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January 10, 2007


Bush is sure betting on a lot on the unproven idea that he and his small circle of sycophants know more about this war stuff than everybody else in the government, the country, and even the rest of the world. sounds pretty elitist to me.

"The President has the ability to exercise his own authority if he
thinks Congress has voted the wrong way."

-Tony Snow, Jan 8, 2007

Scott Lemieux weighs in on "what next" if the President decides to ignore a Congressional enactment preventing the surge/escalation/punt.

"The President has the ability to exercise his own authority if he thinks Congress has voted the wrong way."

L'etat c'est Bush !

And God forbid the Congress actually do its duty and stop him. I cannot speak for any but myself, but this is one of the reasons I voted Democratic in November. I'm not a big fan of pulling out of Iraq, but if my options are an insufficient surge or pulling out, pulling out is the only feasible option. Not that there aren't other alternatives, of course, but those seem to be the only ones currently on the table.

Jeebus, I glossed over this the first time I read the Post article hilzoy linked to:

members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton. (emphasis added)

We are ruled by passive agressive teenagers.

You're right that that's what the Democrats should do. The problem is that Bush has hostages -- the Democrats can't control with any precision how he spends the budget for Iraq, they can just cut it. And there's a worry that he'll go ahead and do whatever he would have done anyway, but cut corners on training and supplies, putting soldiers at risk and blaming Congress for it.

That's not a good enough reason for Congress not to do what it can, but I think it's a large part of the explanation for why they're hesitant.

Remember, the noun of the day is "escalation". Fifteen minutes listening to NPR will give you your full yearly recommended allowance of "escalation".

No, I'm not particularly objecting to the opposition to the surge, just marveling how lockstep the politics are, on both sides of the fence.

Yes, Slart. Using an unfairly loaded word like 'escalation' rather than 'happy furry bunnies' to describe sending additional troops into war is a patent sign of egregious bias.

I don't know if you checked the link I included, but Congress could pass a budget that bans the President from using money for certain purposes. Maybe that would push us towards a Constitutional crisis, but it seems to me that would be preferable to allowing the President to break the law quietly.

LB, I'm not objecting to bias. I expect both Democrats and Republicans to be biased.

How dare NPR use an accurate noun!

I can almost feel Malkin's knickers wadding up.

"the Democrats can't control with any precision how he spends the budget for Iraq, they can just cut it."

Is this true? I don't think this would be true if we had a President who obeyed statutes.

Andrew--I completely agree.

I can almost feel Malkin's knickers wadding up.

Roman hands, matttbastard?

Or, maybe, unfortunate phrasing?

but it seems to me that would be preferable to allowing the President to break the law quietly.

Which, sadly, is what we've been doing the last 5 years.

There was a recent incident involving myself, Michelle, and a Vulcan mind meld.

Hope you'll understand if I don't go further into detail.

Right, but it's going to take a lot of money just to withdraw safely. If the administration used that money while slow-walking the withdrawal, it could get really ugly: "We used the withdrawal budget but, whoops, pursuant to my power as Commander in Chief, the troops are still in Iraq. Are you going to give me more money to buy them ammunition to protect themselves with, or are you going to let them die?"

Unequivocally, Congress should be using the power of the purse to enforce withdrawal from Iraq. If it gets ugly, we can deal with that when it happens. But given this Administration's resistance to having its freedom of action circumscribed, I'm not surprised that Congress is cautious about taking action.


The worry is precision. Congress can't cut the military budget to zero, and can't practically order specific troop movements. A resistant administration could make it very hard for Congress to force it to withdraw.

Hilzoy is so behind the times.

would you consider "no money for war in Iraq" to be "ordering troop movements"? Do you agree with Cheney that the Boland Amendment is unconstitional? I think that's just wrong, legally.

If we were talking about a full withdrawal, it could get very ugly politically no question. And the Courts could be very reluctant to enforce the law. But as far as the legal merits, I think Congress certainly is within its powers.

Not sure how much we disagree.

Also, I think Kennedy's bill is much less politically risky, because it deals with appropriations for troops who *aren't there yet*.

