Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

You Call That Rethinking?

In a maddening discussion with Robert Wright, AEI scholar David Frum promises a “rethinking” of his views on Iraq but, unsurprisingly, I suppose, provides no such thing. I’ll leave it to C@L readers to stomach as much of it as they can.

But at times like this, I am reminded of Anatol Lieven’s takedown of Eliot Cohen in The National Interest:

by contributing in this way to a hasty, poorly-planned military operation, it must be repeated that Dr. Cohen took on himself a measure of the moral, intellectual and political responsibility for precisely those U.S. administration mistakes in Iraq which he now denounces, and which have cost so many American lives. It is disappointing—though not surprising—that Dr. Cohen himself does not realize that this record demands from him, as an honorable man, a lengthy period of quiet, private reflection on his mistakes and the reasons for them.

Lieven is absolutely right, but if his advice were followed, housing prices in Northern Virginia could well plummet as the neocon commentariat flees for the hills to contemplate the err of their ways. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath.

Might Want to Remove the Plank from Your Own Eye First

Somehow I missed New York Sun journalist Eli Lake’s op-ed column earlier this week pooh-poohing NYU professor Barnett Rubin’s startling suggestion that the Vice President’s office was trying to take the debate on Iran in the direction of war. Mr. Lake’s snarky opinion column (and when did journalists start writing regular opinion pieces, anyway?) leaves a lot to be desired. Lake ascribes numerous claims to Rubin that Rubin never made, and has certain problems with sketchily leaked tidbits of his own that bear on his standing to judge others.

First, Lake introduces a claim as Rubin’s that Rubin never made. Lake’s second sentence is this, characterizing Rubin’s claims:

Any day now divisions of American tanks will be rolling toward Tehran as President Bush and the neoconservatives plunge the world into yet another disastrous war.

This would be an easy allegation to deflate, except Rubin never claimed that a ground war was imminent. Readers can view Rubin’s post here and decide whether Lake accurately characterized his claims. The terms “tank” or “ground war” don’t appear, far as I can see.

Mr. Lake appears to fabricate another supposed view of Rubin’s.

[T[he charge from Mr. Rubin amounts to an accusation of bad faith. In Mr. Rubin’s world, you see, Michael Ledeen, Newt Gingrich, or William Kristol do not write about Iran’s support for confessional murderers in Iraq because they have weighed the evidence, considered the regime’s history, or analyzed the testimony of experts.

No, anything these people say about Iran in September will be because Dick Cheney gave instructions, as if anyone who speaks plainly about Iranian supported terrorism or the regime’s nuclear-bomb making reflects a hidden agenda — for the Left it’s either oil or Israel, so take your pick.

This, again, bears no resemblance to the actual post that Prof. Rubin wrote. He didn’t say anything about Israel, anything about oil, or anything about bad faith. A rather less conspiratorial reading of Rubin is that he says nothing about the good faith of the above commentators, but rather thinks that their influence on U.S. national security policy over the past several years has been disastrous, that replicating their strategic malfeasance in Iran would be more disastrous, and that he hopes it doesn’t happen. As Barnett himself writes in the end of his post:

I hesitated before posting this. I don’t want to spread alarmist rumors. I don’t want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.

The only imputation of bad faith is from Eli Lake.

Then, Lake moves from attributing to Rubin claims and views that Rubin doesn’t state and doesn’t seem to hold, to accusing him of making a similar claim to one that Seymour Hersh made previously and pointing out that Mr. Hersh’s prediction was wrong. I don’t think Mr. Lake wants to start lining up the predictions of people who agree with him about foreign policy against those of the rest of us and assessing them side-by-side for accuracy. But in any event Lake should know enough that criticizing one person for having bad information and then attempting to use that fact to discredit someone else sounds an awful lot like the bad faith that he falsely accuses Professor Rubin of ascribing to people who agree with him.

