ON POLITICS AND HOBBITS

November 19, 2006

ON POLITICS AND HOBBITS

Some November Postings on “The Human Conspiracy Blog”

By

Jay B. Gaskill

This series was organized around the recent elections as a referendum on the Iraq War. In the discussion, I referred to the anti-war advocates metaphorically as hobbits.

I invite you to think of the anti-war elements in the body politic as hobbits. They tend to live in the blue shires, but their isolationist cousins live in the red ones. They lead comfortable lives, secure from the rough and tumble of the “world outside”. The hobbit ethos – shared by all the blue shire dwellers and a plurality of the reds – is that all interpersonal problems result from insufficient love and inadequate mediation. The exceptions – as revealed by disturbing events in the “world outside” – must be left to work themselves out. This stance is rationalized in the blue shires as “non-violence” and in the red shires as “non-intervention”. Human suffering is filtered though a living room screen. Moral action (especially in the blue shires) consists of “taking stands.”

November 5, 2006

A CHILD MURDERING DICTATOR CONFRONTS OUR NATIONAL ANGST

As a famous, wealthy, powerful serial child killer faces execution in Baghdad (yes there were other crimes) many Americans are engaged in hand wringing over the foreign policy that brought him to this sorry moment. I should note in passing that the appeal process in Saddam’s case will be measured by the passage of weeks, not- as in the California anti-model – by the slow grinding out of decades.

We are suffering not so much from the lingering fallout of our Vietnam failure here as from a long delayed case of “Bay of Pigs Syndrome”. [One wishes that high school history classes actually taught something relevant.]

Here’s a brief refresher for those who need it:

The Bay of Pigs incident (our botched attempted invasion of Castro’s Cuba in 1961) was the first crisis in JFK’s administration, one that brought him to the brink of resignation. [That John Kennedy actively contemplated resigning his fledgling presidency over this failure was brought to my attention by someone in whom he confided back then, but that is a separate story.]

Before President Eisenhower left office, he had secretly arranged for President Nixon (whose predicted election was derailed by the John Kennedy upset victory) to liberate Cuba by supporting a small force of anti-Castro Cuban émigrés. But the tiny invasion force was betrayed. When they arrived in the Bay of Pigs expecting American military support, they didn’t get it, and were quickly dispatched by Castro’s defense forces.

JFK was our most popular neo-con president, a liberal unafraid of using military force. But the disappointed liberal expectation that an invasion would be met with flowers and a popular uprising led to his last minute ambivalence and the failure of the whole operation when President Kennedy cancelled air support. This generated one of JFK’s most memorable observations. In taking full responsibility for the fiasco, he observed that victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.

The takeaway point here is that America had a vital security interest in the governance of Cuba because of its alliance with the Soviets. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 demonstrated that beyond a doubt.

We Americans have a bimodal foreign policy neurosis, a reflection of our deep ambivalence about our need to protect our self interest and our need to be loved: We can’t seem to pursue an idealistic military policy unless it succeeds quickly and cheaply, and we can’t seem to pursue a self-interested military policy unless it is covered in a shroud of idealism.

God forbid that there would need to be another Cuban missile crisis writ large to demonstrate just how much our national self interest is entangled with the governance of all the Middle Eastern regimes, Iraq included.

The liberals have turned against this President because he took away the real lesson from the Bay of Pigs. Don’t flinch even when our actions are unpopular. The conservatives have turned away because he has been ineffective in explaining, defending and selling the case that our long term vital self interests are at stake. Instead, this president has relied on restating a simple case and the passage of time. As a practical matter, the clock runs out sometime early in the 2008 presidential election cycle.

JBG

November 8, 2006

EXIT “RUMMY” – IMPLICATIONS AND ANALYSIS

Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as “Sec Def” has been truncated by the Iraq War and the shifting political currents in DC. His long and distinguished government career will soon end with the confirmation of his replacement, Dr. Robert Gates (see below).

“Rummy’s” critics included Iraq war supporters like John McCain and Thomas Friedman (who agued that too few troops were deployed there from the beginning).

