Give him the presidential medal of cheap shots

In a column that substititues sarcasm for analysis, Richard Cohen takes exception to President Bush awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tommy Franks and L. Paul Bremer. Cohen says that, given the recipients (who also included George Tenet) and given what Cohen claims to be the situation in Iraq, the award should be called the Presidential Medal of Failure.
Yet, with the exception of Afghanistan where Franks was also involved, no country has gained more freedom in the past four years than Iraq. If Cohen cared very much about freedom, he’d have to acknowledge that there should be a freedom award in this for someone. And I don’t think Cohen would take it well if President Bush awarded the medal to himself.
Cohen is particularly churlish when it comes to Franks. This “failure” led one of the most audacious and successful military operations in modern history, overthowing Saddam with breathtaking dispatch despite being unable to attack via Turkey as planned. Contrary to Cohen’s claim, Franks manifestly had all the troops he needed to accomplish his portion of the mission (Cohen cites post-war looting, as if more troops could have prevented looting in a country the size of California). Arguably, more troops were needed to accomplish the post-invasion mission. But it’s hard to see how Franks is accountable for their absence. It was not his job to figure out what the post-war politics of Iraq would be, and thereby to extrapolate proper troop levels. Franks has long been out of the picture, and had nothing to do with the failure (if it is a failure) to send in more troops as the insurgency developed.
Bremer is a more ambiguous case to be sure. If one assumes, with Cohen, that our mission to rebuild Iraq is a failure, or is destined to fail, and if one can describe a better path that Bremer declined to take, then his award is undeserved. But Cohen presents no argument from which one can conclude that we are failing in Iraq or that we will fail. He cites the mounting death toll and the suffering of the Iraqis. But these facts prove only that we’re in a struggle, not that we’re losing, or will lose, it.
As for decisions made by Bremer, Cohen cites only the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the ousting of Baathist bureaucrats. But he doesn’t try to show that the army could have been kept together (Omar of Iraq the Model says it could not have been). More importantly, Cohen mindlessly assumes that maintaining a Baathist army and bureaucracy was the correct move. But the most important fact about post-war Iraq is that, so far, the Shiite majority has supported, or at least not opposed, our efforts. Cohen does not consider the possibility that, had Bremer been more accommodating to Baathists, the Shiites would have rebelled. If Bremer’s decisions prevented that result, then he clearly deserves his medal. Not knowing whether Bremer’s decision had this effect, Cohen should have been agnostic about Bremer’s award. But then he could not have taken his cheap shots.


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