July 10, 2007
What is to be done?By Greg Richards
It is impossible to understand the current political dynamics of the Iraq War without accepting that from the summer of 2003 to the fall of 2006 - 3+ years - the entire venture was essentially adrift.
If one is willing to call the hope that everything will go perfectly a strategy then we had a strategy for post-war Iraq. But once it was clear that the population on the ground in Iraq did not share our view of its future, we had no fallback position. And for the worst of all possible reasons - no homework, which is to say, no work had been done in Washington at the top levels on this problem. No sweat equity had been put into the problem by policy makers.
Some of the institutions of the bureaucracy - for instance the Army War College - did excellent work on possible scenarios in post-war Iraq, but all this was ignored by the policy makers. We will have to wait for the historians to understand why.
Sen. Lugar's apostasy can be understood in light of this colossal and ongoing failure by the President and his administration. There is an excellent interview of Sen. Lugar on PBS' Charlie Rose. It is clear that over the first half of this year, beginning with a meeting with Bush and Sen. Warner in the Oval Office on January 5, Sen. Lugar gradually came to the conclusion that our policy was still informed by the ignorance he now understands informed it in 2003.
Therefore he has decided not to wait for General Petraeus' report in September as he - correctly in my view - believes that it cannot offer a political settlement whatever progress is made by that time on the security front.
The question thus arises, since Sen. Lugar has a great deal of history and good sense on his side, should a responsible citizen support him in his effort to get the Administration intellectually engaged in the Iraq problem in a way it has refused to do so far? I think that on reflection, the answer to that is no.
Why? Because in the end, with all the slackness with which this war has been run, Bush's original insights were and remain correct. There are two principal reasons we are in Iraq:
(1) to midwife a modern Islamic society and thus discredit Islamic radicalism; and
(2) to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq rather than fighting them here. Those reasons both remain compelling.
So how do we evaluate the current situation? For one thing, we can look to history.
Let's go back to the Civil War. By 1863, the Civil War had been going on for two years. In the first year of the war - in the spring of 1862 - McClellan had been at the gates of Richmond through his advance up the York - James peninsula. It is not clear that capturing Richmond would have necessarily ended the war, but it was accepted that it would be a great milestone by both sides. The then Confederate commander - Joseph E. Johnston - was injured at a climactic moment and Robert E. Lee was put in charge of the Confederate forces. In subsequent weeks, he drove the Union Army out of the Peninsula - the 7 Days' campaign - swept it off the battlefield and back to Washington in disorder - Second Manassas - and fought the assembled Union army to a stalemate in Maryland - Antietam.
And that was only the beginning.
The Union Army attacked most unwisely at the end of 1862 in unfavorable winter weather at Fredericksburg, where it attempted to storm impregnable heights well defended by Lee. The result was one of the most lopsided battles of the Civil War. A few months later, the Union attacked further west and was defeated decisively by Lee at his most masterful battle, Chancellorsville, a Union defeat which left Lincoln literally wringing his hands.
By this time, there was a school of thought being advanced that the Confederacy was simply too big and too strong to ever be defeated. If we were alive then, if I were writing this post in May 1863 after Chancellorsville, if we were reflecting on Sen. Lugar's thoughts at that time, what would have been the right response? The smart response would have been to evaluate the correlation of forces, accept that they were against the Union holding the Confederacy and moving to negotiation. The American response was to press on.
Was Lincoln incompetent to run the war? It certainly looked that way, particularly after two fiascos in a row - Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville (Lee's army at Chancellorsville was roughly half the size of the Union army) - but history shows that the correct thing to do was to stick with Lincoln - and stick it out.
What is to be done? Stick it out.
The smart play? No. But the winning play.
And we are not just observers in this drama. We are not crtitics. We are participants, perhaps even victims should we lose. Some very, very bad guys do not wish us well. Bush has made colossal, really inexplicable mistakes - mostly mistakes of omission. But (a) he is the only president we've got and (b) he is the only first-rank political leader who wants to put down the bad guys. We have to support him.
Wars are won by force of character, not force of intelligence. Let's not get distracted by the smart thing when it is the right thing that we need to do. Which is to press on.