The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Poll: Americans see no easy Iraq exit

Americans see no easy Iraq exit

By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press WriterFri Dec 8, 5:14 PM ET

Americans see no easy exit from Iraq: Just 9 percent expect the war to end in clear-cut victory, compared with 87 percent who expect some sort of compromise settlement, according to the latest AP-Ipsos poll.

The numbers evoke parallels to public opinion about the war in Vietnam four decades ago. In December 1965, when the American side of the war still had eight years to run, a Gallup survey found just 7 percent believed it would end in victory.

Dissatisfaction with President Bush's handling of Iraq has climbed to an all-time high of 71 percent, according to the AP-Ipsos survey, which was taken as a bipartisan commission was releasing its recommendations this week for a new course. Just 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of Iraq, down from his previous low of 31 percent in November.

Pessimism about Iraq is mounting, according to the poll. Some 63 percent of Americans said they don't expect a stable, democratic government to be established, up from 54 percent who felt that way in June.

The pessimism was considerably higher among Democrats, with just 22 percent expecting a stable, democratic government, compared with half of all Republicans. The survey of 1,000 Americans, taken Monday through Wednesday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

"Support is continuing to erode and there's no particular reason to think it can be turned back," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist and author of "War, Presidents and Public Opinion." Mueller said that once people "drop off the bandwagon, it's unlikely they'll say, 'I'm for it again.' Once they're off, they're off."

Even so, Americans are not necessarily intent on getting all U.S. troops out right away, the poll indicated. The survey found strong support for a two-year timetable if that's what it takes to get U.S. troops out. Seventy-one percent said they would favor a two-year timeline from now until sometime in 2008. When people are asked instead about a six-month timeline for withdrawal that number drops to 60 percent.

The Iraq Study Group's report said flatly that the administration's approach was not working and recommended that the U.S. military accelerate a change in its main mission so that most combat troops can be withdrawn by spring 2008. House and Senate Democratic leaders have all signed on to a plan that the U.S. pull out some troops right away to put pressure on the Iraqis, but without a specific timetable.

David Gergen, a former White House adviser who served in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, said the bipartisan report, with its account of the grave situation in Iraq, could help motivate political leaders to resolve the Iraq situation more quickly than Vietnam.

"If we had had a commission like this, of heavyweights, who had spoken up so publicly and forcefully, when Lyndon Johnson was president ... the Vietnam War would have ended much earlier," Gergen said this week. "The policy in Iraq is failing. The policy in the Middle East is failing. The president cannot walk away from those conclusions."

Public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said stronger support for the longer timetable could reflect a realization that it takes time to change strategy.

But while Americans give their presidents considerable latitude on foreign policy when they think there is a clear plan, the negative numbers show a public clamoring for change, she said.

"It's going to be very hard to reverse numbers as negative as the president has right now," she said.


AP's Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.

powered by performancing firefox

Glenn Greenwald - Neoconservatives -- exposed, scorned, but still in control

-- exposed, scorned, but still in control

The one positive aspect of the Baker-Hamilton report is that the reactions it is provoking -- both positive and viciously negative -- have shed as bright a light as one could hope for on our current predicament. Never before have the reasons we are in Iraq -- and staying indefinitely -- been as clear as they are now.

Most notable is the frothing intensity of the personal attacks on Jim Baker coming from the neoconservatives and other assorted warmongers. Here is Marty Peretz, Editor of the very sober and serious foreign policy magazine The New Republic:

Yes, I can't get over James Baker being the chairman of a civil commission on war and statecraft. The first reason is that he is primarily responsible for American policy in the first Bush administration. That policy was a strategic disaster and a moral enormity. On Baker's head rests almost all of the responsibility for Saddam Hussein surviving in power after the first Gulf war.

And, given that fact, also responsible for Saddam's atrocities against the Shia and Kurds for which the deposed tyrant is at last being tried in the very context of this war. James Baker is actually an accessory to war crimes of the Iraqi Baath Party in a war fought entirely against civilians. The truth is that he trusted Saddam ... just as he seems to trust Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be reasonable. If he truly trusts them on anything he is, well, as gullible as Chamberlain.

To Peretz, the 1991 ejection of Iraq from Kuwait -- undertaken with U.N. approval and a genuine, worldwide coalition -- was "a strategic disaster and a moral enormity," all because we didn't proceed to invade Iraq and occupy Baghdad. But the current war in Iraq is noble and wise. How much more extremist and out of touch can a person be?

Beyond branding Baker as a war criminal, neonconservatives are also (of course) smearing him as an anti-Semite -- again. Peretz, in a separate post, accuses Baker of using the Report to further wage what Peretz calls "Baker's old war with the Israelis and with the Jews." Powerline's Paul Mirgenoff compared Baker to the Hated Anti-Semite de Jour: "other than Jimmy Carter, I can't think of a major public figure I like less than James Baker." Rush Limbaugh accused Baker of leading the "Iraq Surrender Group," and at Pajamas Media, Michael Ledeen called Rush's epithet "elegant" and himself pronounced the B-H Report "disgusting" because it recommended talks with Israel's enemies.

As I argued immediately after the election, the disaster of the Iraq War and the resulting rejection of Bush-Republican policies presents a real opportunity to isolate, and relegate back to the fringes, the neoconservatives and more generic crazed warmongers who have dictated our foreign policy over the last five years -- the Bill Kristols, Rush Limbaughs, John McCains, Charles Krauthammers, Joe Liebermans, American Enterprise Institutes and Rich Lowrys, who have an insatiable appetite for endless wars that degrade America's credibility, resources, strength, security and national character.

At a time when most Americans have recognized that this war is a disaster and want to withdraw, this group of radical warriors continues to insist not only that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do, but that we need more of it -- more troops, more fighting, more threats, less diplomacy, less concern for world opinion, more regime change, more wars. John McCain and Bill Kristol favor a policy -- i.e., deploy as many more American troops as possible to Iraq -- which only a tiny percentage of Americans (ranging from 8% to 16%) support. Although the media has yet to realize it, this group is already on the outer fringe of our political spectrum.

Hateful rants directed towards Baker like those from Peretz, Limbaugh and the AEI luminaries (even as Baker endorsed an indefinite presence in Iraq) illustrate just how radical they are. And as they are now quite openly admitting, neoconservatives hate Jim Baker for three reasons -- Israel, Israel and Israel.

It isn't just that the B-H Report committed the crime of suggesting in passing that it might be beneficial for the U.S. to increase its efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Even worse (to them), it also suggested that there might be benefits for the U.S. if we tried to achieve some sort of cooperative understanding with Israel's two remaining formidable enemies -- Syria and Iran. Treating Syria and Iran like anything other than new Nazi Germanys to be bombed and crushed is the greatest neoconservative sin there is.

We're told that these two countries are so hateful and insane that the mere idea of doing anything other than bombing them into submission -- or, even better, out of existence -- is "unrealistic." Neoconservatives argue this even though, as Baker himself pointed out during his friendly chat with Larry King this week, Iran already cooperated with the U.S. in stabilizing Afghanistan (because a stable Afghanistan was in their interests), and Syria was cooperative on multiple post-9/11 fronts until the neoconservatives succeeded in convincing Bush to treat them like lepers, thereby forcing them into the arms of the Iranians.

It may (or may not) be true that Syria and/or Iran are intractable when it comes to hostility towards Israel (those who argue this previously said the same about Egypt). But it is clearly false -- empirically proven to be false -- that those countries are dedicated to "waging war" on the U.S. and would thus refuse to cooperate no matter how much their interests were served by doing so. Those two countries are the implacable enemies of Israel, not the U.S., but many neoconservatives want to abolish any such distinction.

At the same time, Baker and his friends are far from pure in their motives either. Much of their bickering with the AIPAC warriors was driven not by some principled belief in the unfair plight of the Palestinians, but by their desire to forge business relationships with Arab governments. As this generally pro-Israel, anti-Baker history of that period recounts, Bush 41 officials were eager to pursue arms sales and oil contracts in the Middle East, transactions that required a "realist" approach, meaning a willingness to do business even with the most brutal and suffocating Arab dictators who also happened to be Israel's enemies.

In Syria and Iran, Baker, Frank Carlucci and company saw (and see) large oil fields and/or a large market for Boeing to be cultivated, while American neoconservatives saw (and see) enemies of Israel needing to be smashed. As the events of this week revealed, neither Baker nor his neoconservative enemies have changed any.

Hence, Baker's Report urges the privatization of Iraqi oil fields and negotiations with Israel's enemies, while American neoconservatives see him as a surrender-happy anti-Semite. All of this is so tiresome and dishonest that it really engenders a strong desire to ignore it all, which one could do if not for the fact that the Baker-Hamilton Report has virtually sealed the fate of our Iraq policy for the next two years -- stay the course with a few cosmetic alterations, at best -- and still greater dangers lie ahead.

The Baker-hating neoconseratives continue to agitate for more war, undeterred by their growing repudiation and loss of credibility because they believe they still possess the ultimate trump card -- namely, their ongoing ability to continue to sway the poor, besieged, increasingly isolated President with their visions of neoconservative grandeur. Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol all but demanded a show of Bush's manhood yesterday in their war-rallying column in The Weekly Standard, entitled "It's Up to Bush":

It's all up to the president now. . . . That means the president will have to be, much more than he has been, his own general and strategist. He will have to decide on his own that incremental measures, such as stepping up the pace of Iraqi training, will not make enough of a difference in a short enough time to prevent a collapse of American policy and of Iraq itself. He will have to decide, contrary to the advice of many of his top advisers, that many more American troops need to be sent to Iraq, and as quickly as possible. . . .

Now he needs to display a different kind of courage. He has to take into his own hands the fate of Iraq and make his own decisions about what needs to be done. Of course, he should listen to all his advisers. But he must also know that his advisers, both civilian and military, have been failing him for the past three years. American policy, if it is to have any hope of turning the tide, must change dramatically in the next month or two. No one other than President Bush can make that change.

All of the American anti-war sentiment and Baker-Hamilton Reports in the world do not change the one fact on which neoconservatives and warmongers are (understandably) placing all of their war-hungry hopes and dreams -- namely, that the President, who is in fact still the Commander-in-Chief, will remain convinced that both his historical legacy and theological goodness depend upon Victory in the Epic War of Civilizations, the Great Challenge of the 21st Century. Thus, unburdened and unrestrained by any future elections, they hope that Bush will continue to wage war, and will escalate those efforts -- in Iraq and beyond.

Yesterday, the President -- jarringly enough -- petulantly provoked an argument with Dick Durbin by making clear that he sees himself as Harry Truman, pressing forward with our grand, important wars even in the face of a lack of resolve on the part of Americans. Bush believes he will be vindicated by history -- like Truman -- and anyone who thinks he is going to change course or moderate his aggression any simply hasn't been paying attention to how he operates. The opposite course -- a marked increased in aggression and military force in order to prove he still can -- is the far more likely outcome.

That is the truly bizarre and indescribably dangerous situation we face. America has turned against these extremists and this warmongering sentiment, but the President (and especially his closest advisor, the Vice President) remains solidly in their camp. They're convinced that they will be vindicated by staying forever in Iraq, and possibly expanding our military force beyond Iraq. And Jim Baker, having supported the war in the first place, all but ensured that this would happen (even, admittedly, while forcing into the establishment dialogue some important observations).

It's true that these extremists (and, hopefully, the establishment institutions which have enabled them, beginning with the Beltway media) are being marginalized as they become further and further removed from popular American sentiment. And that could be a real long-term gain for the country. But it's also true that we are going to remain in Iraq (at least) through the Bush Presidency (at least), and it's hard to see any benefit that could possibly compete with that tragic harm. Chris Floyd captured the bottom line perfectly:

The Iraq Study Group's report simply confirms, yet again, the bedrock truth of the war: the American Establishment has no intention of leaving Iraq, ever, and no intention of having anything but a pliant, cowed, bullied puppet government in Baghdad to carry out whatever the Establishment decides is in its best interests on any given day.

Iraq was invaded because large swathes of the American elite thought they could make hay of it one way or another (financially, politically, ideologically or even psychologically, for those pathetic souls who get their sense of manhood or personal validation from their identification with a big, swaggering, domineering empire).

And U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, indefinitely, at some level, because the American elite think they can make hay of the situation one way or another. The war is all about -- is only about -- what the American elite feel is in their own best interest, how it aggrandizes their fortunes, flatters their prejudices, serves their needs.

I've been persuaded by those who have argued here over the past couple days that the Baker-Hamilton Report isn't pure evil, because it so fundamentally undercuts the neoconservative narrative about the world. That may be true. But its effect of solidifying our ongoing presence in Iraq and transforming anti-withdrawal sentiment into the mainstream, centrist, bipartisan position vastly outweigh that. As long as we stay as an occupying force in Iraq -- with all of the abuses and destruction and drain that inevitably goes with it -- it is difficult to imagine how we are going to reverse any of the damage that has been done to our country over the last six years.

The neoconservatives are being revealed as the ugly, crazed extremists that they are. But they still remain more or less firmly in control in the form of George Bush, Dick Cheney and company. And that control has not been loosened any by the Baker-Hamilton Report. If anything, the opposite has occurred.

powered by performancing firefox

Friday, December 08, 2006

Glenn Greenwald - The principal sin of the Baker-Hamilton Report

The principal sin of the Baker-Hamilton Report

Writing in The Guardian, Jonathan Steele identifies the most pernicious aspect of the Baker-Hamilton Report (h/t Zack):

The country's political elite wants to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind a strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight.

Americans are done with this war. They have given up on it and want it over with. But the B-H Report has somehow supplanted the views of the vast majority of American voters as the "mainstream position." The B-H Report single-handedly cancelled out the results of the last election by purporting to identify as the "center" a position which is squarely at odds with the emphatically anti-war views of the American public that is the real mainstream.

This is what the real centrist, mainstream view is in the United States regarding the war (via Atrios):

Americans are overwhelmingly resigned to something less than clear-cut victory in Iraq and growing numbers doubt the country will achieve a stable, democratic government no matter how the U.S. gets out, according to an AP poll. . . .

Seventy-one percent said they would favor a two-year timeline from now until sometime in 2008, but when people are asked instead about a six-month timeline for withdrawal that number drops to 60 percent.

They phrase support for a six-month withdraw plan as "dropping to 60 percent" -- but 60 percent, for the American electorate, constitutes a decisive and solid majority. It isn't that most Americans have grown "weary" from the war or that they are "frustrated" and "impatient" because they like to win. Put simply, they have given up on this war, and favor withdrawal -- now. That just has to be the first, clear premise for every one of these discussions.

This is what the B-H Report (.pdf) has to say about what is, in fact, the centrist, mainstream view in America -- a view which the Report condescendingly refers to as "Precipitate Withdrawal":

1. Precipitate Withdrawal

Because of the importance of Iraq, the potential for catastrophe, and the role and commitments of the United States in initiating events that have led to the current situation, we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support.

A premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions, leading to a number of the adverse consequences outlined above. The near-term results would be a significant power vacuum, greater human suffering, regional destabilization, and a threat to the global economy. Al Qaeda would depict our withdrawal as a historic victory. If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos, the long-range consequences could eventually require the United States to return.

That is all the Report has to say about the position that is favored overwhelmingly by Americans -- it offers nothing more than a brief, patronizing and irrational dismissal of that option ("irrational" because the argument in favor of leaving is that all of the harms which the Report claims will result if we leave -- even if true -- will be worse if we stay for a year or two more and then leave).

There is something profoundly undemocratic about what Establishment Washington is doing here. As always, they begin from the premise that their physical presence in Washington and their greater information about the inner workings of the Beltway bestow upon them not just greater information, but superior wisdom, elevated judgment (and the fact that they bear substantial responsibility for what has happened here doesn't seem to have diluted that abundant self-regard in the slighest).

They now recognize that Americans have given up on the war but they believe that that view is rash, uninformed, emotional -- "precipitous," to use the condescending label assigned to that view by the Report. The crazed and lowly masses need the steady, sober hand of the Washington Establishment -- symbolized by the old Washington relics dragged out to put their stern seal of approval on the next two years of our occupation (despite the fact that they were the ones who helped bring about this disaster). And before the ink was dry on the Report, all of the entrenched propagandists for the Washington Establishment fell all over themselves praising its great wisdom and pronouncing it to be the solemn duty of all serious people to endorse it.

There is something for everyone to love and hate in this Report. That was necessary to attract the approval stamps of the "bipartisan" members and, more importantly, to provoke the wrath from "extremists" on both sides -- always the most convincing "proof" for the simple-minded Beltway elite that they struck the sensible center ("hey, both sides hate it, so we must be doing something right").

But the rhetoric and specific claims in the Report matter little. What matters most -- really exclusively -- is that this Report (in the eyes of the Beltway media and related types) has become the defining position of the Center. And the Report unmistakably endorses our ongoing occupation of Iraq, and emphatically rejects the notion of withdrawing any time soon.

We just had an election where Americans repudiated this war and made clear that they want to withdraw. Yet somehow, within a matter of weeks, Washington power circles were able to shoo that election result away like the annoying mosquito that it is and supplant their own pro-war judgment as the "mainstream" view to which all serious people, by definition, pledge their allegiance.

When 2008 comes around and we still have between 130,000-150,000 troops occupying Iraq (at the cost of $8 billion per month) -- and another 20,000 or 30,000 American soldiers are dead or maimed and a few hundred thousand or so more Iraqi civilians are dead -- we can look back at this moment when the Washington Establishment, yet again, blocked the path of withdrawal.

And none of that damage will be mitigated because the Report included some "candid" assessments of how badly things have gone, suggested "negotiations" with Iran or Syria, "recommended" that we try harder to solve the Israel-Palestine problem, or any of the other nice ideas it included, all so that the Report will feel "reasonable," even while it hands George Bush free rein to stay in Iraq through the end of his presidency -- exactly what Americans do not want.

Paul Krugman - They Told You So

They Told You So


Shortly after U.S. forces marched into Baghdad in 2003, The Weekly Standard published a jeering article titled, “The Cassandra Chronicles: The stupidity of the antiwar doomsayers.” Among those the article mocked was a “war novelist” named James Webb, who is now the senator-elect from Virginia.

The article’s title was more revealing than its authors knew. People forget the nature of Cassandra’s curse: although nobody would believe her, all her prophecies came true.

And so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq. At best, they were ignored. A recent article in The Washington Post ruefully conceded that the paper’s account of the debate in the House of Representatives over the resolution authorizing the Iraq war — a resolution opposed by a majority of the Democrats — gave no coverage at all to those antiwar arguments that now seem prescient.

At worst, those who were skeptical about the case for war had their patriotism and/or their sanity questioned. The New Republic now says that it “deeply regrets its early support for this war.” Does it also deeply regret accusing those who opposed rushing into war of “abject pacifism?”

Now, only a few neocon dead-enders still believe that this war was anything but a vast exercise in folly. And those who braved political pressure and ridicule to oppose what Al Gore has rightly called “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States” deserve some credit.

