Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iraq War: Amazement at Bush's 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.

Somehow I expected more from Bush's speech on Wednesday about the Iraq War: President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland; White House Web site 11/30/05.   Instead, it was not much more than a new set of talking points for the same story they've been pushing since practically the beginning: we're winning, we're winning (see Gen. Myers' quote above) and we have to keep on winning and things are going beautifully over there and anyone who criticizes Dear Leader Bush's war policy is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and hates American troops.

The White House has made its related paper - and "propaganda paper" is really the appropriate word for it - entitled National Strategy for Victory in Iraq available at the White House Web site in HTML and PDF formats.

Certainly, Dear Leader tossed in a boilerplate line that in the context was little more than a sneer about how it is "one of the great strengths of our democracy that we can discuss our differencesopenly and honestly, even at times of war."  It's just that anyone who actually goes so far as to criticize anything about the administration's flawless policies is aiding The Terrorists.

And there wasn't a lot more to it than that.  He's still trying to bully the war critics with this sleazy demagoguery.  And he's encouraging his Party to keep up the jingo rhetoric.  There was no part of the speech where he encouraged those who support the his policies in Iraq to sign up for the Army or the Marine Corps and go fight there.  But there were a few alleged quotations from soldiers, all of which turned out to be right in line with Dear Leader's wise policies.

We've come a long way from that quaint war resolution of 2002 that authorized Bush to take military action only if it were clear that other measures would not provide assurance that Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction were not violating UN sanctions that forbade Iraq to keep weapons of mass destruction.  Those WMDs were barely mentioned even in the Victory in Iraq propaganda pamphlet.

Bush painted a fantasy picture that, while not as concrete as aluminum tubes of death and yellowcake piles of uranium death and plyboard drones of death of hydrogen-gas trailers of death and so on, was in its way just as dishonest:

The third group [of insurgents, though Rummy says its patriotically incorrect to call them that this week] is the smallest, but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda . Many are foreigners who are coming to fight freedom's progress in Iraq. This group includes terrorists from Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and Iran, and Egypt, and Sudan, and Yemen, and Libya, and other countries. Our commanders believe they're responsible for most of the suicide bombings, and the beheadings, and the other atrocities we see on our television.

They're led by a brutal terrorist named Zarqawi -- al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq -- who has pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Their objective is to drive the United States and coalition forces out of Iraq, and use the vacuum that would be created by an American retreat to gain control of that country. They would then use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks against America, and overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East, and try to establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain. That's their stated objective. That's what their leadership has said.

These terrorists havenothing to offer the Iraqi people. All they have is the capacity and the willingness to kill the innocent and create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will to achieve their stated objectives. They will fail. America's will is strong. And they will fail because the will to power is no match for the universal desire to live in liberty.

The part of Bush's speech and the propaganda paper that differentiated between three groups of insurgents - angry Sunnis, Saddam loyalists, and the legions of Bush's current favorite bogeyman Zarqawi - struck Pat Lang as the one possibly valuable piece of Wednesday's PR effort.  He writes (Ah! It's an IRAQI Rebellion! Ah! Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 11/30/05):

He did not mention the awkward implication of [his description of the first group] that there are a hell of a lot of supporters maintaining this force in existence, but based on the  speed with which the administration acknowledges the truth, we should see an admission of that in a year or so.

Is this important?  You bet it is!  Up until this morning, the "Zarqawi Madness" insisted on by the government was a straitjacket within which the intelligence people and the command in the field had to operate.

This changes a lot in both the operating environment and the political parameters within which a solution must be found.

But you have to wonder how seriously to take any of that when you look in the "Victory Will Take Time" section of the propaganda pamphlet and see this:

We and the Iraqi people are fighting a ruthless enemy, which is multi-headed, with competing ambitions and differing networks. Getting an accurate picture of this enemy, understanding its makeup and weaknesses, and defeating it, requires patience, persistence, and determined effort ... (my emphasis)

A lot of the Victory in Iraq pamphlet has a similar look of various talking points being jammed together, with not an excessive amount of concern about whether they are coherent. When we're listing reasons to be hopeful, we have the "good news from Iraq" that the resistance is clearly differentiated into those three groups.  But a few pages later, when we're told why all good patriotic Americans who hate The Terrorists need to be patient, it says, well, hey, it's only been 2 1/2 years we've been at this.  How can anyone expect us to know who the enemy is in so short a time?

Maybe they assigned the people who dreamed up those WMDs being in Iraq to finding out who the insurgents are.  In that case, we may never know who we're fighting!

Robert Dreyfuss isn't in an optimistic mood.  He writes in Political Islam vs. Democracy 11/29/05:

Today, the unpleasant reality is that 150,000 U.S. troops, who are dying at a rate of about 100 a month, are the Praetorian Guard for that radical-right theocracy. It is a regime that sponsors Shiite-led death squads carrying out assassinations from Basra (where freelance reporter Steven Vincent, himself murdered by such a unit, wrote that "hundreds" of former Baathists, secular leaders, and Sunnis were being killed every month) to Baghdad. Scores of bodies of Sunnis regularly turn up shot to death, execution-style.

The latest revelation is that SCIRI's Badr Brigade, now a 20,000-strong militia, operated a secret torture prison in Baghdad holding hundreds of Sunni detainees. There, prisoners had their skin flayed off, electric shocks applied to their genitals, or power drills driven into their bones. SCIRI and Al Dawa are the senior partners in an Iraqi government which has imposed a unilateralist constitution on the country that elevates the power of the Shiite-dominated provinces and enshrines their vision of Islam in the body politic. Two weeks ago, during his visit to Washington, D.C., I asked Adel Abdul Mahdi, a top SCIRI official and Iraq's deputy president, about the charges of death squads and brutality. "All of the terrorists are on the other side," he sniffed. "What you refer to is a reaction to that."

Perhaps the ultimate irony of Bush's war on terrorism is this: While the President asserts that the war in Iraq is the central front in the struggle against what he describes as "Islamofascism," real "Islamofascists" are already in power in Baghdad - and they are, shamefully, America's allies.

That's harsh, dude.  But as a description of the current situation, I would find it hard to contest.

Jim Lobe asks if Bush is The Unpopular in Pursuit of the Unwinnable? Inter Press Service 11/30/05.  He reads the Victory in Iraq pamphlet as suggesting a drawdown of US troop levels in 2006.  Which is a fair reading.  It hints at a coming drawdown; I'm surprised the hints weren't stronger. 

Lobe describes the administration's current marketing offensive this way:

Bush's speech, as well as the strategy document's release, marks the beginning of an unprecedented campaign to rally the public behind the president, as well as his policy in Iraq. With his approval ratings hovering below 40 percent for several weeks, Bush's political advisers, as well as independent analysts, believe that the public's perceptions of success or failure in Iraq will largely determine his political potency over the three years that remain in his presidency.

In addition to Wednesday's address, Bush plans to give several other speeches on Iraq in the coming days, each featuring different aspects of his administration's strategy and culminating in what the White House fervently hopes will be a huge turnout in Iraq's elections Dec. 15.

Other top officials, including the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, have also scheduled speaking engagements that the White House hopes will not only dominate news coverage, but also make it appear that the strategy is one that is fully backed by the military itself.

That perception is regarded as particularly important at the moment, both because the administration and its supporters have tried hard in recent weeks to equate growing calls for withdrawal with a betrayal of the country's soldiers, and because some of those calls have been endorsed by critics, notably Democratic Rep. John Murtha, with particularly close and long-standing ties to the uniformed military.
(my emphasis)

Lobe takes note of the way Bush used Joe Lieberman's apalling comments on the war in his speech:

"(T)he Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood," wrote Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Congress' leading Democratic neo-conservative, in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, "unless the great American military [that] has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn."

It was not by accident Bush extolled Lieberman in Wednesday's 40-minute speech which, like the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, insisted that Iraq had made "incredible progress" in the last two and a half years and was on the verge of a major breakthrough in its transformation into a democratic state.

