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2004 May 10 Monday
US Military Officers Increasingly Critical Of US Strategy In Iraq

Writing for the Washington Post Thomas E. Ricks an important article about increasing opposition among US military officers against the way Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and the rest of the Bush team are conducting the war in Iraq.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."

Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.

There are lots more quotes where those come from. Click through and read the whole thing.

Lots of officers interviewed by Rick refused to be quoted by name.

Like several other officers interviewed for this report, this general spoke only on the condition that his name not be used. One reason for this is that some of these officers deal frequently with the senior Pentagon civilian officials they are criticizing, and some remain dependent on top officials to approve their current efforts and future promotions. Also, some say they believe that Rumsfeld and other top civilians punish public dissent.

Think about that for a second. These officers could, for the good of their country, resign their commissions and then publically state what they see as wrong with the conduct of the war. Or they could remain in the service, publically state their views, and then lose out on promotions. But in spite of what they see as major flaws in US strategy the bulk of them are putting their own careers ahead of what they see as the best interests of the country. This is very disappointing. They could have much greater impact if they were willing to publically go on record with their views.

On the political Right there are far too many people (including many bloggers) who tend to see all criticism of Bush Administration strategy as based on Lefist political assumptions. Therefore the debate on strategy tends too much to be a partisan debate aimed at winning points. The result is that there are not enough hawkish proponents of aggressive protection of American interests offering constructive criticisms of Administration policy. This is unfortunate because substantial American interests have been harmed by a long series of Bush Administration mistakes and the Bushies continue to rack up yet more big blunders.

The insurgent forces in Iraq have begun to sense that they can scare the US into withdrawing and this is emboldening them. The United States either needs to greatly increase its forces in Iraq or hang it up.

"There are several million young men in Iraq who are now seeing us in a whole new light," says Pat Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. "We have something like 130,000 troops in Iraq.We probably do not have more than 60 thousand or 70 thousand fighters in that force. They are spread across a vast area." In Lang’s view, the United States must either shift that tipping point by bringing in more troops, or we withdraw. "To back away from the hostiles will enormously encourage our enemies. We have no choice but to fight it out and defeat the growing revolt in Iraq,” he says. "Once you drive your car off the cliff, there's not much you can do to affect the outcome."

The article reports that General Abizaid has decided to increase forces in Iraq by another division. This strkes me as too little too late. Better increase by about 3 divisions and ruthlessly and rapidly defeat the insurgency than to just up our forces while their own forces increase in number. The Bush Administration is probably unwilling to do that in part because it is unwilling to admit to the scale of its miscalculation both to itself and to the American people.

A French correspondent who has lived in Arab countries offers some insights into Arab mindsets.

Arabs follow winners. Al Quaeda is recruiting a lot by now, not because there is the war in Irak (its recruitment had been reduced as soon as Afghanistan fell), but because Arab street is persuaded, from what they can see in West Press, that the west will lose. When you live in a dictature, the most important is to be on the right side, if not you lose your life. Their survival tactic is therefore to try to guess who will win, and to be part of the winners.

Tit for Tat (T4T) and other cooperative strategies in a IDP do not exist in Arab countries, outside the tribe (extended family) : that's the main reason why these countries are so poor (despite the oil). Any cooperation is perceived as a avowal of weakness, which will be rewarded by treason. To survive in Arabic countries, you HAVE TO know that. The most surprising in Tunisia, where this is very known, is that even Tunisians criticize this behavior, and it's an important reason why they want to leave the country.

In short, IF european and american newspapers did just tell the opposite of what they write, announcing a huge success of coalition struggle, then the "Arab street" would im-me-dia-tly change its mind, and would be pro US. Do not tell me it's against the "ethic" of the profession: it wouldn't be a bigger lie than what they write now, just the opposite.

The United States has changed so much since World War II that it is unrealistic to expect the press to spin a positive message for the home front. So while this French correspondent is probably correct it is a piece of advice that is probably impossible to implement. This puts us in a difficult position. A simple total withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at this point would embolden Arabs hostile to the US and probably lead to a huge surge in recruitment of Muslims into Al Qaeda. We need an exit strategy that will not seem like a simple retreat in the face of Jihadist opposition.

A friend who was originally opposed to the US invasion of Iraq offers a rather hard-nosed Machiavellian realpolitik analysis and an excellent formula for how to handle Iraq:

I've been convinced it was losing for about 6 months. Prior to that I expected a long drawn out dismal failure but not outright military defeat in the sense of being forced to leave an actively hostile power behind. But as it became clear that the local powers have moved into the vacuum, that they are smart enough to understand this is their one opportunity, and that they have mastered the arts of rumor and terror to the point the US will never get a grip, then it dawned on me the result would be even worse.

I'm sure the military figured this out a while ago, if they are willing to talk to the press about it now.

Beyond the problems of having no way to get a grip, we don't have leverage either. This is because the occupation is styled as a liberation, and the USA is at some level genuinely too moral to annexe the place regardless of the locals. So we wander around mouthing how we are encouraging democracy while the would be despots run their local operations to blow up soldiers, aid workers, reconstruction, and any locals who seem to be helping, while simultaneously letting the populace have a story about how incompetent the US is at maintaining security. There really isn't any solution, because the guys we are up against have been raised on a culture of ruthless power and manipulate a people accustomed to keeping their heads down if they are not one of those willing to play the power game.

Of course the result for Iraq is going to be grotesque but those guys don't care, the various cliques are in a winner takes all game, which will not happen again, so now is their chance and they know it. Even the groups that might have bided their time will have realized that events are being forced and they need to choose a side, and none of those sides are "friends of USA".

And this talk of bringing the UN in to fix it is hysterically funny. Firstly, the UN will be even less effective, and they know it. Secondly, why would they want to? The US ignored the UN, this is their chance to say "we told you so" and from a safe, uninvolved distance. Help the US get out? Not a chance.

If it was me looking at this, I'd cut my losses. I'd partition the country into three areas, Kurd, Sunni, Shia. I'd draw those lines in the middle of nowhere and put my troops there so the troops would be out of the cities. I'd then take the strongest group in each area and say "its yours, but don't dare mess with our guard lines". Leave the country formally a single republic and give them each representation on a council to talk to each other about things they will have in common (assuming they do). Then tell each of them that they are personally responsible for the safety of the aid organizations and reconstruction, and expend lots of propoganda broadcast time interviewing their leader, their chief of police/militia, and their local ministers of health, education etc. on what their plans are and how they invite foreigners to work on their projects. Let them direct the projects (behind the scenes, insist on some proportion of schools, roads, etc) but not handle the budget (but pay them ample salaries and perks, so their graft is tolerable and formally legal). Any project not successfully kept safe by the militia (not a US soldier in sight) is irrevocably cancelled along with the salaries of the administration. Let them figure out how to keep the hotheads from spoiling the gravy train. Divvy up oil revenues from a national corporation proportional to population, distributed at as low a level (heck, per family checks) as possible. Form a small national army and train it with the occupying troops, out in the middle of nowhere, in desegregated regiments. Build nice barracks facilities they won't want to dismantle, and dismantle the old ones in cities. After a year or two, as projects wind up, reduce the border US forces to observer levels and invite the UN in to share the familiar peacekeeping role. Arrange national elections on a federation style constitution. Invite the neighbors to the party (who in the meantime, you have been as constructive with as possible). Let the resulting governement kick the peacekeepers out, which they will, and see what unfolds. Don't pretend you ever had a chance of controlling it anyway.

This partitioning with lines that are drawn through desert regions would get US soldiers out of the cities where they are much easier to kill. This would also give each ethnic group less a reason to fight to avoid dominance by the other groups. Plus, it would provide plenty of incentive for better behavior. Positive incentives for preferred behavior are incredibly important and are missing in current US handling of Iraq. This plan has a lot to recommend for itself. I would tend to favor pursuing a variation on this approach with the goal of keeping Iraq permanently broken up into 3 pieces. The US could play "balance the power" games of helping whichever group looks like it might be overrun by one of the other two.

