Thursday, August 23, 2007

The politics of losing a war

American poster from the Second World War; that's not one of those in which we are currently engaged, though some people seem to think so

It's impossible to say for sure whether Cheney and Bush really believe that all the militias in Iraq are going to lay down their arms and surrender to the US to be imprisoned and tortured as "illegal combatants" for years on end. Presumably a unilateral surrender along those lines would be something like their idea of "victory".

But most everyone else in the world, outside the hardcore Republicans who still support the war, everyone can see that a "victory" like that isn't going to happen. Cheney and Bush may even be creating a situation that it won't be remotely possible for a future President to present our eventual departure from Iraq as any kind of victory.

In the so-called "war on terror", to the extent that it's a "war" in any sense other than a slogan to justify allowing the President and Vice President to disregard any laws they choose, there's good reason to think we're losing that one, too.

In Bush steps up sales push to sustain his surge in Iraq by William Douglas and Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers 08/22/07, reports that Bush is putting on a publicity offensive to sell The Surge, which for the moment has come to stand for the entire Iraq War policy, or at least Cheney and Bush would like it to.

Douglas and Talev also report that a group called Freedom Watch is planning to run a month-long, $15 million media buy for advertisement "in more than 20 states" to push Congress to support the Cheney-Bush Iraq policies. Two former senior White House staffers, Ari Fleisher and the organization's president, Bradley Blakeman, are member of the group. They deny that "the group's a front for the White House". And surely Ari Fleisher would never support any outfit that might bring his own credibility into question, would he?

According to Douglas and Talev's analysis, there are indications that Bush's new Sell The Surge campaign is firming up Republican support in Congress in support of the Cheney-Bush policies. For anyone who's followed how useless virtually all the Republican "war critics" in Congress have been, you have to wonder how they could tell if support had firmed up among that group. There was hardly any dissent in the first place.

There certainly hasn't been any new burst of frankness and realism from Cheney and Bush. Douglas and Talev:

Bush voiced confidence that the surge is working, even while admitting frustration about the lack of progress toward political reconciliation in Iraq. That was supposed to be the key measure of the surge’s success, the administration had said early this year when it launched the plan. The surge was supposed to ease security stress enough for Iraq's rival factions to begin cooperating. That hasn't happened. ...

Reports of tactical military progress haven’t changed Democrats' plans to hold more House and Senate votes on deadlines for U.S. troop withdrawal when they return in September. But those reports have dampened Democrats' prospects of getting more Republicans to join them. That means that Bush, wielding veto power if he must, is likely to prevail on Iraq policy, for Democrats lack the two-thirds majorities they need to overcome his veto. (my emphasis)
Obviously, we need to watch the Dems closely on this one. But there doesn't seem to be any obvious shift from opposing to supporting the war among Congressional Dems. But Congressman Brian Baird of Washington state has, for whatever reason, gone in Joe Lieberman mode, switching his position and making it a particular point to attack his own party in words that echo Republican whining:

Prior to Congress' August recess, Baird had supported legislation that called for withdrawal of U.S. forces to begin within 120 days. He now says that he wishes the measure had never come up and that he hasn't so much reversed his position as "adjusted" his thinking.

"We need to keep our force strength where it is until next spring and give the political rhetoric a rest," he said. "If the Democrats were less interested in finding fault and blaming people for a colossal mistake and if Republicans would stop being super-patriots, it would give a chance for our troops on the ground to operate."
The Big Pundits will find this to be a gratifying example of the kind of "moderation" called for in the cult of High Broderism.

But the Dems need to exercise some party discipline over this. It's one thing to break with the party on an issue, even a vital one like this. It's another to make a point to attack the Democrats over it. If he wants to be a Trojan Horse for the Republicans to earn the applause of the disciples of High Broderism or for whatever reason, the Dems should treat him as a Trojan Horse.

Since the administration is going all-out now to set the stab-in-the-back excuse on the Iraq War as a fixture of the public discussion, we need to pay attention to how dishonest it is. For example, Trojan Horse Baird says that war critics should shut the hell up until 2008 sometime, and that "would give a chance for our troops on the ground to operate." Is there any evidence at all that the war debate has prevented American troops from operating exactly the way their generals and Commander-in-Chief wanted them to? Bush and his generals say constantly that the military is getting exactly what they need to fight the war. So hopefully some reporter will has ask Baird just what the [Cheney] he's talking about.

And what about all those Republicans who were just recently wringing their hands in their deep concern over the situation in Iraq?

"While political reconciliation at the national level has come too slowly, grassroots reconciliation in provinces like Anbar and other Iraqi towns is encouraging," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Earlier this year he'd suggested that Republicans might start backing off of their support for the war by September if the surge wasn't working. Now he sees it differently.

