Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Right Blames America First!!

Stu Bykofsky, a neo-conservative columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News (an excellent newspaper by the way) made a big splash by arguing that the United States "needed" another 9-11. For at least one day, Bykofsky is the darling on the right with television appearances on Fox, a radio appearance on Mike Gallagher, and a prominent link on Drudge. You have to wonder when George Bush is going to invite him to the White House.

Liberal blogs are also taking note, and so is this blog.

Bykofsky claims that he wants another 9-11 to re-establish the sense of unity this country had after the first 9-11.

But the bulk of Bykofsky's article makes it sound like he believes that the U. S. deserves another 9-11. He claims that "most Americans today believe Iraq was a mistake" because we like "wars shorter than the World Series." Because the war in Iraq has dragged on for four years, "America's fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater" in all the squabbling over the war.

It's like we've been bad boys and girls and need to be punished with another 9-11 to get us back into line.

In some ways, Bykofsky's article and the right-wing embrace of Bykofsky's thesis is an example of the extreme disappointment that the right has in American society. Whether it's the pro-life movement believing that the U. S. has been engaged in a "holocaust" of the unborn since 9-11, Thomas Sowell speculating about a military coup as a way to address the "degradation" of American society, or Ann Coulter wanting to escape America's multi-cultural "roach motel," the right-wing is just as disgusted with America as they are with the Muslim world. As a result, they're just as comfortable with an attack on America as they are with an attack on Tehran.

But there's a way to unify America more quickly at much less cost--Bush could just withdraw from Iraq.

Visit to a Friend

My family and I travelled to Winchester to see Greg Goldey. He was sleeping while we were there, but his wife told us that he would be getting a round of chemotherapy treatments at the Markey Center at the University of Kentucky. Let's hope that it helps.

Planning My Comeback

Public school started up in Kentucky on Thursday and not a moment too soon. I was at home with my youngest daughter Tess who is extremely cute but is also a big fan of kids and tweens videos like Scooby Doo and Hannah Montana that were gradually destroying my will to live. Needless to say, I have a hard road back, but I think I can make it. The first step was acknowledging the seriousness of the problem.

Did the Democrats Blow It?

Alexander Cockburn of The Nation has an article up on how the Democrats have "blown it" since becoming a majority in Congress.

Cockburn's right.

The Iraq War is the big issue and the Dems have been on the defensive in relation to the war ever since they caved in and gave Bush the 87 billion in supplemental funding he wanted. What Pelosi and Reid should have done after Bush vetoed was to pass legislation for an immediate withdrawal and put the issue back in Bush's lap.

That would have been exercising the national leadership the American public wanted.

But the Democrats caved and now we have no credible national leadership. It's a very bad situation for a representative government in a time of war.

Friday, August 10, 2007

GOP Suicide Watch, No. 4--Writing Democratic Attack Ads

It looks like the Democratic nominee won't have to spend so much on ad writers. That's because Rudy Giuliani is killing himself with his mouth. Today, Giuliani responded to criticism from firefighters and other first responders by claiming that
"This is not a mayor or a governor or a president who's sitting in an ivory tower . . . I was at ground zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. I was there working with them. I was there guiding things. I was there bringing people there. But I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I'm one of them."
If Giuliani, all the Democratic nominee has to do to raise questions about Giuliani's character is to quote him talking about how he was "one of" the rescue workers, and then play the responses of the real rescue workers to his over-the-top arrogance.

The attack ads will practically write themselves.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cordesman's "Strategic Patience:" Another Prescription for Failure (Revised, Linked)

INTRODUCTION. The liberal blogs treat Anthony Cordesman's report as a pessimistic counter-point to last week's O'Hanlan/Pollack optimistic New York Times op-ed on the Iraq War. That's a mistake for two reasons. Most importantly, the O'Hanlan/Pollack article was an embarrassing collection of big gestures and vague allusions that was difficult to argue against O'Hanlan and Pollack because they do so little to substantiate their views. That's not the case with Cordesman.

Moreover, there's a decent chance that Cordesman's concept of "strategic patience" will be a talking point for the right-wing blogs and talk show hosts after the O'Hanlon/Pollack piece is forgotten. Austin Bay has an article on strategic patience up on today. Certainly, there will be more to come.

