Thursday, December 28, 2006

Josh Marshall, prompted by Matthew Ygelsias, notices the dynamic of Bush's search for a "new" Iraq policy:

No actual policy or strategic imperative is driving the move to escalate the conflict in Iraq. The real causes are political and psychological.

To put it simply, the presidential is neither psychologically nor politically capable of leaving Iraq. The 2006 election made it clear the current course can't be sustained politically. Even his own party won't back it. That leaves escalation as the only alternative. All that's left is a rationale for doing so. And that's what the president is now working on.

That doesn't mean that in theory there couldn't be a good argument for escalation, only that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with why the president is in favor of escalation . . .

You can read Josh and Matthew as calling attention to the lack of rational thought in this process, and it is true that that President Bush does not appear to be engaged in rational thought about "how to win in Iraq", but, then, Bush was never so engaged.

One can also read it, though, as a process of collective thought -- the way a body politic "thinks" through an issue, in a sense. A whole lot of people, who have supported the War are being brought around, slowly perhaps, to a recognition of the reality that the Iraq War has been a complete disaster for the U.S., and there's nothing, which can be done, now, to rescue the situtation. This process of collective "thought" is the process of political storm.

There's a political contest going on, between alternative narratives, and that contest between narratives is divorced, for the moment, from analyses of what might change the military or political processes on the ground. Bush is not seeking, analytically, a way to change things in Iraq. Being a bit stunted intellectually, by a lifetime of laziness and incuriousity, he probably never concerned himself with such an analysis. He delegated that job. He's looking for a political narrative, which doesn't involve admitting that he has failed, miserably, in the principal enterprise of his Presidency. As Matthew puts its,
Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president's thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public's concerns about the war and concede that things weren't going well. At
that point, simply staying the course doesn't work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation.
The narrative of persistence -- "this is going to a long and difficult fight, but, if we have the determination to stay an indefinitely long time, we will win" -- is a particularly powerful one, for human psychology, but, as Matthew Yglesias notes, it was subverted by a combination of the passage of time without positive results, and the imperatives of the last political campaign.

If you are going to claim progress, you had better have milestones of progress to point to, to refresh your narrative, or the power of the narrative will erode. And, if you acknowledge that things are not going well, then erosion of your narrative accelerates. Neither Josh nor Matthew says it, but escalation has the potential to accelerate the erosion of confidence in a narrative of persistance.

First, changing strategy draws attention to the analysis of ends and means: "what's the goal, and how is what we are doing going to achieve that goal?" in an analytical sense.

Second, if you add resources, and the situation continues to deteriorate, that is hard to reconcile with a narrative that claims merely persisting will accomplish anything.

And, of course, as confidence in the narrative erodes, so, too, does confidence in the narrator(s).

There's been a lot of ridicule, from the Left, of the narrative of persistence. The Right's fall-back position is to blame the Iraqis and/or the Democrats (i.e. "Defeatocrats"). And, we may see many more politicians adopting the posture that we should give the Iraqis, deadlines for this and that, so that we can blame the Iraqis and exit, without admitting that the failure is, largely the fault of U.S. policy and the incompetence of U.S. officials.

Bush, himself, though, appears determined to draw attention to his own incompetence. Less forgiving narratives, than ones that implausibly blame the Iraqis, which feature Bush's incompetence, have the potential to create a political storm of immense dimension and scope.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

There might as well be a drum roll

Greg Sargent notices the AP noticing:

It appears that a new political dynamic may have taken hold as President Bush prepares to reveal his plans for Iraq. Despite White House efforts to diminish public expectations by depicting the future of the war as a long, hard slog, Bush has inadvertenly inflated the public's expecations of him by dwelling so long on choosing his plan for what he calls the "new way forward."

The AP sums it up: "There might as well be a drum roll."

Out of such unintended consequences, political storms are born.

Monday, December 25, 2006

U.S. military deaths in Iraq pass 9/11 toll

Could it get more insane?

