Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Recognizing the Crisis in the Bush White House

It's safe to say that a majority of Americans recognize Bush's Iraq policy is failing and that Bush has also failed the American people on a number of other issues. What isn't clear is how many Americans believe it's time for Congress to examine Bush's policies more closely, while insisting on changes that will put our nation back on course.

One thing is certain. The Bush White House is in disarray. Now one way to think about Bush is to think of a store that has great ads in the newspapers and on TV; but when you go to the store, it's obviously a mess, with empty shelves, merchandise that hasn't been put away, signs in the wrong places, and frustrated employees trying to make things work despite incompetent management. But boy, those ads are sure great! And, according to the same ads, isn't it awful that the competition is even worse?

Yes, Bush has the money for the ads and the image-making but that doesn't mean he knows what he's doing. There are still a significant number of Americans who are catching on to Bush's dodges and weaves. Despite what right wing Republicans say, there are also people out there who know what they're talking about.

Lately, Bush has been denying that he's for 'staying the course' but one person who takes Bush at face value is Laura Bush as reported by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:
Laura Bush, when asked on the Today Show (9/18/06) what she tells people when asked about Iraq: "Well, I say the--exactly what the president says, that we need to stay the course."

That was only a month ago. Bush's 'stay the course' slogan has tanked in the polls recently. No doubt, staffers are training Laura on the new White House spin.

The problems our nation faces, however, are quite real and it would be a mistake to delay confronting those problem until they get even worse. A year ago, Rep. Murtha (D-PA) warned that the wheels are beginning to come off our military; he got his own information from informed officers. Increasingly, there are others talking about the problems. Here's an article by David Wood of The Baltimore Sun:
Pressed by the demands of fighting insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has been unable to maintain proficiency in the kind of high-intensity mechanized warfare that toppled Saddam Hussein and would be needed again if the Army were called on to fight in Korea or in other future crises, senior officers acknowledge.

Soldiers once skilled at fighting in tanks and armored vehicles have spent three years carrying out street patrols, police duty and raids on suspected insurgent safe houses. Officers who were experienced at maneuvering dozens of tanks and coordinating high-speed maneuvers with artillery, attack helicopters and strike fighters now run human intelligence networks, negotiate with clan elders and oversee Iraqi police training and neighborhood trash pickup.


Army officers are ''simply not developing the capacity for independent operations or initiative at lower levels," said retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, a former tank commander and strategist. The Army's "ability to conduct large-scale [armored] operations has atrophied," he said.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz recently returned from Iraq, where he served for 13 months as an armored corps commander in Baghdad. Now, as deputy commanding general of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, he will be tackling the issue of how to squeeze out more training time for high-intensity warfare.

"The Army's got to be ready for the next fight," he said. "As much as no one wants that next fight to come, it's coming."

I don't know if anything is coming or not, but the longer our military flounders because of blunders at the Pentagon and White House, the more likely it is that somebody somewhere will try to test the American military. Our military is still powerful but we obviously didn't have a game plan for Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. Nor did Bush have a clear strategic vision for being in Iraq in the first place. The lack of success in Iraq and Bush's clumsiness in foreign policy and lack of credibility has already emboldened various leaders of other countries around the world. Just the other day, as Bush was speaking at the UN about Sudan and the atrocities at Darfur, Sudan's UN ambassador was smirking because he knew that what Bush was saying was nothing but words (and apparently our policy behind the scenes is more or less pro-Sudan which raises other issues).

When right wing Republicans are floundering, they often complain that the other guy can't do any better, which simply ignores that competent Republicans and competent Democrats are in plentiful supply and there's a reason why both groups avoid the ideology and special glasses of right wing Republicans. If James Baker has the guts to be straight with Bush, I fully expect Bush to reject most of whatever is presented. Today, I read an article by Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer who's written several times about Iraq; here's her article in the Sacramento Bee:
Waiting for Baker.

That may be the last, desperate Bush administration hope for rescuing its flailing Iraq policy. U.S. officials are anxiously awaiting the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State and Bush family confidante James A. Baker III, whose task is to reassess Iraq strategy.

The group's report won't come out until after the November elections, but, in a sign of how bleak the Iraq situation has become, Baker is being looked at as a sort of Houdini. Never mind that he has already warned "there is no magic bullet" for the Iraq situation. He knows he will be constrained by the fact that the administration's disastrous policy errors have foreclosed any good options.


