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It's Our War.

Saturday, January 27, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

It'd be easier if we could blame the king.

George W. Bush is mulish, shallow, close-minded, incurious, incapable of self-examination or self-criticism. He is ignorant of the constitution and indifferent to his oath to defend it. He's divisive, mean and destructive. He's out of his depth. He has lousy judgment. He's been a disaster. He is an awful president. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw his lying, delusional vice-president.

But . . .

The Iraq War, while very much "Mr. Bush's war," is also ours. We are responsible for the outcome because in a democracy we are responsible for having put this dolt in the White House not once but twice. It's an American war, and we're Americans, so we own it.

So set aside Mr. Bush. Set aside the yammering jackasses who've offered him uncritical support as he dug the hole we're now in. Set aside the absolutely justifiable contempt you may have for Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, the GOP, Fox News, the nitwit enablers of the Rightosphere, and ask yourself what the United States should do right now in Iraq.

If your answer is "Get the hell out," I can absolutely understand that. You're not crazy or unpatriotic for reaching that conclusion. This war has been a fiasco. And there is nothing wrong with concluding that we should stop sending men to have their faces blown off in a futile attempt to salvage Mr. Bush's folly.

But I would make this point: the new strategy (okay, half-new) we are pursuing in Baghdad is not a stupid strategy. It is highly unlikely to succeed, but it is not stupid. It's a micro version of the strategy we should have pursued four years ago.

The new strategy is, in effect, the old "take, hold and build," but with the addition of perhaps enough (barely, maybe) to actually do some "holding." Mr. Bush and his generals have not doubled-down on stupidity for once. Instead, driven by desperation and left with no alternative, they've actually reached a rational approach to this war. Probably too late.

Mr. Bush has been driven to this new strategy by the voters, by the Democratic Party, and by GOP critics like Mr. McCain and Mr. Hagel. The critics made this change in policy possible. Mr. Bush's enablers did their best to keep us on the path to defeat. We, the rational and patriotic war critics of all parties, can claim credit for this change: having long rejected deadlines Mr. Bush has now wielded an implicit deadline to bully Mr. Maliki into whatever cooperation he's going to give. The president's enablers have rejected the very sorts of threats and deadlines Mr. Bush is now relying on, and have just as vociferously rejected the very sort of increase in manpower that Mr. Bush is now deploying.

So the point has been made and won by the president's honest critics. The White House has effectively conceded that we needed a firmer hand with Maliki, and more boots on the ground. Yes, too little. Yes, probably too late. But this is the best we can do right now. Yes, yes, it's Mr. Bush's fault that we didn't increase the size of the military and so we find ourselves in this bind, but nevertheless, this is what we can do right now.

The surge doesn't make grand, cosmic, transcendent sense, but down here in the deep hole Mr. Bush dug for us it's as close as we can get to anything that might conceivably salvage this hideous situation.

It is our war. The Iraqi civil war that would almost certainly follow withdrawal would be in part our fault, those deaths on our hands. We can't escape moral responsibility just by pointing an accusing finger at the fool we elected to the presidency. Just as win, lose or draw we won't be able to escape the responsibility for soldiers in coffins and marines in wheelchairs. It's all on us. That's the deal with democracy. It's still our war.

We'll know within a couple of months whether this is going to work. Look for whether we are shooting Shiites or only Sunnis. Look for whether ethnic cleansing is continuing apace. Look for Muqtada to start screaming and threatening -- if he doesn't, if he's okay with all this then we're being played. Don't just look at casualty figures, see whether those casualties are Iraqi army as well as US. If more GI's than Iraqi troops are dying, we're being played.

But give it a couple of months.

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Faint Hope Is Better Than None.

Friday, January 26, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Happy? Sad? A little scared?

The L.A. Times (H/T to Ambivablog) reports:
Thursday, a leader of the Sadr movement in one of its Baghdad strongholds publicly endorsed President Bush's new Iraq security plan, which at least some U.S. officials have touted as a way to combat Sadr's group.

"We will fully cooperate with the government to make the plan successful," said Abdul-Hussein Kaabai, head of the local council in the Shiite Muslim-dominated Sadr City neighborhood. "If it is an Iraqi plan done by the government, we will cooperate."

Why would the Sadrists stand down from a confrontation? In a mock memo in today's Washington Post, Gary Anderson, a defense writer, explains it from the Sadrist point of view. (Unfortunately the WaPo online has decided to publish it as a graphic so I can't cut and paste it.) Bottom line, Anderson "advises" Sadr to stand down except for sniper and IED attacks on Americans.

It's the smart guerilla/insurgent move. You don't go toe-to-toe against a stronger foe. You fade and bide your time.

The danger for Sadr is that while he's biding his time we may manage to convince the residents of Baghdad that life is better under the central government slash American forces than it was under Sadr. The be-turbanned fat boy may bide a bit too long and become irrelevant.

I wouldn't bet the mortgage money on it -- it may be pitifully easy to gin up anti-American sentiment among the Shiites, no matter how much we improve their daily lives. In that case Sadr would only be on vacation, not gone for good.

But if I were Muqtada al Sadr I wouldn't be completely confident, either. Iraqis may be just about sick of this. They may be in the mood for a long, relaxing pause between confrontations. Enough of a pause for us to declare victory of sorts and get the hell out of Dodge.

I said here I thought the odds on the surge were about like roulette odds. I'll stick with that bet.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Good man screwed by scoundrels.

John McCain, who was denied the presidency six years ago in part because of racist slanders from Mr. Bush's team of hatchetmen, has tied his 2008 run to Mr. Bush's incompetent management of the Iraq War.

Sometimes McCain lives up to his reputation for integrity and for blurting out the truth:

Although McCain had once lavished praise on the vice president, he said in an interview in his Senate office: "The president listened too much to the Vice President . . . Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the Vice President and, most of all, the Secretary of Defense."

McCain added: "Rumsfeld will go down in history, along with McNamara, as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history." Donald Rumsfeld served as President Bush's secretary of defense from January 2001 to December 2006. Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War.
We've evolved categories of war critics. The categories range from Pacifist Critics (all war is wrong,) to Mission Impossible Critics (this was doomed by definition, a fool's errand,) to Big Footprint Critics (if you're going to do it, do it right,) and many gradations in between.

Big Footprint Critics believe it was never going to be easy so we had to go in big or stay home. More to the point, we (I'll slip myself into this category along with Mr. McCain,) believe even if it was going to be easy you act on the assumption it's going to be hard. Never go with "just enough." Life is unpredictable: overprepare.

McCain decisively makes a point I've tried to make repeatedly:

Without naming names, McCain said, "It is ironic that many of my colleagues who are now wavering were those who were down the line in support (of the war) and would come back from Iraq saying that everything is fine and the troops are wonderful and it's the media (that is the problem). And I came back from my first trip saying, 'You better get more boots on the ground! You better change this.' Now I am hung with it. It's fascinating!"
Silence is not patriotism. People who saw clearly that the war was a mess, and said so, were helping. Those who shushed or even attacked dissenters actively damaged our prospects for victory.

The Pacifist Critics are well-meaning nitwits. The Mission Impossible Critics may have been right, I don't know. But the Big Footprint Critics were undeniably more right than the defenders of Stay The Course. We should at least have tried. Yes, even if it reqquired Mr. Bush to admit he'd screwed up. We should have tried to get it right.

McCain said in the interview that the success of the American mission in Iraq "will be directly related to the ability of the Iraqi military to take up responsibilities. Their record is terrible." Also, he said, "There is still enormous bureaucratic resistance (to the troop surge) in the Pentagon, and it bothers me a great deal. The bureaucrats in the military are saying this is a terrible strain on the (National) Guard and the active duty forces, and it is. There is only one thing worse than an over-stressed military, and that's a defeated military. And we are on the verge of that."

McCain said that even the planned insertion of 21,500 new U.S. troops into Iraq, which he supports, may not succeed. "I don't know if this is enough troops or not," McCain said. "I can't guarantee success by doing this."
The army is strained because for four years the very people who should have been allies of the Big Footprinters were enforcing a conservative political correctness. It's the Right that should have seen we needed more men in the army, and more men in Iraq. But they put loyalty to Mr. Bush, reflexive media-bashing, and antipathy toward any and all dissenters, ahead of their reponsibility to help secure victory.

The casualties so far? The dead and wounded of course. The dead and wounded still to come, both GI's and civilians. But also, American credibility, a degree of American power . . . and very likely the political career of John McCain.

"Life isn't fair, as Jack Kennedy said," McCain added with his typical mordancy.

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