Joe Scarborough and the Iraq War

Joe Scarborough just wrote a column for Politico in which he discusses the Iraq War. As he acknowledges in the article, he was a supporter.

Like 75 percent of Americans and most of Congress, I supported the war with Iraq. Much of that support was the result of selected intelligence from the Bush administration. The White House suffered a systemic breakdown, with a vice president and secretary of defense more focused on justifying a war than showing the type of caution our troops deserve before being sent to fight in a foreign land.

George W. Bush was also guilty of gross negligence, in part, by failing to reach out to the two greatest living experts on warfare in the Persian Gulf. Eight years later, it is still hard to believe that the commander in chief refused to seek the advice of his father or his secretary of state, who had run a searingly efficient military campaign a little more than a decade earlier — in the same region, against the same dictator. But as Bush told Bob Woodward, there was no reason to ask Colin Powell’s advice because he knew the general opposed the invasion. Bush 43 also told Woodward that there was no need to seek out Bush 41’s wisdom since he had his “Heavenly Father” to consult.

George W. Bush’s decision to remain isolated and willfully ignorant of these great leaders’ insights led to a disastrous war that could have been avoided. Instead, the invasion of Iraq was launched on March 19, 2003. And despite what media outlets and Democratic politicians would like you to believe, the war began with greater bipartisan support than the 1991 Gulf War.

I guess it’s nice to hear Scarborough acknowledge that he supported this fiasco, but this statement is somewhat misleading. Notice how he mentions that 75% of Americans supported the war. If you didn’t know Scarborough’s past, you might assume he was just one of many Americans who went along with the President. But he was much more than that, as he had his own cable show on MSNBC at the time, Scarborough Country, and he used that platform to become one of the loudest cheerleaders for the war. And, he enthusiastically mocked people who were against it. Joe Scarborough contributed to a climate that made it more difficult for rational voices who opposed the war and questioned the Bush/Cheney/Rove propaganda machine on WMD. He didn’t just go along; he helped lead the parade.

It was obvious to some of us that Bush was cherry-picking the intelligence. If you dug a little, there were journalists who were questioning the intelligence, but most people on network television and in the newsroom of The New York Times were either too stupid o

The perils of outsourcing

This story should make every American furious. We have been outsourcing military functions for years under programs initiated years ago when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense. This process was accelerated under the last Bush administration.

The result is the story we have below.

Basically, according to whistle blowers who just testified before Congress, soldiers in Iraq were getting electrocuted due to shoddy work done in Iraq by KBR. KBR was a subsidiary of Haliburton, and it’s not even a U.S. company – they transferred their headquarters to the Cayman Islands in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. How patriotic.

I’m getting tired of Republicans talking about wasteful spending now that Obama is president after living through the Bush years. So much money was wasted by that administration, it’s a disgrace. At least Obama wants to invest in health care for people who can’t afford it.

Moronic Republicans

There are so many examples of how this party has completely lost its way, but this news item takes the cake.

A group of 31 House Republicans have introduced a resolution “declaring victory in Iraq,” which is bound to evoke images of “Mission Accomplished” and George W. Bush in a flight suit.

The intention of the resolution isn’t actually celebratory. It’s intended to set a political trap by declaring, six weeks into Obama’s presidency, that all responsibility for the six-year conflict, which was initiated by President Bush on flawed evidence and incompetently pursued for much of his presidency, is now Obama’s to lose.

These guys are complete morons. It’s amazing that they would try to declare victory when we still have 150,000 troops in Iraq and the Iraqi government needs to hide from its own people behind our army in the Green Zone!

This is pure politics, but it’s also dumb politics. The GOP is turning into a sideshow.

The situation in Iraq

With “Fiasco,” Tom Ricks wrote one of the definitive books on the Iraq War, and he’s not optimstic about the situation we face in 2009.

Obama’s first year in Iraq is going to be tougher than Bush’s last year. Three reasons for that: First, three rounds of elections are scheduled in 2009, and those tend to be violent in Iraq. Second, the easy U.S. troop withdrawals have been made, and the pullouts at the end of this year will be riskier. Finally, none of the basic existential problems facing Iraq have been answered-the power relationships between groups, leadership of the Shiites, the sharing of oil revenue, the status of the disputed city of Kirkuk, to name just the most pressing ones. Compounding the problem will be the incorrect perception of many Americans that the Iraq was all but over when Obama took office.

