A Conservative Critique of the War

The Adventures of Chester has a very long, valuable post on views from the conservative end of the spectrum about how the Iraq War was mishandled, particularly those of Mark Halperin. As one can expect, Halperin's critique is hardly the same as that of the anti-war left; he says, rather, that our war aims were all wrong, and that our methods were also wrong as a result. Rather than "regime change," Halperin believes that we should have simply flattened Iraq in a massive display of power, as an object lesson to other would-be dictators. He is skeptical that Iraq can be democratized, and in any event doesn't want to try. Money quote:
From the beginning, the scale of the war was based on the fundamental strategic misconception that the primary objective was Iraq rather than the imagination of the Arab World, which, if sufficiently stunned, would tip itself back into the heretofore easily induced fatalism that makes it hesitate to war against the West. After the true shock and awe of a campaign of massive surplus, as in the Gulf War, no regime would have risked its survival by failing to go after the terrorists within its purview. But a campaign of bare sufficiency, that had trouble punching through even ragtag irregulars, taught the Arabs that we could be effectively opposed.

Mistakenly focused on physical control of Iraq, we could not see that, were we to give it up, the resultant anarchy might find a quicker resolution than the indefinite prolonged agony through which our continuing presence has nursed it.
As much as Halperin is correct within his chosen guidelines, I think that the guidelines themselves are suspect. His primary worry is that our occupation is consuming resources that would otherwise go towards containing China and North Korea. Yet he himself notes that the US can easily double the size of the military, based on historical spending levels; indeed, that was his prescription for Iraq.

Why have we not done this at present? Politically, it would be next to impossible. The President is already getting a great deal of opposition to the increases he has slated for the military, which, although significant, are not anywhere near as big as Halperin would like. This is due, incidentally, to the legacy of Clinton, as Halperin notes:
For someone of the all-too-common opinion that a strong defense is the cause of war, a favorite trick is to advance a wholesale revision of strategy, so that he may accomplish his depredations while looking like a reformer....Neville Chamberlain...starved the army and navy on the theory that the revolution in military affairs of his time made the only defense feasible that of a "Fortress Britain" protected by the Royal Air Force--and then failed in building up the air force. Bill Clinton...who came into office calling for the discontinuance of heavy echelons in favor of power projection, simultaneously pressed for a severe reduction in aircraft carriers, the sine qua non of power projection. Later, he and his strategical toadies embraced the revolution in military affairs not for its virtues but because even the Clinton-ravished military "may be unaffordable," and "advanced technology offers much greater military efficiency."
Essentially, it was impossible for the United States to wage the sort of war in 2003 that Halperin is advocating. That does not address the question of whether a full-scale occupation and regime change was the correct course of action. In my view, Halperin is both needlessly pessimistic about the chances for democracy, and ignoring the geopolitical implications of an American presence in Iraq. We now have a large concentration of force sitting on the border of both Syria and Iran, which would have been impossible without Iraqi bases; consider the refusal by Turkey to allow American forces passage into Iraq.

Our presence is already forcing considerable shifts in the status quo. Syria is redeploying forces out of Lebanon, where they had enforced a Syrian protectorate for over two decades, not because of a newfound appreciation for the universal rights of man, but because Bashar Assad is concerned about possible military action into Syria by the US. Meanwhile, the Iranian students are becoming more and more restless for change, and look to the United States for logistical and moral support of a kind which would have been far more difficult before the invasion.

Fundamentally, however, Halperin does not appreciate the power of ideas. Iraq shares a border with all of the worst offenders in Middle-East tyranny (with the possible exception of Egypt). We are now five days away from free elections, with hunderds of different political parties and thousands of candidates. If the elections are successful, and if the resulting government is effective, we may begin to see a new wave of resentment against the brutal regimes of the Middle East, which with luck may lead to some momentous shifts in power.

And as President Bush noted in his inaugural speech, America has come to the realization that the spread of democracy is in our best interest, militarily, politically, and economically. For all of Halperin's worries, we will have done more to secure our interest by promoting democracy than a scorched-earth war could ever have done instead.

On a lighter note: I just returned to New York yesterday. It is much, much too cold for this California boy. On the bright side, I remembered to bring some Paddy for the election bash that I plan to have next week. Mmmm... Irish whiskey...

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