Saturday, October 29, 2005

Victory Means Exit Strategy?

Bloggers like to compile lists of hippocritical quotes, like these prominent Republicans' Clinton-era warnings about the Balkans(Link):

"Victory means exit strategy and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--GW Bush, Houston Chronicle on April 9, 1999

"There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the president started this thing, and there still is no plan today."
--Tom Delay, April 1999

"No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it."
--Sean Hannity, explaining why he wanted the US to immediately withdraw from the Balkans

More recently, of course, Democrats have been calling for an exit strategy from Iraq.

I don't think the idea of an 'exit strategy' usually makes much sense. It's often argued that deadlines for withdrawal are counterproductive because it gives the enemy a date it knows it only needs to survive beyond. But that's only part of a larger problem that managing theater-level operations through the political decision-making process is bound to produce inefficiency, inertia, and ill-informed choices: witness the botched Iranian embassy hostage rescue attempt.

True, the decision to withdraw is a question of geopolitical strategy which should be debated at high levels, but it is a binary question--we either withdraw today or we don't. Once committed to withdrawal, the actual process should be administered by commanders on the ground as much as possible, who require flexibility and freedom to act on changing situations. The need for this flexibility precludes much detail in an 'exit strategy' making the concept itself of limited value.

So what if 'exit strategy' refers more to the pre-invasion idea of what conditions will trigger a withdrawal? Well, this war falls in a long line of wars that prove the maxim that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. If the tactical plans are so unreliable, strategic plans can only be more so. We know now that most of the assumptions about the post-war situation were way off, so any plan based on them would be worthless.

Usually, I think people calling for exit strategies are making proxy criticisms of an adminstration for embarking on a war for values the critic does not share. In the 90s, conservatives opposed the precedent of humanitarian military action, fearing we would get bogged down in costly actions that don't further our national interest, and exhaust ourselves. The president felt that the burden was not great enough to outweigh his value of a world community that does not tolerate genocide.

Liberals opposed invading Iraq when they perceived diplomatic channels as being potentially effective for achieving the stated goals of the war. Conservatives felt that the danger to the region and the world of the precedent of allowing a rogue state to ignore UN resolutions and develop WMD was greater than the cost of invasion and occupation.

It would be nice if we could have a public discourse on these real differences in value/cost perspectives rather than proxy debates about who wants an exit strategy when.


At 5:27 PM, Blogger Bill Baar said...

I didn't vote for Bush in 2000 because of many of the qutoes you cite. I also feared a president who made jokes about his smarts and how they would translate to the rest of the world. Especially in Arabic because I believe Clinton was right (and still is) about Saddam in 1998.

Bush changed though. Or maybe it was always there and it just took 911 for me to see. But I read Bush's second inaugural, and read what SecState Rice told the Egyptians in Cairo or said more recently at Princton and I've become a convinced Unitarian Universalist for Bush and find my faith could lead me no other way.


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