Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Paradox? What Paradox?


In yet another effort to reinvent "the surge", David Brooks heaps praise on G.W. Bush. Everybody in the world - the Republicans, the Democrats, the generals, the punditocracy - Brooks tells us, was against the surge.
In these circumstances, it’s amazing that George Bush decided on the surge. And looking back, one thing is clear: Every personal trait that led Bush to make a hash of the first years of the war led him to make a successful decision when it came to this crucial call.

Bush is a stubborn man. Well, without that stubbornness, that unwillingness to accept defeat on his watch, he never would have bucked the opposition to the surge.
This is an implicit endorsement of my theory of the surge - not as a calmly reasoned strategy, but as a "Hail Mary" pass. Brooks also glosses over a lot of the criticism of the surge - which was not just that it might be too late, but also that it was too little. The tenuous nature of the pacts that keep sectarian violence relatively low have even General Petraeus worried that violence may again flare up. Meanwhile, there is scant political progress.

The best sound bite Brooks can find suggests scant political progress:
Iraq has moved from being a failed state to, as Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations has put it, merely a fragile one.
If the measure is "statehood", by what measure, other than its having being a state prior to the war, would Iraq satisfy the traditional elements of statehood? If it were a territory arguing for statehood, would we accept that there was effective and independent government control of its entire territory? That it can effectively and independently engage in foreign relations? That it controls its own population? Hardly. The real question is what it will take to transform Iraq into an effective state, even in the absence of U.S. troops. Brooks and Bush have no answer to that, and McCain's best answer to date is to post troops in Iraq indefinitely.

Brooks sneers at opponents of "the surge",
The cocksure war supporters learned this humbling lesson during the dark days of 2006. And now the cocksure surge opponents, drunk on their own vindication, will get to enjoy their season of humility. They have already gone through the stages of intellectual denial. First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good. Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement. Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress. Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home.
So... Brooks is saying that it took him until 2006 to realize that "Bush to make a hash of the first years of the war"? Fair enough. But what about his present attack on those who dare question "the surge"?
  • "First, they simply disbelieved that the surge and the Petraeus strategy was doing any good." - Didn't Brooks just tell us (rather dishonestly) that the only people in the entire world who believed in the Surge were G.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and... a whopping six other people? So this attack is aimed at... the other six billion or so people in the world?

  • "Then they accused people who noticed progress in Iraq of duplicity and derangement." - That seems like a fair response to people who lie to you, repudiate G.W. Bush's own benchmarks as being unfair measures of progress, shift the date the surge began so they can attribute pre-surge improvements to "the surge", etc. But people who lie to you never like to be "called out", so I can see why Brooks takes umbrage.

  • "Then they acknowledged military, but not political, progress." - Right. Fierce opponents of the surge like General Petraeus did exactly that. You know why? Because the surge has resulted primarily in military, not political, progress. Again, examine the Bush Administration's own benchmarks.

  • "Lately they have skipped over to the argument that Iraq is progressing so well that the U.S. forces can quickly come home." - Because the six billion or so people that Brooks tells us opposed the surge think as a monolith? Well, leaving that aside, those presenting rosy scenarios invite the question - if things are going so well, why shouldn't people ask, "When will the troops come home?"

    By the same token, why do the most dogmatic proponents of the surge suggest that our troops may never come home? Why does Bush want fifty-eight permanent military bases in Iraq (up from a claimed "zero" only a few months ago) if he's expecting it to have a stable, successful government at any time in the foreseeable future? To state the obvious, he wouldn't.

Brooks carries on,
But before long, the more honest among the surge opponents will concede that Bush, that supposed dolt, actually got one right. Some brave souls might even concede that if the U.S. had withdrawn in the depths of the chaos, the world would be in worse shape today.
Actually, I think the surge highlights the worst of Bush - narcissism, ineffectiveness and cowardice. He was afraid of admitting mistakes, so he threw his "Hail Mary", but as with every other stage of the war he was afraid of the political consequences of committing enough troops for enough time to ensure success. The decrease in violence justifies cautious optimism but, despite his cheerleaders' efforts to point the other way whenever the subject of "political progress" is raised, if political progress is not achieved "the surge" will become yet another entry in Bush's long line of missed opportunities.
Life is complicated. The reason we have democracy is that no one side is right all the time. The only people who are dangerous are those who can’t admit, even to themselves, that obvious fact.
That's rich. Here's Bush admitting his mistakes on Iraq: he made "a miscalculation of what the conditions would be" in post-war Iraq." Why? Because he refused to listen to the experts, including his own generals. Yet Brooks tells us, "Bush was at his worst when he was humbly deferring to the generals and at his best when he was arrogantly overruling them." At this point, Brooks' mistakes are compounding almost as quickly as Bush's; but I see no sign that either is going to admit them.

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