Democracy Arsenal

February 23, 2007


More lighter side
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From my friend Jack Balkin at Balkinization:

My solution to the Iraq War-- partial privatization of national security!

Frankly, I'm tired of debates about whether the Democrats should pass statutes bringing the troops home, limiting redeployments, or placing conditions in future appropriations bills.

I think the best solution to the Iraq war is to take a page from the signature domestic policy initiative of President Bush's second term.

I propose that each President be given a personal National Security Investment Savings Account modeled on the proposed Social Security Investment Savings Accounts. Under this partial privatization of National Security, each Commander-in-Chief would be given a specific amount of money taken from the national budget that he could invest in stocks, bonds, or other financial investments. He can then use the proceeds to fund any military actions or preemptive strikes he likes.
After all, it's his money.

Like most Americans, Commanders-in-Chief should be encouraged to save responsibly for their future military invasions and preemptive attacks.


Read the rest here.


On a lighter note
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From the Borowitz Report:

Bush: I’ll Bring Troops Home on JetBlue

No Exact Timetable, President Says

Under increased pressure to announce an exit strategy from Iraq, President George W. Bush revealed plans today to bring U.S. troops home on the budget airlines JetBlue.

Mr. Bush received praise for his decision to withdraw American troops, but his choice of JetBlue to transport them raised more than a few eyebrows.

According to most official estimates, with its recent spate of scheduling problems and flight delays, JetBlue could take up to seven years to bring U.S. troops home, and possibly ten years in the event of inclement weather.

February 21, 2007


The Cross-tabs don't lie
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Via the Washington Post blog The Fix, a fascinating new poll on Iraq from a Republican firm, Moore Information.

The Fix post concentrates on the fall-away of "soft" Republicans, who now only muster a small plurality in support of the Administration's policy, and on the full third of those who disapprove who say that blame goes only or primarily to President Bush.  (Another 30% blame Bush and all members of Congress who voted for the war; 24% blame "Bush and the Republicans in Congress" and 8% blame "members of Congress who don't support the President's approach."  Oh, and 5% don't know whom to blame.

But I also see that "The concept of a partitioned Iraq meets with a plurality or majority opposition among all demographic subgroups of the voting population."  The overall figure is 47% oppose a partition, 25% support and 28% unsure.  I'd love to know how exactly they asked the question; I'm guessing there's something important here about how Americans view our role in the world -- that it's not our place to go breaking up nations, perhaps, a general discomfort with our "playing God" -- but that's just a guess.


Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Thursday evening on HBO, via Mark Danner.  He says:

The film, in which I took part, is difficult to watch but it seems to me one of the better attempts to explore Abu Ghraib - how it happened and what it continues to mean.

Continue reading "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" »

February 20, 2007


Judging the Surge
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A fascinating thing to watch over the next few weeks and months will be the Congress, the media, the Administration, the military and the American public's evaluation of how the "surge" is going.  Last week there was some qualified good news about the initial American sweeps of Baghdad going more smoothly than expected.  The weekend brought more bombings and then yesterday's unprecedented attack on a US installation. 

The stakes in assessing the surge are high.  If it fails, its hard to imagine what new tack the Administration can take that won't amount to a tacit yet unmistakable admission of defeat. 

Progressives have, after 6 years of the Bush presidency, gotten used to being of two minds on the fate of Bush's policies:  on the one hand, they want the best for US interests (and especially for US troops), mandating that they hope against hope for the surge to succeed.  On the other hand, having been repeatedly and resoundingly vindicated in their critique of Bush's policy, they rightly judge that the sooner the facts on the ground make it clear to everyone that Bush's misadventures are just that, the sooner they will be forced to end. 

The media and the public have grown weary of years of being spun on the supposed invisible successes of the Iraq mission, and will treat claims of progress with skepticism.  With an additional 20,000 people in the field, the military may be torn between trying to keep morale up among soldiers whose tours are being extended, and not wanting to fuel the continued over-extension of US forces based on false hopes of potential victory.

One of two things will happen:  either the news out of Iraq will be so consistently and grindingly bad that the Administration's policy will fall apart.  Alternatively, there may be a battle of perceptions where some positive signs make it all but impossible to figure out the truth.

February 18, 2007


Iraq: A Progressive Plan B
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Congressional Democrats are enmeshed in a dilemma that became inevitable once they took over both chambers of Congress last November.  At the time, I made the point that Congressional authority over foreign policy is limited, and that by losing sight of this Democrats would risk assuming the blame for a disaster in Iraq that was not of their own making. 

The House has passed a non-binding resolution denouncing the surge.  In the Senate, Democrats fell just short of the 60 votes needed to bring that resolution to the floor.  The maneuvering won't stop there.   President Bush has shown no appetite for heeding the will of a weary and frustrated public that mostly wants out of Iraq.  Anti-war voters are understandably insistent that Congress go beyond hortatory measures and stop Bush from continuing to escalate.

Democrats face a genuinely tough challenge:  On the one hand, they won control of the Congress with a mandate to halt Bush's folly in Iraq and non-binding resolutions are, by definition, half-measures.  On the flip side, though, Democrats cannot afford to be accused of withholding support for the troops.  Moreover, restricting funds won't, in itself, put the war on a wiser course.  And it may give Bush the ability to argue that future failure in Iraq ought to be blamed on Congress not him.

