Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Thursday, 7 December 2006
There's Got To Be a Morning After
Topic: For policy wonks...

There's Got To Be a Morning After

Hollywood trivia - The Morning After (music and lyrics by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha) won the Oscar in 1972 for "Best Song." It was from The Poseidon Adventure - a schlock disaster film with big stars. Shelly Winters was brassy and brave as the ship rolled over and eventually sank. And the film was almost a disaster too - shooting was delayed twice because of the projected production costs, and finally began only when Irwin Allen and his outside backers matched the investment of Twentieth Century Fox. The story is that Allen found those backers by walking across the street from the Fox lot - Pico Boulevard down at Motor - to the country club there, where he found some friends playing cards. During the card game they somehow agreed to back the film. He was persuasive, or had good cards. But here's the kicker - because the studio never really had to spend any of the backer's money, the backers made a profit from the success of the film without actually spending a thing. They just said they would, if they really had to. Somehow one thinks of Halliburton and Iraq, and shipwrecks. Someone made a killing.

The song, which was a minor hit for Maureen McGovern (great voice and the charisma of a turnip), was one of those "it's always darkest before the dawn" things - "There's got to be a morning after, if we can make it through the night" and so on. People like that sort of thing. Some of us prefer posters like this - "It's always darkest before it goes pitch black." But when you're down, it is nice to think that the best thing to do is pack it in, get some sleep and things will look better in the morning. Heck, Hemingway used those four words from John Donne for the title his first novel, "The Sun Also Rises" - and it always does, even if he was being ironic. The novel ends on the road out of Biarritz as everything has gone beyond sour -
"Oh, Jake," Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together."

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
Hemingway blew his brains out before he could hear this or that tiny but awfully cute child actress belting out The sun'll come out tomorrow, badly but earnestly. "Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, Tomorrow! You're always a day a-way." Well, yes. The logic is impeccable. But is the tomorrow in question any better?

Think about how the week starting Monday, December 4, had gone for the president. Monday his in-your-face UN ambassador was forced to resign, Tuesday his nominee for Secretary of Defense, Roberts Gates, was asked in his initial confirmation hearing if we were winning the war in Iraq, and Gates, without missing a beat said no, we were not. Wednesday, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group released its report - things were dire and we had to make big changes in policy, involving doing something else entirely with our 144,000 troops, and involving talking with governments with whom we said we would never talk, and all the rest. We had screwed up, and we needed to rethink this all. And this from his father's guys. Yipes.

And as Steve Gilliard, notes that wasn't all -
Okay.

Your father has to defend you from a savage attack on your character.

He breaks down in tears when discussing your brother.

He sends his best friend to save your ass and you act like he shouldn't have bothered.

Your daughters decide not to spend Thanksgiving with you, and one decided to spend Christmas with her new Argentinean boyfriend, whose employment status is questionable.

Oh yeah, the tabloids have been discussing your divorce for the last six months.

The Bush family is falling apart before our eyes, and the only people reporting it is the tabloids.

So when does Laura finally snap and turn on Bush and his "wife" Condi?

If this didn't involve dying people, this would be fun to watch - the Bush family, who think of themselves as some kind of American royalty, when they are basically mediocre WASPs, fall into torpor and disunion.
Things were bleak indeed. So, would Thursday, December 7, be better, or was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor to be as dismal as the other days? Surely it wouldn't be another day that would live in infamy.

The day, however, brought word of how the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group were going down in Baghdad. Were they grateful for a possible change in things? The answer was no, not really -
They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes.

… Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.

"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.
They knew, and it was kind of unanimous. Sunnis were upset at the proposals that seemed to favor Shiites, and Shiites upset at the proposals that seem to favor Sunnis. And no one has any better ideas then the Baker group had. They just knew that this report doesn't really have much to do with them. And Kevin Drum notes that the now famous report "doesn't say a single word about promoting democracy either in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East?" Who knows what it was about?

It's about moving forward, or as William Arkin, the Defense reporter at the Washington Post, comments, it really isn't -
Here's how I see Iraq playing out in the short term: The president makes an announcement within a month about his "new" plan. Washington is ever so pleased with a new approach. But the a la carte plan is seen by the Iraqis for what it is; it is not a U.S. timetable for withdrawal. It is not an unequivocal pledge not to establish permanent bases. It is sovereignty and authority in name only for Iraq with continued American control behind the scenes. I can't see [how] any of this equivocation will deflate the insurgency or stem the hatred for America that is fueled by our presence.

