Tag: George W. Bush

Progressives: here’s what happens when you steal GOP talking points

Progressives and liberals were quick to praise President George H.W. Bush when he passed away. Some of this was basic human decency. Some of this was honest admiration for a masterful foreign policy practitioner and a decent man. But some of it felt strategic, a way to point out all of Trump’s failings. Highlighting Bush’s virtues emphasized the issues with Trump and his Presidency. The fact that Bush was a Republican seemed to make this more effective; “look,” Trump critics could say, “here are things Republicans used to value.” It seemed an effective tactic.

And then Trump nominated William Barr to be Attorney General. Barr has been skeptical about the probe into Trump’s Russia ties and thinks the “Uranium One” deal is a major scandal that implicates Hillary Clinton. He has also called on the government to promote socially conservative values. So we can expect some potent attacks on him by progressives…except that he was also Attorney General in the George H.W. Bush Administration. It’s going to be hard to accuse him of being unqualified and dangerous without questioning the wisdom of the man so many recently praised.

This highlights the danger of trying to steal Republican talking points. Progressives frequently do this: “Republicans claim to care about X, but they’re not actually doing much on it.” There are many examples:

  • When President Obama was calling for nuclear disarmament, he referenced a similar call by Ronald Reagan. He made similar appeals to Reagan when announcing the New START treaty with Russia. And I know, at the urging of a progressive foreign policy group I was then part, I made a similar argument but I haven’t found the article yet (I’ll update this if I do). This provided useful historical context to Obama’s policies, but it was also an attempt to undercut Republican objections.
  • When Democrats retook the House in 2006, part of their platform was controlling the deficit that had expanded under George W. Bush. This was also one of Obama’s attack lines in the run-up to his Presidential campaign. Again, this represents fiscal prudence, which is good. But it’s also an attempt to “steal” fiscal prudence from Republicans.
  • Another Bush-era attack line had to do with US Special Operations Forces (SOFs). Democrats didn’t just argue against the Iraq War, they argued that it–and the broader war on terrorism-were being mismanaged and that they could do better. One of their proposals was to “double the size of [US] Special Forces.” This was meant to  highlight the fact that Democrats could be tough on national security too, taking away an additional GOP talking point.

Most of these worked at the time. But they later backfired. Obama’s praise for Reagan makes it harder to criticize problematic aspects of his legacy, and was countered by conservatives, limiting its impact. Democratic criticism of Bush’s deficits opened Obama up to GOP attacks on his economic policies–some of which require expanding the deficit–and Democrats are running into this problem again. Democrats’ call for more Special Forces was criticized for definitional issues (Special Forces refers just to Army personnel) and infeasibility. It also makes it harder to criticize Trump’s use of SOFs in counterterrorism operations that haven’t been debated or approved by Congress.

And I’m not even going to go into poorly-thought-through but convenient attack lines. Remember when Obama mocked Romney for being stuck in the 80s after he expressed concern about Russia, with a lame “the 80’s called” joke.  Progressives at the time (including me) thought it was great, but it’s made current Russia concerns seem opportunistic.

As Democrats get ready for 2020, there are a lot of potential attacks on Trump. Candidates and their campaigns will be tempted to attack him as not being a good enough Republican. If those attacks come from a centrist trying to present a Bill Clinton-esque “third way” that may be ok. And if it is praise for an earlier, more cooperative era of politics, that’s fine too. But more often than not they’ll come from progressive candidates who are just trying to score an easy point. This very well may work, but it will continue to muddle Democratic messaging. Resist the temptation.

 

 

Did You Know that WMD is DMW Spelled Backwards?

Herbert Marcuse had some interesting things to say about certain political acronyms.

 The meaning is fixed, doctored, loaded. Once it has become an official vocable, constantly repeated in general usage, “sanctioned” by the intellectuals, it has lost all cognitive value and serves merely for recognition of an unquestionable fact.

This style is of overwhelming concreteness. The “thing identified with its function” is more real than the thing distinguished from its function and the linguistic expression of this identification (in the functional noun, and in the many forms of syntactical abridgement) creates a basic vocabulary and syntax which stand in the way of differentiation, separation, and distinction. This language, which constantly imposes images, militates against the development and expression of concepts. In its immediacy and directness it impedes conceptual thinking; thus, it impedes thinking.

I bring this up because of Tom Nichols’ thoughtful piece on assessing the Iraq War. His basic point: the persistence of Bush Derangement Syndrome among liberals, academics, and especially liberal academics makes it “too soon” for a sober assessment of the war. I’ll have a few words to say about that at the end of this post, but for now I want to focus on the issue of Iraqi WMD.

