Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Too much on the back burner

Robert Kagan in the Washington Post:
That is what President Bush has been saying all along. But Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely.
National Review has recently had a few articles strongly denouncing the State Dept's Iraq occupation policies. I'm not sure the alternative occupation envisioned by Pentagon would have worked any better; I suspect it would have lead to another Afghanistan, essentially run by local warlords. But there is no doubt the State Dept. has made lots of mistakes that they haven't been punished for. Likewise, after 9-11, heads did not roll at the CIA and FBI. They should have. Bush takes personal loyalty too far. As this article by Jacob Levy argues more thoroughly, our government officials must be accountable for their failures.

Another thing about Bush which is a mixed blessing is his focus on a short list of goals. He may float lots of ideas (say, immigration reform, going to Mars, social security reform, etc.), but most of these do not receive any further investment of political captial. Bush currently seems to have two main goals: success in Iraq and keeping the tax cuts. Before 9-11, education reform was a main goal, and he did pass a major bill. After 9-11 and for a lot of 2002, Afghanistan was a main goal. Unfortunately, Medicare prescription drug coverage was also a main goal. When Bush has made something a main goal, he has thus far met that goal (we don't know yet how things will turn out in Iraq). But for the lesser goals, policy drifts. The result is often a very unsatisfactory status quo. For example, Steven Den Beste notes that,
They [mid-East nations] may make a handful of token police raids on locals which are then claimed to be "militants", whether they actually were or not, as a way for them to try to relieve the diplomatic pressure. Implementation of token reforms is another kind of smokescreen.

This is where I think that the Bush administration has failed. In an SOTU speech, Bush famously (or notoriously) said to the leaders of the world, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But he no longer seems to be following through on that.
Other examples: Our immigration system has not been reformed, nor has Social Security. Also, we remain at an impasse with North Korea, yet we haven't even tried things like economic sanctions. If we succeed in Iraq, I will forgive Bush for the majority of his inaction on other problems, but I'd really like to know what Bush's major goals are for his second term. Are they really just success in Iraq and keeping the tax cuts? These are all I can discern from his election campaign thus far. At the very least, I demand entitlement reform and that we apply a whole lot more pressure on our Islamist foes outside Iraq.

Another good point from Kagan's article (you really should read the whole thing):
The truth is, if the goal is stability, that the alternatives are no easier to carry out and no less costly in money and lives than the present attempt to create some form of democracy in Iraq. The real alternative to the present course is not stability at all but to abandon Iraq to whatever horrible fate awaits it: chaos, civil war, brutal tyranny, terrorism or more likely a combination of all of these -- with all that entails for Iraqis, the Middle East and American interests.
There is no easy way out of Iraq. A lot of people don't want to face this. Some are grasping at straws like the U.N. and "allies" that wouldn't help us in Iraq before and realistically won't ever nontrivially help us in Iraq, no matter how nice we are to them. Such people have already given up. They want to cut our losses, e.g., Nixon's "peace with honer," which was the halfway house to our complete abandonment of South Vietnam in 1975. I'm willing to forgive a lot of Bush's faults on other issues because I don't believe he will give up in Iraq.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home