Assessing the Damage - Are We At The Bottom Yet?
You want depressing news? No, you don't. But that seemed to be the order of the day on Tuesday, November 28.
Christina Larson, to start off, offered some interesting numbers -
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, tells me he's been trading emails with folks around town - generals, colonels, Pentagon officials - who have been looking carefully and analytically for the last two years at what it will cost to reconstitute the military after Iraq. In other words, the bill to bring Army and Navy battalions back to the status they were in before the invasion. That includes training, equipment, replacing Apache helicopters, humvees, tanks, rifles (we have burned them up in Iraq faster than life cycle projections), etc. The current estimate: $50 to $100 billion. "The next president will face a staggering bill," Wilkerson says, not even counting the costs of further efforts in Iraq.
No one thought of that before? Ah well, the argument will go that we had to do what we had to do. Or even if this was one of the "greatest blunders" ever made by a US leader, as Jimmy Carter said on CNN, and we didn't have to do it, what's done is done. The basic "hardware" of the military is pretty… basic. And we're talking just getting back to where we were before we did what we did, not new systems and not increasing the size of the military. It's those damned hidden costs again, except these weren't hidden. They were just not mentioned. Now that the whole effort is teetering we're in the "did anyone think of this?" phase, it seems more of this sort of thing will get mentioned. When things go well you smile and say "we'll worry about that later." No smiles now - and later is coming faster than expected.
But we are still in control of things. Well, maybe. A number of people, including Laura Rozen, wondered why the White House was being so cryptic about Vice President Cheney's trip to Riyadh the previous Saturday to meet with Saudi King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. Tuesday, November 28, Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks in the Washington Post, in a paragraph buried deep in an item on another topic, clear things up -
Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.
Paul Glastris - "Pathetic. The U.S. government is so weak that the Saudis can summon our veep for a stern talking-to."
Well, he won't listen to anyone else. He certainly won't listen to what the majority of American thinks. But there are some people he respects. King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan are actually doing us a favor. Someone had to set him straight. Thanks, guys.
And as for respect, the same Post story carried news of how the administration was debating the merits of throwing its full support behind the Shiite folks in what they won't say is a civil war. That would settle things down -
But in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. "That's the price you're going to have to pay," he said.
More of those hidden costs. This time the Sunni folks pay.
At least we'll give the Sunni folks their own playground - "The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military's mission in Anbar province."
That was the big scoop at the Post the same day - we may have lost the west of Iraq. There's not much we can do.
And ABC News says the internal debate is pretty much over -
ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province and join the fight to secure Baghdad.
The news comes as President Bush prepares to meet with Iraq's president to discuss the growing sectarian violence.
There are now 30,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar, mainly Marines, braving some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. At least 1,055 Americans have been killed in this region, making al-Anbar the deadliest province for American troops.
The region is a Sunni stronghold and the main base of operations for al Qaeda in Iraq and has been a place of increasing frustration to U.S. commanders.
In a recent intelligence assessment, top Marine in al-Anbar, Col. Peter Devlin, concluded that without a massive infusement of more troops, the battle in al-Anbar is unwinnable.
In the memo, first reported by the Washington Post, Devlin writes, "Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by al Qaeda in Iraq."
Faced with that situation in al-Anbar, and the desperate need to control Iraq's capital, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving U.S. troops from there into Baghdad.
"If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out [in al-Anbar], what's the point of having them out there?" said a senior military official.
That's a good question, but the final decision may come a tad later - "As dire as the situation is, officials say they expect no decisions on any change in military strategy for at least another two or three weeks, until incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates is sworn in and given a chance to weigh in on the various options under consideration."
Why did he want Rumsfeld's job? He gets to choose between keeping our Marines in a no-win shooting gallery, or presiding over a defeat - hauling out of a big chunk of Iraq. There seems to be no third option. Rumsfeld lucked out, didn't he? He was shown the door before the consequences of his planning and management fully flowered. How does the song go? "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run." That was about a winning gambler. Rumsfeld won.
