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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Language at the New York Times

The editors of the New York Times need to go back and read some Orwell. A few years ago I heard Paul Krugman tell Terri Gross that during the 2000 campaign, his editor wouldn't let him use the word "lie" to describe statements made by then-Governor Bush. Early this year a Times reporter told me that he was not allowed to mention Vietnam in articles about Iraq. And a couple of weeks ago, when old friends of Senator George Allen recalled his use of the word "nigger," the Times news stories danced around it. I was delighted that their columnist Bob Herbert seems still to believe, as I do, that we proved in the 1960s that words do not kill, and got away with breaking the taboo.

Today the Times introduces a new phrase into the language, apparently to avoid seeming to offend the Administration once again. I quote from a story on Iraq:

"Meanwhile, the Shiites, or at least the leaders of the religious parties that control the government, have become increasingly strident in insisting that after generations of Sunni domination, it is now their turn to rule. While a process of ethnic and religious separation is already under way in cities including Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk — with tens of thousands of people from the three principal communities fleeing to safer havens in those parts of the country where they are in the majority — any policy that explicitly espoused this kind of separation would be likely to ignite an even fiercer struggle."

When this happened fifteen years ago in Yugoslavia we called it "ethnic cleansing." Now that a similar process has been unleashed by one of the most disastrous decisions in the history of American foreign policy, some one has evidently decided that a more neutral word is more appropriate. On the eve of an election, it wouldn't do to call the effects of American policy by their right names.

It was last February that I compared the infiltration of the Iraqi police by militias to the way that Hitler managed to integrate the SA and SS into the German police in 1933. Today's Washington Post includes a story on exactly how bad the situation in the Baghdad police is. Not only are they carrying out ethnic cleansing, they are also a danger to the lives of American soliders. See it at


Friday, October 27, 2006

How bad is the threat?

On a number of occasions here, I have remarked on the lack of proportion shown by almost everyone with respect to the current state of the world. President Bush has already compared the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism to Nazism or Communism, and few, if any prominent politicians have taken this comparison on. But today, teaching a class on Hitler and the origins of the Second World War, certain problems with those comparisons became clear to me.

Germany in the 1930s was still one of the leading industrial powers in the world, with a population (after the addition of Austria) of close to 80 million. It had a very robust military tradition and a ready reserve of young men, and its arms industry was eventually capable of impressive achievements. In addition, Hitler was dedicated to a very specific program of expansion, involving the absorption of German-speaking territories and the conquest of a vast empire in Eastern Europe. Germany had pursued similar goals during the First World War, and had had some success before its final collapse.

The Middle East, by contrast, remains a very poor region, utterly unable to challenge the United States with conventional arms of any kind. It is torn apart by factional conflicts, and by tension between the peoples of the region and their authoritarian governments. Its religious fervor is a double-edged sword, since, as we see in Iraq, splits within Islam are at least as violent as splits between Islam and the rest of the world. Al Queda does not control any states (although some key states, led by Pakistan, apparently tolerate it.) No new Nazi Germany or Soviet Union, that can rival us in conventional or nuclear arms, is on the horizon.

In a sense President Bush has acknowledged how fatuous the analogy is. If he truly believed things were as serious as he claims, he would be raising taxes rather than lowering them, instituting a draft, and at least doubling the size of the United States’ armed forces. The philosophy of Herbert Hoover could never have secured victory in the Second World War, and the kindred philosophy of George W. Bush can’t supply nearly enough troops to pacify Iraq. No major war--not even Vietnam--can be fought with peacetime forces. A war over the future of a substantial part of the world requires a vast, temporary expansion of military production and power such as the US experienced in the Civil War, the two World Wars, and even in Vietnam.

There are, it seems to me, two real aspects to the fundamentalist threat. The main one is political. More widespread Islamic fundamentalism will be bad for the people of the region (although that remains their choice, not ours, to make), and more importantly, it could substantially de-stabilize a good deal of Europe. Our attempt to conquer and occupy a leading nation of the region has made that part of the threat much worse, all the more so since it is failing. The other is terrorism. That cannot be stamped out, but better intelligence and improved security could keep it at a sufficiently small scale, I think, to prevent another 9/11 in the United States. The nuclear aspect of the problem, the most serious, can only be addressed by a broad coalition along the lines I have suggested during the last few weeks.

Despite everything, one simply cannot compare the perils we face with those of the 1930s. By 1937 two substantial states, Germany and Japan, were committed to territorial expansion by force to solve very serious economic problems. Both had efficient armies and distinguished military and naval traditions, and both in the end had to be completely conquered to create a peaceful world. Now, more than sixty years after the end of that war, war between major industrial states still appears almost unthinkable. The worst thing we could do would be to allow another series of splits within the more advanced world. While the Bush Administration’s policies have not had that effect, they do threaten, in the long run, to do so. The war in Iraq was in many ways similar to the Japanese conquest of Manchuria—a unilateral decision by a major power to assume sovereignty over a foreign land for a mixture of economic and security reasons. Let us hope that it does not, in that respect, become a precedent.

In Politics and War: European Conflict from Phillip II to Hitler, I analyzed what Europeans were fighting about in four critical eras from the sixteenth century through the first half of the twentieth. In two of the four—1559-1659 and 1914-45—I concluded that their goals were unachievable, not worth the cost of pursuing them, or both. (It is intriguing that civilization made the greatest advances from the late seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.) The end of the cold war has probably left military establishments far smaller proportionally than they had been since the mid-18th century, and that is a very good thing. We still are not threatened by major war, but partly as a result, we are involved in an endless, though small-scale, struggle for the future of what remains a relatively poor, though populous, area of our world.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday morning updates

Bob Woodward's book, which I discussed two weeks ago, helps explain the conflicting headlines in today's New York Times and Washington Post about Iraq. The Times quotes an anonymous Pentagon official to the effect that we are going to impose a timetable for cracking down on militias on the Iraqi government; the Post reports a White House denial that any such change is contemplated. This reflects a dispute that has been going on for a long time. Rumsfeld has been complaining for years that he have to take the training wheels off the Iraqi government's bicycle, while the White House, reflecting the President's views, wants to stay as long as necessary. Since the President appears more determined than ever not to withdraw it does not seem very likely that any deadlines will have consequences.

