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March 22, 2006

Comments

I have a friend who is serving in Iraq. He just sent word that his post near Tikrit, formerly a Forward Operating Base, has had a name change. Yup, it's a permanent base now. We're not pulling out any time soon: they started pouring concrete months ago.

If staying the course in Iraq won't do, what will?

Not staying the course?

Sorry: first, defining what "staying the course" actually means. Then, not doing that.

Von: The Democrats, however, haven't offered any alternative

You mean, aside from the alternative of "Let's quit killing Iraqi civilians, torturing Iraqis, and getting US soldiers killed, for no definable purpose, which is what Bush wants the US to keep doing from now until forever, apparently."

It's a considerably better alternative than the one the Republicans are proposing, which appears to be "Mess? What mess? This sticky brown stuff smells so sweet and isn't there a freshly-painted school over there?"

Actually, I think there have been many options offered by Democrats, but they are individualistic plans, not a Democratic Party plan.

But then, of course, there really is no Republican plan, either, just a Bushian, even though everything is going down the sewer, just trust me.

Some Republicans have broken from that rote king adoration approach and talked about options, i.e. Hagel.

And finally, when an entire group is left out of the process, in this case democrats (except maybe Lieberman) it is difficult for them to actually 1) propose anything, 2) have any proposals taken seriously and 3) avoid being classed as "cut and run defeatists" or terrorist loving anti-American traitors.

The Reid plan is called Murtha.
It just can't come out of Reid's mouth until enough Americans are ready for it and enough RNC journos have been neutalised.
Americans are almost there.(you need 60% + momentum to make it work)
Journos are starting to move too, witness Kristol and Cookie.
You have to be patient and chose the right moment to play your hand, or the "knife in the back" people will get the upper hand.

A retreat in good order is considered one of the most difficult military maneuvers any unit can do. It requires an officer of experience and skill to pull it off. The same is true in politics. Successfully building a consensus for withdrawl from a foreign war is perhaps the most politically difficult thing a leader or a party can do. You have to time your movement with events and public sentiment or you will risk political defeat.

If you want Reid to succeed don't heckle the man, he's juggling chainsaws. Find a way to support him. Build the support for withdrawl and the plan will come.

The plan is not the problem. Solid supra-majority support and political cover are. Incidently this is what it took to get America out of Vietnam.

von: I agree with Northern Observer: whether or not Reid has proposed a plan, Democrats certainly have. (Murtha.)

That said, I think it was a lot easier earlier on. Then, when there was some hope that things might come right if only we did the right thing (whatever that was), it was easier for people to come forward and propose it. Not that anyone actually listened to them, but still.

Now, if you think we've come to a point where all the alternatives are bad, it's a lot harder to say what exactly we should do, especially when your pronouncements have precisely no chance of affecting policy. Not that I think this lets Democrats off the hook, and, as I noted, there are Congressional Democrats who have made proposals. Still, it's as though someone else has first set a house on fire and then let it burn out of control; at a certain point there's not a lot you can do to salvage the situation, but there's a fairly big downside to being tagged as the guy who says it's hopeless.

Was there something about willpower? Or was it Will To Power? Baby, I love that way!

Did you have a better driving plan than careening off a cliff? Learn to fly? NOW who's being unrealistic!

Also, "What's *your* plan?" is not entirely fair.

The situation has been rendered so unworkable, through bad decision after bad decision, that there is *no* good way out. Any plan is going to have a number of very, very bad consequences. We cannot come up with a good plan; we have to assess the least awful one.

So this is a gambit, like "what's *your* plan to fix Social Security?" -- get the Democrats to put forth a plan, and merrily attack it because it will result in a lot of death and destruction.

What's missing from this discussion is the leader admitting error, analyzing mistakes, and asking for help. No opposition figure in their right mind should offer a plan until the people who screwed it up take responsibility, accept accountability and show that they've learned something.

I have no illusion that's going to happen. But no dialogue can occur until it does. It can't be a one-way street -- "Well, what's *your* plan, dude?" And since day one, the Republican leaders have operated in one direction only -- without listening to any concerns.

My own feeling is that we need to withdraw, tails between our legs or not. We can have a slowly developing civil war, with our soldiers getting shot in the middle, or we can have a civil war sooner. There's going to be one either way.

And any terrorists that are helping the insurgents will be less welcome (and less interested) once we're not there to shoot at anymore.

The Democrats, however, haven't offered any alternative; * * * at the end of the day, though, "Bush got us into this mess" is not a foreign policy.

Put another way:

The Republicans, however, haven't offered any alternative (even though few still sing the praises of Bush's wisdom); at the end of the day, saying "Bush got us into this war so we just have to stay the course" is not a foreign policy.

I have yet to hear any Republican articulate a sensible plan for the Iraq mess. So take your own medicine and try to do something better than tell us how we just have to stick with the loser we got.

The most important thing that can be done now is for thinking people, and in particular Republicans since they are responsible for this mess, to acknowledge that the Iraq war is a mess and that the Republican ideology that got us there was dead wrong. Then just maybe we won't dig a deeper hole; or a new one in Iran.

I don't think the opposition party gets to have a foreign policy. You can propose a competing bill in Congress, after all, but you can't simultaneously conduct your own negotiations with Iran and see who does better.

Domestic policy is something you can theorize about. Except at the most basic level, foreign policy is something you simply do, and either you do it well or you do it poorly. Bush is going to be president until 2009, so demanding that Harry Reid play the game of "what would you do if YOU were president" is a useless exercise.

Even if the Democrats proposed a plan for what they would do today if they were president, we get into a cycle where Bush ignores their plan, thus creating a different situation than what the Democrats would have accomplished, at which point the Democrats are once again challenged to come up with a new plan that addresses the new, Bush-created set of facts, at which point Bush ignores the new plan, etc. It's a game that could be played forever, to no real end.

