New book available! David Kaiser, A Life in History
Mount Greylock Books LLC has published my autobiography as an historian, A Life in History. Long-time readers who want to find out how th...
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The surge fails (II)
An excellent story in today's LA Times follows an Army unit on patrol in Baghdad, living in a new outpost. The soldiers constantly face ieds, and their response is to walk the streets randomly rounding up people and questioning them--rather than only moving when they have real intelligence to pursue, the trademark of effective counterinsurgency. They recognize that they are getting nowhere. In addition, because their base is in a completely insecure area, one-third of their men have to guard it at all times, meaning that there are actually fewer patrols in the area (not that they help much) than before the surge, when the men were living in more easily guarded locations.
I have not brought Orwell's complete works this year, but I remember him describing a conversation he had had with a friend around 1939 or 1940 in which they had agreed that they always seemed to be able to foretell events more accurately than the government. I'm beginning to feel the same way. I also remember Harold Nicolson quoting a Tory in the spring of 1940 that Chamberlain had destroyed the Conservative Party by valuing loyalty over ability. Sounds familiar.
Have a good two weeks.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The new Cold War
Meanwhile, the seeds of the next great conflict had been planted. In the Middle Eastern theater of the Cold War the United States gradually developed three major allies: Iran (after 1953), Israel (after about 1960), and Egypt (after 1975 or so.) But especially after 1967, our support for the Israelis made both the US and the governments it supported increasingly unpopular. The Shah fell in 1979, and Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Hosni Mubarak never regained the leadership of the Arab world that his predecessors Nasser and (briefly) Sadat had enjoyed. In another portentous development, the Soviets in 1979 (a truly pivotal year) invaded Afghanistan, and the United States began supporting Islamic militants based in Pakistan against them. (Several years ago a young foreign service officer asked me about the wisdom of that decision. "Are you implying that the world might be a better place if had let it alone?" I asked. "It crossed my mind," he replied.) That led to a new era in American-Pakistani relations. Then, in the late 1990s, Pakistan developed nuclear weapons, while Al Queda emerged as a significant force. Then came September 11.
After September 11, it seems to me, the United States made several critical mistakes. The first was its failure to realize how unpopular we had become in the preceding 35 years. There was no reservoir of good will among Arab populations upon which to draw, and "democracy" in that region would produce regimes that were more anti-American, not less. The second was the failure to distinguish among our enemies and recognize the ways in which we could use the tensions among them. While Islamic terrorism was bound to grow in countries with relatively pro-US governments like Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, it was no threat in a totalitarian dictatorship like Ba'athist Iraq. But so determined was the Bush Administration to carry out pre-existing plans and to see the threat in conventional terms that it decided to strike a blow against Al Queda by taking out Saddam Hussein, one of the more counterproductive steps in modern history.
And lastly, we assumed, in essence, that because Pakistan would accept American money, Pakistan was our friend. Instead, stories in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times
this morning make it clear that even under Pervez Musharraf, the friendship is nominal, not real. The Pakistanis are not spending the billions we are providing them every year on operations against Al Queda. The Pakistani army on the border has actually lent direct fire support to Taliban guerrillas in battles against the new Afghan Army. And meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden is living safely in the border regions (which the Pakistani Army withdrew from last year), and supporting himself--a supreme irony--on money that Al-Queda in Mesopotamia raises in Iraq, partly by kidnapping and partly, I would guess, by siphoning off oil revenues and American aid that vanish once they have gone into Iraqi hands. Officially the Bush Administration insists that all is well, and that together Pakistani and US authorities are "ramping up" the fight against Al Queda. Unofficially Pakistan obviously wants the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan and has an loose alliance, or at least a non-aggression pact, with Al Queda.
The U.S. may have another reason for treating Musharraf like an ally. Americans have been quoted to the effect that we are in a position to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons if a crisis occurs. We are obviously not, however, in a position to impose a cooperative regime on Pakistan if a coup topples Musharraf, which is far from impossible. Thus, while any arrangement we have is reassuring, it is no lasting solution to anything.
Al Queda, in short, enjoys what amounts to a secure sanctuary and even what used to be called a nuclear umbrella. We are back in a cold war era. But let us not get carried away--the conflict is, and should remain, on a much smaller scale than the one with the Soviets. We have to give up the hopeless, disastrous fantasy of imposing friendly governments upon the region; but if we do, we can probably at least restrict terrorist influence by using the kind of realistic diplomacy in the region upon which Presidents from Truman to Carter tried to rely. And meanwhile, we can work on using much, much less oil.
Which brings me to another point I've been meaning to make: a statistic I heard from the author of a recent book on the oil industry. During the 1970s, when the GI generation still ran the country, the price of energy doubled. Our parents knew the value of a dollar and responded appropriately--we reduced per capita consumption by about 30%. In the last few years we have seen the price of energy double again. But Boomers run the country now, and we have not reduced consumption at all. To those who object to my characterization of my contemporaries, I offer this additional piece of evidence. Another revealing fact along these lines deals with Hillary Clinton's tenure as a board member of Wal-Mart in the late 1980s. Ms. Clinton, it turns out, was anxious to increase the number of women in upper management positions in the company and expressed concerns about environmental issues--but she had nothing at all to say about the way Wal-Mart treated its workers or where it got its products. That is the profile of an upper-middle class Boomer Democrat--some one who cares only about issues of direct interest to people like herself.
My recent burst of posts has an explanation. This Thursday I will leave for France for a vacation of about 16 days, one of which I am in dire need. There will be no posts from there. This has been a momentous year for me, and I expect to share some reflections on it eventually, either here or elsewhere. But right now it's time for a rest. See you all in mid-June.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Was Putin right?
' 'We do not have the right to forget the causes of any war, which must be sought in the mistakes and errors of peacetime.
''Moreover, in our time, these threats are not diminishing,'' he said. ''They are only transforming, changing their appearance. In these new threats, as during the time of the Third Reich, are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world.''Comparisons with Hitler are a third rail in American political life, and let me, as Richard Nixon would have said, make one thing perfectly clear. I do not believe that American foreign policy since 9/11 can be fairly compared to Hitler's. I do think, however, that our policy in the Middle East since 9/11 has a good deal in common with that of Japan in Manchuria in the early 1930s, and I want to explain why. Those of us who believe in world peace and in the need for governments to observe impartial rules simply cannot excuse their own rulers for violations of the standards in which they believe. Indeed, I have always thought that true patriotism consists in holding one's own nation to a higher standard, and I have always been a proud citizen of a country whose Constitution protects the right to criticize one's government. And like Frederick Douglass in the 19th century and Willy Brandt in the twentieth, I regard myself not only as a citizen of my own country but as a member of a broader western community of nations within which some nations have helped others along the democratic path. I am indeed somewhat chagrined that while Putin--no real democrat himself--has criticized us freely, most European leaders have been too polite to remind us of our shared values.
The Japanese in 1931 were the major power in the Far East, just as, one could argue, the United States has been for some time (and certainly since 1990) the major foreign power in the Middle East. Since their victory over the Russian Empire in 1905 they had effectively controlled Manchuria and stationed troops there to protect the Chinese Eastern Railway, but Manchuria was technically under Chinese sovereignty and actually ruled by a warlord. Chiang Kai-Shek, who had come to power in south and central China in the early and mid-1920s, was threatening to try to extend real control over the whole nation, and younger Japanese officers in the Kwantung Army (stationed in Korea) decided to secure their position. On September 18, 1931, a railroad bridge was blown in Mukden--an act of terrorism which the Army leaders seized upon as a pretext to restore order in Manchuria. Japanese troops rapidly occupied the whole province, and in the following year, the Japanese proclaimed the independent state of Manchukuo.
What makes all this quite similar to the war in Iraq was the violation of international law and international treaties which it had embodied. The Japanese and Chinese were members of the League of Nations and signatories of the Kellogg-Briand pact outlawing war among nations. They had unilaterally violated China's territorial integrity and created a new state. Similarly, the United States took it upon itself to overthrow and replace the government of Iraq. Both nations used pretexts--a supposed breakdown of order in the Japanese case, non-existent weapons of mass destruction in the American case. And both nations hoped that these steps would eliminate threats and give them new power in a region they regarded as critical to their security.
Paradoxically, while the Japanese received harsher treatment from the world community, they were initially far more successful than the US has been. The League of Nations created a fact-finding mission, the Lytton Commission, to investigate the situation and report. In 1932 it did so, finding that Japan had acted illegally, that the new government in Manchuria depended on the presence of Japanese troops, and that it therefore had no legitimacy. Japan in early 1933 announced that it was leaving the UN as a result. The United States, on the other hand, tried and failed to get the United Nations Security Council to endorse the war in Iraq, but then went ahead anyway. So much greater is the prestige of the United States that the UN took no steps to condemn that act, but merely hoped for the best. Yet despite international opposition (and the American refusal to recognize Manchukuo), the Japanese occupation went much, much better than the American occupation of Iraq has. That reflects fundamental changes in the world strategic situation in the last 80 years. The Japanese made their move in the era of draftee armies (theirs was quite large), and before the widespread use of motor vehicles, the invention of car bombs and improvised explosive devices, and the general availability of semi-automatic and automatic rifles. They also used brutal methods. All this enabled them to secure and maintain control of Manchuria and make their puppet government reasonably successful--exactly what the United States, with much smaller volunteer forces in a more highly developed environment, has not been able to do.
