… ABC News asks folks who were members of the Senate in October 2002 if they would be inclined to revise their vote based on what we now all know about the intelligence. I was interested to see Senators Clinton and Biden (among others) now in the doves-in-retrospect camp. One would think this question should be a no-brainer, but recall that as recently as 2004 such Democratic Party presidential and vice presidential nominees as John Kerry and John Edwards were still maintaining they’d voted the wrong way. Shortly after the campaign ended, both of them defected to the dove camp, but to the best of my knowledge Clinton was still sticking the hawk line.
Meanwhile, a whole bunch of GOP Senators either refused to answer or else dodged the question in silly ways. Folks should keep at it; this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. I also note that House members shouldn’t be immune.
At a time when the United States is engaged in protracted ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the worst moves the Bush administration could make is to appoint someone with no background in land warfare to oversee these operations. In another baffling move, President Bush has decided to do just that, by replacing retiring Army General John Abizaid, the current head of Central Command, with Navy Admiral William J. Fallon.
Since its inception, Central Command, which oversees the Middle East and South Central Asia, has been led only by a Army or Marine Corps General. The Navy has been largely on the sidelines while the Army and the Marine Corps have borne the brunt of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; both are starting to crack under the strain. Admiral Fallon is a fine officer and by all accounts has done a good job as head of the Pacific Command, the Navy’s traditional area of responsibility. But with little background in the Middle East or land warfare, his appointment appears to be based more on diffusing opposition to the military escalation in Iraq than on what is best for the soldiers and Marines on the ground and the country.
“I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost,” [ Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe] Biden said. “They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy — literally not figuratively.” Kevin Drum’s alternative theory is that they figure if worst comes to worst, Iraq goes through some ethnic cleansing and the United States just backs whoever emerges controlling Baghdad in exchange for a willingness to host some permanent military bases.
Noting Jim Miklaszewski’s report report that “one administration official admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one because the American people have run out of patience and President Bush is running out of time to achieve some kind of success in Iraq,” Spencer Ackerman wondered “How many lives is a five-point bump in the polls worth, anyway?” Many, many lives, if you’re George W. Bush. As Kahneman and Renshom observe:
Imagine, for example, the choice between:
Option A: A sure loss of $890
Option B: A 90 percent chance to lose $1,000 and a 10 percent chance to lose nothing.
In this situation, a large majority of decision makers will prefer the gamble in Option B, even though the other choice is statistically superior. People prefer to avoid a certain loss in favor of a potential loss, even if they risk losing significantly more. When things are going badly in a conflict, the aversion to cutting one’s losses, often compounded by wishful thinking, is likely to dominate the calculus of the losing side. This brew of psychological factors tends to cause conflicts to endure long beyond the point where a reasonable observer would see the outcome as a near certainty. Many other factors pull in the same direction, notably the fact that for the leaders who have led their nation to the brink of defeat, the consequences of giving up will usually not be worse if the conflict is prolonged, even if they are worse for the citizens they lead.
This, I think, gets at the real truth. It doesn’t matter to Bush and his top aides whether or not Iraq is, for all intents and purposes, hopeless. They don’t pay any downside costs of escalating, so they’re willing to make American military personnel and American taxpayers bear any burden and pay any price for even the vaguest hope that this will in some way increase the odds of something they could plausibly label “success” happening.
A State Department official leaked word this week that President Bush is considering sending “no more than 15,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops” to Iraq. “Instead of a surge, it is a bump,” the official said.
This claim was bolstered last night by CBS’s David Martin, who reported that military commanders have told Bush they are prepared to execute a troop escalation of just 9,000 soldiers and Marines into Iraq, “with another 10,000 on alert in Kuwait and the U.S.”
The Washington Post reports today that “deep divisions remain between the White House on one side and the Joint Chiefs and congressional leaders on the other about whether a surge of up to 20,000 troops will turn around the deteriorating situation.” The Post also provides more context about an administration official’s recent claim that the escalation is “more of a political decision than a military one.“:
The U.S. military is increasingly resigned to the probability that Bush will deploy a relatively small number of additional troops — between one and five brigades — in part because he has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq, officials said. But the Joint Chiefs have not given up making the case that the potential dangers outweigh the benefits for several reasons, officials said.
Escalation backers have already begun distancing themselves from this plan. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said yesterday that not sending enough troops would be “worse than doing nothing.”
In Oct. 2003, 77 senators voted to give President Bush authorization to go to war in Iraq. Just 23 senators voted against it.
But according to a new ABC News survey, 33 out of the original 77 senators “indicated they would vote differently knowing then what they know now.” Five senators — including three Republicans — said that in retrospect, the intelligence was so wrong that the matter should never have even been brought to a vote. These results would mean that a vote to authorize war in Iraq today would be 43-57, and the resolution would fail. (Full list of senators here.)
ABC News senior political correspondent Jake Tapper presented the survey results today on Good Morning America, noting that the survey of the senators was “a stunning repudiation of their own votes, the prewar intelligence, and the war itself.” Watch it:
So, I’ve been remiss in extending my Somalia coverage into the New Year, but suffice it to say that having foiled the Islamists plans to make a last stand in Kismayo, the Ethiopian-backed government is suffering from some chaos issues: “Just days after Ethiopian-led troops helped rout once powerful Islamist forces in Somalia and install a new government in the capital, security seemed to be unraveling across the country.” Violence is coming in two forms, “antigovernment attacks and increased banditry, both of which were virtually unheard of during the Islamists’ short-lived reign.” Washington Postreports on the return of warlordism to Mogadishu.
Lott’s comments are particularly significant because, as the Minority Whip, he’s responsible for bringing his caucus in line with the Senate leadership’s position. If he’s not for escalation in Iraq, it’s unlikely there will be any serious effort in the Senate to get other members of his caucus to support it.
Lots of personnel moves in the national security department. John Negroponte is out as Director of National Intelligence and in as Deputy Secretary of State. Harriet Miers will no longer be in charge of explaining why torture is legal. What’s more, David Petraeus won’t be taking my advice and will instead assume command in Iraq where the world will get to see his counterinsurgency theories fail. Zalmay Khalilzad will be out as ambassador in Baghdad and move to Turtle Bay instead (John Bolton, I guess, will spend more time with his family).
Khalilzad’s replacement will be Ryan Crocker, a career foreign service officer with an interesting resumé. At the moment, he’s ambassador to Pakistan. During the late Clinton years, however, he was ambassador to Syria and he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs during the early Bush/Powell years. With Crocker and Petraeus leading the team in Iraq, I don’t think it will any longer be viable to claim that the mission is failing because it’s being run by hacks and know-nothings; the mission will fail because the mission is impossible. Last, in a break with precedent Bush will put a Navy officer, Admiral William Fallon in charge of Central Command.