Saturday, August 12

How do you solve a problem like Syria? (And Iraq? And Afghanistan? And . . . )

I've been reading Andrew Sullivan about ever since I seriously got into political blogging -- for about three years now, I guess -- and my opinion of him has changed numerous times during that period. Before the '04 election, his posting was about an equal 50-50 mix of genuine insight and boilerplate GOP-talking-point regurgitation; these days, as his eyes seem to have been fully opened to the true cravenness of the Bush administration's incompetence in everything from the Iraq war to the budgeting process at home, that mix has been dialed down to about 75-25 or so. Though more sensible now than he used to be, he'll still throw in a neocon-esque howler every once in a while -- but more so than ever, even when I disagree wholeheartedly with Sully, he still gives me something to think about.

This post of his from Friday is pretty much a microcosm of his current state -- at times infuriating, yes, but overall thought-provoking. In responding to an e-mail that proposes a potential Democratic strategy on the overall situation in the Middle East -- something that Sullivan has chided them incessantly for lacking, sometimes with good reason, sometimes in the service of mere pettiness -- Sullivan made me, by turns, hopeful . . .

The Iraq fiasco has shown the enormous difficulty of using blunt force to create an organic democratic change in a few years. But the future is not written yet -- and the Scowcroftian policies of propping up fast-failing dictatorships (a policy that gave us the first Islamist government in Iran) was clearly insufficient after 9/11. So call me a chastened neocon, if you must: appalled by the execution, humbled by the unintended consequences, but still unable to surrender the belief that more democracy and liberal institutions in the Middle East is the only long-term solution.

What does this mean in practice? Redeployment within Iraq to regions where we truly can encourage democracy and prosperity, like Kurdistan. More "soft" support for democratic movements in the Muslim world -- the kind of backing we gave Eastern European dissidents in the Cold War -- is essential, if done subtly enough not to prompt backlash. Encouraging the entrepreneurial Gulf states to grow in wealth and influence cannot hurt; a serious non-carbon energy policy at home is part of the mix as well. . . .

. . . and pissed-off:

If the Democrats could present a multi-faceted, hard-nosed approach to winning the war, a lot of us in the middle would give them a second look. But so far, not so good. I'm waiting for a leading Democratic nominee to pill a Sistah Souljah on the anti-war left, to call them on their irresponsibility and narcissism.

I don't get where Sullivan gets "narcissism" from; I'm a little more inclined to admit to his charge of "irresponsibility," though with the caveat that if being deemed "responsible" on national security requires assenting to every cockamamie invasion plan that comes down the neoconservative pike, I'll take "irresponsible," thank you very much. There seems to be a prevailing opinion amongst the self-proclaimed Those Who Know Better in Washington that "seriousness" on national security requires one to get behind every single war the neocons propose, no matter how short-sighted or spectacularly ill-thought-out. You could see it in the comments left at this thread (and, to a lesser extent, this one), in which I got called a "pussy," amongst various other things, simply for thinking that a wholesale Israeli attack on Lebanon, or a massive U.S. invasion of Iran, might not actually be such a great idea. My conservative critics, from what I could see, gave no thought to whether the Israeli attack on Lebanon might not actually be accomplishing anything, or to the potential consequences of an invasion of Iran; I was opposing a war, period, that's it, so that automatically makes me a lily-livered, tie-dye-wearing, terrorist-appeasing, Lieberman-purging pussy.

Those commenters may not realize it, Andrew Sullivan may only now be noticing it, but I think the American people -- if current polls are any indication -- have started coming around to it: War is not the automatic solution to everything, not even the wide-ranging problem of what to do about the Middle East. More to the point, war isn't even the solution to the problem of how to inspire democracy in the Middle East, because democracy at the point of a gun -- as we've seen in Iraq -- is, for the most part, really no democracy at all.

Furthermore, and I know I'm going to take a lot of crap for this, I just don't think it's the job of the United States to be the Great Democratizer and go around installing democracies in every country in the world that doesn't have one. Installing a new democracy is kind of like God giving Adam free will: It's great for people to have choice, but when you give them that, you have to account for the chance that they're going to choose something terrible. Look at Palestine and Iran: Those two countries are about as democratic as it gets in the Middle East -- certainly more so than the regime we just toppled in Iraq, or than so-called allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for that matter -- but in their most recent free elections, they chose, respectively, the Hamas party (basically a terrorist group) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (nuclear ambitions and rhetoric on Jews basically indistinguishable from Hitler's). Do we really want to spend thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars on giving nutjobs like these a chance to flourish? Democracy is a wonderful thing, and I'll champion it every chance I get, but it's also something to be considered very carefully, and I don't think it makes me or any other Democrat "irresponsible" or "narcissistic" to say so. Andrew Sullivan may think that not wanting to wave my magic democracy wand and immediately bestow democratic governments on every single country in the Muslim world means I lack "vision," but eventually he and other right-leaners are going to have to face the put up/shut up dilemma and decide exactly how they want all this wonderful democracy to be executed. Until then, I'll take no more where-are-your-solutions crap from them, thanks.

Basically it seems to me that the overall, writ-large War on Terror, Middle East Situation, or whatever you want to call it boils down to three areas. There are the very focused, specific problems of countries where we're already hip-deep militarily, i.e. Afghanistan and Iraq; the somewhat larger issues of countries like Iran which we haven't directly engaged yet, but where a threat is definitely presented; and the still larger, civilization-affecting issues of how the Muslim world and the Western world relate to each other going forward. For lack of a better way to describe these, I'll use modifiers used by economists and physicians and call them Micro, Mini, and Macro -- and make no mistake, I'm using them to refer to their scope relative to one another, certainly not their severity or urgency. Sullivan wants a Democratic solution, here's my best stab at it:

The Micro-Problem(s): Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the two countries where we've gotten directly involved in a military sense to try to start up some kind of sustainable democracy. In one of them the situation, as I've said, has degenerated into near-hopelessness; in the other, we've still got the chance to accomplish something. First of all, I want to confess that that linked post, about "losing hope" in Iraq, was written in a very emotional moment and probably overstated the case more than it should have, and to that extent I apologize. I don't want to yank every last American soldier out of Iraq and leave the country to rot for all eternity, but my main point is that things are never going to improve there unless the Bush administration concedes that things are in dire straits there and commits to solving that problem -- which, given their track record, will probably happen about the Twelfth of Never. I don't know that I can offer anything truly helpful on Iraq, but I'm open to the idea of redeploying troops into Kurdistan and focusing their reconstruction and democratization efforts in a region where they might actually do some good. I hate to even utter this out loud, and I don't even know whether I fully believe it, but it's possible that a Shiite-Sunni civil war is simply something the rest of Iraq simply has to get out of its system before a more wide-ranging democratization effort can be undertaken. By no definition is that a good thing, but we may have so badly bungled the Iraq war by now that we just have to accept it. We may have to simply do what we can in the Kurdish areas and keep a contingent of troops around just to keep a civil war in the rest of Iraq from spilling over into a wider area.

Meanwhile, there is a country where all hope is not lost, and that's Afghanistan. But we're going to have to start paying a lot more attention to this forgotten war if we want that to happen. Part of what made me so furious about the Iraq war is that we basically used it as an excuse to treat Afghanistan as the forgotten red-headed stepchild of our foreign policy, and sure enough, nearly five years after the initial invasion Afghanistan is a place where the citizens still aren't truly safe, the infrastructure is decrepit, and the Taliban has been doing its level best to bounce back. If we really want to see stable, prosperous democracies emerge in the Middle East, Afghanistan has to be one of them, and that means upping U.S. troop levels there to squash the Taliban resurgence and speed up the rebuilding of the country. We're also going to have to be prepared to spend a lot more money on that country to make sure that the people actually have electricity and running water, and it might be nice to expend some effort on clearing it of its debilitating concentration of land mines.

Right now Afghanistan is still our best hope for creating what the Bush administration claims to want -- i.e. a reborn democracy that will serve as a model example to the rest of the Muslim world. But it's not going to happen unless we start investing more sweat and dollars into it. If the last three years are any indication, the Bush administration doesn't seem to be interested in this; the Democrats are going to have to be the influence that forces him to start taking an interest again.

The Mini-Problem(s): Israel vs. Hezbollah, and Iran vs. Everybody. These are the conflicts in which the U.S. has not gotten directly, militarily involved but could still have wide-ranging effects on the entire Middle East; for that reason, they may not have the immediacy (at least for us) that Iraq and Afghanistan do, but we're still going to have to formulate some kind of strategy. In the short term, there has to be a cease-fire in Lebanon -- which both the Israeli people and the Lebanese people seem to want -- and after that, the United States needs to take the lead in strengthening the Lebanese government and military so that they can root out the Hezbollah element and become independent of them in the same way that they declared independence from Syrian influence a year and a half ago. As I've said before, the Lebanese people's repudiation of Syrian control instantly made them another golden opportunity for the kind of model democratization we've been praying for in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that'll never come to anything if Israel manages to reduce the entire country to rubble in its justified, but not terribly well-thought-out, hunt for Hezbollah. In many ways, the Lebanon situation is analogous to that of Afghanistan: You've got a country where instability has allowed the rise of a movement (the Taliban/Hezbollah) that has provided some benefits to the people (law and order, for instance) but overall has been a hugely detrimental presence and one that the country's people would just as soon be rid of. Rather than an adversary, Lebanon is a golden opportunity to make another ally. Unfortunately, they're still not strong enough on their own to get rid of Hezbollah themselves, so the U.S. and Israel are going to have to join together to help rebuild the country, provide advice and resources to guide the government to self-sufficiency, and grow the Lebanese military into a force capable of defending the country on its own. These measures alone won't destroy Hezbollah, of course, but if Hezbollah can be marginalized within the Lebanese borders, it'll still make it that much harder for them to threaten Israel.

