Monday, December 04, 2006

What now?: the necessity of leadership

Michael Barone is one who doesn't see Bush's promise to persevere in Iraq as a joke and/or a travesty and/or an outrage.

Neither does John McCain, who disagrees with the details of Bush's policy, but sees "staying the course" with more troops as both morally and tactically necessary, not fewer. When does McCain think we should leave Iraq?:

When I think we've exhausted every possibility to do what is necessary to succeed and not until then, because the consequences of failure are catastrophic. . . . We left Vietnam, it was over, we just had to heal the wounds of war. We leave this place, chaos in the region and they'll follow us home. So there's a great deal more at stake here in this conflict in my view.

And me? I've never written on the issue of more troops or less, because that subject seems to require a specialized sort of knowledge that I don't have. I simply note that those with that knowledge have always differed widely on the question.

But I will state the following: right from the start, although I wasn't writing a blog at the time, I was very disturbed by the hands-off attitude of those in charge of the occupation. I say "occupation" because that's what it always was, or should have been. We defeated Iraq in war--although, granted, it was a short war their armed forces mainly chose not to fight. Afterwards, it was our duty to the Iraqis, as well as in our own interests, to be effective in reconstructing a country that had been shattered--not by our war, but by the preceding decades of horror, murder, and divisive brutality, and by a lack of any recent tradition of democracy or cooperation in that country.

The failure to shoot looters at the outset was a bad sign of an approach that was unrealistic on our part about the possibility of resultant chaos. It's a bit like the first day of school, when a class takes the measure of a teacher, who has to establish his/her authority at the outset or be forever considered a wimp and possible victim. We didn't want to be a heavy occupying force, and I understood that, but we had to acknowledge that we were there to control things for a while, and that message was not properly delivered. Another turning point--and a far more important one--was our failure to apply Draconian measures to al Sadr when he was just getting started, as well as our initial stalling in Fallujah and other similar areas of enemy control and influence.

You can't go back--you can only go forward. At this point, I'm with Barone in looking at historical examples of war leadership when things looked dismal:

...remember that for Truman on Korea and for Churchill after Dunkirk, no promising military courses were immediately apparent. Truman, after firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had forsaken the threat -- a nuclear attack -- that his successor Dwight Eisenhower deployed to get the communists to agree to a truce.

But Truman's perseverance despite his 22 percent job approval -- much lower than Bush's -- was essential in preserving the independence of South Korea, which now has the world's 14th-largest economy. Churchill, facing Hitler alone, could promise only "blood, toil, tears and sweat" until his enemies' mistakes -- Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union, the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor -- gave him the allies that made victory possible...

Bush isn't Churchill in the leadership/rhetoric department, not by a longshot. But then, who is? If we wait around for a Churchill, there'll be a long wait coming.

Is Bush a Truman? Closer, perhaps--Truman was no orator, and his intelligence wasn't highly respected. One difference, of course, was that Truman was not operating under the handicap of constant Vietnam comparisons.

Leadership is hard to quantify, difficult to describe. But we know it when we see it. Right now it's necessary, although Bush, unfortunately, isn't a natural at conveying it. But in the future, as in the past, actions will speak louder than words--although words are definitely an important part of the way a leader inspires.

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