I found it terribly difficult to work up any energy to crank a post out today. I listened to President Bush’s address last night and I think I may have nodded off a little in the course of it. Perhaps a little too much wine with dinner. I didn’t hear anything I didn’t already know and certainly wasn’t surprised at anything I heard. If you, like practically everybody else didn’t catch it, the complete text is here.
I came away with one question: why? Why did President Bush address the nation? Does he not realize that nearly everyone’s mind is already made up? Is he so insulated? An eternal optimist (the occupational hazard of the politician)? Why?
I am not now and never have been a neoconservative. I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq and take no joy in the prospect of a substantial U. S. military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future but hasn’t the likelihood of such a thing been obvious since 2003? I’m largely in agreement with the Washington Post editorial:
Mr. Bush’s plan offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal. It’s not necessary to believe the president’s promise that U.S. troops will “return on success” in order to accept the judgment of Mr. Crocker: “Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.”
Note that none of the first-tier presidential aspirants of either party has a plan that’s materially different from the one that’s being offered by President Bush. Combat troops will be rotated out; we’ll maintain a substantial military presence. I think there’s a very simple reason that no alternative plan is being offered: no one can think of any. I’ve been actively soliciting alternative plans that preserve U. S. interests for nearly a year now to very little response. The most common response is There is no hope. You’re screwed. Get thee to a nunnery! I don’t think that’s a plan that’s going to gain a lot of traction. Blog-friend Marc Schulman put it very succinctly in a recent post:
The weakness—the critical weakness—of the case argued by the early-exiters is that it fails to consider the possible—and, perhaps, the probable—consequences of a rapid departure. The creation of a power vacuum into which Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East states would be drawn and genocide are two of the most obvious and gravest of these possible consequences. I am unaware of a single instance of an advocate of rapid withdrawal addressing these critical questions. I may disagree with them, but I could respect the views of those (if I could find them) who, having considered and openly admitted the existence of these risks, have decided they are worth taking in return for saving American lives. To favor an early exit without considering the possible consequences is, in my view, irresponsible—especially for politicians.
If there is a viable alternative plan, what is it? What?
Note that we haven’t heard much lately about viral democracy as a solution to the long-term problem of radical Islamist terrorism. I always thought that was far-fetched but it’s not terribly surprising considering how dysfunctional the Iraqi government is and, in all likelihood, will be for the foreseeable future. Absent that we seem to be completely without a grand strategy in the War on Terror. Has anyone proposed an alternative? Without that we’ll be the captives of events, perpetually waiting for the next attack. If someone’s got such a plan, now would be a good time to trot it out. If not now, when?
Agree with everything you said.
As for a grand strategy? You’re right the viral democracy theory is dead. The election of Hamas in Palestine put the last nail in that coffin. (For the record, I never bought spontaneous democratization in Iraq; I thought it could only be rammed down unwilling throats by main force.)
I think we’re looking at a version of containment. But on a three-dimensional chessboard rather than the old two-dimensional cold war game. We’ll go on propping up marginally tolerable regimes. We’ll apply force in pinpricks and hammer blows where necessary. We’ll use intel and special forces resources to punish the more extreme, disrupt terror plots and training, and protect our “allies.” And we’ll hope that the Islamist fire burns itself out as the Communist fire eventually did.
I think it’s going to be a messy coupe of decades. But in the end the middle east will be the “B” plot, while our relationship with China will become the “A” plot.
If democracy is to go ‘viral’ in the ME or Islamic world, it’s got to mutate to fit the circumstances. Lots of difference between a high trust society where the governmental framework is arguably a secular faith, and a low trust tribalized society. To be sure we screwed the pooch by not realizing that a declaration of rights should come first, that we should have been diminishing the centralized Iraqi socialist state rather than reinforcing its power and legitimacy, and working from the bottom up rather than trying to impose a system from top down. At least the ‘surge’ seems to include changing to a local focus, but fixing other problems is one of those things that will have to come from Iraqis, Arabs, and Muslims, if at all. We’re too tone-deaf to do it, to shift metaphors.
So if democratization was to be the strategic frame for Iraq within the Islamist war, and it’s either failed or out of our hands, then what? One point worth noting is that we may be on the edge of a strategic win that we either didn’t anticipate or wouldn’t admit that we hoped for: AQ is getting its shit kicked by the very Muslim population that they want to recruit and rule. If there’s a way out of the conflict without a tragedy, it’s in the Muslim world developing an internal immune system against the takfiri. An object lesson in the real intent of AQ may be a lot more powerful than all our preaching. Caveat it’s still way early days to count a real win in this regards.
Alternative strategies? OK, try these two, with these qualifications: Consider them to be in the spirit of “When you have lemons, make lemonade” rather than endorsements. I’d also fall over in shock to hear either from the mouth of a D candidate.
1) Devolution as policy. The alternative to a Federal Iraq is likely a collapse into three mini-states, with chaos and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. Signing up for the consequences of Sykes-Picot has left us strategically exposed to AQI, JAM and everyone else ‘working the seams’ of the internal divisions of Iraq. Is there a recovery if the federalist Iraqis are overwhelmed by the splitters?
It’s likely undoable under the Bush administration, but how about a declaration that it is US policy that a nation whose government we overthrow due to its support or enabling of Islamist terrorism will not survive intact? We will break it up into cohesive religious/ethnic/tribal groupings and let each choose its own government. Any further hostile acts from the smaller unit will cause a further devolution, or collective punishment of the group when/if that line is crossed. This is a dagger straight at the hearts of Iran, Syria, Saudi, and Pakistan, which all span such lines. Also recognizes that we are very good at destroying opposing forces, but observably not so good at (take your pick) the patience or brutality required for occupation. Probably breaks all sorts of treaties, including the UN charter, but they’ve proven ineffectual in dealing with the situation anyway.
2) Let’s call this one ‘turn up the fan’ (and if you thought the last one was cynical). Is chaos in the ME necessarily a bad thing for us? Certainly it would be a further misery for the inhabitants, but we’re talking salvage mode here. The conclusion “If they’re fighting each other, at least they’re not fighting us” is so obviously emergent from the situation that I’ve heard it – quietly – from folks who I would have thought the last to have such bloody-minded realpolitik thoughts. And certainly Bush is directly accused of exactly that type of fanning of the flames by blogs just one link away from this one.
In some ways this looks like devolution, but without the forthright declaration of policy. Just a nod and a wink and the certainty that your house might catch on fire if you go against our interests. They are plenty of built in schisms and conflicts in the ME, Araby and Islam to be exploited if we turn them to advantage, rather than leaving that field to AQ. (I also cynically and honestly believe this is the probable outcome of the jumble of ‘realism’, SOF and policing that I hear from the Ds.)
All this is under an assumption that the Wilsonian approach taken by Bush and some of the neocons has run its course, at least from our side. Neither the left or the right, each for its own reasons, is going support another ‘nation building’ exercise for some time. My own belief is we’ve now used/squandered (take your pick) the grace time before the threat of nuclear or bioterror will drive the pace of things. If there’s a ‘next time’, it’s going to be hard, kinetic war.
We come to similar ends from very different beginnings. I posted today about the need for a new cabinet secretary: Secretary of Global Democracy. It’s obvious we need something more than just a Secretary of Defense if we’re going to ever develop an effective strategy for winning the war on terror.