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Now Bush Needs to Apply the Lessons of Katrina to the War In Iraq

As hurricane Rita bore down on Texas, Presient Bush cleared his schedule and headed to the Northern Command where the response to Rita is coordinated and he is planning to visit the affected region ASAP. This time the folks would not be able to tell him all is well when it is not, nor that they are taking care of business the best way possible when they are not. This time they know he will be watching and there will be consequences to failure. Behaving as a bureaucracy during an emergency is no longer acceptable.

Now, if Bush applies the tough lessons he learned from the Katrina disaster to the war on terror and its Iraqi front, he may just save not only his presidency but the country from a fateful failure. What is that lesson? He has learned that it is a folly for a president to assume his underlings tell him the unvarnished truth and it is even a greater folly to reward them with a medal of honor for a job done extremely poorly.

Thank God, the clueless George Tenet, the overrated Collin Powell and MacArthur wannabe Paul Bremer are gone. Unfortunately, Donald Rumsfeld is not. He should not have been allowed to keep his job for another term as he is more committed to restructuring than to a swift victory.  He does not realize the truth in Sun Tzu’s dictum: "I have never seen any skill in a lengthy campaign."  It gives the enemy time to reorganize. Nor am I pleased with the American military command. In addition to the poor leadership which led to the ugly abuse of Iraqi prisoners, it failed until recently to make use of the only effective fighting force in Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga (so as to not offend Sunnis!) opting instead for a lengthy process of training an entirely new Iraqi fighting force. The loss of time meant the loss of lives, not to mention placing a novice military force against an experienced one.

Moreover, both Rumsfeld and the army commanders repeatedly made the ultimate mistake of disrespecting the enemy.  The insurgents may be "dead-enders," but that did not mean they were ineffective murderers. Treating Sunnis with kid gloves at a time when Al Qaeda and the ex-Baathists were not only threatening to execute collaborators at the city square, but doing so, is a strategy attractive only to psychiatrists. Last, but hardly least, the army commanders and the defense establishment repeatedly, and I suspect purposefully, dismissed the role of outside fighters.  From the very beginning they left the borders wide open and had no appetite for punishing Iraq's meddling neighbors. Fear of an American invasion constrained Iraq’s neighbors at the beginning but, once the signal went out that Iraq was as far American boots go, the gruesome terrorist party was on.

Bush may have read the papers but his management style is to pick good men, trust their judgment, and back them to the hilt.  He did the same with Katrina.  He went on television and told "Brownie" that he was doing a great job.  Rumors were flying of an impending medal of honor for the FEMA director. But, this time, the disaster happened at home and under the magnifying glass of 24/7 news coverage. Finally, Bush got it.  Follow-through is the key. Now, he is making sure that his appointees feel his breath behind their shoulders.  All he needs to do is apply the same degree of close supervision and zero tolerance for underlings such as Rumsfeld who go off the reservation with comments implying a quick exit from Iraq. 

No, it’s not too late. The United States has a huge margin of error because, slogans aside, people would rather live in freedom and they know that their only chance to achieve it is if it is in the US's interest to invest the resources necessary to secure it for them.  Iraqis cry for their dead, blame their government for its failure to protect them, yet they refuse to give up on freedom.  Even the Sunnis are risking their lives by registering to vote.  Their willingness to absorb pain puts Al Qaeda and the Islamists to shame. If the Middle Eastern tyrants believe that the bloodshed in Iraq would turn their people against democracy, they are mistaken.  Intellectuals and experts may think that way. The vast majority of the population knows better.  They have seen Europe free and prosperous under the protection of American forces. They hope for the same results. That explains the cause of the Iraqis’ unbelievable optimism and the Egyptians’ refusal to cooperate in sham elections, their insistence on real reforms and fervent hope that Washington will remain on their side.

Young hot-heads do join the insurgency in Iraq but very few Muslims or Arabs are proud of the ongoing gruesome murders of their Iraqi coreligionists.  No one is more hated in Iraq than Zarqawi. He does not make anyone feel proud to be a Muslim or an Arab.  But the slow pace of the American behemoth and the high price of change provide ammunition for elites who care little about liberty or democracy and a lot about liberation and rule by the enlightened vanguard.  Similarly, the American people are getting a bum rap as people without patience to see the war through.  True, they have turned against inept running of the Iraq front. They have not turned against the war on terror anymore than they turned against the Cold War. For fifty years Americans repeatedly chose the candidate who would conduct the Cold War most vigorously.  They elected Truman and elected General Eisenhower. Nixon lost when he seemed less vigorous in fighting the Cold War than Kennedy and won when he seemed more vigorous than Humphrey.  Ford was punished for the humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam and Carter for permitting America to be “held hostage in Iran.”  Clinton, by the way, advocated a more muscular foreign policy than Bush the elder and his doing so gained him the support of the currently much maligned Neo-Cons. 

American elites and experts have wavered, but never the American people.  Bush was reelected because he promised to stay the course and not give an inch to the terrorists. His famous stubbornness is still America’s most important asset in Iraq and around the world. Nor have world leaders who stood with the US, with the single exception of Spain, been turned out by their people. On the contrary, Schroeder and Chirac are the ones in trouble. Consequently, when America confronted the remaining two members of the “axis of evil,” she did not do so alone as she had to during Clinton’s time. China, Russia, Japan and South Korea were there to help with North Korea while Britain, France and Germany took the lead in dealing with Iran and some developing countries, most importantly India, moved to help them. Slowly but surely, the number of global “free riders” is diminishing. Those who do not wish to see the American military on the march again know they had better begin to pull their weight. The death of Arafat and the murder of Hariri helped further tilt the scale to against our enemies in the Middle East, while the bombing in London by Jihadists born and bred in Britain have forced the Muslim Diaspora to end its silence and forced the British government to put an end to a terrorist safe haven known as “Londonistan.”

None of this is meant to imply that all is well. On the contrary, we have a long way to go. Victory cannot be taken for granted and speed saves lives. So, Bush must readjust his governing style in foreign as well as domestic policy and begin to supervise the war on terror and its central battlefront in Iraq as closely and single mindedly as he is doing the battles with nature. Nothing short of the march of liberty is at stake.