The End of Arrogance…NOT.
The welcome end of a Pissant and an international joke, more likely. The opening paragraphs from an article in Der Spiegel:
There are days when all it takes is a single speech to illustrate the decline of a world power. A face can speak volumes, as can the speaker’s tone of voice, the speech itself or the audience’s reaction. Kings and queens have clung to the past before and humiliated themselves in public, but this time it was merely a United States president.
Or what is left of him.
George W. Bush has grown old, erratic and rosy in the eight years of his presidency. Little remains of his combativeness or his enthusiasm for physical fitness. On this sunny Tuesday morning in New York, even his hair seemed messy and unkempt, his blue suit a little baggy around the shoulders, as Bush stepped onto the stage, for the eighth time, at the United Nations General Assembly.
He talked about terrorism and terrorist regimes, and about governments that allegedly support terror. He failed to notice that the delegates sitting in front of and below him were shaking their heads, smiling and whispering, or if he did notice, he was no longer capable of reacting. The US president gave a speech similar to the ones he gave in 2004 and 2007, mentioning the word “terror” 32 times in 22 minutes. At the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations, George W. Bush was the only one still talking about terror and not about the topic that currently has the rest of the world’s attention.
“Absurd, absurd, absurd,” said one German diplomat. A French woman called him “yesterday’s man” over coffee on the East River. There is another way to put it, too: Bush was a laughing stock in the gray corridors of the UN.
The American president has always had enemies in these hallways and offices at the UN building on First Avenue in Manhattan. The Iranians and Syrians despise the eternal American-Israeli coalition, while many others are tired of Bush’s Americans telling the world about the blessings of deregulated markets and establishing rules “that only apply to others,” says the diplomat from Berlin.
But the ridicule was a new thing. It marked the end of respect.
Right, like the Little Pissant ever earned or deserved anything but contempt, derision, and ridicule from the get-go. Good freakin’ riddance.
The failure of Bush policy
Excerpts from Andrew Bacevich at TomDispatch.com, via Salon [corrections of The Pissant’s title my own, not Bacevich’s]:
The events of the past seven years have yielded a definitive judgment on the strategy that the Bush administration conceived in the wake of 9/11 to wage its so-called global war on terror. That strategy has failed, massively and irrevocably. To acknowledge that failure is to confront an urgent national priority: to scrap the Bush approach in favor of a new national security strategy that is realistic and sustainable—a task that, alas, neither of the presidential candidates seems able to recognize or willing to take up.
On Sept. 30, 2001, Pissant Bush received from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memorandum outlining U.S. objectives in the war on terror. Drafted by Rumsfeld’s chief strategist, Douglas Feith, the memo declared expansively: “If the war does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.” That aim, as Feith explained in a subsequent missive to his boss, was to “transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally.”
When it came to implementation, the imperative of the moment was to think big. Just days after 9/11, Rumsfeld was charging his subordinates to devise a plan of action that had “three, four, five moves behind it.” By December 2001, the Pentagon had persuaded itself that the first move—into Afghanistan—had met success. The Bush administration wasted little time in pocketing its ostensible victory. Attention quickly shifted to the second move, seen by insiders as holding the key to ultimate success: Iraq.
Fix Iraq and moves three, four and five promised to come easily. Writing in the Weekly Standard, William Kristol and Robert Kagan got it exactly right: “The Pissant’s vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq.”
The point cannot be emphasized too strongly: Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and his (imaginary) ties to al-Qaida never constituted the real reason for invading Iraq—any more than the imperative of defending Russian “peacekeepers” in South Ossetia explains the Kremlin’s decision to invade Georgia.
Iraq merely offered a convenient place from which to launch a much larger and infinitely more ambitious project. [...]
In either case—whether the strategy of transformation aimed at dominion or democratization—today, seven years after it was conceived, we can assess exactly what it has produced. The answer is clear: next to nothing, apart from squandering vast resources and exacerbating the slide toward debt and dependency that poses a greater strategic threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden ever did.
