Entries from May 2006

Ignatieff Finesses Afghanistan

David Frum May 23rd, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Give the man credit: Michael Ignatieff, lately of Harvard University, the British Broadcasting Corporation and King’s College (Cambridge), is showing a real aptitude for politics.

As a writer, Ignatieff won acclaim for his dense, deeply considered meditations on issues of nationhood, human rights and international responsibility. Ignatieff’s reputation for intellectual and moral seriousness caught the eye of Canadian Liberals looking for a leader to redeem their disgraced and corrupted party. This past week, Ignatieff distinguished himself again, with a short intervention in the Afghanistan debate that my exacting colleague, Andrew Coyne, praised as “exemplary.”

By contrast, the abrupt about-face on Afghanistan executed by Carolyn Bennett, Stephane Dion, Ken Dryden, Joe Volpe and the other Liberal leadership candidates looked glaringly hypocritical and opportunistic. And while it is essential for a Liberal leader to be hypocritical and opportunistic (remember the GST!), it is unseemly to appear so.

Bob Rae misstepped, too. He justified his opposition to the Afghanistan resolution with a fierce attack on the integrity of the new Conservative government: “Everything they do, it’s not done for statesmanship, it’s not done for anything else. It’s done for partisan advantage.” This is hardly the right way to talk if you yourself have just switched parties yourself in order to run for prime minister.

Ignatieff, by contrast, showed the flexibility and cunning of the true professional.

Here’s what he said on the floor of the House of Commons on May 17: “I also want to express my unequivocal support for the troops in Afghanistan, for the mission and for the renewal of the mission.”

Clear, right? Unequivocal means . . . unequivocal. Or does it? Listen and learn, listen and learn.

“I support the mission precisely because it is the moment where we have to test the shift from one paradigm, the peacekeeping paradigm, to a peace enforcement paradigm that combines military, reconstruction and humanitarian effort together.”

In other words, Canada is not doing something in Afghanistan. It is testing something. But the essence of tests is that they can be failed. And once something has failed a test–why naturally, it must be discarded.

Ignatieff continued: “I have been to Afghanistan and I believe this new paradigm can work.”

Clear again, right? But notice: Ignatieff believes the new paradigm will pass its test. But any of us can be wrong in our beliefs. And then, of course, we must change our minds.

Ignatieff then devoted the third paragraph of his four-paragraph speech to laying out the conditions that might cause him to change his mind:

“I have three questions . . . I support the mission but I want to know whether it is the mission that the Liberal government signed on to or whether it is a new mission. Therefore the questions are: Does the renewal of the mission imply more troops? Does it imply a change in the strategic direction of the mission? Does it imply a change in the balance between the military component, the reconstruction component and the humanitarian component?”

In other words, when Ignatieff said he was unequivocally committed to the mission, he meant the mission precisely as it existed before the Liberals left office. Any change in the mission’s “strategic direction” or its “balance” or in the number of troops will transform the mission into a “new” mission. And since both of those terms are studiously (even aggressively) vague, Ignatieff has reserved to himself almost perfect freedom to adjudge that the mission has morphed into something “new.”

And when it does, why then, Ignatieff will consider himself at liberty to reverse himself. “My support for the renewal of the mission is dependent upon believing that this proposal is continuous with, and not a departure from, the existing mission of the former government.”

In other words, while Ignatieff’s support is “unequivocal,” it is also highly conditional.

He has taken a stand on principle, while committing himself to nothing. He has appealed to the patriotic right, while creating new options to swerve to the isolationist left. He can plausibly claim to have backed the mission 100% if it goes well–while ensuring that he can equally accurately claim to have given notice of his intention to bail out if things go badly.

He has promised to flip, if flipping seems called for, and to flop, if a flop looks more appropriate. Afghanistan if necessary–but not necessarily Afghanistan. It is the authentic Mackenzie King touch. Liberals: You have found your rightful leader.