According to this account, into this mix comes a crafty proposal by John Murtha.  Rather than holding back funds wholesale for the surge, he wants to attach requirements for high levels of readiness among additional troops to be deployed in Iraq, standards he believes the Administration cannot meet.  This will de facto slow the surge, while allowing Democrats to be on the side of protecting the troops from unfavorable battlefield conditions.

While this is clever, both political and policy considerations ought to temper enthusiasm.  First of all, the Politico website has already dubbed Murtha's proposal a "slow bleed" for the Iraq mission.  As long as the President refuses to moderate his ambitions, forcing him to pursue them on a strict diet of troops and resources may only starve existing troops in the field of much needed support and rest.  Leaving 130,000 troops exposed in Iraq as political support drains away in Washington is not an appealing prospect.  At the same time, though, the fact that the President will ignore repeated messages from the Congress and the public is anything but a reason to shut up.

Continue reading "Iraq: A Progressive Plan B" »

February 09, 2007


Iraq: War, Occupation... or Hostage Crisis?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Most of us want to get US troops out of Iraq. Leave aside for now the numerous variants of withdrawal/ drawdown/ redeployment: bottom line for most progressives-- and most Americans-- that we want all or most US troops out, sooner rather than later.

But: can we actually get them out without US deaths on a so-far unseen scale? Or are our troops trapped there, for all intents and purposes?

Logistically, tactically, how do we actually get all or most of our 140,000+ troops out safely? Do they go out by land, via Kuwait or Turkey? Are the departing convoys vulnerable to IEDs or attacks? Do we fly them out? How? From where? I know we bring hundreds of troops in and out of Iraq every day, in relative safety, but when there is a massive increase in numbers, are troops on the move either too concentrated for safety, or too spread out for safety?

Or maybe it's no big deal to get the first 130,000 or so out.... but what about the last few thousand troops? How do they get out? And what about the civilians at our vast Baghdad embassy? Do they all stay? Most? Protected by whom?

Maybe this is not as much of an issue as I worry it might be. Maybe the main organized insurgent and militia players have no particular incentive to go after departing Americans once we make it clear we're really leaving. But maybe their desire to get us out quickly is overcome by their desire to teach us a final lesson.

I'd like to think that someone, somewhere, in the bowels of the Pentagon or the Green Zone, is sitting down with maps and plans and back-up plans, figuring out just how we safely extract so many people. But I worry that political pressures may make it hard for military planners to focus on this: it would be like admitting defeat, which is not something this Administration will contemplate.

Iraq offers so much bad news and so many possible bad endings... sorry to throw one more out for discussion. But if we're pushing for withdrawal, we need to be thinking about this issue too.

February 07, 2007


Not with a Surge, but a Dribble
Posted by Rosa Brooks

I was before the surge before I was against it (though I was also against it even before I was for it). What I mean-- if that was not completely clear-- is that though I wasn't sold on the original rationale for war in Iraq, I did think that if we were going to send in the troops, we should send in a lot of them.

No one listened to me (true, I mostly said this to a bunch of random people standing in my kitchen, but no one listened to General Shinseki, either, and he said it at the Pentagon). So now, four years and thousands of deaths later, the Bush Administration has resisted calls for withdrawal or redeployment of US troops, and opted instead for a so-called "surge" of 20,000 or so additional troops, mainly into Baghdad.

Too little, too late, and seriously flawed, said practically everyone, including me. But you know.... if you're gonna surge, SURGE! Get those extra battalions in there, pronto!

It turns out, though, that the surge is really more of a dribble.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki admits that the Iraqi troops are a little late getting organized, and Maj. Gen. William Caldwell insists that on the US side, the surge will actually be more of "a gradual effort." 

So here we are, in the worst of all possible worlds: the violence in Iraq is surging, and we're... not surging, not withdrawing, not redeploying... just slowly placing more US troops in untenable positions, while Iraqi civilians continue to suffer.  Someday, the history books will have harsh words for the architects of this "plan," which is doing little good, and endangering many.

Speaking of the Administration's "surge" architects.... Since I'm quoting famous literary figures today, here's an excerpt from TS Lewis Eliot, "The Hollow Men" (1925):

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

....Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Correction: A commenter points out that I typed "TS Lewis" instead of TS Eliot." I have corrected that, above. Sorry.... too many dead brain cells cluttering up my mind.

February 05, 2007


Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations of al Maliki
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In the aftermath of the most deadly bomging since the US-led occupation of Iraq began, President Bush praises the Iraqi government for professing to care to keep its citizens alive (not, mind you, for doing anything to further that end).  He said:

"I appreciate the fact that the Iraqi government is anxious to get security inside the capital of the country . . That is a good sign. It is a good sign that there is a sense of concern and anxiety. It means that the government understands they have a responsibility to protect their people."

It is a "good sign" that Iraqi officials are distressed by mass carnage in broad daylight in the country's capital?  Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. 

Defense, Intelligence, Iraq, Middle East, Potpourri, Terrorism

Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Edward Luttwak of CSIS has a piece in this month's Harper's called "Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Luttwak begins with a critical analysis of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24 DRAFT, written by David Petraeus, among others, then moves on apply this to Iraq. He concludes that the new counterinsrgency manual's "prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principles and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents...."

Read it (it's not available online-- you'll have to buy the magazine! Sorry).

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