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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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Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Reality, Such As It Is
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Reality, Such As It Is

The week starting with Monday, December 4, we all knew something was up. Rumsfeld was gone from Defense and that Monday John Bolton was gone from the UN, or going soon. Our ambassador, appointed while the Senate, which would not confirm him, was in recess, had to resign. There would be no "for real" confirmation. The votes weren't there, and it wasn't just the Democrats. Key Republicans decided the man who would tell them all up there they were no more than fools and crooks and scum, had to move on. That hadn't worked out, as predicted. This made the president angry, but it hardly mattered. There was the reality of the thing. The day the congress ends its term, Bolton's term ends, and that's that. Those are the rules. It's in the constitution.

The next day there were the committee hearings for Robert Gates, the man nominated to replace Rumsfeld at Defense. Gates had been (and is) characterized as someone completely unlike anyone else in the cabinet - a realist, not a wild-eyed idealist with dreams of changing the world. Gates had served for twenty-six years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under the first President Bush as Director of Central Intelligence. He worked his way up and knows the nitty-gritty of how things really work. It's not like he was an alcoholic who had never succeeded at anything and suddenly, when he turned forty, found Jesus and stopped drinking, and then decided - even though uninterested in ideas and detail and foreign affairs in the slightest - to tell the world how things really should be, and that "realism" was overrated. He comes from the father's circle of key people - that world of compromise and realism and prudence. The son's circle is one unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves" no one had dared before. It was an odd appointment, made, presumably, rather grudgingly. The unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves" of the outgoing defense secretary hadn't worked out that well.

The committee voted unanimously to move the nomination to the full Senate and they voted, the following day, to confirm him. The vote was 95 to 2 and over in the blink of an eye. The president said the usual - "I am confident that his leadership and capabilities will help our country meet its current military challenges and prepare for emerging threats of the 21st century." You could sense the resentment.

The details - three senators didn't vote, the Democrats Joseph Biden and Evan Bayh, and the Republican Elizabeth Dole. The two who voted no were standing by the president against his father, Rick Santorum and Jim Bunning. Gates had said it was time to be realistic about the Iraq war. We weren't winning. We should work from that fact. And maybe we should at least talk with the folks in Iran. Santorum, about to leave office as the voters in Pennsylvania had decided he was quite mad, or at least too strange for their tastes, decided to mock the idea of "engaging dictators" and spoke for an hour on the floor of the Senate of the evils of "radical Islamic fascism." And when it came to reaching out to Iran to discuss the security of Iraq, Santorum said of Gates' thought - "I think he is in error."

Bunning, who was a pretty good pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back when but has since periodically gone off topic and worried people a bit, did his thing - "Gates has repeatedly criticized our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without providing any viable solutions to the problems our troops currently face. We need a secretary of defense to think forward with solutions and not backward on history we cannot change." Make of that what you will.

But the folks who think that considering history and actual facts is often useful won the day. As a final irony, the White House said Gates would be sworn in December 18 - he had commitments he had to fulfill at Texas A&M University, where he is the president. Our president likes to mock folks with degrees and "book learnin'." His favorite line is something like "look at so and so with the PhD - I was a C-minus student and I'm president and they're not, so there." Now he's got a university president on his hands, talking reality of all things.

How extraordinary this all is was is summed up by Fred Kaplan in Enter the Grown-Up, concerning the committee hearings before the full vote. Here Kaplan says the "most eyebrow-raising moment - of many such moments" that day was when Senator Robert Byrd asked Gates if he favored attacking Iran. It has been widely reported that such an attack is in the works, and most in Gates' position would duck the question - avoiding "hypotheticals" and all that. And Gates just said no. That was it. This should make for some interesting planning meetings in the White House. Cheney may need a new pacemaker.

Actually it was more than no - "We have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable." He went on with how the Iranians couldn't retaliate with a direct attack on the United States but they could close off the Persian Gulf to oil exports, send much more aid to anti-American insurgents in Iraq, and step up terrorist attacks worldwide. He suggested we look at this realistically.

Byrd asked if we should attack Syria, as is reported to also be in the works. "The Syrians' capacity to do harm to us is far more limited," but an attack on Syria "would give rise to a significantly greater anti-Americanism" and "increasingly complicate our relationship with every country in the region." You just don't want to do that.

So much for unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves." What was this man doing there, getting nominated? When he was asked if invading Iraq was a good idea in retrospect, Kaplan notes he paused, then said, "That's a judgment the historians are going to have to make."

This is all very odd, as Kaplan notes -
It is impossible to imagine any of George W. Bush's previous Cabinet appointees, or any of his sitting Cabinet officers, making such stark - and, at least implicitly, critical - statements in an open Senate hearing.

In short, Gates may well be that entity that Washington has not seen for many years: a truly independent secretary of defense.

"I don't owe anybody anything," Gates told Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, when asked whether he'd be loyal to truth or to power.

… At one point during the questioning, Gates noted that 2,889 Americans had died in Iraq "as of yesterday morning" - a sharp contrast (and, no doubt, an intentional one) to the time when then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the Senate Committee on Armed Services and did not know how many of his fellow citizens had been killed in the war that he helped put in motion.
And as for what the man says he's learned over the years, he offered this - all agencies have to work together to get anything done, and consulting with Congress is really important, as is treating people's views with respect, as is respecting the professionals - listening to military commanders when you're planning a war, for example. He practically said the administration had been stupidly goofy for six years, but he said it nicely.

Kaplan concludes -
… the main question, at this point, isn't about Gates; it's about Bush. For the past six years, there has been a tendency to blame this administration's colossal mistakes on Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney, but several former officials have told me that, on many occasions, Bush really has been "the decider." Soon, Rumsfeld will be gone. Cheney will be isolated. We may find out what George W. Bush really thinks.
That would be interesting. And something is up with this. It may be realism.

The Middle East scholar Juan Cole, looking back on the man's CIA history with Iran-Contra and all the rest, is generally pleased -
The US now has a secretary of defense who knows that we are not winning in Iraq, who wants to do something about it, and who doesn't think nuking Iran is just a dandy idea. Although his involvement in Iran-Contra dogged Robert Gates in the build-up to the confirmation hearings, it did not emerge as a big issue. It may be that by now having a SecDef who once was involved in selling US weapons to Khomeini and who therefore has a potential back channel to leaders in Tehran, is not seen as such a bad thing. Let's see if Gates can finally redeem university presidents who enter high federal office, after Woodrow Wilson gave them a bad name.
Damn, everyone likes to pick on Woodrow Wilson. But Wilson ran Princeton. Texas A&M is a different kettle of fish, of course. We'll see how the token realist from Texas, not the grim aesthete-theorist from New Jersey, works out in the "we make our own reality" administration.

Of course the Gates confirmation was overshadowed by the release, the same day, of the Iraq Study Group Report, "The Way Forward -A New Approach." This was a big deal, and Vintage simultaneously released the thing in paperback, should you want your very own copy. There was no hiding anything.

And it wasn't nice - the administration's war policies have failed in almost every way, it warned of diminishing chances to change course before "crisis turns to chaos" with "dire implications" for terrorism, war in the Middle East and higher oil prices around the world. In short, it was time to get real - there is no guarantee of success and the consequences of failure are just awful, and things are just bleak. In their own words - "Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out."

And have a nice day. And by the way, we really should begin a "diplomatic offensive" by the end of the month and engage even Iran and Syria in an effort "to quell sectarian violence and shore up the fragile Iraqi government." That would be in the next three weeks. The group's many recommendations did not endorse the current White House strategy of "staying the course" with no substantial changes in what we do in Iraq, and didn't call for a quick pullout or a firm timetable for withdrawal. But something had to be done, and soon - just not those two extremes.

The Iraq panel's leaders said in their press conference that they tried to avoid "politically charged language" such as "victory" on the one hand or "civil war" on the other. But things were clear - James Baker, the former secretary of state and Bush family adviser (fixer) who co-chaired the commission said it all - "We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable." The co-chair, Lee Hamilton, said the commission actually agreed with the administration's goal of a stable Iraq able to govern, protect and sustain itself but it was time for new approaches - "No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos. Yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted."

So they tossed some ideas over the transom and the president said something carefully vague - "It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion." Not that he'll do anything at all.

He does have seventy-nine recommendations on the table now - reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress and that sort of thing. The report said that Iraqi leaders have simply failed to deliver better security or any sort of political compromises on the ground. The four-month joint military campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad is basically hopeless - "Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end." So force something. But do nothing rash - no "precipitous pullback" or, on the other hand, no open-ended commitment to a large deployment. So what do you do? Talk to Iran an Syria, and while you're at it, end the sixty-year-long mess with the Israelis and the Palestinians, in your spare time. And stop combat operations as you phase in massive training and support for what neutral honest military and police you can find there, if any.

But the response was already obvious. The president called the report "a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq" and said he would take the recommendations very seriously and act "in a timely fashion." But then he said that Congress wouldn't agree with every proposal, and neither would he. And White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president continues to insist that Iran verifiably suspend uranium enrichment before we engage in direct talks.

The about face may or may not happen, as is obvious. Baker was asked if he thought the president would accept any of this. His reply - "You know, I've worked for four presidents, and I never put presidents I worked for on the couch." In short, go ask a psychiatrist. That's what it has come down to.

And in a minor note the co-chair Lee Hamilton added a tidbit - "America's ability to resolve the crisis in Iraq "is narrowing" and the costs could rise to more than one trillion dollars. That's a big psychiatrist's bill. Returning to reality can be expensive.

But John Dickerson says that is what this is about, with his summary of what the report says. And the message is simple -
1. Cut the crap. You won't find this as one of the numbered messages, but it was surely the leitmotif of the day. The president has been increasingly, if grudgingly, candid about the difficulties in Iraq, but Bush and other officials still offer meaningless euphemisms about the "pace of progress" and completing "the mission." The commissioners were breathtakingly blunt about this. "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," said Lee Hamilton, echoing language in the report. Later, Hamilton referred to Iraq's "slide towards chaos." His co-chairman, James Baker, equated the current "nightmare of brutal violence" to the nightmare of Saddam's regime. There was no guarantee, Baker said, that events wouldn't get even worse in the coming days, nullifying the commission's recommendations immediately. The brightest assessment heard was that all was not yet lost.

2. You can be tough and talk. The president and vice president have often depicted diplomatic engagement as weakness. As a general matter, they prefer action to talk and believe negotiating with countries like Syria, Iran, and North Korea rewards their leaders' naughty behavior. That's why the president and other administration officials have resisted engagement with Iran and Syria as a way to help stabilize Iraq. Baker, the veteran diplomat, scoffed at this resistance. "We're not talking about talking to be talking," he said, characterizing the group's recommendations about the two rogue countries. "We're talking about tough diplomacy." Later, he circled back to the idea, adding a broad lesson for the Bush administration in the art of diplomacy. "For 40 years we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the Earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends."

3. Bipartisanship has to mean something. The commissioners repeatedly stressed that without bipartisanship of the kind they were able to achieve in their deliberations, Iraq policy - whatever its next iteration - would fail. (As if to emphasize this, the group eschewed the left-to-right seating of custom; Democrats and Republicans sat on both sides of the chairmen). Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, provided the most amusing moment of the morning when he offered a characteristically quirky view of excessive partisanship. "You know, you see people in this who are hundred percenters in America," he said. "A hundred percenter is a person you don't want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and BO. And they seethe. They're not seekers. They're not seekers, they're seethers." Simpson wasn't trying to attack the administration. He was attacking extremists on both sides. But the kind of black-and-white division he described applies to the Bush team's campaign strategy on the issue of Iraq. The president accused all Democrats of wanting to cut and run from Iraq, though his administration was mulling policies nearly identical to the ones Democrats were proposing. Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, and Tony Snow went further, suggesting that Democrats were fundamentally unequipped to deal with issues of national security. "100 percenters" could have been the inscription on the back of their campaign jackets.
But as to the third point, Dickerson notes that bipartisanship, as the Bush-Rove-Cheney team understands it, means surrender by the Democrats - you agree with them in the end, or you get labeled as aiding and abetting the enemy. Baker called on former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to answer a question about whether Bush would listen to the commission - "I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we're divided." What did Johnson say about the triumph of hope over experience? This will go nowhere.

Maybe it was not supposed to go anywhere. Jonathan Steele explores that in The Guardian (UK), where he says Baker has other purposes -
The first purpose was to provide an alibi for the president ahead of last month's congressional elections. Critics of his disastrous strategy in Iraq could be told that Bush was listening to the American people and understood their concerns. That was why he had set up a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate all options. Nothing was taboo. The tactic did not work, and Bush and his Republican party took a heavy beating. It was not Baker's fault so much as a sign that voters felt they had to send a message to Baker as well as Bush. A majority of Americans, as well as Iraqis, want US troops to leave.

The second purpose of the study group was to co-opt the Democrats, to get them behind Bush's war. Having a bipartisan panel with an equal number of members from both parties was intended to make it hard for Democrats to reject its report. Baker, after all, was the man who masterminded the maneuverings in 2000 over whether Florida should have a full recount. His job was to get Al Gore and the rest of the Democrats to swallow their anger and fall into line behind the argument that there was no time and that the better strategy was to take the dispute to the Supreme Court - where Bush's side had a clear judicial majority.

Now the plan is to lock the Democrats into agreeing with the main thrust of Bush's Iraq policy over the next two years, with the aim of preventing it from provoking a major divide during the 2008 campaign for the White House. It is not a difficult task. The main Democratic contenders, starting with Hillary Clinton, are weak fence-sitters who show no desire to challenge Bush directly. None are as clear-sighted as John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman who started calling for a US troop withdrawal a year ago. Nor, unless he or she is yet to emerge, is there a Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy figure with the authority to rally voters against a failed president, as there was when Lyndon Johnson was mired in Vietnam.

The third purpose in appointing Baker's panel is the most extraordinary. The country's political elite wants to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind a strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight.
That may be a bit cynical, but it rings true.

Fred Kaplan (again) suggests the group just chickened out - "James Baker, the canniest of operators, has now met his Waterloo." There are no solutions to this problem. The report's outline of a new "diplomatic offensive" is "so disjointed that even a willing president would be left puzzled by what precisely to do, and George W. Bush seems far from willing."

This is a close reading of the text. It’s a "scheme for a new military strategy contains so many loopholes that a president could cite its language to justify doing anything (or nothing)." And it is a depressing read.

The part on Iran and Syria is devastating -
They call unequivocally for the United States to hold talks with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

But they don't address the question of why Iran and Syria should want to talk with us. More to the point, the authors sidestep the question: What might we have to give Iran and Syria in exchange for talking with us - in exchange (still more to the point) for getting us out of this mess? Baker is no naïf. When he was secretary of state under Bush's father, he had lots of diplomatic dealings with these countries. He knows that dealings involve deals; we have to give up something to get them to do what we want. But he doesn't want to say this, because he knows that the current President Bush doesn't want to give up anything. If this Bush actually follows Baker's advice and opens up talks with Iran, he'll find this out soon enough - and then he'll back out.

… The report's authors try to make a case that Iran and Syria will want to cooperate. They write in the executive summary, "No country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq." Yet the key phrase here is "in the long term." In the short term, Iran and Syria are benefiting quite nicely from an Iraq that's mired at least somewhat in chaos.

… Will Bush drop his avowed desire for "regime change" in Tehran in exchange for Tehran's help in stabilizing Iraq? That's the big question. Every time it's come up so far, Bush has firmly said no. Will he make a fundamental shift now? Doubtful. And what is Tehran's view of a stable Iraq? Is it the same as Washington's view? Again, doubtful - which is one reason Bush probably won't make a shift. Maybe some compromise can be worked out, but what conditions will be set for starting, much less completing, negotiations?

The authors recommend the creation of an Iraq International Support Group, consisting of all the Gulf States, Iraq's neighbors, Egypt, the European Union, and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This might be a good idea, but the report musters no reasons why these countries should cooperate. The report calls on the United States to "energize countries to support national political reconciliation." It's unclear what this means.

… It's a mess. Not even Jim Baker really knows what to do about it.
And so it is. It's all for nothing. At least that's what James Joyner at Outside the Beltway says - "Both sides will use the Report to seek political cover for what they want to do but I suspect they will continue to bludgeon their opponents over the war."

And Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post says you have to consider the players in the game -
President Bush this morning formally accepted a copy of the Iraq Study Group's blistering report, vowed to seriously consider its dramatic recommendations and spoke hopefully about finding common ground for the good of the country.

Sounds great. But does he mean it?

We'll know for sure once words turn into action. But in the meantime, it strikes me that as long as Vice President Cheney and political guru Karl Rove remain Bush's closest advisers, then the answer is probably not.

Cheney and his loyalists are largely responsible for the deception, delusion and incompetence that brought us to where we are today in Iraq. Rove intentionally turned the war into the most ferocious and divisive of partisan issues. Neither man has shown any sign of remorse.

Since his electoral comeuppance on Nov. 7, Bush has alternated between conciliatory language and fighting words when it comes to changing course in Iraq.

The nomination of Bob Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary was one indication that Bush might indeed adopt a more measured and realistic strategy in Iraq. Gates's stunning candor about the current situation at confirmation hearings yesterday bolstered that view.

But until or unless Bush turns away from Cheney and Rove - the two men who have been his most intimate and trusted counselors - it's hard to imagine that his episodes of chastened, bipartisan talk on Iraq will amount to anything more than lip service.
Christy Harden Smith carries that forward -
That President Bush has to be told that diplomacy by him and by his Secretary of State is important as a crucial element of our nation's interaction with the rest of the world? Well…it is embarrassing, and that James Baker has apparently spelled it out in direct language in the ISG document says a LOT about how much resistance they are expecting from President Bush on this aspect of his job, doesn't it?

… Something that Amb. Joseph Wilson said earlier in the week when he was chatting with everyone resonates this morning, "I have a lot of respect for Jim Baker. He is tough enough, experienced enough and savvy enough to pull a rabbit out of the hat if there is one in there. The problem is we are so far down the road on the way to chaos that there may not be any way to stop this until all sides are exhausted. The question is not whether the situation has become a civil war but rather whether it has degenerated from a civil war to out and out anarchy and a failed state."

And that, in essence, is the dilemma that everyone faces when evaluating the chaos in Iraq, as it threatens to spill over into the greater Middle East. How does one stop a runaway train filled with explosives before it hits the next stop along the tracks? And the next?

The best time to listen to the diplomats is before a shot is ever fired. But in the Bush Administration, Colin Powell's and the state department's experienced hands admonitions against this ill-planned, ill-conceived war were brushed aside in favor of the neocon dreams of conquering heroes and candy-strewn streets paved with oil. The time for the grown-ups and the realists would have been best prior to any American soldiers setting foot on the ground in Iraq.

But, alas, that was not to be.

There are a number of things that we all ought to learn from this. First, and foremost, is that the United States ought never again commit resources and troops without serious questions being asked on the front end of such a commitment.

That adequate oversight was not performed by the Congress, that the press acted as cheerleaders rather than as the skeptical cynics one would hope for in the run-up to this catastrophe, that individual Americans were doing the same - ought not be in question at this point. But our men and women in uniform, the American public, and the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire in the current conflagration that passes for Iraq deserve far better than this from all of us. And that lesson not only needs to be learned, but it needs to be taken to heart.

The second is that any planning that is done going into a conflict needs to take into account the worst case scenario, and not just limit itself to whatever President Rose-Colored Glasses wants to hear.

And, to that end, the public ought to hear about those worst case scenarios as well. Oversight hearings would help from Congress. I am more than aware that the rubber stamp Republican Congress has functioned more like a Parliamentary unit of the Bush White House than the independent branch of government that our Founding Fathers envisioned for us.

It is well past time for Congress to reclaim its Constitutional mantle of being both a check and a balance on the overreach of Presidential power. And we will be watching the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress come January to be certain that they do just that.

How long do all of us have to pay the price for this mess in Iraq? Because, in all honesty, it is a heavy, heavy price.

No one should be satisfied if all we get out of this report and the ensuing pomp and circumstances is simply a bunch of shuffling around and no real change of priorities and actions. The status quo is not good enough (and that is such an understatement). President Bush needs to face some difficult truths and be honest not just with the public but with himself. Now.
We will see about that. But it just does help anyone connect with reality when the data is bad -
The Bush administration routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings, the Iraq Study Group report said Wednesday.

... On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq." The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis.

"The standard for recording attacks acts [as] a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said. "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count."
That needs attention. Facts matters now, or are starting to matter now.

But then, this all may be beside the point, or so Senator Russ Feingold suggests -
Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group report does too little to change the flawed mind-set that led to the misguided war in Iraq. Maybe there are still people in Washington who need a study group to tell them that the policy in Iraq isn’t working, but the American people are way ahead of this report.

While the report has regenerated a few good ideas, it doesn’t adequately put Iraq in the context of a broader national security strategy. We need an Iraq policy that is guided by our top national security priority - defeating the terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11 and its allies. We can’t continue to just look at Iraq in isolation. Unless we set a serious timetable for redeploying our troops from Iraq, we will be unable to effectively address these global threats. In the end, this report is a regrettable example of "official Washington" missing the point.
But then, looking at it another way, Bill "The Book of Virtues" Bennett thinks no one should ever tell the president or his people what to do, not ever - "In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority. Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible." Pot speaking to kettle, as they say.

But then, Bush could turn out to be French, as one if Andrew Sullivan's readers notes regarding Charles de Gaulle -
A lot of pundits are comparing our crossroads in Iraq with LBJ and Vietnam. However, I think that when looking at whether GWB is capable of dramatically altering the plan, a more interesting parallel is de Gaulle and Algeria. The General had declared "Algeria is France", yet only a few years later he oversaw a bitter and divisive withdrawal.

Unfortunately, I just don't think this President is capable of admitting such a mistake and changing course dramatically. I hope you're right and maybe Gates can somehow be heard by key Administration members (Bush, Cheney, Hadley). No matter what we do, it will be painful and messy.
But then de Gaulle was a hero, eventually, even if those army officers tried to assassinate him. Sullivan notes the parallel to torture too. Heck, the Pentagon did screen The Battle of Algiers for everyone in the building more than three years ago (also discussed here). Fascinating.

Algeria 1957. Vietnam 1968. Take your pick -
There is something of an upshot to the commission, however. Even though it doesn't really propose ending the war, it will shift the Iraq debate in favor of the modalities of extrication. Welcome to 1968: everyone knows the war must end and victory is unachievable, but the will to actually withdraw in full remains unpalatable to the political class. Bush will have a very hard time recommitting the country to a chimerical "victory" in Iraq. But in the name of "responsibility," thousands more will die, for years and years, as the situation deteriorates further. Someone, at sometime, will finally have to say "enough," and get the United States out.
Add too twenty-four American dead in the four days leading up to the report, including ten on the day of the report. It seems like old times. And we didn't get out of Vietnam until 1974.

And as for our guys on the ground, that's just sad, as we hear from Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, stationed in Ramadi. The group is, according to the article, "still reeling" from learning two months ago that its tour will be extended until February.

Their view -
Spc. Eisenhower Atuatasi, 26, of Westminster, Calif.: "There's no way we're leaving in two years no matter what any recommendation says."

Staff Sgt. Rony Theodore, 33, of Brooklyn, N.Y.: "All of us want to change what we're doing because we're not doing very much."

Sgt. Christopher Wiacik, 28, of Livonia, Michigan: "It's just a study group. It's not really going to affect the president. I don't see any major changes happening until presidential elections start. I think both sides will promise to get troops out and give timelines then, but not before. We're just sitting around not making any progress. It's annoying. You're not motivated to help anybody. I don't want to live my life like this."

Spc. Richard Johnson, 20, of Bridgeport, Conn.: "It's like holding a child's hand. How long can you hold onto his hand before he does something on his own? How much longer do we have to get shot at or blown up?"

First Lieutenant Gerard Dow, 32, of Chicago, Ill.: "In Iraq, we try to win the hearts and minds of population. They want Americans out of here. They blame us for all their problems. They look at us as the terrorists and then they turn around and help the terrorists who are trying to kill us.... U.S. soldiers are dying trying to help people who don't want their help."
Yep, old times.

But then, things can change - "The United States has offered a detailed package of economic and energy assistance in exchange for North Korea’s giving up nuclear weapons and technology, American officials said Tuesday."

Those last six years? Just kidding. Some reality can sometimes help.

Posted by Alan at 23:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006 07:46 PST home

Tuesday, 5 December 2006
No Tuesday Entry
Topic: Announcements

No Tuesday Entry

Other matters have come up, and produced writer's block. Commentary will resume tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 19:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Monday, 4 December 2006
Another Stormy Monday - Losing Your Bully
Topic: Bush

Another Stormy Monday - Losing Your Bully

Monday, December 4, 2006 - the day John Bolton announced he would be leaving his post at the UN as our ambassador there. The headlines all read that he had "resigned," but the White House said no one should use that word. It went down something like this -
The White House yesterday bowed to Senate opposition and gave up its attempt to keep its controversial ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, in his job - the latest sign of President George Bush's diminishing authority. Mr Bush issued a statement denouncing the senators, including a Republican moderate, who had blocked Mr Bolton's confirmation process in the chamber's foreign affairs committee.

"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time," Mr Bush said. "This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country and discourages men and women of talent from serving."
Yeah, well the whole idea was a bad idea from the beginning, as discussed in September 2003 and in detail in March 2005. And now he's gone. Because the Senate would not confirm him he was a "recess appointment" - put in place while the Senate was off for the weekend. As such, his appointment expires when the present congress - the 109th - adjourns. That's coming up in week or so. The Democrats oppose him, and they'll be in the majority soon. And a number of key Republicans oppose him still. There was no way the "lame duck" Senate was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and, in the last few days of its session, hold hearings and confirm him. The votes weren't there. Done. The man sent to the UN, to tell they were all fools and crooks and scum, must move on.

As for how the president handled this, here's another view -
Not only did he send out the snotty statement … he held a photo-op and talked to the press slumped down in his chair, lip curled, obviously pissed off. He said this: "I'm not happy about it. I think he deserved to be confirmed. And the reason why I think he deserved to be confirmed is because I know he did a fabulous job for the country."

You'd think he'd be used to failure after experiencing it his entire life but he doesn't seem to be handling it well. His arrogance has always been there, throwing his weight around, peppering his speech with phrases like "I told the American people they were gonna have tah be patient and I meant it." But now there's a darker edge to it. I see no signs that he's ready to see reason on a judgment call like Iraq.
The president was having a bad day. He had met with one of the Iraqi Shiite leaders and asked for his thoughts on how to handle matters there, as it was chaos, and the answer he got was have the US troops wipe out all the Sunnis. What did he expect the guy to say? The Saudis and Egyptians and Jordanians, our Sunni allies, would not be amused. The advice was useless.

And the Bolton thing was just maddening. Everyone with the president was ticked off. What's was wrong with the guy?

Matthew Yglesias explains -
About half the time, conservatives profess bafflement as to why liberals are so upset about John Bolton. The rest of the time, you read pearls of wisdom from Bolton fans like Andy McCarthy about how "we don't need an ambassador at the UN, we need a wrecking ball." The mustachioed one, it seems, was just the man for the job but "If John Bolton could not be confirmed after the job he did, there is no hope for a strong American presence there. More importantly, even with Bolton performing heroically, the UN was still a menace."

So, look, conservatives can agree with that or disagree as they like. But no fair being baffled - this is the crux of the issue. Bolton and his biggest fans think the UN is a menace. Not that the UN is a flawed institution that sometimes can't or doesn't accomplish everything one might like. Rather, it's a menace. Not something that should be improved, but something that should be wrecked. Hit, in other words, with a wrecking ball. People who believe that a "strong American presence" in Turtle Bay means strident efforts to destroy the institution.
But some still think the UN could be useful, and after all, we started the thing in San Francisco in 1949. Destroying it just seems stupid. And those folks won the day - or ran out the clock.

But the clock is running out in Iraq in a different way.

"God get me out of this, because these guys are going to get me killed," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter thought to himself in the midst of a disastrous firefight in Sadr City last Friday to root out key Sunni insurgents.

What? That's from a Monday, December 4, Los Angeles Times item - 'Fear took over' in Baghdad raid; US advisors lament Iraqi troops' conduct. America's exit strategy hangs in the balance.

Here's the deal -
The joint security forces, undertaking what officials described as a major counterinsurgency operation, were in pursuit of 70 "high-value targets" in Baghdad's crowded Fadhil quarter, a Sunni Arab neighborhood of multistory tenements along the east bank of the Tigris River.

Instead, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's 9th Mechanized Division and their American trainers had walked into a deadly ambush Friday.
And here's the detail -
"Fear took over" among the Iraqis, Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter said.

"They refused to move. We were yelling at them to move," he said. "I grabbed one guy and shoved him into a building. I was saying, 'God get me out of this, because these guys are going to get me killed.'"

The offensive was initially billed by U.S. officials in Baghdad as an Iraqi-led success and a case study in support of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on using American troops as military advisors as a way to shift security responsibilities to Iraqi soldiers.
This is not going well, as in -
The U.S. military is ramping up its training program to add 30,000 Iraqi troops by mid-2007 to make up for soldiers who have abandoned their posts or died. The new recruits are also intended to supplement the small number of Iraqi troops willing to travel away from their home bases despite dangerous conditions or the possibility of being ordered to fight against members of their own sect.

Most soldiers in the 9th division, for example, are Shiites, and U.S. and Iraqi officers said they doubted the troops would obey if ordered to fight in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad such as Sadr City.

"In August, when we started Operation Together Forward to secure Baghdad, we called on a bunch of units to assist," said U.S. Army Col. Douglass S. Heckman, the commander for the 9th Division Military Transition Team. "This division was the only one that moved into the operation. The others balked."

But Friday's battle suggested that even Iraq's best trained and equipped division is far from having the ability to operate independently. Heckman said attrition and liberal leave policies meant that only 68% of the 9th division is even on duty at any given time.

Another American advisor complained that the division had only 65% of the weapons and other equipment that it had been allocated by the U.S.

"And it's not just my guys," said the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "As I look across the division MiTT teams, they all tell me the same thing. Some of them have 50% of their equipment, some have 75%, but it's the same thing all over Iraq."

Despite efforts to get more financial support from the Iraqi Defense Ministry, the division stays operational only with help from the U.S. military, which provides everything from food to batteries.
This will take time. And it may not work at all. Newsweek was reporting that even as the president "continues to believe in" Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki others have their doubts -
The American military is fed up with Maliki. The ground commanders in Iraq felt betrayed by him this summer when he undermined a push to get control of the streets of Baghdad. The Iraqis failed to deliver on a promise to put enough troops on the ground. A four-star general who declined to be identified discussing a confidential conversation told of this encounter with Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was in charge of day-to-day ground operations. "Do you have enough forces? Enough to clear an area and stay there to secure it 24/7?" Chiarelli replied, "Of course not." The four-star recalls replying, "It's going to fail, it's absolutely going to fail." The Americans never had enough forces to sweep even half the city, much less secure it.

... It's not clear whether the military made its frustrations known to the White House.
The military knows perfectly well they don't have the troop strength to stabilize Iraq - they're not even close. And that leads one commentator to add this -
I would sure like to know … has the military made it clear to Bush that they don't have enough troops in Iraq to do the job? There are really only two options: (a) they have said this and Bush has been lying all along when he said the generals were getting everything they had asked for, or (b) they haven't said this and they've been monumentally derelict in their duty. Which is it?
Who knows?

But the president is getting hammered on all fronts. Paul Krugman in the New York Times is on his case - "Well, here's a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully's ego?"

The day before Frank Rich in the same newspaper said the president seems to have to have reached the "talking to the walls" stage, or puting it simply - "Its not that he can't handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn't know what the truth is."

Senator Carl Levin mentioned the problem on Meet the Press that morning: "He's not going to make admissions - he's not capable of admitting mistakes."

Oliver Willis weighs in -
I'm often accused of being too blunt or simplistic. But frankly blunt and simplistic are traits that have served people much more powerful and smarter than me well. I'm not averse to using force to defend America, but I knew before the first shot was fired that the Iraq War was the wrong war. Hussein was contained, he was not a threat, and our first priority should have been to dismantle the Al Qaeda network and any groups, nations or individuals allied with them.

… Now comes the present day. It began with the election, but every day more evidence comes out that shows us that the president, his advisors, and his supporters have no damn clue what to do, and for the mere sake of retaining what is left of their machismo refuse to do the right thing. The stock answer to leaving Iraq is that the country will become a bloody hellhole and America will look week. News alert: those things have already happened.

Iraq is a hellhole. Every day people are blown up by bombs and shot by guns. Despite the pathetic efforts of the right to compare Iraq's instability to urban areas in the U.S., the facts tell the tale. Similarly the idea that the press is to blame instead of the military commanders and ultimately their commander-in-chief is beyond obvious. The press, ideally, is to report news of consequence. I dare say a bomb that kills fifty people in broad daylight is of more importance than a school that is being painted. The only difference between an Iraq with America playing babysitter and one with us out of the picture is that less [sic] Americans are killed in the latter scenario.

We already look weak. The same country that beat the Nazis and unleashed hell on the Japanese, as well as securing the Balkans and liberating Kuwait now looks to the world almost like a paper tiger. Not, as the right-wing would have you believe, because of a botched joke by John Kerry or because we elected Democrats to control the congress, but because Republicans are clueless on national security. Because of the poor planning of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew of cronies, we cannot even secure Baghdad - three years after the city supposedly "fell." Too often conservatives believe that the rest of the world doesn't have a memory. Our threats have become hollow, because the world has already seen how badly we botched Iraq while also torturing people at the same time. If one were to buy in to the conservative perversion of "balance" you could probably count up all the good and bad to come out of our occupation of Iraq and declare it "even." But that would probably mean absurdities like torture at Abu Ghraib and handing out candy to kids were just "two sides" of an issue. It just isn't true.

The world sees America stuck in Iraq, with radical Islam growing because of it. Leaving Iraq isn't going to change that one war or another, but less [sic] Americans will be killed and we'll be able to use our military to defeat actual threats to our freedom.

But it's all moot. George W. Bush will not listen. Because for George Bush to not only admit an error, much less that the right course of action is coming from the other side of the aisle, is like stabbing out his eyes for him. He's a more powerful and morally perverted version of the guy who won't take directions from anyone else in the car, even if they've got a GPS unit and he's only got "a feeling." It's that stubbornness that has led to the deaths of thousands of Americans, and less importantly, [to] his poor standing amongst the American people that will most likely linger way past his time on earth.
But what about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. He'll listen to them, won't he? Baker is an old family friend, and one of his father's main men. Baker led the legal effort that convinced the Supreme Court to stop the vote recounting in Florida and declare the son the president in late 2000 - so he can fix this. He'll listen to his father.

