Thursday, February 22, 2007
BarbinMD wrote about this on Wednesday, but I want to bring it up again because it represents, yet again, one of the central incompetences of the Bush administration. Dick Cheney says:
With respect to Iraq, I think he's dead wrong. I think, in fact, if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people -- in fact, knowing they can't win in a stand-up fight, try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit.
What's infuriating, here, is that Richard Cheney is one of the three or four men in America most responsible for validating the al Qaeda strategy. Through his strategizing, along with that of Donald Rumsfeld and whatever stray thoughts manage to rattle their way loose of George W. Bush himself, he has managed to hand Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda the closest thing to post-9/11 successes they could have possibly asked for. And the key word, in this entire debacle, is Afghanistan.
Like most Americans, I considered American actions in Afghanistan to be a dismal but necessary act. An attack on United States soil requires, unequivocally, a disproportionate response; a valid military response in this case would have indeed been a removal of the Taliban from power, the complete and total removal of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and in any other countries in which they had found refuge, and a generous reconstruction of Afghanistan in such a fashion as to ensure al Qaeda's continued inability to function there, thus demonstrating that terrorism against the United States would both fail in its purpose, and would result in disproportionate damage to the terrorists and hostile nations responsible. That's how you prevent terrorism: you make the consequences worse than the possible upside.
That proposition, supported by nearly all Americans, lasted mere months, however, before the Bush administration's eyes wandered away from the actual fight against al Qaeda and supporters and towards a large scale proxy war advocated by Rumsfeld and by neoconservative strategists looking to transfer American attention to the war they had wanted to fight, rather than the war they were actually in. The relatively small number of troops that had been committed to Afghanistan were drawn off to prepare for a larger Iraq conflict, including special forces tasked directly with tracking bin Laden. At no point was Afghanistan on the road to sure recovery: the Taliban remains a force in the country to this day.
From the start, Iraq was at minimum a distraction from al Qaeda. But in practice, it was clearly and predictably worse, and Dick Cheney was one of the prime architects of the strategic American failure that followed.
Al Qaeda had several major goals, if you believe most non-neocon experts, in their terrorist attacks on America, and primary among them was to provoke a widespread war with the United States in the Middle East. Such a war could act as a focus for Arab nationalism, a tool of jihad to rally the religious, a recruitment device for building a larger al Qaeda, and in the end a nexus point around which Arabs could build bin Laden's particular religious and nationalistic vision of a dominant Muslim state.
Iraq, of course, was exactly the kind of response they dreamed of provoking. And it worked in spectacular fashion, and through U.S. incompetence worked better than they could have ever hoped. As Dick Cheney has pointed out over and over, bin Laden especially believes that Americans can be defeated as the Russians were, because America is not willing to commit the kind of resources to the Middle East that would outlast nationalistic Arab fighters. Cheney and Rumsfeld proved his point, more than any other Americans. They proved that the U.S. administration did not have the willpower to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan; did not have the attention for it; would not commit the resources to it; would not take the necessary actions to prevent an al Qaeda and Taliban return. This will be, if we face a new generation of al Qaeda-based terrorism, the primary legacy of the Bush administration.
In Iraq too, however, the Rumsfeld doctrine was largely one assured to end in fiasco. In Iraq, too, an entirely insufficient force was dedicated to the job: while the initial tactical victory was assured from the beginning, each of the subsequent neoconservative premises failed, like dominoes, throughout the rest of the conflict. There were insufficient coalition forces to police the nation, resulting in reprisal killings and rising unrest in nearly all regions of the country. The complete disbanding of the Iraqi Army removed one of the few potential stabilizing forces. Reconstruction efforts were handled so badly as to have not even kept up with the continuing destruction of infrastructure. And sectarian religious divisions were, it seems, entirely discounted as a possible outcome. Even the current "surge" is nothing more than more of the same: a token shuffling of forces in numbers seemingly having no relation to the actual scope of the problem; a single garden hose tasked with stopping a raging forest fire.
Even if you bought the premise shared by both al Qaeda and the neoconservatives -- that a proxy war in Iraq was a damn fine idea -- there is no credible way to examine the administration strategy in Iraq and declare it sound. Each and every failure of the war was predicted in advance by war critics: none were surprising. if we were to accept the premise of the centrality and critical importance of the Iraq war, we would have expected it to have been executed in a competent fashion and with tactical metrics for success that consisted of something more substantive than "not leaving." The only thing more criminal than starting a war is being unable to finish one. Even if you presume for some small moment that there is some small good to be done from prosecuting a war, whatever promise of "good" you may assert evaporates with every life lost, on either side.
Given that, we cannot look at the administration-led tactics in Iraq as anything but bungling. They either do not believe the war to be as central as they argue it to be, or they do believe it to be central, and yet are incompetent in the execution.
Here, then, is the most damning condemnation of administration policy in Iraq, and why Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kristol, Feith and others have no cause for presuming any Americans have been of anywhere near the assistance to al Qaeda that they themselves have been. In Iraq, we have chosen to fight the fight al Qaeda wanted to fight. In Afghanistan, we were fighting al Qaeda on their own doorstep, dismantling their own bases of support and safe haven. Even before the last shots fell to the ground at Tora Bora, though, our own administration lost apparent interest in the outcome.
It is the height -- the height -- of military fiasco to withdraw from a fight at the gates of the enemy's core base and turn your attention to fighting them in a proxied war of attrition far away from their infrastructure and vital networks of support. No military commander worth the polish on his shoes would propose such a thing: anyone who actually executed such a bungling move would be removed from the ranks of leadership forthwith and put back to captaining a laundry ship. And yet America and the neoconservatives have chosen exactly that proxied war, a war destined to do the core of al Qaeda and other extremists little possible harm and have myriad possible benefits for them, and have bungled even that.
You could not have done al Qaeda a better favor if you had actively tried. The neoconservatives have walked, entirely on their own accord, into handing terrorism two separate victories: the victory of making an attack on American soil a survivable achievement, for a terrorist movement, and the victory of subsequently engaging the terrorists in the very action they had been attempting to provoke.
Pundits and politicians continue, stupidly, to presume American lack of support for the Iraq debacle to either be born of pacifism or partisanship. Neither is true, as was clearly demonstrated in the widespread support for the American actions Afghanistan directly precipitated by 9/11. Lack of support for the Iraq war was and still is predicated on the rather simple observation that our actions in Iraq have been at best ancillary to, and at worst devastatingly wounding to the actual "war on terrorism".
One of my own motivations for a withdrawal from Iraq is for the goal of refocusing the "war on terror" to cells of actual terrorism, including returning the necessary number of troops to Afghanistan to solidify an anti-Taliban government there permanently -- if it, too, is not too late. At this point, it may well be.
In any case, Dick Cheney has, as a national security strategist of any sort, proven to be an absolute and abject failure. The strategy against terrorism implemented by the Bush administration has gone from mildly half-assed to concretely destructive, all captured on videotape so that the entire planet can see it, and in the meantime, Cheney of all people has the audacity to opine on the intelligence and patriotism of those that point out his own incompetence.
Add simple human indecency to the charges history will level against the man, then. There is no reason to believe his personal character to be of any higher fiber than the rest of him.