The US Army is proposing to pay Arabic-speaking recruits bonuses of $150,000. James Joyner explains how this situation is largely one of the Army's own-making, dating back more than a dozen years.
The US Army is proposing to pay Arabic-speaking recruits bonuses of $150,000. James Joyner explains how this situation is largely one of the Army's own-making, dating back more than a dozen years.
Among the anecdotes in "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story" is an arresting portrait of Bush after four contractors were killed in Fallujah in 2004, triggering a fierce U.S. response that was reportedly egged on by the president.
During a videoconference with his national security team and generals, Sanchez writes, Bush launched into what he described as a "confused" pep talk:
"Kick ass!" he quotes the president as saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal."
"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"
Of course, Donald Rumsefeld and the President did take the view, back when they planned the invasion of Iraq, that "the fewer men, the greater share of honour..."
At Tapped Mori Dinaeur says no-one should be surprised by John McCain's lack of interest in policy detail. Well fine. The there's this, however:
After Iraq and Katrina, I don't think the public needs to be convinced of the link between conservatism [and] the failure of government.
Half of this, at least, is entirely wrong. The Iraq War has little or nothing to do with conservative, or governmental failure, rather it was the result, in more than just part, of an overweening, arrogant belief in the power of government to achieve anything it set its mind to. Granted, the Bush administration didn't foresee the problems that would arise and are properly culpable for that (me too, for that matter), but there's little that's recognisably conservative about the war, at least in terms of any conservatism of restraint, modesty and prudence.
As for Katrina: well maybe (and certainly I think Dinauer is right to suppose that the public blames the federal government for the debacle) but there is, of course, or at least there used to be, the question as to whether disaster relief is a matter the federal government should be taking the lead role in. That, of course, is an exceedingly old-fashioned view.
News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch says that NATO is in a “crisis of confidence” because Western Europe is “losing its faith in the values and institutions that have kept us free.” He calls for a radical redefinition of the Alliance in order to save it, including extending membership to Australia, Japan, and Israel.
Murdoch, who is receiving the Atlantic Council of the United States’ Distinguished Business Leader Award for 2008, says in his prepared remarks that, “We must face up to a painful truth: Europe no longer has either the political will or social culture to support military engagements in defense of itself and its allies. However strong NATO may be on paper, this fact makes NATO weak in practice. And it means that reform will not come from within.” Accordingly, he continued, “we need to transform this Alliance from a community formed around a map to a community based on common values and a willingness to take joint action in defense of these values.” Indeed, he argued, “Expansion is the only hope of invigorating an Alliance weighed down by those who are no longer willing to commit themselves to defend its founding principles.”
Murdoch contends that, “Around the world, there is no shortage of nations who share our values, and are willing to defend them. I am thinking of countries like Australia, which sent troops to Iraq … Israel, which has been fighting Islamic terrorism almost since its founding … and Japan, which generally follows a more ‘Western’ policy than most of Western Europe.” Ultimately, he argued, “If we continue to define the West or the Alliance as a strictly geographical concept, the Alliance will continue to erode. But if we define the West as a community of values, institutions, and a willingness to act jointly, we will revive an important bastion of freedom — and make it as pivotal in our own century as it was in the last.”
Well, this is what Rudy Giuliani recommended all those months ago when he fleetingly seemed a credible Presidential candidate. And one can see that there's something to it (though the extent of that something may only run as far as your willingness to endorse the theory that we're witnessing - or engaged in - a genuine clash of civilisations).
But... a couple of points need to be remembered. Who are these people "no longer willing to commit themselves to defend [NATO's] founding principles"? One supposes that Murdoch means many western european countries who've been reluctant to send troops to Iraq (and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan). But in what sense is Iraq a conflict to defend NATO's founding principles since the organisation was founded to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union?
Moreover, it's often forgotten that NATO did in fact treat the September 11th attacks as an act of war upon one of its members and, for the first time in the organisation's history, invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
At the time - ie, autumn 2001 - this was frequently cited in Washington and London as adding legitimacy to the argument in favour of military action in Afghanistan. The subsequent Iraq controversy has overhadowed the fact that, in Britain at least, the Aghan operation was not without controversy. (You may recall the warnings about the Hindu Kush and the Afghan winter and the British and Soviet experiences there).
Equally, it's the case that NATO offers of assistance were - for understandable reasons - brushed off by the United States. As I say, on psychological as well as practical military grounds one can understand why Washington took this attitude but like any other action this decision had consequences. I suspect that european countries would have been prepared to commit more to Afghanistan had they been asked to or treated as allies rather than as unwelcome appendages to US military might.
