James Webb, once SECNAV under Ronald Reagan, has some rather harsh words for both John Kerry and George W. Bush. His assessment of both Kerry’s record as leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Bush’s stint in the National Guard are unkind but fair.
He also believes both men have done questionable things in their current positions that cause problems for veterans, noting especially that neither seems to have an exit strategy from Iraq.
Webb is, to say the least, no fan of the Iraq War:
The Bush campaign now claims that these issues are largely moot and that Bush has proved himself as a competent and daring “war president.” And yet his actions in Iraq, and the vicious attacks against anyone who disagrees with his administration’s logic, give many veterans serious pause.
Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.
There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.
At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them. Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country’s great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries.
Bush has yet to fire a single person responsible for this strategy. Nor has he reined in those who have made irresponsible comments while claiming to represent his administration. One only can conclude that he agrees with both their methods and their message.
Whatever one may think of the soundness of the decision to go to war, much of this argument strikes me as illogical. For one thing, it’s unclear what it is we’d be doing with, say, the 3rd Infantry Division to fight the war on terror if it weren’t deployed to Iraq. And to say that the tactical prowess of the military saved us from the consequences of the decision is rather bizarre, since one presumes the tactical prowess of the military was a primary consideration in the decision to go to war.
One can certainly debate the extent to which France and Germany–the only significant countries that have been recent allies of the United States to oppose our action in Iraq–have been valuable strategic partners in recent years. My own take is that we fought two world wars to stop the Germans, in part to bail out the French. In the years since, we’ve rebuilt Germany and allowed them to free ride under our military protective umbrella. France has hardly been a reliable ally since we drove the Nazis out.
It is also unclear to me why it is Bush would fire anyone for a strategy that he approved of. The combat phase of the war against Iraq was brilliantly executed by any reasonable standard. The occupation/transition to democracy phase has certainly been a mixed success, although how one measures such things is unclear. But a proper cost-benefit analysis will have to wait until we see the fruits of our labors. If Iraq is governed by a Saddam-like dictator or embroiled in a bloody civil war five or ten years down the road, our efforts would have been a failure. If they’ve got a stable democracy friendly to the U.S., it would be a spectacular success. My guess is we’ll have something in between those.