Thursday, December 23, 2004
On a totally separate point, one thing Robert Novak doesn't mention about Bill Kristol's attack on Rumsfeld is that Kristol has never been on-board with Rumsfeld. Any regular reader of The Weekly Standard can confirm that Kristol has been calling for a larger military since before Rumsfeld was nominated; that he expressed skepticism before 9-11 that we could "skip a generation" in military hardware or that we could make do with a lighter and more mobile small force that relied on precision technology and air-power rather than investing in a larger force of Army grunts and Marines capable of doing occupation duty.
I will also note that Kristol, unlike many neocons, never was an enthusiast of Ahmad Chalabi and always thought we needed a larger military specifically to go into Iraq.
So it isn't fair to say that Kristol is trying to pin the blame on Rumsfeld because the war they both favored turned out poorly. Rather, Kristol had concerns pre-war which he aired, and since in his view reality has confirmed his pre-war concerns he's mad as hell and wants to make it clear whom he blames for not taking his concerns into account.
All that said, that doesn't mean Kristol is either right about Iraq or right about his overall strategy. Kristol thought, if I recall correctly, that we needed about 30,000 to 50,000 more troops in Iraq initially to overwhelm the enemy and prevent the emergence of the insurgency that we currently face. By contrast, General Shinseki and others who calculated the required Iraq force by comparing it to Kossovo and Bosnia, and assuming we needed comparable ratios of troops to locals to enforce peace and order, came up with a figure of more like 200,000 to 250,000 more troops than we actually deployed. The latter figures were derided by neocons as figures designed to make an invasion impossible. Can they still say that with a straight face? And if they can't, do they realize the implications of the larger figures for the realism of their overall strategy?
As for Kristol's overall strategy, his general approach to foreign affairs is premised on the notion that a Pax Americana is necessary to avoid a return either to a balance-of-power world such as (in some views) led to World War I or a spreading and dangerous chaos that will increasingly result in direct American deaths and will profoundly threaten our interests in more indirect ways. His camp has made the analogy to the position of Britain from 1815 to 1914, able to enforce, from its preeminent military position, a relative peace and a liberal economic order on the world. That's the role he and others want America to play today.
This analysis misses a bunch of things:
Finally, the major part of the world that Britain was able to bequeath liberal and democratic norms that appear to have survived reasonably well is the Indian subcontinent, and specifically the Hindu-dominated part of that region. Chinese and Southeast Asian colonial territories seem to have absorbed some of these norms as well; no one would call Singapore a liberal democracy, and Malaysia isn't one either, but they are both relatively civilized and successful political systems and far less oppressive than what obtains in much of the world. They did not do nearly as good a job implanting these norms in the former Ottoman territories or in Africa. Whether that speaks to the relative distance these societies had to travel versus the Asian ones, or the relative depth and duration of the British presence, or other factors, it cannot be denied that the analogy does not bode well for the notion of an easy exercise in nation-building in Iraq.
Rumsfeld never had any use for nation-building. And his ideas about the shape of our fighting force are rationally oriented around the response to the major military challenges we are likely to face in the most important potential theater of conflict in the future: Asia. If we want to deal with North Korea, deter or help repel a Chinese attack on Taiwan, protect the sea lanes of Indonesia, and so forth, Rumsfeld's program is a good one. It also proved capable of an extraordinarily swift and comprehensive victory over a fairly large and typically inept third world army such as Saddam fielded.
Rumsfeld can legitimately be criticized for doing neither of the following: (a) telling the President that his political objectives for the Iraq War are unrealistic; (b) incorporating the President's willingness to undertake occupation duty into his thinking about the force structure. But it's not clear to me that the President's strategy was the same as Kristol's. Rather, the President appears to have accepted the advice of those who did buy into the Chalabi story, and believed that we would not need a lengthy occupation or face significant guerilla warfare. So to that extent, the critics of Kristol who have faulted him for attacking Rumsfeld rather than the President - or folks like Wolfowitz who advised both Rumsfeld and the President - have a point.
Here are the facts the pro-war camp - in particular the neocons - need to reckon with: