Posted by Lexington Green on September 20th, 2003 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Michael Barone currently has an upbeat column about Iraq entitled Iraq in historical perspective. (Which I found via Instapundit– but I would have found it myself pretty soon. Really.) Meanwhile, David Warren has an incredibly depressing column entitled “Disaster”, on the same topic. Some light may be shed on this dichotomy by a perusal of the recent analysis provided by Victor Davis Hanson entitled These are Historic Times.
Barone castigates the media for holding Team Bush to a “zero defect” standard:
Today’s media have a zero-defect standard: the Bush administration should have anticipated every eventuality and made detailed plans for every contingency. This is silly. A good second-grade teacher arrives in class with a lesson plan but adapts and adjusts to pupils’ responses and the classroom atmosphere. A good occupying power does the same thing.
As usual with Barone, he supports his arguments with historical parallels:
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of Gen. Lucius Clay reveals that the first time he read the government’s plans for post-World War II Germany was on the flight over there to take charge. William Manchester’s American Caesar shows that Douglas MacArthur, however knowledgeable about the Far East, did not have clear ideas on how to rule postwar Japan. Clay and MacArthur improvised, learned from experience, made mistakes, and corrected them, adjusted to circumstances. It took time: West Germany did not have federal elections until 1949, four years after surrender; the peace treaty with Japan was not signed until 1951.
As Barone correctly notes, the media’s focus on bad facts misses most of the story: “It is news when there is a fatal accident at Disneyland and not news when there is not. But Iraq is not Disneyland. In a country that is occupied after decades of a brutal dictatorship, good news is news.” Exactly. He also points out that there is plenty of countervailing news which shows that the media is not telling us the whole story. He gives a few examples, and notes in particular “reports from soldiers on the ground, circulating widely on the Internet but seldom if ever appearing in old media, indicate that the large majority of Iraqis are friendly and helpful and glad that American troops are there.” (Pat yourselves on the back, O ye citizens of the Blogosphere.)
Barone is somewhat dismissive of these “anecdotes”, incorrectly, I think. There is so much email from “the Front” and the story it seems to be telling is so consistent, that it should count as pretty good evidence. Anyway, Barone is a numbers man, and he likes better the “poll conducted in August by American Enterprise in four major cities, including one in the so-called Sunni triangle” which shows “by wide margins … that Iraqis are optimistic about the future and unfavorably disposed to Osama bin Laden, the Iranian mullahs, and, especially, the Baathist remnants.”
Barone concludes on this upbeat note:
The plan must be to turn over the task of preventing criminal and terrorist violence to the Iraqis, and that is what the Pentagon and other agencies planned for in the months leading up to the war. The plans have been adapted in response to events and circumstances, as they should be, and things are proceeding much more rapidly than they did in Germany or Japan: A new currency will be introduced October 1; the governing council has been appointed and is setting in motion a constitutional convention; and a civil defense corps of 15,000 Iraqi recruits should be in place by December. Put in historic perspective, the good things that are happening in Iraq are impressive, even if old media think they are no more newsworthy than an accident-free day at Disneyland.
Barone’s basic message is that things are going well in Iraq, in light of historic precedent, that the pre-war planning was about the norm in light of that same precedent, that a general plan with flexibility to respond to circumstances is the sensible course and that the news media is either out of touch or intentionally lying.
To look at David Warren’s piece is to enter a different world from the one depicted by Barone. Warren depicts a world in which the American Citizenry are a “human rabble” who are led like sheep by the media, and have literally lost their ability to reason coherently about the events of the day:
A mere two years after terror attacks on New York and Washington, we are no longer discussing what must be done to prevent that kind of thing from ever happening again. We find ourselves instead compelled to discuss the Bush administration, as if it were the cause of the events to which it has responded.
And all kinds of political pressure has been brought to bear on that administration, for the opposite of the right reasons. Its obvious successes are presented as failures. Its obvious failures are also presented as failures. And finally it seems that President Bush himself has decided, that failure is the only available course.
Warren cites as Exhibit A Colin Powell’s speech in Baghdad, which I had not even noticed, let alone read. Warren tells us that by means of this speech “Mr. Powell has now created the conditions for a power struggle between the U.S. occupation forces, and the provisional government of Iraq.”
