Thursday, June 30, 2005

Iraq War: The Downing Street Memo, cakewalks and the real, existing war

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

"Your gutless liberal media at work"

The quote is from Gene Lyons: One party government, lap-dog press Daily Dunklin Democrat 06/29/05.

And he's definitely being ironic in his line about the "liberal media."

The column is about the American press' handling of the Downing Street Memo and similar Brittish documents on the lead-up to the Iraq War. My favorite line is when he introduces his summary of what the Downing Street Memo is: "For readers who have been either vacationing on Mars or getting all their news from the so-called mainstream media ..."

And he observes (emphasis added):

It's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that had Bush and Blair allowed U.N. inspectors to finish the job, they'd have established that Iraq had no forbidden stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. [Bush and blair] invaded anyway.

Even so, during the 2004 campaign, Bush often repeated this brazen falsehood: "We gave (Saddam) a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

Yet the most damaging aspect of the Downing Street memos is what they reveal about the arrogant incompetence of the White House ideologue who thought occupying Iraq would be a "cakewalk."

From the start, Blair's advisers warned him that "U.S. military plans are virtually silent" about the likelihood that conquering Iraq would lead to a post-war occupation and "a protracted and costly nation-building exercise." Straw, the British foreign secretary, wanted to know how "there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be any better. Iraq has no history of democracy, so no one has this habit or experience."

I would note here that the neoconservative worthy who is normally credited with with the "cakewalk" metaphor is Ken Adelman, who was not actually part of the Bush administration. Still Lyons' point is on the mark, although I'm guessing he meant something more like "the White House ideologues ..." I don't think he misused the "cakewalk" quotation, either, but it's the kind of thing that obsessive Republican comma-dancers love to pounce on.

And while we're speaking of the cakewalk, let's take a quick stroll down memory lane to those exciting days just before Bush launched his war to get rid of Iraq's nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction." Here's Mr. Cakewalk himself: Cakewalk in Iraq by Ken Adelman Washington Post 02/13/05.

Sneering at a Brookings Institute paper that suggested that 100,0000-200,000 troops would be needed for the war - we still have 139,000 or so there now and they aren't nearly enough to fight a counterinsurgency war - Adelman wrote:

I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.

Gordon and O'Hanlon mention today's "400,000 active-duty troops in the Iraqi military" and especially the "100,000 in Saddam's more reliable Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard," which "would probably fight hard against the United States -- just as they did a decade ago during Desert Storm." Somehow I missed that. I do remember a gaggle of Iraqi troops attempting to surrender to an Italian film crew. The bulk of the vaunted Republican Guard either hunkered down or was held back from battle.

Two things strike me about this little nostalgic tidbit. One is it's mention of the size of Iraq's army: 400,000 troops plus 100,000 Republican Guard types. Saddam needed 500,000 troops, not counting police, to keep Iraq together and defend its borders. Even assuming a government with no popular support, these are figures well worth keeping in mind. The administration is currently claiming there are 170,000 "security" personnel in training, a figure which includes police. Somewhere between zero and three thousand of those are battle-ready troops.

Do the math. Then ask yourself, is Iraq going to be militarily self-sufficient in two years?

If in the first two and a half years of war, we've trained maybe three thousand effective troops ... well, the math isn't very attractive.

The other things that stands out is his comment "now we're playing for keeps." In the immediate sense, he was most presumably referring to Bush II's war aim of ousting Saddam's regime, in contrast to Bush I's decision to not attempt to do so in the Gulf War.

But now we have a much better sense of what "playing for keeps" meant. As in, you broke it, you own it. Reconstructing a country while fighting a counterinsurgency war is not a cakewalk in any normal understanding of the term.

But, ironically, this is one of the main difficulties the US faces in Iraq, which is similar to one encountered in the Vietnam War. The insurgents are fighting for their homeland, their tribes, their religious sect, their ethnic groups. The US is fighting to help a pro-Iranian, Shia government survive in a country about which most Americans know little and care less. Who has the bigger stakes in this fight from their own perspective? Who is more likely to play for keeps?

Five hundred thousand troops under Saddam. We're now got 0.6% of that ready to go. By an optimistic count.

A cakewalk, they said.

Bush's foreign policy gobsmacks the world

Timothy Garton Ash in this column takes an optimistic view of current American foreign policy in general: The sobering of America Guardian (UK) 06/30/05. Although I'm not sure hardcore Bush fans would see his perspective as such.

In short, whether or not the invasion of Iraq was a crime, it's now clear that - at least in the form in which the invasion and occupation was executed by the Bush administration - it was a massive blunder. And the American people are beginning to see this. Before Bush spoke at Fort Bragg, 53% of those asked in a CNN/Gallup poll said it was a mistake to go into Iraq. Just 40% approved of how he has handled Iraq, down from 50% at the time of the presidential election last November. Contrary to what many Europeans believe, you can fool some of the Americans all of the time, and all of the Americans some of the time, but you can't fool most Americans most of the time - even with the help of Fox News. Reality gets through. Hence the new sobriety.

His following paragraph is a reminder of how far the sentimentalizing and romanticizing of the military has gone in the US (my emphasis):

I don't want to overstate this. One is still gobsmacked by things American Republicans say. Take the glorification of the military, for example. In his speech, Bush insisted "there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces". What? No higher calling! How about being a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an aid worker? Unimaginable that any European leader could say such a thing.

I've never seen or heard the word "gobsmacked" before. But I like it. l As Tom Sawyer might have said, I don't know what it means but it sure sounds grand!

And Garton Ash is definitely not impressed with Bush's argument that the Iraq War was a great idea because now we're fighting some jihadist terrorists there (my emphasis):

Consider. Three years ago, when the Bush administration started ramping up the case for invading Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorists who had attacked the US. There was still a vast amount to be done to make Afghanistan a safeplace. Iraq, meanwhile, was a hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. But, as the United States' own September 11 commission subsequently concluded, Saddam's regime had no connection with the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The US-led invasion, and Washington's grievous mishandling of the subsequent occupation, have made it so. General Wesley Clark puts it plainly: "We are creating enemies." And the president observes: our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming another Taliban-style, al-Qaida-harbouring Afghanistan! This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says: "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."

Iraq War: One glimpse at the real, existing war

All I can say is, go read this story: From Iraq, a soldier/father's perspective on the war by Joe Galloway Knight-Ridder 06/14/05.

This is a soldier's account of an incident of which he was a part in Iraq. Anyone who believes that war is glamorous - for the soldiers who have to fight it - should read this story about ten times to see if they can find any glamor in it.

Notice that the soldier is not expressing opposition to the war itself, or condemning any of the participants. Tragic as the events are, there is no indication that there was any kind of deliberate misconduct or even carelessness.

But I have to wonder if anyone involved in this incident would agree with President Bush's assertion in his speech last Tuesday, "there is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces." A person can be a perfectly good soldier and do his duty conscientiously, and still wind up with memories that will haunt him all his life.  (See the following post for another reaction to that line.)

Bush vs. the "reality-based" world

Pointing out the hypocricies of the other side must have been a part of politics from its origins.  So I usually don't spend much energy doing it.  Because there is never a shortage of such comparisons.  And I assume people tune them out, unless they are from one's own side.

Tom Engelhardt is doing something more substantial in this article: The immoral relativists of the Bush administration 06/29/05.  After all, responding to perceived trends and reacting to events in the context of one's understanding of them is very much a part of politics, as they are in many other parts of life and business.

Engelhardt in this article is looking at how the Republicans have seemingly learned lessons with strange effects in opposing certain things on the basis of a flawed understanding of them:

Here's the strange thing, then: No one in our lifetime has found the nature of reality to be more definitionally supple, more malleable, more… let's say it… postmodern and relative (to their needs and desires) than the top officials of the Bush administration. ...

