Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I have always liked the P.J. O’Rourke quote about how “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.” Sadly, I now see a grotesque corollary unfolding in Iraq.

Basically, it goes like this: President Bush and his pro-war chorus have made a habit of late of warning us that if the US withdraws its troops from Iraq, a horrible bloodbath will ensue. . . and the administration is now doing everything they can to make sure that it happens.

I am reminded of this unfortunate parallel by recent revelations about the massive amounts of rifles and side arms quickly and recklessly distributed in Iraq on Gen. David Petraeus’s watch—and the extremely disturbing number of those weapons that have now gone missing.

It all began earlier this summer, with a General Accountability Office report that more than 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 Glock pistols, 135,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 Kevlar helmets issued to Iraqi security forces could not be accounted for.

Later, Amnesty International researchers found that hundreds of thousands of U.S.-approved arms transfers from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Iraq - more than 90 tons of AK-47s - could also be missing

Those Iraqi security forces that are “losing” their weapons are predominantly Shiite; meanwhile, the US continues to aggressively arm Sunni groups that have purportedly vowed to use the weapons against what we call “Al-Qaeda” (or is it “Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” or just a whole lot of other hostile groups?). As I’ve mentioned before, those Sunnis now receiving US aid in places like Anbar have sworn allegiance to Coalition forces, not to the Iraqi government, and I’m sure that those same Sunnis are all too aware of the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Shiite militias in Baghdad and the south. As the Center for American Progress noted, this “strategy” is contributing to deteriorating security in Iraq: “the United States is arming up different sides in multiple civil wars that could turn even more vicious in the coming years.”

CAP’s “Strategic Reset” actually documents that the more the US equips and trains Iraqi security forces, the more violence there increases.

You’d think that somebody might notice.

Or, maybe they have. . . .

It is more than obvious at this point that the Bush plan for “victory” in Iraq is to pass the fiasco on to his successor and then spend the next several election cycles criticizing the Democrats for “losing” Iraq. The administration and its handpicked yes-men in the field will try to play prevent defense until January of 2009, keeping something between 100,000 and 140,000 troops in country, as rotations will allow. Meanwhile, Bush, Cheney, their families, and cronies will continue to reap the financial rewards of arms trafficking, privatized security and support, and regional (not national) oil deals, all at the expense of Iraqi unity (such that it is), regional security, and civilian safety.

When the next president redeploys US forces out of Iraq—and the next president will have to do this due to the depleted readiness of our military and reserves, and the untenable economic and diplomatic costs of this situation—there will, by many assessments, be some terrible consequences in some parts of the country (not that things are not thoroughly terrible now). But, how terrible things will get is still an open question.

If the situation in Iraq were to get precipitously worse when a Democratic president and Congress tries disengage, it could actually help Republicans (at least in their view and the view of likeminded media outlets) make their argument that their plan—whatever the hell that was—was actually superior to that of the Democrats. And if all of this comes to pass, you will suddenly see Republicans, who don’t really want Iraq to be a factor in the coming election cycle, suddenly revive the issue for future cycles, and wave the bloody shirt at the Democrats and the country. . . and the bloodier the shirt, the better.

After all, Republicans have something to prove.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Was Warner tipped off?

Does anybody else find this odd? Last month, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) made a big show of “breaking” with the president by calling for a token reduction in the number of US troops serving in Iraq by Christmas:

I say to the President, respectfully, pick whatever number you wish. You do not want to lose the momentum. But certainly, in the 160,000 plus — say 5,000 — could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.

Despite the couched request and the very small number, Warner’s statement was supposed to be a big deal—as if this grand old man of the Senate was laying down a condition for continued support from Republicans in his sphere.

Well, at the start of the week, Gen. David Petraeus made a remarkably similar sounding recommendation, and Thursday night (shock! awe!), Decider-in-Chief Bush “decided” to take the general’s “advice”:

Because of this success, General Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces. He has recommended that we not replace about 2,200 Marines scheduled to leave Anbar province later this month; in addition, he says it will soon be possible to bring home an Army combat brigade; for a total force reduction of 5,700 troops by Christmas.

