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January 07, 2007

A Defense of the ISG recommendations.

Ry will probably like this. Some of you others will not. I'm still pondering my navel, but there are certainly parts that make sense to me.


[January 5, 2007 Frank Hoffman is a non-resident Senior Fellow at FPRI. These comments are his own and do not reflect the position of any organization with which he is affiliated. This enote is available on line at ]

America is suffering from a national STD crisis. No, it's not the one you think -it's a Strategic Thinking Deficiency. This deficiency lies at the root of the current challenges in Iraq, an enormous miscalculation and a gross misapplication of national power. This deficiency is also responsible for our continued inability to diagnose today's global struggle in a holistic manner. Too often we look at Iraq as an isolated event, instead of one front or campaign in a larger conflict. Thus, we fail to see how the actions in one theater impact the conduct of the war in a larger or more systemic sense.

The STD limits our ability to measure what is important from what is merely expedient. What should be an American grand strategy ends up a series of policy stovepipes instead of a comprehensive understanding of the problem, and an equally holistic and integrated solution. Such a fragmented perspective fails to recognize our long-term interests and warps American policy. Key strategic interests are being ignored, and isolated actions take us incrementally away from vital requirements.

Washington is responding in classic fashion; after three years of deadly conflict with little concrete progress, a plethora of policy reviews, Congressional blue-ribbon panels, and study groups are underway. The bipartisan Iraq Study Project (ISG) led by former Secretary of State James Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton tried to provide a remedy. But it did not offer a plan to achieve "victory" in Iraq, and thus the White House apparently has rejected the panel's recommendations. The Chairman of the Joint Staff has assembled an outside team composed of U.S. officers with extensive experience in Iraq. A spate of pundits have chimed in with their own set of options,[1] with most seeking a military solution where there is none.

The ISG was a large dose of common sense. Their report provides a polite but devastating critique of American policy in Iraq. Its 79 recommendations include a few clunkers that are not realistic. But, overall, it serves as an indictment of our current strategy and its implementation. There was nothing terribly original or bold in the report, the product of intense negotiations among ten prominent Americans of great intellect with long careers in public service. That's the nature of these bipartisan groups; the most extreme ideas are left on the editor's floor, victim to the search for unanimity.

The problem with many critiques of the ISG is that they appear to focus solely on Iraq, and thus reinforce Cold War habits. Such reviews focus on individual trees and not the forest. Any serious review needs to begin with the recognition that we do not understand the nature of our enemy or the nature of the war. We began this conflict by calling it the GWOT. This is typical Pentagonese. In essence, we declared war against a tactic, deliberately making our enemies evil and illegal at the same time--but also confusing ourselves about our objective or who really was our enemy.

Some commentators like Professor Eliot Cohen and former CIA Director James Woolsey suggest that World War IV is appropriate. This does suggest a protracted contest with numerous fronts, and the multidimensional mobilization that is needed to achieve success. But this gives Bin Laden and Al Qaeda far too much credit in terms of their total capability.

So we've settled now for the Long War. This says a lot about the protracted nature of the contest, but almost nothing about what we are trying to defeat or what we are fighting for. But it does suggest that it should be fought by the Pentagon, which misleads our strategy. We have over- militarized our counter-terrorism strategy and repeated the mistake in Iraq. In many respects, our reactions have been entirely predictable, very costly, and of great advantage to Al Qaeda. As FPRI Senior Fellow Michael Radu has observed, "When you have confusion defining the enemy, you inevitably have confusion in finding ways to fight it."

Just what have we accomplished to date in the Long War? Well, any ledger is going to identify some clear gains. Viewed objectively, U.S. policy has garnered some positive achievement. For example:

* The U.S. has recovered from a deadly attack on our own shores with two swift military campaigns. Saddam Hussein in no longer terrorizing his people and threatening the region.

* Despite what you might read, there has been progress in governance and economic development in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

* Our economy is doing well; it may sputter from time to time thanks to high energy costs, but the overall economy has grown some 15 percent since 9/11. Recall what the Dow Jones Index was on that day-it's grown from 9,650 to today's rosy 12,500. * We are working effectively in partnership with key allies-not just Britain and Australia-but thirty odd nations.

* The nation has begun to shore up our home defenses, although clearly the stand up of DHS is still a work in progress--reorganizing in the midst of war is never easy.

* Likewise, we've reorganized our intelligence system, although we're still not sure if competition between OSD and the new Director of National Intelligence create more opportunities for our enemies than it retards.

That's our progress to date. Much of this progress has taken form as organizational initiatives, which reflect a needed strategic readjustment from an outdated Cold War architecture. But the ledger has both black and red ink. On the debit side, the strategic evaluation is long and pessimistic.

The rest is in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

We have to start with the observation that Bin Laden is alive and apparently well, although Al Qaeda is a more diffuse organization. Its exceptional resiliency and adaptiveness are in force, but its command and control are strained. Georgetown University Professor Bruce Hoffman has testified that the enemy has been dispersed but is now more lethal, better trained, and is now more unpredictable than ever. Al Qaeda has achieved an autocatalytic capability to generate cells sympathetic to the movement. The CIA officially confirms this analysis and warns that Iraq has abetted a global rise in radicalism.

The resource implications are staggering. We can start with the human costs. In terms of human life, some 3,000 lives were lost at home, and another 3,000 have died overseas since in our effort to preclude future ones, while another 20,000 have been wounded. The violence in Iraq appears to continue unabated, as evidenced by last December's 113 Americans killed, the highest level in two years. At an average of 65 deaths a month, one has to ask if another 1,600 lives-24 months of dying-is a price we are willing to pay to help Iraq reestablish itself.

