Monday, December 11, 2006

# Posted 2:06 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE INCOMPETENCE DODGE 2.0: One would be hard pressed to find a more venerable beltway foreign policy panel: Hass, the CFR realist. Cohen, the SAIS pragmatist. Adelman, the unapologetic neocon. Ricks, the war-battered (and Pulitzer forthcoming) journalist. No bleeding heart? Nope, this was to be a ‘serious’ hard-nosed assessment. Needless to say, I watched Meet the Press with considerable interest Sunday morning. Surely these grand-hommes would shed light on what is increasingly becoming a markedly solution-deficient foreign policy discussion?

First on Haas. Every once and a while, the interests of differing foreign policy philosophies overlap. Such was the case in the lead up to the Iraq war. I remember being at a workshop nodding approvingly to Stephen Walt’s quintessentially realist assessment of why invading Iraq was a really bad idea. Surely we were on the same ‘team’ I thought? Deep down of course I knew I was dancing with the devil (in an ideological sense), but why question bedfellows when they sound so reasonable, not to mention sure footed and influential?

I don’t know what Walt is currently prescribing for Iraq, but if Hass is representative of the realist view, then count me sceptical. To paraphrase Haas: The Iraq war is all but lost. There is a very limited chance of success. This has to be admitted. The purpose of American foreign policy over the next year must therefore be to shift the perception that the problem lies not with US staying power or bad foreign policy decisions, but rather with the Iraqi’s. This shifting of blame is essential, says Haas, in order to ensure the perception of American military superiority; the worst case scenario being chaos in the Middle East, and America being blamed and deemed incompetent.

Well, there you have it. This is the realist version of the neocon's incompetence dodge - foreign policy free from moral constraints. This is the Incompetence Dodge 2.0.

On first principles, as I once agreed with Walt, I also agree with Haas. The primary reason against unilateral invasion for both liberal internationalists and for realists alike, was that the concequences may be irreparable. Not just bad, but irreparable. Where I fundamentally divert from realist thinking, however, where to my mind the realist show their stripes, is in the amoral ‘solution’ they now prescribe.

There was not a moral argument against the war for the realists. There is likewise not a moral solution. A moral solution would require taking responsibility for the initial policy decision. Powel’s pottery barn trope, amongst others, for example. This is something Haas appears categorically unwilling to do. Instead choosing to shift blame to the Iraqi’s to ensure the credibility of future US foreign policy.

For their respective parts, Cohen, Adelman and Ricks said pretty much what you would expect.

Cohen pushed the ‘cross our fingers and hope it works out’ line. He argued for a drive to control Baghdad and suggested an ultimatum to the Iraqi ‘Government’: If you are not willing to do what we want, “we will leave you with chaos.” As if they believe that one, it isn’t chaos already, and two, that they have the power to significantly alter the current violence levels. Cohen did suggest that a better model for the ISG might have been to lay out the cost benefits of various plans for Iraq. Apparently Baker rejected this. Maybe it would have been a good model, although fissures within he group would have been brought to the surface.

Adelman was both remarkably recalcitrant and brutally honest in advocating the classic Incompetence Dodge 1.0. Ygelsias should really use him as a case study. Unabashed support for the war and complete blame on the Bush Administration’s incompetence, calling it shameful and mind-blowing. While this is well worn ground, he did point out one nugget from the ICG report: In the 1000 person US embassy in Iraq, 6 people speak Arabic. “How can anyone hear this and not be ashamed” he said. In a year from now, he wants a feeling that the government, rather than the sectarian groups are on the rise. Ok, but how? Package his arguments however you want. He is blaming the execution, not the first principle.

Finally Ricks is all but categorical on the degree of the failure, but certainly didn’t offer any solutions. On what the military will take from Iraq: “the worst decision in the history of American foreign policy.” On what’s driving the insurgency: A Hobbsian state – the war of all for all; Neighbourhoods are armed fortresses, a series of armed camps throughout Baghdad; Complete meltdown. On the future?: All of our allies have left, the middle class, the “glue of democracy” has fled. A dire assessment indeed.

So, to summarise. Haas wants to blame Iraqis, Adelman wants to blame the administration, Cohen wants to cross his fingers and hope things work out, and Ricks thinks we (Iraq, region and US foreign policy) are in an ever tightening downward spiral.

The Aldelman incompetence dodge we have heard before. The Haas dodge, however, is a new beast that I fear has legs. The isolationist left and right will soon grasp on, finding bedfellows in the realists, as anti-invasion advocates once did. As will politicians on both sides of the aisle who all want Iraq to ‘go away’ before 2008. To me this Incompetence Dodge 2.0 is the most perilous possible outcome of the Iraq problematic.

A voice conspicuously missing from this panel was the liberal internationalist. Where do they stand in this mess of blaming, dodging and praying? Tomorrow I’ll sketch out what I think they are, or should, be saying. Warning - It won’t be pretty, or particularly eloquent, but no options now are.
(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Irrelevant....but rich.
looking forward to tomorrow's post!!
looks like we now have TWO bloggers who like the Sunday AM talk shows...
The primary reason against unilateral invasion for both liberal internationalists and for realists alike, was that the consequences may be irreparable.

Wouldn't that be the primary reason against invasion, period? Why the qualifier?

I'm aghast at the violence in Baghdad. Since most of it isn't directed at the US, I wonder how much of it would have happened in our absence. Eventually Saddam would die; would the transition to a son have been as clean as it was in Syria?

