Hope as Strategy - There's Got To Be a Morning After
Hollywood trivia - The Morning After (music and lyrics by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha) won the Oscar in 1972 for "Best Song." It was from The Poseidon Adventure - a schlock disaster film with big stars. Shelly Winters was brassy and brave as the ship rolled over and eventually sank. And the film was almost a disaster too - shooting was delayed twice because of the projected production costs, and finally began only when Irwin Allen and his outside backers matched the investment of Twentieth Century Fox. The story is that Allen found those backers by walking across the street from the Fox lot - Pico Boulevard down at Motor - to the country club there, where he found some friends playing cards. During the card game they somehow agreed to back the film. He was persuasive, or had good cards. But here's the kicker - because the studio never really had to spend any of the backer's money, the backers made a profit from the success of the film without actually spending a thing. They just said they would, if they really had to. Somehow one thinks of Halliburton and Iraq, and shipwrecks. Someone made a killing.
The song, which was a minor hit for Maureen McGovern (great voice and the charisma of a turnip), was one of those "it's always darkest before the dawn" things - "There's got to be a morning after, if we can make it through the night" and so on. People like that sort of thing. Some of us prefer posters like this - "It's always darkest before it goes pitch black." But when you're down, it is nice to think that the best thing to do is pack it in, get some sleep and things will look better in the morning. Heck, Hemingway used those four words from John Donne for the title his first novel, "The Sun Also Rises" - and it always does, even if he was being ironic. The novel ends on the road out of Biarritz as everything has gone beyond sour -
"Oh, Jake," Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together."
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
Hemingway blew his brains out before he could hear this or that tiny but awfully cute child actress belting out The sun'll come out tomorrow, badly but earnestly. "Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, Tomorrow! You're always a day a-way." Well, yes. The logic is impeccable. But is the tomorrow in question any better?
Think about how the week starting Monday, December 4, had gone for the president. Monday his in-your-face UN ambassador was forced to resign, Tuesday his nominee for Secretary of Defense, Roberts Gates, was asked in his initial confirmation hearing if we were winning the war in Iraq, and Gates, without missing a beat said no, we were not. Wednesday, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group released its report - things were dire and we had to make big changes in policy, involving doing something else entirely with our 144,000 troops, and involving talking with governments with whom we said we would never talk, and all the rest. We had screwed up, and we needed to rethink this all. And this from his father's guys. Yipes.
And as Steve Gilliard, notes that wasn't all -
Your father has to defend you from a savage attack on your character.
He breaks down in tears when discussing your brother.
He sends his best friend to save your ass and you act like he shouldn't have bothered.
Your daughters decide not to spend Thanksgiving with you, and one decided to spend Christmas with her new Argentinean boyfriend, whose employment status is questionable.
Oh yeah, the tabloids have been discussing your divorce for the last six months.
The Bush family is falling apart before our eyes, and the only people reporting it is the tabloids.
So when does Laura finally snap and turn on Bush and his "wife" Condi?
If this didn't involve dying people, this would be fun to watch - the Bush family, who think of themselves as some kind of American royalty, when they are basically mediocre WASPs, fall into torpor and disunion.
Things were bleak indeed. So, would Thursday, December 7, be better, or was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor to be as dismal as the other days? Surely it wouldn't be another day that would live in infamy.
The day, however, brought word of how the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group were going down in Baghdad. Were they grateful for a possible change in things? The answer was no, not really -
They said the report is a recipe, backed by threats and disincentives, that neither addresses nor understands the complex forces that fuel Iraq's woes.
… Iraqis also expressed fear that the report's recommendations, if implemented, could weaken an already besieged government in a country teetering on the edge of civil war.
"It is a report to solve American problems, and not to solve Iraq's problems," said Ayad al-Sammarai, an influential Sunni Muslim politician.
They knew, and it was kind of unanimous. Sunnis were upset at the proposals that seemed to favor Shiites, and Shiites upset at the proposals that seem to favor Sunnis. And no one has any better ideas then the Baker group had. They just knew that this report doesn't really have much to do with them. And Kevin Drum notes that the now famous report "doesn't say a single word about promoting democracy either in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East?" Who knows what it was about?
It's about moving forward, or as William Arkin, the Defense reporter at the Washington Post, comments, it really isn't -
Here's how I see Iraq playing out in the short term: The president makes an announcement within a month about his "new" plan. Washington is ever so pleased with a new approach. But the a la carte plan is seen by the Iraqis for what it is; it is not a U.S. timetable for withdrawal. It is not an unequivocal pledge not to establish permanent bases. It is sovereignty and authority in name only for Iraq with continued American control behind the scenes. I can't see [how] any of this equivocation will deflate the insurgency or stem the hatred for America that is fueled by our presence.
