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What Happens if We Lose?

January 15, 2007

That’s a really good question that being avoided for the most part in Bush’s post-speech backlash and gloating fest. In fact, I don’t think that question has been asked much at all in our public debate. It’s merely enough to point out the problems and walk away. I don’t find that helpful or particularly grown-up.

Insty has a great round-up of posts on this topic, and points to this observation by Pam Hess, UPI Pentagon Correspondent on CNN:

KURTZ: Pam Hess, has the sending of 20,000 additional troops gotten a fair hearing in the media or has it gotten caught up in this wrenching, emotional debate about whether the war itself was a mistake?

PAM HESS, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: I think it’s gotten caught up about it, and the debate about it is actually all wrong. What reporters know and what Martha says is that 20,000 really isn’t that big — isn’t that big a jump. We’re at 132,000 right now. It’s going to put us even less that we had going in going across the line.

What we’re not asking is actually the central question.  We’re getting distracted by the shiny political knife fight.

What we need to be asking is, what happens if we lose? And no one will answer that question. If we lose, how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?

It’s so much easier for us to cover this as a political horse race. It’s on the cover of “The New York Times” today, what this means for the ’08 election. But we’re not asking the central national security question, because it seems that if as a reporter you do ask the national security question, all of a sudden you’re carrying Bush’s water. There are national security  questions at stake, and we’re ignoring them and the country is getting screwed.

They then go on to discuss media bias, and the righteous indignation of reporters that now feel vindicated in their assessment of fact on the ground. I think these issues are indeed related: the facts on the ground are not all that matter. What do they mean for our national security is the question that matters.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2007 11:01 am

    Hi Grec,

    Another good question we should all be asking ourselves regarding Iraq is if we are being stubborn or resolute. America and the American way of life have stubborn enemies. President Bush has stubborn opponents and enemies, including some in the American government. I am thankful for the resolve of our President in dealing with his opponents and enemies. His resolve makes me admire him more.

    However, the resolve that I admire in President Bush is the stubbornness that so many of his well meaning opponents detest. Paradigms regarding Iraq seem quite frozen. The small number of voters who did change their initial opinion was enough to effect an election, but people who changed their mind were still a small percentage of the American public.

    If the surge goes well and Iraq stabilizes, those who had grown weary may return their support to our President’s and his plan. If the surge goes poorly, a few more will grow weary and become opponents of our President and his plan. Either way, very little will be proven, and very few minds will change.

    Are we being stubborn or are we being resolute? Perhaps my stubbornness would soften if I could observe more of the opponents of President Bush also going after the thought leaders who are convincing so many young men to strap bombs to their waste. Perhaps my stubbornness would melt if I could ever get a clear sense that opposition to Iraq policy wasn’t mostly just opposition to President Bush.

    Maybe not Rob specifically, but people like Rob with a foot in both worlds, could do a lot more good in reducing the need for American troops by being more of a liaison between the worlds and less of an opponent of our Iraq policy.

  2. Tim C permalink
    January 16, 2007 11:26 am

    Not sure if you are referring to the Dem and Republican leaders who have voiced an “anti-Surge” position, or the press in your statement about the “Bush’s post-speech backlash and gloating fest” …but I’ve seen a number of Democratic and some conservative specific responses to “If we lose [i.e. if Iraq fully slides into civil war], how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?”

    And I’d also point out that the Dems and ISG graduated “phased withdrawal” proposals are focused on not “just leaving” but in being a shock treatment to push political change in Malaki and co, so they really set the stage so we can leave, but without leaving a failed state.

    I’d also highlight that I’ve not seen Bush or Rice answer that same question…If your escalation plan fails, what then?

    I pray (literally)that this is just verbal jousting, and not the actual Bush admin position:

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) pushed Rice more, saying “a failed strategy, however repackaged, is still a failed strategy” and decrying that the plan had no benchmarks or timelines. “What will our government do specifically?” he asked Rice.

    “It’s bad policy to speculate on what you’ll do if a plan fails when you’re trying to make a plan work,” Rice replied.

  3. The Count permalink
    January 16, 2007 11:58 pm

    Tim-
    You ignorant slut! Good to have you back.