OK, so the big news over the last couple of days was the U.S. arrested some Iranian envoys in Iraq and the Iraqi government is pissed. Some day real soon now, someone will notice that the U.S.-backed government in Iraq is closely allied with Iran, even though the U.S. won't even talk to Iran. Could it get more insane?

Well, yes, it could.

It seems like Turkey would like to invade Iraq:

The possibility of Turkish military action in northern Iraq seems all the more likely now that the two countries have started negotiating the circumstances in which Turkey would not refrain from intervening, according to statements made by Turkey's special coordinator to counter the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorism.

It seems the U.S. is none too popular with Turkey right now. A while back, the U.S. captured some Turkish forces in the border region -- it is unclear on which side of the border -- and roughed them up a bit. The incident has since been the subject of a made-for-tv movie in Turkey, in which the Turkish soldiers were cast as handsome heroes and the Americans as, well, ugly bastards.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


I was wrong, to think that the Joint Chiefs would oppose Bush's "Surge" plan.

Kevin Drum summarizes my initial reaction:

So we're not quite sure what we're going to do with them, but after meeting with the new SecDef we're suddenly quite sure we need them. Another courageous moment for our military leadership.

Still, honesty compels me to say that I'm glad this is going to happen. I know this makes me a bad person with no concern
for human life etc. etc. (feel free to expand on this sentiment in comments), but at some point we have to come to a conclusion on this stuff. Conservatives long ago convinced themselves against all evidence that we could have won in Vietnam if we'd only added more troops or used more napalm or nuked Hanoi or whatever, and they're going to do the same thing in Iraq unless we allow them to play this out the way they want. If they don't get to play the game their way, they'll spend the next couple of decades trying to persuade the American public
that there was nothing wrong with the idea of invading Iraq at all. We just never put the necessary resources into it.

The premise of "Coming Perfect Storm" was that Bush's policies, being bad policies, would have bad consequences, and, at least, some of those policies would have consequences bad enough to trigger a "political storm" -- a confluence of events, which form a compelling narrative destructive to the power of at least some political actors and movements. My hope is that Bush and the Republican Right suffer; my fear is that Democrats and the Left will ultimately get the blame.

Politics is theatre and political action is dramatic action. Propaganda works as a tool of politics, because narratives, giving meaning to political action, is often more important to the electorate than the functional outcomes of actual policy.

It would be a misunderstanding to think that I am arguing here, for pramatism, that I have an unstated wish that people would lose their illusions, and become more interested in technocratic policy analysis. There is inherent ambiguity, to policy outcomes; the analysis, which would let us point to this or that event as an outcome depends, fundamentally, on the plausibility of counterfactual narratives. We cannot escape human nature, or the limits of knowledge. As humans, we depend on dramatic narrative to give meaning and direction to our lives and our actions -- individually and collectively. We cannot escape the centrality of narrative, which is built into us.

And, we cannot escape basic limits on knowledge: just to illustrate, consider the importance of policies to prevent bad outcomes. Preventing bad outcomes is a lot of what policy is about; but, the success of such policies is in the things that did not happen -- completely counterfactual things. Drama is built out of what did happen, and how we respond. Bush's gain in political power from preventing the attack on the World Trade Center would have been extremely modest, in comparison to the augmentation of his power and popularity, which was the consequence of failing to prevent it. Such are the paradoxes of political drama.

So, now we are confronted with a war gone wrong. Do we cut our losses by leaving, or do we realize our losses by leaving?

Democrats advocate the first -- that we will cut our losses by leaving; Republicans appear confident that they can sell the latter narrative: "we leave = we lose". The Republican scheme has the advantage that many of the costs and consequences of the failed Iraq policy will come after, after our leaving. In the post hoc, propter hoc world of narrative, it is the work of a propagandist's moment to make the leaving the cause of all that follows, and not the failures of the war policy, occupation and reconstruction policies, themselves.

So, Kevin Drum recognizing this dynamic, hopes that continued failure will gradually and further undermine the Right-wing narrative -- and not incidentally, the credibility of the narrators -- and, ultimately, result in the American People "learning" a moral lesson from the narrative of Bush's Adventure in Iraq. That, ultimately, is the function of a political storm: to create a narrative, which creates meaning and guides and motivates action.

Monday, December 18, 2006

President v. Joint Chiefs: Our Main Event!

Washington Post

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.
Uh, oh. The natives are restless.

The military does not like to be blamed for failure, and neither do they appreciate being cast into the meat grinder. The professional military, particularly the Army brass, has to be seriously worried that the Army is going to break, if it is not already seriously dysfunctional.

And, the Army realizes that, under the Constitution, "the President Proposes, but the Congress Disposes". The Pentagon warriors are well-aware of who writes the Appropriations Bills. The Joint Chiefs know that they have lots of leverage, that they really can say no to the President and make it stick.

The problem is that Boy George may not be fully aprized of the new political reality.

Blow, storm, blow.

Stab-in-the-Back Two-for-One

Fred Barnes (re)writes history:

The Keane-Kagan plan [for Iraq] is not revolutionary. Rather, it is an application of a counterinsurgency approach that has proved to be effective elsewhere, notably in Vietnam. There, Gen. Creighton Abrams cleared out the Viet Cong so successfully that the South Vietnamese government took control of the country. Only when Congress cut off funds to South Vietnam in 1974 were the North Vietnamese able to win.

There you have it, folks, the Democratic Congress lost Vietnam, when Nixon had it won. Just like the Democratic Congress will lose Iraq, when Bush had it all wrapped up, practically -- well, he's close, or he's going to be close to winning real soon now.

Stab-in-the-Back will be a centerpiece of efforts by the Right and the "Bipartisan" Center and their Serious Pundit Corps enablers to avoid being cast onto the political trash pile, as incompetent, untrustworthy fools. These people are desperate to avoid admitting their governing philosophy, their insistence that a moron can be a great President, has resulted in proximate and unambiguous disaster.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cheney is the canary in the coal mine

Joseph Galloway notices Cheney:

Did you notice that at every stop on the President’s information-gathering tour this week, there was a very familiar face looming over his shoulder? There was Vice President Dick Cheney, looking as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Should the president suddenly have an original thought or seem to be going wobbly, Cheney will be right there to squelch it or to set him straight.

It can be argued that George W. Bush understood little about war and peace and diplomacy and honesty in government. Cheney understood all of it, and he bears much of the responsibility for what's gone on in Washington, D.C. and in Iraq for the last six years. Keep a sharp eye on him. Desperate men do desperate things.

The country will have to find a way to wrestle power out of Bush's incompetent hands. The situation in Iraq can be made worse, and Bush will make it worse. (See below). The grown-up Republicans have forced Rumsfeld out, and put Gates in, at Defense. But, Mr. Cheney is still there.

At some point, the grown-up Republicans will notice that Mr. Cheney can be a useful sacrifice. Force Cheney to resign. Then, Bush can appoint a Vice-President, who will have all the advantages of incumbency in 2008, but none of the burdens of the Bush-Cheney legacy. The new V-P can take effective power out of Bush's hands for the remainder of Bush's term.

You will know we are entering the Eye of the Perfect Storm, when Cheney leaves. There will be the relief of apparent sunshine and calm.


Larry Johnson, writing at TPM Cafe, looks at what is about to go down in Iraq, and sees the catastrophe to come:

George Bush has made his choice and it is calamitous.

As Larry ably points out, Bush has got the U.S. into a very difficult dilemma, where a normal person would see no good options.

Regardless of your feelings or beliefs about sending more U.S troops to Iraq, you must accept the painful truth that anything we do to salvage or strengthen the existing Shia-dominated government in Iraq redounds to the benefit of Iran. If we weigh in on the side of the Sunni insurgents we run a serious risk that the Shias will attack us in strength and, at least for the short time, cut our supply lines that run through the heart of Shia territory. Moreover, anything we do to militarily challenge Iran will weaken our influence in Iraq and jeopardize the mission of our forces in Iraq.
Bush, true to form, appears ready to choose the course with the greatest cost and risk to the U.S. As related by Johnson and Pat Lang, the plan, evidently, is to "surge" the U.S. military in Iraq, by increasing the numbers in-country by around 50,000, for an unspecified period beginning in March, and concentrate on the twin tasks of defeating the Sunni militias in Baghdad, while disarming the Shia Mahdi Army militia.

