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Current Battle: Election 2004

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Saturday, September 25, 2004

Battle Victory Iraq - Iron Blogger Democrat - Second Rebuttal

I can't tell you how excited I am the the Challenger finally took off the gloves and abandoned the brevity strategy. And, yes, I laughed. I must give props for the pantful of lead. Puts the Olympics in a much funnier light.

But he's still wrong on so many fronts--I don't know where to start. So I'll just start at the end of his Rebuttal, with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. It'll all make sense. Trust me.

No, Minister
The Challenger quotes extensively from Prime Minister Allawi to make his case, and I have to say that I must give him credit (the Challenger, not Allawi) for keeping extremely current. This has been a tricky Battle, given the way new evidence for both sides keeps popping up this week. But I think it's time to talk a little bit about who Iyad Allawi is.

I did not collude with my friend and neighbor Scott about this, but he provides exactly the nice, tight, concise summary I need on Allawi. I normally hate to lift others' words quite so wholesale, but Scott writes,
Just who is this interim Prime Minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi?

In a nutshell, he's a former Baathist, and former ally of Saddam Hussein. He has spent much of his life in the UK where he studied medicine, and he retains British citizenship to this day. While in London, he built a relationship with British security forces. In the early 90s, he formed the exile group Iraqi National Accord with the support of the CIA and MI6.

When President Bush criticized John Kerry for his comments about Allawi, he acted as if Allawi was a leader who enjoys the elected support of the people of Iraq. On the contrary, as his biography indicates, he's a longtime friend of American and British intelligence who in turn got him the position of interim PM. He's already declared martial law, and even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is scaling back on expectations for the elections.

Is it just me or is this situation starting to look more like when the CIA and MI6 installed the Shah of Iran back in 1953?
While I'm not sure our selection of Allawi will necessarily end as badly as the whole Shah fiasco did (and Scott was being kind compared to some this week), I think it is very important to recognize that the man was hand-picked by the Bush team (admittedly not our first choice), was brought here this week by the Bush team, had his whole schedule set by the Bush team, entirely for the purpose of bolstering the Bush team's flagging image on Iraq. It's been so transparent that some pundits are wondering if Allawi will be replacing Cheney on the ticket.

Worse, Allawi's origins make him not so much the real voice of Iraqis right now. So says Time Magazine, for example.
Whether or not American voters choose to believe the President--or to accept John Kerry's charge that Allawi is simply reading from the administration's script and distorting the reality--in the eyes of Iraqis and most of the international community Allawi does not personify the democratic will of a free people. That's because Allawi owes his appointment last June not to the Iraqi electorate, but to outgoing U.S. administrator J. Paul Bremer. And his authority in Baghdad rests primarily on the backing of some 130,000 U.S. troops that remain in the country, and whose presence is viewed by many Iraqis as a sign that despite Bremer's departure, they remain under occupation.
So, also, says River, perhaps the internet's most famous Iraqi, who writes, "I can't seem to decide what is worse--when Bush speaks in the name of Iraqi people, or when Allawi does."

So what does that mean? I think it means we have to take what Allawi says with a certain amount of salt. And, in fact, that is what is happening around the press this week. Though I agree with the Challenger that Allawi does deserve some leeway and time to make things work, we still have to hold him accountable for a certain level of honesty.

If this is winning, I'd hate to see losing
Allawi says we're winning. So is that honest? Let's hear what the LA Times has to say (my emphasis):
Large swaths of Iraq remain outside the control of the interim government, major highways are fraught with attackers, and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi--along with the U.S. Embassy and much of the international community--must conduct business in fortified compounds guarded by tanks, blast walls and barbed wire.

In Washington, Allawi gave Congress an upbeat assessment Thursday, but the situation in Iraq is more complicated. [. . .]

Widespread anxiety engulfed much of Iraq this month as a wave of car bombings, kidnappings and gun battles killed scores of American soldiers, Iraqi civilians and hostages.

The continuing violence has overshadowed signs of progress and put a damper on the prospect of democratic elections.

"How can we hold elections when they will bomb every polling booth?" asked Husham Mahdi, a 29-year-old communications engineer in Baghdad, echoing a common sentiment. [. . .]

Allawi said it was "a fact" that elections could be held in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces "tomorrow." But few experts would agree. The consensus among poll-watchers is that holding nationwide elections by January, as scheduled, will be difficult.

Apart from the widespread violence, the provinces lack electoral infrastructure--which some view as a greater challenge than security.

And critics say it is hard to argue that security is a problem in only three provinces of a nation where suicide bombers have struck from Basra in the south to Irbil in the north.
(Oh, and I would never condone any unethical methods of logging into the LA Times without registering.)