    I would say your question and my question are the same: what happens if we fail? Surge or withdrawl, what happens? You can try to throw it back on Bush- “it’s the president’s responsibility to set policy” and al that, but ultimately it’s everyone’s problem, and will likely be your party’s responsibility in 2008.

    From your comments, and the comments of other Democrats, I don’t see much serious thinking on these issues. Even the way you define it “Iraq fully slides into civil war” and “mitigating” the consequences of failure seem to me to drastically underestimate the size of the problem.

    Much has been made of Condi’s remarks. I can’t fathom it. Why discuss every plan B in the works? Why attack the President day in and day out, including when he makes a much needed and asked for change, an attack the will certainly undermine some of the effectiveness of the new policy?

    The threat of force, to be effective, must be credible. By constantly decrying Bush’s war policy, that threat of force is weakened. I think that’s a travesty.

    However in this case, I agree: the Democrats carping may actually increase the threat to Maliki: if he doesn’t change his ways soon, the President will have no choice but to abandon the cause. The Democrats are now that Bad Cop!

  4. Tim C permalink
    January 17, 2007 5:58 pm

    Hey Grec:

    A few quick thoughts to your points:

    You write:

    “Even the way you define it “Iraq fully slides into civil war” and “mitigating” the consequences of failure seem to me to drastically underestimate the size of the problem.”

    Actually “mitigating the consequences of failure” is me responding using the exact words of your direct quote from Pam Hess. It was me responding to her words using her words, not mine.

    You wrote of Condi’s “it’s bad policy to speculate on what you’ll do if a plan fails” comment:

    “Much has been made of Condi’s remarks. I can’t fathom it. Why discuss every plan B in the works?”

    Of course, “every plan B” isn’t what Senator ask for, he asked for “any plan B.” And Condi didn’t say, “I don’t want to go into all the ornate possibilities publicly here if this fails, she said “It’s bad policy” to ask the question you did: “what if this fails?”

    You wrote:

    “From your comments, and the comments of other Democrats, I don’t see much serious thinking on these issues [on what would happen [after a failed Iraqi Surge or in a failed Iraqi state in general].”

    Well, here are some from leading Dems and Conservative critics of Bush’s handling of the war:

    Biden:

    “In Iraq, the core of the President’s plan is to send another 20,000 Americans to Baghdad, a city of more than 6 million people, where they will go door-to-door in the middle of a civil war
    We have tried this kind of escalation twice before, in Baghdad. It failed. If we try it again, it will fail again.

    The result will be the loss of more American lives and our military stretched to the breaking point, with little prospect for success.

    Failure in Iraq will not be confined to Iraq – it will do terrible damage to our ability to protect American interests all over the world, and for a long time to come.

    Obama:

    Now, us having gone in [to Iraq], I do think we now have a deep national security interest in making certain that Iraq is stable. If is it not stable, not only are we going to have a humanitarian crisis, I think we are also going to have a huge national security problem on our hands–because, ironically, it has become a hotbed of terrorists as a consequence, in part, of our incursion there.

    Suzane Nossel, the former Deputy to Richard Holebrooke who is now over at the blog Democracy Arsenal posted two years ago how key it was not to let Iraq become a failed state…

    I define failure as a situation in which the result of the U.S.’s invasion and subsequent occupation are not the stability (never mind the democracy) that we all hoped for, but instead continued chaos, factionalism, violence, and uncontrollable outside influence by the likes of Iran and Syria. It’s a scenario in which Iraq’s domestic security forces never gain the upper hand against insurgents, the economy does not recover, the fractious politics never coalesces into a functioning government, and the violence goes on unabated. In short, current conditions persist.

    Noone, neither hawk nor peacenik, wants this to happen.

    They she goes on to list TEN REASONS WHY it would be such a calamity…that I think you’d agree with.

    But also she later correctly (to my mind)pointed out in Feb 2006 that:

    “Its possible that the tactics being used now could have worked if adopted earlier, but they aren’t equal to righting Iraq in its present condition. With a failing strategy, we will not succeed.
    The only thing worse than Iraq as a failed state is Iraq as a failed state with 130,000 Americans living there.

    Then nine months later in 2006, she writes:

    Moving forward, focus should shift to damage control. This requires honing in on the ways in which the situation in and around Iraq can get worse from the perspective of US interests, and taking action to try to prevent those outcomes from happening. While Republicans in Congress are still talking to one another about “victory,” the American people stopped listening and believing long ago and now deserve more honest rhetoric and a more realistic strategy.

    I can think of six ways in which the situation in Iraq could worsen dramatically … Figuring out what to do about each one is trickier, particularly as various preventive steps may conflict with one another. But here’s a shot at the 6 worst things that could happen and how to prevent each:

    You’ll have to read the article for details, but here are the six ways things could “get worse” she lists:

    1. Significant additional loss of American life –
    2. Large-scale Iraqi loss of life –
    3. A massive refugee crisis –
    4. An Iraqi state and/or people that are deeply hostile to the United States –
    5. An Iraqi civil war that engulfs the broader region, including Iran and Turkey –

    6. An 1990s Afghanistan-like terrorist haven in Iraq –

    If if you don’t agree with their conclusions and directions as wise you’d still have to say that it is thinking that emphasizes the deep need we have for Iraq to pull up, and some forethought as to what to do if it doesn’t.

    TimmyC

  5. January 17, 2007 10:57 pm

    Tim-
    I think it’s safe to say we agree that letting Iraq become a failed state is a really bad thing for Iraq and America.

    What’s not clear to me is how an American pull-out will prevent, not accelerate the descent into a failed state.

    What Democrats seem to be doing is basically saying it’s already a failed state. They don’t want to call it “defeat” yet, nor do they want to describe it as “surrender” but that’s what it appears to me. They see the situation as impossible to fix. Yet I think we would agree that the situation is not yet quite a failed state, but on the verge. How does removing the last vestiges of security help the situation from getting worse? It makes no sense to me at all.

    That said, I should emphasize that I am not at all convinced that the surge will work. At least not long term. More on that later.

  6. Tim C permalink
    January 18, 2007 8:29 am

    Grec:

    You wrote:

    “I think it’s safe to say we agree that letting Iraq become a failed state is a really bad thing for Iraq and America.”

    Yep, sure do.

    And then:

    “What Democrats seem to be doing is basically saying it’s already a failed state. They don’t want to call it “defeat” yet, nor do they want to describe it as “surrender” but that’s what it appears to me. They see the situation as impossible to fix. Yet I think we would agree that the situation is not yet quite a failed state, but on the verge.”

    Not quite I think. I see even the most pessimistic dems saying “we have one last shot here, we can’t keep doing what has proven to fail. They WERE more alarmed of where we stood in Iraq than the administration, but now finally even Bush admits we were in a place of “slow failure.”

    “How does removing the last vestiges of security help the situation from getting worse? It makes no sense to me at all.”

    Almost all Dems and the ISG were talking about a gradual drawdown not an immediate “removal of the last vestiges of security.”

    Obama, again is a good spokesperson for this view:

    I have long said that the only solution in Iraq is a political one. To reach such a solution, we must communicate clearly and effectively to the factions in Iraq that the days of asking, urging, and waiting for them to take control of their own country are coming to an end. No more coddling, no more equivocation….

    The first part of this strategy begins by exerting the greatest leverage we have on the Iraqi government – a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq…

    The President should announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces. He should then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. When possible, this should be done in consultation with the Iraqi government – but it should not depend on Iraqi approval.

    I am not suggesting that this timetable be overly-rigid. We cannot compromise the safety of our troops, and we should be willing to adjust to realities on the ground.

    The redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the parties in Iraq reach an effective political arrangement that stabilizes the situation and they offer us a clear and compelling rationale for maintaining certain troop levels. Moreover, it could be suspended if at any point U.S. commanders believe that a further reduction would put American troops in danger.

    So I think the real difference between pro-Surge folks and anti-surge Dems and Republicans are the one group seems to view that the best way to get Malaki and others to change is to express strong words, but to also have an open ended commitment to them… They other side thinks you actually need to show a real threat…the fact that you would be gradually leaving… as shock treatment to force reality upon them.

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