Monday, November 28, 2005

Bush Administration plans to cut and run, while Jim Fallows offers the only pragmatic view on how we can get out honorably. In his extremely important Atlantic Monthly article, he explains what we need to do to actually enable the Iraqi army to take over -- a task the Bushies have mostly ignored, despite their rhetoric. Take a look at Fallows' surprising Third Way conclusion, followed by Josh Marshall's trenchant look at the contradiction between the Administration's new-found optimism about the Iraqi army's capacity vs. the grim reality the Fallows article portrays. Rachel Maddow points out today how the Administration is now even claiming credit for withdrawal plans offered by Sen. Joe Biden in an op-ed piece.

Meanwhile, as Seymour Hersh reports in the latest New Yorker, the administration's withdrawal strategy revolves around massive bombing of purported insurgent targets -- potentially selected by Shiite leaders in the Iraqi Army targeting Sunni enemies. That's a sure recipe for long-term stability.

Hersh notes: Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”

Fallows offers a sensible alternative, assuming those in power can be persuaded to change their approach to the Iraqi military. He says we will need to give long-term, meaningful support to the Iraqi army to allow us to withdraw without, essentially, leaving a raging civil war -- and, in my view, a terrorist-friendly, Iran-dominated theocracy in our wake. Many liberal commentators will note his headline "Why Iraq Has No Army," while ignoring his conclusions that don't fit easily into the withdraw-now camp:

"Let me suggest a standard for judging endgame strategies in Iraq, given the commitment the United States has already made. It begins with the recognition that even if it were possible to rebuild and fully democratize Iraq, as a matter of political reality the United States will not stay to see it through. (In Japan, Germany, and South Korea we did see it through. But while there were postwar difficulties in all those countries, none had an insurgency aimed at Americans.) But perhaps we could stay long enough to meet a more modest standard.

"What is needed for an honorable departure is, at a minimum, a country that will not go to war with itself, and citizens who will not turn to large-scale murder. This requires Iraqi security forces that are working on a couple of levels: a national army strong enough to deter militias from any region and loyal enough to the new Iraq to resist becoming the tool of any faction; policemen who are sufficiently competent, brave, and honest to keep civilians safe. If the United States leaves Iraq knowing that non-American forces are sufficient to keep order, it can leave with a clear conscience—no matter what might happen a year or two later.

"In the end the United States may not be able to leave honorably. The pressure to get out could become too great. But if we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do? Based on these interviews, I have come to this sobering conclusion: the United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making certain very long-term commitments to stay.

"Some of the changes that soldiers and analysts recommend involve greater urgency of effort, reflecting the greater importance of making the training succeed. Despite brave words from the Americans on the training detail, the larger military culture has not changed to validate what they do. `I would make advising an Iraqi battalion more career-enhancing than commanding an American battalion,' one retired Marine officer told me. `If we were serious, we'd be gutting every military headquarters in the world, instead of just telling units coming into the country they have to give up twenty percent of their officers as trainers.' ...
After detailing the needed reforms, he winds up:

"In sum, if the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq, it will need to re-consider its defense spending and operations rather than leaving them to a combination of inertia, Rumsfeld-led plans for "transformation," and emergency stopgaps. It will need to spend money for interpreters. It will need to create large new training facilities for American troops, as happened within a few months of Pearl Harbor, and enroll talented people as trainees. It will need to make majors and colonels sit through language classes. It will need to broaden the Special Forces ethic to much more of the military, and make clear that longer tours will be the norm in Iraq. It will need to commit air, logistics, medical, and intelligence services to Iraq—and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years—before it is too late.

"America's hopes today for an orderly exit from Iraq depend completely on the emergence of a viable Iraqi security force. There is no indication that such a force is about to emerge. As a matter of unavoidable logic, the United States must therefore choose one of two difficult alternatives: It can make the serious changes—including certain commitments to remain in Iraq for many years—that would be necessary to bring an Iraqi army to maturity. Or it can face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly."

Josh Marshall shrewdly points out that the Bush administration is covering its own withdrawal plans with partisan rhetoric aimed at painting Democrats as cowards and appeasers:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall November 26, 2005 12:14 AM

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

AMERICAblog: Because a great nation deserves the truth Dick Cheney says it's "reprehensible" that the Administration has been accused of lying. But Rep. Henry Waxman has released a report detailing the 51 times Cheney misled the public about Iraq.

Monday, November 14, 2005

How did the U.S. go off the deep end on torture? For those who missed it, the New York Times carries today an extremely important op-ed piece explaining how the Pentagon adopted Red Army and Communist Vietnam torture tactics originally intended to break the spirit of U.S. captives; the techniques were derived from a secret Pentagon program designed to teach U.S. soldiers how to resist such techniques. Can this administration's degradation of human rights get any lower? Here are the key paragraphs:

"The Pentagon effectively signed off on a strategy that mimics Red Army methods. But those tactics were not only inhumane, they were ineffective. For Communist interrogators, truth was beside the point: their aim was to force compliance to the point of false confession.

"Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.

"The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE's teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went "up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques" for "high-profile, high-value" detainees. General Hill had sent this list - which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees' phobias - to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002."

No wonder the U.S. has resisted joining a permanent international war crimes tribunal.

For the genesis of our pro-torture policy, check this out:
Doing Unto Others as They Did Unto Us - New York Times

And you thought Target was the "nice" alternative to Wal-Mart? Check out their refusal to fill contraceptives on religious grounds. AMERICAblog: Because a great nation deserves the truth

No, Dems didn't have the same intel, Mr. President. On Veteran's Day, the President claimed that everyone, including Democrats, believed mistaken intelligence. So going to war on false premises wasn't his adminstration's fault. Or something like that. In fact, in a very balanced article, The Washington Post explores the different ways the administration spun the intelligence, in part by omitting from the intelligence reports it made available to Congressional leaders any of the internal questions and challenges to the veracity of its WMD claims. Fred Kaplan of Slate gives a clear-eyed analysis why Bush's latest spin -- I was wrong, but so were the Democrats -- is so filled with falsehoods.
The New York Times editorial page concisely underscores why the President's latest spin is just an effort to deflect blame for the lies that brought us to war.
Read it all and weep.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

How $8 billion (give or take a few billion) was lost and stolen in Iraq. The following article from the London Review of Books does one of the best jobs of explaining how we've squandered so much money there. Unfortunately, it's going to get worse: that's because the Pentagon's on-site auditor has left Iraq permnanently so there won't be any more bad news about our waste there. This recent piece from the Pentago's inspector general could be one of the last assessments based on on-site review by DOD. And one of the largest thefts in history -- $1 billion from the Iraqi Defense Ministry -- will make it harder to train and equip the Iraqi Army.
As Donald Rumsfeld once said cavalierly, when looting was left unchecked after Saddam fell, "Stuff happens."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Read about a great book by a great writer and a beloved woman who was the wife of my friend Tim Noah. See the Slate review.Marjorie Williams - A journalist who made feminism matter. By Meghan�O'Rourke

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