Saturday, April 08, 2006

More on V.D. Hanson, with a Bit o' Babs Lerner

This two-week old piece by Victor Davis Hanson contains more of the same-old arguments to defend the idea that the war is going swimmingly. Not only was it the right war, he believes, but he has evidence proving that it was not fought incorrectly.

Well, let's see.

He has three main arguments:

(1) It is questionable whether many of the alleged mistakes were mistakes.
(2) They are no more severe than our mistakes in previous wars.
(3) They are not serious enough to prevent us from winning.

Hanson's first argument is that some of the mistakes were not necessarily mistakes because there was no clear alternative. This of course brings up the point that if the only way to do somethign was a bad way, maybe we oughtn't to have done it, a point that Matthew Yglesias has often made.

Hanson then proceeds to argue against the case that we should have had more troops in Iraq (pretend, for a moment, that there were another 200,000 troops to be had). Essentially, he questions what more troops would have accomplished, particularly since we were trying to wage a war of liberation, "Iraqify" security, and avoid collateral damage.

Two responses immediately leap to mind:

For one thing, in the early days of the war, more troops could have secured a larger area - for example around the Green Zone - and held the territory, routing the insurgents. More facilities could have been guarded. Yes, there might have been more casualties in the short term, but there would be a lot fewer restrictions and less need to prioritize what areas to hold against infiltration by insurgents.

For another thing, one might argue that this "liberation" B.S. was the whole problem in the first place. We didn't go into this war seriously, with an idea that we would win it. Essentially, the expectation was that the "Iraqi people" would welcome us as liberators and then proceed to set up the country along lines that we ourselvesdesired. "Liberation," "Iraqification," and "Democratization" are all wonderful goals, but they should not be the sine qua non of our war strategy. Any strategy for conquering and then determining the structure of a foreign country that requires getting the people of the country we are invading to support us and to join our effort is an exercise in foolishness.

It's not that "Iraqification" is a bad idea per se, or that we shouldn't have started out with the idea that we would try it. But no pre-invasion plan ought to be predicated on people behaving in such an unnatural way toward an invading force. Iraqification was not an optional extra or a potential bonus, we were counting on it, and we had no fall-back strategy were it not to work out.

Essentially, we wee forbidden to seek victory over the insurgents ourselves because our goal was to hand everything over to the Iraqi people. Hanson's argument takes this strategy as a given.

Then Hanson puts out this gem:

Past history suggests that military efficacy is not so much always a question of the number of troops — but rather of how they are used. Especially large American deployments can foster dependency rather than autonomy on the part of the Iraqi security forces. Each month, fewer Americans are dying in Iraq, while more Iraqis are fighting the terrorists — as it becomes clear to them that some enormous occupation force is not on its own going to save the Iraqis’ democracy for them.

No, it appears, according to Icasualties, that each month, fewer Americans are dying in Iraq, while more Iraqi civilians are being thrown to the wolves.

The civilian fatalities have increased over the last four months, from 344 in December to 591 in January, 688 in February, 901 in March, and this month to 265 in the first 7 days of April (1136 menstrualized).

I do agree with Hanson on the issue of the early post-war looters. Shooting them did not seem to be a good idea at the time, as it would have seemed too heavy-handed a response, and I don't blamethe administration for not figuring this out (still, a larger troop presence right outside the stores might have made things easier).

Trasnitioning into the second argument, Hanson cites errors in previous wars and insists in essence that such errors were simply the inevitable consequnece of human frailty and inability to see the future.

Perhaps. But the knee-capping of General Shinseki by announcing his retirement and the sacking of Larry Lindsey when their assessments of the war were not all rosy indicates that the administration was less concerned with facts than with making certain that what they wanted to be true was what policy assumed. Unfortunately it is behind the subscriber wall, but James Fallows wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic explained how Rumsfeld and company essentially forced an unrealistic model of events to be the basis of our strategy. "How could we have known that there would be an insurgency? You can't blame us for not predicting the future!" is a sniveling, weasely, whiny way of denying the responsbility they bear for making what wereobviously stupid assumptions - not jsut in hindsight, but as noted by many people in the months before the war.

Now, one could aruge, as Lawrence Auster has suggested (see the April 15, 2004 02:28 AM comment), that Rumsfeld knew that the army was too small and not prepared enough to invade Iraq "the right way," but felt that the invasion was so necessary that it had to be done anyway. But if this was the case, he ought to have leveled with the generals about this fact, and the Army ought to have prepared itself to try to fight the war as best it could with a too-small force. Rumsfeld should not have simply assumed that whatever type of war we were able to fight "the right way" would have to be the one that occurred because that was what we were able to do. Wishful thinking is not strategy.

