Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Fred Kaplan of Slate has probably been my favorite writer on the war since it began. He writes non-nonsense military analysis, yet isn't afraid of expressing his opinions when he has grounds to do so. In his most recent article (He Saw It Coming: The former Bushie who knew Iraq would go to pot) he quotes Paul Wolfowitz, who said prior to the war:

It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.
Um, why was that so hard to imagine?

Apparently Kaplan has read a new book called America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq by James Dobbins, the former Bushie refered to in the article's title. Dobbins was Bush's special envoy to post-Taliban Afghanistan and the guy who oversaw postwar reconstruction in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. This book makes a lot of strong, serious points about nation building and how to do it right -- points well taken unless, like Bush, you don't care for any of this meddling nation-building stuff.

(Another surprising point that article makes is that, implausible as it may sound, history suggests that more troops almost always means fewer casualties all around. Seriously. Read the whole thing.)

Bush, like many Americans, is put off by the very idea of nation building. (So are a good many anti-interventionist liberals.) He and many fellow conservatives don't think the United States has any business escorting kids to school or handing out food rations. As a Republican friend of mine (I do have some) once put it: "The army should do two things: Kick other countries asses and train to kick other countries asses." This is a widespread view among Bush supporters.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush didn't just disparage the military's involvement in nation building. He even disparaged involvement in nation-building on the part of U.S. civilian agencies. During the second presidential debate against Al Gore in October 2000, Bush was specifically asked, "[I]s it time to consider a civil force of some kind, that comes in after the military, that builds nations?"

He answered: "I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not." This answer dovetailed with his line about a "humble foreign policy." Ari Fleischser later tried to convince people that Bush was only aganist a military role in nation building, but that's not what Bush said at all. Click here for a comparison of what Bush said and what his spokesman said he said.

There's a widely held view -- supported by the very simple facts that we have troops in Afghanistan and troops in Iraq -- that Bush has flip-flopped on this issue, and that he's now a reluctant nation-builder following 9/11. I don't really believe it, and developments in Iraq right now don't exactly support the theory, either. Bush and Rumsfeld say we're getting out of Iraq as soon as humanly possible, despite the fact that, as Kaplan writes, "in every successful case [of nation building] troops are still based there today, including in Germany and Japan, nearly 60 years after war's end."

It seems there's a paralysis in high-level political talk about this subject, which I think is because Americans are split -- not only between liberals and convervatives, Democrats and Republicans, but also between interventionists and non-interventionists. And this split is down completely different lines than the traditional right-left divide, so nobody can speak about it honestly without alienating a good chunk of their supporters. Plenty of lefties, for instance, would agree with Bush's earlier suggestion that the U.S. should pursue a more "humble" foreign policy and not get involved in other countries' affairs. (I'm frankly not sure where Howard Dean stands on this, for instance.)

So who's going to stand up and demand we send more troops to Iraq? A Republican? A Democrat? Try nobody. It's the politically unsayable.

In an opinion piece that attacked the Democrats supposed fixation on the State of the Union, The Economist wrote last week (in the issue with "Dear Mr. Berlusconi..." on the front -- subscription only):

With the Democratic rank and file screaming for the troops to be brought home, greater involvement in Iraq would be a bold cause for any Democratic presidential candidate to embrace.
I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of the Democratic rank and file, but there are two reasons you don't hear Democratic candidates pushing for more troops in Iraq (neither of them good ones, in my view): First, Bush might actually do it, which would be the right thing, but then it would become a non-issue. (Bush can't, on the other hand, take back his State of the Union.)

Second, plenty of Americans -- not just rank and file Democrats, but many Republicans as well -- understandably want us to get out of Iraq as soon as humanly possible. So it's best not to say anything for the time being.

Where's that betting parlor when you need it? How long are U.S. troops going to be in Iraq? Just long enough, we're told. Here's my prediction, based on nothing: Sometime in the next 12 months, Saddam Hussein will be captured or killed. That's the only good news. Then the U.S. will slap together some provisional government and high-tail it out of Iraq, just in time for the 2004 election. Then Iraq breaks out into civil war. And in one of those embarassingly honest moments, something will slip out of Bush's mouth along the lines of, "Hey, man, we did everything we could."


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