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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan's war games

(updated below)

In a new jointly written Weekly Standard article, Fred Kagan, the AEI think tank military genius behind President Bush's "surge" strategy, and Bill Kristol, one of the Chief Propagandists behind this war from the start, condemn Democrats for daring to question the military judgment of Gen. Petraeus, who agrees with Kagan and Kristol that more troops are needed:

Why, above all, would [Sen. Clinton] or anyone else imagine that it is appropriate for a committee of 535 people to micromanage a war by setting a precise (and arbitrary) figure for the number of soldiers the commander on the spot can deploy?

There is one man who should be recommending the size of American forces in Iraq, and that is the incoming commander, General Petraeus. Neither the Bush administration nor any collection of congressmen should preempt his professional evaluation of the situation and of the forces necessary to accomplish his mission. It is foolish and absurd for politicians to propose resolutions on American troop strength in Iraq before even hearing General Petraeus's voice in the debate. And when he has spoken, Senator Clinton and her colleagues should carefully weigh the burden they will take on themselves if they dismiss his advice.

So only blind obedience to the decrees of Gen. Patraeus is acceptable because he is the commander on the ground and thus Knows Best. And, of course, unquestioningly cheering on the "surge" plan is the only thing which responsible, serious and patriotic people would do:

Republicans should not hesitate to point out how irresponsible their Democratic colleagues (and some Republicans) are being. Senator Clinton's troop cap is dangerously foolish. The nonbinding resolution of disapproval Senator Biden has proposed is irresponsible. The fact is that President Bush has, as he was widely and correctly urged to do, changed strategy. He's put a new commander, General Petraeus, in charge. Petraeus thinks the new plan can work, with the support of additional troops. He'll be confirmed by the Senate and sent out to the theater this week. Members of Congress should ask themselves, "What can we do to help Petraeus succeed?" Or would Senator Clinton and the Democrats just as soon lose?

We have here the standard tactics of the warmonger -- namely, anyone who opposes Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan's latest video game fantasies are, by definition, unserious, irresponsible and want America to lose. But what is uniquely and appallingly dishonest about their new rhetoric tactic -- that we must all defer to the General -- is that Kristol and Kagan have spent the last two years, at least, insisting that Generals Casey and Abaziad, the commanders on the ground, had no idea what they were talking about because they resisted the neonconservative demands for escalation. Just last November, these twin warriors wrote:

Abizaid and Casey haven't rethought these views even as they've been mugged by the reality that lack of security does more damage than a heavy footprint, and that failure is more of a threat to responsible Iraqi behavior than dependency. But, just as important, they underestimate the changes that have occurred in Iraq since the February bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra--changes that threaten to unravel the successes achieved so far. In response to the clear fact that sectarian violence is unhinging the effort to turn responsibility for security over to the Iraqis, Abizaid simply demands an acceleration of that transition. This is a recipe for disaster.

In the same article, they went on to brand Abazaid's view as "wholly inadequate" and "unrealistic," insist that his optimism about the current strategy is "misplaced," and then unleashed this:

In fact, most serious people now concede we need more troops.

"Most serious people now concede we need more troops." Fathom the sheer quantity of self-delusion and rank disregard for the most basic constraints of truth-telling in order to make such a claim (and just incidentally, the use of term "serious" to mean "those who agree with my war views" has become one of the most potent indicators of mindlessness). But this is who has been running our foreign policy, and our wars, and still are. In fact, their grip on power is tighter than ever because they are the only ones who have not abandoned the President. And their ongoing loyalty is conditioned on the President's continued commitment to their twisted and bloodthirsty goals, not just in Iraq, but beyond.

Recall that, according to the neocon-friendly New York Sun, Bill Kristol was urging the White House back in September to obtain from Congress an Authorization to Use Military Force against Iran when the Republicans still controlled Congress, and he even argued that doing so was the only way to swing the election in favor of the Republicans. The people who want a surge are the same people who want a war against Iran, and the latter is what is driving the former. It is all part of the same worldview and agenda and it is one the President has embraced. Here is Kagan last August in an AEI article where he first laid out his "surge" plan in detail:

The United States has ground and air forces stationed on both the western and eastern borders of Iran at a time of crisis over Iran's nuclear programs. In principle, that presence should give the United States leverage in Tehran; the Iranians clearly feared this in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But the oft-repeated American determination to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan as rapidly as possible, together with the continuing violent insurgencies in both countries, has turned the tables. . . .

As we consider the alternatives, with the possibility of conflict with Iran ever on the horizon, it would be well to ensure that we are not overlooking the option that would best serve our strategic needs.

The military establishment, the political establishment, the American public, and increasingly elected officials in both political parties have abandoned this war and oppose the surge. The war -- literally -- is basically being run by a handful of war-hungry extremist ideologues out of the American Enterprise Institute who are driven by an insatiable appetite for endless war on various Middle Eastern countries and little else. They are backed up by Weekly Standard and Fox News (starring John McCain and Joe Lieberman), and that is all that's left -- a tiny band of fringe war-obsessed extremists who are highly unrepresentative of the American public. But that is more than enough to ensure the pointless, wasteful, and tragic continuation, even escalation, of this war because they are the ones to whom the President listens.

The same people who spent the last many months, if not longer, urging the replacement of Casey and Abazaid because of their foolish, ignorant and misguided resistance to the Glorious AEI Escalation Plan now say that the only patriotic and responsible thing to do is to blindly accept the judgment of the Commander on the Ground (who was appointed as such because he agrees with escalation) and that the only thing to do is to ask oneself how to be most loyal to "his" plan.

The reason our foreign policy has been so incoherent, amoral and bloodthirsty is because the people behind it are. And until Democrats and other opponents of this extremist group commit themselves to stopping them and figuring out how to do that (and so far, at least, they've done neither), nothing will deter them in their insane militarism.

UPDATE: Greg Djerejian deconstructs the incoherence and series of internal inconsistences in which Kagan's "surge" plan is grounded. What Djerejian really demonstrates is that treating Kagan's surge as some sort of "plan" to win the war is to give it far more credit than it deserves. None of the details or even "substance" of the plan matter. Its only real objective is to provide an excuse for continuing the war ("hey, we found a great new plan to succeed! You owe us a chance to try it") and, more importantly, to ensure that we continue to increase, rather than contract, our military presence in the Middle East. As long as that is achieved, nothing else matters, which is what accounts for Kagan's embrace of multiple contradicatory premises.

Also, on an unrelated note, Jane Hamsher has long been one of my favorite people in the blogosphere and one of the most impressive bloggers around. I think she personifies the ethos of the blogosphere -- genuine and intense passion accompanied by sophisticated insight and the willingness (and ability) to develop knowledge of the nuts and bolts of political issues which surpasses that of any commentators anywhere. You probably know that Jane is battling her third bout of breast cancer, and doing so with predictable fortitude.

No matter how strong someone is, that is an extremely difficult battle, and here is one way to support the work Jane and FDL do. And a new publishing company created by Jane and Markos Moulitsas has just published a new book by blogger and Plamegate expert Marcy Wheeler which I read in galley form and which -- particularly in light of the imminent Lewis Libby trial -- I highly recommend as the definitive account of that scandal.

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