Tag Archives: iraq

Limbaugh could be between a rock and a place with universal health care.

Rush Limbaugh said today that he will leave the country if the health care reform bill passes. He said he’d go to Costa Rica, but if he’s principled, he’ll have to go somewhere else: Costa Rica has universal health coverage.

Rush could have some real problems finding a place to live in the style to which he has become accustomed. The US is the only developed nation that does not supply universal health coverage, and I don’t think he’ll be happy with most other options. He could choose anywhere in Africa, with the exception of South Africa, the last developed country (not including the U.S.) to institute universal coverage. South America has a very few places: Columbia and Bolivia spring to mind. He could go to Kazakhstan or Mongolia.

Iraq would certainly have homes and palaces that would meet Rush’s needs, and many of them are currently empty, but alas, Iraq has universal health care. Universal health care provided by the United States. Your tax dollars at work.

Good luck Rush. Don’t forget to write. Assuming you find a country with a post office.

Proposed Post-Birth Abortion Ban Could Shut Down Iraq War

Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would legislatively create a twenty-year period of “Post-Birth Fetal Development,” during which abortion would be completely illegal. Rep. Roberta Goldwaithe, the bill’s primary sponsor, thinks this is an idea whose time has come. “Neurologists have established that the human brain isn’t completely developed through adolescence. This explains why many young people engage in irrational and dangerous behaviors; drinking and driving, date rape, signing up for the Marines… every parent has his or her own horror story. It’s time for those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life to put our principles before our politics. We must protect all human life, including those who have not yet fully developed into independent creatures.”

Republicans have concerns that the “Post-Birth Fetal Development Pro-Life Abortion Ban Act” is a legislative Trojan horse with potential consequences reaching far beyond the abortion clinic, perhaps as far as Iraq, but Rep. Goldwaithe dismisses these accusations. “A Republican who would vote against the Pro-Life Abortion Ban Act is clearly a closest pro-choice, anti-life satanist, and I know that voters will be smart enough to recognize that come election day.” Goldwaithe admits, however, that the new law would affect the war in Iraq:

It goes without saying that being placed in a war zone would threaten fetal life, but this is a secondary concern. President Bush recently pledged, ‘I believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your President I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world.’

The President expressed these sentiments to explain why he vetoed a bill that would have allowed federal funds for stem cell research. Embryos used for stem cell research consist of less than 200 cells. The vast majority will never develop into anything but freezer burn, and will eventually be destroyed. On the other hand, fetuses protected by the Post-Birth Act can be as much as six feet tall, and contain well over a hundred trillion cells. With proper care, all have the potential to become fully developed human beings. It’s inconceivable, pardon the phrase, that the President would refuse to protect the sanctity of life merely because it would interfere with military plans.

White House spokesman Tony Snow refused to comment directly on the proposed law, but did say that the administration would continue to support the right of a fetus to bear arms.

The Swiftian news

Dick Cheney’s jet, Air Force 2, was attacked by a suicide bomber, specifically a bird that threw itself into the right engine just before the jet’s landing at O’Hare airstrip. No particular group of birds has claimed responsibility for the attack, though analysts believe the VP’s favorite prey — farm-raised quail — were involved.

Cheney, unharmed but visibly shaken, said he would not alter his hunting strategy.

I will not give in to a few fowl terrorists. I will continue to shoot farm-raised birds released for my recreational pleasure from cages hidden behind bushes, and I will kill those birds. Quitting would render meaningless the sacrifice of my good friend, Harry Whittington, whom I shot in the face.

The Vice-President was in Chicago to speak at a function organized by the Heritage Foundation. The Vice President spoke about the importance refusing to set a specific date to withdraw from Iraq:

“It is impossible to argue that an unconditional timetable for retreat could serve the security interests of the United States. It would send a message to our enemies that the calendar is their friend, that all they have to do is wait us out, wait for the date certain, and then claim victory the day after.

Leaders of insurgency groups in Iraq responded with anger to the VP’s comments. “We must know the US withdrawal date in order to plan our victory-claiming celebration. The catering preparations alone will take forty-eight hours. And don’t even talk to me about making all those effigies.”