From top to bottom, Bush's people are, in this sense, a caricature of their own caricature of the 1960s. In fact, given their fixation on the Sixties, it's worth revisiting their record in that long-ago era when they were already the most morally relative of beings. On the central issue of those years, the Vietnam War, they were essentially missing in action; or, as our Vice President so famously commented, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." The striking thing about the record of most of the Bush administration's key players (and almost all of the neocons) was that they used privilege, legalistic tricks, and every bit of slyness they could muster to avoid any entanglement with Vietnam (on any side of the issue) and later on, coming to power, they had not the slightest compunction about wrapping themselves in the flag and the uniform, acting like the warriors they never were, and attacking those who had engaged in some fashion with the Vietnam War.

It is perhaps not an irony but a kind of inevitability that, having worked so hard to avoid Vietnam (and its"mistakes") all those years, they now find themselves tightly gripped by a situation of their own making that has a remarkably Vietnam-like look to it; and, worse yet, they find themselves acting as if they were now, after all these years, back in the 1960s fighting the War in Vietnam rather than the one in Iraq. In his testimony before the Senate last week, Donald Rumsfeld even managed to get the classic Vietnam word "quagmire" and the equivalent of "light at the end of the tunnel" into a single sentence : "There isn't a person at this table who agrees with you [Senator Ted Kennedy] that we're in a quagmire and there's no end in sight."

Josh Marshall had described Bush's postmodernism in a 2003 article: The Post-Modern President Washington Monthly September 2003.

This summer, when it became clear that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program--indeed showed no apparent evidence of any weapons of mass destruction at all--that the economy was still losing jobs, and that the administration's own budget office predicted deficits as far as it dared project, Bush's reputation for honesty took a turn for the worse. By the middle of July, only 47 percent of adults surveyed by Time/CNN said they felt they could trust the president, down from 56 percent in March. The president's response to all this was to make yet more confidently expressed, undisprovable assertions. He simply insisted that his tax cuts would create jobs--and who knows? Perhaps someday they will--and that American forces would eventually turn up evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But by then, the press was beginning to pick up on deceptions in other policy areas--the redaction of evidence of global warming in EPA reports, the administration's refusal to provide Congress with any estimates whatsoever about the costs of the occupation of Iraq. The White House seemed guilty of what might be called persistent, chronic up-is-downism, the tendency to ridicule the possibility that a given policy might actually have its predictable adverse consequences, to deny those consequences once they have already occurred, or--failing that--to insist against all evidence that those consequences were part of the plan all along. By late July, even a paragon of establishment conservatism like Barron's columnist Alan Abelson was lamenting the president's "regrettable aversion to the truth and reality when the truth and reality aren't lovely or convenient."

The president and his aides don't speak untruths because they are necessarily people of  bad character. They do so because their politics and policies demand it. As astute observers such as National Journal's Jonathan Rauch have recently noted, George W. Bush campaigned as a moderate, but has governed with the most radical agenda of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Indeed, the aim of most of Bush's policies has been to overturn what FDR created three generations ago. (my emphasis)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Afghan War: Intensifying?

While Afghanistan is used as a ritual invocation of the Success of Bush's wars of liberation, there is still a war going on there. And it appears to be heating up: Chinook that crashed in Afghanistan likely brought down by enemy fire: Fate of 17 aboard unknown; terrain hampering rescue efforts by Joseph Giordono and Jason Chudy, Stars and Stripes Stars and Stripes Mideast edition 06/30/05. Emphases are mine:

"Initial reports indicate the crash may have been caused by hostile fire," Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, a Combined Joint Task Force-76 spokesman, said Wednesday. ...

The helicopter — flying with a second Chinook at the time of the crash — was part of Operation Red Wing, which U.S. military officials described as an ongoing effort launched after "a series of harassing attacks and intelligence-gathering activities against Afghan and U.S. forces" in Kunar Province. ...

Other pilots in Afghanistan said the incident, while tragic, was not unexpected.

"Last week, we had four of our own shot up. It’s something we think of quite regularly," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert DePartee, a CH-47D pilot with Company D, 113th Aviation Regiment, an Oregon National Guard unit at Kandahar Airfield.

"The ’47 is a large target, but it has to take hits in certain areas to bring it down." ...

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Russell Smith, another CH-47 pilot with the Oregon Guard, said encounters with armed enemies were frequent. ...

If confirmed, Tuesday’s incident would be the first time enemy forces have shot down a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda in 2002. During that fight, a Chinook carrying special operations troops was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and forced into an emergency landing. Six servicemembers were killed in an attempt to retrieve a seventh who had been killed after being knocked out of the helicopter when it was hit.

Tuesday’s crash is the second in Afghanistan involving a Chinook in recent months. On April 6, a Germany-based CH-47 Chinook crashed in a dust storm southwest of Kabul, killing 15 servicemembers and three civilians. The helicopter crew was part ofGiebelstadt’s Company F, 159th Aviation Regiment, known as "Big Windy." Also killed were several members of the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force (Airborne).

That incident was single worst loss of life for U.S. forces since the 2001 invasion. There are around 19,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, along with another 10,000 from other countries.

There have been recent other reports recently indicating an increasing sophistication in guerrilla attacks in Afghanistant, possibly as a result of jihadist veterans of the Iraq War taking part. If this turns out to have been a shootdown, it could be another reflection of increased lethality in attacks there.

And if I'm not mistaken, 19,000 troops is the largest number the US has officially had there so far.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Juan Cole on Bush's speech

Juan Cole does an early fisking of Bush's war speech: Arguing with Bush Informed Comment blog 06/29/05. An excerpt:

There are no Iraqi military units that can and will fight independently against the Sunni guerrillas, so all those statistics he quoted are meaningless.

Almost all the coalition allies of the US have a short timetable for getting out of the quagmire before it goes really bad. Bush's quotation of all that international support sounds more hollow each time he voices it.

The political process in Iraq has not helped end the guerrilla war. It has excluded Sunnis or alienated them so that they excluded themselves. It offers no hope in and of itself.

There was nothing new in Bush's speech, and most of what he said was inaccurate.

Steve Gilliard on Bush's audience

Steve Gilliard has an intriguing post suggesting that Bush's immediate audience, selected to be a fitting backdrop for Warlord Bush, wasn't especially impressed with his speech Tuesday:  Lying to the troops 06/29/05.

All the White House wanted was a serious military audience. The problem is that it's also a smart military audience, with real-world experience. So they were respectful to Bush, but the audience was icy cold, smirks and tepid applause. And that was from an audience which wanted to listen to him, along with the families of the dead. By the end of it, only the Sergeant Majors were left to shake his hand. Men who have seen more combat than most other humans outside the Congo. And they knew he was full of [expletive deleted]. They talk to generals. It's part of their job. They know Bush lied to them. ...

If we lived in a country with shame, Bush should feel some while lying before some of America's bravest soldiers. [But] we knew he wouldn't before he opened his mouth.

But unless they were a freeper, they knew they had just sat through a bit of delusion which rivaled calls for Army Group Steiner to save Berlin.

Just what are we seeing here in the Iraq War?  How much wreckage, on how many fronts, is Warlord Bush going to leave behind as he carries on his grand Mesopotamian crusade?

Iraq War: This exit strategy doesn't sound pretty, but it may be right

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Bob Dreyfuss has some thoughtful - and actually meaningful - comparisons of the Iraq War to the Vietnam War: The Vietnam Solution 06/28/05.  Here is his take on what he thinks would be the most feasible exit strategy for the US:

Once again, it is obvious to all - again, including our intelligence agencies - that the war in Iraq is lost. Once again, like the [1968] Tet Offensive [in Vietnam], the recent wave of bloody assaults across Iraq has made it clear that the resistance, far from being in its "last throes," is not being defeated. Once again, a Nixon-like American administration is refusing to sue for peace. Though Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has admitted that U.S. authorities in Iraq have been conducting an on-again, off-again dialogue with some elements of the insurgency, it is not nearly enough. The United States is talking, but not negotiating—instead, it is trying to find a few disparate elements of the resistance in order to get them to support the U.S.-installed Iraqi interim government. Such take-it-or-leave-it dialogues are doomed to failure, since all they can produce are a few more Sunni quislings who will immediately become targets of the insurgency themselves. For the most part, the United States continues to insist that all potential olive branches from the resistance be delivered to the offices of the interim (and utterly illegitimate) ersatz government in the modern-day Saigon that is Baghdad.