It's sentimental nonsense like saying the Great American Military that helps turn the real existing soldiers in the Army and the Marines into comic-book heroic creatures who can be sent off to kill and die at the whims of grandiose dreamers and vicious schemers.  If more Senators and Congressmen thought of them as the real human beings they are instead of these sentimental caricatures, they wouldn't have been so quick to send them into a godawful situation like the Iraq War to do away with nonexistent WMDs.  Getting rid of the WMDs was a Mission Accomplished before a single bomb was dropped in the war.

Lobe references more than just hope, though, in his reading of the speech and the pamphlet as suggesting a significant drawdown over the next few months. He thinks it reflects an approach that shares more of the "realist" approach to foreign affairs than to neocon dreams:

"I think that Bush was trying to put the best possible face on a policy that he's being forced to change by circumstances both here and in Iraq," Lawrence Korb of the Campaign for American Progress (CAP) and co-author of a widely-cited "redeployment plan" that calls for a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, told IPS.

"There's no doubt that if you look at the troops that have been alerted to go next year, that you will have less than 100,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2006," he added.

That was made evident not only by the references to the reduced visibility and presence of U.S. forces, but also to a much more nuanced breakdown of the "enemy" as consisting mostly of "rejectionists". These are described by Bush as "ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs" who must, as the strategy document made particularly clear, be cultivated through political means in order to isolate harder-core foes -- "former regime loyalists" and "the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda."

The strategy document implicitly assails the de-Baathification programme that was so vigorously advocated by neo-conservatives and expresses serious concerns about the infiltration of the new security forces by Kurdish and Shiite militia.

But it appears above all to reflect the more realist views of U.S. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad; his military counterpart, Gen. George Casey; and the new Deputy National Security Adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, Meghan O'Sullivan, who clashed frequently with neo-conservatives in the Pentagon before and after the U.S. invasion.

Bush is giving us neither a "victory strategy" nor an "exit strategy" for the Iraq War.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Iraq War: Some actual good news

"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.

Even here on the reality-based side of FOX News, there actually is some good news coming out of Iraq. 

Gareth Porter asks, Iraq: Was Cairo Meet First Step Toward Peace Talks? by Gareth Porter Inter Press Service 11/28/05 (at 11/29/05).  Porter analyzes the diplomatic meaning of the results of the recent Cairo Conference:

The surprising agreement between the Sunnis and government representatives on setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the legitimacy of "resistance" to the occupation was the result of a carefully crafted compromise between factions that remain bitter rivals with different visions of how the war should end.

The language on the withdrawal of coalition forces, for example, cleverly combined the Sunni demand for a timetable for withdrawal with the Shiite and Kurdish insistence on increasing the nation's ability to "get control of the security situation". The key sentence in the communiqué begins, "We demand the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with a timetable" - certainly a major concession to the Sunnis.

The Sunnis, in turn, made a concession to the Shiites and Kurds by supporting their insistence on adequate Iraqi forces. Specifically, they accepted a demand for "the establishment of an immediate national programme for rebuilding the armed forces through drills, preparation and being armed, on a sound basis that will allow it to guard Iraq's borders and to get control of the security situation..."

Porter also makes this important point about the insurgents:

The biggest surprise, therefore, was the acceptance by Kurdish and Shiite representatives of the statement that "resistance is a legitimate right for all people", which implies recognition that the Sunni resistance is legitimate politically. The Sunnis agreed that "terrorism does not represent legitimate resistance", and that attacks on non-military targets are indeed "terrorism".

That statement is an obvious jab at the foreign jihadists who have routinely targeted civilians, particularly Shiites. The communiqué also condemned "takfir" - the practice of declaring some Iraqis to be "infidels".

Shiite leaders apparently saw Sunni approval of those positions as a political victory, clearly dividing them from the al Qaeda organisation in Iraq. But in fact the Sunni insurgent organisations have never hidden their opposition to the tactics and ideology of the foreign jihadists in the country. Evidence of strained relations between the largely secular insurgents and the al Qaeda-led groups has continued to grow ever since the insurgency took shape.

Of course, this doesn't mean that "peace is at hand", to borrow one of Henry Kissinger's most (in)famous sayings.  Also from Inter Press Service, Jim Lobe looks at the sectarian divisions among the Iraqi security forces that the Republicans have to claim are performing brilliantly to justify any plan to draw down US forces below the 135-140,000 mark: Iraq: Armed Forces Sinking into Sectarian Chaos 11/29/05. Lobe writes:

In any case, the repression that is now directed against the Sunni community by the police and commandos and their sectarian auxiliaries threatens the Bush administration's newly-touted plans to reduce the U.S. military presence from nearly 160,000 to less than 100,000 troops over the next year by rapidly expanding the size and capabilities of Iraq's security forces to fight the largely Sunni insurgency on their own.

If the official security forces are in fact heavily infilitrated by or to a large extent controlled by sectarian parties, they are likely to escalate the violence and most likely block any distant chance of a near-term peaceful settlement with the guerrillas, as Lobe explains:

The problem itself is not a new one, particularly after U.S. forces began conducting "joint" operations with Iraqi forces - which had been largely purged of Baathists by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) - in 2004. The newly constituted Iraqi forces consisted largely of units recruited from Kurdish peshmerga or Shiite militias. Their operations in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" - combined with and often following those of U.S. forces - clearly helped fuel the insurgency.

While U.S. commanders have tried to remedy this problem - in part by ending the Iraqi Army's ban on recruiting most former Baathist junior officers in early November and paying tribal militias to maintain order - the SCIRI-controlled Interior Ministry has been more resistant, even after the discovery of the secret prison. While Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari promised that the incident would be fully investigated and those responsible punished, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a former leader of the Badr militia, played down the abuses.

But it now appears that the prison was just the tip of the iceberg of anti-Sunni operations conducted by the police and commandos and their auxiliaries, as hundreds of bodies of Sunni males, many with their hands still bound by police handcuffs, have turned up in garbage dumps, rivers, and alongside roads in recent months, according to the newspaper reports. In many cases, the victims had been abducted, sometimes in groups of a dozen or more, by individuals who identified themselves as police or commandos.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Iraq War: "Iraqize" - or just retreat?

"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 close most of my Iraq War posts (including this one) with a quote from two McGoverns saying, "Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of."  That's not just a rhetorical flourish, as Brian Whitaker reminds us in Nowhere to run Guardian 11/29/05.  Whitaker is commenting on this article by the eminent military historian Martin Van Creveld: Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War Forward 11/25/05.  Van Creveld discusses the applicability of a Nixonian Vietnamization program - an informed discussion, not some frivolous analogy like the ones that Victor Davis Hanson pours out regularly.

Van Creveld thinks that a Vietnamization-type model (which I discussed in a recent post) is not practicable or advisable in Iraq.  He essentially says that the US should accept that we've lost and pull out:

Clearly, then, the thing to do is to forget about face-saving and conduct a classic withdrawal.

Handing over their bases or demolishing them if necessary, American forces will have to fall back on Baghdad. From Baghdad they will have to make their way to the southern port city of Basra, and from there back to Kuwait, where the whole misguided adventure began. When Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled Israelout of Lebanon in 2000, the military was able to carry out the operation in a single night without incurring any casualties. That, however, is not how things will happen in Iraq.

Not only are American forces perhaps 30 times larger, but so is the country they have to traverse. A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge — if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.

A grim prospect. Van Creveld argues that the US needs to keep a military presence in the Middle East for several reasons.  But he's notably vague about how to arrange that.

He concludes with a memorable characterization of Bush's War in Iraq:

Maintaining an American security presence in the region, not to mention withdrawing forces from Iraq, will involve many complicated problems, military as well as political. Such an endeavor, one would hope, will be handled by a team different from - and more competent than - the one presently in charge of the White House and Pentagon.

For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins. (my emphasis)

Whitaker in his column reminds us of some of the consequences of this misbegotten war:

Back in July 2003, terrorism in Iraq seemed a manageable problem and President Bush boldly challenged the militants to "bring 'em on". American forces, he said, were "plenty tough" and would deal with anyone who attacked them.

