John Kerry has done many things in his life, some of them have even been productive. His most recent editorial piece in the New York Times is not one of those things. What the junior senator from Massachusetts fails to recognize, aside from the complete contradiction of his message, is that simply hoping democracy will take hold in Iraq is ridiculous.
We have an obligation to assist in the management of a smooth transition to complete Iraqi control of their nation. Mr. Kerry makes specious arguments comparing the Iraq conflict to Vietnam. At the outset of his diatribe he claims that half of the deaths in Vietnam occurred after the cause was viewed as “unwinnable” by the government of the United States. Leaving aside the dubious sourcing or accuracy of his statement, the analogy would be that he believes Iraq to be “unwinnable”. He further advocates withdrawal or garrisoning of troops in Iraq to force a faters conversion to an independent government. It’s the old sink or swim approach with a touch of Soviet era strategy from Afghanistan.
In my mind, departure from an unwinnable situation equates to surrender. In his writings he calls for a “tough love” departure date in the next six weeks. A May 15 deadline for withdrawal of troops is both insulting to the Iraqis and logistically impossible. Additionally, seeking to include the Iraqi factions in some “Dayton-like” accords (referencing the Clinton sponsored meetings over Bosnia – where we still have troops deployed, by the way) would only work if the parties engaged in hostilities had expressed some political desire.
There are two sets of forces arrayed against the Iraqi government and coalition. One are external Al-Queda fighters and the other are Baathist Sunnis seeking a return to their reign as it was under Saddam. Most, if not all, of this violence is confined to the Sunni triangle. Ironically, he echoes the words of NYT columnist Thomas Friedman when he asks for this undertaking, reinforcing my belief that he has not had an original idea in his career.
Kerry lost the 2004 election in large part because he was unconvincing. His Senate record continually arose to haunt him. The American public wants many things from a President, one of those things is a clear and committed vision. These have been exhibited by Reagan, Clinton and the present Bush. They were not exhibited by the likes of Ford, Carter or Bush Sr. In October of 2002 Senator Kerry made a speech on the Senate floor in which he said;
“I believe the record of Saddam Hussein's ruthless, reckless breach of international values and standards of behavior which is at the core of the cease-fire agreement, with no reach, no stretch, is cause enough for the world community to hold him accountable by use of force, if necessary. The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but as I said, it is not new. It has been with us since the end of that war, and particularly in the last 4 years we know after Operation Desert Fox failed to force him to reaccept them, that he has continued to build those weapons.”
A pretty ringing endorsement of the facts as we knew them. A set of facts which has been substantiated by commissions in the UK and the United States. In his litany of complaints, he proposes that the weapons or capabilities were “supposed”. The implication is clear, Bush lied. Horrors! The facts from the ground, however, do not support this treatise, no matter how much people would like to believe it to be true. Documents from Iraq continue to indicate a more complicated network of cooperation with terrorist organizations and activity to rebuild the weapons program which Iraq had previously used to further its ends.
During the 2004 election Kerry's war position laid out a four point plan for Iraq. In that plan he identified the following as critical to success;
1) “First, the president has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don't have to go it alone.”
Done – multinational agencies, firms and governments all have a hand in the rebuilding of Iraq. Some to greater or lesser extents than the US. More than 20,000 troops from 26 nations are on the ground in Iraq. They range from UK and Italian forces to elements from Fiji in support of the UN Mission.
2) "Second, the president must get serious about training Iraqi security forces. The president should urgently expand the security forces training program inside and outside Iraq.”
Also Done – Iraqi forces now number more than 240,000 (including Army and Police).
3) "Third, the president must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people.”
Ditto – Iraqi reconstruction is now ahead of schedule. The GDP of Iraq has leapt from 18.9bn in 2002 (before the invasion) to 33.1bn in 2005.
4) "Fourth, the president must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year. If the president would move in this direction, if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces, train the Iraqis to provide their own security, develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people, and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year -- we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years."
Uh, likewise – I am beginning to wonder if Mr. Kerry or his staff even know how to conduct research.
So, Senator, you advocate troops returning by the Fall of 2008, from your own plan.
In the April piece, Mr. Kerry states that the deployments in Iraq have strained military readiness and weakened our position with Iran. I wrote about our possible approach (militarily) to Iran. Having almost ten divisions of troops across the border from Iran, hardly sounds like an unprepared position. There is no hard evidence of failing morale or unpreparedness among our military. Are we stretched? You bet! What can we do? We should have accelerated our departure from Europe long ago. Many of the radical changes underway in our force structure should have been implemented much sooner.
With a little effort, a determined individual can begin to understand the complexities of the situation in Iraq and its relationship to the broader world. Mr. Kerry is not one of these individuals. His comments do a disservice to the efforts of the people (from all nations) working in Iraq and provide short shrift to the notion of American commitment to providing a stable and sustainable nation in the form of a democratic Iraq.
In short, Mr. Kerry has no concept of what it will take to finish operations in Iraq. He quotes weary rhetoric and wishful thinking as supporting arguments for his weak proposition. His reference to “flag” officers further indicates his ignorance of the present military structure (non-Navy senior officers are usually referred to as General Officers). Although repeated deployments have taken a toll, we are in fact the military – it’s what we do. We execute the nation’s diplomacy, when words have failed and national interests are at stake.
There are a number of very good sources for discussion over the best approach to strategy in Iraq.
Mr. Kerry is not one of them.