How to Reverse Failed Policy

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How to Reverse Failed Policy
From the May-June 2013 [1] issue Share Share Share Share | More More [2] Ray Takeyh [3] | May 1, 2013 Ray Takeyh [3]

SCHOLARS AND specialists often lament that once the United States commits itself to a course of action abroad, it rarely adjusts its path. Bureaucracies prize continuity over innovation and cling to the prevailing orthodoxy. Top officials often embrace positions predetermined by past prejudices and lessons. The gravitational pull of politics induces presidents and secretaries of state to persist with existing policies even when they aren’t working. Although such inflexibility may not be particularly harmful in ordinary times, big problems can arise when the United States finds itself in uncharted territory or facing unexpected geopolitical shifts. This reality raises the question of how the country can move from failure to success. How do policy makers transcend their penchant for the familiar and bureaucracies move beyond their attachment to continuity? History tells us that mere presidential frustration with a failed policy does not always bring about change. Consider Lyndon Johnson’s failed Vietnam War policy from 1965 to 1968. Presidents facing multiple national issues rarely start over with entirely new strategic paradigms. Inertia, staff influences and operational prejudices all militate against that.

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that didn’t alter the debilitated president’s strategy. and George W.. approach to the Vietnam War after Richard Nixon’s 1968 election. The persistent Soviet transgressions did not jolt Harry Truman away from sustaining the fallen leader’s path. Truman soon grew uneasy about his circumstances amid confusion about his options.. The ubiquitous European colonial empires would accede to new realities. containment policy during the early stages of the Truman presidency. The question of how to approach the Soviet Union turned on one’s perception of the causes behind Moscow’s conduct. Failure must be seen as posing a cataclysmic threat to both national security and the political fortunes of the incumbent party. follow and acquiesce. would guide his successor. A plausible alternative strategy must be evident. In essence. however unreliable in the past. It is impossible to know now what he was thinking then. What is beyond doubt is that Roosevelt bequeathed to his successor an uncertain legacy and a policy whose assumptions rested upon a shaky foundation. argued Byrnes and others. Truman sought to reconcile his call for Eastern European self-determination with his desire to sustain the security cooperation with the Soviet Union. the New York Times assured readers that “there will prevail in Washington a continuity. In America’s postwar history. Joseph Stalin’s increasing penchant for violating his commitments did not dissuade FDR from what he considered his pragmatic vision. three things must happen. This was a vision predicated on cooperation with unlikely allies and circumspection on behalf of a determined adversary.S. China.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. Uncertain of himself and surrounded by men with superior knowledge of foreign affairs. A nation that had been devastated twice by the German war machine was bound to be concerned about the developments in its immediate periphery. It has been suggested that FDR became skeptical of his own diplomacy as he approached death. But they all demonstrate how change actually can occur and highlight the role of key policy makers in fostering such change. the changed U. Whether at the Potsdam Conference or in deliberations over Poland. SHORTLY AFTER Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945. for the United States to move from failure to success. patrolling their regional beats and ensuring a level of stability that had eluded the international order for most of the twentieth century. and the Chinese Nationalists. would guard the gateways of East Asia. It was a vision that devalued ideology and assumed pragmatism on the part of the major actors. And a senior policy maker who enjoys presidential trust and confidence must embrace that alternative. the revolutionary Soviet leadership would accept the mandates of the new order. The consensus within the U.S.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. Leading policy makers such as Secretary of State James Byrnes acknowledged the Soviet mischief but attributed it to insecurity and vulnerability. Roosevelt curiously believed that the United States. 2 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . but the gravitational pull of policy still drew him toward the Yalta accords and its spirit of compromise. and a response of conciliation would take the edge off Soviet actions. embodied in compacts such as the Atlantic Charter and the Yalta accords. To be sure. Truman was prone to yield. Britain and the Soviet Union would act as global policemen. convince the president of its viability and subtly impose it on the system. government was that the Soviet Union’s aggressive moves were largely defensive and an American policy of understanding was the best course.” The deceased president’s lofty goals. Bush’s surge in Iraq.S. three occasions stand out as times when success was salvaged from impending failure: the shift in U. These three cases took place in different international contexts. But there are exceptions worthy of study. Although the peculiar pantheon of gods and devils that occupied the Soviet leader’s mind remained impervious to Roosevelt’s blandishments.

