March 15, 2007

The Long Exit

Many people have commented on the fundamental lack of seriousness with which some Democrats have approached the Iraq debate but few, if any, have done it as well as David Brooks does this morning in the New York Times:

The fact is there are two serious approaches to U.S. policy in Iraq, and the Democratic leaders, for purely political reasons, are caught in the middle, and even people like Carl Levin are beginning to sound silly.

One serious position is heard on the left: that there's nothing more we can effectively do in Iraq. We've spent four years there and have not been able to quell the violence. If the place is headed for civil war, there's nothing we can do to stop it, and we certainly don't want to get caught in the middle. The only reasonable option is to get out now before more Americans die.

The second serious option is heard on the right. We have to do everything we can to head off catastrophe, and it's too soon to give up hope. The surge is already producing some results. Bombing deaths are down by at least a third. Execution-style slayings have been cut in half. An oil agreement has been reached, tribes in Anbar Province are chasing Al Qaeda, cross-sectarian political blocs are emerging. We should perhaps build on the promise of the surge with regional diplomacy or a soft partition, but we certainly should not set timetables for withdrawal.

The Democratic leaders don't want to be for immediate withdrawal because it might alienate the centrists, and they don't want to see out the surge because that would alienate the base. What they want to do is be against Bush without accepting responsibility for any real policy, so they have concocted a vaporous policy of distant withdrawal that is divorced from realities on the ground.

Say what you will about President Bush, when he thinks a policy is right, like the surge, he supports it, even if it's going to be unpopular. The Democratic leaders, accustomed to the irresponsibility of opposition, show no such guts.

March 09, 2007

Must See Obey TV

Watch Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey get exercised:

He later apologized in an interview with The Hill, saying:

"What so frustrated me about the encounter is that it became apparent that she had no idea that the bill she was being asked to tell me to vote against would set a deadline for our getting out of Iraq," he said. "So many of these liberal groups don't adequately inform their members. They don't have the full story about what we're trying to do and they wind up not being able to distinguish their friend from their enemy. These people won't take yes for an answer." [snip]

"I'm sorry that the frustration happened to erupt in that hall," he said. "I wish it hadn't. If these groups would inform people before they hit the Hill...we might have a better chance to have the votes to end this thing."

Timing Is Everything

As a follow up to Blake's post, consider the following timing: Yesterday at around 3am, Eastern Standard Time, America's new top general in Iraq gave his first big press conference in Baghdad.

Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Rice's Senior Advisor on Iraq, Ambassador David Satterfield, held a press conference in Washington before departing last night for Baghdad to attend the "neighbors conference" that will take place in Iraq tomorrow -- an event intended not only for Iraq's new government to build support in the region but also to set the stage for ministerial level meetings in April.

Sandwiched in between these two events, yesterday morning the Speaker of the House held a press conference of her own to announce the Democrats' new plan for getting America out of Iraq. This plan demands that the President certify by July 1 that certain benchmarks in Iraq are being met. If he can't make such a certification, troop withdrawals would begin immediately and be completed by the end of this year. Curiously, the plan also demands troops begin leaving Iraq in March of 2008 and be fully out of Iraq by the end of August even if the President can certify progress is being made.

As I said last week, if Democrats have one vulnerability on Iraq, it's leaving the impression they want to see America fail. The timing of the Dems' announcement strikes me as getting somewhere in that vicinity, in so much they were willing to make, as Blake suggests, what amounts to a political bet predicated on the surge not succeeding right in the middle of news of America's top commanders and diplomats pushing forward and trying to build on some of the recent positive momentum there.

So why didn't the Dems announce their plan earlier in the week or postpone it until next week to avoid looking like they were intentionally stepping on Gen. Petraeus and preempting the diplomatic conference? Politics, of course. To maximize exposure and limit any response, it's probably not a coincidence the Dems waited to go before the cameras until the President was wheels up on Air Force One for a six day trip to Latin America.

The Political End Game on Iraq

It's come to this then: Democrats anted up yesterday and declared an end to U.S. participation in the Iraq war no later than September 2008. Republicans in turn vowed resistance and the President threatened veto. With the two sides forming ranks, the coming showdown in Congress over the next month should be quite an event, as the future of the Iraq war hangs in the balance.

Or not. For a good summary of what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill check out The Politico's John Bresnahan's posts on the Pelosi plan and the Reid plan.

But the fact of the matter is that the Democrats presented their withdrawal plans with the expectation that neither will ever reach enactment. Both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi appreciate better than anyone the insurmountable task facing them of getting either one of their plans through Congress and past a presidential veto. It won't happen.

The question arises then as to why the Democrats would willingly enter a political standoff that will ultimately end in the surge progressing. It has to do with positioning and perception: Pelosi presents a withdrawal plan that is predicated on certain conditions and goals going unmet by the Iraqi government. Reid, meanwhile, forgoes conditions, but sets a "target date" for withdrawal past the point where there could be any question that Congress had given the president's plan time to succeed. Come November 2008, the expectation is that the public will have a very clear idea of which party allowed the surge to continue and which tried to avoid catastrophe (without of course causing it).

Is this much of a gamble? From the Democrats' calculations, no. Were all things equal, and the chances of success in Iraq 50-50, the Democrats wouldn't be as aggressive in their opposition. But all things aren't equal and the Democrats are probably moving forward on the assumption that the chance of failure in Iraq is 70-30, if not 80-20, which are very good odds.

But military odds and political odds are not one and the same, the latter being dependent on an independent, highly unpredictable variable known as the American public. Should we lose in Iraq, the odds are Republicans will take the blame. Unless, of course, the public believes that Democratic actions helped lead to that defeat. Hence, Pelosi's and Reid's differing plans that place complete withdrawal well into 2008 - in other words, well past the time they think the public could blame them for encouraging defeat.

But if the surge should succeed, then Democrats have a problem. Success in Iraq switches the dynamics of the gamble from avoiding blame to getting credit. And although Democrats have probably gone out on the ledge as far as they think is wise, they are still out there and vulnerable if Iraq takes a turn for the better.

So the coming showdown the media will be trumpeting for the next few weeks won't be much more than a lot of fiery rhetoric from both sides. This is now a waiting game and it all depends on what happens in Iraq.

March 02, 2007

Notes on Iraq

In my column today on the administration's early efforts to secure Baghdad, I note some of the signs of progress that have emerged from Iraq in recently. Here are three more from today: 1) The Washington Post reports that Sunni tribesmen joined with Iraq security forces to defeat dozens of insurgents in Western Iraq, 2) the Associated Press reports a sharp drop in the body count in Baghdad, and 3) The Los Angeles Times says that Iraqis who fled amid the earlier violence in their country are beginning to return home.

Also of note, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has chosen Iraq war critic Eliot A. Cohen to replace Philip Zelikow as a counselor.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate yesterday continued to struggle to find ways to rebuke the administration's policy in Iraq. Majority Leader Reid said that while Democrats weren't able to agree on a political tactic, there was unanimity among his caucus that the "war in Iraq is going wrong."

And Russ Feingold said this:

"It's still George Bush's war, but we run the risk of gaining some ownership of it if we don't make it absolutely clear that we are the party that wants to get out of there."

The public is clearly sour on the war, and will probably remain so. But that sourness stems from frustration over a lack of progress in Iraq, not necessarily a desire to declare the whole thing a failure and leave as quickly as possible. In fact, if the Bush administration had made all of the same moves and adjustments six months before the election instead of six months after, Republicans would have faired much better in the election and probably would have kept control of the Senate.

So there is some political risk to Democrats continuing to try and rebuke and/or undermine the administration's policy even as it's showing signs of progress, however small. It makes it seem like they want this last chance in Iraq to fail for political reasons. It seems to me far smarter to lay low and shift the focus to a different issue for a while. If the surge fails in six months, Democrats can stand up and say "we told you so." If it somehow succeeds, they won't look like they've been pining for America's failure.

February 21, 2007

Two Johns on Withdrawal

As a follow up to the post below about the framing of news of the withdrawal of British soldiers from Iraq, here is the reaction from our coalition partners down under, led by Prime Minister John Howard:

"A reduction has been in the wind (a while), and the reason I understand Mr Blair will give is that conditions have stabilised in Basra.

"I don't think it follows from that that there should be a reduction in our 550. I mean you have got to maintain a critical mass and to do the job according to our defence advice, you need that."

Australia is, in fact, bolstering its contribution in Iraq, sending up to 70 more non-combat military trainers within coming months.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says the British move is a sign of progress in southern Iraq.

"Under no circumstances should anybody interpret the British (decision) ... as any kind of cut and run," he said.

Dr Nelson denied that the British policy was at odds with America's plan to send an extra 21,500 troops to Iraq, mainly to Baghdad.

"People ought to remember that 60 per cent of the violence comes from Baghdad and al-Anbar province, where al-Qaeda is particularly active," he told ABC Radio.

"The rest of Iraq is quite different".

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away another John, this one a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts and erstwhile presidential candidate, responded to the news this way:

"America's leading ally in Iraq has decided that a timetable for the phased redeployment of troops is the only responsible policy to help force Iraqis to stand up for Iraq. After years of touting Prime Minister Blair's resolve, the Administration should now pay attention to his new policy. This announcement makes it all the more inexplicable that the President and leading Republicans actually want to send more American troops into the middle of an Iraqi civil war."

February 20, 2007

'08 Hopefuls Turn Up Heat On War

The tone of the Iraq war debate got more strident today with Democratic presidential candidates competing to be more anti-war than the next and Republicans delivering bi-partisan blasts.

While stumping for Democrats in California yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama reiterated his opposition to the war and gave a thinly-veiled rebuke to President Bush's calls to continue fighting with a new strategy. "There are no good options in Iraq at this point," Obama said. "There are only bad options or worse options. But the worst option is to continue to put our young men and women in the midst of what is essentially a sectarian civil war in which they cannot succeed."

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Biden didn't just criticize the commander-in-chief strategies as ineffective, but said they are "emboldening the enemy." This came after Biden accused Bush himself of saying war critics embolden the enemy. (Taking the cake was Rep. Dennis Kucinich who claimed the U.S. is "on its way toward being a fascist kind of government.")

On the GOP side, Rep. Duncan Hunter characterized Congress' war debate as equivalent to pulling "the rug out from under the soldiers ... by condemning this mission," Hunter said. "I thought it was a disservice to our soldiers."

Sen. John McCain continued to campaign as a critical hawk by blasting Donald Rumsfeld's conduct of the war, claiming he predicted the bloodshed in Iraq and the need for more soldiers and a new strategy more than three years ago. McCain said, "We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. ... I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history." McCain's comments were met by applause.

The best of the rest of today's news can be found here.

February 19, 2007

The Dems' Bidding War on Iraq

First Barack Obama didn't favor a timetable for withdrawal. Now he's sponsoring a bill to have all combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008.

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton says she'll begin redeploying troops out of Iraq during the first 90 days of her presidency.

And not to be one-upped by Clinton, Bill Richardson now said yesterday that he'll get us out of Iraq on the "first day" of his presidency.

Who's next in the Dem bidding war to get us out of Iraq and how can they possibly top the last bid?

Krugman's Infallibility Complex

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman explains why it's so vitally important to the left - and to him - that Hillary say she was wrong about her vote on the Iraq war:

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes.[snip]

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards -- "I was wrong" -- matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn't sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn't suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

How much truth is there to Krugman's hunch? As it turns out, the latest FOX News poll contained two questions pertaining to Krugman's argument:

QUESTION: Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate who has changed his or her position on the war in Iraq?

More Likely
Less Likely
A Lot
A Lot

QUESTION: In general, during a time of war, would you prefer a president who: 1) sticks to his convictions, 2) can be persuaded to change his mind and withdraw, 3) depends, 4) don't know.

Sticks to
His Mind

The results from this poll, at least as it pertains to opinions about Iraq, look to be mixed (at best) for Krugman. Independents are the only group that would be more likely to vote for a candidate who has changed his or her mind on the war, while Republicans and Democrats would be less likely, the former much more strenuously than the latter. But the plurality among all groups, led by Democrats, say it's not a major factor.

Krugman is right about one thing: even with the somewhat loaded wording in the last question, a majority of Dems, by a margin of almost two to one, prefer a presidential candidate who could be persuaded to withdraw in the middle of a war rather than one who would stand by his convictions. Independents were split evenly on that question.

One more thing from Krugman's article. Near the end he argues that both McCain and Giuliani would have "infallibility complexes" similar to Bush and would be unable to admit mistakes. Specifically, Krugman writes about Giuliani:

And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it's hard to choose.

Here's an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for," the then-mayor ordered the ads removed -- and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait.

Krugman must have missed Giuliani's appearance on Larry King just a few days ago:

KING: A couple of other quick things. Your long relationship with Bernie Kerik, a potential campaign problem?

GIULIANI: It -- you mean the...

KING: The former police commissioner?

GIULIANI: ... his -- recommending him?

KING: His downfall, yes.

GIULIANI: Recommending him and that? It was a mistake. I made a mistake.

And before that King asked Giuliani if mistakes had been made in Iraq. Giuliani replied, "of course there were mistakes." King then asked whether Giuliani would have done a better job of communicating than the current administration, to which Giuliani responded:

GIULIANI: I don't know. I hope -- I hope I would. I mean, you know, I hope -- I hope that I would learn from the mistakes that were made in this situation.

KING: Such as?

GIULIANI: Just as the mistakes I made when I was mayor, I tried to learn from them. If I get to be president of the United States, I probably won't make the same mistakes, because I will have learned from them. I'll probably make different ones.

KING: Now how is...

GIULIANI: And then the next one will learn from the ones that I made. And I would say that about Bill Clinton or George Bush. This job is so difficult that you've got to have humility about it and you have to understand how to look at the past not in a way in which you cast blame, but you learn from it.

I doubt that sounds to most Americans like a man with an infallibility complex.

February 13, 2007

Gallup on Iraq

New Gallup poll taken Feb 9-11 with the following detail on Iraq:

Republicans get a 27% job approval rating on their handling of the Iraq issue. Dems are only slightly higher at 30% approval.

60% oppose Bush's plan to surge troops, but only a slim majority (51%) favor a non-binding resolution from Congress expressing its disapproval of the plan.

57% favor putting a cap on the number of U.S. troops serving in Iraq (aka The Hillary Clinton option).

63% favor setting a time-table for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year (aka The Barack Obama option - more or less, since Obama would have troops out by March 2008).

40% favor (and 58% oppose) denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq (aka The Russ Feingold option).

February 05, 2007

Senate Debates Iraq

The Senate is debating the non-binding resolutions right now. Watch here. The Politico's John Bresnahan reports:

"As of yet, there is no deal," said McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart. "There will be a cloture vote at 5:30 [p.m.], and they are not even going to get 50 votes." If there are not 60 votes to invoke cloture, the Senate cannot begin the Iraq debate and must shift to other legislative business.

February 02, 2007

Deaf Ears, Closed Minds

President Bush is often derided by the left for taking a "predetermined" course of action but, honestly, has there ever been anything more predetermined in political history than Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, et al. jetting over to Iraq and returning to declare they were "pessmistic" (Skelton) and "not encouraged" by what they saw (Murtha). Was there even a remote chance they would have changed their position, regardless of what they might have seen or heard while in Iraq? Of course not.

Now watch the video below closely. It is "B-roll" from Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Iraq. At the 1:15 mark is a fifteen second clip of Pelosi speaking to Major General Fil, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, whose primary responsibility is the security of Baghdad. The audio is terrible and the clip begins and ends abruptly, but here is a transcript of the exchange:

Pelosi: next three to six months...

Gen. Fil: I think we'll have real progress. I'm speaking as the Commander, now, of the Division. I can't speak for the Prime Minister or General Casey, but as the Division Commander here in Baghdad, um, I think we'll...

Now read the transcript of Speaker Pelosi characterized what she heard on her trip at a big press conference in Washington DC on Tuesday:

"The escalation instituted by the president has been tried before and failed. Although we heard varying judgments about prospects for success this time, everyone we spoke to agreed that this was the one last chance, and it might not work."

We don't know who else Pelosi might have spoken to while on her trip, but we do know at least one very knowledgeable, high ranking officer told her that he expects to see "real progress." Is it conceivable Major General Fil also conceded to Pelosi upon direction examination the possibility that the plan "might not work?" I suppose so. But even if he did, Pelosi's carefully worded remarks to the American public appear to put the most pessimistic, most defeatist spin possible on what she saw and heard in Iraq. Unfortunately, it seems for political reasons the Democrats aren't even willing to concede the possibility, no matter how slight or remote it might seem to them, that we might actually succeed in Iraq.

January 31, 2007

Obama on Iraq: All Glory and No Guts

Here's video of Senator Barack Obama on the Senate floor yesterday introducing the "Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007" which proposes to begin a "redeployment" of American troops out of Iraq starting in May and finishing by March of next year:

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is going even further, calling for a cut-off of funding for the war and a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in six months. Feingold said:

Congress has the power to stop a war if it wants... If Congress doesn't stop the war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it doesn't have the will.

At least one of these guys has read the Constitution. Remember the old saying, "no guts, no glory?" Obama wants the glory of opposing Iraq without having the guts. Congress's war-making powers are clear, as is the President's role as Commander in Chief. There is, as Feingold notes, only one way to legislate and end to the war. If Obama is seriously interested in getting America out of Iraq, as opposed to just posturing with blatantly unconstitutional pieces of legislation to score political points, he should drop his bill and sign on with Feingold.

UPDATE: Lynn Sweet notes the "evolution" of Obama's position on setting a specific timetable for withdrawal - excuse me, "phased redeployment" - from Iraq.

January 29, 2007

Double Speaker

It's tragic yet humorous that President Bush is constantly accused of being out of touch with reality when Nancy Pelosi can get away with saying things like this: "I believe redeployment of our troops is a step toward stability in the region.''

If Pelosi thinks we're losing the war or that it's not worth the sacrifice, fine. Say it loud and proud. But at least be honest about the consequences of what that means and stop pretending that the region is somehow going to be safer or more stable without American troops.

January 16, 2007

Dems Propose Withdrawal

From The Hill:

Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwomen Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Out of Iraq Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will tout their legislation tomorrow calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq within six months.

The bill will also prohibit permanent military bases in Iraq. Fair enough. At least some Democrats have finally stepped up and officially proposed what the overwhelming majority of their caucus wants - even if the bill is little more than window dressing.

But Democrats still haven't honestly addressed the consequences of pulling U.S. troops out in six months. What will happen in Iraq, in the broader Middle East, and what impact, if any, will such a move have on U.S. credibility and our long-term security? These aren't insignificant questions, and the Democrats should be willing to address them instead of just holding symbolic votes intended to try and win political points with their base.

January 15, 2007

"Stay the Course, Which Everybody Agrees is Not Working"

While "stay the course" was a message which, on balance, worked to the President's benefit during the 2004 campaign, that message turned decisively against the Republican party in 2006. And even though the President tried to move away from that language in the second half of last year, Democrats were very effective at pinning the President's policy as "stay the course" and theirs as "change." The public clearly wanted change and voted for such in November.

From a public relations standpoint if the President's new policy has any hope of generating increased support he has to convince the public that his new Iraq plan is indeed a change from what we have been doing the last 18 months. Last week on FOX News Sunday, the new Majority leader in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer, made it clear that the Democrats were going to characterize the President plan as more of the same.

We don't see this as a new policy....if the administration's policy remains the same, then we're going to have the same-old-same-old.

Yesterday on Meet the Press National security Advisor Stephen Hadley made it clear the from the administration's standpoint the new plan is not a continuation of Stay the Course.

One of the things that's different, I think, from, from that time is that we do have this unity government. This unity government's been in, in office about seven months. They are getting enormous pressure from their people to get the violence down, and that means, really, sectarian violence centered in Baghdad. They're responding to that pressure. They've come forward with a plan. They have made clear that they're going to increase their forces. They're committed to success, but they need our help to succeed. And it's important we do that because the alternatives, really, are the continued--the existing strategy, the stay the course, which everybody agrees is not working--that's failure slow--or simply turning it over to the Iraqis now and withdrawing, redeploying, whatever you call it, and that simply is not going to work because everybody agrees the Iraqis are not up to it. This is the, the--a strategy that offers the prospect of success as an alternative to either failing slow or failing fast. And the Americans--one thing we know about the American people, they're unhappy with this war, they want a new direction--so does the president--but they want to succeed, they don't want to fail. (emphasis added)

The administration and President Bush would be wise to repeat this line over and over again. First, it helps earn back credibility with the public by acknowledging the truth that the President's approach in 2006 was failing. Second, the political reality is if the President's new plan is perceived as more of the same or a continuation of "stay the course" the American people are not going to support it. And more importantly Republicans in Congress will not support it over time. The administration needs to understand, that not only do they have to show demonstrable progress on the ground in Iraq, but they have to build and sustain support among the American people.

The best way the President can generate that support and convince the American people that this new policy in Iraq is indeed different, is to make sure that the difference going forward is going to be much more that just 20,000 more troops. That means a significant switch to offensive-minded rules of engagement and a willingessness to confront and "deal with" Sadr, Iran, Syria and anyone else who is deliberately undermining our objectives.

Despite the polls and the pronouncements of some among the beltway establishment, my sense is that the American people are still willing to get behind an effort to win in Iraq, but they need to see more dramatic action and get a gut feeling that this plan is really different - and they need to see this soon.

January 12, 2007

In Maliki We Trust?

That's the headline from a New York Daily News article by Richard Sisk that begins: "The U.S. is betting its last-ditch effort in Iraq on an Iraqi prime minister who thwarted the last two drives on Baghdad, dissed President Bush and blocked the rescue attempt of a kidnapped G.I."

Sisk also quotes Secretary of State Condi Rice addressing the issue of Maliki's trustworthiness before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday:

"I understand the skepticism that people have that they will follow through" on the commitment to team up with U.S. troops to go after the militias and death squads, Rice said.

"I think the fact that they didn't act properly in the past does not mean that they won't act properly in the future," she added.

But John Burns and Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times conclude their dispatch from Baghdad with this:

A Shiite political leader who has worked closely with the Americans in the past said the Bush benchmarks appeared to have been drawn up in the expectation that Mr. Maliki would not meet them. "He cannot deliver the disarming of the militias," the politician said, asking that he not be named because he did not want to be seen as publicly criticizing the prime minister. "He cannot deliver a good program for the economy and reconstruction. He cannot deliver on services. This is a matter of fact. There is a common understanding on the American side and the Iraqi side."

Views such as these -- increasingly common among the political class in Baghdad -- are often accompanied by predictions that Mr. Maliki will be forced out as the crisis over the militias builds. The Shiite politician who described him as incapable of disarming militias suggested he might resign; others have pointed to an American effort in recent weeks to line up a "moderate front" of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders outside the government, and said that the front might be a vehicle for mounting a parliamentary coup against Mr. Maliki, with behind-the-scenes American support.

This is speculation, of course, though to the extent there is any truth to the claim it is deeply discomforting: we've drawn up plans knowing Maliki can't or won't meet his obligations, either to try and oust him from office or to set conditions for a withdrawal in a few months.

I hope that's not the case and that Maliki will indeed hold up his end of the bargain. Still, it demonstrates what a mess Iraq has become that our last ditch effort hinges almost completely on trusting this man.