A Pollyanna outlook on what is possible to achieve in Iraq and how easily goals can be achieved has so far led to an ever increasing debacle. It is time to take off the rose-colored glasses and abandon foolish illusions about how easily Iraq can be politically transformed. The price of the illusions has gotten far too high and threatens to escalate still higher. I've collected together a list of reasons why conditions in Iraq are unfavorable for the establishment of a successful federal liberal democracy not hostile to the United States. The Bush Administration's mishandling of Iraq has made conditions there even less favorable to the achievement of that goal. The longer we wait to acknowledge the deterioration our position the worse the outcome will ultimately be for our interests.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 10 01:11 AM  MidEast Iraq Military Needs


Comments
Bob Badour said at May 10, 2004 9:38 AM:

Partition sounds good to me. A democratic ally in the Kurdish north with Nato style mutual defense (tactical nukes and all). A friendly sanctioned strongman to protect the oil in the Shia south. Ruthless debaathification followed by a physical barrier and anarchy to weaken whomever eventually wins the impoverished festering shithole in the middle. I would even go one further and create a small protectorate on the Gulf a la Hong Kong and fully occupy the ports.

Let the "arab street" and would-be hegemons draw their own conclusions about defying US will.

Of course, Bush doesn't have the stones to do what's right in this situation. And the Lefties don't have the brains to recognize what's right.

razib said at May 10, 2004 12:08 PM:

The article reports that General Abizaid has decided to increase forces in Iraq by another division.

sounds like "graduated escalation"....

Allen said at May 10, 2004 2:57 PM:

SELL off the oil and gas.

How many troops do you want there; under what rules of engagement?

The Iraqis are not afraid of us. This was brought home to me by the stories that when there is an attack on a USA vehicle and the soldiers are lying dead, our troops come up to the site and there is a crowd of Iraqis standing around cheering. Imagine the self-control that our soldiers must exercise to prevent them from hosing down the crowd that is celebrating the killing of their comrades.

If we are going to tolerate the variations of this kind of Iraqi killing of our soldiers and then hiding in the crowd, are we going to have 1 soldier for every 10 Iraqis?

There aren't enough US troops.

I think a better strategy is to immediately sell off the oil and gas reserves of Iraq. There is probably $4 trillion of oil and gas reserves in Iraq. Let's say we could get $1 trillion in upfront payments for the fields and prospects. The US should pay itself back for the expenses incurred to date including the $87 billion we recently allocated for rebuilding. The balance would be allocated for infrastructure projects only, and the US would run the projects to reduce the corruption.

55-60% of the future cash flow would go to the oil companies. The remaining 40-45% of the cash flow would be allocated - 20% to the Iraqi citizens and the balance to the government.

By dedicating the cash flow and reducing the amount of cash available to the Iraqi government, we reduce the amount of money a future Iraqi government could use to fund terrorism and WMD. I think a reasonable concern we must have is to ensure that in 5 years the problem doesn't repeat itself in the form of a new Hussein or fundamentalist government.

We also reduce the funds a corrupted government can use. (I find it amazing that Bush doesn't seem to realize that as soon as we are gone, the internal political fights will not be about democracy or Islam. It will be about who gets to control and get on the oil and gas gravy train. Without dedicating this cash flow, he is just making another obvious mistake like his father.)

With the citizens getting a significant part of the cash flow, they will watch the government very carefully to make sure the government doesn't try to cancel or tax their individual royalty payments.

Now in order for the citizens to get their royalty payments, they must register. At the time they register the Coalition would try to identify the wolves within the sheep. We could put some kind of responder in the registration card, so we could partially track card holders with portals and video cameras on the portals.

In addition, after they are registered, citizens are liable to have their royalty registration cancelled if they or their family or village or neighborhood fight against the Coalition soldiers. After the first payment, the future payments to citizens would first be hit by the on-going expenses of the Coalition, including a $1 million payment to family of any soldier who is KIA or seriously maimed (no John Kerry purple hearts). So the longer they fight the Coalition, the more they hurt themselves. We could also make the financial pain even worse, by fine tuning the deductions so they don't hit the Kurds and any other area that is committed to peace and prosperity.

Proborders said at May 10, 2004 6:45 PM:

Randall, Peter Galbraith’s “How to Get Out of Iraq” is posted athttp://www.nybooks.com/articles/17103. “One Man’s Battle to Stop Iraq” is posted at http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/kurds/battle.html. “Kurd Sellout Watch, Day 421 - Should we partition Iraq?” by Timothy Noah is posted at http://slate.msn.com/id/2099574.

Randall Parker said at May 10, 2004 7:18 PM:

Proborders, Yes, I agree that Galbraith's article is important. I haven't had time to read it all yet and hence left it out of my original post. I try to fully read what I link to. Thanks for the other two links which I was unaware of. I'd forgotten all about Noah's on-going Kurd Sellout Watch. I remember reading one of his columns about a year or so ago.

The Kurds are going to get shafted if we do not let them have their own country. If we help them split off we could come out of this with one ethnic group in Iraq that likes us. If we don't then they will all hate us.

fling93 said at May 11, 2004 10:52 AM:

Partition is all very well and good for the Iraqis, but Turkey and Iran and Syria will never go for it.

alkali said at May 11, 2004 10:58 AM:

A problem is there is almost no oil in the Sunni bit -- it's either up by the Kurds or down with the Shias near Kuwait.

Randall Parker said at May 11, 2004 11:13 AM:

Fling93, We owe Turkey, Iran, and Syria what exactly? They can do what exactly to stop a partition? Squat.

Alkaki, The absence of oil in the Sunni heartland is a feature, not a problem. Leaving the Sunnis without oil money to fund a military makes the partition even more beneficial to US interests.

Steven said at May 11, 2004 3:09 PM:

Why quote a clearly anti-Bush hack job article from the WaPo as your source, and take the politcal right to task for not asking tough questions about Bush's prosecution of the war? Why don't you ask why senior military commanders are letting themselves be used for an anti-Administration hack job by a Democratic party propaganda rag?

So far, all the criticism of the prosecution of the battle in Iraq has turned out wrong as time has gone on. Things are going reaonably well despite Abu Ghraid. (Please recall the pundits expected a full insurgency not even a month ago, and today al-Sadr is trying to get some negotiations going to save his hide.) Perhaps you just need to look beyond the major media to figure out that things are going as well as the DoD's civilian leadership might have expected, and continue to progress. After all, there is a lot more to Iraq than Najaf and Fallujah.

Even the abuses that Lefties are trying to trumpet aren't anywhere near as bad as they would like us all to think. In short, the one group of people you cannot trust in this war is the major media. If they are your major source of information, you're bound to have a wrong picture of the state of affairs. Here's an experiment: read the ICRC report on treatment of prisoners. Then read the WaPo's story. The ICRC report is much different in its reading than in its telling by the WaPo. Their goal is to turn Bush out of office, regardless of the impact on the War on Terror (which most of them don't believe is a war). Please take that into account when you read their version of reality.

Steven said at May 11, 2004 3:12 PM:

Please, by the way, name some "Bush administration blunders" that have led to irrevocable damage to progress in Iraq, showing what progress was halted due to the blunder. I'd like to see a list, since everyone seems to be repeating this line, but no one has evidence that any of these supposed "blunders" actually had any effect.

Randall Parker said at May 11, 2004 4:05 PM:

Steven, So then the military commanders are not expressing their true beliefs? Who has reached them and twisted their minds so badly that they can't think straight?

Here are some of the Bush blunders:

  • Bush believed he could radically change Iraq politically. This was naive. I have listed all the reasons why belief we can convert Iraq politically is incredibly and dangerously naive. If you click back you can find posts I made before the war explaining why the Bush Administration attitude was naive.
  • Bush's people abolished the old Iraq Army and took all those generals off the payroll. He has flip-flopped and now he's busily trying to buy back the loyalty of the Baathists. Of course this is going to end up as "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss". Note in that article that the US is actually creating incentives for more militias to fight the US to get bargaining leverage. It worked so well for the Fallujans.
  • He didn't do a massive training of the US soldiers so they could speak Arabic and understand the local culture. This demonstrates a mind-boggling ignorance of what it takes to handle an occupation of a country that was going to immediately spring up insurgencies. Read Silence Was A Weapon: The Vietnam War In The Villages by former US Army Captain and intelligence officer Stuart Herrington to get a sense of how important it is to speak the local language and understand the local culture. I've been making posts on this for probably almost a year now. The Bushies don't learn. The neocons have their ideological model of how the world works and the facts that don't fit it are ignored. I am not going to defend these idiots. They should be fired.
  • Bush sent a force that was too small to occupy such a large country and populace. The resulting chaos helped turn many Iraqis against the US presence. Former Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki tried to publically state in advance how big a force was needed but he was slapped down hard by Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of the ideological nut incompetents around Rumsfeld.

