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Wanted: A Strategy

What kind of sense does this make? After quoting Neil Ferguson's observation that to staff the Iraq War at levels similar to what the British used in the 1920 we would need 1,000,000 soldiers, Marshall Whittman observes:

Needless to say, we are completely incapable of matching these levels. The Administration failed to prepare for the occupation and then irresponsibly rejected requests for additional troops. With the military stretched to the limit and recruitment lagging, the Bushies and the Republican Congress have abdicated their responsibilities in addressing this situation as a crisis. Business as usual is the order of the day - the religious right and business interests come before the national security interests of the nation.

Public support for the war is falling - but what is worse is public apathy. A Paris Hilton ad for the Spicy BBQ Six-Dollar Burger gets more attention than the plight of our brave soldiers facing death, disability and danger in the hellish heat of Iraq.

While pulling out and conceding defeat is unfathomable - a slow defeat would be even more disastrous to the region and to the credibility of the United States. It is a good thing that Saddam's brutal reign is over. And it was a great achievement to hold a democratic election in a region that has only known tyranny. But it is unconscionable that our leadership class refuses to level with the American people about the status of this war and offer a strategy to prevail. If we continue on this current course, it is only a matter of time before support for this war collapses.

So what's his plan? The political logic of saying "pulling out . . . is unfathomable" is clear to me. It's centrist, hawkish, tough, etc. But where's the substance to the criticism? If you ask me, this is a big part of the Democrats' national security problem -- the adoption of rhetorical stances that are very clearly driven more by political calculation than by genuinely belief in the merits of the view.

May 26, 2005 | Permalink

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» Political Calculation from Political Animal
POLITICAL CALCULATION....Marshall Wittman says we have way too few troops in Iraq to win, but that pulling out would nonetheless be disastrous. Matt Yglesias isn't impressed:So what's his plan? The political logic of saying "pulling out . . . is... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 12:22:03 PM

» Political Calculation from Political Animal
POLITICAL CALCULATION....Marshall Wittman says we have way too few troops in Iraq to win, but that pulling out would nonetheless be disastrous. Matt Yglesias isn't impressed:So what's his plan? The political logic of saying "pulling out . . . is... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 12:23:47 PM

Comments

Matthew,
I was once as young as you, and worse yet, an engineer (and a midwestern American engineer at that): so I believed that all problems were solvable, and that if one encountered a tough one it just ment that you needed to find more energy and determination.

Well, I am quite a bit older, and no longer much of an engineer. And I now know that (1) all problems are not solvable (2) it is quite possible for you to create a situation that generates one or more unsolvable problems, and you must be careful to avoid this in life (3) if you are trapped in an unsolvable situation, you can eventually get out of it, but it is going to be a lot harder, bloodier, and more expensive than you want to pay (and of course will leave you with the unsolvable parts of the problem in the end) (4) but even to get that far, you _must_ first _acknowledge that you have a problem and what its parameters are.

When an initially controllable situation deterioriates into an unsolvable mess, 99.9% of the time it is because the parties involved refused to acknowledge the realities of the situation when the time came to do so.

So what the hell are the Democrats supposed to do? We cannot "solve the problem" because it is unsolvable (read Juan Cole from yesterday). We cannot even get anyone talking about the problem because if we try we are pasted as "unpatriotic" and "troop-hating". The Republicans are creating a mess that could engulf the entire globe, won't talk about it, and WE aren't serious?

Get serious.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 26, 2005 10:33:51 AM

I sense a flood of comment to the effect that the war is unwinnable and we ought to abandon Iraq posthaste.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 10:35:46 AM

Wow. Cranky observer beat me to it!

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 10:36:20 AM

Dear Matt: No end in sight. That's the reality of Iraq. Also a reality, increasing majorities of Americans who don't think it was worth it.
Why is "get the fuck out now" an "unrealistic" option? Why not present the public with the following two choices vis a vis Iraq: Tax increases and/or a draft, or GTFO and let the Middle East suffer the consequences? Isn't that a more realistic platform than the Republican option of no end in sight.
Poker players who won't throw in a losing hand because they've already bet a lot of money are not regarded as "tough-minded". They're losers.

Posted by: JMG | May 26, 2005 10:38:56 AM

some very true thoughts from cranky.

meanwhile, i like the bull moose, but sometimes he just gets caught up in rhetoric, and that's what this column appears to be.

For quite a while, the situation in iraq was balanced between SNAFU and FUBAR, but at this point, it's hard to see it as anything but FUBAR, and as Cranky says, the first solution to FUBAR is to not get into such a condition!

What to do now? support for the war is collapsing; ignominious retreat looks like a real possibility; even (as i've said on many previous occasions) the best possible outcome is a vast waste of blood and money (and the money is being borrowed, to boot!). I say we blame Newsweek until we can think of something better to do.