In point of fact, hardly had the Pentagon commenced its second move, its invasion of Iraq, when the entire strategy began to unravel. In Iraq, Pissant’s vision of regional transformation did die, much as Kagan and Kristol had feared. [...]
John McCain says that he’ll keep U.S. combat troops in Iraq for as long as it takes…
The United States will not change the world’s political map in the ways top administration officials once dreamed of. There will be no earthquake that shakes up the Middle East—unless the growing clout of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas in recent years qualifies as that earthquake. Given the Pentagon’s existing commitments, there will be no threats of “you’re next,” either—at least none that will worry our adversaries, as the Russians have neatly demonstrated. Nor will there be a wave of democratic reform—even Rice has ceased her prattling on that score. Islam will remain stubbornly resistant to change, except on terms of its own choosing. We will not change the way “they” live.
In a book that he coauthored during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Kristol confidently declared, “The mission begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there.” In fact, the Bush administration’s strategy of transformation has ended. It has failed miserably. The sooner we face up to that failure, the sooner we can get about repairing the damage.
A Short but Complete Summary of the Bush Administration
Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
More Stunning Ignorance from Petulant King George the Idiot
Still stunning after all these years. From ThinkProgress:
In private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week, Newsweek reports that Bush disowned the U.S. intelligence community’s judgments:
But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. "He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own views" about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity.
Bush’s old world disorder
Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon:
Every aspect of Bush’s foreign policy has now collapsed. Every dream of neoconservatism has become a nightmare. Every doctrine has turned to dust. The influence of the United States has reached a nadir, its lowest point since before World War II, when the country was encased in isolationism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose soul President Bush famously claimed to peer through, is scuttling arms control agreements and cutting his own deals with the Iranians. The Turkish army is poised to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants that the Iraqi government and the U.S. allowed to roam freely. The resurgent Taliban, given a second life when Bush drained resources from Afghanistan for the invasion of Iraq, is besieging the countryside, straining the future of the Western alliance in the form of NATO. Pakistan, whose intelligence service and military contain elements that sponsor the Taliban and al-Qaida, remains an epicenter of terrorism. Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of martial law in Pakistan on Nov. 3 was his second coup, reinforcing his 1999 military takeover. Facing elections in January 2008 that seemed likely to repudiate him and an independent judiciary that refused to grant him extraordinary powers, he suspended constitutional rule. Toothless U.S. admonitions were easily ignored.
Gone are the days when the stern words of a senior U.S. official prevented rash action by an errant foreign leader and when the power of the U.S. served as a restraining force and promoted peaceful resolution of conflict. In the vacuum of the Bush catastrophe, nation-states pursue what they perceive to be their own interests as global conflicts proliferate. The backlash of preemptive war in Iraq gathers momentum in undermining U.S. power and prestige. The resignation last week of Bush’s close advisor, Karen Hughes, as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, whose mission was to restore the U.S. image in the world, signaled not only failure but also exhaustion. The administration’s ventriloquism act of casting words into the mouth of the president’s nominee for attorney general, former federal Judge Michael Mukasey, who would not declare waterboarding torture, demonstrated that Bush is less concerned with the crumbling of America’s reputation and moral authority than with preventing an attorney general from prosecuting members of his administration, including possibly him, for war crimes under U.S. law.
The neoconservative project is crashing. The “unipolar moment,” the post-Cold War unilateralist utopia imagined by neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer; “hegemony,” the ultimate goal projected by the September 2000 manifesto of the Project for the New American Century; an “empire” over lands that “today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets,” fantasized by neocon Max Boot in the Weekly Standard a month after Sept. 11, have instead produced unintended consequences of chaos and decline. Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s presumption that successful war would instill fear leading to absolute obedience and the suppression of potential rivalries and serious threats—the “dangerous nation” thesis of neocon theorist Robert Kagan—has proved to be the greatest foreign policy miscalculation in U.S. history.