The "plan," in other words, is neither what the American people nor the Iraqi people want.
The plan, such as it is, "merely kicks the day of reckoning further down the road." And of course every single additional day that we spend in Iraq just makes our eventual disengagement harder, and bloodier. Kevin Drum again - "Always remember: things can get even worse than they are now. They have for each of the previous three years, after all."
And have a nice day. And Michael Gordon in the New York Times was reporting the military advisors to the Iraq Study Group said the key idea - embedding our advisors with Iraqi units and then withdrawing all our combat troops within a year - was crap. It looks like the group didn't even discuss its military recommendations with its own military advisory panel -
Jack Keane, the retired acting Army chief of staff who served on the group's panel of military advisers, described that goal as entirely impractical. "Based on where we are now we can't get there," General Keane said in an interview, adding that the report's conclusions say more about "the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq."
... The group's final military recommendations were not discussed with the retired officers who serve on the group's Military Senior Adviser Panel before publication, several of those officers said.
Why bother? This didn't have much to do with the possible.
One of Josh Marshall's readers noticed something else -
I've noticed a pattern in the official and media portrayal of the situation in Iraq that I am curious if others have also noticed. Bush, ISG, and other "advice reports" all seem to assume that the official government of Iraq, as personified by Nuri Maliki, has the same intentions for Iraq that we do.
This assumption seems crazy to me as contrary evidence is everywhere. Maliki has repeatedly demonstrated favoritism toward the Shia and its militias and seems to be sponsoring - or at least openly tolerating - the Shia militias' conflict with the Sunni militias. Iraq is making commercial deals with Iran openly, publicly, and in clear defiance of us. Maliki ordered our troops to take down the barricades we had constructed to rescue a kidnapped soldier in Sadr City, immediately after Moqtada al-Sadr pressured him to do so. Sadr even kidnapped all the bureaucrats in Iraq's Education ministry in broad daylight. Can anyone seriously contend that was done without the official government's knowledge and approval?
Here's the point. If the true aim of Iraq's official government is what it seems; i.e., develop close ties with the Shia community in Iran, annihilate the Sunnis, and establish an Islamic government, why are we continuing to assist them?
Ah… because the president says we should? Marshall asks the obvious - "Without addressing this specific question, is there any substantial body of people in Iraq - south of Kurdistan at least - who wants anything remotely like what President Bush wants? What is our constituency?"
Who knows? Nicole Belle lines things up -
So let me see if I have this straight: We invaded a country for whatever reason du jour (WMDs, Saddam an evil dictator, 9/11, terrorists, etc.), without the people at the top having the foreknowledge of the history of the area or the difference between various Muslim sects, took out the relatively secular (although admittedly dictator-based) government in favor of a far more Islamic (but democratically elected) government and continued to occupy said country, fighting in some cases FOR the Shia (being assisted by our sworn enemies, Iran) and against the insurgent Sunnis (that our allies, the Saudis, support). Have I got that right?
Anyone else thinking that the people in charge do not know their ass from their elbow? Feel safer in that "War on Terror"?
No, not really, considering late the same dismal day things got worse -
Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.
Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition. But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.
Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities. Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq's insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anti-coalition forces, the officials said.
In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said.
Oh great, our Saudi ally is funding those picking off our troops and now shooting down our planes.
No, really -
Allegations the insurgents have purchased shoulder-fired Strela missiles raise concerns that they are obtaining increasingly sophisticated weapons.
On Nov. 27, a U.S. Air Force F-16 jet crashed while flying in support of American soldiers fighting Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent hotbed. The U.S. military said it had no information about the cause of the crash. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said he would be surprised if the jet was shot down because F-16's have not encountered weapons capable of taking them down in Iraq.
But last week, a spokesman for Saddam's ousted Baath party claimed that fighters armed with a Strela missile had shot down the jet.
"We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans)," Khudair al-Murshidi, the spokesman told the AP in Damascus, Syria. He would not say how the Strelas were obtained.
Well, Saddam had a few of them. They could be leftovers. The president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, wrote in that recent leaked memo that Washington should "step up efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role in supporting Iraq, by using its influence to move Sunni populations out of violence into politics." Good luck with that. The week before, a Saudi who headed a security consulting group close to the Saudi government, Nawaf Obaid, wrote in the Washington Post that Saudi Arabia would use money, oil and support for Sunnis to counter Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq if American troops pulled out (previously discussed here). The Saudi government denied the report and fired Obaid. But something is up. Those private citizens can be pesky. This thing is going regional, and beyond the governments.
