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Past Is Prologue

It's disappointing, but by no means surprising, to see the GOP following the Democrats' lead and completely ignoring the small matter of what to do about Iraq right now. No effort to defend the president's policies over, say, the past six months or explain how we're supposed to get from where we are now (widely hated in a country we're occupying and yet failing to exercize any semblance of effective control over) to where we're allegedly going (broadly popular in a shining liberal democratic beacon to Arabs everywhere). The policy reality behind the politics is that I don't think either team has any real idea what to do about this mess any more than, say, I do....

August 31, 2004 | Permalink


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» The Lunch Beat from The Unusual Suspects
Wow, this is all I've really been doing recently. Oh, well. I'll hopefully say something insightful about the Convention later - like tomorrow. Also, no Lunch Beats Wednesday or Thursday. The Right. Tod Lindberg from the Washington Times tal... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 31, 2004 11:18:42 AM


I think we should attack Fallujah and then stop when the larger Sunni World is about to erupt in rage, and then attack a few holy Shi'ite cities just for kicks, but make sure our opponents live to fight another day.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 31, 2004 12:43:13 AM

I don't think either team has any real idea what to do about this mess

Well, the first question/answer that might lead to enlightenment on what to do is the rather obvious question:

Are things heading in a direction that seems to indicate some kind of success or failure?

- With my special crystal ball (which only shows the probabilities), I've looked ahead two years, and the probablity of a stable, relatively free society is 15%, with 60% for a chaotic, terrorist breeding, near civil-war situation, and 25% for a muddle of attempted strong-arm government with fundamentalist underpinnings and tendencies for partition of the state along ethic/religious sect lines.

- With that prognosis, the best approach may be to wait and see a bit (maybe through next spring).

Honest people (not speaking for publication) in both party's leadership probably know these probabilities but can't discuss or act for political reasons.

So, if Bush wins, next year he will declare victory and leave before the blowup. If BushCo had a clue on what they could do to improve the outlook, they would likely do it now. There is the possibility they might 'stay the course', but that seems very unlikely since the military is rapidly being degraded - and they know it. Iraq will be flushed down the memory hole, like Afghanistan.

If Kerry wins, he will try to influence the outcome along the lines he has spoken of (more troops, more allies, more non-military assistance). He really can't withdraw the troops short of apparent (not declared) victory because of the shitstorm the Rethugs would raise.

Summary: Both US parties aren't completely clueless - they are just imprisoned in the logic of failed empire based on politicizing foreign affairs for partisan advantage.

Their is no escape from the effects of national stupidity on the international stage.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 31, 2004 2:14:29 AM

Whatever happened to that guy from Pulp Fiction - the Fixer?

He'd know what to do.


Posted by: Snarkasaurus Rex | Aug 31, 2004 3:25:22 AM

Worthless recommendations:

* Severe penalty for early withdrawal

* Kill them all and let God sort them out

* Will the last one to leave please turn out the light at the end of the tunnel

Posted by: bad Jim | Aug 31, 2004 3:47:15 AM

A halfways serious suggestion:

We seem to have done a decent job in uniting the Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites against us. To the extent that they're fighting us and our surrogates more than each other, it would be wise to withdraw.

We do need to protect the Kurds, though (or we need to protect the rest of the country against the Kurds, same problem). We withdraw to the north and re-institute the status quo ante bellum, but without the sanctions.

Posted by: bad Jim | Aug 31, 2004 4:11:59 AM

In the meantime, how 'bout them purple heart bandages?

Posted by: Jeff | Aug 31, 2004 7:17:39 AM

bad Jim asks the same question that Greg Easterbrook asks over at The New Republic: why don't we just leave? Easterbrook doesn't think it could get any worse, and he believes that our Vietnam experience has shown that our military is being asked to do something it can't reasonably be expected to do. If we stay, we'll just be forcing our military to absorb abuse while spinning its wheels. Why bother?

Could it get worse? I think it could. A lot depends upon 1) if the Sunnis and Shiites cooperate after we leave or engage in a power struggle and 2) if Iran decides to take this opportunity to try to annex Iraq. If it's the former, you have civil war. If it's the latter, you have a big regional war.

