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August 31, 2007

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Repeat after me.  Progress...  Progress...  Progress...

Brief, choreographed and carefully controlled, the codels (short for congressional delegations) often have showed only what the Pentagon and the Bush administration have wanted the lawmakers to see. At one point, as Moran, Tauscher and Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) were heading to lunch in the fortified Green Zone, an American urgently tried to get their attention, apparently to voice concerns about the war effort, the participants said. Security whisked the man away before he could make his point.

More amusing/depressing anecdotes below the fold.

Continue reading "Codels" »

August 30, 2007

Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Hmmm... is it a paradox for me to suggest (immodestly) that you click on over to and check me out telling avowed neocon journalist (and once and future Iraq embed) Eli Lake that the difference between neo-cons and my brand of Democrat is modesty?  Maybe so.  But I just did it. 

Actually, it's worth listening to Eli's version of what went wrong with Iraq... not saying you're gonna like it, not saying you should like it, but it's interesting.

More Fuzziness
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Hat tip to Brian Katulis at CAP who clued me on to this issue and Spencer Ackerman has already got a great post on this

Basically there are more serious questions about the violence numbers that are being reported out of Iraq.  The Pentagon is congressionally mandated to produce a quarterly progress report to Congress measuring stability in Iraq.  Each of these reports has a graphic measuring sectarian violence.  The last four reports were August, 29 2006 (pg 35), November 30, 2006 (pg 24), March 2, 2007 (pg 17) and June 7, 2007 (pg 17).

I graphed the levels of sectarian violence from these various reports and found some confusing trends.  The abnormalities have been labeled A, B and C.  (There is no difference between the November report and the March report and thus they overlap).


Abnormality A:  Between August and November 2006, DOD started reclassifying “casualties” as “deaths by execution” and suddenly you see a dramatic drop in killings.  For example, in March 2006 right after the Samarra Mosque bombings you go from 1,750 “casualties” to 750 “deaths by execution.”  Between November 2006 and March 2007 “Deaths by Execution” becomes “Sectarian Murders” but the numbers remain the same.

Abnormality B:  Between the March 2007 report and the June 2007 report there was a dramatic change in the number of killings that were reported for the second half of 2006.  In both cases the numbers were described as “sectarian murders.”  The impact here is that it makes the “pre surge” situation look extraordinarily dire and therefore signals progress thereafter.

Abnormality C:  Somehow the reclassification that occurred between the March and June 2007 reports caused the violence numbers in April and May of 2006 to drop dramatically.  This was in the months following the Sammara bombings in February 2006 when sectarian violence was escalating. 

I really have no idea why these numbers are so inconsistent, but it does lead me to call into question the violence numbers that are being reported by the Administration, when it touts progress.  Clearly certain types of violence have been taken out and others have been added. What we need is some transparency.  Congress needs to take a very careful look at the numbers that come before it in September

Update:  Slight correction.  I changed the legend so that Nov. 07/Mar. 07 now reads Nov. 06/Mar. 07. 

Allawi Picks Up Major Endorsement
Posted by Moira Whelan

What the...??? The Baath Party? The political situation in Iraq may have just officially moved from bad to Felliniesque.

August 29, 2007

Posted by Moira Whelan

We’re once again at an anniversary of Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast, and the subsequent devastation that occurred due to human failure. I’m still looking for something to say that moves beyond outrage.

It’s hard to believe that the President has been down there 15 times now, and can still look himself in the mirror every day, knowing that his government has failed to do all it can to help rebuild these American towns and cities. I know many, many dedicated public servants who’ve worked hard over the past years to help, but they’re working in a system that fundamentally doesn’t care. This is a government in which this devastation didn’t warrant a mention in the State of the Union Address.

I’d urge everyone to do something today. Pray, read a book, donate money. But whatever you do, don’t forget. The worst thing you can do is think it doesn’t impact you because of where you live, or the issues you care about. The worst thing you can ever do is nothing.

I consider the best book on the subject to be "Disaster." Bobby Block was all over the problems with FEMA long before the storm hit. Chris Cooper was a local, and was able to sort through the Louisiana politics for those unfamiliar.

