic institutions despite all the purple fingers does not register because by the administrations own definition even after the Dec 15th elections the new Iraqi government can not protect itself or its population except with coalition(which is fading fast) forces. This support may or may not delegitimize that government. Hence we are involved in a 4G(I do not know how much of the public understands this concept but I do know this administration has never attempted to explain it) war where we do not even know with whom to negotiate with to end it.
So what are the goals: To keep the Jihadists from winning so they do not attack us here. This goal is hollow. If we leave I would see three rump states being formed. The Kurdish one threatens Turkey(which they might be able to buy off with cheap oil and our(US) support for Turkey joining the EU post haste) but would secure its security by an immense crackdown on the ethnic Arab(Shia and Sunni)populations bordering on what happen with the partion of Imperial India. Thus ending the Jihadist threat there.
The Shia areas would likely crackdown on the Jihadists by reinstating the draconian controls a la Saddam. Gettting the arms to won't be a problem given Iranian interest. There are legitimate concerns the Iranians will use the Jihadists for their own ends and that scenario should be discussed.
The rump Sunni state is the only place the Jihadist could last. This assumes the Bathists do not return to power or if they do(which is where my money is) would only use them the way Saddam did(the old the enemy of my enemy is my friend routine). This state would lack the income of oil but could surely trade water for oil and peace with the Shia and Kurds. They could negotiate for a stipend form the Saudi's.
If our goal is to keep Iraq one state and we must arm and train a national police and military to support the newly elected government will we support and honor a request by this government if it asks us to leave immediately(a real possiblity if the Shia parties vote for it in the new assembly where they will have the numbers) knowing the state could splinter like Yugoslavia in the 90's. I do not know what the adminstration would do but you can bet the American public would be clamoring that we honor that request immediately(we could try a Diem on this new Iraqi government but that would surely inflame the situtation).
Lastly because the administration has not held anyone accountable(shipping Wolfiwitz off to a NGO with a medal is not acountablity; if you f234 up something this big how can we assume you can handle something smaller and just as important to the standing of America in the world) nor said what the mistakes are. Nor have we heard how we are going to correct them.posted by: Robert M on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
Steve Gilliard preemptively invades Robert M's 10:59 post and routs it.
Cranky Observerposted by: Cranky Observer on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
I don't think Feaver came up with anything new. As Eric Larson of RAND pointed out several years ago:
"The simplest explanation consistent with the data is that support for U.S. military operations and the willingness to tolerate casualties are based upon a sensible weighing of benefits and
See Larson's study, Casualties and Consensus: The Historical Role of Casualties in Domestic Support for U.S. Military Operations, at http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR726/
Richard Betts of Columbia made a similar argument in Parameters.posted by: Bruce on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
I concur with Dan's displeasure about the handling of the war and also with this paragraph from Robert M ...
"IFOFD I support the invasion of Iraq for strategic reasons as part of the GWOT. I know they have F@#$%^& it up form the beginning. I am close to believing it is deliberate for the purpose of creating a permanent Republican Majority at all levels of government because I am so disgusted w/ how the aftermath of the invasion has been handled."
I'm not sure who the administration was taking its advice from in the pre-invasion build-up phase, but it was dreadfully flawed. The speed of the conventional victory left the Americans hanging in the middle of a void, with no adequate back-up plan to deal with the eventualities that followed. To call this "learn-as-you-go" is being kind.
Dear God, did the planners not take a look over their shoulder at Northern Ireland and draw a few basic conclusions. Ulster is tiny compared to Iraq, its first language is english and the culture is familiar ... yet depite draconian military clamp downs the Brits could never stamp out the Provos.
Iraq is like a continent compared to tiny N.I. The insurgents morph and shift in a hostile environment, and strike from the shadows at will. How do you win against that? Answer: you don't.
