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Posted: 5/28/2002 9:41:38 AM EST
The National Review May 28, 2002 Catastrophe If Bush doesn’t invade. by Rich Lowry http://www.nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry052802.asp The Tom Ricks report that appeared in the Washington Post just prior to the holiday weekend was a bombshell — that the military has succeeded in delaying, and possibly killing off entirely, an invasion of Iraq. Ricks was actually scooped by USA Today, which had the story the day before, but Ricks fleshed out the story, and his report gained added force by appearing on the front page of the nation's most important political newspaper. NRO readers had read it all before, of course, in John Derbyshire's prescient, downcast piece predicting that we would never do Iraq (give John credit for, among all his other virtues, a keen intuition.) There are several notable things about the Ricks piece. One is that it appears that the U.S. military considers it its role to shape American foreign policy, and talk down those irresponsible firebrands who represent the nation's elected civilian leadership. How dare they give the military difficult and unpleasant tasks! This sort of tension between military and civilian leadership is typical in wartime, and makes Eliot Cohen's brilliant analysis of this tension, in Supreme Command, all the more timely. As Clemenceau said, war is too important to be left to the generals. Cohen argues convincingly that all great wartime leaders — Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, Ben Gurion — never left the military to make its own policy, but constantly prodded, challenged, and gave it direction. In this spirit, Bush should (within reason) refuse to take "no" for an answer from the Joint Chiefs. If they can't come up with a plausible plan for invading Iraq, they should think harder. If they can't contemplate the risks involved in invading without Saudi bases, they should get over it. It is Bush, the president of the United States, who should be riding herd over the Chiefs rather than the other way around. This episode should serve to prove to conservatives what defense analyst and NR contributing editor John Hillen has been saying for a long time: America's military leadership is an unimaginative backwards-looking bureaucracy that has been allowed to run free of vigorous civilian leadership for too long. This is what Rumsfeld's battle with the services over outdated weapons systems is about, and the fight over Iraq appears to be another front in the same war. None of this means, of course, that American fighting men are anything but courageous and good soldiers. But make no mistake: Left to its own devices, the military would probably build a couple thousand Crusader self-propelled artillery pieces and sit them in Fort Sill, Oklahoma for the next decade, doing exactly nothing. It is a sign of Bush's lack of momentum that he has allowed himself to get sidetracked, first by the forces of the status quo abroad, the Saudis, Iran, Iraq, and Syria in their support for the intifada, and now by the forces of the status quo at home, represented by the Joint Chiefs and their former comrade and soul mate at State, Colin Powell.
Link Posted: 5/28/2002 9:42:11 AM EST
A couple of points about the substance of the Chiefs' arguments: 1) According to USA Today, the Chiefs say there aren't enough refueling planes to support a sustained air campaign without extensive basing around Iraq, because the refueling planes are so old and rickety (one third are in repairs). This is the hollow military coming home to roost, as the U.S. military seems to be an odd combination of fantastic technology and rust-bucket equipment. The longer President Bush goes without addressing this problem with even larger defense-spending increases than he has proposed, the more it becomes his responsibility rather than Bill Clinton's. 2) In the same vein, I'm told that another concern that the Chiefs have is that tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be tied down in Iraq after an invasion succeeds, at a time when the military is already stretched too thin around the world. This is a sign that maybe, just maybe, Bush should do something about the fact that the Chiefs consistently say they are short about 50,000 troops. Like pay for more troops. 3) The Chiefs also reportedly fear Saddam's chemical- and biological-weapons capabilities. Liberals have told us for a long time that the possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by a rogue wouldn't deter the U.S. — so, no need for missile defense — but instead make it certain that the U.S. would launch a preemptive attack. Well, now we have a real-world test — and the U.S. is indeed being deterred. WMD has now become that much more valuable to every rogue around the world. Just imagine if Saddam definitely had nuclear weapons — the Joint Chiefs probably wouldn't even want to think about invading. This is a sign that Bush's war on WMD is being lost with every passing day because the closer countries get to getting a WMD capability, the less likely we are to do anything about it — time, as the president once remarked, is not on our side. Now, the Ricks's piece stipulates several times that the ultimate decision on Iraq is still with Bush, so there is hope that he will follow through on his words and promises over the last several months. I, for one, am still a believer, and the USA Today report doesn't make the Chiefs sound as categorically opposed as Ricks does. But if Bush doesn't follow through on his words, the domestic political effects — putting aside for a moment the international consequences — will be catastrophic. Bush will invite a serious primary or independent challenge, perhaps by John McCain. I, of course, typically have no use for McCain, but — to begin to pile hypothetical on hypothetical here — would be hard-pressed not to sympathize with a 2004 run by him, if it had the theme of "Let's get serious about the war." This would be painful, since such a McCain candidacy would have a real chance of doing what he failed at in 2000: blowing up the current conservative movement, in this case by separating the hawks from the social and economic conservatives (assuming that McCain continues his leftward domestic drift.) All of this is extremely distressing to contemplate, which is why I prefer to believe that Bush has it in him to be a great wartime president, and begin again to shape events rather than getting aimlessly buffeted by them as he has over the last two, uninspired months.
Link Posted: 5/28/2002 9:57:08 AM EST
Probably the biggest reason we don't "do Iraq" is Colin Powell. I just don't think Bush the Younger has the strength of personality of his father, which would be needed in this situation.
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