As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Blithering Idiocy Of The DC Establishment

The Village, via Cokie Roberts, gives their very serious assessment of Iraq on ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOLOUS: But this is going to be a split in the party. You all (at The Nation) are backing a plan that a lot of Congressional challengers are backing (The Responsible Plan) saying, immediate withdrawal, unconditional...

VANDEN HEUVEL: that's right...


VANDEN HEUVEL: There are 42 Congressional challengers...

ROBERTS: But no major Presidential candidates are saying that, because they're sitting there saying look, we've been there, we've seen it, we think it's an irresponsible thing to do.

VANDEN HEUVEL: It is not, but you know what, the responsible thing to do is withdraw.

(you hear Cokie odiously chuckling at this point)

VANDEN HEUVEL: If we withdraw responsibly, the region would be more stable in the long term, America will be restored as a responsible global leader, and there are 42 challengers, you are absolutely right Cokie, who have a responsible plan to withdraw.

ROBERTS: Convincing the electorate of that I think would be very difficult, and I also agree that the notion that Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham you heard this morning putting forward, that Americans would prefer to win, is--

VANDEN HEUVEL: But what is winning? This war is unwinnable, there are no military solutions. And Cokie, Americans are already behind this, 2/3 of Americans believe this war was a mistake to fight. And when Dick Cheney said to ABC's Martha Raddatz last week, "I don't care what Americans think." The contempt, the disdain for Americans and for what this war has done to the military, to our economy, and to our future as a nation. If you care about responsible...

Well, Katrina Vanden Heuvel handled that a bit better than I would have, because I don't think I would have been able to hold down the bile after hearing Duchess Cokie of Versailles blather on about what Americans would prefer. Not that she's likely to have talked to anyone who's had to serve in this war or felt the burdens of this war, of course, but she just feels it in her very sensible and responsible gut.

She doesn't have a clue what the hell she's talking about, and if she's being informed about Iraq by "Sunni, Shi'a, po-tay-to po-tah-to" McCain and his man-servant Huckleberry Graham it'd be a wonder if she could pick the country out on a map. We've got an important week coming up with A Man Called Petraeus and Ryan Crocker testifying before Congress, and if this is the sober analysis we can expect out of that, we're all doomed. Because in point of fact, Iraq is at a major crossroads right now. The Basra offensive was a complete failure and large swaths of the Iraqi Army essentially refused to fight. Now Maliki is basically forming his own militia from the pro-Iranian Badr Brigade, and the intra-Shiite warfare is continuing, with US troops dying inside the Green Zone and at forward operating bases in Baghdad. The political situation is stalemated, tensions are rising between practically all groups, and whatever gains have been made by the surge have vanished. We're going to hear a lot of crap in the next week out of the Administration and their spinners, and robots like Cokie are going to lap it up because "Americans would prefer to win." That's just an ignorant and dismissive remark, and it sadly represents the depth of understanding of the tragedy in Iraq. Of course, Cokie's just repeating what "real Americans" think; that it happens to line up with establishment opinion and helps provide cover for their epic mistake of going along with the initial invasion is just a nice perk.

In the environment of Iraq, leaving 80,000 troops to babysit the Iraqis will do about as much as having 160,000 troops do the same; in other words, nothing at all (Russ Feingold understands this). Until the fundamental question - whether a continued presence in Iraq is making us safer - is answered, we're doing nothing but spinning our wheels. Keeping troops in the region to try and put a lid on violence until George Bush is safely tucked away creates a huge moral hazard where the Iraqis have no responsibility for their actions.

Here, the overriding risk is all-out civil war – whether inter-or-intra ethnic group – or regional war, or both. Our presence mitigates these risks – at least in the short term. Thus, Maliki can take risky actions like raiding Basra or openly turning the army into a wing of Badr, knowing that he and his allies won’t be exposed to the full risk of those actions (civil war) because of the American presence. Similarly, other countries (like Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia) feel less urgency to engage diplomatically (which is itself a “risky” omission) because of the American presence.

