Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Past Problems, Future Results

John Kerry just gave a major Iraq Speech at New York University.

TNR's "etc" says that Kerry hit a Triple. I think that its more along the lines of a Double. On the one hand, I really like Kerry's proposal on what he'd be doing in Iraq right now:
First, the President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don’t have to go it alone. It is late; the President must respond by moving this week to gain and regain international support.
The President should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major powers and Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly. He should insist that they make good on that U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific, but critical roles, in training Iraqi security personnel and securing Iraq’s borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process.

This will be difficult. I and others have repeatedly recommended this from the very beginning. Delay has made only made it harder. After insulting allies and shredding alliances, this President may not have the trust and confidence to bring others to our side in Iraq. But we cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us. That is the only way to succeed.

Second, the President must get serious about training Iraqi security forces.

Last February, Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that more than 210,000 Iraqis were in uniform. Two weeks ago, he admitted that claim was exaggerated by more than 50 percent. Iraq, he said, now has 95,000 trained security forces.

But guess what? Neither number bears any relationship to the truth. For example, just 5,000 Iraqi soldiers have been fully trained, by the administration’s own minimal standards. And of the 35,000 police now in uniform, not one has completed a 24-week field-training program. Is it any wonder that Iraqi security forces can’t stop the insurgency or provide basic law and order?

The President should urgently expand the security forces training program inside and outside Iraq. He should strengthen the vetting of recruits, double classroom training time, and require follow-on field training. He should recruit thousands of qualified trainers from our allies, especially those who have no troops in Iraq. He should press our NATO allies to open training centers in their countries. And he should stop misleading the American people with phony, inflated numbers.

Third, the President must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people.

Last week, the administration admitted that its plan was a failure when it asked Congress for permission to radically revise spending priorities in Iraq. It took 17 months for them to understand that security is a priority … 17 months to figure out that boosting oil production is critical … 17 months to conclude that an Iraqi with a job is less likely to shoot at our soldiers.

One year ago, the administration asked for and received $18 billion to help the Iraqis and relieve the conditions that contribute to the insurgency. Today, less than a $1 billion of those funds have actually been spent. I said at the time that we had to rethink our policies and set standards of accountability. Now we’re paying the price.

Now, the President should look at the whole reconstruction package…draw up a list of high visibility, quick impact projects… and cut through the red tape. He should use more Iraqi contractors and workers, instead of big corporations like Halliburton. He should stop paying companies under investigation for fraud or corruption. And he should fire the civilians in the Pentagon responsible for mismanaging the reconstruction effort.

Fourth, the President must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year.

Credible elections are key to producing an Iraqi government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people and an assembly to write a Constitution that yields a viable power sharing arrangement.

Because Iraqis have no experience holding free and fair elections, the President agreed six months ago that the U.N. must play a central role. Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the U.N. Secretary General and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt. Because the security situation is so bad… and because not a single country has offered troops to protect the U.N. elections mission… the U.N. has less than 25 percent of the staff it needs in Iraq to get the job done.

The President should recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force. This won’t be easy. But even countries that refused to put boots on the ground in Iraq should still help protect the U.N. We should also intensify the training of Iraqis to manage and guard the polling places that need to be opened. Otherwise, U.S forces would end up bearing those burdens alone.

I think its very clear that this proposal is vastly superior to Bush's head-in-the-sand approach. Indeed, if you asked me, I couldn't tell you what Bush's strategy for Iraq is at the moment, beyond empty phrases like "winning the war" and "creating a healthy democracy." With all due respect, that's rhetorical crap, and Bush has not done one thing that would suggest he is serious about these or any other goal he's set for Iraq.

Also, this line particularly struck me:
In the dark days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Europe to build support. Acheson explained the situation to French President de Gaulle. Then he offered to show him highly classified satellite photos, as proof. De Gaulle waved the photos away, saying: “The word of the President of the United States is good enough for me.”

How many world leaders have that same trust in America’s president, today?

That loss of trust is both true and deeply tragic. I think Sen. Kerry is right to emphasize it.

The negatives in the speech come in two areas. First, Kerry continues to muddle his position on whether or not we were right, originally, to go into Iraq. Ideally, this should be tangential to the main point, which is 'what do we do now that we're there?' But the Bush campaign has seized upon this as the trump example of an indecisive Kerry, and I'm not happy that Kerry seemed to make Bush's job easier.

The other problem comes with regards to troop deployment. Kerry appears to simultaneously argue that Bush didn't commit enough troops to Iraq to stabilize it (which is true), and that Iraq drew our attention and manpower away from Al-Qaeda, enabling Osama Bin Laden to escape (which is also true). Both of these are accurate criticisms, but they are mutually exclusive in terms of remedy. In terms of political realities, we could only deploy enough troops to do one of these jobs, not both. This isn't to absolve Bush of his incompetence on the matter, since he allocated too few troops to BOTH projects. But I'm confused as to Kerry's proposed solution here, though ultimately it doesn't take away from the positives of his plan as a whole.

What I like most about this speech is that it attacks Bush on his home territory. The Accountability President? Then why were the only people fired over Iraq those who made accurate predictions? The need to be tough against terrorists? Then why is Bush flailing blindly at the "main front" for the war on terror? The need for solid, argumentative coherency (as opposed to "flipflopping")? Bush gave 23 reasons for the war in Iraq, the majority of which are discredited.

The more I think about it, the more I'm voting for Kerry because of all the reasons Bush strategists say I should vote for Bush. I want a President who stand solidly against terror, will aggressively move to target them, knows the importance and utter paramounce of homeland security, and above all, does not subordinate the safety of American people to score quick political points. On all of these fronts, President Bush has objectively been a disaster, and Sen. Kerry appears to have a remedy. That's enough for me.

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