Before then, the Democratic Party had suffered a series of embarrassing electoral defeats and national security often proved its downfall. Bill Clinton explained the problem thusly: The electorate “would choose ‘strong and wrong’ over ‘timid and right’ every time.”
But sensing that “Republican missteps [had] created a potential opening for intrepid Democrats and moderate Republicans”, Campbell and O’Hanlon offered in the spring of 2006 Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security. The book, they explained, was a primer to help Democrats “think about the difficult decisions associated with military power and national security.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the voting booth — millions of Americans elected the very soft‐power Dems who Campbell and O’Hanlon so roundly scorned. Particularly notable were a group of political neophytes who all rode to victory over GOP incumbents on a wave of anti‐war sentiment — such as Dave Loebsack of Iowa, Carol Shea‐Porter of New Hampshire, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, and Pennsylvania native and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy.
The fact that this groundswell occurred — and the reason why Campbell and O’Hanlon failed to anticipate it — explains what is wrong with this book, what is wrong with the elite foreign‐policy community the authors represent and ultimately what is wrong with the state of public discourse on matters that are crucial to the nation’s future.
While the American public is crying out for a genuinely new approach to foreign policy, Campbell and O’Hanlon emphasize repeatedly that their proposals do not “represent a radical contrast with previous policy.” But given that previous policies have so often failed, how can their wholehearted embrace of the conventional wisdom hope to attract wide popular support?
Emblematic of the authors’ limited appreciation of the country’s current state of affairs is their frequent use of a curious descriptor of their views: “hard‐headed.” They describe their book as offering “hard‐headed ideas and intellectual ammunition [to policymakers] prepared for a new approach to foreign affairs and national security” (my emphasis). The term hard‐headed has several connotations, but the most common are “obstinate” and “stubborn.” Perhaps they mean “hard‐nosed?” Their ideas, meanwhile, are not new; they are merely a recapitulation of familiar themes. To continue to feed the same stale ideas to a country hungry for a change of course — even as these policies continually fail — is, indeed, hard‐headed.
Which brings us back to the spring of 2006, when Hard Power was released. Campbell and O’Hanlon sensed an opportunity to erase the Democrats’ long‐standing vulnerability on matters of national security. That would only occur, they predicted, “if [Democrats] demonstrate more competence and confidence in their own ideas”, rather than simply basing their strategy “on a comparison with George W. Bush.”
However, given that a number of long‐shot Democratic candidates won office in November 2006 on the basis of their opposition to the Iraq War and President Bush, it is likely that many will use the same playbook the next time around. Thus, as a domestic political strategy, Hard Power seems flaccid.
Campbell and O’Hanlon claim to be “new” thinkers, but on the defining national‐security issue of our time — the invasion and occupation of Iraq — the former was inexplicably silent and the latter horribly wrong.
In February 2003, O’Hanlon published an article supporting the invasion. Since then, he has paid lip service to eventual troop reductions, but only those that occur after the security situation on the ground improves. It has not, and thus O’Hanlon has become a leading advocate for still more troops in Iraq, a position staked out in this book and then promoted in a series of op‐eds in defense of the president’s so‐called surge.
Campbell, for his part, said almost nothing about Iraq during the run‐up to war. While acting as a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), he seems to have been more focused on events in northeast Asia, his area of specialty during the Clinton Administration. But it is strange that a leading figure at one of the pre‐eminent foreign‐policy think tanks in Washington would take a pass on the most important foreign‐policy issue in decades. As it happened, CSIS as an institution said very little about Iraq prior to the invasion, and one of their only public forums on the subject featured Senator John McCain (R-AZ) making the case for war.
The authors’ view of Iraq as of the spring of 2006 comes through rather clearly in this book. “There was a real case for overthrowing Saddam”, they write, “even with the benefit of crystalline hindsight.” They continue, “So while the haste and hubris that characterized the Bush Administration’s march to war in Iraq can and should be castigated, the basic decision to confront Saddam was not unreasonable (even if it was debatable).”
This is a familiar error. Much of their critique of the war, such as it is, is focused on the administration’s poor execution. They note the lack of adequate planning for the postwar period. They invoke the standard remedy — more troops. But they ignore the extent to which the presence of foreign troops was bound to engender resistance. Instead, they imply that Iraqis might have been willing to tolerate the foreign troop presence except for the fact that “our presence was increasingly perceived as a clumsy and ineffective occupation force.”
This is almost certainly incorrect. Iraqis were likely to resist even in the face of a skilled and effective occupation force. For starters, no one likes being bossed around, especially by foreigners. The Iraqis, given their long history of domination by the Turks and later the British, were particularly indisposed to a foreign occupation. No matter what happened, Saddam’s removal was going to create political winners and losers, and the losers were bound to fight back.
Such challenges were clear not merely in retrospect. Long before the war began, quite a number of individuals foresaw the disasters that would likely ensue following the destruction of Saddam’s government. As Paul Pillar explained in the pages of this magazine, the CIA prepared two different estimates about the likely difficulties we would encounter in the post‐conflict environment. Their warnings were ignored. Officials within the Department of Defense actually blocked personnel who had worked on the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” Project from cooperating with Jay Garner’s ill‐fated Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
Still other expert opinion was ignored or shunted aside. A U.S. Army War College report by Conrad Crane and W. Andrew Terrill published in February 2003 concluded that the rebuilding of Iraq would “require a considerable commitment of American resources, but the longer U.S. presence is maintained, the more likely violent resistance will develop.” The Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter predicted in September 2002 that even if the attack on Iraq went “quickly and easily, victory simply means that the United States would undertake another long and futile nation‐building mission”, a mission that was likely to drag on for years. That same month, 33 respected scholars placed an advertisement in The New York Times warning that we had “no plausible exit strategy.” Noting that Iraq was a “deeply divided society”, they foresaw that “the United States would have to occupy and police [the country] for many years to create a viable state.”
Contrast these prescient warnings with Campbell and O’Hanlon’s ex post facto explanation that most of the problems we are encountering in Iraq could have been avoided if only there were smarter people in the White House: