Monday, June 20, 2005

Tipping Point

Chap over at Chapomatic, has graciously blogrolled me and engaged my most recent post concerning where the Administration is with its credibility and thus, its control over the situation in Iraq. His lengthy rejoinder can be found here.

I won't quibble with his chiding over my "Chomsky-like logic" where I employ the rhetorical device of "no person who wants to be taken seriously..." when it comes to where things stand.

But Chomsky-like or not, I believe that a "tipping point" in the crucial arena of public opinion has been reached. It's not just the fact that a couple of conservatives showed up for a seminar heard by less than 30 people at the Progressive Policy Institute to jointly bash the strategy employed thus far in Iraq that constitutes the tipping point, it's my interpretation of the broader constellation of which that event was a mere dot. And whether one conservative, Larry Diamond, can speak any Arab language or is just a doofus in general, hardly influences the big picture.

A more thorough examination is in order to make my case; in no particular order consider:

Item -- The attacks in Iraq, while perhaps diminished in number, have increased dramatically in intensity. Not only are average Iraqis getting creamed, the Iraqi "security" forces (can either be police or military units) are taking the brunt of the casualties. Our exit strategy at the moment is directly tied to the success of these forces. If we can't recruit, if we can't train, if we can't deploy, and most importantly, if we can't maintain these forces at a sufficient level, then American forces can't leave. This ties to .....

..Background Item -- Americans have only moderate tolerance for war and/or imperial actions. We will fight willingly, readily, with a broad consensus, and at length when it appears that national interests are truly at stake. Examples (American Revolution, Civil War, WWII). Americans historically will not provide broad and enduring support for wars where vital national interests do not appear to be at stake, where the aims appear to be more imperial rather than maintenance of the republic and its values. Examples (War of 1812, Mexican War, Filipino War, WWI, Korea, and most famously, Vietnam). The War of 1812 came perilously close to splitting the young nation. The Mexican War DID split the nation both at the moment of prosecution of the war, and then with powerful residual effects culminating in the Civil War. The Filipino War was the most unpopular war in American history until the Vietnam War, with American soldiers defecting to the other side -- it is the most unstudied war that should be studied. WWI was so unpopular towards the end of our 18-month participation, that the American public, if not its government and business community, remained hyperisolationist in the 1930s and 1940, 1941, in spite of American ships being sunk by Japan and Germany. I think we're all up to speed on Korea and Vietnam, so no comment at the moment is necessary.

Item -- The primary rallying cry for the war, "Saddam has WMD and he and his Al Qaeda allies will use them to repeat a 9/11 attack" has found to be entirely without merit with the exception of those who insist on faith-based intel.

Item -- The Downing Street Memo(s) finally grow(s) legs. So not only was the WMD claim without merit, it would appear to be an outright fabrication. The fact that the GOP Noise Machine is simultaneously calling the memos "fake" while also maintaining that there's "no smoking gun" tells me that the memos are serious stuff.

Item -- In an email, Chap admonished that in this war, as in all wars, you learn from your errors and go forward. But that sensible advice does not appear to be "operative" in the current administration. A democratic leader cannot prosecute a war in the same manner that a candidate in a democracy runs for the presidency. Yet, the Bush Administration seems to have turned over the politics of the war to Karl Rove. This entails an isolated president who does not listen and thus, cannot respond in a sensible, credible, and reassuring manner to the American people (think FDR) and thus cannot hold the consensus together. Senator Hagel puts it squarely: "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality," Hagel tells U.S. News. "It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

And from the equally important military perspective, is the CIC learning from mistakes and creating new "strategery" and just not telling the American public about these changes (which would constitute an admission of error), or is Generalissimo Bush as hardheaded with the Pentagon as he is with the rest of us?

Item -- Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican who coined the derisive "freedom fries" term (and whose Third District is home to the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune), has teamed with anti-war liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich, and Texas Republican/libertarian, Ron Paul, to co-sponsor a bill calling for a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, creating in the process a small coalition but one that spans the American political spectrum. Moderate Senate Republicans (McCain, Hagel, Chaffee, Graham) appear increasingly uneasy with the Bush approach.

Background Item -- Politics in the US operates on two-year and four-year cycles. We're coming up on the two-year. Beginning right after Labor Day, congressional and senatorial candidates for 2006 are going to have to make a choice -- stay the course in Iraq or not. Barring some unlikely turn for the better in Iraq, the situation there, along with the economy here at home (the issues are linked) will be the top two issues in the campaign. Will Republican incumbents stay with Bush's weak economy, massive deficits, massive war debts with little visible return, or cut him loose. Republican primary challengers are going to have an easy time of preparing their message: "I'll bring the troops home and/or redeploy them in a way that is more substantial to true homeland security than Iraq is, and I'll restore fiscal conservatism in Washington." I don't see the GOP primaries being marked by who is the most anti-gay or anti-abortion. It will be who is the true conservative based on homeland security (including illegal immigration) and deficits. In other words, I believe that the Lou Dobbs Republicans are going to carry the day in the GOP primaries. And that's bad news for the Bush team.

Item -- The Bush Administration's credibility in general, not just the war, has taken tremendous hits (mostly self-inflicted) during the first 6 months of the second term. Leaving credibility on the "war on terror" and Iraq aside, the President has hurt himself tremendously by demagoging the Social Security issue, not to mention the misstep on Schiavo, global warming, and the insane hardheadedness on stem cells. You lose credibility in one area and you lose it in another.

Item -- George Bush's popularity is at an all-time low for a second term president, at this stage in his presidency, for the last 100 years, if not in our entire history.

Item -- Deep Throat is revealed. We remember about holding a President accountable. The right denounces Mark Felt as a traitor and denounces anonymous sources in general, but some journalists/editors/news directors start to fantasize about what it would be like to have a pair of balls. The other items in this list have also provided the scent of blood in the water and item immediately above provided the license to attack.

Item -- Newsweek botches the Gitmo/Koran story because a Pentagon source backtracks. The White House calls for blood. But then it turns out that the basic story was right after all which further emboldens the media which in turn...

...Item -- Ressurrects the spectacle of Abu Grahib and the ugliness of Gitmo which flatly puts the Administration on the defensive.

I guess I could go on but I think that's enough. When I add it all up, this is what I come up with:

The Bush Administration no longer finds a public willing to buy what they are selling without asking questions that the Bush team is unwilling and/or unable to answer. The product that they sold in early 2003, appears to most Americans, to have been oversold; they certainly did not buy a long-term war; and they most certainly did not sign up for a "generational committment" to use Condi's words, because that turkey wasn't on the auction block in March of 2003. Americans have become increasingly uneasy with the inevitable nastiness that accompanies all war: the Iraqi civilian casualties, casualties suffered by our own forces, and the unseemly, unAmerican aspects of Abu Grahib and Gitmo -- nastiness they could live with if victory appeared to be in sight and/or continued support appeared to truly enhance homeland security.

In a free market, in a democracy, if you don't like one salesperson/politician, you find a substitute. And once disenchanted with one vendor, you won't go back until you're disenchanted with the substitute. I believe that the Bush Administration has irretrievably lost control of Iraq policy because of its own ignorance, hubris, failure to pay homage to basic American values, lack of candor and focus, while doing direct damage to the fragile war consensus by its demagoguery on domestic issues.

And the sad fact is, is that while we wait for another set of drivers to grab the reins that the American public will trust, the situation will just get worse for American service men and women.