Cordesman articulates his argument for strategic patience against a background of the many weaknesses and failures of the war to date. In fact, Cordesman believes that the surge strategy has been a failure because American forces could not count on the Iraqi military to "hold" areas after they had been cleared (15) and the deteriorating Iraqi government has not been able to forge compromise (10).

In this context of overall failure, Cordesman attempts to argue that the American military can make enough progress by spring 2008 to justify keeping 160,000 American troops in Iraq for another six months or so. Given his emphasis on the destructiveness of the war for the Iraqis, the steep decline in American credibility throughout the world, and the cost in American lives and money, Cordesman has to bear a very heavy burden in order to be at all convincing. To justify the continued military commitment in light of the enormous difficulties, Cordesman needs both to project success for "strategic patience" and portray that success as crucially important to Iraqi and American interests. I don't believe that Cordesman meets that burden and want to illustrate my point first with a schematic summary of Cordesman's view of the weaknesses and failures of the American effort in Iraq.

Bush national security team--"clearly ineffective and lacking in core competence" (25)
Economic aid apparatus--
--The aid process is still a mess, with no effective leadership in Washington. . . neither the top level leadership of USAID, nor of the Corps of Engineers, has been able to provide honest reporting, meaningful measures of effectiveness, fully staff efforts in Iraq, develop meaningfuloverall aid plans and priorities, control corruption, coordinate the different elements of the JUS aid effort in Iraq, and ensure the successful transfer of major projects to Iraq.

Former American military command in Iraq (Casey and Abizaid)--"the F troop." (22)

Prime Minister Noury al-Maliki-- (13, 15)
Oriented toward Shiite sectarianism
Supportive of Shiite ethnic cleansing in Baghdad
Frees Shiite detainees
Unwilling to cooperate with Sunnis
Weakening of al-Maliki's own Dawa Party

Central government ministries--
"The structure of the central government is so horribly inefficient, and its ministries so
vulnerable to power brokering, corruption, and ethnic and sectarian manipulation thatmeaningful reform is impossible."--(14)

Sunni politicians--Have no base of popular support in Sunni areas. (15)

Encroaching anarchy in Shiite areas-- (15-16)
The Shiite political coalition behind the Maliki government is falling apart and Shiite militias are fighting over the city of Basra and holy sites like Karbala. Within encroaching anarchy, the Mahdi Army militia of Moqtada al-Sadr has emerged as the strongest force by far.

Iraqi Army--
"--The Iraqi army has some truly national units, but others have ties to sectarian cleansing in the areas where there is serious fighting or sectarian pressure . . . There was a broad consensus that the Army is far less actively involved in sectarian cleansing than the National Police or regular police. However, senior and other Iraqi army officers and units either support or tolerate sectarian cleansing in Northwest Baghdad and south of Baghdad, particularly to the east of the river in the areas near the arch of Cestiphon." (17)

Iraqi Police----
"The regular police remain a mess at the national level, and there are no prospects of creating a truly national police force --except for some specialized elements -- or one that can both perform regular police duties and deal effectively with militias and insurgents." (18)

Persistence of al-Qaeda:
"Al Qa’ida is far from defeated, it still has major support from some tribes, and significantAl Qa’ida operating areas exist in the Al Qaim, Hysaybah, Rawah, Anah, Haditha Triad, Sakran, Upper Lake Thar Thar, Hit, Baghdadi, Kubaysah, Ramadi, Karmah, Fallujah, and Zaidon areas. Many other Sunni Islamist extremist groups are still operating in parts of Iraq and have suffered only limited losses." (7)

"Iraq may not be Darfur, but to talk about what is happening as something that does not involve immense suffering, that does not involve immense future risk, and for which the US does not have direct moral and ethical responsibility is absurd." (4-5)


Iraq may not be the Darfur region of Sudan, but Cordesman's picture of Iraq indicates that conditions range from disastrous to horrific and Iraq is thus much more like Sudan than the "stable democracy" so foolishly projected by the Bush administration at the beginning of the invasion adventure.

Cordesman's argument for "strategic patience" is that there there are a sufficient forces who are both competent and committed to the welfare of the Iraqi nation to bring about improvements if the current force levels are maintained long enough.

These forces include the American military command under Gen. Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, some Sunni politicians in the Iraqi government, much of the Sunni tribal leadership, their militias, and some Iraqi Army units.

Cordesman believes that the "Anbar Awakening" in which many (not all) of the Sunni tribes switched allegiance from al-Qaeda to the Americans was the event that gave the American military command something to build on. He admits that the "Anbar Awakening" was a stroke of luck (9) for the American side but stresses that American commanders have been quick to take advantage of the opening and have succeeded in reducing resistance in Sunni areas like Ramadi and Haditha.

With the marginalization of al-Qaeda in many Sunni areas, Cordesman believes it then becomes possible for American officers, Iraqi army units, and Sunni elites to work out local acommodations that provide increased security against an al-Qaida resurgence. (11-13-14) As more Iraqi localities rely on the security provided by the American military to work out these kinds of accommodations, there will come a point where the American government can reduce
its military commitment to Iraq.

Cordesman also gestures toward an idea that "moderate" Shiites will come into this array of forces from fear of the growing strength of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. (13)

Cordesman strives to be realistic. He emphasizes several times that the Bush administration is a negative, and also views the al-Maliki government, Iraqi ministries, and the Iraqi police as negatives. Cordesman also acknowledges that there are hostile military forces, including al-Qaeda, radical Sunni militias, and Shiite militias, spread throughout the country.

Cordesman also acknowledges that the local accommodations themselves would be fairly fragile.
"No one can deny that “strategic patience” means relying on a still undefined set of hopes and taking first steps, not implementing a coherent plan or making rapid progress. The timing of strategic patience also cannot be open ended. The present combination of Sunni tribal efforts, US military action, and limits to Sunni insurgency and Shi’ite militia action is too fragile to survive long delay, even if US domestic political demands were not so critical a factor."

There are essentially three problems with Cordesman's proposal.

1. Cordesman over-relies on local accommodations. The only non-local force
that Cordesman views as a plus for "strategic patience" is the American military and
everything depends on the ability of the American military to neutralize al-Qaeda, the extremist Sunni militias, and the Shiite militias while preventing the blundering Bush administration and the fragmented, incompetent, and corrupt Iraqi government from doing more harm than they've already done. However, keeping a lid on all the other large-scale structures harmfully impacting the local situations in Iraq is too much of a burden for the American military. In other words, the local accommodations on which Cordesman relies are too susceptible to the toxic influence of larger structures to be successful. Cordesman claims that his strategy of creating local islands of stability within the general chaos of Iraq might have a 50-50 chance of working. That's as unrealistically optimistic as the "Panglossian statements" made by the Bush administration. Claiming that "strategic patience" has a one in ten chance of working would be overly optimistic as well.

2. Lack of Progress on the National Level. The only way that local gains could be secured is if there is progress on the national level. Cordesman half-heartedly claims that there will be
legislative progress on oil revenues and re-Baathification after the Iraqi parliament comes back
in September, but provides no reason to expect these things to happen. The Maliki government in Baghdad is falling apart as a result of departures by the Sadr bloc, the Sunni alliance, and secular Shiites. Cordesman's report provides even more reason to think that the central government in Baghdad is falling apart at the same time that the majority Shiite population is decomposing into smaller factions. Iraq is much more like Somalia or Liberia in the decline of central authority and the only thing seeming to hold the central authority together is the American military.

Without any progress on the national level, the chances of local gains being sustained fall even further. Given the actual regression of the situation on the national level, the chances of sustaining local progress are slim indeed.

3. There's also reason to believe that Cordesman's proposal ultimately will be counter-productive. Given the fragility of Cordesman's projected coalition of the American military, local Sunni officials, some Iraqi Army units, and some Sunni politicians, any possibility of success depends on the ability of the American military to suppress other forces. That's the case with non-reliable Iraqi Army units, the Iraqi police, and Shiite militias like the Mahdi army and Badr Organization.

But there is a problem here. Just suppressing these destabilizing forces allows them to get stronger. That's what's happened with the Mahdi Army in Baghdad. Sadr took the Mahdi Army underground after the announcement of the surge and they've used the breathing room to recruit new fighters, train those new fighters in American tactics, and acquire new military technology from Iran. Because the Mahdi Army has been a source of resistance to the U. S., they've also become more popular. When the U. S. takes the pressure off, the Mahdi Army will be stronger than ever.

