Reagan’s Navy Secretary James Webb blasts Bush

Quite amazing, that these harsh words come from James Webb, former Secretatry of the Navy under Reagan and a Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam:

Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.

There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.

At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them. Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country’s great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries.

Bush has yet to fire a single person responsible for this strategy. Nor has he reined in those who have made irresponsible comments while claiming to represent his administration. One only can conclude that he agrees with both their methods and their message.

Most seriously, Bush has yet to explain the exact circumstances under which American military forces will be withdrawn from Iraq.

I don’t necessarily agree with all that Webb says. But we know Bush is in deep trouble when those on the right blast him like this. How the landscape has changed in just a few short months.

Via Skippy over at The America Street

The Discussion: 13 Comments

Um, wow. I can still imagine Bush winning, but I can also imagine him getting, like, 30% of votes.

February 19, 2004 @ 6:07 pm | Comment

Well, it’s only a matter of time till Drudge publishes a breathless scoop about Webb being a drag queen or something.

February 19, 2004 @ 8:39 pm | Comment

Rather depends on how you look at the issue of US deployment of troops. Could you say, for example, that US troops have been bogged down in huge numbers in Europe, Japan and Korea for more than 50 years? Certainly you can. Has this hurt US interests? No. Has this hurt the interests of the regions in which US troops have been posted? No. Could either region have been described as regions with histories of peace before US deployment? No. Could those regions be described as being more peaceful as a result of US deployment? Europe, certainly yes. Asia … more debateable, but I hold that the US presence enhanced stability, not the reverse.

So … the time comes when USA can reasonably cut its military presence in Europe … 50 years in the Middle East ensuring peace and stability, and holding sufficient political clout to make local governments listen? Hmmm … doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me … either for USA, or for the people of the region.

February 19, 2004 @ 10:33 pm | Comment

Once we move beyond the complaints about what should have been done, the question remains: can we afford to pull out now or anytime soon?

I was against the war, but my answer to the above question is no. We have to stay this course. I’m still on the fence about whether the attack was “sound strategy.” Given that Libya is showing signs of capitulation and Syria is talking to Israel again and Iran’s authorities are sweating, I’d have to agree that there have been, from the US point of view, undeniably positive effects related to national self-interest.

This has to be balanced, though, with the questions that put me against the war to begin with: given the ancient and complex nature of the Middle East’s conflicts (and factoring in the ME’s interaction with Western powers during the 20th century), do we really think we can impose some sort of “solution” on it?

Our brightest hope in Iraq and the surrounding region is also the most tenuous: it’s the attempt to nation-build, to establish democracy while also introducing stability. I’m not entirely convinced that people in the ME are ready for what we’re trying to do, and if that sounds like a negative judgement of “primitive” culture, I’m afraid that’s what it is. Beneath even the question of Islam is the issue of Arab (and Persian, etc.) tribalism. Cultural solutions that don’t take this into account are bound to fail– and further, as long as Islam, on the whole, preaches antisecularism in its public rhetoric (we can grant that many Muslims are perfectly secular in their private lives), this too will mean problems for a nation-building agenda.

When nation-building advocates bring up Germany, Japan, and South Korea as shining examples of what nation-building can do, I dismiss this as a disanalogy: from where I sit in Seoul, it’s plainly obvious that Korea’s heart remains unreconstructedly Korean, despite all the trappings of Western civilization. I suspect the same is true of Japan and the Japanese. Nation-building in Europe was successful because we were dealing with a culture similar to our own; the jury’s still out on whether it works– really works– elsewhere.

[NB: I don’t deny that democracy & other effects of nation-building have produced amazing results in South Korea, but when you consider that there’s a debate going on about whether SK is still a true US ally, then you have to wonder whether nation-building did anything at the values-level. The same could obviously be said of France, whose position as ally is also being debated, and whose society is also democratic.]

