January 14, 2007 (correntewire.com / apj.us) -- I have been without access to a working computer for much of the last month, so it was a shock getting back to the lethal emptiness of our political discourse as represented by the utter and complete pap spewed by our Sunday gasbags.
Iraq and its discontents was the only subject addressed on ABC's This Week with that little weasel, Georgie Porgie Stephanopoulos, although what addressing there was was the kind of casual wave you might hazard to acknowledge a person you hope won't want to stop and talk.
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley presented the Bush Administration's case for why Americans should not consider what the President told us last Wednesday evening to be just more of the same -- or, in that currently eschewed phrase first made famous by this most resolute of all our Presidents, "staying the course."
And what is different this time? This time "the military is in charge."
I swear to the God of your choice, that is what the man said. Li'l George didn't ask who was in charge during the previous four years we've been in Iraq, when the President was telling us that he responds to what military people on the ground tell him!
And what does it mean that the military is now in charge?
There will be no sanctuaries for those who oppose... hmmm, us? Or is it the Sunnis? Or perhaps the Shia, or just about anybody who does something we don't like. We're going after them, people. Even into Sadr City, if need be. We're going to bring "The Rule of Law" to Baghdad, damnit. "The Time To Act Is Now!" So says Mr. Hadley.
What was wrong with acting in 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006 went undiscussed.
How long is this surge to be surged? Not indefinitely. On the other hand, that doesn't mean we have specific benchmarks, or, God Forbid, a time-line. Or that Hadley was willing to endorse our new Secretary of Defense Bob Gates's comment that he doubted this new strategy would be given anything like eighteen months to succeed. And no, despite Li'l George's impression, the President isn't thinking about finding someone to replace Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki; this is a sovereign, democratic nation, and they had a real election, and real negotiations to come up with this unity government.
Was the President's speech on Wednesday meant to put Americans on alert that this war might spread to Iran and Syria? No, Hadley made clear that it is both of these countries that are warring on us, through proxies in Iraq. And yunno what? We aren't gonna take it anymore.
Did Hadley believe that the President has the authority to go after Iranians on Iranian territory, for instance? Hadley danced around that question by emphasizing how tough we were prepared to be about Syrian and Iranian mischief we come upon in Iraq.
I think that we should all be very afraid, but I'm too weary of this gang to actually feel anything.
As to the administration's critics, Hadley implied they don't understand the consequences of failure in Iraq.
No, Stephen, we do understand. We understood before you sent those first rockets over Baghdad in early 2003. What neither Hadley or Stephanopoulos seemed able to grasp is that there might be a downside to this escalation. Really, guys, as bad as things are for the Iraqi people, and as f$#@ed as our efforts in Iraq are, it could really all get worse.
The final insult: Hadley's passionate attempt to stick the stay the course label on critics like Rep. John Murtha, who would be next up. We all agree now, Hadley noted, that staying the course, doing what this administration insisted on doing for years now, is a failure. Hadley tried to imply that this "surge" was the only option, besides "stay the course." Criminy, they really do think we're all amnesiac idiots, don't they?
Compared to Hadley, Murtha came off as a confident straight-shooter. His invited response to Hadley was not to respond directly except to say, in reference to Li'l George's implication that Congress might find it difficult and politically dangerous to challenge the President's status as Commander-in-Chief, "It's a whole new ball game now," the "now," clearly referencing the Democrats' control of Congress.
My first thought: the administration should be very afraid.
No matter what Li'l George inferred about the risks to Democrats -- already well known, thanks to programs like Li'l George's, as deficient both in patriotism and how to keep this country safe from its enemies -- Murtha came off as realistic and determined. Yes, the President can get some of those 20,000 surging troops into Iraq before the budget supplemental to support them lands in Congress, but there is a lot that can be accomplished by focused hearings. Democrats are going to build a solid case that the Administration's new plans aren't new, and maybe not even plans, just the same old blindly trying to hold on to an untenable position in order to avoid admitting any kind of defeat. Murtha also reminded viewers that Democrats aren't talking about cutting and running tommorrow; they're talking about forcing a political settlement by removing the notion of an endless American presence from the current Shia government through a planned, carefully structured redeployment.
