Lies Versus Incompetence

You know the noise machine is sputtering when the lies aren’t even good anymore. In reaction to John Murtha’s call for a phased 6-month redeployment in Iraq, the President said “as long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground.”

Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that this is a lie: the “sober judgment” of Gen. Eric Shinseki was that we needed more troops, and he was fired for his sobriety.

Instead, let’s assume it’s true: it still demonstrates manifest incompetence. Military commanders do not, and should not, determine our “strategy in Iraq” that job is for those who purport to be our political leaders. Iraq is a political problem: if our strategy is being driven solely by the military, it shows that we do not understand it.

A major reason why the Bush-Cheney strategy is so criminally incompetent is that it assumes that if we just blow up enough people, then we’ll win. The job of creating a stable Iraq so far transcends that that it’s little wonder we have been so unsuccessful. The Marines entered Baghdad, the statue came down, and we figured it was over. There was no political strategy following up because everything was entrusted to the military.

This also points to the wisdom of Murtha’s saying that the military has done everything it could do: his point is that the military cannot be expected to solve a political problem. The Administration does not understand this.

Clearly, military necessities have to be an element in developing a coherent political strategy. But the political strategy drives the military, not vice-versa. It’s too late to expect the President to read anything, but perhaps someone around him should take a look at this.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.