Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Congress, Iran, and the Surge

Both the US House and Senate have passed spending bills that fully fund the Bush regime's Iraq deployment yet place provisional constraints on its continuing duration. The White House and its spin machine are in full lockhorn mode, broadcasting the message that if and when George W. Bush vetoes this legislation Congress will be guilty of starving the troops and leaving them bootless. The brazeness of this politicking would be impressive if the message was not so derivative. This is old wine in a new bottle- no matter how badly the Bush White House mismanages the Iraq policy it always comes back to somehow being Congress' fault.

In typical Bush regime fashion, the divisive belligerence of this latest offensive comes unalloyed with any empirical assessment of whether Congress' very mild conditions are in any way an impairment of current policy. An objective assessment would have to conclude that Congress' legislation can only enhance, not impair, the chances of the ongoing Baghdad security plan. The President's "surge" seems to have made some headway in reducing violence in the Iraqi capital. But there is no indication that any of what has been achieved depends on Baghdadis' belief that the surge will be permanent or enduring, quite the contrary.

We have seen no arrests of major militia leaders, no stockpiles of guns confiscated from Shi'ite paramilitaries. The security plan's access to neighborhoods like Sadr City was obviously brokered by a negotiated truce between the Shi'ite militias and US Centcom. Would that truce hold if groups like the Mahdi Army felt that US troops would be patrolling Sadr City indefinitely? This seems highly unlikely. One strongly suspects that one of the conditions which has made it possible for joint US-Iraqi Army teams to patrol through Sadr City in force and unmolested is the understanding that the "surge" is a temporary state of affairs.

This fact is underscored by the recent actions by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The seizing of British marines and the escalation of that hostage drama on the world's television screens would be puzzling given all of the saber-rattling occasioned by Iran's nuclear program. Such actions would seem to be tempting fate, unless Tehran felt that the precariousness of the Baghdad security plan allowed it to bargain from a position of strength. Why the marines were seized and what Tehran hopes to gain from this fiasco are questions about which I would not speculate. But Tehran seems to feel that the prevailing homeostasis in Baghdad precludes US military action against Iran for the moment, and in this they are probably correct. As soon as American bombs hit Iranian targets Baghdad would most likely become a much deadlier place for US forces, as their prevailing truce with Shi'ite militias collapsed.

The fact that Shi'ite militias view the US surge as temporary does not preclude it from achieving provisional gains. Groups like the Mahdi Army are no doubt lying low in the assumption that once the surge winds down they can go back to business as usual. US Centcom must know that this is the case, but are counting on the fact that any window in which the Iraqi military and police can be shown as taking even partial control over security throughout Baghdad will help normalize these institutions and solidify their authority, making a return to unrestrained militia mayhem impossible. Whatever the merits of this plan, it is all too likely that the longer it is sustained the more it will encounter a harsh margin of diminishing returns. If Iraqi military and police effectiveness is seen to depend too much for too long upon an increased US troop presence, the Iraqi people's faith in the security plan will erode and its long-term impact will be squandered.

Congress' moves to limit the duration of the surge and the US deployment more generally are thus in accord with the general climate of expectations that may facilitate its provisional success. If anything, Congress' restraints did not go far enough in curbing the White House's tactical profligacy. The security situation in Iraq will only improve for the long term if and when the US openly commits to a complete withrdrawal from Iraq and complete autonomy for the Iraqi government and military. Mr. Bush would be wise to sign Congress' legislation, if he does not the only one to blame for depriving the troops will be he himself. Let him veto the bill and let every Republican representative and senator campaign while trying to explain why he or she did not vote to override. Mr. Bush's faith that his current rhetoric will be politically effective embodies the same kind of miscalculation that cost the Republicans so dearly in the mid-term election.


Kate Marie said...

Dear Madman,

1) As I understand it, Congress has the power to fund or de-fund the troops in Iraq. They have chosen a "third way," an attempt to fund the troops while substituting their judgment for the President's regarding our foreign policy in the region. I don't see that as their role. If they want to de-fund the troops, let them do it.

2) While you are entitled to accuse the Bush "regime" of brazen politicking, it seems silly to ignore the brazen politicking on the other side -- including the millions of dollars of pork that were attached to a military spending bill in order to get the anti-war folks to vote for it. And do you really think the "divisive belligerence" belongs wholly to the Bush "regime?" That doesn't excuse "divisive belligerence" wherever it ocurs, but to suggest that it occurs solely in one administration or "regime" is, it seems to me, an example of the very divisiveness you deplore. Is it "uniting" to imply that the positions/analyses of the Bush "regime" are simply matters of brazen politicking while the positions/analyses of Democrats in Congress are simply matters of conscience and integrity? Is it "uniting" to imply that one side really means what it says while the other is merely playing politics?

