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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

War Strain to be Resolved by Surge

This post is based on an e-mail regarding the December 26th Washington Post article, "Military considers recruiting foreigners" written by Bryan Bender.

The well written article discusses the vital issue of citizenship and foreigners fighting in our military. I recommend the article, as it spells a controversial new direction that the US is taking in efforts to build troop strength. The article is available here.

At the bottom of this post I comment on the troop strength issue resolving itself in the corridors of the White House, beyond public scrutiny. The reality of a military collapse is being imposed over the need for more troops. The new reliance on non-US citizens is not only shocking, but clear proof of the scale of the troop deficiency and suggestive of an effort to mask the number of US war dead.

The e-mail, sent 12-27, follows. [This content has been revised from the original by the composer]

:::Start E-Mail:::
I thought your article "Military considers recruiting foreigners" explained the changing military recruitment environment and touched on the sensitive topic of whether Americans should use foreigners to fight their wars. [Link]

Alarm bells did go off though, when I read the following statement:
"Both President Bush and Robert M. Gates, his new defense secretary, have acknowledged that the total size of the military must be expanded to help alleviate the strain on ground troops, many of whom have been deployed repeatedly in combat theaters."

In your article you assert that Bush is seeking to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps. This is not contested. You assume that the troop increases are the result of inadequate force in Iraq by attributing the increase to the need to "alleviate the strain on ground troops."

You infer that a troop strength buildup has come in response to recognition of Iraq policy failures by the Administration.

In assuming more troops are in response to the need for more troops, you give Bush credit for admitting error when he hasn't. You also establish the premise that troop strength increases are a product of a change in policy. Neither condition has been proven, nor has the troop increase in Iraq been linked to current strength inadequacy there by policymakers.

By attributing changes in policy to Bush and Gates, you are making their Iraq policy appear responsive and reasonable when it is fact static and irrational.

Apparently you aren't the only one presuming a correction in Iraq policy. In his article--also published on The Boston Globe--"Bush seeks to expand strained military," Washington Post's Peter Baker makes a similiar leap of logic, echoing the premise that Bush seeks more troops in response to the strain placed on the troops already there.

Recognizing the need for a troop increase has nothing to do with the failure of current troop levels in Iraq to achieve goals; recently the military expressed the need for better articulated goals from the Executive.

The troop level increases may be coming in direct response to the failure of Rumsfeld-era policies advocating a smaller military. However, Bush's call for increasing troop strength cannot be directly attributed at this point to any realization that troops strength in Iraq is too weak or an admission that a change in levels is needed.

In other words, Bush and Gates have not publicly admitted they are understrength. Nor do they admit that we need more troops, as such an admission would be tantamount to admitting error.

Bush is incapable--or at least extremely reluctant--to admit error. Unfortunately for our foreign policy, this means previous errors of judgement have been made permanent.

Bush is willing to expend any number of lives in his quest for vindication. Obviously the more obsessed he is with "winning"--or proving he's right--the less willing he is to admit he made a mistake. And if you think Bush doesn't maintain an obsession of being perfect and an almost childish aversion to correction, just ask his Yale professor (his comments here.) or look at Bush's prior responses when asked if he made mistakes...

I do like the fact you are bringing in the de facto changes to our military's make-up which have resulted from Iraq's drain on troop strength. Yet in the public narrative it's only coincidental--or made to appear so by Washingtonian spin--that the increase is tied to strain on our troops in Iraq. Orwellian, the War on Terror fixates not on the specific details of how we will fighting in this "long war" but rather progress is assumed and victory presumed.

Troop strength is being spun as a matter of manpower needs, not policy choices but rather broader goals. This may be an effort to masquerade manpower deficiencies in Iraq and Afghanistan as future needs in the War on Terror.
Reuters references the Washington Post on this issue:
"{Bush} tied the need for more soldiers to a broader fight against Islamic extremists around the world rather than specifically for the conflict in Iraq, the Post said." [Link]

Are they strained? Yes. It's incredible that we can call our Army an all-volunteer force when so many are brought back involuntarily. The effect on morale of forcing 2+ tours is unknown, especially combined with an increased likelihood of PTSD in returning soldiers forcibly sequestered. Just last week, in a tragic incident one Iraq veteran called back to service barricaded himself and was killed by police [Link].

Does the military need more, simply to sustain the effort? Yes. Your article on foreign troops is evidence of these truths. Yet recognizing the inadequacy of the course we're on must be clear and a change in policy obvious. It's not enough to presuppose a correction of policy when policymakers fail to admit fault with the current formula.

However bad the current situation, the Bush Administration persists in the notion victory is possible. Yet no substantive changes of policy are forthcoming; they are simply assumed to the logical offshoot of a sane policy when in fact the idea that more troops are needed simply clarifies the insanity of the current policy.

Instead the idea of bringing troop strength is being framed as a surge strategy, which avoids any defense of previous policy errors. CNN quotes Bush:
"Let me wait and gather all the recommendations from Bob Gates, from our military, from diplomats on the ground interested in the Iraqis' point of view and then I'll report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not." [Link]

I was shocked to hear that initial plans for a troop surge involved not bringing in new troops, but simply extending tours of duty among soldiers on their 2nd or 3rd tour!

Whatever the spin, troop strength issues are very real, and your article's correlation to historical trends is well done and demonstrates the scale of need. If anything, the troop shortage must be made clear to the American people. If the disproportionate price paid by our troops and their families in war goes unnoticed, the consequences of launching wars of aggression go unrecognized.

I would implore the Media to be less presumptive of Bush's capacity to change course and formulate sound policy in Iraq, and I remain highly skeptical of the MSM's ability to hold the Administration to account for its failed policies.

-JB Peebles

P.S. I maintain a blog at jbpeebles.blogspot.com, where I would very much like to post this letter at some point, as it has the makings of a good post.
:::End E-mail:::

My Comments

I appreciate the chance to recognize a policy schism within the Bush Administration on troop strength. The Mainstream Media is capable of blowing the issue into huge proportions but won't.

I made mention in this letter of a sister article written by Peter Baker of the Washington Post, entitled "Bush seeks to expand strained military," available here. The Boston Globe and WaPo must share resources, and most notably editorial discretion in assuming the strain is the reason for the troop buildup.

The second article reinforces the point made in Bender's article, that Bush has in fact recognized the inadequacy of his Iraq policy based on the strain it's caused. Such an admission would give false hope to the premise that a meaningful change of policy is upcoming, something not altogether different from the brief ray of hope fanned by the Media in the run-up to the Iraq Studies Group report.

Is the idea of building troop strength a sign that editors in the Mainstream want the strain acknowledged? The scope of the problem is undeniable and Bender hits on the vital issue of whether Americans should fight their own wars.

I guess those responsible for our defense failed to anticipate the possibility that the conflict would drag on as long as it has. The Selective Service recently a trial run of the system responsible for drafting young Americans.

The war is being transformed into something more sustainable. Yet, as I write in my blog, jbpeebles.blogspot.com, Iraq has boxed in the President. The conflagration worsens, and the limits on military force strain the policy. Global US credibility has been damaged; support from our allies has never been so strained in coming.

Without credible non-military solutions, the response framework to international crisis appears starved of diplomatic alternatives. In an odd twist of coincidence, Islamic radicals and proponents of military action in the Bush Administration share a twisted vision of conflict ever closer to reality. Rather than let the consequences dictate our future circumstances, the US must attack now, some would say, justifying preemption on the inevitable certainty that a Muslim nation will get the bomb. In our stalwart effort to defend the empire, we only engender more violence and hate, increasing the desire to possess WMD as a strategic equalizer to US and Israeli hegemony. Theoretically, the presence of future WMD justifies intervention now.

Turks, in the massacre of Armenians during WW1, were asked why they killed little Armernians, children. They answered, "because they will become big Armenians one day."

The cycle of violence and retaliation is inevitable if the possibility of future violence justifies the certainty of murder now. By this classification, anyone who could possibly hurt you must perish regardless of final arbitration. Unless we are somehow capable of managing such a horrific strategy ourselves, we can never exert enough preemption. We can only sow more violence.

The shortfall in soldiers is a symptom. Yet in trying to control Iraq, we can only send in more and strain our manpower ever more. In this sense we can't quench the fire by adding more tinder.



Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The US Plan: Same Formula, More "N"

There is a scene in the movie The Killing Fields where Cambodian army troops confront waves of Khmer Rouge wrapped in red scarves emerging from the jungle, running across rice patties, weapons blazing.

Later, in the city of Phnom Penh, the crass country-boys would that very day empty the city where people knew not their new overlords' true dispositions. For four years the twisted Maoist visions of their leader Pol Pot would unfold and the nation embark on a dark crusade of murder, torture, and depravity.

What lurks in the Afghan countryside may be no less malignant. The Taliban there have a track record of savagery and threaten to gradually retake the country until they, like the Khmer Rouge, stream out towards Kabul in what would be the culmination of failure in US policy in Afghanistan. Likewise, will the insurgents in Iraq swarm out in some mighty wave to ravage whatever vestiges of secular and rational State that remain, to be oblitherated alongside any trace of the infidels?

So bothered were the Khmer Rouge with the concept of Western contamination of Cambodian society that wearers of glasses and speakers of foreign languages (other than Chinese) were summarily executed. While Iraq won't degenerate as thoroughly, and the fundamentalist vision is more regressive than maniacal, there is no less of a commitment to anti-Westernism among radical Islamic fundamentalists than there was among the Khmer Rouge.

Who other than the US can establish order? While the ongoing violence justifies our presence in Iraq, it also incites violence. How can the violence abate if the US stays in Iraq? The call for continued occupation, and even more troops means the US will linger, lose more casualties, and seen even more anti-US hatred, motivating Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Should the radical insurgents seize Kabul, or Baghdad, the scale of policy failure would be on par with South Vietnam in 1975. The image disaster provided by the sight of US helicopters leaving the US Embassy in what would become Ho Chi Minh City could well be surpassed, injuring the American pride for decades. The emotional pain was not so much the loss itself--it had been anticipated--but rather the mistaken confidence that we could previal, the "lie" that kept the US' involvement in Vietnam going on for so long, resulting in so many ultimately unnecessary deaths.

Because of the threat posed by a fall of regimes and a high-profile collapse injurious to national pride, policymakers in control--now more Democrat than Republican--have dictated that we cannot lose. If we are losing, it's because we haven't been applying enough military force to defeat the enemy, so the logic for a troop build-up goes.

If adding troops has failed to diminish the strength of the insurgency, then why would more troops do any better? Again, our policy-makers hide behind the use of military power, as if the formula for success has already been solved and we simply need to add more force, or "n-force".

Leadership failures and Iraq policy are interchangeable: the decision to invade Iraq was a failure of leadership, and a failure of leadership has created the mess in Iraq. Now the Democratics inherit a miserable mantle of failure. Rather than cast off the mistakes they've made, the Democrats have simply cast off their obligations to the antiwar platform.

Accepting failure is too difficult for the Democrats, despite the clear message sent by the American public that Iraq must be, at a minimun, scaled down. A US withdrawal is the only way to stop the bloodshed. Stopping the war requires courage most Democrats lack. The only visible antiwar Democrat--Jack Murtha--was thrust out of the House Majority Leader position.

In his article "Democrats Prepare to Fund Longer War", Cockburn explains the new Democratic leadership has sold out to idea of perpetuating the war, or deploying some form of "surge" in troop strength:
"...elite liberal consensus, as represented by the Democratic leadership and major opinion formers such as the editors of the New York Times, has rallied to the notion of a 'surge'; in U.S. troops in Iraq. 'Surge' is a handy word. It has the timbre of forceful majesty, of mighty ocean rollers roaring onto a beach. It also has the promise of withdrawal, since what surges can also recedes." [Source]

Democrats are now responsible for Iraq. To salvage the national pride, the New Centurions must try to salvage Iraq, preserve the illusion victory is possible, and not be the ones blamed for the failure when the insurgents emerge triumphant on the streets or Baghdad (or Kabul).

Cockburn chastises Congress and the media in promoting a prolongation of the occupation:
"...fantasy rules in Congress and the press, which has consistently misrepresented the extent of the disaster in Iraq, preferring to promote fatal illusions about a viable central government and fantasies of the US being able to shape a new model army of Iraqis."

Abandoning of strongly antiwar Jack Murtha in favor of a far less vocal critic of Bush's Iraq plans, Pelosi selected Silvestre Reyes for House Intelligence Chairman.

Cockburn describes the new Chairman:
"Back in 2003 Reyes, a Vietnam vet, was opposed to the war. Give him clout as Intelligence Committee chair and he starts citing John McCain approvingly, even upping the mad Arizonan's troop-boost call by 10,000."

This Newsweek article explains Reyes' views on escalation. "We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan" pre-2001, he is quoted as saying.

Chaos in Iraq has made the survival of any Iraqi goverment contingent upon an ongoing US presence, while that same "stabilization" breeds increasing resentment and incites violence.

In trying to resolve the issue, realpolitik realities meet pragmatic introspection in the form of the reaction to the Iraq Studies Group report. The Executive body attempts to staunch criticism and with it any chance of meaningful change in policy on Iraq.

Apparently the ISG Report's was destined for non-acceptance, spiked with references to "the return of the Golan Heights to Syria" and "the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland." Apparently confronting the Israelis for any behaviors of theirs that might be inflaming anti-American sentiment is beyond the capacity of mainstream Congresspeople ingratiated to AIPAC and hyper-sensitive to criticism of Israel.

Finally, Cockburn concludes:
"The Democratic leadership -- Pelosi, Reid, Emanuel, Biden -- is recommending that the Democrats in Congress vote to approve the supplemental budget appropriation early next year, probably $160 billion, which will give Bush enough money to keep the war going till he leaves town."

Iraq looms over all of our foreign policy, threatening our status as a superpower not militarily, but diplomatically, and economically. Unilateralism and military force have become the instruments of our foreign policy. The inability of the US to shift course on Iraq weakens our global credibility, reducing alternatives to the blunt tool of warfare.

Unforeseen Consequences

A stream of unforeseen yet entirely foreseeable events has ensued since the US broke Iraq.

Clutching the example of 9/11, Bush supporters say the consequences of a future terror attack justify preemption now. In principle, stopping WMD and defending democracies sounds good. But how exactly does the US deal with the consequences of its pre-emption? And what about countries like North Korea, which have flashed their nukes in Bush's face?

In the immediate post-9/11 environment, Bush's forceful decision-making style, his blinking (see previous post) seemed to served the security needs of American foreign policy well. Yet in hindsight, Bush's decisions, lacking of more intensive deliberations, suffer as the result unforeseen consequences.

In Iraq, the lack of foresight has led to a strengthened insurgency, having failed to restore security. Inadequate, the Iraqi government has become dependent on the ongoing US presence. By sticking with al-Maliki, the Bush Administration has condemned the US military to support a weak Iraq government against internal political competition in an effort to prop up the majority rule.

Sunni factions are apparently displeased with the possibility of losing oil revenues, which are from fields nearer the Kurds and Shia. Saddam did make an effort to move Sunnis to close proximity to the fields; the relocation for the purpose of ethnic zone of control perhaps inflating Sunni claims to the oil.

The Sunnis can only act as spoiler, if their demands for oil-sharing aren't met then they can continue to destabilize Iraq. Their capacity for violence--hoisted by the realization they have nothing to lose without the oil--is their primary bargaining chip.

The Oil Motive

The escalating occupation feed theories that the US seeks a state of permanent occupation, presumably to harvest the Iraqi's oil. For more on the connection, see the article "U.S. Troops Should Leave Country, But How Will America Then Keep Control of Oil Fields?" by Linda McQuaig.

Naturally, anti-American have focused their efforts on the notion that the US is there to steal their oil and/or gas. While perhaps a show of confidence appealing to the domestic political market, escalating the troop presence and rigidly avoiding timelines further fuels resistance against the US and its interests.

In the days after 9-11 the Taliban were deemed to be a threat despite possessing no means whatsoever to harm the United States. Why? They were guilty for harboring the terrorists (not apparently any terrorists--like Syria and Iran continue to do--but the terrorist organization blamed for 9-11.)

More conspiratorial types would say the Taliban were attacked because Big Oil wanted to build a natural gas pipeline there. [For more see my earlier post.] They may have concluded that bin Laden went to Afghanistan from Sudan in order to justify the invasion (this theory assumes the US knew al Qaeda would attack.)

In practice, ending the threat posed by rogue regimes possessing WMD has proven to be little more than a superficial justification. Without exception, preemption just happens to be directed against a country with enormous energy reserves.

If we are to believe that the terrorists were operating independent of any government, then the Taliban could not be blamed, or attacked. To get around that, viola, the Bush Doctrine. Through the Bush Doctrine, the Taliban could be declared guilty--not for attacking the US, but for hosting those who did.

So the Bush Doctrine got around the obvious limitations of attacking the Taliban for what Osama Bin Laden had presumably done--although he or his organization has never taken responsibility for 9/11.

Now if the Taliban were instrumental in launching the 9-11 attacks, and if the Bush Doctrine is truly achievable and supported by the US government, every effort should be brought to bear to stop the Taliban. As we saw in the mountains of Tora Bora in 2001, eradicating a committed guerilla force may be impossible militarily. Even the Iraq Studies Group Report acknowledges military solutions alone can't solve the security gap, so there is no practical way to implement the Bush Doctrine.

Presidential Doctrines

Through the exercise of policy, the Bush Doctrine codifies and institutionalizes the US reaction to terrorism and the countries that harbor them.

The US foreign policy mechanism of declaring "Doctrines" has long been used by US Presidents to make permanent a large change in foreign policy direction, and to create a more compelling legacy. Doctrinization contrasts with the vagaries of international diplomatic talk and maneuver and through the use of more forceful terms invokes a call to action.

Doctrines must be enforced to be classified as such; they are made legitimate through the actions of our government. They also must transcend the President's term.

Past Doctrines are at the least veiled threats for our enemies, who knew they'd face US wrath and possibly have to contend with direct military confrontation with the world's largest military, which is the inherent sword--and willingness to use it--behind the presumption of Doctrine.

Truman's Doctrine is featured prominently in his library; it later became know as containment:
"It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."[Link]

The Korean War ensured. Over 50,000 Americans died.

Carter's is here:
"An attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.{January 23rd, 1980 State of the Union}" [Link]

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan followed; US support for the Afghan mujahdeen--and ultimately Bin Laden himself--came as a result of US policies enacted under the Carter Doctrine.

The State Department website describes the Reagan Doctrine:
"We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives—on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth." [Link]

Reagan tried to stem the threat posed by Marxists in Nicaragua; the Iran-Contra affair was a consequence.

Players in that scandal have risen in the ranks of the Bush Administration. Our new Defense Secretary Gates was connected to the scandal. Current Intelligence Czar Negroponte was acting Ambassador to El Salvador at the time; its use of paramilitary right-wing death squads presaged what is now called the "El Salvador approach" in Iraq, using politically motivated killings to intimidate and subjugate.

While the Doctrines of previous Presidents are clear, cast in lights alongside their names, enshrined in the edifices of Presidential libraries, finding a single definition for the Bush Doctrine has proven difficult. In part this is due to the brevity of Bush's Presidency--it took years for the Truman Doctrine even to be recognized as a policy of containment. The stated intent to contain communism would have been meaningless without the Korean War; the willingness to sacrifice American lives gives the Doctrine teeth, elevating it from mere policy to dogma.

Historical comparisons would seem to make the threat posed by terror no smaller than that posed by communism. Yet five years have passed since 9/11, we really have no comprehensive policy to deal with it. Unlike previous enemies, terrorism is fleeting, asymmetrical, and not led by any single ideology or leader, despite Mass Media efforts to crown Osama bin Laden as the Evil Dark Lord and King of Terror.

Put simply, we can't contain terror like communism (Truman/Carter) nor can we roll it back (Reagan). The tactics and approach to dealing with terror cannot be solved through the use of force; there is no Kremlin cringing in fear, no conspiracy to intimidate, nor KAOS for Max Smart to outdo. We long for the day when our enemies were identifiable, like Saddam and Osama, when we could confront enemies using superior technology or strategy.

To religiously inspired fanatics who see anarchy as a means to a greater end, fear means nothing. Yet under Bush's leadership, the means for ending terror--military force--have become the end in itself, as the country girds itself for the ongoing conflict with no end in sight. To Iraqi and Afghan civilians bombed in the name of freedom, terror is ultimately delivered by the US, terrorizing them with random violence just like the insurgents--only the methods differ.

Getting practical about solving terrorism requires defining the enemy, which the Bush Doctrine really doesn't adequately do. The first implementation of the Bush Doctrine has been the Global War on Terror. Several years into that effort, the enemy was defined as "radical Islamic fundamentalists" as the name of the War morphed into the War on "Extremists".

Apparently, Bush has gone to some effort to court moderate Muslims, so references to Radical Islam appear to have been purged into the Memory Hole. Yet in the Middle East, who exactly are our friends? The Saudis recently explained that they would not allow their fellow Sunnis in Iraq to suffer at the hands of a Shia government, raising the spectre of regional conflict between Saudi proxies and the Shia in Iraq. Likewise, oppressive regimes in Egypt and Tunisia have for years been fighting "extremists"; while they've been able to keep their regimes in power through systematic repression, their methods have at the same time created monsters like the Blind Sheik and OBL's dangerous deputy Zawahiri.

The implications of a Doctrine-level commitment to the War on Terror need sorting out. See this good analysis on the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terror here.

The Bush Doctrine is both vague and unenforceable, which are quite the opposite previous Presidential Doctines which were by their nature clear warnings to our enemies, and credible threats because they could be enforced. In the sense that Doctrines stood for something, its unfortunate that Bush has been unable to get results by using his Doctrine, unless of course you consider the state of affairs in Iraq to be an accomplishment of democracy, or the democratic governments created there to be viable and independent, which is a qualifying standard for success.

Incapable of succeeding in the original Doctrine, Bush and his sycophants peppering all Federal institutions appear to have redefined it over the years. The predisposition of the American people toward ignorance in foreign policy issues has no doubt reduced the political consequences of contradictory definitions, or at least postponed them til the Democratic victories this years. With the clear hindsight of several decades behind Bush's Doctrine, its effectiveness will be made clear.

Endless Faith

Supporters of Bush's foreign policy yearn for a future redemption where we all come to realize the wisdom of invading two Muslim countries, to prevent the rise of some greater horror. But this preoccupation with proving their doubters wrong contributes to further detachment from the here and now, nuts-and-bolts issues of policy implementation. Going to war simply to avoid a future outcome will likely engender even more hatred, which makes a future terror event more likely, in a sequence of circumvented logic.

If the results of the Occupation have not brought positive benefits yet, there is honestly little chance that an ongoing occupation will achieve anything better. Resistance is strong and growing, showing no signs of abating. So the exercise of faith in Bush's foresightedness requires ever more denial, which like religious faith inspires one to not question the certainty of a future event, but essentially pray for its fruition and dwell in a cocoon of belief in the certainty of an outcome--putting it in the hands of God--until such day as His works are shown to the world.

Put in those terms, the extremists--whoever they really are--are praying for the exact opposite of Bush believers, that "democracy" fails, deploying faith that Allah is on their side. Whose holy warriors will win? Who has the favor of God--Bush or the radical Muslim fundamentalists? Rather than deal in reality, the faith-based approaches deploy essentially the same methods--that simply by believing that something will happen, it will. All reality is therefore the product of faith; naturally the believer never questions the fallibility of his convictions, and thus can deny the reality of any contradictory outcome in perpetuity.

Perhaps by compromising on the mission of spreading democracy--and basically putting a Shia dictator in control, like Saddam before the invasion--the US can win, or at least get out. Yet this kind of change in policy requires an intimate connection with events on the ground, which is quite the opposite of believing initial presumptions were correct, or divinely gifted. Bush's approach has scorned careful consideration or any meaningful self-criticism; perhaps the President has succumbed to the infallibility of belief that he is doing God's will, as he has explained.

Some Americans who believe in Bush's prophetic skills have volunteered for the military, but sadly many others haven't or won't, and thus the task for implementing the Bush Doctrine has fallen largely to non-believers. And because implementation of the Bush Doctrine here-to-date has relied primarily on military methods, occupying hostile lands comes at a high cost of human life typically not borne by stalwart defenders of the President's foreign policy, but by soldiers ordered in.

Back in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, NATO has committed itself to an on-going occupation; our allies have in Iraq withdrawn one-by-one.

Afghanistan draws an ever-greater number of NATO troops. The leadership of the US binds the the NATO alliance together in an arc of cooperation based on security. If the security of a single member is threatened, then the others must serve in its defense.

Drug-running profits, fed by a massive rise in heroin production in Afghanistan, have armed and equipped Taliban mujahdeen. They streak back into the eastern mountains of Afghanistan, returning from an extended stay from their tribal relatives in Waziristan, in western Pakistan, where they'd avoided apprehension by Musharraf's government.

The case for Afghan intervention runs far deeper than Iraq, but the US lead in Afghanistan threatens the credibility of NATO's mission there. By continuing to occupy Iraq, the US imperils the case for an ongoing presence in Afghanistan. Anti-US sentiment based on Iraq easily translates into support for anti-American causes in Afghanistan.

If Americans are depending on the Mainstream Media to inform them of this resurgency, they will remain blissfully unaware. If however, they dare to question the effectiveness of their military's previous projects, and delve into alternative news sources, they might discover that the entire US military intervention in Afghanistan has been a failure. Worse, they'd notice that the commitment to "democracy" mires the US in staying on, lest the whole premise of bringing democracy to the Middle East die and de-legitimize all previous efforts.

In essence, the US has engendered pan-Islamic unity through invading Iraq, and continues to stir the boiling pot of discord by continuing its presence there. The spillover effect on Afghanistan has hardly been mentioned in the Mainstream Media, but troubling indeed is the idea that Afghanistan will become like Iraq--so internally fragmented that no outside force can possibly keep it together.

Eliminating the Taliban in 2001 was an explicit mission, yet rebuilding the country and establishing a strong central government have proven to be necessary to prevent a Taliban resurgence. Relying almost exclusively on military forces, the abbreviated reconstruction effort has been tainted with corruption. As we saw in Vietnam, the more the US--seen mostly as an infidel power and usurper--cooperates with a government perceived as corrupt, the more just and egalitarian the resistance appears to be.

For quite some time, pundits have called Afghan President Karzai the "Mayor of Kabul," alluding to the inability of the Afghan government to exert control of any scale beyond the relative safety of the capital. The imagery of an ineffectual government losing to indigenous fighters is striking--like the Khmer Rouge emerging from rice paddies in the movie The Killing Fields to attack Phnom Penh. And who could forget the ghastly images of Kabul after the Soviets left and competing factions--what would become the Taliban and the Northern Alliance--ravaged the battle-scarred city?

The US presence (in Iraq) and the US and NATO (in Afghanistan) prevents the scenario from emerging--for at least as long as we are there. But the image of a weak Karzai and al-Maliki is simply too powerful and their defeat too certain without the mantle of US force so we--alongside our NATO allies--are trapped in some messianic mission, thinking ourselves the angels of deliverance to the poor, starved brown peoples there.

We may not be able to bring security, but we persist in the belief that we can at least protect the vestiges of the governments created in the aftermath of our invasions. For if these governments were to collapse, so too would the case for intervention, and with it the rationale for the loss of thousands of American lives.

The problem with ongoing occupation is that it will make no difference in the eventual outcome. As the most recent election results in the US prove, most Americans don't think Iraq is worth the cost. Rather than attribute the instincts of the majority to the influence of liberal party-poopers, the truth is most Americans understand that the invasion was a mistake, a fact which everyone including perhaps even George Bush knows but will never admit.

Rather than deal with the ego-crushing impact of acknowledging an error--never one of Bush's strengths--the Administration and our present Democratic leaders have chosen to continue the adventure.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Root of a Failure: Bush's Belief in Victory

The Iraq Study Group has released its report on challenges in Iraq. Containing some 79 recommendations, the report claims our current policy is off-track, which seems obvious to everyone, even the President.

Speaking in a joint news conference with Tony Blair today, Bush indicated he was disappointed with the pace of progress in Iraq. From what I saw, the President is aware of the problem, but it remains a mystery as to whether or not he will pay lip service to the recommendations of the Iraq Studies Group, or actually try to implement them.

During his news conference with Blair, Bush said he was still waiting on reports from the military, which is alarming considering a stream of reports on Iraq has been crossing his desk for years. The most recent comes from the Marine Corps concerning Al-Anbar province, saying that the insurgents were in control there.

At this point the Mainstream Media seems content to report that the President is aware that a change of course is needed.

Meanwhile 10 American soldiers died on Wednesday. The status quo perpetuates itself as Washington studies, ponders, and debates. The consequences of not making changes appear to go up as the Iraq War goes on.

In his Press Conference with Blair Thursday, Bush articulated his goals in Iraq, which he believes are still achievable. He said he wanted 1) an Iraq that can stand on its own and 2) an ally in the War on Terror.

Bush's goals and vision may be well articulated, and the supporting rhetoric piled on thick, but Bush's goals have for years now been unachievable. The ISG report seems to say Bush's policies have all failed, in essence admitting that the current security situation prevents the Iraqi government from achieving either goal Bush has set for them. What remains to be decided is whether Bush believes he must change his methods in order to achieve his goals.

By stubbornly dictating goals, and overvaluing the power of military intervention, alternatives have been ignored. So bad is the state of progress in Iraq, we now find ourselves in a position where continued military action is probably the only method remaining which might alter the string of consequences our invasion has set off. Yet at the same time our presence worsens the situation.

When will Bush realize his goals are unachievable? He may want to admit that using the military can no longer by itself justify what are essentially his political goals--preserving his legacy and $500 million dollar library.

Senator Hagel, Defense Secretary-designate Gates, and the Iraq Studies Group have come out and said we cannot "win" in Iraq through military force alone. Yet no one has come out to condemn the costs of continuing as we have in terms of lives and money.

While Bush may only now be aware of the need for change, there's no evidence at all that he think the US can't win or the cost of winning is too high. Bush has failed to acknowledge the cost of the ongoing mission in terms of lives or money, even as the cost to the Treasury now exceeds $600 billion, with billions more due to the injured veterans. The costs of war are ignored while the worthiness of the mission is praised, regardless of the inability of ongoing military action to resolve any issues.

Bush's amateurish worldview seems to find no limits on the exercise of American power; it's as if Bush is surprised that the insurgency would actively be trying to prevent the US from reaching its goals, and that he can't just will his goals into completion. Better advisors would and should have been able to bring Bush's naive predictions back to reality, and temper Bush's store of idealism with a blast of hard cold truth. Instead the neocon cadre surrounding Bush led him on to set loose the dogs of war against a government that presented no threat to us.

The possibility of Congress taking immediate action to end the war appears remote. Even with a new bunch in the Congress, there is the possibility the Democrats will be in no hurry to end the Iraq War, despite the role of opposition to the war in their recent victories.

One reason is simple bureaucratic inertia. The top-down style of decision-making makes changes in policy difficult to administer for the world's largest government.

As the world's largest military, the US Armed Forces work on the momentum of sheer size. Without a clear plan of action, they are bound to steer a course ahead. Without the firm commitment of its commander-in-chief to any specific goal, the military or government really can't be expected to change from within. Like an aircraft carrier, our policy in Iraq will a take lot of effort to turn.

The Emperor Has No Clothes; Reality vs Belief

Sensing inadequacies in policy, but not admitting them, Bush seem to welcome the Iraq Studies Group's report.

The Media seems to be introducing the Plan's recommendations in small doses.

The findings of the Iraq Studies Group will be painful to the President. Perhaps the President will need to be briefed piecemeal; some very unlucky and likely very junior aide will have the task of telling the Emperor that he wears no clothes, or worse, bring that accompanying realization that millions have been spent buying imaginary clothes from crafty hawksters. [See the previous post for the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, "The Emperor Has No Clothes".]

The President will be forced to understand the contents of the report, yet actually making changes to Iraq policy will be a different matter entirely. Deep down inside, the President must know he is naked, Lord help us if he isn't, for then we will be led not by a man composed in the world of reality but one forging an alternate reality out of a faith-based belief system.

The dream of a democracy in the heart of the Middle East has floundered. No city upon the hill, anarchy reigns in Iraq. Losses have mounted and the American people have turned on the war. Lacking the faith of their leader, their spirit falters.

Bush can continue to ignore the myriad of problems we face, or deal with them. For as long as the President believes he is clothed, he cannot look down and see his naked body, or in this case, the reality of his nakedness revealing itself to him. For Bush to admit Iraqis a disaster is like the Emperor admitting he'd been deceived.

The problem therefore is not in an absence of facts and insights--which the Iraq Studies Group might seek to fill. Instead, the problem facing us in Iraq is that our commander-in-chief won't admit that his decision to go to war in Iraq had been poorly conceived. If this is the case, then the continuance of the entire Iraq war constitutes an exercise in denial by a single man. One man's convictions and faith cannot or should not be allowed to justify a ongoing war, as the Constitution does not give that right exclusively to the President, nor in perpetuity.

Management vs Leadership; Faith Vs. Reason

For years now, Iraq has suffered from poor management at the top. Mission creep is both a cause and result of poor planning. Missing budgets are another symptom. Turnover in the upper levels of the government's leadership echelon rise as those responsible for implementing policy recognize the growing gap between US policy goals and their capacity to be implemented. If the US government were a company, any good investor would see these signs of weak management and stay away.

Vision and leadership are certainly needed, but at some point the pragmatic bulwarks of sound management serve the public interest better.

Bush has been quick to frame the achievements of the War on Terror in his rhetoric. Yet It took until Election Eve 2006 for Bush to first admit that there had been failures in Iraq.

At some point proclamations of progress must be tempered with the acknowledgement of failures and the process of compromise.

Casting a vision in stone is an important function of leadership--as people respect commitment. Still, valuing vision above all else tends to service the ego and avoid introspection where it raises the risk of fault. In order to make changes in policy, the leader must be willing to be self-critical.

For a manager to be effective, they must be open to criticism of their policies. Reassessment is a vital component in managing the many tasks that are often required to make the vision come true; in Bush's case, this requires him to evaluate the effectiveness of his war policies.

Good management is fluid, and adjusts the organization's goal as obstacles arise. Without compromise and consensus, no change of course is likely to be implementable, and therefore ineffective. While no one doubts Bush's commitment to his policies, the rigidity of his basically aggressive posture against Iran and Syria violate the premise that he seeks a deal.

Again, he has trapped himself in his rhetoric. Whether or not Syria and Iran are sponsors of terror, he has greatly damaged any potential detente with the other side in the War on Terror by encumbering it with political liability and the notion we'd be selling out on our principles. Baker has tried to set Bush straight, by telling him to negotiate with your enemies, but Bush seems loathe to do so, believing so earnestly that they are the "bad guy" or that the US doesn't "negotiate with terrorists".

Of course, some amount of determination is necessary to overcome challenges. But is determination alone sufficiently powerful to overcome reality? As a man of faith, Bush clearly puts much stock into the power of belief--that simply praying and willing some end result into fruition is primarily a matter of believing hard and long enough in the worthiness of your cause.

But what if God isn't listening, what if the things that which Bush must believe will happen won't? Clearly, belief must be tempered with reality, at least in the earthly world of managerial science.

Fed with apparently limitless Presidential power, Bush's overabundant belief in the power of belief overwhelms his humility, which serves the function of admitting that one's faith may be insufficient. In other words, Bush believes so dearly that God will make his goals happen that he ignores the possibility He won't make them come true.

Atheist Dogma

I will admit to playing something of a Devil's advocate, having recently read prominent atheist Sam Harris. Harris masterfully challenges many traditional views, expressed in the influence of religion on governmental policies. The absolutism and extremism of faith-based logic leads governments away from reason. Iraq lends itself to Harris' cause.

To Harris, religion and warfare are inextricably linked in symbolism and imagery, the complete and total defeat of one side over another lending itself to a infinite cycle of unsatisfied grudges. Iraq, an environment where "...men regularly murder(ed) one another over rival interpretations of his word"( "Atheist Manifesto" provides Harris with a posterchild for the destructiveness of religious affiliation and influence.

Harris describes the fundamental problem with belief:
"The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: A person can be so well educated that he can build a nuclear bomb while still believing that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Such is the ease with which the human mind can be partitioned by faith, and such is the degree to which our intellectual discourse still patiently accommodates religious delusion."

Harris bemoans the problem of faith:
The incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either a person has good reasons for what he strongly believes or he does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they possibly can. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, do its adherents invoke “faith.” Otherwise, they simply cite the reasons for their beliefs (e.g. “the New Testament confirms Old Testament prophecy,” “I saw the face of Jesus in a window,” “We prayed, and our daughter’s cancer went into remission"). Such reasons are generally inadequate, but they are better than no reasons at all. Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail."

With this President and his positions on Iraq, Harris has an excellent example of faith in practice, and exposes the impact of faith-based logic in the decision-making of the President. As for the President's decision, he might say:

"...One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t--indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable--is both an intellectual and a moral failing."

Harris links reason to faith:

"When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another."

Bush has never seemed convinced that he needs to tell others what he thinks, or the reasoning he uses to reach his decisions.

Bush is condemned by virtue of belief to believe that his decisions are divinely inspired, and by their nature infallible, destined to their completion as a body of works--here on Earth--through the application of prayer and dedication. Bush's is a fundamentalist perspective, so Harris' reasoning has become quite popular recently.

Don't Blink

Some would say Bush launched his decision on Iraq by "blinking", or creating a brief but firm impression before making a decision, then holding to it. In a 2005 Time article, Joe Klein summarizes in "The Blink Presidency":

"Bush is the ultimate "Blink" President, to use author Malcolm Gladwell's catchy term, and recent title, for instantaneous, subconscious decision making."

That style of decision-making style solves problems expeditiously, through the speed of processing information.

In launching the war, caution was avoided, with Bush simply believing that God wanted him to remove Saddam from power. "There is rarely any thought of how a blink will be carried out", says Klein.

Klein describes the thought process behind blinking:
"The President's attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but ... Freedom! Look at those Shi'ites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shi'ites and the Kurds won't create a government with a loyal Shi'ite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won't—with some creative dealmaking—eventually acquiesce?"

To compensate for more deliberate consideration, "blinking" requires complete dedication to completion of the goal. Once made, the decisions are made permanent by the process, rather than diluted by the brevity of contemplation or scarcity of facts later brought to light.

In other words, blinking leads to over-commital as decisions are made firmly, without much deliberation. While our "blinking" over a choice of breakfast cereals may be insignificant in the general state of affairs, Presidential "blinking" can do a great deal of damage through the sheer scale of power deployed.

Through blinking, mistakes or misjudgements which would have otherwise been revealed through greater deliberation enter into President's decision-making. Then our government is bound to the consequences. While subsequent blinks might correct earlier errors based on new information, some decisions cannot be corrected--like going to war.

"Blinking" may explain some of the President's contradictions. Klein describes David Quo, a former Bush aide who gained notoriety for revealing exploitation of the faith-based movement by Bush:

"...the President had blinked at the well-publicized faith-based antipoverty initiative and then forgotten it. Kuo, who is a friend of mine and truly believes in the President's commitment to the policy, remains mystified by the disconnect between passion and action. Blinks are ephemeral; policy is distressingly concrete."

Bush seems incapable of grasping the structural limitations of policy implementation, particularly on Iraq. Fundamental issues are ignored while the rhetoric goes unchanged month to month. Bush's recounting of the reasons for the decisions he makes has always been foggy.

Perhaps Bush's style of decision-making circumvents careful deliberation; this would explain why the President seems reluctant to abandon his belief that we can win--that belief is in essence the foundation of his decision. Belief is a funny thing, admitting failure would be tantamount to a loss of belief. By that logic, the US can win simply by persisting in the belief it cannot lose.

While I'm no psychoanalyst, the permutations of blink- and faith-based decision-making could fill volumes. Bush's case would be inconsequential absent true checks-and-balances, but the President apparently now decides on his own how and when to use force abroad. With so many lives being lost in Iraq, the President's decision-making approach is very much a public policy issue.

If Bush persists in blinking--in response to the problems blinking seem to have caused--he continues to put our collective defense at risk. The situation in Iraq has become so troubled that the best and brightest must be consulted, and the rule of pure reason appreciated above any benefits granted by blinking.

As long as Bush makes the final decisions, we have no way of knowing how he makes his decisions. In what is regarded by critics as Bush arrogance, Bush may be defensive about his decisions not out of fear of criticism but rather because he can't really justify them since they were made in haste. He can however limit his commitment to earlier blinks, avoid blinking in the future, especially when it comes to resolving any problems caused by blinking earlier.

Back to Reality

The Economist on December 2nd brings up three key points:

1) Bush must come to grips with the fact his dreams for democracy are now gone.
2) al-Maliki is trying to arrange a "graceful exit" and won't or can't help achieve US goals. [I made this point in my blog posting on the public image liability Maliki presented to Bush.]
3) The 2008 Presidential Election hinges on the war's impact on the electorate.

The Economist article "Blood, Tears and still no victory" dips into the now-overfilling basket of international relations calamities now festering in the Middle East.

It did clarify one portion of my last post, confirming al Sadr "had threatened to pull out of the government if Mr Maliki went through with his meeting with President Bush" when in fact "the Sadrists merely 'suspended participation', a good step short of a full walk out."

In Riga, Latvia, President Bush reiterated the US "would not leave the battlefield until the mission in Iraq was complete." Following up in Amman, Jordan, Bush said "the troops would stay just as long as Iraq's government wanted them to."["Blood, Tears and still no victory," Economist 12/02/06]

The article goes on to clarify the depth of the Iraqi calamity. Articles covering Bush and Iraq now tend to sponge the frothy scum of the President's erratic War-on-Terror jive off the journalistic record by offering a bevy of contradictory evidence. Bush's stubborn pronouncements must be connected back with the real world. In what's now a routine function, journalists scape off the banter regurgitated by the White House to dredge for any substantive changes in policy.

Wednesday, in a White House press conference subsequent to the release of the Iraq Study Group's report, Tony Snow managed to redefine the meaning of "staying the course." I was surprised to hear Snow say Bush had for months NOT been "staying the course."

The semantic dance did little for me. As commander-in-chief, Bush bears ultimate responsibility for the state of our foreign policy. Empowered with the ability to withdraw forces, , he alone controls the scope of our military engagement. The Presidency under Bush has grown without limits under the Administration in a sequence of signing statements and self-assertions of Presidential authority validating all manner of extralegal activity, in the name of our collective defense in a time of war.

If the status quo is continued, it is by the hand of the Executive. Congress is not in control of our military, according to the President, he is. Yet Congress has not declared war, which is explained in the Constitution as their fundamental right, not the President's.

The President has always borne responsibility for our nation. Claiming that we now wage a war necessary for our future survival, Bush is acting to save American lives in the future, so he claims. If the war is the President's, he is responsible for its progress and its conduct.

The American people are ultimately in command of our nation's army, so the President must at some point respond to them. If he cannot successfully enlist a majority of Americans in his cause, the war cannot be said to be supported, or justified.

Some would say Lincoln exceeded his Office in fighting internal rebellion and dissent in New York as shown in the final scenes of Gangs of New York. Does the threat of terror justify Bush's use of military force? Does the present day loss of rights and life in the name of the Global War on Terror compare with Lincoln's treatment of draft rioters in our Civil War? Where the President cannot justify the loss of American lives, he must be successful, or else the entire nation loses or--in the case of Lincoln--dissolves. We are counting on him.

To me, Iraq is less worthy a war, and should ask less of the American people. This isn't to say we shouldn't be protecting Afghanistan, from the threat of a Taliban resurgence. [See my post, Rising Taliban] The War on Terror has a very real foe for Western societies.

The President must assume total and final responsibility. By not getting our forces out, Bush leaves to future Administration the unenviable task of determining when it is no longer worth it to continue the occupation in Iraq. The next President may not share Bush's goals and vision for the Middle East, but he (or she) will inherit his policies, their consequences, and the ongoing costs in life and money.

If it is clear that the Iraq war is a failure, that no amount of continue occupation will work, Bush's legacy will suffer dramatically as we reach the conclusion that we must withdraw.

For as long as he is President, Bush's rhetoric has him trapped. Acknowledging failure obligates him to get out, which would be accepting inevitable defeat. Rather than accept that Iraq's outcome could be defeat, Bush denies the fundamental reality that the situation is beyond correction.

In the pursuit of still achievable victory, Bush shifts the burden of failure away from ill-construed plans for Iraq (for which he bears responsibility) onto the failures of method (for which others can bear responsibility) as if it were the formula that needed correction. At a certain point a good leader must accept responsibility for the consequences of his decisions.

Bush's fundamentalist belief system holds that future outcomes are determined by the application of faith in prayer and perseverance. Believers enjoy a higher level of confidence, as they define the certainty of success as a product of their belief rather than the consequences of logic or fact. This is not too far from the historical distortions on the Right about Vietnam, that failure had not been inevitable, or as Bush said on a recent visit to Vietnam, "we lost because we got out".


Under the US Constitution, wars are declared by Congress. Through the exercise of Executive authority, routine violations of that strong and basic premise have empowered the US Government to ignore Congress' authority. [For more, see my post on the Ever-Expanding Executive.]

Without the strength to defund the military, Congress--who are the closest to the people--is no longer in control. Therefore Bush and his cohort of generals, neocons, and sychophantic advisers are free to perpetuate a state of ongoing terror which gorges on innocent Iraqis, in the name of taming some faraway enemy, or to prevent the emergence of some future threat.

Bush would say that the threat terror poses, the scale of destruction potentially wreaked by WMD, justifies an aggressive posture and the use of force. This strategy is questionable, since the US has created more terrorists than it has killed.

Ultimately the reasons for continuing to occupy Iraq lie outside the military, and more with the political necessity to stabilize and legitimize the Iraqi government. Conscious of this necessity, the insurgents have worked so hard to destabilize the country; the ongoing chaos forces the US to stay. Bush claims that process will depower the threat of terrorism, by seeding a stable democracy.

While we are defending the regime of a democratically elected leader, we also embolden Maliki's enemies by prolonging our occupation. Caught in a classic guerrila war scenario, the US must try to contain violence while preserving the rule of the more populous Shia, who happen to be Iran's surrogate.

Separating the country seems unlikely considering how the Sunni stand to lose oil revenues--they have no major oil resources in predominantly Sunni areas. The Shia/Sunni gap has left the US without any good geopolitical options, and lengthened the occupation by prolonging the chaos.

With the military unable to set back the insurgency without more troops (and even then not so assuredly), the war in Iraq--and by proxy the President's War on Terror--is in complete failure.

The only issue left before us on Iraq is who will have the strength to confront Bush and break the cloud of delusion swirling above the heads of those responsible for our country's foreign policy. In a high stakes game fought before the televisions of the world, Bush must appear to be successful in order to nurture his delusions that the ongoing US presence will degenerate into anything other than "cut-and-run."

Withdrawing clearly takes more courage than is admitted. Withdrawing would mean Bush was wrong about going in, and that our losses have been in vain. Far more comforting is harboring the notion victory is achievable, or at least for some other President to declare and get out.

Denial and acceptance are an important part of addiction and substance abuse. Bush, a recovering alcoholic, must recognize the signs of dependence; it's then a question of whether he recognizes that he has a problem. Iraq is the problem, the only solution can be total cessation. Continued denial leads to a progressive worsening of the problem. And an important early sign of healing is the admission that Iraq is a problem and something must be done. The latter part requires accepting responsibility for the consequence of decisions, which ultimately implies taking action, in this case cessation of the problem. Stopping Iraq is simple, simply by leaving we can help the Iraqis assume responsibility for their own problems.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Big Oil Politics, Giveaways, and the Role of the Dollar

I've focused in this blog on the key limitations imposed on the War on Terror by geopolitical, military, legal and public image realities. The US is unable to implement its War on Terror policy.


Thursday, Iraqi PM al-Maliki spoke alongside Bush, whose rhetoric doggedly pursued themes of what is now a widely perceived failure in the "central front on terror." Prior to meeting Bush, Maliki had been threatened by the potential departure from his government the faction controlled by Iman Muqtada al Sadr, Commandant of the Mahdi Army, Iraq's largest Shia miltia.

Maliki appeared in this blog as a public image disaster during his trip to Washington in July. Maliki's impotence had seemed inconsequential to the Mainstream Media at the time. By persisting in the charade that Maliki and his government could support themselves against the insurgents without US help, I realized the US had created a massive image problem.

Geopolitically and militarily, it was clear then as it is now that the continued occupation meant the insurgency would grow stronger. While appealing to a Bush's supporters eager to see progress, Maliki's appearance in front a Joint Session sent the impression that he was an American puppet.

Public image crises are nothing new. In a mini-scandal ignored by the media, Bush had embezzeler and pre-war intelligence source Akmed Chalabi sit behind his wife in an earlier State of the Union. Chalabi had been discredited by the Department of State and CIA--by no one other than Valerie Plame and her counter-proliferation group--but eagerly accepted as a fountain of truth by war-hungry neo-cons.

Running a stream of Iraqis before the cameras and Congress is a public show of support for Bush's favorite Iraqi-du-jour. Presented alongside the sacrifices of our troops, prominently chaperoning Iraqis of questionable repute and transient power turns the Joint Addresses into way of spooning out credibility for the Iraqi government.

From the outset of the war, when the US accepted without question "intelligence" provided by Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, the constantly changing faces of Bush's allies from Iraq undermines the hubristic notion that the US had sided with the right bunch of "folks."

The more often the players in Iraqi government change, the less effective any efforts to build credibility. Eventually, no amount of pomp and circumstance can legitimatize a flawed government incapable of controlling anything beyond Baghdad's Green Zone.

If the Iraqi government is dependent on American help, it can never be independent. Whatever the political games played in Washington, the realities shaped by Anti-American populism in Iraq determines the acceptability and viability of any Iraqi government.

Geopolitical and Military Realities

With troop strength too low to control the situation of chaos, maintaining the course will simply lead to more violence and more dead Americans. As I said im my last post, it's unclear what effect pouring more troops into the situation will have. The pronounced buildup in US forces earlier this year in Baghdad did nothing to combat the insurgency there.

Steering a same course ahead will only produce more of the same, yet the President's ego or other motivation seems to persist indefinitely. He's essentially been saying the same things since the earliest days of the Iraq invasion. This 2005 article in The Progressive describes the President's position essentially unchanged from today's.
See also this piece from Jim Lobe called "Bush Seems Determined to Stay the Course."

Fueled by the monolithic War on Terror, there appears to be no limit in the desire of the US government to destabilize the Middle East, which inflates the cost of oil. Destabilization is in line with the goals of Project for a New American Century neocons, and the Clean Break approach favored by Zionists.

Still, there are limits to the effectiveness of destabilization. At the very least the problems created by anarchy in Iraq show the differences between US and Israeli goals. Clean Break advocated destabilization and regime change of all Israel's enemies, more or less indefinitely. Yet for the US to extend the state of chaos created by its occupation at some point hurts the so-called moderate regimes in the region.

A long-sought neo-con objective--war in Iran--would exacerbate the threat to the supply of oil too greatly. The Iranians are quite capable of lobbing anti-ship missles into the Straits of Hormuz and cutting off 60% or so of the world's oil trade transitting the corridor.

Ironically, the US must depend on the Iranians to contain the Iraq fiasco.

Iraq could not have been made worse through inept Iraqi leadership and its hopeless dependency on an ongoing US military presence.

For at least as long as the bloodshed in Iraq continues the consequence of "breaking Iraq" means "owning it"--to borrow Colin Powell's expression. Why any outside power would dare to intervene in Iraq now is beyond fathoming.

The price of the Iraq intervention has run over $1 trillion. Added to the direct cost of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan are the costs to the economy of more expensive energy. The rise in the cost of oil accompanies a rise in the geopolitical risk factor.

The US has virtually no control over the situation it has created in Iraq and the larger Muslim world. It's become militarily impossible to impose the will of the US. Continuing the occupation limits broader US foreign policy objectives, which have faltered under Bush's aggressive militarism. With limited multinational cooperation, the War on Terror appears increasingly to be a matter of the US going it alone, unilateralism.

Political Limits

Our best chances for victory in Iraq and a redemption of our international credibility lie in abandoning Bush's policies in Iraq. Unfortunately, Bush is stubbornly wedded to staying the course to the point he is now accused of being in denial, if not insane (see the Frank Rich article "Has He Started Talking to Walls?" here).

In some heated debate Thursday night on CNBC's Scarborough Country[Transcript here], Scarborough at one point shouted to Pat Buchanan that Bush had directly stated he had no intention whatsoever of pulling out of Iraq. Scarborough sqeezed in the fact that Bush's position as commander-in-chief set policy; therefore, judging by Bush's comments in the joint press conference, it was made obvious Bush had no intention of changing anything, unless the Congress stopped funding.

Also telling in the exchange was the hard-trumpeted pseudo-reality that the Democrats would have a hard time voting "against the troops," which has been equivocated with any attempt to cut off funding for the war. We are led to believe that political risk of appearing not to "support the troops" justifies the war's continuance, despite the clear reality that a majority of Americans, who've just now made their political voice heard, want to get out now or within 18 months.

In the last post I alluded to the possible sell-out of the antiwar movement by the incoming Democrats. So far no prominent Democrat (Committee Chairpersons or leadership) has come out in favor of impeachment proceedings (even Conyers of Michigan.) Driving toward the center, Democrats have sentenced themselves to the mediocrity of timidity in managing what may be the Congress' best weapon against Bush and the war: impeachment.

Democrats are at the mercy of whatever fate Iraq may bring in the next election cycle. They risk inheriting the mantle of chaos that Bush has created through his continued policies of under-strength, open-ended occupation and the Vietnamesque certainty of inevitable failure.

The Democrats may lack the necessary conviction to vote down war funding. Theoretically, they could suffer to a wave of anti-incumbency come 2008. It's worth remembering that Bush is not running therefore his policies don't need to meet the ire of the American public, or even necessarily need to change, but for the damage they could do to his fellow Republicans who, if 2006 was any indicator, will be running away from Bush in 2008 as the war's popularity continues to decline.

Theories proliferate that the pre-election cut in gasoline prices may have been arranged by Big Oil and Republican policy-makers in Washington. Intentional or not, the trick seems to have failed to produce any political benefits. Higher oil prices mean more profits, but at a certain point the political costs of higher gas prices is simply too high.

The Democrats are already targetting Big Oil, so the consequences of a Republican loss of control are already impacting future profit projections. One CNN articles discusses Democratic plans here.

The Role of Oil

With WMD unfound, and efforts to establish democracy proving impossible in the absence of security, oil does loom ever larger as the real reason why we are there. Big Oil influence on the White House has been labelled a chief motive for controlling Iraqi oil through the ongoing Occupation. Some have even gone so far as to say that the ongoing crisis has been engineered to increase oil prices through the introduction of an artificially generated risk premium. Others would say Big Oil and the White House simple intended to gain control over Iraqi oil.

On the most cynical level, Big Oil and their political proxies may persist in the notion that Iraq might stabilize to a level which will allow oil production and exports. It's been said that the obviously inadequate number of troops has perpetuated a deteriorating security situation which justifies the ongoing presence. Seen under this light, it's almost as if seeding an open-ended commitment had been the intentional policy, and an ongoing occupation its only possible--and therefore thoroughly anticipated--consequence.

With Iraq oil production down due to the insurgency, it's hard to see any direct benefit to Big Oil other than record profits from escalating oil prices. While the ongoing Occupation may cost the public mightily, Big Oil has profitted, with the exception of the period just prior to the 2006 Elections, where prices dipped.

Even with the election of Democrats, we are seeing the price oil begin to climb and with it the profits of the Big Oil companies. The price of oil has been encouraged by political instability which has been in so many ways the cornerstone of the continued US Occupation.

Whatever the outcome, Big Oil stands to lose big; in itself, Big Oil's success under the Republicans demonstrates the successful implementation of coordinated goals and the presence of deep connections.

Big Oil Ties

In my post on Big Oil, I discussed the Taliban's reluctance to do business with Chevron and a Unocal natural gas pipeline, and the role of now-Secretary of State Rice and now-Afghan President Karzai in the pipeline committee on which they served before ascending within their respective governments. 9/11 provided the perfect opportunity for Afghan regime change; under Karzai, the new Afghan government promptly acquiesced to a pipeline deal. Rice now has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.

One article discusses the pipeline; it's relevant today in understanding the pre-9/11 environment. Whatever appealed to Big Oil was by extension attractive to the White House, so close was the relationship.

Like his predecessor Clinton, Bush used the privileges of his office to achieve pipeline construction in Afghanistan on behalf of Unocal and Chevron. The US had even been willing to support the Taliban in support of Big Oil. According to the 2002 Salon article by Jean-Charles Brisard, the US wanted to create an Afghan government which which it could negotiate. In a Washington Post Op-ed from 2001, it quotes Khalizad, present Ambassador to Iraq and a former Unocal consultant:

"'The Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran -- it is closer to the Saudi model ...' Khalilzad contended, concluding that 'we should use as a positive incentive the benefits that will accrue to Afghanistan from the construction of oil and gas pipelines across its territory ... These projects will only go forward if Afghanistan has a single authoritative government.'"

See more on Khalizad's former support for the Taliban in this article from The Independent.

This.pdf article brings up some interesting details about Khalizad. Married to its Big Oil, the Bush Administration was trying to force the Taliban to choose Unocal; an Argentine rival for the pipeline was rejected in an oddly coincidental collapse of the Argentine economy, who'd been denied IMF stabilization funds by Bush, according to the article.

Those with sympathies to Big Oil--Khalizad and Rice in particular--have undeniably advanced to the highest positions within the Bush family, so it's no coincidence those who achieve strategic goals on behalf of Big Oil end up in high places.

Sweetheart Deals Behind Closed Doors

I had mentioned the federal government's consistent failure to maximize lease revenues in its dealings with large US energy concerns, with is a major concern when secrecy prevents any outside scrutiny.

Much of the collusion has its roots in sympathetic Senators and Congressmen friendly to oil and energy interests from oil-producing states like Alaska and Texas. Naturally, corporate constituents from these districts want to drill on federally owned land at the lowest cost possible. Their representatives act to lower the costs of production for their energy producing corporate patrons. The result is an absence of oversight by federal regulatory bodies, resulting in ludricrously low lease rates, or perhaps none at all! [See this article, "Chevron, Others May Avoid Oil Royalties".]

The chummy relationship benefits the oil companies at expense to the general public.

In this article by Edmund Andrews, the US drops its pursuit of revenues owed it:

"...Interior Department has dropped claims that the Chevron Corporation systematically underpaid the government for natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, a decision that could allow energy companies to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties."

Edmunds continues:

"In February, the Interior Department acknowledged that oil companies could escape more than $7 billion in payments because of mistakes in leases signed in the 1990s."

"...the Interior Department does not announce that it is accusing companies of underpaying royalties nor does it announce its settlements in these disputes. The government also does not disclose how much money each company pays in royalties."

The article goes on to list some of the murky details which define the shadowy backroom dealings between bureaucrats and energy companies, and the lawsuits which have sought to make companies pay appropriate taxes and fees to public treasuries.

This article discloses investigative findings as to the scope of oil lease "blunders". An article from ABC discusses Interior Department's Inspector General Earl Devaney's discoveries on oil lease infractions in the course of his investigation, see it here.

Secrecy is a hallmark of the Bush Administration, which of course disguises financial dealings and policy coordination between powerful energy interests and their allies like the President and Vice-President. Dating back to Cheney's secret Energy Policy Board meetings in early 2001, where maps of Iraqi oil fields had been reviewed, collusion was virtually assured, with Big Oil shaping Administration's policies towards energy-producing nations.

The result of the energy policies--however designed behind closed doors in the corridors of power--has been a massive rise in the price of oil.

A Primer on Oil

In my previous post on Big Oil, I'd noted that price of oil had been determined primarily by demand for it, which is increasing more rapidly than supply.

The US is dependent on oil. Our car-focused lifestyle predicates itself on ample and cheap energy. If oil were to become too expensive--or our dollar too weak--we could see the collapse of the American way of life, or at least some diminshment of its wonders.

So the US government has an interest in keeping its currency strong. Morever, the US has too much too lose if another currency were used to trade in oil. As it is, oil trades exclusively in dollars, and so all other currencies must be converted to dollars to sell and buy oil.

Oil-producing states amass huge quantities of dollars, called petro-dollars. Typically, these dollars never come into circulation; they remain outside the US, and so they do not contribute to domestic demand and inflation.

Now, for as long as the dollar is needed to buy and trade oil, which is the driving force behind today's global economy, the dollar will be stronger than it would otherwise be, had oil been priced in an alternative currency and dollars out of necessity sold to buy that currency.

Shortly before the Iraqi invasion, Saddam Hussein began selling oil in exchange for Euros. In 2002, William R. Clark wrote:

"...Saddam Hussein sealed his fate when he announced on September 2000 that Iraq was no longer going to accept dollars for oil being sold under the UN's Oil-for-Food program, and decided to switch to the euro as Iraq's oil export currency.[http://www.projectcensored.org/publications/2004/19.html

Countries like Russia and China--hardly close US allies--have long accepted the dollar's monopoly on oil. At a certain point it may be easier to maintain the status quo than compete to find a replacement for the dollar as the world's currency. And having oil trade in a mixed bag of currency might dramatically complicate international currency flows, invoke conversion transaction costs, and create potential liquidity shortfalls or imbalances.

The cost however, of continued dollar dominance is that other currencies in fact subsidize dollars, by demanding them, making them worth more and their own currencies less. Traditionally, holding dollars has been an advantage for Central Banks, who simply can't afford to maintain enough gold to defend and protect their currencies from fluxuations potentially as severe as that seen in Southeast Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-8. Far easier is the idea of holding dollars, which can produce interest when lent out, and are sufficiently liquid--available--as to be more or less instantly traded and available for conversion into any currency.

The dollar is currently depreciating, which means dollars become cheaper and easier to buy. Hoever, the cheaper dollars become, the more that are needed to buy oil, and the less value they retain as an investment.

Investments in US government-issued securities--arguably the most attractive in the world--may depreciate as higher interest rates are necessary to keep funding US budget and borrowing deficits.

Even in a decline of the dollar there's an opportunity for other nations who must continue to buy dollars. Investing in US assets becomes cheaper; US companies that export make more in dollar terms, and their prices go up. Still, the price of oil will rise and the US gains the benefit of increased demand for its currency.

Necessary for oil, dollars are constantly under demand, which counterbalances damage to its currency which is generated by domestic economy downturns, or the widening trade deficit, or government overspending. In this sense, dollars lose less of their value than other currencies not attached to oil would. The consequence might be that "corrective measures" brought about by a cheaper dollar--like lower demand and increased investment by foreigners in the US--are slower to take hold as the dollar stays artifically higher.

Absent conservation--notorious by its absence in any meaningful way in current Bush policies--demand will continue to spike upward, so steering the status quo forward benefits those who profit from more expensive oil. Economically, the more expensive energy comes at the expense of the US economy and guarantees a lower standard of living for the general population as the higher costs are passed down, impacting disproportionally the less wealthy.

Replacing the Dollar?

Now if the dollar were replaced as the currency used for oil, the US would pay more for oil as its currency weakened realtive to the value of the replacement currency. Dependent on oil, the US economy would be damaged as a result of the higher price. The advantages of trading in dollars would be bestowed on the new currency--presumably the Euro. Euros would be more in demand, dollars less, which would mean the dollar's price would fall. Oil would cost more in dollar times, even if the price of oil as expressed in Euros remained constant.

Replacing the dollar would be a highly politicized process. One of the losers emerging from a switch to Euros would be the Chinese, who would see their massive dollar holdings lose value. What's more, the US economy--facing higher oil prices--would slow down and with it Chinese imports. The strength of the Chinese economy alone--and its reliance on a relatively strong dollar for exporting to the US--is enough to prevent a shift away from the dollar.

China's exports to Europe are rapidly rising. As the Chinese stockpile of Euros increases, they might be willing to look at non-dollar denomiated oil trading. As long as the Chinese aren't investing directly in the US--at least on the scale the Japanese have from the 80's--they need a final destination for the dollars they have amassed--some 1 trillion or so of them. Buying dollar-denominated oil is the perfect way to close the financial loop.

Iran was in the process of creating a bourse trading oil in Euros. See an article on the bourse here. The US is now engaged in a prolonged episode of saber rattling against that country. Some would say that Iran's threat to move away from dollars has precipitated the bellicosity. By intimidating Iran, the argument goes, the US can preserve the dollar's preeminent position.

While the idea of starting wars to prop up one's currency may seem a little brash, it is an undeniable fact that the fate of the US economy is inextricably tied to oil. If the US must buy oil--and our demand for it is increasing--increases in the cost of oil must be restricted as much as possible.

The Cost of Oil

The US cannot, however, set the price of oil. The price of oil cannot be kept low by maintaining production, or perhaps even increasing it; global demand is simply too high. Undeniably, to keep oil prices steady, more capacity must come to market.

In my last foray into Big Oil economics, I brought up the troublesome fact that the massive discovery of an oil field in the Gulf of Mexico was not expected to make any dent in prices. In light of Big Oil's fondness for proclaiming of our need to increase domestic production--to reduce dependence on foreign oil, I found the absence of any impact on prices from such a large discovery to be quite a shock.

No matter how large a discovery we can make, our demand for oil is increasing at a even more rapid rate. And contrary to Big Oil claims of how tapping this or that reserve will reduce dependence on imports, the US imports more and more; Big Oil supplies it.

In this sense, Big Oil wants to oil to increase in price, to increase profits. They are also pursuing an public policy agenda that frames the benefit of domestic exploration and extraction in terms of lower costs, when the truth remains quite different: we will always need more no matter how much we find. By creating dependency on oil, Big Oil simply needs to prolong the addiction.

It's clear the oil that we find is increasingly harder to extract, located in geographically isolated or politically unstable regions. As the cost of extraction and transport grow, so too will the cost of oil to the end consumer. So the consumer can never really win, even if their government caves in to ridicuously defeatist lease terms in order to placate their strong loyalties to Big Oil.

With oil and the selling-off and leasing-away of public lands, it's clear that government is not representing the interest of the people, but rather a narrow constituency that profits from subsidized leases and increased oil dependency. In the cycle of campaign contributions, politicians depend on Big Oil money; once in office, their patrons are entitled to the full benefits of reciprocity.

Ultimately, it will take a massive effort by the people to demand fair value for the oil pumped from land which is really theirs. Change may be achieved through political action, as we see in the case of Venezuala's Chavez, who has de-privatized oil to the point it's virtually free for the citizens of that country. People may also get fed up if the cost of gas increases to rapdily, so the US and Big Oil are both motivated to bring more supply on line (knowing this, the insurgents in Iraq are dictating otherwise.)

And perhaps the best instrument of change will be a push towards conservation and alternative energy sources. As it is, Big Oil and their sympathizers in government have little reason to push for lower oil demand. Windfall profits hardly encourage change. Yet even traditional energy producers and wise politicians may at some point urge demand reduction, if they recognize that demand is unsustainable and that oil will at some point grow prohibitively expensive and restrict economic growth.

Climate Change

The White House has stonewalled efforts proving the existence of the Global Warming phenomena. One article on Bush Administration efforts to de-link global warming's role in more frequent and more powerful hurricanes is here.

Globally, there is limited agreement on the urgency of limiting carbon emissions so continued fossil fuel dependency will lead to massive ecological destruction. The US is not alone in neglecting standards, despite the fact it consumes 25% of world energy needs despite constituting less than 5% of its population. China, Australia, and other countries appear unwilling to enforce the Kyoto Accords.

The more fossil fuels that are burnt, the more rapidly the problems caused by heating will emerge. As coastal areas are deluged, and drought or floods coupled with shifting climate patterns become more obvious, so too will be the need to move away from dependence on greenhouse gas-producing sources of energy. The economic costs of a changeover to a petroleum alternative will be unprecedented, yet increasingly necessary to stem further heating and ecological damage.