Monday, April 12, 2004

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Fareed Zakaria writes that we have one last chance to get Iraq right. Too bad he failed to mention this to anyone before when he was encouraging us to rush head long into war.

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It is conventional wisdom that the United States should stay engaged with Iraq for years. Of course it should, but for this to work Iraqis must welcome the help. In the face of escalating anti-Americanism, U.S. involvement in Iraq will be unsustainable. For one thing, the American people are not likely to want to keep spending blood and treasure in Iraq. It will be the end of Washington's grand plans for a new Iraq, and the United States will face the dilemma that Britain did in 1920: how to get out while still saving face, maintaining stability and preserving its interests.

The United States does not face this dilemma yet. The trends that I outlined are just beginning and are not irreversible—yet. Washington has a final window of opportunity to end the myriad errors that have marked its occupation and adopt a new strategy.

The tragedy is that so much of this was avoidable.

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Yes it was very avoidable, something that Thomas Friedman is just coming to grips with - he of the liberate Iraq and democratic dominoes transforming the middle-east in a Wilsonian vision hijacked to become the sheep's clothing of the callous and incompetent hegemonic wolf of the neocons. This Thomas Friedman writes in his NYT column:

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The U.S. operation in Iraq is hanging by a thread. If it has any hope of surviving this Hobbesian moment, we need three conversations to happen fast: George Bush needs to talk to his father, the Arab leaders need to talk to their sons — and daughters — and we need to talk to the Iraqi Governing Council.

President Bush, please call home. You need some of your father's wisdom right now. The old man, Bush 41, may not have had the vision thing, but he did have the prudence thing. He understood that he could not expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait without a real coalition that included Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other key Arab states, not to mention all the NATO allies and the U.N. America would not have had the legitimacy to operate in that theater for the length of time required without Arab and European cover.

What was true for expelling Saddam from Kuwait was triply true for expelling Saddam from Iraq and is quadruply true for expelling the die-hard Baathists from Falluja and the Shiite radicals from Najaf. The deeper we try to penetrate Iraqi society, especially with tanks and troops, the more legitimacy we need.

When things were going all right in Baghdad with the political process, America could have its way by buying legitimacy with cash or imposing it with muscle. But when you are talking about killing rebellious Iraqi young men and clerics, you can't buy the legitimacy for that and you can't compel it. Iraqi moderates are just too frightened to stand up and defend that on their own. Indeed, they will run away from the U.S. Only a real coalition of the U.N., Arab and Muslim states and Europe — the Bush 41 coalition — might bolster them. It may be too late for that now, but the Bush folks had better try. We have a staggering legitimacy deficit for the task ahead. I am glad El Salvador is with us, but when Iraqis get satellite dishes, they don't tune in TV El Salvador. They tune in TV Al Jazeera.

If it is America alone against the Iraqi street, we lose. If it is the world against the Iraqi street, we have a chance.

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Yes, wake up and smell the coffee Mr. Friedman. While you were spending your integrity, dignity, and credibility down to the last dime defending the democratic prospects of the Iraqi adventure you systematically overlooked the systematic failures, inability to plan, and endemic narrow-mindedness that have both wounded our own men by unconscienceable shortages of basic necessities like bullets, bullet-proof vests, and armor plating and flat-footed stumbling over the simplest tasks of nation-building. Yet you continue to believe until quite recently that it would "all turn out all right, in the end." You were a useful idiot Friedman, you and the rest of the liberal hawks lent yourself to being used by those who had no care for you or your ideals, and became dupes of cynical individuals whose jadededness would be excusable if it were not also accompanied by damning mendacity at every turn.

Meanwhile Krugman who has been shrill at times, get's his moment of gloating in, twisting the dagger as the Bush Administration scratches its brow and finally realizes that spin cannot deflect bullets or speeding airliners rushing at skyscrapers.

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In his Saturday radio address, George Bush described Iraqi insurgents as a "small faction." Meanwhile, people actually on the scene described a rebellion with widespread support.

Isn't it amazing? A year after the occupation of Iraq began, Mr. Bush and his inner circle seem more divorced from reality than ever.

Events should have cured the Bush team of its illusions. After all, before the invasion Tim Russert asked Dick Cheney about the possibility that we would be seen as conquerors, not liberators, and would be faced with "a long, costly and bloody battle." Mr. Cheney replied, "Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators." Uh-huh...

And we keep repeating the same mistakes. The story behind last week's uprising by followers of Moktada al-Sadr bears a striking resemblance to the story of the wave of looting a year ago, after Baghdad fell.

In both cases, officials were unprepared for an obvious risk. According to The Washington Post: "One U.S. official said there was not even a fully developed backup plan for military action in case Sadr opted to react violently. The official noted that when the decision [to close Sadr's newspaper] was made, there were very few U.S. troops in Sadr's strongholds south of Baghdad."

