Sunday, September 26, 2004

James Fallows to Michael Moore: Why Don't You Just Ask Some Generals?

In the current issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows writes a cover article Bush's Lost Year that makes Michael Moore seem like a Bushie.

Bush's Lost Year, according to the article, is 2002, when Bush could have done anything and everything, but was only interested in the one thing -- Iraq. Now of course, according to the article, all the resources have been spent, the mess in Afghanistan will soon be as bad now as it was on September 11, and Pakistan remains a sump-pump of terrorism. Iran and North Korea --- both of which do have easily verifiable WMDs -- are not only three years stronger, but the United States is three years weaker. Fallows shows that the United States has spent all of its "soft power" (non-war influence) and a good deal of its military power. Fallows also makes a case, painful to me who viscerally disagrees with it, that a chance to lean harder on the Israelis to make peace was squandered. Fallows also points out, although I don't think he meant to, that the chance to lean harder on the Palestinians was also squandered. Fallows says that those choices will not come around again. Fallows also says, very clearly, that alternative uses of power (finish the job in Afghanistan, use more political/ military capital in Pakistan or Iran or North Korea) were never really considered in a meaningful way, although alternative uses of power, especially vis-a-vis the Israel/Palestinian matter had some powerful advocates (Colin Powell and Tony Blair).

Fallows quotes sources saying, both directly and indirectly, that everything we are trying to do, and will fail to do, in Iraq, could have been done in Afghanistan, if the Bush Administration only wanted to.

Fallows does not name, and its absence is stunning, one single person in the top three levels of government, who made the argument, at a time where it mattered, to go into Afghanistan full-bore, stay there, and use Afghanistan as the model of democracy by which the Mid-East would fall like so many dominoes.

What Fallows does makes clear is that had such a person existed, he would have been quickly shunned by the administration. Before, during and after 9/11, the Bushies were only interested in one thing -- Saddam Hussein.

According to The Atlantic article, and just like Moore posits in Fahrenheit 9/11, the Bush Administration only went into Afghanistan because they could not handle the p.r. mess that would develop if they did not appear to be at least trying to catch Osama.

The big difference between Michael Moore and James Fallows is that Fallows quotes exclusively from Republican and military sources.

The other big difference is that Fallows gives a full-blast review of what it meant in military planning circles to fight a war in Afghanistan that you knew, from day one, was only going to be a side show to the Iraq war to follow. It is not pretty.

The decision to do the war in Afghanistan on the cheap was not done, as Donald Rumsfeld is always quoted as saying, to show what a new lighter army could do. The task of having the Northern Alliance go after Osama rather than having American military do it themselves was not done simply because the Northern Alliance knew the terrain and the U.S. military did not. The task of keeping Osama from escaping into Pakistan was not left to the Pakistani military to avoid a sovereignty dispute with Pakistan over a potential U.S. "invasion." Rather, all these things were done to keep resources available. They would be needed in Iraq.

Then there was the focus factor. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the neo-cons, were all focussed on Iraq. They had no time to focus on anything else.

In the echo chamber of response to this article, I have read that Fallows said somewhere (not in the article) that the Bushies felt, due to the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, that the United States could not possibly be successful in Afghanistan over the long-term. According to this view, the Bushies also felt, as has been widely reported, that the Iraqis would greet American soldiers with flowers.

When Afghanistan turned out to be easy (the people wanted us there) and when intelligence concerning Iraq turned out to be different from what was expected (didn't anyone in the Bush administration ever watch "Lawrence of Arabia"), it never dawned on anybody in the White House or the Pentagon to re-calibrate their thinking about resources in Afghanistan versus resources in Iraq.

The only mission was to get Saddam. Now Saddam is gotten. Good luck to all of us.