In other news, the President announced a plan to appoint a “war czar,” to finally achive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. When asked for details, the President responded:

When I wish upon my czar;
Makes no difference who they are;
When I have a czar he’ll make my dreams come true.

President Bush then explained we could easily win in Iraq, but we all need to believe. He requested everyone present who believed in victory to clap their hands.

There were no additional questions.

Finally, on the human interest front, the winner of the Anna Nicole Smith baby contest was finally chosen from the group of finalists in the Bahamas. A disappointed crowd of men went home tanned, but empty-handed, when photographer Larry Birkhead was declared winner. Birkhead said he attributed his success to timing. “Anna asked me to set a definite time for withdrawal, but I refused.”

The Vice-President has not yet commented on Birkhead’s strategy.

Cheney’s Empty Argument On Iraq

Using meaningless language is a standard tool of politics, brought to high art by the present administration. Dick Cheney has added a new gloss on the old game, repeating an old argument about Iraq that has lost all meaning.

Here’s the way Cheney put it recent speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2007 Policy Conference:

… when members [of congress] speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they’re telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out.

This argument was used by Bush for the first few years of the war in Iraq to avoid setting a time table for withdrawing troops. Agree with it or not, the argument meant something:

The situation is us versus the bad guys. “We” are the coalition and the fledgling democratic government in Iraq. Insurgency groups dedicated to destroying any US supported government in Iraq are the bad guys. If we tell the bad guys when we plan to pull our troops out of Iraq, the bad guys will hang back, save resources until our troops are gone, then come out of hiding to destroy the Iraqi government.

This argument allowed the Bushies to govern in their preferred way: completely ad hoc, no goals to meet, therefore no way to determine failure.

Whatever value this description of the war once may have had, it clearly doesn’t represent what’s going on in Iraq today. Even the Pentagon admits there is an internecine civil war in Iraq, fought among multiple groups with diverse interests. The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (a non-governmental group of former intelligence specialists) provide a clear analysis in their recent memo Denouement on Iraq: First Stop the Bleeding:

The vast majority of the violence in Iraq is sectarian in nature and involves a multifaceted civil war mostly pitting Sunnis against Shias. However, the violence also entails secular Sunnis fighting Sunni extremists linked to Al Qaeda and secular Shias battling Shia extremists…. in other words, a rabid dog fight with our troops in between. The only thing the various factions share is unflinching opposition to US occupation. But the notion that there is a monolithic group of “insurgents” or “enemy” falls far wide of the mark.

The “we can’t set a time-table” argument falls apart under these conditions. There is no “them,” holding back waiting for us to leave. The various coalitions are in full-out battle against the provisional Iraqi government and against each other. We have met the enemy, and he is…. well, everybody.

We are used to Cheney’s lies, but this is something different and worth attending to. It’s a concrete example of the administration using empty phrases to shore up support for a misconceived and unpopular war. “Support the troops!” “Democrats want to cut and run!;” smoke and mirror language used for effect rather than meaning. Sweeping aside empty language can raise the quality of the public debate about the war; and a debate based upon facts is precisely what the administration is trying to avoid.

Anna Nicole Smith is still successfully dead; VP Cheney still unsuccessfully alive

It appears that Anna Nicole Smith, like any great artist, is more popular dead than alive — at least as measured by the continuing stream of stories about her in papers, magazines and news shows. The media’s mock self-reflection involved reaches new levels. There are stories about her, then stories about the media’s fascination with her, then meta-stories about the media’s tendency to report on it’s own reporting of stories about the death of Anna Nicole Smith. All are gratuitous, including my discussion here, which raises the bar of Anna Nicole Smith recursive reporting up yet another notch.

Still, it seems right, somehow, that her fame continues unabated after her death. Anna Nicole Smith, the person, had little to do with Anna Nicole Smith, the celebrity, and the former, if anything, tended to get in the way of the latter. Now, relieved of the burden of actual life, the flame of her celebrity can burn as pure and as hot as the sun.

Smith may still be dead, but vice-president Dick Cheney is very much alive. Cheney was completely unharmed when a bomb, apparently targeted at him by the Taliban, exploded near the compound he inhabited during his visit to Afghanistan. Twenty-three other people died in the attack, thereby strengthening the VP’s resolve to stay in the fight.

