Monday, September 27, 2004

Failure Is Not an Option. It's a Fait Accompli 

Via our distinguished colleague Prometheus 6, a dose of straight talk from retired Air Force Colonel Mike Turner, who helped CentCom plan Desert Shield and Desert Storm: the war in Iraq is lost. Under Kerry, it might be possible to make the best of a dismal situation (and Turner sets out a four-step plan to do so). Under Bush, however, things can only get worse:
One of the great mysteries of this election is the inability of John Kerry to challenge George W. Bush on his national-security credentials and to hold his administration accountable for its monumental failure in Iraq. These two issues remain the soft underbelly of the Bush campaign. That the Kerry campaign hasn't effectively exploited them is disheartening. That he's allowed Bush to actually spin them into strengths is mind-boggling. Since the American people seem to be buying the GOP's reality-TV version of events in Iraq, let's take a hard look at the military realities.

From a purely military standpoint, the war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. This administration failed to make even a cursory effort at adequately defining the political end state they sought to achieve by removing Saddam Hussein, making it impossible to precisely define long-term military success. That, in turn, makes it impossible to lay out a rational exit strategy for U.S. troops. Like Vietnam, the military is again being asked to clean up the detritus of a failed foreign policy. We are nose-deep in a protracted insurgency, an occupying Christian power in an oil-rich, Arab country. That country is not now and has never been a single nation. A single, unified, democratic Iraq comprised of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis is a willfully ignorant illusion at best.

Two thirds of America's combat brigades are now tied down in this war which, under present conditions, is categorically unwinnable. Having alienated virtually every major ally who might help, our troops are simply targets. If Bush is re-elected, there are only two possible outcomes in Iraq:
  • Four years from now, America will have 5,000 dead servicemen and women and an untold number of dead Iraqis at a cost of about $1 trillion, yet still be no closer to success than we are right now, or:
  • The U.S. will be gone, and we will witness the birth of a violent breeding ground for Shiite terrorists posing a far greater threat to Americans than a contained Saddam . . . .
If the Bush administration remains in power, failure in Iraq is a virtual certainty. "Staying the course" during a crisis spiraling rapidly downward will cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, will continue to sap the operational readiness of this nation's armed forces, and will continue to strengthen Al Qaeda's hand. To paraphrase FDR, it's time to change horses. The one we're on is about to drown.
See also Fareed Zakaria's guide to Thursday's debate, "How to Pick a War President."

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