It’s much too early to tell whether history will be kind to “W” and “Rummy” where the Iraq War is concerned. The reputations of administrations and their key players are always revised by history in ways that tend to surprise their contemporaries. [Recall that Truman’s reputation among historians has gone sharply up, but that JFK’s has gone down].

Leave Iraq aside: Rumsfeld’s tenure as a tenacious reformer in the Pentagon will remain an exemplary model for his successors. So why would this president release Mr. Rumsfeld now? I suspect that three considerations were operating:

  1. The President’s stated reason (the need for “fresh eyes”) is presumptively valid given our present difficulties in Iraq.

  2. And there is a fairly obvious, if unstated, subtext: A measure of renewed public support for our Iraq stabilization efforts must be rekindled. As a matter of popular psychology, someone has to take the fall.

  3. Finally, we have my theory. I strongly suspect that the final Rumsfeld decision was held off until it became clear that the democrats would control the key congressional committees. In light of today’s events, you can be sure that there will be sharp edged fault-finding Iraq hearings before hostile committee chairpersons next year, and that “Rummy” will be a target. The prospect of a sitting Sec Def dragged through this process is a non-starter.

So what do we know about Mr. Rumsfeld’s nominated successor? Dr. Gates is someone who already enjoys the confidence of the current president and his father. Dr. Robert Michael Gates has been a national security professional for two and a half decades. He earned his doctorate in Russian and Soviet History from Georgetown.

His security credentials are extremely strong: They include serving as an entry level CIA analyst, advancing to the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, then to the top — as the Director of Central Intelligence. In several National Security advisory positions, Gates has advised Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, as well our current President. While Dr. Gates was President of Texas A&M University, he was President Bush’s first choice for the top post 9-11 intelligence job, the National Director of Intelligence, an offer he turned down. [The position went to the current incumbent, John Negroponte.]

What does this imply for Iraq policy? As I’ve written earlier, the president is operating under a political deadline. While we may not be able to fully disengage from Iraq for years, the president needs to reduce the Iraq conflict into the level of background noise before the campaign for his successor heats up. I give it 18 months. Dr. Gates is probably thinking: I’m glad this is only a two year hitch….

JBG

November 7, 2006

WHITHER THE REAGAN DEMOCRATS

What to watch for:

Will today’s results hint at a more robust, populist democratic party? Anything short of that change of direction will make today’s predicted victory look more like a “dead cat bounce”.

The Webb vs. Allen race in Virginia pits a macho, patriotic, pro-military democrat (James Webb) against the incumbent Bush loyalist, (George Allen).

If elected, Webb – who served in the Reagan administration as Secretary of the Navy – may have difficulty (to put it mildly) getting along with his fellow military-disparaging democrats. But his election (Webb’s anti-war stance is limited to Iraq) would represent an opportunity for the party of Truman and JFK to begin to reshape itself along more muscular & populist lines.

For that to happen of course, Webb would need more company than Joe Lieberman.

[Note: Both Lieberman and Allen were elected.]

JBG

November 10, 2006

WHAT HAPPENED TUESDAY? THE HOBBITS HAVE SPOKEN

IMPLICATIONS OF TUESDAY’S “THUMPING”

The hobbits have spoken.

Think of the anti-war elements in the body politic as hobbits. They tend to live in the blue shires, but their isolationist cousins live in the red ones. They lead comfortable lives, secure from the rough and tumble of the “world outside”. The hobbit ethos – shared by all the blue shire dwellers and a plurality of the reds – is that all interpersonal problems result from insufficient love and inadequate mediation. The exceptions – as revealed by disturbing events in the “world outside” – must be left to work themselves out. This stance is rationalized in the blue shires as “non-violence” and in the red shires as “non-intervention”. Human suffering is filtered though a living room screen. Moral action (especially in the blue shires) consists of “taking stands.”

In the “world outside” (read real world), we currently have actual enemies who are actively seeking ways to inflict as much destruction and death on us as they possibly can.

This is a war by proxy, sponsored by elements in several Middle Eastern Countries. It is fueled by a whole constellation of grievances, real and imagined, that amount to a perfect storm of religious bigotry, failure-fueled resentment and humiliation. The net effect is that millions of angry males would just love to see our civilization destroyed because it would make them feel ever so much better about themselves.