In economic terms, the United States has spent $500 billion on the war, every dime borrowed, with a total bill that will undoubtedly exceed $1 trillion when increased personnel costs, veteran health bills, worn-out equipment, and national debt payments are factored in. Advocates of perseverance in Iraq have no response to the question, "what does another $200 billion achieve that the first $500 billion failed to secure?" The significantly enlarged national debt also presents a looming liability and a further limit on our strategic freedom of action. In the long term this further limits our ability to invest in our security, infrastructure, people or global competitiveness.

Internally, we still lack an accepted constitutional framework for fighting this new form of war-and the Executive Branch's assertions of wartime powers do not constitute a long term solution. In terms of diplomacy and the informational component of U.S. power, we've been isolated, outgunned by Islamic media. Polls suggest that in many countries, the United States is perceived as the greatest source of instability. Then Secretary Rumsfeld acknowledged in 2005 that our ability to counter the narrative of the Islamist extremists has been amateurish.[2] We are still not effectively contradicting the narrative of our enemy-in fact we've not tried at all.

The geostrategic scorecard is not rosy either. We have less flexibility to deal with Iran or North Korea today, the latter now believed to have sufficient material for 10 nuclear bombs, unless it sold some for hard currency. Iran has been the biggest benefactor of U.S. policy to date; its influence and nuclear ambitions have not been retarded while our attention and armed might has been focused on Iraq. North Korea and Iran would not be as bold if the "velvet glove" of U.S. diplomacy was backed with a mailed fist. Russia and China have quietly made inroads with diplomatic and economic initiatives that significantly enhance their long term goals in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Meanwhile, our forces are bogged down in Iraq and our capabilities are being eroded. The rising strategic risks being taken by American policy makers by this erosion are overlooked in favor of a myopic focus on Iraq.

Afghanistan, another key campaign in this war, remains a troubled land. The Taliban, once vanquished, is resurging. More than 300 American and NATO troops have died there the past two years. Violence is up, and President Karzai's credibility is significantly diminished. Suicide terrorism, once an anomaly, is now a weekly event. Recent reports document a bumper crop of new opium. The Taliban, which curtailed the cultivation of poppies when they were in power, is now actively promoting and protecting the drug business. A $3 billion annual cash flow has overcome the Taliban's moral scruples. The transition from Holy Warriors to Drug Warriors is not heartening. A recent CIA report offered little solace. It found that Karzai's government has little control over what happens outside of Kabul, and that popular support is declining due to perceptions of ineffectiveness and corruption.[3]

With regard to Iraq, there has been measurable progress, but as the President admitted, not enough and not fast enough. As a recent intelligence assessment from Baghdad starkly put it, the insurgency remains "potent," sectarian murders are up 200 to 300 percent, and the potential for civil war has passed a tipping point. Civilian casualties are up significantly. Nary a weekend goes by without the morgue in Baghdad receiving 100 bodies, most with their hands bound and evidencing signs of torture. The majority of Iraqis think that attacking Americans is acceptable.[4] Our reconstruction programs were significant, but not well managed. Our training and security assistance efforts never received the priority and resources that they should have been accorded. The Iraqi military and police are weak, and thoroughly penetrated by corrosive factions and religious groups. What we think of as a trained Iraqi unit by day, the locals call "death squads" at night.

Militarily, the U.S. military is stretched thin. Its material readiness is slowly being eroded and its personnel costs are rising. It will take at least two years after any significant troop redeployments to reestablish manpower, equipment and training systems for future contingencies. The Chief of Staff of the Army just testified that the Army has reached the breaking point. The ISG report was clear on this, pointing out that it will take a serious program with dedicated resources to restore the American military.

So the ledger is mixed. There has been some success in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But our strategy has failed in achieving stated or desired ends. The costs for what has been accomplished has been completely disproportionate to the gains. Furthermore, the effort in Iraq has detracted from other strategic interests.

By any objective viewpoint, a strategic net assessment is equally harsh. The investment to date has significantly exceeded projected costs. Far too often, the means employed have been applied contrary to our ultimate aim. It is hard to swallow, but America today is weaker, poorer, and more isolated than it was three years ago. There is ample evidence that should we continue along today's lines, it would materially impair our world standing and overall security posture.

The American public has gauged our progress to date and weighed the resources spent on their behalf. They recognize that we must change course to a different heading and adjust our means. This is why calls to "surge" more military forces are falling on deaf ears at home and from our commanders in Iraq. Einstein's adage that "insanity consists of doing the same thing but expecting different results" has been forgotten. We have already surged 20,000 troops (Iraqi and U.S. units) to Baghdad and have nothing to show for it. Advocates of surging unready brigades to Baghdad have to answer why doing more of the same thing and expecting better results makes any strategic sense.
Instead of persisting with the same strategy, James Fallows suggests in The Atlantic that we "Declare Victory" and come home. This perspective overestimates our success to date and repeats the errors of the last few decades, which only emboldened the enemy, whose ideology has spread and is now self-generating. It also underestimates our opponents and their commitment. "Come home America" is not a strategy, it's an evasion of responsibility.

But Mr. Fallows correctly diagnoses the essence of the strategic deficiency. He recognized that the conflict in Iraq is merely a single campaign in a long war. We can lose a battle, and we may even lose a campaign. But we cannot afford to lose the larger struggle against extremism. So upon closer examination, Fallows' assessment is close to the mark. We have achieved what we could in Iraq, and now need to shift to the longer and larger threats. As the ISG report makes explicit, it is time to stand back and look at the problem in a larger sense. Others want to see a clear cut plan for victory in Iraq. Such calls fail to recognize the simple fact that "victory" has already been elusive even as the butcher's bill has increased. We should be more honest with the American people about what constitutes victory.