It is perfectly clear what the United States has to do. It must abandon its deformed offspring in Baghdad, the hapless regime of Shiite fanatics and Kurdish warlords, and pray that it can establish direct talks with the people it is fighting.

There is no other exit strategy.

But can Karl Rove package it as a macho strategy for Radical Republicans?

I should add that I'm not quite as negative on the Iraqi government as Dreyfuss - although he is a well-informed reporter on the Middle East, so I do take his analyses seriously.

But that the Iraqi government may have more legitimacy than he gives it credit for having isn't necessarily good news for the US.  This is Shia-dominated government, inclined to be very friendly to Iran.  Ayatollah Sistani insisted on having elections in more-or-less the way they were held; the Bush administration effectively caved in to his preferences.  While the regime is militarily dependent on the US at the moment, it can't be seen as simply a puppet government.

Whatever their intentions, the Bush team has succeeded in installing a pro-Iranian Shia regime in Iraq.

Dreyfuss also has more faith in the Bush administration than I do in one way, at least.  He thinks that by 2007, the approaching elections will persuade them to embrace a disengagement strategy of some kind.  I don't expect to see them do that at all.  It will be left to the next president.  I hope I'm wrong.  The Iraq War is doing major damage to US interests.

But exiting may also damage American interests badly, as well.  That's part of the meaning of "quagmire."  Dreyfuss would prefer some kind of negotiated withdrawal to setting a date-certain for withdrawal.  "Still," he writes, "the Iraqi resistance knows (as does the U.S. intelligence community) that eventually Washington is going to have to make a deal, or just get out."

Bush and his soldier speech-props

Why does Dear Leader Bush, Liberator of Peoples and Hooder of the Unrighteous, insist on appearing so often in front of military audiences?

Well, for one thing, their literally under his control.  They aren't allowed to boo, catcall or asking uppity questions.

But Bush particularly loves the military trappings, it seems.  Andrew Bacevich addresses this phenomenon in his excellent book: The New American Militarism : How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005).  Bacevich argues that the civil-military relationship, inherently difficult in many ways, is being made "even more problematic" by "the ongoing process of militarizing the presidency itself."  He writes (my emphasis):

The framers of the Constitution designated the president as commander-in-chief as a means of asserting unambiguous civilian control. Their clear expectation and intent was that the chief executive would be in all respects a civilian. This point was not lost even on generals elected to the office: upon becoming president, for example, George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower each went out of his way to set aside his prior soldierly identity.

In recent years, however, serving presidents have gone further [than merely striking a military pose on occasion], finding it politically expedient to blur the hitherto civilian character of their office. ... In the theater of national politics, Americans have come to accept the propriety of using neatly turned-out soldiers and sailors as extras, especially useful in creating the right background for presidential photo ops.  Of late, they have also become accustomed to their president donning military garb—usually a fighter jock's snappy leather jacket—when visiting the troops or huddling with his advisers at Camp David.

More recently still, this has culminated in George W. Bush styling himself as the nation's first full-fledged warrior-president. The staging of Bush's victory lap shortly after the conquest of Baghdad in the spring of 2003—the dramatic landing on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the president decked out in the full regalia of a naval aviator emerging from the cockpit to bask in the adulation of the crew—was lifted directly from the triumphant final scenes of the movie Top Gun, with the boyish George Bush standing in for the boyish Tom Cruise. For this nationally televised moment, Bush was not simply mingling with the troops; he had merged his identity with their own and made himself one of them—the president as warlord. In short order, the marketplace ratified this effort; a toy manufacturer offered for $39.99 a Bush look-alike military action figure advertised as "Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush—U.S. President and Naval Aviator."

Bacevich observes that the practice is not restricted to Republicans, using Kerry's 2004 appearance at the Democratic National Convention that celebrated his Vietnam exploits and had the candidate himself declared that he was "reporting for duty" with a military salute.

Yes, the politics of his pose was perfectly understandable.  But it's a sign of how badly our democratic culture has degenerated in this regard that the political logic behind it is immediately understandable.

I realize that my blog is named in honor of Andrew Jackson, a general who became president.  His fans often referred to him as "the General."  And, being one of them, so do I.

But if Old Hickory ever used the kind of military affectations while he was president that are standard for Warlord Bush, it would be news to me.

Bush calls for military volunteers; asks Young Republicans to set example for others

Yeah, right.

Instead, Dear Leader Bush gave us the following messages (all quotes from the transcript at the Washington Post Web site: Text of President Bush's Speech at Fort Bragg, N.C. 06/28/05).  I've paraphrased and boiled it down a bit here.  (My own comments are in parentheses.)

The Iraq War is a response to the 9/11 attacks.  A Terrorist is a Terrorist, and we have to git 'em.  (Except the ones we're negotiating with, of course.)

The Iraq War is "a central front in the war on terror."  (Or at least it became that after we invaded and gave the jihadists a new cause, in addition to a massive training ground in urban guerrilla warfare.)

I (Bush) agree with Osama bin Laden - and I'm actually saying his name out loud - when he says, "This third world war is raging in Iraq.  The whole world is watching this war.  He says it will end in victory and glory or misery and humiliation."  (I'll wait to see what Arabic-speaking fact-checkers like Juan Cole or Michael Scheuer may have to say about this part; I don't recall ever seeing a statement by Bin Laden that identified Iraq with a Third World War.  But it's no surprise that Bush agrees with a mirror-image of what he takes to be Bin Laden's ideology.)

The Terrorists are bad.

If we withdraw from Iraq, Bin Laden (he mentioned his name again!) or somebody like him will take over the Middle East.

The Iraqi security forces are taking over for Americans.  Really, I wouldn't lie to you about Iraq, would I?

Lots of other countries are helping us in Iraq.

Every day in Iraq, things are getting better and better in every way.

If we set a deadline to leave, The Terrorists would know that all they have to do is wait us out.  (At the start, he said if we weren't fighting The Terrorists in Iraq, they would be coming here to kill us.  Now he says they would stay in Iraq to wait us out.  I guess we're getting so "postmodern" now that we can switch realities in the middle of a single speech.)

Don't ask me when we might ever leave.

I'm not sending more troops.  I just do what the generals tell me.  If something goes wrong - and nothing has and nothing willl - it may be their fault.  Definitely not mine.

Iraq is becoming a wonderful democracy.  Really, the people there support the government.  And the government there supports us.  And we support them. Trust me.

Our invasion made Libya give up WMDs.  (Let's not worry about how they were trying to make a deal even before that.)

Freedom is on the march in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  And it's all my doing.

We have to maintain our Will to defeat The Terrorists.  Maintaining our Will means supporting my policies and pretending not to notice when I blow smoke in your faces.

Did I mention that the Iraq War is kind of like 9/11?  No, wait.  It's The Terrorists.  They were trying to break our Will on 9/11.  And now in Iraq.  Iraq War, 9/11, The Terrorists, it's all the same.

Iraq is where The Terrorists are making their stand against America.  (They're not waiting us out any more.  They're back to going to Iraq to fight Americans. Postmodern speeches can make you dizzy.)

The Iraq War is kind of like the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  (Don't think too hard about the comparisons, though.)

Americans believe in Truth, fighting Evil, Strength, Hard Work, Courage and Freedom.  Which is on the march, by the way.

We're grateful for our military.  If we didn't have them, Jenna and Barbara might be expected to volunteer for the Army.  And I might be expected to call for volunteers.  Or propose a draft.

Oh, and we liberated Afghanistan, just like Iraq.  Things are swell there now, too.

[End paraphrasing.]

Well, that clears everything up, doesn't it?

I was struck by Bush posturing as a mirror-image of Bin Laden.  Who had nothing to do with Saddam's regime.  It was the American invasion and the subsequent chaos and violence that gave Al Qaeda and the Sunni jihadists an opening in Iraq.

