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.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

This is your brain on partisan auto-pilot

Bush defender Ann Althouse manages in one short paragraph to display severe confusion about basic principles of logic that is rather startling coming from a law professor an actual adult:

"He is struggling to make sure this is defined as a win whenever he gets out...... so he's trying to keep the definition of victory to be something he can meet."

[ALTHOUSE]: So says Mara Rudman, who was a deputy national security adviser under President Bill Clinton. She's quoted in a WaPo piece that analyzes Bush's recent Iraq speeches. I like the way the quote (unwittingly) implies a corollary: The Democrats are struggling to make sure that, whatever happens, it will count as a loss for the President.

This quote from Rudman implies no such thing, and the proposition which Althouse created out of whole cloth and then attributed to Rudman is not even remotely the "corollary" of Rudman's statement. (Althouse's use of "unwittingly" there is, of course, designed to make clear how much more clever than Rudman is Althouse, who is able to detect the underlying malignant motives of this silly little ex-Clinton national security official even as she tries haplessly to conceal them.)

Rudman's observation is really quite uncontroversial, and is undeniably true. The primary emphasis coming from the White House now is focused on being able to credibly depict the inevitable reduction of our troop presence and ultimate withdraw from Iraq as a victory rather than a defeat. As the Post article which contains the Rudman quote points out:

The vow to "settle for nothing less than complete victory" satisfies Bush's desire to project Churchillian resolve, a strategy in keeping with White House theory that public support for a war depends on whether Americans believe they will win. The "stand up, stand down" formulation, by contrast, is intended to signal that the United States will not remain forever enmeshed in a bloody overseas conflict fueled by sectarian enmity.

And there isn't anything wrong per se with that perception-based objective. It is exceedingly important that the U.S. not be perceived as running away from Iraq because it has become too violent, expensive, and unmanageable, even if that is, in reality, why we leave before our real goals (whatever those might be) are accomplished.

It is precisely this need to be percevied as withdrawing victors which accounts for the repetitive, zelaous Administration emphasis on the slogan "total victory," with so little focus on what that actually means in substance:

The 35-page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" released as Bush began his speaking tour outlined three tracks to victory: political, security and economic. On the security track, the document stated that the objective is "to develop the Iraqis' capacity" to wage a campaign "to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency" -- suggesting separate standards of victory against foreign Islamic radicals and homegrown Iraqi insurgents, without defining the difference between "defeat" and "neutralize."

Even worse, this desire to depict victory is what causes the Administration to essentially ignore the question of how we are possibly going to solve worsening problems in Iraq which are mutually exclusive with "victory" there -- little things, like an elected Shiite government which is sure to become a close ally of our primary Middle Eastern enemy, Iran, as well the growing Al Qaeda branch which is operating quite freely and effectively in that country.

The reality is that there are substantial problems in Iraq that we can do little to solve, beginning with Iranian influence over Iraq's internal affairs. As a result, between the two choices we have -- reducing our presence and admitting defeat, or reducing our presence and attempting to credibly claim victory -- Rudman was simply pointing out, not criticizing, that the Administration's focus now is on creating an apperance of an American victory by modestly re-defining our goals. Not only is she not criticizing the Administration for this, she expressly says that the Administration is doing exactly what it ought to do in this regard:

If I were in his shoes, I would be trying to do the same," said Mara Rudman, a deputy national security adviser under President Bill Clinton and now a Middle East scholar at the Center for American Progress.

But Althouse saw the words "Clinton" and "Iraq" in the same sentence, and her brain has apparently been programmed to rest comfortably in some sort of instinctive auto-pilot mode which causes it, when it sees those words together, to automatically spit out: "The Democrats are struggling to make sure that, whatever happens, it will count as a loss for the President."

Any serious person recognizes that our presence in Iraq presents some extremely formidable and difficult obstacles to overcome if we are to leave there with anything other than a leftover disaster. The "corollary" to that premise is that non-serious persons try to convert those complex challenges in Iraq into a League of Justice cartoon where Republicans valiantly fight for American justice and victory in Iraq while Democrats do what they can to undermine Bush's war effort in order to defeat him and America.

It is, I suppose, impressive that Althouse was able (unwittingly) to conclusively demonstrate into which category she falls with just one short post.

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