Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Speech No One Makes on Iraq

I confess, I did not follow closely the president's remarks on Iraq, nor the inevitable flurry of commentary that followed. Why? We now have such a stylized Kabuki dance when discussing Iraq policy that the statements and reactions can be predicted and scripted in advance.

The speech or response that we never hear would have the following elements:

--A clear acknowledgement that Americans are not willing to devote the time, resources or personnel that would be needed to engage in a truly transformative occupation (and accept the costs, especially in casualties);

--That many of the problems that face Iraq are beyond America's ability to solve and may be increasingly beyond our ability to influence;

--That we need to adopt what a senior Indian official once told me was the Indian approach to fighting terrorism: contain and manage, with a long-term goal of shrinking the space in which such groups can operate--which means adopting a tactical approach to combating Al-Qaeda and related groups;

--Which in turn means that we can't fix every broken area in the world and that, yes, Al-Qaeda will try to find places in which to operate.

--So an Iraq policy needs to be grounded in what is achievable and more importantly needs to be something that can endure a change in administrations.

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Alexis Debat and I wrote:

American political culture, however, which increasingly allows parochial interests to preclude the development of a hierarchy of priorities, and our habit of thinking only in terms of two- and four-year election cycles make the emergence of a long-term counter-terrorism policy supported by political consensus a chimera. 9/11 produced no equivalent to the Truman moment. Congress, in particular, has shown little inclination to recognize that an effective counter-terrorism program not only requires putting politics aside, but also making choices and setting priorities with only partial and incomplete information and with finite resources.

Nothing in the latest round of speechifying on Iraq seems to rise to this standard.

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