There’s no shortage of problems and things to fix, and one site has done an amazing job inventorying all of the recommendations from the countless reports, and calls for citizen action to fix them.

The fact is, those of us who work on any political issue are going to have a hard time getting people who are left stranded on roofs, under houses, or in shelters to care about anything else that's critical in this country. How do you get someone to care about the trade relationship with China when they literally cannot find their house, and the government is of little help? We want Americans to trust their government, but most of us are a long way from that right now.

Not Sectarian Violence
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

50 people died in clashes in Karbala in the South between the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army.  These militias represent the two largest Shi'a political parties in the South, SIIC and the Sadirists.  This will have no impact on the President's measures of violence. As Tony Cordesman explains, the military's numbers don't include what is going on in the South because Shi'a on Shi'a violence is not considered sectarian.

These figures [The military's number] also ignore growing Shi’ite instability in the south, and particularly in the southeast, and a growing threat from Iran

Repeat after me.  Progress.  Progress.  Progress.  Violence is down.....

Bill Kristol Talks with Military Wife
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Via Matt.  This is worth three minutes of your day.

August 28, 2007

Political Progress
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, Maliki and the President are now touting this new political agreement, which no one has seen yet but is supposed to settle the de-Baathification and provincial elections questions. 

There is no way to tell until we see the text of the agreement, but I think most likely this is posturing on the part of Maliki.  Back in early July the cabinet (Or should I say half cabinet , since all of the Sunnis as well as the Sadrists were already boycotting) approved an oil law which the Kurds and Sunnis both objected to.  You had two to three days of news stories about it, but it became pretty apparent very quickly that there was no chance it would actually pass parliament.  Conveniently, this happened one week before the Administration was set to give its midterm July 15 report on Iraq.

Now, we have Maliki taking heat from all sides and interestingly enough we have a "major" breakthrough. Here is a reality check on de-Baathfication.  It is still has to pass parliament.  Here’s what happened last time there was a supposed agreement on de-Baathficiation.

On March 26, a draft law titled the Reconciliation and Accountability Law was circulated by Maliki’s office. It put a three-month limit on the ability of people to bring lawsuits against former members of the regime after which they would be immune from prosecution, eligible for work in the public sector and would receive pension benefits. The law also weakened the power of the de-Baathification commission which had been used as a platform by the Shia government to exact revenge on Sunnis for past wrongs.

Ahmed Chalabi, the former American ally supported by the Neoconservatives, was the main force in derailing the law. “Mr. Chalabi, the former Pentagon protégé, relies on the commission for an official role in Iraq’s government. Having just renovated a spacious office in the Green Zone, he has strongly opposed any effort to weaken his position or the country’s policy on former Baathists. According to a senior official with the commission, Mr. Chalabi and members of his organization sabotaged the American-backed plan by rallying opposition among Shia government officials in southern Iraq, then taking their complaints to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful Shia cleric. On April 1, Mr. Chalabi visited the ayatollah’s office in Najaf. He later appeared at a news conference, declaring that Ayatollah Sistani told him the law was incomplete and that ‘there would be other drafts.’”

So I guess the question is.  Is Chalabi supporting this?  Will it actually have a chance in Parliament?  I don’t know.

As for Provincial elections... 

Continue reading "Political Progress" »

Call Your Therapist, Part 3
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Oh boy, here we go again. Yes, you'll probably also need a psychologist to explain "the chain of Republican men who seek illicit sex from other men." Marc Ambinder calls it "a curious phenomenon of our time and deserves a bit more examination." Indeed, more examination is needed. Moral hypocrisy on this matter is not, to be fair, the province of only Republicans. Other well-known offenders include, um, Saudi Arabians. Saudi Arabia apparently has one of the highest rates of gay activity in the world despite homosexuality being seen as religiously forbidden, and an abomination that guarantees an eternity in hellfire.   

Petraeus: Lots of Smoke. No Fire Yet.
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I have to agree with Kevin.

I am getting more and more suspicious of General Petraeus and these assertions that violence is actually down in Iraq.  There is no smoking gun and I hope that I am wrong about this, but there are just too many question marks out there.  Individually they don't raise suspicions, but combined they make me very skeptical. 