That's also what happened in Basra. The British managed to suppress the various Shiite militias for a significant period. But the Shiite militias improved on the opportunity and now have the remaining British troops bottled up in their bases and commentators like Cordesman talking about the defeat of the British in Basra.

Bottling up opposing forces doesn't work in the long run because it gives those forces an opportunity to strengthen themselves.

CONCLUSION. Unlike the clowns in the Bush administration and the right-wing media, Anthony Cordesman makes an honest case for maintaining current levels of troops in Iraq through the spring of 2008. Almost entirely giving up on the surge strategy of securing Baghdad and creating compromise in the Iraqi government, Cordesman focuses on the U. S. military forging local coalitions of like-minded actors to create more stability. This strategy has the virtue of building on the changing loyalties of many Sunni tribes in Anbar province and the local political acumen of American officers while providing a realistic assessment of the limitations of the Bush administration, Prime Minister al-Maliki, the Iraqi armed forces, and the general situation in Iraq.

Ultimately, however, "strategic patience" is another recipe for failure in Iraq. Cordesman's strategy depends on local actors being free enough from sectarianism, government corruption, and ideologically induced competence to create stable conditions in their areas. However, the chances of isolating local areas from the reach of al-Qaeda, extremist Sunni militias, government sectarianism, and the Sunni militias over the long-term are slim to non-existent. Likewise, any gains made by American forces would always be at a high risk of being reversed because of the instability of Iraqi national institutions. There's also a strong risk of making future conflictsmore destructive by giving the militias and global jihadis time to recruit new members, raise money, and acquire new equipment.

In the final analysis, it's no more likely that gains would be consolidated under "strategic patience" than it was for other war strategies. The U. S. occupation has unleashed forces in Iraq that the Bush administration can neither control nor productively influence.

RSI Offers to Appear on Fox

According toTPM, the top Democrats are boycotting Fox as part of their effort to "get tough" with the right-wing media and TPM has a nice video of Neil Cavuto's whining about the lack of Democrats to respond to President Bush. The beginning of the push-back was the refusal of the Democratic presidential candidates to appear on a Fox presidential debate. Then, Elizabeth Edwards challenged Ann Coulter bigoted smear tactics over the air and lately Hillary Clinton's been bragging about fighting the right-wing for fifteen years are all evidence of spine among Democratic politicians.

Finally! After all these years!

But Fox still needs people to express the liberal side for the benefit of the right-wing propoganda machine.

And Red State Impressions is willing to meet that need. Yes, I'm willing to sacrifice my integrity, my reputation, and my future as a left-wing blogger to appear on the same sinkhole network as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. True, my wife would divorce me, my children would disown me, my colleagues would stop talking to me, and my friends wouldn't admit they know me. But I still would answer the call from Fox if it came.

I believe in helping others as much as I can and Fox certainly needs help.

Obama Third Among Republicans

There's some buzz (here and here) in the liberal blogosphere about Barack Obama being more popular among Iowa Republicans than John McCain in a poll out today.

Actually, it's better than that for Obama. At 6.7% of the Republican vote, Obama is currently running third to Mitt Romney at 26.9% and Rudy Giuliani at 11.3%. That puts him ahead of Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee as well as McCain. In fact, Obama doubles up McCain.

Obama's threats to attack Pakistan seem to be going over well with Iowa Republicans.

Smearkrieg No. 2--Republicans Slime Each Other

According to John Dickerson of Slate, Republican presidential candidates are smearing each other non-stop in Iowa.

Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Sam Brownback are engaged in a multiround spat over sub-rosa attacks. Both camps have questioned the other's Christian fiber. Tom Tancredo is being attacked in phone calls and e-mails for changing his position on term limits. In a Web video he accuses Brownback of telling pro-life voters Tancredo is pro-abortion. "We do expect more from people who at least call themselves Christians and have great family values," says Tancredo, demanding an apology.
Dickerson believes that smear campaigns are such a temptation because the internet makes spreading rumors cheap and easy. In fact, the smearing is so pervasive in the run-up to the Iowa straw poll that Republican candidates consider being smeared a sign that people are taking their campaigns seriously.

