The war in Iraq has gotten so ugly that even some nervous-Nellie conservatives have started wondering whether George W. Bush bit off more than the United States can chew. Columnist George Will has questioned Bush’s inability — or unwillingness — to reconsider the mission in Iraq. Representative Henry Hyde, a leading Republican, complained, “It would be foolish, not to say ruinously arrogant, to believe that we can determine the future of Iraq.” And Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, declared that Bush’s vision may be unrealistic and unwise: “We need to restrain what are growing U.S. messianic instincts, a sort of global social engineering where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated to promote democracy, by force if necessary.” Yet neoconservatives — the band that sold the war in Iraq as America’s gift to the Middle East and the world — remain unbowed by developments in Iraq. In fact, they want more.
The neocons’ aspirations — and illusions (or delusions) — were placed on display recently, when Thomas Donnelly, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (a.k.a. Neocon Central Command), presented a paper at a conference titled, without irony, “Winning Iraq.” Donnelly used to be director of strategic communications at Lockheed Martin and the number two at the Project for the New American Century, a neocon outfit overseen by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, which was urging Washington to invade Iraq for years before 9/11.
With this paper, Donnelly revealed that neocons are watching the war on a cable channel that the rest of us don’t get. “The pendulum inside Iraq is . . . swinging slowly and painfully but clearly in an American direction,” he writes. He notes that “the insurgents have failed in their effort to attack the essential center of gravity, the will of the American people. President Bush, his administration and the American people as a whole have remained fundamentally unshaken in their commitment to complete the victory in Iraq, despite the casualties and the cost.” Yet polls show only about a third of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of the war, and in some surveys half say the war wasn’t worth it. “The resistance has had little to show for months of violence,” Donnelly argues. “The ‘sea’ of the Iraqi people is drying up for the insurgents, and the effort to spark a civil war has failed.” But the last Gallup Poll taken in Iraq found that 57 percent of the respondents want the United States to leave immediately. Hearts and minds — as the cliché goes — are not being won in either Iraq or the United States.
But Donnelly and stay-the-course neocons are not detached from reality only in their assessment of the ongoing situation. They are out of touch in their prescription for the future, which essentially amounts to this: Onward!
In a move reminiscent of the ploys of old communist and socialist partisans, Donnelly has attempted to hijack the so-called Bush doctrine. This doctrine is conventionally defined as Bush’s pledge to go after terrorists and the states that harbor and support terrorists. But that’s not good enough for the neocons. Donnelly maintains that under the Bush doctrine, “the primary strategic goal for the United States is to establish a new, more representative and truly stable order in the greater Middle East.” Ponder that a moment: the primary strategic goal. That means that the first priority of U.S. security policy is remaking the Middle East. What a tall order, especially given the — ahem — difficulties that have been encountered in Iraq.
The neocons are up to the challenge, though they doubt Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s commitment to their cause. Before the prison-abuse scandal, Kristol and other neocons had suggested Rumsfeld should vacate the Pentagon because he was not in sync with their call for more troops (in Iraq and elsewhere) to carry out their version of the Bush doctrine. In his paper, Donnelly writes, “The Pentagon clearly failed to anticipate how the Iraqis would fight, or at least failed to judge the level of guerrilla resistance. Conversely, the Bush doctrine makes it clear that the Middle East is where U.S. forces are most likely to be engaged. Moreover, the difficulty of suppressing the insurgency in Iraq has revealed that the American military is inadequately sized and structured for long-term constabulary missions.”
That is, the U.S. military is not big enough to handle other invasions and occupations that may be necessary as the United States seeks to transform the Middle East. Donnelly does not specify where these invasions and occupations might occur. But he does at least have enough of a toehold in reality to gripe that the ambitious “goals of the Bush doctrine cannot be secured” without a much larger American military. He told me he would be happy to see the size of the U.S. Army doubled, but he would settle for a 50 percent boost. After all, he notes, we don’t have many allies in this quest: “But for the British and some small bands of other allies, we stand alone,” he writes. “We must accept that fact and adapt to it.” So full steam ahead for Pax Americana; next stop, the entire Middle East.
After Donnelly summarized his paper at the AEI conference, Steven Metz, director of research at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, spoke and, in a rather polite fashion, said Donnelly was nuts. He noted that the neocons’ campaign was predicated on three fundamental assumptions: that an outside force, such as the United States, can play a decisive role in removing obstacles to democracy in the Middle East; that a democratic Middle East is worth the costs and will be more amenable to U.S. interests and less supportive of fundamentalist terrorism; and that a democratic Iraq can be a catalyst for democracy in the region. None of these assumptions, he suggested, is grounded in fact. Outside nations played important but not decisive roles in the democratization of Latin America and Eastern Europe, Metz noted. New and fragile democratic governments in the Middle East might reinforce themselves by pandering to their citizens and adopting anti-American positions. And there’s no telling if a democratic Iraq — if one comes to be — can serve as a model for its neighbors. “I hope this is true,” Metz said. “But we have not debated the analysis — whether this is true . . . We’ve gone barreling into this based on assumptions.” Translated: You neocon guys have no idea what you’re talking about; you’re wishing, not thinking.
With Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD stockpiles still MIA, Donnelly said, “The only argument [for the war] that will stand the test of time is the transformation/liberation argument.” In other words, since Bush screwed the pooch on WMD, the way he can now justify this high-cost war and occupation is by embracing the neocons’ long-term goals, which just so happen to commit the United States to expanding its military presence even more in the Middle East. But this is ass backwards. Rush into a war (for no good immediate reason), ignore the signs of fundamental trouble, and then redefine the mess as progress in the first step of a noble crusade that compels the United States to mess about further in the Middle East. Say what you want about the neocons; these guys have chutzpah.