The thing is, I think it's completely within Congress's legal powers but that a recalcitrant Administration can cause great practical difficulties. Congress can't refuse to appropriate any more money for Iraq without stranding troops there -- withdrawal is a serious and expensive operation, so just bringing the budget to zero would be irresponsible. Once they're giving the administration any money to play with, there's a great deal of practical difficulty in controlling how it's spent -- if it gets spent on continuing war operations, then the problem of funding the withdrawal remains. And I'm sure the courts would treat such a matter as a non-justiciable political question.

I'm borrowing trouble -- there's no proof that the Administration would be anything like that difficult about an attempt from Congress to end the war. And even if it was, Congress is responsible for doing it anyway. But given the Administration's past record of resistance to any form of oversight or control, I'm not surprised that Congress is at least very cautious about going head to head with the Executive.

I agree that full pull out is risky for the reasons you state. It's the failure to support Kennedy's more limited and less risky effort--combined with repeating the administration's false arguments about the unlimited commander-in-chief power-- that I find inexcusable

And you're absolutely right that it is inexcusable -- I'm theorizing about what it is they're scared of, rather than supporting them in their cowardice. They need to suck it up and take control.

I am exhausted. I will just link and quote, even if repetitvely.

Ezra Klein

"...exempts you from having to make tough choices. I find that the folks quickest to fall back on moral anguish are the ones most unwilling to say, clearly, what they believe should be done. In that way, substituting your empathy for an actual judgment on the situation is a form of cowardice." ...EK

Congress & the American People vs The Troops ...Bill Arkin, the header is somewhat ironic

"For now, what bugs the troops most is an ambivalent American public. Some think the lack of American support reflects a failure of the President and Rumsfeld to properly rally opinion and sell the war. Some are more contemptuous of a lack of American support, seeking blame in Democrats, the news media, and even decadence and weakness that only they can see and defend.

None of these young men were even alive during the Vietnam War, but they also buy into the myth that the war was "lost" by the American people and the Congress and not by the military or the Presidency. The bigger lesson, that the crusade was doomed in Vietnam, just as it is in Iraq, seems beyond their comprehension." ...BA

Pat Lang

"That is the Combat Infantry Badge. If you have that, it means that you are a combat experienced "grunt." Your sword wins the day. Everyone else is there to support you. Everyone who has one, wears it. pl"

Congress stopping the Battle of Baghdad is likely as much a fantasy as the Battle itself. And impotent moral anguish, pessimism, and cowardice is what I do. I am going to walk my dogs in the woods. Call me when you are ready, I have no pitchfork, but have some neat rakes and a mattock.

"The reputation of the British cavalry was significantly enhanced as a result of the charge, though the same cannot be said for their commanders." ...Wiki on Balaklava

How do Iraqi troops figure in the number needed to secure Baghdad? I think that is the largest wildcard, especially when GWB is saying that the additional troops are only "support" for the beefed up Iraqi military presence in the city.

But, man, could things get ugly if the Iraqi troops refuse to act against the militias and hang their "support" out to dry.

One of the things that worries me is how long a Constitutional Showdown could take. If Congress could make its move, Bush make his move, and the Court could resolve the issue within, say, six months, that would be one thing. But the habeas corpus fight has taken years--with the Executive dragging out the process every step of the way. Given that precedent, I can't dare hope that this issue would be resolved, even with deployed troops requiring funding, until shortly before the inauguration of President Gore and VP Obama.

this is just awful.

Hilzoy, your link to the Kaplan piece is mislabeled "Fred Kagan".

[and yes, that's horrific.]

VM: thanks; fixed.

Re: the hilzoy link

Were I a betting man, I'd say that the biggest story that the media is missing out on is the abject failure of the military to provide proper mental health care for soldiers in and returning from combat zones.

Hmm, with the constant downgrading of the number of troops even Bush wants to send, perhaps we ought not call it a 'surge'. I would suggest 'pittance'.

Also one thing to think about. 50,000 fighting men would be a surge. But if you are increasing the number of troops by 50,000, that isn't anything like 50,000 people actually engaged in fighting. Lots of sources talk about a 1:10 ratio but I think that is a maximum. But even at 1:5 we would be talking about only 10,000 fighting men. At 20,000 troops that is only 4,000 fighting men. That just isn't much of a surge.