Continue reading

Guest Post by Tom Nichols — Iraq War Debate too Driven by Bush Resentment: A Response to Bob Kelly’s Iraq Posts”

imagesCAI6BD5TI am happy to invite my friend Tom Nichols to guest-post about the continuing Iraq War debate. Tom responded so substantially to my original post series on the war (one, two, three), that I invited him to provide a longer write-up. Tom is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School. His blog can be found here, his twitter here. His opinions of course are his own, so whenever he says I’m wrong, you probably shouldn’t listen… REK

I’ve been reading Bob’s thoughts – cogent as always – on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. I reject Bob’s exploration of the “culpability” of the IR field for providing any kind of intellectual infrastructure for the war, mostly because I don’t think anyone in Washington, then or now, listens to us, and for good reason. Joe Nye long ago lamented that lack of influence elsewhere, and others agree (by “others” I mean “me”). So I won’t rehearse it here.

Bob and I sort of agree that the outcome of the war doesn’t say much about the prescience of at least some of the war’s opponents: there were people whose default position was almost any exercise of U.S. power is likely to be bad, and they don’t get points for being right by accident. Continue reading

Baseball and American Foreign Policy

Not long ago, Robert Elias, a Professor of Politics at University of San Francisco (and editor of Peace Review), published The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy & Promoted the American Way Abroad (The New Press, 2010). Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to obtain a copy of the book — or read it. However, thanks to my SABR membership, I learned this week of his related article “Baseball and American Foreign Policy,” which came out in Transatlantica in 2011 (but was just published on-line this month).

As both a baseball fan and an academic who has taught a course on “Globalization (And Baseball),” I am certainly interested in the thesis Elias develops:

In America’s efforts to expand its frontiers, it soon looked overseas. Baseball was enlisted in America’s imperial quests and it helped colonize other lands, from the Caribbean to Asia to the Pacific. The game was regularly part of U.S. “civilizing missions” launched abroad, either militarily or economically, and sometimes bolstered by the forces of “muscular Christianity.” Baseball was used to sell and export the American way. It took its place in the globalization of the world, even if Americanization was more so the objective. In America’s foreign diplomacy, baseball was often regarded as the nation’s “moral equivalent of war.” And at home, baseball was used to promote patriotism and nationalism.

In the article, for example, Elias reviews the role baseball has played in America’s various wars and military interventions. Generally, in fact, Elias argues that baseball has long “promoted nationalism and patriotism, and closely associated itself with American militarism.”
Specifically, he argues that organized baseball played an important role in overcoming the Vietnam syndrome by helping to promote jingoism during the first Persian Gulf War. This fall 2001 video may help explain the author’s point in the context of September 11:

Elias claims that Bush “later reported the pitch as the highlight of his presidency.” In the text, of course, Elias makes a much richer argument about the interplay between baseball and post-9/11 America:

After the terrorist attacks, [Baseball Commissioner Bud] Selig ordered all baseball games postponed. Yet he also invoked [Franklin] Roosevelt’s “green light” for baseball, claiming the sport was too central to the national fabric to stop the games completely. Instead, MLB embraced the flag and led the call to “support the troops.” Having the games soon proceed indicated, symbolically, that America was functioning and would be fighting back…

Virtually every major league ballpark was awash with patriotic gestures. Moments of silence were religiously observed, and patriotic music punctuated games. Fields and stands were blanketed with red, white and blue. Silent auctions were held and benefit games were played for the Red Cross. Players wore caps honoring New York’s police, firefighters and emergency crews, and visited shelters and fire houses. Fans held candles, prayed and sang, and chanted “USA! USA!” Yankee Stadium held a memorial service, Mets players raised money for the Twin Towers Relief Fund, and Diamondback players visited “ground zero.” The terrorist attacks immediately politicized baseball. President Bush “used baseball as a major patriotic statement” at the World Series and elsewhere. Maverick Media, the President’s image maker, later repackaged footage from Bush’s baseball appearances, playing them repeatedly during his reelection campaign.

Much of the rest of the article discusses the role baseball played in other dimensions of American foreign policy — espionage, diplomacy, globalization, etc. He also devotes some attention to the way baseball has dealt with dissent.

Référence électronique
Robert Elias, « Baseball and American Foreign Policy », Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2011, mis en ligne le 10 juin 2012, Consulté le 16 juin 2012. URL : http://transatlantica.revues.org/5478.

Bush’s failed freedom agenda

Condi Rice writes some fancy words this morning:

As I watched Hosni Mubarak address the Egyptian people last week, I thought to myself, “It didn’t have to be this way.”

In June 2005, as secretary of state, I arrived at the American University in Cairo to deliver a speech at a time of growing momentum for democratic change in the region. Following in the vein of President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, I said that the United States would stand with people who seek freedom. This was an admission that the United States had, in the Middle East more than any other region, sought stability at the expense of democracy, and had achieved neither. It was an affirmation of our belief that the desire for liberty is universal – not Western, but human – and that only fulfillment of that desire leads to true stability.

The problem is that history is a tricky thing. Bush and Rice both gave wonderful speeches at times on the merits of democracy. But after 9/11 and throughout the remainder of his presidency, Bush expanded security cooperation with dozens of corrupt authoritarian regimes. These included, among others Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt (yes Egypt), Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. This expanded security cooperation often included additional foreign aid packages for military and security forces that repressed domestic oppositions, it included coordination on intelligence gathering that, again, frequently targeted domestic oppositions, and it included numerous instances in which the U.S. government supported torture, rendition, and secret detentions. None of these practices are consistent with democracy or human rights — or an “affirmation” that the “desire for liberty is universal.”

Furthermore, even though Bush added money to democracy promotion programs during his presidency — the National Endowment for Democracy went from $40 million in 2001 to $100 million in 2008 and the Middle East Partnership Initiative added another $150 million per year in 2005 — the problem was always one of proportionality. The defense budget was roughly $600 billion in 2008 while the intelligence budget and supplemental appropriations for the global war on terror added another $150 billion. I think it is fair to say that the Bush administration spent far more on secret CIA programs than on democracy assistance. Democracy promotion under Bush — like almost all presidents in history — was always subordinated to strategic and economic interests.

But what is perhaps most striking is that, even after all the “freedom agenda” rhetoric, in the end, global freedom suffered under Bush –though this is not a point you’ll hear from those claiming vindication of George W. Bush. Freedom House’s 2011 annual report concludes:

According to the survey’s findings, 2010 was the fifth consecutive year in which global freedom suffered a decline—the longest period of setbacks for freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.

This decline (which followed several years of stagnation) is directly attributable to the legacy of the global war on terror and the global financial crisis.

Rice concluded her op-ed this morning by focusing on the road ahead and how the United States can and should help promote democracy in Egypt and beyond. But, I think what will strengthen the US hand ahead is a candid and real discussion of where we’ve been. Thomas Carothers made this case in a Foreign Affairs debate with Paula Dobriansky, Bush’s Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs back in 2003:

The “relentless portrait of the United States as a country uniquely devoted to democracy promotion, is part of a pattern of rhetorical overkill by administration officials that weakens rather than strengthens this country’s credibility in the eyes of others. People around the world are quite capable of seeing that the United States has close, even intimate relations with many undemocratic regimes for the sake of American security and economic interests….
A more honest acknowledgment of this reality and a considerable toning down of self-congratulatory statements about the United States’ unparalleled altruism on the world stage would be a big boost in the long run to a more credible pro-democratic policy.”

Indeed.

(Head of) State Secrets

As I’ve already noted, former President George W. Bush is apparently settling some scores in his new memoir. In Europe, his passages about former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are attracting a good deal of attention.

According to press reports, Bush says Schroder was for the Iraq war before it was against it. Because of his own electoral problems, Bush implies, Schroeder flip-flopped.

The former president writes that when he said he was considering the use of force in Iraq, Schroder said, “‘What is true of Afghanistan is true of Iraq. Nations that sponsor terror must face consequences. If you make it fast and make it decisive, I will be with you.'”

Mr. Bush writes that he “took that as a statement of support. But when the German election arrived later that year, Schroder had a different take. He denounced the possibility of force against Iraq.”

…Mr. Bush writes in “Decision Points” that though he continued to work with the German leader on some issues, “as someone who valued personal diplomacy, I put a high premium on trust. Once that trust was violated, it was hard to have a constructive relationship again.”

Unlike Bush’s former domestic ally Mitch McConnell, who has remained mum about Bush’s similar accusations, Schroeder says Bush is lying:

Schroder said Tuesday that former President George W. Bush “is not telling the truth” in his new memoir “Decision Points,” according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.

…Schroder says Mr. Bush’s description of the exchange is false. He said in that meeting and in others he told Mr. Bush that Germany would stand by the United States if Iraq is shown “to have provided protection and hospitality to al-Qaida fighters.” He added, however, that it became clear in 2002 that the alleged connection between Iraq and al-Qaida “was false and constructed.”

Obviously, one of these former leaders has the facts wrong.

Throughout Europe, if press reports are accurate, most people side with Schroeder.

Bush skeptics certainly have history on their side. The most hawkish supporters of the Iraq-war simply did not countenance conditional support — and have often accused political opponents of simple and hypocritical “flip flops” when something more complicated was at work. I’ve pointed this out before in regard to the “pro-war” votes in the Congress and UN Security Council in fall 2002. Lots of people labeled “war supporters” were simply trying to give the U.S. enough leverage to force Iraq to yield to weapons inspections and assure disarmament.

In this case, Schroeder’s support was contingent upon the evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda:

“Schroeder’s support (for the invasion of Iraq) was conditional on evidence being found of terrorists being harbored in Iraq, so when there was no evidence delivered, he withdrew his support,” LSE professor [Dr. Henning] Meyer told Deutsche Welle. “Bush is attempting to polish his own picture of this situation with the Germans by saying that the breakdown in relations was not his fault and that it was Schroeder who turned opinion against him.”

