It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry when you read about the spat between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over whether the U.S. committed any "tactical" errors in the Iraq war.
In case you missed it, Secretary Rice told reporters in Britain last Friday that "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure," but that the big strategic decision to take down Saddam Hussein will be seen by future historians as correct.
During a radio interview on WDAY in Fargo, N.D., on Tuesday, Mr. Rumsfeld responded: "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest." Then Mr. Rumsfeld elaborated with a blast of incoherent nonsense about how you always need to change tactics in war: "If you had a static situation and you made a mistake in how you addressed the static situation, that would be one thing. What you have here is not a static situation, you have a dynamic situation with an enemy that thinks, uses their brain, constantly adjusts, and therefore our commanders have to constantly make tactical adjustments."
Where does one even begin? First of all, Secretary Rice is wrong that the Bush team's mistakes in Iraq were purely tactical. Under Mr. Rumsfeld's direction, it made a monumental strategic error in not deploying enough troops to control Iraq's borders and fill the security vacuum we created by bringing down Saddam — a vacuum that has since been filled by looters and scores of head-chopping sectarian militias and gangs.
Here is the brutal truth of where we are in Iraq today: After three years, more than $300 billion and thousands of U.S. and Iraqi casualties, we still do not have an Iraqi government or army that could hold together, without U.S. help. There is still no self-sustaining, democratizing Iraq. And even if we eventually get a national unity government there, it is not clear it will be able to reverse Iraq's slide into sectarianism and militias. No one even knows anymore whether Iraqis in uniform work for the state or a militia.
The other day, the Iraqi blogger Riverbend, who writes for Salon.com, told of watching Iraqi TV when an Arabic message scrolled across the screen: "The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by [U.S.] coalition forces working in that area." Riverbend's translation: Many Iraqi security forces "are actually militias allied to religious and political parties."
As someone who believes in the importance of building a progressive politics in Iraq, in the heart of the Arab world, it pains me to say this, but we are in real trouble there.
Some critics dismiss the Iraq invasion as being all about oil. They are so wrong. It is so much crazier — and nobler — than that. This region has known only top-down monologues: colonial powers, then kings and dictators, always talking down to their people, backed by iron fists.
What we have been trying to bring about in Iraq is something unprecedented — the first ever bottom-up, horizontal dialogue between the constituent communities of an Arab state. What you are seeing in Iraq today is that horizontal dialogue, between Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis — communities who have never been allowed to forge their own social contract — so they wouldn't have to be ruled from the top down, with an iron fist.
If the Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds can forge their own social contract, democracy is possible in this part of the world. If they can't, then it's kings and dictators as far as the eye can see. And since it was decades of that sort of politics that produced the pathologies that produced 9/11, that would be very unfortunate.
Our job was to do one thing right: provide a secure environment so that Iraqis could have a reasonably rational, peaceful horizontal dialogue, which is difficult enough given their legacy of fear from the Saddam years. We failed to do that, largely because Mr. Rumsfeld, who was warned otherwise, refused to deploy sufficient forces. Mr. Rumsfeld made that decision because — if you read "Cobra II," the Michael Gordon-Bernard Trainor history of the Iraq war — he was more interested in transforming the Pentagon than in transforming Iraq. He was never ready to devote the unprecedented military resources to match the unprecedented Iraq mission. President Bush, Condi Rice, Dick Cheney all went along with him for the ride.
They tried to make history on the cheap. But you can't will the ends without willing the means. That is Strategic Theory 101, and ignoring it is not just some "tactical error."
Paul Krugman is on vacation.[Rub it in, why don'tcha?]
source: http://select.nytimes.com/2006/04/07/opinion/07friedman.html 8apr2006