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June 28, 2005


Live Blogging III
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

He references 30 countries in the coalition, the UN's role and the international pledges for aid and rebuilding.   If only all these elements were truly solid.

Training of the Iraqi forces comes fairly late on the list of accomplishments, which seems to reflect some sense of reality . . . he acknowledges they're not fully capable or independent, which is good.

To complete mission, we'll:

- hunt down insurgents

- keep Iraq from being a safe haven for terrorists

- help Iraq to build freestanding nation that can defend itself

He talked of the influx of foreign fighters - - tacit admission that Iraq has become a terrorist proving ground under our watch.

NATO military academy near Baghdad.

He's emphasizing foreign contributions to the training effort . . . today Kerry referenced some contributions we've turned down.

3 new steps

- partnering coalition and Iraqi units - this does not sound new at all since the Iraqis haven't been able to operate effectively on their own

- embedding coalition "transition teams" inside Iraqi units - sounds a lot like #1

- working with interior and defense ministries on anti-terror operations - we've been in the ministries (essentially running many of them) since the occupation began.  again, curious what's new here.


Live Blogging Post II
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Foreign fighters are aligned with remnants of Saddam's regime.

He quotes Bin Laden saying "whole world is watching war" and it will end with victory or defeat.  I think there's some truth to that portrayal - Bush seems to agree too.

I think it is important to characterize the enemy in the way he does - not just as ordinary Iraqi civilians turned sour on the U.S.

He says they've failed to force a mass withdrawal by our allies - unfortunately, they've come far too close for comfort on that score with Spain, Ukraine, etc. withdrawing from the mission.

Now he's touting all the things he promised to do a year ago  . . . clear he's about to claim victory on all those goals.  This will ring false.

He's calling elections free and fair . . .

Congratulating himself on the rebuilding effort . . .

He did at least characterize progress as "uneven" - kinda like the Fonz admitting to a mistake.


President Bush's Speech - Live Blogging
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Already conflating 9/11 terrorists with Iraqi insurgents . . .

References post 9/11 commitment to "take the fight to the enemy" and describes Iraq as the latest battlefield.  This is precariously close to saying 9/11 was the rationale for invading Iraq

There he said it - defeating them there before they attack us here.  He's quoting General Vines, who clearly got the talking points.

No acknowledgement yet that all is not going swimmingly  . . . oh, there it is - mission is difficult and dangerous.  He "sees pictures" of the bloodshed (shouldn't he see more than pix - victims, etc.)?


A Big Speech -- For Bush, and for Us
Posted by Derek Chollet

A few weeks ago we were calling for a serious discussion about what do to next in Iraq, and for progressives to, ahem, MoveOn from the sole obsession with what happened three years ago and the Downing Street memo, etc. Well, we wanted a debate, and thanks to the American people -- whose concerns have been expressed during the past few weeks in poll after poll – we got one.  That’s why the White House had to scramble to get the President on the airwaves tonight.  This will be right up there with January’s State of the Union as one of the most important speeches of Bush’s second term so far.

Obviously the President’s performance this evening will shape the contours of what comes next (just as an aside, I think it is absolutely appalling that the networks are balking at giving him the airtime – we are at war, and they worry about interrupting some episode of Survivor or Dancing with the Stars?).  He’ll likely make a strong presentation for how difficult things are and call for toughness and patience in the days ahead – and saying so in front of hundreds of cheering troops from Ft. Bragg, it will make for a powerful image.  Remember, it may seem amazing to those of us who do nothing more than sit behind desks all day, but morale among the troops in Iraq is quite high.  My guess is that we’ll hear a lot less “last throes” happy talk, but also get a more toned-down version of what Rove said last week in New York: basically the going is tough and it’s time for the tough to get going -- and we’re tough, they’re not.

As for the progressive response in this debate, by and large I think it has been extremely smart and effective.  Biden’s speech last week was a tour de force --outlining a strong critique as well as showing that there can be an effective, and bipartisan, way forward -- and so far Democrats on the Hill (mainly in the Senate caucus) have resisted the temptation to call for anything resembling a pullout.

But my concern is that what we won’t hear from Bush tonight – a timetable for turning things over to the Iraqis (in fact, we’ll hear the opposite, a full-throated argument for why this is a bad idea) – will only increase the pressure within progressive circles and their among leaders to outline a real alternative to Bush, and let’s face it, the only thing that does not look like just tweaks on his policy is a timetable for withdrawal.