As for Iran . . . well, I'm still not sure what to do about them. If we're already hip-deep in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to mount a third simultaneous military operation is out of the question, at least for now. This won't make the kill-'em-all-let-God-sort-'em-out Gen. Jack D. Rippers in the radical-neocon camp happy, but I think at this point all we can feasibly do is continue negotiation efforts, continue to monitor Iran's activities through IAEA inspections, and in the meantime do what we can to support the liberalization movement that was actually making some pretty inspiring progress until Bush decided to throw the Iranian people under the bus with the rest of the "Axis of Evil" back in 2002. I won't even go so far as to say that military can never be an option regarding Iran, but only a fool would think it's something we can undertake with operations already going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given my natural caution about war-starting in the wake of the Iraq fiasco, I don't think I could conscion a full-scale invasion until the threat becomes at least somewhat more imminent than it is now. If that makes me an anti-war, Chamberlain-loving "pussy," so be it . . . but howsabout you tell me how you plan on invading Iraq without starting World War III (or IV, or whichever one we're on at this point).

The Macro-Problem: Islam, the West, and how we all can just get along. Obviously, this is an even thornier and more complicated issue than either of the other two, and the whole thing pretty much revolves around the issue of Israel v. Palestine. All parties involved seem to have recognized the inevitability of a Palestinian state, which is a start, but I think that Israel is going to have to allow eastern Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital if there's ever going to be any kind of peaceful coexistence betwen Israel and Palestine. They can build a massive Berlin Wall-type structure down the dividing line and fortify it with a hundred thousand IDF troops if they have to, but that's what's going to need to happen. And before anyone jumps on me about wanting Israel to "give up" even more territory than it already has, keep in mind that even the United States doesn't recognize West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There may also have to be some kind of black-and-white reckoning between Israel and Palestine on the questions of Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees' right of return, which, to my mind at least, seem linked: If Israelis still have free reign to settle in the occupied (or even once-occupied) territories, is it really fair to bar Palestinian refugees from reclaiming land they once owned that is now part of Israel? Or, to turn the question back on the Muslims, how can you demand a Palestinian-only Palestine if you won't allow an Israeli-only Israel?

Granted, that kind of simple logic rarely factors into a conflict that's gotten as violent and emotional as this one, but the U.S. is still going to have to be willing to mediate those kinds of disputes, and they're going to have to be willing to do so from a position that is as objective as possible. I know this is going to get me branded as anti-Israel, a terrorist-lover, or worse, but the United States has to stop approaching every aspect of the Israel-Palestine conflict with the attitude that the Palestinians are wrong and Israel is 100% right. I can't help but think it's that kind of de facto bias that drives otherwise rational Palestinians into the arms of radicals like Hamas (and if you're going to leave some nasty comment on here about how there's no such thing as a rational Palestinian, go away and leave your comment at Little Green Footballs or something; this is clearly not the blog for you).

That brings me to a larger point, which is that America as a whole is going to have to get over the idea that the entire Muslim world is a crazed, bloodthirsty society cravenly seeking the destruction of non-Muslim innocents wherever they reside. Yes, there are a lot of Muslims who do seek that, but to believe that every single Muslim in the world feels that way is to resign our society to a global, inescapable holy war against the entire Muslim world. I know there are some radical nut jobs in this country who are spoiling for that; I'm not one of them. I believe some kind of peaceful coexistence can be struck between the West and Islam, and has to be, or else we've basically consigned ourselves to a new Crusade that will, unless anyone has a better idea, rage for all eternity.

Andrew Sullivan is, to some extent, correct when he says that the Muslim world as a whole has not done a good enough job of shouting down the freak shows like al-Qaeda who think that the wanton slaughter of innocents is a legitimate tactic, but that doesn't mean all Muslims feel that way. Has anyone noticed, for instance, that the tip that helped expose the recent airliner-bombing plot in the UK came from Britain's own Muslim community? Clearly, there are Muslims in the world who are just as repulsed by al-Qaeda's tactics as we are, and there's no point in antagonizing those people or acting like we see them as terrorists themselves. Instead, they need to be cultivated and given the opportunity to become full partners in our society, and thus full partners in the effort to rid the world of terror.

On a similar note, whenever we mount any kind of operation -- military, humanitarian, or a little of both -- in the Mideast, we need to have a very clear idea which parts of the operation are terrorist-killing and which parts are democracy-building, because those two tasks use a pretty divergent set of tactics. I know I've harped on this at length, but I'm going to keep harping on it until it sinks in: The strength and coherence of our operation in Iraq has been consistently hurt by our inability to decide whether we're there to bring democracy to the poor benighted Iraqis, or whether we're just there to kill as many of them as possible. These sorts of dilemmas should sort of clue you in as to why democracy can't be bestowed at the point of a gun, but be that as it may, if we're going to declare as a country that bringing democracy to Muslims is a worthwhile effort, then we're going to have to concede that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't go around jonesing for the fiery death of every Muslim we see. George W. Bush, for all his carelessness, truly seems to understand this; I only wish the same could be said for some of his acolytes -- and I'm not just talking about psychopaths like Ann Coulter, I'm talking about people in our own Congress.

Then, of course, there are the other things we need to do to separate ourselves from the old way of thinking vis-a-vis the Middle East, number one among them being an honest effort to end our dependence on foreign oil (actually, ending our dependence on oil period wouldn't be such a bad thing to shoot for, either). This is going to require a gigantic level of sacrifice on the part of the American people -- a level of sacrifice that both the ruling Republican party and most of the Democrats in Washington have been either too lazy or too chicken to ask for -- but it's not like America has been asked to sacrifice much of anything else over the past few years. Hell, we've invaded two entire countries and appear to be giving serious thought to invading a third, and not only are we not forcing Paris Hilton to give any of her tax cuts back, we're trying to figure out how we can give her more.