It reminds me of Nietzsche's statement in Jenseits von Gut und Böse (Beyond Good and Evil):

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird.  Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.

[He who fights with monsters should take care that he doesn't become a monster himself in doing so.  And if you look into an abyss for a long time, the abyss is also looking into you.]

I would be reminded of it even more strongly if I thought that Bush had ever actually seriously focused on combatting Al Qaeda and the jihadists threat.  Instead, he has just used 9/11 and Bin Laden as excuses for invading and occupying Iraq, which then had nothing to do with either.

[Later note: The transcript that Daily Kos reproduces here includes the following sentence that was not in the Post transcript designated as an 8:11PM (EDT) text on which I relied for the above:  "And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our Armed Forces."  The ABC video of the speech also includes that passage.  So he made at least a passing gesture to volunteering.]

Bush to appeal for unity and civility?

Molly Ivins has been down this road before with Republican sleaze-slinging. That doesn't mean she's happy or complacent about it:

Batten down the hatches 06/28/05

Setting up a straw man, calling it liberal and then knocking it down has become a favorite form of "argument" for those on the right. Make some ridiculous claim about what "liberals" think, and then demonstrate how silly it is. Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and many other right-wing ravers never seem to get tired of this old game. If I had a nickel for every idiotic thing I've ever heard those on the right claim "liberals" believe, I'd be richer than Bill Gates.

The latest and most idiotic statement yet comes from Karl Rove, who is not, actually, an objective observer. He is George Bush's hatchet man. Last week, Rove, in an address to the Conservative Party of New York, made the following claim: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." ...

... Anyone remember what actually happened after 9-11? Unprecedented unity, support across the board, joint statements by Democratic and Republican political leaders. The whole world was with us. The most important newspaper in France headlined, "We Are All Americans Now," and all our allies sent troops and money to help. That is what George Bush has pissed away with his war in Iraq. ...

The first furious assault on the patriotism of Democrats came right after the 9-11 commission learned President Bush had received a clear warning in August 2001 that Osama bin Laden was planning a hijacking.

Batten down the hatches: This is the beginning of an administration push to jack up public support for the war in Iraq by attacking anyone with enough sense to raise questions about how it's going.

But I'm sure Bush's speech in a few hours will be a high-minded call for patriotic unity and civility that will put an end to Rove's kind of sleaze for a while. I mean, after he admits his mistakes and makes a rousing call for volunteers for the armed services.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Iraq War: Will Bush surprise us in his Tuesday speech?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

I'll bet Bush uses the following in his speech Tuesday evening when he appeals for a mass of volunteers for the Army and Marines.  Via Juan Cole on his Informed Comment blog 06/28/05, I see this article from The Scotsman: Bush warns Blair he must boost UK forces by Brian Brady 06/26/05.

Britain is coming under sustained pressure from American military chiefs to keep thousands of troops in Iraq - while going ahead with plans to boost the front line against a return to "civil war" in Afghanistan.

Tony Blair was warned that war-torn Iraq remains on the brink of disaster - more than two years after the removal of Saddam Hussein - during his summit with President Bush in Washington earlier this month.

Scotland on Sunday revealed last month that Blair is preparing to rush thousands more British troops to Afghanistan in a bid to stop the country sliding towards civil war, amid warnings the coalition faces a "complete strategic failure" in the effort to rebuild the nation.

The grim prognosis was underlined last night by Afghanistan's defence minister, who warned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was regrouping and planned to bring Iraq-style bloodshed to the country.

Say what?  Iraq is on the brink of disaster?  Afghanistan sliding toward civil war?  Gosh, that's not what Rummy was saying on TV this past weekend.  He said things were going fine in Iraq if only the news media would report the good things.  And that Afghanistan was a model democracy (or something to that effect).

Man, I bet Bush fires Rummy for putting out such misinformation!  I'm sure Bush will level with the people in his Tuesday speech.  I bet he doesn't even smirk during it.

But despite fears that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, the Americans have now launched a determined rearguard action to ensure Iraq does not suffer from a switch in Britain's military focus.

"The Prime Minister was given a pretty depressing run-down of the prognosis for Iraq while he was in Washington," one senior Ministry of Defence source said last night. "The Americans are pushing for at least a maintenance of the troop numbers we have there now. Our latest intention is to reduce by at least half the number of our troops in Iraq within a year.["]

Escalating in Afghanistan.  Trying to maintain current troop levels in Iraq.  Things going badly in both places.  Actually "brink of disaster" in Iraq and facing "complete strategic failure" in Afghanistan sound like things are going very badly.

Juan Cole comments:

The mystery to me is why the Americans think they need more British troops in southern Iraq. Most of that area has fallen into the hands of religious Shiite militias anyway, and I doubt the British get out of their barracks all that much. When they do, they appear to be angering a lot of the Shiites, as in Maysan, the provincial government of which yesterday launched a non-cooperation campaign against the British. Do the Americans want to move the British up to the hot zone in the Sunni heartland? Is the South more unstable than it looks on the outside (e.g. is the Mahdi Army reconstituting itself down there?)

Ironically, even as the Afghanistan venture appears on the verge of collapse, Dick Cheney instanced it in his Wolf Blitzer interview on Sunday as evidence of the undue pessimism of his critics and a reason to be optimistic about Iraq.

I'm glad Bush is going to finally have a frank talk with the American people about all this.

The press, Vietnam and a mistaken piece of conventional wisdom

Now that the Republican Party has adopted the Nixon-on-Oxycontin strategy to paint all critics of Bush's policies in the Iraq War as unpatriotic supporters of The Terrorists who behead people, I'm sure we'll being hearing various aspects of it elaborated in the Reps' Mighty Wurlitzer over the next few weeks.

And one major part of it will be one of their perennial favorites, attacking the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press!  The notion that The Media caused the defeat of the US in the Vietnam War is dear to the hearts of the Radical Republicans.

That interpretation, or "narrative" to use the postmodern term, is seriously at odds with reality.  And in this post I take a look at some of the problems with it.

The press and the Battle of Ap Boc

Jeffrey Record was right when he wrote the following in The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam (1998), speaking of the common notion that the US media was a significant cause of the loss of the Vietnam War.  Though he notes that it remains one of "prime targets of recrimination among those who believe that victory in Vietnam was stolen from the American military."

Condemnation of the media is a dog that won't hunt. To be sure, the media's professional performance in covering the war left much to be desired. The fact remains, however, that until the [1968] Tet Offensive, which prompted a dramatic lowering of U.S. war aims (from seeking; a military victory to searching for an "honorable" way out of Vietnam), both print and broadcast media editorials by and large supported the war, in many cases buying the official and congenitally optimistic line on the war's course. Moreover, the early skepticism of such bright and ambitious young journalists as Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnette, and David Halberstam over official prognoses of the war's progress was justified. That skepticism was fueled by the yawning gap between, on the one hand, what they saw in the field with their own eyes - and were told by such U.S. Army advisors as the legendary John Paul Vann - and, on the other, the perceptions to which they were treated back in Saigon by such career optimists as Ambassador Fritz Nolting and Westmoreland's predecessor, Paul Harkins (who, among other things, called the South Vietnamese Army's calamitous performance in the January [1963] Battle of Ap Bac a victory). The press was rightly suspicious of an official reporting system whose integrity was constantly threatened by a near manic preoccupation with quantification and with pleasing superiors.

This sounds depressingly familiar to anyone who has followed the US press coverage of the Iraq War and the "congenitally optimistic" pronoucements of progress by both military and civilian officials.

The Battle of Ap Bac to which Record refers was an important early turning point in the relationship of some of the most important reporters in the field and US officials.  It was an engagement in which the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN), under the direction of American advisers, performed badly in a situation where ARVN troops had a 10:1 advantage against the Vietcong.  At the end of the battle, 61 ARVN soldiers were dead, but only three Vietcong bodies were found.

Both military and civilian officials insisted it was a triumph.  The reporters covering it thought otherwise.  This wasn't simply a case of deliberate deception.  There was also some self-deception going on.  The American officials were judging it by the standards of conventional warfare.  As Stanley Karnow wrote in Vietnam: A History (1983), this positive evaluation by US officials "underlined their concept of the conflict: a conventional contest for territory."  The ARVN had seized a piece of ground.  But the Vietcong had outfought them.

