Goin’ South

The Ministry of Truth is working overtime to keep the True Believers in line. Victor Davis Hanson writes that we are winning the war in Iraq and will prevail as long as we believe.

“What seems to me most inexplicable is the war over the war–not the purported absence of a plan, but that the more we are winning in the field, the more we are losing it at home,” he says. What seems to me most inexplicable is that Victor Davis Hanson is, I assume, bright enough to dress himself. (Fortunately, Mr. Hanson does not require further snarking; Robert Farley has snarked for us all.)

At the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, Ralph Peters writes that the reporting from Baghdad is all wrong — no civil war here

The reporting out of Baghdad continues to be hysterical and dishonest. There is no civil war in the streets. None. Period.

Terrorism, yes. Civil war, no. Clear enough?

Yesterday, I crisscrossed Baghdad, visiting communities on both banks of the Tigris and logging at least 25 miles on the streets. With the weekend curfew lifted, I saw traffic jams, booming business — and everyday life in abundance.

“Baghdad isn’t London during the Blitz, and certainly not New York on 9/11,” he continues. Possibly not, but those weren’t civil wars, either. And as someone who traveled nearly the length of Manhattan in a slow-moving car on 9/11 trying to get off the island, I can promise you that if you were anywhere north of about 14th Street there was no sign of anything amiss on that day, except for smoke in the sky. From midtown on north you couldn’t even see the smoke in the sky. One could see shoppers, people dining in sidewalk cafes, people walking dogs, all perfectly normal. Yet it was 9/11.

The moral is, sometimes one pair of eyes isn’t seeing the whole picture.

Ellen Knickmeyer reports for the Washington Post that in parts of Iraq Shiites are being told to leave their homes or be killed. That sounds rather … uncivil.

I don’t claim to know what’s going on in Iraq. It is possible that the current round of violence will settle down. But, truly, “reporting” like Mr. Peters’s sends a bigger chill down my spine than the stories of violence in Iraq. It makes me realize what dangers we are in here.

Brilliant quote du jour: “If the president actually believes that he has never wavered from his course, it makes you remember that all motion is relative.” Snort.

Update: Scott Ritter, “Iraq: A Solution to Nothing”

A Matter of Trust

Peter Baker writes in today’s Washington Post that Republicans in Congress are rebelling against the “Bush Policy Decision Process.”

“We simply want to participate and aren’t going to be PR flacks when they need us,” [Rep. Mark] Foley said. “We all have roles. We have oversight. When you can’t answer your constituents when they have legitimate questions . . . we can’t simply do it on trust.”

In the Bush Policy Decision Process, policy decisions are made within a tightly sealed bubble, and the only people allowed inside the bubble are those who can be trusted to support the President’s policy. (Exactly how decisions are made within an ensemble of sycophants is a mystery, but the few who have witnessed this stage of the process and talked about it to outsiders say that politics is the driving consideration.) Republicans in Congress play a purely supporting role (as PR flacks), unless it’s decided the policy will be kept secret. In that case, it appears they play no role at all.

On at least one occasion I can think of, congressional Republicans loyally flacked a White House policy even as the White House planned in secret to scuttle it. You’ll remember that in 2001 and early 2002, the Bush Administration fought against the formation of a Department of Homeland Security. This opposition pre-dated 9/11; various proposals for realigning national security bureaucracies, in particular the recommendations of the Hart-Rudman Commission, had been kneecapped by the Bush Administration as soon as it took over the White House.

After 9/11 the Bushies slapped together an Office of Homeland Security. This was preferred by the Bubble People because, as it was not cabinet level, its administrators would not be compelled to report to Congress. Republican legislators vigorously flacked for the Office and derided a bill sponsored by Dem Senator Joe Lieberman that would have created a cabinet-level DHS.

But in 2002 the White House began to worry the Democrats’ idea was getting traction with the public. Susan B. Glasser and Michael Grunwald wrote in the Washington Post (December 22, 2005),

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties were upset by Bush’s refusal to let Ridge testify as a presidential aide, and Lieberman’s bill to create a new department was gaining momentum. While many Republicans were leery about a vast new bureaucracy, they did not want to cede the homeland security issue to the Democrats.

“That was driving decisions,” one senior Ridge aide said.

In March 2002 White House chief of staff Andy Card and five other loyal and trusted White House aides, most of whom had no experience whatsoever with managing big bureaucracies or national security, began to meet secretly in the White House basement to draw up plans for the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans in Congress were kept in the dark; as far as they knew, the assignment to fight any DHS proposals was still operative.

Glasser and Grunwald wrote that when President Bush announced the new DHS proposal in June 2002,

On Capitol Hill, Bush’s allies were left tongue-tied by his abrupt shift. In late May the White House had pushed Republicans on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to oppose Lieberman’s bill. Now, Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) told Lieberman: “I’ve been having a great time explaining my enthusiastic support for a proposition I voted against two weeks ago.”