Unlike The Weekly Standard, which singled out those it thought had been proved wrong, I’d like to offer some praise to those who got it right. Here’s a partial honor roll:

Former President George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, explaining in 1998 why they didn’t go on to Baghdad in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

Representative Ike Skelton, September 2002: “I have no doubt that our military would decisively defeat Iraq’s forces and remove Saddam. But like the proverbial dog chasing the car down the road, we must consider what we would do after we caught it.”

Al Gore, September 2002: “I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”

Barack Obama, now a United States senator, September 2002: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

Representative John Spratt, October 2002: “The outcome after the conflict is actually going to be the hardest part, and it is far less certain.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker-elect, October 2002: “When we go in, the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited.”

Senator Russ Feingold, October 2002: “I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. ... When the administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the administration’s motives.”

Howard Dean, then a candidate for president and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, February 2003: “I firmly believe that the president is focusing our diplomats, our military, our intelligence agencies, and even our people on the wrong war, at the wrong time. ... Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.”

We should honor these people for their wisdom and courage. We should also ask why anyone who didn’t raise questions about the war — or, at any rate, anyone who acted as a cheerleader for this march of folly — should be taken seriously when he or she talks about matters of national security.

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Not What the American or Iraqi People Want

For all the hype, the Iraq Study Group offers two fundamental recommendations that the president might even be able to implement: The group calls for the United States to engage Iraq's neighbors, specifically Iran and Syria. The group recommends a shift in U.S. military force posture and approach from "combat" to training and advice to Iraqi forces.

The Iraq Study Group should be thanked for its service to America in throwing a bucket of cold water on the White House. But post-election, the Commission's many recommendations are merely the opening salvo of a barrage of recommendations that will now emerge from the government, the think tanks, and the politicos.

The wise men have confirmed what the American public has known for some time: Iraq is finished. Our strategy, whatever it is, isn't working. It is mighty disappointing, but not surprising, though that the Study Group couldn't see that there is nothing left that the United States can do to really influence what will happen there. What is more, what it actually is proposing in its two fundamental points isn't necessarily going to make any difference.

I already have written skeptically as to whether Iran and Syria will see it in their interests to assist the Bush administration. I wonder, if the president were to engage them successfully, whether their input would help. Washington's latest sage rule is that we should talk to our adversaries, just as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Only an extremist -- the president and the vice president, that is -- would argue that we shouldn't at least talk. But I doubt that bringing Iran and Syria into the mix is the panacea that the study group and reasonable Washington now pretends it is.

So, I am left thinking that it is not even a decent bet that asking Iran and Syria to lend their good offices to a healthy Iraq would yield much. It isn't clear that they would play. It isn't clear that they would be helpful if they did. The "process" of diplomacy and the inevitable wait that the United States would have to accept while questionable parties huddled to "negotiate" and arm twist and cut their own deals merely kicks the day of reckoning further down the road.

In the short term, the study group recommends an unclear and contradictory course for the American military. The call for the withdrawal of the U.S. "combat" troops is so qualified and hedged, I'm not sure that the headlines -- that the study group is calling for the removal of all combat brigades by early 2008 -- is even true. On the one hand, the group recommends that the independent conventional forces be removed. On the other, it calls for a significant force to stay, including special operations forces.

What the group is fundamentally proposing though is that the core of the U.S. military effort switches from independent combat to a combined U.S.-Iraqi effort.The number of U.S. personnel in uniform embedded in Iraqi units would increase significantly under this proposal.

Regardless of whether the president surges more forces to Iraq, whether or not he follows through on the study group's suggestion and indeed draws down independent U.S. combat brigades, builds a rapid reaction force, reduces the American footprint, the accelerated training mission is already underway.

Just like the imagined silver bullet of diplomacy with Iran and Syria, the tough question here is whether the training and advisory approach will make a difference. I don't think so for a number of reasons. First, we are assigning U.S. troops to an even more sensitive and intimate mission with Iraqi players when we have already shown time and again that we are culturally challenged when it comes to understanding the Iraqis. Second, we are shifting responsibility for the security and success of U.S. forces to another party, one whose motivations and capabilities are suspect.

This is not some back-handed stay the course argument. I think we should get out altogether.

But let's be realistic about what will likely unfold even if we adapt the group's proposal: First, there is the question again of waiting for the Iraqis to assume the responsibilities we are thrusting upon them. No wonder Baker and others speak of "years" of continued U.S. presence. Second there remains the question of Baghdad's authority and national mandate. It isn't clear that the Shi'a dominated government -- the faction of the Shiite-dominated government -- is interested in a national military for the purpose of bringing the country together.

I understand that this "new" solution is Washington's way of withdrawing without saying it is withdrawing. But there is too much hope associated with the shift: hope that if we just redouble our effort with the Iraqis, they will all of a sudden get it and transform. In here as well is the strange article of faith that less capable Iraqi military units will succeed where more capable U.S. units failed. It seems to me that if we are admitting that there is no military solution to the problem, there is no Iraqi military solution either.

And then there is the question of Americans in uniform being thrust into an impossible position. I know that the embedded American will be there to teach their Iraqi counterparts how to shoot straight, as show an example of camaraderie, and to school them in human rights and the laws of war. But it is only a matter of time before Americans are thrust in the middle of blood letting and abuse.

Here's how I see Iraq playing out in the short term: The president makes an announcement within a month about his "new" plan. Washington is ever so pleased with a new approach. But the a la carte plan is seen by the Iraqis for what it is; it is not a U.S. timetable for withdrawal. It is not an unequivocal pledge not to establish permanent bases. It is sovereignty and authority in name only for Iraq with continued American control behind the scenes. I can't see who any of this equivocation will deflate the insurgency or stem the hatred for America that is fueled by our presence.

The "plan," in other words, is neither what the American people nor the Iraqi people want.

By William M. Arkin | December 7, 2006; 9:00 AM ET

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The GOP's Southern Exposure

The GOP's Southern Exposure

By Harold Meyerson
Thursday, December 7, 2006; A31

You've seen the numbers and understand that America is growing steadily less white. You try to push your party, the Grand Old Party, ahead of this curve by taking a tolerant stance on immigration and making common cause with some black churches. Then you go and blow it all in a desperate attempt to turn out your base by demonizing immigrants and running racist ads against Harold Ford. On Election Day, black support for Democrats remains high; Hispanic support for Democrats surges. So what do you do next?

What else? Elect Trent Lott your deputy leader in the Senate. Sure locks in the support of any stray voters who went for Strom in '48.

In case you haven't noticed, a fundamental axiom of modern American politics has been altered in recent weeks. For four decades, it's been the Democrats who've had a Southern problem. Couldn't get any votes for their presidential candidates there; couldn't elect any senators, then any House members, then any dogcatchers. They still can't, but the Southern problem, it turns out, is really the Republicans'. They've become too Southern -- too suffused with the knee-jerk militaristic, anti-scientific, dogmatically religious, and culturally, sexually and racially phobic attitudes of Dixie -- to win friends and influence elections outside the South. Worse yet, they became more Southern still on Election Day last month, when the Democrats decimated the GOP in the North and West. Twenty-seven of the Democrats' 30 House pickups came outside the South.

The Democrats won control of five state legislatures, all outside the South, and took more than 300 state legislative seats away from Republicans, 93 percent of them outside the South. As for the new Senate Republican caucus that chose Mississippi's Lott over Tennessee's Lamar Alexander to be deputy to Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, 17 of its 49 members come from the Confederacy proper, with another three from the old border states of Kentucky and Missouri, and two more from Oklahoma, which is Southern but with more dust. In all, 45 percent of Republican senators come from the Greater South.

More problematic, so does most of the Republican message. Following the gospel according to Rove (fear not swing voters but pander to and mobilize thy base), George W. Bush and the Republican Congress, together or separately, had already blocked stem cell research, disparaged nonmilitary statecraft, exalted executive wartime power over constitutional niceties, campaigned repeatedly against gay rights, thrown public money at conservative churches and investigated the tax status of liberal ones. In the process, they alienated not just moderates but Western-state libertarians.

The one strategist who fundamentally predicted the new geography of partisan American politics is Tom Schaller, a University of Maryland political scientist whose book "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South" appeared several months before November's elections. Schaller argued that the Democrats' growth would occur in the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, the Mountain West and the Southwest -- areas where professionals, appalled by Republican Bible Beltery, were trending Democratic and where working-class whites voted their pocketbooks in a way that their Southern counterparts did not. Al Gore carried white voters outside the South, Schaller reminded us; even hapless John Kerry came close.

The challenge for Republicans -- and for such presidential aspirants as John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in particular -- is how to bridge the widening gap between their Southern base and the rest of the nation. The persistence of Southern exceptionalism is clear in the networks' exit polls, in which fully half of Southern voters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, while just one-third of the entire nation's voters did so. It's clear from the fact that in a period of broad economic stagnation, the populism of working-class Southern whites, like a record stuck in a groove, remains targeted more against cultural than economic elites.

Indeed, scratch the surface of some of our current hot-button issues and you find age-old regional conflicts. Wal-Mart's practice, for instance, of offering low wages and no benefits to its employees begins in the rural South, where it's no deviation from the norm. Only when Wal-Mart expands this practice to the metropolises of the North and West, threatening the living standards of unionized retail workers, does it encounter roadblocks, usually statutory, to its entry into new markets.

So: A Southern low-wage labor system is cruising along until it seeks to expand outside its region and meets fierce opposition from higher-paid workers in the North. Does that suggest any earlier episode in American history? The past, as William Faulkner once wrote of the South, isn't even past. And now the persistence of Southern identity has become a bigger problem for Republicans than it is for Democrats.