So this leaves me in a bind. We’re in Iraq, and the brute fact facing us is that we can’t abandon the project without allowing the situation to dissolve into chaos. In the meantime, our management of the situation hasn’t been adept, though I’m not willing to concede that it’s been totally incompetent. I’m not sure that a President John Kerry would make things any better; he seems willing to give away the store to the UN, which as a body hasn’t proven itself any more competent than we’ve been.

We’re not faced with pretty choices this election year, which is why I’ll probably be writing in Daffy Duck for president… though if John Edwards ended up the front runner (as he might), I might actually vote for him, since he’d be a defense hawk and would likely preach fiscal probity. Kerry doesn’t seem serious about what’s going on, and he’s way too much of a waffler.


February 20, 2004 @ 11:56 am | Comment

Kevin, I think your points are valid, but part of a separate conversation from Webb’s. Whether we should stay in Iraq is one conversation (and I agree with you, we have to). But Webb is questioning how we got there in the first place, and demanding an explanation, as well as more transparency in the future so this doesn’t happen again. It’s not at all about what the best solution is to the mess in Iraq. It’s about how it happened, why dissenting voices were marginalized, and why those who fucked up so badly in their predictions haven’t been called to account. I read it, implicitly, as a call to elect a new president in 2004.

I understand your concerns about Kerry, but I think they are exaggerated. I’d rather see Edwards win (not that he’s perfect, either), but right now my mantra is ABB — anyone but Bush, within reason of course. We are in desperate need of change, and fast. The idea that of all the great leaders out there, the very best we can select to lead us is GWB — it’s so depressing.

February 20, 2004 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

I think I agree with everything in the last 2 posts (by the way, I wasn’t attempting to say that Germany and Korea are analogies to the ME in the way you’ve taken it) … except for the part about ABB … which by the way is a large Swiss based corporation. ๐Ÿ˜‰

February 20, 2004 @ 2:46 pm | Comment

Going back to Li En’s earlier comment: “Rather depends on how you look at the issue of US deployment of troops. Could you say, for example, that US troops have been bogged down in huge numbers in Europe, Japan and Korea for more than 50 years? Certainly you can. Has this hurt US interests? No.”

Here’s the difference. In those places she names, our troops were sent for very specific reasons (major wars) with a very specific purpose. And very soon afterwards, the presence of these soldiers achieved our goals: peace was attained and preserved. In Iraq, Webb is saying (a.) sending the soldiers there was not a necessity and (b.) they are now stationed in a part of the world where there has been no peace for centuries, and there is no sign that we are nearing our goals.

To compare the presence of our soldiers in Iraq to those in Japan and Germany, etc., sounds really good on the first read, but it simply doesn’t hold up. I am not saying we should send them all home. We can’t do that now. But how we got there and what their being there has achieved are very valid questions.

February 20, 2004 @ 5:52 pm | Comment

Hmmm … I don’t buy it. What is “necessity”? Was it a necessity to keep troops stationed in Korea, or even to fight the Korean War? Rather it was a strategic decision that USA’s best interests would be served by doing so. In WWII there were more options on the table than utterly defeating and occupying Germany, and again it was a strategic (and political) decision that total victory was the way to go. Japan had been seeking peace on other terms for months or even years before their final capitulation … and again, can you say it was “necessity” that led to the occupation of that nation? Or rather choice based upon national interest?

His point b) about historical peace … Europe was doing pretty well in the period following the Franco-Prussian War … they didn’t have any major war from about 1870 to 1914 … I think that was the record (until post-WWII). There have been periods in history where the middle-east has been far more advanced by pretty much any measure of civilisation … culture, learning, tolerance, diversity, etc…. in fact, the last time the middle east had that was when there was a major power holding control of the region … and this could refer to European mandates (I guess) but I am thinking more of the Ottoman Empire, and the rule of the Turks. Come to think of it, the middle-east probably enjoyed a longer period of peace and prosperity under the Ottomans than Europe has ever enjoyed at any time since the Romans (and perhaps not even then). To me the suggestion that there is something particularly peaceful about the Europeans is quite laughable. People can say that now because of the last 60 years (as long as they pretend the Balkans don’t exist) … but would anyone have made the claim in 1945? Especially that the GERMANS were a peaceful people? So, in talking about false analogies, it’s a pretty big one to compare Europe following 60 years of American military presence with the Middle-east of today.