Meanwhile, in a story that might well lead to a House committee investigation come January, the Times reports that an SEC investigator named Gary Aguirre was fired in September 2005 after his superiors refused to investigate a possible insider trading case involving the Pequot hedge fund and John J. Mack, the head of Morgan Stanley and a leading Bush fundraiser. The story strongly implies that contributors can buy immunity from such investigations. (Michael Milliken must truly be green with envy; the Reagan era was nothig like this.) John Kenneth Galbraith is now dead, but I feel sure he would point out (as indeed he may well have done before his death) that hedge funds are an attempt to get around the whole regulatory structure that served his generation so well after the 1929 crash. If we allow financial abuse to flourish unchecked, it will--and in the end we shall all pay a big price.

See the longer post from yesterday, below.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Still at the crossroads

The image of a great nation felled by a simple miscalculation and struggling to find a way out is one of the oldest in history. From the Athenians in Syracuse to the British in North America in the 1770s, the French in Spain under Napoleon, and the United States in Vietnam—and now in Iraq—history has numerous examples of the known world’s strongest nation involving itself in a more or less hopeless cause. Much of the trouble in such cases stems from the conclusion reached at the very outset, that the adventure in question was something that had to be undertaken, and that policy objectives—which is what President Bush really seems to mean when he speaks of “strategy”—cannot be abandoned. Abandoning them would obviously have been painful in many of these cases, but in those in which the imperial power did at long last pull back, such as the British in the colonies and the United States in Vietnam, the consequences of defeat turned out to be surprisingly benign. Even if, however, they represent a setback, they would nearly always have been preferable to persisting until the whole nation is engulfed in a catastrophe.

Perhaps the most painful such case, because of its enormous consequences, was the experience of Germany during the First World War. Having unwisely decided in July 1914 that Germany would be well advised to seek a trial of strength with France, Russia, and possibly Britain then, rather than later, the German government and the German people convinced themselves that they were in a struggle for existence. For the first two years of the war they made steady gains in the East (although the liberation of Poland which that involved was actually bound to do the German Empire more harm than good because of its own Polish population), and occupied Belgium and much of northern France. They had no means of breaking the stalemate on the western front, however, and by late 1916 they were suffering enormously from the allied blockade. The Navy, supported by the Army, proposed unrestricted submarine warfare as the tactic to bring their most dangerous enemy, the British, to their needs. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg had valiantly held the line against this step for about eighteen months because he knew it would bring the United States into the war and doom any prospect of a negotiated peace, which he knew would probably be necessary at some point or another. Yet he was trapped because he did not feel strong enough to declare that Germany had to give up on total victory. So long as that remained the objective, the Germans had to try anything that might work, and both the military authorities and the German people had convinced themselves that submarines would do the job. Instead, they immediately brought the United States into the war.

Recently, for teaching purposes, I reviewed the story of Germany’s final collapse. It had eerily contemporary overtones. The Emperor, the emotional William II, never wavered in his belief that victory was possible and that the military, led in fact if not officially by General Ludendorff, would secure it. After Ludendorff’s great offensive of March-June 1918 stalled, leaving a wrecked German army in place, a retreat began in August, and Ludendorff panicked in September and asked for a new government to conclude an armistice—really a cease-fire—by appealing to President Wilson. When it became apparent that the only terms Germany could get would amount to surrender, Ludendorff panicked again and reversed course, determined to fight on. He was dismissed, but the Emperor refused to consider abdicating after Wilson indicated that that was probably necessary to get reasonable peace terms. By early November everyone was more concerned with figuring out who to blame for the impending catastrophe than anything else. On November 9th, a revolution overthrew the Empire, and two days later the new liberal government accepted the Allies terms. When the peace proved draconian, their prestige was wrecked.

I do not want to contribute to the loss of proportion that has taken over American opinion, especially elite opinion, since 9/11. Who governs Iraq is not, and never could be, a question of life and death for the United States. We have lived for many decades with an undemocratic Middle East and we can, and will, live with one for many more, one way or another. The political trends in the Middle East have been running strongly against us at least since the 1967 war, and it is remarkable, really, that we have held on to our position for so long. We do not face the kind of catastrophe Germany suffered in 1918; but like the Germans, we desperately need to be able to re-evaluate the stakes in order to let go of a failed policy that is costing us men, money, and prestige every day.

I was reminded of all this as I read this morning an op-ed by the neoconservative political scientist Eliot Cohen, who many years ago was a student of mine in a course that covered the story which I laid out above. Having optimistically beaten the drums for war in 2002 and published a book encouraging civilian authorities, in certain circumstances, to disregard military advice, he has for some time been willing to admit that the war is going badly. Like Bethmann Hollweg in 1916, however, he would rather give submarine warfare a try rather to admit failure and settle on the best terms available. His magic bullet—which, to be fair, he puts forth without great enthusiasm—is to turn the Iraqi government over to a military strongman. This evidently is under active discussion in Washington, and it seems incumbent upon me, as it should be upon policymakers, to analyze it in the way that the Germans declined to do for submarine warfare before undertaking it.

Although Cohen doesn’t mention it, this suggestion has a rather striking parallel with Vietnam. There, too, the United States was fighting for democracy, and after the overthrow of Diem by a military coup in 1963 Washington put a high priority on putting a civilian government in place. As two major books on the subject have shown, however—one of them my own—the Americans ran into an intractable problem through 1964 and into 1965: no coalition of South Vietnamese political forces wanted an all-out war with the Viet Cong and perhaps the North. The Buddhists in particular, who had become an important political force, wanted a neutralist solution for South Vietnam, and wrecked several attempts to form a government. They even convinced the military ruler for most of this period, General Khanh, that neutralism was better than all-out war, and the US maneuvered Khanh out of office in early 1965 as a result. After a few months more of fruitless attempts at civilian rule, we blessed the coup of Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, of whom Walt Rostow spoke in terms almost identical to those Cohen used yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, “A junta of military modernizers,” Cohen writes, “might be the only hope of a country whose democratic culture is weak, whose politicians are either corrupt or incapable.” After two more years, in 1967, we had tired of Ky, and turned to Nguyen Van Thieu, another general, as our candidate in Vietnam’s first Presidential elections. Thieu “won” with less than 35% of the vote, and four years later he managed to engineer a totally uncontested re-election. He never grew strong enough to deal with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

“Military modernizers” is a good description, actually, of the military and Ba’athist governments that ruled Iraq from the overthrow of the monarchy in 1957 until 2003. Iraq was a more modern state by many measurements, including education and women’s rights, under Saddam Hussein than it will be under the various Islamic governments that will eventually succeed it. Cohen in effect is admitting that George H. W. Bush was right and neoconservatives like himself were wrong in 1991, when that Administration decided not to overthrow the Ba’athist regime. But meanwhile, there is no more evidence to support the idea that generals could solve our problems in Iraq today than there was in Vietnam in 1967. Since there are no Christian or Jewish generals who might do the job, the new strongman or strongmen will be either Sunnis or Shi’ites, and will therefore incur the wrath of the other faith and the active opposition of its militias. An interfaith junta would be about as effective as the current interfaith Iraqi government. An attempt to bring back Ba’ath party rule in a disguised form would be violently resisted, obviously, by the Shi’ite majority, and a Shi’ite strongman would look even worse to the Sunnis than the current situation.

"American prestige has taken a hard knock; it will probably take a harder knock," Cohen writes, "and in ways that will not be restored without a considerable and successful use of American military power down the road. The tides of Sunni salafism and Iran's distinct combination of messianism and power politics have not crested, and will not crest without much greater violence in which we too will be engaged." Cohen, in other words, is looking forward to the next war, against Iran, whose conquest (it is as large population-wise as Nazi Germany was) would require a draft and alliances such as we do not now have, because of the war in Iraq. It would be hard to imagine more striking evidence of the bankruptcy of neoconservative thought; our prestige and strength depend, he is saying, not on our values, our alliances, or any commitment to international law, but simply to our ability to kick ass and take names. He rejects the argument that will apparently be floated by James Baker, that we need some relationship with both Syria and Iran to bring some peace to the region. Yielding to reality, it seems, is not an option. That was what Germany had to do in 1916: to recognize that it was not going to rule Europe or rival Britain as a world power. We are not going to recreate the Middle East in our own image. Just as Christian Europe lived with militant Islam on its doorstep for several critical centuries in western history and just as we lived with Communism for most of the twentieth century, we will have to live with fundamentalist regimes for a long time. By defining certain regimes (including Iran and Syria) as evil, the Bush Administration has essentially made sensible policy impossible. It will take courage for any American leader, Democrat or Republican, to acknowledge this, but that will be more sensible than to search for the magic man who will run Iraq as we would like it to be run.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Footnote--today's White House briefing

In today's briefing by Tony Snow, the following exchange took place:

Q Tony, when you were talking before about the Iraqi military being trained more, they have -- it does seem that more police, more Iraqi military have been trained in recent months, over the last couple of years. But the White House had repeatedly said that as they stood up, we'd stand down. Does that principle still hold? Does the White House still believe, as they stand up, we're standing down?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Because it doesn't appear like we're standing down.

MR. SNOW: Well, we're not standing down because everybody is needed in the fight right now. Also, when it comes to police, both sides -- I mean, the Maliki government -- and Prime Minister Maliki, in his USA Today interview, acknowledged they've had some real problems, and they've -- the matter of professionalizing the army -- I mean, the police still remains undone. The army training has been more effective, but at this time, with these levels of violence, you still have to work together to help go after the people whose vested interests are in destroying Iraq. When those levels of violence wane, and when we believe that the Iraqis are secure and able to stand, then we will be prepared to move, but we're not going to do it under the present circumstances.

Q So they are standing up, but we're not standing down. So is that principle no longer operable?

MR. SNOW: Well, let's see, they stand up, and also, in standing up, you quell the violence and you also deal with some of the root causes of the difficulties.

Q That's the proposition that the White House put out there, that as they stood up, violence would come down, and we'd stand down.

MR. SNOW: As part of our constant adjustment, let me just add that apparently, the terrorists have also decided not to stand down. They've got to stand down.

Q Right, so that's my question. So is "stand up, stand down" no longer the principle, or --

MR. SNOW: Well, it depends on how you -- how you want to cast it. It seems to me that we're playing -- this is kind of a fun verbal game, but --

Q No, but that's what the President said, stand up/stand down.

MR. SNOW: But, yes --

Q We're standing up --

MR. SNOW: Well, you know, then you get into, what does he mean by, "stand up," and "stand up" means you have the ability to assert effective control within Iraq so that you have peaceful, secure neighborhoods. We're not there yet.

Given the way that Snow was floundering all over this briefing, one should not necessarily take anything he said too seriously, but whether or not this is what he and his bosses intended, this certainly sounds as if we will only withdraw troops when the insurgency has been very significantly reduced, not simply because more Iraqi troops and police are in place. And since by every measure the insurgency is continuing to grow, this is not a very encouraging prospect.

Another new post appears below.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Woodward Ascendant

One of the great pleasures of speaking one’s mind freely is the ability, when appropriate, to reverse course. Many months ago I criticized Bob Woodward as an example of what had happened to journalism in the last twenty years, emphasizing his reliance upon top-level sources. His last two books, Bush at War and Plan of Attack, had been especially disappointing. But the country now clearly faces a crisis, and Woodward has risen to the occasion in his latest, Bush in Denial. It is far denser, better researched, and more tightly written than any book he has ever written, I think, with the possible exception of my previous favorite (from a literary standpoint, anyway), The Brethren. (The style of The Brethren was so unlike that of Woodward’s other books that I assume his one-time co-author Scott Armstrong deserved a good deal of the credit for that one.) State of Denial draws mainly on interviews with second- and third- level officials, many in the military but some within the Bush White House. Because people who have not become media stars have a much closer relationship to the truth, his interviews with leading figures (especially Donald Rumsfeld) are an appalling counterpoint to what he has heard from those beneath them. President Bush and Vice President Cheney wisely declined to be interviewed, but Rumsfeld, as the text makes clear, thinks he can fool anyone and get away with anything. This time, he didn’t.

“If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame something else.” George W. Bush’s encapsulation of the 1960s is actually a summary of the ethos of his Administration. And what feels good to its leading figures, even more than enriching the wealthy or overthrowing dictatorships, is feeling perfect. The chief function of the Administration is to make clear that it has never made a mistake. What emerges from State of Denial is how easily they find it to blame not only Democrats and wimpy allies, but each other, when things go wrong—and boy, have they gone wrong.

Secretary Rumsfeld is more than anyone the focus of the book, and anyone who reads it will understand why half a dozen prominent retired generals have called for his resignation. He trusts almost no one but himself, insists, like Robert McNamara, in getting into almost everything, and treats his bureaucratic rivals with contempt. He initially insisted upon Pentagon control of both the war and the civil Administration of Iraq, although neither he nor his main subordinates such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith had any clear idea of how to run postwar Iraq, other than a few quickly exploded fantasies about their protégé Achmed Chalabi. Apparently at the behest of Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld refused to let Jay Garner, the retired general who made the first stab at postwar reconstruction, keep one of the best-qualified State Department officials on his team. When Garner told Rumsfeld that any reconstruction option would cost billions, Rumsfeld replied that the United States would not be spending its money on that—the Iraqis would have to do the job. (He has done his best to keep that promise and we have now officially announced that reconstruction aid has dried up.) When Garner refused to let Rumsfeld override his decisions in Baghdad over who should run Iraqi ministries, Rumsfeld told him he wasn’t a team player. At the moment Paul Bremer (another micromanager) replaced Garner, the Pentagon, apparently, did insist upon the disastrous decision to de Ba-athize (that is, essentially eliminate) the existing Iraqi government and to do away with the old Iraqi Army—Condolezza Rice, the National Security officer, reportedly did not know that that decision was coming. But when Garner immediately complained about de-Ba’athification Rumsfeld, as Woodward puts it (based evidently on what Garner told him), said that de Ba’athification had been some one else’s idea, thereby ending the argument. When Garner returned home told Rumsfeld that de-Ba’athification and the disbanding of the army had been disastrous mistakes, but the Secretary simply replied that there was no turning back. (Rumsfeld told Woodward that he “vaguely” remembered this conversation in 2006.) Then Rumsfeld gave Garner a medal and praised him for the fine job he had done. He had already told Garner that the President had selected Paul Bremer to replace him, but when Garner saw the President, Bush told him the opposite—that Bremer was Rumsfeld’s choice.

It was when things began to go wrong that Rumsfeld’s worst qualities began to emerge. When the US military couldn’t find any WMD he insisted of farming that embarrassing search out to the CIA. Within another year, by late 2004, Rumsfeld had begun announcing that remaining problems were the fault of the rest of the American government (“the interagency,” to use a current Pentagon term), and of the Iraqi people themselves. Rumsfeld’s isolation across the Potomac has become legendary—he sends low-level representatives to interagency meetings and refuses to give them any authority to make decisions. Paul Bremer found that Rumsfeld was refusing to forward his messages to other American government departments—an almost unheard of practice in Washington. Then, when things began going badly in December 2006, Rumsfeld announced that Bremer worked for the White House, not himself, after all. Even Stephen Hadley, the incumbent National Security Adviser, complained rather bluntly to Woodward about Rumsfeld’s attitude towards the rest of the U.S. government. And like all the other leading figures of the Bush Administration, Rumsfeld simply cannot admit that he might have made a mistake. Just months ago he refused once again to acknowledge the most obvious mistake of all—the failure to send enough troops to Iraq in the first place. (Later, publicly, he said the force level was General Tommy Franks’s idea.) He was furious in October 2005 when Rice, now the Secretary of State, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to announce an American strategy of “Clear, Hold and Build,” because he felt the 263,000 Iraqi security forces that his reports told him about should be doing the holding and building themselves. Several high-ranking generals, including NATO commander General James Jones, told Woodward they believed Rumsfeld had completely deprived the military of its right to offer independent advice.

Secretary Rice emerges as a person who wants to do the right thing, but who is too concerned with appearing to be on top of things to find out what that actually might be. (Woodward reports her thoughts on a number of occasions, suggesting that she gave off-the-record interviews.) Having no background in the Middle East, she frequently tried to explain events optimistically with reference to Communist Eastern Europe, her real area of expertise. She was not, however, a forceful bureaucratic player, and she failed as NSC adviser to do anything to reign in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, although she occasionally tried. (The President at one point had gently to tell his Secretary of Defense to return her phone calls.) And she essentially refuses to listen to any truly bad news. When in late 2004 two trusted subordinates told her we needed 40,000 more troops in Iraq, she blew them off. She clearly cannot acknowledge that the Administration of which she is a part might have made a fundamental mistake. Her meticulous attention to her own appearance reflects her view of her job, as well. When a new Iraqi general was appointed to head the “Fallujah brigade” in the spring of 2004—an experiment that failed—she went ballistic. “Oh, God,” she shrieked. “He looks like Saddam Hussein! Can’t they pick somebody who doesn’t look like Saddam?”

The book includes remarkably little about Vice President Cheney and his staff, and that in itself must be significant. Cheney’s absence reminds me of the reaction to Joe Klein’s novel about the Clintons, Primary Colors. The press widely reported that his portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton was off base, and that she did not, in fact, swear like a trooper, but I heard at the time from a very trustworthy and well-placed source that she did. It occurred to me that that showed whom everyone in the Clinton Administration was really afraid of, and Cheney’s almost complete absence from State of Denial tells a parallel lesson about the Bush team.

President Bush, with whom Woodward had long conversations during his first Administration, declined all Woodward’s interview requests this time. Ron Suskind argues that in meetings he focuses on sizing his interlocutor up, and Woodward portrays a number of meetings in which he showed an astonishing lack of curiosity—particularly when, as in a meeting with WMD-seeker David Kay, his interlocutor has no very good news to give him. But in November 2003, when a CIA briefer told him that “we are seeing the establishment of an insurgency in Iraq,” he demanded more data. “I don’t want to read in The New York Times that we are facing an insurgency. I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.” Like Rice, who seems to be the closest Administration figure to him personally, he is obsessed with appearance, with making it clear that we want the best for the Iraqi people. At times he shows real idealism, insisting, for instance, in late 2004 that the first round of Iraqi elections go forward. And his naiveté about how he is perceived seems genuine. At one point, without a trace of irony, he suggested that we should promote Iraqi nationalism to mobilize Iraqis against Al Queda’s “foreign fighters,” totally ignoring the impact Iraqi nationalism was having on Iraqi attitudes towards the US presence in Iraq. He was genuinely surprised when Paul Bremer told him that Secretary Rumsfeld did, indeed, micromanage. He had trouble on numerous occasions in making his own views stick, for instance in regard to the sharing of intelligence with the British. Even in public he likes to ascribe responsibility for major decisions to others, repeatedly telling the American people, for instance, that his military commanders have never asked for more troops in Iraq. (Even Woodward could not find out whether that claim is true.) Woodward quotes Richard Armitage (who seems to have talked to him) and Colin Powell (who seems not to have) musing that Bush and Cheney simply could never allow a scintilla of doubt about the rightness of their course to creep in, because it would be too threatening. Being right, apparently, is what "feels good" to them.

