The Odd Couple - Talking Trash to Look Good
Perhaps it is far too early to be considering who to vote for in 2008 - when no one can vote for George Bush. Oh sure, people can write in his name, and probably will - the thirty-one percent who persist in thinking he's doing a wonderful job - but by law, he cannot serve a third term. Someone else will lead the free world, as they say, in January 2009.
The positioning to determine who that will be has already begun, and it is becoming fairly obvious there may be a third party campaign, led by two characters with whom neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are very comfortable at all. Those two would be Senator John "The Maverick" McCain, whose "straight-talk express" has on and off infuriated his fellow Republicans, and Senator Joe "The Last Honest Man" Lieberman, who badly lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut then ran as an independent, and won, with support from the far right and funding from the White House. As a rule, never trust anyone who says he is "The Last Honest Man" - run for the hills and hide your wallet. Such self-proclamations are the stuff of sales pitches for used cars recovered from the muck of New Orleans and shined up. Ah well, Lieberman says he's now above partisan politics, and "for the people." McCain implicitly claims the same thing. It's no wonder there is speculation the two will hook up and run together - to get us beyond all the bickering. It's too bad both are quite mad.
But the first weekend in December they got their opening - another leaked memo.
As that weekend began, the New York Times reported they had been given a copy of a confidential memo, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to President Bush, written two days before Rumsfeld was tossed aside. Putting aside the question of some sort of internal coup in progress - a group of people out to embarrass the president and make trouble leaking internal memos - this particular memo was odd. Rumsfeld noted things in Iraq were a bit of a mess and a big change in direction might be a good idea - "go minimal" with far fewer troops, somehow force the hapless Iraqi government to "pull up its socks" (really), redeploy to the border, or to the main bases, or to the Kurdish north. It was a grab bag of general ideas, and Rumsfeld said he didn't really care for any of them. Perhaps they sounded too much like what everyone who opposed him had been saying - from Jack Murtha to the young lefties posting on the net. It really doesn't matter. He's gone now.
Sunday, December 3, there was the expected fallout. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, looking a bit depressed and haggard, did what he had to do - he faced Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press and did the requisite spin. You can watch a clip of that, with a partial transcript, here, but what it came down to was Russert pointing out that the Rumsfeld memo suggested a strategy of partial withdrawal. It really did. Russert asked why, when others had raised this idea in the past, "they were accused by your White House of cutting and running." Hadley told Russert "maybe you misunderstand what the memo was about" - Rumsfeld wrote no such thing and the memo was simply an effort by Rumsfeld to "broaden the debate," and certainly was "not a game plan or an effort to set out the way forward in Iraq." The man, one must assume, was just noodling around. He does that. The memo, we were left to gather, was thus inconsequential. And Hadley later added, by the way, that we're clearly winning in Iraq. We are? Of course he had to say that. He was having a bad morning, but someone had to say something about this all. He drew the short straw.
But there are not a whole lot of good ideas floating around for how to deal with this post-war war. There aren't even any workable ideas. It's no wonder Rumsfeld's memo said no option he had listed was really very good. Maybe he did resign voluntarily, after all.
That is not to say there are not ideas floating around. And that brings up McCain and Lieberman. They have an idea - escalate the war, big time, pouring in tens of thousands more troops. The idea seems odd, but it is a matter of getting elected in 2008 to run everything, of course.
Holly Bailey, in the December 11 issue of Newsweek, explains what this is all about in McCain's Ground War, with the subhead - "The senator is calling for more boots on the ground in Iraq. Is this any way to wage a presidential campaign?"
Yes it is, perhaps, but it has its risks -
Since the election, the Arizona senator has pushed for more, not fewer, troops in the Iraq conflict, claiming "without additional ground forces we will not win this war." It's a striking stance for a man considered to be the front runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, considering the American public's growing impatience for the end of the war. Even in conservative New Hampshire, 38 percent of voters now support bringing troops "home ASAP," according to the most recent Granite State poll. South Carolina, where a tough defeat ended McCain's 2000 campaign, will play an even more influential role in 2008 thanks to early placement in the primary calendar. There, too, Republican voters are growing unhappy with the war. "People are wondering how long this is going to go on," says Buddy Witherspoon, a Republican National Committeeman from Columbia. "I don't think a proposal like that is going to get McCain any votes down here."