As the supporting external agent, victory for the United States in Iraq must be understood to mean a functioning, stable and representative government in Baghdad. Getting to this point will depend on a number of decisions, including the form of government, degree of reconciliation or justice between parties, and political power sharing arrangements. These decisions will all be in the hands of the Iraqis. Whether or not they agree to put aside sectarian differences, agree to build effective tools of governance, and establish social justice is up to them. Victory is not a product of American manufacture in this war, and it cannot be attained by force of arms. We can help midwife a better Iraq, but to this point all we have done is nurture a civil war.

Resolution of this campaign is not about U.S. troop levels. As Charles Krauthammer noted in Philadelphia in November 2006 at FPRI's annual dinner, "You can tinker with American tactics and troop levels all you want, but unless the Iraqis can establish a government of unitary purpose and resolute actions, the simple objective of the war--leaving behind a self-sustaining democratic government--will not be achieved."[5]

The solution does not lie in staying the course or adding more combat brigades. That approach only benefits Bin Laden and our enemies. Their strategy is to provoke a costly engagement at a time and place of their choosing. Our strategy should be based on our interests, not the jihadists. Our strategy should also focus on the real problem, which is economic and political in nature. We are using the wrong metrics when we focus on infantry brigades. Those who want to "surge" fresh formations should insist on surging reconstruction aid and fresh battalions of diplomats and State Department personnel. Surging combat forces (more accurately extending current troops) is a cosmetic salve that may buy some time, but time for what? In addition to pressuring the Iraqis to come to an agreement, someone needs to pressure the NSC staff to do their jobs and effectively coordinate U.S. strategy and oversee its execution. We can and should expect the Iraqis to do more, but we have not even succeeded in compelling our own institutions to adapt to the nature of this conflict with any degree of urgency.

The resolution for the Iraq crisis from an American perspective can be found in the following four questions: (1) What has to be done to preclude Iraq from becoming a source of regional instability and can America devise and implement a plan to achieve this? (2) Will the Iraq people work with us in attaining this goal? (3) Can we accomplish this within the time period and resources the American people will tolerate? (4) Can we attain this without compromising other strategic security interests?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, we should prepare to pull back most of our combat forces this year. But if the answer to all the questions is yes, we could and should still ramp down the U.S. contribution to roughly 100,000 troops by the start of 2008, with further cuts dependent on the effective stand up of Iraqi security formations. We have too many staffs and support personnel in Iraq and too few troops to bother with taming the Sunnis in Al Anbar. We should aim for retaining a force of more than 50,000 through 2009, which should be sustainable. This is not about a retreat, it's about the recognition of what is possible and what is strategically necessary. The chaos, regional instability, an emboldened enemy and lost prestige that proponents of surging fear have already occurred, we just have not faced up to the facts yet. It's also about recognizing that we need to properly conceptualize the Long War as 80 percent political and ideological, and stop treating it like a nail because all we have is our Pentagon hammer. Once cured of our current thinking deficiency, the opportunity to reengage intelligently in the Long War with a refined, comprehensive approach will be open to us.
[1] See, e.g., Frederick W. Kagan, "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," AEI, Dec. 14, 2006, at
[2] Speech at CFR, December 2005
[3] See Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, "Understanding the Taliban and Insurgency in Afghanistan," Orbis, Winter 2007.
[4] Nicholas D. Kristof, "Listen to the Iraqis," New York Times, Oct. 8, 2006
[5] Charles Krauthammer, "Past the Apogee: America under Pressure," at:
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Ooo. Lint! [Just a test to see who actually made it this far. -the Armorer]

Comments on A Defense of the ISG recommendations.
Gwedd briefed on January 7, 2007 07:58 AM


Well, I stopped reading when he endorsed the findings of the ISG. Anyone who accepts that piece of crap has no business (to my mind, or rather what's left of it) being involved in any portion of US Foreign Policy. The members of the ISG are the same tired old bastards whose failed ideas resulted in the rise of Islamo-Fascism in the first place, or, rather, allowed it's ashes to be rekindled into a rather significant conflagration.

Yes, iraq needs to be seen as a theatre, or battlefield of the long war. It's not the whole war, nor even a large chunck of it. the war needs to be fought on many levels, both militarily, politically, pschologically, on the internet as well as books and bullets. It's a war to change the minds and beleifs of an entire class of people, a people who are bent on destroying all other forms of culture, through either Borg-like assimilation or outright destruction.

However, the ISG is just plain wrong, and poorly serves the American people, and all of Western Cultural.


John of Argghhh! briefed on January 7, 2007 08:17 AM

See? I told ya some of ya wouldn't like it.

I think it deserves a closer reading, however, Gwedd, and not just a dump-over because of the ISG.

But, you've only got so many minutes in the day, and may have a better use for them!

BloodSpite briefed on January 7, 2007 08:58 AM

I think I see where he went with it. The ISG mostly just repeated a few things that a lot of folks have said over and over again, and even restated some of the basic premise goals that were placed down for the initial assault (like give Iraq to the Iraqi's...well duh....)

So to say he supports the ISG in the way he has given his support, isn't really anything new (one could argue that its actually anti-support, but I digress) because he still pronounced them to have failed in the thing we need most: A solution. A winning solution.

He's pointed out something that a good many of us, even here, have said also: We've tied our hands in the bureaucratic machine to fight this war. While we bind ourselves in red tape, lawyers attack each other with paper cuts and we bury each other under paperwork, and legalese men and women are dying awaiting decisions, planning, and a infrastructure that allows them to do what needs to be done.

Part of the problem is we're doing something that hasn't been done in well over 200 years. Arguments could be made historically for examples, but those examples are so old and the world so vastly different how much help they would be even I have to admit I'm not sure.

