Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Better than Impeachment!

Branding Bush as the Defeat Chimp before he leaves the White House!

Few themes have I pounded on in these pages more than the idea that we are and have been in occupation mode in Iraq. We 'won' the war - Gulf War II - when Bush launched his unprovoked and unnecessary invasion of Iraq and toppled its dictator, Saddam Hussein. But then Bush elected to stay in Iraq, following our successful blitzkrieg, following the conclusion of major military operations, which Bush called 'shockandawe'; and we even stayed after the capture and killing of Hussein and sons. Nevertheless, we have persisted in calling our presence in Iraq, a war.

I understand why Bush wants to prolong the myth of the 'Iraq war': he has always lusted after the mantels worn by Churchill and Roosevelt. Bush is a wannabe war-time leader. It simply won't do for him just to preside over an occupation. He needs a vanity war. Perpetuating this myth of being a war-time president, allows him to pretend that he is pursuing "Victory". Everyone understands this fraudulent spell which he has been able to cobble together and cast upon the nation. What's more difficult for me to understand is why the loyal opposition, including much of the Democratic Party and even some of my closest blogging friends, have swallowed this toxic fiction.

It is a fatal attraction, this attachment that Americans have to waging wars. We have a war on illiteracy; a war on crime; a war on drugs; a war on poverty; a cultural war; a war on Christmas; even a War of Words. Whenever we are faced with a challenge in which failure is unthinkable, we have to dub it a war. Thus, it's not an accident that we use a three-letter, mono-syllabic word to describe our Iraqi misadventure; it is by design. Bush wants his war because he knows Americans do not like to settle for anything other than victory.

By chance this past weekend I hit upon C-SPAN2's BookTV interview of Jonathan Steele. He is the author of
Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq. During the interview, he pimped his recent column on the Huffington Post which made me think I've been pushing and pulling a Sisyphean load up the wrong mountain.

I've always argued that, unlike wars, you can't win or lose in occupations: you can only end them. Not so, Steele argues. Bush has overcome all the odds and managed to lose an occupation. Moreover, he argues, the Democrats need to brand Bush with that defeat while he is still in office.

Below, I have excerpted (and tuned up!) the conclusion of Steele's essay, Why the Democrats Should Use the "Defeat" Word now!

Better therefore to get the "defeat" word on the table now, in 2008. Make a pre-emptive strike this year, while the Republicans still control the White House. They are the ones who took the U.S. into a doomed occupation of Iraq. They are the people who deserve to take the blame.

Defeat is a powerful word, and no country or person likes to use it. Even to mention it invites the charge of being unpatriotic. So it is no accident that in Washington, critics of the war occupation prefer the F-words -- failure, fiasco, and folly. But the decision to stay in Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein was worse than that. It was bound to lead to defeat. The U.S. did not lose on the battlefield, but every political goal that the Bush administration set for itself has been thwarted. So the verdict on the U.S. adventure has to be "military stalemate, political defeat."
  1. Bush sought to justify the occupation as a vital element in the war on terror. Yet al Qaeda is now implanted in Iraq where it never was before, and thousands of new jihadi recruits are getting valuable training and experience in provoking death and destruction. That is Defeat number one.

  2. Bush wanted to mount a demonstration of overwhelming U.S. power in the region so as to reduce Iran's influence. Instead, he put U.S. troops into a quagmire that has already cost 4,000 4,101 lives and helped to install a Shia Islamist government in Baghdad that has close links to Tehran. That is Defeat number two.

  3. Bush and the neo-cons wanted to turn Iraq into a secular pro-Western democracy that would be a model for other Arab states. Iraq has become a humanitarian catastrophe that no sane nation or people would wish to copy. Defeat number three.

  4. Finally, by toppling Saddam Hussein Bush hoped to enhance the feelings of sympathy, respect, and solidarity which many people around the world expressed for the United States after 9/11. Instead, by occupying Iraq and denying it genuine sovereignty, he has undermined America's image and reputation, not just in the Middle East but in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Defeat number four.
The Republicans should not be allowed to escape the blame. It is not the U.S. forces and the American people who have been defeated, though they have had to bear the costs of Bush's disastrous decisions. As the country's official opposition, the Democrats should have the political courage to use the D-word and pin on it on those who led the country into political defeat.

The Democrats control both Houses of Congress. Why don't the chairpeople of the relevant committees call hearings this spring and fall to call administration officials to account for what has gone wrong? Label the hearings "The Lessons of Defeat" or "The Reasons for Defeat", and get Bush's past and present people -- the Wolfowitzes, the Feiths, the Rumsfelds, the Cards, the Roves, and all the others -- to explain why they did no analysis of the political consequences within Iraq and the region of occupying the country.
  • Did any official prepare pre-war option papers that assessed the Iraqi mood, or were the assurances from Cheney and Wolfowitz that the troops would be met with flowers simply propaganda?

  • Why did the intelligence community not recognize the strength of political Islam in Iraq, or foresee that the forces that would inherit the post-Saddam vacuum would not be the secular pro-Western exiles who paraded through Washington before the war?

  • Why did Bush's advisers not realize that jihadi militants would flood Iraq if the United States stayed too long?

  • How could Bush imagine that the U.S. and Britain -- the two countries with the longest recent history of intervention in the Middle East and the Gulf -- could send troops to occupy an Arab country on an open-ended basis and not meet Iraqi suspicion, resentment, and opposition?
Blunders made by the Coalition Provisional Authority -- disbanding the Iraqi army, dissolving the Baath party, failing to stop the looting -- are not the main problem. The very concept of occupation was doomed. Once Saddam was toppled, Iraqis should have been given control of their own country.

Of course the Democrats are divided on Iraq .... Some support Obama. Some think the "surge" is working. Others doubt it. But the best way to forge party unity is to hold hearings on the recent past. Otherwise Bush may get away with his absurd claims of looming victory.

Holding such hearings would also help to focus the presidential campaign on Iraq as an issue. After five years of war it seems absurd to think the Republicans can mount a better case than those who want to end it. Can a candidate who suggests keeping US troops in Iraq for another hundred years (with 4,000 dead in the last five years, that means condemning another 80,000 to death over a century) and who thinks Iran is training al Qaeda really convince Americans he understands security issues? Iraq is the Republicans' weakest link. Are the Democrats really unable to exploit it? Iraq needs to be at the center of the Democrats' campaign. Holding Congressional hearings over a series of weeks is the best way to lift the Iraq debate above the level of sound bites, and keep the public spotlight on what went wrong, and why.

Some American analysts to whom I have been making this case in Washington in recent days say the strategy may be too risky in domestic political terms because defeat is such an explosive concept. Yet they also concede that the Republicans will have no compunction about using the D-word if the Democrats regain the White House. On balance, therefore, it looks best to seize the moment now. In 2009, for the Republicans to accuse the Democrats of defeat in Iraq would be pure political spin. In 2008, for the Democrats to accuse the Republicans of defeat is a charge that carries the weight of irrefutable evidence. The fingerprints on the Iraq disaster belong to Bush and those who worked with him.

Sounds like a fucking good idea to me! Barry and Wesley, are you listening?