There were others in the US who talked of the "flypaper theory" - an idea that terrorists from around the world could be attracted to Iraq and then eliminated. Well, the first part of the flypaper theory seems to work, but not the second.

As with the Afghan war in the 1980s that spawned al-Qaida, there is every reason to suppose that the Iraq war will create a new generation of terrorists with expertise that can be used to plague other parts of the world for decades to come. The recent hotel bombings in Jordan are one indication of the way it's heading.

Contrary to American intentions, the war has also greatly increased the influence of Iran - a founder-member of Bush's "Axis of Evil" - and opened up long-suppressed rivalries between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Ah, "brang 'em on".  Have there ever been dumber words coming out the mouth of an American president?

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Iraq War: The "good news" about the Iraqi security forces

"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.

It's not surprising that the Moonie Times would be giving prominence to this AP story as Bush starts trying to convince us he's implementing an exit strategy: More Iraqi battalions 'in the lead' against rebels By Robert Burns Washington Times 11/29/05.  Burns writes:

Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman in Baghdad for the U.S. command that is responsible for the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, said approximately 130 Iraqi army and special police battalions are fighting the insurgency, of which about 45 are rated as "in the lead," with varying degrees of reliance on U.S. support.

The exact numbers are classified as secret, but the 45 figure is about five higher than the number given on Nov. 7 at a briefing by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who previously led the training mission. It is about 10 higher than the figure Gen. Petraeus offered at a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 5.

An Iraqi battalion usually numbers between 700 and 800 soldiers.

Larry Johnson looks at Rummy's presentation of this "good news" on Tuesday: Rummy's Flat Earth Society TPM Cafe 11/29/05.  He quotes our famous Defense Secretary from back in October 2003.  That would be over two years ago:

In less than six months we have gone from zero Iraqis providing security to their country to close to a hundred thousand Iraqis.  Indeed, the progress has been so swift that ... it will not be long before [Iraqi security forces] will be the largest and outnumber the U.S. forces, and it shouldn't be too long thereafter that they will outnumber all coalition forces combined.

Johnson does some of the calculations on the current claims:

A division consists of about 15,000 troops.   Fifteen times 8 gives us 120,000.  A battalion can be as large as 1000 men.  So Rummy is claiming that there are 95,000 Iraqi combat troops as well as 120,000?  But in 2003 Rummy claimed the Iraqi Army was close to 100,000.  Which is it Don?  Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the Iraqi Army is actually closer to 120,000.  Are we to believe that the US has only succeeded in recruiting an additional 20,000 soldiers for the Iraqi Army since October 2003?  And the media, by and large, are either too lazy or too stupid to hold Rumsfeld accountable for these delusional moments.  I guess, with the holiday parties upon us, they don't want to get disinvited to the White House Christmas Party.

How long must we endure such delusional thinking?  Remember, when Rummy made the October 2003 bold prediction the number of American dead was less than 400.  Now we are closing in on 2200 and no "light" at the end of this tunnel.  Just because Rummy wants a functional Iraqi Army does not make it so.

Yes, this is faith-based leadership.  War, the Republican Party way: nothing quite like it.

Johnson also speculates on something that I've seriously wondered: whether Rummy's just getting plain senile:

It is time that the American people demand a Secretary of Defense who is in touch with reality and capable of asking tough questions and hearing unpopular answers.  Given Rummy's age we can't rule out dementia.  But such a diagnosis is of little comfort to the U.S. soldiers who are being chewed up in the streets and sand of Iraq.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Iraq War: Nixonian exit strategy

Trying to decipher the administration's signals on troop withdrawals from Iraq is as complicated as trying to unravel the plot lines on Alias.  In the case of the TV series, the consequences aren't so serious.  As long as they get Mia Maestro back in action soon, I don't care what kind of plot lines they run.  And they've already announced it's the last season anyway.

The Iraq War is a much grimmer puzzle to unravel.

Two recent pieces give me a framework that seems more realistic.  One reminds us that the US has been trying to reduce the troops' exposure to hostile action in recent weeks (see Juan Cole, below).  The other is Seymour Hersh's new report that at least some in the administration (I'm guessing Rummy and Cheney in particular) want to substitute air power for troops, that being a key element of Rummy's version of military "transformation" anyway.

The war in Iraq is a counterinsurgency war.  Unfortunately, that's not a truism, because much of the discussion on the war doesn't take that into account in more than a rhetorical sense.

But the US military is not trained or organized for counterinsurgency.  Their focus is conventional warfare.  And Rummy wants to keep it that way.  The misfit can be seen in the urban battles that are reported.  When two conventional armies are clashing and an Army unit takes fire from an enemy unit, it's pretty safe to assume that if the Army blasts back with artillery or air support drops a 500-lb. bomb on the enemy position, mostly enemy combatants have been killed and wounded.

But in an urban setting, if an American patrol takes fire from an apartment building, and they respond by having tanks pummel the building, there's a good chance that a lot of civilian noncombatants will be hurt.  And if the enemy position is a residential home in a town or village where "terrorists" are presumed to be hiding and it's taken out with a 500-lb. bomb, it's likely that someone other than active combatants will be hurt or killed.

If the US had triple the number of troops on the ground, and the Iraqi government had fully staffed army, paramilitary and police functions, and the intelligence was reasonably good as a rule, then a counterinsurgency effort by joint American-Iraqi efforts would be far more feasible.  Long, bloody and brutalizing, but feasible.

Juan Cole points to the repositioning of US troops to reduce hostile encounters (Rubaie: US will Withdraw Completely from Some Areas: Muqtada offers National Pact Informed Content blog 11/27/05) :

It is little noted in the US press that US troops have already withdrawn from the cities of Najaf and Karbala [both important holy cities in Shi'a Islam]. American forces are also withdrawing from military bases in favor of Iraqis. The somewhat ill-fated US hand-over of Saddam's palace complex in Tikrit to the Iraqi government last week was part of this series of withdrawals (the ceremony took mortar fire).

Coalition forces are likely to withdraw from some 15 other Iraqi cities fairly soon. They appear to initially pull back to a garrison outside the city. But if things stay quiet, it is apparently envisaged by al-Rubaie and other Iraqi government figures that they will depart entire provinces. This process is probably problematic only in about 7 or 8 of Iraq's 18 provinces, where an American withdrawal might well result in a takeover by the neo-Baath and the Salafis, or in a civil war among Sunnis and Shiites. What to do about that in the absence of a well-trained, functioning Iraqi army, none of us really knows.

This approach can reduce American casualties.  But it's the opposite of what an agressive counterinsurgency effort would involve, i.e., actively seeking out the guerrillas.  English-speaking American troops restricted to bases are just not going to be able to conduct a counterinsurgency war in Iraq.  In other words, it may reduce casualities, but it won't beat the insurgents.

When it comes to the idea of substituting air power for troops, this is a long-standing practice.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  But the Pentagon has generally assumed that the American public generally has a very low tolerance for American casualties.  (I think the idea is flawed in several ways, but I'll leave that aside for now.)  And so, if air power can be substituted for infantry in warfare, the American casualties can be minimized.  Air power enthusiasts saw both the 1991 Gulf War and the Kosovo War as evidence for their faith.

Air power also played a major role in the Vietnam War.  The air power true believers are still convinced that more and earlier bombing would have given the US and South Vietnam victory.  Examination of the actual results, like Jeffrey Record's in The Wrong War: Why We Lost in Vietnam (1998), don't support that argument.  Now, according to the new article by Sy Hersh (Up in the Air Where is the Iraq war headed next? by Seymour Hersh 12/05/05 issue; posted 11/28/05), something like that is being considered, perhaps already being implemented, in the Iraq War.  Hersh writes:

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

"We're not planning to diminish the war, "Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson's views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting - Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield."

He continued, "We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004."The war against the insurgency "may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win," he said. "As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we're set to go. There's no sense that the world is caving in. We're in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message."

It's worth keeping in mind that a war is a war. As long as American forces are involved, America will be a belligerent power in the conflict, with all the risks that involves, including the possibility that more ground forces would have to be reintroduced.  A unilaterial "Iraqization" absent any peace agreement with the major insurgent groups is not necessarily possible.

