Five smart guys on a Sunday morning
I just watched an infuriating discussion on Meet the Press. The entire segment's transcript is in this post, and I've added remarks throughout. The level of thought that counts for sage foreign policy advice is remarkably low.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, what now for Iraq? We’ll talk to Ambassador Ken Adelman, Dr. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations and Tom Ricks, author of “Fiasco.” He covers the Pentagon for The Washington Post. They are all coming up on MEET THE PRESS. Do we stay, do we leave Iraq?
MR. RUSSERT: Iraq, are there any good choices? Our roundtable after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. The Iraq Study Group report is out.
Dr. Richard Haass, the Council on Foreign Relations, what do you think of it?
MR. RICHARD HAASS: I think what’s so striking about it, Tim, is the intellectual honesty. How sober it is, how stark it is. There’s—the bark is off the tree on this report about what is going on in Iraq. I think what it—what it gives us is, is a possible way forward. It’s a long shot that we can succeed in Iraq.
On the other hand, the alternatives are bad. The, the consequences of failure are extraordinary. So what I think this does is basically says we have an approach, which essentially means, let’s try to get the insiders together, national reconciliation; let’s bring in some of the key regional states who have the capacity to make things worse or better; and let’s think about a reorientation of our military mission.
Seems to be sensible, it’s a long shot. I think the advantage of trying is it may work, again. Secondly, though, if it fails, which is quite possible, at least we can say we tried, we went the extra mile. And the onus then is not, not on the United States. The onus is on the Iraqis. At the end of the day, we can’t save Iraq, Iraqis can only save Iraq. And what I think the report does is set up that perception, sets up an alternative for why we didn’t succeed, if in fact we don’t.
I did not realize that the Iraqis invaded Iraq with insufficient forces to maintain law and order. That they then also dismissed the military was also a major error on their part. Perhaps we should have left once they did that.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Cohen, you wrote this in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday: “There is something of a farce in all this, an invocation of wisdom from a cohesive Washington elite that does not exist, a desperate wish to believe in the gravitas and the statecraft of grave men (and women) who can sort out the mess in which the country finds itself.” I won’t put you down as undecided.
MR. ELIOT COHEN: No, I have a dimmer view of the report. I think the report did a—they did do a good job of laying out just how grim the situation is in Iraq, although, to be perfectly frank, if you’re reading the newspapers for the last year or so, you’d have a good sense of that.
I thought that both the process was flawed, and the substance was flawed. The process was flawed because this was a report that was driven at consensus from the very beginning on a subject on which there can’t be consensus. And another word for consensus can be “group think.” You had a bunch of very senior, eminent people, all very worthy, who spent a grand total of four days in Iraq. Only one of them left the green zone, that little bubble of palaces in Baghdad, for more than one day—the only combat veteran, Senator Chuck Robb. And I don’t think the results are very good, either.
What, what—the main suggestion that’s here, if you just read the thing, is it starts with the idea of a new diplomatic offensive, which is somehow supposed to bring Syria and Iran around. There’s, there’s no plausible discussion of what kinds of incentives or disincentives we’ll offer them. Some parts of this verge on fantasy. You know, you’re going to get the Syrians to turn themselves in over the Hariri assassination, to get them to persuade Hamas to recognize Israel? And then on the internal part of the report, a lot of what they’re recommending are things that we say we’re doing. We’re not actually doing them. But part of my argument is our biggest problem has been in implementation, and in energy. The idea that you’re going to have a different course of action, I don’t- I don’t really buy at the end of the day.
I agree with Mr. Cohen that there is little reason for optimism because of this report. However, this report has done nothing but end the silly public relations charade that we witnessed from 2003 until just a few weeks ago.
MR. RUSSERT: If nothing else, did the report end the debate as to how grave and serious the situation on the ground is?
MR. COHEN: I don’t think so. I, I think—I mean, it, it may have been useful in that regard, I don’t want to be just entirely negative about it. But, but I think most serious people looking at this—including serious people in the military, for sure, and some people at least in the White House—knew that we’re in a pretty difficult situation.
The study group would have done a lot better, I think, if, if they had done something that Secretary Baker rejected, namely laying out different courses of action. Because there are different courses of action.
They’re all bad, and it would be a much greater service to the country if we knew just how bad each of those courses of actions were, and we chose the least bad.
MR. RUSSERT: Ambassador Adelman, what do you think of the report?