And on a completely separate track, we need to get real and start spending some serious time and money making our own country more secure, from our airports to our seaports to our borders. The whole "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" has been a real cute, glib way for our present administration to convince the public that the Iraq war is still worthwhile, but eventually we're going to have to wise up and consign that line to the ash heap of history along with "no new taxes" and "I did not have sex with that woman," because as long as we have to take off our shoes or dump all our liquid cosmetics before we get on a freaking flight to Cleveland, we are fighting them over here in our own way. And we're going to have to start doing a much better job of it, too, because there's still very little keeping a particularly ambitious al-Qaeda operative from smuggling a backpack nuke into Baltimore aboard one of those container ships we're still not willing to spend the money to inspect.

So anyway, that's my plan, or at least my first attempt at one. It's certainly not perfect, it's not yet as fleshed out as I'd like it to be, and it's damned sure going to be expensive -- but if you can figure out how to win wars and protect our country without dropping some pretty major money, I'd sure like to find out how. Actually, that reminds me of another thing we as a country need to do -- while we're throwing stuff on the ash heap of history, we need to toss Donald Rumsfeld's "revolution in military affairs" on there with them, specifically the part that insists we can fight wars leaner and meaner with fewer actual soldiers. Again, if we want to not just toss out "evil" regimes but also rebuild their countries afterward, then we're going to need a whole lot of manpower to do that, and I hope the Iraq war has taught us that no matter how powerful the U.S. military appears to be, there's no such thing as a quick-'n'-easy invasion.

This is something I'm going to continue to think about and refine over the next few weeks and months, so don't think it's a final draft of anything. But whatever I come up with later on, two main ideas are going to remain constant: One, we need to be realistic about the fact that the entire Muslim world can't be rebuilt and reformed all at once, and two, war, no matter how necessary it may look, isn't automatically the answer to a given problem.

At any rate, I hope this will keep people like Andrew Sullivan from thinking that all lefties are being "irresponsible" and "narcissistic" about the issues at hand. Incidentally, had Sully bothered to look beyond his own apparently ingrained (and robustly mainstream-media-reinforced) preconceptions about Democrats being unserious about security, he might have noticed that the Dems are trying to come up with just such a plan. As Kevin Drum notes in the link, there's a whole lot about their "Real Security" plan that's amateurish and facile, but at the very least it gives the lie to the idea that the Democrats are simply trying to ignore the global security issue at all costs -- and it's certainly more of an actual, coherent plan than anything the Republicans have come up with, which seems to be nothing more than the three meaningless words "stay the course."

So. These are my ideas. What are yours?


Anonymous said...

Nice read as usual, Doug. Keep it coming.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

One of the problems with the constant drumbeat of "The Democrats don't have a Plan" is the willful ignorance that as the minority party, the Democrats have absolutely no ability to actually enact any plan.

Ignoring for the moment the fact that there are, actually, several ideas percolating through the Democratic party (and yours is certainly a worthy set of ideas, Doug) and have been for a while now, the control of Congress by rubberstamp Republicans ensures that none of these will actually get any consideration, let alone coverage by the lickspittle DC media.

It is, however, important theat Democrats have these initiatives ready to be proposed when they pick up Congressional seats.

The massive clusterfuck that is current American foreign policy will only be improved by a multi faceted approach to several discrete problem as you have laid out. There isn't a magic single solution, and the 'more war' kneejerk reaction certainly will make things worse, not better. The advantage of a foreign policy based on several targeted actions is that should any situation change, or the policy turn out to be ineffective, it can be altered and adjusted pretty quickly and on a pragmatic basis.

The failure of the Bush Doctrine is wholesale, and due to the ideological underpinnings, this failure discredits the neocon movement as a whole; so it's adherents are not able to change their approach without an ideological revision as well as an admission of being massively, tragically, wrong. Thus they are very nearly unable to propose anything but 'more of the same'

You know, it always seems that cliches like this are tired and worn out, but its so obviously applicable it's impossible to resist: When you've gotten yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is STOP DIGGING.

Or maybe: Once you've taken a wrong turn, backing up is the first step in the right direction.

And both of these, by themselves, represent distinct proposals in contrast to the Republican approach.

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments:

The tip that led to the recent thwarting of the UK-based terrorist plan to take down ten US airliners came from US intelligence who detected a pattern of "chatter." The lead was developed further by UK intelligence who have the ability to monitor wireless communications aggressively unlike US intelligence strategies recently exposed and condemned by the left.

I like this from costello:

One of the problems with the constant drumbeat of "The Democrats don't have a Plan" is the willful ignorance that as the minority party, the Democrats have absolutely no ability to actually enact any plan.

I don't know where to begin with this one. We can't enact a plan, therefore we have no plan? You really didn't mean to say that, did you?

Criticizing is easy. Thinking is "hard work." Try offering some suggestions on how to improve something, just once. Give us something additive to the process, not destructive. How about just one original idea?

