I have no answers to the colossal catastrophe of Iraq. I don't think there are any good options. What *this* post was about was simply to note that the people who got us into this mess are all public-spirited individuals who are now fixing to find somebody else to blame. The most contemptible of them, I think, are the neocon think tank types who assured us that they were the Vanguard of History and are now using their Big Brains to make sure that everybody else gets stuck holding the bag. But there's plenty of cowardice and mendacity to go around.
In the end, the lesson I draw from it, "Perhaps it's not Just War Doctrine that need to be "rethought" to accomodate hyperventilating politicos. Perhaps its our insistence on telling the Church to get with the times that needs to be rethought."
... Jesus has plenty to say about people who tie up heavy loads for others and don't lift a finger to help them (Matthew 23). The End to Evil types have been great at egging America on to this war. They haven't been so great about taking responsibility for their cheerleading when it's all gone south. Instead they blame Bush, the Iraqis, the American people--anybody but themselves. And they even get mad when Vanity Fair publishes their blame-shifting.
Yeah. I'd call that contemptible.
Sydney Carton has his own reply here (which I am reposting in case Mark deletes it):
I don't think you're really interested in the details of these sort of things, Mark. You seem much, much more interested in basically pointing at people you disagree with, and labeling them with a standard cliche. I point this out only because I was initially going to respond to your post over the assumptions you make about the "End to Evil" types, but I figured it was hopeless to debate a straw man based on false assumptions. And I'm not so certain that even if they "accepted responsibility" for the War, it would make any difference at all in what that means for American foreign policy in the future, assuming that things HAVE gone all south directly as a result of them and not from OTHER PEOPLE. Indeed, perhaps they would say, "sorry, we should've carped bombed the place entirely and forgotten about implanting democracy. We should've blown them to hell, that way, there'd be no pieces to bother to pick up." Had you considered that? And what is this obsession with the "end to evil types" anyway? As if their foreign policy proposals could foresee all things to come? Do the peaceniks ever get smeared with basically enabling terrorists, dictators, and genocidal maniacs? Of course not.
I suppose it shouldn't go without saying that linking to an anti-war column by Buchannan hardly does you favors. This is a man, after all, who didn't think we should've fought World War 2. And amazingly, he seems to view the ISG not as a way for moving forward, but for re-hashing the endless debate over whether we should've gone into Iraq in the first place. I don't recall if you think the ISG conclusions are a surrender, a great idea, or a political charade, but I have a feeling you'll never really think clearly about it until you abandon your sterotypical, categorical labeling of people you disagree with.
To which I would add my own:
First of all, the Vatican now holds that the reconstruction of Iraq should be supported, so if Mark wants to exercise even a hint of consistency in his ultramontane view of foreign policy that he adopts when using it as a rhetorical club against pro-war Catholics should be the end of it.
Secondly, let me address these two statements:
hat *this* post was about was simply to note that the people who got us into this mess are all public-spirited individuals who are now fixing to find somebody else to blame. The most contemptible of them, I think, are the neocon think tank types who assured us that they were the Vanguard of History and are now using their Big Brains to make sure that everybody else gets stuck holding the bag ... The End to Evil types have been great at egging America on to this war. They haven't been so great about taking responsibility for their cheerleading when it's all gone south. Instead they blame Bush, the Iraqis, the American people--anybody but themselves. And they even get mad when Vanity Fair publishes their blame-shifting.
First of all, I doubt that any apology offered by any neocons at this point would be sufficient for Mark or his new buddies Daniel Larison and Pat Buchanan, the latter of whom seems quite content to let the US withdraw and the Iraqi Christian population that Mark claims he cares so much about be wiped out by al Qaeda (yet remember everyone, the neocons are the most contemptible) so long as those dirty stupid
There will be plenty of blame to go around. Policymaking is organic. No memo rises through a department or agency without a dozen officials approving. Sometimes, their edits change happy-to-glad; there was a quip in the Pentagon about one official who would edit a stop sign if he had the opportunity. More often, alterations would reflect debates, compromises, and insertions by those at a higher level who had information or directives about which more juniors staffers were unaware. Such a bureaucracy is why so many foreign-service officers dislike their Washington postings and why Pentagon officers and Langley’s analysts grow frustrated.
Policy proposals from different buildings get hashed out at interagency working groups, coordination committees, and meetings. Principles decide big issues at the National Security Council. Sometimes bureaucracies would win debates, and sometimes they would lose. While many critics of Iraq policy bestow blame, they often practice anachronism, removing policy arguments from context and failing to recognize how nodal decisions outside any single individual’s control changed situations.
In the real world, though, when a decision is made, policymakers at all levels have no choice but to accept it and fight the next battle with an eye toward pushing subsequent policy choices to the best possible outcome, unless of course they wish to reverse decisions or sway debate by leak. The indices of Bob Woodward’s books are a pretty good compilation of these A-list leakers. While bloggers and armchair quarterbacks can ignore trails of decisions and their aftermath, policymakers do not have such luxury.
