The Mission Can't Be Accomplished -- It's Time for a New Strategy
By William E. Odom
Sunday, February 11, 2007; B01
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.
Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact -- put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating "nonbinding resolutions" that oppose the president's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
For the moment, the collision of the public's clarity of mind, the president's relentless pursuit of defeat and Congress's anxiety has paralyzed us. We may be doomed to two more years of chasing the mirage of democracy in Iraq and possibly widening the war to Iran. But this is not inevitable. A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of "who gets the blame" could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East.
No task is more important to the well-being of the United States. We face great peril in that troubled region, and improving our prospects will be difficult. First of all, it will require, from Congress at least, public acknowledgment that the president's policy is based on illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq. Most Americans need no further convincing, but two truths ought to put the matter beyond question:
First, the assumption that the United States could create a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by professional students of the topic. Of the more than 40 democracies created since World War II, fewer than 10 can be considered truly "constitutional" -- meaning that their domestic order is protected by a broadly accepted rule of law, and has survived for at least a generation. None is a country with Arabic and Muslim political cultures. None has deep sectarian and ethnic fissures like those in Iraq.
Strangely, American political scientists whose business it is to know these things have been irresponsibly quiet. In the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion, neoconservative agitators shouted insults at anyone who dared to mention the many findings of academic research on how democracies evolve. They also ignored our own struggles over two centuries to create the democracy Americans enjoy today. Somehow Iraqis are now expected to create a constitutional order in a country with no conditions favoring it.
This is not to say that Arabs cannot become liberal democrats. When they immigrate to the United States, many do so quickly. But it is to say that Arab countries, as well as a large majority of all countries, find creating a stable constitutional democracy beyond their capacities.
Second, to expect any Iraqi leader who can hold his country together to be pro-American, or to share American goals, is to abandon common sense. It took the United States more than a century to get over its hostility toward British occupation. (In 1914, a majority of the public favored supporting Germany against Britain.) Every month of the U.S. occupation, polls have recorded Iraqis' rising animosity toward the United States. Even supporters of an American military presence say that it is acceptable temporarily and only to prevent either of the warring sides in Iraq from winning. Today the Iraqi government survives only because its senior members and their families live within the heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and military command.
As Congress awakens to these realities -- and a few members have bravely pointed them out -- will it act on them? Not necessarily. Too many lawmakers have fallen for the myths that are invoked to try to sell the president's new war aims. Let us consider the most pernicious of them.
1) We must continue the war to prevent the terrible aftermath that will occur if our forces are withdrawn soon. Reflect on the double-think of this formulation. We are now fighting to prevent what our invasion made inevitable! Undoubtedly we will leave a mess -- the mess we created, which has become worse each year we have remained. Lawmakers gravely proclaim their opposition to the war, but in the next breath express fear that quitting it will leave a blood bath, a civil war, a terrorist haven, a "failed state," or some other horror. But this "aftermath" is already upon us; a prolonged U.S. occupation cannot prevent what already exists.
2) We must continue the war to prevent Iran's influence from growing in Iraq. This is another absurd notion. One of the president's initial war aims, the creation of a democracy in Iraq, ensured increased Iranian influence, both in Iraq and the region. Electoral democracy, predictably, would put Shiite groups in power -- groups supported by Iran since Saddam Hussein repressed them in 1991. Why are so many members of Congress swallowing the claim that prolonging the war is now supposed to prevent precisely what starting the war inexorably and predictably caused? Fear that Congress will confront this contradiction helps explain the administration and neocon drumbeat we now hear for expanding the war to Iran.
Here we see shades of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy in Vietnam: widen the war into Cambodia and Laos. Only this time, the adverse consequences would be far greater. Iran's ability to hurt U.S. forces in Iraq are not trivial. And the anti-American backlash in the region would be larger, and have more lasting consequences.
3) We must prevent the emergence of a new haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq. But it was the U.S. invasion that opened Iraq's doors to al-Qaeda. The longer U.S. forces have remained there, the stronger al-Qaeda has become. Yet its strength within the Kurdish and Shiite areas is trivial. After a U.S. withdrawal, it will probably play a continuing role in helping the Sunni groups against the Shiites and the Kurds. Whether such foreign elements could remain or thrive in Iraq after the resolution of civil war is open to question. Meanwhile, continuing the war will not push al-Qaeda outside Iraq. On the contrary, the American presence is the glue that holds al-Qaeda there now.
4) We must continue to fight in order to "support the troops." This argument effectively paralyzes almost all members of Congress. Lawmakers proclaim in grave tones a litany of problems in Iraq sufficient to justify a rapid pullout. Then they reject that logical conclusion, insisting we cannot do so because we must support the troops. Has anybody asked the troops?
