Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Andrew Sullivan goes wobbly

Alleged conservative Andrew Sullivan gave into weakness today and endorsed John Kerry for president. There really is no other way to describe Sullivan's conversion than as a loss of nerve, for he certainly does not have any principled objection to George Bush's cause for going to war in Iraq:

"Equally, his presidency can and should be judged on its most fateful decision - to go to war against Saddam without final U.N. approval on the basis of Saddam's stockpiles of weapons and his violation of countless U.N. resolutions. I still believe that his decision was the right one. The only reason we know that Saddam was indeed bereft of such weaponry is because we removed him; we were going to have to deal with the crumbling mafia-run state in the heart of the Middle East at some point; and the objections of the French and Germans and Russians were a function primarily of mischief and corruption. And what we discovered in Iraq - from mass graves to childrens' prisons and the devastating effect of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqis - only solidifies the moral case for removing the tyrant. The scandal of the U.N. oil-for-food program seals the argument."
So what can you make of his very next statement:

"At the same time, the collapse of the casus belli and the incompetent conduct of the war since the liberation points in an opposite direction. If you are going to do what the Bush administration did - put all your chips on one big gamble; if you are going to send your secretary of state to the U.N. claiming solid "proof" of Saddam's WMDs; if you are going to engage in a major war of liberation without the cover of nternational consensus - then you'd better well get all your ducks in a row. Bush - amazingly - didn't. The lack of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq remains one of the biggest blows to America's international credibility in a generation."

So Bush was right to go to war to settle the issue of whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but finding out that he didn't have those weapons points to Bush's incompetence? This is incoherent. If the decision to invade was justified because it was the only way that we could know for sure whether Saddam had WMDs, then finding out after the war was won that he didn't have them does not remove that justification, because either way the war accomplished the goal of ensuring that Saddam did not posess WMDs.

Secondly Sullivan, on top of the WMD issue, gives four other justifications for deposing Saddam, and yet he amazingly states that the "casus belli" has collapsed. How can it have collapsed, the justifications that Sullivan enumerated have been realized? We no longer have to deal with the crumbling Mafia state of Saddam, the childrens prisons and mass murders of civilians have been halted, the crippling sanctions have been eliminated, and the corrupt UN Oil for Food program has been stopped. What is Sullivan talking about? None of these benefits of the deposition of Saddam have been un-done.

He goes on:

"The failure to anticipate an insurgency against the coalition remains one of the biggest military miscalculations since Vietnam. And the refusal to send more troops both at the beginning and throughout the occupation remains one of the most pig-headed acts of hubris since the McNamara era. I'm amazed by how pro-war advocates aren't more incensed by this mishandling of such critical matters. But even a Bush-supporter, like my friend, Christopher Hitchens, has termed it "near-impeachable" incompetence."

Whether the insurgency had been anticipated or not, there is not much that the coalition could have done to prevent it from happening. Sullivan is suffering from the "planning fetish" that I described in my post "The Planner vs the Slogger" below. He believes that competent war planners can anticipate and plan for every contingency that can occur. Miscalculations will always occur in wars, a commander cannot count on his calculations being correct in all circumstances, but he must be ready to adapt to changing circumstances as the war progresses. And contrary to Sullivan and all the other armchair generals criticizing the war from the sidelines, our military forces have done just that. Though the insurgency has caused some surprising and disheartening setbacks for the coalition forces, they have all been temporary. The commanders on the ground have adapted to the insurgents tactics, and have systematically hemmed them in, isolated them, and destroyed them piecemeal.

The insurgency was inevitable. Once Saddam's forces collapsed and fled into the woodwork, the way was open for the various terror masters to organize their squads and initiate the insurgency. This guaranteed that instead of a decisive victory, the war for Iraq would drag on for a long time. Those like Sullivan who have judged the conduct of the war incompetent because of the failure to secure a final, decisive victory in the first year are using a highly unrealistic yardstick by which any Commander in Chief would come up short. Sullivan does not have the heart of a slogger. He could back the war as long as the victories came swiftly, the setbacks were few and the doubts were short lived. The strategy of the insurgents is based on the assumption that many of the war's supporters are of Sullivan's mettle.

Now, to address the "pigheadedness" of not sending in more troops. This is precisely the wrong thing to do. The goal of the war is not just to destroy all the insurgents as quickly as possible and then to go home, but to foster the creation of a viable democracy in Iraq. Training the Iraqi defense force and turning the responsibility for security over to them is a critical factor in acheiving this goal. Though it may have slowed the battle against the insurgents, involving them in the decision making and the exection of the offensives against them is key to developing the competence, experience and confidence of the IDF, and will make the eventual turnover of power more certain and sustainable. It also reduces the number of casualties that American troops suffer. Secondly, the war against the insurgents is not an all out effort that we can just throw more bodies at. They hide among civilians. We want to kill them with as few casualties to innocents as possible. This takes time and patience, and the cultivation of local intelligence sources. Our force level is the right size for this kind of effort. Increasing the force levels would have raised the stakes for a quick victory over the insurgents, which would have led to an even bigger appearance of failure when the insurgency continued to drag on. The tactics of the insurgents will not allow for decisive set-piece battles that will allow us to declare victory and pull all our troops home. This is a war of endurance, of slogging.

Finally, Sullivan trots out the left's favorite flogging horse:

"I would add one more thing: Abu Ghraib. In one gut-wrenching moment, the moral integrity of the war was delivered an almost fatal blow. To be involved in such a vital struggle and through a mixture of negligence and arrogance to have facilitated such a fantastic propaganda victory for the enemy is just unforgivable. In a matter of months, the Bush administration lost its casus belli and its moral authority. Could they have run a worse war?"

How can any war maintain its moral integrity if the misconduct of any small group of soldiers is enough to destroy it? An almost fatal blow? Is he serious? Firstly, the abuses at Abu Ghraib come nowhere near the level of severity that would destroy the moral integrity of the war against Saddam. If Sullivan thinks that the humiliation of a handful of terrorists is on par with the crimes of Saddam or his henchmen, then his moral compass is in need of some serious calibration. Secondly, it is an outright slander to lay the cause of this scandal at the negligence and arrogance of George Bush. It is a measure of the integrity of the armed forces under Bush and Rumsfeld that this is the worst case of military misconduct to come out of this war. Far worse atrocities have been commited by American soldiers in all of our past wars. The moral integrity of the war to depose Saddam is based on the freedom of millions of Iraqi citizens and their hopes for a bright future for themselves and their children. Sullivan would have us believe that the abuse of a handful of terrorists under the custody of American soldiers negates all of that.

That Sullivan can agree with all of the reasons that George Bush gave for leading us to war against Saddam, and then disparage him as incompetent and arrogant for not prosecuting that war flawlessly shows that he does not have the courage to defend his own decision to support the war. He wants credit for making the right choice to back the war, but wants to lay all blame for the embarassing setbacks at the feet of the president. He is a squeamish moralist who is unwilling to stand up for a difficult but morally justified decision when that decision leads to unforeseen results. We will never fight a flawless war and will never have the luxury of fielding an army composed only of saints. The decision to go to war will always set in motion events that will act to the detriment of the very goals we are trying to acheive. No amount of planning or supervision by the Commander in Chief or his subordinates will ever make such setbacks avoidable.


Blogger Michael Herdegen said...

Having only 1100+ American military members dead, after 19 months, points out what a bang-up job the US military did in Iraq.

I mean, really, by what standard can the Iraq pacification be said to have gone "poorly" ?

Alexander the Great lost more men when he conquered the area now known as Iraq; perhaps we should take to calling Bush "the Great".

October 31, 2004 1:01 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

When I was in the Pentagon, we had a saying:

No war plan survives the first shot.

Something else you could have mentioned regarding flooding the zone with more troops is that also brings with it significantly more logistics, which means more targets for insurgents to hit.

Finally, the Left, and Andrew Sullivan, are playing post hoc gotcha. I guarantee that if Pres. Bush had chosen to, say, flood the zone, the Left would have used all the consequences of that decision to hammer him for bringing in too many troops.

The Left's display is disgusting. They have never, so far as I have seen, offered a different course of action. They have engaged in relentless pos hoc criticism.

They are all noise and smoke, amounting to nothing.

October 31, 2004 1:48 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Michael, Jeff, agreed. Mark Steyn had an excellent take on Andrew Sullivan and his ilk today in today's Chicago Sun-Times.

"Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan in the New Republic sounds like some blousy torch singer sitting atop the piano in a Jazz Age cabaret doing one of those laundry-list songs ruefully adumbrating her lover's faults: "His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government's job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless U.N., in the tasks of global management. He got the Cold War wrong. He got the first Gulf War wrong --"

If he were Jane Monheit on her excellent new CD, he'd conclude:

"I love him because he's --

I don't know --

Because he's just my Bill."

But, in this case, the point seems to be:

"I love him because he's --

I don't know --

Because he's just not Bush."

Sullivan's big idea is that the best way to force the Democrats to get serious about the war is to put them in charge of it. That's a helluva leap of faith -- and, in John Kerry's case, it's at odds with a 30-year track record of not being serious on the Cold War, Grenada, Central America, the first Gulf War, etc. As Dr. Laura would advise, you should never marry a man in hopes of reforming him."

The worst thing that Bush could do would be to try to take actions that would avoid the second-guessing that the media throws at the war on a daily basis. Bush knows that his job is to set the goal, and then to let his generals carry it out. For some reason Sullivan wants Bush to engage in Mea Culpas every time something unexpected happens. That wouldn't inspire much confidence. Mistakes are to be expected, let your generals make their mistakes and learn from them. If he beats them up every time the press hammers them, then they will just play it safe and the insurgents will win. Sullivan just wants cover so that he can face his liberal friends. We're better off without him, better an opponent than a wobbly supporter.

October 31, 2004 7:39 PM  

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