[lit-ideas] complete Helprin Analysis

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  • Date: Thu, 27 May 2004 00:51:13 EDT

http://opinionjournal.com/columnists/mhelprin/
Mark Helprin, author of Refiner's Fire, Memoir Found in an Antproof Case, 
Ellis Island and other Stories, etc. offers a remarkably clear-sighted analysis 
of the Iraq war, Kerry, US politics, and the way out of Iraq. I think he argues 
his case convincingly, although he may overestimate the discipline of the US 
population. -Eric
_____

   
WRITTEN ON WATER

No Way to Run a War 
The Democrats are guilty of ideological confusion and the Republicans of 
disdain for reflection. 

BY MARK HELPRIN 
Monday, May 17, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT 


Though America has condemned the cruelties of Abu Ghraib, they remain 
nonetheless a symbol of the inescapable fact that the war has been run 
incompetently, 
with an apparently deliberate contempt for history, strategy, and thought, 
and with too little regard for the American soldier, whose mounting casualties 
seem to have no effect on the boastfulness of the civilian leadership. 

Before the war's inception, and even after September 11, the Bush 
administration, having promised to correct its predecessor's depredations of 
the 
military, failed to do so. The president failed to go to Congress on September 
12 to 
ask for a declaration of war, failed to ask Congress when he did go before it 
for the tools with which to fight, and has failed consistently to ask the 
American people for sacrifice. And yet their sons, mainly, are sacrificed in 
Iraq 
day by day. 

When soldiers are killed because they do not have equipment (in the words of 
a returning officer, "not enough vehicles, not enough munitions, not enough 
medical supplies, not enough water"), when reservists are retained for years, 
and rotations canceled, it is the consequence of a fiscal policy that seems 
more 
attuned to the electoral landscape of 2004 than to the national security of 
the United States. Were the U.S. to devote the same percentage of its GNP to 
defense as it did during the peacetime years of the last half-century, and the 
military budget return to this unremarkable level, we would be spending (apart 
from the purely operational costs of the war) almost twice what we are 
spending now. 

The year-and-a-half delay between action in Afghanistan and Iraq mobilized 
the Arabs and the international left, weakened the connection with September 
11, 
and prompted allies who would have been with us to fall away. The delay was 
especially unconscionable because it was due not merely to normal difficulties 
but to the aforementioned military insufficiencies and to indecision 
masquerading as circumspection. Once the Army and Marines were rolling, their 
supply 
lines were left deliberately unprotected, and are vulnerable to this day. Why? 
Why do the generals, in patently identifiable top-down-speak, repeatedly state 
that they need nothing more than the small number of troops (for occupying 
such a large country) that they are assigned? Why do they and the 
administration 
steadfastly hold this line even as one event cascading into another should 
make them recoil in piggy-eyed wonder at the lameness of their policy?

From the beginning, the scale of the war was based on the fundamental 
strategic misconception that the primary objective was Iraq rather than the 
imagination of the Arab World, which, if sufficiently stunned, would tip itself 
back 
into the heretofore easily induced fatalism that makes it hesitate to war 
against the West. After the true shock and awe of a campaign of massive 
surplus, as 
in the Gulf War, no regime would have risked its survival by failing to go 
after the terrorists within its purview. But a campaign of bare sufficiency, 
that 
had trouble punching through even ragtag irregulars, taught the Arabs that we 
could be effectively opposed.

Mistakenly focused on physical control of Iraq, we could not see that, were 
we to give it up, the resultant anarchy might find a quicker resolution than 
the indefinite prolonged agony through which our continuing presence has nursed 
it. Seeking motivation after the fact, we decided to make Iraq a Western-style 
democracy, and when that began to run off the rails, to make Iraq the mere 
model for a Middle East filled with Western-style democracies. Of course, 
instead of a model to inspire them (of which they have many, such as 
Switzerland), 
what the Arabs need is first the desire, and then a means to overcome the 
police states that oppress them, neither of which a reconfigured Iraq, were it 
possible, would supply. Japan and Germany are often cited in defense of this 
overreach, but rather than freeze our armies in place and set them to policing 
and 
civil affairs as we fought through the Second World War, we waited until we 
had won.

Having decided to remake a country of 26 million divided into warring 
subcultures with a shared affection for martyrdom and unchanging traditions, 
the 
administration thought it could do so with 100,000 troops. Israel, which nearly 
surrounds the West Bank, speaks its language and has 37 years of experience in 
occupation, keeps approximately (by my reckoning) one soldier on duty for every 
40 inhabitants and 1/13th square mile, and the unfortunate results are well 
known. In Iraq we keep one soldier per 240 inhabitants and 1.7 square miles. To 
put this in yet clearer perspective, it is the same number of uniformed 
police officers per inhabitant of the City of New York. But the police in New 
York 
are not at the end of a 9,000-mile supply chain (they live off the land at 
Dunkin' Donuts), they do not have to protect their redoubts, travel in convoys, 
maintain a hospital system, run a civil service, reform a government, build 
schools, supply electricity, etc. And, most importantly, they do not have to 
battle an angry population that speaks an alien language, lives in an immense 
territory, and is armed with automatic weapons, explosives, suicide bombers, 
and 
rocket-propelled grenades. Imagine if they did, and you have Iraq. Imagine if 
then the mayor said, "We don't need anything further, it's just a question of 
perseverance: Bring it on," and you have the Bush continuum.