Andrew Card, who stepped down as Chief of Staff early this year, gave Woodward a lot of material, much of it about his own decision to step down after he had repeatedly tried and failed to get Rumsfeld replaced. Card quoted many of his own conversations with the President. They are both poignant and pathetic, because Card, by his own account, could not bring himself even to suggest that the Administration was on a wrong track or that Bush had made mistakes, much less that he no longer believed in the President’s leadership. Instead, he persuaded the President (and a hard job it was) that Card had to leave for the President’s own good. The kind of certainty of righteousness that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld share is actually the sign of a deep lack of self-confidence. Everyone with a long relationship with George W. Bush, it seems, instinctively bolsters his self-image. Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and William II of Germany had a similar effect upon those around them.

The crisis of Vietnam and Watergate made Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein national figures. They uncovered the scandal not so much because of Deep Throat, whose role has been vastly exaggerated by the media (although not by them), but because they went as far down as they could into the Nixon re-election campaign and got the same information that honest Americans were giving to federal prosecutors. Now, in a new and perhaps even worse crisis, Woodward has once again gone below the top level of the government, and in great depth, to let us know what is really happening in Washington. He has done his part; let us hope that we can all do ours. The President, faced with a truly serious crisis at home—the probable loss of one house of Congress—is staying in character, most notably in his full embrace of Dennis Hastert, which in my opinion is almost certain to compound a spreading electoral landslide. On September 1, the web site electoral-vote.com (linked below, although the results it shows do not update every day, as they are supposed to), which simply summarizes all available independent polling data, showed the Republicans leading in 52 Senate races. On October 1 that lead was holding steady, and Republicans led 219-216 in the House. Today, exactly two weeks later, the Democrats lead in 50 Senate races with Tennessee tied and George Allen’s lead in Virginia dramatically narrowing—and in the House the Democrats now lead 226-205 with four ties, a swing of twelve seats in two weeks, or almost exactly one seat per day. Should these trends hold up, the Democrats--who have really done remarkably little to awaken the public--will have to prove that they actually have some idea of how to get the country back on course. Whoever can do that may actually earn a great place in American history.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Footnote to Wednesday's Post

What passes for diplomacy in this Administration is repeated, categorical statements of what we think should happen, coupled with wildly overoptimisic estimates of how much support we have around the world. No one excels U. N. Ambassador John Bolton at these techniques, but he really outdid himself yesterday. According to this morning's New York Times, Bolton has been pushing (as the U.S. did in Lebanon) for a "chapter VII" resolution--the chapter of the UN Charter that involves authorizing the use of force. Russia and China oppose this. The Times continues:

"Sounding a note of exasperation, Mr. Bolton protested as 'simply incorrect' the interpretation that Chapter VII sets a precedent for military force, as many countries at the United Nations believe it did in Iraq.
'It would require a separate resolution, if one were needed, ot authorize force,' he said."

The U.S. government did, of course, propose a second resolution on Iraq in 2003--but it didn't wait for it to pass.

Later in the story, Mr. Bolton insists that he will not allow a vote on a new resolution to be delayed by endless discussions.

"We are going to continue to work on it," he said, "but we're not going to work on it at the cost of losing sending a swift and strong response."

That the response might lose its effect if the United States had to make it without majority support has, apparently, never occurred to him. The United States has the job of deciding what has to be done; the rest of the world has the job of agreeing, and if they don't, so much the worse for them. We shall pay dearly for this.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Plea for Sanity

While most thinking people understand that the Bush Administration’s foreign policies have been disastrous, they probably underestimate how hard it will be to undo their effects and how influential their underlying assumptions have become over the last six years. For thirty years the US managed, with considerable difficulty, to maintain critical political footholds in the Middle East by cultivating moderate Arab regimes and encouraging peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Now the peace process seems dead (in large part because President Bush in 2002 announced that Israel would be able to annex as much territory as it could settle), we have alienated all the Arab peoples and many of their regimes, and Arab Iraq within ten years will probably be ruled by one or two fundamentalist dictatorships. More troubling still, however, is the way neoconservative thought has become mainstream—most notably in everyone’s reaction to the North Korean purported test of a nuclear weapon and to the Iranian nuclear program.

For at least the firsts thirty years of the nuclear age, our diplomatic positions reflected sound and impartial principles. In 1945, after thirty years of intermittent world conflict, the United States remained committed to a world of sovereign states. The Atlantic Charter of 1941, the foundation of our war aims, simply called for a world in which nations would be free to choose their own form of government, and the UN Charter guaranteed the territorial integrity of all UN members and banned war except in self-defense. The United States attacked the problem of nuclear weapons (which we had created) within this framework. Initially it called for international control of atomic energy and general nuclear disarmament, but the Soviets rejected that plan. During the 1950s the Eisenhower Administration appeared to accept (and even promote) the spread of nuclear weapons, but during the 1960s Democratic and Republican administrations took two huge steps to stop their spread: the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1969. Under the latter treaty, the existing nuclear powers (with the exceptions of France and China, who signed much later, and Israel, which has never acknowledged its status) promised not to spread nuclear weapons, and those non-nuclear states who signed promised not to acquire them. But the treaty also included (and still includes) an obligation for the existing nuclear powers to work for general nuclear disarmament. Strategic arms treaties were the only step the Soviets (and later Russians) and Americans took in that direction.

Since the 1990s India and Pakistan have become full-fledged members of the nuclear club, and North Korea now claims to have joined them. (We would be wise, I think, to await indisputable scientific confirmation that their test was nuclear before treating this as a certainty. Communist regimes have bluffed before.) The Bush Administration has not only called the accession of North Korea and Iran to the club unacceptable on numerous occasions but has also publicly threatened to overthrow any hostile regime that seeks nuclear weapons. Everyone seems to have forgotten that we have no legal basis for making claims like this.

No binding, permanent international law forbids nations from developing any weapon they choose. They can, indeed, renounce weapons by treaty, but the Non-proliferation treaty can, as the North Koreans should have reminded us, be denounced. (The Iranians remain a party.) The argument our government has been making, and which no political figure of either party seems willing to challenge head on, is that nuclear weapons should be limited to nations whom we think should have them. It is, in short, a claim by the United States to rule the world, at least so far as this area of military weaponry goes. And it is not surprising, of course, that when the Bush Administration—at the height of its confidence in American military power—put North Korea and Iran within the “axis of evil” and proclaimed the demise of their governments as a goal of American foreign policy, at least one of those two governments decided that it had better acquire nuclear weapons as soon as possible.