“Everyone agrees that more progress on political reconciliation is essential, but pushing for a precipitous withdrawal when the momentum is ours is not just irrational, it is negligent,” said Boehner, sharpening the pro-surge GOP attack line. (my emphasis)
See, what a surprise!

Meanwhile, Alexandra Marks in the Christian Science Monitor reports on A new push for change in the war on terror 08/22/07. Short version:

In this year's Terrorism Index, a survey released Monday by Foreign Policy magazine, 84 percent of these experts believe the nation is losing the war on terror, while more than 90 percent say the world is growing more dangerous for Americans.
Trying to organize a "war" of any kind, ideological, political or military, against "terrorism" is pointless. As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it in a speech back in October of 2003 (A Must-Read Speech American Prospect Online 10/31/03):

I think that calls for serious debate in America about the role of America in the world, and I do not believe that that serious debate is satisfied simply by a very abstract, vague and quasi-theological definition of the war on terrorism as the central preoccupation of the United States in today's world. That definition of the challenge in my view simply narrows down and over-simplifies a complex and varied set of challenges that needs to be addressed on a broad front.

It deals with abstractions. It theologizes the challenge. It doesn't point directly at the problem. It talks about a broad phenomenon, terrorism, as the enemy overlooking the fact that terrorism is a technique for killing people. That doesn't tell us who the enemy is. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg. We need to ask who is the enemy, and the enemies are terrorists.

But not in an abstract, theologically-defined fashion, people, to quote again our highest spokesmen, "people who hate things, whereas we love things" - literally. Not to mention the fact that of course terrorists hate freedom. I think they do hate. But believe me, I don't think they sit there abstractly hating freedom. They hate some of us. They hate some countries. They hate some particular targets. But it's a lot more concrete than these vague quasi-theological formulations. (my emphasis)
Marks' report is specifically on a survey of terrorism experts by Foreign Policy magazine and the (Democratic-leaning) Center for American Progress just published in that magazine; the survey is called the "Terrorism Index". She quotes Bruce Hoffman:

"This poll presents an enormously bleak and melancholy picture ... and it's difficult not to read it as a complete repudiation of the entire current conduct on the war on terrorism," says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "Where we have been particularly remiss or ineffectual is in fighting the al Qaeda brand as hard as we've fought the al Qaeda terrorists."
What concerns me about some of the discussion as reported in that article, though, is that many of our terrorism "experts" seem to be trying to shoehorn the fight against jihadist terrorism into a Cold War framework. That doesn't sound terribly promising to me, either.

What sounds more sensible to me is to look closely at what countries have done who faced chronic terrorism threats, like Spain with ETA, the Basque separatist group. The Spanish newspapers report some development related to ETA practically every day. (For example, Libertad para el jefe de Batasuna detenido por el 'Zutabe' de ETA El País 23.08.07; Rubalcaba advierte de que 'el silencio de Batasuna es el peor de los augurios' El Mundo 23.08.07) It's an issue the political parties take very seriously. They have successes, they have failures, and there is even a certain amount of demagoguery over it.

But the whole country doesn't stay in a state of craziness over it. They haven't tried to declare the King or the Prime Minister above the law, or assumed the right to arrest, detain and torture "enemy combatants" or their own citizens indefinitely.

Marks also reports that many of the experts suggest, "The solution lies in changing US policy in the region and supporting Islamic scholars who can show how al Qaeda is distorting the Koran." Well, that sounds good and even makes sense. Except that, you know, the Iraq War has made the US so intensely unpopular among most Muslims that an overt association with official American ideological efforts would be the kiss of death for Muslim theologians who cooperated. Unfortunately, pretty literally a kiss of death in some cases.

The article referred in in the Sept/Oct issue of Foreign Policy, which is published by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, The Terrorism Index. It makes for some interesting reading in itself. For example:

It may be the most common - and, for many, the most convincing - argument against a quick exit from Iraq: Pulling American forces out would only move the war’s front line from the streets of Baghdad to the streets of Anytown, U.S.A. Or, as President George W. Bush often says, "The enemy would follow us home."
Or would it? It’s a scenario that the index’s experts say is unlikely. Only 12 percent believe that terrorist attacks would occur in the United States as a direct result of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Eighty-eight percent of the experts said that either such a scenario was unlikely or that they see no connection between a troop withdrawal from Iraq and terrorist attacks inside the United States. This line of thinking was consistent across party lines, with 58 percent of conservatives saying they did not believe terrorist attacks would occur at home as a result of a military drawdown in Iraq. (my emphasis in italics)
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