The quest for absolute power has not forged an “empire” but provoked ever-widening chaos. The neocons have been present at the creation, all right. But this “creation” is not another American century, in emulation of the post-World War II order fashioned by the so-called wise men, such as Secretary of State Dean Acheson, a consummate realist, who Condoleezza Rice continues to insist is her model. Squandering the immense influence of the U.S. in such a short period has required monumental effort. Now the fog of war clears. On the ruin of the neocons’ new world order emerges the old world disorder on steroids.
Musharraf’s coup spectacularly illustrates the Bush effect. His speech of Nov. 3, explaining his seizure of power, is among the most significant and revealing documents of this new era in its cynical exploitation of the American example. In his speech, Musharraf mocks and echoes Bush’s rhetoric. Tyranny, not freedom, is on the march. Musharraf appropriates the phrase “judicial activism,” the epithet hurled by American conservatives at liberal decisions of the courts since the Warren Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in schools, and makes it his own. This term—“judicial activism”—has no other source. It is certainly not a phrase that originated in Pakistan. “The judiciary has interfered: That’s the basic issue,” Musharraf said.
Indeed, under Bush, the administration has equated international law, the system of justice, and lawyers with terrorism. In the March 2005 National Defense Strategy, this conflation of enemies became official doctrine: “Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism.” Neoconservative lawyers, in and out of the administration, have strenuously argued that the efforts to restore the Geneva Conventions, place detainees within the judicial process and provide them with legal representation amount to what they denigrate as “lawfare”—a sneering reference to “welfare” and the idea that detainees are akin to the unworthy poor. Lawyers for detainees, meanwhile, are routinely insulted as “habeas lawyers,” as though they were agents of terrorists and that arguing for the restoration of habeas corpus proves complicity “objectively” with terrorists. Rather than cite these neoconservative talking points directly or invoke the authority of Bush, whose feeble protestations he brushed aside, Musharraf slyly quoted Abraham Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus in Maryland and southern Indiana during the Civil War. (The U.S. Circuit Court of Maryland overturned his act. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan that civilians could not be tried before military tribunals when civil courts were functioning.) In Musharraf’s version, Lincoln is his model, taking executive action in order to save the nation: “He broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary powers, he trampled individual liberties, his justification was necessity.” Musharraf, of course, as he suspends an election, leaves out the rest of Lincoln, not least the difficult election of 1864, which took place in the middle of the Civil War.
But where did Musharraf get his warped idea of Lincoln as dictator and America as an example of tyranny? Not quite from diligent study of American history. According to a 2002 interview with Ikram Sehgal, managing editor of the Defense Journal of Pakistan, Musharraf received this notion from his reading of Richard Nixon’s book “Leaders,” published in 1994, in which Nixon discusses Lincoln’s measures taken under extreme duress with ill-disguised admiration. Thus, for Musharraf, as for Cheney and Bush, Nixon’s vision of an imperial president lies at the root of their actions in creating an executive unbound by checks and balances, unaccountable to “judicial activism.” Since declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has rounded up thousands of lawyers and shut down the courts, while halting offensive military action against terrorists. In the name of combating terrorism, even as parts of his government are in league with them, he launches an attack on those who profess democracy.
The Bush administration finds itself devoid of options. Neoconservatives are left, happily at least for some of them, to defend torture. They have no explanations for the implosion of Bush’s policies or suggestions for remedy. Self-examination is too painful and in any case unfamiliar. Bush regrets Musharraf’s martial law, yet tacitly accepts that the U.S. has no alternative but to support him in the war on terror that he is not fighting—and is using for his own political purposes. On the rubble of neoconservatism, the Bush administration has adopted “realism” by default, though not even as a gloss on its emptiness. Bush still clings to his high-flown rhetoric as if he’s warming up for his second inaugural address. But this is not rock-bottom; there is further to fall.
The War as We Saw It - New York Times
By BUDDHIKA JAYAMAHA, WESLEY D. SMITH, JEREMY ROEBUCK, OMAR MORA, EDWARD SANDMEIER, YANCE T. GRAY and JEREMY A. MURPHY
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.
However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.
In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.
Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.
The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.
Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.
Bill Moyers: Buying the War—How the Press Failed America
There’s not much of it—actual journalism—these days: must-watch TV.