What does Haas think will happen to the perception of the military? (And whose perception is he talking about?) I would think that the two experiences with Iraq, in 1991 and the present, lead to the perception that the military is much better at killing people and blowing things up than at setting up a constitutional republic sui generis within the attention span of the American public. As luck would have it, I think we can play to the military's strength to improve the situation in Iraq, by making life more difficult for Iran and Syria.
"Cohen, the SAIS pragmatist"

Ha ha ha ha. Give me a break.
Eliot Cohen is one of the more hard core neocons.

My theory is that with a multi lateral force, we could have gone into Iraq and not had the power of reconstructing Iraq solely in the hands of incompetent individuals, and thus much of our current mess could have been avoided.

It is all mox nix now however.
My theory is that with a multilateral force, we could have gone into Iraq and not had the power of reconstructing Iraq solely in the hands of incompetent individuals, and thus much of our current mess could have been avoided.

The force was certainly multilateral. And the Koreans and Japanese and British and Dutch and Danes and Polish have all worked on reconstruction. Now the UN bugged out and left at the first sign of trouble, and perhaps that could have been avoided somehow. What definition of "multilateral" do you mean?

No bleeding heart? Nope, this was to be a ‘serious’ hard-nosed assessment.

Well, seriously, what is the "bleeding heart"/liberal internationalist opinion? I've never heard a different one other than the incompetence dodge one just like the neocons, or the "exactly like the realists as far as policy prescriptions but somehow morally better because we care" one.
Is 'Mulitlateral' another word for 'token'. Because the US provided - what, 90% - of the forces, all of the motivation, and all of the really bad decision-making.

It wasn't the Poles who disbanded the Iraqi Army and debaathized virtually the entire civil service. It wasn't Tongans who approved of the chaos.
Consider "Meet the Press" with real questions:

1) Bush's initial approach to address Iraq was multi-national, through the United Nations. What can be done to move the United Nations toward functionality?

2) How should the United Nations address French and Russian subversion of the UN?

3) How should the United Nations address Syrian and Iranian subversion of Lebanon and Iraq?

4) How should one educate a press unwilling or unable to label anarchistic actions that undermine society?

5) Should free people tolerate oppression to achieve peace at any price?

6) If successful government operates under the rule of law, accompanied by processes that allow peaceful change, and that allows any one person to suggest a better way... then what other option is there than to resolve to oppose tyranny?

7) Isn't the failure of will a failure to project the alternatives?
John I know many countries sent troops, 49 to be exact.

How many of those sent significant numbers of troops? Two; the US and UK.

Which countries were seriously involved with rebuilding Iraq? The US.
Taylor, I don't believe that there is any "incompetence dodge".

I read through the long, long bit (3000+ words) but find it unconvincing. They suggest there is a dodge and call some people dodgers, but do they really make the case?

At best, they seem to suggest that it wasn't rational at all, from any perspective, to size up Iraq for a 'liberation exercise', for lack of a better term. I cannot see how they conclude that is true, a priori, except as a way to beg the question of incomptence. In fact, 'regime change' was an official policy long (even law, if I'm not mistaken) before blunt force was considered to make it so.

The idea that it was lost before it was begun is nothing that should be conceded, I don't think. That, of course, doesn't mean it wasn't risky, but how those risks were controlled for is precisely a point for an assessment of competence / incompetence.

What's more, it's not clear what they think was lost. Iraq was always a struggle for the Iraqis to win - it was those who thought differently from the outset and wasted time and energy without recognizing the race for control that was underway on the ground exhibited incompetence.

But, the general idea of giving the Iraqi's a chance to *regain* their civil society, which Saddam took and in which we ended up complicit for a while, endures and will endure.
Bgates. In a word, legitimacy, or lack there of. I will return to this is a post on liberal internationalists as soon as I find a moment to write it.

John, liberal critique of the administrations incompetence isn’t a dodge, because they have nothing to disavow. I would suggest that the caring part, just like the legitimacy part, are actually very important. Maybe not for war fighting, but certainly for nationbuilding.

GG, Haas isn’t proposing “putting some responsibility on the Iraqis,” he is suggesting placing all blame for what he sees as an all but lost war, on them. An amoral argument if every there was one.

Amicus. I agree they have appended other arguments to this particular piece. There are, however, many other articles and posts describing the general phenomenon of neocons shifting blame from their first principle support to the execution. “The idea that it was lost before it was begun is nothing that should be conceded, I don't think.” I agree, I am not making an absolute judgment on this. I personally felt the risk was too great. This is a relative position though. Anyone who prescribed an absolute on either end was/is being intellectually dishonest. I also agree that the roles of Iraqi’s have been misjudged. I don’t feel this in any way translates to shifting blame to them though (I know you aren’t saying this either).
In 2002 and early 2003, not too many were willing to talk openly about the risks or the margin for error. So many were focused on what the threat from Saddam actually amounted to and whether the French were "weasels".

As for the neocons, I think they were complicit in the thinking that the US could prevail against all enemies, over al-qa'ida and over a budding insurgency. I don't think that so-called 'liberal hawks' had any such delusions, although their is a diminutive record of their beliefs/opinions as they were drown-out, to some extent, by those on their far-left who seemed deranged over Bush. (Today, I see some remnants of that philosophy in the injunction that we must not concede anything because it might "embolden the terrorists". Truly, are we deluded that we will win every battle in the so-called "GWOT"? To imagine so gives up the strategic and military alacrity to be deft and flexible on the battlefield in pursuit of goals, in my estimation.)

I'd be interested in what part of the risks you believe lead to 'irreparable' consequences (apart from the obvious and serious loss of life and limb), because I suspect there is an ideological divide in how folks might assess that. The same for how you think the 'liberal internationalists' might have fit on such a panel, but less because of the ideological divide and more because it seems quite on point for what may be needed just now.
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