P8kice8zq6szrqrmqxag

Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Another postcard from the 'responsibility era' ...

Instead of pointing fingers at the security forces of the coalition because there are acts of violence taking place against Iraqi people in this country, it's important for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility.

Donald Rumsfeld
Baghdad
September 6th, 2003


The CBO says the Pentagon can only maintain the Army's current troop strength deployment in Iraq until Spring 2004. How much longer can President Bush maintain Don Rumsfeld's deployment to the Pentagon?

Realism, neo-realism, neo-conservatism, democratic internationalism, hegemonism, multilateralism. How about just this: 'Don't shoot your mouth off if you can't back it up' ...

The various foreign policy schools each have points to recommend them. But a lot of effective statecraft comes down to grade school principles like these.

Paul Wolfowitz may be saying that he's wanted the UN in Iraq from day one. But those of us who are still reporting from the planet Earth know this is the exact opposite of the truth.

Stiffing the UN and threatening retaliation against key Security Council members may have been impolitic and ill-judged. But stiffing and threatening when you were going to have to come back to them six months later with hat in hand asking to get bailed out is just stupid.

I spoke this morning to a foreign policy insider who'd been to an off-the-record conference also attended by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Minister just after the end of the war. He confirmed what was at least informally obvious to everyone who was watching: that the French were practically pleading for us to let them in on the effort in Iraq as long as the halo of victory was still over us.

Now, not so much.

Nor is this the only instance of un-backed-up tough-talk that ends up making us look weak.

Look at North Korea.

A year ago, after North Korea admitted to working on enriching uranium for making nuclear weapons, the White House said, that's it. No more paying you off to behave. No more talk. No more nothing. It was a foreign policy equivalent of the famous moment in Godfather II when Michael Corleone tells Senator Geary: "My offer is this: nothing. Not even the $20,000 for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally."

And yet the last year has been a seamless repetition of the same pattern: bold ultimatum and threat, followed some weeks or months later by ignominious cave.

First we wouldn't negotiate; we wouldn't give them aid; and we wouldn't give them a security guarantee. They had to disarm and behave. Then maybe we'd talk.

Then we would talk, not but negotiate.

Then we would negotiate, but we wouldn't give them aid.

Then we would give aid, but only after the North Koreans disarmed.

Now, according to this morning's paper we're ready to "discuss a package of economic and energy aid even before North Korea completely terminates its nuclear weapons programs."

Clearly we've got them right where we want them.

Bluster that you can't make good on makes you look much weaker than if you'd never blustered at all.

I've never been a huge fan of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton. When the North Koreans banned him from the multi-party talks, the first thing I thought was, "Wow. They're finally taking a constructive approach toward these negotiations." However that may be, Bolton's comments in Paris today take the cake. About Saddam and WMD ... "Whether he possessed them today or four years ago isn't really the issue." Or this: "The issue I think has been the capability that Iraq sought to have ... WMD programs."

So many issues, so little time.

What are you supposed to make of this?

Paul Wolfowitz told reporters today that it's not the US which has changed positions, but the UN. We've wanted a new UN resolution for months. It's just that the UN has finally come around to our position. The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad "changed the atmosphere in New York."

How about that? Wolfowitz is an awfully sharp guy. But he's turning into the Comical Ali of the collapse of neoconservative grand strategy in the Middle East.

The UN is putty in our hands!

We have bent them to our will!

The humiliation of the French is complete!

In the 19th century history was supposed to repeat itself: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. In the 21st century it seems to be farce, followed by farce, followed by farce in a kind of infinite recurrence. Sort of a mix of Marx and Nietzsche, I guess.

On a more unfortunate note, there's this clip from Steven Weisman's aptly titled piece "Bush Foreign Policy and Harsh Reality," in Friday's Times ...

"The question is whether the world is ready to pick the United States up off the floor and dust them off," said a senior Western envoy involved in discussions on Iraq. "A lot of people aren't ready yet."


We have bent them to our will!

There's no way to stand up for the little guy quite like cutting the number of people eligible for overtime pay. That's what I always say anyway.

As you may know, President Bush has proposed revisions of regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act which would deprive some eight million Americans of their right to overtime pay. But now Sen. Tom Harkin looks like he may have a shot at scotching those plans in the Senate.