Planning was poor. Emphasis on prewar diplomacy delayed preparation. In a diplomatic world where image trumps reality, senior officials felt substantive planning could undercut diplomatic optics.
Planning which did occur had insufficient coordination. Had working-level officials all operated under the same roof, coordination, which took weeks, could take days. Personality matters. Proximity can ameliorate otherwise festering interpersonal suspicions and bureaucratic rivalry.
The Future of Iraq Project was valuable as an idea forum in which all relevant offices within government participated, although it did not produce action plans.
There was also reliance upon bad advice. Many retired diplomats — like Baker-Hamilton report drafter Edward Djerejian — and a host of officials across the U.S. government felt that Iraq could be rehabilitated in 60-90 days. While some papers subsequently leaked contradict such claim, often such documents contained mutually contradictory statements, as bureaucrats avoided risk.
Implementation also undercut planning. It is all well and good to have Phase III and Phase IV plans, but if no official makes the call as to when one phase ends and the other begins, confusion reigns, and chaos — and looting — fills the vacuum.
What were the nodal decisions that changed the course of Iraq’s postwar development? First was the decision to occupy the country. In December 2002, I argued for Iraq's liberation and suggested Iraqis would welcome us (they did) unless we became overbearing (we did) and stayed too long (once committed, we have no better choice short of completion).
Incumbent in this decision was delayed restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. There was an active debate at the time about whether Washington would have more leverage over Iraqi politicians if there was an established political decision before liberation, or whether boots on the ground would augment leverage. In the end, the State Department and some of the National Security Council officials triumphed. Subsequent events show they were wrong. Their mistake created a new reality. What would the Iraqi government have looked like if the Pentagon had won that debate? It will take declassification of Pentagon and National Security Council documents to show, but suffice to say the canard of handing Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi was not among them. That myth was the result of intelligence officers ten years into retirement seeking limelight by claiming falsely to have current information, bureaucratic warfare, and the imaginative mind of some journalists and bloggers.
Another nodal decision involved federalism. Before Iraq’s liberation, it was clear that federalism would be a priority for Iraqis. Here, U.S. policymakers lost an important opportunity to influence. While the Iraqis should have determined the final shape of their government within clear parameters, Washington could have better influenced the process by creating the right template. For example, when compiling Iraq’s fiscal year 2004 budget, the Coalition Provisional Authority could choose between determining the budget in coordination with the governing council, or fixing the budget by compiling requests from municipalities and districts through the governorate to the central government to adjudicate, negotiate, and then decide. The former was quicker, but the latter would establish a process which could institute administrative, rather than ethnic or sectarian federalism. For the sake of easing the Madrid Donors’ Conference, the Coalition Provisional Authority’s chief of staff decided to go by the former route.
Another error was to miscatagorize Iraqis. The Coalition did this in two ways. Some diplomats and officials became obsessed by the dichotomy between “externals” — those Iraqis who had fled into exile or lived in Iraqi Kurdistan, outside Baghdad’s control — and “internals,” those who remained and, presumably, had greater legitimacy. Others — myself included — paid too much heed to balancing ethnic and sectarian representation.
The external-internal split turned out to be a canard. One-in-six Iraqis fled under Saddam. But, many retained family ties. There was not a division akin to China and Taiwan. Before the war, it was clear that exiles — the Iraqi National Congress coalition including Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraq National Accord, Constitutional Monarchy Movement, and the two main Kurdish parties would play key roles. They have, with the exception of the Constitutional Monarchy movement. Had U.S. policymakers maintained a consistent template rather than changing the rules whenever exiles emerged as leaders, liberals would have had more opportunity to develop strategy. There also would have been less animosity toward American diplomats and policymakers.
While Sharif Ali bungled his political ambitions from the start, there remains in Iraq nostalgia for the past. Recently, some commentators have written about Saddam revisionism which ironically has more traction among U.S. progressives and anti-war activists than it does among Iraqis. Among an older generation, there is also nostalgia for some prominent military leaders from the Republican period, and also for the Hashemite monarchy. Even today, former military officers, tribal leaders across the sectarian divide, and al-Anbar notables suggest, more than the United Nation or regional governments, prominent Hashemite figures not involved in the Jordanian government would be welcome mediators and interlocutors.
What other policy decisions had significant impact on Iraq’s development? Again, the prewar debate about whether to train a free Iraqi officer corps is, in retrospect, very important. The decision to train in advance a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian fighting force not affiliated with any political party was slowed by a desire to emphasize diplomacy, questions as to how best to marshal, vetting, and interagency filibusters. Delayed by months, the conflict began before the bulk of volunteers could be cleared through a cumbersome vetting process. And so, the opportunity to both liberate and provide security fell by the wayside.