Privately, some McCain supporters have begun to worry that the senator's hard line on the war may turn off the moderate, independent-minded voters who've long formed the bedrock of his primary support. "We lost independents," says one campaign adviser, who asked for anonymity discussing the politics of national security. "McCain will have to get them back to win, or at least convince them to trust him."
Still, some members of McCain's inner circle are convinced the position could actually work to his advantage - reminding independents of the maverick they fell in love with in 2000. In a 2008 campaign, aides say, the senator would accentuate his differences with the Bush administration over management of the Iraq occupation, stressing his early criticism of ousted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the persistent call for more troops. The hope, the campaign adviser says, is that even antiwar voters will gradually come to accept the position as "a long-term stand based on principle."
Yeah, and if things go to hell in a hand basket, as they certainly seem to be doing, he gets to say - see, if they had only listened to me, we'd have won everything and the world would love us and thank us.
And it's not just him, there's this video clip and transcript - Senator Lieberman, on CBS's Face the Nation while Hadley was on NBC, enthusiastically endorsing escalation in Iraq. He says he's really surprised Rumsfeld didn't suggest that in the memo - it was "surprising" that "the one thing [the memo] doesn't raise as a possibility is to increase the number of our troops." Lieberman claimed the failure to send more Americans "may well be a critical part of the problems that we've been having lately." We clearly "require more personnel on the ground in Iraq." The two are working together. Or perhaps the two are just soul mates.
But here is an interesting question -
What do those troops do?
Think of it this way: A company is losing profit against its competitors. No one can figure out why. If, in a well-run company, some advisor came in and said "Let's hire more people" without explaining exactly where those people would work and what they would do, the advisor would be booted out of the boss's office.
So far, it seems to me that McCain (and his enablers) keep saying "more troops! more troops!" without explaining the mission of the added troops. All they are truly calling for is more of the same.
Would someone in the press please ask the question above?
Someone in the press may ask, one day. Or they may not. We have a press that doesn't ask questions. They just report what's said.
For a more acerbic take on the question of what massive numbers of additional troops would actually do when and if they get to Iraq, see William S. Lind, who is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation, whatever that may be. He thinks the whole idea is just stupid -
The latest serpent at which a drowning Washington Establishment is grasping is the idea of sending more American troops to Iraq. Would more troops turn the war there in our favor? No.
Why not? First, because nothing can. The war in Iraq is irredeemably lost. Neither we nor, at present, anyone else can create a new Iraqi state to replace the one our invasion destroyed. Maybe that will happen after the Iraqi civil war is resolved, maybe not. It is in any case out of our hands.
Nor could more American troops control the forces driving Iraq's intensifying civil war. The passions of ethnic and religious hatred unleashed by the disintegration of the Iraqi state will not cool because a few more American patrols pass through the streets. Iraqi's are quite capable of fighting us and each other at the same time.
Then there is the question of what they actually would do -
… [the reason] more troops would make no difference is that the troops we have there now don't know what to do, or at least their leaders don't know what they should do. For the most part, American troops in Iraq sit on their Forward Operating Bases; in effect, we are besieging ourselves. Troops under siege are seldom effective at controlling the surrounding countryside, regardless of their number.
When American troops do leave their FOBs, it is almost always to run convoys, which is to say to provide targets; to engage in meaningless patrols, again providing targets; or to do raids, which are downright counterproductive, because they turn the people even more strongly against us, where that is possible. Doing more of any of these things would help us not at all.
More troops might make a difference if they were sent as part of a change in strategy, away from raids and "killing bad guys" and toward something like the Vietnam war's CAP program, where American troops defended villages instead of attacking them. But there is no sign of any such change of strategy on the horizon, so there would be nothing useful for more troops to do.
Even a CAP program would be likely to fail at this stage of the Iraq war, which points to the third reason more troops would not help us: more troops cannot turn back the clock. For the CAP or "ink blot" strategy to work, there has to be some level of acceptance of the foreign troops by the local people. When we first invaded Iraq, that was present in much of the country.
But we squandered that good will with blunder upon blunder. How many troops would it take to undo all those errors? The answer is either zero or an infinite number, because no quantity of troops can erase history. The argument that more troops in the beginning, combined with an ink blot strategy, might have made the Iraq venture a success does not mean that more troops could do the same thing now.