Karnow also describes how the Kennedy administration viewed the bad press on the battle:

The outcome at Ap Bac aggravated the friction then growing between the American government and the news media. Neither Kennedy nor his successors would impose censorship, which would have required them to acknowledge that a real war was being waged. Instead, they wanted journalists to cooperate by accentuating the positive. Just after the Ap Bac battle, when Peter Arnett of the Associated Press asked him a tough question, Admiral Felt shot back: "Get on the team."

The lesson of being suspicion of the press

Retired Brigadier General Douglas Kinnard conducted a survey in 1974 of Army General Officers who had served in Vietnam.  His survey covered a wide range of issues, including press relations.  He published his results as The War Managers (1977).

Rating newspaper coverage, only 8% of his respondents selected "generally responsible."  Fifty-one percent selected "Uneven.  Some good, but many irresponsible," while 38% picked "On the whole tended to be irresponsible and disruptive of United States efforts in Vietnam."

Television coverage rated even more poorly in his sample, though the question here was considerably more specific.  It asked about whether they thought it was good "for American peole to see actual scenes of fighting."  Only 4% said yes to that.  Fifty-two percent selected "Not a good thing ... was counterproductive to the war effort," and another 39% said it was "Probably not a good thing in balance."

Kinnard observe that the intensity of the feelings expressed was surprising.  Some of the elaborations he got in commentary from his respondents showed a strong willingness to blame the press for problems in the war:

Several of the respondents felt that the reporters had made up their minds in advance that going into Vietnam was a mistake and were out to prove their point. Many generals attributed a lack of support of the war by the American people to the media. One senior general said that the media conducted "a psychological warfare campaign against the United States policies in Vietnam that could not have been better done by the enemy."

A large number of respondents commented on the media's representation of the war, some saying that the reporters simply did not understand the war, and in other cases that reporting was distorted for effect. In some instances editors at home were blamed for distorting stories or writing misleading headlines. A former Chief of Staff studied combat photography closely and was convinced that much of it was staged. One Division Commander tells of seeing a telegram from one of the major TV networks to a field reporter in his area which read, "Get footage of American soldiers misbehaving." (my emphasis) [Kinnard simply reports the last two claims; he doesn't comment on their accuracy.]

Such negative assessments and even extreme comments had been encouraged by the Nixon administration, which had criticized the press heavily for allegedly biased and inaccurate coverage.  Since then, with major assistance from the well-funded conservative noise machine, the negative attitude expressed by many of the officers in Kinnard's survey has become conventional wisdom among a large part of the population, especially in the Republican Party.

Gen. William Westmoreland , who had been the commander of the forces in Vietnam, later expressed great hostility to the press over their coverage.  His influence certainly shaped part of public opinion, as conservatives tended to lionize him.  Kinnard quotes him as saying the media created an "aura of defeat."  This kind of notion has become a bedrock article of faith for true-blue (true-red?) Republican conservatives.  Kinnard quotes Army Gen. Hamilton Howze from a 1975 article in the journal Army taking this stance in a way that would warm any Radical Republican's heart (my emphasis):

The worst feature of the war was the fracturing of our society. This took the form we all know so well; heavily slanted, anti-administration and anti-military reporting in the news media. . . . Hanoi was able, through our press, to monitor closely . . . the situation respecting U.S. morale and willingness to continue the fight. The record was good until America itself lost much of its will to fight and the politicians and press began their program of villification.

This is a pretty blunt statement of a stab-in-the-back theory to shift blame for the loss in Vietnam away from the military and its mistakes and inadequacies onto a seditious media and cowardly civilians.  "America itself lost much of it's will to fight," he said.  He sounds like he would be more comfortable in some more disciplined and orderly form of government than democracy.

Kinnard's own analysis of the press performance in the Vietnam War is considerably more sober.    He writes that after the Battle of Ap Bac, news correspondents became highly skeptical of official declarations.  However:

It should be noted that they were not questioning the propriety of the American presence; that was to come later. No doubt existed at this point regarding the premises of United States involvement or ofits ability to prevail. There were questions about the South Vietnamese ability to fight and about the tactics being employed, but as yet the correspondents were not raising the big question of whether we should be there at all.

One legacy of this early period was that any form of strong press control became impossible. The press formulated its own guidelines, such as not publishing details of military operations until the Military Assistance Command had released them. Subsequently, attempts were made to rebuild the credibility of the United States Information Offices, but without any notable success so far as projecting a favorable image of United States efforts is concerned.

In other words, news reporters who considered their job to be more than doing stenography for the Pentagon rightly decided that they had good reason to doubt the credibility of the official version.  Once that confidence is lost, it's hard to rebuild.  We always have to keep in mind, though, in looking at this period, that the press corps of the 1960s was far more conscientious in its work that our sad excuse for a "press corps" today.

When the Johnson administration decided to move from an advisory role to having American forces assume the leading role in direct combat, he tried "to give the appearance that there had been no change in policy."  Kinnard hits the high points in a succinct manner describing what actually undercut public confidence in the war.  And it wasn't the press:

This approach [of underplaying the significance of the 1965 escalation] first eroded and then destroyed President Johnson's credibility with the public far more than any action of the media.

Press relations under Westmoreland were a great deal better than under Harkins [his predecssor], but eventually Tet 68 destroyed his credibility too. Speaking on the eve of Tet in November 1967, before the National Press Club, Westmoreland painted a rosy picture. Conjuring up the statistics of the Measurement of Progress system, he indicated steady progress. He stated, in fact, that withdrawal of American troops could begin in 1969 (which they did, but under different conditions). ...

It was in this rosy atmosphere that the American people turned on their television sets at the end of January and early February 1968, to view theTet Offensive. What they saw was shocking beyond belief. Instead of victory, there seemed to be a new war going on. A group of VC commandos was briefly ensconced on the ground of the United States Embassy in the heart of Saigon. How, they wondered, was this possible? What in the world was happening?

A shocker of a different sort occurred a few days later in the streets of Saigon. In the course of the fighting, the Chief of the National Police, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, executed a captured VC officer with a revolver pointed at the man's head. As it turned out, the event was recorded by both a still camera and a TV camera. Whatever the justification for the execution, it was an act of cruelty which did not help the world image of the South Vietnamese at a critically important time for them.

Earlier this year, I attended a presentation at the Oakland Museum which included a former South Vietnamese senior military press officer.  When this latter incident came up, he held forth at some length and with great passion about how Nguyen Ngoc Loan was absolutely right to do what he did, and his only mistake was in not taking away the camera that recorded it.  (Actually, there were two cameras, but his point came across very strongly.)  The war never ended for that guy, it seems.

Expectations of the war, and the public's understanding of the war based on years of declarations of victories and successes, were drastically at odds with what was really happening on the ground.  In a small conflict, like Afghanistan is at the moment, it is possible to get away with that for an extended period of time.  In larger, highly visible wars like Vietnam and Iraq, it isn't possible to sustain that kind of illusion forever.

It's a fascinating thing on several levels to me how ideas that mean one thing in a military context can percolate into civilians political discussions and shape attitudes about military issues in a way that may have a very different effect.  For instance, as Kinnard points out, it's no surprise that the officer corps would be critical of press coverage, if only because they saw it more closely and knew some of the details of events in much more detail than the news audience in the US could:

One would expect the military managers of the war to havea negative attitude toward media coverage of events in or concerning that tragedy [the Vietnam War]. Aside from problems of waging the war itself, there are more fundamental reasons. The traditional authoritarian nature of military services requires a tight control of all events, including news distribution. The professional expertise of officers concerning military operations permits them to be more critical of news coverage of such matters than civilians. Also, their deep involvement in military matters causes them to evaluate the treatment by media of matters concerning the military.

But what filters into some of the more paranoid and authoritarian members of the civilian population may get boiled down to something like, "The record was good until America itself lost much of its will to fight and the politicians and press began their program of villification."

