Monday, October 31, 2005
On this day:

John Kerry, Iraq, and "nuance"

An anonymous commenter responded to this post from last Wednesday, in which I pointed to two recent statements by Senator John Kerry that illustrated "that famous Kerry nuance."

The commenter made some very good points, so I thought I would try to lay out what it is about Senator Kerry's penchant for nuance that is so darned annoying. (Maybe some other time, I'll attempt to figure out why I hate the word "nuance" - I suspect it has something to do with its French origins.)

Anonymous said:
Yes, God forbid someone have nuance.

Kerry's point, as I understand it, was that Bush blew it from the beginning by not following Shinseki's advice to put more troops on the ground in the first place. That failure allowed the insurgency to fuel (partly driven by the callous attitude of Rumsfeld and the rest to looting - which showed they could initially operate with some level of immunity).

That led to a situation now, where it seems that the presence of foreign troops is doing more to undermine stability than increase it. (There was a poll recently by the British MOD that showed vast public opposition to US presence and a high level of support - maybe around 42% - of insurgent attacks. That ain't good.)

None of this is an attack on the troops. They are honorable people who are doing what their countries ask, and they should be thanked. But it doesn't mean the policy is in the right place.

Like I said, God forbid someone offer something other than a stay the course message. God forbid they demonstrate some nuance and understanding of the dynamics on the ground in Iraq.

Here's my response:

Look...if the famed Kerry nuance indicated a balanced assessment of the situation in Iraq, and if it helped in any meaningful way to develop a sensible and coherent policy to address the problems there, then it wouldn't invite such ridicule. As it stands, though, it seems that the the only thing that binds the many nuances of Senator Kerry's position together is an irrational disdain for anything and everything the Bush administration does.

Thoughtful, pointed criticism of the administration's Iraq policy should be welcomed and encouraged, but Kerry's speech at Georgetown last week fails that test.

First of all, his assessment of the situation in Iraq lacks balance, demonstrating that he does not have a realistic understanding of the dynamics on the ground there. He dwells almost exclusively on the negatives; any acknowledgement of the many positive developments comes only grudgingly, if at all. Of the Iraqi Constitution, Kerry says: "The Constitution, opposed by more than two thirds of Sunnis, has postponed and even exacerbated the fundamental crisis of Iraq."

Kerry and others often fault the administration for painting a portrait of Iraq that is overly optimistic (wrongly so, in my opinion), but it is no better to be overly pessimistic. To say that the Constitution has "exacerbated" the crisis is simply wrongheaded. The fact is that Iraq - for the first time in its history - is on the road to having an elected government in which all its people are represented. Day by day, its security forces are developing the capability of dealing with the insurgency, and day by day, as Iraqis take control of their own destiny, the insurgency is losing support among the populace.

Secondly, after heaping criticism on the administration, Kerry presents a plan that is notable for its resemblance to what the administration is already doing. He says:

"The way forward in Iraq is not to pull out precipitously or merely promise to stay 'as long as it takes.' To undermine the insurgency, we must instead simultaneously pursue both a political settlement and the withdrawal of American combat forces linked to specific, responsible benchmarks. At the first benchmark, the completion of the December elections, we can start the process of reducing our forces by withdrawing 20,000 troops over the course of the holidays."

I can't find too much fault in that, other than the fact that Kerry overlooks the "specific, responsible benchmarks" that have already transpired - the election of an interim government, the drafting and ratification of a Constitution, both of which set the stage for the December elections that Kerry says are the "first benchmark."

As I said, Kerry's proposal is very similar to current administration policy, except that the administration has been somewhat reluctant to tie troop withdrawals to a specific timetable or "specific benchmarks," since that could subject our military presence to events that are beyond our control. But, Kerry's implication that the administration is just sitting around without planning for an eventual withdrawal is misleading. That process has already begun, and U.S. officials are working with Iraqis to develop guidelines for the withdrawal of American forces. Just last week, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, talked about the possibility of reducing troop levels next year. Ironically, his comments came on the same day that Kerry was giving his Georgetown speech.

So, perhaps if you would pay attention to what the administration has been saying and doing over the past several months, you'd find that they, too, understand the art of "nuance." If John Kerry and his fellow Democrats have something constructive to add, then by all means, give them a microphone and let them enlighten us. But, taking partisan potshots at the administration when the stakes are as high as they are in Iraq is both ignoble and irresponsible, in that it encourages our enemies and demoralizes our friends. In dealing with the situation in Iraq, we need statesmen, not showmen.