Another Stormy Monday - Losing Your Bully
Monday, December 4, 2006 - the day John Bolton announced he would be leaving his post at the UN as our ambassador there. The headlines all read that he had "resigned," but the White House said no one should use that word. It went down something like this -
The White House yesterday bowed to Senate opposition and gave up its attempt to keep its controversial ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, in his job - the latest sign of President George Bush's diminishing authority. Mr Bush issued a statement denouncing the senators, including a Republican moderate, who had blocked Mr Bolton's confirmation process in the chamber's foreign affairs committee.
"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time," Mr Bush said. "This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country and discourages men and women of talent from serving."
Yeah, well the whole idea was a bad idea from the beginning, as discussed in September 2003 and in detail in March 2005. And now he's gone. Because the Senate would not confirm him he was a "recess appointment" - put in place while the Senate was off for the weekend. As such, his appointment expires when the present congress - the 109th - adjourns. That happened December 8, of course. The Democrats oppose him, and they'll be in the majority soon. And a number of key Republicans oppose him still. There was no way the "lame duck" Senate was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and, in the last few days of its session, hold hearings and confirm him. The votes weren't there. Done. The man sent to the UN, to tell they were all fools and crooks and scum, must move on.
As for how the president handled this, here's another view -
Not only did he send out the snotty statement … he held a photo-op and talked to the press slumped down in his chair, lip curled, obviously pissed off. He said this: "I'm not happy about it. I think he deserved to be confirmed. And the reason why I think he deserved to be confirmed is because I know he did a fabulous job for the country."
You'd think he'd be used to failure after experiencing it his entire life but he doesn't seem to be handling it well. His arrogance has always been there, throwing his weight around, peppering his speech with phrases like "I told the American people they were gonna have tah be patient and I meant it." But now there's a darker edge to it. I see no signs that he's ready to see reason on a judgment call like Iraq.
The president was having a bad day. He had met with one of the Iraqi Shiite leaders and asked for his thoughts on how to handle matters there, as it was chaos, and the answer he got was have the US troops wipe out all the Sunnis. What did he expect the guy to say? The Saudis and Egyptians and Jordanians, our Sunni allies, would not be amused. The advice was useless.
And the Bolton thing was just maddening. Everyone with the president was ticked off. What's was wrong with the guy?
Matthew Yglesias explains -
About half the time, conservatives profess bafflement as to why liberals are so upset about John Bolton. The rest of the time, you read pearls of wisdom from Bolton fans like Andy McCarthy about how "we don't need an ambassador at the UN, we need a wrecking ball." The mustachioed one, it seems, was just the man for the job but "If John Bolton could not be confirmed after the job he did, there is no hope for a strong American presence there. More importantly, even with Bolton performing heroically, the UN was still a menace."
So, look, conservatives can agree with that or disagree as they like. But no fair being baffled - this is the crux of the issue. Bolton and his biggest fans think the UN is a menace. Not that the UN is a flawed institution that sometimes can't or doesn't accomplish everything one might like. Rather, it's a menace. Not something that should be improved, but something that should be wrecked. Hit, in other words, with a wrecking ball. People who believe that a "strong American presence" in Turtle Bay means strident efforts to destroy the institution.
But some still think the UN could be useful, and after all, we started the thing in San Francisco in 1949. Destroying it just seems stupid. And those folks won the day - or ran out the clock.
But the clock is running out in Iraq in a different way.
"God get me out of this, because these guys are going to get me killed," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter thought to himself in the midst of a disastrous firefight in Sadr City last Friday to root out key Sunni insurgents.
What? That's from a Monday, December 4, Los Angeles Times item - 'Fear took over' in Baghdad raid; US advisors lament Iraqi troops' conduct. America's exit strategy hangs in the balance.
Here's the deal -
The joint security forces, undertaking what officials described as a major counterinsurgency operation, were in pursuit of 70 "high-value targets" in Baghdad's crowded Fadhil quarter, a Sunni Arab neighborhood of multistory tenements along the east bank of the Tigris River.
Instead, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's 9th Mechanized Division and their American trainers had walked into a deadly ambush Friday.
And here's the detail -
"Fear took over" among the Iraqis, Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter said.
"They refused to move. We were yelling at them to move," he said. "I grabbed one guy and shoved him into a building. I was saying, 'God get me out of this, because these guys are going to get me killed.'"
