Today I’m featuring a small selection of the many recent articles about the growing chasm between Bush’s claims about our progress in Iraq and the War on Terror, and the reality.
First, ya gotta love it when one of your heroes appropriates your theme! In his new article, “Let’s Get Real,” Krugman takes on Bush for his happy talk. (As Jon Stewart cleverly pointed out last night, perhaps Bush’s appearance with Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi to promote their successes in Iraq was held in the Rose Garden in order to match the color of Bush’s glasses.)
Next, the Guardian’s Sidney Blumenthal pursues the same theme in “The Hollow World of George Bush.”
Then, from the Los Angeles Times, we have “Violence Belies Positive Picture.”
And finally, from the New York Times, “Kerry Attacks Bush’s Handling of Campaign Against Terror” covers John Kerry’s plans on what to do about it when he’s president. Kerry deserves special recognition for his comments, making it clear that he intends to do something about our deadly embrace with the Saudi royal family. Despite their absymal record as a ruling force, allowing none of the democratic freedoms we take for granted, and despite the fact that most of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and despite the fact that much of al Qaeda’s funding comes indirectly from the Saudi royal family, Bush sees no reason to stop being such cozy bedfellows with them (while simultaneously decrying the “dictators” he has chosen to oppose…wouldn’t you love to hear him explain the logic of splitting that hair?). John Kerry intends to wrestle that bear, and more power to him.
Yes, let’s get real, shall we? Can we dispense now with the hollow claims about Iraq’s success as a democracy? Can we admit to our lack of a winning strategy, let alone an exit strategy? Or are we going to deny right up it to breaking point, like we did in Vietnam? Can we put down our savage pride and start grappling with reality here?
[OK, one more: for a good rundown on the differences between claim and reality in Iraq, try this one: Bush at the U.N.: Sugarcoating Failure]
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The New York Times
September 24, 2004
Never mind the inevitable claims that John Kerry is soft on terrorism. What he must address is the question of how his policy in Iraq would differ from President Bush’s. And his answer should be that unlike Mr. Bush, whose decisions have been dictated at every stage by grandiose visions and wishful thinking, he will get real – focusing on what is really possible in Iraq, and what needs to be done to protect American security.
Mr. Bush claims that Mr. Kerry’s plan to secure and rebuild Iraq is “exactly what we’re currently doing.” No, it isn’t. It’s only what Mr. Bush is currently saying. And we have 18 months of his administration’s deeds to contrast with his words.
The actual record is one of officials who have refused to admit that their fantasies about how the war would go were wrong, and who have continued to push us ever deeper into the quagmire because of their insistence that everything is going according to plan.
There has been a lot of press coverage of the administration’s failure to do anything serious about rebuilding Iraq. Less attention has been given to its parallel failure to take the security problem seriously until much of Iraq had already been lost.
Long after it was obvious to everyone else that we were engaged in an escalating guerrilla war, Bush appointees clung to the belief that they were fighting a handful of dead-enders and foreign terrorists.
As a result, they casually swelled the ranks of our foes – remember, Moktada al-Sadr was never going to be our friend, but he didn’t have to be our enemy. They even treated Iraqi security forces with contempt, not bothering to provide them with adequate training or equipment.
In an analysis titled “Inexcusable Failure,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies details how the U.S. “failed to treat the Iraqis as partners in the counterinsurgency effort.” U.S. officials, he declares, are “guilty of a gross military, administrative and moral failure.”
That failure continues. All the evidence suggests that Bush officials still think that one more military push – after the U.S. election, of course – will end the insurgency. They’re still not taking the task of fighting a sustained guerrilla war seriously.
“Three months into its new mission,” The New York Times reported, “the military command in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces has fewer than half of its permanent headquarters personnel in place.”
At the root of this folly is a continuing refusal to face uncomfortable facts. Confronted with a bleak C.I.A. assessment of the Iraq situation – one that matches the judgment of just about every independent expert – Mr. Bush’s response is that “they were just guessing.” “In many ways,” Mr. Cordesman writes, “the administration’s senior spokesmen still seem to live in a fantasyland.”
Fantasyland extended to the Rose Garden yesterday, where Mr. Bush said polls asking Iraqis whether their nation was on the right track were more positive than similar polls asking Americans about their outlook – and he seemed to consider that a good sign.
Where is Mr. Bush taking us? As the reality of Iraq gets worse, his explanations of our goals get ever vaguer. “The security of our world,” Mr. Bush told the U.N., “is found in the advancing rights of mankind.”
He doesn’t really believe that. After all, he continues to praise Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, even as Mr. Putin strangles democratic institutions. The subtext of Mr. Bush’s bombast is that because he can’t bring himself to admit a mistake, he refuses to give up on his effort to turn Iraq into a docile client state – an effort that is doomed unless he can figure out a way to come up with a few hundred thousand more troops.
We don’t have to go there. American policy shouldn’t be dictated by Mr. Bush’s infallibility complex; our first priority must be our own security. And in Iraq, that means setting realistic goals.
On “Meet The Press” back in April, Mr. Kerry wasn’t as forthright about Iraq as he has now, at long last, become, but he did return several times to a point that shows that he is on the right track. “What is critical,” he said, “is a stable Iraq.” Not an Iraq in our image, but a country that isn’t a “failed state” that poses a threat to American security.
The Bush administration has made such a mess of Iraq that even achieving that goal will be very hard. But unlike Mr. Bush’s fantasies, it’s still in the realm of the possible.
By Sidney Blumenthal
Thursday 23 September 2004
The power of positive thinking is the president’s shield from reality.
The news is grim, but the president is “optimistic”. The intelligence is sobering, but he tosses aside “pessimistic predictions”. His opponent says he has “no credibility”, but the president replies that it is his rival who is “twisting in the wind”. The UN secretary general speaks of the “rule of law”, but he talks before a mute general assembly of “a new definition of security”. Between the rhetoric and the reality lies the campaign.
In Iraq, US commanders have plans for this week and the next, but there is “no overarching strategy”, I was told by a reliable source who has just returned after assessing the facts on the ground for US intelligence services. The New York Times reports that an offensive is in the works to capture the insurgent stronghold of Falluja – after the election. In the meantime, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other terrorists linked to al-Qaida operate from there at will, as they have for more than a year. The president speaks of new Iraqi security forces, but not even half the US personnel have been assigned to the headquarters of the Multinational Security Transition Command.
George Bush’s vision of the liberation of Iraq has melted before harsh facts. But reality cannot be allowed to obscure the image. The liberation is “succeeding”, he insists, and only pessimists cannot see it.
In July, the CIA delivered to the president a new national intelligence estimate that detailed three gloomy scenarios for Iraq’s future, ranging up to civil war. Perhaps it was his reading of the estimate that prompted Bush to remark in August that the war on terrorism could not be won, a judgment he swiftly reversed. And at the UN, Bush held a press conference where he rebuffed the latest intelligence.
Bush explained that, for him, intelligence is not to inform decision-making, but to be used or rejected to advance an ideological and political agenda. His dismissal is an affirmation of the politicisation and corruption of intelligence that rationalised the war.
In his stump speech, which he repeats word for word across the country, Bush explains that he invaded Iraq because of “the lesson of September the 11th”. WMD goes unmentioned; the only reason Bush offers is Saddam Hussein as an agent of terrorism. “He was a sworn enemy of the United States of America; he had ties to terrorist networks. Do you remember Abu Nidal? He’s the guy that killed Leon Klinghoffer. Leon Klinghoffer was murdered because of his religion. Abu Nidal was in Baghdad, as was his organisation.”
The period of Leon Klinghoffer’s murder in 1985 on the liner Achille Lauro (by Abu Abbas, in fact) coincided with the US courtship of Saddam, marked by the celebrated visits of then Middle East envoy Donald Rumsfeld. The US collaborated in intelligence exchanges and materially supported Saddam in his war with Iran, authorising the sale of biological agents for Saddam’s laboratories, a diversification of his WMD capability.
The reason was not born of idealism, but necessity: the threat of an expansive Iran-controlled Shia fundamentalism to the entire Gulf.
The policy of courting Saddam continued until he invaded Kuwait. But realpolitik prevailed when US forces held back from capturing Baghdad for larger, geostrategic reasons. The first Bush grasped that in wars to come, the US would need ad hoc coalitions to share the military burden and financial cost. Taking Baghdad would have violated the UN resolution that gave legitimacy to the first Gulf war, as well as creating a nightmare of “Lebanonisation”, as secretary of state James Baker called it. Realism prevailed; Saddam’s power was subdued and drastically reduced. It was the greatest accomplishment of the first President Bush.
When he honoured the UN resolution, the credibility of the US in the region was enormously enhanced, enabling serious movement on the Middle East peace process. Now this President Bush has undone the foundation of his father’s work, which was built upon by President Clinton.
Bush’s campaign depends on the containment of any contrary perception of reality. He must evade, deny and suppress it. His true opponent is not his Democratic foe – called unpatriotic and the candidate of al-Qaida by the vice-president – but events. Bush’s latest vision is his shield against them. He invokes the power of positive thinking, as taught by Emile Coue, guru of autosuggestion in the giddy 1920s, who urged mental improvement through constant repetition: “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.”
It was during this era of illusion that TS Eliot wrote The Hollow Men: Between the idea/ And the reality/ Between the motion/ And the act/ Falls the Shadow.”
By Patrick J. McDonnell
The Los Angeles Times
Friday 24 September 2004
Baghdad – Large swaths of Iraq remain outside the control of the interim government, major highways are fraught with attackers, and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi – along with the U.S. Embassy and much of the international community – must conduct business in fortified compounds guarded by tanks, blast walls and barbed wire.
In Washington, Allawi gave Congress an upbeat assessment Thursday, but the situation in Iraq is more complicated.
Allawi said the Iraqi people were making steady progress in taking control of the nation’s affairs. His interim government had assumed sovereignty from the U.S.-led occupation. It had reopened schools and hospitals damaged in the war. Despite attacks, hundreds of Iraqis were still volunteering to join the police and army. And he pledged that the country would hold elections in January.
Widespread anxiety engulfed much of Iraq this month as a wave of car bombings, kidnappings and gun battles killed scores of American soldiers, Iraqi civilians and hostages.
The continuing violence has overshadowed signs of progress and put a damper on the prospect of democratic elections.
“How can we hold elections when they will bomb every polling booth?” asked Husham Mahdi, a 29-year-old communications engineer in Baghdad, echoing a common sentiment.
In a question and answer session after his speech to Congress, Allawi described Baghdad as “very good and safe.”
In the city of Samarra, Allawi noted, a new police chief had been appointed and Iraqi forces were patrolling the city “in close coordination” with the U.S.-led coalition. But U.S. commanders say the insurgent stronghold, which the Army recently entered for the first time in months, remains far from pacified.
“Samarra is not over with,” said Lt. Col. James Stockmoe, intelligence officer with the 1st Infantry Division, which patrols Samarra.
The police chief appointed this month, at least the 12th since Saddam Hussein’s ouster, resigned within a few days after receiving death threats.
Some U.S. military officials fear that the city’s police force is largely in cahoots with insurgents, giving them access to weapons and vehicles. In July, a suicide bomber used a police vehicle to plow into the Army base outside Samarra, killing five U.S. soldiers and injuring 18.
Allawi blamed the American media for failing to report some of the positive steps his government had taken with the help of the U.S.-led coalition. He cited social programs such as polio vaccinations and other efforts. He said thousands of Iraqis had gotten jobs, salaries had increased dramatically and the economy “has finally started to flourish.”
Allawi praised efforts to train more soldiers and police and said the performance of the new Iraqi security forces was “improving every day.”
U.S. commanders credit Iraqi forces for helping to rid Najaf of fighters loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. But it remains questionable whether they can take on insurgents without U.S. help. Shortages of equipment and personnel continue to plague the forces.
On a recent visit to Baqubah, where police have often been targeted, Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus – who is overseeing the training of Iraqi forces – listened as local police and national guard officers said they desperately needed more trained officers and equipment. His visit came a few days after 11 provincial police officers were killed in a drive-by attack.
“We’ve got to create a training academy here,” said Petraeus, who also offered to ship new armored vehicles, body armor and other gear from Baghdad.
The continued inability of Iraqi forces to secure areas after U.S. offensives has been a major reason such operations have been put on hold in places like Samarra and Fallouja.
“We have got the tactical ability to do just about anything, but what I don’t want to do is create a vacuum,” Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, operational chief for U.S.-led multinational forces, said in a recent interview.
Allawi said that in the city of Tall Afar, in northwestern Iraq, the interim government had “reversed” an attempted insurgent takeover.
Reports from the city indicate that masked rebels no longer control the town. But the city’s Turkmen majority, regarded a U.S. ally, is resentful after what it views as excessive American force and bombing, which was approved by Allawi’s government.
Allawi also cited “success” in Najaf and Kufa, where residents celebrated the ouster of Sadr, the militant cleric.
Although the militia was routed in both cities, many fighters appear to have moved to Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood. Daily firefights and roadside bombs have plagued the U.S. there.
Allawi said it was “a fact” that elections could be held in 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces “tomorrow.” But few experts would agree. The consensus among poll-watchers is that holding nationwide elections by January, as scheduled, will be difficult.
Apart from the widespread violence, the provinces lack electoral infrastructure – which some view as a greater challenge than security.
And critics say it is hard to argue that security is a problem in only three provinces of a nation where suicide bombers have struck from Basra in the south to Irbil in the north.
Allawi cited the renovation of schools and clinics and the restoration of many services as signs of progress. But many Iraqis note that the schools were open before Hussein’s ouster, and power blackouts and gasoline shortages remain major irritants.
Allawi’s upbeat assessment did not mention a core problem – the disenfranchisement of the Sunni Muslim minority.
Sunni Muslims, who lost their preferred status after Hussein’s defeat, launched the insurgency that has managed to hold off the world’s most powerful military.
“They are the key to the population here,” said Col. John C. Coleman, chief of staff of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which patrols the Sunni heartland to the west and north of Baghdad. “Many of them look to the central government not as their advocateÅ . There are many who would just like a seat at the table and don’t quite understand how to get there just yet. They are frustrated by the process.”
Allawi’s overtures to the residents of Samarra, Fallouja and Ramadi – Sunni-dominated cities still far from government control – have yielded no lasting breakthroughs.
In his speech Thursday, the interim prime minister did not highlight Fallouja, which has become a sanctuary for insurgents and the target of intense U.S. bombings supported by his government. City leaders who have met with representatives of the interim government say it has lost credibility because of close U.S. ties.
“There were some promises made,” said Ahmad Hardan, a physician from Fallouja who has been in talks with Allawi’s envoys. “But we started to realize that whenever our delegation would go back to Baghdad, the city of Fallouja would be bombed. And we would start asking, ‘Why is this happening? Where are the promises?’ ”
By MARIA NEWMAN
The New York Times
September 24, 2004
Senator John Kerry assailed President Bush today for going after Saddam Hussein when he should have been focused on hunting down Osama Bin Laden, and said that the Bush administration was “in confusion” about how to combat the growth of terrorism.
The senator also said that the West must reach out to Islamic youth around the world and convince those inclined to militancy that “there is more to life than salvation through martyrdom.”
Mr. Kerry, continuing to hammer, as he has all week, at the president’s policies on Iraq and terrorism, said that “we have to refocus our energies on the war on terror.”
“The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy, Al Qaeda,” Mr. Kerry said in a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia. “There’s just no question about it. The president’s misjudgment, miscalculation and mismanagement of the war in Iraq all make the war on terror harder to win.”
Mr. Kerry said that because Mr. Bush had focused the military’s might and money on fighting Mr. Hussein’s regime, “Iraq is now what it was not before the war — a haven for terrorists.”
The Democratic presidential candidate offered up a detailed strategy to contain terrorism, and called for more attention to the politics, culture and economics of the broad Islamic world, and more cooperation with allies to fight the growth of terrorism within some Islamic factions and communities.
“We have to win the war of ideas,” he said, pointing out that more than 50 percent of the population in the Arab and Muslim world is under age 25.
“If all they get to do is go to radical Islamic madrassas and learn how to hate and learn how to strap themselves with explosives, we have a problem for years to come, my friends,” he said. “New generations have to believe that there is more to life than salvation through martyrdom.”
“The war on terror is the monumental struggle of our time, it is as monumental a struggle as the cold war,” Mr. Kerry said. “Its outcome will determine whether we and our children will live in freedom or in fear. It is not, as some people think, a clash of civilizations. Radical Islamic fundamentalism is not the true face of Islam.”
With many polls showing that voters have more confidence in Mr. Bush’s approach to the war in Iraq and terrorism, Mr. Kerry has tried all week to convince them that an exaggerated focus on Iraq has led the president to ignore the broader issue of growing terrorism around the world.
Senator Kerry said that the president was “living in a fantasy world of spin” even as some senior advisers and fellow Republicans, privately and publicly, express concern over the growing violence in Iraq and elsewhere.
“We hear the president, the commander in chief, proclaiming one day that this war can’t be won, and then saying something different the next day,” Mr. Kerry said. “And we hear the secretary of defense himself wondering whether the radicals are recruiting, training, and deploying more terrorists than we are capturing or killing.”
Senator Kerry’s remarks came a day after the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, paid Washington a visit, which served to reinforce the starkly differing views of the Bush and Kerry campaigns on the situation in Iraq.
On Thursday, President Bush said, “You can understand it’s tough and still be optimistic,” and Mr. Allawi vowed that elections would be held in January even though “they may not be perfect” because of the rising violence in parts of Iraq.
Senator Kerry responded by saying that the prime minister was contradicting himself, alternately saying that terrorists were pouring into the country and that they were on the defensive.
Today, the president, who was in Wisconsin to talk about education, veered from his message of the day to say that Mr. Kerry should not be criticizing Mr. Allawi.
“You can’t lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility,” the president said.
And while he continued to sound optimimistic about the war in Iraq, he also acknowledged some of the recent violence, including the beheading of two American engineers this week.
“You know, we weep when we see a person be beheaded on our TV screens,” he said, adding, “We value human dignity in our society.”
“That’s why it’s very important for us to not send mixed signals to the world, not embolden these people,” he added.
Today, Mr. Kerry set forth a detailed seven-point proposal for how he would fight terrorism, a plan that includes going after those who finance terrorist operations, including those in Saudi Arabia.
“I will do what President Bush has not: I will hold the Saudis accountable,” Mr. Kerry said, in a discussion that drew a standing ovation and his loudest applause.
He said that since 9/11, there had been no prosecutions of terrorist financial backers in Saudi Arabia, and only a few in other places. Mr. Kerry vowed to work with American allies, with the World Bank and international financial institutions “to shut down the financial pipeline that keeps terrorism alive.”
“And I will pursue a plan to make this nation energy independent of Mideast oil,” he said. “I want an America that relies on our own innovation and ingenuity, not the Saudi Royal Family.”
Mr. Kerry also said he would increase by 40,000 the number of troops “not for Iraq, but so that we have more soldiers to actually fight and find the terrorists in the places that they are.” He would also strengthen intelligence systems and shut down the supply route of deadly weapons to the terrorists from other countries.
He further said he would beef up domestic security, including better protection at the nation’s ports and more security in vulnerable areas like subways “so that what happened in Madrid doesn’t happen here in the United States of America.”
Mr. Kerry also said that any plan to fight terrorism had to go beyond just sending in American troops. He said his plan included initiatives to keep terrorists from increasing their ranks and to promote the development of free and democratic societies in the Islamic world.
In order to keep the ranks of terrorists from growing, he said, Americans must become smarter about countering the efforts of Al Qaeda to win “the heart and soul of the Muslim world.”
“We will win this war only if the terrorists lose that struggle,” he said. “We will win when ordinary people from Nigeria to Egypt, to Pakistan, to Indonesia know that they have more to live for than to die for.”
He said that many of the terrorists’ recruits were coming from poor Muslim communities. Under his plan, the United States could use its economic power to help poor Muslim countries in exchange for “them living up to goals of social and economic progress.”
Lastly, Mr. Kerry said that the United States would have to work harder to win allies in its struggle against terrorism. “We will not succeed in destroying freedom’s adversaries if we are divided from freedom’s friends,” he said.
“The terrorists certainly understand that,” he said. “They’re making a special effort to set off bombs in Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia. They want to keep other countries from standing with us in the war on terror. They know what the Bush administration has been so reluctant to admit — that we are weaker when we fight almost alone.”
He said that the Bush administration had said that the United States must act alone because the Europeans “won’t help us, no matter what.”
“I have news for President Bush,” Mr. Kerry said. “Just because you can’t do it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
“I believe we can win the war on terror,” he said.