January 10, 2007

Excerpts From Bush's Speech

Here are some excerpts from Bush's speech later tonight laying out a "new way forward" in Iraq:

On the new strategy:

Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror - and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

On the role of the Iraqis:

Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.

On securing Baghdad:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work...and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

On what Iraq must do:

I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people - and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this.

On the economic component:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

On protecting the American people:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time...In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy - by advancing liberty across a troubled region.

On what victory in Iraq will look like:

The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security...The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will...Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship...A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them - and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.

On bringing our troops home:

[To]step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government...Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

Bush's Last Chance

This is it. Tonight President Bush will call for a surge of 20,000 troops to Iraq in a last-ditch effort to salvage some sort of victory there. It's fair to say tonight's speech will be one of the most important of his presidency, and as he goes before the nation to deliver such a momentous message he's never been more alone politically.

Democrats vow to oppose Bush's plan, though they're unable to muster the courage of their convictions to do the one thing within their Constitutional power that would effectively cripple or even prevent it:

Despite polls showing Americans overwhelmingly opposed to the war, despite the mounting American military casualties, and despite the obvious ineffectiveness of the entire enterprise until now to bring stability to Iraq, Democrats at the very heart of the party's anti-war wing still think the political costs would simply be too high.

Instead, Democrats plan to hold a series of hearings and cast "symbolic votes" against the proposal which, despite being politically pusillanimous, is the only way they can square their opposition to the war without suffering the consequences of voting to defund it.

On the other side, Republicans aren't exactly coming off as models of political courage either. In particular, outside of John McCain, there's been a conspicuous silence on the subject of a troop surge by those who aspire to be the next Commander in Chief, including Rudy Giuliani, whose entire candidacy rests on the mantle of leadership and the ability to make sound judgments in times of crisis.

To refuse to answer the question about surging troops in Iraq by saying "I'm just a Governor" as Mitt Romney did the other week, or by deflecting the question until after the President speaks as Giuliani's camp did yesterday is, quite frankly, pathetic.

If you believe that it's still imperative that we win in Iraq, as both Romney and Giuliani have said publicly for months, then there's absolutely no reason, other than an unwillingness to take political heat, for either to have remained silent on the matter for so long. We are not talking about "preempting" the President, or even undermining him if you happen to disagree with his decision, but rather weighing in on the most important question facing the country right now: what do we do about the situation in Iraq? Will more troops help? If not why? What other changes need to be made?

Say what you want about John McCain, but at least he had the fortitude to stand up and be counted and to say that the political consequences of his opinion "pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation's security." He may be wrong, but at least he's leading.

After all, as Tony Blankley writes today, "when we are talking about war and peace, about life and death of our young citizen warriors, we owe them (and ourselves) as much honest talk as we can muster." I would add that we owe them more than an honest debate, we owe the troops action that will give them the best possible chance of successfully completing their mission.

January 09, 2007

Regaining the Offensive is Key

Steny Hoyer on FOX New Sunday speaking on President Bush's proposal to "surge" troops into Iraq:

HOYER: First of all, we see this simply as an escalation and not a change. Essentially, we've gone up and down on troop levels before. We did so just recently. And when we sent troops into Baghdad, we sort of had community-by-community success but a general escalation, both in violence, sectarian confrontation, and loss of life.

So we don't see this as a new policy, and I think it's going to be greeted with great skepticism.

HUME: You don't see it as a change, but, on the other hand, adding troops, changing -- the command is changing. Abizaid has moved out. Casey has moved out. General Petraeus, generally pretty highly regarded, will be the main man there. Vice Admiral Fallon will be the new CENTCOM commander. And yet you say no change here?

HOYER: Let me except (ph) the fact that these are all good people, but the fact that we have a new secretary of defense or the fact that we have a new CENTCOM commander or Petraeus on the ground in Iraq, if the administration's policy remains the same, then we're going to have the same-old-same-old.

Hoyer is correct that the "same-old-same-old" in Iraq led by new names and more troops isn't going to get the job done from either a military or a strategic standpoint. And from a political standpoint, a surge of troops without a significant change in tactics is simply a ratcheting up of a policy that is working strongly for Democrats.
The number of troops in Iraq is secondary as long as our military remains in a defensive posture. Given the current political environment and the evisceration of the Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party, the U.S. public does not have the tolerance or the patience for the continuation of a defensive military posture in Iraq.

If the President wants to regain the support of the American people for his policy in Iraq he has to let the U.S. military go on the offensive. And if regaining an offensive footing is impossible due to political correctness, a fear of the media, or simply the reality on the ground then the focus needs to turn to how we can best manage a tactical retreat in Iraq.

Of course this retreat won't bring an end to the war - a point that is lost on the anti-war left and the "Fortress America" right - as Iraq is simply one front in the larger war against Islamic Jihadism. But a well-managed retreat would be preferable to a continuation of the status-quo policy of the last 18 months, dressed up under new commanders and 20,000 more troops.

Given the multiplicity of factors and the looming 2008 election cycle, the best move President Bush may have is a surge of troops, a massive offensive, and a hand-off to the Iraqi government followed by an orderly but prompt withdrawal of most U.S. troops.

January 05, 2007

CBS News Poll

New CBS News poll pegs Bush's approval at 30%. Iraq is the dominant issue:

45% of respondents say Iraq should be the top priority of the new Congress
35% say Democrats will try and decrease troops
Another 36% say Democrats will try and remove all troops
20% say Bush has a clear plan for Iraq
Only 8% say Democrats have a clear plan for Iraq
23% approve of Bush's handling of Iraq (approval by party: R 51, D 6, I 18)
72% disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq

RELATED: More commentary on the CBS News poll via Buzztracker.

January 03, 2007

Friedman: Time To Get Out of the Way

Tom Friedman in today's New York Times:

Saddam deserved to die 100 deaths. But imagine if Iraq's Shiite leaders had surprised everyone, declared that there had been enough killing in Iraq and commuted Saddam's sentence to life in prison -- sparing his life in hopes of uniting the country rather than executing him and dividing it further. I don't know if it would have helped, but I do know Iraqis have rarely surprised us with gestures of reconciliation -- only with new ways to kill each other.

Now President Bush wants a "surge" of more U.S. troops to Baghdad, in one last attempt to bring order. Whenever I hear this surge idea, I think of a couple who recently got married but the marriage was never very solid. Then one day they say to each other, "Hey, let's have a baby, that will bring us together." It never works.

If the underlying union is not there, adding a baby won't help. And if the underlying willingness to share power and resources is not present among the major communities in Iraq, adding more U.S. troops won't help either. Adding more troops makes sense only if it's to buy more time for positive trends that have already begun to appear on the horizon. I don't see them.

As Saddam's hanging underscored, Iraqis are doing things their way. So maybe it's time to get out of their way.

January 02, 2007

Iraq: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

David Sanger, Michael Gordon, and John Burns collaborate on a lengthy piece in today's New York Times summarizing the difficult and deteriorating situation in Iraq during 2006. It was a brutal year, no question about it.

Also worth reading is this piece from David Wood of the Baltimore Sun reporting from Ramadi on the situation in the western province of Anbar where U.S. Marines are locked in a "standoff" with al-Qaeda in Iraq:

After three years of fighting that has killed 143 American troops in Anbar province, the U.S. military has been unable to quash a vicious insurgency that shows no sign of abating.

Senior U.S. commanders, grappling with Islamist fighters through the Euphrates River towns and the dusty, wind- swept expanse of this province west of Baghdad, describe the insurgents of al-Qaida in Iraq as well-financed, well-led and elusive.

In interviews at heavily bunkered American outposts in Ramadi, Fallujah, Haditha Dam and elsewhere, the officers described the fight as a frustrating uphill battle that will require a steady commitment over many years to win. [snip]

"The issue isn't whether we can hang on," said Brig. Gen. Robert G. Neller, operations chief for Multinational Force-West, the military command for Anbar province. "The issue is whether the American people are willing to accept a long-term commitment in Iraq."

In direct firefights with insurgents, the Marines and soldiers here always prevailed. But there's no straight line from winning battles to winning the war.

"If killing people would win this, we'd have won a long time ago," said Col. William Crowe, commander of Regimental Combat Team 7, the main combat force in Anbar, where about 1,400 insurgents have been killed since June.

Working the back alleys and neighborhoods where there is no constant U.S. presence, the Sunni insurgents are waging a campaign of murder and intimidation to demonstrate that neither the Iraqi government nor U.S. forces can protect people.

"Kill one, scare one thousand," said an intelligence officer. "Anyone cooperating with us becomes a target for AQI assassination."

In Haditha, several relatives of the police chief were killed and their heads impaled on stakes for public display. A woman detonated a vest bomb at the entrance to a local university. The provincial council has fled from the capital, Ramadi, to the relative safety of Baghdad.

Other details of the article are equally grim: the Iraqi Army is underperforming, reconstruction money from the central government is being siphoned off to al-Qaeda in Iraq, etc.

If you read through to the end of the article, however, Wood finally gets around to noting some positive news as well. The Marines interviewed for the article said there are no simple answers to confronting the terrorist insurgency, but they do believe they'll prevail if given enough time. Gen. James T. Conway told Wood:

"There are two timelines: what it will take to get the job done, and what a democratic society will allow us to do the job. Our troops feel that if given a little more time, this thing will sort itself out and we'll walk out with our heads held high."

It's hard to look at a quote like that from one of our courageous and dedicated servicemen and say "no, we're not going to give you the time you need to complete the mission." On the other hand, as General Conway well knows, the public's willingness to allow more time to complete the mission is greatly effected by the perception of progress in Iraq. To the extent we aren't demonstrating that we're making progress in Iraq, or have a reasonable expectation of making progress in the near future, it becomes extremely unlikely the public, and subsequently its representatives in Congress, will grant our troops the time they need to complete the mission in Iraq - however long that might be.

RELATED: Buzztracker on NY Times Iraq story.

December 20, 2006

Answer Questions Before We 'Surge'

The president said yesterday that he's asking new Defense Secretary Gates to tell him how many more troops should be sent to Iraq. Gates is in Iraq now, meeting with senior commanders and, presumably, going out in the field to see things for himself. In the wind is a three to six-month "surge" of troops to Iraq. A few key questions need to be asked before we send anyone more to Iraq.

First is what will they do when they get there? Some pundits think we're going to "take the gloves off", destroy the militias and somehow - by house to house fighting if no other way - rout the insurgents of all stripes to give the Iraqi government breathing room in which to accomplish their political compromises and sing a chorus or two of "Kumbaya." None of this is remotely possible.

First, if we are temporarily deploying more forces we are necessarily telling the insurgents to fade away, take their money, weapons and key people underground, and wait us out. They can evade us and wait us out. It's almost as bad as announcing a firm date for withdrawal of all Americans. We are in a very tough spot because some military leaders have said publicly - in Congressional hearings and elsewhere - that we lack the forces to support a sustained effort in Iraq much longer. The enemies watch those hearings more closely than Americans do.

Second, the Maliki government is to terribly weak, and so dependent on the support of thugs such as Moqtada al-Sadr, that it will not permit us to do what should be done to destroy the Shia militias and the Sunni insurgents. If we choose to operate regardless of Maliki's limitations, his government and the Iraqi constitution would be nullities. We'd be back where we were in 2003. Which may not be entirely a bad thing. If Maliki fell without taking the Iraqi constitution with him, a stronger coalition government has a chance to arise. Now, one does not.

Third, without a clear military mission for the increased forces, we may - by default - start ordering them to perform routine street patrols that had been patrolled recently by Iraqis. They will be little more than moving targets for snipers and IEDs. The success of such local patrols depends on time on the streets: the more you have, the more the people learn to trust you, not fear you, and the more success you have in learning who is the good guy and who isn't. Our soldiers aren't policemen. And to train them to be police, we untrain them for their primary combat role. They can't be both.

We can "send a message" by sending more troops temporarily. But it's not the message that we are determined to win this war. Mission and strategy are what troops are to perform. Not nation-building or sending diplomatic signals.

December 19, 2006

Zucker's ISG Slam

David Zucker takes on the Iraq Study Group:

December 15, 2006

Oak vs. Willow

My column in the Chicago Sun-Times today: Abigail Adams describes George W. Bush.

A Fight We Can Still Win

Retired Colonel Ken Allard points out an overlooked news conference last Friday by Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who has been the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq during the last 12 months:

But don't miss the significance of what Chiarelli was telling us after a year of commanding our forces in Iraq -- assuming weary American voters choose to notice at all. His bottom-line assessment: Our troops are fighting the good fight with heroism, innovative tactics and interservice teamwork. Even more startling: This is a fight we can still win, assuming the Pentagon isn't left to fight on its own.

Allard has been a frequent critic of the administration's handling of the war and of Secretary Rumsfeld, and the fact he's "startled" at the idea we can still win in Iraq I take as a good thing. Read the whole column.

December 13, 2006

Full Nelson

Not exactly what you'd call a team player:

In a direct affront to the Bush administration, a Democratic senator spent an hour Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, emerging from the meeting to say Assad was willing to help control the Iraq-Syrian border.

December 12, 2006

The Latest Iraq Polls

A few interesting points on the trio of Iraq polls out today from ABC/WP, CBS and USA Today/Gallup.

They all seem to confirm the idea that the election was a repudiation of Bush's leadership on Iraq. In the CBS poll, 93% support either ending our involvement or a change in tactics. The country appears pretty evenly divided between the "keep fighting" option (47%) and the "start ending involvement" option (50%). The CBS sample appears to be the most anti-Bush and presumably negative on Iraq of the three, as Bush's job approval in the CBS poll is 31% compared to 36% and 38% in the ABC/AP and Gallup surveys.

Seven out of 10 Americans in the ABC/WP poll disapprove of the President's handling of Iraq and 48% in the USA Today/Gallup poll have not much confidence or none at all that President Bush will "recommend the right thing for the U.S." Interestingly from that same question in the Gallup poll 18% have a "great deal" of trust in the President to do the right thing as compared to only 14% for Democratic leaders. However, when you combine the "great deal of trust" and "fair amount of trust" responses President Bush is the only option out of the military, the ISG, John McCain, Democratic leaders and the state department who doesn't poll over 50%. The military and defense department clearly has the most confidence among the public as 81% trust them to recommend the right thing.

The fact that Senator McCain (who has been pushing for more troops) outpolls Democratic leaders in Congress by 5 points coupled with the overwhelmingly strong support for the military and defense department is moderately encouraging results for Republicans and tends to confirm the thesis that the election results were more of a repudiation of Bush's Iraq policy rather than a broad embrace of Democratic leadership.

Lower Than Bush

From the USA Today/Gallup poll on Iraq:

Most predict the administration won't implement the bipartisan commission's proposals, however. And fewer than 1 in 5 have "a great deal" of trust in Bush to "recommend the right thing" for the United States to do in Iraq.

Confidence in Democratic congressional leaders to chart the proper course is even lower, at 14%.[emphasis added]

December 08, 2006

The Victory Option

As much as I admire Shelby Steele and agree with him about the nature of the global threat of Islamic radicalism, his column today in the Wall Street Journal about victory in Iraq is about as helpful, practically speaking, as the ISG report- which is to say "not very." Steele writes:

Historically victory in foreign war has always meant hegemony: You win, you take over. We not only occupied Germany and Japan militarily after World War II, we also--and without a whit of self doubt--imposed our democratic way of life on them. We took our victory as a moral mandate as well as a military achievement, and felt commanded to morally transform these defeated societies by the terms of our democracy. In this effort we brooked no resistance whatsoever and we achieved great success.

But today, as Nancy Pelosi recently put it, "You can define victory any way you want." And war, she said, was only "a situation to be resolved." If this sort of glibness makes the current war seem a directionless postmodern adventure, it is only because those who call us to war have themselves left the definition of victory wide open. And now, as if to confirm that this is a "relativistic" war meaning everything and nothing, there are at least three national commissions--the White House, the Pentagon and the Baker committee--tasked to create the meaning that will give us a dignified exit. Of course America is now quite beyond any possibility of dignity in this situation save the one option all these commissions have or will likely dismiss: complete military victory.

As appealing as Steele's talk of victory may sound to those frustrated with the pace of the war (which is just about everyone these days), let's be realistic about what his approach would look like - assuming we could even achieve "hegemony" in Iraq. We'd need hundreds of thousands of more troops, not only to get control of Baghdad but to seal the borders with Syria and Iran. We'd also have to kill Moqtada al-Sadr - an elected member of the new Iraqi government who controls at least three ministries - and imprison or execute most of the 60,000 members of his Mahdi army.

The problem, of course, is that we can't pretend Iraq is Germany or Japan circa 1945, and we can't simply reduce Baghdad to rubble in order to impose our will. The chance to establish the kind of hegemony in Iraq Steele is talking about, if there ever was one, was three and a half years ago.

Does that mean victory in Iraq is out of the question? No. Furthermore, it may be that we need to "surge" US troops in Iraq in the short term to try and reestablish control and, hopefully, give the Iraqi government some room to operate. But success in Iraq is going to have a political element to it, and it will also require Iraqis to manage their own security situation. Perhaps Steele finds that plan a bit of wishful thinking, but it's more realistic than the one he offered today in the Wall Street Journal.

December 07, 2006

ISG Collides with Reality

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report issued yesterday brings to mind William F. Buckley Jr.'s statement long ago that he'd rather be governed by the first one hundred people listed in the Cambridge, Massachusetts telephone directory than by the Harvard faculty. Buckley's comment comes to mind because the ISG report has all the attributes -- and all of the failings -- of an academic study. It is both theoretically sound and thoroughly inapplicable outside the laboratories of the schools of diplomacy.

First and most importantly, the ISG recommends establishment of an " support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region. This support structure should include every country that has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq's neighbors - Iran and Syria among them." It recommends that we negotiate Iraq's future with these nations without regard for the fact that neither is willing to see Iraq able to govern, sustain and defend itself.

What the ISG appears unwilling to see is the fact that Iran and Syria have, since before April 2003, working tenaciously to destabilize Iraq and prevent democracy from taking root there. When I visited Iraq in December of last year, I was briefed by all of our top military commanders, as well as Amb. Khalilzad. With the exception of Khalilzad, all the leaders emphasized that Syria and Iran were infiltrating weapons, money and fighters into Iraq. If Syria were at all interested in a stable Iraq, why has its government refused to take any action to prevent the flow of foreign fighters, weapons and insurgent funding into Iraq, a process which continues to this day? If Iran wished for a stable Iraq, why would it be manufacturing and smuggling into Iraq the deadliest weapon our troops face, the "explosively-formed projectile" IED? And why would it be funding and controlling the activities of Moqtada al-Sadr, the murderous radical Shiite imam whose Mahdi Militia is a powerful anti-democratic force?

The ISG's recommendation to negotiate a positive role for Syria and Iran is willfully ignorant of the goals of Iran and Syria. Their interest is in American withdrawal from the region, not a stable Iraq. They do not wish stability on terms we can possibly accept. Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979. The "stability" Iran seeks in the Middle East is one that precludes any further American interference in its nuclear weapons program and in which America accepts Iran as the regional superpower. Iran is well on the way to achieving that status, which would threaten US security by asserting control of about two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and - within a few years - result in the destruction of Israel.

There will be many more aspects of the ISG that I will write about in the coming weeks. In debating its recommendations, we should remember that the theories of international diplomacy are no more than that: theories. When they collide with reality, they are usually disproved at the cost of many lives. Before we commence adopting the ISG's recommendations, they have to be tested against the facts on the ground. These recommendations - like the 9-11 Commission's - are not delivered to us from Mt. Sinai on marble tablets. They are, in sum, an academic map of the road to defeat in the global war against Islamofascism.

The Post Strikes Again

As usual, the New York Post has gone over the top for effect:


November 29, 2006

What Iran & Syria Want

On Thursday, President Bush will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in Jordan. The vast majority of the meeting will undoubtedly focus on the challenges of controlling the sectarian violence in Iraq and achieving national reconciliation, but the President should also get a thorough debriefing on Iraq's recent dealings with Iran and Syria.

Coming on the heels of Iraqi President Talabani's visit to Iran and Iraq's diplomatic normalization with Syria, President Bush has good reason to wary of these developments - and to hear what Maliki has to say about where these bilateral relationships are going.

It's clear that both Iran and Syria are trying to co-opt Iraq into their sphere on influence. Of course, the first thing Tehran and Damascus will try to get their new Iraqi friends to do is to pull the plug on the U.S. presence there. From Tehran's and Damascus' perspective, the fewer Americans in the region to check their plans for hegemony, the better.

But they also intend to use promises of peace and stability in Iraq as a bargaining chip in advancing other aspects of their agendas as well.

Iran wants to use Iraq as leverage to get the U.N. to back off pressuring Tehran over its nuclear (weapons) program. Tehran's message to the U.S. and other nuclear busybodies: If you want peace and stability in Iraq, don't push us on our nuclear program.

Syria will also try to leverage peace and stability in Iraq for an end to the U.N.'s investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus would also like a green light to re-establish its influence in Lebanon, and, perhaps, even try to get the U.S. to pressure Israel to reopen negotiations over the Golan Heights.

The fact is that if Iran and Syria are really part of the solution to the violence in Iraq, it stands to reason that they must also currently be part of the problem. And considering the trouble Tehran and Damascus are already causing in the Middle East, you have to be very careful that giving Iran and Syria a say in Iraq doesn't create more problems than it solves.

November 28, 2006

The Stakes in Iraq

Robert O'Neill is the former Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the former Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford, and Australia's preeminent scholar of international strategic studies. Last night at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, O'Neill gave a lecture titled "Prospects and Perspectives on International Security" (pdf) in which he discussed the situation in Iraq in some detail.

Here is how Professor O'Neill began his remarks:

We stand at a very testing time in terms of shaping our security environment. I do not want to be overly pessimistic. We and our forebears have come through worse situations and gone on to great periods of prosperity, relative peace and cultural achievement. But for us at this time, that happy end is by no means assured.

More importantly, here is how Profesor O'Neill described the stakes and the consequences in Iraq:

Given the result of the recent US elections, we need to think hard about the consequences of possible defeat in Iraq. To elaborate on what I said earlier, that conflict can be won only by a much more effective coalition effort, requiring a major increase in US and allied troop numbers in Iraq, substantial improvements in training and operational methods, and a much stronger civil reconstruction effort. This is not likely to happen. The probable outcomes are either a sudden descent into chaos as coalition forces are withdrawn, or a protracted civil war, overlain with an insurgency against remaining coalition forces. In the event of chaos, effective government in Iraq will cease for at least some years, during which terrorist groups will be able to concentrate, rebuild, flourish and reach out to other targets outside Iraq. Enemy forces will be heartened; recruiting will rise; funds and weapons will pour in; pressure will be exerted on regional governments friendly to the West; more young men and women who are willing to commit suicide to harm Western and Israeli interests will become available; and the oil price will rise to new heights.

Defeat in Iraq will be a serious blow to the public standing of the US and will invite other challenges to its authority. US citizens will have to be more careful of their own security both outside and inside their own country. US business abroad will feel more under threat of terrorist action.

Iran will read a message of encouragement for its intransigence in dealing with the West. It will almost certainly go ahead to produce nuclear weapons. It will exercise an overshadowing influence in Iraq, Syria, the Arab Gulf states and Israel. The lesson of US failure in Iraq will be read (perhaps wrongly) as US unwillingness to attempt regime-change in Iran. The North Koreans will probably draw similar conclusions, although with less justification than in the case of Iran because North Korea is nowhere near as strong a state. Nuclear weapons proliferation will become more difficult to control with the threat of intervention against the proliferators dismissed.