BriTV - The Most Amazing Column Ever

The Most Amazing Column Ever
by BriVT (dailykos)
Thu Dec 07, 2006 at 03:27:22 AM PST

I realize this piece was mentioned a couple of times yesterday, but ... not with the force necessary. For this truly is one of the most amazing columns ever. I literally laughed and nearly literally cried. It's tragic, and comic, and disgusting, and sad. I've just ... well, I've never seen anything quite like it. It's like an era passing, a world ending with a whimper in the form of a mailed-in column by a man who doesn't realize his time is up, the pundit version of a crank on the street talking about how he used to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. And it just says volumes about the charade known as the Iraq Study Group.

I'm speaking, of course, of David Broder ...

Well, let's jump right into the bracing first paragraph:

Whatever the final impact of the Iraq Study Group report being issued today, for the 10 commission members this was an exhilarating experience, a demonstration of genuine bipartisanship that they hope will serve as an example to the broader political world.

Mmmm-kay. Sure. Because the fact that this was an exhilarating experience matters so much more than the final impact of the report. Amazing how the actual real-world impact is tossed aside so casually.

The column goes on to celebrate how Bipartisaon it wall was, and how everyone on it was a "professional" and how the commission members were all Old (literally) and Wise, blah, blah. The usual stuff, only taken to an extreme so refined it is farce with a self-congratulatory tone that really has to be seen to be believed.

Leon Panetta, a former Democratic congressman and Clinton White House chief of staff, said the high average age of the 10 commission members contributed to its success. "This is a different generation of policymakers," said Panetta, who at 68 was one of the youngest members. "These are people who have very different views but are comfortable trying to understand each other and coming together to solve a terrible issue facing the country."

Little Leon Panetta, the young buck of the commission at 68, lectures all the younger generations. "This is how it's done, sonny," he says. "You little shits don't know how to do this thing. You never did, ever since you did that whole free love or stuff deer heads into mailboxes craziness, depending on which side you were on."

Despite all the goodwill, several of the members recounted that toward the end of their deliberations, one commissioner -- not someone who had served in Congress, they noted -- said he would not sign the report if one part was not removed.

James A. Baker III, the former Republican secretary of state, glanced at his co-chairman, former Democratic representative Lee Hamilton, and calmly said to the dissenter, "Okay, don't."

A little later, others recalled, the dissenting member asked to return to the disputed passage and, in short order, agreed to slightly modified language.

"No one wanted to see us embarrassed by being unable to come to consensus," Simpson said.

Yes, because embarrassment of the Old Men (and Woman) is a Very Important Consideration. But did you see how the ol' Velvet Hammer put down that dissenter? Boyo, he showed him! And, faced with ostracizement from the Very Important Consensus, that person came crawling back, abashed at stepping out of line.

And there's the nutgraph, so to speak. It's there that the column turns. Because that's the whole problem here. These guys (Broder, especially) are living in a world where membership into their little club of Very Important and Serious People is the end-all and be-all of ambitions. If you are out of the club, you are nothing. But, guys (and gal), the world just isn't like that. Bush doesn't give a shit if he belongs to your little club and that's one of the few things he's in the mainstream on. And, yeah, I ended a sentence with a preposition ... whaddya gonna do about it?

And from there, the column just becomes a satire, an unaware mocking of a world gone by.

Panetta observed that while most of the commission members had had some dealings with each other in their previous positions, they really bonded during their inspection trip to Baghdad earlier this year. "Fifteen hours on the plane together and three days in a tough place -- that was a human experience where we shared a lot and really got to know each other," he said.

Fifteen hours in a plane and three days being ferried around in armored limos. I wouldn't exactly call that "foxhole bonding." I mean, I guess it's not Davos, so it's all relative, right? While they pat themselves on the back and ruminate on the bonding experience of fact-finding trips, millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Americans are living in a hell in which they wouldn't last five minutes. Are they really this out of touch?

When I asked the commission members whether they thought their experience of coming to agreement could serve as an example to others, the answers were emphatic.

"Hopefully," Jordan said, "the House and Senate and both political parties will be instructed by our process. In the rollout, we're going to try to provide that example. I'll be going around with Ed Meese," the former Republican attorney general, "and there will be other bipartisan pairs, led by Baker and Hamilton."

Vernon Jordan and Ed Meese ... if they can come together, who can't? And everyone else can be "instructed by our process." These folks have lived in a rarified world for so long, they don't realize that the differences they see in each other are mere surface differences that are close to indistinguishable to the rest of us. It's like watching two penquins lecture me on overcoming differences. Um, Vernon, I can't tell you folks apart while your limos speed by ... skin color doesn't make a difference when all your windows are tinted.

When I put the question to Panetta, he said, "Our forefathers intended that a process like this work for people elected to office -- the president and members of Congress in both the House and Senate. They believed they would come from different places but ultimately find consensus -- that was the Miracle of Philadelphia," the compromise that produced the Constitution.

"What's unusual now is their contracting out to people like us a job that elected officials are supposed to do -- finding consensus on difficult issues. I hope this will be a lesson to them; otherwise, we're in for continued trench warfare."

Wow. Just ... wow. I'm speechless. Did he just compare the Iraq Survey Group to the Constitutional Convention?

Simpson was even more expansive. "This could be an example, not only of how to handle Iraq, but it could apply to immigration, Social Security and all those other things that have been hung up for so long. That's what this last election said: Get serious and get your work done."

I hope Washington is listening.

Actually, I thought the message of the last election was: stop being right-wing assholes. But I'll concede that that was just me.

But here's the point: the Iraq Study Group didn't solve a goddamn thing. They are so enamored of their process and consensus that they just don't see that the world changed. None of their recommendations are bold or interesting. If you gave me a couple days and told me, "Come up with a boring, pale distillation of what the Conventional Wisdom would come up with as a plan for Iraq," I would come up with something almost exactly like the Executive Summary I read.

But they try so hard, and in between the rage I feel toward the hideousness of their self-regard, I must confess to feeling just a little bit of melancholy. The myth of a bipartisan, wise consensus that can lead us out of the mess we find ourselves is a comforting one. It's like sitting in the backseat of the car lost on a family trip with your parents holding the map. You know you don't have to worry because they'll figure out where we're going. And for some, like David Broder I guess, that fantasy has lingered. And seeing it ... well, it's like watching the end of a Shakespeare tragedy. They deserve what the irrelevance that's theirs, but ... there's still a certain melancholy to the whole thing.

But, we're all grown-ups now, and I gave up the myth of the Infallible Bipartisan Consensus years ago. And The Wise Men of Washington have been utterly destroyed by the incredibly destructive force of nature known as the George W. Bush Administration. Bush and his folks gave the final blow to the world that came before, the world of Consensus Building and Calm Deliberation. They crumbled the foundations of all the assumptions that made that world tick, the unspoken rules of decorum, the shared morality of American politics, and the political niceties of seniority and reverance for the inner sanctum of the annointed. And the David Broders of the world who try to bring it back have about as much relevance as someone pining for the return of abstinence-until-marriage. Those days are gone.

Just watch. The Iraq Study Group report will fade far faster than anyone suspected. In a matter of weeks, it'll no longer be a major touch-stone of the debate. In fact, after the holidays, it may make barely an appearance into the New Year, and if it does, it'll only be as a rhetorical device by some folks or another. Because the days where the recommendations of careful, insider bipartisanship had any relevance are gone. The abdication of that world to George W. Bush came in 2002 and 2003, and there's nothing they can do to bring back their position now.

Wars change countries in very unpredictable ways. It can never be controlled and channeled. And, while the Iraq War is not a large one in the context of other wars this country has fought, its effect on the psyche of the nation will exceed wars many times its size in casualties and divisions engaged. I'm not sure what exactly where heading toward, I don't have any idea if it will be fairly good or incredibly bad (the range of possible I see), but I do know one thing: the world of James Baker and Lee Hamilton is gone forever.

David Broder and the Iraq Study Group are horse-n-buggy riders in the age of automobiles.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Culture Shock on Capitol Hill: House to Work 5 Days a Week

Culture Shock on Capitol Hill: House to Work 5 Days a Week

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 6, 2006; A01

Forget the minimum wage. Or outsourcing jobs overseas. The labor issue most on the minds of members of Congress yesterday was their own: They will have to work five days a week starting in January.

The horror.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who will become House majority leader and is writing the schedule for the next Congress, said members should expect longer hours than the brief week they have grown accustomed to.

"I have bad news for you," Hoyer told reporters. "Those trips you had planned in January, forget 'em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th."

The reporters groaned. "I know, it's awful, isn't it?" Hoyer empathized.

For lawmakers, it is awful, compared with what they have come to expect. For much of this election year, the legislative week started late Tuesday and ended by Thursday afternoon -- and that was during the relatively few weeks the House wasn't in recess.

Next year, members of the House will be expected in the Capitol for votes each week by 6:30 p.m. Monday and will finish their business about 2 p.m. Friday, Hoyer said.

With the new calendar, the Democrats are trying to project a businesslike image when they take control of Congress in January. House and Senate Democratic leaders have announced an ambitious agenda for their first 100 hours and say they are adamant about scoring legislative victories they can trumpet in the 2008 campaigns.

Hoyer and other Democratic leaders say they are trying to repair the image of Congress, which was so anemic this year it could not meet a basic duty: to approve spending bills that fund government. By the time the gavel comes down on the 109th Congress on Friday, members will have worked a total of 103 days. That's seven days fewer than the infamous "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948.

Hoyer said members can bid farewell to extended holidays, the kind that awarded them six weekdays to relax around Memorial Day, when most Americans get a single day off. He didn't mention the month-long August recess, the two-week April recess or the weeks off in February, March and July.

He said members need to spend more time in the Capitol to pass laws and oversee federal agencies. "We are going to meet sufficient times, so the committees can do their jobs on behalf of the American people," he said.