According to Cheney, the Arab bad guys plan on continuing to kill Americans, figuring that we’ll eventually tire of it and bring our troops home. But Mr. Cheney isn’t going to let us fall into that trap. Let ’em kill as many Americans as they can, we’ve got plenty more. I’m not making this up, really. During his flight back from Afghanistan, Cheney was asked why he says nasty things about Speaker Pelosi and Representitive Murtha. Cheney replied:

They [the al Qaeda] know they can’t beat us in a stand-up fight. But they do believe — and I think there’s evidence to support this — that they can, in fact, force us to change our policy if they just kill enough Americans, create enough havoc out there. And they cite Beirut in 1983; Mogadishu, 1993, kill Americans, America changes its policy and withdraws. And Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri believe this. They talk about it. It’s not a mystery.

And my point was that if we follow what I believe Speaker Pelosi really wants to do in terms of withdraw, that that would validate the al Qaeda strategy.

And so, absent a real plan, we stay in Iraq for brinkmanship. They think they can kill and wound enough soldiers for us to back down? We’ll show ’em.

I wish someone would tell Mr. Cheney: Adamantly refusing to consider loss of life in making military decisions is not good policy; and playing chicken with people willing to blow themselves up to kill us is not an effective strategy.

An historical description of PTSD

Playboy Magazine’s site contains an excellent, recent article on the Bush administration’s efforts to minimize the existence and human costs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) left untreated in troops returning from Iraq.

Mental health problems tend to be easy to ignore. There are no physical scars, or missing limbs. The public prefers to believe troops come home healthy and heroic, and the government is happy to encourage those beliefs. As a result, the long term costs of untreated PTSD are played down in both the press and in the federal budget.

War is a Racket, a short work written by former General Major Smedley Butler in 1935, contains a powerful description of Butler’s observation of the emotional damage caused by war :

Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.

Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjustment, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them any more. So we scattered them about without any “three-minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final “about face” alone.

In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone.

Smedley ButlerSmedley Butler served in the Spanish American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the first World War and in US military actions in Honduras, Haiti and Veracruz, Mexico. He was awarded two Congressional Medals of Honor. After leaving military service he became a strong critic of the US administration and it’s willingness to use war to benefit industry.

Ed Henry, My Valentine

Ed, I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but today you’ve won my heart.

Today you had the nerve to ask Bush why the hell anyone should trust his accusations that Iranian weapons are being used against Americans in Iraq. Bush was clearly shocked that anyone would suggest his administration would fabricate evidence about weapons. Watching the exchange was better than chocolates or roses.

If you’d like to see the video, check out Think Progress here. Here’s the transcript:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I want to follow up on Iran one more time. Are you saying, today, that you do not know if senior members of the Iranian government are, in fact, behind these explosives?

That contradicts what U.S. officials said in Baghdad on Sunday. They said the highest levels of the Iranian government were behind this. It also — it seems to square with what General Pace has been saying, but contradicts with what your own press secretary said yesterday. What…

BUSH: Can I — let me — I can’t say it more plainly: There are weapons in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the Quds Force. As you know, I hope, the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds Force to do this, I don’t think we know. But we do know that they’re there. And I intend to do something about it. And I’ve asked our commanders to do something about it. And we’re going to protect our troops.

QUESTION: But given some of those contradictions, Mr. President…

BUSH: There’s no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Quds Force…

QUESTION: What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?

BUSH: Ed, We know they’re there. We know they’re provided by the Quds Force. We know the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. I don’t think we need who picked up the phone and said to the Quds Force, Go do this, but we know it’s a vital part of the Iranian government.

What matters is, is that we’re responding. The idea that somehow we’re manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous. My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.

Now, David says: Does this mean you’re trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I’m trying to protect our troops. That’s what that’s means. And that’s what the family members of our soldiers expect the commander in chief and those responsible for — responsible for our troops on the ground.

A Short Primer on Select Enemies of the United States

Germany — An enemy of the US during the early 1940’s. At that time, Germany was led by Adolf Hitler, a very bad man. America and its allies (including the USSR, led at the time by Joseph Stalin) fought and defeated Hitler.