Pressure for this has been burbling for awhile, especially among the activist crowd and even in policy circles.  We see this idea embedded in John Kerry’s otherwise fine oped in the New York Times today.  Buried in the middle of the piece, he writes:

“The administration must immediately draw up a detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities to Iraqis after the December elections. The plan should be shared with Congress. The guideposts should take into account political and security needs and objectives and be linked to specific tasks and accomplishments. If Iraqis adopt a constitution and hold elections as planned, support for the insurgency should fall and Iraqi security forces should be able to take on more responsibility. It will also set the stage for American forces to begin to come home.”

Bush is not going to do that tonight.  Now there’s a lot of nuance and caveats in what Kerry writes, and the general thrust of it is sensible: the more capable the Iraqis become, the less we need to be there.  But I fear that what progressives will rally around is the first sentence only – to set a timetable for withdrawal.  There is already work being done among some serious folks in our leading think tanks to outline a plan to do just that. 

On policy grounds, I am genuinely torn about this idea, but on political grounds I have a clear conclusion.  It seems to me that whatever these efforts to establish a timetable come up with, all their nuance and serious thinking will get lost in translation, and what the public will hear (and what the Republicans will promote) is one simple headline: “Democrats Outline Plan to Withdraw from Iraq.” 

Is that what we want?  We have to think long and hard about this one. 

June 26, 2005


Iraq - 8 Things to Listen for During Bush's Iraq Address
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This week President Bush will launch a PR offensive to rebuild public support for the war in Iraq with a speech during primetime on Tuesday night.  As misleading and disengenous as I have found most of the Administration's efforts to influence public opinion (think WMD, Social Security,  etc.) I actually think this is important. That's because, given the choices, achieving a stable Iraq in the next couple of years, if it's possible, would be a better outcome than withdrawing now, seeing that country descend to chaos, and having America's credibility as a military force undercut. 

But to succeed, the war will need higher levels of public support.  And any PR bounce achieved through a whitewash of the facts will be short-lived and will ultimately boomerang.  As discussed on Belgravia Dispatch and as Ivo Daalder points out at America Abroad, a major reason that support for the war is eroding is precisely because people feel misled about why we got in, how it's going, and how we're gonna get out.

Accordingly, there are a bunch things we all ought to be listening for when Bush addresses the nation on Tuesday night.  These will signal not just whether the PR push will work but may also reveal how the war effort is being handled and whether the Administration has what it takes to put us on a path to succeed.  If the subterfuge and misrepresentations continue, public backing for the war effort will slip, and we'll need to look again at whether a pull-out may be the best of a handful of unappealing options. 

What to listen for on Tuesday:

1.  Willingness to Face Reality about Conditions on the Ground. Will Bush admit how tough things are right now in Iraq, or does he continue to pretend he knows something that the global media, our commanders on the ground, and the cold hard stats on casualties don't? 

2. Honest Appraisal of the Iraqi Security Forces. If Bush argues that this is a short-term push before we turn things over to a rebuilt Iraqi security apparatus that will itself defeat the insurgency and let us go home, he is not being realistic. The numbers so far make this a Pollyanna scenario, at least for the next few years.  Bush needs to talk frankly about the challenges of building up Iraqi forces.

3.  A Characterization of the Insurgency. One difficulty in sustaining support for the war is the opacity of the insurgents.  Are these hardened terrorists who loathe America? Nationalists who want political power? Ordinary citizens frustrated by the occupation? Foreign provocateurs? All of the above? Is the insurgency in its last throes or likely to last for years (Rumsfeld has said both in recent weeks).  Particularly now that we're apparently in talks with the insurgent leadership, Bush needs to say something about who these people are.

4. A Rejection of Partisanship. Karl Rove's craven attempt to divert attention from dwindling support for the botched Iraqi operation revealed just how panicked conservatives have become.  That kind of desperation will not make for sound leadership on Iraq or anything else (as Kos points out, the attempt at diversion through random finger-pointing is no longer even confined to Democrats).

5.  A Commitment to Stronger Support for U.S. Troops. Bush needs to address how he is going to ensure that members of the armed services do not get shortchanged on the length and frequency of their deployments or the benefits they receive.