This isn't the sexiest issue. But it's important. And it cuts to the values of this administration like nothing else.

Visit this website to find out more and learn what you can do to strengthen Harkin's hand.

Take a look at this article and scan down to the graf that begins "A year ago, American General John Abizaid ..." More on this later.

Last night I wrote that it looked like the Joint Chiefs might have done an end-run around Don Rumsfeld on the UN resolution question. Then this morning a reader who knows a lot about these things told me he didn't think that was necessarily so, that Rumsfeld -- privately, at least -- had come around to a realization that a course correction was in order. Rumsfeld's the Secretary, and hated in the building as he may be, what he says goes.

But this article in Thursday's Post seems to say that an end-run is pretty close to what took place -- if not around Rumsfeld precisely, then the bulk of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. The article is well-worth reading in its entirety. But the upshot seems to be this ...

We've known about the basic division between State and Defense on the UN question, with the former wanting a substantial internationalization of the occupation and the latter more or less opposing it. The Pentagon has operational control over what goes on in Iraq. So they've had the upper-hand. But in Washington it's been close to a stand-off between the two camps, with the advantage to DOD.

What changed, apparently, was that the Joint Chiefs went over to Powell's side. Not only did they come over to his position, but at some level they seem to have worked in concert with Powell's team at State to push the White House into shifting its position.

On the president's first day back from Crawford, says the Post ...

Powell, whose department had long favored such an action, informed the commander in chief that the military brass supported the State Department's position despite resistance by the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, whose office had been slow to embrace the U.N. resolution, quickly agreed, according to administration officials who described the episode.


As the Post aptly puts it, Powell -- with the support of the Chiefs in hand -- presented the president with "something close to a fait accompli."

Much of what happened and is happening here still seems murky. And to a significant degree this change of direction is less a matter of shrewd bureaucratic in-fighting than a simple, dawning acquaintance with reality on the part of everyone in the administration -- a realization that, as Fareed Zakaria put it last week, Plan A wasn't working. It would also be fair to say that the people around Powell -- if not necessarily Powell himself -- would not only like to internationalize the effort but to make the shift in policy itself appear as much as possible as a bureaucratic victory for State. (The point being, who's leaking here and to what end?)

But even with all those caveats, given what's happened at the Pentagon for the last thirty months, a decision on the part of the Chiefs to take a more assertive stand toward the Pentagon's civilian leadership would be a development of potential momentous proportions.

From the department of 'says it all' ...

"Mainly, people want reassurance that the administration knows what it's doing," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), "that things are going better than CNN would have us believe."


That and more stories about what congressmen and senators heard from their constituents over the recess in this article in today's Post.

And, yes, that's (R-Utah).

The word I keep hearing is that we can expect increasingly open conflict between Don Rumsfeld and the branch of neoconservatives who really take democratic imperialism seriously. Actually, given the players involved, that probably means increasingly public attacks on Don Rumsfeld coming from neoconservatives.

The rub is the troop strength issue. Rumsfeld wants no more US troops and may even want to use the situation as a laboratory for testing various theories of defense transforming -- more gizmos, less manpower.

The neocons -- or at least some of them -- really believe in their own kind of brand of nation-building. They want to see more troops in the country. But they don't want those troops to be Bulgarians or Bangladeshis or anyone else but Americans. If that means dramatically expanding the US Army, fine.

Then look at this article in Wednesday's Post. There's yet another big push coming from the administration to bring in the UN -- something that seems to happen the day after every major truck bombing. But the Post says the following ...

A senior administration official said that Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently begun lobbying key members of the administration to support a U.N. resolution. The official added that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have become "much more interested in this than before," because they know a new resolution is necessary for them to attract new peacekeeping forces to Iraq.

The defense official said Gen. John Abizaid, the new head of the U.S. Central Command and the top commander in Iraq, and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been "strongly engaged in the internationalization effort, to include a new U.N. resolution."



The Post article doesn't quite draw the inference explicitly. And at this point I'm just speculating. But that sounds a lot like Rumsfeld's chiefs are doing an end-run around him. Acrimony between Rumsfeld and the Chiefs would be nothing new. It almost cost him his job before 9/11. But their willingness and ability to buck him would be something new. At least new in the post-9/11 world.