During their first tours, most may well have favored "staying the course" -- whatever that meant to them -- but now in their second, third and fourth tours, many are changing their minds. We see evidence of that in the many news stories about unhappy troops being sent back to Iraq. Veterans groups are beginning to make public the case for bringing them home. Soldiers and officers in Iraq are speaking out critically to reporters on the ground.
But the strangest aspect of this rationale for continuing the war is the implication that the troops are somehow responsible for deciding to continue the president's course. That political and moral responsibility belongs to the president, not the troops. Did not President Harry S. Truman make it clear that "the buck stops" in the Oval Office? If the president keeps dodging it, where does it stop? With Congress?
Embracing the four myths gives Congress excuses not to exercise its power of the purse to end the war and open the way for a strategy that might actually bear fruit.
The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.
Second, we must recognize that the United States alone cannot stabilize the Middle East.
Third, we must acknowledge that most of our policies are actually destabilizing the region. Spreading democracy, using sticks to try to prevent nuclear proliferation, threatening "regime change," using the hysterical rhetoric of the "global war on terrorism" -- all undermine the stability we so desperately need in the Middle East.
Fourth, we must redefine our purpose. It must be a stable region, not primarily a democratic Iraq. We must redirect our military operations so they enhance rather than undermine stability. We can write off the war as a "tactical draw" and make "regional stability" our measure of "victory." That single step would dramatically realign the opposing forces in the region, where most states want stability. Even many in the angry mobs of young Arabs shouting profanities against the United States want predictable order, albeit on better social and economic terms than they now have.
Realigning our diplomacy and military capabilities to achieve order will hugely reduce the numbers of our enemies and gain us new and important allies. This cannot happen, however, until our forces are moving out of Iraq. Why should Iran negotiate to relieve our pain as long as we are increasing its influence in Iraq and beyond? Withdrawal will awaken most leaders in the region to their own need for U.S.-led diplomacy to stabilize their neighborhood.
If Bush truly wanted to rescue something of his historical legacy, he would seize the initiative to implement this kind of strategy. He would eventually be held up as a leader capable of reversing direction by turning an imminent, tragic defeat into strategic recovery.
If he stays on his present course, he will leave Congress the opportunity to earn the credit for such a turnaround. It is already too late to wait for some presidential candidate for 2008 to retrieve the situation. If Congress cannot act, it, too, will live in infamy.
William E. Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general, was
head of Army intelligence and director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan. He served on the National Security Council staff under Jimmy Carter. A West Point graduate with a PhD from Columbia, Odom teaches at Yale
and is a fellow of the Hudson Institute.
Show's Over: Viacom Tells Google To Delete Over 100,000 YouTube Videos
(Huffington Post, 2/2/07)
Viacom demanded today that Google remove the 100,000+ videos from YouTube that use Viacom's intellectual property. That would include movies from Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, and four other studios; TV clips from Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, and ten other networks; and clips taken from IFilm.com. There's a hell of a lot of Daily Show in there.
PaidContent blogger Staci Kramer quoted Viacom's demand letter at length:
Joe Biden's Obama Drama (Salon, 2/2/07)
WASHINGTON - Short of publicly appealing to St. Jude, Sen. Joe Biden could not have more dramatically signaled his distress. Asked by Jon Stewart Wednesday night on "The Daily Show" about his ill-advised putdowns of his presidential rivals -- especially a racially patronizing comment about Barack Obama -- Biden, a Catholic, responded by crossing himself. Stewart's deadpan response: "By the way, he doesn't have jurisdiction here, so that's not going to help."
Thursday afternoon, continuing his self-abnegation tour, Biden appeared on Al Sharpton's radio show to express his "regret" over the way his comments were perceived, and to reiterate his "love" for the preacher turned perennial protest candidate.
For those who may have been off participating in a sensory deprivation experiment, the Obama remark -- which launched a thousand lips -- was embedded in an interview with the New York Observer, published Wednesday, the day that Biden released a webcast formally declaring his candidacy for the White House. Here is what Biden said about Obama (though the punctuation is subject to debate, as can be heard on the audio): "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
What may be the real storybook here is how quickly a presidential candidate can become a national laughingstock with 25 ill-chosen words. (Of course, former Sen. George Allen, once a strong prospective 2008 presidential contender, achieved the same result with just one word: "macaca." But then, Allen is terse with his slurs, while Biden is notoriously verbose.)
A symbol of Biden's predicament was that the Delaware senator could not decide which verbal sin warranted the biggest apology. He abjectly apologized to Jesse Jackson and Sharpton -- both prior presidential candidates -- for implying that they were not as "articulate and bright and clean" as Obama. Biden also gave contradictory explanations of what he meant by "clean," saying in a press conference that it was a shorthand for "clean as a whistle," and then insisting to Stewart and Sharpton that he was praising Obama's "fresh" ideas.