USSR — An enemy of the US during Cold War, from the mid-1940’s until early 1990’s. At the start of the Cold War the USSR was led by Joseph Stalin, now a very bad man. Starting in the late 1970’s until 1989, the US financed, armed and trained a group called the mujahideen to fight the USSR in Afghanistan. The mujahideen was a group of Muslim “freedom fighters” (according to Pres. Reagan) subscribing to militant Islamic ideologies.

Afghanistan — An enemy of the US from 1996 until the present day. Starting in 1996, Afghanistan was led by the Taliban, very bad men who follow a doctrine of militant Islamic ideologies. The Taliban supported Osama bin Laden, a very bad man, leader of the Al-Qaida, a group of very bad men, primarily consisting of former mujahideen, (previously known as “freedom fighters”). The Al-Qaida is a terrorist organization subscribing to militant Islamic ideologies. The Al-Qaida, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, are responsible for the 9/11/01 suicide bombing attack on the World Trade Towers.

Iraq — An enemy of the US, invaded by the US in 2003. As a secular state with no connections to the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaida, or the 9/11/01 suicide bombing attack on the World Trade Towers, Iraq has no connection whatsoever to do with anything above. I’m sorry I added it to this list. My bad.

This Just In

In case you haven’t heard the really big news: Anna Nicole Smith died on February 8, 2007.

Of course you probably have heard all about it. A quick Google news search of her name and the word “died” indicate over 3,000 hits at this time, 8 p.m. Eastern, Feb. 9.

In other news, 33 Americans were killed in Iraq, 50 wounded as of this month. It’s not possible to find numbers of Iraqi dead in the first 8 days of February, but a quick news review indicates at least 50 reported deaths just yesterday alone. No one seems to collect information on Iraqi wounded.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a passion for celebrity news, but I do worry when we’ve reached the point when the death of a someone like Ms. Smith is front page excitement while the number of US dead and injured in Iraq is, well, let’s say, not front page. I don’t think people are small-minded. But I get afraid that thinking about numbers of dead and wounded becomes so difficult to face on a daily basis that we build up psychic scare tissue, we let the numbers pass before ours eyes like a partial score of a game that’s gone on too long in a sport we never cared for anyway. But if we don’t pay attention nothing will change for the better.

In 2004, during the worst of the siege of Fallujah, someone asked Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit about the images of death appearing daily on Iraqi TV. He replied: “My advice is to change the channel.” Cynical, inhumane, a disappointment for those of us who believe our military leadership requires ethics; nonetheless, his statement is based on a bitter truth about people, and bread, and circuses.

I’m guilty, I admit it. So I’m going to try to be aware of people behind the numbers, and think about the men and women lost or grievously injured, and about the futility of those losses and my place in all this. And only then will I turn the page, click the link or change the channel. As T.S. Eliot pointed out, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

Anna Nicole Smith is dead. I wonder if Paris will be at the funeral.

Mum’s the Word

I recently had the opportunity to interview the Director of the Executive Non-Communications Office in Washington, D.C. It had been trying to contact ENCO for years, but they never returned my calls, so you can imagine my pleased surprise when I received the invitation.

I arrived at the State Department HQ at the appointed time, and was guided to ENCO’s office, down in the labyrinth of the sub-sub basement. The director was at his desk when I arrived. He wore mirrored aviator sunglasses and held a small bull-horn shaped voice-scrambler that he spoke through during our conversation. His voice coming out of the machine was metallic and flat, bearing eerie resemblance to the voice of Dick Cheney.

I shook his hand and was invited to sit down.

“I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me,” I began eagerly. “I hope I can give the public some insight into ENCO’s achievements.”

“I’m more than happy to speak with you. As you probably know, our work is confidential, but a decision was made to leak information to the public. This conversation is entirely off the record. Feel free to take notes and publish whatever you’d like. We’ll just deny this interview ever took place. Given your place in the journalistic pecking order, everyone will believe you made it all up, but, with luck, the regular press will cover the story of your deceit, and the information will get out, unconfirmed. So you see, we’ll all get what we want. I only mention this to provide an example of ENCO expertise in matters of non-communication.”

“Uhhh… thank you… Maybe you can start by telling me about your organizational responsibilities. I take it from your address that ENCO is part of the State Department?”

