Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

A Fine Mess

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

A Fine Mess

Now What?

The president gave his September 11 speech - and as Bruce Reed says, there was
nothing new there. It was "more or less the same speech he has given on many prime-time occasions before. With Michael Gerson's departure to become a syndicated columnist, the quality of Bush's imagery has slipped. Last night, he looked forward to the day 'when the people of the Middle East leave the desert of despotism for the fertile gardens of liberty' - which sounded more like ad copy for a Dubai desalination plant."

This was variations on a theme. After wanting get him dead or alive, then saying he didn't really think about him much any longer, the president promised to find Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice - one day after the
Washington Post reported that our search party "has not received a credible lead in more than two years" and the trail in this particular manhunt has gone "stone cold" (item here). As Reed notes - "Most Americans have heard that speech so many times, they wouldn't be surprised if it bored Bin Laden." One assumes the ratings were low.

He kind of did the "epic struggle" thing - this war will go on for generations, and Iraq is just part of it, but a vital part, even if Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and all that. He gave that up - only Rice and Cheney now say there was a connection. Obviously the hard thing here is to sell the idea that, yes, Iraq didn't have those WMD, and, yes, had nothing to do with 9/11, there was no connection to al Qaeda at all, but the war there really was a fine idea. It's important in some large conceptual sense, or something. The rationales explaining why we had to do this, and why we keep going on, get more and more abstract - tethered to the real world of actual events be the thinnest of strings. It's fascinating to watch, in a morbid, "end of the world" sort of way.

The president's supporters in the House and Senate, up for reelection in November, were no doubt dismayed by this speech, these odd seventeen minutes. Two thirds of the country thinks the war is stupid, an over half think it has nothing to do with whatever "war on terror" we're in, and may be making things worse. They don't want an endless war in Iraq, followed by a succession of more wars. Folks want some sort of resolution. The idea was, however, that there will be no resolution any time soon, maybe not for many decades. Heck, there's Iran next, and Syria, and North Korea - and maybe Cuba or Venezuela as things are going now. When you're running to keep your seat, and your constituents are fed up, piggybacking on this sort of message is impossible.

It was whining, really - we did do the right thing, we did, we did. No one really understands - the country, the world, everyone is fed up with this - but we did do the right thing, we did, we did. Try selling that in Iowa.

But there were suggestions for how to resolve things in Iraq.

Reed mentions the Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has left the White House. The Washington Post announced they've picked him up as a columnist - something about adding another conservative voice to their pages, as conservatives are so outnumbered and underrepresented in America. Right.

And to give this beleaguered minority a further voice, Tuesday, September 12, the Post published a column by the editors of our nation's two biggest conservative magazines, Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol, of the National Review and Weekly Standard respectively.

That's here, and they claim the have the real secret of how we can "win" quickly and easily in Iraq.

Yes, things are a mess right now - they admit it - but the solution is stunningly obvious -

    The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

    ... Administration spokesmen have jettisoned talk of "staying the course" in Iraq in favor of "adapting to win." If those words are to have meaning, the administration can't simply stay the course on current troop levels. We need to adapt to win the battle of Baghdad. We need substantially more troops in Iraq. Sending them would be a courageous act of presidential leadership appropriate to the crisis we face.

The immediate reaction from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly is here -

    I swear, I almost think we should go ahead and agree to let them do this. If it would settle the question once and for all, I think I would.

    But it wouldn't, of course. If it didn't work, they'd just write another column blaming the failure on something else. Lack of willpower, maybe. Or the French.

    In any case, it's telling that they use the word "surge" and decline to provide an estimate of just how many more troops they think we need. A few thousand? Fifty thousand? Where are they going to come from? And do they really think that a surge would do the job? If they had the courage of their convictions, they'd provide a number, tell us what was needed to get the additional troops (pull them out of Korea? call up more reserves? extend tours of duty? institute a draft?), and admit candidly that these troops would need to be in country for at least several years. But they don't.

    On the other hand, they're right about one thing: staying the course is the most irresponsible plan possible. There are arguments for withdrawing and there are arguments for sending more troops, but there's really no plausible argument for doing what Bush is doing. Staying the course is just another name for killing thousands more American soldiers for no reason.

But that's what we'll do. There really are no more troops. Such a courageous act of presidential leadership is not possible. We have what we have. There may be no way out.

But there is the bracing effect of really actually sending in many more theoretical troops. National Review editor Rich Lowry wants a massive escalation - and later on Fox News he reinforces the argument, claiming that if President Bush were to say, "we're going to send two more divisions into the city [Baghdad] and lock it down and secure itů people would actually react favorably to that."

