Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thoughts on Iraq, Iowa, NH, and the Year of the Surge

Did the Surge in Iraq create a Surge for McCain?

Whatever happened to the War in Iraq as a campaign issue?

A year ago, I wouldn't have given you a plugged nickel for John McCain's presidential chances. His campaign seemed like a lonely and quixotic quest. Now, if the polls are to be at all believed, he stands on the cusp of achieving an upset victory in New Hampshire.

Really bad ideas have a way of collapsing under their own weight over time. Al Qaeda, and to a lesser degree, al Sadr's Shia Mahdi Army, seem to have overplayed their hands to their own surprise and detriment in Iraq. Beheadings, often posted on the internet, and a cavalcade of monstrous and horrific car bombings, along with a host of other atrocities, has turned even the Sunni tribal populations against al Qaeda. Of course, this takes nothing away from the tactical competence of General Petraeus and the hard work of the US Armed Forces. The sacking of Rumsfeld and his team after an endless litany of mistakes in Iraq should be seen by everyone as an exceedingly positive development, regardless of how they view the rightness of the war.

Nevertheless, it does bring up a fundamental question. Even if there has been some tactical success on the ground in Iraq in 2007, what does it say about the American population and their attitude towards this war in general? What does it have to do with the question of whether or not it was the right thing to do to begin with? What does it say about both our initial motivations and our continued involvement? Do these things matter to the populace at large, or is all that matters the appearance of winning or losing? It’s certainly understandable that a population will always be unhappy with a war that isn’t going well, but what does this say about us as a nation?

One of the best commentators on the progress in the War in Iraq has been the author and columnist Thomas Ricks, the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. While he concedes that al Qaeda has suffered reverses in Iraq, he cautions that the overall decline in violence should be seen in relative terms, and that the political conundrum is as thornily present as ever. Is real progress being made in terms of national reconciliation, or are the Sunni and Shia militias merely building up their strength and biding their time before an all-out civil war? It's hard to say, in this strange war that morphs into something new every year. From the online debate The War Over the War, in The Washington Post in November... I'd hardly call Ricks optimistic...

Boonsboro, Md.: When will it be okay to state that we are winning in Iraq and all the naysayers ("the war is lost") were wrong? Even the New York Times is admitting things are going well.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, things are going better. I just got back from Baghdad last week, and it was clear that violence has decreased. But it hasn't gone away. It is only back down to the 2005 level -- which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth.

I interviewed dozens of officers and none were willing to say we are winning. What they were saying is that at least now, we are not losing. But to a man, they were enormously frustrated by what they see as the foot-dragging of the Baghdad government.
Here is the story I wrote summarizing their views -- and their current worries.

In any case, I think we can see why the Democrats should not be as cocky about their chances as they were one year ago. Of course, next November, we might find ourselves looking at another scenario again....

In the wake of Iowa and on the eve of New Hampshire, a few random thoughts about the other candidates. Don’t expect depth. :-D

Barack Obama: The return of the youthful and inevitable "Candidate of Hope" who had seemed to lose his way in the early stages of the race. He seemed unsure of himself in the early campaigning, struggling to find his footing, but after some missteps by Hillary, he was able to find his stride. If I had to make a provisional endorsement at this point it would probably be for him. I think he has more gravitas and policy wonk savvy than a lot of people give him credit for. I have to say, though.… that in the wake of his Iowa victory, he sounded tired, wan, callow, and uninspired in his speeches. He sounds hoarse and exhausted. I don’t know how these candidates keep this grueling schedule up. After his Iowa win, I expected something a bit more energetic from him, more like the speech and redoubled efforts that have been offered by…

John Edwards: The economic populist. I love what this guy says, but like a lot of other people, I just seem to have a problem with accepting the sincerity of the man. It probably isn’t fair. I think a lot of people feel this way… they like what Edwards has to say, but they wind up pulling the lever for Obama. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Hillary Clinton: What was she thinking having her husband and Madeline Albright up there on the dais with her in Iowa? I suppose Bill has to be there, but I don’t think people want to go back to the Clinton years, and this is what people are being reminded of. We’ve had 19 years of the Clinton-Bush dynasties. Enough already. I don’t blame young people, who’ve known nothing else, to want to look elsewhere. She sounded a bit shrill, peeved, and desperate in the debate on Saturday night. Don’t count her out though. The Clinton machine works very well, they’ve got plenty of money, and they are bare-knuckled brawlers who can match the worst that anyone else can dish out, Democrat or Republican.

Bill Richardson: A confused, doddering performance in the debate the other night. He needs to get out.

