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June 30, 2005


Democracy with Rice
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Condoleezza Rice's recent trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia is having quite a second life in the blogosphere.  You can start over at and follow related links to find her fans hyperventilating over everything from her new haircut to her stance against all gun control.  (Next week, when my beloved is off work and caring for BloggerBabe, I will be trying to verify this site's claim that her father "hunted Klansmen, not ducks" -- count me politely skeptical for now.)

Exhibit B is a Weekly Standard piece by an ABC reporter who breathed deeply of the rarefied air on Air Force Two-and-a-Half, as we used to call the Secretary's plane.   He is positive, positive that no one has ever taken it to the Saudis like Secretary Rice.  He is struck, well, dumb by the sight of bright toenail polish on a Saudi woman reporter.  (Guess he's never read any of those trashy exposes on the lives of wealthy Saudi women, or he'd expect nailpolish...)

Finally we have the pile-on hapening over at America Abroad, where at last count something close to 30 posters had signed on to slam Anne-Marie Slaughter for suggesting that Rice's remarks in Cairo showed a welcome humility.

I'm struck by the contrast between the ABC reporter's breathy insistence that "Condoleezza Rice did something no US Secretary of State has ever done in the Middle East" and the equally fervent insistence of Slaughter's critics that Rice "lies through her teeth over and over again."

About that Cairo speech:  the Weekly Standard asserts that the White House sent senior adviser, former chief speechwriter, and acknowledged speech genius Michael Gerson along to help out the 25-year old speechwriter.  Call me cynical (maybe it comes from having been a 20-something writer on that plane once upon a time) but the speech is only average to good for Gerson's usual.  And it seems to have produced more rapture among Americans than among its intended Arab audience.  I would say that it appears to have been written more with an American audience in mind, but perhaps instead I should say "with an American mindSET." 

(Note to Christian Bale, the State Department speechwriter:  way to hang tough and get the stuff they cut from your draft into the media.  Bet your boss didn't appreciate that!)

AND not much in it is as new as the Administration would like you to believe.  Yes, the Administration is currently pressing Cairo and Riyadh more openly and vigorously than has been the case in a while.  For that they deserve credit.  But their mismanagement of Iraq, their lethargy on Middle East peace, and their inability to develop a serious energy policy, have at the same time left the US even more at the mercy of the "friendly" Arab despots than we were seven years ago, when Madeleine Albright created a similar fuss by descending to the Saudi tarmac in a vee-necked, knee-length dress and shaking hands with her Saudi counterparts.

I'm delighted to have our Secretary of State talking about all governments being "inherently imperfect" and recalling that the US has "no call for false pride and every reason for humility."  It's an invitation for the reformers we are trying to help to tell us what they really need, and ask us to stop sending what we think they need instead.  It's an invitation for others to call us on it when our humility falls short.

But all Secretaries of State learn, most of them painfully, that making elegant speeches in place of elegant policies only gets you so far.  The risk of being Secretary, especially, we've seen, of being a woman and/or minority Secretary, is that you are not merely a policymaker; you are a totem of all things great and good, all things American.  It starts to seem as if saying something can make it so.  Playing to that is tempting; being judged for it later, excruciating.

Progressive Strategy

Iraq: Peace Process or Bust
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

With the White House still linking Iraq to 9/11 and an "Out of Iraq" group forming in Congress--our war policy at the moment is not a real discussion between the left and the right but a rhetorical battle between the leftovers and the righteous. No elected leaders yet have an enduring strategic plan for ours and Iraq's future. The one glimmer of creative possibility in this bleak landscape has been recent news about the US military initiating talks with the Iraqi resistance. Hala Jabar, reporting for the Sunday Times of London writes: 

The talks appear to represent the first serious effort by Americans and Iraqi insurgents to find common ground since violence intensified in the spring.

Kudos to the military for taking this important first step. Now the question is how can we support this initiative with a comprehensive and coordinated peace process for Iraq?  Patrick Doherty has some excellent suggestions based on Northern Ireland's experience.. We don't lack for solid baseline knowledge and good advice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in the United States and around the world who are specialists in conflict resolution and who have on the ground experience engineering processes that shift the critical mass of a population toward stability instead of violence.  The 1990's provide several examples.

We need to pull together our military and civilian experts on peace processes--plus individuals from academia and the non-governmental world--to jointly develop a plan to shift the critical mass in Iraq. One British organization, Conciliation Resources, even specializes in engaging armed groups. Although difficult to countenance and always controversial, non-state armed groups are often central figures in conflict resolution.  In the last two decades, armed groups have participated in peace processes on every continent, resulting in a wealth of experiences of dialogue and peace negotiations. So we have a large menu of formats and ground rules to choose from. The criteria for the stakeholders should be anyone who could be a spoiler. There are limits to participation, however. As Robert Dreyfuss writes, Zarqawi jihadists are irredeemable and would never be allowed.