Leaving out entirely our gratuitously self-inflicted inability to deal with 
major contingencies in Asia, this has been the briefest summary of 
mismanagement, a full exposition of which could fill a thick and very 
unpleasant book. But 
to these failings the left offers no better alternative, for if the right has 
failed in execution, the left's failure, in conception, is deeper.

John Kerry may say one thing and another, but no matter how the topgallants 
break in the Democratic Party, its ideological keel is a leaden and unthinking 
pacifism, a pretentious and illogical deference to all things European, and 
the unhinged belief that America by its very nature transforms every aspect of 
its self-defense into an aggression that justifies the offense against which it 
is defending itself. After the enemy has attacked our shipping, embassies, 
aviation, capital, government and largest city, and after he has slit the 
throats of defenseless stewardesses, and crushed and immolated three thousand 
unwary 
men, women, and children, those who wonder what we did wrong are not likely 
to offer a spirited defense.

Their allergy to military expenditure assures that, unlike Republicans, who 
provided just enough to accomplish an arrogant plan if nothing went wrong, they 
would not provide enough to accomplish a humble plan if everything went 
right. They say that war is not the answer, and, meaning it, profess their 
faith in 
special operations. But are we to credit their supposed indignation that in 
the early Bush presidency there was a shortage of covert insertions into 
sovereign states, a dearth of assassinations, the absence of close cooperation 
with 
the intelligence services of dictatorships, and insufficient funding for black 
operations? Or to take seriously the crackpot supposition that this was a war 
for oil, the price of which, since the war, has gone up? And why then did we 
not invade Venezuela? It's closer, and the food is better.

With nothing to offer but contradictions and paralysis, they and their 
presidential aspirant have staked their policy on a mystical and irrational 
prejudice against unilateralism. This is a new thing under the visiting moon, 
an 
absurdity propounded by the very same people who often urge the U.S. to 
unilateral 
action when it refrains, for example, from interventions in Africa to fight 
genocide or AIDS. In what way is America, moving in concert with Britain and 
Spain to invade Iraq, more unilateral or less multilateral than France moving 
in 
concert with Germany and Belgium to oppose it? And does a wrong act cease to 
be wrong if others join in, or a right cease to be right if others do not?

Just as many Republicans detest the idea of international governance but glow 
at the prospect of empire, many Democrats are reliably anti-imperialist yet 
dewy-eyed about world government. Thus, Sen. Kerry's only non-secret policy for 
the war is a bunch of mumblings about the U.N. and our "allies," presumably 
the ones who are not with us at the moment in Iraq. It is they and the U.N. who 
in the fairy dust of multilateralism will solve this most difficult problem. 
But in fact they neither can nor will do any such thing. Either Sen. Kerry 
knows that his strategy is just a cover for simple, complete, and ignominious 
withdrawal, or he does not know, which is worse.


Though the parties have been incompetent, nothing but politics keeps them 
from correcting their deficiencies, and at a point like this, even if 
professional politicians are incapable of knowing it, explicit and decisive 
correction 
would be the best politics. The situation need not remain intractable if once 
again respect is accorded to certain fundamentals.

The military must be reconstituted so that it has a surplus of power without 
having to choose between transformation and tradition, quality and numbers, 
heavy and light: All are necessary. This is expensive, and would require more 
plain speaking and less condescending manipulation from those who govern, but 
would allow for the quick and overwhelming application of force, unambiguous 
staying power, coverage of multiple contingencies, and, most importantly, 
deterrence. It is always better to deter an enemy than, by showing weakness, to 
encourage him to take the field.

In addition to more aggressive unconventional, police, and paramilitary 
operations against the fragmented terrorist legion, we must strengthen civil 
defense. Although striking a thousand targets is easier than defending ten 
million, 
it isn't possible to control every laboratory and closet in the world. If the 
social cost and hundreds of billions of dollars annually necessary for a 
probabilistically effective defense against weapons of mass destruction appear 
a 
great burden, they pale before an unrestrained epidemic or a nuclear detonation 
in a major city.

In the Middle East, our original purpose, since perverted by carelessness of 
estimation, was self-defense. To return to it would take advantage of the 
facts that the countries in the area do not have to be democracies before we 
require of them that they refrain from attacking us; that a regime with a firm 
hold 
upon a nation has much at stake and can be coerced to eradicate the terrorist 
apparatus within its frontiers; and that the ideal instrument for this is a 
remounted and properly supported U.S. military, released from nation building 
and counterinsurgency, its ability to make war, when called upon, nonpareil.

The Kurds and Shia of Iraq could within days assert control in their areas. 
We already have ceded part of Sunni Iraq: What remains is to pick a strongman, 
see him along, arrange a federation, hope for the best, remount the army, and 
retire, with or without Saudi permission, to the Saudi bases roughly 
equidistant to Damascus, Baghdad, and Riyadh. There, protected by the desert, 
with 
modern infrastructure, and our backs to the sea, which is our metier, we would 
command the center of gravity of the Middle East, and with the ability to 
strike 
hard, fast and at will, could enforce responsible behavior upon regimes that 
have been the citadel of our enemies.

In a war that has steadily grown beyond expectations, America has been poorly 
served by those who govern it. The Democrats are guilty of seemingly innate 
ideological confusion about self-defense, the Republicans of willful disdain 
for reflection, and, both, of lack of imagination, probity, and 
preparation--and, perhaps above all, of subjecting the most serious business in 
the life of a 
nation to coarse partisanship. Having come up short, both parties are sorely 
in need of a severe reprimand and direct order from the American people to 
correct their failings and get on with the common defense. 

Mr. Helprin is a novelist, a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal 
and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. 


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