Sunday, January 20, 2008

Force Increases One Year Later

For just the briefest of moments there was general reflection by the media one year after the President's announcement that there would be an increase in troop levels inside of Iraq. The review of progress, the history of the surge in combat forces operating inside and outside of Baghdad, the numbers of murdered and bombings, in short a 90 second review of 12 months within the borders of Iraq.

Overall most coverage now has the positive outlook of what the increase has done for the country. Indicators were done in the second half of the year for the typical violence, and that was directly connected by the media to the boots on the ground.

Usually within the last 10 to 15 seconds however, the reporter or anchor would somberly note that the political progress that was hoped for with this escalation would follow, but has yet clearly developed. Cue next segment.

"In other news, the economy here in the U.S. is faltering and worries of a recession loom ..."

Last year at about this time I made mention of what I expected to be the result of the escalation -- more violence, at least at the outset. While that was true for the first few months, violent death and explosions did curtail through the summer months into the fall. I ended with this quote:
Some or maybe all of these instances may never come to fruition but this is the glum prediction of Iraq, and history has shown that the more dire prognostications have come true more often than the rosy ones. The Administration has constantly relied on brute force to fix Iraq, and there are few if any tangible results from said policies. The rhetoric of the President is fixed on success, but the jargon of his policy is set on destruction.

Breaking Baghdad even further is not the solution.
From the reports that came throughout 2007, it appeared that one could break Baghdad further; right along sectarian lines in fact, neighborhood by neighborhood. The city now sees less violence and more partition walls which has affected security. Yet is the country better off for the past year? Does a segregated city mean progress?

From recent citations through conservative organs, it is oft-reported that things have finally settled down and that the aggressive invasion of a foreign country followed by years of occupation are paying off and thereby vindicating the rationale for the adventure in Iraq.


The daily death toll is still the daily death toll out of Iraq. US troops continue dying (with a recent up-tick in the early part of January 2008) and Iraqis are still seeing bodies turn up in the morning on the streets, though not in the sheer volume that they were as in the beginning of 2007. Additionally, the Iraqi government is no closer to negotiating their problems away through major legislative efforts.

Bringing this to light was a post at by Tom Engelhardt reviewing some of the more trying points of much of the success talk from the right. Titled "Tomgram: CSI Iraq", Engelhardt reviews the situation in Iraq and the sight is not pretty. Throughout most of his article, he reiterates that the talk of success fills the void of what America must do next in the occupation of a foreign country. This technique is the equivalent of buying time; to make sure that the problem is not one of the Bush Administration's closing tasks but the grand opening headache of the next Administration.

At one point, the surge was begot to enable political reconciliation. That phase of the surge is essentially stillborn after six solid months of inaction on the part of the Iraqi Parliament (notwithstanding the one law passed recently allowing some ex-Baath party members to return to government positions -- provided any existed for them at this point). The city of Kirkuk, with its Sunni and Turk minorities, is just as in flux as it was in 2006 with the added gem of a Turkish government on the edge of its border waiting for any excuse to send in more combat missions into Kurdish-held northern Iraq to fight the militant groups of the PKK. If anything, the success-in-Iraq crowd tend to grudgingly allude to the failure in terms of political stability needed. For now.

Another fine article describing how well things aren't going in Iraq comes from Andrew J. Bacevich of the Washington Post. In "Surge to Nowhere," Bacevich reviews much of the same evidence for concluding that things in Iraq are not going well, but reserves much of the venom for those commentators who have rushed to parade "success" on as many news cycles as possible. From his article:
"Look beyond the spin, the wishful thinking, the intellectual bullying and the myth-making. The real legacy of the surge is that it will enable Bush to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor -- no doubt cause for celebration at AEI [American Enterprise Institute], although perhaps less so for the families of U.S. troops. Yet the stubborn insistence that the war must continue also ensures that Bush's successor will, upon taking office, discover that the post-9/11 United States is strategically adrift. Washington no longer has a coherent approach to dealing with Islamic radicalism. Certainly, the next president will not find in Iraq a useful template to be applied in Iran or Syria or Pakistan."
With the expense of occupying Afghanistan and Iraq running between two and three billion dollars a week, it is a curious suggestion indeed what the U.S. can learn from President Bush's war. In order to stop a dictator from using weapons which he never had in the first place, George W. Bush will have placed trillions of I.O.U.s into the coffers for our grandchildren to pay later, and destabilized a region not known for stability in the first place which the country relies on for a hefty dollop of its foreign oil.

Least of which we should note the hundreds of thousands of lives terminated in the bargain. A tragedy, each and every one.

We witness the end of an empire. Good riddance.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Fighting For The Nomination

With the Iowa caucuses over and the New Hampshire contest shortly around the corner, there appears to be little concern to the process itself and what it has done to the political process of selecting the best candidate to represent the banners of each political party.

What it was over 150 years ago was a system of political control by party bosses at the local and / or regional level. The conventions held by the parties would actually determine who the candidate was at times, and at certain points in history would yield most excellent candidates (Abraham Lincoln) and not so excellent candidates (James Buchanan). The campaign was typically shorter, and depending on the most popular political names of the era, candidates themselves would rarely participate in open campaigning.

Today, quite the opposite case is apparent. John Edwards on the Democratic side had been planting campaign seeds and organizational roots across Iowa since his departure from the Senate in 2005. Governor Romney has been active since 2006 when Giuliani was still ahead in Iowa, and paid quite a sum to win a straw poll in August. What America has now is a campaign season that begins roughly two to three years in advance of the actual election.

Further, the campaign season of the primaries is becoming a contest amongst the states to be "more important" and nab the spotlight and monetary boon that is the early voting states. Iowa will not be denied going first, New Hampshire will not be denied being the first voting primary. Crowding into second are large states with huge delegations to send to the conventions, including states such as Florida and Michigan who jumped ahead against the behest of their own parties to vote at later dates. It is unlikely that those delegates will be seated come summer 2008 in the Democratic side, but it remains for a lawsuit to decide. Come 2011 or earlier, might it be possible that 10 or 12 states will vie for 3rd in the nation polling days?

In essence, the U.S. will have two candidates for the Presidency decided some time before March, with months and months to fight it out across a handful of closely contested battleground states. This observation comes before New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides if he will launch his own independent bid for the office.

What are the positives of an election campaign that lasts in excess of two years for an office with a term of only four? At what point is the system a detriment to the process of electing a president? Having a candidate lock up the nomination in two or three weeks time is almost akin to the old days of party bosses deigning one man over another to become the nominee in the proverbial smoke-filled back room. It is quick, and an extraordinary slice of the voting public has practically no say.

The one identifiable positive may well be that a relative unknown can work the ground campaign in a small region such as Iowa or New Hampshire and become a force in the election (President Carter had a similar run in 1976) and thwart the idea that only national figures or those with overly large war chests need apply. Even so, the individual that breaks through may still not be the most qualified candidate on the ballot among his or her party, let alone on the final national ticket.

I guess my proclivity runs towards the path of adding excitement back to the nominating convention. By not having a nominee, each party wrangles amongst themselves about who will be the best candidate, duke it out, have multiple votes, and charge out of the convention with a nominee and a campaign.

Of course this is more of a wish as the reality of a 24-hour news system means constant talk about who is ahead, behind, and in the middle of the race of races. With that as a backdrop, it is not a surprise that a campaign that lasts years is only there to feed the media beast so-to-speak.

Once the new President takes the oath of office, there will again be eyes back on who is visiting Iowa to stake out their very first campaign office in January 2009.