Next he trots out the old canard that we did so have plans, lots of them, but none of them "survived first contact with the enemy" as the saying goes (I'm quoting the saying, not VDH).

It is often said we had no plan to deal with postwar Iraq. Perhaps. But the problem with such a simplistic exegesis is that books and articles now pour forth weekly from disgruntled former constitutional architects and frustrated legal experts who once rushed in to draft Iraqi laws, or angry educationists and bankers whose ideas about school charters or currency regulations were not fully implemented. Somebody apparently had some sort of plan — or the legions that went into the Green Zone in Spring 2003 wouldn’t have been sent there immediately in the first place.

Yes, we had zillions of plans alright — but whether they were sufficient to survive the constant and radically changing cycles of war is another matter, especially in a long-failed state plagued with fundamentalism, tribalism, chaos, insurrection, and Sunni, Shiite, and Baathist militias whose leadership had been routed rather than its military crushed. The best postwar plans do not work as they should when losing enemies feel that they won’t be flattened and a successful attacker feels it can’t really flatten them.

Unfortunately, this isn't exactly the whole truth. The problem with the war is that the Department of Defense did not have a plan for confronting any resistance after Baghdad fell. They simply assumed that there would be no resistance, no insurgency. They assumed that there would be no resentment and that the Iraqis would rally behind us to be remade in our image. Whn asked why there were no plans, Paul Bremer said that it was because our intelligence was only concerned with WMD. This implies (a) that our intelligence services cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, and (b) that they lack all common sense and can't understand the concept that when we invade people, they see us as invaders.

In any case, like most of the "good news from Iraq" crowd, Hanson also focuses on the wrong thing. School charters, currency regulations, new laws, even the Iraqi constitution are not where the lack of planning was a problem. The problem was that we had no plan to set up forces capable of enforcing laws and regulations. We had no plan for defeating an insurgency; or at least for suppressing it enough so that Iraq could be rebuilt.

Obviously, the neocons did have a plan, as explained by Barbara Lerner: Install Ahmad Chalabi and company, and then let them handle the transition to a new government. Despite the talk by some neocons that had we followed this plan, all would be well, and so the DoD and the Chalabiites are faultless for our problems in Iraq, this is not really a serious suggestion (I will get into this in a later post). So attempts to claim that Powell lost the war, or that the CIA did, are lame attempts to excuse the administration's ineptness and the Pentagon's total lack of realistic planning for the post-war.

In any case, Hanson seems to be saying that we couldn't flatten the Iraqis, and so that rather than our post-war planning is why we are/were having a hard time. But then shouldn't that have been taken into account? What Hanson appears to be saying is that when we have to fight (as we supposedly did in Iraq) with one hand tied behind our back, rather than anticipating the problems from that handicap and dealing with them, the proper response is to assume that they will quie fortunately have an arm amputated. This is rather like the joke about the economist who decides to get out of a hole by "assuming a ladder."

On to the third argument: that the mistakes were not fatal. Hanson then insists that we have adapted and are doing much better now. I'll let my readers decide for themselves how seriously they believe that to be true, based on various recent stats I have discussed in this post and elsewhere on my blog.

Next Hanson gives us a bunch of his patented analogies. I think I'll sit back and let Gary Brecher deal with this.

And then Hanson gives us the whole spiel about how democracy will really, really emerge in Iraq Real Soon NowTM. And then a bunch of that ol' crapola about how many terrorists we;ve killed (not pointing out how their actual numbers appear not to be diminshed, almost as if they were being replaced) and more pap about how much better the army is getting (which is presumably why the rate of soldiers and policemen being killed has held constant while the rate of civilian deaths has vasly increased). Again he emphasized how small the group of "Zaraqawi’s Wahhabi jihadists" are, as if they were the whole of the insurgency and as if the insurgency were not still, you know, killing people pretty effecitvely.

Finally, he reminds us of how much progress is being made outside of Iraq in Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, the Palestinian-controlled territories, etc., all supposedly because of our adventure in Iraq, and dependent on our continued commitment to Iraq. Of course, if we are not winning in Iraq as Hanson claims, then this is a rather ominous dependence.

All in all, it's another typical Hanson flight of fancy, with the same major problem as always: he assumes that will alone is enough to accomplish anything.

Ah, arrogance and stupidity all in the same package. How efficient of him.

That is all.

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