Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Military Strategy and the Bush Administration

Warren Buffett once said that he likes to buy stocks of companies that are so well strategically situated (have such a good "moat") that even if they are run by idiots they will be profitable. Buffett's goal was to find such companies and then make sure that they were staffed by competent executives like Roberto Goizuetta or Kathryn Graham. In today's New York Sun Andrew Ferguson has a story about the new Bob Woodward book, State of Denial, which is about the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.

The journalists who write for the media are probably capable at what they do (no more or less capable than say the managers who run US corporations or the politicians in Washington, after all they are educated by the same universities and likely have about the same SAT scores) yet rarely have been exposed to a broad range of literature through a core curriculum and even more rarely have taken the time to seriously study subjects like management, strategy, economics and military history. Hence, it is not surprising that journalists' discussions of strategic issues lack the breadth that would have resulted from their completion of a competently executed liberal arts education that includes a grounding in the classics, philosophy and history, and lacks the sophistication that would result from relevant technical training in business or military strategy. In an earlier post I discussed the evolution of Thomas Friedman's "thinking" about Iraq. There is little doubt in my mind that the lack of perspective in his work and the acclaim that his work has received have resulted from a general failure of our education system, a failure that has debilitated America intellectually.

Criticisms about President Bush may be correct, and the Republicans may have engaged in five years of self-indulgent over-spending and cronyism. In this, I doubt that they are very different from the Democrats who, for example, run the New York State Assembly whom Mr. Friedman and the New York Times never criticize. (Mr. Woodward writes for the Washington Post, and it would be interesting to trace his coverage of government competence in Washington, DC, to include stars like Marion Barry.) In any case, the issue of the administration's competence is not quite the same as the issue of strategy in the Iraqi War.

Larwyn has forwarded some interesting links about paradoxes in the media's coverage of the Iraqi War, and the incoherence with which the press has discussed the strategic implications and even facts about the war. First, though, The Economist has written a report on the leaked intelligence report in its United States section which is short on facts and analysis but long on sneering about President Bush("These blunt conclusions...are hard to dismiss by any but the willfully dim sighted") following Thomas Friedman's tone and similarly short on intelligent discussion.

I wrote the Economist the following letter in response:

"The US intelligence community that was brutally inept with respect to anticipating September 11, 2001 now informs us that fighting terrorists on their own soil is unpopular with terorists and is therefore a mistake ("Stating the Obvious", September 30). There were similar arguments about nurturing terrorists' happiness concerning sanctions preceding the Iraqi War. Indeed any action taken to confront terrrorism will become a cause celebre among those who view themselves as part of the terrorists' community of belief. Hence, your response to the report amounts to a call to do nothing. That is a foolhardy bargaining strategy. Might have the fire bombing of Tokyo during World War II caused the Japanese to dislike the US and so increased the probability of kamikaze attacks? If so, was this a reason not to fire bomb Tokyo? Moreover, the leaked intelligence report assumes that fighters who commit acts of terror would not have in the absence of the Iraqi War (for otherwise their feelings are moot). Isn't such an assumption, that the Iraqi War alone generates terrorist acts absent fertile psychological soil, silly? And might not encouraging terrorists to fight and die in Iraq be helpful to the rest of the world by ridding us of those most likely to commit terrorist acts?"

The story Larwyn sent me is a blog by Tigerhawk which compares an article in the Washington Post about the dire fighting in Anbar, western Iraq. In contrast, the Guardian points out that much of the fighting in Anbar has involved tribes in Anbar fighting directly with al Qaeda (where are the arguments that the invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with al Qaeda?) and the Guardian states that "The clashes erupted after a new grouping calling itself the Anbar Rescue Council - which claims to represent a large number of Anbar tribes and sub-clans - said it intended to clear the province of the terrorist group." The fighting also involves in-fighting in al Qaeda where Osama bin Laden was angry with Zarqawi for killing Sunni religious scholars. According to the article "It is these issues that have been at the heart of the rift between al-Qaida and the tribes, many of whose members support the nationalist resistance". Such issues escape coverage in the Economist, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

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