Monday, October 31, 2005

Iraq: Why not just leave? Is it like Vietnam?

Blowback Revisited
By Peter Bergen and Alec Reynolds
From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005

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Summary: The current war in Iraq will generate a
ferocious blowback of its own, which -- as a recent
classified CIA assessment predicts -- could be longer
and more powerful than that from Afghanistan. Foreign
volunteers fighting U.S. troops in Iraq today will
find new targets around the world after the war ends.
PETER BERGEN is a Schwartz Fellow of the New America
Foundation and the author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside
the Secret World of Osama bin Laden." ALEC REYNOLDS is
a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University's
School of Advanced International Studies.

TODAY'S INSURGENTS IN IRAQ ARE TOMORROW'S TERRORISTS

When the United States started sending guns and money
to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, it had a
clearly defined Cold War purpose: helping expel the
Soviet army, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
And so it made sense that once the Afghan jihad forced
a Soviet withdrawal a decade later, Washington would
lose interest in the rebels. For the international
mujahideen drawn to the Afghan conflict, however, the
fight was just beginning. They opened new fronts in
the name of global jihad and became the spearhead of
Islamist terrorism. The seriousness of the blowback
became clear to the United States with the 1993
bombing of the World Trade Center: all of the attack's
participants either had served in Afghanistan or were
linked to a Brooklyn-based fund-raising organ for the
Afghan jihad that was later revealed to be al Qaeda's
de facto U.S. headquarters. The blowback, evident in
other countries as well, continued to increase in
intensity throughout the rest of the decade,
culminating on September 11, 2001.

The current war in Iraq will generate a ferocious
blowback of its own, which -- as a recent classified
CIA assessment predicts -- could be longer and more
powerful than that from Afghanistan. Foreign
volunteers fighting U.S. troops in Iraq today will
find new targets around the world after the war ends.
Yet the Bush administration, consumed with managing
countless crises in Iraq, has devoted little time to
preparing for such long-term consequences. Lieutenant
General James Conway, the director of operations on
the Joint Staff, admitted as much when he said in June
that blowback "is a concern, but there's not much we
can do about it at this point in time." Judging from
the experience of Afghanistan, such thinking is both
mistaken and dangerously complacent.

COMING HOME TO ROOST

The foreign volunteers in Afghanistan saw the Soviet
defeat as a victory for Islam against a superpower
that had invaded a Muslim country. Estimates of the
number of foreign fighters who fought in Afghanistan
begin in the low thousands; some spent years in
combat, while others came only for what amounted to a
jihad vacation. The jihadists gained legitimacy and
prestige from their triumph both within the militant
community and among ordinary Muslims, as well as the
confidence to carry their jihad to other countries
where they believed Muslims required assistance. When
veterans of the guerrilla campaign returned home with
their experience, ideology, and weapons, they
destabilized once-tranquil countries and inflamed
already unstable ones.

Algeria had seen relatively little terrorism for
decades, but returning mujahideen founded the Armed
Islamic Group (known by its French initials, GIA). GIA
murdered thousands of Algerian civilians during the
1990s as it attempted to depose the government and
replace it with an Islamist regime, a goal inspired by
the mujahideen's success in Afghanistan. The GIA
campaign of violence became especially pronounced
after the Algerian army mounted a coup in 1992 to
preempt an election that Islamists were poised to win.

In Egypt, after the assassination of Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat in 1981 prompted a government
crackdown, hundreds of extremists left the country to
train and fight in Afghanistan. Those militants came
back from the war against the Soviets to lead a terror
campaign that killed more than a thousand people
between 1990 and 1997. Closely tied to these militants
was the Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, "the
Blind Sheikh," whose preaching, according to the 9/11
Commission, had inspired Sadat's assassins. Abdel
Rahman's career demonstrates the internationalization
of Islamist extremism after Afghanistan. The cleric
visited Pakistan to lend his support to the Afghan
jihad and encouraged two of his sons to fight in the
war. He also provided spiritual direction for the
Egyptian terrorist organization Jamaat al-Islamiyya
and supported its renewed attacks on the Egyptian
government in the 1990s. He arrived in the United
States in 1990 -- at the time, the country was
regarded as a sympathetic environment for Islamist
militants -- where he began to encourage attacks on
New York City landmarks. Convicted in 1995 in
connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade
Center, Abdel Rahman is serving a life sentence in the
United States. But his influence has continued to be
felt: a 1997 attack at an archaeological site near the
Egyptian city of Luxor that left 58 tourists dead and
almost crippled Egypt's vital tourism industry was an
effort by Jamaat al-Islamiyya to force his release.

The best-known alumnus of the Afghan jihad is Osama
bin Laden, under whose leadership the "Afghan Arabs"
prosecuted their war beyond the Middle East into the
United States, Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
After the Soviet defeat, bin Laden established a
presence in Sudan to build up his fledgling al Qaeda
organization. Around the same time, Saddam Hussein
invaded Kuwait and hundreds of thousands of U.S.
troops arrived in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. military
presence in "the land of the two holy places" became
al Qaeda's core grievance, and the United States
became bin Laden's primary target. Al Qaeda bombed two
U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, nearly sank the
U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, and attacked the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Bin Laden
expanded his reach into Southeast Asia with the
assistance of other terrorists who had fought in
Afghanistan, such as Riduan Isamuddin, known as
Hambali, who is the central link between al Qaeda and
the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, and Ali
Gufron, known as Mukhlas, a leading planner of the
2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people.

ON-THE-JOB TRAINING

The Afghan experience was important for the foreign
"holy warriors" for several reasons. First, they
gained battlefield experience. Second, they rubbed
shoulders with like-minded militants from around the
Muslim world, creating a truly global network. Third,
as the Soviet war wound down, they established a
myriad of new jihadist organizations, from al Qaeda to
the Algerian GIA to the Filipino group Abu Sayyaf.

However, despite their grandiose rhetoric, the few
thousand foreigners who fought in Afghanistan had only
a negligible impact on the outcome of that war. Bin
Laden's Afghan Arabs began fighting the Soviet army
only in 1986, six years after the Soviet invasion. It
was the Afghans, drawing on the wealth of their
American and Saudi sponsors, who defeated the Soviet
Union. By contrast, foreign volunteers are key players
in Iraq, far more potent than the Afghan Arabs ever
were.

Several factors could make blowback from the Iraq war
even more dangerous than the fallout from Afghanistan.
Foreign fighters started to arrive in Iraq even before
Saddam's regime fell. They have conducted most of the
suicide bombings -- including some that have delivered
strategic successes such as the withdrawal of the UN
and most international aid organizations -- and the
Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, another alumnus of the
Afghan war, is perhaps the most effective insurgent
commander in the field. Fighters in Iraq are more
battle hardened than the Afghan Arabs, who fought
demoralized Soviet army conscripts. They are testing
themselves against arguably the best army in history,
acquiring skills in their battles against coalition
forces that will be far more useful for future
terrorist operations than those their counterparts
learned during the 1980s. Mastering how to make
improvised explosive devices or how to conduct suicide
operations is more relevant to urban terrorism than
the conventional guerrilla tactics used against the
Red Army. U.S. military commanders say that techniques
perfected in Iraq have been adopted by militants in
Afghanistan.

Finally, foreign involvement in the Iraqi conflict
will likely lead some Iraqi nationals to become
international terrorists. The Afghans were glad to
have Arab money but were culturally, religiously, and
psychologically removed from the Afghan Arabs; they
neither joined al Qaeda nor identified with the Arabs'
radical theology. Iraqis, however, are closer
culturally to the foreigners fighting in Iraq, and
many will volunteer to continue other jihads even
after U.S. troops depart.

IN BAGHDAD AND IN BOSTON

President George W. Bush and others have suggested
that it is better for the United States to fight the
terrorists in Baghdad than in Boston. It is a
comforting notion, but it is wrong on two counts.
First, it posits a finite number of terrorists who can
be lured to one place and killed. But the Iraq war has
expanded the terrorists' ranks: the year 2003 saw the
highest incidence of significant terrorist attacks in
two decades, and then, in 2004, astonishingly, that
number tripled. (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
famously complained in October 2003 that "we lack
metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global
war on terror." An exponentially rising number of
terrorist attacks is one metric that seems relevant.)
Second, the Bush administration has not addressed the
question of what the foreign fighters will do when the
war in Iraq ends. It would be naive to expect them to
return to civilian life in their home countries. More
likely, they will become the new shock troops of the
international jihadist movement.

For these reasons, U.S. allies in Europe and the
Middle East, as well as the United States itself, are
vulnerable to blowback. Disturbingly, some European
governments are already seeing some of their citizens
and resident aliens answer the call to fight in Iraq.
In February, the Los Angeles Times reported that U.S.
troops in Iraq had detained three French militants --
and that police in Paris had arrested ten associates
who were planning to join them. In June, authorities
in Spain arrested 16 men, mostly Moroccans, on charges
of recruiting suicide bombers for Iraq. In September,
prosecutors in the United States indicted a Dutch
resident, Iraqi-born Wesam al-Delaema, for conspiring
to bomb U.S. convoys in Fallujah. These incidents
presage danger not only for European countries, but
also for the United States, since European nationals
benefit from the Visa Waiver Program, which affords
them relatively easy access to the United States.

But it is Saudi Arabia that will bear the brunt of the
blowback. Several studies attest to the significant
role Saudi nationals have played in the conflict. Of
the 154 Arab fighters killed in Iraq between September
2004 and March 2005, 61 percent were from Saudi
Arabia. Another report concluded that of the 235
suicide bombers named on Web sites since mid-2004 as
having perpetrated attacks in Iraq, more than 50
percent were Saudi nationals. Today, the Saudi
government is exporting its jihadist problem instead
of dealing with it, just as the Egyptians did during
the Afghan war.

A SWITCH IN TIME

American success in Iraq would deny today's jihadists
the symbolic victory that they seek. But with that
outcome so uncertain, U.S. policymakers must focus on
dealing with the jihadists in Iraq now -- by limiting
the numbers entering the fight and breaking the
mechanism that would otherwise generate blowback after
the war.

The foreign jihadists in Iraq need to be separated
from the local insurgents through the political
process. Success in that mission will require Iraq's
Sunni Arabs to remain consistently engaged in the
political process. Shiite and Kurdish leaders will
have to back down from their efforts to create
semiautonomous states in the north and the south. But
the prospects for these developments appear dim at the
moment, and reaching a durable agreement may
increasingly be beyond U.S. influence.

To raise the odds of success, the United States must
deliver more security to central Iraq. This means
securing Iraq's borders, especially with Syria, to
block the flow of foreign fighters into the country.
The repeated U.S. military operations in western Iraq
since May have shown that at present there are
insufficient forces to disrupt insurgent supply lines
running along the Euphrates River to the Syrian
border. Accomplishing this objective would require
either more U.S. troops or a much larger force of
well-trained Iraqi troops. For the moment, neither of
those options seems viable, and so additional U.S.
soldiers should be rotated out of Iraq's cities and
into the western deserts and border towns,
transitioning the control of certain urban areas to
the Iraqi military and police.

Foreign governments must also silence calls to jihad
and deny radicals sanctuary once this war ends. After
the Soviet defeat, jihadists too often found refuge in
places as varied as Brooklyn and Khartoum, where
radical clerics offered religious justifications for
continuing jihad. To date, some governments have not
taken the necessary steps to clamp down on the new
generation of jihadists. Although the Saudis largely
silenced their radical clerics following the terrorist
attacks in Riyadh in May 2003, 26 clerics were still
permitted late in 2004 to call for jihad against U.S.
troops in Iraq. The United States must press the Saudi
government to end these appeals and restrict its
nationals from entering Iraq. In the long run,
measures against radical preaching are in Riyadh's
best interest, too, since the blowback from Iraq is
likely to be as painful for Saudi Arabia as the
blowback from Afghanistan was for Egypt and Algeria
during the 1990s.

