Friday, May 11, 2007

Members of Congress are Ignorant

That's no news, but it's annoying to read Lawrence Kaplan bitching about it in the context of Iraq:

Political maneuvering certainly contributes to the everyday pollution of Iraq discourse. But a lot of the pollution derives from legislators being functionally illiterate about the war over which Congress now intends to preside. In this, of course, they're hardly alone. The Bush administration's wretched Iraq literacy has been well-chronicled. But, with Congress demanding a louder say in the management of the war, the same knowledge gap that plagued our arrival in Iraq looks like it will be revived just in time for our departure.

I'll spare you the trouble of reading Kaplan's article to get his point, which is that Democratic members of Congress are not only ignorant of everyday events in Iraq, but that they are willfully ignorant of them because it makes it easier for them to press for withdrawal. Here are some enlightening examples of this "polluted discourse":

Who can forget Representative John Murtha's suggestion that it would be a cinch for American forces to "redeploy" from Iraq to nearby Okinawa, 5,000 miles from Baghdad? Or House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes not knowing whether Sunni or Shia populate the ranks of Al Qaeda? U.S. officers in Iraq say that, during their briefings to visiting delegations, they routinely find themselves subjected to examples of congressional oversight along the lines of: Is (the northern city of) Mosul east or west of Baghdad? What's the difference between a brigade and battalion?

Of course, base ignorance isn't excusable, but I sure would like to see Kaplan do a "gotcha" poll of the Republican members of Congress with questions about who is/isn't a Sunni, where Baghdad is, whether Kurdistan is in the north or the south, etc., etc.

Of course, Kaplan's problem isn't just with trivia. He thinks all this blather is just a smokescreen for a strategy of cuttin' and runnin':

...Reid's insistence that it is "the specter of U.S. occupation [that] gives fuel to the insurgency"--and that, absent this specter, the violence will magically subside. But just the reverse has been true. Falluja and Tal Afar in 2004, Ramadi in 2005, Western Baghdad in 2006--these places became charnel houses when U.S. forces pulled back. The suggestion, moreover, that American forces ought to confine themselves to "targeted counter-terror operations" rather than trying to sort "friend from foe" misunderstands the most basic tenets of counterinsurgency, ignores the lessons of the past four years, and purposefully slights the testimony of Petraeus and his fellow experts. Living among the population and sorting "friend from foe" is precisely how the military generates intelligence tips, which, in turn, provide the key to "targeted counter-terror operations."

Well, not exactly. The lesson of the last four years is that our military is not capable of conducting a counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq, and even if they were, they still lack the numbers to do so. Living among the population is how you conduct counter-insurgency, but it's also how you get a great deal of your soldiers killed in a questionable mission. Reid doesn't misunderstand counter-insurgency and the present military strategy. He rejects it.

Though Reid has no use for the Bush administration's military "surge," he does propose a "surge in diplomacy," in line with the cliché that the war has no military solution. As The Washington Post's David Broder has pointed out, "Instead of reinforcing the important proposition ... that a military strategy for Iraq is necessary but not sufficient to solve the myriad political problems of that country, Reid has mistakenly argued that the military effort is lost but a diplomatic-political strategy can succeed." Nor is this the only reason to doubt the reasoning behind Reid's "diplomatic surge." To begin with, even if they were inclined to assist the American cause in Iraq, neither Iran nor Syria have much, if any, sway over Al Qaeda. Moreover, the violence in Iraq has its own, wholly internal logic.

First off, quoting Broder on anything pertaining to high diplomacy is iffy at best (who says a military strategy is "necessary"?) But what Kaplan is really doing is pulling a bait-and switch. What, after all, is "success"? Peace in Iraq of course. Well no, diplomacy can't do that. But that's not what Reid-or anyone else for that matter-is really saying. What they're saying is that the present military strategy cannot produce success, and we haven't invested ourselves in diplomacy to the extent that we can, so why not try harder? Only in Kaplan's world, in which the only possible goal, and hence the only precursor to withdrawal, is "victory" and "success", does the present military strategy make any sense at all. Kaplan, in high dudgeon, ends his column thusly:

Where all this leads is clear. Piece together a string of demonstrably false "facts on the ground" from a suitably safe remove, and you're left with a scenario where we can walk away from Iraq without condition and regardless of consequence. You don't need to watch terrified Iraqis pleading for American forces to stay put in their neighborhoods. You don't need to read the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which anticipates that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal will end in catastrophe. Why, in the serene conviction that things are the other way around, you don't even need to read at all. Chances are, your congressman doesn't either.

Indeed! Those soulless Democrats seek only to convince you that success is impossible, so you can leave poor innocent Iraqis to the ravages of Al Qaeda guilt-free without concern over the consequences!

Lawrence Kaplan seems to believe that he knows quite a lot about Iraq. Presumably he can pick out Tal Afar on a map, knows how many troops are in a battalion, understands the subtle differences between Sunni and Shiite, and could pick al-Sadr out of a line-up. Indeed it is this vaunted knowledge that makes Kaplan an "expert" on Iraq, and someone whom we should trust and believe when he says things like this:

If the election does begin a process whereby Iraqis, like Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and so many others before them, opt for the political rather than the military arena, the Bush team could claim vindication on more than one count. There have always been two schools about democratizing Iraq. The Bush approach was to hold elections quickly; but the other school, whose adherents include Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria, former Coalition Provisional Authority advisor Larry Diamond, and this writer, has long argued that the administration was in such a rush to establish electoral democracy in Iraq that it mostly ignored the requisites of liberal democracy in Iraq--ignoring, for instance, that the advantages of democracy routinely get lost in societies divided along ethnic and religious lines. But if the elections truly jolt Iraq's civic arena, then the rush will have been justified. And not just on grounds of political expediency: Maybe the principle of consent that lies at the heart of liberalism really does mean putting elections first.

As for what that consent will bring, it won't be liberalism, but it will be considerably better than what came before, either during Saddam's time or even more recently. The power of the cleric-backed Shia leadership will be watered down as slates led by secular Shia, like former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi, and Sunni parties take their seats in parliament. And even if the present Shia coalition retains its grip on power, both its ardor and its appeal have been diminished by the day-to-day obligations of governing and, more important, by political competition and open debate. And, of course, by the need for American security.

If a stable democracy emerges, it will not be a perfect one. But, then again, Washington isn't chasing an idealism so pure it defeats its own ends in Iraq. Quite the contrary: Today, at least, it seems like the United States knew what it was doing all along. Savor the moment.

Prevarication aside (how many "ifs" does it take to render an opinion non-definitive anyway?) Kaplan pretty much blew this one. This despite his "expert" knowledge on Iraq.

In fact, it strikes me as somewhat bitter irony that the likes of Kaplan can lament the ignorance about Iraq in the Democratic (and only Democratic) members of Congress, while at the same time completely ignoring all evidence of his own ignorance, in the simple fact that he himself has been spectacularly wrong about Iraq. It is also ironic that "experts" like Kaplan united themselves with the complete ignoramuses who led us into this war, and yet Kaplan reserves such harsh language for those who merely want to get us out and prevent more American soldiers from being killed.

The simple truth of the matter is this. Only a raging moron could fail to understand the simple and plain truth that we are losing in Iraq. Such a realization doesn't require knowing where Tal Afar is, or who's Sunni and who's Shia, or how many troops we have over there. One need only pick up a paper every few days, scan the headlines, see the death toll, and see a record of futility for every "plan" for "success" that we've had in Iraq. Only an "expert" like Kaplan, his head full of completely useless and irrelevant knowledge (like which Marine battalion is presently in Ramadi, for example) is capable of wrapping such plain truth in yard after yard of meaningless facts which provide no real enlightenment as to the heart of the matter, which is whether or not peace is even possible, let alone whether it can be brought about by our continued presence. I, like most Americans, believe that we can no longer "win" in Iraq. Like Kaplan I lament the violence that we have unleashed upon the Iraqi people, and like Kaplan I wish desperately that there were something we could do to put an end to it. Unlike Kaplan I am able to accept plain reality, and do not willfully blind myself to the situation in Iraq so that I can write columns attacking "ignorant" Democrats. Unlike Kaplan I do not believe that we can shield the Iraqis from the consequences of the civil war we have provoked, no matter how great our moral responsibility to do so may be, and unlike Kaplan I do not believe that more of our soldiers-who did not themselves provoke this war-should be required to fight, suffer injury and die at the direction of the very same people who institgated this catastrophically mistaken war in the first place. Of course, also unlike Kaplan, I'm no expert.

1 comment:

adam said...

Good post. Whenever Congressional Republicans are talking about the war they always talk about "the enemy" or "the terrorists" and seem to fundamentally not understand the dynamic of the conflict in Iraq, so I have a different view of whom we should call ignorant in this debate.