I wish I didn't have so easy a time imagining this situation:

Step 1: Congress refuses to fund specific parts of the occupation of Iraq.

Step 2: Bush signs the bill or not, as he chooses. He then goes to the IRS and demands some dollar amount deemed appropriate for those parts, citing his authority as unitary executive over matters rleated to the conduct of war.

Step 3: Damfino.

look, all you armchair strategists, the problem isn't that we don't have enough troops. the problem is that the ones we do have spend too much time sitting in air-conditioned quarters drinking designer coffee. or so i'm told.

... oh, and we need to invade Syria and Iran. but that's the easy part. the hard part is getting those lazy-ass troops of our's to put down the Gevalia and start shooting some Iraqis!

Were I a betting man, I'd say that the biggest story that the media is missing out on is the abject failure of the military to provide proper mental health care for soldiers in and returning from combat zones.

Oy, yes. A friend is a history professor, specializing in oral history from combat veterans (originally Vietnam vets, but now he's moving into Iraq vets). There's a lot of PTSD out there, at least according to him, and it's not being handled well.

I love the smell of mochaccino in the morning. Smelled like ... dumb f*cks at the National Review.

If anyone wants to express their opposition to escalation tomorrow, there are going to be rallies all over. I'm helping organize the one at Lafayette Square by the White House (though the Capitol would be a more effective target).

Andrew: definitely. I've tried to say some things about this sporadically, when it comes up, but nothing like enough.

One of my formative experiences was a period when I was living in Israel during the Lebanon war, and for some reason all sorts of returning soldiers seemed to decide that I was a good person to talk to about what they had been through, and how they were (not) coping with it. Ever since then I have seen casualty figures as the tip of a horrible iceberg, with all sorts of ruined lives unseen underneath.

Which is another part of what bothers me about the Jonah Goldbergs of this world, who talk casually about throwing a little country against the wall every ten years or so: I honestly don't think they have tried at all to imagine what they're talking about.

KCinDC - why 6pm? Are you going to heckle the White House correspondents?

I am not privy to the mysteries of scheduling, Ugh -- just got asked to help with the rally by friends in DC for Democracy.

Ok, just curious. I might swing by (or walk by on my way to the gym).

what are these xx,000 troops going to do in Iraq?

Drink espresso. Weren't you paying attention?

We must drink espresso over there so we don't have to drink it over here.

hmm. if i enlist, can i bring my own milk steamer? i really prefer cappuccino.

I'd say that the biggest story that the media is missing out on is the abject failure of the military to provide proper mental health care for soldiers in and returning from combat zones.

Frontline had a good report on this. You can watch it online.

Consider me a skeptic of the "As Baghdad Goes, So Does Iraq" theory. I think it is certainly true that without security in Iraq, there is no chance at a stable, unity government. But that's only one side of the biconditional! There are a lot of ways to fail here, and considering just how decentralized the Sunni insurgency is, how Shia power bases remain in the south, I imagine that even a safe and stable fortified Baghdad will make Iraq look more like the Afghanistan of the Russian invasion (or even Kabul right now!). Baghdad might be bedded down, with little U.S. control elsewhere.

What's more is that I haven't heard anything yet about plans for political reconciliation. Still nebulous talk of forcing the gov't to "make tough decisions". The problems of political reconciliation are far greater in the face of nationalism than in the face of tribalism and corruption (what you have in Afghanistan).

so much for congress, escalation already underway

The Democrats simply cannot fight Bush on funding. They'll be tarred and feathered as the party that abandoned the troops for the next 30 years.

Then I'm not certain why I bothered to vote Democratic.

If neither party is willing to do the right thing because it might hurt them at the polls, I may as well just stop wasting my time voting.

It's tempting, sometimes. Give them a couple of months to work themselves up to it. But it is going to be hard.

Andrew: for the minimum wage, of course! (Ducks)

Think of it this way, though: new ethics rules, Bush's vilest nominees withdrawing left and right (the judges, and now the odious Ken Tomlinson), oversight on Iraq and other things: all to the good, even without voting to defund the war.

That said, I hope we vote for some sort of restriction that says 'no surge'. And I don't think it's out of the question.