The attempt to get the Soviets to see the difference between influence and domination consumed much time and attention..” While Kennan had been imprecise about the next flash point of the U.-Soviet conflict. Truman had the fortune of inheriting sober minds such as Admiral William Leahy. “Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the future. But the two additional factors—a viable alternative to the existing approach and a powerful presidential intimate bent on fostering new thinking—ultimately emerged as well. The former prime minister’s speech at Fulton. ambassador to Moscow Averell Harriman. The “Long Telegram” eviscerated the popular notion that reassurance and concessions could blunt Soviet power and preserve the Grand Alliance. The United States was prepared to accept a Soviet sphere of influence but hoped that it would have a benign complexion. was alarming as well as prophetic. his 3 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM .” Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech and even the Soviet attempts to peel off portions of northern Iran were not decisive turning points. if any. to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies.. and not lofty speeches or international organizations.” Churchill quickly moved to the next arena of conflict by keenly noting that “Turkey and Persia are both profoundly alarmed and disturbed at the claims which are being made upon them. The strength of George Kennan’s iconic memorandum on the sources of Soviet conduct was that it offered authoritative intellectual validation of the emerging anti-Soviet sentiment percolating within the bureaucracy. It is here that a memo and a speech added further urgency to the need for a course correction. The idea that bargaining and compromise could foster a durable settlement with Stalin was now exposed as flawed as Kennan portrayed a revolutionary state that required external enemies for legitimization of its internal repression. Thus. Churchill echoed Kennan in stressing that only power. And as imposing a figure as Churchill was. Churchill was quick to point to the eastern Mediterranean as a place of Soviet intrigue.S. could forestall the Soviet menace. But slowly it became apparent that domination was the Soviet goal. The elegance and historical analysis of Kennan’s memorandum concentrated many minds. The process by which the United States moved from considering the Soviet Union an ally (if a stubborn and problematic one) to seeing it as an adversary whose ambitions had to be thwarted was halting and extremely difficult.S. 1946. who acted as his chief of staff. the failure to mitigate Soviet ambitions was proving so catastrophic to American security that it had to be addressed energetically and imaginatively. First. Truman initially was not prone to accept their views and disrupt the continuity of policy. these advisers challenged accommodationists such as Harry Hopkins and Henry Wallace.” he declared. Winston Churchill. The call for confrontation came not only from Kennan’s eloquent pen but also from the elegant oratory of a world leader of nearly unrivaled esteem. Increasingly. Although the essential purpose of the speech was to call for an Anglo-American alliance as a bulwark of resistance to Soviet encroachment. Truman and his advisers continued to embrace the Grand Alliance and tried to convince the Soviets of its appeal. The intriguing point remains that some of the milestones of the Cold War such as the “Long Telegram. and U. The task of shifting policy from its established pattern to a new framework proved enormously challenging even when the existing approach was increasingly deemed deficient. who fed him a steady stream of criticisms of Stalin’s rule and stressed the impracticality of uncritical engagement. but he now had an alternative explanation should his frustrations require it. but there is little to suggest that it redirected the machinery of the state. “What are the limits.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. But then the ingredients materialized that are indispensable to a policy shift of such magnitude.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. Missouri. on March 5.

