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March 15, 2008

Is the Surge Working?
Posted by Michael Cohen

I really like Matt Yglesias's blog so I feel kind of bad picking on him twice in one week, but he strikes me as the kind of guy who is not such a fragile flower that he can't handle a little push back.

Yesterday Matt cited a new Pew Center poll, which indicates that a) press coverage of Iraq has declined and b) American's knowledge of the number of troops killed these has also fallen, From these initially depressing statistics Yglesias draws the conclusion that the surge is working.

Controlling the information landscape is key, because the public continues to have mixed feelings about the underlying issue. People think the war was a mistake, and think it hasn't been worth the costs. But rather than quit right now, the median voter seems to want to let things play out for a little while longer. The challenge for people who want to end the war is to make people see that that's not a viable option -- that the real policy choices are between leaving in as quickly a way as is safe and practical or else staying for many years. The challenge for those who want to see the war continue indefinitely is to obscure the length of commitment they're talking about, and to obscure the ongoing costs of an open-ended U.S. military presence in Iraq. Judged by those standards, the surge is working pretty well.

That strikes me as a pretty rational way to view the situation, but I'm not convinced - and I hark back to some poll numbers I posted on last month.

In February, CNN asked Americans whether they favor or oppose the war in Iraq – 34% favor, 64% oppose. The same question was asked in June 2007, well before the security situation began to improve – and the numbers are exactly the same. Indeed, they have been remarkably consistent from month to month. One would imagine that with stories of improved security in Iraq and the conservative meme that success in Iraq is just around the corner these numbers would have seen a bump – but it simply hasn’t happened.

How about President Bush’s approval on Iraq. It was 28% in January 2007 when the surge was announced. Today, it has risen a statistically insignificant blip to 33%. Was it worth going into Iraq? According to an ABC/Washington Poll taken in January 2007, 40% said yes; today the number stands at 34%. And in probably the most important question as it relates to the 2008 election – should the US withdraw troops right away, within a year or should we stay in Iraq as long it takes to win the war.  Again, unchanged. Overwhelmingly, the American people want the troops either out now or out within a year.

What’s even more interesting is that Americans are quite aware of the improved security situation. According to a Newsweek poll, since August, the number of Americans who think that things are getting better in Iraq has nearly doubled -- but they don’t really seem to care. Their basic opinions on the war remain unchanged. The American people have made up their minds. They think the war in Iraq was a mistake; they disapprove of the current policy and they want the troops to come home.

With the public's mind largely made up about the war this most recent Pew poll should hardly seem surprising. In fact, you can lump me in with the great American body politic. I find myself spending less and less time reading the daily reports out of Iraq. It's not because I don't care, but it's because I view the war as a lost cause. My focus is far less on what is happening in Iraq, but how we get the troops home. In my view, the fundamental narrative of the war is unchanged and I can't imagine anything that I will read on a daily basis is going to change my mind. Now I can't get inside the heads of every American, but I wouldn't be shocked if many of them feel the exact same way.

March 14, 2008

Victory on FISA
Posted by Moira Whelan

The House just passed the FISA bill, and then members of Congress will go back to their districts. The House did a great job of pushing for strong oversight, and yet, the Bush Administration continues to think that their actions should go unchecked…shocker. Many members are facing ads and criticism for their support of strong oversight of the terrorist surveillance systems. Jane Harman’s statement today is the best argument out there that Democrats are working to make America safe in the most responsible way possible, while Bush and Congressional Republicans are simply out to distort the truth:

First, the world is increasingly dangerous – and the threats from al Qaeda, Hezbollah and copy cat terror cells are real.  We must do everything possible to intercept the communications and plans of bad guys and prevent or disrupt their plots to harm us.

Second, the actions we take can and must be consistent with the rule of law.  FISA has served us well for 30 years – its framework is sound and, even in it present form, it permits us to secure emergency warrants in a matter of minutes to intercept communications between suspected foreign terrorists and Americans.

Third, FISA does need some tweaking – but the technical changes are not controversial.  All Democrats on the Intelligence Committee proposed them almost three years ago in the LISTEN Act.

Fourth, FISA has always provided immunity for telecom firms which act pursuant to its provisions. Telecoms seeking relief from Congress now did not comply between 2001 and 2005.  Nor did the Administration.  That was wrong, and they must be accountable.

Fifth, telecoms are now complying with FISA and have immunity for all of their activities.

And sixth, press accounts – especially Monday’s story in the Wall Street Journal – make clear that there are up to five ongoing surveillance programs.  Congress is not fully informed, and it would be reckless to grant retroactive immunity without knowing the scope of programs out there.

Posted by Michael Cohen

Below Ilan expresses wonderment at the President’s most recent divorced-from-reality statements on the war in Afghanistan. But really Ilan, how are you possibly surprised by this?

Just consider for a moment what’s happened in the past week or so; the President vetoed a bill banning torture, he personally intervened in a EPA decision that loosened the regulations guiding the Clean Air Act – a move that was strong opposed by EPA scientists – he fired his CENTCOM chief for asserting a more rational course for American foreign policy in the Middle East, he saw his Pentagon clumsily try to cover up a report that demonstrated the baselessness of one of the Administration’s central cases for war in Iraq and just a few days ago, he basically accused Congressional Democrats of treason if they pass their version of the FISA bill. And I also understand that the other day he cackled with glee as Dick Cheney waterboarded kittens in the Oval Office. Ok, I made the last one up.