For lawmakers within a reasonable commute of Washington, longer weeks are not a burden -- although they are likely to cut into members' fundraising and campaigning activities. But for members from Alaska and Hawaii, the West Coast, or rural states, the new schedule will mean less time at home and more stress.

"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

Time away from Washington is just as important to being an effective member of Congress as time spent in the Capitol, Kingston added. "When I'm here, people call me Mr. Congressman. When I'm home, people call me 'Jack, you stupid SOB, why did you vote that way?' It keeps me grounded."

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), who had intended to retire this year, only to be persuaded to run again, wondered whether the new schedule was more than symbolic. "If we're doing something truly productive, that's one thing," he said. "If it's smoke-and-mirrors hoopla, that's another."

Senate leaders have not set their schedule, but the upper chamber generally works a longer week than the House, though important votes or hearings are usually not scheduled on Mondays or Fridays.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), one of the architects of the lighter workweek, put the best Republican face on Hoyer's new schedule.

"They've got a lot more freshmen then we do," he said of the Democrats. "That schedule will make it incredibly difficult for those freshmen to establish themselves in their districts. So we're all for it."

The new schedule poses a headache for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who runs her 7-year-old daughter's Brownie troop meetings on Monday afternoons in Weston, Fla. "I'll have to talk to the other mothers and see if we can move it to the weekend," she said.

Setting a calendar that satisfies 435 members is impossible, said the current majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who will become minority leader in January. "Between the travel issues, the members' work schedules, the family and district issues, it was a Rubik's cube," he said.

But most Democrats, some still giddy from their election victories, seemed game.

"It's long overdue," said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who lives in Napa Valley and will have to leave his home at 3 a.m. on Sundays to catch a flight to Washington in time for work Mondays. "I didn't come here to turn around and go back home."

Staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Paul Krugman - Two More Years

Two More Years


At a reception following the midterm election, President Bush approached Senator-elect James Webb.

“How’s your boy?” asked Mr. Bush.

“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” replied Mr. Webb, whose son, a Marine lance corporal, is risking his life in Mr. Bush’s war of choice.

“That’s not what I asked you,” the president snapped. “How’s your boy?”

“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” said Mr. Webb.

Good for him. We need people in Washington who are willing to stand up to the bully in chief. Unfortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, they’re still in short supply.

You can understand, if not condone, the way the political and media establishment let itself be browbeaten by Mr. Bush in his post-9/11 political prime. What’s amazing is the extent to which insiders still cringe before a lame duck with a 60 percent disapproval rating.

Look at what seems to have happened to the Iraq Study Group, whose mission statement says that it would provide an “independent assessment.” If press reports are correct, the group did nothing of the sort. Instead, it watered down its conclusions and recommendations, trying to come up with something Mr. Bush wouldn’t reject out of hand.

In particular, says Newsweek, the report “will set no timetables or call for any troop reductions.” All it will do is “suggest that the president could, not should, begin to withdraw forces in the vaguely defined future.”

And all this self-abasement is for naught. Senior Bush aides, Newsweek tells us, are “dismissive, even condescending” toward James Baker, the Bush family consigliere who is the dominant force in the study group, and the report. Of course they are. That’s how bullies always treat their hangers-on.

Even now, it seems, the wise men of Washington can’t bring themselves to face up to two glaringly obvious truths.

The first is that Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq for no reason.

It’s true that terrible things will happen when U.S. forces withdraw. Mr. Bush was attacking a straw man when he mocked those who think we can make a “graceful exit” from Iraq. Everyone I know realizes that the civil war will get even worse after we’re gone, and that there will probably be a bloody bout of ethnic cleansing that effectively partitions the country into hostile segments.

But nobody — not even Donald Rumsfeld, it turns out — thinks we’re making progress in Iraq. So the same terrible things that would happen if we withdrew soon will still happen if we delay that withdrawal for two, three or more years. The only difference is that we’ll sacrifice many more American lives along the way.

The second truth is that the war will go on all the same, unless something or someone forces Mr. Bush to change course.

During his recent trip to Vietnam, Mr. Bush was asked whether there were any lessons from that conflict for Iraq. His response: “We’ll succeed unless we quit.”

It was a bizarre answer given both the history of the Vietnam War and the facts on the ground in Iraq, but it makes perfect sense given what we know about Mr. Bush’s character. He has never been willing to own up to mistakes, however trivial. If he were to accept the failure of his adventure in Iraq, he would be admitting, at least implicitly, to having made the mother of all mistakes.

So Mr. Bush will keep sending other men’s children off to fight his war. And he’ll always insist that Iraq would have been a great victory if only his successors had shared his steely determination.

Does this mean that we’re doomed to at least two more years of bloody futility? Not necessarily. Last month the public delivered a huge vote of no confidence in Mr. Bush and his war. He’s still the commander in chief, but the new majority in Congress can put a lot of pressure on him to at least begin a withdrawal.

I’m worried, however, that Democrats may have counted on the Iraq Study Group to provide them with political cover. Now that the study group has apparently wimped out, will the Democrats do the same?

Well, here’s a question for those who might be tempted, yet again, to shy away from a confrontation with Mr. Bush over Iraq: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bully’s ego?

U.S. Report Finds Fault in Training of Afghan Police

December 3, 2006
U.S. Report Finds Fault in Training of Afghan Police

Five years after the fall of the Taliban, a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department has found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone.

In fact, most police units had less than 50 percent of their authorized equipment on hand as of June, says the report, which was issued two weeks ago but is only now circulating among members of relevant Congressional committees.

In its most significant finding, the report said that no effective field training program had been established in Afghanistan, at least in part because of a slow, ineffectual start and understaffing.

Police training experts who have studied or had first-hand experience with the American effort in Afghanistan said they agreed with the report’s findings, and some said they had warned for years that field training was the backbone of a strong program. But they said additional problems needed to be investigated, including the quality of private contractors and the cost and effectiveness of relying on them to train the police officers. In particular, the experts questioned why the report focused on United States government managers and only glancingly analyzed the performance of the principal contractor in Afghanistan, DynCorp International of Virginia.

Considering the state of the police force, an estimated $600 million per year will be needed indefinitely to sustain it, says the report, undertaken by the offices of the inspectors general at the Pentagon and the State Department. Howard J. Krongard is the inspector general at State, which led the work on the 97-page report, and Thomas F. Gimble holds the office at the Pentagon.

American advisers will also have to combat endemic corruption in the force, the report says.

Efforts to respond to some of the issues that the report identifies are already under way. Afghan and American officials recently announced that they had instituted an “auxiliary police” program at the end of the summer, which aims to hire 11,200 officers in parts of the country beset by Taliban attacks, primarily in the south.

But these officers receive only two of the standard eights weeks of training, and the police training experts say the program could worsen the situation. They say the new hastily created program could place ill-trained and poorly vetted officers in the field and allow militias and criminals to infiltrate the force.

An American official involved in the new effort said the program became necessary after southern governors besieged by Taliban attacks began hiring police officers on their own. American officials feared they were seeing the beginnings of de facto private militias.

“This was designed to avoid the creation of the militias,” said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly.

The training experts say the United States made some of the same mistakes in training police forces in Afghanistan that it made in Iraq, including offering far too little field training, tracking equipment poorly and relying on private contractors for the actual training. At the same time, these experts say, the failure to create viable police forces to keep order and enforce the law on a local level has played a pivotal role in undermining the American efforts to stabilize both countries.

In Afghanistan, the failure has contributed to the explosion in opium production, government corruption and the resurgence of the Taliban.

In Iraq, the challenge is even larger: Sectarian death squads have infiltrated the police force and helped push the country to what many are now calling a civil war.

“In both places we were extraordinarily late getting started,” said Robert M. Perito, a policing expert at the United States Institute of Peace and a former National Security Council, State and Justice Department official. “In both places you have a dysfunctional Interior Ministry in control, and in both places the United States has tried to stand up a ministry advisory group to bring order out of chaos.”

In an interview this fall, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said the violence in the country’s south was partly a result of the lack of a viable force. He called for “much more support” from the United States and for an expansion of the country’s force of roughly 70,000 officers.

“It is not that they are strong,” he said, referring to the Taliban. “It is that we are not strong enough to defend ourselves.”

Most of the $1.1 billion the United States has spent on the training program in Afghanistan has gone to DynCorp, a technical services company based in Falls Church, Va., with 14,000 employees in about 33 countries. DynCorp also won the largest part of the training work in Iraq; it received $1.6 billion for its training and security work in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 fiscal years, according to Gregory Lagana, a company spokesman. The work accounted for roughly 30 percent of the company’s revenues during those years. In May, the company raised $375 million in an initial public offering of its stock.

Under orders from the Defense Department, the company has deployed 377 police advisers to Afghanistan, roughly half the number the United States has deployed in Iraq. Police training experts say far more police advisers are needed in Afghanistan, which is roughly the same size as Iraq. The report says that management of the DynCorp contract by United States government officials in Afghanistan has fallen into a state of disarray; conflicting military and civilian bureaucracies could not even find a copy of the contract to clarify for auditors exactly what it called for.

The report does not suggest that DynCorp held any responsibility for the program’s failures, but former Afghan officials and several American policing experts who have examined DynCorp’s training on the ground say that the company is partly to blame for long delays and that the use of private contractors for training should be reviewed. Afghan officials have complained about the high cost of the advisers and have said that some have too little experience.

Ali Jalali, an Afghan-American military historian who served as interior minister from 2002 to 2005, said the expertise level of some DynCorp advisers sent to his ministry was mixed. He said he rejected the first group he was offered because their résumés were unimpressive. When a second group arrived, some were retired officers not up to the demands of working in Afghanistan, he said. Others knew virtually nothing about the country.