But by calling attention to this "open-ended commitment", mightn't you cause folks to think - "Well, we're still in Japan and Germany 60 years after WWII - thst seems rather open-ended, too, and yet nobody is clamoring for an immediate withdrawal from Yukoska or Ramstein"

"What's missing from this discussion is the leader admitting error, analyzing mistakes, and asking for help. No opposition figure in their right mind should offer a plan until the people who screwed it up take responsibility, accept accountability and show that they've learned something."

This should be tattooed on the forehead of every policy-maker in the so-called Party of Personal Responsibility, every wannabe Republican policy-maker, and every Republican pundit, wannabe or otherwise. Tattooing it up and down the spines of Democratic Congresspeople wouldn't hurt, either.

tomaig: But by calling attention to this "open-ended commitment", mightn't you cause folks to think - "Well, we're still in Japan and Germany 60 years after WWII - thst seems rather open-ended, too, and yet nobody is clamoring for an immediate withdrawal from Yukoska or Ramstein"

I would think that most folks who were historically-minded enough to think about the US's open-ended committment to Japan and Germany would be historically-educated enough to realise that there are significant differences between the Allied occupation of Germany and Japan, and the US occupation of Iraq.

Not least, that in neither Germany nor Japan in 1948, the US airforce was not still making bombing raids on cities with consequent civilian deaths, nor were US army rounding up mass numbers of Germans and Japanese, putting them in prison camps, and torturing them.

A plan to avert civil war? Most of the country knows that ship has sailed. A plan to make things marginally better for a short time? Try:

1. Stop torturing people.
2. Stop killing civilians, no matter how many #2's you think you get out of it.
3. Stop stealing everything in Iraq that's not nailed down.
4. Stop pouring concrete for permanent bases.

One would think you wouldn't actually have to enumerate the above, but for Bush and his enablers maybe you have to.

yet nobody is clamoring for an immediate withdrawal from Yukoska or Ramstein

small nitpick
Yokosuka. Had Okinawa been chosen, one has to note that people are clamoring for immediate withdrawal.

I seem to remember lots of stories about Bavarians blowing up churches in Hamburg in 1948.

4. Stop pouring concrete for permanent bases.

Rule number four: never give anything sturdy to the Iraqis?

Rule number four: never give anything sturdy to the Iraqis?

Rule number five: Kirkuk is not Tikrit.

"Bush got us into this mess" is not a foreign policy.

"Please don't get us into this mess", "mess" being Iraq, was my foreign policy. "Bush got us into this mess" is my domestic electoral strategy. Kinda like color-coded terrorist (they might raise taxes) alerts invoked repeatedly in the months leading up to an election, but never in the months following an election, are Bush's domestic electoral strategies.

Messes are useful. Foreign policy? Not so much.

Rule number six: never try to assign a point to me that I haven't actually made. Unless you don't mind looking silly, that is.

Slarti: Unless you don't mind looking silly, that is.

Then perhaps you shouldn't have made yourself look silly by assigning a point to Tim that he hadn't actually made? Or at least, then not complaining when someone does the same to you as you'd just done upthread?

by assigning a point to Tim that he hadn't actually made

Oh, but I didn't.

I do feel that "pouring concrete" doesn't necessarily imply "permanent bases", or at least not permanent bases four the US Army. Which is the implication; else why might it offend?

s/four/for

Actually, Slarti is right in regards to my "point". I thought he was replying to susabelle at the top.

So, yes, I look silly.

Rule number seven: spartikus only looked silly for a few seconds, and almost no one was looking.

von, numerous Democrats, including the rather well-informed Jack Murtha, have proposed an as-orderly-as-possible departure, not immediate and hasty, but as-soon-as-possible. Tim's intermediate checklist sounds pretty good too.

Now maybe you don't like this alternative. I sure as hell don't. I suspect that a flat-out sectarian and possibly regional war will commence, with bloodshed and tribulation that will make many Iraqis long for the calmer days of US occupation. I am also skeptical that it's still possible to extract 130k US personnel from Iraq without a significant rise in casualty rates. Never mind their equipment. I just think that's the best we can hope for at this point. Amputate before the gangrene goes any further.

What I am getting at here is that the milk is already spilt. The catastrophe is already in progress. The reason nobody is offering better alternatives is that there are no better alternatives. Triply not so with the current executive in charge of implementing them. Before November of 2004, it might have been possible for the American people to repudiate the Bush doctrine and salvage something (though it is not clear to me that civil war in Iraq could have been averted at any time after the first year or so). Now? The Iraqis are screwed and so are we. No amount of self-flagellation is going to change that, and neither is demanding that the Democrats (Again! Odin's beard! I've spent my entire adult life trapped in this movie!) figure out how to clean up the mess that Republicans have created.

This is a stages of grief thing, von. Something you love is gone forever. If you want to get to acceptance and closure you need to stop the denial and bargaining. And I'm pretty sure that I speak for many of the people who warned against this illegal and unjust war when I say that I'd rather have spent the rest of my life eating ashes and nails than to have been proven correct about this particular question.

radish: "And I'm pretty sure that I speak for many of the people who warned against this illegal and unjust war when I say that I'd rather have spent the rest of my life eating ashes and nails than to have been proven correct about this particular question."

You certainly speak for me.

#4 could be negotiable. If you do pour concrete, do not use KBR. Let the Iraqis design and build it. After all, they're supposed to be the ones to use it.

radish: "And I'm pretty sure that I speak for many of the people who warned against this illegal and unjust war when I say that I'd rather have spent the rest of my life eating ashes and nails than to have been proven correct about this particular question."

Me, too.

So, Von, did you have a plan for engaging your readers, or was the plan to drop this bomb and then cut and run?

