March 2, 2007


Rice Names Critic Of Iraq Policy to Counselor's Post (Glenn Kessler, March 2, 2007, Washington Post)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has tapped Eliot A. Cohen, a prominent writer on national security strategy and an outspoken critic of the administration's postwar occupation of Iraq, as her counselor, State Department officials said yesterday.

Cohen would replace Philip D. Zelikow, a longtime Rice associate who left the administration earlier this year to return to teaching history at the University of Virginia. Despite Cohen's sometimes caustic views on administration policies, officials said he has impressed both Rice and President Bush with his writings, especially "Supreme Command," a study of the relationship between civilian commanders in chief and their military leaders.

In hiring Cohen, a professor at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies whose son served a tour of duty as an Army officer in Iraq, Rice has lured a leading figure of the neoconservative movement as her policies toward North Korea and Iran draw fierce attack from the Republican Party's right wing. Cohen has connections in that circle and deep roots in the military establishment, and he is likely to concentrate initially on Iraq and Afghanistan and on reshaping the State Department to better handle post-conflict environments.

A Hawk Questions Himself as His Son Goes to War (Eliot A. Cohen, July 10, 2005, Washington Post)
[I]t is not an academic matter when I say that what I took to be the basic rationale for the war still strikes me as sound. Iraq was a policy problem that we could evade in words but not escape in reality. But what I did not know then that I do know now is just how incompetent we would be at carrying out that task. And that's what prevents me from answering this question with an unhesitating yes.

The Bush administration did itself a disservice by resting much of its case for war on Iraq's actual possession of weapons of mass destruction. The true arguments for war reached deeper than that. Long before 2003, weapons inspections in Iraq had broken down, and sanctions, thanks to countries like Russia, China and France, were failing. The regime's character and ambitions, including its desire to resume suspended weapons programs, had not changed. In the meanwhile, the policy of isolation had brought suffering to the Iraqi people and had not stabilized the Gulf. Read Osama bin Laden's fatwas in the late 1990s and see how the massive American presence in Saudi Arabia -- a presence born of the need to keep Saddam Hussein in his cage -- fed the outrage of the jihadis with whom we are in a war that will last a generation or more.

More than this: Decades of American policy had hoped to achieve stability in the Middle East by relying on accommodating thugs and kleptocrats to maintain order. That policy, too, had failed; it was the well-educated children of our client regimes who leveled the Twin Towers, after all.

The administration was and is right in thinking that the overthrow of Saddam's regime could change the pattern of Middle Eastern politics in ways that, by favoring the cause of decent government and basic freedoms, would favor our interests as well. Iraq will not become Switzerland, a progressive and prosperous social democracy, for generations, if ever. But it can become a state that makes room for the various confessions and communities that constitute it, that has reasonably open and free politics, and that chooses a path to a future that could inspire other changes in the Arab Middle East. I still think something like that will happen. The administration believed that the invasion of Iraq would jolt and transform a region bewitched by the malignant dreams that my colleague Fouad Ajami has described so well -- the dark fantasies of Baathists, ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics. And indeed, in the aftermath of the Iraq war the cracks have begun to show -- in Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, and even in Syria and Saudi Arabia.

But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.

I did not know, but I might have guessed.

Given how badly the Administration handled the post-War, hiring critics is an excellent idea. Hiring the ones who think the problem with Occupation was that it wasn't heavy-handed enough is not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 2, 2007 10:14 AM

Clearly something has to change at State. The post-war problems stem in large part from handing the ball to a State Dept that made the CIA look competent.

I'm not convinced though that the post-war problems could have lessened significantly. John Burns of the Times said as much recently to Russert, iirc.

That is, if we were going to go in with a small footprint, not apply massive force after we'd broken the Iraq military, not set up our own police state, and also deBathify things -- all of which we here at this site seem to agree on -- than the problems Iraq faces today would not have been avoided.

I suspect if we'd had a govt ready to be put in place, we/they still would have faced difficulty in reconstituting, or creating from scratch really, civil society in Iraq. Perhaps we would have gotten to the point we're at today or year or two earlier -- where the Shia are finally cleaning out the Baathist and Sunni jihadi sc*m.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 2, 2007 11:34 AM

If what has transpired in the former Iraq has been bad, we must ask, again and again, it seems, what would have been good.

Confusion, chaos, disorder, collapse--and at every turn, the contradictions are maximized and reformation is brought nearer. Thus is accomplished a great good work, as the unfortunate inmates of the jailhouse are brought, ah, slowly to the light.

The perplexity is that to bring down the jailhouse short of physically destroying its prisoners, we cannot be seen to have been bringing it down. The jailhouse is, after all, a spiritual jailhouse. The fiction that it is working itself out of its misery must bemaintained.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 2, 2007 1:16 PM

Jim is correct.

The Middle East is a beatified cesspool. It has been for decades.

It's ludicrous to complain that the allied forces were unprepared for the Reconstruction, the quelling of sectarian differences, the printing of colorful but meaningful dinars, etc. Just getting rid of Saddam and the Baathists without the MSM going apoplectic was an accomplishment.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at March 3, 2007 9:48 AM

Yes, the Shi'a would still have had problems, but they'd have been their problems.

Posted by: oj at March 3, 2007 9:07 PM