But there are no reports of similar smear campaigns among the Democrats.

Maybe the Republican candidates are smearing because they're Republicans.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Smearkrieg No. 1: Republicans Laying the Groundwork

One of the most predictable occurences of any presidential campaign will be the right-wing smear campaign against the Democratic candidate. According to Dan Moldea (via Digby), a muckraker who has investigated GOP sleaze for almost a decade, the Republicans are already laying the groundwork for Smearkrieg 2008.
"I have it on very, very good authority that major opposition research has already been conducted on Bill Clinton, and it's going to be a massive smear campaign against him," A group of former intelligence officers, he says, is "going to try to cripple Hillary through Bill."
Too bad for the Republicans that Hillary hasn't tipped her hand about her vice-presidential preferences. That way, the Republicans could start the process of smearing that person as well.

The Dangers of the Cordesman Report

THE LOUNGE GUYS & THE MAIN ACT. Last week's notorious Michael O'Hanlon/Kenneth Pollack op-ed was only the warm up act for Anthony Cordesman's report on conditions in Iraq six months after the beginning of the surge. Headquartered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Cordesman is a familiar figure from his commentary on NPR, PBS, and Sunday morning talk shows. He's smart, sincere, and almost completely without the ideological buffoonery that is common among foreign policy specialists like Robert Kagan and Richard Perle. Where the O'Hanlon/Pollack op-ed gestures toward Mosul and other places, Cordesman's "The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq: A Trip Report" is an attempt at a systematic overview of military, political, and economic conditions. O'Hanlon/Pollack got more publicity, but I think Cordesman's report will have more of an impact.

THE SPOKESMAN. Cordesman puts together an interesting argument that the United States should adopt a stance of "strategic patience" toward Iraq and maintain the surge into early 2008. The idea of "strategic patience" is for the American military to focus on supporting efforts to establish political stability and fight insurgents primarily in Sunni areas. "Strategic patience" is a consensus concept articulated by Ambassador Crocker, the American military, and Iraqi politicians. However, it appears to me that the leading figures in this consensus are the American military and that what the military is seeking is Congressional authority for the "strategic patience" concept.
US officials and officers also made it clear they were looking at an FY2009 submission that would lay out clearer plans requiring Congressional approval of longer-term war funding in the budget submission that must be made early next year. This would allowthe Congress to look beyond the present partisan divide, and provide the basis for a Congressional and national debate on “strategic patience” and how best to deal with future US policy and actions.

In this context, the significance of Cordesman's "The Tenuous Case" is that the military is communicating their policy preferences directly to Congress and opinion-makers without going through the Bush administration. In fact, "strategic patience" is not the Bush administration's concept. Likewise, there's no record of Bush, VP Cheney, Secretary of Defense Gates, National Security Adviser Hadley, and Condoleeza Rice advocating "strategic patience." Instead, it looks like "strategic patience" is a military concept and that the military is doing an end run around the Bush administration by promoting "strategic patience" to Congress through Cordesman.

THE DANGER. From the perspective of Cordesman's report, one has to wonder if the military is looking for permission from Congress to enact its own Iraq policy. It certainly is clear is that Cordesman has just as little respect for the Bush administration in Washington as he has for the Maliki government in Baghdad.
The US national security team in Washington is clearly ineffective and lacking in core competence. Real leadership has to come from the field and the country team, and has to be exercised in a context where the issue is the ability to present workable plans for sustained action – not purely military situation reports or efforts to rush various benchmarks. (p 23)
Although I believe that Cordesman is speaking for the military in relation to the strategy of strategic patience, I'm not sure whether the American "country team" in Iraq shares Cordesman's contempt for the "US national security team," "the national security council," the disfunctional economic aid apparatus, (19) and the Panglossian fantasies (15) coming from the civilian leadership in Washington.

