Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Sublime and the Ridiculous

The mystery of John Kerry's inability to decisively overtake George Bush, despite the flood tide of bad news in April has an easy solution: events have discredited his mental model for waging the GWOT even more than President Bush's. Which is not to say that the Bush model has fared well. On the face of it, many of the President's assumptions underpinning the campaign to 'bring freedom to the Middle East' have been falsified though perhaps -- and crucially -- the central assumption has not.

One possible reason for the recent inarticulateness of the White House is that the President cannot restate the key themes of his foundational vision, perhaps best articulated in the November 2003 speech for the National Endowmen for Democracy without sounding naive and Pollyannish.

In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy -- and after three decades of tyranny, this work is not easy. The former dictator ruled by terror and treachery, and left deeply ingrained habits of fear and distrust. Remnants of his regime, joined by foreign terrorists, continue their battle against order and against civilization. Our coalition is responding to recent attacks with precision raids, guided by intelligence provided by the Iraqis, themselves. And we're working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs. As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test. (Applause.)

Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women's rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves -- police and borders guards and local officials -- are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.

This is a massive and difficult undertaking -- it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. (Applause.)

Recent events in April have shown that many factions in Iraq want the diametric opposite: sectarian bloodshed, extremism, graft and consuming hatred. Fortunately for the President, John Kerry's own Law Enforcement and International Treaty approach sounds worse than naive. It sounds stupid.

But the fight requires us to use every tool at our disposal. Not only a strong military – but renewed alliances, vigorous law enforcement, reliable intelligence, and unremitting effort to shut down the flow of terrorist funds. To do all this, and to do our best, demands that we work with other countries instead of walking alone. For today the agents of terrorism work and lurk in the shadows of 60 nations on every continent. In this entangled world, we need to build real and enduring alliances. ...

It is time to return to the United Nations and return America to the community of nations to share both authority and responsibility in Iraq, and take the target off the back of our troops. This also requires a genuine Iraqi security force. The Bush Administration simply signs up recruits and gives them rudimentary training. In a Kerry Administration, we will create and train an Iraqi security force equal to the task of safeguarding itself and the people it is supposed to protect. We must offer the UN the lead role in assisting Iraq with the development of new political institutions. And we must stay in Iraq until the job is finished.

The events of April 2004 have put these alternative visions through the crucible. The most striking fact to emerge is that the war in Iraq, despite Operation Iraqi Freedom, has yet to be won. The murder of the German GSG-9 policemen, the ambush of Spanish intelligence agents, the serial bombing of Iraqi police stations, the refusal of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps to prevent the mutilation of contractors escorting a food convoy through Fallujah and above all, the bombed out UN building in Baghdad make the President's vision hopelessly premature but John Kerry's totally ridiculous. Possibly the only thing less appropriate than President Bush proclaiming freedom to Moqtada al-Sadr would be the sight of John Kerry offering to return UN power to the widow of Undersecretary Sergio de Mello or to Kofi Annan, now in the public dock for war profiteering.

But the war is being won, most unfortunately, through means that no one prefers to acknowledge -- in the first instance by turning factions against each other. US commanders on the ground have organized militias to pit one faction against the other, both in Najaf and Fallujah. They have used Kurdish Peshmerga as allies in situations where Sunni Arabs simply sat on their hands. They have been fighting Syrian fighters secretly on the border and not-so-secretly in Fallujah. In due time we may learn that they have been fighting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard retainers of Sadr too. American operators must resort to these unacknowledged methods because they live in an unacknowledged world. It is neither the shining world of a unitary Iraq sighing for freedom nor a fantasy universe simply awaiting a scrap of paper awarding legitimacy from the United Nations. It is what it is: a place of good and evil men commingled, where the promise of freedom must be risked at the price of death.

Once President Bush is able to acknowledge these truths he may be able to resume the campaign to bring Arabs freedom in a more forthright and realistic way. By acknowledging the existence of deeply hostile factions in Iraq, of Syrian and Iranian intervention and the deep corruption that blankets the regimes of the region that includes, or perhaps even originates in the highest councils of the United Nations, he will restore the blurry strategic landscape to its true perspective. Only with visible mileposts can the march be measured and then will the public begin to understand the war American soldiers have been fighting and winning. President Bush should do it because John Kerry cannot. If the President's vision of the Middle East is premature, Kerry's is infirm. A timetable can be amended more easily than folly can be spurned. And that, in this comfortless month, is what passes for cheer.

Death and sorrow will be the companions
of our journey; hardship our garment;
constancy and valor our only shield.
-- Winston Churchill