If we're lucky, the Sadrist uprising will eventually fade out, just as the postwar looting did; but the occupation's dwindling credibility has taken another huge blow...

The situation in Falluja seems to have been greatly exacerbated by tough-guy posturing and wishful thinking. According to The Jerusalem Post, after the murder and mutilation of American contractors, Mr. Bush told officials that "I want heads to roll." Didn't someone warn him of the likely consequences of attempting to carry out a manhunt in a hostile, densely populated urban area? ...

And let's can the rhetoric about staying the course. In fact, we desperately need a change in course.

The best we can realistically hope for now is to turn power over to relatively moderate Iraqis with a real base of popular support. Yes, that mainly means Islamic clerics. The architects of the war will complain bitterly, and claim that we could have achieved far more. But they've been wrong about everything so far — and if we keep following their advice, Iraq really will turn into another Vietnam.

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So there they are, the goody two shoes, the badly fooled, and the shrilly ugly. All damned columnists who each in their own way represent the most reprehensible of what is really kicking our ass in Iraq.

Mumble-brained stupidity that would rather bite at each other's backs or rush about screaming solutions instead of doing the one thing that could really fix this problem - thinking.

They aren't alone however. I have come to increasingly loathe Instapundit - not for disagreeing with me but for stupidity.

The real question is what we do now, not what was done before. (As this DefenseTech post notes, the issues are really political, not military).

To the Democrats, well, "we'd all love to see the plan." Where is it?


Well I'm not a Democrat, but I for one have a plan. In addition, I know plenty of other good ideas going out there. Why should we have to have a freaking national conversation about a plan? Can't Republicans, my own party of olde, who control both Houses of Congress and the Presidency just go out there, pick out the best ideas, and just implement them?

Or just like 911 do we have to sit there with crayons and draw a pretty picture for the President?

That we could have prevented the 911 attacks is a ludricous assumption, but it is a sure bet that with what we knew we could have done much more to try to prevent even ordinary hijackings. Just as I am bloody sure that we could be doing things differently and better in Iraq.

It's ridiculous that those who pushed us head over heels into war should bite back now whining that no one has a plan for fixing things. Well those who were so sure enough to bet the lives of others, they had better have a plan before you spend American blood. That they have none is a sign that such people deserve every drop of contempt I have for their useless hides.

What to do with Sadr? The principles to be followed are simple. First we must make him publicly acknowledge our superior power. This is the prerequisite to any negotiation. He must agree to apologize on TV, order his top followers to turn themselves in, order his militia members to lay down their arms and give them to Iraqi police, etc. Second there must be some sort of culturally acceptable consequence - exile to Iran, submission to house arrest by the Shiite Seminary in Najaf that he defied, etc. Thirdly we must make our final offer public, and if refused we really do have to go after him. However, we will have to go after him on foot and without fire support. That means heavy losses. However, no other action in the holy city of Najaf could be politically acceptable. We must make clear that we have bent over backwards to resolve this situation, and if possible let him make provocative statements or actions causing an escalation in the violence as a justification for taking him down.

It's an ugly situation but then again I wasn't the one who started pussy-footing around by arresting his aides and shutting down his newspaper and failed to have a team standing by to swoop down and take him into custody.

We are failing in Iraq, and the only reason why we are failing is a failure of imagination and responsibility. One one side we have naysayers saying "We told you so!" without any ideas of how to proceed. On the other we got idiots like Instapundit who have the gall after have decieved, confabulated, and lied this country into taking on a war not in its best interest that shout back "Well, and do you have any better ideas?". Then twisting in the wind in the middle, we got the people who are saying "Aww shucks, we were completely wrong about how this war would turn out but trust in our judgement now anyway."

And most of all we got ordinary folks who don't know were to turn, who want to see this through and had their trust in their government let down by those who claimed to be protecting them and now don't know who to listen to cause they all sound like back-biting whiners instead of real adults!

Well I'm sick of it! We got a lot of silliness out there and we got a lot to be ashamed of, but the most important thing is that we got a lot left to do. What happened to the "can-do" attitude of America? We can do this. We can make the sacrifices of those who have lost their lives mean something. We can stop running roughshod over the Iraqis and inspire them to work with us to create a new democracy. We can partner with other nations by restoring security to Iraq and convincing them that reconstruction will be fair and have both shared responsibility and shared authority. We can do this without compromising American ideals or security, and cut down on the boys and girls getting killed so far away from home.

We can do this. But first we gotta remember what it means to be American, and it ain't what you seen above. It means putting aside our differences to work together to solve a problem and fix a situation. Because if we can't, then we really are in a sorry lot after all.

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