Donn said...

Ay, Dios mio, Senor Anonymous. Eres serioso? Es todo additivo, y hay que mucho mucho pensando dificil. Que va?


Anonymous said...

Doug, I have a couple questions/points for you regarding your post:

1) You do realize the Lebanese don't want to "root out" Hezbollah, right? You also realize that Hezbollah was welcomed with open arms in the Lebanese government, right?

2) I do like your idea of commiting all the resoucres needed to getting the job done, but there is a big problem with that. Your party has cowtowed to the rabid anti-war left. Similar to the way the Republicans have bent over for the fundies. Your idea would be instant party affiliation death to any Democrat who championed it. It would be seen as pro-war and every Democrat that even remotely considered it would be gutted just like Lieberman.

As for the other commenter who thinks nothing can be done because Dems are the minority...Bull$hit. That might float if they had actually offered up any alternatives rather than 100% pull out and devouring moderate party members. First you have to offer a plan before it can be refused. To claim that there are several plans/ideas but you are the minority so nothing can be done with them is so politically ignorant as to not be believed. Just presenting a plan would be a huge political bombshell with moderate voters even if it never came to a vote. This is why no one actually believes the Dems have a real plan of action regarding the war. They haven't presented one.

Anonymous said...

To understand what Sullivan means by Democrats being "narcissistic," look no further than the backs of cars riding up and down Highland Avenue, the "bright blue spot" ones. This is a very narcissistic statement. "Yeah, I'm smart because I'm a Democrat, unlike the majority of the people in my state."

Very good post, though, Doug, and I enjoed reading every word of it.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

All due respect, Anonymous@9:49, I'm not particularly interested in hearing speculation from you on what Democrats will or won't support, particularly when your view on that seems to be influenced entirely by the same old GOP talking points we've been fed for years now. How quickly we forget that the Democrats wholeheartedly supported the invasion of Afghanistan, and the idea of a Department of Homeland Security (long before Bush did, even), and the invasion of Iraq before it became clear that Bush's people had no idea what they were doing. I'm a Democrat, I break bread regularly with Democrats, I've talked about subjects like these with Democrats, and I've received no indication that any of what I've proposed here would be grounds for a purge by your mythical "rabid anti-war left." To paraphrase an excellent quote from an earlier commenter on this blog, it's not that Democrats don't want to fight; they just don't want to fight stupid.

As for your criticisms that Democrats haven't presented a plan, yes, I'm disappointed in that too, but somebody please tell me -- what is the Republicans' plan? I've asked this question numerous times, here and in other places, and have never once gotten any kind of answer from you or anyone else. "Stay the course" is no more of a plan than what the Democrats are offering unless someone can tell me what that course is. And since the Republicans are the ones currently directing operations -- from the White House, from the Pentagon, and from their majorities in both houses of Congress -- don't you kind of have to concede that they, at least for the time being, bear a larger part of the responsibility for coming up with a "plan"?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

My point, anon at 6:00 was that because the Dems don't have the control necessary to bring debate to the floor, they cannot get attention, let alone consideration of any proposals; I didn't say that there weren't any such ideas.

There are plenty of proposals being kicked around in Democratic circles. Jack Murtha has ideas. Feingold. Wes Clark has made some excellent suggestions. Even frickin Doug here has made a more serious attempt than Republicans.

As Doug said, in the absence of actually working with Democrats to come up with a solution, instead of using it solely as a source of political leverage, Republicans as the sole party in power kind of have the obligation (actually, as the ones responsible for the massive failure in the first place, they have the moral imperative) to come up with proposals first.

Also, British intelligence authorities actually require a warrant prior to wiretapping also, the way FISA does. They used a system similar to what GWB wants to destroy to effectively stop the conspiracy, not indiscriminate massive eavesdropping. Even the US led portion of this bust was done within the requirements of FISA.

A distinction certain to be overlooked in the rush to hysteria.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

My point, anon at 6:00 was that because the Dems don't have the control necessary to bring debate to the floor, they cannot get attention, let alone consideration of any proposals; I didn't say that there weren't any such ideas.

There are plenty of proposals being kicked around in Democratic circles. Jack Murtha has ideas. Feingold. Wes Clark has made some excellent suggestions. Even frickin Doug here has made a more serious attempt than Republicans.

As Doug said, in the absence of actually working with Democrats to come up with a solution, instead of using it solely as a source of political leverage, Republicans as the sole party in power kind of have the obligation (actually, as the ones responsible for the massive failure in the first place, they have the moral imperative) to come up with proposals first.

Also, British intelligence authorities actually require a warrant prior to wiretapping also, the way FISA does. They used a system similar to what GWB wants to destroy to effectively stop the conspiracy, not indiscriminate massive eavesdropping. Even the US led portion of this bust was done within the requirements of FISA.

A distinction certain to be overlooked in the rush to hysteria.

Anonymous said...

Costello, you will find that the UK's RIPA law to be more liberal than the Patriot Act, particularly with regards to the use of data transmissions. Also, you will find that the Brits can detain suspects for over a month without charges.

To say that you are stymied from bringing forth new ideas and solutions to issues because of your minority status is ludicrous.