Posted by: howard | May 26, 2005 10:39:34 AM

So Al, what is YOUR plan? And exactly how many years / American lives will it take? Specifics please so we can establish and publish metrics. Note that self-referential metrics ("attacks up? we are winning. attacks down? we are winning") are generally frowned upon in the TQM methodology which is so beloved by Republicans.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 26, 2005 10:39:40 AM

I think al's plan is "stay the course, there's nothing going wrong."

Posted by: Glaivester | May 26, 2005 10:42:22 AM

Don't misunderestimate the utter cynicism of the Mayberry Machiavellis. There is one option -- and only one option -- that will "work." At an opportune moment, maybe when the new Iraqi government actually performs some function and there is a lull in the violence, they'll declare victory and get out. Mission Accomplished.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | May 26, 2005 10:42:38 AM

howard got it right. The real option is to not get into such a situation in the first place. And this COULD have been avoided. But that ship has long since sailed..

I do have a plan that would go a long way to stabalizing Iraq. But it mainly involves offering Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to the Iraqis so they can try them aside Hussein. THAT would be a worthy concession to apologize for killing so many people. Nothing short of that (and I don't expect it to happen), is going to lower the anger of these people.

What SHOULD have happened, is that the US should have NOT targeted any remotely civillian infrastructure. SHOULD have had immediate plans to rebuild anything destroyed, a clear and definiate plans for both elections and departure ASAP, and an agreement to abide by the results of the election.

NONE of those things happened. It's too late people. We lost the war on terrorism. Get used to it.

Posted by: Karmakin | May 26, 2005 10:47:47 AM

> SHOULD have had immediate plans to rebuild anything
> destroyed,

Both the State Department and the Army did have such plans, and a number of people I know who are deeply experienced and capable in heavy infrastructure problems were approached to consider joining the teams. Those projects were all terminated and none of those guys went.

Who WAS in charge of the infrastructure rebuild, Al, why DIDN'T they take the people who knew what they were doing, and where DID all that money go? Oil-for-turbines anyone?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 26, 2005 10:51:48 AM

Here is my strategy for the Dems: Get out there and talk about the shortfall in Army and Marince recruiting. Say that we have three choices - to turn around this crisis, institute a draft or get out of Iraq. Say that if we are going to make Bush's invasion of Iraq a success, we need more sacrifices out of the American people than putting yellow ribbons on their cars. Then demand that Bush and the Republicans do the same.

This would be addressing a significant issue and point out how awful the war has been for American security. Bush and the Republicans want to pretend that everything is great and don't want to discuss this issue. If Bush and the Republicans refuse to use their bully pulpit for recruiting, then the Dems can say that because the Reps aren't taking this war seriously, it's time to get out of Iraq. To me, the Dems can't talk about pulling out of Iraq until they can honestly say that they pursued every other reasonable option and the Republicans refused to do anything.

Posted by: HippoRider | May 26, 2005 10:53:36 AM

Are there any analyses out there that say flooding the country with American troops would make a difference at this point?

Posted by: Sven | May 26, 2005 10:57:16 AM

Er, Niall Ferguson. Though "Niall" is pronounced the same as "Neil", so maybe that's what threw you.

Posted by: Danny | May 26, 2005 10:57:27 AM

My plan is stay the course, things are going fairly well. Adjust to facts on the ground as needed.

The metric for success? Progress toward a free, democratic government. We have a good plan for that, and significant progress has been made already, given the 8 million or so free voters we had in January.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 10:57:49 AM

Well, the obvious plan to get us out of Iraq with our macho credentials intact is to invade Iran. How we get out of Iran, I have no idea.

Posted by: Calling All Toasters | May 26, 2005 10:59:06 AM

Also, my plan involves realizing that 2005 is not 1920. If we wanted the equivalent of 1920's 1,000,000 army, perhaps we should also require 1920's lack of helicopters, fighter jets, infrared technology, etc.

Really, Ferguson's point is asinine.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 11:00:07 AM

The Democrats should take the patriotic stance and stand up and say: The situation in Iraq as it stands now is not working. The current level of troops is obviously the wrong level--it is either too few to quell to violence or too many because we are seen as occupiers. We need to change course. Either withdraw immediately and let the Iraqis work out their own problems with massive financial aid from us or institute a draft, raise taxes, and increase the number of troops in Iraq to a level that can suppress the insurgency and get the Iraqi security forces trained. Otherwise as Tennessee Earnie Ford said we are simply going to be "another day older and deeper in debt".

But I think Bush will choose the third option and attack Iran instead.

Posted by: Freder Frederson | May 26, 2005 11:02:08 AM

> My plan is stay the course, things are going
> fairly well. Adjust to facts on the ground as needed.

Al,
No plan and no measurable metrics, as I expected.

Please answer three questions for me:

1) Can anyone in Iraq, be he a US soldier, an Iraqi citizen, an Iraqi Army soldier, or even an insurgent take an ordinary taxi from downtown Baghdad to the Baghdad Airport? How does this situation compare to 18 months ago?