OK, peace was achieved in Germany pretty quickly after their defeat, but let’s not forget that the Germans fought hard for several years, and it got tough and nasty when the fight reached the German homeland. By contrast the Iraqis were willing to roll over with barely a whimper and continued anti-American military activity is sporadic at best. So I think it is a terrible disanalogy to say that Germany was more willing to accept it … in fact, it’s really the other way around … Iraqis have so far been considerably less resistant.

February 22, 2004 @ 12:00 am | Comment

Do you really see the situation in Iraq today as being better than that in post-war Germany? In the latter case, disarmament and de-Nazification were achieved swiftly, and Germany was ready to get back on its feet in a miraculously short time. No big bombs exploding, killing civilians and soldiers daily.

Good things have happened and will continue to happen from our liberation of Iraq, but I can’t see how anyone can look objectively at the situation and not see that we are in a terrible state of crisis there, and that the scenario presented by Richard Perle and Wolfowitz has not materialized (embrace of democracy). With the fall of the 3rd Reich, we had a very specific, targeted and workable plan, to rebuild Germany and contain the Russians, We did that quickly and and according to plan. In Iraq, I see nothing going according to plan. While I endorsed the invasion (with a lot of worries and some reluctance in the end) I would now have to say it was a mistake.

About the Middle East being the peacable kingdom, I’m not informed enough to comment. I always thought there had been turmoil in the region throughout much of recorded history; not necessarily wars, but infighting among tribal warriors and ongoing bloody feuds, and that much of the fighting we are seeing today is a continuation of these tribal feuds.

February 22, 2004 @ 4:15 pm | Comment

The point I was trying to make in the comparison with Germany is that it is inappropriate to compare the Germany of 1945 with the Iraq of now. The amount of effort put into solving the Iraqi problem is minimal when compared with the amount of effort put into dealing with the Germans. What I am saying is that in 1945 Germany was in a position to accept American military presence and imposition of a new order because their extreme efforts to resist had been thoroughly defeated. This is not the case with Iraq. If US forces had managed to penetrate Germany as quickly as they did Iraq, you could have expected to see far more resistance and terrorism than you are now seeing in Iraq. Nazis could have melted back into the population instead of dying on the battlefields. They showed themselves to be far more willing to die for their cause and country than all but a few Iraqis. The problems in Iraq now would be as nothing compared to those facing the Americans in Germany. People are jumping the gun in saying the US policy in Iraq is a failure. It would be like criticising the US failure to solve the German problem in 1943.

You say “With the fall of the 3rd Reich, we had a very specific, targeted and workable plan, to rebuild Germany and contain the Russians, We did that quickly and and according to plan.”
I’m afraid I don’t agree with you at all. I think this judgement can only be made with the benefit of hindsight. I am not aware of anyone who predicted the shape of the world after WWII and how the cold war would play out, or how it was going to be vitally necessary to contain the Russians. It just developed in a haphazard fashion in response to circumstances. As for the plan to reconstruct Germany, the length of the war had given planners a lot more time to work things out, and things weren’t really that far along in 1946 … on one blog I remember reading some stuff about Life magazine running articles in 1946 about “are we losing the peace?” Sorry, can’t remember where I saw it. The high cost of defeating Germany also have the US government the political support it needed to undertake a reconstruction programme on an absolutely massive scale. The Allies had been systematically bombing Germany’s infrastructure and industry into rubble, and they occupied a country which had suffered from war far more than Iraq.
In comparison current US politicians seem more interested in trying to cut back on the much smaller amount of aid the US government is already spending. It also seems to be the people who are most eager to criticise the war as a failure who are most eager to vote against spending enough to make it work. Iraq doesn’t have a chance in hell of being given anything remotely comparable to the Marshall Plan. Fortunately Iraq has something that Germany was lacking … massive oil resources.

