Monday, November 21, 2005

Time to leave

Pual Krugman NYT

Not long ago wise heads offered some advice to those of us who had argued since 2003 that the Iraq war was sold on false pretenses: give it up. The 2004 election, they said, showed that we would never convince the American people. They suggested that we stop talking about how we got into Iraq and focus instead on what to do next.

It turns out that the wise heads were wrong. A solid majority of Americans now believe that we were misled into war. And it is only now, when the public has realized the truth about the past, that serious discussions about where we are and where we're going are able to get a hearing.

Representative John Murtha's speech calling for a quick departure from Iraq was full of passion, but it was also serious and specific in a way rarely seen on the other side of the debate. President Bush and his apologists speak in vague generalities about staying the course and finishing the job. But Mr. Murtha spoke of mounting casualties and lagging recruiting, the rising frequency of insurgent attacks, stagnant oil production and lack of clean water.

Mr. Murtha - a much-decorated veteran who cares deeply about America's fighting men and women - argued that our presence in Iraq is making things worse, not better. Meanwhile, the war is destroying the military he loves. And that's why he wants us out as soon as possible.

I'd add that the war is also destroying America's moral authority. When Mr. Bush speaks of human rights, the world thinks of Abu Ghraib. (In his speech, Mr. Murtha pointed out the obvious: torture at Abu Ghraib helped fuel the insurgency.) When administration officials talk of spreading freedom, the world thinks about the reality that much of Iraq is now ruled by theocrats and their militias.

Some administration officials accused Mr. Murtha of undermining the troops and giving comfort to the enemy. But that sort of thing no longer works, now that the administration has lost the public's trust.

Instead, defenders of our current policy have had to make a substantive argument: we can't leave Iraq now, because a civil war will break out after we're gone. One is tempted to say that they should have thought about that possibility back when they were cheerleading us into this war. But the real question is this: When, exactly, would be a good time to leave Iraq?

The fact is that we're not going to stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, whatever that means in this context. At most, we'll stay until the American military can take no more.

Mr. Bush never asked the nation for the sacrifices - higher taxes, a bigger military and, possibly, a revived draft - that might have made a long-term commitment to Iraq possible. Instead, the war has been fought on borrowed money and borrowed time. And time is running out. With some military units on their third tour of duty in Iraq, the superb volunteer army that Mr. Bush inherited is in increasing danger of facing a collapse in quality and morale similar to the collapse of the officer corps in the early 1970's.

So the question isn't whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.

Pessimists think that Iraq will fall into chaos whenever we leave. If so, we're better off leaving sooner rather than later. As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose."

And there's a good case to be made that our departure will actually improve matters. As Mr. Murtha pointed out in his speech, the insurgency derives much of its support from the perception that it's resisting a foreign occupier. Once we're gone, the odds are that Iraqis, who don't have a tradition of religious extremism, will turn on fanatical foreigners like Zarqawi.

The only way to justify staying in Iraq is to make the case that stretching the U.S. army to its breaking point will buy time for something good to happen. I don't think you can make that case convincingly. So Mr. Murtha is right: it's time to leave.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

One War Lost, Another to Go

Frank Rich - NYT

IF anyone needs further proof that we are racing for the exits in Iraq, just follow the bouncing ball that is Rick Santorum. A Republican leader in the Senate and a true-blue (or red) Iraq hawk, he has long slobbered over President Bush, much as Ed McMahon did over Johnny Carson. But when Mr. Bush went to Mr. Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania to give his Veterans Day speech smearing the war's critics as unpatriotic, the senator was M.I.A.

Mr. Santorum preferred to honor a previous engagement more than 100 miles away. There he told reporters for the first time that "maybe some blame" for the war's "less than optimal" progress belonged to the White House. This change of heart had nothing to do with looming revelations of how the new Iraqi "democracy" had instituted Saddam-style torture chambers. Or with the spiraling investigations into the whereabouts of nearly $9 billion in unaccounted-for taxpayers' money from the American occupation authority. Or with the latest spike in casualties. Mr. Santorum was instead contemplating his own incipient political obituary written the day before: a poll showing him 16 points down in his re-election race. No sooner did he stiff Mr. Bush in Pennsylvania than he did so again in Washington, voting with a 79-to-19 majority on a Senate resolution begging for an Iraq exit strategy. He was joined by all but one (Jon Kyl) of the 13 other Republican senators running for re-election next year. They desperately want to be able to tell their constituents that they were against the war after they were for it.

