Commentary Magazine


Topic: official spokesman

Where’s the Support for U.S. Civilians in Iraq?

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

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Government Creates Wealth?

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

E.J. Dionne’s column touts Joe Biden’s newfound verve in defending American competitiveness. As Dionne puts it, at least Biden is done for now with defending the indefensible stimulus plan. He assures us that Biden is “more self-aware than people give him credit for.” Whatever. But Dionne then goes off the rails in a revealing bit of liberal demagoguery:

Beneath the predictable back-and-forth between Obama and his Republican adversaries over government spending lies a substantively important difference over how the United States can maintain its global leadership.

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Republicans don’t care about economic growth? Just military might? Hard to see where he gets that, considering that the post-Reagan conservative movement and the Republican party have been devoted to market capitalism. Indeed, the slur on Republicans has been that all they cared about was wealth creation. Oh, but they are just interested in “tax cuts.” Well, that and free trade, modest regulation, legal reform, and other conditions that spur economic growth, investment, and wealth creation.

Dionne considers this all trivial or dim because he and liberals are convinced that government creates wealth, that public spending creates jobs, and that expansion of the public sector is the way to a brighter future. In fact, he congratulates the president for cheering on the competition in statism with other powers. In the State of the Union, Dionne recalls, the president vowed that no nation would get the jump on us when it comes to government programs. (“Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.”)

Dionne gets one thing right, however: there is, indeed, a healthy debate to be had. The Obama budget, which presumably represents his economic vision, sees an ever-rising level of taxes and government spending (also debt because the taxes can’t keep pace with the spending). It includes many expensive programs liberals tell us will increase our competitiveness and spur growth — green jobs, federal education money, and the like.

Conservatives say this is a recipe for continuous high unemployment and low growth, and the experience of high-tax and high-spending countries is not one we want to replicate. Looking around the world and at our own recent past, there’s plenty of evidence that the liberal formula simply doesn’t work. We can become more like our Western European allies, but then we can expect employment, growth, and wealth creation to approximate those countries.

In addition to its economic shortcomings, Democrats might want to think twice about whether touting the wonders of lots of government is a winning economic message. As Michael Barone explains in his tour through the history of American populism:

[Americans] tend to believe that there is a connection between effort and reward and that people can work their way up economically. If people do something to earn their benefits, like paying Social Security taxes, that’s fine. But giving money to those who have not in some way earned it is a no-no. Moreover, like Andrew Jackson, most Americans suspect that some of the income that is redistributed will end up in the hands not of the worthy but of the well-connected. Last year Mr. Obama and his policy strategists seem to have assumed that the financial crisis and deep recession would make Americans look more favorably on big government programs. But it turns out that economic distress did not make us Western Europeans.

So if Biden now wants to become the official spokesman for the premise that “big government creates wealth,” I’m sure the Republicans would be delighted. They’d be even happier if every Democratic incumbent ran on that platform. But somehow I think they won’t get that lucky. Lawmakers are generally more “self-aware” than that.

Read Less




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