If, however, America announced that it would leave Iraq in a year, then the parties involved (both inside and outside Iraq) would suddenly bear more of the consequences of their risky behavior. Accordingly, they would be more motivated to bear down and bang out political deals [...]

This explains why the Kagans’ “Iraq 4-Ever” strategy is actually worse than withdrawal. The Bush/Kagan strategy is simply to keep the maximum number of troops in Iraq as long as possible in the hopes a pony will appear. To maintain political support for the Pony Strategy, they need to peddle worse-case scenarios and paint pictures of genocide and all-out civil war.

I’ll fully concede that such events are possible – anyone who doesn’t is being dishonest. But my point is that our occupation makes them more likely, for the reasons explained above. Specifically, the longer and more indefinitely we stay, the greater the moral hazard we produce. As long as we stay indefinitely, parties will act more recklessly than they otherwise would. These actions, in turn, will have profound, unpredictable, and irreversible consequences.

The plan that Vanden Heuvel was referencing, the Responsible Plan, reflects a significant wing of the Democratic Party that simply is not willing to wait around anymore while the leadership tries to come up with a coherent endgame strategy. Darcy Burner, who was the driving force behind the plan, has actually improved her electoral position as a result. I don't know how that fits in with Duchess Cokie's pronouncements, other than the obvious fact that it doesn't. Well over 50 Congressional challengers have endorsed the plan, understanding that a comprehensive strategy to end the war and repair the broken institutions that enabled this disaster not only makes political sense but is absolutely vital to our national security. Ilan Goldenberg sums up the plan nicely.

For the past two years, Democrats have been offering plan after plan to end the war in Iraq. But this one is different. As opposed to the usual broad language, combined with a laundry list of policy proposals that make up traditional party platforms, the plan has a sharp focus, with a clear strategic logic focused around two fundamental principles. First, the United States must find a way to sensibly end its military mission in Iraq--and use the political, diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic tools at its disposal to mitigate the negative consequences of the war. Second, the Iraq War has done irreparable damage not just to Iraq but to our country, and the time has come to reform our institutions and put the checks and balances in place to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated [...]

Beyond just being good policy, though, the plan exhibits a unique understanding of the legislative branch's role in foreign policy. Too often, candidates running for Congress make very specific proposals about foreign policy that are far outside of their purview. The "Real Security" plan of 2006 was ultimately about the executive branch; it was backed by a 120-page smattering of documents and reports that criticized the Bush Administration and catalogued hundreds of pieces of legislation that would reshape American foreign policy, but were, on the whole, too unwieldy to act as an agenda vehicle.

"A Responsible Plan" would instead serve as the congressional corollary to a Democratic presidency. It doesn't include elements over which Congress has little control, but it does push for 15 pieces of existing legislation, which focus on issues such as improving healthcare for a new generation of veterans and phasing out our reliance on military contractors such as Blackwater. Only the president can end the war in Iraq, but Congress can do its share by focusing on institutional repair and funding the right programs.

This approach is apparent in the most creative part of the document, titled "Preventing Future Iraqs." These policies focus on checking presidential authority and ensuring that Congress can't easily give the president a free hand to go to war. It calls for incorporating war funding into the regular defense budget instead of using "emergency supplementals"; eliminating the president's use of signing statements to alter the substantive meaning of a law passed by Congress; repealing parts of the Military Commissions Act that suspended habeas corpus; and ending the use of wiretapping without a FISA warrant. These are good policies for both Republican and Democratic presidents to abide by.

Without a robust Congressional counterbalance to executive power, we will not be able to stop more Iraqs. Darcy Burner and the dozens of endorsers are not only running to enter Congress but to restore the institution itself.

This Wednesday I'm helping host a low-dollar fundraising event for Darcy, where she will be flanked by two California candidates who have endorsed the plan, Ron Shepston (CA-42) and Mary Pallant (CA-24). If you want to reward and recognize true leadership and courage, join me in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. All the information is at this ActBlue page, and you can donate at the link as well.

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