On the Sad Joke that is American “News”
A Beltway Politician Finally Gets It
The sleazy Fred Hiatt editorial in the WaPo that Obey refers to is here.
Shuttle without diplomacy: the Irrelevancy of Condi Rice
Sidney Blumenthal makes another penetrating observation in Salon:
...Bush’s rhetoric about “democracy” underlines his studied error in ignoring the lessons of nation building deeply ingrained in the experience of the U.S. Foreign Service and U.S. military in Bosnia and Kosovo. From the start, in the 2000 campaign, Bush disdained “nation building” as Bill Clinton’s project. During and after the Iraq invasion, his ideological preconceptions and hostility to the State Department precluded him from adopting its successes.
In Bosnia and Kosovo, full sovereignty was not granted through an election—to this day—which would have turned over the country to one of the three contending religio-ethnic groups and fomented opposition insurgencies. Instead, the U.S. led in organizing a broad range of international partners and institutions in creating a structure of stability that is a basis for gradual democratic development. By contrast, the election Bush promoted in Iraq was political grandstanding in the name of “democracy” that incited the exclusion of Sunnis and aggravated civil warfare. Almost everything in place in Bosnia and Kosovo is absent in Iraq. The former is an example of U.S. leadership, the latter a case study in amateurish blundering. Moreover, Bush has turned “democracy” into a synonym for failure.
The State Department has been completely sidelined in the making of Bush’s latest and last policy on Iraq. Its experience in the Balkans remains thoroughly ignored. And Rice does nothing to call it to Bush’s attention, for that would require her to point out his shortcomings. The State Department founders like a ghost ship. Rice meanders back and forth to and from the Middle East, the shuttle without the diplomacy.
After twice rejecting the job of deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, was implored to accept it. In exchanging a Cabinet post for a sub-Cabinet one, a position of policymaking for an administrative post, Negroponte excited rumors that he would only have decided to make the switch if he believed that Rice would eventually leave and he would ascend to her job. But, once again, the logic of that Washington gossip is merely rational. Rice the irrelevancy remains Bush’s indispensable devotee.
Victory Is Not an Option
The Mission Can’t Be Accomplished—It’s Time for a New Strategy
By William E. Odom
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush’s illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.
Its gloomy implications—hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact—put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating “nonbinding resolutions” that oppose the president’s plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
For the moment, the collision of the public’s clarity of mind, the president’s relentless pursuit of defeat and Congress’s anxiety has paralyzed us. We may be doomed to two more years of chasing the mirage of democracy in Iraq and possibly widening the war to Iran. But this is not inevitable. A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of “who gets the blame” could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East.
No task is more important to the well-being of the United States. We face great peril in that troubled region, and improving our prospects will be difficult. First of all, it will require, from Congress at least, public acknowledgment that the president’s policy is based on illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq. Most Americans need no further convincing, but two truths ought to put the matter beyond question:
First, the assumption that the United States could create a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by professional students of the topic. Of the more than 40 democracies created since World War II, fewer than 10 can be considered truly “constitutional”—meaning that their domestic order is protected by a broadly accepted rule of law, and has survived for at least a generation. None is a country with Arabic and Muslim political cultures. None has deep sectarian and ethnic fissures like those in Iraq.
Strangely, American political scientists whose business it is to know these things have been irresponsibly quiet. In the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion, neoconservative agitators shouted insults at anyone who dared to mention the many findings of academic research on how democracies evolve. They also ignored our own struggles over two centuries to create the democracy Americans enjoy today. Somehow Iraqis are now expected to create a constitutional order in a country with no conditions favoring it.
This is not to say that Arabs cannot become liberal democrats. When they immigrate to the United States, many do so quickly. But it is to say that Arab countries, as well as a large majority of all countries, find creating a stable constitutional democracy beyond their capacities.