The "plan," in other words, is neither what the American people nor the Iraqi people want.
The plan, such as it is, "merely kicks the day of reckoning further down the road." And of course every single additional day that we spend in Iraq just makes our eventual disengagement harder, and bloodier. Kevin Drum again - "Always remember: things can get even worse than they are now. They have for each of the previous three years, after all."

And have a nice day. And Michael Gordon in the New York Times was reporting the military advisors to the Iraq Study Group said the key idea - embedding our advisors with Iraqi units and then withdrawing all our combat troops within a year - was crap. It looks like the group didn't even discuss its military recommendations with its own military advisory panel -
Jack Keane, the retired acting Army chief of staff who served on the group's panel of military advisers, described that goal as entirely impractical. "Based on where we are now we can't get there," General Keane said in an interview, adding that the report's conclusions say more about "the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq."

... The group's final military recommendations were not discussed with the retired officers who serve on the group's Military Senior Adviser Panel before publication, several of those officers said.
Why bother? This didn't have much to do with the possible.

One of Josh Marshall's readers noticed something else -
I've noticed a pattern in the official and media portrayal of the situation in Iraq that I am curious if others have also noticed. Bush, ISG, and other "advice reports" all seem to assume that the official government of Iraq, as personified by Nuri Maliki, has the same intentions for Iraq that we do.

This assumption seems crazy to me as contrary evidence is everywhere. Maliki has repeatedly demonstrated favoritism toward the Shia and its militias and seems to be sponsoring - or at least openly tolerating - the Shia militias' conflict with the Sunni militias. Iraq is making commercial deals with Iran openly, publicly, and in clear defiance of us. Maliki ordered our troops to take down the barricades we had constructed to rescue a kidnapped soldier in Sadr City, immediately after Moqtada al-Sadr pressured him to do so. Sadr even kidnapped all the bureaucrats in Iraq's Education ministry in broad daylight. Can anyone seriously contend that was done without the official government's knowledge and approval?

Here's the point. If the true aim of Iraq's official government is what it seems; i.e., develop close ties with the Shia community in Iran, annihilate the Sunnis, and establish an Islamic government, why are we continuing to assist them?
Ah… because the president says we should? Marshall asks the obvious - "Without addressing this specific question, is there any substantial body of people in Iraq - south of Kurdistan at least - who wants anything remotely like what President Bush wants? What is our constituency?"

Who knows? Nicole Belle lines things up -
So let me see if I have this straight: We invaded a country for whatever reason du jour (WMDs, Saddam an evil dictator, 9/11, terrorists, etc.), without the people at the top having the foreknowledge of the history of the area or the difference between various Muslim sects, took out the relatively secular (although admittedly dictator-based) government in favor of a far more Islamic (but democratically elected) government and continued to occupy said country, fighting in some cases FOR the Shia (being assisted by our sworn enemies, Iran) and against the insurgent Sunnis (that our allies, the Saudis, support). Have I got that right?

Anyone else thinking that the people in charge do not know their ass from their elbow? Feel safer in that "War on Terror"?
No, not really, considering late the same dismal day things got worse -
Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.

Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition. But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities. Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq's insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anti-coalition forces, the officials said.

In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said.
Oh great, our Saudi ally is funding those picking off our troops and now shooting down our planes.

No, really -
Allegations the insurgents have purchased shoulder-fired Strela missiles raise concerns that they are obtaining increasingly sophisticated weapons.

On Nov. 27, a U.S. Air Force F-16 jet crashed while flying in support of American soldiers fighting Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent hotbed. The U.S. military said it had no information about the cause of the crash. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said he would be surprised if the jet was shot down because F-16's have not encountered weapons capable of taking them down in Iraq.

But last week, a spokesman for Saddam's ousted Baath party claimed that fighters armed with a Strela missile had shot down the jet.

"We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans)," Khudair al-Murshidi, the spokesman told the AP in Damascus, Syria. He would not say how the Strelas were obtained.
Well, Saddam had a few of them. They could be leftovers. The president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, wrote in that recent leaked memo that Washington should "step up efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role in supporting Iraq, by using its influence to move Sunni populations out of violence into politics." Good luck with that. The week before, a Saudi who headed a security consulting group close to the Saudi government, Nawaf Obaid, wrote in the Washington Post that Saudi Arabia would use money, oil and support for Sunnis to counter Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq if American troops pulled out (previously discussed here). The Saudi government denied the report and fired Obaid. But something is up. Those private citizens can be pesky. This thing is going regional, and beyond the governments.

