I actually admire Phil Carter for his clean prose and analytical mind, but he gives a fine example in the case of the cited post of the bull excretions weighing down the debate over the Iraq War. So, it is with no sense of personal disrespect that I call him on this. Indeed, I pick on him, because he is definitely not one of the corrupt and stupid talking heads -- he is not Tom Friedman, for example.
Sensible discussion and assessment of strategy -- whether in business, politics or war -- is possible. Various kinds of strategy are legitmate subjects for research and teaching in academia, and large organizations depend on the ability of people to rationalize and elaborate a strategy into policy, and to execute the policy. In a society dominated by large enterprises and government bureaucracies, large numbers of people need to be familiar with the basics of strategic thinking and organizational policy. This is not a topic, which is only appreciated in the rarefied air of the Executive Suite and the Senate Chamber. It is a necessary element and aspect of our public discourse.
And, yet, America is bogged down in a hopeless and costly land war in Asia -- yet, again -- and the fault appears to lie, in part, with the breakdown of our public discourse. Political debate on strategy and policy has become a seriously faulty sieve, incapable of filtering out even the most least discriminating judgments.
Rather obviously, the political reporters snarking on about the price of John Edwards' haircuts, are not even going to be discussing serious policy issues. Pointing out the shortcomings of David Broder and Tom Friedman and other pundits I will leave to greater minds than mine.
But, I will take on the case of Phil Carter, and only because I could and do expect better from this accomplished attorney and former active-duty Army officer.
I submit that, aside from outright lies about Saddam's WMD and role in the 9/11 terrorism of Al Quaeda, one of the most noxious memes about the American policy in Iraq is that (ill-defined) "success" requires "more time".
There's an old joke about business strategy -- "High-quality, Low-price, or Soon: choose two" -- which embodies the truth that there are tradeoffs of a kind in project planning and execution, that put some outcomes out of practical reach, and one of the dimensions of trade-off is the time to completion. So, there's a basis for the intuition that "more time" may be one of the "resources" available for successful project management, and a trade-off exists between time and other resources.
There's another joke, meant to highlight that success in a single instance is not confirmation of the merit of a strategy: "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." The deeper, unspoken insight is that a "good" clock has to be highly accurate, or it is useless -- a clock that is a little slow or a little fast will be wrong, for more often than a completely stopped clock. And, over time a slow (or fast) clock may tend to be increasingly wrong.
America's "strategy" in Iraq has been that of a slow clock, which has become more and more dysfunctional -- more and more inaccurate in relation to the true time -- the longer it has run. The U.S. has never had sufficient resources in Iraq to accomplish its purposes, and it has deployed those resources in ways, which are destructive to its ostensible purposes. This is true, with regard to both military and political strategy.
The U.S. did not have sufficient troops in the original invasion to secure Saddam's enormous stocks of munitions -- and did not secure those stockpiles, never mind the fantasy WMDs. The U.S. did not have sufficient troops, to provide simple security for civil society. The decision to disband the Iraqi Army compounded these deficiencies. The committment of resources to Iraqi Reconstruction -- including a generous $18 billion gift from the American People -- were not even barely sufficient to Iraqi's needs (estimated to be $60-$80 billion), and those resources were squandered in epic incompetence and corruption.
The consequence of these shortcomings in U.S. policy and resources has been a snowballing chaos in Iraq. The lawless looting, which followed in the wake of inadequate U.S.-provided security immediately after the invasion, undermined the rule of law and the economic basis of civil society -- it was not just ancient and priceless treasures looted from museums: buildings needed for public purposes and business enterprise were looted of their copper plumbing and electrical wire.
The inability of the U.S. reconstruction efforts to provide electricity has frustrated all the efforts to restart a productive, civil economy in Iraq. If Iraqis join the insurgency, it is, in part, because "insurgent" is the only paying job available -- and it is a paying job, thanks in large part to the generosity of President Bush's dear friends in Saudi Arabia, who are well overmatching the subsidies provided by Iran to the Shiites, we nominally support, and about which Bush's anonymous minions complain regularly. (If that sentence is hard to parse, it is because Bush is an idiot, and no summary of U.S. policy, as it exists, can be entirely logical.)
Efforts to suppress the insurgency with military means, which have continued even after the funds to reconstruct the country have been largely exhausted without result, have only served to further escalate violence and alienate the Iraqi People from the occupying Americans.
Every step along the way, the Americans have been falling further and further behind, through inadequate committment of resources, inadequate planning and incompetent execution of policy. American policy is not a stopped clock, it is a slow clock, which is more wrong every hour and day, it continues.
And, how is the disastrous "slow clock" policy of the Bush Administration policy treated in our public discourse. Well, Phil Carter, whom I do take seriously, treats it as a public relations problem:
The challenge facing Odierno, Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus is a daunting one: how to translate their operational picture into politically palatable and viable terms that will enable them to win the support of America's political leaders at home. My sense is that the only thing which will work in September is for Crocker and Petraeus to give a blunt, honest assessment of how things are going -- good, bad and ugly -- and then to request additional resources to achieve their proposed endstate. Anything less than that will
appear dishonest and intellectually bankrupt.
The "theatre review" style of punditry has claimed the otherwise admirable Phil Carter as a new victimizer. This is the same air-headed nonsense that praises the psychopathic, senile fool, John McCain, for his "straight-talk", instead of pointing out that he is bat-shit insane.
Crocker and Petraeus are likely to portray "blunt" and "honest" like practiced thespians, but the policy of the Bush Administration has been "dishonest and intellectually bankrupt" from the get-go, five years ago. What makes translating their operational picture into politically palatable and viable terms so challenging is that the operational picture, as is plain as day to anyone with even passing familiarity with actual facts, is that the policy, in any and all of its variations over five years, has never been viable.
In fact, one perfectly sensible interpretation is that Bush has always intended to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and the policy was adapted to the goal of a weak Iraq and a weak Iraqi central government. Only a weak Iraqi central government could be counted on to give consent to the U.S. military staying in Iraq. The strategy has failed, because an Iraq weak enough to want the U.S. to stay, is too weak to hold together.
Sensible people, who were paying attention, could see that the policy was not viable even before the war started, and the conduct of the Occupation and Reconstruction, simply confirmed that, as has been amply documented in several excellent books. The plain fact that the policy, as executed, is not viable has made continuation of the policy less and less politically palatable. Shocking, I know.
So, yes, Phil, making a non-viable policy appear viable is a daunting task. And, doing so, while not appearing dishonest and intellectually bankrupt will be challenging.
America will save, itself, when public servants no longer feel any obligation to accept such challenges, and when the Media no longer facilitate the pretense that the appearance of "blunt and honest" substitutes for the reality.