Give Ahmadinejad The Cold Shoulder

David Frum May 16th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Last week, the President of Iran published an 18-page letter to the President of the United States. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s epistle tells us a lot we don’t especially need to know: It tells us that he believes that the Jews faked the Holocaust, and the U.S. faked 9/11; that Jesus would have supported today’s Islamic extremists and that the Iranian nuclear program represents a triumph of free intellectual inquiry (never mind that the hard bits were all imported from China, via Pakistan).

What it does not tell us, however, is whether there are any terms on which the current crisis with Iran could be settled peacefully. The letter does not even address that question — or the related issues of Iran’s history of global terrorism, its sheltering of senior al-Qaeda figures, and its support for the insurgents in Iraq.

Now, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and a great many academic writers on international relations have urged the United States to negotiate directly with the Islamic Republic. They argue that direct talks would allow the United States to get the answers that Ahmadinejad’s letter does not provide. You can expect journalists to take up the cry next — bending Western public opinion and, possibly, Western governments.

What’s wrong with the idea? Why not direct negotiations?

Here’s a short answer — actually six sub-answers that add up to one big answer:

1. The United States will learn nothing from direct negotiations with Iran that it does not already know. Three European governments — Britain, France, and Germany — have been negotiating directly with Iran since October 2003. The U.S. has repeatedly and publicly authorized these so-called “EU-3″ governments to speak on America’s behalf. The governments have reported back every Iranian demand. If the world is heading for a crisis over the Iranian nuclear program, it is not for lack of information about Iranian demands.

2. The Iranians do not negotiate in good faith. I had a chance a little while ago to talk to one of the senior EU-3 negotiators. He described how at the end of one intense bargaining session, he asked his Iranian counterpart to sign the minutes of their talk, so there would be no mistake when they resumed the next morning. The Iranian signed — and then next morning claimed that the minutes were erroneous and that the signature was a forgery.

3. For the Iranians, the main purpose of negotiations is delay. They hope to run out the clock on the Bush Presidency, in the belief that any Bush successor will revert to the Clinton-era policy of accommodating the mullahs. If the U.S. takes over the talks from the EU-3, it risks finding that it must start again from zero — and that Iran has gained three risk-free years for nuclear research.

4. The Iranians will score a propaganda victory. If the U.S. replaces the EU-3 across the negotiating table from Iran, what had been an Iran vs. the world confrontation will be transformed into an Iran vs. the United States confrontation — allowing Iran to present itself to the Muslim world (and indeed to radical anti-Americans everywhere) as a victim of American bullying.

5. For the West, by contrast, leaving negotiations to the EU enhances allied solidarity. Nobody in France, Germany, or the United Kingdom can accuse the U.S. of wrecking promising negotiations through neo-con belligerence — because France, Germany and the United Kingdom are doing the negotiating themselves. And having allowed those three countries to take the lead in seeking a peaceful solution, the U.S. is much more strongly positioned to expect their support should a peaceful solution prove impossible.

6. Above all, let us bear in mind that the reason we are hearing calls for the U.S. to talk to Iran is precisely that the talks between the EU-3 and Iran have failed. Iran has resumed its progress toward a nuclear bomb (assuming, that is, that it ever paused). The spotlight now needs to be placed clearly on Iran and the threat it presents to regional and world peace. Allowing the U.S. to be dragged into the spotlight too as a negotiating partner will change the subject — from Iranian aggression to America’s alleged intransigence or dilatoriness or whatever it is that America’s international critics will think up next to shift the blame away from the true villains of the story.

We have to acknowledge this much now: The present Iranian government wants a nuclear bomb. It will not be coaxed into changing its mind. The question before the world now is: Can Iran be coerced by any means short of force? There’s only one way to find out — and it is not by talking.