These two crises have something else in common: both aggressive initiatives involved the circumvention of the normal procedures of the governments that undertook them. The Japanese political and even senior military leadership in 1931 was still quite cautious internationally and anxious not to antagonize the western powers. They had repeatedly given in to western pressure during the previous 35 years, most recently in a naval agreement many regarded as unfavorable in 1930 and in the decision to withdraw from Shantung province (a former German sphere of influence in China which they had occupied during the First World War) in 1922. But younger officers of the Kwantung Army undertook the Manchurian campaign on their own and dragged the government in their wake. Similarly, the American military leadership, the Department of State, and the CIA all had the gravest doubts about the Iraqi adventure, but the neoconservative clique at the highest levels of the Pentagon and in the Vice President's office simply rode roughshod over them, rewrote intelligence, and got their way. (New evidence of this is about to surface. The Washington Post reports on the imminent release of two intelligence studies in late 2002 that predicted the disastrous results overthrowing Saddam.) The results have been disastrous but the Bush Administration still does not seem to be listening to the bureaucracy.
It is the sequel to the Manchurian crisis, however, which looks most troubling today. Having seized Manchuria to secure their railway and their position in Korea, the Japanese in succeeding years began extending their influence further southward to secure Manchuria, reaching the outskirts of Beijing by 1937. In July the Japanese Army manufactured another incident that set off a full-scale (though never declared) war with China. While they advanced all the way along the Chinese coast during the next three years and committed horrible atrocities, that conflict proved intractable. Eventually in 1940-41, the Japanese tried to encircle Chiang-Kai-Shek by occupying French Indochina. That in turn led to an American oil embargo, and to Pearl Harbor.
Alas, having created chaos in Iraq, the Bush Administration has intermittently been talking about removing the remaining "threats to peace" in the Middle East as well--Syria, and especially Iran. Iran has just announced that its centrifuge program has taken a new and big step forward. I have no private information of any kind but for some time I have told friends that I regard the chance of an attack on Iran as 50-50 before Bush leaves office. I still think so. I have already argued here that that would lead to long-term chaos in the region and grave dangers for Americans in many parts of the world.
It is not too late to avoid catastrophe and get the United States back on track as a supporter of international law and order. The Democratic Congress should renew its attempts to rule out war against Iran, which many reports suggest our military leaders strongly oppose. But there is no point in denying that we have become an enormous threat to the vision of a world ruled by law that we had been promoting ever since the First World War. That is why, in my opinion, it is critical for the next Administration definitely to repudiate what this one has done.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Words Don't Kill (II)
Perhaps the most important such story has been in the news this week--the conversation in 2004, I believe, between President Bush and Tony Blair in which the President proposed bombing the central office of Al-Jazeera in Dubai. That came to light when two British officials leaked the account of the conversation. The American media refused to pick up the story at all, but in the past two weeks the two men have been sentenced to prison for violating Britain's Official Secrets Act. That amounts to indisputable confirmation of the story, since one can't be sentenced for leaking something that didn't exist in the first place.
A second less serious but equally revealing story broke this year in Israel, thanks to a journalist who had been very close to Ariel Sharon. He wrote that our President had once remarked to the Israeli Prime Minister that when the United States caught Osama Bin Laden, "I'll screw him in the ass." The real scandal here, of course, isn't the President's Texas swagger: it's the appalling, unbelievable failure, nearly six years after the fact, to have caught the man who killed 3000 Americans and who by all accounts has been living in a country that is supposed to be an American ally. But surely these presidential musings might have merited the attention of the New York Times or Washington Post? Evidently their editors did not think so.