I'm sick and tired of this incompetence. I'm also sick and tired of the argument that claims of incompetence and mistakes are just partisan sniping. The Right in America is doing itself no favors by trying to invent excuses for Bush. The accumulated result of all the mistakes is starting to sink thru to some Bush's cheerleaders. About time. Sure took them long enough.

Do you want to defend Bush's retarded immigration policy too? Or how about his position on the U Mich law school racial preferences case? Or how about his support for Ted Kennedy's education bill? Or how about the huge increase in Medicare entitlement spending even as the program heads for bankruptcy? I can't defend him as a fellow Republican because I think he should switch parties.

Fly said at May 11, 2004 9:46 PM:

Randall, I understand that you disagree with many Bush administration policies and actions. I have my own disagreements. However, I understand that choices have to be made. Some turn out well, others don’t. No matter what choices were made and what plan were followed, mistakes and setbacks are inevitable. Considering all that could have gone wrong and the many predictions of what would go wrong, the situation in the ME seems to be turning out okay. Not great, but okay.

“I have listed all the reasons why belief we can convert Iraq politically is incredibly and dangerously naive.”

Yes, you’ve listed many (not all) the reasons why converting Iraq politically is hard. I don’t believe the authors of the plan are “incredibly and dangerously naïve”. I certainly wouldn’t believe that from their background or the government positions they hold or from what they have written.

Looking over your list I didn’t see any balance. Where is the list of US assets that could help us accomplish our goals? US military, economic, and political power, an educated Iraqi populace that is sick of totalitarian rule, a populace that now has access to all the world’s news, people that want freedom. According to the polls I’ve seen, the Iraqi’s prefer democracy to another strong man or a theocracy and want the US military to stay until they feel safe.

Yes, it will be tough. Maybe we will have to settle for less than we desire. My greatest concern is not the Iraqi people, but whether America will stay the course.

What are you hoping to accomplish by depicting the Bush administration as incompetent and US policy in Iraq a failure? The choice seems to be between Bush and Kerry. Do you believe Kerry will better on foreign policy, immigration, and the economy?

Randall Parker said at May 11, 2004 11:05 PM:

Fly, It will be tough? Try: It is not going to happen. Look, I suggested before the war ago all sorts of things that the Bushies ought to be ready to do to transform Iraqi culture to make semi-liberal democracy possible. To get an idea of what would be involved learn about the British Raj. Start here Stanley Kurtz: After the War and read about how such great minds as Edmund Burke, James Mill, and his famous son John Stuart Mill played roles in reshaping institutions in India. It took well over a century to accomplish what the British did there.

In order to stay the course we'd have to get on a course that could actually accomplish the kind of change that the neocons at least claim they want to accomplish.When I say that the Bushies are dangerously naive I say that in part because they don't even know what such a course would look like. They certainly aren't promoting the scale of the undertaking that would be involved. They'd need to start training imperial administrators for lifetimes of work if they wanted to go that way.

Trying to do something that has all sorts of big costs (somewhere between $300-$450 billion dollars, hundreds of American lives, probably tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, huge anger in Arab countries, alienation of Iraqis who initially supported us, tying down assets that could be used elsewhere to accomplish other goals) without big benefits is folly.

The way the Bushies are pursuing ambitious goals in Iraq is undermining the potential for achieving less ambitious goals there. As long as they stay deluded we are not going to pursue policies that can work to achieve even less ambitious goals.

I am depicting the Bush Administration as incompetent because they don't just make mistakes. I expect mistakes. But what I also expect is for them to learn from mistakes. The Bushies are refusing to learn.

Look, if people on the political Right don't criticise Bush he's going to take his base for granted (as he does, for instance, on immigration) and he is going to continue to make mistakes that will cost him the political center. He has to stop screwing up. He needs to make some personnel changes. He's not interested in learning all that much himself. So he's more dependent on the quality of his advisors than many other Presidents have been. Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others have given him bad advice and made many bad decisions.

If Bush refuses to stop screwing up then I do not know that Kerry is necessarily worse. The Bushies are behaving like the invincibly ignorant.

Jerry Pournelle has some great comments in response to an Army officer today, Start here and read Jerry's response. Jerry lays out the major choices (I think he considers partition as a subset of one of his major categories). I don't think Bush is aware that these are the major choices.

Yes. we have assets. But assets are wasted without a viable strategy.

Randall Parker said at May 11, 2004 11:32 PM:

It is amazing how in the last week those of us on the political Right who have been critical of Bush's handling of Iraq are getting so much less lonely on this point. For yet another example of a blast from the Right also read George Will's column Time for Bush to See The Realities of Iraq.

Fly said at May 12, 2004 10:45 AM:

Thanks for the Pournelle link. Of his six options, I think the US is following 5, an Iraqi republic, with a backup of 3, 4, and 6. I.e., start with Iraq to convert the entire ME into secular democracies. If that doesn’t work, keep Iraq as a military base to prevent its neighbors from going nuclear or supporting terrorists. If that doesn’t work, destabilize the region while minimizing the impact on the oil fields. No matter which outcome, the ME will no longer be a haven and funding source for terrorists. (Similar multi-level strategy in Afganistan and Pakistan. I believe we will see similar efforts in Asia and Africa.)

Ironically, given his SciFi credentials, I think Pournelle’s analysis depends too heavily on history and not enough on present events and future possibilities. His alternative 1, contain Saddam and develop energy independence, fails due the continuing spread of the terrorist ideology by state sponsors and the growing threat of MWD’s.

I agree with the commenters who posted after Pournelle.

“It is amazing how in the last week those of us on the political Right who have been critical of Bush's handling of Iraq are getting so much less lonely on this point. For yet another example of a blast from the Right also read George Will's column Time for Bush to See The Realities of Iraq.”

War is ugly and scary. People cover their ears and look away. When bad things happen they want someone to blame.

Randall Parker said at May 12, 2004 10:58 AM:

Fly, Before we invaded it seemed obvious to me that the Bushies were not preparing properly for the post-war occupation and I said so. After the invasion I started pointing out some of the mistakes they were making. I eventually reached the point of no longer posting all that much on Iraq because I figured I had to wait till reality sank in. Well, it sank in.

Bad things didn't just start happening with the recent fighting. The recent casualties are the outcome of events that could be seen developing since before the war actually started.

Look, if WMD proliferation is the problem then Iran and North Korea are what should have been our priorities. It was obvious before the war that Saddam's WMD programs were far less sophisticated. The Bushies have no strategy that I can see for dealing with states developing WMD.

If the terrorists are the problem then an Iraq invasion is irrelevant. Saddam was at most a very minor supporter of Al Qaeda. Most Al Qaeda money was coming from Saudi Arabia and Gulf states. Ditto for actual Al Qaeda members.

Developing energy tech that would displace oil would decrease the amount of money available for the Jihadis and for the spread of Wahhabism. The Bush Administration plans to cut energy research. This is a big mistake.

Fly said at May 13, 2004 6:23 PM:

Randall, you seem to believe everything is failing in Iraq. I don’t.

(Excuse me if I misstate your suggestions.)

You suggested changing the kin marriage customs in Iraq. I don’t see Iraqi’s accepting such change imposed by the US. I do believe that the seductive Western culture and the natural desires of the young will accomplish this goal.

You say the US needed more troops for the occupation. As the US has upped the number of troops, the administration seems to agree.

I don’t really know how to assess the Army officer complaints. I do know that as long as I’ve been following the WOT, i.e., post 911, Rumsfeld has been at odds with the Army. He stepped on many toes while remaking the US Armed Forces. That doesn’t mean these latest complaints aren’t real, but they do sound like more of the same. (My bias is that we fight smarter with fewer troops hence I favor Rumsfeld.)

“Bad things didn't just start happening with the recent fighting. The recent casualties are the outcome of events that could be seen developing since before the war actually started.”

From some of the soldier letters I’ve read the problems in the Sunni triangle and with Sadr were anticipated by the military command over a year ago. The Sadr situation seems to be playing out nicely. (Sadr has helped discredit cleric rule and Iranian influence.) The Sunni situation doesn’t seem as promising. I’m guessing our troops will see more conflict. The marines are still in place.

“Look, if WMD proliferation is the problem then Iran and North Korea are what should have been our priorities. It was obvious before the war that Saddam's WMD programs were far less sophisticated. The Bushies have no strategy that I can see for dealing with states developing WMD.”

The US has many means to achieve its goals. Some of the means are highly visible such as invading Iraq, some such as building schools in Afghanistan should be visible but don’t sell newspapers, some such as settling up bases in Africa and Asia and forming local partnerships are kept quiet, and some are deliberately hidden such as covert actions. I expect our government to use its entire means to fight its enemies. I don’t expect to know everything it does.