And these conflict resolution folks aren't namby pambies living in academe--most are on the ground practitioners. Some have been kidnapped, held hostage, threatened and otherwise endangered on their missions. They are serious peace-ninjas. They know how to recognize the auspicious signs of a workable peace and they know when to call it off.  Recommendations for steps forward in Iraq are plentiful. A comprehensive peace process could draw on different individual ideas...say Richard Clarke's notion of rapid response garrisons combined with social recovery lessons learned in the Balkans.

Back to elected leaders: focussing on withdrawal instead of a real strategic plan is just wandering close to the ethical black hole without stepping off the edge.  I don't know many progressives who honestly rule out some level of military presence in Iraq to protect the civilian population.  In fact, if we are to remain--it will be with mostly military personnel. But our military does more than kill people and break things. It also knows how to build.  Seeing the military as a talented resource for a negotiated peace is what progressives must  learn to do.  Conservatives, on the other hand, must accept that we need to take steps that they might deem distasteful or ideologically unfit--like negotiating with insurgents.

There is still time to steer Iraq in the direction of hope and opportunity.  But Americans have to stop with the strategy of killing Iraqis and begin the hard and risky work of negotiating with them.  It can be done.

June 28, 2005


Bush Speech: Scorecard
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Let's measure Bush along the criteria laid out the other night:

#1 - Willingness to Face Reality About Conditions on the Ground: A-. The speech was less upbeat and sugarcoated than expected.   Impression was that we're in a very tough struggle.

#2 - Honest Appraisal of Iraqi Security Forces: B. Here, too, I don't think Bush gave us a lot of reason for false optimism.  But even his somber assessment did overstate the facts.

#3 - Characterization of the Insurgency:  C.  By conflating the insurgents with al Qaeda Bush made out as though the battles in Baghdad are a kind of retaliation for 9/11. 

#4 - Rejection of Partisanship: B.  He did avoid partisanship, but he tacitly accused those with misgivings about staying the course as weak-willed and unpatriotic instead of acknowledging that events have given rise to legitimate concerns.

#5 - A Commitment to Stronger Support for U.S. Troops: D.  Bush urged flag-waving and letter writing, but said nothing about doing more to tangibly support military families or veterans.  This was a surprising gap and will hurt efforts to heighten public support.

# 6 - A Plan to Buttress Flagging Military Recruitment Efforts: D.  Bush flat-out denied that we need more troops, claiming that the generals don't want 'em.  He did appealed for people to enlist; but why should they when we've got all the boots we need?

# 7 - A Plan to Win:  F.  I am surprised and concerned that Bush didn't have more to offer.  The 3 steps he outlined are all retreads.  Moreover, the first two are essentially the same.  He said nothing about attracting foreign troops, denying that this is even a problem (for the sobering facts about everyone from Spain to the Kingdom of Tonga pulling out on us, see here).  There was nothing significant about bolstering the training effort, the reconstruction progress, or the political process.  He simply urged the country to stay what a growing number of Americans believe is a failing course.

#8 - An Honest Assessment of Why Iraq Matters: D.  Bush gave some legitimate rationales for staying in Iraq, including that we need to show we're prepared to see things through and that a stable Middle East - if achievable - will have deep and broad benefits.  But he recycled the long-discredited claim of a link between 9/11 and Iraq and sought to sidestep the fact that it is our war that has made Iraq a terrorist hotbed.  Very misleading claims that the public is highly dubious about.

We also published a Top 10 List of Things To Do and Not To Do in Iraq:

On the list of "To Do's" its apparent there are 3 Bush doing little or none of:  1) Finding ways to get other countries a lot more involved; 2) Expanding the UN's role; and 4) Rethinking the risk-reward calculus for our military.  The picture is better when it comes to 2) Investing in long-term training of the Iraqi military.  On 5) Investing in understanding the insurgency there's reason for skepticism given Bush's insistence on lumping all terrorists together with al Qaeda.

On the list of "Not To Do's" Bush is right on in terms of 1) Refusing to announce a timetable for withdrawal.  He's unaccountably failed to 2) Announce that the U.S. does not seek permanent bases in Iraq.  Though he claims that increasing the # of U.S. troops would send a troublesome signal in terms of our intent to remain, he won't do the obvious and make it clear that we plan to ultimately leave Iraq to the Iraqis. 