Finally, the U.S. intelligence community, in
conjunction with foreign intelligence services, should
work on creating a database that identifies and tracks
foreign fighters, their known associates, and their
spiritual mentors. If such a database had been created
during the Afghan war, the United States would have
been far better prepared for al Qaeda's subsequent
terror campaign.

President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser,
Zbigniew Brzezinski, once asked of the Soviet defeat
in Afghanistan: "What is most important to the history
of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the
Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the
liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold
War?" Today, the Bush administration is implicitly
arguing a similar point: that the establishment of a
democratic Iraqi state is a project of overriding
importance for the United States and the world, which
in due course will eclipse memories of the insurgency.
But such a viewpoint minimizes the fact that the war
in Iraq is already breeding a new generation of
terrorists. The lesson of the decade of terror that
followed the Afghan war was that underestimating the
importance of blowback has severe consequences.
Repeating the mistake in regard to Iraq could lead to
even deadlier outcomes.

www.foreignaffairs.org is copyright 2002--2005 by the
Council on Foreign Relations. All rights reserved.

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Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam
By Melvin R. Laird
From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005

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Summary: During Richard Nixon's first term, when I
served as secretary of defense, we withdrew most U.S.
forces from Vietnam while building up the South's
ability to defend itself. The result was a success --
until Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory by cutting off funding for our ally in 1975.
Washington should follow a similar strategy now, but
this time finish the job properly.
MELVIN R. LAIRD was Secretary of Defense from 1969 to
1973, Counselor to the President for Domestic Affairs
from 1973 to 1974, and a member of the House of
Representatives from 1952 to 1969. He currently serves
as Senior Counselor for National and International
Affairs at the Reader's Digest Association.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 on the assumption
that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War. He didn't
have any such plan, and my job as his first secretary
of defense was to remedy that -- quickly. The only
stated plan was wording I had suggested for the 1968
Republican platform, saying it was time to
de-Americanize the war. Today, nearly 37 years after
Nixon took office as president and I left Congress to
join his cabinet, getting out of a war is still dicier
than getting into one, as President George W. Bush can
attest.

There were two things in my office that first day that
gave my mission clarity. The first was a multivolume
set of binders in my closet safe that contained a
top-secret history of the creeping U.S. entry into the
war that had occurred on the watch of my predecessor,
Robert McNamara. The report didn't remain a secret for
long: it was soon leaked to The New York Times, which
nicknamed it "the Pentagon Papers." I always referred
to the study as "the McNamara Papers," to give credit
where credit belonged. I didn't read the full report
when I moved into the office. I had already spent
seven years on the Defense Subcommittee of the House
Appropriations Committee listening to McNamara justify
the escalation of the war. How we got into Vietnam was
no longer my concern. (Although, in retrospect, those
papers offered a textbook example of how not to commit
American military might.)

The second item was another secret document, this one
shorter and infinitely more troubling. It was a
one-year-old request from General William Westmoreland
to raise the U.S. troop commitment in Vietnam from
500,000 to 700,000. At the time he had made the
request, Westmoreland was the commander of U.S. forces
there. As soon as the idea had reached the ears of
President Lyndon Johnson, Westmoreland's days in
Saigon were numbered. Johnson bumped him upstairs to
be army chief of staff, so that the Pentagon
bureaucracy could dilute his more-is-better philosophy
during the coming presidential campaign.

The memo had remained in limbo in the defense
secretary's desk, neither approved nor rejected. As my
symbolic first act in office, it gave me great
satisfaction to turn down that request formally. It
was the beginning of a four-year withdrawal from
Vietnam that, in retrospect, became the textbook
description of how the U.S. military should decamp.

Others who were not there may differ with this
description. But they have been misinformed by more
than 30 years of spin about the Vietnam War. The
resulting legacy of that misinformation has left the
United States timorous about war, deeply averse to
intervening in even a just cause, and dubious of its
ability to get out of a war once it is in one. All one
need whisper is "another Vietnam," and palms begin to
sweat. I have kept silent for those 30 years because I
never believed that the old guard should meddle in the
business of new administrations, especially during a
time of war. But the renewed vilification of our role
in Vietnam in light of the war in Iraq has prompted me
to speak out.

Some who should know better have made our current
intervention in Iraq the most recent in a string of
bogeymen peeking out from under the bed, spawned by
the nightmares of Vietnam that still haunt us. The
ranks of the misinformed include seasoned politicians,
reporters, and even veterans who earned their stripes
in Vietnam but who have since used that war as their
bully pulpit to mold an isolationist American foreign
policy. This camp of doomsayers includes Senator
Edward Kennedy, who has called Iraq "George Bush's
Vietnam." Those who wallow in such Vietnam angst would
have us be not only reticent to help the rest of the
world, but ashamed of our ability to do so and
doubtful of the value of spreading democracy and of
the superiority of freedom itself. They join their
voices with those who claim that the current war is
"all about oil," as though the loss of that oil were
not enough of a global security threat to merit any
U.S. military intervention and especially not "another
Vietnam."

The Vietnam War that I saw, first from my seat in
Congress and then as secretary of defense, cannot be
wrapped in a tidy package and tagged "bad idea." It
was far more complex than that: a mixture of good and
evil from which there are many valuable lessons to be
learned. Yet the only lesson that seems to have
endured is the one that begins and ends with "Don't go
there." The war in Iraq is not "another Vietnam." But
it could become one if we continue to use Vietnam as a
sound bite while ignoring its true lessons.

I acknowledge and respect the raw emotions of those
who fought in Vietnam, those who lost loved ones, and
those who protested, and I also respect the sacrifice
of those who died following orders of people such as
myself, half a world away. Those raw emotions are once
again being felt as our young men and women die in
Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot speak for the dead or
the angry. My voice is that of a policymaker, one who
once decided which causes were worth fighting for, how
long the fight should last, and when it was time to go
home. The president, as our commander-in-chief, has
the overall responsibility for making these
life-or-death decisions, in consultation with
Congress. The secretary of defense must be supportive
of those decisions, or else he must leave.

It is time for a reasonable look at both Vietnam and
Iraq -- and at what the former can teach us about the
latter. My perspective comes from military service in
the Pacific in World War II (I still carry shrapnel in
my body from a kamikaze attack on my destroyer, the
U.S.S. Maddox), nine terms in the U.S. House of
Representatives, and four years as secretary of
defense to Nixon.

Today, we deserve a view of history that is based on
facts rather than emotional distortions and the party
line of tired politicians who play on emotions. Mine
is not a rosy view of the Vietnam War. I didn't miss
the fact that it was an ugly, mismanaged, tragic
episode in U.S. history, with devastating loss of life
for all sides. But there are those in our nation who
would prefer to pick at that scab rather than let it
heal. They wait for opportunities to trot out the
Vietnam demons whenever another armed intervention is
threatened. For them, Vietnam is an insurance policy
that pretends to guarantee peace at home as long as we
never again venture abroad. Certain misconceptions
about that conflict, therefore, need to be exposed and
abandoned in order to restore confidence in the United
States' nation-building ability.

STAYING THE COURSE

The truth about Vietnam that revisionist historians
conveniently forget is that the United States had not
lost when we withdrew in 1973. In fact, we grabbed
defeat from the jaws of victory two years later when
Congress cut off the funding for South Vietnam that
had allowed it to continue to fight on its own. Over
the four years of Nixon's first term, I had cautiously
engineered the withdrawal of the majority of our
forces while building up South Vietnam's ability to
defend itself. My colleague and friend Henry
Kissinger, meanwhile, had negotiated a viable
agreement between North and South Vietnam, which was
signed in January 1973. It allowed for the United
States to withdraw completely its few remaining troops
and for the United States and the Soviet Union to
continue funding their respective allies in the war at
a specified level. Each superpower was permitted to
pay for replacement arms and equipment. Documents
released from North Vietnamese historical files in
recent years have proved that the Soviets violated the
treaty from the moment the ink was dry, continuing to
send more than $1 billion a year to Hanoi. The United
States barely stuck to the allowed amount of military
aid for two years, and that was a mere fraction of the
Soviet contribution.

Yet during those two years, South Vietnam held its own
courageously and respectably against a
better-bankrolled enemy. Peace talks continued between
the North and the South until the day in 1975 when
Congress cut off U.S. funding. The Communists walked
out of the talks and never returned. Without U.S.
funding, South Vietnam was quickly overrun. We saved a
mere $297 million a year and in the process doomed
South Vietnam, which had been ably fighting the war
without our troops since 1973.

I believed then and still believe today that given
enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of
defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the
same now. From the Tet offensive in 1968 up to the
fall of Saigon in 1975, South Vietnam never lost a
major battle. The Tet offensive itself was a victory
for South Vietnam and devastated the North Vietnamese
army, which lost 289,000 men in 1968 alone. Yet the
overriding media portrayal of the Tet offensive and
the war thereafter was that of defeat for the United
States and the Saigon government. Just so, the
overriding media portrayal of the Iraq war is one of
failure and futility.

Vietnam gave the United States the reputation for not
supporting its allies. The shame of Vietnam is not
that we were there in the first place, but that we
betrayed our ally in the end. It was Congress that
turned its back on the promises of the Paris accord.
The president, the secretary of state, and the
secretary of defense must share the blame. In the end,
they did not stand up for the commitments our nation
had made to South Vietnam. Any president or cabinet
officer who is turned down by Congress when he asks
for funding for a matter of national security or
defense simply has not tried hard enough. There is no
excuse for that failure. In my four years at the
Pentagon, when public support for the Vietnam War was
at its nadir, Congress never turned down any requests
for the war effort or Defense Department programs.
These were tense moments, but I got the votes and the
appropriations. A defense secretary's relationship
with Congress is second only to his relationship with
the men and women in uniform. Both must be able to
trust him, and both must know that he respects them.
If not, Congress will not fund, and the soldiers,
sailors, and air personnel will not follow.

Donald Rumsfeld has been my friend for more than 40
years. Gerald Ford and I went to Evanston to support
him in his first congressional race, and I urged
President Bush to appoint him secretary of defense.
But his overconfident and self-assured style on every
issue, while initially endearing him to the media, did
not play well with Congress during his first term. My
friends in Congress tell me Rumsfeld has modified his
style of late, wisely becoming more collegial. Several
secretaries during my service on the Appropriations
Committee, running all the way from the tenure of
Charlie Wilson to that of Clark Clifford, made the
mistake of thinking they must appear much smarter than
the elected officials to whom they reported. It
doesn't always work.

If Rumsfeld wants something from those who are elected
to make decisions for the American people, then he
must continue to show more deference to Congress. To
do otherwise will endanger public support and the
funding stream for the Iraq war and its future
requirements. A sour relationship on Capitol Hill
could doom the whole effort. The importance of this
solidarity between Congress and the administration did
not escape Saddam Hussein, nor has it escaped the
insurgents. In the days leading up to the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, television stations there showed
1975 footage of U.S. embassy support personnel
escaping to helicopters from the roof of the U.S.
embassy in Saigon. It was Saddam's message to his
people that the United States does not keep its
commitments and that we are only as good as the word
of our current president. We failed to deliver the
logistical support to our allies in South Vietnam
during the post-Watergate period because of a
breakdown of leadership in Washington. The failure of
one administration to keep the promises of another had
a devastating effect on the North-South negotiations.

