Featured Post

Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Which way in Iraq?

Professor Richard K. Betts of Columbia, a college classmate of mine, is a centrist political scientist, an apostle of Cold War deterrence who opposed the current Iraqi war from the beginning on eminently sensible grounds. I have no reason whatever to suppose that he is actively in touch with the current Administration, but indications suggest that he is unwittingly becoming the prophet of the next stage of the Iraq war. The key text is an article that he wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1994, “The Delusion of Impartial Intervention.” Foreign intervention in civil wars (such as those then raging in Bosnia or Somalia) could not, he argued, be neutral. The civil war was occurring because both sides had decided they had something to fight over and would continue until one side had won (even though Bosnia proved that victory did not have to be total.) Thus, anyone who wanted to intervene in such a situation should pick a side. There are increasing indications that that is what the Bush Administration plans to do, but, bizarrely, some indications suggest that it has not conclusively decided which side to pick.

The United States intervened to overthrow minority Sunni rule. Its early constitutional decisions favored the Kurds and the Shi’ites. The insurgency was, and largely remains, Sunni-based, and the United States has not been able to contain it. Recent reports confirm that we are losing. The New York Times reported a few days ago that the Marines are soon going to withdraw from Fallujah, where they lost about 100 men in the month after the 2004 election in an attempt to intimidate the insurgents by destroying the town, and that even the Marines know that insurgents will take over once again. Today the Washington Post describes an intelligence report on our failure to subdue or even contain the insurgency in all of Anbar province—a report that predicts that Al Queda in Iraq will in fact remain a leading political force there for some time to come. We have, in short, achieved the opposite of what we set out to do.

Talk of “unleashing the Shi’ites” continues. Today’s Post also quotes a “senior U.S. Intelligence Official”—General Hayden, perhaps?—to the effect that Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army is now stronger than the Iraqi Army, and that Prime Minister Maliki disposes of no effective coercive force. Here are his recommendations as reported by the Post:

“But in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. ‘That's the price you're going to have to pay,’ he said.

“The United States also needs to reexamine other basic assumptions, he said. To be effective, for example, the Iraqi security forces -- including army and police -- should be roughly doubled from the current goal of 325,000 to about 650,000, which would require about three years of recruiting and training, he said. The expanded military, he added, would probably become overwhelmingly Shiite and Kurdish -- an outcome that many Sunnis fear.”

I cannot claim any real expertise on Iraq, but it seems to me that to essentially back the Shi’ite horses—led by Moqtar Al-Sadr, who wants an American withdrawal—will lead to a much greater bloodbath than heretofore, particularly in mixed Baghdad. The exodus of educated and professional Iraqis, mostly Sunni, will continue. And is there really any evidence that a Sadr-backed Shi’ite regime would serve the purposes of the United States? I haven’t seen any. Nor is it clear why several hundred thousand Shi’ite young men would submit to American training and direction rather than joining their own militias.

But on the other hand, Juan Cole (at juancole.com), quotes an Arabic newspaper—it seems to be Jordanian one—that an exiled Ba’athist leader is lobbying hard to get President Bush and King Abdullah to agree to rehabilitate the Ba’ath party in Iraq in order to bring it back into the political process! It was this rather astonishing shock that moved me to write this midweek post; can it be that we are only now trying to decide what outcome we want? The Post also says that Vice President Cheney was “summoned” to Saudi Arabia, and if so, the Saudis were probably pressing us to back the Sunnis, rather than allow Iran to emerge as the winner.

The plot has thickened considerably in the 18 hours since I originally made this post, thanks to the New York Times's publication of Stephen Hadley's memorandum of November 8, which takes an entirely different view. Hadley remains committed to one Iraq ruled by some sort of coaliltion, and hopes to detach Prime Minister Maliki from some of his Shi'ite supporters. There is evidently a battle going on in Washington but it is not clear who stands where.

We thus face at least three totally different alternatives: 1) backing the Kurds and Shi’ites to at least defeat the insurgency that seems to have spoiled our hopes; 2) rehabilitate some of the Ba’athist leadership to bring real Sunni strength into the coalition government (a variant of the Hadley proposal); and 3) the neoconservative option, still apparently pushed by some within the Administration, of attacking Iran to remove the critical obstacle to American influence. Some neoconservatives, apparently—as well as the “senior intelligence official” quoted above—are banking on the idea that Moqtar Al-Sadr is anti-Iranian. Today in Estonia President Bush reiterated his belief that Iraqis have voted for democracy and that the United States cannot withdraw, while naming Iran, Syria and Hezbollah as major obstacles to peace. Temperamentally I think he is likely to incline towards option 3), but it may not be possible. If however the Sunnis drop out of the government he could still claim that we were pursuing our original goals.

The Marine intelligence report suggested the possibility of a Sunni state in Anbar province, and that sounds like a part of a possible solution to me. I do not completely agree with Richard Betts. Intervention can help settle a civil war as soon as both sides have realized they cannot win a total victory, and we might be able to hasten that day and take advantage of it when it comes. To announce that we favored a cease-fire could have a substantial effect, and would check the momentum of our current policy towards endless war. In any case, the above information tells us something about what to look for over the next few weeks.

Further update (Wednesday evening, November 29:) The three-way summit in Amman has been cancelled and even the Bush-Maliki meeting, if it takes place at all, will be pro forma. This undoubtedly has something to do with the Hadley memorandum, but my guess is that it also reflects the rumors out of Amman. The Iraqis believed, probably correctly (based on the Hadley memo) that Bush was going to pressure Maliki to let more Sunnis and Ba'athists back into the government and they were not in the least interested. Hadley's next memo would undoubtedly make interesting reading, but of course we are not likely to see it.