Leaving aside that “success” in Anbar, you could say that Warner knew the 5,000 number was a safe bet because that many troops were due to rotate out anyway. That is almost true, but they were not due to leave before Christmas. Most of what I have read has stated that a reduction in the overall numbers in Iraq would not have to happen due to the 15-month rotation deadline until April—so, while this is not a real “withdrawal” (the president never used that word in his speech, by the way), it is a slightly accelerated rotation schedule.

Since we know that Gen. Petraeus was coordinating with the White House on his “recommendations” for weeks before the September 10 testimony, is it possible that the administration also coordinated with Sen. Warner?

Would you change your mind if I told you that the Senator met with White House “war czar” Gen. Doug Lute on the same day that he delivered his remarks about a token Christmas withdrawal?

I know that it was leaked that administration officials reached out to Warner to get him to “clarify” his remarks, and I know that the Virginia Senator came under some fire from the super-wingnutty members of his caucus, but the former Mr. Liz Taylor’s wobbles have always been more word than deed (Warner has never cast a vote against Bush’s Iraq war agenda), and the number and timing are just too close.

Since even the White House and the establishment media each freely admit that the President’s “strategy” is designed to keep wobbly Republicans in the stay-the-course camp, it seems very possible to me that part of this strategy is to cement Republican support by coordinating with a purported senior wobbler.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Strange fruit

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Today’s LA Times’ top of the page news analysis has the basic “strategy” of the stay-the-course talk you are hearing this week from Gen. David Petraeus and his White House puppet masters pretty much pegged:

The talk in Washington on Monday was all about troop reductions, yet it also brought into sharp focus President Bush's plans to end his term with a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq, and to leave tough decisions about ending the unpopular war to his successor.

The plans outlined by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would retain a large force in the country -- perhaps more than 100,000 troops -- when the time comes for Bush to move out of the White House in January 2009.

And the NY Times editorial board was none too impressed, either:

For months, President Bush has been promising an honest accounting of the situation in Iraq, a fresh look at the war strategy and a new plan for how to extricate the United States from the death spiral of the Iraqi civil war. The nation got none of that yesterday from the Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. It got more excuses for delaying serious decisions for many more months, keeping the war going into 2008 and probably well beyond.

. . . .

The headline out of General Petraeus’s testimony was a prediction that the United States should be able to reduce its forces from 160,000 to 130,000 by next summer. That sounds like a big number, but it would only bring American troops to the level that were in Iraq when Mr. Bush announced his “surge” last January. And it’s the rough equivalent of dropping an object and taking credit for gravity.

That’s because US military forces cannot sustain current levels in Iraq past early Spring without precipitously undermining the capabilities of the Army and Marines. By ‘round about the time of the Republican National Convention next Summer, US troop levels in Iraq will roughly resemble the pre-2007 escalation totals—and Republican candidates up and down the ticket will claim that President Bush has brought us closer to “victory” in Iraq.

While several other editorials also recognize this “kick the can” strategy, it is a much-touted tactic—the arming of Sunni warlords in Anbar Province (which, in truth, started months before Bush announced his “surge”—and was actually proposed by the Sunnis three years before that)—that is providing the White House and wingnuts, alike, with the political cover necessary to keep WINOs (wobblers in name only) and the beltway pundit class in line.

Well, almost. Take a gander at noted conservative beltway insider George Will’s Washington Post column. Will is also unambiguously unimpressed with the Bush administration’s September policy roll-out, but—his declaration of improving security aside (how can it be “real” if it is mismeasured?)—it is his assessment of what lies beneath this “improvement” that bears special attention:

First, measuring sectarian violence is problematic: The Post reports that a body with a bullet hole in the front of the skull is considered a victim of criminality; a hole in the back of the skull is evidence of sectarian violence. But even if violence is declining, that might be partly because violent sectarian cleansing has separated Sunni and Shiite communities. This homogenization of hostile factions -- trained and armed by U.S. forces -- may bear poisonous fruit in a full-blown civil war.