Now today, everyone knows that Paul Wolfowitz is under attack. My wife and I had a good laugh this morning over the New York Times story, which described the White House's new proposal to have the bank clear Wolfowitz of wrongdoing so that he could resign honorably. When I mentioned this to my wife yesterday, she asked, "Haven't these guys ever watched Survivor?"--a reference to Dreamz's double-cross of Yao Man, which I had told her about (she doesn't watch the show, but I never miss it.) Sure enough, the Times today reports that the Europeans want someone to put the promise to resign in writing before they go through with such a deal. Nicholas Kristof also has a good article on the subject (which mentions, by the way, that the White House barred him from a recent conference on malaria because they don't like the things he writes.) But nowhere in any major American newspaper will one find the following story, gleaned from the World Bank's official report, which I just read in the British Guardian. (The Guardian and another British paper, the Independent, have broken a lot of important stories that the US press won't touch in the last few years. I quote:
"....angry comments attributed to Mr Wolfowitz came from damning testimony by Xavier Coll, head of human resources at the bank, who provided investigators with his notes of a meeting with Mr Wolfowitz last year. The notes directly contradict Mr Wolfowitz's assertions that the details of Ms Riza's treatment were properly shared with senior bank officials.
"In March last year, when a mention of Ms Riza's secondment outside the bank to avoid rules about partners was first published in the magazine US News & World Report, an angry Mr Wolfowitz accused Mr Coll of leaking the information.
"According to Mr Coll's notes: 'At the end of the conversation Mr Wolfowitz became increasingly agitated and said that he was 'tired of people ... attacking him' and 'you should get your friends to stop it'. Mr Wolfowitz said, 'If they fuck me or Shaha, I have enough on them to fuck them too'," naming several senior bank staff he felt were vulnerable."Mr. Wolfowitz apparently fancies himself tougher than Vice President Cheney, who is content to tell political opponents to fuck themselves. But isn't the American public entitled to know from its own media that this is the kind of man that the White House is staking American honor on defending? The answer, in my opinion, is yes.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
The Surge is Failing
All indications suggested that the Pentagon was more than ready to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq last year, all the more so because the Army and Marines could not sustain the current pace. Donald Rumsfeld, we now know, had been trying to turn more of the job over to the Iraqis for quite some time. But instead, Rumsfeld was fired (ironically, in my opinion, because he refused to escalate our involvement further), and the President completely disregarded the Baker-Hamilton recommendations. He also relieved his commanders at CENTCOM and in Iraq, giving the latter command to the highly respected General David Petraeus, who had just helped draft a new manual on counterinsurgency and could hardly pass up the chance to try to put it into practice. Unfortunately, the first few months of the new strategy have been anything but a success.
The problems of counterinsurgency in Iraq and the American approach to it were the subject of a fine article by the brilliant if eccentric political scientist Edward Luttwak in Harper's. Luttwak said, in different words, what I have been saying here for two and a half years: that the political basis for the Iraq we are trying to create does not exist among the Arab population. The Sunni population either actively supports or fears the insurgents, and the Shi'ite population supports sectarian fundamentalism. It doesn't matter, as Luttwak points out, whether they are motivated by genuine allegiance or merely by fear; in either case they will not work for the objective of a non-sectarian, democratic Iraq. Nor is there the slightest evidence that any of the major factions within the government are really working towards such a goal; to one degree or another they sympathize with the goals of the Sunni insurgents on the one hand or the Shi'ite fundamentalists (still obviously very influential in the Al-Maliki government) on the other. The United States, as Luttwak points out, refuses to govern Iraq itself (he might have added that we have nowhere near the forces necessary to do so), and thus what authority there is is wielded by the insurgents or militias and Iraqis who are cooperating with them. Politically we are helpless.
The new strategy behind the surge consists in putting more American soldiers among the Iraqi population. As such it parallels what the Marines tried to do with Combined Action Platoons in the villages of Vietnam (as described in Bing West's excellent book, The Village), and what the American army also tried to do in some areas beginning in 1969. West showed how the Marines lived with the villagers, earned their trust, and kept the VC away from them by spending every night in ambush positions on the paths leading into it. Clearly, however, several problems make the success of such a strategy most unlikely in the neighborhoods of Baghdad.
First, the cultural gap between the Iraqi population and the Americans is considerably larger than that between the Americans and Vietnamese forty years ago--the reason why Americans and Vietnamese are now getting along so well. Second and more importantly, there were more Americans and fewer Vietnamese in that situation--20 Americans within a South Vietnamese village was a very larger number. Thirdly, we are now dealing in an urban environment of paved roads filled with motor vehicles--vehicles that can all too easily be turned into car bombs. Americans setting up ambushes on the streets of Baghdad would immediately suffer heavy casualties.
