Dick the Dick Roundup

There are a number of significant Dick Cheney articles on the web now, and I want to link them before they get stale. So, in no particular order and without further ado …

Frank Rich, New York Times, “Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt …”:

If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney believe they were truthful in the run-up to the war, it’s easy for them to make their case. Instead of falsely claiming that they’ve been exonerated by two commissions that looked into prewar intelligence – neither of which addressed possible White House misuse and mischaracterization of that intelligence – they should just release the rest of the President’s Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are now trickling out. Instead, incriminatingly enough, they are fighting the release of any such information, including unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neocon Weekly Standard. As Scott Shane reported in The New York Times last month, Vietnam documents are now off limits, too: the National Security Agency won’t make public a 2001 historical report on how American officials distorted intelligence in 1964 about the Gulf of Tonkin incident for fear it might “prompt uncomfortable comparisons” between the games White Houses played then and now to gin up wars. Continue reading

Is Victory Obsolete?

I want to follow up on the last post as well as this one from Friday on extracating ourselves out of Iraq. James Glanz writes in today’s New York Times about historical precedent for leaving without (necessarily) losing.

… Even in the absence of a sudden and dramatic shift on the battlefield toward a definitive victory, there may still be a slight opening, as narrow as the eye of a needle, for the United States to slip through and leave Iraq in the near future in a way that will not be remembered as a national embarrassment.

Most of the recent parallels do not seem to offer much encouragement for a confounded superpower that wants to save face as it cuts its losses and returns home. Among them are the wrenching French pullout from Algeria, the ill-fated French and American adventures in Vietnam, the Soviet humiliation in Afghanistan and the disastrous American interventions in Beirut and Somalia.

Still, there are a few stories of inconclusive wars that left the United States in a more dignified position, including the continuing American presence in South Korea and the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. But even those stand in stark contrast to the happier legacy of total victory during World War II.

Since World War II, how many wars have been fought on this planet that somebody, totally and finally, won? There’s the Chinese Civil War, which left the Communists in charge of all of China, and North Vietnam certainly won the Vietnam War, even if the U.S. never formally conceded that it lost. But of course Vietnam wasn’t a formal war to begin with, which is part of the problem.

In the old days one nation would declare war on another nation, and then the two of them (and their allies) would pound the stuffing out of each other until one of them surrendered. Then treaties would be signed and the war would be declared over. In other words, there was a mutually agreed upon beginning and end to the war, and a mutually agreed upon result. That sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen much any more, does it?

Instead, we have “police actions” and other military activies that aren’t formally declared wars, and the enemy is not a nation but some amorphous entity with shifting territories, or no territories, and leadership as ephemeral as ghosts. Conflicts go on for years, for generations, with no apparent resolution. That seems to be the nature of war these days.

In our current war, even if some of the big names on the other side, like bin Laden or Zarqawi, were to formally capitulate and signal an end to conflict (which I can’t imagine would ever happen), it wouldn’t mean much. Neither of these guys were elected, notice. They’re just guys who jumped in to lead at a time when people wanted leading. If they go, others will take their place, and the conflict will continue.

In a World War II-style conflict, armies conquered territories and destroyed enemy armies so that the enemy leaders would agree to surrender. And when the leaders surrendered, the soldiers (as a rule) would stop fighting and go home. These days we have enemies with no territory to conquer and leaders who lack authority to surrender. So how can there be an old-fashioned, VE Day victory? It’s odd to even think in those terms any more, yet that seems to be what the pro-war Right wants.

And, Lord knows, Bush intended to give it to them. That’s what the flight suit victory prance was supposed to be. And, in a narrow sense, the enemy Bush set out to vanquish in mid-March 2003 was pretty much vanquished. But in the process we made new and worse enemies. And so the war continues, and there will be no mutually agreed upon end to it. Indeed, in the insurgents v. “coalition” war, as opposed to the jihadists v. “coalition” war, we really have reached a stalemate; the insurgents fight because we’re there, and the U.S. stays because the insurgents are fighting us. And our true enemies, the jihadists, are more strengthened than weakened by our prosecution of the war. The very means we use to vanquish them — bombs, checkpoints, white phosphorous, prisons — give them and their cause energy and focus. Truly, the Iraq War is probably the best thing that ever happened to al Qaeda.