Again while the ISG requests we look at the foreat not the tree's, none of its recommendations address them. Although the advice is sound.

You can't equate a war like we equate Political Correctness here. You can't equate a war with minority rights here. Those are things you do after it's over, not while it's still running. In our push to include everyone we're slowly ostracizing everyone.

Nice Lint by the way. :)

But thats my take on it. Slice me to ribbons as you see fit

SangerM briefed on January 7, 2007 09:32 AM

That was one of the most insightful and even-handed analyses I've read to date regarding where we are and what we might want to consider doing. And on first pass, I found NOTHING offensive, and quite a bit more than a little both thoughtful and appropriate. I intend to look much harder at this and see if this isn't going to become the foundation of some other things I am working on.

For the record, Iraq has been at the core of my daily thinking for several months--with almost daily challenges by smart professors to consider critically how we got there, why we are still there, etc...

For the record, I remember the original (at least in my lifetime) Peace with Honor. The was unmitigated bull$hit and a lot of Americans died while we tried to disengage from Vietnam without looking like we'd lost. Anyone here NOT remember April '75?! Screw Peace with Honor and anyone who thinks that matters more than the lives lost trying to save face.

For the record, a lot of very smart people who did NOT help write the ISG have been saying some of the very same things, especially in regards to our LONG TERM national strategy, and I am not talking about lefty nutjobs like Pelosi. I said smart people. In fact, right off the top of my head, I can recommend a couple books that offer some pretty good starting point ideas for what a long term strategy ought to look like. One of them is "A Grand Strategy for America" by Robert J. Art., another is "America Unrivaled: the Future of the Balance of Power: edited by C. John Ikenberry, the third is "The Illusion of Control" by Seyom Brown. Bear in mind, I do not agree with everything in these books, and I especially dislike Brown, but it helps to read what smart people are thinking, even if you disagree with what they say.

And while I don't want to lecture, I will say that one doesn't learn by dismissing out of hand everything one disagrees with. Just because the left and the media are saying some stupid, venal, traitorous things doesn't mean they are entirely wrong. Well, maybe the MSM is wrong, but not everyone else all the time. Even the Dem's recent letter to Bush wasn't all wrong, it was just ill-considered and timed, and so the stink of partisan one-upsmanship overwhelmed the few nuggets of value to be found there.

For the record, I think "surging" is pure BS unless the purpose is to go in and wipe out the opposition by the most ruthless means possible as quickly as possible. If the surge is a battle ready taskforce whose job is to do double what was done in Fallujah, then possibly, I can see the value. Otherwise, it stinks of more of the same, but different. Just as Hoffman wrote.

Of course I could be wrong, but everyone's entitled to their opinions, and my opinion is that Hoffman could easily become the "I told you so!" poster child of the post-Iraq debacle finger-pointing-and-recrimination circus I think we're going to see in about another year and a half. And it won't be because the Dems failed to develop a log term strategy that made sense.


J-P briefed on January 7, 2007 10:36 AM

Somewhere buried in that rather long post (I found some toe lint meself) was a statement that we really don't understand how our enemy thinks. It's been said before, I know, but this point really bears repeating.

The Middle East is a traditionalist culture that takes retention of pride and avoidance of shame to unimaginable levels. I don't know what kind of shame would cause a man to murder his sister because she *looked* at another guy the wrong way, but honor killings happen in the middle east all the time. The whole idea about Islamist media beating us with the "narrative" is another one of those things we don't seem to understand.

The Middle East never went through a literary deconstruction period like we just did, where they assumed that all narratives were intended to hide the truth. We look at stories with good guys and bad guys and say "Life is more nuanced than this, this story is hiding important details..." blah blah blah. Traditionalist societies, like those often found in the middle east, still find that these tales contain a great deal of meaning, however, especially when it is a means of avoiding shame (re-write the story so that centuries of backwards thinking can be blamed on crusaders or Zionists).

The sooner policy makers figure out that cultural elements that we generally view as immature (rightly or wrongly, it doesn't matter) still have great influence over our enemies, the sooner we will start anticipating their strategy.

fdcol63 briefed on January 7, 2007 03:17 PM

You can have a gazillion "great" ideas, but this is only part of the solution.

The key piece is being able to put these ideas into a sensible, logical, and sequential order so that it achieves your desired outcome. In reality, this process usually consists of quite a bit of "trial and error" before we get it right.

This leads to my 2 points:

1) I don't think we have yet even agreed on what the "desired" outcome is, vis-a-vis Iraq or the larger GWOT/War Against Radial Islam.

2) Most disturbing of all is that I frankly don't think the American public any longer has the foresight to set long-term strategic goals, nor do they have the patience and the will to endure what's necessary to achieve them.

This does not bode well for our "Long War".

fdcol63 briefed on January 7, 2007 03:56 PM

Before someone else notes my typo above:

Radical Islam, not "Radial Islam". I know, they're not tires. LOL

John of Argghhh! briefed on January 7, 2007 04:09 PM

Nope, they're an obsolete engine type...

Trias briefed on January 8, 2007 05:06 AM

There is some stuff in there that i think makes sense (read; coincides with my own opinion).

For one thing I feel Iraq has far too much become viewed as the whole issue rather than just one front of a very wide issue.

I also dislike the GWOT term which i've commented on long ago.

Also I agree with SangerM's comment "one doesn't learn by dismissing out of hand everything one disagrees with" I've learnt a great deal by opening my mind to military matters through blogs like this and religious issues i totally disagreed with previously and i hope i'm a better man for it.

BillT briefed on January 8, 2007 07:09 AM

Most disturbing of all is that I frankly don't think the American public any longer has the foresight to set long-term strategic goals, nor do they have the patience and the will to endure what's necessary to achieve them.

