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Thursday, November 06, 2003

There he goes again

Yesterday, Senator John McCain gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations entitled "U.S. Situation in Iraq and Afghanistan." Some media outlets carried stories with excerpts today (actually, the CFR used to have a "not for attribution policy"), but I'm linking to the full text.

While most media focused on McCain's claim that the US needs to deploy more troops in Iraq, the transcript certainly includes many zingers about the overall US policy. I think this is my favorite quote from the text:
There can be little political or economic progress in Iraq until the United States creates a stable and secure environment there. Prematurely placing the burden of security on Iraqis is not the answer. Hastily trained Iraqi security forces cannot be expected to accomplish what U.S. forces have not yet succeeded in doing: defeating the Ba'athists and international terrorists inside Iraq. It is irresponsible to suggest that it is up to Iraqis to win this war. In doing so, we shirk the responsibility that we willingly incurred when we assumed the burden of liberating and transforming their country, for their sake and our own. If the U.S. military, the world's best fighting force, can't defeat the Iraqi insurgents, how do we expect Iraqi militiamen with only weeks of training to do any better?
You might recognize the bolded part since I've heard Defense Secretary Rumsfeld say that it is up to the Iraqis to win the war. And indeed, McCain actually began his speech by criticizing Rumsfield more directly.
When our secretary of Defense says that it's up to the Iraqi people to defeat the Ba'athists and terrorists, we send a message that America's exit from Iraq is ultimately more important than the achievement of American goals in Iraq. We send a signal to every Iraqi -- ally, neutral and adversary -- that the United States is more interested in leaving than we are in winning.

...[snip some paragraphs]

When the United States announces a schedule for training and deploying Iraqi security officers, then announces the acceleration of that schedule, then accelerates it again, it sends a signal of desperation, not certitude. When in the course of days we increase by thousands our estimate of the numbers of Iraqis trained, it sounds like somebody is cooking the books. When we do this as our forces are coming under increasing attack, we suggest to friends and allies alike that our ultimate goal in Iraq is leaving as soon as possible, not meeting our strategic objective of building a free and democratic country in the heart of the Arab world.
The Senator apparently agrees with me that the lack of WMD makes the Iraq mission unclear:
We must explain to the American people what our soldiers are dying for in Iraq, why their sacrifice matters, why we must win, and how we will win -- not how quickly we can get out and leave the Iraqis to their fate.
Much of the text is devoted to explaining why Iraq is no Vietnam. The insurgents are not popular, they have no sanction in neighboring states, and are not being assisted by the populace. Nonetheless, there are appropriate Vietnam comparisons. For example,
We can win the war in Iraq, but not if we lose popular support in the United States of America.
McCain is also concerned about the political legitimacy questions I've raised here. Bluntly, he's for Iraqification of the political structure, but against Iraqification of the security forces. This is almost directly opposite of what the Bush administration is doing:
While Iraqification will not solve our immediate security problems, I believe we must move more quickly to transfer meaningful political authority to Iraqi leaders. The Coalition Provisional Authority continues to make a fundamental mistake in the way it interacts with the Iraqi people. The CPA seems to think that all wisdom is made in America, and that the Iraqi people were defeated, not liberated. For all the comparisons of post-war Iraq to Germany and Japan in 1945, the examples of Italy and France, liberated countries whose people were largely on our side, may be more instructive. The United States is treated as an occupying force in Iraq partly because we are not treating Iraqis as a liberated people.

Sometimes, Ambassador Bremer's office appears as inclined to criticize the Iraqi Governing Council as to work in partnership with it. It is astonishing to many friends of Iraq that the United States created the Governing Council but has not worked sufficiently to help it succeed. Too often, the Governing Council finds itself on the receiving end of orders from the CPA, rather than working in partnership with the CPA to improve daily life in Iraq. The United States will not succeed in Iraq if the Governing Council fails.
In the Q&A, McCain highlighted the fact that recent UN votes and donor conferences notwithstanding, nobody else in the world has really stepped forward to aid the US in Iraq:
I just know of no ally right now, or friend, that is willing to make a significant contribution to our effort there in Iraq.
Bloggers who have criticized the President's recent rhetoric suggesting that the enemy attacks signal US progress will like this one:
No, I didn't agree when the deputy secretary of Defense is in the Al-Rashid Hotel and it's hit by rockets and administration officials say that's a sign of progress. (Laughter.) God spare us more progress!
McCain is so frank, it's easy to see why the media was enamored in 2000. Who doesn't agree with this?
And what I worry about, unless we get to the bottom of this whole thing -- what intelligence reports, what led to certain statements made by certain officials -- is that maybe the next time, Iran, North Korea -- I'm not, you know -- but the next time there may be some kind of crisis -- and we all know that the weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them is one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century -- that the American people may be less accepting of an argument that an administration may make. That's what bothers me about that, not what we did on Iraq.
McCain started his address by saying that all Senators are running for President. I don't think he is, but this was a pretty thorough critique of Bush administration policy.

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