Warren then rejects, correctly, the mainstream media treatment of Iraq as “Vietnam”, an issue our ChicagoBoyz readers are well familiar with so I won’t belabor it. Warren then goes on to reject the “more thoughtful minority present the analogy of the post-War occupations of Germany and Japan.” He tells us that this “is also nonsense, for Iraq has not been thoroughly defeated and destroyed, the way Germany and Japan had to be to bring them to their senses. Only the regime in Iraq has been defeated, and the people of Iraq are overwhelmingly pleased with this.” I don’t agree with this. The Japan/Germany analogy is helpful. But, OK, I’ll accept arguendo that Warren is right. So, historical analogies aside, what is Warren freaking out about? He tells us the Iraqis want security, but that they want to secure it for themselves and not stay dependent on the US. Warren then tells us the only way to do make Iraqis be in charge of Iraq sooner rather than later is to rely on the “provisional government dominated by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress”. Chalabi et al., according to Warren, are ready, willing and able “to deal directly with huge problems created by decades of totalitarian and vicious Ba’athist rule.” But Powell has undercut them. Powell, Warren reminds us, “is notoriously the ‘doubting Thomas’ within the Bush administration, about the prospects for democratic self-rule anywhere in the Arab world”. Because Powell was allowed to make his speech, “it must now be assumed — as it is being assumed in Washington — that Mr. Powell enjoys President Bush’s full support. This is the surest indication of a loss of nerve at the centre.” Warren concludes dismally that “[r]eason has proved unpopular, and I am now convinced that stupidity has been adopted as the U.S. course.”
Warren needs another vacation. I just looked at Powell’s comments in Baghdad. I think Warren is talking about this passage:
Well, we had a long meeting today with the Governing Council, and Mr….Dr. Chalabi was in the chair, and he expressed no sentiment to me. What I expressed to the Governing Council was that the only way to get to where we have to be is with a deliberate process that, first and foremost, builds up the institutions of government. You can’t just say, “You’re a government, fine, go. You have full authority.” The Coalition Provisional Authority is responsible for security now, and it will be some time before any new government could take over the responsibilities inherent in being in charge of security.
You have to build capacity to govern. And then, governments, to survive, the kinds of government that we want to see Iraq have, has to have legitimacy, and legitimacy comes from having a constitution, a constitution that’s been ratified by the people. And once you have that constitution, you then give legitimacy to a new government through elections, elections that represent the view of the people.
But no one ever thought we were just going to hand the government of Iraq over to Chalabi. My personal attitude is that there was no reason we should treat Chalabi as an Iraqi De Gaulle and install him in power. If I were an Iraqi, that would piss me off. Some day there will be an election. Let Chalabi run for office along with everybody else.
So, why would a guy as smart as Warren think that Powell and Bush are stupidly throwing away the whole game? Powell’s comments don’t strike me as terribly wrongheaded. Powell’s recent WSJ Op Ed didn’t seem all that wobbly to me. It is entitled “As Long as It Takes”, and it says mostly positive things about the Iraqi Governing Council. The bottom line here is that the US is not putting all its chips on Chalabi and is maintaining flexibility as this thing goes forward. Nor do I think Team Bush have lost their reason. Bush 43 has a way of letting Powell get out in front from time to time. It doesn’t make me happy, but Bush seems to be doing OK, trying to appeal to various constituencies and building broader support by allowing the popular Powell to get visibly involved.
It is starting to sound like Warren has battle fatigue. Victor Davis Hanson makes an analogy between where we are now and where Lincoln was in 1864, as his first presidential term was ending. Hanson notes how bleak things looked, militarily and politically, into the Summer, after four years of war, only to have things break dramatically for Lincoln and the Union in the months leading up to the election in November 1864. Hanson then asks us to focus on what has gone well in the larger war:
So beneath the hysterical headlines of quagmire, Vietnam, and stalemate, we have sorely hurt our enemies. We have driven the remnants of the Taliban into the Pakistani coffeehouses, the terrorists into caves, Saddam Hussein into a low-rent apartment, his sons into the Inferno — and replaced them all not with dictators, but real opportunities for freedom and consensual government. Instead of more skyscrapers exploding in American cities, 7,000 miles away jihadists and Islamic terrorists are being hunted down in their own once sacred enclaves.
Hanson condemns at length the possibility that the US will try to “turn over” Iraq to the U.N. God forbid. But I see no chance of that happening. He also discusses in his standard fashion the unreliability of the French and Germans. OK. Hanson concludes thus:
We are fighting with tremendous skill, at a minimum loss of lives — and in the middle of an economic slump and a raucous campaign. But the paradox remains that the very rapidity of our victories abroad and the absence of another 9/11 at home have lulled far too many into thinking that Islamic fascism and Middle East totalitarianism can be eradicated in a few months, or that a complex society like postbellum Iraq should resemble a New England township five months after a war.
