Thursday, August 25, 2005
Winning and Losing
Ezra weighs in on the politics of withdrawal and apologizes for being craven for even discussing it. I can understand why he felt he had to say that because a lot of people object to viewing this serious issue from a political standpoint. But I feel that politics are the only issue as far as Democrats are concerned. We haven't even the smallest bit of institutional power to affect any change in the president's Iraq policy.
This confusion continues to be a central problem for Democrats. We need to accept that we are not the governing party. If we think we are going to affect policy from our position as the irrelevant "other" party, we are sorely mistaken. Our elected officials aren't even invited to routine meetings on legislative issues; we will not be consulted on Iraq. This is an internal Republican party policy debate that they would love to cast as a partisan fight. I can see no reason why we should accomodate them by assuming responsibility for something over which we have absolutely no say and no control.
It's clear that Democrats are much, much better at actual governance than Republicans who seem stymied, confused and in over their heads. Their political agenda is good for getting (barely) elected but it has proven to be completely inadequate to actually run the country. So I'm not criticising the Democratic love of wonkish planning and analysis. It's exactly what the country will need when we again become the governing party and have to clean up this gargantuan mess the Republicans have made of things. But people don't vote for plans even though they insist to pollsters and focus groups that they do. They vote for (or against) leaders and visions.
In order to change the direction of this country we have to prioritize and our first priority and only responsibility is to get more Democrats elected to office so that we can change the balance of power. That's it. Everything we do must be in service of that goal.
So, let's not be afraid to talk about Iraq in political terms. Yes,there is a debate within the party about whether or how to withdraw from Iraq. But I don't believe it will be a very difficult one to resolve when all is said and done. Events and available troop strengths are pushing that issue far more than any Democrats can anticipate or plan for. If we capture a majority in 2006, I would hope that we immediately begin hearings and take an entirely fresh look at the situation as we go into the 2008 campaign. When we have the power to actually do something then we have the responsibility to dig out of this quagmire. Until then, this is Bush's war and Bush's war alone.
Ezra brought up 1972, but I think the more pertinent electoral analogy (although it is very imperfect) is 68. Nixon won because of the realignment of the south in response to the civil rights act. And because he was smart enough not to get in the way of the Democrats eating their own on Vietnam. He implied that he had a secret plan to end the war and used his "law and order" image to cement the idea that he wouldn't cut 'n run, while never saying anything specific. During the campaign it was Johnson's war, all the way.
Matt Yglesias says today:
I think David Brooks' column today makes it clear that conservatives are about done with this venture, too, though they'd like to label it a success and I'd prefer to label it a failure. But that's half semantics and half politics. I'd rather see the war end than see it drag on for years and years purely in order to make sure George W. Bush gets stuck with the blame for it.
Would that that were the choice. Unfortunately, the war is likely to go on for a good long time whether David Brooks thinks they can declare victory and go home or not. Sure, Bush is going to stage a draw-down before the '06 elections simply because he has to. The military can't keep up. But contrary to what others think, I think it's obvious that Bush plans to have troops in Iraq for a very long time. Just yesterday he said unequivocally "We will stay, we will fight, we will win." His hope is that Iraq can put together some vague semblance of a working government so that he can declare victory --- and stay.
Take, for example, Camp Victory North, a sprawling base near Baghdad International Airport, which the U.S. military seized just before the ouster of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Over the past year, KBR contractors have built a small American city where about 14,000 troops are living, many hunkered down inside sturdy, wooden, air-conditioned bungalows called SEA (for Southeast Asia) huts, replicas of those used by troops in Vietnam. There's a Burger King, a gym, the country's biggest PX—and, of course, a separate compound for KBR workers, who handle both construction and logistical support. Although Camp Victory North remains a work in progress today, when complete, the complex will be twice the size of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo—currently one of the largest overseas posts built since the Vietnam War.
Such a heavy footprint seems counterproductive, given the growing antipathy felt by most Iraqis toward the U.S. military occupation. Yet Camp Victory North appears to be a harbinger of America's future in Iraq. Over the past year, the Pentagon has reportedly been building up to 14 "enduring" bases across the country—long-term encampments that could house as many as 100,000 troops indefinitely. John Pike, a military analyst who runs the research group GlobalSecurity.org, has identified a dozen of these bases, including three large facilities in and around Baghdad: the Green Zone, Camp Victory North, and Camp al-Rasheed, the site of Iraq’s former military airport. Also listed are Camp Cook, just north of Baghdad, a former Republican Guard "military city" that has been converted into a giant U.S. camp; Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad; Camp Anaconda, a 15-square-mile facility near Balad that housed 17,000 soldiers as of May 2004 and was being expanded for an additional 3,000; and Camp Marez, next to Mosul Airport, where, in December, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the base's dining tent, killing 13 U.S. troops and four KBR contractors eating lunch alongside the soldiers.
Suspicions also run deep both inside Pentagon circles and among analysts that the Department of Defense is pouring billions of dollars into the facilities in pursuit of a different agenda entirely: to turn Iraq into a permanent base of operations in the Middle East.
One indication of an open-ended U.S. occupation is the amount of money that has already been spent on bases in Iraq. KBR’s first big building contract there, in June 2003, was a $200 million project to build and maintain "temporary housing units" for U.S. troops. Since then, according to military documents, it has received another $8.5 billion for work associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom. By far the largest sum—at least $4.5 billion—has gone to construction and maintenance of U.S. bases. By comparison, from 1999 to this spring, the U.S. government paid $1.9 billion to KBR for similar work in the Balkans.
I do not believe there is anything the national Democrats can do to change this policy. We have to change the government. Therefore, I think it's in their best interests to begin to define what winning and losing means before the Republicans do. In an e-mail exchange on this subject, reader Charles Saeger suggested:
"We cannot win the war in Iraq and staying could rouse terrorist sentiment against us"
"The Republicans lost the war in Iraq and our continued presence is rousing terrorist sentiment against us."
I happen to think this has the benefit of being true. The Bush administration lost the war before it began because it was unwinnable as a purely American/British venture. He didn't mishandle it. He didn't misjudge. He lost it.
I know it's unpalatable to use their frame, but I think it's pretty ingrained in the American psyche. We are the ultimate "win-lose" culture. Because of that I believe it is in our political interest and the country's security interests to frame this as a Republican loss. Terrorism is still a threat. Nukes in the hands of bad actors are a very, very serious threat. We are economically and militarily weakened by Bush's response to 9/11.
The Republicans lost Iraq. Like Lincoln when he replaced McClellan, the voters of the United States need to replace the Republicans if we want to "win" the war on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
If we can convince the country of that then we are in a good position to get them to listen to our alternative plans for withdrawal as a tactical retreat in the bigger war on terrorism. Framing it as an American loss, ("our" loss) however, will set the stage for another 30 years of "liberals wouldn't let us win it" bullshit. It's time to put that nonsense to bed. The GOP has proven in real time, right before our eyes, that they want to start wars but they don't have a fucking clue how to win them. That needs to be reiterated over and over again to the American public. If it sinks in we might just be able to find our way out of this ridiculous national security paradigm we've been in ever since the wingnuts asked "who lost China" back in 48. It created Vietnam and it created Iraq. Enough.
Who lost Iraq? George W. Bush and the Republican party.
digby 8/25/2005 01:32:00 PM