Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FIXING THE WAR....Fareed Zakaria:

The Bush administration went into Iraq with a series of prejudices about Iraq, rogue states, nation-building, the Clinton administration, multilateralism and the U.N. It believed Iraq was going to vindicate these ideological positions. As events unfolded the administration proved stubbornly unwilling to look at facts on the ground, new evidence and the need for shifts in its basic approach. It was more important to prove that it was right than to get Iraq right.

(Italics mine.)

This pretty much defines the Bush administration on practically everything, doesn't it? Unfortunately, having bolloxed up practically every phase of the war except for the "major combat operations" part, what can we do now? Zakaria's suggestions aren't very convincing:

  • More troops. But Zakaria suggests that the right number is 500,000, and even with international support this is simply not realistic. Even in the best case I doubt we could put more than 250,000 boots on the ground in Iraq right now, and if the best we can do is half what we need, what are the odds of success?

  • Disarm the militias. Fine, but how?

  • More civilian authorities. The country watched a couple of weeks ago as four civilian contractors were shot, incinerated, and then hung from a bridge. If we can't do a better job of guaranteeing security, how can we possibly get more civilians willing to go to Iraq?

  • More UN involvement. I'm not sure this would do much good at this point, but it might. However, it would require a big climbdown for Bush.

  • Give in to Grand Ayatollah Sistani's demands for organizing the government. This is still feasible, I suppose, although as Zakaria notes, it would require turning over substantial authority to the UN.

  • "Bribe, cajole and co-opt" various Sunni leaders. This is also still feasible, and the broader idea of getting more money into Iraqi hands is a good one.

There are two problems with all this. First, too many of these items simply don't seem possible. Second, even if we could do them all, we're essentially conceding any possibility of democracy in Iraq. Rather, we would be endorsing a policy of doing whatever it takes to stabilize the country regardless of who's actually in charge. This isn't exactly an inspiring vision.

A few months ago I asked a war supporter (Armed Liberal?) a question: From his point of view, which is worse: not going to war at all, or going to war and screwing it up? I suspect we're about to get some spectacular confirmation that the latter is indeed worse. Thanks to the Bush administration's arrogance and unwillingness to make realistic plans on the ground, America's ability to credibly project power will probably be lower next year than it has been since the end of Vietnam and that's not due to ANSWER protests or speeches by Ted Kennedy. This is George Bush's national security legacy to the nation.

Thanks a lot.

Kevin Drum 5:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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