As Pat and Larry, separately point out, this is practically an invitation to unite the Sunni and Shia in a co-belligerancy against the U.S. forces. Lang notes:
The carnage implicit in this concept would be appalling. The authors have much to say about the consequences of defeat in Iraq, but, I wonder if they have contemplated what it would be like to fail in their climactic battle and still be required by '43 to stay in Iraq.
So, the carnage in Iraq will escalate, and the political storm building around Bush will escalate with it. It is going to be one long, hot Spring and Summer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More Charts!

Here's a chart from the esteemed Dr. Pollkatz, which clearly shows that we are about to hit the magic 3000 in body count.

And, here's one from TPM Cafe, which shows the increasing number of attacks in Iraq.

The meaningfulness of the second chart may be enhanced if you know that the last three months of data are unavailable, because the Pentagon has classified the data and is dragging its feet on unclassifying the numbers. Hmmm.

Oh, yeah, and the President is going to announce his new slogan (aka plan) real soon now, like next month (after we pass 3000?? after the country gets a gander at the frequency of attacks in the increasingly chaotic Iraq??).

Now, a critic might note that the body count peaked for August 2004, just as the attack count did, but the attack count doesn't peak in April 2005, though the body count did. The Washington Post was reporting a surge in attacks in April 2005, but the data doesn't reflect that. Curious.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New lows

NBC/WSJ poll - "Bush's overall job approval rating is 34 percent, which is another all-time low for the president in the poll. . .

"As further evidence of that, the poll also finds that 59 percent want the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress to take the lead in setting policy for the country, compared with just 21 percent who want President Bush in charge. 'Those numbers are really stunning,' McInturff says. 'It suggests a presidency that has been whittled down to the ultimate core.' "

As the graphic from Dr. Pollkatz shows, Bush is back in record low territory, as far as his popularity is concerned. A CBS news poll found that: "Three-quarters of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling Iraq" while Bush's overall approval ratings matched the lows he achieved in May 2006.

The political storm has arrived, but it is just getting started, folks. Iraq is going to get worse, and more Americans think Iraq was a mistake at the outset than ever said that about Vietnam. Oh, yeah, and the economy is heading toward recession, and the Congress is going to going to be having hearings on all kinds of Republican corruption. The fun is just beginning.

Barry R. McCaffrey - Who to blame?

Barry R. McCaffrey in the Washington Post: "If we cannot generate the political will to take this action, it is time to pull out and search for those we will hold responsible in Congress and the administration."

McCaffrey, a retired General and network news consultant, is deeply knowledgeable, at least by pundit standards, about the political and military situation in Iraq. But, he has always been one of those pushing a narrative line, which places the blame for losing in Iraq, on those, who opposed the war from the outset, and those, who would have the U.S. withdraw from the ensuing catastrophe.

So, I wonder about this concluding sentence from his op-ed in today's Washington Post. Is this going to be like OJ's search for the real killer?

I think we know who is responsible for the Iraq War. One man chose this war, and chose how it would be fought. Chose.

Not for any good reason he has ever given. But, this was a war of choice. And, the choice was made by a single individual, given the authority to do so.

Choosing to go to war, arguably qualifies as "aggressive war" under the Nuremberg precedents. If we had even half the honor and decency as a country that our blowhard patriots claim, we would try George W. Bush for this and other war crimes, including torture of prisoners.

But, we won't. A blowjob can get a President impeached, but not war crimes.

The great political storm is finally underway, but it will have its limits, and that is a great pity.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Rapid Departure?