Bush talks about victory without explaining what victory will look like, which is something you have to explain these days. His job is made more difficult by the fact that the objectives presented to the American people before the invasion turned out to be more amorphous than al Qaeda. If you have no firm objectives, how do you know when you’ve accomplished them?

Back to James Glanz:

The highly qualified optimism of these experts about what may still happen in Iraq – let’s call it something just this side of hopelessness – has been born of many factors, including greatly reduced expectations of what might constitute not-defeat there. The United States already appears willing to settle – as if it were in a relationship that had gone sour but cannot quite be resolved by a walk out the door, punctuated with a satisfying slam.

Now we’re in the process of deciding what positive outcome might still be achieved, so that we can achieve that and go home. Yet our political processes are so poisoned we can’t even accomplish that without rancor, even though it’s obvious both major parties are hurtling toward the same conclusion. That’s because our arguments about Iraq aren’t really about Iraq, but about ourselves. You know this is true when Republicans continue to use Iraq to bash Dems even though few Dems have the cojones to disagree with Bush’s stated policies on the war. Note “stated policies,” as opposed to what Bush is actually doing. But that’s another blog post.

Eleanor Clift writes,

When Democrats said we should pull out our troops from Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney and others were quick to label them defeatists. When the administration floated the idea this week of bringing home a third of the troops by election time next year, it was presented as good old patriotism. As the church lady on “Saturday Night Live” used to say “How convenient!”

The striking change of tone is all about politics, and perhaps that’s how it should be in a democracy. Public support for the war has collapsed. The administration wants to avoid an embarrassing debate over who lost Iraq, so there won’t be the precipitous pullout that would look like a retreat. The troop withdrawals will be dictated by the election calendar, both in Iraq and here at home.

Clift writes that “we’re seeing the beginnings of a stampede among politicians to re-position themselves.” I think this is true. The stampede is going to accelerate after the December elections in Iraq, and by this summer there will be considerable troop reduction, although Bush will leave in a token force to save face. Possibly “not enough troops left in Iraq to do the job, but enough to keep taking casualties,” writes Clift, but politics rule. And “victory” will be whatever it is. We’ll know it when we see it.

Update: Read Digby!

As you know, Democrats have long been insisting that the US stay in Iraq indefinitely. It was only through the wise counsel and patient persuasion of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush that they were convinced that a timed withdrawal was the best way to go.

While it’s great news that the Iraq war is over and done with (and the liberals can finally stop obsessing over it) it’s going to take some work to get them to stop lobbying for more tax cuts and destroying social security. When are they going to get some responsibility and recognize that there is no free lunch?


Leading From Behind II

I missed Joe Biden’s op ed on Iraq yesterday, but the big breakthrough is that the Senator is boldly (snark) endorsing a timetable for withdrawal. He isn’t clear about what the timetable should be, mind you, but he thinks there ought to be one.

The Heretik sums it up
: Biden blows.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask our current crop of Dems in Washington to keep up with the rest of us. But it would be nice if some of them were only a few weeks behind, instead of months. Or years.

More interesting (in a road kill sort of way) are the apologists who denounce Biden. “The only timetable that matters is victory,” rumbles Captain Ed. That sounds grand, and we could probably take all the time we wanted if we were having our war in our own country. But since we’re having it in someone else’s country, and they’re fixin’ to kick us out, it’s about time to finish our drinks and find the car keys, so to speak.

And, frankly, Biden doesn’t suggest much that Bush isn’t about to do anyway.

But speaking of victory, I was taken by this post on a pro-war blog called No End But Victory. I’m sure the author, Aziz, and I do not see eye to eye on many things. But I appreciate the author’s honesty.

