Sunday, January 21, 2007

No magic formula

"I watched Bush's speech with some people who thought it would be a good idea to take a sip of liquor every time he told a lie. Three days later my head is aching.”
David Swanson

Mr Bush’s long-awaited speech was supposed to signal a change of US strategy in Iraq.

We consulted Members of Congress from both parties, allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts.


‘Allies’ as in the UK? Well, you have the UK’s support, but don’t expect it to contribute more troops.

In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq.

And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.

The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits.

They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions.

Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people.

Commitment and ‘deepening’ is not what the Iraqi Study Group led by James Baker advised. Even though Mr Bush took the “no magic formula” phrase directly from the report, he seemed to have disregarded the rest:

Many Americans are dissatisfied, not just with the situation in Iraq but with the state of
our political debate regarding Iraq. Our political leaders must build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to what is now a lengthy and costly war. Our country deserves a debate that prizes substance over rhetoric, and a policy that is adequately funded and sustainable. The President and Congress must work together. Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support.

Bipartisan approach… try convincing the Democrat-dominated Congress to give the rubber stamp to pour more funds and troops into Iraq.

Reason for failure:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighbourhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents.

And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes.

They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work.

The ‘cure’

This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help.

So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence - and bring security to the people of Baghdad.

This will require increasing American force levels. So I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.


Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not.

Here are the differences: In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighbourhoods of terrorists and insurgents - but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned.

This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.

In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighbourhoods that are home to those fuelling the sectarian violence.

This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighbourhoods - and [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

What’s to guarantee that the ‘terrorists and insurgents’ won’t return again? Are the Americans going to be stationed in these neighbourhoods on a permanent basis?

More strategy for success: throw money at the people

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations.

Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighbourhoods and communities.

So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.

To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

Not just Iraq

This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq.

Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops.

We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.

And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East.

Such an aggressive approach and tone toward Iran and Syria is totally contrary to the advice of the Iraqi Study Group:

The United States should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an

international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. This diplomatic effort should include every country that has an interest in avoiding a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors. Iraq’s neighbors and key states in and outside the region should form a support group to reinforce security and national reconciliation within Iraq, neither of which Iraq can achieve on its own.

Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively. In seeking to influence the behavior of both countries, the United States has disincentives and incentives available.

“Decisive ideological struggle of our time”

On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life.

In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy - by advancing liberty across a troubled region.

It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom - and help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.

A disguised way to say it’s a struggle between good and evil. What makes it so certain that it is ‘our’ way of life that the Iraqis and peoples of the Middle East want?

Don’t hope for victory

Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent.

Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue - and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.

The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved.

There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.

But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world - a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people.

‘Deck of a battleship’? This image looks strangely familiar

Go big’ before going home

If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

There are a few more strategies that Bush has forgotten.

‘Noble and necessary cause’

We also need to examine ways to mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas - where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny.

In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us.

These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary - and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time.

Self-proclaimed messiah

It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom.

Yet times of testing reveal the character of a Nation.

And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed.

Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and we will prevail.

We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours. Thank you and good night.

‘Author of Liberty’? Sounds like another of Bush’s fundamentalist Christian thinking … The ‘Readers of Liberty’ are not impressed, especially with the high death toll every single day:

Underscoring the challenge, even as the United Nations released its figure — 34,452 deaths in all — at least 70 more Iraqis were killed on Tuesday when a series of bomb blasts struck a largely Shiite university in northeast Baghdad.

After almost four years of war, in which Americans have focused largely on fighting an elusive enemy — Sunni militants and, more recently, Shiite death squads — military commanders say that keeping Iraqis alive has now moved to the center of the new strategy proposed by President Bush.

For many Iraqis, the pledge comes too late. The numbers reported by the United Nations were more than tenfold the number of American deaths for the entire war. As previous attempts to secure Baghdad have failed, tens of thousands of middle-class Iraqis have given up and fled the country. Those who remain are becoming increasingly radicalized as the violence draws them into a cycle of revenge.

The United Nations report said an average of 94 Iraqis died every day in 2006, with about half the deaths occurring in the capital. The majority died from gunshot wounds, in execution-style killings that are a common method for death squads, both Sunni and Shiite. The report registered the most lethal month as October, with deaths declining slightly in November and December.

Iraqi death toll exceeded 34,000 in '06, UN Says

The ‘surge’ in the number of troops and money to be poured into Iraq has been called the ‘The Texas Strategy’:

The "surge" is just another stalling tactic, designed to buy more time.

Oh, and one of the favorite techniques used by the owners of savings and loan associations to generate phony profits - it involved making high-interest loans to crooked or flaky real estate developers - came to be known as the "Texas strategy."
The administration has spent the last three years pretending that its splendid little war isn't a big disaster. There have been the bromides (we're making "good progress"); the promises (we have a "strategy for victory"); and, as always, attacks on the media for not reporting the good news from Iraq.

Who you gonna believe, the president or your lying eyes?

Now Mr. Bush has grudgingly sort- of admitted that things aren't going well - but he says his "new way forward" will fix everything.

So it's still the Texas strategy: the war's architects are trying to keep their failed venture going as long as possible.

Mr. Bush calls his critics "irresponsible," saying that they don't have an alternative to his strategy. But they do: setting a timetable for withdrawal, so that we can cut our losses, and trying to save what can be saved. It isn't a strategy for victory because that's no longer an option. It's a strategy for acknowledging reality.

The lesson of the savings and loan scandal was that when a bank has failed, you shouldn't let the owner string you along with promises - you should shut the thing down. We should do the same with Mr. Bush's failed war.

What did Mr Bush forget to mention?

Earlier this evening we aired a speech by President George W. Bush that may have left you with some false impressions. We need to correct these matters of fact.

The president's speech did not mention WMDs or Saddam Hussein or attempt to explain why we are occupying the nation of Iraq or what it would mean for that occupation to "win" or "lose." This may have left you with the impression that no justification is required by law to forcibly occupy someone else's country and kill a significant portion of their population. That is not the case.

The president made no reference to the permanent military bases he is illegally constructing in Iraq. This may have left you with the impression that he plans to leave Iraq some day. This, combined with his references to democracy, may have given you a certain idea of his plans for Iraq that does not seem to be suggested by the president's actions.

Bush also expressed support for a number of Middle-Eastern nations allied with the United States, notably Saudi Arabia. This may have given you the idea that these nations are democracies. They are dictatorships.

Bush began his speech by connecting Iraq to 9/11. In fact, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. We apologize to the millions who have lost loved ones because of this lie. When Bush said that al Qaeda was "still" active in Iraq, he failed to add that it had only become active in Iraq as a result of his invasion and occupation of that nation.

Bush said that he would see that the people of Iraq profit from its oil. This statement bears no relationship to actual US policy, and Bush has no legal right to decide what happens to another nation's resources.

Bush suggested that most Iraqis want the occupation to continue. This is false.

Bush suggested that occupying Iraq was making Americans safer. His own intelligence analysts disagree.

Bush implied that he can escalate wars at his own discretion. In fact, Congress can prevent him from doing so if it chooses to.

Of course, Bush has escalated this war in the past. We have not reported on that as such because he did not make a big deal of it. The reason he is making a big deal of it this time was not addressed in his speech.

What was new in the speech was a threat to Iran and Syria. Bush claimed that Iran is providing material to Iraqi resisters. There is no evidence of this. Bush said he was sending ships and missile defense systems to the region. These steps have no clear connection to Iraq and may be seen as part of a threat to Iran.

Bush said not one word about all of the Iraqi blood he has spilled. Approximately 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq, thus far. And the death rate is increasing, not diminishing.

Why the surge? The reason maybe the hidden agenda to go to Iraq in the first place: "It's the oil, stupid." More evidence here:

As the [UK’s The Independent] notes, the [new Iraqi hydrocarbon] law will give Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell and other carbon cronies of the White House unprecedented sweetheart deals, allowing them to pump gargantuan profits from Iraq's nominally state-owned oilfields for decades to come. This law has been in the works since the very beginning of the invasion - indeed, since months before the invasion, when the Bush administration brought in Phillip Carroll, former CEO of both Shell and Fluor, the politically-wired oil servicing firm, to devise "contingency plans" for divvying up Iraq's oil after the attack. Once the deed was done, Carroll was made head of the American "advisory committee" overseeing the oil industry of the conquered land, as Joshua Holland of has chronicled in two remarkable reports on the backroom maneuvering over Iraq's oil: "Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil and "The US Takeover of Iraqi Oil."

From those earliest days until now, throughout all the twists and turns, the blood and chaos of the occupation, the Bush administration has kept its eye on this prize. The new law offers the barrelling buccaneers of the West a juicy set of production-sharing agreements (PSAs) that will maintain a fig leaf of Iraqi ownership of the nation's oil industry - while letting Bush's Big Oil buddies rake off up to 75 percent of all oil profits for an indefinite period up front, until they decide that their "infrastructure investments" have been repaid. Even then, the agreements will give the Western oil majors an unheard-of 20 percent of Iraq's oil profits - more than twice the average of standard PSAs, the Independent notes.

Of course, at the moment, the "security situation" - i.e., the living hell of death and suffering that Bush's "war of choice" has wrought in Iraq - prevents the Oil Barons from setting up shop in the looted fields. Hence Bush's overwhelming urge to "surge" despite the fierce opposition to his plans from Congress, the Pentagon and some members of his own party. Bush and his inner circle, including his chief adviser, old oilman Dick Cheney, believe that a bigger dose of blood and iron in Iraq will produce a sufficient level of stability to allow the oil majors to cash in the PSA chips that more than 3,000 American soldiers have purchased for them with their lives.
As the Independent wryly noted in its Sunday story, Dick Cheney himself revealed the true goal of the war back in 1999, in a speech he gave when he was still CEO of Halliburton. "Where is the oil going to come from" to slake the world's ever-growing thirst, asked Cheney, who then answered his own question: "The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

New Oil Law Means Victory in Iraq for Bush

Striking similarities with Nixon’s ‘Vietnamisation’ speech in 1969. Just substitute totalitarianism for terrorism.

And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all people on this earth.

I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed.

If it does succeed, what the critics say now won't matter. If it does not succeed, anything I say then won't matter.

I know it may not be fashionable to speak of patriotism or national destiny these days. But I feel it is appropriate to do so on this occasion. Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.

Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.

It’s too easy to draw parallels:

  • First there is the realisation in Washington that it is not winning. Mr Bush has admitted this himself
  • Second, there is a policy of trying to hand over responsibility to the local government in the midst of battle, not after it - this happened in Vietnam with the policy of Vietnamisation
  • Third, there is the belief by the US administration that more troops are an important part of the answer
  • Fourth, there is an opposite belief by others that the enterprise cannot work and that disengagement must be sought - US public doubt is a theme common to both conflicts
  • Fifth, in Vietnam too the president consulted an outside group - they were called the Wise Men and, like the Iraq Study group, they too urged a policy designed to lead to withdrawal

This opinion piece to agrees too:

How similar this all is to the situation we face in Iraq now.

In Vietnam and Iraq, we tried to occupy a country that posed minimal threat to the US. We waged a counterinsurgency effort against adequately skilled, motivated and well-supplied fighters who did not want us occupying their land. We tried to prop up a weak and corrupt foreign government that we had helped to install.

The circle has come around again in frightening and depressing ways, complete with thousands of US troops and innocent civilians (including children) dead and horribly injured, war profiteers getting rich, and America's reputation in the world severely damaged.

We also have a US administration, like the Nixon administration, that has lost the trust of most of the people and the Congress, and which strikes many as being out of touch with reality and dangerous.

Now, as in the days when Nixon was leaving the presidency and Ford assumed office, Congress is trying to take responsibility to resolve a difficult and poorly thought-out war of choice, waged in an apparently incompetent way.

Some reactions to Bush’s new ‘strategy’:

What we will discover in the next few months, therefore, is simply whether the entire premise of this strategy is actually true. The president is asking us to find this out one more time. He seems to disbelieve the overwhelming evidence on the ground - that the dynamic has changed beyond recognition. His intellectual rubric - democracy versus terror - has not changed to deal with fast-changing events, or to take account of the sectarian dynamic that his appallingly managed occupation has spawned. […]

[…] The only leverage this president really has left is the looming regional war that withdrawal would bring. Yes, if we leave, the civil war will take off. And if we stay, with this level of troops, the civil war will also take off. One way, we get enmeshed in the brutal civil war in the region. One way, we get to face them another day, and perhaps benefit by setting them against each other, and destabilizing Iran. That's the awful choice this president has brought us to. Under these circumstances, I favor withdrawal, while of course, hoping that a miracle could take place. But make no mistake: a miracle is what this president needs. And a miracle is what we will now have to pray for.
Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish

"2007 is going to be a difficult year. There is going to be violence."
Senior Adviser to President Bush, Dan Bartlett

Aside: a fascinating account of Bush’s psyche:

Much of the world outside the US considers Bush a bully. "You're either with us or against us" is a bully's threat that anyone can recognize. The Bush doctrine of pre-emptive strikes is a bully's doctrine.

For his intimates and those closer to home, Bush appears to be what is called an emotional bully. An emotional bully gains control using sarcasm, teasing, mocking, name calling, threatening, ignoring, lying, or angering the other and forcing him to back down. Bush administration insider accounts describe this sort of behavior from the president. He's well known for his dismissive remarks. His penchant for giving nicknames to everyone has its dark, bully's side. Naming people is a way to control them.


[On] famous Bushisms, such as:

There is no doubt in my mind that we should allow the world's worst leaders to hold America hostage, to threaten our peace, to threaten our friends and allies with the world's worst weapons.

They [the terrorists] never stop thinking of ways to harm our country and our people - and neither do we.

To a psychiatrist, these are not mere malapropisms and mistakes in speech. They suggest ambivalence oscillating violently between poles. They suggest a desperate uncertainty about everything that the president reflexively seeks to hide by taking absolutist, rigid positions about "victory," "success," "mission accomplished," "stay the course," "compassion," "tax cuts," "no child left behind," and a host of other issues.


"I'm the commander - see, I don't need to explain - I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation." [Bush in an interview]

As commander in chief, as a war president, he could assemble his other psychological defenses around him. He could split the world into good and evil and the country would follow. His internal oppositions could be projected without much resistance from the populace or his adversaries. He could be the gut-led, divinely inspired "Decider," to save the country. He could project own internal fears of being "discovered as a fraud" into a threat "out there" waiting to happen. He could surround himself with loyalists whom he could emotionally bully, creating a new family that would admire him and that he could control. Meanwhile the ambiguities of political decisions that can always be rationalized offer a safe haven. Until history judges me (and that's a long way off, maybe never) I can't be definitively seen as incompetent.

"And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while." (16 September 2001)

It’s a crusade, as Bush has repeatedly called the ‘war on terror’, but it’s an unfortunate metaphor which only serves to arouse historical animosity and pains:

When the crusaders first arrived amid their slaughter of Arabs (and of Jews), as the remarkable Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf reminds us in his history, The Crusades through Arab Eyes, they were looked on with horror by local Arab populations. They were feared as barbarians, as mass murderers, quite literally as cannibals. The chronicler Usamah Ibn Munqidh, would, for instance, write: "All those who were well-informed about the [crusaders] saw them as beasts, superior in courage and fighting ardour but in nothing else, just as animals are superior in strength and aggression."

"This unkind assessment," adds Maalouf, "accurately reflects the impression made by the [crusaders] upon their arrival in Syria: they aroused a mixture of fear and contempt, quite understandable on the part of an Arab nation which, while far superior in culture, had lost all combative spirit."

Americans, despite heavy competition, now look like the new barbarians of the arc of instability - and things are going to get worse. Don't think the calling of air power into downtown Baghdad is likely to be forgotten. This is the behavior of barbarians, no less so than the use of suicide bombs in Baghdad's streets.

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