The Danger of the Legend of the Surge

Peter BeinartI still hear conservatives talk about the Surge during the Iraq War. It continues to seem bizarre to me for a few reasons. First, the Surge didn’t work. It just corresponded to the Awakening when moderate Sunnis started fighting against the jihadist elements in Iraq. Things didn’t improve because we sent in an extra 30,000 troops. I thought this had been well established. Second, the Surge didn’t win the war; it just took it from a total catastrophe to a smaller catastrophe. But third and most important, who cares what happened in 2007?! That was almost a decade ago. Why are conservatives continuing to talk about it?

The solution was found in an excellent article by Peter Beinart, The Surge Fallacy. Right about the time of the Surge, conservatives were turning against the neoconservative project in a big way. But all those same people are now back on board. And the reason is the supposed success of the Surge. I suppose it does go along with another favorite conservative myth: the “We weren’t allowed to win in Vietnam!” narrative. By that myth, if only the military had been allowed to drop more bombs — Or nuclear bombs! — then we would have “won” the war. I think of it as the “parking lot” approach to war and it shows that people who push these ideas have no clue what war really is.

But what Beinart calls “the legend of the surge” is even more pernicious:

By sending more troops to Iraq in 2007, George W Bush finally won the Iraq War. Then Barack Obama, by withdrawing US troops, lost it. Because of Obama’s troop withdrawal, and his general refusal to exercise American power, Iraq collapsed, ISIS rose, and the Middle East fell apart. “We had it won, thanks to the surge,” Senator John McCain declared last September. “The problems we face in Iraq today,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal argued in May, “I don’t think were because of President Bush’s strength, but rather have come about because of President Obama’s weakness.”

Of course, Bush had not “won” the war. Although the violence was greatly reduced, the Surge itself hadn’t succeeded at it’s main goal: political reconciliation. The point of it was to create a stable political system where the “Sunni and Shia Arabs and its Kurds all felt represented by the government.” This never occurred. It’s not hard to see why. The Shia had been oppressed for a long time. Now they had power and they were going to use it:

In reality, the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, began persecuting the Sunnis — thus laying the groundwork for their embrace of ISIS — long before American troops departed the country. As early as 2007, writes Emma Sky, who advised both Petraeus and his successor, General Ray Odierno, “the US military was frustrated by what they viewed as the schemes of Maliki and his inner circle to actively sabotage our efforts to draw Sunnis out of the insurgency.”

That’s long before 2011 when Obama supposedly screwed everything up by withdrawing troops. But this isn’t to say that Obama is blameless. It is just that the things Obama did to harm the situation (mostly supporting the corrupt, power hungry Nouri al-Maliki) are things that the Republicans agree with. The point is that there was a bad situation under Bush. It got no better under Obama. The problems in Iraq are the result of that, not the withdrawal.

Beinart ended by noting that the Republicans are right back to the hubris that brought us the Iraq War in the first place. But even though most of the Republican candidates for president are talking about sending ground troops into Iraq, that is unlikely to happen. But there is a broader problem:

This line of thinking is troubling nonetheless, because the same wild overestimation of American power that fueled the war in Iraq now fuels the right’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran. To hear hawks tell it, the United States can scuttle the current deal, intensify sanctions, threaten war, and — presto — Tehran will capitulate.

That’s even more frightening. But the Republican Party has always seemed like jocks in the locker room before a big game: pumping themselves up as though they can win by will alone. The Iraq War shows that wisdom comes very slowly. And then, with the slightest hint of success, it is jettisoned for their easy bellicosity.

I Felt Like a Gringo

Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of HeatGot a ton of white boy guilt, that’s my problem
Obstacle of joy, one reason to use some drugs.
Slept on a Mexican beach — slept in trash
American trash! Thinking too much can ruin a good time.

I asked a Mexican who ran a bar for Americans
“Who won,” I said “The election?”
He laughed, I felt like a gringo
They played a song and they had some fun with us.

Why can’t you buy a good time? Why are there soldiers in the street?
Why’d I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?

—Mike Watt
I Felt Like a Gringo

The “Better Deal” Is Just a Dodge

Brian BeutlerIt has been interesting to watch the debate against the Iran nuclear deal. That’s because it is entirely faith based. No one has anything of substance against it. They constantly say that the alternative to this deal is a “better deal.” Generally, they never say what that better deal would consist of. But when they do, we find out that their “better deal” is one where Iran capitulates not just about everything regarding its nuclear problem but other things as well — like officially declaring support for Zionism. And the truly annoying thing is that even if such a deal came, the same people would reject it because they would say Iran can’t be trusted.

So what we have here is the same old argument that conservatives have always made: they just don’t want a deal of any kind. These were the same people who didn’t want to talk to the Soviet Union and communist China. And they are the people who still don’t want to talk to Cuba. And in none of these cases will they admit to what they really want: war. To them, war should always be like World War II with the total capitulation of the Germans, Italians, and Japanese. I think it comes from some sense that the “good guys” must always vanquish the “bad guys.” I don’t think we need to dig too deep to see the television western roots of such arrested development.

Brian Beutler wrote an excellent response to this last week, Republicans Who Oppose the Iran Deal Are Making Promises They Can’t Keep. He noted that the implication of the “better deal” argument is that they are all for diplomacy, it is just that all the negotiators of the P5+1 are incompetent and gave everything away. If only they had done the negotiations, then Congress would now be voting on the “better deal.”

This is a curious claim coming from people who were against even negotiating with Iran in the first place. What’s more:

But there is no reason to believe [they could have done a better job], because so many of the deal’s prominent critics have thin or failed diplomatic records of their own or have built their careers around the notion that negotiating with enemies is a sign of inherent weakness.