The offensive was initially billed by U.S. officials in Baghdad as an Iraqi-led success and a case study in support of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on using American troops as military advisors as a way to shift security responsibilities to Iraqi soldiers.
This is not going well, as in -
The U.S. military is ramping up its training program to add 30,000 Iraqi troops by mid-2007 to make up for soldiers who have abandoned their posts or died. The new recruits are also intended to supplement the small number of Iraqi troops willing to travel away from their home bases despite dangerous conditions or the possibility of being ordered to fight against members of their own sect.
Most soldiers in the 9th division, for example, are Shiites, and U.S. and Iraqi officers said they doubted the troops would obey if ordered to fight in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad such as Sadr City.
"In August, when we started Operation Together Forward to secure Baghdad, we called on a bunch of units to assist," said U.S. Army Col. Douglass S. Heckman, the commander for the 9th Division Military Transition Team. "This division was the only one that moved into the operation. The others balked."
But Friday's battle suggested that even Iraq's best trained and equipped division is far from having the ability to operate independently. Heckman said attrition and liberal leave policies meant that only 68% of the 9th division is even on duty at any given time.
Another American advisor complained that the division had only 65% of the weapons and other equipment that it had been allocated by the U.S.
"And it's not just my guys," said the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "As I look across the division MiTT teams, they all tell me the same thing. Some of them have 50% of their equipment, some have 75%, but it's the same thing all over Iraq."
Despite efforts to get more financial support from the Iraqi Defense Ministry, the division stays operational only with help from the U.S. military, which provides everything from food to batteries.
This will take time. And it may not work at all. Newsweek was reporting that even as the president "continues to believe in" Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki others have their doubts -
The American military is fed up with Maliki. The ground commanders in Iraq felt betrayed by him this summer when he undermined a push to get control of the streets of Baghdad. The Iraqis failed to deliver on a promise to put enough troops on the ground. A four-star general who declined to be identified discussing a confidential conversation told of this encounter with Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was in charge of day-to-day ground operations. "Do you have enough forces? Enough to clear an area and stay there to secure it 24/7?" Chiarelli replied, "Of course not." The four-star recalls replying, "It's going to fail, it's absolutely going to fail." The Americans never had enough forces to sweep even half the city, much less secure it.
... It's not clear whether the military made its frustrations known to the White House.
The military knows perfectly well they don't have the troop strength to stabilize Iraq - they're not even close. And that leads one commentator to add this -
I would sure like to know … has the military made it clear to Bush that they don't have enough troops in Iraq to do the job? There are really only two options: (a) they have said this and Bush has been lying all along when he said the generals were getting everything they had asked for, or (b) they haven't said this and they've been monumentally derelict in their duty. Which is it?
But the president is getting hammered on all fronts. Paul Krugman in the New York Times is on his case - "Well, here's a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully's ego?"
The day before Frank Rich in the same newspaper said the president seems to have to have reached the "talking to the walls" stage, or putting it simply - "Its not that he can't handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn't know what the truth is."
Senator Carl Levin mentioned the problem on Meet the Press that morning: "He's not going to make admissions - he's not capable of admitting mistakes."
Oliver Willis weighs in -
I'm often accused of being too blunt or simplistic. But frankly blunt and simplistic are traits that have served people much more powerful and smarter than me well. I'm not averse to using force to defend America, but I knew before the first shot was fired that the Iraq War was the wrong war. Hussein was contained, he was not a threat, and our first priority should have been to dismantle the Al Qaeda network and any groups, nations or individuals allied with them.
… Now comes the present day. It began with the election, but every day more evidence comes out that shows us that the president, his advisors, and his supporters have no damn clue what to do, and for the mere sake of retaining what is left of their machismo refuse to do the right thing. The stock answer to leaving Iraq is that the country will become a bloody hellhole and America will look week. News alert: those things have already happened.
Iraq is a hellhole. Every day people are blown up by bombs and shot by guns. Despite the pathetic efforts of the right to compare Iraq's instability to urban areas in the U.S., the facts tell the tale. Similarly the idea that the press is to blame instead of the military commanders and ultimately their commander-in-chief is beyond obvious. The press, ideally, is to report news of consequence. I dare say a bomb that kills fifty people in broad daylight is of more importance than a school that is being painted. The only difference between an Iraq with America playing babysitter and one with us out of the picture is that less [sic] Americans are killed in the latter scenario.
We already look weak. The same country that beat the Nazis and unleashed hell on the Japanese, as well as securing the Balkans and liberating Kuwait now looks to the world almost like a paper tiger. Not, as the right-wing would have you believe, because of a botched joke by John Kerry or because we elected Democrats to control the congress, but because Republicans are clueless on national security. Because of the poor planning of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew of cronies, we cannot even secure Baghdad - three years after the city supposedly "fell." Too often conservatives believe that the rest of the world doesn't have a memory. Our threats have become hollow, because the world has already seen how badly we botched Iraq while also torturing people at the same time. If one were to buy in to the conservative perversion of "balance" you could probably count up all the good and bad to come out of our occupation of Iraq and declare it "even." But that would probably mean absurdities like torture at Abu Ghraib and handing out candy to kids were just "two sides" of an issue. It just isn't true.
The world sees America stuck in Iraq, with radical Islam growing because of it. Leaving Iraq isn't going to change that one war or another, but less [sic] Americans will be killed and we'll be able to use our military to defeat actual threats to our freedom.
But it's all moot. George W. Bush will not listen. Because for George Bush to not only admit an error, much less that the right course of action is coming from the other side of the aisle, is like stabbing out his eyes for him. He's a more powerful and morally perverted version of the guy who won't take directions from anyone else in the car, even if they've got a GPS unit and he's only got "a feeling." It's that stubbornness that has led to the deaths of thousands of Americans, and less importantly, [to] his poor standing amongst the American people that will most likely linger way past his time on earth.
But what about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. He'll listen to them, won't he? Baker is an old family friend, and one of his father's main men. Baker led the legal effort that convinced the Supreme Court to stop the vote recounting in Florida and declare the son the president in late 2000 - so he can fix this. He'll listen to his father.
Reuters reports no -
Asked to comment on widespread view that his father's influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: "I am the commander-in-chief."
"I love to talk to my dad about things between a father and a son, not policy," he said.
… Asked to comment on widespread view that his father's influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: "I am the commander-in-chief."
And that's that.
It should also probably be mentioned that, percolating in the background was the news that, over that weekend, Hugo Chavez was overwhelmingly re-elected as Venezuela's President, something we did not want.
Glenn Greenwald points out the obvious -
Over the last two years, the Palestinians democratically elected Hamas leaders. The Lebanese have democratically elected Hezbollah to play a major role in their parliamentary government. The Iranian-allied militias in Iraq are led by factions with substantial representation in the democratically elected Iraqi Government. And the Iranian Hitler himself was democratically elected (just like Hitler the First was, long before the parade of all the new Hitlers).
If the leaders whom we are supposed to hate so much - even the ones who are The Terrorists - keep getting elected democratically, doesn't that negate the ostensible premise of our foreign policy - that America-loving allies will magically spring up all over the world where there are democracies and they will help us fight The Terrorists?
And beyond that, isn't it more likely that leaders who are hostile to the U.S. will be democratically elected around the world if we continue to engage in conduct seemingly designed to make the whole world resentful and suspicious of us? We're not supposed to care about world opinion - we don't need permission slips from the UN and all of that - and there is a good argument to make that every country has to decide for itself what its own interests are (which, in reality, is what every country does, including those which pretend to be guided by selfless ideals and international institutions).
But if we continue to be overtly belligerent and essentially indifferent to world opinion - because we can be, because we're militarily stronger - that would seem to make it virtually impossible for pro-American candidates to be elected anywhere in the world, thereby subverting the central goal we claim we have of eliminating anti-US resentment by spreading democracy throughout the world.
That seems like another thing his father's men ought to explain to him, not that it would make a difference.
So Bolton's gone, and no one is telling him what he wants to hear so he can't fix the war, the press is on his case, and Chavez is riding high, again. Well, no one likes Mondays. As they say, however, they call it stormy Monday, but then Tuesday's just as bad, Wednesday's even worse, and Thursday's awful sad. That's how the song goes. They say the eagle flies on Friday. But one wonders.
Still, he's commander-in-chief. There must be someone around to bully. And there was one bright spot after all - Bolton got his last licks in. Two weeks before Bolton's "departure" (use the approved word) was announced, his UN team tried to block an effort to commemorate the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade of yore. That must have been fun.
What was the point? Why bother?
Because you can. It's a bully thing, and probably pissed off the parents back in Texas. What's the point in being commander-in-chief if you and your people can't swagger and show the world you don't care what anyone thinks? Thinking about that might have brightened the bad Monday.