From what we know (or at least from what I know) about the complex situation in Iraq, the war will not end or cannot be ended in the first way. Neither U.S. forces nor insurgent forces can decisively defeat the other in order to force it to surrender.
Can it end the second way? What would it take?
The most important determinant is the appreciation by decision makers on both sides that a condition of military deadlock has been reached, coupled with their judgments that the chances of favorably altering the military balance of power on the field of battle are slight or nonexistent, or that the effort will be too costly in relation to some standard of cost-effectiveness. In this instance, decision makers have decided that a compromise armistice will better serve their reduced aims, offer more hope of achieving their goals in the long run, or at least lessen the heavy human, material, and political costs of continued war.
It may all come to this, but it does not now appear that the players (the heterogeneous insurgents, the interim government, or the Bush administration) have yet reached this point. The moment might come, however, if and after the new constitution is adopted and elections are held. Bush might then, for example, adopt Nixon’s Vietnamization/decent-interval exit strategy, coupled with negotiations.
The third type of war ending seems unlikely, unless the warring parties agree to some sort of UN or international intervention.
Meanwhile, civil war looms.
For decades Republicans complained of Democrats who used the federal budget to create cadres of dependent voters. Now under George Bush, the GOP has created a new form of the leviathan state with payouts to major corporate interests who bankroll the Republican Party. The president’s energy bill is laden with billions in tax breaks to companies like Exxon that made $25 billion last year – enough to float a small country. His prescription drug plan which failed to restrain prices handed big drug companies more than $100 billion in windfall profits. In just four years, George Bush hiked real federal spending by 16 percent, compared to 10 percent during Bill Clinton’s eight years.
Republican big government also has a social agenda that has vastly expanded the federal government's authority to meddle in our private lives. The recently renewed Patriot Act, for example, authorizes the feds to look over our shoulder when we browse libraries or surf the Internet. And it gives law enforcement officials broad authority to secretly search our property or bug our private conversations. In the Terri Schiavo case, conservative Republicans like Tom Delay would have had government intrude into our family life and dictate our personal decisions.
It is urgent that the public focus on what the broader agenda of big government conservatism is doing to their lives and that Democrats develop some real alternatives that keep government out of our personal lives and start meeting our real needs.
But this is not a new phenomenon. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the suppression of the Pullman strike, from the Fugitive Slave Act to President Bush’s “faith-based initiatives,” conservatives have had few scruples about employing U.S. government power to further the interests of privileged groups. They were also willing enough to foster “big government” when it provided for the largest and most expensive statist program in world history: modern war. It is only when “big government” threatens to free the slaves, raise the minimum wage, end segregation, regulate corporations, or guarantee poor people the right to decent health care that they develop qualms about it.
To point this out is not to disparage a genuinely libertarian approach, such as the one championed so valiantly and for so many years by the American Civil Liberties Union. It is merely to observe that libertarianism is not at the core of the conservative position. Indeed, George W.’s daddy, during his 1988 Presidential campaign, repeatedly denounced his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU”!
Whether through big or small government, the goal of conservatives has been (and is) to promote the interests of the privileged. And they are doing a fine job of it!
They batted the word"naïve" around far too much -- FDR, Churchill, and Stalin were probably the three least naïve people on the planet at the time and it strains credulity to suggest that even the sunny FDR believed Stalin would democratize Poland, or anything else. Brzezinski admitted that the best that could have been hoped for was the Finlandization of Poland, and nearly admitted that really, the Americans were much too interested in defeating Japan to press for that at the time. Perhaps most strikingly, you could hear Dallas claim that with FDR being ill, Harry Dexter White was running the Treasury, Alger Hiss was running State, and therefore Washington was in the hands of Soviet spies.
Three observations: first, Dallas made the reasonable point that the pass had been sold long before Yalta, and it seems true that the Anglo-American interest in air war and staying off the European battlefield for as long as possible did ensure the Red Army could make the most of its opportunities; second, the most provocative argument on Yalta that I've read in years is Alterman's in When Presidents Lie, which gives pretty short shrift to naïve and talks about FDR's deliberate attempt to hide what he'd done at Yalta; third, knowing that Harry Dexter White passed intelligence to the Soviet Union, how do we understand his rather nationalistic behavior at Bretton Woods, which was almost certainly his most important historical moment? Skidelsky does an excellent job on this in his Keynes biography but it hasn't filtered into the more general historiography of the postwar world. But then, Bretton Woods itself hasn't much, either.
