First Put Out The Fire

John Podhoretz gives us a reason why there may yet be hope in the news that Bush is firing General Casey:

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, told the [New York] Times that the president went to the Pentagon a few weeks ago and said flatly, “What I want to hear from you is how we’re going to win, not how we’re going to leave.”

And that’s basically why, according to the Times, “Bush seems all but certain not only to reverse the strategy that Gen. Casey championed, but also to accelerate the general’s departure from Iraq.”

…As Casey said last week, “It’s always been my view that a heavy and sustained American military presence was not going to solve the problems in Iraq over the long term.”

Together with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Casey has taken the position that the war in Iraq won’t be won by defeating the bad guys, but by causing the bad guys to wither away over time by removing any chance that their cause could succeed.

This would happen in part because political progress would choke off the oxygen of the dead-end insurgents and terrorists. And it would happen because Iraqis would slowly but surely take the place of American security forces.

Since we’re occupiers, the thinking goes, we can’t do the job right. But they can because it’s their country and they’re going to have to do it.

Well, it’s their country, and they’ll have to do it at some point. But not yet, and maybe not ever, the way things are going.

The Casey-Rumsfeld analysis of Iraq was and is an effort to look at a complicated situation in a cold-eyed, clear-headed, rational way. Don’t just throw troops into battle; don’t just crack down when things seem out of control; don’t just act in ways that will keep Iraqis dependent on the United States.

All very sound ideas on paper. But they’ve proved tragically beside the point. When a building is on fire, you don’t stand around talking about how best to rebuild it. You have to put the fire out first.

In 2006, it’s now clear, the postwar embers in Iraq were caught up in a crosswind and erupted into a conflagration. Casey’s answer was, essentially, to task Iraqis with the job of putting out the fire. But the people who make up the Iraqi military and security forces aren’t ready to take on the task.

It’s our task in any case. That’s the fatal flaw of the Casey-Rumsfeld idea: This war is being fought to defeat us as much as it is being fought to control Iraq.

The Times story is important as a marker of the president’s intention. He has come to understand that victory requires a general whose primary aim is victory. And that general isn’t George Casey – an American hero who simply got it wrong.

The Casey-Rumsfeld strategy reminds me of the Kennedy-McNamara strategy in Vietnam. Too much “innovative thinking” and not enough raw brute force. The issue in Iraq is and always was whether the United States will prevail. Everything else is background noise.

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