Beutler went on to compare the “better deal” line to the Republicans’ constant claims that they will replace Obamacare with a better law. Of course, that better law never shows up. That’s because all this complaining that we can get better laws and better deals is just a stalling tactic. It’s very much like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to a two state solution with Palestine. For years, he’s been claiming that he’s holding out for a better deal. But it’s clear what he’s actually doing: destroying the possibility of any two state solution. Because again: total capitulation is the only kind of “deal” that he thinks is good enough.

The question is how long we as a nation are going to put up with these fantasies from conservatives? I’m the first to admit that Obamacare is suboptimal. I would indeed like to replace it with something better: single payer healthcare. The Republicans want to replace it with something worse: what we had before with some long wished for conservative ideas that have nothing to do with making healthcare better or more available. In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, it’s even worse. If Congress manages to kill this deal, all the other countries will back away from us and side with Iran. And they will be right to do so.

Trump Will Not Rupture the Republican Party

Donald TrumpBruce Bartlett wrote an interesting article last week, Will Donald Trump Crack-up the Republican/Tea Party Alliance? He speculated that Trump could cause a rupture between the two parts of the Republican Party: the social conservatives and the business interests. But as usual, the article is filled with Barlett’s cognitive dissonance. There are just some things he really wants to believe like the idea that the Tea Party ever had much support for economic conservatism. It was always overwhelmingly about about social issues. If it cared about mortgage relief, it was only because “those people” were getting it. The libertarian rhetoric to come out of the Tea Party was only the result of what Bartlett admits was astroturfing.

The other thing that he seems to miss is that Donald Trump does not represent a conflict within the party. In fact, he bridges the two sides of the party. He’s a big business guy who will provide just the kind of policies the business community wants, and he provides plenty of red meat to the social conservatives, without offering much in terms of substance on policy. That is pretty much the definition of the traditional Republican Party. So how is it that he represents such a threat?

Bruce BartlettAs far as I can tell, the reason that the “establishment” side of the Republican Party doesn’t like Donald Trump is because they don’t think he will win in a general election. Their outrage concerning his comments about Mexican immigrants is purely political: they think it is bad among swing voters. But when it comes to his policy positions, we hear nothing from the party establishment. Are they against his immigration policy on its own terms (not on how it looks outside the party)? Are they against his ideas on taxes or social programs? The only policy I know of that they seem to have any problem with is his opposition to privatizing or “block granting” Social Security.

The whole thing brings me back to a quote I read from a liberal blogger a long time ago. He had once been a Republican. He said (more or less), “The hardest thing about being a Republican was never being able to say what you actually believe.” Yeah, it’s not pleasant holding views that are repugnant to the vast majority of people. And this is what the Republican “establishment” doesn’t like about Trump: he is explicit about many of the traditional dog whistles. Does anyone really think that Bush’s Willie Horton ad was about furlough programs? Clearly, Trump is too smart to go after African Americans, but he is doing the same thing about more acceptable targets of hate.

So I don’t see Trump causing any harm to the Republican Party. If any harm is done, it will be by the Republican “establishment” and its desire to destroy Trump, even though he is in no way an outlier in the party. The truth is that I don’t see what the big deal is about Trump. If he weren’t running for president, the remaining candidates would still have been all over Planned Parenthood and voodoo economics. The problem isn’t Trump but the party itself. Sure Trump demagogues the Tea Party. But so do the other candidates.

Morning Music: Godless Spirituality

Moonshadow - Cat StevensHello morning music fans! This week, I want to do a series of songs about spirituality. It isn’t the religious kind of spirituality, but a more human focused one. You know: one that actually exists! In this regard, I’m thinking of issues like acceptance, hope, and duty. But we will see. I’m planning to figure it out as I go along.

Today we will start with an old Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) song “Moonshadow.” According to him, the song is literal: having grown up in the city, he had never seen a shadow cast by the moon until he took a trip to Spain. Regardless, the song is about hope and looking at the positive side of things. Admittedly, it has a lot of gallows humor in it. But that’s what makes it work: the contrast with the beauty and earnestness of the performance.

Anniversary Post: MLB’s Only On-Field Death

Ray ChapmanOn this day in 1920, Carl Mays hit Ray Chapman in the head with a baseball pitch. Chapman died as a result the following day. It was ruled an accident, but that isn’t quite right. Mays felt that Chapman was hogging the plate and threw the ball to chase him back. Chapman apparently didn’t see the ball. At that time, part of the game was muddying up the ball so it was hard to see. Chapman is the only man in MLB who ever died directly as a result of an on-field injury.

There are two other notable cases. In 1909, Doc Powers crashed into a wall while chasing a foul ball. He sustained internal injuries and had to be operated on. But he got an infection and died two weeks later. John Lewis Dodge was in MLB, but by 1916, he was playing in the minors. He was hit in the face by Tom Rogers. The two of them were friends, and Rogers apparently never got over it.

Carl Mays didn’t seemed to be too bothered by killing Ray Chapman. He seems to have had his own problems. He grew up in a religious home and his Methodist minister father died when Carl was just 12 years old. He was something of a loner, and not well liked by those around him. He was particularly known for pitching inside. But the season after the death of Chapman, Mays posted his best stats.

There’s no question but that Mays should be in the Hall of Fame. The reason he isn’t is because he didn’t make many friends and he killed Ray Chapman. But I still maintain that the Hall of Fame is a crock. Inclusion shouldn’t be a question of someone’s personality — especially when Ty Cobb is included. As for Ray Chapman, well, he was quite a good player, but almost certainly never would have made it into the Hall of Fame. Although his death certainly should be.