Less than a week after the release of the much-heralded Iraq Study Group report, James Baker and Lee Hamilton made the Sunday talk show rounds to add a little detail that they forgot to mention in their report:
The goal of democracy has always been a goal and foundation and basis for American foreign policy, and it will always remain that.
Given that their report makes no mention of democracy in Iraq as a goal, after spending eight months and interviewing hundreds of experts and witnesses while preparing their report, it seems odd that they forgot to make any mention the foundation of American foreign policy, but mistakes happen. Or perhaps they were remembering George Bush saying:
"And so I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation building."
Bush declared that it was up to those who live in the liberated lands to rebuild them.
He added the Bush administration, if he was elected, would "absolutely not" indulge in nation planning.
And what about the recommendation to engage directly with Iran and Syria? The one that says:
Dealing with Iran and Syria is controversial. Nevertheless, it is our view that in diplomancy, a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests. Accordingly, the Support Group should actively engage Iraq and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.
Apparently what they really meant to do was:
...to make sure "everyone understands . . . the limited nature of what we are proposing with respect to Iran and Syria." He said the administration should find out whether Iran is willing to do what it did several years ago to help stabilize Afghanistan. He also said Syria would be required to meet several key obligations, including cooperating in the investigation of political assassinations in Lebanon and persuading Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Seeing the cool reception from the White House and the negative reaction from many conservatives, it seems that Mr. Baker and Hamilton are willing to waterdown and backpedal on the conclusions of the ISG in an effort to rescue the relevance of their little project.
It was reported over the weekend that the CIA was secretly eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of Princess Diana on the night she died in Paris in 1997. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, over at his National Review blog, thinks that this revelation makes some sort of point about the objections to President Bush's warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens inside of the U.S.:
So the Clinton administration was tapping Princess Diana's phones. Repeat after me: the Clinton administration. And of course there was no warrant. . . .
So question: when will we hear from all those valiant defenders of the civil liberties and personal privacy trampled underfoot by the fascist Bush administration? Slate magazine, you who boldly dared to compare Republicans to Nazis - where are you?
George Soros? Glenn Greenwald? Rob Reiner? Sidney Blumenthal? Al Franken? And will the mass media take their familiar ominous view of this outrageous intrustion (sic)? Will the editorial pages denounce the unilateralism and arrogance and high-handedness of the departed administration? I'm sure we're all breathless with uncertainty.
Of course these persons and others like them might reasonably answer that there might be many excellent reasons for the United States government to wish to monitor the activities of the ex-wife of the heir to the British throne. . . . Still you do have to wonder why such common sense seems to ebb and flow according to whether the president doing the wiretapping has a (D) or (R) after his name.
During the Lewinsky scandal, those of us on the pro-impeachment side repeatedly said ? and said and said and said again ? that the offense for which Clinton deserved to be removed was not sexual misconduct, but perjury. . . . In other words: the idea that sex ought never to be subject to moral scrutiny was what was at stake for Clinton?s defenders. For those of us on the other side, what was at stake was the rule of law and the integrity of the presidency.
The American People have SPOKEN, and if our President and the president of Iraq wish to flip their collective “middle finger” to our bipartisan fellow Citizens for taking an open-minded look at the Iraq situation DEBACLE and arriving at the mutual conclusion that “enough is enough”, well… then… they’ll just have to get OVER [...]
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Yes, that’s right; we’re not garnering enough votes to win the “Best Centrist Blog” category so far, but it’s been a total HONOR to have been selected as a “Finalist”, and fun as well. And HEY - we’re not doing too bad against some VERY tough competition either. We’re pretty much where [...]
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window.document.getElementById('post-403').parentNode.className += ' adhesive_post'; SCROLL DOWN FOR THE NEWEST CONTENTYes, that’s right; we’re not garnering enough votes to win the “Best Centrist Blog” category so far, but it’s been a total HONOR to have been selected as a “Finalist”, and fun as well. And HEY - we’re not doing too bad against some VERY [...]
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Sure they played a pivotal role in the independence of America and we may never have broken free had it not been for Admiral de Grasse, but what have they done since then? Why do they always hate Americans?
On Tuesday, the French and British ambassadors plan to honor [Virginia] Hall, who died in 1982 at age 78, at a ceremony at the home of French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte in Washington.Oh.
"I think it was ironic that the State Department turned her down because she was an amputee, and here she went on and did all this other stuff," said Catling, who lives in Baltimore. Catling said she didn't learn many of the details of her aunt's espionage career until after her death.
Hall, who was fluent in French, was living in Paris when the Nazis invaded in 1940, and she decamped for London, where she was recruited by the secret British paramilitary service, the Special Operations Executive, becoming its first female field operative.
Hall was sent to Lyon, becoming "the heartbeat" of the local French Resistance, said Judith L. Pearson, whose biography of Hall, "Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's First Female Spy," was published last year.
