Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pat Buchanan comes out as a Leftie!

I'm sitting here on my futon, watching the postgame on MSNBC after the Democratic debate. There was lots of good stuff in the debate, with some distinctions made between the candidates' various positions on issues like Iraq and Social Security and even Iran. On Iraq, Edwards said that, if he is the nominee,

When I am on the stage with the Republican nominee, come the fall of 2008, I'm gonna make it clear that I'm for ending the war, and the debate will be between a Democrat, who wants to bring the war to an end, get all the American combat troops out of Iraq, and a Republican who wants to continue the war.
Well, yeah, actually we have been waiting for somebody higher in the polls than Kwhocinich to say it in that kind of unequivocal language. Hillary clarified that she might continue a combat presence on a strictly anti-terrorism mission against al Qaeda, but would bring home "the vast majority of our combat troops."

But there's a reason my headline names Pat Buchanan instead of one of the actual candidates....

Firstly, a couple of quick references on Pat Buchanan, for those few readers to whom his name is anything less than nauseatingly familiar: his own website and blog, and his Wikipedia entry. In brief, he was a speechwriter for Nixon, ran for President in 1992, 1996, and 2000, and set the Republicans off on the wrong foot in the '92 campaign by giving a speech that introduced the phrase "culture war" into watercooler conversations. He was anti-feminist, anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, and decidedly pro-religious-Right; chaaaaaarming.

After the debate tonight, Buchanan and Chris Matthews ("Tweety" as many on DailyKos call him, although I think that's unfairly dismissive) were dissecting the statements, the motivations, the who scored a point with what segment of the audience. They specifically addressed a question from the debate about the designation of not just the Iranian Quds Force, but the entire Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist organization; Buchanan pitched his case that Edwards is running too far to the left, in hopes of catching the support of the Base, but endangering his prospects next fall in the process. It is absolutely beyond me that anyone thinks that Pat Buchanan stands at a good vantage point for assessing the views of the great political Center, the expanding waistline of America's fast-food politics. You'd need somebody to the Left of Lenin to properly "balance" Buchanan. But then, he revealed his dirty little secret: Pat Buchanan is actually a Leftie!
Matthews: But was Edwards right that [the Kyl–Lieberman amendment] was just another version of the Iraqi Liberation Act, another prelude to war?

Buchanan: Look, I agree with Edwards' position.

Matthews: Isn't his main argument that this is setting up an excuse to go to war —

Buchanan: Oh, he's exactly right!

Matthews: — We're declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, which gives a justification to the President to act.

Buchanan: They're moving incrementally to give the President a blank check to attack Iran, correct. Politically she's still helping herself in the center, and Edwards is helping himself on the Left.
So, let's recap the recap. John Edwards is going too far to the left for the broader American public. He's chasing after that Liberal, Leftie, MoveOn, DailyKos kind of voter, but thereby hurting his chances with Joe Average. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is putting forward the right balance of hawk and dove, politically speaking, to get her elected President. However, Pat Buchanan, who clearly thinks he is Mr. Right in more ways than one, not only agrees with Edwards, but believes that the alternative — the bizarre marriage of convenience between the neocons and the more timid Democrats, cheerfully giving Dubya yet more power — is a threat to our national security.

In short, by his very own logic, Pat Buchanan is a part of that Leftie base to whom John Edwards is pitching. (Either that, or it's further proof that the Left and the Right have ganged up to crush the Center.)

P.S. The answer I was waiting to hear to the last question of the night (Sox or Yankees?): "I honestly don't have a horse in that race. They're both fine teams, but one lesson from the Iraq War is, Don't go running into the middle of some historic rivalry. I'll let the score of the game settle the question of which team is better."

...obligatory plug for my own blog, "The Third Path"

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York City to give a speech before the United Nations General Assembly. However, while he is in town, he has a few other items on his itinerary. He has asked to be allowed to visit Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers stood, but officials refused, saying that it would have been a "travesty" to give him such a propaganda coup. Never mind that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Iran was firmly on the U.S. side against the al Qaeda terrorists; in particular, the Shia theocracy in Iran is not on friendly terms with the Sunni Wahhabbis of al Qaeda. They are in fact mortal enemies, just as Saddam and al Qaeda were mortal enemies. Not all enemies of the United States are friends with each other. (Duh!)

Bucking strong criticism, though, Columbia University invited Ahmadinejad to speak at a forum including questions submitted by students. If Ahmadinejad had any illusions of being warmly received by a sympathetic audience, he was disabused from the very start, beginning with his introduction by the president of the university. Ahmadinejad further shamed himself by spouting a series of delusional claims.

In the introduction for Ahmadinejad, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said, "Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." He went on to confront Ahmadinejad over his "doubts" that the Holocaust — "the most documented event in human history" — actually happened, and over his treatment of dissidents, women, and homosexuals.

On the question of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said that we need to question history (an entirely valid point) and that "further research" is necessary (a fatuous lie). He said, "If the Holocaust is a reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives?" And what, exactly, might those "different perspectives" be, Mr. Ahmadinejad? The "perspective" that the Jews deserved to be exterminated? The "perspective" that every bad thing in the Middle East, or perhaps even in the world, is caused by a vast Jewish conspiracy? The "perspective" that we should consider the possible role of space aliens in the disappearance of 6 million Jews? Or that it was all just smoke and mirrors to cover up something else?

The Iranian régime's record regarding political dissidents is also well documented. For starters, Abdollah Momeni, Mansour Osanlou, Haleh Esfandari, Kian Tajbakhsh, Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Akbar Ganji, Mohammad Mohammadi-Gorgani, Ali Mohammadi-Gorgani, Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, Nezameddin Ghahari, Mohammad Mohammadi Ardehali, Ali Reza Rajaei, Massoud Pedram, Nasser Hashemi-Rad, Dr. Reza Reiss-Toussi, Dr. Hossein Rafei, Dr. Mohammad Malekei, Dr. Habibollah Peiman, Marzeih Mortazi, Morteza Kazemian, Mohammad Basteh-Negar, Taghi Rahmani, Saeid Madani, Mahmoud Omarani, Fatemeh Govaraei, Bahman Rezakhani, Shapour Bakhtiar, Mehdi Ebrahimzadeh, Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, and Amir Abbas Fakhravar came up in just a quick Google search. All of those people have been killed, imprisoned, or forced into exile for their political views. Applicants to university graduate programs must pass an ideological screening to ensure that they are loyal to the government. Any sort of activism, whether for women's rights, gay rights, secular government, free press, or human rights in general, is brutally repressed.

On the topic of homosexuality, though, Ahmadinejad said that in Iran, "In Iran we do don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it." The often-quoted figure of 10% of the population is in truth nothing more than a guesstimate; however, it is unmistakably clear that there have been homosexuals (as we now understand the term) in every culture, in every corner of the earth, in every era and epoch of human history back to the dawn of our species — and there will always be. On the specific case of present-day Iran, though, if there are no homosexuals in Iran, why are there such specific and detailed laws against gay sex? There are no laws pertaining to unicorns, dragons, or the Tooth Fairy, but Articles 108 to 134 of the Iranian penal code prescribe which acts are punished with mere whipping and which are punished by death. A man can be executed on conviction for sodomy, or on a fourth conviction for frottage; a woman can be executed on a fourth conviction for consensual sex with another woman.

Ahmadinejad is eternally full of self-confidence, but I think it's fair to say he got more than he bargained for at Columbia University this afternoon.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why I watch Al Jazeera

Tuesday night, I finally saw the film Control Room, a documentary about Al Jazeera and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It got me thinking about the real lessons of 9/11, and the ways in which American policy has gone horribly wrong in the 1,644 days since the invasion began. Bush and his crew think that our security depends on a macho display of military might and unwavering determination to kill rather than be killed. They also view news coverage of the war and its casualties to be at best a nuisance to be corralled and managed, but all too often as part and parcel of the enemy. In the invasion of Baghdad, the US Army and Air Force intentionally targeted the offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television, and the hotel used by Reuters and many other international journalists. The official military reports claim that hostile fire originated from exactly those specific buildings, but it's difficult to see targeted strikes on three media outlets, all of whose precise GPS coordinates had been given in advance to the military, as anything other than an assault on the concept of a free press. The saddest part is that a free and open world press is our best hope in bringing global terrorism to an end.

President Bush chose to make the so-called war on terror a shooting war when he invaded Iraq, but he has neglected the media war, much to the detriment of US interests. There's no way around it: the United States is losing the media war in the Middle East, and losing it badly. We need to make a compelling narrative for the rest of the Muslim world — the 99.9% of Muslims on earth who are not part of al Qaeda — that they should, individually and collectively, actively oppose the methods of al Qaeda, even if they have sympathy with some of its grievances against the West. That's how we get the "human intelligence" on the terrorist operations: someone with inside knowledge turns in the cell that's planning a car bomb or a suitcase nuke or anything in between. It's also how we dry up the supply of new recruits. We've got to make it un-cool for young Muslim men to go off and join al Qaeda. We live in the nation that raised advertising to its pinnacle, persuading millions of people that their lives will be incomplete unless they get the latest gadget, gizmo, antiperspirant, or penis pill, but we are getting clocked in a P.R. battle by a bunch of guys in a cave.

Right now, the America™ and Al Qaeda™ brand names are competing for popularity in a key demographic: Muslim men, age mid-teens to thirtysomething, devoutly religious, alienated, and deeply resentful of something or someone. The Iraq War was George W. Bush's effort at making Uncle Sam the new pin-up poster for angry Muslim youth. Trouble is, that poster is adorned with a bullseye instead of hearts and flowers. Our military operations in Iraq have been abyssmally unsuccessful in convincing the pool of potential future terrorists, not to mention the majority of the Iraqi people, that America is more their friend than Osama is. The question of whether the US-led invasion of Iraq was justified will be has already been decided in the court of global public opinion, not domestic, and that verdict includes the continuation of the occupation.

To regain any credibility whatsoever in Iraq, and in the broader Muslim world, the United States needs to deal honestly with the effects of the war on the Iraqi people. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions have fled into exile in neighboring countries, millions more are in exile within Iraq, millions have been wounded, and the economic infrastructure has been devastated. So long as the occupation continues, and especially so long as the occupation continues with such evident disregard for the suffering of the Iraqis, those wounds will not heal. Donald Rumsfeld put it well: "It seems to me that it's up to all of us to try to tell the truth, to say what we know, to say what we don't know, and realize that we're dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case. And to the extent people lie, ultimately, they are caught lying and they lose their credibility, and one would think it wouldn't take long for that to happen, dealing with people like this." As much as the Bush Administration has lied to the American people about the war, it has lied far more egregiously to the people of the world, and it has been caught out.