The Americans, recent press reports indicate, are doing the only thing they can: they are building fortified outposts in the neighborhoods to which they are assigned with the help of huge blocks of concrete. That, obviously, will separate them from the population and make it very difficult to build up any genuine trust. (This would be very hard anyway since so few Americans can speak any Arabic.) Those outposts will simply dare the insurgents to build bigger and better car bombs, or to attack them in new, ingenious, and not very labor-intensive ways. And indeed, because more Americans are out on the street, more Americans are dying. Our casualties hit a two-year high last month and this month isn't looking much better (six soldiers were probably killed today, although two of them, for the moment, are only missing.) In addition, the insurgents have been moving to new areas--most notably to Diyala province, where the US Commander has just asked for reinforcements. That will put President Bush on the spot, and today's Los Angeles Times actually speculates that Secretary Gates is encouraging commanders to make such requests to make it clear that what we are doing will not be enough.
Meanwhile, even the American-sponsored political leadership has had enough, and a majority of Iraqi legislators are preparing a call for an American withdrawal. That, I think, might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Polls have been showing for years that large majorities of Arab Iraqis want the Americans out, Our politicians have paid no attention so far, but vulnerable Republicans will find it harder and harder to defend the increasing deaths of American troops if no Iraqis want us there.
The Bush Administration now faces serious attacks on so many fronts that its last eighteen months seem more and more certain to resemble those of the Nixon Administration. It may actually reverse course in Iraq, but I see no sign that it will reverse its overall foreign policy. Just yesterday, Vice President Cheney, in a brave replay of his boss's most disastrous symbolic moment, stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf and promised to use American naval power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, interfering with trade, or dominating the Middle East. Preventive war remains, in short, our policy. Should it occur, I honestly believe that Americans will certainly never be safe in the Middle East and will face new threats even in Europe for many years to come. The Congress should act to stop war on Iran. Events will eventually end the American war in Iraq.
Friday, May 04, 2007
The fourth great American crisis
Last night I finally watched Bill Moyers's special on the selling of the Iraq war, which was undersold, not surprisingly, by the mainstream media. It's watchable at pbs.org and no one should miss it. Moyars excoriates the virtually entire mainstream media, led by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the networks, for swallowing the Administration line on WMD hook, line and sinker. He reserves his praise for two brave reporters for Knight-Ridder, a newspaper chain which, significantly, does not have a paper in either Washington or New York, and whose reporters took the trouble to investigate open sources and run down leads and found little or no evidence that Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction. He names the names of all the pundits--Safire, Kristol, Krauthammer, Judith Miller, Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen, Jim Hoagland, and Peter Beinart of the New Republic--who embraced preventive war to disarm Saddam Hussein. Of them all, only Beinart has apologized, and the first five refused even to be interviewed by Moyers--as far as they are concerned they don't owe us any explanation. (For the record, I myself repeatedly attacked the preventive war doctrine on which the conflict was based in the months before the war on an internet list called H-Diplo. Anyone who is interested can go to its discussion log and search for my posts. I did not have the knowledge to argue that Iraq had no WMD, but I repeatedly attacked the preventive war doctrine as a violation of everything the US had always stood for and a disaster for the international community.) Moyers also spent some time on the media's failure to cover the inspectors' mission to Iraq in late 2002-early 2003. It turns out that while Colin Powell was complaining about certain mysterious Iraqi sites to the UN (with a smirking George Tenet sitting behind him), inspectors had already looked at those sites and found that they contained nothing of significance. President Bush's continuing insistence that Saddam refused to disarm--which ignores both his lack of weapons and his high degree of cooperation with the inspectors--is one of his most outrageous falsehoods. Moyers also showed how the few Democrats with long memories and courage to oppose the war from the start, like Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, were virtually blacked out by the media, just as Wayne Morse was when he spoke against the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 1964. Moyers, who left the Johnson White House because of our last disastrous foreign intervention, is doing his bit regarding this one.
So is retired general Paul Eaton, whose recent letter to President Bush was posted on a veterans web site. I reproduce it here for non-commercial use only. In recent weeks, President Bush has been arguing that the Iraq war authorization must be passed because it's what the military leaders in Iraq say they need--which amounts to an abdication of his responsibility as commander and chief and political leader, since he is the one who is supposed to set the goals of American foreign and military policy and decide what is needed to meet them. Eaton nails that one most effectively.
May 1, 2007
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
Today, in your veto message regarding the bipartisan legislation just passed on Operation Iraqi Freedom, you asserted that you so decided because you listen to your commanders on the ground.