Subsequently, having been rebuffed once one can see why european countries might have been reluctant to assist the US in Iraq - a mission that was, quite clearly, less than intimately related to the immediate causes of 9/11 and, in any case, unpopular with voters across europe. In those circumstances, in fact, it's striking how many NATO members have contributed at least some troops to Iraq (even if, naturally, these have often been small deployments). Furthermore, it's hard to see why any NATO member would feel an urge to be involved in Iraq given Donald Rumsfeld's admission that the Pentagon didn't need even the 45,000 British troops committed to the invasion force in 2003. Why stick your neck out for no real reward and, domestically, the prospect of real pain in the partnership of an ally who may well regard your presence as an inconvenience?
Then there's this: “We must face up to a painful truth: Europe no longer has either the political will or social culture to support military engagements in defense of itself and its allies."
Well, maybe. But as I say, the recent record (going back to the Balkan wars as well as Afghanistan) doesn't support Murdoch's hypothesis. More immediately, who has actually attacked europe? Does Murdoch really think that europe is under attack? From whom? Clearly there are people - as events n London and Madrid have demonstrated - who wish western europe ill, but in what way, shape or form does Murdoch think that NATO - either as currently constituted or in his expanded version of the alliance - is the best or most appropriate organisation to meet that threat?
Now maybe NATO does need to be reformed, but this doesn't, at first blush, seem an especially persuasive case for doing so.
It's easy, of course, to mock actors and pop stars and their worthy pretensions to saving the planet. But whatever else one may say of her, I think it's true that Angelina Jolie takes her role as a UNHCR "ambassador" more seriously than most. Anyway, she has an interesting and persuasive op-ed in the Washington Post today:
My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.
Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?
What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.
As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.
PS: Here's the hilarious bio the WaPo gives Ms Jolie:
Angelina Jolie, an actor, is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador
Oh, you mean that Angelina Jolie?
Matt Yglesias sees walls going up in Baghdad and wonders if the US Army is using Northern Ireland as its template:
I believe this technique comes to the US Army's counterinsurgency theorists via Belfast, where I believe they have been effective in helping the British maintain a degree of order.
To some extent, this brings us back to the question of strategy. If tactics employed in Northern Ireland can be made to work in Iraq (and maybe they can) even though Iraq has ten times as many people as Northern Ireland does and even though Iraqis don't speak English and even though the sectarian violence in Iraq is undergirded by concrete fighting over valuable resources, then does this really seem like a wise strategic undertaking? It doesn't seem that way to me. It's been decades since "the Troubles," after all, and while Northern Ireland is now in a situation that there's reason to be optimistic about, you could imagine it all going to shit. All things considered, it seems like the British position there is one we ought to avoid getting ourselves stuck into. Emulating the UK's more successful tactics from that theater makes sense if we're going to adopt that kind of mission, but there mere fact that the tactics can maybe kinda sorta work if we give them a few dozen years is no reason to actually do it.
Well, it hasn't been decades since "The Troubles" but I know what Matt means: the worst of the killing did happen more than 25 years ago, before the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary settled in for the long haul. Over time the security forces were able to squeeze the paramilitaries tighter and tighter; the violence didn't end, of course, but Ulster settled in to what amounted to a vicious stalemate. Neither side could prevail militarily (at least, from the British perspective, not without catastrophic and counter-productive social and political consequences) and the poor province was reduced to living with what one Secretary of State coolly ackowledged was "an acceptable level of violence".
Still, to the extent that Northern Ireland (population of 1.7 million, 5,000 square miles) can be a useful example for security measures in Iraq (26 million, 170,000 square miles) one might say that the US army is now approximately where the UK was in the late-1970s. Cracking an insurgency is one thing, but it is only preparatory to the real task of reducing violence to a level in which some degree of political progress becomes possible. This took 20 years in Ulster (Sunningdale, Anglo-Irish Agreement, Downing Street Declaration, Good Friday Agreement) and even then the violence wasn't snuffed out entirely (also, government ended up in the hands of thugs and bigots - a price eventually deemed worth paying).
Does the US really have the stomach for that kind of patience? Equally, can it really deploy the best part of 100,000 troops in Iraq for another ten years?
