November 14, 2006

Rummy Business

This article from foreign by a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute is worth reading. It isn't worth reading for its analysis which doesn't neccessarily confront many of the major questions around US foreign policy- notably how to make Iraq a success but is worth reading for what it dose and doesn't say about the Neoconservative movement. Firstly it is noticable that the article is about America- not once is a politician from outside the US or a trend of history from outside the US noticed. The article's myopia as far as foreign policy is concerned is with the first part of that phrase- it acknowledges that the expedition in Iraq failed because of the failure to recognise the strength of Arab anticolonialism without drawing the lesson that the US needs to study and understand other societies much better before and not after it intervenes to save them for civilisation. Interesting suggestions that it does make like improving US public diplomacy and running an Arab Fullbright program are worth following through but again they are suggestions which come without any knowledge of the culture being dealt with- the production comes out of policy making but not out of any knowledge of the region that policy is being made for.

This takes me neatly on to the second point at issue within the article which is its analysis of the fall of Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld's fall it attributes to the neo-con obsession with a high-tech low grunt army- an army that ideally would be reduced to one man pressing buttons. This analysis in large part is right- conventional wisdom now has it that one of the major problems in Iraq is the lack of troops to adequately police the insurgency and train Iraqi forces. This conventional wisdom doesn't merely come from the media but also from the military- three times recently I've heard at first hand that the problems in Iraq are exacerbated by problems within the US army- problems that could be alleviated with more troops. It is also worth noticing that many of the problems within Iraq are caused by exactly the things I criticised above- I've listened to American servicemen departing for Iraq wondering why the ragheads bomb on Fridays I don't like quoting that language but if we are not to fail in Iraq it needs to be quoted. Incidents that have come into my knowledge are ones such as US soldiers being unable to understand signs in Arabic that read terrorist bombs made here, or American troops being so arrogant and unpleasant that even British civil servants dislike them let alone the Iraqis.

But to return to the matter at hand, Rumsfeld was never a neo-con. Rumsfeld's agenda, moulded by his time in the Nixon regime, was to deal with threats with a maximum of force and a minimum of state creation. Looking back to Chile, it becomes possible to see a Rumsfeldian invasion of Iraq that would have swept Saddam away at speed and replaced him with a suitable Pinochet figure to run Iraq. The US Army was and is moulded to that end- it is not moulded to deal with the setting up of a democracy in a region it barely understands. Neo-conservativism calls for a much more ambitious use of armed services and hence for a much larger and better trained army- the problem for Rumsfeld was that he ended up with an army that was designed to work in a situation that he wasn't commanded to deliver. The problem for the Neocons was that those who never leave Washington or take an idea that isn't American seriously, will never understand how democracy works in other parts of the world.


Stephen said...

"not once is a politician from outside the US or a trend of history from outside the US noticed" Well, he does refer to Leon Trotsky - and somebody called "Leo Strauss" who I have not heard of. But that is a silly quibble.

What is really scary about this is the advocacy of war on Iran. Iran is developing nuclear weapons as part of a rational policy of self defense. They fear a US invasion - and, as this article demonstrates, rightly - and note that nations that have nuclear weapons like Pakistan and Israel are taken seriously.

With the end of the Cold War, we relaxed a little, as the threat of a nuclear holocaust seemed to recede. It is one thing to worry about the intentions of North Korea and Iran. It is quite another to observe the recommendation of a war strategy from inside the Beltway.

And all this stuff about hearing from people who "love America" - what's that all about? It is not anti-American to consider the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights to be fine achievements - and wish that Americans felt the same way and did not demonize the one organization that exists solely to promote them (the ACLU). It is not anti-American to decry the treatment of the Dixie Chicks who were simply exercising their 1st Amendment right to free speech. It is also not anti-American to point out that some current policies (Iraq, the softwood lumber deal, greenhouse gas emissions) are not working and should be reviewed objectively.

As for whether or not Rumsfeld was a neocon, I could not care less. I am just glad he's gone.

Gracchi said...

I agree with you that the article is foolish- all sorts of things about it can be criticised but I think the key point is that its argument is only American in perview. To your points- yes Trotsky, Strauss was actually an American Professor of Political Science. I agree with you about the loving America stuff but I suspect if you take out the ignorant anti-Europeanism where you are right, that the real aim of that is the Arab and Muslim countries where the US is very unpopular. Lastly I think it does matter as to waht DR was becuase I think its important to diagnose the causes of the mistakes made- one of them was the size of the army dispatched and there in my opinion Rumsfeld had a different agenda to some of the rest of them. Cheers for commenting.