There are no guarantees of continuity in a partisan
democracy. We are making commitments as to the future
of Iraq on an almost daily basis. These commitments
must be understood now so they can be honored later.
Every skirmish on the home front that betrays a lack
of solidarity on Iraq gives the insurgents more hope
and ultimately endangers the men and women we have
sent to Iraq to fight in this war for us. We are now
committed to a favorable outcome in Iraq, but it must
be understood that this will require long-term
assistance or our efforts will be in vain.

VIETNAMIZATION AS THE MODEL

Along with our abandonment of our allies, another
great tragedy of Vietnam was the Americanization of
the war. This threatens to be the tragedy of Iraq
also. John F. Kennedy committed a few hundred military
advisers to Saigon. Johnson saw Southeast Asia as the
place to stop the spread of communism, and he spared
no expense or personnel. By the time Nixon and I
inherited the war in 1969, there were more than half a
million U.S. troops in South Vietnam and 1.2 million
more U.S. soldiers, sailors, and air personnel
supporting the war from aircraft carriers and military
bases in surrounding nations and at sea. The war
needed to be turned back to the people who cared about
it, the Vietnamese. They needed U.S. money and
training but not more American blood. I called our
program "Vietnamization," and in spite of the
naysayers, I have not ceased to believe that it
worked.

Nixon was reelected in 1972 based in large part on our
progress toward ending U.S. direct involvement in the
war, ending the draft, and establishing the
all-volunteer military service. His opponent that
year, George McGovern, made the war the primary issue
of the campaign, claiming that Democrats -- the party
in power that had escalated the war to an intolerable
level -- would be the best folks to get us out.
McGovern lost because the American people didn't agree
with him.

We need to put our resources and unwavering public
support behind a program of "Iraqization" so that we
can get out of Iraq and leave the Iraqis in a position
to protect themselves. The Iraq war should have been
focused on Iraqization even before the first shot was
fired. The focus is there now, and Americans should
not lose heart.

We came belatedly to Vietnamization; nonetheless,
there are certain principles we followed in Vietnam
that would be helpful in Iraq. The most important is
that the administration must adhere to a standard of
competence for the Iraqi security forces, and when
that standard is met, U.S. troops should be withdrawn
in corresponding numbers. That is the way it worked in
Vietnam, from the first withdrawal of 50,000 troops in
1969 to the last prisoner of war off the plane in
January of 1973. Likewise, in Iraq, the United States
should not let too many more weeks pass before it
shows its confidence in the training of the Iraqi
armed forces by withdrawing a few thousand U.S. troops
from the country. We owe it to the restive people back
home to let them know there is an exit strategy, and,
more important, we owe it to the Iraqi people. The
readiness of the Iraqi forces need not be 100 percent,
nor must the new democracy be perfect before we begin
our withdrawal. The immediate need is to show our
confidence that Iraqis can take care of Iraq on their
own terms. Our presence is what feeds the insurgency,
and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence
and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the
insurgency.

I gave President Nixon the same advice about Vietnam
from our first day in office. As secretary of defense,
I took the initiative in the spring of 1969 to change
our mission statement for Vietnam from one of applying
maximum pressure against the enemy to one of giving
maximum assistance to South Vietnam to fight its own
battles. Then, the opponents of our withdrawal were
the South Vietnamese government, which we had turned
into a dependent, and some in our own military who
harbored delusions of total victory in Southeast Asia
using American might. Even if such a victory had been
possible, it was wrong to Americanize the war from the
beginning, and by that point the patience of the
American people had run out.

Even with the tide of public opinion running against
the war, withdrawal was not an easy sell inside the
Nixon administration. Our first round of withdrawals
was announced after a conference between Nixon and
South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu on Midway
Island in June 1969. I had already softened the blow
for Thieu by visiting him in Saigon in March, at which
point I told him the spigot was being turned off. He
wanted more U.S. soldiers, as did almost everyone in
the U.S. chain of command, from the chair of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff on down. For each round of troop
withdrawals from Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs suggested a
miserly number based on what they thought they still
needed to win the war. I bumped those numbers up,
always in counsel with General Creighton Abrams, then
the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Even Nixon,
who had promised to end the war, accepted each
troop-withdrawal request from me grudgingly. It took
four years to bring home half a million troops. At
times, it seemed my only ally was General Abrams. He
understood what the others did not: that the American
people's patience for the war had worn thin.

Bush is not laboring under similar handicaps in his
military. His commanders share his goal of letting
Iraq take care of itself as soon as its fledgling
democracy is ready. And for the moment, there is still
patience at home for a commonsensical, phased
drawdown. In fact, the voices expressing the most
patience about a sensible withdrawal and the most
support for the progress of Iraqi soldiers are coming
from within the U.S. military. These people are also
the most eager to see the mission succeed and the most
willing to see it through to the end. It is they who
are at high risk and who are the ones being asked to
serve not one but multiple combat tours. They are
dedicated and committed to a mission that ranges from
the toughest combat to the most elementary chores of
nation building. We should listen to them, and trust
them.

In those four years of Vietnamization, I never once
publicly promised a troop number for withdrawal that I
couldn't deliver. President Bush should move ahead
with the same certainty. I also did not announce what
our quantitative standards for readiness among the
South Vietnamese troops were, just as Bush should not
make public his specific standards for determining
when Iraqi troops are ready to go it alone. In a
report to Congress in July 2005, the Pentagon hinted
that those measurable standards are in place. However,
it would be a mistake for the president to rely solely
on the numbers. Instead, his top commander in the
field should have the final say on how many U.S.
troops can come home, commensurate with the readiness
of Iraqi forces. If Bush does not trust his
commander's judgment, as I trusted General Abrams,
Bush should replace him with someone he does trust.
That trust must be conveyed to the American people,
too, if they are to be patient with an orderly
withdrawal of our troops.

THE PRETEXT FOR WAR

In this business of trust, President Bush got off to a
bad start. Nixon had the same problem. Both the
Vietnam War and the Iraq war were launched based on
intelligence failures and possibly outright deception.
The issue was much more egregious in the case of
Vietnam, where the intelligence lapses were born of
our failure to understand what motivated Ho Chi Minh
in the 1950s. Had we understood the depth of his
nationalism, we might have been able to derail his
communism early on.

The infamous pretext for leaping headlong into the
Vietnam War was the Gulf of Tonkin incident. My old
destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox, was patrolling the Gulf
of Tonkin 25 miles off the coast of North Vietnam on
August 2, 1964, when it was attacked by three North
Vietnamese torpedo boats. That solitary attack would
have been written off as an aberration, but two days
later the U.S.S. Maddox, joined then by the U.S.S.
Turner Joy, reported that it was under attack again.
From all I was able to determine when I read the
dispatches five years later as secretary of defense,
there was no second attack. There was confusion,
hysteria, and miscommunication on a dark night.
President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara
either dissembled or misinterpreted the faulty
intelligence, and McNamara hotfooted it over to
Capitol Hill with a declaration that was short of war
but that resulted in a war anyway. I, along with 501
colleagues in the House and Senate, voted for the
Tonkin Gulf resolution, which was Johnson's ticket to
escalate our role in Vietnam. Until then, the United
States had been part bystander, part covert combatant,
and part adviser.

In Iraq, the intelligence blunder concerned Saddam's
nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, which in the
end may or may not have been Bush's real motivation
for going to war. My view is that it was better to
find that Saddam had not progressed as far as we
thought in his WMD development than to discover
belatedly that he had. Whatever the truth about WMD in
Iraq, it cannot be said that the United States slipped
gradually, covertly, or carelessly into Iraq, as we
did into Vietnam.

MARKETING THE MISSION

The mistake on the question of WMD in Iraq has led
many to complain that the United States was drawn into
the war under false pretenses, that what began as
self-defense has morphed into nation building. Welcome
to the reality of war. It is neither predictable nor
tidy. This generation of Americans was spoiled by the
quick-and-clean Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, when
the first President Bush adhered to the mission, freed
Kuwait, and brought home the troops. How would Iraq
look today if George H.W. Bush had changed that
mission on the fly and ordered a march to Baghdad and
the overthrow of Saddam? The truth is, wars are fluid
things and missions change. This is more the rule than
the exception. It was true in Vietnam, and it is true
in Iraq today.

The early U.S. objective in Southeast Asia was to stop
the spread of communism. With changes in the
relationship between the Soviet Union and China and
the 1965 suppression of the communist movement in
Indonesia, the threat of a communist empire
diminished. Unwilling to abandon South Vietnam, the
United States changed its mission to
self-determination for Vietnam.

The current President Bush was persuaded that we would
find WMD in Iraq and did what he felt he had to do
with the information he was given. When we did not
find the smoking gun, it would have been
unconscionable to pack up our tanks and go home. Thus,
there is now a new mission, to transform Iraq, and it
is not a bad plan. Bush sees Iraq as the frontline in
the war on terror -- not because terrorists dominate
there, but because of the opportunity to displace
militant extremists' Islamist rule throughout the
region. Bush's greatest strength is that terrorists
believe he is in this fight to the end. I have no
patience for those who can't see that big picture and
who continue to view Iraq as a failed attempt to find
WMD. Now, because Iraq has been set on a new course,
Bush has an opportunity to reshape the region. "Nation
building" is not an epithet or a slogan. After the
attacks of September 11, 2001, it is our duty.

Unfortunately, Bush has done an uneven job of selling
his message, particularly since he was relieved of the
pressure of reelection. Nixon lost his leadership
leverage because of Watergate and thus lost ground in
the battle for public support. By contrast, I believe
the American people would still want to follow Bush if
they had a clear understanding of what was at stake.
Recent polls showing a waning of support for the war
are a sign to the president that he needs to level
with the American people. When troops are dying, the
commander-in-chief cannot be coy, vague, or secretive.
We learned that in Vietnam, too.

Bush is losing the public relations war by making the
same strategic mistakes we made in Vietnam. General
Abrams frequently spoke to me about his frustration
with the war that the U.S. media portrayed at home and
how it contrasted with the war he was seeing up close.
His sense of defeat in his own public relations war,
with its 500-plus reporters based in Saigon, comes
through in the hundreds of meetings held in his office
in Saigon -- meetings that were taped for the record.
(Transcripts of those tapes are ably assembled and
analyzed by Lewis Sorley in his recent book, Vietnam
Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972.)

In Vietnam, correspondents roamed the country almost
at will, and their work brought home to the United
States the first televised war. Until that war,
families back home worried about the welfare of their
soldiers but could not see the danger. Had the mothers
and fathers of U.S. soldiers serving in World War II
seen a real-time CNN report of D-day in the style of
Saving Private Ryan, they might not have thought
Europe was worth saving. Operation Desert Storm
married 24-hour cable news and war for the first time.
The embedding of journalists with combat units in Iraq
12 years later was a solid idea, but it has meant that
casualties are captured on tape and then replayed on
newscasts thousands of times. The deaths of ten
civilians in a suicide bombing are replayed and
analyzed and thus become the psychological equivalent
of 10,000 deaths. The danger to one U.S. soldier
captured on tape becomes a threat to everyone's son or
father or daughter or mother.