I wonder if Easterbrook doesn't ask the question rhetorically, with the rhetorical answer being, "It's the oil, stupid!"

Posted by: Jon | Aug 31, 2004 8:23:40 AM

Pure cowardice. That explains avoidance on Iraq. The proverbial elephant in the room is the fact Iraq isn't going to become a democracy, much less peaceful in any sense we construe peace. Saddam was a murderous tyrant but he understood how to rule various sects, political factions and ethnicities without it spiraling out of control. If he had satisfied himself with a little less military adventurism he'd still be in power. Saddam used many violent, brutal yet effective tactics and measures to achieve rough equilibrium. We're reluctant or unable to employ such measures. Since Dubya can't possibly get away with wielding such an iron fist he's doomed to defeat. Couldn't happen to a nicer fella, I say!

Posted by: STEVE DUNCAN | Aug 31, 2004 8:40:41 AM

I think I would show some more resolve and unwavering leadership in the face of difficult choices. That should do it.

Posted by: theCoach | Aug 31, 2004 8:51:56 AM

Steve Duncan sums up pretty well why neither Kerry nor Dubya will be able to immediately make things better in Iraq. However I have a great deal of faith in Bush's ability to make things even worse, a talent I expect him to apply in spades between now and January. So any specific plans Kerry might make would probably be moot by the time he takes office.

The reason for supporting Kerry is not that he will magically make everything better right away - he won't. We need him because we need a president who is not living in a cloud kookoo land, and who has at least the potential to find a path out of the swamp.

Oh, also because a second Dubya administration will try to launch another war in Iran.

Posted by: jimBOB | Aug 31, 2004 9:43:01 AM

That was The Wolf, not the Fixer. "Now you've got a massive insurgency, in a failed state, minus a legitimate government, in the Middle East. Take me to it."

Posted by: JP | Aug 31, 2004 9:46:07 AM

"You ain't got no problem, Mr. President, I'm ON the motherfucker. Now get your ass back in there, chill them n%&*as out, and wait for The Wolf, who should be coming directly."

"Shiiiit, N%^ro! That's all you had to say!"

Posted by: Haggai | Aug 31, 2004 9:54:38 AM

The thing with Kerry is that he cannot say right now what he would do six months from now if he were President. No one could. And if he were to say what he would be doing right now in Iraq, he would be seen as second-guessing the President and the troops in the field, and there is more to that concern than jingoism: it's affirmatively a bad idea for the various Iraqi factions to see themselves as players in the American presidential election. It is not entirely fair to Kerry that his hands are tied in this way, but that's the reality of the situation, and it makes no sense to blame it on him.

Posted by: alkali | Aug 31, 2004 9:55:17 AM

Al the Communist has asked me to tell you he won't be in today. He's been spending more time with his family. He mentioned that he's really impressed with the way that Bush is resolutely moving forward.

Posted by: Zizka | Aug 31, 2004 10:28:11 AM

Zizka, I think this is becoming a problem.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 31, 2004 10:32:48 AM

Al the Communist also mentioned that he thinks th political process is being degraded by shadowy 527's fueled by foreign money of unknown origin donated by name-changing cosmopolitans.

Posted by: Zizka | Aug 31, 2004 10:33:05 AM

I think the complaint that the convention speakers did not present any "specific proposals" is a canard. Specifically, the Republicans hurled that accusation at the Democratic convention in order to insulate themselves from criticism during their own convention. Conventions are never like a state-of-the-union address where the president outlines his agenda for the next year (and even there, Bush sort of flubbed that-- he's not going to give a speech ike that again).

Here is the "agenda" the Republicans will outline during the convention-- America will keep its Strong Resolve during the War on Terror. Bush will continue to make sure that No Child is Left Behind. The health of senior citizens will be made a priority in a way that is both Compassionate and Conservative. Family and faith will be valued. Then God will be requested to Bless America.

Posted by: Constantine | Aug 31, 2004 10:38:32 AM


But while I don't think Bush needs to offer policy specifics on Iraq he does not to send some signal the US will Win in Iraq. Trying to freeze the electorate in the post-9/11 rally around the President mode will work for a very short time. People will wake up very quickly and find out that the very things Bush did in response to 9/11 have actually made things worse. I'm not talking about My Pet Goat crap. I'm talking about a fundamentalist Sunni/Ba'athist regime now existing in western Iraq. I'm talking about the destruction of Najaf, which at the end of the day left Sadr ready to fight again when convenient.

Posted by: Elrod | Aug 31, 2004 11:02:40 AM

Hah. Nice work, Haggai. How about:

"If I'm curt with you, it's because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast, and I need you guys to act fast if you want to get out of this. So pretty please, with sugar on top, hold some fuckin' elections."

Posted by: JP | Aug 31, 2004 11:06:28 AM

Haggai was good, but JP takes the prize.

But seriously, the elections issue is a big one mainly because I don't expect Allawi to hold them. Why should an ex-rival of Saddam's hold elections? He's got what he wants now. And the logic will be, "Well, the country's too unstable to hold elections." And, of course, the country won't be stable until elections are held. How's that for a Catch-22?

Posted by: Jon | Aug 31, 2004 11:20:35 AM

I'm clearly pushing things way too far with this one, but what if Bush and McCain were to have a candid conversation backstage at the convention about the Iraq situation:

McCain: Oh man, I will NEVER forgive yo ass for this. This is some fucked-up, repugnant shit.

Bush: John, did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits he's "miscalculated", then he's automatically forgiven of that miscalculation?

McCain: Man, get out of my face with that shit. The motherfucker who said that never had to pick up itty bitty pieces of a huge Middle Eastern country's shattered socio-political infrastructure on account of your dumb ass.

Bush: I got a threshold, John. I got a threshold for the abuse I'll take. And right now I'm a race car and you got me in the red. I'm just saying that it's fuckin' dangerous to have a racecar in the fuckin' red. I could blow.

McCain: Oh, you're gettin' ready to blow?

Bush: I could blow.

McCain: Well I'm a mushroom-cloud-layin' motherfucker, motherfucker! Every time our poll numbers dip below 50% I'm "Superfly T.N.T", I'm the "Guns Of The Navarone"! In fact, what the fuck am I doin' not being on the GOP ticket? You're the motherfucker should be on Iraq detail. We're fuckin' switchin' right now. I'm runnin' for President, and you're pickin' up this country's remains.

Posted by: Haggai | Aug 31, 2004 11:34:11 AM

Haggai -

I'm really impressed with your mastery of the PF dialogue. Good work!

Posted by: Jon | Aug 31, 2004 12:08:04 PM

The last one was mostly a cut-and-paste job from IMDB, with some obvious adjustments on my end. But I think the IMDB quotes might have been slightly off in parts to begin with. :)

Posted by: Haggai | Aug 31, 2004 12:14:22 PM

A popular misconception. Actually the Bushies know what they want to do in Iraq and they've been very successful in doing it. The institutions, such as Halliburton and Carlyle, that were created to feast on oil and war, are tearing at the carcass of Iraq like vultures. The men, like Negroponte, who have made a career of attacking democratic governments, are in power and up to their old tricks. The American public is divided, confused, and afraid.

Naturally the Bushies cannot proclaim this as a stupendous victory, but do you doubt that almost all of the intense rightwingers will return, wealthy beyond the dreams of an average American, to purchase themselves a home in a gated community and assume a sinecured position as a 'consultant' or 'advisor' to a war industry, rightwing pol, or rightwing media?

To the lucky few inside the loop, every setback in Iraq is a bonanza, every extension of anti-Americanism beckons with future opportunity, and the sight of seasoned diplomats quitting in disgust simply means more jobs for the vetted rightwing elite.

Ironically, Iraq is equally generous to the world's anti-imperialists, albeit in a slower and more ponderous manner.

The Bushies have no policy to get us out of Iraq or help create a functioning democracy because those have never been their goals. With things going as well as they have been, from the Bush perspective, setting goals would just be overthinking the matter. WYSIWYG.

Posted by: serial catowner | Aug 31, 2004 12:18:57 PM


Sadly, the man on the street is saying "Sunni/Ba'athist regime, Najaf? WTF? It is almost football season."

Posted by: Tripp | Aug 31, 2004 12:40:18 PM

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