Monday, October 9, dawned calmly out here in Los Angeles. There was no real sunrise - the dark and low marine layer of dense clouds just got progressively brighter, or at least less dark (the sun didn't come out until mid-afternoon). Sounds were muted all morning in the neighborhood. But the morning paper arrived with a thump at the doorstep and the face-up headline was alarming, and the news on the radio too, and a quick browse through the major news and commentary sites on the web showed more of the same - North Korea had tested a nuclear weapon, important people were saying Iraq was lost and Afghanistan had six months before it was lost too, a key presidential advisor was going to recommend we dramatically charge course on such things, the House page scandal was growing and not settling down, and new polls were showing the government was going to change drastically in the November elections. And war with Iran was surely coming. Other than that it was a quiet morning.
How did Thomas Hardy put it? The glebe cow drooled. You might know the Thomas Hardy poem where the explosions wake the dead in the church graveyard and they think it must be Judgment Day. God sets them straight -
But there is no rest.
No, it's gunnery practice out at sea.
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:
All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.
That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing,
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening….
Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).
North Korea announced Sunday night that it had detonated a nuclear device, making it the eighth country to conduct such a test. That was the big news. President George Bush then called for an "immediate response" (here) and was pushing South Korea, China, and Russia to consider sanctions. Later in the day the UN security Council vote thirteen to nothing to condemn the test, but the sanctions will have to be worked out.
This was some news, with this twist, Glenn Kessler reporting that senior members of the Bush administration, were really not all that shocked and appalled at North Korea's nuclear test. They'd been eagerly looking forward to it -
Yep, now no one can bitch about how they hate face-to-face diplomacy and don't do it. That's all moot now, isn't it?
A number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.
... "This fundamentally changes the landscape now," one U.S. official said last night.
Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is not impressed -
Ah, but it is a plan, for something or other.
Let's recap: The Bush/Cheney administration took a bad situation with Iraq and made it even worse. They've taken a bad situation with Iran and made it even worse (see here
). They've taken a bad situation with North Korea and made it even worse (see Fred Kaplan here
). At every step along the way, they've deliberately taken actions that cut off any possibility of solving our geopolitical problems with anything other than military force.
Once is a singular event. Twice might be a coincidence. But three times? That's a policy. Encouraging these "clarifying events" appears to be the main goal of the Bush administration. This is not the way to make America safer.
Josh Marshall is more blunt -
Yeah, and it's a hell of a way to start the week.
For the US this is a strategic failure of the first order.
The origins of the failure are ones anyone familiar with the last six years in this country will readily recognize: chest-thumping followed by failure followed by cover-up and denial. The same story as Iraq. Even the same story as Foley.
North Korea's nuclear program has been a problem for US presidents going back to Reagan, and the conflict between North and South has been a key issue for US presidents going back to Truman. As recently as 1994, the US came far closer to war with North Korea than most Americans realize.
President Clinton eventually concluded a complicated and multipart agreement in which the North Koreans would suspend their production of plutonium in exchange for fuel oil, help building light water nuclear reactors (the kind that don't help making bombs) and a vague promise of diplomatic normalization.
President Bush came to office believing that Clinton's policy amounted to appeasement. Force and strength were the way to deal with North Korea, not a mix of force, diplomacy and aide. And with that premise, President Bush went about scuttling the 1994 agreement, using evidence that the North Koreans were pursuing uranium enrichment (another path to the bomb) as the final straw.
Remember the guiding policy of the early Bush years: Clinton did it=Bad, Bush=Not whatever Clinton did.
All diplomatic niceties aside, President Bush's idea was that the North Koreans would respond better to threats than Clinton's mix of carrots and sticks.
Then in the winter of 2002-3, as the US was preparing to invade Iraq, the North called Bush's bluff. And the president folded. Abjectly, utterly, even hilariously if the consequences weren't so grave and vast.
Threats are a potent force if you're willing to follow through on them. But he wasn't. The plutonium production plant, which had been shuttered since 1994, got unshuttered. And the bomb that exploded tonight was, if I understand this correctly, almost certainly the product of that plutonium uncorked almost four years ago.
So the President talked a good game, the North Koreans called his bluff and he folded. And since then, for all intents and purposes, and all the atmospherics to the contrary, he and his administration have done essentially nothing.
Indeed, from the moment of the initial cave, the White House began acting as though North Korea was already a nuclear power (something that was then not at all clear) to obscure the fact that the White House had chosen to twiddle its thumbs and look the other way as North Korea became a nuclear power. Like in Bush in Iraq and Hastert and Foley, the problem was left to smolder in cover-up and denial. Until now.
Hawks and Bush sycophants will claim that North Korea is an outlaw regime. And no one should romanticize or ignore the fact that it is one of the most repressive regimes in the world with a history of belligerence, terrorist bombing, missile proliferation and a lot else. They'll also claim that the North Koreans were breaking the spirit if not the letter of the 1994 agreement by pursuing a covert uranium enrichment program. And that's probably true too.
But facts are stubborn things.
The bomb-grade plutonium that was on ice from 1994 to 2002 is now actual bombs. Try as you might it is difficult to imagine a policy - any policy - which would have yielded a worse result than the one we will face Monday morning.
Talking tough is great if you can make it stick and back it up; it is always and necessarily cleaner and less compromising than sitting down and dealing with bad actors. Talking tough and then folding your cards doesn't just show weakness - it invites contempt. And that is what we have here.
The Bush-Cheney policy on North Korea was always what Fareed Zakaria once aptly called "a policy of cheap rhetoric and cheap shots." It failed. And after it failed President Bush couldn't come to grips with that failure and change course. He bounced irresolutely between the Powell and Cheney lines and basically ignored the whole problem hoping either that the problem would go away, that China would solve it for us and most of all that no one would notice.
Do you notice now?
So why didn't we do face-to-face talks with North Korea before it came to this? Donald Gregg, National Security Advisor for the first President Bush, George H. W. Bush, explains -
That first president's Secretary of State had said just about the same thing just before the North Korean test -
Why won't the Bush administration talk bilaterally and substantively with NK, as the Brits (and eventually the US) did with Libya? Because the Bush administration sees diplomacy as something to be engaged in with another country as a reward for that country's good behavior. They seem not to see diplomacy as a tool to be used with antagonistic countries or parties, that might bring about an improvement in the behavior of such entities, and a resolution to the issues that trouble us. Thus we do not talk to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah or North Korea. We only talk to our friends - a huge mistake.
But the son seems to have something to prove to the father, the man so many labeled as a wimp. You cannot be like Clinton or the old man. So here we are.
"I believe in talking to your enemies," he said in an interview on the ABC News program "This Week," noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush's father as secretary of state.
"It's got to be hard-nosed, it's got to be determined," Mr. Baker said. "You don't give away anything, but in my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies."
And by the way, the conservatives like to say turnaround in Libya was a result of the invasion of Iraq and George Bush's hardnosed foreign policy. Nope, it was old-fashioned negotiation, but we like our myths.
And too that Monday odd facts kept popping up, like this (BBC) - "The size of the bomb is uncertain. South Korean reports put it as low as 550 tons of destructive power but Russia said it was between five and 15 kilotons." And this (LA Times) - "One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence agencies detected an explosive event in North Korea with a force of less than a kiloton. Historically, the types of devices used in initial nuclear tests have yielded several kilotons of force."
Kevin Drum here -
Josh Marshall here -
There's something peculiar here. A geology professor at Yale, Jeffrey Park, emails to tell me that the updated Richter magnitude for the North Korea event is 3.5, which he calls "mighty small for a crude nuke." And that's true: it suggests a very small yield. But the odd thing is that it's actually harder to build a 1 kiloton weapon than a 5 or 10 kiloton weapon, and it's unlikely North Korea has the expertise to do this.
Was this a failed test? A 10 kiloton nuke that fizzled? Not a nuke at all? (The North Koreans seemed unusually insistent that there was absolutely no release of radiation.) Or what?
I should add that Jeff, who's an old high school friend of mine, stresses that "My skepticism is not to be taken as a conclusion that North Korea is bluffing. A reliable detection of bomb-generated radionuclides would prove that they were not."
… I agree. There just seem to be several oddly suspicious things about the North Korean announcement.
Ah, but the French are always messing with our heads. They told us the Iraq war was stupid, so what do they know?
No one seems willing to come out and say it yet. But it's really starting to look like that North Korean nuclear test didn't work
. An unnamed intel official tells the Times that "We have assessed that the explosion in North Korea was a sub-kiloton explosion." I don't want to wade very far in at all on the technical details of evaluating this blast. I can't imagine a topic more distant from any expertise I have. But that would be really, really small for a nuclear blast.
Is it possible that the North Korean nuclear test was as big a failure as President Bush's nuclear policy?
… From what I can tell, the foreign press is entertaining the thought that this might have been a failed test more than the US press. The French Defense Minister has already said the meager yield suggests the test may have failed.
Then there's Jane's Defense Weekly, a go-to source on such matters with this - if the initial reports of a .55 kT (half a kiloton) blast are correct "it would suggest that the test had been a 'pre- or post-detonation' event (ie a failure), as it had been anticipated that North Korea's first nuclear test would have a significantly higher yield."
One of Josh Marshall's readers puts it this way -
Ouch! That last dig hurts.
So the Bush approach to NK is all blustery talk and very little delivery department. The NK approach to weapons research is very little bang for all the bluff.
Do these two deserve each other or what?
In Karl's grand quest to dumb down expectations, we are left with two miserable failures hell bent on World War III. The only thing saving the planet is the only thing they succeed at - being incompetent.
Maybe Mark Foley should mediate a measuring of State Wangs to settle which fool is the victor.
And even conservative John Derbyshire at the National Review's "The Corner" says here, failure or not, it may be time for an updated foreign-policy doctrine to address the oncoming wave of nuclear proliferation - "The George W. Bush doctrine died in the alleys and groves of Iraq, and nobody else is likely to volunteer for the job of world nuke cop."
And at "The Carpetbagger Report" the folks there are just working on the spin that is sure to come - all this is Bill Clinton's fault. They offer a reminder - "When Bush took office, Colin Powell endorsed a continuation of the Clinton administration policy, but was quickly overruled (and rebuked) by the White House. Bush ended negotiations, scraped the Agreed Framework, called Kim Jung Il names, and gave up on having any kind of coherent policy whatsoever."
Actually, the definitive history of all that was covered by Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly in 2004 here, and he now offers North Korea Tested an Atom Bomb; Now What?, with the subhead, "Four potential scenarios - all bad."
The setting -
The possibilities -
The "international community" has a chance to behave as if the term were more than a polite or ironic euphemism. If there's a single national leader in the world who likes this new development, he hasn't said so. The U.N. Security Council quickly voted 13-0 to condemn the nuclear test. Several nonmembers have joined in the criticism. Now all we need is a next step - action.
This is nothing to shrug off. The combination of Kim Jong-il and a nuclear arsenal is a nightmare. It doesn't mean he's going to fire A-bombs at the United States or, for that matter, at South Korea or Japan. Kim may be a monster, but he's not suicidal; his top priority is the survival of his regime, and he must know that a nuclear attack would be followed by obliterating retaliation.
But what nuclear weapons do provide is cover for lesser sorts of aggression. The "club" of nuclear nations is a sort of mafia. The bomb provides protection, and thus a certain swagger, whether the other club members like it or not.
… Kim Jong-il - like his father, Kim Il-Sung, before him - has kept his tiny, impoverished country afloat all these decades precisely by stirring up trouble and provoking confrontation (to justify his totalitarian rule), then playing his bigger neighbors off one another (to keep the tensions from spinning out of control and into his borders). His quest for nukes was propelled by a desire for the ultimate protection, mainly against an American attack. But now that he has them, he can be expected to play his games of chicken more feistily - and with still more opportunities for miscalculation.