To the extent that the military does agree with Cordesman (or he is simply expressing their view), I believe that we're at a somewhat dangerous fork in the road. One of the cornerstones of American democracy is civilian control over the military and there is at least some chance that the Bush administration's control over the American military in Iraq is slipping. Perhaps the Bush administration has signed off on "strategic patience," but it appears that the military is acting independently to promote their preferred strategy. It also appears from Cordesman's report that the military in Iraq doesn't trust the civilians in the Bush administration to take a competent approach to policy in Iraq, provide overall policy guidance for the military effort, or even make a coherent case for the military's efforts to the American public.

In my opinion, it's not a safe thing to have a large, well-armed, and superbly trained military that views civilian leadership as dysfunctional and incompetent and begins to act independently. I'm not saying that I believe that the American military is on the verge of revolt or a coup. At the same time, I do believe that contempt for civilian leadership is one of the elements that goes into a military coup. While not imminently dangerous, the situation does bear watching.

A Hospital Visit

Mrs. RSI and I had a good visit with Greg Goldey tonight at the hospital. His condition is unchanged but he's going home from St. Joe's East tomorrow and will have more testing done at the Markey Center on Friday.

Send cards and letters to

Gregory Goldey
25 W Hickman St
Winchester, KY 40391-2468

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hillary and the Hillary Hurdle

Hillary Clinton is lengthening her lead in the national polls. She's in front of Obama by 20% in the most recent Cook/RT Strategies poll and the RealClearPolitics polling average. What's impressive from the Hillary perspective is that her support has increased into the 40% range while Obama has been holding steady from 22-26%. Instead of being "the least bad choice," Hillary is winning support on her own. Why is that the case? Once again, it's what Hillary is doing that seems to be increasing her support. Her debate performances, her work on the campaign trail, and the general discipline and professionalism of her campaign staff have all been impressive. Hillary's performance to date has been especially noteworthy because the mainstream media and the conservative blogs intensely scrutinize everything she does for blunders and gaffes. It's just that they're not finding much.

Contrary to Hillary's campaign team, I don't believe that people are "locking in" their support for Hillary yet. But she's a front-runner who is performing at a high level while under intense scrutiny. If Obama or Edwards want to beat Hillary, they're going to have to show that they're much better candidates than her.

That's a pretty high hurdle.

Cheney Standard Lying at Hugh Hewitt Site

Yesterday, Dean Barnett posted a piece on Iraq entitled "Progress in Iraq - Serious Stuff Here" for Hugh Hewitt's blog. It was a chart showing that the number of Iraqis identifying themselves as "Iraqis first" had increased to 54%. According to Barnett, "the Iraqi people have apparently turned a corner. Hopefully the Democrats in congress won’t choose to ignore this vital piece of information."

Barnett is engaged in what could be called "Cheney Standard Lying." Named after Dick Cheney, the Cheney Standard Lie occurs when someone takes a small fragment of information and tortures that information into supporting a large-scale claim that the perpetrator either knows to be false or (as was usually the case with Cheney) purposefully avoided attempting to verify. The Cheney Standard Lie is a specific technique that is quite distinct from the Gonzales Standard Lie of making an obviously false claim and daring opponents to prove the claim wrong or the Bush Standard Lie of just saying black is white and white is black (for example, "the United States does not torture").

Unfortunately for Barnett, there's a great deal of much more significant information suggesting that corners are not being turned in Iraq in relation to the surge.

1. The surge has made little if any progress in attaining its major objecive of securing Baghdad. The situation in Baghdad is so bad that those active in the "Save the Surge Campaign" haven't even tried to lie about it.

2. Far from giving Maliki breathing space to negotiate compromises with the Sunnis, the surge is gradually crushing the Maliki government. On the one hand, the Sadr bloc has withdrawn from the government because Maliki wouldn't set a deadline for U. S. withdrawal. The U. S. might view that as a good thing. But so has the Sunni bloc because Maliki wouldn't break up the Shiite militias (as if he could). Finally, the moderate/secular party led by Allawi is also withdrawing. The Maliki government has always been a fragile coalition. Pressures created by the surge are gradually pulling it apart.

3. The situation in Basra is deteriorating into Shiite civil war as the British wind down their deployment in Iraq's second-largest city. The British presence apparently served as a buffer between Sadr's Mahdi Army, SCIRI's Badr Brigades, and the other Shiite militias and as late as last February, Dick Cheney was touting Basra as a success. Under cover of the occupation, however, all of the militias were growing stronger and it appears that the outcome of British efforts is going to be a more intense civil war.