And note his closing -
The clinching argument against more troops also relates to time: sending more troops would mean nothing to our opponents on the ground, because those opponents know we could not sustain a significantly larger occupation force for any length of time. So what if a few tens of thousands more Americans come for a few months? The U.S. military is strained to the breaking point to sustain the force there now. Where is the rotation base for a much larger deployment to come from?
The fact that Washington is seriously considering sending more American troops to Iraq illustrates a common phenomenon in war. As the certainty of defeat looms ever more clearly, the scrabbling about for a miracle cure, a deus ex machina, becomes ever more desperate - and more silly. Cavalry charges, Zeppelins, V-2 missiles, kamikazes, the list is endless. In the end, someone finally has to face facts and admit defeat. The sooner someone in Washington is willing to do that, the sooner the troops we already have in Iraq will come home - alive.
Sure, one can say this is defeatist nonsense. But one can also say a major escalation with twenty thousand or more additional troops, assuring victory (whatever that means this day of the week), may be triumphalist nonsense. Take your pick.
But McCain will ride this one-trick pony for all it's worth (as in the Paul Simon song). And Lieberman is with him.
Yep, he's a maverick, although Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly suggests that too may be nonsense -
McCain's people seem to be confusing "maverick" with "popular." When McCain broke with his party to support campaign finance reform or a patients' bill of rights, he was backing positions that were popular with the electorate. Ditto for fuel efficiency standards and an end to torture. In fact, nearly all of McCain's "maverick" positions have been carefully crafted to appeal to the broad middle of the country.
In other words, they weren't maverick positions at all. They only seemed that way when the comparison point was the right wing of the Republican Party. Conversely, doubling down in Iraq is a very different beast: it's unpopular, it exudes stubbornness rather than fresh thinking, and it looks opportunistic rather than independent.
McCain's straight-talk schtick has always been a twofer: the press eats it up because it loves politicians who break with their party occasionally, and the public loves it because McCain is taking positions most of them agree with. But Iraq is going to be different: this time McCain is taking a position more extreme than the rest of the Republican Party. He's going to lose the press because his position seems increasingly bull-headed instead of brave, and he's going to lose the public because he's taking a stand they don't agree with.
For once, McCain is being a genuine maverick. I think he's about to find out that that was never really what people admired about him in the first place.
As with Lieberman, McCain could easily been seen as just talking trash, to get what he wants.
But some, like Digby at Hullabaloo, see that McCain's position, while risky, has its internal logic -
The McCain Iraq escalation plan is a very dicey proposition, but not necessarily for the reasons stated in that [Newsweek] article. He's making some assumptions about the state of play in 2008, not how voters are thinking in 2006. If there is no escalation and things continue to disintegrate, which it will no matter what we do, it allows McCain to run against both Bush and the Democrats (as any GOP candidate will have to do) and say that if they'd followed his advice we would have won the war. The Democrat will be left with "we should have admitted that we lost two years ago" which is not exactly a stirring refrain. The lines are already being drawn between the cowardly Dems who urged a pullout and the brave Republicans who did their best and were betrayed by the vast hippie conspiracy. Nobody will be better positioned to creatively use that argument for himself than McCain if he can say that he had the "winning" plan and nobody listened.
I realize that is an absurd position. But when you're talking about presidential politics it's exactly the kind of position that can win. I think it's a very smart move.
However, if the McCain Iraq escalation plan is actually gaining ground, as it seems to be, with his exact request for 20,000 troops being bandied about by the Pentagon [see the Washington Post here] and others, then perhaps McCain is going to see his plan put into action rather than have it as a conveniently theoretical alternate reality. As I said before, I don't want to see any more troops sent over to that meat grinder. But if it happens, it's going to mess up McCain, big time.
If he goes into '08 being the guy who escalated the war when we were about to end it and it didn't work, he's got a problem. If it remains theoretical, he may be able to get away with it by appealing to American's need to believe that we would have won if only we'd done it right. Nobody should delude themselves into thinking that many Americans aren't going to find that appealing. In America "losing" must be blamed on someone and firmly establishing the other side as being responsible is going to be the number one job of both parties and each individual candidate over the next two years. It isn't going to be pretty.