MR. KEN ADELMAN: I think that the gentlemen are absolutely right, that the front end on how grave the situation is was laid out. And I think I agree with you, Tim, that that is a great service. The happy talk from the administration, I think, is over. The “Field of Dreams” approach, “build it and it will come- they will come”—the idea, “liberate it, and it’ll be fine.” I think that the report is excellent on the dire consequences if we fail there.
I think the link between the two are, is very inadequate, and I think that it has a bunch of modest links in there, steps that should be taken soon, and I think we need a dramatic jolt to the system. I think what we have to do is within six-month time, turn around the momentum in Baghdad so that those who are in Baghdad get the feeling, who’s going to win this thing? That’s the big question. Who’s going to win this thing? And it should be—the answer should be the Iraqi government. Now, if they can turn that around within four to six months and do what’s necessary, they win the battle of Baghdad, I think there’s a chance. Otherwise, you know, there’s no chance.
MR. RUSSERT: So you think send...
MR. ADELMAN: And otherwise, it’s irresponsible.
MR. RUSSERT: You think send more American troops to Baghdad?
MR. ADELMAN: Yes. And change the leadership there with the generals there and just get a process so that it is turned around so that the feeling of momentum—I’m not saying the place will be stable in six months. I’m saying the feeling of momentum, those people who say, “Who’s going to win around here eventually?” the answer is it’s most likely that the Iraqi government will win. Otherwise, we’re doing a great disservice to the troops there who are giving their—you know, risked their last full measure of devotion for this thing. And otherwise we’re just playing with diplomacy and a lot of steps with Syria and Iran, which won’t make any difference.
I really love irony and Adelman is a fine specimen in this regard. Right after he bemoans the "Field of Dreams" mentality, he posits a new dream: war for perceived momentum. How clever. Had he intended to undercut that silly goal of his, he could have done no better on the rhetorical merits.
MR. RUSSERT: Prior to the war, you had used the now famous word, “cakewalk.” Do you wish you could take that word back?
MR. ADELMAN: I was talking, Tim, about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and that government. And that was absolutely true. We did that in 21 days. That was not the problem. The problem was what to do afterwards. A lot of people thought that was going to be the problem, the overthrow of the government, but it wasn’t.
MR. RUSSERT: But there was a perception that this was going to be a lot easier than it turned out to be.
MR. ADELMAN: There was a perception that the overthrow of the Saddam government was going to be a lot harder than it was going to be. Brent Scowcroft wrote his famous piece in The Wall Street Journal saying it could lead to nuclear holocaust, and he wasn’t talking about the aftermaths, he was talking about the overthrow of the Saddam government. My view, and I think Eliot wrote something similar at the time, was that that is not going to be the hard part.
"If you build it, they will come."
MR. RUSSERT: But in terms of troops levels, being greeted as liberators, there would not be sectarian violence, the costs of the war, there were some misjudgments made.
MR. ADELMAN: There were misjudgments, but I’m not sure that they were so bad misjudgments, to tell you the truth, Tim. I think if the administration had stopped the looting right away, if the administration had not made a series of absolutely mind-bending, mind-bending errors since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, I’m not sure it would’ve been as—it certainly wouldn’t have been as difficult as it is now. Tom Ricks’ book, “Fiasco,” gives a litany, as do other books—Bob Woodward’s book and Michael Gordon’s book and George Packard’s and Bernie Trainor—and the mistakes done makes you slap your forehead and say, “What is going on here?” How come this level of incompetence is just so, so awesome on this, on a very serious thing that has endangered an enormous number of Americans and cost, you know, the prestige of the United States to say nothing of the future of Iraq? It is just shameful.
"If you build it, write a book on why it was someone else's fault for it not working."
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Ricks, you wrote this in the paper on Thursday. “The Iraq Study Group report might well be titled ‘The Realist Manifesto.’ ... The bipartisan report is nothing less than a repudiation of the Bush administration’s diplomatic and military approach to Iraq and the whole region. ...
“While many of its recommendations stem from the ‘realist’ school of foreign policy, it is unclear at this point whether a radically different approach would make much difference nearly four years after the invasion of Iraq.” You think it’s too late?
MR. THOMAS RICKS: I think it may be too late, and the report says it may be too late. But says, look, it gives us one last best shot and see if you can do better.
MR. RUSSERT: Why do you think it’s too late?
Questions like this are a waste of time.
MR. RICKS: As the report says, the, the situation is deteriorating. We have fought the battle of Baghdad now for several months. We tried to put in U.S. forces in the belief that it would change the outcome. And the U.S. military was shocked to find, in October, that it did, did not. As they put more troops in, into Baghdad, violence increased.