Earlier this summer, the army released a very interesting overview of its experience in Northern Ireland. Its findings are, shall we say, sobering in the light of the Iraq experience. Among them:
...There was no insurgency in August 1969. The IRA was not a credible force and took no significant part in the events of that month. For several reasons the IRA was allowed to develop into an effective insurgent organisation over the next two years. This suggests that the early stages of an apparent breakdown in social order – however it is described - are absolutely critical to the subsequent nature of a campaign. All subsequent decisions and actions, by all parties, are conditioned by these early events. Furthermore violence in the early stages creates bitterness, hatred and extreme views which can last for generations. Looking at the events of the Troubles in retrospect, it is apparent that many of them could have been avoided or reduced in impact if effective measures had been taken early on; and that similar patterns can be seen in many situations elsewhere.
...The initial period after the arrival of a military force in a peace support or peace enforcement operation has been described as the ‘honeymoon period’. That suggests that there is a period (variously given as 100 days or three months) in which to put things right. The term ‘honeymoon period’ is a misnomer. It is not a honeymoon. It is the most important phase of the campaign.
...Security forces do not ‘win’ insurgency campaigns militarily; at best they can contain or suppress the level of violence and achieve a successful end-state. They can thus reduce a situation to an ‘acceptable level of violence’ – a level at which normal social, political and economic activities can take place without intimidation. ‘Acceptable level of violence’ as a term should be used carefully since violence should have no place in a developed society. What is required is a level which the population can live with, and with which local police forces can cope. Security forces should bring the level of violence down to the point at which dissidents believe they will not win through a primarily violent strategy and at which a political process can proceed without significant intimidation. If possible, the situation should not be allowed to come to that stage.
...Without effective cultural understanding the security forces in any theatre cannot conduct a truly effective information campaign and arguably, therefore, an effective counter insurgency campaign. Additionally many military activities may be flawed because the reaction of population cannot be properly predicted: there is a need both to gain intelligence and to understand local perceptions.7 This links to the idea that insurgency feeds off dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is a sentiment based on perception. Perception is framed by culture.
...The Manoeuvrist Approach generally stresses manoeuvre rather than attrition, whilst accepting that some destruction is inevitably required.20 Operation BANNER supports this approach. The massive and sustained attrition against PIRA in the mid-1970s did not destroy it, but drove it to reorganise and restructure. The attritional aspect of ‘reassurance, deterrence and attrition’ in the 1980s had relatively
little effect on PIRA. Attrition did have other effects which reinforce key tenets of the Manoeuvrist Approach. The first is the shock effect of major strikes against PIRA. The second effect was that of shaping PIRA’s perceptions, that it would not win by the continuation of the armed struggle and that it was was losing some of its most experienced terrorists.
...Although the British Army has clearly benefited from the lessons it learned in Northern Ireland, not all of these were entirely new; many had been identified before 1969, but were then applied by a new generation of soldiers. For example, the CO of the first unit to come under fire went to great lengths in his post-operational report to stress the need not to return fire until the firing point could be positively identified. As a result his battalion did not return fire until one hour and 40 minutes after the first round had been fired at it. Thus restraint in the use of force, and the discipline required to achieve it, were lessons from earlier conflicts. Operation BANNER ensured that such lessons were learned, institutionalised and if necessary re-learned by the whole Army.
...The behaviour which the British Army displayed was a key factor. The Israeli historian Martin van Creveld has said that the British Army’s self-discipline, and particularly restraint and forbearance in the face of grievous provocation, was a key factor. The Army rarely over-reacted. It did not respond with tanks on the streets. It generally displayed humanity and humour, although during the early 1970s this was difficult to sustain and a desire to ‘sort the Micks out’ was often apparent.
...Martin van Creveld has said that the British Army is unique in Northern Ireland in its success against an irregular force. It should be recognised that the Army did not ‘win’ in any recognisable way; rather it achieved its desired end-state, which allowed a political process to be established without unacceptable levels of intimidation. Security force operations suppressed the level of violence to a level which the population could live with, and with which the RUC and later the PSNI could cope. The violence was reduced to an extent which made it clear to the PIRA that they would not win through violence. This is a major achievement, and one with which the security forces from all three Services, with the Army in the lead, should be entirely satisfied. It took a long time but, as van Creveld said, that success is unique. [emphasis added]
The New York Times has six correspondents assigned to Iraq, plus a rotating cast of photographers, plus Pentagon correspondents who regularly travel with the troops. We employ, in addition, about 80 brave Iraqis - many of them handpicked stringers based in towns that are no longer safe for westerners. Sustaining the Baghdad bureau costs several million dollars a year. We take extraordinary precautions to keep our people safe, but two of our Iraqi colleagues have been murdered in cold blood, almost certainly because they worked for an American organisation.