I have made too many phone calls to grieving families
to ever downplay the loss of even one life. But I have
also been in combat, and it looks different from the
inside, from the viewpoint of those who volunteered
and trained to fight for just causes. For a soldier,
ducking a sniper's bullet in downtown Baghdad is all
in a day's work, no matter how alarming it looks on
television. The soldier will shrug it off and walk the
same streets the next day if he believes in his
mission. The key for Bush is to communicate that same
sense of mission to the people back home. His west
Texas cowboy approach -- shoot first and answer
questions later, or do the job first and let the
results speak for themselves -- is not working. With
his propensity to wrap up a package and present it as
a fait accompli, Bush declared, "Mission
accomplished!" at the end of the major combat phase of
the Iraq war. That was a well-earned high-five for the
military, but it soon became obvious that the mission
had only just begun.

The president must articulate a simple message and
mission. Just as the spread of communism was very real
in the 1960s, so the spread of radical fundamentalist
Islam is very real today. It was a creeping fear until
September 11, 2001, when it showed itself capable of
threatening us. Iraq was a logical place to fight
back, with its secular government and modern
infrastructure and a populace that was ready to
overthrow its dictator. Our troops are not fighting
there only to preserve the right of Iraqis to vote.
They are fighting to preserve modern culture, Western
democracy, the global economy, and all else that is
threatened by the spread of barbarism in the name of
religion. That is the message and the mission. It is
not politically correct, nor is it comforting. But it
is the truth, and sometimes the truth needs good
marketing.

Condoleezza Rice is one person in the administration
who understands and has consistently and clearly
stated this message. When she was national security
adviser, the media seemed determined to sideline her
repeated theme, perhaps because she was perceived as a
mere water bearer for the president. As secretary of
state, she is in a better position to speak
independently. The administration should do its best
to keep the microphone in her hands.

BUILDING A LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT

As was the case in Vietnam, the task in Iraq involves
building a new society from the ground up. Two Vietnam
experts, Jeffrey Record and W. Andrew Terrill,
recently produced an exhaustive comparison of the
Vietnam and Iraq wars for the Army War College. They
note that in both wars, the United States sought to
establish a legitimate indigenous government. In Iraq,
the goal is a democratic government, whereas in
Vietnam the United States would have settled for any
regime that advanced our Cold War agenda.

Those who call the new Iraqi government Washington's
"puppet" don't know what a real puppet government is.
The Iraqis are as eager to be on their own as we are
to have them succeed. In Vietnam, an American,
Ambassador Philip Habib, wrote the constitution in
1967. Elections were choreographed by the United
States to empower corrupt, selfish men who were no
more than dictators in the garb of statesmen.

Little wonder that the passionate nationalists in the
North came off as the group with something to offer. I
do not personally believe the Saigon government was
fated to fall apart someday through lack of integrity,
and apparently the Soviet Union didn't think so either
or it would not have pursued the war. But it is true
that the U.S. administrations at the time severely
underestimated the need for a legitimate government in
South Vietnam and instead assumed that a shadow
government and military force could win the day. In
Iraq, a legitimate government, not window-dressing,
must be the primary goal. The factious process of
writing the Iraqi constitution has been painful to
watch, and the varying factions must be kept on track.
But the process is healthy and, more important,
homegrown.

In hindsight, we can look at the Vietnam War as a
success story -- albeit a costly one -- in nation
building, even though the democracy we sought
halfheartedly to build failed. Three decades ago, Asia
really was threatened by the spread of communism. The
Korean War was a fresh memory. In Malaysia, Singapore,
Indonesia, the Philippines, and even India, communist
movements were gaining a foothold. They failed in
large part because the United States drew a line at
Vietnam that distracted and sucked resources away from
its Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. Similarly, the
effect of our stand in Iraq is already being felt
around the Middle East. Opposition parties are
demanding to be heard. Veiled women are insisting on a
voice. Syrian troops have left Lebanon. Egypt has held
an election. Iran is being pressured by the United
States and Europe alike on its development of nuclear
weapons. The voices for change are building in Saudi
Arabia. The movement even has a name: Kifaya --
"Enough!" The parasites who have made themselves fat
by promoting ignorance, fear, and repression in the
region are squirming. These are baby steps, but that
is where running begins.

INSURGENTS AS ENEMIES

Insurgents were and are the enemy in both wars, and
insurgencies fail without outside funding. In Vietnam,
the insurgents were heavily funded and well equipped
by the Soviet Union. They followed a powerful and
charismatic leader, Ho Chi Minh, who nurtured their
passionate nationalist goals. In Iraq, the insurgency
is fragmented, with no identifiable central leadership
and no unifying theology, strategy, or vision other
than to get the United States out of the region. If
that goal were accomplished now, they would turn on
each other, as they already have done in numerous
skirmishes. Although they do rely on outside funding,
their benefactors are fickle and without deep pockets.

There is no way of counting the precise number of
insurgents in the Iraq war, but it appears to be in
the thousands, which in comparative terms is paltry.
Communist forces in Vietnam numbered well over 1
million in 1973. North Vietnam, over the course of the
war, lost 1.1 million soldiers and 2 million
civilians, and yet they were willing to fight on and
we were not. Why? Record and Terrill say the key to
understanding any war in which a weaker side prevails
over a stronger one is the concept of the "asymmetry
of stakes." Victory meant everything to North Vietnam
and nothing to the average American. We had few
economic interests in Vietnam. Our national security
interest -- preventing the domino scenario, in which
the entire world would fall under the sway of
communism if we lost Southeast Asia -- didn't have
enough currency to carry the day.

It is a very different story in Iraq, where the Bush
administration hopes to implant democracy side by side
with Islam. The stakes could not be higher for the
continued existence of our own democracy and, yes, for
the significant matter of oil. We are not the only
nation dependent on Persian Gulf oil. We share that
dependency with every industrialized nation on the
planet. Picture those oil reserves in the hands of
religious extremists whose idea of utopia is to knock
the world economy and culture back more than a
millennium to the dawn of Islam.

Bush's belief that he can replace repression with
democracy is not some neoconservative fantasy. Our
support of democracy dates from the founding of our
nation. Democracies are simply better for the planet.
Witness the courage of the Iraqi people who shocked
the world and defied all the pessimists by showing up
to vote in January 2005, even with guns pointed at
their heads. The enemies of freedom in Iraq know what
a powerful message that was to the rest of the Arab
world, otherwise they would not have responded by
escalating the violence.

Although Vietnam may have been a success story when it
came to defeating an insurgency, the domestic
insurgency -- conducted by the Vietcong -- was
unfortunately only one front in the war, the larger
front being the conventional military forces of North
Vietnam. The Vietcong were largely suppressed by a
combination of persuasion and force. A similar
combination of deadly force against the Iraqi
insurgency's leaders and incentives to co-opt their
followers may work in Iraq, where the insurgency is
the only enemy.

Vietnam, however, should be a cautionary tale when
fighting guerrilla style, whether it be in the streets
or in the jungle. Back then, frightened and untrained
U.S. troops were ill equipped to govern their baser
instincts and fears. Countless innocent civilians were
killed in the indiscriminate hunt for Vietcong among
the South Vietnamese peasantry. Some of the worst
historical memories of the Vietnam War stem from those
atrocities. Our volunteer troops in Iraq are better
trained and supervised, yet the potential remains for
a slaughter of innocents. Reports have already
surfaced of skittish American soldiers shooting Iraqi
civilians in acts that can only be attributed to poor
training and discipline.

To stop abuses and mistakes by the rank and file,
whether in the prisons or on the streets, heads must
roll at much higher levels than they have thus far. I
well remember the unexpected public support for
Lieutenant William Calley, accused in the massacre of
civilians in the village of My Lai. The massacre did
not occur on my watch, but Calley's trial did, and
Americans flooded the White House with letters of
protest when it appeared that Calley would be the
scapegoat while his superiors walked free. The best
way to keep foot soldiers honest is to make sure their
commanders know that they themselves will be held
responsible for any breach of honor.

For me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have
occurred in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo
Bay have been a disturbing reminder of the
mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam. The
conditions in our current prison camps are nowhere
near as horrific as they were at the "Hanoi Hilton,"
but that is no reason to pat ourselves on the back.
The minute we begin to deport prisoners to other
nations where they can legally be tortured, when we
hold people without charges or trial, when we move
prisoners around to avoid the prying inspections of
the Red Cross, when prisoners die inexplicably on our
watch, we are on a slippery slope toward the
inhumanity that we deplore. In Vietnam, I made sure we
always took the high ground with regard to the
treatment of enemy prisoners. I opened our prison
camps wide to international inspectors, so that we
could demand the same from Hanoi. In Iraq, there are
no American POWs being held in camps by the
insurgents. There are only murder victims whose
decapitated bodies are left for us to find. But that
does not give us license to be brutal in return.

LIMITED WARFARE

Our commanders in Iraq have another advantage over
those in Vietnam: President Bush seems unlikely to be
whipsawed by public opinion, but will take the war to
wherever the enemy rears its head. In Vietnam, we
waged a ground war in the South and did not permit our
troops to cross into North Vietnam. The air war over
the North and in Laos and Cambodia was waged in fits
and starts, in secret and in the open, covered by lies
and subterfuge, manipulated more by opinion polls than
by military exigencies. In the early years, the
services squabbled with one another. Even the State
Department was allowed to veto air strikes. President
Johnson stayed up late calling the plays while
generals were sidelined.

In all, 2.8 million Americans served in and around
Vietnam during the war, yet less than ten percent of
them were in-line infantry units, the men we think of
as our Vietnam veterans. Men were drafted and given a
few weeks of training before being attached to a unit
of strangers. With few exceptions, our all-volunteer
military in Iraq is motivated, well trained, well
equipped, and in cohesive units. This is not to say
that any of these troops want to be there. They don't.
Yet they are far more motivated to fight this war than
were the average conscripts in Vietnam.

They are also part of a much smarter military, thanks
in large part to the lessons of Vietnam. In 1986, the
Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization
Act, with input from some veterans of my team at the
Pentagon, cleaned up many of the command problems that
hindered us in Vietnam and for a decade thereafter.
The old system encouraged the Joint Chiefs of Staff to
be anything but joint. They protected their fiefdoms
and withheld cooperation from one another. The
Goldwater-Nichols act centralized authority in the
chair of the Joint Chiefs as the primary adviser to
the president and the secretary of defense. The
separate services are now responsible for training
their people for war, but the area commanders who run
the wars control all the assets. Today's soldiers,
sailors, and air personnel can also be more secure
knowing that the people who make life-or-death
decisions represent a better balance between military
expertise and the will of the people as expressed
through their elected officials.

Such confidence is critical to sustaining an
all-volunteer military. As the secretary of defense
who ended the draft in 1972, I see no need to return
to conscription, even now that the prospect of combat
has somewhat dampened the enthusiasm for military
service. As long as servicepeople -- current and
future -- know where their president is leading them,
the enlistments will follow.

As it did in Vietnam, in Iraq the enemy has sought to
weaken the United States' will by dragging out the
hostilities. In Vietnam, that strategy was reflected
in a bottomless well of men, sophisticated arms, and
energy the enemy threw into the fight. Similarly in
Iraq, the insurgents have pinpointed the weakness of
the American public's will and hope to exploit it on a
much smaller scale, with the weapon of choice being
the improvised explosive device, strapped to one
person, loaded into a car or hidden at a curb, and
with the resulting carnage then played over and over
again on the satellite feed. But one lesson learned
from Vietnam that is not widely recognized is that
fear of casualties is not the prime motivator of the
American people during a war. American soldiers will
step up to the plate, and the American public will
tolerate loss of life, if the conflict has worthy,
achievable goals that are clearly espoused by the
administration and if their leadership deals honestly
with them.

