Dean v. Bush: “Winning” in Iraq
Or Winning Smart?
Speaking in San Antonio on Monday, Democratic National Committee head Howard Dean said that the US cannot win in Iraq. The link just given, to WOAI, allows you to listen to the interview. He called for bringing the national guards home from Iraq immediately. Excerpts:
‘ “I’ve seen this before in my life. This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, ‘just another year, just stay the course, we’ll have a victory.’ Well, we didn’t have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening.”
Dean says the Democrat position on the war is ‘coalescing,’ and is likely to include several proposals.
“I think we need a strategic redeployment over a period of two years,” Dean said. “Bring the 80,000 National Guard and Reserve troops home immediately. They don’t belong in a conflict like this anyway. We ought to have a redeployment to Afghanistan of 20,000 troops, we don’t have enough troops to do the job there and its a place where we are welcome. And we need a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country to fight (terrorist leader Musab) Zarqawi, who came to Iraq after this invasion. We’ve got to get the target off the backs of American troops. ‘
I’m going to blog the interview as I listen to it:
Dean compared the skewing of intelligence on Iraq in the build-up to the war to Watergate, which he pointed out also occurred in Nixon’s first term and only hit him in the second.
Dean said neither he nor Murtha wanted a withdrawal from Iraq (i.e. just pick up stakes and come back across the Atlantic), but rather a redeployment. Dean suggested an over-the-horizon US military force be stationed in a nearby friendly Arab country to deal with any problems of terrorism that remained in the wake of the redeployment. Dean said there should be a 2-year timetable for draw-down of troops from Iraq itself.
He said Bush wanted a permanent commitment to a failed policy in Iraq.
Dean said that 80 percent of Iraqis want the US and coalition troops out. (This was a British military poll done in Iraq that got leaked).
Dean criticized “Vietnamization” as a failed policy in Vietnam, and implied that keeping a big US military force on the ground in Iraq while attempts were made to “Iraqize” military operations would likewise fail.
He also accused Bush of deliberately suppressing intelligence reports from the CIA that raised doubts about his allegations concerning Iraq, and of not allowing Congress to see them at the time.
Bush and Cheney insisted on staying their course.
Actually, this debate is not about winning or losing. The maximalist goals of the Bush administration in Iraq have not been achieved and never will be achieved. Despite what Paul Bremer said, the US is not going to “impose its will on the Iraqis,” and despite (probably) Irving Lewis Libby’s silly allegation, the US is not manufacturing reality in Iraq (or at least not a very nice one–see the next item).
The debate is just about disengagement strategy. Bush wants to keep a large US military force in Iraq for as long as it takes to build up a new Iraqi military and government under US tutelage, so as to avoid the disaster of a collapse of Iraq when the US comes out (when, not if). Bush’s plan probably envisions a significant US troop presence for a good five years (how long it will really take to train an Iraqi army, if it can be done at all).
Dean wants to bring home the National Guards in 2006, and in 2007 to redeploy US army fighting divisions to bases in the region (probably Kuwait and Turkey, though he was diplomatic enough not to say so.) He also wants to avoid the disaster of a total collapse in Iraq. He is just convinced that long-term heavy US troop presence actually makes such a collapse more likely, and wants to deal with the problem differently.
So they are really just arguing over 2 years versus 5 years, and over direct US presence in that period versus an over-the-horizon capability to intervene against building threats to the US (i.e. if Zarqawi took over Anbar province and started up training camps for September 11 Part Deux–the Cheney nightmare scenario).
Dean apparently wants to know why you couldn’t take out any terrorist training camps that grew up with surgical strikes and special ops, rather than by garrisoning Anbar with 10,000 Marines who keep emptying out its cities and making the inhabitants refugees.
Dean’s remarks will, predictably, be twisted so that he is depicted as urging isolationism and complete withdrawal (“surrender”, the Right will call it.)