I will give you this: dems have no ideas and repubs have bad ideas. But the lack of opposing ideas leaves a vacuum to be filled with, sometimes, bad ideas. An intellectually honest political debate of ideas is what we need now. And a debate that starts with "Bush is a liar," "neo-con this, neo-con that" or "cut and run" doesn't count.
If as much mental bandwidth from the left went into developing solutions to issues as goes into hating Bush, you would be surprised at the results.
And, Doug, if you believe that the "rabid anti-war left" is mythical, spend a day or two at dKos. A fair number there believe that there is no war on terror. Seriously. Also, I believe that a majority of dems supported the Iraq war, at least in the beginning. And, do you really want to lay claim to the HSA after Katrina? You realize that was an HSA operation?

Anonymous said...

The Republicans managed to drive a plan into the public debate in the early 90s from a position of even greater weakness than the Democrats find themselves in. The Contract for America, whether you liked it or not, was a defined set of steps that a Republican controlled Congress would take. People looked at that plan, liked it, and gave the Republicans control of the Congress. Bush is a douche-bag and stay the course isn't a plan, is not a compelling argument for radical change.

Saying it's the Republican Party's responsibility for coming up with the ideas and share them with the Democrats is a cop-out. I think it is more that Democrat with an idea short of cut and run is scared shitless they will be fileted by the far far left, ala Joe L. Instead they just stand on a soapbox screaming Bush is a douchebag. Your party's leadership is spineless in this case because they are afraid of their own, versus the Republicans. If Murtha and Feingold and Clark have such good ideas, why aren't some good portion of your party signing on and promoting those ideas?

And I agree on the HSA point. The administration said it was a shitty idea. They basically let themselves get bullied into accepting it and it turned out to be a shitty idea.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

Let me get this straight. The Republicans control the White House, and both houses of Congress, and the judicial branch, and they "let themselves get bullied into accepting it"? It absolutely blows my mind that you think anyone'd be dumb enough to believe that. If you've got a problem with the agency's lengthy string of fuckups, go take your beef to the unqualified boobs whom Bush appointed, not the Democrats who had the temerity to come up with the idea in the first place.

Anonymous@5:51, did you not even read my comment? I said the Democrats supported the Iraq war in the beginning. The only difference is they learned from their mistakes. Bush and the Republicans still haven't, unless you can point me to some substantial policy change they've made w/r/t Iraq in the last couple years.

Anonymous said...

Doug, here's the problem with supporting it in the beginning and then "learning from their mistake" now: Powell clearly stated that "if we break it, we own it." The operative word here is "we." You boys were in the boat when "we" set sail.

Where's the liberal "out" clause in the authorization to use force in Iraq? Where the fuck does it say that if the war doesn't go as planned, liberals get to bail and then piss all over the rest of us? You're a bunch of fucking invertebrate brats wagging your finger telling everyone, "I told you so." Don't you just hate people that say, "I told you so?" Yeah, you know it all now. How convenient.

Get the picture: we're getting our ass kicked and we're 95 yards away with no time on the clock. Buck hits Lindsay and we win. The question is: is Doug still in the stadium or not?

WWII wasn't "our" war but it became "our" war and "we" fought it and won in spite of setbacks in Northern Africa, Anzio, and the Ardennes where 77,000 allied troops died. That's 7-7-thousand d-e-a-d in a few months. I lost a 20 year-old uncle there. Hitler was counting on the allies to retreat in front of the panzers.

The terrorists are counting on us to cut and run, too. They even speak of it publicly. Remember Mogadishu? What don't you get about the significance of "we?" Why would I want to go forward in the war on terror with the likes of someone who bails on me when the going gets tough?

Sorry about the rant, I'm sick of this partisan bullshit. Get back in the boat and let's kick the shit out of these ragheads. THEY are the bad guys, remember?

Anonymous said...

A little off topic here, but what the hell. DHS (Dep't of Homeland Security) absorbed FEMA. FEMA worked reasonably well until it was turned into a machine for handing out cash in Florida after hurricanes. The cash was handed out in patterns that more closely resembled voting patterns than hurricane damage. In the meantime, the budget of FEMA to actually do anything was gutted. So, no big surprise, an enormous catastrophe comes into being, and FEMA fails.

As for DHS, it's an enormous cluster. Money is being burned on organizational integration instead of operational activities. Take a look at the dollars being earned by contractors out of DHS if you want a quick view of how dysfunctional it is.

Anonymous said...

OK. I concede. You addressed the toss off line at the end of my post. So I agree. Steve is a douchebag for saying HSA was a bad idea and it would be working flawlessly if Bush hadn't appointed a bunch of assholes to run it.

Now address the point of the post. And quit your fucking whining about how tired you are of the Democrats being pegged with having no plan. I haven't seen a plan, articulated here or elsewhere, that any large segment of the popluation will sign on to, except the cut and run strategy which enjoys support from Casey's Army. In this case the stereotype has legs.

And another thing. Quit acting like a bunch of prison house bitches. "We don't control the Whitehouse, the Congress or the courts, so we're powerless." That is a no win strategy. Kerry went into the 2004 elections with no plan. Getting the French to like us again isn't a plan. He lost. Learn from that.