St John and Holy Joe are pushing to send more troops to their deaths for cynical political reasons. They are betting that Bush won't do what they want him to do. I certainly hope they don't send any more soldiers over there to get killed. But it would probably be better for the Democrats if they did.
That's about it - this seems to be an elaborate "don't blame me" game. And what's not stated here, of course, is "St John and Holy Joe" know full well that finding another twenty-thousand troops, getting them equipped and trained, and over there, cannot be done quickly. We may need them right now, but that cannot possibly happen - so they're both covered. If the administration does, somehow, agree and send "the brave twenty-thousand" and we suffer massive losses, or even the nine or ten a weekend as we do now, and things do not get better, as seems likely, "St John and Holy Joe" can always say the administration acted too late, and should have had these guys in the pipeline ten months earlier. No matter what happens, they come off as having been "right." It's a pretty nifty trick. And it's probably best for the two of them if lots of our guys die - it just emphasizes how screwed up this all is, and had they been in charge form the get-go, we'd have won this thing. It takes a lot of ego to run for office. And dead people help quite a bit.
But the White House has a countermove, as on the Sunday talk shows this oozed out - "President Bush is weighing a range of options in Iraq, including a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from violence-plagued cities and a troop buildup near the Iranian and Syrian borders, his top security aide said today."
So much for "St John and Holy Joe" - this would shift things in an entirely new direction.
Richard Einhorn doesn't like the direction -
… I felt quite certain that if Bush agreed to a withdrawal, he would find a way to do it that would make matters far worse. Exactly how he could manage such an astonishing feat I had no idea, Torch Najaf? Destroy Fallujah again? Nevertheless, I know this president. I knew he was capable of making a troop withdrawal as insane an action as all his others.
… Do I have to spell out what's so awful about this? Ok, I suppose I do.
Since late this spring, Seymour Hersh has been publishing article after article detailing behind the scenes plan for nuclear war with Iran. That's right, nuclear war with Iran. Sometime around April, there was a revolt among the US generals who insisted that the nuclear option be removed from discussions about military options re: Iran before they would agree to discuss them. Only after the generals went semi-public did the Administration back down and take the nuclear option out of discussion. Now if you believe Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld stopped jonesing - and planning - for the Big Bang on Iran, you're a fool. But ok, at least officially, active planning to hit Iran continued, but no nukes (wink, wink).
Recently, Hersh reported after the November election that as far as Cheney was concerned, the Bush administration will simply circumvent Congress if he, Cheney, deems it necessary to whack Iran or Syria. And believe me, he does so deem it necessary.
Soooo, we come to today. The Iraqi civil war that Bush/Iraq ignited has descended, as many said it would, to close to utter anarchy. And the US, weakened -as Kurtz [Howard Kurtz, media critic of the Washington Post and CNN] so helpfully informed us - by all those Democrats who want America to "lose" is demanding withdrawal. And lo and behold, Emperor George listens to his subjects. We will given them withdrawal.
Now, no one said where they wanted the troops withdrawn to. Surely you didn't expect Bush to ship them all to Honolulu and spend the rest of their service sipping Mai Tais and lowering their precious supply of oxytocin engaging in fornication with the locals, now did you?
So Americans want withdrawal? They're getting withdrawal. To the Syrian and Iranian borders. Where else?
Check it out: Bush will tell us, as he always has, that the Iranians and/or the Syrians - it depends on which day it is as to who's to blame - are the ones doing all the mischief in the Middle East. "That's why I withdrew 'em!" You can see the smirk, can't you, as he says he's just doing what we wanted in the best way he sees fit. And no doubt, the soldiers will be very useful interdicting the clotted mass of terrorists sneaking over the borders.
But here's the genius of it. If tensions rise maybe - say, if Iranians foolishly get alarmed that American troops are massing on the border after nine months of rumors of an American nuclear attack, and an Iranian sneezes a little too loudly - why how convenient! Before you can fake a bad Colonel Klink accent and mutter "blitzkrieg," kaboom! That's one small step for some troops, one more insane new war for a total moron and a horrified world.
Face it, ladies, gentlemen, and Republicans. When it comes to malicious incompetence, they broke the mold when it comes to 43…
Einhorn seems a bit bitter. Politics can make you bitter. Lots of people have to die so you can obtain power, and keep it. Of course it has always been so.