Such was not the case in Vietnam. When President Nixon
ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia, I protested
vigorously. I did not oppose the bombing itself, as I
believed the United States should fight the war as it
needed to be fought -- wherever the enemy was hiding
-- or not fight it at all. What I opposed was the
deception. Behind closed doors, my opinion was so well
known that when the secret was exposed, as I knew it
would be, I was immediately and wrongly pinpointed as
being the leak. The president approved Kissinger's
order to the FBI to tap my military assistant's home
phone, hoping to catch the two of us in a plot to leak
secrets. Americans will not be lied to, and they will
not tolerate secrets nor be sidelined in a war debate.
As with the Vietnam War, if necessary they will take
to the streets to be heard.

AT WHAT COST?

The greatest cost of war is human suffering. But every
war has its monetary price tag, too, even if it is
rarely felt in real time. As with Vietnam, the Iraq
war is revealing chinks in our fiscal armor. Only
after the Vietnam War ended did its drain on the U.S.
economy become apparent. During the war, our military
readiness to fight other conflicts was precarious.
Billions of dollars were drained away from other
missions to support the war. It became a juggling act
to support our forces around the world. I reduced our
contingent in Korea by 29,000 men, and I persuaded
Japan to begin paying the bills for its post-World War
II defense by our troops. In retrospect, those two
steps were positive results from the financial drain
that the Vietnam War caused. But there were plenty of
other places where the belt-tightening suffocated good
programs. The Army Reserve and National Guard units
fell into disrepair. President Johnson chose to draft
the unwilling, rather than use trained reservists and
National Guard soldiers and air personnel. As
unpopular as the draft was, it was still an easier
sell for Johnson than deploying whole National Guard
and Reserve units out of the communities in middle
America. So the second-string troops stayed home and
saw their budgets cannibalized. Their training was
third-rate and their equipment secondhand. Now, in our
post-Vietnam wisdom, we have embraced the "total
force" concept. After two decades of retooling, most
National Guard units and reservists were better
prepared to respond when called up for Operation
Desert Storm.

Yet, because of pandering to the butter-not-guns
crowd, we still do not spend enough of our total
budget on national defense. The annual U.S. GDP is in
excess of $11.5 trillion. The percentage of GDP going
to the Defense Department amounts to 3.74 percent. In
1953, during the Korean War, it was 14 percent. In
1968, during the Vietnam War, it was nearly 10 percent
-- an amount that sapped domestic programs and ended
up demoralizing President Johnson because he could not
maintain his Great Society social programs. Now our
spending priorities have shifted to social programs,
with 6.8 percent of GDP, for example, going to Social
Security and Medicare. That is more than twice what it
was during the Vietnam War.

It will not be easy or popular to reverse the downward
trend in defense spending. But the realities of the
global threat of terrorism and the outside possibility
of conventional warfare with an enemy such as China or
North Korea demand that we take off the blinders. To
increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP would be
adequate, but it is especially important to increase
the share of the pie spent on the U.S. Army. It now
gets 24 percent of the total Defense Department
budget, but given the new realities of modern warfare,
it should receive at least 28 percent. The army is
currently strung along through the budget year with
special appropriations, and that is no way to run a
military service.

Reserve and National Guard units are understaffed and
have been abused by deployments that have taken
individuals out of their units to serve as de facto
army regulars, many in specialties for which they have
not been trained, a practice that eats at the morale
of reservists. Nearly 80 percent of the airlift
capacity for this war and about 48 percent of the
troops have come from Reserve and National Guard
units. The high percentages are due, in part, to the
specialized missions of those troops: transporting
cargo, policing, rebuilding infrastructure,
translating, conducting government affairs -- in
short, the stuff of building a new nation. We have
realized too late that our regular army forces have
not been as well trained as they should have been for
the new reality of an urban insurgent enemy. Nor was
the military hierarchy paying serious attention to the
hints that their mission in the twenty-first century
would be nation building.

Secretary Rumsfeld is trying to reshape the army to be
more mobile with fewer soldiers, in "units of action"
built on the Special Forces model. But he is not being
honest with himself or with Congress and the American
people about how much money will be needed to make the
transformation. Those specialized units will be more
suited for urban guerrilla warfare, but light and lean
is not the only way to maintain our military. Although
guerrilla warfare looks like the wave of the future,
we still face the specter of conventional divisional
and corps warfare against other enemies. Both
capabilities are expensive, but the downward trend of
defense budgets does not recognize that. Except for
bumps up in the Ronald Reagan years and during the
Gulf War, the defense budget has been on a downward
slide when viewed in constant dollars. We are coasting
on the investments in research, development, and
equipment made during earlier years.

SHORING UP OUR ALLIES

Our pattern of fighting our battles alone or with a
marginal "coalition of the willing" contributes to the
downward spiral in resources and money. Ironically,
Nixon had the answer back in 1969. At the heart of the
Nixon Doctrine, announced that first year of his
presidency, was the belief that the United States
could not go it alone. As he said in his foreign
policy report to Congress on February 18, 1970, the
United States will participate in the defense and
development of allies and friends, but "America cannot
-- and will not -- conceive all the plans, design all
the programs, execute all the decisions and undertake
all the defense of the free nations of the world. We
will help where it makes a real difference and is
considered in our interest" (emphasis in the
original).

Three decades later, we have fallen into a pattern of
neglecting our treaty alliances, such as NATO, and
endangering the aid we can give our allies by throwing
our resources into fights that our allies refuse to
join. Vietnam was just such a fight, and Iraq is, too.
If our treaty alliances were adequately tended to and
shored up -- and here I include the UN -- we would not
have so much trouble persuading others to join us when
our cause is just. Still, as the only superpower,
there will be times when we must go it alone.

President Bush does not have the luxury of waiting for
the international community to validate his policies
in Iraq. But we do have the lessons of Vietnam. In
Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd
ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed
after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those
same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq,
assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there
and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos
fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the
rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get
to where it is today see a growing economy there and a
warming of relations with the West. They forget the
immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two
million refugees were driven out of the country,
65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to
"reeducation camps." Given the nature of the
insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of
militant Islam, we can expect no better there.

As one who orchestrated the end of our military role
in Vietnam and then saw what had been a workable plan
fall apart, I agree that we cannot allow "another
Vietnam." For if we fail now, a new standard will have
been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten,
and our next global mission will be saddled with the
fear of its becoming "another Iraq."

www.foreignaffairs.org is copyright 2002--2005 by the
Council on Foreign Relations. All rights reserved.

NEW YORKER--what turned Scowcroft against Bush

BREAKING RANKS
by JEFFREY GOLDBERG
What turned Brent Scowcroft against the Bush
Administration?
Issue of 2005-10-31
Posted 2005-10-24

At eight o’clock on the morning of August 2, 1990,
President George H. W. Bush assembled his National
Security Council in the Cabinet Room of the White
House. Thirteen hours earlier, Saddam Hussein had sent
his Army into Kuwait, and the Administration was
searching for a response. Brent Scowcroft, the
President’s national-security adviser, has an unhappy
memory of that first meeting. The tone, he says, was
defeatist: “Much of the conversation in those early
moments concerned the stability of the oil market.
There was an air of resignation about the invasion.”

Shortly before the National Security Council meeting
began, General Colin Powell, who was then the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told General Norman
Schwarzkopf, “I think we’d go to war over Saudi
Arabia, but I doubt we’d go to war over Kuwait.” For
the moment, at least, Powell’s assessment reflected
the President’s mood. Minutes before the meeting, Bush
had told reporters that he was not contemplating an
armed response. Scowcroft had been listening to the
President as he spoke to the press, and the comment
immediately struck him as unwise. “Right at the
beginning, I believed that it”—the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait—“was intolerable to the interests of the U.S.,”
he told me recently.

At the time, Scowcroft, a retired Air Force general,
was notably hawkish on the Iraq question, more so than
the Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, and
perhaps even more so than Dick Cheney, who was Bush’s
Secretary of Defense. Scowcroft believed that if
Saddam’s aggression was left unanswered it would
undermine the international rule of law; it would
also, he thought, compromise America’s standing in the
world at a moment—the end of the Cold War—that was
otherwise filled with promise.

Scowcroft is a protégé of Henry Kissinger—he was his
deputy when Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s
national-security adviser. Like Kissinger, he is a
purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy:
the idea that America should be guided by strategic
self-interest, and that moral considerations are
secondary at best. But Bush and Scowcroft also spoke
expansively about the possibilities for America in the
Cold War world, about a New World Order built on
benign but resolute American leadership and
multilateral coöperation. The United States, Bush said
in “A World Transformed,” a book that he later
co-wrote with Scowcroft, had a “disproportionate
responsibility” to use its power “in pursuit of a
common good.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was a direct
challenge to Bush’s understanding of America’s role in
the world.

There were initial doubts among some of Bush’s
advisers. Colin Powell, like many military men shaped
by the experience of the Vietnam War, was disinclined
to send American troops into battle, and he cautioned
the National Security Council against imprudent
action. “My first questions had to do with defending
Saudi Arabia, and the importance of having a clear
political understanding first of what we were doing,”
Powell told me recently. “Brent immediately saw that
the invasion had to be reversed. He was a little
further forward on the need to do something.”

Scowcroft argued unyieldingly for intervention, and
his view prevailed. Within days, Bush announced, “This
will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait”—a
burst of fortitude that commentators later attributed
to a comment from Margaret Thatcher (“Don’t go all
wobbly on us, George,” she reportedly told him).
Scowcroft, whose modesty may be pronounced to the
point of ostentation, loyally insists that the
President arrived at his decision alone, but several
of Scowcroft’s former colleagues said that it was
Scowcroft’s firmness, along with Thatcher’s prodding,
that strengthened Bush’s resolve to confront Saddam.
Scowcroft is “not a blowhard,” the senior Bush told me
in a recent e-mail. “He has a great propensity for
friendship. By that I mean someone I can depend on to
tell me what I need to know and not just what I want
to hear, and at the same time he is someone on whom I
know I always can rely and trust implicitly.”

In the six months leading to the war, Scowcroft became
indispensable to Bush, subjecting war planners to
sharp questioning, and debating those opposed to
intervention. It is easy to forget, given the war’s
stunning speed and its low casualty count on the U.S.
side (a hundred and forty-eight American soldiers lost
their lives in the fighting), that there was a great
deal of domestic opposition to Bush’s plan,
particularly among congressional Democrats.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
Sam Nunn, of Georgia, led the opposition. He conducted
hearings in which many of the country’s most widely
respected military and foreign-policy experts
prophesied cataclysm: American casualties would be in
the thousands, they said, in a war that was
unnecessary. Sanctions, it was argued, would be
sufficient to drive Saddam out of Kuwait. Some of
Bush’s aides came to refer to Nunn as “Neville.”

Bush did not let domestic opposition, or the views of
Mikhail Gorbachev, who sought a negotiated solution,
stand in the way of what he came to see as a moral
cause of surpassing importance. On December 31, 1990,
he wrote a letter to his five children: “How many
lives might have been saved if appeasement had given
way to force earlier in the late 30s or earliest 40s?”
it read. “How many Jews might have been spared the gas
chambers, or how many Polish patriots might be alive
today? I look at today’s crisis as ‘good’ vs.
‘evil’—yes, it is that clear.” Scowcroft never engaged
in this sort of rhetoric. A line had been crossed, and
Iraq needed to be punished; he did not invoke the
spectre of Hitler to make his point.