As for the public info regarding North Korea:

Due to its closed society and large tunnel systems limited surgical strikes won’t stop weapons production in North Korea. Invasion is possible but the cost is the probable destruction of South Korea. Nuclear destruction of North Korea is possible but will be politically feasible only if North Korea is responsible for a major attack on the US.

Political and economic pressure is ineffective as the regime see nuclear weapons as necessary for regime survival.

You have suggested flooding North Korea with radios. Radios only work if the people have the freedom to rebel. Still I believe it wouldn’t hurt to try. I know a German activist is trying that approach. Also a local South Korean group is broadcasting into North Korea. The South Korean government is hindering both efforts. I’m guessing a direct effort by the US government would cause friction with South Korea. I’m hoping the US has covert programs underway to inform the North Korean people. Possibly through local church groups operating on the Chinese border.

The only approach that I believe might work is to continue pressuring China. If China wants to keep Japan and Taiwan from going nuclear, it will have to stop NK. A Chinese economic embargo would bring down the NK regime. (The resulting chaos scares China and SK.)

So what is the US doing?

Not directly negotiating with North Korea. That approach failed. (To be fair to Clinton, I believe our government thought that the North Korean government would collapse if the US managed to delay the nuclear issue. Support from South Korea and China have kept NK afloat.)

Including China, Japan, and South Korea in the talks. (Yeah Russian too, but I don’t think they are important.) Makes it harder to triangulate against the US. When the talks fail, it should be easier to convince China to act.

Develop bunker buster nuclear weapons to directly threaten the North Korean military elite. Activate a missile defense system that might defend against a North Korean attack. (It may not work but we need for the North Koreans to believe it might. Why guarantee your own destruction by making an attack that might not even damage the US?)

Organized an alliance to interdict North Korean ships to stop weapons proliferation and drugs. Panama has recently agreed to let the US board all ships registered under their flag of convenience. (No I don’t believe interdiction will be very effective unless supported by China and South Korea.)

Finally, I’m guessing that covert operations are underway.

As for why Iraq and not Iran or Saudi Arabia…

Lots of reasons. Most I’m sure you’ve read. (Stephen De Beste essays for one source.)

Randall, I doubt anything I’ve written is new to you. I don’t even say you are wrong in discounting much of it. I do disagree with your assessment that the US government is incompetent.

Randall Parker said at May 13, 2004 7:05 PM:

Fly,

Imagine you were judging the quality of firemen and you noted that once a decent chunk of a building was wrecked and the fire was still blazing the firemen elected to call in more fire trucks. Would you praise their competence for bringing in the needed additional equipment and people? Or would you fault them for not bringing it in before the damage was done?

As for consanguineous marriage and the reform of Iraq: If we are not willing to try to tackle the problems that cause Arab lands to be so illiberal and undemocratic or if they would resist our attempts to do so then that is an argument against trying to liberalize them in the first place. Either sign up for what is necessary to do the job or pass on trying. Good intentions don't cut it with me. I look at the bottom line. What would it take to do the job and succeed? I outline it. I compare it to what is being done. In the case of a political transformation of Iraq would take decades and require the US to do a bunch of things that the advocates for intervention are not even willing to consider. So they are advocating a path which is both costly and doomed to fail.

Fighting smarter with fewer troops: Fighting wars and conducting occupations are two different ctivities. Our technology gives us a much greater edge in the former than in the latter. If we were not spending so many hundreds of billions in Iraq we could spend some of that money on the development of electronic means of running a low labor intensity and less intrusive occupation of a hostile population what would produce far less collateral damage, innocent casualties, and hostility on the part of the occupied population. We lack either the manpower or the proper set of technologies to do an Iraq occupation.

North Korea: US policy is insufficient to change the outcome of continued WMD development. Ditto for Iran and its nuclear program.

Fly said at May 13, 2004 11:37 PM:

Randall, I’m a strong believer in constructive criticism. If you see problems point them out. However claiming our government is doing nothing or is inompetent because it doesn’t do what you want isn’t constructive criticism. It seems little different than the partisan attacks on Bush.

“Imagine you were judging the quality of firemen and you noted that once a decent chunk of a building was wrecked and the fire was still blazing the firemen elected to call in more fire trucks. Would you praise their competence for bringing in the needed additional equipment and people? Or would you fault them for not bringing it in before the damage was done?”

While the building was burning, I would try to lend a hand. I wouldn’t yell out to the firement that they are a bunch of incompetents. I wouldn’t act to get the firemen dismissed while the fire is still burning. I wouldn’t advocate replacing the firemen with people whose plan for fighting fire is too snuff out embers with a water pistol.

I’m not a Republican. Nor am I a Democrat. I’m an agnostic with leanings toward atheism. I’m a strong believer in stem cell research. In so many ways my worldview differs from that of Bush and his administration. With all my differences, I hear little constructive criticism of government policies. I’ve seen lots of lies, distortions, and half-truths by Bush critics. (Not by you. If I didn’t respect your intelligence and knowledge I wouldn’t visit this site.) However references to the Bush adminstration collectively as naïve dreamers and incompetents comes close to partisan ranting. People can disagree without being fools or incompetents.

“As for consanguineous marriage and the reform of Iraq: If we are not willing to try to tackle the problems that cause Arab lands to be so illiberal and undemocratic or if they would resist our attempts to do so then that is an argument against trying to liberalize them in the first place. Either sign up for what is necessary to do the job or pass on trying.”

We are tackling the problem. Free press, satellite TV, and the Internet have invaded Iraq and will spread throughout the ME. Exposure to Western culture will “corrupt” the traditional Arab culture. The kids aren’t going to follow the old ways. So you and I differ on what is “necessary”. (I’m not saying they will like Americans. Certainly the European Arabs don’t. I’m saying the old culture is doomed.)

I don’t know how long it will take to transform Iraq. The Kurds seem well on the way after a decade. (I know they aren’t Arabs.) In an age of cable TV and the Internet it may happen relatively quickly. Especially if a democratically elected government ruling under a constitution guaranteeing minority rights is backed by US troops.

“Fighting smarter with fewer troops: Fighting wars and conducting occupations are two different ctivities. Our technology gives us a much greater edge in the former than in the latter. If we were not spending so many hundreds of billions in Iraq we could spend some of that money on the development of electronic means of running a low labor intensity and less intrusive occupation of a hostile population what would produce far less collateral damage, innocent casualties, and hostility on the part of the occupied population. We lack either the manpower or the proper set of technologies to do an Iraq occupation.”

I agree. So far we’ve focused our technology on winning battles, not on mantaining law and order. I think our intermediate solution will be to turn the job over to Iraqi’s as quickly as we can. The US troops will stay in the country to stiffen the backbone of the Iraqi forces.

In the longer term the US will be fighting terrorists worldwide. We need to develop better “occupation” technology. Perhaps we’ll have better surveillence or better detection. Perhaps we’ll develop mind drugs for interrogation or conversion. We are going to learn lessons in Iraq that we may have to use in the US. (We are vulnerable to a Madrid style attack.)

“North Korea: US policy is insufficient to change the outcome of continued WMD development. Ditto for Iran and its nuclear program.”

Based on public information I agree. However I’m not privy to covert ops or to the under the table pressure the US is applying to other countries such as China or to future US planning. I was happily surprised by Libya. I suspect that US future plans for Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia include our troops in Iraq.

Randall Parker said at May 14, 2004 3:15 AM:

Fly, After defeat of US forces by the Germans at the Battle of Kasserine Pass Ike fired the general in charge (I forget his name) and put Patton in command. Lots of generals and cabinet officers have been fired during wartime. It is a very common thing to do.

Incompetence: Your argument appears to be that I shouldn't call them incompetent when I think they are. I do not understand that argument.

The Firemen: In this case they lit the fire and then argued that the smoke was very beneficial. They didn't have enough firemen to fight the smoke and still don't.

Satellite TV: Saudi Arabia has it. Saudis watch Arab channels that are not exactly portraying the US in a positive light.

As for whether Western influences will corrupt them: Maybe. Where's the data that there is a real trend running in that direction? In Iraq more women are wearing veils and being pushed out of the workplace than when Saddam was in power. I quote the polls showing that the Iraqis want to turn the clock back on the position of women.

Fly said at May 14, 2004 2:10 PM:

“Incompetence: Your argument appears to be that I shouldn't call them incompetent when I think they are. I do not understand that argument.”

