Don't Dig Yourself in Deeper
June 30, 2005
President George W. Bush's address on Iraq yesterday comes amid growing US doubts about the war, and the administration's competence and credibility. In recent weeks, there has been a palpable sense that events have been spinning out of control - both in Iraq, where the insurgency continues unabated, and at home, where the administration faces mounting opposition to the war.
Since the insurgency began, the Bush administration tirelessly has reiterated that progress is being made in Iraq; the insurgency is being defeated; and Iraq is on its way to becoming a viable democratic state.
Events in Iraq have told a different story, however, and their cumulative impact can be seen in the major public opinion polls that have been released in recent days.
For the first time since March 2003, a majority of Americans believe the Iraq invasion was a mistake, and disbelieve both the administration's assurances that things are going well in Iraq and its claims that the war there is part of the war on terrorism. One poll even shows that a majority want the administration to set a firm timetable for the withdrawal of US forces.
Against this backdrop, Bush's task yesterday was to regain public and Congressional confidence. To make his case, he needed to explain why the Iraq war is in the US national interest and outline a clear strategy for victory. He failed to accomplish either task. The President offered nothing new, and instead fell back on old - and discredited - arguments.
To make the case that the war is important to US security, Bush trotted out the old canard that there is a connection between 9/11 and the Iraq war. US troops, he said, "are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September 11, 2001 ... After September 11, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war."
This is a stale argument. From the moment the run-up to the Iraq invasion began, the administration sought to rally public support for its policy by suggesting that Saddam Hussein's regime somehow had a hand in the 9/11attacks.
Factually, however, there never has been a shred of credible evidence of Iraqi involvement in al-Qa'ida's strikes on New York and Washington. Indeed, this was the finding of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. Still, it is perhaps not surprising that Bush continues to link the war in Iraq to the war on terror. After all, as one senior official put it recently, this is an administration that believes the US "is an empire now, and we make our own facts".
Bush's speech was another such exercise in postmodern grand strategy: he not only made up his own facts, but also was disingenuous. Before the invasion in March 2003, Iraq was not a haven for terrorists and had no connection whatsoever to al-Qa'ida. Jihadist fighters entered Iraq only after the US invasion. If Iraq is now a "front" in the war on terrorism, it is because the administration's own policies made it such.
The point cannot be made strongly enough: far from making America more secure against terrorism, Bush's reckless decision to invade Iraq has made the US less secure.
Indeed, just last week a CIA report concluded that Iraq has now become perhaps the most important training ground for Islamic extremists. It would never have become such had the US not invaded. Bush not only failed to advance a fresh argument that the war is in the US interest, but -- perhaps even more important -- he conspicuously failed to outline a convincing road to victory. Here, again, the administration's strategy is more of the same: US forces will be reduced as more Iraqi forces are trained to fight the insurgency. There is, however, little reason to believe that the administration's "Iraqisation" strategy will work.
Recent reports have made clear that it will be a long time - if ever - before Iraqi forces are able to quell the insurgency without substantial support from US troops. Most of the Iraqi forces are poorly motivated, undisciplined, badly led and under-equipped. If the readiness of Iraqi forces is the metric that determines when US forces can begin to come home, substantial numbers of US troops will need to remain in Iraq for a long time to come. (Whether the US Army can sustain anywhere near its current force levels in Iraq for much longer is very much an open question, especially given recruitment shortfalls and loss of junior officers.)
As a piece of political theatre, Bush's speech may temporarily stem the haemorrhage of public and congressional support for his administration's policy. But it cannot change the facts. Iraq is a country in chaos and the Sunni insurgency reflects the fact that a communal/sectarian civil war already is under way there. There are no good outcomes in Iraq. No matter what the US does, Iraq is not going to become a stable democracy, and the Middle East is going to remain an endemically turbulent region.
The painful truth is that there is no realistic strategy for victory in Iraq. Put simply, Bush has led the US into a strategic quagmire in Iraq. Indeed, to paraphrase the early 19th-century French statesman Talleyrand, it was worse than a blunder, it was a crime.
The Downing Street memos show that the Bush administration deliberately - and deceitfully - plunged the US into an unnecessary war against a regime that posed no real threat to US security, and that Saddam Hussein's ballyhooed weapons of mass destruction were never anything more than a pretext for an invasion that already had been decided upon for other reasons. The memos also confirm what already has become apparent: the administration compounded its decision to go to war by utterly failing to prepare for occupying and reconstructing Iraq. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
Instead of making up the facts, it is time to face them - no matter how painful. Spending more blood and treasure is not going to change the outcome in Iraq. The only viable exit strategy is to leave Iraq.