If neither party is willing to do the right thing because it might hurt them at the polls...

which is funny, because millions voted for them assuming they'd do the right thing, which proves that it wouldn't hurt them at the polls. which proves politicians are scum.

Very cute, hilzoy.

But people I know may end up getting killed (and people I don't know will die) because we're going to do something dumb simply to say we did something, and the Democrats are going to stand aside and cluck their tongues without using any of their power to prevent it. I'm afraid I can't see ethics rules outweighing that.

Theoretically ethics rules are supposed to be about being free to make decisions that are good for the country.

But I don't blame Democrats. Surge thinking is classic sunk costs fallacy at this point unless someone has a brilliant plan about what to do with those troops that is different from what we have been doing.

"I'm afraid I can't see ethics rules outweighing that."

I am not into bashing the Democratic Congress yet, I promised 3 months. I can't promise I won't slip, and I am saving up things like details of the drug bill.
But I am like so flashing to "it was forty years ago today", and thinking on the really hard decisions that had to be made in the late 60s. There is a lot of Bush-bashing and surge-bashing, but I just have to ask:

Andrew, Do you have to go? Don't go.

Andrew: all I meant was that they're still better than the Republicans. But that's a pretty low bar. As far the rest, I'm with you.

About what Bob said: until now, I have deliberately refrained from saying anything like: and if our bozo of a President gets Andrew killed, God help him. I will now go on never to say anything like this again. I somehow suspect you (A) wouldn't want me to. But it's not that I don't think about it whenever I write about this.

Andrew, I don't understand yur statement that it didn't matter which party you voted for. You made this statement right after Ugh posted a link about how the troops are on the way right now. It seems to me that Bush, afraid that the Democrats would use the budget or some other Congressinal action to slow or stop the surge, decided to go for it immediately. His ploy will probably work. I don't know how it can be stopped if it is alraady underway. But how does that lead you to the conclusion that it doesn't matter which party you voted for? I'm sorry that the surge won't be blocked, but if it hadn't been for the Democratic take over of Congress, there would be no accountablity for the surge, no questions asked about its purpose, duration, or goals. It is only because of the Democratic take over that some Republicans are begining to question Bush and the news media is beginning to cover opposition to Bush. Even though the surge will happen, the context is entirely different than it would have been with out the Democratic victory.
I was listening to a discussion of this on NPR this morning and who ever the discussers were, they said that the Democrats could not defund the surge itself, that it was impossible partly because the surge would happen before the spigot could be turned off and partly because the money can't be separated once the surge in underway.
At least they are trying. Kennedy, and Obama both have proposals.
It's really bad and I'm sorry, Andrew. I hope you will not be part of it (assuming you don't want to be).

And in case you don't get it, the really hard decision in 1968-70, besides the primary one made by the one going or not, was when your son or brother or best friend said:"I am going to Vietnam" or "I am going to Canada"

Saying "I support whatever decision you make" was unsupportable. It got hard.

I love all this talk about "tough decisions". Can anybody give me a good reason why Maliki would want to do anything about reining in the Shiite death squads? It seems we can't take them on ourselves. If he continues to delay, what's the worst we can do, withdraw? I'm betting he's made the calculation that the Shiites would then carry the day, albeit after a lot of early martyrdom. In the meantime, he gets to use our troops to carry on the fight, mostly against the Sunnis.

I simply don't see what's so tough for him to decide. Or am I being too simple, and not understanding something here?


I have to go. So I'm going. Besides, perhaps I can still some of the chickenhawker claims. ;)


To some degree, it is simple frustration. But while I do think that it would be inappropriate for the Congress to simply cut all funding immediately, I see nothing wrong with them saying that they will cut all funding for troops in Iraq after X date, as long as they had some detailed hearings with military experts so that date gave a realistic amount of time for troops withdrawals.

The problem is, of course, that Bush is not going to withdraw any significant number of troops while he remains in the oval office.

Remember "we'll stand down as they stand up"? Remember 2004 debates where Bush said 125K Iraqis trained? In 2005 it was 200K. So now we have a plan for victory. So that's what's been missing.

If neither party is willing to do the right thing because it might hurt them at the polls

As far as Andrew goes I understand his frustration, indeed I share it. But it is just emblematic of the DC culture where you must support the "surge" in order to be considered "serious" in foreign policy.

