Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Iraq: Dubya, Can You Hear Me?

Also at Kos.

It's a cherished tradition in halls of power: keep asking for advice until someone tells you what you want to hear.

Michael A. Fletcher and Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post report that and Mister Bush and Dick Cheney met with three retired generals and two academics on Monday to discuss the Iraq situation. The group, which included former four-star MSNBC analysts Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, gave a dismal assessment of Iraq, and an even more dismal assessment of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. They were especially critical of the ISG's suggestions to reduce troop levels and to hold talks with Iran and Syria, suggestions that Bush has already dismissed.

The "experts" still believe Iraq is "winnable."

It looks more and more like the "new way forward" will be the "more of the same way sidewards."

The group agreed with the idea of increasing the number of trainers and advisers as a means of standing up Iraqi forces that have largely been sitting down on the job. Iraq's army has consistently refused to participate in operations aimed at other Iraqis; the police force has been infiltrated with private militia members. The kind of training and advising it takes to solve problems like that involves a horizontal 21-gun salute.

The group disagreed whether more U.S. troops should be deployed to Baghdad, but was in accord on increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps and increasing their budgets. The notion of increasing the size of our land forces has been gaining popularity for more than a year, and I find it more than a little disturbing. We only need larger land forces if we intend to maintain troop levels in Iraq at their present numbers or greater for an extended period of time. Beefing up the Army and Marines is a formula for prolonging the war, not ending it, and will lead to a strategy that adds military force to a problem for which there is no military solution.

More Maliki Malarky

Edward Wong of the New York Times reports that several of Iraq's political parties are in talks to form a coalition to break the political influence of Shiite Cleric and militia leader Moktada al-Sadr. They've invited Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to join them, but Maliki has so far refused because he's afraid they may try to toss him out of office.

Al-Sadr, once Maliki's main political ally, withdrew his 30 loyalists from the Iraqi Parliament in protest of Maliki's recent meeting in Jordan with Mister Bush. Maliki has asked the al-Sadr bloc to return, but they said they will only do so if Maliki and the Americans set a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. Bush has consistently refused to talk about timetables, and is unlikely to change his mind on the subject.

Here's what's it looks like we're going to do: we'll keep 140,000 troops or so in Iraq to deal with a problem they can't solve so they can stand in the way of a political solution.

One keeps hoping that a previously undiscovered competence and sanity will emerge in the Bush administration, but those hopes are likely in vain. Yes, it helps that Donald Rumsfeld is gone from the Department of Defense and that John Bolton has left the UN. But Condi Rice is still Secretary of State and Dick Cheney is still seated next to the throne.

MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell announced on Tuesday that Bush will not make any decision on the Iraq policy and strategy until after the winter holidays. That's a wise move, provided he uses the time wisely. You probably won't be shocked to hear that I couldn't give a gnat's toenail less about Bush II's legacy, but I do care about the future of the United States. In two years, Bush will retire to his library and finish My Pet Goat. The rest of us have to live with whatever he leaves us.

Whatever Bush decides to do in Iraq will determine America's fate for at least a century. No, that's not hyperbole. Our sortie into Iraq was a grave mistake, and grave mistakes bring dire consequences. If Bush blows it this time, U.S. influence on Middle East affairs could disappear like the sandwich my dog snatched off the kitchen counter last night. The vacuum will be filled by Russia and China, with help from their energy partner Iran. The loyalties of our western European allies will erode even further than they already have. Isolated, our economy will dwindle, as will our leverage over Russia and China, and we could wake up one day to realize that, shucks, we lost the Cold War after all.

So much for that "mission accomplished," huh?

As frustrating as it is to watch the violence rage in Iraq while Bush ponders his next step, it's a necessary frustration. He needs to listen to as many fresh voices as he can absorb, and he needs to shut out the ones he's been listening to, starting with that "higher Father" of his and the Christian right he's been sucking up to. He needs to tell Dick Cheney to stock up on heart medicine, go back to his undisclosed location, and stay there. He needs to tell Karl Rove to pack his propaganda playbook and boogie back to Texas. He either needs to give Condi Rice free rein to conduct foreign policy the way she deems fit or, if he doesn't trust her to operate independently without Cheney and Bolton kneecapping her every move, he needs to bring in somebody else he can rely on to take the diplomatic ball and run with it. And he really needs a new set of generals to replace the ones who kissed their way to the four-star rung under Donald Rumsfeld.

He needs to establish trust with America and the rest of the world. Spitooning Karl Rove will help in that regard, but Bush will have to lose a lot of other bad habits. No more talking points or buzz phrases. No more smirks, quirks, or shuck and jive posing like a six-gun shooter in a bad cowboy movie. No more blaming everybody from the media to the Clintons to Catholics who voted for John Kerry for his failures. He needs to quit worrying about the Republican Party. The GOP is better off without him and he's better off without the GOP.