Now I think we manned up putting another 20,000 troops into Iraq in a temporary surge, but the U.S. military doesn’t have a lot of confidence that that would do much good, either, in Baghdad.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not?
MR. RICKS: Because they were surprised at how little effect putting, I think it was 8,000 U.S. troops in, had. And really, 20,000 is about the limit you can get out of the U.S. military without doing serious damage to future deployments.
This may explain why the Fourth Infantry Division was let loose when the First Cav came to replace their basemates. Very interesting. I thought it was as plain as day that this rotation was an opportunity for a large surge.
My guess: we are unable to stabilize Baghdad with all these additional troops because we leave a robust insurgency in our rear when we surge forces into the ancient city. The Sectarian killings were well under way when we put more troops in Baghdad this summer. Sunni insurgents responded in their custom. The situation escalated around the Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s diving the insurgency?
MR. RICKS: Right now it’s an insurgency, it’s a civil war. It’s, I think, the pure Hobbesian state, the war of all against all at this point. It isn’t a—it’s worse than a civil way in many ways. It’s in a state of meltdown. The country is falling apart. What strikes me: Neighborhoods in Baghdad are now essentially little armed fortresses. People have put up barriers, walls, even just burned-out cars so that most neighborhoods only have one entrance and exit. And this is true across the city that sprawls for 30 or 40 miles. It, it essentially is a series of armed camps now.
MR. RUSSERT: Are Iraqis choosing their tribes? Their religious sect over their national government?
MR. HAASS: The short answer is yes. I think when, increasingly when Iraqis get up in the morning, they don’t look in the mirror and define themselves as an Iraqi, that too often now they’re defining themselves as Sunni or Shia or even far smaller units than that. They’re a member of this militia. In some ways, we’re seeing a civil war against the backdrop of a failed state. And that’s what explains what you might call the militarization of this country. It’s a real breakdown of central authority. And the problem with the report might simply be that it’s three years late, that it’s coming into a situation which is so deteriorated that, way beyond any questions of whether this report, Tim, can gain traction inside the beltway, the real question is whether it can gain traction in Baghdad, whether the situation on the ground has simply deteriorated beyond the point that, that the sorts of remedies put forward here can stick, or indeed whether any remedies can stick.
Gangs, militias and ad hoc fortifications are means of protection. Iraq is a lot like any city in human history that has existed in a failed state.
MR. RUSSERT: You write in tomorrow’s Time magazine something that I would describe as extremely pragmatic in approaching this. “Almost as important as what actually happens in Iraq is how it is understood. One possibility is that people around the region and the world would come to judge Iraq’s failure as largely the result of American policy. ... An alternative view is that the lion’s share of responsibility for what has taken place in Iraq over the past few years belongs to the Iraqis themselves. ... This narrative is more likely to take hold if the U.S. publicly sets clear benchmarks for what Iraqis must accomplish regarding political reform and security performance and what they should expect if they come up short.” Your point is: Set these benchmarks and if the Iraqis don’t do it, say “We’ve liberated you; now it’s your problem that you haven’t taken advantage of it.”
MR. HAASS: Pretty much. We set forth these benchmarks. This is what it will take to make Iraq a functioning country in the area of security, in the area of politics and economics. If Iraq can do those things, great. Then we will have a partner and we will have a basis to press on. But if Iraq can’t do those things, then I think it sets the stage for the president of the United States saying, “Look, we have done everything we could’ve done and more. And quite honestly, what’s missing is not another six months or six years of American effort. What’s missing is not another 20,000 or 50,000 troops.”
So I’m all in favor of giving the Iraqis a chance to show that they can make this work. But at some point, Tim, I think the president of the United States has to make a very sober assessment that what’s—what we’re trying is not working. And if we get to that point, he’s got to then look to how do we cut our losses, contain the damage and move on. At the end of the day, American foreign policy has to move beyond Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that fair to the Iraqis? Colin Powell said, “If we break it, we bought it.” If we went in, topple Saddam Hussein, do we not have a responsibility of at least creating security so that the Iraqis can govern themselves?
MR. HAASS: Well, it’s one of the reasons that people like me had doubts about the war from the get-go. I was not confident that we could make this work even if we had avoided many of the problems that Ken Adelman and Tom Ricks and others have, have documented. But at some point, we’ve got to say, “We have—we have done as much as we can reasonably be expected to do.” And also, at some point, we owe it to our troops and to the American people, where we have to say further investment of lives, further investment of dollars are not going to turn this thing around. We, we owe that, to ourselves, I would say, even more than we owe things to the Iraqis. We cannot, by ourselves, make Iraq a success.