"'Bush got us into this mess' is not a foreign policy" is not a foreign policy.

Me too.

I argued against the war in my pre-blogging days, but I also prayed that it would end quickly and be competently managed. In my almost child-like expectation that this administration could actually be competent.

Of course, I should have known that the very fact they were going into Iraq and leaving Afghanistan to stumble along was in and of itself a demonstration of the incompetence.

And, BTW, to all those who think that the Democrats don't present plans and are only obstructionists, Kerry did present the framework of a plan in 2004. And he rightfully erfused to be too precise for the simple reason, as he stated, that he could not predict what the ituation would be in January, 2005, when he woudl have ahd the power to do somethign about it.

The same thing applies today. And any statement by Bush that he welcomes debate on this issue shoukld be taken for exactly what it is worth, nothing.

The typo gremlin has been at it again. Too many to correct.

(Forgot to add, have we not been here ["Arguing against the Republican policy is not a foreign policy."] before ["as trenchant as sarcasm may be, it's not a foreign policy."]?)

If staying the course in Iraq won't do, what will?

I'm in software development, which is an inexact science, and planning lengthy software development projects is a bit of an artform. One of the things that sets of my spidey-sense is a developer who starts off an estimate with "Well, if everything goes well...".

This is the sure sign that a developer does not understand software development. Nothing ever goes well, and every good software development plan needs to take failure into account, and plan for that as well.

I'm also currently reading Gwynne Dyer's War, and was stuck by some of the stuff on planning for combat, in that defeat and disaster must also be planned for as well. Failing to take those into consideration means catastrophy instead of orderly withrdrawal and regrouping.

When someone is at a loss as to what needs to be done other than staying the course, that seems a sign that they have been completely unable to comprehend the possibility of failure.

I think the best strategy possible at this time is to recognize that the Iraq War has been lost, and decide what can be recovered. Iraq is heading for civil war at the least, and regional conflict at the worst. The US has lost a great deal of international credibility, and nations are beginning to bypass it diplomatically, and to form new alliances at a time of great international instability. The cause of humanitarian intervention has probably been set back a decade.

Now, what can, or should, be recovered?

That, Von, is the question that should be asked before asking what course should be taken.

I think it is unfair to say the "Democrats" haven't offered any alternative. Alternative to what? Besides, there is no one individual who is in charge of foreign poicy for "the Democrats." If Reid offers a plan, it's Reid's, not "the Democrats'."

Republicans also have no plan, with no excuse. Where is Bill Frist's plan? I guess he supports Bush's non-plan, which seems to be to hang on until he is out of office, and can't be blamed for the withdrawal. Wonder how that will play if Frist (shudder) gets elected in 2008?

Blast from the Past

Chris Albritton is taking a vacation from Iraq.

"But crowing “I told you so!” — which is not even emotionally gratifying anymore — does little to solve the problem. But I don’t know what the solution is anymore. We’re a hair’s breadth away from civil war, American troops can neither stay or go without an even higher body count and we have a political process that is awash with egos, sectarian tensions and lacking in leadership. And that’s just in America. It’s even worse in Iraq.

I have to confess: I can’t see a way out of this briar patch without a whole lot more bloodshed. And at the risk of sounding defeatist — hell, I’ve been here a long time, I can say what I want — I see the likely end as defeat and ruin for Iraqis, the United States and the region." ...CA

The current 50 deaths a day will likely rise to 500. A US presence can keep it from becoming 5000, if Sistani doesn't get too bitter about what we have done to his country. We don't necessarily decide whether or when we leave. We may not be able to save our army. Bush will not serve out his term, nervous breakdown becoming more likely every day.

"Ruin for Iraq, the US, and the region." No, von, the only thing Democrats need to do is to make certain the American people understand who committed this crime, so they are not allowed to gain power ever again. Partisan finger-pointing has become a moral imperative.

Let me add my voice to the chorus by saying it seems churlish of Von to declare that 'no plan' (where a 'plan' is not really possible as several have mentioned upthread) is worse than the present situation where there is either A) no plan or B) a demonstrably bad, failed plan. If your best argument is 'well, you might do worse, you don't really have much, do you?

Bernard brings up a good point. Some of the Republican leadership have ideas of being elected president in 2008 themselves, so why are they going along with the Bush "plan" of bumbling along mindlessly and leaving it up to the next president to figure out how to get the troops out -- thus automatically becoming the person who lost the Iraq war? Do they imagine the bumbling can continue through 2016, or whenever some hapless Democrat manages to be elected and stuck with the hot potato?

My apologies for not engaging or updating; my day unexpectedly took a turn for the worse. In a short response:

1. Murtha's plan is not the "Democratic" plan. Indeed, it has been rejected by large portions of the Democratic party.

2. Regarding a withdrawal, however structured: I agree with Belgravia, who argues persuasively that, although Iraq is not presently in a civil war, a withdrawal will precipitate one. I realize that the situation appears bad but believe me: there are much, much worse cases -- which should be avoided.

3. Jes: I'll be in London on business from April 10 through 13. If you'd like to see what a real, live American center-righty looks like, I'd be more than willing to meet for tea, crumpets, or, preferrably, beer. My schedule is TBD, unfortunately, so I can't yet propose a time; however, mid-day on April 10 (Monday) looks best at the moment. E-mail the kitty if interested.

Von, re your statement about the "Murtha Plan", nobody said it was the Democratic plan, just one presented by a Democrat.

But then, as many have pointed out, there is no Republican plan either.

OK Von

If we can't leave, what is your plan for staying - it seems like more of the same isn't likely to provide any better results than have been obtained so far, and likely things will deteriorate further. Max Boot has a plan today (see Drum) but it doesn't seem very realistic.

Maybe it would be worthwhile to imagine what the landscape in Iraq will look like in 2008 under the likely Bush plan as an altgernative to cutting and running. My guess is essentially an afganistan scenario. Tribal warlordism with extensive meddling from outside interests.

Congress has certain oversight responsibilities regarding a war, or so we used to think in any event, but the Founding Fathers basically understood that anything akin to a war basically has to be run by one guy and his management team.

The idea that an entire political party, or a significant portion thereof, must come to agreement on a single battle plan to be taken seriously is absurd. The only reason the Republcians are given a fair pass under this standard is because they are all like "uh, whatever the president decides to do, that's my plan."

For a long time now, the administration has refused to set any objective benchmarks whatsoever by which it might be proven (or disproven) that we are making things better in Iraq by our presence. The fact that things, in the short term, may get worse if we leave does not mean they will get better if we stay, and it does not mean we are accomplishing anything by staying.

I don't know why the foremost component of our national interest is to ensure that the Shiites in Iraq do not have to surrender an inch of political power to the Sunnis, but I am no longer willing to pay hundreds of billions of dollars each year to find out.

...at the end of the day, though, "Bush got us into this mess" is not a foreign policy.

And yet it is the current foreign policy of the United States of America.

Hahaha! Rest assured, the Murtha plan will almost certainly be referred to by one or more front-pagers here as "the Democrat's plan" the next time they have a need to do so for rhetorical purposes. As surely as night follows day.

I find Von to be a straight shooter and I am sure his frustration with the Dems is genuine, but Bush and the Repubs in Congress aren't like Von.

What would happen if tomorrow the Dems issued a 10 point plan which explained in detail what we need to do in order to disengage from Iraq over a three year period?

Does anyone think the Repubs or Bush in particular would then try to engage in an honest national dialouge about the war? I sure don't. Bush has had the ability to do that for the last three years and he has chosen not to. What I do think would happen is the Republicans would beat the Democrats over the head with their shiny new plan.

Charlie Brown is never going to kick the football if Lucy is holding it and our country is never going to have an honest debate about Iraq as long as Dubya is in charge.

I'll agree that von is a straight shooter, but why is he more frustrated with the Democrats' lack of a plan than with the administration's, considering that the administration is the one actually running the war?

Or does "keep doing what we're doing, forever" actually count as a plan? I suppose we've been using a plan like that on Cuba for 40-some years, but at we're not spending thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars doing it.

I sympathize with those who say, happily or otherwise, that this is the Republicans' war so it's up to THEM to figure out a way out.

It's certainly true that any serious proposal will be viciously attacked by Republican political operatives, both because it will involve a lot of pain for a lot of people (things are so bad that there's no way around that), and because they are desperate to distance themselves from their responsibility for the situation. Case in point is Murtha, who it is well known was articulating publicly what is being said quietly but widely among military professionals.

That being the case, why take the monkey on your own back? Do you think the Republicans would do the same if the situation was reversed?

But, if one insists on succumbing to Coastal Liberal Guilt Syndrome (if not the more serious Chardonnay-Latte Disease), then one is obliged to point out a few things:
-- We cannot enforce a peace alone. It's not clear whether our being there is by itself so much of a spur to disorder that we could do no net good even with a million troops, but the fact is, we're politically and militarily overstretched already, and the best we can do by ourselves is to prolong the agony.
-- At least in the short term, the Iraqis can't fix it themselves, even with our help. They have no national political institutions of any competence, authority, or experience. Their only national institution, the army, is basically a collection of sectarian militias. Their political vendettas have been nurtured for centuries. The country, which after all was defined arbitrarily by the British early last century, has never been stable except under the most ruthless control. (See also "Yugoslavia, former country of".) Even if some modus vivendi eventually can be worked out, which certainly is not guaranteed, there's too little to build on, and too much to overcome, for that to happen at all quickly.
-- The only options for us therefore are to internationalize the operation or withdraw slowly or quickly. The first obviously would be much the better, but of course it would require patient and mature leadership on our part and therefore is unlikely.
-- Our government almost certainly has no intention of withdrawing entirely. The size and permanence of the military facilities we have constructed, and are continuing to construct, is the best evidence that one of their principal strategic aims was to establish a large and lasting military presence in Oil Country. This militates against any effective internationalization of the situation.

One is left with the conclusion that, to maintain a military presence, the administration intends to gradually withdraw troops -- as it must for purely logistical reasons -- to re-deploy the remaining troops to isolated and fortified bases, and to try to stay out of harm's way (except to "protect" oil resources, of course) as the civil war unfolds. With enough troops home, and the civil war re-defined as "crazy Arabs fighting each other," the media and the American body politic will gradually lose interest.

The only way to fight that is politically. Which gets us back to the original point: it's up to the Republicans to say what to do.

Was winding myself up to a response, but find that Steve (at 5:37 p.m.) has done it more effectively than I possibly could.

I find myself in unusually complete agreement with Bob McManus, too. (2:40 p.m.)

And I should learn to refresh before posting, in that bleh's contribution is best of all.

In other war on terror news, we've reached the point where the Pentagon "formally requir[ing] military prosecutors to observe a U.N. convention against torture in their use of evidence during tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp" is described as a "key change in U.S. policy". Super.

There's no "Democratic position" on anything. People who think there is one, or think it's significant to point out the lack one, don't understand what it means to be a Democrat. If you want a plan everyone has agreed to -- something that can be clung to regardless of changing circumstances, become a Republican.

No, really. Pick the issue, and anyone can find prominent Dems on opposing sides in a few minutes of googling about. It's been our fate since the time of Jefferson, through the time of Stephen Douglas, Truman, LBJ, WJC.

Bush's open ended commitment in Iraq also sounds like a cowardly way of passing the buck to the next guy without having to admit failure.

"Bush got us into this mess" is not a foreign policy.

How about we reinstate the draft and put every single college educated male under the age of thirty who is a member of the Republican Party starting with this guy at the top of the list.

Your war, you go fight it!

I just got a survey from the DNC, asking my opinio on Iraq and offering two alternatives: stay until the country stabilizes, or leave now.
so I suppose the DNC could be assumed to be debating between those towo choices.
Just to be contrary, I wrote in "Murtha's plan", made my own box, and checked it.
I also sent them a hundred bucks because they have finally (finalyy!) realized that Iraq is an isue. None of the prior surveys from DNC, DCCC, or D-anything else even had Iraq listed as an issue, mush less ask for my opion on what to do.
I get pissed at the Dems, too. three years into the war and they fianlly get it that its an electin issue.
So I'm with von. people porporting to be leadrs of the Democrats need to lead ans that means state and defend a position and not be scared of what the mean old Republicans will say about it.
'Course i have no idea, really, what the position ought to be.

For a start we could send this chickenhawk to Iraq

Uh, yes, Alonzo, you already said that two comments up.

"Bush's open ended commitment in Iraq also sounds like a cowardly way of passing the buck to the next guy without having to admit failure."

Oh, it's that, and then some.

If the next President is a Democrat, then any policy that does not result in the GOP's current fantasy of Total Victory will be gamed by the GOP as "the Democrats lost Iraq." Because, see, we're winning right now. The insurgency is in its last throes, there is no civil war, and therefore, if the insurgency is still going and the civil war still being fought after January 21, 2009, it'll be the fault of the "failed Democratic Administration."

If the next President is a Republican (which may all the gods forbid) then any policy at all - including pulling out altogether on January 21, 2009 - will not only be perfectly hunky dory, but will be an "act of courage to save American lives," or something along those lines.

I also sent them a hundred bucks because they have finally (finalyy!) realized that Iraq is an isue.

You have correctly identified the key to restoring America's greatness. Low expectations!

I hate to say this, but isn't this post simply 'The party of No' in a slightly more serious suit?

"Your war, you go fight it!"

Or we could stop writing like we were nine years-old.

Or we could stop writing like we were nine years-old.

We could, but what would be the point?

The arguments against this war have been made by far more articulate individuals than myself, but no one listened. Arguments for getting out of Iraq are being made by far more articulate individuals than myself, but no one listens.

So all that is left to do is to give them their war. A Republican President with a Republican Senate, a Republican House of Representative and the full support of the Republican Party gave us this war. Let's make sure that they get stuck holding the tar baby.

Iraq is Bush's war. Iraq is the Republican's war.

Uh, yes, Alonzo, you already said that two comments up.

Just wanted to make sure you had a good look at the base of the Republican Party.

So let me get this straight. The Bush administration, which is in charge of the war, has no plan; the Republicans, who support Bush and control Congress, also have no plan; the Democrats, who control precisely zero branches of government, have no official plan - and they're the target of ire in this post?

Iron Lungfish,

Exactly. Once again, members of the self-identified "Party of Personal Responsibility", instead of pointing the figure of blame at the members of their party who actually are in total control of, and therefore responsible for the actions of, our government, choose to deflect blame by demanding that people with no power bail them out of the holes they have dug.

Actually IL and DTM, although I agree with the frustration you express, I also believe that in some sense it behooves some Democrats to present plans.

That being said, as I mentioned early in this thread, several Dems have. You go from immediate withdrawal (Kucinich) to phased redeployment but keeping a presence in the area (Murtha) to specific benchmarks and timetable (Kerry) to kiss Bush's a** (Lieberman)>

There is no specific Democratic proposal, not should there be. See, Democrats actually believe in some degree of individualism and independent thinking, something the Republican Party at times seems to view as heretical and deserving of the boil in oil tretament.

"Actually IL and DTM, although I agree with the frustration you express, I also believe that in some sense it behooves some Democrats to present plans."

Although more amusing than insightful, I was entertained by Bruce Reed's paen to the virtues of no ideas, and the Republicans' new eagerness to explain that they have no ideas, too!

Gary, it was entertaining. I specially enjoyed the line where Blount states that the Republicans have their record to run on, and yet it is basically a record they are running from.

BTW, all this thread is really pointing out is the lack of a competent media to actually report in any sort of an accurate manner what is actually out there.

That's "Blunt", John. Don't go mixing up Roy Blunt with Roy Blount, even if they are pronounced the same.

My apologies, and thanks for the correction.

Actually I think my mind was thinking of a friend who goes by Blount but pronounces it Blunt.

"I don't think the opposition party gets to have a foreign policy. You can propose a competing bill in Congress, after all, but you can't simultaneously conduct your own negotiations with Iran and see who does better."

No, but they get to say what they think a good foreign policy would look like. Think Churchill in the Chamberlain years. He repeatedly and forcefully said that appeasement wouldn't work, that military buildup should occur in response to the German threat and that Hitler was such a clear danger that they should prepare for war.

For a modern hypotheticl, Democrats could say something like "Iran is going to get nuclear weapons and nothing we want to do will stop them. We should act from there." Or they could say something like "Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons because we can't trust them at this time. We should take whatever non-military action is needed to stop them." Or they could say something like "Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons because we can't trust them at this time. We should take whatever action is needed to stop them." Or they could say something like "Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons because we can't trust them at this time, but anything we do about it is likely to be more dangerous in the short run than the long run concern about Iranian crazies nuking Israel--we should treat it like North Korea and effectively just give them time to gain nuclear weapons and hope that also gives them time to fall apart". All of these are examples of what they think foreign policy ought to be.

My view of Congressional Democrats is that most of them actually believe the last one, but they are afraid it plays too much into the "foreign policy wimp" characterization that Democrats have to be willing to admit it.

Alonzo, if you're Don Q returning under a different name as I suspect: play nice; you don't get any warnings.

