Friday, June 24, 2005

Honesty and the War in Iraq

David Brooks has finally decided that honesty is a good thing:

On Tuesday, Senator Joe Biden gave a speech in Washington on Iraq, after his most recent visit. It was, in some ways, a model of what the president needs to tell the country in the weeks ahead. It was scathing about the lack of progress in many areas. But it was also constructive. "I believe we can still succeed in Iraq," he said. Biden talked about building the coalition at home that is necessary if we are to get through the 2006 election cycle without a rush to the exits. [The speech is available on the web.]

Biden's speech brought to mind something Franklin Roosevelt told the country on Feb. 23, 1942: "Your government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us."

That's how democracies should fight, even in the age of polling.

Brooks is right, but he can't quite bring himself to say directly that Bush hasn't been honest, or to address the problem that Bush shows no inclination to change. Not surprisingly, Krugman doesn't share this inclination to pussyfoot around the problem:'s crucial that those responsible for the war be held to account.

Let me explain. The United States will soon have to start reducing force levels in Iraq, or risk seeing the volunteer Army collapse. Yet the administration and its supporters have effectively prevented any adult discussion of the need to get out.

On one side, the people who sold this war, unable to face up to the fact that their fantasies of a splendid little war have led to disaster, are still peddling illusions: the insurgency is in its "last throes," says Dick Cheney. On the other, they still have moderates and even liberals intimidated: anyone who suggests that the United States will have to settle for something that falls far short of victory is accused of being unpatriotic.

We need to deprive these people of their ability to mislead and intimidate. And the best way to do that is to make it clear that the people who led us to war on false pretenses have no credibility, and no right to lecture the rest of us about patriotism.

Alas, I fear Krugman is right. It may be that a reasonable resolution in Iraq is dependent on Democrats winning the political framing battle here at home. And based on past performance, I'd have to say that the odds are against that.

Brooks argues that it is too early to "pass judgement on the overall trajectory of the war" and that therefore we have to keep fighting. But the overall trajectory of the war is partially predictable.

Brooks acknowedges that one of the difficulties we face in Iraq is that, "There aren't enough U.S. troops to hold the ground they conquer." That's true, and not because the United States lacks the resources to hold that ground. The United States could hold that ground, and thereby render the insurgency vastly less effective, by deploying less than 1% of the American population to Iraq. We can't increase the number of troops on the ground immediately, but we could institute a draft right now and begin training people.

If we did that, the insurgents would realize that they were facing an America that was just as determined to win this fight as they were. That's not going to happen, because Americans, including President Bush, simply aren't all that determined to win.

Bush said that, "We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out." But the insurgents have every reason to believe that they can wait us out, regardless of whether we publish a timetable.

So at one level the overall trajectory of the war seems pretty clear. We will eventually withdraw our troops, and the insurgents will claim that they have defeated the United States. We will also be able to claim victory because the goals we set at the start of the war (removing Saddam Hussein from power and seizing his WMD) are either accomplished or moot. What is up in the air is when this will occur, and what the situation in Iraq will be at that time.


Post a Comment

<< Home