It certainly appears that the current Nixon-on-OxyContin marketing blitz will include encouragement of simple-minded approaches like the latter.  Rummy said on his Meet the Press appearance Sunday (06/26/05):

If you think about it, solid progress is being made. The political progress in Iraq is considerable. They've elected a government, they have sovereignty over their nation, they're in the process of drafting a constitution, all people are participating, the elections will be held toward the end of the year, economic progress is being made. And yet Zarqawi and his people continue to kill Iraqis, they continue to kill coalition people, they continue to behead people, and the lethality is violence, and that's what's reported. So the American people are basically seeing almost all of the violence and the negatives but very little of the positive side. So it's not surprising. (my emphasis)

Anybody who wants to stay "reality-based" needs to view such claims about the press with heavy skepticism.  (Actually, anything coming out of Rummy's mouth should be viewed with heavy skepticism.)  But the press also needs to be viewed with a "reality-based" skepticism, as well.

Iraq War: Remember, now, we're winning, we've been winning for a long time

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

How does the insurgency look right now? I'm sure Bush will tell us on Tuesday about our constant victory over it. Here's part of what Anthony Cordesman has to say in Iraq's Evolving Insurgency (*.pdf file). Although the cover page indicates that this report was last updated on 05/19/05, the text appears to have been updated sometime in June.

US and Iraqi government attempts to root out the insurgency have so far only had limited impact. While some US officers have talked about the battle of Fallujah in November 2004 as a tipping point, many US experts were cautious even at the time. They felt the insurgents did lose a key sanctuary, suffered more than 1,000 killed, and lost significant numbers of prisoners and detainees. They also lost some significant leaders and cadres. Many insurgents and insurgent leaders seem to have left Fallujah before the fighting, however, and many others escaped.

The battles that have followed have been less concentrated and less intensive, but almost continuous – mixed with raids, captures, and the sudden "swarming" of known and suspected insurgent headquarters and operational areas. While neither MNC-I or the Iraqi government have provided counts of Insurgent killed and wounded, the figures almost certainly exceed 10,000 between May 2003 and May 2005, and could be substantially higher.

In spite of major new offensives like Operation Matador, however, Sunni insurgent groups remain active in Sunni-populated areas like the "Sunni Triangle," the Al Anbar Province to the west of Baghdad, and the so-called "Triangle of Death" to the southeast of Baghdad. As a result,four of Iraq’s provinces continue to have both a major insurgency threat and a major insurgent presence. Sunni insurgents have also repeatedly shown since the battle of Fallujah that they can strike in ethnically mixed and Shi’itedominated cities like Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. They have also operated in Kurdish areas. (p. 34)

The uncertainties about the number of insurgents is also worth keeping in mind:

US officials kept repeating estimates of total insurgent strengths of 5,000 from roughly the fall of 2003 through the summer of 2004. In October, they issued a range of 12,000 to 16,000 but have never defined how many are hard-core and full time, and how many are part time. According to one outside expert, estimates as divergent as 3,500 to 200,000 were being cited in March. 2000.

US and Iraqi official experts would be the first to indicate that any such numbers had to be guesstimates. They have also been consistently careful to note that they are uncertain as to whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing with time as a result of US and Iraqi operations versus increases in the political and other tensions that lead Iraqi Arab Sunnis to join the insurgents. There is no evidence that the number of insurgents is declining as a result of Coalition and Iraqi attacks to date. US experts stated in the spring of 2005 that they had no evidence of a decline in insurgent numbers in spite of large numbers of kills and captures since the summer of 2004. (pp. 37-39)

Iraq War: What Rove did

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Steve Gilliard pegs it: The war continues 06/27/05

The right can pretend that the left is the problem, but that's nonsense. Rove's comments pissed off half the country and made them a lot less likely to support Bush again. What the GOP likes to pretend is that they are the majority, and they are not. To many people, it's like Rove pissed on graves. Now Cheney is going after Chuck Hagel, the Vietnam Vet, about his support for the war. This is going to get ugly, and the Vets are gonna hit right back. Cheney and Rove are bullies, but they are cowards. I think a lot of people on the left don't get the deep offense Rove caused with his comments. The American military takes pride in being politically agnostic. They may have their personal beliefs, and the advanced education helps, but they don't like politicans any more than anybody else. To suggest that people didn't serve their country because of politics is obscene, not just offensive. That one political ideology was superior to another when it came time to fight for your country. The White House may play cute with this, but the next time Bush goes to Walter Reed or one of the ranking generals, somebody's mother is going to raise this.

Part of the reason Bush is in so much trouble about the war is that Americans have never been told how intense the combat is in Iraq. They don't understand that US troops are facing a real, trained enemy. Sure, they can't face the US man to man, but it's no Somali mob. These folks know what they're doing. They know how to set ambushes and they seem to have a plan to restrict US mobility and intelligence which is working.

"Press corps," meet antiwar movement; antiwar movement, meet your "press corps"

Gene Lyons is perfectly capable of recognizing an antiwar movement when he sees it: The sun is setting on dreams of empire Daily Dunklin (Arkansas) Democrat 06/22/05

For the longest time, all the Bush White House had to do to answer critics of the war in Iraq was to unfurl Old Glory.

The time for flag-waving, however, appears to be ending. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, almost six in 10 Americans think the United States should start bringing the troops home ASAP. Only 36 percent, roughly the hardcore Republican base, want them to stay. Majorities in several polls say the war wasn't worth the sacrifice and doubt that Iraq was ever a threat to the United States.

Would-be soldiers are voting with their feet. Despite lowering standards to include drug users and small-time criminals, Army recruiters keep significantly missing their enlistment quotas. Marine recruiters aren't doing much better. There's even talk of a renewed draft, but that's not going to happen. The kinds of student deferments that helped patriots like Vice President Dick Cheney (and me) stay out of Vietnam wouldn't pass muster today. But any move to pluck Young Republicans out of the nation's high schools and colleges would alter the balance of American politics overnight.

And he can identify some of the things that drive it. Like, people realize that the model democracy we're supposedly setting up is both a long process and a long shot:

Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the Army's spokesman in Baghdad, sees things differently, saying: "I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations. It's going to be settled in the political process."

Maybe if everybody who believes in that process simply closes his eyes and claps his hands, a solution to Iraq's centuries-old ethnic and religious strife will magically appear. Meanwhile, Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has complained to reporters about what he called "the Pillsbury Doughboy" effect: Pressing the insurgents hard in one area only causes outbreaks of violence elsewhere.

Also, when the leaders of the war don't at least make some attempt to play it straight with the public,it doesn't really help get people to support the war policy when it becomes painfully obvious that they are lying, obfuscating and generally dancing around the facts:

Let's get back to basics. Nobody ever asked the American people if they wanted an empire. Instead, the geopolitical daydreamers involved with the "Project for a New American Century"--Cheney, Rummy, Paul Wolfowitz et al.--conceived a scheme to conquer Iraq after the first Gulf War to ensure that the United States remain the world's lone "superpower."

The first President Bush knew better, refusing to march into Baghdad lest chaos ensue. Knowing little geography and less history, the second President Bush was easily tempted into rashness, using the 9/11 attacks to concoct a bogus threat largely out of his advisers' fevered imaginations. Having dragged the country into an unnecessary war, they ignored allies and military professionals who warned that a far larger force would be needed to stabilize a large, fragmented nation like Iraq.

They haven't demonstrated American strength; they've dramatized American weakness halfway around the world. Afraid to admit error, they have no clue what to do next. (my emphasis)

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. So why does the mainstream press marvel in puzzlement and how so many people could be against the Iraq War and the mess that the Bush administration has made of it?

Jules Witcover is also able to see what's in front of his face. He's even unconventional enough - by the standards of our sad excuse for a "press corps" today - to wonder in print why it's taking the elected officials so long to pick up on it: Protesting war online, not in streets Baltimore Sun 06/22/05.

