Between the intense media coverage of the contentious 9/11 hearings and weeks of violence and upheaval in Iraq, April has not been a good month for the Bush administration on the publicity front. There is little doubt that Americans' perception of the situation in Iraq -- the mission there far from accomplished -- will be key at the voting booth this November. It can't help President Bush's cause that some of his most die-hard backers are increasingly turning against him.
In Saturday's New York Times, conservative commentator David Brooks aired a striking change of heart in a column titled "A More Humble Hawk." In light of mounting unrest and a spike in U.S. casualties (as of Tuesday evening, at least 100 soldiers have been killed in action since April 1), Brooks conceded, "The first thing to say is that I never thought it would be this bad" and "I did not appreciate how our very presence in Iraq would overshadow democratization." Though with cautious words, Brooks faults the Bush administration for more than a failure of imagination.
"Let me describe my attitude toward the Bush administration. Despite all that's happened, I was still stirred by [Friday's] Bush/Blair statements about democracy in the Middle East. Nonetheless, over the past two years many conservatives have grown increasingly exasperated with the administration's inability to execute its policies semicompetently."
Such "semicompetence," Brooks argues, should have included more money and manpower.
"When I worked at The Weekly Standard, we argued ad nauseam that the U.S. should pour men and matériel into Iraq -- that such an occupation could not be accomplished by a light, lean, 'transformed' military. The administration was impervious to the growing evidence about that. The failure to establish order was the prime mistake, from which all other problems flow.
"On July 21, 2002, my colleague Robert Kagan wrote the first of several essays lamenting the administration's alarming lack of preparation for post-Saddam Iraq. Yet the administration seemed content to try nation-building on the cheap."
Even though hard-line hawks urged a U.S. invasion of Iraq with or without U.N. support, Brooks now slams the administration for not heeding his neoconservative friends' advice about building a coalition for the reconstruction.
"Many of us also assumed, wrongly, that the administration would launch a fresh postwar initiative to globalize the reconstruction effort. My friends at the Project for the New American Century urged the U.S. to go to the U.N. for a reconstruction resolution, to build a broad coalition to aid rebuilding and to establish a NATO-led security force. That never happened."
In the end, though, Brooks still argues that Bush sees the big picture clearly -- that everything will work out as soon as Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and the multitude of other rival ethnic factions in the region embrace a new kind of enlightened nationalistic unity.
"Despite all this -- and maybe it's pure defensiveness -- I still believe that in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing ... This time, unlike 1920, say, Iraqis can see a panoply of new and thriving democracies. They have witnessed Iran's horrible experience with theocracy. Once the political process moves ahead, nationalism will work in our favor, as Iraqis seek to become the leading reformers in the Arab world.
"We hawks were wrong about many things. But in opening up the possibility for a slow trudge toward democracy, we were still right about the big thing."
"While we certainly do not hold the administration responsible for everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, it is clear that there have been failures in planning and in execution, failures that have been evident for most of the last year. Serious errors have been made -- and made, above all, by Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. The recent violence in Iraq has confirmed that the level of American military forces has been too low to accomplish the president's mission ever since the invasion phase of the war ended last April ...
"Close observers of the conflict in Iraq, civilian and military alike (military, of course, speaking off the record), say that at least two additional divisions -- at least 30,000 extra troops -- are needed in Iraq just to deal with the current crisis. Even more troops may well be needed to fully pacify the country. And it would be useful to have as many of those troops as possible there sooner rather than later.
"The shortage of troops in Iraq is the product of a string of bad calculations and a hefty dose of wishful thinking."
Smarter, more robust military planning, argue Kristol and Kagan, could have helped prevent everything from the widespread looting and destruction of Iraqi infrastructure to the rise of terrorists and organized factional militias. Whereas neocons like Kristol and Kagan had close ties to Pentagon policymakers before the war, it's striking that now they are all but calling for Rumsfeld's head.
"Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld famously talks about preparing for the 'unknown unknowns.' Yet the present crisis was hardly unforeseeable, and Rumsfeld did not ensure that the military was prepared to deal with it. He failed to put in place in Iraq a force big enough to handle the challenges at hand. That is a significant failure, and we do not yet know the price that will be paid for it.
"The question is whether Rumsfeld and his generals have learned from past mistakes. Or rather, perhaps, the question is whether George W. Bush has learned from Rumsfeld's past mistakes. After all, at the end of the day, it is up to the president to ensure that the success he demands in Iraq will in fact be accomplished. If his current secretary of defense cannot make the adjustments that are necessary, the president should find one who will."
Blogger Glenn Reynolds, who runs Insta Pundit and also blogs for MSNBC.com, is critical of Bush on a number of issues. But he says Bush is still his man when it comes to the war -- because John Kerry offers "nothing" in the way of an alternative policy, and because, in his view, some Democrats are even hoping the U.S. will fail in Iraq.
"Some e-mailers think that I've been too hard on [John Kerry], or that I'm trying to tar the entire Democratic party as unpatriotic.
"That's hardly the case. I know better than that. But I do feel that a significant -- and disproportionately noisy -- segment of the Democratic party is unpatriotic (at least, they'd rather lose in Iraq than see Bush re-elected), and that this is a big problem for Kerry ... On the other hand, some people think that I've been too generous to Kerry. It's hard to say. Kerry's position on the war isn't that clear yet, and he needs to bring focus to it ...