Got that? Homogenized hostile factions “trained and armed by US forces” resulting in a “full-blown civil war.”

I know what you’re thinking—there is already a full-blown civil war playing out daily in Iraq—but think a bit more: imagine a full-blown civil war with each faction trained and armed by the US.

If Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his White House pals get their way, you won’t have to imagine too hard.

You heard on Monday, and will hear more and more in coming days, about the new new administration “strategy” (which, again, is really a tactic) of “bottom up” security in Iraq—and that “bottom up” tactic means arming sectarian and ethnic factions all across Iraq, just like the US military did in Anbar.

It is important now to note that the “23 tribes”—as administration hacks call them—that are now supposedly fighting alongside US troops in Anbar Province to help stamp out the nefarious forces we feel the political need to call “al-Qaeda in Iraq” have sworn allegiance to US military commanders, and not to any Iraqi national government. That there is no grand national “strategy” that can work with this Anbar tactic is evident on its face, but, furthermore, we must ask: what happens when this tactic begins to fail?

I say “when” and not “if” because I would like to go on record right now and say it will, in the long run, fail. It will fail if your goal is to build a strong, multi-ethnic, cross-sectarian government in Iraq; it will fail if your goal is to provide predictable and long-running security for US occupying forces.

Perhaps you are now wondering what could possibly make me so pessimistic after four-and-a-half years of Bush’s “victory strategy,” so, let me explain. If Ambassador Crocker’s proposal to expand the “bottom up” plan is to come to fruition, then (and this was more than implied) the US will have to also arm and train—and bribe—Shiite militias (or “tribes,” if you must) so that they, too, won’t try to kill Americans. The question of which Shiite faction we will choose to arm notwithstanding, what will the Sunni minority think when larger Shiite populations get even more arms and money to fight those that they (the Shiites) call enemies? Sooner or later, one faction or another will decide that some other group is getting a dangerously unfair slice of America’s largesse, and then, all bets are off.

Except my bet that this latest strategic tactic will be a bloody failure.

And the bet that it will be up to the next administration to try to mop up Bush’s bloody mess.

As I observed exactly three months ago, you reap what you sow. As George Will now knows, like Abel Meeropol did long ago, our harvest will be a strange, bitter, and shameful one.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos; thoughts on the anniversary of 9/11 over on guy2k)

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hell hath no fury like a viceroy scorned

Smoldering for months—that’s apparently what our former man in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, has been doing. I’m sure you’re thinking, “well, it’s been summer, it’s been hot, not ‘128 degrees in the shade, I’m a soldier on patrol in Diyala in full battle armor’ hot, but perhaps hot enough to be ‘smoldering’ if you chose your vacation home poorly and forgot to pack a swimsuit.” But that’s not what got El Paul muy caliente.

Bremer is steamed at his former dear leader for implying that de-baathification was all Paul. . . or at least so says the New York Times quoting the self-anointed Viceroy of Iraq’s reaction to the new Bush bio Dead Certain.

Judgments on the book (I have not read it) aside, I have several thoughts:

I will never quite get over the propensity these guys have for self-aggrandizement at the cost of loyalty. I guess you could say that if you took a job doing anything for the Bush Bunch then you might have some ‘splainin’ to do; on the other hand, if you really believe in what you are doing, then stand behind it and stop pointing fingers.

Of course, if I had anything to do with the making of the mess we now swallow hard and call Iraq, I think I would shut the hell up and hope that in 10 or 20 years enough people would forget who the fuck I was so that I might be lucky enough to order a Big Mac without fearing that some poor kid of a dead or maimed soldier spit on it behind the counter.

But, I guess it’s as Humphrey Bogart’s character dryly remarked in Nick Ray’s In a Lonely Place, “There’s no price too great for a chance at immortality.”

The interchange between the president and the viceroy, as documented in the, uh, documents given to the Times by Bremer shows a president that is either incompetent, an idiot, or a liar. Or, perhaps (OK, most likely), all three.

Bush’s thank you for the Bremer report that contained the plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” reads as follows: “Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence.”