There is a lot of smoke.  But as of yet no fire.  Reporters and legislators alike need to take a very careful look at him and the numbers that are presented in the White House report. 


  • The McClatchy article from a couple of weeks back where the military asserted that violence was down but “declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don’t support the claim.”

  • The AP reported this weekend that by their count sectarian violence has doubled this year. 

  • The fact that the Iraqi ministry of health has stopped sharing its numbers with the UN.  So there is no independent verification of the violence numbers.

  • The fact that Petraeus commented on the NIE and helped "soften" the language on the security situation

  • His Washington Post op-ed in 2004 which touted the success of Iraqi security forces, 6 weeks before the election.  Turns out it wasn’t going as well as he said it was.

  • The fact that the U.S. military in the past has gone out of its way to specifically undercount "sectarian killings" to make it look like there was progress

  • The fact that Petraeus's entire career and legacy is tied to the “surge” and its success

Just some food for thought.

Who Are Bush's 33%?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Shadi poses a good question:  who are the folks who are still pleased with President Bush's performance?  Commenters provide some answers, some of which are actually dead wrong (the most highly-educated and affluent, in fact, are turning away from Bush in droves), and some of which do have the whiff of stereotype about them.  Stan Greenberg over at Democracy Corps had a wonderful comment in his last polling memo:  "the rush to be done with Bush is turning America a little classless."

Back in 2004, public opinion scholar Steven Kull gave one of the best answers I've seen.  Crudely summarized, he posits -- and found some data supporting -- a core group of Americans who, after the scare of 9/11, were very heavily emotionally invested in President Bush's ability to protect them.  This emotional investment caused them to screen out contradictory data points, which led Kull to some crazy findings.  For example, more than half of a sample of confirmed Bush voters in fall 2004 supported the International Criminal Court and Kyoto -- and thought Bush did too

The roots of the Bush supporters' resistance to information," Steven opines, "very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11 and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake."

This bond between Bush and his supporters, Kull notes, interacts with some "idealized image of the President" that they hold. And the two, together, make "it difficult for his supporters to imagine that he could have made incorrect judgments before the war, that world public opinion could be critical of his policies, or that the President could hold foreign policy positions that are at odds with [those of] his supporters."

John Judis has a good piece in the New Republic that sheds some more light on this, writing about three political psychologists who've studied how subliminal reminders of our own mortality lead people to more culturally conservative, aggressive and discriminatory worldviews.  They've documented that reminders of 9/11 do function as mortality reminders for many people, producing the same cultural/political shift.

So who are those folks?  They're very, very afraid.  Of death, of their own death, of their own place in a country where the rules might be changing -- or might already have changed. 

Cognitive Dissonance Alert
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok, I just read John Dickerson's piece on "why Bush stands by his incompetents," and now I'm really starting to wonder whether political science, or even journalism, can really explain the behavior of the Bush administration. I think it's really come to the point where we're talking about very complex matters of psychology which are beyond me, and most everyone else. I can't believe Bush actually said this to John Dickerson in 2004:

If I were interviewing a guy for the job of president, I'd ask, How do you make decisions? How would you get unfiltered information? Would you surround yourself with hacks? Are you scared of smart people? I've seen the effect of the Oval Office on people. People are prepared to come in and speak their minds, and then they get in there, and the place overwhelms them, and they say, 'Gee, Mr. President, you're looking good.' I need people who can walk in and say, 'Hey, you're not looking so great today.'

Bush's "Low" Approval Ratings are Actually Quite High
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I'm always reading that President Bush's approval ratings are sinking. And, relative to past presidents, they are - after all, the latest numbers are in the low 30s. Well, I think I'm going to have dissent here and say that this seems pretty high to me. Think about it: 33% of our fellow Americans approve of Bush's job performance. It's not just that they like the guy, or that they feel sorry for him, or wish him the best; it's that they approve of his performance.

What I want to know is who are these Bush-approvers, what's their deal, and what are in the world are they thinking? This means that somewhere close to 70 million people in America (and probably around 70.02 million in the world) approve of this guy. This is very, very scary. So, no, I'm not heartened by these poll results. I mean, let's remember that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who seems like a much more intelligent and respectable guy than Bush, has gotten as low as 3%, or within the margin of error. This means that Olmert, his family, and his close friends still supported him, but not necessarily anyone else (Matt Yglesias also pondered the possibility of negative popularity, 3 - 4% = -1%). So, my question is this: can someone tell me something about these 70 million people?

