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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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Tuesday, 19 December 2006
Surfing the Big Surge
Topic: Iraq

Surfing the Big Surge

When Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff became rich and famous did his friends start calling him Big Serge? Maybe so.

Be that as it may, we're in for the Big Surge. Tuesday, December 19, that became clear. As it was in Vietnam when things didn't go well, so it will be in Iraq. We will throw more troops at the problem. That seems certain in spite of the news that morning from the Washington Post. It seems the leadership of the military isn't okay with that -
The Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military.

... The Pentagon has cautioned that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops, the officials said.

… Even the announcement of a time frame and mission - such as for six months to try to secure volatile Baghdad - could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs have warned the White House.
So the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously say don't do that. The idea of "surging" fifteen to thirty thousand additional troops into Iraq in a last ditch effort to stabilize the country just makes no sense. Kevin Drum here says the Joint Chiefs know that the White House is "just casting around for plausible-sounding ideas and has no real plan for how to use the additional soldiers." But that's wrong. There is a plan for how to use these soldiers. Their mission is saving face.

The Post item indicates the military's caution on shipping thousands of additional troops "temporarily" to Iraq is based on the obvious case that such a move could be useless without new political and economic steps - basically they question whether sending more troops to Iraq would feed a perception that the mess in Iraq is mainly a military problem. It isn't. They seem to be saying that in their view the mess in Iraq is largely political, fed by economic distress, among other issues. Fixing that sort of thing is not what they do. The president must have them confused with State, or economic development people.

But that's not the point. The war is a disaster - sold to a reluctant public on claims that to some were dubious and in the end turned out to be completely bogus. Then it stretched on, and Iraq seemed to skip the civil war thing and go straight to general anarchy - one almost expects one of the many militias there to be led by a blustering, mustachioed General Anarchy. This year, in a joint report, all nineteen of our intelligence agencies concluded the war had fueled terrorism around the world, not tamped it down, and rather than making us safer had done the opposite. Training the new Iraqi army and police to rise above sectarian and religious concerns and work together - Shi'a, Sunni and Kurd, side by side and smiling, building a new and inclusive and tolerant Iraq - might never really have been possible. Now it is just laughable. And we were told that happening was the only way we would ever leave - when they stand up, we stand down. That's clearly not going to happen, in the real world. Then the midterm elections seemed to be a slap in the face to the president and the administration on the whole matter. Both houses of congress changed hands - and those who control the fund and chair the committees are now going to ask a whole lot of questions. The Iraq Study Group said things are "dire" and things must change. Approval for the president's handing of the war is at twenty-one percent. The percent who think sending more troops is a good idea? That would be eleven percent.

The real point here is the president proving he was not wrong, and he'll show everyone he was not. He'll send tens of thousands more of our guys into the fight to show us all we can win this thing, and we're all dead wrong. He will not be told he's wrong. Of course there was the effort, announced with great fanfare last summer, Operation Together Forward II, to pour more troops into Baghdad, to stop all the nonsense there. That worked for a few weeks - then things got even worse. But it will work this time. He will not be told he's wrong. So he'll try again.

See Tariq Ali in the Guardian (UK) with The War is Already Lost -
Once a war goes badly wrong and its justifications are shown to be lies, to insist that a "democratic" Iraq is visible on the horizon and that "we must stay the course" becomes a total fantasy. What is to be done?

In the US a group of Foggy Bottom elders was wheeled in to prepare a report. This admitted what the whole world (Downing Street excepted) already knew: the occupation is a disaster and the situation gets more hellish every day. After US citizens voted accordingly in the mid-term elections, the White House sacrificed the Pentagon warlord, Donald Rumsfeld.

… the old men in Washington recognize the scale of the disaster. Their descriptions are strong, their prescriptions weak and pathetic: "We agree with the goal of US policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." Elsewhere they recommend a deal with Tehran and Damascus to preserve post-withdrawal stability, implying that Baghdad can never be independent again. It was left to a military realist, Lieutenant-General William Odom, to demand a complete withdrawal in the next few months, a view backed by Iraqis (Shi'a and Sunni) in successive polls. The occupation, Kofi Annan informs us, has created a much worse situation than under Saddam.

… None of the scenarios being canvassed in Washington, including by the Democrats, envisage a total US withdrawal. That is a defeat too unbearable to contemplate, but the war has already been lost, together with half a million Iraqi lives. Trying to delay the defeat (as in Vietnam) by sending in a "surge" of troops is unlikely to work.
But we're going that route. As for the views of the Joint Chiefs, Drum points out the obvious -
If the Chiefs stand their ground, it will be very difficult for Bush to buck them. But if he gives up on the surge, what possible alternative can he offer that even remotely seems like a serious change of direction? Rock, meet hard place.
But then reader DK at Talking Points Memo has it all figured out -
It hit me the other day that what the surge is going to accomplish for Bush and Cheney is to take them through these next two years. By the time they can claim to have the extra troops in Baghdad it's gonna be May or June. They'll be there a few months till everyone has to admit that it isn't working (though in the interim I would predict the first really horrendous event in which our troops suffer a big loss, like 200 men in one blast), then it will be the end of 2007 and the argument will be about whether we should remove some of the surge troops. That will take a few months, at least, and we'll be in the throes of a presidential election. Bush won't want to do anything too "political" at that point, of course, so he'll happily leave it to the new prez to make shitcakes out of shit. And Bush and Cheney will spin it for all it's worth for the rest of their lives...
Maybe so, and if so, what do the Joints Chief matter here?

The president's press secretary, Tony Snow, late of Fox News, later in the day said there really was no disagreement with the Joint Chiefs anyway - "The president has not made a decision on the way forward, and he has asked military commanders to consider a range of options and they are doing so." So everyone should relax.

And someone had been watching Fox News -
Fred Barnes just said that it's not true that the joint chiefs unanimously oppose an escalation of the war - it's that they are afraid Bush won't send enough troops to get the job done and that if it's a temporary escalation, the whole place will fall apart after we pull those troops back out.

He didn't think those were important differences of opinion, naturally, because he has once again cast his lot with Junior, but really, these are huge and serious concerns.

It's clear that Bush is listening to these armchair Napoleons because they are saying that he can "win" if he just sends in a few more troops for a few months and claps louder. And his generals are all saying that the only way he can "win" is with a massive new army that stays in Iraq forever. That is the reality based choice for "winning." Period. And it isn't going to happen because 70% of the country have wised up to the fact that this pony hunt is making the country less safe and it's costing us our future.
Well, it actually is -
The Defense Department has requested $99.7 billion more in emergency funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism that, if approved, would bring war spending in fiscal 2007 to a record $170 billion.

The request is in a 17-page memo approved Dec. 7 by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England that is under review at the White House. About half the new money - $48 billion - would go to the Army, which says its costs have risen sharply as fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan drags on and more equipment is destroyed or damaged.

The request, added to the $70 billion that Congress approved in September, is 45 percent higher than the $117 billion in supplemental funding approved last year. It reflects an earlier England memo telling the services they could include expenses they considered related to the global war on terror even if not strictly to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Saving face is expensive. Lots of other things won't get funded - and big tax cuts for the wealthy don't help much either. But it's what we signed up for. The message to us is pretty much screw the Joints Chiefs, and screw public opinion, and screw the new congress that actually thinks they matter - the vote in 2004 was what it was. If you want change you'll have another shot at that in a few years. Until then the decider will decide - and you'll like it and shut up.

And at the end of the same day the Washington Post posted an item on their exclusive interview with the president - "President Bush said today that he plans to expand the size of the U.S. military to meet the challenges of a long-term global war against terrorists, a response to warnings that sustained deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the armed forces to near the breaking point."

This was just days after the Army's top general, Peter Schoomaker, warned that the service would "break" without more troops. So we'll fix that. The military commanders worry that the already "stretched" Army and Marine Corps would be even thinner once the now inevitable "short-term" surge ended? This has nothing to do with that. It will take years to add substantially to the size of the military. But you have to start somewhere. And Rumsfeld is really gone - he had laughed at any call to increase the size of the military, arguing that "technological advances and organizational changes" could give the Army and Marine Corps the extra capability it needed, when it needed that. That was his "transformation" crusade - technology-based "just in time" inventory control applied to the military. Oops. Maybe later.

Robert Burns, the Associated Press military writer, not the dead Scottish poet who messed up everyone's New Years Eve with that incomprehensible ditty, had a good roundup of this all, with these nuggets -
Rep. Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who will become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next month, echoed those sentiments Tuesday. "I'm convinced the Army and the Marines are near the breaking point," Skelton said, while expressing skepticism that a big troop surge would be worth the trouble.

… Even the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which advocated removing most combat troops by early 2008, said it could support a temporary increase if U.S. commanders believe it would be effective. Roughly one-third of the 140,000 American troops in Iraq are combat forces.

… The Army announced on Tuesday evening that it will accelerate the planned creation of two additional combat brigades as a means of relieving some of the strain on troops caused by repeated and increasingly frequent deployments to Iraq. Both brigades will be ready to join the rotations to Iraq by next April, 11 months ahead of schedule in the case of one brigade while 17 months ahead for the other.

… The American Enterprise Institute issued a report last week recommending a surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments starting next spring. A contributor to that report was retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was the vice chief of staff at the time the Iraq war was launched in 2003.

… Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said Saturday that one option under consideration by the president is sending five or more additional combat brigades, which equates to roughly 20,000 or more troops. Conway did not say he opposes that proposal, but he emphasized the potential drawbacks.

"We would fully support, I think, as the Joint Chiefs, the idea of putting more troops into Iraq if there is a solid military reason for doing that, if there is something to be gained," he said. "We do not believe that just adding numbers for the sake of adding numbers - just thickening the mix - is necessarily the way to go."

The five or more extra brigades would, he said, be units already scheduled to go to Iraq in a later rotation. But he added that using those troops now would mean "a lesser capable" force in the future.

"You better make sure your timing is right," he said. "Because if you commit the reserve for something other than a decisive win or to stave off defeat, then you have essentially shot your bolt."

The Army's Schoomaker told reporters last week that a surge would make sense only under certain conditions. "We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker said. "And that purpose should be measurable."
But how do you measure the president regaining the respect of the nation and the world? That's what this seems to be about.

Oh, and add this to the mix - "The Defense Department is thinking about a major buildup of U.S. Navy forces in the Gulf as a show of force against Iran, a senior defense official said Tuesday."

More of the same - the world WILL respect us. The next two years are laid out for all to see.

But what about the midterm elections? Didn't they change things?

E. J. Dionne in the Post argues they changed the fundamentals -
It wasn't all that long ago that Democrats and liberals were said to be out of touch with "the real America," which was defined as encompassing the states that voted for President Bush in 2004, including the entire South. Democrats seemed to accept this definition of reality, and they struggled - often looking ridiculous in the process - to become fluent in NASCAR talk and to discuss religion with the inflections of a white Southern evangelicalism foreign to so many of them.

Now the conventional wisdom sees Republicans in danger of becoming merely a Southern regional party. Isn't it amazing how quickly the supposedly "real America" was transformed into a besieged conservative enclave out of touch with the rest of the country? Now religious moderates and liberals are speaking in their own tongues, and the free-thinking, down-to-earth citizens in the Rocky Mountain states are, in large numbers, fed up with right-wing ideology.

Only a few months ago, it was widely thought that accusing opponents of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq would be enough to cast political enemies into an unpatriotic netherworld of wimps and "defeatocrats." Now the burden of proof is on those who claim that fighting in Iraq was a good idea and that the situation can be turned around.
Maybe the tables have turned. It's not just the Joint Chiefs. There's something in the air.

It may be the kids -
In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan's share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 voters under 30 gave 60 percent of their votes to Democratic House candidates, according to the shared media exit poll. Conservatism now looks old, tired and ineffectual.
Also note this -
Speaking as a political scientist.... Generally speaking, the "you get more conservative as you get older" myth really is a myth. People's ideological/partisan identification doesn't change much after the age of 30. If someone votes for the same party three times in a row, they're hooked for life. It takes some earth-shattering to change after that.

People don't get more conservative as they get older, but they do get more rigid. What happens is that ideology acts as an informational screen - people shield out stuff that is inconsistent with their predispositions (which is why FOX News works). So as we get older, our attitudes get reinforced.

So liberals should NOT get happy if people who are under 30 are on the left, because the young are very volatile. But after thirty, it's smooth sailing.
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the ridiculously influential "Kos," adds it up -
The youth vote turned out heavily in favor of Kerry and Democrats this year. If we can hold them in 2008 - and it's critical that the Democratic Congress and our 2008 nominee speak to this demographic - then we've got ourselves a massive demographic advantage over the coming decades.

