Category Archives: Iraq

Huh, Don’t Trust Someone Named Curveball. Got It.

Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd at The Guardian:

The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],’” Janabi recalled.

So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).

And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.

We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd tracked down Alwan in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized city along the French-German border. They speculate his admission “appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did,” or maybe just a last-ditch attempt “to resurrect his own reputation” in the hopes of moving back to Iraq. They acknowledge Curveball’s attempted “reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded” by his fabrications.

Alwan’s motives, not surprisingly, were of little interest to pundits based in those countries that devoted seven years of blood and treasure to the fight in Iraq. “Yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat,” writes Guardian columnist Carnie Ross. “We should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.” Wonkette’s Ken Layne echoed the sentiment. “Tell whatever lies you want for whatever ends you desire. That is the lesson.”

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

Things move fast these days, and 2003 can seem like ancient history to some. But given that the run-up to the war in Iraq was the greatest media failure in decades, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the tears of joy and gratitude that greeted Powell’s U.N. speech. What’s important to keep in mind is that a lot of Powell’s bogus claims were known at the time to be false or baseless, if reporters had bothered to ask around. But they didn’t, because they were so blinded by how awesome Powell was. Think I exaggerate? Let’s take a look back:

“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strong, plain-spoken indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime before the UN Security Council Wednesday embodies something truly great about the United States. Those around the world who demanded proof must now be satisfied, or else admit that no satisfaction is possible for them.” — Chicago Sun-Times”In a brilliant presentation as riveting and as convincing as Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 unmasking of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Powell proved beyond any doubt that Iraq still possesses and continues to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction. The case for war has been made. And it’s irrefutable.” — New York Daily News

“Only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell’s case.” — San Antonio Express-News

“The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” — Richard Cohen, Washington Post

That’s just a small sample, but you see the pattern: Not only was Powell’s show presented as settling the matter of whether Iraq had this terrifying arsenal and would use it on us, but if you didn’t agree, you were either an Iraqi sympathizer or at the very least anti-American. At that point, the debate over whether we would invade was pretty much over — the only question was when the bombs would start falling. It may boggle the mind that so much of the case for war was based on the testimony of one absurdly unreliable guy. But that was what passed for “intelligence” during the Bush years.

Doug Mataconis:

The Germans returned to Janabi in May 2002, just when the propaganda run-up to the Iraq War was beginning. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this likely occurred at the behest of the United States, which was eager for as much information proving that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a WMD program in violation of UN sanctions as it could find. Despite the fact that he had been previously established as a liar, he was apparently taken seriously and given incentives for sharing as much information as he could come up with. Which he obviously did.

At the same time, there’s no evidence that the United States knew about the problems with Janabi’s credibility, or even that they knew who he was other than “Curveball,” the code name assigned to him by German intelligence. So, absent additional information, this doesn’t strike me as implicating the Bush Administration in Janabi’s lies. What it does demonstrate, though, is the extent to which, during the period from late 2001 through early 2003, the United States was singularly focused on finding any evidence it could to justify war against Iraq to the exclusion of anything to the contrary. Obviously, the Germans, as our allies, picked up on this and provided us with the information we needed. The problem is that nobody in Berlin or Washington seems to have bothered to make any effort  to independently verify what Janabi was saying before deciding to use it as the basis to go to war. And that’s a problem.

So far at least, this story seems to be be drawing very little attention in the blogsphere, and none at all among conservative bloggers. That’s too bad, because the fact that we fought a war based not only on bad intelligence, but on intelligence that was based on evidence provided by someone who was already a known liar strikes me as something that we ought to be concerned about.

Moe Lane:

I probably wouldn’t be on Colin Powell’s Christmas card list, nor he on mine – not for any particular enmity on my part, or (hypothetical) on his; we’re just not the same kind of Republicans – but I have to admit:

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.

…I’d like to know the answer to this one myself.  I mean, contrary to Lefty mythology, the liberation of Iraq did not hinge on the presence of WMDs (although I will admit that their proven past existence and use on civilian targets by the late, unlamented-by-civilized-people Hussein regime did make quite a few Democrats at least temporarily capable of being swayed by reason); but the failure to find any in significant amounts after the fact was definitely embarrassing to the Bush administration, and I join former Secretary Powell in wanting to hear the bureaucrats explain themselves.  Because we’re still counting on these people to tell us what the heck is going on, and President Obama needs to be better served by them than former President Bush was.

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It All Comes Back To The Bush

Andrew Sullivan rounds up here, here and here

Jennifer Rubin:

The Obama administration needs to think long and hard about how it can convert its occasional rhetorical flourishes into concrete polices that can assist democracy advocates not only in Tunisia, but in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. If Obama wants to do some more productive “Muslim Outreach,” he should stop trying to ingratiate himself with despotic leaders and show that America is, and will continue to be, on the side of those yearning for freedom.

Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush’s vision seems very prescient. Shouldn’t we all be in favor the freedom agenda? Criticized at the time as too Pollyannaish and too ambitious, Bush’s second inaugural address is worth reading again in full. This section is particularly apt:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America’s belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty–though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Adam Serwer:

Rubin doesn’t even attempt to prove causation — eight years ago, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and last week there was an uprising in Tunisia. Ergo Bush deserves the credit. This is deeply paternalistic — in Rubin’s version of history, the Tunisians who faced down the security forces of an autocratic regime are practically bit players in their own political upheaval.

The point is not to make an actual argument, but to inject a political narrative that will retroactively vindicate the decision to go to war in Iraq, as though the American people would ever forget that the Bush administration justified that decision by manufacturing an imminent danger in the form of WMD that were never found.

“Democracy in the Muslim World” was not the primary reason given for invading Iraq, and even as a retroactive justification it remains weak. As Matt Duss pointed out last year, the RAND Corporation did a study concluding that “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.” But as Donald Rumsfeld might say, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so Rubin presses on:

One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia? For now, the current administration had better get on the right side of history.

Perhaps the most bizarre of Republican foreign policy instincts is the belief that the President of the United States can force the foreign policy outcomes he desires through sheer force of will. This is what Matthew Yglesias has dubbed the “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.”

Dan Murphy at the Christian Science Monitor:

One question in Ms. Rubin’s column does have a clear answer however. “How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?” she asks.

Having covered Iraq and Egypt full time between 2003-2008, and having explored the question of whether the US invasion of Iraq would spur regional political change at length with academics, politicians, and average folks in and out of the region over a period of years (and talked to people in touch with current events in Tunisia the past few days) the answer to her question is clear: “Little to nothing.”

The sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, the insurgency, and the US role in combating it claimed tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and Iraq remains unstable today. The regional view of the Iraq war was and is overwhelmingly negative, the model of Iraq something to be avoided at all costs. Before I read Rubin’s piece earlier today, Simon Hawkins, an anthropology professor at Franklin and Marshall, was kind enough to chat with me about Tunisian politics and history.

Hawkins, whose dissertation was about Tunisia, has been coming and going from the country since the late 1980s. He recounted (unprompted) how the word “democracy” had been given a bad name among many of the Tunisian youth (the same sorts who led the uprising against Ben Ali) because of the Iraq experience, “That’s democracy,” a group of Tunisian youths said to him in 2006 of Iraq. “No thanks.”

The Obama Administration’s policies towards the Arab world, largely focused on counterterrorism cooperation and avoiding pushing hard for political reform in autocracies like Egypt, are in fact an almost straight continuation of President Bush’s approach, particularly in his second term. It’s true that Bush made a ringing call for freedom in the Middle East a centerpiece of his inaugural address, but soon came up against the hard reality that close regional allies like Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia weren’t much interested in tolerating challenges to their rule.

After the Muslim Brotherhood tripled its share in Egypt’s parliament in one of the fairest (but still fraud marred) Egyptian elections in decades and the Islamist group Hamas swept free and fair Palestinian elections in 2006, the US took a big step back from Arab democracy promotion. That’s a situation that persists today.

More Rubin:

While those in Tunisia tell me there is no specific sign of an Islamist presence yet, it remains a real concern for those pressing for a secularized, democratic government.

One final note: while Muslim autocrats in the region have reason to worry, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations makes a convincing case that regimes do not face the same threat of instability. In Jordan and Morocco, for example, the kings in those countries enjoy a “perceived legitimacy.”

Nevertheless, George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy. It was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy.

Daniel Larison:

I don’t know about “the liberal elite,” but people opposed to the Bush administration’s illegal war in Iraq and ruinous “freedom agenda” actually argued that it would be extremely difficult to construct Western-style liberal democracies in countries that had no political tradition of representative or constitutional government. This is true. It is extremely difficult, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort and resources devoted to it, and it remains a foolish thing for the U.S. to pursue as a major foreign policy goal. What we also said was that it was outrageous and wrong to invade another country, trample on its sovereignty, wreck its infrastructure, and impoverish its people. What was even worse was to claim that we had liberated it, when we were actually handing it over to the tender mercies of sectarian militias and establishing what turned out to be a repressive government that often resorts to police-state tactics. In 2003, Muslim self-rule was already a reality in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The fantasy was the idea that the U.S. could forcibly topple an authoritarian government and readily install a functioning liberal democratic government in Iraq, and that this would then lead to regional transformation. Except for the first part, none of this happened. So far, the Tunisians seem to be managing much better on their own than Iraq did under the tutelage of U.S. occupiers.

Greg Scoblete:

Rubin does raise a significant question, however, regarding U.S. policy towards Tunisia. It could be, as her source suggests, that there exists a wellspring of knowledgeable people in the U.S. federal government who understand Tunisian society and have a keen grasp of how to ensure that the country’s revolutionary tumult is channeled toward a stable, sustainable representative democracy (provided it’s not too Islamist, of course). If that is the case, telling whatever government does emerge “what we expect” makes some sense, as it presumes we know what we’re talking about.

If, however, we don’t actually know what’s best for Tunisian society going forward, outside of a general desire for it to have a representative and relatively liberal government, should we really be butting in?

More Rubin:

Now a final note: The left blogosphere seems to have wigged out over the suggestion that George W. Bush and the successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq has anything to do with all this. For starters, it is amusing to see that those voices, fresh from the smear on conservatives regarding the Arizona shooting, are now all about “causation.” But more seriously, had democracy failed in Iraq, had the country descended into chaos, and had Iraqis laboring for a secular, democratic Muslim country been killed and exiled, do we imagine this would have been good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere? Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong. And the notion that democratization and rebellion against despotic regimes do not spread regionally after a successful experiment is belied by history (e.g. Central America, Eastern Europe).

Larison responds:

Well, the country did descend into chaos, Iraqis laboring for a secular country were killed and exiled*, and that wasn’t good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere. These also happen to be the effects of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, which involved invading and devastating a country for bogus national security reasons and then trying to dress up the entire debacle as an experiment in democratization. The outward forms of democracy didn’t entirely fail in Iraq, but what those forms did was politicize ethnic and sectarian divisions and fuel years of inter-communal violence. Looking at the chaos unleashed by what war supporters kept insisting on calling “democracy,” nations throughout the region associated “democracy” with foreign occupation, civil strife, and constant violence. For that matter, there has been no “successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq.” There is an elected government with increasingly authoritarian and illiberal habits governed by sectarians pretending to be secular nationalists.

Rubin continues:

Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong.

No, Bush’s critics understood, usually better than his supporters, that Iran had some measure of constitutional and representative government before the Pahlavis, and Turkey has been gradually developing as a democratic republic since WWII. Opponents of the disastrous war and the “freedom agenda” said that democratic and representative government was alien to almost all Arab countries. Lebanon was and remains the exception. That was true. Maliki’s semi-dictatorship in Baghdad does little to change that assessment. Bush based his conviction that the U.S. should install democratic government in a predominantly Arab country on the general lack of such governments in Arab countries, which democratists concluded was a principal source of jihadism. To the extent that Bush and his allies were serious in wanting to democratize Arab countries, they were taking for granted that democratic government was alien to these countries, which is why the U.S. had to introduce it directly through active promotion. What Bush and his allies also said was that democratic government was part of a “single model of human progress,” and that therefore every society should be governed this way, and furthermore that every society was capable of governing itself this way. That was the far-fetched claim that most of Bush’s critics couldn’t accept, because it is nothing more than an ideological conviction.

Will at The League:

The analytical gymnastics Jennifer Rubin is forced to perform here to defend the invasion of Iraq are pretty impressive. If the Tunisian revolution spurs reform in neighboring countries, her line of reasoning goes, Iraq’s quasi-democratic political process must be having a similar effect in the region. I know little about the Middle East and less about Tunisia, but let me suggest one important distinction: If the “Jasmine Revolution” inspires emulation in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it will have something to do with the fact that Tunisia’s political upheaval was a genuinely organic, popular movement that isn’t perceived as the result of outside meddling. Whatever the merits of Iraq’s new government, it will never enjoy that type of currency in the region, which is why overblown claims about the positive regional consequences of our invasion remain so unpersuasive.

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2004 Comin’ Right Back At Ya

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up. Hudson:

Moqtada al-Sadr is back. The radical Shi’ite cleric and head of Iraq’s most feared militia group has returned to Iraq after a 4-year self-imposed exile in Iran. His homecoming is being welcomed by many Iraqi Shi’ites, who see him as a stabilizing force in the country. His strong anti-American views, however, and history of fomenting sectarian violence have some in Washington on edge.

Tony Karon at Time:

Anyone remember what Jay Garner, the first U.S. viceroy in Baghdad in 2003, answered when asked how long American troops would be in Iraq? “Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century,” he told an interviewer. “They were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That’s what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East.” Instead, as radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr made a triumphant return this week from self-imposed exile in Iran to assume a central role in the newly elected government, it is looking increasingly likely that the U.S. military presence in Iraq will be terminated by the end of this year.

David Kenner at Foreign Policy:

Sadr arrived in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, in southern Iraq. He visited the Shrine of Imam Ali and his father’s grave before returning to his family’s home. A spokesman for Sadr’s office in Najaf confirmed that he had returned to Iraq permanently.

Sadr’s movement won 40 seats in last year’s parliamentary elections, reestablishing it as a powerful force in Iraqi politics. Its decision to support Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a longtime nemesis of the movement, for a second term was instrumental in helping Maliki win the premiership. However, the Sadrists received numerous government posts in return for their support – and also, apparently, government assurances that Sadr could safely return to Iraq.

Some analysts also suggested that his return could be motivated by a desire to retain his preeminence over the movement’s leaders in Iraq, who have overseen the party’s impressive gains in recent years. “His party is becoming stronger and bigger, and the need for him to preside over it has grown, especially since there is fear that new leaders within the party could surpass him,” wrote Hazem al-Amin in the Arabic daily al-Hayat.

Paul Pillar at The National Interest:

Sadr’s move and the deal-making among Shia factions that is related to it underscore the sharpness of the sectarian divide in Iraq, notwithstanding earlier encouraging signs of cross-sect political activity. The chief manifestation of such activity, Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, was outmaneuvered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has cut his most important deals with other Shiites, and especially with the Sadrists. What passes for democracy in Iraq doesn’t go much beyond a simple concept of majority rule. Shiites are in the majority, and they are ruling. Having made a bargain with Maliki, notwithstanding earlier bloody confrontation between the two, Moqtada al-Sadr is a major part of that system.

Sadr’s return also underscores how far away in other respects Iraq still is from anything a westerner would recognize as a stable democracy. Given the responsibility of the Sadrists for much of the sectarian bloodshed of Iraq’s very recent past, the fact that their leader is back in place as an accepted political player in Iraq rather than being consigned to ignominy and exile is itself a major statement in that regard. Iraq is still a violent place, in the sense not only of daily incidents but also of how close beneath the surface of political life is the possibility and the inclination to resort to bigger bloodshed.

Juan Cole:

Sadr is a force for intolerance in Iraqi society, and it remains to be seen if he has actually abandoned his predilection for use of coercive force. His followers have attempted to regiment women, close down video stores, close down cinemas, and prevent public performance of music. They have also targeted Sunnis and secular Shiites, neither of which will likely welcome his return to Iraq.

On the one hand, Sadr’s return and his bloc’s participation in the Iraqi government is a sign of increased stability and might bode well for al-Maliki’s second term. The majority Shiites, including the Sadrists, have for the moment joined together and rallied behind the new prime minister. On the other, if Sadr goes back to promoting intolerance, he could be a force for disorder in a country and a political climate that already has enough of those.

Firas Al-Atraqchi at Huffington Post:

Unfortunately, there are some who have inflated Muqtada’s status as a revolutionary and his street battles with US forces as uprisings. They were never uprisings but merely a show of force by a man using the established clerical reputation of his family to gain a foothold among some of Iraq’s Shia, position himself as a resistance leader and earn dividends both in Iran and among Iraq’s disenfranchised.

His militia is comprised not of revolutionary nationalists but is a ragtag force of high school drop-outs, brigands, and common criminals; it is no threat to a regular army and was routed even by the then poorly-trained Iraqi army. However, the police, security and armed forces have been infiltrated by thousands of Sadrists in the past five years.

American strategists can claim victory in replacing a secular dictator with a theocratic one. In the meantime, the trap has been sprung and all Iraqis are living the nightmare.

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The End? Part II: Speech, Speech, Speech!

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with an early round up.

Marc Ambinder:

President Obama has asked the television networks for 15 minutes tonight, and he’s going to pack quite a bit of messaging into that short period of time. Why do we need a speech marking the end of the combat mission in Iraq? It’s because we’re going to need, according to Obama, to understand the future of the war in Afghanistan and the interconnectedness of foreign and domestic policy in a way that reflects what Obama was able to do in Iraq.

What did he do? He set a time-frame and stuck to it. Iraq will now begin to fend for itself. He promised during his presidential campaign that he would end the Iraq war “responsibly.” He will note tonight that his administration managed to withdraw 100,000 troops from Iraq “responsibly.” He will portray this as a major milestone in his presidency.

We forget how integral Sen. Barack Obama’s decision to oppose the Iraq war was to his own political awakening, and how many contortions Hillary Clinton had to untwist in order to justify her own support for the war authority, and how, by the day of the general election, given the success of the surge (or the success of JSOC’s counterterrorism efforts), Iraq was no longer a central voting issue. Voters seemed to exorcise that demon in 2006, when they voted Democrats into Congress.

A large chunk of the speech will be taken up by the president’s careful description of the sacrifices that a million U.S. soldiers and diplomats have made by their service in Iraq, and how 4,400 Americans did not come home.

Then, a pivot point: the Iraq drawdown has allowed the president to refocus attention on the threat from Al Qaeda worldwide, and he will mention that the terrorist network is degraded, albeit still capable of waging terrorist attacks and intending to do so.

He will note that the government will be able to reap a bit of a post-Iraq transition dividend, allowing the administration to invest more in job creation, health care, and education here at home. (Subtly, the point: Obama wouldn’t have gone into Iraq, so we wouldn’t have had to spend as much as we did.) It’s time, he will say, to build our own nation.

Kevin Drum:

Since it’s a slow news day, let’s mull this over. First take: can you imagine anything that would piss off the liberal base more than acknowledging that the surge worked? You’d be able to hear the steam coming out of lefty ears from sea to shining sea. Second take: Even if he decided to do it anyway, would it be worthwhile? If he wants to be honest, Obama would have to at least mention all those other factors that Ambinder mentions, namely that the reduction in violence in 2007 was quite clearly the result of 4 S’s: Surge, Sadr ceasefire, Sectarian cleansing, and Sunni Awakening. But is this too much to talk about? And would it seem churlish to acknowledge the surge and then immediately try to take some of the credit away from it?

Third take: Forget it. Not only would mentioning the surge piss off liberals, but it would also imply some kind of “victory” in Iraq, and surely Obama can’t be dimwitted enough to come within a light year of claiming that, can he? Of course not. Not with sporadic violence back in the news and Iraqi leaders still stalemated on forming a government five months after the March elections.

So I’ll predict no direct mention of the surge. And since I’m usually wrong about this kind of stuff, I suppose you should try to lay down some money right away on Obama mentioning the surge tonight. But I still don’t think he’ll do it.

David Corn at Politics Daily:

Why is Barack Obama giving a speech on Iraq?

To mark the end of U.S. combat missions in the nation George W. Bush invaded over seven years ago, the president on Tuesday night will deliver a high-profile address from the Oval Office. Speeches from the Oval Office are usually reserved for the most pressing and profound matters of a presidency. And this partial end of the Iraq war — the United States will still have 50,000 troops stationed there — is a significant event. It demonstrates that Obama has kept a serious campaign promise: to end this war.

But with the economy foundering — many of the recent stats are discouraging — most Americans are probably not yearning above all for a report on Iraq and likely will not be all that impressed with Obama’s promise-keeping on this front. The main issue remains jobs, especially as the congressional elections approach.

Summer is essentially done. It’s back-to-school and back-to-work time for many of us. But on Obama’s first days after his Martha Vineyard’s vacation, he’s devoting (at least in public) more time and energy to foreign policy matters than the flagging economy. Worried Democrats must be livid. (Most House Democrats are still campaigning in their districts and are not yet back in Washington to gripe about their president.)

Wars are the most significant stuff of a presidency. There’s not enough media attention devoted to the Afghanistan war. But politically there’s little or no payoff for an Iraq war address. Obama can’t brag, “Mission accomplished.” (In fact, on Monday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would not be using those words.) He can’t declare victory. He can only declare a murky end to a murky war. That’s not going to rally the Democrats’ base or win over independents. It was not mandatory for Obama to deliver such a high-profile speech. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Baghdad to commemorate this milestone. The administration has conducted other events regarding the end of combat operations. It’s been duly noted.

David Frum at FrumForum:

Just guessing, but here’s why:

The president’s biggest political problem is the disillusionment of his liberal voters. Contra Fox News, they do not see a liberal president doing liberal things. They see a consensus president rescuing Wall Street. The job situation remains dismal, the administration is deporting illegal immigrants, and where are the gays in the military?

What Obama needs to do between now and November is pound home the message: I have kept faith with my voters on their big concerns, healthcare and the Iraq war. Now those voters must keep faith with me.

Ronald Reagan could count on a cadre of conservatives to defend his actions against any and all critics. A friend once teased Bill Rusher, then publisher of National Review: “Whenever Reagan does something awful, you defend it on one of two grounds: either that Reagan had no choice, or that the full wisdom of his action will be disclosed to lesser mortals in God’s good time.” According to legend, Rusher answered, “May I point out that the two positions are not necessarily incompatible?”

Nobody seems willing to do for Obama what Rusher did for Reagan. So Obama must do the job himself. Tonight’s speech is part of that job. Message: I ended George Bush’s war. Vote Democratic.

The trouble is: This message seems unlikely to work in the way Democrats need. Obama’s speech is much more likely to alienate marginal voters than to galvanize alienated liberals, and for this reason:

Obama’s liberal voters will not abide any whiff of triumphalism in the president’s speech. For them, Iraq was at best a disaster, at worst a colonialist war crime. (Elsewhere on the Politics Daily site, David Corn’s colleague Jill Lawrence specifies what she’d like to hear the president say: “Never again.”)

But most Americans want and expect triumphs. “Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser.” So said George Patton on the eve of D-Day, and he was right. And if President Obama declines to declare himself a winner, guess what alternative remains? Exactly.

Democracy In America at The Economist:

8:20: All in all, a nice speech by Mr Obama, in my opinion. Hit most of the right notes.

8:19: Agreed, though “they are the steel in the ship of our state” was a little much.

8:19: Call me a shallow booster, but that part about troops coming home, from the predawn dark to the excerpt below, was great prose. Just beautiful. Very affecting.

8:18: “Who fought in a faraway place for people they never knew”—that’s some beautiful iambic hexameter right there.

8:18: This turned into a rather moving tribute to the troops.

8:17: The shift from the war-ending announcement to the nation-building task reminds me of the BP speech—from the disaster to a different energy future was a stretch too far.  A good speech makes one or two strong points, not lots.

8:17: Yep—there’s the money: a post 9/11 GI bill. He’s daring Republicans to challenge it.

8:17: Is that a subtle gauntlet—the reference to doing right by our veterans?

8:16: This is starting to feel a little platitudinous. Time to dangle Beau from the upstairs window.

8:15: By one estimate, America has spent about $750 billion on the Iraq war.

8:14: Blaming the deficits on the war? True up to a point, but …

8:14: Also very nicely done—not setting a timetable for Afghan withdrawal. That makes it his more than Iraq. Double-down.

8:13: “As we approach the tenth anniversary, there are those who are asking tough questions about our mission there.” And I’m not going to answer those questions. PUNT!

8:12: Can’t explain why but the Oval Office format doesn’t play to Mr Obama’s significant strengths as a communicator. Maybe those curtains…

8:12: Having said that, I enjoyed this comment from one of Kevin Drum’s readers: “The surge worked just like stitches work to close a wound after improperly handling a knife.”

8:11: Why not thank him for the surge? It was a courageous, albeit very late in coming, policy.

8:10: Very nicely done—the reach-out to GWB. He didn’t knuckle under and thank him for the surge (as well he shouldn’t), but it was a graceful acknowledgement.

8:09: “A belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization.” Don’t feed the neocons.

8:09: Odd no mention of Saddam. If the war achieved anything it was toppling a mass murdering dictator. But that would be giving too much credit to Bush.

8:08: This part (Iraqis are a proud people, only Iraqis can do this and that) has the feeling of a plea.

8:08: Nice wiggle room: when a representative government is in place, then they will have a strong partner in the United States (but until then…?)

8:07: Is that true: that Iraqi forces have “taken the fight to” al-Qaeda, and have weakened them?

8:07: Credible elections, yes, but how can the US get the warring politicos to form a credible government?

8:06: It’s quite a valedictory tone, considering there are 50,000 troops still there.

8:05: Praising the courage of the armed forces is understandable and even obligatory but also a wonderful way to dodge the question of the whether the war was worthwhile

8:03: “Ahem, these are the reasons I did not support this war.”

8:02: Have other presidents had so many family pictures behind them during Oval Office addresses? Nice touch.

8:01: On the question of whether Mr Obama will give Mr Bush credit: I think he should. But I also think Mr Obama’s Afghan strategy is the sincerest acknowledgment of the surge’s success.

8:00pm: And we begin.

Instapundit:

ABSOLUT VICTORY: STEPHEN GREEN IS Drunkblogging Obama’s Iraq Speech.

Bush got a mention, the troops got two mentions — but I haven’t hear thanks to either one. . . .

What the hell is this? Seriously. We were promised an update on Iraq. Instead we’re getting a defense of Obamanomics, which unlike the Surge (anyone?), has been a total failure.

Read the whole thing. And weep, or laugh, or something. Drink!

UPDATE: More from Prof. Jacobson.

And here’s the full text of Obama’s speech.

Allah Pundit:

8 p.m. ET across the dial. It’s billed as an Iraq speech, but that’s not really what it is. The “key part,” apparently, will be a renewed call to “take the fight directly to al Qaeda” by finishing the job in Afghanistan. (Wouldn’t taking the fight to AQ require operations in Pakistan, not Afghanistan?) It’s also being billed as a “mission unaccomplished” speech, as the White House is ever mindful after Bush of the pitfalls in celebrating too early. But that’s not really what this is either. Like it or not, by investing the end of combat ops with the grandeur of an Oval Office address, The One is necessarily signaling completion of the task. And why not? The public couldn’t be clearer as to how it feels about renewing combat operations if Iraqi security starts to fall apart. This is closure, for better or worse.

Because it is closure, and closure at a moment when things are ominously open-ended in Iraq, I admit to having no appetite today for the standard left/right recriminations about how much Bush screwed up or whether Obama should credit him for the surge. (I think he will acknowledge Bush tonight, for what it’s worth, mainly to signal that this is an occasion that transcends partisanship. But never underestimate the political instincts of the perpetual campaigner.) Instead, since we’re putting a bookend on history, I offer you this grim big-picture reminiscence by star NYT correspondent John Burns, who was on the ground over there until 2007. Today is a day that’s taken forever to arrive, he says, and yet it still seems to have arrived too soon.

Ann Althouse:

Obama on Iraq: Mission Accomplished.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

But most of all, the bulk of the speech had nothing to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan — it was a pep talk for his domestic agenda. This cements the sense that he simply wants out of messy foreign commitments. He also repeated a number of domestic policy canards. This was among the worst, blaming our debt on wars rather than on domestic fiscal gluttony: “We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform.”

He is arguing for more spending.

Obama is still candidate Obama, never tiring of reminding us that he kept his campaign pledge and ever eager to push aside foreign policy challenges so he can get on with the business of remaking America. All in all, it was what we were promised it would not be — self-serving, disingenuous, ungracious, and unreassuring.

UPDATE: COMMENTARY contributor Jonah Goldberg’s smart take is here.

UPDATE II: Charles Krauthammer’s reaction is here.

Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard:
President Obama opposed the war in Iraq. He still thinks it was a mistake. It’s therefore unrealistic for supporters of the war to expect the president to give the speech John McCain would have given, or to expect President Obama to put the war in the context we would put it in. He simply doesn’t believe the war in Iraq was a necessary part of a broader effort to fight terror, to change the Middle East, etc. Given that (erroneous) view of his, I thought his speech was on the whole commendable, and even at times impressive.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat

George Packer at The New Yorker

Scott Johnson at Powerline

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

Matt Welch at Reason

UPDATE #2: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

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The End?

Laura Rozen at Politico:

In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:

OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”

THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”

THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj

It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.

IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Grim at Blackfive:

4/2 SBCT rides out.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.

“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.

“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”

They are heroes.  The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time.  It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment.  That’s more or less what we should expect.  What comes next?  Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.

1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.

2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.

3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.

4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .

5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.

6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”

James Jay Carafano at The Corner:

In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.

The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.

Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.

This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.

Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.

Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.

John Negroponte at Foreign Policy:

Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.

In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.

But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.

Conn Carroll at Heritage

Max Boot at The Wall Street Journal:

Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.

Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.

Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.

Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.

The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.

The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.

It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.

Allah Pundit:

The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…

The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.

It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.

UPDATE: James Joyner

Andrew Berdy at Tom Ricks place at Foreign Policy

Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan’s place

UPDATE #2: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with another round-up

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Not Only Are The 1980s Over, Apparently The 2000s Ended Today As Well

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

In a speech to a disabled veterans’ group in Georgia today, U.S. President Barack Obama will draw attention to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Under the current withdrawal plan, which the president says is on track,  the American force will shrink to 50,000 troops by the end of August, down from 144,000. These remaining “advise and assist” troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.

“Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats,” Obama says in his prepared remarks.

Politically, the speech is likely an effort to draw attention to a largely unheralded success as criticism of the increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan mounts, particularly within his own party. The White House has pointed out that the total number of U.S. troops on the ground in both wars has declined from 177,000 when he took office to about 146,000 by the end of this month.

The U.S. military on Sunday refuted the Iraqi government’s claim that July was the deadliest month in the country since 2008. According to U.S. data, 222 people were killed in Iraqi violence last month, less than half the number claimed by Iraqi authorities.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Well, at least he didn’t announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq under a banner that said “Mission Accomplished.” He did it in front of the Disabled American Veterans, the most grave and sober audience imaginable. And appropriately so, after a war that should never have been fought, a war that by some estimates will cost $3 trillion before it’s done (including the health care services rendered to those represented by the DAV), a war whose casualties number in the 100s of thousands. The war in Iraq hasn’t been much in the news over the past year, but this is an important moment, a moment for  reflection, for humility in the face of a national disaster.

There is no “victory” in Iraq, nor will there be. There is something resembling stability, but that might not last, either. There is a semblance of democracy, but that may dissolve over time, or in the next few months, into a Shi’ite dictatorship–which, if not well-run, will yield to the near-inevitable military coup. Yes, Saddam is gone–and that is a good thing. The Kurds have a greater measure of independence and don’t have to live in fear of mass murder, which is a good thing, too. But Iran has been aggrandized. Its Iraqi allies, especially Muqtada Sadr’s populist movement, remain a force that will play a major role–arguably one more central than ours–in shaping the future of the country. This attempt by western neo-colonialists–that is, the Bush Administration–to construct an amenable Iraq will most likely end no better than previous western attempts have. Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation–the carnage and tragedy it wrought–will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own.

Lexington at The Economist:

What has America achieved by its intervention, if anything? Such is the continuing rancour about the decision to invade Iraq in the first place that it is almost impossible to debate this question dispassionately. The Economist was a strong supporter of the invasion (see here, for example), not because we thought Saddam Hussein had anything at all to do with 9/11 but because we were afraid that he was going to break out of the box that was built to contain him after the Gulf war of 1991, with hugely dangerous consequences for the region. But we were wrong about his WMD programmes. And we were terribly wrong about the human cost of the war. Had we foreseen that the country would collapse into such bloody mayhem after the invasion we would not have supported it.

All that said, where does Iraq stand now? Still a chaotic mess in most ways. The New York Times has an excellent, depressing story on how America and its allies have failed to provide something as simple and (especially in the scorching heat of Mesopotamia) vital as a decent supply of electricity for Baghdad since they took over the country the better part of a decade ago.

In politics, however, the picture is more mixed. Iraq has not yet replaced Saddam with another dictator, as many feared. And for the time being the country’s politics is not riven violently along sectarian lines. A largely peaceful election took place last spring with a high turnout but failed to produce a clear majority, and since then drift and stalemate have been the order of the day. The election showed that, contrary to what many experts say from afar, Arabs have no difficulty in understanding what democracy is all about and would like it for themselves. The subsequent stalemate shows why they do not get it: incumbent rulers cling leech-like to power no matter what wishes the people express at the ballot box.

The interesting question about this particular moment is: can America use its remaining military, political and economic heft in Iraq to jolt its politicians into heeding the wishes of Iraq’s voters? Should it even try? The prize is potentially huge: a peaceful election that actually succeeded in changing a government peacefully would be a signal achievement not just for Iraq but for the Arab world as a whole. The problem is that as America draws down its forces its ability to influence events diminishes, too. Besides, Iraq is supposedly sovereign now. So by what right can America meddle in its internal politics?

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:

The political impasse is worrying Iraqis. “Everything is stopped,” one told the Washington Post. “There’s no work, no jobs. People are waiting. People are just buying food and saving money because they are afraid the situation will get worse in the future — worse than in 2006 and 2007.” People also are bummed by the lack of electricity, especially in the brutal height of Iraq’s punishing summer. And someone keeps blowing up the houses of police officers in the Fallujah area.

President Obama is gonna talk today in a speech to vets in Atlanta about how all this is no longer gonna be our problem.

I wonder if we had done a census in Iraq in say 2005 if that would have settled some of the political issues that have led to Iraq’s impasse.

Greg Sargent:

* Anybody remember that promise to end the Iraq War? In a measure of how much things have changed since Obama took office, the president plans to deliver a big speech today underscoring that he’s making good on his pledge to pull out of Iraq — and it’s anybody’s guess whether it will have any meaningful political impact.

The White House is hoping that Obama’s delivery on such a major promise will, you know, matter a bit to people. Public anxiety over Iraq was powerful enough to help decide a presidential election less than two years ago. But now, amazingly, it’s unclear how powerful a motivator this will be even for Democratic base voters.

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What’s A Billion Here Or A Billion There Between Friends?

Max Fisher at The Atlantic rounds this up. Fisher:

The Pentagon cannot account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraq reconstruction money, according to an internal audit. The lost $8.7 billion, handled by the U.S. Department of Defense between 2004 and 2007 for reconstruction work, was raised from Iraqi oil revenues by that country’s government. Of that amount, the military has no records at all for $2.6 billion in funds. Here’s what obilservers have to say about the misplaced money.

Liz Sly at LA Times:

Though there is no apparent evidence of fraud, the improper accounting practices add to the pattern of mismanagement, reckless spending and, in some instances, corruption uncovered by the agency since 2004, when it was created to oversee the total of $53 billion in U.S. taxpayer money appropriated by Congress for the reconstruction effort.

“The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss,” notes the audit report, a copy of which was obtained Monday by the Los Angeles Times.

Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen, who heads the agency, said repeated investigations have shown that “weak oversight is directly correlated to increased numbers of cases of theft and abuse.”

In this instance, the audit focused on Iraqi revenue earmarked for reconstruction under a 2004 arrangement granting the Defense Department access to Iraq’s oil proceeds at a time when the country did not have a fully functioning government and was unable to undertake urgently needed projects. The revenue was deposited in a special account in New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq.

The report comes as Iraqis are increasingly frustrated with their own government’s inability to provide basic services, or to explain how tens of billions of dollars’ worth of oil revenue has been spent since 2007. The alleged U.S. mismanagement of Iraqi money is certain to revive grievances against the U.S. for failing to make a big dent in the country’s reconstruction needs despite massive expenditures.

Zaid Jilani at Think Progress:

SIGIR also notes that the “U.S. military continues to hold at least $34.3 million of the fund, even though it was required to return it to the Iraqi government in December 2007.” The “Department of Defense comptroller promised to report back to the inspector general’s office by November on progress made.”

Atrios:

Not especially shocked that no one has any idea what we did with all the money, but it does remind me of that multi-year period where it seemed that we invaded Iraq in order to free Iraqi schoolchildren from the tyranny of peeling paint.

Juan Cole:

The reason is that in the chaotic days after the fall of the Baath government and the collapse of the old economy, Paul Bremer & Co. attempted to jump-start the Iraq market economy by giving out large sums in brown paper bags with no questions asked. They did not understand that the Iraqi market had been killed by decades of government control and that no magic hand any longer existed, so they might as well have taken that money and buried it in the ground. (Actually some of it probably was buried, in back yards in Fairfax County, Va.)

The real problem, though, is not petty larceny but that no one can account for our whole country being gone in the aftermath of the 2003 illegal war– with a cancellation by John Roberts of our Bill of Rights, $2 trillion missing from the treasury for the wars and their related costs (at least), torture still permitted overseas, arbitrary no-fly punishments meted out to peaceful protesters, the entire Republican Party kidnapped and stealthily replaced with glaze-eyed Manchurian cultists, and habeas corpus permanently embezzled and bamboozled out of existence.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was wrong when he declared in 1840 that ‘property is theft.’

But I can offer a more solid and more consistently true aphorism: “War is theft.”

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