I am willing to forgive the Challenger his brevity in his Opening and Rebuttal, both because I understand the extenuating circumstances (earlier today, in fact, I had a six-inch needle poking into my spine!) and because, darn it, he makes me laugh (James Carville is
a gnome! Tee hee!).
But in remaining brief, the Challenger commits several blunders: He leaves unanswered both the implicit and explicit questions of the Chairman. He severely undermines the strength of his argument with the blanket dismissal in his Rebuttal that "[t]here are a couple of points my opponent mentioned which I will not address because I don't see them as germane to the topic at hand." He cedes vast swaths of this debate; as they say on "Law and Order," he seems to "stipulate to the facts of the case." While doing so, he perpetuates myths about our "victory" and muddies the issue about the war's being over. He also doesn't seem to understand why I spend the last part of my Opening talking about the election, dismissing it as ad hominem
against Bush. In the end, he's gotten himself a whole lot of (funny) nowhere.
I. The Question
The Challenger has a habit of paraphrasing things he doesn't like, twisting the language to suit his own purposes, and he opens by doing that to the Chairman. The Challenger's Opening Statement starts with, "Is the war won? If not, are we winning it? If not, why not and what can we do to win it?" What the Chairman actually asked was this: "Are we winning the war? Can we win it at all? Have the President's policies steered us towards victory or disaster?"
It's subtle, but the Challenger tries to reframe the debate in a way that lets him throw off a few clever lines, declare that we won the war on April 9, 2003, and then predict that I will make the "mistake" of confusing the rebuilding with the war, allowing him
to declare "Mission Accomplished" against me
, also prematurely. The Chairman seems to think that the war is not over
, and I'm inclined to agree, not only because I'm a brown-noser of the first degree, but because US troops are actively engaged in fighting an enemy on foreign soil, enigmatic as that enemy may be. That sounds like war to me.
What's more, if the Challenger (or the president) is calling the current situation in Iraq a "new" or a "different" war, it opens up some constitutional questions. Like, who declared this war
? I certainly don't remember Congress declaring, or even passing a resolution giving the president the authority to declare, war on "the terrorists, disaffected Baathists, and foreign mercenaries." Not even John Kerry claiming to have voted for it before voting against it. The invasion cannot be separated from the occupation en route
to finally leaving the country, or staying there peacefully. The troops in Germany post-WWII were not occupiers; troops in the DMZ are there are the request of Seoul and occupy nothing. Right now in Iraq we are an occupying force and fighting every day
The Challenger's own First Rebuttal belies the idea that this is a new war. He writes,
It's the war my opponent would have you believe is question mark-intensive phase of President Bush's Underpants Gnome Strategy. [. . .] The fight to root out the terrorists, disaffected Baathists, and foreign mercenaries and rebuild the country is the second part of the strategy.
That just leaves me confused; which is it--a brand-spanking new war or the second part of the same effort? The accidental question mark after "I didn't buy it" is more telling than he might think.
In rephrasing the Chairman's questions, the Challenger also very cleverly subtracts the agency of George W. Bush from the equation. The Chairman specifically charged us combatants to address the relative success (or potential for success) of the Bush plan. In the end, the Challenger's Opening Statement is a dodge--"We won so don't pay any attention to what's happening now!"--and the Rebuttal is not much better at addressing whether specific Bush administration policies are effective. In fact, he never once mentions Bush in his Opening, and mentions Bush only in referencing my arguments in his Rebuttal. Why, oh Challenger of mine, are you so afraid to talk about Bush's leadership?
II. It is Germane
Let me remind you what the Challenger seems to think is not "germane," and what he chooses not to contradict:
III. The War Isn't Over
- He doesn't deny that Iraq has been infiltrated with foreign fighters and terrorists. And it's considerably more than the "dash" or "dollop" he admits. We're facing resistance on a grand scale--his own numbers prove this. Juan Cole really puts it in perspective--and notes here how, contrary to the Challenger's and Allawi's assertions, chaos reins across Iraq. And, hell, not even the Green Zone is really green anymore!
- He explicitly dismisses the newly-declassified National Intelligence Estimate by questioning its credibility. Trouble is, that assessment is seconded and thirded and more by other intelligence agencies around the world.
- He as much as admits that we overestimated how we'd be welcomed after the fall of Saddam, even though he has fallen hook, line, and sinker for US military PSYOPS that staged the toppling of Saddam's staute for the media in the hotel across the street. He wants me to look at the photos in his links. I did, and in the five (one photo was repeated in both stories), I count fewer than a dozen celebrating Iraqis. It reminds me how these photos just have the same handful of guys over and over again in them--probably Ahmed Chalabi's inner circle.