Who Lost Iraq? It’s Not Who You Think

David Frum May 2nd, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Who messed up Iraq? Donald Rumsfeld is the usual nominee. For conservative hawks, attacks on the U.S. Defence Secretary provide a way to attack the war without attacking the larger administration. And for liberal opponents of the war, attacks on Rumsfeld provide a way to attack the war without attacking the military that planned and executed that war.

Now comes an important new book, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon and retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor. Their story bears hard on Rumsfeld. But it daringly points a finger at a normally blame-proof figure: the general who actually planned and led the Iraq campaign: General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command during both the Afghan and Iraq wars.

It was General Franks who adamantly refused to engage in post-war planning for Iraq. Long before George W. Bush was elected president, CentCom (then led by Gen. Anthony Zinni–a future opponent of Bush’s decision to overthrow Saddam) had drawn up a contingency plan for war with Iraq. This plan was a huge and heavy Colin-Powell-style plan, which contemplated the use of at least 380,000 troops. It deviated in almost every way from the plan actually adopted in 2003–with one exception. To quote Gordon and Trainor: “There was a gaping hole in the occupation annex of the plan. CENTCOM would have the responsibility of general security. But there was no plan for the political administration, restoration of basic services, training of police, or reconstruction of Iraq.” The principal author of the Zinni plan: his deputy, Tommy Franks.

As the war plan moved from the realm of the contingency to the realm of the real, Franks continued to refuse to think about what would happen after the shooting ceased. Gordon and Trainor again: “Franks told his commanders that his assumption was that Colin Powell’s State Department would have the lead for the rebuilding of Iraq’s political institutions and infrastructure.”

In October, 2002, however, Franks’ assumption was invalidated: At Rumsfeld’s insistence, the President agreed that the Department of Defence would assume overall responsibility for the postwar occupation.

Rumsfeld’s civilian deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, welcomed this responsibility as an opportunity to put Iraqis in charge of their country’s reconstruction. But there was only one organized group of Iraqis able to serve as a transitional, provisional government: Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). And General Franks fully shared the fierce, almost unreasoning, hatred for the INC that pervaded the State Department and CIA.

The INC, for example, proposed to recruit a brigade of Free Iraqi forces to enter Iraq with the coalition. “Franks remained unenthusiastic, to say the least. After a briefing from [Feith's aide Bill] Luti on his pet project, Franks turned to Feith in a Pentagon corridor, letting him know where he stood: ‘I don’t have time for this f–king bullshit,’ Franks exclaimed.”

Franks wanted to race to Baghdad as rapidly as possible. To achieve his plan, he bypassed thousands of Iraqi Fedayeen fighters. These black-garbed guerillas ambushed and killed American soldiers–and then faded into the landscape. The Americans could not chase or identify them because Franks’ determination to travel light had sent U.S. forces into battle with few or no interpreters.

In late March, Franks’ deputy commander, John Abizaid, discreetly asked the INC for help. Chalabi offered 1,000 men. Gordon and Trainor point out that while Franks had previously disdained Luti’s proposal to train a carefully screened Iraqi force, his command now proposed a variant of the plan “conceived in haste to deal with unexpected difficulties.”

But by the time the INC men landed in southern Iraq, the emergency had passed, and Franks had reverted to his previous attitude. “The fighters arrived with virtually no provisions and no welcome. They were ushered into a busted-up hangar. . . . For weeks, [the local commander] scrambled to find a way to arm and equip them. . . . They never played a significant military role.”

Franks flew into Baghdad on April 16 to meet with senior U.S. commanders. He told them they should prepare to pull out within 60 days. “Franks laid down the rule that was to guide the next phase of the operation: The generals should be prepared to take as much risk departing as they had in their push to Baghdad.” Franks intended to hand over responsibility to a new Iraqi government. But he himself had guaranteed that no such government was waiting to go.

Franks lived by his own “quick out” principle. He retired from the army in July, 2003, selling his memoirs for a reported $5-million, booked a busy speaking schedule, and joined the board of the Bank of America.