We have effectively demonstrated that last sentence.
MR. RUSSERT: You wouldn’t send more troops in?
MR. HAASS: I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.: I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.
This narrative doesn't stand a chance of being believed beyond our borders.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Cohen, your son has served bravely in Iraq. If the president picked up the phone this morning and said, “All right, Dr. Cohen, tell me what to do. As a father, as a military historian, what do I do?”
MR. COHEN: I think the first thing I’d say is, “I’m going to separate out what I say as a father and what I say as a military historian or commentator.” That’s a separate issue.
It must be incredibly difficult to go on television when it is this personal.
MR. RUSSERT: Fair enough.
MR. COHEN: What I would say is, “The first thing, Mr. President, you have to decide what you are capable of doing. And that means, among other things, how energetic are you willing to, to be in getting your bureaucracy to do the things that we already say that we’re doing, or that we ought to be doing.”
And I, I find it appalling, for example, our troops are still driving around in humvees now that we’ve slapped some armor on them. These are vehicles that are not designed to withstand the blasts of roadside bombs. There are commercially available vehicles that are. And yet, somehow, three and a half years after going into this kind of war, we still don’t have them. That, that’s symptomatic of a larger problem. That is, getting the bureaucracy to do the things that it needs to do.
Second thing I think I would say, in terms of broad strategy, that we are clearly at a crossroads. And there are two basic courses of action. One is, essentially, just limiting our losses and getting out, and there is a intellectually respectable argument for that. And the other is trying to win. And, and honestly, I’d rather win than control the narrative at the moment.
If we can win, I think what it would require would be something like this: First, it’s going to require a lot more money, and it’s going to require a substantial increase in the size of the American military. I suspect it will require a substantial surge—at least in the short term—in the Baghdad area. I, I disagree a little bit with Tom. I think 8,000 troops is not very much, you couldn’t really expect that to influence the violence in Baghdad.
The commanders apparently did. Expanding the military, an idea advocated by Democrats in 2004, would take a great deal of time. Recruiting may be difficult. The costs are already sky high, and this is a call for more spending. These are good steps, if you believe you can succeed wit these steps. But make no mistake, this is a large dose of "sacrifice".
MR. RUSSERT: What number are you talking about?
MR. COHEN: I suspect we’re probably talking about 20,000 or 30,000, something along those lines, a much more substantial kind of—kind of increase. The report is right in emphasizing training. But again, you know, the administration has been saying training is job one. But if you get down and talk to military trainers, as I have—both there and here—what you see is we say we’re going to have a dozen advisers embedded in each Iraqi battalion, we usually have about eight or nine. And what they will tell you is we need 35, 50, maybe even 70. It’s hard to make the bureaucracy do it. The institutions will not want to do that, for perfectly understandable reasons. The part of what we need here is—this is as much an issue of drive and grip and, and vigor in, in trying to do the things that we’re going to say we’re doing. The last point I would make is, in terms of our dealings with the Iraqis, we do need an alternative option. We do have to be able to confront them, saying, “Look, if you are not willing to go along with, for example, us vetting commanders in the Iraqi security forces and exercising considerable influence over promotion, we will leave you to chaos.” And that’s a useful threat to have with the Syrians and the Iranians. It’s the only threat at the moment, honestly, that we have with the Syrians and the Iranians. And you have to be prepared to follow through on that. But, but this idea...
I have not heard anyone consider what Iran and Syria would say to this "help or else" plea. I think Iran, the stronger player, would probably settle on a stable, Shiite buffer zone between the Sunnis and the Persians. There are stong natural defenses that can be reinforced, and the ethnic cleansing in Baghdad is a step toward this buffer zone, be that the goal or just a coincidence.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, what’s wrong with chaos for the Syrians, Syrians and Iranians?
MR. COHEN: For the Syrians and Iranians, I think, real chaos is a little bit more of a mess than, than they really want. The, the problem with the report is it implies that somehow, without any incentives beyond wanting to help us, you can get them to cooperate. And I think that’s absurd. I—frankly, I would prefer much more direct means of pressure on the Syrians and Iranians, but I don’t think at the moment— at the moment that we have them.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Adelman, the president talks about a secure country, a safe environment that can govern itself, and an ally in the war on terror. When Prime Minister Maliki was here with his foreign policy advisers, I asked them repeatedly, did they think that Hezbollah was a terrorist group. And they said, “Well, we’re not in a position to say—make a comment like that.” The speaker of the parliament of Iraq said the violence was caused by Israel and Jewish agents. Will Iraq truly be an ally of the United States in the war on terror, or will it be more closely aligned with Iran?