August 27, 2007

The Attorney General's No-Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day (try all of them since 2001)
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Others will write more legally-informed commentary on Alberto Gonzales' resignation.  I'll just quote, via the AP, from his farewell remarks at the Justice Department:

Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days, said the son of migrants.

Now, I don't know anything about Gonzales' father, but I bet he was a hardworking guy who prided himself on giving his kids opportunities he hadn't had, and leaving their future -- and maybe his adopted country's future -- better than he found it.  I bet those honest goals gave him some pretty significant satisfaction even through a hard and disappointing life.

I bet he never had a day where he opened the doors for hundreds of people to be held without charge, tortured, or sent away to be tortured and killed without benefit of legal proceedings.

I bet he never did much to undermine our non-political judicial system.

And I bet he didn't say "I don't know" or "I can't recall" as much in a year as his son did in a day of Senate testimony earlier this year.

I suppose it's too much to hope that, in retirement, Gonzales can gain some appreciation for the values his dad -- and so many other immigrants whose mantle he so often sought to hide in -- seems to have done a decent job of living out. I don't really care whether he can, I suppose, but I do care whether all the rest of us can.

President Bush, please listen to the National Guard
Posted by Moira Whelan

A story that didn't get a ton of attention today, but is actually quite telling...

At the National Guard convention in Puerto Rico, the governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vila, had some strong words about Iraq.

From CBS:

Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said Saturday that the U.S. administration has “no new strategy and no signs of success” and that prolonging the war would needlessly put guardsmen in harm’s way.

“The war in Iraq has fractured the political will of the United States and the world,” he said at the opening of the 129th National Guard Association general conference. “Clearly, a new war strategy is required and urgently.”

Acevedo said sending more troops to Iraq would be a costly blunder.

“By increasing the number of National Guard and reserve troops, we put our soldiers in danger for the umpteenth time since the beginning of the global war on terrorism,” said the governor, adding U.S. territories and states need Guard reserves in the event of natural disasters and domestic disturbances.

It's not unusual that a group of military officers would be against war. Fundamentally, no military officer wants to go to war. What is telling is that this is not a crowd that routinely expresses strong political support, especially when they meet with each other. The military typically tries to remain silent and fight the wars that are given to them by civilian leaders. The fact that they would stand up and applaud these remarks indicates that the sense of the need to bring a responsible end to the war is overwhelming.

This was the Association's national convention--a group that typically focuses on lobbying Congress for better equipment. The idea that Iraq has become such a problem for them should send a clear message about how the President is crippling our military.

Do Democrats Need 'Big Ideas'?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ezra Klein, in a post about Matt Bai’s book The Argument, disagrees with the basic premise of the book – that Democrats need “big ideas”:

As a reporter, I focus on policy ideas. And damn it, I’m drowning. Bai seems to think Democrats need a health care plan, but I could show him no fewer than 20 fully-realized plans…same goes for pension planning, trade adjustment plans…

Ezra, I think, is mistaking “good plans” for “big ideas.” They are not the same thing, and that’s precisely the problem we’re facing. We do have a lot of great policy plans that will make a tangible difference in people’s lives. What we don’t have, however, is a narrative, a vision, a framework, a thread, a worldview, even - let’s say it - an ideology (in the non-pejorative sense).

In other words, let’s take Ezra’s set of recommended policies: “universal health care,” “pension planning,” and “trade adjustment plans.” I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t exactly constitute a call-to-arms. What is needed, then, is a way to take these three components, and to meld them together into a story. What is our story? The second question, which relates to foreign policy but which is just as important, is what story do we want to tell the rest of the world? The two questions are interrelated and herein lies a challenge, how do we take two narratives – one on domestic policy and one on foreign policy – and meld them into a broader, overarching narrative, a story not only about who we are, but who we wish to be. In this, we have failed.

August 26, 2007

More on Civilian Casualties
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Via Matt the AP is reporting that sectarian violence is up.   (Don Bacon also points this out)

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