Great, and then there's the possibility of sanctions not working, then escalation and war -
First, Kim Jong-il could churn out more bombs and sell at least some of them to the highest bidders. North Korea is dreadfully short of resources; his scheme to counterfeit American money has run into roadblocks; nukes might be his new cash cow. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush rallied domestic support by invoking the image of Saddam Hussein selling A-bombs to al-Qaida. It was a highly improbable scenario; even if Saddam had been building A-bombs, he would almost certainly have kept them under tight control. Kim, on the other hand, is a guerrilla-anarchist; he maintains his power not by trying to shape, or seek greater influence in, the international system but rather by throwing the system into a shambles. He's much less likely to have qualms about trading bombs for hard currency, regardless of the customer.
The second possible consequence of a nuclear North Korea is the unleashing of a serious regional arms race. The Japanese have long had the technical know-how and the stash of plutonium to build atomic (or possibly even hydrogen) bombs. They've foresworn that route because of moral qualms stemming from their own militarism in World War II. They also cite their security arrangement with the United States. But it's an open question how long these 60-year-old qualms would endure in the face of a clear and present danger. Just last month, a Japanese think tank run by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone published a study calling on the nation to "consider the nuclear option." North Korea's nuclear test can only fuel these temptations.
If Japan goes nuclear, the Chinese might decide that it's in their security interests to resume nuclear testing. China's moves could incite India to accelerate its nuclear program, which would almost certainly compel Pakistan to match that effort. The South Koreans, meanwhile, might feel they need their own bomb to deter any crazy ideas from their northern neighbor, which could push the cycle into still higher gear.
Third, it's a fair bet that the Iranians will be closely watching the coming weeks' events. If the world lets tiny, miscreant, destitute North Korea - the freaking Hermit Kingdom - get away with testing a nuke, then who will stop the oil-rich, leverage-loaded, modern-day Persian Empire from treading the same road?
There's no good in any of this. As Kaplan says - "So, here we are. The two major powers in this confrontation are led by blunderers; the provocateur is a chronic miscalculator. It doesn't look good."
A plan of economic pressure or sanctions depends crucially on cooperation from China. Without Chinese food, fuel, and other forms of aid, Kim Jong-il's regime would soon crumble. And that's the problem: The Chinese don't want the regime to crumble, for their own security reasons. It's a delicate matter to punish Kim just enough to affect his actions but not enough to trigger his downfall. The question is whether pressure from other countries - or the Chinese leaders' own anger at Kim's defiance of their warnings not to test - will lead them to walk this line and decide whether such a balancing act is possible.
It may well be that, back in 2003, the Chinese took the lead in creating a diplomatic forum to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis because they thought the Bush administration was about to order a military strike. They relaxed their sense of urgency once they realized a strike wasn't imminent after all. (This theory is held not only by White House hawks but also by many outside specialists who have pushed for direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.)
It is therefore conceivable that, in light of Sunday's test, some White House officials are proposing, once again, to send signals of impending military action against North Korea - if just to unnerve Beijing into going along with sanctions. The danger, of course, is that such stratagems can spiral out of control: signals can be misread, threats can escalate to gunshots.
So the week began.
Iraq - Gone
So long ago Lyndon Johnson watched Walter Cronkite on CBS News say the obvious about the Vietnam War, and was said to have muttered, "When we lose Cronkite we've lost the war." And he gave up, and walked away from another term in office. He'd had it. He knew.
Fareed Zakaria, the international editor and big gun at Newsweek, is supposed to be fulfilling the Walter Cronkite now, or some folks wish it were so.
Zakaria over the weekend wrote this -
And here's the wishful thinking from Kevin Drum -
It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed.
More waiting is unlikely to turn things around, nor will more troops.
… Nor will new American policies help. The reason that the Democrats seem to lack good, concrete suggestions on Iraq is that the Bush administration has actually been pursuing more-sensible policies for more than a year now, trying vainly to reverse many of its errors. But what might well have worked in 2003 is too little, too late in 2006.
And the widely-read Andrew Sullivan here -
This is a big deal. It's one thing to express retrospective misgivings about Iraq (as Peter Beinart has done) or to criticize the conduct of the war (as Tom Friedman has done), but it's quite another to finally admit that there's little more we can do and that we should come home. That's a difficult public step for someone who's a charter member of the conservative establishment, a man who supported the war and has been vocal ever since about the importance of getting Iraq right.
It's also nice to see Zakaria acknowledge the fact that it's understandable that Democrats don't have much of a positive agenda for Iraq. It's arguable whether the Iraq experiment could have worked under any circumstances, but it's undeniable that after three years of miscues there simply aren't any credible options left. You can't criticize Democrats for being unable to solve a problem that's no longer solvable.
Zakaria is a smart guy, but he's also a person who's good at putting his finger to the wind - and then getting credit for leading the way when he anticipates an imminent shift. That may be what's happening here. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to say something publicly in order to get everyone else to finally admit their own unspoken doubts. This may be the column that breaks the dam and makes withdrawal respectable among the center-right establishment.
I go back a long way with Fareed Zakaria and respect him enormously. He's a center-right realist, and he thinks the war is essentially over in Iraq and we have lost. I'm not there yet and willing to give the military one last try, if Rumsfeld is fired and a serious new plan for regaining control is unveiled. But if Fareed is giving in, you know it's beyond serious.
Maybe it is, but both discount Mister Fix-It.
That would be James A. Baker III.
Barry Schweid, the AP Diplomatic Writer, explains here -
But they're going to reframe that. It's time for the administration to consider other alternatives in Iraq. You just call it something else.
James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state with a long-standing reputation of service to Republican presidents and the Bush family in particular, has joined a list of prominent Republicans raising questions about the administration's Iraq policy.
Co-chairman of a bipartisan commission studying what to do next in the war torn country, Baker said his panel is preparing to recommend that President Bush consider options other than his "stay-the-course" strategy in Iraq.
"Our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of stay the course and cut and run," the former secretary of state said.
Partisan critics of Democratic proposals to consider drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq at times call that kind of talk a "cut and run" strategy.
Of course it's tricky -
Of course the week before Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, the Republican dude from Virginia, returned from a trip to Iraq and said the war there was "drifting sideways" - if Iraqis do not make progress in three months to reduce ethnic fighting and bolster reconstruction efforts, congress would have to make "bold decisions." And Bush's first secretary of state, Colin Powell had said this - "Stay the course isn't a good enough answer, because to stay the course you have to have a finish line." Other Republicans are jumping on board, or jumping overboard if you want to look at it that way - Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut.
Agreeing in part with Bush, Baker said "if we picked up and left right now" Iraq would be plunged into "the biggest civil war you've ever seen," with Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighboring countries getting involved. But he made it clear that the commission would advise changes in U.S. strategy, nevertheless.
"We're going to come up, hopefully, with some recommendations that the Congress and the president and the country can look at," he said.
Well, Baker was a close adviser to Bush's father - White House chief of staff and then secretary of state - and helped the son with the Florida recount during the election of 2000. He fixed that. Why not this?
But Baker also said Sunday he would like "to take this thing out of politics" by delaying the release of any recommendations until after the elections, and possibly even until a new Congress takes office in January. The young American soldiers who will die in that intervening period are sort of collateral damage. But it will give the Republicans a small edge in the upcoming election. Of course their families will think it was worth it.
Some of the recommendations have, though, already leaked -
So much for a new Iraq.
The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls "cutting and running" or "staying the course" ...
His group will not advise "partition", but is believed to favor a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.
The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.
Michael Young at "Reason" says this -
Yep, the whole thing might make Iraqis feel as if they've been jerked around but good. This is not pretty. But Baker can fix anything. And he's being astonishingly blunt.
