Something for nothing

Something for nothing
: Iraq is turning into a bad campaign issue for both candidates.

The Washington Post editorial page today calls John Kerry on a flop (half a flip-flop) on Iraq. When he was fighting anti-war Howard Dean, Kerry set democracy as the goal in Iraq and now he has lowered that standard. The Post quotes him:

“…I have always said from day one that the goal here . . . is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that’s a full democracy.” …

Where once he named democracy as a task to be completed, and the alternative to “cutting and running” or a “false success,” Mr. Kerry now says democracy is optional. Where once he warned against setting the conditions for an early but irresponsible withdrawal of U.S. forces, now he does so himself by defining the exit standard as “stability,” a term that could describe Saudi Arabia or Iran — or the Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

So Kerry will cut and run to contrast himself with the prowar George Bush.

At today’s ASNE lunch with Bush, Burl Osborne asked — in response to the Post — whether democracy in Iraq is desirable or necessary. You can guess what Bush said. And here’s what the Post said:

There is no question that achieving even a rudimentary democracy in Iraq will be tough, and weakness in administration planning and implementation has made it tougher. At best democracy will take years to consolidate; at worst, it will prove unachievable during the U.S. mission. The past weeks of violence have been, or should have been, sobering to any observer. Yet on goals Mr. Bush is right, not only in a moral sense but from the perspective of U.S. security too. Iraq is a country of diverse communities; if its differences are not arbitrated by some form of democratic politics, then it can be held together only by brute force. The wielder of that force is likely to be hostile to the democratic world and, like Saddam Hussein or the mullahs of neighboring Iran, to seek defense by means of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

We believe a successful political outcome is still possible; others disagree. But Mr. Kerry’s shift on such a basic question after just a few months is troubling and mistaken.

As Micah Sifry has said and said again, Kerry “can’t beat something with nothing.” Now he’s offering less than nothing: defeat and desertion and no democracy. For shame.

: But Bush took his blows on the Post op-ed page. Fareed Zakaria echoes a theme from Tom Friedman and others: We need more troops in Iraq. We need to bring order.

Iraq remains unstable and insecure. If this problem isn’t solved, the United Nations can sprinkle all the magic dust it wants and it will not matter.

In fact, things could get worse. After July 1, the United States will have to combat insurgents by working through a sovereign Iraqi government that will have its own constraints….

The blunt truth is that we still need more troops in Iraq. Yes, it would be nice to have foreign troops or to have well-trained Iraqi forces. But for now neither option exists. We have a choice between more American troops and continued instability.

You can’t beat something with less than enough.

The sad truth: Neither side is offering a plan for Iraq.

  • Jeff–It gets worse. I suspect that the situation in Iraq is too far gone for any plan and now we’re deep in a muddle-through mode that is defined as follows: we’d like to hand over power to Iraqis in an orderly way, but we can’t as long as the “terrorists” are attacking “freedom” etc. in Iraq, so first we have to quell them before we can hand over power. Since the process of “quelling” them is brutal and ugly, we lose more friends than we gain over time. But “we” (at some point I can’t stomach being part of this “we”) can’t change course because to do so would signal weakness and a loss of credibility (this is where the Vietnam parallel is most salient)…so let’s keep digging ourselves into a deeper hole!!! If John Kerry weren’t such a poll-driven “leader” maybe there’d be a debate about this, but even though he probably understands this dynamic he’s afraid to name it. How many more American boys and girls will have to die for a mistake, John?

  • Reid

    These are the same people who have been maundering on that we need more troops since the very beginning. Remember, way back when we had gotten ourselves into a “quagmire” after the first week?
    I mean, these people have been so laughably wrong again and again. Why does anyone listen anymore? Are you so starved for direct news from Iraq that you will believe anything anyone, who is not even over there or engaged in the day to day planning and operations, says?
    Pshaw. I’m sticking with the guys who have done so well already. I am convinced by the news I read from people who are actually there that most Iraqis support us and that the troublemakers are revanchist Sunnis and ignorant Shia followers of Sadr. This little hiccup on the road is going to be long gone by November. Mark my words.

  • HT

    Reid is right. Tactically and strategically, we already control Iraq (and if you need that explained to you, you really have no business asking the question). More troops only = more targets for the dead-end insurgents. Handing over power to Iraqis is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end, and should be pursued regardless of the hysteria between now and June 30/November 2.

  • I have a lot of respect for Zakaria, but try to keep in mind that he’s not a friend of the democratizing project. He believes that democracies need to be proceeded by liberal dictatorships and the rule of law. He wanted to set up Taiwanese or South Korean-style liberal-capitalist dictatorships in the Middle East, instead of trying for the ideal constitutional democracies. He’s naturally going to be down on schemes which emphasize elections and constitutional framing rather than stability and a strictly secular rule of law.

  • jakob

    “The sad truth: Neither side is offering a plan for Iraq.”
    At last you admit that Bush doesn’t have a plan. But he’s the one who pressed for this war, so he is the one who needs to be held accountable for this disastrous situation.

  • This is not a very useful opinion, Jeff.

  • “So Kerry will cut and run to contrast himself with the prowar George Bush.” Actually no:
    We have to succeed in Iraq. We simply can’t allow it to become a failed state. That would mean a victory for extremism, new dangers in the Middle East and a breeding ground for anti-American terrorism. To succeed, we are going to need more forces on a temporary basis. Our commanders on the ground have requested it. We should provide it.

  • syn

    I do not think Iraq is a mess, I think those that continually quagmired this war are a mess.
    More Americans have died in auto accidents this year alone than have in this war. And, let’s not look at our own criminal activities which we must deal with on a daily basis.
    Please, the quagmire crowd finds the Iraq war such a devastating disaster because it is the only thing they see on TV news.
    I wonder how the quagmire crowd would behave if they knew how many people are dying on the roadways each year. I do not hear cries of disaster directed towards the environmentalists for having imposed strict auto emmission standards whereby forcing manufacturers to create death traps in order to accomodate the Green’s demands. Auto are not safe, even the big autos are made with light-weight, flimsy material. Since 1996, when the Greens imposed their strict auto emmissions standards, auto fatalities have been increasing.

  • I disagree that Bush doesn’t have a plan. But it’s flexible and allows for adjustment based on facts on the ground. It’s a feel your way forward by trying things out plan. Iraq is a wicked problem and this is the only way to “satisfice” it, since wicked problems are by definition unsolvable.
    So far more things are going well than going badly, and I agree that this Fallujah messiness is a blip and not the end of the world.

  • Syl

    Jumping on the ‘more troops’ bandwagon are we, Jeff? You have nothing to base it on except the opinions of people HERE who aren’t THERE.
    As for Kerry, anyone quoting what he says must put the date the quote was made otherwise the words are meaningless.

  • John C.

    Syn: While you are taking the environmentalists to task for “forcing” the manufacturers to make unsubstantial motor vehicles, please reserve some of your objection for their insistance in upping the horsepower race so that we now have 150 mph, 500 hp pickup trucks and 4 door sedans that will hit 60 mph in under 6 seconds.

  • Loren

    Oooohh, yeah. You just hit my exhilarator. 0-60 in 5.8? I want it. And with corequisite improvements in braking and handling, what’s not to like?
    Wait. What was the topic? Oh, yeah. Plans. Well, y’know, it’s a very difficult problem and sometimes you just have to “muddle through”. And that’s what’s being done. The Interim Constitution, for example, is brilliant in its checks on ethnic differences.
    As for the insurgents, they’ve made a terrible blunder by allowing themselves to be rounded up in one place.