Second, to expect any Iraqi leader who can hold his country together to be pro-American, or to share American goals, is to abandon common sense. It took the United States more than a century to get over its hostility toward British occupation. (In 1914, a majority of the public favored supporting Germany against Britain.) Every month of the U.S. occupation, polls have recorded Iraqis’ rising animosity toward the United States. Even supporters of an American military presence say that it is acceptable temporarily and only to prevent either of the warring sides in Iraq from winning. Today the Iraqi government survives only because its senior members and their families live within the heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and military command.
As Congress awakens to these realities—and a few members have bravely pointed them out—will it act on them? Not necessarily. Too many lawmakers have fallen for the myths that are invoked to try to sell the president’s new war aims. Let us consider the most pernicious of them.
1) We must continue the war to prevent the terrible aftermath that will occur if our forces are withdrawn soon. Reflect on the double-think of this formulation. We are now fighting to prevent what our invasion made inevitable! Undoubtedly we will leave a mess—the mess we created, which has become worse each year we have remained. Lawmakers gravely proclaim their opposition to the war, but in the next breath express fear that quitting it will leave a blood bath, a civil war, a terrorist haven, a “failed state,” or some other horror. But this “aftermath” is already upon us; a prolonged U.S. occupation cannot prevent what already exists.
2) We must continue the war to prevent Iran’s influence from growing in Iraq. This is another absurd notion. One of the president’s initial war aims, the creation of a democracy in Iraq, ensured increased Iranian influence, both in Iraq and the region. Electoral democracy, predictably, would put Shiite groups in power—groups supported by Iran since Saddam Hussein repressed them in 1991. Why are so many members of Congress swallowing the claim that prolonging the war is now supposed to prevent precisely what starting the war inexorably and predictably caused? Fear that Congress will confront this contradiction helps explain the administration and neocon drumbeat we now hear for expanding the war to Iran.
Here we see shades of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy in Vietnam: widen the war into Cambodia and Laos. Only this time, the adverse consequences would be far greater. Iran’s ability to hurt U.S. forces in Iraq are not trivial. And the anti-American backlash in the region would be larger, and have more lasting consequences.
3) We must prevent the emergence of a new haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq. But it was the U.S. invasion that opened Iraq’s doors to al-Qaeda. The longer U.S. forces have remained there, the stronger al-Qaeda has become. Yet its strength within the Kurdish and Shiite areas is trivial. After a U.S. withdrawal, it will probably play a continuing role in helping the Sunni groups against the Shiites and the Kurds. Whether such foreign elements could remain or thrive in Iraq after the resolution of civil war is open to question. Meanwhile, continuing the war will not push al-Qaeda outside Iraq. On the contrary, the American presence is the glue that holds al-Qaeda there now.
4) We must continue to fight in order to “support the troops.” This argument effectively paralyzes almost all members of Congress. Lawmakers proclaim in grave tones a litany of problems in Iraq sufficient to justify a rapid pullout. Then they reject that logical conclusion, insisting we cannot do so because we must support the troops. Has anybody asked the troops?
During their first tours, most may well have favored “staying the course”—whatever that meant to them—but now in their second, third and fourth tours, many are changing their minds. We see evidence of that in the many news stories about unhappy troops being sent back to Iraq. Veterans groups are beginning to make public the case for bringing them home. Soldiers and officers in Iraq are speaking out critically to reporters on the ground.
But the strangest aspect of this rationale for continuing the war is the implication that the troops are somehow responsible for deciding to continue the president’s course. That political and moral responsibility belongs to the president, not the troops. Did not President Harry S. Truman make it clear that “the buck stops” in the Oval Office? If the president keeps dodging it, where does it stop? With Congress?
Embracing the four myths gives Congress excuses not to exercise its power of the purse to end the war and open the way for a strategy that might actually bear fruit.
The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.
Second, we must recognize that the United States alone cannot stabilize the Middle East.
Third, we must acknowledge that most of our policies are actually destabilizing the region. Spreading democracy, using sticks to try to prevent nuclear proliferation, threatening “regime change,” using the hysterical rhetoric of the “global war on terrorism”—all undermine the stability we so desperately need in the Middle East.