As I've mentioned before, a large part of the pressure to reduce US troop levels in Iraq is the strain that the war has placed on the Army. Hersh writes:

There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, "The people in the institutional Army feel they don't have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They're planning on staying the course until 2009. I can't believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there's no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army." Hanlon noted that "if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels."

As Sidney Blumenthal noted last week with particular reference to Cheney, the Nixon administration was a powerful formative experience for both Cheney and Rummy (The long march of Dick Cheney Salon 11/24/05).

In the Vietnam War, Nixon's strategy of "Vietnamization" was aimed at substituting Vietnamese forces for Americans in that war.  To use today's catch-phrase, as the Vietnamese forces "stood up", the Americans could "stand down".

This policy allowed Nixon to diffuse some of the public concernover the Vietnam War, although it hardly made it more popular.  He was able to bring American troops home and end the draft.  Along with the major diplomatic initiatives he took with China and the Soviet Union in his first term, it gave much of the public that at least things were headed in the right direction, i.e., getting the USout of Vietnam.

Actually, Nixon and Kissinger didn't intend to get the US out of Vietnam.  The South Vietnamese forces were trained by American forces in the same kind of conventional warfare in which the Americans specialized, and in a particular style which required heavy weapons and air power.  Nixon calculated that the combination of South Vietnamese military efforts and American air support and bombing would still secure the goal of preserving an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam.

The strategy wasn't entirely unrealistic.  The 1968 Tet offensive left much of the organizational infrastruture of the NLF (the Vietcong) badly damaged, and casualties were high.  After 1968, the Communists relied more on conventional warfare.  And the use of American air power to support South Vietnamese troops during the North's 1972 conventional offenses was militarily effective.

Yet there were many reasons that no amount of air support and bombing could have saved the South Vietnamese regime.  The military weakness of the air power strategy showed itself dramatically in the 1972 "Christmas bombing" of Hanoi.  It failed in its original aims and, among other things, produced a serious loss of US aircraft.  The Nixon administration demonstrated its capacity for imagination by claiming it succeeded in getting the racalcitrant Communists to make the agreement that was concluded in early 1973.  It extremely probable that the agreement could have been concluded in 1972.  Or even 1969, for that matter.

What Hersh describes sounds like Nixon's Vietnamization idea grafted onto a very different situation. Weak and unpopular as the South Vietnamese government was, it had a large army and the paramilitary and police forces that theoretically could have served a more effective and popular regime to survive.  The Iraqi government has only a few thousand reliable troops, the last believable account I heard.  And during Nixon's Vietnamization, the enemy was not using exclusively guerrilla tactics by that time.  But what good will carpet-bombing an area do against IED's on the roadsides, or suicide bombers in Baghdad?

The Pentagon also seems determined to repeat the mistake of training Iraqi forces to fight the American brand of war, when they don't have the necessary level of skill or a reliable supply of equipment to do that.  There were plenty of infiltrators in the South Vietnamese security forces, but nothing like the level we see in Iraq.  As Juan Cole observes, "If the Americans weren't around, all those 77 Hungarian T-72 tanks that the new Iraqi military now has would be in guerrilla hands so fast it would make your head spin."  (US Air Power to Replace Infantry in Iraq; Distant President Trapped in Utopianism Informed Comment blog 11/28/05) And a reliance on bombing or other heavy firepower will also play into the hands of the resistance.

This is part of the military's concern over the idea of trying to make up for insufficient troop levels with increased usage of air power while pulling out US ground troops:

Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. "Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?" another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. "Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?"

"Its a serious business," retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who was in charge of allied bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, said. "The Air Force has always had concerns about people ordering air strikes who are not Air Force forward air controllers. We need people on active duty to think it out, and they will. There has to be training to be sure that somebody is not trying to get even with somebody else." (Asked for a comment, the Pentagon spokesman said there were plans in place for such training. He also noted that Iraq had no offensive airpower of its own, and thus would have to rely on the United States for some time.)

The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant - and underreported - aspect of the fight against the insurgency. The military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or of the tonnagethey drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War. One insight into the scope of the bombing in Iraq was supplied by the Marine Corps during the height of the siege of Falluja in the fall of 2004. "With a massive Marine air and ground offensive under way," a Marine press release said,  "Marine close air support continues to put high-tech steel on target. . . . Flying missions day and night for weeks, the fixed wing aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are ensuring battlefield success on the front line." Since the beginning of the war, the press release said, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than five hundred thousand tons of ordnance. "This number is likely to be much higher by the end of operations," Major Mike Sexton said. In the battle for the city, more than seven hundred Americans were killed or wounded; U.S. officials did not release estimates of civilian dead, but press reports at the time told of women and children killed in the bombardments.

In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased. Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border. As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war.

Hersh's article also paints a scary but believable picture of Bush:

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose. ...

"The President is more determined than ever to stay the course," the former defense official said. "He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage "People may suffer and die, but the Church advances." He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. "They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway," the former defense official said. Bush's public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. "Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House," the former official said, "but Bush has no idea."

I say it's believable.  But believable doesn't always mean accurate.  For a president in as much trouble as this one is, putting out various forms of a story blaming his closest advisers. In European monarchies, it was the normal form to criticize the King's ministers rather than the King himself.  Same principle.  But let's all hope Bush doesn't go back to boozing again.

This Daily Kos diary also includes quotes from a Sunday interview Hersh did with Wolf Blitzer.

Whatever the "exit strategy", or a "victory strategy" disguised as an exit strategy, the problem right now is what Joe Conason  describes very well in An exit strategy Bush can't ignore 11/28/05:

The quandary for Americans in Iraq, now that the old rosy scenarios have been discarded, is that both leaving and staying are likely to result in disaster.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Iraq War: A new approach to an exit strategy

"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.

Is the Bush administration really going to try a drawdown of American troops below the 135-140,000 level they've maintained throughout the occupation?

From the leaks the last few days, it sure sounds like some of them wanted us to believe that over the Thanksgiving holidays, at least.  And this is an interesting piece of news: The New Way Out by Michael Hirsh, Scott Johnson and Kevin Peraino Newsweek 12/05/05 issue; accessed 11/28/05.

Under the Pentagon's plans, U.S. numbers are to be reduced back to about 138,000 by the new year (troop totals are now edging up to 160,000 leading into the December election). Then, under what the Pentagon calls a "moderately optimistic" scenario - but the one it considers most likely—20,000 to 30,000 more troops would come out by mid-2006, with a further goal of phasing down the U.S. presence to 80,000 to 100,000 by "late next year." As additional evidence of its intentions, the Defense Department quietly announced on Nov. 7 the major units scheduled to deploy to Iraq in the next big rotation, starting in late summer next year. Those units add up to 92,000 U.S. troops in 2007.

To secure the country with so few troops, Khalilzad and Casey have had to swallow their pride. They are making compromises with Sunni supporters of the insurgency that would have been unthinkable a year ago. President Bush is also doing what he has been loath to do: asking neighboring countries for help, even the rabid anti-American Islamists in Tehran. Khalilzad revealed to NEWSWEEKthat he has received explicit permission from Bush to begin a diplomatic dialogue with Iran, which has meddled politically in Iraq. "I've been authorized by the president to engage the Iranians as I engaged them in Afghanistan directly," says Khalilzad. "There will be meetings, and that's also a departure and an adjustment. "

The new U.S. strategy could still fail in many ways. One, the Iraqi units taking over from U.S. troops are almost wholly dependent upon American logistical and other support functions. So while the training and equipping of the Iraqi frontline units should be completed by January 2007, building a support capability behind them is going to take a lot longer, says Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander in charge of training. That means U.S. convoys won't stop rolling along the highways of Iraq - and they could be even more vulnerable to roadside IEDs because they'll be protected by Iraqis, not American combat troops. (my emphasis)

So, Bush the Magnificent, Scourge of the Heathen and Liberator of Peoples, our crusading Dear Leader who was out to vaquish the "axis of evil", is now hoping that the Shi'a Islamic government in Iran will help him out with a withdrawal from Iraq.