Meanwhile there is another item in Tuesday's news. Philip Zelikow, the Counselor to the State Department, has resigned. Zelikow was the most reasonable national security official in the Administration, an authority on the Cuban missile crisis who truly believed in diplomacy. He was an old friend and co-author of Secretary Rice, and I suspect he was responsible for the flurry of stories earlier this year to the effect that she had rehabilitated diplomacy within the Administration. Now he is gone. It is not a good omen for those who want the United States to rejoin the broader international community.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Forms of warfare

Neither the American people nor even the American foreign policy elite, it seems to me, have ever been very good at facing international realities. For much of the Cold War, many policy makers acted as if we were in a prewar era, when we were actually, in my opinion, in a postwar era dealing with the natural long-term results of the Second World War. Those now in charge of American foreign policy, including the Secretary of State, evidently believe that Ronald Reagan and the United States destroyed Communism, rather than admit that it died of natural causes. And, of course, for the past five years we have been attempting to transform the Middle East. The President and his subordinates frequently refer to this as a “generational task” or “generational challenge,” comparable to the struggle against Fascism and Nazism or the Cold War. That in turn only shows how little sense they have of what our parents and grandparents did to create the world in which we have spent our lives.

The Second World War is in one sense the more relevant analogy, since it actually destroyed hostile regimes, and restored democracy in some (although less than half, as it turned out) of the territories those regimes had conquered. The Administration evidently has hoped to replace the ruling regimes in Iraq, Syria, and Iran with democracies, and some extreme neo-conservatives want to do the same in Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well. Let me be clear: I do not think the threats are comparable. While Germany and Japan may not have directly threatened the territory of the United States, they certainly threatened to bring the richest and most disciplined parts of the world under their control for many decades, and Germany, if victorious, actually would have threatened the US with ballistic missiles within a relatively short time. The threat posed by Muslim extremists consists of small bands like the 9/11 hijackers, for which a large-scale military response is not likely to be very effective. What is more important to understand, however, is the truly unimaginable scale of the effort the United States made in the Second World War to bring about the defeat of two major nations of between 50 and 100 million people each.

The Second World War, we may now say, was the climax of an era of large-scale industrial warfare that began in the American Civil War. From 1860 until about 1970, wars involved conscript armies numbering in the millions (16 million Americans were mobilized from 1940 through 1945.) They were fought with massive firepower delivered on land, from the sea, and from the air, destroying whole regions and cities and killing millions of people. They also involved massive economic dislocation, including manifold inflation, hunger, and, especially in Britain and the United States, huge tax increases reaching 90-95% marginal rates on higher incomes. And they involved the transformation of domestic economies, vastly increasing production not only of weapons and munitions, but of the basic materials like iron, steel and aluminum of which new weapons were constructed. It was perhaps Franklin Roosevelt’s most brilliant master stroke to realize in the spring of 1940 not only that war was probably coming to the United States, but also that the economic mobilization it would require had to begin then and there. Because the United States began unprecedented rearmament in 1940, it was ready in 1944 to deploy overwhelming force across both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Most people do not realize it, but none of the major warring nations in that war came close to their peak war production until 1943, and most of them peaked during the next year. Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, and El Alamein, frequently cited as “turning points,” were really just successful holding actions that kept the Axis where they were until the allies were strong enough to administer truly crushing blows. And the United States hardly won the war on its own—Soviet production was equally impressive in many areas, and more so in tanks, perhaps the most critical weapon of that war.

In contrast, the Bush Administration began its grand project in 2002 while simultaneously cutting both taxes and the size of the armed forces—and even now, as the length of the Iraq War nears that of the Second World War, it has done nothing to reverse course. Meanwhile, our industrial production has fallen far below what it was at mid-century and it is far from certain that it could ever be revived. Nor can today’s weapons be mass-produced in the same way—they are too costly and too intricate, and rely, essentially, upon various kind of invulnerability, or upon avoiding wars with heavily armed powers. Iraq has proven something very clearly: we do not have the resources to clear and hold large hostile areas. Talk of increasing troops in Iraq by, say, 20,000 men only highlights how inadequate our resources were. But the Administration, led by Boomers who have always assumed they would easily get what they want out of life, refused to face these problems seriously, and still does.

Vietnam was the last major industrial-age war (although the Soviets also gave something similar a go in Afghanistan), and the reaction against it has effectively ended that era, beginning in 1973 with the end of the draft in the United States. (No western nation still has conscription, although China and India do.) Personally I am inclined to regard this, on the whole, as a good thing. The wars of the 1861-1973 period were enormously destructive and their results were often equivocal and disappointing. The Civil War ended slavery, but not white supremacy; the First World War had no good long-term results and led to huge setbacks to European civilization; and even the Second World War spread Communism around much of the globe. The world’s peoples have much less to fear from war today (although Iraq is showing how destructive civil conflict can be), and that, it seems to me, is a good thing. But it means that we must acknowledge our limitations as well.

The struggle in the Middle East is a political one, between pro-western and fundamentalist elements, and one could easily argue that the west’s position, and especially that of the United States, has been eroding for half a century. The Suez crisis, the fall of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958, the Six-Day War and the emergence of the Palestinian question in 1967, the Lebanese civil war, the fall of the Shah in 1979, the spread of Wahabi Islam and the growth of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah have all been setbacks for the United States. The most hopeful events were the shift in Egyptian policy during the 1970s and the first Gulf War, but Sadat’s courageous policies led to his own death and the increasing alienation of the Egyptian people from his successor’s government, and we have now thrown away most of the credit we built up in 1990-1. Whoever is to blame, too, the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has certainly worked against American influence in the region, and deprived us of potentially our most useful political weapon. And our intervention in Iraq has made life much harder for Arab moderates, even in countries like Jordan and Egypt. (One of the bigger questions today is how Jordan will be affected by hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.)

I have previously compared the intervention in Iraq to Japan’s decision in 1931 to take full control of Manchuria. There certainly are big differences in the two cases: Japan’s motives were frankly imperialistic, and the Army in Manchuria, not the government, set that war off. But in both cases, a major power destroyed a foreign sovereignty against the will of the international community, claiming that the step was necessary for its (and the world’s) peace and security. In neither case did things turn out as they had hoped. Japanese rule in Manchuria led to a confrontation with the Chinese government, and, in 1937, to full-scale war. One danger today is that something similar may happen—that the Bush Administration may decide that things in Iraq can only be set right by attacking Iran. More conflict in the Middle East could take much of the region out of the world economy, in which it plays a critical role. It could also set off waves of terrorism in Muslim communities overseas, posing a real threat to democratic practices in Europe and even North America.

A world without a draft, mass production of weapons, and high marginal tax rates could be a better world, but only if we allow for the existence of regimes with truly different values. I do not think it is too late for such a course. A broad based international conference of regional powers and Iraqi political groups to try to hammer out an Iraqi settlement (something like the Geneva conference on Laos in 1961-2) would be a possible first step. At the moment, in any case, we seem to have the worst of both worlds: a policy based on force, without any hope of deploying the force that it would require to implement.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Guest Contribution

Many of you have read my book, American Tragedy (see at right), and have some idea of my feeling for John F. Kennedy. His assassination is the subject of the book on which I am working now. Today, of course, is the anniversary of the assassination.

I just discovered the following on buzzflash.com, which is essentially the left-wing Drudge Report. For the record I have never met or even heard of the author before, and am reproducing his work, obviously, for non-commercial use only. The language does not quite achieve the Kennedy-Sorensen touch, but the message, I think, could hardly be improved upon, and no one who has been reading this posts will have any doubt as to why I decided to post it. I am not ashamed to say that I had to pause and wipe my eyes more than once. I encourage you all to circulate it as widely as you possibly can.

A Message From John Fitzgerald Kennedy On November 22, 2006

by Brent Budowsky

My fellow Americans:

On November 22 four decades ago I left you, and for those of you who think of me, let me ask a personal favor: reflect for a moment on the world we lived in, the things we believed in, the deeds we did, and the Nation we left in trust for you.

I was born as America was winning the First World War, was young when America won the Second World War, and was President when America was winning the battle of ideas that led to our victory in the Cold War.

History teaches lessons; here are some I pass on, to you.

I was the younger generation, within the great generation. I was never comfortable with that term, great generation, because what makes America America, is that every generation can be great. Some are, some aren't. It was up to us. Now it is up to you.

When I was a young man, we faced and we defeated the challenge of fascism. When I was President in middle age, we met the challenge of communism. Had I lived long enough, I would have been with you, when the last brick was torn down from the Berlin Wall, where I once stood as the leader of America and the leader of the free world.

On that day, I was with you in spirit, there were tears of joy and cheers of triumph from every corner in heaven.

To those of you who are young in 2006, now it is your world, now it is your time, now it is your day to dream and your world to build. On those days you are surrounded by cynicism and war, by anger and chaos, do not let anyone tell you otherwise. It is your day to dream. It is your world to build. We did it. You can do it. Make us proud.

When I was a young man and fascism was on the march, my entire family, my entire country, my entire generation answered the call. It was not easy. It was hard. But the magic of our moment and the reason for our victory was clear: we were in it together.

My brothers and I signed up for the war. My sisters signed up to do their part, in their way, in Europe and America. Even Dad finally got into the spirit, a little bit late, as I told him at the time.

When I was fighting in the South Pacific we not only won great victories but made friends that lasted for life. When my brother Joe flew that last mission over the English Channel, we mourned when we lost him, but we were proud and we knew the price for freedom was high.

My message is this: every American belongs to a proud and great family. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Do not let anyone divide you from each other. We are all in the family of America. We are all in this together. So long as you remember this, you can climb any mountain on earth, and when you stand together and share the view from the summit, you will know that it was worth the effort.

Years later I stood at the gates of the Berlin Wall, and looked out to hundreds of thousands of Berliners with hopes in their hearts and stars in their eyes.

Think back on those days: the foot of Soviet communism on the neck of Eastern Europe. The danger of nuclear extermination in the air. Little children in America were taught to hide under their desks in school, as though they would not be incinerated if the radioactive bombs fell. Little children under communism grew up to fear the knock on the door, in the dark of their night, when Mom and Dad could disappear.

But we triumphed; America triumphed; freedom triumphed. The world became a much better place. The young children in America no longer had to hide under their desks. The children in Europe no longer had to fear the knock on the door in the middle of the night.

And I ask you: how many countries did America invade to achieve these great goals? Sure, we threatened war over Berlin. Yes, we built the greatest military arsenal in the history of the world. But it was the Russians who invaded Eastern Europe, not us. It was the Russians who blockaded Berlin, not us. It was the Russians who built that Wall not to keep people out, but to keep people in.

My message is this: you have allowed the military to deteriorate with some very badly chosen decisions, and you will have to rebuild it. Life is unfair. You made your mistakes. Now fix them.

But: always remember that our great weapon is not the power of our shock and awe bombing, or our preemptive wars. It is the great truth of the power of our ideas. We must always be militarily strong, but the force of our ideas is always more powerful than the reckless use of force.

Remember: sometimes it takes more courage to champion the cause of peace than to bang the drums of war, and always America is strongest when we align ourselves with the highest aspirations of those who's hearts and minds should be joined with ours.

For the last six years, for the first time since 1948, the United States of America has been totally absent from leadership in the search for Middle East peace. Totally absent from the courage and vision to dare to offer a generation of young people throughout the Middle East a true hope for a better life. Those who have taken such reckless risks for war, have not even initiated the smallest steps for peace.

This is unprecedented. This is wrong. We must never surrender diplomacy to those who wish us ill. We must never surrender the streets to the suicide bombers and those who pray on anguish, humiliation and poverty. We must always offer a better way and take the same risks for peace, we take for war.

Remember: we negotiated with our enemies from strength, and offered the world the hope of a nuclear test ban treaty and the freedom from fear of nuclear extermination. We built the Alliance for Progress to promote opportunity throughout our hemisphere. We championed the Peace Corps to create goodwill and hope throughout our world. We worked through the problems of the United Nations and made it work for our country, and our values.

We created the NATO alliance for security. We valued the Nuremberg rules and the Geneva Convention. We trusted the Organization of American States. We understood that international institutions and international agreements serve our interests and form a major bedrock of global security.

We were strong, and never negotiated out of fear. We were smart, and never feared to negotiate. We were tough, and stood behind our troops. We were wise, and sent our great leaders to represent our country in the world's institutions. John Bolton can point his finger at a map, but can never imitate the greatness of Adlai Stevenson staring down the Russians at the United Nations when the fate of the world hung in the balance over Cuba.

We were not perfect, but we never defined America's greatness by how much torture we could commit, how much fear we could create, or how much we could spy on each other.

We used the bully pulpit to win the battle of ideas, not to act like a bully and alienate the world.

We made our mistakes, you bet we did. But we stepped up to the plate, and admitted them. We learned from our mistakes, and did better the next time. We screwed up the Bay of Pigs, but saved the world from nuclear war when we were wise, as well as strong, to remove those missiles from Cuba.

We believed in social justice, civil rights, a rising tide that would lift all boats. We knew that in America, everyone should lift their eyes to the sky with hope and nobody should be excluded, embittered or left behind. We knew that in America, we were all in this together politically, economically and morally. We knew that this spirit gave America our truest power in the world.

To those of you who are young in America in 2006 do not believe the dividers, the haters, the pessimists. To those of you who are young around the world, always remember that we Americans make our share of mistakes, but we truly believe we are a beacon of hope, and when things go wrong, we set them right.

When you look around the world in 2006 you see problems, dangers and challenges from many directions but they are no greater than the problems, dangers and challenges we faced in our day.

War, chaos, instability, hunger, death, fear, environmental degradation, poverty, disease exist in every generation and always will.

Hope, courage, strength, vision, wisdom, truth, valor, daring, generosity and boldness exist in every generation, too, and will always triumph so long as we remain true to ourselves.

I cannot give you a five point program for every problem you face. That is your job. But I will tell you this: if you always remember the things that make America a special place, you will always rise to the challenge, and the world will stand with you. If you remember the things we tried to do, the things we did, and the legacy we handed to you, you might find some light on the stormy sea.

In the meantime we are up here, Franklin, Eleanor, Bobby, Martin, Abraham, my brother Joe, the guys who landed at Normandy, the dreamers who started the Marshall Plan and left footprints of the Peace Corps, the early test pilots who gave their lives for the dream of touching the moon and cheered when we got there, the heroes who wrote our great Declarations and Emancipations and the words that were born in blood but lived to move the world.

We are all up here together, rooting for you, cheering for you, hoping in some way to lift you, inspire you, and help you have your triumphs, as we had ours. I never promised it would be easy, I promised it would be hard, but I know you can do it, and I am with you, always.


Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left goverment in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What is happening in Iraq?

We have become so self-centered here in the United States that we have trouble seeing what is happening elsewhere, even in areas of greatest concern. The election proved that the American people are deeply unhappy with events in Iraq--as well they should be--but it also has apparently convinced the media that something dramatic is about to happen to change our policy, such as the report of the Baker-Hamilton commisson. For reasons I laid out last week, I doubt that very much--but our domestic controversies are diverting attention from something else. We are not simply in a quagmire in Iraq and we are not holding our own. Politically and even militarily, what evidence we have suggests that we are losing, with our enemies getting more numerous and stronger all the time.
The United States, as the Administration repeats again and again, seeks a united, pluralist Iraq in which all Iraqis enjoy equal rights. (Tony Snow last week characterized partition of Iraq as a "non-starter.") It has admitted that it will depend upon Iraqis to make that happen. The events of the last few weeks suggest that very few Iraqis--and very, very few of those with weapons--share that goal. The Sunni insurgency evidently wants to return to the days when the Sunnis ruled Iraq. The Shi'ites, while stronger, are harder to analyze from my relatively uninformed perspective, but it does not seem that many of them will be satisfied with a federal state in the southern half of the country. Moqtar Al-Sadr has been against that from the begininng, and the militias in Sadr City in Baghdad seem to be pursuing the ethnic cleansing of much of that city. (This week I also heard a retired Marine who is following the situation state that as many as a million Iraqis have already been displaced by the violence.) The Maliki government does not seem to want to take Al-Sadr on, although the United States is trying to arrest some of his subordinates, who are apparently deeply involved in deadly militia activity. The Shi'ites, it seems, want to be left alone to deal with the Sunnis. The kidnapping of American contractors yesterday looks like another shot across the American bow. Maliki has already forced the US to take down checkoints in Sadr City, and more confrontations seem likely. During the civil war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, then-Secretary of State Baker famously said, "we don't have a dog in that fight." Increasingly it is not clear that we have a dog in this one either--in the sense of a major ally within Iraq that shares our goals.
Sadly, I must in this connection question what looks like a sensible middle-ground strategy for Iraq, one that the military is pushing: that of expanding our training and advisory effort. With almost no Arabic speakers and no political roots in the region, the American military cannot transform the loyalties of young Iraqi men. It can teach them, perhaps, to clean their weapons, shoot, and make arrests--but how can it convince them of who should be arrested and who should not, much less of what the new Iraq should look like? Last weekend's New York Times had a very disturbing study about the involvement of the Iraqi Army--which compared to the Iraqi police is supposed to be a success story--in ethnic violence, and the inability of American advisers to do anything about it. As in South Vietnam, while we may be able to provide some technical training, we cannot provide will.
And at the purely military level, the evidence has become undeniable: things are getting significantly worse for the American forces. These emerges very clearly from our numbers of killed (for the entire coalition--customarily at least 90% US) and wounded (using the figures for those who did not return to duty within 72 hours, compiled by the excellent web site, Iraq Coalition Casualties, at http://icasualties.org/oif/ .) In the first quarter of 2006 we suffered 155 coalition deaths and 433 seriously wounded. For April through June the figures were 224 killed and 569 wounded, and for the third quarter, 189 killed and 768 wounded. We are now just over half way through the fourth quarter, and at current rates, it will end with 304 dead and about 1050 seriously wounded. The total figure of killed and seriously wounded (using the 72-hour definition for "seriously") is probably the best overall indicator of enemy activity and effectiveness, since survival is often a matter of luck, and based on that indicator the last quarter of 2006 will be more than twice as bad as the first quarter. A recent Times story explained one reason for increasing coalition casualties--the growing and effective Iraqi use of snipers, who fire only one shot from a range of several hundred yards and then manage to escape. President Bush frequently talks about changing tactics in Iraq, and perhaps the time has come to end the continuing American patrols, which apparently have little purpose except to draw fire and take casualties. US forces might better sortie as quietly and unpredictably as possible, and only when they know what they are after and have a good idea of where it is.
Sunnis, apparently, are still inflicting the bulk of the casualties on American forces, and according to an op-ed by Laura Rozen in the LA Times, National Security Adviser Steven Hadley and the rest of the senior Bush team recently discussed "unleashing" the Shi'ites and allowing them to beat the Sunnis into submission. Given the increasing US-Shi'ite tension, this does not seem to be happening yet. It would mean collaborating in massive ethnic cleansing and the killing, probably, of tens of thousands of Sunnis; it would leave a regime friendly to Iran in power and probably stimulate Shi'ite-Sunni conflict in other countries; and it would be a terrible blow to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and several Gulf states who are our major allies in the region. It apparently appeals to some Administration officials because it would put us on the winning side. I do not see, however, how it will advance the interests of the United States in the long run. A broader civil war may be inevitable, but I would rather see us lead an international effort to try to stop it and then withdraw if we cannot.
Our attempt to transform Iraq with about 150,000 American troops seems destined to end very badly. How we have gotten into this mess involves not only our misuse of our military power, but a vast misconception, in my opinion, of how much power we have and how much we can do with it. That, however, will be the subject of another post later in the week.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

No Quick Exit from Iraq

A little history is always a dangerous thing. The Washington establishment, which filters so much of our news in so many different ways, decided late last week that the election result would correct our course I foreign policy. The President’s replacement of Donald Rumsfeld by Robert Gates, coupled with the forthcoming report of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, is supposed to return us to the calmer days of the 1980s and 1990s. One leading Republican told the New York Times that Gates would be President Bush’s Clark Clifford—a reference to Lyndon Johnson’s Secretary of Defense who took office in early 1968. Unfortunately, he is probably right, although not in the way that he meant.

Clark Clifford took office in the midst of the Tet Offensive and immediately faced a request for 206,000 more troops in Vietnam. General Westmoreland had originally asked for those troops in the spring of 1967, but Secretary McNamara, who by then understood how little even such huge numbers actually affected the military balance and who had decided that the United States should seek a political settlement with the Viet Cong, turned him down. Westmoreland and General Wheeler, the Chairman of the JCS, thought that Tet, which (despite more recent mythology) had dangerously strained the American forces, would be enough to get the request granted. Clifford, however, had other ideas. He commissioned a new re-assessment of the war from his senior civilian aids, including Paul Warneke, Alain Enthoven, and Cyrus Vance, who had been pessimistic about the conflict for some time. They convinced him that the new troops would do no good. With a good deal of help from Dean Rusk and White House Counsel Harry McPherson, Clifford convinced President Johnson to reject the request (which had caused a firestorm when the New York Times published it), and to halt most of the bombing of North Vietnam to show a willingness to open peace talks. (The Joint Chiefs, who were still firmly behind the war, could hardly reject the bombing halt because bad winter weather made most of North Vietnam invisible anyway.) In so doing, Johnson also withdrew from the Presidential race. In popular mythology, those decisions marked the beginning of the de-escalation of the war. (Neocons add, of course, that we were really on the point of victory.)

The problem, as Clifford explained at length in his own memoirs, was that those decisions represented no such thing. From April through October he waged a lonely fight to bring about a genuine reversal of policy, rather than simply an end to escalation. In principals’ meetings, he argued that the United States could not win a military victory in Vietnam. Yet his three counterparts—Secretary of State Rusk, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, and President Johnson—all disagreed, and refused until late October to offer any further political concessions, including a full bombing halt in the North, to get talks going. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party tore itself apart over the war, and Richard Nixon picked up the pieces. In the last days of October, Johnson agreed to a bombing halt—because Rostow and Rusk had convinced him, and themselves, that the enemy was actually beaten! No serious peace talks began, however, because South Vietnamese President Thieu, with encouragement from the Nixon campaign, refused to allow them. 1968 was by far the heaviest year of combat in Vietnam—and 1969, during which Nixon looked vainly for a way to get the North Vietnamese to give in, was the second heaviest.