Couple that with the fact that Darwinian capitalism is under attack, the war is a mess, people are tiring of having Christian fundamentalist morality shoved down their throats, and conservatism is nothing but a cesspool of corruption, and we're seeing the seeds of a solid governing progressive majority emerging in the next few election cycles.
And Kevin Drum chimes in - "Preach it, brother. If the 2006 election did nothing else, I hope it convinced the chattering classes that Iowa is no more the 'real America' than California is. We'll see."

In the meantime, there's a war to escalate. There seems no way to stop that.

Posted by Alan at 21:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 December 2006 07:02 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

Thursday, 30 November 2006
No Changes Ahead - Time to Blame Someone
Topic: Iraq

No Changes Ahead - Time to Blame Someone

Not that it mattered, but it should be noted -
AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 30 - President Bush delivered a staunch endorsement of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday morning and dismissed calls for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq as unrealistic, following a summit meeting in which the two leaders discussed speeding up the turnover of security responsibilities.
Maliki said the Iraqi government would take over security by June 2007 - and all this sectarian nonsense would stop. They'd be an impartial army and police force, beholding to no side, than would have things in hand. Bush smiled.

Later in the day, this should be noted -
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faced a widening revolt within his divided government as two senior Sunni politicians joined prominent Shiite lawmakers and Cabinet members in criticizing his policies.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said he wanted to see al-Maliki's government gone and another "understanding" for a new coalition put in place with guarantees that ensure collective decision making.

"There is a clear deterioration in security and everything is moving in the wrong direction," the Sunni leader told The Associated Press. "This situation must be redressed as soon as possible. If they continue, the country will plunge into civil war."

Al-Maliki's No. 2, Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, also a Sunni, argued that the president's government failed to curb the spread of sectarian politics.

A boycott by 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was in protest of al-Maliki's meeting with President Bush in Jordan on Thursday. The Sadrists said the meeting amounted to an affront to the Iraqi people.
At the press conference the president, asked about the upcoming recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, did say - "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there."

What if there's no government? Then what?

And the Washington Post has its eye on the Saudis, who seem to be signaling we'd really better not even think about withdrawing in any way, or the Saudi monarchy will take things into their own hands. The word comes from Nawaf Obaid - "an adviser to the Saudi government" - and of course his opinions "are his own and do not reflect official Saudi policy." Of course they don't. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

And this is the word -
Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance - funding, arms and logistical support - that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years. Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias.

... Remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region.

To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks - it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse.
And he also adds a warning to Iran - Saudi Arabia might also try to drive oil prices into the ground by increasing production and cutting its own prices in half. So much for their leverage. Regional war, and economic chaos, would be just fine. We'd just better not get too chummy with Maliki and the Shiites. And one has to assume the Saudis speak for our "allies" in the region - Jordon, Egypt and so on. Cheney's little trip to Saudi Arabia the weekend before - they seem to have summoned him there to read him the riot act - must have been nasty. Things are spinning out of control, and the our major Sunni allies aren't happy. There will be no "peace" if the Shiites control Iraq - sandwiched between their allies Iran and Syria. Our "allies" won't stand for that.

This is not good. The only government Iraq has at the moment is Shiite, holding onto tenuous power because the radial Sadr block - who want to wipe out the Sunnis - holds the thirty seats in parliament that allow Maliki to hold office. We've gotten ourselves into a fine mess.

The president says it will be all better. Maliki will fix things. It's not our business, really. We're just there to help him out, if he asks. Otherwise, we'll stand back. We did our part. It's a bit of a joke, but not particularly funny.

As for the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group offering the solution to this multi-faceted mess, both the New York Times and Washington Post got the inside scoop on what that panel will recommend when they released "the answer to everything." The Times says it will be pleasantly vague (or "mostly harmless" as Douglas Adams would say) - a gradual pulling back of our combat forces in Iraq, just what the president rejected out of hand at the Maliki press conference. The group will call for some sort of diplomacy with Syria and Iran, which the president says we will never try. As for the troops, the panel apparently won't be saying anything specific about when a pullback should start or what the pace of it should be. That's the president's call. And the Times says the group's report "leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries." But even as combat troops are pulled back the plan will be to add additional forces to serve as advisors for Iraqi security forces.

And there will be no timetable for anything. In the Post we learn that a source "familiar with the panel's recommendations" tells them that the committee's recommendation "wasn't as specific as that, and it was a lot more conditional." The whole item is here, a not very encouraging. No one really can say what "the conditions" are. It's more of the "make it up as you go along" way of doing things. It worked for Indiana Jones, didn't it?

The president was asked whether he had talked with Maliki about any "time limits" on the Iraqis' taking control of their own security at that press conference. His reply - "As quick as possible I've been asked about timetables ever since we got into this. All timetables mean is that it - it is a timetable for withdrawal. You keep asking me those questions. All that does is ... set people up for unrealistic expectations."

We're not going anywhere. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group seems to have been just for show, a bit of theatrics - to give the impression that "wise men" had looked this all and rally, there are no radical options. We just have to keep going on doing what we're doing, whatever that is. So being unhappy about it all is pointless. The "wise men" say so.

But people are unhappy, and thus it is time to assign some blame for this mess.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been keeping score - kind of like the line score some keep at a baseball game. It's a way to know what's going on.

First up is Stanley Kurtz at the National Review with this -
The underlying problem with this war is that, from the outset, it has been waged under severe domestic political constraints. From the start, the administration has made an assessment of how large a military the public would support, and how much time the public would allow us to build democracy and then get out of Iraq. We then shaped our military and "nation building" plans around those political constraints, crafting a "light footprint" military strategy linked to rapid elections and a quick handover of power. Unfortunately, the constraints of domestic American public opinion do not match up to what is actually needed to bring stability and democracy to a country like Iraq.
That's interesting. We just didn't have the will to do what was the right thing to do.

Marshall's analysis -
It may be a form of literary grade or concept inflation to call it irony. But the irony of this ludicrous statement is that from the outset it has been the American political opposition (the Democrats) and the internal bureaucratic opposition (sane people in the US government and military, not appointed by George W. Bush) who've pushed for a much larger military footprint in Iraq and much more real nation-building. These weren't 'domestic political constraints'. These were ideological constraints the administration placed on itself.

I would say Stanley should go back and familiarize himself with the debates in 2002, 2003 and 2004. But of course he was there.

We're now down to the Iraqi people or the American people as the primary culprits behind George W. Bush's disaster.
That's the key - it wasn't George Bush's fault that this unraveled - it must be the Iraqi people or the American people. Neither is worthy of him.