Fourth, we must redefine our purpose. It must be a stable region, not primarily a democratic Iraq. We must redirect our military operations so they enhance rather than undermine stability. We can write off the war as a “tactical draw” and make “regional stability” our measure of “victory.” That single step would dramatically realign the opposing forces in the region, where most states want stability. Even many in the angry mobs of young Arabs shouting profanities against the United States want predictable order, albeit on better social and economic terms than they now have.
Realigning our diplomacy and military capabilities to achieve order will hugely reduce the numbers of our enemies and gain us new and important allies. This cannot happen, however, until our forces are moving out of Iraq. Why should Iran negotiate to relieve our pain as long as we are increasing its influence in Iraq and beyond? Withdrawal will awaken most leaders in the region to their own need for U.S.-led diplomacy to stabilize their neighborhood.
If Bush truly wanted to rescue something of his historical legacy, he would seize the initiative to implement this kind of strategy. He would eventually be held up as a leader capable of reversing direction by turning an imminent, tragic defeat into strategic recovery.
If he stays on his present course, he will leave Congress the opportunity to earn the credit for such a turnaround. It is already too late to wait for some presidential candidate for 2008 to retrieve the situation. If Congress cannot act, it, too, will live in infamy.
William E. Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general, was head of Army intelligence and director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan. He served on the National Security Council staff under Jimmy Carter. A West Point graduate with a PhD from Columbia, Odom teaches at Yale and is a fellow of the Hudson Institute.
Worst President (real or fake) Ever
By Eric Foner
Ever since 1948, when Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Sr. asked 55 historians to rank U.S. presidents on a scale from “great” to “failure,” such polls have been a favorite pastime for those of us who study the American past.
Changes in presidential rankings reflect shifts in how we view history. When the first poll was taken, the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War was regarded as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote. As a result, President Andrew Johnson, a fervent white supremacist who opposed efforts to extend basic rights to former slaves, was rated “near great.” Today, by contrast, scholars consider Reconstruction a flawed but noble attempt to build an interracial democracy from the ashes of slavery—and Johnson a flat failure.
More often, however, the rankings display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the “great” category. Most presidents are ranked “average” or, to put it less charitably, mediocre. Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Richard M. Nixon occupy the bottom rung, and now President Bush is a leading contender to join them. A look at history, as well as Bush’s policies, explains why.
At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces (in that era, pro-slavery and racist ideologues). Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush’s presidency certainly brings theirs to mind.
Harding and Coolidge are best remembered for the corruption of their years in office (1921-23 and 1923-29, respectively) and for channeling money and favors to big business. They slashed income and corporate taxes and supported employers’ campaigns to eliminate unions. Members of their administrations received kickbacks and bribes from lobbyists and businessmen. “Never before, here or anywhere else,” declared the Wall Street Journal, “has a government been so completely fused with business.” The Journal could hardly have anticipated the even worse cronyism, corruption and pro-business bias of the Bush administration.
Despite some notable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, Nixon is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law.
Bush has taken this disdain for law even further. He has sought to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the Magna Carta in Anglo-American jurisprudence: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. In dozens of statements when signing legislation, he has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world. Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The court’s unprecedented rebukes of Bush’s policies on detainees indicate how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.
One other president bears comparison to Bush: James K. Polk. Some historians admire him, in part because he made their job easier by keeping a detailed diary during his administration, which spanned the years of the Mexican-American War. But Polk should be remembered primarily for launching that unprovoked attack on Mexico and seizing one-third of its territory for the United States.
Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war—an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president’s right to attack another country “whenever he shall deem it necessary,” Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to “fix any limit” to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln’s warning.
Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.
Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University.
Lost After Translation
from the NYT:
By BASIM MARDAN
THE United States Marines entered Mosul from the north. I lived in the northern suburbs, so I saw the first American flag. When the Humvees stopped, I shook hands with the marines, and I told them: “You are mostly welcome here. Why don’t you come to my house and drink some cold water?” They offered me a job.