First, Aziz writes that since the threat of WMDs was the sole plank upon which the case for war was publicly made, the administration owes the American people an apology and a tangible reason — not mushy metaphors and empty slogans — for continued sacrifice. “Until the WMD daemon is excised, there can be no forward motion on rebuilding trust and will,” Aziz writes. “And public demand for withdrawal will only increase.”

The Bushies are firmly in the “end justifies the means” camp. We know that they played up WMD scare stories and links to al Qaeda to sell the war, even though they had other motives, most notably Neocon desires to spread American hegemony. And they also exploited Iraq as a handy-dandy weapon for bashing Democrats. But now the Bushies must repackage their war in order to re-sell it now that opposition is rising. If anything resembling a good result is still possible, that possibility is being sorely compromised by lack of trust in the Bushies.

The lesson here for future governments is that if you can’t get the public behind your real motives for going to war, you probably shouldn’t go.

Second, Aziz correctly notes that politics is driving policy.

The simple fact is that the Administration itself is preparing to withdraw significant fractions of our troops from Iraq. Even supporters have cause to question the motivation therein. The position of most Democrats, that a phased and benchmark-driven withdrawal is neccessary, has been both vilified by the Administration (including the Vice-President) even as they prepare to implement largely the same plans. If there was a real will to succeed, the Democrats would be brought to the table and a bipartisan effort at formulating a withdrawal timetable or benchmark set would be made. Such an effort, instead of attack-dog postures as usual, would create a genuine feeling that there is both a commitment to win and a sincere understanding of the pressures on the home front.

This is exactly right. Put another way, if success in Iraq were more important to the Bushies (and most of the GOP) than politics, bipartisan policy consensus would probably come pretty easily. The fact is that even last year during the presidential election campaigns, Kerry’s and Bush’s stated positions on Iraq were not exactly miles apart. The GOP made Kerry’s suggestions out out to be radically different from where Bush seemed to be going. But if you just look at statements and speeches both candidates made last year, there really wasn’t a big bleeping difference in what they were saying. And, frankly, all the Dems are doing now is describing the few options actually left to us.

A real leader would be bringing the parties together to create policy with bipartisan ownership. Instead, the Right continues to exploit Iraq as a wedge issue, even though the wedge is working against them. It’s all they know how to do.

Third, Aziz writes, “A clear sign of moral righteousness is needed to send a message to Iraqis that we are in a different league altogether from the terrorists who seek domination of their nation.”

If all parties agree that there is a war for hearts and minds, then we cannot rely solely on Al Qaeda to poison the well. We must not be passive, we must be proactive. For every Iraqi child killed by Al Q, we must also offer a tangible piece of evidence of our contrast in the positive. Rebuilding schools is neccessay, but not sufficient. There has yet to be an accounting of higher-level responsibility for Abu Ghraib, for example. The utter depravity of the pro-torture position has been implicitly endorsed by the Vice President rather than utterly repudiated. And the erosion of our civil liberties at home continues apace, with no tangible improvement in our security as conslation prize. The Padilla indictment is the perfect if not the latest example of how the Administration willingly embraces Franklin’s dictum of those who desire security over liberty deserve neither. Why should the public take the Administration at face value?

I’ve said before that we could win an overwhelming military victory in Iraq and still blow our political objectives. If the political objectives were to spread stability, democracy, and pro-Western sentiment in the Middle East — Neocons have claimed these as their objectives, anyway — then invading Iraq was an utterly ass-backward way to go about it. Our current course will not take us to that victory if we stay in Iraq for a century. Although most of ’em won’t admit it, both Democrats and Republicans are wrestling with the same question — what “victory” will we settle for before we withdraw? And both the President and Jack Murtha seem to have reached the same conclusion — “victory” means transferring responsibility for Iraq domestic security to Iraqis. And the only major point of disagreement is over time. What is the timetable?

Whether you are asking how long can we stay? or how quickly can we leave? may not matter. I think events and Iraqi politicians will decide on the timetable. All of our posturing and attacking across the political spectrum will prove to be pointless.