"Any agent from London came through her flat. She coordinated them with Resistance members," Pearson said. "Most agents only stayed about three months in the field. She stayed 15 months."
Great Minds Think Alike / Slapping the President / Sexual Appetite
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Paul Krugman reports that the Oursourcer in Chief suddenly seems reluctant to outsource important functions of the government to the "private sector." What ever happened to the miracle of the marketplace?--The New York Times, December 11, 2006According[...]
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Bush 41: ?Son, you're making the same mistake in Iraq that
I made with your mother . . . I didn't pull out in time."
[Thanks to our friend Paul for passing on the above photo, with the touching caption--under the subject heading "A warm father-and-son moment."]
"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore."
--Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday night, responding to the ISG report (he then stood by and amplified his remarks Sunday with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week")
"I believe that this is a recipe that will lead to, sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq."
--Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday
"The president . . . has cut and run from reality in Iraq for nearly four years. . . . The illusion of not losing must be preserved no matter what the price in blood. . . . The longer we pretend that we have not lost there, the more we risk losing other wars we still may salvage, starting with Afghanistan."
--Frank Rich, in his Sunday NYT column, "The Sunshine Boys Can't Save Iraq"
I for one didn't see it coming, but there's no question that the wingnuts are out in force, with the message that we Americans ain't no "surrender monkeys." Yes, the Murdoch minions at the New York Post actually trotted out that moronic phrase.
Of course, most of these people couldn't find Iraq on a map, have no idea who lives there, don't know a single fact about the country's past or present (let alone its unhappy future), and couldn't name a single issue at stake in the conflict there. Nevertheless, thanks to the worship of ignorance and the testicular passion for mindless bullying that the Bush administration has unleashed in the land, we seem to be only hours away from a new inquisition built around the damning question: Who lost Iraq?
In retrospect, I guess there was no excuse for not seeing it coming.
Elsewhere in the World--
Here's an analysis from The Australian, "Bush and McCain the biggest losers":
THE biggest loser from the Iraq Study Group's report is George W. Bush--it has given him a much sharper rebuke than the White House was expecting.
It also damages Republican senator John McCain, the loudest advocate of putting more troops into Iraq--now the most unpopular political position in the US. The report makes McCain look like the nation's maverick, not the next president. . . . "
IN America we like quick fixes, closure and an uplifting show. Such were the high hopes for the Iraq Study Group, and on one of the three it delivered.The report of the 10 Washington elders was rolled out like a heartwarming Hollywood holiday release. There was a feel-good title, "The Way Forward," unfortunately chosen as well by Ford Motor to promote its last-ditch plan to stave off bankruptcy. There was a months-long buildup, with titillating sneak previews to whip up anticipation. There was the gala publicity tour on opening day, starting with a President Bush cameo timed for morning television and building to a "Sunshine Boys" curtain call by James Baker and Lee Hamilton on "Larry King Live."
The wizard behind it all was the public relations giant Edelman, which has lately been recruited by Wal-Mart to put down the populist insurgency threatening its bottom line. Edelman's vice chairman is Michael Deaver, the imagineer extraordinaire of the Reagan presidency, and "The Way Forward" had a nostalgic dash of that old Morning-in-America vibe. In The Washington Post, David Broder gushingly quoted one member of the group, Alan Simpson, musing that "immigration, Social Security and all those other things that have been hung up for so long" might benefit from similar ex-officio bipartisanship. Only in Washington could an unelected panel of retirees pass for public-policy Viagra.Mr. Simpson notwithstanding, the former senator who most comes to mind is Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. In the early 1990s he famously coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" to describe the erosion of civic standards for what constitutes criminal behavior. In 2006, our governmental ailment is defining reality down. "The Way Forward" is its apotheosis.
This syndrome begins at the top, with the president, who has cut and run from reality in Iraq for nearly four years. His case is extreme but hardly unique. Take Robert Gates, the next defense secretary, who was hailed as a paragon of realism by Washington last week simply for agreeing with his Senate questioners that we're "not winning" in Iraq. While that may be a step closer to candor than Mr. Bush's "absolutely, we're winning" of late October, it's hardly the whole truth and nothing but. The actual reality is that we have lost in Iraq.That's what Donald Rumsfeld at long last acknowledged, between the lines, as he fled the Pentagon to make way for Mr. Gates. The most revealing passage in his parting memo listing possible options for the war was his suggestion that public expectations for success be downsized so we would "therefore not 'lose.'" By putting the word lose in quotes, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed his hand: the administration must not utter that L word even though lose is exactly what we've done. The illusion of not losing must be preserved no matter what the price in blood.
