Just Jihad: October 2006: Archives

October 25, 2006

Iraq: We Made A Mess...Now What Do We Do? genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Dose of truth

If one strung together the Bush administration's explanations of why we needed to invade Iraq, the list would be quite lengthy and ever changing over time...but as it looks more and more like the U.S. is preparing to hand the reigns back to the struggling Iraqi government, I can't help but think of the oft heard expression, "The road to ruin is paved with good intentions". A new article in the Washington Post discusses the growing indications that the Bush administration is in the process of testing the rhetoric for an eventual withdrawal from Iraq that will include the ability for the President and his neocon cohorts to wash their hands of any unfavorable outcome.

It's been coming for a long time: the idea that fixing Iraq is the Iraqis' problem, not ours -- that we've done all we can and now it's up to them.

Such arguments have been latent in the Bush administration's Iraq strategy and explicit in Democratic critiques of that strategy for some time. Now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has declared: "It's their country. . . . They're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later."

The implication of these arguments is clear: The United States should prepare to leave Iraq, after which the Iraqis will work out their own troubles -- or they won't. In any event, we can no longer help them. This notion is wrong and morally contemptible, and it endangers American security around the world.

One of the prevailing problems with issues that are politically charged and that are allowed to linger and languish amidst an abundance of partisan rhetoric, is that the need for actual solutions often gets lost in the scuffle. Iraq is fast becoming a casualty of this phenomenon. Almost from the outset, the Bush administration has been forced to play defense as little of the intelligence employed and fewer of the assurances made have proven to be accurate.

While it may not be completely fair to say what I'm about to say, it merits discussion regardless. There is a line in the movie The Color Purple that speaks to bad decisions and the consequences of inappropriate actions that seems applicable to the failures in Iraq...failures that were exacerbated by intransigence and what appears to have been an initial effort to distort the realities in order to facilitate the invasion. I believe the line was uttered by Oprah Winfrey to the man that had made her life a living hell and it went something close to this, "No good will come to you until you do right by me". Our actions in Iraq may well be similarly viewed by those historians who attempt to unravel the quagmire in the Middle East our President so nobly coined as "freedom is on the march" in his bold effort to export democracy.

The current crisis in Iraq is no more just an Iraqi problem than it has ever been. The U.S. military destroyed Iraq's government and all institutions able to keep civil order. It designated itself an "occupying force," thereby accepting the responsibility to restore and maintain such order. And yet U.S. Central Command never actually made establishing order and security a priority. Its commander throughout the insurgency, Gen. John Abizaid, has instead repeatedly declared that America's role is primarily to train Iraqi forces to put down their own rebellion and maintain order.

By allowing violence and disorder to spread throughout the country, the Bush administration has broken faith with the Iraqi people and ignored its responsibilities. It has placed U.S. security in jeopardy by creating the preconditions for the sort of terrorist safe haven the president repeatedly warns about and by demonstrating that no ally can rely on America to be there when it counts.

To this point, I am in full agreement with the analysis offered in this thoughtful article. Further, I accept that the United States has an obligation to bring some resolution to the situation but how that is best achieved remains fully open to debate and wholly subject to doubt. My own moral compass could accept any solution that actually proved to be a solution...even sending more troops if it could be reasonably determined that doing so would solve the problem. Conversely, I could also accept a time-defined redeployment if that would solve the problem. With that said, I struggle to imagine any alternative that can succeed in sustaining order if and when it might be restored...because none of the solutions have the capacity to quickly change the hearts and minds of the Iraqi's and those who stand to benefit from further chaos.

It’s important to understand and define the environment we're in…and it’s not simply a military endeavor nor was it ever reasonable to believe as much. A review of our prior foray into Iraq under the first President Bush makes that clear. It’s also important to sort out the partisan rhetoric that has poisoned the pursuit of the truths we need to acknowledge. During past elections it served the GOP to hold fast to the military solution...and they benefited from attaching Iraq to the war on terror.

At the same time, they succeeded in undermining those who suggested the war on terror would be better executed with improved intelligence efforts and more consistent with a law enforcement template...coupled with aggressive efforts to change the dynamics that were fomenting extremist ideologies. Those efforts include a focused push to resolve the Palestinian situation as well as political, economic and diplomatic pressure and measures to begin the difficult task of bridging the cultural and religious differences that have served to germinate more extremists and therefore more terrorists.

Clearly, the GOP succeeded in portraying those efforts as insufficient. It worked because Americans wanted the threat of terror removed and they wanted it immediately...and what better than a military invasion to demonstrate their demands have been heard. Giving voters cathartic relief kept the GOP in power but failed miserably to combat the complexities presented by growing extremism and terrorism directed at Western Civilization. The reality is that our invasion of Iraq simply added to the complexity...something we are now witnessing with the current conundrum and that has returned as an albatross around the collective neck of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. They succumbed to voter baiting and now they don't know what to do with the aggrieved and angry masses...or how to undo the mess that is now Iraq.

Americans believe that all problems are soluble and therefore that people who aren't solving their problems must not be trying. They need to be "incentivized," either through promises or threats. Many on the left have long been advocating a withdrawal of U.S. forces, or the threat of it, as just such an incentive for the Iraqis. But what if even then Iraqis cannot accomplish the goals we have set for them? Can we then declare that, by establishing the Iraqi army and helping Iraq elect and establish its government, we have done all that honor requires?

No, we can't. Both honor and our vital national interest require establishing conditions in Iraq that will allow the government to consolidate and maintain civil peace and good governance. It doesn't matter how many "trained and ready" Iraqi soldiers there are, nor how many provinces are nominally under Iraqi control. If America withdraws its forces before setting the conditions for the success of the Iraqi government, we will have failed in our mission and been defeated in the eyes of our enemies. We will have dishonored ourselves.

Those who have criticized the administration for failing to send enough troops to fight the war, failing to plan adequately for the postwar crisis and failing to react properly when it came are right. But Democrats should not be so quick to embrace these attacks unless they are willing to accept the corollary: Just because Bush did the wrong thing in 2003 doesn't mean that we can do the wrong thing now.

I understand the argument being made by the author but it is unfortunately another attempt to accumulate political points from a seemingly unwinnable conflict. I hate to be the purveyor of bad news...but that's all that is available at the moment and the sooner someone decides to admit as much to the American public, the sooner we can focus on real solutions and cease the partisan wrangling that serve the few and hoodwink the many.

I'm reminded of another line from a movie...the one where Jack Nicholson forces a poignant acknowledgment when he answers his adversaries demand for answers and the truth by saying, "You can't handle the truth!" Iraq and the war on terror will remain an American problem in need of a solution on November 7th and on November 8th. In a country addicted to instant gratification where politicians are all too happy to accommodate, I'm afraid Nicholson's observation may be spot on.

more consistent wi

Daniel DiRito | October 25, 2006 | 12:19 PM | link | Comments (1)
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October 24, 2006

Stay The Course? Only If It Wins Elections genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Flip flopping

With barely two weeks until the midterm election, the Bush administration seems to believe that they need a new message on the war in Iraq. The Washington Post has an article that discusses the GOP attempts to nuance the issue and the adjusted rhetoric. Call me a skeptic, but nuance has never been part of this President’s equation…which leads me to conclude that the house of cards is in peril.

President Bush and his aides are annoyed that people keep misinterpreting his Iraq policy as "stay the course." A complete distortion, they say. "That is not a stay-the-course policy," White House press secretary Tony Snow declared yesterday.

Where would anyone have gotten that idea? Well, maybe from Bush.

"We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed," he said in Salt Lake City in August.

"We will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course," he said in Milwaukee in July.

"I saw people wondering whether the United States would have the nerve to stay the course and help them succeed," he said after returning from Baghdad in June.

But the White House is cutting and running from "stay the course." A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned "stay the course" into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that "stay the course" does not actually mean stay the course.

Snow said Bush dropped the phrase "because it left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, 'Well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,' when, in fact, it's just the opposite."

Republican strategists were glad to see him reject the language, if not the policy. "They're acknowledging that it's not sending the message they want to send," said Steve Hinkson, political director at Luntz Research Cos., a GOP public opinion firm. The phrase suggested "burying your head in the sand," Hinkson said, adding that it was no longer useful signaling determination. "The problem is that as the number of people who agree with remaining resolute dwindles, that sort of language doesn't strike a chord as much as it once did."

My own experience tells me that people who stand on principle rarely feel the need to tell you they do so...their actions are sufficient. Conversely, it seems to me that those who routinely talk about their principles like a badge of honor are often the first to abandon those principles when it becomes expedient. The difference between these two extremes is obvious. People of integrity and sincerity have the quiet confidence that comes with both and those who lack either need to frequently assert that they possess both because deep down they know that both are absent. To express the concept another way, there are those who know they can lead and there are those who know they want to lead.

For the bulk of the time we have spent fighting the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has held fast to its original strategy...asserting that they were committed to completing the mission even in the face of criticism and growing voter dissatisfaction. Many times the President has acknowledged that the war was unpopular but went out of his way to assert that leaders cannot be concerned about polls when faced with issues of principle. Further, this administration has made a habit of characterizing those who expressed concerns that the strategy was flawed as unpatriotic and weak on issues of defense and national security.

Since the initiation of the war effort in 2003, numerous military officials, who served in the conflict and subsequently retired or were forced to retire, have voiced doubts about the military plan of action. In most instances, their remarks have also been met with criticism and there has been a concerted effort to discredit their observations. To their credit, the Bush administration was able to succeed in connecting the war in Iraq with the war on terror which allowed them to hold voter doubts at bay. This was achieved by reminding voters of the President’s resolve following 9/11 and the need for continued diligence in preventing another terrorist attack...the fear factor. The 2002 and 2004 elections provide the evidence of that success.

Fortunately, time has a way of forcing truth to the surface and it now appears that the Bush administration has reached its day of reckoning. For the bulk of this year, the GOP has waged a relentless attack on Democrats...all the while convinced that they had the votes they needed to succeed in November...a virtual rerun requiring little more than the roll out of their battle tested rhetoric. Unfortunately for the GOP, during this same time frame voter doubt grew as casualties mounted, sectarian violence became civil war, assurances that the end of conflict was in sight were wrong, and, lastly, the assertions that the opposition was in its last throes proved inaccurate. Additionally, the purple fingers of democracy served little more than symbolism as the Iraqi's almost immediately reverted to long held tribal alliances, cultural values, and religious beliefs.

With that said, it isn’t difficult to understand why the GOP is now on the precipice of defeat. While the Republican Party focused on savaging Democrats, they failed to pay attention to the all too obvious realities...realities that did not escape the awareness of the voters they took for granted. As we’ve approached the midterm election, two problems emerged for the GOP. One, voters saw the realities in Iraq and the unwillingness of this President to shift strategies…and that has led to irreconcilable doubts about the President’s judgment and growing skepticism for the sincerity underlying his professed resolve. The bottom line is that voters lost confidence in the attributes they had been willing to assign and attach to this President.

Two, now that the election is upon us, the Bush administration has apparently decided to alter their intransigent adherence to “staying the course"…because it isn’t resonating with voters…and that is giving skeptical voters the final evidence needed to doubt the President’s sincerity. When this shifting rhetoric on Iraq is coupled with revelations that suggest that the GOP may have manipulated the millions of loyal evangelical voters, I believe these moderate voters are in the process of concluding that this President is more concerned with retaining power than acting with intelligence and integrity to serve the best interests of the nation.

In my opinion, it looks to me that Rove/Bush concluded that 2006 could be won with the same strategy that succeeded in 2002 and 2004. Instead, I believe that it forced voters to view the election as a referendum on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration at a time when it could least withstand the scrutiny. It looks like voters are preparing to call a halt to this charade.

Daniel DiRito | October 24, 2006 | 10:01 AM | link | Comments (2)
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October 19, 2006

Classic Sidney Blumenthal: A Must Read genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Sidney Blumenthal

I've always found Sidney Blumenthal to be both thoughtful and insightful and his interview in Los Angeles CityBeat doesn't disappoint. He brings a wealth of knowledge and his ability to project how current issues and the associated players will be viewed historically is formidable. In my opinion, he is unmatched in his ability to articulate the big picture. I've provided some excerpts but I would encourage readers to read the entire interview.

In How Bush Rules: The Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Princeton), Blumenthal collects much of that work into a document of the George W. Bush years, a "real time" chronology of missteps and misinformation that very often reads like an indictment of our current president and the GOP. It is the story of an imperial presidency, a time of one-party rule and a collapse of the crucial checks and balances provided for in the Constitution.

CityBeat: How long have you viewed the Bush administration as a "radical regime?"

Sidney Blumenthal: During the Reagan period, I covered the conservative movement and Iran-Contra and the Reagan White House for the Washington Post and spent a lot of time with the neo-conservatives. In the elder Bush administration, they were not allowed in. And when I saw them coming back, I had a very clear idea of what they were all about, and that at least in foreign policy would be very radical.

Is the Cheney that you knew back in the '80s the same as he is now?

The Cheney I knew had hard-right instincts and has moved systematically hard-right .... Cheney went from facilitating [Newt] Gingrich and the so-called Republican revolution to an alliance with the neo-conservatives. And that was facilitated by his wife, Lynn Cheney, who had been far-right chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I call her Madame Mao. She was at the American Enterprise Institute, where all these neo-conservatives were clustered. Cheney really got to know them well, and saw in them a network that he could put in place.

Popular opinion is now overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq war. Why has it taken this long?

Historians are going to ask this question. There was a study done on voters by the University of Maryland on the parallel universes of Kerry and Bush supporters, which says people who supported Bush had a completely different set of facts. The vast majority of them believed Saddam Hussein was involved in Al Qaeda and 9/11, that there were WMD in Iraq - and that they had been found.

There were a lot of people who persuaded themselves that what Bush was doing would last forever politically, and they aligned themselves with Bush, including parts of the press corps. They convinced themselves that Karl Rove was a genius and all this was the result of his genius political strategy. And Bush was a stalwart person of profound conviction. And they thought it was all going to work.

It looks like we're about to enter into an interesting period following this election.

We're headed into a potential constitutional crisis if the Democrats get one or both houses of Congress. They will certainly have subpoena power and I think the Bush administration is likely to resist the production of documents.

The idea in my book is that Bush has created a radical presidency that is unaccountable. And if a check-and-balance is introduced for the first time to Bush, instead of one-party rule, we're going to have another crisis. The conflict will increase, not diminish. As Bette Davis said, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

What is remarkable about Blumenthal's remarks is his prescience. When he suggests that the real constitutional crisis will take place if and when the Democrats take a majority in the House or the Senate. To this point, Bush and Cheney have been successful in expanding the power of the executive branch...but look for a donnybrook if the Democrats decide to rollback some of these obvious excesses. More importantly, look for a number of Republicans to abandon the President in the ensuing battle. In my opinion, should the Democrats gain control of the House and possibly the Senate, the significance of the 2006 midterm election will be viewed retrospectively as a focal point in American history.

There have been recent reports that the President and those close to him have refused to consider the ramifications of a Democratic victory in November. There are two ways to view what GOP operatives have sought to portray as optimism on the part of the President. One perspective is that it's essential for the head of the GOP to appear confident in order to motivate the Republican base. The second explanation is far more complex. It suggests that this President actually believes that fate and faith have led him to this historical juncture and as such he serves as the designated warrior for the vision of a higher power. Blumenthal doesn't go this far in his prediction...but if I were a gambler, I'd bet he expects nothing less.

Daniel DiRito | October 19, 2006 | 5:27 PM | link | Comments (1)
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GOP: Between Iraq And A Hard Place genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Playing whack-a-mole

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has stepped up efforts to bring calm to war torn Baghdad and put an end to the rampant sectarian violence. Unfortunately, the news coming from Iraq indicates that the campaign isn't succeeding as U.S. casualties are headed for a monthly record and the number of death squad attacks on fellow Iraqis continues at an alarming pace. The New York Times reports that a leading general has conceded that the plan isn't working and he is calling for a reevaluation of the American strategy.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 — The American-led crackdown in Baghdad has not succeeded in reducing a “disheartening" level of violence across the capital and a new approach is needed, a military spokesman said today.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman for the American military in Iraq, said that the strategy of concentrating on a limited number of highly troubled neighborhoods had not slowed sectarian violence in the city as a whole.

General Caldwell said that attacks in the Baghdad area went up 22 percent during the first three weeks of Ramadan in comparison with the three weeks before.

The news couldn't be worse for the Bush administration and GOP candidates across the country. It’s well known that the Rove strategy for the 2006 midterm included an effort to connect the war in Iraq with the war on terror but the increasing violence is only heightening voter dissatisfaction with the handling of the war and undermining the message that Iraq is the main front in fighting terror. Even if voters believe that Iraq is the focal point in the war on terror, the lack of success is leading voters to conclude that neither the Iraq war or the war on terror are being properly managed. Those conclusions cannot be good news for the Republican Party.

General Caldwell’s statement comes at a politically sensitive moment, when attacks on American forces have been increasing and many Democrats are making the situation in Iraq their central issue in the fall Congressional campaign.

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told reporters in Washington today that the general was not saying that the effort in Baghdad had been a failure.

“What he said is that the levels of violence had not been lowered in a way that met our expectations, and so what we’re doing is we’re adjusting to bring them down, which is what you’d expect," Mr. Snow said.

You can be sure that if Tony Snow has to clarify what the general meant to say, then the Bush administration must realize they need to be in full scale damage control with less than three weeks until the midterm election. I could be wrong, but it does seem that voter sentiment has reached the tipping point and it is doubtful that they will alter their conclusions about the war effort. In fact, it is hard to imagine what news could alter the mood of the electorate at this late date.

In Baghdad, General Caldwell said that violence had begun to return to some of the areas that had been the focus of the crackdown, as Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda “push back."

He said their strategy seemed to be that “if you want to discredit this government, go back and strike at those areas" that officials have announced as newly peaceful.

He said that American forces had recently returned to the Dora neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad, which had been held up as one of the prime successes of the crackdown.

Reading between the lines, I would equate the strategy with what John McCain has called a game of whack-a-mole whereby we are chasing insurgents from neighborhood to neighborhood because we haven't committed the troop strength necessary to control the entire city. Further, the Iraqi forces continue to prove ineffective...and may be actually participating in the sectarian strife. Frankly, the Bush administration's intransigence must bear the bulk of the blame as they refused to listen to those who argued that we would need a much larger troop presence to win the peace. To call for more troops now will only be met with more criticism and it would be a tacit admission that the war strategy was badly flawed...a perspective now held by a large majority of Americans.

Daniel DiRito | October 19, 2006 | 11:58 AM | link | Comments (1)
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Colbert Report: The Word On Rationalizing Iraq War genre: Just Jihad & Tongue-In-Cheek & Video-Philes

Daniel DiRito | October 19, 2006 | 11:20 AM | link | Comments (0)
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October 18, 2006

Dem Candidates Singing "Iraq Around The Clock" genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Iraq around the clock

In 2004 most GOP candidates were traveling downstream in their "swiftboats" attacking every Democratic candidate that dared to criticize the Bush administration's war in Iraq. In 2006 you not only can't find the GOP "swiftboat", you can't find a Republican candidate willing to jump in and try to navigate the hapless dingy against the strong current of voter dissatisfaction with the seemingly never ending war. The New York Times offers a detailed look at the GOP's dilemma with how to best address the war in Iraq on the campaign trail.

With three weeks until Election Day, Republican candidates are barely mentioning Iraq on the campaign trail and in their television advertisements.

Even President Bush, continuing to attack Democrats for opposing the war, has largely dropped his call of “stay the course" and replaced it with a more nuanced promise of flexibility.

It is the Democrats who have seized on Iraq as a central issue. In debates and in speeches, candidates are pummeling Republicans with accusations of a failed war.

Rather than avoiding confrontation on Iraq as they did in 2002 and 2004, they are spotlighting their opposition in new television advertisements that feature mayhem and violence in Iraq, denounce Republicans for supporting Mr. Bush and, in at least one case, demand the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

It wasn't long ago that calls for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign were met by continued support from the Commander in Chief. At the time, Thought Theater suggested that the Democrats would be better served in the midterm election if Rumsfeld remained in his position and it is beginning to look like that may well be the case as the Bush administration can offer little more than rhetoric when it attempts to assert that it is adapting to the situation in the war torn country. With monthly U.S. casualty figures approaching a record level this October...well past three years into the conflict...there is little reason for Republican candidates to mention the war.

The development also suggests that what has been a classic strategy of Mr. Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove — to turn a weakness into a strength — is not working as well as the White House had hoped.

“As the Iraq war gets more unpopular, the environment for Republican candidates erodes," said Mark Campbell, a Republican strategist who represents several Congressional candidates, including Representative Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, who is fighting for re-election in one of the toughest races.

A senior strategist familiar with Republican polling who insisted on anonymity to share internal data said that as of midsummer it was clear that “stay the course" was a self-defeating argument.

Democrats, seeing similar data in their polls, advised candidates to confront Republicans aggressively, in the view that accusations that Democrats would “cut and run" would not blunt Democrats’ efforts to mock Republicans as wanting to “stay the course."

Republicans and Democrats said the White House effort to turn the war into an affirmative Republican issue was undercut by the increasing violence there, along with more American deaths that have brought the war home in the form of mournful articles in local newspapers.

That complicated the White House effort to present the Iraq war as part of the antiterrorism effort, and it has contributed to support for the war reaching record or near-record lows.

The effort to make Iraq a part of the war on terror just doesn't seem to be selling any longer and that may well be because many Americans now believe that the Iraq conflict may actually be fomenting more terrorist animosity and may not necessarily be a favorable piece of the national security equation. The fact that a strong majority of Americans also believe Iraq is in the midst of a civil war is another telling signal that the negative aspects of Iraq are now overwhelming the attempts to link it to the war on terror. In fact, recent polling shows that voters now believe that Democrats are as capable as the GOP to handle the issue of terrorism...which may be connected to the Democrats continued criticism of the current strategies in Iraq.

Mr. Bartlett said Iraq remained a winning issue in the broader context of the war on terrorism, which the party would continue to hit hard.

Mr. Bush tried to do that on Wednesday in an interview on ABC News, telling George Stephanopoulos, the interviewer, that when voters go to the polls on Nov. 7 “they’re going to want to know what that person’s going to do, what is the plan for a candidate on Iraq, what do they believe?"

When Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Bush whether the increasing violence in Iraq was similar to the Tet Offensive in 1968, the Vietnam War campaign that is often cited as turning American opinion against the war, Mr. Bush said such a comparison “could be right," suggesting that terrorists were aiming for a similar result.

It’s important to note that the President's answer demonstrates his myopic posture regarding the war. While Stephanopoulos was attempting to have the President comment on the growing opposition to the war...asking if voters might be at a tipping point...the President sought to make the point that the terrorists might be attempting to create a Tet Offensive moment. Essentially, his answer virtually ignores the political implications and suggests that he is holding fast to the strategy that connecting the Iraq war to terrorism will produce GOP support. I don't think voter sentiment is moving in the direction that the President may think it is or hope it will.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which has polled extensively on attitudes toward the war, said Pew figures suggested that one hope for Republicans earlier in this campaign — that Democrats would be hurt if they were perceived as criticizing the war without offering a strategy for withdrawal — had not been borne out.

“They are not getting punished for not offering an opinion," Mr. Kohut said. “The Democrats have an advantage on this issue, without having to say much about it."

There are two important things to note from Mr. Kohut's remarks. One, voters appear to have decided that the President's plan is a failure. Two, despite the fact that the Democrats haven't actually offered a cohesive or comprehensive alternative plan, voters are convinced any change might be better than more of the same. That stands to help Democrats on November 7th...but it also means that voters are hoping for change come November 8th...and that may prove to be the beginning of an even larger problem for both parties.

In my opinion, it will behoove both parties to find some tangible solutions to the Iraq mess if they hope to have any success in 2008. If one thinks voters are unhappy now, imagine their mood if Iraq is still at the top of their list of issues two years from now.

Daniel DiRito | October 18, 2006 | 10:48 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Keith Olbermann On Military Commissions Act genre: Just Jihad & Six Degrees of Speculation

Daniel DiRito | October 18, 2006 | 9:41 PM | link | Comments (1)
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October 14, 2006

Political Strategy: Fear And Doubt On All Levels genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The following posting is the tenth entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found here, the third posting, Political Strategy: The Numbers Speak can be found here, the fourth posting, Political Strategy: Splitting The Baby can be found here, the fifth posting, Political Strategy: Examining Potential Outcomes can be found here, the sixth posting, Political Strategy: Voter Mobilization can be found here, the seventh posting, Political Strategy: Bad Math & Inconsistency can be found here, the eighth posting, Political Strategy: The Horse Race Begins can be found here, and the ningth posting, Political Strategy: Time To Play Offense. can be found here.

In addition, other related postings can be found here, here, here, and here.

Let the games begin has been the opening line of the Olympic games for centuries...but in a classic example of Karl Rove politicking, the expression will seemingly mark the initiation of the final round in the GOP's campaign strategy. That strategy will invoke another well know expression..."The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" but in this instance the goal isn't going to be an attempt to inoculate Americans from embracing their fears...it is going to be a wholesale effort to scare them on all levels.

Thought Theater has previously discussed "Terror Management Theory"...a psychological construct whereby it has been demonstrated that people react to reminders of their pending mortality in predictable ways such that it is possible to manipulate their anxiety. The Wall Street Journal expanded upon the subject in a recent article about the impact of fear on elections.

Clearly, the GOP has used the threat of terror effectively in that manner for the last two election cycles and will also use it in this 2006 midterm election. Thought Theater recently pointed out the deliberate new language being used by the Bush administration to define the war on terror as an effort to "extend the caliphate" and Newsweek also discusses the use of this term "caliphate" in a new article.

In the last few days I've noticed that a number of GOP talking heads have begun to use fear in a number of new ways...and it looks like it is well on its way to becoming a deafening litany. Fred Barnes, a conservative Fox News contributor and editor of The Weekly Standard has a new article that I will return to after explaining the conditions that made this minor, though meaningful, shift in strategy necessary. Let me explain the shift that I believe has taken place.

Here's the backdrop. In the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, the release of damaging information from the National Intelligence Estimate, the new book from Bob Woodward, and increasingly bad news from Iraq, the media has focused on the potential for a Democratic tidal wave and the demise of GOP control in the House and possibly the Senate. Analysts and pollsters are abuzz in their attempts to calculate the size of this apparent wave and the White House is struggling to garner attention for the issues they feel would help Republican candidates in November.

So what can the GOP do to motivate its voting base? I've long suggested that in order to know what Karl Rove is thinking, one has to abandon conventional constructs. In fact, I believe his approach is counterintuitive by design such that he first sets out to define the issues that are most detrimental to the GOP and then he looks for ways to take that issue and make it a focal point in his campaign rhetoric. The recent examples are numerous.

First the Foley scandal. On its surface it looks like a very damaging issue for the GOP...it seemingly suggests a disregard for the values they purport to promote, it suggests that they have simply given lip service to evangelical voters, it reinforces the accusations of corruption, and it looks like a tacit acceptance of the gay lifestyle. Instead, Rove elects to run with the issue and in fact seeks to get out in front on the topic.

One need only listen to talk radio or see who is appearing on the numerous news programs raising the possibility that the GOP was the victim of its own compassion. The spin is designed to suggest that they welcomed gays into the Republican's "big tent" only to find out that they could not be trusted with the power they were given and alas...the gay lifestyle...though they hate to say so...just might be the real issue underlying this scandal. If you have any doubts, let me provide you with the rhetoric I've heard when listening to them describe this gay conspiracy...velvet mafia, gay cabal, and a clandestine ring of homosexuals to name a few.

This rhetoric is intended to portray the GOP as victim and to do so by characterizing their mistake as the noble extension of compassion in an effort to treat gays equitably and to avoid acts of discrimination. Unfortunately, they now insinuate that the benefactors of this decency...gays...are a suspect group and we mustn't allow them to enact their anti-family, morally bankrupt homosexual agenda. I anticipate that argument will be a key component of the homilies given in churches between now and the November election.

It does two important things...it affirms the goodness of those affiliated with the GOP and it conforms to established religious teachings. Lastly, it compels evangelicals to vote in order to continue their efforts to uphold traditional values against the onslaught that would dismantle them. In other words, that which they have long feared still exists and still seeks to erode and redefine American life.

Let me return to the Fred Barnes article. I would suggest that readers follow the above link to see the page upon which the article appears. I ask readers to do this because I think it is important to understand the subtleties that are part and parcel of the GOP's fully organized and meticulously coordinated efforts. The page upon which the article appears has in its header a banner that asks readers to "Protect the Republican Senate Majority" by clicking on a link that takes them to an NRSC page designed to recruit support, financial and otherwise, to hold their Senate majority. The advertisement actually appears a second time further down the page.

That banner in conjunction with Fred Barnes article titled "How Bad Will It Be?" is clear evidence of this shift in the GOP strategy. Here's what I think one can discern from this example. One, the GOP is going to focus on holding the Senate...a strategy that has been reported in the last few days and seems to support the suspicion that the Republican's believe they cannot hold the House. Two, the tenor of the article is intended to alarm the GOP base and point out exactly what is at stake and to elucidate the consequences of losing. Tying back to Rove, this is clearly consistent with the counterintuitive approach I contend is the hallmark of his campaign prowess. It starts with looking at the worst case scenario and then working backwards. If that analysis suggests that the GOP will lose the House and possibly the Senate, then that reality must be transformed into a campaign message that has the potential to alter (reverse) that eventuality. Let's look at some excerpts from the article.

REPUBLICANS and conservatives, brace yourselves! Strategists and consultants of both parties now believe the House is lost and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will become speaker. At best, Republicans will cling to control of the Senate by a single seat, two at most. For many election cycles, Republicans have been the boys of October, using paid media and superior campaign skills to make up lost ground and win in November. This year, they were the boys of September, rallying strongly until that fateful day, September 29, when the Mark Foley scandal erupted. October has been a disaster so far. A strong finishing kick for Republicans, minimizing Democratic gains, is possible. They pulled one off brilliantly in President Bush's first midterm election in 2002. But recovery will be harder this time, a lot harder.

The most overlooked election indicator is the level of voter enthusiasm. In every election from 1994 through 2004, Republicans were more enthusiastic than Democrats. That was a decade of Republican growth. This year Democrats are more excited. And it's measurable. In 2002, 42 percent of Republicans said they were more enthusiastic than usual about the election. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats said the same. In 2006, the numbers have flipped. Republican enthusiasm has dipped to 39 percent and Democratic enthusiasm has jumped to 48 percent. Enthusiasm affects turnout. Gloomy voters are less inclined to vote.

As much as I oppose the Republican agenda, I do marvel at their strategic acumen. Look at how Barnes frames the problem. He lays out the worst case immediately...Nancy Pelosi will be the speaker of the House and maybe, just maybe the Republicans can hold the Senate. He throws in the words "scandal and disaster" for good measure. He then quickly pivots to tell readers why this is the likely reality...a lack of voter enthusiasm within the Republican Party. I would argue that the article is a mix of reverse psychology and a speech by a coach to his team at halftime whereby he tells them they're going to lose if they don't wake up and do something with the little time they have left.

If politics were fair, Democrats would be in as much trouble as Republicans. And they'd be just as vulnerable. They've been obstructionist, anti-tax-cut, soft on terrorism, and generally obnoxious. On top of that, Pelosi is the most unpopular national politician in America. But in the sixth year of the Bush presidency, with a GOP-run Congress, Democrats aren't the issue. Republicans are.

In his stump speeches, the president concentrates on terror and taxes. And the contrast he draws between terror-fighting, tax-cutting Republicans and wimpy, taxaholic Democrats is reasonably accurate. But it's failing to attract independents or lure disgruntled conservatives back to the Republican fold.

Should Democrats capture the House, "they would raise your taxes and figure out new ways to spend your money," Bush said at a rally in Chicago last week. "It's amazing what happens when you cut taxes. The economy grows [and] you end up with more tax revenues." On national security, he said, "If the security of the United States is the most important issue, then part of this issue is which party has been willing to step up and give those charged with protecting you the tools necessary to do so." He didn't need to identify which party has and which hasn't.

The problem here is that national security isn't the leading campaign issue. And saying it should be won't make it so. What's needed is an event--a big event--to crystallize the issue in a way that highlights Republican strength and Democratic weakness. It was two events--the foiled British terrorist plot and the need to comply with a Supreme Court decision on handling captured terrorists--that led to the Republican mini-rally in September.

Of course there's little time left for a major event to occur. The North Korean bomb test wasn't big enough to change the course of the campaign. So Republicans may have to rely on their two remaining assets: They have more money than the Democrats and a voter turnout operation second to none.

Despite their commanding position with the election only weeks away, Democrats are fearful of a last-minute Republican gambit. What if White House aide Karl Rove has arranged for the capture of Osama bin Laden so it can be announced a few days prior to November 7? Rove is clever, but not that clever. Which is why Republicans and conservatives need to prepare themselves for bad news on Election Night.

More of the same but note how he tells his readers that they cannot count upon an October surprise to help the Republicans hold power. Further, he points out that the ace in the hole, the magician, the architect, Karl Rove won't even be able to save the Party from the inevitable. And how will the GOP describe this ominous reality? They will do it very simply...by defining what voters should fear with words similar to this..."Democrats won't protect you from terrorism, they haven't the stomach to make Iraq and Afghanistan succeed and that means the terrorists will be on a fast track to the homeland, your borders will remain porous and immigrants will alter your way of life, money will be taken out of your pocket through rampant taxation, and your leaders will be weak liberals like Nancy Pelosi. Is that scary enough for you? If not, you still have three weeks to change your mind. It looks like you better get busy and save yourself."

Take a look at the conservative pundits on the television if this posting hasn't convinced you of this subtle shift in strategy. I've particularly noticed it with people like Tucker Carlson, Joe Scarborough, and Chris Matthews. While many Democrats are enjoying the gloom and doom being discussed on these programs, I contend it is being spun as part of this shifting strategy. Carlson is particularly skilled in this regard. On the surface, it appears that these pundits are piling on to bury the Republicans but if you watch and listen carefully you will notice that conversations about GOP blunders typically end with remarks that force viewers to consider the alternative...and it is usually offered as an off color aspersion that serves to portray the Democrats to be worse by comparison.

As I unravel this shifting strategy, I would argue that the goal is to quickly get voters to the point at which they consider the premise behind the idiom of "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't". Further, the Rove playbook seeks to spin both sides of that equation by attempting to portray the GOP as victim and the Democrats as the all too frightening villain. Democrats need to be careful or they will once again suffer defeat at the hands of carefully orchestrated doubt and fear.

Assuming that the GOP is on the defensive is a mistake. What looks like retreat is actually a well crafted strategy in the making. If they can couple the appearance of capitulation (intended to anesthetize enough Democrats into overconfidence such that fewer voters turnout and lure Democratic candidates into sitting back and allowing the GOP to define the "devil") with their superior get out the vote effort and a financial advantage that will allow them one last minute flurry of advertising designed to heighten fear and raise doubt, they have the potential to steal victory from the throes of defeat.

Daniel DiRito | October 14, 2006 | 10:20 AM | link | Comments (1)
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October 12, 2006

Piling On: UK General Calls For Troop Withdrawal genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Running out of time

In a stunning piece of news, the leading British general has suggested that the British soon withdraw their troops from Iraq. Should the Brits announce a timeframe for the withdrawal of their military forces or even begin that process prior to the U.S. midterm election in November, it may well be the final surge in a tidal wave to remove the GOP from power. England's continued participation in the Iraqi effort has provided an important endorsement of the Bush administration's efforts in the region and should that support be withdrawn, it will be increasingly difficult to quell calls for a variety of new strategy that include the rapid redeployment of U.S. troops. BBC NEWS has the details in a newly published article.

The head of the British Army has said the presence of UK armed forces in Iraq "exacerbates the security problems".

In an interview in the Daily Mail, Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, is quoted as saying the British should "get out some time soon".

He also said: "Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003, effectively kicked the door in."

The comments "directly contradicted so much of what the government had said", our correspondent added.

Sir Richard might be issuing a "very public warning" to the next prime minister, he said.

In his interview, Sir Richard added that any initial tolerance "has largely turned to intolerance. That is a fact."

While I have a limited knowledge of British politics, it has been clear for some time that Tony Blair has lost favor with many of his citizenry as well as a significant number of elected representatives. The remarks of the general may well be an acceleration of efforts to push Blair out of office. At a minimum it puts added pressure on the Prime Minister and his shrinking base of support.

He [Sir Richard] said: "I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

Sir Richard told the newspaper: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear.

"As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time."

He added: "Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

It’s hard to disagree with his assessment of the situation in Iraq. When one also looks at the growing U.S. casualties and the added sectarian tensions, there seems to be little reason for optimism. I may be wrong, but I suspect we are approaching the day of reckoning whereby the Bush administration is compelled to make some significant changes and reframe our intentions and objectives within the troubled country and the region. While a complete withdrawal may be impractical, any further suggestions by the Bush administration that we continue the current strategy are going to be met with burgeoning opposition.

Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 6:41 PM | link | Comments (0)
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Iraq Reality Check Estimated Time Of Arrival: 11/08 genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Reality check

Those who presume that voters are being provided with meaningful information in the run-up to this midterm election may well be in for a surprise on November 8th. While that date may not be totally accurate, the report to be provided shortly after the election by former Secretary of State James Baker and his Iraqi Study Group may be a painfully candid critique of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy and the loftier Bush Doctrine that seeks to export democracy. If the information leaked to and included in an article in the New York Sun proves to be correct, the rose colored assessments frequently offered by this administration are about to be jettisoned in favor of a harsh reality check.

Currently, the 10-member commission — headed by a secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, James Baker — is considering two option papers, "Stability First" and "Redeploy and Contain," both of which rule out any prospect of making Iraq a stable democracy in the near term.

More telling, however, is the ruling out of two options last month. One advocated minor fixes to the current war plan but kept intact the long-term vision of democracy in Iraq with regular elections. The second proposed that coalition forces focus their attacks only on Al Qaeda and not the wider insurgency.

Instead, the commission is headed toward presenting President Bush with two clear policy choices that contradict his rhetoric of establishing democracy in Iraq. The more palatable of the two choices for the White House, "Stability First," argues that the military should focus on stabilizing Baghdad while the American Embassy should work toward political accommodation with insurgents. The goal of nurturing a democracy in Iraq is dropped.

I think it is important to recap where this entire fiasco in Iraq began in order to simply illustrate the degree to which the rhetoric of partisan politics has dictated policy. Lest we forget, the Iraq invasion began as an effort to protect the U.S. from the possibility that Sadaam Hussein might provide terrorists with access to his weapons of mass destruction. When that premise proved to be based upon inaccuracies or worse yet, deception, only then did the nobler goal of bringing democracy to an oppressed population emerge as the focal ambition. I'm not suggesting that this subsequent goal is without merit...but the truth is that it surfaced out of political expediency. Perhaps November will set the record straight or at a minimum bring an end to the ever evolving spin.

The president also said he was not averse to changing tactics. But he repeated that the strategic goal in Iraq is to build "a country which can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself." He added, "The strategic goal is to help this young democracy succeed in a world in which extremists are trying to intimidate rational people in order to topple moderate governments and to extend the caliphate."

But the president's strategic goal is at odds with the opinion of Mr. Baker's expert working groups, which dismiss the notion of victory in Iraq. The "Stability First" paper says, "The United States should aim for stability particularly in Baghdad and political accommodation in Iraq rather than victory."

Sadly, even when this President hints that he is willing to look at alternative strategies, he uses language that further fuels the flames of fanaticism. In defining the goal of those who oppose us as a clash of civilizations, whereby he asserts that they seek to "extend the caliphate", he once again obfuscates the potential for reasoned clarity and measured dialogue. Unfortunately, I'm not sure he has the discipline needed to restrain his confrontational outbursts. Further, it has yet to be seen if he can moderate his goals to match that which can reasonably be achieved in Iraq and the Middle East.

"If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success," he [Baker] said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. "Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative," the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

Both option papers would compel America to open dialogue with Syria and Iran, two rogue states that Iraqi leaders and American military commanders say are providing arms and funds to Iraq's insurgents. "Stabilizing Iraq will be impossible without greater cooperation from Iran and Syria," the "Stability First" paper says.

The larger question is if this President can accept the more modest goals to be offered by Baker's task force or if they will be met by resistance or even a campaign to discredit. It is increasingly difficult to determine where George Bush's convictions end and his need to be right might begin. He has held fast to the argument that he isn't concerned with polls or politics and yet his reported convictions continue to evolve to fit the changing circumstances. The essential question is how he actually views the concept of adaptation. The evidence suggests that he prefers to adapt his rhetoric to fit the circumstances rather than adapts his strategy to address the realities. As he receives this important report, I fear the former...but I'm hoping for the latter.

Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 4:12 PM | link | Comments (1)
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Nuclear North Korea: Now What? genre: Just Jihad & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Mushroom cloud

As the dust settles in the North Korea blame game, the only thing that remains relevant is what to do next in light of this unfortunate reality. While making accusations might make one feel better, it won't undo what must now be confronted. With North Korea apparently having tested a nuclear weapon and Iran moving in the same direction, the dangers are many and they require the implementation of a plan for what may become a new wave of nuclear proliferation. David Ignatius discusses this complex problem in a new article at Real Clear Politics.

The North Korean bomb test is a seismic event for the world community. It tells us that the structure created to maintain global security is failing. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- all warned North Korea against taking this step. Yet the leaders in Pyongyang ignored these signals, and in the process blew open the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The North Korean leadership, puny in everything but weapons technology, has been marching toward this moment since the 1950s. It's unrealistic to think that, having brazened their way to detonating what they say is a nuclear bomb, the North Koreans will now give it up. The proliferation machine isn't going to run in reverse. In that sense, the question isn't how to repair the old architecture of non-proliferation -- practically speaking, it's a wreck -- but how to build a new structure that can stop the worst threats.

Ignatius raises legitimate concerns and it appears that it will be very difficult to craft possible and practical solutions. The article discusses the Kennedy years and the emergence of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an ambitious attempt to limit the number of nations that would obtain a nuclear capacity. The treaty proved relatively successful in limiting the number of nations that succeeded in obtaining a nuclear capacity. I think its worth noting that the majority of those nations that subsequently obtained nuclear capabilities were not directly threatening to the United States in the same way one might view North Korea or Iran and more importantly those extremist groups who cannot be clearly defined geographically.

One might also argue that China replaced the Soviet Union in the superpower equation...an unspoken but effective dynamic that served to deter the use of such weaponry based upon the potential for reciprocal annihilation. The fact that India and Pakistan obtained a nuclear capacity following the Non-Proliferation Treaty was disappointing and to some extent disconcerting but neither nation seemed to present a significant threat to the United States as we seemingly understood their motivations. However, by comparison, North Korea's nuclear emergence is a viable threat fraught with an abundance of uncertainty as to their intentions or their propensity to parlay their nuclear capability into a much needed source of revenue. North Korea is clearly an economically challenged nation run by a shrewd and unpredictable despot with a history of deception.

President Bush seemed to be drawing this red line of accountability when he warned Monday: "The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.''

Tough words, but are they credible? That's why the second essential pillar of a new security regime is a restoration of deterrence. The Bush administration warned North Korea over and over that it would face severe consequences if it tested a nuclear weapon. So did China and Russia, but Kim Jong Il went ahead anyway. Iranian leaders are similarly unimpressed by Bush's saber rattling, viewing America as a weakened nation bogged down by an unwinnable war in Iraq. To restore deterrence, the West needs to stop making threats it can't keep. And the United States must salvage its strategic position in Iraq -- either by winning, or organizing the most stable plan for withdrawal.

[Harvard professor Graham] Allison believes that the world community must now focus on what he calls "the principle of nuclear accountability.'' The biggest danger posed by North Korea isn't that it would launch a nuclear missile, but that this desperately poor country would sell a bomb to al-Qaeda or another terrorist group. Accountability, in Allison's terms, means that if a bomb explodes in Manhattan that contains North Korean fissile material, the United States would act as if the strike came from North Korea itself -- and retaliate accordingly, with devastating force. To make this accountability principle work, the United States needs a crash program to create the "nuclear forensics'' that can identify the signature of fissile material of every potential nuclear state. Arms control expert Robert Gallucci describes this approach as "expanded deterrence'' in his article in the September Annals.

I agree with the premise but the solution seems all too ethereal. I don't say that as a criticism of Ignatius or Allison; but to point out that the preferred course of action is rife with uncertainty. Further, I don't believe that the suggested principle of nuclear accountability has the characteristics to make it an equivalent deterrent to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nonetheless, the reality may be that this new construct is currently the best we can do in terms of deterrence.

I personally find that quite troubling and even more indicative of the growing instability that has emerged during the Bush presidency. That is not to say that I hold the President accountable for all that has transpired. There is truth in his assertion that the anti-American sentiment that emerged from what is now clearly known to be an extremist ideology had to exist prior to 9/11...and while partisan leanings might lead one to want to blame 9/11 on his foreign policy, that would be, in my opinion, unfair. In saying as much, keep in mind that I am not suggesting that his administration did all it should to address the threat that existed...the evidence suggests they didn't...but that threat had been incubating for a number of years.

On the other hand, the foreign policy post 9/11 can be attributed to this President and the evidence is mounting that it has been a succession of miscalculation, mismanagement, and as many contend, manipulation. In the haste to make clear that the United States wouldn't tolerate future terrorist attacks, the axis of evil speech may have served to accelerate what now appears to be a rush to obtain nuclear arms. In that regard, I fully agree with Ignatius when he states that "the West needs to stop making threats it can't keep". I might actually offer a slight modification by suggesting that we would be better served to be preparing to prevent or respond to potential threats with meaningful actions as opposed to obtuse tough guy rhetoric.

If the Democrats take control of the House and/or the Senate, I look for them to return to a position that the GOP used against them successfully in 2004. That position argues that our best response to the threats we face post 9/11 is to focus on intelligence as well as what the GOP, in order to convey that the Democrats fail to understand the gravity of the threat…coined as a law enforcement strategy. I find this Democratic strategy to be consistent with the terms "accountability, forensics, and expanded deterrence" found in the Ignatius article and I expect to see a growing focus on such measures by Democrats and Republicans once we get past the November election. Frankly, the focus on the current type of military strategy cannot be sustained and the results in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to suggest that they haven't proven all that effective.

In saying that, I want to be clear that I am not opposed to the use of military measures. In fact I am...but with a different focus. A comparison might be beneficial to explain my thinking. Israel for years has conducted military strikes with narrowly defined objectives that have served to deter her opponents. They have done so with a superior intelligence capacity and a predisposition to avoid protracted hand to hand ground offensives. They don't do this because they are afraid to use their superior military force...they do it because it has proven to be more effective. The recent out of character incursion into Lebanon served to reinforce the belief by most Israeli's that their longstanding equation is in fact preferential...and the deviation directed by Ehud Olmert received ample second guessing and terse criticism.

I'm hopeful that this election will prove to be a turning point and that we will finally rethink our efforts to defeat these growing threats. The GOP has sought to paint the Democrats as cut and run with regards to Iraq and they have expanded their rhetoric to assert that the Clinton administration dealt with North Korea with carrots and not sticks...all intended to scare the voting public into staying the course. I don't agree with the partisan GOP characterizations and I don't support staying the course. In fact, if we're going to invoke clever catch phrases that make for good sound bites, let me suggest we choose one that might actually describe a strategy better suited to the current conundrum..."Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 10:58 AM | link | Comments (0)
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October 11, 2006

Iraq OK's Federalism: Doesn't Apply For 18 Months genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Ticking time bomb

The Iraqi parliament approved a bill that authorizes the formation of regions within the country that will have a substantial level of autonomy however the provision will not be enacted for 18 months. The delay was a concession by the Shiite dominated parliament to the objections of the Sunni minority. The Washington Post has the details in a new article.

The idea of autonomous regions is one that has been previously proposed by Senator Joe Biden as a means to resolve the longstanding sectarian divisions. Unfortunately, the new bill appears to ignore a key element of the Biden proposal...that being a provision for each sectarian group to have a stake in the oil revenues anticipated to be generated by the oil rich country. The new bill angered the Sunni minority as they occupy regions of Iraq that lack significant oil production. This legislation reinforced the fears of Senator Biden that any partitioning which failed to address Sunni concerns may well expand the sectarian violence.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Shiite-dominated parliament Wednesday passed a law allowing the formation of federal regions in Iraq, despite opposition from Sunni lawmakers and some Shiites who say it will dismember the country and fuel sectarian violence.

The federalism law sets up a system for allowing provinces to join together into autonomous regions that would hold considerable self-rule powers, a right given to them under the constitution adopted last year in a national referendum.

Some Shiites want to create an autonomous zone in their heartland in the south, much like the self-ruling Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

But Sunni Arabs deeply oppose the federalism measures, fearing it will divide Iraq into sectarian mini-states, giving Shiite and Kurds control over oil riches in the south and north, and leaving Sunnis in an impoverished central zone without resources.

My own evaluation of this news is quite grim for several reasons. First, it demonstrates the level of division within the Iraqi government and the Iraqi population...a bad indication that any hoped for resolution of the sectarian violence is apt to materialize in the near future. Second, it confirms an argument previously made here at Thought Theater that the participation in the U.S. imposed elections was likely nothing more than an effort by each sectarian group to amass enough power to determine how the fledgling country would be governed...a far cry from the embrace of democracy touted by the Bush administration. Third, the 18 month timeframe suggests that tensions will escalate in anticipation of the new provision as the various groups attempt to position themselves to influence and determine the boundaries of any autonomous regions.

Critics also have warned that moves for federalism could fuel Shiite-Sunni violence.

"This is the beginning of the plan to divide Iraq," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni National Accordance Front, which boycotted the vote along with al-Sadr's party and the Shiite Fadila party.

The law outlines a process for forming regions, requiring any province considering joining a region to hold a referendum, if a third of the provincial legislators request it.

Note that the parameters for establishing regional affiliations requires only a third of the provincial legislators to request a vote. I view that number to be a calculation intended to assure that sectarian groups can define the regions they prefer by being able to achieve the necessary one third threshold. Anyone that views this as democracy at work is sadly misguided or deeply entrenched in denial. The impetus for a united Iraq based upon a populist mentality doesn't exist. On the contrary, the various sectarian groups are simply manipulating the democratic process for advantage...and that advantage includes the need to control oil revenues. What we are witnessing is more closely akin to the continuation of a primitive tribal approach to power than to a groundswell for the implementation of an equitable democracy.

In September, the Sunni parties agreed to allow the bill to be presented to parliament for a vote after reaching a deal with Shiite lawmakers that the law would not come into effect for 18 months and that a committee would be formed to consider constitutional changes sought by the Sunnis.

Still, the Sunnis tried to prevent the vote Wednesday, and Shiite parties accused them of breaking the agreement. During the voting, some lawmakers demanded that the provision putting off regions for 18 months be removed from the law to allow their formation immediately.

But in the end, the 18-month delay was grudgingly passed.

I hate to be pessimistic, but I see the next 18 months as a dogfight to determine the prevailing alpha-male. I just don't see the makings of any peaceful resolution...and any hopes to implement one would likely require the commitment of more U.S. troops for a lengthy and unpredictable period of time. I take little comfort in the reports that we have trained some 300,000 Iraqi troops; primarily because I fear that their sectarian allegiances will prevail as the various groups jockey for power. As I've said before, the United States may simply be training and arming the combatants in an inevitably escalating civil war. The goal of exporting democracy...the principle tenet of the Bush Doctrine...suffers one essential oversight...it requires that those on the receiving end have a fundamental desire to import democracy. I just don't believe that Iraq currently fits into that equation.

Daniel DiRito | October 11, 2006 | 12:00 PM | link | Comments (0)
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October 10, 2006

McCain Blames Clinton For North Korea genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Playing rock paper scissors

One thing is for certain about John McCain...he learned his lesson in the 2000 presidential primary that you either join the GOP establishment or find yourself the object of its scorched earth approach to king-making and king-breaking. In a further sign that McCain is willing to play ball to win the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, he launched an attack on the Clinton administration and the Democrats...blaming the alleged North Korean nuclear test on a failed "carrots and sticks" strategy. I don't blame McCain for his long held position that North Korea cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith, but I find it fully disingenuous for McCain to ignore the past six years of President Bush's failed foreign policy. The following excerpts are from the Reuters article detailing McCain's remarks.

While Democrats are criticizing Republican President George W. Bush for a failure of international diplomacy after North Korea reported testing a nuclear device, McCain found fault with the actions of Bush's predecessor.

"I would remind Senator (Hillary) Clinton and other critics of the Bush administration policies that the framework agreement of the Clinton administration was a failure," McCain said in a statement, referring to a 1994 deal under which North Korea agreed to halt work on a plutonium-based nuclear facility, partly in exchange for free fuel oil deliveries.

"The Koreans received millions of dollars in energy assistance ... and what did the Koreans do? They secretly enriched uranium," McCain said.

"We had a carrots-and-no-sticks policy that only encouraged bad behavior. When one carrot didn't work, we offered another."

McCain called on the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea, including financial and military sanctions and the right to inspect all cargo entering and leaving North Korea.

The truth of the matter is that this President called three nations the axis of evil...Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Of the three, President Bush elected to attack the one least likely to present a threat to the United States and the one with the least developed nuclear capacity. I understand that many are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt on the intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion...but there is little doubt that at a minimum, Bush and his fellow neocons ignored the ample reservations that were offered by numerous intelligence experts.

If McCain wants to offer a critique of the North Korean dilemma, then his remarks ought to encompass the six years during which the Bush administration's approach was to refuse to negotiate with the North Korean regime. If his argument is that we have failed to include sticks with our carrots during the Clinton years, then one must also acknowledge that North Korea has used the past six years to obtain their own very effective sticks. I'm at a loss to understand the benefits we've gained from the Bush administration's approach of repeatedly warning North Korea to cease their nuclear ambitions or face the consequences.

As I view the current efforts to impose sanctions on North Korea, all that has changed in six years is that they have more sticks with which to negotiate and we have less. The fact that they have a nuclear capacity seems to give them more with which to negotiate. At the same time, it seems safe to conclude that the U.S. isn't going to elect a military resolution...so what have we gained? From my perspective, it is simply going to be more difficult to pressure North Korea to abandon their nuclear program. If that is operating from a position of strength, then I need a lesson in logic.

Tony Snow also chimed in on the Clinton administration's handling of the North Korean situation.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow on Tuesday also referred to the Clinton White House's North Korea policy as "a primarily carrots-oriented approach."

"Now you've got carrots and sticks," Snow said of the Bush tactics. "The sticks would be economic pressure on the government of North Korea."

OK Tony let me see if I can follow your logic...they've got nuclear weapons and we're going to put economic pressure on them. I'm afraid this stick we now have doesn't sound all that impressive at the moment. Perhaps you have a point if we were playing rock, paper, scissors...but I'm not sure how economic sanctions will trump their nuclear capability. Maybe Tony Snow, Senator McCain, and the Bush administration need a briefing on understanding the relative values of a stick and a toothpick? I have this nagging suspicion that North Korea thinks that they have improved their side of the equation during the last six years.

Daniel DiRito | October 10, 2006 | 3:09 PM | link | Comments (0)
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October 4, 2006

Iraqi Police Brigade Suspended genre: Just Jihad

State of denial

No, there is not a civil war in Iraq...just ask approximately 700 member police brigade that has been suspended for suspicion of being complicit with sectarian death squads. Some might suggest its time to go back to the drawing board...but that suggests some semblance of optimism...but that may be unrealistic. I'm at a loss to understand what one would do with the members of a suspended police brigade.

Does a temporary suspension magically remove their sectarian leanings? Does a lecture from U.S. trainers on the responsibilities of a police officer suddenly convince them to pledge their allegiance to their newly founded democracy that is little more than a U.S. task force trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat? The Associated Press article reports on the situation here.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi authorities have taken a police brigade out of service and returned them to training because of "complicity" with death squads in the wake of a mass kidnapping in Baghdad this week, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, said the Iraqi police brigade in the area had been ordered to stand down and was undergoing re-training.

"There was some possible complicity in allowing death squad elements to move freely when they should have been impeding them," he told a Baghdad press conference.

"The forces in the unit have not put their full allegiance to the government of Iraq and gave their allegiance to others," he said.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said Tuesday that the commander of the unit, a lieutenant colonel, had been detained and was being investigated, and that the major general who commands the battalion that includes the suspended brigade has been suspended temporarily and ordered transferred.

Pardon my snark, but are we transferring the bad general to the Anbar province...that province we recently ceded to the insurgents? Just where does one transfer a general who isn't loyal to the new government? It reminds me of the Catholic Church...whereby they routinely transferred priests from parish to parish as they were found to have molested children. I'm sorry, but those who want to believe that there is increasing progress being made in Iraq must be the same people Bob Woodward is referring to in his new book "State of Denial".

Thought Theater has previously asked how Iraq can be in such a state of chaos when we read that the U.S. has trained nearly 300,000 Iraqi troops who are serving in addition to the 140,000 American troops. I know I'm cynical, but could it be possible that as we train more Iraqi forces, we are actually providing the sectarian groups with the foot soldiers they need to carry out their agendas? If one uses the increasing number of deaths to test my hypothesis, it certainly offers at least anecdotal evidence.

I'm reminded of the common expression, "Where there's a will, there's a way"...and I'm fast approaching the conclusion that the Iraqi people have spoken...and their "will" has little connection to the "way" we envision. Perhaps its time to rethink our strategy.

Daniel DiRito | October 4, 2006 | 9:06 AM | link | Comments (0)
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October 3, 2006

Momentum: Has The GOP Lost It? genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Last man standing

Like a classic boxing match, where two opponents surge and sink as they are able to land a solid punch, the Democrats and Republicans are in a battle of back and forth as they attempt to gain and hold the momentum until the final bell. Each side has resolved that a knock out is unlikely which has led both sides to adopt strategies that seek to end strong in order to garner the votes of those who may still be undecided.

For much of the year, it appeared that the stars had aligned such that the Democrats might cruise to a convincing victory that would likely result in control of the House and possibly the Senate if the wave of anti-incumbency were sufficient. Nonetheless, until the revelation of the scandal involving Congressman Mark Foley, it looked as if the GOP had found its legs and was ready to mount a late round flurry. With the thwarting of an alleged terror plot in Britain and the President's incessant focus on terrorism, the GOP seemed prepared to keep the Democrats on the ropes...attempting to fend off accusations of weakness and the lack of an alternative strategy.

With less than five weeks till Election Day, it looks as if the Democrats may have retaken the momentum as the Republican's left themselves open to intense criticism over the apparent mishandling of Congressman Foley's career ending and potentially criminal actions. Today, in a new article, Charlie Cook offered his up to the minute analysis of the midterm election.

My theory for a while now has been that the direction of this election would be determined by what people are thinking about in the days or weeks leading into the election. If their minds are on terrorism, national security or falling gas prices, Republicans have a good chance of holding onto their House majority and keeping their Senate losses to around three to six seats. But if the spotlight shifts back to the Iraq war, with other issues like scandals and federal budget deficits entering into the mix, then the odds are the GOP will lose its majority. If this occurs, the possibility of a 20- to 25-seat loss (or even greater) in the House becomes plausible, and the Senate would be in real danger as well.

Several events caused this coming inflection point. First, a leaked report by the Marines' intelligence chief in Iraq said that the Anbar province was effectively lost. Next came excerpts of the latest Bob Woodward book on Bush and his administration's handling of the war, which seems to corroborate many of the worst suspicions of the president's critics. Finally, excerpts of Colin Powell's new book pour more gasoline onto the same fire.

Finally, the recent rash of school shootings may or may not hurt the GOP, but the tragic news certainly isn't going to help Republicans' standing among many moderate and independent suburban voters (though Democrats have played down the gun issue in recent years in an effort to reclaim lost ground among union members and rural America).

For a little more than a month starting in mid-August, the Republican Party got a lot of favorable breaks, rekindling hopes that it could survive this election without getting scalped or decapitated. But those hopes may have been premature. Have we seen dramatic movement away from Republicans in the last few days? No, not yet. But if we've hit another inflection point, watch for momentum to shift yet again -- this time, back to Democrats.

As I've said before, this election, more than most in recent memory, is very difficult to predict. Given the many volatile issues as well as the potential for unexpected and unforeseen events, we may well not be able to anticipate the outcome until the numbers are tallied. That reality ought to be instructive and it ought to lead both parties to prepare for a host of possibilities. Momentum is fleeting and fickle...and that may mean that the Party which reacts first and with the right measure of resolve to any remaining "inflection" points will hold on to witness their opponent being counted out on November 7th.

Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 3:57 PM | link | Comments (0)
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October 1, 2006

The Need For An Accurate Assessment Of Iraq genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

More than three years into the Iraq war and fast approaching the November midterm election, numerous politicians and countless pundits have sought to explain the U.S. plan for achieving our objectives in the war torn country and the region....

Daniel DiRito | October 1, 2006 | 9:50 AM | link | Comments (1)
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