Captain Josh Rushing, a CENTCOM spokesperson, says in Control Room: "I really think the big thing for my generation is for these two perspectives — my perspective, the Western perspective, and the Arab perspective — to understand each other better. It's our responsibility to reach out and try to understand their perspective, and I hope they feel the same way, that they need to reach out and understand our perspective. Because, truly, the two worlds are colliding at a rapid rate right now." Josh Rushing put that sentiment to work when he signed on with the new English-language Al Jazeera channel. I share the sentiment, and that's why I watch Al Jazeera English, to see, in the words of their taglines, "Every angle, every side. ... If it's newsworthy, it gets on air, whether it's Bush or Bin Laden." The most important program in my TV week, even above Colbert and Bill Maher, is Inside Iraq, the only source I trust for a perspective on the war unfiltered by the Bushies. It airs at 10:30 A.M. on Fridays, with reruns through the weekend.

Dedicated to the memory of Tareq Ayyoub, a correspondent killed by a U.S. air strike targeting Al Jazeera's Baghdad office.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Federal prosecutor, child predator?

What happens if you cross the U.S. Attorneys scandal with Dateline: To Catch a Predator? WDIV–TV in Detroit, Michigan, is reporting that John David R. Atchison, an assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Florida (roughly, the Florida panhandle), was arrested over the weekend and arraigned this afternoon on charges of soliciting sex with a five-year-old girl — a kindergartener. According to detectives, Atchison contacted an undercover officer posing as her mother and arranged to fly to Detroit to have sex with the girl. He also reportedly responded to the "mother's" concern about physically harming the "daughter" with assurances that "I've done this plenty." Yikes.

My mind balks at the very thought of an adult — in this case, a 53-year-old man — having sex with a child who hasn't even started first grade. Dateline mostly shows people pursuing meetings with girls and boys they believe to be in their teens, or occasionally as young as 12, but not anything close to kindergarten. It's not just a whole different ballgame, it's a whole different league. I can understand seeing a sexy teenager and saying to yourself, in the immortal words of Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) in Talladega Nights, "Please be 18! Please be 18! Please be 18!" But the flip side of that coin is that, if the teen turns out to be under the age of consent, (s)he is strictly "don't touch, don't approach, don't even undress with your eyes." On the other hand, if you look at a five-year-old child and think of having sex with that child, run, do not walk, to the nearest psychiatrist. I'm entirely in favor of the freedom of consenting adults in private to do pretty nearly whatever they want, but a five-year-old is nothing close to a consenting adult.

This guy, though, apparently did much more than think about having sex with a child. He planned in advance, and flew 800 miles, allegedly for a weekend tryst with a child much closer to her diaper days than to her first training bra. Not only that, but the alleged perpetrator is not merely a cop, but a prosecutor. Since he crossed state lines, the crime of which he is accused could carry federal charges, leading to the ever-so-slightly awkward situation of being prosecuted by one of his colleagues.

Since this guy is presumably a Republican, and a member of the Bush Administration, it is tempting to throw a partisan spin on the scandal. However, John David R. Atchison isn't so much a Republican alleged sicko as a plain old alleged sicko. All the same, I expect that Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig will be relieved to have a bit less of the spotlight as this new scandal unfolds. Who knows — it might even distract people from the latest charges against O.J.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Inside Iraq special on the Petraeus report

Al Jazeera English has the definitive "must-see" weekly discussion for anyone interested in the situation in Iraq, Inside Iraq. This week's program was an hour-long special devoted to reactions to this week's testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker to committees of the US Congress. The first half of the show featured four panelists in Washington, discussing the ramifications of the Petraeus report in US politics; the second half featured the Iraqi foreign minister and two policy analysts, one from America and one from Egypt. As important as the US domestic political scene is to the conduct of the Iraq Occupation, we mustn't forget about the effects our policy has on Iraq and its neighbors.

Inside Iraq, special edition, original air date 2007-09-14, ©2007 Al Jazeera English.

NOTE: an audio glitch in my Internet feed caused the loss of a few seconds from the transcript. If I can catch a rebroadcast of the show, I'll try to fill in the gap.Update: the gap has now been filled in, with the text in reddish-brown.

Hoda Abdel-Hamid: Hello, and welcome to a special edition of Inside Iraq. I'm Hoda Abdel-Hamid. General David Petraeus and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, have said that the US troop surge is working, but both men faced tough questions during their testimonies, in particular from the Democrats. President Bush has accepted the advice of Petraeus of a limited troop withdrawal by next July, but the issue of Iraq is fueling tensions within the United States, and is likely to be the key topic in the US Presidential campaign next year. In the first half of this program, we look at the implications of the Petraeus report within the United States, and in the second half, we focus on what the American policy might mean for Iraq and its neighbors. But first, let's take a look at the man who has become so linked to President Bush's surge policy. Raoui Raggeh(sp?) reports.

[correspondent]: He's always tried to be a different kind of soldier. Understanding the local culture, talking to tribal leaders — that's been the policy of General David Petraeus. As commander of the 101st Airborne Division, he became involved in reconstruction and securing local elections. That approach is what enabled him to write what's considered the definitive manual on counterinsurgency. He was also put in charge of training the new Iraqi army. Washington saw him as the man who could save Iraq. He was chosen in January as the public face of President Bush's surge policy. The 54-year-old New Yorker bore all the hallmarks of a PR sell. General Petraeus reached new heights of exposure in recent days, giving his assessment of the situation in Iraq before Congress.

Gen. David Petraeus: As the bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.

[correspondent]: It was the most anticipated presentation by an army officer since 1967, when General William Westmoreland testified about the Vietnam War. That conflict was the subject of Petraeus' Ph.D. dissertation; his topic had been the lessons the US military could learn from the Vietnam War. Some critics say, all these years later, the general had failed to heed his own advice. In his testimony, Petraeus warned against a quick withdrawal from Iraq, but even before the testimony, as leaks trickled out to the international media, there was uproar about what the general was about to say. An American anti-war group took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, accusing General Petraeus of "cooking the books for the White House." General Petraeus or Betray Us, it asked.

[voiceover]: And his recommendations didn't exactly "fly" on Capitol Hill.

Tom Lantos (D–CA-12): This is not a knock on you, General Petraeus ... but the fact remains, gentlemen, that the Administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I don't buy it.

Barbara Boxer (D–CA): Please don't what you did in '04, when you painted a rosy scenario in an op-ed piece, turned out to be wrong, like you did in '05, when you told us — and we believed you — that the Iraqis were just about there, they were going to take over their own defense. And please consider that others could be right.

Colin Powell: [before the UN Security Council, 2003-02-05] If concentrated into this dry form....

[correspondent]: In 2003, General Colin Powell managed to win over doubters with his presentation before the United Nations, in the build-up to the war in Iraq. Ultimately, that presentation destroyed Powell's credibility — a risk General Petraeus is facing as he attempts to convince Congress to stay the course. Raoui Raggeh for Inside Iraq.

Abdel-Hamid: So, is General Petraeus under pressure from the politics from the Iraq War, what are the implications of his report in the run-up to the US Presidential elections next year? To discuss these issues, I'm joined by four guests from Washington D.C.: Mr. Edward Walker, former US [Assistant] Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt; Patrick Clawson, Deputy Director for Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Steve Clemons, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation; and retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard, who today serves as the senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq.

Mr. Gard, let me start with you: was the General Petraeus assessment an objective military assessment, or was it a politicized report?

Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (ret.): I believe that General Petraeus is honest. When you give someone in uniform a mission, he's gonna do everything he can to accomplish it, and I think it's part of the human condition that one tends to look at what seems to be working and to capitalize on it. I don't believe that he at least was a political instrument of the President in a direct way, although he certainly was indirectly.

Abdel-Hamid: Well, Patrick Clawson, didn't Petraeus give us a bit of an impression that it was — that the surge was working and actually security was improving?

Patrick Clawson: Well, the surge has been improving security, and that is the area that Petraeus was concentrating on. Now along with him, also Ambassador Crocker testified, and Amb. Crocker said that the political situation, on the other hand, has not improved very much, so we got quite a mixed message from the two presentations. Amb. Crocker's message was really quite a bit more negative than that of Gen. Petraeus, and if I had been one of Pres. Bush's political opponents up there on the Hill, I would've been giving much more attention to Amb. Crocker's presentation, which described a rather difficult political situation rather than Gen. Petraeus' testimony, which described a somewhat improving military situation.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Mr. Walker, this surge had twofold: on one side, the security, and on the other side, the Iraqi government had to meet some essential benchmarks and kick-start this political process that's going nowhere, so how can we really say that the surge is working?

Edward Walker: Well, you can say the surge is working because it has created some stability in small portions of Iraq, typically some Sunni areas that were a mess before. I think Petraeus is right: the situation is better. Whether it's sustainable or not is another question, but on the political side, what Ryan Crocker was pointing out was, we seem to be walking away from the central government, or its control of the situation, and moving much more towards regional agreements among tribal units, in order to provide stability, economic growth, and so on, and not depend on the central government, except for a check occasionally.

Abdel-Hamid: As the surge started, Pres. Bush said that there would be eighteen benchmarks that the Iraqi government had to meet, and that he would be extremely strict about that, but during the entire week, we heard very little about these benchmarks. Is he changing the course; what's happening?

Walker: Of course he's changing the course; those benchmarks are gone. Maybe someday they'll be accepted, but the current strategy is to break the country down into political units and drive for political agreement within each of these units, to reduce the stress and reduce the security problem, and someday maybe we'll get back to those 18 benchmarks.

Abdel-Hamid: So, Steve Clemons, at the moment, can we say in any way, I mean for the outside world, that what we heard the entire week in Washington was actually something trying to salvage Pres. Bush than really actually giving a clear assessment of what's happening in Iraq?