Respectfully, as your former commander on the ground, your administration did not listen to our best advice. In fact, a number of my fellow Generals were forced out of their jobs, because they did not tell you what you wanted to hear -- most notably General Eric Shinseki, whose foresight regarding troop levels was advice you rejected, at our troops' peril.
The legislation you vetoed today represented a course of action that is long overdue. This war can no longer be won by the military alone. We must bring to bear the entire array of national power - military, diplomatic and economic. The situation demands a surge in diplomacy, and pressure on the Iraqi government to fix its internal affairs. Further, the Army and Marine Corps are on the verge of breaking - or have been broken already - by the length and intensity of this war. This tempo is not sustainable - and you have failed to grow the ground forces to meet national security needs. We must begin the process of bringing troops home, and repairing and growing our military, if we are ever to have a combat-ready force for the long war on terror ahead of us.
The bill you rejected today sets benchmarks for success that the Iraqis would have to meet, and puts us on a course to redeploy our troops. It stresses the need for sending troops into battle only when they are rested, trained and equipped. In my view, and in the view of many others in the military that I know, that is the best course of action for our security.
As someone who served this nation for decades, I have the utmost respect for the office you hold. However, as a man of conscience, I could not sit idly by as you told the American people today that your veto was based on the recommendations of military men. Your administration ignored the advice of our military's finest minds before, and I see no evidence that you are listening to them now.
I urge you to reconsider your position, and work with Congress to pass a bill that achieves the goals laid out above.
Major General Paul D. Eaton, USA, Retired
The Administration's debasement of the debate over Iraq is making it impossible even to focus on what the war is about. It claims that we are fighting Al Queda, as if Al Queda would rule Iraq if we left. Yet every responsible observer has argued from the beginning that foreign fighters make up a tiny fraction of the problem in Iraq, and academics like Mark Lynch
and Juan Cole have recently been reporting that Al Queda has fallen afoul of the Sunni tribes in Anbar province and is losing ground. We are in fact fighting both of the major political forces in Arab Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and the militant Shi'ite militias, especially that of Moqtar Al Sadr. Today's Washington Post reports that a major portion of our casualties last month--the highest since January 2005--took place thanks to ieds in Shi'ite neighborhoods of Baghdad which the surge is now entering. Meanwhile, story after story confirms that the Maliki government is in the Shi'ites' pocket and is doing nothing (as General Petraeus, to his credit, admitted) to bring about reconciliation. Generals who moved too aggressively against Shi'ites have been removed from the Iraqi army and the legislation the US has demanded for months is going nowhere. All of Arab Iraq is radicalized, and today's New York Times describes how the process is spreading into neighboring Jordan, where young men dream of becoming Jihadis themselves.
Faced with all this, the Democratic Party is apparently disinclined to roll over and play dead in the wake of the President's veto, but few if any elected Democrats are willing to state the obvious: that Iraq is going to be ruled by a mix of hostile Islamic extremist movements, and that the entire world of militant Islam will rejoice, loudly and publicly, when we are sooner or later forced to leave. Actually the second development may have a silver lining. Having re-established their right to rule themselves--something they thought they had won fifty years ago--the Arabs may be ready for more realistic dealings with us, if we are with them. But the experience will be painful, and the United States will have to abandon the irresponsible fantasy of transforming the Middle East according to our own wishes (a fantasy that was articulated, actually, all the way back in 1980 by none other than Richard Nixon, or his ghostwriters, in a polemic called The Real War.) Like Charles De Gaulle in 1959-62 over Algeria, some American leader must declare that attempts to rule distant lands by force now weaken, rather than strengthen, great nations. But that man or woman has not emerged.
The Republicans, on the other hand, are moving from one fantasy land to another. In last night's candidates' debate, Mitt Romney said that withdrawal from Iraq would undercut the kind of "strength" that the Republican idol Ronald Reagan had personified--forgetting that Reagan pulled out of Lebanon after we suffered casualties around 1/20 of what we have suffered in Iraq. Resolute American leadership, Rudy Giuliani argued, could face down Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "He has to look at an American president, and he has to see Ronald Reagan." Alas, Ronald Reagan to the Iranians is the man they helped into office by refusing to release our hostages, and who then allowed them to blackmail him into supplying them with spare parts for their weapons by kidnapping a few Americans in Lebanon. (Some one should ask Giuliani about this.) John McCain echoed the canard that Al Queda has won in Iraq if we have lost. I do not see at this point how any Republican can win next year, but I have not yet seen the Democrat who is willing to face reality and get us back on course either.