Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, December 17th, 2006.


Idiocy Abounds

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Bush Administration

Just when I thought I had seen the worse idiocy has to offer — the juror from hell — I read this column by Fred Barnes.

It turns out that the Great Leap Forward to Victory plans were leaked to guests at the White House Christmas party. Barnes explains what the party attendees learned:

Last Monday Bush was, at last, briefed on an actual plan for victory in Iraq, one that is likely to be implemented. Retired General Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the Army, gave him a thumbnail sketch of it during a meeting of five outside experts at the White House. The president’s reaction, according to a senior adviser, was “very positive.” Authored by Keane and military expert Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, the plan (which can be read at aei.org/publication25292) is well thought-out and detailed, but fundamentally quite simple. It is based on the idea–all but indisputable at this point–that no political solution is possible in Iraq until security is established, starting in Baghdad. The reverse–a bid to forge reconciliation between majority Shia and minority Sunni–is a nonstarter in a political environment drenched in the blood of sectarian killings.

General Keane is one of the three retired generals and two academics who were cherry picked to explain to the President why the Iraq Study Group panelists are poopyheads.

Why would the Keane-Kagan plan succeed where earlier efforts failed? It envisions a temporary addition of 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. The initial mission would be to secure and hold the mixed Baghdad neighborhoods of Shia and Sunni residents where most of the violence occurs. Earlier efforts had cleared many of those sections of the city without holding them. After which, the mass killings resumed. Once neighborhoods are cleared, American and Iraqi troops in this plan would remain behind, living day-to-day among the population. Local government leaders would receive protection and rewards if they stepped in to provide basic services. Safe from retaliation by terrorists, residents would begin to cooperate with the Iraqi government. The securing of Baghdad would be followed by a full-scale drive to pacify the Sunni-majority Anbar province.

The catch is that, according to many smart and knowledgeable people, the military doesn’t have 50,000 troops to send. Fred Barnes doesn’t bother to address this little quibble.

I actually stopped reading after this paragraph (emphasis added):

The Keane-Kagan plan is not revolutionary. Rather, it is an application of a counterinsurgency approach that has proved to be effective elsewhere, notably in Vietnam. There, Gen. Creighton Abrams cleared out the Viet Cong so successfully that the South Vietnamese government took control of the country. Only when Congress cut off funds to South Vietnam in 1974 were the North Vietnamese able to win.

You should read that paragraph a couple more times in order to appreciate the magnitude of Barnes’s idiocy. I’ll wait. If you feel a strong urge to bang your head against a wall (as I did) I suggest finding a padded wall to avoid injury.

Now, it is true that Congress reduced appropriations to South Vietnam in September 1974, but Barnes’s notion that the “counterinsurgency approach” used in Vietnam had been a model of success until then is, um, a little off. Most historians believe the war was bleeped up beyond hope of redemption by 1968.

Those of us old enough to remember Vietnam also remember being told, by both Johnson and Nixon, that escalation — stepping up the war effort with more troops or more bombs — would eventually bring the war to a happy resolution.

It didn’t. But more importantly, the Vietnam experience should have taught us that not all problems require a military solution.

Robert Scheer wrote,

Bush seems not to have noticed that we succeeded in Vietnam precisely because we did quit the military occupation of that nation, permitting an ideology of freedom to overcome one of hate. Bush’s rhetoric is frighteningly reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s escalation and expansion of the Vietnam War in an attempt to buy an “honorable” exit with the blood of millions of Southeast Asians and thousands of American soldiers. In the end, a decade of bitter fighting did not prevent an ignominious U.S. departure from Saigon.

Now, however, Vietnam is at peace with its neighbors and poses no security threat to the United States. Many of the “boat people” have returned as investors, and successive American Presidents have made visits to the second fastest-growing economy in Asia. While Vietnam is still run by its Communist Party, eventually post-war leaders on both sides have accepted that peace is practical.

The lesson of Vietnam is not to keep pouring lives and treasure down a dark and poisonous well, but to patiently use a pragmatic mix of diplomacy and trade with even our ideological competitors.

The United States dropped more bombs on tiny Vietnam than it unloaded on all of Europe in World War II, only hardening Vietnamese nationalist resolve. Hundreds of thousands of troops, massive defoliation of the countryside, “free fire zones,” South Vietnamese allies, bombing the harbors … none of it worked. Yet, never admitting that our blundering military presence fueled the native nationalist militancy we supposedly sought to eradicate, three U.S. Presidents — two of them Democrats — lied themselves into believing victory was around some mythical corner.

While difficult for inveterate hawks to admit, the victory for normalcy in Vietnam, celebrated by Bush last week, came about not despite the U.S. withdrawal but because of it.

Since 1974 people have complained that we could have “won” in Vietnam had we just tried harder. And for lo these many years I have asked these people to explain to me what we would have “won” beyond a Korean-style stalemate, or why “winning” would have made any difference whatsoever to U.S. national security. I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

That said, I think it is possible — likely, even — that a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq will be followed by some heavy-duty nastiness throughout the Middle East. There’s no guarantee that, thirty years hence, we’ll be talking about “normalcy” in Iraq. There are huge geopolitical and cultural differences between southeast Asia in the 1970s and the Middle East today that make it foolish to assume withdrawal will have the same eventual outcome. But it’s even more foolish to assume that doing more of what’s failed up until now will be successful someday.

See also: Digby, “Up Escalator.”

Update:
The Heretik writes,

So Barnes announces Bush finally has a plan for victory. This follows last year’s Strategy for Victory which follow the catastrophic victory that was announced when Baghdad fell the first time. Almost four years into the fiasco, Bush has a plan. Plan for more plans to be announced as needed. We’re going to be in Iraq at least until January 20, 2009, the day Bush leaves office. Whatever illusions Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute has resold to Bush, we all will have to live with. And our soldiers and Iraqis both will die with over there. They have to die over there so Bush’s dreams don’t have to die over here. And thanks to the Iraq Study Group for providing Bush cover through the election cycle. It’s interesting how Bush says the study’s findings are interesting and then rejects them.

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