Mike Huckabee: What the Huck? The evangelicals have found their guy to get behind. Nice win on his part, and I think the press was surprised that the Romney ad press conference controversy came off better with the electorate than it did with them. I don’t know… I don’t think he’s presidential timber. He’s a bit prickly. I think that both he and McCain lack the temperament to be president. What’s with the Chuck Norris thing?? We’ll have hundreds of new Chuck Norris facts by the time this is over.

Mitt Romney: Bwahahahahaha! Sorry for the schadenfrude… I can’t help it. He’s one of the most obnoxious political candidates I’ve seen in decades. I think Liam’s description of him is right on the money. Consider a couple of things about Mitt… He did his missionary work in France and has nothing but contempt and ridicule for France. He did his gubernatorial stint in Massachussetts and has nothing but contempt and ridicule for Massachussetts. A typical pump-and-dump corporate suit. I could wind up with egg on my face, but I hope McCain beats him in NH like a rented mule.

Ron Paul: Wow. He got knifed by the rest of them on Saturday night like Julius Caesar in the Forum, without a scintilla of logic from the whole crew.

Fred Thompson: “I sure hate this campaigning and meeting people stuff… Heck, I don’t expect people to vote for me up here…” How did Bullfrog get talked into doing this?

Rudy Giuliani: A Johnny-One-Note. Whatever... I listened to this Republican debate the other night and could only shake my head. They’ve got nothing to sell but fear. Invocations of Ronald Reagan and one-upmanship on how much better they’ll be at killing people. Fear about terrorism, fear about immigrants, fear about providing kids with health care, although we somehow seem to have found an old shoebox in a drawer somewhere with enough cash in it to keep pre-emptive wars going for generations to come. All this talk about who’s going to pay for health care, and precious little talk about why it costs as much as it does. Greenspan and his boys at the Fed kept inflation pretty low for 20 years. Have we seen low inflation in health care and the cost of a college education over that same period of time? Fear gets invoked on the prospect of the government making decisions about your health care. Has everyone been thrilled with insurance companies making those decisions instead?


Liam said...

Happy New Year, Jeff.

The surge has lowered the violence, and Petreus has done well, but the political benchmarks have not been met. Al-Queda was never the most important danger in Iraq, and although arming the Sunni tribesmen against them has had results, it sets things up for a nasty confrontation between them and the Shi'ites. al-Sadr, I think, is just laying low. Our armed forces are stretched to the breaking point.

As far as the campaign goes, I do believe Edwards is sincere, but unfortunately most voters are not responding to it. We'll have to see what will happen tomorrow and over the next month, but I'm almost willing to bet on us having President Obama next year.

Romney is utterly contemptible.

crystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cowboyangel said...


I'm not really convinced by either "surge." If Petraeus had led the Armed Forces at the beginning of this invasion, things might have gone a lot differently. But most of the damage was done in the first few months. I don't think Petraeus is even brilliant enough to solve our problems there, especially since so many of them are political ones. His troop surge in Baghdad isn't ultimately going to change much, except for lowering the violence in Baghdad a bit.

But even that has changed in the last couple of weeks. While everyone turns their attention to the primaries, Iraq has been going through another wave of violence.

Jan 8 - 24 die in fresh Iraq violence: Two suicide bombers struck in a Sunni district of Baghdad, killing 14 people including the leader of a US-backed neighbourhood security patrol.

Jan 7 - Bomber Kills 11 at Iraqi Army Festival in Baghdad.

Jan 6 - A series of roadside bombings have killed seven people and injured three in Diyala province in central Iraq.

Jan 3 - BAQUBA, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed 10 people on Wednesday.

And then there have been the targeted assassinations of the Sunni leaders of the Awakening Council who had switched over to the U.S. to help combat militants. From yesterday's article in the NYT:

Suicide Bomber Kills Key Sunni Leader

On Monday morning, a suicide bomber on foot killed Col. Riyadh al-Samarrai, a founder of the Sunni Awakening Council in Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold that until recently was a haven for insurgents.

On Sunday, gunmen riding in a single car and brandishing pistols with silencers killed a founder of the Awakening movement in Shaab. Shaab is a large and predominantly Shiite district in northern Baghdad that is near Adhamiya.

In another such assassination, gunmen on Sunday burst into the home of an Awakening leader in the volatile city of Baquba, north of Baghdad, killing him and his wife, according to the police in Diyala Province.

The killings punctuated a wave of violence that has unfolded in the capital and left more than 30 people dead over the past two days, chipping away at the relative lull the city enjoyed late last year.

What does our lack of interest in Iraq say about us as a people? Many things. But part of the reason people have stopped caring as much, I believe, has to do with the pathetic Democratic Party. The 3 leading presidential candidates aren't going to do much about Iraq. And people know that, I think. And the Democratic Congress has been inept and cowardly. I imagine I'm not the only person who feels like the war isn't going to end for a long time. It's depressing. For all of Obama's talk of "hope," I don't see much hope about the war. Democratic President or not.

As far as McCain, he'll win New Hampshire, but I don't think it's going to change the overall race that much. He's simply disliked too much within his own party. And he was never able to raise much money. I mean, he came in 4th in Iowa - behind Zombie Thompson! He's currently running anywhere between 3rd and 5th in South Carolina. And he's in 4th in the most recent Florida and California polls. If Huckabee can stay in the race, since he also couldn't raise any money, he should win South Carolina, and will do well in other Southern states and states with large evangelical populations. Rudy, if he can survive (loved seeing him get 3% in Iowa!), should do well in Florida, California, NY, etc.

Hopefully, Romney will continue to struggle. Love seeing him lose in Iowa and New Hampshire. All that money! You and Liam are partly right about him - only you've been too easy on the guy! My own description for him would mar your fine blog, so I'll refrain.

Bill Richardson: A confused, doddering performance in the debate the other night. He needs to get out.

Ouch. Granted, I was switching back and forth between the Jags-Steelers and the debate, but I didn't seeing "confused" or "doddering." (Doddering?) In the parts I saw, I thought he did okay. If nothing else, I thought he was the funniest candidate on stage, and his humor helped keep the atmosphere civil, IMHO. I still think he's the best candidate, though, admittedly, he's blown his chances by his weak debate performances. Too bad.

I've said my piece about Obama on my own response to Iowa. Won't repeat it here.

I just want to see Rudy, Romney and Hillary get beat. Their struggling campaigns have brought me great pleasure in the last couple of weeks.

cowboyangel said...


Think you're right about al-Sadr laying low.

How much are you willing to bet on Obama becoming President? I might be interested in some that action. I'm not convinced he's going to be the nominee, though it looks good for him right now. Clinton has a ton of money, an effective political machine, and - very important - deep connections within the Democratic establishment across the country. I think we're in the midst of Obama media hysteria at the moment. I'd let things cool down a bit before you put too much money down.

And if he is the nominee, I'm not convinced he would win the general election.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

No need to delete posts. It's only politics. :-D It's not like it's about God or anything. ;-) Speaking for myself, I can't take politics too personally.

Liam & William,

Happy New Year. It's great to see you guys blogging again. You've been missed.

I can't say that I find anything to disagree with either of you on regarding Iraq, and also with your assessments of Mitt Romney. The truth is an absolute defense...

Pretty good analysis, William, but yes, I really do think that Richardson came off as doddering. Sorry to say (I know you respect him), but I think he has no more business being in this race at this point than Chris Dodd did in Iowa.

If Obama was all style and cliche and had no command of the issues, I think there would be a case to be made that this buzz all might fizzle, but I think it has actually taken a while for a wonk to learn how to become a candidate. Now that's he's got it figured out, I think he's going to be formidable.

Still, I think it's too early to make predictions about the nominations. The economy is on a precarious brink, and who knows what will happen in Iraq between now and next Fall. That's almost impossible to predict. November, and even August, are still a long way off... These races might be still be open heading into the conventions... which would make them pretty exciting for a change.

Meanwhile, enjoy the political theater tonight.

Garpu the Fork said...

Obama and McCain winning in NH? I"m so out of the loop, the past few days.

No kidding, I'm already hearing that Catholics should vote for Huckabee or Ron Paul. I guess everyone else has a secret ballot, but us.

Jeff said...

Wow. Hillary Clinton is up by a point or two. Wonder if that'll hold...

Hi Garpu,

I'm already hearing that Catholics should vote for Huckabee or Ron Paul.

Nah. No thanks. :-) Hey, have you heard about the article about Ron Paul in The New Republic? Angry White Man?

Garpu the Fork said...

No, I haven't. I don't like his politics. I think they give preferential treatment to rich men, honestly.

You know, they accuse those on the left end of the spectrum of not voting correctly, yet they flat-out ignore the Church on things like poverty, immigration, the war in Iraq (although I know Ron Paul is supposedly against it), and the death penalty. Guess it's like a friend of mine says: "There's plenty of room at the steam table for everyone."

crystal said...

Good - but if we were disagreeing about rock and roll .... ! :-)

Jeff said...

Hi Garpu and Crys,

The thing I think bothers people the most about her is not just that she's a woman but the wrong kind of woman - she's not sweet, self-effacing, pretty, nurturing - she is so not Benazir Bhutto...

Ohhh! Ouch! ;-D