Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SUCCESS IN IRAQ....Brad Plumer emails to recommend his analysis at Mother Jones of why John Kerry is more likely to succeed in Iraq than George Bush. So I read it. And it's good. It's not a partisan stemwinder, but it's a solid look at a very difficult problem.

Plumer acknowledges up front that (a) Iraq is a mess and there aren't very many good options left at this point, and (b) Kerry is highly unlikely to have much success at "internationalizing" the occupation. I agree on both points. Starting from that realistic assessment, though, he argues that Kerry has several modest but important advantages over Bush that could make all the difference between success and failure in Iraq:

  • First and foremost, he's almost certain to be more competent than Bush, who is unwilling to hold people to account or fire them for incompetence. Kerry's advisors, people like Richard Holbrooke, are fundamentally more grounded than Bush's in facts rather than ideology.

  • Kerry has a better understanding than Bush of how to deal with the Iraq's various ethnic and political factions. "You can't impose [democracy] on people. You have to bring them to it. You have to invite them to it. You have to nurture the process." It's a lower key approach, but it's more likely to lead to genuine democracy than Bush's.

  • Although internationalizing the occupation itself is probably a nonstarter, Kerry can make considerable progress by internationalizing the reconstruction in ways that Bush is unwilling to consider. And if there's any chance at all of getting foreign troops into Iraq, it's going to take UN auspices to do it. Kerry is far more likely to get this than Bush.

  • The Bush administration has been obsessed with economic privatization to the exclusion of practical, short-term job creation strategies. Military commanders, by contrast, understand the necessity of simply creating jobs as quickly as possible. Kerry will listen to them.

  • Both Iran and the Kurdish north are problems that Bush has almost completely ignored. These are both painfully difficult situations to deal with, but Kerry's willingness to try diplomacy holds out at least a hope of making progress on these fronts.

The whole thing is worth a read. Given the hole we're in, Iraq is going to be a long, grueling slog no matter who's president. But Kerry is far more likely to eventually come out the other end successfully than Bush.

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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