Some evidence suggests that Robert Gates may help us avoid a new catastrophe. He has reportedly advocated re-opening relations with Iran, which would militate against new military adventures. On the other hand, today's New York Times says that he has advocated targeted strikes against both North Korea and Iraq to deny them WMD capability, muddying the waters. (I spoke too quickly on this point yesterday.) That, perhaps, is today’s equivalent of Westmoreland’s request for 206,000 troops. But even if Gates (and the Baker-Hamilton Commission) want to abandon our major goals in Iraq, I do not believe that the Administration will do so. Gates, as James Mann, the leading authority on the new foreign policy leadership, pointed out in Friday’s Washington Post, is an old ally of Dick Cheney from the Bush I days, and had a very ideological view of the Soviet Union as CIA director. But more to the point, Secretary of State Rice, National Security Adviser Hadley, and above all President Bush, remain totally committed to success in Iraq, just as LBJ, Rostow and Rusk did for Vietnam. Further complicating the picture is the role of the de facto National Security Adviser, Dick Cheney, whose staff apparently vets all initiatives from the Departments (something neither Condolezza Rice or Stephen Hadley seem to do), and who had no parallel in the Johnson Administration. And Gates has never shown any evidence that he is as strong a personality as Clifford.

It took another year and a half after March 1968 for pressure to force Richard Nixon to cut American casualties and begin troop withdrawals. Casualties in Iraq mushroomed last month, in part because of more effective insurgent tactics, including snipers. If they stay high or even increase the military probably will make tactical adjustments. But only American presence on the current scale will keep the current government in office (it is not, in any real sense, in power.) New efforts at training troops, of which we are also hearing more, will not create friendly political forces.

The United States, in my opinion, should call for all-party talks, including the insurgent groups, to set up a federal Iraq, or even a partitioned one, in which new elections would take place in each of the three regions. They may fail. Moqtar Al Sadr seems determined to establish Shi’ite rule over Baghdad and perhaps at least the entire Arab portion of the country. But we can show at least that we want a reasonable solution that would allow Iraqis to live in peace. Beyond that, however, little good news lies on the horizon. As I think about this more and more, what seems remarkable to me is that the US has hung on to so much influence in the Middle East for so long. That was the achievement of the GI and Silent generations whom Baker, Hamilton, Scowcroft and Bush I still represent, but their work has been destroyed by their Boomer offspring, who suddenly wrote off the Arab regimes (such as Syria) that had actually been doing their best to be friendly. This may well have happened anyway; the last six years have accelerated the process. We desperately need a leader who will establish diplomatic relations with Iran and announce a willingness to live with any kind of regime in peace. I do not see him or her on the horizon yet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Democrats have won the Senate

It is remarkable how inefficient the contemporary media are; last night and again this morning, any intelligent person with a computer can stay ahead of them. Last night, while Talent was leading McCaskill in Missouri, I checked the exit poll data. It had a gender breakdown. Doing the math (which took about 2 minutes) it was clear that the exit polls showed McCaskill the winner by about three points, and thus, unless the poll had been seriously botched, she was going to win. She did win by three points. This morning the same is true: any reasonable person must conclude that the Democrats have won both Montana and Virginia, which the media refuses to recognize. Here is the data.

The one county that has not reported in Montana, Meagher County, has a population of less than 2000 total (not voters) and Tester is ahead by 1700 votes. Webb is now ahead by 8000 in Virginia and I am quite sure there has never been a recount that changed a margin of 8000 votes. The only uncounted votes in Virginia are a few from Fairfax City, which went for Webb; Isle of Wight County, which went for Allen; and Loudon County, which Webb won narrowly. It is most unlikely that they would even total 8000 and Webb should get about half of them aganyway. All this data is available on the CNN web site. These are not Florida-2000 style margins. Virginia will have its recount, and Montana may, but the Democrats have won 51 Senate seats.

The House results, while gratifying, did not quite live up to my expectations because the Republicans pulled out about half a dozen extraordinarily close races, including two in Connecticut. But I was delighted that my last-minute prediction about Jim Ryun in Kansas came true.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Final Word

Electoral-vote.com has some interesting last-minute news. Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb are the consensus picks in the polls today in Missouri and Virginia, although both obviously remain very close, and Montana, Maryland, and New Jersey, which had looked shaky, seem solid for the Democratic candidates. In Arizona the lead of Republican John Kyl is suddenly down to six points, but no one expects him actually to lose, even though the Democrats are poised to pick up a Congressional seat or two there.

Electoral-vote.com may not tell the whole story simply because there are districts where no poll data has been publicly released that may be in play. One such is Kansas' 2nd, held by Republican Jim Ryun. Ryun is about one month older than I am and in the mid-60s, when I was very interested in track and field, it was very exciting to watch his emergence as the world's leading miler, even though, like every American miler, he could never win Olympic gold. Wouldn't you know, he turned out to be a conservative Republican. . .in any case, he won last time by 56%-41%, which is no guarantee (see above) of victory this time. Electoral-vote.com has no polling data on the race, but Karl Rove apparently does. President Bush actually made a campaign stop on Ryun's behalf the other day. I'll be watching that race very closely tonight.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tsunami on Tuesday?

At the outset of the election campaign I argued here that the Democrats simply could not win back the House of Representatives, because gerrymandering had created so many safe seats. I believe that I counted about 30 seats in the whole country where the margin of victory was 10% or less last time, some of them Democratic. As of October 1 that prediction looked pretty good, but it no longer does. According to the excellent web site electoral-vote.com, linked below, the Democrats are now poised to win 240 seats to 195 for the Republicans. They have essentially mushroomed in two stages, one during the first half of the month apparently thanks to the Foley scandal, and the other in the last week, perhaps in response to terrible news from Iraq. The site also prints the results of all latest House polls and adds the results of the last election, and thus we can see specifically where Democrats have overcome the odds.