"Stay the course" is backing a plan that the American people understand. Give them an alternative. While I don't support the reference to the "ragheads" above, I kind of like the "bunch of fucking invertebrate brats" charactization.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9.59 pm:

So let me get this straight:

1) The Bush Administration lies about the reasons for war, fails to allocate adequate resources for the war, fails to plan for the aftermath of the war, and no-one gets to say anything.

2) No matter how bad a war is, we hang in there until... well, until someone tells us otherwise. Whoever that someone is.

If you go with the old saying that war is diplomacy by other means, and that the goal of foreign policy / diplomacy is to advance the interests of the United States, then it's not only reasonable but the duty of elected representatives to ask: are we getting anything out of this? Are the people that we claimed to help getting anything out of this? If not, what are we going to do about it?

On a purely logistical and humanitarian stand=point, the US can't just pack up and leave, since while we've been there the conditions for a real civil war (not this onesy - twosey business) are now raring to go. But it's time to ask what the trigger point is to leave, and -- since in fact removing the Hussein regime doesn't appear to have caused a net reduction in anti-US terror activities -- what are we going to do next?

As for your invocation of WWII, it's only a valid comparison if you believe that the US had nothing to gain in either instance -- and if you believe that, why do you think we need to be in Iraq?

(And if we're going down the path of family members lost in WWII, one grandfather in my case, but only because the other one was building Spitfire engines and so many of the prior generation got wiped out "in an attempt to move Field Marshall Haig's drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin. " (cf. Blackadder goes Forth)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one original idea: use spambots to clog up the Iranian president's blog comments with links to "adult" sites.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

"Stay the course" is backing a plan that the American people understand.

Not if recent poll numbers are any indication. Eventually you guys are going to have to sack up and level with the American people on what "stay the course" really means: The same number of troops? No changes in strategy? So we're just going to cling to the same strategy that has allowed Iraq to devolve into civil war? And how long are we going to stay the course -- a few more years until we meet some as-yet-undefined goal, or do we plan on having a permanent military presence there?

Come on, Steve, anonymous, anybody, either tell me what the fuck "stay the course" means or just admit you don't know. Anybody? Anybody want to step forward on that one?

Anonymous said...

Steve, my little post about DHS was information-only from someone who circles the Beltway in a bandit-like fashion. I didn't say anything about Bush appointees one way or another although I won't quibble with your (sarcastic but true) characterization. FEMA's shortcomings are well documented, but more broadly a lot of DHS problems are structural in nature -- in other words, it wouldn't really matter who was in charge.

Anonymous said...

First, "stay the course," to me, means "finish the drill." Understand, now? Get Iraq security forces to a level where they can support the elected government and transition out of country. Our troop levels have been recalibrated regularly. Because of the recent surge in violence, I believe 3,000 more troops were mobilized to police the Sunni triangle. That said, I believe the activities in Lebanon have thrown a wrench into the works. Now the shia are pissed at us. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll ask us to leave soon. Solidarity at home is the only other thing that will end this sooner than later.

FEMA did OK in repub-led Florida with three hurricanes the year before. Only when the local and state dems failed to implement their own disaster plan with more htan sufficient notice and the dem mayor checked-out of his job and into a Hyatt penthouse and the dem governor froze for 24 hours did FEMA falter. I agree they didn't execute well on their end but you've got to admit that they were dealt a shitty hand to begin with. Besides, New Orleanians seem to have enjoyed the overall experience, eh? They reelected their incompetent mayor. They want some more of the same. Fuck 'em.

Speaking of Bush appointees who have fucked-up Homeland about that Clinton appointee who was held over and who adamantly said that WMD's in Iraq was a "slam dunk?" There's your liar, dc.

As far as the polls go, recent polls tell us that Americans polled don't care for the way the war in Iraq is being run but that they trust repubs more than dems to run the global war on terror.

Anonymous said...

Guess again.

"Early last week, an ABC-Washington Post survey reported that, for the first time, Bush is faulted more than he is praised for his handling of the war on terror. Fifty percent of those surveyed view him negatively, 47 percent positively. Also, when people were asked which party they favored to fight that global war, 46 percent cited the Democrats, 38 percent the Republicans. (Only 18 percent of the respondents described themselves as liberals.)

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll, released Friday, reported that Bush's job-approval rating now stands at 33 percent. In the South, normally the GOP's strongest and most militarily oriented region, his approval rating is 34 percent. Nationwide, 19 percent of those who voted for Bush in 2004 now intend to back Democratic congressional candidates in November.

A CNN poll released Wednesday reported that 61 percent of all respondents want to begin troop withdrawals from Iraq or pull them all out. Fifty-seven percent want to set a timetable.

And another poll, released Thursday, reported that 61 percent of swing-voting independents dislike Bush's job performance; also, 60 percent of independents want the troops out either immediately or within a year, while only 29 percent of independents back Bush's "stay-the-course" policy. All those findings come from the pollsters at Fox News.

Anonymous said...

You want polls? You got the polls:

Almost unanimously they support my point.

Anonymous said...

But don't you see, the "we'll stand down when Iraqi security forces can stand up" is a false choice. The sides are just too polarized right now.