As Fouad Ajami writes, America's involvement in Iraq is "has been unimaginably difficult, its heartbreak a grim daily affair." The Bush administration has been wrong about a number of things regarding Iraq, and it bears full responsibility for underestimating the difficulty we've encountered there. However, one thing they've been right about for some time, as O'Neill and other experts continue to agree, are the stakes of the struggle and the consequences of defeat.

November 21, 2006

The Iraq Window is Closing

Eugene Robinson makes a mistake many on the left are making in interpreting the election results as a repudiation of the Iraq War and a desire to get out.

the main event is the mandate that midterm voters imposed this month, in no uncertain terms: Find a way out.

This is a common refrain among the anti-war crowd that the mid-term results were a clear message from the public to leave Iraq. The reality, however, is considerably more complicated and far from an endorsement of the get-out-of-Iraq position. If the voters were in "no uncertain terms" voting to get out of Iraq, how come one of the most liberal states in the country, where anti-war sentiment runs very strong, gave a 10-point win to the "pro-war" Independent over the "anti-war" Democrat?

As far as Iraq was concerned the public was rejecting the Bush administration's prosecution of the War these last two years. The majority of the American people were not sending a message of "find a way out," but more likely a message of "find a way to win" because what we're doing isn't working.

The hard part for the White House, the new Democratic Congress and the whole country is what if there isn't a way to win in Iraq? Or put another way, what if the nation simply isn't prepared to support what is necessary to win?

That is why you are hearing more and more calls on the right led essentially saying if we aren't going to fight and make a commitment to win we should just pack up and get out, because it is not right to the young men and women we are asking to put their lives on the line, if the country is just going to pull the plug later next year.

Bill Kristol alluded to the potential withering of GOP support this weekend on FOX News Sunday:

I think Bush has two or three months. If by the state of the union -- I agree with Brit on this -- if by the state of the union, things aren't getting better on the ground or there's not a really plausible change of tactics here at home, I am very worried that political support will crumble; not among Democrats, but among Republicans.

The window for the U.S. is closing on the Iraq battlefront. Unless there is either 1) a change of tactics and a renewed commitment to winning or 2) a substantive improvement in the security status on the ground -- Republican support for the war will crumble some time next year.

November 16, 2006

TNR's Iraq Mea Culpa

Posted today, from the editors:

At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom. But, as we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of "realism." Realism, yes; but not "realism." American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously. As we attempt to undo the damage from a war that we never should have started, our moral obligations will not vanish, and neither will our strategic needs.

November 06, 2006

Jack Plays Politics

In a post yesterday about the Military Times editorial calling for Rumsfeld's resignation I wrote:

Obviously, what's angering the troops is that a publication purporting to speak on their behalf is actually a subsidiary of Gannett Newspapers (which makes it a sister pub to USA Today, among others) that is in no way affiliated with the professional military and, according to the numerous responses I've gotten, doesn't seem to in any way represent the majority views of U.S. troops. Furthermore, given both of these things, the timing of the editorial just days before the election is viewed by many as clearly inappropriate.

Since the paper isn't associated with the U.S. military and the editorial page seems to in no way represent the views of U.S. troops, I guess it only makes sense that Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha would not only use the editorial as a political tool but also tout it as more important than the news that Saddam is going to hang:

Representative John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has become the face of his party's opposition to the war in Iraq, said the verdict was the right one but predicted it would not make a difference in this campaign. What would matter more, Mr. Murtha said, were editorials in military papers being published Monday calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"When The Army Times, The Navy Times, The Marine Corps Times, they have all said that we're not supporting the troops, that they're losing confidence with the administration, that's what's important," Mr. Murtha said, campaigning in Croydon, Pa., outside Philadelphia, for Patrick Murphy, a Democrat seeking to unseat Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick.

Since Jack Murtha often claims to have the pulse of the United States military, one has to assume that he knows the Military Times isn't part of the military and that the editorial doesn't represent the views of the troops. Thus it's hard to escape the fact Murtha is willfully misreprenting the nature and importance of the editorial to play politics before the election.

November 05, 2006

More on the Military Times Editorial

Here's the DoD's response to the Military Times editorial. The editorial has also sparked a heated discussion on the Military Times onlline forum.

Obviously, what's angering the troops is that a publication purporting to speak on their behalf is actually a subsidiary of Gannett Newspapers (which makes it a sister pub to USA Today, among others) that is in no way affiliated with the professional military and, according to the numerous responses I've gotten, doesn't seem to in any way represent the majority views of U.S. troops. Furthermore, given both of these things, the timing of the editorial just days before the election is viewed by many as clearly inappropriate.

Active duty military go out of their way to avoid getting involved in politics, and they certainly don't publicly criticize up the chain of command - especially the Secretary of Defense just days before an election in the middle of a war.

But because of the important distinctions about the Military Times business organziation mentioned above have been lost in the way this story has been reported in the MSM, the editorial by a paper bearing the name "military" appears to be a vote of no confidence in Rumsfeld by U.S. troops. It's not.

More emails:

The Army Times article is not much of a political heavy weight in terms of soldiers perceptions. Soldiers read the Army Times to get information near and dear to them - promotion lists and scores, board results and schedules, pay and uniform changes. It is not considered on the level of other media outlets, especially when they know that every item in it has to be politically correct right down to the adds. This article will probably claim that they are just tapping into the attitudes of the fighting men and women of the Army, but in reality it is a publication based out of Springfield, Virginia (just south of the DC beltway) and about as close to Washington politics as you can get. Soldiers complain, but we've been doing that since the sword and sandal era. I completely agree with the Marine Officer you've quoted. Timing prior to an election also has to be suspect. Which is the next issue I have with this story.

Robert Hodierne is not a vet. Never was. He has a 35 year resume that reads like mainstream media. Of interest he was a photographer and reporter in Vietnam, instructor at UC Berkeley and U of Massachusetts, contributor to the New York Times and Washington Post among several other newspaper and other media positions he has held. He has been the senior managing editor at Military Times since 2001 which is a business, not a government publication.

He even quotes himself on his website that "The chief spokesman for the U.S. Army in Vietnam said my story about troops refusing to fight gave aid and comfort to the enemy and "was treason."" ( I bet most soldiers reading the Army Times do not know this, but no matter. Army Times editorial will only have legs as the story resonates with other media outlets that do not care about soldier perceptions.

This is not a editorial from the Army Times per se, it is the opinion of one person using Army Times as a shield from scrutiny as a biased source.


I'm an Army Lieutenant Colonel with 18 years of active service. I served in the Gulf in 1991 as a lieutenant and have been to both Iraq and Afghanistan since 9-11. I also served on the Army Staff in the Pentagon for three years. Let me add my voice to those who have already spoken out saying that Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a superb job and needs to remain our Secretary of Defense. The Army Times certainly does not speak for me in calling for his resignation. In addition to answering 9-11 and prosecuting two major wars, he has made truly impressive changes to an otherwise unwieldy and entrenched bureaucracy in DC, improvements that none of his status quo predecessors (Aspin, Cohen) could ever have accomplished. He has made defense transformation a reality in many ways and has revamped our acquisition processes. He has supported responsive initiatives such as the creation of an office specifically dedicated to fighting the IED threat. He is tough, and tends to be uncompromising with his generals and admirals, but that is what civilian control of the military is all about. He is liked and appreciated by the troops and needs to stay on to finish his job.

By the way, if you look closely through a couple editions of Army Times I think you will see some clear trends: negative reporting, doom and gloom, anti-administration bias -- and frankly, anti-military bias. I also see far too much social advocacy against military traditions, customs and courtesies in their pages. Not exactly what you'd hope for from a so-called "military" publication, but really the only thing military about Army Times is its title. I am fed up with its content and do not buy it any more.


I've been in the Army for four years now and I have read a few issues of the Army Times. Until I read your blog entry I didn't realize they actually ran editorials. Usually I'll see the cover (which almost always seems to deal with some pay issue or promotions) and I'll flip to that story. Sometimes I'll read a story about a battle in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that's about it. From what I can tell, everyone in my office does the same thing. We don't talk about stories in the Army Times, unless they run a story about the Army Future Combat System or maybe some new weapon they're testing. I've never discussed an Army Times editorial with anyone ever.


Iv'e been in the military for about 11 years at this point, both as an enlisted man and now an officer. I read Navy Times as a source of general information and generally disagree with the editorial pages' contents.

Although I disagree with some of the Secretary's policies as far as health care is concerned (the current computerized medical record coming online is a disaster), I appreciate the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld "tells it like it is." An adverse editorial in the Navy Times won't change my opinion of him anymore than a New York Times story about President Bush will make me think less of him.

November 04, 2006

Army Times Calls For Rummy To Go

An editorial in the next issue of the Army Times will call for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation:

"Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt," the editorial says, according to an advance copy released Friday. "The time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go."

The editorial will run in the 250,000 copies of Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times and Air Force Times. The newspapers are published under the umbrella Military Times Media Group by Gannett Co. Inc., not by the U.S. military, and have been popular among American forces since World War II.

Senior Managing Editor Robert Hodierne, who also criticized the SecDef in print during the Abu Ghraib scandal, said the editorial was sparked by President Bush's recent comment that Rumsfeld is doing a "fantastic job."

So just how much influence will this editorial have? There seems to be some disagreement:

Tim Goodrich, executive director of the anti-war political action committee Iraq Veterans for Progress, who served in the Air Force in Iraq, cheered the newspapers' stance.

"This is tremendous. The Army Times is the voice of the military ... it's read by virtually everybody in the military. This is not something to be taken lightly," he said. "This is something that a majority of people in the military have wanted for a long time."

Stan Coerr, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserve and veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq who spoke at the California Republican convention in 2004, agreed that the newspaper is widely read but disagreed sharply with its stance.

"The Pentagon does not like Rumsfeld because he will not be bullied, lied to or ignored," he said.

"Secretary Rumsfeld is juggling forces on the ground, pressure from the White House, relentless media scrutiny and an angry public. Very few men could handle such a situation, and fewer still could do it without the backing of their boss," Coerr said. "He should remain. And he should continue close counsel with those on the ground to see them through the demanding times ahead."

Coerr questioned the degree of influence the Military Times papers wield, saying most troops are less concerned about political squabbles in Washington than about what's happening in front of them on the battlefield.

If there are any active duty or retired military out there who want to chime in, I'm interested to hear how much you think this editorial from the Army Times matters. Email me here.

November 03, 2006

Friedman's Analogy

Hey, here's a new one: comparing Karl Rove to a tobacco executive. Tom Freidman writes:

Everyone says that Karl Rove is a genius. Yeah, right. So are cigarette companies. They get you to buy cigarettes even though we know they cause cancer. That is the kind of genius Karl Rove is. He is not a man who has designed a strategy to reunite our country around an agenda of renewal for the 21st century -- to bring out the best in us. His "genius" is taking some irrelevant aside by John Kerry and twisting it to bring out the worst in us, so you will ignore the mess that the Bush team has visited on this country.

And Karl Rove has succeeded at that in the past because he was sure that he could sell just enough Bush cigarettes, even though people knew they caused cancer. Please, please, for our country's health, prove him wrong this time.

Silly. So silly, in fact, that if Tom Freidman's name wasn't attached to it I might easily have mistaken it for a post over at Daily Kos.

October 20, 2006

Gen. Caldwell Conference Call and Dannatt Counterpoint

Earlier this morning I participated in a conference call with MGen. Bill Caldwell, Multinational Force - Iraq spokesman. Caldwell made two interesting points.

First, the release of the militia leader, Sheikh Mazen al-Saedi - part of Moqtada al-Sadr's organization - was requested, not demanded by the Maliki government. Equally important is the fact that Saedi was arrested (at about 3:30 am on the 17th) on charges of being part of illegal violent activities against Iraqis, not for organizing or participating in attacks on Coalition troops. He added that the MNF had a special organization that was tracking the illegal militias and had detained about two dozen leaders and more than five hundred members this month alone.

There has been a lot of misreporting of what the president said to George Stephanopoulos who posed the comparison between Iraq and Vietnam (written by NYT columnist Tom Friedman). I asked Caldwell about his understanding of what the president said. He agreed with my characterization of the president's remark as being limited to comparing the enemies' attempts to influence US public opinion. Caldwell said, "We've already seen on jihadist websites that they've said US elections are coming and they want to inflict the maximum number of casualties to influence the US people" to get out of Iraq. Those saying that Bush agreed to any broader comparison between Iraq and Vietnam are reporting what they wanted to hear, not what the president said.

The other news is a counterpoint to the recent rebellion against civilian authority by British Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt I wrote about a few days ago. Dannatt, in an interview with a UK paper, blasted the Blair government's Iraq policy. Here, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker is arguing with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld over the 2008 Army budget, but he's doing it the right way.

Rumsfeld's relationship with the Army began badly when then-chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki slow-rolled Rumsfeld's plans for transforming the army into a more flexible force. When Shinseki retired, Rumsfeld reached into the ranks of retired generals to bring back Schoomaker, an old special forces hand, to lead the army and transform it under fire. But now Schoomaker thinks the Army is being shorted by about $25 billion in 2008 and Rumsfeld disagrees. Their disagreement reached a low point when the Army refused to submit a 2008 budget based on the lower number. But the disagreement is professional, not personal, and it's being handled just that way. Rumsfeld agreed that Schoomaker could take his case directly to the White House and argue with OMB to get the additional money. I'm told by a Pentagon source that one or more senior members of the Defense Department controller's office went with Schoomaker. Schoomaker, unlike Dannatt but like almost every US general officer since Douglas MacArthur, understands that civilian control of the military is essential in a democracy. It's ok to argue with the boss and be upset with his decision, but you work within the system to resolve the dispute. Though the disagreement is serious, Rumsfeld and the Army are not at war with each other. But each respects the other enough to resolve policy differences the right way.

October 17, 2006

Gen. Dannatt's Declaration

There are a lot of ways to look at the "Revolt of the Generals" that reached its high point in the Tom Ricks book, "Fiasco." As I wrote on RCP last July, some of us, including me, can't understand how anyone can think them credible when none of the six generals involved raised their concerns, as they could have and should have, through the chain of command while they are on active duty. But however you judge these generals' credibility, you have to credit them for one thing: none of them publicly rebelled against civilian authority when on active duty. Which brings us to the outrageous conduct of Gen. Richard Dannatt, the chief of staff of the British Army.

In an interview with the UK's Daily Mail, Dannatt condemned the British presence in Iraq and suggested it end quickly. Here's the money quote:

He says with great clarity and honesty that "our presence exacerbates the security problems". "I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

"History will show that a vacuum was created and into the vacuum malign elements moved. The hope that we might have been able to get out of Iraq in 12, 18, 24 months after the initial start in 2003 has proved fallacious. Now hostile elements have got a hold it has made our life much more difficult in Baghdad and in Basra.

"The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East.

"That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition."

Sir Richard adds, strongly, that we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems". "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. "As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

"That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

The problem with what Dannatt said isn't whether he's right or wrong. Britain is a democracy and national policy is made by civilians, not military officers. Military officers aren't elected: for them to dictate policy - as every American officer learns from the first day he enters ROTC, one of the military academies or officer training school - is tantamount to dictatorship. Every one of us has sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States even at the cost of our lives. Part of that is to preserve the subordination of the military to civilian command.

There is no compromise possible on civilian command. So far, British PM Tony Blair hasn't disciplined Dannatt. If he doesn't, the British general staff should resign en masse in protest. It's your duty, gentlemen.

October 12, 2006

Brit Army Chief Drops Bomb on Blair

General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff of the British Army, blasts Tony Blair (and, by association, George Bush) on Iraq in a just-released interview with the Daily Mail, saying the Brits should get out "sometime soon." More from the Daily Mail:

But it is Sir Richard's views of the situation in Iraq that will enrage Downing Street.

He says clearly we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems."

"We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear."

As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time.

"The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

"That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them." [snip]

"I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning," he said.

"The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East."

"That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naïve hope history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition."

This is not some leftwing Labour backbencher. It's the head of the army of our closest and most loyal ally in Iraq saying we should "get out sometime soon." How much this will affect the debate in the U.S. is hard to say, but it's certainly difficult to characterize Dannatt as a "cut and run" type.

October 10, 2006

Conversation with Casey

On Tuesday afternoon, I was among a small group of journalists who participated in a conference call with Gen. George Casey, commander of the Multinational Force, Iraq. Casey said that the situation in Iraq was more complex than it has been before in his 2+ years in Iraq. And he said quite a bit more.

First, Gen Casey said that the conflict in Iraq was evolving from one of the insurgents against our forces to one among the various insurgent groups. He differentiated between Sunni extremists (including the death squads) and other Sunni resistance. Added to that, of course, are the Shia militias. Casey also said that Iraq's neighbors - Syria and Iran - were "unhelpful." When I followed up on that point, he said that Syria was still a safe haven for terrorists and the primary route for foreign terrorists entering Iraq. Syria is doing nothing to stop the flow. As to Iran, Gen. Casey said he had no doubt that Iranian money and weapons were going into Iraq and that Iran was providing training to insurgents.

The Maliki government has been in place for only about 150 days, and the turnover in the highest Iraqi government posts has been a source of instability. Gen. Casey said that Maliki was properly focused on unity, security and prosperity. I asked him if Iraqi politicians were worried about American political events. He said that Iraqi politicians were aware that the patience of the American public was waning. Their understanding of that fact, he added, contributes to the sense of urgency they already have.

It's hard to forecast, from Gen Casey's remarks, how the Iraqis might react to Democratic takeover of Congress next month. Will they fall apart before the Dems start cutting the funds for the war? Or will they be forced to come together quickly if they're faced with that prospect? I wouldn't bet much on the former.

September 27, 2006

The April NIE

The April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate - about which there has been much spin and too little factual analysis - was declassified in part Tuesday at the order of the president. It followed the Sunday NYT story which began, "A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks." A more objective reading indicates that the sixteen intelligence agencies agreed that:

* Though US-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged Al-Queda and disrupted its operations the number and geographic dispersion of terrorists is increasing;

* The global terrorist movement is becoming more diffuse, adapting to the methods we're employing to fight it; and

* Europe is judged an important target by the jihadists.

More importantly, at least to the politics of the week, is the one paragraph that deals with Iraq. It says: (1) that the Iraq conflict has become a "cause celebre" for the jihadists; (2) that resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world does cultivate supporters of the jihad movement; and (3) that if jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves and are perceived as having failed, this will reduce or eliminate Iraq as a recruiting tool.

The report also says that the recent condemnations of terrorist actions by Muslim clerics signal a trend that could grow into a religious counter to the jihadist ideology.

In short, the NIE confirms what the president has been saying for months. Iraq has become a central battle in the global war against terrorists because they believe it is one. If we are defeated there, the jihadists will be strengthened enormously and - conversely - if they lose, our strength is enhanced to at least as large an extent. Democrats, such as US congressional candidate Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, are reading the NIE through a politically clouded lens. Hodes is quoted in the Tuesday Washington Post as saying, "The report underscores that the longer Bush and his enablers...keep us in Iraq, the more we undermine our own security." Actually, it says no such thing.

August 31, 2006

Note to White House - Jed Babbin

For the past day or so the Dems have been challenging the Bush administration to name any of their brethren who are talking about cutting off funds for the Iraq war. The White House should take another look at this explanation of Sen. Carl Levin's proposal, offered as an amendment to the 2007 Defense Appropriations bill.

Levin's proposal was for a phased withdrawal from Iraq and then,

"...during and after the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq, the United States will need to sustain a nonmilitary effort to actively support reconstruction, governance and a durable political solution in Iraq." (emphasis added)

Sounds like a cutoff of funds for any military support to me. When I think about 1974, Levin's proposal sends a shiver up my spine.

August 26, 2006

Moving on the War

Earlier this week John McCain made news for criticizing the war effort. Now he's making news by stressing support for it.

Embattled Republican Congressman Chris Shays is now calling to set a "timetable for the withdrawal" of U.S. troops and Joe Lieberman says he's willing to "take a look" at Shays' proposal.

Ironically enough, all of this is happening just as we're seeing improvement in the security situation in Baghdad. Columnist David Ignatius, no huge fan of the Bush administration's management of the war, recognized the progress in a column filed from Baghdad Thursday. In tomorrow's Washington Post, Ignatius files another column from Iraq in which he writes "We don't need radical new plans for federalism, or sharp deadlines for withdrawing U.S. troops, as anxious members of Congress have recently recommended."

Ignatius argues we should set deadlines for the transition to Iraqi control buttressed with local incentives for success and penalities for failure. To accomplish a successful transition, Ignatius says that "Americans need a little more patience and Iraqis a little less."

August 17, 2006

Is Iraq a Lost Cause?

The New York Times carries a very grim story about Iraq on the front page today, complete with statistics on roadside bombings and blind quotes from senior Defense Department officials and military affairs experts. From start to finish the story conjures up the idea that Iraq is an absolute lost cause.

Allow me to juxtapose the doom and gloom assessment of the New York Times with a different perspective. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson in Baghdad who is currently leading a Congressional delegation visit to Iraq. I asked him directly whether the recent shift of coalition troops to Baghdad had produced any noticeable effect on security in the capital. Secretary Nicholson responded that it was his understanding that incidents in Baghdad have decreased over the last two weeks. The delegation met with General Casey and President Talabani yesterday morning, and Nicholson characterized the current mood as "guardedly optimistic."

I asked Nicholson about the ongoing level of sectarian violence. Nicholson said that it continues to be a serious problem, but that he was impressed by the level of maturity and experience displayed by senior leaders from all three communities (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd) with whom they'd met. I also asked specifically why Muqtada al-Sadr is allowed to continue operating and whether there is any plan to deal with him directly. Nicholson answered that Sadr "must be dealt with" and that while he "doesn't cooperate well with Americans" and has a large following (including a minister in the cabinet) that is problematic, Sadr is, at least to some degree, participating in the government. In other words, Sadr has to continue to be managed and brought under control through the political process.

I asked the Secretary to address the growing perception that our Iraq policy is failing and/or evolving into an "unwinnable" situation. Nicholson said he wished Americans could visit Baghdad and see things for themselves, because he felt they would "get a much different feeling" about the situation than what they're getting from the mass media at home. Nicholson added that his impression was that the feelings were more positive today than they were when he visited a year ago. I interrupted to ask if his delegation had traveled outside the Green Zone, and he responded that they had been outside the Green Zone several times during their trip and were headed to other parts of Iraq today to assess things and visit with troops.

Two final notes on the interview. I asked about the morale of our troops. Secretary Nicholson called it "outstanding" and "extraordinary." He told a quick story about a West Point lieutenant he had just visited in the main hospital in Baghdad who had been injured by an IED, resulting in his 3rd Purple Heart. He said the soldier told him how passionately he still feels about the work his unit continues to do in Iraq.

I asked whether there was any discussion about changing troop levels in the future, either up or down. Nicholson said the subject had been brought up by members of the delegation and said the answer is "it depends" but added that "it sounds like it's possible we could have troop draw downs" in the near future because coalition forces are wrapping up their training of the Iraqi Army, which is performing very well and continuing to assume more direct responsibility for territory and operations. Nicholson added, however, that the Iraqi police force, which is a critical component to establishing consistent, long-term local security, hasn't come together as quickly and much more work needs to be done bringing them up to the same level of competency as the Iraqi Army.