But the driving consideration had been to take the DHS issue away from Democrats, not to join them. To achieve this end Karl Rove inserted a “poison pill” into the White House DHS plan — a provision that DHS employees be non-union. The Democrats, naturally, opposed the DHS plan because of the anti-union provision. The White House was then able to go to voters and say that Dems opposed the DHS proposal because were obstructionists who played politics with national security.

Mission accomplished. And the brilliant results were on display after Katrina — the DHS, which the Bush White House never took seriously, is such a convoluted mess it can’t find its own butt with both hands and a flashlight.

I bring up this story because it’s such a beautiful example of how the White House operates. The Bushies have a pathological distrust of anyone outside their very exclusive bubble. This distrust extends even to prominent Republicans who don’t happen to be long-time Bush family cronies. Congressional Republicans are jerked around, even played for fools. The Bushies got away with it because of Bush’s political power. As R.J. Eskow explained, “They’ve got the candy.”

But now that Bush’s once-untouchable popularity is tanking — maybe not. WaPo‘s Peter Baker writes,

The signs of GOP discontent have been building in the past few months. Dissident Republicans in Congress forced Bush to sign a measure banning torture of detainees despite his initial veto threat, blocked renewal of the USA Patriot Act until their civil liberties concerns were addressed and pressured the White House into accepting legislation on its secret eavesdropping program. By the time the port deal came to light, the uprising was no longer limited to dissidents. …

… The breakdown of the Republican consensus on national security both reflects and exacerbates Bush’s political weakness heading toward the midterm elections, according to party strategists. Even as Republicans abandoned him last year on domestic issues such as Social Security, Hurricane Katrina relief and Harriet Miers’s Supreme Court nomination, they had largely stuck by him on terrorism and other security issues.

Karl Rove, the president’s political guru and deputy chief of staff, has already signaled that he intends to use national security as the defining issue for the fall congressional campaigns, just as he did to great effect in 2002 and 2004. But with Bush’s numbers still falling, the Republicans who will be on the ballot have decided to define the security issue in their own way rather than defer to the president’s interpretation.

President Bush is taking a serious hit on the UAE port deal. I said yesterday that the way the deal was handled shows a breakdown in the Bush Policy Decision Process. As usual, congressional Republicans were kept in the dark. As with the DHS flipflop, congressional Republicans only learned about the port deal when it became news. But this time, for some reason, the standard packaging/marketing/smear campaign (see the flow chart) was not already prepared and ready to put into place. The Bushies came up with an on-the-fly smear (opponents to the deal are just racists), but they had no apparent packaging and marketing plan. This meant that when citizen opposition to the plan hit Congress, Republicans had no media cover from the VRWC echo chamber. Initially they were left naked and exposed, without so much as a fig leaf of a talking point to cover themselves. The attempts at packaging and marketing that have been made since have been ineffectual.

Of course, had our federal government been working the way it was supposed to, congressional leaders would have been kept in the loop as the deal was being negotiated. And they would have had a chance to ask questions and investigate possible security problems before the deal was made public. Then, assuming the deal is not risky, they would have been prepared to defend it. Back to Peter Baker:

James B. Steinberg, who was President Bill Clinton’s deputy national security adviser, said Bush “just overstepped” and alienated allies by not involving Congress in the matter.

“Even if you’re a Republican member of Congress, you don’t buy the exaggerated view of the unified executive theory, in which the only part of the Constitution that matters is Article II,” on presidential power, said Steinberg, now dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you want them to be in on the landing, you have to have people there for the takeoff.”

Syndicated columnist Marianne Means writes,

The Pentagon says the UAE is a strong military ally and can be relied on not to jeopardize U.S. interests.

But as a nation we are growing weary of the constant refrain by this administration’s leaders that no matter what they do, we should simply trust them. Once again, no congressional consultation or public discussion took place before a secret panel sealed the UAE-port deal. This familiar clandestine approach drives members of Congress crazy.

But the Bushies don’t trust anyone outside the bubble. Yesterday we got one more story (how many have there been so far? I’ve lost count) about foreign policy experts warning the Bush Administration of what could go wrong in Iraq, and the Bush Administration ignoring them. There’s an assumption in the White House that anything that didn’t originate in the heads of Dick, Condi, and Karl isn’t worth knowing. And after all that’s gone wrong, the Bush White House still seems to be operating on that assumption.

Further, after all that’s gone wrong, President Bush still seems to think he deserves the nation’s trust. Yesterday his “explanation” of the port deal was “If there was any doubt in my mind or people in my administration’s minds that our ports would be less secure or the American people in danger, this deal wouldn’t go forward.” In other words, trust me.

But he never explains the reasoning behind policies beyond glittering generalities and platitudes. Even his few attempts at “candor” end up being just calculated theatrics. Clearly, he doesn’t trust the American people enough to level with us. We’re just supposed to trust him.

Mr. President: We don’t.

(Cross-posted to The American Street)