Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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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:
  • Britain managed to enforce the Pax Brittanica with a truly negligible standing army; rather, it was naval superiority that enabled Britain to police the lanes of commerce, which is what preserved a liberal economic order (more or less).
  • The "peace" that reigned between the Great Powers from 1815 to 1914 included rather significant war-like episodes like the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War. Moreover, Britain was not able either to prevent the rise of Germany (or Russia) nor to accommodate itself to their rise, hence the crashing of this beloved 19th century order in World War I.
  • Whether the British Empire was a good thing or a bad thing, we should at least be able to agree that some of the conditions that made it possible then no longer obtain. For example, Britain was a massive exporter of people and capital, with a high birth rate and declining death rate, while much of the conquered lands were, whether populous or relatively sparse, static in terms of economic and population growth. Relative to the rest of the world, British population and European population generally were at their peak during the 19th century. The opposite is true today, when Western population growth rates are negative, Western countries are significant importers of people (and, in America's case, capital), and population growth rates in much of the world still strongly positive even where declining (and they are not declining in the Muslim world or in Africa).
In sum, it's not at all clear that the analogy between Britain in the 19th century and America today is any good.

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:
  • The political planning was more badly thought out than the military planning. Rumsfeld won his war. But the political aftermath was never planned in a unified manner between the different departments, and went through several iterations and rebrandings as the initial strategies began to fail. And, of course, the reliance on Ahmad Chalabi's INC proved disastrous. Whose fault is that?
  • The implicit assumption behind the "we need more troops" mantra is that there was no good political strategy, and therefore we needed to overwhelm the country in the manner that we did in peacekeeping operations such as Kossovo. It was that assumption that was the basis of General Shinseki's estimate that we'd need 300,000 to 400,000 troops to deal with post-war occupation duty. At those numbers, the Iraq War would have taken our entire military, and was therefore totally unrealistic absent a massive increase in our military. So: is that what you favored? When did you favor it? When should we have added 1,000,000 men to the U.S. military - and when did you anticipate this would be necessary? If we're going to play this game, let's play it with real numbers.
  • War is an unpredictable thing, and so is politics. Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration are criticized for having disbanded the Iraqi army (or for doing so ham-handedly), for allowing looting in the immediate aftermath of the war, for not developing a more productive relationship with Sistani earlier on, for not crushing the insurgency in Fallujah when it first broke out, and so forth. All of these are tactical mistakes. Many things that were anticipated to go wrong during the war - destruction of the oil infrastructure, mass refugee migrations, use of chemical weapons against our troops or against civilians, etc. - did not happen, due to whatever combination of luck and good planning on our part. Given that things have manifestly gone pear-shaped in Iraq, and given that the specific tactical mistakes we made were hard to predict in advance, and that some number of tactical mistakes are inevitable, doesn't that suggest that the most Wilsonian rationales for the war - bring democracy to Iraq, transform the region, etc. - were inherently problematic? If achieving our war aims required everything to go right, and some things were inevitably going to go wrong, then something is wrong about our war aims, no?
I think Bill Kristol is being relatively consistent with his statements before the war, so saying he has "turned against" Rumsfeld is not really fair. But I'm not convinced that what has happened in Iraq vindicates Kristol's pre-war statements.