Several ideas come to mind. First, far from being an alternative to "cutting and running", the plan seems an effort to prepare the ground for precisely that. How? Once the Kurds and the Shiites fully take in hand their security, the rationale goes, and they will do so once they have "states" to protect, then the U.S. can cut back its troop levels radically and pull out, or more likely withdraw to safe areas, probably to Kurdistan. But Washington's effective control over broad Iraqi policy would be largely over.
Second, the plan, whatever the denials that it is partition, is partition if it turns out as the article suggests. Nothing suggests a majority of Iraqis want partition, quite the contrary, or that this plan will resolve anything. In fact, it may lead to a new Yugoslavia-type situation, where communities fight over mixed areas. This time Baker won't be able to say "we have no dog in this fight" as he did when Yugoslavia collapsed. Historically, partitions have been terribly traumatic, whether in India, Korea, Vietnam, Cyprus, Palestine, and elsewhere, and it will very probably be the same in Iraq.
Third, is it really up to the U.S., after it screwed up postwar normalization in Iraq, to compound this with a plan that would only be perceived by Iraqis as a further effort to break them apart? Almost certainly this plan would be depicted by Iraqis and most Arabs as an effort to break up the Middle East into statelets to ensure that Israel remains strong, whatever the truth of that claim. At this stage, with everything that has gone on in the country, it seems far preferable to let the Iraqis decide their own future. The U.S. owes them patience and time to arrive at a solution by themselves.
John Dickerson here wonders about that -
Yeah, that's a winner. Right.
Baker is nothing if not a strategic thinker and a forward planner. He understands that two months from now, when the Study Group's plans are unveiled, he wants to look independent of the administration. Creating some distance from Bush now makes that more plausible. To sell the Study Group plan, he needs to be Jim Baker, truth-teller, not Jim Baker, political hack who helped Bush grab the election in Florida.
Coming so close to the election, Baker's comments were not politically helpful. But they may help Bush in the long run if the President is serious about staying in Iraq through the long, ugly slog ahead. If the core of the president's policies is going to survive after Election Day, he's going to need a new salesman. Bush has lost the country on Iraq, and he has lost his ability to convince the country that he's got a plan for victory. Baker may be just the man for the job of helping him win people over.
Utilizing Baker as an insider with the appearance of independence also presents Bush with an opportunity to change course. The president doesn't have to say he's following the Study Group's recommendations. He can claim the ideas were already under consideration - his approach when he yielded to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after members of both parties had been calling for such a thing, In this case, the leader of the thoughtful and sober Study Group would serve to sprinkle legitimacy on a redirection of policy that Bush will inevitably take credit for.
Baker may also give some cover to Republicans running for re-election who are too timid to speak up. I'm not criticizing the president, but the Baker plan sounds intriguing, said the congressman as he backpedaled out of the room. This is essentially what John Warner did last week as he worried aloud about chaos in Iraq and pointed to the Baker plan as a possible solution if the situation doesn't change in two or three months. The Study Group plan, as Baker sketched it, would keep troops in Iraq for at least a year and might encourage administration officials to enter direct talks with countries like Iran and Syria. Baker has also talked about other options like increasing U.S. troop levels after the election, according to one source.
… There's a final benefit for Bush in Baker's plan. Woodward's title State of Denial renews the critique that the president is isolated from reality and criticism. If Bush ultimately accepts the findings of a Study Group led by James Baker, he won't be the boy in the bubble anymore.
But there is the problem of redefining "cut and run" and all that. The problem is the volume setting on that has been rising, with the president hammering that "the Democratic party is the party of cut and run." He's saying it again and again, and it must be driving Baker crazy.
Dickerson again on that here -
But Baker will fix it all.
The cut-and-run phrase is an effective political weapon. It's pithy and plays on the public perception that Democrats are weak on issues of national security. The Democrats also can't agree about what to do in Iraq, so they can't fight back effectively.
It is also a very dumb phrase. It diminishes the debate by suggesting all options are crystal clear. It poisons the dialogue by angering those reasonable Democrats in Congress who are searching for a middle ground and by freezing those Republicans who want to offer constructive criticism but can't for fear they'll be accused of wanting to cut and run. As one Republican congressman put it recently: "Reality has been suspended for a moment. Republicans cannot speak out publicly on this issue right now."