For more detail on current operations on the ground in Baghdad, go read Major General William Caldwell's briefing yesterday. Caldwell says they are "cautiously optimistic" about progress so far and reports that they "have a positive trend happening" in neighborhoods like Dura, Shula and Amariyah:

Progress thus far in the three areas that we're operating in: Nine hundred tons of trash have been removed from those three neighborhoods already, with more being removed each day. Kilometer after kilometer of barriers emplaced, building what some may call the semblance of a gated community, affording them greater security with ingress and egress routes established and manned by Iraqi security forces with coalition forces in support to ensure that the people have a safe neighborhood to live in.

More than 7,000 homes and businesses have been cleared.

Nineteen mosques have been cleared. They have detained 47 persons. Nearly 300 weapons have been seized. Eight weapon caches have been found. More than 340 weapons that Iraqi citizens are authorized to have in their homes have been properly registered and remain there with them for their personal security.

Over 700 local citizens are currently employed, with more being employed each day. The economic piece, so vital to what we are all attempting to achieve here in the Baghdad area, is starting to take place. We see new stores in Dura opening each day. Residents tell us that within Dura itself just recently, two banks have opened that have not been opened for over two years, and Iraqi security forces are down there helping provide the security necessary so that they can function in a safe environment.

The district advisory council chairman is pushing members to take responsibility and to help clean up their neighborhoods. The district advisory council is working to motivate the local population to work with both the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces operating there.

Humanitarian assistance packages have been passed to the neighborhood advisory councils for them to decide where the greatest need is within their neighborhood, and to provide that to their citizens. Medical assistance teams have been formed and will start operating in these areas later this week.

National police and coalition force commanders are engaging with the population, both in person and by radio, to explain what's going on for the operation so that people understand what is attempting to be accomplished and how they will make the difference about what they do.

Taken together, the impressions from General Caldwell and Secretary Nicholson give a much different picture than the one provided in the New York Times today - and on most days, for that matter. If even you discount Nicholson's comments for administration spin, or assume that Caldwell is putting the best possible face on the security operations in Baghdad, you're still left to confront the fact that some progress is being made. Instead of hearing about it, however, we get the relentless negativity of the media, epitomized by the Times story today. The situation in Iraq is serious, no doubt about it. But it is far from hopeless. U.S. troops, and Iraqi forces and leaders haven't given up hope that Iraq can be saved. We shouldn't either.

August 14, 2006

Is It About Iraq or Not?

Bob Herbert (Times Delete) seizes on the London-based bomb plot to reiterate mainstream liberal belief that Iraq was 1) a colossal mistake 2) a "diversion" from the real War on Terror and 3) a catalyst for spawning waves of new jihadis around the globe. Herbert writes:

The disrupted plot to blow up as many as 10 passenger jets bound for the United States was a reminder, as if we needed a reminder, that the threat of terror remains both real and imminent. And it was a reminder that the greatest danger to Americans here at home continues to be an attack by a group affiliated with, or inspired by, Al Qaeda.

That being the case, what in the world are we doing in Iraq? [snip]

The truth, of course, is that the demolition derby policies of the Bush administration are creating enemies of the United States, not defeating them. It cannot be said often enough, for example, that the catastrophic war in Iraq, which has caused the deaths of tens of thousands, was a strategic mistake of the highest magnitude. It diverted our focus, energy and resources from the real enemy, Al Qaeda and its offshoots, and turned Iraq, a country critically important to the Muslim imagination, into a spawning ground for terrorists.

And so it must be true that if we didn't have the "demolition derby policies" of the Bush administration (i.e. Iraq), we'd have fewer enemies, fewer jihadis and therefore less terrorism.

Last night I was a guest on Bruce DuMont's radio show, and we spent the second hour of the program listening to Bruce interview Gregory D. Lee about the terrorist connection with Pakistan. Lee served as the head of the DEA's Karachi office and worked throughout Pakistan between 1994-1998. His biography also includes this:

In 1995, while assigned at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, he [Gregory Lee] directly participated in the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and later testified at his trial. At the time of his arrest, Yousef was plotting to destroy 12 US airliners simultaneously over the Pacific Ocean, which would have caused the deaths of over 3,600 people, more than that experienced on 9/11.

Indeed, after successfully bombing the WTC towers in 1993, Ramzi Yousef fled to Pakistan where he spent the next two years (allegedly with the help of Khalid Sheik Muhammed) hatching a terrorist plot almost identical to the one foiled last week. That was 3 years into Bill Clinton's first term, 6 years before other members of al-Qaeda successfully flew jetliners into the Twin Towers, and 8 years before the first coalition soldier stepped foot in Iraq.

The point is that while Iraq is a vital front in the War on Terror and part of a broader, long-term strategy in the global struggle against a rising violent fundamentalist strain of Islam (see Michael Gerson's superb sketch of the issue in Newsweek) it's too easy, too convenient, and fundamentally wrong to say that Bush's policies are responsible for causing more terrorism.

August 08, 2006

A General Fed Up With The MSM - Jed Babbin

There is so much mis-reporting about the successes of Iraq, even our generals sometimes get fed up sufficiently to write a letter to one of the offending papers. The Washington Post is one of the chief offenders, and has been for years. (If you have any doubts about it, see the ravings of WaPo Pentagon reporter Tom Ricks posted in yesterday's PowerLine.)

The latest offense by the Washington Post is another example of news manufacturing concocting stories in contravention of facts. Here's the letter Gen. Bill McCoy - who's in charge of construction projects in Iraq -- sent to the Washington Post on Sunday. They haven't printed it yet. Will they ever?

Sunday, 06 August 2006

Maj. Gen. William H. McCoy Jr.
To the editor of the Washington Post,

After spending almost three days traveling with and being interviewed by one of the co-writers of a very poorly written article ("Much Undone in Rebuilding Iraq, Audit says", Washington Post, August 2, 2006), I'm astounded at how distorted a good story can become and what agenda drives a paper to see only the bad side to the reconstruction effort here in Iraq. Instead of distorting the facts, let's get to the truth.

There is no flailing reconstruction effort in Iraq. The United States has rightfully invested $20 billion in Iraq's reconstruction - in the opinion of many here, we should do more. This massive undertaking is part of a wider strategy for success in Iraq that involves the establishment of a democratic government, the development of professional Iraqi security forces, and the restoration of basic essential services and facilities to promote the sustained economic development of this new country.

Yes, this reconstruction effort has been challenged occasionally by security, poor materials, poor construction program management practices, and in some cases poor performance by contractors for a variety of reasons. The Department of State and Defense professionals over here, many of them civilian volunteers, and the Iraqi associates who risk their lives every day to have a future that approximates what America has today, continuously see the challenges and develop and implement solutions. This is a core part of managing construction anywhere in the world and, while somewhat more complex here, it is successfully being accomplished. Have we been guilty of poor planning and mismanagement? The answer to that is, at times, yes. But professionals constantly strive to overcome challenges that arise and we are succeeding and making Iraq better every day!

The heart of the article rests on several old statements by the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction which infer these are recent or recurring problems. The SIGIR knows that, in fact, program management, construction quality, progress, and accountability have all improved significantly since the early days of the effort some three years ago. Yet, the reporters' "project problems" comments infer that these are recent issues. Such actions inflame public opinion in the United States and create resentment by the very people so many conscientious Americans over here are trying to help here in Iraq and worse, embolden our very enemies.

When I arrived here a year ago we planned to complete 3,200 reconstruction projects. Today we are focusing on the completion of 3,700 projects. We've started 3,500 of those projects and completed almost 2,800...and work is continuing! This is not a failure to meet our commitment to the Iraqi people as the article states. In some cases we are not executing the same projects - we have changed to meet new priorities of three government changes in Iraq since our arrival - but in all cases, rest assured, these projects will be completed. We discussed this at length with the reporter...and he was taking notes and recording our conversations.

We told the reporter that, while 141 health clinic construction projects were taken away from a U.S. contractor who failed to perform, they were re-awarded to Iraqi contractors who are already demonstrating progress, have improved quality and shown their great desire to work with the United States to help Iraq improve ... and they are doing so phenomenally!

We did talk to the reporter about on electricity. Three-quarters of Iraq gets twice as much electricity today as they did before the war. Furthermore, we are working with the Minister of Electricity to improve the situation in Baghdad daily and have doubled the hours of power from four to eight in the capitol in the last six months in spite of the fact that demand is markedly increased with Iraqis' new ability to buy personal electrical products.

What is truly amazing to me is that we took the reporter to the Nasiriyah prison project and, while it is true that we terminated the prime U.S. contractor for failure to perform, the Iraqi sub-contractor continues to work there (now directly for us) and his progress and quality have improved significantly ... and he saw that! We are not turning unfinished work over to the Iraqis as he stated in his article; we are fulfilling the U.S. commitment to the people of Iraq and using Iraqis to do it!

The reporter didn't tell you about the hundreds of dedicated military and civilian professionals he saw over here working to make Iraq better, or the Iraqis who come to work every day at their own peril because they believe in what we, and they, are accomplishing together.

He failed to tell you about Aseel or Salah who worked for the Corps of Engineers since we arrived in 2003, because they wanted to make their country like ours, but who were recently brutally murdered in the streets because they worked for the Americans.

He never wrote about the Water Treatment Plant he visited that will provide fresh potable water to over half a million people in southern Iraq in just two more months, or the one in northern Iraq that is providing water for the 330,000 citizens of Irbil.

He never told folks back home about the thousands of children that are now in 800 new or rebuilt schools, or about oil production now being back to pre-war levels and getting better everyday, or raw sewage being taken out of the streets and put back in the pipes where it belongs, or about the thousands of miles of new roads, or post offices, police stations or courthouses or... well, he just left a great deal out now, didn't he?


Perhaps it's because some in the press don't want the American people to know the truth and prefer instead to only report the negative aspects of the news because "it sells papers."

We deserve better from those who claim the protection of the Constitution we are fighting to support and defend.

America, don't give up. You are doing much better over here than all too many of your press will tell you. If you are tired of fighting for freedom and democracy for those who so strongly long for the country we have, then think of the alternatives for a moment. Iraq will be better for our efforts and so will the world. And you are making it happen. Be proud and keep supporting this vital effort. It is the most important thing America can do.

Thank you. I invite you and your staff to come over at any time to get the facts. I took a risk with Mr. Mosher and obviously got what I consider to be a very unbalanced representation of what he saw, personally. But I still believe in general in the press and will always be open to helping you tell a balanced story.

Essayons! Deliverance!

Maj. Gen. Bill McCoy
Commanding General
Gulf Region Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Multi-National Force-Iraq

August 06, 2006

Iraq is Vietnam, Except When It Isn't

Given that the left has been pushing the "Iraq-is-a-Vietnam-like-quagmire" storyline since about May 2003, I found this passage in Dan Balz's article today discussing the potential political implications of a Lamont victory for the antiwar left rather humorous:

Still, many party moderates say they see worrisome parallels to what happened to the Democrats during Vietnam, when they opposed an unpopular war but paid a price politically for years after because of a perception the party was too dovish on national security. [snip]

But leaders of the net-roots activists, and some party strategists, argue that as antiwar sentiment spreads Democrats stand to gain politically by aggressively challenging Bush's war policies. Parallels to Vietnam are inaccurate, they say, because of the nature of an Iraq war that has become a low-level sectarian civil war. [italics added]

In other words, Iraq is Vietnam, except when it isn't. We'll know soon enough whether the netroots are the cutting-edge of antiwar activism sweeping the nation or, to paraphrase Marshall Wittmann, just a bunch of "McGovernites with modems."

August 04, 2006

Political Video of the Day

The Hillary vs. Rumsfeld showdown from yesterday:

The highlight, around the 5 minute mark, is when -- after a long tirade from Sen. Clinton -- Rumsfeld begins his response: "My goodness ... "

As always, send nominations to:

Transcript below the fold, via Raw Story:

Continue reading "Political Video of the Day" »

August 03, 2006

Where's Harry Truman? - Larry Kudlow

The Republican Congress will be blamed for the widening corruption problems endemic to the Iraq War. It could be another nail in the GOP's election year coffin.

Today's WSJ story by Yochi J. Dreazen "Audit of Iraq Reconstruction Finds Corruption Worsening" is a very tough story that suggests a breakdown of Congressional oversight. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen's latest quarterly audit estimates $4 billion per year corruption costs in Iraq. The story goes on to report that "the Bush administration continues to wind down its ambitious Iraq reconstruction program, which has spent ten of billions of dollars on rebuilding efforts that have largely failed to restore basic services such as water or electricity to pre-war levels."

Oil smuggling continues to siphon off revenues. U.S. Comptroller General David Walker says 10 percent of Iraq's refined fuels and 30 percent of its imported fuels were being stolen. Additionally, Mr. Bowen concludes that "the Bush administration's overall handling of Iraq contracting -- from relying on no-bid contracts even when major fighting had ended, to failing to standardize contracting regulations to help prevent fraud -- was deeply flawed." He goes on to say that the U.S. has not provided proper contracting and procurement support necessary to manage reconstruction efforts begun three years ago. And he also sites widespread mismanagement among competing U.S. government agencies.

Again, reports like this will damage Republican Congressional management and oversight of the Iraq war. Poll after poll shows that American voters are not happy about Iraq for any number of reasons. Most of the media commentary focuses on the White House and the Pentagon, but Congress plays a key role through its oversight functions. If more stories like this circulate in the media, Congress will be blamed.

When Harry Truman was an unknown senator from Missouri during WWII, he chaired hearings that rooted out corruption in various war-related contracts among defense suppliers. Truman made a real name for himself doing this. This is a key reason why FDR put him on the ticket in 1944.

Where is today's Harry Truman in Congress?

I say all this as a war hawk and a war supporter. I want to win this war. I do not want to cut and run. I agree with President Bush's basic mission of spreading democracy and freedom to the Middle East.

But after three democratic elections in Iraq, it does not seem that we are winning this war. And if we are not winning it, then one has to worry about the possibility that we may lose it. And that would be a very bad thing.

July 26, 2006

Democrats Should Go To Maliki Speech - Brad Carson

Today, I received an email from a good friend who now works in Baghdad, trying to fix the mess that has become our Iraq effort. Now, like others, he's away from his family for many months, with the only reward the satisfaction that comes from trying to improve the world around him.

The impetus for his email was the call from many Democrats -- and some Republicans like Arlen Specter -- to boycott the speech of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki because of his denunciation of Israel's attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon. Democrats are circulating a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert asking that the speech be cancelled until al-Maliki apologizes.

My friend in Baghdad writes:

"This may be good politics for some, but it is very bad policy and detrimental to our efforts in Iraq. There is nothing Maliki could say other than things against Israel and stay in office. Even Jalal Talibani, the Iraqi President who is a secular Kurd, and who is almost certainly very fearful of radical Islamic movements and who is definitely pro-America and would all but certainly like to see Hezb'Allah destroyed, has denounced Israel. The #1 thing Maliki has to do in the US is convince the US public and Congress to support Iraq for another couple of years. If a sizable number of Dems boycott the speech, they may do substantial harm to what all recognize as our National interests of helping Iraq succeed."

This strikes me as just about right. It doesn't compromise our friendship with Israel to support al-Maliki, even if domestic politics requires him to engage in rhetoric that we might find unpleasant. It is America's -- and Israel's -- interest to see al-Maliki succeed. And that is true whether or not you thought the Iraq invasion was justified to begin with.

July 22, 2006

Milton and Rose

Don't miss the OpinionJournal interview with Milton and Rose Friedman (linked on the main page). The distinguished couple, it seems, has some differences on Iraq:

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman--listening to her husband with an ear cocked--was now muttering darkly.

Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!" Rose: "You count it as aggression if it's against the people, not against the monster who's ruling them. We don't agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don't agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously--such as, I don't want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out--but big issues, this is the first one!" Milton: "But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it." Rose: "And we will!"

And, I know RCPers will want to read this, they also go into immigration a bit. (Milton: "In principle, you ought to have completely open immigration. But with the welfare state it's really not possible to do that.")

Securing Baghdad

Our top general in Iraq said yesterday coalition forces will be refocusing their efforts on securing Baghdad:

"The situation with sectarian violence in Baghdad is very serious," Gen. John P. Abizaid of the Army, the head of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Friday. "The country can deal with the insurgency better than it can with the sectarian violence, and it needs to move decisively against the sectarian violence now."

The new Iraqi government announced last month that it was stepping up security efforts in Baghdad. The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who led Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, also prompted hopes that the tide of violence might subside.

But an intensifying cycle of sectarian attacks and revenge killings by Sunni and Shiite groups have engulfed the city. Many residents have been fleeing the capital. Two months after the new Iraq government took office, the security gains that "we had hoped for have not been achieved," General Abizaid acknowledged.

Let's hope this shift brings the desired result of taming the sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki will be in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to meet with President Bush and also with members of Congress in what one White House aide described as a "roll up your sleeves" type of visit.

Maliki continued to push ahead with efforts of national reconciliation yesterday, announcing the formation of a 30-member commission that will begin holding hearings and drawing up the details of the plan.

July 18, 2006

Iraq Continues to Boil

The news in Iraq continues to darken. There has been some progress, yes, but also a spate of horrific violence that suggests the Maliki government may have lost its grip, at least temporarily, on shepherding forward a fragile political peace and process of national reconciliation. This dispatch from Saturday's Times of London painted an extremely discouraging picture, as does news this morning of large, military style executions in Mahmudiyah yesterday.

Last week at the Center For Strategic and International Studies, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad spoke at length about the numerous challenges we continue to face in Iraq, including the "significant" sectarian violence in Baghdad, the need for more Iraqi police, the influence of Iran, the need to reform the Interior Ministry, and more. Khalizad started his speech with an important and measured assessment of where we are:

I'll give my bottom line up-front: I believe Americans, while remaining tactically patient about Iraq, should be strategically optimistic. Most important, a major change, a tectonic shift has taken place in the political orientation of the Sunni Arab community. A year ago, Sunni Arabs were outside of the political process and hostile to the United States. They boycotted the January 2005 elections, and were underrepresented in the Transitional National Assembly. Today, Sunni Arabs are full participants in the political process with their representation in the National Assembly now proportional to their share of the population. Also, they have largely come to see the United States as an honest broker in helping Iraq's communities come together around a process and a plan to stabilize the country.

Moreover, al Qaeda in Iraq have been significantly weakened during the past year. This resulted not only from the recent killing of Zarqawi, but also from the capture or killing of a number of other senior leaders, and the creation of an environment in which it is more difficult and dangerous for al Qaeda in Iraq.

These are fundamental and positive changes. Together they have made possible the inauguration of Iraq's first-ever government of national unity with non-sectarian security ministers, agreements on the rules for decision-making on critical issues, and on the structure of institutions of the executive branch and a broadly agreed-upon program. They have also enabled political progress that resulted in the recent announcement of Prime Minister Maliki of his government's national reconciliation and dialogue project.

However, at the same time, the terrorists have adapted to this success by exploiting Iraq's sectarian fault line. A year ago, terrorism and the insurgency against the coalition and the Iraqi security forces were the principal source of instability. Particularly since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in February, violent sectarianism is now the main challenge. This sectarianism is the source of frequent tragedies on the streets of Baghdad.It's imperative for the new Iraqi government to make major progress in dealing with this challenge in the next six months. The prime minister understands this fact.

I'd also point out this story in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Rick Larson is a Democrat from Washington's 2nd District who voted against the war Iraq but who disagrees with his House colleagues about setting an arbitrary withdrawal date.

Larsen recently returned from his third trip to Iraq where he got a first-hand look at operations there, despite being confined to the Green Zone with sectarian violence rising in the city. The PI reports that, "Despite his limited view, Larsen is convinced progress is being made, though it is slow and remaking Iraq is a complex problem."

Larsen also provides one of the most apt descriptions of the difficulty of our current situation:

"Pieces are in place to move forward but there is a ton of work left to do and not all of it is ours," he said, referring to the need for the Iraqi government to unify its factions, to build a credible army and effective police force.

"Our problem is, we're just trying to be a lid on the boiling pot and trying to get people to turn the knob down to low in order to create some room for this reconciliation process to move forward."

Larsen said Iraq will succeed only when its fractured political system can solidify. That, he said, requires a cultural shift that takes time.

Iraq is certainly boiling at the moment. So long as the institutions comprising the new government hold together and the Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds continue to stay involved in the political process, the pot won't boil over into all out civil war. But without improved security in Baghdad, there's no telling how long the fragile coalition government can hold up against the constant pressure.

July 13, 2006

More Muthanna

On Monday I mentioned the importance of the impending transfer of security in the Iraqi province of Muthanna. The transfer officially took place today.

Here's a snippet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's prepared remarks for the ceremony, focusing on the importance of success:

God forbid, if any failure in this experience occurs, I think this will lead to a big catastrophe and disappointment, which may affect all the process which we pursue in order to complete the full handover of security. This step requires the maximum state of harmony and cooperation between the governing officials and civil society organizations, with the tribes, clerics and all communities. You should work from now on to unite the lines and find an environment which results in leading to the success of this step.

Be aware that those who want vandalism, and who want to prevent security handover and success of political experience and Iraqi national unity, will spare no effort to undermine this step. Yet, by your will, integration, patience and attention, God willing, we will embrace this step and cut the hands which want to vandalize this area, which will be an important turning point in the history of Iraq.

Keep your eye on what happens in Muthanna.

July 10, 2006

A Huge Step in Iraq

muthanna.gifMaj. Gen. William B. Caldwell held a press briefing today discussing the impending turnover of security forces in the Muthanna province in southern Iraq. Caldwell described it as a "huge step", and I don't think that's in any way an overstatement.

Muthanna will be the first province in Iraq to assume total control of its security forces: all mutlinational forces will withdraw from urban areas and take on a supporting role, while the local police will assume full responsibility and be under the direct control of Muthanna's governor. In addition to being another sign of slow but steady progress in Iraq, Muthanna also represents an important test case for the future transition of the rest of the country's security forces.

General Caldwelll stressed that the transition to "provincial Iraqi control has many long and difficult days ahead" and also that it's not something that will be rushed to accommodate political concerns:

The transfer of security responsibility in Muthanna province remains a very real and tangible beginning to a new phase in the history of Iraq. Take note: This is just the first province of 18 that will go through this process; a process that is not driven by any timeline other than the readiness of leaders and the people of each Iraqi province. Muthanna now begins that journey. Transitions to provincial control are conditions-based. They can neither be rushed nor fabricated, but they can be crafted by diligence, stewardship, patience and the vision of the Iraqi people.

As you can see from the graphic above showing security assessments in Iraq for May, this is going to be a huge, arduous undertaking. But a successful transition in Muthanna will be a tremendous first step down that road.

June 30, 2006

Occupation Lite

That's what Charles Krauthammer calls our policy in Iraq:

The most serious misconception had nothing to do with troop levels or whether to disband an army that had already disbanded itself. It had to do with gauging Sunni intentions. Decades of iron rule over the Shiites and Kurds had left the Sunnis militantly unreconciled to any other political order. [snip]

For better or worse, we chose occupation lite. The insurgency continues, and it is not going to be defeated militarily. But that does not mean we lose. Insurgencies can be undone by co-optation. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given that his life is literally on the line in making such judgments, one should give his view some weight.