MR. ADELMAN: I would—I would say that we have to walk before it runs, and they don’t need a foreign policy right now, Tim, with all due respect. They need some kind of coherence and some kind of ability to run the country, which they’re not doing.
Now, I differ a little bit with my friend Richard Haass in saying that, you know, we have to structure ourselves to get into the politics of blamesmanship on this, and I do believe that we, we owe it to the troops there—and especially to the Iraqis, and—to go one last try to get Baghdad to turn around. And I believe a surge—not with 6,000, but something like 20,000 to 30,000--some of them coming into the country, some of them in less used places around the country—and a general there on the ground— probably different than the generals we have there, to tell you the truth, who have tried and served and, and very patriotic, but have not got the job done—to turn it around so that the momentum is our way within six months. Now, if that doesn’t work, then, then we should just get out of there, because then we’re endangering a lot of lives.
He wants Patton. Or Sherman. Or Grant. This is the advice from the anti-fantasist. Thanks. Do we have one of those types of generals? Devoid of career ambition and willing to take this, which would be their last command. It doesn't even make sense, based on how the American military currently operates. It's a "Baghdad Security Czar" because that is the kind of advice smart people offer when times get tough.
Let me make one more point, and that is when Eliot Cohen says that the implementation of this has been awful, that’s an understatement. This Iraqi report gives an example, Tim, that just breaks your heart. In the thousand-person U.S. Embassy in Baghdad today, there’s six people, six people who speak fluent Arabic. Now, this is not Chiluba, this is not, you know, an obscure language. This is one of the great languages of the world. And out of 1,000, we don’t have any more than six people who can speak the language where they are? How can you, how can the president hear that, how can anybody in the U.S. government hear that and not be totally ashamed by the unseriousness of this effort? It also makes the point that in the Defense Intelligence Agency, less than 10 analysts have been looking at this insurgency for two years or so. Less than 10. And this is what’s killing 100 Americans a month, and 100 Iraqis a day. I mean, it is just—it just breaks your heart.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom, Tom Ricks, based on your report, your understanding of the situation, where do you see us a year from now?
MR. RICKS: I think we’ll still be in Iraq. I think we’ll be in Iraq probably for 10 to 15 years with American troops, much reduced in their numbers. That’s kind of the best-case scenario. I think if things continue to fall apart, the American people will not tolerate having American troops dying in a civil war, the cross fire of a civil war.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you take large numbers of American troops out of Iraq quickly, if that’s the decision? With the roads to Kuwait and to Jordan and the number of equipment and vehicles and armaments we have, is that possible? And could there not be a great possibility of significant hostage- taking?
A fighting retreat from Iraq. Imagine that. The United States of America retreating from the field and leaving a failed state.
MR. RICKS: I think it will be fairly easy to get U.S. forces out. The irony of it is that U.S. military can go wherever it wants in Iraq, it just doesn’t have much of an effect. It’s a hand put in a bucket of water. My great concern would be the allies in Iraq, the Iraqis we’ve surfaced over the last few years, have pulled into our effort and have promised them that, “We’ll take you to a new Iraq.” Those people will be extremely exposed. Now, a lot of them have left. Basically, the middle class has fled into Jordan, Syria, Europe and the U.S.—the doctors, the lawyers, the professors, the glue of democracy. What you have left now are the hard men, the men of the gun. And it’s really a shame that we didn’t focus early on on protecting those Iraqi allies. And I would really worry about them if we left.
MR. RUSSERT: Where do you see Iraq a year from now?
MR. HAASS: Again, at best, a messy country with a very weak central government, regular violence, pretty much what we’re seeing today. That would be to me, sadly—sad enough, the optimistic scenario.
I don’t see democracy taking hold. I don’t see a national consensus. This is not a reasonable society right now where reasonable ideas can take hold.
My concern is something far worse, which is, one or the other sides looks like it’s victorious, either the Sunnis or the Shia, to the extent one can generalize at all, and outsiders begin to get more involved. One can imagine, in particular, a lot of people, Tim, as you know, are now talking about a so-called 80- percent solution, where the United States essentially goes with the majority of Iraq, which is...
