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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 28 November 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Done Deal - We're Out of There

Elsewhere (see Lining Up the Week: What's Hot News, What's Not) there was mention of Seymour Hersh's Sunday, November 27th appearance on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" where he was discussing his latest New Yorker article, Up In The Air - Where is the Iraq war headed next? - a chat providing a little more detail on the Bush administration's withdrawal proposal. This came the same day as this from the Associated Press - White House Lays Foundation for US Troop Withdrawal (Sunday, November 27) - and the White House was saying that the plan is "remarkably similar" to a plan by Democratic senator Joe Biden, but they thought of it first, and this is not "cut and run" or anything like it.

One sees that of the news stories that were forming over the previous weekend this is the one that had legs. Of course, to make the case that we should start withdrawing troops (or redeploying them, which sound much better), the administration had better be able to show that things are going so well in getting the new Iraqi government up and running that we've sort of, kind of won, or something. And that renders all that anger that recent Friday night in the House of Representatives, with the witch-lady from Cincinnati calling the decorated Marine a coward and that forced vote to "stay the course" and all the rest, somewhat moot.

Note here all the right wing commentators savagely attacking that cowardly quitter Biden for what he said in the Washington Post about withdrawal, or redeployment, just a few hours before the White House said Biden was right on target, but the Bush team had thought of it first. Well, sometimes it's hard to be a loyal supporter of the flawless president. Sometimes you get blindsided by the guy. No one distributed the new talking points in time.

Fred Kaplan, over at SLATE.COM, tells us it's going to get even more upside down -
Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces - which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own - have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason - a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
Kaplan says that, assuming the forecasts about the speech are true, the White House "is as cynical about this war as its cynical critics have charged it with being."

Yes, it has been obvious that once there was an Iraqi constitution, and then an elected government, we could say we did the job and begin to get out, no matter what we said about "staying the course" until every last "insurgent" was either dead or rendered pleasant and democratic (the non-capitalized version, of course). This does, as Kaplan notes, explain what all the rush was about. We pushed the schedule - no deviation from that - so we can get out, or mostly out, before the 2006 mid-term elections here, where those who carried the water for Bush in the house and senate face voters with doubts and questions and a bit of anger. The idea is to take away the war as an issue in the elections. That's pretty obvious. Yeah, the new Iraqi constitution is still a work in progress, and perhaps it is so "deeply flawed" it is "more likely to fracture the country than to unite it." Kaplan's argument is that this doesn't matter as much to the guys who run things for us all in Washington as their staying in power.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But note this:
The political beauty of this scenario is that, even if Iraq remains mired in chaos or seems to be hurtling toward civil war, nobody in Congress is going to call for a halt, much less a reversal, of the withdrawal. The Republicans will fall in line; many of them have been nervous that the war's perpetuation, with its rising toll and dim horizons, might cost them their seats. And who among the Democrats will choose to outflank Bush on his right wing and advocate - as some were doing not so long ago - keeping the troops in Iraq for another five or 10 years or even boosting their numbers. (The question is so rhetorical, it doesn't warrant a question mark.)

In short, Bush could pull a win-win-win out of this shift. He could pre-empt the Democrats' main line of attack against his administration, stave off the prospect of (from the GOP's perspective) disastrous elections in 2006 and '08, and, as a result, bolster his presidency's otherwise dwindling authority within his own party and among the general population.
Yep, that will work - except with those who still have working bullshit detectors and see we just spent a half-trillion dollars, three years, over 2,100 good lives, have over ten-thousand wounded and maimed, for what? A key country, with the third largest oil reserves known to exist, in chaos and civil war?

Well, you say, at least Saddam Hussein no longer runs the place.

True. Fine. But is this what we wanted?

Maybe not, but that's where we are - a substantial withdrawal is at hand. Read Kaplan. Top military officers have been privately, and not so privately, warning that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two. The Army and the National Guard and Reserves are near some sort of breaking point. What Representative Murtha proposed on the 17th that angered so many people - his call for an immediate redeployment - wasn't just personal anguish and geopolitical clear thinking. Kaplan comments that was, "quite explicitly, a public assertion of the military's institutional interests - and an acknowledgment of Congress' electoral interests." Although Kaplan doesn't say it flat-out, Murtha, a friend of the top brass at the Pentagon for decades, could be just laying it out for them, as their voice in the congress. Consider it a rebellion of the generals, where they use Murtha as their voice to get things changed. They've seen the light. As Kaplan puts it - "Murtha wasn't merely advocating redeployment; he was practically announcing it."

The White House lost the generals? You could see it that way. And note Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on November 22nd said "I suspect that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are now that much longer." She said it on CNN, and then she said it on Fox News. Was she addressing the generals? Maybe so.

And it does make political sense for anyone who wants to be reelected.

Is this the right thing to do, draw down the forces? Who knows?

Will there be total disorder and possibly a civil war with casualties ten times greater than we have now? A regional war with Iran lining up with the Shiites in Iraq and the other Arab states in the region lining up with the Sunnis in Iraq? Who will line up with the Kurds, who aren't "Arabs" ethnically but are Sunni Muslims, and a century-long worry for Turkey? This could get messy.

Questions, since President Bush is going to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do? How will they keep a profile low enough to make the Iraqi government seem genuinely autonomous yet high enough to help deter or stave off internal threats? Who will keep the borders secure, a task for which the Iraqi army doesn't even pretend to have the slightest capability? What kinds of diplomatic arrangements will he make with Iraq's neighbors - who have their own conflicting interests in the country's future - to assure an international peace?

More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this? (The point is far from facetious; it's tragically clear, after all, that he didn't have a plan for how to fight the war if it extended beyond the collapse of Saddam.) Has he entertained these questions, much less devised some shrewd answers?
Well, the man does not do nuance, and doesn't like detail. He likes to make things real, real simple. He hates people telling him things are complicated or this or that might not work. He doesn't like experts - or advice, which he sees as disloyalty. He likes to go with his gut instinct. He's that kind of guy. You either trust him or you don't - and if you don't, he doesn't want to deal with you.

But what the American people in the past have loved him for - these manly traits - may no longer be useful, given the issues now. But that's too bad. He's in charge.

We're in for a bumpy ride.

Note this email from a reader at Andrew Sullivan's conservative, pro-war but unhappy-with-Bush site -
This is a President that refuses to acknowledge that there is such a thing as "the American people" and that he is accountable to them. And he shows no signs of this changing. Every significant speech is made to cherry-picked crowds at military academies. Scott McClellan's briefings have become unintentional comedy sketches. And his surrogates just buzz and strafe Sunday morning talk shows every so often to parrot the same useless talking points. Imagine how much public opinion could be shaped and how much criticism could be defused if he simply addresses the American people to tell us what 'the course' that we must supposedly 'stay' is. What IS the mission? How many Iraqi battalions being independent and battle-ready will it take before we can at least begin to draw down? When can we expect this to occur? What is he doing to draw the Sunnis more into the political process and away from the insurgents? What is he doing with neighboring nations like Iran to stop their meddling and to seek their help in securing the borders? There are countless other questions - the answers of which could be used to explain in detail our progress, our plan, and a clear direction for America in the Middle East.

But when he is silent and hiding away from his critics, it's only reasonable for people to begin to assume that he has no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. It would be sad if the hard work of people like Gen. Casey and Zalmay is all for naught because their boss was too much of a fool to explain the rather significant benefits of what they're now doing in Iraq.
Yes, that would be sad. But it's maybe not that the guy is "too much of a fool" to explain the rather significant benefits of what we're now doing in Iraq. Maybe he's just not that interested in that, and never has been and never will be - or at least not in detail. He's explained as much as he's going to explain it, as much as he understands it. One suspects he's puzzled, and a bit angry, that people want something more. It's not that there's no progress to report, no plan, and no direction. The man has said, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." You can sense his frustration - Why won't that do? - Why do people want more?

Sullivan himself -
There are times when I wonder if the president is capable of such an address. And the reason I say that is that any candid, credible discussion of where we are now would require an acknowledgment of a series of previous misjudgments and errors. I don't think Bush is psychologically capable of this. It requires nuance, self-criticism, an abandonment of Manichean rhetoric, and a political decision to unite the country rather than dividing it. All these things he has so far refused to so. Alas, I see no evidence that he has changed, or is even capable of change. And so we stagger on.
Sullivan of course seems to think a decision to change is possible, that some change of heart could have the man decide to attend to detail and all the rest.

A refusal to do this? No. The capacity is not there.

Whether the problem is intellectual - he just cannot think that carefully (lacks the horsepower for it, so to speak) - or a personality-based thing - really doesn't matter. Sullivan casually tosses in the idea of the man is, perhaps, not capable of change and this may not be a refusal at all. We elected a man a very limited ability and no curiosity - because we thought that was what was needed in these times.

Wrong. Maybe we'll do better in 2008 - if we all live that long.

James Wolcott being colorful -
The thing I'm most struck by over the last few weeks is President Bush's shrinkage in stature. He cut an insignificant figure in China even before he went into his doofus shtick, and seems to be diminishing as the dark cloud of Cheney solidifies and casts Bush in shadow. It's hard to believe he was once the chalice of Peggy Noonan's hopes; Winston Churchill in a leather jockstrap, in the humid imaginations of warbloggers. You get the impression that underneath the show of resolve and irritable resentment, he feels sorry for himself, pouty about not being appreciated. Which may explain why Laura Bush seems to have hardened into a carapace at his side, reverting to the Pat Nixon role to withstand the buffeting winds swirling around her husband and his own stormy moods.
So we have three more years of this.

Oh, and as for the doofus shtick, see the now famous photo and text here - Bush the bumbling but lovable goofball. The photo is the new icon of the whole problem.


Additional note:

The Formerly Great Writ
Goodbye, habeas corpus. Hello, executive detention.
Emily Bazelon - Monday, Nov. 28, 2005, at 4:27 PM ET - SLATE.COM

This is a discussion of a provision in the renewal of the Patriot Act that makes it much, much harder for American prisoners to challenge their convictions in federal court.

As you know, and as you are reminded, "Habeas Corpus, the Great Writ, dates from 1305 and the reign of King Edward I in England. It allows detainees to ask a court to order their warden to explain the basis for their detention. (The Latin, translated as "you have the body," refers to the warden's powers.) Detainees can petition for habeas review if they are held without trial, or if they're convicted and claim that their constitutional rights were violated at trial. Habeas is the means by which state prisoners, on rare occasion, can be heard in federal court."

The whole thing is full of the legal precedents and disputes involved, but you might note the issue now is far more than the president having the authority to decide, with no review by anyone, that any American citizen can be locked up with no rights for as long as he chooses, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. That's a given now.

As for run-of-the-mill criminal defendants, the proposed revision to the Patriot Act would take Habeas Corpus from the federal courts and give the attorney general the authority to decide such things. We'd all be subject to the unilateral power of executive detention.

You want to be safe, don't you?

Just consider the nature of the man to whom congress and our courts have given this new power.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005 22:31 PST home

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