Marshall adds this -
For what it's worth, I think substantially more troops would have made a big difference earlier on. Now, however, the Army and Marines are too worn down for any more troops to be available. And, more importantly, the sectarian chaos in the Iraq has taken on far too much momentum on its own for more troops to bring it under control. Would the 400,000 troops Gen. Shinseki wanted have led to a successful occupation? Probably not. But there are a thousands gradations of worse. And I think it wouldn't have been nearly as bad as it is now. The truth is that so many things were done so wrong in this disastrous endeavor that it's inherently difficult to pick apart the relative importance of each screw up to the eventual result.

I know there are a lot of people who either think that Iraq was a doable proposition that was botched or a project destined for failure no matter how it was handled. There are, needless to say, fewer and fewer in the former category. And I'd basically class myself in the latter one, if pushed. But both strike me as needlessly dogmatic viewpoints which make it harder to learn from the myriad mistakes that were made while telling us little about how we extricate ourselves from the mess.

Watching the president snap back to his usual state of denial, what I've been thinking about recently is how much of a difference it would have made if the White House had publicly recognized, say back in 2004, that Iraq was on a slow slide toward anarchy and started rethinking things enough to stem the descent to disaster. Let's say early 2005. Earlier the better. But let's give the benefit of the doubt and say it would have been hard to make the course correction in the midst of a presidential election. How much could have been accomplished? How much of this could have been avoided if the White House hadn't continued to pretend, for political reasons, that things were going well? And since the president now seems inclined to continue with his disastrous policy for the next two years, should we ask in advance what could have been avoided over the next two years if he'd only had the courage to confront reality today.
That's a thought. Reality may matter.

One of Marshall's readers adds this -
… the Bush Administration knew it could never make that case, so it deliberately concealed (possibly from itself, even, but certainly from the outside world) how costly it would be. Simply put, if they were honest about the potential costs, they never, ever would've gotten enough political support to invade. Only by grossly exaggerating the danger of Saddam and grossly downplaying the difficulty of the mission could they get the political support to do what they did.

It was a stupid idea from the beginning for that very reason, and to treat it now like that's some little miscalculation in planning is disingenuous in the extreme. Or delusional.

This is a central, perhaps the central issue in the whole shambling, tragic, dingbat debate. But we don't return to it often enough. Saying the American people don't have what it takes to finish the job, or come up with a new job or, really, figure out a way to help George W. Bush keep his job in Iraq amounts to blaming the public for the lies this White House told to get the country into the war. It's really that simple.
Is it that simple? Marshall speculates -
Consider a thought experiment. Let's go back to late 2002 and early 2003. Assume that the buildup on the WMD front is more or less as it transpired. But assume, for our counterfactual, that the costs of what we were getting into had been made pretty candidly clear. Half a million troops to secure the place, maybe years of occupation and nation-building. Then you get to early 2003 when it was clear that even if there was some mustard gas hidden away somewhere, that beside those lamo rockets the inspectors found, there really weren't any big WMD programs or stockpiles. Remember, that was clear, before the war started. Once that was clear, and if people knew the costs of what we were getting ourselves into, is there any way the president would have had any support for still going to war, pretty much just for the hell of it?

This is the key. Yes, the American people probably won't support what it takes to make this happen. That's because they make a perfectly rational calculation that so much blood and money for no particular reason just isn't worth it. They're only in this situation because President Bush and his advisors gamed the public into this war on false pretenses knowing that once they were it would be almost impossible to get back out.
And that's where we are now.

Got your scorecard? Next up is Morton Kondracke with a column in Roll Call with this -
All over the world, scoundrels are ascendant, rising on a tide of American weakness. It makes for a perilous future.

President Bush bet his presidency - and America's world leadership - on the war in Iraq. Tragically, it looks as though he bit off more than the American people were willing to chew.

The U.S. is failing in Iraq. Bush's policy was repudiated by the American people in the last election. And now America's enemies and rivals are pressing their advantage, including Iran, Syria, the Taliban, Sudan, Russia and Venezuela. We have yet to hear from al-Qaeda.
We don't like to chew our food? Is that the problem?

Marshall -
Let's first take note that the 'blame the American people for Bush's screw-ups' meme has definitely hit the big time. It's not Bush who bit off more than he could chew or did something incredibly stupid or screwed things up in a way that defies all imagining. Bush's 'error' here is not realizing in advance that the American people would betray him as he was marching into history. The 'tragedy' is that Bush "bit off more than the American people were willing to chew." That just takes my breath away.

Now come down to the third graf. Bush gets repudiated in the mid-term election ... "And now ..." In standard English the import of this phrasing is pretty clear: it's the repudiation of Bush's tough policies that have led to the international axis of evil states rising against us. Is he serious? The world has gone to hell in a hand basket since the election? In the last three weeks? The whole column is an open war on cause and effect.

This is noxious, risible, fetid thinking. But there it is. That's the story they want to tell.
Well, maybe, as a people, we aren't worth of George Bush. That seems to be the new talking point these days.

If you don't want to blame yourself, you could, as Timothy Noah notes, join everyone else in Blaming Iraqis.

This is a discussion of the November 29 Washington Post article by Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright surveying all those who are say such things, as discussed here in Trying New Things Is Always Awkward.

It's really about the future -
When we think about an exit strategy for Iraq, we are really thinking about two things. Most obviously, we're thinking about when and where to move U.S. troops, whether and how to replace those troops with Iraqi soldiers or an international force, and other material concerns. But we're also thinking about something less tangible. We're thinking about what we're going to tell ourselves in the future about this fiasco, to borrow the title of Thomas Ricks' disturbing book about the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. We're thinking about who or what to blame. No troop withdrawal can occur until this narrative has been assembled.

That work has now begun.

… The Bush administration has yet to endorse this paradigm shift publicly, but a blame-Iraqis spirit certainly informed National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's eyes-only memo criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

… In the Post story, Ricks and Wright point out that blaming Iraqis for their country's near-disintegration will likely poison relations between the two nations. But it's probably too late to stop. Perhaps it isn't too late, though, to point out some logical deficiencies.
And those deficiencies have to do, curiously, with Vietnam -
It's their war. They're the ones who have to win it or lose it. President John F. Kennedy famously stated this in a TV interview shortly before he died. He was referring, of course, to the South Vietnamese. It was undeniably true - truer, in fact, than Kennedy knew. … The Post story has retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran, observing that the current Iraqi-bashing parallels the Vietnamese-bashing that occurred as the United States prepared to pull out of Vietnam. But there's a crucial difference between the Vietnam War and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In Vietnam, we backed a weak but indigenous military force that was already battling the North Vietnamese. In Iraq, there was no indigenous military battling Saddam's regime, and none emerged after we got there (unless you count the Kurds, who've enjoined relative success in stabilizing and governing their corner of Iraq). Overthrowing Saddam Hussein wasn't the Iraqis' idea; it was ours. Americans expected Iraqis to be grateful for ridding them of a bloodthirsty dictator, and for a brief time, they were. But it somehow doesn't compute that Iraqis, following the same logic, now blame the United States for the civil war we unleashed.