Ankara. As for Moscow’s moves in Iran. a prospect he didn’t like. policy in a different direction. Since 1945. He favored sharing nuclear information with the Soviet Union and went so far as to coauthor a plan for international control of nuclear technologies. oscillating between dramatically differing alternatives. In August 1946.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. but such moves did not imply America’s readiness to abandon the homilies of the Grand Alliance. And. He insisted on continued negotiations and attempted to ease the Soviet Union into the emerging international structures as a means of alleviating its suspicions. speech did not reorient America’s policy toward the Soviet Union. Truman stood confused. He feared the discord over Germany would lead to a division of Europe. and it did take its case to the United Nations. Washington still hoped that it could preserve both cooperation with the Soviet Union and the sovereignty of Iran. appealed to the West for assistance. Acheson already was exposed to a steady diet of anti-Soviet advocacy from some of his aides as well as his friend Averell Harriman. the advocates of cooperation. The United States did call for Soviet withdrawal of its troops from northern Iran as stipulated by wartime agreements. those prone toward firmness were even more fortified in their views. The Soviets might have to be rebuffed on occasion—as they were in Iran—but that hardly meant ushering in a new doctrine that treated the Kremlin like an adversary with a global appetite that had to be resisted systematically. He admired Churchill but cancelled a New York dinner appearance with him once the prime minister’s Iron Curtain speech proved controversial. That person was Dean Acheson. All along. Amid this debate. As a result. thus gaining the insecure president’s confidence.. Secretary Byrnes similarly distanced himself from its call for vigilance as he embarked on further summitry with Soviet functionaries. Acheson was pivotally positioned to guide U. To be sure. the events of 1946 were not without consequence. unlike many members of the East Coast establishment who belittled Truman as an unworthy successor to FDR. The Turkish crisis was pivotal for Acheson.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. fearing a Soviet invasion. even though he found Soviet truculence disturbing. Acheson’s centrality in the Truman administration stemmed from his proximity and temperament. Given the egregious nature of the Soviets’ conduct.S. who had the advantage of continuity on their side. Acheson treated him with respect and deference. However. he seemed averse to abandoning the core assumptions animating the Grand Alliance.. As an effective State Department number two—and given Byrnes’s frequent absences from Washington—Acheson spent much time with Truman. stressed that the Soviet actions were unexceptional for a great power. the Soviets augmented their demand with ominous naval maneuvers in the Black Sea and the dispatch of additional forces to the Balkans. he had seen various episodes of 4 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . Given the speech’s controversy. He wanted the Soviet troops out of Iran but in a manner that did not inject additional tensions into great-power relations. The United States may still not have had a coherent containment strategy in 1946 had Acheson not been in government service. Still. These were hardly attributes of a cold warrior battling against the naïveté of his countrymen. A sweeping transformation of American policy required not just presidential frustration and a bureaucratic constituency with a discerning alternative but also a senior official enjoying the president’s confidence and prone to break down existing barriers to new thinking. But developments in Turkey proved decisive in establishing the containment doctrine. Truman quickly backtracked from his implied endorsement by falsely claiming that he had not seen an advance copy. Moscow had been pressing the Turkish government to allow Soviet ships to pass through the Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

1946 proved the decisive year in shifting the conceptual foundation of U. The Soviet moves in the Turkish Straits finally tipped the bureaucratic scales. Acheson turned to Truman and asked if he understood the gravity of the moment. Soviet aggression as unrelated events. Possessing the trust of his president and the inner confidence to revisit and change his assumptions. Despite his awareness that the Soviets were violating their pledges. North Vietnam’s swift victory in 1975 seemingly lends credence to this perception. secondguessing and ambiguity. it was Stalin’s aggression in the periphery of Europe that provoked a new direction in U. While an under secretary of state was critical to ushering in a different Cold War policy.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. Nixon proved the rarest of presidents. the war was prolonged for no reason other than Richard Nixon’s obsession with credibility.. the peace treaty could be enforced only through American airpower and continued material assistance to Saigon.S.” declared Truman. adding the considerable weight of Acheson to the ranks of those who were calling for change. Acheson’s formidable intellectual powers allowed him to grasp the salience of the moment and the need for strategies that met the exigencies of the time. True. policy. taking command of both the direction and the details of a policy. the changes brought about by Nixon altered the context of the war and compelled Hanoi to accept an agreement that could have preserved South Vietnamese sovereignty.S. The months of dithering came to an end as the United States would now pursue a new policy of vigilance. it was the president himself who guided the Vietnam shift. Acheson argued that the imperative was not just negating Stalin’s designs on Turkey but confronting him with a new approach of firmness and confrontation. it was Dean Acheson who guided U. Thus. Faced with joint Anglo-American protest. which disabused him of the notion that conciliation would temper Stalin’s ambitions. Although the great initiatives of the containment doctrine such as the Marshall Plan and the establishment of NATO would come later. America’s Vietnam policy changed under Nixon in a manner that compelled Hanoi to alter its war objectives and accept a compromise settlement.S. Ultimately. Stalin quietly backed off his claims on the straits. Although George Kennan is often credited with ushering in the age of containment. policy away from conciliation and toward containment. Acheson used his critical position to translate his vision into a successful policy.” Meeting with Truman. in his important Foreign Affairs article. However. As early as 1967. such views simplify a far more complicated diplomatic dance. National-security decisions sometimes seem clearer viewed in retrospect. The process that propelled Truman toward his reconsideration was never without hesitancy. Truman still harbored lingering hopes of rebuilding past cooperation. The president’s inclination toward toughness was now buttressed and legitimized by the man he came to trust. MANY OBSERVERS have long assumed that the terms of the 1973 peace treaty ending the Vietnam War were largely the same as those available in 1969. “We might as well find out whether the Russians [are] bent on world conquest now as in five or ten years. Now he saw a pattern of Soviet aggression. he had made no connection between Stalin’s brutal methods in Eastern Europe and his expansionist efforts in the Mediterranean. Still. Nixon clearly understood that America’s path 5 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . In a memorable exchange. The fact that the new policy of firmness yielded results so quickly further affirmed its logic. and neither continued after Nixon became embroiled in the debilitating Watergate scandal. Thus. policy away from its predetermined course.. He concluded the only real deterrent to Soviet plans for engulfing Turkey and the Middle East would be the “conviction that the pursuance of such a policy will result in a war with the United States.

the Americans initiated a “Vietnamization” program designed to transfer much of the ground fighting to South Vietnamese armed forces. whose mastery of foreign affairs exceeded that of most presidents. not only militarily and economically but socially and politically as well. Nixon was the inadvertent beneficiary of the cracking of the Communist monolith. and respect for the territorial unity of Vietnam. To be sure.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. the North looked at diplomacy as a means of dividing the Western camp and empowering the U. Upon becoming president. particularly in escalating the air war. in Vietnam had to change radically. peace movement. the replacement of the Saigon regime with a coalition of neutralists and Communists. this would be a top-down assault on the assumptions and processes by a president unimpressed by an unimaginative bureaucracy. given Hanoi’s resilience. Among his most innovative policy changes was a realignment in great-power relations that proved crucial in inducing Hanoi to come to terms with the United States.. Although aided by Henry Kissinger. which differentiated the president from his predecessors and made a profound impression on the North. Since the mid-1960s many Western officials had acknowledged the fissures in the Soviet bloc and the essential breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance. Nixon launched a new strategy. The North had long depicted its war as emancipating Vietnam from the clutches of Western imperialism. and the talks were merely an extension of that aim. He embraced General Creighton Abrams’s replacement of General William Westmoreland’s search-and-destroy strategy with a more robust counterinsurgency one. and its privileged sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia also came under sustained attack. Nixon confronted an adversary whose diplomacy was driven by the notion that revolutionary violence could transform the situation and that there was no point in bargaining seriously with capitalist barons. “The war has imposed severe strains on the United States. He assumed initially that bluster could nudge Hanoi away from its intransigence. The enhanced capacity of South Vietnam and the disruption of the North’s supply lines did much to soften Hanoi. But by 1969. An unimpressed North Vietnamese leadership not only persisted with its infiltrations but also rejected Nixon’s offer of secret talks. The new Nixon strategy for reclaiming the initiative had a number of components. America’s war effort in Vietnam was unsustainable due to stalemate on the battlefield and turmoil at home. Nixon perceived no contradiction between his 6 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . actively participated in formulating a new strategy to salvage America’s Indochina effort. Clearly. A result was the near destruction of Hanoi’s southern Communist cadre. To the extent that Hanoi participated in talks. The argument can be made that despite the success of such tactics. It appeared to many that the first use of the Soviet nuclear arsenal might actually be against a fellow Communist power. Nixon’s triangular diplomacy sought to exploit this situation by further luring China away from its erstwhile ally while simultaneously negotiating arms-control and trade agreements with the Soviet Union. its terms called for a unilateral American withdrawal. The intensification of the military assaults presented Hanoi with a new and more ominous reality. But Nixon added his détente with the Soviet Union and reconciliation with China. By 1969. Hanoi’s objective remained the defeat of the United States. Meanwhile. Having been rebuffed.. those tensions manifested themselves in large-scale military clashes. it would soon find ways to cope with these measures. This strategy not only buttressed South Vietnamese capabilities but also transformed the conflict into a Vietnamese one. He removed some of the restraints on his military operations.” conceded the future presidential candidate.S. cessation of all attacks on North Vietnam. Now it was a civil war with Vietnamese fighting each other. Nixon.

After all. The offensive’s failure disabused the North of its perception that it could garner a quick victory 7 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . China began to view the arguments for persisting with the conflict as increasingly hollow. as China previously had persistently advised the North not even to enter negotiations. China. As with most ideological regimes.. It was inconceivable to Hanoi that Mao could abandon his long-standing aversion to dealing with the Americans or move away from his support for Third World liberation struggles..How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. even launching counteroffensives of its own. The psychological impact on North Vietnam of Nixon being toasted in both Beijing and Moscow has often been underestimated. the State Department remained skeptical of any opening to China given the ideologically rash nature of Mao’s regime and the obstacles this could create for détente with the Soviet Union. he sensed—far more than Kissinger—that a diplomatic opening to China could induce Russian accommodation. There was still one more twist to the triangular diplomacy that directly affected America’s Vietnam struggle. Geography and history had long bound the North Vietnamese and Chinese Communist parties together. As a succession of American emissaries passed through Beijing. Chinese and Russian attempts to reassure Hanoi only inflamed its anxieties. as it would be difficult to persist with summits and diplomatic conclaves while the war intensified in Vietnam. Confronted with Vietnamization’s continued progress and the devastation of a more intensified air war.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. Beijing’s defection to détente policy was even more unsettling for Hanoi than Soviet diplomatic practices. Ironically. Hanoi grew concerned that Vietnam and Taiwan would be conjoined after the United States had tied the withdrawal of its forces from Taiwan to a favorable Vietnam accord. the dust is not swept away. It was only a matter of time before Chinese pragmatism and self-interest overwhelmed the country’s revolutionary commitments. North Vietnam gambled its fortunes on a major military offensive that it hoped would end the conflict decisively and compel the United States to accept its terms. Although China’s leadership pointedly rejected Kissinger’s attempt to craft such a linkage. “Where the broom cannot reach.” This was significant. Moscow had long engaged in summit diplomacy with Washington and had even agreed to various nuclear agreements. The White House quickly settled on the notion of linkage—tying issues of mutual concern with the Soviet Union and China to Vietnam. the North Vietnamese began to fear that time was not on their side. Indeed. This stood in stark contrast to a bureaucracy that viewed arms control as too critical to be disturbed by other issues of contention. The fear of betrayal was one of the critical factors that led the North toward a more serious diplomacy. outreach to Beijing and his quest to harmonize relations with Moscow. the North had invested much in the notion of socialist solidarity and strongly objected to the Communist giants’ embrace of Nixon. For Beijing. The bombing campaign unleashed by Nixon crippled the invasion. Meanwhile. This was a grave miscalculation. while the South Vietnamese army proved surprisingly effective. Hanoi’s insistence that South Vietnam’s president Nguyen Van Thieu resign before a peace compact could be concluded seemed shortsighted. Once the United States agreed that the North did not have to withdraw its forces in exchange for an American departure. Hanoi abandoned some of its revolutionary shibboleths. In 1972. As Mao warned a visiting Pham Van Dong in 1971. had been a strident critic of the United States and made supporting nationalliberation movements the defining tenet of its foreign relations. Now Hanoi was isolated. Hanoi’s leadership seemed also to have perceived that its military invasion would complicate the great powers’ détente policy. on the other hand.

it was not Hanoi’s propensity to violate its treaty obligations but the willingness of the American people to rebuff those violations. which turned the tide of battle. with its troops withdrawn and prisoners home. For a regime that had denied the legitimacy of South Vietnam. Mao now declared. Nixon had succeeded in imposing terms on Hanoi that it had long abjured. A new set of policy makers inherited a failed strategy and proceeded to draft an imaginative alternative.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. For his part. The Paris peace accords have been perceived widely as a prelude to the collapse of South Vietnam—a decent interval at best. Congress was not prepared for such a prolonged commitment. If the Nixon-Kissinger team missed anything. The Communist giants’ reaction to the offensive demonstrated the complexity of North Vietnam’s war strategy in the midst of an unfolding détente. “If I were North Vietnam.” Both Beijing and Moscow registered their displeasure with Hanoi by reducing their aid. Leonid Brezhnev refused to cancel a forthcoming summit meeting with Nixon. Its failure was its inability to hold the domestic front together and craft a national consensus behind enforcement of the treaty. Hanoi’s determination to violate the agreement seemingly affirms this notion. and the Thieu government could remain in power in advance of an armistice. the key issue was whether the United States had the appetite to reengage in the conflict when the North launched its inevitable invasion. isolated North Vietnam internationally and buttressed the power of America’s South Vietnamese ally. The seeming success of Vietnamization and the pressures of détente finally compelled the North to seek a settlement on less than its maximalist terms. the United States had to continue providing aid to Saigon and keep its airpower at the ready.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. Among North Vietnam’s concessions was acknowledgement of the integrity of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Vietnams. it may seem strange to proclaim Nixon’s policy a success..S.. American airpower fortified South Vietnamese morale while its punishing blows curtailed Hanoi’s advance. the Iraq War had turned into a divisive conflict that polarized the public and estranged some of America’s most important allies. However. The Communist powers’ behavior confirmed Hanoi’s fear that its sources of support might yet prove unreliable. Contrary to Hanoi’s wishes. And that failure stemmed from factors beyond Nixon’s actual Vietnam policy. The failure of the Nixon administration was not the content of its Vietnam policy. The U. while the Soviet leadership once more urged the Vietnamese to come to terms with the Americans. The issue was of sufficient importance that it engaged not just the top policy makers but the president himself. I would not refuse to speak to Thieu. the accords implied that the line partitioning Vietnam was a potential boundary denoting two sovereign entities. this was a bitter pill. Continuity had ceased to be a viable option. A treaty is a living organism: it must be implemented and enforced every day. But. The collapse of South Vietnam was seen as endangering America’s national security. on the battlefield. Ultimately. the North would have difficulty supplying and rotating its remaining troops in the South. If the DMZ agreement were to be enforced. An emerging civil war threatened to 8 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . However. Given the collapse of South Vietnam. BY 2006. would a Washington mired in Watergate and the economic recession muster the same resolve? For the agreement to hold. bombing was greeted with perfunctory criticism from China and the Soviet Union. the relevant factors suggesting a switch from failure to success are actually present here. The United States retained the right to provide South Vietnam’s army with advisers. In essence. In 1972.

whose political fortunes were vanishing in the sands of Iraq.S. a stable and secure Iraq would follow a genuine attempt at reconciliation—not the other way around. He read me like a book. The attack was accompanied by a killing spree that claimed the lives of a hundred Iraqis within a day and more than a thousand in the next few days. was growing uneasy amid calls for withdrawal from America’s political class as well as its rank and file..S. The Republican Party. To be 9 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . found himself confronting prospects of defeat. An obstinate Donald Rumsfeld was a formidable obstacle to fresh thinking. And a highly praised bipartisan study group led by foreign-policy mandarins James Baker and Lee Hamilton had endorsed a path of recalibration and retreat. Hadley proved critical in getting it adopted. advised that Washington should maintain its patience and not discard the current train-and-transfer strategy.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest. strategy was predicated on the notion that a cumbersome and intrusive American military presence would stir Iraqi nationalism. In a strange way. while in America the rosy optimism of the initial invasion gave way to a severe decline in the Bush administration’s political standing and a Democratic Party resurgence. the American military brass seemed to accept the arguments of war critics who warned that the U. He knew my intensity on the issue. Washington made certain assumptions about how the war and the occupation would unfold. In the meantime. the United States sought to train Iraqi forces and transfer security obligations to them as quickly as possible. So U. The president’s closest foreignpolicy adviser.. Stephen Hadley. But a switch to a successful alternative requires a high-ranking official who rejects the prevailing consensus and offers a plausible counterstrategy. who already were thinking of a different policy involving additional troops to bolster a new counterinsurgency strategy. The commanders on the ground in Iraq.” Hadley did not originally devise the actual strategy. presence would fuel and not extinguish the insurgency. Certainly. Thus. The U. These powerful developments led to a search for answers and alternatives in Washington. Bush’s national-security adviser. had grown weary of the Iraq entanglement.S. George W. assumed that role in the Bush White House. Under Hadley’s direction. The received wisdom was that stability was possible only through a democratically constituted Iraqi government determined to reconcile sectarian tensions. assorted former generals and think-tank analysts began formulating a different approach. there was presidential frustration and a faltering policy. a group of National Security Council staffers. Iraq quickly became immersed in a sectarian civil war. The views of the White House planning group now coincided with the perceptions of important military officers such as David Petraeus. forces were housed in large bases and would undertake sporadic raids against Al Qaeda cells and insurgent strongholds and then return to their command centers. one of the most important Shia shrines. Nor were the Joint Chiefs of Staff prone to devote more resources to Iraq. As Iraq continued to disintegrate. But continuity proved a persistent habit within the government. In invading Iraq. “He knew my anxiety. Bush. And then came the 2006 attack that destroyed the golden dome of Al Askari mosque in Samarra. For the president to reject such a consensus would be viewed by many as an act of peculiar defiance. Once the new strategy was articulated. who had staked his presidency and legacy on the Iraq War. As Bush recalled later. Generals George Casey and John Abizaid. but he provided high-level sponsorship inside the administration for those interested in rethinking the policy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. envelop Iraq. it was hoped that elections and plebiscites would create opportunities for political participation for all but the most recalcitrant elements.

determined opposition from key military commanders and U. he opted to salvage the president’s policy. However diligent the process may have been. he was responding to urgent concerns of a beleaguered but determined president. However. The surge brought about a quick turnaround. Had the level of violence not declined as quickly as it did. The surge. the notion that additional forces protecting population centers were essential for stability had been around for some time. The Sunni tribesmen needed arms and a degree of support in order to establish a force able to patrol their areas and protect them against Al Qaeda assaults. The future of Iraq remains uncertain. The Pentagon could have embraced that strategy at the outset of the invasion and thus provided Iraqi institutions time to establish themselves and their authority. He could have joined the withdrawal chorus. The new strategy allowed Sunni tribal leaders. This naturally entailed not just more troops. The reigning assumptions of the previous American strategy now came crumbling down. The surge probably would not have succeeded without the central government of Nuri al-Maliki committing itself to declawing Shia militias. causing them to reach out to local U. In March 2008. particularly the movement of Moktada al-Sadr. Instead. he had to overcome bureaucratic barriers. The new strategy recognized Iraq’s diverse landscape and tailored tactics to that diversity. deployments in Iraq by some twenty-one thousand troops.. commanders. Bush likely would have met Nixon’s fate: a president who 10 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM . already chafing under the threat of Al Qaeda. commanders reached out to Sunni tribal leaders and even aligned with their militias against Al Qaeda. because Washington wanted regime change on the cheap and with a limited footprint.. The American presence on streets and in neighborhoods increased to give protection to Iraqis and foster confidence that they could escape their predicament. but also different commanders and ultimately a different secretary of defense. But subsequent efforts at cooperation failed because the United States did not have the capacity to offer the necessary protection to cement deals.org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic. The conflict had been seen as a battle between the central government and an insurgency seeking to displace it. with America caught in the conflagration. But now it was considered a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shia. He could have urged the president to give the local commanders more time. George W. But. Still. U. Population security became critical as U.S. there is no doubt that a change in strategy salvaged the American enterprise and saved Iraq from collapsing further into a horrific civil conflict. with Al Qaeda’s violence aggravating those tensions. It required not only presidential anguish and leadership but also an incisive policy maker to translate concern into a new policy. In reality. Instead of emphasizing top-down reconciliation.S. to defect and thus allow moderate Sunni opinion to gain greater force vis-à-vis radical elements. the government proved to skeptical Sunnis that it favored national stability over sectarian empowerment. but as agents whose more active participation and patrol could mitigate the sectarian war. Thus.S. it pursued an occupation policy that proved disastrous. Throughout this exercise. provided an umbrella of security that allowed nascent trends to mature. the new approach focused on bottom-up accommodation.S. sure. forces were seen not necessarily as catalysts for violence. between 2004 and 2006 Al Qaeda’s harsh tactics alienated Sunni tribes at times. and a Democratic Congress that was losing faith in the war.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest.S. diplomats. The surge strategy emerged through a series of thoughtful exercises that assessed all options and their potential for success. Hadley proved a pivotal figure. which increased U. the Shia government of Iraq moved beyond its presumed sectarian affinities and launched an assault on radical Shia forces in Basra.

Hadley was an unlikely catalyst for change. Dean Acheson. launched a successful counterstrategy only to run out of time.org/tag/person/franklin-roosevelt [11] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/person/harry-truman [13] http://nationalinterest. 2013): http://nationalinterest...org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic.org/topic/society/history [5] http://nationalinterest. The philosopher John Dewey said that “institutions tremble when a new idea appears.org/profile/ray-takeyh [4] http://nationalinterest. An extraordinary alignment of interests and opportunities must come together for the ship of state to change direction.org/tag/person/george-w. often come to his rescue. Continuity in the midst of failure has been more of the norm than the exception. More by Ray Takeyh [3] Topics: History [4] The Presidency [5] Political Theory [6] Politics [7] Regions: United States [8] Tags: Dean Acheson [9] Franklin Roosevelt [10] George W.org/tag/person/james-byrnes [14] http://nationalinterest.org/region/americas/north-america/united-states [9] http://nationalinterest. set in its ways.org/topic/society/political-theory [7] http://nationalinterest. Truman [18] International relations [19] Policy [20] Politics [21] Potsdam Conference [22] Presidency of Harry S. Truman [23] Soviet Union [24] Soviet Union–United States relations [25] War [26] World War II [27] Yalta Conference [28] Source URL (retrieved on Sep 23. Acheson today stands as one of the preeminent historical figures in American foreign policy primarily because.com/bookmark.org/tag/person/joseph-stalin [15] http://nationalinterest. Nor will a bureaucracy. he turned his assumptions into questions. IT IS rare for presidents to take direct command of their foreign-policy failures.” In their own ways.org/tag/person/richard-nixon 11 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM .org/topic/politics [8] http://nationalinterest. at a key historical juncture. Yet change doesn’t always emerge simply because a chief executive is exasperated and appreciates the cost of failure. Richard Nixon and Stephen Hadley not only transcended such fears but also actively pursued new ideas. Nixon proved the rarest of presidents when he discarded the conventional bureaucratic wisdom and played a direct role in devising a different path.addthis. The tragedy of Nixon’s presidency was that his disgrace and fall prevented his country from taking advantage of his successful strategy. Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Bush [11] Harry Truman [12] James Byrnes [13] Joseph Stalin [14] Richard Nixon [15] Stephen Hadley [16] Containment [17] Harry S.-bush [12] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/person/dean-acheson [10] http://nationalinterest.username=nationalinterest [3] http://nationalinterest.org/article/how-reverse-failed-policy-8382 Links: [1] http://nationalinterest.org/issue/may-june-2013 [2] http://www. as circumspect and cautious men steeped in legal training usually don’t buck existing templates and precedents.org/topic/politics/the-presidency [6] http://nationalinterest. Presidential frustration doesn’t necessarily yield alternatives. as Barack Obama must be with his Iran policy.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest.php?v=250&amp. Lyndon Johnson indisputably was frustrated with his Vietnam strategy. Yet these very different men can lay a claim on history for accomplishing the rarest of achievements: turning failure into success.

org/tag/potsdam-conference [23] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/politics [22] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/war [27] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/soviet-union%E2%80%93united-states-relations [26] http://nationalinterest. [16] http://nationalinterest.-truman [24] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/presidency-of-harry-s..org/tag/soviet-union [25] http://nationalinterest.-truman [19] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/containment [18] http://nationalinterest.How to Reverse Failed Policy http://nationalinterest.org/tag/yalta-conference 12 of 12 9/23/13 9:34 PM .org/tag/world-war-ii [28] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/international-relations [20] http://nationalinterest.org/tag/policy [21] http://nationalinterest..org/print/article/how-reverse-failed-polic.org/tag/harry-s.org/tag/person/stephen-hadley [17] http://nationalinterest.

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