J. Podhoretz admits Iraq policy was based on a cockeyed belief
in today’s New York Post says
for the first time what I’ve said scores of times at this website over the last three years: that America’s “plan” in Iraq (if one can call a mindless wish divorced from reality a “plan”) was that political change would somehow result in military victory. Podhoretz writes:
We did have a plan—the problem is that the plan didn’t work. And of course we can win—we just have to choose to do so.
The problem with our plan is that it wasn’t actually a military plan.
We thought a political process inside Iraq would make a military push toward victory against a tripartite foe—Saddamist remnants, foreign terrorists and anti-American Shiites—unnecessary….
Once an actual Iraqi government was up and running, we expected the political progress to choke off the oxygen of the [Saddamists and the terrorists]. With an Iraq hurtling into the future, they would melt away because there was nothing for them to gain.
President Bush and the neocons thought that if we facilitated the construction of a democratic government, jihadist opposition to that government would disappear, without the jihadists actually having to be defeated. This “plan” had about as much connection with reality as saying that I have a “plan” that I’m going to win the New York State lottery today and build my dream house. More precisely, it is magical thinking
. In magical thinking, you believe that the performance of an act that resembles an outcome you desire will cause the outcome to occur, e.g., if I set a doll that resembles myself on a toy throne, I will actually become king. Alongside the Bush/neocon idea that political change would make military victory unnecessary, other examples of Bush/neocon magical beliefs (always asserted as if they were absolute truths, not requiring any argument to back them up) are that if Iraq becomes a democracy, that will make other Muslim countries become democracies; and that if we fight terrorists in Iraq, that will prevent terrorists from attacking us in America.
I commented on the unreal thinking driving our Iraq policy at FrontPage Magazine in April 2004 (also discussed here):
What has gone wrong? As I’ve been saying since last summer, the erection of a new government in Iraq presupposes the first law of all governments, that it have a monopoly on the use of force. Yet instead of focusing on the need for such a government and on the practical requirements for creating such a government, we’ve been pouring most of our energy and hopes into creating the mechanisms of democratic elections—imagining, in excited reverie, that the cart of universal rights and democratic proceduralism could pull the horse of sovereign national existence…. Thus we not only lack a policy aimed at victory in Iraq, we have not even had a national debate aimed at formulating such a policy.
Also, while Podhoretz now admits that the “plan” that he and others supported all these years was wrong, he doesn’t touch on the underlying ideology of which that plan was an expression (the ideology of which his parents, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, are leading exponents): that all people including Muslims are basically the same, that all people including Muslims want the same things, that all people including Muslims desire and are capable of sustaining democracy. In fact, Islam is radically incompatible with anything we would consider democracy, an insight from which Podhoretz still appears to be very far. If the Bush administration and the neocons had understood that Muslim countries could only become democratic by giving up Islam and the sharia law that defines Islam, would they have launched their democratist project? Similarly, if Bush and the neocons understood that Muslims can only become loyal citizens of a Western country by ceasing to be Muslims (as demonstrated conclusively here), would they still support Muslim immigration and insist that Muslims can all assimilate into our society?
Since New York Post columns go off-line after a while, I’m reproducing the entire Podhoretz column, which is interesting and worth reading, below:
THE TRUTH ON IRAQ
- end of initial entry -
By JOHN PODHORETZ
December 5, 2006—THE most common cliché about the war in Iraq is now this: We didn’t have a plan, and now everything is in chaos; we didn’t have a plan, and now we can’t win.
This is entirely wrong. We did have a plan—the problem is that the plan didn’t work. And of course we can win—we just have to choose to do so.
The problem with our plan is that it wasn’t actually a military plan.
We thought a political process inside Iraq would make a military push toward victory against a tripartite foe—Saddamist remnants, foreign terrorists and anti-American Shiites—unnecessary.
Yes, we’d stay in Iraq and fight the bad guys when we had to, which seemed mostly to be when they decided to attack us first. Our resolve was intended to give the Iraqi people the sense that they were being given control of their future, and to give Iraqi politicians the sense that they had a chance to forge a new kind of country in which everybody could prosper.
For this reason, we relented on several occasions when we had a chance to score a major victory over the bad guys. Because politics was more important than military victory, because playing the game was more important than killing the enemy, we chose to lose.
After the beheading of Americans in Fallujah, we had the city surrounded—but, because it seemed an attack on Fallujah would be problematic for Iraqi politics, we pulled back. We had the Shiite monster Moqtada al-Sadr in our sights as well, but let him go as well for fear Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric would turn on us.
Each of these decisions seemed prudent at the time. In retrospect, they seem disastrous. Our failure to take Fallujah after the deaths of Americans gave the enemy the sense that we were weak. Our failure to kill Sadr has led to a situation in which he has excessive power over the elected government.