Iraqis aren't ungrateful. They're scared. Of us.
They are? The evidence -
To those who endure it, the United States occupation does not feel benign. This was especially true in the early days of the occupation. In Sunni villages, it was routine for U.S. troops to round up all the men and take them prisoner; it was assumed, wrongly, that the Army would be able to determine quickly who the innocents were and set them free. Iraqi vehicles were fired upon if they drove too close to U.S. convoys. Soldiers thought nothing of holding a gun to the head of an Iraqi from whom they were trying to elicit information, pulling the trigger, and letting that Iraqi learn only after the fact that the gun wasn't loaded. To round up certain wanted men, the Army would sometimes threaten harm to their families.

U.S. troops did these things not because they were evil. They did them because they lacked sufficient numbers to feel safe, because many of them were poorly trained, and because, Ricks suggests, the vagueness of Bush's case linking Iraq to 9/11 encouraged grunts to think all Arabs were the enemy. But the Army's rough treatment of Iraqi citizens led Iraqis to think Americans were evil, or at the least very dangerous. Even those who took a more benign view had to recognize that the Americans weren't up to the job of keeping them safe from the armed thugs among them.
Still there's all the talk that Iraq is ungovernable because the Iraqis turned out to be backward and pathologically unable to get along with one another, or some such thing. As Noah notes - "Ingratitude is a common theme among embittered reformers, because it's usually too painful to blame oneself."

So we get all sorts of crap.

Maybe the press will save us from buying into it. Ernest Hemingway started his professional career as a reported for the Toronto Star and once famously said, "Every good writer needs a foolproof, shockproof crap detector." Good reporters have those, right?

Maybe not. Maybe they should have one of those, as Dan Froomkin, who blogs for the Washington Post, explains in On Calling Bullshit -
Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do.

What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit.

Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy. And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. The relentless spinning is enough to make anyone dizzy, and some of our most important political battles are about competing views of reality more than they are about policy choices. Calling bullshit has never been more vital to our democracy.

It also resonates with readers and viewers a lot more than passionless stenography.

… I'm not sure why calling bullshit has gone out of vogue in so many newsrooms - why, in fact, it's so often consciously avoided. There are lots of possible reasons. There's the increased corporate stultification of our industry, to the point where rocking the boat is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There's the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There's the fear of being labeled partisan if one's bullshit-calling isn't meted out in precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.

… If mainstream-media political journalists don't start calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy - if not to the comedians then to the bloggers.

But here's the good news for you newsroom managers wringing your hands over new technologies and the loss of younger audiences: Because the Internet so values calling bullshit, you are sitting on an as-yet largely untapped gold mine. I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter - whatever their beat. We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship - or whatever it is - out of the way.
Bu then, as Duncan Black points out - "Let me add that failing to call bullshit doesn't just fail to inform readers, it also requires the reporter to internalize the bullshit, to continue to treat bullshit as if it might be true."

So no help there. Nothing will change, and the media will tell us the Iraqis failed George Bush, and we did too.

Posted by Alan at 21:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006 21:48 PST home

Monday, 20 November 2006
What Now?
Topic: Iraq

What Now?

Monday, November 20, the week opened with no one much having any idea what we should do about the situation in Iraq - more troops in massive numbers should be sent, from Senator McCain, and Kristol and Kagan on the neoconservative side, and the rising young Democratic star, Senator Obama, saying it might be wise to manage a rapid but careful drawdown. The three coronals assigned to figure this out at the Pentagon had come up with three options - Go Big (pour in the troops, as many as needed to stabilize things), Go Long (reduce the numbers dramatically but stay for a decade or more training the Iraqis), or Go Home. There was the variation - Go Big then Go Long (a quick bump then a quick reduction and then a decades long training effort) - but we were to avoid "moonwalking out of there" (as in the tricky backward "I'm outta here" dance Michael Jackson used to do back when anyone cared what he did). The idea there is the last thing we want the Iraqis and the world to think is we're just being clever and disguising our bugging out. That whole business is explained here - the Washington Post's Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks got the inside story. The president, on his way back to Washington from a dicey day in Jakarta, said he is waiting for the full report. He hadn't decided what he will choose to do.

And too, he's waiting for the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to recommend something, and his own study group he set up to counter what they might come up with, as what the first group might recommend is "off the table" - partitioning Iraq to keep the angry sides apart, talking with Iran and Syria on stabilizing the region (we don't talk to "evil" people). At least the Pentagon fellows put thing is really simple terms, so he won't get all grumpy when faced with details.

But then Iran and Syria the same say just upstaged us all, as reported here -
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has invited the leaders of Iraq and Syria to a summit in Tehran this weekend to discuss ways of ending the sectarian violence in Iraq, upstaging the US and underlining the growing influence of Iran.

Washington is still casting around with increasing desperation for an honourable [sic] exit strategy from Iraq, a strategy some say should include bringing Iran and Syria into the negotiating process.

Apparently, Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, has already agreed to the meeting, and Syrian leader Bashar Assad is expected to follow suit. News of the summit came after surprise talks in Baghdad between the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and Walid Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister and the highest ranking official from Damascus to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The White House is not happy. This is our problem to fix. Who are these people, and what's this about Iraq and Syria now reestablishing diplomatic relations? Who do they think they are?

The day also brought the neoconservatives in despair about the whole situation. Three of them - Kenneth Adelman, Michael Rubin and David Frum - appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and discussed how it all went sour. Check out the video or the transcript or this analysis.

It hardly matters now. Key neoconservatives may now be distraught, but Cheney is still in the White House, carrying on. He's calling the shots.

Better attend to two retired Army generals, Barry McCaffrey and William Odom, on where matters stand now, as the past is, well, the past.

McCaffrey quoted in the Army Times -

"The country is not at war. The United States armed forces and the CIA are at war. So we are asking our military to sustain a level of effort that we have not resourced," he told Army Times.

