The Politics of Trust & Credibility

by on October 24th, 2006

In a well-argued editorial Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and not a close ally of conservatives, makes the case for a measured disengagement from Iraq. That stated, he is far less credible when he argues that Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran, are “projects in peril.”

As a predicate, we might ponder how a Democratic president might have handled the past six years. It would plausibly start with significant tax increases (or, “investments,” as they euphemistically refer to them), which would lead to economic stagnation, and finish with a reticence to use the full muscle of our counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism apparatus to combat the Islamofascists.

Therefore, the fact that we have blunted al-Qaeda’s efforts globally and that a brutal dictator in the Middle East is no longer torturing his own people and threatening his neighbors should not be discounted. Further, North Korea has learned that bilateral talks with the U.S. is a chimera of the Clinton era, and that China is the ultimate arbiter in terms of its continued viability, which only makes sense in quotes. Finally, although Iran is a volatile and dangerous regime, the Security Council finds itself in the uncharacteristic position of having to provide meaningful consequences to its protracted intransigence.

Those points stipulated, there are important differences between “strategic disengagement” and “withdrawal,” key among them is that the former doesn’t telegraph a date certain by which American troops will leave Iraq. To his credit, Mr. Holbrooke doesn’t advocate a defined withdrawal but rather the latter, and, critically, a political solution. Regardless of whether it’s ever exercised, that’s a potentially productive process that might elicit innovative ideas with respect to power sharing in Iraq.

But the most persuasive argument, which he doesn’t explore, places powerful incentives on the Iraqi government for leveraging deep controls over the religious clerics who wield virtually all the power and can, if motivated, reduce the violence and mayhem. The core problem is highlighted by the fact that Iraq is a theocratic regime for whom a democratic form of government is not only foreign but frightening.

Mr. Holbrooke complains that “almost any advocate of a change in policy has been accused of wanting to ‘cut and run.'” That, of course, is not the case, but it is true that every policy recommendation from the Democrats has been tantamount to either a precipitous withdrawal or defining a date certain for such, and that is the height of strategic stupidity.

Indeed, the bipartisanship that the Holbrookes of the world yearn for is not possible when one-half of the equation–the Democrats–only offer transparently politically motivated policy recommendations that are not credible on their face. True team work must start with real credibility and that means focusing on the shared goal of achieving relative stability in Iraq and degrading the Islamofascists to the point they are no longer a manifest threat.

Therefore, if the Democrats are serious about this they should disabuse themselves of the notion that President Bush’s NSA surveillance program was a threat to Americans and that eliminating habeas corpus for non-citizen enemy combatants is a Constitutional travesty.

This enemy is real and if those on the left have doubts they might watch the video of Nick Berg being beheaded. These barbarians have fundamentally rewritten the terms of military engagement, effectively taking us back a dozen or more centuries when, to borrow a line from Thomas Hobbes, life was “nasty, short, and brutish.”

More fundamental than the three choices Mr. Holbrooke outlined, we have, in fact, two: The first is to fully understand the depth and breadth of this enemy, which presents a lethality wholly unprecedented in history; the second is to allow political motivations to underestimate the threat and fall back into a Clintonesque paradigm of endless negotiations, which amounts to relying on paper to defend the nation. It’s ultimately a question of trust and credibility.

Your choice will inevitably lead you to vote Republican or Democrat this election and the future of our Republic lies in the balance.

Mella is Founder and Editor of

Philip Mella