Monday, August 27, 2007

Iraq Mistakes - Paul Bremer

Did you happen to see Roger Cohen's column in today's New York Times?

In it he discusses one of the many mistakes made in Iraq: the naming by George W. Bush of Paul Bremer to operate as grand poobah of all operations and governance in Iraq, despite the fact that there had been a thoroughly-discussed plan to leave the ruling during the post-Saddam reconstruction to the Iraqis with the US operating behind the scenes.

The plan that never emerged involved sending Zalmay Khalilzad, the Beirut-educated, Farsi-speaking Sunni Muslim who actually has a clue about the Islamic world currently serving as American ambassador to the United Nations, and who had previously worked in Afghanistan to shepherd of Hamid Karzai to power in Kabul, to Iraq to convene a meeting of Iraqis to plan for governing themselves.

As Cohen tells it:

"Khalilzad’s anguish centers on May 6, 2003. That’s the day he expected Bush to announce his return to Iraq to convene a grand assembly — something like an Afghan loya jirga — that would fast-forward a provisional Iraqi government.

Instead, the appointment of L. Paul Bremer III to head a Coalition Provisional Authority was announced. Khalilzad, incredulous, went elsewhere. In the place of an Afghan-American Muslim on a mission to empower Iraqis, we got the former ambassador to the Netherlands for a one-year proconsul gig.

'We had cleared both announcements, with Bremer to run things and me to convene the loya jirga, both as presidential envoys,' Khalilzad told me. 'We were just playing with a few final words. Then the game plan suddenly changed: we would run the country ourselves.'

Alluding to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, Khalilzad continued: 'Powell and Condi were incredulous. Powell called me and asked: ‘What happened?’ And I said, ‘You’re secretary of state and you’re asking me what happened!’'

Powell confirmed his astonishment. 'The plan was for Zal to go back,' he said. 'He was the one guy who knew this place better than anyone. I thought this was part of the deal with Bremer. But with no discussion, no debate, things changed. I was stunned.'

The volte-face came at a Bush- Bremer lunch that day where Bremer made a unity of command argument to the Decider. 'I put it very directly to the president: you can’t have two presidential envoys running around Iraq,' Bremer told me.

A MacArthur-Karzai debate had raged within the administration for months: should the United States run Iraq like Gen. Douglas MacArthur in postwar Japan or seek a local Karzai-like leader and operate behind the scenes? ...

'The way we did it gave Iraqis the best chance of a sustainable political process,' [Bremer] argued.

Nonsense, Khalilzad believes. 'I feel strongly that the U.S. ruling was wrong. We could have had an interim Iraqi government. I argued, based on Afghanistan, that with forces, diplomacy and money, nothing can happen anyway without your support.'

Powell agrees. 'Everything was Bremer, the suit, the boots, the whole nine yards.' It was a mistake not to move 'more rapidly to putting an Iraqi face on it.'

Khalilzad and Powell are right. The insurgency that took hold after Bremer’s arrival had a clear target: the guy in Timberlands. Given the extent of its post-cold-war power, the United States must wield it with subtlety. This was the sledgehammer approach.

And chosen over lunch. 'Unfortunately, yes, the way that decision was taken was typical,' Powell said. 'Done! No full deliberations. And you suddenly discover, gee, maybe that wasn’t so great, we should have thought about it a little longer.'”

Lessons from this sad tale? We've long known the Decider makes bad decisions, period. He has made bad decisions his entire life, but has managed to thrive nonetheless when Poppy Bush and his gang bail him out. The saddest point is that the American people, with plenty of evidence of George W. Bush's bad decisionmaking and otherwise poor skills, nonetheless re-elected him in 2004.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Congress Goes Baaaaaa

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero gets it just about right in a recent solicitation when he says, regarding Congress's recent expansion of President Bush's power to conduct warrantless wiretaps:

"Ever since a new Congress got elected last November, we've been waiting for it to end the violations of the Constitution and the lawless behavior of the Bush administration.

Well, Members of Congress acted. And instead of restoring our freedoms, they actually handed the Bush administration vast new powers to invade our privacy with no meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress.

Why did Congress cower to George Bush? Fear -- not of terrorists -- but of being labeled "soft on terrorism." It's time to show House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that Americans want them to protect our Constitution.

When our leaders behave like sheep, their constituents need to know it....

It's bad enough that our Congressional leaders have failed to act to restore habeas corpus, end torture and rendition, and close the Guantanamo Bay prison. But now Congress, led by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, have caved in to Bush fear-mongering and expanded a warrantless spying program they should be investigating and ending.