Yes, yes, there are two sides to every story, and the Cassandras among us can't help but focus on the big gray clouds rather than the sliver lining. But Allawi's story this week--and the argument from the Challenger--is that Iraq is a success story. It simply is not.

The very invocation of the name Kos will send some of the conservatives reading here into a mouth-foaming frenzy, but yesterday Kos cited the United States Agency for International Development's memo to non-governmental organizations in Iraq telling them of all the "events of interest" across the country for Thursday (the day Allawi addressed Congress). Here's a small sampling of what is going on in Iraq even as Allawi claims "Iraq is made out of 18 provinces. Out of these 18 provinces, 14 to 15 are completely safe; there are no problems."
There are unofficial reports of criminal gangs in Baghdad conducting activity with a view to kidnapping ex-pats for the bounty offered by terrorist organizations. Currently the threat of kidnapping is extremely high.

Historically, MNF activity in Sadr City has generated reprisal or indirect fire attacks into the International Zone and personnel are warned of an increased likelihood of such attacks in the near future.

The threat of abduction from within the International Zone remains and personnel should check their personal, individual security arrangements accordingly.

  • 0115 hrs Small arms fire attack on an Iraqi Police patrol in Ur District.

  • 0110 hrs IED attack on a convoy in the area of the 14 Ramadan street/Route 10 intersection (Routes FORCE and CARDINALS).

  • 0200 hrs Six IEDs found and cleared in Sadr City.

  • 0808 hrs.Indirect fire attack on MNF facilities in the northern area of the airport.

  • 0937 hrs. IED attack on a patrol on Route PREDATORS.

  • 1132 hrs. Indirect fire attack (mortar) on an MNF base in the Shawra Wa Um Jidir District.

  • 1220 hrs. RPG attack on a patrol on Haifa Street.
The report goes on to detail the problems all across Iraq, not just in three provinces. Time also notes that Allawi "might want to check in with the British troops in the 'tranquil' south he described, because they tell the BBC that last month alone one base at Amarrah suffered 853 separate attacks, the most frequent combat experienced by a British army unit since the Korean war."

Plenty of people question the possibility of elections, both in Iraq ("The elections are already a standard joke") and not ("Allawi appears determined to hold promised national elections on schedule on 31 January, despite an ongoing insurgency that threatens to make polling impossible in pockets of the country"). Even the Bush team can't get its stories straight on elections. Time, again, challenges Allawi's assertions about the Iraq military, too:
More importantly, Allawi emphasized, Iraqis are determined to fight the insurgents, and take over from American troops. Some 100,000 have already been trained, and more are on the way. Again, this analysis is quite congruent with the picture painted by the Bush administration, but others, such as the widely respected strategic analyst Anthony Cordesman, who bases his work mostly on conversations with U.S. commanders on the ground, suggest that when it comes to effective combat units that can be deployed alongside U.S. forces, only two or three battalions of Iraqis pass muster--i.e. no more than 2,500 troops.
The Challenger caught the typo from my drug-addled fingers citing Iraqi civilian casualties, but facts remain facts. Right now US and allied troops are killing more Iraqi civilians than insurgents. In this Knight-Ridder piece from the front pages of newspapers all across the country today, the reporter notes that "Iraqi officials said the statistics proved that U.S. airstrikes intended for insurgents also were killing large numbers of innocent civilians. Some say these casualties are undermining popular acceptance of the American-backed interim government." And this doesn't count the deaths from "the deteriorating safety of water and food in Iraq."

You say tomato
"I have made it clear," the Challenger writes, "that we were involved in one war, that we won that one handily, and are now engaged in a second war." In the end, my disagreement with him may be nothing more than semantics. As I said in my First Rebuttal, his way of framing this particular portion of the debate leaves many unresolved problems. One, it allows him to smugly keep declaring victory, while US troops remain in harm's way and the cost of our war(s) keeps mounting in lives and taxpayer dollars.

Two, there are some serious Constitutional questions, here. Article I makes it clear that only Congress can declare war. If what we are facing now is brand-new, then somebody has some 'splainin to do, Lucy. If, instead, we're just trying to wrap-up the loose ends following a single war, then the Challenger has to admit that, at best, our victory is still TBD. I admit there is good happening; what the Challenger doesn't admit is that, as whole hosts of my links have shown to this point, is that our "victory" is not so pat as he wants to say it is.

The Challenger began by playing with language, and in his Second Rebuttal, he keeps playing with language. This is the sort of thing I though only the Bush team actually did. He starts with our old friend Webster to try to say that what we're fighting in Iraq is not insurgency. I'll just use the language that our own State Department uses. If "insurgency" is good enough for Dick Armitage, it's good enough for me.