With Iraq convulsed by sectarian killing, and the Sunni insurgency unchecked, Baker will have to pick and choose among a list of unsatisfactory choices:

1. Change the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proved incapable of the tough leadership needed to reconcile with "moderate" Sunnis, stop the sectarian slaughter, and undercut the Sunni insurgency. But this is not Vietnam 1963; the gung-ho-for-democracy Bush can't depose an elected Iraqi leader. The White House is stuck with an Iraqi government that can't govern.

2. Pull out immediately. Baker has already rejected this option. He fears a chaotic Iraq would become a regional battleground, as Iran, Syria and Sunni Arab states rush to fill the power vacuum left by the U.S. exit.

3. Push for the division of Iraq into three federal states for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, in hopes this would stop the fighting.

Baker says he can't see how one could draw the boundary lines, since Iraq's cities and towns are mixed. Sunnis and many Shiites bitterly oppose this idea, and I see no way U.S. occupiers could impose such a plan on Iraqis.

4. Send more troops. This isn't on because the U.S. military has run out of available bodies.

5. Draw down U.S. forces, but insert more teams of U.S. military trainers inside Iraqi security force units. A good idea -- but military experts say it will be hard to find enough additional U.S. trainers, since this requires stripping officers out of their units.

6. Give the Maliki government a finite deadline to design a reconciliation pact with the Sunnis, and ratchet up the pressure by setting a timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces -- say, in two years. Then convene a conference of Iraq's neighbors and big powers to help stabilize the country. Such a conference would require the White House to deal with Iran (Baker supports negotiating with one's enemies).

Rubin goes on to say that she guesses Baker will choose a combination of 5 and 6; and she pointedly asks why Bush didn't turn to Baker three years sooner. Actually, there have been a succession of studies by various experts that Bush has proceeded to ignore and the problems in Iraq have only gotten worse.

Sometimes, things like foreign policy, economics and energy policy seem like abstractions to American voters. But the rising oil and gasoline prices we have seen in recent years are quite real and can be attributed, in part, to Bush's failures. Right now, for various reasons, we're seeing what many believe is a temporary break in the prices. But it is only temporary. If Bush is not checked and compelled to adjust his policies, the quite real consequences of his blunders will only grow. It's time for a Congress that can rein in Bush's recklessness and incompetence.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

It bears mentioning here that among John Kerry's very specific plans, if he were to become president, was adding two full divisions to the Army's heft.

Of course, that and many other worthwhile things got lost in the swiftboating melee.

It would be interesting if some enterprising reporter (ha!) would question Houston home builder millionaire Bob Perry and shyster John O'Neill about these developments.

You might recall Perry as the Swiftboat vets' sugar daddy and O'Neill as their pimp. So, they had plenty to do with where the U.S., its Army and its military overall are today.

Indeed, voters' decisions, well-informed or otherwise, do make a big difference in how things turn out, for them and many others.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., thanks for the reminder that Kerry was for adding two full divisions. I'm not enthusiastic about building up the world's biggest military even further but given the damage of the last four years to our foreign policy and credibillity, we may not have a choice. The issues go beyond Iraq. Although I wouldn't trust the Bush team to do it right, I also think some hardnosed discussions need to take place with NATO about the obligations of Europeans to do their share (and I wouldn't rule out some discusson with other countries). We shouldn't be looking for wars but Bush's bungling may bring a war or two our way. I fear what will happen if Bush or some future Republican tries to take the nuclear shortcut.

As for the swiftboaters and their con job, they're just two or three of dozens of people who have been dead wrong about Bush, Iraq and the world. I don't have the time to do it before Nov. 7th, but I wish people would go back and make a list of 50 people like Wolfowitz, Perle, Bill Kristol, Limbaugh, Coulter, Senator Pat Roberts, Newt Gingrich and dozens of others who said things in the last four years that were absolutely dead wrong.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I mentioned the swiftboat vets because of the irony involved. Their guy, it turns out, has done more to gut and weaken the U.S. military than any president since who, Harding? Coolidge?

I'm a bit surprised at your assertion ours is the biggest military. I'm fairly certain China's is much bigger.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Re: your list-compiling suggestion. Surely, you're looking at two full divisions of knights-errant. Or maybe knights-erroneous is more fitting.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., I like the two divisions of knights-erroneous. You gotta put that in one of your posts.

If you're talking about number of troops, then I'm sure you're right about the Chinese though I haven't checked for some time to see if they have maintained their troop levels (though they're certainly working on their navy). I was talking though about the sheer overall military strength of the United States which, after all, gives us superpower status. Maybe we need to trade in some of the hardware for troops. Not sure.

Yes, I like the irony of the swiftboaters as you mention.

12:33 AM  

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