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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

What Lincoln could teach Kerry

This Wall Street Journal op-ed makes a lot of points that I have tried to make better than I have.

Yet who ever said war is easy? On the eve of the war, in 2003, we wrote that "the law of unintended consequences has not been repealed, no war ever goes precisely as planned," and that "toppling Saddam is a long-term undertaking." We had no doubt that the American people had the staying power to win, but our main concern was "whether Americans can generate the political consensus to sustain involvement in Iraq." Alas, that worry has been borne out by Monday-morning four-stars on both the left and right.
The only tangible advantage that the enemy in Iraq has is a weakening support for the Iraq war here in America. That is their only hope of victory. Some say that John Kerry would pursue this war and push for victory as hard as George Bush has. Perhaps that is so. But it is hard to imagine that a Kerry victory would not give hope to the war's foes and weaken the morale of the war's supporters.
Yet to acknowledge these blunders in hindsight doesn't mean anyone else would have done better. From the decision to disband the Iraqi army, through the complex negotiations over the Iraqi Constitution, to the calibration of force employed in Najaf, the Administration has faced one hard call after another. We know now of the consequences of those calls, good and bad, but how certain are we that the alternatives would have turned out better?
As I have said several times we only know that bad that has resulted from the choices we made. We have no idea what bad things would have resulted from choices we didn't make (and there would have been some bad things, that is a certainty). The enemy gets to react too, they get to find weaknesses and try to exploit them. That is part of what is meant by the old saw 'no plan survives contact with the enemy'.
Throughout most of 2003, a sufficient fraction of America's liberal elite concurred in the Administration's view that the choice America faced in Iraq was between Saddam Hussein's eventual rehabilitation or his destruction, and that the first option was intolerable. They further agreed that the goal of a free and moderate Iraq was both attainable and essential if America was to prevail in the overall war on terror. Not much more than a year later, this pro-war liberal elite has broken with that earlier consensus, much as the liberal elite that initially supported the Vietnam War headed for the tall grass as the going got tough after 1965. This time the excuse is competence--as if competence, in the absence of political will, can win this or any other kind of war. In their support for Mr. Kerry, they apparently see a modern-day version Richard Nixon, circa 1968, a man who isn't saddled by his predecessor's mistakes and who will fight "a better war." But in order to win a war, you have to have the vision and determination to fight it despite setbacks and political difficulties. Americans should be wary of politicians who promise more "competent" leadership in a war that those same politicians say they'd rather not fight.
Another way of saying this is something I saw in another blog (no idea where now). In Shanghi Knights Owen Wilson's character say "What in our history together makes you think I'm capable of something like that?" I get the same feeling when ever I hear Kerry will fight a more 'competent' war. Why would anyone think that? His largest executive role was either as a assistant district attorney or as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Neither involve a great deal of making war. His leadership role in Vietnam consisted of 4 months captaining a small river going vessel, doubtless something that gave him a lot of interesting perspectives, but not something that gives him any particular competence on leading America. His Senate career doubtless gives him good up to date information on American foreign policy, but he hasn't exactly been a leader in the Senate. Perhaps one could argue that while he may not have any personal experience that would inspire confidence, he will bring in a team of individuals that are more competent then the current crop. I find that unlikely (admittedly, I pretty much like Bush's foreign policy team) Kerry's current advisers are mostly Clinton era back-benchers. In contrast to the very knowledgeable Dick Cheney, Kerry has selected John Edwards as his running mate, certainly not someone known for vast foreign policy experience. Admittedly, unlike Cheney, Edwards will probably have the traditional 'attend a lot of funerals' VP job. Of course I have admitted one aspect of John Kerry's biography when he did have a significant leadership role that helped ensure victory in war. That was when he was a leader of Vietnam Veteran's Against the War. Certainly he did demonstrate leadership potential and brought victory to his side. I am not sure that the leadership experience bodes well for U.S. victory in Iraq however.


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