Bingo, fdcol63! I've seen a couple of op-eds in the local fishwrapper stating that if we'd followed the Brit model (i.e., the more nation-building / fewer troops strategy developed to counter the commies rampaging around the Malay Peninsula), we'd now be out of Iraq, the terrs would all be irrelevant and the 12th Imam would be happily cat-blogging from his well every Friday.

I sent a short note to the Ed reminding the authors that the Brits could pretty much ID the terrs by sight (since the vast majority were ethnic Chinese, not Malays), the insurgents were isolated on a peninsula, they received zilch logistical support from the outside and it still took thirteen farkin' years to settle the MNLF's hash...

SangerM briefed on January 8, 2007 12:26 PM

"the American public any longer has the foresight to set long-term strategic goals, nor do they have the patience and the will to endure what's necessary to achieve them."


1) The American public has never set long-term strategic goals, that's leadership's job.

2) The American public has never cared overmuch about long-term "goals," strategic or otherwise, ever. 3-5 years is about the longest attention span you can expect from the public (less for Euros) without constant selling, which is one reason so many Presidents work to stay in the news even when they are getting creamed there.

3) I could hardly disagree more with this: "nor do they have the patience and the will to endure what's necessary to achieve them." The issue is "What's necessary and who says so?" I've worked for a lot of smart people and a lot of dumb ones (been both several times), and frankly, the "plan" always looks better to the person who comes up with it and who isn't going to be the one who has to shoulder the blame, shovel the $hit, or clean up afterwords.

4) I'd say that after Vietnam (and for good reason), the American public lost all confidence in the U.S. Government's "long-term strategic planning" capabilities, and it wasn't until the end of the 80s that we saw what that kind of planning can accomplish. Respect is earned, remember?

5) I'd say the American public has been more than patient with the current administration and that there is patience left, albeit not as much. I'd say 1968-1971 is when you saw an American public that had lost patience.

6) The problem is that Americans can smell snake oil when it gets deep enough, and they eventually recognize Baffle trying to pass as Brilliance. When the leadership (and I am talking about all of it, military, congressional, governmental, institutional) conveys a plan well enough, and takes the time to explain the reasons, and actually shows some progress and doesn't constantly have to "readjust or shuffle people around," then Americans will do what needs to be done. But we're all free citizens, and none but the laziest of us just go along forever without demanding some results. That's our right and our obligation.

Have more faith in us! The U.S. is the biggest, baddest, richest, most generous, and powerful country on the planet (at least this year). It didn't get that way by being a place of losers and quitters, and I don't see that changing next year either.


ry briefed on January 8, 2007 07:30 PM

Only so many minutes. True. Read most of this(also got the FPRI email so I can do more detalied reading later).
Why do you always seem to mention me when I go dark? Sigh.

I have lots of problems with the ISG and this analysis. I'd use up way to many 'trons laying it out in detail.

Thumbnail(awhell, brevity is for the weak, but I'm trying to keep it short).
1) While I do think you have to 'think mosaicly' you can't forget the particulars. Perception matters. COuld we recover from a perception of having our tail kicked by leaving Iraq? Maybe, but I'd rather not find out for sure as the first time we tried that it was a near thing(Vietnam did have an impact on the Cold War in general---made the proxy wars of 'War of National Liberation' very attractive.). Iraq is important for that.
2) Initial reasons n longer matter. We don't live in 2003. Get over it. FDR basically bullied Japan into getting us into WW2 for a lot less than what we face to lose today. This is all about the larger narrative---and the author is right in that the US has had its lunch eaten in this informational/moral sphere of conflict. We've been the prison ho' on that end. Sorry to be such a downer and so negative but 'tis true!(not for lack of trying by certain personages around here)
3) I get so sick and tired of this qunatitative assesment in a purely qualitative field. News flash: no war was ever worth, when measured with a quantitative set of metrics, the lives and nightmares of the men forced to fight it. Never. Ever. Not one. Not even WW2(the most perfect war ever the way some people talk). So quit doing it. $500bn or $500tr. Who cares(okay, I'm being a little bit rash, but it's for a purpose. Yes, there are other issues that must be dealt with that I'm intentionally avoiding here.). If it was worth doing for two dollars it's worth doing for trillions and quadrillions or gazillions. There's no way to quantify the price or worth of a human life, accurately and honestly, or the value of a world created absent some real nasty chit.
It's qualititative. Get used to it. At least that's the only way I can make heads or tails of the whole idea of 'cost of war'.
4) "The geostrategic scorecard is not rosy either." Big farkin' surprise there. It goes without saying that acting anywhere limits your ability to do something somewhere else. Anyone who's watched football realized that from the effect a blitz has on a defense. Duh!
Of course, nobody mentions that we were promised that we had a military capable of handling two major regional conflicts. Sorry, this will sound crass to those who are doing the job, but Afghanistan is not a major regional conflict. We're strapped by fighting ONE. That's a fault of foresight by the 'nuance seeing smart people'---'cause I know people who were saying that there would be problems we still needed all 18 divisions and 400 ships for(and they weren't thinking China) who were laughed at and ridiculed in 1991 when someone was talking about 'moving from a war economy to a peace economy', which half the country wanted and voted for, and Ross Perot was running rampant with economic populism bs.
5)"Our strategy should be based on our interests, not the jihadists. Our strategy should also focus on the real problem, which is economic and political in nature. We are using the wrong metrics when we focus on infantry brigades." Um, NO! Has this man ever even heard of Boyd? It's a two player game. What they want and what they do matters. Initiative and Big Mo matter, but so does reacting to the enemy. Any fool who just creates his 'perfect' strategy and doesn't tinker with it in application as things unfold is doomed to failure.
We shouldn't make our strategy solely about being the yin to the terrorists yang. We should be more, but anyone who writes that we shouldn't care about their goals and solely focus on politics and economics(within our own sphere no less) is smokin' some powerful ganja. Think mosaicly. No silver bulletism, please. Anyone who says there is a silver bullet approach is a nutjob, imo.
Of course, seeing that this is foreign affairs folks fighting for their dept getting the reigns I say we treat it to the same scrutiny we would of any other service claiming to be The Guy to solve the problem. It's a turf war with all the BS that goes along with it--just like fights within the Pentagon.
6) "Polls suggest that in many countries, the United States is perceived as the greatest source of instability. " I should surely hope so. Simply put, the status quo in many instances sucks and goes beyond sucking in some extremes. Stability isn't always good. If this is true Harpers Ferry is one of the worst incidents of all human history, and so was the following Civil War. But hey, it's always easy to def'n and accept something as packaged decades after the fact and forget all the honest arguments about what something is at the time, ain't it?
7) There's only a few good things about the ISG. ONe of them definitely is not that it focuses almost entirely on Iraq as Iraq. It is a 'white paper' solely focusing on getting out of Iraq. Period. End of story. That's its strength and its fault.
It does force people at times to see more of the mosaic and stop thinking as if Iraq exists in some box cordoned off from everything else(gotta have some kind of working relationship with its neighbors if its to survive); but beyond that I have little real use for it. It's a paper designed at its core to get out of Iraq for the sake of getting out. That's it.

