Shedding Delusions - Reality, Such As It Is
The week starting with Monday, December 4, we all knew something was up. Rumsfeld was gone from Defense and that Monday John Bolton was gone from the UN, or going soon. Our ambassador, appointed while the Senate, which would not confirm him, was in recess, had to resign. There would be no "for real" confirmation. The votes weren't there, and it wasn't just the Democrats. Key Republicans decided the man who would tell them all up there they were no more than fools and crooks and scum, had to move on. That hadn't worked out, as predicted. This made the president angry, but it hardly mattered. There was the reality of the thing. The day the congress ends its term, Bolton's term ends, and that's that. Those are the rules. It's in the constitution.
The next day there were the committee hearings for Robert Gates, the man nominated to replace Rumsfeld at Defense. Gates had been (and is) characterized as someone completely unlike anyone else in the cabinet - a realist, not a wild-eyed idealist with dreams of changing the world. Gates had served for twenty-six years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under the first President Bush as Director of Central Intelligence. He worked his way up and knows the nitty-gritty of how things really work. It's not like he was an alcoholic who had never succeeded at anything and suddenly, when he turned forty, found Jesus and stopped drinking, and then decided - even though uninterested in ideas and detail and foreign affairs in the slightest - to tell the world how things really should be, and that "realism" was overrated. He comes from the father's circle of key people - that world of compromise and realism and prudence. The son's circle is one unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves" no one had dared before. It was an odd appointment, made, presumably, rather grudgingly. The unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves" of the outgoing defense secretary hadn't worked out that well.
The committee voted unanimously to move the nomination to the full Senate and they voted, the following day, to confirm him. The vote was 95 to 2 and over in the blink of an eye. The president said the usual - "I am confident that his leadership and capabilities will help our country meet its current military challenges and prepare for emerging threats of the 21st century." You could sense the resentment.
The details - three senators didn't vote, the Democrats Joseph Biden and Evan Bayh, and the Republican Elizabeth Dole. The two who voted no were standing by the president against his father, Rick Santorum and Jim Bunning. Gates had said it was time to be realistic about the Iraq war. We weren't winning. We should work from that fact. And maybe we should at least talk with the folks in Iran. Santorum, about to leave office as the voters in Pennsylvania had decided he was quite mad, or at least too strange for their tastes, decided to mock the idea of "engaging dictators" and spoke for an hour on the floor of the Senate of the evils of "radical Islamic fascism." And when it came to reaching out to Iran to discuss the security of Iraq, Santorum said of Gates' thought - "I think he is in error."
Bunning, who was a pretty good pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles way back when but has since periodically gone off topic and worried people a bit, did his thing - "Gates has repeatedly criticized our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without providing any viable solutions to the problems our troops currently face. We need a secretary of defense to think forward with solutions and not backward on history we cannot change."
Make of that what you will.
But the folks who think that considering history and actual facts is often useful won the day. As a final irony, the White House said Gates would be sworn in December 18 - he had commitments he had to fulfill at Texas A&M University, where he is the president. Our president likes to mock folks with degrees and "book learnin'." His favorite line is something like "look at so and so with the PhD - I was a C-minus student and I'm president and they're not, so there." Now he's got a university president on his hands, talking reality of all things.
How extraordinary this all is was is summed up by Fred Kaplan in Enter the Grown-Up, concerning the committee hearings before the full vote. Here Kaplan says the "most eyebrow-raising moment - of many such moments" that day was when Senator Robert Byrd asked Gates if he favored attacking Iran. It has been widely reported that such an attack is in the works, and most in Gates' position would duck the question - avoiding "hypotheticals" and all that. And Gates just said no. That was it. This should make for some interesting planning meetings in the White House. Cheney may need a new pacemaker.
Actually it was more than no - "We have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable." He went on with how the Iranians couldn't retaliate with a direct attack on the United States but they could close off the Persian Gulf to oil exports, send much more aid to anti-American insurgents in Iraq, and step up terrorist attacks worldwide. He suggested we look at this realistically.
Byrd asked if we should attack Syria, as is reported to also be in the works. "The Syrians' capacity to do harm to us is far more limited," but an attack on Syria "would give rise to a significantly greater anti-Americanism" and "increasingly complicate our relationship with every country in the region." You just don't want to do that.
So much for unbending principle, intense idealism, and "bold moves." What was this man doing there, getting nominated? When he was asked if invading Iraq was a good idea in retrospect, Kaplan notes he paused, then said, "That's a judgment the historians are going to have to make."
This is all very odd, as Kaplan notes -
It is impossible to imagine any of George W. Bush's previous Cabinet appointees, or any of his sitting Cabinet officers, making such stark - and, at least implicitly, critical - statements in an open Senate hearing.
In short, Gates may well be that entity that Washington has not seen for many years: a truly independent secretary of defense.
"I don't owe anybody anything," Gates told Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, when asked whether he'd be loyal to truth or to power.
… At one point during the questioning, Gates noted that 2,889 Americans had died in Iraq "as of yesterday morning" - a sharp contrast (and, no doubt, an intentional one) to the time when then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz appeared before the Senate Committee on Armed Services and did not know how many of his fellow citizens had been killed in the war that he helped put in motion.
And as for what the man says he's learned over the years, he offered this - all agencies have to work together to get anything done, and consulting with Congress is really important, as is treating people's views with respect, as is respecting the professionals - listening to military commanders when you're planning a war, for example. He practically said the administration had been stupidly goofy for six years, but he said it nicely.
Kaplan concludes -
… the main question, at this point, isn't about Gates; it's about Bush. For the past six years, there has been a tendency to blame this administration's colossal mistakes on Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney, but several former officials have told me that, on many occasions, Bush really has been "the decider." Soon, Rumsfeld will be gone. Cheney will be isolated. We may find out what George W. Bush really thinks.
That would be interesting. And something is up with this. It may be realism.
The Middle East scholar Juan Cole, looking back on the man's CIA history with Iran-Contra and all the rest, is generally pleased -
The US now has a secretary of defense who knows that we are not winning in Iraq, who wants to do something about it, and who doesn't think nuking Iran is just a dandy idea. Although his involvement in Iran-Contra dogged Robert Gates in the build-up to the confirmation hearings, it did not emerge as a big issue. It may be that by now having a SecDef who once was involved in selling US weapons to Khomeini and who therefore has a potential back channel to leaders in Tehran, is not seen as such a bad thing. Let's see if Gates can finally redeem university presidents who enter high federal office, after Woodrow Wilson gave them a bad name.
Damn, everyone likes to pick on Woodrow Wilson. But Wilson ran Princeton. Texas A&M is a different kettle of fish, of course. We'll see how the token realist from Texas, not the grim aesthete-theorist from New Jersey, works out in this "we make our own reality" administration.
Of course the Gates confirmation was overshadowed by the release, the same day, of the Iraq Study Group Report, "The Way Forward -A New Approach." This was a big deal, and Vintage simultaneously released the thing in paperback, should you want your very own copy. There was no hiding anything.
And it wasn't nice - the administration's war policies have failed in almost every way, it warned of diminishing chances to change course before "crisis turns to chaos" with "dire implications" for terrorism, war in the Middle East and higher oil prices around the world. In short, it was time to get real - there is no guarantee of success and the consequences of failure are just awful, and things are just bleak. In their own words - "Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out."
And have a nice day. And by the way, we really should begin a "diplomatic offensive" by the end of the month and engage even Iran and Syria in an effort "to quell sectarian violence and shore up the fragile Iraqi government." That would be in the next three weeks. The group's many recommendations did not endorse the current White House strategy of "staying the course" with no substantial changes in what we do in Iraq, and didn't call for a quick pullout or a firm timetable for withdrawal. But something had to be done, and soon - just not those two extremes.
The Iraq panel's leaders said in their press conference that they tried to avoid "politically charged language" such as "victory" on the one hand or "civil war" on the other. But things were clear - James Baker, the former secretary of state and Bush family adviser (fixer) who co-chaired the commission said it all - "We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable." The co-chair, Lee Hamilton, said the commission actually agreed with the administration's goal of a stable Iraq able to govern, protect and sustain itself but it was time for new approaches - "No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos. Yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted."
So they tossed some ideas over the transom and the president said something carefully vague - "It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion." Not that he'll do anything at all.
He does have seventy-nine recommendations on the table now - reduce political, military or economic support for Iraq if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress and that sort of thing. The report said that Iraqi leaders have simply failed to deliver better security or any sort of political compromises on the ground. The four-month joint military campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad is basically hopeless - "Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end." So force something. But do nothing rash - no "precipitous pullback" or, on the other hand, no open-ended commitment to a large deployment. So what do you do? Talk to Iran an Syria, and while you're at it, end the sixty-year-long mess with the Israelis and the Palestinians, in your spare time. And stop combat operations as you phase in massive training and support for what neutral honest military and police you can find there, if any.
But the response was already obvious. The president called the report "a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq" and said he would take the recommendations very seriously and act "in a timely fashion." But then he said that Congress wouldn't agree with every proposal, and neither would he. And White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president continues to insist that Iran verifiably suspend uranium enrichment before we engage in direct talks.
The about face may or may not happen, as is obvious. Baker was asked if he thought the president would accept any of this. His reply - "You know, I've worked for four presidents, and I never put presidents I worked for on the couch." In short, go ask a psychiatrist. That's what it has come down to.
And in a minor note the co-chair Lee Hamilton added a tidbit - "America's ability to resolve the crisis in Iraq "is narrowing" and the costs could rise to more than one trillion dollars. That's a big psychiatrist's bill. Returning to reality can be expensive.
But John Dickerson says that is what this is about, with his summary of what the report says. And the message is simple -
1. Cut the crap. You won't find this as one of the numbered messages, but it was surely the leitmotif of the day. The president has been increasingly, if grudgingly, candid about the difficulties in Iraq, but Bush and other officials still offer meaningless euphemisms about the "pace of progress" and completing "the mission." The commissioners were breathtakingly blunt about this. "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," said Lee Hamilton, echoing language in the report. Later, Hamilton referred to Iraq's "slide towards chaos." His co-chairman, James Baker, equated the current "nightmare of brutal violence" to the nightmare of Saddam's regime. There was no guarantee, Baker said, that events wouldn't get even worse in the coming days, nullifying the commission's recommendations immediately. The brightest assessment heard was that all was not yet lost.
2. You can be tough and talk. The president and vice president have often depicted diplomatic engagement as weakness. As a general matter, they prefer action to talk and believe negotiating with countries like Syria, Iran, and North Korea rewards their leaders' naughty behavior. That's why the president and other administration officials have resisted engagement with Iran and Syria as a way to help stabilize Iraq. Baker, the veteran diplomat, scoffed at this resistance. "We're not talking about talking to be talking," he said, characterizing the group's recommendations about the two rogue countries. "We're talking about tough diplomacy." Later, he circled back to the idea, adding a broad lesson for the Bush administration in the art of diplomacy. "For 40 years we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the Earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends."
3. Bipartisanship has to mean something. The commissioners repeatedly stressed that without bipartisanship of the kind they were able to achieve in their deliberations, Iraq policy - whatever its next iteration - would fail. (As if to emphasize this, the group eschewed the left-to-right seating of custom; Democrats and Republicans sat on both sides of the chairmen). Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, provided the most amusing moment of the morning when he offered a characteristically quirky view of excessive partisanship. "You know, you see people in this who are hundred percenters in America," he said. "A hundred percenter is a person you don't want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and BO. And they seethe. They're not seekers. They're not seekers, they're seethers." Simpson wasn't trying to attack the administration. He was attacking extremists on both sides. But the kind of black-and-white division he described applies to the Bush team's campaign strategy on the issue of Iraq. The president accused all Democrats of wanting to cut and run from Iraq, though his administration was mulling policies nearly identical to the ones Democrats were proposing. Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, and Tony Snow went further, suggesting that Democrats were fundamentally unequipped to deal with issues of national security. "100 percenters" could have been the inscription on the back of their campaign jackets.
But as to the third point, Dickerson notes that bipartisanship, as the Bush-Rove-Cheney team understands it, means surrender by the Democrats - you agree with them in the end, or you get labeled as aiding and abetting the enemy. Baker called on former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to answer a question about whether Bush would listen to the commission - "I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we're divided." What did Johnson say about the triumph of hope over experience? This will go nowhere.
Maybe it was not supposed to go anywhere. Jonathan Steele explores that in The Guardian (UK), where he says Baker has other purposes -
The first purpose was to provide an alibi for the president ahead of last month's congressional elections. Critics of his disastrous strategy in Iraq could be told that Bush was listening to the American people and understood their concerns. That was why he had set up a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate all options. Nothing was taboo. The tactic did not work, and Bush and his Republican party took a heavy beating. It was not Baker's fault so much as a sign that voters felt they had to send a message to Baker as well as Bush. A majority of Americans, as well as Iraqis, want US troops to leave.
The second purpose of the study group was to co-opt the Democrats, to get them behind Bush's war. Having a bipartisan panel with an equal number of members from both parties was intended to make it hard for Democrats to reject its report. Baker, after all, was the man who masterminded the maneuverings in 2000 over whether Florida should have a full recount. His job was to get Al Gore and the rest of the Democrats to swallow their anger and fall into line behind the argument that there was no time and that the better strategy was to take the dispute to the Supreme Court - where Bush's side had a clear judicial majority.
Now the plan is to lock the Democrats into agreeing with the main thrust of Bush's Iraq policy over the next two years, with the aim of preventing it from provoking a major divide during the 2008 campaign for the White House. It is not a difficult task. The main Democratic contenders, starting with Hillary Clinton, are weak fence-sitters who show no desire to challenge Bush directly. None are as clear-sighted as John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman who started calling for a US troop withdrawal a year ago. Nor, unless he or she is yet to emerge, is there a Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy figure with the authority to rally voters against a failed president, as there was when Lyndon Johnson was mired in Vietnam.
The third purpose in appointing Baker's panel is the most extraordinary. The country's political elite wants to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind a strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight.
That may be a bit cynical, but it rings true.
Fred Kaplan (again) suggests the group just chickened out - "James Baker, the canniest of operators, has now met his Waterloo." There are no solutions to this problem. The report's outline of a new "diplomatic offensive" is "so disjointed that even a willing president would be left puzzled by what precisely to do, and George W. Bush seems far from willing."
This is a close reading of the text. It's a "scheme for a new military strategy contains so many loopholes that a president could cite its language to justify doing anything (or nothing)." And it is a depressing read.
The part on Iran and Syria is devastating -
They call unequivocally for the United States to hold talks with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.
But they don't address the question of why Iran and Syria should want to talk with us. More to the point, the authors sidestep the question: What might we have to give Iran and Syria in exchange for talking with us - in exchange (still more to the point) for getting us out of this mess? Baker is no naïf. When he was secretary of state under Bush's father, he had lots of diplomatic dealings with these countries. He knows that dealings involve deals; we have to give up something to get them to do what we want. But he doesn't want to say this, because he knows that the current President Bush doesn't want to give up anything. If this Bush actually follows Baker's advice and opens up talks with Iran, he'll find this out soon enough - and then he'll back out.
… The report's authors try to make a case that Iran and Syria will want to cooperate. They write in the executive summary, "No country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq." Yet the key phrase here is "in the long term." In the short term, Iran and Syria are benefiting quite nicely from an Iraq that's mired at least somewhat in chaos.
… Will Bush drop his avowed desire for "regime change" in Tehran in exchange for Tehran's help in stabilizing Iraq? That's the big question. Every time it's come up so far, Bush has firmly said no. Will he make a fundamental shift now? Doubtful. And what is Tehran's view of a stable Iraq? Is it the same as Washington's view? Again, doubtful - which is one reason Bush probably won't make a shift. Maybe some compromise can be worked out, but what conditions will be set for starting, much less completing, negotiations?
The authors recommend the creation of an Iraq International Support Group, consisting of all the Gulf States, Iraq's neighbors, Egypt, the European Union, and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This might be a good idea, but the report musters no reasons why these countries should cooperate. The report calls on the United States to "energize countries to support national political reconciliation." It's unclear what this means.
… It's a mess. Not even Jim Baker really knows what to do about it.
And so it is. It's all for nothing. At least that's what James Joyner at Outside the Beltway says - "Both sides will use the Report to seek political cover for what they want to do but I suspect they will continue to bludgeon their opponents over the war."
And Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post says you have to consider the players in the game -
President Bush this morning formally accepted a copy of the Iraq Study Group's blistering report, vowed to seriously consider its dramatic recommendations and spoke hopefully about finding common ground for the good of the country.
Sounds great. But does he mean it?
We'll know for sure once words turn into action. But in the meantime, it strikes me that as long as Vice President Cheney and political guru Karl Rove remain Bush's closest advisers, then the answer is probably not.
Cheney and his loyalists are largely responsible for the deception, delusion and incompetence that brought us to where we are today in Iraq. Rove intentionally turned the war into the most ferocious and divisive of partisan issues. Neither man has shown any sign of remorse.
Since his electoral comeuppance on Nov. 7, Bush has alternated between conciliatory language and fighting words when it comes to changing course in Iraq.
The nomination of Bob Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary was one indication that Bush might indeed adopt a more measured and realistic strategy in Iraq. Gates's stunning candor about the current situation at confirmation hearings yesterday bolstered that view.
But until or unless Bush turns away from Cheney and Rove - the two men who have been his most intimate and trusted counselors - it's hard to imagine that his episodes of chastened, bipartisan talk on Iraq will amount to anything more than lip service.
Christy Harden Smith carries that forward -
That President Bush has to be told that diplomacy by him and by his Secretary of State is important as a crucial element of our nation's interaction with the rest of the world? Well…it is embarrassing, and that James Baker has apparently spelled it out in direct language in the ISG document says a LOT about how much resistance they are expecting from President Bush on this aspect of his job, doesn't it?
… Something that Amb. Joseph Wilson said earlier in the week when he was chatting with everyone resonates this morning, "I have a lot of respect for Jim Baker. He is tough enough, experienced enough and savvy enough to pull a rabbit out of the hat if there is one in there. The problem is we are so far down the road on the way to chaos that there may not be any way to stop this until all sides are exhausted. The question is not whether the situation has become a civil war but rather whether it has degenerated from a civil war to out and out anarchy and a failed state."
And that, in essence, is the dilemma that everyone faces when evaluating the chaos in Iraq, as it threatens to spill over into the greater Middle East. How does one stop a runaway train filled with explosives before it hits the next stop along the tracks? And the next?
The best time to listen to the diplomats is before a shot is ever fired. But in the Bush Administration, Colin Powell's and the state department's experienced hands admonitions against this ill-planned, ill-conceived war were brushed aside in favor of the neocon dreams of conquering heroes and candy-strewn streets paved with oil. The time for the grown-ups and the realists would have been best prior to any American soldiers setting foot on the ground in Iraq.
But, alas, that was not to be.
There are a number of things that we all ought to learn from this. First, and foremost, is that the United States ought never again commit resources and troops without serious questions being asked on the front end of such a commitment.
That adequate oversight was not performed by the Congress, that the press acted as cheerleaders rather than as the skeptical cynics one would hope for in the run-up to this catastrophe, that individual Americans were doing the same - ought not be in question at this point. But our men and women in uniform, the American public, and the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire in the current conflagration that passes for Iraq deserve far better than this from all of us. And that lesson not only needs to be learned, but it needs to be taken to heart.
The second is that any planning that is done going into a conflict needs to take into account the worst case scenario, and not just limit itself to whatever President Rose-Colored Glasses wants to hear.
And, to that end, the public ought to hear about those worst case scenarios as well. Oversight hearings would help from Congress. I am more than aware that the rubber stamp Republican Congress has functioned more like a Parliamentary unit of the Bush White House than the independent branch of government that our Founding Fathers envisioned for us.
It is well past time for Congress to reclaim its Constitutional mantle of being both a check and a balance on the overreach of Presidential power. And we will be watching the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress come January to be certain that they do just that.
How long do all of us have to pay the price for this mess in Iraq? Because, in all honesty, it is a heavy, heavy price.
No one should be satisfied if all we get out of this report and the ensuing pomp and circumstances is simply a bunch of shuffling around and no real change of priorities and actions. The status quo is not good enough (and that is such an understatement). President Bush needs to face some difficult truths and be honest not just with the public but with himself. Now.
We will see about that.
But it just doesn't help anyone connect with reality when the data is bad -
The Bush administration routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings, the Iraq Study Group report said Wednesday.
... On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq." The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis.
"The standard for recording attacks acts [as] a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said. "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count."
That needs attention. Facts matters now, or are starting to matter now.
But then, this all may be beside the point, or so Senator Russ Feingold suggests -
Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group report does too little to change the flawed mind-set that led to the misguided war in Iraq. Maybe there are still people in Washington who need a study group to tell them that the policy in Iraq isn't working, but the American people are way ahead of this report.
While the report has regenerated a few good ideas, it doesn't adequately put Iraq in the context of a broader national security strategy. We need an Iraq policy that is guided by our top national security priority - defeating the terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11 and its allies. We can't continue to just look at Iraq in isolation. Unless we set a serious timetable for redeploying our troops from Iraq, we will be unable to effectively address these global threats. In the end, this report is a regrettable example of "official Washington" missing the point.
But then, looking at it another way, Bill "The Book of Virtues" Bennett thinks no one should ever tell the president or his people what to do, not ever - "In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority. Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible."
Pot speaking to kettle, as they say.
But then, Bush could turn out to be French, as one if Andrew Sullivan's readers notes regarding Charles de Gaulle -
A lot of pundits are comparing our crossroads in Iraq with LBJ and Vietnam. However, I think that when looking at whether GWB is capable of dramatically altering the plan, a more interesting parallel is de Gaulle and Algeria. The General had declared "Algeria is France", yet only a few years later he oversaw a bitter and divisive withdrawal.
Unfortunately, I just don't think this President is capable of admitting such a mistake and changing course dramatically. I hope you're right and maybe Gates can somehow be heard by key Administration members (Bush, Cheney, Hadley). No matter what we do, it will be painful and messy.
But then de Gaulle was a hero, eventually, even if those army officers tried to assassinate him. Sullivan notes the parallel to torture too. Heck, the Pentagon did screen The Battle of Algiers for everyone in the building more than three years ago (also discussed here). Fascinating.
Algeria 1957. Vietnam 1968. Take your pick -
There is something of an upshot to the commission, however. Even though it doesn't really propose ending the war, it will shift the Iraq debate in favor of the modalities of extrication. Welcome to 1968: everyone knows the war must end and victory is unachievable, but the will to actually withdraw in full remains unpalatable to the political class. Bush will have a very hard time recommitting the country to a chimerical "victory" in Iraq. But in the name of "responsibility," thousands more will die, for years and years, as the situation deteriorates further. Someone, at sometime, will finally have to say "enough," and get the United States out.
Add too twenty-four American dead in the four days leading up to the report, including eleven on the day of the report. It seems like old times. And we didn't get out of Vietnam until 1974.
And as for our guys on the ground, that's just sad, as we hear from Company C, 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, stationed in Ramadi. The group is, according to the article, "still reeling" from learning two months ago that its tour will be extended until February.
Their view -
Spc. Eisenhower Atuatasi, 26, of Westminster, Calif.: "There's no way we're leaving in two years no matter what any recommendation says."
Staff Sgt. Rony Theodore, 33, of Brooklyn, N.Y.: "All of us want to change what we're doing because we're not doing very much."
Sgt. Christopher Wiacik, 28, of Livonia, Michigan: "It's just a study group. It's not really going to affect the president. I don't see any major changes happening until presidential elections start. I think both sides will promise to get troops out and give timelines then, but not before. We're just sitting around not making any progress. It's annoying. You're not motivated to help anybody. I don't want to live my life like this."
Spc. Richard Johnson, 20, of Bridgeport, Conn.: "It's like holding a child's hand. How long can you hold onto his hand before he does something on his own? How much longer do we have to get shot at or blown up?"
First Lieutenant Gerard Dow, 32, of Chicago, Ill.: "In Iraq, we try to win the hearts and minds of population. They want Americans out of here. They blame us for all their problems. They look at us as the terrorists and then they turn around and help the terrorists who are trying to kill us.... U.S. soldiers are dying trying to help people who don't want their help."
Yep, old times.
But then, things can change - "The United States has offered a detailed package of economic and energy assistance in exchange for North Korea's giving up nuclear weapons and technology, American officials said Tuesday."
Those last six years? Just kidding. Some reality can sometimes help.