The West of"Third View" is emphatically the landscape West of the TR-style conservationists' imagination. The same goes for the West's quarters, by the way: Nevada has wild horses and mountains; North Dakota has bison and mountains; California has a condor and mountains (and John Muir); Colorado has mountains, period. Not a mine, ranch, railroad, or -- God forbid -- a city in sight.
Yet, you know, you could have done fascinating rephotography in Western cities just in the last decade. When I first moved to Reno, you could sip espresso at the Barnes and Noble and look across the street at grazing cattle; it represented a new kind of frontier. During the time I lived there you could see the subdivisions and shopping malls advance daily -- eat your heart out, Frederick Jackson Turner. Maybe the rephotographers could consider fast-growing Western cities their next agenda item. But the meditative exhibit has some wonderful images as it is.
But neither should he necessarily agree to see her. Presidents cannot afford to become too emotionally involved with citizens (as Edmund Morris Pointed out). Doing so can lead to Jimmy Carter’s failed hostage rescue mission or Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal.
His answer should not be couched in terms of getting on with his own life, because the war in Iraq is his war, even more than Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson’s war. The war with Iraq was undertaken because of the personal will of President Bush. In doing so he had to overcome the reservations of Brent Scowcroft, a number of retired generals who had experience in the Middle East, many professional Army officers, his Secretary of State, and the objections of most of our allies. That President Bush was able to overcome all of these obstacles and shift war efforts from Afghanistan and invade Iraq was due to his impressive ability to use political power to achieve his policy goals.
So the appropriate answer about his refusal to meet with Ms. Sheehan would be that he has to fulfill his duty as President, whether to figure out how to “win” in Iraq or how to extricate our troops. The need for some relaxation is legitimately part of being able to carry out his responsibilities effectively. But the need for him to relax should be couched in terms of his duties as president, not getting on with his own personal life.
But, dollars to donuts, this is not really what Ms. Sheehan wants. At any rate it is not what she is doing. She is staging an impasse, defining the terms of her protest in stark, photo-friendly images. It may be a pity that such inarticulate drama should attract more attention than reasoned argument would. But it is certainly not untrue that it does. And it would be political idiocy of the highest order to stick to reason knowing it is less effective than an available alternative.
Meanwhile Morris misses a chance to tell us something we really want to know about Reagan. After all,"emote on demand" is one of the tricks of the movie star's trade, and Reagan was a movie star once. But Morris does not like talking about Presidents as thoughtful manipulators of their publics -- his TR, his Reagan are heartfelt men, not thinkers. At least, he doesn't like talking about Presidents he likes this way: see what he says about Clinton.
This is a very big change from the tone that the administration took right after the second term began. If President Bush drops his Social Security proposal, I’ll be curious to see what kind of “feedback” effect, as the political scientists say, this will have on the next attempt to reform the program.
Will the impact be more like President Clinton’s health care proposal, where the failure resulted in a silence on the issue for a decade, or more like President Truman’s health care proposal where proponents of the plan regrouped and focused on a narrower and more incremental approach (Medicare).
Size does not matter! One of the most successful anti- Vietnam War protests, the telegenic Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) weeklong series of activities in Washington in April 1971 (the one where we first heard of John Kerry), involved fewer than 2,000 protestors. Like Ms. Sheehan, the antiwar vets had a good deal of credibility with Americans, so much so that like the Bush Administration, the Nixon Administration defamed and demonized them. And like the Bushies, Nixon’s people came close to forcefully evicting them from their encampment.
Ultimately, the VVAW protest did not hasten the end of the war. But we now know that it did have an immediate impact on Nixon and his operatives. They feared that the relative handful of veterans, engaged in often highly emotional and imaginative demonstrations, would influence far more Americans than the hundreds of thousands of media-created rag-tag “hippie-communists” who showed up for routine mass rallies.
While Democrats need to focus on regaining control of the White House and Congress, the GOP has turned its attention to expanding its reach into Democratic territory so that the party can secure a long-term governing majority.
If Republicans could win the 2008 presidential election with someone from the “bastion” of American liberalism—Massachusetts--the victory would have major political reverberations. Right now, there are no potential Democratic candidates who are threatening to make serious inroads into the red states, so the real action will likely take place in the blue sections of the map.
Democrats must play defense. Meanwhile, Republicans will try to drive onto Democratic territory with the hope of gaining votes from the exurbs as well from certain immigrant and African-American voters.
Importantly for Governor Romney, his only real competition in the region is New York Governor George Pataki whose charisma problems and liberal spending/social policy record will probably render him a vice presidential candidate at best.
If Romney plays his cards right in the coming months, the governor can easily emerge as a formidable opponent to John McCain, Bill Frist, and other GOP hopefuls.