What he needs to do most is stop acting like a spoiled adolescent playing grown-up and start acting like a 60 year-old man who is the president of the United States and leader of the free world. If he can do that, he might just find that Americans across the political spectrum will still support him. Heck, I might even stop calling him "Young Mister Bush."

If he can't do that, he needs to be impeached.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous4:54 PM

    Jeff what you're suggesting is that he become the Costanza Bush, i.e. the opposite of everything he is now. I think we both know it's impossible, although all the things you suggest are good and noble.

    I feel like I'm in some kind of nightmare that I can't wake from. The sheer idiocy of the ISG, and this president is boundless. We needed 9 months of "study" by supposedly smart people and that's all they got? Were there any arabic speakers on that panel, anyone at all familiar with the long history of that region? No. It never ceases to amaze me how other areas of knowledge require some demonstrable expertise, but when it comes to the Middle East, everyone's opinion is equally valid. Absurd.

    Why can't anyone on TV say that training Iraqi's is a waste of time, they will NEVER do what we want. They hate our occupation, and they will not turn to the business of rebuilding their country until we leave their soil and they had their fill of blood. It will not happen one day earlier.

    All our training does is make them more effective at killing each other. Bah. This whole thing is just too frustraing.

  2. I don't seriously expect "George" to change.

  3. Anonymous12:06 AM

    A couple of points: Secretaries of State are not free agents. They negotiate on behalf of the USG. Just because you happen not to like this President personally doesn't change this fact. For example, she might or might not want to give the store away to the Iranians. I actually believe, knowing Rice as I do, that she firmly would not wish to begin negotiating with the Iranians before they suspended enrichment. Why? She refuses to be a sucker and doesn't want her government to be played for one. Just because you think Bush is an idiot doesn't mean that he's really an idiot.

    Other Administrations have negotiated in good faith with these guys. Reagan did, and was publicly humiliated by them for trying to put the Hostage Affair behind him. Clinton tried to "accidentally" bump into then President Khatami in the hallway of the UN in 2000, but Ayatollah Khamenei called it off. Khatami was allowed in September to howls from the likes of Michael Ledeen so that Rice could send an envoy to sit down with him.

    Same old same old. The Iranians wanted their bomb program to go on and on. Their objective is, primarily, to become a regional superpower and intimidate the Arab League. However, that would force a regional arms race, with other characters such as Egypt, the KSA, and the Turk getting in on the act. Plus, the Iranians are, apparently, working on subcontracting some of their lifting body work to the DPRK. The object of the exercise being to put Western European cities under direct threat of Iranian retaliation. There is a harder edge to Rice's diplomacy than you realize.

    By the way, we have no leverage over Russia and China. Russia and China have thermonuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them. So do we. Such nations are exceedingly polite to each other. Iran, by the way, is the definition of "peak oil". The dirty little secret about the Iranians is that they'll peak out around 2010 or so; all the good fields are still in Iraq and Saudi. A wonderful people stuck with a rotten government.

    Finally, some Colonel Blimps are being replaced, probably w/ fighting generals. More Patton, less Westmoreland, is what I'm hearing, but lots more training, as well. Less tolerance for the Moqtada, as well.
    At least, that's all I'm hearing now. More when I've got more.

  4. Anonymous7:59 AM

    I'm for the latter...

  5. Anonymous,

    Just a couple of things I'll have to disagree with you on.

    First of all, we're not talking about a "free agent" Secretary of State: we're talking about one that actually sets foreign policy agenda with the president, not like the ones in this administration who get tripped up by the vice president and his men.

    The Iran boo noise is highly overstated. I still don't buy that their pursuit on nuclear weapons is a foregone conclusion. We're seeing the same kind of media hype job with Iran that we saw with Iraq. We can't isolate Iran if Iraq, Russia and China insist on rubbing chins with it.

    And if we have leverage on Russia and China, how come they keep knee capping us in the Security Council?


    I'm starting to lean that way myself.


  6. Anonymous4:27 PM

    Anonymous: Its true that Iran has a history of avoiding communication with the Great Satan directly before, and are propably going for the nuclear club. With Israel, Russia, the US and pakistan at its borders, who wouldnt? At the same time, it is clear that the Iranians would now be in a position of strength as opposed to earlier, and would propably like some time to establish control over southern Iraq wich the US most kindly has handed over tot hem.

    Wich means as far as I can see that the US has got two choices: If your first priority is to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan and rescue your army, then you should go and talk to Iran, either directly or through proxies. If your priorities are geopolitical and ideological, you should STILL talk to Iran but propably wont.

    I cannot see that you have any viable military options vis a vis Iran until you have retreated and regrouped from the Iraqi debacle. Short of nuking the whole place and "leveling Teheran" as some of your presidents supporters advocate, you somehow HAVE to find a political solution. I dont have much optimism on you achieving it. I think youre really f&/%ed, in Norwegian papers there is serious discussion on wether this is the fall of the US as a active military power or not.