... An auto-da-fe is developing that demands mea culpas. While some conspiracy theorists believe so-called neocons to have had immense power and influence, the idea that three or four people within the U.S. government — to a man excluded from implementation and decision-making — could control hundreds of others is absurd. Still, everyone played a role in Iraq. As is the case in government service, individual jobs were less than glorious, even if they were satisfying.
I was a reporting officer rather than an action officer. Decisions were taken by those living in the Green Zone, and the eight or nine people surrounding Bremer who are apparent from the index of his memoirs. Nevertheless, like all involved, I made mistakes of analysis along the way. I also should have given more credence to tribalism, although this revived with time and insecurity. While my private reports focused alarm at the spread of the militias, I wish I had emphasized the problem far earlier in my public writing once I left government.
As an outside analyst, I botched predictions on the last election. I thought Ahmad Chalabi could get five percent; but officially, he did not win a seat. In reality, I suspect he got one or two percent, although was sidelined after both he and Ayad Allawi lost a number of ballots by having their ballots spoiled by dual votes on the same ballot paper for the United Iraqi Alliance, apparently after the vote was cast. Can Chalabi make a comeback? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But he certainly has the connections and expertise to remain relevant in one capacity or another. His potential remains as a coalition builder. That he has become a lightening rod in Washington is irrelevant.
I was also wrong but pleasantly surprised to see Mithal al-Alusi do well. More seriously, I regret not recognizing Hazen al-Shaalan’s corruption earlier. Nevertheless, should there be declassifications of documents, I'll have no reason to hide my face. Indeed, the one issue which should unify supporters of the war and their critics is the demand that the U.S. government declassify all U.S. documents relating to policy and planning immediately, and release the material seized from Saddam. The latter may contain embarrassing material such as the names of those not only in Europe and in Arab media, but also in the United States who accepted gratuities from Saddam’s government. Avoiding embarrassment is not reason to withhold documents.
Despite all the problems, do I still stand by the decision to liberate Iraq? Yes. Like U.S. diplomats and servicemen who have spent time in Iraq post-liberation, I have met too many Iraqis and seen too much good to regret my decision. Do I believe we need to press on? Yes. Do I believe U.S. foreign policy should look toward the long-term and push for democracy? Yes.
Many commentators focus only on mistakes. Every mistake permanently altered the path of history and the outcome possible to achieve. But, as bad as is the current situation, there might still be strategies to maximize results, improve stability and the strength of democracy, and gain the best possible outcome for U.S. national security. Among possible prescriptions would be improving police training and oversight and, if need be, the dissolution and reconstitution of the force.
I post it all because given Mark's tendency to "skim" stuff I wanted to make sure that all the relevant material is available for him to read with as little effort as possible. After all, he tends to get most of his primary source material on what the neocons think and believe from Pat Buchanan, Daniel Larison, and The American Conservative these days.
As far as the neocon desire to "blame" the Iraqi people, I would ask that Mark please get it through his head that neoconservatism is not synonymous with National Review and that individuals like John Derbyshire or Andrew McCarthy who make arguments to that effect are not representative of that particularly strain of conservatism. They are now critical of the Bush administration (and the Weekly Standard has been calling for Rumsfeld's head since at least the fall of 2004 if not earlier) because while they advocated the policy, the administration was the one that carried it out. If they feel that the latter isn't being done well, don't they have a right to make an issue of it? Or does supporting a hypothetical policy mean that you have to just shut up and accept whatever evils may result from the implementation of that policy? I certainly don't think so, and one would think that Mark and his paleocon buddies would be happy that so many of the neocons are now onboard with their dislike of the manner in which Rumsfeld has implented their preferred policies.
Their dislike of Vanity Fair I agree with completely, by the way. It was a transparent effort to influence the upcoming Congressional elections and I find it somewhat ironic that Mark with his love of triangulation can't understand how one might dislike the actions of the current administration but nevertheless find the Democrats far, far worse. As for the actual content of the article (no doubt another thing that Mark "skimmed"), it appears that many of the leading neocons now repudiate the idea of going into Iraq, which is just as well given that we are now setting ourselves up to surrender there with the pressure provided by the ISG. Given that Mark was himself a tepid supporter of the war in the beginning, one would think him happy to see that so many have come around in his current view.
My offer of a free copy of Neoconservatism and all the other books I had previously mentioned if he actually wants to learn more about what these evil neocons actually believe still stands, by the way. Just in time for the holidays!
Oh, and one more than. I am aware that it is pledge week over at Mark's. I am equally aware that a lot of people here don't like him and don't plan to contribute. I don't have a problem with that (not that I could do anything if I did), but I would prefer that the comboxes not turn into a constant expression of those sentiments, recalling our earlier point that Victor and I want Mark to mind his manners, not lose his income.