They know the voters have decided the war is over, no matter what symbolic resolutions are passed or defeated in Congress nor how many Republicans try to Swift-boat Representative John Murtha, the marine hero who wants the troops out. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey last week found that the percentage (52) of Americans who want to get out of Iraq fast, in 12 months or less, is even larger than the percentage (48) that favored a quick withdrawal from Vietnam when that war's casualty toll neared 54,000 in the apocalyptic year of 1970. The Ohio State political scientist John Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs, found that "if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline." He observed that Mr. Bush was trying to channel L. B. J. by making "countless speeches explaining what the effort in Iraq is about, urging patience and asserting that progress is being made. But as was also evident during Woodrow Wilson's campaign to sell the League of Nations to the American public, the efficacy of the bully pulpit is much overrated."

Mr. Bush may disdain timetables for our pullout, but, hello, there already is one, set by the Santorums of his own party: the expiration date for a sizable American presence in Iraq is Election Day 2006. As Mr. Mueller says, the decline in support for the war won't reverse itself. The public knows progress is not being made, no matter how many times it is told that Iraqis will soon stand up so we can stand down.

On the same day the Senate passed the resolution rebuking Mr. Bush on the war, Martha Raddatz of ABC News reported that "only about 700 Iraqi troops" could operate independently of the U.S. military, 27,000 more could take a lead role in combat "only with strong support" from our forces and the rest of the 200,000-odd trainees suffered from a variety of problems, from equipment shortages to an inability "to wake up when told" or follow orders.

But while the war is lost both as a political matter at home and a practical matter in Iraq, the exit strategy being haggled over in Washington will hardly mark the end of our woes. Few Americans will cry over the collapse of the administration's vainglorious mission to make Iraq a model of neocon nation-building. But, as some may dimly recall, there is another war going on as well - against Osama bin Laden and company.

One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That's already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week. No one speaks more eloquently to this point than Mr. Benjamin and Steven Simon, his fellow National Security Council alum. They saw the Qaeda threat coming before most others did in the 1990's, and their riveting new book, "The Next Attack," is the best argued and most thoroughly reported account of why, in their opening words, "we are losing" the war against the bin Laden progeny now.

"The Next Attack" is prescient to a scary degree. "If bin Laden is the Robin Hood of jihad," the authors write, then Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "has been its Horatio Alger, and Iraq his field of dreams." The proof arrived spectacularly this month with the Zarqawi-engineered suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman. That attack, Mr. Benjamin wrote in Slate, "could soon be remembered as the day that the spillover of violence from Iraq became a major affliction for the Middle East." But not remembered in America. Thanks to the confusion sown by the Bush administration, the implications for us in this attack, like those in London and Madrid, are quickly forgotten, if they were noticed in the first place. What happened in Amman is just another numbing bit of bad news that we mentally delete along with all the other disasters we now label "Iraq."

Only since his speech about "Islamo-fascism" in early October has Mr. Bush started trying to make distinctions between the "evildoers" of Saddam's regime and the Islamic radicals who did and do directly threaten us. But even if anyone was still listening to this president, it would be too little and too late. The only hope for getting Americans to focus on the war we can't escape is to clear the decks by telling the truth about the war of choice in Iraq: that it is making us less safe, not more, and that we have to learn from its mistakes and calculate the damage it has caused as we reboot and move on.

Mr. Bush is incapable of such candor. In the speech Mr. Santorum skipped on Veterans Day, the president lashed out at his critics for trying "to rewrite the history" of how the war began. Then he rewrote the history of the war, both then and now. He boasted of America's "broad and coordinated homeland defense" even as the members of the bipartisan 9/11 commission were preparing to chastise the administration's inadequate efforts to prevent actual nuclear W.M.D.'s, as opposed to Saddam's fictional ones, from finding their way to terrorists. Mr. Bush preened about how "we're standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes" even as we were hearing new reports of how we outsource detainees to such regimes to be tortured.

And once again he bragged about the growing readiness of Iraqi troops, citing "nearly 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists alongside our forces." But as James Fallows confirms in his exhaustive report on "Why Iraq Has No Army" in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, America would have to commit to remaining in Iraq for many years to "bring an Iraqi army to maturity." If we're not going to do that, Mr. Fallows concludes, America's only alternative is to "face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly."