The Sunnis do not want ANY Shias to be in the security force (police or military) where they are. The Shias want all Sunnis out of military, government, police, etc. The Sunnis were just too brutal for too long in controlling the country. The Kurds are actually doing very well, but it's because they have their own security force in the north, pursuant to some shrewd negotiations when they adopted the constitution. If you tried to impose a Shia or Sunni security force there, we would also have bloodshed and violence.

In fact, the security forces (or at least the people pretending to be the security forces) are now causing a lot of problems. Coming to get people in the middle of the night, murder in the streets, ethnic cleansing, etc. A real terror campaign.

Plus, even assuming the Iraqi security forces were in some way effective, the amount of troops the Iraqis claim is not necessarily accurate. We are giving out cash to the leaders of the security forces and telling them to pay the privates with that cash. Now, don't you think the leaders of the respective units are inflating their numbers a little bit and keeping some of that cash for themselves? We know they are.

Therefore, the Iraqis can't do themselves. The situation there is not just bad, but really, really, really bad. A few months ago my solution was to put at least 500,000 US troops in there and get the job done (I think you need 10-1 numerical superiority to win in an insurgency--I had read in some sources the insurgency was only estimated at around 50,000). And not search and destroy b/c that doesn't work in insurgencies. You have to have military leaders in each province who are smart, dipolmatic, and able to adapt. You can't go in everywhere like Falujah. I'm not sure we've ever fully learned that, though i must admit in some areas we've done quite well with proper anti-insrugency tactics.

Now I'm not so sure the insurgency is only 50,000 or that any amount of soldiers would do the job. We can either occupy the country, something no one in the world, especially us, wants to do---or just get out and see if they can do it themselves. I am now more on the side of getting out. Pretty bleak, but I think that is the real situation on the ground.

Anonymous said...

How about some sources for the intelligence on the ground that you are using to prop-up your conclusions?

Kevin said...

Decent article about Musa Smith in the Balitmore Sun:,0,6505493.story?coll=bal-sports-football

By the way, saying "stay the course" is the same as "because I said so". It may work with children and not-so-free-thinking-adults, but ultimately people realize it's just a load of BS to depict the fact that there is no real reason or idea.

See also: "Give me a minute, I'm thinking!" (courtesy of TBogg).

That's my 2 yen.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

AJ at Americablog says the same thing, in another way:

But Democrats have a virtual shadow government of foreign policy folks churning out papers and positions and proposals at Center for American Progress, Brookings, New America Foundation, National Security Framework, etc. Plenty of serious people thinking serious thoughts, none of which will ever be implemented as long as the decidedly unserious Bush administration continues to muck up everything it touches.

It would be great if everybody could stop pretending that foreign policy is run by anyone other than the executive branch, and, occasionally, the Senate. I'd really like to know exactly which crazy Dems are going to personally torpedo U.S. foreign policy. Who? Most Democratic foreign policy experts aren't bloggers, and they're not even in government right now (again, they're waiting in the wings, as foreign policy is generally executive-driven), but we have plenty of smart, serious people who will do counter-terrorism better, nonproliferation better, trade agreements better, and national defense better. A Democratic Congress would be a good start, a Democratic President could really start to repair the damage.

The Contract With America thing is a red herring in that it wasn't, you know, actual LEGISLATION. It was a marketing campaign, and as such, found fertile ground in the then-burgeoning Mighty Wurlitzer. A marketing campaign that was pretty much dropped as soon as the elections were over.

Anonymous said...

OK. Since you don't like the term "idea," why don't you come up with a "marketing campaign" to express what the dems just might do if elected. Try something fresh. Something more original and imaginative than Bush is a liar. Something, dare I say, constructive.

Anonymous said...

Which comments are you talking about when you ask for sources for the intelligence on the ground to prop up my conclusions? All of them or just the numbers of insurgents I cited?

I didn't really cite any intelligence on the ground to make my arguments. The hatred of the ethnic groups for one another is pretty common knowledge. For information about any of the ethnic killings over the past few months just see any news report, regardless of msm or otherwise.

As far as numbers in the insurgency, well that depends on what you call the insurgency. Is it just the folks who are fighting us, the Iraqi Government forces, or the targeting the population in general. Depends on whether you define them as terrorists, insurgents, or just mass murderers. They may be all three at the same time. I think the # is increasing every day.

I'm not trying to be difficult, but I'm willing to admit I did express a lot of personal opinion, and I'm just not sure what you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

"Stay the course" is an antiquated cliche meaning roughly "do the same thing as originally planned, because making plans is hard and I don't wanna make a new plan, unless my kid brother makes one and then i gotta show how stupid his plan is, so I'll make a new one but really I don't wanna make a new plan so I'll just copy the old one, and tag on a cliche and make it look new but sooner or later they'll notice that even the tag is old and the plan is phony, but by that time I'll be safe at home in bed and my daddy will scare away any bad people who don't like my plan-which-isn't-a-plan." It's ok to use cliches if they save time.

Anonymous said...

Shia's and sunni's (and christians) live in peace in other ME countries. The difference here is that the al qaeda elements and the baathists are fomenting civil war. We need to send another 50-100K troops in to put an end to the current violence and let the elected government get established.