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"As a columnist, she was the best of our time, piercingly insightful without being mean-spirited or petty. Her pen was scalpel-sharp, excising malignancy, but guided always by a generous spirit inviting even those with whom she took fierce issue to come to their senses and help us to heal." - Robert Scheer
Articles, Tributes and Links:
(1/30/07, via Crooks and Liars)
"And finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment, on presidents and terrorism...And on the seemingly trivial fact that West Yorkshire in England, has a new Chief Police Constable.
Upon his appointment, Sir Norman Bettison made one of the strangest comments of the year: "The threat of terrorism," he says, "is lurking out there like Jaws 2."
Sir Norman did not exactly mine the richest ore for his analogy of warning. A critic once said of the flopping sequel to the classic film: "You're gonna need a better screenplay."
But this obscure British police official has reminded us, that terrorism is still being sold to the public in that country — and in this — as if it were a thrilling horror movie, and we were the naughty teenagers about to be its victims.
And it underscores the fact that President Bush took this tack, exactly a week ago tonight, in his terror-related passage in the State of the Union…
A passage that was almost lost amid all the talk about Iraq and health care and bi-partisanship and the fellow who saved the stranger from an oncoming subway train in New York City.
But a passage — ludicrous and deceitful...frightening in its hollow conviction...frightening, in that the President who spoke it tried for "Jaws" but got "Jaws 2."
I am indebted to David Swanson, press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 Presidential campaign, who has blogged about the dubious 96 words in Mr. Bush's address this year and who has concluded that of the four counter-terror claims the President made, he went 0 for 4.
"We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented," Mr. Bush noted, "but here is some of what we do know: we stopped an Al-Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast."
This would, of course, sir, be the purported plot to knock down the 73-story building in Los Angeles, the one once known as the Library Tower — the one you personally revealed so breathlessly, a year ago next month.
It was embarrassing enough that you mistakenly referred to the structure as the Liberty Tower. But within hours, it was also revealed, that authorities in Los Angeles had had no idea you were going to make any of the details — whether serious or fanciful — public.
Who terrorized Southern California that day, Mr. Bush?
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CHristianists on the March
Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School and worked for many years as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, warns that the Christian Right is the most dangerous mass movement in American history.
After two years reporting on the movement for his new book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”, he writes that its engine is profound personal and economic despair caused by mounting social and economic inequities that fuel the creation of an American oligarchy. This despair, he said, has led tens of millions of Americans into the arms of demogogues who offer a world of miracles and magic, who sanctify and fuel the rage of America’s dispossessed and who plot the destruction the democratic state.
The Media's Clinton-Obama Obsession - Make it Stop!
(Eric Boehlert, Media Matters)
The arrival of my year-end issue of Newsweek in December was accompanied by a palpable sense of dread. Featuring Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) on the cover with the headline, "The Race is On," the issue landed with a thud, like an unwanted fruitcake amidst the holiday season. How else to respond to a 2008 campaign preview package published 98 weeks before Election Day and nearly 400 days before a single registered Democrat would vote in a primary? That, plus the fact the 2008 drumbeat was sounding just six weeks after the all-consuming midterm elections had been completed.
Am I the only one who thinks it's madness to turn White House campaigns into 22-month press events? Or is it sacrosanct along the New York-Washington, D.C., media corridor, where pontificating about politics can pay very well, to suggest that there is such a thing as too much mainstream media election coverage?
The press truly has embraced the notion of the nonstop campaign and I think has done so for increasingly selfish reasons. For political scribes, presidential campaigns used to be the sports car their parents let them take out for a spin once every four years to show off. Now it's become a case of incessant cruising, with endless preening and posing. Specifically, White House campaigns can be career-making seasons, when high-profile promotions, book deals, TV punditry contracts, and teaching positions can be pocketed.
For news media companies, presidential campaigns meanbig business; relatively inexpensive content that can be endlessly rehashed. In other words, they're good for the bottom line.
The never-ending analysis for 2008, though, has already morphed into a deafening background noise. And the press' often shallow performance last week does not bode well for the long term.
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Chuck Hagel, in an interview with GQ, sheds some light on what the Administration really planned (plans?) on doing.
Do you wish you’d voted differently in October of 2002, when Congress had a chance to authorize or not authorize the invasion?
Have you read that resolution?
It’s not quite the way it’s been framed by a lot of people, as a resolution to go to war. That’s not quite what the resolution said.
It said, “to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq.”
In the event that all other options failed. So it’s not as simple as “I voted for the war.” That wasn’t the resolution.
But there was a decision whether to grant the president that authority or not.
Exactly right. And if you recall, the White House had announced that they didn’t need that authority from Congress.
Which they seem to say about a lot of things.
