War Czar

ABC News reports that President Bush has chosen the Pentagon’s director of operations, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, to be the new War Czar.

In the newly created position of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation, Lute would have the power to direct the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies involved in the two conflicts.

Lute would report directly to the president and to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

I feel sorry for the guy. This will likely screw up the rest of his career.

Lute is a widely respected officer, but is by no means a high-profile player in Washington. Before assuming his position at the Pentagon, he was the director of operations for Central Command while Gen. John Abizaid was the commander.

A West Point graduate who holds a masters degree from Harvard University, Lute also fought in Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Gulf War.

Atrios explains why this is significant:

There will eventually be confirmation hearings. There will be pressure on Democrats to confirm him. Then Tony Snow and the president will say the Democrats have no right to criticize the plans because they just voted to confirm the guy who will implement them.

In other words, reboot the F.U. machine.

What a Quagmire Looks Like

I’ve just begun to read Geoffrey Perret’s new book Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power into a Threat to America’s Future. I’ve not gotten far enough into it to endorse the whole book, but I must say I loved the introduction. After encountering the genius who said “The Islamo Fascists have failed to bring on the quagmire” in Iraq yesterday, I feel compelled to quote a chunk of it (emphasis added).

Three wars — Korea, Vietnam, Iraq — all launched at moments of national crisis, all of them unwinnable.

They were unwinnable for many reasons, but the place to begin is this: in North Korea, North Vietnam, and Iraq, the enemy always held the strategic initiative. The most powerful country in the world found itself dancing to its enemy’s tune, not its own. At times it was possible to seize the tactical initiative — crossing the 38th parallel, launching an aerial blitz against North Vietnam, flattening Fallujah. But the loss of the strategic initiative rules out the path to victory implicit in the military paradigm; namely, that one country imposes its will on another. Instead, the country that has chosen to wage the war finds itself wrestling with an insoluble challenge: a political victory requires a military victory first, because there can be no effective government without security and stability. But a military victory requires a political victory first, in the form of a government strong enough to establish a state monopoly on violence.

That’s precisely where we are in Iraq, and that’s precisely what a quagmire looks like.

As commanders in chief seek military success, only to fail, then lurch off in search of political gains and fail again, time is used up. And time is not neutral. It strengthens the enemy. Knowing that, the enemy is never in a hurry. The longer the struggle lasts, the better their prospects. …

… These modern wars are managed rather than won. It is possible to lose them, yet impossible to achieve victory. …

… in Iraq, the United States is facing an insurgency that has widespread popular support. More than 250,000 young Iraqi males turn eighteen each year, and beyond Iraq, there is an aggrieved Sunni community of more than a billion people. The Iraq insurgency will never run short of manpower, money, or munitions; nor will terrorist groups across the Middle East.

There is a limit to the number of people that the United States can kill, capture, or incapacitate. In Iraq, it can kill tens of thousands, possibly more than a hundred thousand, but not millions, not in the name of liberation, not in the presence of television and camcorders. There are limits to what even a superpower can do without turning the entire civilized world against it. [Geoffrey Perret, Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power into a Threat to America’s Future (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), pp. 5-7]

I go on a rant from time to time — most recently here and here — about how our invasion of Iraq fulfilled Osama bin Laden’s fondest hopes, and how the longer we stay there the better for al Qaeda. I like the way Perret puts it — Time is not neutral. Time is on the enemy’s side. The more time they get, the stronger they will be.

The ever oblivious Max Boot argues that we must give “give Gen. Petraeus and his troops more time–at least another year–to try to change the dynamics on the ground.”

The reality is that Iraq has been experiencing a fairly low-grade civil war until now–one that has been contained by the presence of U.S. troops. While the troop surge in Baghdad hasn’t yet decreased the overall level of violence–suicide bombings, which are notoriously difficult to stop, remain undiminished–the presence of more Iraqi and American troops on the streets has managed to reduce sectarian murders by two-thirds since January. Sunni fanatics are still able to set off their car bombs, but Shiite fanatics are not able to respond in kind by torturing to death 100 Sunnis a night. In other words, the surge is containing the results of the suicide bombings, slowing the cycle of violence that last year was leading Iraq to the brink of the abyss.