Even if Dems tried to eliminate funding for the 'surge' that would not stop Bush as a practical matter. He is running down the clock so that blame will fall on the next president who is forced to acknowledge reality and pull out.

Just look at all the 'we could have won Vietnam if it wasn't for the media, democrats and hippies who made us leave right when we were on the verge of victory' It will happen again until the next grand GOP adventure and short of impeachment and removal I don't know what else can be done.

The illusion of change is all Bush want to create. Send in more troops, then 6-12 months of stalling saying 'give it time to work' finally the last 8 months or so of "I will not leave my successor with a failed Iraq"

Leaving is losing therefore Bush will not leave - ever.


Try not to think about it. ;) I certainly do.

Good luck to you, Andrew. Make sure you give us a way to keep in touch. Maybe we could send letters and gifts to the people in your unit or division or whatever it is called.


Thanks. I'll do what I can.

cw, I've heard that Maliki can't support an offensive against al-Sadr or Sadr City because he governs at al-Sadr's sufference. Since he attended the meeting in Jordan despite al-Sadr's threats to bring down the government while he was gone, and the government didn't fall, I don't know how true that is. It could be simply that he (like al-Sadr) has decided to get rid of as many Sunnis as he can, and as long as US troops are fighting Sunni rather than Shia he'll be content.

I also don't know whether Maliki is being consulted on the latest strategy, or how much control he has over what US troops do. Very little, I suspect.

Is anyone else disturbed by Bush's statement that "there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have"? Have we really been too nice to the Iraqis?

Helena Cobban at Just World News doesn't think much of General Petraeus's counterinsurgency ideas, and even less of General Odierno's actual performance. Her analysis (quite long) is at her blog. I've forgotten how to do links again--the scrap of paper explaining it is at work, so here's the address--


Scroll down a bit to "Bush's New Generals".

Good luck, Andrew. Come back safe.

As for what the Democratic politicians in Congress are afraid of; they know that any attempt by them to end the war in Iraq by cutting funding will be presented to the US public by the mainstream media as "Democrats once again fail to support the troops". And worse will be said in the right-wing lynchosphere, and quoted in the mainstream media to "balance" any comments made by experts to the effect that Congress is doing the only sensible thing.

It's not so long since Charles Bird was posting regularly here that Murtha was a "loser-defeatist", or many Republicans were claiming that a valid reason for not supporting Kerry's candidacy was that Kerry planned to withdraw troops from Iraq rather than planning to stay till victory. Admittedly Sebastian Holsclaw's latest post is evidence that some of those Republicans probably have changed their minds about this... without actually admitting they were wrong before, of course.

I also don't know whether Maliki is being consulted on the latest strategy, or how much control he has over what US troops do. Very little, I suspect.

Yes and no. I understand there have been "no-go" zones for both US and Iraqi troops. There's also stories of our troops being told to release certain prisoners. While Maliki etc may not control any operational aspects of our engagements, I think his government has in theory the power to limit or even nix what engagements (other than force protection) our troops undertake.

Maybe some of that will now change in light of "the speech" last night. To me, the only tough decision for him is how to keep us under his (admittedly, incomplete) control for as long as he can, at least until he's convinced his side can win a real civil war.

Jes, Seb has admitted he was wrong. Also, I don't really see why he haws to walk over hot coals for our satisfaction. He's not pretending he wasn't, he's not going on (the way some media people are) about how those who opposed the war still weren't really serious people in whose company he's somewhat mortified to be seen, etc. He's been totally up front about it.

Hilzoy: Actually, Sebastian now appears to think that the only problem was that Bush wasn't "brutal, cruel, and quick". So I'm not sure how meaningful it is that he admits he was wrong to support Bush, if he's himself in the Josh Trevino school of warfare where the problem is that Bush has been mollycoddling those ungrateful Iraqis.

Donald -- seems to me that Cobban's analysis is flawed in that almost all of her notes have less to do with COIN and more to do with the political ends to which these tactics are used and the disconnect between Petraeus's and others' rhetoric about political philosophy and the actual politics in which the US has engaged.

I don't see her making much useful commentary on the tactics.

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