Three huge problems, it seems to me, come out of this position. First of all, we have abandoned the dream of establishing rules for every nation to live by (as we have also done with respect to torture), and substituted the old Athenian rule (which did not save Athens from catastrophe), “the strong do what they will and the weak do what they must.” But the second problem is more practical: no other nation is likely to accept this in the long run. While our European allies on the one hand, and our Asian allies on the other, have agreed that Iran and North Korea should not develop nuclear weapons and have tried diplomatically (that is, in a manner that acknowledges those nations’ freedom of action) to dissuade them from doing so, they have not agreed that we have a right to make war to stop them. And the third problem is similar to the one that has emerged in Iraq: we cannot carry out grandiose schemes for remaking the world without real coalitions such as the one George H. W. Bush put together in 1990-1 to liberate Kuwait. In short, our new policy fails as an impartial moral guide to behavior, lacks significant international support, and cannot, for those very reasons, be successfully executed.

Our whole foreign policy establishment seems to be drunk on the idea of the United States as the world’s strongest power, capable, in theory, of achieving everything it wants. I am not aware of any elected official who has bluntly stated that the transformation of Iraq was beyond our capabilities and should never have been attempted—but that is, I think, a fact. In the same way, I have not heard anyone acknowledge, as our own government did in 1965, that if we want other nations to forsake nuclear weapons we must in principle at least agree eventually to abandon them ourselves. Since the United States, Israel, and the nations of Western Europe seem at this moment to be at by far the greatest risk of a nuclear attack and will never have any real defense against a terrorist strike, I do not think that this would be an unwise goal to adopt. And it was in fact endorsed, repeatedly, by one postwar American President. His name was Ronald Reagan.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The new scandal

Seven or eight years ago, at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, I argued repeatedly to my Republican friends that private sexual matters should be kept out of politics. I even wrote an op-ed speculating about how the public revelation of the affairs of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt or Martin Luther King, Jr., might have changed the course of history, but I couldn’t find a home for it. Now, faced with the Foley scandal, I have to ask myself some hard questions about applying the same standard to this regrettable situation.

Certainly Representative Foley emerges from his instant messages as a very disturbed middle-aged man. They are tasteless, childish, extraordinarily adolescent, and unbelievably indiscreet. He seems to have seen himself like a teenager trying on homosexuality. For the record, however, I do not believe that what he did, based upon what we know so far, should be treated as a crime. The concept of an age of consent is an old one, and in Washington, D. C. in is 16. I would not favor raising it; I have already read about too many prosecutions of 16-year old boys who had sex with 14-year old girls (including one young Kansan who not only impregnated the girl, but married her.) Foley obviously was taking advantage of the charisma of his position as a Congressman, but such things have happened (more commonly in a heterosexual context) for centuries, and there is no way to stop them. (The contemporary feminist argument that such affairs always represent the exploitation of the powerless by the powerful is much too simplistic. Actually it is the lesser person in the hierarchy who often feels more power in such cases.) Foley did not, according to what we know so far, use his position actually to extort sex or threaten pages who did not respond to his advances.

What gives the scandal its interest, it seems to me, is the monstrous Republican hypocrisy that it has revealed (and that may have had something to do with it in the first place.) Foley, who had made legislation against child sexual predators one of his main planks, had gotten away with his behavior for years in full view of his Republican colleagues. Two or three Republican staffers or Congressmen state that Dennis Hastert or his staff had been informed, and they did nothing. But that is not all. The Republican-appointed clerk of the house, who has just resigned (and whose resignation was not commemorated in the usual fashion on the House floor), was gay. So was Foley’s former administrative assistant, who had tried to bring the problem to Hastert’s attention. Indeed, according to the New York Times, there is a considerable network of gay Republican house staffers who are now keeping a very low profile. Meanwhile, no one has ever uncovered anything further about “Jeff Gannon”, the male prostitute who visited the White House dozens of times for purposes that have never been revealed, meanwhile posing as a reporter who fed Scot McClellan softball questions.

The House Republicans, in short, while railing against gay marriage, outlawing gays in the military, and relying largely on the homophobic religious right, have, inevitably, tolerated a substantial gay presence in their midst. That might even explain why Dennis Hastert and his office was so reluctant to do anything about Foley—they knew that revelations would not stop with him. The Republican Party’s anti-gay stance, like claims of imminent victory in Iraq, simply denies reality. Gays are here, even in Republican politics (indeed, they always have been), and are not going away. The sooner we learn to treat them like other Americans, the better off we will all be. But the Republican Party is clinging to the razor-thin majority that has enabled it to exercise almost absolute power for the last four years, and increasingly relying upon constituencies who apparently regard homosexuality as a temptation to which only the weak succumb. (As a lifelong, hopeless heterosexual, this is a view I have never been able to understand.) So desperate are the Republicans to deal with this inevitable gulf between their rhetoric and their behavior that they have begun to argue that the pages somehow entrapped Foley, or that Democrats are somehow to blame for the whole affair. Speaker Hastert’s odd behavior and shell-shocked demeanor suggest that he in fact knows a good deal more than he has let on.

Electoral-vote.com, my favorite source, now shows the Democrats with a tie in the Senate and a 4-5 seat majority in the House, based upon the most recent polls. All week the Democrats have gained a house seat about once every two days. In my opinion the real reason is that the Republicans’ proudest achievement—their ability to “stay on message”—is catching up to them. Their statements on major issues are simply not credible, and they are not what they claim to be. Perhaps more and more Americans seem to feel that they need to be taught a lesson.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Inside the War on Terror

Some weeks ago I referred briefly to Ron Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine, one of a series (including those by James Risen and now, Bob Woodward) attempting to uncover the inner workings of the most secretive Presidency since Richard Nixon. I have now had a chance to read it all, and while it is frustrating and in some ways disappointing, it contains a great deal of information both about the war on terror and about the way the White House works.

Suskind, who has left the Wall Street Journal, has essentially built a new career out of befriending those who could not stick with the Bush Administration. His first book focused on domestic policy through the eyes of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, while this one draws heavily on George Tenet and a number of lesser figures within the CIA. Although Suskind spends too much time of atmospherics for my taste, his sources told him a lot about how the war on terror has really been going and how it has been waged. Brutal interrogations, evidently, have contributed relatively little—raids on Al Queda safe houses that turned up hard drives and documents have provided far more real information—something that will come as no surprise to any trained historian or intelligence professional. One of the first victims of our new interrogation tactics, Abu Zubaydah, was clearly a mentally disturbed individual who could not possibly be relied upon in any case. But according to Suskind’s sources, the President, has been deeply interested and involved in interrogations of suspects from the beginning. Being himself the kind of man who prefers to size people up in person rather than read up on them, he apparently believed that this was the way to find out about the next attack on the US. Not surprisingly, suspects in the midst of harsh interrogations have given up long lists of targets, but most, or even all, of them have not panned out.