I wonder if he'll put on his flight suit and make another Top Gun landing on a battleship after that deal is announced.

Steve Gilliard (Leaving The News Blog 11/26/05) thinks a drawdown of troop levels will happen out of sheer necessity:

The fact is that the Army has until mid-summer 2006 to remain a viable force in Iraq. Both Guard and RA enlistments are coming to an end, and people cannot do more than three tours in Iraq. A fourth tour would pretty much guarantee a broken marriage and or severe injury. The human body can take only so much stress.

Sure, the units may remain there, but the edge will slowly and permanently slide over to the resistance.

Bush may want to remain in Iraq forever, but rumblings of deployal refusals are in the air. You cannot send Guard units on repeat tours, some shouldn't have been sent on one.

Once you start reducing troops, the pressure to bring them home increases expoentially, and their combat effectiveness declines. If you leave 50,000 troops in Iraq, they won't be able to move. They will be under increasing attacks daily and soon penned in their bases.

Let's see what specifics the administration has in mind.  And if it includes a clear renunciation of permanent bases in Iraq.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Iraq War: Groupthink on WMDs and the lie factories

"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.

Daniel Benjamin in America in Iraq: Making bad connections Fort Wayne News-Sentinel 11/25/05 looks at the administration's current arguments that (1) everybody had the same intelligence and, hey, all these Democrats agreed with us; and, (2) our noble Christian president didn't "lie" about the (nonexistent) "weapons of mass destruction".

Benjamin's article doesn't articulate two of the problems I've
described before that I see in the Democrats' responses. One is that the allegations about nuclear weapons programs were by far the most frightening, for both Congress and the public.

The other is that the October 2002 war resolution, which the administration is claiming endorsed everything they did in invading Iraq, just plainly did not give the administration a blank check to go to war with Iraq on its own discretion.  And, in fact, the Bush administration violated both of the two required conditions in that resolution before military action would be allowed. I'm actually puzzled as to why Congressional Democrats and war critics generally aren't making more use of that argument, since it goes to the heart of Constitutional war powers.

But his piece is a good direct analysis of the two administration arguments. He argues that the argument over whether Bush himself technically told a "lie" is just silly comma-dancing.

And he also contends that, whatever the merits of the argument that intelligence analysts were subject to political pressure, the more important problem was the administration  groupthink that led them to use in their decision-making only the intelligence that fit their own strong inclination to go to war against Iraq.

He recalls for us some of the many indications that we have that the administration had decided to go to war long before March of 2003, or even October of 2002:

The evidence includes comments that former Bush administration official Richard Haass made to the New Yorker in which he recounts meeting with Rice in July 2002 - more than eight months before the war started. Haass, who was then director of policy planning in the State Department, said Rice told him not to bother discussing the wisdom of confronting Iraq because, as she said, "that decision's been made. Don't waste your breath.''

If that decision had been made, it was done, as far as we know, before any comprehensive intelligence evaluation about Iraq was compiled. It is even possible that the decision had been made considerably earlier.

In the course of reporting a new book, "The Next Attack: The Failure of the Global War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right," I learned from former senior government officials of a meeting that was held in January 2002 in the White House to jump-start planning for military action that would begin by April 15 of that year. That initial process, which appears to have been started by Cheney's office, was discontinued by Rice, who had initially not been informed about it. As one official who requested anonymity told me: "In that period, it really wasn't clear who was in charge."

But even those who believe the Bush administration did keep an open mind until the immediate run-up to the war must acknowledge that the White House was not interested in listening to all sides on how much of a threat Iraq posed.

I don't know if Benjamin is trying to minimize the issue of directly politicizing intelligence by politicians pressuring intelligence analysts, which clearly did happen and is a very serious problem.  But regardless of that, I do think he's correct in saying that the unofficial groups that can be rightly called
"lie factories" that the administration set up to bypass the established intelligence vetting processes and agencies are a more significant and serious problem.

One of those lie factories was this one:

The Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG, as it was called), was led by two well-known neoconservative political appointees, David Wurmser and Michael Maloof. The group trolled through the ocean of intelligence on al-Qaeda. It produced papers and briefings, but the conclusions - including that bin Laden and al-Qaeda were in cahoots - were never subjected to the same rigorous vetting by other intelligence agencies that all other major intelligence assessments are.

And he describes the effects as follows.  In fact, the decision-making process of the Iraq War is a classic case of groupthink in action, and one that illustrates its dangers in a dramatic way:

Some administration officials had their minds made up before the facts were in. Even before the 2001 terrorist attacks, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in a meeting with counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and others, argued that no terrorist group could pull off the bombings which Osama bin Laden's organization had accomplished before Sept. 11 without support from a state and indicated that he believed Iraq was the state behind the curtain.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Wolfowitz told one of the Pentagon's top career counterterrorism officials (who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity) that the Iraqi government was behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 - a position that had long been discredited by the intelligence community.
[This is a crackpot theory associated with one of the kookier neocons,
Laurie Mylroie.]

When the official told Wolfowitz that he did not agree, he said, "The light went out and he just wasn't interested. And that's how it was for everyone (working on counterterrorism). If you said you weren't convinced, you might as well have said, 'You guys are a bunch of liars.'"

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Post-Katrina contracts

Not a lot of them are going to Mississippi firms, so it appears:  Contracts sparse for firms in Mississippi: State low on FEMA's list with only 80 contracts worth more than $100K by Ana Radelat Jackson Clarion-Ledger 11/27/05.  Redalat reports:

Few large companies with FEMA contracts are based in Mississippi. A Gannett News Service analysis of the 258 post-hurricane contracts FEMA has awarded Mississippi companies as of Nov. 18 showed only about 80 were worth more than $100,000.

Of the $3.7 billion FEMA has spent on contracts related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, about $129 million - or 3.45 percent - went to Mississippi companies, according to the analysis of all 2,009 post-hurricane FEMA contracts.

The other storm-hit states, Louisiana and Alabama, haven't fared much better.

Businesses in Louisiana received 5.37 percent and Alabama 5.15 percent of FEMA contract money.

Are there some states that are doing relatively better on the contracts?  Well, in the age of Bush/DeLay crony capitalism, that answer is easy to guess:

Companies in Georgia, Indiana and Texas have received the most FEMA money.

Maryland and Virginia - which are near Washington, D.C., and are home to the offices of most major government contractors - also are high on the list.

It appears that the same system may also be at work inside Mississippi:

For instance, Rosemary Barbour, a niece by marriage to Gov. Haley Barbour, has signed three contracts with FEMA totaling almost $4 million.

Rosemary Barbour's company, Alcaltec LLC, is selling mobile showers and laundry units to FEMA.

Well, Haley is a real "family-values" kind of guy, we know.

And, heck, the crony system worked so well in Iraq, why not use it in the New Reconstruction on the Gulf Coast?

Several large FEMA contracts, including those held by Bechtel, the Shaw Group, the Fluor Corp. and CH2M Hill, were awarded without competitive bidding.

Responding to criticism of the no-bid contracts, acting FEMA Director David Paulison told a Senate panel last month he will rebid some of those agreements, but that hasn't happened.

Brother Jeb's state is getting a little of that no-bid action, too:

The other government agency handing out hurricane-related contracts, the Army Corps of Engineers, also has awarded no-bid contracts.

The largest, in the amount of $545 million, was awarded to AshBritt Environmental, a Florida company.

Stories like this should be able to shame some of the officials involved into cleaning up their contracting act a bit.  But that would require the Bush administration officials involved to have some sense of shame.

Iraq War: Another soldier lost

"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.

This is a moving and disturbing story about a professor from West Point who committed suicide in Iraq:

A Journey That Ended in Anguish: Col. Ted Westhusing, a military ethicist who volunteered to go to Iraq, was upset by what he saw. His apparent suicide raises questions by T. Christian Miller Los Angeles Times 11/27/05.

This comment was found in a note he had written shortly before his death:

I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more.

Miller writes of that note:

A note found in his trailer seemed to offer clues. Written in what the Army determined was his handwriting, the colonel appeared to be struggling with a final question.

How is honor possible in a war like the one in Iraq?

