Bush v. Rumsfeld

por William Kristol, 12 de agosto de 2005

(Published in Weekly Standard, from the August 15 / August 22, 2005 issue:
The president knows we have to win the war in Iraq . . . Rumsfeld doesn't.)
Last week in these pages we called attention to the John-Kerry-like attempt of some Bush advisers, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to abandon the term 'war on terror.' These advisers had been, as the New York Times reported, going out of their way to avoid 'formulations using the word 'war.'' The great effort that we had all simplemindedly been calling a war was now dubbed by Rumsfeld the 'global struggle against violent extremism.' And the solution to this struggle was, according to Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking here as Rumsfeld's cat's-paw, 'more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military.'
Now, it is of course true enough that the 'war on terror' isn't simply a military struggle. What war is? There is a critical political dimension to the war on terror--which the president, above all, has understood.That's why he has placed such emphasis on promoting liberal democracy. But there is also, to say the least, a critical military dimension to this struggle. And President Bush sensed that this Rumsfeldian change in nomenclature was an attempt to duck responsibility for that critical military dimension.
The president would have none of it. This past Monday, announcing John Bolton's recess appointment as U.N. ambassador, the president went out of his way to say that 'this post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war.' That same day, at a high-level White House meeting, President Bush reportedly commented, with some asperity, that no one had checked with him as to whether he wanted to move beyond the phrase 'war on terror.' As far as he was concerned, he reminded his staff, we are fighting a war. On Wednesday, speaking in Texas, the president used the word 'war' 15 times, and the phrase 'war on terror' five. 'Make no mistake about it,' the president exclaimed, 'we are at war. We're at war with an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001. We're at war against an enemy that, since that day, has continued to kill.' And on Thursday, in case his advisers hadn't been paying attention, the president said it one more time: 'We're at war.'
So we are. And Iraq is, as the president said Wednesday, 'the latest battlefield in the war on terror.' It is also the central battlefield in that war. And so, the president added, 'I hear all the time, 'Well, when are you bringing the troops home?' And my answer to you: 'As soon as possible, but not before the mission is complete.'' As the president said Thursday, 'We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq.'
Or will we? The president seems determined to complete the job. Is his defense secretary? In addition to trying to abandon the term 'war on terror,' Rumsfeld and some of his subordinates have spent an awful lot of time in recent weeks talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq--and before the job is complete.
Until a few months ago, Bush administration officials refused to speculate on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. They criticized those who did talk about withdrawing, arguing that such talk would encourage the terrorists, discourage our friends, and make it harder to win over waverers who wanted to be assured that we would be there to help. The administration's line was simply that we were going to stay the course in Iraq, do what it takes, and win.
The president still tends to say this. But not Defense Department civilian officials, who have recently been willing to indicate a desire to get out, and sooner rather than later. After all, Rumsfeld has said, insurgencies allegedly take a decade or so to defeat. What's more, our presence gives those darned Iraqi allies of ours excuses not to step up to the plate. So let's get a government elected under the new Iraqi constitution, and accelerate our plans to get the troops home. As Rumsfeld said Thursday, 'once Iraq is safely in the hands of the Iraqi people and a government that they elect under a new constitution that they are now fashioning, and which should be completed by August 15, our troops will be able to, as the capability of the Iraqi security forces evolve, pass over responsibility to them and then come home.' The key 'metric' is finding enough Iraqis to whom we can turn over the responsibility for fighting--not defeating the terrorists.
As Newsweek reported last week: 'Now the conditions for U.S. withdrawal no longer include a defeated insurgency, Pentagon sources say. The new administration mantra is that the insurgency can be beaten only politically, by the success of Iraq's new government. Indeed, Washington is now less concerned about the insurgents than the unwillingness of Iraq's politicians to make compromises for the sake of national unity. Pentagon planners want to send a spine-stiffening message: the Americans won't be there forever.'
But not-so-well-hidden under the pseudo-tough talk of 'spine-stiffening' is the inescapable whiff of weakness and defeatism. Rumsfeld either doesn't believe we can win, or doesn't think we can maintain political support for staying, or doesn't believe winning is worth the cost. So we're getting out, under cover of talking about how 'political progress is necessary to defeat the insurgency.'
It's of course true that political progress in Iraq is important. And the political progress is heartening. But political progress is not sufficient to defeat the insurgency. There has been no more impressive example of political progress than the January 30 elections. But the insurgency continues.
Furthermore, how likely is political progress if everyone in Iraq decides we're on our way out? The talk from the Defense Department about withdrawing troops from Iraq is doing damage to our chances of political and military progress. The more we talk about getting out, the more our enemies are emboldened, our friends waver and hedge their bets, and various factions decide they may have to fend for themselves and refuse to commit to a new Iraqi army or government.
The fact is that political progress needs to be accompanied by an effective military counterinsurgency. And no matter how good a job we are now doing in training Iraqi troops, it is inconceivable that they will be ready to take over the bulk of the counterinsurgency efforts in the very near future. Further, if an Iraqi troop buildup is accompanied by an American force drawdown--as unfortunately even the president suggested Thursday ('As Iraq stands up, our coalition will stand down')--then we will be able at best to maintain an unacceptable status quo. More likely, since Iraqi troops won't be as capable as American ones, the situation will deteriorate. Then the insurgency could become a full-fledged guerrilla war, inviting a civil war--and we would be faced with a choice between complete and ignominious withdrawal or a recommitment of troops.
The only responsible course is to plan on present troop levels for the foreseeable future and to build up Iraqi troops, so as to have enough total forces to win--to provide security, take the fight to the enemy, reduce infiltration on the borders, and so forth. What the president needs to do now is tell the Pentagon to stop talking about (and planning for) withdrawal, and make sure they are planning for victory.
The president knows we have to win this war. If some of his subordinates are trying to find ways to escape from it, he needs to assert control over them, overrule them, or replace them. Having corrected the silly effort by some of his advisers to say the war on terror is not fundamentally a war, he now has to deal with the more serious effort, emanating primarily from the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, to find an excuse not to pursue victory in Iraq. For if Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, we need to win there. And to win, the president needs a defense secretary who is willing to fight, and able to win.