The “One Year After ‘Victory’: International and Domestic Perspectives on the War in Iraq” conference held by the Dole Institute began today with the international side of things. The keynote speaker was James Lindsay from the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s also the co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. His talk centered on the idea that Bush isn’t dumb, or at least that it’s not his lack of foreign policy knowledge that’s put us where we are today. Instead, he says what people should focus on is Bush’s world view, his ideas about how the world works and how America, in particular, functions in the world. His argument is that Bush has been extremely successful in accomplishing his own foreign policy goals and pushing his agenda on to Congress and the nation and world at large… and that now that Bush has his wish, he’s having to deal with the blowback. Basically, his theory is that Bush believes first and foremost that America is powerful; we came to this power justly; whatever we do is just and virtuous because we are a just and virtuous nation; and that other countries see us as just and virtuous, as well. Therefore, we can afford to go it alone on certain actions because eventually, everyone will realize we were (and always will be) Right, and eventually they will join us.
The problem with this is that Bush sees two postures for other countries: with us or against us, when actually there are three options; with, against, or staying completely out. Bush and his neo-cons (think Cheney, Wolfowitz, et al) didn’t take this into account with Iraq. They assumed the old allies would eventually get on board because they wouldn’t want to be seen as “against” us. Instead, most have chosen a “we’ll sit this one out” posture that’s making our current stance untenable.
After Lindsay, there were two panels. The first included a military sciences professor and member of the Command and General Staff at Ft. Leavenworth named John Cary (when he said the name, I was momentarily really excited – then realized, wrong John Kerry); a professor of international law from University of Iowa named Marcella David; and the deputy director of the State Department’s Iraq Office, Robert Silverman. The scariest part of this entire discussion was a brief foray into the draft issue with Cary. He said that, essentially, every division in the Army has been through Iraq or Afghanistan in the last fifteen months, save the two stationed in Korea, and that we cannot sustain this level of military commitment in the region for very long. One of three things needs to happen, then: 1). We need to reduce the number of troops in the region by just leaving; 2). We need to reduce the number of U.S. troops in the region by drawing in more multinational support; 3). We need to find a way to increase the number of available American troops, either through increases in voluntary service or a draft. He is hoping/expecting option 2, as 1 is basically impossible and 3 would take much too long. (There is a fourth option, as addressed later, and that is for the U.S. to train Iraqis to take over their own security, but so far this hasn’t worked out well at all. Expecting a force of 3000 or something, they initially had 70 volunteers, I believe, according to Woodward).
Cary said that the Army was not at all prepared for the psychological or structural difficulties of nation building; that, in effect, Rumsfeld et al focused much too much on the idea of a swift, light force that could go in and conquer quickly without thinking at all about the fact that several hundred thousand troops, not the 138,000 presently there, would be needed to maintain/return order once Baghdad fell. Comparing this to the notes in Plan of Attack and Cary’s own observations that Wolfowitz in particular seemed to believe that the government could simply remain running with a new leader, I have to say I think that Rumsfeld is actually a dangerous, dangerous man to have in charge of the Defense Department. His hands-off, if-I-don’t-know-about-it, I’m-not-responsible-for-it manner of dealing with everything is just freaking awful. Why be in charge if you’re never going to make a decision or even make an effort to understand the situation? And why hasn’t Paul Wolfowitz been strung up? I’d rather see him fired than Rummy, at this point, though I did sign the Kerry petition to get Rumsfeld out of office. I will regret that forever if Wolfowitz moves up into the position instead of Rumsfeld.
Part of what was interesting outside of the discussions were the reactions from the audience. Basically, the only wholly pro-administration panelist up there was the man from the State Department, and the audience just about ate him alive. There were probably, oh, 100 people in attendance (maybe closer to 150 at the beginning), and many of them – certainly the most vocal among them – seemed to be retired citizens from the area. They were angry, just really, personally upset and even offended at the current situation in Iraq. I don’t know why, but I tend to believe that white men over a certain age are a core Bush constituency, and I’ve had it driven home to me twice in the past two weeks that this is not the case. Maybe it’s just that my own grandparents have never been particularly politically active.
Anyway, there were many things that disturbed me at the conference today, but I did find it all extremely fascinating and depressing. Maybe tomorrow will be less of a downer, as it’s about the domestic politics of the war instead of the and-now-the-whole-world-hates-us side of it.
Tomorrow, after the conference concludes, I’m going shoe shopping with Dad and then he and I are going to do some serious cooking, apparently. Sounds all right to me.