Ponder instead that in a summer long ago a similarly beleaguered Abraham Lincoln did not remove Grant. Nor did he lecture Sherman about the niceties of taking Atlanta or later veto his bold ideas about cutting loose through Georgia. He did not broker a deal with Mr. Frémont on his right nor did he listen to gabby George McClellan — or consider the Copperheads anything other than defeatists whose enticing policy of appeasement would only postpone but not end the killing. And he most certainly did not ask Canada or England to broker an honest peace, or to send peacekeepers along the Mason-Dixon line.
Instead, with a treasury that was almost broke, and an electorate that was exhausted, he pushed on through the gloom of summer and found his reward in autumn.
In similar fashion, at a low point of the Second World War, Winston Churchill faced down a vote of censure in the House of Commons. He offered a very substantial overview of the war, beginning this way:
This long Debate has now reached its final stage. What a remarkable example it has been of the unbridled freedom of our Parliamentary institutions in time of war. Everything that could be thought of or raked up has been used to weaken confidence in the Government, has been used to prove that the Ministers are incompetent and to weaken their confidence in themselves, to make the Army distrust the backing it is getting from the civil power, to make the workmen lose confidence in the weapons they are striving so hard to make, to represent the Government as a set of nonentities over whom the Prime Minister towers, and then to undermine him in his own heart and, if possible before the eyes of the nation. All this poured out by cables and radio to all parts of the world, to the distress of all our friends and to the delight of all our foes. I am in favour of this freedom, which no other country would use, or dare to use, in times of mortal peril such as those through which we are passing.
Sounds familiar. Free societies routinely face this type of problem, in worse periods of danger than our own, and all came right in the end.
I see no evidence whatever that Bush or his team will do anything but continue to try to defeat the Baathist remnants and foreign jihadis in Iraq, and try to set up functioning institutions in Iraq, especially an army and police force composed of Iraqis to defend their own country. The precise methods employed will change as circumstances change. But Warren’s fear of a disaster strike me as misplaced, even neurotic. We do need to get through a wearying period, though not as wearying as Lincoln’s hard summer of 1864, or Churchill’s bad patch after the fall of Singapore and Rommel’s dash to the frontiers of Egypt. Rather, we are forced to endure a drumbeat of largely inaccurate bad news dinning away in the background, aware that most of our fellow citizens are being actively and consciously lied to by the news media. Are they in fact a mob of idiots as Warren suggests. Or, are they are sensible people, hardened and cynical about leftist media bias? More the latter, I‘d say.
As to Bush’s leadership, my one wish is that he would articulate more frequently and forcefully what it is we are doing and why. Bush will never be a Churchill or a Lincoln. But the American people are not the flighty rabble David Warren now seems to believe they are, either. What we would like from Bush is more frequent displays of firm and confident leadership. We would like to have him level with us more. Churchill’s parliamentary speeches are remarkable surveys of the state of the war, in detail, with the good and the bad both set forth. Churchill’s respect for his colleagues in the House and the ordinary men and women he governed and fought for is manifest in every line. A little bit of this spirit from Bush would go a long, long way. It might even cheer up David Warren.
Finally, we should not forget that Bush has a way of coming up with things when his friends and supporters are falling into despair. Let’s have a little well-deserved confidence in the team that has brought us this far and in the citizenry of the USA.
UPDATE: David Warren has recanted, somewhat, and offers someGood News. That’s a relief. Warren notes, gloomily but accurately, that the State Department and the news media are quite literally corrupt and lying about what is going on. But then this ray of sunshine:
Iraq is blossoming economically and socially as it has not done in many, many decades of totalitarian rule. The infrastructure has been mostly repaired, and sabotage alone is the cause of failures. The signs of free speech and free press are everywhere. And most signally, the American and other troops trying to provide security are not merely tolerated, but popular.
Warren then tells us that the structure of lies about Iraq created by the media, the Donks, the State Department and Bush’s and America’s various other enemies is crumbling in the face of — you guessed it — our hero the Blogosphere:
The best way for the reader to get the kind of information I have been getting from the ground all over Iraq, is to end-run the liberal media and go to the Internet blogs. “Instapundit” is a good place to start. Huge amounts of information are becoming available, directly from individuals in Iraq — both foreign and Iraqi.
Warren concludes “The good news is that the media may not be able to sustain their ‘quagmire’ misreporting from Iraq much longer. The truth is beginning to get in their way.”
Yeah baby. The truth is out there. Find it and spread it around.
My kids always ask me, “the good guys always win, right?” I have to tell them, “sometimes, no.” But they don’t believe me. They think the good guys always win. I think the good guys are winning this one. Let’s hope so. And if you are a praying man or woman, let’s pray for victory.