The time has come to set a firm timetable for an early withdrawal.
Christopher Layne is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and the author of The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (forthcoming, Cornell University Press). This article originally appeared in The Australian, and is used by permission of the author.
June 28, 2005
Andrew Bacevich questions the decision to reward Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez with a fourth star in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
The op-ed can be read in its entirety here.
Andrew Bacevich is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and a professor of international relations at Boston University. He is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005).
Iraq: Exit or Empire?
June 22, 2005
In two separate articles discussing the ongoing military occupation in Iraq, Gary Hart asks a simple yes or no question: "Are we, or are we not, building permanent military bases in Iraq?"
Both articles, as well as others by Senator Hart, are available at The Huffington Post.
A recent article in the Washington Post only lends further credence to Hart's suspicions that the Bush administration is not being entirely candid. According to the Post, the military plans to redeploy forces from over 100 to just 4 bases, with "a more permanent character."
Overestimating China's Help With North Korea
June 20, 2005
The Bush administration should not expect China to "deliver" North Korea explains Ted Carpenter.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States did not believe that China was putting sufficient pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
Washington continues to believe, as it has since the North Korean crisis began in late 2002, that China is the key to solving the impasse. The administration apparently expects China to exert whatever diplomatic and economic pressure is needed to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
To read this article in its entirety, visit http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,159941,00.html
Shi'ites: Game; Kurds: Set; Sunnis: Match; US: Loss
June 17, 2005
Leon Hadar ponders the inconsisencies of the United States asking undemocratic leaders from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to assist the democratically-elected government in Iraq.
There is something pathetic in the recent efforts by the Bush administration (reported by the New York Times this week) to try to enlist Europe, the Arab world, and the United Nations to pressure the ruling Shi'ite-Kurdish coalition in Baghdad led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to include members of the Sunni minority in the political process.
The article may be read in its entirety here.
Leon Hadar is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
This article was originally published in the Singapore Business Times.
Locking Down Loose Nukes 6.29.05
June 16, 2005
Featuring Rose Gottemoeller, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Rensselaer Lee, Foreign Policy Research Institute; and Charles Pena, Cato Institute and the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. The event was moderated by Cato's Christopher Preble.
In February, President Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that the two countries would take measures to counter the threat of nuclear terrorism, including securing Russia's nuclear facilities. Is it possible to secure nuclear weapons and materials to the so-called Fort Knox standard? If so, how and at what cost? What potential loopholes and vulnerabilities might still exist? What is the likelihood that we would be closing the barn door after some of the animals have already escaped? How does securing the potential supply of weapons affect the demand for them? In this policy forum, experts discussed progress made under the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program and how the threat of nuclear terrorism might be prevented.
This and other events can be seen at the Cato web site, www.cato.org.
You and What Army?
June 15, 2005
Any remaining doubts about whether our current foreign policies are sustainable were demolished by the news that the Army has missed its recruiting goals for the fourth straight month. The Marine Corps has missed its goals for four out of the past five months. The National Guard and Army Reserve have been struggling with retention and recruiting problems for over a year. If the Bush administration and Congress do not fundamentally rethink their attitude toward the use of force abroad, then they will wreck the finest military in the history of mankind.
To read more, visit the American Spectator online.
Conference "The Past is Never Far Away," 6.23.05 - 6.25.05
June 13, 2005
The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) hosted their annual three-day conference showcasing the latest research and interpretations of American foreign policy. Forty-eight panel discussions featured the work of more than 200 scholars from universities, think-tanks, and government agencies in the United States and around the world. Focusing on the theme, "The Past is Never Far Away," participants considered ways in which understanding the history of foreign relations can, and should, inform our understanding of the present.
Friday night plenary session considered the "Lessons of Vietnam," including commentary of the legacy of the war on current U.S. foreign policy. Featured commentator: Luu Doan Huynh of Hanoi’s Institute for International Relations.
Ambassador Joseph Wilson delivered an address at the Saturday luncheon.
David L. Anderson, SHAFR's president, gave a dinner address on "One Vietnam War Should be Enough and Other Reflections on Diplomatic History and the Making of Foreign Policy"
Presentations included discussions of 9/11, North and South Korea, terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, religion and foreign policy, regional affairs, and presidential leadership.