Finally, I suspect Eli Lake may want to be careful about pointing out how frequently false information insinuates itself into debates about security policy. Take, for one example, the July article authored by Mr. Lake titled “Iran Is Found To Be a Lair of Al Qaeda.”

In that story, Lake published a claim purportedly leaked to him that the National Intelligence Estimate judged that one of two senior al Qaeda leadership councils “meets regularly in eastern Iran.” Lake wrote that “there is little disagreement that a branch of al Qaeda’s leadership operates in Iran, [but] the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran’s Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran’s supreme leader.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Lake, the story was tersely refuted later that day by the National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, Edward Gistaro. Asked at a National Press Club briefing whether the judgment Lake described was in the final draft report, Gistaro replied “No, it is not. I don’t think it was ever in the draft…. I read [the Sun article] this morning, and I thought, ‘I don’t know where this comes from.’” The transcript of the conference describes “laughter” in the briefing room after this revelation.

In the wake of such developments, and particularly in the wake of easily-drawn analogies to recent controversies, I think those of us who are concerned about the prospect of attacking Iran can be forgiven for at least a twinge of trepidation.

Solutions Day!

Newt Gingrich has always been an irrepressible, gushing font of ideas and information: ”My name, Newt, actually comes from the Danish Knut, and there’s been a major crisis in Germany over a polar bear named Knut,” he told the crowd that had come to hear him debate global warming with Sen. John Kerry back in April. 

But now he’s seeking your input. In just two weeks, Gingrich’s group American Solutions will be hosting an online extravaganza called “Solutions Day.” You may not be interested in Solutions Day, but Solutions Day is interested in you:

On September 27, the anniversary of the Contract with America, we will have the first annual “Solutions Day.”

Solutions Day will be a day of citizen activism. It will be devoted entirely to positive solutions based on positive principles to enable us to transform government and public policy so America can win the future.

Solutions Day will feature an online workshop available to every American.

Since September 27 is a Thursday, we will repeat Solutions Day via the Internet on Saturday, September 29, so people who have to work can be involved.

Which is a smart move, lest we end up with a bunch of solutions heavily skewed toward retirees, stay-at-home moms, the unemployed, and day traders. After all, real change requires input from a broader cross-section of Americans. Real change requires the involvement of informed citizens. Real change requires…, er, real change. That’s the slogan of Gingrich’s effort: “Real Change Requires Real Change.” And it has the virtue of being true both backwards and forwards.

Solutions Day will also feature a series of workshops, like “The End of Government… As We Know It” and “Space — The Race to the Endless Frontier.” And if you miss it both times around, don’t fret: ”All events will be made available on-demand on the Internet.”

Newt being Newt though, he’s full of Big Ideas even now, two weeks before Solutions Day. He unveiled some of those ideas Monday in a war-on-terror speech at AEI.  

This isn’t your typical right-wing stemwinder. It’s classic Gingrich, chock full of chunky idea-nuggets, like peanut brittle for the mind. Here’s Gingrich framing the debate fairly:

America is currently trapped between those who advocate “staying the course” and those who would legislate surrender and defeat for America.

Here he is making clear that the debate should proceed in sober, rational terms, without hysterical fearmongering:

 We need a calm, reasoned dialogue about the genuine possibility of a second Holocaust….   

and here he is taking a long view of the threats we face: 

The Iranian dictatorship had been at war with America for 22 years before 9/11.

That last point may confuse you. For instance, the first thing I thought was: that must be embarassing for them. At war with us for over two decades and we barely notice? Then I thought, wait: if Iran’s at war with us, then why did we just topple their major regional enemy and clear the way for a country dominated by Iran’s close allies? But that just shows I’m not a foreign policy expert, let alone a genius. These things are complicated. Real change requires real change. 

And this is a speech about real change. As in those alternate-history novels he’s famous for, Gingrich presents a bold vision of “An Alternative History of the War since 9/11.” The former Speaker’s biggest ideas for ending terrorism center around continuously warning Americans that we may all be killed; among other things, he’d have us run ”highly publicized simulations of two nuclear and one biological attack each year.” 

