IT'S BUSH'S WAR NOW
by Robert Gelfand
American Reporter Correspondent
San Pedro, Calif.
LOS ANGELES -- President Bush's reelection signifies a seriously weakened United States, both politically and militarily. This should be painfully evident, yet it is curious how few of our learned commentators have been willing to make that point openly.
The damage to our political strength comes from the increasing damage to our military strength. The fewer options we have to use force, the fewer options we will have to achieve our goals through diplomacy alone.
The increasing limitations on our military options stem from two intertwined problems: Force levels in Iraq are inadequate, even as they divert forces from other troubled areas. It would require a substantial increase in the size of the U.S. Army to allow for additional adventures in other parts of the world and, in addition, to adequately pacify Iraq. At the same time, it is politically unfeasible to increase the size of the U.S. military by bringing back the draft.
It becomes more obvious with each passing day that the force level (currently somewhat in excess of a hundred thousand) is not enough by several-fold to enforce an Iraqi <pax Americana<. The most convincing arguments along these lines have been made by a pro-war conservative-turned-Kerry supporter by the name of Andrew Sullivan (www.andrewsullivan.com).
Sullivan has his own issues (he's an HIV-positive gay conservative who has been leading the fight for legalized same-sex marriage - even as he championed the invasion of Iraq), but his critique of the Bush war effort is crystal clear: Bush and his war effort have been incompetent. From the inadequate force levels needed to control the cities, to the failure to protect arms and explosives from theft by the insurgents, the effort has been characterized by blunder after blunder.
Perhaps Sullivan would not want to say it, but the Viet Nam analogy is beginning to build: Without increasing our force levels substantially, the U.S. risks becoming entangled in a long-term holding action, characterized by a lack of clear victory, chronic casualties and an increasingly garrisoned existence. The alternative is to cut and run, an option that seems unlikely considering the recent tones of President Bush's pronouncements.
In the bar, cafe and street-corner conversations I have overheard and occasionally joined in, nobody seems to have figured this out. Perhaps some sagacious newspaper columnist has written on the topic, but I haven't seen it, and the liberal side of the Internet seems to have missed it entirely.
I claim no particular expertise on military matters other than what I have read in books and newspapers. In this case, I don't think it takes more than that. Every reasonable evaluation I have seen suggests that our military forces are incapable of creating a situation in Iraq that corresponds in any form to the prewar hubris-laden fantasies of the neocons. The people did not greet our liberating armies with waving American flags, and the current situation suggests a population that is split between truly warlike anti-Americans and lots of people hoping just to survive another day.
The problem with neocon ideology is that those ordinary Iraqis are not likely to recreate the American Revolution by joining their puppet president in fighting the insurgents. Not at such obvious risk to their own lives.
The parallels between Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and President Bush in '04 are becoming uncanny. In 1964 we had a cabinet full of theoreticians who somehow believed that they could think their way out of the Southeast Asian mess. Technology and psychological manipulation were the techniques of choice.
It didn't work then, as it probably won't work now. Somehow the North Vietnamese generals weren't quite stupid enough to fall for our techno-tricks, and the South Vietnamese did not contribute their "hearts and minds" to our cause.
It is sobering to listen to American soldiers on duty in Iraq use that same phrase, "hearts and minds." It is equally sobering to read our newly elected president's remark that the military leadership has not asked for more troops. The history of the prewar period demonstrated what happens to American generals who don't take Rumsfeld's hints as to how they can win using minimal troop levels.
So here we are again, taking on a whole country with a relatively small contingent of troops on the ground, blasting people to smithereens while simultaneously expecting them to love us as their rescuers.
In the face of this quandary, American generals should be arguing for more troops or for a phased withdrawal, unless, that is, they are resigned to having the soldiers under their care be taken out one or two at a time for unending months and then years.
The problem the administration would face in trying to build up force levels would be severe to say the least. For one, President Bush promised to keep the volunteer army when he spoke in the presidential debates. For another, the House of Representatives took the bizarre step of bringing up a Democratic bill (H.R. 163) in October just so they could vote it down. The bill, to reinstate the military draft, had languished since '03. It had no Republican supporters. The early October vote was 402-2 against.
The stated intent of this vote was to put to rest rumors that had been circulating about reinstatement of the draft. The practical effect of the vote is to make it difficult, if not downright impossible, for most of those 402 congressmen to "flip-flop" and vote for a draft in the coming session.
The presidential commitment coupled with the 99 percent defeat in the House makes reinstatement of the draft a practical impossibility in the next Congress. Impossible, that is, unless the President can turn on a dime and somehow convince the public that things have changed enough to justify repudiating the current policy. Perhaps new fighting on the Korean peninsula could provoke such a shift, or multiple revolts in the Middle East. Anything less spells no dice.
It all seems unlikely, and with that miniscule probability goes the military and political credibility of the United States. It is going to be a lot harder for us to push other countries around when they realize (as they are figuring out even now) that we can't back our bluster up with an invasion.
The hard-Left chorus which opposes American force in all regards should be applauding the result rather than groaning about the election, as they are now doing. For the rest of us who are simultaneously patriotic and reasoning, it is a serious concern at the least, and spells potential disaster if geopolitical conditions worsen.
None of these conclusions seem all that difficult to me. Yet that is not what I am reading in the newspapers or finding on the Internet. 46rom the political standpoint it is now Bush's war, just as it was Lyndon Johnson's war. From the geopolitical perspective, it implies a period of American weakness as we flail around internally over the Iraq issue even as we attempt to brazen things out externally.
At least our pundits have noticed the new tone of arrogance coming from the President-elect and his entourage. Remarks about "political capital" and "mandates" feed that image. I suspect that President Bush sees himself something like the American leadership of 1944, having presided over a tough fight and looking forward to a rapid and conclusive victory. It is just as reasonable for the rest of us to see this situation as more analogous to 1968.
We shall see. If the situation on the ground in Iraq worsens, there will be increasing use of the terminology from the 1960s - "bogged down," "quagmire." Can "body count" be far behind?