But the larger point here is that none of this should even seem surprising. After seven years, of utter incompetence, venality, arrogance and a chronic inability to take responsibility for anything, what would truly be surprising is if George Bush didn’t do or say things like this . . .

Buried in a Buried Report
Posted by Adam Blickstein

  Hey Rummy, is that the "smoking gun" connecting al Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq you got 

Rumsfeld_2The Institute for Defense Analyses Report (now presumably discreetly stashed away in some undisclosed location away from the meddling gaze of the media) Moira discussed Wedneday has quite a few provocative nuggets. Besides providing an interesting and over-arching examination of how pan-Islamism supplanted pan-Arabism as the regional ideology du jour during the past decade, thus diminishing Saddam Hussein's stature and magnifying bin Laden's regional influence, it also supplies insights into the extent of the non-connection between bin Laden and Saddam's Iraq. A somewhat major point being that the report concludes there was no direct connection between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda. Major refutations of Republican talking points notwithstanding, NSN did an analysis of the report, extracting a few choice nuggets. One interesting was that Saddam himself feared the internal threat from radical Islamic groups in Iraq. From the report:

"Whether attempting to overthow the Egyptian government or the Kuwait royal family, the vision was always about the centrality of Saddam and his pan-Arab vision - and never about the glory of Islam or some modem-day caliphate. To the fundamentalist leadership of al Qaeda, Saddam represented the worst kind o f "apostate" regime - a secular police state well practiced in suppressing internal challenges...The Saddam regime was very concerned about the internal threat posed by various Islamist movements. Crackdowns, arrests, and monitoring of Islamic radical movements were common in Iraq."

He still finds ways to surprise me
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Seriously, I can't believe that after seven years George Bush still manages to do things that just leave me stunned.  I thought I'd seen it all, but...

In a video conference with military personnel in Afghanistan Bush stated:

"I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

Instead he's going to retire and go back to his ranch, while our troops keep dealing with this.

Quick Hits: Petraeus, Pentagon and Hiatt
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Unfortunately, don't have time to blog these things today, but too many interesting stories to not do a quick post.

  • Apparently General Petraeus doesn't think things are going as well as Mike O'Hanlon  and John McCain do.  Iraqis are not making "sufficient progress" 
  • ABC posts the entire report (PDF) that the Pentagon essentially decided not to post online, regarding the lack of connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  I guess it's pretty stupid to think that you could actually keep something off the Internet in this day and age.
  • Fred Hiatt and Co. have a silly silly piece about Admiral Fallon this morning.  Apparently Fallon endangered our national security by stating that we weren't going to imminently bomb Iran.  They argue that this reduces U.S. leverage.  It's true that threatening to use the military as leverage in negotiations can be helpful.  But it's much more productive when done subtly or by the simple fact that everyone knows the U.S. has the strongest military in the world.  You don't get much in negotiation by blatantly and brazenly threaten war.  All that does is make diplomatic negotiations impossible (Not really a good trust building exercise).   The WaPo and the Administration should take a lesson from Teddy Roosevelt:  "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

March 13, 2008

Spend More on Defense but Purchase less Security
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

That seems to be our national strategy these days.

I'm going to start an internet campaign of putting the words "defense budget" in quotations because -- according to my unscientific survey out around the country -- Americans are feeling pretty uneasy about their security and our leadership priorities. In other words, just whose defense are they talking about? It seems that really only a handful of people, Members of Congress, the president, commercial "defense" interests, those who benefit from the military's revolving door (where defense public servants walk through and, like Cinderella, end up in a castle in Fairfax County). The following random bits of information showed up in my in box recently, and they each make me wonder if there's much difference between a conspiracy theory and organized, collaborative intent. I don't believe in conspiracy theories -- but in this case it seems that our leaders are almost intentionally not paying attention anymore when it comes to real security threats. Truth be told, our problem is simply that we're stuck in the past -- fighting some phantom USSR and hoping that China explodes another rusty old weather satellite so we can rationalize our faith in the the really expensive technology gods to save us. We're spending upwards of 500 billion this year, more when you add in the war costs (then the numbers make my head explode Wheeeeeee!) A pittance of this money is dedicated to funding the direction that our whole ship of state needs to go (away from the bully principle and toward the persuasion one) But the skeptic in me thinks that the USA never will right itself with all the gold-plated barnacles on its hull. We must engage in a discussion about our nation's security, abandon old rhetoric and cite specifics. We have a wide open window right now to do so, while simultaneously championing core military values like public service and real post-9/11 needs. How might this happen? Here are few examples of public sector plunder and how to respond to them without being accused of criticizing the military.

    Example One: Bribing Poland to take missile defense. This boondoggle spectacular formerly known as "Star Wars" is costing American taxpayers nearly $9 billion dollars this coming year (after more than a hundred billion spent). Its industry makers have cleverly internationalized it -- an expansion on the strategy of making sure that some component of your weapon is made in multiple congressional districts. So we're telling Poland that we will buff up their military if they will just please just cooperate and put part of this non-working jalopy of a weapon on their soil. I went to see missile defense in Alaska as part of a congressional delegation a few years back. Words fail me. But farce will do. Let me just say that it was like going from drinking the Kool Aid to mixing the kool aid, to being in the kool aid jacuzzi. The trip came with a defense contractor Dr. Strangelove type.

    Continue reading "Spend More on Defense but Purchase less Security" »

    You've Seen One Veteran Chilean Diplomat...
    Posted by David Shorr

    I am having a heaping helping of humble pie for lunch today. A few weeks ago I