4. The broad statistics don't say much for the surge either. Juan Cole flags statistics on combat deaths for American troops in July from the blog of Foreign Policy magazine and it appears that substantially more Americans died in July 2007 than other years.

July 2003: 48
July 2004: 54
July 2005: 54
July 2006: 43
July 2007: 80

Iraqi civilian casualties have not decreased either. The 1,690 Iraqi civilian deaths in July were a 25% increase over the number of Iraqi civilian casualties for July 2006 and were also 25% greater than Iraqi civilian casualties for June 2007.

The statistics on Iraqi civilian casualties are particularly discouraging given that Sunni militias have joined the American side and that al-Sadr had ordered the Mahdi Army to stand down. Even though the U. S. caught two major breaks, we've not been able to capitalize.

5. It appears that the U. S. has not been able to increase the supply of electricity in the Baghdad area (no surprise actually given the lack of security). According to Robert Farley, the electricity situation in Baghdad is even worse than it was a year ago. Michael Totten claims that "the electrical grid supplies only one hour of power each day." With summer temperatures climbing up to 130, that's not a good thing at all.

One of the reasons Dick Cheney himself has been so eager to restrict access to information is that Cheney Standard Lying works best when information is strictly limited. Nevertheless, there is more than enough bits of information to suggest that the surge isn't having significantly more success than other American military strategies in Iraq.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Who's the Audience for the Save the Surge Campaign?

Juan Cole speculates that the push to promote the surge is primarily to benefit Republican members of Congress.
Bush officials were undoubtedly pushing the information that produced these headlines in an attempt to give Republicans in Congress some good news to take back to their constituents during the August recess.
I don't think that's quite precise enough. What the Bush administration is doing is trying to sufficient enthusiasm for the surge among core Republican voters that the Congressional Republican leadership will refrain from putting too much pressure on Bush to change his policies in September.

To this extent, the "save the surge" campaign might be working. Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell might be induced to continue supporting the surge deep into 2008. That will allow Bush to do what he wants even if it dooms the Republican Party.

After 9-11, I remember a lot of conservatives arguing that the Constitution was not a suicide pact. It looks like the Iraq War is turning into a suicide pact for Republicans

Hugh Hewitt Pimps the Surge

The propogandists of the right are still pimping last week's big surge event--a NY Times article by Brookings think tankers Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack recommending that the surge be extended by another six months.

Today, I looked at Hugh Hewitt who is probably the most significant of the right-wing bloggers because of his ability to score interviews with big guns like Dick Cheney and General David Petraeus that other bloggers can't hope to get. And there's good reason from the right-wing point of view to like Hewitt. Of all the right-wing bloggers I've seen (admittedly a limited sample), Hewitt is the most smoothly deceptive. Here's an example of how he works.
Since David Petraeus took over operations in Iraq, America has had a clear and coherent strategy. From the top down the American military has functioned more effectively. As a consequence, America as a whole is now feeling better about the war; for obvious reasons, this change scares the stuffing out of the left.
Every bit of this three sentence sequence is wrong and intentionally so. In claiming that the U. S. has a "clear and coherent" strategy since Petraeus took over, Hewitt implying that Generals Casey and John Abizaid, had no clear strategy. The Casey/Abizaid plan was to train the Iraqi army to take over the fighting and the Bush administration was touting that plan as securing 14 out of 18 provinces right up to election day 2006. Likewise, there is no evidence that the American military is "functioning more effectively." In fact, the military had been extremely successful in its previous sweeps operations in places like Tal Afar and the Bush administration was claiming that 14 out of 18 provinces were secure.

What makes Hewitt so smooth is that he's not arguing against anybody. Instead, he's creating a narrative of the American military that simply assumes that what he's saying is true. This is particularly effective with conservative audiences. Right-wing readers want to see these kind of narratives and find their world-views affirmed in a satisfying way when the author makes the factuality of the narrative seem easy.