This is jihad as therapy, terrorism as catharsis, and empire building via genocide. For the hobbits, this is entirely too much reality.

Fortunately, the current administration – with all flaws accounted for – has become acutely and accurately aware of the scope and nature of the threat and is proactively attempting to confront it. But our nation’s resources are limited.

On 9-12-01, there were five hostile & dangerous Middle East states, each of which was knee deep in funding, directing and assisting in this proxy war against us and our friends. They were Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Two others, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, were ambiguous “friends” in that elements within were supporting the jihad while the main governments were asleep at the switch – or deniably complicit. As a direct result of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the declaration that nations harboring or supporting terrorists are not immune to the same treatment, the list has narrowed. Iraq and Afghanistan are out of the game. Libya has given up its nuclear program. Syria is being very careful. Iran – sharing a border with Iraq – is undeterred. The Saudis and Pakistan are actively helping us.

The stabilization of Iraq has proved more costly and problematic than expected. We are in a foreign policy chess game with the highest possible stakes.

The game is about 1/3 played. We have the ability to prevail. But to do that we must stay in the game and play for keeps.

There is a peculiar sort of brain damage in which the patient is unable to sequence. This makes it very difficult to play chess, for example. Understanding real world foreign policy, of course, is out of the question for these damaged minds.

It appears that the outcome of the congressional election of November 7, 2006 was determined by a plurality of brain damaged hobbits.

JBG

November 12 & 13, 2006

THE HOBBIT COMMISSION?

James Baker & Iraq: A Hobbit Commission?

In my last posting I concluded (metaphorically) that last Tuesday’s congressional blowout was determined by “a plurality of brain damaged hobbits”. The Iraq Commission headed by Baker and Hamilton is not governed by the same plurality. “Hobbits” no longer predominate (at least not by my earlier definition), nor are these luminaries “brain damaged” in the sense I outlined in Friday’s post. No, this is a authentic brain trust from which the “neocons” were virtually excluded in favor of a plurality of conservative “realists” (i.e., isolationists and non-interventionist internationalists) who, under Jim Baker’s fatherly guidance, will “advise” the president on the “Iraq problem”.

Two things are important here:

  1. The original Iraq study group was a creation of congress, a bipartisan assembly of commission members with advisors, analysts and experts (at the working level) who were originally assembled in March 2006 at the instigation of Congressman Frank Wolf (GOP, VA). Wolf had returned from a trip to Iraq, worried that the war effort was unraveling along with public support. Its role, especially from the perspective of Secretary Baker, is to “guide” the administration – read separate it from the grip of the “neocons” without whose advice (it is presumed) the president would not have intervened in the first place.

  2. Dr. Robert Gates (who had already been identified as a Bush favorite for greater things) was added to the group in April.

For reasons I outline below, I believe that Dr. Gates’ addition to the mix has changed the game.

The principals of the Commission (Secretary nominee Gates, Secretary Jim Baker, Congressman Lee Hamilton, Secretary Vernon Eagleburger, Attorney General Ed Meese, Justice Sandra O’Conner, Leon Panetta, Secretary Wm. Perry, Senator Chas. Robb, Senator Alan Simpson, Vernon Jordan) are the public faces of amuch larger staff of experts – ambassadors, spooks, generals, admirals, and think tank denizens.

I am certain that, all other differences among this group aside, there is agreement on these four points:

  1. that the Iraq issue needs to be removed as a major public irritant, whatever the other merits;

  2. that Iraq needs to be stabilized whether under a functioning democracy or not;

  3. that Iran cannot be permitted to dominate Iraq;

  4. that Iraq can’t be permitted ever again to sponsor terrorists; and

  5. that the clock is running.

The so called “neocon” role in propelling the Iraq invasion has been exaggerated. Dr. Gates, who has never identified with the “neocon” group, has been steadfast in two points, both of which operated in the administration’s decision to re-invade Iraq (I note in passing that Gulf War I was never officially over):

That the president sincerely and not unreasonably believed (as did Gate’s former colleague, Secretary Rice, French, Israeli, British and American intelligence agencies) that Iraq was hiding a significant cache or caches of WMD’s;

That a pre-emptive attack is justified (if otherwise prudent) when the threat threshold reaches the WMD level.