This leads to one of Suskind’s main points: that the President insists on relying upon his instincts, and, inevitably, those around him have been reduced to the role of trying to validate them. The title of his book comes from Vice President Cheney’s belief that the Administration had to act to prevent anything that might happen, no matter how low the probability. This prejudices the leadership towards any indication that the worst is really likely, and makes it harder for them to face complex truths. The President himself was amazed to learn that Zawahiri, Al Queda’s second in command (whose death was falsely assumed in 2002 when some one else’s head was sold to the CIA as his), had canceled an attack on New York subways a year or two after 9/11. Even Suskind does not dare play with a fairly obvious conclusion. The 9/11 attacks brought American troops and Jihad into Afghanistan, and then into the heart of the Arab world in Iraq—a godsend to Osama Bin Laden, as many have noted. Another attack on the United States might actually destroy his sanctuary in Pakistan. Extremism is already winning the growing struggle in the Muslim world, and there is no need to risk the impact of the deaths of hundreds or thousands of additional Americans now.

What successes we have had—and there have been quite a few—have come from cooperation with foreign intelligence services in places like Pakistan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Cooperation hasn’t been perfect; the governments of those nations are obviously walking a tightrope (and as American policies in the Middle East make their lives more difficult, they will probably tack further towards the side of the insurgents.) Tenet, by his own account, became the key American diplomatic envoy to the region, relaying critical messages directly to his intelligence counterparts. Two CIA directors later, one wonders how well that cooperation has held up since his departure.

Suskind’s measured, often elliptical prose, struck me as inadequate to the task he had set himself. It is an almost conscious counterpoint to the blunt, often faith-based assertions of the Administration. He knows he belongs to the “reality-based community” which the Administration disdains, but he writes almost as an impartial observer, rather than as a partisan of rationality. I personally doubt that this kind of stance is a luxury members of the reality-based community can afford. In the same way, sooner or later, the religious right will have to be challenged by a renaissance of militant atheism if religion is going to return to its rightful place within an Enlightenment democracy—that is, a source of personal comfort rather than a reference point for public policy.

The One Percent Solution confirmed my belief that the Administration will not change its course, and my conviction that we must separate the actual war on terror—the identification and neutralization of terrorist networks—from our misguided plans to use American force to transform the Middle East. It highlights what is probably the worst threat we face—an alliance between Pakistani nuclear no-how and terrorists—but suggests that intergovernmental cooperation took care of that at a relatively early stage. (Much post-9/11 hysteria arose after a report of a meeting between Pakistani scientists and Bin Laden.) It suggests that traditional tools, enhanced by digital methods, can be successful enough against the terrorist threat to the United States, while taking no position on the future of the Middle East. But the Bush Administration, whatever the outcome of the midterm elections, will continue its apparently hopeless fight in Iraq, and may well send air strikes against Iran to try to eliminate its supposed (though certainly not yet actual) nuclear capability.

One passage from the book particularly caught my eye:

"The Cheney Doctrine released George W. Bush from his area of greatest weakness--the analytical abilities so prized in America's professional class--and freed his decision making to rely on inmpulse and improvisation to a dgree that was without precedent for a modern president."

On October 21, 2004, I posted "George W. Bush: Man of the Sixties." The President frequently refers to the supposedly discredited mantra of that era, "If it feels good, do it--if you've got a problem, blame some one else." But is there really any difference between relying on "impulse and improvisation" and simply doing what feels good? Isn't the Administration increasingly blaming the Democratic Party and the media for its woes? We are all, alas, marked by our generational impulses to some degree or another--whatever our politics.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kissinger then and now

For exactly 35 years I have been plying my trade as a professional historian, teaching, doing archival research, and writing. My work has usually (although not always) concentrated on great questions of war and peace, the questions that dominated professional history at its inception in the mid-nineteenth century in Germany and elsewhere, and which have produced in my judgment most of the greatest works in the western historical tradition. In recent years I have been able to improve my efficiency considerably with the help of contemporary technology. Most of the research for my current project (on the United States, Cuba, and covert action in the early 1960s, including assassination plots against both Castro and Kennedy) is stored on Excel spreadsheets, which not only enable me to find half-forgotten data within seconds, but also creates the text of footnotes to order. Meanwhile, in an even more important trend, huge collections of data such as Foreign Relations of the United States are becoming available online. Inevitably this trend will go on until entire archives can be accessed instantaneously from anywhere in the world, opening up undreamed-of opportunities for scholarship.

Paradoxically, however, while these opportunities have grown, my own profession has lost interest not only in questions of war and peace, but in how governments make decisions. My contemporaries in academia decided around the time I was starting my career that the state in general, and war in particular, were evil—largely because they were dominated by white males—and that one might make such evils atrophy by ignoring them. Diplomatic and military history are extinct in many major departments (although they still have beachheads at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania), and many very bright students pass through college history programs without learning basic historic political facts. (About fifteen years ago a colleague told me she had met a graduate student who could not identify the Weimar Republic.) Never have we had so many opportunities to learn, and so little enthusiasm for learning.

Because young reporters learn, or fail to learn, basic research tools in college, this trend is having an effect on the media as well. Today’s media stars have no time for sustained analysis—they want sound bites that they can read on 60 Minutes. This brings me to Bob Woodward’s new book, in which he evidently turns on the Bush Administration with the zeal of an apostate. Much could be written about the data that has already emerged from it, but I am going to focus on one small point—a memo from Henry Kissinger to Richard Nixon, written in September 1969, raising questions about American troop withdrawals. According to Woodward, Kissinger has been citing our Vietnam experience (and perhaps this memo) to argue that we must not even begin troop withdrawals from Iraq, so as not to set off an irresistible momentum. Intrigued, I went right to the State Department website, opened the correct chronological portion of the on-line volume of Foreign Relations, searched for “salted peanuts”—a featured phrase—and found the memo. It is a great deal more interesting than Woodward let on.

Vietnamization was, of course, an exact parallel to our supposed current strategy in Iraq—that of training Iraqi forces to take over for us. President Nixon had already adopted it as a pillar of his strategy, although when Kissinger wrote his memo Nixon had announced only one entirely trivial troop withdrawal. (The main pressure for troop withdrawals came from the Pentagon, where military leaders knew the war was wrecking the American military. Donald Rumsfeld may in fact still be Secretary of Defense for a related reason—that the President and Vice President know that only he would hold out against the advice of our military leaders to wind the conflict down.) What is truly striking about the Kissinger memo is his recognition that the strategy was not going to work, that our allies were fatally weak, and that, implicitly, Hanoi was almost certain to win the war.

