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

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Ms. Klinghoffer is senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, Camden, and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East. She is also an HNN blogger. Click here for her blog.

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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.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

So, according to Klinghoffer, IT IS Tenet's, Bremer's , Rumsfeld's and Powell's fault not President Bush's ; the deadly, highly destabilizing and dangers fraught fiasco of the American conquest of Iraq.
Powell is indeed to be blamed for not being man enough to stand up for his convictions and knowingly voicing blatant lies.
It will, most probably, cost him his political future.
The rest, under the overt leadership of Wolfowitz and the spiritual guidance of Perle, simply implemented , as best as they could, the AIPAC inspired neocon adopted doctrinaire cum revangist anti Arab ,anti Islam and pro Israel policy of, or forced on?, President Bush.
The outcome is here for everybody to see.
Klinghoffer will search far and wide for reasons to justify a decidedly failed, though extremely expensive, major American demarche NOT out of concern for America's interests and world standing BUT to conceal the fact that this American misadventure was undertaken for, primarily, purely Israeli/Zionist reasons and, a far second, for oil interests!
For Klinghoffer’s any thing will do except the truth!

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

In a long ,often meandering, post ranging in scope from Katerina to Londonistan via Iraq Klinghoffer comes out unmistakably on several points, possibly the points of her post.
1-Why did not the Bush war machine make more and better use of the "fighting capabilities of the Peshmerga " she disapprovingly asks?

Knowing full well that that would have added a new cleavage to the Arab-Kurd already strained relations she is for more estrangement of the two communities...one step more towards the dismemberment of Iraq.

2-The war machine's "Disrespect" of the (Iraqi) enemy.

"Respect" should have entailed, she demands, a more vigorous campaign i.e. a more rapacious, more destructive and wider ranging cleansing effort of the "enemy".
3-"Treating the Sunnis with kid gloves"; she wails.

How, where and when she fails to indicate!

Cold blooded murder of wounded fighters(?)as in a Mosque in Falluga should have been the norm; the optimal mode of Sunni treatment.
The Sunnis, she demands, should have been dealt with more "steel" gunships, tanks, howeitzers, missiles and not a "kid's glove" !

4-Failing "to punish Iraq's meddling neighbours" i.e. the invasion and conquest of Iran and Syria.
Why not since the ultimate goal of the campaign is Israeli predominance of a disarmed Middle East?

Her desires, and Israel's, are unmistakably voiced in this post.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"Israel's (overt/my addition) involvement in Junior Bush's Iraq fiasco has been remote. This is for the obvious reason that, unlike the neophyte-fake-imperialist American chickenhawks, the top political leaders of Israel are neither cowards nor fools, at least when it comes to pursuing their own interests. "
Very correct!
That, however, should not obscure the fact that Israel is the nett gainer and that both the USA and the Arabs are the nett loosers from the wanton conquest and expected dismemberment of Iraq!

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

The nett output from the American blunder in Iraq, that will soon turn out to be one of America's biggest ever, goes beyond Bush and Sharon.
1- Re Israel :the total disarming of Iraq to gether with its total loss of independence and its creeping dismemberment is a major strategic gain for Israel.
Israel is now only two steps away , Syria and Iran, from unchallenged and unchallengable, miltirary, with all that that entails, hegemony over the Middle East.
2-Re the USA:the USA of President Bush has become the declared and confirmed enemy of all that is Arab and Moslem and is unanimously conceived as such by all major popular movements be it Islamic, Arab Nationalist or progressive socialists.
Except for the tottering regimes and some of the westernized "liberal" business circles the USA does not have a single friend or a neutral onlooker now.
The Iraqi conquest has confirmed in the Arab and Moslem mind that the US previous unconditional pro Israel policies were not the transient phase, that some suspected and fewer advocated, but an intrinsic implacable doctrinaire Judeo/christian enmity towards the Arabs, the Moslems and Islam per se.
That is , in a historical perspective, a grave mutual loss.

Israel ,if we recall, was all out for the American conquest of Iraq .It did lend the USA with tremendous logistical and intelligece support, but was clever enough not to over publize it.
AIPAC, however , was vociferous in its unflinshing support and still is behind the scenes.
Wlfowitz, according to Woodward, called for that immediately after 9/11.
Now that their goal, the destruction of an Arab Iraq, was attained both Israel and AIPAC are, or is it Israel/AIPAC is, lying low.
President Bush is a transient phase in American life. The real question Is :Does the future of the USA lie with the American voter or with Israel/AIPAC ?

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

How is it that post #68996 came AFTER #68998 is beyond me!
Does that explain or justify the unexpected insolence of post #68999 from a usually sober and polite poster?

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

An unusually hasty , less than polite and evasive reply from a normally thorough and perceptive poster.
Note worthy is the sidelining of the main point of the discussion: the nett loosers and the nett gainers from the American mutually destructive conquest of Iraq and the role of Israel/AIPAC in same.

It is neither wise nor constructive to describe any universal popular perception as "mistaken".

"The Arab street", an expression intentionally coined to disparage Arab public opinion, happens to encompass all civic bodies and organizations that has a vote in their respective, usually less tampering prone, elections.
It ranges from labour unions to professional associations, from student unions to Universty Professors associations via charitable societies and sporting clubs.
It is neither wise nor constructive to describe their universal perception as "mistaken".It is what they know, what they think and what they feel.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Clarke
I have based my assertion that:"
"The Iraqi conquest has confirmed in the Arab and Moslem mind ...." on the outcome of ALL less tampered with elections , which do NOT include parliamentary elections,held in the last two years in Arab countries.
I have also pointed out the exception in the "westernized liberals" and the noncommital business circles.
The point is, as also confirmed by many local and foreign polls, the USA is now perceived as the main enemy.

Never did I claim that Israel is the Sole reason behind this wanton conquest; I always made sure to cite oil as the secondary reason .

On further thought I am convinced that you would agree that Isarel/AIPAC weighed in for this wanton gression much much more than the 5% you cited in an admitedly different context.
The real tragedy of the situation is that both the USA and the Arabs are paying a very heavy cost in every sense to the exclusive benefit of a third party:Israel.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Israel's involvement in Junior Bush's Iraq fiasco has been remote. This is for the obvious reason that, unlike the neophyte-fake-imperialist American chickenhawks, the top political leaders of Israel are neither cowards nor fools, at least when it comes to pursuing their own interests. Although Poland and Micronesia send token detachments to W's sinking ship, Israel has a different and a more farsighted cost-benefit calculus and stays comfortably out of the mess. Blair meanwhile makes sure his boys stay in the quieter parts of Iraq so that his own party's disgust at his lapdog behavior is contained.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

That America, due to the incompetent chickenhawks' blunderings in Iraq, has lost power, influence, respect and national security is undeniable. The net effect on Arabs in, for example, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Libya, is less obvious, although clearly Saddam has lost along with some of his former cronies, and a much larger number of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Sharon (a former persona non grata in his own country (!) who only landed into power in 2001 through a series of flukes) has certainly consolidated his strength and influence since then, but this evidently has much more to do with his crude but effective exploitation of the Arafat's stupidities than with anything Powell, Garner, Chalabi, or Bush has done in Abu Ghraib or elsewhere in Iraq. It is, moreover, not clear that the Israeli people have gained anything at all under his hamfisted rule, let alone due to any effects of American "policy" on that rule.

On second thought, however, it occurs to me that there is some inadvertent veracity in the headline attached to Klinghoffer's article: Namely, that among the main lessons of Katrina, is that America has a childish, arrogant and colossally inept president.
To apply that "lesson" to the mislabelled "war" in Iraq, he ought to resign in shame and beg forgiveness from the victims of his bungling which certainly include large majorities of future generations of Americans. To help him learn this lesson he should be encouraged, after resigning the position in the White House which he has disgraced, to spend the rest of his life living in Iraq, trying to clean up the mess he has made there.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Baker:

"The Iraqi conquest has confirmed in the Arab and Moslem mind that the US previous unconditional pro Israel policies were not the transient phase, that some suspected and fewer advocated, but an intrinsic implacable doctrinaire Judeo/christian enmity towards the Arabs, the Moslems and Islam per se."

If so, then that "Arab and Moslem mind" would be mistaken. The current U.S. president's own father stood up to the Israeli government during his administration by forcing it to scale back settlement building in the occupied terrorities. It is certainly true that U.S. policy has been overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, pro-Israel since 1947, but that includes quite some years when the Arabs had relatively little support from other other western democracies as well (unlike today) and relied heavily on the USSR (hardly a beacon of long run benefit for them). Furthermore, a generally pro-Israel stance did not stop Papa Bush from explicitly deciding, exactly opposite to his son, NOT to try and occupy Iraq, and that decision was made precisely in order to avoid the disaster his son has now presided over.