"And while I don't want to lecture..". Lecture on, man! I do some of my best thinking when you lecture. You too, UncaBill. We younglings need to be primed and pushed after all(especially those of us who got late starts).

ry briefed on January 8, 2007 07:41 PM

Oh, and #7) No military sol'n? Sigh. Such eingeseitung(sp? proll'y). In completely Barnettian terms. There's three rule sets. Security, Political/Legal(politics), Economic. The latter two fail if the first is a screwed up situation. There can be no political and economic sol'n without a security/military element to the WHOLE problem. THere may be a failing that some think the military sol'n is the whole thing. But the author of this piece is the other kind of zealot---politics and economics solves everything. Yeah, you keep trying to solve this equation by only dealing with x' and ignoring x''. That'll work.(not).
FIrst you have security(x'') then the economics follows. THe economics(fueled by connectivity efficient economics requires) then pushes the political rule sets. Long term.
But this jackalope, for all his pontificating about a lack of long term/strategic thinking, can't do that. Nope. Got his little patch of turf to protect and tout as the Way to Victory. (grump)

fdcol63 briefed on January 8, 2007 09:45 PM


Wrong? Probably. Wouldn't be the first or last time. LOL I usually try to avoid online debates because of their futility, but I usually find that I agree with most of your comments, so I will attempt to explain (not debate) my opinion:

1) "Have more faith in us! The U.S. is the biggest, baddest, richest, most generous, and powerful country on the planet (at least this year). It didn't get that way by being a place of losers and quitters, and I don't see that changing next year either."

I appreciate and share your optimism and faith ... to a point. However, I would argue that you conveniently overlook the serious demographic and cultural changes that have ALREADY occurred. While we may still be the “biggest, baddest, richest, most generous, and powerful country on the planet”, I think it’s incredibly naïve to think we can simply “sit on our laurels” and expect America to remain the same without expending considerable effort to keep it so.

America became the great country it did because of the independent, pioneering, “can do” spirit of our forebears who had the courage, audacity, yearning, hope, and confidence to leave their families and homes in the Old World to seek a better life here. They came to the US and through their sacrifice, hard work, and assimilation, they forged a newer, stronger national identity in that great American Melting Pot, where the best elements of their individual component characters was retained and complemented the whole, while the chaff was discarded. Hard work, ingenuity, generosity, and loyalty to their adopted country was rewarded, while being on the public dole or in jail was considered a source of great public shame.

There are exceptions to every rule, but in contrast, we’ve now created a culture of dependency and entitlement, and have lowered the quality of what we expect from ourselves and from others in an attempt to treat everyone “equally”. Public schools, government bureaucrats, and labor unions stifle competition and hard work – arguing that such things will negatively impact the “self-esteem” of those who either can’t or won’t compete or work hard. There’s no longer the same sense of public shame for being incarcerated or for accepting welfare or charity. Many think the government “owes” them something – either compensation for past transgressions or a “level playing field”, as if life is fair! LOL We’ve confused “equality of outcome” with “equality of opportunity”.

This situation is being exacerbated by the lowered expectations we have for new immigrants coming into the country. We can’t even call “illegal aliens” what they are, preferring instead to use the euphemistic, Orwellian newspeak & doublethink term “undocumented immigrant”. How we can expect them to obey our laws faithfully after allowing them to break our laws with relative impunity upon entering the country is almost farcical! LOL

Instead of expecting them to assimilate into American culture, we’ve adopted the “Salad Bowl” perspective, where each immigrant group is encouraged to retain their own individual “uniqueness”. Incredibly, many of these immigrants appear to want to make this country into the spitting image of those they’ve fled from, naively ignoring the fact that the same socialistic, tax heavy, and liberal welfare systems they left behind would create similar results here! LOL Unfortunately, with such little focus on the “glue” or “commonalities” that bind us together, we’re now finding that we’re about as strong as a tossed salad when thrown into the air. We’re basically balkanizing our society into smaller and smaller enclaves of ethnic communities, allowing our fetish for “multiculturalism” and “tolerance” to encourage such things as Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis to dictate exactly whom they’ll serve and whom they won’t. I thought we left that behind when Rosa Parks said “Enough!” and sat in the front of the bus, and when we abolished segregated water fountains, restrooms, and seating areas.