No, but they get to say what they think a good foreign policy would look like. Think Churchill in the Chamberlain years.

Churchill was speaking as a member of an opposition party within a parliamentary system, wherein any number of factors could throw him into control of his country's foreign policy relatively quickly. The nearest possible time a Democrat may control the armed forces is in January of 2009. In the meantime, any Democratic plans floated are more than welcome, but exist more for political reasons than for policymaking ones. Since Democrats have no control of foreign policy and no chance of doing so in the immediate future, it's not incumbent upon them to solve the mess that George Bush and the GOP has made in Iraq. It is incumbent upon the White House and the GOP-dominated Congress to come up with a solution, since, as much as Republicans pretend otherwise, they're the party in power.

It's also not incumbent on Democrats to come up with a solution for a problem that hasn't happened yet. The Republicans should fix Iraq first. Then possibly someone will listen to them on Iran.

"Churchill was speaking as a member of an opposition party within a parliamentary system, wherein any number of factors could throw him into control of his country's foreign policy relatively quickly.

...

Since Democrats have no control of foreign policy and no chance of doing so in the immediate future, it's not incumbent upon them to solve the mess that George Bush and the GOP has made in Iraq."

How close to the election do they have to wait before they are allowed to suggest what their policy would look like? Just because something is not 'incumbent' on them does that mean that they should abstain from making useful suggestions?

But for the record, when Churchill started speaking up no one thought he was likely to come to power any time relatively quickly.

No, but they get to say what they think a good foreign policy would look like. Think Churchill in the Chamberlain years. He repeatedly and forcefully said that appeasement wouldn't work, that military buildup should occur in response to the German threat and that Hitler was such a clear danger that they should prepare for war.

Yes, but Churchill's ascension was not simply because his plans were better, but because of the German blitzkreig as well as the two other parties saying that they would not join an all party government under Chamberlain, but would under someone else. In fact, the appointment of Churchill was a bit of a surprise, as it was thought that Viscount Halifax would be appointed, but it was Chamberlain who recommended Churchill (and quite possibly forced) George VI to appoint Churchill.

Churchill also travelled to France in Spring of 38 and was received with full honors, but the cabinet (as well as his own party) made it clear that Churchill's opinions were that of a private citizen. Furthermore, because this was a policy between national entites, foreign policy itself was a much more clear-cut arrangement. Who should the Dems meet with so as to clearly state their foreign policy goals. Khameni? Sistani? Sadr? A focus group of Baathists and Sunni insurgents? The situation is not clear cut enough to have a clear foreign policy, so arguing that the Dems need to imitate Churchill in some way is off the mark.

In the example of Iran, surely one can see that Dems tying themselves down to a statement about precisely what "should be" for Iranian nuclear weapons would be an invitation to either be co-opted by the Republican administration or be labeled as appeasers when the situation (I am presuming that Democrats are not having meetings with Iranian officials) requires a lot more information to make the kind of statements that Sebastian feels the Dems should be making.

I also think that I notice a dearth of 'if the Dems would only do this, I would support them' advice. Perhaps some of that is because there is no presidential election, but I don't think that has stopped people on the right from offering such advice before. I think this suggests that there are no plausible foreign policy options for the Dems because of Republican incompetence has taken any options off the table.

Off Topic, there's a new thread at HoCB designed specifically to lure Slarti over there.

"The Republicans should fix Iraq first. Then possibly someone will listen to them on Iran."

It is a common foreign policy misconception that things have to be (or even can be) dealt with one at a time. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan didn't wait for resolution of problems between Cuba and the US. The fall of the wall (and opportunities provided by that) didn't wait for the Chinese and the West to resolve the issues raised by Tiananmen Square. Saddam didn't wait to invade Kuwait until we were done figuring out how the collapse of the USSR changed things. North Korea continued building nuclear weapons while Clinton engaged in the Balkans. Developments in Iran will continue without waiting for resolution in Iraq.

"In the example of Iran, surely one can see that Dems tying themselves down to a statement about precisely what "should be" for Iranian nuclear weapons would be an invitation to either be co-opted by the Republican administration or be labeled as appeasers when the situation"

I've never seen it expressed so clearly that it is better to let bad foreign policy occur rather than suggest good and let it be acted on by the other party. I would have thought that a good opposition party would be happy to see its proposals adopted. They can then not only say that they wouldn't have caused the problem, but that they were instrumental in creating the solution to the problem they wouldn't of caused. That also has the purely incidental side effect of being actually good for the country--if you think that is important.

How will the US population know if your foreign policy would be good if you can't tell anyone what it is?

Sorry, I don't think the sarcastic "if you think it is important" comes out with quite the right tone in text.

john miller,

"Actually IL and DTM, although I agree with the frustration you express, I also believe that in some sense it behooves some Democrats to present plans."

In what sense is that? The sense that the Bush Administration will appropriate whatever is useful to them, add poison pills and then bash Democrats as terrorist appeasers for not accepting their poison pills, as in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security? The sense that Congress will strip away any nuance and present a charactiture of the plan for public ridicule as they did to John Murtha's plans? The sense that they will distort outright the contents of the plan, as they did to Kerry's plans in 2004, to the extent that some posters here still believe he was in favor of cutting and running?

If we were talking about opponents who actually acted like grown-ups who would examine and debate proposals on their merits, you would have a point. When dealing with the current Administration and Congressional leadership, far less so.

DTM: I agree with you on much of that, but a lot of what happened in 2004 would not have happened with a responsible press corps. Although it is not there yet, the press is starting to realize that they have been taken in by this administration and are starting to act more like young adults rather than teenagers experiencing their first epsiode of puppy love.

Anyway, to answer your question, it's almost a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation, and I would rather be damned for doing something. At least I would have something to counter the attacks with.

