I caught Obama’s Iraq press conference, and I have to say that the media really earned itself an invitation to John McCain’s next BBQ with their performance. Basically, unless Obama comes out and says something like “I’m a totally unreasonable person whose views on Iraq will in no way be influenced by anyone’s advice or any possible factual developments” he’s now a flip-flopper. Meanwhile, John McCain’s views on Iraq receive no scrutiny whatsoever.
McCainblogger Mike Goldfarb cleverly defends the idea that John McCain’s former POW status qualifies him to be president by pointing out that Ted Galen Carpenter — who says it doesn’t, necessarily — was wrong about the Surge.
Here’s what Carpenter said in January 2007:
Increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,000 or so is a futile attempt to salvage a mission that has gone terribly wrong. It would merely increase the number of casualties-both American and Iraqi-over the short-term while having little long-term impact on the security environment. Moreover, the magnitude of the proposed build-up falls far short of the numbers needed to give the occupation forces a realistic prospect of suppressing the violence.
You will note that, in regard to increasing the number of American and Iraqi casualties over the short-term, Galen was completely correct. American and Iraqi casualties did increase in the first half of 2007, and the bloody sectarian cleansing of Baghdad went into overdrive.
Galen would also likely have been correct about the number of added troops falling short of what was needed, had the escalation not coincided with three other developments which most Iraq analysts credit ahead of the Surge with reducing violence: The Anbar awakening (which was itself a response to the credible threat American withdrawal), the Sadr militia “freeze,” and, eventually, the completion of the cleansing of Baghdad and the division of Sunnis and Shias into separate, fortified enclaves.
In promoting the legend of Straighttalk McSurge, McCain and his supporters have consistently underplayed these developments and their centrality to the improved Iraqi security environment. They have also studiously ignored the ways in which the Surge strategy — which McCain’s website humbly refers to as “The McCain Surge” — has failed to achieve its stated goal of political reconciliation, and has rather entrenched various political factions against each other in anticipation of future violence.
But getting back to Mr. Carpenter, let’s go to the question of why a troop surge was needed in the first place: The disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Here’s what Carpenter wrote back in January 2003, when he was among those arguing against the invasion:
A war with Iraq… will serve as a recruiting poster for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. However much Americans might believe that an attack on Iraq is justified, it will be perceived throughout the Islamic world as aggressive U.S. imperialism.
If John McCain had possessed Carpenter’s judgment back in 2003, we wouldn’t have needed a Surge, but nothing in McCain’s supposedly vast experience equipped him to make the right call on the single most important national security question of his career. This inconvenient fact is, of course, irrelevant to McCain’s bravery when imprisoned in Vietnam.
During a Washignton Post online chat today, war and intelligence correspondent Dana Priest ridiculed the idea that Bush might attack Iran before he leaves office, dismissing as “an accepted notion in liberal circles” that has “no foundation“:
“Going to war with Iran” has become an accepted notion in liberal circles and every kernel of news gets fanned by people who believe — with no foundation in my opinion — that it’s only a matter of time before Bush pulls the proverbial trigger.
Americans hardly need to “fan” “every kernel of news” to come to the conclusion that Bush might be gearing up for an attack — or at least encouraging its ally, Israel, to attack in its stead. After all, neocon allies of the Bush administration — not liberals — strive constantly to make it clear that an attack is still very much a possibility:
John Bolton: The Isrealies attacking Iran “during President Bush’s term makes a lot of sense.”
Bill Kristol: When asked if “there’s any chance” Bush will attack Iran, Kristol replied, “I don’t think it’s out of the question.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT): “I wish that this administration would specifically and clearly warn the Iranians that…unless they stop it, we’re going to take action. … They ought to believe that we’re going to hit those training camps.”
Daniel Pipes: Pipes said that the U.S. should tell Tehran to “watch out” for “an American attack,” adding, “Should the Democratic nominee win in November, President Bush will do something.”
Liz Cheney: “The time for diplomacy here is rapidly coming to an end.“
New reports indicate that the U.S. has already begun cross-border operations into Iran. Is it really so crazy for Americans to worry that Bush could launch a pre-emptive strike against a country that had not attacked us?
Mike Allen, “How Bush Plans to Get Out of Iraq”, Time, November 30, 2005:
But read between the lines, and it is clear that the administration is setting a predicate for substantially reducing the 155,000 troops now in Iraq ahead of the midterm congressional elections in November 2006. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials have been laying the groundwork for weeks, and Bush removed any remaining mystery when he said in Texas on Tuesday that the Naval Academy speech would outline “the progress we’re making in training Iraqis to provide security for their country”—his central criterion for bringing U.S. forces home.
Bush advisers tell TIME that the speech and document are aimed at framing a graduated departure from Iraq in the President’s own terms, so that he can make it appeared principled and deliberate, rather than a response to pressure from public polls or needling by Democrats. “People on the Hill say he has to get out of there,” a senior administration official said.
But of course Allen was wrong, we didn’t leave Iraq, and many Americans have died as a result.
It’s still relatively early yet in Douglas Feith’s new career of trying to rehabilitate his career, so we can expect many, many more op-eds like this one, with Doug frantically deflecting blame for the costliest foreign policy blunder in modern American history, while simultaneously arguing that it was not a blunder at all:
Mr. Bush decided it was unacceptable to wait while Saddam advanced his biological weapons program or possibly developed a nuclear weapon. The CIA was mistaken, we all now know, in its assessment that we would find chemical and biological weapons stockpiles in Iraq. But after the fall of the regime, intelligence officials did find chemical and biological weapons programs structured so that Iraq could produce stockpiles in three to five weeks. They also found that Saddam was intent on having a nuclear weapon. The CIA was wrong in saying just before the war that his nuclear program was active.
Feith’s current argument about why none of this is his fault — which is no less stunning for being utterly unsurprising — involves simply blaming the CIA for the fact that none of the Bush administration’s claims about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime turned out to be true. Of course, one of the functions of Feith’s Office of Special Plans was to critically re-examine Iraq intelligence produced by the CIA, stripping out the caveats and qualifications in order to help the Bush administration make the case for war.
A February 2007 report by the Pentagon’s inspector general concluded that Feith’s office had “developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments…which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Phase II report made clear that the Bush administration, working from massaged data produced by Feith’s shop, clearly overstated the the threat in order to create public support for a war that they had already decided was going to happen, for a number of reasons, some unrelated to the supposed threat posed by Saddam.
So, yes, the CIA was wrong. Feith’s shop was even more wrong. Strangely, this is not part of Feith’s narrative.
Reasonable people can disagree about alternative options for dealing with Saddam Hussein after 9/11. What is inarguable, however, is that, regardless of what members of the Bush administration actually believed about the threat represented by Saddam Hussein, they clearly misrepresented the intelligence, and stated conjecture as fact, in order to stoke Americans’ fears and create public support for a radical new doctrine of preventive war. The consequences of their mendacity have been disastrous. This is what Feith’s essay attempts to conceal; this is now his life’s work.
There was lots of buzz in Aspen, and I believe also in the press, about whether the “success” of the surge will or should cause Barack Obama to re-evaluate his stated Iraq policy. I think it’s clear that if Obama does become president in January 2009, he won’t and shouldn’t super-literally apply a policy that will by then be almost two years old. But I don’t think he should or will meaningfully alter his platform. It’s worth recalling that all throughout 2007 it really seemed like Obama was going to lose the primary and that getting to Hillary Clinton’s left by sketching out a clearer and more unambiguous withdrawal plan would have been a plausible gambit to beat her.
But he didn’t do it because he wanted to preserve some flexibility in the event that he became president, and I have every expectation that he’ll stick with that built-in flexibility during the campaign. After all, Obama’s stated position on Iraq is fairly conservative. He’s calling for the withdrawal of combat forces on a 16 month time frame. Realistically, that would mean the last combat forces leaving Iraq in June 2010 or maybe a little bit later depending on how long it would take between inauguration and actually setting the wheels in motion. Substantively, that’s plenty of time to continue to try to have a constructive influence on the course of events there. And politically, if John McCain wants to make a big deal about how two more years of war isn’t long enough, then he’s going to lose badly.
On top of all that, Obama has always had a pretty vague formulation about residual troops and liberals, myself included, have always criticized him for that. I don’t think that’s the correct policy, but it’s one Obama’s long maintained and it means he’s always had a “centrist” Iraq position rather than a “bring the troops home” position.
The Justice Department is currently considering letting the FBI investigate Americans without any evidence of wrongdoing, relying instead on a terrorist profile that could single out Muslims, Arabs or other racial and ethnic groups”:
The plan “would let agents open preliminary terrorism investigations after mining public records and intelligence to build a profile of traits that, taken together, were deemed suspicious.”
But the FBI’s proposal, which has already generated harsh criticism from the ACLU, is both ineffective and inefficient. In fact, immediately after September 11th, in an attempt to preempt another terror attack, the government launched a similar and possibly unconstitutional program, detaining thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants in cities across America. And while the detainees may have “seemed suspicious” to law enforcement authorities, officials failed to file any terrorism charges.