“Oh no, not at all. Our office is located here to maintain our confidentiality. We hide behind the cloud of irrelevancy surrounding the State Department, but we have very little to do with them — to be honest, we’ve pretty much replaced the State Department. As head of the Office, I report directly to the President, who in turn keeps Vice-President Cheney apprised of our activities. We’re funded under through FEMA’s budget for providing emergency hurricane relief to New Orleans.”

“Wait a minute…. your budget comes from Katrina relief funds? Is that legal?”

“Of course it’s legal” The Director’s mechanized voice seemed to grow even colder. “The President authorized the reallocation of funds in a signing statement that accompanied his approval of the emergency budget. Then the Attorney Genera wrote a memo assuring the legality of the President’s signing statement. After all, our office is dedicated to protecting the country — including New Orleans — from terrorism.”

“I’m surprised none of this came out in the press. At least I don’t think I’ve heard anything.”

“Of course you haven’t!” the Director snapped. “The reallocation, the signing statement and the AG’s memo are all classified, Executive Eyes Only. This is just the sort of information that would encourage our enemies and demoralize the troops were it to get out.” He peered at me again. “Say, you’re not one of those traitors who wish Saddam was still in power are you?

“N-No.. of course not! I’m just amazed… the whole plan is so… diabolical.”

The Director leaned back in his chair again and smiled. “Thank you. The entire plan came out of this shop. It was the first official recommendation of the Non-Communication Office.”

“Is that the sort of work the Office routinely does?”

“Oh no, our primary mission is international diplomacy management. We’re constantly reviewing the international situation and recommending where to focus the nation’s diplomatic efforts.”

“I see. I’ve noticed…” — I decided to tread carefully on this ground — “I’ve noticed the liberal media complains that the administration hasn’t accomplished much through diplomacy.”

“There’s actually quite a bit going on — we’re currently engaged in diplomatic efforts with a number of countries —- Canada, Australia, Norway…. oh, and let’s not forget Poland.”

“Those really don’t seem to be nations where diplomacy is needed to resolve problems….”

The director smiled broadly. I could almost hear pride in his electronic voice. “That’s where ENCO’s planning has really paid off. US diplomatic efforts are now focused on countries where there aren’t any problems to resolve. It makes the work so much easier. And more social. We like to call those nations the ‘coalition of the chillin’.” His synthesized laugh made me shiver. “…you get it, right? “chillin’? It sort of rhymes with ‘willin’? Like willing, only….”

I tried to keep my forced laugh from sounding as flat as his mechanical giggle. “Yes, I see. Very good joke. But I can’t help wondering…. what about places where diplomacy might solve real problem? Shouldn’t we be spending more time in, oh, I don’t know… Iran, say? Or Syria… Lebanon… maybe Palestine?

“The President has a very strict policy about those countries. Being allowed to talk with the United States is a privilege, and the President will not reward countries who are engaged in activities we don’t approve of. It just gives them the attention they want.

“So we’ll never have talks with Iran?”

“Of course we will! We’ll open talks with Iran as soon as they start behaving.”

“Which means…..”

Well, we’ve placed a Presidential attention embargo on Iran because of their nuclear power program and their interference with Iraqi freedom. All Iran has to do is to stop doing those things, and the President will open negotiations with them.”

“But…… aren’t those issues the reason why we need talks?”

“Of course.”

“But we won’t talk with them….

“….until the stop doing the things that are problems. Exactly. Then we’ll send in all the diplomats they’d like. You have to admit it’s a perfect policy. By the time talks start, the really big issues are solved!”

“I have to admit, I’m awed. What other nations is the President punishing with silence?

“Well, the list is changing all the time. Let’s see… we won’t talk with Syria or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority. In fact, the President was so upset about the Palestinian elections, we may not even speak with them when they get rid of Abbas. Not until the people themselves apologize for misusing their precious freedom to put the Hamas in power in the first place. And .. let’s see… there’s Venezuela, Darfur…

“Wait a minute — we have a policy of purposely ignoring Darfur?!”

