Two items I've seen around and about in Blogistan the last couple of days have been festering in my brain:
:: Andrew Cory links this SLATE article about the serious problems and struggles being faced by Iraqi police officers. It seems to me that any effective state-making in Iraq is going to hinge upon the success of efforts to create an atmosphere of law and order, which doesn't seem to exist right now. It's a pretty interesting article.
But what interests me about Andrew's post is this comment by Dean Esmay:
"Poorly" has no meaning unless you have some objective criteria against which to measure. The truth is it's going better than we had a right to expect, is going better than almost any operation of its type ever has gone--and the truth is, it's childishly easy to say "it's fucked up" and infinitely more difficult to say "and it won't be fucked up if we implement the following steps."
But I've been saying this for more th an a year, and I despair of getting anyone to listen.
Those of us who don't think Iraq is going well are suffering from a lack of "objective criteria"? Well, off the top of my head, here are a few objective measures:
1. The number of casualties in Iraq should go down, and stay down. Casualties reached their highest mark in April (over twice the number of casualties as in March 2003, the month in which the actual war itself began), dropped again, but immediately started climbing. The pace is down so far this month. (Figures here.)
2. Security in Iraqi cities should get better, not worse. Maybe this sounds less objective than the number of casualties, but it is hardly indicative of progress on the security front when all indications are that the Green Zone in Baghdad is a place of decreasing security. See Andrew Sullivan for details.
3. Agencies essential to the functioning of a secure Iraqi state should be fully manned and staffed. We're not even close.
4. Insurgent attacks should decrease, if we're really beating the insurgents.
5. So should things like kidnappings and car-bombings.
6. Some meaningful percentage of money intended for Iraqi reconstruction projects should actually be spent on Iraqi reconstruction projects. (By "some meaningful percentage", I do not mean one-and-a-half percent.)
So there you are, some objective criteria and areas where we might focus some effort if we want things to get better over there. But it seems to me that the lack of substantive effort in these areas and others like them, under the rubric of "staying the course", is precisely the course of action that is spectacularly unlikely to produce any kind of meaningfully good results, on any time frame. And as has been noted by others, I don't find the fact that John Kerry doesn't have wonderful answers to questions like these particularly troubling, because the other guy doesn't seem to even be willing to admit that these problems even exist.
(And besides, I'm constantly amazed by the apparent belief on the right that "Saddam Hussein in power" constitutes the absolute worst possible scenario in Iraq, and that therefore any Iraqi scenario that involves Saddam being out of power is ipso facto a better scenario -- along with the corollary position that any admission that maybe things aren't better now constitutes a preference for leaving, or restoring, Saddam in or to power.)
:: Also, Michael Lopez paid attention to John Edwards's choice of words at the VP debate, and came away with a distinct impression of the Kerry-Edwards view on the War on Terror. Noting Edwards's (apparently) frequent references to "those who attacked us", Michael says this:
You see, I don't want a strong leader who will go after the people who attacked us. I don't want a fierce fellow like John Kerry who will trot out the remains of Los Angeles to the rest of the world and eloquently prove our case for taking out North Korea.
I want Los Angeles to still be there while we're waging our wars, however unpopular they may be with France and Germany. I don't want a president who will fight "the people who attacked us." I want a president who will fight the people who are going to attack us.
This is all well and good, although I don't think that it's a reasonable reading of what Kerry and Edwards are saying to interpret as "We will do nothing until we are attacked, but after that, watch out!" Nothing that either Kerry or Edwards has said implies a refusal, in principle, to engage in preemptive war. But they seem to have this weird notion, admittedly common in Democratic circles, that a preemptive war should actually preempt something. Edward's main point, and I think it is a good one, is that invading Iraq hasn't preempted a damned thing.
I have seen nothing that would make me believe that Islamic terrorists in general, or al-Qaeda in particular, have been seriously damaged in their efforts by what we've done in Iraq. And in fact, there is lots of evidence that diverting attention from Afghanistan (especially after the colossal blunder committed at Tora Bora) actually helped "the terrorists" by allowing their senior leadership to escape into the hills, and by allowing much of that country to return to its former status as a patchwork of small territories controlled by opium-enriched warlords and former Taliban thugs. We could have dealt al-Qaeda a nearly mortal blow; instead we looked elsewhere for action in a country that has had little, if anything, to do with terrorism. And when we looked to that other country, we had several opportunities to take out a very nasty terrorist indeed, and we didn't. And in that latter case, guess what? The guy's still living, and still killing. The Bush Administration has had lots of opportunities to kill the bad guys before they attack us. Too bad that they didn't do so, choosing instead to attack bad guys who had neither plan nor ability to attack us.
I also don't think that Michael's hypothetical about North Korea is very apt, considering that the Bush Administration's general approach on North Korea has been a Homer Simpson-like blinking of the eyes and a gasp of "There's a North Korea now?"
I saw a pretty nifty formulation of the whole thing on Electablog, via David Trowbridge:
If you are voting for this president, then you have to believe that it is appropriate for us to go to war over the risk that a guy who doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction will pass them on to those with whom he has no ties.
If there's somebody out there who does have a nuclear weapon and who might give it to al-Qaeda, we'd damned well better take them out. Nothing John Kerry has said makes me believe that he would not do so (verbiage from the Right to the contrary), and nothing George Bush has said makes me think that he has done so (again, verbiage from the Right to the contrary).