Friday, August 17, 2007

You can't handle the Truth!


Do you remember the movie "A Few Good Men?" Mostly it is quite forgettable outside of the last few moments which gives us the Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth!" speech. Nicholson's character is somehow "tricked" by a wily Tom Cruise to spill all of the beans of his military flavored corruption based on Cruise's superior sophistry.

Sometimes I get the feeling that there are many Democrats that believe that the same thing is going to happen this September when Gen. David Petraeus returns with his report on Iraq. Let me politely assure everybody that this will not be the case. In fact, I believe that Democrats are in for no small amount of trouble.

The biggest mistake people make when looking at the war is coming to the conclusion that most of America feels the way that they do about the conflict. This is a mistake made by both fervent supporters and detractors of the war. The truth is that no matter what your position is on the war, a majority of Americans do not agree in totality. Polling questions are far too narrow to adequately show the intricacies of how people are feeling about the war and under what circumstances they support or lose support for the entire operation. Because of this, what happens in September is very much up in the air, despite the gloom and doom that has taken place in the past year. Currently, I believe that there are three factors in play that are likely to change the paradigm that the war is viewed from once Petraeus gives his report.

1. If they ever had any moral autority on the war, Congressional Democrats have frittered it away. A recent Zogby poll shows that support for the way that Congress is handling the Iraq war has fallen to 3%. Now that is a combination, I'll admit, of people who don't like that Congress is trying to micromanage the war combined with those upset that Congress has not brought the troops home. But 3% is incredible. But there is cause for a lot of anger. Quite frankly the leadership of both Houses of Congress have not sought to do anything at all to help the war effort, or end it altogether. Instead, they have used it solely as a club to beat George Bush with, and that is all they ever intended to do.

Think about that for a second. These people have put themselves in a position of straddling a position that calls, on one hand, for poormouthing our soldiers' capability, conduct, and accomplishment, while on the other hand of never putting together a workable plan or coalition to draw down our forces or commitment. If Harry Reid truly believed the Surge was doomed to failure, he could have worked to prevent Petraeus's appointment. He did not, but rather waited until Petraeus got on the next plane to Iraq after confirmation and began to criticize and undercut him before he even touched ground.

The House has held symbolic vote after symbolic vote, but never did anything that actually put any real solutions into play or show courage in any way. Criticism without leadership is not patriotism.

Who on the Democratic side has any moral authority, not to mention intellectual facility to play Cruise to Petraeus's Nicholson?

Harry "The war is lost!" Reid
Jack "In cold blood!" Murtha?
Nancy Too busy to attend Petraeus briefing Pelosi
or perhaps,
Gabby "There are no terrorists in Iraq" Giffords.

There is not a single Democrat readily appearant to be up to the task of refuting anything Petraeus is going to report. The talent and depth of the current Democratic leadership and membership is just simply not there. You don't arrive at 3% by accident. Democrats are going to get rolled in John Roberts fashion.

2. Petraeus is going to return with clear and verifiable good news. Obviously I am not plugged in well enough to get direct reports, but there are others who are, and here is what those, whom you would expect to say differently, are saying:

Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack think things are looking up. They are both spineless jellyfish, but knowledgeable jellyfish. They wouldn't have taken this shot over the bow unless they were relatively sure of measurable progress, so the fact that they made this statement is a pretty large positive indicator.

The UN is returning to Iraq.

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (Democrat), who voted against the war in the first place, is coming out in support of the surge.

Even Dick Durbin is grudgingly admitting that the surge is working.

UPDATE- I forgot to mention Der Spiegel's surprising article. This publication is hardly pro war.

Now these are critics of the war. If you want to look for news from more friendly sources, it is abundant. My favorite is Micheal Yon who is far more deserving of a Pulitzer than most of the actual recipients in the last few decades. Keep in mind that Micheal is not a cheerleader by any means, but he is a friend of the soldier which is certainly a news angle we don't often get.

I don't doubt for a minute that evidence of Petraeus's plan working as outlined will be lacking come September.

3. America loves their soldiers. The "Far Left" (Not all Democrats, mind you, Sirocco) but large swaths of liberals have a huge problem with the military. They have for years. It is obvious, identifiable, and it is not going away. It is one of those stumbling blocks that allows Republicans, even when we are at out most incompetent, to keep any type of power. Remember Ollie North? He was in deep trouble, and by all accounts would probably still be in prison had he had the image and temperament of a Scooter Libby. Instead he showed up in dress uniform, took the oath, and proceeded to dismember the joint Congressional Committee. It didn't matter what was said, it was that damn photograph of him taking the oath that was the linchpin. Where I grew up there was a barbershop that even advertised "Ollie North haircuts." It was quite the opposite effect of "A Few Good Men."

