Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Why I think the Washington Post has ten years of life remaining. Fred Hiatt gives National Review's Rich Lowry a platform to say the opposite of what he's been saying for three years. Utter Stupidity:

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: Rich Lowry, Serious Foreign Policy Expert, announces his serious plan for victory in Iraq: Today, Lowry was given a platform on the Op-Ed page of The Washington Post to outline for us (along with co-author Bill Kristol) the easy, obvious way we can win the war in Iraq -- and, in doing so, said the opposite of everything he has been saying for the last three years:

Rich Lowry (with Bill Kristol), today in The Washington Post:

We are at a crucial moment in Iraq. Supporters of the war, like us, have in the past differed over tactics. But at this urgent pass, there can be no doubt that we need to stop the downward slide in Iraq by securing Baghdad.There is no mystery as to what can make the crucial difference in the battle of Baghdad: American troops. . . . The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

Rich Lowry, National Review, April 14, 2006 -- just 5 months ago:

You hardly qualify as a retired general these days unless you have written an op-ed piece demanding Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. One of Rummy's alleged sins was not providing enough troops to secure postwar Iraq. The debate over troop levels will rage for years; it is both characteristically American and somewhat beside the point.

Obviously, if we had it to do over again, we would send more troops in the hopes that sheer numbers would head off our problems. But to think that higher troop levels would have been a magic bullet is to indulge a very American faith in the power of mass to overcome anything. In Iraq, we have faced a delicate political and cultural problem that requires finesse above all -- finesse dependent on a fine-tuned understanding of an alien society.

So, in just five short months in Rich Lowry World, we went from "The debate over troop levels" is "somewhat beside the point" and "to think that higher troop levels would have been a magic bullet is to indulge a very American faith in the power of mass to overcome anything" to "There is no mystery as to what can make the crucial difference in the battle of Baghdad: American troops" and "The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment." It's not just profoundly wrong; it's worse than that. It's ludicrous.

All along, over the past several years, Lowry has been insisting that troop levels don't matter, that we have a sufficient force to get the job done in Iraq, and that we are winning, winning, winning. This is the same Foreign Policy Expert Rich Lowry who, following the example of the Commander-in-Chief's aircraft career victory dance, boldly announced in the May 9, 2005 issue of National Review: "It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq" -- an article which prompted this embarrassing NR cover (a cover which, as TBogg notes, competes with "Dewey Wins" for humiliating headlines of historic proportions). In that same article, Lowry announced:

If current trends continue, our counter-insurgent campaign in Iraq will be fit to be mentioned in the same breath as the British victory over a Communist insurgency in Malaysia in the 1950s, a textbook example of this form of war. . . . The basic approach of the Pentagon to the insurgency was right from the beginning."The strategy was always political as well as military," says a Pentagon official. A counterinsurgency is never about simply killing enemy fighters the way it is -- or at least seems -- on a conventional battlefield. Insurgents have an endless capacity to replicate themselves, unless political conditions are created that drain them of support.

Back then -- just a year ago -- we were "winning" because the Pentagon brilliantly realized that you can't defeat an insurgency by increasing troop levels. Today, we would be "winning" if only we would increase our troop levels. It's like an Abbott and Costello routine, but that is what passes for serious foreign policy analysis in our national dialogue...

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