“Of course! Haven’t you read about what’s going on in that country? It’s a mess! People are being killed, tortured…. I admit it’s been a tough nut to crack. We’ve been ignoring them for three years now, and there hasn’t been much improvement. But the President believes if we stay the course, the leaders in Darfur…. whoever they are….will eventually accede to our unspoken demand to fix everything up so that diplomatic relations with the United States can begin. Darfur has probably been on our list longer than anyone else. Except maybe Antarctica…”

By this point, I felt nothing would shock me. “You’re saying we refuse to engage in diplomatic relations with a continent. You do know there isn’t a government there?”

“Well, yes, but there have been a lot of problems in Antarctica, all that snow melting and global warming talk. The President feels we should be prepared to do our best to encourage Antarctica to pull itself up by it’s bootstraps, should there be any Antarcticans to encourage. It’s an example of the President’s long-range vision for America. Be sure to mention that in your article, should you ever be tempted to write one about this off-the-record discussion.

The Director went on: “The President wanted to add the Arctic to the Non-Communication list, until someone in the office pointed out there’s really no land there. Did you know all those polar bears and seals and things live on huge chunks of ice with nothing underneath? It’s no wonder they’re having problems up there. Anyway, we didn’t think it would be worth the President’s effort to ignore a bunch of icebergs. And really, the problem seems to be taking care of itself, doesn’t it?”

The Director didn’t seem to need more encouragement to talk about ENCO’s accomplishments. “There are lots of people and things that aren’t nations that fall under ENCO’s jurisdiction. I guess you could say Antarctica is only the tip of the iceberg,” he grinned. That’s sort of an office joke.” I grimaced politely and nodded him on.

“Other targets of punitive non-communcation include groups and individuals. For example, the President will talk with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but he’s made a commitment to not listen to him. He absolutely won’t speak with anyone at the United Nations. In fact, President Bush was so upset with Kofi Anan that he considered locking him in the UN building without supper.

He’s never listened to Congress, of course, and recently he went so far as sticking his fingers in his ears and singing loudly during a policy discussion with Nancy Pelosi.

He was very upset, even hurt, by the Iraqi Study Group, and has ignored them entirely. Except for Mr. Baker, of course, though he often pretends he’s not in his office when he knows Baker is coming.

Our most recent recommendation, made just after the last election, led to he President’s decision to refuse to listen to the American people. This was really a tough decision for him. I think it really hurts him more than it hurts the people, but the President knows that a leader must stand firm on doing what he knows is right.”

“Wait a minute! How can he do that? Isn’t there any concern that ignoring Congress and the American people might hurt Republicans badly in 2008?”

“That did come up, but the President feels strongly that this is a crucial moment of change in the history of the country. He used to think God elected him to the Presidency to fix Iraq, but for various reasons he’s decided that his real holy mission is to teach the American people that they have to listen to their leaders if they expect their leaders to listen to them. So he’s decided to ignore the 2008 election and continue as President until the electorate learns their lesson. We’ve run the idea by focus groups, and we’re pretty sure that the American people will do anything he wants if he promises to listen to them in 2012.”

Bush takes a do-over

The upcoming escalation…. excuse me, “augmentation”… of 21,500 US troops in Iraq has been reduced to political football. Most of the press concentrates on the political battle, which begs the question — is Bush right? Is there evidence that additional troops at this time will make some significant difference? Bush defined the strategy of the surge during an interview with Jim Lehrer on January 16, 2006:

Well, the – the purpose of the strategy, Jim, is to settle Baghdad down, is to secure neighborhoods, is to give the Iraqi people a chance to live in peace, which is what they want. And the way to do that is to send troops into neighborhoods to clean the neighborhoods of insurgents and terrorists, and it’s to hold the neighborhoods. And the problem in the past, there weren’t enough troops to hold the neighborhoods after neighborhoods had been cleared. And then to build is to have a political process behind it that will work.

But will an additional 21,500 troops make such a large difference?

The surge won’t result in the largest force we’ve had in Iraq during the insurgency. At present — or at least at the end of November, 2006, — 158,000 troops were in Iraq, 140,000 Americans and an additional 18,000 Coalition troops. An additional 21,500 troops will result in a total of 179,000. But twelve months ago, in November and December of 2005, there were 183,000 troops, including 160,00 Americans and 23,000 coalition troops — the highest troop strength in Iraq since the start of the war. What can we expect to accomplish with 179,000 troops that we could not do one year ago with 183,000? (Numbers are from the Sabin Center for Middle East Policy.)