Bush's "victory" talk is pure politics. If he really believes Iraq is winnable on the terms he appears to be suggesting, then I think there is a strong argument to be made that he has perhaps reverted to sniffing some of the white stuff.posted by: Aidan Maconachy on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
Bush was way wrong to declare "Mission Accomplished", just because Saddam's statue fell -- Saddam's forces had not surrendered, nor stopped fighting.
But Bush's actions were totally in line with Liberation; and virtually all critiques assume that he should have "known" to plan for and execute an Occupation.
He didn't -- and it's not clear he should have. Where has Occupation been so successful in creating a functioning democracy, since the Korean War?
Certainly "more troops" means more abuse and mistakes from under-trained soldiers, more targets and thus casualties -- and it seems unlikely to have increased the security.
The only thing "new" about Bush's victory goal is the start, maybe, at a more active PR campaign. With the way the Left lies, and avoids responsibility for supporting genocide instead of war (in Rwanda, in SE Asia), Bush's biggest mistakes so far seem to have been PR mistakes.
NOT on the ground.
Getting to an Iraq-wide election, run under an Iraq-approved Constitution, written by elected Iraqis -- this is a huge "victory for democracy". Only incessent, but unspoken "Unreal Perfection" comparisons, leads elites to say Bush's plan (let the Iraqis do it) is "incompetent".
How few Americans would have died with "competence"? Any unwilling to state a number, or a range of numbers, is being intellectually dishonest to claim incompetence by Bush.
Even Dan here, unless he's defined competence somewhere that I've missed.posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
Tom Grey said - "Only incessent, but unspoken "Unreal Perfection" comparisons, leads elites to say Bush's plan (let the Iraqis do it) is "incompetent" ".
Bush's "plan"? If you call a pattern of reaction to events that were spinning out of control faster than than the trajectory of a comet on crack - "a plan" - then Websters has some editing to do.
The developments over the past years are not what Bush either envisaged or intended. Remember the expectation voiced by the administration of flowers tossed from balconies? Now it's less about Bush's "plan", and more about Bush's "spin".posted by: Aidan Maconachy on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
You might want to see the Mystery Pollster's comments on this topic at:posted by: ted on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
"Vietnam in Reverse"
Seems as though Dr. Drezner has never heard of 'Vietnamization' -- Richard M. Nixon's plan for victory (accompanied, of course, by 'robust' bombing). I have no doubt Bush's plan for 'victory' will be just as successful.
And Feverish/Drezner make another assumption -- that the American people are stupid enough to believe that saying you have a plan for victory means you have a plan that will actually bring victory (however that is defined). Americans were conned while in a state of semi-shock lingering from 9/11. That's a long time ago, a 2100 American kids ago.
BTW, as someone who spent a good deal of my life in the 'intelligence community', I find it horrific that a glorified pollster (and this thesis is not new,though the application to Iraq may well be) gets put on the NSC. White house staff, great. NSC, no. This is a perfect indication of how we got in this mess in the first place.
A real intel professional, ex NSA head William Odam, has called it the worst strategic mistake the US has ever made. Maybe concentrating the Pac Fleet at Pearl Harbor was worse, but not by much.posted by: spy.vs.spy on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
"Being in some state national guard doesn't carry much weight with me when I compare it with Sen. McCain's visit in a Vietnam POW camp."
That's cute, cept McCain supports the war.posted by: Cutler on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
posted by: enlarge patch penis on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
Tom: "But Bush's actions were totally in line with Liberation; and virtually all critiques assume that he should have "known" to plan for and execute an Occupation."
Which is why, in WWII, the US started training and planning for a military government of Germany in 1943.
This was also was realized by George HW Bush, Cheney and Powell in 1991.
And Powell again in 2002-3. And Shinseki in 2002-3. And by the RAND corp, which estimated from 260K troops up to 500K.
And, frankly, by everybody who knew what they were talking about, and who wasn't shilling for the GOP.posted by: Barry on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
When there is no alternative but to look back at the entries made here, I wonder why I keep trying.posted by: penis pills on 12.05.05 at 11:51 PM [permalink]
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