DOING WHAT IT TAKES
Robert Kagan and William Kristol join the chorus saying we need to “do more” in Iraq. Echoing Thomas Friedman’s column of this morning, they note the magnitude of the task:
Make no mistake: The president’s vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq. Indeed, there is more at stake in Iraq than even this vision of a better, safer Middle East. The future course of American foreign policy, American world leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish, and must accomplish, in the decades ahead.
We believe the president and his top advisers understand the magnitude of the task. That is why it is so baffling that, up until now, the Bush administration has failed to commit resources to the rebuilding of Iraq commensurate with these very high stakes. Certainly, American efforts in Iraq since the end of the war have not been a failure. And considering what might have gone wrong–and which so many critics predicted would go wrong–the results have been in many ways admirable. Iraq has not descended into inter-religious and inter-ethnic violence. There is food and water. Hospitals are up and running. The Arab and Muslim worlds have not erupted in chaos or anger, as so many of our European friends confidently predicted.
But the absence of catastrophic failure is not, unfortunately, evidence of impending success. As any number of respected analysts visiting Iraq have reported, and as recent horrific events have demonstrated, there is much to worry about. Basic security, both for Iraqis and for coalition and other international workers in Iraq, is lacking. Continuing power shortages throughout much of the country have damaged the reputation of the United States as a responsible occupying power and have led many Iraqis to question American intentions. Ongoing assassinations and sabotage of public utilities by pro-Saddam forces and, possibly, by terrorists entering the country from neighboring Syria and Iran threaten to destabilize the tenuous peace that has held in Iraq since the end of the war.
All this is, I believe, true. The questions are 1) how could it have been done better and 2) how do we fix it at this point.
As to the first question, the obvious answers are that it would have been better had we had massive help from the international community and/or a few more divisions of U.S. troops. The problem with these obvious answers is they aren’t very helpful. Massive help from the international community was not forthcoming. France, Russia, and others opposed the mission, and no amount of additional inspections or added months of waiting around and pleading were going to change that. And, not only don’t we have substantially more troops for the mission, it is not entirely clear how helpful they would have been. As Brit Hume noted this morning, more troops equals more targets.
Kagan and Kristol argue that we could have solved the power grid problem if we simply had committed sufficient funds. I’m afraid I lack their vast knowledge of engineering and therefore can’t rebut that assertion. It does strike me as somewhat implausible if, as Secretary Rumsfeld has claimed, the grids have suffered from decades of neglect. After all, it took several days to get the power grids in our own northeast functioning recently–and they’re in pretty good shape.