Dan Froomkin summarizes the Iraq Study Group report: ". . . realistically, the group's recommendation that Bush withdraw troops to pressure the government to stand up, and pull them out faster if it doesn't, is really just a euphemism for a rapid departure."

Just two problems with this scenario.

1. Bush don't wanna leave.

2. It may well lead to a dramatic meltdown in Iraq, into an even more intense and chaotic civil war. Newsweek's Christopher Dickey on "Every day we move closer to the edge of a humanitarian abyss. Think the Balkans, Rwanda or Darfur, but with this grim difference: the United States won’t be able to stand back from the slaughter and wring its hands in Iraq. It is implicated up to its elbows already, and there’s more to come. Attempts to hold Iraq together by political compromise have failed. If the Americans stay there in any way, shape or form, they’re going to have to choose sides, backing Iraqi “friends” who will do whatever they think is necessary to impose order."

Salvage Job?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "Wolf, it was kind of sad, in a way. This morning when Mr. Bush was handed the Iraq Study Group report, he looked old and tired, the kind of old and tired you look after carrying a heavy load for a long time. The war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster and everybody knows it. The Republicans know it, the Democrats know it, our country knows it and the rest of the world knows it.

And for the first time this morning, it looked like President Bush knows it, too. There he sat, surrounded by his father's friends, looking absolutely lost. And despite the years of experience and wisdom represented at that table, the report contains no magic potion to get us out of, arguably, the biggest, deadliest, costliest and potentially most dangerous mess that this country has been in since World War II. And President Bush caused it.

How difficult it must be to come to terms with the fact that you were not only wrong, but that you are becoming more and more isolated every single day. For the first time this morning, I got the feeling President Bush knows it's over.

Here's the question -- what can President Bush do to salvage the remainder of his presidency? "

Sleepwalking thru the Storm

Senator Rick "man on dog" Santorum: "'We are sleepwalking through the storm,' Santorum said. 'How do those who deny this evil propose to save us from these people? By negotiating through the U.N. or directly with Iran? By firing Don Rumsfeld, (and) now getting rid of John Bolton? That's going to solve the problem?'"

I have been following the interesting evolution of thinking since the November elections, thinking I would deliver some kind of summary post.

I tend to think that the evolution of political thinking is a process vaguely akin to organic chemistry, fluid and difficult to predict, at times, but still regular and understandable, even when surprising.

President Bush is a moron, and his decision to invade Iraq, which was perfectly understandable at the time, even if patently unwise and unethical (not to mention illegal under international law, not that we would let some trivialities trouble us), now begins to seem inexplicable. This progress from something seeming so logical as to seem inevitable to seeming illogical to the point of being inexplicable is a process, akin to organic chemistry.

(When I am speaking of this almost-chemical evolution, of course, I mean to imply nothing about what an objective and prudent assessment would yield, at any point. I am speaking of what is sometimes called, the conventional wisdom, that is, the shared perception, which is public opinion. Public opinion is only loosely related to a wise assessment of reality, and, of course, it is always being actively managed by incompetents and plutocrats, with mixed motives. But, still, it has a logic of its own.)

The true, perfect storm is at last beginning to take shape. It is still very, very early in the formation of this particular event, but it has begun, at last.

And, at the center of this storm of storms, is a vortex formed from the inexplicable nature of Bush's total and complete failure in Iraq, a strategic failure so extreme and total as to defy the expectations and even the vocabularies of Washington's mandarins.

The U.S. has lost, and lost big -- BIG, B I G: BIG -- in Iraq. To salvage even a small sliver of stability out of this chaos, the U.S. will have to humble itself before Syria and Iran, especially Iran. The U.S. policy, the Bush policy, has made Iran the hegemonic power in the Region. We have, in effect, replaced and displaced ourselves. Our ability to withdraw from Iraq, without provoking a general war, depends entirely on our ability and willingness to hand off responsibility for Iraq to Iran, our sworn enemy.

Oy, vey!

The political difficulties are well-illustrated by Senator Santorum, the prime representative of both the totally corrupt and the totally delusional Republican. These people simply do not comprehend reality.