Now lets place Petraeus in the same setting. He has committed no crime and has went out and did what many in congressional leadership told us was impossible. Now there will be a certain amount of goalpost moving (it's already starting) but how do you think he is going to focus group? How do you think those who attempt to henpeck and criticize him are going to come off? The congress that went after North was the superior in every way to what we will see lined up against Petraeus, and Petraeus is far superior to Oliver North. Democrats have put themselves in a bad position by belittling Petraeus and his mission and then by agreeing to this September briefing. And the more a 17% congress goes after a soldier, the worse things will get for Democrats. Again, America loves their soldiers, but they practically worship successful soldiers. After Bush is removed as the face of the current war and replaced by Petraeus, things will change dramatically.

And then who knows what will happen.

8 comments:

Sirocco said...

Not to be disagreeable .. but I am afraid I am going to have to disagree on a number of points.

1. If you look behind the numbers, the vast (and I mean, not even close) majority of those dissatisfied with the manner Congress has handled the Iraq issue are upset because they feel not enough has been done to pull our troops out.

Given the state of the political situation in Iraq, I don't think anything the White House can put into a report next month is going to provide enough kick to significantly change those numbers. You might see a small uptick in those willing to keep on keeping on ... but not enough to make it close to a plurality.

Meanwhile, as has already been noted this past week, it ain't gonna be "Petraus' report". It's going to be written by the administration. You can guess what kind of spin will be on that ball.

2. The report will likely have good news on the military front. Whether it's verifiable is another matter.

O'Hanlon and Pollack have been war supporters from the start, and their recent op-ed was really nothing different than what they have written in the past. A colleague of theirs on the same trip came to radically different conclusions.

Meanwhile, while the military has been saying attacks and civilian casualties in Baghdad are decreasing, they haven't actually provided any numbers to support that claim. TO help fill that notable lack of data McClatchey did it's own survey, and found civilian casualties were, in fact, roughly stable, while attacks were 5% _increased_.

3. I think it's at least possible the military situation is somewhat improved (not dramatically, but somewhat). On the other hand, the political situation has devolved drastically.

Since the whole point of the surge was to "provide breathing space" for political movement in the Iraqi government, one could make the case that even if Baghdad were completely pacified, no attacks, no deaths, everyone singing hymns in the street and smiling at their neighbors, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds holding hands and living in harmony ... even if that were all the case, one could argue the surge has failed because of the political failures.

Liza said...

sirocco,
You left out the ticker-tape parade for the CEO's of Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Shell.

Framer said...

And to think that the 3% rating falls directly on the Republicans in Congress is silly. There are many who do think as you that are rightfully enraged at how the Democrats have politicized this rather than looking for a solution.

Additionally, all I could find about the White House sending Petraeus a script to read was a throwaway paragraph from an LA times story with no quotes, anonymous sourcing, and no follow through. If the sourcing for that was all it should have been, this would have been the article rather than just a line from it. I would bet that Petraeus will have help with the report, he is a busy man, but I am quite certain that Bush and Cheney aren't warming up the word processor in the Oval office. I would like to see verification outside that paragraph and Kosland before we accept it as you are reporting it.

2. I'm quite familiar with O'Hanlon and Pollack. Pollack in particular had a great deal to do with the run up to the war. Since that time, however, he was the first to throw up the white flag. He has been carefully grooming himself for a position in a Democratic cabinet, and it is largely assumed that it is a given he will find one. That being the case, why would he throw that away by turning Pollyanna? He certainly has a lot more to lose on the credibility of his current reporting. All things being equal, you should always look strongly at someone taking a minority position with a lot on the line.

The military certainly has the numbers, but they aren't releasing them at this time. If I was making a case to continue an operation that I believed was being effective, I would hold them to the point that is most advantageous to me. This is just as much an information war as a tactical war. Especially as the terrorists read the newspapers and could act to target those particular data points as part of their operations. Petraeus will have plenty of information to report, but I can understand why he wishes to put them out in the manner he desires.

3. Indeed, everyone wishes that the political situation was different. However, neither you, nor I, or the New York Times has any idea of the inner workings and positioning of the Iraqi government at this point. Indeed, it looks like the Sunni and Kurds are quite united, and the Sunni are playing all the cards that they have at this point to increase their position.. Because their situation is tenuous, they are plying hardball. At least theey are not opening a new wave of violence. Temper tantrums in congress are far preferable to armed hostility, and we know a thing or two about those here in America. I don't believe the situation has devolved drastically as it mirrors what was going on before the Al Queda led bombing of the Golden Dome.