And as for the dream of embedding our guys with their guys, Matthew Yglesias sees where that is heading -
The headline call to withdraw all-or-most US combat brigades from Iraq by 2008 is actually pretty misleading. This is supposed to be combined with embedding something like 20,000 American soldiers directly inside the Iraqi Army. We're also supposed to go forward with the plan to build this giant embassy with thousands of people working in it. They also want us to increase the quasi-civilian presence in Iraq by sending FBI, DOJ, and other people to build up Iraqi law enforcement capabilities. And to increase the level of intelligence assets in Iraq. What's more, special operations forces, air power, etc. are all supposed to remain available, though perhaps based just over the border.

The upshot of this if you could really pull it off would be to create something akin to the British Indian Army, where the United States would have effective control over the institutions of the Iraqi state. America's embedded officers - down to the company level - would be in de facto command of a large body of Iraqi cannon fodder, with US civilians similarly embedded throughout many of Iraq's civilian agencies. Whatever you think of this idea (and I don't think much of it) the government of Iran certainly isn't going to think much of it. One could imagine them helping us do something in Iraq, but creating a stable, effective government controlled from Washington, DC isn't on that list.
You can read all about the British Indian Army here, and we know what finally happened in India - although Gandhi's tactics were not much like those used in Iraq these days. Just what are we doing?

And then the same day, wouldn't you know, the Brit came to town - Tony Blair visited George Bush, they chatted, and then they held a press conference together. They might as well have been singing that song from Annie, or the one from the big budget seventies movie about the doomed, overturned and sinking ship. Things will be fine. Tomorrow is another day. (It is, by definition.)

The president flat-out rejected the key recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group, and Blair embraced them. But they were both optimistic, in their own ways.

President Bush would have nothing to do with the proposal that Iran and Syria be included in regional talks aimed at ending Iraq's worsening civil war, which he says isn't really a civil war. He restated the standard White House position - talks with Tehran were conditional. They had to stop that uranium enrichment, while contacts with they Syrians in Damascus would depend on an end to Syrian destabilization of Lebanon. They had to stop the arms and money flows over the border to Lebanon, and to Iraqi bad guys - "We've made that position very clear. And the truth of the matter is that these countries have now got the choice to make." He was firm - "If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy. Just make some decisions that'll lead to peace, not to conflict."

Nothing will change. And Blair said a regional peace initiative as suggested would be cool - the only basis for those discussions should be acceptance of UN resolutions on Iraq. The curious thing is that later a Downing Street spokesman confirmed the British position of demanding a halt to uranium enrichment while just continuing to talk to Iran on other issues - "In terms of our position, we continue to have diplomatic relations with Iran and have always done so." George must think Tony is a fool.

As for the study group saying it would be a good idea to work out a de-escalation of the Israel-Palestine mess, Blair has always said that was key, and Bush shined him on. No change there. Bush shrugged. He's waiting for the other reports. He's asked General Pace at the Pentagon to write one, and the National Security Council to write one. Heck, he may have asked the EPA and the Boy Scouts of America for reports on what to do. Tony and his Israel-Palestine is just one more view, after all. He's more interested in what the military says -
"Baker-Hamilton is a really important part of our considerations," the president said. "But we want to make sure the military gets their point of view in. After all, a lot of what we're doing is a military operation."

The military report is not expected to propose substantial troop withdrawals and may even advocate a brief surge in the US military presence in Iraq. President Bush yesterday made it clear he was more likely to listen to that kind of advice. He said: "Our commanders will be making recommendations based upon whether or not we're achieving our stated objective."
And he mentioned he'd asked for a study from the State Department too, as that would only be fair. But Tony Blair is just one guy. Baker's crew is just a bunch of people with opinions. He said he'd decide on something later, and tell us all when he did. He will only talk of eventual "victory" - whatever that means. And he'll decide things. Earlier in the day, when the press secretary Tony Snow was asked if James Baker would be advising the president on a continuing basis, Snow was blunt - "Jim Baker can go back to his day job now." So opinions are just opinions. They will be noted. And the president will then go with his "gut instinct." That's how things work.

It's getting harder to hum those show tunes. Blair is good at it, but he must have been privately appalled. He was doing his plaintive Maureen McGovern thing, mixed with a bit of Annie. The president was stuck in a John Wayne movie, with no catchy songs - just a cowboy harmonica in the distant background.