He intends to wean away elements of the insurgency by giving them a stake in the new Iraqi order. These Sunni elements -- unreconciled tribal leaders and guerrilla factions -- may well decide that with neither side having very good prospects of complete victory, accepting a place and some power in the new Iraq is a better alternative than perpetual war.

The Bush administration is firmly behind this policy. And who is sniping at it from the sidelines? Democratic senators, fresh from having voted for troop withdrawal rather than victory as our objective in Iraq, led the charge to denounce any sort of amnesty for insurgents who had killed Americans.

Apart from the hypocrisy, there is the bizarre logic: Is the best way to honor the sacrifice of those who have died in Iraq to decree an impotent, completely hypothetical policy of retribution? (Who, after all, is going to bell the cat?) Or is it to create conditions for precisely the kind of Iraq -- self-governing and internally reconciled -- that these courageous soldiers were fighting for?

June 23, 2006

Is Helen Thomas a Lapdog?

Eric Boehlert is at it again, pushing the laughable and tendentious theme of his new book that the media are just "lapdogs" for the Bush administration:

It's been a head-scratching spectacle this week to watch Democrats in the Senate debate war resolutions that would press the administration to begin bringing troops home, and then be depicted in the press as the likely losers in the unfolding political battle. Losers because Democrats are "divided" (New York Times), "struggling for consensus" (Washington Post), and "squabbling among themselves" (Knight Ridder), as opposed to Republicans who appear unified behind Bush's 'stay the course' Iraq policy. (Democrats weak and confused, Republicans strong and resolute. Does the press ever got tired of that manufactured storyline?)

Boehlert calls this the press accepting "the GOP spin," as if pointing out the obvious is somehow falling into some devious Rovian trap.

Here's some more GOP spin: Democrats are "openly struggling with a lot of the difficult issues." Oops. That's Senator Hillary Clinton today. Okay, so maybe liberals like Boehlert think she really is a Republican who's on Karl Rove's talking points distribution list.

More GOP spin here: Democrats are "leaderless," "speaking in a cacophony," and need to "get their act together." That's lapdog Helen Thomas, writing in the Seattle PI this morning. Granted, Thomas is arguing from the other side of the equation - urging Democrats to be more united and resolute in standing up to the Bush administration - but her argument is basically the same: Democrats are "divided," they are "squabbling among themselves" and they do, in fact, look "weak and confused," especially when it comes to the issue of Iraq.

Boehlert is frustrated (quite understandably, if you ask me) that Democrats, despite having public opinion moderately in their favor (at least on paper) about the war in Iraq, won't stand up and vote together to withdraw from Iraq because they fear the political repercussions. And rightly so.

There was absolutely nothing stopping Senate Democrats from voting in favor of John Kerry's amendment the other day to "redeploy" our troops in Iraq - yet 32 Democrats voted against it. And had all Senate Democrats stood up in favor of the Kerry amendment, Boehlert would no doubt have seen the sort of press headlines he so desperately craves: "Democrats united on 'Redeploying' Troops in Iraq." Or something like that.

What's really driving Boehlert crazy is that he knows (as does everyone else in America that follows politics closely at all) that most Senate Democrats really do want to vote for something like the Kerry amendment. If the vote on the Kerry amendment had been conducted by secret ballot, almost every single Democrat in the Senate would have voted in favor (and maybe a few Republicans, too). But because Senators can't vote by secret ballot, because they have to stand up, be counted, and ultimately be held accountable for their decisions by voters in their respective states, most Democrats couldn't vote in favor of the Kerry amendment. They're divided, and they're struggling. It's a political reality. And it's ludicrous to call the press "lapdogs" for pointing out such a basic fact.

June 22, 2006

About That WMD

Such is the nature of the U.S. news media that a seemingly substantial revelation about WMD in Iraq is ignored by most major media outlets and gets A10 placement in the Washington Post.

It also says something about the nature of our politics these days that the news has sent the right half of the blogosphere into a frenzy of speculation about why it is only coming to light now while the left half of the blogosphere, from what I can tell, seems completely disinterested and concerned with more important matters.

The Most Essential John Kerry

From this morning's Note, John Kerry summarizes the state of the current Democratic Party:

Trying to battle the naysayers, Sen. John Kerry told CNN's Anderson Cooper last night that Democrats are "unified on the most essential ingredient, which is the failure of this administration, their lack of honesty with the American people about what is really happening in Iraq. We're unified about the fact that you need to begin redeployment of American forces now. I think there is a unity in moving in a new direction."

First the bold: Yes, being unified on the general concept of thinking the Bush administration has screwed up is the "most essential" issue facing America today. Very inspiring. It's a wonder how he lost in '04.

Now the italic: This simply isn't true. If there were unity about "redeployment" (a.k.a. retreat), there wouldn't be a debate on the Democratic side. They'd each come up with a figure (1 month, 8 months, 3 months), average them out, and there's your Democratic resolution on Iraq. There's actually disunity, most prominently featuring the party's likely '08 standard bearer.

It is truly amazing watching the Democrats do all they can to throw their best chance at taking back Congress in 12 years.

June 20, 2006

Man Doesn't Bite Dog

Over at NRO, Michael Ledeen seems to think it should be news when our troops don't massacre women and children.

Has he thought that one through?

June 19, 2006

Is Sullivan Serious?

OK, I'm not here to defend torture, but can Andrew Sullivan and the reader he quotes approvingly here really say what they're saying with straight faces?:

The Captured Soldiers

All we can do apart from searching for them is pray for them. But Rude Pundit has some thoughts about what we'll say if we discover that they have been tortured. Money quote:

What will our government do? What could it do? Could it condemn the actions as not abiding by the Geneva Conventions? Could it call the actions "torture"? Could it demand accountability? Could it demand that the soldiers be treated as POWs? Could it simply say, "Well, we don't do that shit ... anymore"?

No it couldn't. Pray for the safe rescue of the soldiers - and for the president who abandoned Geneva.

Right. Because the terrorists have adjusted their level of atrocity based on American policy. Just like they attacked us on September 11 because of Israel and the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

Just ask Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, Tom Fox, and the countless others slaughtered by the Islamist thugs.

We shun torture to preserve our own dignity as a society, not because we expect mercy from the enemy. They will show us none.

To pretend otherwise is naive and morally blind.

UPDATE: Sullivan clarifies a bit here.

Murtha's Fuzzy Math

Congressman John Murtha continues to make a fool of himself by suggesting we can effectively fight the terrorist insurgency in Iraq by "redeploying" our troops to a military base in Japan. Here's what he told Tim Russert yesterday in the course of arguing that we don't need a presence in Iraq to conduct the sort of quick-strike missions like the one that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

REP. MURTHA: So--and we don't have to be right there. We can go to Okinawa. We, we don't have--we can redeploy there almost instantly. So that's not--that's, that's a fallacy. That, that's just a statement to rial [sic] up people to support a failed policy wrapped in illusion.

MR. RUSSERT: But it'd be tough to have a timely response from Okinawa.

REP. MURTHA: Well, it--you know, they--when I say Okinawa, I, I'm saying troops in Okinawa. When I say a timely response, you know, our fighters can fly from Okinawa very quickly.

They can? The two 500-lb bombs that killed Zarqawi were dropped by F-16 fighter aircraft. According to the U.S. military:

In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point.

Okinawa is 4,899 miles from Baghdad. Do the math.

Murtha also continued to play fast and loose with certain poll data points. He once again said "80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there" a claim which many people questioned and which was eventually sourced by the liberal Think Progress to a single poll question from March 2006 contained in this report put out by the Brookings Institution. The question is worded "do you approve the government endorsing a timeline for U.S. withdrawal." Not to be a stickler, but Iraqis endorsing a "timeline for withdrawal" is not quite the same as saying they "want us out of there."

Another example: Murtha stated flatly to Russert yesterday, "The public is two-to-one against what we're doing, and they want a change in direction." That was news to me, because I distinctly remember the latest NBC/WSJ poll results on the question of whether Iraq was worth it or not: 40% said 'yes,' 52% said 'no.' Same thing with the most recent CNN poll (54% said the Iraq war was a mistake, 42% said it was not) and the latest USA Today/Gallup poll (51% say mistake, 46% not). You do not need an advanced degree in mathematics to know these numbers aren't even close to two-to-one.

So where did Murtha get his "2-1" ratio? It looks like he cherry picked it from the latest CBS News poll in which 33% responded the war in Iraq was "worth it" and 62% said it was "not worth it." As you can see, however, the CBS numbers are by far the worst of the entire batch of polls - which is no doubt why Murtha chose to cite them. Ironically, the next question on the CBS survey asks the following: "Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?" Forty-four percent said we did the right thing, 51% said we should have stayed out.

Congressman Murtha is free to spin the absurd notion of pulling out of Iraq as a simple "change of direction" as he did yesterday, but at least he could do it without misstatements and mischaracterizations.

June 14, 2006

Hadji Girl: The Aftermath

Little Green Footballs posts the "Hadji Girl" video (of a Marine singing about an ambush in Iraq and using a little Iraqi girl as a human shield) that is causing such a stir. YouTube apparently has removed the video "due to terms of use violation," as the message on the Web site says. (This is very bad policy on YouTube's part. If it's going to be a useful source of news and information it can't censor.)

The conservative closing of ranks over this incident is perhaps understandable. A large segment of the media wants to use incidents like Abu Ghraib and the alleged crimes at Haditha to undermine support for the Iraq war.

But this video is at best bad PR, and at worst a bit sick. Yes, as LGF points out about 10 times, the song's lyrics make it clear that the insurgents kill the little girl in question -- but why is this lyric a big laugh line?:

So I grabbed her little sister and pulled her in front of me.

As the bullets began to fly

The blood sprayed from between her eyes

And then I laughed maniacally

There's a difference between pre-judging Marines who are over in Iraq risking their lives for blowing off a little steam with some very dark humor and thinking that the American war effort doesn't need any more black eyes at home or on the international stage.

The Marine in the video did the right thing by apologizing. That should probably be the end of it. But if we're in a PR war as well as a hot war with the Jihadis, as a broad consensus on the Left and Right agrees we are, it's not an unpatriotic or "blame the troops" mindset to find incidents like this disturbing and in need of some corrective action.

June 09, 2006

Covering Zarqawi

Just how left wing is the editorial page of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune? So left wing, in fact, that the editors decided to adapt a CNN interview with Michael Berg - the pacifist, Bush-hating father of Nick Berg who was beheaded by Zarqawi in May 2004 - to run as a piece of commentary on the op-ed page today. To be fair, the editors did manage to squeeze out an editorial admitting - albeit begrudgingly - that the "rough justice" delivered to Zarqawi yesterday was a good thing.

nypost_zarqawi.gif nydn_zarqawi.jpgAt the other end of the spectrum we have the New York Post and the New York Daily News, both of which carry full page color pictures of a dead Zarqawi on their covers, with the Post adding an extra, humorous, but politically incorrect touch with a speech bubble coming out of Zarqawi's mouth that says, "warm up the virgins."

The Post's headline story runs under the title "Evil Zarqawi Blown to Hell" and the Daily News carries a very similar front-pager under the headline "Zarq is Blown Right To Hell."

The Star-Tribune, however, pulls down a wire story from Newsday for its headline coverage ("Al-Zarqawi was betrayed") and devotes its own reporting manpower (in the person of James Rosen from the paper's Washington D.C. bureau) to producing a 742-word companion piece under the headline "But What About Osama?" As the title suggests, the tone and tenor of Rosen's piece is "yeah, but..."

For terrorism experts, though, Bin Laden is still Public Enemy No. 1.

"It's a good thing to have gotten Al-Zarqawi, but it doesn't end the insurgency in Iraq, and it certainly doesn't bring us any closer to finding Bin Laden," said Charles Pena, author of a new book on terrorism and an analyst with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy in Washington. [snip]

"In the Iraqi context, the raid against Zarqawi is important, but in terms of the global jihad, it doesn't matter. But Bin Laden's death would matter in the global jihad landscape. Bin Laden started the entire organization. He has been the symbolic figure for global jihad."

The inability of U.S. and Pakistani forces to capture Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri, she said, "is very disconcerting to intelligence sources fighting the war on terrorism, and it also continues to provide inspiration" to their followers.

The Post and the Daily News may be over-the-top tabloids trying to sell papers at the heart of Ground Zero, but at least they seem generally happy about the fact that we just snuffed out one of the worst terrorists on the planet. The Star-Tribune, on the other hand, seems able to muster only a bare minimum of enthusiasm and unable to focus, even for a single day, on the hugely positive aspects of Zarqawi's death.

June 08, 2006

How We Got Zarqawi

This article on the backstory of the military's targeting of Zarqawi reads like a Tom Clancy novel. And guess who may have played a key role in facilitating the intel that got us Zarqawi? The man who has proven more indispensable to our cause in Iraq than any other so far: Zalmay Khalilzad. The AP reports:

What may have changed the Americans' luck was U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's efforts to mend relations with Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs, alienated by the U.S. invasion and by the new Shiite-dominated government.

"Khalilzad shaped the environment so they could open lines of infiltration," O'Connell said.

At the same time, the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, stung by U.S. efforts to deride him as a foreigner killing Iraqis, began cozying up to Sunni insurgents. That was probably his undoing, since Khalilizad was doing the same thing, O'Connell said.

"Once that happened, all we needed was a guy inside the insurgency to tell us where he was and, bam, we got him," he said.

You really need to read the whole thing.

To see what other people are saying about Zarqawi's death, check out the plethora of commentary on the subject via RCP Buzztracker.

Zarqawi, R.I.H.

Some people deserve to rest in peace (R.I.P.), others deserve to rot in Hell (R.I.H.). Abu Musab al-Zarqawi certainly falls into the latter category, and the world is much better off now that he's been "terminated."

They say things are always darkest before the dawn, and things have been pretty damn dark in Iraq lately. David Ignatius's column yesterday was incredibly depressing, as has been almost every piece of news we've seen or heard from Iraq over the last few weeks.

So Zarqawi's death provides some much-needed good news and, hopefully, a boost of positive momentum for the Iraqi government. Maybe someday we'll look back on Zarqawi's death as a turning point in this struggle, but for the time being we shouldn't be under any illusions it will materially change the situation in the short run. Indeed, as John F. Burns reports this morning, that's exactly how our guys are approaching it:

Gen. Casey, nearing the end of his second year as the American commander here, confined his remarks to a spare summary of the raid that killed Zarqawi. The general shook Mr. Maliki's hand vigorously after the Iraqi leader made the formal announcement of Zarqawi's death, but otherwise seemed at pains not to overstate the significance of the moment.

Zarqawi, he said, "is known to be responsible for the deaths of thousands" with his terror attacks, and his death would be a major blow to Al Qaeda.

But he added a sober note, saying that "although the designated leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq is now dead", hard fighting in the war lay ahead. "This is just a step in the process", he said.

In other words, yesterday was a good day at the office. Let's hope there are more good days to come.

May 31, 2006

Don't Our Marines Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt?

Sean Hannity's exchange on FOX News' Hannity & Colmes last night sums up my emotions on the Haditha story:

HANNITY: Colonel Cowan, let me go back to you and let me get some facts on the table here.
Not one Marine has been charged with anything as of yet. We are now getting other information that, for example, that Brigadier General David Brahms, who was quoted as -- you know, as saying this is going to be worse than Abu Ghraib has said, "I'm sorry. Quotes attributed to me have been taken completely out of context, its meaning distorted. Many facts that are favorable to believe the Marines involved have not yet been disclosed in this particular case."
You know what's bothering me, Colonel? You know what? We're wrong on cases like Richard Jewell. We were dead wrong. Nobody thought we'd find Elizabeth Smart. We found her. We were wrong in that video that we had of the mosque where the Marine had to shoot and all these liberals politicized this war rushed to judgment.
COWAN: Right, right.
HANNITY: If anybody deserves a right to at least have their day in court, are we not going to give it to the Marines and not have people like John Murtha politicizing this war and accusing these guys of killing civilians in cold blood? Could we at least give this to the Marines that are risking their lives for us?
COWAN: We should, Sean. You know, John Murtha and John Warner, who's a U.S. senator, both of them former Marines, were both briefed on where these investigations are right now.
Senator Warner came out very carefully, very casually said this doesn't look good but we'll let the investigation continue, and we'll get the results when it's done.
In contrast, Senator -- John Murtha, Congressman Murtha, who I saw about an hour ago live on another news network, was extremely emotional about it to the point that he was really almost losing control. And, indeed, condemning and convicting these young Marines.
I expect, Sean, at the end of the day...
COWAN: ... we may find that some incident happened over there, but we will certainly also find that every Marine who was there did not participate in this, that anyone who was there, most of them did not want this to happen, and many of them reported it to their superiors.
HANNITY: Well, here's the problem, Bob, that I have. He said, quote, "They killed innocent civilians in cold blood."
We had John Kerry saying that our soldiers are going into the homes of Iraqis in the dark of night and terrorizing women and children. And similar comments such as this.
Do you remember the name Ilario Pantano?
BAER: I do absolutely.
HANNITY: A year ago, Bob, Ilario Pantano was charged with two counts of premeditated murder and other war crimes related to his service in Iraq. And he and -- he wrote this piece in the Washington Post. They painted him as he said as a monster, until an autopsy blew away this case out of the water and the Marine Corps dropped all charges against him.
You know, I don't know what evidence they have now, but nobody's been charged, and we don't know the facts. Is it not unfair for an American congressman to go out and say that these guys are killing innocent civilians like this in cold blood?
BAER: Oh, no doubt about it. And we've taken these troops and put them in the most dangerous part of the world ever, in years and years, in Anbar Province. And we have to find out what happened. Especially these guys...
HANNITY: Well, we do know one thing that happened. We do know that a bomb went off just seconds before. We do know that. We know Marines were killed then and Marines were injured there, didn't we? We do know that they were trying to find the people responsible.
And it angers me to some level to think that people can sit in their comfortable offices in Washington or in a studio without the facts and adjudicate this case like this.
BAER: I agree with you. But what intelligence did they have? Maybe somebody pointed this house out, and they kicked the door down and it was dark? You just don't know. And I agree with you. You've just got to wait. These guys...
HANNITY: They deserve the benefit of the doubt, don't they?

You're damn right our Marines deserve the benefit of the doubt. I watched the beginning of NBC Nightly News' broadcast on the Haditha incident last night and I felt sick, angry and depressed. I know this story has to be covered, I know that we have an obligation to the 99.99% of all the other troops in the field and to the American people to find out what really happened, and if there was wrong doing to punish the individuals who grotesquely crossed the line. But can't the story just be mentioned in passing or relegated to page A19 where they put all of the good news about Iraq and the economy, until at least the military finishes its investigation?

Why the urge to cover this story on the front page and lead your broadcast with it when no one has all of the facts? Who does that help? Don't our men and women who are putting their lives on the line for our country every day deserve at least that respect?

May 09, 2006

Progress in Iraq

New Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki says the job of forming a government in Iraq is 90% done. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that the Pentagon has delayed deployment of 3,500 troops to Iraq "to give more time and flexibility to U.S. commanders in Iraq, led by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., while they and Iraqi leaders assess the insurgency and sectarian violence amid the formation of a new Iraqi government."

Along those lines, al-Qaeda correspondence recently captured and translated by CENTCOM (via Captain's Quarters) suggests that the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces are, slowly but surely, diminishing the influence and effectiveness of the insurgency:

At the same time, the Americans and the Government were able to absorb our painful blows, sustain them, compensate their losses with new replacements, and follow strategic plans which allowed them in the past few years to take control of Baghdad as well as other areas one after the other. That is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin's control and influence over Baghdad.

This is the most heartening news of all, because while the formation of a new government will be a victory and will add a much needed sense of optimism and positive momentum, security remains the paramount concern.

April 24, 2006

Rumsfeld's History

In today's Boston Globe, Bryan Bender has a look at Rumsfeld's battle within the Pentagon. Key quote:

''People say he is a hawk, that him and [Vice President Dick] Cheney run everything. He is not some ideological nut," said a former top Rumsfeld aide, who asked not to be named. ''You can have a reasonable discussion with this guy. But this is also a guy who for five years has been tipping the applecart, canceling big orders for the Army, and a lot of people are [angry]."

That brings to mind this passage from Midge Decter's 2003 biography of Rumsfeld where she discusses the enormous fight Rumsfeld set off by trying to cancel the Army's Crusader program. Decter writes:

For a while Crusader became a great cause celebre in Washington. Bets were made, and a number of pundits confidently predicted that Crusader would turn out to be Rumsfeld's Waterloo. They could not, a number of Washington insiders told interviewers, believe that he could succeed in killing the program. For in addition to the Oklahomans, the army - most notably in the persons of Secretary of the Army Thomas White and Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki - rushed to Capitol Hill, and there the secretary of defense and his associates indeed enountered a pitched battle. "It was," Rumsfeld said of the experience, "as if I has shot a little old lady in the grocery store." In the end, Crusader and its supporters lost, and the program was dropped. Later Rumsfeld would observe that the battle over Crusader had been "more important not to lose than it was to win."

RELATED: The Anger at Rumsfeld

April 11, 2006

Iraq Is a Drag

"Just how much of a drag is Iraq politically for President Bush and Republicans?" That's the question I look at in my column today, but here's a clue: according to polling data from the Washington Post/ABC News, in October, 2002 Republicans held a 27-point advantage over Democrats (58-31) when voters were asked which party they trusted to do a better job on handling the situation in Iraq. Today the GOP is running a 7-point defecit to Democrats (42-49) on the issue.

Even worse for the GOP, over the same period of time a thirty-five point advantage on the issue of handling the war on terrorism has completely evaporated, leaving Republicans dead even with Democrats. Other polls show similar results on questions about "national security." This may or may not translate into GOP losses at the ballot box in November, but it is certainly ominous stuff.

Back in Iraq

Michael Totten is back in Iraq. Here are the first and second installments from his return visit.

March 29, 2006

Santorum on Iraq & Saddam Documents

Here is Senator Rick Santorum on the floor of the Senate yesterday:

Mr. President, I have to respond to my colleague from Illinois, who suggested that somehow the Iraqis are not standing up and fighting for the freedom of their country and the comment, ``How much longer do we have to wait?''

Ask the Iraqi families of the men who were beheaded--30 of them most recently--whether they are waiting for the Iraqis to step forward and sacrifice for their country. Ask the Iraqis who are in the military who are dying today, sacrificing for the freedom of their country, whether they are waiting. The people of Iraq are stepping forward and fighting for their country. We are helping them do that. It is the clear intention of our policy in Iraq to hand over the responsibility, and it is happening.

I find it almost remarkable that here now, 3 years into this conflict, where we are trying to transform an entire society, that the level of patience for this very difficult process, given all the progress made and all the elections that have been held and the Constitution drafted--I think in all but four of the provinces, there is very little terrorist activity, or insurgent activity, or whatever you want to call it. There is a concentration in a few provinces where there are problems.