As RFE/RL reviewer Christian Caryl notes, Bush’s memoir “passes over in silence…how his administration’s repeated declarations of a link between Al-Qaeda and Hussein’s regime warped the work of the intelligence agencies, who had been told all too clearly what their masters wanted to hear.”

Bush: McConnell plays politics with national security

In his new memoir, former President George W. Bush says that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) let electoral politics influence his advice about the Iraq war in 2006. Cincinnati’s CityBeat has the exchange from Bush’s memoir:

“In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching, my friend Mitch McConnell came to the Oval Office. The senior senator from Kentucky and Republican whip had asked to see me alone. Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble.

‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress’ …

‘Well, Mitch,’ I asked, ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ ‘Mr. President,’ he said, ‘bring some troops home from Iraq.'”

The Louisville Courier-Journal, November 9 quotes Bush as replying that he would “set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls.”

Ouch.

My local paper (and McConnell’s) lets Michael Desch, a realist IR theorist and chair of political science at Notre Dame, explain the Senator’s problem:

“Because he [McConnell] had been a cheerleader for the president in the war, it makes him look like a bit of a hypocrite,” Desch said of McConnell. “It also makes him look bad because he seems to be trimming his sails in response to electoral politics, which doesn’t look very statesmanlike.”

Indeed, in an op-ed on November 11, the C-J detailed McConnell’s hypocrisy:

At the time that Sen. McConnell was privately advising Mr. Bush to reduce troop levels in Iraq, he was elsewhere excoriating congressional Democrats who had urged the same thing. “The Democrat[ic] leadership finally agrees on something — unfortunately it’s retreat,” Sen. McConnell had said in a statement on Sept. 5, 2006, about a Democratic letter to Mr. Bush appealing for cuts in troop levels. Sen. McConnell, who publicly was a stout defender of the war and Mr. Bush’s conduct of the conflict, accused the Democrats of advocating a position that would endanger Americans and leave Iraqis at the mercy of al-Qaida.

Ouch again.

The op-ed notes that McConnell has three choices: call Bush a liar, admit that he was lying publicly at the time, or “explain why the fortunes of the Republican Party are of greater importance than the safety of the United States.”

In the original piece, University of Virginia’s election savant Professor Larry Sabato says that this revelation signals that George W. Bush is out of politics and that he’s settling some scores.

Virtually everyone quoted in the story agrees that McConnell was right — Bush’s war in Iraq did cost the Republicans the Congress in 2006.

The Duck of Bush

President Bush made a secret, surprise visit to Iraq and the local reaction wasn’t entirely friendly:

In other news, serious analysts might want to take a look at the draft of a federal report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The New York Times has the text online.

The Golf War

According to President George W. Bush, the U.S. has been engaged in a “war on terrorism” for almost the entirety of his presidency. Indeed, he frequently laments the fact that he’s been a “war President” despite not knowing in 2000 that that would be his destiny.

Critics
have often bashed the President for failing to urge the American people to make common sacrifices in support of that war. Even sympathetic voices say that soldiers have made virtually all the major sacrifices in this war.

Indeed, rather than make sacrifices, the President has long encouraged the American people to live their lives as if the war did not require personal hardship. Go shopping, he often said:

the American people have got to go about their business. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop.

As recently as December 2006, Bush said “I encourage you all to go shopping more.”

Now that his term in office is about over, however, the President has revealed the personal sacrifice he’s making. From today’s Washington Post:

President Bush said yesterday that he gave up golfing in 2003 “in solidarity” with the families of soldiers who were dying in Iraq, concluding that it was “just not worth it anymore” to play the sport in a time of war.

“I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,” Bush said in a White House interview with the Politico. “I feel I owe it to the families to be as — to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Bush said he decided to stop playing golf on Aug. 19, 2003, when a truck bomb in Baghdad killed U.N. special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and more than a dozen others.

I’m sure the parents of the troops must feel much better about the commander-in-chief.

Scratch that. I’m sure we’ll see that quote in a future Michael Moore film

Speedboat diplomacy

Update below the fold.

After months of diplomatic sniping between the US and Russia, Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush are meeting today at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush has generally invited foreign leaders to his own ranch in Texas, rather than to the Maine compound, which belongs to his father. I have yet to read a compelling explanation as to why he chose Maine over Texas other than the more pleasant summertime weather, but that’s never stopped him in the past.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this visit, at least so far. Both the American and the Russian press seem to expect little from the meetings between the two leaders, noting the wide differences in policy toward Iran and missile defense.

Putin arrived yesterday in time for a spin about the bay in a speedboat driven by Bush Père, followed by a fancy lobster dinner. This morning, they went fishing; Putin was the only one who caught anything. Putin will continue on to Guatemala to a meeting of the Olympic committee, in support of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Can personal diplomacy between world leaders really make a big difference? Certainly, but I don’t think Putin is going to be swayed from his positions by a little Bush “charm”. Instead, he’s continued to try to put Bush off-balance–this time, according to the New York Times, offering yet another proposal for a jointly developed missile defense plan located in former Soviet space, in exchange for Bush abandoning plans to deploy the system in the new NATO members of eastern Europe. Unfortunately, the NYT article lacks details of what Putin actually proposed. The BBC has only slightly more, mentioning, in addition to the Gabala radar, a “site in Southern Russia”.

Update: Izvestia has more information about Putin’s specific proposals. First, he proposed the creation of an information exchange center in Moscow and an early warning station in southern Russia (still no specific location). Second, he proposed widening the discussion of missile defense to include other European countries, while noting that these countries will have to conduct elections on whether to participate in the system. This last bit is a reminder to the Bush Administration that missile defense is not actually all that popular in eastern Europe–at the beginning of April, one opinion poll showed that 57% of Poles were opposed to participating in the program. Bush, in his turn, responded to the latest proposal by calling it a “bold, interesting, new idea.”* ‘Interesting’, of course, should be translated as ‘I haven’t figured out how to politely say ‘no’ yet.’

* This is translated from the Izvestia article, so I can’t guarantee Bush’s exact English words–I haven’t been able to find a detailed English-language account yet.

Public diplomacy? We don’t need no stinking public diplomacy!


The BBC reports:

US President George W Bush has appealed for people to give his strategy in Iraq a chance – holding up Israel as a model for defining success there.

He said America would like to see Iraq function as a democracy while dealing with violence – just as Israel does.

Speaking at the US Naval War College, Mr Bush said success in Iraq would not be defined by an end to attacks.

His remarks come as members of his Republican party are increasingly turning against the war in Iraq.

The US president characterised the war in Iraq as primarily against al-Qaeda forces and their use of “headline-grabbing” suicide attacks and car bombings.

He said: “Our success in Iraq must not be measured by the enemy’s ability to get a car bombing in the evening news.”

The terms of success set out by Mr Bush included “the rise of a government that can protect its people, deliver basic services for all its citizens and function as a democracy even amid violence”.

Mr Bush suggested Israel as a standard to work towards.

“In places like Israel, terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks.

“The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it’s not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that’s a good indicator of success that we’re looking for in Iraq.”

Is this an unreasonable analogy? No, it isn’t. Is it a stupid &^@!)# thing to say? Hell, yes.

The Bush Administration still hasn’t figured, or at least adapted to, a basic rule of global media: US officials must assume that any messages intended for domestic consumption can, and will, be scrutinized abroad. And arguments that resonate well with an American audience may fair very, very poorly with important international audiences.

Consider that while the Bush Administration has certainly displayed a more unilateralist bent than the Clinton Presidency, the international backlash against Bush even before Iraq was far out of proportion to his substantive changes in US foreign policy. At least part of the problem was that Bush, Cheney and the gang were so relentlessly focused on their “Mayberry Machiavellianism” at home that they either didn’t pay attention to, or didn’t care, how their rhetoric–much of which worked well in the American context–would be interpreted abroad.

Which brings us full circle. Will Bush’s words be twisted in the coming days in the Arab world? Perhaps. I’d lay good odds that the coverage will not be favorable. Will they make an enormous difference? Probably not. But what’s the upside to handing your opponents a big shiny quote that the US wants Iraq to look like Israel? I think you all know the answer.

(image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Iraq
)

War of the words

Did you know that there’s a new Cold War? Well, not really. It makes for good media headlines, but it’s largely exaggerated hype.

Nevertheless, tensions between the US and Russia have been on the rise over the last year. At the heart of the matter is Russia’s desire to be taken seriously as a player in the world political scene. The economy is booming and government coffers are overflowing. Russia sees itself as undergoing a resurgence and they want to be treated accordingly.

Instead, they’ve been receiving the standard Bush administration treatment, which seems to be applied equally to all our allies: here’s our plan for X…no, we don’t need your input.

Although the US and Russia have been wrangling over a number of issues, including the disposition of Kosovo and the progression of the Iranian nuclear program, the biggest bone of contention has been American plans to place anti-ballistic missile installations in Central Europe, in Poland and the Czech Republic (talk about ABM installations in Ukraine is, for now, just talk).

While the negotiations for deployment of these ABM components has been largely under the radar of the US press, it’s been a Big Deal in the Russian-language press since last fall. It’s a hot story…and it’s not merely nationalist drum-beating by the domestic Russian press–even the Russian-language BBC has been giving it a lot of coverage.

If you haven’t been following it, here’s the basics: the US wants to site radar installations and missile launchers in Poland and the Czech Republic, with the idea that this system would protect against missile attacks by rogue states (i.e., Iran and North Korea). Russia has reacted strongly against the proposed system, arguing that in placing BMD practically “at Russia’s borders” (this is the phrase used in the Russian press), the US can only have one purpose: to undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent. This has led to some absurdist rhetoric, where Russian officials have claimed that new missile systems under development will be fully able to penetrate the missile shield, while in the next breath they repeat the claim about undermining the deterrent. (If their missiles are truly unstoppable, then an ABM shield shouldn’t really concern them, should it?) As negotiations have proceeded with our NATO allies on BMD deployment, the pitch of the rhetoric has turned up: among other things, Russia has threatened to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and to retarget missiles toward Europe.

If you read closely, though, you will find that the key issue for the Russians is not the BMD system, but rather American unilateralism. The Russians want to be our partners, not our pushovers. From the NYT back in March:

NATO diplomats have also expressed frustration at Russia’s words of shock over proposals for basing missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, and they produced lists of sessions in which officials from Moscow were briefed on the antimissile effort in NATO-Russia Council sessions and in bilateral talks.

Russian officials complain that those meetings were not two-way consultations about American plans but one-way notifications at which their concerns were not weighed.

Russia wants to be treated with the respect it feels it deserves as nuclear superpower–and it’s willing to throw its weight around to get it.

So here’s where we get to the juicy part: the recent G-8 summit in Germany.

After months of pumping up the rhetorical volume on the BMD controversy, Putin suddenly shifted gears. In a brilliant bit of political theater (or, perhaps, political judo), he offered a Russian radar installation in Azerbaijan as a site for a jointly managed ABM radar site.

The Bush administration could only splutter in response. The Gabala site is considerably closer to Iran and to North Korea. Of course, it’s not without drawbacks. For one thing, many Azeris are furious about the offer, claiming that the Russia’s lease on the facility does not permit them to hand it over to a third party.

On the other hand, they don’t have much to worry about. Putin placed a number of conditions on the deal, including a requirement for full Russian access to the joint facility (and presumably, to US technology). And some analysts have claimed that the site is both too close to Iran and too far from the proposed missile launcher sites to be effective. And at a NATO defense ministers’ meeting on June 15, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the Russian offer will not affect US plans to site facilities in Central Europe, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of using the Gabala radar as an additional site.

SOP, for the Bush admin: all take and no give. Of course, Putin’s offer grabbed all the headlines, while Gates’ quiet “thanks, but no thanks” has made no splash at all. But I don’t think anyone really thought it was a genuine offer in the first place, so the headlines are the real field of battle.

Have fun storming the castle…

The Senate held hearings the other day to confirm Lt. General Douglas Lute to be President Bush’s “War Czar”– a special assistant to the President directly overseeing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.* Remember, this is the job that 3 or 4 (to our knowledge) retired Generals turned down. Lute, on active duty in the Army, could hardly say no.

I wonder– how on earth is he going to be able to do anything in this job? In the report on his confirmation hearing, Lute offered a “dour assessment” of Iraq:

President Bush’s nominee to be war czar said yesterday that conditions in Iraq have not improved significantly despite the influx of U.S. troops in recent months and predicted that, absent major political reform, violence will continue to rage over the next year.

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions “have shown so far very little progress” toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, “we’re not likely to see much difference in the security situation” a year from now.

As the president’s point man on Iraq, Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the ability to force them to do so. “I have reservations about just how much leverage we can apply on a system that is not very capable right now,” he said.


Reservations. But look where’s he’s going to work! If they have reservations, they’re for a different restaurant.

Cheney:

In our briefings in Iraq in these last few days, General Petraeus underscored the fact that the enemy tactics are barbaric … that we can expect more violence as they try to destroy the hopes of the Iraqi people. But they told me as well of the progress that’s been made in fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, seizing weapons, and getting actionable intelligence. The job now is to persevere in every area of operations – from Baghdad, to Anbar Province, to the border areas. And I think General Petraeus’s own words put it best: “We cannot allow mass murderers to hold the initiative. We must strike them relentlessly. We and our Iraqi partners must set the terms of the struggle, not our enemies. And together we must prevail.”

Cheney again:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I have to rely on reports like everybody else does, obviously. I’ve spent today here basically in our embassy and the military headquarters in the green zone, so I can’t speak from personal experience in terms of what’s going on all across Iraq.

I can say that based on the conversations I’ve had today, and most of those conversations were with Iraqis and Iraqi leaders – some of them in the government, some of them not – that they believe the situation has gotten better. They cite specifically the statistics on sectarian violence, Sunni-on-Shia and Shia-on-Sunni violence that they think is down fairly dramatically.

I think everybody recognizes there still are serious security problems, security threats; no question about it.

But the impression I got from talking with them – and this includes their military as well as political leadership – is that they do believe we are making progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.

Lets not forget who he’s working for. Bush’s idea of the victory that Lute should coordinate:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? I know this is a question we’ve asked before, but you can begin it with a “yes” or “no.”

He cannot…

THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

Q — catastrophic, as you’ve said over and over again?

THE PRESIDENT: I would hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic. This is a sovereign nation, Martha. We are there at their request. And hopefully the Iraqi government would be wise enough to recognize that without coalition troops, the U.S. troops, that they would endanger their very existence. And it’s why we work very closely with them, to make sure that the realities are such that they wouldn’t make that request — but if they were to make the request, we wouldn’t be there.

So what do we have now?

Yes, I’m — there’s — certainly, there’s been an uptick in violence. It’s a snapshot, it’s a moment. And David Petraeus will come back with his assessment after his plan has been fully implemented, and give us a report as to what he recommends — what he sees, and what he recommends, which is, I think, a lot more credible than what members of Congress recommend. We want our commanders making the recommendations, and — along with Ryan Crocker, our Ambassador there — I don’t want to leave Ryan out.

And so it’s a — you know, to Axelrod’s point, it’s a — no question it’s the kind of report that the enemy would like to affect because they want us to leave, they want us out of there. And the reason they want us to leave is because they have objectives that they want to accomplish. Al Qaeda — David Petraeus called al Qaeda public enemy number one in Iraq. I agree with him. And al Qaeda is public enemy number one in America. It seems like to me that if they’re public enemy number one here, we want to help defeat them in Iraq.

This is a tough fight, you know? And it’s, obviously, it’s had an effect on the American people. Americans — a lot of Americans want to know win — when are you going to win? Victory is — victory will come when that country is stable enough to be able to be an ally in the war on terror and to govern itself and defend itself.

One of the areas where I really believe we need more of a national discussion, however, is, what would be the consequences of failure in Iraq? See, people have got to understand that if that government were to fall, the people would tend to divide into kind of sectarian enclaves, much more so than today, that would invite Iranian influence and would invite al Qaeda influence, much more so than in Iraq today. That would then create enormous turmoil, or could end up creating enormous turmoil in the Middle East, which would have a direct effect on the security of the United States.

Failure in Iraq affects the security of this country. It’s hard for some Americans to see that, I fully understand it. I see it clearly. I believe this is the great challenge of the beginning of the 21st century — not just Iraq, but dealing with this radical, ideological movement in a way that secures us in the short term and more likely secures us in the long term.

THE PRESIDENT: — that’s really the crux of it. And — let me finish, please, here. I’m on a roll here. And so now that we have, does it make sense to help this young democracy survive? And the answer is, yes, for a variety of reasons.

One, we want to make sure that this enemy that did attack us doesn’t establish a safe haven from which to attack again. Two, the ultimate success in a war against ideologues is to offer a different ideology, one based upon liberty — by the way, embraced by 12 million people when given the chance. Thirdly, our credibility is at stake in the Middle East. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern nations wondering whether the United States of America is willing to push back against radicals and extremists, no matter what their religion base — religious bases may be.

And so the stakes are high in Iraq. I believe they’re absolutely necessary for the security of this country. The consequences of failure are immense.

And Lute is to make all this happen. So, again, tell me how Lute can going to be at all effective in doing these things?

Although senators from both parties praised Lute and made clear they plan to confirm him, Democrats took issue with Bush’s decision to create the post more than four years into the war. Lute would serve as an assistant to the president who would brief Bush every day and manage the U.S. government’s civilian and military efforts in Iraq.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) also questioned Lute about Vice President Cheney’s role. Lute responded that Cheney is “an important participant in policy development” and that “I’ll be working with the vice president and his staff.”

“Well,” Clinton replied, “I wish you well. Because certainly that’s turned out to be a difficult situation for many.”

To say the least.

Good Luck General, i think you’re really going to need it.

*Normally, presidential aids do not require Senate confirmation. However promotions and new assignments for active duty flag officers do require Senate approval, and since Lute is a Lt. General in the Army, his new job requires Senate approval.

Aliens Inpersonate President Bush

I was actually intending to do a more thoughtful post inspired by this, (or maybe a more sarcastic one inspired by this), but, as I scanned over the NYT website, I actually gawked–out loud–in disbelief as I read this:

President Bush took aim Wednesday at lavish salaries and bonuses for corporate executives, standing on Wall Street to issue a sharp warning for corporate boards to “step up to their responsibilities” and tie compensation packages to performance.

…The president acknowledged people’s continuing nervousness about their financial picture, despite a string of similar reports that provide some reason for optimism. He said some workers are being left behind in the booming economy and the disparity between the rich and the poor is growing.

“The fact is that income inequality is real. It has been rising for more than 25 years,” the president said. “The earnings gap is now twice as wide as it was in 1980,” Bush said, adding that more education and training can lift peoples’ salaries.

…In his address, Bush said he realized that stories about the enormous salaries and other perks for CEOs, for instance, create anger and uncertainty that affect the country’s investors.

