Thursday, December 21, 2006

War planning is detached from strategic purposes, history, and political and social dynamics.

After much hoopla, the Baker-Hamilton Commission (a.k.a. the Iraq Study Group or ISG) report seems dead on arrival at the White House. The Bush administration seems ready to dismiss its analysis and recommendations and instead adopt recommendations of a report from the American Enterprise Institute or AEI (more on that below) calling for a temporary increase in the number of troops in Iraq in what has become known as the “surge.”

However, windows of opportunity do not remain open forever – they open and then close. Increasing the number of troops in Iraq was exactly the right thing to have done three and a half years ago. The administration that has ignored security in Iraq for years has suddenly discovered it. The new mantra is “we need to establish security first before the political work can be done.” That was true the first day American troops set foot in Baghdad but after years of sectarian fighting and civil war it is the politics that is now driving the violence. Increasing troops on the ground may have some effect on reducing the violence temporarily but until the political work is done in Iraq and with its neighbors there is no reason to expect anything other than ongoing warfare in Iraq. This is only another example of lack of planning – Bush is just making it up as it goes along and refuses to learn from his mistakes. As Sidney Blumenthal points out, “For him, there's no past, especially his own. There's only the present. The war is detached from strategic purposes, the history of Iraq and the region, and political and social dynamics, and instead is grasped as a test of character. Ultimately, what's at stake is his willpower.”

(And it is worth noting here there seems to be a tendency to forget we are fighting a second war – Afghanistan – that has been neglected. Unlike Iraq, that war is direct result of attacks on the United States on September 11th and also unlike Iraq the effort in Afghanistan is international. But with resources drained from this front to pour into Iraq the Taliban is making gains in parts of the country. How soon will it be before we have a Baker-Hamilton Commission to examine our failures there too?)

Sidney Blumenthal has written in today’s Guardian about the report AEI report that has the attention of President Bush :
Bush's touted but unexplained "new way forward" (his version of the ISG's "the way forward") may be the first order of battle, complete with details of units, maps and timetables, ever posted on the website of a thinktank. "I will not be rushed," said Bush. But apparently he has already accepted the latest neoconservative programme, artfully titled with catchphrases appealing to his desperation - "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" - and available for reading on the site of the American Enterprise Institute.

The author of this plan is Frederick W Kagan, a neoconservative at the AEI and the author of a new book, Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy, replete with up-to-date neocon scorn of Bush as "simplistic", Donald Rumsfeld as "fatuous", and even erstwhile neocon icon Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defence and currently president of the World Bank, as "self-serving". Among the others listed as "participants" in drawing up the plan are various marginal and obscure figures including, notably, Danielle Pletka, a former aide to the senator Jesse Helms; Michael Rubin, an aide to the catastrophic Coalition Provisional Authority; and retired Major General Jack Keane, the former deputy army chief of staff.

This rump group of neocons is the battered remnant left of the phalanx that once conjured up grandiose visions of conquest and blowtorched ideological ground for Bush. Although neocons are still entrenched in the vice-president's Office and on the National Security Council, they mostly feel that their perfect ideas have been the victims of imperfect execution. Rather than accepting any responsibility for the ideas themselves, they blame Rumsfeld and Bush. Meyrav Wurmser, a research fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, whose husband, David Wurmser, is a Middle East adviser on Dick Cheney's staff, recently vented the neocons' despair to an Israeli news outlet: "This administration is in its twilight days. Everyone is now looking for work, looking to make money ... We all feel beaten after the past five years." But they are not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.

Choosing Victory is a prophetic document, a bugle call for an additional 30,000 troops to fight a decisive Napoleonic battle for Baghdad. (Its author, Kagan, has written a book on Napoleon.) It assumes that through this turning point the Shiite militias will melt away, the Sunni insurgents will suffer defeat and from the solid base of Baghdad security will radiate throughout the country. The plan also assumes that additional combat teams that actually take considerable time to assemble and train are instantly available for deployment. And it dismisses every diplomatic initiative proposed by the Iraq Study Group as dangerously softheaded. Foremost among the plan's assertions is that there is still a military solution in Iraq - "victory."