Let me explain myself better. First, I believe in honesty. If a policy is wrong then say so. On that we agree. Second if you believe there is a person better suited for a leadership role in the government, then by all means recommend him and explain how his policies will be better than what we have now. This is constructive criticism.

Then there are assertions that the Bush administration is incompetent, naïve, or engaging in fantasy.

You have a fundamental disagreement with the Bush strategy. To backup your beliefs you present discouraging information from Iraq and essays critical of the Bush administration. However Iraq and the world are very complicated and there are many stories that could be told. You pick and choose those that support your thesis. That is fine. I’d expect nothing different. I’m exposed to a different set of facts and stories. My interpretation is not nearly so pessimistic. Am I wrong? Maybe. Are you? Maybe. Could you support an assertion that I am incompetent, naïve, or fantasizing? I don’t think so. You don’t know enough about why I believe what I believe. That conjecture would be a personal attack rather than a reasoned argument.

My opinion is that with regard to the Bush administration you’ve drifted over the line from constructive criticism to personal attack. If you want Kerry elected that is fine. If you just want to vent your frustration that is also fine. It’s your blog and you’ve made it an interesting and informative site. If, however, you are trying to influence the fence straddlers or advocate new policy directions, I think you are hurting your cause. Presenting your information and letting your audience draw their own conclusions would be more effective.

“As for whether Western influences will corrupt them: Maybe. Where's the data that there is a real trend running in that direction? In Iraq more women are wearing veils and being pushed out of the workplace than when Saddam was in power. I quote the polls showing that the Iraqis want to turn the clock back on the position of women.”

The Iranian populace seems tired of the Mullahs. Satellite dishs are springing up all over Iraq. Arabs are taking to the Internet in droves. Mobile phones are common in Saudi Arabia. The newer ones are camera phones. Young Saudi’s are going to use those phones to exchange pictures and arrange dates. The Fundamentalists see it coming and are working hard to repress it. I don’t think they will succeed. (I do believe we will see civil wars in the ME.)

Randall Parker said at May 14, 2004 10:38 PM:

Fly, Each side in politics is full of cheerleaders. I am not a cheerleader.

As for personal attacks: They really are laboring under myths. I can't talk about the sheer scale of the gap between Bush Administration beliefs and reality without saying the gap is huge. They are also very very willing to insult and smear those who disagree with them. Here's George W. Bush calling Iraq democracy skeptics racists:

"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."

If the President wants to call his critics racist then I'm supposed to pretend it is possible to engage the idiot on the level of ideas? Its not like he reads much anyhow. Ideas are not his forte.

Writing from a left-liberal perspective Josh Marshall saw serious problems with Bush's statement. But so did the very conservative George Will in a stern rebuke:

But what he suggested was: Some persons -- perhaps many persons; no names being named, the smear remained tantalizingly vague -- doubt his nation-building project because they are racists.

That is one way to respond to questions about the wisdom of thinking America can transform the entire Middle East by constructing a liberal democracy in Iraq. But if any Americans want to be governed by politicians who short-circuit complex discussions by recklessly imputing racism to those who differ with them, such Americans do not usually turn to the Republican choice in our two-party system.

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts.

John Derbyshire also responded to Bush's comments and thinks Bush is taking the left's position on multiculturalism.

Further, I don't think he has the kind of mind that responds critically to social dogmas. If they appeal to his emotions, and are widely believed, or at least repeated, by the people he moves amongst, he will incorporate them into his worldview, and from then on will defend them with the iron-willed certitude that is, of all his character traits, the one most useful to our nation in this time of war. Everything George W. Bush has said and done indicates that on matters of race, ethnicity, "diversity," and multiculturalism, he is as liberal as it is possible to be.

The Iranian populace seems tired of revolution. They show no signs of being ready to revolt. Back a year ago I was saying that there was going to be no popular revolution in Iran. Some hawkish bloggers were telling me how wrong I was and that Iran was going to be in a revolution by July 2003. Well, no. Iran was not pre-revolutionary. See my post from May 06 2003 What Do Polls Tell Us About The Iranian People? and also Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Seen As Broadly Popular and an even earlier post Iranian People Not In Pre-Revolutionary Frame Of Mind.

Fly said at May 15, 2004 12:46 PM:

“I am not a cheerleader.”

Avoiding attack language is hardly cheerleading.

“They are also very very willing to insult and smear those who disagree with them. Here's George W. Bush calling Iraq democracy skeptics racists”

Yep. I’d seen the quote elsewhere and had a similar reaction, use “racist” to shut down criticism. It is a fine example of poor reasoning. Your blog sets a far higher standard than that followed by our political “elite”.

My guess is that Bush has an IQ in the 120’s. (Political success comes from charisma and connections, not intelligence.) I’m guessing his speechwriters craft a message to emotionally motivate people with IQ’s between 95 and 110. You rightfully criticize the speech.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are far brighter than Bush. I’m guessing there are people supporting Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz that are even brighter and more knowledgable. (I believe Bush’s leadership success consists of recognizing talent, delegating power, rewarding success, and punishing failure. It would be nice if Bush could speak half as well as Blair.) These people have devised a multi-level worldwide strategy to combat US enemies.

Bush isn’t the Bush administration and a single political speech isn’t the Bush plan for changing the ME.

” If the President wants to call his critics racist then I'm supposed to pretend it is possible to engage the idiot on the level of ideas? Its not like he reads much anyhow. Ideas are not his forte.”

I tend to ignore the political speeches on both sides and instead focus on issues and policies. I wouldn’t engage either Bush or Kerry in a public debate. I would lose because I would focus on rational arguments and they, as experienced politicians, would pander to their audience.

From my own readings on world affairs, I don’t believe the Bush administration is incompetent. I don’t believe the strategy the US is following is naïve or a fantasy. It could fail and parts will undoubtably fail. Constructive criticism could help it succeed. Pointing out flaws and suggesting alternate strategies is constructive criticism.

“The Iranian populace seems tired of revolution.”

I have followed several Iranian blogs. From what I’ve gathered you are correct. The Iranian populace is very unhappy with the Mullahs. They would love for them to be gone. However, memories of revolution and war are too recent for the population to support armed revolt. Nor does there seem to be a natural leader or opposition group. The country does seem ripe for US covert ops. Perhaps the Kurdish minority could act as a fifth column. (I wonder about that train that exploded.)

I agree with you also that the Nuclear Weapons Program is popular in Iran so a revolution doesn’t necessarily solve our problem. I read an interesting discussion between a US visitor and some Iranians. While the Iranians hated the Mullahs they wanted an Iranian bomb. The American pointed out that the bomb made it much more likely that Israel or the US would attack Iran. Thus the bomb made Iran far less secure. One Iranian was persuaded.

Randall Parker said at May 15, 2004 2:11 PM:

Fly, My theory on Bush is that he has high latent inhibition. See my FuturePundit post Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity? for an appreciation of the importance of this aspect of cognition.

One can be very bright and yet be incompetent. One just has to resist learning inconvenient facts and to believe myths. This is what I accuse the Bushies of doing.

Bush also seemed motivated by a desire to deal with uncompleted family business. The attempt by Saddam to assassinate Bush Sr appears to have been a Dubya motive for the Iraq attack.

The other element you are missing in all of this is the motives of the neocons in the invasion of Iraq. Noah Millman brings this up in his disgust with continued neoconservative support for Ahmad Chalabi:

Me: Hey, don't breeze by the fact that key Chalabi promoters picked their man because he promised to normalize relations between Iraq and Israel. A legitimate case can be made for that goal as a foreign policy priority, but it seems to me the neo-cons have been spilling a lot of ink denying that Israel had anything to do with the case for war against Iraq.

Some of the neocons are more motivated by their perceived views of Israeli interest. Chalabi played them by telling them what they wanted to hear. In so doing Chalabi played America. Unfortunately the neocons are even wrong on Iraq in terms of Israeli national interests because they have placed Iraq ahead of Iran in order of importance (you can bet that Ariel Sharon doesn't share their priorities). The neocons have nothing but fantasies to offer on what to do about Iran.

Fly said at May 15, 2004 7:30 PM:

Randall, as I posted above I try to focus on issues and policies. I tend to discount attempts to psychoanalyze leaders and guess their motivations. (Bush is evil, stupid, inflexible, etc.) In evaluating a potential leader I look at his historical record and ask questions such as: Does the leader have a plan? Do I think the plan is worthwhile? Will he stick to a plan when the going gets tough? Is he prepared to sacrifice to achieve his goals? So far Bush is passing on my scorecard.