First he lays out the lazy, and remarkably dense, mainstream press view:

The president's support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, has plunged from 45 percent of those surveyed in February to only 37 percent.And a majority now say that invading Iraq was a mistake that has not, as Mr. Bush keeps insisting, made Americans safer.

Yet the public and Congress seem to be in a state of lethargy. It's in sharp contrast to 30 years ago, when outpourings of street protest eventually played a key role in ending the American involvement in Vietnam.

And then he responds to it with a polite version of "Well, duh!"

Critics of this war point out that in the Vietnam conflict, the protest did not reach a boiling point until this country had been engaged for much longer.

These critics also note that while the 1,700-plus American deaths have been shocking and deplorable, they don't approach the 58,000 lost in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the steady return of thousands of Americans in body bags and the existence of a draft significantly fueled the protest.

But why hasn't the U.S. experience in Vietnam spurred those strenuously opposed to the American presence in Iraq to hit the streets? Instead, except for some spasmodic demonstrations and a round of intellectual anti-war teach-ins copied from the Vietnam era, there has been nothing comparable to what happened three decades ago.

In place of militant protesters, thousands of Americans are using the Internet to express dissatisfaction with the war. It may not yet be a new silent majority, but it's clearly growing.

Assorted peace groups are making noise, but only what could be called a guerrilla war of words is being waged in Congress by a band of mostly Democrats and a few Republicans. (my emphasis)

I guess it's kind of like that old question about if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? In this case, the question is more, when a large majority is rejecting the current war policies in an ongoing shooting war, is there anything that can make the so-called "press corps" notice?

Julian Borger also seems to have a pretty good picture of antiwar sentiment and how the administration's fake optimism has contributed to it:

Iraq insurgency could last a decade, admits Rumsfeld by Julian Borger Guardian (UK) 06/27/05

US war objectives have been ratcheted down in recent months from establishing stability in Iraq to training sufficient numbers of Iraqi government troops to fight the insurgency independently.

The policy of lowering expectations however was thrown into confusion by Mr Cheney's claim that the insurgency was "in its last throes". The claim appeared to take other administration officials by surprise and forced them into a string of semantic contortions to explain it. ...

The defence secretary's [Rummy's] back-to-back television appearances were part of a concerted administrationcampaign to convince the American public it has a winning strategy in Iraq amid falling home support.

That public relations campaign will reach its peak tomorrow night with a prime-time address to the nation by President George Bush, who will call for popular resolve in support of the nation's 135,000 troops still in Iraq.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Iraq War: Is Chuck Hagel antiwar?

Markos Moulitas (Daily Kos) seems to think so: Hagel: Hagel: "Iraq could be worse than Vietnam" 06/26/05.

But the Omaha World-Herald article he quotes has Hagel saying that he wants to intesify efforts to win, without defining how that would be any different from the disastrous course Bush has taken.  And it says this:

He lays part of the blame on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who argued before the war that he needed only 150,000 American troops in Iraq. That caused more casualties than were needed, Hagel said.

"We still don't have enough troops," he said. "We should have had double or triple the number."

Is that his solution?  But in another 140 thoussand or 280 thousand troops?  Is he going to sponsor the legislation for massive military conscription?  It also quotes him as saying:

The United States has only about six more months to begin to turn things around in Iraq, he said.

"I believe that there can be a good outcome in Iraq," he said. "I also believe there could be a very bad outcome for Iraq. I believe we have a very limited time for that good outcome."

Just what is he prepared to do to push his Party's Dear Leader Bush to adopt a different course?

Because so far, it just sounds to me like he's trying to duck any responsibility for the disaster that Bush and his team have created in Iraq.  Understandable, but not very helpful.

Iraq War: Bush wants us to cheer for our unending victory

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Here are some hints of things to expect from Bush's address Tuesday on the Iraq War: New Bush drive for support on Iraq by Linda Feldmann Christian Science Monitor 06/27/05.

First of all, he'll be using soldiers as props:

When President Bush addresses the nation Tuesday evening from Fort Bragg, N.C., a tableau of US troops behind him ...

Bush just doesn't make public appearances in front of crowds that might express disapproval.  And he would rather use soldiers as a backdrop than address the nation from the Oval Office.  Much better for Bush the Liberator of Peoples to be surrounded by soldiers. Not that some of the soldiers might not want to tell Bush the Hooder of the Unrighteous a thing or two about how messed up his policies are.  But they won't be in any position to do so, however much some of them may dislike being a political prop for this president.

Already, for the past week, Bush's new emphasis on Iraq has been well rehearsed: The road ahead is tough, and the casualties weigh on him personally, but the US must press ahead. Iraq is moving forward with a new constitution and national elections. Setting a timetable for US withdrawal would only aid the enemy.

On Tuesday, "he will make the point that this is a critical moment in a time of testing," says presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.

And, of course, they will go back to trying to make people think that it was Iraq that attacked the US on 9/11:

Administration officials are also bringing back talk of 9/11 in an apparent effort to renew the link in some people's minds between Iraq and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. On the eve of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, part of the administration's argument was that Iraq was the central front in the war on terror. Even if that was debatable at the time, it is less so now, analysts say.

Indeed, Bush now regularly invokes the argument that fighting terrorists in Iraq is keeping the war away from American soil. Terrorism also remains Bush's most popular issue - though as time goes on, the issue fades in importance. According to the Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who believe there will be further acts of terrorism on US soil has steadily declined, from 51 percent in July 2004 to 35 percent in June 2005.

I guess if you think the so-called "war on terrorism" is over, that last statistic would be good news.  Otherwise, it's just one more sign of how badly the Iraq War has distracted the US from a focus on jihadist terrorism.

A central question is whether Bush and other top officials can talk their way into more public support. "There might be a short-term bump," says John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University. "But there aren't any new arguments he can troop out. We've heard them a thousand times."

But the latest PR campaign might turn out like this earlier presidential attempt to boost public support for an unpopular war, described by Jeffrey Record in The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam (1998):

The Johnson administration made no serious effort to galvanize public support for the war until the second half of 1967, when it sought to counter increasing popular dismay by unleashing a flood of rosy—and highly misleading—official pronouncements on the war'* progress, a campaign that was fatally embarrassed by the Tet Offensive [in 1968].

By the time of Nixon's inauguration in January 1969, there was little sentiment for a military victory, which most Americans no longer believed was attainable at an acceptable cost, but rather a desire for the war's termination.  In fact, the United States was headed for a major debacle in Vietnam with potentially disastrous political and international repercussions.

But the Halliburton Republicans got the war in Iraq they insisted on having.  Whether it's looking to them like the glorious war of liberation they envisioned is anyone's guess.  So far, they've shown a remarkable capacity for self-delusion on all things related to the Iraq War.

And we're winning, okay?  We're definitely winning.  We've been winning for some time.  Gen. Myers said so.  And what loyal patriotic American would dare to question a general, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

Funny, though, that Monitor article doesn't mention anything about Bush's dramatic appeal for volunteers to fight in Iraq that will surely be part of his address on Tuesday.

Iraq War: Public disapproval

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Here are some quick takes on the crashing public support for Bush's Iraq War and some of the things involved with it.

Stalled on Home Front, Bush Looks Abroad by Edwin Chen Los Angeles Times 06/26/05

"Foreign affairs becomes a refuge for every second-term president as his powers weaken at home," said Harvard University scholar David Gergen, who has advised presidents of both parties.

"What's been a surprise is that typically the window of opportunity is about 18 months, when they can expect to get something done before attention turns to the midterm elections. The window seems to be shutting on Bush much earlier."

Bush's Credibility Takes a Direct Hit From Friendly Fire by Doyle McManus Los Angeles Times 06/26/05

Bush and his aides have delivered a positive, if carefully calibrated, message. The war is not yet won, they acknowledge, but steady progress is being made. "We can expect more tough fighting in the weeks and months ahead," the president said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "Yet I am confident in the outcome."

But last month, Vice President Dick Cheney broke from the administration's "message discipline" and declared that the insurgency was in its "last throes." The White House has been paying a price ever since.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, complained that the White House was "completely disconnected from reality." Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), another supporter of the war,charged that Bush had opened not just a credibility gap,
but a "credibility chasm."

