November 11, 2003
Skepticism on War?
by Alan Bock
areas of the world seem to demand our attention, of course. But
the question of whether the American people or even significant
sectors of those who pay attention to such things, beyond the small
circle of likely losers running for the Democratic presidential
nomination are starting to reconsider the wisdom of the Boy King's
adventure in Iraq still seems central.
draft constitution of Afghanistan declares the official religion
to be Islam, and Americans have reason to wonder: Did Americans
shed their blood and spend their treasure so our designated regime
could establish another Islamic republic? But a closer look at the
constitution (and a conversation with James Dobbins, now with RAND
after having been George W.'s special envoy to Afghanistan right
after the war) alleviate a few fears. The constitution does declare
Islam the official religion but also says people will be free to
practice other religions. Lawmaking power is vested in an elective
legislature, not the mullahs, and equal treatment of women is guaranteed
most troubling thing about the constitution is that it centralizes
power, which is not the Afghan way, at least so far. James Dobbins
tells me a federalist system would probably have been better, but
Afghanis have no experience with such a system. The least obnoxious
period in their recent history was when they had a king who ruled
with a light hand, and while some would like to reinstall a king
the plan now is to install Hamid Karzai in a similar position. It
could be dangerous for the prospects for any approximation of liberty
in Afghanistan, but in theory that is supposed to be the Afghans’
problem. The U.S. should make the theory the practice as quickly
a way, it’s almost reassuring that the proposed constitution reflects
Afghan experience more than western political theory. I hope the
Afghans muddle through, but we really should let them have full
sovereignty as quickly as possible. Mr. Dobbins thinks some troops
to help out with hunting down or neutralizing al Qaida and/or Taliban
remnants – maybe Osama is there – in the mountains along the Pakistani
border. I’m not convinced of that. Afghanistan has come closest
to thriving when it has not been the subject of tender ministrations
from outside powers. Right now its neighbors, for a change and at
least for a while, don’t want to mess with Afghanistan’s internal
country might just have a chance, regardless of the shape of the
formal constitution, so long as Hamid Karzai doesn’t try too hard
to assert central control, as western advisers will no doubt want
him to; it fits the current preferred model in the vaunted "international
community." But if the advisers can go away and leave just
a bit of money behind, along with some introductions to possible
then there’s Colombia. The US Congress is about to renew the Plan
Colombia aid program begun by Bill Clinton and continued by Dubya.
Sold to the American people as a great battle in the never-ending
Holy War on Drugs, the program has become a matter of US forces
propping up the central government against various guerrillas. The
smartest thing would be to end the War on Drugs, which would deprive
the guerrillas of lots of cash and weapons, and put the narcotraffickers
out of business. Then perhaps we could let Colombia settle (or not)
what has been a 50-year conflict.
that’s unlikely. I doubt – although the capacity of this president
to seem to believe quite sincerely things no normal, rational human
being could possibly believe seems quite stupendous – that any serious
administration, executive branch, CIA or even military analyst really
believes this aid will do any good. Some might even agree it is
likely to do harm in Colombia. But most people in both the executive
and legislative branches in the Imperial City seem to believe that
the people will brook no sign of weakness in the rhetorical and
financial commitment to the Holy War.
suspect they’re wrong. I suspect that the people are more than ready
for a prominent politician to raise the questions about the wisdom
of trying to fight addiction with prisons, guns and helicopters
that almost any intelligent American at least entertains from time
to time. But the war lobby here, as with other wars, is strong and
deeply entrenched. What would DEA agents do for a living? Better
than anybody, they recognize that they are not trained to perform
any useful or productive activity. So I expect little change here.
can’t help but think, however, that questioning the Iraq war is
very close to being a mainstream position now. The campaign to try
to get the media to report the "positive" side of the
occupation has not struck a chord. Actually, "Nightline"
did a reasonably "fair and balanced job one night last week,
but in reporting that there was probably more electrical capacity
in the country now than before the war, it also had to report that
violence continues apace and sabotage is rife. Conservative commentators
may bravely note that an opposition that is "reduced"
to car bombs is obviously desperate and decimated. But the violence
is not on a downturn and the American people know it. The likelihood
is that it will get worse rather than decline.
course there are no WMDs yet, although the story is that Bush is
seeking another $600 million $600 million! – to keep the search
going. Such faith is touching, but it would be preferable if Mr.