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Which is sadder, Maverick McCain the "moderate" or Joe Biden the neo-dove on the Iraq War?

Is there any real sense in Joe Biden's evolution on the Iraq War other than his reading of the political winds for a possible 2008 presidential run?

Well, politics is politics, and at least he's trying to sound antiwar now: Time for An Iraq Timetable by Joseph Biden Jr. Washington Post 11/26/05.

But it looks like Joe's exit strategy is based on an unsound premise, that the US actually controls Iraq right now.  For instance:

Over the next six months, we must forge a sustainable political compromise between Iraqi factions, strengthen the Iraqi government and bolster reconstruction efforts, and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces.

It's hard to believe that Biden isn't aware of the consensus-building that took place at the recent Cairo Conference.  There already is a political compromise emerging among Shi'a, Sunnis and Kurds: they want the American troops out.  At Cairo, they even endorsed the legitimacy of resistance to foreign occupation.

But I don't think that's exactly what Joe Biden was talking about.

Yep, the times they are a-changin'.  Even Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton may decide to start grumbling about the need for a faster pullout the way things are going now.

Jane Hamsher at the FiredogLake blog is underwhelmed by Biden's (kinda-sorta) conversion (Thanks, Murtha. Joe Will Take It From Here 11/26/05):

When John Murtha went up like a trial balloon last week, Joltin' Joe Biden "wasn't there yet," 'cos God forbid someone says Joe Can't Do War. Then Jean Schmidt went over like Schiavo, Joe stuck his finger in the air and felt the wind shifting, and just in time for the Sunday morning chat shows he writes in the WaPo that he wants a timetable for withdrawal.

Pat Lang is more generous in "Time for An Iraq Timetable" Biden Sic Semper Tyrannis blog 11/26/05.  (By the way, I don't know why Lang picked a title for his blog that happens to be what John Wilkes Booth shouted to the crowd at the Ford Theater after he fatally shot Abraham Lincoln, but Lang is not some neo-Confederate; his a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst.)  He writes:

Are these obstacles and difficulties so great as to make Biden's outline "moot?"  I think not.  We are now in Iraq. We are not in some other situation which we would have preferred.  It is time for the "loyal opposition" to oppose.  Biden's plan should provide an "umbrella" of thought under which to do so.

Marvelous Maverick McCain's standard for Republican Congressional leadership

From Look Who's Talking About Making a Comeback in the Senate by Sherly Gay Stolberg New York Times 11/27/05:

During an appearance last weekend at the University of Mississippi, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, predicted that Mr. Lott would become Republican leader again, adding, "I will tell anyone that of all the majority leaders we've had in the United States Senate, I believe that Trent Lott was the finest leader we've had."

Yep, that's the bold Maverick McCain.

Stolberg reminds us why the, uh, gentleman from Mississippi is no longer Senate Republican leader - at least for now:

Mr. Lott's downfall as Republican leader stemmed from his comments at a 100th-birthday tribute to Strom Thurmond, the since-deceased Republican senator from South Carolina who in 1948 ran for president as a segregationist. Mississippi voted for Mr. Thurmond, and Mr. Lott said if the rest of the country had done so, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

Iraq War: Cheney on soldiers' morale

"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 notion that criticizing the administration war policy is unpatriotic and worse is one that the hardcore Republicans can be expected to use as long as American troops are in Iraq.  And long after.

But the Dark Lord of Torture, Dick Cheney, perhaps unintentionlly illustrated in a recent speech why the accusation that dissent over the war demoralizes the soldiers will remain well-nigh unprovable.

Now, in the reality-based world, it's well established, in both theory and practice, that soldiers in combat are not focusing on what newspaper editorials back home may be saying about US foreign policy at the moment.  They are focused on fighting for themselves and their buddies in their unit and keeping each other alive.

Combat morale does not depend on individual faith in the wisdom of the policy that put them in that spot.  It depends on leadership and unit cohesion.  Inadequate field leadership will undermine morale in the most popular of wars.  Miserable and impossible conditions, like American soldiers often faced in Vietnam and now in Iraq, will also produce morale and other problems even in a war with much greater public and Congressional approval than the Iraq War has now, or ever will again.

(Combat morale is a subject that has been intensely studied. People don't have rely on guesswork on this topic.)

But those are not the things that the Dark Lord mentioned:
Vice President's Remarks on the War on Terror at the American Enterprise Institute 11/21/05 (white House Web site).  He first makes the accusation against the war critics:

One might also argue that untruthful charges against the Commander-in-Chief have an insidious effect on the war effort itself.

He then told his audience at AEI:

I'm unwilling to say that, only because I know the character of the United States Armed Forces - men and women who are fighting the war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other fronts. They haven't wavered in the slightest, and their conduct should make all Americans proud. They are absolutely relentless in their duties, and they are carrying out their missions with all the skill and the honor we expect of them. I think of the ones who put on heavy gear and work 12-hour shifts in the desert heat. Every day they are striking the enemy - conducting raids, training up Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers. Americans appreciate our fellow citizens who go out on long deployments and endure the hardship of separation from home and family. We care about those who have returned with injuries, and who face the long, hard road of recovery. And our nation grieves for the men and women whose lives have ended in freedom's cause. (my emphasis)

We saw a few days ago in the venomous Republican response to Congressman John Murtha's criticism of the war just how much Republicans honor the service of veterans when they venture to criticize Dear Leader Bush's war policies.  And in their shameful failure to provide adequate body and vehicle armor to the troops they sent into war based on lies, distortions and forged documents. And in the Swift Boat Liars for Bush and their Rovian attacks on John Kerry wartime service.  And on and on.

But the Republicans have made idolizing the military and, in particular, "honoring the troops" such a key part of their image among their supporters, particularly the Christian Right, that they dare not say that any particular battle was lost or objective not attained because of a lack of morale.  And since the honest generals reassure us that they regularly win every single battle, it's hard to see how they could ever claim damage to the troops morale.

This inevitably sounds a bit like comma-dancing. And that's because it's a reflection of the absurdity of the idological binds in which the Republicans have wrapped themselves. Since they've insisted on fighting the Iraq War without calls for general public sacrifice of any kind, they have to claim everything is going great in order to sustain what public support is left. If they actually do intend to reduce the troops presence in Iraq, they have claim everything is going great.

But the charges they are making against the critics are so nasty, it's worth doing reality-checks on them from time to time.

It's interesting to see how what I'm calling here the idolization of the military plays out in different ways.  Probably none of them really good.  Andrew Bacevich devotes a chapter of The New American Militarism (2005) to the  efforts of the Christian Right to claim the US military as their own special cause.  As he explains, Protestant evangelicals (a wider group than fundamentalists or the Christian Right) were particularly disturbed by what they saw as a cultural crisis in the 1960s, involving not just Vietnam but the "counterculture", the civil rights movement and the dramatically increased independence of women.

But he argues that, more than for any other group, conservative evangelicals reacted to the loss of the Vietnam War as not only a failure of foreign policy but "a manifestation of cultural upheaval".  And he describes a shift in attitudes that took place as a result:

Certain in their understanding of right and wrong, growing in numbers, affluence, and sophistication, and determined to reverse the nation's perceived decline, conservative evangelicals after the 1960s assumed the role of church militant. Abandoning their own previously well established skepticism about the morality of force and inspired in no small measure by their devotion to Israel, they articulated a highly permissive interpretation of the just war tradition, the cornerstone of Christian thinking about warfare. And they developed a considerable appetite for wielding armed might on behalf of righteousness, more often than not indistinguishable from America's own interests.

Moreover, at least some evangelicals looked to the armed services to play a pivotal role in saving America from internal collapse. In a decadent and morally confused time, they came to celebrate the military itselfas a bastion of the values required to stem the nation's slide toward perdition: respect for tradition, an appreciation for order and discipline, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the common good. In short, evangelicals looked to soldiers to model the personal qualities that citizens at large needed to rediscover if America were to reverse the tide of godlessness and social decay to which the 1960s had given impetus.
(my emphasis)

So it would be especially problematic for an administration so extremely dependent on the Christian Right as its most important mass base to start claiming in any specific instances that our sacred soldiers were so human as have lapses in moral based on the criticisms of those culturally decadent Democrats.