Steve Clemons: Well, I think Gen. Petraeus gave Pres. Bush a really important gift, and that gift was, he seduced Democratic critics and potential Republican defectors from the President's position into a debate about tactics — tactics that really don't address the broad geo-strategic question, and what really got avoided and set aside was the question you're asking, which is the big question about strategy: what are we seeking to achieve? And the President has slipped through, and I think he's done a very good job. His speech last night was very compelling, seemed sincere; the swagger was gone, and he's offered something that was structural, which was to reduce the military component by about 30,000 troops, which we were going to probably need to do next spring anyway, and in doing so, he's probably stemmed the tide of Republican defections and held the coalition supporting his views together, so I think that we've been drawn into a debate about tactics. What was interesting about Petraeus' comments was that, at best, we're talking about nuances. Clearly, Gen. Petraeus is telling the truth about the empirical results as he sees them about levels of violence in Anbar and certain sections of Baghdad, but we're still talking about nuances. If it were clear-as-day success, we would not be having the debate we are.

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Gard, now, Pres. Bush and Petraeus were talking about pulling out troops, but when you pull out these 30,000 "surge" troops, isn't there a risk that the security situation will just deteriorate very quickly, I mean, you take off the lid and what happens next?

Gard: Well, I think that certainly is the case. That is a matter of concern. But the draw-down of this number of troops is inevitable, unless you change your deployment policies and increase deployments from, say, 15 to 18 months, or to call back on duty National Guardsmen and Reservists who have only recently returned from being deployed. Politically, that probably is not doable at this point.

Abdel-Hamid: Patrick Clawson, so, at the end of the day, don't you get the impression that really all these security gains they're talking about actually aren't official, and it's all because there are so many troops and so many joint command centers in the middle of Baghdad, and really nothing has been solved on the ground in Baghdad?

Clawson: One of the greatest security improvements has been in Anbar province, and that has come because of a decision by a significant portion of the Sunni population to work with the Americans in order to get rid of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the surge has helped facilitate that process, but the basic change was a decision by Iraqis, the Sunni community in particular, to work with the Americans, and the Americans correspondingly made a big adjustment in their strategy and decided to work with the local Sunni community and not to insist that that community depend on the national government in Baghdad, but instead the Americans are helping empower those Sunni communities to run their own affairs. So we see a considerable improvement in the security situation related to the surge, but basically because of the actions of Iraqis. That's been, in fact, a bigger change than what's happened in Baghdad, where the Americans have been concentrating their efforts.

Abdel-Hamid: We'll take a short break now, but when we come back, we'll continue with our analysis of the Petraeus report.

[voiceover]: Changing the definition of success to stay the course, with the wrong policy, is the wrong course for our troops and our national security. — Barack Obama, US Senator, Presidential candidate 2008

[commercial break]

[voiceover]: It's good news that he feels we will be able to withdraw some troops. To change the strategy from the surge would be a terrific mistake. — John McCain, US Senator, Presidential candidate 2008

Abdel-Hamid: Welcome back to Inside Iraq. With me are Edward Walker, Robert Gard, Patrick Clawson, and Steve Clemons. Mr. Walker, how much of what happened this entire week was for US domestic consumption, rather than really a fair assessment of the situation in Iraq and how to look forward?

Walker: Actually, I think it was a relatively fair assessment, if you look at what was said and don't pay too much attention to what was not said, because it's some of the things that were not said that have caused the problems. I think that it was very much designed for the American people. It was designed to give the President the running room to run this policy out through the summer, and then on into the end of his administration, and I think he's been successful in that. It was also a guarded message to the Iranians, and to al Qaeda, but not as aggressive as he has been in the past, so there was a nuance there, and particularly when you look at Crocker's testimony about the talks with the Iranians, he clearly has not given up on them.

Abdel-Hamid: Steve Clemons, when we say that what has not been said, we shouldn't focus on, but isn't what has not been said really the most crucial of the entire situation in Iraq, which is, what is the Maliki government doing at this stage?

Clemons: I think that is one of the key questions, and, you know, one of the major news networks here, CNN, did a profile of the President's prime-time speeches and the way in which the President's own narrative had changed dramatically, and I think that there some questions about benchmarks, but really the political reconciliation — I think Patrick Clawson is exactly right, right on the money, in focusing on what Ryan Crocker put on the table — is that there's been an absence, complete absence of progress in the very important area of political deal-making in that region, but your first question about, was this designed for an American audience: absolutely, because the President's got to try to square with the American people and try to re-rationalize why we're there and why American men and women are dying and why this is all worth it. I think the President largely succeeded. I think he succeeded because, in part, the Democrats don't really want to win. They want the President to bear the burden and responsibility for this war until the election. That may be a mistake, but that's what is in fact taking place, and, you know, I also think it was very interesting that embedded in the President's speech was an embedded critique of anyone who challenged his view of what's happening as "those who would leave Iraq to either al Qaeda or to Iran," and I think it was a very, very powerful message.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Patrick Clawson, the biggest critique of this report were actually the Iraqi people. A recent poll said that 70% of the Iraqis think that the surge is not working, and actually the security in their own area has deteriorated over the past 6 months.

Clawson: That's true, and it is an indication of just how much Iraqis are dissatisfied with the current situation. Iraqis have, on the whole, decided that the Americans aren't being very effective at providing security. However, the good side of this development is that appears that many Iraqis have therefore decided that they have to provide their own security, and they have to be prepared to work with the Americans to do that. So what we're seeing in both the Shia and Sunni community, increasing willingness to work with the Americans by Iraqis, and the Iraqis themselves providing the security in their local areas, and recognizing that the Americans aren't going to do it for them, that the Americans are only going to be a small contributing factor in that security situation which the Iraqis themselves have to take principal responsibility for.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Robert Gard, now what we have is that the Sunnis are cooperating with the Americans, Shias are cooperating with the Americans, they are not cooperating with each other. Are they actually preparing [for] the after-Americans period, arming themselves and preparing themselves for what happens after the Americans pull out.

Gard: Well, I think that is a matter of deep concern. Counterinsurgency strategy and tactics isn't really very well suited to deal with civic violence and a civil war, and I think the Shia are quite suspicious of our arming some of the tribes in Anbar and elsewhere, and I don't see a diminution in the hostility between those two groups, at least not in the near term.

Abdel-Hamid: So, Steve Clemons, I see you nodding there in agreement.

Clemons: Well, I basically think that what is happening and evolving there — and I think it's a big debate — if the United States were not there, and we were not — I'm not sure how much of a buffer we really are, but if you consider us some kind of a buffer — we create kind of a moral hazard problem, if you will, in the region. And the view is that if we were to withdraw tomorrow, that you would have a vicious escalating civil war, and that our buffer status is somehow pre-empting some of that. Now, the alternative is that our removing ourselves may in fact lead tribal leaders to stare into the abyss, see how horrific the situation will be, and to become mature and try and stabilize the situation among themselves. I really don't know which of those are the right scenario; I think that's the kind of debate we need to be having. But I agree with the general that the worry about a no diminution right now being in sight regarding the Shia-and-Sunni competition or Shia-on-Shia competition for resources and power and status, and whatever evolves in the future of Iraq, is probably right and probably the dominant fear among observers here in Washington.

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Walker, isn't the biggest problem for President Bush really this current government in Iraq? Is this a government that's not willing to help other provinces, it's a government who's not willing to bring about national reconciliation, so no matter what he does, he doesn't have the backing back in Baghdad?

Walker: Well, I don't think the people in Baghdad have the ability to do what we would like them to do. I don't see how they can mend the breaches that exist between the various sectors of the country, because they simply don't have the political power. What we're seeing is a move away from the central government, even by our own administration, arming effectively militias, sectarian militias in the region, sectarian police units, walking away from the national institutions, and, all in the name of adding to the security, and for a while it'll work, but the question is, what happens when you start walking away? The other problem is, something we haven't talked about is the role that Iran might play if we did walk out of the Iraqi situation. Most clearly, they have every intention of filling any vacuum, particularly in the south. That's going to create enormous pressures on the Saudis and others; we could see our position in the whole region evaporate. We don't really want to see that.

Abdel-Hamid: Is it a Catch-22 situation with Iran? I mean, the more the US stays, the more they will get involved, and if the US leaves, they will also get involved; how can you solve that one?

Walker: Well, I think you're absolutely right. The fact is that what we have to do is, we have to reassure other countries in the region, particularly in the Gulf States, the Saudis and the other, smaller Gulf States, that we're not going to walk away from their security and their situation, and that we're not going to become an ally of one side or another side in the sectarian battle that takes place. The worst thing that can happen to us is, we become identified either with Sunnis or Shi'ites. That's a very huge risk in this proposition, and I think the administration has to straddle that line.

Abdel-Hamid: Patrick Clawson, if you can't be identified with either Sunnis or Shias, then the US is in the middle, acting as a buffer zone; how long can it do that for?

Clawson: Well, the United States can encourage both communities to accept the principle that they're going to have power in their own areas —

Abdel-Hamid: But hasn't it been doing that for the past three years? Hasn't it been trying to do that for the past three years?

Clawson: No. No. No. For the past three years, what we've concentrated on is saying that they have to reach an agreement about how to run the national government, and what we have changed in the last 6 months is to an approach of now saying, Live and Let Live. You take control in your areas, and let the other people have control in their areas. That's a very different approach from saying that you all have to agree to work together very closely on running a central government in Baghdad. Now the focus is on Live and Let Live. Let the Sunnis have power in Anbar, and let the Shia have powers in Basra and Najaf and Karbala, and the two sides respect the other's right to live —

Abdel-Hamid: But wouldn't that lead to the partition of Iraq, make it quicker?

Clawson: No. No more than the situation in Belgium where you have two regions which each respect the right of the other to run things and then there's a weak federal government. There are many situations around the world. Look at the United Arab Emirates: you have 7 emirates, each of which is quite powerful, and a weak central government. That's the model which it seems will probably work best in Iraq, and which Iraqis look like they're beginning to accept.

Abdel-Hamid: Now, my last question is, how much of this week — to what extent will this week affect the Presidential elections.

Clawson: That's an interesting question. I think that the staging of this week has major impact, because I think the President has prevented many, particularly in the Senate side, many Republicans from further defecting from his position, and that's very, very important. There are 21 Republican seats up in 2008, versus 12 Democratic, and the view was that all of those Republican Senators were going to have to square with their voters over the problems of the Iraq War. I think that's major. I think the Democratic side, though, is also telling, because these Democrats are trying to differentiate themselves from each other in a very crowded marketplace of competition right now. They're all resisting homogenizing their message, and I think the President is using that to his advantage quite well, and so I think we're going to get — as much as I disagree with the President's policy, which is largely a status-quo incrementalism, and we're not going to see any big breakthroughs — I think the President is winning.

Abdel-Hamid: Gentlemen, that's all the time we have for today. Thank you very much, Edward Walker, Robert Gard, Patrick Clawson, and Steve Clemons. When we come back, we'll look at the implications of the Petraeus report for Iraq and the Middle East.

[commercial break]

Abdel-Hamid: Welcome back to this special edition of Inside Iraq. I'm Hoda Abdel-Hamid. Pres. Bush has promised to pull out of Iraq about 5,000 troops by Christmas. Is this token gesture a signal to the al-Maliki government that it has been incompetent and ineffective? How will the US continued military presence in Iraq affect the balance of power in the region? Ayman Moyheldin takes a look at what Iraq and some of its neighbors might make of the testimonies from Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker.

Ayman Moyheldin: It may have been an assessment presented to the US Congress, but many across the Middle East were left wondering what, if any, are its implications for the regions. In several hearings described as anti-climactic by some, Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker did more of the same: blame Iran and Syria for Iraq's troubles.

Amb. Ryan Crocker: Sir, we have seen nothing on the ground that would suggest that the Iranians are altering what they're doing in support of extremist elements that are going after our forces as well as the Iraqis.

Moyheldin: That rhetoric drew sharp criticism from Tehran, where the Secretary of Iran's National Security Council said:

Ali Larijani: We think it's in the interest of Iraq and America that the US leave Iraq.

Moyheldin: The report also cited progress being made in what was once one of Iraq's most restive provinces, al-Anbar, and praised Sunni tribes for now allying themselves with the US. But just days after the report was submitted, one of Iraq's most prominent Sunni tribal leaders and an important US ally, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was killed by a roadside bomb in the heart of Anbar. From those allied with the US to those fighting the US, all weighed in on Petraeus' and Crocker's assessment. In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, the head of the Islamic Army in Iraq dismissed the report as fabrication.

[Islamic Army in Iraq]: The American troops present a report to the American administration. That helps them in Iraq. Therefore, we don't think this report will help. It's purely for the American domestic consumption, and for the President before the Congress.

Moyheldin: If some of Iraq's neighboring countries were hoping for more clarity on regional issues triggered by the Iraq War, they never got it. In nearly three days of public hearings and statements, neither the ambassador nor the general mentioned how the surge has failed to abate Iraq's growing refugee problem. Nearly 10% of Iraq's population has now fled the war-torn country. Kurdish fighters are using the Iraqi territory in the north to launch attacks on Turkey; there was no mention of that in either of the reports, and there was no mention of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict — an abiding source of anti-Americanism in the region. Perhaps the one headline that did emerge from the report was that the US could begin withdrawing the additional 30,000 troops it added in January, by the summer of next year, leaving the US military exactly where it was almost 9 months ago, and leaving Iraq and its neighbors with more questions than answers. Ayman Moyheldin for Inside Iraq.

Abdel-Hamid: I'm now joined from Paris by Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari; from Washington D.C. by Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project of Defense Alternatives; and from Cairo by Diaa Rashwan, senior researcher at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq. Mr. Zebari, I'm going to start with you. Both Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker came under intense pressure when they were testifying. Now, from an Iraqi point-of-view, how do you perceive what they said over the past week?

Hoshyar Zebari: Well, we welcome their reports, and I think they did a magnificent job in deflecting all this Congressional and public pressure on the surge strategy, on the US commitment in Iraq, and I believe they gave a very accurate, up-to-date assessment of the situation on the ground. Nobody had in his pocket to see any ready-made solutions or any magical solution to the problems and the difficulties we are facing, but they indicated how things are going forward and what needs to be done, and what would be the consequences of an abrupt or sudden withdrawal of US troops, because it would be devastating, I think, to Iraq, to its people, to the region, and to the greater interest of the United States and others in that part of —

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Zebari, you say it was a fair assessment. Amb. Crocker said that the Maliki government was dysfunctional and riddled with corruption; is that a fair assessment?

Zebari: Well, I think we expected, to be honest, a harsher criticism, but I think they were fair to the government, to its performance. Yes, we admit that we have our own shortcomings, definitely. We have to improve the performance of the government. The government is facing a crisis by the withdrawal by a number of ministers. People expect their government to move faster with the legislation that is pending in the parliament. People expect a faster move by the government, by the security forces, by the service sectors, and to those areas that have been cleared from insurgents, from al Qaeda, and so on, so we are not running from our responsibilities, but I believe that this testimony, this hearing, will add new pressure on the government to move faster on the political front, to support those gains that have been achieved on the ground.

Abdel-Hamid: So, Mr. Conetta, when Amb. Ryan Crocker accuses such damning accusations against the Maliki government, what is he trying to say exactly? Are we to interpret something behind this?

Carl Conetta: I think that we can conclude from the testimony by Crocker and by Petraeus that, on the one hand, the United Sates intends to stay, that the withdrawal of some troops at the end of this year actually is an operational matter; it does not indicate frustration. However, what the ambassador has made clear is that there is a level of frustration. My own assessment is, however, with the President supporting so strongly the continued presence of troops there, perhaps indefinitely, that the pressure is off the Iraqi government, in terms of reform measures. One interesting point, though, is that the ambassador did signal in some of his exchanges with Senators the possibility of US support for a vote of no confidence in the Iraqi assembly, so it would be interesting to see if that goes forward.

Abdel-Hamid: But under the current circumstances, wouldn't that be even more disastrous for Iraq, to have a complete change of government, considering it took them 6 months to put one together?

Conetta: Well, it would depend on whether there was someone in the wings acceptable to the United States, someone that we'd prefer to see. And that remains to be seen. This was not a clear statement by the ambassador; it was simply in response to a question, how do you distinguish between a dysfunctional government — which he characterized the Iraqi government as being — and a failed state, and he said, "Well, in a dysfunctional government, you still have a political process, and of course you'll always have the option of pushing for a vote of no confidence." Interesting thing to say in the context of these developments.

Abdel-Hamid: Now, let me bring in Diaa Rashwan. This entire Iraq War and post-war has been extremely unpopular in the Middle East for the past four years; how did the Arab world really perceive the Petraeus and Amb. Crocker's testimony this week?

Diaa Rashwan: I think that, you know, for many Arab world analysts, the testimony of Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker was more political than technical. It means that we are facing two responsibilities: one military and one the diplomat. Trying to justify and to give Pres. Bush's strategy in Iraq more weight and more confidence vis-à-vis, especially, the internal American public opinion. This testimony in the face of the Congress committee was really a part of this battle between Democrats and Republicans about Iraq. In the Arab world, and at least many Egyptian analysts, feel those two American responsibilities in Iraq only tried to give the actual government of Iraq more trust from the part of the American government, and also to give it more trust from the American public opinion, despite the real critiques and the real handicaps of this government, coming not only from Iraq itself, but also from other American politicians. We heard what said the Mr. Tom Lantos, vis-à-vis the behavior of the Maliki government, and then we believe that this was more political than reflecting the realities in Iraq. It's only to justify what Mr. Bush was going to do in Iraq in the rest of his mandate.

Abdel-Hamid: I'm just going to bring in Mr. Zebari again. Did you view this week as something more for US domestic consumption, or was it a testimony that reports that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government took extremely seriously?

Zebari: No, this testimony, this hearing was designed for the American public, primarily, to view, to review where the status of the troops, all this heated debate in the United States about value of this commitment, about the sacrifices, about the need to bring their boys home, I think we fully understand the frustration people feel there, and we understand it. We are frustrated also, at the same time, but I think this testimony have given a clear picture of where are things, what has been achieved, what needs to be done. As for the government, actually, I think any comments by other commentators really would rest finally on the Iraqi people's decision: there are constitutional, legal, parliamentary ways how a government can be changed. This is not up to others to decide or dictate how this country is ruled or by whom it is governed. So I believe the government still has the support of the majority, still has a quorum, still functioning, and working very hard to bring others, let's say, on board, and as we've seen —

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Zebari, I'm sorry to interrupt, but when you say the government is functioning, the government has been completely paralyzed the last few months, it is crumbling apart, and now you have one year, at least, until next summer, to sort of reverse the course; how are you going to do that?

Zebari: Well, I think the government — I'm a member of that government — still has a quorum, and many ministers, despite the view or the position of the leaders of their bloc are still participating in the cabinet and carrying out their duties and function. Yes, you will see soon whether there would be accelerated efforts to bring more ministers, or to reach more consensus, on the need to do a better job, both for the government and in the Council of Representatives. Especially we are facing a number of very important legislations that needs to be passed to reinforce the process of national reconciliation, but the testimony themselves, I think will establish an added pressure on the government to move faster on those areas.

Abdel-Hamid: We'll take a short break now, and when we come back we'll take a further look at the regional implications of the Petraeus report.

[voiceover]: The Iranian involvement has become much clearer to us, and there's no question that Iranian financing is taking place through the Quds Force. — Gen. David Petraeus, US military commander

[commercial break]

[voiceover]: Responsible people should understand this: that Iran is against any sort of insecurity and attacks, and Iraq is able to defend itself. — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian president

Abdel-Hamid: Welcome back to Inside Iraq. So, one of the key recommendations in this report is that the US should remain in Iraq for at least 10 years. I'm going to ask you, Mr. Conetta, how will that affect the balance of power in the Middle East?

Conetta: What it indicates is how important Iraq is viewed in Washington as a piece of strategic real estate. Our eye, of course, is on Iran, principally, and we see Iraq playing a role as a bulwark against Iran, and more generally as a stepping stone for our broader objectives in the area. We are currently engaged in a process of coercive transformation, really trying to accelerate and pressure the entire region to change along lines that are preferred in Washington. In Iraq, we'll play an important role — or at least have been playing an important role, in the Administration's view. Whether, in fact, we can maintain that presence for that period of time, is unclear. Actually, what the Petraeus report does, interestingly, in the slides, it ends with a presence — suggesting a presence of anywhere from 30,- to 60,000 troops, but it's not a timeline. It is an indefinite presence, and that's where things stand today.

Abdel-Hamid: Diaa Rashwan, the US says it wants to change the Middle East, bring about democracy. These 30,- to 60,000 troops, if they stay for an indefinite amount of time, wouldn't it have the reverse effect?