Reuters reports no -
Asked to comment on widespread view that his father's influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: "I am the commander-in-chief."

"I love to talk to my dad about things between a father and a son, not policy," he said.

… Asked to comment on widespread view that his father's influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: "I am the commander-in-chief."
And that's that.

It should also probably be mentioned that, percolating in the background was the news that, over that weekend, Hugo Chavez was overwhelmingly re-elected as Venezuela's President, something we did not want.

Glenn Greenwald points out the obvious -
Over the last two years, the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas leaders. The Lebanese have democratically elected Hezbollah to play a major role in their parliamentary government. The Iranian-allied militias in Iraq are led by factions with substantial representation in the democratically elected Iraqi Government. And the Iranian Hitler himself was democratically elected (just like Hitler the First was, long before the parade of all the new Hitlers).

If the leaders whom we are supposed to hate so much - even the ones who are The Terrorists - keep getting elected democratically, doesn't that negate the ostensible premise of our foreign policy - that America-loving allies will magically spring up all over the world where there are democracies and they will help us fight The Terrorists?

And beyond that, isn't it more likely that leaders who are hostile to the U.S. will be democratically elected around the world if we continue to engage in conduct seemingly designed to make the whole world resentful and suspicious of us? We're not supposed to care about world opinion - we don't need permission slips from the UN and all of that - and there is a good argument to make that every country has to decide for itself what its own interests are (which, in reality, is what every country does, including those which pretend to be guided by selfless ideals and international institutions).

But if we continue to be overtly belligerent and essentially indifferent to world opinion - because we can be, because we're militarily stronger - that would seem to make it virtually impossible for pro-American candidates to be elected anywhere in the world, thereby subverting the central goal we claim we have of eliminating anti-US resentment by spreading democracy throughout the world.
That seems like another thing his father's men ought to explain to him, not that it would make a difference.

So Bolton's gone, and no one is telling him what he wants to hear so he can't fix the war, the press is on his case, and Chavez is riding high, again. Well, no one likes Mondays. As they say, however, they call it stormy Monday, but then Tuesday's just as bad, Wednesday's even worse, and Thursday's awful sad. That's how the song goes. They say the eagle flies on Friday. But one wonders.

Still, he's commander-in-chief. There must be someone around to bully. And there was one bright spot after all - Bolton got his last licks in. Two weeks before Bolton's "departure" (use the approved word) was announced, his UN team tried to block an effort to commemorate the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade of yore. That must have been fun.

What was the point? Why bother?

Because you can. It's a bully thing, and probably pissed off the parents back in Texas. What's the point in being commander-in-chief if you and your people can't swagger and show the world you don't care what anyone thinks? Thinking about that might have brightened the bad Monday.

Posted by Alan at 22:04 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006 22:08 PST home

Sunday, 3 December 2006
Talking Trash to Look Good
Topic: Iraq

Talking Trash to Look Good

Perhaps it is far too early to be considering who to vote for in 2008 - when no one can vote for George Bush. Oh sure, people can write in his name, and probably will - the thirty-one percent who persist in thinking he's doing a wonderful job - but by law, he cannot serve a third term. Someone else will lead the free world, as they say, in January 2009.

The positioning to determine who that will be has already begun, and it is becoming fairly obvious there may be a third party campaign, led by two characters with whom neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are very comfortable at all. Those two would be Senator John "The Maverick" McCain, whose "straight-talk express" has on and off infuriated his fellow Republicans, and Senator Joe "The Last Honest Man" Lieberman, who badly lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut then ran as an independent, and won, with support from the far right and funding from the White House. As a rule, never trust anyone who says he is "The Last Honest Man" - run for the hills and hide your wallet. Such self-proclamations are the stuff of sales pitches for used cars recovered from the muck of New Orleans and shined up. Ah well, Lieberman says he's now above partisan politics, and "for the people." McCain implicitly claims the same thing. It's no wonder there is speculation the two will hook up and run together - to get us beyond all the bickering. It's too bad both are quite mad.

But the first weekend in December they got their opening - another leaked memo. As that weekend began, the New York Times reported they had been given a copy of a confidential memo, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to President Bush, written two days before Rumsfeld was tossed aside. Putting aside the question of some sort of internal coup in progress - a group of people out to embarrass the president and make trouble leaking internal memos - this particular memo was odd. Rumsfeld noted things in Iraq were a bit of a mess and a big change in direction might be a good idea - "go minimal" with far fewer troops, somehow force the hapless Iraqi government to "pull up its socks" (really), redeploy to the border, or to the main bases, or to the Kurdish north. It was a grab bag of general ideas, and Rumsfeld said he didn't really care for any of them. Perhaps they sounded too much like what everyone who opposed him had been saying - from Jack Murtha to the young lefties posting on the net. It really doesn't matter. He's gone now.

Sunday, December 3, there was the expected fallout. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, looking a bit depressed and haggard, did what he had to do - he faced Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press and did the requisite spin. You can watch a clip of that, with a partial transcript, here, but what it came down to was Russert pointing out that the Rumsfeld memo suggested a strategy of partial withdrawal. It really did. Russert asked why, when others had raised this idea in the past, "they were accused by your White House of cutting and running." Hadley told Russert "maybe you misunderstand what the memo was about" - Rumsfeld wrote no such thing and the memo was simply an effort by Rumsfeld to "broaden the debate," and certainly was "not a game plan or an effort to set out the way forward in Iraq." The man, one must assume, was just noodling around. He does that. The memo, we were left to gather, was thus inconsequential. And Hadley later added, by the way, that we're clearly winning in Iraq. We are? Of course he had to say that. He was having a bad morning, but someone had to say something about this all. He drew the short straw.

But there are not a whole lot of good ideas floating around for how to deal with this post-war war. There aren't even any workable ideas. It's no wonder Rumsfeld's memo said no option he had listed was really very good. Maybe he did resign voluntarily, after all.

That is not to say there are not ideas floating around. And that brings up McCain and Lieberman. They have an idea - escalate the war, big time, pouring in tens of thousands more troops. The idea seems odd, but it is a matter of getting elected in 2008 to run everything, of course.

Holly Bailey, in the December 11 issue of Newsweek, explains what this is all about in McCain's Ground War, with the subhead - "The senator is calling for more boots on the ground in Iraq. Is this any way to wage a presidential campaign?"

Yes it is, perhaps, but it has its risks -
Since the election, the Arizona senator has pushed for more, not fewer, troops in the Iraq conflict, claiming "without additional ground forces we will not win this war." It's a striking stance for a man considered to be the front runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, considering the American public's growing impatience for the end of the war. Even in conservative New Hampshire, 38 percent of voters now support bringing troops "home ASAP," according to the most recent Granite State poll. South Carolina, where a tough defeat ended McCain's 2000 campaign, will play an even more influential role in 2008 thanks to early placement in the primary calendar. There, too, Republican voters are growing unhappy with the war. "People are wondering how long this is going to go on," says Buddy Witherspoon, a Republican National Committeeman from Columbia. "I don't think a proposal like that is going to get McCain any votes down here."

