I listened to the speech, heard John Kerry’s response, and I’ve just finished reading the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. The transcript of the President’s speech is here. The Mahablog has a pretty good transcript of Kerry’s comments. A quick check of the blogosphere suggests that there are basically two distinct responses emerging. California Yankee expresses one response pretty well:
Why a document like the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, assembling our strategy into a single unclassified document, has never been done before now escapes me. It was obviously something that should have been done long before now.
The other response is pretty well characterized by Oliver Willis’s reaction:
There’s really no concrete definition of victory here, still. But it seems that they’re saying we don’t leave until Iraq is a full western style democracy… with ponies. Of course, Iraq is currently a hotbed of violence with 150,000 U.S. troops holding down the fort, and shows no interest in western style democracy, preferring to enshrine religious Sharia law than anything resemble the U.S. constitution.
I don’t honestly see what more Mr. Bush could have done in his speech or how much more detail there could have been in the 35 page briefing paper. I do disagree with Oliver’s opinion that Iraqis have no interest in western style democracy. Ten minutes reading Iraqi bloggers would convince him that there are plenty of Iraqis who deeply wish for their country to become a liberal democracy. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of Iraqis who want a return to the dictatorship and plenty who want an Iranian-style theocracy.
And that returns to the point I’ve been making for a while now. Here are the assumptions on the political aspect of the strategy from the National Strategy:
The political track of our strategy is based on six core assumptions:
- First, like people in all parts of the world, from all cultures and religions, when given the opportunity, the Iraqi people prefer to live in freedom rather than under tyranny.
- Second, a critical mass of Iraqis in all areas of the country will not embrace the perverse vision offered by the terrorists. Most rejectionists can over time be persuaded to no longer seek the privileges of dictatorship — and in exchange will embrace the rewards of democratic stability.
- Third, an enduring democracy is not built through elections alone: critical components include transparent, effective institutions and a national constitutional compact.
- Fourth, federalism is not a precursor to the breakup of Iraq, but instead is a prerequisite for a united country and better governance. Federalism allows a strong central government to exercise the powers of a sovereign state, while enabling regional bodies to make decisions that protect the interests of local populations.
- Fifth, it is in the fundamental interests of all Iraqi communities — and of the region — that Iraq stays a united country. This shared objective creates space for compromise across ethnic and religious divides and for the steady growth of national institutions.
- Sixth, Iraq needs and can receive the support of the region and the international community to solidify its successes.
I think that there’s at least one more assumption: that the various ethnic and religious factions in Iraq will be willing to subordinate their own parochial interests to the national good. And I think that remains to be seen. Maybe that’s what’s meant by assumption #2. I’d certainly like to see some evidence that would support this assumption.
To my eye the current trend appears to be faction and staying the course, no matter how effective in achieving the goals laid out in the National Strategy document, does not appear to change the system of incentives that seem to be moving the country in that direction.
We only have a very small number of options available to us. We can bug out and deal with the repercussions of that decision. Those repercussions are laid out pretty well in the National Strategy and the proponents of that alternative have a moral imperative to bring forth their proposals for dealing with them. Or we can continue with a troop commitment of 150,000 or larger in Iraq while the objectives of the National Strategy are achieved. If ever. This alternative, too, will have repercussions on our military, our economy, and our politics. Proponents of this alternative have a similar obligation to propose their plans with dealing with the consequences of their decision.
Or we can modify our current approach to deal with the problem that’s already on the ground: faction. How do we do that? Beats me. But what we’re doing isn’t working.
We’re not going to be bailed out by the international community. That’s a fantasy. First, there is no international community. There are just a lot of different countries each with its own goals, objectives, and political realities. And, second, no country that isn’t already committed in Iraq has any stomach whatsoever for getting involved there now.
I’ve always felt that we would have a significant troop commitment in Iraq for a generation or more. That will have consequences, too.
UPDATE: I’ve tried but I can’t resist quoting Dafydd ab Hugh’s characterization of Hillary Clinton’s position on the war in Iraq:
Stay the course, follow the Bush war agenda, but sit in the back seat and bitch the whole time.
I think that goes for a good part of the Democratic Party as well, C’mon, folks. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.