"That's how to break the Army is to keep it deployed above the rate at which it can be sustained," he said. "There's no free lunch here. The Army and the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command are too small and badly resourced to carry out this national security strategy."
He says we need to bring home five brigades from Iraq before Christmas to keep the Army from "breaking" - and a redeployment strategy is just not feasible.

Odem says this -
Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq, creating democracy there, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, making Israel more secure, not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain, and others.

But reality no longer can be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.
But the president said in Vietnam, that he now sees the light - the Vietnam War taught us that we will win if we don't quit. That was an amazing assertion, as we sort of did quit there, and no dominos fell, no hoards of communist marines landed in San Diego and fought their way to Yuma, and now Vietnam is the potential "economic tiger" over there. Well, to be fair - he did kind of skip that war.

But the idea was we lose all credibility if we quit - we will be seen as what they used to call in those days "a paper tiger." Perhaps it's something else in the Middle East.

Josh Marshall tries to work out what this all means -
… a few comments on the president's new obsession with the Vietnam War (sort of a sign of how bleak things have gotten in Iraq, on so many levels. Think about it: at this point, it's the president who's arguing that Iraq is another Vietnam).

The argument about the need to maintain "credibility" when deciding whether to withdraw from an ill-fated engagement is not one that, I think, can be dismissed out of hand. But those who wield this argument ignore another argument that is at least as important. If everyone really is watching, what do our actions tell other countries about how rational our national decision-making is about the use of our own power?

To be more concrete, showing other countries that we're willing to bleed ourselves dry because we don't have the common sense to cut our losses doesn't necessarily serve us well at all. Quite the contrary.

Also, and this is another point that I don't think gets raised often enough, a great power has the luxury to make various course corrections without its international standing or "credibility" collapsing in upon itself. In fact, those who don't get this seem to be concealing a profound pessimism about the United States' collective national strength. The Bush crowd (and of course Kissinger in his long-standing and twisted way) sees America's position in the world as exquisitely brittle, liable to being destroyed entirely by what happens in Baghdad or what sort of "mettle" we display in Iraq. (A similar mindset about the "demonstration effect" of whacking Saddam is, in a sense, what got us into this mess in the first place. But let's leave that to another post. )
Then there are the comparisons -
To use a crass but I think not totally inapt analogy, say Rupert Murdoch invests a lot of money in a big business deal in South America. And it just doesn't pan out. Which inspires more or less future confidence in Murdoch's reputation as an international media mogul: a willingness to keep pouring money into the failed venture basically forever, or pulling up stakes once it's clear the deal isn't working and moving on to more profitable ventures? Again, a crass analogy given the cost in lives and treasure we're talking about in Iraq. But I think the analogy and its implications are solid. Denial and moral and intellectual cowardice do nothing for ones "credibility."
And as for Vietnam -
Isn't this trip a really odd venue for the president to be arguing that staying the course basically forever is the only acceptable solution? Though it took a tragically long time, the US, for all the moonwalking, eventually decided to pull up stakes in Vietnam. And what was the result? One might make arguments that the Soviets and Soviet proxies were temporarily emboldened in Africa or Latin America, though I think that's debatable. But what of the real effects? The Soviet Union was dismantling itself within little more than a decade of our pull-out. And now we have a Vietnam that is politically repressive at home but proto-capitalist in its economy and, by any measure, incredibly eager for good relations with the United States.

If geo-political standing and international repercussions are really the issue we're discussing, it seems very hard to argue that our decision to pull out of Vietnam had any lasting or meaningful ill-effects. And there's at least a decent argument to the contrary.

And yet here we have President Bush, stepping on to Vietnamese soil to further our rapprochement with Vietnam, and arguing, in so many words, that the lesson of Vietnam is that we should still be there blowing the place up thirty years later.

We're really deep into the primitive brainstem phase of our long national nightmare of presidential denial and mendacity on Iraq. Poetically, politically and intellectually it's appropriate that Henry Kissinger is now along for the ride.
Yep, it's just like old times. It's just not working - but we are told it will. Almost forty years ago we were told there was a light at the end of the tunnel. They had to retire that old saw. Now we're told if we don't fight them there we'll surely fight them here. And the metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel a working free-market liberal democracy in Iraq where everyone gets along. We're told it could happen. They just don't mention any tunnel and any light these days - but it's the same thing.

But what are our options? Suzanne Nossel provides a comprehensive list that covers just about every one. And she suggests reasons why each has little if any chance of succeeding. It's rather sobering, but the standout is this -
9. If we don't begin a planned exit, there's a good chance we'll find ourselves in an unplanned one - It's surprising that by now we haven't experienced the Iraqi equivalent of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the dragging of a corpse of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu a decade later. But it seems likely that that day will come.
Well, that is possible. Is it likely? Who knows?

But Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly says things really could get worse -
Conventional wisdom tacitly assumes that the worst that can happen in Iraq is a continuation of the current low-level civil war, resulting in the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives and dozens of U.S. soldiers each month. But as bad as that is, it's worth keeping in mind that the American occupation has actually made the Iraqi situation worse every single year since it began, and will probably continue to make things worse as long as we're there. And the worse the violence, the worse the Iraqi theocracy that eventually takes root in its wake is likely to be.

But that's not all. The dynamics of violence are nonlinear in the extreme, and the odds of an Archduke Ferdinand moment continue to rise inexorably as our occupation continues to make things ever worse and ever more unstable. A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?

All of these developments may be individually unlikely, but you're not trying hard enough if you can't dream up plausible scenarios leading to each one of them. Pundits and policymakers alike should keep this in mind when they're mentally totting up the costs and benefits of staying in Iraq and concluding that we might as well try a Last Big Push because, heck, it can't do any harm to try. In fact, it can. The longer we stay in Iraq, the worse things are likely to get.
So how about a cynical interpretation of that from Richard Einhorn, as in -
"A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?"

Possibly.

Or suddenly tomorrow, the scales could fall from al-Sadr's eyes, and from Maliki's, and from everyone else's, and they would realize that after the horror of the Saddam years, it is simply crazy to fight amongst themselves for control of such a potentially wealthy country like Iraq when there are plenty of petro-dollars (or petro-euros) for everyone.

Or maybe tomorrow Osama bin Laden will get on TV and say, "Mein Gott, what a schmuck I've been. After deep study of Torah, and after discovering the joys of matzo ball soup, I've decided to convert and become a Lubavitcher. As for my ex-friend Ayman al-Zawahiri, the heretic! He's renounced all religious belief and become Richard Dawkins personal physician and valet."