6.  A Plan to Buttress Flagging Military Recruitment Efforts. Staying, much less strengthening, the course in Iraq depends on being able to continue to recruit enough troops.  This has become a huge problem.  It also affects the military's long-term effectiveness, and its real and perceived ability to handle another crisis (never mind problems like forest fires).  Americans are worried about recruitment and a possible draft. Bush needs to confront this real concern.

7.  A Plan for Victory. Bush has to explain how we get from here (mounting attacks, a vigorous insurgency, too few boots on the ground and no prospect for more) to an Iraq that's stable (never mind democratic) enough to allow the Americans go home. Will we attract foreign troops? Put more Americans on the ground (and if so who and how)? Expedite the training effort somehow? He needs to outline this vision step by step, explaining why his plans are realistic.

8.  An Honest Assessment of Why Iraq Matters. The notion that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq to avoid fighting them at home was spurious when Bush first said it. Now, given the value of the American invasion and occupation as a recruitment tool for terrorists, that claim has lost all credibility. If Bush repeats this meaningless mantra, his message will fall flat. Even worse would be to revert, as Bush has in recent days, to the assertion of a link between Saddam and 9/11 -- claim so thoroughly discredited that even Bush himself disavowed it. Bush needs to explain why Iraq now matters on its own terms.


Iraq Hits the Blogfront
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Philip Carter at Intel-Dump has been an occasional sparring partner for us here (e.g. here).  I don't know Philip but this afternoon I received an email from him saying he's been transferred from the ready reserve to the 101st Airborne Division and is headed to Iraq.  His post announcing this is here

Philip's not the first person I know who has since 9/11 been yanked out of what I consider to be total normalcy and deployed to a frightening frontline.  Every time it happens it evokes a nervous, unsettled feeling both for the individuals involved and their families, and in relation to what it means for America to be at war. 

As you know I am not of the view that the Iraq Operation is an irrecoverable failure.  But it is a daunting and dangerous challenge and right now its tough to say whether we will be able to succeed, or whether the best option may ultimately be to leave even without some assurance that Iraq will be stable.  May thoughts of Philip's redouble the efforts being made in the blogosphere to make sure our troops have the support they deserve, that U.S. policy is sound and smart.

I wish Philip a safe and successful tour of duty and a swift return home.  He will be on my mind whenever we talk about Iraq.

Progressive Strategy

War Spending vs. Safety at Home
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

It's hard to talk about government priorities these days without falling into the old Cold War framework of Guns versus Butter....This framework is indeed obsolete.  Just helping our military services to build back basic and elementary equipment is going to be very expensive over the coming years. You can support a healthy and strong defense however, and still decry the amount we're spending on President Bush's vanity war. The war supplementals are fair game for a priorities debate.  Especially when Halliburton contiues its gargantuan and non competitive contract rip-offs of our soldiers and our taxpayers. (keep your eye on that link for more hearings on Iraq contracting)

The cost of the war in Iraq is creeping into all of our domestic budgets. These budets are political documents (and moral documents as Jim Wallis of Sojourners has pointed out). I would argue that some of the items cut relate directly to our ability as a nation to protect ourselves over the long term in a post-9/11 security environment.

Let's have a look at this week's H.R. 3010 - Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Act for FY06.  These figures reflect the budget that came to the floor of the House of Representatives the week of June 20th.

International Labor Affairs (86.7% cut);  These are the public servants who care about things like child labor and corporate social responsibility.  Such nags!

For hospital emergency preparedness grants (3% cut) ; Duct tape and plastic sheets, people!

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (4.6% cut); West Nile what?

Education: No Child Left Behind (3.3% cut / $13.2 billion below its FY06 authorization level and a $40 billion cumulative shortfall since the enactment of NCLB);   They should be home-schooled anyway.

Education Technology grants (39.5% cut); Because our future competitiveness is SO important.

Give me a break.

June 24, 2005


The Arrogance (and Anxiety?) of Power
Posted by Michael Signer

God knows why, but I woke up at 3:50 a.m. this morning and found only C-SPAN to watch on TV.  Apropos of the Karl Rove debacle, Senator Byrd was cross-examining Secretary Rumsfeld, on the rough topic of the arrogance of power.  I am going to paraphrase here, since there's no transcript available on-line, and I can't find Byrd's comments anywhere (please post below if you find them, and I'll incorporate).