The real reality is that Shiites are playing us, according to Peter Harling and Joost Hiltermann, writing for Le Monde diplomatique:

Baghdad’s relative calm is mostly the result of the ability of violent players to preempt the plan and neutralise much of its sting. This is true of both Sunni insurgent groups and Shia militias tied to the government. Followers of Shia militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr have gone to ground, waiting for the storm to pass and allowing US forces to go after Sunni insurgents.

Sunni insurgents responded in two ways, depending on their affiliation. Key commanders of patriotic groups (as they call themselves) withdrew from Baghdad with their heavy weaponry in anticipation of large-scale cordon-and-search operations. They left nominal forces in place to avoid giving the impression of retreat and defeat. Residents in some Sunni districts report that insurgents still roam at will, untouched (indeed, unnoticed) by US military operations, issuing permits and claiming protection money. They melt away when their district’s turn comes.

Even as the Bush administration unveiled its plan, jihadists linked to al-Qaida in Iraq opted to intensify their trademark suicide attacks, announcing a martyr campaign to create a bloodbath in Baghdad. True to its word, the group took credit in February for the largest number of car bombs ever, and the pace has hardly slackened since. Part of al-Qaida’s plan, besides foiling any US sense of progress, is to draw the Sadrist Mahdi Army out into the open and expose it to US attack. Both sides would like US forces to do their dirty work for them.

(Joost Hiltermann is deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa with the International Crisis Group in Amman; Peter Harling is the organization’s senior analyst based in Damascus.)

They’re playing us, people. The Shia are playing us to kill Sunnis for them, and al Qaeda is playing us to kill Shia for them, and the Sunni are probably playing us too. And here is the great unvarnished idiot Max Boot explaining to us that what’s going on in Iraq is “just a low-grade civil war,” and if we keep slogging away we’ll win eventually.

But time is not neutral. Time is on the enemy’s side. The more time we give them, the stronger they are and the weaker we are. And yes, this is a quagmire. In fact, it’s going beyond quagmire stage and turning into a sinkhole.

America Is Pissed

A new Gallup Poll says “Congress Approval Down to 29%; Bush Approval Steady at 33%.” A whole bunch o’ righties are hootin’ about this today. A typical comment:

I guess the lockstep Pelosi-Reid foot soldiers who routinely bloviate in the comments here can rest assured that not even one out of three people in this country approve of the Democrat congress.

I guess the lockstep Pelosi-Reid foot soldiers who routinely bloviate in the comments here can rest assured that not even one out of three people in this country approve of the Democrat congress.

I can only hope the Democrats keep doing what they’re doing – ensuring a lost war, raising taxes by the largest amount in world history, trying to shut down talk radio because they can’t effectively compete, holding our Troops hostage while their approval whittles down to nothing, etc.

Don’t blame us. Blame those rightwing neeeeeocons at Gallup.

Even Bush has a higher aggregate approval rating.

Too sweet.

Sure. What do you want to bet a lot of people are pissed at Congress because they haven’t impeached Bush yet?

An Open Joke

Paul Kiel writes,

The White House’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been an open joke ever since it was launched as a result of a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. The panel was supposed to keep a sharp eye on the government’s possible infringement on citizens’ civil liberties. But it turns out that it’s a bigger joke than people even realized.

Yesterday, one of the board’s five handpicked members, Lanny Davis, resigned. Davis, a former Clinton White House official, left over “administration attempts to control the panel’s agenda and edit its public statements.”

Justin Rood described the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board last November:

The board can’t demand documents; it can’t force bureaucrats who actually implement the program — and who might be aware of malfeasance — to speak with them under oath. Instead, its sole and complete authority is to take the administration at its word.

Well, actually, its sole and complete authority is to be a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. John Solomon and Ellen Nakashima write in today’s Washington Post:

The Bush administration made more than 200 revisions to the first report of a civilian board that oversees government protection of personal privacy, including the deletion of a passage on anti-terrorism programs that intelligence officials deemed “potentially problematic” intrusions on civil liberties, according to a draft of the report obtained by The Washington Post. …

… one section deleted by the administration would have divulged that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s civil liberties protection officer had “conducted reviews of the potentially problematic programs and has established procedures” for intelligence officials to file complaints about possible civil liberties and privacy abuses.

The passage would have been the first public disclosure of an internal review identifying such potentially intrusive intelligence programs. In its place, White House officials suggested more modest language, which ended up as a substitution in the final report.

What exactly is the point of having a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, again?