The war began on January 16, 1991. An air campaign
that lasted five weeks greatly weakened Iraq’s
military capabilities. On February 24th, General
Schwarzkopf, the commander of American and allied
forces, unleashed a ground attack that quickly turned
into a rout; the Iraqi Army collapsed, and its
soldiers fled Kuwait on foot. The road to Baghdad was
clear, but, on Bush’s instruction, the Americans did
not take it. Although Bush had publicly compared
Saddam to Hitler, the goal was never to liberate Iraq
from his rule. “Our military didn’t want any part of
occupying that big Arab country, and the only way to
get Saddam was to go all the way to Baghdad,” James
Baker told me recently.

Afterward, Bush was criticized for the decision to end
the ground war at its hundredth hour. Even some
officials of the Administration were unhappy at what
they saw as a premature end to the fighting. In “Rise
of the Vulcans,” James Mann recounts that Paul
Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby, who were then aides to
Cheney, believed that a coup d’état might have
occurred had the Bush Administration waited to
announce that the war was over.

At the time, though, no one close to Bush expressed
doubts about the ending of the war, much less about
its strategic goal. “For a bunch of years, a lot of
people who should know better have said that we had an
alternative,” Powell told me. “We didn’t. The simple
reason is we were operating under a U.N. mandate that
did not provide for any such thing. We put together a
strong coalition of Gulf states, and Egypt and Syria,
and they signed up for a very specific issue—expelling
Iraq from Kuwait. Nor did President Bush ever consider
it.”

A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave
no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent
Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American
occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily
untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the
President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity
to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not
let his feelings about good and evil dictate the
advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America’s military
to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have
arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At
the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,”
he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas,
and, once we were there, how would we get out? What
would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the
term ‘exit strategy’—but what do you do with Iraq once
you own it?”

Scowcroft stopped for a moment. We were sitting in the
offices of the Scowcroft Group, a consulting firm he
heads, in downtown Washington. He appeared to be
weighing the consequences of speaking his mind. His
speech is generally calibrated not to give offense,
especially to the senior Bush and the Bush family. He
is eighty and, by most accounts, has been content to
cede visibility to the larger personalities with whom
he has worked. James Baker told me that he and
Scowcroft got along well in part because Scowcroft let
Baker speak for the Administration. I learned from
people who know Scowcroft that he finds it painful to
be seen as critical of his best friend’s son, but in
the course of several interviews prudence several
times gave way to impatience. “This is exactly where
we are now,” he said of Iraq, with no apparent
satisfaction. “We own it. And we can’t let go. We’re
getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there’s a
fair chance we’ll win. But look at the cost.”

The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said,
because the President knew better than to set
unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I
believe in the use of force. But there has to be a
good reason for using force. And you have to know when
to stop using force.”

Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of
American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good
reason to use force. “I thought we ought to make it
our duty to help make the world friendlier for the
growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage
democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the
traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”

The neoconservatives—the Republicans who argued most
fervently for the second Gulf war—believe in the
export of democracy, by violence if that is required,
Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to
Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you
evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is
suffering from the consequences of that brand of
revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of
the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.

Scowcroft was Richard Nixon’s military assistant in
the last years of the Vietnam War, and he says,
“Vietnam was visceral in the American people. That was
a really bitter period, and it turned us against
foreign-policy adventures deeply, and it was not until
the Gulf War that we were able to come out of that.
This is not that deep.” But, he said, “we’re moving in
that direction.”

Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Scowcroft
believed that Saddam maintained stockpiles of chemical
and biological weapons, but he wrote that a strong
inspections program would have kept him at bay. “There
may have come a time when we would have needed to take
Saddam out,” he told me. “But he wasn’t really a
threat. His Army was weak, and the country hadn’t
recovered from sanctions.”

Scowcroft’s colleagues told me that he would have
preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the
White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a
Washington insider, was by then definitively on the
outside, and there was no one in the White House who
would listen to him. On the face of it, this is
remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the
President; his friend Dick Cheney is the
Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the
national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of
State, was once a Scowcroft protégée; and the current
national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another
protégé and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group.

According to friends, Scowcroft was consulted more
frequently by the Clinton White House than he has been
by George W. Bush’s. Clinton’s national-security
adviser, Samuel Berger, told me that he valued
Scowcroft’s opinions: “He knows a great deal, and I
always found it useful to speak to him.” Arnold
Kanter, a former Under-Secretary of State in the first
Bush Administration and now a principal in the
Scowcroft Group, was the one who suggested that
Scowcroft set down his thoughts on Iraq. “If Brent had
an ongoing dialogue and ready access and felt his
views were being heard, he might not have written the
op-ed,” Kanter told me. “I hadn’t heard anyone put
Iraq in the strategic perspective that included the
Middle East peace process and terrorism, and I thought
it was important to hear.”

By publicly critiquing the Administration’s strategic
priorities, Scowcroft knew that he risked offending
the White House, but clearly he was offended by its
posture before the war. “All the neocons were saying,
‘Finish the job,’ ” he said. “In fact, the President
said that. He said it before he launched the war.”
Scowcroft fell silent. I asked him if he was bothered
by those statements. He stayed silent, but he nodded.

Scowcroft suggested that the White House was taking
the wrong advice, and listening to a severely limited
circle. He singled out the Princeton Middle East
scholar Bernard Lewis, who was consulted by
Vice-President Cheney and others after the terror
attacks of September 11, 2001. Lewis, Scowcroft said,
fed a feeling in the White House that the United
States must assert itself. “It’s that idea that we’ve
got to hit somebody hard,” Scowcroft said. “And
Bernard Lewis says, ‘I believe that one of the things
you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes
with a big stick. They respect power.’ ” Cheney, in
particular, Scowcroft thinks, accepted Lewis’s view of
Middle East politics. “The real anomaly in the
Administration is Cheney,” Scowcroft said. “I consider
Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years.
But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.”

He went on, “I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon,
but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who
thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that
we should have finished the job. There was another
bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought,
‘The world’s going to hell and we’ve got to show we’re
not going to take this, and we’ve got to respond, and
Afghanistan is O.K., but it’s not sufficient.’ ”
Scowcroft supported the invasion of Afghanistan as a
“direct response” to terrorism.

Colin Powell told me that he was not offended by
Scowcroft’s public doubts. “The concern is cost—what
are we getting ourselves into? That is not an
unprincipled concern.” But the White House—in
particular Rice—saw Scowcroft’s op-ed as a betrayal,
and as a political problem: Scowcroft has a commanding
voice on national-security matters. But there was
another, more personal dimension. “What makes it even
more awkward is the suspicion that he’s speaking not
just for himself” but for the elder Bush as well,
Robert Gates, who was Scowcroft’s deputy at the
National Security Council, said.

The distancing of Brent Scowcroft dates nearly to the
beginning of the second Bush Administration. Scowcroft
was appointed chairman of the President’s Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board in the first term, but he
was not consulted on plans for Iraq. “He’s not the
only person to be frozen out,” one colleague of
Scowcroft’s from the first Bush Administration told
me—a clear reference to James Baker and a number of
other officials. “The only thing that is unusual is
that Scowcroft was treated like everyone else.” His
appointment to the advisory board was not renewed at
the end of 2004.

A common criticism of the Administration of George W.
Bush is that it ignores ideas that conflict with its
aims. “We always made sure the President was hearing
all the possibilities,” John Sununu, who served as
chief of staff to George H. W. Bush, said. “That’s one
of the differences between the first Bush
Administration and this Bush Administration.” I asked
Colin Powell if he thought, in retrospect, that the
Administration should have paid attention to
Scowcroft’s arguments about Iraq. Powell, who is
widely believed to have been far less influential in
policymaking than either Cheney or the Secretary of
Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said, pointedly, “I always
listen to him. He’s a very analytic and thoughtful
individual, he’s powerful in argument, and I’ve never
worked with a better friend and colleague.” When, in
an e-mail, I asked George H. W. Bush about Scowcroft’s
most useful qualities as a national-security adviser,
he replied that Scowcroft “was very good about making
sure that we did not simply consider the ‘best case,’
but instead considered what it would mean if things
went our way, and also if they did not.”

One reason that Scowcroft was so effective as
national-security adviser was that the entire Cabinet
knew that hearing from him was akin to hearing from
the President. David Rothkopf, the author of “Running
the World,” a history of the National Security
Council, said that Scowcroft mastered the bureaucracy
while maintaining his position as perhaps the
President’s closest adviser. He was “a true partner of
the President,” Rothkopf said. “They knew each other
extremely well, and were able to communicate at the
level of equals, even if the President’s primacy was
never in doubt.”

Even today, Scowcroft, who lives in Bethesda,
Maryland, spends many weekends at a condominium he
keeps in Kennebunkport, near the Bush family compound.
According to friends of the elder Bush, the
estrangement of his son and his best friend has been
an abiding source of unhappiness, not only for Bush
but for Barbara Bush as well. George Bush, the
forty-first President, has tried several times to
arrange meetings between his son, “Forty-three,” and
his former national-security adviser—to no avail,
according to people with knowledge of these
intertwined relationships. “There have been occasions
when Forty-one has engineered meetings in which
Forty-three and Scowcroft are in the same place at the
same time, but they were social settings that weren’t
conducive to talking about substantive issues,” a
Scowcroft confidant said.

Scowcroft would not talk to me about the father’s
attempts at reconciliation, but he said that he hoped
for a better relationship with the son. “Am I happy at
not being closer to the White House? No. I would
prefer to be closer. I like George Bush personally,
and he is the son of a man I’m just crazy about.”

When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from
the father, he said, “I don’t want to go there,” but
his dissatisfaction with the son’s agenda could not
have been clearer. When I asked him to name issues on
which he agrees with the younger Bush, he said,
“Afghanistan.” He paused for twelve seconds. Finally,
he said, “I think we’re doing well on Europe,” and
left it at that.

The disintegrating relationship between Scowcroft and
Condoleezza Rice has not escaped the notice of their
colleagues from the first Bush Administration. She was
a political-science professor at Stanford when, in
1989, Scowcroft hired her to serve as a Soviet expert
on the National Security Council. Scowcroft found her
bright—“brighter than I was”—and personable, and he
brought her all the way inside, to the Bush family
circle. When Scowcroft published his Wall Street
Journal article, Rice telephoned him, according to
several people with knowledge of the call. “She said,
‘How could you do this to us?’ ” a Scowcroft friend
recalled. “What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling
at him was the fact that here she is, the
national-security adviser, and she’s not interested in
hearing what a former national-security adviser had to
say.”

The two worked closely in the first Bush
Administration, although Rice tended to take a tougher
line than Scowcroft on Soviet issues. Robert Gates,
then Scowcroft’s deputy and Rice’s boss, recalled how
he and Rice would argue with Scowcroft in 1990 and
1991, during the period when Boris Yeltsin, as the
elected leader of the Russian republic, became a rival
to the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. “Condi and I
felt very strongly about reaching beyond Gorbachev,”
he said. “Brent and Baker believed you could only deal
with one President of the Soviet Union at a time.”

Rice’s conversion to the world view of George W. Bush
is still a mystery, however. Privately, many of her
ex-colleagues from the first President Bush’s National
Security Council say that it is rooted in her
Christian faith, which leads her to see the world in
moralistic terms, much as the President does. Although
she was tutored by a national-security adviser,
Scowcroft, who thought it intemperate of Ronald Reagan
to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” she now
works comfortably for a President who speaks in terms
of “evildoers” and the “axis of evil.”

Rice’s split with her former National Security Council
colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early
September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant.
Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first
Bush Administration were there. The conversation,
turning to the current Administration’s impending
plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said,
irritably, “The world is a messy place, and someone
has to clean it up.” The remark stunned the other
guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was
flummoxed by Rice’s “evangelical tone.”

Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for
Rice. He did note, however, that her “expertise is in
the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle
East.” Rice, through a spokesman, said, “Sure, we’ve
had some differences, and that’s understandable. But
he’s a good friend and is going to stay a good
friend.”

Yet the two do not see each other much anymore.
According to friends of Scowcroft, Rice has asked him
to call her to set up a dinner, but he has not,
apparently, pursued the invitation. The last time the
two had dinner, nearly two years ago, it ended
unhappily, Scowcroft acknowledged. “We were having
dinner just when Sharon said he was going to pull out
of Gaza,” at the end of 2003. “She said, ‘At least
there’s some good news,’ and I said, ‘That’s terrible
news.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said that
for Sharon this is not the first move, this is the
last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t
sustain eight thousand settlers with half his Army
protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an
Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state
atomized enough that it can’t be a problem.” Scowcroft
added, “We had a terrible fight on that.”

They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to
democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going
to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re
just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to
this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle
East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said.
Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered
his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of
peace.”

For most of the past hundred years, American foreign
policy has oscillated between two opposing impulses:
to make the world more like America, or to deal with
it as it is. Those who object to what they call
“interference” in the affairs of others—today’s
realists—often cite the words of John Quincy Adams,
who in 1821 said that America stands with those who
seek freedom and independence, “but she goes not
abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” By
contrast, Woodrow Wilson, the unbounded moralist,
said, in seeking a declaration of war against Germany
in 1917, that “the world must be made safe for
democracy.” Wilson told Congress, “We are but one of
the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be
satisfied when those rights have been made as secure
as the faith and the freedom of nations can make
them.”

At different times, the isolationist impulse, which
would have America withdraw entirely from the affairs
of the world, has been felt strongly in Washington—for
instance, in the America First movement before the
Second World War. Today, few in the Republican Party,
or even among liberal Democrats, believe that America
has no military role to play in any hemisphere other
than its own.

The desire to undermine or overthrow brutal regimes—to
transform them into democracies—is irresistible for
many Americans. The realists argue that these global
Wilsonians have an unacceptably high tolerance for the
kind of instability that the export of democracy can
bring. “The United States . . . must temper its
missionary spirit with a concept of the national
interest and rely on its head as well as its heart in
defining its duty to the world,” Henry Kissinger wrote
in the third volume of his memoirs. By contrast, the
current President, in his second inaugural address,
set for America a breathtakingly large mission. “It is
the policy of the United States to seek and support
the growth of democratic movements and institutions in
every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of
ending tyranny in our world,” Bush said.

For Brent Scowcroft, the rhetoric is not matched by
reality. “I believe that you cannot with one sweep of
the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of
history,” he says. “This notion that inside every
human being is the burning desire for freedom and
liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the
case. I don’t think anyone knows what burns inside
others. Food, shelter, security, stability. Have you
read Erich Fromm, ‘Escape from Freedom’? I don’t agree
with him, but some people don’t really want to be
free.”

Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy
movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for
instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in
Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the
recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not
as a victory for self-government but as a
foreshadowing of civil war. “I think it’s something we
have to worry about—the sectarian emotions that were
there when the Syrians went in aren’t gone.”

Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that
the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is
undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass,
the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who
served as Colin Powell’s chief policy planner during
the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft’s
Middle East expert on the National Security Council
during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed
idealism are over. “We’ve seen the ideological
high-water mark,” he said. “I mean wars of choice, and
unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost
to the point of exclusion of everything else, on
regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy
change.”

William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard,
has been a determined advocate of the Iraq war and an
equally persistent critic of foreign-policy realism.
“I think it’s a pseudo-springtime for realism,”
Kristol said. “When things go bad, realists look good,
until things look really bad. Have the mistakes of the
last century been ones of too much intervention or not
enough? Was it good that we waited to be attacked on
December 7, 1941? I would say the same about the
Balkans and about terrorism.” When I mentioned
Scowcroft’s assertion that Middle East stability
brought America fifty years of peace, Kristol laughed,
and asked, “Are we really going to go into the
twenty-first century trying to prop up the House of
Saud? Is that the goal of American foreign policy? Is
that reasonable or realistic?” Kristol noted that
fifteen of the nineteen hijackers of September 11,
2001, were citizens of Saudi Arabia, whose government
is autocratic and pro-American; the leader of the
hijacking cell, Mohamed Atta, was an Egyptian, whose
government each year receives roughly two billion
dollars in American aid.

The President’s foreign policy, which the political
scientist John Mearsheimer calls “Wilsonianism with
teeth,” is a rejection of his father’s approach. It is
certainly a rejection of Scowcroft’s sentiment-free
pragmatism. “I’ve been accused of tolerating
autocracies in the Middle East, and there’s some
validity in that,” Scowcroft said. “It’s easy in the
name of stability to be comfortable with the status
quo.”

The status quo, Scowcroft said, is not necessarily a
good thing, but it might be better than what follows.
“My kind of realism would look at what are the most
likely consequences of pushing out a government. What
will replace it?” What will replace autocratic but
stable governments, neoconservative thinkers say, is
whatever the people of the Middle East decide will
replace them. Robert Kagan, of the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace, and a Kristol ally, has
written critically of the Bush Administration’s
incomplete adherence to its own anti-tyranny doctrine.
Referring to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Kagan
wrote, “Perhaps there is concern that too much
pressure on Mubarak might produce a victory by the
Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Egyptian
opposition party, which has been outlawed by the
government. That’s a risk, of course, but if the Bush
Administration isn’t willing to let Islamists, even
radical Islamists, win votes in a fair election, then
Bush officials should stop talking so much about
democracy and go back to supporting the old
dictatorships.”

Scowcroft believes that the Administration has already
gone too far in Kagan’s direction. “Let’s suppose
Mubarak disappears and we have an election,” he said.
“The good guys are not going to win that election. The
bad guys are going to win that election. The bad guys
are always better organized. Always. The most
ruthless, the tough ones, are the ones who are going
to rise to the top in a chaotic society. That’s my
fear.”

The Bush Administration does not, as a rule, concede
that democratization in the Middle East could lead to
a series of Islamist states. One day, I mentioned to
Scowcroft an interview I had had with Paul Wolfowitz,
when he was Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy. Wolfowitz was
the leading neoconservative thinker in the senior
ranks of the current Bush Administration. (He is now
the president of the World Bank.) I asked him what he
would think if previously autocratic Arab countries
held free elections and then proceeded to vote
Islamists into power. Wolfowitz answered, “Look, fifty
per cent of the Arab world are women. Most of those
women do not want to live in a theocratic state. The
other fifty per cent are men. I know a lot of them. I
don’t think they want to live in a theocratic state.”

Scowcroft said of Wolfowitz, “He’s got a utopia out
there. We’re going to transform the Middle East, and
then there won’t be war anymore. He can make them
democratic. He is a tough-minded idealist, but where
he is truly an idealist is that he brushes away
questions, says, ‘It won’t happen,’ whereas I would
say, ‘It’s likely to happen and therefore you can’t
take the chance.’ Paul’s idealism sweeps away doubts.”
Wolfowitz, for his part, said to me, “It’s absurdly
unrealistic, demonstrably unrealistic, to ignore how
strong the desire for freedom is.”

Scowcroft said that he is equally concerned about
Wolfowitz’s unwillingness to contemplate bad outcomes
and Kagan’s willingness to embrace them on principle.
“What the realist fears is the consequences of
idealism,” he said. “The reason I part with the
neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time
frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East
can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don’t
you think you can, and in the process of trying to do
it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.” He
added, “I’m a realist in the sense that I’m a cynic
about human nature.”

Scowcroft’s path to realism began, in a sense, with a
life-threatening accident. It had been his dream, he
said, from the age of twelve, to attend West Point. As
a child in Ogden, Utah, where he was reared in a
Mormon family, he had read a book called “West Point
Today” and, he said, “it just captured me.” He was
still a cadet when the Second World War ended. “I
assumed when I went in that I would fight,” he said.
“I remember when the war ended and we were on cadet
maneuvers in upstate New York, and I was manning a
mortar, thinking, What the hell am I doing here? The
war is over. There aren’t going to be any more wars.”

He graduated from West Point in 1947, in the top
quarter of his class, and joined the Army Air Corps,
because “all my friends were joining.” The accident
that altered the course of his life occurred during a
dogfighting exercise over northern New England: “I had
just taken off, and one of my companions jumped on me
and sort of attacked me right off. So I advanced my
power to go after him, and the engine governor
malfunctioned and the propeller overspun. I didn’t
know it, but it had broken a piston rod and I was
losing my coolant. My power was steadily going down. I
was at about fifteen hundred feet, still strapped in.
This was New Hampshire, forested, and I looked
around—there was a little clearing. The last thing I
remember was looking under my wing at the tips of the
last trees just under me.”

Scowcroft’s back was broken in the crash, and he spent
two years in Army hospitals. When he came out, doctors
told him that he wouldn’t fly again. He was asked by
West Point to teach.

In 1959, he was posted to Belgrade, to serve as the
assistant U.S. Air Force attaché at the embassy there.
In Belgrade, Scowcroft learned something about the
power of nationalism. “I don’t remember ever hearing
people call themselves Yugoslavs,” he said. “They
always called themselves Serbs, Croats, Slovenians.”
Realists, he noted, tend to believe in the abiding
relevance of national feeling, especially when
compared with such abstractions as Communist ideology.

Scowcroft returned from Belgrade to take a teaching
post at the Air Force Academy. The Air Force, which
was separated from the Army in 1947, was trying to
cultivate its own strategic thinkers, and it sent some
of its best young officers to graduate school.
Scowcroft attended Columbia, where he received a Ph.D.
He went on to a series of strategic-planning posts in
the Pentagon. Scowcroft rose steadily in the Air
Force, and, soon after he earned his first general’s
star, he was appointed Nixon’s senior military
assistant. He was put in charge of many quotidian but
indispensable things, including the White House’s
limousines. This was when he came to the attention of
Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was watching one day as H.
R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, dressed
down Scowcroft for some minor sin of administration.
“We were flying on Air Force One,” Kissinger told me.
“I saw Scowcroft disagreeing with Haldeman, and
Haldeman very imperiously tried to insist on his point
of view, but Scowcroft disagreed with him, and he was
a terrier who had got hold of someone’s leg and
wouldn’t let it go. In his polite and mild manner, he
insisted on his view, which was correct. It was some
procedural matter, but he was challenging Haldeman at
the height of Haldeman’s power.”

At the time, Kissinger was searching for a deputy
national-security adviser. “I was looking for someone
with character,” he said. “I knew a lot of people with
intelligence. But I needed a strong person as my
deputy, who would be willing to stand up to me if
necessary—not every day—but to stand up for what he
thought was right.” Scowcroft remembered his selection
differently. “I heard he wanted me because I was a
Mormon,” he said. “Mormons were supposed to be loyal
and faithful.”

In the nineteen-seventies, as now, the role of
morality in the conduct of foreign policy was the
subject of considerable debate. During the Nixon and
Ford years, the late Washington senator Henry (Scoop)
Jackson, a Democrat (many of the leading
neoconservatives, such as Wolfowitz, were once
Democrats), and one of the fathers of neoconservatism,
was battling Kissinger, the advocate of détente, over
his approach to the Soviet Union. Jackson, among
others, wanted to punish the Soviet Union for its
Jewish-emigration policy, and for its persecution of
dissidents like Andrei Sakharov; his criticism
intensified when Ford and Kissinger, worried about
antagonizing the Soviets, snubbed Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn. Ronald Reagan took on these causes when
he won the Presidency in 1980, and many dissidents,
including Natan Sharansky, who went on to become an
Israeli politician, were grateful for his condemnation
of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Kissinger
believed that such confrontations were dangerous to
the smooth management of America’s relationship with
the Soviets.