… the most important reason the president shouldn't use any formulation of the "cut and run" language is that withdrawing from Iraq is part of his strategy.
… [But] That's the whole point of the "cut and run" attack - to label all talk of withdrawal as weak appeasement. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin's proposal for a series of benchmark tests that would lead to withdrawal is not that different from administration policy in Iraq. But no Republican dares admit that in an election year, so they dish out a little more "cut and run" to lump all Democrats together. If Bush is successful, voters will find Levin indistinguishable from Rep. John Murtha who has called for a faster withdrawal and whose claim that "we've failed" in Iraq is politically not palatable for most Americans. In the hands of administration officials, withdrawal is a useful tool. Used by others, it is a tragic disaster.
… The sloppy political talk of "cut and run" limits Bush's options because he can't really ever make good on his threat to leave Iraq if he thinks its leaders aren't making the tough choices. Democrats would be well within their rights to call that cutting and running. Having used the term so recklessly to define all gradations of withdrawal, Bush invites opponents to use it just as recklessly to define his decision to start bringing troops home. Insurgents would find comfort in that debate and think they'd won. Jihadists will find any pretext and think they've prevailed even in the moment of their incineration, but the president and others dishing out the accusations of "cut and run" shouldn't be helping them.
As for Afghanistan, see this - "The top NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Sunday that if the lives of Afghans don't improve within the next six months, a majority of them could switch their allegiance to the Taliban."
Have we lost both wars?
How It's All Playing in Peoria
The polling as of late Monday, October 9 -
PRESIDENTIAL APPROVAL RATINGS
New York Times - CBS here - 34%
ABC - Washington Post here - 39%
Gallup here - 37% (down from 44% last month)
HOUSE SPEAKER HASTERT AND PROVIDING COVER FOR A SEXUAL PREDATOR TO SAVE A SEAT IN THE HOUSE
See Survey USA here -
He should resign from congress: 45%
He should resign his leadership post but can stay in congress: 25%
He should stay in congress and should remain Speaker of the House: 26%
SOME GOOD NEWS
Republicans Stand To Benefit from Nuclear Test 'Fear Factor' - "Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker in Congress, and John Boehner, the Republican majority leader, released statements soon after the North Korean nuclear test announcement. With only a month left to go for mid-term elections, Republicans see the nuclear test issue could bring back their dwindling popularity."
People will be frightened. That helps.
THE BACK-UP PLAN
Just a heads-up -
It's a plan. And it wasn't a good Monday.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its accompanying strike force of cruiser, destroyer and attack submarine slipped their moorings and headed off for the Persian Gulf region on Oct. 2…
The Eisenhower strike force… is scheduled to arrive in the vicinity of Iran around October 21, at the same time as a second flotilla of minesweepers and other ships.
This build-up of naval power around the coast of Iran, according to some military sources, is in preparation for an air attack on Iran that would target not just Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, but its entire military command and control system.
While such an attack could be expected to unleash a wave of military violence all over Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere against American forces and interests and against oil wells, pipelines and loading facilities, as well as a mining of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, with a resulting skyrocketing of global oil prices, the real goal of this new war by the U.S. would be ensuring Republican control of the House and Senate.
It seems increasingly clear that the Republican Party is going to lose its grip on the House of Representatives, and that it may even lose control of the Senate, barring some dramatic October Surprise by the president. So far, the surprises have been working against Republicans, with the Foley sex scandal, the evidence that Abramoff's bribery reached right into the inner sanctum of the White House, and the deteriorating U.S. position in Iraq.
With the number of House seats reportedly "in play" now rising from 15 to 30 and now 50, President Bush is looking at the possibility of a blow out Nov. 7 that could see him facing a Democratic Congress bent on revenge for five six years of systematic abuse.
… This means that the worse things look for Republican chances in November, the greater the likelihood that a desperate President Bush will order a disastrous attack on Iran - one that would have the country enter into a third, even worse, war even as it is currently busy losing two others.