For this reason, a historian friend of mine really only likes history you can do with statistical regressions, because the regression includes a calculation of the counterfactual, i.e., of the likelihood that your variables do not matter. But we need not go so far as that to acknowledge that any argument would be strengthened by making the counterfactual explicit, and thereby assessing the degree to which a particular event or personality mattered. For example, if you argue that Truman's racism influenced the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, you might consider making an explicit and plausible argument that had FDR survived a few months longer, things would have turned out differently.
My personal favorite category of counterfactuals have to do with Reconstruction's failure, which has been supposed to have so many causes. Lots of us think it had something to do with Andrew Johnson's terrible policies on assuming office. (See e.g. Michael Perman, Reunion without Compromise.) What if the Lincoln assassination attempt had turned out the other way around, with Lincoln surviving and Seward dying? Then you would have the war-hero president with Seward's bloody shirt to wave. Worth a few minutes' thought, I should think.
In the London Review of Books you can find philosopher Slavoj Zizek on counterfactuals, history, and the tedium of overdetermined arguments.
Frank Rich in the NYT this weekend says the confusion is a sign that the administration has lost its way:
When the war's über-managers start using euphemisms for a conflict this lethal, it's a clear sign that the battle to keep the Iraq war afloat with the American public is lost.
Tom Engelhardt in the Nation makes the same point today as did Jon Stewart on Comedy Central over the last few days.
Checking our archives I came across an article written by Daniel Pipes a year ago in which the president conceded:
We actually misnamed the war on terror. It ought to be [called] the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.
Pipes's article was titled, "President Bush Admits He Misnamed the War on Terrorism." (The article was published on HNN on August 30, 2004.)
In the name of honesty war critics--me included--ought to admit that the media have made far too much of the change in nomenclature.
The war was always misnamed for the obvious reason that you can't make war on a tactic, which is what terrorism is. War critics pointed this out back in 2001 and hammered the president for several years for refusing to admit the obvious. He finally admitted the obvious in August 2004 and some of us celebrated the change at the time. (I for one did.) It is hypocritical of us now to hammer the administration for repeating what he said a year ago when most of us have wanted the administration to say this all along. Is saying the truth to be punished?
My guess is that the administration decided finally a few weeks ago that officials should begin using the word struggle instead of war for a variety of reasons, in part having to do with the unpopularity of the Iraq War, but also in part because since the arrival of Condi Rice the neocon hawks have lost control of policy. But then the NYT seized on the change in nomenclature as evidence of political weakness and the decline in support for the war in Iraq. That prompted President Bush to go out and reiterate his commitment to the war on terrorism.
This is an unfortunate development. It means the administration is once again misleading the public about the nature of the war we are fighting. We are not fighting terrorism. We are fighting violent Islamists who hope to use terrorism to force us out of the Middle East and who detest Western culture (these are two separate goals; some Islamists share both, some only one or the other).
Anybody who cares for truth in politics will regret this retreat from reality.
One could argue in defense of the media that the administration is retreating from its commitment to a"war" on our enemies. As Frank Rich says, a struggle is what you have with a landlord. By using the word struggle instead of war the administration is acknowledging the failure of the solely militaristic approach to the problem of violent Islamism--and isn't that worth pointing out? Of course it is. But there's more to what has transpired over the last few weeks, as I have tried to indicate here.
Of course, this is an unfair question. Why should the Bush daughters have to risk their lives just because their father has taken the country to war? They shouldn't have to pay for their father's sins (or, if you prefer, his policies) anymore than the rest of us should have to pay for our father's sins.
But in the real world a president's children are not like other children. What they do reflects on their parents and has political consequences. The only reason we haven't asked these two children why they haven't joined the war their father started is because of their gender. If George and Laura had had two boys instead of two girls you can be sure the question would have been asked a long time ago.
In our previous wars a president's boys of military age always served. TR's four sons--Ted Jr., Archie, Kermit, and Quentin--all served in World War I even though their father had been out of the White House for several years. Not serving wasn't an option and not just because it was inconceivable that the sons of Teddy Roosevelt wouldn't serve but because he would pay a political price if they didn't. He after all wanted to serve--and perhaps return a hero and run again for the White House in 1920. But Woodrow Wilson wouldn't allow him to serve (mainly because Wilson was indeed fearful that TR would again thrill the country with heroism on the battlefield and return to run in 1920).
A peculiar traditionalism has shielded the Bush daughters from public criticism until now. But that the question is finally being asked is a sign of the decline in public support for the war. Now suddenly asking all kinds of questions about this war is permissible.
Lincoln, TR and FDR all believed that war could be used to transform American culture in positive ways and bring about social justice. Lincoln hoped to use the Civil War to end slavery. TR hoped to use World War I to create a strong central government capable of challenging the control of corporations. FDR (and Eleanor in particular) hoped that World War II would lead to greater racial equality.
Is it possible that this war will lead to cultural changes along similar lines? President Bush has tried to insulate Americans from the war in Iraq. As David Kennedy has noted, the president hasn't asked Americans to make sacrifices for the war. But it may be that the war will change us despite the president's best efforts. One way might be that it leads us to make the same demands on young women as we do on young men.
This would be an entirely wholesome change in my view. It might make us more reluctant to commit our troops to battle. Before parents are willing to send their daughters off to war they might want to ask more penetrating questions of their leaders than they did when it was their young men they were sending. Wouldn't that be refreshing?
After all, he is frittering away his lengthy time at his Texas ranch with trivial vacation activities. Surely he can manage a few moments to meet with a distraught mother, grieving over the death of her son in the war Bush insisted upon waging in Iraq! Also, of course, Bush’s failure to meet with her is clearly a public relations disaster for him. Even many loyal Republicans are dismayed by this display of contempt for the stricken families of U.S. combat troops.
In fact, however, Bush’s cold shoulder to a meeting with Sheehan is not out of line with the response of past Presidents to their critics. Ronald Reagan, to be sure, met with two key opponents of his nuclear buildup policies – pediatrician Helen Caldicott and businessman Harold Willens. But he did so in these cases at the firm insistence of his daughter, Patti Davis. In other instances, the White House staff routinely blocked access to him by people who might raise doubts about his nuclear policies.
Why the cutoff of access to the White House? One reason, I think, is that the President’s top advisors are fearful that a face-to-face meeting with a critic of his policies might actually influence him and, thereby, throw administration policies into turmoil. Reagan, after all, did reverse himself on nuclear arms control and disarmament. Even more significant, I believe, is the fear of administration insiders that such a meeting would encourage critics by providing them a sense of empowerment. Give disgruntled citizens a whiff of genuine democracy and, soon, they’ll all be voicing their concerns! In these circumstances, political prudence seems to dictate that the less access to power, the better!
As a result, when it comes to Cindy and George, the public is left with a well-founded impression of Bush administration heartlessness.
(1) Grover Norquist calls out George Soros for going shopping in a market he didn't adequately research:
The one thing that surprised Norquist about Soros's appearance ... was the revelation that Soros had spent only twenty-seven million dollars during last year's election."That is so goofy," Norquist said."The guy is worth, what, seven billion dollars, and he tried to buy the Presidency on the cheap. He should have been in for two and a half billion dollars, for crying out loud. Twenty-seven million dollars -- that should have been ante money. What were they thinking?"
(From John Cassidy,"The Ringleader," The New Yorker August 1, 2005, 42-53, p. 50.)
Do historians pay enough attention to how much money comes from whom in Presidential elections?
(2) On an unrelated point in the same article, I'm pretty sure Tony Perkins would have prayed that every"lying tongue," not every"lion tongue," be cast down. (p. 49) But I await correction from Biblical cognoscenti among the readership.
The reports I read about troop withdrawals focused on Bush’s calibrated message: “I . . . have heard the voices of those saying, pull out now, and I’ve thought about their cry, and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree.” The president was referring especially to Sheehan’s cry, but also to the call for an immediate withdrawal from the antiwar movement, the Left, the Center, and even from some on the Right.
But that wasn’t really the question, Mr. Bush. The question on the minds of most isn’t whether the president will withdraw immediately. Instead, the question is: “Mr. Bush, are you planning to withdraw any time soon?” Or, “Mr. Bush, do you agree with General George W. Casey, Jr. that the U.S. could or will reduce American troop strength in Iraq by 30,000 in Spring 2006?” And, “Mr. Bush, are you making these calibrated statements for political reasons?”
Bush doesn’t want to answer these questions because it would confirm what we now know is true; namely, that the Pentagon has drafted contingency plans for a phased withdrawal of American troops. Bush can’t or won’t confirm this because he believes it would raise doubts about his resolve and thus encourage the insurgents. But Bush also doesn’t want to confirm the implications of Casey’s comment because it indicates that (1) he is driving hard to meet the deadline for the drafting of an Iraqi constitution acceptable to the U.S. so that, (2) he can claim some measure of success in bringing “democracy” to Iraq, and (3) with luck, he can announce the beginning of troop withdrawals ahead of the 2006 midterm congressional elections, thereby improving his party’s chances.
Now, I’m all for troop withdrawals as quickly as possible, coupled with other diplomatic and political measures that I will attempt to discuss another time. But I believe we must think hard about this matter of political timing and how it is affecting the ongoing war, the negotiations for the constitution, the prospects for a solution to the war, an end to the American occupation, and the return of American troops.
It will be interesting to see which path they take. Thus far, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have not done much to promote the party’s cause as they became bogged down in the filibuster struggle and they are now concentrating their energy on the Roberts confirmation hearings.
While both of these issues are important, in terms of political strategy, congressional Democrats need to figure out how to promote five issues on the “public” table where the Republicans are vulnerable as a result of President Bush’s record: the exit strategy for Iraq, adequate homeland defense measures, deficit reduction, the environment, and poverty.
We’ll see what the leadership has in store when Congress returns to Capitol Hill. But if the Democrats place all their chips in the Roberts confirmation hearing, I am not sure they will gain attention for the issues that will really help the next Democratic presidential candidate. The fate of Democrats in Reagan’s second term might be a useful point of reference. Today, Democrats have a window of opportunity, but it is one that can close very quickly in the next year.
Stuart Pratt Sherman concluded his essay on TR in Americans (1922) with TR's own critique of Cromwell.
His strength, his intensity of conviction, his delight in exercising powers for what he conceived to be good ends; his dislike for speculative reforms and his inability to appreciate the necessity of theories to a practical man who wishes to do good work ... all these tendencies worked together to unfit him for the task of helping a liberty-loving people on the road to freedom. (287)
Now, anyone who could write that did not lack an appreciation of theories, speculations, and above all calculation. In truth both TR's admirers and detractors have colluded to do him a disservice by portraying him too much as a man of action and not of thought.
Yet it is almost impossible, as a TR-watcher, not to agree with Sherman when he writes that TR"developed a habit of speaking so scornfully of 'over-civilization' and so praisefully of mere breeding and fighting as to raise the question that he himself raised about Cromwell, whether he had an adequate 'theory of ends,' and whether he did not become so fascinated with his means as frequently to forget his ends altogether." (284)
Me, I'd say he had a theory of ends, and a means too. But he enjoyed the means so much that, as sometimes happens to good stage actors, he lost himself in his performance. And when actors do that, they spoil an overall production. It's hard for the show to go on once the scenery's been chewed to pieces.
Eric is a professor of history at the University of California, Davis and the author of Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America. Eric is the one blogger at POTUS who didn't need instructions on blogging as he has frequently subbed for Eric Alterman at Altercation. Eric ... WELCOME!
Thanks are in order. Within minutes of becoming a group blog yesterday the word got out and generous bloggers began spreading the word. (Ok, it was Ralph Luker over at HNN's Cliopatria who got the word out; thanks Ralph!) But we also want to thank ... Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, who drove hundreds to the blog; Tom Bruscino at Big Tent, Kevin Drum's Political Animal, Crooked Timber; and Richard Jensen over at the list conservativenet.
I thank you. My mother thanks you ... THANKS!
Rather than selling expertise, the new lobbyists, personified by Jack Abramoff, specialized in orchestrating complex and large flows of money. Money flowed from wealthy clients to the lobbyist and then to conservative groups like the National Center for Public Policy Research that dispensed lavish perks and travel to opinion-makers and politicians. The groups also rebated contributions back to the lobbyist and the lobbyist and his clients filled the campaign coffers of complicit politicians.
For example, Abramoff cultivated a wealthy and generous client base in the government of the Northern Mariana Islands and their allies among the owners of textile factories. These operators could use the “Made in America” label while exempt from American labor laws. They imported foreign workers – mostly Asian women -- paid them miserable wages, housed the workers in inhumane conditions, and employed them for unconscionably long hours under sweat shop conditions. In the 1990’s Abramoff blocked a bipartisan effort in Congress to cover the Marina Islands under U. S. labor laws, drawing on the clout of his friend and associate Texas GOP Representative Tom Delay, the recipient of an expenses paid trip to the Islands that Abramoff arranged.
The politicians who entwined their destiny with Jack Abramoff should have had no illusions about the man they dealt with. In the mid-1980’s Abramoff was fired as Director of Citizens for America for overspending and mismanaging the group’s finances. Abramoff moved on to head the International Freedom Forum, funded by the South African apartheid government to polish its image and denigrate the opposition African National Congress as a Communist front. Although Tom DeLay has called Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends” and was fist and glove with the lobbyist’s dealings, you can bet that Delay will now try to distance himself from Abramoff faster than you say “Kenny Boy” Lay.