As for the Middleeast, you’re quite right … there often have been problems of the nature you describe. My point is that Europe has had at least as much of the same thing, if not more. If much of Europe is pacific today (and even that is unclear) it is an extremely recent phenomena, and there is no guarantee that the current state is permanent. History simply doesn’t support the contention that Europe is a peace-loving continent.

February 22, 2004 @ 10:02 pm | Comment

Why don’t we make ths another of the topics on which we’ll simply have to agree to disagree? I always thought the Marshall Plan was specificall designed to rebuild Germany (and much of Europe) to counter the imminent threat posed by the new and powerful USSR. Thew Cold War did not arise in a vacuum. As we approached Berlin, there were few illusions as to the threat the Russians posed, and some leading generals like Patton wanted to march east right into Moscow (which, in retrospect, might have been a damned good idea). We knew then, in 1945, that the new enemy was Russia, now stationed farther west than was ever thought possible. So I stick to my guns on this — we knew what we wanted to achieve, and we implemented one of the boldest and and most successful plans in history. Some argue it was imperialistic and wrong, buyt that’s irrelevant to this conversation. It worked as envisioned.

I agree with you, to a degree, about how the devastation of WWII made resistance against the allies far less viable after the fall of Germany. But I want you to remember something — and if you need to, go back and read Andrew Sullivan’s articles from last year. The neocon’s premise was that Saddam Hussein was supported by a very small group of elite soldiers and thugs, and that once Saddam was ousted they would dissolve. The ensuing violence, which you argue was to be expected under the circumstances, was NOT in the scenario the President sold us. If it had been, would Bush have ever held his tragic Mission Accomplished celebration on the aircraft carrier? If we were expecting a long and bloody guerrilla war, would the president have proclaimed victory, much to his poilitical detriment? I don’t think so. I think they were totally shocked at the ensuing mess, and if they weren’t shocked, then they did an awful job of preparing the American public for what they knew was to come. This tells me there were deep structural flaws in our planning, and Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, not my favorite person but no idiot, agrees.

February 22, 2004 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

Hmmm … I think you’d have a hard time making the case that America had any kind of plan resembling what actually happened post 1945 when she went to war in 1941. Four years is a long time to think out the consequences, and even then I think you’re being a bit anachronistic in putting cold war attitudes back into WWII. As to approaching Berlin … that city represents the perfect support for my argument … western forces never approached Berlin. The ludicrous situation of half a city in western hands, stuck in the middle of East Germany, was nothing that anyone in their right mind would have planned. For that matter, East and West Germany were never planned. It was always envisioned that these were merely temporary measures before a settlement could be worked out as what was going to be done with Germany. The situation developed on a purely ad hoc basis. The only people who really believed the Americans would just continue on and fight the Russians were in fact the Germans. As American forces entered the western part of Germany, captured German soldiers were coming forward to volunteer to join them to fight the Russians. These German troops were rather startled when GIs laughed at them and told them there wasn’t the slightest chance of that. I hadn’t considered this before, but it is another factor in explaining why the Germans settled down so quickly under Allied occupation … even if (by some remote chance) they did succeed in getting the Americans to leave, the only alternative was the Russians. If the Soviets were hovering on the border with Iraq, I’m sure the Iraqi people would be a lot less keen to see an American withdrawal.

As to your last point … I thoroughly agree that the war was sold to the world in the dumbest terms possible. On the other hand, to continue the Germany analogy, the current situation would be roughly equivalent to some some insurgency in Bavaria, occasional attacks in Berlin … and the rest of Germany settled and getting back to business. I don’t think it would have been unreasonable to declare “major hostilities” with Germany over, even if some resistance continued and Hitler was not yet captured.

February 23, 2004 @ 6:56 am | Comment

You will find that Webb was simply prophetic, and we still do not have an exit strategy. Bush blundered big time. And now talks of Iran??

January 21, 2005 @ 8:33 am | Comment

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