In foreign affairs, Rumsfeld has resolutely pursued policies based on the maxim that it's better to be feared than loved. On the domestic front, however, there seems to be a growing number of groups who neither fear him nor love him. At a certain point you've got to wonder where that leads.

I'm reviewing a book on the president's foreign policy. And there's a reference late in the book to a May 3rd article in the New York Times. If you want to get a sense of just how unprepared this administration was for what they were getting themselves into, you can't do much better than rereading this piece.

(Unfortunately, the Times no longer posts their archives.)

The plan at that time was to quickly draw down the American troop presence in Iraq until they numbered about 30,000 by the fall of 2003. Needless to say, the fall of 2003 is pretty much now.

Just think how wide of the mark these guys were.

Not that any of this was a surprise, of course. Just before the outbreak of war, then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told a Senate committee that he thought "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be necessary to pacify and stabilize post-war Iraq.

He had some experience. He'd led the peace-keeping operation in Bosnia. And he'd dedicated much of his tenure as Chief of Staff to preparing the Army for peace-keeping and other non-traditional and low-intensity combat deployments.

A few days later Paul Wolfowitz went up to the Hill and said Shinseki had no idea what he was talking about. His estimate was "wildly off the mark," Wolfowitz said.

Obviously it was Wolfowitz who had no clue what he was talking about.

And now we have this: according to a new Congressional Budget Office study, the US will only be capable of maintaining our current troop strength in Iraq till next March. By this time next year, says an AP story about the study, "the 180,000 American troops now in and around Iraq would have to be drawn down to [between] 38,000 to 64,000."

Let's walk through what this means.

Virtually every independent observer believes our forces in Iraq are stretched too thin. The issue isn't only numbers. But it's a key, probably the key part of the puzzle. People who work at the pleasure of Don Rumsfeld say differently. And so do a few mumbo-jumbocrats on the right. But no one else.

Large areas of Iraq remain quiet and peaceable. But key sections of the country appear to be teetering either on the edge of chaos or a sort of endemic violence that will be hard to pacify. And those sections are arguably some of the more pivotal in the country -- Baghdad, Najaf, etc.

We may be moving toward a situation in which intra-ethnic and intra-religious rivalries break out into open, if low-level, violence -- a sort of slow-motion civil war.

I doubt we're close to that yet. But even seeing it on the horizon is ominous. Because were that to happen our difficulties would grow almost immeasurably.

Absent a substantial increase in the size of the Army, or lengthy deployments and reserve call-ups which most experts consider unsustainable, we clearly need others to come in and lend a hand. Now we find out that we can only sustain current levels for roughly six months. How much leverage do you figure that gives us with the countries we'd like to have send in their own troops? How much leverage does that give us with France, Russia and China?

Right. Not much.

News tonight says that we're about to make a big push for greater UN involvement -- perhaps circulating a new resolution as early as tomorrow. Unfortunately, this request comes not at a moment of strength for us but in the face of four car-bombings in a month and a palpable sense that we are not in control of the country we are nominally occupying. Add that to the fact that we're already stretched thin and, according to our own government study, can't maintain the current force for much more than six months. Again, put that all together and then ask, how much leverage do we have?

In real life we have a word for this sort of situation: a jam. We've managed to leverage our mammoth strength into an improbable weakness. And so much of it was not only predictable, but predicted.

Consider an analogy. When a heart surgeon loses an occasional patient, that's simply the price of inherently dangerous work. When a heart surgeon tries a risky procedure for a patient who will die without it, and the patient dies, that's just a tragic end to an unavoidable risk. When a dermatologist cracks open a patient's ribs to try out a new approach to open heart surgery which most cardiac surgeons say will never work, and the patient dies, that guy probably gets sued or kicked out of the profession or maybe thrown in jail. Maybe all three.

True enough, the patient hasn't died. As Fareed Zakaria says in this superb piece in Newsweek, "It might already be too late to achieve a great success in Iraq. But it is not too late to avoid a humiliating failure."

All true enough. But the real question is, who gets fired over this mess? And when?

TPMLivewire