The video and transcript of that is here. Lowry seems to think all the polls have got it all wrong about the American people. We really do want thing this to "go big." We all long for it. One supposes this has something to do with who he hangs out with.

The note that accompanies the transcript is this -

    First, there is no indication from public polling that there is any US support for increasing troop levels in Iraq. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that only 17 percent of Americans supported increasing force levels, while 53 percent favored decreasing them.

    Second, the argument wrongly suggests that violence in Iraq is constricted to Baghdad. In fact, as the senior Marine intelligence officer in charge of Western Iraq reported, the political and economic security situation there is - like Baghdad - rapidly destabilizing.

    Third, escalation is the wrong remedy to the problem because it fails to understand the root cause of the problem. Increasing troop levels feeds the perception that the US is in Iraq to stay, thereby fueling the insurgency. Moreover, the numerous increases in troop levels throughout the occupation have not improved security on the ground.

But that doesn't seem to matter. We are a warrior nation, really. That's an interesting contention, given the facts, in this case the many, many polls. These neoconservatives seem to think that they really understand America. As with the president, everyone else is wrong. There's a bigger truth. The facts are biased, or something.

Glenn Greenwald here -

    One of the most depressing aspects of the Iraq debate is to watch the self-styled "experts" who advocated this war, such as National Review Editor (and Sean Hannity substitute) Rich Lowry, thrashing around, constantly grasping for new excuses as to why their war is failing, desperate to embrace any explanation at all other than the only true one sitting right in front of their faces - that the invasion was a bad idea from the beginning, that it was premised on false assumptions, that war advocates were wrong about everything they predicted would happen, and the ongoing occupation has produced incalculable disaster along with virtually no good.

    ... To Lowry, we're always on the cusp of winning. It's always - as he announced today - the "crucial moment." The "decisive battle at a decisive moment." Everything is always going really swell in Iraq. And all we need for it to get even better, to get to the finish line, is some more Churchillian "stirring rhetoric about the need for victory and for stalwartness in the face of setbacks." Anyone serious can see that that's all we need.

    ... as always with Iraq and terrorism debates, being endlessly wrong is a sign of profound seriousness, and cheering on wars - no matter how misguided and misinformed the cheering is - renders one a serious foreign policy expert who recognizes the serious threats we face in these very serious times. That's why, when the Washington Post wants to find someone to counsel us on its Op-Ed page as to what to do in Iraq, it turns to two of the Wrongest People in America.

    If we had determined our Iraq policy over the last three years by picking proposals out of a hat, we would have been way more right than we were by listening to Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry. But they favor wars and more wars and put on a grave, serious face when they talk about The Terrorists, so they are Serious Foreign Policy Experts and need to be listened to.

Yeah, but who's listening?

Matthew Yglesias here runs down how these two have said such things for years and sums it up this way -

    I was going to call this the hawkery of fools, but really knaves is more like it. The wars are all going to be easy before we launch them, and the folks raising piddling questions should be dismissed. When the wars don't work out, it's always because we've been insufficiently warlike. When the wars produce broader strategic problems, we need more wars. And, of course, more troops. Always more troops.

Neither has ever served - that makes the call easier.

All this would be just silliness, but that these two, particularly Kristol, speak for the neoconservative movement. Think of them as the voice of Dick Cheney, the power behind the throne, our boy-king's Richelieu. Something may be up. The critics cited above are mocking these two for what they wrote in the Post, but after the November elections something may have to be done. This is not going well.

So this may be dead wrong -

    Both Kristol and Lowry see the writing on the wall. The war in Iraq is a failure and the American public isn't going to tolerate a never-ending engagement. They are betting, probably correctly, that the situation will disintegrate further and they want to be able to distance themselves from that failure. But calling for redeployment or withdrawal is anathema to their followers and they don't want to be known as sell-outs. On the other hand, being on record as supporting Bush's doomed policy (one that really includes no plan) is also not appetizing. So, instead, they pimp a hawkish position that their readers will lap up and they can then lay future claim to the line that if we would've just kicked a lil' more ass, it would not have turned out the way it did. By then, they hope the viability issue of their proposal has long spiraled down the memory hole. And they do this knowing all the while that there is no chance that their proposal will be followed.

Maybe so, but maybe not. After November all bets are off.

Why think that? Well, there is this, the video and transcript of Michael Ware of CNN, on Tuesday, September 12, reporting that US commanders in Iraq have privately expressed the need for an increase of three times the number of troops currently serving in Iraq. Officially, the military continues to say that "we have an appropriate level of force to do what we have to do within the confines of our mission." Off the record (to protect careers) the word is different.

