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Conservative realignment

The inevitable embarrassment of the bankrupt neoconservative ideology has occurred in Iraq. Since virtually no one prior to this debacle had the backbone to stand up to the neocons--the overwhelming vote of confidence the Congress gave Bush is evidence of this--I suppose we should be thankful that we haven't had to wait for two or three more pre-emptive invasions to realize that we don't need what the neoconservatives are selling.

An interesting question now is, which other factions of American conservativism will benefit the most from the neconservative fall? Well, it might just be the paleoconservatives.

The paleos, whose most popular figure nowadays is Pat Buchanan, have several reasons to think that their fortunes might be looking up. The paleos were the faction of the American right most critical of the neocons before the invasion of Iraq. In fact, you'd have to look all the way over to the Greens on the left to find another group that resisted the lure of thinking war would be cheap and easy. This gives the paleos more credibility now. Second, the paleoconservative focus on sealing our borders against third-world immigration might play better now that border security can be recast as a defense against terrorism. We might want to start paying attention to the paleos again.

Let's peek in on a paleoconservative critique of the Iraq war, shall we? Here are excerpts from an article by Andrew J. Bacevich in Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine: ten lessons to take away from Iraq.

First, ideology makes a poor substitute for strategy. With the invasion of Iraq, it became impossible to deny that in the heady aftermath of the Cold War American grand strategy became uncoupled from reality. Certain that history had spoken and that Americans were uniquely able to interpret its meaning, policymakers both Democratic and Republican uncorked old vials of Wilsonian illusion and breathed deeply. As a consequence, zealotry supplanted calculations of power and interest as a determinant of U.S. policy. . . .

Second, wars leave loose ends. In a political sense, decisive victory—meaning military success that makes a clean sweep of the complaints giving rise to war in the first place—is a pipe dream. . . .

Third, allies have choices—and will exercise them. Across a decade of hyping the United States as “sole superpower” and “indispensable nation,” too many policymakers persuaded themselves that America’s traditional allies had no alternative but to accede to U.S. “global leadership.” Both the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the Kosovo conflict of 1999 seemed to show that when Washington called, others clamored to board the bandwagon. To opt out was to be left out and left behind: from Washington’s perspective, this was a risk that few “friends” were likely to take. Iraq demolished such fantasies. Allies are not vassals. . . .

Fourth, Israel’s war is not our war. President Bush’s undifferentiated “global war on terror” has encouraged the government of Ariel Sharon to assert that Israel’s enemies and America’s enemies are one and the same. But they are not. Indeed, Sharon’s misguided effort to crush resistance to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza through brute force serves only to complicate and exacerbate our own problems. Sharon’s policy will not work, and as Israel’s chief supporter we get tagged with much of the blame. . . .

Fifth, “shock and awe” gets you only so far. More than a decade ago, the previous U.S. war against Iraq brought to full flower the American romance with high-tech warfare. Operation Iraqi Freedom has offered the fullest illustration to date of what this new American way of war can and cannot do. On the one hand, it affirmed what we already learned in Desert Storm: U.S. forces will make short work of any conventionally organized and equipped adversary foolish enough to put up a fight. . . .

Sixth, the margin of U.S. military supremacy is thinner than advertised. Ours is undoubtedly the mightiest military the world has ever seen, with a more than ample inventory of high-performance fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and top-of-the-line nuclear submarines. But our inventory of soldiers and Marines is grossly inadequate—inadequate at least to implement President Bush’s grandiose plans for sprinkling the blessings of liberty throughout the Greater Middle East. Despite the administration’s obdurate insistence to the contrary, the fact is that the United States today has too few soldiers doing too many things. . . .

Seventh, the myth of American casualty aversion is just that. The conventional wisdom of the 1990s was that a risk-averse military and a casualty-phobic public constituted major obstacles impeding the effective use of force. For the Clinton administration and its defenders, this became a convenient device for offloading onto others responsibility for American military fecklessness. The onus for the pseudo-campaigns of the decade leading up to 9/11—the zenith coming in 1998 when U.S. Navy cruise missiles demolished an empty pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum—lay not with the commander-in-chief but with foot-dragging generals and fainthearted citizens who lacked the stomach for serious military action. . . .

Eighth, so too with the myth of an American genius for spreading democracy. From the very day that U.S. forces entered Baghdad, the officials charged with raising a new Iraq out of the ashes of the old have displayed remarkable ineptitude. However admirable the hard work of those who have risked life and limb to give the Iraqi people a fresh start, the overall effort has misfired. . . .

Ninth, it’s hard to win when you don’t know whom you’re fighting. Much has been made about the blunders in strategic intelligence such as the failure to anticipate 9/11 and the bogus assertions regarding Saddam’s weapons of massive destruction. But the inadequacies of tactical intelligence have been at least as great, if not greater. . . .

Tenth, civil-military relations at the top are broken. The Iraq War has confirmed what had already become evident during the 1990s: the relationship between senior military leaders and the top echelon of civilian officials is dysfunctional. That dysfunction contributes to flawed decisions on crucial issues related to peace and war. . . .

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