COHEN AND WAR….Neocon military historian Eliot Cohen says he supported the Iraq war but now wishes he’d paid more attention to the incompetence of the people who proposed invading in the first place:
A pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat “Phase IV” ? the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the “real” war ? as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks’s blitzkrieg.
I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq ? brave, honorable and committed though they were ? would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless.
I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country’s borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.
Atrios responds with what seems like an odd comment to me:
There were many reasons to oppose this war (and few reasons to support it), but I find it rather odd that the reason which was probably the most derided at the time ? the “this gang can’t shoot straight” reason ? appears to be the one which, over 2 years later, seems to be the most frequently cited “I should have known” reason.
There are two reasons this strikes me as off kilter. First ? and I admit my memory might be faulty here ? I don’t think this was anything close to the “most derided” reason for opposing the war at the time. In fact, aside from a generic contention that George Bush was a dope, I don’t recall liberals even making this argument other than occasionally. By far, the most common criticisms were principled variants of “it won’t work” and “he’s exaggerating/lying about the threat Saddam poses,” and these in turn were the arguments that hawks disparaged as clueless and craven.
Second, it’s worth noting that the Cohen argument is a bit of a fudge: it allows him to admit that he was wrong, thus gaining points as a non-hack, without having to come to grips with the fundamental belief system that drove his support for the war in the first place. That’s awfully convenient.
I say this with some experience. When I changed my mind about the war shortly before it started, it was partly because I decided the Bush administration wasn’t truly serious about democratization. This isn’t quite the same as Cohen’s competence argument, but it’s close: it allowed me to change my mind without coming to grips with a more fundamental question: if Bush had been serious about democratization and had done everything right, would the war have been a good idea? That’s the question that really matters.
Today I think not ? although, to be honest, I’m still not quite 100% sure of that position. But that’s the question people like Cohen need to address. Are they still convinced the neocon domino theory is correct and merely requires more competent execution? Or have they finally figured out that military invasion really isn’t the ultimate answer to the problem of global terrorism?