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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 25 September 2006
Reality Takes a Holiday
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Reality Takes a Holiday
"People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest." - Hermann Hesse
"In politics, absurdity is not a handicap." - Napoleon Bonaparte

It just keeps getting better. As mentioned at the weekly site here, Saturday, September 23, the New York Times dropped a political bombshell - sources had leaked to them the results of the long-delayed National Intelligence Estimate ("Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States"), and the same sources had informed the Washington Post of what was in the April estimate, the first full one since before we dropped into Baghdad and changed things. (For reference, the Times item is here.) The less than useful information for the administration was that the "sources" were saying a key conclusion of the estimate was "that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse." The NIE, as it's called, a secret document, wasn't entirely secret any longer, and suddenly a problem for the administration.

That would be because of what you see in this video clip from August 21st - the president forcefully saying this - "You know, I've heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of 'we're going to stir up the hornet's nest' theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East."

Now the president's timeline seems somewhat irrelevant - things actually were bad back in September 2001, of course, but what does that have to do with right now?

Be the rationale remains. The war is making us safer, curbing terrorism and all that. We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here. That's the whole point. Whoever says that's not so is just wrong.

So who is wrong here?

Josh Marshall explains here -
An NIE isn't some random government white paper. It represents the consensus judgment of the entire US intelligence community, with input from all the different agencies, from CIA and DIA to INR and FBI and all the others. [See this.] In other words, this is the collaborative judgment of the people actually fighting the War on Terror.

For the last six weeks and, in fact, the last six months, the White House and the president have been engaged in a coordinated campaign to convince the public that despite the setbacks and mistakes, the war in Iraq is a critical component of fighting the War on Terror. Making that argument is their plan for the next six weeks until the election. All the while, they've been sitting on a report that says that's flat wrong, a lie and that precisely the opposite is the case.

That's a cover-up in every meaningful sense of the word, a calculated effort to hide information from and deceive the public. And it's actually a replay of what happened in late 2002, when the White House kept the Iraq WMD NIE's doubts about Iraqi weapons programs away from the public. [See this.]

The president has made very clear he wants the next six weeks to be about Iraq and the War on Terror. By all means, let's do it. But first the president has to come clean about what he's keeping hidden from the public - the fact that the people he has fighting the War on Terror are telling him that what he's telling the public about Iraq and the War on Terror flat isn't true.

Late word from the White House is that the Times report is "not representative of the complete document." Well, then, by all means, let's get a look at the whole thing so the public can get the big picture and find out who's telling the truth.
And then Marshall at his site Talking Points Memo urged all his readers, and he has many, to call their senators and representatives and suggest that if the White House was saying the estimate was saying something other than what it seemed, they should call on the White House to release the damned thing and prove it. If you visit the site you see all sorts of them did, even the very careful Hillary Clinton. The kicker was Senator Pat Roberts, who has carefully blocked anything that might make the president look bad - his committee report on the manipulation of pre-war intelligence is more than two years late - jumped on board. Release it.

This is very odd. People seem to want to know what going on, and even the Bush people seem to have noticed that. "No one has the right to know such assessments" may not fly here.

And as noted here, by our own government's count, there were 208 terrorist attacks in 2003, and two years later, in 2005, there were over 11,000 similar terror attacks. That's a fifty-fold increase (see CNN here).

Like people wouldn't wonder about that? They might not want to know why that's so? The writer in this case, "Alex" at Martini Republic, notes that the conclusion is obvious - "Invade a Muslim country on a shallow pretext, occupy it for a few years, torture some prisoners in that country's most notorious prison while taking pictures, and voila! You have terrorism times fifty."

And he notes what those who follow such things remember - in September, 2004, we were told that Iraq strategy was succeeding at the same time an earlier NIE concluded that Iraq was pretty much starting to disintegrate - there were "trend lines that would point to a civil war." That was when the president publicly dismissed that particular intelligence estimate - they "were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like." He said it was only "an estimate." And that's the same thing as "a guess," or so he said. It was interesting, but not important. Then there was the one is 2005, estimating "that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists" and the CIA was especially concerned about the how many of the bad guys were learning up-to-the-minute bomb-making skills, what with all the new variations those of those IED things. The CIA may be, if you believe what's said on the far right, a leftist anti-American organization out to ruin the president (that actually has been suggested), but they did point out the obvious - the bad guys are getting a lot of practice, and practical experience. As early as 2004 they were noting what was happing in Iraq was creating "perfect conditions" for training terrorists. Of course that's why the Vice President hates the CIA so much and with Rumsfeld set up his own intelligence gathering organizations - the old Office for Special Plans for the Iraq War and the new one for Iran. He doesn't like defeatists. It's a matter of having the right attitude - forcefully maintaining what you know must be true. That's what "real men" do.

All this was covered in these pages, and everywhere on the left, before, but with the implicit assumption that there was not much to be done about this "courageous" refusal to be hobbled by reality. The American people did not at all want to hear that the effort of three years, the more than twenty-seven hundred dead troops, the twenty-thousand maimed and brain-damaged, the half a trillion dollars spent (off-budget), the loss of almost all our allies in the world and the scorn of all other nations, was a rather large mistake. We're an idealistic people, and hopeful. And now there's this. Those who remain idealistic - this is all making us safer and better - are becoming and even more dwindling minority.

Of course the president is now saying you have to take the long view of these matters. On CNN there was this exchange with Wolf Blitzer -
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about Iraq. Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war - if not already a civil war. We see these horrible bodies showing up, tortured, mutilation. The Shi'a and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see - you see it on TV, and that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there's also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people… Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is - my point is, there's a strong will for democracy.

So it's all just "a comma" - a hundred years from now all this will seem insignificant. Now THAT is an idealist.

For a reaction to that watch another CNN fellow, Jack Cafferty on the topic of "sometimes politicians say the dumbest things" (Windows Media here or QuickTime here) - "I wonder how the families of the 2,700 soldiers lost in Iraq feel about their sacrifices being reduced to a portion of a 'comma' according to the Commander-in-Chief?" And he says more.

There's obvious too much reality going around these days, and the White House is running out ways to reframe it. Now it's just a comma? That's new.

And the hits just keep on coming.

Monday, September 25, the Los Angeles Times landed with a thump at the front door here in Hollywood and on this front page there was this - the Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker, is refusing to submit a budget because the money allocated to support the army is ridiculously inadequate to maintain its current force structure, or to replace or repair the equipment lost or damaged in Iraq. He's defying the Secretary of Defense, and for those of you who don't have a serving Army officer in the family and a former father-in-law who was an assistant secretary of defense, you might note the odd politics here. Schoomaker was Rumsfeld's hand-picked choice for the job - brought out of retirement and shoved in there, bypassing all the career officers about the rank of Leutentent General in line for the position. The resentment was intense, but Rumsfeld got his way. Schoomaker is a special-ops guy. The regular Army career officers were being told, rather bluntly, that traditional force structures were a thing of the past. Rumsfeld was remaking things and they were dinosaurs who ought to face facts and just fade away. This didn't exactly boost morale, but it was pretty direct. No one whined, publicly. There was, no doubt, a lot of private seething.

But Schoomaker is no fool, and he's no wimp -

The Army's top officer withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding.

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

… Schoomaker failed to submit the budget plan by an Aug. 15 deadline. The protest followed a series of cuts in the service's funding requests by both the White House and Congress over the last four months.

… Schoomaker first raised alarms with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in June after he received new Army budget outlines from Rumsfeld's office. Those outlines called for an Army budget of about $114 billion, a $2-billion cut from previous guidelines. The cuts would grow to $7 billion a year after six years, the senior Army official said.

After Schoomaker confronted Rumsfeld with the Army's own estimates for maintaining the current size and commitments - and the steps that would have to be taken to meet the lower figure, which included cutting four combat brigades and an entire division headquarters unit - Rumsfeld agreed to set up a task force to investigate Army funding.
This is hardball. The message is clear - if this is my budget I'll make the Army fit it, cutting four combat brigades and a division headquarters. Is that what you want? It's that reality thing again -
The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

"This is unusual, but hell, we're in unusual times," said a senior Pentagon official involved in the budget discussions.

… According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels."
You cannot fight World War III on the cheap. Reality matters. If we're facing the gravest threat to civilization since Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and that's the reality you assert, then get real.

Kevin Drum has an interesting take on it here -
Army budgeting, like pretty much all federal budgeting, is an arcane science that one is well advised to approach carefully. To the extent that Schoomaker is just playing hardball because expensive new weapons systems have turned out to be more expensive than anticipated (surprise!), this is little more than an age-old wrestling match playing out between adversaries who are both well versed in bureaucratic warfare.

However, the bigger part of the problem is that the Bush administration, in its usual political approach to policy issues, has decided to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars almost entirely via emergency appropriations. This makes life easier for Bush, who gets to imply that these expenses are temporary without actually having to defend that belief, but the problem is that these wars also have a significant effect on day-to-day Army affairs. Unfortunately, the day-to-day Army isn't getting any money to deal with them.

This will be an interesting fight to watch. It might play out entirely in the shadows, but eventually I suspect it's going to have to become more public.
That won't be pretty. But it's reality, even if Americans don't like it.

Put it all together. Alex at Martini Republic - "In one fell swoop - or rather one misguided experiment in nation building - Bush has managed to fuel Islamic radicalism, and bring dissent in the Army to a boiling point."

Other than that, things are going fine.

Except the Senate Democrats decided to have a hearing on Monday, September 25, previewed here -
Retired military officers on Monday are expected to bluntly accuse Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of bungling the war in Iraq, saying US troops were sent to fight without the best equipment and that critical facts were hidden from the public.

"I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq," retired Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste said in remarks prepared for a hearing by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

A second witness, retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, is expected to assess Rumsfeld as "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically…"

"Mr. Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making," said his testimony prepared for the hearing, to be held six weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which the war is a central issue.

The conflict, now in its fourth year, has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 American troops and cost more than $300 billion.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the committee chairman, told reporters last week that he hoped the hearing would shed light on the planning and conduct of the war. He said majority Republicans had failed to conduct hearings on the issue, adding, "if they won't we will."
So they did, with Major General John R. S. Batiste, who commanded the entire First Infantry (Big Red) over there, and who retired last year "on principle," had this to say -
Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare.

Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of US Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build "his plan," which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today.

Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and capability required to impose security, crush a budding insurgency, and set the conditions for the rule of law in Iraq. We were undermanned from the beginning, lost an early opportunity to secure the country, and have yet to regain the initiative. To compensate for the shortage of troops, commanders are routinely forced to manage shortages and shift coalition and Iraqi security forces from one contentious area to another in places like Baghdad, An Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah, and many others. This shifting of forces is generally successful in the short term, but the minute a mission is complete and troops are redeployed back to the region where they came from, insurgents reoccupy the vacuum and the cycle repeats itself. Troops returning to familiar territory find themselves fighting to reoccupy ground which was once secure. We are all witnessing this in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province today. I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus. This is no way to fight a counterinsurgency. Secretary Rumsfeld's plan did not set our military up for success.
But it wasn't all complaints. There was a reality-based six-point plan -
Our country has yet to mobilize for a protracted, long war. I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld failed to address the full range of requirements for this effort, and the result is one percent of the population shouldering the burdens, continued hemorrhaging of our national treasure in terms of blood and dollars, an Army and Marine Corps that will require tens of billions of dollars to reset after we withdraw from Iraq, the majority of our National Guard brigades no longer combat-ready, a Veterans Administration which is underfunded by over $3 billion, and America arguably less safe now than it was on September 11, 2001.

If we had seriously laid out and considered the full range of requirements for the war in Iraq, we would likely have taken a different course of action that would have maintained a clear focus on our main effort in Afghanistan, not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents.

What do we do now?

We are where we are, plagued by the mistakes of the past. Thankfully, we are Americans and with the right leadership, we can do anything.

First, the American people need to take charge through their elected officials. Secretary Rumsfeld and the Administration are fighting a war in secret that threatens our democratic values. This needs to stop right now, today.

Second, we must replace Secretary Rumsfeld and his entire inner circle. We deserve leaders whose judgment and instinct we can all trust.

Third, we must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge, which must include conveying the "what, why, and how long" to every American, rationing to finance the totality of what we are doing, and gearing up our industrial base in a serious manner. Mortgaging our future at the rate of $1.5 billion a week and financing our great Army and Marine Corps with supplemental legislation must stop. Americans will rally behind this important cause when the rationale is properly laid out.

Fourth, we must rethink our Iraq strategy. "More of the same" is not a strategy, nor is it working. This new strategy must include serious consideration of federalizing the country, other forms of Iraqi national conscription and incentives to modify behavior, and a clear focus on training and equipping the Iraqi security forces as "America's main effort."

Fifth, we must fix our inter-agency process to completely engage and synchronize all elements of America's national power. Unity of effort is fundamental and we need one person in charge in Iraq who pulls the levers with all US Government agencies responding with 110 percent effort.

Finally, we need to get serious about mending our relationships with allies and getting closer to our friends and enemies. America can not go this alone. All of this is possible, but we need leadership and responsible congressional oversight to pull this off.
Oops - we have another idealist on our hands. Real leadership, truth telling and responsible congressional oversight? Expecting that is as mad as, say, invading a Muslim country on a shallow pretext, occupying it for a few years, torturing some prisoners in that country's most notorious prison while taking pictures, kidnapping folks and holding them in secret prisons, committing what seems like torture to the rest of the world then redefining it to say it's not and letting the gleeful guys with the electrodes off the hook - and expecting praise and respect. The general expects a lot that reality might not be able to provide. As he says, we are where we are.

Reality - can't live with it, can't live without it.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006 10:49 PDT home

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