Actionable Items

Actionable Items May 25, 2004

President Bush yesterday traveled to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. The War College brings together some of America's best military minds to, in the word's of its founder, Elihu Root, "study and confer on the great problems of national defense, of military science and of responsible command."

Faced with a perceived absence of any coherent plan for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, the president yesterday set out to correct this problem — not by creating a plan, but by creating the perception of a plan. President Bush did not go to the War College to listen. He went to talk.

Bush's speech outlined what he called "a clear goal, understood by all — to see the Iraqi people in charge of Iraq for the first time in generations." And he offered "five steps in our plan to help Iraq achieve democracy and freedom":

We will hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more international support, and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people.

In reading the president's five steps, I was reminded of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's tortured semantic distinction between a "plan" and a "series of actionable steps."

I'm not sure the president's "Steps to Help Iraq Achieve Democracy and Freedom" amounts to a "plan." I'm not even sure that it amounts to a "series of actionable steps." If I were Jerry Bremer listening to this speech, I would find it very reassuring to think that in 37 days I would be on a stateside golf-course and no longer nominally responsible for translating these laudable-but-vague goals into actions that would result in a concrete reality.

It's worth noting that four of these five steps have little to do with any kind of military action. The military agenda consists only of three words: "help establish security."

I used to work for a private security company doing corporate training. Our sales people were endlessly reminded that the company did not provide "security." The legal department was adamant on this point and our top attorney personally oversaw the training of all sales people to make sure that no one was telling potential clients that the company made such an offer. "Security" he said, was an abstract concept. The concept was too vague, too limitless, to be of use. If we promised clients that we would provide "security" we would open wide the door to lawsuits and liability.

That's a point I'm sure our officers and troops in Iraq would appreciate. Their task of helping to "establish security" in Iraq is similarly vague, limitless and unfulfillable. Their mandate seems to echo the breadth of the oaths of office sworn by many American officials, to defend against "all enemies, foreign and domestic" — but even the sweeping language of that oath is more specific about who those enemies might be. "Security" from whom? This is still maddeningly unclear.

The clearest picture President Bush presented in his speech of what all these semi-actionable steps might look like in practice is his description of what has occurred in Fallujah over the past two months. President Bush presents the case of Fallujah as a great success story:

In the city of Fallujah, there's been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's Governing Council and local officials, and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population, and increase support for the insurgency. So we have pursued a different approach. We're making security a shared responsibility in Fallujah. Coalition commanders have worked with local leaders to create an all-Iraqi security force, which is now patrolling the city.

Fallujah, it seems, is a picture of the likeliest ultimate outcome of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. President Bush concludes his speech by citing the situation in Afghanistan as the model for what he hopes to accomplish in Iraq. In Fallujah, at least, he has succeeded.

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8 responses to “Actionable Items”

  1. All sounds good, Fred, but I’m not sure what some Christian with theological interests has to say about Iraq and foreign policy. At least you’re not, as far as I know, a “preacher.”

  2. Oh, I would say that Fred has a gazillion jillion times more relevant things to say than, say, 99% of the people currently involved in running the Iraq mess, be they brighteyed little homeschoolers all wet behind the ears just sent Out East by the Heritage Foundation, or be they aging politflacks whose lifeblood is The Party. At least we theologically interested Christians bring to it all the admonishment not to go whoring after the Assyrians and the Egyptians and all the other world superpowers with their big military-industrial complexes and their booming economies that rest on oppression and leave the widows and orphans behind…

  3. Anybody else find it ironic that he picked the Army War College as the site for his speech? You know, the people who warned him in great detail that his plan for the war had serious problems?

  4. bellatrys, Allen B. is being sarcastic, and is referring to a snide, ignorant post at (There was no way for you to tell that from what he wrote; I just happen to have seen Mark Kleiman’s before coming here.)

  5. I was glad to see that Al Gore is finally letting his rage come out only when it is most appropriate–when Iraq is such an unfathomable mess that the administration has had to resort to “we’re still not on high alert but we are going to get hit somewhere this summer–THEY said we were, but we don’t know where, so this is no time to panic,etc.” It has finally begun to feel a little like “total war” some of the time now–and living just 2 miles up from the WTC site, I had expected to have symptoms from seeing the buildings fall out my south window; I wondered for the longest time why I didn’t do anything except get very compulsive about little activities. Now, I actually imagine any kind of explosion happening at almost any time, because all over the world any kind anywhere is.
    Totally laughable about the demolition of Abu Ghraib. Why didn’t he just go ahead and say “we will build a BEAUTIFUL new prison” in its place.

  6. ah, sorry about that, Allen. I thought I was being an over-thetop parody of a good little neoconn/ed in re global warming once, and got a serious lecture on the same…

  7. bellatrys,
    Well put! The Cold War liberals and the neocons have been a radical departure from the predominant American political culture of republicanism and non-interventionism. “Give us an empire, so that we may be like all the nations.”

  8. If I were Jerry Bremer listening to this speech, I would find it very reassuring to think that in 37 days I would be on a stateside golf-course and no longer nominally responsible for translating these laudable-but-vague goals into actions that would result in a concrete reality. our host, above
    The role of Implementor in a project unburdened by a requirement for architectural forethought is to link the designs of the Engineer to Euclidean space-time, execute them with sinister grace, and to deliver the finished project to the Engineer with concomitant documentation so that the changes may be incorporated coherently into the master plan. Benjy Feen, The Monkeybagel Document