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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The President's vow today to stay in Iraq

(Updated below - Update re: NJ same-sex couple ruling)

The President's Press Conference, devoted almost exclusively to Iraq, just concluded, and the internal contradictions and incoherent claims are literally too numerous to chronicle. But there really are only a few points worth making:

First, the President repeatedly defined "losing" as "leaving before the job is done" -- "the job" being the creation of a stable, unified Iraqi government that can defend itself. And we're not leaving before the job is done, which means that we are staying forever -- or at least as far as the eye can see into the future (or until the President leaves office).

Bush's advisors have him throwing around buzzphrases designed to suggest that our commitment is something other than permanent. For instance, we are giving "benchmarks" to the Iraqi government to accomplish certain objectives (but they are purely suggestive and nothing will happen if they fail to meet them; also, "benchmarks" are, as the President explained, totally different than -- worlds apart from -- "timetables," which only Defeatocrats and cut-and-runners use). Additionally, the President wants everyone to know that we are patient but our patience is not infinite (but we are willing to stay no matter how long "it" takes -- "it" being the creation of a stable, unified Iraqi government -- because defeat means leaving before the job is done, and we will not be defeated).

Just as speculation, it seems to me that the President's political advisors are forcing him to include in his standard "we-will-win-no-matter-how-long-it-takes" cheers some phrases that make our commitment at least sound finite. But the President is a true believer -- we will stay in Iraq forever if we have to because we can never leave -- and that instinct overwhelms the mitigating phrases. Following closely on the rear of the "flexibility" buzzphrases are clear proclamations that we are never leaving "until the job is done."

In sum, it is clear from what the President said that we are staying in Iraq for the equivalent of forever, which means the next several years at least. And it is almost certain -- at least based on what he said -- that we will send more troops there and become more mired in the conflict, not less so (he said, for instance, that we will send more troops to Iraq if the Generals want them, and there can't be much question that once the election is done, we will learn that "the commanders on the ground" -- who know they aren't leaving any time soon -- will suddenly want more troops).

The Democrats should happily take this Press Conference and use it to drum home the point that the President's will -- if it remains unlimited by a rubber-stamping Republican Congress -- is that we are going to stay in Iraq forever and almost certainly become further mired in the disaster. That is exactly what Americans don't want to hear about Iraq, but it was the unmistakably clear message delivered by the President. We are staying forever because defeat means "leaving before the job is done."

Second, the President's remarks illustrated more vividly than ever before the towering incoherence at the heart of this whole project. According to the President, the reason that it is so important that we "win" -- meaning creating a stable Iraqi government -- is because American security depends upon the creation of an Iraq that is a "partner of the U.S. in the war on terror." But there is a complete disconnect -- and there always has been -- between stabilizing the Iraqi government and having a "partner of the U.S. in the war on terror."

The only "partner" this Iraqi government is going to have in the "war on terror" is Iran, not the U.S. (especially if we ever actually left), and the fact that it relies for its very survival on the lawless Shiite militias and death squads which are supposedly the Enemy -- and that they expressly refuse to disband them (because they can't and don't want to) -- reveals just how absurd is the idea that our security will be enhanced by entrenching this Iran-loving, Shiite fundamentalist, death-squad-deploying government. And why would the Iraqi government risk everything it would need to risk in order to expel Al Qaeda from operating within its borders? Isn't far more likely that, especially given its other vulnerabilities, they would reach some sort of accord of co-existence?

Put another way, even if stabilizing this Government were something other than a sad and transparent pipe dream -- even if we could achieve that goal by spending hundreds of billions of dollars more and squandering thousands and thousands of more lives -- we will have nothing to show for it other than having replaced a regime that hated Iran and Al Qaeda with a regime that is Iran's strongest ally and quite possibly tolerant of Al Qaeda (or worse).