And as for the dream of embedding our guys with their guys, Matthew Yglesias sees where that is heading -
The headline call to withdraw all-or-most US combat brigades from Iraq by 2008 is actually pretty misleading. This is supposed to be combined with embedding something like 20,000 American soldiers directly inside the Iraqi Army. We're also supposed to go forward with the plan to build this giant embassy with thousands of people working in it. They also want us to increase the quasi-civilian presence in Iraq by sending FBI, DOJ, and other people to build up Iraqi law enforcement capabilities. And to increase the level of intelligence assets in Iraq. What's more, special operations forces, air power, etc. are all supposed to remain available, though perhaps based just over the border.
The upshot of this if you could really pull it off would be to create something akin to the British Indian Army, where the United States would have effective control over the institutions of the Iraqi state. America's embedded officers - down to the company level - would be in de facto command of a large body of Iraqi cannon fodder, with US civilians similarly embedded throughout many of Iraq's civilian agencies. Whatever you think of this idea (and I don't think much of it) the government of Iran certainly isn't going to think much of it. One could imagine them helping us do something in Iraq, but creating a stable, effective government controlled from Washington, DC isn't on that list.
You can read all about the British Indian Army here, and we know what finally happened in India - although Gandhi's tactics were not much like those used in Iraq these days. Just what are we doing?
And then the same day, wouldn't you know, the Brit came to town - Tony Blair visited George Bush, they chatted, and then they held a press conference together. They might as well have been singing that song from Annie, or the one from the big budget seventies movie about the doomed, overturned and sinking ship. Things will be fine. Tomorrow is another day. (It is, by definition.)
The president flat-out rejected the key recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group, and Blair embraced them. But they were both optimistic, in their own ways.
President Bush would have nothing to do with the proposal that Iran and Syria be included in regional talks aimed at ending Iraq's worsening civil war, which he says isn't really a civil war. He restated the standard White House position - talks with Tehran were conditional. They had to stop that uranium enrichment, while contacts with they Syrians in Damascus would depend on an end to Syrian destabilization of Lebanon. They had to stop the arms and money flows over the border to Lebanon, and to Iraqi bad guys - "We've made that position very clear. And the truth of the matter is that these countries have now got the choice to make." He was firm - "If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy. Just make some decisions that'll lead to peace, not to conflict."
Nothing will change. And Blair said a regional peace initiative as suggested would be cool - the only basis for those discussions should be acceptance of UN resolutions on Iraq. The curious thing is that later a Downing Street spokesman confirmed the British position of demanding a halt to uranium enrichment while just continuing to talk to Iran on other issues - "In terms of our position, we continue to have diplomatic relations with Iran and have always done so." George must think Tony is a fool.
As for the study group saying it would be a good idea to work out a de-escalation of the Israel-Palestine mess, Blair has always said that was key, and Bush shined him on. No change there. Bush shrugged. He's waiting for the other reports. He's asked General Pace at the Pentagon to write one, and the National Security Council to write one. Heck, he may have asked the EPA and the Boy Scouts of America for reports on what to do. Tony and his Israel-Palestine is just one more view, after all. He's more interested in what the military says -
"Baker-Hamilton is a really important part of our considerations," the president said. "But we want to make sure the military gets their point of view in. After all, a lot of what we're doing is a military operation."
The military report is not expected to propose substantial troop withdrawals and may even advocate a brief surge in the US military presence in Iraq. President Bush yesterday made it clear he was more likely to listen to that kind of advice. He said: "Our commanders will be making recommendations based upon whether or not we're achieving our stated objective."
And he mentioned he'd asked for a study from the State Department too, as that would only be fair. But Tony Blair is just one guy. Baker's crew is just a bunch of people with opinions. He said he'd decide on something later, and tell us all when he did. He will only talk of eventual "victory" - whatever that means. And he'll decide things. Earlier in the day, when the press secretary Tony Snow was asked if James Baker would be advising the president on a continuing basis, Snow was blunt - "Jim Baker can go back to his day job now." So opinions are just opinions. They will be noted. And the president will then go with his "gut instinct." That's how things work.
It's getting harder to hum those show tunes. Blair is good at it, but he must have been privately appalled. He was doing his plaintive Maureen McGovern thing, mixed with a bit of Annie. The president was stuck in a John Wayne movie, with no catchy songs - just a cowboy harmonica in the distant background.