There are lots and lots of places you can go for opinions about the war, but there are few places, and fewer by the day, where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. Here's a statistic that should make your heart sink. When Saddam Hussein fell, there were more than 1,000 western reporters in Iraq. Today, at any given time, there are about 50.
Those who complain about the press's (traitorous!) reluctance to publish the "good news" form Iraq might be advised to remember the cost of reporting any news from Mesopotamia. Whatever else one may think of the NYT, the scale of its commitment to Iraq is impressive and, yes, a public service*.
*Sure, it benefits the Times' bottom line too since this sort of loss-leader is vital for the paper to maintain the reputation that it's worked so hard to earn. All the New That's Fit to Print Except for the Expensive Stuff doesn't have quite the same ring, does it? But still, the fact that few other papers can make this sort of commitment is a) a reason for the Times to stand-out from the crowd and b) something that makes it all the more important that the Times does spend so much money covering Iraq.
While I'm at it, here's more deranged idiocy from The Corner. A fellow named Peter Wehner, who until March 2007 apparently served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives, has this to say about The New Republic and the gruesome Scott Beauchamp affair:
What The New Republic didn’t understand, and still seems unable to grasp, is that they and others saw this for what it was: an effort to use Beauchamp’s story to paint an ugly portrait of those serving in Iraq. The magazine had turned against the war, and this piece would help turn people against those serving in the war. What has happened instead is that the situation in Iraq is turning around — and the TNR piece has utterly collapsed.
This is almost, but not quite, beneath contempt. As always, I should say that I've written for TNR and count several TNR writers and editors as friends. This gives an unfair advantage over Mr Wehner in as much as it is possible that I might be able to write something about this brouhaha without making a complete ass of myself.
The idea that TNR whistled up this story as part of a wider conspiracy to discredit the war effort or to undermine the valour of American servicemen and women in the field is so laughable that it scarcely requires rebutting. I know that there seem to be many people who refuse to believe this and there's probably nothing that testimony from people who actually know TNR editors can say or write that will persuade them otherwise, but nevertheless it is just not true that TNR hates the troops. To the contrary, Beauchamp's articles were published so that TNR readers could have a better idea of the awful situation American soldiers found themselves in and the stressful and dehumanising consequences of living in a bloody war zone. In that respect then, Beauchamp's articles might properly be considered pleas for understanding and sympathising with the troops, not condemning them.
As for turning against the war, well, I'd suggest that a) TNR was behind the curve on that front and b) if you wanted to discredit the troops you could find plenty of more profitable spots for doing so than a first person narrative at the back of The New Republic.
And what is one to make of this bizarre coupling: "the situation in Iraq is turning around - and the TNR piece has utterly collapsed"? Does this mean that if the situation was not being turned around Beauchamp's article would not have collapsed? Or did its collapse* magically cause matters to improve on the ground in Iraq?
Anyway, Frank Foer's comprehensive account of the sorry affair is, I believe, an excellent piece of work. I think the average reader possessing an average quantity of fairness will see it as an honest account of how mistakes were made and how the magazine found that it's own standards had not been met in full, despite TNRs best efforts to establish the truth about Beauchamp's pieces.
*Asterisk required because the question of whether or not Beauchamp made up his stories remains, in my view, "Not Proven". The old Scots verdict applies, I think, whether one believes in Beauchamp or not. Neither TNR nor the magazine's dectractors have been able to establish the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. One may think Beauchamp a liar or not, but in either case "Not Proven" seems a sounder verdict than "Guilty" or "Not Guilty".
PS: Is it mean-spirited to point out that though Mr Wehner may indeed be a "dedicated Christian" he seems to seems to be the sort of Christian who's severely lacking in charity?
UPDATE: Andrew has his take here. He says Wehner is normally a "mild-mannered" guy. Fair enough, but that's even less reason to write quasi-libellous tripe of this sort. (Quasi-libellous? Well, in as much as he comes pretty close to accusing TNR of sedition, then yeah, quasi-libellous.)
As someone who has, er, fond teenage memories of being barked at by NCOs from the Black Watch during hours of drill on the parade-ground and rather fonder recollections of cricket matches against the regiment, I've been looking forward for months to seeing Gregory Burke's prize-winning play about the regiment's experiences in Iraq during its current run in New York. Today's good news then is that - hurrah! - I snagged one of the two remaining tickets for the shows' final performance on, appropriately enough, Remembrance Sunday.
So it's really just a bonus that the New York reviews have been tremendous. Here's Ben Brantley in the NYT:
“Black Watch,” which was the hit of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year and runs through Nov. 11, arrives like a blazing redeemer in the grayness of the current New York theater season, a cause for hope after a surfeit of microwaved revivals and ersatz musicals...
...In the final marching sequence, as the men moved forward and stumbled in shifting patterns, I found to my surprise that I was crying. For this was no anonymous military phalanx. It was an assembly of men who, while moving in synchronicity, were each and every one a distinctive blend of fears and ambitions and confusion.
They were every soldier; they were also irreducibly themselves. This exquisitely sustained double vision makes “Black Watch” one of the most richly human works of art to have emerged from this long-lived war.
Christopher Hitchens' piece in this month's Vanity Fair is quite something.
Mark Daily, a young officer in the Seventh Cavalry, volunteered for the army despite his reservations about the wisdom of the war in part because some of Christopher's articles inspired him to do so. Hitch's latest piece reflects on that heavy burden (shared to one degree or another by all of us who supported the war) and on the life and death of a remarkable young American.
If you read one thing today, make it this article. Here's Christopher describing his first meeting with the Daily family:
As soon as they arrived, I knew I had been wrong to be so nervous. They looked too good to be true: like a poster for the American way. John Daily is an aerospace project manager, and his wife, Linda, is an audiologist. Their older daughter, Christine, eagerly awaiting her wedding, is a high-school biology teacher, and the younger sister, Nicole, is in high school. Their son Eric is a bright junior at Berkeley with a very winning and ironic grin. And there was Mark's widow, an agonizingly beautiful girl named Snejana ("Janet") Hristova, the daughter of political refugees from Bulgaria. Her first name can mean "snowflake," and this was his name for her in the letters of fierce tenderness that he sent her from Iraq. These, with your permission, I will not share, except this:
One thing I have learned about myself since I've been out here is that everything I professed to you about what I want for the world and what I am willing to do to achieve it was true. …
My desire to "save the world" is really just an extension of trying to make a world fit for you.
If that is all she has left, I hope you will agree that it isn't nothing.
I had already guessed that this was no gung-ho Orange County Republican clan. It was pretty clear that they could have done without the war, and would have been happier if their son had not gone anywhere near Iraq. (Mr. Daily told me that as a young man he had wondered about going to Canada if the Vietnam draft ever caught up with him.) But they had been amazed by the warmth of their neighbors' response, and by the solidarity of his former brothers-in-arms—1,600 people had turned out for Mark's memorial service in Irvine. A sergeant's wife had written a letter to Linda and posted it on Janet's MySpace site on Mother's Day, to tell her that her husband had been in the vehicle with which Mark had insisted on changing places. She had seven children who would have lost their father if it had gone the other way, and she felt both awfully guilty and humbly grateful that her husband had been spared by Mark's heroism. Imagine yourself in that position, if you can, and you will perhaps get a hint of the world in which the Dailys now live: a world that alternates very sharply and steeply between grief and pride.
George W Bush's speech on Iraq and Petraeus and all the rest of it yesterday had a pretty simple message. Hold tight. Stay patient. Endure. Something extraordinary will turn up.
Since the President's transformation into Mr Micawber seems complete, this passage from David Copperfield seems somewhat troublesomely apposite. If Mr Bush is Mr Micawber; then the American (and Iraqi) people are the other Micawbers:
Mr Micawber...then addressed himself to me, and proffered me the satisfaction of "witnessing the re-establishment of mutual confidence between himself and Mrs Micawber". After which, he invited the company generally to the contemplation of that affecting spectacle.
"The veil that has long been interposed between Mrs Micawber and myself, is now withdrawn,' said Mr Micawber; "and my children and the Author of their Being can once more come in contact on equal terms"...
...His house was not far off;and as the street door opened into the sitting-room, and he bolted in with a precipitation quite his own, we found ourselves at once in the bosom of the family. Mr Micawber exclaiming, "Emma! My life!" rushed into Mrs Micawber's arms...
"Emma!" said Mr Micawber. "The cloud is past from my mind. Mutual confidence, so long preserved between us once, is restored, to know no further interruption. Now, welcome poverty!" cried Mr Micawber, shedding tears. "Welcome misery, welcome homelessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!"