Of course, this won't stop the Dark Lord and other Republicans from claiming that criticism of the administration might damage soldiers' morale. But it could wind up backfiring on them in unexpected ways.  At the very least, their self-imposed need to declare that that our invincible generals are always and everywhere winning and winning again deprives that sleazy charge of much of its emotional force.

Probably the darkest side of this idolization of soldiers as models of the ideal qualities "that citizens at large needed to rediscover" is that it encourages people without a personal or family connection to military service to think of soldiers as sentimental creatures, not quite human, and therefore easy to sacrifice in preventive wars of choice.

One article that I've quoted a number of times here at Old Hickory's Weblog is "The Art of Politics" by Duncan Murrell Oxford American May/June 2003.  Murrell's article is about a long interview he conducted with Gen. Wesley Clark.  But it's so well expressed that it's worth quoting again:

"I think a time like this is an interesting turning point in American history. Many of the things that we've taken for granted, that have shaped our international strategy, our domestic environment - they're up for grabs right now. We got walloped on 9/11. and now Americans are asking themselves what's out there. They're saying, 'Hey! Man, these people are supposed to like us! And what happened with Russia and the Soviet Union? Where is China?' Ordinary Americans are now much more interested in the world beyond. And in combination with the war on terror, you've got a rollback to a sort of imperial presidency, a presidency that's much more private, and an investigatory service with greater authority to come after ordinary Americans. We thought we put that to rest after the excesses of the Nixon administration and Vietnam. I believed that when I fought in Vietnam I represented the right of all Americans to express their views. So I'm concerned."

There is an idealism that underlies such outspoken skepticism toward the Republican administration, one that creeps in when Clark recounts his life and the choices he's made. When asked about his decision to leave Little Rock for West Point, he put it this way: "I wanted to serve my country. I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to be in the armed forces. I was worried about the threat to the country from Russia, and so I went to West Point."

Clark recognizes such feelings as somewhat anachronistic. The irony, as he sees it, is that while the relationship between the military and the general public has improved since Vietnam, the experience of actually serving in the military has become less common.
The result is a perception of soldiers as the embodiments of ideals - duty, honor,
country - reinforced by a sentimentality unsullied by first-hand knowledge of soldiering.
Such admiration for the military is powerful, but not quite powerful enough to drive the sons and daughters of the middle and upper classes into recruiting offices. "We've been the beneficiaries of that lack of familiarity," Clark says, which has allowed the leadership of the United States to use the military as a symbol, sending soldiers off to wars that don't affect most American families directly by putting their children in harm's way.

When Clark wants to demonstrate the weakness of certain arguments, he often mimics the people making them. To demonstrate what recent college graduates might say if he suggested they join the military. Clark leaned forward in his chair, eyes wide, hands folded in his lap: "Well, General Clark, that's a very interesting thing. If it's what some people want to do, great. I mean, we really need people like that. And thanks a lot for going out there and risking your life for our country. For myself, I've got lots of other things to do, and but, you know, I'm really glad someone wants to serve. As for me. I really want to be a lawyer. I'm really looking forward to being a journalist, or getting into my family's business. Or," he added with asmile and a pause, "just enjoying my freedom."

Clark didn't mean this to be funny. His earnestness was palpable.
(my emphasis)

With that in mind, another look at Cheney speech puts it in a grimmer context:

I know the character of the United States Armed Forces - men and women who are fighting the war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other fronts. They haven't wavered in the slightest, and their conduct should make all Americans proud. They are absolutely relentless in their duties, and they are carrying out their missions with all the skill and the honor we expect of them. I think of the ones who put on heavy gear and work 12-hour shifts in the desert heat. Every day they are striking the enemy - conducting raids, training up Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers. Americans appreciate our fellow citizens who go out on long deployments and endure the hardship of separation from home and family. We care about those who have returned with injuries, and who face the long, hard road of recovery. And our nation grieves for the men and women whose lives have ended in freedom's cause.

A little less sentimentalism and a more serious approach to the responsibility of sending soldiers into war to kill and be killed would be a vast improvement.

When you start looking into one of Dick Cheney's speeches, it's a little like turning over rocks in a swamp.  You can fight some strange and scary things under there.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of."
- George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

The Bush Doctrine in the second term

Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay thinks that reality might have forced an unwilling and "faith-based" Bush administration to adjust his second-term foreign policy to something taking more account of the realities of the world: Bush's Foreign-Policy Strategy: Is the Revolution Over? San Jose Mercury News 10/14/05.

They detect a less belligerent tone toward the democratic countries of Europe:

Foreign policy in Bush's second term looks kinder and gentler. The president has visited Europe four times this year in a bid "to remind people that the world is better off, America is better off, Europe is better off, when we work together." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured the Senate during her confirmation hearings that "the time for diplomacy is now."

And they see hopeful signs in the administration's seemingly more pragmatic approach to nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.

But they don't think any new intellectual considerations in the sense of rethinking their general approach is responsible.  Instead, they argue, "the differences in the second term have less to do with personal epiphanies than with confronting the consequences of decisions made during the first term."

The most troubling of those consequences, of course, is the Iraq War.

Iraqis remain deeply divided over the fundamental questions of how power and resources will be shared, so the insurgency that has already claimed so many Iraqi and American lives is bound to continue unabated.

The truth is that the Bush revolution that reached its apex with the U.S. invasion of Iraq almost surely also ended there.

They go on to review the major assumptions behind the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and unilateralism based on military power.  And they explain how those assumptions came crashing up against reality in their grand Mesopotamian adventure, although it took the administration's true believers a while to understand what they were experiencing - at least to the point of recognizing that they had left themselves drastically reduced options in other parts of the world:

The administration's decision to scuttle the Kyoto Protocol and other international agreements upon first coming to office reflected those theories. But Iraq is where those beliefs would get their biggest test.

Even when it became obvious that most of the world - angered by our dismissiveness of their interests and concerns - wouldn't follow us into Iraq, the president pushed on in the belief that his opponents would eventually rally to his side. And if they did not, he reasoned, it wouldn't matter. "At some point, we may be the only ones left," the president told then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. "That's OK with me. We are America."

By the start of Bush's second term, America did, in many ways, stand alone. In France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, fewer than half of those polled viewed the United States favorably. And in much of the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden was viewed far more favorably than Bush.

They don't believe that the change is due to any particular virtues of the new Secretary of State:

Many credit Rice and her new staff at the State Department for changing the administration's foreign policy, and especially for the deal with North Korea. It is true that she has helped State regain influence it lost under Powell. But the general orientation of Bush's national-security team changed little from the first term to the second. Rice is to the right of Powell. And no one suggests that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney or, most important, Bush, has changed his worldview.

They point to the nomination of the hardline nationalist John Bolton as ambassador to the UN as evidence that the administration hasn't given up the Bush Doctrine view of the world and of America's role in it.  In fact, they believe that they would like to revert to the first-term approach: "Veteran Washington hands know that changing the tone of a policy often can salvage its substance."  And they add:

[W]e also are unlikely to see the president pursue the more cooperative, ally-friendly foreign policy that his critics would prefer. That would require the kind of investment of time and effort in detailed negotiations - as well as a willingness to compromise - that he has not been willing to undertake.

But their arrogance, incompetence, corruption and failures have boxed them in domestically as well as internationally:

When the final assessment of the Bush presidency is written, it may well be said that the Bush revolution in foreign policy was brought to a halt by two women - Cindy (Sheehan) and Katrina. Perhaps galvanized by Sheehan's protest in August, more than half the American public now believes that the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. Moreover, in an ominous sign for the White House, approval for Bush's handling of the campaign against terrorism has dipped below 50 percent for the first time. ...

This, clearly, is not the time for grand foreign-policy initiatives of the kind that marked Bush's first term. Then, Bush could flex America's muscles overseas and ignore reactions in allied capitals because the American people were squarely behind him. Now they are wondering where his policies are taking them.

For a tribute to Ivo Daalder's foreign-policy expertise, see Institutional Suicide at Brookings? Talbott Shuns Ivo Daalder - Hires Unknown Carlos Pasqual by Steve Clemons, TPM Cafe 11/25/05.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A sobering look at the American news business

Michael Massing has an informative but discouraging piece out about the economic and political pressures facing American journalism today.  It's the first of two parts: The End of News? New York Review of Books 12/01/05 edition; accessed 11/15/05.

He describes some of the highlights of how rightwing media and various well-funded foundations created a climate that effectively bullies the press, especially but not exclusively the broadcast media, to bend over backward to avoid criticizing Republican officials and Party positions.

I especially like his descriptions of how the changing economics of the newspaper business is affecting news coverage.

Massing also reminds us in what an extreme way this administration has used governmental secrecy to restrict the public's access to knowledge about the workings of its own government:

The Bush administration has restricted access to public documents as no other before it. According to a recent report on government secrecy by, a watchdog organization, the federal government classified a record 15.6 million new documents in fiscal year 2004, an increase of 81 percent over the year before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Spending on the declassification of documents dropped to a new low. What's more, 64 percent of Federal Advisory Committee meetings in 2004 were completely closed to the public. The Pentagon has banned TV cameras from recording the return of caskets from Iraq, and it prohibited the publication of photographs of those caskets, a restriction that was lifted only following a request through the Freedom of Information Act.

The restrictions have grown so tight that the normally quiescent American Society of Newspaper Editors last fall issued a "call to arms" to its members, urging them to "demand answers in print and in court" to stop this "deeply disturbing" trend. The conservative columnist William Safire, usually a supporter of Bush's policies, complained last September that "the fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before."

Massing gives an historical sketch of the rise of today's rightwing media, aka,the Republican Noise Machine, the Mighty Wurlitzer, etc.

He also takes full account of the rise of blogging.  But he argues that the net effect of the blogosphere has been to strengthen the conservative pressure on the mainstream media.  He explains:

At The Truth Laid Bear, a Web site that ranks political blogs according to their number of links with other sites, eight of the top ten blogs are conservative. The conservative sites include InstaPundit (University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds), Power Line (three lawyers), (a syndicated columnist whose recent book defends the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II), Free Republic (conservative activists), Captain's Quarters (run by a call-center manager), the Volokh Conspiracy (a UCLA law professor), and Little Green Footballs (commentary on foreign policy with a strong pro-Israel slant). Complementing them are a host of "milblogs," written by active-duty military personnel promoting vigorous pursuit of the GWOT (Global War on Terror). (By far the most-visited political blog is the left-of-center Daily Kos; its popularity is owing in part to its community-style approach, which allows registered readers to post their own comments as well as comment on the posts of others.)

It's possible he's correct.  But political impact is more complex than just the number of hits or, in the analysis just cited, by the number of links.  If a thousand dittoheads link to a Glenn Reynolds item where he accuses the Democrats of whatever, and the links all say "Great Instapundit post today and then link it or quote part of it, that definitely increases the visibility of the material.  But a real measure of blogs' impact on public opinion would have to get much more data about who is using the blogs, and also come up with some measure of quality.  Does a simple link like the one I just mentioned have the same effect as someone making their own comments on the idea in the linked post?

I don't think that it's a matter of political bias to say that the drivel that you find at or the disgusting Little Green Footballs (both in Massing's list) comes close to the quality of writing and argument that Daily Kos provides.  Lots of people may go to Little Green Footballs to have their uglier prejudices confirmed.  Readers can actually learn something from the posts at Daily Kos.

He writes this about liberal blogs:

Liberal bloggers have had some successes of their own. Partly as a result of their commentaries, for instance, the press has paid more attention to the so-called Downing Street memo of July 2002, in which Tony Blair and his advisers discussed the Bush administration's plans for war in Iraq. In addition to Daily Kos, prominent left-leaning blogs include Talking Points Memo, Eschaton, and, for commentary on Iraq, Informed Comment. While these sites are critical of the national press, their main fire is directed at the Bush administration. What's more, these sites are not supported by an interconnected system of talk radio programs and cable television commentary, and their influence therefore tends to be much more limited.

It's true that the Republican Noise Machine provides a bigger echo chamber than liberals have.  But in terms of the effectiveness of blogs as such, Juan Cole's Informed Comment (which I quote about 12 times a week here, or if I don't, I should) is providing expert commentary of the situation in Iraq on a daily basis.  He also provides translations and summaries by himself and others of Arabic-only newspaper reporting in Iraq.  I'm not sure it can be measured quantitatively.  But Cole's impact on the discussion of the war through his blog has been much more significant than I can imagine Glenn Reynolds' ever being.

But it's Massing's discussion of the business side of newspaper publishing that is the best part of his piece:

The much-discussed fortunes of the Los Angeles Times are a case in point. For more than four generations, the paper was published by members of the Chandler family, who were controlling shareholders of the Times Mirror Company, which, in addition to the Times, owned Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, and the Hartford Courant. In 2000, however, Times Mirror was bought by the Chicago-based Tribune Company, a huge corporation that had become accustomed to 30 percent annual profit margins. (In addition to the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, the Tribune Company owns nine other papers, twenty-six television stations, a 22 percent share in the WB television network, and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.) ...

The paper continued to be very profitable, but its margins had dipped below the 20 to 25 percent it had achieved in its most prosperous years. At the same time, the paper had come under heavy attack from southern California bloggers such as Hugh Hewitt, who portrayed it as liberal, lofty, and out of touch. According to Ken Auletta, in The New Yorker, more than a thousand Los Angeles Times readers canceled their subscriptions after the paper ran a story critical of Arnold Schwarzenegger just before the 2003 recall election that brought him to office.

Between 2000 and 2004, the Tribune Company extracted some $130 million from the paper's annual billion-dollar budget. Then, weeks after the 2004 Pulitzer Prizes were announced, Tribune executives informed Carroll that further cuts were needed, and over the summer more than sixty staff members took voluntary buyouts or were laid off. The Washington bureau lost 10 percent of its staff, and those who remained were assigned to a new office along with the much-reduced Washington bureaus of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Newsday, and other Tribune papers. The cutbacks have made it harder for reporters at these papers to meet their daily deadlines, much less undertake in-depth reporting. In July of this year, in the face of demands for more cuts, [editor John] Carroll resigned from the Times.

But, despite the nice little supply-and-demand graphs that economists use to explain how anything that happens in the market is rational, all businesses have a huge human factor.  And the profit margins demanded by corporate owners from newspapers is not entirely rational.  As Massing writes:

It is a striking paradox, however, that newspapers, for all their problems, remain huge moneymakers. In 2004, the industry's average profit margin was 20.5 percent. Some papers routinely earn in excess of 30 percent. By comparison, the average profit margin for the Fortune 500 in 2004 was about 6 percent. If the Los Angeles Times were allowed to operate at a 10 to 15 percent margin, John Carroll told me earlier this year, "it would be a juggernaut."

The danger this trend represents to an informed citizenry is considerable:

If the newspaper industry continues to shrink in response to the unrealistic expectations of Wall Street, the loss would be incalculable. The major metropolitan dailies, for all their faults, are the main collectors and distributors of news in America. The TV networks, to the extent they still offer serious hard news coverage, get many of their story ideas from papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Christian Science Monitor. Even the bloggers who so hate the "mainstream media" get much of their raw material from it. If the leading newspapers lose their capacity to report and conduct inquiries, the American public will become even more susceptible to the manipulations and deceptions of those in power.

Newspapers are still a critical part of a healthy democracy.  Surely Congress and the regulatory agencies could, with the right leadership, come up with ways to regulate the market in which newspapers operate to allow a healthy 10-15% profit rate.  And, yes, this is one of those cases where the public interest in having a well-functioning democracy outweighs the desire for corporate shareholders for maximum profit.

Incidentally, I think he's right in the last point I quoted about the major dailies generating much of the hard news.  One thing bloggers do that adds value is to call attention to important stories that those news organizations produce but which may get buried in the back pages somewhere.