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A number of folks

A number of folks have raised a ruckus over a point I made Thursday night about the strained relations between the United States and South Korea (ROK).

Their beef is with this passage …

the deep strains in US-ROK relations … have deep roots. Much of it stems from difficulties adjusting to the end of the Cold War and Korean democracy itself, which is fairly new. But in no small measure the stance of the current South Korean government is the result of the Bush administration’s aggressive and unilateral policies toward the Korean Peninsula.


How can I call White House policy unilateral, these folks <$Ad$>ask, when the US has been trying to get six-party negotiations underway for months?

How? Easy.

Through the second half of the 1990s the situation on the Korean peninsula was governed by what the South Koreans called the ‘sunshine policy,’ one of rapprochement with the North, and the so-called Agreed Framework. The latter was basically our deal to give the Koreans various stuff if they would shutter their plutonium-based drive for nuclear weapons.

Though imperfect and requiring revision, this approach was widely supported by our allies and sometime-allies in the region. Bill Clinton supported it. Colin Powell supported it, and wanted to continue it. But the White House didn’t support it. And it got deep-sixed for that reason.

The defining encounter came in March 2001 when then-President Kim Dae Jung visited the White House only to be told by the president that we were withdrawing support for his policy. As Jessica Matthews, head of the Carnegie Endowment put it, President Bush took “the architect of the North-South reconciliation and … publicly humiliate[d] him.”

For almost the next two years the White House pursued a bellicose and uncompromising policy vis-à-vis the North. Another defining moment came when the president labeled North Korea one of three members of the ‘axis of evil’ in January 2002.

Now, first for ‘aggressive.’

There’s a lively and complex debate about whether it was a good tactical move to apply this ‘axis of evil’ label to North Korea. But however you come down on that point, so long as you have your brainstem securely attached, I do not see how you can say this does not constitute an 'aggressive' approach.

Now, as to 'unilateral'.

As I was saying, the administration pursued this policy pretty much against the wishes of everyone in the region for almost two years --- all the while salting it with invidious contrasts between Clintonian appeasement and President Bush’s steely resolve.

Finally, in late 2002, the North Koreans called our bluff and it became clear we had little to back up our tough talk. Since then -- roughly since the spring of this year -- we've been trying to get everyone else in the region together to help us out of the jam. And for most of this year we've been slowly but surely making offers of various things that we said we'd never offer.

For much of that time, the response from other countries in the region has been that there's not that much to talk about until we put something on the table -- probably some offer of a security guarantee for the North Koreans. And the progress has been slow.

Now, just because our allies in the region didn't agree with our policy doesn't mean it wasn't the right policy. Similarly, just because we pursued the policy in defiance of their wishes doesn't mean it was a bad policy. But such an approach is pretty much the definition of a 'unilateral' policy.

What happened is that since the administration's unilateral policy hit a brick wall we've been trying to get the same regional allies on board to work our way out of the jam.

You don't need to know too much about foreign affairs to know that the term for such an approach isn't multilateralism but desperation, or perhaps multilateralism used in desperation after unilateralism has created grave damage.

Unilateralism has its place in limited situations. But let's not lie about it after the fact.

There is of course a telling and unfortunate parallel with the current situation in Iraq. Now that things are going south we're looking for help from anyone and everyone there too. But, again, that's desperation, not multilateralism. Does trying to get the South Koreans to send us a few troops change the fundamental character of our policy? Of course not. Everybody goes begging for help when they run out of options. That's human nature. The key is to avoid pursuing a policy based on recklessness and swagger that gets you into such a position in the first place.

In Iraq that is certainly where we are right now.

The president loaded us all into the family van, revved the thing up to 70 MPH, and slammed us into a brick wall called Reality.

Department of Rats Making

Department of Rats Making Arrangements for <$NoAd$>New Accommodations on More Seaworthy Vessels ...

ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said today he had tried to stop US President George W Bush from going to war against Iraq.

"I didn't support every action of the United States. I tried to persuade them not to intervene militarily," Berlusconi said.

"But when I saw there was no way (to prevent it), I stood by the United States."

Berlusconi's statement came as a surprise because he has been a staunch ally of the US administration in the conflict and he is one of the few European leaders who has contributed troops to help rebuilding Iraq.


I guess they're back in Old Europe column ...

Two quotes of the

Two quotes of the day ...

If the policy is to more rapidly Iraqify the situation -- as in Vietnamization during the Vietnam War -- then that is another version of cutting and running. One way to cut and run is to simply say we're pulling out. Another is to prematurely turn over security to Iraqi forces and draw down American forces. That's a near-term prescription for disaster.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del)


The United States will fail in Iraq if our adversaries believe they can outlast us. If our troop deployment schedules are more important than our staying power, we embolden our enemies and make it harder for our friends to take risks on our behalf. When the United States announces a schedule for training and deploying Iraqi security officers, then announces the acceleration of that schedule, then accelerates it again, it sends a signal of desperation, not certitude. When in the course of days we increase by thousands our estimate of the numbers of Iraqis trained, it sounds like somebody is cooking the books. When we do this as our forces are coming under increasing attack, we suggest to friends and allies alike that our ultimate goal in Iraq is leaving as soon as possible – not meeting our strategic objective of building a free and democratic country in the heart of the Arab world.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz)


No doubt about it. We are in a really bad position. We should have given our operation a stronger and more <$Ad$>durable international footing when we could act from a position of relative strength in the spring and early summer. We should also have created a road-map for the transition to at least nominal Iraqi sovereignty that was clear, predictable, and rapid.

But things which make sense when done with consideration and from a position of strength don't necessarily make sense when done at gunpoint. Let's not fool ourselves. The calculus at the White House is being driven by an effort to ward off a potential political transition in the United States rather than an effort to lay the groundwork for one in Iraq. This is political -- as many of the original architects of this war are now realizing and ruing.

Let's be honest: if the United States Army can't get a handle on this insurgency, how likely is it that a hastily-assembled US-built Iraqi Army will do any better? Same goes for a hastily-assembled Iraqi government put together in a climate of US withdrawal. We've boxed ourselves into a very bad range of choices. But if we're going to cut and run, let's at least be honest about what we're doing and clear-eyed about the consequences.

What we need is some clear thinking about how best to manage this situation for a good outcome for American interests.

Unfortunately what we're getting from the right, or at least some on the right, is the ridiculousness of today's editorial on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which essentially argues that it's all the State Department's fault. Where we went wrong, they say, was in not turning the place over to Ahmed Chalabi in the first place.

This really is the ultimate articulation of the Chalabistas' trinity of accountability, responsibility and blame ...

Neocons come up with the harebrained idea. The US Army takes it on the chin. And the CIA, the State Department, the Democrats, miscellaneous foreign moderates and other deviants get saddled with the blame.

A nice division of labor, ain't it?

Everyone needs to lend a hand to figure out how to prevent a descent into catastrophe. But first there's got to be some accountability, a threshold recognition that the people who navigated us into this mess aren't the best suited to help us find our way out of it.

Telling us we didn't give them enough control over things the first time isn't a particularly convincing response.

We are all alone.

We are all alone. There’s no other way to put it. With the attack on the Italian installation in Nasiriyah, the Japanese and the South Koreans are now balking on earlier pledges of troops. They haven’t exactly pulled the plug on a possible deployment. But they’re really jiggling the plug in the socket.

The number of troops involved is minor compared to the scope of the operation. Japan had pledged 150 troops and then planned to build that force to 700 early next year. They now say they’re unlikely to send anyone this calendar year. And it doesn’t look much like they plan to send anyone at all. They seem to be, shall we say, letting us down easy.

Meanwhile, the nearly 500 South Korean troops stationed near Nasiriyah have been confined to their compound till further notice. And, as the Washington Post reports, “South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun rebuffed a U.S. request for a substantial increase in the number of troops his government has pledged to send to Iraq, instructing officials at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to keep the figure to 3,000 or less, according to a spokesman today.”

There’s a side note to the Korea story.

The Post story contains this graf …

"The U.S. needs our help. They can't do this alone, but there is an unwillingness to help, especially as the situation in Iraq is growing more dangerous," said Lee Kyeong Jea, a leading opposition congressman in South Korea. "This is the time when we should be showing we are not fair-weather friends . . . but we are showing just the opposite."


What’s the backstory here? It’s an overstatement to say that South Korean President Roh was elected on an anti-American platform. But he was elected on a platform of deep skepticism about the US-ROK security alliance. And, by common agreement, much of the wind in Roh’s sails, came as a response to the White House’s torpedoing of Roh’s predecessor’s so-called Sunshine policy, his policy of rapprochement with the North.

Now, the deep strains in US-ROK relations (what we call South Korea is formally known as the Republic of Korea) have deep roots. Much of it stems from difficulties adjusting to the end of the Cold War and Korean democracy itself, which is fairly new.

But in no small measure the stance of the current South Korean government is the result of the Bush administration’s aggressive and unilateral policies toward the Korean Peninsula.

It’s all interconnected.

The retreat of South Korea and Japan must be added to that of Turkey, which has also pulled back on earlier pledges to supply troops.

The winter of 2003-2004 looks to be shaping up as a dark replay of that of the year previous. Only now with a difference. Last year our near total isolation could be floated on tough talk and denigration.

It was, after all, theoretical. We had a nominal need for friends. We needed to get a UN resolution. We wanted the Europeans behind us. We wanted support from countries like Turkey and the Arab states. But our need was predicted and probable, not concrete, not immediate.

Now it’s really concrete.

We are literally begging for assistance and not getting it.

One of the surreal and ridiculous things about the Great Push-back -- the administration's big publicity counteroffensive that started last month -- is that you'd hear the administration principals and a bunch of talk radio show hosts droning on about how the real story wasn't getting through the biased media filter. And then you'd talk to security types who'd been there -- military, military-type contractors, etc. -- and they'd say, 'No, it's terrible. It's on the brink, etc.'

Now, not always that dire of course. The most convincing reports I heard were ones of uncertainty about how the insurgency could be contained and questions about what sort of 'bench strength' the insurgents had. But, broadly speaking, pretty much the polar opposite of what the politicals were saying. And I'm talking about people who are either apolitical or are themselves hawks.

Now we have still more of the backstory: at pretty much the same time the president was pummeling the press for hiding the good news out of Iraq, his own CIA was deciding that things were going from bad to worse. And as I've said in recent days Bremer himself seems to have delivered the same message two weeks ago, and in all probability much earlier.

In this whole unfortunate business, the White House took our preeminence and mistook it for omnipotence or something near to it. And by treating our preeminence as omnipotence they’ve put our preeminence into question.

Amazing. Amazing to me

Amazing. Amazing to me at least. Today is the third anniversary of TPM. I wrote the first TPM post on November 13th 2000, which was early on in the Florida recount. And I’ve written, I guess, thousands since.

I was staying at my then-girlfriend’s apartment in New Haven that week --- for what was supposed to be some R&R after the presidential election. Of course, I didn’t know when I planned the week’s getaway that the drama would really only be beginning.

At the time, I’d never heard the word “blog.” But I’d sort of wanted to start one for a while. Basically, in my mind, that meant starting something like Mickey Kaus’ “Kausfiles” which was the only example of the medium that I was aware of. Come to think of it, at the time I think Andrew Sullivan had just recently started his site. So there were two I knew of.

I’d helped support myself in grad school doing web design so I had a basic sense of how to put one together and stuff like that. (Oddly enough, I specialized in designing websites for law firms. Go figure. Here’s an example of a website for a firm in California I designed back in ’96 or something.) And I was looking for an outlet for my opinion and reporting pieces which didn’t force them to go through the merciless ideological sieve that most of what I wrote had to go through at the time.

Plus, in truth, having a political opinion website just seemed cool. And could I attract an audience of readers on my own?

And why the title “talking points memo”? I’d always imagined that this would have been more clear. But people seldom seem to get the allusion. It’s a wry reference to the alleged Linda Tripp Monica Lewinsky “talking points memo” which of course never really existed --- at least not with the authorship the more frothing ‘wingers eagerly suspected.

Here’s the first TPM post, which was about Ted Olson. And here’s how it looked in the original, intentionally minimalist TPM design I whipped up that afternoon.

So that’s the deal. People now know me far more for this website than for my magazine journalism --- which is a funny thing on many levels, but I guess okay. I’m hoping that the book that emerges out of the book proposal I’m now finishing up might eclipse both. But we’ll see.

Three other TPM points. First, TPM continues to rely on your voluntary support. We’ve started accepting advertising of course, as you can see. But your support is still what floats the operation. So if you’re overwhelmed by emotion over TPM’s anniversary by all means channel it into some much-needed giving. (Believe me, it really is much needed.) And if even that doesn't sate your enthusiasm, you can drop by the TPM Shop for some TPM apparel or perhaps a mug.

Second, if you’re a regular reader, you can no doubt see a lot has happened with the site recently. We’ve done a redesign. We’re doing more interviews, which get turned around much faster. And all sorts of other stuff. Almost all of that has been possible --- and a lot more that will be coming soon --- because I now have the help of TPM editorial assistant Alexander Dryer. I have no doubt that in the not-too-distant future you'll be seeing Zander's byline showing up all over the place. But for the moment he's doing all sorts of work in the background helping to improve TPM.

Third, doing invaluable tech work for the redesign has been Larry Glenn, without whom none of the heavy-lifting on the redesign would have been possible. If you're looking for some expert site design and programming Larry has TPM's strong recommendation.

So a special thanks to both of them.

Ive found it difficult

I’ve found it difficult to write about Iraq for the last few days because, in a sense, there seems little to say. A good part of what I’ve written on the subject in recent months has been intended to challenge the attitude of denial that has characterized so many public pronouncements on the state of the war --- the sort of militant up-is-downism, for instance, which was on display when the president said the recent wave of attacks was a sign of how good things were going.

Now, though, that denial (or at least one aspect of it) seems to be evaporating rapidly. And there’s little to push back against. The CIA report on the situation in Iraq, which got so much play on Wednesday after its existence was revealed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, was apparently even more bleak than the article suggested. And if you read the article, you know that’s gotta mean it was pretty damn bleak.

Now, one other point to look at in trying to get a handle on what’s happening here. Both the Guardian and the Times say that Bremer explicitly endorsed the CIA report in order both to underscore the gravity of the situation and signal his agreement with the report's conclusions. The Guardian drives the point home more explicitly than the Times. But they both seem to be making the same point.

Thus the Guardian …

Although, the report was an internal CIA document it was widely circulated within the administration. Even more unusually, it carried an endorsement by Paul Bremer, the civilian head of the US-run occupation of Iraq - a possible sign that he was seeking to bypass his superiors in the Pentagon and send a message directly to President George Bush on how bad the situation has become.


This brings us back to that the high-level meeting Bremer had with Pentagon officials at the end of last month. As I noted yesterday, at the time I was told that at that meeting Bremer painted an extremely bleak picture of the situation on the ground in the country and signaled great pessimism about the future.

That sounds very similar to what we’re hearing about this CIA report which apparently triggered these high-level meetings over the last two days --- the one that brought Bremer rushing back to Washington. Have the unvarnished reports about the true state of affairs on the ground in Iraq not been making their way up to the very highest levels of the government in Washington?

What's really troubling about the moves we now seem ready to make is that we're about to launch the wobbly new Iraqi provisional ship of state out into the very same gale force winds that we ourselves have found too difficult to endure.

Some CPA documents came

Some CPA documents came into my hands yesterday.

And here's something an enterprising presidential candidate could grab hold of and use for good politics and for doing good for the country. Frankly, as the author of the document says, the president could do himself some good if his people would give the issue some attention.

We all know there were no WMD in Iraq. We thought there were. But there weren't. Some GOP dead-enders still want to pretend that it's still an open question. But it's not.

And yet we know there were active WMD programs at one time.

That's not relevant to the debate about why we went to war, or whether intelligence was manipulated. But it is relevant for another reason: those scientists who did the work are still there. And the knowledge for how to make all sorts of nasty stuff is still in their heads.

It would sort of be a bummer if they ended up putting that knowledge to work for al Qaida or the Syrians or anyone else for that matter.

Now, the people at the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) have thought of this. But the programs aimed at putting these guys to work, according to the documents I'm looking at, are woefully underfunded and getting held up by the same old interagency mumbo-jumbo. And of course all the while we're sinking lots of money into the on-going search for WMD that pretty clearly is never going to be found.

A good use of our resources? Doesn't sound like it.

The author of the document argues that the administration should give up the hopeless effort to convince people there might actually have been WMD in Iraq at the time of the invasion and focus its public arguments on its efforts to keep these scientists out of mischief.

Unfortunately, he concedes, those programs haven't been given enough money and are tied up in bureaucratic infighting.

Is Bremer out Is

Is Bremer out? Is he being promoted? Suspended? Two weeks ago the rumor was that he was trying to resign.

I've heard every rumor under the sun today. And all that seems really clear is that something major is about to happen on the ground in the US occupation.

Of the pieces I've read this afternoon the ones which seem to have the best handle on it are Fred Kaplan's in Slate and John Burns' in the Times. The best, that is, in as much as they jibe with what my sources are telling me and my general sense of the situation.

Almost two weeks ago now, Bremer had consultations with senior Pentagon officials. And the chatter out of those meetings said that Bremer had grown deeply pessimistic about his job in Iraq and that John Abizaid, chief of the US Central Command, was advocating some sort of decisive move back toward actual war-fighting to arrest the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

Here's what Kaplan says this afternoon in Slate ...

The guess around the Pentagon is that Bremer's role in postwar reconstruction will probably be scaled back, if not suspended, at least until the war is really over. Whatever the U.S. armed forces do next—and it's a safe bet the change in policy will go well beyond semantics—should not come as much of a surprise. The muddling-through of the past couple of months could not have been sustained much longer, on any grounds.


Meanwhile, here's an article in the Financial Times about how the Iraqi Foreign Minister we appointed is saying the IGC is getting a bum rap and that the problem is infighting among the Americans.

What strikes me as most revealing here is that Bremer is the one getting yanked out of the country on short notice to talk with his superiors and the generals running the show on the ground -- namely, Sanchez and Abizaid --- suddenly seem to have their voice and are volubly taking the initiative.

This line out of an article from an article out of tomorrow's Times has the ring of truth to me ...

One Defense Department official said Mr. Bremer had returned to defend his approach as the White House re-examined some of his biggest decisions, including disbanding the Iraqi Army.


But the truth is I don't know.

What's clear is that something is coming to a head over there and we look set to get a big dose of reality out of Iraq.

One more note on

One more note on the Neil Bush-Taiwan story.

This is the story about the meeting between the president's brother and the Taiwanese president and charges that $1 milion was paid to arrange it.

Charges get thrown around a lot in Taiwan. They have a vituperative politics and a vituperative press. The country is heading into an election and the folks making the charges are the ones trying to unseat the president.

But what caught my eye about this story (noted below) is Neil Bush. However the meeting was arranged, why does the President of Taiwan want a meeting with the president's ne'er-do-well brother? Foreign policy advice? Insights on fighting an air war over the Taiwan Strait? Seems hard to figure.

What's more, Neil's got a history. And I'm not talking about the Silverado business. See this piece I wrote on Neil for Salon in the spring of '02.

And for more on the history of the use of cash in Taiwanese foreign policy, see this Salon piece from a week earlier.

Wow thats not a

Wow, that's not a positive development.

When you can your campaign manager it's almost never a good sign. But there's always the chance it is or, at least, can be presented as a clean break for a stalled operation. Al Gore sorta kinda pulled that off when he hired Donna Brazile in 2000 -- at around the same point in the cycle, if I remember right.

But now comes word that two more senior officials in John Kerry's campaign have bailed in protest over Jim Jordan's firing -- Robert Gibbs, Kerry's spokesman and his deputy finance director.

That takes a lot of the wind out of any potential 'decisive break' storyline and makes it look a lot more like a campaign in disarray, if not heading for collapse.

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