Friday, May 09, 2003

Does anybody remember the online debate between Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan during the first weeks of the war? If not, here’s a recap.

The last weekend in March was an ugly war weekend: Invading troops received an unexpectedly hostile reception from the Iraqis in the south, the 3rd Mechanized Infantry got stuck somewhere near Nasiriya, and supply lines were being stretched dangerously thin. Few doubted what the final outcome of the war would be, but many (including some retired generals) were openly saying that more troops should have been sent it. To top it off, on Monday, March 31, The New Yorker published a damning article about Donald Rumsfeld’s war plan, essentially saying that the Defense Secretary, believing his own and Richard Perle’s propaganda that the Saddam regime was a house of cards that would collapse “at the first whiff of gunpowder,” ignored the advice of his generals to send in a larger force.

When it began to look as though somebody up top had grossly miscalculated, skeptics like Josh Marshall went on the offensive, citing articles with “senior administration sources” trying to cover the president’s ass, arguing he’d been given bum advice by the Pentagon. Marshall wrote:

The White House is in such a state of pandemonium and implosion that they are discarding the policy -- indeed, they are positively undermining it -- in the hopes of insulating the president from the immense fall-out that they can see barreling down the track.
Sullivan, a conservative hawk, took Marshall to task, arguing that he was getting a bit hysterical in the heat of the moment, and pointing out that the war had just begun, things could still go well, and it was too early to say whether there was any screw-up to speak of.

Marshall countered: "The problem is that our political situation is not nearly as good as our military one. And our ultimate goals are political, not military."

Sullivan: "What if we'd done what Josh seems now to support: a massive 1991-style 500,000 troop, lumbering onslaught through the deserts? Wouldn't that have looked much more like an invasion than the current action?"

I remember reading that and thinking: Please! There's a pretty good reason you didn’t see any Arab opinion makers saying at the start of the war: "Hey, what they're doing isn't so bad; they could have send twice as many troops!" An invasion is an invasion; if you’re going to do it, do it right. End of story.

This is a narrow sampling of a debate that's worth reading in its entirety. But after reading Salam Pax’s war blog, I think it’s safe to say you’d be hard pressed to find an ordinary, sensible Iraqi who didn’t wish there had been more U.S. troops from the get-go.

Now Sullivan looks like he's reversed himself:

Iraq needs order. We'll get criticized for being too heavy-handed whatever we do. So why aren't American troops in large numbers being deployed to keep the peace, restore order and exercise credible authority?
It's a very good question, and that’s precisely why Marshall won the earlier debate by a country mile.

Sullivan’s turnaround was pointed out by Slate’s Mickey Kaus on Wednesday. Sullivan tries to claim that his position hasn't changed -- only circumstances have.

The Mickster claims I have reversed myself on the are-there-enough-troops question. Nuh-huh. It seems clear to me that Mickey lost Round One of this debate. There clearly were enough troops to win the war. It's a separate question whether we now have sufficient troops to keep the peace. Two different issues. Two different views. Are they related? Somewhat. But we've had almost a month to get more troops in place - plenty of time. My criticism is directed at the post-war order, not the war-plan.
Either that, or everybody else was thinking ahead and you weren’t. No sensible person doubted we'd win the war. Plenty of people questioned what would happen after we won the war – everybody, it seems, except Bush and his supporters.

Again: "That distant, lonesome wail you hear, Andy?…”


Post a Comment

<< Home