What does that sound like to you? Here’s what it sounds like to me: Bush didn’t read the report. It sounds like the BS that allows you to sneak through another day as the “CEO President.” It’s the kind of crap that passes for decision-making and leadership in way too many companies (a few of which I have had the sad luck to work for, so I’ve heard and read shit like this first hand).

On the other hand, here’s what Bush had to say when asked about the decision to disband the Iraqi Army by Dead Certain author Robert Draper:

“The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn’t happen,” Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr. Draper asked the president how he had reacted when he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, “This is the policy, what happened?’ ”

What does that sound like to you? Here’s what it sounds like to me: Bush is lying. The construction of that first sentence—“The policy had been. . . didn’t happen”—strenuously avoids pronouns and specificity. It is not “my policy” or “our policy”—Bush has removed himself from the equation. And, rather than be specific about how or why or on whose orders, Bush just adds the clipped “didn’t happen.” It’s like magic or the rites of spring—flowers bloom, Baathists are turned loose with their guns, but without a salary or a purpose.

And what to make of “I can’t remember, I’m sure I said”? If you can’t remember, how can you be sure you said anything? I’m serious about that question. That’s the kind of statement you make when you’re revising history as you go.

Which is the big story here, isn’t it? In a piece entitled “Bush Shifts Terms for Measuring Progress in Iraq,” David Sanger writes:

With the Democratic-led Congress poised to measure progress in Iraq by focusing on the central government’s failure to perform, President Bush is proposing a new gauge, by focusing on new American alliances with the tribes and local groups that Washington once feared would tear the country apart.

That shift in emphasis was implicit in Mr. Bush’s decision to bypass Baghdad on his eight-hour trip to Iraq, stopping instead in Anbar Province, once the heart of an anti-American Sunni insurgency. By meeting with tribal leaders who just a year ago were considered the enemy, and who now are fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a president who has unveiled four or five strategies for winning over Iraqis — depending on how one counts — may now be on the cusp of yet another.

. . . .

It was the White House and the Iraqi government, not Congress, that first proposed the benchmarks for Iraq that are now producing failing grades, a provenance that raises questions about why the administration is declaring now that the government’s performance is not the best measure of change.

Why, indeed. Could it be because Plan A5 wasn’t really a strategy to “win” this war? The tactic of escalation—the “surge”—was half-baked at best. The idea that more and more troops could ever prop up the current Iraqi “government” was far-fetched at increases of 60 to 100,000—it wasn’t even a good joke at the president’s sub-30,000 level. The splurge was designed to buy the administration time on the domestic front—to run out the clock on Iraq so other items on the Bush agenda could continue to be pushed while it would be left to a future Democratic president to fend off questions of “Who lost Iraq?” Still flagging poll numbers and an inconvenient GAO report now requires that history gets another rewrite.

Remember, this is a president who came to his high office unable to even say the word “strategy” (OK, “strategery” was first used on SNL by Will Ferrell, but, if we are to believe the stories, it was quickly adopted by those inside the White House to refer to the political strategists’ power over policy decisions). There was no grand plan here beyond “Step one: Invade Iraq and topple Saddam; Step two: reap the domestic political rewards.” Indeed, as Michiko Kakutani notes in her review of Dead Certain:

[The book] ratifies what many other reporters and former insiders have said about this administration’s ad hoc, often haphazard policy-making process, while suggesting that the West Wing has grown increasingly dysfunctional over the years. . . .

For as much as the president and his staff like to criticize Bush the Father’s “prudent small ball” (their words, not mine) and claim a love for grand ideas, these guys are tacticians, and mostly reactive ones at that. The president might think he is all about conceptual five-dollar words like “democracy” and “freedom,” but everything he and two-bit brain trust plan is designed to influence domestic US politics and monetarily enrich family and friends. End of story.

Bremer’s inconvenient truths simply pull back the curtain a little more on this tiny sausage factory. You don’t want to think our government works like this, but take something bigger than a sound bite and savor events for a moment, and you’ll know it does.

And that’s my story—and I’m stickin’ to it.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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