“They were good on patrols in Oklahoma City, Houston or Miami,” said Mr. Jalali, now a professor at the National Defense University in Washington. “But not in a country where you faced rebuilding the police force.”

Mr. Lagana defended the company’s work and said State Department officials closely monitored their activities. He said the Interior Ministry advisers who drew complaints regarding their experience level were removed.

“We filled positions based on the requirements and salary levels authorized by the State Department,” Mr. Lagana said. “As we went along, everyone realized we needed people with experience at higher levels in law enforcement.”

Seth Jones, an Afghanistan expert at the RAND Corporation who has made eight trips to Afghanistan since 2003 to study army and police training, called for a review of the company’s performance. He said he had repeatedly heard complaints from both Western and Afghan officials in Afghanistan about the quality and experience of DynCorp’s advisers.

“I was surprised, based on what I have seen on the ground, that DynCorp was let off the hook so easily,” he said of the report. “I think a very frank assessment of DynCorp needs to be done.”

Mr. Krongard, the State Department inspector general, acknowledged the seriousness of the report’s criticisms. But he said in a statement in answer to questions about the report that in the face of obstacles like largely illiterate recruits, low pay and corruption, the program was “generally well conceived and well executed,” but that for the police force to be self-sustaining, “long-term U.S. and international assistance and funding will be required at least beyond 2010.”

The report concluded that the official figure of 70,000 trained police officers was inflated and that only where American advisers were present was the counting reliable to some degree.

As a best estimate, the report said that 30,395 Afghan officers — fewer than half the official total — were “trained and equipped to carry out their police functions.”

The report also says that the vetting process for recruits, intended to keep the Taliban and people with powerful sectarian or tribal loyalties out of police ranks, has not been effective. After recruits are trained, they are often assigned by local police commanders to menial tasks like guard duty.

The international effort lost critical time when it initially mounted a token effort to train officers in Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials and policing experts. For the first two and a half years after the fall of the Taliban, no systematic police training program existed outside of Afghanistan’s capital, according to American and Afghan officials. The United States focused on training a new multiethnic army and paid little attention to the need for policemen. Germany pledged to train a new force but sent only 40 police advisers to Kabul.

Then, in 2004, the State Department issued a contract to DynCorp to deploy 30 police advisers across Afghanistan and construct seven regional training centers.

The United States spent $164 million building and running the training centers; recruits received two to four weeks of training. The effort was poorly monitored and achieved mixed results, according to a June 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office.

In April 2005, the Defense Department took over police training in Afghanistan and drastically expanded the number of American police advisers; the number is 377 today. Still, police training experts said the Afghanistan effort remained far too small, with small teams of advisers each expected to field train thousands of Afghan policemen.

The small corps of advisers also makes it more difficult to track equipment, and the report said that just 3,000 of 5,000 vehicles issued to the police nationwide could be accounted for. Although the report does not explicitly connect its warnings on corruption to the loss of equipment, the two appear to be closely related.

The weakness of the police has contributed to Afghanistan become world’s largest producer of opium, accounting for 92 percent of the world’s supply, experts said. A report issued by the United Nations Office of Drug Control and the World Bank last Tuesday found that corruption had stymied efforts to counter opium production and that a handful of politically connected traffickers increasingly dominated the drug trade.

“The drug industry in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly consolidated,” the report says. “At the top level, around 25-30 key traffickers, the majority of them in southern Afghanistan, control major transactions and transfers, working closely with sponsors in top government and political positions.”

The report on police training strongly recommends expanding the advising program to take care of some of those problems but points out that an expansion would cost the United States much more money “as well as increasing the risk to U.S. personnel.”

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

9/11 Is Why He's The Worst President Ever

9/11 Is Why He's The Worst President Ever

by Bob Cesca

In Sunday's Washington Post, Douglas Brinkley opened the official public portion of the debate amongst historians as to whether President Bush has been the worst president in American history. Meanwhile, the debate on this topic has been on-going in the blogosphere for as long as I can remember. Brinkley writes that it's the Iraq War which will place George W. Bush amongst our worst presidents and most of us from the blogs can agree that it's one of the leading trespasses on a long, long list.

I don't. Iraq is a terrible symptom of the president's horrifyingly awful reaction to September 11. It is his mishandling of 9/11, ultimately, that makes him not amongst our worst, but the worst American president.

I've always held that anyone -- even a child -- would've reacted similarly to President Bush during and after 9/11 in all aspects. His stunned inaction during My Pet Goat in Florida; his initial statements; his address before the joint session of Congress; the invasion of Afghanistan; everything. All predictable, all textbook, all ordinary. It was all too typical of President Bush's mediocre nature: do what is basically expected, but not much else. And then, rather than using 9/11 as a means to unify us all through humanitarian legislation and positive, uplifting acts to truly change the world for the better, the president instead exploited 9/11 with the goal of consolidating executive power and selfishly indulging the foreign policy whimsy of his associates.

Almost as tragic as the attacks themselves, President Bush turned the nation and the world down a path of darkness, tragedy and more death. America is more divided than it has been since the Civil War. Many former allies disdain and merely tolerate us. It's difficult to image now that the people of Iran -- an "axis of evil" nation -- held massive candlelight vigils honoring our fallen citizens. As a result of the president's 9/11 reactions, Republicans, in their defense of the president, have tossed aside intellectual honesty, rationality and thoughtfulness, while Democrats, with their patriotism constantly and wrongfully at issue, have either acquiesced or have allowed formerly important issues to sag under the weight of dealing with cleaning up the president's mistakes.

Looking back at the last five years, I can't help but to compare our recent history to a time travel movie in which the time-space continuum has skewed into an alternate reality and the events that should've happened after 9/11... simply never existed. In other words, September 11 should have initiated an era of peace and collective world unity. But through the president's incompetence, stubbornness, ambition and greed, the polar opposite has occurred. For five years, we've lived in a shadow world in which Biff Tannen is a wealthy gambling kingpin -- his pearl-handled revolver aimed at Michael J Fox's head.

I firmly believe that President Bush's incompetent actions from 9/11 through today will be viewed as one of the great historical "what ifs." Imagine if Nixon had been president during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Imagine if Stephen Douglas had defeated Lincoln and allowed secession and continued slavery. Imagine if the French hadn't joined us in our fight for independence. Since 9/11, it feels as if we've lived through one of those dark what ifs.

Imagine if President Bush had been a better man and used 9/11 to appeal to the better angels of our nature. What if he hadn't withdrawn much of his financial pledge to help the heroes of 9/11 with medical costs, and, now that they're no longer useful in photo ops, has allowed them to die slow, painful deaths mired in bankruptcy?

What if the president had pledged as much money and support for the surviving first responders as he has for Halliburton and the Iraq War? Further, what if the president, instead of the USA Patriot Act, had asked Congress to pass legislation to fully fund health care and compensation in perpetuity for every 9/11 first responder?

What if the president had kept his eye on Bin Laden rather than pulling out, leaving Afghanistan to flounder and Bin Laden to escape unharmed?

What if, like Lincoln (the president's unlikely roll model), the president had used 9/11 as a catalyst to inaugurate an era of renewed equality?

What if the president had preserved our liberties and worked in a bipartisan way in Washington, rather than chiseling away our rights and destroying the national unity that we felt on those days in September?

What if the president hadn't exploited 9/11 so flagrantly for politics and profit as to strip it of its deserved reverence?

What if, instead of a man who actually grins and smirks when discussing Iraq casualties, we had a president with the intellectual and oratory chops to make any of these "what ifs" a reality, because President Bush surely does not.

A better man usually aspires to positivity in the face of tragedy and brutality, but in the final analysis history will show that President Bush barely even tried.

It's a hell of a lot easier and feels so much better to appeal to the reactionary aspects of human nature: the lizard brain fight or flight instincts we all have. It's easy, then, for American leaders to pursue and exact revenge, especially when our nation is the sole military superpower. "The people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon," isn't the modern equivalent of "four score and seven years ago" or "a date which will live in infamy." It was a ham-fisted applause line. It was an easy statement of vengeance. And it was his finest moment. Later, in an address at ground zero, the president recycled the Gettysburg Address which not only served to devalue the impact of Lincoln's words, but also exposed the president as unoriginal and, in context of others like Lincoln, made the president seem small and inadequate.

Can you remember a single complete line from the president's 9/20 joint session address? I can't. Thinking back to those weeks, I remember a litany of bumper sticker slogans better suited for tourist traps than the Oval Office. Slogans like "smoke the evildoers out of their holes" and "we will not be cowed" and "watch this putt" are amongst the first to come to mind. Not quite the caliber of sentiments expected of a world leader whose every word, as the elected representative of his people, should have rightfully reflected the posterity of those who died on that day.

Thousands of men and women were killed in an attack which stemmed from American foreign policy blowback, and the most memorable lines President Bush could deliver to amounted to a syllabus of roadside billboards and poorly translated lines from a bad video game. I recall waiting for his next line to be, "All your base are belong to us." He came close to that Zero Wing line with, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." There it is. There's the line. I remember now. His most memorable line from the 9/20 was an ultimatum to people like Saddam Hussein and, I believe, most of the Democrats and the news media. Subsequently, both the traditional media and the Democrats alike caved on the Patriot Act and every lie perpetrated in the lead-up and early execution of the Iraq War.

Iraq itself certainly carries more than enough weight to make President Bush one of the worst president's ever. But despite its nonexistent connection to 9/11, Iraq was, in the mind of the president, an opportunistic reaction to 9/11. Iraq was the Pearl Harbor event heralding an Iraq invasion the PNAC neocons fantasized about in the 1990s. So you can't cite Iraq without forever coupling it with 9/11 as the latest and most deadly result of "hearing from all of us."

