It's Not Looking Good
In the week before the expected announcement of the escalation of Iraq War - the president's "new way forward" - many are noting what Senator Joseph Biden said on the Thursday before -
I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost. They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy - literally, not figuratively.
Well, Biden would like to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008 - so he needs to say things that differentiate him from the stunningly careful Hillary Clinton and the loose and open, and full of hope for us all, Barack Obama. This will do. Cynical realism is an alternative to opaque carefulness and also to cheerful can-do optimism. On the other hand, Biden seems to discount the possibility that Cheney and those he controls - and that may include the president - truly believe that "victory" is still possible in Iraq, even if there's no good definition of what that would be. Somehow we can "win" - or we can achieve something we can call a win. Rather than kicking the can down the road at the cost of a lot more dead young Americans and no workable or even friend government in Iraq, leaving cleaning up the mess to the next guy, they may think this "surge" will work out fine.
But would that "win" be? Kevin Drum wonders, whether Biden is right or wrong, just what is in store for Iraq. His conclusion may be accurate -
But even if Biden is right, I suspect there's a bit more to it. As we're all aware, "population transfers" are the order of business right now in Baghdad (and in the rest of the country as well, though slightly less dramatically). Eventually, regardless of any action one way or the other from the United States, the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd populations will be almost entirely separated. This was the prerequisite for our "success" in Kosovo, and in a similar way it's possible that once Iraq's ethnic cleansing is mostly complete their civil war will start to die down of its own accord and the U.S. will finally be able to prop up a government of sorts. It won't be much of a government, but it might be enough for Bush to convince himself that his steadfastness kept Iraq together after all. I suspect that both Bush and Cheney may be counting on this.
And if even that doesn't happen? Then, as Biden said, it's the next president's problem. I guess that's Plan Z.
But the push-back is already starting -
A day after Democrats took control of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today urged President Bush not to prolong the 46-month-old Iraq war by increasing the number of U.S. troops in the country.
"Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain," the top two Democrats wrote in a letter to Bush. "Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror."
The actual letter is far more detailed, but that's the gist of it. The Associated Press survey of all the folks not very pleased with this surge is in critics slam possible Iraq troop boost - "Days from announcing an overhaul of Iraq strategy, President Bush on Friday encountered a wall of criticism of the U.S. troop escalation that is expected to be the centerpiece of his new war plan."
The word is twenty to forty thousand more troops. That should be interesting, as there are only nine thousand actually available. A State Department official revealed during the week that the president is considering sending "no more than 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops" to Iraq - "Instead of a surge, it is a bump." The latter term hasn't exactly caught on - but in this video CBS's David Martin reports that military commanders have told the White House they are prepared to execute a troop escalation of just nine thousand soldiers and Marines into Iraq, "with another 10,000 on alert in Kuwait and the U.S." That's all there is. There are no more. Someone at State is being subversive. This is not a time for reality-checks. The president has a plan.
And he has his supporters - Senators McCain and Lieberman, who, on Friday, January 5, held forth at a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute - the other Emerald City, so to speak, home to the neoconservative wizards. That was interesting -
The 2006 election has not changed Sen. John McCain's support for victory in Iraq one iota.
While some Democrats have interpreted their party's triumphs in last November's balloting as a call by voters to end the U.S. deployment in Iraq, McCain, a leading contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, made it clear Friday he doesn't see it that way.
McCain seems to be launching his 2008 campaign by taking the role of foremost advocate of sending significantly more troops for long-term deployment to Iraq.
"There are two keys to any surge of U.S. troops: to be of value, it must substantial and it must be sustained," he declared in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank that is home to some of the most hawkish strategists on Iraq.
Just to make sure everyone in the overflow audience got the point, McCain repeated that phrase: "it must substantial and it must be sustained."
… In their comments at AEI both McCain and Lieberman seemed to be concerned that Bush might shy away from a big increase in U.S. forces in Iraq.
McCain said, "The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of US forces. We've tried small surges in the past and they've been ineffective."
This is no bump. McCain is worried the lowball figure - twenty thousand - may be far too low, and that the president will say this is short-term. His position is we go big and go long - that we have two hundred thousand troops on the ground fighting the bad guys for at least two or three more years. Anything else is useless.
But a wag crashed the seminar and offers a slightly rude summary of what was really said -
1. We aren't winning enough (they couldn't bring themselves to say "losing") because of the naughty, feckless generals who misinterpreted Bush's brilliant strategy thus far. But Casey and the others are on the way out, and the new guy, Petreus (sp?), is a "proven anti-insurgency" fighter with winning tactics. He's going to get back to the plan, which John and Joe both told us they'd been advocating all along, and we're going to surge to victory.
2. The surge will be sustained for at least two years. Timelines embolden the Enemy, and so we shouldn't set one for withdrawal. We've got to stay as long as it takes to "finish the mission."
3. The mission is "security," followed by a return to the civil process of government, and supported by economic aid which will give all those naughty insurgents something better to do than shoot at each other and our troops. More money also needs to be spent on reconstruction. Lots more.
4. It seems our naughty generals haven't been doing anything to promote security in Iraq all these long years. But that's going to change, darnit! Now, instead of playing cards and square dancing, our troops are going to get serious about bringing peace to Iraq. We've also trusted those hapless Iraqis and their silly government too much - Joe and John agree they can't secure anything by themselves. So we're going to do it for them.
5. Congress needs to go along with this, and support the President. And give him all the money he wants, for as long as he says. It was, and I quote, a "twist of fate" that brought Democrats to power, according to Joe, but it's clearly the case that these new folks need to follow whatever plan AEI and the President put forth. Which is going to be a "sustained surge." Unquote.
6. We are winning, we will continue to win, and surging will bring us even more winning. Winning is what is happening, and will happen, but we need to win with surging too. We haven't tried that kind of winning yet.
7. The troops are happy, they believe in the mission, they want to stay. They will be, and I quote, "overstressed" by this sustained surging, but they can handle it. If we don't stress them further, all deaths up to this point will have been for nothing.
8. The President needs to explain to the American people, and "make them understand" the need for the surge. He can do it, and the good folks at AEI, John, Joe and a couple of ex and current military folks are going to help him. In fact, they're going to say, as they did about 100 times this afternoon, that we must have a "sustained surge." Because we're winning.
9. If we don't commit to this plan right away, and sustain it for 18 months and more, the result with be "not the end of life as we know it," but a "totalitarian caliphate." Our enemies are Evil, part of an Axis of Evil, says Joe, and the American people need to understand that. Joe knows, and John agrees. Because they are "good friends."
10. NATO and the rest of the world should help more. They're mean and naughty for making us do this all by ourselves. They need to send troops and money to Iraq and Afghanistan, and do what we're doing. Because everyone should be in on the winning! Also, if they don't, well - let's just say Joe thinks that the Totalitarian Caliphate would be bad for women and gays. "Individual freedom? Forget it!"
Lieberman is a classic suck-up who wants to seem manly, but what's up with McCain? See the recently published Vanity Fair profile -
Finally, a questioner lays it all on the line: "The war's the big issue," he says, adding, "Some kind of disengagement - it's going to have to happen. It's a big issue for you, for our party, in 24 months."
"It's not that long a time." McCain replies, "I do believe this issue isn't going to be around in 2008. I think it's going to either tip into civil war…." He breaks off, as if not wanting to rehearse the handful of other unattractive possibilities. "Listen," he says, "I believe in prayer. I pray every night."
And that's where he leaves his discussion of the war this morning: at the kneeling rail.
On the way to our next stop, McCain tells me, "It's just so hard for me to contemplate failure that I can't make the next step."
Or maybe Biden is somewhat right about what motivates the whole "escalation" crew. Failure is not an option. They just cannot "face" failure, with or without an escalation, so more Americans will just have to die in the Iraq to calm them down - and they won't have to face it. Someone else will, later.
Admitting what you tried didn't work must be for other people, although most of us, in what we call "real life," do that all the time. Sometimes things don't work out. What's the big deal here? "I tried it as it seemed like a good idea, but it didn't work out, so I'll try something else." What sort of person cannot say that? We're talking about a serious problem here - some sort of pathology perhaps. "It's just so hard for me to contemplate failure that I can't make the next step." Seek help. There are plenty of fine therapists out there.
Of course, Congress may go along with an escalation, in spite of the Pelosi-Reid letter. There's the new congresswoman from Kansas, the ex-Republican, Nancy Boyda, who unseated the wacky Jim Ryun. A good number of Kansas politicians changed party - fed up with the previous Washington crew and the crazy spending and strange scandals. But in an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson we see she's with McCain, but for an odd reason -
Gibson: Would you vote in favor of money to support another 20,000 to 40,000 troops in Iraq?
Boyda: I think we're going to vote to support what the commander in chief and head of military asks to do. At least, I am certainly going to vote to support it.
Gibson: If he wants the surge, he'll get it.
Boyda: Yes.… He is the commander in chief, Charlie. We don't get that choice. Congress doesn't make that decision.
Gibson: But the polls would indicate, and indeed, so many voters when they came out of the ballot box, said, "We're voting because we want something done about the war and we want the troops home."
Boyda: They should have thought about that before they voted for President Bush not once, but twice.
So there's nothing anyone can do, you see. There was a Supreme Court decision in 2000 and a close election in 2004, so the man can do anything he wants. Her concept of what Congress can do about anything at all is somewhat limited. But it may prevail.
As for the escalation plan underway, the one no one can stop, a lot has been happening, as Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post explains. He calls is a purge of the unbelievers -
Harriet Miers, a longtime companion of the president but never a true believer in Vice President Cheney's views of a nearly unrestrained executive branch, is out as White House counsel - likely to be replaced by someone in the more ferocious model of Cheney chief of staff David S. Addington.
Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad, considered by Cheney to be too soft on the Sunnis, is kicked upstairs to the United Nations, to be replaced by Ryan Crocker, who presumably does not share his squeamishness.
John Negroponte, not alarmist enough about the Iranian nuclear threat in his role as Director of National Intelligence, is shifted over to the State Department, the Bush administration's safehouse for the insufficiently neocon. Cheney, who likes to pick his own intelligence, thank you, personally intervenes to get his old friend Mike McConnell to take Negroponte's job.
And George Casey and John Abizaid - the generals who so loyally served as cheerleaders for the White House's "stay the course" approach during the mid-term election campaigns - are jettisoned for having shown a little backbone in their opposition to Cheney and Bush's politically-motivated insistence on throwing more troops into the Iraqi conflagration.
And there's a lot of background to that all. Political junkies should click on the link.
Or they can just read the Time Magazine cover story by Michael Duffy -
For years now, George W. Bush has told Americans that he would increase the number of troops in Iraq only if the commanders on the ground asked him to do so.
…Seasoned military people suspected that the line was a dodge - that the civilians who ran the Pentagon were testing their personal theory that war can be fought on the cheap and the brass simply knew better than to ask for more. In any case, the President repeated the mantra to dismiss any suggestion that the war was going badly. Who, after all, knew better than the generals on the ground?
Now, as the war nears the end of its fourth year and the number of Americans killed has surpassed 3,000, Bush has dropped the generals-know-best line. Sometime next week the President is expected to propose a surge in the number of U.S. forces in Iraq for a period of up to two years.
… The irony is that while the generals would have liked more troops in the past, they are cool to the idea of sending more now. That's in part because the politicians and commanders have had trouble agreeing on what the goal of a surge would be. But it is also because they are worried that a surge would further erode the readiness of the U.S.'s already stressed ground forces. And even those who back a surge are under no illusions about what it would mean to the casualty rate. 'If you put more American troops on the front line,' said a White House official, "you're going to have more casualties."
Duffy asks the obvious question - "Is the surge Bush's last stand?"
He arrives at the Biden answer -
Probably yes, whether Bush intends it that way or not. There is always a chance that a surge might reduce the violence, if only for a while. But given that nothing in Iraq has gone according to plan, it seems more likely that it won't. That's why many in the military assume privately that a muscular-sounding surge now is chiefly designed to give Bush the political cover to execute a partial withdrawal on his terms later.
… There is one other scenario to consider: it may be that Bush won't pull out of Iraq as long as he is President. Whether it works or not, a surge of 18 to 24 months would carry Bush to the virtual end of his term. After that, Iraq becomes someone else's problem. Bush's real exit strategy in Iraq may just be to exit the presidency first.
And now even Charles Krauthammer, resident Fox News defender of the whole enterprise, has jumped ship. The current Maliki government in Iraq is "hopelessly sectarian" and not worth fighting for -
The whole sorry affair illustrates not just incompetence but the ingrained intolerance and sectarianism of the Maliki government. It stands for Shiite unity and Shiite dominance above all else.
We should not be surging American troops in defense of such a government. This governing coalition - Maliki's Dawa, Hakim's SCIRI, and Sadr's Mahdi Army - seems intent on crushing the Sunnis at all costs.
Maliki should be made to know that if he insists on having this sectarian war, he can well have it without us.
Andrew Sullivan gets it -
The only way we can succeed in normalizing Iraq is if there is a genuinely non-sectarian national government. Despite four years of trying, the first such national government is, in Charles' words, hopelessly sectarian. The manner of Saddam's execution proves that Bush cannot control Maliki and/or Maliki cannot control his own government. The death squads control Baghdad. The idea that a surge of 20,000 American troops can or will rectify this situation is unhinged. For whom would they be fighting? A government run by Shiite death squads?
If that is true, then the only logical option for us is to withdraw - either to Kurdistan or altogether. It's encouraging to see a leading neoconservative acknowledge this profound, if depressing, reality. If Bush proposes a "surge" and Maliki is still prime minister, Charles will logically have to oppose the surge. And when Bush has lost Krauthammer, whom does he have left?
There was that 60 Minutes interview with Bob Woodward -
Mike Wallace: And Woodward says that no matter what's occurred in Iraq, Mr. Bush does not welcome any pessimistic assessments from his aides, because he is sure that his war has Iraq and America on the right path.
Bob Woodward: Late last year, he had key Republicans up to the White House to talk about the war, and said "I Will Not Withdraw Even If Laura And Barney Are The Only Ones Supporting Me." Barney is his dog.
Well, it's down to the wife, the dog, and Lieberman and McCain.
But something more can be said, and Digby at Hullabaloo says it in Governing by Tantrums -
It seems to me that one of the defining characteristics of the Bush administration is a sort of stubborn, spoiled reaction to his critics. I think it comes from two things. First it is a reflection of Bush's personality which, in a position as powerful as the presidency, is bound to color everything.
And Digby recalls this from Bush's distant past -
[In] December, during a visit to his parents' home in Washington, Bush drunkenly challenged his father to go "mano a mano," as has often been reported.
Around the same time, for the 1972 Christmas holiday, the Allisons met up with the Bushes on vacation in Hobe Sound, Fla. Tension was still evident between Bush and his parents. Linda was a passenger in a car driven by Barbara Bush as they headed to lunch at the local beach club. Bush, who was 26 years old, got on a bicycle and rode in front of the car in a slow, serpentine manner, forcing his mother to crawl along. "He rode so slowly that he kept having to put his foot down to get his balance, and he kept in a weaving pattern so we couldn't get past," Allison recalled. "He was obviously furious with his mother about something, and she was furious at him, too."
The conclusion that can be drawn -
From the moment he took office, he has been doing this sort of thing. He won the election in 2000 under very unusual circumstances in the closest election in American history. After running as a "compassionate conservative" in the first place and then taking office as a result of a divided Supreme Court decision, everyone at the time assumed that he would govern humbly, seeking the input of the opposition and running a very moderate administration. Instead he did exactly the opposite, insisting he had a mandate for extreme conservatism.
Similarly, he ran for re-election in 2004 and won a narrow victory predicated almost entirely on his wartime leadership. Yet, first thing out of the box he announced he would destroy social security. This election, which he outright lost on the basis of his lying and mishandling of Iraq, brings an escalation of the war.
This era has been marked by its unusual up-is-downism and the media's inability to sort this out. (We are right now seeing them parrot republican talking points that say the Democrats ran on a platform of bipartisanship when in fact it was a platform of in-your-face opposition.) The president has embodied this with the way he does exactly the opposite of what the nation consistently signals it wants him to do. It's almost as if he does it simply because he can. And that, I think, is the key to understanding it.
It was a terrible stroke of luck that brought that man together with Dick Cheney, who had actually developed an entire political philosophy based upon the president have the power to do whatever he wants to do. It may be that pairing that has brought us to this point. A spoiled little boy who can easily be persuaded by a megalomaniacal grey eminence that there is virtue in defying the American people and the constitution.
Which brings us to today. Bush is going to escalate the war. And he's probably going to escalate it in a way that is even more provocative than anyone is anticipating. he will send in the 'surge" but he won't just do that. He's going to go for it.
And as for the "new way forward" team -
Robert Gates is in as Secretary of Defense. John Negroponte will move from Director of National Intelligence to Assistant Secretary of State. Retired Vice Admiral Michael McConnell will take Negroponte's old job as DNI. Raw Story reports that Lieutenant General David Petraeus, the former day-to-day commander in Iraq, to replace General George Casey as the overall commander of U.S. forces in that country.
The news that has everyone a bit agog is that the head of Central Command, General John Abizaid, will be relieved by Admiral William J. Fallon.
ABC reports that "Fallon, who is in the Navy, is currently head of Pacific Command; he will be overseeing two ground wars, so the appointment is highly unusual."
I think ABC is missing the point.
It seems highly unusual for a navy admiral to take charge of CENTCOM until you consider two interrelated things. First is that Bush needs a senior four-star in the CENTCOM job who hasn't gone on record as opposing additional troops in Iraq. Second is that Fallon's CENTCOM area of responsibility will include Iran.
A conflict with Iran would be a naval and air operation. Fallon is a naval flight officer. He flew combat missions in Vietnam, commanded an A-6 Intruder squadron, a carrier air wing and an aircraft carrier. As a three-star, he commanded Second Fleet and Strike Force Atlantic. He presently heads U.S. Pacific Command. His resume also includes duty in numerous joint and Navy staff billets, including Deputy Director for Operations with Joint Task Force Southwest Asia in Riyahd, Saudi Arabia.
If anybody knows how to run a maritime and air operation against Iran, it's "Fox" Fallon.
So what did you expect? Ignore all critics and dissenters and "go even farther and become obnoxiously defiant." They've always gotten away with it. Why would they stop now? It's a matter of both personal temperament and political philosophy. Live with it. And the Iran War is next.