Posted: 5/28/2002 9:41:38 AM EST
The National Review
May 28, 2002
If Bush doesn’t invade.
by Rich Lowry
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
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This is what Rumsfeld's battle with the services over outdated weapons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.
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.
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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