Much of the country apparently remains uncompetitive, at least in the eyes of the pollsters. No polls have been taken in Alaska or Alabama, for instance, where every race is thought to be a foregone conclusion. The first shock comes in Arizona’s first district, where Ellen Simon is running very close to Republican incumbent Rick Renzi, who won last time by a 59%-36% margin. Republican J. D. Hayworth won by 60% - 38% in 2004, but he barely trails his opponent in their last poll. Amazingly, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords leads by 53%-41% in the eighth district, even though the retiring Republican won it with 60% of the vote last time. California is one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the country, but there, too, three Republicans who polled in the 60% range last year have lost much of their edge, and one of them is actually behind.

In Colorado’s 4th district Republican Marilyn Musgrave, a relatively close winner last time, has been consistently behind. Democrat Ed Perlmutter seems poised to win the 7th district, which went Republican by 57% last time. Connecticut Republicans Robert Simmons and Christopher Shays won by relatively narrow margins last time, and both seem destined to lose this time, as does Nancy Johnson, who stands to receive $2% of the vote instead of the 60% she got last time. Florida’s 13th has gone from a 10% Republican victory in 2004 to a small Democratic lead now. The Republicans won 62% of the vote in Florida’s 16th District in 2002 but their candidate trailed by seven points on October 13. Clay Shaw took the 22nd with 63% of the vote last time, but trailed by two points in the last poll. Republican Tom Feeney ran unopposed last time in the 24th but led by just two points on October 21. Georgia has only one close race, in which the Democratic incumbent seems likely to repeat a relatively narrow victory.

Some of the most interesting results come from the Midwest. In Iowa’s open 1st district the Democrat, Bruce Braley, gained 15 points during October to reach a 49%-42% lead—this in a district that last went Republican by 55%-43%. In the second district a 20-point Republican victory in 2004 is now a virtual tie. In Indiana’s first, won with a 70% majority by a Republican last time, a Democrat narrowly leads in the last poll. An October 29 Zogby poll shows Democrat Tammy Duckworth pulling away in Illinois’s 6th, which the retiring Republican last won with 56%. In the 10th the last poll showed Democrat Daniel Seals leading Mark Kirk, who won with 64% of the vote last time, by two percentage points. Speaker Dennis Hastert carried the 14th with 69% of the vote last time, but an October 10 poll—three weeks ago—had cut his lead to 10 points. In Indiana’s 2nd, Republican incumbent Chris Chocola, a 9-point winner in 2004, has trailed substantially in every poll taken all summer. Incumbent Republican John Hostettler, in the eighth district, is in exactly the same situation and appears doomed. In the 9th Republican Mike Sodrel barely won in one of 2004’s only close races, has trailed in most polls, but eked out a two-point lead in the most recent one.

Republican Anne Northrup won Kentucky’s 3rd with 60% of the vote last time but has trailed in most polls, most recently by eight points. In the 4th Republican Geoff Davis won by 10% last time but trails by 3-4 % in the last two polls. There are no serious Republican candidacies in Massachusetts, and Maryland, a closely matched state, must be one of the most gerrymandered in the country. Not one of Michigan’s 15 districts is rated close enough to be worth a single poll. Minnesota’s first is another district where the Republican’s 24-point margin of victory last time has shrunk to almost nothing, although he barely remains ahead in the last poll. The last three polls suggest that the GOP will hold on to the open 6th. Missouri, with a razor-sharp Senate contest indicating a narrowly balanced electorate, doesn’t have a House race worth a single poll either.

North Carolina textile factories have been hard hit by NAFTA, and Republican Robin Hayes, who won the 8th District 56%-45% last time, has trailed by 7 and 4 points in the last two polls. Republican Charles Taylor, another 10-point victor last time, seems certain to lose in the 11th. Republican Jeb Bradley has lost perhaps 15 points in New Hampshire’s first district, but that still leaves him 5 points ahead. A 20-point margin last time for his fellow Republican Charlie Bass in the second district, however, will apparently not be enough to prevent Bass from losing—he has trailed substantially in every single poll. In New Jersey’s 7th, Republican incumbent Mike Ferguson has seen his lead go from 15 points in 2004 to 3, but still leads. That’s the only competitive contest in the Garden State.

By this time readers will not be surprised to learn that Republican Heather Wilson, who won New Mexico’s first district by a modest 8 points in 2004, appears to have no chance against Democrat Patricia Madrid in the state’s only competitive race. Only in Nevada could the Republican lose 20 points in two years, but still lead by about 8 (the 2nd district.) In New York as all over the Northeast, Republicans this year are an even more endangered species. Incumbent Peter King looks safe in the 3rds district, although he leads by just 7%, compared to his 26% margin in 2004. But Republican Sue Kelley, who won by 2 to 1 in the 19th last time, has trailed, albeit narrowly, in the last two polls. And in the 20th District north and south of Albany, Kirsten Gillibrand leads Republican incumbent John Sweeney by about 10 points in most recent polls, even though Sweeney polled 66% last time. Living just across the border, I have seen the tv ads for that campaign, and they are the dirtiest I have ever encountered. Republican Ray Meier is doomed in the 24th, as is James Walsh in the 25th and Randy Kyul in the 29th. Another Republican incumbent, Tom Reynolds, now leads in a seesaw battle in the 26th.

More of the same in Ohio’s first, where Republican incumbent Steve Chabot won by 20 points last time and trailed by 2 in an October 26 poll. His Republican colleague Jean Schmidt won by 44 points last time but is neck and neck with Victoria Wulsin now, trailing in two of the last four polls. Republican Pat Tiben’s margin has shrunk from 24 points to 5 but still leads in the 12th. Republican Deborah Price trailed Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy in the 15th by 8 points on October 10, the last reported poll, despite having won 60% of the vote last time. The Democrats lost the open 18th district by 2-1 last time but their candidate, Zack Space, led by 20 points on October 29. Oklahoma and Oregon are two more states without a single race close enough to waste money on a poll.