And that was before King Abdullah II of Jordan patiently explained, as the Middle East expert Juan Cole notes, this whole business isn't really about Iraq. It's about Palestine, or as Cole put it on Wednesday, November 29, It's Palestine, Stupid -
A surprise for Americans: The most urgent and destabilizing crisis in the Middle East is not Iraq. It is, according to King Abdullah II of Jordan (who will meet Bush today), the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is a major engine driving the radicalization of Muslims in the Middle East and in Europe. It seldom makes the front page any more, but the Israelis are keeping the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in Bantustan penitentiaries and bombing the ones in Gaza relentlessly, often killing significant numbers of innocent civilians. Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Rubin, David Wurmser and other Likudniks who had managed to get influential perches in the US government once argued that the road to peace in Jerusalem lay through Baghdad. It never did, and they were wrong about that the way they were wrong about everything else.
In fact, September 11 was significantly about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, and as long as the Israelis continue their actual creeping colonialization of Palestinian land while they pretend to engage in a (non-existent) "peace process," radicalism in the region will only grow. Polls taken in the last few years have shown that 64 percent of Egyptians expressed satisfaction with the Mubarak government, but only 2 percent had a favorable view of US foreign policy (i.e. knee-jerk pro-Likud policy) in the Middle East. That is, the argument that authoritarian government breeds radicalism is either untrue or only partial. It is the daily perception of a great historical wrong done to a Middle Eastern people, the Palestinians, that radicalizes people in the region (and not just Muslims).
Wait - did our Jordanian ally just say we had things backwards from the beginning? We not only fought a pointless war, we tackled the wrong problem in the first place? That must have been an interesting meeting. King Abdullah isn't playing his part in the grand narrative. One can imagine the president, troubled to be suddenly challenged on a really basic level, saying what is deep in his heart to the king - "Yeah, well what do YOU know about the Middle East?"
As for the matter of our forces just leaving Anbar province entirely, Cole says he thinks this is all that they can do. Earlier, in a highly detailed analysis, he laid out how "there is not a military mission that can obviously be achieved by keeping our troops there any longer." And that comes down to this -
The argument could be made that the attempt to subdue al-Anbar province has been a major radicalizing factor for not only the province itself but for Sunni Arab Iraq in general. The destruction of Fallujah, which is nevertheless still not secure, was a negative turning point in the guerrilla war. The Iraqi troops of the Nuri al-Maliki government will have to keep order or learn to compromise with al-Anbar, one or the other.
Keeping all the players straight is a bother of course, but you get the idea. We'll see if Robert Gates does.
It's enough to drive you crazy. And if you check out this video (with partial transcript) you'll see the New York Times' "big thinker," Thomas Friedman, saying things are worse than civil war in Iraq, as Iraq is like thirty civil wars now, and the only solution would be to reoccupy Iraq again.
It went like this -
Friedman: …To have a proper civil war you need to have two sides - you have about thirty sides. It's beyond a civil war there.
Vieira: So what does that mean in terms of our role there then, Tom?
Friedman: Um, Obviously when you're dealing now with something broken up into so many little pieces - it's hard to believe that anything other than reoccupying the country - um, and establishing the very coherent order we failed to do from the beginning is really the only serious option left.
Vieira (stunned): But, is that really a serious option - to reoccupy the country?
Friedman: Well, I'm simply saying if you actually want to actually bring order there - the idea that you're going to train the Iraqi army and police to this kind of fragmented society is ludicrous. Who's training the insurgents? Nobody is training them and they seem to be doing just fine. This is not about the way - it's about the will. Do you have a will to be a country? If you don't have that then there's not much training is going to do.
And for all these years he thought this war was such a good idea. It just needed another six months. It seems all the "six months" are now used up.
The president, at the NATO summit didn't think so -
"There's one thing I'm not going to do, I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," he said in a speech setting the stage for high-stakes meetings with the Iraqi prime minister later this week. "We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren."
Christy Hardin Smith offers a translation - "I don't care how screwed up things are, I am not losing face so we are not leaving, and you can't tell me what to do. So there." It's what she calls part of the "charade of ignorance, obfuscation, and ego."
Her evidence is this -
"But saying it isn't civil war doesn't make it so," said Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat and Bush critic who has proposed partitioning Iraq. "Training and equipping Iraq's security forces as the United States is doing only produces more lethal combatants in the country's internecine conflict."
The potency of the term civil war comes from the fact that "it's not what we signed up for," said David Rothkopf of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "We went in there to replace a despotic government with a democratic government. We said we were there to get rid of terrorists. Well, which side are the terrorists?