That's the most tragic part of what we have done -- we can't possibly achieve the goals we ostensibly have. And if we ever did manage to do so, the situation we will have created will likely be worse than it was before the invasion. That might be the very definition of a strategic disaster -- starting a discretionary war in which you can't possibly achieve your goals and, even if you did achieve them (i.e., best case scenario), you create a situation making matters worse for yourselves (while generating unprecedented resentment in most of the world).

Finally, if the Republicans lose this election, there is going to be another bloodbath and Civil War -- this one within the Republican Party -- as they all turn on each other, seeking to identify and stigmatize the culprits who led this country into this unparalleled disaster. Alexander Haig had some strikingly aggressive and bitter comments on CNN that I think is just a small sign of what is to come if the Republicans lose:

AL HAIG, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, first, I think that this is a conflict that's essentially political. It's not just purely military. It's political and religious and ideological. And it was driven by the so-called neocons that hijacked my party, the Republican Party, before this administration...

BLITZER: Name names, Mr. Secretary. Who are you talking about?

HAIG: Well, I'm talking about...

BLITZER: Because a lot of our viewers hear the word "neocon" and they don't know what you're talking about.

HAIG: Well, they're a group of people who are ex-Democrats. Many of them hovered around the Seattle Conservative Democrats some years ago, who. . .

BLITZER: Who specifically are you referring to?

HAIG: I'm talking about Wolfowitz. I'm talking about Richard Perle. I'm talking about some newly-made ones. I'm talking about the former editor of the Wall Street Journal. These people are very, very deeply embedded in Yale and certain intellectual circles. And for years, they've been against NATO . . . .

BLITZER: Is Cheney a neocon?

HAIG: I think so.

BLITZER: So he's part of that neocon conspiracy, or cabal, or whatever?

HAIG: Those around him were, if he wasn't.

Blame-casting efforts like this one have been going on for some time among Republicans, but they have simmered more or less quietly. If the Republicans lose, efforts to assign blame amongst themselves are going to explode. Neocons, in particular, will be very vulnerable to the most vicious attacks, and that is only just and right.

But the reality is that the Republican Party itself bears responsibility not just for the strategic disaster we have wrought in Iraq -- a disaster that will take years if not decades to recover from (and that's if it ends sometime soon) -- but also for the entire Bush debacle, the destruction of our country's credibility, and the grotesque distortion of its character. Anyone who supported this President, particularly in 2004 when it was glaringly evident what he was, is culpable. With very rare exception -- way too rare to matter -- it was "conservatives" and Republicans who embraced this President eagerly and enthusiastically and enabled his empowerment and the pursuit of these policies.

The vicious civil war they will have amongst themselves might be enjoyable to watch and well-deserved, but it will also be deeply dishonest. Anyone (including in the pundit and political classes) who supported this presidency and the Bush movement -- regardless of which specific policies motivated that support -- are all to blame for what this administration has done to our country, and it's important not to allow these last-minute, ship-jumping conversions to obscure just how pervasive and widespread the culpability is.

UPDATE: Just to pre-empt what I know will be the (fair and accurate) response that there are Democrats who acquiesced in (and at times affirmatively enabled) much of this, that is absolutely true. And there is no defending that. But the reality is that the Bush movement was spawned and propped up by the self-proclaimed "conservative" movement and the Republican Party itself (with a very active assist from a national media that alternated between sleepwalking and mindless cheerleading), and it is important not allow those institutions to jettison Bush and those who enabled these measures in order to insulate themselves from responsibility.

UPDATE II: I will have a detailed article up at Salon very shortly regarding the implications of today's ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court that its state constitution compels that same-sex couples receive all of the legal rights and privileges of married couples. The decision was a "compromise" decision, since the court also ruled that there is no constitutional right for gay couples to be "married," and held that whether to treat such relationships as marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships or anything else is a decision for the legislature. I will post the link to the Salon article as soon as it is up.

In the meantime, I have a summary of some of the relevant issues over at C&L, here.

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