It's ALL About Iraq
I love talking about IBM Selectric typrewriters and exactly where the Mekong River reaches Cambodia as much as the next guy. But over the past week, this election is getting back to the heart of the issue: Iraq, George W. Bush's colossal failure, the mess of a war that will write his political epitaph.
The New York Times revealed a CIA National Intelligence Estimate from late July, which included dire predictions for Iraq's future.
The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms.
This should come as no surprise. Insurgent attacks are at their highest level yet (an average of 87 attacks per day in August). Infrastructure improvements are slow going, and still not at pre-war levels, 19 months after the invasion. Security is so bad that the Administration is converting money earmarked for reconstruction back into security. And the consensus among the Iraqi people is that the American occupiers have got to go. You can add to this chorus of these intelligence officials the increasingly cacophonous voices of the experts in the military.
Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."
Retired general Joseph Hoare, the former marine commandant and head of US Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."
Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the second world war in Germany and Japan."
W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - said: "I don't think that you can kill the insurgency". According to Terrill, the anti-US insurgency, centred in the Sunni triangle, and holding several cities and towns - including Fallujah - is expanding and becoming more capable as a consequence of US policy.
This is simply reality. Even Republicans are acknowledging it.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a Vietnam veteran who supports Bush, joined Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind, in calling it a mistake to gloss over the violence in Iraq.
"The worst thing we can do is hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion that we're winning," Hagel said.
"Right now we're not winning, things are getting worse. Measure that by any measurement you want - more casualties, more deaths, oil pipeline sabotage - you pick the measurement standard and it's worse than where it was six months ago or 12 months ago," Hagel said.
After months and months of talking about taxes and healthcare and Swift Boats and National Guard records and the like, the conversation has returned to Iraq. And that's right where it should be. The President's only explanation for his failures in this war is to say that Kerry doesn't have a position (a stance which has been meekly picked up by some of the national media). Well, that's not good enough. As Digby points out, you have to hold Bush accountable for this mess:
Suppose you hired a contractor to put on a new roof and he ended up creating a huge hole in it instead. The contractor simply denies that a hole exists and keeps telling you to relax that your new roof is coming along just fine. The other contractor in town drives by and says he can fix that hole in your roof. You ask him how and he says, "well, I'll have to take a look at it and see how much damage is done but I have years of experience and a lot of good workers and I can get the job done for you. I'll tell you one thing, that guy you've got working on it doesn't know what he's doing. The hole's getting bigger while we stand here looking at it."
Gergen, Woodruff and Carlson would pick the first contractor because they know his work. (And he's a blast to have a beer with at the end of the workday.) The second guy refused to say exactly what he would do without looking at the damage up close so he can't be trusted.
Bush owns this war. Kerry has picked up on this theme, saying the other day, in so many words, "The President has been talking about an ownership society. Well, you own it, Mr. President." And Kerry's attacks on Bush on Iraq has brought him right back into the race. In the end, people will pick the contractor who might be able to fix the roof over the contractor who made the giant hole.