2) Can any US soldier in Iraq leave his base on off-hours to eat at a resturant, drop off laundry at a cleaners, or visit an Iraqi friend? How does this situation compare to 18 months ago? How does it compare to Germany, Italy, Japan in 1946?

3) What is the situation in the Green Zone, and how does it compare to _11_ months ago? Hint: this is a trick question; I have several civilian friends who work in the Green Zone.

Why do I even bother? As I said, we as Citizens aren't even allowed to discuss these questions. I am sure Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin would be in full agreement with the "sit down and shut up" crowd of Als.

Cranky

PS Yes, I am aware that "Al" is a constructed persona of the Scaife Counter-Blogging Project. His argument today though is so off-the-wall I can't resist ;-)

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 26, 2005 11:04:27 AM

MY's point, though obvious, seems to have been overlooked in the comments. Mr. BM says "pulling out and conceding defeat is unfathomable .... But it is unconscionable that our leadership class refuses to ... offer a strategy to prevail," but then he doesn't offer a strategy to prevail. Whining is cheap and easy. But especially when you say it is "unconscionable" not to do something, then you ought to do it yourself.

Posted by: ostap | May 26, 2005 11:05:10 AM

I cast my vote with Freder and HippoRider. The Democrats should hold the administration's feet to the fire and confront it with the CHOICES it has to make and the SACRIFICES that will be required. It's their mess, make them do what it takes to clean it up or make it obvious that they won't do what it takes.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | May 26, 2005 11:06:52 AM

perhaps we should also require 1920's lack of helicopters, fighter jets, infrared technology, etc.

Only if the insurgents give up their C-4, soviet style military training, oil money from Saudi Sheiks, AK-47s, cell-phones, access to the internet, carbomb, RPGs, mortars, and plentiful supplies of modern munitions.

Posted by: Freder Frederson | May 26, 2005 11:07:28 AM

Cranky is right on. Bush has created a unsolvable problem.

I don't think Democrats should take the stance that Bush has made a mistake. I think, rhetorically, the Democrats should take the stance that Bush has pursued the goal of an Iraq too weak for the U.S. to leave -- that is, charge that Bush wants a permanent base in the Middle East, at the cost of Iraqi instability, and oppose that policy. Argue against a permanent U.S. presence.

I do not think Marshall was taking that position, however. I think he was saying that a crisis has arisen, and the U.S. will have to step up to plate, and commit the resources necessary to calm the place down enough to get out. I have no doubt that if we spend enough money, at least some of the problems of Iraq could be solved. But, it would require, now, at least 500,000 pairs of boots on the ground, and to put that many there would require a practical national emergency in the U.S. An enormous, albeit brief (< 1 year) effort to boost electricity, clean water and security prior to total withdrawal could get the U.S. out with some semblance of honor left intact.

Ain't gonna happen, though.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | May 26, 2005 11:08:55 AM

Juan Cole argues that the insurgency can't be defeated, but he doesn't think we should pull out because then the guerrilas would kill the politicians and folks like Sistani. Then, I suppose, we would get an all-out genocidal civil war and, presumably, intervention by outside Muslim countries, leading in the worst case to a general war in the Middle East. So his final view is apparently that we stay indefinitely, in the hope that in ten or fifteen years the Sunnis will realize they can't rule Iraq anymore and will compromise.

It seems to me that this argument ignores Wittman's point: political support for the war is already seriously eroded and will collapse long before then.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | May 26, 2005 11:12:28 AM

I don't think Democrats should take the stance that Bush has made a mistake.

Why not? We have nothing to lose anymore. Time to call a spade a spade. Kerry lost because he didn't stand up and say "my vote to authorize war was a mistake". We need to stand up and say. This war, after the initial invasion, was poorly planned and executed, and the president refuses to admit he has made a mistake and his intransigence is killing our soldiers.

Posted by: Freder Frederson | May 26, 2005 11:12:39 AM

"If you ask me, this is a big part of the Democrats' national security problem -- the adoption of rhetorical stances that are very clearly driven more by political calculation than by genuinely belief in the merits of the view."

Yes. But that was obvious when Democrats in Congress failed to loudly oppose the war BEFORE we invaded. It seems disingenuous to suggest that it's suddenly a problem because the insurgency's getting worse.

Plus, I don't think it's obvious (at least not to the average American) that we're "losing." I don't see any public outrage occuring over the casualty levels or the massive financial cost of this war.

The "strategy," then, will be for the party in power to continue doing *exactly what it's been doing*, until the cost of the war somehow becomes apparent enough for Joe and Jane Sixpack to change their thinking, at which point we will withdraw, just like in Vietnam.

Forgive me for seeimg patronizing, but I'm not sure why any of the foregoing seems unclear to Niall Ferguson or the Bull Moose (or Matt.)

Posted by: Jimbo | May 26, 2005 11:15:09 AM

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