The myth of President Bush as somehow a "hero" of 9/11 needs to end. If we can, for just a moment, look through the smoke, rubble and death and evaluate our chief executive's reactions to 9/11, it's easy to see a man who wasn't meant to be president during this era -- a man who most definitely was not designed for his time.

If we set aside the benefit of the doubt the president received after 9/11, it's easy to recall a series of decisions that guided us into more darkness and death, rather than the enlightenment of a new era in world history. Instead of compassion, inspiration and humility, we can easily recall indulgence, dangerous pride and indignity; sloganeering and exploitation in lieu of positive words and deeds -- words and deeds which so many of his predecessors have managed to summon under similar duress.

The feeble, laughable President Bush that's emerged in recent years is the President Bush that would've existed throughout his first term had 9/11 never happened. Were it not for the undeserved support he received after 9/11 -- support which didn't reflect upon him, but rather on the patriotic instincts of America to rally around the president (any president) -- he would've surely lost his re-election bid and been relegated to the ranks of our most ineffectual presidents.

When you couple this basic incompetence with the awful track record of his post-9/11 history, it's not hard to rank him amongst our worst presidents. Far better presidents have been doomed to single terms, simply because they didn't have a major national crisis to falsely inflate their importance. But you'd be hard pressed to find any president who handled a national crisis in a similarly haphazard, destructive way. And there-in, lay the Iraq War.

He's Only Fifth Worst

He's Only Fifth Worst

By Michael Lind
Sunday, December 3, 2006; B05

It's unfair to claim that George W. Bush is the worst president of all time. He's merely the fifth worst. In the White House Hall of Shame, Bush comes behind four other Oval Officers whose policies were even more disastrous: James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and James Madison.

What makes a president horribly, immortally bad? Poor luck is not enough. Some of the greatest presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, have inherited crises and risen to the occasion. The damage must be largely self-inflicted. And there's another test: The damage to the nation must be substantial. Minor blunders and petty crimes do not land a president in the rogues' gallery.

Doing nothing can be even worse than doing something wrong. Take the worst president of all time, Buchanan. In office when Lincoln's election in 1860 triggered the secession of one Southern state after another, Buchanan sat by as the country crumbled. In his December 1860 message to Congress, three months before Lincoln was inaugurated, he declared that the states had no right to secede, but that the federal government had no right to stop them. By the time he left office, seven states had left the Union, and the Confederates had looted the arsenals in the South. If Buchanan had exercised his powers as commander in chief, the rebels might have been stopped at far less than the eventual cost of the Civil War -- more than half a million American dead and the ruin of the South for generations. (After he left the White House, Buchanan explained that he did not stop secession for fear that hostile blacks would overrun the North.)

The Civil War era also gave us the second-worst president: Johnson, Lincoln's vice president and successor, a Tennessean who vetoed civil rights acts and blocked the 14th Amendment because he didn't like blacks, of whom he declared, "It is vain to deny that they are an inferior race -- very far inferior to the European variety." Johnson's policies led to his impeachment and forced the Republicans in Congress to create a quasi-parliamentary system marginalizing the president. While Lincoln had his own racial prejudices, he was a model of enlightenment next to Johnson and Buchanan.

The third-worst president is Nixon, a criminal in the White House who is still the only commander in chief ever to resign. Many presidents have abused their power, and the "imperial presidency" existed long before Nixon. But he was the only president to run a criminal gang out of the Oval Office engaging in spying and burglary while he sought to corrupt the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA. (By contrast, Bush's misguided authorization of torture, secret CIA prisons and illegal eavesdropping were at least directed at suspected terrorists, not at his personal and political opponents.)

The damage Nixon inflicted might have endured had he established the principle that the president is above the law. As he told David Frost in a famous 1977 television interview, "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." Because of the exposure of Nixon's criminality during Watergate, we still live in a constitutional republic rather than a banana republic with an elective dictatorship.

Refusing to enforce the law while the country disintegrates, trying to re-enslave emancipated blacks, and doubling as chief magistrate and gangster -- what could rival these presidential misdeeds? Well, how about unnecessary and catastrophic wars?

To qualify a president for the Worst of All Time list, a war must be catastrophic as well as unnecessary. Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada, George H.W. Bush's invasion of Panama and Bill Clinton's invasion of Haiti don't cut it -- they were unnecessary, but minor. And presidents can be forgiven costly wars that were necessary or hard to avoid, such as Harry S. Truman's stalemated war in Korea and Lyndon B. Johnson's failed war in Vietnam, each of which was a Cold War battle more than a separate conflict. After 1950, U.S. strategy required Washington to go to war to prevent Soviet bloc proxies from taking over South Korea, Indochina and Taiwan -- the amazing thing is that the Cold War ended without a battle for Taiwan, too. Future historians are likely to be as kind to LBJ as they have been to Truman.

The two big, unjustified wars on my list are the War of 1812 and the current conflict in Iraq, and the first was far worse than the second. Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," was a great patriot, a brilliant intellectual -- and an absolutely abysmal president. In his defense, the world situation during the Napoleonic Wars was grim. The United States was a minor neutral nation that was frequently harassed by both of the warring empires, Britain and France. But cold geopolitics should have led Washington to prefer a British victory, which would have preserved a balance of power in Europe, to a French victory that would have left France an unchecked superpower. Instead, eager to conquer Spanish Florida and seize British Canada, Madison sided with the more dangerous power against the less dangerous. It is as though, after Pearl Harbor, FDR had joined the Axis and declared war on Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

It might have been worse. In 1812, Madison wrote Thomas Jefferson to ask what the former president thought of waging war simultaneously against Britain and France. Alarmed, Jefferson replied that this was "a solecism worthy of Don Quixote." Instead, the United States fought only the British, who torched Washington, D.C., while Madison and first lady Dolley fled to Virginia. Gen. Andrew Jackson's victory in the Battle of New Orleans (waged two weeks after the United States and Britain, unknown to Jackson, had signed a peace treaty) helped Americans pretend that the War of 1812 was something other than a total wipe-out.

By contrast, George W. Bush has inadvertently destroyed only Baghdad, not Washington, and the costs of the Iraq war in blood and treasure are far less than those of Korea and Vietnam. Yet he will be remembered for the Iraq conflict for generations, long after tax-cut-driven deficits, No Child Left Behind and comprehensive immigration reform are forgotten. The fact that Bush followed the invasion of Afghanistan, which had sheltered al-Qaeda, with the toppling of Saddam Hussein, will puzzle historians for centuries. It is as though, after Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, FDR had asked Congress to declare war on Argentina.

Why did Bush do it? Did he really believe that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Was it about oil? Israel? Revenge for Hussein's alleged attempt on Bush's father's life? The war will join the sinking of the USS Maine and the grassy knoll among the topics to exercise conspiracy theorists for generations, and the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib will join images of the napalmed Vietnamese girl and executed Filipino rebels in the gallery of U.S. atrocities.

Like all presidents, George W. Bush wants to be remembered. He will get his wish -- as the fifth-worst president in U.S. history.

Michael Lind is the Whitehead senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

Move Over, Hoover

Move Over, Hoover

By Douglas Brinkley
Sunday, December 3, 2006; B01

Shortly after Thanksgiving I had dinner in California with Ronald Reagan's best biographer, Lou Cannon. Like many historians these days, we discussed whether George W. Bush is, conceivably, the worst U.S. president ever. Cannon bristled at the idea.

Bush has two more years to leave his mark, he argued. What if there is a news flash that U.S. Special Forces have killed Osama bin Laden or that North Korea has renounced its nuclear program? What if a decade from now Iraq is a democracy and a statue of Bush is erected on Firdaus Square where that famously toppled one of Saddam Hussein once stood?

There is wisdom in Cannon's prudence. Clearly it's dangerous for historians to wield the "worst president" label like a scalp-hungry tomahawk simply because they object to Bush's record. But we live in speedy times and, the truth is, after six years in power and barring a couple of miracles, it's safe to bet that Bush will be forever handcuffed to the bottom rungs of the presidential ladder. The reason: Iraq.

Some presidents, such as Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, are political sailors -- they tack with the wind, reaching difficult policy objectives through bipartisan maneuvering and pulse-taking. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, was deemed a "chameleon on plaid," changing colors regularly to control the zeitgeist of the moment. Other presidents are submariners, refusing to zigzag in rough waters, preferring to go from Point A to Point B with directional certitude. Harry S. Truman and Reagan are exemplars of this modus operandi, and they are the two presidents Bush has tried to emulate.

The problem for Bush is that certitude is only a virtue if the policy enacted is proven correct. Most Americans applaud Truman's dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they achieved the desired effect: Japan surrendered. Reagan's anti-communist zeal -- including increased defense budgets and Star Wars -- is only now perceived as positive because the Soviet Union started to unravel on his watch.

Nobody has accused Bush of flinching. After 9/11, he decided to circumvent the United Nations and declare war on Iraq. The principal pretext was that Baghdad supposedly was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. From the get-go, the Iraq war was a matter of choice. Call it Mr. Bush's War. Like a high-stakes poker player pushing in all his chips on one hand, he bet the credibility of the United States on the notion that Sunnis and Shiites wanted democracy, just like the Poles and the Czechs during the Cold War.