And again, I am talking about individual Dems, not a party statement.

john miller,

You place a lot more faith in the press than I do after the last 15 years. The press's failings did not start when George Bush was elected, as the time and effort they spent abetting Republican attempts to delegitimize Clinton (from pushing Whitewater and Vince Foster after no shortage of independent panels concluded nothing was there to loudly suggesting Clinton was trying to "wag the dog" whenever he took action in Kosovo or against bin Laden to suggesting impeachment or resignation the very day the Lewinsky scandal broke) shows.

I think it will take far more than this Administration's failings for the press to grow up and once again actually do investigations and not just slouch into "he said, she said" journalism.

I classify myself as an optimistic pessimist, which basically means I am in general pessimistic about many things, such as the press actually being independent, but optimistic about the possibility of them actually changing.

I don't negate what you are saying. And it is more likely they will just go after Bush, but leave the Republicans as a whole alone, and continue to misquote, underquote or completely ignore the Dems.

"In fact, the appointment of Churchill was a bit of a surprise, as it was thought that Viscount Halifax would be appointed, but it was Chamberlain who recommended Churchill (and quite possibly forced) George VI to appoint Churchill."

While we're recapitulating, it's probably worth mentioning that Churchill had already returned from "the wilderness" of his political exile to Chamberlain's Cabinet, political power, and the First Lordship of the Admiralty (control of the Navy, in other words, the position he had held for most of WWI), significantly before he was further elevated to the Prime Ministership. And when he did become PM, he formed a unity government, not a Conservative government. All of which makes analogizing to our present situation fairly far afield, although if Sebastian or anyone wants to observe that it's possible for individual Democrats to articulate policies, or even for Democrats to form some sort of limited agreement on suggested policy, obviously that's true; that it's somehow required seems difficult to support, and for Republicans or non-Democrats to busily advise Democrats that they're somehow obligated to put forth plans they can't put into effect seems, well, not necessarily something to be taken as helpful advice, even if it's sincerely meant that way, which it doubtless is in at least a few cases; it might be sincere, but whether it's correct or actually helpful to the Democrats if they took it, just now, is quite debatable.

"Who should the Dems meet with so as to clearly state their foreign policy goals. Khameni? Sistani? Sadr? A focus group of Baathists and Sunni insurgents?"

And, not incidentally, that would likely also violate the Logan Act, not to mention that Republican leaders would immediately label all Democrats engaged in any meetings with "the enemy" as obvious traitors, which, as we know, all Democrats obviously are.

"While we're recapitulating, it's probably worth mentioning that Churchill had already returned from "the wilderness" of his political exile to Chamberlain's Cabinet, political power, and the First Lordship of the Admiralty (control of the Navy, in other words, the position he had held for most of WWI), significantly before he was further elevated to the Prime Ministership."

And he began the critique of Chamberlain's appeasement and other policies toward Germany rather before that--which is why he was elevated in the first place, no?

"Who should the Dems meet with so as to clearly state their foreign policy goals. Khameni? Sistani? Sadr? A focus group of Baathists and Sunni insurgents?"

If they really wanted to I would suggest they start with the American people. But I see that the trend here is to suggest that the Democrats (and presumabely country) would be better if they did not so there we are.

Sorry, in the middle of all this I must have missed the point where Sebastian and Von laid out their own plans for Iraq. I'm for a gradual withdrawal myself. What's your patented Plan For Victory, gents?

It involves 150,000 more troops and probably being there 15 years minimum.

I would have thought that a good opposition party would be happy to see its proposals adopted.

Rather like the stupid bully who gets the smart kid to do his homework for him, eh? Why, the bully's happy he won't fail and the smart kid can take pleasure in a job well done.

It involves 150,000 more troops and probably being there 15 years minimum.

Any idea where these troops are coming from? Robots? Golems? Those magic brooms that attacked Mickey in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"? Because the word "draft" has yet to appear in this proposal.

"But I see that the trend here is to suggest that the Democrats (and presumabely country) would be better if they did not so there we are."

I don't know if they are or are not; I don't think either possible answer is obvious or axiomatic. What would you favor their favoring, though?

"It involves 150,000 more troops and probably being there 15 years minimum."

Ah. Care to be more specific? Is this level of specificity a "plan"? If Democrats agree that they're for this, does that mean you'll vote for them, and write posts advising everyone to? And do I take it that you're for expanding the Army by another 12-14 divisions, or so, more than doubling its size? Or what?

Sebastian,

I appreciate your willingness to put forward a concrete plan, but we are entering "pony" territory, with your suggestion are we not? What happens to the first Dem to suggest doubling troop deployments? (Heck, what would happen if Hagel or St. McCain did so?)

As for this It is a common foreign policy misconception that things have to be (or even can be) dealt with one at a time.

Of course, I agree. However, the point is that our present commitments in Iraq go a ways towards hamstringing our efforts relative to Iran. There is no iron inside the velvet glove to speak of.

I appreciate your willingness to put forward a concrete plan, but we are entering "pony" territory, with your suggestion are we not? What happens to the first Dem to suggest doubling troop deployments? (Heck, what would happen if Hagel or St. McCain did so?)

Forget how politically feasible it is to suggest the "more troops" plan. It's simply not doable. There are no more troops.

Yglesias's and Rosenfeld's Prospect piece on this a few months ago made this point:

The flaw in the popular “more troops” argument is strikingly easy to locate. The 20-to-1,000 ratio implies the presence of about 500,000 soldiers in Iraq. That’s far more than it would have been possible for the United States to deploy. Sustaining a given number of troops in a combat situation requires twice that number to be dedicated to the mission, so that soldiers can rotate in and out of theater. As there are only 1 million soldiers in the entire Army, a 500,000-troop deployment would imply that literally everyone -- from the National Guard units currently assisting with disaster relief on the Gulf Coast to those serving in Afghanistan, Korea, and Europe to the bureaucrats doing staff work in the Pentagon and elsewhere -- would be dedicated to the mission. This is plainly impossible. Indeed, as of this writing the Army has zero uncommitted active combat brigades, and there are serious questions as to how long the current deployment is sustainable. The Army is already facing persistent shortfalls in recruitment, and former General Barry McCaffrey and others have expressed the view that if current trends continue, the Guard and Reserve forces will “melt down” over the next three years.

Yglesias and Rosenfeld were talking about the prospect of a (more theoretically successful, less practically possible) 500,000-person force, but there's no evidence that we could actually maintain a 300,000-person occupation, either. The army is strained to the breaking point as it is; where in the world would we get an extra 150,000 troops?

IL,

Hence the pony.

"Ah. Care to be more specific? Is this level of specificity a "plan"? If Democrats agree that they're for this, does that mean you'll vote for them, and write posts advising everyone to? And do I take it that you're for expanding the Army by another 12-14 divisions, or so, more than doubling its size? Or what?"

I absolutely am for returning troop levels to their pre-peace dividend levels. If there was a Democrat proposing that, of course I would support them. And vote for them too if possible, as if either of my Senators could understand foreign policy enough to do so.

Is this level of specificity a plan? No, it is the kernel of a plan. I would expect much more of myself if I were Senator getting paid full time to think about US policies. Much more than 2,319 Americans have died, therefore we should abandon Iraq and try to rule things from offshore.

Iron Lungfish, we would hire them. We sustained a much larger volunteer army in the past, and we could do so again. It would involve two medium-level changes. First, authorize the hire of more troops. Second, increase the pay to attract new hires and increase retention. And before you ask: Yes I would be willing to raise taxes if necessary to do so. And cut certain military programs not necessary to this style of warfare--though killing off farm subsidies would be an even better, if less likely, way to pay for increased troop levels. These troops do not currently exist, but only because they haven'y been authorized--a key stupid mistake (by Bush)that should have rectified even before the war began.

Sebastian's plan reminds me of the man whose doctor told him the best thing to do was to stop smoking, cut way down on the fat in his diet, and begin exercising regularly.

"Well, Doc, I don't really deserve the best. What's second best?"

The thing is, Sebastian, hiring and training that many more troops would take quite a while. By the time we have them up and ready, Iraq could already be well into a full-scale civil war.

I mean: I want this to work as much as anyone. I think the consequences of failing are really, really bad. But that unfortunately doesn't mean we can't fail, or that after a certain amount of disastrous mismanagement, we might just be fresh out of good options.

(I sometimes suspect that part of the reason we are failing was precisely that Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, et al didn't really believe that failure was possible. After all, we have the best military in the world; how can we fail? (Answer: easily. Just be dumb enough. It's obvious that we'd fail if, for instance, we sent the best military into combat unarmed, and ordered them to lie down and yell 'kill us! kill us!' The point of considering that stupid example is just: the best army will not win if you don't use it intelligently.)

If you don't think you can fail, then you might think that it would be fine to e.g. staff the CPA with politically connected idiots, have no plan for reconstruction, etc., etc. And you'd be a lot more likely to actually fail.)

I'm now torn between my earlier 'withdraw to a number of secure locations, and be prepared to prevent an all-out, battalions-ranged-against-one-another civil war' option, and setting a timetable and withdrawing altogether. But that's not because I am the least bit happy about the consequences; I just think that we have burned through the good options, and the mediocre ones, and even the pretty bad but not outright disastrous ones.

When things go bad enough, there is no good answer to the question 'what would you do?' I think we reached that point some time ago. And I see no reason to think that it will turn around under Bush.

"The thing is, Sebastian, hiring and training that many more troops would take quite a while. By the time we have them up and ready, Iraq could already be well into a full-scale civil war."

Well sure. That is why a perfectly valid criticism of the Bush administration (and one that I have been making for three years now) is that they haven't done so. But that training is always going to take a long time--no matter when we start. The sooner we start the better.

Republicans and especially Republican Congressmen and members of the Administration should absolutely be criticized on those grounds.

But like so many issues, the Democrats on average are positively worse. There is certainly no general consensus among Democrats that we should expand the military. Kerry's "we should expand the military but never send any more people to Iraq" idea was profoundly strange.

The "let's bring back the draft so we can withdraw from Iraq right now" policies being circulated from time to time are fairly transparent.

So where does that leave me? With a party that probably won't do the right thing by authorizing many more troops and the party that definetly won't.

we would hire them. We sustained a much larger volunteer army in the past, and we could do so again.

Yes we did - during peacetime. You seem to think that the only thing keeping tens of thousands of able-bodied young Americans from jumping to their feet and signing up with the U.S. Army is the salary. You're aware that they're aware that there's a war on, right? And this has not exactly been an incentive for folks to sign up; recruiting has been decimated by the war precisely because kids approached by recruiters know they're effectively signing up for Iraq, and there's precious little enthusiasm for that right now.

If you're going to launch a new program for the express purpose of recruiting troops for this war, you're not just looking for the guy who wants free tuition but thinks the Army's kind of stingy with its benefits. You're looking for people who already want to fight in Iraq. And there are not 150,000 of those people in this country. The most recruitable prospects already joined up long 70% of the country became convinced Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. Lots more money won't trick them into signing up; stirring, patriotic speeches won't trick them into signing up. There's only so much you can do to get people to throw away their lives for a fool's errand.

Of course, all this discussion of victory plans is academic; Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, whether the president cares to admit it or not. Two years ago most anyone would've agreed this would be proof of failure; now that it's actually here, I can't see what could convince the hawks this war's already been lost.

That sentence in the middle should read "The most recruitable prospects already joined up long before 70% of the country became convinced Iraq is in the midst of a civil war."

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