But I met with people from Mosul yesterday--elected officials--who came here and talked about the dramatic improvements that are going on in that area, and the lack of any kind of al-Qaida operations and terrorist operations in that area, saying that

life is dramatically advancing. We don't hear talk about that. We hear talk about the problem spots, and that is legitimate. But the idea that the Iraqis are not fighting for their country, that they are not stepping forward--as we see day in and day out that they are conducting missions and they are eliminating the terrorist threat in Iraq--I think it is almost incredible. I don't know how you can read the news and suggest that the Iraqis are not stepping forward to defend their country and fight for their freedom.

Also, coming back to the issue of patience, I thank God sometimes that some of the elected officials who are here today were not around in 1777, 1778, and 1779. We would still be singing ``God save the queen,'' not ``hail to the chief.'' It took us 11 years to put a democracy together, in circumstances that I suggest were far less difficult, in a neighborhood that was far less problematic than the neighborhood Iraq happens to be situated in. So the idea that we have lost our patience in a struggle against Islamic fascism, which is a real present danger to the future of the United States of America, to me, is almost unconscionable.

This is a struggle we are engaged in. This is a struggle for our time. It is one that I believe history will look back upon and suggest that we met the threat that would have fundamentally changed the future of the world, and we met it before it did so. We met it with strength, with determination, and we overcame the doubters, overcame those who would have rather cut and run. I am not for cutting and running when it comes to the future security of this country. I have patience because things that are difficult and meaningful take time. We have to give that time.

I suggest there are some things that we are finding out now. Another effort I have been working on in Iraq is the intelligence information we have been able to gather from the former regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has been a project that Congressman Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been working on--and I have worked with him--to make sure these 48,000 boxes, containing roughly 2 million documents, are released to the American public and the world to determine what was the intelligence assessment and the activity level and, in particular, in Iraq with Saddam, and with his interaction with elements of al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations.

What we are finding is that some of the statements that have been made on the floor and statements that were made just as recently as March 19, 2006 by my colleague from Pennsylvania, Congressman Jack Murtha who said:

There was no terrorism in Iraq before we went there. None. There was no connection with al-Qaida. There was no connection with terrorism in Iraq itself.

Yet if we look at some of the documents that are being released by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte--and, again, only a few hundred of the millions of documents have been released. As a caveat, while Congressman Hoekstra and I are excited about the fact that DNI decided to release these documents, the pace of the release is, let us say, unsatisfactory to this point.

We have, with the blogosphere, the Internet, the opportunity to put these documents out there and have almost instantaneously translated postings about what these documents contain.

During the time the Director of National Intelligence Negroponte has had these documents--this is 3 years ago--less than 2 percent of the documents have been translated. At this pace, my grandchildren may know what is in these documents.

We need to get these documents out. Mr. President, 600 over a little over a 2-week period is almost the same pace as translating with the people they had over in DNI Negroponte's shop. We need to get these documents out quicker. Why? Because if we look at what is in these documents, there is important information in understanding the connection between Iraq and terrorist organizations and the threat we were facing, the potential threat we had talked about, which is the coordination between a country that had used chemical and biological weapons, was thought universally to have chemical and biological weapons, and terrorists who have expressed a direct desire to use those weapons and get access to them.

If we look at a report that was issued by the Pentagon Joint Forces Command translating and analyzing some of these documents, called the ``Iraqi Perspectives,'' on page 54, they write: Beginning in 1994, the Fedayeen Saddam opened its own paramilitary training camps for volunteers--this is 9 years, by the way, before the Iraq war--graduating more than 7,200 ``good men racing full with courage and enthusiasm'' in the first year.

Mr. President, 7,200 in the first year, 1994.

Beginning in 1998, these camps began hosting ``Arab volunteers from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, `the Gulf,' and Syria.'' Volunteers. I wonder why they would be volunteering to help Saddam. It is not clear, it says, from the available evidence where are all these non-Iraqi volunteers who were ``sacrificing for the cause'' went to ply their newfound skills. Before the summer of 2002, most volunteers went home upon the completion of training. They didn't stay in Iraq. They came for training from countries in the gulf regions, and they went home. Odd that they would be fighting for the cause which would, in that case, be Saddam, if they went home.

Before the summer of 2002, as I said, most volunteers went home upon completion of the training, but these camps were humming with frenzied activity in the months immediately prior to the war.

As late as January 2003, the volunteers participated in a special training event called the Heroes Attack.

Stephen Hayes, who deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his reporting on these documents in the Weekly Standard, has brought this issue to the forefront and has awakened Members of Congress, myself included, to the importance of discovering the content of these documents as well as some of the information contained in these documents.

He reminds us of the special significance of that training in 1998:

That is the same year that the U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq for good; the same year a known al Qaeda operative visited Baghdad for 16 days in March; the same year the U.S. embassies were bombed in East Africa; the same year the U.S. bombed Baghdad in Operation Desert Fox; and, the same year Saddam wired $150,000 to Jabir Salim, the former Iraqi Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and ordered him to recruit Islamic radicals to blow up the headquarters of Radio Free Europe.

What we have here is, again, information that I believe is vitally important for the American public to see. I encourage Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to step up the pace. Congressman Hoekstra and I have introduced legislation which would require just that: it would require the release of these documents and provides a way to do so.

We introduced this legislation prior to the decision to release these documents, but, again, I just make the point that the pace with which these documents are being released is inadequate. We need to continue to step that up, allow this information to get out for people to see, pro and con--all the information that is available to us. These are old documents. They are at least 3 years old; in some cases much more than that. The classified nature is specious, at best. We want to protect names, obviously, if there are reasons to protect certain names because of potential fallout from having their names released. If there are recipes for chemical weapons, fine. But the bottom line is most of this information should be released, can be released, and is not being released.

I assure my colleagues--and I think I can speak for Congressman Hoekstra in this regard--we will stay on this issue, and we will make sure all of this information is made available to the American public so we have a better understanding of what the situation was in Iraq prior to the war.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

March 27, 2006

The March To War

Don Van Natta, Jr. clearly thinks he's found a smoking gun. How else to explain his treatment of the contents of a top-secret British memo in this morning's New York Times:

Bush Was Set on Path to War, Memo by British Adviser Says By DON VAN NATTA Jr.

LONDON -- In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

There are two ways to frame this story, and it's clear which angle Van Natta takes. He starts by suggesting that President Bush's private discussions about Iraq were somehow at odds with his public declarations telling Hussein to "disarm or face war" and casting the contents of the memo as more evidence of a President hell-bent on war regardless of the circumstances.

A more benign - and some would say fair - view of the meeting would be to say that by late January, 2003 President Bush had lost almost all hope that Saddam would comply with the demands for immediate, accurate and complete disclosure of his WMD programs laid out in Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002.

In fact, President Bush had every reason to be pessimistic. As I've written about before, by late January 2003, Iraq had already submitted a WMD declaration which many experts found dubious, and only four days prior to the meeting Van Natta writes about Hans Blix had gone before the UN Security Council and declared that "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."

Furthermore, the idea that the U.S. would have "penciled in" a date for the invasion at that point isn't all that surprising. Military experts had been warning for months that it would be difficult for the U.S. to maintain a substantial military presence on the border of Iraq for any length of time (one of the reasons Saddam grudgingly allowed inspectors to continue operating, it should be pointed out) and also that military action would need to be conducted sooner rather than later to avoid starting an invasion at the height of the Middle Eastern summer.

There's more in the Van Natta story that could be seen as favorable to the President, though it's all buried well below the lede. What Van Natta's "march to war" story misses, as do so many others about the subject, is that ultimately the choice for war was Hussein's not Bush's. Once Resolution 1441 passed, the onus on WMD disclosure and thus the responsibility for avoiding military action fell on Saddam. He had months to comply, but failed to do so fully or convincingly even by the lenient standards of the United Nations. Even up until the last hours before the invasion Hussein could have prevented military action by coming clean on WMD or by going into exile, as many called for him to do. In the end Hussein did neither, and so the invasion began as promised.

March 24, 2006

More On the Media Backlash Over Iraq

Howard Kurtz discussed the subject of the media's coverage of Iraq yesterday on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. There's a good deal worth reading, but here's the takeaway from Blitzer's final quetion:

BLITZER: Very briefly, is there any sign of a backlash against the mainstream media because of our coverage of what's happening in Iraq?

KURTZ: Yes, among conservatives, among military family members and others. A lot of people, as we saw that woman from West Virginia, blaming us for the situation there.

I think Kurtz misspoke here: nobody is blaming the media for the situation on the ground, only for largely failing to present a balanced picture of what's taking place in Iraq. There is also an implication, however, that by providing so much of a one-sided, negative picture of the war the media is buoying the hopes and spirits of the insurgents and making things harder on our troops, as well as depressing public opinion back here at home.

Right after the interview with Kurtz ended, Jack Cafferty came on to provide what I think could be accurately described as the prevailing point of view of the MSM on the subject:

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I just have a question. I mean, part of the coverage, they don't like the coverage, maybe because we were sold a different ending to this story three years ago. We were told that we'd be embraced as conquering heroes, flower pedals strewn in the soldiers' paths, a unity government would be formed, everything would be rosy this -- three years after the fact, the troops would be home.

Well, it's not turning out that way. And if somebody came into New York City and blew up St. Patrick's Cathedral and in the resulting days they were finding 50 and 60 dead bodies a day on the streets of New York, you suppose the news media would cover it? You're damn right they would.

This is nonsense, it's the media's fault and the news isn't good in Iraq. The news isn't good in Iraq. There's violence in Iraq. People are found dead every day in the streets of Baghdad. This didn't turn out the way the politicians told us it would. And it's our fault? I beg to differ.

First, Cafferty errs in saying that anyone ever suggested the troops would be home in three years - or any amount of time, for that matter. Second, it's clear he's opposed to the war in Iraq - he thinks we were misled, the policy is a failure, etc - and that the media is just fulfilling its obligation to report on the violence that is taking place as a result of the administration's policies. That's fine, but it's also a bit of a cop-out because there is another side to the story.

How can Cafferty explain the fact that the vast majority of people who have traveled to Iraq, including elected officials from both parties, say things are significantly better than expected and surprisingly different from what they were led to believe from media coverage in the U.S.?

The fact is there are two realities in Iraq. One reality is the intense and sometimes gruesome violence that takes place in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. Another reality is the millions upon millions of people who are living peacefully throughout the country and also the work our soldiers are doing to make those lives even better. If Jack Cafferty considers himself to be a journalist, then he has an obligation - irrespective of his personal feelings about the administration's policy in Iraq - to provide a balanced look at both of those realities. But Cafferty, like the rest of the mainstream media, doesn't seem too concerned about putting forth the effort to provide either balance or context, and therein lies the entire problem.

Media Pushes Too Far on Iraq Negativity

RadioBlogger has the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's interview with Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq and the media coverage of the war. Here is the full audio and transcript. But the exchange where VDH takes on Time Magazine's bureau chief in Baghdad is particularly interesting.

Hewitt: Professor Hanson, I'd like to play for you a little bit of Michael Ware, Baghdad bureau chief for Time Magazine. Two nights ago on CNN, I was debating him. I'd like to get your reaction to what this says about our culture.
H. Hewitt: Compared to what, Mr. Ware? Compared to Baghdad under Saddam? Are you arguing that Iraqis are worse off today than they were four years ago?

A. Cooper: Michael Ware, do you want to respond?

M. Ware: Yeah, well I think if you ask a lot of Iraqis, I think you'll be surprised by what the answer is. A lot of them say what? This is democracy? The joke is you call this liberation. And okay, let's look at the context as you suggest. Let's look at the even bigger picture. What is the bigger picture? Who's winning from this war? Who is benefiting right now? Well, the main winners so far are al Qaeda, which is stronger than it was before the invasion. Abu Musab al Zarqawi was a nobody. Now he's the superstar of international jihad. And Iran...Iran essentially has a proxy government in place, a very, very friendly government. Its sphere of influence has expanded, and any U.S. diplomat or senior military intelligence commander here will tell you that. So that's the big picture. Where's that being reported?

Hewitt: Now Victor Davis Hanson, how do you respond to that?

VDH: Is that man a journalist?

Hewitt: Well, he's the Time Magazine Baghdad bureau chief.

VDH: That's just a mockery of what we would call sober and judicious reporting. And everything he said was factually incorrect. We dismantled two thirds of the al Qaeda hierarchy, and Mr. Zarqawi was well enough to get an invitation to come before we went into Iraq to seek medical care under Saddam. Everything he said was untrue, and when we went into Iraq, nobody knew much about the Iranian nuclear program. The entire world is galvanizing against it now. The Iranians are petrified that this democratic experiment will work right on their border, and one of the most subversive things they can imagine right next to them. And the United States knows so much more about the danger of Iran than it did two years ago. The world was asleep to their nuclear antics. And 67% of the people have confidence in Iraq, according to the polls, that things are getting better. And it shows two things. One is that this idea of stability is always better than the chaos that comes with freedom. It's like saying that Hitler or Stalin...1936 Germany was much, much better than anything you can imagine in the 20's, when you had inflation. Or Stalin's...after the purges, there was a sense of order in Russia. All of that's true, as long as you accept that Saddam was killing 40-50,000 people a year. And the second is this utopianism that all wars are a choice between something's perfect, and something that is bad. When we went to war after 9/11, and we had one war with Saddam in '91, a second war with 12 years of no-fly zones, then we had...there were no good choices. There was a bad choice and a worse choice.

Hewitt: So with this in mind...again, I stress he's the Baghdad bureau chief of Time Magazine, at one time the most influential magazine in the West, I believe. What is the disease in the media? Where did it come from?

VDH: I think it came to be frank between the journalism schools, the academic training of a lot of the people, and this affluent, elite culture, to be frank, that comes out of the universities on the left and right coasts, that's divorced from the tragic view, because these people are not...they don't open hardware stores. They don't service cars. They've never worked physically with their hands. They have an idea in this international culture of the West that somehow, all of their affluence, all of their travel, all of their freedom came out of a head of Zeus, and it's not dependent on the U.S. military, the United States role in the world. They have no appreciation for the very system that birthed and maintained them. And they've had this sort of sick cynicism, nihilism, skepticism, and the height of their affluence and leisure, that they don't have any gratitude at all, which is really one of the most important human attributes. Humility to say you know, I'm very lucky to be a Westerner, and have certain freedoms. And that's why he cannot appreciate what we're trying to do in Iraq, because he has no appreciation of the very idea that he can jet out of Baghdad anytime he wants on a Western jet that's going to get him safely to a Western country, where he's going to be protected, that the people in Iraq want that same thing that he doesn't seem to appreciate. And that's...I know I'm sounding a little emotional, but that's been one of the most depressing aspects of this entire did a great service to the country, Hugh, by having him on your show, and having him admit to something that we all suspect. But that hysteria and that anger and that prejudice was very valuable for people to see.

Earlier this week on NBC's Today Show Laura Ingraham hit back hard at her hosts (Video):

The Today Show spends all this money to send people to the Olympics, which is great, it was great programming. All this money for "Where In The World Is Matt Lauer?" Bring The Today Show to Iraq. Bring The Today Show to Tal Afar. Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory and then when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers, when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, only the reprisals.....

To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.

The press has pushed too far with the one-sided negativity on Iraq and the backlash will work to the President's benefit.

The Civil War Debate

Charles Krauthammer: "Of Course It's Civil War" versus Ralph Peters: "It's Not Even Close"

March 20, 2006

Does Eleanor Clift Speak for the Country?

On the McLaughlin Group this weekend there was this heated exchange between Eleanor Clift and Tony Blankley on the War in Iraq.

CLIFT: The country has come to the conclusion that this (Iraq) is a failure. I think that is evident in the polls.

BLANKLEY: Don't speak for the country Eleanor. You have been losing elections for decades.

This was a great comeback by Blankley, but beyond the immediate smack down there is a kernel of insight in the exchange that exposes a significant Democratic weakness. Eleanor Clift has no doubt in her mind that the country thinks Iraq is a failure - because she and most of her MSM colleagues think it is a failure and they spend their hours in that self-reinforcing bubble. Media polls that then take the public's temperature on Iraq at a static time, with questions that are usually constructed less than favorably toward the Bush administration, are then offered as proof of the public's conclusion on U.S. Iraq policy.

It was this type of thinking that led the Democrats to their presidential strategy in 2004. Democrats, under the misguided assumption that it was a foregone conclusion that Iraq and Bush were failures, thought all they had to do was nominate anyone but Howard Dean and they would walk away with the presidency. The idea that the majority of the country might not agree with their conclusion about the war or Bush never seriously occurred to them.

So here we are in 2006 and Democrats and many in the media elite are convinced the public thinks Iraq is an utter failure and Bush is incompetent. And we are beginning to get straight-lined observations that Democrats are poised for big gains in November. Well, we'll see. Eleanor Clift may know what is going to happen in Iraq over the next year, but I don't. Given just how awful the media coverage has been out of Iraq, I wouldn't discount the possibility that the situation improves over the next eight months as we head into the mid-term elections.

Multiple different forces are aligning to give the Democrats a credible shot to recapture the House this fall, but Democrats should be wary. In the last two election cycles their poll-driven analyses in March, April and May haven't translated into November wins.

March 15, 2006

Make The Glass Half Full

Saddam is at it again. The Iraqis should have listened to Krauthammer three months ago when he suggested stuffing Hussein in a glass booth.

March 09, 2006

Zarqawi Was Here

Michael Totten is back on his feet after an illness and files a new dispatch from northern Iraq.

March 07, 2006

What is Really Going On in Iraq?

We are told over and over by the media that Iraq is a failure and descending into civil war. And it is not only the overwhelmingly liberal MSM that runs with the standard “Iraq is a disaster” meme. Conservatives Bill Buckley and George Will have written highly critical columns in the last 10 days. Will suggests Iraq is more a threat today than when Saddam, Uday and Qusay controlled all of Iraq’s oil wealth. Buckley is even more direct: “One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.”

Now Buckley and Will have always been more in the realist camp when it comes to the wisdom of the Iraq War, so this is more an evolution of their position rather than an about face, but they are certainly not part of the New York Times crew or other knee jerk critics on the left. However, to my knowledge neither Will nor Buckley have actually been in Iraq over the last year, so I was extremely interested to hear what the New York Post’s Ralph Peters was going to report back from Iraq on the situation on the ground. Here are some excerpts from his Sunday column.

I’m trying. I've been trying all week. The other day, I drove another 30 miles or so on the streets and alleys of Baghdad. I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared. And I just can't find it.

Maybe actually being on the ground in Iraq prevents me from seeing it. Perhaps the view's clearer from Manhattan. It could be that my background as an intelligence officer didn't give me the right skills.
And riding around with the U.S. Army, looking at things first-hand, is certainly a technique to which The New York Times wouldn't stoop in such an hour of crisis.

Let me tell you what I saw anyway. Rolling with the "instant Infantry" gunners of the 1st Platoon of Bravo Battery, 4-320 Field Artillery, I saw children and teenagers in a Shia slum jumping up and down and cheering our troops as they drove by. Cheering our troops.

All day - and it was a long day - we drove through Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. Everywhere, the reception was warm. No violence. None.

And no hostility toward our troops. Iraqis went out of their way to tell us we were welcome.

I have always found Peters to be a straight-shooter and an honest broker of the facts. Maybe he is being played for a sucker by the U.S. military and those cheering Iraqis, but I doubt it.

And from his column today:

Among the many positive stories you aren't being told about Iraq, the media ignored another big one last week: In the wake of the terrorist bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, it was the Iraqi army that kept the peace in the streets.

It's routinely declared a failure by those who yearn for the new Iraq to fail. But an increasingly capable Iraqi military has been developing while reporters (who never really investigated the issue) wrote it off as hopeless.

* The Iraqi army deployed over 100,000 soldiers to maintain public order. U.S. Forces remained available as a backup, but Iraqi soldiers controlled the streets.

* Iraqi forces behaved with discipline and restraint - as the local sectarian outbreaks fizzled, not one civilian had been killed by an Iraqi soldier.

* Time and again, Iraqi military officers were able to defuse potential confrontations and frustrate terrorist hopes of igniting a religious war.

* Forty-seven battalions drawn from all 10 of Iraq's army divisions took part in an operation that, above all, aimed at reassuring the public. The effort worked - from the luxury districts to the slums, the Iraqis were proud of their army.

As a result of its nationwide success, the Iraqi army gained tremendously in confidence. Its morale soared. After all the lies and exaggerations splashed in your direction, the truth is that we're seeing a new, competent, patriotic military emerge. The media may cling to its image of earlier failures, but last week was a great Iraqi success…

As I head home after far too short a stay with our wonderful soldiers, I can only offer Post readers my honest assessment:

Serious problems remain. No question about it. We'll hear more bad news (some of it may even be true). But from my heart I believe that the odds are improving that, decades from now, we'll look back and see that our sacrifices were worth it. I found Baghdad a city of hope, its citizens determined not to be ruled by terrorists, fanatics, militias or thieves.

We are doing the right thing.

Nor do I say this lightly. I just learned that the son of an old friend was seriously wounded in Iraq and evacuated to a military hospital in Germany (the latest news I have is that the young man will make a complete recovery - let's pray that it's so).

This is a gigantic struggle for indescribably high stakes. We're trying to help a failing civilization rescue itself, to lift a vast region out of the grip of terror and fanaticism, and to make this troubled world safer for our own citizens. Don't let anyone tell you we're failing in Iraq.

I haven’t been to Iraq, though I regularly talk to people who have. My sixty-second analysis on the situation is that much of what you read in the mainstream press is spin and distortion from people and organizations hostile to President Bush and his Iraq policy. I suspect Peters' take is probably close to the mark. That said, I fear the Buckley and Will position that Iraq is simply not ready or capable for a democracy is a real possibility.

There is always a tendency to try and put an issue into a nice little box that we can understand, and at the end of the day Iraq is an extremely complicated and evolving situation that could tip in a multitude of different directions. I would just hope that all Americans are pulling for the good guys, and they have no doubt who the good guys are.

March 01, 2006

Another Heavyweight Reexamines Iraq

Some major intellectual heavyweights have been opining on Iraq in recent weeks. To recap: Francis Fukuyama led off last week in the New York Times Magazine, citing Iraq as evidence of the broader failure of neoconservatism and the idea of promoting democracy around the world. Bill Kristol responded that we are in a war not of our choosing, and one that could very well be lost if we don't continue to actively engage on behalf of the principles of "decent, civilized, liberal democracy." Kristol wrote:

To govern is to choose, and to accept responsibility for one's choices. To govern is not wishfully to await the end of history. To govern is not fatalistically to watch a clash of civilizations from the sidelines.

Last week William F. Buckley wrote that Iraq is lost. Today Victor Davis Hanson, fresh off a trip to Iraq, comes to an opposite conclusion in The Wall Street Journal:

In sum, after talking to our soldiers in Iraq and our planners in Washington, what seems to me most inexplicable is the war over the war--not the purported absence of a plan, but that the more we are winning in the field, the more we are losing it at home.

This morning I came across another reexamination of Iraq from one of my favorite authors, Gerard Baker. Yesterday Baker wrote in his blog at The Times:

As Iraq descends deeper into the mire, those of us who supported the war, especially those who supported it as vehemently as I did, and who made large claims for it in advance as I did, have an obligation to explain ourselves. Though our intellectual honour is of no significance in the unfolding misery of a nation, we still have a duty to truth to look honestly at the gap between what we forecast and what has happened and either to re-justify or to recant our belief in a project that has proved to be so tragically flawed.