Byrd, very delicately and diplomatically, said that he couldn't recall the Senate being lectured quite as much before by a Secretary of Defense.  He said that he feared that this Administration had forgotten the basic constitutional design of the American system, with three co-equal branches of government.  And he said that it was the unique job of the legislative branch to respond to the people -- and that because the people are anxious about Iraq, the Senate is doing its job to question the Administration aggressively about its answers to the situation there.

The look on Rumsfeld's face was amazing.  I missed his exchange with Ted Kennedy, which from the WaPo account sounds like it was more confrontational and fiery.  What was different about Byrd's monologue (and, believe me, I'm no fall-down fan of his; I think his perspective and career are unique, but his KKK past and grandiose self-conception as a Roman historian muddy the waters for me) was the tone of melancholy -- of a sort of historical sadness.  His reprimand was not angry; it was regretful. 

We truly see the outlines of an Imperial Presidency here.  I have a friend who's a professor of political theory who tells me that in his class on ancient theory, Thucydides has become more relevant every semester over the last couple of years.  Thucydides taught that Athens' empire waned as it became more arrogant with its power, and less interested in earning its authority as a leader from the world community of which it was a part.  Arrogation and demand are the tools of a weakening power; confidence and leadership are the instruments of a strong one.

All of which made me reflect further on what was underlying Rove's disastrous comments before the New York Conservative Party.  I understand our media habits of late of being fascinated by the retrospective derring-do of our political Svengalis, our Rasputins, ranging all the way back to McKinley's Mark Hanna to Reagan's Mike Deaver to Bush I's Lee Atwater to Clinton's James Carville to, today, Bush II's Karl Rove.  Fine. 

But to put my pop-psych hat on:  it's one thing for Rove to coolly diagnose how he tore his opponents apart.  It's another thing entirely for his diagnosis to be inflected (or infected) by his own partisan anxiety and rage.

I agree with Garance Franke-Ruta at the American Prospect that this was outrageous, and that he should apologize.  But what's going on underneath his remarks may be more interesting, and important.  How anxious are these conservatives now about this war they started but did not plan well, this insurgency whose raison d'etre is being supplied every day by their arrogance, and an American people whose patience is running thin?

Anxious enough to smear (as Kevin Drum acutely notes) the entire left as intentionally unpatriotic? 

(I agree wholeheartedly, by the way, with Heather's robust, forward-looking analysis of how to move forward and away from Rove's remarks).


'06 & '08: No Illusions
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just in case you weren't absolutely sure how the GOP will campaign when its president and its Congress are collapsing in public opinon, Karl Rove clears it up for you:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

Now, before you want to spend the next three years yelling "no we didn't," we need a two-pronged response:

1)  a strong, substantive answer on what we did and what we will do to keep America safe;

2) a strong, substantive and convincing page-turn to broad national security, Iraq, proliferation and other policy areas, foreign and domestic, where conservatives are responding to current challenges with "timidity."

Why?  Because we weren't in office in '01, we aren't in office now, and no matter how many terrorists we promise to hunt down and kill, we still lose as long as the conversation stays on the response to 9-11. 

Being strong on terrorism also has to mean being strong enough to set the national-security agenda, not just respond to demagogues setting it in this cynical way.  This is a trap for us to get caught in.

June 23, 2005


Letting Down Veterans
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Apropos of our discussion earlier this week on the importance of supporting our troops and veterans . . .

See full details here.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) announces a severe budget shortfall. Today, the VA informed members of Congress that its mid-year budget review revealed a $1 billion shortfall in meeting critical health care needs during the current fiscal year. As a result, VA officials say that they are forced to take $600 million away from funds to improve VA hospitals and other infrastructure and to borrow $400 million from funds already committed to provide health care during the next fiscal year. The end result is that the quality of veterans' health care will suffer and essential services and programs are now at risk.

When President Bush issued his Fiscal Year 2005 budget request, veterans' leaders called it "deplorable" and "inexcusable." (Veterans of Foreign Wars, 2/2/04) Earlier this year, Senators Murray and Akaka revealed that regional VA health care networks were experiencing a shortfall of over $800 million. Today's revelation by the VA validates these claims and demonstrates the inadequacy of President Bush's Fiscal Year 2005 budget.

So not only are we putting people's lives at risk for a war that we don't have a plan to win, we're also shortchanging them when they need help most.   Regardless of what we think ought to be the plan for Iraq, we should all agree that this is unacceptable.

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