Privately, some McCain supporters have begun to worry that the senator's hard line on the war may turn off the moderate, independent-minded voters who've long formed the bedrock of his primary support. "We lost independents," says one campaign adviser, who asked for anonymity discussing the politics of national security. "McCain will have to get them back to win, or at least convince them to trust him."

Still, some members of McCain's inner circle are convinced the position could actually work to his advantage - reminding independents of the maverick they fell in love with in 2000. In a 2008 campaign, aides say, the senator would accentuate his differences with the Bush administration over management of the Iraq occupation, stressing his early criticism of ousted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the persistent call for more troops. The hope, the campaign adviser says, is that even antiwar voters will gradually come to accept the position as "a long-term stand based on principle."
Yeah, and if things go to hell in a hand basket, as they certainly seem to be doing, he gets to say - see, if they had only listened to me, we'd have won everything and the world would love us and thank us.

And it's not just him, there's this video clip and transcript, Senator Lieberman, on CBS's Face the Nation while Hadley was on NBC, enthusiastically endorsing escalation in Iraq. He says he's really surprised Rumsfeld didn't suggest that in the memo - it was "surprising" that "the one thing [the memo] doesn't raise as a possibility is to increase the number of our troops." Lieberman claimed the failure to send more Americans "may well be a critical part of the problems that we've been having lately." We clearly "require more personnel on the ground in Iraq." The two are working together. Or perhaps the two are just soul mates.

But here is an interesting question -
What do those troops do?

Think of it this way: A company is losing profit against its competitors. No one can figure out why. If, in a well-run company, some advisor came in and said "Let's hire more people" without explaining exactly where those people would work and what they would do, the advisor would be booted out of the boss's office.

So far, it seems to me that McCain (and his enablers) keep saying "more troops! more troops!" without explaining the mission of the added troops. All they are truly calling for is more of the same.

Would someone in the press please ask the question above?
Someone in the press may ask, one day. Or they may not. We have a press that doesn't ask questions. They just report what's said.

For a more acerbic take on the question of what massive numbers of additional troops would actually do when and if they get to Iraq, see William S. Lind, who is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation, whatever that may be. He thinks the whole idea is just stupid -
The latest serpent at which a drowning Washington Establishment is grasping is the idea of sending more American troops to Iraq. Would more troops turn the war there in our favor? No.

Why not? First, because nothing can. The war in Iraq is irredeemably lost. Neither we nor, at present, anyone else can create a new Iraqi state to replace the one our invasion destroyed. Maybe that will happen after the Iraqi civil war is resolved, maybe not. It is in any case out of our hands.

Nor could more American troops control the forces driving Iraq's intensifying civil war. The passions of ethnic and religious hatred unleashed by the disintegration of the Iraqi state will not cool because a few more American patrols pass through the streets. Iraqi's are quite capable of fighting us and each other at the same time.
Then there is the question of what they actually would do -
… [the reason] more troops would make no difference is that the troops we have there now don't know what to do, or at least their leaders don't know what they should do. For the most part, American troops in Iraq sit on their Forward Operating Bases; in effect, we are besieging ourselves. Troops under siege are seldom effective at controlling the surrounding countryside, regardless of their number.

When American troops do leave their FOBs, it is almost always to run convoys, which is to say to provide targets; to engage in meaningless patrols, again providing targets; or to do raids, which are downright counterproductive, because they turn the people even more strongly against us, where that is possible. Doing more of any of these things would help us not at all.

More troops might make a difference if they were sent as part of a change in strategy, away from raids and "killing bad guys" and toward something like the Vietnam war's CAP program, where American troops defended villages instead of attacking them. But there is no sign of any such change of strategy on the horizon, so there would be nothing useful for more troops to do.

Even a CAP program would be likely to fail at this stage of the Iraq war, which points to the third reason more troops would not help us: more troops cannot turn back the clock. For the CAP or "ink blot" strategy to work, there has to be some level of acceptance of the foreign troops by the local people. When we first invaded Iraq, that was present in much of the country.

But we squandered that good will with blunder upon blunder. How many troops would it take to undo all those errors? The answer is either zero or an infinite number, because no quantity of troops can erase history. The argument that more troops in the beginning, combined with an ink blot strategy, might have made the Iraq venture a success does not mean that more troops could do the same thing now.
And note his closing -
The clinching argument against more troops also relates to time: sending more troops would mean nothing to our opponents on the ground, because those opponents know we could not sustain a significantly larger occupation force for any length of time. So what if a few tens of thousands more Americans come for a few months? The U.S. military is strained to the breaking point to sustain the force there now. Where is the rotation base for a much larger deployment to come from?

The fact that Washington is seriously considering sending more American troops to Iraq illustrates a common phenomenon in war. As the certainty of defeat looms ever more clearly, the scrabbling about for a miracle cure, a deus ex machina, becomes ever more desperate - and more silly. Cavalry charges, Zeppelins, V-2 missiles, kamikazes, the list is endless. In the end, someone finally has to face facts and admit defeat. The sooner someone in Washington is willing to do that, the sooner the troops we already have in Iraq will come home - alive.
Sure, one can say this is defeatist nonsense. But one can also say a major escalation with twenty thousand or more additional troops, assuring victory (whatever that means this day of the week), may be triumphalist nonsense. Take your pick.

But McCain will ride this one-trick pony for all it's worth (as in the Paul Simon song). And Lieberman is with him.

Yep, he's a maverick, although Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly suggests that too may be nonsense -
McCain's people seem to be confusing "maverick" with "popular." When McCain broke with his party to support campaign finance reform or a patients' bill of rights, he was backing positions that were popular with the electorate. Ditto for fuel efficiency standards and an end to torture. In fact, nearly all of McCain's "maverick" positions have been carefully crafted to appeal to the broad middle of the country.

In other words, they weren't maverick positions at all. They only seemed that way when the comparison point was the right wing of the Republican Party. Conversely, doubling down in Iraq is a very different beast: it's unpopular, it exudes stubbornness rather than fresh thinking, and it looks opportunistic rather than independent.

McCain's straight-talk schtick has always been a twofer: the press eats it up because it loves politicians who break with their party occasionally, and the public loves it because McCain is taking positions most of them agree with. But Iraq is going to be different: this time McCain is taking a position more extreme than the rest of the Republican Party. He's going to lose the press because his position seems increasingly bull-headed instead of brave, and he's going to lose the public because he's taking a stand they don't agree with.

For once, McCain is being a genuine maverick. I think he's about to find out that that was never really what people admired about him in the first place.
As with Lieberman, McCain could easily been seen as just talking trash, to get what he wants.

But some, like Digby at Hullabaloo, see that McCain's position, while risky, has its internal logic -
The McCain Iraq escalation plan is a very dicey proposition, but not necessarily for the reasons stated in that [Newsweek] article. He's making some assumptions about the state of play in 2008, not how voters are thinking in 2006. If there is no escalation and things continue to disintegrate, which it will no matter what we do, it allows McCain to run against both Bush and the Democrats (as any GOP candidate will have to do) and say that if they'd followed his advice we would have won the war. The Democrat will be left with "we should have admitted that we lost two years ago" which is not exactly a stirring refrain. The lines are already being drawn between the cowardly Dems who urged a pullout and the brave Republicans who did their best and were betrayed by the vast hippie conspiracy. Nobody will be better positioned to creatively use that argument for himself than McCain if he can say that he had the "winning" plan and nobody listened.