The panel was created by Congress to address concerns about the government’s growing anti-terrorism surveillance powers but placed under the supervision of the White House without investigative tools such as subpoenas. Some in Congress are pushing to make the board completely independent.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the editing “standard operating procedure,” saying it was appropriate because the board remains legally under the supervision of the Executive Office of the President.

In other words, anything Bushies can get away with is, by definition, “appropriate.”

The document obtained by The Post shows the length that White House officials went to make some changes.

One deleted passage divulged that the board had sent a letter in late January asking Bush to issue an executive order to all federal agencies to fully cooperate with the privacy board. It was prompted by board members’ concerns, including a lengthy delay in receiving a briefing on the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program and White House efforts to keep the media from attending a planned public board meeting scheduled just weeks before last November’s election.

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Fame is something which must be won; honor, only something which must not be lost.” Nah, Schopenhauer was wrong. The Bush crowd never had any honor to lose.

A Black Matter for the King

J. Bacevich is a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran with 23 years of service in the U.S. Army. Today he is a professor of international relations at Boston University. Bachevich saw from the beginning that the Iraq War is a sham and an atrocity, and he has spoken out against it in books and newspaper articles. I’ve quoted him from time to time.

Andrew J. Bacevich’s son was killed in Iraq.

There must be nothing sadder than a parent who must drag himself through the long years of the rest of his life after the death of a child. As of this morning we have lost 3,401 of our children. Fifty U.S. troops have died this month. This is an ocean of sorrow.

Jules Crittendon writes,

A beloved son who followed in his father’s footsteps and gave his life for his country, as his father had put himself in harm’s way in another war four decades before. So Andy Bacevich begins the terrible journey of a father who has to bury a son, and decide for himself what it means.

And Steve Clemons writes,

Now we must add to the count of this tragic conflict another American son — and of course, more Iraqi sons and daughters and American daughters.

I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Bacevich at the home of former Congressman Dave McCurdy this last holiday season. We spoke for a bit about the Iraq war as well as the absence of American strategy and dearth of strategists in government today. I had no idea his son was serving until now.

But this young man did serve his nation — but his death is so incredibly tragic, like the others — but his even more because his well-respected father has been working hard to end this horrible, self-damaging crusade. It’s incredibly sad.

To answer my own question above. Andrew Bacevich’s son’s life was precious — and his life and his untimely death matter greatly for just waking up and realizing we are achieving nothing in Iraq today and that responsibility must be borne by the perpetrators of this mess.

My sincere condolences to the Bacevich family.

Whereupon the rightie blogger — I started to call him the “worthless scumbag rightie blogger,” but I’ll try to contain myself — of Riehl World View blasted Steve C. for using the death of 1st Lt Bacevich for “anti-war propaganda.” Referring to “Andrew Bacevich’s son’s life was precious” the rightie wrote, “So precious, apparently, Clemmons simply couldn’t wait to dash that off, I guess. What a disgrace.”

Disgrace, yes, but the disgrace is not Clemmons’s. Riehl is one of the Bush Bitter Enders who maintains the fiction that to criticize the war is denouncing the troops. But it is no disgrace to be honest, and to say frankly that when our children die in Iraq their lives were wasted. The disgrace would be to hold our tongues and acquiesce to the obscene fiction that killed them. The disgrace is to be one of the brain-dead lackeys who supports Bush’s war.

Josh Marshall speaks to this

There’s a shameless game of moral chicken that war supporters play in which they dare opponents to say the war is a mistake because, they claim, saying so would then dishonor all the men and women who’ve already died in its cause. So to spare the dead that ignominy, kill many more of our children. All to avoid swallowing that bitter pill. But I think there’s a converse to Bates’ argument that I agree with, though I disagree with his claim about the moral reckoning. And that is that the service and the sacrifice wash the death clean of the folly of the leaders who ordered them into the battle.

Josh refers to the scene in Henry V that takes place the night before the Battle of Agincourt, when Harry meets some common soldiers and tells them that he is only “a gentleman of a company.” Ol’ Bill Shakespeare wrote this bit of dialog:


Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough, if we know we are the kings subjects: if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.


But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

George W. Bush and all who support his war have betrayed our country and the troops. And when a beloved son dies, they expect us to accept his murder and keep silent about the crime. They think it is a “disgrace” when we give voice to our outrage and shake our fists at the criminals.

If I believed in hell, I’d want a special place set aside there for all good Bushies.