“The other element you are missing in all of this is the motives of the neocons in the invasion of Iraq.”

I can’t know the hidden agendas of the neocons or Bush. I can only go on their stated policies and the actions they have taken to date. (On the other hand if Americans have accepted payment to betray their country then I want them exposed and punished. I am concerned that Iraqi and Saudi oil money has damaged US interests.) Have some of our leaders put Israel’s interests ahead of US interests? I don’t think so but I may be biased toward Israel.

I think Israel has been the frontline battlefront against Islamic terror. I believe a clash between fundamentalist backed terrorism and the US has been coming for some time. (The 70 billion the Saudi’s have used to spread their Wahabi “faith” has found fertile soil.) I don’t agree with all Israel actions or policies. (I don’t like that Israel fired on the USS Pueblo. I don’t like that Israeli settlements made political solutions more difficult. I don’t like supporting a religious state that believes that God has ordained Jewish right to certain territory. I am aware that many Arabs were forced out of their homes after the first conflicts. I also have a fairly good historical perspective on why those events happened and on balance support Israel.) I feel that if the issue weren’t Israel there would be another pretext for Arabic anger.

On my more cold-blooded days, I see Israel as the West’s last best hope. As I’ve posted I’m pessimistic concerning our chances to avoid a US city suffering a catastrophic attack. (Death cult + WMD = disaster.) As Wretchard has outlined, I believe the ultimate US response would be death for millions of Muslims. If at all possible I want to avoid that final scenario. If the Bush plan doesn’t work then another possibility is that Arab terrorists will strike Israel with WMD causing catastrophic death and destruction. (As one of Iran’s leaders has said he will do when Iran has the capability.) Likely the Israeli’s would respond by destroying the major Arab and Iranian cities. Thus the US wouldn’t have to dirty its national “honor”. (Clearly there is no “honor” in this strategy. But if the war escalates to this ugly level, I’d rather it be Israel instead of the US performing genocide.)

“they have placed Iraq ahead of Iran in order of importance”

I think that Stephen den Beste is largely correct in his analysis of why Iraq before Iran. I believe the US government decision to invade Iraq was based on what would be best for the US, not Iraq and not Israel.

“The neocons have nothing but fantasies to offer on what to do about Iran.”

I’ve read your suggestion of “radios to the NK people”. Sure let’s try it but I don’t think radios are going to bring down a ruthless totalitarian government. Spreading information will only help tip a government already destabilized by other pressures. (China can keep the NK afloat as long as China finds it in China’s best interest.)

My own take is that the US is using military, economic, political and covert actions as best it can. Clearly mistakes are being made but that goes with the territory.

So far the Bush plan is the only one I’ve seen that I believe has any chance for success. I know you believe it has no chance. What alternative do you offer? What do you suggest the US do about Iran, NK, and Pakistan nukes and the spread of the terrorism cult?

Are you recommending overt military action against Iran and NK? I don’t recall reading such a suggestion in any of your posts. (I’m looking for a “what do we do next” answer, not an “if only they’d listened” answer.)

My expectation is that we will see an escalating conflict in which the American people (and to a lesser degree other Western countries) slowly realize the threat we face and what will be required to end it. World War II ended with firebombing and nuclear destruction of cities. I hope I am wrong but those are the stakes as I see them.

Randall Parker said at May 16, 2004 12:21 AM:

Fly, I do not think Bush is evil or stupid. I do think he is not competent enough to do his job well enough to meet the challenges we face.

As for motives: Some people dwell too much on motives but you can't accuse me of that. I spend a great deal of time on analyzing issues and coming up with policy recommendations. I think this sets my blog apart from the vast bulk of blogs. I feel forced to examine Bush's motives and the motives of his advisors to try to explain to myself why they are so terribly botching US foreign policy. Have you read Stephen Green's argument that the neocons have divided loyalties and they are harming US interests? I found his article insightful. When war hawk and excellent analyst Noah Millman says that the neocons were taken in by Chalibi's promise to have Iraq make peace with Israel I find that insightful. I've read enough about Chalabi and the neocons at this point to find that highly plausible. They were sold a rosy scenario. Chalabi played them and played them beautifully. Now Chalibi is having conversations with Iran and divulging information to the Iranians from US government sources and there are still neoconservatives defending him. Their character failings at this point are too glaring to ignore.

Check out Thomas Friedman's latest. I do not agree on every point there but he sees many of the same sustained errors with Bush policy as I do.

North Korea: I have made a number of proposals aside from sending in more radios. I've recommended developing a much bigger anti-North Korea team of field agents for the CIA that would try to bribe and corrupt and feed information to all North Koreans who are abroad. Some of those North Koreans abroad could be turned as agents. I've recommended using money to run smuggling rings to get North Koreans out of China and to bribe North Korean border guards. I've also recommended research and development programs aimed at developing counter-battery artillery sophisticated enough to go into mountainside artillery cave holes. I've also recommended developing the ability to invade North Korea from the sea quite so that South Korea's position doesn't deny us the ability to make a credible threat to overthrow the regime. I think I've made other suggestions such as being much tougher with China over North Korea. But I gave up pushing yet more ideas in that policy area since the lack of ideas isn't the problem. The Bushies just do not attach enough importance to North Korea to even do more of the cheap stuff that could be done. The big radio push and book push would be incredibly cheap. A single month's burn rate in Iraq would pay for multiple radios and books delivered to everyone in North Korea.

The problem with my ideas on North Korea and Iran of course is that the Bushies are not interested. They are preoccupied with Iraq. They say they consider nuclear proliferation important but do not behave that way. They are still too close to the Saudis and are wrong if they think Saddam's regime was a major source of support for Al Qaeda.

When people are wrong on a large scale I ask is it ignorance or incompetence or an agenda of some sort. Motives become important in trying to understand them. I analyze the cultures of countries because I think that offers predictive value. I think analyzing individual leaders provides some predictive value as well. I do not see why one should limit one's judgement of a person to the face value of what they say. People are too complicated for such superficial analyses to be useful. Character matters. Styles of thinking matter.

Military action: At this point the neocons have convinced the American people that they are like the boy who cried wolf. It is no longer feasible to promote military action against Iran or North Korea. The neocons have done an excellent job of making the preemption strategy a very hard sell. Plus. they have already overcommitted the US military and so we don't have enough assets to do any military action. We managed to invade a country without either harming Al Qaeda or stopping a nuclear weapons development program. What a disaster.

BTW, you are confusing the USS Pueblo with the USS Liberty.

Fly said at May 16, 2004 1:38 PM:

“Fly, I do not think Bush is evil or stupid. I do think he is not competent enough to do his job well enough to meet the challenges we face.”

The difficulties the US faces are so complex that I doubt anyone is sufficiently competent to avoid catastrophe. That said, I agree with much that you have said about Bush. I have more respect for his administration than for Bush.

However, the choice now seems to be between Bush and Kerry, neither of whom seems to have the ability to unite the country in common cause. The question becomes who is least incompetent.

“As for motives: Some people dwell too much on motives but you can't accuse me of that.”

I agree. I don’t really want to come across as accusing you of anything. I respect your blog and your posts and your commentary. I’m engaging in constructive criticism in the hope of making an excellent blog even better. Over time it seems you’ve been growing more and more frustrated with Bush policies. In my view your frustration at times spills over into what are otherwise excellent posts.

Complaining about Bush without indicating why Kerry would be better seems one-sided. “A pox on both their houses”, may be satisfying emotionally but doesn’t help the country.

I may be overly sensitive to this issue. Polarization is growing. Makes it harder to have real conversations. Makes it harder to compromise. Makes it harder to follow whoever wins the election.

Thanks for the Stephen Green link. I don’t buy into the lead in statements about US policy being based on what’s best for Israel. Still, I’m happy a journalist is investigating these issues. Keep ‘em honest and if they transgress, nail ‘em.

“Chalabi played them and played them beautifully.”

Maybe. The easiest way to con a person is to tell ‘em what they want to believe. On the other hand, after 9-11, the government wasn’t in the mood to discount tales of WMD’s. I find it hard to trust any of the Chalabi stories. Too many shady players with their own agendas.

“Thomas Friedman's latest.”

I don’t support sites that require registration. Sigh. Likely I’ll see excerpts on blog sites.

“Some of those North Koreans abroad could be turned as agents.”