According to a 2003 report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office, the government’s post-9/11 round ups “forced many people with no connection to terrorism to languish in jails” and did not identify a single terrorist:
What breakthroughs have been made in identifying and apprehending terrorists have been the result of traditional police and intelligence work and co-operation and information-sharing with foreign intelligence agencies, not from any of the immigration initiatives taken by the administration, says the report, which also includes the most comprehensive compilation of the individuals detained after 9/11 and their experiences.
Similarly, after the National Security Agency began sending a flood of “telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I.,” officials complained that “the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive”:
F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency, which was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans’ international communications and conducting computer searches of foreign-related phone and Internet traffic, that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators…in bureau field offices, the N.S.A. material continued to be viewed as unproductive, prompting agents to joke that a new bunch of tips meant more “calls to Pizza Hut,” one official, who supervised field agents, said.
The government may be hungry for more information, but racial profiling alienates minority communities, breaks-down informant networks, and provides a “false sense of security.”
I don’t have Jeffrey Goldberg’s years of reporting experience in the field, but rather than Michael Gerson getting booed for criticizing Saddam Hussein doesn’t it seem much more likely that Gerson was booed for being an apologist for a bloody and costly fiasco? The evil of Saddam Hussein can’t just be waved about to distract attention from the giant errors of the American hawk camp.
Americans oppose an open-ended US military involvement in Iraq. So do Iraqis: “Declaring that there will not be ‘another colonization of Iraq,’ Iraq’s foreign minister raised the possibility on Wednesday that a full security agreement with the United States might not be reached this year, and that if one was, it would be a short-term pact.” I’ll say again that I think it will be less politically problematic for the next administration to leave Iraq, if that’s what it wants to do, than a lot of the smart set thinks — they’re be a very happy joint press conference and lots of supportive statements from folks like Iraq’s Foreign Minister and Republicans will look like idiots when they complain.
Meanwhile, there’s Ray Hunt, wildcatting oil man and Bush pal. When his oil deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government was announced, the Bush administration denied all knowledge of it since those kind of deals are deemed to undermine American policy in Iraq. But as Matthew Blake reports “Hunt, President of the company, talked to Bush administration advisers months before the deal was made. Also, officials at the Commerce and State departments encouraged the deal and even congratulated Hunt after obtaining the contract.” Shocking stuff. And of course more recently the big players have been getting in on the act.
I think studying philosophy as an undergraduate is excellent preparation for being a political pundit — it’s a lot of arguing, a lot of playing with words, and a lot of learning about how to make a contribution to a discussion without a lot of factual background on the subject at hand. At the same time, these shared attributes of the disciplines can lead to some dangerous wrongheaded conclusions about specific things. Here’s Chris Betram thinking about philosophy:
I’ve recently had to advise some students who wanted to write papers on the topic of humanitarian intervention. Not for the first time, it brought home to me how strong the disciplinary pressures towards a particular perspective can be. Political philosophy (of the Rawlsian/Kantian variety) isn’t an entirely fact-free zone, but the way we often discuss matters of principle tends to push us towards favouring policies independently of the way things actually are. So we might ask, what should be the foreign policy of a just liberal state and what attitude should such a state have to “outlaw regimes” which are engaged in systematic human rights violations. And, in the light of such thinking, what would the laws of a just international order look like? What rights against interference would states have? When would there be a duty to intervene? And so on.
Straightforward answers come easily and slickly along: states don’t have any immunity to intervention as such, since they only exist for the protection and benefit of their citizens. If they are actively harming their citizens and we can act to stop this, then we, the just liberal state, should do so. And maybe there should be special permissions granted to bona fide democracies, giving them more extensive rights of intervention than other states. Etc etc. (I rather agree with some of this in the abstract, but it is not hard to see how one might thereby build up enthusiasm for the Iraq war—to pick an example at random—without ever troubling to acquire further information about the country, its history, people, society etc.)
To some extent I think Iraq, which generated a lot of discussion over a prolonged period of time, suffered less from this in the punditsphere (the trouble was more that a lot of people were operating with made up facts rather than with no facts per se) than have a lot of other issues. But I think discussion of Darfur, and then the brief moment of hype around invading Burma, and then again Zimbabwe from time to time tends to partake of rather a lot of this. Robert Mugabe and his regime have no real ethical claims on anyone, so, hey, why not invade?
And of course since it’s all non-specialists out having the argument it’s difficult to say with authority in detail what would likely go wrong with an invasion of Burma. What’s needed is to recover the time-honored sense of a very strong predisposition against attacking other countries.