Friday, June 13, 2014

David Brooks Plays His Part... Badly

David Brooks has "earned" the reputation of being a moderate Republican by taking the latest Republican talking points, removing their most wild-eyed elements, then adding his own modest spin to them before regurgitating them into a column. But today he plays the role of stenographer,
American troops left in 2011. President Obama said the Iraq war was over. Administration officials foresaw nothing worse than a low-boil insurgency in the region.

Almost immediately things began to deteriorate. There were no advisers left to restrain Maliki’s sectarian tendencies. The American efforts to professionalize the Iraqi Army came undone.

This slide toward civil war was predicted, not only by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and writers like Max Boot, but also within the military. The resurgent sectarian violence gave fuel to fears that the entire region might be engaged in one big war, a sprawling Sunni-Shiite conflict that would cross borders and engulf tens of millions.
Brooks should consult Daniel Larison, as not only is Larison a better thinker than Brooks, he is prolific. Odds are Larison will have shared several insights about this type of claim while Brooks is still polishing the words of his biweekly column. Case in point,
Many of the most common reactions to the recent gains made by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been badly mistaken. Complaints that the U.S. “failed” to retain a residual force in Iraq conveniently ignore that the Iraqi government and people were against allowing this, so that was never a realistic option. They also overlook that a continued U.S. military presence would likely not have been able to prevent ISIS’ recent territorial gains, but would almost certainly have provoked a new insurgency that targeted American soldiers. It is extremely doubtful that a small U.S. force would have given Washington any meaningful leverage to force Maliki to change the way that he governs. Maliki was already governing in a sectarian and semi-authoritarian manner when the U.S. had a major military presence in the country, so it seems clear that retaining a smaller presence would have had no effect on him and his allies. It is even more doubtful that the U.S. would use this leverage if it had it.

This is the trouble with trying to condition future aid on improvements in Maliki’s behavior: when push comes to shove, the U.S. usually refuses to cut off aid because it doesn’t want to “abandon” its client. We trick ourselves into thinking that propping up the client is extremely important to us, which is somehow supposed to justify his abuses and our endless enabling of them. The client knows this and continues to behave however he pleases. Lynch points out that Maliki will probably agree to all sorts of concessions now in order to acquire the aid he seeks, but will forget all about this once the immediate crisis is over....
Of course, Brooks' "solution" is to ignore all of that and to pretend that we can somehow magically support Maliki and thereby end the conflict and sustain a united Iraq.... so Brooks' ideal would be for Maliki, the U.S., and the ayatollahs of Iran to work hand-in-hand to preserve Iraq's union. What could possibly go wrong....
It is not too late to help Syrian moderates.
By doing what, David? And please -- specifically identify they Syrian moderates that, with additional backing, not only have a chance of victory in the Syrian civil war but of creating and sustaining a regime that isn't overtly hostile to the United States, and follow up by explaining exactly what "help" we would be offering. Please explain why we won't see the same sort of catastrophe we're witnessing in Iraq, where Iraq's soldiers have scurried away and left their U.S.-supplied munitions for factions that are hostile to U.S. interests. But really, there's no chance of your doing any of that, is there. You're just regurgitating a Republican talking point.

And Iraq?
In Iraq, the answer is not to send troops back in. It is to provide Maliki help in exchange for concrete measures to reduce sectarian tensions. The Iraqi government could empower regional governments, acknowledging the nation’s diversity. Maliki could re-professionalize the Army. The Constitution could impose term limits on prime ministers.
There are two ways to interpret that proposal. The first is as a pipe dream -- the notion that all the u.S. has to do is offer some unspecified form of "help" to Maliki and he'll magically inspire his army to turn back around and fight the factions from which it just fled, thereafter maintaining peace and security within the context of a much more inclusive, reformed national government. The second is that the U.S. will help broker a de facto partitioning of Iraq into semi-autonomous Sunni and Shiite zones, while supporting a decades-long process of trying to turn Iraq into a reasonably stable nation with a reasonably competent government and military -- thats not exactly the sort of proposal one makes with the thought of bringing an immediate end to a civil war.

It's funny how in repeating the attack point against President Obama that he should have left more troops in Iraq, something that would at best have forestalled this type of uprising, Brooks simultaneously rules out having U.S. forces go back into Iraq to put down the uprising. Brooks is smart enough to recognize that the President's decision was in fact correct under the circumstances. He may even be smart enough to recognize that our wish to maintain Iraq as a unified nation doesn't amount to a hill of beans if the Iraqis don't share that goal. But he's pretty clearly anticipating that his readers won't be smart enough to notice the contradiction inherent to his attack on the President.

Like Michael Gerson, Brooks is suddenly fond of the word "stupid"... perhaps because they're transcribing the same talking points?
The president says his doctrine is don’t do stupid stuff. Sometimes withdrawal is the stupidest thing of all.
But again, that particular attack line has already been refuted by Larison. Brooks can complain that withdrawal was "stupid", but don't look to him to explain how any other option was either better or available. Also, don't think too hard about his suggestion that we could magically solve this crisis if only we had the U.S. forces present in Iraq that he explicitly does not want to send back to Iraq.

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