I am not trying to excuse the many deficiencies of U.S. policy toward the Mideast, under George Bush senior or any other U.S. president since the 1950s. But, just because large numbers in the proverbial "Arab street" see an unvarying "Judeo-Christian" conspiracy behind every twist and turn in Mideast policies does not mean that such crude and easily exploited prejudices are valid. History is rarely that simple, and this situation is no exception.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

See the comment "barking louder" above for my reply

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Baker,

The placement of the posts in the prior thread has become rather confused (my fault, I think).
So here in a new section (if it posts correctly) is my latest thought.

I agree with you (in #69008) that "it is neither wise nor constructive to describe any universal popular perception" as either "mistaken" or to describe it any other sweepingly general way. But it was you did so, not I:

In #68996, you said:

"The Iraqi conquest has confirmed in the Arab and Moslem mind that the US previous unconditional pro Israel policies were not the transient phase, that some suspected and fewer advocated, but an intrinsic implacable doctrinaire Judeo/christian enmity towards the Arabs, the Moslems and Islam per se."

Here you (1) assume quite unconvinvingly that hundreds of millions of diverse peoples think as they had only one collective mind (a steretyping I would have thought more likely to have come from some other HNN posters who are prone to rant in a rather childish and biased way about the supposed universal dangers which all Moslems pose to human civilization, solely by virtue of their religion and its inherently violent imperative to "restore the Caliphate" and various other fantasized or exagerated bogeymen) and (2) you presume to have divined that allegedly collective mind.

By contrast, all I did was to opine that IF your assumption and presumption (above) WERE correct (I don't believe they are, but if they somehoe were) then that supposed collective mind would be mistaken in thinking that Israel, let alone some fearsome "Judeo/christian" anti-Caliphate Devil "enmity" in any real sense controls American foreign policy.

Israel does indeed weigh disproportionately in the formation and implimentation of U.S. foreign policy, but it is far from the only factor determining that policy, and I can think of at least a dozen reasons for the idiotic 2003 invasion of Iraq that were clearly more important than pleasing the 5% or so of the American electorate that happens to have the same religion as most Israelis. Starting with the facts that the current U.S. "President" is a recovering alcolohic, who barely passed history in college BEFORE frying his brain with alcohol, and never travelled outside North America before becoming president, and going on from there, and reaching "to please Israel" far down a long list.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

This bit of backsliding collapses under the weight of its internal contradictions. After her blind cheerleading for the cakewalk to Baghdad, the author now pretends to have known better all along.

Allegedly, Bush's "famous stubbornness is still America’s most important asset in Iraq", yet we somehow simultaneously need "zero tolerance" for the principal manifestation of that stubbornness: continued reliance on the "poor" and "inept" leadership of the latest scapegoat, Rumsfeld.

Here the cyncical egoism of the chickenhawks is revealed. No genuine American interest can take precedence over the imperative of covering their sorry posteriors. Somehow, though, the double-speaking neo-con spin doctors cannot quite reach the ultimate hypocrisy of claiming that they were anti-Bush all along somehow. Hence the absurdity of blaming the underlyings for their failings while pretending that all the blunderer-in-chief needs to do is to "change his style".

The historical track record is clear. Rather than own up to her own narrowminded support for the Iraq fiasco, Klinghoffer now points fingers at her former heros. It won't wash.

Don Adams - 9/30/2005

This short post is an impressive bit of squeezing as much illogic and self-contradiction into as few words as possible. We are told on the one hand that those who express dissent over the war are undermining our government-sponsored war on terror, then told on the other hand that we do not want to live under a "government knows best mentality." If the government does not know best, but saying so undermines our well-being, what exactly are we to do?

Just as notably, Mr. Wheeler manages to support the current administration while simultaneously decrying the excesses of big government. I wonder if he knows that this President has done more to increase the size and power of the federal government Mr. New Deal himself. He may have cut taxes, but his policies on both discretionary and entitlement spending, his creation of wholly new cabinet level departments, his meddling in education, and his policy of pre-emptive war have combined to expand the role of the federal government at all scales. Everyone from my local school board to rulers of foreign countries have felt the impact of this administration's swollen importance. To associate this President with anything other than a massive accumulation of power by the government is to be laughably ignorant of reality.

Joe Gilbert - 9/27/2005

"Peshmerga forces fought side by side with American troops in the 2003 Iraq War in Northern Iraq. Since that time the Peshmerga have assumed a role in the security of the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq."

Wm Barclay - 9/26/2005

What a bunch of meaningless - and fantasy based - blather.

George Wheeler - 9/26/2005

The limited effect in our ongoing war on terrorism has more to do with PC posturing than anything. Liberals and appeasers only fuel the will of the latter day kamikazies. I for one don't live under the thumb of A UN dictated world view, filled with anti-semitism, maximum tax effort and government knows best mentality.