What's that? There's only one version of reality you say? Well, dear reader, you have a lot to learn. We are all living in some odd construct, a "peace-war" continuum, in which our intelligence agencies are in disarray, Congress postures, and the presidential candidates blather on while our soldiers fight a determined enemy, hampered by the indecision of our newest ally. We at home are sitting back and enjoying the Olympics while those on the point of the spear fight, die, and feel a growing and unaccustomed frustration last felt by their Vietnam forbears. There are a lot of "acceptable realities" being foisted upon us, and they all have one thing in common: they aren't reality. We start on the other side of the George Washington Bridge.
Almost-former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, in his post-dated resignation, described the delusion he had sold to himself, his family, and his state as an "acceptable reality." He unintentionally coined a phrase that describes all too well the suspension of serious thought that accompanies a presidential election. In time of war, reality is an uncompromising thing. But you'd never know that looking at our media and much of our government.
NBC has its own acceptable reality that enables television crews to pose as terrorists. 'Twas only last Wednesday that two Middle Eastern-looking men attempted to penetrate the security at the St. Louis downtown airport. Carrying outsized and strangely-shaped luggage, they attempted to rent a helicopter for cash. Some quick-thinking airport security guys decoyed the two until the Feebies arrived to cart them away. Their baggage contained box cutters and other weapons. At which point, the two were determined to be employees of NBC-New York, part of a nationwide sting seeking to prove how easy it would be for terrorists to rent a helo for an attack. All in good fun, right? Wrong. These bozos and their New York bosses should be spending a couple of years in Club Fed.
Mr. Kerry treated us to his acceptable reality, or at least the latest illusion the Great Oz is selling. He dreams of defeating terrorists by being more respectful to our Eurobetters, and fighting a more "sensitive" war against the terror nations. That awful, unfeeling Dick Cheney pointed out that the terrorists aren't likely to be impressed by our sensitivity. For shame, you awful, cynical, clear-headed realist. Come next February, we may have to deal with President Vichy John appointing the likes of Alan Alda to be our next U.N. ambassador. That won't be an acceptable reality. But it may be reality with all its consequence. Inexplicably, Dubya isn't doing a whole lot better.
Last week the President nominated Rep. Porter Goss, former CIA agent and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to be the new Director of Central Intelligence. To say that Goss is a leader with the vision, power of personality, and skill needed to lead the whole intel community through the reforms it so desperately needs is, well, to state the unobvious. Mr. Bush made no effort to characterize Goss in those terms, or to place his mission in that context. It's pretty clear that Mr. Bush named Goss for political rather than substantive reasons. Had he nominated someone else -- almost anyone else -- the Dems would have been able to make a huge political spectacle of confirmation hearings, leave the post unfilled, and blame the President for a leadership failure in this crucial time. Instead, Mr. Bush appointed a man who will likely be confirmed despite some Dems' charge that he is "too partisan."
What the CIA and the rest of the intel world need most -- as I've written repeatedly -- is not some shuffling of the deck chairs. We don't need another layer of bureaucracy such as the "national intelligence director" the 9/11 Commission recommended. We need -- as Director of Central Intelligence -- a real leader and reformer with the stature and vision to force jointness upon the intel community as it was forced upon DoD by the Goldwater-Nichols legislation of the 1980s. If Goss is confirmed, he will be a mere placeholder. The burden of intel reformation will fall on the next DCI, who will have to start all over again. This process should have started on 9-12-01. By placing his confidence in the wrong man -- George Tenet -- President Bush shunned the task.
By appointing Goss instead of a real reformer and leader, and by not making intel reform Goss's first duty, Mr. Bush has indicated that reform of the intel agencies is not a top priority. And, worse still, that he may not believe it is necessary. We may never know what hold George Tenet had on Mr. Bush, but its effects linger. Meanwhile, back in the war, "acceptable reality" in Iraq has meant turning a blind eye toward Iran. That is a luxury we can no longer afford.
The on-again, off-again fight in Najaf against Moqtada al-Sadr's "mahdi militia" is off again. Or not. We go in, and pull back. The Iraqis want to take over the fight, and may not have the ability -- or the desire -- to defeat Sadr decisively. Meanwhile, the Iranian government -- which pulls Sadr's strings -- is heating up its rhetoric against the Iraqis and the U.S. occupiers. For the Iraqis, and for us, we have been under the delusion that the "acceptable reality" in Iraq was the insurgency of the former Baathists and the "foreign fighters." But reality -- acceptable or not -- is that Iran is pulling the laboring oar of the insurgency. Dubya has no desire to take on Iran while John Kerry occupies his mind. But his first duty is not to be reelected. His first duty is to defeat the enemy. In Iraq, that is not happening. To the contrary, the Allawi government's continued overtures to Sadr, asking him to join the government there, only will entrench the Iranian insurgency and make peace impossible.
The London Guardian -- not known for accurate reporting -- may have gotten one right on Sunday when it reported that about 30 Iranians were in Iraqi custody. If they are Iranians, and were sent by the Iranian government (which is pretty much a dead-bang certainty, given that there are about 30,000 Iranians and Iranian-paid insurgents in Iraq), their capture would prove an act of war by Iran against Iraq. This crisis is growing, and won't be contained by any "acceptable reality" we may construct.
When we pulled back from Falluja, it was a calculated risk that the Iraqis could reduce the insurgency themselves, and it almost worked. Some of the insurgents are still there, and those who aren't have slipped through to Baghdad and south. Perhaps the most important effect of this strategy is on the morale of our guys. One officer with whom I correspond e-mailed me about the terrible toll these pullbacks have on the troops. Those who see their buddies die don't want to stop short of finishing the job.
This is one symptom of the Vietnam syndrome: to fight when and where it may be expedient, not where or when strategy demands. We are right to be ultra-cautious about the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. Though Sadr's headquarters are probably in it, his Iranian bosses want to maneuver us into damaging or destroying this holiest site in Shia Islam. Failing that, they want to do it themselves, and frame us for the job. Sadr must be taken or killed. The Iraqi government must be made to understand that it cannot fail or falter in this task. Its own survival will likely depend on it. That's reality, acceptable or not.
TAS Contributing Editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the U.N. and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think(Regnery Publishing).
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