The second proposition is a point of agreement between the “neocon” and realist schools of thought. What actually happened is that when (to our honest surprise) no WMD stockpiles in Iraq were uncovered, we were stuck with what suddenly could be seen as an illegitimate occupation (in spite of the ongoing state of belligerency and the persistent violations of the truce). This president Bush (we might recall) entered office as a critic of nation building as an appropriate or prudent exercise of American power. Of necessity, the goal of producing a functioning Middle East democracy on Iran’s border suddenly moved from a subtext or secondary argument for intervention to an animating moral purpose.

Regime change from enemy to friendly or non-hostile status would have been defensible only among foreign policy realists. But to the idealists of the world, democracy installation would be a sort of retroactive endorsement for the war. [Or so it was hoped.]

As it happens, several neocon thinkers also made strong arguments (essentially correct in my opinion) that democracy was the only viable long term alternative to tribalism or the nascent Islamist totalitarian ideologies. Thus the democratic option became a strategic weapon against the Islamic jihad against the West. This is why the Islamist jihadists are so fiercely opposing it. Dr. Gates’ nomination as Sec Def virtually guarantees that the Iraq Commission will not be the “Baker Commission”. Mr. Bush will never agree to anything that would allow Iraq to become an enemy state, an Iran satellite, or a terrorist staging ground. Some internal chaos and internecine bloodletting is inevitable.

The problem we face is one not easily solved: We can’t afford to lose (in the sense above) but we may not be able to sustain the effort past the last few months of Mr. Bush’s term.

This is the point where armchair pundits trot out their pet solutions. I’ll try that next…

JBG

November 15, 2006

CURBING MOB RULE BY USING MOB RULES

Cost accountants can’t run a war. Nor can the PC disabled. I grant that our necessary military presence in Iraq is a very hard sell at the moment, but the ruinous consequences of our ignominious defeat there would be felt for decades. I strongly suspect that what is called for now – in addition to more forces on the ground – is a new attitude, one more informed by the students of organized crime than by the hand wringers of political correctness. I submit that our forces in Iraq need to preserve the ability to act unilaterally, especially when the nascent government is paralyzed by fear and indecision. Our position should be bright line simple and well advertised:

We reserve the right (and promise to intermittently exercise that right with brutally sufficient force as needed) unilaterally to crush any armed elements in country that are opposed to our interests or the orderly operation of the Iraqi government’s attempt to impose peace under law.

All this takes place with the end game in mind: Iraq tamed, Iran turned, Syria cowed.

In the end, we really don’t need a Western style Politically Correct government in Iraq, just one that can (as needed with our background assistance) accomplish four essential things:

  1. control its own territory;

  2. observe the rule of law (its own, not ours);

  3. remain free of control by Iran; and

  4. prevent its territory or resources from being used in the service of the anti-western jihad.

An aside about our painfully obvious reluctance to commit more forces to the theater: On paper, we have enough men and women in uniform to do this easily. The needed forces are scattered around the world – think of places like Japan and Germany. But I suspect there is a secret that the Pentagon doesn’t want the world to know. These forces are not (for the most part) even close to combat ready, and many – quite possibly an embarrassingly large many – might resign rather than be transferred to Iraq. Or so it is feared.

I agree that the reinstitution of the draft is off the table; it is neither desirable nor feasible. I am confident (at least from this armchair) that the following plan (or something like it) could be made to work:

The Army solicits Middle East theater combat volunteers (a focus on Iraq with an Iran subtext, retraining included as needed – a goal of 100,000 more combat troops). This recruitment would proceed in-house from U.S. military forces all around the world, driven by strong incentives and an upper time limit. While this program is ongoing, the Iraq in-country forces would be sharply increased, using the ad hoc measures that have been temporarily used before. The difference here from a morale point of view is that “help is on the way.”

At this historic juncture, our President has only two constituencies that matter: our soldiers and the judgment of history. He cannot be allowed to fail them.

JBG

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