Some noteworthy panels:
"From the Inside Out: The Influence of Electoral Politics on U.S. Foreign Policy"
"The Cultural Politics of U.S. Foreign Policy from Eisenhower to Iraq"
"The Uses of History in Twenty-First Century U.S. Foreign Policy"
"Modernization and Reform in the Muslim World 1950s to 1990s"
"The CIA: Perceptions, Practice, and Organization"
"Interventionism, Human Rights and Multilateralism"
To view the full program, as a .pdf file, go to: http://www.shafr.org/conference/2005/program.pdf
Thursday, June 23 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, June 24 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday, June 25 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
National Archives II, College Park, MD
Chartered in 1972, SHAFR is a 1,500-member non-profit professional society dedicated to promoting excellence in research and teaching in the field of U.S. diplomatic history. SHAFR also publishes Diplomatic History, the leading journal in the field. For more information, visit www.shafr.org.
A Discussion with Richard Haass 6.15.05
June 09, 2005
The New America Foundation, in association with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, hosted an afternoon discussion on the book The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course, with the author Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and former Director of Policy Planning, Department of State.
Coalition executive committee member Steven Clemons, Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, moderated the event.
In his newly released book The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course, Richard Haass describes a unique moment in which the United States has a chance to create a world where people are safe, free and can enjoy a higher standard of living. Out of a fear that current U.S. policies are alienating much of the world, Haass argues that the United States must use its power wisely in recognizing that it does not need the world's permission to act but does need the world's support to succeed. In The Opportunity, Haass, a former principal adviser to Colin Powell and Middle East Advisor to President George H.W. Bush attempts to answer the question: What will it take to get the world's support?
Richard Haass and Steven Clemons discussed this unique opportunity for the U.S. to change its course in a post-Cold War, post 9-11, post Iraq War world.
The event was held on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 at the
New America Foundation, in Washington, D.C.
Fighting Blind in Iraq
June 08, 2005
MIT professor Barry Posen warns that the United States is facing a long and indecisive struggle in Iraq unless it obtains better intelligence on the insurgency.
The article appeared in the New York Times on June 7, 2005 and may be read in its entirety here. (Registration may be required)
Coalition, 2: Podhoretz, 0
June 01, 2005
The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy jumped into the fray with two letters in response to recent articles by Norman Podhoretz. See the letters in their entirety, before they were truncated by Commentary editors.
From David Hendrickson:
After Norman Podhoretz wrote scurrilously about me in the February 2005 issue of Commentary, the editors of that journal sent me the issue along with a letter requesting a comment of no more than 750 words. I complied, but the version published in the May issue was truncated and differed materially from my submission. Apparently dumbfounded by unanswerable objections, and being trapped in self-contradiction, Podhoretz solved this difficult problem by deleting said objections from my letter, prepatory to hounding me further.
As Podhoretz aimed his shafts more largely at various members of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, it seemed appropriate to post my original letter to Commentary here. If Podhoretz responds, perhaps I will be able to "edit" the piece before it appears online.
To the Editor of Commentary:
I grew to political maturity reading Commentary. As a young man, in my twenties, I was a great enthusiast of the journal. Being an aspiring writer, of course I wanted someday to appear in it, with my name in bold big letters on the cover, alongside such luminaries as Moynihan, Bickel, Glazer, Trilling, Frankel, and Tucker. Under the category, therefore, of "not being exactly what I had anticipated for my first appearance in Commentary" must fall Norman Podhoretz's denunciation of me in the February 2005 issue ("The War Against World War IV"). Even though the gods have granted my wish in a way that seems very Greek to me, I am resolved to make the best of it.
Podhoretz charges two sins against my essay, "A Dissenter's Guide to Foreign Policy," World Policy Journal (Spring 2004). First, that I "implicitly" place "the things America has done under George W. Bush on a par with the 'iniquities' of the Soviet Union under Stalin, from 'the horrors of collectivization, the show trials, the devouring of the children of the Revolution in purges and assassinations' and up through 'the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939.'" Second, that I and other like-minded critics are "rooting for defeat." I do not accept these attributions, which are severe misrepresentations of what I wrote, and am happy to repudiate them both.
