Bush and Lincoln: Echoes of the past in today's strategic mistakes
The Wall Street Journal
Thursday, September 7, 2006
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. . . . As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves."
--Abraham LincolnAnnual message to CongressDec. 1, 1862
WASHINGTON--Five years have passed since the horrific attack on our American homeland, and, still, there is one serious, undeniable fact we have yet to confront: We are, today, not where we wanted to be and nowhere near where we need to be.
In April of 1861, in response to the firing on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days. Lincoln had greatly underestimated the challenge of preserving the Union. No one imagined that what would become the Civil War would last four years and take the lives of 620,000 Americans.
By the summer of 1862, with thousands of Americans already dead or wounded and the hopes of a quick resolution to the war all but abandoned, three political factions had emerged. There were those who thought the war was too hard and would have accepted defeat by negotiating the end of the United States by allowing the South to secede. Second were those who urged staying the course by muddling through with a cautious military policy and a desire to be "moderate and reasonable" about Southern property rights, including slavery.
We see these first two factions today. The Kerry-Gore-Pelosi-Lamont bloc declares the war too hard, the world too dangerous. They try to find some explainable way to avoid reality while advocating return to "normalcy," and promoting a policy of weakness and withdrawal abroad.
Most government officials constitute the second wing, which argues the system is doing the best it can and that we have to "stay the course"--no matter how unproductive. But, after being exposed in the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, it will become increasingly difficult for this wing to keep explaining the continuing failures of the system.
Just consider the following: Osama bin Laden is still at large. Afghanistan is still insecure. Iraq is still violent. North Korea and Iran are still building nuclear weapons and missiles. Terrorist recruiting is still occurring in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and across the planet.
By late summer, 1862, Lincoln agonizingly concluded that a third faction had the right strategy for victory. This group's strategy demanded reorganizing everything as needed, intensifying the war, and bringing the full might of the industrial North to bear until the war was won.
The first and greatest lesson of the last five years parallels what Lincoln came to understand.
The dangers are greater, the enemy is more determined, and victory will be substantially harder than we had expected in the early days after the initial attack. Despite how painful it would prove to be, Lincoln chose the road to victory. President Bush today finds himself in precisely the same dilemma Lincoln faced 144 years ago. With American survival at stake, he also must choose. His strategies are not wrong, but they are failing. And they are failing for three reasons.
(1) They do not define the scale of the emerging World War III, between the West and the forces of militant Islam, and so they do not outline how difficult the challenge is and how big the effort will have to be. (2) They do not define victory in this larger war as our goal, and so the energy, resources and intensity needed to win cannot be mobilized. (3) They do not establish clear metrics of achievement and then replace leaders, bureaucrats and bureaucracies as needed to achieve those goals.
To be sure, Mr. Bush understands that we cannot ignore our enemies; they are real. He knows that an enemy who believes in religiously sanctioned suicide-bombing is an enemy who, with a nuclear or biological weapon, is a mortal threat to our survival as a free country. The analysis Mr. Bush offers the nation--before the Joint Session on Sept. 20, 2001, in his 2002 State of the Union, in his 2005 Second Inaugural--is consistently correct. On each occasion, he outlines the threat, the moral nature of the conflict and the absolute requirement for victory.
Unfortunately, the great bureaucracies Mr. Bush presides over (but does not run) have either not read his speeches or do not believe in his analysis. The result has been a national security performance gap that we must confront if we are to succeed in winning this rising World War III.
We have to be honest about how big this problem is and then design new, bolder and more profound strategies to secure American national security in a very dangerous 21st century.
Unless we, like Lincoln, think anew, we cannot set the nation on a course for victory. Here are some initial steps:
First, the president should address a Joint Session of Congress to explain to the country the urgency of the threat of losing millions of people in one or more cities if our enemies find a way to deliver weapons of mass murder to American soil. He should further communicate the scale of the anti-American coalition, the clarity of their desire to destroy America, and the requirement that we defeat them. He should then make clear to the world that a determined American people whose very civilization is at stake will undertake the measures needed to prevail over our enemies. While desiring the widest possible support, we will not compromise our self-defense in order to please our critics.
Then he should announce an aggressively honest review of what has not worked in the first five years of the war. Based upon the findings he should initiate a sweeping transformation of the White House's national security apparatus. The current hopelessly slow and inefficient interagency system should be replaced by a new metrics-based and ruthlessly disciplined integrated system of accountability, with clear timetables and clear responsibilities.
The president should insist upon creating new aggressive entrepreneurial national security systems that replace (rather than reform) the current failing bureaucracies. For example, the Agency for International Development has been a disaster in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The president should issue new regulations where possible and propose new legislation where necessary. The old systems cannot be allowed to continue to fail without consequence. Those within the bureaucracies who cannot follow the president's directives should be compelled to leave.
Following this initiative, the president should propose a dramatic and deep overhaul of homeland security grounded in metrics-based performance to create a system capable of meeting the seriousness of the threat. The leaders of the new national security and homeland security organizations should be asked what they need to win this emerging World War III, and then the budget should be developed. We need a war budget, but we currently have an OMB-driven, pseudo-war budget. The goal of victory, ultimately, will lead to a dramatically larger budget, which will lead to a serious national debate. We can win this argument, but we first have to make it.
Congress should immediately pass the legislation sent by the president yesterday to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision. More broadly, it should pass an act that recognizes that we are entering World War III and serves notice that the U.S. will use all its resources to defeat our enemies--not accommodate, understand or negotiate with them, but defeat them.
Because the threat of losing millions of Americans is real, Congress should hold blunt, no-holds-barred oversight hearings on what is and is not working. Laws should be changed to shift from bureaucratic to entrepreneurial implementation throughout the national security and homeland security elements of government.
Beyond our shores, we must commit to defeating the enemies of freedom in Iraq, starting with doubling the size of the Iraqi military and police forces. We should put Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia on notice that any help going to the enemies of the Iraqi people will be considered hostile acts by the U.S. In southern Lebanon, the U.S. should insist on disarming Hezbollah, emphasizing it as the first direct defeat of Syria and Iran--thus restoring American prestige in the region while undermining the influence of the Syrian and Iranian dictatorships.
Further, we should make clear our goal of replacing the repressive dictatorships in North Korea, Iran and Syria, whose aim is to do great harm to the American people and our allies. Our first steps should be the kind of sustained aggressive strategy of replacement which Ronald Reagan directed brilliantly in Poland, and ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet empire.
The result of this effort would be borders that are controlled, ports that are secure and an enemy that understands the cost of going up against the full might of the U.S. No enemy can stand against a determined American people. But first we must commit to victory. These steps are the first on a long and difficult road to victory, but are necessary to win the future.
Mr. Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America" (Regnery, 2005).