Statesman vs Soldier

We saw the announcement of an historic framework… for discussions… for a plan… for a deal… for peace with Iran this week.  Regardless of where you come down on whether it will work or not, I’d like to point out some interesting facets of this whole topic.

The Obama administration’s foreign policy is based on the notion of engagement (Cuba, Russia, Iran) and the idea that we can eventually talk our way to peace.  This is in contrast to the post 9/11 policy of the Bush administration’s adoption of the Jewish commandment zachor to “remember” or “never forget”.  Which translated to a policy of confrontation whenever there is doubt that someone might possibly have bad intent.  Or the Clinton strategy of quasi-appeasement as a path to peace (Somalia, Yemen, North Korea, Palestinians).  One strategy may or may not be better than the others on a whole host of measurable outcomes.  I’m not here to argue that.

But let’s examine Iran.  There is talk that this deal is the first step towards bringing Iran into the league of civilized nations such that it will have a positive effect on the rest of the Middle-East to transition into peaceful coexistence with Israel and other Arab nations.  Wasn’t that the utopian goal for establishing a democracy in the just liberated Iraq?  It’s deja vous all over again.  Except this time we are negotiating the change, rather than imposing it by force.  You say tomato…

What I find interesting is the arrogance by the left that a diplomat (Hillary, Kerry) is inherently more qualified to do the work of nation building or coalition building than a grunt.  The State Department is assumed to have the ‘peaceful’ solution.  I will use the Garner Plan as a use case in this regard.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I, but it’s really interesting.

Jay Garner was a retired Army three star who was appointed to lead the post war reconstruction efforts in Iraq in 2003.  He started his career with an enlistment in the Marines.  Not very academic beginnings.  Oh wait, he did his undergrad at UPenn and grad school at Harvard?  hmmm.  So his ‘plan’ was to just kick out the top guys in the Iraqi government and hold elections as soon as possible.   Granted, there were some problems with his selections for the interim leadership.  But after his ouster I think this sentiment summed up what would have been an empowering strategy that might not have led to the sectarian morass of today.

I don’t think [Iraqis] need to go by the U.S. plan, I think that what we need to do is set an Iraqi government that represents the freely elected will of the people. It’s their country … their oil

Contrast this with Garner’s successor Paul Bremmer (Exeter, Yale, Harvard) who entered the foreign service and State Dept almost straight out of college.  Upon arrival in Iraq he did the following

  • Renamed the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance as the Coalition Provisional Authority.  “Authority,” great choice of a word.
  • Ruled by decree, the first of which was to dissolve the Baath Party
  • The second was to disband the military
  • Then he decided that the CPA should write a constitution for the Iraqis.  Brilliant

Consider those actions vis a vis another great quote from General Garner,

…as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the U.S. identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.

I was listening to the SEALFIT podcast and Commander Devine was interviewing Congressman Ryan Zinke (also a former SEAL). This was the first time I had ever heard talk of the Garner Plan.  They were discussing observations from their time in Iraq in ‘03-’04. Some great insights in a very fast moving conversation,

  • “when…you force into unemployment, the thousands of …military…”
  • “The people who know how to shoot the guns to put them back on the street with no food, was not a wise decision”
  • “…Those same soldiers, that obeyed orders all the way up, and all you had to do was replace the speaker at the top…”

It really got me to thinking about how we approach the world. Most soldiers respect other soldiers. They share a common understanding for the awesome responsibility that governments place on them. Regardless of their association with a government, they share that same basic foundation and philosophy.  Diplomats always talk about “finding common ground” and “shared interests” to “build bridges”. I remember thinking at the time that it was a great idea to cut all of that Baath crap out of the government and start from scratch. How stupid was that.  Looking back, I recognize the limitations in my experience base.  Much of that is my lack of personal military service.  I don’t have the knowledge of what war is really like, how chain of command effects your decision making process on the battle field.  But soldiers know this.  And I bet a number of them with that experience know that as long as there are clear orders from above, most Iraqis would have been happy to find a new way to continue serving their country under different leadership.  I bet there was a certain soldier who told his bosses that too.  Wish they had listened. I wonder why some people find it so hard to believe that not only do soldiers have brawn, but they are usually pretty smart too.

About Josh Rutstein

I am an aspiring entrepreneur and hopeful political candidate. Father of 2 very special girls, husband to an amazing woman, and passionate American. I snowboard whenever possible and follow a 20x mentality for exercise. I also play golf and ultimate frisbee and am a die hard New England Patriots fan and season ticket holder. Everyday I wake up wanting to make this country a better place, someday I hope to actually succeed.
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1 Response to Statesman vs Soldier

  1. Tom Peoples says:


    Well done. And—- many generals told Bremmer exactly what you thought. Not wise to put 400k soldiers on the street with no pay, pensions, or housing/food for the family. Of all in a society, soldiers are those who will survive a crisis but the cost to the other 99% of the population may be far higher than any civilian may have thought.

    Talk soon.

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