What I got right and wrong on the Iraq war

Brian Flemming has asked people to go into their March 2003 archives and report what they got right and what they got wrong about the Iraq War. (Via Crooked Timber and High Clearing). My old Zizka site is down, but I saved it in my computer.
Instead of March 2003, I looked at what I wrote on September 2002 (below the fold). By that time I was completely convinced that the Iraq War would happen, and the only debate I could see happening was between the realists and the neocons: the doves had been marginalized, and most Democrats were in hiding.
Things I mostly got right: the war, the occupation, the Bush administration, the Democrats, the media, the Bush long term strategy (endless war against someone or another) and the cynical use of the war as an excuse to ram through a mostly-unrelated domestic agenda. What I got wrong: I overestimated the negative international repurcussions in the Middle East and elsewhere. I feared the destabilization of the rest of the Middle East, and I also feared that Russia, China, India, or some other nation would try to take advantage once the US was tied down in Iraq. Those things could still happen, of course, but I expected things to be much worse internationally than they are by now.
So far the Bush Administration has been good for us cynics and negativists. Hopefully our run of good luck will end soon. I’ve been dreading the future for five years, and it wears you down.

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The Talking Dog’s Guantanamo Series

The Talking Dog has interviewed David Rose, author of Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights. This is only one of more than twenty interviews The Dog has conducted with people who have first-hand knowledge of what’s happening in Guantanamo. (These are all linked at the end of the Rose interview).
The Guantanamo issue tends to get lost in the shuffle, but it’s important in the long run because of what it signifies for the future of the U.S. If the Bush administration’s lawless authoritarianism is not reversed, much of the Constitution will effectively have been nullified.

Appalling story from CBS team in Iraq

Click on this link. It’s unbelievable.
Lara Logan of CBS News in Iraq has apparently had to send out an email begging people to ask CBS’s national news people to run her team’s reporting. The CBS top management has been so intimidated by the right-wing thugs that they’re suppressing stories.
Think about it. The CBS news team is risking their lives to get the news, but because of a bunch of screaming stay-at-home rightwing ideologues, their story is not being broadcast.
The reporters are now using the internet to get the word out. CBS itself has only a censorship function. It’s a travesty.
I just realized what’s so strange about this story. Logan’s email included a video clip of the coverage she wanted CBS to broadcast. In other words, she was able to broadcast the story herself, without CBS’s help. The internet has supplanted the major media even for the major media’s content-producers. This is a disgrace, all right, but it also tells you in no uncertain terms that media world we remember is dead as a doornail. Something big has got to change.

The big cynics whipped the little cynics

Finally, if [the liberal hawks] had regarded reality as an important basis for policy, wouldn’t they have realised that any enterprise run by people who prefer lies to truth is unlikely to succeed?

The dominant Bush people are pure political operatives focussed entirely on immediate political results. As O’Neill explained, this includes the policymakers: policymaking has been overwhelmed by electoral politics and Congressional manoeuvring. A lot of these operatives are not even ideologues, but just semi-criminal scam artists running their own games. They’ve been selected for their political skills, their willingness to be unethical, and their loyalty to the crime family.
The so-called liberal hawks weren’t suckered — they outsmarted themselves. They’re mostly centrists, much friendlier to moderate Republicans than to labor, anti-war Democrats, or left-liberal Democrats. They’re hawks pure and simple, and they’re fully committed to the anti-populist model of democracy. For them policy-making and campaigning for office are completely separate — during the elections you just tell the voters whatever seems likely to fly.
The liberal hawks were minor cynics, and they got bamboozled by the major cynics. They were cynical about the voters but serious about policy, but the Republicans were cynical about everything. When the operatives took over the Iraq War, it was reduced to photo-ops, soundbites, and graft.
The liberal hawks and the intelligent conservatives are starting to figure out what happened, but screw them. They had their time at bat, and they struck out looking.
An edited version of a comment I made at Crooked Timber.

Why Won’t Bush Face Reality?

(A response to Krugman’s column, excerpted here.)
Bush’s stubbornness doesn’t require a psychological explanation. He’s a cornered rat with no other choice. Yes, he’s throwing good money after bad, but it’s not his money. His money has been gone for a long time – he’s using our money to try to win his own money back.
The people on the Bush team have all staked their reputations and their careers on this war, and they cannot afford to admit that they were wrong. If they did, they’d have to admit that they are failures and that their adventurism has done serious damage to the nation they led. (In old Japan they would all have been expected to commit suicide, but we don’t work that way.)
Someone with a solid reputation and good credibility can admit a mistake and still remain respected, but before the war few of the Bush people had accomplished anything. Bush, Cheney, Perle, Ledeen, Feith, Rumsfeld , Wolfowitz, Kagan, Libby, Frum …. before the Iraq war they were nothing much. This war was their shot at the big time, but it failed. Instead of the heroes they planned to become, they are now worse than nobodies — they’re object lessons in the perils of arrogant adventurism.
We should not try to change the minds of the people in government, in the media, and in the world of ideas who gave us this war. What we need to do is to displace them and make them harmless. They’re going down, and we can’t let them take their nation down with them.

How we could have a better press corps

An open letter to the blogosphere:

For some time now I’ve been arguing that the problems of the media primarily are caused at the ownership level, and that it’s foolish to zero in on specific individual reporters and commentators. The real powers are invisible (owners, publishers, and editors) , and the people whose names we see are basically responding to incentives. Bad reporters get promoted, good reporters get fired (not always, but far too often).
We have the same media wise men today that we did in 2002, even though they have failed us disastrously — Kristol and some other failures have even been promoted. Neither the Iraq War nor the Democratic Congressional victory seems to have taught anyone anything. We can vote politicians out, but not media — they are entrenched. As we speak, they’re starting to beat up on Nancy Pelosi.
Everyone knows about Scaife, Moon, Peretz, and Murdoch, but I believe that all of the media owners are hopeless. Financial management now dominates operations management (at the Times and the Post, the same individuals head both boards), and the Republican tax cuts and deregulation moves have succeeded in buying the media. (Someone at the Seattle Times specifically named the estate tax as their motive for supporting Republicans). When Ted Turner sold CNN to finance people, CNN went very bad very quickly. Turner was hardly perfect, but he did think about other things than the profit margin.
This country will never be healthy until new media institutions have been brought into being. National TV, national cable, national radio, and a national newspaper — all new. Air America was a very small start, and it was very poorly supported. We need much more than that.
This is doable — there’s a lot of liberal money out there. But for whatever reason (I suggest stupidity and inattention, but that’s just me), the liberal money people are reluctant to put money in media. The new media wouldn’t necessarily be profitable, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a money sink either. The main thing is, we need it. A considerable percentage of Americans never hear a liberal opinion except in conservative caricature form.
For whatever reason, this message has had no resonance at all so far. But I am convinced that it’s the main thing we need.
John Emerson

Malkin may get this guy killed

As part of their claim that news coverage from Iraq is dishonest and fake, Michelle Malkin and other conservative operatives have been claiming for weeks that Jamil Hussein does not exist. Back in November, Hussein verified the details of a particularly savage political murder, in which six Sunnis were set on fire when they came out of their mosque. (No one knows why Malkin felt that these six of the hundreds of political murders in Iraq were so important.)
Well, Jamil Hussein has been found, and he’s been arrested. Getting arrested in Iraq is no picnic, and I hope he survives.
Good work, Michelle! The guy really did exist along, and he still does, but that may not be true much longer. This should teach the Iraqis not to talk to the lying American press!

Put the Bush Foreign Policy into Receivership

Two very good pieces suggesting what can be done to restrain Bush and Cheney: Putting the Bush Foreign Policy into Receivership I and Putting the Bush Foreign Policy into Receivership II. This is the kind of thinking we need to be doing — it’s much more important than strategizing the 2008 election or betting on the 2008 nomination horserace. Bush and Cheney still have the power to bring on disasters which will make our present situation in the Middle East seem wonderful in comparison.

Carnation Revolution?

At this point I’m hoping for a tacit sitdown strike by the military. They almost seem to be a more likely source of resistance than the Democrats. Certainly a more likely source than the media, which is made up of people very much like Bush: “Look good, repeat slogans, be loyal to the program.”
Without the media, mass resistance is unlikely to happen, and in the wake of the Vietnam War mass resistance was publicly discredited and jokified by a well-planned disinformation campaign. Even though the Iraq war now has only about 20% approval, a fair chunk of the 80% disapproving are super-hawks worse than Bush, and the militant anti-war group is very, very small.
Bush’s actions have partially discredited the principle of civilian control of the military. Behind that principle has always been fear of a military coup d’etat, or of free-lance military aggression by loose-cannon generals, but there have also been times when generals have been accused of fighting too timidly . McClellan in the Civil War is the example neocons always use — but WII Germany on the Russian Front is more apropos today. We’re hoping that the military will restrain and neutralize our incompetent Armageddonist Commander in Chief.
The “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal in 1974 is an example of good military men who resisted bad civilians. This event has been forgotten by history because it was successful and almost bloodless, but it deserves much more attention. A fascist dictatorship was brought down by a military mutiny, and nothing bad happened afterwards. (I’m grasping at straws, of course.)
The Democrats have been steadily improving, but not fast enough, and in time of war Congress has almost no leverage over the CinC anyway (as Bush keeps reminding us). The only thing that will work at this point would be strong, forthright attacks on the war, backed by the threat of impeachment — this issue can’t be nickel-and-dimed with quibbles and reasonable responses like Reid’s.
And it can’t be done in a civil way any more, either. The people who brought us this war (including the media people and think-tank spokesmen) have to be removed from their positions of power or influence, and their reputations have to be destroyed. They can’t maintain their credibility if the war is seen for what it is, and their own careers are more important to them than anything that happens to anyone else.
But what are the chances?

The Chiefs of Staff aren’t buying Bush’s lame bullshit

One thing that has to be repeated and repeated, and I think that this is what is motivating the generals: there’s no way that a 10% increase in forces, with no significant change in strategy, can change anything militarily. I don’t know where the slogan “one last push” came from — from the media or from the administration — but the word “last” is a dead giveaway. It cues you to ask “And after that, what?” (To my knowledge, no one in the administration has disavowed the “one last push” meme).
The reason that the increase of forces is so small — and everyone knows this — is that we’ve already committed everything we have. The proposed increases just amount to stretching existing troops farther and pushing them harder, with longer tours and shorter breaks. We have no reserve.
The “surge” is an obvious desperation window-dressing move, and the strategists on the other side have to have figured this out already. That means that if they’ve got anything up their sleeve (and how could they not?) we’ll see it before, during, or immediately after the buildup.
My guess is that either that a.) the Bush people are hunkered down in their bunkers and losing it, b.) they’re buying time so that they can properly set up the “stabbed in the back” accusation, or c.) they’re so committed to spin, misinformation, and politics over policy that they’re doing the only thing that they know how to do.

What’s unthinkable in Iraq?

I’ll tell you what’s not unthinkable. A three-sided war between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey with the US forces caught in the middle. That’s not unthinkable. A bloody Turkish occupation of the Kurdish areas is not unthinkable. Al Qaeda rule in Saudi Arabia isn’t unthinkable either. These are among the real possibilities that Bush has given us.
What’s unthinkable is that any American should suffer adverse career consequences because of their advocacy of the war. Bush and Cheney will be untouched and will finish out their terms. The rabble of advisers from PNAC and other groups who promoted the war with lies, distortions, and wishful thinking will continue to pull down their salaries and will continue to appear on TV. The journalistic cheerleaders who stovepiped misinformation will continue to collect hefty salaries and will continue to share their opinions with us.
We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Democrats “taking political advantage of the situation”, but the ball is really in the other court now. The ones who are behaving shamelessly and destructively right now are the ones who are trying to salvage the Bush administration. We cannot allow the Bush administration to be salvaged. If Bush and Cheney remain in power, they will make things much worse.
Bush and Cheney stand condemned by history, and their enablers and apologists (including the Democrats among them) stand condemned too. But I doubt that a single one of them will suffer any real consequences during their own lifetimes, and I fear that the world twenty years from now will be as strange to those of us who remain alive then as the world of 1934 was to anyone who could still remember 1914.