But, George continued, won't it look like Democrats are depriving troops on the ground of the kind of protection they need?
Murtha roared back that he was the one who discovered the unhappy fact that troops had been sent to Iraq without body armor. No one is going to call Murtha unfriendly to our troops. What he appears to be planning is an emphasis on preparedness as a way of limiting the ability of the President to send troops into Iraq who haven't finished their training, and to extend the duty of those already in Iraq.
Interestingly, Murtha mentioned that the kind of combat these troops are encountering is as intense and unique as a battle like Iwo Jima. In addition, Murtha reminded one and all that the sectarian violence in Iraq isn't propelled by Jihadis -- in many cases, it is our hapless presence that is provoking it. As I said, Ahe administration should be very afraid.
Iraq being such a one-dimensional subject, George managed to squeeze in a meaningless interview with a super-tanned Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of the state in which I reside. Sigh. It was all about the new centrism. I have to report that Arnold is a much better salesman -- especially of himself -- than is, say, George W. Bush. But snake oil is still snake oil. On Iraq, Arnold vamped shamelessly; gone was the Arnold of the 2004 Republican convention, although he made sure we understood that he is all for victory. Cowards, all of them.
And now the round table: George Will, Fareed Zakaria, and (surprise, surprise!) Katrina vanden Huevel.
This was where I started to get really angry. Is there anyone in the world more smug than George Will? Okay, maybe Thomas Friedman. Will has been negative on the Administration's performance in Iraq, but this time around he wanted to make sure that Democrats didn't get any credit for being any smarter. No one knows what will work in Iraq.
Fareed thought that the surge might have a temporarily positive effect, but on a long-range scale there were many problems with it -- not least being what will be required of our military, including the possibility they will find themselves helping in a wave of ethnic cleansing not seen since Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which could fuel not only greater sectarian violence, but also resistance to our presence. He also pointed out that congressional skepticism about our continued presence in Iraq has helped the administration focus Maliki & Co. on the fact that there are limits, without Bush having to take responsibility for imposing them.
Katrina made all three men, including Li'l George, uncomfortable. Couldn't bring themselves to endorse an unalloyed indictment of this administration and its tragically failed policies in Iraq, which has also led to tragic failed policies everywhere else, including Afghanistan, and the American "homeland" itself.
No, Democrats aren't going to want to cut off funding, warned all three, uh, male members of the round table. George Will reminded any listening Democrats of the kind of "acid" sound bite such a policy could lead to. Fareed reminded Katrina he'd already made a case for more participation by Congress in decision making on Iraq, but neither she nor Congress ought to go overboard.
The politics of Iraq were considered in the context of the 2008 presidential election, Li'l George taking a head count of which Republican contenders are backing George Bush, which are running from him, and which Democrats, all of whom oppose Bush's surge, seem comfortable with the notion of limiting funding, a discussion that went nowhere...
... until Katrina made the observation that American voters have been way ahead of politicians and pundits, at which point she was shouted down with accusations of "populism," horror of horrors, and a "populist fantasy" at that.
Fareed pointed out, wrongly, I think, that over 60% of Americans backed the invasion of Iraq; he seems to have forgotten that only happened after the invasion actually began. Katrina held her ground, but not before George Will noted that John McCain had suffered a 15 point loss of approval among independents, something of which he was aware and in spite of which he continues to support not only the war, but also this current "surge," which, whatever you view of McCain, Will was sure all would agree is what leadership looks like.
Katrina countered the obdurate intransigence of George Bush, and the slippery confusion of McCain's position as chief critic and chief supporter of Bush policies in Iraq with Chuck Hegel's straightforward trajectory from supporter to critic to outright opposition of this President's policies. Looks like leadership to me.
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