Neo-Con Rumblings

Several neo-conservatives have published op-eds today critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of Iraq.

David Brooks declares himself a “Humbled Hawk,” admitting many mistakes of his own. While noting that he’d thought the operation would be more difficult than some of the optimists, he concedes that he didn’t think it would be this hard:

I didn’t expect that a year after liberation, hostile militias would be taking over cities or that it would be unsafe to walk around Baghdad. Most of all, I misunderstood how normal Iraqis would react to our occupation. I knew they’d resent us. But I thought they would see that our interests and their interests are aligned. We both want to establish democracy and get the U.S. out.

I did not appreciate how our very presence in Iraq would overshadow democratization. Now I get the sense that while the Iraqis don’t want us to fail, since our failure would mean their failure, many don’t want to see us succeed either. They want to see us bleed, to get taken down a notch, to suffer for their chaos and suffering. A democratic Iraq is an abstraction they want for the future; the humiliation of America is a pleasure they can savor today.

That said, he reserves his harshest criticism for the Administration:

Despite all that’s happened, I was still stirred by yesterday’s Bush/Blair statements about democracy in the Middle East. Nonetheless, over the past two years many conservatives have grown increasingly exasperated with the administration’s inability to execute its policies semicompetently.


Many of us also assumed, wrongly, that the administration would launch a fresh postwar initiative to globalize the reconstruction effort. My friends at the Project for the New American Century urged the U.S. to go to the U.N. for a reconstruction resolution, to build a broad coalition to aid rebuilding and to establish a NATO-led security force. That never happened.

Despite all this — and maybe it’s pure defensiveness — I still believe that in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing. To his enormous credit, the president has been ruthlessly flexible over the past months and absolutely committed to seeing this through. He is acknowledging the need for more troops. He is absolutely right to embrace Lakhdar Brahimi’s plan to dissolve the Governing Council and set up an interim government. This might take attention away from the U.S, and change the atmosphere in the country.

Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol renew their calls for more troops and express their frustration that Rumsfeld and company have been so stubborn on this point.

No sensible person believed that the effort to build a democratic Iraq would be without cost and dangers. No reasonable person expected administration officials and military commanders, either in Washington or in Baghdad, to be able to exercise unerring mastery over an inherently complex and always explosive situation.

Nor is the news from Iraq all bad. Several weeks ago we argued optimistically (perhaps too optimistically) that things were looking better, and we still
believe there is much in Iraq to be gratified by: continued peaceful cooperation among Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders, despite many disagreements; an economy that seems to be improving; the fact that a large majority of Iraqis, as documented in polls, say their future is promising, reject political violence, and support an ongoing American presence. And much of Iraq remains, at the moment, relatively peaceful. All this is important progress.

Yet this progress can be undone. And while we certainly do not hold the administration responsible for everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, it is clear that there have been failures in planning and in execution, failures that have been evident for most of the last year. Serious errors have been made–and made, above all, by Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon. The recent violence in Iraq has confirmed that the level of American military forces has been too low to accomplish the president’s mission ever since the invasion phase of the war ended last April.

On Thursday, the secretary of defense announced a three-month extension in tours of duty for about 20,000 troops in Iraq. This did not increase the number of troops on the ground, but it did undo a planned drawdown in military strength from 135,000 to 115,000, thereby maintaining current combat strength. But leaving 20,000 troops in Iraq for an additional three months will almost certainly not be enough. Close observers of the conflict in Iraq, civilian and military alike (military, of course, speaking off the record), say that at least two additional divisions–at least 30,000 extra troops–are needed in Iraq just to deal with the current crisis. Even more troops may well be needed to fully pacify the country. And it would be useful to have as many of those troops as possible there sooner rather than later.

This consensus does seem to be growing. Still, it was hardly a universal belief. Many, such as Bob Kaplan, were arguing only a few months ago that bringing more American troops, especially troops not seasoned in stabilization operations, into the mix would just create more targets. The plan, which has thus far failed miserably, was to train an Iraqi security force to do this mission. Given that they’re going to be in charge of the place in a few months, that seemed perfectly prudent. We clearly underestimated the amount of time it would take to professionalize this force, as well as the size and disruptive power of the insurgents and terrorists.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, Middle East, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Leathan Lund says:

    David Brooks is not a hawk, he’s what passes for a hawk at the New York Times.

    Also, I’m not sure how he came by this “sense” that average Iraqis “..want to see us bleed, to get taken down a notch..” or that “..the humiliation of America is a pleasure they can savor today.” These sentiments better characterize people like Michael Moore and much of the staff at the Times.

    With all due respect to Brooks’ “sense” of things, actual reporting reveals that the what the majority of Iraqis most want to see is a swift end to the violent outbursts of dead-enders like Muqtada al-Sadr and the Baathists in Falluja.

  2. Mike Sweet says:

    Bush administration has bungled the Iraq war. We have the best military in the history of the world and we are losing this war. I’m amazed.

    At one point I supported Bush and I supported the invasion — now I support a new administration for the simple reason that this one has shown itself to be absolutely INCOMPETENT! They bungled Afghanistan and are now bungling Iraq.

    Bush is right, the consequences of a failed state will be devastating. Which is why we need new leadership.

  3. McGehee says:

    …we are losing this war.

    No, Mike, we are not losing this war. We are not anywhere near losing this war.

    Thank God the “Iraq=Vietnam” voices aren’t as unchallenged in 2004 as they were in 1968 when they made out the militarily disastrous Tet offensive to be a defeat, not for our enemies, but for America. Defeatist spin in the news media is nothing new.

  4. Dave says:

    Last I checked, the Bush Administration regularly asks the commanders in Iraq “Do you need more troops? More supplies? Tell us and we’ll find a way to get it”, and until recently, they were saying, “More troops wouldn’t help significantly”, and the Bush Administration replied, “Well, OK then”.

    And dammit, I can’t see a situation where ANY President could have avoided, if not the screwups here then other screwups equally as bad if not worse. Heck, I don’t see where any President less micro-managing than Lyndon Johnson could have done ANYTHING. And that level of micromanaging does cause its own problems.