What have they done with our president? You know, the guy who enacted a series of tax cuts in the midsts of a $1.2 trillion war designed such that, as Michael Kinsley described it in 2003:

under the American tax system as designed by the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, the most a person of vast wealth is expected to contribute to the commonweal from his or her last dollar of investment profits is the same 15 cents or so that a minimum-wage worker is expected to pay on his or her first dollar. This does not mean that we have a flat tax. We have a tax system of vast complexity, with wildly different tax burdens on different people. But we have a tax system that, on balance, knows who’s in charge.

Hmmmmmmmmm……

“Government should not decide the compensation for America’s corporate executives,” [Bush] said.

I guess its enough to rewrite the tax code to increase the incentives on such massive executive compensation packages based on stock options. As Paul Krugman explained it:

The 2003 tax cut delivers a somewhat smaller share to the top 1 percent, 29.1 percent, but within that concentrates its benefits on the really, really rich. Families with incomes over $1 million a year — a mere 0.13 percent of the population — will receive 17.3 percent of this year’s tax cut, more than the total received by the bottom 70 percent of American families. Indeed, the 2003 tax cut has already proved a major boon to some of America’s wealthiest people: corporations in which executives or a single family hold a large fraction of stocks are suddenly paying much bigger dividends, which are now taxed at only 15 percent no matter how high the income of their recipient.

Just in case you thought the world was about to end–

Still, even Bush’s words on pay were met with complete silence from the business crowd he addressed.

The Last Best Chance for Iraq

Yesterday as I was driving home, I caught the better part of President Bush’s interview with The News Hour’s Jim Lehrer (full transcript here).

I found it quite interesting– a very different Bush than I had heard before. Different in tone, different in style, and somewhat different in substance. Here, Bush admitted openly and honestly that he and his administration made real mistakes in Iraq:

Part of the failure for our reaction was ourselves. I mean, we should have found troops and moved them.

The purpose of the interview, along with others he’s been giving this week, is to sell his new Iraq plan of sending in a “surge” of 21,000 additional US troops. While the prime-time national television presentation of the plan wasn’t great, in the interview, Bush’s plan sounded reasonably compelling.

More importantly, and I think this is what Bush is banking on politically, as I listened, I wanted him to be right. I don’t think that anyone is rooting for the US to fail in Iraq– as Rodger pointed out in his Monday post, the tragic consequences of failure in Iraq bring tremendous death and suffering.

But, as I listened, I shook my head in disappointment and disbelief. Where was this speech two years ago? In 2004 or 2005, perhaps this kind of plan might have made a real difference. But now, given past failures of operations like Together Forward and the increased sectarian violence, it may well be too-little, too late. You don’t get a “do-over” in foreign policy.

Then I heard the real “faith-based” presidency come through in this exchange:

MR. LEHRER: General Casey said yesterday that the commander said that it may be spring or even summer before we have any signs of success from the new program –

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes.

MR. LEHRER: — from the new strategy, and even then I can’t guarantee you that it’s going to work. That’s the general; that’s the guy who is the commander.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I – look, I mean, I think that’s a –

MR. LEHRER: That’s –

PRESIDENT BUSH: — that’s a sober assessment. Well, it’s a sober assessment. I think he’s not going to stand up and make guarantees that may or may not happen, but he is also the general who felt like we needed more troops, and he’s also the general that believes this is the best chance of working. I think he’s giving a realistic assessment for people.

I also said in my speech you can expect more killing. In other words, it’s still going to be a dangerous environment because the enemy is likely to step up attacks to try to discourage the Iraqi government and to discourage the American people.

MR. LEHRER: Well, Mr. President, how can there then be a strategy based on trying to attain success if even more people are going to die – Americans as well as Iraqis?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, the – the purpose of the strategy, Jim, is to settle Baghdad down, is to secure neighborhoods, is to give the Iraqi people a chance to live in peace, which is what they want. And the way to do that is to send troops into neighborhoods to clean the neighborhoods of insurgents and terrorists, and it’s to hold the neighborhoods. And the problem in the past, there weren’t enough troops to hold the neighborhoods after neighborhoods had been cleared….

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think – you know, I – I didn’t listen to General Casey’s comments. The only thing I can tell you is what he told me. He said this has got the best chance of working. And we thought about what is the best way to succeed, and this is the best way to succeed in his mind and in my mind.

The “sober” and “realistic” assessment of the in-country General is that this gives us the best chance to win. Casey did not say it would work, he said that of all the options, it has the best chance of working. Bush can’t seem to articulate that he understands the difference–best chance does not mean will work.

I just don’t think that this “chance” is all that high. The plan counts heavily on the Iraqis to step up and provide security. As the NYT reported Sunday:

But the signs so far have unnerved some Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems — ranging from a contested chain of command to how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous districts — that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins.

Sober generals usually have a “Plan B” for when their last best chance becomes a SNAFU. Unfortunatley, this administration won’t allow talk of a Plan B.

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