President Bush claims the additional forces will allow us to clean up Baghdad neighborhoods and then to hold them. (Five of the additional brigades — 17,500 troops — will be assigned to Baghdad.) In the past, insurgents moved into cleared neighborhoods as soon as troops withdrew.). But how long can we hold them? Can we really believe Iraq forces will be capable of taking over this task in anything like a reasonable amount of time?

The President seems to thinks so — requiring Iraq to meet benchmarks is part of the President’s plan. But this might be an overly optimistic basis for bringing more American troops into danger. As the Iraq Study Group pointed out, the Iraqi military forces have significant problems: shortages of equipment; troops who refuse to deploy outside their own area of the countries; and a readiness level that’s often at 50% or less.

Does the threat of a US pullout mean anything to Iraqi leaders? The Iraqi parliament is split on the question (Iraq is in a civil war, let’s remember), the President and Vice-President of Iraq seem ambivalent at best, and the Iraqi people just want the US out. Will the threat of a US pullout energize the factions supporting our presence to unify Iraqi military forces?

Finally, why are American forces acting as police for the city of Baghdad in the midst of a civil war? We’ve created a mess in Baghdad and we have responsibility to improve the situation. But perhaps we should learn something from our errors. We bumbled ourself into this mess — putting more American lives at risk is more of the same. And hey, didn’t we vote for someone to do something smarter?

How do we know we’re done?

I’ve become confused about some pretty basic facts concerning the “War in Iraq”. And I’m concerned I might not be the only one. Who are the parties to this war? Who is the enemy? Perhaps most importantly, to paraphrase Colin Powell, how do we know when we’re done?

I know that whatever we’re doing in the Middle East has mutated from whatever we thought we were doing there in the first place, and I know there has been lots of talk about what we’d like in the middle east, but the word “war” has a specific meaning, and I think the question is important enough to be considered.

In 1992, Colin Powell wrote an article in “Foreign Affairs,” and some of what he wrote became known as the “Powell Doctrine.” The Powell Doctrine sets up some pretty good things to think about before deciding to go to war. Bush, et al, never pretended to have any interest in Powell’s article (or in Secretary or State Powell himself, come to think of it), but maybe we’d be better off if they did.

One of the questions posed by Powell was this: “Do we have a clear attainable objective?”.

When I was in the USN I worked with and for officers who had experience in Viet Nam. Powell’s concern about a clear objective resonated with them and was echoed in management. Suddenly, proposals for projects and initiatives had to meet this test. The question came up at nearly every meeting. “If we do this, how do we know when we’re done?” It’s a question that wasn’t answered before our involvement in Viet Nam, and a question that’s often ignored in legislation.

We never had a real objective in Iraq. The issues about weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s phantom nuclear program, and connections with the 9/11 terrorists have long been debunked. We did have a goal of taking down Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a terror to Iraqis and other groups, and his removal, in and of itself, and targeting his removal was a worthy goal. But it’s a goal that’s been accomplished, and the devastation we’ve brought to Iraq has tarnished that victory. But my questions remain: Who are the parties to this war? Who, exactly, are we fighting? How do we know when we’re done?

Powell famously provided another, less formal rule: “You break it, you own it.” But we haven’t been very good to Iraq. With thousands of Iraqi dead, much of the countries’ professional class taking flight, and years of broken infrastructure, the Iraqi’s themselves want us to go. Our military isn’t fighting an enemy. Their trying to clear Baghdad’s neighborhoods of the civil war that has flowed into the city. Clearing up Baghdad! What benefit do we bring the rest of the country?

Iraqis shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves after the devastation the country has experienced. But military troops don’t fix infrastructure. They can’t keep the countries’ various groups from trying to destroy each other. Perhaps we should admit that we’re done, at least done with the war. Maybe it’s time to work with other countries and with the UN to pick up the pieces of the Middle East and perhaps create an diplomatic environment that will be better than we started. Who is the enemy? Perhaps we should consider the possibility that we are.