"Personally, I'd love for Kerry to make a strong and positive case on what he's going to do about the war. I've supported President Bush on the war for lack of a viable, trustworthy alternative (you can't beat something with nothing), but there are lots of other Bush policies -- stem cells, abortion, etc. -- that I don't agree with. I'd rather not be a single-issue voter in this election, but in the absence of a coherent and trustworthy policy from Kerry that's what I'll be. You can't beat something with nothing."
That's what former CIA officer and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Brookes called for in Monday's edition of the New York Post. In the wake of the 9/11 hearings, Brookes is among those pushing for a single, Cabinet-level director of national intelligence, along with a consolidation of the nation's 15 current intelligence agencies: "We still need the capabilities of today's 15 agencies," he argues, "we just don't need them sheathed in 15 bloated bureaucracies."
Like Kristol and Kagan, Brookes seems to put his old boss Donald Rumsfeld on notice, albeit for different reasons. The current secretary of defense, he says, holds way too much power over the U.S. intelligence system.
"The director of central intelligence (DCI) isn't in charge of the [intelligence community]. He's got the coolest title in town, but he's actually a bit player in the world of American spy-dom. The real big fish is the secretary of defense, who owns 80 percent of the intelligence budget and seven of 15 intel agencies. The DCI runs the CIA and is the president's senior intelligence adviser -- that's it.
"During the Cold War, it made sense for the secretary of defense to own the most intelligence assets, because the primary threat to U.S. security was the military might of the Soviet Union. Today, the threat is different: It's al Qaeda, biological weapons, dirty bombs, North Korea and Iran -- not a Soviet tank.
"As The Donald would say: It's time for a little corporate reshuffling."
Bush makes Clinton look frugal
For many months now, fiscal conservatives have expressed their displeasure with the wanton spending of the Bush White House. In a commentary published by the Heritage Foundation, economist Daniel Mitchell continues that familiar theme.
"While the White House can take comfort in the relative strength of the American economy, this doesn't mean that the administration should be satisfied. Economic growth could be much higher, especially if there are improvements in economic policy. Putting a lid on federal spending would be a big step in the right direction. The Bush administration has not done a good job in this area, allowing spending to climb much faster than it did when the Democrats last controlled the White House."
Of course, Mitchell has no love for Sen. John Kerry, who he says has "compiled a voting record to the left of Ted Kennedy" and "has endorsed programs that would add hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending."
Kerry has also been accused by many conservatives of being too "French" -- and in an odd coincidence, though Mitchell appears to offer an evenhanded conclusion to his analysis, he singles out one particular foreign economy as a warning to American voters.
"America has the world's most powerful economy, but our advantage won't last if Republicans and Democrats waste money on ineffective government programs. We don't want France's stagnant economy and high unemployment, so our lawmakers shouldn't behave like French politicians."
House of worship, or house of lingerie?
A modern-day identity crisis has gripped America's churches and grabbed the headlines in recent months -- though not quite like this. Doug Giles, a senior minister for His People Christian Church in Miami and host of Clash Radio.com, says it's time to resurrect some serious testosterone in the service of the Lord.
"Have you ever asked yourself, 'Self, why do churches today look more like the lingerie department at Wal-Mart than a battalion of men poised to plunder the powers of darkness?' Why do men avoid going to church, and what can be done about it? ...
"More and more, we are seeing fewer and fewer mature and responsible, evil-challenging tripods who love leadership, the struggle and aren't afraid to boldly face an increasingly godless environment with conviction, power and the love of God.
"So why do most men avoid church? Here's the veneer stripped-away answer: Church, for most men, has not only become irrelevant; it has also become effeminate ... The current lack of strong men within the Church, both in the numeric and leadership sense, has crippled our cathedrals and has helped devastate our nation ethically. The masculine spirit being absent from the pulpit, the pew and subsequently the public square has not only slowed down the forward progress of the Church, it has also weakened our nation's morality, increased our country's secularity, and has assisted [owing to our absence] the lascivious Left's re-definition of life, sex, marriage and law."
Giles offers a few suggestions about how the church can get back on track. At the top of his list:
"Put an end to preaching by cheesy, whiny, quiche-eating, preening Nancy Boys -- right now! It freaks us meat-eaters out. Get it? Hire a pastor who throws off a good John Wayne vibe instead of that Boy George feeling. Know what I mean? And cheer on 'Pastor Wayne' to serve up the solid meat of the scripture, the stuff that prods the congregation to biblical maturity rather than prolonging their infancy."
Indeed, in these dark times of global strife, Giles appears to have a canny gift for preaching the gospel of manly recruitment.
"One last word for the young Christian man: Do you want to grow up quickly? Then leave mommy's familiar, safe haven and venture out into the danger zone ... Avoid the secure; fear over-protection; and happily accept the masculine task of the patriarch, the prophet, the warrior and wild man.
"Get to a place, young warrior, where pain is not a big deal, where you embrace resistance. And by your example, you will encourage others to resist self-doubt, squeamishness, indecision and the impulse to surrender and withdraw into the warm, wet womb of Wussville."
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