That’s right. Mr. [Alberto] Gonzales was the president’s counsel at that time, and he wrote a memo to the president saying, “You have all the powers that you need.” So I called Andy Card, who was then the chief of staff, and said, “Andy, I don’t think you have a shred of ground to stand on, but more to the point, why would a president seriously consider taking a nation to war without Congress being with him?” So a few of us—Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I—were invited into discussions with the White House.
It’s incredible that you had to ask for that.
It is incredible. That’s what I said to Andy Card. Said it to Powell, said it to Rice. Might have even said it to the president.And finally, begrudgingly, they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region.
It wasn’t specific to Iraq?
Oh no. It said the whole region! They could go into Greece or anywhere. I mean, is Central Asia in the region? I suppose! Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted. It was literally anything. No boundaries. No restrictions.
They expected Congress to let them start a war anywhere they wanted in the Middle East?
Yes. Yes. Wide open. We had to rewrite it. Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I stripped the language that the White House had set up, and put our language in it.
But that should also have triggered alarm bells about what they really wanted to do.
Well, it did. I’m not defending our votes; I’m just giving a little history of how this happened. You have to remember the context of when that resolution was passed. This was about a year after September 11. The country was still truly off balance. So the president comes out talking about “weapons of mass destruction” that this “madman dictator” Saddam Hussein has, and “our intelligence shows he’s got it,” and “he’s capable of weaponizing,” and so on.
And producing a National Intelligence Estimate that turned out to be doctored.
Oh yeah. All this stuff was doctored. Absolutely. But that’s what we were presented with. And I’m not dismissing our responsibility to look into the thing, because there were senators who said, “I don’t believe them.” But I was told by the president—we all were—that he would exhaust every diplomatic effort.
You were told that personally?
I remember specifically bringing it up with the president. I said, “This has to be like your father did it in 1991. We had every Middle East nation except one with us in 1991. The United Nations was with us.”
Did he give you that assurance, that he would do the same thing as his father?
Yep. He said, “That’s what we’re going to do.” But the more I look back on this, the more I think that the administration knew there was some real hard question whether he really had any WMD. In January of 2003, if you recall, the inspectors at the IAEA, who knew more about what Saddam had than anybody, said, “Give us two more months before you go to war, because we don’t think there’s anything in there.” They were the only ones in Iraq. We hadn’t been in there. We didn’t know what the hell was in there. And the president wouldn’t do it! So to answer your question—Do I regret that vote? Yes, I do regret that vote."
Entire interview here.
By PAUL KRUGMAN (New York Times, January 22, 2007)
President Bush’s Saturday radio address was devoted to health care, and officials have put out the word that the subject will be a major theme in tomorrow’s State of the Union address. Mr. Bush’s proposal won’t go anywhere. But it’s still worth looking at his remarks, because of what they say about him and his advisers.
On the radio, Mr. Bush suggested that we should “treat health insurance more like home ownership.” He went on to say that “the current tax code encourages home ownership by allowing you to deduct the interest on your mortgage from your taxes. We can reform the tax code, so that it provides a similar incentive for you to buy health insurance.”
Wow. Those are the words of someone with no sense of what it’s like to be uninsured.
Going without health insurance isn’t like deciding to rent an apartment instead of buying a house. It’s a terrifying experience, which most people endure only if they have no alternative. The uninsured don’t need an “incentive” to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible.
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Walmart Being Investigated for Selling Non-Organic Food as Organic
(The Independent, 1/21/07)
Wal-Mart, the controversial retailing giant, is under investigation in the US over allegations it is trying to pass off non-organic foods as organic. It has been accused of using misleading labelling that is "tantamount to consumer fraud" by an organic farming watchdog, the Cornucopia Institute. The body has handed its complaints to the US Department of Agriculture (Usda).
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is also conducting an investigation into whether Wal-Mart is placing "natural" produce on shelf space labelled as containing organic items.
The Cornucopia Institute claimed to have found dozens of examples of Wal-Mart's mislabelling products - from "all- natural yogurt" to soya milk "made from organic soybeans". USDA is examining the watchdog's claims, while the Wisconsin authorities are examining Wal-Mart's practices and those of other supermarkets within the state.
Wal-Mart said it had written to store managers to ask them to be careful, but added that consumers could tell whether a product was organic by looking for the Usda label.
The Cornucopia Institute first raised the issue with Wal-Mart last autumn, but found fresh examples of mislabelling on return visits to stores this month. "The vast majority of organic farmers and food marketers operate with a high degree of organic integrity," said Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms of California, an organic producer of fresh market vegetables. "These abuses endanger the credibility of the organic label for all of us."
Wal-Mart, which owns Asda in the UK, is trying to build a green reputation and attract more affluent consumers. A year ago the retailer announced that it would stock new ranges of organic food.