Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joseph Biden

The Audacity of Hype: Biden and Bin Laden

The Obama campaign must have thought it was giving Vice President Biden a job that even he couldn’t mess up. All he had to do was go out to fundraisers and remind everyone how impressive the bin Laden raid was.

It sounds simple enough in concept. Then again, this is Biden we’re talking about here:

Vice President Joseph Biden on Monday night upped the ante around the already quite-dramatic assassination of Osama bin Laden.

From the pool report of Biden’s comments during a fundraising event in New Jersey come these quotes.

“You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”

Not to take anything away from the bin Laden raid, which certainly carried its own risks, but seriously? Never a more audacious plan in 500 years? National Review’s Daniel Foster reminds Biden of a few he apparently overlooked:

Arguably, Operation Desert Storm — with pre-invasion coalition casualties projected into the thousands and fears of a protracted maneuver war and the deployment chemical/biological weapons — was more audacious. Unarguably, the Inchon landing and the breakout of the Pusan perimeter were.

In World War II alone: Overlord. The British commando raids. The miracle at Dunkirk. Okinawa. Jimmy friggin Doolittle.

Five hundred years is a long time. From Patton to Napoleon, John Paul Jones to Sir Francis Drake. I’m sure all you history buffs out there can think of another battle plan at least in the running to be more audacious than Operation Geronimo.

At New York Magazine, Dan Amira writes, “By the time the election season is over, Biden will be calling the bin Laden raid the ‘single most incredible feat performed by a sentient being, here on Earth or throughout the cosmos, at any time in the last 15 billion years.’”

Nobody should diminish Obama’s decision to order the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But that’s exactly what Biden ended up doing – unintentionally – by hyping it to the extreme. The raid was a success in its own right, and needs no additional embellishment.

The Obama campaign must have thought it was giving Vice President Biden a job that even he couldn’t mess up. All he had to do was go out to fundraisers and remind everyone how impressive the bin Laden raid was.

It sounds simple enough in concept. Then again, this is Biden we’re talking about here:

Vice President Joseph Biden on Monday night upped the ante around the already quite-dramatic assassination of Osama bin Laden.

From the pool report of Biden’s comments during a fundraising event in New Jersey come these quotes.

“You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”

Not to take anything away from the bin Laden raid, which certainly carried its own risks, but seriously? Never a more audacious plan in 500 years? National Review’s Daniel Foster reminds Biden of a few he apparently overlooked:

Arguably, Operation Desert Storm — with pre-invasion coalition casualties projected into the thousands and fears of a protracted maneuver war and the deployment chemical/biological weapons — was more audacious. Unarguably, the Inchon landing and the breakout of the Pusan perimeter were.

In World War II alone: Overlord. The British commando raids. The miracle at Dunkirk. Okinawa. Jimmy friggin Doolittle.

Five hundred years is a long time. From Patton to Napoleon, John Paul Jones to Sir Francis Drake. I’m sure all you history buffs out there can think of another battle plan at least in the running to be more audacious than Operation Geronimo.

At New York Magazine, Dan Amira writes, “By the time the election season is over, Biden will be calling the bin Laden raid the ‘single most incredible feat performed by a sentient being, here on Earth or throughout the cosmos, at any time in the last 15 billion years.’”

Nobody should diminish Obama’s decision to order the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But that’s exactly what Biden ended up doing – unintentionally – by hyping it to the extreme. The raid was a success in its own right, and needs no additional embellishment.

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Not Too Late for Active Role in Iraq

If you are to read only one article on where Iraq stands today, I heartily recommend this Foreign Affairs essay, “The Iraq We Left Behind: Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State,” by Ned Parker, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Baghdad who is now spending a year at the Council on Foreign Relations (where I am a senior fellow). Parker accurately sums up the country as follows:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population. The law exists as a weapon to be wielded against rivals and to hide the misdeeds of allies. The dream of an Iraq governed by elected leaders answerable to the people is rapidly fading away.

The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity in summer, clean water, and decent health care; meanwhile, unemployment among young men hovers close to 30 percent, making them easy recruits for criminal gangs and militant factions. Although the level of violence is down from the worst days of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the current pace of bombings and shootings is more than enough to leave most Iraqis on edge and deeply uncertain about their futures. They have lost any hope that the bloodshed will go away and simply live with their dread. Acrimony in the political realm and the violence in the cities create a destabilizing feedback loop, whereby the bloodshed sows mistrust in the halls of power and politicians are inclined to settle scores with their proxies in the streets.

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If you are to read only one article on where Iraq stands today, I heartily recommend this Foreign Affairs essay, “The Iraq We Left Behind: Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State,” by Ned Parker, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Baghdad who is now spending a year at the Council on Foreign Relations (where I am a senior fellow). Parker accurately sums up the country as follows:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presides over a system rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population. The law exists as a weapon to be wielded against rivals and to hide the misdeeds of allies. The dream of an Iraq governed by elected leaders answerable to the people is rapidly fading away.

The Iraqi state cannot provide basic services, including regular electricity in summer, clean water, and decent health care; meanwhile, unemployment among young men hovers close to 30 percent, making them easy recruits for criminal gangs and militant factions. Although the level of violence is down from the worst days of the civil war in 2006 and 2007, the current pace of bombings and shootings is more than enough to leave most Iraqis on edge and deeply uncertain about their futures. They have lost any hope that the bloodshed will go away and simply live with their dread. Acrimony in the political realm and the violence in the cities create a destabilizing feedback loop, whereby the bloodshed sows mistrust in the halls of power and politicians are inclined to settle scores with their proxies in the streets.

How did we get to this bleak point? Parker is right to point the finger at the U.S. for failing “to capitalize on the gains of the U.S. troop surge.” Specifically, Parker points to a key error made by the Obama administration in the summer of 2010, “when the United States dropped the pretense of neutrality by backing Maliki for the post of prime minister over [Ayad] Allawi–even though Allawi’s party list had received more votes in the national elections held in March.” That gave Maliki the confidence to run roughshod over other political factions, especially the Sunnis, and yet “Washington quickly disengaged from actually ensuring that the provisions of the deal [struck between Maliki and Allawi] was implemented. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, the Obama administration’s leading figure on Iraq policy, was largely absent from Iraq for nearly a year as the power-sharing arrangement unraveled.”

I would argue that these cardinal errors were compounded by Obama and Biden’s unwillingness to go to the mat to ensure a continuing presence of U.S. troops after 2011. Their departure, after the premature breakdown of negotiations with Maliki, has given the prime minister an even freer hand which he has used to accumulate even more power, setting the conditions for a potentially lethal Sunni backlash. I believe that this  abandonment of Iraq could turn out to be one of the biggest blots on the administration’s record–to be exceeded only, perhaps, if the president goes on to similarly abandon Afghanistan.

But even now it is not too late for the U.S. to take a more active role in Iraq. As Parker notes, even without a continuing troop presence, the U.S. still retains some leverage from continuing weapons sales (which could be interrupted) and other levers at our disposal. It is high time the administration used whatever influence it still possess so as to avoid the worst.

 

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Has Liberal Washington Figured Out the Palestinians?

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

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Gibbs vs. the Historical Record

“What is certainly not up for question is that President Obama, then-candidate Obama, said that adding those 20,000 troops into Iraq would, indeed, improve the security situation, and it did,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on the Today show this morning, in anticipation of Mr. Obama’s Oval Office address this evening.

That statement is false. As I pointed out in this COMMENTARY essay, on the night of President Bush’s “surge” announcement, then-Senator Obama proclaimed: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse” [emphasis added]. It’s worth pointing out as well that in January 2007 then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

It would be hard to find two more vociferous critics of the surge than Obama and Biden.

It’s regrettable that Obama’s press secretary would compound his error in judgment with a shameful (and stupid) attempt to falsify the historical record.

“What is certainly not up for question is that President Obama, then-candidate Obama, said that adding those 20,000 troops into Iraq would, indeed, improve the security situation, and it did,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on the Today show this morning, in anticipation of Mr. Obama’s Oval Office address this evening.

That statement is false. As I pointed out in this COMMENTARY essay, on the night of President Bush’s “surge” announcement, then-Senator Obama proclaimed: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse” [emphasis added]. It’s worth pointing out as well that in January 2007 then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

It would be hard to find two more vociferous critics of the surge than Obama and Biden.

It’s regrettable that Obama’s press secretary would compound his error in judgment with a shameful (and stupid) attempt to falsify the historical record.

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A Stroll Down Memory Lane

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

According to USA Today, in an interview Vice President Biden said that

former president George W. Bush deserved some credit for sending additional troops to Iraq in 2007. But even though Biden said the surge worked militarily, he said he didn’t regret his vote in the Senate against it because Bush did not include a plan to address Iraq’s political problems. “I don’t regret a thing, what I said or did about Iraq policy,” he said. It was the Obama administration, Biden said, that put in the plan that led to success. “What was lacking in the past was a coherent political process.”

Where oh where to begin? Perhaps with a short journey down Memory Lane.

In January 2007, after President Bush announced the so-called surge of forces in Iraq, then-Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.” He called it “doomed” and “a fantasy.”

“The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically,” Biden assured the Boston Globe in the summer of 2007. Even well into 2008, when the surge had made undeniable progress, Biden was still insisting it was a failure, that Bush had no strategy, and that “there is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon.”

If you’d like to see Biden in his own inimitable words, take a look at this.

One would be hard pressed to think of another person who was as persistently and consistently wrong about the surge as Biden (though Barack Obama would give him a good run for his money). Biden went so far as to advocate dividing up Iraq into three parts based on ethnicity, one of the more ill-informed and dangerous ideas to emerge among war critics.

The truth is that if Joe Biden had had his way, the war would have been lost, Iraq would probably be engulfed in something close to genocide, al-Qaeda would have emerged with its most important victory ever, and America would have sustained a defeat far worse than it did in Vietnam.

As for Biden’s claim that what was lacking in the past was a “coherent political process,” let’s be generous to the vice president: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The then-American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was one of its outstanding diplomats. And unlike the situation in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in Iraq the commanding general at the time (David Petraeus) and the U.S. ambassador (Crocker) worked hand-in-glove. They were an extraordinarily effective team. In order to refresh Biden’s memory of the coherent political process that was in place, he might want to review Ambassador Crocker’s Senate testimony from September 2007, before a committee Biden himself sat on.

Of course, none of what Biden said is especially surprising. Over the years he has shown himself to be loquacious, personable, comically self-important (this video is priceless), and a somewhat buffoonish figure (who can forget this gem or these incidents here and here). Beyond that, if you go back to his record since he was first elected to Congress in the early 1970s, you will find few if any members of Congress whose record on national-security matters can be judged to have been as consistently bad as Biden’s (see here).

Over the years, Mr. Biden has said a countless number of things that are silly and wrong. We can add what he said to USA Today to the list. And you can bet there will be plenty more to come.

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GOP Puts Principle Ahead of Politics and Backs President

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

According to the New York Times,

the House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could work.

GOP support was strong indeed: 160 Republicans backed the war spending, while only 12 opposed it. By way of comparison, 148 Democrats backed the war spending, while 102 opposed it.

This is a good opportunity, then, to praise Republicans for standing with a Democratic president during a war that is increasingly unpopular.

I am reminded how, during the Bush years, the situation was very much reversed. Virtually the entire Democratic Party, with very few exceptions, turned hard against the Iraq war (which most of them initially supported). It is one of the most irresponsible and reckless displays we have seen in modern political history.

Democrats’ opposition to Bush and the surge was so intense, their commitment to a particular (defeatist) narrative so strong, and their eagerness to withdraw from Iraq so irresistible that they declared the Petraeus-led surge would not and could not work. It was simply incomprehensible to consider any other possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, declared that “this surge is not accomplishing anything” and in April 2007 announced flatly that the Iraq war was “lost.” A young senator from Illinois, on the night President Bush announced the surge, proclaimed, “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” So said Barack Obama. Not to be outdone, Senator Joseph Biden declared: “If he surges another 20, 30 [thousand], or whatever number he’s going to, into Baghdad, it’ll be a tragic mistake.”

(I can’t help but point out that a few future Journolisters joined in the Surrender Chorus as well, with Time magazine’s Joe Klein ridiculing “Bush’s futile pipe dream” and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, having convinced himself that he brought some actual knowledge and expertise to the debate, said he found “something genuinely bizarre” about those Americans who actually supported the new strategy. “It is not just that they are wrong. . . . It’s that they are completely detached from reality. Their arguments have nothing to do with what is actually happening in Iraq.” The detachment from reality, of course, was found among people like Chait, whose self-declared hatred for Bush caused him to once again look foolish.)

In the case of Afghanistan, GOP and conservative opposition to Obama on domestic polices, which is fierce, has not led them to oppose Obama in his efforts to win the war. The Republican Party is, in this instance, the responsible party, standing with a wartime president in a conflict of enormous significance. With a new commanding general in place and a new counterinsurgency strategy in the very early states of implementation, now is not the time to go wobbly. To its credit, the GOP, unlike the Democratic Party with Iraq, is holding shape.

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Iraq: The Forgotten War

I received a note from a prominent journalist last night, which read, “I realize we all have forgotten about the Iraq War, but…” One of his points was that he continues to take what is happening in Iraq seriously, and so should others. And he is quite right. As attention has shifted east to Afghanistan, Iraq has become, in many respects, America’s forgotten war. Part of the reason for this is understandable; America’s involvement in the Iraq war is winding down while our involvement in Afghanistan is winding up. But I suspect that part of the reason has to do with the fact that we’ve made astonishing progress in Iraq over the last two years, and having done so, much of the political class has decided to cast its gaze elsewhere.

Before we move on, however, it’s worth considering the most recent developments from Iraq, where on New Years Day we learned that December was the first month since the beginning of the Iraq war in which there were no U.S. combat deaths. (There were three non-combat fatalities.) As CNN reported:

Combat fatalities have decreased significantly since June, when the United States started withdrawing troops from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, and other urban areas. The United States also started a troop drawdown in 2009 from about 160,000 to the current level of around 110,000. The U.S. military suffered double-digit combat-related deaths in February, April, May and June 2009. The highest was 17 in May. There were also eight non-combat deaths in May, making for the highest monthly total in 2009. Since July, U.S. forces have suffered no more than five combat-related deaths each month. There were five in July, three in August, four in September, two in October and four in November. Non-combat deaths outnumbered combat fatalities in March, September, October, November and December.

Moreover, the Iraqi civilian death toll in November (88 civilians killed and 332 wounded) fell to its lowest level since the 2003 U.S.-led war began. Daily violence has drastically dropped across the country over the past two years, CNN reported, but sporadic spectacular attacks, including high-profile suicide bombings against government buildings on August 19, October 25 and December 8, continue to claim hundreds of lives.

Iraq, which in 2006 was in a death spiral (in part because of serious mistakes we in the Bush Administration made), continues to be a nation on the mend. Its security and political progress remain fragile and halting, but continue nonetheless. And a war that some commentators called the worst foreign-policy mistake in American history might end up with a satisfactory outcome. Time will tell.

With every war comes agony, and Iraq is no exception. The number of Americans who died or have been wounded in the Iraq war is heartbreaking, and for the families and friends involved, a grief beyond words. But thankfully, blessedly, the loss of American lives has slowed dramatically and, compared to past wars, is quite low (4,375 U.S. military members have died in the Iraq war: 3,477 from hostilities and 898 in non-combat incidents; around 58,000 American military service men and women died in the Vietnam War). Nor have those who died done so in vain. One of the most destabilizing dictators in the Middle East is dead. His police state is long gone. And the people of Iraq, who lived under one of the most brutal and aggressive regimes in modern history, are liberated and in the process of charting their own path. How it turns out is now largely up to them. But at least we have given them a chance. And the political culture of the Middle East may, over time, change for the better (how events unfold in Iran could play a key role).

It should also be pointed out that those who declared with certainty that the surge would fail (including then-Senator Barack Obama and then-Senator Joseph Biden) and that the Iraq war was lost (including Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) were not only wrong; their repeated criticisms of the surge even after indisputable progress had occurred was irresponsible and reckless (for more, go here). Fortunately their insistence on an American withdrawal, which would have led to an American defeat, did not prevail.

Iraq long ago ceased to be a popular war. It is now a largely forgotten one. But those of us who were working in the White House at the time the surge was being debated and ultimately adopted will not soon forgot the intensity of the opposition, the political courage of the president who pressed ahead anyway, the few who stood by George W. Bush’s side when it mattered most, and the remarkable valor and skill of those (like Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno and the brave men and women serving under them) who refused to let Iraq die.

I received a note from a prominent journalist last night, which read, “I realize we all have forgotten about the Iraq War, but…” One of his points was that he continues to take what is happening in Iraq seriously, and so should others. And he is quite right. As attention has shifted east to Afghanistan, Iraq has become, in many respects, America’s forgotten war. Part of the reason for this is understandable; America’s involvement in the Iraq war is winding down while our involvement in Afghanistan is winding up. But I suspect that part of the reason has to do with the fact that we’ve made astonishing progress in Iraq over the last two years, and having done so, much of the political class has decided to cast its gaze elsewhere.

Before we move on, however, it’s worth considering the most recent developments from Iraq, where on New Years Day we learned that December was the first month since the beginning of the Iraq war in which there were no U.S. combat deaths. (There were three non-combat fatalities.) As CNN reported:

Combat fatalities have decreased significantly since June, when the United States started withdrawing troops from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, and other urban areas. The United States also started a troop drawdown in 2009 from about 160,000 to the current level of around 110,000. The U.S. military suffered double-digit combat-related deaths in February, April, May and June 2009. The highest was 17 in May. There were also eight non-combat deaths in May, making for the highest monthly total in 2009. Since July, U.S. forces have suffered no more than five combat-related deaths each month. There were five in July, three in August, four in September, two in October and four in November. Non-combat deaths outnumbered combat fatalities in March, September, October, November and December.

Moreover, the Iraqi civilian death toll in November (88 civilians killed and 332 wounded) fell to its lowest level since the 2003 U.S.-led war began. Daily violence has drastically dropped across the country over the past two years, CNN reported, but sporadic spectacular attacks, including high-profile suicide bombings against government buildings on August 19, October 25 and December 8, continue to claim hundreds of lives.

Iraq, which in 2006 was in a death spiral (in part because of serious mistakes we in the Bush Administration made), continues to be a nation on the mend. Its security and political progress remain fragile and halting, but continue nonetheless. And a war that some commentators called the worst foreign-policy mistake in American history might end up with a satisfactory outcome. Time will tell.

With every war comes agony, and Iraq is no exception. The number of Americans who died or have been wounded in the Iraq war is heartbreaking, and for the families and friends involved, a grief beyond words. But thankfully, blessedly, the loss of American lives has slowed dramatically and, compared to past wars, is quite low (4,375 U.S. military members have died in the Iraq war: 3,477 from hostilities and 898 in non-combat incidents; around 58,000 American military service men and women died in the Vietnam War). Nor have those who died done so in vain. One of the most destabilizing dictators in the Middle East is dead. His police state is long gone. And the people of Iraq, who lived under one of the most brutal and aggressive regimes in modern history, are liberated and in the process of charting their own path. How it turns out is now largely up to them. But at least we have given them a chance. And the political culture of the Middle East may, over time, change for the better (how events unfold in Iran could play a key role).

It should also be pointed out that those who declared with certainty that the surge would fail (including then-Senator Barack Obama and then-Senator Joseph Biden) and that the Iraq war was lost (including Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) were not only wrong; their repeated criticisms of the surge even after indisputable progress had occurred was irresponsible and reckless (for more, go here). Fortunately their insistence on an American withdrawal, which would have led to an American defeat, did not prevail.

Iraq long ago ceased to be a popular war. It is now a largely forgotten one. But those of us who were working in the White House at the time the surge was being debated and ultimately adopted will not soon forgot the intensity of the opposition, the political courage of the president who pressed ahead anyway, the few who stood by George W. Bush’s side when it mattered most, and the remarkable valor and skill of those (like Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno and the brave men and women serving under them) who refused to let Iraq die.

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Biden’s Long Shot

Senator Joseph Biden and foreign policy luminary Leslie Gelb have been promoting a plan for “federalism” in Iraq. Indeed, Biden succeeded several weeks ago in securing a lopsided vote in the Senate in favor of the idea. This is, at least at first glance, a more responsible position than that taken by most Democrats, who criticize the Bush administration’s policies without enunciating alternatives or demand withdrawal of U.S. forces without addressing the likely consequences.

Biden and Gelb point out disarmingly that federalism is already enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Iraqis, though, call the Biden proposal “soft partition” of their country. Biden, himself, has long favored partition. And, if this is not what Biden and Gelb envision, it is impossible to see how their proposal amounts to an alternative to current policy—which is its whole point. Separating Iraq’s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish parts, they reason, will dampen intercommunal violence, making it possible for the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers.

At a recent conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Biden’s well-respected aide, Tony Blinken, gave one of two major plenary addresses on Iraq, and he used the occasion to spell out the Biden-Gelb approach. We face two crucial desiderata, said Blinken. One is to withdraw our forces, since the American public wants to bring the troops home. The other is to avoid military defeat that, he acknowledged, would have disastrous consequences. “Federalism,” he said, would enable us to achieve both objectives. Moreover, this approach could be supplemented by “incredibly aggressive, sustained diplomacy.”

Whenever Democrats speak of being “aggressive,” not to mention “incredibly aggressive,” I grow suspicious. It usually means that they are proposing something weak, if not outright capitulation. My suspicions grew as I reflected on Blinken’s opening proposition: that a single policy would allow us both to pull out and to win. If we could do that, I wondered, why hadn’t we tried it in all our other wars?

So I took the floor and asked Blinken a question. If the federalism plan did not reap its hoped for results, namely, to reduce appreciably Iraq’s violence, then would he and Biden and Gelb support maintaining U.S. troop levels in that country. To his credit, Blinken came clean. We must withdraw regardless, he said. And he confessed that the federalism plan had “only a 20 to 30 percent chance” of success.

When the ardent advocates of a policy give it a 20-30 percent chance of success, it is a safe bet that even they know its chances are much lower. So there it is. The Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq is to get out. On our way to the exit, however, we will toss off one long-shot political maneuver (and of course “incredibly aggressive” diplomacy). And what of the consequences defeat in Iraq? That is a subject on which the Democrats seem sworn to maintain incredibly aggressive, sustained silence.

Senator Joseph Biden and foreign policy luminary Leslie Gelb have been promoting a plan for “federalism” in Iraq. Indeed, Biden succeeded several weeks ago in securing a lopsided vote in the Senate in favor of the idea. This is, at least at first glance, a more responsible position than that taken by most Democrats, who criticize the Bush administration’s policies without enunciating alternatives or demand withdrawal of U.S. forces without addressing the likely consequences.

Biden and Gelb point out disarmingly that federalism is already enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Iraqis, though, call the Biden proposal “soft partition” of their country. Biden, himself, has long favored partition. And, if this is not what Biden and Gelb envision, it is impossible to see how their proposal amounts to an alternative to current policy—which is its whole point. Separating Iraq’s Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish parts, they reason, will dampen intercommunal violence, making it possible for the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers.

At a recent conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Biden’s well-respected aide, Tony Blinken, gave one of two major plenary addresses on Iraq, and he used the occasion to spell out the Biden-Gelb approach. We face two crucial desiderata, said Blinken. One is to withdraw our forces, since the American public wants to bring the troops home. The other is to avoid military defeat that, he acknowledged, would have disastrous consequences. “Federalism,” he said, would enable us to achieve both objectives. Moreover, this approach could be supplemented by “incredibly aggressive, sustained diplomacy.”

Whenever Democrats speak of being “aggressive,” not to mention “incredibly aggressive,” I grow suspicious. It usually means that they are proposing something weak, if not outright capitulation. My suspicions grew as I reflected on Blinken’s opening proposition: that a single policy would allow us both to pull out and to win. If we could do that, I wondered, why hadn’t we tried it in all our other wars?

So I took the floor and asked Blinken a question. If the federalism plan did not reap its hoped for results, namely, to reduce appreciably Iraq’s violence, then would he and Biden and Gelb support maintaining U.S. troop levels in that country. To his credit, Blinken came clean. We must withdraw regardless, he said. And he confessed that the federalism plan had “only a 20 to 30 percent chance” of success.

When the ardent advocates of a policy give it a 20-30 percent chance of success, it is a safe bet that even they know its chances are much lower. So there it is. The Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq is to get out. On our way to the exit, however, we will toss off one long-shot political maneuver (and of course “incredibly aggressive” diplomacy). And what of the consequences defeat in Iraq? That is a subject on which the Democrats seem sworn to maintain incredibly aggressive, sustained silence.

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Letter from Baghdad

The most hated man in Iraq today is Senator Joseph Biden. Iraqis (except for Kurds) are outraged at the Senate’s adoption of a Biden bill, prescribing “federalism” for Iraq in terms that Iraqis take to mean partition of their country. My explanations—that Biden chose the anodyne word “federalism” because he couldn’t get support for “partition,” that the House was unlikely to pass a similar measure, and that even if passed, this bill was not binding—all fell on deaf ears. Sunni and Shiite politicians outdid each other in their denunciations. And some Iraqi lawmakers spoke of turning the tables by calling for the U.S. to be partitioned into sovereign black, white, and Hispanic nations.

During my stay in Baghdad I am bunking at CPIC (Combined Press Information Center) of the MNF-I (multinational forces in Iraq), where journalists are housed after catching either a “helo” or the “rhino” (armored bus caravan) from “BIAP” (the Baghdad International airport). The fortunate few get “manifested” in advance, but most have to travel “space A” (based on availability of space). A U.S. Army manual lying around our quarters gives this directive for dealing with the media: “avoid jargon, acronyms, slang and technical terms.” (The application for a press badge at CPIC asks, inter alia, for my “tribe” and “clan.” I figured I could put “Hebrews” for the former, but “clan” stumped me until the young lady soldier in charge told me I could leave those boxes blank.)

I am sharing space with journalists from Icelandic television, here to cover the exodus of their country’s contingent from MNF-I. Antiwar advocates will surely point to Iceland as yet another desertion from Bush’s coalition. But the significance is easy to overestimate. As the film crew informed me, they were here to cover the “withdrawal of the troop.” When I said, “troops,” they corrected me. There was only one soldier, a pretty 27-year-old blond. After spending the day filming her they returned to CPIC to tell me that she enjoyed her job training Iraqis and regretted being called home.

Read More

The most hated man in Iraq today is Senator Joseph Biden. Iraqis (except for Kurds) are outraged at the Senate’s adoption of a Biden bill, prescribing “federalism” for Iraq in terms that Iraqis take to mean partition of their country. My explanations—that Biden chose the anodyne word “federalism” because he couldn’t get support for “partition,” that the House was unlikely to pass a similar measure, and that even if passed, this bill was not binding—all fell on deaf ears. Sunni and Shiite politicians outdid each other in their denunciations. And some Iraqi lawmakers spoke of turning the tables by calling for the U.S. to be partitioned into sovereign black, white, and Hispanic nations.

During my stay in Baghdad I am bunking at CPIC (Combined Press Information Center) of the MNF-I (multinational forces in Iraq), where journalists are housed after catching either a “helo” or the “rhino” (armored bus caravan) from “BIAP” (the Baghdad International airport). The fortunate few get “manifested” in advance, but most have to travel “space A” (based on availability of space). A U.S. Army manual lying around our quarters gives this directive for dealing with the media: “avoid jargon, acronyms, slang and technical terms.” (The application for a press badge at CPIC asks, inter alia, for my “tribe” and “clan.” I figured I could put “Hebrews” for the former, but “clan” stumped me until the young lady soldier in charge told me I could leave those boxes blank.)

I am sharing space with journalists from Icelandic television, here to cover the exodus of their country’s contingent from MNF-I. Antiwar advocates will surely point to Iceland as yet another desertion from Bush’s coalition. But the significance is easy to overestimate. As the film crew informed me, they were here to cover the “withdrawal of the troop.” When I said, “troops,” they corrected me. There was only one soldier, a pretty 27-year-old blond. After spending the day filming her they returned to CPIC to tell me that she enjoyed her job training Iraqis and regretted being called home.

To help soldiers pass their off-duty hours, bookshelves at this base are crammed with dog-eared paperbacks. Among the mysteries, romance novels, and sci-fi were two items that appeared much less worn. They turned out to be James P. Cannon’s History of Trotskyism in America and a 2005 edition of the journal published by his Socialist Workers Party, announcing, of course, the crisis of capitalism, now in its 160th year of imminence. Interviewing onetime members of the Baathist youth movement, I am reminded that such cockamamie western ideas provided intellectual cover for violent self-aggrandizement in societies bereft of peaceful political norms.

The principal thought on the lips of most Iraqi politicians I spoke to was the urgency of saving their country from domination by Iran. The dominant parties of Iraq’s Shi’ite government are viewed as subservient to Tehran. The new security services have been thoroughly penetrated by Iranian agents. The Sunni chief of a secular party told me that he had received offers of funding from Iran’s ambassador. When he reminded the ambassador that he was outspokenly anti-Iranian, the man replied suavely that Iran wants to help all Iraqis.

Much has been written in recent years about the decay of the U.S. intelligence in its collection and analysis functions. But what about the operational side, i.e., counterintelligence and covert action? One hopes against hope that it is equal to the power struggle in which we find ourselves. Ironically, while America is obsessed with Iraq, Iraqis are prone to see their plight as being the epicenter of a larger struggle. Iran is at war with us for dominance of the Middle East. Iraqis see it. Iranians see it. When will we notice?

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