The Iraq Study Group takes a similarly disingenuous tack. Its account of how the country Mr. Bush called a "grave and gathering danger" in September 2002 has devolved into a "grave and deteriorating" catastrophe today is unsparing and accurate. But everyone except the president knew this already, and that patina of realism evaporates once the report moves from diagnosis to prescription.
Its recommendations are bogus because the few that have any teeth are completely unattainable. Of course, it would be fantastic if additional Iraqi troops would stand up en masse after an infusion of new American military advisers. And if reconciliation among the country's warring ethnicities could be mandated on a tight schedule. And if the Bush White House could be persuaded to persuade Iran and Syria to "influence events" for America's benefit. It would also be nice if we could all break the bank in Vegas.The group's coulda-woulda recommendations are either nonstarters, equivocations (it endorses withdrawal of combat troops by 2008 but is averse to timelines) or contradictions of its own findings of fact. To take just one example: Even if we could wave a magic wand and quickly create thousands more military advisers (and Arabic-speaking ones at that), there's no reason to believe they could build a crack Iraqi army and police force where all those who came before have failed. As the report points out, the loyalties and capabilities of the existing units are suspect as it is.
By prescribing such placebos, the Iraq Study Group isn't plotting a way forward but delaying the recognition of our defeat. Its real aim is to enact a charade of progress to pacify the public while Washington waits, no doubt in vain, for Mr. Bush to return to the real world. The tip-off to the cynical game can be found in a single sentence: "We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: 'an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.'" This studious group knows that even that modest goal, a radical devaluation of the administration's ambition to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, has long been proven a mirage. The Iraqi government's ability to defend anything is so inoperative that the group's members visited the country but once, with just one (Chuck Robb) daring to leave the Green Zone. The Bush-Maliki rendezvous 10 days ago was at the Four Seasons hotel in Amman.
The only recommendations that might alter that reality, however evanescently, come not from "The Way Forward" but from its critics on the right who want significantly more troops and no withdrawal timetables whatsoever. But a Pentagon review leaked to The Washington Post three weeks ago estimates that a true counterinsurgency campaign would "require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police," not the 20,000 or so envisioned as a short-term booster shot by John McCain.Since these troops don't exist and there is no public support in either America or Iraq for mobilizing them, the president can't satisfy the hawks even if he chooses to do so. Since he's also dead set against a prompt withdrawal, we already know what his policy will be, no matter how many "reviews" he conducts. He will stay the course, with various fake-outs along the way to keep us from thinking we've "lost," until the whole mess is deposited in the lap of the next president.
But as Chuck Hagel said last week, "The impending disaster in Iraq is unwinding at a rate that we can't quite calibrate." It is yet another, even more reckless flight from reality to suppose that the world will stand still while we dally. The Iraq Study Group's insistence on dragging out its deliberations until after Election Day for the sake of domestic politics mocked and undermined the urgency of its own mission. Meanwhile the violence metastasized. Eleven more of our soldiers were killed on the day the group finally put on its show. The antagonists in Iraq are not about to take a recess while we celebrate Christmas. The mass exodus of Iraqis, some 100,000 per month, was labeled "the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world" by Refugees International last week and might soon rival Darfur's.
THE Iraq-Vietnam parallels at this juncture are striking. In January 1968, L.B.J. replaced his arrogant failed defense secretary, Robert McNamara, with a practiced Washington hand, Clark Clifford. The war's violence boiled over soon after (Tet), prompting a downturn in American public opinion. Allies in our coalition of the willing--Thailand, the Philippines, Australia--had balked at tossing in new troops. Clifford commissioned a re-evaluation of American policy that churned up such ideas as a troop pullback, increased training of South Vietnamese forces and a warning to the South Vietnamese government that American assistance would depend on its performance. In March, a bipartisan group of wise men (from Dean Acheson to Omar Bradley) was summoned to the White House, where it seconded the notion of disengagement.
But there the stories of Vietnam and Iraq diverge. Those wise men, unlike the Iraq Study Group, were clear in their verdict. And that Texan president, unlike ours, paid more than lip service to changing course. He abruptly announced he would abjure re-election, restrict American bombing and entertain the idea of peace talks. But as Stanley Karnow recounts in "Vietnam: A History," it was already too late, after some 20,000 casualties and three years of all-out war, for an easy escape: "The frustrating talks were to drag on for another five years. More Americans would be killed in Vietnam than had died there previously. And the United States itself would be torn apart by the worst internal upheavals in a century."The lesson in that is clear and sobering: As bad as things may seem now, they can yet become worse, and not just in Iraq. The longer we pretend that we have not lost there, the more we risk losing other wars we still may salvage, starting with Afghanistan.
The members of the Iraq Study Group are all good Americans of proven service to their country. But to the extent that their report forestalls reality and promotes pipe dreams of one last chance for success in this fiasco, it will be remembered as just one more delusional milestone in the tragedy of our age.