Friday, October 14
THE MYTH OF INCOMPETENCE: Last weekend I was on a radio show debating a Democratic strategist and when the subject turned to Iraq he immediately charged the Bush administration with utter incompetence in managing the war. I've never quite understood why some on the left (and the right) are so eager to make this argument, because it strikes me as neither true nor terribly convincing.

Here's the problem: It's easy to sit back and see in hindsight where things could have been done differently which may - and I stress the word "may" - have led to a different result. But even those things which war critics cite most often as examples of mismanagement do not, in and of themselves, represent evidence of "incompetence". For example, it is by no means certain we would be in any better position in Iraq today if we had devoted an additional three weeks to pre-war planning, or if we had decided to try and de-Bathify the Iraqi military instead of disbanding it.

Even the charge of not having enough troops in Iraq (to my mind the most legitimate criticism of the war, coming mostly from the right) is debatable. Such a policy might possibly have fueled a greater sense of occupation, strengthened the insurgency and also resulted in more U.S. casualties. There is no way of knowing what could have been based on decisions that weren't made.

Set aside, for the moment, the favorable historical context of the achievements in Iraq thus far: Toppled Saddam's government in less than two weeks. Avoided doomsday scenarios of environmental and humanitarian disasters. Established provisional government. Held the most open, free and fair elections in decades. Established interim government. Reached deal on Constitution. Tomorrow a referendum on the charter and two months later, full elections. All of this accomplished in just over two and a half years with less than 2,000 U.S. combat deaths. The war in Iraq is not without problems, but despite the relentlessly negative press coverage pumped out to the public every day, from a historical perspective we've made astonishing progress.

Again, setting all that aside, ask Democrats who charge the Bush administration with incompetence what they'd do differently in Iraq under the same circumstances and you get silence and a blank stare. Can they identify a single thing we should be doing in Iraq that we aren't? Is there something we should try that we haven't?

John Kerry is a perfect example. Last year, after spending months formulating an Iraq policy for his general election campaign, Kerry and his advisors finally emerged with a five-point plan that didn't contain a single substantive difference from the Bush administration's policy. The best Kerry could do was to offer that he'd "do a better job persuading the international community to share the burden in Iraq." That's more platitude than policy, and it was obviously far from convincing.

The other problem with the myth of incompetence is that it falls flat when put to the people responsible for running the war. Don Rumsfeld is no Michael Brown. Few people in America are as intelligent, qualified, and have as much of a track record of managerial efficiency and competence as Rumsfeld. The same can be said of Dick Cheney. Yet after decades of bi-partisan praise for their service and skill - particularly at DoD - Democrats want the country to believe these two men have suddenly morphed into complete boobs.

If Democrats want to say the war in Iraq was a mistake because it simply wasn't winnable in the first place, that's one thing. History may eventually bear out the merit of such an argument. The problem, however, is that Democrats who voted to authorize the invasion forfeited the right to make that argument, because no one in their right mind would vote in favor of doing something they believed was impossible.

Unable to articulate a policy difference and trapped between the pull of a fervent antiwar base and a mainstream public that remains solidly against cutting and running, Democrats abandoned debating the merits of Iraq long ago. Instead they've been focused on building the myth of Bush administration's incompetence in Iraq by touting whatever chaos and carnage is reported in the press and downplaying consequential events like tomorrow's vote. This strategy got an inadvertent boost by the domestic tragedy inflicted by Katrina last month (score another assist for the mainstream media), and the myth of incompetence will almost certainly be a major part of their effort to make electoral gains in 2006. - T. Bevan 12:15 pm Link | Email | Send To A Friend

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