When I saw that John Batiste had an op-ed this morning in the Washington Post, I was excited. After all, Batiste was one of the generals criticizing Rumsfeld before the 2006 elections; having lead a division in Iraq, he had credibility on the matter as well.
But if there’s anything this op-ed isn’t, it’s credible. For one thing, it’s written with Pete Hegseth, who wrote a horrid op-ed this spring shilling for the surge. For another, its first paragraph promises to transcend a debate between “supporters” and “defeatists”, signaling a Broder-esque equivalence that’s always irritating. And, well, then there’s the substance:
First, the United States must be successful in the fight against worldwide Islamic extremism. We have seen this ruthless enemy firsthand, and its global ambitions are undeniable. This struggle, the Long War, will probably take decades to prosecute. Failure is not an option.
This is all totally wrong, but not that uncommon. The failure to name a specific enemy (“Islamic extremism” acts as if Hezbollah and Hamas and al-Qaeda somehow have the same interests, which they obviously don’t) and the reference to terrorists’ ambitions as opposed to their capabilities signal that this is just another intellectually lazy defense of the war on terror. An honest argument for a “Long War” would argue that specific groups are powerful enough to threaten the US to way the Soviet Union could, and thus warrant a protracted struggle similar to the Cold War. This argument is never made, of course, because it can’t be. No person with half a brain thinks that al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group has even an iota of the military capability that the Soviets had, so people like Batiste and Hegseth are reduced to referring to the groups’ ambitions, which tell us exactly nothing about the threat they pose.
The next two points are more surprising:
Second, whether or not we like it, Iraq is central to that fight. We cannot walk away from our strategic interests in the region. Iraq cannot become a staging ground for Islamic extremism or be dominated by other powers in the region, such as Iran and Syria. A premature or precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, without the requisite stability and security, is likely to cause the violence there — which has decreased substantially but is still present — to cascade into an even larger humanitarian crisis.
Third, the counterinsurgency campaign led by Gen. David Petraeus is the correct approach in Iraq. It is showing promise of success and, if continued, will provide the Iraqi government the opportunities it desperately needs to stabilize its country. Ultimately, however, these military gains must be cemented with regional and global diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic recovery — tools yet sufficiently utilized. Today’s tactical gains in Iraq — while a necessary pre-condition for political reconciliation — will crumble without a deliberate and comprehensive strategy.
I think Batiste has just lost the right to call himself a war critic. These points have been made and refuted time and again. Petraeus’ strategy isn’t really that brilliant; it shouldn’t surprise anyone that bribing Sunni groups and flooding the streets of Baghdad with troops reduces casualties. But the strategy does nothing to further the political reconciliation that Batiste and Hegseth rightfully acknowledge as essential to peace in Iraq. Indeed, actions like supporting Sunni militias in Anbar actively exacerbate ethnoreligious violence. If anything, our presence in Iraq makes it substantially more difficult for political reconciliation to take place.
But this really has to take the cake as the piece’s dumbest paragraph:
Fourth, our strategy in fighting the Long War must address Iran. Much has been made this week of the intelligence judgments that Iran has stopped its weapons program. No matter what, Iran must not be permitted to become a nuclear power. All options should be exhausted before we use military force, but force, nonetheless, should never be off the table. Diplomatic efforts — from a position of strength, both regionally and globally — must be used to engage our friends and coerce our enemies to apply pressure on the Iranian regime.
It’s pretty obvious that they wrote this paragraph without the second sentence in there, and then just tacked it in their as an ass-saving measure after the NIE came out. Because in light of the NIE, none of the rest of the paragraph makes sense. There’s no reason to even discuss strategies to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons when Iran isn’t trying to get nuclear weapons. It’s nothing short of insane to say that force should be on the table to stop a problem which does not exist.
Ezra Klein has been saying, ever since the NIE came out, that we need to call out people whenever they mention the “Iranian nuclear issue”, and he’s absolutely right. Talking about a “nuclear problem” in a country that we know is not seeking nuclear weapons is a smokescreen for a desire to go to war, and should be treated as such.