I realize that is an absurd position. But when you're talking about presidential politics it's exactly the kind of position that can win. I think it's a very smart move.

However, if the McCain Iraq escalation plan is actually gaining ground, as it seems to be, with his exact request for 20,000 troops being bandied about by the Pentagon [see the Washington Post here] and others, then perhaps McCain is going to see his plan put into action rather than have it as a conveniently theoretical alternate reality. As I said before, I don't want to see any more troops sent over to that meat grinder. But if it happens, it's going to mess up McCain, big time.

If he goes into '08 being the guy who escalated the war when we were about to end it and it didn't work, he's got a problem. If it remains theoretical, he may be able to get away with it by appealing to American's need to believe that we would have won if only we'd done it right. Nobody should delude themselves into thinking that many Americans aren't going to find that appealing. In America "losing" must be blamed on someone and firmly establishing the other side as being responsible is going to be the number one job of both parties and each individual candidate over the next two years. It isn't going to be pretty.

St John and Holy Joe are pushing to send more troops to their deaths for cynical political reasons. They are betting that Bush won't do what they want him to do. I certainly hope they don't send any more soldiers over there to get killed. But it would probably be better for the Democrats if they did.
That's about it - this seems to be an elaborate "don't blame me" game. And what's not stated here, of course, is "St John and Holy Joe" know full well that finding another twenty-thousand troops, getting them equipped and trained, and over there, cannot be done quickly. We may need them right now, but that cannot possibly happen - so they're both covered. If the administration does, somehow, agree and send "the brave twenty-thousand" and we suffer massive losses, or even the nine or ten a weekend as we do now, and things do not get better, as seems likely, "St John and Holy Joe" can always say the administration acted too late, and should have had these guys in the pipeline ten months earlier. No matter what happens, they come off as having been "right." It's a pretty nifty trick. And it's probably best for the two of them if lots of our guys die - it just emphasizes how screwed up this all is, and had they been in charge form the get-go, we'd have won this thing. It takes a lot of ego to run for office. And dead people help quite a bit.

But the White House has a countermove, as on the Sunday talk shows this oozed out - "President Bush is weighing a range of options in Iraq, including a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from violence-plagued cities and a troop buildup near the Iranian and Syrian borders, his top security aide said today."

So much for "St John and Holy Joe" - this would shift things in an entirely new direction.

Richard Einhorn doesn't like the direction -
… I felt quite certain that if Bush agreed to a withdrawal, he would find a way to do it that would make matters far worse. Exactly how he could manage such an astonishing feat I had no idea, Torch Najaf? Destroy Fallujah again? Nevertheless, I know this president. I knew he was capable of making a troop withdrawal as insane an action as all his others.

… Do I have to spell out what's so awful about this? Ok, I suppose I do.

Since late this spring, Seymour Hersh has been publishing article after article detailing behind the scenes plan for nuclear war with Iran. That's right, nuclear war with Iran. Sometime around April, there was a revolt among the US generals who insisted that the nuclear option be removed from discussions about military options re: Iran before they would agree to discuss them. Only after the generals went semi-public did the Administration back down and take the nuclear option out of discussion. Now if you believe Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld stopped jonesing - and planning - for the Big Bang on Iran, you're a fool. But ok, at least officially, active planning to hit Iran continued, but no nukes (wink, wink).

Recently, Hersh reported after the November election that as far as Cheney was concerned, the Bush administration will simply circumvent Congress if he, Cheney, deems it necessary to whack Iran or Syria. And believe me, he does so deem it necessary.

Soooo, we come to today. The Iraqi civil war that Bush/Iraq ignited has descended, as many said it would, to close to utter anarchy. And the US, weakened -as Kurtz [Howard Kurtz, media critic of the Washington Post and CNN] so helpfully informed us - by all those Democrats who want America to "lose" is demanding withdrawal. And lo and behold, Emperor George listens to his subjects. We will given them withdrawal.

Now, no one said where they wanted the troops withdrawn to. Surely you didn't expect Bush to ship them all to Honolulu and spend the rest of their service sipping Mai Tais and lowering their precious supply of oxytocin engaging in fornication with the locals, now did you?

So Americans want withdrawal? They're getting withdrawal. To the Syrian and Iranian borders. Where else?

Check it out: Bush will tell us, as he always has, that the Iranians and/or the Syrians - it depends on which day it is as to who's to blame - are the ones doing all the mischief in the Middle East. "That's why I withdrew 'em!" You can see the smirk, can't you, as he says he's just doing what we wanted in the best way he sees fit. And no doubt, the soldiers will be very useful interdicting the clotted mass of terrorists sneaking over the borders.

But here's the genius of it. If tensions rise maybe - say, if Iranians foolishly get alarmed that American troops are massing on the border after nine months of rumors of an American nuclear attack, and an Iranian sneezes a little too loudly - why how convenient! Before you can fake a bad Colonel Klink accent and mutter "blitzkrieg," kaboom! That's one small step for some troops, one more insane new war for a total moron and a horrified world.

Face it, ladies, gentlemen, and Republicans. When it comes to malicious incompetence, they broke the mold when it comes to 43…
Einhorn seems a bit bitter. Politics can make you bitter. Lots of people have to die so you can obtain power, and keep it. Of course it has always been so.

Posted by Alan at 21:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006 07:12 PST home

Saturday, 2 December 2006
December Arrives
Topic: Perspective

December Arrives

"I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood." - Bill Watterson

"Too bad Lassie didn't know how to ice skate, because then if she was in Holland on vacation in winter and someone said 'Lassie, go skate for help,' she could do it." - Jack Handy

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." - Andrew Wyeth

"There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings." - Quentin Crisp

"There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes." - Emily Dickinson

"A moment, and its glory was no more. The sun went down beneath the long dark lines of hill and cloud which piled up in the west an airy city, wall heaped on wall, and battlement on battlement; the light was all withdrawn; the shining church turned cold and dark; the stream forgot to smile; the birds were silent; and the gloom of winter dwelt on everything." - Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit

"It was one of those chilly and empty afternoons in early winter, when the daylight is silver rather than gold and pewter rather than silver." - G. K. Chesterton, The Wisdom of Father Brown "The last day of the old year was one of those bright, cold, dazzling winter days, which bombard us with their brilliancy, and command our admiration but never our love." - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams

"Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm, Raineth drop and staineth slop, And how the wind doth ramm! Sing: Goddamm." - Ezra Pound

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up yours.'" - Robert Byrne

"Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition." - Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

"Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer." - Plutarch, Moralia

"Winter is not a season, it's an occupation." - Sinclair Lewis

"In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary." - Aaron Rose

"The purpose of life is to fight maturity." - Dick Werthimer

"The aging process has you firmly in its grasp if you never get the urge to throw a snowball." - Doug Larson

"A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." - Carl Reiner

Posted by Alan at 17:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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