Gosh, who would have ever thought that Dark Lord Dick Cheney would lie about the war in Iraq?  I'm shocked, shocked to hear such a thing!

But why do competent historians have to embarass themselves like this?

Historian Robert Dallek, a biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson and an outspoken critic of Bush, said: "Analogies are imperfect, and I hate to press this one, but this is so much like Vietnam. It has echoes of the Vietnam experience when senators like [Arkansas Democrat J. William] Fulbright began to hammer Johnson on our aims and goals and credibility….

When Chuck Hagel insists on having public hearings into the Downing Street Memo, then I'll listen if you want to make comparisons to William Fulbright and the Vietnam War.  Otherwise, it's just ridiculous.

Then there are pollsters embarassing themselves:

"What's interesting in this decline in support for the war is that it has sprung from the public itself," said pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center. "It wasn't led by politicians or by an antiwar movement. It started back in May, when the focus in Washington was on other issues."

Kohut seems to be good on a lot of things.  But those people who are opposing the war in the polls are the antiwar movement!

There was an antiwar saying from the Vietnam War days, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"  Now we could ask, "What if we had an antiwar movement and the Big Pundits and the mainstream press were too lamebrained to recognize it?"  And the answer would be, we'd have the "press corps" that we actually do have in 2005.  As Bob Somerby often says, if we didn't have this press corps, you couldn't invent them.

Let's see, 60% are so of the public think the war wasn't worth it.  Nearly half say the war was more George Bush's fault than Saddam Hussein's.  And people who presumably can read without moving their lips look at that and say, "Gorsh, that's funny.  All these people are against the war and there ain't even an antiwar movement."  What is going through these people's heads?  Just what the [Cheney] do they think an antiwar movement is?!?

As Iraq effort drags on, doubts mount at home: Recruiting falls short and polls show desire to bring troops home by Brad Knickerbocker Christian Science Monitor 06/17/05.

Asked in a Washington Post/ABC poll last week whether the US "is making good progress" or "has gotten bogged down" in Iraq, 65 percent chose the latter. Meanwhile, the number describing US casualty levels there as "unacceptable" has risen to 73 percent, the highest point since the US-led invasion of Iraq began.

Dadgum if that doesn't sound like and antiwar movement to me.  Close to three-quarters of the public think casualty level are unacceptable?  How high does it have to be for the Big Pundits to recognize an antiwar movement?

[Sociologist] Dr. [David] Segal and other experts cite several reasons for this.

One is that what the White House dubbed "the global war on terrorism," which began with the attacks of September 2001 and has become centered in Iraq, now has lasted longer than the period from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, ending World War II in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, the all-volunteer force, begun in the wake of political opposition to the Vietnam War, means that fewer and fewer Americans have any direct connection to the armed services.

"It's not so much an estrangement as it is a distance between the military and society," says political scientist John Allen Williams of Loyola University Chicago.

But I'm sure after Bush appeals for volunteers to fight in Iraq Tuesday night, Young Republicans will flock to join by the tens of thousands.

Iraq War: Is this Phase 1 of "Who Lost Iraq?"

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

The recent White House adoption of the Nixon-on-OxyContin strategy of trying to generate support for the Iraq War by trying to brand the Democrats and war critics as unpatriotic and supporters of The Terrorists is a reflection of the plummeting poll numbers on Bush's presidency and on the Iraq War in particular.

I don't think that the Bush teams intends to leave Iraq any time soon.  And given the military situation, it's hard to see how they can come up with what would seem to them a feasible withdrawal strategy, even if they wanted to.

I plan to devote the next few posts to looking at some aspects of the current antiwar movement.  And also to looking at some of the lessons that have been taken from the Vietnam War that affect how many people are looking at the current situation.

When you see numbers like those in the latest Rasmussen poll, you know something is going unusual is going on:

Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans say that President Bush is more responsible for starting the War with Iraq than Saddam Hussein. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that 44% take the opposite view and believe Hussein shoulders most of the responsibility.

In late 2002, months before the fighting began, most Americans thought that Hussein was the one provoking the War. Just one-in-four thought the President was doing the provoking at that time. (49% Say Bush Responsible for Provoking Iraq War Rasmussen Reports; accessed 06/25/05)

This is part of what an antiwar movement looks like, ladies and gentlemen.  I would even say that we're seeing a Jacksonian moment right now, where the public has turned heavily against the war, despite a hesitant opposition party (the Dems) and a cowed "press corps" that is reduced to sullenly whining sad excuses as to why they didn't consider the "Downing Street Memo" news.

Now, a moment is a moment.  And as the Bush administrations spends between now and January 2009 trying to hang on in Iraq, I fully expect the public opinion polls to fluctuate.  But the current level of unpopularity of the war is pretty amazing.

Bush's speech Tuesday has been preceded by days of administration figures rolling out the supporting lines.  Duncan Black summarizes them this way: Thermonuclear 06/26/05.

The new strategy is criticism of iraq=criticism of afghanistan=support for Taliban=support for al qaeda = cheering on crashing twin towers.

After watching Rummy - always an experience - and Gen. Abizaid on the Sunday talk shows today, added to the Karl Rove sleaze of last week, I would say the current Nixon-on-OxyContin strategy includes the following.  Democrats are traitors and love The Terrorists.  Everything is going fine in Iraq, except that the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press! isn't reporting the good news.  Things are going to be tough, it's going to be a hard job, but the American people need to be patient.

We're winning, we're definitely winning, we've been winning for some time.  The Iraq security forces are going to be ready in a couple of years.  They are either taking the lead in operations or we're trying to get them to take the lead in operations.  Don't pay too much attention when we lump local police in with the army in the count of trained Iraqi security personnel.  We'll be able to start drawing down US troop levels, well, sometime or other.

There is no personnel crisis.  We didn't make any mistakes in the planning for the war or the occupation.  The enemy is most Zarqawi and foreign terrorists who behead people.  The Terrorists are trying to weaken the American public'sWill.  If you criticize Bush's war policies, you're aiding The Terrorists.  Did we mention that The Terrorists cut off people's heads?  If you support American troops, you support Bush's policies and never raise a question about even the biggest whoppers the administration puts forth as claims on the war.

There are also a few Baathist hardliners around.  But they are killing Iraqis.  And the Iraqis have a government they support now.  And everything is going fine.  And remember, The Terrorists attacked us on 9/11.  You know, The Terrorists that cut off people's heads in Iraq.  And, look, everything is fine in Afghanistan.  They have a model democracy, everything is going great, you don't hear anything in the papers about Afghanistan any more, now do you?

Syria and Iran are also helping The Terrorists.  We want them to seal the borders with Iraq.  But don't ask us or the Iraqis to seal the borders because, heck, what do you think?  We can't even seal the borders with Mexico.  How can you ask Our Side to seal the borders with Iraq?

Freedom is on the march.  We're winning, we've been winning all along and we're going to win.  We have the finest army in the history of the world and the finest generals and anyone who criticizes anything about the war is insulting the privates in the infantry.  Everything will be fine, as long as we can stand up to those cowardly Democrats and war critics who want to undermine our Will so they can help The Terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and now they're attacking us in Iraq and they're cutting off people's heads and they're trying to break our Will and we're beating them, we're winning and we're going to win.

I think that's about the gist of what OxyContin radio and related propaganda outlets will be spewing for the immediate future.  See the 06/26/05 appearances of Rummy on Meet the Press and of Gen. John Abizaid on Face the Nation for a couple of firsthand lying-in-our-faces versions.

At the same time it's a support-the-war strategy, though, we're also seeing a concentrated effort now to set the stage for the stab-in-the-back theory of "Who Lost Iraq?"  It's not the Bush administration, according tothe Rovian approach, nor the fault of our brilliant generals, oh no, not that.  It's the fault of the Democrats and the Liberal Press! Liberal Press! Liberal Press!

It's worthwhile to start taking apart the stab-in-the-back theory now while its in the early stage of preparation.