Which is why I tend to trust the much-maligned National Intelligence Estimate. Aside from the fact that the NIE is backed up by European intel, the only two people who seem not to trust it are George W. (just guessing!) Bush and the Challenger. What motive does the CIA have for lying now? And in that direction?

We can keep tomaytoing and tomahtoing about whether the Iraqi celebrations were real or staged (likely answer--some of each) and about whether the rebuilding of a country we didn't need to invade meets a cost-benefit analysis. But one thing we can't argue about--because the Challenger has not introduced sufficient evidence to do so--is the post-invasion planning. In his Second Rebuttal, he says, "Allawi and his government didn't just spring into being thanks to Magic Government Fairies. They exist because the Bush administration planned for them to be there then implemented the plan in June and again in August."

But I like Kevin Drum's analysis better:
In the beginning, administration ideologues were convinced we'd be welcomed with flowers. Within a few months we'd install Ahmed Chalabi as president of a liberated Iraq, draw down the occupation force to about 30,000 troops, and declare victory.

That really was fantasy, but when that plan almost immediately fell apart there was no Plan B on the shelf. So the administration ginned one up posthaste: disband the Iraqi army and stay around for a while. Jay Garner objected, so he was fired and Jerry Bremer was called in to be our new proconsul.

But that plan didn't work out too well either. By November scattered attacks had grown into a full-blown insurgency and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, apparently tired of Bremer's strongman act, insisted on quick elections. After some panicky discussions back home and a call to the UN, Plan C was unveiled: we would turn over power on June 30 and hold elections seven months after that.

But that still didn't work. The turnover proceeded on schedule, but security didn't get any better. Fallujah and Najaf became rebel strongholds, hamhanded planning turned Muqtada al-Sadr into a Shiite hero, and a dangerous insurgency became a full-blown guerrilla war.

So now we're on Plan D, a feebly disguised version of Plan C: the elections will proceed as scheduled and that will fix everything. It's unlikely that anyone below the level of cabinet secretary actually believes this, but it's impossible to say so because there's an election coming up. An American election, that is.
(skippy the bush kangaroo has an interesting take on our plan, too.)

So: Just because things happen does not mean that they were planned, well, in advance. Look, since 1999, US commanders have been clear that routing Saddam would be the cakewalk it turned out to be and that the real struggle--the one that would take 400,000 US troops--would be holding Iraq after the fall of Saddam. This administration has steadfastly refused to accept the realities of what this war would take. This is what I meant when I said the administration had delusions. This is what I meant when I said they didn't plan.

Shock the Vote
The Challenger and I are not going to vote for the same ticket in November. And I am not so delusional (heh) to believe that I will change his or most anyone else's minds about that.

And I also know that we do not have the time or the space--and we were not asked by the Chairman--to get into the whys and wherefores of our presence in Iraq in the first place. But I think that we have to examine the conduct of this president and the men and women he has surrounded himself with over the course of this war. Have they made the right decisions? Have they made Iraq safer, the United States safer, the world safer?

Bush doesn't want us to criticize him or our allies. But I think its telling than even our most important allies in the region are criticizing us. Pakistan's President Musharraff told Paula Zahn, "[the world] is more dangerous. It's not safer, certainly not [. . .] because [the war] has aroused actions of the Muslims more. It's aroused certain sentiments of the Muslim world, and then the responses, the latest phenomena of explosives, more frequent for bombs and suicide bombings. This phenomenon is extremely dangerous."

Maybe it's true that Iraq has acted as "flypaper" for some terrorists in the region. (It hasn't stopped terror elsewhere, though.) More importantly, and more frighteningly, it has galvanized terrorists around the world against us:
Iraq [. . .] has hampered the war on terror--and thus made us less safe--in three ways. First, it diverted resources from the effort against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and then bogged those resources down in Iraq. Second, contrary to being "flypaper" for terrorists who would all flock to their imminent doom in Baghdad, as conservative apologists claimed ex post facto, in fact the war and the horribly executed occupation (symbolized by the pictures from Abu Ghraib) have served as recruiting devices for al Qaeda cells and other America-haters worldwide. And third, the ham-fisted and ultimately deceitful way in which the Administration tried to strong-arm the rest of the world into backing the war seriously damaged American credibility and further isolated the U.S. in the war on terror.
The Challenger thinks I'm deceiving you when I say that the way the Bush team has waged this war is dangerous for both Iraq and the United States. But I submit that it is he who is deceived--by the Bush team.

Don't fall for it.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat

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