The word was always that Eliot Cohen was a very smart man, and a wise one--even though he was, for some impossible-to-grasp reason, a neoconservative. Here the Belgravia Dispatch catches him crossing the aisle back to the reality-based community. He is shrill. He is really shrill. This is deer-stuck-in-the-headlights shrillness:
THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH: A Neo-Con Speaks Out: Eliot Cohen speaks very openly to the WaPo in a short Q&A. It has become increasingly rare to find bright (neo)conservatives willing to buck party orthodoxy and the approved talking points ("last throes"!)--who have the requisite integrity to be honest and forthright about some of the missteps that have rendered so difficult the Iraq effort.
But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.
I did not know, but I might have guessed.
Question: Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?
Cohen: Pride, of course -- great pride. And fear. And an occasional burning in the gut, a flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns.
It is a flicker of rage that two years into an insurgency, we still expose our troops in Humvees to the blasts of roadside bombs -- knowing that even the armored version of that humble successor to the Jeep is simply not designed for warfare along guerrilla-infested highways, while, at the same time, knowing that plenty of countries manufacture armored cars that are. It is disbelief at a manpower system that, following its prewar routines, ships soldiers off to war for a year or 15 months, giving them two weeks of leave at the end, when our British comrades, more experienced in these matters and wiser in pacing themselves, ship troops out for half that time, and give them an extra month on top of their regular leave after an operational deployment.
It is the sick feeling that churned inside me at least 18 months ago, when a glib and upbeat Pentagon bureaucrat assured me that the opposition in Iraq consisted of "5,000 bitter-enders and criminals," even after we had killed at least that many. It flames up when hearing about the veteran who in theory has a year between Iraq rotations, but in fact, because he transferred between units after returning from one tour, will go back to Iraq half a year later, and who, because of "stop-loss orders" involuntarily extending active duty tours, will find himself in combat nine months after his enlistment runs out. And all this because after 9/11, when so many Americans asked for nothing but an opportunity to serve, we did not expand our Army and Marine Corps when we could, even though we knew we would need more troops.
A variety of emotions wash over me as I reflect on our Iraq war: Disbelief at the length of time it took to call an insurgency by its name. Alarm at our continuing failure to promote at wartime speed the colonels and generals who have a talent for fighting it, while also failing to sweep aside those who do not. Incredulity at seeing decorations pinned on the chests and promotions on the shoulders of senior leaders -- both civilians and military -- who had the helm when things went badly wrong. Disdain for the general who thinks Job One is simply whacking the bad guys and who, ever conscious of public relations, cannot admit that American soldiers have tortured prisoners or, in panic, killed innocent civilians. Contempt for the ghoulish glee of some who think they were right in opposing the war, and for the blithe disregard of the bungles by some who think they were right in favoring it. A desire -- barely controlled -- to slap the highly educated fool who, having no soldier friends or family, once explained to me that mistakes happen in all wars, and that the casualties are not really all that high and that I really shouldn't get exercised about them.
There is a lot of talk these days about shaky public support for the war. That is not really the issue. Nor should cheerleading, as opposed to truth-telling, be our leaders' chief concern. If we fail in Iraq -- and I don't think we will -- it won't be because the American people lack heart, but because leaders and institutions have failed. Rather than fretting about support at home, let them show themselves dedicated to waging and winning a strange kind of war and describing it as it is, candidly and in detail. Then the American people will give them all the support they need. The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do. What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth -- an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight...
Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Eliot Cohen R'lyeh Wagn'nagl Fhtagn!! Cohen Fhtagn!! Eliot Fhtagn!!