"Now we find ourselves being a referee in a civil war. Neither side is us. It means that the premise for our national involvement and policies has been challenged and compromised," Rothkopf said.
… "If you're lying dead on the street in Baghdad, I don't imagine it makes much difference" what the conflict is called, Rothkopf said, adding that the debate is "taking us away from" looking at the key moral and strategic questions about how the United States should handle it.
And here is her suggestion -
Let's just stop the PR tap dance, shall we, and start looking at this mess like grown up people. Let's all admit that the situation in Iraq is one big FUBAR mess, that George Bush should swallow his pride and own up to the fact that this is so, and that we need to stop marking time, dithering and generally just making things worse by trying on different pairs of rose-colored glasses instead of just being honest - with ourselves, with the American public and with the military and their families.
Iraq is a mess. We made it so. Innocent people are dying. That is bad.
Our soldiers are caught in the crossfire of a civil war, and they are caught in a horrible conundrum as a result, because they cannot be seen as taking sides or they lose what little credibility they have left, after our bungled mess of a non-strategy that they have been forced to foist on Iraq - and yet, by not taking sides, the violence is increasing by the hour. And the loss of life continues to increase every single day.
… to pretend that the militias, the factions, the insurgents, the Iraqi government and the sectarian and civil violence are not intertwined and one and the same is to ignore the reality that is Iraq at the moment. The sooner we all look this mess in the face and see it for what it really is, the better - because all the rose-colored glasses do is extend the inevitable leave-taking into someone else's future. But that leaves no future for the American soldiers who will die there in the meantime, let alone the innocent civilians trapped in the middle of this mess in Iraq.
Hell, even Joe Scarborough was quoting John Kerry's "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" quote from Kerry's testimony in 1971. And Pat Buchanan agreed with him. (Yes, I did almost spew my tea as I was listening to the show. It was as though I were watching some sort of Bizarro Scarborough, wherein he agreed, repeatedly, with Lawrence O'Donnell.)
Jim Miklaszewski just spent time on MSNBC explaining the Administration's "resurrect the al Qaeda boogeyman" strategy for changing subject from civil war in Iraq. And he did the reporting with a smirk on his face. If military families where I live are any judge, this strategy is doomed - military folks who have done multiple (and I mean MULTIPLE) tours in Iraq know how bad things are on the ground right now, and so do their families. And if you think people aren't talking about it and praying about it and crying with their friends and family about it over the holidays, you can think again. The snow job is not going to work - not this time.
Well, Tony Snow, the president's press secretary, has his work cut out for him.
Ah, the news is just too depressing. But wait - there maybe be help on the way. Depressing news won't be reported.
Newt Gingrich, who really, really, really wants to be the next president, was in New Hampshire and gave a talk in which he said that free speech will just have to be curtailed because we're in this war on terror. The Manchester Union Leader covered it -
Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.
"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.
Hey, Newt, we already lost a city. It just wasn't lost to terrorism. Our own government had a lot to do with it.
But then, he's right, the internet is full of stuff that questions the government's view - this and everything cited herein. When all this is shut down, no more depressing news. Problem solved.
The irony of course -
Gingrich spoke to about 400 state and local power brokers last night at the annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment award dinner, which fetes people and organizations that stand up for freedom of speech.
That's delicious. The state motto up there is "Live Free or Die." It's on the license plates. They might want to change the "or" to "and you will" on the plates.
Ah well, he was just trolling for potential votes, and he knows his audience - "He also said court rulings over separation of church and state have hurt citizens' ability to express themselves and their faith."
It may seem like he doesn't think much of the First Amendment and its stuff about the government having no business ever "abridging the exercise of free speech" and that "non-establishment clause" about religion. But he knows his voters, his potential base, the Bush crowd, and they are a little strange -
Lohse, a social work master's student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.
Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse's study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person's psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.
But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse's explanation.
"Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader," Lohse says. "If your world is very mixed up, there's something very comforting about someone telling you, 'This is how it's going to be.'" The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.
The world is very mixed up, obviously - it is quite a mess, actually - and there's a certain comfort in Bush-like authority, or authoritarianism, and that is something you can work with. Newt knows that. In times of trouble some want a strongman who will just take over.
The problem is, as depressing as the news is, some don't.