the blog of DC Drinking Liberally
We had a great turnout at DC Drinking Liberally last night, and I thought I’d post a few random links related to conversations I had there:
It was nice to see everyone yesterday evening, and it was a lot of fun. I got a lot done I didn’t intend to, mostly by talking about the concepts behind the book I’m writing - though I did learn one important lesson.
Trying to reasonably discuss the book you’re writing (and associated concepts) about the mechanisms behind emotion, group identity, and addiction that influence our political and social decisions is a lot harder when you’re going through nicotine withdrawal.
Back to the drawing board on the whole quitting smoking thing.
The talk today in the Post is all about the new GAO report on the troop surge: “Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals.” The predictable debate over the report has already begun, with the White House dismissing it as an attempt by Democrats to undercut the White House’s claims of progress (the GAO is a legislative branch agency). Another pointless round of accusations and counteraccusations of bias.
So instead let’s look at the National Intelligence Estimate that came out a few days ago. Democrats have already complained that this report was softened in order to make things sound better, but it’s still interesting to look at the NIE’s judgments (warning: pdf):
There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq’s security situation since our last National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in January 2007. The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks. Coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements, and some Sunni insurgents, have reduced al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied it grassroots support in some areas. However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. (emphasis in original)
We assess…that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance.
These statements are almost self-contradictory, and seem to split the difference on the issue of progress/no progress. On the one hand they believe we’ll continue to see improvements in security. On the other hand, they are not willing to predict that 12 months of “modest” improvements in security would bring violence to a level significantly below what it is now. What are we to make of this? It sounds suspiciously like a cop-out.
These are some of their reasons for cautious sorta-kinda neither optimism nor pessimism:
Intra-Shia conflict involving factions competing for power and resources probably will intensify as Iraqis assume control of provincial security. In Basrah, violence has escalated with the drawdown of Coalition forces there. Local militias show few signs of reducing their competition for control of valuable oil resources and territory.
The Sunni Arab community remains politically fragmented, and we see no prospective leaders that might engage in meaningful dialogue and deliver on national agreements.
Kurdish leaders remain focused on protecting the autonomy of the Kurdish region and reluctant to compromise on key issues.
The IC assesses that the emergence of “bottom-up” security initiatives, principally among Sunni Arabs and focused on combating AQI, represent the best prospect for improved security over the next six to 12 months, but we judge these initiatives will only translate into widespread political accommodation and enduring stability if the Iraqi Government accepts and supports them. (emphasis in original)
In other words, political progress directly impacts on improved security and visa-versa, obviously.
[W]e judge that the ISF have not improved enough to conduct major operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support. (emphasis in original)
Militia and insurgent influences continue to undermine the reliability of some ISF units, and political interference in security operations continues to undermine Coalition and ISF efforts.
The Maliki government is implementing plans to expand the Iraqi Army and to increase its overall personnel strength to address critical gaps, but we judge that significant security gains from those programs will take at least six to 12 months, and probably longer, to materialize. (emphasis added)
The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.(emphasis in original)
The most favorable reading of this NIE is that we may have just reached a turning point where violence is just beginning to come down in Iraq (the decrease in overall attacks over the last 2 months). But we are also repeatedly reminded that we should expect to see violence and increasing Iraqi government instability for at least the next year — essentially, the forseeable future — before things start to get better. Hmm.
Sorry. No deal. If the level of violence (i.e. both overall attacks AND overall deaths) is just as high, say, 6 months from now as it is today, then the natural conclusion is NOT that we should reserve judgment and see if there’s progress a year after that, but that the surge — you guessed it — is not succeeding.
There are those on the other side of the aisle who show some ability to look at things somewhat more objectively, though. Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former senior intelligence analyst for the Secretary of Defense and a former aide to John McCain, is no proponent of troop withdrawal. But he visited Iraq this month and came back unconvinced that any of the examples of progress he did see (Anbar Province, Anbar Province, Anbar Province) have anything to do with the troop surge. Cordesman’s conclusion:
I did not see any dramatic change in our position in Iraq during this trip. … I did not see success for the strategy that President Bush announced in January.
Cordesman’s report for CSIS is worth a read as well. Not that I agree with all his conclusions, but his analysis of the evidence is way more nuanced than anything I’m seeing in the MSM. See here for an executive summary (with link to full pdf report).
No duh, of course. But what I’ve noticed is that Bush’s comments are increasingly ignored by Democrats. Sometimes that’s understandable, given all the stalled debates that everyone’s simply tired of hearing by now.
But at times Bush says things that are so achingly wrong and/or destructive that it seems a mistake not to respond. After all, he is still the head of state for a good long time to come. He does matter.
Two examples from today:
Speaking on the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, the president made sure not to miss an opportunity to engage in some nasty partisan cheerleading. How statesmanlike…:
When I became governor of Texas in 1995, I recruited [Al Gonzales] from one of Texas’ prestigious law firms to be my general counsel. He went on to become Texas’ 100th secretary of state and to serve on our state’s supreme court.
In the long course of our work together this trusted adviser became a close friend.
These various positions have required sacrifice from Al, his wife Becky, their sons Jared, Graham and Gabriel. And I thank them for their service to the country.
After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision.
It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding [sic] from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.
Yeah, right. So why did any number of Republicans in Congress join Democrats in calling for his resignation, Mr. President? Oh, that’s right. Not taking any questions.
Just a couple of hours later, Bush was in New Mexico stumping for Sen. Pete Domenici. Bush again, speaking about Iraq:
It’s in our interests that we help the Iraqi people succeed. Success in Iraq will be a major blow to the extremists and radicals who would like to attack America again. And that’s why the United States will continue to support Iraq’s leaders and all the Iraqi people in their efforts to overcome the forces of terror that seek to overthrow a nascent democracy.
Yes, it is in our interest to help Iraq succeed. Stated another way, we have a moral obligation to help a people who are suffering horribly to find peace and to rebuild. So let’s talk about what it would really take to get those peace talks underway, Mr. President. How about a presidential envoy for Iraq? How about agreeing to put an end to our offensives in return for a cease fire among the sects? How about negotiating a timetable for withdrawal? “No, no, no,” says Bush. That’s not what we’re here to talk about!
And then the inevitable segue to terrorism. Ok, Mr. President, let’s imagine the most optimistic of all scenarios: the violence in Iraq vanishes, leaving a virtually utopian, democratic Iraq. In such a case the Iraqis would certainly be better off, but how would that be a major blow to terrorists? Al Qaeda would undoubtedly still see it as their solemn duty to punish America for unjustly invading Iraq. The logic of revenge as justice is very powerful, and unfortunately, Al Qaeda would probably find a good deal of sympathy for such sentiments. Beyond the issue of the Iraq war, Bush continues to ignore many of the biggest Mideast issues, like US ties to Saudi Arabia or the US alliance with Israel, which are certainly still the foremost Al Qaeda grievances. Al Qaeda is accustomed to standing in opposition to most Middle East governments, denouncing regimes who’ve made nice with America and Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, or who have allowed America to set up military bases in their territories, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. Al Qaeda would certainly denounce Iraq as another American imperial creation.
Al Qaeda’s not trying to win an election, Mr. President. They’re just looking for enough malcontents to keep the fire going. And they might well begin to find them in Iraq, even in a future Iraq that is fabulously successful. The anger among Iraqis because of this war could take generations to subside. Groups like Al Qaeda will not fade away until standards of living rise significantly throughout the Middle East, and until there is finally a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. These facts are beyond obvious, except to our president, who has devoted most of his presidency to devising new fringe interpretations of history and politics.
Democratic Congressional leaders and presidential candidates should remain focused by and large on the president. His bully pulpit vastly overshadows any of his executive branch cronies or any of the Republican Congressional leaders. Responding in kind to Bush’s nearly daily exhortations, not merely with criticism, but ideas, is the best way for Democratic leaders to explain clearly how they would do better.
This Thursday, August 23, DC Drinking Liberally is pleased to have as our special guest Chris Bowers of Open Left. Here’s his bio from that site:
Chris Bowers was a full-time editor at MyDD from May 2004 until June 2007. A compilation of his most influential writing on MyDD can be found here. Some of his projects have included the creation of the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, the first scientifically random poll of progressive netroots activists, the Use It Or Lose It campaign, the nation’s most accurate forecast of Democratic house pickups in 2006, and the 2006 Googlebomb the Elections campaign. He is also the treasurer of BlogPac, a fellow at the Commonweal Institute, on the advisory board of The Democratic Strategist, and has personally joined in “the silent revolution” by winning a seat on the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee. Bowers is 33, lives in Philadelphia, and occasionally works as a netroots consultant for progressive candidates and organizations including SEIU, Media Matters, and Congressman Brad Miller’s 2006 re-election campaign.
The evening starts with a happy hour from 6:30 7:30, followed by Chris’s talk and Q&A. As usual for our speaker nights, we’ll have free appetizers, and drink discounts last until 9.
It all goes down in the back room at Timberlake’s, 1726 Connecticut Ave NW (a couple of blocks north of the Dupont Circle Metro). Subscribe to our e-mail announcement list to keep up to date with our events.
Photo by Aaron G Stock.
The DC Democratic State Committee is hosting a party to watch the Iowa Democratic presidential “debate” this Sunday, August 19, from 2 to 5pm at Busboys & Poets, 2021 14th St NW (14th and V, near the U Street Metro):
2:00 PM - 5:00 PM (LANGSTON ROOM) - Iowa Democratic Presidential Debate Watch Party. Join the DC Democratic Party for a viewing of the Iowa Democratic Presidential Debate. A Presidential Preference STRAW POLL and raffle for dinner for two will be held. FREE Buffet. Mimosa and Bloody Mary Drink Specials. This event is co-sponsored by Busboys and Poets, Concilman Jack Evans & The Ward 2 Democrats, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, DC Asian Pacific Islanders American Democratic Caucus, Women’s Information Network, and Concilman Jim Graham & The Ward 1 Democrats. For more information, contact DC Democratic Party at (202) 737-DEMS or http://www.dcdsc.org/. $20 Donation Requested.
The debate is actually in the morning, too early for most of us to watch it live on a Sunday, so they’ll be recording it to play it in the afternoon.
Two Brookings scholars, Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon, seem to have revived the battle over success/the lack thereof in Iraq. O’Hanlon and Pollack, both supporters of the Iraq invasion, took it to a whole new level last week following their return from a trip to Iraq in which they argued in a NY Times op-ed, “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq.” By now various observers have pointed out that the O’Hanlon-Pollack commentary seemed to be all but entirely based on anecdotal observations and conversations with decidedly optimistic figures in Iraq. But let’s focus on Michael O’Hanlon. Michael O’Hanlon is the author/editor of the Iraq Index, a nearly real-time statistical roundup of the violent goings-on in Iraq and an indispensable resource to those who are trying to judge the progress of Bush’s war. What might be the most appalling part of this is that O’Hanlon seemed to be rendering judgment without even considering his own Iraq Index.
So how about we take a look at the Iraq Index ourselves?
Been gone a while, but Webb’s action this weekend has rousted me out of my quiet seclusion. I think I’m at what emptypocket calls Stage Five of the political grieving process over Senator Webb’s vote on the FISA amendments this weekend.
Via Lowell at Raising Kaine, here is Webb’s statement justifying his vote to capitulate to Bush’s demands on FISA:
Yesterday I supported two measures to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These measures were considered against the backdrop of heightened concerns from our nation’s intelligence community abut the threat of international terrorism. The ramifications of the two amendments before us last night were not political. Instead they related to the urgent demands of national security. I chose to heed those warnings. We now have six months to work in earnest to bring full accountability to the process.
This distinction and the threats to national security were stated clearly by Admiral McConnell as well as four of the eight Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. These members, Senators Feinstein, Mikulski, Bayh, and Bill Nelson, have extensive experience on intelligence matters and are respected champions of civil rights and liberties. They chose to give significant weight and deference to the intelligence community on FISA reform, and so did I.
There is near uniform, bipartisan agreement on the need to reform FISA to reflect modern telecommunications and information technology. We must do so in a way that safeguards basic civil and constitutional rights. But we must also remember that the terrorist threat to the nation is extremely serious. I remain fully committed to bringing accountability to this process, and to protecting the privacy rights of all Americans.
I don’t buy it. It must have been one hell of a presentation to sway someone whose last big interaction with Bush went so very badly, but then I remember that Powell’s presentation to the UN was “convincing” to some as well, and wonder if the same lack of specificity and factual grounding might apply. Congress has not shown itself to be free from the Washington Groupthink mentality that got us into the war - far from it. Not only that, but there are very, very few people in Congress right now who can reasonably claim to be champions of Civil Liberties - and right now, I suspect that this is going to be (if it is not already) a greater problem than terrorism.
Every time Bush has been given more power, whether it be to fight a war, repair a disaster area, or give money to faith-based charities, he’s either made a mess of it, outright destroyed what he was expected to preserve, turned the new powers or tools to ends not mentioned in his original push for said expansion, or (best case) just sort of muddled along ineffectively. Exactly every time he’s claimed something will happen, it hasn’t happened that way. Seriously, every time Bush has succeeded at something, it’s been to the detriment of anyone who doesn’t support him, and more often than not also to the detriment of those who do! Why should he be trusted with anything?
why the hell haven’t they raised the level on their rainbow chart? Bush pushes “terror” and “kill your children” out of his ass every time he demands something. And the Dems are still so afraid of being called “weak on terror”, they let it cripple them every time. The American people are catching on to these “coincidential terror alerts”. When will Congressional Dems?
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