Bush wasn't operating in a historical bubble. Other presidents had gambled on wars of choice and won. James K. Polk, for example, begged Gen. Zachary Taylor to start a border war with Mexico along the Rio Grande. An ardent expansionist, he wanted to annex land in what are now Arizona, California and New Mexico. Nearly half of the American population in 1846 screamed foul, including Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes for an unjust war. Yet in short order, Polk achieved his land-grab objective with a string of stunning military successes. Mr. Polk's War was a success, even if the pretext was immoral. On virtually every presidential rating poll, Polk is deemed a "near great" president.

Half a century later, William McKinley also launched a war of choice based on the bogus notion that the USS Maine, anchored in Cuba, had been sabotaged by Spain. The Maine, in truth, was crippled by a boiler explosion. An imperialist, McKinley used the Maine as a pretext to fight Spain in the Caribbean and in the Philippines. A group of anti-imperialists led by Mark Twain and William James, among others, vehemently objected, rightfully accusing McKinley of warmongering. But McKinley had the last word in what his secretary of state, John Hay, deemed "a splendid little war." In just six months, McKinley had achieved his objectives. History chalks up Mr. McKinley's War as a U.S. win, and he also polls favorably as a "near great" president.

Mr. Bush's War, by contrast, has not gone well. When you don't achieve a stealth-like victory in a war of choice, then you're seen as being stuck in a quagmire. Already the United States has fought longer in the Iraq war than in World War II. As the death toll continues to rise, more and more Americans are objecting. The pending Democratic takeover of Congress is only one manifestation of the spiraling disapproval of Bush.

At first, you'd want to compare Bush's Iraq predicament to that of Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War. But LBJ had major domestic accomplishments to boast about when leaving the White House, such as the Civil Rights Act and Medicare/Medicaid. Bush has virtually none. Look at how he dealt with the biggest post-9/11 domestic crisis of his tenure. He didn't rush to help the Gulf region after Hurricane Katrina because the country was overextended in Iraq and had a massive budget deficit. Texas conservatives always say that LBJ's biggest mistake was thinking that he could fund both the Great Society and Vietnam. They believe he had to choose one or the other. They call Johnson fiscally irresponsible. Bush learned this lesson: He chose Iraq over New Orleans.

So Bush's legacy hinges on Iraq, which is an unmitigated disaster. Instead of being forgiven, like Polk and McKinley, for his phony pretext for war (WMD and al-Qaeda operatives in Baghdad), he stands to be lambasted by future scholars. What once were his two best sound bites -- "Wanted dead or alive" and "Mission accomplished" -- will be used like billy clubs to shatter his legacy every time it gets a revisionist lift. The left will keep battering him for warmongering while the right will remember its outrage that he didn't send enough battalions to Iraq.

There isn't much that Bush can do now to salvage his reputation. His presidential library will someday be built around two accomplishments: that after 9/11, the U.S. homeland wasn't again attacked by terrorists (knock on wood) and that he won two presidential elections, allowing him to appoint conservatives to key judicial posts. I also believe that he is an honest man and that his administration has been largely void of widespread corruption. This will help him from being portrayed as a true villain.

This last point is crucial. Though Bush may be viewed as a laughingstock, he won't have the zero-integrity factors that have kept Nixon and Harding at the bottom in the presidential sweepstakes. Oddly, the president whom Bush most reminds me of is Herbert Hoover, whose name is synonymous with failure to respond to the Great Depression. When the stock market collapsed, Hoover, for ideological reasons, did too little. When 9/11 happened, Bush did too much, attacking the wrong country at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. He has joined Hoover as a case study on how not to be president.

Douglas Brinkley is director of the Roosevelt Center at Tulane University.

Mideast allies near a state of panic

Mideast allies near a state of panic
U.S. leaders' visits to the region reap only warnings and worry.
By Paul Richter
Times Staff Writer

December 3, 2006

WASHINGTON — President Bush and his top advisors fanned out across the troubled Middle East over the last week to showcase their diplomatic initiatives to restore strained relationships with traditional allies and forge new ones with leaders in Iraq.

But instead of flaunting stronger ties and steadfast American influence, the president's journey found friends both old and new near a state of panic. Mideast leaders expressed soaring concern over upheavals across the region that the United States helped ignite through its invasion of Iraq and push for democracy — and fear that the Bush administration may make things worse.

President Bush's summit in Jordan with the Iraqi prime minister proved an awkward encounter that deepened doubts about the relationship. Vice President Dick Cheney's stop in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, yielded a blunt warning from the kingdom's leaders. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's swing through the West Bank and Israel, intended to build Arab support by showing a new U.S. push for peace, found little to work with.

In all, visits designed to show the American team in charge ended instead in diplomatic embarrassment and disappointment, with U.S. leaders rebuked and lectured by Arab counterparts. The trips demonstrated that U.S. allies in the region were struggling to understand what to make of the difficult relationship, and to figure whether, with a new Democratic majority taking over Congress, Bush even had control over his nation's Mideast policy.

Arabs are "trying to figure out what the Americans are going to do, and trying develop their own plans," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of his party's point men on Iraq. "They're trying to figure out their Plan B."

The allies' predicament was described by Jordan's King Abdullah II last week, before Bush arrived in Amman, the capital. Abdullah, one of America's steadiest friends in the region, warned that the Mideast faced the threat of three simultaneous civil wars — in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. And he made clear that the burden of dealing with it rested largely with the United States.

"Something dramatic" needed to come out of Bush's meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to defuse the three-way threat, Abdullah said, because "I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and visit the problem in early 2007."

The only regional leader to voice unqualified support for the Bush administration has been Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has gone so far as to say that the Iraq invasion contributed to regional stability.

To Middle East observers, Bush can no longer speak for the United States as he did before because of the domestic pressure for a change of course in Iraq, said Nathan Brown, a specialist on Arab politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"He can talk all he wants about 'staying until the job is done,' but these leaders can read about the American political scene and see that he may not be able to deliver that," Brown said.

The Bush-Maliki meeting Thursday, closely watched around the world in anticipation of a possible change in U.S. strategy, produced no shift in declared aims. Rather, it resulted in diplomatic stumbles that seemed to belie the leaders' claims that their relationship was intact.

On the eve of the summit, a leaked memo written by Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, showed that U.S. officials questioned Maliki's abilities. But the memo also was a reminder of dwindling U.S. influence over Iraq. Some of the steps that Hadley said the Iraqis should take, such as providing public services to Sunni Arabs as well as Shiites, were moves that the Americans had demanded for many months, without success.

The leak of the memo cast a shadow over the summit, and Maliki abruptly canceled the first scheduled meeting, a conversation among Bush, Maliki and Abdullah. White House aides insisted that the cancellation was not a snub.

One Middle East diplomat said later in an interview that Maliki had canceled the meeting to put distance between him and Bush at a time when Iraq's Shiite lawmakers and Cabinet ministers with ties to militant cleric Muqtada Sadr had halted their participation in the government to protest the summit.

On Saturday, in his regular radio address, Bush said that his relationship with Maliki was, in fact, improving.

"With each meeting, I'm coming to know him better, and I'm becoming more impressed by his desire to make the difficult choices that will put his country on a better path," Bush said.

During the trip, Bush was unable to distance himself from the fierce debate about Iraq policy back home. The president felt the need to respond to news accounts saying that an advisory panel on Iraq would urge a gradual withdrawal of combat troops from the region. He insisted that suggestions for such a "graceful exit" were not realistic.

Despite this, Bush repeated in his radio address that he intended to look for a bipartisan solution to the war, and would listen to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which is scheduled to present its findings Wednesday.

He also said that his own internal review, coming from Pentagon and White House officials, among others, was near completion, suggesting that he may be discussing the options before him over the next several days.

"I want to hear all advice before I make any decisions about adjustments to our strategy in Iraq," Bush said.

Cheney's trip to talk to Saudi King Abdullah was far less visible than Bush's mission, but helped to make painfully clear the gap between U.S. goals and those of its Arab allies.

U.S. officials said Cheney initiated the trip. But foreign diplomats said that Saudi leaders sought the visit to express their concern about the region, including fears of a U.S. departure and what they see as excessive American support for the Shiite faction in Iraq.

After the meeting with Cheney, Saudi officials released an unusual statement pointedly highlighting American responsibility for deterioration of stability in the region.

The Saudi officials cited "the direct influence of … the United States on the issues of the region" and said it was important for U.S. influence "to be in accord with the region's actual condition and its historical equilibrium," an apparent reference to the Sunni-Shiite balance.

The Saudi statement also said the U.S. in the Middle East should "pursue equitable means that contribute to ending its conflicts," pointing to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

The statement "came pretty close to a rebuke, by Saudi standards," said Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "It said, in effect, that the United States needs to behave responsibly."

There have been other signals of Saudi anxiety recently.

On Wednesday, an advisor to the Saudi government wrote in the Washington Post that if the United States pulled out of Iraq, "massive Saudi intervention" would ensue to protect Sunnis from Shiite militias.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al Faisal, warned in a speech in October against an American withdrawal, saying that "since the United States came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."

Rice encountered the limits of U.S. influence when she visited Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Jericho last week, trying to entice Arab confidence by displaying a renewed interest in Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was gloomy about the prospects for a deal between his Fatah party and the militant group Hamas that would allow formation of a nonsectarian government and open the way for increased aid and, potentially, peace talks with Israel.

Rice said afterward that the administration "cannot create the circumstances" for peace.

"This is the kind of thing that takes time," she said. "You don't expect great leaps forward."

Expressing deeper unhappiness with the United States, leaders from Jordan, Egypt and Persian Gulf countries told Rice during her trip to an economic development conference in Jordan on Friday that the U.S. had a responsibility to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they and many analysts viewed as the key to regional stability.

Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, urged greater U.S. action, warning that the Middle East was becoming "an abyss…. The region is facing real failure."

Times staff writers Doyle McManus and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.,0,6708144,print.story?coll=la-home-headlines