And yes, you could argue that "if Baghdad were completely pacified, no attacks, no deaths, everyone singing hymns in the street and smiling at their neighbors, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds holding hands and living in harmony ... even if that were all the case, one could argue the surge has failed because of the political failures." However, you would either be foolish to make that argument to the American people at that point, or you would be Harry Reid.

Fortunately, we only need a wait a couple of months to see what happens. It looks like Democrats are going with the "Attack Petraeus" plan even before he releases his results. My argument is that there is a better than average chance that this will not only not bring the desired results, it could very well backfire.

I predict that Petraeus will buy enough capitol to keep the surge up for another year, which is not the political outcome Democrats are looking for.

Sirocco said...

Framer,

No, of course the electorate isn't solely upset with Republicans. However, they are upset with Republicans for getting us in this predicament in the first place, and with Dems for not acting forcefully enough to get us out.

I would argue the vast majority are upset because Dems haven't politicized the issue _enough_, in the sense of simply passing a bill with time lines, and if the President vetoes it then simply cut funding and authorization for the war. If they gather the balls to do that in Sep. or early Oct., even if there is a subsequent filibuster in the Senate, you will see the popularity numbers for Dems shoot back up.

I don't think you could get enough Republican Senators to filibuster by the way, not now.

2. Pollack has _never_ "raised the white flag". I went back last week and read everything Pollack has published on the war, or at least everything available on the Brookings site. At no time has he ever said the war itself was wrong.

He has criticized the conduct of the war, but been a supporter of the the entire time, and remains so.

As for the numbers, the military has an established history of releasing them if they think they look good, and withholding them if they don't. Apparently, right now the numbers don't look as good as they might have hoped.

The White House has admitted it will be writing the report with input from Petraeus, but also input from others as well. It will not be an unadulterated report from Petraeus. The administration clearly has some concerns about what the General might say in an open setting, as they suggested to Congress that he not testify in front of them. That proposal was rejected.

3. It wouldn't be a foolish argument. The administration set the criteria for success by stating the point of the surge was to allow the government to come to agreement on important issues. That is the entire, stated purpose of it. No agreement, it's not a success.

I could make that case to the electorate extremely persuasively.

4. There's no way the surge will last another year, if for no other reason than there are sufficient troops in reserve to maintain it.

roger said...

The Republicans will peel off in droves after the report comes out. They haven't now because they want to be able to say:

They gave the war more of a chance than Dems.

They never gave up on the troops.

The report will blame the Iraqis and they will as well. The mantra of Republicans will be that "we didn't loose the war...they did...they didn't want their freedom."

They will note over and over the cost of the war is too much. Knowing of course that it is hard to knock any kind of liberal spending when the spending on this unpopular war drawfs all of it. Hard to argue that more pell grants is wasteful spending when Americans look at the war.

They have to start peeling off now. IF they do, people might forget their ardent, strident support by election time.

The interesting thing is that this strategy just might work if Dems fumble the ball over and over again.

Framer said...

1. If the votes and will was there, they would have done it. The trick is that they realize it is not a good policy, and yet they say the opposite.

2. I'm having a hard time finding anything written by Pollack in the year prior to his recent article, but I have heard him on NPR (don't tell anyone, it would ruin my conservative creds) a couple times in the past year and he had fully swallowed the pessimism pill. Unfortunately, I cannot find the transcript but I believe it was about three months ago. It struck me as curious because I had read his book back in 2002, and I thought he was kind of cowardly at that point, especially as his work mirrored the Bush case for the war pretty closely.

3. If all sides are singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing" there is no way that the American people would throw that away, no matter the political angle. They have been told time and time again that the war is lost and the surge is a failure. If this is shown to be wrong, opinion would turn quite fast. Of course, this extreme is very unlikely, so we will likely get a muddled middle option.

4. Probably not fully staffed for a year, but the current level would not be needed. This could be a bluff however.

Look at the statements coming today from people like Hillary and Levin. They are hedging. What do they know that we do not?

Sirocco said...

Framer,

If you go to the Brookings Institute site, then look up the list of scholars you can find Pollack. Go to his page and you can get a list of publications for him.

Obviously if all sides are actually singing in the streets it would be a harder case. I meant I cold make a very persuasive argument based on actual, present conditions.

Hillary is hedging because she is trying to walk that line between being "tough enough" to defend against arguments of being wimpy on foreign policy, but at the same time not actually committing to keeping the occupation going.

Framer said...

sirocco,

Indeed, I know about the Brookings site, although the articles tend to get moved. I was really looking for the "All Things Considered" transcript of the show that I listened to.

I can find stuff from 2003 or before, and stuff done in the last month, but, strangley, I am having problems with anything in between.

And if Hillar is going to follow that plan, she needs to note the 3% approval that route has bought congress.