THAT'S the alternative that has already been chosen, brought on not just by the public's irreversible rejection of the war, but also by the depleted state of our own broken military forces; they are falling short of recruitment goals across the board by as much as two-thirds, the Government Accountability Office reported last week. We must prepare accordingly for what's to come. To do so we need leaders, whatever the political party, who can look beyond our nonorderly withdrawal from Iraq next year to the mess that will remain once we're on our way out. Whether it's countering the havoc inflicted on American interests internationally by Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo or overhauling and redeploying our military, intelligence and homeland security operations to confront the enemy we actually face, there's an enormous job to be done.

The arguments about how we got into Mr. Bush's war and exactly how we'll get out are also important. But the damage from this fiasco will be even greater if those debates obscure the urgency of the other war we are losing, one that will be with us long after we've left the quagmire in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What Did Cheney Know, and When Did He Know It?

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: November 1, 2005

Come on, Mr. Vice President, tell us what happened

A federal indictment charges that criminality swirled around your office, and it demeans this administration and the entire country when you hide in your bunker and refuse to say whether you knew of any such activities

Five lawyers I've consulted all agree that there is no compelling legal reason why you should not discuss the situation. It's urgent that you clear the air by answering these questions in a televised news conference:

Did you ask Scooter Libby to undertake his inquiries about Ambassador Joseph Wilson? Mr. Libby made such a concerted push to get information, from both the State Department and the C.I.A., that I suspect that you prodded him. Is that right? If so, why?

Why did you independently ask the C.I.A. for information about the Wilsons? The indictment states that on June 12, 2003, you advised Mr. Libby that you had learned, apparently from the C.I.A., that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked in the agency. So did you ask George Tenet, then the director, about Mr. and Mrs. Wilson? Did you review the related documents that the C.I.A. faxed to your office?

Did you know that Mrs. Wilson was a covert officer? The indictment states that you knew she worked in the C.I.A.'s counterproliferation division. You would think that anyone as steeped in intelligence issues as you are would know that meant she worked in the Directorate of Operations and was perhaps a spook's spook.

Did you advise Mr. Libby to leak information about Mrs. Wilson's work in the C.I.A. to journalists? Mr. Libby flew with you on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, and according to the indictment, one of the issues Mr. Libby discussed onboard the plane (with you?) was how to deal with the news media. Within hours, the indictment charges, Mr. Libby told two reporters that Mrs. Wilson worked in the agency.

When Mr. Libby made his statements in the inquiry - allegedly committing perjury - were you aware of what he was saying? Mr. Libby rode to work with you almost every morning, but this topic never came up?

Was Mr. Libby fearful of disclosing something about your behavior in the summer of 2003? Mr. Libby is renowned for his caution, yet he is alleged to have suddenly embarked upon a high-risk campaign of leaks and lies. If he did do that, was it a misguided attempt to protect you? The alleged lies shielded you by indicating that the information you gave him about Mrs. Wilson instead came from reporters

Would the truth have been so potentially damaging to your position that Mr. Libby chose perjury instead?

My guess is that there was no malevolent conspiracy to "out" Mrs. Wilson. Rather, my hunch is that you and Mr. Libby were enraged at what you perceived as false suggestions that you had been personally responsible for sending Mr. Wilson to Niger and had then ignored his findings

I'm speculating that you may have thought that you were just knocking down unfair exaggerations and rumors - and then Mrs. Wilson's identity was disclosed to suggest that she was more responsible for sending him to Niger than you were

And once a criminal investigation began, perhaps Mr. Libby didn't want to acknowledge that you were knee-deep in actions that at a minimum looked petty and unseemly

Whatever happened, Mr. Vice President, the American public deserves some reassurance. If you had nothing to do with any of this, then say so. But don't cower behind your lawyers. As it is, you're pleading "no contest" in the court of public opinion, and that's painful for all of us who want to believe in the integrity of our government

When Richard Nixon was a candidate for vice president and embroiled in scandal, he addressed the charges in his Checkers speech: "The best and only answer to a smear or to an honest misunderstanding of the facts is to tell the truth." (Mr. Vice President, any time a columnist quotes Nixon to you in an exhortation to be honest, you're in trouble.)

Even when Spiro Agnew was embroiled in a criminal investigation, he tried to explain himself, repeatedly. Do you really want to be less forthcoming than Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew?

We don't need to try to turn this into Watergate, and we don't need gloating from the Democrats. But we do need straight talk from you. The indictment has left a cloud that impedes governing, and if we're to move on, we need you to clear the air

So, Mr. Cheney, tell us what happened. If you're afraid to say what you knew, and when you knew it, then you should resign