MR. RUSSERT: The Shiites.
MR. HAASS: ...the Shiites and the Kurds, and lets the Sunnis essentially lose. The problem with that, it seems to me, is their kith and kin around the region will get involved. And suddenly you’ll see so- called “volunteers” streaming in across borders. The Saudis and others will make sure personnel and money and guns get in there.
MR. RUSSERT: To the Sunnis.
MR. HAASS: To the Sunnis.
MR. RUSSERT: So a proxy war between Shiites and Sunnis.
MR. HAASS: That’s the nightmare. As bad as Iraq is now—you know, people always say things have to get worse before they get better. In the Middle East sometimes, things have to get worse before they get even worse. And the danger in Iraq is, as bad as things are now, one can imagine it worse. Which again, I’m all in favor of what I’ve heard around this table. Yes, the United States ought to make a big push to try to get things right. It’s a long shot, though. Let’s be—let’s be honest. It’s a long shot. Odds are, we won’t succeed. Not because of us, but more because of Iraq.
We have to start thinking. It’s not a blame game. What it is is a preparation to try to reduce the cost, to contain it. We may have to, quite honestly, as bad as it sounds, think about letting a civil war rage for a while, but hopefully keeping it from spilling beyond its borders, bringing in the region. We have—we may have to think about how we insulate the rest of American foreign policy.
I don’t like saying these things because what we’re talking about are accepting costs, accepting a degree of failure. But we may find that the only courses available to the United States now are bad options and degrees of failure. You can call that realism, you can call that defeatism. I’m, I’m afraid, to answer your question, that is going to be the future.
There is a good point here about how naive it is to side with one or several factions. They would likely take our help and then kick us in the rear when we weren't useful, too. But the euphemisms are terrible: "costs". Blood. Misery. Let's call a spade a spade here.
MR. RUSSERT: A year from now?
MR. COHEN: You know, I think we’re at a real crossroads, so I, I do think that it could either be quite as horrible as Richard Haass has argued or I think it’s conceivable it could be getting—it could be getting somewhat better.
One of the problems, again, to go back to the study group report, is I think once people have the idea that we’re just kind of covering up with a—we’ve got a cover for our gradual disengagement from this thing, if you’re an Iraqi, particularly an Iraqi who’s been working with us in the military or in the other parts of the security forces or simply the government, you’ll immediately begin cutting deals with all the different kinds of cutthroat organizations that are out there, whether it’s the Jaish al-Mahdi or al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Badr Brigades, or, or, or you name it.
So I think we are very much at a crossroads. We may very well end up with the worst solution, in which case, it’ll be time to think about containing damage. But for the moment, at least, I would hope that we would make an effort to try to succeed.
We were at a crossroads, then someone killed 250 Sadrists on Thanksgiving day.
MR. RUSSERT: Will the war in Iraq go down as, what? How will it be described in history?
MR. ADELMAN: I tell you, my view on this is a little different from—probably from everybody’s. I think it was the right thing to do. I think that after September 11, with the “evidence” that we had with weapons of mass destruction and—that turned out not to be true, but no one knew it wasn’t true then, and certainly Saddam didn’t act like it wasn’t true—and with the intelligence during the first Gulf war that the nuclear program of Saddam Hussein was further along than we suspected at the time—with all those factors, I think it was a courageous thing for President Bush to do. I think that part of it was wonderful.
I think that the MBA part, the master of business administration and the competence that Eliot, who was talking about, in just implementing it, I think it was a shameful exercise. So I think it’s a good idea gone terribly bad by terrible implementation on that.
And for a year from now, I think that it’s going to be close to what Richard and Eliot says and Tom, but I want something a little different—and I think we all want that: a feeling that somehow the Iraqi government has bottomed out, that they’re going to be OK, that if you’re putting your smart money on things, you’re going to go with those guys rather than the sectarian groups, rather than the insurgents, because eventually they’re going to win. And I hope to God, for the sake of our troops, as I say, that that is the case.
This man needs to not be allowed in television studies.
MR. RUSSERT: We just have 20 seconds. Tom Ricks, the military spent two decades learning about Vietnam. What will the military take from Iraq?
MR. RICKS: It’s too early to tell, but it’s going to be a series of, I think, very bad and worrisome and ugly lessons that derive from this, probably being the most profligate and worst decision in the history of American foreign policy.
RUSSERT: Tom Ricks, Ken Adelman, Eliot Cohen, Richard Haass, thank you very much for a very important discussion.