I’ve wondered about this. North Korea has large numbers of agents. I’d think that once exposed to the West that some would turn. From what I’ve read, NK agents remain fanatically loyal, even committing suicide rather than allowing capture.

Likewise NK athletes and cheerleading squads seem to be fanatically loyal. Wonder how NK does it?

On the other hand, top NK army leaders have defected.

“I think I've made other suggestions such as being much tougher with China over North Korea.”

I see this as the crux of the matter. Until China is hurt more for supporting NK than China gains, the situation won’t improve. However public threats would be counter productive. I’m assuming the US is working this issue under the table.

“The Bushies just do not attach enough importance to North Korea to even do more of the cheap stuff that could be done.”

I don’t believe this at all. Bush personally detests Kim Jong II. He included NK and Iran in the Axis of Evil. That wasn’t just rhetoric. Bush does tend to do what he says he’ll do. Last I heard we have an extra carrier group stationed in the Korean area, that doesn’t come cheap.

“BTW, you are confusing the USS Pueblo with the USS Liberty.”

Thanks, Randall. Interesting the ways one’s mind mixes information. I apparently have a category in my brain for US ships attacked when we were at peace.

“They are preoccupied with Iraq. They say they consider nuclear proliferation important but do not behave that way. They are still too close to the Saudis and are wrong if they think Saddam's regime was a major source of support for Al Qaeda.”

Again I believe the Stephen den Beste analysis is largely correct. Iraq is the first step in a multi-step plan to modify all the ME governments. Iran is the nearest to being an immediate threat. Saudi Arabia is the most difficult due to oil and Mecca and the sick nature of Saudi society. Bush seems to be weaving a line between protecting the Saudi’s and pushing them to change. Likewise Bush balances attacks on fundamentalist Muslims with statements as to the peaceful nature of Islam. Being President of the US, Bush has to be very careful what he says.

Pakistan is a major source of nuclear proliferation but what other course could the Bush administration have followed with this country? (I think Pakistan could fall apart at any time. Does our government have a plan for securing the nukes?)

“When people are wrong on a large scale”

I still don’t believe the US government is wrong. I see many successes where you see mainly failure. I never thought the task would be simple, easy, straightforward or without major risks. I thought we’d lose more soldiers and that there would be more civilian deaths. I expected Baghdad to be a bloody battle.

“Military action: At this point the neocons have convinced the American people that they are like the boy who cried wolf. It is no longer feasible to promote military action against Iran or North Korea.”

On this I agree. The Bush administration thought they’d find lots of evidence of WMD’s. After all Clinton, the French, the Germans, and the British believed the same. Even today this issue is unresolved in my mind. On one hand I feel Iraqi WMD’s could turn up in Iraq or Syria or Yemen. On the other, I know that all large programs leave a trail. The final weapon may be small and portable but the industry needed to produce, distribute, and use the weapon should have left clear evidence.

Not finding WMD’s tarnishes the preemption strategy. It is important to know what happened. Was it an intelligence failure? Too many people saw what they expected to see? (I don’t believe “Bush lied” as I followed worldwide news reports at the time. The European intelligence agencies were also reporting Saddam had WMD’s.)

I read through Pinkerton’s article. Short article with little delving into the deeper issues. I do find his question about whether the Kurds should be able to vote themselves a country interesting. Could Hong Kong vote to be independent of China? Could Taiwan vote to be independent of China? Could Canada split? When can a group of people decide to break old ties and form a new union? Could a swelling Mexican immigrant population decide to give California back to Mexico? (That’s pretty much how the US acquired Texas.)

The Kurdish case brings up many issues. Here’s one. Would Turkey, Iran, and Syria allow a Kurdish state? Thousands of Kurdish rebels/terrorists based in Northern Iraq have attacked Turkey for decades. Do the Kurds really want a state if it means they will be under continual attack? Does the US want to support a Kurdish state if it means major problems with Turkey? (Perhaps the US should invade Syria and Iran first and then carve the Kurdish portions out to form a larger Kurdish state.)

Randall Parker said at May 16, 2004 5:19 PM:

Fly, You say: "Complaining about Bush without indicating why Kerry would be better seems one-sided."

Here's my problem with that argument: I refuse to put demands for better Bush Administration policies on hold until after the election. I'm making many of the same complaints about his policies I was making a year ago with the main difference being that the complaint list has gotten longer and he's been making the mistakes for a longer period of time.

The attitude I'm hearing reminds me of why Ford didn't fix the Pinto when they first discovered its vulnerability to exploding from rear end collisions. If they fixed it that would have been an admission there was something to fix in the first place. Expand the size of the Army to have enough troops to occupy Iraq? That'd be expensive and an admission that Eric Shinseki was right. Can't have that. Keep making the same mistake. Excuse me for my total lack of sympathy for this position.

As for Bush versus Kerry: In my view Bush is making mistakes that are so large that it is far from clear to me that Kerry will be worse.

Fly said at May 16, 2004 10:47 PM:

“I refuse to put demands for better Bush Administration policies on hold until after the election.”

Randall, I’m in favor of constructive criticism. The first troops sent to Iraq weren’t prepared for policing duties. No language training and little cultural prep. The replacement troops did receive appropriate training and tools. The first troops weren’t adequately supplied with body armor (the companies making the stuff were maxed out). The troops are now supplied. The Humvees aren’t adequately armored. The problem is being addressed. The military ran out of operational money for funding community development projects (several blogs sounded the alarm on this issue), more has now been allocated. In general when a problem is discovered, it gets solved. The biggest threat to soldiers today is roadside bombs. The situation seemed to improve when cell phone jammers were placed on convoys. I expect the military is working furiously on the problem. When the military called for more troops, they were allocated. (I’d like to see ground-penetrating radar for road bomb detection and focused microwave beams for remote detonation. I’d like to see full time overhead surveillance with automatic image recognition to warn of bomb emplacement and ambushes.)

Politically, I believe we are seeing similar adaptability. The moderate Shiites were triangulating against the coalition to get a better deal. With the Sunni and Sadr problems they seemed to feel they could call the shots. Next thing we hear is that a Sunni general is in charge at Falluja and telling the city leaders to cooperate with the coalition and Sadr is bottled up in the main Shiite holy city where he causes more problems for moderate Shiite clerics than for the US. Oh, and a UN representative is brought in who long favored Saddam and the Sunni’s. Soon thereafter the moderate Shiite clerics became much more supportive of the coalition. It does seem to me that our government is reacting as needed.

Recognizing a problem and offering solutions is valuable.

Most of what I read in the US media and virtually all of what I read in the European press (with the exception of a few British papers) is a continual littany of failure, defeat, and blame. No constructive criticism.

“In my view Bush is making mistakes that are so large that it is far from clear to me that Kerry will be worse.”

If you want to support Kerry, fine. I hope you would then focus on how Kerry’s policies would be better for America rather than on why Bush is so bad. I promise not to bring up stupid non-issues such as whether Kerry’s first bronze star was really justified by his wound or whether Kerry looks and sounds too French and whether his speeches are too boring or how many SUV’s he owns or whether he cuts in line. (Jeez, the level of US media political discourse could lead a person to despair or laughter.) Hopefully, after the election we’d find that we could support whoever won and focus on fighting our true enemies.

With the polarizing venom coming from both political sides, I fear the election will split the country and the opposing sides wont back the winning candidate. I fear that would be a disaster for the US.

Finally, Randall, I fully respect your right to present your arguments in whatever manner you choose. You run an excellent blog. I only wanted to share my own views, not condemn yours.

Randall Parker said at May 17, 2004 12:10 AM:

Fly, No, US troops are still not prepared for policing duties. They still do not have language skills. I've posted about this several times and as recently as February 2004. Here are a few of my posts that have complained about this: in June 2003 and in January 2004 and in February 2004. Note in that last post that one batallion had been there for months before finally getting a local translator assigned to it. These soldiers were going around busting in doors of homes and didn't even speak Arabic The mind boggles at the ineptitude. How can you defend this? It is beyond me.

As of a month ago we had spent all of $2 billion total on Iraq reconstruction. I posted that number last month. Yes, I know there were other bloggers complaining when military units ran out of money. I read them and shook my head because they didn't realize that the problem was far bigger than they thought it was.

Look, Bush is President right now. I've criticised Kerry on Iraq already. But Bush is calling the shots and so his views matter most. He's had a lot of time to correct his mistakes and has failed to fix quite a few of them. He's not going to staff up high enough for what is needed for the occupation. US troops do not have enough language and culture skills. He's underfunded reoonstruction in a very sustained fashion. What happens come February 2005 with either Bush or Kerry in office is so far beyond the point where most of the mistakes will have been made that I think your focus is on the wrong time scale. The mistakes that are happening now are going to determine just how bad our situation with Iraq will be by then.