With extraordinary accuracy, Kissinger outlined the probable course of Vietnamization in September 1969:

“’Vietnamization’ must be considered both with regard to its prospects for allowing us to turn the war over to the Vietnamese, and with regard to its effect on Hanoi and U.S. public opinion. I am not optimistic about the ability of the South Vietnamese armed forces to assume a larger part of the burden than current MACV plans allow. These plans, however, call for a thirty-month period in which to turn the burden

of the war over to the GVN. I do not believe we have this much time. “

In fact, the Administration did have that much time, but the 30-month period Kissinger foresaw took it exactly to March 1972, the eve of Hanoi’s next huge offensive, which during the next two months nearly brought down the Saigon government. Only the remaining American advisors and a huge infusion of American air power halted that offensive, although the North Vietnamese emerged in a much stronger position than before. Kissinger, however, could not have been very surprised by all this. As he wrote in the same memo:

“The more troops are withdrawn, the more Hanoi will be encouraged—

they are the last people we will be able to fool about the ability of the South Vietnamese to take over from us. They have the option of attacking GVN forces to embarrass us throughout the process or of waiting until we have largely withdrawn before doing so (probably after a period of higher infiltration).”

Kissinger went on to predict that North Vietnam would successfully wait the United States out. In an effort to find a way to win, his staff, just weeks later, proposed a new military option, Duck Hook, whose major feature was a bombing campaign against North Vietnamese agricultural dikes. (The National Security Archive, with the help of historian Jeffrey Kimball, has recently released important documents on this plan. Nixon eventually rejected it, perhaps recognizing that its results would not justify the domestic and international outcry it provoked.) But perhaps Kissinger’s worries about time related to the 1972 election—what he really wanted to do was to preserve South Vietnam until then. In that, he barely succeeded.

The memo is also surprisingly acute about the political weakness of the South Vietnamese government.

”’Vietnamization’ depends on broadening the GVN, and Thieu’s

new government is not significantly broader than the old (see below).

The best way to broaden the GVN would be to create the impression

that the Saigon government is winning or at least permanent. The more

uncertainty there is about the outcome of the war, the less the prospect

for “Vietnamization.”

“(3) We face a dilemma with the GVN: The present GVN cannot

go much farther towards a political settlement without seriously endangering

its own existence; but at the same time, it has not gone far

enough to make such a settlement likely.

“Thieu’s failure to “broaden” his government is disturbing, but not

because he failed to include a greater variety of Saigon’s Tea House

politicians. It is disturbing because these politicians clearly do not believe

that Thieu and his government represent much hope for future

power, and because the new government does not offer much of a

bridge to neutralist figures who could play a role in a future settlement.

This is not to mention his general failure to build up political

strength in non-Catholic villages. In addition, as U.S. troops are withdrawn,

Thieu becomes more dependent on the political support of the

South Vietnamese military.”

Kissinger, in other words, knew everything he needed to know in September 1969. We had not won the war (although he pointed out that repeated North Vietnamese offensives over the last eighteen months had left the enemy at a temporary disadvantage and in need of regrouping.) The South Vietnamese could not cope with the enemy, and the Thieu government was weak politically. A similar appreciation of Iraq today, it seems to me, would note that the insurgency was continually getting stronger; that its real political rival was Shi’ite fundamentalism, closely allied with the U.S.-supported government; and that our vision of a united, pluralistic Iraq clearly had no future.

But neither then nor now, apparently, was Kissinger willing to draw a reality-based conclusion. Since South Vietnam was almost certain to fall eventually anyway, we might have given the North Vietnamese the coalition government in the South that they demanded and at least spared the Indochinese people six more years of heavy fighting and millions of tons of American bombs. (Peace in 1969 might also have preserved Prince Sihanouk in power in Cambodia, and we would never have heard of the Khmer Rouge.) That, however, was politically unacceptable, both domestically and, in Nixon and Kissinger’s eyes, internationally. In the same way, facing reality—that Iraq will never turn out as we had hoped and that continued insurgency and civil war are further strengthening extremism—is not an option, apparently, in the Bush Administration.

As I mentioned yesterday, Kissinger’s real betrayal came in 1975, when he decided to blame the American people for the loss of South Vietnam. (While US aid to the South had been reduced—not cut off—in 1973-4, it has been shown by scholarship and even by a contemporary Pentagon report that the South Vietnamese had not even received all the equipment they had been promised. They collapsed from political weakness, not from lack of supplies.) And as I pointed out yesterday, the only purpose I can see to holding the course in Iraq for two more years is to blame President Bush’s successor for whatever happens afterwards, rather than accept that we have made one of the worst strategic miscalculations in American history. Meanwhile the violence in Iraq will get worse.

Let us not, however, mince words. The net effect of the invasion of Iraq will indeed be negative, because two-thirds of that country will almost certainly wind up under the control of militant Islamists of one kind or another. Like the Egyptian nationalist government that still survives, the Ba’athist regime in Iraq (and in Syria) was a relatively modern form of government for the Arab world, but the tides have been running against such regimes for at least thirty years. Our invasion may only have accelerated something that was likely to happen anyway—but the map of the Middle East will be worse, from the American point of view, when we do, inevitably, leave. Kurdistan may easily remain friendly, but it is already causing problems in neighboring Turkey. The negative result, however, is no reason to continue staying the course, because staying the course will not in the end stave it off. It is more likely to make it worse.

What should we do? In my opinion, we should convene a regional summit and invite all the Iraqi parties, including the insurgents, to discuss the boundaries of a new federalized Iraq—or perhaps, even, three states. Reconciliation among Sunnis and Shi’ites was never likely, as Peter Galbraith has argued, and now seems utterly impossible. We should try to write some human rights guarantees into any new constitutions, and we should try to make any movements of populations as peaceful as possible. We should also stand ready to rebuild Iraq, but only after Iraqis have once again stabilized their country sufficiently to allow reconstruction to take place. We are three and a half years into this war, a moment corresponding to the fall of 1968 in Vietnam. By then, as now, the American people had realized that this latest military adventure was a mistake, but successive American governments still sacrificed tens of thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of others, to a hopeless vision. We still do not have to do that again.