Old lefties used to opine that you could never say that socialism or communisim had failed since they'd never really been tried. No need now to dip into that debate. But just before the start of the war I told a friend that you'd never be able to say the same about neoconservatism. This was really all their show, pretty much from soup-to-nuts. So at the end of the day the movement would either be vindicated in a very profound way or deeply discredited.
You'll never again be able to say that the whole cluster of ideas, personnel and tactics never got a good field test.
Of course, that's not going to stop people from trying.
And two articles out yesterday provide the first examples.
First is a report of an interview Richard Perle gave to Le Figaro.
(The quotes are translated from the French -- and, though I think Perle speaks French, it's possible that the interview was itself conducted in English and then translated into French. So keep in the back of your mind the possibility of some imprecision creeping in through translation or double translation.)
In any case, thus Perle ...
"Of course, we haven't done everything right. Mistakes have been made and there will be others ... Our principal mistake, in my opinion, was that we didn't manage to work closely with the Iraqis before the war, so that there was an Iraqi opposition capable of taking charge immediately. ... Today, the answer is to hand over power to the Iraqis as soon as possible."
The artfully passive 'mistakes have been made' construction invites the obvious question of who made them. But the second point shows where Perle's going: we didn't rely enough on the exiles.
Now, to most everyone who has their eyes open, the main story on the exiles (by which Perle means the INC) has been their general irrelevance to the situation in post-war Iraq. Indeed, this is a judgment many of the hawks themselves made not long after the invasion. Perle says we didn't rely on the exiles too much, but too little.
That's the problem: we didn't give enough juice to Chalabi.
That's a bit of an oversimplification of what Perle's saying. But not much. It's classic up-is-downism. Tax cuts didn't get rid of the deficit? It's because we didn't cut them enough.
You get the idea.
This argument gets elaborated in yesterday's column by George Will -- which appears to channel the thoughts of Wolfowitz or those in his orbit.
Will argues that the problem isn't too few troops, but too few Iraqis -- the meaning being that the real problem isn't too small an occupation force, but too few Iraqis to take on the job of rebuilding the country themselves, no Iraqi constabulary to police the country, insufficient intelligence which you can only get from locals, etc.
As far as it goes, that judgment is unquestionably accurate. We need an infrastructure of civilian authority and control to which to cede power -- even if political authority remains in the hands of the US or the UN or whomever for the time being. The problem is that one doesn't exist at the moment. Thus our bind.
But Will goes into 'through the looking glass' mode when he explains how we found ourselves in this situation. What went wrong, says Will, is that the CIA and State Department a) stiffed the exiles and b) didn't correctly predict the situation we'd find in post-war Iraq. The key passage reads ...
If, in the run-up to war, the CIA and State Department had been less opposed to the war, and less hostile to what they called "externals," meaning Iraqi exiles. This hostility expressed a perverse premise: Those who remained in Iraq under Hussein were somehow morally superior to those who went into exile to work for liberation. Absent hostility toward "externals," more Iraqis competent to work on public safety and civil administration would have arrived immediately behind coalition troops.
If the CIA had more accurately anticipated the continued opposition of Baathist remnants and had been less optimistic about the postwar performance of the Iraqi police, the problems faced now might have been substantially reduced.
It's hard to know where to start with this. I don't know the details about the Agency's predictions about the postwar performance of the Iraqi police force. But my understanding is that they were pretty close to the mark in their estimation of continuing Baathist resistance to the American occupation, something the hawks at the Pentagon entirely missed. And that is really the key issue.
Much the same on the hostility to the Iraqi exiles. The hostility wasn't so much to exiles as the neocons' exiles, i.e., the INC and Ahmed Chalabi. And our experience thus far in Iraq has pretty thoroughly validated the CIA's and the State Department's dim view of the Chalabi's usefulness and trustworthiness. The idea that we didn't rely enough on Chalabi doesn't pass the laugh test.
What's more, as has already been reported, the State Department did a lot of civil society, reconstruction type planning in the months before the war, only to see it dismissed and shelved by the folks at the Pentagon who were running the show. I can't say how effective those plans would have been or whether they would have measurably improved the current state of affairs. But to say that State and the CIA are responsible for holding back such plans is just the worst sort of make-it-up-as-you-go-along flim-flam, classic up-is-downism.
There is a real truth to the argument that infighting between the various agencies hampered our planning for postwar Iraq. And, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. But by and large, the plans it would now be nice to have were coming from the State/CIA side and were scuttled by the civilians at the Pentagon. So this is really the old patricide begging sympathy because he's an orphan.
One other point.
Could this spouting of Wolfowitz's line be an effort to mend fences after the dig Will took at the Deputy Secretary last week? Sounds right to me.