2) “The American public has never set long-term strategic goals, that's leadership's job.”

I agree whole-heartedly. But political leadership does not set long-term strategic goals in a vacuum. The cultural and demographic changes that have occurred, and that are occurring, and that will occur have had - and will have - a tremendous impact on the quality and type of leadership that is elected. Sure, we get what we vote for. Which is exactly the natural result of my previous screed. The people comprising the culture of dependency, entitlement, mediocrity, and ethnic isolation will vote for and elect those candidates who share their political ideology, interests, goals, and worldview.

You can remain optimistic about this, and I agree – we see wonderful examples of exceptions to every rule serving in our military today. We still see great examples of bright young men and women who have exceptional loyalty to country, honor, patriotism, courage, and bravery. But for every one of these, how many other people of ALL ages, classes, and ethnic backgrounds do we see who don’t? I cringe at the “mob rule” that results from a largely apathetic, myopic, and under-educated electorate that obsesses over “Oprah”, “Jerry Springer”, and the latest “Britney/Kfed-Ben/Jlo-Brad/Angelina/Jennifer-ad nauseum” relationship saga.

3) “I could hardly disagree more with this: "nor do they have the patience and the will to endure what's necessary to achieve them." The issue is "What's necessary and who says so?"

Well, I think I alluded to just this issue when I said: “I don't think we have yet even agreed on what the "desired" outcome is, vis-à-vis Iraq or the larger GWOT/War Against Radical Islam.”

But this ties in quite nicely with the following, on which I will expand in a moment:

“I'd say the American public has been more than patient with the current administration ..”

I think this depends entirely on which part of the American public you’re talking about! LOL Quite frankly, I don’t think ANYONE on the “further to the left of center” or rabidly extreme, left-wing BDS Bush-bashers have shown any patience with this administration, and I know that most were opposed to the war in Iraq although they voted to authorize military action because they felt it was popular at the time and politically expedient. They’ve done everything they can since to undermine the war effort precisely because they opposed the Bush administration’s domestic policies and our strategic goals in the Middle East.

In times past, when we enjoyed the security of our 2-ocean barrier and the isolation it afforded us, as well as the assimilation of the greater American Melting Pot, people on the political right and left claimed – or at least pretended – that politics “stopped at the water’s edge”. Although differing in their ideology and perspective, each side still believed in American “exceptionalism” and “nationalism”.

Today, however, we have one party that almost completely rejects both of these notions as quaint anachronisms. Their worldview, in contrast, equates “patriotism” and “nationalism” with fascism. They would like to see, and have worked diligently promoting and advocating, a “progressive”, global government headed by the UN – an organization that is largely composed of unelected, elitist, and nepotistic representatives of authoritarian 3rd world despots and European socialists. This party would subjugate American sovereignty and national defense to this global government, and it simply is not in their interests for America – under Bush or any Conservative - to succeed in Iraq. The world they’re working to secure is a different one than I want to live in or leave to my children.

We’re seeing growing disenchantment and loss of faith on the right because of various factors. Loss of patience and will among them. Many of these people suffer from the same apathetic, myopic, and attention-deficited afflictions as the rest of the country. As you said, all we can expect from the public is 3-5 years of patience and attention. We all want to “change the channel” and “move on”, and none of us wants to continue to send good Americans to die or waste more resources on what we’ve all been told (largely by the media and our enemies) is a “lost cause”. As many of us do on our own smaller scales, we’ve gotten into the middle of a project, and suddenly realize that we’re only partway or halfway into the job. We dread the effort and distance yet to go.

Ours is a culture of immediate gratification, channel surfing, and “moving on”. In Iraq and the Muslim world, we’re trying to change a culture that still regards time and events in terms of centuries. We’re trying to change the political dynamics and promote democracy and freedom in a culture that has really never known such things, and in a world where we’ve supported “stable” pro-American autocrats to safeguard our dependency on oil and other Cold War interests. But we saw on 9/11, and still in countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere, that those policies are unsustainable and have come around to bite us in our butts, because our supposed “friends” and “allies” have used anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism to relieve pressures on their own governments, fueling the rise of radical Islamism and jihadist movements in these countries. We’re being much too unrealistic in our expectations if we believe that we should have already achieved our goals there in just 3 years, and we’re really naïve if we believe that our former “friends” and “allies” among Iraq’s neighbors – as well as Syria and Iran - would willingly help us promote and “stabilize” a democratic system in their midst that poses a direct threat on their own regimes.

Yet we MUST succeed in Iraq. We MUST ensure that we’ve done everything possible to ensure that so-called “moderate” Muslims win their inter-Islam conflict with the radical jihadists. It’s the ONLY way we can have any hope of co-existing with Islam. If we fail in this, the only alternative will be to expand the civilizational conflict between the West and Islam. Where that would lead is truly frightening to contemplate. But just as we ensured a larger European and Pacific war in the 1940’s by failing to stop Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan before they became the large aggressors that brought a global war upon us, so too will we ensure this larger West vs. Islam conflict if we fail here and now. The threat is so much larger than just Iraq.

4) “I'd say that after Vietnam (and for good reason), the American public lost all confidence in the U.S. Government's "long-term strategic planning" capabilities, and it wasn't until the end of the 80s that we saw what that kind of planning can accomplish. Respect is earned, remember?”

Yes, I agree – respect is earned. One can only lead by example, and from the front. Leaders lead, and pushers push. But a leader also sometimes finds it necessary to accept that people rarely wait for a “consensus” to emerge from a diverse “committee”, and often finds that he must turn his back on the group in order to lead in a different direction. Doing so effectively places his back at risk for the stones and arrows that may follow, and the inevitable criticism that will result from the whiners and others who oppose his direction.