By using the word "implicitly," Podhoretz alerts the reader to the fact that he is imputing the Stalinist comparison to me even though I did not make it myself. The passages he cites explained what the "Kronstadt" meant, and in enumerating these Soviet iniquities I was explicating the point that the moment of psychological repudiation of one's object of belief did not occur at the same time for various enthusiasts of the Soviet experiment. It was the psychological turning point represented by the "Kronstadt," not some absurd comparison between Bush and the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, that I found interesting and instructive, because it seemed to describe what had happened to the authors of the books I was reviewing (and what had happened to me) in the face of the Bush revolution. As for proper objects of historical comparison for what Bush represented, I do think there is a legitimate parallel with Trotskyism and associated ideas of overturning illegitimate regimes through force, but the main emphasis in my writings, and especially in the essay Podhoretz cites, has been on the striking affinities between the Bush Revolution and the French Revolution. The votaries of both had a universal creed, a declared willingness to liberate foreign peoples from tyranny, a strategic doctrine of preventive war, and armed forces (yesterday's levee en mass, today's "revolution in military affairs") that represented a new order of military power. This complex of ideas and conditions does not signify totalitarianism, but it still constitutes in my view a serious political malady. It is especially subject to the severe strictures that the American founding fathers made upon these pretensions when they appeared in the Wars of the French Revolution. I would welcome an attempted refutation of that point, if my learned critic wishes to continue our dialogue.
Podhoretz also writes that critics of the Bush doctrine who insist that it will end in tears are "rooting for defeat." He singles me out for mock admiration in candidly confessing this sordid desire, when I did no such thing, and he also imputes the same desire to many fellow critics, for which he proffers no evidence. There is not an older argument in politics than the assertion that such-and-such a course of action will end in trouble or disaster. A political opposition must be permitted to speculate on what will or will not conduce to public good without being subject to the ungracious charge that they care nothing for it. Worse for Podhoretz's side of the question is that he engages in precisely this form of argumentation in his critique of me. He asserts that an attack by terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction. . .is far more likely to occur" if the "'unholy propensities'" of the Bush Doctrine "are prevented from working themselves out than if they are allowed to take their course." Since he has made the prediction of disaster, are we to infer that he wishes for it to happen? No reasonable person would think so. It is no more reasonable to conclude that critics of Bush's policies are "rooting for defeat." They are, on the contrary, rooting for the possibility that President Bush will back off from the ruinous prescriptions of endless war that Podhoretz has advanced in his recent essays.
DAVID C. HENDRICKSON
Colorado Springs, Colorado
From David Isenberg:
One must be thankful to Mr. Podhoretz. Contrary to popular thinking it appears that neoconservatives DO have a sense of humor. Now if only they could do something about their lack of realism.
To the Editor:
In Norman Podhoretz's world, everything is very simple. There are only two positions to take: uncritical praise of and obeisance toward the Bush administration, which places you on the side of all things good and virtuous, or opposition to the Bush Doctrine, in which case you are either French, an Iraqi insurgent, a right- or left-wing isolationist, a follower of Noam Chomsky, a superhawk, a liberal internationalist, a realist, or a member of the media, in which case you hate America and democracy.
For Mr. Podhoretz, the choice is clear. The rest of us may still have some hardheaded questions about what the Bush administration's policies are doing for and to America.
What is the evidence for Mr. Podhoretz's claim that "record levels of vituperation" were leveled against President Bush during the last election campaign; that Iraqi "insurgents were praying for the victory of John F. Kerry"; that the CIA is "hell-bent on sabotaging the Bush Doctrine"? Who are those people supposedly "in a position to know" that the State Department under Colin Powell was the most "insubordinate" in American history?
As evidence of the President's belief in the righteousness of the Bush Doctrine, Mr. Podhoretz cites the fact that he has kept Donald Rumsfeld on as Secretary of Defense. But this tells us nothing more than that Bush is unable to admit to a mistake. As anyone only cursorily familiar with his record understands, and as Kitty Kelly documents in her recent book on the Bush family, this is a man who does not take responsibility for anything. This would also explain why he recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA director George Tenet, who said it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Podhoretz distorts reality when he writes of Abu Ghraib that "a half-dozen or so American guards had inflicted humiliation--mostly of a sexual nature--on a few Iraqi prisoners." Even the military's own investigations of Abu Ghraib have turned up evidence of egregious abuses by American troops. (The ACLU has catalogued hundreds of government documents detailing other instances of abuse and torture beyond Abu Ghraib.)
Also inaccurate is Mr. Podhoretz's mention of "the approximately 1,000 [U.S. troops] killed in combat over the entire span of the battle of Iraq." In fact, U.S. military fatalities reached 1,000 back around the beginning of September 2004, and as of this writing, over 25,000 members of the armed forces have suffered mental or physical injuries, including over 11,000 "seriously injured." To date, nearly 1,500 soldiers and marines have died.