Bush expressed confidence in his beliefs with his own money rather
than with the taxpayers.
only do we have Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressing
doubts in leaked memos, we are starting to see downright hilarious
comments and rationalizations. As Fred
Kaplan noted in Slate last week "we have a winner in the
contest for daffiest explanation of why the Pentagon did no planning
for possible postwar complications in Iraq. The entry comes from
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who,
when asked about the subject in Nov. 5 hearings before the House
Armed Services Committee, replied as follows:
did not want to be planning for a postwar in Iraq before we were
sure we were going to war in Iraq. We did not want to have planning
for the postwar make the war inevitable."
statement is patently ludicrous. The Pentagon is making contingency
plans for unlikely scenarios all the time. It knows there is no
mystical connection between making plans and carrying out actions.
Just thinking about the possibility of doing something makes it
inevitable that you will do it? The time is approaching, and quickly,
when we will be able to laugh this war to death. It’s just too bad
so many Americans and Iraqis will have to die in the meantime.
remarkably obtuse as the comment is, however, it does seem to confirm
that there really was no postwar planning. Can it possibly be that
people were seduced into believing that Americans would be greeted
with cheers and huzzahs and that Chalabi and his Iraqi National
Congress would handle the transition with no need of assistance
(other than monetary and occasionally logistical) from the U.S.?
other possibility is that the experienced analysts both in the CIA
and Pentagon simply threw up their hands and let the neocon fantasists
and fabulists have their heads. As Seymour Hersh and others have
detailed, the evidence is that Wolfowitz, Feith and the boys found
ways to skip the pesky step of having experienced people vet the
raw intelligence and simply "stovepiped" the stuff that
fit the preferred scenario directly to the White House. After months
of this can you blame the experienced people for not even trying
very much any more to warn the White House that it wasn’t going
to be quite so simple and it might not be a bad idea to have some
it isn’t just the civilian critics. The military keeps coming out
with post-action critiques that suggest a woeful and almost criminally
irresponsible lack of planning. The latest is from the Army’s 3rd
Infantry Division, which captured the Baghdad Airport. The 200-page
unclassified report, available for now at www.globalsecurity.org,
includes a devastating critique of the postwar phase of operations.
The Army "did not have a dedicated plan to transition quickly
from combat to SASO [stability and support operations in military
jargon]" the Report said. After capturing the airport, commanders
had no plan to occupy or use it to bring in personnel or materials
to assist either in further combat operations or in peacekeeping.
The airport is still used hardly at all, and it seems eons away
from any civilian use.
Rieff, in the November 2 New York Times Magazine, tells a
similar story. Those who bought the Iraq-as-an-inspirational-democratic-model
scenario didn’t want to hear about complications or potential problems.
These were grand theorists, not people with practical experience
in the almost always messy and hardly ever predictable realities
of diplomacy and military action on the ground. These theorists
also never bothered to get anything resembling a deep understanding
of the Iraqi or Middle Eastern culture they were so determined to
transform into a mirror-image of – actually, not of any real country,
but of a theory in a textbook.
genuinely engaged, intellectually curious president might have been
able to cope with all these bright theorists and asked pointed questions.
But we have a president who is more of a novice than any of them,
and seems to think that "moral clarity" is enough to overcome
lack of experience or knowledge.
suspect the American people – and especially the American military
which is asked to bear the actual risks – are getting tired of foreign
policy waged through theory and ignorance.
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