Hey! Y'never know.

Let me put this another way, to make the point clear. I'll ask, and answer, a rhetorical question or two.

Are any of Kevin's scenarios even remotely plausible?

Yes, mathematically, they are. They could conceivably happen.

Are the scenarios I proposed even remotely plausible?

Yes, mathematically, they are. They could conceivably happen.

Are they of equal plausibility?

No, of course not. Kevin's scenarios are far more likely than mine.

What is the approximate probability of one of Kevin's scenarios happening? Of mine?

Roughly 10% to 65% for Kevin. As for mine, roughly .000000000000000001% to .00000000000001%.

Using everyday language, how would you best summarize these probabilities?

It's somewhat possible, to likely, that one of Kevin's scenarios may actually turn out to be an accurate prediction.
So why did no one think of these possibilities three or four years ago? Or more importantly, as many probably did, why were the possibilities dismissed and those who raised them marginalized, or let go, or quit in frustration? Why did we think "the power of positive thinking" was anything less than a silly catch phrase to motivate salesmen? Positive self-delusion can be useful if you're cold-calling, trying to sell timeshares is Tucson. It keeps you working the phones, even with all the hang-ups. As the basis for the foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the world, it's deadly. But here we are, a government of Willie Lomans - "personality always wins the day."

But we will, it seems, send more troops, in spite of the possibilities.

Michael O'Hare wonders about that -
It's not clear, I have to note, what these extra divisions will actually do: is there something to attack with arms? A strong point to seize and occupy? A fortress to invest? Maybe it makes sense, and maybe Truman and MacArthur, or Lincoln and Grant, or Bismarck and Von Moltke, could pull this trick off. But we have Rumsfeld to thank for the insight that you go to war, or make your big push, with the administration you have, not the one you wish you had. I think an enterprise like "straightening out Iraq with one short commitment of lots more troops" is completely beyond the competence of the people who will run it, from the president down at least several levels into Rumsfeld's defense department, and maybe into the star ranks that remain after his housecleaning of generals who said what was true. ... My call is that this is a very bad bet.
But then, Iraq and Syria and Iran may work it all out themselves, without our help. It may not be what we like, but there was what happened in Vietnam, and things finally did work out for the best.

Heck, the same day as all this Rupert Murdoch pulled the plug - his Harper Collins folks will not publish the book and his Fox television network will not air the special. OJ Simpson will not be explaining how he murdered his wife and her friend, if he did it (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The affiliates wouldn't show the special, and the book was a big mistake. Cut your losses. Move on. Murdoch should call the White House.  He has the answer.

Posted by Alan at 21:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006 18:22 PST home

Thursday, 16 November 2006
The Day We Chose Sides
Topic: Iraq
The Day We Chose Sides
Finding some way to make the war in Iraq turn out in some marginally acceptable way seems to be the issue consuming Washington, and to some degree our allies in the UK - which would be the Blair government there, not the people. Blair never quite got the people of the United Kingdom to buy into the war, but he had the levers of power so that didn't matter much. What are you going to do? He had been given the decision-making power, and he decided to throw his lot in with us.

Enough people here were for the war initially. Enough of the people were convinced Saddam had nukes and deadly chemicals and nasty biological stuff - and somehow had something to with 9/11 - that the substantial numbers of those who wondered about all that were drowned out. We were told his little drone airplanes could blanket Miami or Philadelphia with anthrax or whatever. We were told about mushroom clouds. And anyway, we had to hit back at someone - we had to make a statement, and Iraq was as good a someone as any you could find. Saddam Hussein was one nasty piece of work, a mass murderer and all. It would be good to take him out, in any event. And the bad guys around the world would discover we really did hit back, and as Thomas Freidman said at the time, we needed them to know that. So we made our statement, and everything that followed turned sour.

When the original reasons for this adventure turned out to be what the software folks call vaporware, the neoconservative theory about the "New American Century" remained standing. The "making a statement" argument stood - we were the sole remaining superpower after the end of the Cold War and bad guys everywhere had to be reminded of that, dramatically, and of their own impotence, even more dramatically. Rubbing their noses in their impotence would make us safe as they slinked off with their tails between their legs and everyone laughed at them. This was an odd reading of human nature, not allowing that they might dispute our assessment of their impotence and try to prove us wrong. When they did, we applied more and more force, and continue to do so. The problem is they have done the same, in their quite irritating asymmetrical way. So we apply more force. It didn't work before - so it must be going to work in the future.

Then too, when all the other rationales evaporated, we were reminded of our role in building the "New American Century" - it was our destiny or burden, or whatever you will, to build free-market Jeffersonian democracies where there had been none before. The basic idea informing the neoconservative movement was that when the Soviet Union self-destructed and communism turned out to be a dreadful joke, it was obvious our way of running things had prevailed. It was the one system left standing, so it must be, by default, the only way to manage a society. This was The End of History and all that - "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

Francis Fukuyama said that, in 1989 and then in 1992. That was the whole idea. Iraq was to be taking that idea out for a spin - applying it. We'd plant the send of the manifestly best system of government there, and the whole region would be transformed, as everyone learned the lesson of the Cold War - only one system works, and history, which had just ended, proved it. That's now what we say we're up to.

Fukuyama has since left the neoconservative movement and decided he had been wrong. Some things that are universal and obvious are also things that are hard to set up, and may take decades of building the institutions and customs that underlie Western liberal democracy - a free press and a sense of compromise and codified basic individual rights and assured public safety and shared-cost basic services. Unlike the Manifest Destiny we proclaimed in the nineteenth century, our new mandate, our new destiny, turned out to be hard work - it wasn't just grabbing every acre out to the Pacific, killing off the Indians, and James Monroe telling the rest of the world to keep their hand off anything in the western hemisphere. This was building from scratch, in a year or two, what had evolved over centuries elsewhere.

And they thought this would work? That seems absurd. But then there were no nukes nor any deadly chemicals nor any nasty biological stuff, and Saddam Hussein seems to have had nothing to do with 9/11, and he had actually loathed and feared al Qaeda (the feeling was mutual). This would have to do for an objective - victory will be achieved when we have established, or helped establish, a Western liberal democracy in Iraq.

That's not working. We find ourselves pretty much responsible for a failed government in a nation in the middle of what looks like a brutal sectarian civil war, and now screw the Western liberal democracy thing - we'll settle for a stable government of almost any sort.

And that's the problem. What would a stable government of almost any sort look like? Do we choose sides in the civil war - supporting the folks who have the best chance of getting things under control - or do we try to get the three sides - Sunni, Shiite and Kurd - to play nice with each other?

We need to think that one through.

And we don't have much time. Consider the news the Associated Press reported Thursday, November 16 - a double-dose of grim -
The Pentagon said a convoy of civilians traveling near Nasiriyah was hijacked on Thursday, while earlier in the day the Shiite-led Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for the top leader of the country's Sunni minority. The move was certain to inflame already raging sectarian violence.

… An official familiar with the incident said preliminary reports being checked by the military indicated that the attack occurred at a checkpoint near Nasiriyah and that four Americans were believed to have been taken captive.
So we had the second hijack-kidnap incident of the week - and four American contactors taken - while the Shiite head of the Interior Ministry orders the arrest of the top Sunni in the country. How do we deal with this?

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, announced Thursday on state television that Harith al-Dhari was wanted for "inciting terrorism and violence among the Iraqi people." And Al-Dhari is head of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars - the biggest of big guns on that side. The idea may be to drive any moderate Sunnis out of the political system, bringing things to a head. AP notes that moderate Sunnis have been threatening for weeks to leave the government and take up arms. This may turn them, leading to an all out civil war - not just reprisal killings and cleansing neighborhood - and making it impossible for us to leave. Someone has to keep a lid on things.

Hell, the Sunnis and Shiites couldn't agree on whether all hostages had been released from a mass abduction in Baghdad two days earlier. And there was the expected reaction -
Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, spokesman for the Sunni association, condemned the warrant for al-Dhari's arrest.

"This government should resign before the Iraqi people force it to resign," al-Faidi told Al-Jazeera television from Jordan. "The association calls on its people to be calm."

Al-Faidi accused the interior minister "of supporting terrorism by covering for (Shiite) militias that are killing the Iraqi people."
Yep, he's a bit ticked - earlier this year, the Sunni association blamed the Interior Ministry for the killing of a nephew and cousin of al-Dhari. Their bodies had turned up in a bullet-riddled van in Baghdad. These guys play for keeps.

And don't forget the Kurds. On Tuesday, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, called al-Dhari a hard-liner with "nothing to do but incite sectarian and ethnic sedition."

How did we get in the middle of this? And the arrest warrant thing has always been a problem - in April 2004 we issued an arrest warrant against Muqtada al-Sadr and got ourselves a two-week uprising by his Mahdi Army militia. Hundreds were killed. And the Shiite who runs the country and visistes the White House, Al-Maliki, will do nothing to wipe out the Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr, is a key backer of the prime minister.

And it seems this Mahdi Army is responsible for kidnapping all those people from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad on Tuesday of the week. On Thursday, the Sunni higher education minister called the Interior Ministry "a farce" for not preventing that and claimed more than half the one hundred fifty that were grabbed were still in the hands of the Shiite vigilantes. National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite, said everyone had been freed and said everyone was making trouble when there was none now.

Sunni guys who had been abducted and released said most of the other Sunnis had been tortured and killed -
I was lucky. They only beat me with a wooden club. Others were handcuffed and hanged from the ceiling by their wrists. They were beaten with iron bars. Others, building guards, had cotton shoved in their mouths and tape wound around their heads. They suffocated. One was shot in the back. The managers in the building and people with higher degrees, masters and doctorates, were in a different room. I could hear them screaming like women. Then it was quiet. I think they died.
And we're in the middle of this. Hanging Saddam Hussein and televising it around the world close-up for all the gory details, isn't going to make this all better. William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and chief spokesman for the whole neoconservative movement, famously said that people know nothing and always engage in cheap pop psychology, but really, there has never been any history of conflict and strife between Sunni and Shiite in Iraq - folks were just wrong about that. Wrong - but even if he had been right, there is conflict and strife now. And we have to deal with it.

That same day in Baghdad gunmen fired on a bakery, killing nine people. It's a Sunni thing - most bakeries in the capital are run by Shiites. And we lost four more of ours that day - 2,862 at that point, and 44 through November 16. Now what? The president picked a hell of a day to finally make it to Vietnam, about forty years late. All the levels of irony are just too obvious.

But there may be a plan. Laura Rozen in the still functioning, for now, Los Angeles Times, reported that same day that the Bush national security team met over the Veterans Day weekend, quite secretly, to discuss options for Iraq. National security advisor Stephen Hadley seems to have set the agenda for the meeting, and it was all about choosing sides -
Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias - or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

... So what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"? It's the path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.
Ah, so that's why the Shiite head of the Interior Ministry ordered the arrest of the top Sunni. We may have stepped back and said fine, do it, knock yourself out. If we let the Sunnis go - hell, let them use gas chambers - we'll get some stability and find a way to finally step back and fade away, little by little. Someone's got to pay the price to get us out of this mess. They'll do.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly understands -
Would this be an appalling strategy to follow? Of course it would. Appalling options are all that's left to us in Iraq.

More to the point: is it worse than the other options at our disposal? Or, alternatively, is it slightly less bad? I'd guess the former. There's not much question that Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency, but it's probably slightly better for them to do it on their own instead of doing it with our active help, something that would alienate every Sunni in the Middle East. And don't think that we might be able to keep this a secret. Even if our support for this strategy were never publicly acknowledged, there's not much question that everyone in the region would understand perfectly well what was going on.

Such is the moral calculus we're left with in Iraq. It's not a battle between good and bad, it's a battle between bad and worse.
So we piss off our Sunni allies over there - the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Gulf States. They'll get over it. We're in a jam.

David Kurtz says this -
There are other policy options on the table, but so far "the last big push" and "the tilt" are the two we've seen most publicly articulated.

Are the lame names for these strategies indicative of how poor the policy options are?
Yes. That was easy. (The "the last big push" idea was discussed here.)

Matthew Yglesias just offers common sense -
Let me merely point out that our occupation of Iraq has now gone on for so long that this, like essentially every other idea, has already had its moment in the sun. After the heady days of the Early Bremer period, we attempted a Sunni Placation Strategy during Iyad Allawi's administration. Then, at some point during the Ibrahim Jafari Era the decision was made that we needed to be backing the forces of "democracy" in Iraq (i.e., the Shiites) against their adversaries. We eventually wound up backtracking on that, and have spent much of Nouri al-Maliki's administration attempting a return to the Sunni Placation Strategy, complete with the resumption of on-again, off-again warfare against Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers.

And so, sure, why not tilt back again? Then again, why not leave?
That's a thought. But we can't do that.

Posted by Alan at 21:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006 21:57 PST home

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