Were the Kurds happy? Sure, but remember the reason that the Kurds hated Saddam so much (and thus celebrated as described by this link from the Challenger) is that the US abandoned its commitment to help them in 1991, leaving many of them dead at Republican Guard hands. Besides, they're not so happy now. And, really, for every pro-American Iraqi blogger the Challenger can cite, I can cite at least one, maybe two, Iraqis who oppose this war.
- He lets the arguments on occupation-planning just float right by. He must agree that we're short at least 150,000, if not 200,000, troops necessary to get the job done.
- He glosses over the argument that this is an unpopular war. I am sure that if Americans in general felt it were necessary and were behind it, things would at least look and feel different to us now. But we don't support this overwhelmingly at all.
- He must agree that there's no clear goal anymore. He writes that we've gone "from one objective to many," but he doesn't say what they are. As I said, that's the problem--no one knows what our goals are.
Perhaps the Challenger is willing to stipulate to these facts because he's un
willing to admit that the war is not over.
Now we're fighting a new conflict [he writes]. Call it Iraq: Part II. Call it The War on Newly-Minted Terrorists (to borrow my brother's phrase). But know that it's a different war. [. . .] In this new war, we are looking at an entirely different situation. Our opponents are different. We have gone from one objective to several. The time frame for success has lengthened. That's all to be expected.
Well, I'm glad the Challenger expected it, because (as the Challenger stipulates!) the administration certainly did not see it coming, despite the repeated warnings of its own commanders.
But I submit to you that this is not a sequel to anything, and to call it such excuses and condones reckless behavior from this administration. When the Challenger stipulates (by denying it's "germane"!) that the rationale for the invasion and occupation has never been clear and that we have no clear goals anymore, he excuses it by saying that going "from one objective to several" is to be expected. Saying the "time frame for success" is different now, too, is just an excuse for the lack of any clear exit strategy.
I would imagine that the Challenger is less offended by my calling him and apologist for this administration than by my calling him a segregationist in our first go-round, but I don't think that particular position is an enviable one to be in. To be an apologist for this administration, the Challenger has to take pride in the idea that we're killing more of them than they are of us, so it's okay. Some of us aren't so much into killing. And, frankly, I have to wonder why when Saddam killed hundreds or thousands of people who opposed his
regime, it was evil, yet when we do it, it's okay? These men and women we are killing--the insurgents, anyway, not the more than 100,000 civilians who have been killed
(since it was less than that 500,000 the UN expected, I guess we avoided that humanitarian crisis!)--would not be in Iraq and would not be taking up arms against Americans there or anywhere were it not for our invasion in the first place!
The Challenger tries to fool us by comparing occupied Iraq to Europe under the Marshall Plan. Oh. My. God. This is not even apples to oranges, it's something worse. He wants to compare the costs in Iraq to the costs of rebuilding the whole of Europe after WWII? Give me a break! Aside from the fact that we no longer do things like carpet bomb to destroy whole towns that subsequently need rebuilding, there is no plan for Iraq!
I could maybe be convinced that Iraqi reconstruction funds were worth it if there were actually a large-scale plan. But this has been my point all along: We had massive success at part one of the war and now we're stuck in part two which is, as best as I can tell, a question mark!
Finally, we can't call this war over because we have no way of knowing--we have no metric by which to measure success. The Challenger offers one; he writes, "If the number of their casualties compared to ours is a measure of victory, then we're winning." That's a pretty big if
--and I don't think casualty counts are what we want to hang our hat on. What about ten million pages of documents?, he asks. Woo. Hoo. That's about, what, 9,000 pages for each dead coalition soldier? I'm really quite surprised he didn't say, "But the schools are open!"
IV. Bush v. Kerry
Finally, I need to clarify for the Challenger why my three stated reasons why we're losing are not mere ad hominem
against President Bush. He rephrases them (there he goes again!) and uses that to glibly dismiss what is truly the most serious part of my Opening Statement.
The President of the United States has very few actual duties spelled out in the Constitution, but perhaps the most important of them is to serve as Commander in Chief. It is his
responsibility, and his responsibility only, to lead our forces in battle, metaphorically if not physically. The buck must
stop with him when it comes to our armed forces. When war goes sour, there must be changes; there must be consequences. George W. Bush and his lieutenants have steadfastly refused to consider the slightest possibility that they were wrong, that things should have been done differently and better.
When a corporation runs into trouble, who takes the fall? The CEO
. When schools fall apart, who gets canned? The superintendent
. When a baseball team sucks, who gets fired? The manager
When the Chairman asks, explicitly
, "Have the President's policies steered us towards victory or disaster?," I have to address that. And while I am not declaring Iraq a disaster (I freely admit that the world is better off without Saddam, and many good things really are happening
in Iraq), it is clear to me that this president's unwillingness to admit error or change course when we are so far from true--these are dangerous characteristics. Dangerous for Iraq. Dangerous for the United States.
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat