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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Wednesday, 27 September 2006
Watching the Barometer
Topic: Election Notes
Watching the Barometer
A note on the political weather - when the barometer starts dropping fast there's a storm coming. There's an area of extreme low pressure out there somewhere, sucking everything in and swirling into trouble. Get the dog and two cats in the house, shove the lawn furniture in the garage and go room to room and shut the windows. You're not going anywhere.

It was something like that the week everyone was talking about the National Intelligence Estimate from April, a finding that the Iraq war is making things worse and that caused a great deal of tap-dancing at the White House. They've been saying the opposite and sitting on the report since April - all sixteen intelligence agencies agree they're wrong. And then Wednesday, September 27, the House passed the compromise bill on detainees in this effort and sent it along to the Senate for those folks to vote on in two more days, before everyone goes home to campaign for the November elections. That stirred things up.

The question is whether the president should be given the legal authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions and define, on his own at any given time, what is and is not torture, no matter what anyone else thinks or what any previously enacted law or agreed to international law stipulates, and be given the right to declare anyone anywhere, even a US citizen, an "enemy combatant" who can be locked up forever without charges and with no right to argue a mistake has been made, on the president's decision alone. And should any decision on such matters back to 1997 be exempt from legal review - no matter what has been done no charges can be filed in any venue? That's part of it. That was the year of the War Crimes act that made any breech of the Geneva Conventions a felony.

It's an interesting bill. Part of it is, of course, a challenge to patriotism. Do you trust the president? Has he, in your mind, ever made a bad decision? And even if you think he has, are you willing to say to the world, in these perilous times, that the man has messed up on the job, thereby emboldening our enemies as they'll then think we're in disarray. Give him the power. Part of it too is a test of whether you're serious about keeping America safe. Are you so rule-bound and living in the abstract that you're not willing do say that torture is actually a very good thing that will save lives? And then, do you think those who the president on his own decides are terrorists deserve to be treated like everyone else, and allowed to defend themselves and argue a mistake has been made? Yeah, yeah, the guy who used to be his Secretary of Education did say the National Teachers Association, the union, was a terrorist organization, and all unions really were nothing more than terrorist organizations, but he's gone now. The president would be more careful and thoughtful. And there are real bad guys in this case. Do they deserve fair treatment? That's part of it. And part of it is, of course, a bit of geopolitical strategy. Shouldn't we say to the world, and particularly to the bad guys, that if anyone thinks they can get the best of us by assuming we'll play be the rules we've always claimed are so very important, they're in for a nasty surprise? Shouldn't we showing them we're willing to do anything we feel we must, no matter what they thought our country stood for, and they're in trouble if they assume otherwise?

All of it, all the parts, is positioning for the storm - shoving the lawn furniture in the garage and going room to room and shutting the windows. The storm is the upcoming elections, where the president's party could lose the House and Senate and we get a Republican Katrina, with the bloated bodies of the Republican dead floating in the toxic water and rotting in the streets, metaphorically speaking of course. It's timeto take a stand, and make the other side look foolish.

The problem really is, of course, what now to do in Iraq. The polls show well more than half of us now think Iraq has and had nothing to do with the War on Terror and think we should get out. But we can't. That's not a good alternative. And staying is making things worse. It's a problem.

So the Republicans are in trouble. The definitive word is the war has made things worse, and made us less safe. It's time to look strong, if nothing else. This preventative war was the mother of all bad decisions.

And that led to the curious column from David Ignatius's in the Wednesday, September 27th Washington Post, where he said this -
Many Democrats act as if that's the end of the discussion: A mismanaged occupation has created a breeding ground for terrorists, so we should withdraw and let the Iraqis sort out the mess.... But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next.... Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse.

... The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war - with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril. If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party.
What? The Democrats become the janitorial service, cleaning up after the frat party? Why?

Kevin Drum has a good response here -
I agree that allowing Iraq to spiral into civil war would be a disaster, but it's telling that Ignatius doesn't propose any solutions himself aside from a vague allusion to the possibility of federalism and partitioning - an idea that's been floating around liberal foreign policy circles for the past couple of years but has gone nowhere because it has no traction either among Republicans or among Iraqis themselves.

Look: A "debate" is fine, but only if there's something to debate. Should we privatize Social Security? Let's debate. Should we debate about how to fix Iraq? We could, but only if there were some plausible solutions to argue about. Unfortunately, there aren't. We don't have enough troops in Iraq to keep order and the troops we do have aren't trained properly anyway. Nobody appears to have any serious desire to change that. Politically, the sectarian split in Iraq is embedded deeply in their history and culture and is mostly beyond our ability to affect, especially after three years of mismanagement. Globally, we have virtually no influence left with either local power brokers like Iran or with our European allies.

Various luminaries in the liberal foreign policy community have been proposing Iraq policies right and left for over three years now. First, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows? But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.
No, it doesn't, but it's an election year.

But the real key here is that there really is no way out. You might be realistic.

One way of looking at this - no possible alternatives - is to conclude the war is lost. Not the War on Terror - that's so vague and without any possible way to assess what victory would look like, or defeat - so that's just bullshit posturing, but it's not lost. Iraq is. And, if so, then you see the dust-up with Bill Clinton on Fox News - where they tried to sandbag him, asking him why he caused 9/11 and he actually fought back - is just the first of many fifties flashbacks. Think of the whole McCarthy thing back then and one of the things that kicked it off - Who Lost China? Here we go again. That's the big storm, the bigger one that comes after the November 7th hurricane. We spent half a trillion dollars (so far), lost almost three thousand troops, damned near wrecked the Army, threw away the good will of any nation that would be our ally, and stirred up a world of new terrorism - to, at best, establish a Shi'a theocracy (if they ever get organized) aligned with our enemy Iran, if things work out well and nothing else at all goes wrong? This will be some storm.

And here Matthew Yglesias shows us how silly the first squalls seem to be -
… what's the deal with "Some extreme war critics are so angry at Bush they seem almost eager for America to lose, to prove a political point." That's a serious charge. Does Ignatius have evidence for it? No. Does he cite any examples? No. Does he name any names? No. I find it extremely frustrating that you're allowed to toss off this kind of liberal-bashing without providing any backing.

This matters not because I doubt Ignatius could find someone or other who "seems" like he's "eager" for America to lose. It matters because "extreme war critic" is such a vague phrase. For years, perfectly mainstream war critics - Howard Dean, Tony Zinni, Richard Clarke, Dick Durbin, Zbigniew Brzezinski - were portrayed as "extreme" and they still are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternate Saturdays. On the other hand, when I was in college there were these members of the Spartacist Youth League (or something) who would sit on the corner calling for the violent overthrow of the US government ranting and raving about North Korea's inalienable right to nuclear weapons and the need to unify the peninsula under Pyongyang's beneficent rule. No doubt those "extreme war critics" really do want to see America lose. But is Ignatius talking about crazy people who shout on street corners - in which case his observation is silly - or is he talking about meaningful participants in American politics, in which case it's false? Well, I think, he's talking about the former, but talking as if he's talking about the latter.
And the Post item was just the first squall. This is going to get nasty.

And here's a sudden fall in the barometer, as it were - the Post just reviewing new data. Wednesday, September 27, 2006, three different polling firms say that by a wide margin Iraqis want American troops to leave -
In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

... Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year.

... The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal.

The numbers - 65, 71, 80 percent - are rather dismal. To be fair, one of the polls suggests that Sunnis are a little less likely than Shiites to want us to cut out. Of course - we cut out and they're a bit outnumbered. But the poll our own State Department did said there's a stronger desire for our withdrawal in mixed areas than in the predominantly Shiite areas. The sentiment here is kind of universal. So how do you stay the course and "win" when three-quarters of the population wants you to leave?

The mercury is dropping in the barometer. On the other hand, at least the House passed a ban on our building permanent bases there. See this, with Joe Biden saying, "I have no illusions that this provision will somehow dramatically change the dynamic of events on the ground in Iraq, but this is a message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and regularly and with the stamp of the Congress."

No one in the slums of Baghdad cares any longer. Too little, too late.

Ah, but we never learn. Check out this -

In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that US international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime.

... It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a US government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.

... Three US government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld.

... She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.
Yes, there was Cheney's Iraq Study Group in the White House before we went to Baghdad - with Scooter Libby and honorary member Judith Miller of the New York Times - working on the public case for war, and the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon gathering the "real" proof of WMD stuff and the ties to al Qaeda because the CIA and all the rest were useless. This time the White House group is led by Cheney's daughter (not the gay one), and the Pentagon arm seems to be getting organized and active - Rumsfeld found them office space. Here we go again. Maybe this time they'll get it all right.

They're not paying attention to the weather. Storm warnings. How did Dylan put it? "You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing."

Maybe they like storms.

Posted by Alan at 23:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006 09:52 PDT home

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