The reality is neither, but what Martin Jacques describes in The Guardian (UK), on Friday, December 8, with The Neocons Have Finished What the Vietcong Started -
Just a month after the American electorate delivered a resounding rebuff to the Bush Iraq policy, the great and the good - in the guise of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) - have subjected that policy to a withering critique. The administration has had the political equivalent of a car crash. George Bush is being routinely condemned as one of the worst presidents ever, and his Iraq policy no longer enjoys the support of a large swath of the American establishment. The neoconservatives suddenly find themselves isolated and embattled: Rumsfeld has been sacked, Cheney has gone quiet, the likes of Richard Perle are confined to the sidelines. The president is on his own and it is difficult to see how Bush can avoid moving towards the ISG position. The political map is being redrawn with extraordinary alacrity.
Before our eyes, the neoconservative position is disintegrating. Its foreign-policy tenets have been shown to be false. As is now openly admitted, they have brought the US to the verge of disaster in Iraq, which is why the American version of the "men in grey suits" has ridden to the rescue. After less than six years in office, elected at a time when the US was unchallenged as the sole superpower, the Bush administration has managed to deliver the country to the edge of what can only be compared to a Vietnam moment: the political and military defeat of the central and defining plank of American foreign policy.
Of course that's wrong. The president can avoid anything he wishes to avoid.
And Jacques notes this just isn't Vietnam. Actually, it's worse -
In 1975 the Americans suffered a spectacular military defeat at the hands of North Vietnam and the Vietcong, with US helicopters seeking to rescue leading US personnel from the tops of buildings as Vietnamese guerrillas closed in on the centre of Saigon. It was to shape American foreign policy - in particular, a desire to avoid overseas military entanglements - for decades. Indeed, the rise of the neoconservatives was partly predicated on a rejection of what they saw as American defeatism during and after the Vietnam War. Iraq is very different. There is no single enemy with a clear military strategy. Baghdad will not be Saigon. This is a case of an endless, bloody and unwinnable quagmire rather than any spectacular denouement in waiting.
But the Iraq moment is far more dangerous for the US than the Vietnam moment. Although one of the key justifications for the Vietnam war was to prevent the spread of communism, the US defeat was to produce nothing of the kind: apart from the fact that Cambodia and Laos became embroiled, the effects were essentially confined to Vietnam. There were no wider political repercussions in east Asia: ironically, it was China that was to invade North Vietnam in 1979 (and deservedly got a bloody nose).
The regional consequences of the Iraq imbroglio are, in comparison, immediate, profound and far-reaching. The civil war threatens to unhinge more or less the entire Middle East. The neoconservative strategy - to remake the region single-handedly (with the support of Israel, of course) - has been undermined by its own hubris. The American dilemma is patent in some of the key recommendations of the ISG report: to involve Iran and Syria in any Iraqi settlement (including the return of the Golan Heights to Syria) and to seek a new agreement between Israel and Palestine. In short, it proposes a reversal of the key strands of Bush's foreign policy.
We just aren't going to be able to do what we said we'd do. The world has changed -
The American era is now over.
In future the US will be forced to share its influence with regional powers such as Iran, with the EU - and no doubt in time, with emerging global players such as China and perhaps even Russia. Such a scenario may well mean that the key alliance that has shaped the Middle East since 1956 - between the US and Israel - will no longer be so pivotal and could be increasingly downgraded. From a regional standpoint, it is clear that the Iraq moment is far more serious for the US than the Vietnam moment.
What is true regionally is also the case globally. We are reminded of how even the most powerful and, indeed, the most knowledgeable can get things profoundly wrong. It is worthwhile recalling the longer-term global context of the American defeat in Vietnam. It did not signal any serious upturn in the fortunes of the Soviet Union; this was already in a state of economic stagnation and growing political paralysis that was to become terminal in the 80s, leaving the US as the sole superpower. It was this that encouraged the neoconservatives to utterly misread the historical runes at the end of the 90s. They believed that the world was ripe for a huge expansion of American power and influence.
A few years later we can see the full absurdity of this position. Far from the US being in the ascendant, deeper trends have moved in the opposite direction. The US might enjoy overwhelming military advantage, but its relative economic power, which in the long run is almost invariably decisive, is in decline. The interregnum after the cold war, far from being the prelude to a new American age, was bearing the signs of what is now very visible: the emergence of a multipolar world. By misreading global trends, the Bush administration's embrace of unilateralism not only provoked the Iraq disaster but also hastened American decline.
The necessary shift is obvious - some form of power-sharing on both a global and regional basis, and things depending on the involvement of Iran and Syria in this specific case. We're talking a BIG change here. That's what the Baker guys were really suggesting, perhaps. And maybe they think pigs will fly - tomorrow. There does have to be a morning after, of some sort.