"A Choice, Not A Referendum"
Joe Klein, in an opinion piece in Time, incredulously asks how the President can "with 2,500 U.S. solders dead, no discernible progress on the ground" still "be winning the war at home". He answers himself by saying that President Bush has the Democrats to help him out.
A good part of it is flawed strategy. Democrats keep hoping that the elections can be framed as a referendum on the Bush policy, and Republicans keep reminding the public that elections are a choice, not a referendum.
And what choice on the war do the Democrats offer the public? Klein provides this sad example:
Kerry said, to wild cheers. "It's essential to acknowledge that the war itself was a mistake." It was an appropriate act of contrition, but then—as is his awkward wont—Kerry overreacted and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year. It was a proposition that garnered all of six votes on the Senate floor when Senate Republicans gleefully submitted Kerry's idea to a vote later in the week.
Taylor Marsh says Hillary Clinton is never going to win without defining herself sharply. Saying "pwease, oh pwetty pwease, tell us your plan, Mr. Pwesident", isn't going to do it. And Taylor Marsh is a Democrat. It's not enough to convince the voters that Bush's plan "isn't working"; what the voters are looking for is an alternative. John Murtha recently presented what might be described as Plan B in an interview with Tim Russert in which he stated, in response to a Rove video clip, his intention to defend the Middle East from Okinawa.
MR. ROVE: Congressman Murtha said, “Let’s redeploy them immediately to another country in the Middle East. Let’s get out of Iraq and go to another country.” My question is, what country would take us? What country would say after the United States cut and run from Iraq, what country in the Middle East would say, “Yeah. Paint a big target on our back and then you’ll cut and run on us.” What country would say that? What country would accept our troops? (End videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: What’s your response?
REP. MURTHA: There’s many countries understand the importance of stability in the Middle East. This is an international problem. We, we use 20 million barrels of oil a day. China’s the second largest user. All these countries understand you need stability for the energy supply that’s available in the Middle East. So there’s many, many countries.
MR. RUSSERT: Who?
REP. MURTHA: Kuwait’s one that will take us. Qatar, we already have bases in Qatar. So Bahrain. All those countries are willing to take the United States. Now, Saudi Arabia won’t because they wanted us out of there in the first place. So—and we don’t have to be right there. We can go to Okinawa. We, we don’t have—we can redeploy there almost instantly. So that’s not—that’s, that’s a fallacy. That, that’s just a statement to rial up people to support a failed policy wrapped in illusion.
MR. RUSSERT: But it’d be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.
REP. MURTHA: Well, it—you know, they—when I say Okinawa, I, I’m saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly. And—and—when they don’t know we’re coming. There’s no question about it. And, and where those airplanes won’t—came from I can’t tell you, but, but I’ll tell you one thing, it doesn’t take very long for them to get in with cruise missiles or with, with fighter aircraft or, or attack aircraft, it doesn’t take any time at all. So we, we have done—this one particular operation, to say that that couldn’t have done, done—it was done from the outside, for heaven’s sakes.
Blackfive pours scorn on the entire proposition -- it's easy to do -- by pointing out that any sortie from Okinawa would have to fly across China, unless it was willing to take the 10,000 mile route around India. But Blackfive's most telling point is this:
The other interesting thing about this guy is that he is literally the only Democrat in Congress that has actually put forward ANY kind of alternative military strategy in Iraq. ... As an ex-Marine Colonel, Murtha is probably the senior military veteran in the Democratic Caucus which somehow earns him a pass on his ridiculous military proclamations. ... The Okinawa Option should be plastered all over the DNC in the 2006 elections, and we'll see how long the Dems are willing to stand behind this kind of irresponsible and unserious policy ...
Well, actually the Democrats say they do have plan -- at least one suggested by one of their think tanks. Think Progress say:
Opponents of the President’s strategy have laid out a serious alternative strategy for success in Iraq and against terrorist networks worldwide. It deserves to be treated seriously by people like Joe Klein. (For details, read CAP’s plan for success and a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, Strategic Redeployment 2.0.) [from the Center for American Progress].
The key points of Strategic Redeployment 2.0 are reproduced verbatim below.
Accordingly, we are calling for a comprehensive strategic redeployment from Iraq by the end of 2007 that will:
- Restore the strength of U.S. ground troops
- Exercise a strategic shift to meet global threats from Islamist extremists
- Prevent U.S. troops from being caught in the middle of a civil war in Iraq
- Avert mass sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq
- Provide time for Iraq's elected leaders to strike a power-sharing agreement
- Empower Iraq's security forces to take control
- Get those Iraqis fighting to end the occupation to lay down their arms
- Motivate the U.N., global, and regional powers to get more involved in Iraq
- Give the U.S. the moral, political, and military power to deal with Iran's attempt to develop nuclear weapons
- Prevent an outbreak of isolationism in the United States.
The end goals of this strategic shift are clear, but to accomplish it the United States must implement a policy of strategic redeployment that:
- Reduces U.S. troops to 60,000 by the end of 2006 and to zero by the end of 2007, while redeploying troops to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf
- Engages in diplomacy to resolve the conflict within Iraq by convening a Geneva peace conference modeled on the Dayton Accords
- Establishes a Gulf Security initiative to deal with the aftermath of U.S. redeployment from Iraq and the growing nuclear capabilities of Iran
- Puts Iraq's reconstruction back on track with targeted international funds
- Counters extremist Islamic ideology around the globe through long-term efforts to support the creation of democratic institutions and press freedoms.
This is frightening in its own way, not only because it contains obvious internal contradictions (shown in the table below) but because it never comes to grips with the fundamental questions that have been raised, but never answered about the strategy in Iraq.
|Restore the strength of U.S. ground troops||Reduces U.S. troops to 60,000 by the end of 2006 and to zero by the end of 2007, while redeploying troops to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf||Does this mean you fly troops in and then fly them right out again after a few months? Or does this mean increasing the strength of ground forces in general without deploying them to Iraq?|
|Prevent U.S. troops from being caught in the middle of a civil war in Iraq||Avert mass sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq||How is this done if you get out of the middle?|
|Provide time for Iraq's elected leaders to strike a power-sharing agreement||Reduces U.S. troops to 60,000 by the end of 2006 and to zero by the end of 2007, while redeploying troops to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf||Anybody got a calendar?|
|Avert mass sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq||Engages in diplomacy to resolve the conflict within Iraq by convening a Geneva peace conference modeled on the Dayton Accords||The Serbs and Gypsies have already been driven from Kosovo. The former Yugoslavia is broken up.|
The two issues that Redeployment 2.0 evades were succintly articulated by Rumsfeld critic General John Batiste writing in the Salt Lake Tribune. Batiste makes two criticisms which have been the subject of intelligent debate among scholarly circles and the blogosphere. These are that a) there were always too few troops in Iraq to stabilize it; and b) it was a mistake to disband the security forces of the old regime and rebuild them from scratch because this led to chaos.
... we needed at least 380,000 coalition forces in addition to the Iraqi security forces to impose security and prevent the insurgency. We were undermanned by a factor of at least three and could not secure the country during a very crucial period. To compensate for the shortage of troops, commanders were routinely forced to manage shortages and shift coalition and Iraqi security forces from other contentious areas to counter growing threats in places like An Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah and others. ...
The Secretary of Defense's decision to stand down the Iraqi military resulted in uncontrollable chaos and the dismantling of the extensive Iraqi security force infrastructure that we are still working to rebuild today. This decision gave the insurgency an unlimited supply of manpower, weapons and ammunition. Further, when Saddam's well-appointed military garrisons were abandoned, the Iraqi people looted them and carried away every brick, door and piece of glass. There was nothing left but concrete slabs all over Iraq. Chaos reigned.
It's not the purpose of this post to discuss either of Batiste's criticisms here; but simply to assert that both issues are not only successfully evaded, they are never contemplated in Redeployment 2.0 or any of the Democratic strategy papers. There are calls for "more boots on the ground" followed immediately afterward by calls for a pullout. Heads are shaken when recalling the disbandment of Saddam's Sunni security forces. Then heads are shaken even more vigorously demanding the US "avert mass sectarian and ethnic cleansing in Iraq". Well who do they think gassed the Kurds, Arabized Mosul, drained the Mesopotamian Marshes and sent refugees as far as Saudi Arabia but the very security forces it was a mistake to disband?
The people at the Center for American Progress are not stupid. Presumably Congressman Murtha knows, or at least knows by now, that Okinawa is in Asia and Iraq is in the Middle East. How to account for alternative strategies that are ludicrous on their face? Taylor Marsh provides the insight. She describes the night when Hillary Clinton was booed by her Democratic audience. Describing her Iraq strategy Clinton said:
"I do not think it is a smart strategy, either, for the President to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government," said Clinton, before turning to the anti-war liberals' core beef with her. Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interests," said Clinton, prompting loud booing from some at the gathering. ...
Jeer? The crowd booed, loudly, flatly and unapologetically. Senator Hillary Clinton was clueless this could happen. It was amazing. ... If Senator Hillary Clinton runs for President, keeping the stance she took today on Iraq, it will foreshadow the biggest fall from political grace since Gary Hart was caught with what's her name? When I think of another word for bombed, I'll let you know.
This incident encapsulates the Democratic problem. A large part of their base sincerely believes that an almost immediate withdrawal from Iraq is the correct thing to do. Whatever is said about "more boots on the ground" or "preventing ethnic cleansing" is nothing to the point. Or rather nothing more than a talking point. What Hillary discovered is that the bottom line is that much of her base wants to quit and quit now. The problem that both Hillary and Joe Klein are grappling with is that there is no way to disguise this. And while it may be desirable to portray criticism like General Batiste's as their own, it's nevertheless a fact that Batiste is never going to run for President, but Hillary will. And Hillary has no Iraq policy. Even Redeployment 2.0 seems no more than a fig-leaf to lend respectability to a program of withdrawal as fast as evacuation ships can be loaded. It would be more honest to say: yes, we want to withdraw now because it is, we believe, the right thing to do. The antiwar crowd is correct when it accuses its politicians of moral cowardice for refusing to come out and say it. And that weaselly behavior engenders distrust; which is why despite everything, Klein senses that Bush is still winning the war at home. People are unlikely to entrust politicians with their lives against an armed enemy when these same persons don't have the conviction to stand for their own beliefs.