The strategic premise of the entire document rests on the incredulous disbelief that the US cannot enforce its will through force. "Victory is still an option in Iraq," it states. "America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100bn." By these gross metrics, France should never have lost in Algeria and Vietnam. The US experience in Vietnam goes unmentioned.

Bush's rejection of the Iraq Study Group report was presaged by a post-election speech delivered on December 4 by Karl Rove at the Churchill dinner held by Hillsdale College, a citadel of conservative crankdom. Here Rove conflated Winston Churchill and George Bush, Neville Chamberlain and James Baker, and the Battle of Britain and the Iraq war. "Why would we want to pursue a policy that our enemies want?" demanded Rove. "We will either win or we will lose ... Winston Churchill showed us the way. And like Great Britain under its greatest leader, we in the United States will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."

A week later, on December 11, Bush met at the White House with Jack Keane, from the latest neocon Team B, and four other critics of the ISG. But even before, on December 8, in a meeting with senators, he compared himself to an embattled Harry Truman, unpopular as he forged the early policies of the cold war. When Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill, offered that Truman had created the Nato alliance, worked through the UN and conducted diplomacy with enemies, and that Bush could follow his example by endorsing the recommendations of the ISG, Bush rejected Durbin's fine-tuning of the historical analogy and replied that he was "the commander in chief."

The opening section of the ISG report is a lengthy analysis of the dire situation in Iraq. But Bush has frantically brushed that analysis away just as he has rejected every objective assessment that had reached him before. He has assimilated no analysis whatsoever of what's gone wrong. For him, there's no past, especially his own. There's only the present. The war is detached from strategic purposes, the history of Iraq and the region, and political and social dynamics, and instead is grasped as a test of character. Ultimately, what's at stake is his willpower.

Repudiated in the midterm elections, Bush has elevated himself above politics, and repeatedly says, "I am the commander in chief." With the crash of Rove's game plan for using his presidency as an instrument to leverage a permanent Republican majority, Bush is abandoning the role of political leader. He can't disengage militarily from Iraq because that would abolish his identity as a military leader, his default identity and now his only one.

Unlike the political leader, the commander in chief doesn't require persuasion; he rules through orders, deference and the obedience of those beneath him. By discarding the ISG report, Bush has rejected doubt, introspection, ambivalence and responsibility. By embracing the AEI manifesto, he asserts the warrior virtues of will, perseverance and resolve. The contest in Iraq is a struggle between will and doubt. Every day his defiance proves his superiority over lesser mortals. Even the joint chiefs have betrayed the martial virtues that he presumes to embody. He views those lacking his will with rising disdain. The more he stands up against those who tell him to change, the more virtuous he becomes. His ability to realise those qualities surpasses anyone else's and passes the character test.

The mere suggestion of doubt is fatally compromising. Any admission of doubt means complete loss, impotence and disgrace. Bush cannot entertain doubt and still function. He cannot keep two ideas in his head at the same time. Powell misunderstood when he said that the current war strategy lacks a clear mission. The war is Bush's mission.

No matter the setback it's always temporary, and the campaign can always be started from scratch in an endless series of new beginnings and offensives - "the new way forward" - just as in his earlier life no failure was irredeemable through his father's intervention. Now he has rejected his father's intervention in preference for the clean slate of a new scenario that depends only on his willpower.

"We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush told the Washington Post on Tuesday, a direct rebuke of Powell's formulation, saying he was citing General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs, and adding, "We're going to win." Winning means not ending the war while he is president. Losing would mean coming to the end of the rope while he was still in office. In his mind, so long as the war goes on and he maintains his will he can win. Then only his successor can be a loser.

Bush's idea of himself as personifying martial virtues, however, is based on a vision that would be unrecognisable to all modern theorists of warfare. According to Carl von Clausewitz, war is the most uncertain of human enterprises, difficult to understand, hardest to control and demanding the highest degree of adaptability. It was Clausewitz who first applied the metaphor of "fog" to war. In his classic work, On War, he warned, "We only wish to represent things as they are, and to expose the error of believing that a mere bravo without intellect can make himself distinguished in war."
You may read the entire piece here.

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