First let me say what I won't say about this. I won't argue, as so many of the war's supporters now do, that what has gone wrong has all been because of poor execution by the Bush administration. This is a favourite trope: there was nothing wrong in principle with the decision to go to war, it goes. If it hadn't been screwed up by Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld, Iraq would now be fine. In all honesty, this just won't do.

Not that the administration's execution is blameless. Far from it. It was shockingly obvious early on that the US had little clue what it was going to do after the intitial phase of the war. Apart from blithe statements about how freedom would take root as if by osmosis or magic, there was criminally little preparation for the hard postwar task of mending a broken country. The US allowed to sweep into the post-Saddam vacuum - nothing.

Its fecklessness was only underlined by its insistent message when things started to go wrong. "We're sticking with it. It's working." has been essentially all the administration has had to say, despite mounting evidence that it was not working. And for the last couple of years US policy has actually been bent primarily to the objective of getting out as quickly as possible.

For all of these reasons the administration deserves to be roundly condemned.

But it's simply a cop-out, I think, for the war's supporters to say its conception was brilliant but its execution a failure.

It's a cop-out because of the uncomfortable fact that many of those who opposed the war said at the time that certain things would follow - a bloody insurgency, a lethal inter-ethnic struggle, broader damage to the US cause in the Middle East. I, certainly, and others, downplayed - all right, dismissed - these arguments.

And now? They were right and I was wrong, But I was wrong not just because Donald Rumsfeld didn't send in enough troops, or Paul Bremer didn't allow elections quickly enough, but because the risk of long-term violence and instability was always greater than I had believed; building stability in that ruined country was going to be a tall order.

Does this mean the war was wrong? Am I recanting?

I've already quoted too liberally from the post, you'll have to click through to read Baker's conclusion.

My own impression is that it's still to early to judge the ultimate outcome in Iraq. Clearly the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque has created a watershed moment that history will most likely record as a turning point one way or the other. Either Iraq's nascent government can withstand the current crisis, thereby emerging stronger, or it will be destroyed by it. The answer will be played out in the coming weeks.

February 23, 2006

The Bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque

Why did terrorists bomb the Al-Askariya shrine in Samarra?

The obvious answer is that they wanted to try and set off massive sectarian violence to disrupt - if not destroy - the formation of the fledgling federal government in Iraq. We've seen a wave of violence and reprisal killings, but also calls for calm and unity, so at the moment it remains unclear which way things may tip.

The less obvious answer is this: the bombing of al-Askariya clearly represents a huge escalation and a huge risk by the terrorists. Of all the options available to them, you would think destroying a 1,200 year-old sacred holy site of Shia Islam would be near the bottom of the list. The real question is why the terrorists felt compelled to take this risk now.

One argument could be they were waiting for the perfect timing. Another could be that they've already tried everything else and nothing has worked. The Iraqi government is forming and the terrorists are running out of both time and options, so they turned to an unbelievably risky strategy that will either incite civil war or unite the country against their cause. This bombing smacks of being an act of last resort.

February 20, 2006

My Cindy Sheehan Moment

Cindy Sheehan came to the friendly confines of Evanston on Saturday night, speaking to a crowd of more than 400 peace activists at the Lake Street Church. Here is a report from the Northwestern University paper. And here are a couple of things that took place which you won't find in the report:

- Juan Torres, fellow anti-war activist whose soldier son died in Afghanistan, began his speech by drawing an analogy between America and the military junta in Argentina (where he emigrated from) in the 1970's, saying that the two were similar because "the military ran everything."

- Sheehan got the biggest applause of the night when she called George Bush "irresponsible, ignorant, arrogant, and callous" and also when she said we need to get our "war profiteers" out of Iraq. 

- Sheehan told the crowd that when John Kerry's personal cell phone rings, it plays Hail to the Chief.  But, Sheehan said, the left won't support anyone who has supported the war for so long. She mentioned Russ Feingold as someone who had been "good" on the war and the crowd responded approvingly.

- Sheehan mentioned at the end of the speech that she's been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

January 31, 2006

Iraq From A to Z

One of the most frustrating things about Iraq is trying to sort out the seemingly contradictory reports of how things are going on the ground. Are we making progress? Is security improving? Is civil war breaking out? Oftentimes, the answers to these questions depends on who you ask.  With that in mind, here are three recent takes on the situation in Iraq from people who've seen it first hand - two journalists and one member of Congress. Read them all and then decide for yourself who you believe is giving a balanced, accurate account of what's happening in Iraq:

Christiane Amanpour, correspondent for CNN (via Malkin):  "The war in Iraq has basically turned out to be a disaster... This is a big drama, because hope is the only thing they have in the middle of this spiraling security disaster. And by any indication, whether you take the number of journalists killed or wounded, whether you take the number of American soldiers killed or wounded, whether you take the number of Iraqi soldiers killed or wounded, uh, contractors, people working there, it just gets worse and worse."

Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH1):  "We should not underestimate the challenges facing Iraq. The formation of a post-election government that can reduce sectarian divisions and diminish sympathy for the terrorist insurgency is crucial. High unemployment and infrastructure problems still plague the country. But on each of my three trips, I have met Iraqis who are confident about their country's future, and that same sentiment is echoed by the troops I have spoken with who interact with Iraqis on a daily basis.

Americans have the right to question the faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction, the military planning for post-war Iraq and the use of U.S. forces to overthrow a dictator. However, should questions about entering Iraq be the determining factor in the issue of leaving now? The variables today are completely different and the strategic landscape is permanently altered. The path that produces a preferred outcome — Iraqi stability — is a continued commitment to self-reliance and self-governance in Iraq. Withdrawal leaves Iraq with an embryonic government at the mercy of sectarian groups, criminal gangs and domestic and foreign fanaticism.

It is not possible to predict exactly when stability in Iraq will occur, but the progress is significant. After three elections, the Iraqi government is increasingly taking command of its troops. Saddam Hussein is on trial and Iraqis now can acknowledge what happened to their families under his brutal reign."

Karl Zinsmeister, editor in chief of The American Enterprise Magazine: "Make no mistake: Iraq is broken. Most residents have never known proper sewage service, 24 hour electricity, or decent health care.

And improvement could be faster. Both terror attacks and the Arab tradition of endemic corruption are making today’s economic recovery less booming than it would otherwise be. Another damper has been the failure of our Western allies to make good on their promises of Iraq aid: Of the $13.6 billion European and other nations pledged to help rebuild Iraq, only a couple billion has so far been delivered.

All the same, progress is visible in Iraq, not just to observers like me but to Iraqis themselves. There is ample proof of this in the latest scientific poll of the Iraqi public, released December 12 by Oxford Research International. Asked how things are going for them personally, 71 percent of Iraqis now say life is “good,” compared to 29 percent who say “bad.” A majority insist that despite the war, life is already better for them than it was under Saddam Hussein. By 5:1 they expect their lives will be even better one year from now. Seven out of ten Iraqis think their country as a whole will be a better place in one year.

Iraqis are particularly pleased about trends in security. By 61 to 38 percent, they say security where they live is now “good” rather than “bad.” Back at the beginning of 2004 those numbers were reversed (49 percent good, 50 percent bad). On a vast range of specific subjects—from the availability of clean water and medical care to their ability to buy household basics—Iraqis say things are good and getting better. Fully 70 percent say “my family’s economic situation is good,” and 78 percent rate their new freedom of speech as “good.”

January 05, 2006

Bush Reaches Out, Gets Lessons From Albright

The AP reports on Bush's Iraq pow-wow at the White House today:

President Bush brought foreign policy heavyweights from yesteryear to the White House on Thursday, including Democrats who have opposed his Iraq strategy. He got support for the mission — along with a few concerns — and a right to claim he was reaching out.

Now to my favorite part, couretesy of the always entertaining Madeleine Albright:

Albright also said the administration's approach toward the nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea was off the mark.

Yes, of course. Because this approach was so spectacularly successful:


And that St. Patrick's day apology to Iran in 2000 also worked out well - as you can see from the response: "Iranian Leader Rejects U.S. Overture for Better Ties."

No doubt Ms. Albright also disapproves of Mr. Bush's top secret policy of keeping Osama bin Laden held captive in some undisclosed location

You know the saying, "I tease because I care." Actually, I've always rather liked Albright even though I haven't necessarily agreed with her politics.  From the looks of the AP report, she was gracious and sensible today. We could use much more of that from Democrats these days.

December 19, 2005

Bush Surfing the Waves

I've been trying to think of a metaphor to describe the current political dynamic in Washington and I can only think of one thing: waves.  If you've ever been to the beach you know that waves travel in sets: each wave rises, crests, washes ashore and then recedes back into the following until the entire set is complete. Some waves break earlier than others and some wash much higher onto shore. It all depends.

Over the past few weeks we've seen a series of national security-related waves hit Washington. The first wave, which had been building for a year (and perhaps longer), was the theme that "Bush lied." It crested around Veteran's Day when the President hit back at critics in a tough, public speech.

That wave was followed by the rising debate over troop withdrawal, a wave cresting with John Murtha's call for immediate withdrawal on November 17 and the subsequent vote in the House. 

The issue of CIA "black sites" was another wave that came ashore, rising dramatically after Dana Priest's November 2 article in the Washington Post and cresting a month later with Condi Rice's trip to Europe. In some ways this was a mini-break of the larger wave of torture and detainee abuse, a debate that has been raging for quite some time and finally crested last week with Bush coming to an agreement with John McCain on a torture ban.

The election in Iraq last week was the break of another big wave, this one decidedly in favor of the President. But even as the positive news out of Iraq was washing ashore in the U.S. on Friday, the New York Times set the next big wave in motion by splashing the details of the eavesdropping program authorized by Bush in 2002 across the front page.

The conventional wisdom is that these waves have been slamming the president who is adrift, but the reality is that he's been surfing them rather skillfully - as the polling since the middle of November indicates.  As John argues in his RCP column today, Democrats continue to operate under the mistaken assumption that there's a positive benefit to be had from going toe-to-toe with Bush on national security when there is a far greater likelihood they will end up reinforcing the worst "soft on security" stereotypes already held by the public.

December 16, 2005

The Media's Incurable Myopia

The coverage of the Iraqi election by the press has been extensive and generally positive, but as sure as the sun continues to rise in the east, by next week we will be back to a steady diet of chaos and carnage in the newspapers and on TV.

The problem isn't necessarily that the press covers car bombs and kidnappings, or that it is composed of bad people who want to see the U.S. fail in Iraq - though it's undeniable there are plenty of members of the mainstream media who dislike this president and don't approve of the war. The more general problem, however, which is part institutional and part individual, is that the press is either unwilling or unable to put events in Iraq in any sort of historical context.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld chastised the media for this is his speech last week, and yesterday the estimable Thomas P.M. Barnett piled on:

The press always wants a quick and easy answer to the question: Who wins and when does it happen? Either the U.S. is winning or the enemy is winning, and it has to be done by Tuesday. If Bush speaks to the long fight and says we'll always pursue victory even as it takes years and decades to unfold, then he must be speaking illogically. The Second World War should have been over by 1943. The Cold War should have ended in 1953. If the GWOT isn't done by 2005, then we've lost and we must retreat from the world.

We lost over 20k* in Iwo Jima and we won. If we lose 2k-plus in almost three years in Iraq, then we must be losing.

Where are the wise men? Hell, where are the journalists with any sense of history?

Karl Zinsmeister drives the point home even further by questioning how historical events might be viewed in today's environment:

I’ve been looking back at World War II recently and remembering, for instance, the Battle of the Bulge. In the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers were sent to fight in waist-deep snow with no winter clothing, and I’m thinking to myself, “today, that would be reason to hang somebody. What commission is going to attack them for that?”

Look at Iwo Jima. I believe 7,000 men were killed at Iwo Jima. It's a four-mile by two-mile island in the middle of nowhere with no resources. I wonder, would we, in our contemporary worldview be able to look at that and say, "that’s a glorious triumph for the US Marine Corps," or would we say, "somebody’s got to be court-martialed over that screw-up?"

There is just an insane amount of handwringing today, all driven by the deluge of round-the-clock media coverage. News organizations can't get the cameras to the flames in Iraq fast enough and day after day the public reacts emotionally to the images put before them through the lens of a soda straw. How many times have we heard people come back from Iraq and talk about how different reality is from what they've seen on TV and read in the papers?

And how many times have we heard members of the press talk about their duty to inform and educate the citizenry about issues? In the matter of Iraq, that means news organizations have an obligation to their readers and viewers to put events in perspective and provide historical context. They have failed the public miserably in that obligation.

The public bears its share of the burden, too. As Thomas Sowell wrote earlier this week: "Utter ignorance of history enables any war with any casualties to be depicted in the media as an unmitigated disaster."

Iraq is tough, to be sure, but it's far from a disaster. The only thing missing from the picture today is knowledge of history and context.

*Barnett seems to have confused the number of U.S. casualties suffered at Iwo Jima (26,000) with the number of combat deaths (6,800).

The Road Ahead In Iraq

As officials sift through the millions of ballots cast in Iraq yesterday  - up to 11 million or 70% turnout, by early estimates - it's hard not to think we've just caught another glimpse of the country's potentially bright future.

But the road ahead in Iraq still contains the same dangerous potholes. One thing the reports from yesterday's elections make clear is that we still face the same security conundrum: how to clear and hold towns infested by the insurgency without being seen as an occupying force. Jim Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor spent election day in the Sunni city of Husbayah:


This town and two neighboring ones were mostly cleared of insurgents last month and now house several US Marine encampments.

But while many residents said they were glad for the relatively recent peace, most were voting for deeply religious Sunni Arab candidates with ties to the insurgency. These candidates have run on a platform of resistance to what they term occupation.

"We all want a religious man,'' Mr. Hasan says gravely as he pulls a pamphlet of Koranic verses from his pocket to illustrate why he supports the party of Sunni religious leader Adnan al-Dulaimi.

In a community that feels persecuted by the Iraqi government and its security forces run by the majority Shiites, many Sunnis are looking for a leader tough enough to protect them.

"We want only security and all the terrorists to be finished,'' says Umm Thafur, her face covered in Bedouin tattoos and engulfed by her abaya. "God willing everything will be better ... we want a strong leader who's truly Iraqi." [snip]

From a side street and behind a cement barrier meant to stop car bombs, Abu Latief, who didn't want to give his full name, watched the lines of voters swell throughout the morning. "The Iraqi Army is no problem, but the occupation forces are a problem,'' he said as an Iraqi soldier watched.

"After the election, God willing, there will be security, and the American forces will leave Iraq. This is very important to all the people, that the American forces leave. Because if they are here, the terrorists come."

John Burns of the NY Times filed a similar dispatch from the Adhamiya district in Baghdad:

Another thing many Sunnis seemed to agree on was the possibility of a reconciliation between the Americans and the Sunnis, and a distancing of the Sunnis from some of the Al Qaeda-linked insurgent groups. Many were critical of American troops, saying, as Mr. Saleh did, that "they came as liberators, but stayed on as occupiers." But pressed on the question of an American troop withdrawal, most seemed cautious, favoring a gradual drawdown.

"Let's have stability, and then the Americans can go home," said Mr. Sattar, the store owner. Told that this sounded similar to President Bush's formula for a troop withdrawal, he replied: "Then Bush has said it correctly".

This reinforces everything we already know: at the moment, U.S. forces remain a crucial component of the security solution in Iraq but also part of problem. The only viable strategy for success is to get enough Iraqi troops trained and equipped to take over the job. The sooner we do that, the sooner our troops come home.

This has always been the plan - not perfectly executed, perhaps, but it's not like we've been throwing darts at the wrong dartboard for two years, either. Training Iraqi troops takes time and patience, two things in drastically short supply in today's world of hyperpartisanship and 24-hour media.

December 15, 2005

The Purple Revolution 2.0

This morning I feel much the same as I did the day after the first elections in Iraq eleven months ago:

The images from yesterday's election in Iraq are proof that pictures really are worth a thousand words - and in some cases much more than that.

In fact, at times words seemed wholly inadequate to describe the scope of what we witnessed yesterday. The courage, determination, anxiety, and hope exhibited by the Iraqi people was so powerful it moved all but the most hardened, Bush-hating hearts...

Only time will tell if January 30, 2005 will go down as one of the most important dates in modern history. I happen to believe it will. But between now and when the history books are written it was enough, at least for me, to stand by on a Sunday and marvel at the courage of people half a world away. 

Forget about politics for a minute. You're either moved by the pictures and news reports from Iraq or you aren't. You either believe what Iraqis are doing today is a courageous act of great significance or you don't. From an emotional standpoint there really isn't much of a middle ground.

The left can continue to deride the elections in Iraq as a sham, a myth and a joke, but they do so at their own peril. For the moment at least, I suspect most Americans are moved by what they see today and proud of it as well - proud not only for the Iraqi people but also for our troops and the  hand they've played in making today possible.

Iraq is fraught with difficulties, to be sure. And they won't end today, next week, or even next year. It's easy to lose sight of the progress we've made (and continue to make) in Iraq amid the constant drumbeat of pessimism and bad news in the press. Today is yet another powerful reminder that, irrespective of what people think about how we got there, what we're doing in Iraq today is important stuff with potentially monumental consequences.

December 10, 2005

The Lieberman Chronicles

Joe Lieberman is giving Democrats fits. Today The New York Times and the Associated Press (The Washington Post, too) take a look at how the Dems are reacting to Lieberman's support of the war. It's not pretty. This passage from the AP article stood out in particular:

Democrats hope a surging anti-war tide in 2006 can help them shatter the GOP's 12-year lock on the House and win back the Senate for the first time since 2001.

"It's not a tidal wave now, but the ingredients are starting to fall into place," said veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine.

Two problems here: first is the basic assumption that Democrats could ride a "surging anti-war tide" back into control of Congress in 2006. More important for Democrats, however, is the assumption behind the assumption: namely, that to actually get a surging antiwar tide between now and next November things would have to go terribly in Iraq - something Tad Devine says he and his party are hoping for. 

Say what you will about Joe Lieberman, but he isn't playing politics and unlike many other members of his party he understands that we should all be rooting for success in Iraq.

December 07, 2005

Hillary's Sister Souljah Moment

There will be multiple Sister Souljah opportunities for Senator Clinton over the next two years as we head into the next Presidential cycle. But I wonder whether there will be an opportunity as powerful as the one Howard Dean provided this week with his comment that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong." 

In June of 1992 Bill Clinton repudiated black rapper Sister Souljah, comparing her to the white racist David Duke sparking criticism from Jesse Jackson and other leaders of the Democratic party's African-American base. A decade and a half ago the dissolution of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War had removed foreign policy and national security as a major issue in presidential politics leaving crime, welfare, and race as a potential area of vulnerability for Democrats running nationwide. 

Clinton's Sister Souljah moment played perfectly into his campaign strategy to run as a moderate, southern governor from Arkansas and was a calculated message that he would not be beholden to the more extreme wings of the Democratic base.

In 2005 national Democrats' biggest obstacle to winning the Presidency is the left wing of their own party that has an ingrained hostility to the U.S. military, U.S. power and to U.S. interests in the world. And unlike 1992, in today's post-9/11 world national security and defense issues are front and center with the voters when it comes to the Presidency.

Dean's statement that the United States is not going to win in Iraq is a kick in the gut to our men and women overseas fighting in our name. Senator Lieberman continues to be the one of the very few national Democrats who continually steps up to contest this defeatism, but unfortunately for Democrats the reality is Joe Lieberman no longer has any standing in the Democratic Party.

Senator Clinton, to her credit, has been solid in her support to see the U.S. through to victory, though that tightrope is becoming increasingly harder to walk as the anti-war Democrats gain in strength and confidence. Hillary would significantly increase her odds of winning the 2008 general election if she used this opportunity to repudiate Howard Dean and his defeatism and call for his removal as Chairman.

Obviously, a move like this would create a civil war in the Democratic Party and would concurrently downgrade her lock on the Democratic nomination, but it would be a demonstration of leadership that would go a long way to chipping away at the public's mistrust of Democrats when it comes to the nation's defense.

It's good politics for her and it would be the exact right message to send to our troops, the world, and most importantly the enemy.

December 06, 2005

Coming Out of The Antiwar Closet

You'd think it would be news when the chairman of one of the national parties comes out and says publicly that we can't win the war in Iraq. Apparently not. I can't find any mention of Dean's remark on the web sites of The New York Times or The Washington Post - though both give predictable front page treatment to the story that yesterday that a judge declared Ronnie Earle's original indictment of Tom DeLay totally bogus and without merit (Texas Judge Lets Stand 2 of 3 Charges Against DeLay and DeLay's Felony Charge Upheld).

Anyway, it's clear that a growing number of Democrats in the House now feel confident enough to voice the antiwar sentiment that they've done a poor but diligent job of keeping stuffed in the closet over the last two years. War hero and patriot Jack Murtha was the key that opened the closet door.

The first key tried by the Democrats, the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Senator, who by the way served in Vietnam and who was for the war before being against it, did not work. Nor did the second: the month-long media-inspired spectacle of a mother exploiting the memory of her dead war hero son. But Murtha, despite the utter incoherence he's demonstrated defending his position of late, has given Democrats two things they've never had before: the cover and credibility of a true, living war hero and a shiny new militaryesque sound bite: "strategic redeployment."

Needless to say, the antiwar coming out party of Howard Dean and the House Democratic caucus is causing signficant problems for some Democratic members of the Senate. Poor Hillary is now being "bird dogged" by antiwar activists.  Even hard core progressives with ambitions of leading the country can't bring themselves to get on board. Here's Barack Obama in today's Chicago Tribune:

Sen. Barack Obama said Monday that the Democratic Party was unlikely to reconcile its differences and reach a unified strategy for Iraq, conceding: "The politics and the policy of this may not match perfectly."

As Democrats work to win control of Congress in the 2006 elections, Obama (D-Ill.) said a cacophony of views over the Iraq war threatens to divide the party once again.

"It is arguable that the best politics going into '06 would be a clear succinct message: `Let's bring our troops home,' " Obama said. "It's certainly easier to communicate and I think would probably have some pretty strong resonance with the American people right now, but whether that's the best policy right now, I don't feel comfortable saying it is."

In an interview with the Tribune's editorial board, Obama renewed his opposition to immediately pulling troops from Iraq.

Obama and Clinton are smart enough to at least wait until after the December 15 election in Iraq before deciding whether or not to join the call for "strategic redeployment." At that point the difference between "drawing down forces" and "immediate withdrawal" will be less pronounced and it will be much easier for them to walk through the closet door.

December 05, 2005

Does Howard Dean Speak For His Party?

DNC Chairman Howard Dean says we can't win in Iraq:

(SAN ANTONIO) -- Saying the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong," Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean predicted today that the Democratic Party will come together on a proposal to withdraw National Guard and Reserve troops immediately, and all US forces within two years.

Dean made his comments in an interview on WOAI Radio in San Antonio.

"I've seen this before in my life. This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening."

Dean says the Democratic position on the war is 'coalescing,' and is likely to include several proposals.

"I think we need a strategic redeployment over a period of two years," Dean said. "Bring the 80,000 National Guard and Reserve troops home immediately. They don't belong in a conflict like this anyway..." [snip]

"What we see today is very much like what was going in Watergate," Dean said. "It turns out there is a lot of good evidence that President Bush did not tell the truth when he was asking Congress for the power to go to war. The President said last week that Congress saw the same intelligence that he did in making the decision to go to war, and that is flat out wrong. The President withheld some intelligence from the Senate Intelligence Committee. He withheld the report from the CIA that in fact there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq), that they did not have a nuclear program. They (the White House) selectively gave intelligence to the United States Senate and the United States Congress and got them to give the go ahead to attack these people."

Dean hit all the highlights:  Comparison to Vietnam. Check. Call for immediate withdrawal. Check. Bush lied. Check. Comparison to Watergate. Check. 

In all seriousness, Howard Dean is not some yahoo, he's the national voice of the Democratic party and his comments - saying Iraq is unwinnable and calling for the immediate withdrawal of 80,000 troops less than two weeks before Iraq goes to the polls -  unquestionably furthers the perception that Democrats are the party of cut and run.  This is a horrendous political mistake and it puts even more pressure on Democrats like Clinton, Biden, et al to respond to the question: Does Howard Dean speak for your party?

Rumsfeld Spanks Media

I was under the impression Rumsfeld's speech at the SAIS today was about Iraq - and it was. But sandwiched between a recitation of Bush's "stay the course" rhetoric from the other day was a classic Rumsfeldian rebuke of the media's coverage of the war:

The media serves a valuable -- indeed an indispensable -- role in informing our society and holding government to account. But I would submit it is also important for the media to hold itself to account.

We have arrived at a strange time in this country where the worst about America and our military seems to be so quickly taken as truth by the press and reported and spread around the world -- with little or no context or scrutiny -- let alone correction or accountability -- even after the fact. Speed it appears is often the first goal, not accuracy, not context.

Recently there were claims by two Iraqis on a speaking tour that U.S. soldiers threw them in a cage with lions. Their charges were widely reported -- still without substantiation. Not too long ago, there was a false and damaging story about a Koran supposedly flushed down a toilet, and in the riots that followed people were killed. And a recent New York Times editorial implied America’s armed forces -- your armed forces -- use tactics reminiscent of Saddam Hussein.

I understand that there may be great pressure on them to tell a dramatic story. And while it is easy to use a bombing or a terrorist attack to support a belief that Iraq is a failure, that is not the accurate picture. And further, it is not good journalism.

Consider this: You couldn’t tell the full story of Iwo Jima simply by listing the nearly 26,000 American casualties over about 40 days; or explain the importance of Grant’s push to Virginia just by noting the savagery of the battles. So too, in Iraq, it is appropriate to note not only how many Americans have been killed -- and may God bless them and their families -- but what they died for -- or more accurately, what they lived for.

So I suggest to editors and reporters -- whose good intentions I take for granted -- to do some soul searching. To ask: how will history judge -- if it does -- the reporting decades from now when Iraq’s path is settled?

I would urge us all to make every effort to ensure we are telling the whole story. To take a moment for self-reflection and reassessment.

About a year and a half ago I discussed the issue of media coverage in Iraq with Karl Zinsmeister, editor of The American Enterprise Magazine and author of two books on the Iraq war. Zinsmeister recounted a number of factors contributing to the negative coverage coming out of Iraq, but one of the most interesting (and least often recognized) was this:

Continue reading "Rumsfeld Spanks Media" »

December 01, 2005

The Willie Pete Debate

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times carried an op-ed by John Pike, Director of, deconstructing the overblown claims about the U.S.'s use of white phosphorus in Fallujah. Also, Kenneth Anderson, Professor of international law at American University and author of the Law of War and Just War Theory Blog, emailed to point out a similar debunking by Anthony Dworkin, editor of the human rights web site Bottom line: WP is not a chemical weapon, it has been used by various militaries over a long period of time, and U.S. forces employed WP in  Fallujah legally.  None of this, however, has stopped it from becoming a public relations disaster for the U.S. military.

As if to underscore that point, today the Los Angeles Times runs a rebuttal to Pike by Jonathan Tucker, senior fellow at the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who blows by the facts to claim that the U.S. military's use of a legal, effective weapon for killing bad guys and protecting coalition troops represents "the loss of a moral compass by this administration, which has turned the United States into a rogue state in the eyes of the world."

November 30, 2005

Is Bush's Best Good Enough?

In many ways today's speech was Bush at his best.  He was tough, resolute, and confident - all things which the American people tend to like in their Presidents - but he also effectively emphasized that the policy on the ground in Iraq is "dynamic," "flexible," and constantly evolving and adapting tactics and techniques. He cited specific, tangible examples of progress in training Iraqi forces but did so without rattling off a bunch of eye-glazing statistics. He became emotional when talking about the troops (as he always does), but in the context of today's speech his deeply held belief that finishing the job in Iraq is the only way to honor the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers is something I think resonates with a great number of people.

Will this speech revive Bush's political fortunes on Iraq? Not by itself, no.  Today, supporters of the war heard "we're making progress" and opponents of the war heard "more of the same." Maybe Bush changed a few minds in the middle, but probably not many (how many people are watching cable TV at 9am?). I do think, however, over the next 90 days or so Bush has a chance - perhaps the final one of his presidency - to swing public opinion back in his favor on Iraq with the elections on December 15 and a concerted effort by the President to educate and inform the public on the continuing progress. The trial of Saddam could also provide a boost, as would the capture or killing of Zarqawi, bin Laden, or both.

The President would be in a much better position today if he had given a speech like this or held a press conference on Iraq every 10 days for the last six months. But the White House has done a poor job of defending the most important policy of this presidency, and it's only gotten worse in the last three months since being buffeted by a string of bad news including Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, and the Libby indictment, all of which have indirectly hurt support for Iraq by driving down Bush's overall job rating. At the same time, Democrats have stepped up their attacks across the board and have effectively been handing the administration its hat for weeks with little to no resistance.

In that sense today's speech was important. Bush reestablished an aggressive strategic political position on Iraq not only articulating the current policy and promoting progress, but by saying in plain terms that artificial timetables for withdrawal are out of the question while he is president.  Timetables for troop withdrawals will be private, not public. They will be set by military commanders, not politicians. And they will be based on one criterion: achieving victory. Of course, Bush has now established he is the one who determines what victory is, not Congress.

All in all it was one of Bush's best efforts. The question is whether Bush's best will be good enough to win back the upper hand on the Iraq debate.

Waiting On Bush

In about 20 minutes President Bush is going to give a big address on Iraq at the U.S. Naval Academy. Here's a copy of the 38-page document sent out by the White House earlier this morning titled "National Strategy For Victory in Iraq."

I glanced at the Executive Summary (pages 4-5) and frankly I don't see anything that we don't already know or haven't already heard.  The first page of the document itself says it "articulates the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003 and provides an update on our progress as well as the challenges remaining."

That doesn't mean this isn't an important address or that it won't be helpful to Bush in trying to turn around public opinion on the war.  I'll be back after the speech with more thoughts.

November 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus on the effort in Iraq:

It's like trying to build the world's largest airplane, while in flight, and while it's being shot at. 

There's more interesting stuff in Petraeus' interview with The Tampa Tribune. By the way, The Trib is running a series of interviews with military personnel who've recently been on the front lines of Iraq. You can find the rest of the interviews here.

November 28, 2005

Daschle's Dirty Revisionism

Ron Brownstein serves as a witting accomplice to Tom Daschle's underhanded attempt to rewrite the history of the Iraq war debate:

Tom Daschle, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota, remembers the exchange vividly.

The time was September 2002. The place was the White House, at a meeting in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney pressed congressional leaders for a quick vote on a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.

But Daschle, who as Senate majority leader controlled the chamber's schedule, recalled recently that he asked Bush to delay the vote until after the impending midterm election.

"I asked directly if we could delay this so we could depoliticize it. I said: 'Mr. President, I know this is urgent, but why the rush? Why do we have to do this now?' He looked at Cheney and he looked at me, and there was a half-smile on his face. And he said: 'We just have to do this now.' "

Daschle's account, which White House officials said they could not confirm or deny, highlights a crucial factor that has drawn little attention amid rising controversy over the congressional vote that authorized the war in Iraq. The recent partisan dispute has focused almost entirely on the intelligence information legislators had as they cast their votes. But the debate may have been shaped as much by when Congress voted as by what it knew.

Brownstein is smart enough to know that Daschle sold him a bill of goods with this story, but he couldn't resist: the anecdote was just too juicy, too suggestive, and too perfect to support Brownstein's predetermined angle that the Bush administration politicized the Iraq vote by ramming it through Congress before the election.

The record shows that by the time Daschle met with Bush and Cheney on September 18, 2002 he had already concluded - after a heated, public debate among members of his party  - that the best way to handle the Iraq vote was to move it through Congress quickly and get back to "kitchen table" election issues. In fact, a quick check of Google shows that the night before Daschle's September 18 meeting CNN ran the following story:

Congress will vote on a resolution about war with Iraq "well before the election, " despite the nation's last-minute pledge to allow the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle predicted Tuesday.

"I think there will be a vote well before the election, and I think it's important that we work together to achieve it," said Daschle, who had been pressed by some Democrats to hold off action on the resolution until after November's mid-term election.

Daschle could have easily postponed a vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq until after the election if he had wanted to - though to do so would have been political suicide.  Remember, this was the week after the first anniversary of September 11 and just days after Bush laid out a powerful case against Saddam Hussein before the United Nations.  Daschle was under tremendous political pressure - not directly from Bush but from members of his own party - to deal with Iraq before the midterm and he made the right political decision by holding the vote in early October. Now that the political climate has changed, it's shameful that Daschle is trying to rehabilitate himself politically by peddling a revisionist story using Ron Brownstein as an uncritical media mouthpiece.

November 21, 2005

Iraq Strategy For Dummies

Simple question: why'd he do it? Why did John Murtha, who went sour on Iraq back in September 2003 and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nancy Pelosi back in May of last year and called the war "unwinnable," choose to come out last week and call to bring the troops home immediately? The short answer is probably that Murtha wanted to capitalize on the dazzling display of weakness and timidity by Senate Republicans last week.

The bigger question is why we are having the discussion about pullouts and timelines for troop withdrawals now, only two weeks before Iraqis go to the polls to freely elect a representative government. The timing borders on the insane, and is at least as counterproductive as it is dangerous.  As Ralph Peters points out in a particularly hard-hitting column today, we look an awful lot like a winning team who can't wait to find a way to lose.

For those who have been paying attention (and you would hope to count our folks in Congress among this group) the White House and the Pentagon have been signaling for months that the plan is to begin pulling out troops as soon as humanly possible after the completion of the elections in December.

General Casey floated the idea back in late JulyThe Washington Post also reported that Lt. Gen. Vines mentioned something similar in June:

A top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, told reporters last month that four or five of 17 battalions, roughly one-quarter of U.S. forces in Iraq, could be pulled out if security conditions improved and if Iraqi national elections scheduled for December went smoothly.

At the time, Bush publicly downplayed the idea of setting a "firm" timeline for troop withdrawals from Iraq as "speculation" (which was the right thing to do given the precarious state of affairs negotiating the Iraqi constitution) but it's clear both the administration and DoD were already thinking about various scenarios for drawing down U.S. forces:

Their "best scenario" target is to reduce numbers to 60,000-70,000 by next autumn if Iraqi forces start to make progress against the insurgents. The fall-back option would be Gen Casey's minimum 30,000 reduction by the summer.

The Pentagon signaled its plans again on September 29:

While the Bush administration has refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Casey has repeatedly said a "fairly substantial" pullout could begin next spring and summer as long as the political process stayed on track, the insurgency did not expand and the training of Iraqi security forces continued as planned.

But when reporters asked Casey on Wednesday whether he still believed that to be the case, he said, "I think right now we're in a period of a little greater uncertainty than when I was asked that question back in July and March."

"Until we're done with this political process here with the referendum and the elections in December, I think it's too soon to tell," Casey said.

We now learn that Casey submitted a plan for troop withdrawal to Rumsfeld last week, probably right around the time Bill Frist was orchestrating the Republican debacle in the Senate.  CNN reports what should be obvious to anyone with a clue: "implementation of the plan, if approved, would start after the December 15 Iraqi elections so as not to discourage voters from going to the polls." Unfortunately, thanks to the actions of leaders in Congress last week, we've probably done just the opposite.

November 19, 2005

Hats Off To Three Democrats

Let's recap what happened last night. After months of publicly berating President Bush as a liar over pre-war intel and after invoking a rarely used rule to shut down the Senate two weeks ago, Democrats are crying foul because....? Because Republicans challenged them to stop trying to have it both ways on Iraq after a leading, well-respected member of the Democratic party came out and called for the immediate withdrawal of troops.

Did the resolution contain the language the most Democrats would have liked? No. But politics ain't beanbag (which the Dems have shown by the examples listed above) and the bottom line is that you have to win elections if you want to control the process.

That being said, you'd have to be a fool to believe there are only three Democrats in the House who support the language of the resolution offered last night to bring the troops home immediately. At the top of the list is Nancy Pelosi who, instead of voting her conscience and representing her constituents, decided to play victim and accuse Republicans of "politicizing the war" - something she's been doing non-stop for more than two years now. 

Wanting to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq doesn't make you a coward. What does make you a coward is when you truly believe we should get our troops out of Iraq immediately, you have a chance to vote for doing exactly that, and you choose not to because you fear the political consequences of being on record revealing your position to the public. This was not a vote on some obscure provision of the budget, it was the most supremely important subject on which members of Congress have the privilege and duty to vote.

So hats off to Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, Robert Wexler of Florida and Jose E. Serrano of New York for having the courage to vote what they really believe. And shame on those who didn't.

November 17, 2005

Perle on Chalabi, Iraq

Some very interesting tidbits from Richard Perle's talk yesterday at my alma mater. On Ahmed Chalabi:

"Almost everything you've heard about [Chalabi] is false," Perle said. "The CIA, which doesn't like him, has been out of control on this issue."

Perle described Chalabi as a brilliant patriot who sacrificed a life of comfort in the United Kingdom for an active role in the rebuilding of Iraq.

"We should have handed him the keys the day Baghdad fell," Perle said.

On Iraq: 

"I think we made serious mistakes after the initial military action," Perle said. "It was a benign occupation but it was an occupation nonetheless, and people don't like to be occupied."

And finally, a passage that the left will no doubt view as confirmation of their deepest, darkest conspiracy theories about Iraq:

After Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the Defense Policy Board unanimously agreed that Iraq was one of the states most likely to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. Perle said the U.S. government felt it could not tolerate that risk, no matter how improbable it seems in retrospect.

Most will recognize the Defense Policy Board as the roughly 30-member advisory group of former politicians, military officers, and defense experts chaired by Perle from 2001-2003 which many on the left firmly believe was ground zero for the hijacking of U.S. foreign policy by the neocon/Likudnik cabal.

In fact, DPB members who were part of the unanimous vote Perle refers to included former Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley, former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Nobel Prize winning Professor Gary Becker, Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the Brookings Institution,  Henry Kissinger, Dan Quayle, Pete Wilson, and Tillie Fowler.

November 16, 2005

Cheney Emerges From Bunker, Drops Hammer

Cheney says:

the suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this Administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

 Full text of remarks here.

November 15, 2005

"Joementum" on Iraq

Senator Joe Lieberman today on the floor of the Senate:

It is no surprise to my colleagues that I strongly supported the war in Iraq. I was privileged to be the Democratic cosponsor, with the Senator from Virginia, of the authorizing resolution which received overwhelming bipartisan support. As I look back on it and as I follow the debates about prewar intelligence, I have no regrets about having sponsored and supported that resolution because of all the other reasons we had in our national security interest to remove Saddam Hussein from power – a brutal, murdering dictator, an aggressive invader of his neighbors, a supporter of terrorism, a hater of the United States of America. He was, for us, a ticking time bomb that, if we did not remove him, I am convinced would have blown up, metaphorically speaking, in America's face.

I am grateful to the American military for the extraordinary bravery and brilliance of their campaign to remove Saddam Hussein. I know we are safer as a nation, and to say the obvious that the Iraqi people are freer as a people, and the Middle East has a chance for a new day and stability with Saddam Hussein gone.

 The full text of Senator Lieberman's statement can be read here.

The Paranoid Style

In November, 1964, Professor Richard Hofstadter penned an essay in Harper's Magazine attempting to explain the paranoia and anger manifested by the right wing of the Republican party in the era of McCarthy and Goldwater.  Forty-one years later to the month, however, it's impossible to read Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics without seeing similarities to the mood and mentality of today's Democratic party.

We've reproduced the full essay here, which I very much recommend reading, but I've pulled out a few particularly relevant quotes. The first is Hofstadter's explanation of the term "paranoid style:"

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics., In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content.

Continue reading "The Paranoid Style" »

November 10, 2005

The Case For War

Kevin Drum responds to Norman Podhoretz's essay detailing the case for war in Iraq:

Nor does Podhoretz apply himself to the entire period before the war. He stops his investigation at the end of 2002. But that's not when we went to war. We went to war in March 2003, and by that time UN inspectors had been combing Iraq for months with the help of U.S. intelligence. They found nothing, and an increasing chorus of informed minds was starting to wonder if perhaps there was nothing there. In response, President Bush and his supporters merely amped up their certainty that Saddam was hiding something.

Let's go back, look at the record and see if we can't refresh our memories a bit. The issue, as it stood throughout all of 2002, started with this declaration by the President in his State of Union address in late January of that year:

Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives.  First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice.  And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.

We all know Bush explicitly singled out Iraq:

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.  This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.  This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

The first four sentences of the above paragraph represent uncontested fact. The last is a reasonable, logical, and prudent conclusion flowing from the previous four.

The implication of Bush's words were clear and supremely significant: in the aftermath of 9/11 America would no longer tolerate Iraq's deception, its cat-and-mouse games, its flouting of international authority.  The burden of proof on WMD, which for so long had rested on the international community's ability (or lack thereof) to make a case, shifted directly to Iraq. It was Hussein's responsibility to come clean once and for all, to open up to inspections and make a full and complete accounting to the world.

Eight months later (a pretty pathetic rush to war, if you ask me) Bush made the same cogent, powerful argument directly to the United Nations on September 12, 2002. The UN Security Council responded by unanimously approving Resolution 1441 on November 8 which gave Iraq "a final opportunity" to "provide accurate, full, final, and complete disclosure" of its past and present WMD activities.

Almost three weeks went by before inspections resumed in Iraq on November 27, 2002. At this point there was still a general consensus among intelligence agencies around the world - not to mention policy experts and politicians from both sides of the aisle in the U.S. dating back nearly 10 years - about what type of WMD Iraq was potentially concealing.

Yes, we now know there were some dissenting opinions in the mix of intelligence, but that only serves to highlight a point that cannot be overstated: our ability to know exactly what Saddam had or didn't have depended almost exclusively on his willingness to cooperate with the inspection and disarmament process.  Everyone, including Hans Blix, knew this and stated it openly and repeatedly, often citing South Africa as the model for full, accurate, and complete disarming of WMD.

The record shows that is not how Saddam behaved. On December 7 Iraq submitted a 12,000 page weapons declaration which both the U.S. and the U.N. found to contain "gaps" and "inconsistencies" which Iraq either could not or would not explain.  Inspectors gained access to sites but were accompanied by groups of Iraqi "minders" in ratios as high as five to one.  Iraq initially refused to allow inspectors to interview its scientists under conditions set by the UN. And on and on.

Far from being open and cooperative, what little compliance the UN received from Iraq came at the point of the gun. Saddam became a bit more responsive as the first U.S. soldiers began massing in the Persian Gulf in early 2003, but even after eight full weeks of inspections Hans Blix opened his status report before the U.N. on January 27, 2003 by saying:

Unlike South Africa, which decided on its own to eliminate its nuclear weapons and welcomed the inspection as a means of creating confidence in its disarmament, Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.

At the point Bush made the decision to go to war in March 2003, Saddam had had more than four months worth of opportunities after the passage of Resolution 1441 (and another 12 years and 15 resolutions before that) to make a meaningful display of cooperation on the issue of WMD disarmament to the US and the UN. He never chose to do so.

We now know one of the reasons Saddam never felt pressured to cooperate is because he had been running a multibillion dollar bribery scam through the U.N. itself. Support for sanctions was on the verge of crumbling.  And everyone knew maintaining a huge U.S. military force on the Iraqi border to force continued inspections was untenable for any serious length of time.

In the end, the story of the run-up to the Iraq war is about intelligence, but not in the way most people think.  Intelligence is always flawed and imprecise, even more so when you're dealing with a closed, paranoid and authoritarian regime like Hussein's. It's foolish to suggest Bush should have bucked consensus estimates on Iraq WMD built from more than a decade of intel, and it's even worse to suggest he lied for not doing so. 

What President Bush did instead was put an end to the decade-long guessing game and place the burden squarely on Saddam Hussein by saying in front of the world: "This is what we think you have. It's now your responsibility to prove us wrong." In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in the history of America, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

October 27, 2005

The Democrats' National Security Awards

The Boston Globe wins the award for the most painfully ironic title of the day:  "Democratic leaders offer a national security plan." You don't say? I guess coming up with something four years after being attacked by Islamic fundamentalists is better than nothing.

Award for the most painfully ironic quote goes to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who presented the Dems' new national security initiative by announcing, ''The Democrats are basically supportive of the troops." (emphasis mine).

Finally, the award for the most painfully clueless former Presidential nominee goes to John Kerry, who demonstrated again yesterday why he lost the 2004 election and why he doesn't have a prayer in 2008:

''History will judge the invasion of Iraq as one of the greatest foreign policy misadventures of all time," he [Kerry] said.

But later, during a question and answer session, Kerry resisted comparisons to the Vietnam War, and said he told US troops in Iraq that ''their cause is noble" in risking their lives as Iraq stumbles toward democracy.

 Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.....

October 26, 2005

Are They Statistics or Heroes?

It's truly hard to fathom how warped the media culture is in this country.  Most major newspapers are leading this morning with the 2,000th U.S. combat death in Iraq.  Apparently, this is a "milestone" the media deems worthy of expanded coverage - including news analysis of the "grim" numbers, stories of family grief, and "interactive graphics" of our fallen men and women.

Buried at the bottom of all the coverage ostensibly intended to "honor" our troops is the little tidbit that, oh by the way, the Iraqi constitution passed.

Look at the treatment at The Washington Post web site, which even manages to negatively phrase news of the Iraqi charter vote:



How about above the fold at The New York Times


This isn't honoring our soldiers, it's using their deaths to try and negatively influence the public about the war in Iraq.  You think I'm being too harsh? Ask any soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq if they think this type of coverage  "honors" their fallen comrades or their mission and see what kind of response you get.

The problem is that to truly honor something means, by definition, to hold it in high respect and esteem.  Members of the media may hold the sacrifices of individual soldiers in esteem but it's fair to say that, as a whole, they have significantly less respect for or belief in the causes for which those soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq. The result is that much of the mainstream media can't separate the men from the mission, and feel that to write positive stories about Iraq or stories truly honoring our soldiers would be seen as propaganda supporting the policy (and indirectly the President).

To get a better idea of what I'm talking about, look at this:  


The left will say this is propaganda from a right-wing rag.  But the one striking difference between the Post and the rest is that at least The Post is willing to treat our dead soldiers as "heroes." The New York Times had no problem writing exhaustively about the heroes of 9/11, but when it comes to Iraq all we get are body counts.