I was the first or second translator to work with the coalition forces in my city, the first or second Iraqi to set foot on the American base in Mosul. The Marines paid me $150 a month, which was better than the $2 I was making as a librarian. So I didn’t see weapons in their hands, I saw flowers, and I took them all as friends. I loved what I was doing because I thought it was a good thing for my country.
My family was nervous. They told me things would change. I needed the American money to get married, but my fiancée said, “We don’t need to get married now — just quit.” But I wanted to work with the military forever; I loved it.
The unit I worked with was training and equipping the Iraqi police, teaching them about human rights. I translated textbooks from an American police academy into Arabic. The Americans taught Iraqi officials to exercise their authority without taking bribes or humiliating employees.
Iraqis needed this education, and the unit I worked with was awesome. At one point, they did two or three patrols to clean up garbage from the streets. In our culture, cleaning garbage is a low-level job, but when we saw a captain and a general doing it, that gave us a very great feeling. I threw away my helmet, took a shovel and started working, cleaning up garbage.
But even as we cleaned the city of garbage, we forgot another kind of garbage that was accumulating. The way the Army reacted to the insurgency was not perfect. The Americans did many foolish things. When I saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib, I thought, we are teaching Iraqi policemen not to do that — do the Americans really do that?
I grew sad, and I didn’t know what to believe, because the people I worked with were great. I’d told the officers at our camp’s detention center, “You are treating those prisoners better than their own mothers.” It’s not normal in our culture for a policeman to come and feed a sick prisoner who is so dangerous that you have to keep him chained.
But I did it myself. I was very kind to Iraqi people, to my own people, and I think Americans taught me that — the American Army that I was working with, not the American Army that was in Abu Ghraib.
In the second year, when we were processing the release of prisoners from Abu Ghraib, I read out a list of names of prisoners who needed to collect their documents. One of them said to me, “You are all going to be killed.” I thought he was referring to the Americans, until he said, “No, I mean you.”
I didn’t translate this for the soldiers who were with me. I was thinking, “This person just got out of prison, and I don’t want to be the reason that he goes back to prison.”
About a month later, a message was fixed to my door, full of verses from the Koran and threats and curses. They gave me about one week to quit what I was doing.
A week later, a CD was fixed on my door, picturing one of my best friends, Nabi Abul-Ahad. It was a video of them beheading him, with the message that I would be next.
I was kicked out of the house. My family didn’t want me there any more. They said, “You’re going to get us all killed.” I had to leave my wife, who was pregnant. Baghdad was a real hell, so I hid in Najjaf.
After my wife gave birth to our son, her father told her, “If your husband doesn’t come to Mosul now, even if he’s going to get killed, then you are not his wife anymore.” This can happen in our society. I didn’t want to lose my wife or my son, so I went back to Mosul.
In Mosul, I had to stay hidden. I walked for about three hours in the dark, after curfew, when anybody can shoot at you, including the Americans, just to see my wife and my newborn son. Then I went back to my family’s house and hid for three months.
The American Army, or whoever’s in charge, has badly disappointed the translators. When I told them I was under threat, they said I could come and live on the base. I told them I had just been married, and my wife was pregnant, and my family needed me. They said I could live on the base and they would drop me by my house to visit my family at night.
Imagine if somebody saw me dropped by an American convoy near my house. The house would be burning the second I was inside. These were not logical solutions.
They could have helped my family move to Kurdistan, helped find me a job with the government there. Or, if I’d escaped to Jordan, they could tell the American Embassy there: “This is a translator who has been working for the United States Army. He’s just like an American soldier. Treat him well.”
But I’m not going to be ungrateful to the people who were fighting and dying for my country. I have friends in the American Army who died in front of my eyes.
I remember one of them, a dear friend to me who died stopping a car bomb. He was a hero. He was guarding the police academy in Mosul, which was full of new recruits being trained by the Americans.
My heart broke when I saw this: an American, coming from another continent, who died to protect Iraqi policemen. This was a good message, and I would never say that those people exploited me or exploited my thinking.
The system did. Not them.