Rashwan: First of all, I'm not sure that United States came here to change the region towards democracy. It's clear, at least in Iraq, that Iraq before the coming of the United States was not a religious state. It was a secular state, nationalist, while under a dictator, a dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, without democracy, it's true, but the nature of the state was not religious. After the coming of the United States, now are facing a constitution of Iraq full of religious articles. We are in the face of a real force, political force, in the country now. The majority of them are religious, and what is so-called democracy of Iraq is already now under tribes, under sects, and not real citizenship.

Abdel-Hamid: Move back to the subject of Iran and Syria, and this question is for Mr. Zebari. Now, we have heard also, of course, this week criticism of both countries. Could you tell us, really, to what extent both countries really are part of what's happening in Iraq, are fueling the violence there right now?

Zebari: Well, we are engaging them in constructive, direct dialogue to be more helpful, to support the effort of the Iraqi government, my government, to stabilize the situation, and to remind them that they won't gain anything out of our immediate difficulties, because, really, if Iraq were to fail, the whole region will fail, and they will be affected directly, so they will gain nothing out of that. If they have difficulties to settle the score with the United States presence, I think there are many other areas they could do so, and that's why we've been very active recently in this regional diplomacy, to engage them, to bring them to Baghdad, to review the words of the three working groups on security, on refugees, on energy. We agreed to have another ministerial meeting of Iraq neighbors plus the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, US, UK, CN, RU, FR], the G8 [CA, FR, DE, IT, JP, RU, UK, US], in Istanbul at the end of October, with the goal, with the aim to engage all the players to help stabilize the situation.

Abdel-Hamid: Mr. Zebari, when the US indicates that it might have a long presence in Iraq, for at least a decade, how can you convince them of your argument?

Zebari: Well, Hoda, I think this is an Iraqi desire, an Iraqi idea, really. The current arrangements between Iraq and the multinational force, going every year to the Security Council to renew the mandate, with all the difficulties that we have been facing. We raised the idea recently in the statement of the five leaders. The need for some long-term security partnership arrangement between Iraq and the United States, so the idea is to go to the Security Council at the end of this year, to include some language to that effect, and to start negotiation with the United States and other countries in 2008 to reach some understanding for long-term arrangements, because I believe that Iraq still needs the continued support of the United States to stabilize the situation, to enhance its capability to be able to stand on its own feet and to deflect any regional pressures or interventions.

Abdel-Hamid: But, Mr. Conetta, isn't this again a bit of a Catch-22 situation for the United States, because the longer it stays, because the Iraqi government needs it, the longer it will attract people who want the American project in Iraq to fail?

Conetta: Well, I think that we do have — I mean, an underlying fact, and something we need to contend with, is that the presence in Iraq, at least according to popular opinion polls in Iraq, is not popular in the grass roots, and support for attacks on the coalition is rather high and continues to go up. That means that as long as we are there, there is potential for trouble, and it may be that Iraq has no peace as long as there are large-scale amounts of American troops there. Iraq's situation is unfortunately in the shadow of America's regional policy, which, with regard to Iran, at least hints at the possibility of war. How Iran will then relate to the Iraqi situation, I think it's easy to connect the dots that in fact they see Iraq and our involvement in Iraq as a weak point, and certainly if war is in the offing, they are not going to be very cooperative with regard to the American project there, so as long as we are in the middle and having a perspective that sees us coercing change in the region as a whole, certainly Iraq suffers and we remain vulnerable, but this is a risk that the present administration is willing to take.

Abdel-Hamid: My last question is for Mr. Zebari. Now, with the announcement that the 30,000 surge troops will pull out by next July, is that something that scares the Iraqi government? Does the Iraqi government have to do some certain points to be able to reach that next July somehow in shape?

Zebari: I think we are expecting, actually, this number of troops suggested to be withdrawn or pull out by next summer is the same number of troops who came to support the surge strategy, so practically it won't affect the overall balance of power —

Abdel-Hamid: But Mr. Zebari, the surge —

Zebari: By then, Hoda, let me just finish. By then, I think the Iraqi security and military forces will be able to increase their readiness, to increase their equipment, their arming and their performance, so we have time, I think, until then, and those training and those recruitment are ongoing, so the process is not stalled. By then I think we will be in a better shape and a better position to fill that vacuum that these troops will leave behind.

Abdel-Hamid: Many thanks to my guests. To watch this show online and to send us your comments, please go to [or to the Al Jazeera English YouTube™ page]. We've reached the end of this show; join us next week when we take another look Inside Iraq. Goodbye.
I continue to be dismayed by the false dichotomy between "stay the course" and "precipitous withdrawal." It is manifestly clear that the interests of the United States and Iraq require that U.S. forces make plans for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, not at some indefinite point a decade or more from now, but as quickly as possible. I, for one, believe, as Carl Conetta suggested, that Iraq will never have peace as long as there are large numbers of US troops there. I also believe that it is fundamentally unfair to inflict chaos on the Iraqi people in the name of America's "broader regional policy." It is clear that, barring an immediate spine replacement for the Democratic Party, U.S. troops are likely to remain in Iraq in numbers over the 100,000 mark at least through 2009-01-20, when Bush leaves office, but we also have to make sure that he doesn't commit US forces to stay there for 10+ years before he skulks home to Crawford.

update: corrected the spelling of the name of the Al Jazeera correspondent, Ayman Moyheldin.

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Oliver's Travels: Qatar

On Wednesday's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, we saw the première of a new segment that will bring world peace and intergalactic harmony. Correspondent John Oliver, a Limey from Jollye Olde Engelande™, is seeking to bridge the cultural gaps between the United States and other alleged nations that the U.S. permits to share this planet. First up, Qatar, the home not only of Al Jazeera, but also of Al Jazeera English and the Al Jazeera Documentary Channel.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, original air date 2007-09-12, ©2007 Comedy Central. Pronunciation key: the notation "QA-tar" indicates the correct pronunciation, with stress on the first syllable; the notation "qa-TAR" indicates the incorrect pronunciation, with stress on the second syllable.

Jon Stewart: Welcome back. Now, Americans' lack of knowledge about foreign countries is a common complaint in places like, uh — well, who gives a shit. But to help remedy that situation, one country at a time, here's the latest from our roving ambassador, John Oliver.

John Oliver [voiceover]: qa-TAR is a tiny but important nation of a million people, located on the Arabian Peninsula. But, is it an (A) "Death to America" Middle Eastern country, or (B) "We have more money than God" Middle Eastern country? Well, it is the home of Al Jazeera, which broadcasts all of Osama bin Laden's new videos, but it also has six-star hotels, man-made islands shaped like pearls, and a 15-billion-barrel oil reserve, so let's put it down for "B." To find out more, I sat down with the qa-TAR-i ambassador to the United Nations, Nassir Al-Nasser.

John Oliver: Ambassador, as a long-time resident of the Middle East, what is qa-TAR doing to destabilize the region?

Amb. Nassir Al-Nasser: Well, first of all, QA-tar is a moderate country, playing a good role in the international arena.

Oliver: I think you'll find it's pronounced qa-TAR (قطر).

Al-Nasser: It's QA-tar (قطر).

Oliver: qa-TAR.

Al-Nasser: QA-tar.

Oliver: qa-TAR.

Al-Nasser: QA-tar. That's the classic Arabic.

Oliver: Ambassador, that's a pre-9/11 pronunciation.

Al-Nasser: My advice is you should learn Arabic, and you'll pronounce my country's name correctly, thank you.

voiceover: This was going great.

Oliver: Are you — are you angry with me?

Al-Nasser: I am not.

Oliver: It's just, these things can become quite tense. I just, I mean, it's hard to tell because I'm talking over the top of the tension. It's hard to gauge whether it is in fact as tense as I feel it might be or not, so what I'll do, I'll just pause for a moment to gauge the tension. ... Yup, that's tense. That is very tense, indeed.

voiceover: I decided to lighten the mood with an icebreaker.

Oliver: You've hosted the last two Iraq wars; would you say you're a bit of an enabler?

Al-Nasser: We didn't host, we have a relationship between United State and qa-TAR in the military field.

Oliver: Ambassador, I'm sorry, but it's QA-tar.

voiceover: As he stared at me with a look which in qa-TAR I could only imagine indicates great respect, I waited patiently for His Excellency to continue.

Al-Nasser: We are working with our neighbors, working with the Security Council, to work on stabilizing the region and solve any problems that arise over there.

Oliver: Are they not a little ashamed of your extremist stabilizing position?

Al-Nasser: We are friends with everyone. You forget, I told you, but you don't want to remember.

Oliver: Come on, there must be someone that you hate.

Al-Nasser: We don't hate anybody.

Oliver: You must hate somebody.

Al-Nasser: We don't hate.

Oliver: Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran are in a boat; the boat starts to sink — who do you blame?

Al-Nasser: I would blame the boat, something happened to that boat.

Oliver: What? With that Jewish-made boat?

Al-Nasser: Well, you say three different people are in the boat.

Oliver: In a boat made by Jews, Ambassador; who do you blame?

Al-Nasser: I am a friendly guy, coming from friendly country.

voiceover: qa-TAR has become an oily beacon of hope in this region. Women are allowed to vote, there's freedom of the press, and even talk of a constitution. But embracing these American values can come at a cost.

Oliver: Let me issue a word of warning, Ambassador. Americanization ends with this. There is simply no nice way of saying this: that is a chocolate chip pancake, wrapped around a sausage, shoved on a stick.

Al-Nasser: Well, let me comment on that.

Oliver: I'd love you to.

Al-Nasser: You like this, you think it's delicious? Bon appetit.

Oliver: But this is not just a food, Ambassador, this is an entire lifestyle choice.

Al-Nasser: Looks to me like food.

Oliver: I think we both know this resembles nothing close to food.

voiceover: With relations breaking down, it was time for some diplomacy of my own, and just like that, détente. And so we ended this interview as it began, just two friends, enjoying the tense, awkward silence.

Stewart: John Oliver; we'll be right back.
America needs more goodwill ambassadors. Unfortunately, since so many Americans never venture outside our own borders, we apparently need to outsource the job to the Brits. Heaven help us. The true lesson of 9/11 is that our lack of knowledge of the rest of the world can hurt us even more than chocolate chip pancakes wrapped around a sausage on a stick.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ladrón que aburre a ladrón

I don't often review movies here, especially if they don't have a strong political theme, but I'm making an exception for Ladrón que roba a ladrón, a US-made Spanish-language film about an elaborate heist plan. The title translates roughly as "Thief who steals from a thief," but the only real theft was of my $8 and 98 minutes. I was misled by many gushingly positive reviews on the web, but the story was trite and predictable and the characters were painfully one-dimensional. You have the sweaty mechanic girl and the sweaty macho man who keep arguing but never get to have their make-up sex. You have the inept actor-model-waiter who screws up the simplest task. You have the cool-headed mastermind with a heart of gold and his nemesis the bigshot TV infomercial guru who sells fake cures to the poorest within his own Latino immigrant community. The film has a few bright moments, but on the whole it was boring and derivative. Not utter crap, but consistently mediocre. Highly not recommended.

I don't know if this film is related to the films of the same title from 1997 and 1960, but I can't say I'm eager to find out.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Dead Certain" author on The Daily Show

One of the more stunning revelations from the Bush White House was contained in the recent book Dead Certain: the Presidency of George W. Bush. Bush essentially admitted that he is just playing for time in Iraq, hoping that in a few months the Presidential candidates will have become "comfortable" with the idea of sustaining a long-term military presence in Iraq. The author of that book appeared on tonight's Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central to talk about the Commander in Chief.

Embedded video link and complete transcript below the fold.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, original air date 2007-09-12, ©2007 Comedy Central.

Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, a national correspondent for GQ magazine, his new book is called Dead Certain: the Presidency of George W. Bush. Please welcome to the program Robert Draper. Thanks for joining us.

Robert Draper: Sure, my pleasure.

Stewart: The book is called Dead Certain: the Presidency of George W. Bush. Here's what's so amazing about this book, and I'm not quite sure how you did this, how you got access this far into his Presidency: it is the most unvarnished, natural, seemingly unaffected view of this President. He was either disarmed by you or didn't think you were writing this stuff down. What was the situation?

Draper: Well, I had known Bush back from the 90's, when I covered him for Texas Monthly, and then I wrote a lengthy piece about him in '98 for GQ magazine. And that was a — I spent a fair amount of time with him and his family, but then sort of went on about my business, didn't do any more work relating to Bush, and around 2004 or so, I had just decided to do a straightforward biography of Bush. There had been a hundred books written on the subject of him, but they were largely arguments for or against him, or they were small slices of the pie like Iraq or 9/11, and frankly I kind of had the field to myself. It seemed to me the most unoriginal idea imaginable, to do a book about a sitting President, but there really wasn't anything like this going on.

Stewart: And not a polemic, and not an argument either way, and not that. It really is, for the most part — it almost seems like a casual conversation with this man that is so revelatory. It's amazing; what do you think he was trying to achieve?

Draper: Well, I think at the time, Jon, that I approached the White House — this is January 2005, he had just won re-election, he was full of swagger, you could argue even hubris, and there was no guarantee at this point that he was going to cooperate with me on this. In fact, Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the White House, basically said don't count on it. But I went on about my business for basically a couple of years, interviewed as many people as I could, and by August of 2006, I think his political fortunes had changed, and at that point he was —

Stewart: That may be the politest way of putting that I think I've heard yet. They may have.

Draper: They may have, and so I think that the notion of talking to someone who's doing, you know, a straightforward book, that intended to be a "first draft of history," became an appealing one for him in a way that it may not've been when he figured history would take care of itself.

Stewart: This is — this brings me I think to what seems like the beauty of this book, which is the distilling of this character of this President. After reading this book, I get the sense of a man who is proud of the person he believes himself to be, but he's in fact the opposite of that person. I mean, that's the general sense that I got from it.

Draper: Well, I think the title of the book intends to capture this continuing thread in his Presidency: his certitude. I think there is an element of steadfastness, and the nation at times has drawn comfort from that, after September 11th for example. At other times, though, I think that it has an element of protesting too much, of adamance, and that's also what I tried to capture, because I think there's this notion of the President as being comfortable in his own skin, but he definitely possesses insecurities like the rest of us. I mean, they're in a lot of ways classic: the eldest son of a famous father trying to define himself against his father, trying to measure up to an impossible standard.

Stewart: And what an interesting — that's what's so interesting about him, because he is constantly, when you first sit down with him over a meal and he's shouting for ice cream, and it's just such a wonderful scene, where he's sitting — he's like, "I wanna hot dog! Anyway, so I invade Iraq. Gimme ice cream!" But he keeps saying to you, "I'm not a guy who thinks about myself. I don't analyze it," and then he proceeds to go down the road of a string of declaratives of a man who has clearly sat, "This is who I am, this is what I do, this is what I like," but I'm telling you, "I don't think about it."

Draper: And again, I think that he has this sort of clarity of purpose that has served him well. I think also that, kind of, the ability to distill things down simply has caused people, his adversaries, to, as he would put it, misunderestimate him, and I think he's profited off of that. He's profited off of people continually thinking he's a dummy.

Stewart: The portrait that emerges from this book is a man who is in control of the decisions this Presidency has made; whether that works in his favor or not, I'm not sure, but he is no patsy, and is, in fact — and again, the paradox: they talk about one of his driving forces is competitiveness, and yet throughout the book it shows that he's a guy who says, "I'll fight you anywhere, any time, any place, as long as it's my house at 2:00 and I get to choose the rules." A lot of the competition is rigged.

Draper: It is. Well, he's a guy who — I think, again, it may be part of the aspect of being the son of a famous father. He wants to be relevant, he wants to do big things, but he wants to do it — the tendency is to be on a playing field that's sort of tilted in his favor. And so we see, when he was a campaigner, he would do everything he could to avoid protests. In New Hampshire, I think, he was clocked by John McCain in part because McCain came across as so informal and unscripted.

Stewart: And then he goes down to South Carolina and he talks to John McCain about, "Don't ever attack my integrity," when the entire story, the background story of that, is filled with underhanded political maneuvering — a real stain on his integrity.

Draper: No, he had "plausible deniability" of that. I mean, he could sort of —

Stewart: I'm not sure "plausible deniability," though, goes along with, "I have a lot of integrity."

Draper: Maybe not, maybe not.

Stewart: Generally they try and have a stronger service for that, but I wanted to just grab one quote, real quick, which I think just sums up this President: "You can't talk me out of thinking freedom's a good thing." [page xi] And it's a quote that he makes when he's talking about his father and his friends and how they might not think Iraq was a good idea, and he says, "You can't talk me out of thinking freedom's a good thing," and I thought, "He is inventing arguments." This is the classic straw-man. Who has ever tried to discuss freedom as a not a good thing — other than Stalin?

Draper: Except for, what he says right before then is, "You can't argue —" or "There's no need to argue about the Freedom Agenda." Now, there's something to argue about, and yet it's the President's certitude, once again, his unwillingness to sort of move off his marker, that in fact a lot of people would say, "Freedom's a great thing, but trying to apply it to American diplomacy, particularly in hotbeds like the Middle East, can be problematic."

Stewart: He consistently seems to take very worthwhile arguments and makes a blanket statement that is unassailable — you know, you want to argue about the Iraq War and he'll say, "A lot of people say, 'Iraqis can't handle democracy.'" Nobody said that! What they've said is, "You've fucked this up royally!" but he doesn't deal with that. Well, anyway, a fascinating book, and truly I think, for anyone who has lived through the last six years, a really kind of staggering achievement, to have this type of unfettered access, so thank you so much for bein' on the show. Dead Certain on the bookshelves now; Robert Draper.
Certitude is not a virtue if you're completely disconnected from reality. Admitting when you're wrong — well, recognizing and then admitting when you're wrong — must be a core strength for any effective leader. Being unable to even acknowledge the doubts others express about your decisions is a sign of weakness. I just started reading John Dean's new book, Broken Government, but I think I'll have to make time for Dead Certain real soon here.

By the way, the "Oliver's Travels" segment of tonight's Daily Show, featuring an interview by John Oliver of Qatar's ambassador to the United Nations, was a gem. The video hasn't shown up yet on Comedy Central's "Motherload" site, but keep an eye out for it tomorrow.

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One million visitors, 185 countries

No, not in this blog, obviously. As I write this, the blog has had 63,142 visitors from 137 countries, but I have another web site that's been around for ten years and usually gets more traffic. The other site is about telephone stuff, mostly area codes and country codes, and I had to replace the broken hit counter in March 2006. Since the old counter had been broken for a while, and I didn't even have its last count, I set the new counter to start from zero. This afternoon, I had the one millionth visitor, someone in my old home town of Dallas, Texas, who wanted a map of U.S. and Canadian area codes.

In the last 559 days, the telecom site has had a million visitors, hailing from every country on earth except North Korea, Turkmenistan, Guinea, Central African Republic, São Tomé é Príncipe, Comoros, Kiribati, Tonga, Nauru, and Vatican City. North Korea has no connection to the Internet. Turkmenistan is a former-Soviet dictatorship with a personality cult around its recently deceased President for Life, Sapurmurat Niyazov. Guinea is teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state. The Central African Republic has a nominal GDP of less than a dollar a day per person. The other six countries all have populations outnumbered by my hit count, so it might take a while for someone to wander in, looking for an area code or a country code.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

A Loyal Bushie on Inside Iraq

This week's Inside Iraq on Al Jazeera English featured a three-way conversation with Jeremy Corbyn, a British Labour M.P. who has consistently opposed the Iraq War; Dr. Saad Jawad Kindil, a member of SCIRI, a Shia political party in Iraq; and Brad Blakeman, a man who is, if such a thing is possible, a more loyal Bushie even than Barney, the President's Scottish terrier. Blakeman's strategy seems to be simply to keep his eyes firmly closed and charge on ahead, insisting in the face of all evidence to the contrary that Bush is a brilliant leader who has never made a wrong decision. In fact, on 2005-10-05, Blakeman actually said on Fox News, "Bush hasn't made a mistake!"

If you don't know the name Brad Blakeman, you might know some of his work: he's the president of Freedom's Watch, an organization he co-founded with former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Freedom's Watch just came out with a series of pro-war TV ads featuring disabled Iraq War veterans explaining that we have to stay the course because "I re-enlisted after 9/11 because I don’t want my sons to see what I saw. I want them to be free and safe. I know what I lost. I also know that if we pull out now, everything I’ve given and sacrificed will mean nothing. They attacked us. And they will again. They won’t stop in Iraq. We are winning on the ground and making real progress. It’s no time to quit; it’s no time for politics." Blakeman used similar "logic," plus some mind-numbingly misguided comparisons between the Iraq War and World War II, on this week's program.

Photo of Corbyn, Blakeman, and Kindil
Inside Iraq, original air date 2007-09-07 [video and background info], ©2007, Al Jazeera English.
David Foster: Hello and welcome to Inside Iraq. I'm David Foster. It's been a week of comings and goings in Iraq, and of bleak reports published. The British withdrew their troops from the city of Basra in the South, signaling their possible full disengagement from Iraq in the near future. On the same day, US President George Bush made a surprise stopover in Iraq, meeting military commanders as well as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The next day, a Congressional watchdog released a damning report. It said that the Iraqi government had failed to meet most of the benchmarks set by Congress to justify the continued US military presence in the country. Next week sees the release of a further report, this one on US strategy in Iraq, from President Bush's top diplomat and army general in Baghdad. The stakes are rising ever higher in the political poker that is Iraq. Roya Raggeh(sp?) has more on the story.
[correspondent]: [bugle] Sooner or later, the world was going to see these images. British troops pulling out from the last base they held in the southern city of Basra, and handing it over to Iraqi forces. While not exactly a full withdrawal from the whole province, the move is seen as a stepping stone toward a complete handover expected to take place as soon as autumn. From a PR point of view, this image is probably not what the Bush administration would've wanted to see on television screens the same day the Commander in Chief himself arrived in Iraq. President Bush's visit on September 3rd was considered by some critics as a last-ditch attempt to garner support for his Iraq policy, ahead of the release of an evaluation of the surge by the top general in Iraq, David Petraeus.

President Bush: The surge of operations that began in June is improving security throughout Iraq. These military successes are paving the way for the political reconciliation and economic progress the Iraqis need to transform their country. [applause]

[correspondent]: Back in January, Congress approved President Bush's plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, but conditions to such an approval were set. Congress required assessments to be made on a set of political and security goals. And just one day after President Bush's visit to Iraq, one of these assessments was released on the performance of the Iraqi government. It makes for damning reading, rather like a school report a parent wouldn't want to see. The Government Accountability Office or GAO is a Congressional watchdog. The title chosen for its report ["Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks"; summary] gives it all away. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has failed many of the tests it was set. Of 18 required benchmarks, the Iraqi government met only three; it's partially met four, and it did not meet 11. And it's those unmet benchmarks that are posing the most serious threat undermining political and economic prosperity in the country. They include enacting de-Baathification laws, even distribution of oil revenues, and eliminating militias and sectarian violence.

[news clip]: Clearly the least progress has been made on the political front.

[correspondent]: It's exactly the lack of progress that's been prompting criticism from Democrats and other Americans who want their boys back home. And back in Baghdad, Prime Minister al-Maliki's patience is wearing thin. He lashed out against repeated criticism to his government.

Nouri al-Maliki: Unfortunately, such statements go overboard and turn unrealistic. It sends unfortunate messages to the terrorists that the security and political situation in the country isn't holding up.

[correspondent]: But key allies aren't exactly holding up. And neither are cabinet ministers, most of whom walked out on the government in the past few months. Very soon, bigger reports are due. The assessment of US General Petraeus, expected in the coming days, is eagerly anticipated as the defining assessment of American strategy in Iraq. Raoui Raggeh(sp?) for Inside Iraq.
Foster: Will the British signs of disengagement from Iraq sour the "special relationship" between the US and UK? Is Iraq's government fully to blame for not meeting the benchmarks set? Can President Bush stay the course despite bleak reports on the security and political situation in Iraq? To understand these issues we have with us Jeremy Corbyn, British Member of Parliament; Brad Blakeman, former senior advisor to President Bush; and Dr. Saad Jawad Kindil, a member of the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council. Gentlemen, welcome to Inside Iraq. Brad Blakeman, let me start with you in Washington, D.C. The report from the General Accounting Office [sic] will be a blow to Mr Bush ahead of the Petraeus report; is it going to make it much more difficult to persuade reluctant members of Congress that he should keep these extra troops there?

Brad Blakeman: Well, we have to remember who the GAO reports to, and that's the Congress. We expected the GAO report not to be as rosy as we would've liked, and quite frankly there are parts of that report that are absolutely true, that the Maliki government has failed to meet certain benchmarks, but that doesn't mean that the risk is not worth our continued effort in Iraq to bring stability to a very troubled region of the world.

Foster: Let's be fair: this report says that the whole security situation is a mess.

Blakeman: [talking over] Let's hold out for General Petraeus, though. General Petraeus — General Petraeus' report will mean more than the GAO report.

Foster: It says it's a mess there.

Blakeman: Well, it's not a mess! And let's wait for General Petraeus. His report trumps the GAO report. The military commanders certainly trump the bureaucrats in Washington, so I wouldn't hold too much credence to the GAO report.

Foster: Interesting to hear you say it isn't a mess; in what sense?

Blakeman: First of all, we're in a war! War's not perfect, war's not predictable; the question is, is the risk worth the reward of American lives — most importantly our most precious commodity — and our tax money, and I believe it is. George Bush is no Neville Chamberlain, we don't knuckle in to dictators, we defeat them. Al Qaeda is in Iraq; we're not gonna let that stand. The American people are starting to see that the results are not as rosy as we'd like, but the risk again is worth the reward of our troops staying there, and let's hold out and hear what General Petraeus has to say. Yes, certain benchmarks were made, but Iraq has made remarkable progress in the last four years.

Foster: It's a difficult situation if you're in a war to see your ally, your best ally — in this case, the United Kingdom — saying, we don't really wanna have much more to do with this.

Blakeman: Well, first of all, the British government is our most staunch ally, and our hats are off to them for doing such a great job in the southern areas of Iraq that allows them to reduce their troop force. It's no secret; they've been talking about years about the accomplishments that have to be made so their troops can come home, and they did accomplish their mission in the south enough that their troops could be reduced, so it's not that they're cutting and running, it's that they did their job, a job well done, and now their troops can go home.

Foster: Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Member of Parliament in London, let me talk to you now.

Blakeman: [talking over] That's exactly what we want our troops to do.

Foster: What do you make of the fact the British are pulling out? Would that have happened under Tony Blair?

Jeremy Corbyn: Probably not as quickly, but I guess it would've happened eventually, but I think we have to be clear that they're withdrawing from Basra to a base outside Basra, that unfortunately they're not yet totally withdrawn from Iraq, but I think we go back to the point that Brad made. If he really thinks that things are improving in Iraq, I think he should just consider for a moment the more than half million civilians that have died in Iraq, the two million people that have been forced into exile in Iraq, and if he's fighting a war against al Qaeda, well, al Qaeda were not there in 2003. Perhaps he should think seriously about the whole US and British strategy of invading Iraq in the first place on the basis of misinformation about weapons of mass destruction and a failure to allow the UN to carry out its job. The weapons inspectors —

Blakeman: [talking over] It wasn't misinformation! He had weapons of mass destruction!

Foster: Well, nobody found them, Brad Blakeman, did they?

Blakeman: Well, let me tell my British friend this: if we had a 24-hour news cycle in World War II, when you allowed Hitler as a group to get so strong that you couldn't stop him and America without being attacked came to your defense, we would've turned back at the beaches of Normandy because the battle was just too tough. We lost more American lives in hours than we have lost in this entire war. You guys can't see the forest for the trees, that if we're not successful in Iraq, god help —

Corbyn: [talking over] Well, how about we talk about the number of Soviet lives in the Second World War, then? How about we talk about the number of Soviet lives?

Foster: I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I'm going to have to stop you there, because I want to bring in our guest from the Islamic Supreme Council.

Blakeman: [talking over] Yes, 60 million people are gone from the earth because of World War II.

Foster: One second, Mr. Blakeman. One second, if you will, please. Let me bring in our guest, awaiting us also in London from the Iraqi Islamic Council, and ask you what you make of the fact that in a largely Shia area in the south of the country the British troops have effectively said, "What we're doing in Basra is too dangerous, we have to withdraw to the airport"?

Dr. Saad Jawad Kindil: Well, we think this is one step in the right direction. Eventually the Iraqi security troop will have to receive complete handover of the security portfolio and eventually are looking forward to see a complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraqi soil. I think until then, then we can say the Iraqi complete sovereignty have been restored, and then an Iraqi government, democratic government, is in place with the full power to rule and take over responsibility of the country.

Foster: When that happens, Dr Kindil, will Iraq be a peaceful place?

Kindil: I am certainly hopeful that this will happen. It must happen. There is no other choice, and this is the will of all parties involved in the political process. Yes, it is a slow process. It will take years, but I have no doubt it will happen.

Foster: We had another report from a group of retired American colonels in which they said the police force was so riddled with corruption, so many militia members were inside the police force, it should be disbanded.

Kindil: I think the main problem in Iraq, really, is security, and the main cause of this problem is that the Iraqi security forces are not completely built up. The build-up process must continue on four fronts: on the recruitment front, on the equipment front, on the arming front, and on training front. There are lots to do, in all these fronts, and until this build-up process is complete, I think we will see some problems and difficulties in the performance of the Iraqi security forces.

Foster: Dr Kindil, thank you very much, indeed. Gentlemen, all of you, thank you very much, indeed. We'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll take a further look into the bleak assessments on Iraq which are coming out of Washington. Stay with us, if you will.

[voiceover]: This is essentially a move from a position where we were in a combat role to being in an overwatch role. — Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister

[commercial break]

[voiceover]: There are limits to what our military can provide, so my recommendations will have to be informed by the strain we have put on our military services. — Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq

Foster: Jeremy Corbyn is with us, a British Member of Parliament; Brad Blakeman, former senior advisor to President Bush; and Dr. Saad Jawad Kindil, a member of the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council. Gentlemen, thank you for talking to us on Inside Iraq. Brad Blakeman, would President Bush have been surprised at the speed with which Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, appears to have changed British policy on Iraq?

Blakeman: Not at all. I mean, certainly our closest ally doesn't make his decisions in a vacuum and is in close consultation with his allies, including the United States, so I don't believe it's a surprise at all. I believe that the decisions we make together on an effort that we have a joint interest in are made with knowledge and input from both sides, so no, President Bush I'm sure was not surprised.

Foster: Does it make it more difficult for him, though, to persuade those people who don't believe it's right to continue with the present policy, to persuade them that he should stay the course?