3) An "objective" assessment -- or rather, interpretation -- of the current situation is quite different from an "empirical" assessment. I note that your analysis of the situation is as "unalloyed" by any "empirical" assessment of the likely effect of the Congress's conditions as the Bush "regime's." You have offered no "empirical" proof either that the insurgents view the surge as temporary or that the modest successes of the surge (thus far) depend on Baghdadis' belief that the surge will not be permament. "One strongly suspects" and "This seems highly unlikely" do not generally constitute an empirical analysis.

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Kate Marie,

1) Your understanding has little basis in the Constitution or in the history of Congress as an institution. The "defund or shut up" canard is just that, a canard. As for replacing Bush's judgment, it is high time someone's judgment was exchanged for his. Waging war by committee is obviously ill advised, but it is a sad index of just how far we have sunk that it is a better option now than trusting in the executive.

2)Your usual defense of the Bush regime is to point to some moral failing on the part of Democrats, but that is a tired refrain. I would have little issue with Mr. Bush if he vetoed this spending bill on principle. His rhetoric about how Congress is starving the troops, however, is simply ridiculous and demeaning of his office, and nothing Congress has done excuses it.

3)I can't be blamed if you ignore the empirical evidence to which I've pointed. The paucity of arrests, the lack of arms caches seized, all indicate a situation in which a negotiated truce prevails over Baghdad. Would you deny that the security plan presented Shi'ite militias with two choices, to lay low or resist? Don't all signs point to the high probability that Shi'ite militias have decided to lay low? I don't know what about the past behavior of the Shi'ite militias makes you feel that they would choose to lay low on the assumption that the "surge" would last indefinitely. The violent campaigns that militias like the Mahdi Army have waged in the past four years against the US military and the endemic strife they have perpetuated in the British zone of occupation indicate to me that they would most probably violently resist an occupation they presumed would be permanent or enduring.

Even if the militias have been momentarily cowed into a state of compliance by fear of US military power (and there is precious little evidence to support such a surmise), that does not argue a fortiori for a lengthy and open-ended deployment. Any truce, even one backed up by intimidation, is a fragile edifice. The faster the "surge" can effect a change in the security climate of Baghdad the more likely it will be to have enduring effect. Every day the surge lasts brings new risks that the negotiation upon which it rests will fall through and chaos will return. Congress' time constraints help keep all parties to an urgent pace that stands the best chance of success.

That is my argument for why Mr. Bush should sign this bill and accept Congress' constraints upon his strategy. If Mr. Bush has a better argument for why he should not sign the bill, let him make it. His impatience with being called to task to explain his strategic thinking in the face of criticism is insufferable. He has had four years to conduct this conduct and has failed catastrophically. For him to respond to criticism and constraint at this juncture with rancid rhetoric like "Congress is starving the troops" rather than a logical defense of his policies is pure bullcaca.

Kate Marie said...

1) Let's see. Here's what I said: "As I understand it, Congress has the power to fund or de-fund the troops in Iraq." Could you explain how that statement has little basis in the Constitution or in the history of Congress as an institution? What is incorrect about that statement?

2) I get it. My "defense" of the Bush "regime" is a "tried refrain," but *your* rhetoric of the Bush regime's "belligerent divisiveness" is as fresh and new as the daisies in springtime. You ignore the fact that I wasn't mounting a defense of Bush so much as taking exception to a kind of rhetoric that wants to have its cake and eat it, too. To constantly complain about "belligerent divisiveness" and impugn the motives of one party only makes your indignation about politicking and divisiveness seem rather disingenuous.

3) So the empirical evidence for all of your claims and interpretations is the paucity of arrests and the lack of arms caches seized? It's not the kind of airtight empirical argument I'm used to, but if I accept for argument's sake your claim that the insurgents see the surge as temporary, I'm still confused about how you have empirically proven that confirming the insurgents in that belief will be beneficial to the surge's success and to Iraq's future prospects.

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Kate Marie,

1)You are right that Congress has the power to defund military ventures. You are wrong if you presume that that is the only power Congress has in the conduct of foreign policy or military affairs. This latest spending bill is not innovative, it is consonant with Congress' constitutional and historical role.

2)If you can recollect no criticism I've made of Democrats you have failed to read much of what I've written on this blog or have a very short memory. My point was that this new rhetoric from Bush is disgusting, and no amount of deflecting blame elsewhere changes that fact.

3)Again, if you want to ignore or trivialize the empirical basis of my argument I can't be blamed. I am assuming that I am dialoging with an informed observer who has followed the course of this conflict for the last four years and has some knowledge of the history of groups like the Mahdi Army or SCIRI. That long history figures into my argument, if you are unaware of it or choose to ignore it, that is your fault.

As to whether I've proven "that confirming the *insurgents* in that belief [the surge is temporary] will be beneficial to Iraq..." I'm not clear how this relates to anything that I've written above. To whom are you referring to as insurgents? Where in my post or answers have I referred to "insurgents?" Confusion over the nature and constituency of the various contending forces in Iraq has been a main contributor to the failures of US policy over the last five years. If you cannot speak with some clarity about the political situation there you are in no position to pooh-pooh anyone else's ideas.

Kate Marie said...

Here's an argument against creating and advertising a timetable.

1)No, I don't presume that funding is the only power Congress has in the conduct of foreign policy. I simply find their tactics here confused and exploitive. To attempt to direct the course of our foreign policy in Iraq in the guise of a military spending bill loaded with pork as a sop to the anti-war faction, and regardless of the support many of them previously expressed both for the idea of a surge and for General Petraeus's military judgment, seems like overreaching to me.

2. No, I can recall no criticism you've made of Democrats that has partaken of the belligerent and divisive rhetoric which you seem to reserve for Republicans alone. You keep ignoring the fact that my mention of your divisive rhetoric was not an attempt to deflect blame. I make no comment on Bush's rhetoric because I haven't heard it (a link would be nice). My point was that it's rather self-defeating to try to persuade "conservatives" or Republicans that the Bush administration's rhetoric is divisive and disgusting when you keep referring to the administration as the Bush "regime." If you don't care about persuading Republicans, that's your prerogative, . . . but then the irony of your criticism becomes rather glaring.

3. Um, okay, you haven't empirically proven that confirming the Shi'te militias in their belief that the surge is temporary will be beneficial to Iraq's future prospects. That's the kind of "empirical analysis" that matters here (in my opinion, of course).

"If you cannot speak with some clarity about the political situation there you are in no position to pooh-pooh anyone else's ideas."

-- Does that apply to Democrats in Congress or only to me? By your logic, they have as little right to pooh-pooh Bush's ideas as I do to pooh-pooh yours.

Kate Marie said...

Dear Madman,

For the record, and in an attempt to clarify my point, I'm not pooh-poohing your argument. I certainly don't always agree with you, but I always find your posts thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting. If my first comment appeared to be a dismissal of your position, I apologize for not expressing myself more clearly. Though I don't agree with your position on the military spending bill, I think your argument is worth considering. What I objected to *most* in your original post was the sometimes sneering tone, which tends to alienate "conservatives" like me who are otherwise inclined to consider arguments/positions which are different from their own.

That said, your tone is more temperate than that of many other bloggers and "pundits," and I appreciate that.

And I only criticize because I care. :)

Madman of Chu said...

Dear Kate Marie,

1)"Confused," "exploitive," and "overreaching" may be applied to virtually every aspect of the Bush policy as they have conducted it over the last four years. Even if what you say is true of Congress it would be worth letting them have their way, as it would be hard for their strategy, confused, exploitive, and overreaching as it may be, to produce worse results than the definitively confused, exploitive, and overreaching policies of the Bush regime.

2)Whether I've reserved my "ugliest" rhetoric for the Republicans is largely a matter of impressions and opinion. "Regime" is a case in point. I refer to the "Bush regime" because I am a lazy typist and "regime" requires fewer and easier keystrokes than "admnistration," which is invariably given as one of its synonyms in any standard dictionary. If you read some darker import in the word that is an ad hominem inference on your part. I would argue that whether I've said anything worse about Republicans than calling them neocolonial bigots or accusing them of perpetuating myths about the insurgency in Iraq is an open question. Even if I were to grant your point, I would assert that my "ugly rhetoric" is less objectionable than that of the President because

a)Words like "insufferable" or "disgusting" are mere expressions of partisan anger (I've never claimed to be anything but a self-consciously left wing blogger, after all) while the President's remarks that drew my ire embody a sophistry motivated by either cynicism or intellectual laziness or both.

b)I am not the President of the United States, nor charged with executing a policy in the balance of which hangs the security of our nation.

3)You seem to view the interchangeable use of "insurgents" and "Shi'ite militias" as inconsequential, which might help explain why you place so much faith in the argument to which you linked and give so little credence to mine. Mr. Herman writes:

"the steady addition of more than 21,000 ground troops, have begun to sweep Shiite militias from the streets."

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it is demonstrably false. If US troops had begun to "sweep Shi'ite militias from the streets" we would see mass arrests and stockpiles of confiscated weapons. The absence of these phenomena makes it clear that the militias in question have voluntarily withdrawn from the streets under the terms of a negotiated truce.

The temporary nature of the "surge" is no innovation on my part. Mr. Bush himself trumpeted the distinction between the "surge" and an enduring "escalation" in all media outlets as this new strategy came on line. The militia's belief that the surge is temporary thus comes straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak (no ugly rhetoric intended), and was no doubt helpful in securing the militias' compliance with the security plan. If I am right that the militias have voluntarily entered into a truce on the understanding that the surge will be temporary, I would assert that it strains credibility to suggest that keeping them guessing how long the surge will last affords any better guarantee that they will keep the truce than accepting Congress' very flexible timetable.

In the final analysis what the militias themselves perceive or desire is moot. The militias are iremediably volatile and unpredictable forces, as their recent ambush of four British soldiers near Basra demonstrates. Any policy that depends on their forebearance had better accomplish what it hopes to get done quickly, as the militias' compliance simply cannot be counted on to last. For this reason alone Congress' stepped-up tempo is good strategy and good policy, and the President has yet to explain why he deems it otherwise.