It's gone from bad to intolerable....

We must make it clear we won't let Congress fail freedom any longer, and that we hold Congress, especially Democrats, accountable for this egregious violation of our constitutional rights."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

At What Cost Security?

With the Democratic Congress's authorization a couple weeks ago to allow the executive to conduct warrantless wiretapping, thereby acquiescing to George W. Bush's familiar scare tactics (I think The Onion headline gets it about right: "What the f- did you think we elected you people to do?"), we again face the perennial question of "what are we willing to give up in the name of security?"

First, we should recognize the scope of the problem. Granted, 9/11 was horrific. And the 3000 deaths that day are tragic. But as I blogged earlier this year, so are the 43,000 traffic deaths every year in the U.S. (about 250,000 since 2001); the 550,000 cancer deaths (3.3 million since 2001); and the 655,000 Iraqi ( Oct. 06) and about 3,500 American war deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

And the spending - Bush/Cheney is bankrupting the nation with its military adventurism in the name of fighting terror.

Britain and others have begun taking the sensible step of considering audacious attacks like 9/11 as criminal acts subject to harsh penalty, but not to reconstruct the very fabric of society itself around some vague amorphous future terrorist threat. That's what's happening in the United States today - we're throwing the liberty baby out with the threat-to-security bathwater. As a result, the United States is now regarded in the same breath as Stalinist Russia by some of Stalin's modern-day apologists, who justify his pograms and killings of millions of Russians with the statement that "sometimes security requires the limiting of individual liberty, just as we've seen in the United States since September 11, 2001." Some company.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

War of Ideology - Who Writes History?

The new Atlantic Monthly's cover story entitled "Lessons From a Failed Presidency" got me thinking.

By now it is clear to reasonable people that the George W. Bush presidency has been nothing short of disastrous. Yet we still see Fox News reporting a different all-is-well story, and we still read reports from some, like neo-con William Kristol and other apologists, encouraging us to stay the course - if not escalate - in Iraq, and to continue to engage in other misadventures around the world (CIA camps, etc. etc.). And this is not to mention the administration's systematic denial of rational scientific evidence in its approach to domestic policy (stem cell, energy policy, etc.).

So the Atlantic's cover story got me thinking about how history will view this era. One hopes there will be a balanced approach, but there's a worry that the Fox News version will prevail.

There is precedent. After the Civil War and the Union victory, the South ultimately won the subsequent "history-writing war." For a brief time following the war, when Reconstruction was underway, there was true equality opportunity for people of all races (women aside, but that's another, major, story). Thereafter things changed, as historian Eric Foner explains:

"By the turn of the century, Reconstruction was widely viewed as little more than a regrettable detour on the road to reunion. To the bulk of the white South, it had become axiomatic that Reconstruction had been a time of ‘savage tyranny’ that ‘accomplished not one useful result, and left behind it, not one pleasant recollection.... This rewriting of Reconstruction’s history was accorded scholarly legitimacy – to its everlasting shame – by the nation’s fraternity of professional historians, … [and] shaped historical writing for generations.... Few interpretations of history have had such far-reaching consequences as this image of Reconstruction, … [which] ‘did much to freeze the mind of the white South in unalterable opposition to outside pressures for social change and to any thought of … eliminating segregation, or restoring suffrage to disenfranchised blacks."

The historians of whom Foner speaks were an early twentieth-century group of young scholars from the South studying the Reconstruction at Columbia University under Professor Dunning, who “were taught … [that Blacks] were ‘children’ utterly incapable of appreciating the freedom that had been thrust upon them. The North did ‘a monstrous thing’ in granting them suffrage, for ‘a black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind.’… These “Dunning School” views … achieved wide popularity through D.W. Griffith’s film, Birth of a Nation (which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and had its premiere at the White House during Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency). … Southern whites, … [it was said,] ‘literally were put to the torture’ by ‘emissaries of hate’ who inflamed ‘the negroes’ egotism’ and even inspired ‘lustful assaults’ by blacks upon white womanhood.’”

In 100 years, will the George W. Bush presidency be remembered in the history books as, perhaps, the era when religion and government were finally properly melded in policymaking? Or, perhaps, the era when the executive finally emerged as the dominant branch, after dispensing with the quaint notion of separation of powers, thus allowing the President to undertake the important task of guiding America in its sacred role as the world's policeman unencumbered by outdated niceties like congressional and judicial oversight?

The War of Ideology in the writing of the history is just beginning.