As we reach Pennsylvania, the pattern around the country has become clear: the Republican Party is in deep, deep trouble in the richest and most educated parts of the country (see the posts I did on this subject in late 2004.) Republican Melissa Hart won 63%-36% in 2004 and is holding on to a 4-point lead in the 4th district. Republican Jim Gerlach won a very close race last time and has consistently trailed in the 6th. Republican Curt Weldon has gone from a 19% victory in 2004 to an 8-point deficit in an October 10 poll, the last one available, next door in the 7th, and Republican Mike Fitzpatrick just fell narrowly behind in the 8th. Republican Don Sherwood, who ran unopposed last year in the 10th, has trailed by 9% in each of the last three polls. It is not surprising that overwhelmingly Democratic Rhode Island and overwhelmingly Republican South Carolina have no close races, but it is yet another disgrace that delicately balanced Tennessee doesn’t have a single seat that is being seriously contested.

Texas’ approximately 30 years as a two-party state (about 1964-94) are, for the time being, over, but the Democrat leads in Tom Delay’s old 22nd district, albeit with huge numbers of undecided or confused voters. In Virginia Republican Thelma Drake won by 10% last time and has essentially held on to a narrow lead throughout the election, as has Frank Wolf in the 10th. Republican Cathy McMorris has kept 5 points of her 20% margin in 2004 and so far that is enough to win, but Republican Dave Reichert, a much closer winner in 2004, has a narrower lead. In Wisconsin’s open 8th, the only seriously contested state in another closely divided state, Democrat Steve Kagen now has a 6-point lead over Republican John Gard—despite a 70% Republican victory last time. (I questioned a Washington Post writer who identified this seat as a close one many weeks ago. I apologize—I was wrong.) In Wyoming a 13% Republican margin has shrunk to 4% as of October 25th—so far, not close enough.

Readers obviously know I am a Democrat and may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any threatened Democratic seats. The reason, basically, is that there are none. The Republicans do not actually lead in a single Democratic-held district and only a few are remotely close. I honestly do not know if there has ever been a Congressional election in American history in which one party did not lose a single seat.

The lesson of all this seems to be to be fairly clear, and rather frightening. Whatever is the matter with Kansas, to paraphrase Thomas Frank, it hasn’t spread beyond the South and the very rural Midwest. Not only the two coasts, but also the entire old industrial heartland from Pennsylvania all the way through to Minnesota, are about to administer a crushing defeat to the Republican Party. The fundamentalist-neoconservative alliance which has run the country for the last six years is being decisively repudiated by all the best-educated and wealthiest sectors of the country. In one sense that is good news, in another it is bad. The culture wars will have a new winner after November 8 but the country will be more divided than ever.

I don’t know how much Howard Dean has to do with the impending House victory (and the possible, although unlikely, Senate one), but his 50-state strategy obviously had a point. The Democrats are going to win largely because they attacked apparently secure Republican positions not only in the Northeast, but even in places like Colorado, Indiana, Arizona, and Kentucky. Next should be the turn of states like Missouri and South Dakota. Between 1/7 and 1/5 of the electorate, in many areas, is about to switch its votes. Exit polls will tell us who they were. Like the Democrats in 1930, today’s Democrats are poised to get back into power—and like those Democrats, they have no idea what to do with it when they do. Meanwhile, much of the United States remains in drastic need of democratic reform. The gerrymandering in states like Tennessee and Wisconsin is a disgrace, and doing something about it should become a national priority.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Election rhetoric

Whatever happens next Tuesday--and the polls collected by electoral-vote.com, linked below, suggest that there may well be a Democratic landslide in the House of truly extraordinary proportions--this campaign will have illustrated the increasing political illiteracy of the American people. The office of Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the President and men like Thomas Brackett Reed, Uncle Joe Cannon, Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill were certainly national figures, but the Republican campaign against the bogeywoman Nancy Pelosi is failing because most of the American people can't identify either her or incumbent Dennis Hastert. Most Americans, the New York Times reports today, expect a Democratic Congress to reduce our involvement in Iraq, but they could only do that by refusing to fund it, and even though the war in Indochina came to an end that way in 1973 it seems most unlikely that a Democratic Congress would take such a step. They also expect a Democratic Congress to raise taxes, even though that would require a veto-proof majority that is not in the cards. Meanwhile, President Bush seems to be under the misapprehension that he could remove Dick Cheney at his pleasure--after all, he promised to keep him, along with Donald Rumsfeld, for the rest of his term yesterday--not realizing that the American people put Cheney in office (in 2004 at least), and that only they can remove him. (Cheney's election in 2000 was actually probably illegal, since by any rational measure he resided in Texas, not Wyoming, in that year, and the Constitution thereby debarred Texas's Presidential electors from voting for both him and Bush. In the midst of a larger controversy, however, no one noticed.)

Two elections from past history are similar to this one. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson, after appealing to the country for a Democratic victory to help him in the peace negotiations, lost both the House and the Senate, which the Democrats did not regain until 1932. In the other, in1930, the Republicans initially retained a bare majority in the House (although they lost it through deaths and special elections before 1932) and the Senate was tied. The Democrats gained 51 House seats in 1930 to come within one seat of controlling the chamber, and the Republican Party has never had that big a majority since. That in turn drives home a point that the media has largely ignored for the last six years: the Republicans' ideological rule and the transformations they have wrought at home and abroad have rested on a very narrow political margin. The results of this election will apparently be closer to those of 1918, and for the same reason--the repudiation of a President's foreign policy. But the Democrats will have to proclaim a truly new foreign policy to have any hope of riding the wave into the White House, as the Republicans did in 1920.

Essentially the electorate seems poised to send a simple message: they have given up on President Bush and most of his works. That is democracy in action. But the much harder task of actually getting the country back on the right track will challenge us all.