Why the Rethugs Bombed
Whiskey Fire sums it up succinctly:
Let’s Be Clear
A lot has been said already about the ‘06 elections, and a lot more will be said. Most of this will be crap. So let me just be clear:
The Republicans lost the ‘06 elections because they are crazy people with shitty policies that have all failed.
Crucial to any analysis of yesterday’s results must be the fact that they started a war based on bullshit, and then they quite literally made a bloody mess of it.
Also, they’re completely corrupt and incompetent, self-righteously religious, willing to gay bait and race bait, and generally all they do is tell lies and act like total weasels and whine about the phony bugbear of the “liberal media.”
Please alert Cokie Roberts.
As Bechtel Goes…
from NYT via Welcome to Pottersville:
by Paul Krugman
Bechtel, the giant engineering company, is leaving Iraq. Its mission — to rebuild power, water and sewage plants — wasn’t accomplished: Baghdad received less than six hours a day of electricity last month, and much of Iraq’s population lives with untreated sewage and without clean water. But Bechtel, having received $2.3 billion of taxpayers’ money and having lost the lives of 52 employees, has come to the end of its last government contract.
As Bechtel goes, so goes the whole reconstruction effort. Whatever our leaders may say about their determination to stay the course complete the mission, when it comes to rebuilding Iraq they’ve already cut and run. The $21 billion allocated for reconstruction over the last three years has been spent, much of it on security rather than its intended purpose, and there’s no more money in the pipeline.
The failure of reconstruction in Iraq raises three questions. First, how much did that failure contribute to the overall failure of the war? Second, how was it that America, the great can-do nation, in this case couldn’t and didn’t? Finally, if we’ve given up on rebuilding Iraq, what are our troops dying for?
There’s no definitive way to answer the first question. You can make a good case that the invasion of Iraq was doomed no matter what, because we never had enough military manpower to provide security. But the lack of electricity and clean water did a lot to dissipate any initial good will the Iraqis may have felt toward the occupation. And Iraqis are well aware that the billions squandered by American contractors included a lot of Iraqi oil revenue as well as U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.
Consider the symbolism of Iraq’s new police academy, which Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, has called “the most essential civil security project in the country.” It was built at a cost of $75 million by Parsons Corporation, which received a total of about $1 billion for Iraq reconstruction projects. But the academy was so badly built that feces and urine leak from the ceilings in the student barracks.
Think about it. We want the Iraqis to stand up so we can stand down. But if they do stand up, we’ll dump excrement on their heads.
As for how this could have happened, that’s easy: major contractors believed, correctly, that their political connections insulated them from accountability. Halliburton and other companies with huge Iraq contracts were basically in the same position as Donald Rumsfeld: they were so closely identified with President Bush and, especially, Vice President Cheney that firing or even disciplining them would have been seen as an admission of personal failure on the part of top elected officials.
As a result, the administration and its allies in Congress fought accountability all the way. Administration officials have made repeated backdoor efforts to close the office of Mr. Bowen, whose job is to oversee the use of reconstruction money. Just this past May, with the failed reconstruction already winding down, the White House arranged for the last $1.5 billion of reconstruction money to be placed outside Mr. Bowen’s jurisdiction. And now, finally, Congress has passed a bill whose provisions include the complete elimination of his agency next October.
The bottom line is that those charged with rebuilding Iraq had no incentive to do the job right, so they didn’t.
You can see, by the way, why a Democratic takeover of the House, if it happens next week, would be such a pivotal event: suddenly, committee chairmen with subpoena power would be in a position to investigate where all the Iraq money went.
But that’s all in the past. What about the future?
Back in June, after a photo-op trip to Iraq, Mr. Bush said something I agree with. “You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered,” he declared. “You can measure progress in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people.” But what those measures actually show is the absence of progress. By any material measure, Iraqis are worse off than they were under Saddam.
And we’re not planning to do anything about it: the U.S.-led reconstruction effort in Iraq is basically over. I don’t know whether the administration is afraid to ask U.S. voters for more money, or simply considers the situation hopeless. Either way, the United States has accepted defeat on reconstruction.
Yet Americans are still fighting and dying in Iraq. For what?