Where we get another 280,000 troops is a good question. But that may not be what's going on. As noted here, the military is clearly letting reporters now know - for their future books - that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are responsible for the inevitable loss of what is supposed to be "the central front in the "War on Terror." It's another sort of career maneuvering.

This all has to do with the Sunni-dominated Anbar province of Iraq - a fifth of the country, west of Baghdad, bordering on Syria and Lebanon. The word is it's gone. That came Monday the 11th in the Washington Post, here, from their Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks, author of the new best-seller Fiasco. He based his reporting on several accounts of a classified intelligence report by Colonel Peter Devlin -chief intelligence officer there - "Prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim. There is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there..." It's the talk of the Pentagon at the moment.

CNN reporter Michael Ware, again, on the show Situation Room, the same day added this -

    Wolf, it's absolutely nightmarish and "The Washington Post" story is an old one. US military intelligence has been saying this about Ramadi for a year and a half. I've been going out there since 2003. I've watched the steady decline.

    Quite frankly, America is not committed to the fight. It is known - it is a stated fact that this is the headquarters of al Qaeda in Iraq, yet American commanders privately off camera will tell you that we only have a third of the troops there that are needed to even begin to make a dent in al Qaeda.

The next day the New York Times' Michael Gordon here carried the story forward - "The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the American troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq."

Will that happen? We have 16,000 troops there, but Gordon adds this -

    Since the intelligence assessment was prepared in August, however, no reinforcements have been sent. To the contrary, the strain on the American troops in Anbar has increased. An American Stryker unit, which was under the overall Marine command, has been sent from Rawa to Baghdad to help with the operation there. Also, military police who had been earmarked for training the Iraq police in Anbar have also been sent to Baghdad. The Marines have sought to make up the shortfall by using existing troops.

    The Iraqi Army has deployed two divisions in the region with a combined authorized strength of some 19,000. But the Iraqi military is under strength. The two Iraqi divisions in Anbar together are some 5,000 troops short of that level, while hundreds more are absent without leave.

The place belongs to al Qaeda and Gordon notes the Devlin report "describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an 'integral part of the social fabric' of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity."

Now what?

There seem to be no answers. Keep on keeping on is what we are given. It may be all we can do, and chunks of Iraq fall away.

But this war in Iraq is keeping us safer, as in this -
Al Qaeda Will Nuke US in Late September - "A Pakistani journalist says that his sources in al Qaeda and the Taliban are claiming that nuclear material has already been smuggled across the Mexican border into the U.S. and that an operation bigger than 9/11 will be carried out during Ramadan - which begins later this month."

Don't worry. The source is not the best. So what are we doing in Iraq?

But we can't just leave, or so Lawrence Kaplan at The New Republic explains here -

    The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that "if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood." Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

    ... Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, "The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests." Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war's cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war's conduct - namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.

He says it's just like Vietnam -

    Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence. The genocide that followed in Cambodia and the spectacle of Vietnam's reeducation camps will not be repeated in Iraq. But ask any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent US forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold.

Kevin Drum comments here -

    There is, at this point, not much question that an American withdrawal from Iraq would lead to massive bloodshed, a Shiite theocracy, and considerably enhanced influence for Iran in the Middle East. It would be a debacle almost without parallel.

    And yet, like most other critics, Kaplan offers no better answer. In fact, he gives the game away with a comparison to Vietnam (something that's apparently OK for conservatives).

    But this is exactly the problem, isn't it? We stayed in force in Vietnam for nearly a decade, and we still couldn't accomplish our goals. Should we have stayed another decade?

    Anyone who advocates withdrawal needs to understand just what the consequences would be. But, as Kaplan admits, responsibility nonetheless lies squarely with the war's architects. In Iraq, if anything, we are having even less success than we did in Vietnam, and there's hardly even a colorable argument left that we have any hope of turning this around. Withdrawing may be an appalling and grisly option, but would it be better to kill a few hundred thousand more people and then leave? Those like Kaplan who oppose withdrawal have a question of their own to face up to.

There are no good answers.

From out here in Hollywood one thinks of Laurel and Hardy - Oliver Hardy's catchphrase is often misquoted as "Well, there's another fine mess you've gotten me into." The actual quote is "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into." Another Fine Mess was the title of one of their short films from the thirties. Not that that helps very much. This is not funny.

On a cheerier note there's this -

    Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before being used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.

    The object is basically public relations. Domestic use would make it easier to avoid questions from others about possible safety considerations, said Secretary Michael Wynne.

    "If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," said Wynne. "(Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

The fun never ends.

[A Fine Mess]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik