Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WARNING: LONG POST ON THE WAR....Via Instapundit, Ed Cone says:

The issue for the Democrats should be that Bush has mismanaged Iraq, not that we shouldn't have invaded in the first place.

I'm game for that. Let's leave aside the issue of the invasion itself. Instead I'll tell my own personal story of how I switched from supporting the war to opposing it.

Let's start at the beginning. A few weeks before the war started, based on well known experience in Kosovo and other wars, the Army chief of staff warned that a successful occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand" troops. George Bush ignored that advice and accepted Donald Rumsfeld's view that the job could be done with only 150,000.

A couple of days later Pentagon #2 Paul Wolfowitz defended the lower troop estimate. There was, he said, no history of ethnic strife in Iraq and Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force. At the same time, the Pentagon was downplaying the cost of the war, suggesting that estimates of $100 billion were far too high.

This was all happening in late February 2003, and two things were becoming increasingly obvious even to war supporters. First, despite confident statements that Saddam Hussein had WMD and we knew exactly where it was, the UN inspectors couldn't find it. Even when we sent them to specific sites based on our own intelligence they couldn't find anything. Obviously something was fishy.

Second, the president and his advisors seemed delusional in suggesting that a Christian superpower could invade a Muslim country and be greeted as liberators. Ethnic and religious strife was inevitable, and the administration's estimates of 150,000 troops and $100 billion were simply ludicrous.

That's when I turned against the war. It seemed plain at that point that Bush wasn't serious about the war, serious about democratization, or serious about preparing the American public for what it would take to succeed in Iraq.

But the mismanagement didn't stop there. Jay Garner, the first proconsul of Iraq, tried to bring in a team of genuine Iraq experts. The experts were blackballed by the Pentagon and Garner was fired. He wasn't ideologically pure enough.

A month later, Garner's replacement, Paul Bremer, disbanded the Iraqi army. There was no need for them. In June the former Secretary of the Army said publicly that the administration was "unwilling to come to grips" with what it would take to succeed in Iraq. He was ignored.

In November, after the Ramadan carnage, the story on troop strength stayed the same. In fact, rather than admit to a problem, Bremer and the administration decided to speed up the training of homegrown Iraqi police in a slapdash way and accelerate the handover of authority to Iraqis. Getting out seemed more important than succeeding.

And today, even after weeks of bloody uprisings have given the lie to practically everything they've said, the June 30 handover date is still sacrosanct and Rumsfeld is still unwilling to increase troop strength by more than a few thousand. Compare that to General Barry McCaffrey:

There are no more U.S. troops to send to Iraq. That's why we need 80,000 or more troops added to the U.S. Army....The key would be to activate nine National Guard brigades in the next 18 months and convert them into active-duty soldiers.

....We need to invest two to 10 years in Iraq, and we'll have a good outcome. But if we think we're dumping this responsibility in the coming year, we're going to end up with a mess on our hands that will severely impair our international role for the coming 20 years.

80,000 more troops and two to ten years.

Question to the war supporters: Do you think George Bush will ever find the cojones to say this to the American public? Or will he "redefine success and announce a quicker exit strategy," as Morton Abramowitz suggests?

And so we get back to Instapundit. He seemingly agrees that postwar mismanagement is a fruitful topic for Democrats, but then sneers, "except that then they'd have to come up with a plan."

But shouldn't that question be turned around? We all know that George Bush talks a lot about doing whatever it takes to win in Iraq, but what's his plan? Compare his words to his deeds and you find that every single action he's taken belies any serious plan to rebuild a stable, democratic Iraq. Not only has he been consistently afraid to prepare the public for what it would take at least 80,000 more troops and two to ten years he publicly downplays it. Why the cowardice in asking support for something he claims to believe is our nation's #1 priority?

War supporters need to ask themselves why Bush's actions have invariably been those that are least likely to bring the results he claims to want. Is it because he's incompetent, or because he's been misleading us all along about his real goals? If the latter, what are his real goals?

I don't know. But rather than harping on Democrats for not having a silver bullet to fix George Bush's war, shouldn't they be asking George Bush what he's planning to do? I'm baffled that war supporters continue to think that Bush is serious about the same things they are just because he says he is. I wonder how long it will be before substantial numbers of them finally become disillusioned with their all-hat-no-cattle president?

Kevin Drum 3:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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