"Bush's Lost Year" by James Fallows
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It's time to talk about James Fallows' magnum opus in the October Atlantic Monthly
--a summary of how the administration squandered 2002 by preparing for Iraq instead of fighting terrorism. In the paper copy, the pullquotes are done in the flag's blue and red, a town crier shouting out a desperate reproach to the Republic. They are almost painful to read:
"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at a military sponsored think tank told me recently. "In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys."
"The shift of attention to Iraq had another destructive effect on efforts to battle al-Qaeda: the diversion of the CIA's limited supply of Arabic-speakers and middle East specialists to support the mounting demand for intelligence on Iraq."
is only available online to paying subscribers, but this issue is chock full of amazing stuff:a profile of New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, a summary of the search for Osama Bin Laden, an examination of the Pakistani nuclear situation, and a look at Irish odds being laid on who will be the next pope, for just a sample. It's well worth your running out to buy. I actually subscribed to the magazine partially so I could access the online version of the article. The Fallows article alone should be required reading for anyone planning on voting for President this November. I had four major thoughts after reading the article:
1) Our military is excellent at "shock and awe", and in the short term (i.e. the first few months of the Afghanistan campaign and the first few weeks of the Iraq campaign) it is deceptively easy to use such military successes as an undeserved credit towards civilian policy makers (people like, say, Wolfowitz) when considering their ideas and plans about matters that have nothing to do with this particular strength. So, in the beginning of 2002 our relative success in toppling the Taliban gave an unreasonable credence to the Administration's Iraq plans. As critical thinkers and responsible citizens we really need to examine each plan and proposal on its own merits, and not just rely on some perceived track record, especially since such things are easily misunderstood or misrepresented. Fallows opens the article by remembering his own mood of deference to "Wolfowitz's" fresh successes.
2) We the people need to take a much more active role in demanding that our leaders specifically explain their "war" plans to us, and we need to be seriously interested in examining the boring details. It might have endangered the troops to tell the American people that the 3rd Infantry was going to make a lightning-fast march towards Baghdad; it would have have endangered no one to discuss things like plans for the Coalitional Provisional Authority, how we intended to fund and administer reconstruction, and how justice would have been applied. "Declaring that it was impossible to make predictions about a war that might not occur, the Administration refused to discuss plans for the war's aftermath--or its potential cost," Fallows writes. Way back in late 2002 and early 2003, I was still slightly skeptical that a post-Watergate Administration would lie so thoroughly. I actually did believe that Iraq might have some active nuclear program which we might need to deal with eventually. My main objection to war was vague but eventually correct--what on earth was going to happen afterwards and did we really have the resources to start this fight? I remember being enormously frustrated by the war protests, however. I now wish that boring questions of administration and bugets had been seriously and precisely raised by 10,000 people marching in suits and waving policy articles. It might have had a better effect than 100,000 people dancing in tie dye and shouting conspiracy theories. There's no way to prove the outcome would have been different, but I really wish someone would try it for once.
3) This frustration with inept anti-war petitioning, this painful sense of "our-side-dropped-the-ball-too," is partially provoked by what I consider to be one of the two most damning points of the article. The Afghanistan campaign and the Afghan people might easily be considered the first victims of the war in Iraq. By neglecting them, the president has committed a profound dereliction of duty. If we had invested adaquate manpower in, and paid proper attention to, Afghanistan, our efforts would have been far more justified and fruitful. One of the biggest things lost in 2002 was the opportunity of a century to do great things in Afghanistan. We could have reversed decades of bloody desert tides. ( People really need to think and about Afghanistan more, and that's a big reason I hope you'll go out and buy this issue of the Atlantic.) I recall huge swathes of the Anti-GulfWarII movement lumping the two countries and campaigns together, smothering anti-War petitions in blanket condemnations of any military action. Lumping Afghanistan in with Iraq is falling into the Administration trap of blurring together Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. By completely ignoring realpolitik, the anti-War movement cut itself off from its most compelling allies--policy makers and security experts desperate to keep resources in Afghanistan where they belonged. Our behavior in Afghanistan has been inexcusable. Fallows writes:
"The Administration later placed great emphasis on making Iraq a showcase of Islamic progress: a society that, once freed from tyranny, would demonstrate steady advancement toward civil order, economic improvement, and, ultimately, democracy. Although Afghanistan is a far wilder, poorer country, it might have provided a better showcase, and sooner. There was no controversy about America's involvement; the rest of the world was ready to provide aid; if it wasn't going to become rich, it could become demonstrably less poor. The amount of money an dmanpower sufficient to transform Afghanistan would have been a tiny fraction of what America decided to commit in Iraq. But the opportunity was missed, and Afghanistan began a descent to its pre-Taliban warlord state." Fallows quotes James Dobbins, the Administration's special envoy for Afghanistan, about the American unwillingness to provide peacekeeping or counternarcotics or even allow others to do so--because that would tie up resources already earmarked for Iraq.
4) Of course that brings up the second damning point about this Administration, and also somewhat excuses my friends, the hippie protestors. It probably doesn't matter what anyone would have done or said--we are ruled by an Administration hellbent on following impulsive decisions. Aided by Tom Delay and Bill Frist, Bush's WhiteHouse has proven remarkably adept at avoiding any kind of oversight. Our President's antipathy towards critical thinking is bathing a whole nation in blood and knocking the limbs off our brave soldiers like so many leaves in a storm. Fallows writes:"There is no evidence that the President and those closest to him ever talked about the "opportunity costs" and trade-offs in their decision to invade Iraq. No one has pointed to a meeting, a memo, a full set of discussions, about what America would gain and lose." Later, he notes, "the administration could in principle have matched a list of serious problems with al ist of possible solutions." His quick list of such possibilities: serious weighing of the relative urgency of Iran, North Korea and Iraq. An all out effort to Understand Al Qaeda. Fundamental econsideration of relations with Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Reinvigoration of the Mideast Peace Process. A renewed focus on energy policy. Increasing the military's manpower and the government's revenue for spending on a major war. But instead, Fallows writes, "At the top level of the Administration attention swung fast, and with little discussion, exclusively to Iraq. This sent a signal to the working levels, where daily routines increasingly gave way to preparations for war, steadily denuding the organizations that might have been thinking about other challenges."
Read the article, pass it on, remember it when you vote in November.