Ironic, isn’t it, that most of today’s Dems and liberals have conveniently forgotten that it was JFK who really expanded the role of American military advisors in Vietnam, and it was LBJ’s lies about Tonkein that led to the direct involvement of massive numbers of American ground troops there?

But we forget several important lessons about Vietnam in our haste to make Iraq into another “quagmire”:

· We succeeded in “containing” the spread of communism, and most likely prevented other communist take-overs in places like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, and elsewhere, most of which have become great examples of Asian economic and industrial successes.

· Our withdrawal from Vietnam led to the communist seizure there, and all that followed: massive reprisals and countless deaths of those we had supported, thousands of refugees and boat people, “re-education” and repression of pro-American academics and others, etc.

· The rise of the Khmer Rouge and their “killing fields” in neighboring Cambodia.

· Severe loss of American credibility and influence, which largely led to Carter’s failure to adequately deal with Iran during the hostage crisis, and the radical Islamic movement that still threatens us.

Do we really want to see this repeated, in conjunction with the larger threat that an unchecked jihadist movement poses?

Oh, well, just my random thoughts. I’m sure you can pick them apart at will, but I’ve probably ticked John off enough for one night! LOL

SangerM briefed on January 9, 2007 01:21 AM

Well crap, fdcol63! You did a real nice job of making me have to work harder... And I can't right now (I really should be here, but I can only stand just so much thesis writing --and I am at least a week behind...).

So, simply: I agree with a lot of what you say, much more than not, important point though, I especially agree that we cannot simply sit on our laurels and expect America to remain the same. However, I don't expect the US to remain the same, or even to retain its preeminent status forever... Maybe not for the next 50 years. HOWEVER, that superpower stuff, and the leadership role and our involvement overseas, and _especially_ our special relationship with Israel, all really is something that G. Washington would have been real hapy with! I just had cause to reread his farewell address, and was again astonished at how clearly he saw the future (or savvy he was about the past). As I've said before, I am not blind to our faults, nor to our oddness, not to the problems we have. But I give them no more weight than I do people like me and you and John and others here, and all of the military people out there, and all of the genuinely good, hard working and involved people I know. Sure there are a lot of slackers and losers and wastrels, but there were during WWII as well, and during the civil war, and etc... I know I sound like pollyanna sometimes, but I gotta tell you, my view of today's world is fully colored by my memories of the late 60s and the 70s, when I was sure the world was on fire... (kids's view sure, but we don't have armed military people in the streets surrounding convention halls, or on campus with loaded weapons, and while things aren't as good as they could be by a long stretch, they are a damn sight better than they were when I was young. And the Army today makes the Army I was in look like amateurs, and I didn't think we were all that bad.

I won't pick apart everything you said, no reason or desire, but I must disagree with this:
"Severe loss of American credibility and influence, which largely led to Carter’s failure to adequately deal with Iran during the hostage crisis, and the radical Islamic movement that still threatens us." Nope.

Carter was inept and unqualified to lead, and the Army/AF was not prepared for what happened in 1980 even though Desert One was a kludge from teh get go (but we did get SOCOM out of that screwup).

AND--the CIA CAUSED the Iranian revolution! On 19 Aug 53, Mohammed Mossadegh, a nationalist, was ousted in a US-sponsored coup in Iran. If you read Iranian history or talk to Iranians, this really pissed them off in a big way 9as did the Shah's cruelty), and they were really glad to see the Shah ousted. That's why they didn't pay us any mind, that's one reason they hate us still.

And as for Vietnam, well, we were fighting communism, they were fighting a war of occupation. The Japanese started it, French took over after WWII, and the U.S. (by way of Kennedy's stupidity and Johnson's convictions) got sucked into it. By the way, part of the reason Kennedy was elected was his anti-communist rhetoric (Ike was deemed too soft, not hawkish enough, Nixon lost as much because of that as his poor appearance on TV). Kennedy was a hawk, not a dove, and yet look how his party has changed...

And I disagree a bit with this too: This party would subjugate American sovereignty and national defense to this global government... Noooo, not really. Some idjits like Pelosi and Kerry might say so out loud, but no American President has ever subordinated American interests to any other nation, not even Carter or Wilson. People talk a good contrarian game, and they might want to get along better with the Euros, but Americans really are sensible at their core (we did reelect Bush, remember). And for all of our infighting, most people are still americans and proud of it (well, ok, I might need to lay off the happy juice--that may not be true everywhere. Most important though, no one who wants to be President as bad as Kerry did is ever going to take orders from another world leader. That's not human nature.

And finally (and here's where I get chewed on):
You wrote, "Yet we MUST succeed in Iraq. We MUST ensure that we’ve done everything possible to ensure that so-called “moderate” Muslims win their inter-Islam conflict with the radical jihadists.

I disagree. We have succeeded. We deposed Hussein and removed him as an enemy of the U.S. That was the mission, not making Iraq a democracy, which is not required and may not be best for it right now. And while it will benefit us to help moderates, what we need is non-enemies, no matter what their religious views. If a country wants to be run by fanatical imams who are friendly to the US, good. And there are lots of secular bad guys out there too.

I think the best thing we can do now is NOT try to force them into our mold, but to let them become what they want and to support that if we can or just walk away if we cannot.

In fact, I can even see _Iran_ becoming a once-again friend of the US in another 10-15 years if we can just avoid pushing each other into a fight. I realize the guy in charge and the other religious nuts are dangerous, but the more we push on Iran the more the people are going to support the nutcases. They remember the past no less than we do.

But now its back to the other stuff...


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