Tragedy and Farce

August 04, 2004

Karl Marx comments someplace that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy and the second time is farce.

Elsewhere many have commented about life imitating art, art imitating life, and various iterations of the two.

I was thinking about these two things and realized that the Bush approach to Iraq imitates the underwear gnomes, and that contrary to Marx's prediction, here we have a tragedy imitating a farce. Let me explain.

The underwear gnomes have a guaranteed 3 part plan for world domination.
1, Steal all the underwear
2, ???
3, Rule the world.

They know their plan will lead to world domination, they are sure that it starts with stealing all the underwear, but they just don't know what that crucial intermediate step might be. It is quite funny.

Now look at the long term Bush strategy for the war on terror.
1, Topple Saddam Hussein
2, ???
3, Spread democracy throughout the Middle East, undermining the support for islamofascism.

This is the Wolfowitz plan, the plan that I still think underlay the Iraq invasion. (The next most plausible alternative is that they invaded Iraq because it was on their to-do list, and it seemed like something they could get done.) As I posted earlier, the Wolfowitz plan was a high-risk high-reward approach.

The first and third steps are both good. We can all agree that SH was a bad man, a vicious Stalinist dictator, a man who once had WMD, who was assumed to still have them, and who would probably have re-started his WMD programs if he could have somehow escaped the sanctions, inspections, and no-fly zones.

Spreading democracy is intuitively acceptable to those of us who believe in American exceptionalism and in the promise of democracy. I support that approach, although I would have started with soft power in the centers of gravity in the Middle East - Egypt, Iran, Arabia - rather than with an invasion in a place that could just as easily have remained isolated and contained.

In the long run the conflict against islamofacism will continue until the haters become as isolated and ignored in the Middle East as, say, Christian Identity hate groups are isolated and ignored in the United States. Spreading democracy, human rights, and perhaps an Islamic Reformation, are the best way to make these lasting changes. So the first step is a perfectly reasonable step, and the final goal is probably the best long-term strategy for the War on Terror. Why am I upset about it?

The tragedy comes from the missing part 2 in their plan. The Bush crew assumed success. They assumed it so darn completely that they made almost no plans for the immediate aftermath of the invasion - they were expecting to be providing tents and emergency food supplies to a semi-coherent and broadly accepted interim government. Instead, because of this lack of planning, the military was left holding the bag and improvising. They have done a remarkable job considering the handicaps they have been under - no plan, unclear support, no international legitimacy to provide moral cover for nation-building, and a Bush administration that systematically undermined the rebuilding process.

What do I mean? Well, you attack a problem very differently if you assume that things will work out than if you assume it will be a close-run thing that might fail. If things will work out, then you don't really have to worry about the details. Instead you can hire staffers based on their political credentials back home, send folks over to pad their resumes, freeze out the local experts, freeze out anyone who might interfere with your turf, and use the place to experiment with your favorite social and political theories. And that is exactly what the Bushies have done. Like the WW1 Russian general who armed the entire army with baynets and sabers because everyone knew that cannon, explosive shells, and machine guns were unreliable things and battles are only really decided by cold steel, Iraq would be a farce except for the human costs. Those costs turn it into a tragedy, the worst sort of tragedy for it is one caused not by random chance, not by a clash of opposites, but by unthinking hubris and a tendency to play politics with everything, including national security.

The poor planning and execution of the Iraq invasion and occupation have made the long term project of spreading democracy and human rights in order to undermine islamofascism more difficult. I hope Kerry and the Democrats can deploy a better mix of hard and soft power, a better group of allies, and a better nation-building team and thus salvage Iraq. I have no hope for the Bush administration. I don't know whether Dean's cut-and-run or Bush's willful blindness would be worse, but I fear that we will find out.

Finally, the gaps in part two of the plan make it incredibly frustrating to read many of the warbloggers. They pound and pound on points one and three, points I agree with and that many Americans agree with. They ignore point two, which is where the whole thing breaks down.

Posted by Red Ted at August 4, 2004 12:33 PM | TrackBack