Polarizing veoom: I'm not a Democrat. I've never voted for a Democrat in my life. But I am not going to call Bush competent just because he pretends to be a conservative and is a member of the Republican Party.

Fly said at May 17, 2004 1:20 PM:

“How can you defend this? It is beyond me.”

The task the US is doing is immense. It is not possible to engage is such a large, complex undertaking without mistakes being made. From what I’ve read when something hasn’t worked in Iraq then another approach is tried. They don’t give up. They keep doing their job. I don’t expect anything more than that.

You could list a hundred blunders made in Iraq and I would agree each was a mistake that might have been avoided. (Using dogs to search women wasn’t smart. Someone should have known that in the ME dogs are “unclean”.) We have over 130,000 people in Iraq doing stuff and interacting with Iraqi’s every day. There are literally thousands of reconstruction activities ongoing.

I haven’t been defending individual blunders. I’ve repeatedly said that considering the magnitude of the problem and the lack of better alternatives and considering what has gone right as well as what has gone wrong, the US government strategy isn’t a naïve fantasy and the people who are implementing it aren’t incompetent.

If you only focus on failure you will find ample evidence to confirm your view.

“US troops do not have enough language and culture skills.”

So what do you recommend we do? They have issued phrase books and automatic translators and provided some training. The troops can’t devote the majority of their time to learning Arabic and they aren’t going to learn Arabic with a few months of study. I’m sure our government is working on better translation tools.

The original Defense Department plan was to recruit and train 10,000 Iraqi exiles led by Chalabi to aid our troops. From what you’ve posted about Chalabi, I know you don’t think that was a good idea. The State department nixed the idea. I don’t know if they were right or wrong. (I read the early stories about INC mafia type behavior.) I do know that often one has to choose between bad alternatives.


“What happens come February 2005 with either Bush or Kerry in office is so far beyond the point where most of the mistakes will have been made that I think your focus is on the wrong time scale.”

Randall, if Bush is still in office on February 2005 I expect the US will be strongly pressuring Iran on multiple levels. If Iran refuses to yield and the Mullahs remain in power (i.e. covert action has failed) then I believe the US will invade Iran. We wouldn’t stay or rebuild. Just go in and defeat the military and smash the religious militia and root out WMD’s. (Neither an Iranian nuclear state nor a war between Israel and Iran is a better alternative.)

I believe the Bush administration would continue hardlining NK and pressuring China. Perhaps withdrawing our troops from SK in preparation for a nuclear attack if no other alternative presented itself. (Likely only after an American city is destroyed.)

I believe the Bush administration would force the change of the ME governments. They either change themselves or it happens through civil war and invasion.

The Bush administration believes we are at war. I don’t know what the Kerry administration would think or do.

So yeah, I think it matters who is in office in 2005.

Randall, I don’t know if we will succeed in Iraq. (This morning the head of the Iraqi GC was murdered. Not exactly encouraging.) I believe success in Iraq is very important to our future. Under our political system the alternative to the Bush administration is likely to be a Kerry administration. Nothing I’ve read makes me believe Kerry would do a better job in Iraq. (I don’t believe he’d be the utter disaster predicted by some. Once in office he’d be forced to follow many of the plans begun by the Bush administration. With Bush out, the Europeans might be slightly less obstructionist. Only slightly and only temporarily because US interests have diverged from European interests.)


“I've never voted for a Democrat in my life.”

I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life. Hehe. How the world changes.

“But I am not going to call Bush competent just because he pretends to be a conservative and is a member of the Republican Party.”

I strongly agree. If the Democratic Party were fielding a candidate and platform that I felt would better serve the interests of the US I’d support them. Party affiliation wouldn’t matter.

Our main difference seems to be that I believe that the Bush administration has made mistakes but is following a realistic strategy and is competent. You think (if I may paraphrase) that the overall US strategy is wrong and the Bush administration is incompetent so the unknown Kerry might be better than the known incompetent.

Since I believe the Bush administration is competent (at least compared to the Kerry alternative), I react to your assertion as if it were a personal attack on Bush, unrelated to the topic under discussion. Since you believe the Bush administration is incompetent, then you feel honesty compels you to state your opinion.

Randall Parker said at May 17, 2004 3:55 PM:

Fly, There are mistakes the Bushies can not afford to make if they still want to accomplish various objectives. They've made too many mistakes for too long a period of time on each mistake. In some cases they still continue to make the same mistakes.

You tell me it takes too long to develop language skills. I tell you that without those skills (and quite a few other things the Bushies failed on) the US could not have hoped to succeed in Iraq. One shouldn't take on a job one can not succeed at doing. These guys greatly underestimated the size of the task in spite of the attempts of more learned others to tell them they were doing that. The amount by which they adjusted upward the size of their (public) estimate of the task was incredibly inadequate. There were mistakes they made early on that greatly increased the size of the task. Bush's response to this continued quite constructive criticism is to call his critics racist.

Bush has my contempt at this point. He doesn't want to learn because he has his vision that makes in resistant to the truth. He underestimates his ability to understand the world without making a huge attempt to do so. He's intellectually lazy. His advisors are not good enough either.

You miss the point of my criticism when you keep bringing up Kerry. I consider the election to be besides the point.

Kristine Lyons said at June 7, 2004 7:18 PM:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter on behalf of my fiance' MSG James H. Meyer, who is presently serving this country in the U.S. Army. Serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 and now 2.
He is a 36 year veteran, and I've never met anyone who's heart and soul supports the call to protect this great nation more than his. He was in Tikrit, Iraq and is now in Kuwait waiting to be sent home. It is also for ALL of the brave men and women who are serving this country with him. He is with the 846th Transportation Company, and they have been there since April 12, 2003 for total of 421 days. He was sent to Kuwait, because after a year they were told they were coming home. The day they were supposed to leave for home, they were informed their time had been extended.
Sir, I saw on the news that these extended soldiers wanted to stay..were happy in fact to do so. I don't know where they received that information as the information I get is that they feel like they are in "jail". The very worst part however, is that nobody can or will give them a reason for being kept there. They no longer have jobs to do. Some of them no longer have weapons. They are trying to make it so they cant even leave the camp, on emergency leave or otherwise. Im told since they were extended they have only been given meaningless missions.
Did these people do something wrong? Or, was their only mistake believing in those who are in command. There appears to be no viable reason for their forced, prolonged presence in Kuwait. I refer to them as being hostages, and very sadly, thats how they feel.
I used to have the utmost respect for the military, but when you hear the one you love who willingly went to fight this war, refer to his situation as being on "lockdown"..it makes one wonder. If their presence is so very important, why are there other transportation companies being sent home? Why are these soldiers being kept sir, when their replacements are there? Why are they not even being told what the purpose in their time being extended is for? Why is it that we as Americans, would want to push our soldiers to the very edge mentally and emotionally, and their families as well?
I have a son who is working vigorously to be able to serve in our military as best he can. However, after seeing first hand how we treat our soldiers, I will do my best to discourage it. That is a very sad stance for me to take, as I previously thought serving ones country was the most honorable thing a person could do. Its heartbreaking to loose faith in this wonderful country and its leaders, and I'm appalled that we as Americans would treat our soldiers in this manner. What is truly heartbreaking however, is that the soldiers have lost faith as well. I'm told that the morale of the troops is as low as it ever was in Viet Nam. That alone says so very much.
I'm sure this letter means very little to someone in your position. I'm just one person, one voice, one heart. But I think someone should realize, that before these men and women are soldiers, they are human beings. They did their year, and they did a good job. Now they deserve to come home, or at the very least, they deserve a fair and reasonable answer as to why they are being detained. To hear the pain, sadness, hostility and frustration in their voices because of the situation is a crime. These people put their lives on the line for us. They at least deserve to be treated with some degree of respect. Don't you think? Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. All my love goes out to the men and women who's time has been extended. . May you return home safely, and quickly.

Sincerely,
Kristine Lyons
Las Vegas, NV

FriendlyFire said at June 18, 2005 6:04 AM:

General Lioyd Frendenall was the commander of he US 2nd corps in Kasserine.
Maj. General Lucian K. Truscott was the commander sent by Eisenhower to evaluate Frendenall. He would shortly serve under Patton and was regarded highly.


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