The reality is neither, but what Martin Jacques describes in The Guardian (UK), on Friday, December 8, with The Neocons Have Finished What the Vietcong Started -
Just a month after the American electorate delivered a resounding rebuff to the Bush Iraq policy, the great and the good - in the guise of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) - have subjected that policy to a withering critique. The administration has had the political equivalent of a car crash. George Bush is being routinely condemned as one of the worst presidents ever, and his Iraq policy no longer enjoys the support of a large swath of the American establishment. The neoconservatives suddenly find themselves isolated and embattled: Rumsfeld has been sacked, Cheney has gone quiet, the likes of Richard Perle are confined to the sidelines. The president is on his own and it is difficult to see how Bush can avoid moving towards the ISG position. The political map is being redrawn with extraordinary alacrity.

Before our eyes, the neoconservative position is disintegrating. Its foreign-policy tenets have been shown to be false. As is now openly admitted, they have brought the US to the verge of disaster in Iraq, which is why the American version of the "men in grey suits" has ridden to the rescue. After less than six years in office, elected at a time when the US was unchallenged as the sole superpower, the Bush administration has managed to deliver the country to the edge of what can only be compared to a Vietnam moment: the political and military defeat of the central and defining plank of American foreign policy.
Of course that's wrong. The president can avoid anything he wishes to avoid.

And Jacques notes this just isn't Vietnam. Actually, it's worse -
In 1975 the Americans suffered a spectacular military defeat at the hands of North Vietnam and the Vietcong, with US helicopters seeking to rescue leading US personnel from the tops of buildings as Vietnamese guerrillas closed in on the centre of Saigon. It was to shape American foreign policy - in particular, a desire to avoid overseas military entanglements - for decades. Indeed, the rise of the neoconservatives was partly predicated on a rejection of what they saw as American defeatism during and after the Vietnam War. Iraq is very different. There is no single enemy with a clear military strategy. Baghdad will not be Saigon. This is a case of an endless, bloody and unwinnable quagmire rather than any spectacular denouement in waiting.

But the Iraq moment is far more dangerous for the US than the Vietnam moment. Although one of the key justifications for the Vietnam war was to prevent the spread of communism, the US defeat was to produce nothing of the kind: apart from the fact that Cambodia and Laos became embroiled, the effects were essentially confined to Vietnam. There were no wider political repercussions in east Asia: ironically, it was China that was to invade North Vietnam in 1979 (and deservedly got a bloody nose).

The regional consequences of the Iraq imbroglio are, in comparison, immediate, profound and far-reaching. The civil war threatens to unhinge more or less the entire Middle East. The neoconservative strategy - to remake the region single-handedly (with the support of Israel, of course) - has been undermined by its own hubris. The American dilemma is patent in some of the key recommendations of the ISG report: to involve Iran and Syria in any Iraqi settlement (including the return of the Golan Heights to Syria) and to seek a new agreement between Israel and Palestine. In short, it proposes a reversal of the key strands of Bush's foreign policy.
We just aren't going to be able to do what we said we'd do. The world has changed -
The American era is now over.

In future the US will be forced to share its influence with regional powers such as Iran, with the EU - and no doubt in time, with emerging global players such as China and perhaps even Russia. Such a scenario may well mean that the key alliance that has shaped the Middle East since 1956 - between the US and Israel - will no longer be so pivotal and could be increasingly downgraded. From a regional standpoint, it is clear that the Iraq moment is far more serious for the US than the Vietnam moment.

What is true regionally is also the case globally. We are reminded of how even the most powerful and, indeed, the most knowledgeable can get things profoundly wrong. It is worthwhile recalling the longer-term global context of the American defeat in Vietnam. It did not signal any serious upturn in the fortunes of the Soviet Union; this was already in a state of economic stagnation and growing political paralysis that was to become terminal in the 80s, leaving the US as the sole superpower. It was this that encouraged the neoconservatives to utterly misread the historical runes at the end of the 90s. They believed that the world was ripe for a huge expansion of American power and influence.

A few years later we can see the full absurdity of this position. Far from the US being in the ascendant, deeper trends have moved in the opposite direction. The US might enjoy overwhelming military advantage, but its relative economic power, which in the long run is almost invariably decisive, is in decline. The interregnum after the cold war, far from being the prelude to a new American age, was bearing the signs of what is now very visible: the emergence of a multipolar world. By misreading global trends, the Bush administration's embrace of unilateralism not only provoked the Iraq disaster but also hastened American decline.
The necessary shift is obvious - some form of power-sharing on both a global and regional basis, and things depending on the involvement of Iran and Syria in this specific case. We're talking a BIG change here. That's what the Baker guys were really suggesting, perhaps. And maybe they think pigs will fly - tomorrow. There does have to be a morning after, of some sort.

Posted by Alan at 22:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006 08:04 PST home

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

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