Blakeman: If anything, it shows that our policy works, and that is, when the Iraqis stand up, the forces stand down. The British forces performed admirably what they were tasked to do in the south, which allows them now to either go home or regroup in another part of Iraq to determine what their future mission will be. Remember, there were 30,000 British troops in Iraq four years ago; there are now 5,000, and our hats are off to the British for doing a fine job, but that doesn't make America [sic] obligation less because the British have stood down; quite the contrary — our mission has yet to be accomplished, and we have a lot of work to do before our troops can fully come home, and it transcends this President's Presidency. The next President of the United States will have to deal with Iraq in their own way, but it doesn't mean that the presence of America will change much in the next couple years.

Foster: Jeremy Corbyn, I'm going to ask you in just a moment about perhaps the changing nature of the British-US relationship, but I saw you reacting off-screen there to what Brad Blakeman was saying. Your thoughts on what he said?

Corbyn: Well, I think it's whistling in the wind, quite honestly. The United States policy, with the support of Britain, is in a complete mess in Iraq, and everybody knows that. It's monumentally unpopular throughout the world, but perhaps more important on this occasion, it's monumentally unpopular in both the USA and Britain, and I would think Gordon Brown is quite relieved that he's managed to get the troops out of Basra, into a base outside Basra, and hopefully they'll all be home fairly soon. I personally wish they had never gone there in the first place, but I hope they'll be home soon.

Despite this claim of being a united front between the US and Britain, there are plenty of US commanders on the ground that keep on wanting British forces to be involved in much more combat activity and complaining that they are involved in a largely training and supervisory role. Now, there is a slight difference of policy there, but Gordon Brown knows perfectly well that he's going to face an election, maybe in two years' time, possibly less, and with the unpopularity of the war in Iraq he will want the troops out as quickly as he can. George Bush isn't facing election, he's only facing a legacy of the disaster of Iraq.

Foster: Brad Blakeman, when you talk about the successes of the US troops, it's worth bringing up George Bush's visit to Anbar province just a few days ago, in which he talked about how much safer it was than it had been, even four, five months ago, and yet within 48 hours of him leaving you see American troops killed in pretty much the same region.

Blakeman: Well, certainly the insurgents and the terrorists who wish to do Americans harm are going to show on the heels of the President's visit that they're still around. Look at the state of Israel — a lone democracy. They have violence of this kind on a daily basis; does that mean they're not a democracy? They're not a stable government? The fact is that this region is extremely troubled and faces violence that, fortunately, we don't see on the streets of America, and we're gonna keep it that way, because we're going to take the battle to our enemies on their terms and on their soil, not on American soil.

Foster: My point was that you compared it to Israel, and I said in what sense is it similar? Because you don't have roadside bombs on a daily basis, you don't have mortar rounds being fired —

Blakeman: You do have roadside bombs in Israel, you do have suicide bombers in Israel, you do have a quote-unquote "insurgency" in Israel, if you want to call it that, from Hamas and others who seek to do Israel harm on a daily basis. Israel is a stable democracy; yet they face this kind of violence every day. It's part of this very troubled region of the world, that experiences violence that we don't experience here in America. This is foreign to us, except for the attack that happened on 9/11 and happened 7 years before that, and we're not gonna let it happen again.

Foster: Dr. Kindil, is it perhaps foreign to America in the sense that it didn't quite understand what it was letting itself in for as well, when it went into Iraq?

Kindil: I think American policies, we have to admit, once they went into Iraq, have gone into a lot of blunders, a lot of errors, and mistakes, and we, as a country, as a nation, we have suffered from these mistakes, but I think we are putting the past behind us now. We are looking forward for better cooperation with the American troops in order to restore security and hand over the security portfolio to the Iraqi troops after due training and building up these forces, and then there will be no more need for these troops in Iraq.

Foster: But you might have to wait years for that.

Kindil: Yeah, indeed, unfortunately, perhaps we might have to wait years for this, but now really the occupation has happened, and this is a price that we have to pay. Any sudden and quick withdrawal of these troops from Iraq would leave a security gap which would be utilized by terrorists, by whoever don't want the political process to go forward. We might see —

Foster: Let me throw that point to Jeremy Corbyn. If the troops pull out now, it is going to create a bigger problem, whatever the rights and wrongs of having gone there in the first place. If they pull out now, there is a major difficulty.

Corbyn: Well, I'm not sure there is a major difficulty, because at that point, all the political forces in Iraq, and that includes those that are represented by people fighting on the ground, are going to have to come to some kind of political understanding and reckoning. Now, the fact that one of the forces has put itself on a 6-month cease-fire surely is an interesting development and worth recognizing that there is a space, possibly a small space, but some kind of space for political dialogue of what follows when US and British forces have withdrawn from Iraq, because they're going to withdraw — everybody knows that.

And I suspect that, whatever Brad says, the US public will make sure they're home pretty quickly. It's only a Presidential veto that's keeping them there at the present time. Surely we have to look to a political future of Iraq that does not involve foreign forces being inside that country. The disaster of Iraq at the moment — and I go back to the point I started with — 2 million people in exile, more than half a million dead, public services much worse than they were in 2003 — nobody can call that any kind of success on any terms.

Foster: Brad Blakeman, is it something to be proud of, if you're President Bush?

Blakeman: You bet it's something to be proud of! What decisions are made in their time are appreciated? Not many I can think of. When we went to the defense of Europe against Nazi Germany, that wasn't exactly a popular thing to do in our country, but it was the right thing to do. Not appreciated at the time. We lost 400,000 Americans, a million wounded — you talk about casualties, 60 million people gone from this planet because Europe didn't see the danger of Hitler and weren't strong enough to stop him until he got so strong that they couldn't stop him, and we had to come in and basically save the world.

We're in that same predicament: we're not appreciated because these are tough decisions. A war is a tough thing, but let me tell my British friend, if there was a vacuum and we left tomorrow, god help your continent, god help your country, because just listen to what Ahmadinejan [sic] says. The President of Iran. He can't wait to get his hands on Iran — uh, Iraq. And Syria can't wait to get its hands on Iraq, and they want to build a nuclear weapon, and the sovereign president of Iran tells the world, just like Hitler did, I want to destroy America, I want to destroy Israel. You think we can stand for that?

Corbyn: Hang on a second, Brad.

Foster: Jeremy Corbyn, I've got to stop you there, because I've got to give the last word to Dr. Kindil, an Iraqi himself. If you met President Bush tomorrow, what would you say to him?

Kindil: I would say, and ask him to speed up the process of building up the Iraqi security forces, and hand over the security portfolio to these forces, and start a gradual and controlled withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq, and let the country be ruled by its own people. We need the world's support to not to intervene in Iraqi politics, and this way then we could run the country in the way we would like it to be.

Foster: Gentlemen, thank you very much, indeed. My thanks to all my guests, Jeremy Corbyn, Brad Blakeman, and Dr. Saad Jawad Kindil. To watch the show online, and if you want to send us your comments, please go to That's the end of this show. Join us again next week, when we take another look Inside Iraq. Goodbye.
Hmm, where do I begin? Just because the GAO reports to Congress, we shouldn't believe anything they say. That's an interesting argument. At least General Petraeus offered some foundation for disagreeing with the GAO report, but Blakeman just finds it politically inconvenient and therefore necessarily wrong. But General Petraeus' report only "trumps" the GAO report if you have already taken President Bush's side against Congress. General Petraeus is in no better position to judge the progress on the political benchmarks — the subject of the GAO report — than the GAO itself. Of course, Blakeman immediately dug himself deeper into his hidey-hole by insisting that Iraq is not a mess, and that he's going to hold his breath until we stop saying it is. When confronted on the point, he dodges the question (In what sense is Iraq not a mess?) by pivoting off-topic onto a discussion of the risks and rewards of the current policy.

Blakeman makes a couple of what appear to be Freudian slips in that analysis, though: he speaks of the reward of American soldiers killed, and the reward of our troops remaining in Iraq indefinitely. He goes on to insist, again all concrete evidence be damned, that Iraq has made "remarkable progress" in the last four years. Well, no, actually, it hasn't, Brad. The Iraqi people are worse off now than they were four years ago, by any measure you choose. He also gratuitously tossed in the phrase "cutting and running," even though no one had suggested that was what the Brits are doing in Basra. At the same time, he won't pin down what would be a measure of "a job well done" that would enable the US to reduce our troop levels substantially. "Our mission has yet to be accomplished," but what exactly is that mission?

It's on the World War II analogies that Blakeman truly shows how much of the Kool-Aid he has drunk from Bush's poison punchbowl. No one "appreciated" President Roosevelt for going to war against Nazi Germany. It is true that public sentiment before Pearl Harbor was strongly isolationist, but the United States didn't enter the war in Europe purely out of the goodness of our hearts, nor did Roosevelt have any trouble persuading the public to follow him on an unpopular adventure. The simple reality is that Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, four days after Pearl Harbor. We were at war, willing or not. To say that Roosevelt's decision to commit fully to the defeat of Hitler wasn't appreciated at the time is simply nonsense. The idea that — even with 24/7 live video from the battlefield — the US would have given up on D-Day is likewise hogwash. The D-Day invasion, unlike the Iraq occupation, had a direct and immediate relation to our survival as a nation.

Brad Blakeman is right that a war is a tough thing, but it is made all the tougher by the refusal on the part of our alleged leaders to recognize the magnitude of the task they are undertaking — Rumsfeld's statement that the war would be over in weeks, rather than months; Cheney's claim that we would be greeted as liberators — and by the insistence on ideological doctrine over cold, hard tactical analysis. We made colossal blunders from the opening of the campaign that haunt us to this day, and will continue to haunt us as long as we remain there, but Bush and loyalists like Blakeman can't fix mistakes they still won't admit we made. Instead they hide behind the strawman argument that "War's not perfect, war's not predictable" — as if anyone ever suggested it was — and insist that the sacrifice is worthwhile, no matter how much their bungling magnifies that sacrifice and minimizes the chances of any reward at all.

It's a shame that we didn't get to hear Jeremy Corbyn's verbal smackdown of Blakeman's astonishing historical ignorance. It's a greater shame, though, that the security of the United States for the next generation is being managed by people with such blinkered worldviews.

Note: Brad Blakeman also appeared on Inside Iraq on 2007-01-26; transcript, video.

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