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I Have This Uneasy Feeling About Iraq

As many of you know, I love and admire President Barack Obama. What he has accomplished is truly remarkable. Not only did he get elected president but is also taken over the helm and truly rocky times. We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With escalating tensions in the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, the world is looking to us for leadership. Africa, South America and South Asia are in desperate poverty. Our polar ice caps are melting. Here at home, where in the middle of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression and our political atmosphere is truly toxic. Through all of this, our president has stood tall and managed to pull together coalitions to get significant legislation passed Congress. Yet, I have this uneasy feeling, nausea really, over Iraq.

Before we unwisely invaded Iraq, there was a balance of power in the Middle East. Iraq and Iran hate each other. They would truly like to annihilate each other but after fighting a fruitless war which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and there is no clear victor, they were content to scowl angrily at each other. The third point in the Middle East triangle was Israel. So when we swooped in and took out Saddam Hussein, we tipped the balance of power. It is really unclear how this will play out in the long run but for now, Iran seems to be the big winner.

Last week President Obama addressed the nation. He told us that combat operations in Iraq had been completed. Our troops were coming home. Cool. Let’s break out the champagne. Then, before I was able to get the refrigerator, our president stated, “a transitional force of US troops remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, supporting Iraqi troops and targeted counterterrorism missions and protecting our civilians.” What? Then, just for a moment, our president seemed to transform into President George W. Bush and talked about extremists, terrorists bombings and sectarian strife. We’re leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq to do the exact same job they’ve been doing for the last three years. I was flabbergasted. I began to feel like Fred Sanford, from Sanford and Son, and grabbed my chest.

As soon as President Barack Obama ended his speech with what I thought was an overly gracious tip of the hat to President George W. Bush, the Republicans, instead of being grateful, went on the attack. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner were two of the first to step up and criticize the president for not praising the surge and George W. Bush. Did we just enter the twilight zone? Did the conservatives say that the surge worked? To review, the surge had six key elements, these elements were unveiled to the American public by President George W. Bush, himself. Two of the six elements were to create space for political progress, diversify political and economic efforts. There has been no political progress over the last three years. None. Elections were held. No government was formed. The Sunnis, Shiites and the Kurdish Iraqis in the north continue to argue like school children. The surge did help decrease the sectarian violence but that was only one part of the plan (1 out of 6 is an F isn’t it). Iraqis were supposed to form a functional government. That has not happened. We were supposed to create the space for Iraqis to lead this simply hasn’t happened.

With Republicans giving each other high fives and congratulating themselves on the surge, I feel uneasy. With President Obama slipping into a George W. Bush type trance and telling us that combat missions have ended but they really haven’t, I feel uneasy. This may be my whole problem with the Middle East — my feeling of uncertainty. I’m not sure it’s clear who our friends are (with the exception of Israel) and I’m not sure who our enemies are. We are embracing the Iraqi people as our friends but does that include all of the Iraqi people including the Sunnis? I just feel that nobody has any good answers.

Prior to the Invasion of Iraq, America Was Like a Runaway Train

I will still submit that State of War: The Secret History of the CIA And the Bush Administration by James Risen is a great book, one that I’ve highly recommended. It is simply one of the best books I’ve read about the Bush administration in the last three or four years. I keep referring to that book over and over again. The book recounts a number of scenarios that the CIA tried prior to the invasion of Iraq in order to really delineate whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. One of those efforts focused on an anesthesiologist named Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad. Her brother was a nuclear weapons scientist who worked on weapons of mass destruction for Saddam Hussein. The CIA actually flew her to Baghdad in September 2002. She spoke with her brother in person and on the telephone. He told her in no uncertain terms that there was no nuclear program. In all, the CIA flew more than 30 people to Iraq in order to meet with their family members. All of them came back with the same information, that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

It appears that the intelligence community actually did their jobs. They actually tried to find out the answer. There was no failure of intelligence but a failure of leadership.

From across the pond, Britain’s own MI6 had a meeting with the head of Iraqi intelligence prior to our invasion. Michael Shipster, of MI6, met with the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, who gave the British everything that they needed to know. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was worried about his image in the region. He was also worried about Iran and other competitors in the region. All of this information was immediately passed to the White House. All of this is recounted in Ron Suskind’s book, The Way of the World.
So, the White House “knew” that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion. They had information from multiple sources which stated that Saddam Hussein was not reconstituting a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons program. Yet we still went to war. Why? Don’t President Bush and Vice President Cheney need to answer this question in front of the American people? With over 4300 Americans dead, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney have to say something to us and to the families of those who have died beause of these actions?
Update from Political Animal:
Fester at Newhoggers links to a set of right-wing bloggers’ predictions for 2003. It’s pretty stunning. For instance:

If we go into Iraq, how many casualties do you expect to see (on the side of the US and our allies)
John Hawkins: “Probably 300 or less”
Charles Johnson:”Very few”
Henry Hanks: “Less than 200”
Laurence Simon: “A Few hundred”
Rachael Lucas: “Less than three thousand”
Scott Ott: “Dozens”
Glenn Reynolds: “Fewer than 100”
Tim Blair: “Below 50”
Ken Layne: “a few hundred”
Steven Den Beste: “50-150”

More from another pre-war interview with Tim Blair:

“John Hawkins: If and when do you see the United States hitting Iraq? How do you think it’ll work out?
Tim Blair: It all depends on Iraqi’s fearsome Elite Republican Guard. Why, those feisty desert warriors could hold out for minutes. Dozens of US troops will be required. Perhaps they’ll even need their weapons.”

Today show: McCain states that Obama doesn’t understand Iraq

I do not need to go to Iraq to understand that Kurds, Sunnis and Shia don’t like sharing the region. Just as you don’t have to go to Watts (Los Angeles) to know that it is an extremely dangerous neighborhood. I also don’t need to go to Iraq to understand that it was a mistake to invade that country in the first place. So, I really don’t follow John McCain’s reasoning. He has been arguing for months that Obama has to go to Iraq to understand the situation. Briefings and newspaper reports are worthless in John McCain’s world.
So, Barack Obama goes to Iraq and Afghanistan. It appears that Senator Obama does know what he is talking about after all. Maliki has clearly stated that the position of the Iraqi government is to have US troops out of their country by 2010. Wow. 2010. That sounds a lot like what Barack Obama has said. John McCain is now stuck. He has taken Bush’s position which never made any sense to anyone who wasn’t an insecure neocon.

From HuffPost: “Prime Minister Maliki is the leader of a country and I’m confident he will act as the President and the Foreign Minister both told me in the last several days,” said the presumptive Republican nominee. “It will be directly related to the situation on the ground — just as they have always said. And since we are succeeding, I am convinced, as I have said before, we will withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable.”

McCain has only a couple of positions as I see it –
1) He can state that the Iraqis really don’t know what’s going on. The US, like a protective mother, knows best. I just don’t see this going over with anybody.
2) McCain can try and play this with a little body-English and say that the US wants to withdraw as soon as possible. We agree that the end of 2010 is a goal if conditions on the ground support that goal. This is somewhat transparent but it may be the best option that McCain has.
3) Senator McCain can pressure Admiral Mullen and General David Petraeus to say that conditions on the ground have improved enough to push a complete and total withdraw by the end of 2010. This is almost laughable since Petraeus hasn’t come close to saying anything like this but it may have merit since McCain and Bush have held up Petraeus as all knowledgeable.
Actually, all 3 of those positions are very lame but that is the best that John McCain can do. He has painted himself into this corner. It is hard to see any easy way out.
Watch John McCain struggle through this interview on Iraq policy on the Today Show.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22425001/vp/25779945#25779945

Obama: Consistent on Iraq

Sen. Barack Obama’s position on Iraq is that:
1) Unlike Sen. John McCain’s position, we cannot have permanent military bases be the policy objective in Iraq.
2) Instead, we should gradually withdraw our combat forces over a 16-month period, with a temporary residual force remaining for an unspecified time.
3) The specifics of the withdrawal could be adjusted based on the counsel of military commanders on the ground.
None of this is new. Obama explained all this during the primary season.
I lamented about it at the time, when in a September 2007 debate, neither Obama or John Edwards took the opportunity to criticize Sen. Hillary Clinton’s rejection of a pledge to fully withdraw by Jan. 2013.
Obama specifically said during that debate:

I think it’s hard to project four years from now, and I think it would be irresponsible. We don’t know what contingency will be out there … I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013, but I don’t want to make promises not knowing what the situation’s going to be three or four years out.

More broadly, Obama said on CBS’ 60 Minutes in February 2008:

STEVE KROFT: And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?
OBAMA: No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation.

Here’s the video from that interview:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H47o8n5GJ0&hl=en&fs=1]
It’s a pretty basic approach. You allow yourself the ability to adjust tactics as circumstances change, while making clear what your principles and overarching objectives are.
Of course, that leaves the opportunity to indefinitely delay the end of the occupation. And maybe you have misgivings about the nuance of that position. I do.
But my misgivings are sufficiently mitigated by his clear and repeated rejection of permanent military bases as a policy goal.
And if other voters had more serious misgivings, they had other options in Gov. Bill Richardson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
The positions of the candidates were well aired, fully debated, allowing voters to make an informed decision.
Obviously, not nearly enough did to deny Obama the nomination.
Which is why it’s silly that pundits are:

1) trying to claim Obama has shifted his position

2)
predicting or fretting that Obama will shift his position, when his current position already has flexibility in regard to tactics, or
3) predicting liberal base voters will freak out at Obama shifting his position, when his position already wasn’t the preferred position of some liberals, and he already won the nomination with the help of liberals.

Oh Yes, They Lied

Next time you’re arguing with a conservative whether the Bush administration lied about the intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, or whether it innocently had the same faulty intelligence from the prior administration and every other allied country, after the new Senate Intelligence Committee report you can say: they lied.
From MSNBC’s Countdown interview with former Bush & Clinton counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke:

OLBERMANN: I use the word lie. The [Senate] report does not use the word lie. Are there lies?
CLARKE: There certainly are and this is a big report. What it says is statements by the president were not substantiated by intelligence. And then it stays statements by the president were contradicted by available intelligence. In other words, they made things up. And they made them up and gave them to Colin Powell and others who believed them.
I think Colin Powell did not know he was lying, but he was. He was given intelligence that people in the intelligence community at the time knew were not true. This is not a case of 20/20 hindsight. This is a case of what was available then.
The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was read by seven senators before they voted to go to war. And one was the chairman of the intelligence committee, Bob Graham, who read it and went to the floor of the Senate and said, I read it. I’m chairman of the Intelligence Committee. It’s not persuasive. There’s not a good case here for this war.
So people had the opportunity at the time, if they were reading the intelligence that was available to them. And to say that this is only something that we could have known years later, it’s just not true.
OLBERMANN: We knew about Senator Graham’s doubts. We already knew about the dissident intel agencies, the doubts about the aluminum tubes were instantaneous, the doubts about the clandestine meetings in Germany that never happened. What are we to make now, in the light of the political realities of today, of Senator McCain’s undiminished enthusiasm for and defense of war, and specifically this remarkable claim that every intel assessment of the time was screaming WMD?
CLARKE: Senator McCain’s statements are contradicted by the facts too, the facts in a Senate report, the facts that Republican senators voted for. He is a big proponent of the war but he is also now justifying the intelligence claims of the president, which now we have the evidence, we have the proof, four years too late, that those statements were flat-out wrong. And these weren’t close calls. They made things up.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22425001/vp/24994797#24994797

McCain Joins Larry Craig In Saying: Iraq War Is For Oil

Yesterday, McCain basically admitted we’re in Iraq for oil:

My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will – that will then prevent us – that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.

Obviously, if it will prevent conflict “again,” it means we did it before. McCain is now trying to claim he meant the 1991 war in Iraq, not the present occupation.
That doesn’t pass the laugh test. And of course, McCain voted for that one too.)
Further, McCain is not the first Republican to make the admission. As noted here last year, good ‘ol Sen. Larry Craig made it quite plain:

…what happens when 54 percent of the world’s oil supply goes to risk with a collapse of the region. And this is a reality check that we only talk about in hushed terms, because we don’t like to talk about our dependency on a part of the world that is so unstable.

We are not leaving Iraq

(I wrote about a 11 months ago. With General Petraeus on the Hill and President Bush in front of the cameras I that it would be important to remember the central point of all of this.) Condoleezza Rice basically tells Charlie Rose that we are not leaving Iraq. Period.
My 2 cents –
Okay, just stop it. I’m so tired of talking points. Both sides have ’em. On one side, we have, “we can’t have politicians telling the generals in the field what to do.” Well, our Constitution has been set up in such a way that politicians tell generals what to do. On the other side, “the American people have spoken and have put us in charge to end the war.” Well, that is sort of true. If the American people unanimously wanted the war to end, then the Democrats would govern with 70 or 80% of the seats in both chambers.
There are a few things that are clear. First, the opinion of the American people has been slowly changing over the last two to three years. We’ve lost faith in the purpose and the execution of the Iraq war. In December 2003 (Quinnipiac University Poll), 46% of Americans thought that President Bush was handling the war in Iraq well. Over the years the percentage of Americans who supported the war and supported President Bush’s handling of the war has declined. In an April 25, 2007 poll from the same researchers, President Bush had an approval rating of only 31% on his handling of the war in Iraq. A new CNN poll (May 4-6, 2007) reveals that 57% of Americans believe that Congress should send the president another bill with funding and timetables.
Let’s skip over the “whether we should have gone to Iraq or not” discussion. Unfortunately, that is never a discussion. It begins with a group of talking points and usually goes downhill from there. Instead, let’s look at the situation on the ground. Here’s what we know – the violence in Baghdad appears to be decreasing. Violence outside of Baghdad appears to be increasing. Politicians, in Iraq, have aligned themselves with various factions and militias. Many of the same politicians, that support the American effort during the day, are supporting militias at night. Dismantling militias will be a long and tedious process. It will require the help and the support of the average Iraqi citizen.

How do we win the hearts and minds of the average Iraqi citizen? Well, that’s easy. We need to provide jobs. We need to provide security. That’s the problem. In order to rebuild infrastructure and provide security we need more troops. We need more than the 20 or 30,000 troops that are included in the Surge. (There is clearly a difference between strategy and tactics. The Surge is a tactic. Our strategy has remained the same. Our strategy has been to go house to house and to find the insurgents and capture or kill them.) Military experts have estimated that we would need between 350,000 and 500,000 troops to complete this task.

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice gave us a little glimpse into the future while doing an interview for the Charlie Rose show, earlier this week. He asked a series of questions which are really summed up, in saying, what happens if there is no change in Iraq and six or 12 months, then what? Dr. Rice’s answer was chilling for those who believe we need to bring our troops home now. Dr. Rice said, “We are not looking to leave Iraq. That is not why this president went into Iraq…. We are not going to leave Iraq that is not capable of defending itself.”

Lt. General David Petraeus
wrote the book on counterinsurgency. Defeating a insurgency is a long and protracted strategy. There are no shortcuts. There are no quick fixes. You must win the hearts and minds of the civilians. You must choke off the supply of new recruits by providing better opportunities for the civilians. It takes somewhere between seven and 10 years to adequately suppress an insurgency. Does the American public want to continue another five to seven years of combat in Iraq?
This is really the question. The question isn’t do we want to win. The question isn’t do we want the troops to come home. Instead, the question is do we want another five to seven years of combat in Iraq? Do we want to spend $1 – $2 trillion in Iraq?
Finally, what happens if we leave Iraq right now? We don’t know. Nobody knows. There are way too many factors to be able to adequately guess what the outcome will be. Saudi Arabia has promised to support their Sunni brothers. Iran is already meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq. One can easily assume that they would support their Shiite brothers with more weapons and more material. Jordan and Turkey could be pulled into the battle depending upon the numbers of refugees pouring across the border. Syria. It is hard to see how Syria can stay out of the battle. On the other hand, one can easily imagine a scenario in which all of Iraq’s neighbors get together to prevent total chaos from breaking out in Iraq. It would be in Iraq’s neighbors’ best interest to help Iraq find a political solution. With the help of the European Union, Russia, Japan and China, the United States could force a political solution. It may not be the political solution that the United States wants but it would be peace. In my humble opinion, this is the only way out. Super majorities in both houses of Congress will need to force this scenario or we the American people will be paying at least another trillion dollars and watching hundreds if not thousands of our fellow Americans being killed or maimed in the struggle.
Video here.

The 100 Years Follies

Typically, I save my Iraq blogging for LiberalOasis, but this week I have a number of Iraq posts over at the Campaign for America’s Future blog. Just in case you missed them, here they are:
Would You Close Your School To Pay For Iraq?
Petraeus and Crocker (Inadvertently?) Make The Case for Iranian Diplomacy
Occupying Iraq Is Just Like Occupying … Alabama?

Pushing Back on the “100 Years” Pushback

Conservatives are stepping up the pressure on the traditional media to call Sen. Barack Obama a liar, because he is mentioning Sen. John McCain’s explicit support for a 100-year military presence in Iraq.
I previously laid out what I consider the best way to discuss the “100 Years” remark going forward. And it appears the Obama campaign is going in that direction, engaging in a broader foreign policy debate whether or not we should support the conservative foreign policy goal of installing permanent military bases in Iraq.
But allow me to add one more element to the mix. This is from my recent Bloggingheads.tv appearance with Conn Carroll of the Heritage Foundation. (Our “100 Years” discussion starts about 10 minutes in):

BS: Is it a lie and a distortion when John McCain says that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to “surrender” in Iraq?
CC: No.
BS: Why? Have they openly said, “I would like to surrender in Iraq today”? Is that what they say?
CC: Well, there’s no one to surrender to.
BS: Exactly.
CC: But, saying you’re going to — well, we can get into the details of that in a bit — but saying you’re automatically, no matter what happens in 2009, going to start bringing a brigade home every month, definitely signals that whatever enemies we do have in Iraq have succeeded in getting us out of there on their terms.
BS: That is McCain’s interpretation and characterization of what that policy would be. It is not Obama’s or Clinton’s interpretation.
Just as McCain would say, “I think we can have a 100-year permanent military presence that would just be hunky-dory,” the Democratic, liberal interpretation of that is: that is effectively going to bring you a 100-year war.

McCain and his conservative brethren want a double standard — where they can characterize Democratic positions in any way they choose, but whine up a storm when their policy views are held up to the light for scrutiny.
RedState is calling for its readers to complain to specific reporters and pundits about “examples of inaccurate or incomplete reporting.” Funny thing is, their list only shows accurate descriptions of McCain’s comments: offering a “100-year occupation,” to “keep tens of thousands of United States Troops in Iraq for as long as 100 years,” and “I wouldn’t want to have to defend [a] 100-year occupation in Iraq, even if it was reportedly to be peaceful.”
Here’s the RedState reporters list. Contact them to say, you got it just right.
LA Times:
Maeve Reston: maeve.reston@latimes.com; 213-237-5000
Peter Nicholas: peter.nicholas@latimes.com; 213-237-5000
Chicago Tribune:
Mike Dorning: MDorning@tribune.com; 202-824-8223
Rick Pearson: RAP30@aol.com; 312-222-4271
Editor: George De Lama: gdelama@tribune.com; 312-222-2408
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Timothy McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1581
James O’Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1562
City Desk Editor: Tom Birdsong: tbirdsong@post-gazette.com; 412-263-3068
Editorial Writer: Susan Mannella: smannella@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1448
Editorial Page Editor: Tom Waseleski: twaseleski@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1669
Boston Globe:
Op-Ed Page Editor: Renee Loth: loth@globe.com; 617-929-3035
MSNBC’s Hardball:
Central feedback receptacle: letters@msnbc.com

Permanent Bases: Front and Center

I think I’ve been waiting five years to see permanent bases put front and center in the national debate.
From MSNBC’s Hardball interview of Sen. Obama:

…John McCain got upset, I think, today, apparently, because I had repeated exactly what he said, which is that we might be there for a hundred years, if he had his way.
Now, he’s now arguing, Well, I didn’t mean that we would be fighting a war for a hundred years, we might just be present.
What he is talking about is having a permanent occupation and permanent bases inside of Iraq.
We are spending right now $10 billion to $12 billion a month inside of Iraq. That’s that’s money that could be spent giving college scholarships to all these young people. It’s money that could be spent getting jobs here in America, rebuilding our infrastructure, as I’ve proposed.
But more importantly, it would mean a sustained presence at a time when we should be focused on finishing the war that needs to be won against al-Qaeda in their home bases in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan, where we know that they are planning to attack U.S. targets.

Keep trying to defend “100 Years,” McCainiacs. You’ll get that serious foreign policy debate you’ve been craving, but you won’t like how it turns out.
Video below.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22425001/vp/23924547#23924547

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