Thursday, December 07, 2006

Glenn Greenwald asks a good question

With regards to James Baker:
What possible rationale exists for listening to someone who urged us to pursue a course that is the greatest strategic disaster in our country's history? A person who said this should be shunned, not idolized[...]

If you go to a doctor for an operation and he completely botches your surgery and you lose an organ due to his abject ineptitude and recklessness, you don't go back to that doctor for repair surgery; you find another one. If you go to a lawyer who almost destroys your company through complete ignorance of your basic legal obligations, you don't stay with that lawyer in the hope that he will get you out of the disaster he created for you; you retain another one.

Yet here we are, revering and listening to and following the same dense, amoral people who could not have been more wrong about everything they recommended and asserted prior to this war, while we scorn or (at best) ignore those who were so right.

True enough. But let me say a few things in Baker's defense (much as it pains me to do so):

1) Despite Greenwald's disparaging it as "Friedmanesque," implying that career civil servant and experienced diplomat Baker was as unqualified as newspaper columnist Tom Friedman to be making such statements, Baker did in fact say (as Greenwald himself quotes):

The only realistic way to effect regime change in Iraq is through the application of military force, including sufficient ground troops to occupy the country (including Baghdad), depose the current leadership and install a successor government. Anyone who thinks we can effect regime change in Iraq with anything less than this is simply not realistic.

This position goes right along with Gen. Shinseki's statement when he estimated it would take 200-300 thousand troops to occupy Iraq. We did not have sufficient ground troops. We did not send sufficient ground troops. The administration hunted around until they found a general (Franks) who assured them that they could conquer Iraq with the troops available, and they put him in charge. James Baker didn't have anything to do with the planning and execution of the administration's Iraq strategy, what there was of it. To now go back and pillory him for the poor execution of a strategy he had nothing to do with is simply wrong. James Baker did not advocate the invasion of Iraq with insufficient troops to pacify the country.

2) James Baker is not advocating "stay the course," no matter how much Glenn and many many others would like to portray him as doing so. If he were, why would the President be spending so much time trying to discredit and dilute the ISG report? Obviously I haven't read the report and have to rely on second-hand analysis of its findings; but from what has been reported so far, it doesn't seem to me like "stay the course."

3) James Baker is not solely responsible for this report. He is the co-chair of the ISG with Lee Hamilton, another experienced and respected public servant. And while there may be a few "wildly extremist, warmongering" types in the ISG, there are also voices of moderation- and the report was unanimously submitted. Greenwald may be skeptical- to put it mildly- of the expertise of the people on the ISG commission; but they are all at least as qualified as Greenwald, and most have a lot more time in public service. Hamilton and Baker have been in government for as long as I've been alive (and, I suspect, as Greenwald has).

I hate bashing Glenn Greenwald. He is one of the brightest lights of the progressive blogosphere, and I love his work (even this trashing of Baker is well-argued and understandable). But this is one case where I think he is perhaps being a bit overzealous. It's all too easy to look at people who supported a policy that ultimately failed for whatever reasons and say "well, these are unserious people who should be ostracized." But if you do that, if you insist on 100% success as a condition of respecting someone's policy recommendations, you're quickly going to run out of people from whom to get recommendations. Look at the recommendations themselves, and judge those. That's what a Liberal does.

No comments: