Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

One of the Democrats’ chief criticisms of the Bush Administration, one that sometimes had merit, was that it refused to alter its strategy or message in the face of new facts.  In foreign affairs, that meant it took us three years to react to the Iraqi insurgency in a manner beyond “staying the course.”  On the domestic front, that meant allowing several appointees to serve far longer than their records justified (Gonzales, McLellan, Powell, Rumsfeld) and establishing a bunker mentality in response to press criticism.

The Obama Administration struck at this central failing of the last regime by promising pragmatism and common-sense straight from the “reality-based community.” No longer would partisan bias cloud the White House’s response to the nation’s challenges.  Spin would be replaced by transparency.  Facts would drive policy, not the other way around.

But one year into the politics of hope and change, and we are seeing a pattern develop about how this crowd handles inconvenient facts.  All summer, the economic facts rolled in that the stimulus bill had done little to create jobs or improve the economy, and that the “shovel-ready” projects so urgently needed were figments of the Democratic imagination.  Rather than change course and respond with an alternative strategy, Joe Biden repeatedly claimed that the stimulus was working, and that things were better than they would have been.  Only recently, when the Administration wanted to pass a new stimulus, was it willing to acknowledge the grand failure that was spending $787 million billion for 2.5% fewer jobs.

When the mullahs of Iran bungled its election fix this summer, the Obama State Department first abetted it, then ignored it, then begrudgingly decried it before returning to full appeasement mode.  Iranians were left to shout a remarkably Bushian line at our President – “Obama, are you with us or are you against us?”   But the answer was clear — the White House was choosing to ignore a pro-freedom Iranian revolution in hopes for a deal with the despots.  Even so, deadline after deadline was ignored, deals were cut and then broken, and Ahmedinejad continues to promise death to Israel.  All the while, Team Obama has refused to acknowledge what even France has acknowledged — Iran is just playing out the clock while it builds a nuclear bomb.

On the eve of the global warming summit, stunning revelations about the science underlying the alleged global-catastrophe-in-waiting should have led a pragmatist to take a step back and review the facts before committing a country in the red to billions more in federal aid.  A pragmatist might have also postponed announcement of a sweeping regulatory decision based on that same science, which threatened to impose billions more in environmental compliance costs on a seriously wounded economy.  In an Administration committed to “restoring integrity to U.S. science policy to ensure that decisions that can be informed by science are made on the basis of the strongest possible evidence,” one might expect that getting the science right would be of the utmost concern.  Such an Administration, and such a pragmatist, is not in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, however.

Public doesn’t want Guantanamo closed?  Ignore them and do it anyway.  Released terrorists are returning to the war on terror?  Deny the war, release more terrorists.  Health care bill doesn’t bend the cost curve, which you required of any bill you’d sign?  Say it does anyway, and deny you ever required it to do that.  Islamic terrorists attack the U.S. three times in one year?  They’re lone wolves – we’ve got it all under control – but please stand in line another hour at the airport, just in case.

Carol Lee of Politico goes into greater depth about the P.R. tactics the White House has used to ignore the facts that threaten their worldview, but I’m more concerned about the worldview itself.  We have a president who ran exclusively on the idea that he was no ideologue, that he had no dog in the partisan fights that plague Washington, and that his Administration would rise above the pettiness and do what was necessary to reform and protect America. Given these facts, the pragmatist in me says there are only two ways to react to Year One of Obama: either our President is a lying ideologue, or he’s very, very bad at knowing what is necessary to reform and protect America.

The facts themselves are clear, however.  The President will be judged by the voters in November based on how he responds to the hard facts in Iran, the muddled half-truths of climate change, the plain facts of a falling dollar, a rising debt, and a nation out of work.  Rhetorical flourishes cannot change them.  I just hope our political leaders are prepared to face them.

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I’m still taking in Charlie Gibson’s interview of Sarah Palin, but I am struck (again) by the total inability of the news media to accept the legitimacy of conservative Christians holding public office.  Gibson, in the interview broadcast this evening:

Gibson: You said recently in your old church that “Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.”    Are we fighting a holy war?”

A holy war, Charlie?  We jump from the task of defending America from violent terrorists and those that would destroy us to an American jihad?  That by asking the congregants to pray for the troops, Palin gave her son and his fellow soldiers a fatwa to obliterate Muslims?  It’s apparently impossible for an American Christian to believe in the rectitude of his nation’s cause, because in doing so, that Christian has imbued it with the spectre of the Inquisition, the Crusades, and all violent attempts to spread Christianity among the infidels.  The ignorance behind that question is astonishing.  Palin, not being ignorant, was certainly up to the task of answering it:

Palin: The reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words, when he said…first, he suggested “Never presume to know what God’s will is” and I would never presume to know God’s will or speak God’s words, but what Abraham Lincoln had said – and that’s a repeat in my comments – was “Let us not pray that God is on our side, in a war or any other time.  But let us pray that we are on God’s side.  That’s what that comment was all about, Charlie.

Gibson isn’t satisfied, though, and continues to probe Palin’s sinister, theocratic heart:

Gibson: But you went on and said “There is a plan, and it is God’s plan.” [shakes head, flutters eyes]

Boy, you got her there, Charlie.  Only wacky, snake-handling, cross-burning nutjobs think God has a plan.  I mean, don’t Episcopalians think he’s just toking on a reefer, eating Doritos, and he might get around to that whole salvation thing in a couple millennia, if his mom wakes him up?  Surely no honorable Methodist would think God actually meant any of that stuff about baptism, resurrection, and the end of the world.  I mean, that would so get in the way of Charlie’s Sunday morning tee time, if he had to be tithing and all that.  I honestly don’t know how Sarah held it together enough to keep from laughing, but instead she gave this reasoned (if somewhat awkward) response:

Palin: I believe that there is a plan for this world, and that plan for this world is for good.  I believe that there is great hope and great potential to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie.  And I believe those are the rights to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That, in my world view is a grand, the grand plan.

The very fact that this topic – Palin’s belief that God has a plan for the world and that she hopes it includes success for the United States in the war on terror – is a subject worth one whit of ABC’s time shows how astoundingly suspect the media has become of conservative political leaders who profess a faith.  Palin wasn’t suggesting here that she was told by God to strike down Muslims and capture the Holy Land for his flock.  She was simply imploring her church — not her state, her church — to pray for her son and his compatriots as they go to war.  This has been done by presidents, by priests, by pastors, and by plumbers for the entire history of the United States.  But for some reason, when a woman stands in a non-denominational church in Alaska and says such things, they take on implications of theocracy and tyranny that must be explored by the mainstream media.

What must not be explored by the mainstream media are the religious underpinnings of Democratic candidates’ views and plans for the country.  When Barack Obama said at Saddleback that we must heed the teachings of Matthew by “thinking about the least of these,” no reporter since has asked him if God told him to raise taxes on the rich to care for the poor, or inquired whether Matthew was speaking prescriptively about government policy or as a call to volunteerism and private charity.  When Barack Obama stands before a Pentecostal congregation and tells them that his faith plays “every role” in his life, no media have used their questions over the past year to ask if Obama’s faith would prevent him from going to war in defense of this country. When Barack Obama asks us to “pray that I can be an instrument of God” — a very valid prayer, but certainly more overtly theocratic than anything Palin said — the media talk of how refreshing it is that Democrats can take the mantle of religion away from those hatemongering Republicans.

You see, Charlie, Sarah Palin’s prayer that she might be on God’s side doesn’t really bother you and others in the media. You just can’t stand the idea that her prayers might actually be answered.

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Following up on an earlier post, after intense last-minute negotiations, the IOC has lifted its ban on Iraqi athletes at the Beijing games. In exchange, Iraq agreed to hold elections for its National Olympic Committee in November, under IOC observation.

That wasn’t very hard, now, was it? Iraq was concerned about the integrity of its Committee after charges of bribery and fraud. The IOC, bureaucrats to the core, couldn’t tolerate the idea of rooting out corruption at the expense of following the rules. It took international scrutiny, pressure from regional organizations, and, of course, the opprobrium of Marque’s Letters to push the parties to a compromise — a compromise, by the way, that essentially adopts the position held by the Iraqis.

But the IOC got its pound of flesh — by dashing the hopes of five Iraqi athletes hoping to compete in rowing, judo, weightlifting, and archery. Why? The IOC’s rules, of course, which set deadlines for enrolling in these events that passed while the IOC maintained its intransigence.

I hope the stadium cheers loudest for the remaining Iraqi team (of two) as it enters the Opening Ceremonies on August 8th. They braved IEDs, kidnappings, sectarian violence — and the wrath of the IOC itself.

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What I hope to be a regular feature on Marque’s Letters, “Say It, John” is my minor contribution to John McCain’s campaign for President — a phrase, a soundbite, even a small speechy-type thing that would improve his chances of defeating the Obamenon.

This week’s entry falls into the category of welcoming the enemy with open arms — and locking him into a position he can’t quite deny, but he wouldn’t ever say that way. If you question the wisdom of this tactic, think about 1) how you respond if you’re Obama, 2) how you react if you’re a liberal, and 3) how this makes McCain look, compared to his more combative pose of late.

“I’ve got an admission to make. Over the past few weeks, I’ve frankly focused far too much on where Senator Obama and I differ on Iraq. It’s a habit derived from months and months — actually, now years and years — of finding myself steadfastly opposed to the campaign of failure and defeat in Iraq waged by Democrats in Congress. And for much of the war, Senator Obama has been among them — voting against the surge, voting against funding for the troops, and voting in favor of timelines that would have removed all American forces before Super Tuesday.

But today I can say that I am proud to have Senator Obama join me, Senator Lieberman, and countless other fair-minded public servants in favor of a measured, conditions-based withdrawal of troops that acknowledges our victory, maintains security for the Iraqi people, and ensures stability in the region. While we can debate about the size of the remaining force or the duration of the force reduction, those are decisions for presidents, not candidates. We both agree that the time is near — but not at hand — for a victorious withdrawal of most combat troops from Iraq. We both agree that the remaining force must be large enough to meet several key objectives: fight all remaining terrorist elements; provide training to Iraqi troops; and ensure logistical and security support for remaining fighters. We agree, in essence, that our campaign for the freedom and independence of the Iraqi people is near a successful end. And my friends, that should make every American proud.

Of all the tragedies our nation and its soldiers have endured during this five year struggle against terror and mayhem in Iraq, among the most troubling to me has been the reversion of our political debate to lows not seen since the Vietnam War. Craven activists have called our skilled commanders “traitors.” Politicians on both sides have questioned opponents’ character and credibility. In vote after vote, election after election, so-called representatives of the American people used this war to win the next election, rather than fight to defeat America’s enemies. But I didn’t lose hope. George Washington listened from the frozen camp of Valley Forge as the Continental Congress debated whether his troops could have more food. Abraham Lincoln endured five hard years of calls for his impeachment, demands for an end to war, and cries of the denial of civil liberties. Even Franklin Roosevelt had his political enemies question every move he made as he mobilized the nation to free Europe in the defining struggle of the 20th century.

And it was with these lessons in mind that, each night, I prayed to God that our nation’s leaders would be able to join together; that we could govern as one with the common goals of protecting America, extending peace to the Middle East, and ensuring that the Iraqi people’s hopes for democracy in the wake of decades of tyranny would be realized. Now, as Senator Obama joins us in his desire for victory with honor, for service with pride, and for a future with hope for the people of Iraq, I thank God for honoring my prayers. Let this be a new beginning, where Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, can join together — to win this war, honor our soldiers for their service, remember our fallen veterans for their ultimate sacrifice, and move the nation forward in its endless pursuit of peace and freedom.

Now, with these crucial principles decided, it is up to the American people to decide who among us is best prepared to implement them. I obviously have my own opinion on the matter. But at least as to the question of Iraq, my friends, we can put aside the petty debates of yesterday and choose the leader, not the path he should follow.”

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In the latest example of worldwide elites’ passive-aggressive backlash at Iraq for daring to become a democracy, the International Olympic Committee has banned Iraq from participating in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on the eve of the competition. The stated reason? “Political influence” in the Iraqi committee for the Olympics. The government of Iraq had apparently dissolved the previous committee to root out corruption, and the chairman and other members of the committee were abducted by gunmen in July 2006, never to be seen again.

More outrageous than the lateness of the decision (seven Iraqi athletes had trained for years to compete in six events) is the lugubriously droll rationale. You might recall that Iraq has a particularly nasty history of governmental meddling in Olympic competition. The Iraqi Olympic Committee was led for decades by Uday Hussein, Saddam’s older son known as “The Butcher’s Boy” before being killed in a gunfight with U.S. soldiers in 2003. Uday had a penchant for unusual motivational techniques with his nation’s athletes, and he didn’t hesitate to use the power of the state to implement them. Here’s a slice of what one former Iraqi athlete went through (details are graphic, and more can be found in this March 24, 2003 Sports Illustrated article:

“I know what they went through,” adds Haydar, who escaped from Iraq in 1998 and now lives in London. “I was tortured four times after matches. One time, after a friendly [match] against Jordan in Amman that we lost 2-0, Uday had me and three teammates taken to the prison. When we arrived, they took off our shirts, tied our feet together and pulled our knees over a bar as we lay on our backs. Then they dragged us over pavement and concrete, pulling the skin off our backs. Then they pulled us through a sandpit to get sand in our backs. Finally, they made us climb a ladder and jump into a vat of raw sewage. They wanted to get our wounds infected. The next day, and for every day we were there, they beat our feet. My punishment, because I was a star player, was 20 [lashings] per day. I asked the guard how he could ever forgive himself. He laughed and told me if he didn’t do this, Uday would do it to him. Uday made us athletes an example. He believed that if people saw he was not afraid to beat a hero, that they would live in greater fear.”

In fact, according to the report by Sports Illustrated , the IOC knew of the allegations of caning, killing, beating, maiming, and caging of Olympic athletes and failed to investigate — even after being specifically requested to do so:

In December, INDICT [an NGO] filed a complaint with the IOC asking that Iraq be expelled from the Olympic community. Attached to the complaint were sworn statements from several Iraqi athletes detailing torture and imprisonment on orders from Uday. In February the IOC agreed to investigate Uday’s behavior. As of last week, however, none of the athletes who had given sworn statements for the INDICT complaint had been contacted by the IOC.

“[IOC leaders] have tried to call the timing of our complaint suspicious and suggest it is part of an anti-Saddam agenda,” says Forrest. “The real question should be, Why didn’t you do something about this years ago? It is not as if we’ve uncovered something no one has ever heard of, and they know it. It almost seems [that they’re thinking] that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will invade and they won’t have to deal with this issue.”

IOC president Jacques Rogge acknowledged last week that his organization received the complaint and says it is in the hands of the ethics committee. But IOC member Richard Pound says that it is “important to remember these are just allegations, and you have to make sure this is not all tied to the Iraq-U.S. dispute, that we are not being used for propaganda. You just never know.”

So, when the Hussein junta was torturing its own athletes and the U.S and NGOs were decrying the atrocities, the IOC refused to act, whispering of a suspicious “anti-Saddam agenda.” Now, the duly-elected Iraqi government, which is trying to end decades of tyrannical rule and STILL send a few athletes to the Olympics, is being accused of meddling with the Iraqi committee and is denied access to the Games?

In a quote at the end of the SI article, former athlete Haydar says that “”[t]he problem for the IOC is going to be when Saddam is overthrown and people walk into the Olympic headquarters and see the torture chamber and the blood on the floor…. What will they say then?”

Five years later, they’ve opened up the torture chamber, and we know what the IOC says — they’ll punish the athletes some more. Hussein al-Amidi, the current General Secretary of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, tells us that “those athletes who have been training – they phoned me today and they were crying and were very upset.”

But they’re very sorry about it, the IOC spokesman assures us: “We are very disappointed that the athletes have been so ill-served by their own government’s actions.”

Congratulations, IOC — you showed them.

UPDATE: At least the Washington Post agrees with me.

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As noted in many places across the web today, Iraq’s Premier Nouri al Maliki has all but endorsed Obama’s plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq by 2010. Now, Jim is right when he points out the miniscule differences between the campaigns now. Who really cares whether we’ve got 50,000 or 70,000 troops in Iraq come 2012, when we’re back at the polls again?

In truth, there’s been a convergence of views here. McCain’s surge has won the war, for the most part, and now it’s just a matter of preserving the peace and preventing further meddling by Iran and its surrogates. Peter Ferrara argues this point persuasively in his piece at NRO, and one has to wonder — if we hadn’t had the Mission Accomplished Moment in 2005, would we be declaring victory today? Unfortunately, the false victory of the air craft carrier has precluded the real victory on the ground in Iraq. One wonders if, in twenty years or so, historians will consider the Iraq War to have ended in 2008, even if there are tens of thousands of troops remaining well into the next decade. After all, if the war lasts as long as the troops remain, then we’re still fighting the Nazis and the Soviets in Germany right now.

Instead, we’re stuck talking about how to end a war that is quickly disappearing of its own accord. That’s good for America and good for Iraq. It’s not very good for the planned campaign strategies of either camp. Obama expected to be demanding an immediate pullout from an Iraq engulfed in violence — if he was, he would 16 points ahead rather than 6. Obama wants a war he can run from, because the netroots are dead-set on fleeing the battlefield. We should all be happy that, if President Obama decides to run away, there won’t be left to run from. Indeed, we’re almost to the point that, if we go away, there will be a viable Iraqi security force remaining to take our place in every province of the country.

McCain thought the surge would be working, but maybe not this well. Al Qaeda would be on the run, but not run out on a rail. Most of his campaign to this point has been predicated on the need to have a war president — indeed, a war hero war president — to fight and win in Iraq and elsewhere. Instead, we’re left with a guerrilla war in Afghanistan that both Obama and McCain seem prepared to fight, and a mop-up action in Iraq that seemingly either candidate could handle. If McCain is left with this threat environment, he’ll be left arguing in favor of free market solutions to our economic challenges. Needless to say, that’s not the hill he wants to die upon.

But the progress of the war presents opportunities for both sides, opportunities that neither side seems to have fully grasped. For Obama, that means pulling out looks more honorable and victorious. But his liberal tic prevents him from declaring victory with honor while removing our troops — that might smell too much like the war was justified, and that just won’t do. McCain, on the other hand, can start supporting an advanced withdrawal of troops while still posing as a vindicated hawk. McCain’s reflexive resistance to “timelines,” however, keeps him from employing rhetoric that appears to favor an accelerated withdrawal. That resistance feeds into the worst fears of the public and reminds voters of the “100 years in Iraq” nonsense (which you can be sure will appear in ads and media reports dozens more times before November).

Unfortunately, McCain appears to be hurt the most by the positive turn of events in Iraq, precisely because any effort to take credit for the surge requires him to open up a debate about the past. When the surge was the present, even the future, of the Iraq War, it made him look like Today’s Leader. McCain was needed preserve and maximize the gains we’ve made from his strategy. Now that the surge is largely over, McCain is left saying that he was right about the surge (about the past), and thus he will be right about future decisions regarding national security.

But that gives Obama an opening — and it’s a big one. Once we start analyzing past decisions, Obama will dig deeper, questioning whether we should have ever gone to war at all. When there was a war on, McCain’s response was, “It’s not useful to talk about the past — we’re at war now, and we have win it.” Without a war, though, Obama’s retort either goes unchallenged or must be countered with the same arguments used by the Bush Administration for the past two terms. We know who wins that debate with the voters, and it isn’t McCain.

Who knew that McCain would need the Iraq War as a campaign prop more than Obama?

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