Monday, June 12, 2006


That’s the impression I got after watching Jane Harman, Dan Senor and Newt Gingrich debate what the American plan should be in a post-Zarqawi Iraq on Fox News Sunday. Here’s what was said that gave me that impression:

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, first of all, I doubt any Democrats will be included, so I appreciate the fact that Fox News included me to your war council.

But what would help with doubters, and there are doubters in both parties all over the country, number one, if the president decided that Rumsfeld should go, and, number two, if he announced that he is going to start now asking the generals to redeploy our troops because going forward the U.S. objectives, and we have at least three of them, can best be achieved politically, not militarily.
Here’s Mr. Newt’s response:

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, let me establish a couple of simple principles that will probably be politically uncomfortable. First, we ought to rely on General Abizaid and General Casey, because they get up every day.
They work this problem every day. Abizaid is fluent in Arabic. Casey is now clearly the field commander working for Abizaid. And if the two of them come in and say you know, we need fewer troops, I’m for fewer troops. If the two of them come in and say you know, we need more troops, I’m for more troops.
You have a brand new Iraqi government that’s finally coming together, and they ought to be part of sitting at that table. But here’s the key psychological point. Iraqis are looking to decide which side is going to win. They look at the Vietnam experience. They look at American politics. And they say OK, are we three months from the Americans cutting and running, are we a year from the Americans cutting and running, are we going to have a helicopter leaving the American embassy in Baghdad the way we did Saigon.
And any gesture by the president that suggests he’s going to move one minute faster than the new Iraqi government and his own field commanders is a signal that says don’t bet on the Americans and don’t bet on freedom, the bad guys are going to win. I think you’ve got, that’s very important psychologically.
When Harman said “we have at least three of them, can best be achieved politically, not militarily”, I heard something from her that I didn’t think I’d ever hear from her: a repitition of Murtha’s ‘policies’. Frankly, I’d thought of Ms. Harman as a serious, thoughtful person on national security issues. I still think that of her for the most part, though her saying that we need to follow the ‘Murtha Doctrine’ is more than a bit troubling.

Mr. Newt nailed it by saying that “any gesture by the president that suggests he’s going to move one minute faster than the new Iraqi government and his own field commanders is a signal that says don’t bet on the Americans and don’t bet on freedom, the bad guys are going to win.” We simply can’t afford to redeploy outside Iraq and still be taken seriously.

Historically speaking, what emboldened bin Laden was seeing us leave Somalia because Bill Clinton took John Murtha’s advice that “we can’t win this militarily.” Bin Laden knew that we’d left Vietnam without achieving victory and he’s playing on that now with Arabs all across the Middle East. Staying the course isn’t a flashy line; it’s just what we have to do to have the requisite credibility in the region. And it’s imperative that we have credibility in the region if we’re going to win the GWOT.

Dan Senor emphasized that with this observation:

DAN SENOR: Yes, and actually, I would say over the last few months, particularly in the Sunni towns, the Iraqis have not been betting on us. They viewed the American military as impotent. They viewed the Iraqi government as in this constant state of formation and not terribly serious.
The last few months since the last election, you talk to the local sheiks there, you talk to a lot of the imams and the tribal leaders. They’re betting on the insurgency. They say that we come into towns and then we leave. We don’t hold them. And the insurgency returns. They insurgency they can bet on.
So I think the significance of the Zarqawi kill is that we sent a message to them that we actually are committed to winning and that they can bet on us. And there are a lot of fence-sitters right now, as the speaker said, who are deciding who to bet on. And I think in that regard, this is a big moment.
Harman’s response was as disappointing as Mr. Newt’s response was encouraging:

REP. JANE HARMAN: I just see this differently. I’m not talking about cutting and running. That’s not at all what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how do we win. We win politically. We don’t win militarily. Playing whack-’em-all in the Anbar province is not working. We kill one person, 10 arise. That’s just not the strategy that can work.
And while I agree that Abizaid and Casey are admirable, I think the commander in chief, our president, and his top-level folks who are going to be in that room the next two days ought to focus on a political strategy. That’s much more likely to achieve victory.
NEWT GINGRICH: But this is a core difference. If you read John Nagl’s brilliant book, “Eating Soup with a Knife”, which is probably the best book on counterinsurgency written by an American in modern times, the truth is in the end, two things have to happen simultaneously. You have to have a political-economic solution where people come together and say I’m on your team and it makes sense, and you’ve got to be able to kill the bad guys. I mean, really bad people have to be killed.
You can’t just declare victory without killing off the bad guys. A political-process only approach tells peace-loving Iraqis and the insurgents the same thing: We’re here until we don’t have the persistence to see a fight through to the end. Mr. Newt’s approach of having a dual track approach of killing evil people while helping build a vibrant, prosperous Iraqi society is the only serious option.

Then there’s this last Newt-Senor observation and Harman’s Murtha-esque claim:

NEWT GINGRICH: I don’t see, though, how pulling American troops out before Abizaid and Casey say they’re ready or pulling them out before the Iraqis feel secure is going to do anything except make the war worse and ultimately lead to an American defeat.
SENOR: I think if you look at two of the most successful U.S.-led operations in 2005, putting down an uprising in Sadr City and the operation in Talafar, that western Sunni town on the western side of Iraq, those involved the U.S. forces handling military roles and military, political and economics.
So we went in there. We conducted operations alongside Iraqi military units. And then we handled infrastructure reconstruction. We had close relations with the Iraqi civilians on the ground. If we start withdrawing our troops, it not only undermines our military capacity, even in small numbers, but our capacity to handle some of these civilian and reconstruction…
REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, I don’t think we’re succeeding militarily. I think it is a huge achievement that there now is a unity government in Iraq, a democratically elected unity government, and all the cabinet positions are filled out.
It’s understandable as to why Ms. Harman isn’t happy with some of the decisions made on the war. Those are legitimate complaints. What isn’t legitimate or wise is essentially saying “We’ve made mistakes militarily. Therefore we need to abandon the military track.” It’s wise, though, to say “We’ve made mistakes militarily. Therefore we need to make better military decisions going forward.” That’s the only viable option at this point.

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