With these expressions, Mr Micawber placed Mrs Micawber in a chair, and embraced the family all round; welcoming a variety of bleak prospects, which appeared, to the best of my judgement, to be anything but welcome to them; and calling upon them to come out to Canterbury and sing a chorus, as nothing else was left for their support.
President George W Bush has just finished his post-Petraeus address to the nation. Yet again he reported that progress was being made in Iraq - far from the headlines of course - and that this could be measured by the fact that, yes, schools are being rebuilt. Given the frequency with which this nugget of good news is displayed one might conclude that every school in Iraq must have been rebuilt and reopened at least three times.
Other, more considered thoughts, later.
PS: Megan is not too impressed that Iraq has passed a budget. Or rather, as she says, that's a low bar for progress...
Ben Crair has a piece at TNR today headlined, The Iraq War is Responsible for Scottish Independence. Really.
Well, up to a point Lord Copper. The "Really" is an unfortunate indication that this pudding may be a little over-egged.
Few people would deny that discontent with the war played a part in the SNP's victory in this year's elections. But other factors were at least as, and probably more, important. Among them:
1. Alex Salmond's return from his Westminster exile. Salmond brings a heavyweight presence that trumped anything the SNP could put up in his absence; it trumped Jack McConnell's pretensions to statesman status too. You wouldn't feel embarrassed being represented by Salmond. Alas, the same could not be said of McConnell.
2. Unhappiness with the Labour party's performance in office, coupled with a sense that if we sent Labour back to power this time we might never be able to get them out. As always, the election was a two stage referendum: did the Labour led coalition deserve to be returned and, if not, was the SNP a sufficiently credible alternative? Just enough people answered "No" and "Yes" respectively. Some left-wing voters who abandoned the Labour party may have done so because of the war, but dissatisfaction with Labour's colourless, dreary performance in office existed across the political spectrum. Labour failed but opposition to the war was not enough to persuade folk to trust the nationalists with power.
3. The referendum promise: nothing made Labour's relentlessly negative campaign (which almost certainly turned off some voters) seem more absurd than the SNP's promise to hold a referendum on independence. By doing so the party removed the greatest obstacle to its achieving power while also, happily, underlining its belief in the essential sovereignty of the Scottish people. Implicit in this pledge was the promise "we trust you to decide our nation's future; Labour doesn't". Equally importantly, the referendum "normalises" independence as an everyday issue, giving the electorate time to come to terms and be comfortable with the prospect. It won't happen overnight- hence a desire to hold a plebiscite in 2010 not 2008 - but it will, the SNP banks, happen at some point.
The point that needs to be borne in mind is that the independence cause is a process not an event; Tony Blair's unpopularity and the Iraq war may help in a short-term tactical sense but they are largely irrelevant to the longer-term strategic objective. The cause ebbs and flows like the tide, but each time it has receded these past thirty years the tide-mark has been that little bit further up the beach than it had been the previous lunar cycle...
So, no. Iraq may have played a part, but she's not the prima donna singing this old song. If Scotland chooses a velvet divorce form the rest of the UK it will be because the electorate is persuaded that this is the common sense way forward; it will not be the result of pique or an intemperate response to an unpopular war or an unpopular prime minister.
No need for comment, is there?
Mr. Bush has often said that will be for historians decide, but he said during his sessions with Mr. Draper that they would have to consult administration documents to get to the bottom of some important questions.
Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”
But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.
Maybe Iraq was doomed from the start. Maybe even a better, more serious, Secretary of Defense or Commander-in-Chief would not have been enough to save the mission. But it's hard to see how it could fail to have been an upgrade over what we have, um, enjoyed these past four years.
Karl Rove is a remarkable man. On his last day in the White House, National Review Online publishes a piece in which Rove claims that history will judge Bush favourably if Iraq proves a success:
History’s concern is with final outcomes, not the missteps or advances of the moment. History will render a favorable verdict if the outcome in the Middle East is similar to what America saw after World War II.
OK. You'd expect that. It must, then, be Rove's brilliance that allows him to perceive that Bush will also be vindicated even if history judges the Iraq War to have been a disaster with appropriately disastrous consequences:
If the outcome there is like what happened in Vietnam after America abandoned our allies and the region descended into chaos, violence, and danger, history’s judgment will be harsh. History will see President Bush as right, and the opponents of his policy as mistaken — as George McGovern was in his time.
Well, fancy that! It's worth observing, however, that, by Rove's own definition, a 50 year stand-off between the United States and, I suppose, (nuclear?) "Islamism" or some other such formulation, would demonstrate the great victory Bush has led us to.