Still, the theory of how to prevail in Iraq made sense as a theory. What, after all, were the Saddamists and the terrorists fighting for? Clearly there would be no restoration of Saddam’s cruel reign, and they couldn’t score a battlefield victory against us. That’s why Dick Cheney and others referred to them as “dead-enders”—because they were and are dead-enders. They had no achievable goal for securing power in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi people were voting in elections—8 million in the first, 10 million in the second, 12 million in the third. They created a new political class where there’d been none before.
Once an actual Iraqi government was up and running, we expected the political progress to choke off the oxygen of the dead-enders. With an Iraq hurtling into the future, they would melt away because there was nothing for them to gain.
What’s more, there was nothing in it for the Saddamists—Sunnis all—to provoke a civil war, because they’d lose. Shiites outnumber Sunnis 2-1, and there are as many Kurds and Sunnis.
So that was the plan. We didn’t have to win against our foes: The Iraqi people were going to defeat them.
In other words, we were standing the Iraqis up so we could stand down.
Sound familiar? That is the prescription for leaving Iraq that’s on everyone’s lips—Democrats, Republicans, the Baker-Hamilton group.
And guess who else? Donald Rumsfeld. Yes, Bush’s very own defense secretary clearly believed this was the way to go. In his classified memo, leaked to The New York Times over the weekend, Rummy says it’s time for the Iraqis to “pull up their socks.” We should pull back so the Iraqis don’t depend on us to secure their future.
That was not a new idea for him or the administration. In May 2003, a senior administration official told me it was “time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate.”
That’s nice. But the Iraqis can’t “step up to the plate,” and they can’t “pull up their socks.” The plan envisioned that they could do so whenever they chose. The plan said their political progress would be the way for them to reach the plate and reach their socks.
The plan failed.
So we need a new plan. But the Baker-Hamilton advice isn’t a new plan. The Democrats don’t have a new plan. The only plan that will work is a plan to face the tripartite enemy—the Saddamists, the foreign terrorists and the Shiite sectarians—and bring them to heel.
Kill as many bad guys as we can, with as many troops as we can muster.
If this is unrealistic, then Iraq is lost.
If we can’t win, then we lose.
Political change doesn’t win wars. That’s what we’ve learned, painfully and horribly. Only winning wars wins wars.
President Bush needs to decide, as soon as possible, that he is going to win this war—that the bad guys are going to die, that we are going to kill them and that we will achieve our objectives in Iraq. That is the only way forward for him if he doesn’t want to end up in ignominy.
The clock is ticking. He has only a week, maybe two, to change course dramatically. To choose to win, and to direct the military to do so.
Or we are sunk, and so is he.
Howard Sutherland writes:
The Cargo Cultists of Democratism? If we build a copy of Independence Hall in every country’s capital city, native Founding Fathers will suddenly appear and conjure local Liberal Democracy! Goofy, but no goofier than our neo-magic in Iraq…
Van Wijk writes:
Interesting article by Podhoretz. Most interesting of all is the fact that he cannot or will not identify exactly why the Iraqi people won’t “step up to the plate.” They have the weapons, training, and backing of the world’s last superpower. What else would they require?
The rest of the article seems to be another Hanson-esque diatribe of hard-nosed, ugly-but-necessary realism. And he makes it sound so simple: “Kill as many bad guys as we can, with as many troops as we can muster.”
But who are the bad guys, Mr. Podhoretz? The Shi’ites? The Sunnis? Are some Shi’ites good guys and some not? And what of the Sunnis? And the Kurds?
And are these judgement calls that we really want to make, or are even capable of making?
This is what happens when we choose to embroil ourselves in the politics of a Moslem country.
Randall Parker writes:
I do not see Podhoretz specifying what level of troops he think would be necessary to defeat the insurgency in Iraq. Nor do I see him calling for reinstatement of the draft to raise the needed troops or any acknowledgment of just how long it would take to train and equip those troops. Plus, he is not calling for enactment of new taxes to pay for it. He simply says that Bush must make a decision in at most a week or two (why a week or two? why not a day or month or two?) to win this war.
Podhoretz also does not state that why we should see victory in Iraq as a necessity. He simply states that Bush should not want to end up in ignominy. Well, what about the rest of us? Are we supposed to pay a high price for the sake of Bush’s historical reputation?
I get the impression that Podhoretz just wants to go on record stating what he thinks would solve our problems in Iraq. That way he can avoid getting blamed for supporting a deeply flawed policy. Never mind that his solution is not serious. He can rest easy knowing it will never be tested.
He doesn’t just say it’s about avoiding ignominy for Bush. He says that if Bush does not change course dramatically and very soon, “we are sunk, and so is he.”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 05, 2006 01:02 PM | Send
But Podhoretz needs to write a follow-up to this piece, saying exactly what he thinks we ought to do now and how the situation can be salvaged.