Thursday, May 20, 2004

In 1966, as it was starting to become apparent that the whole Vietnam thing was something of a problem, Senator George Aiken proposed that the United States' best way out of the mess was to declare victory and, well... he talked about "de-escalation" and "gradual redeployment of forces", but it's usually glossed as "declare victory and withdraw."

I've suggested myself a couple of times now that we might want to consider that idea in our current fight -- but last week, the (conservative) David Brooks did me one better, arguing that it would be irresponsible of us to withdraw before we have arranged a political, if not a military, defeat:

Now, looking ahead, we face another irony. To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over us. If the future textbooks of a free Iraq get written, the toppling of Saddam will be vaguely mentioned in one clause in one sentence. But the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American occupation will be lavishly described, page after page. For us to succeed in Iraq, we have to lose.

That means the good Iraqis, the ones who support democracy, have to have a forum in which they can defy us. If the insurgents are the only anti-Americans, then there will always be a soft spot for them in the hearts of Iraqi patriots.

Now fast-forward to today's news of police raids on the home of former neocon pet Ahmad Chalabi, and even some of Josh Marshall's well-connected sources are apparently wondering whether this isn't some kind of slick neocon plot to put the plan Brooks described into effect, setting up Chalabi to lead the resistance against us. (Brooks does have access to at least some of the thinking of the administration's neocon faction, through personal connections; I'd describe him as a neoconservative himself -- he's coauthored articles with William Kristol -- except that in another widely lampooned Times column, he tried to deny that neoconservatives exist).

Marshall's gut says that it's not a likely theory:

Something quite that orchestrated would, I suspect, be far too difficult to pull-off. And are we dealing here with smooth operators? Answers itself, doesn't it?

To which I might add that the neocon Project for a New American Century is about more than just conquering establishing a friendly regime in Iraq, though they were plotting that much in the late '90s -- it's about establishing America as the globe's unique hegemon, unchallenged and impregnable. It's about our reputation as much as anything we actually do. And so it's hard to imagine these guys actually choosing to deliberately drop trou and get our butts kicked -- even if that would leave the Iraqis better off.

And as to the factions in the administration other than the neocons, well, by all reliable accounts they hate Chalabi's guts.

In the end, I'm somewhat reminded of a time a couple of years ago (my, how time flies) when Dubya had kind of embarassed himself by first calling Ariel Sharon a "man of peace", enraging the Saudis, then took a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, emerging with praise for him and a few sharp words for the Israelis. As I noted at the time:

It would be easy to lampoon this as the Rodney King school of foreign policy --- "We're all men of peace here. We're all good folks. Can't we all just get along?"

But Bush's defenders on the net say this would be misleading. The true Bush diplomatic strategy, they claim, is deep and complex, and cannot be understood by simply taking the administration's public positions at face value. It is an elaborate series of bluffs, feints, and jabs, a kind of diplomatic blindfold chess, at once treacherous and Machiavellian in its methods, and nobly Jeffersonian in its outlook and aspirations --- which just happens to require, at this point in time, in service of its recondite tactics, that the President appear to be a dim-witted rube who agrees with whatever he most recently heard from anyone with a manly voice and a firm handshake.

It's still the same bunch.


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