Get Me Rewrite

Punditry and memory often don't mix. Consider Max Boot's Thursday column in the Wall Street Journal on "How To Win in Afghanistan." According to Mr. Boot, "If we don't make a substantial commitment--one that will require raising our troop strength beyond the 68,000 to which the administration is already committed--we are likely to lose."

For the record, I agree with him. But six years ago, he had a slightly different strategy for Afghanistan: In March 2003, he argued that the manhunt for Al Qaeda there "is a job for the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI and a small number of Special Operations troops," and that our Afghan involvement shouldn't stop us from invading Iraq. And the disastrously flawed thinking behind that recommendation largely explains how we got to the Afghan war's current sorry state.

While I'm at it, I can't resist quoting this other howler from Boot's March 2003 piece: "Will invading Iraq lead to long lines at al-Qaeda recruiting offices? Possible, but not probable. The sort of people who are willing to become 'martyrs' for the cause are pretty far gone already. An invasion might push a few over the edge, but it might also give others second thoughts." The wonder is that Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is still taken seriously.

Same for former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, whose Washington rehabilitation advances in the September/October issue of Foreign Policy with his attack on the foreign policy doctrine of "realism." I'm not necessarily disagreeing with Wolfowitz's call for a definition of national interests that recognizes the need to promote democratic reform. Plus "democratic realism" just sounds catchy and hard to argue with. But let's rewind the tape. Wouldn't the doctrine of "surrealism" best describe Wolfowitz's assessments in the run-up to and early days of the Iraq War? A recap:

On how many troops will be needed to stabilize Iraq: "There's been a good deal of comment, some of it quite outlandish, about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq....[T]he notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq [is] wildly off the mark."

On the prospects for civil strife: "There's been none of the record in Iraq of ethnic militias fighting one another that produced so much bloodshed and permanent scars in Bosnia, along with a continuing requirement for large peacekeeping forces to separate those militias."

On the reception of Americans: "I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep [troop] requirements down."

On Iraq reconstruction: "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." (Wolfowitz told Congress that Iraq would earn between $50 and $100 billion from oil exports over the next three years; it earned about $23 billion.)

Forgive me for belaboring old news. But some statements are worth remembering even if their authors might like you to forget them.

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James Gibney is a features editor at The Atlantic. He was a political officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he wrote speeches for Warren Christopher, Anthony Lake, and Bill Clinton.

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