On 3) misleading the public about how the war effort is going Bush gets mixed marks, though somewhat improved after tonight.  On 4) letting money be an obstacle one wonders why nothing new for our troops was announced tonight.  On 5) overstating prospects for Iraqification, the absence of a plan to draw in further foreign commitments does suggest just this.


The Vietnam Analogy
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I can't help it -- did anyone else have chills during the description of US advisers (sorry, I've forgotten the term Bush used, which wasn't advisers) living, working and fighting with Iraqi troops?

I yield to those who remember Vietnam...


Utterly Predictable
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Well, President Bush should get a little bump from his speech tonight -- or maybe not if everyone is watching dating shows instead -- but I can't see his remarks turning anything around absent better news on the ground.

After reminding progressives not to be surprised by the Administration's continued willingness to politicize 9-11, I confess to being surprised that a 9-11 scare spiel was used as the opener instead of a list of good news.  Were I writing such a speech, I'd have led with the good news -- of which there is some -- to encourage Americans that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, even if I'm not willing to put a timetable to it.

Instead we got determined gloom, doom, and sacrifice -- for armed forces members and their families, that is.

Which brings me to my other bit of surprise -- that Bush made little effort to milk his military setting, except at the end.  That he got 27 minutes in without a round of applause from the military audience really surprised me.  The remarks were written more like an Oval Office address, with few applause lines.  I listened on the radio, so perhaps I missed the visuals.  But then, with limited tv coverage, most Americans did too.

In sum, again, I don't think this turns the page or changes the subject.


Live Blogging Post V
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Equating weakness on Iraq with weakness in the face of 9/11.  See Derek's point below.

Asking Americans to fly flag on Independence Day, send letter to a soldier, etc. on - I do think its important to find a way to give the public more active in demonstrating support.

He's thanking military families and soldiers.  Will he commit to do anything more for veterans in terms of benefits, etc.? 

He's urging people to enlist - - let's watch the recruitment numbers after the speech.  One interesting measure of how all this is going down.

Rather abrupt ending saying god bless the military.

My gut feeling/initial response?  A powerful speech, but nothing really new on how we're gonna win this or what the plan is.  Conflation of 9/11 and Iraq will be greeted with skepticism.  I don't think it will yield a sustained shift in public opinion if results don't improve on the ground.


Posted by Michael Signer

Wow.  He almost cried there at the end.  Did anyone else see the corners of his mouth turn down repeatedly?  Don't know what to make of that -- except he's probably less cool and collected about this than we think.  I bet he's torn up.  I bet this has been a hell of a lot harder than he thought it would be and he's desperately concerned about his Presidency.  As he should be.


Fatal Flaw
Posted by Michael Signer

The entire speech treats terrorists in Iraq as something that existed before the war, that motivated the war, not as something that's resulted from the war.  This is just crazy.  It doesn't acknowledge any forward threats -- only looks backward.  What's the vision, if we believe the terrorists in Iraq were why we went there??? 

Incredible, the fog of war. 


Live Blogging IV
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Acknowledging that we want our troops to come home.

Rejects artificial timetable, which I agree with, largely for the reasons he cites.  But he should go on and say we have no intention of maintaining permanent bases in Iraq.

He's saying the commanders on the ground don't need/want more troops.  Reports suggest this is not true. 

He's claiming sending more Americans would imply that we don't intend to turn this over to the Iraqis and we don't intend to stay permanently . . . but why doesn't he just state unequivocally that we don't intend to stay permanently.  A clear statement would clear it up, yet Bush leaves this deliberately ambiguous.

He's saying that Iraq's progress is being felt across Middle East.  Libya, Palestinian territories, Lebanon.  No reference to Iran, of course.


Bring 'Em On II?
Posted by Michael Signer

Live-blogging now...

Anyone else feel uncomfortable with the repeated "They failed to do X," "They failed to do Y"? 

I understand the President is talking about their "strategic objectives."

But, ironically, it comes off not as understanding the terrorists' strategy, but rather as an over-emotional formulation, like a taunt, like the Bush team has personalized the threat of Iraq a little too much, formulating the enemy as personal enemies...

The risk is that by making the challenge so personal and fraught with anger, it becomes a challenge, not a cool statement of superiority. 

How would you feel as a terrorist watching right now?  Like you'd been defeated?  Or like you'd just been given a new standard to meet?  (And that's NOT "therapy" for them  -- that's cool, tough strategy, thank you very much).

Continue reading "Bring 'Em On II?" »

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