The Self Made Pundit
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
BUSH’S DEADLY WISHFUL THINKING: President Bush has demonstrated time and again that his preferred method of policy analysis is to avoid any honest discussion of issues and to engage in wishful thinking. Unfortunately, this combination of dishonesty and wishful thinking can have deadly consequences when applied to war and its aftermath.
From Afghanistan to Iraq, the Bush administration has been pretending that America has devoted sufficient troops and money to get the job done. In reality, our efforts in both countries are in jeopardy because the administration has been the embodiment of the old adage penny wise, pound foolish.
In Afghanistan, the Bush administration has been determined from the start to battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban with the minimum number of American troops possible. The folly of this approach has been apparent since at least late 2001, when Osama Bin Laden escaped from the mountains of Tora Bora at least partially because America relied on local Afghan fighters instead of committing sufficient American troops to finally get the butcher of 9/11. The Bush administration had decided to fight war on the cheap and this was one of the consequences.
The Bush administration is foolishly continuing to shortchange Afghanistan. As a result of America’s half-hearted efforts at rebuilding Afghanistan, not only warlords – but also the Taliban – are reportedly making comebacks in regions of that country.
Depressingly, the Bush administration is turning Iraq into another laboratory experiment of what can go wrong when you fight a war – and try to rebuild a society – on the cheap. The approximately 150,000 troops in Iraq is a woefully inadequate number to pacify a country the size of California.
As Fred Kaplan discusses in a must-read article in Slate, the number of troops America has committed to Iraq are far below the number of troops we have previously committed on a per capita basis in successful efforts at nation building. Kaplan eviscerates Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for his foolish congressional testimony last February that he found it hard to conceive that it could take more troops to stabilize Iraq than it would to defeat Iraq in war. Citing James Dobbins, Bush’s special envoy to post-Taliban Afghanistan and currently a policy director at the Rand Corporation, Kaplan gives us the history lesson that Wolfowitz apparently skipped:
One pertinent lesson Dobbins uncovered is that the key ingredient – the “most important determinant,” as he puts it – of successful democratic nation-building in a country after wartime is not the country's history of Westernization, middle-class values, or experience with democracy, but rather the “level of effort” made by the foreign nation-builders, as measured in their troops, time, and money.
To see just how wrong Wolfowitz was, look at Dobbins' account of how many troops have been needed to create stability in previous postwar occupations. Kosovo is widely considered the most successful exercise in recent nation-building. Dobbins calculates that establishing a Kosovo-level occupation-force in Iraq (in terms of troops per capita) would require 526,000 troops through the year 2005. A Bosnia-level occupation would require 258,000 troops – which could be reduced to 145,000 by 2008. Yet there are currently only about 150,000 foreign (mainly American) troops in Iraq – about the same as the number that fought the war.
To match the stabilization effort in Kosovo, Iraq should also be protected by an international police force numbering 53,000. Yet those 150,000 soldiers now in Iraq are also doing double-duty as cops.
In other words, had Wolfowitz talked with Dobbins (or any other high-ranking officials who'd been involved in nation-building), he would have learned that stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq would take at least twice the number of forces that were being amassed to defeat Saddam's army.
Bringing in more troops and at least some police after the war would also have meant fewer American and Iraqi casualties. Dobbins is categorical on this point: “The highest levels of casualties have occurred in the operations with the lowest levels of U.S. troops.” In fact, he adds, “Only when the number of stabilization troops has been low in comparison to the population” – such as in Somalia, Afghanistan, and now Iraq – “have U.S. forces suffered or inflicted significant casualties.” By contrast, in Germany, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo – where troop levels were high – Americans suffered no postwar combat deaths.
The Bush administration’s continuing failure to devote the necessary resources to pacifying Iraq is yet another example of the negative consequences of its policy of leading America to war with lies and half-truths.
Rather than honestly debate the level of threat posed by Iraq, the Bush administration cherry-picked the most dire intelligence reports and warned that America itself faced an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be found in Iraq. Bush and his crew claimed or implied that Iraq and Al Qaeda had close ties, despite the lack of evidence supporting that allegation.
Bush’s prevarications about the threat posed by Iraq were not the only lies in the administration’s brief in support of the war. The whole administration strategy for convincing America to invade Iraq was based on a conscious decision not to engage in an open and honest discussion of the pros and cons of going to war.
Bush’s policy of mendacity also meant not engaging in an honest discussion of the costs of war – either in money or manpower. The Bush administration did not want to weaken its case for war by admitting the high costs – in both money and manpower – that would be required for a successful conclusion. So the administration engaged in its preferred mode of analysis – wishful thinking tempered by dishonesty – and pretended that American troops could quickly come home as Iraq peacefully embraced democracy.
Not only does this wishful thinking now endanger the attempt to transform Iraq, but it also means that more American troops are likely to die than if the Bush administration had honestly discussed the efforts that would be required to achieve its goals in Iraq.