Another key idea for Gingrich is that the U.S. should think seriously about launching wars with up to three additional countries. Risky? Sure. But as Newt puts it, “we must adopt a spirit that it is better to make mistakes of commission and then fix them than it is to avoid achievement by avoiding failure.” Just imagine how different things could have been if the Bush administration had been animated by that spirit these last six years.     

Bush and Iraq: The Story vs. the Headlines, Part II

President Bush generally got the headlines that he wanted from his speech to the nation last evening:

Alas, the country didn’t get the policy it wanted — and needed — as many of the stories behind the headlines showed. (Kudos especially to the Post’s Glenn Kessler for his “Fact Check.”)

A majority of Americans favor a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, and 55 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, would support legislation mandating that all combat forces be removed from Iraq by next spring. Given that Congress lacks the votes to force the president’s hand, it is highly unlikely that the public will get its way.

The support for a withdrawal timeline — any withdrawal timeline — is understandable. Americans want to know “how this ends.” In a FoxNews/Opinion Dynamics poll taken after Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had completed some of their congressional testimony, only 24 percent of respondents believed that the U.S. should “pull out [only] after Iraqi troops are capable of taking over.” In other words, more than 3 in 4 rejected the conditions-based withdrawal strategy that the president has advanced since the start of the war. (Remember “We’ll stay as long as necessary, and not a day longer” and “As they stand up, we’ll stand down”?) The president’s speech last night reaffirmed that we would only leave when the Iraqis were capable, a process that most experts believe will take many years.

Six in 10 Americans believe that the costs we have already paid far exceed the benefits that we will receive from invading and occupying Iraq. And they now know, as a result of the Petraeus/Crocker testimony from earlier this week, and from the president’s speech last night, that the costs of this war will continue to mount, at least through the end of the Bush presidency.

Petraeus and Iraq: The Story vs. the Headlines

Headline writers at several major newspapers have chosen to highlight Gen. David Petraeus’s proposal to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by 30,000, essentially returning the presence there to pre-surge levels.

  • “Petraeus Backs Partial Pullout,” proclaims the print edition of today’s Washington Post.
  • “Petraeus Eyes Troop Reductions,” blares the Washington Times.
  • USA Today’s lead story appeared under the slightly more qualified headline “General Plans Cut in Troops as Tension Rises over Timing.”

But these headlines obscure the true story behind Petraeus’ and Amb. Ryan Crocker’s testimony yesterday and today. Greg Jaffe and Neil King, Jr., at the Wall Street Journal do a better job of fixing on the essential unanswered question: How quickly will the pullout proceed beyond July?

Members of Congress have tried to get at this issue, but Petraeus and Crocker have – so far – deftly parried these questions. Not knowing the answer, we are forced to rely on a speculative but, I think, ultimately accurate assessment by Karen DeYoung and Tom Ricks on the front page of the Post:

“If Gen. David H. Petraeus has his way, tens of thousands of U.S troops will be in Iraq for years to come.”

Will he get his way? It will be up to the next president to decide. George Bush has already made up his mind: for as long as he is in the Oval Office, we’re staying.

You Know It’s a Dark Hour When…

…you’re having wistful fantasies about staff meetings. In all seriousness, though, there’s great news: once imprisoned by Iran, Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari is back at home in Washington–and back at work at the Wilson Center. But as she says, during her stint in Evin prison, she was indeed dreaming about being back at Wilson Center staff meetings:

I had blocked, you know, thinking about my husband, my daughter, my grandchildren, the house; I blocked all that out because that would have led me to despair. So, for eight months, or for the four months in prison, I didn’t think about it.

I dreamt of my first staff meeting at the Wilson Center. (Laughter.) I seriously did. I really did that, I said, OK, I would [not] tell anybody I’m in town … I would open the door Monday morning at 9:00, walk in to the staff meeting and everybody [would say], “She’s here!”

Full transcript of Esfandiari presser here. (.pdf)