Scowcroft, who served as President Ford’s
national-security adviser when Kissinger was Secretary
of State, recalled the 1976 primary fight between
Reagan and Ford: “It got so bad in the campaign that
Ford said he wouldn’t use the word ‘détente’ anymore.
The Reagan people excoriated Kissinger—they cast the
Soviet Union into outer darkness. Now, I was not fond
of the Soviet Union, but I didn’t think that calling
the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire’ got anybody
anywhere.”

This Reagan-era fight was in some ways a dress
rehearsal for the fight today between neoconservatives
and realists: only the enemy has changed.

In the case of Iraq, Scowcroft was incensed by
Saddam’s violation of an international border; he did
not believe that Saddam’s treatment of his own
citizens merited military intervention. A month into
the war, Bush, in public comments, encouraged Iraq’s
defeated military, and also its civilian population,
to “take matters into [their] own hands” and to rise
up against Saddam. “Here’s where we fell down,” Robert
Gates said recently. “It was our hope that the
magnitude of the defeat would lead the Iraqi generals
to throw Saddam out, but we didn’t anticipate those
uprisings. When the Kurds and the Shiites rose up,
Saddam won back his generals. We speculated that
Saddam ‘warned’ his generals that, without him, they
could not control the uprising, and the country would
disintegrate.” Gates, who went on to serve as director
of the C.I.A. from 1991 to 1993, argued that the
President never intended to provoke a popular
rebellion. “When the President talked about the Iraqis
solving the problem, he was absolutely not urging the
Kurds and the Shiites to do it. He was talking about
the generals taking him out.” In the book that
Scowcroft wrote with the elder Bush, a passage about
the uprising said, “It is true that we hoped Saddam
would be toppled. But we never thought that could be
done by anyone outside the military and never tried to
incite the general population. It is stretching the
point to imagine that a routine speech in Washington
would have gotten to the Iraqi malcontents and have
been the motivation for the subsequent actions of the
Shiites and Kurds.” In Wolfowitz’s view, Scowcroft,
“by overestimating the risk of supporting the
rebellions that the U.S. had encouraged, bequeathed to
George W. Bush a much more complicated situation ten
years later.”

The treatment of dissidents was at the root of
Scowcroft’s most controversial moment as
national-security adviser, during a trip to Beijing
six months after the massacre of Chinese students near
Tiananmen Square. Like much of the world, the Bush
Administration was angered by the Chinese government’s
actions, but it also cautioned prudence. Bush
dispatched Scowcroft to carry a message. “After
Tiananmen, we were the first ones to crack down, we
cracked down hard on anything to do with the
military,” Scowcroft said, referring to a suspension
of weapons sales announced within days of the
massacre.

Scowcroft communicated Bush’s concerns to the Chinese
leadership: “I knew Deng, and I had a wonderful, frank
discussion with him, and he said, ‘What happened in
Tiananmen Square is none of your business—it’s a
domestic issue, and we do whatever we want,’ and I
said, ‘You’re right. It is none of our business. But
the consequences of what you did in the world and to
our relations are our business. And that’s what I’m
here to talk about.’ ”

The trip attracted more notice when Scowcroft was
filmed at a banquet toasting the Chinese. “We’re
having the dinner, and the standard part of every
formal Chinese dinner is you have a toast at the end,”
he said. “Just before the toast, in comes the camera
crew. So I’ve got a choice. Do I turn my back on them
and walk out and destroy the purpose of the visit, or
do I look like a fool, toasting with the Chinese? And
I chose that. I knew how it would look. Our interests
and the reason I was there were more important than
how it made me look.” In 1992, Bill Clinton made the
Bush Administration’s China policy a campaign issue;
by 1994, Clinton had put trade, not human rights, at
the center of his China policy—a triumph for realism.

In August of 1991, when the Baltic states were about
to break free from Moscow’s control and the Soviet
Union itself seemed close to dissolution, Bush visited
Ukraine. He used the occasion, however, to warn his
Kiev audience about the dangers of “suicidal
nationalism.” He was ridiculed for this speech—it was
labelled the “Chicken Kiev” speech—and it did nothing
to slow the Soviet republics’ momentum toward
independence.

Natan Sharansky is now allied with the neoconservative
camp, and he cites the Chicken Kiev speech as a
typical instance of realist policymaking. A book that
he wrote last year, “The Case for Democracy,” came to
national attention when George W. Bush told the
Washington Times, “If you want a glimpse of how I
think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky’s
book ‘The Case for Democracy.’ . . . It’s a great
book.”

Sharansky argues that the United States would best
serve its own interests by choosing as allies only
countries that grant their citizens broad freedoms,
because only democracies are capable of living
peacefully in the world. In Kiev, “America had missed
a golden opportunity,” Sharansky wrote in a chapter
criticizing the President’s father. George H. W.
Bush’s Administration, he said, “was not the first nor
will it be the last to try to stifle democracy for the
sake of ‘stability.’ Stability is perhaps the most
important word in the diplomat’s dictionary. In its
name, autocrats are embraced, dictators are coddled
and tyrants are courted.”

In September, Sharansky was in Washington at the
invitation of Condoleezza Rice; he gave the closing
speech at a State Department conference on
democratization. “Can you believe it?” he said to me
just before the session. “Rice gave the opening speech
and I give the closing?” Of his complicated relations
with the Bush family, he said, “A few days after my
book comes out, I get a call from the White House.
‘The President wants to see you.’ So I go to the White
House and I see my book on his desk. It is open to
page 210. He is really reading it. And we talk about
democracy. This President is very great on democracy.
At the end of the conversation, I say, ‘Say hello to
your mother and father.’ And he said, ‘My father?’ He
looked very surprised I would say this.” Sharansky
went on, “So I say to the President, ‘I like your
father. He is very good to my wife when I am in
prison.’ And President Bush says, ‘But what about
Chicken Kiev?’ ” Sharansky smiled as he recounted this
story. “The President looked around the room and said,
‘Who is responsible for that Chicken Kiev speech? Find
out who wrote it. Who is responsible?’ Everyone
laughed.” Sharansky paused, and looked at me intently.
He had a broad grin. “I know who wrote Chicken Kiev
speech,” he said. “It was Scowcroft!”

Scowcroft may have had a hand in the speech, but when
I asked George H. W. Bush about it he answered as if
it had been his own idea. “I got hammered on the Kiev
speech by the right wing and some in the press, but in
retrospect I think the Baltic countries understood
that we were being cautious vis-à-vis the Soviet
Union,” Bush said. “And their freedoms were
established without a shot being fired.”

One day, I asked Scowcroft if he placed too much value
on inaction. I had in mind the first Bush
Administration’s record on Bosnia. Toward the end of
Bush’s term, Yugoslavia was beginning to disintegrate.
The Bush team was hesitant to intervene, or even to
lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims, who were
being murdered by Serbs. Lawrence Eagleburger, the
acting Secretary of State, said at the time, “This
tragedy is not something that can be settled from the
outside, and it’s about damn well time that everybody
understood that. Until the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats
decide to stop killing each other, there is nothing
the outside world can do about it.”

Scowcroft addressed the question with more delicacy
than Eagleburger, but he didn’t disagree: there was
only so much that the United States could do, he said.
“I didn’t think it would break up,” he went on. “I
didn’t think the hatred was so deep; I didn’t want to
stir it up. I would have proposed that we go to the
Yugoslavs and say, ‘It makes no sense for you to break
up. Economically, you’re small as it is, but, if
you’re going to break up, here are the rules. Here are
the rules, and we’re going to insist on those rules.”
The Bush Administration, in an echo of Chicken Kiev,
was hoping, Scowcroft said, for Yugoslavia to stay
together.

Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Bosnian peace
accords on behalf of President Clinton, saw the
Administration’s reluctance to take effective action
in Yugoslavia as a failure of realism. “When the Cold
War ended, the Bush people concluded that our
strategic interests were not involved,” Holbrooke
said. “And they turned their back on Yugoslavia just
as it fell to its death. They said they determined
that it had no strategic value, but, as it turns out,
the Balkans still had strategic value and an
overpowering humanitarian case as well.” A good
foreign policy, Holbrooke believes, ought to “marry
idealism and realism, effective American leadership
and, if necessary, the use of force.”

The first Bush Administration did engage in one act of
humanitarian interventionism, in Somalia, when it sent
American troops to help feed starving civilians in
Mogadishu. When I mentioned Somalia to Scowcroft as an
example of idealism over national self-interest, he
demurred, as if it were an accusation: a true realist
does not employ the military for selfless humanitarian
operations. The action in Somalia, Scowcroft said—at
least in his view—was in America’s self-interest.
“About four months before we went in, the President
and I had a meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General,
and he was saying that most of the world believes that
the U.N. has become the instrument of Western powers.
Here’s a chance to set that record straight. Here’s an
underdeveloped state, a Muslim state, a black state,
and here’s a chance to show the world that we are not
acting in our self-interest.” In other words, the
United States acted selflessly out of self-interest.

For Scowcroft, the principle is clear: by pragmatic
standards, a humanitarian intervention without a
strategic rationale is a mistake. And the experience
in Somalia was a reminder that an intervention—even
with the noblest motives—may end in humiliating
failure. In part because of what happened in Somalia,
the Clinton Administration did not intervene in Rwanda
during a genocide in which an estimated eight hundred
thousand people died. “A terrible situation—just
tragic,” Scowcroft said of Rwanda. “But, before you
intervene, you have to ask yourself, ‘If I go in, how
do I get out?’ And you have to ask questions about the
national interest.” Interventions have consequences,
he argues, and Iraq is a case in point. “There are a
lot of places in the world where injustice is taking
place, and we can’t run around and fix all of them.”

Democrats like Holbrooke take issue with Republican
realists. “Support for American values is part of our
national-security interests, and it is realistic to
support humanitarian and human-rights interventions,”
Holbrooke said. Such Democrats differ from the
Bush-style interventionists as well, particularly on
the value of treaties and the importance of
multilateral cooperation, although Holbrooke and Paul
Wolfowitz have sounded very much alike at times;
Wolfowitz, for instance, strongly supported a military
option in Bosnia. “It’s important to realize how much
can go wrong by doing nothing,” he said.

The experience in Iraq seems to have tempered the
Administration’s impatience with coalition-building.
There is more coöperation with America’s traditional
allies and more willingness to work with other
nations—with Europe in countering the nuclear
ambitions of Iran, and with China in countering those
of North Korea. The Administration, though, remains
committed to the export of democracy, and is publicly
optimistic about the future in Iraq. Wolfowitz, a
leading proponent of the Iraq war, recently said,
“Wilson thought you could take a map of Europe and
say, ‘This is the way things are going to be.’ That
was unrealistic, but the world has changed a lot in a
hundred years. The fact is that people can look around
and see the overwhelming success of representative
government.”

For Scowcroft, the second Gulf war is a reminder of
the unwelcome consequences of radical intervention,
especially when it is attempted without sufficient
understanding of America’s limitations or of the
history of a region. “I believe in the fallibility of
human nature,” Scowcroft told me. “We continually step
on our best aspirations. We’re humans. Given a chance
to screw up, we will.”