It's when Hewitt gestures toward American public opinion that the disconnect between his smoothly cast assumptions and reality diverge most. Hewitt writes that "America as a whole is now feeling better about the war" as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. But the only people who feel better about the war are people on the right. Americans as a whole still think the surge isn't making much difference and that we should get out of Iraq. According to a Fox poll, only 18% of the public, the hard core right-wing in other words, believes that the surge is leading to "major improvements." A full 72% of the public thinks that the surge has made either no difference or resulted in only minor improvements while 61% support withdrawing American troops by April 2008. Other polling numbers also belie the idea that Americans are feeling better about the surge. Given that the surge is President Bush's policy, one would expect that feeling better about the surge would improve the president's job approval ratings. To the contrary, President Bush's approval rating was at 32% in Fox Polling last week and stands at a similarly anemic 32.5% in the RCP average. Americans don't feel any better about the Republicans either. More Americans trust the Democrats to manage the war in Iraq more than they trust the Republicans who are doing their best to prolong the war.

It's only at the end of the sequence that Hewitt bashes the left with the idea that all of his fictions "scare the stuffing out of the left." By this point, we all know that Hewitt isn't going to produce any evidence that anybody on the left is afraid of the surge's success. But he has "projected" enough success that his conservative readers will be with him in assuming left-wing anxiety.

Of course, the reason Hewitt can be so smooth as he's pimping the surge is that he's always playing for the home conservative crowd. For the most part, bloggers are always preaching to the converted. But these kinds of deceptions don't play so well when Bush, Cheney, and Gonzales are forced to confront the mainstream media, Democrats, and the public.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Big Event: Romney's New Line

One of the things that differentiates right-wingers from the rest of the American population is their focus on developing new catch-phrases for their political enemies. One of the things I noticed when I was debating right-wingers on Slate's Fray is that all the right-wingers would be really impressed if one of the conservatives came up with a snappy new insult to aim at me. In general, the right worries much more about developing new insults than they worry about policy. It's like they all want to be little Ann Coulters.

In that light, Mitt Romney's line during tonight's debate was probably the event of the year for Republicans. For those who didn't see the debate, Romney satirized Obama's foreign policy statements in these terms: "he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week." Of course, none of this is true. Obama's never been anything like either Jane Fonda or Dr. Strangelove. But that's beside the point. It's a funny, attention-getting phrase that asserts a Republican stereotype of Barack Obama and other Democrats as being soft on defense and unreliable. Coming up with this kind of caricature bolsters conservatives morale because it gives them an opportunity to express their contempt for white liberals. It's also the kind of thing that really gets under the skin of white liberals and leads us into paroxysms of outrage.

I don't know why Democrats get so upset. In the end, the right-wing is mostly hot air and comic-book gestures and that's what they want from their presidential candidates. There's a lot of reasons for this. The Republicans are a natural minority that wins elections primarily through negative ads, sleazy innuendo, and other means of wrecking the reputation of Democratic candidates. In that sense, the focus on comical insults of the Democrats is the Coulterization of the basic Atwater/Rove approach to politics.

Focusing on lines like "he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in a week" also has the same kind of comic book feel to it as Ronald Reagan lines like "Make My Day" or George Bush's "Bring It On." Given the taste for these kinds of gestures among the weenie boys and girls of the right, coming up with new insulting lines keeps the right-wing in their sadly narrow comfort zone and reinforces the group solidarity of conservatives.

There's also an inner connection between the politics of comic insult and the politics of social bigotry. One of the things that racists, misogynists, and homophobes most enjoy about their bigotries is the opportunity to indulge in stereotyping jokes and put-downs of the groups they so cordially despise. When Romney or any Republican politicians does a broad, comic put-down of someone like Barack Obama, they're engaging in one of the basic cultural motifs of their bigoted core constituencies and are pleasing those constituencies even if they're not engaged in a primary kind of bigotry.

In the current political comment, coming up with new insults is also a way for Republicans to distract themselves and others from the failures of the war in Iraq, the scandals among Congressional Republicans, the broad incompetence of the Bush administration, and the increasingly ludicrous figures cut by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales. By engaging in comic put-downs, they're also able to project a kind of "moral equivalence" between themselves and the Democratic politicians they're posing as ridiculous.

Instead of being outraged by right-wing catch phrases, the Democrats need to contextualize GOP language and make it reflect badly on conservatives.