Let me just suggest to him and others who are pushing this sensible plan that we call it “Winning smart in Iraq” rather than “can’t win.” What can possibly be won is the avoidance of a hot civil war or a regional guerrilla war that plunges the world into economic crisis. Winning that is in the best interests of everyone, Iraqis and Americans alike.
As for Bush’s “winning” in Iraq, what did he want?
*He wanted to weaken al-Qaeda, which he said he believed received Iraqi state support. He was completely wrong about that, if he really did believe it and wasn’t just lying. In fact, Bush has enormously strengthened al-Qaeda, and he has not captured its top leadership. The London July 7 bombers explicitly were taking revenge for what they saw as US and British atrocities in Iraq. Zawahiri was able to recruit them because Bush’s actions in Iraq created such rage.
*He wanted to destroy Arab socialism and make Iraq a free market economy. In fact, Iraq’s economy is a basket case and the likelihood is that the petroleum industry, the major source of wealthy, will remain in federal or provincial government hands. A good 50 percent of Iraq’s economy will be in the public sector for a long time to come. Sounds like Socialism to me.
*He wanted to open Iraq up to unrestricted US corporate investment (Paul Bremer’s 100 laws, which Naomi Klein has written about). US corporations, however, are not interested in failed states, and are giving Iraq a pass. In the meantime, Canadian and Norwegian companies are getting a look-over by the Iraqi provincial authorities.
*He wanted a place to put bases in Iraq at the head of the Oil Gulf so as to be able to withdraw from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan airbase. In fact, no elected Iraqi government is going to lease long-term military bases to the United States. 80 percent of Iraqis want the US troops out completely, yesterday. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will at some point give a fatwa to that effect, and then it will be all over (as it was in the Philippines when its parliament asked the US to leave).
*He wanted to use Iraq as a springboard to undermine the regime of the mullahs in Iran, the other member of the “axis of evil.” In fact, the emergence of a politically mobilized Shiite majority in Iraq has given Iran new geopolitical advantages.
*He says he wanted to make Iraq a model of liberal democracy and human rights for the Greater Middle East. In fact, the Iraqi constitution says that Islam is the religion of state, that the civil parliament cannot pass legislation that contradicts the laws of Islam; and it allows ayatollahs to be put on court benches, etc., etc. So is Iraq going to have freedom of speech, or will blasphemy be a hanging offense? I bet on the latter. Bush implied to his evangelical supporters that they would have a free mission field in Iraq (which they wanted to use then to evangelize the rest of the Muslim world). Any evangelical missionary who shows up in Iraq today may as well just go straight to the studio to record his hostage tape.
So, Bush hasn’t won and won’t win the things he and his officials said they wanted.
We have to win smart. That means giving the Iraqis their independence ASAP while acting responsibly to avert potential crises if necessary.
There are people* attacking me now because I say I think the US does have the responsibility to forestall massive hot civil war in Iraq if it can, of the sort that could leave 2.5 million people dead and 5 million displaced abroad. That is what happened in Afghanistan from 1979. The US helped destabilize it(the Soviets contributed more to the actual destabilzaiont)in the 1980s and then, under Bush senior, just walked away completely. [Many on t]he American far left never complained about what was going on in Afghanistan in the 1990s, because for them the only source of evil in the world is US imperialism, and since the US had largely left Afghanistan, all was well. No matter if hundreds of thousands of Afghans were maimed as the US turned its back. Somehow they don’t complain so loudly about US-led NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia, which certainly saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives. They don’t actually care about Bosnians or Afghans or Iraqis, just about hating the US. The US has done horrible things. It has also done noble things. I am hoping that it finally does the noble thing in Iraq, and wins smart, for the Iraqis and for the Americans. Dean gets that. Bush doesn’t.
I used the phrase originally “looney left” for these quarters that wanted to paint me as some sort of war criminal for hoping to forestall genocide. The comments section has convinced me to avoid the phrase, because people who consider themselves on the left and are eager to see the US out of Iraq seem to have developed a free-floating anxiety that I might be referring to them or their position. I assure them that I was not; it is to a looney position that I was referring.