Despite the conventional wisdom that the war is nearly over, Obama’s war in Iraq may last longer than Bush’s, which clocks in at a robust 5 years and 10 months. “So now you back in the trap–just that, trapped,” to quote Big Boi and Dre. My best guess is that we will have at least 35,000 troops there in 2015, as Obama’s likely second term is winding down. (Self-promotional moment: more on all this in my book “The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-08,” out Feb. 9 from Penguin Press.)

I have no idea what’s going to happen in Iraq, but I suspect Obama will push hard to change the strategic situation in the Middle East, and he’s determined to wind down this war. Having 35,000 troops there in 2015 would be a disappointment.

Don’t waste your time on “W”

The movie is just as bad as the Bush presidency. Josh Brolin gives an inspired performance, but most of the film falls flat.

The film works best when focusing on Bush’s life story and his rise to the presidency. His relationship with his father was central to his life, and his interactions with his parents and Laura inspired the more interesting parts of the film.

Regarding his presidency, however, all we see are caricatures of the people around him. Scenes are invented based upon public statements we saw in other contexts, but they seem forced and inauthentic. Historians can rightfully criticize the roles of administrations officials like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, but the portrayals of these men in the film are ridiculous.

Someday, we’ll see a serious movie that delves into the disasterous Bush presidency and the march to war, but “W” is not that movie. Oliver Stone goes for a lighter touch, but he doesn’t deliver enough laughs to make this a successfult comedy. In the end, it’s mostly a waste of time.

You have to talk to enemies

General Petraeus repeats what most respected foreign policy professionals believe – we have to be willing to talk to our enemies.

Petraeus also came out unambiguously in his talk at Heritage for opening communications with America’s adversaries, a position McCain is attacking Obama for endorsing. Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

All that was the subject of one of the most contentious tussles between McCain and Obama in the first presidential debate, with Obama contending that his intent to negotiate with foreign adversaries without “precondition” did not mean that he would neglect diplomatic “preparation.”

McCain, apparently perceiving an opportunity for attack, Tuesday again used Obama’s comments to attack his judgment. “Sen. Obama, without precondition, wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions,” McCain said, referring to Iran.

Yet Petraeus emphasized throughout his lecture that reaching out to insurgent groups — some “with our blood on their hands,” he said — was necessary to the ultimate goal of turning them against irreconcilable enemies like Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Petraeus favorably cited the example of one of his British deputies, who in a previous assignment had to negotiate with Martin McGuiness of the Irish Republican Army, responsible for killing some of the British commander’s troops. The British officer, Petraeus said, occasionally wanted to “reach across the table” and choke his former adversary but understood that such negotiations were key to ending a war.

I wonder how John McCain will spin this one.

Rebuilding America

Under George W. Bush we’ve wasted billions of dollars on a war in Iraq, while we’ve ignore our economy and infrastructure at home. The world is moving forward, but we’re going backwards.

Tom Friedman went to China during the Olympics, and he was struck by incredible progress made by the Chinese in such a short period of time. Meanwhile, we’re asleep at the switch.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

New Obama ad links Iraq War to struggling US economy

Anyone who thinks the Obama campaign can’t throw a punch hasn’t been paying attention to the recent ads from the Obama team.

The latest ad is very powerful. They pick up on the latest news that Iraq has a $79 billion oil surplus, while we’re spending over $10 billion per month on the Iraq War. The also explains that McCain votes with Bush 95% of the time.

It’s a powerful ad linking McCain, Bush and the Iraq War to our current economic difficulties. The tag line at the end – The Middle Class First – is a powerful one as well.

U.S. has spent over $100 billion on private contractors in Iraq

This number is disturbing. Some outsourcing is inevitable in modern warfare, but the idea that so much money is being spent on private firms means that we’ve increased the number of firms that profit from warfare.

We already have a military industrial complex, where weapons firms lobby our elected officials and drive more military spending than we need. Yet these firms have more of a long-term interest in building our military strength. With private contractors taking over military support operations, you now have a situation where billions of dollars are at stake and are dependent on military action. War means huge profits.

Unfortunately, we all know that this will result in some level of corruption. That always happens when the government doles out huge contracts, and the problem worsens when you have an incompetent administration. Even more disturbing, we now have a situation where billions are tied to continued military operations. It’s naive to think this will have no effect on decisions that should be based strictly on national interest and matters of life and death.

The amount of waste discovered so far in Iraq has been stunning. A new administration will need to take a close look at how we dole out money, and whether the government needs to put the brakes on this outsourcing trend.

Obama’s approach to foreign policy

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria takes a close look at Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy, noting Obama’s emphasis on realism, in sharp contrast to John McCain and George W. Bush, who have embraced the wide-eyed idealism of the neoconservatives.

The rap on Barack Obama, at least in the realm of foreign policy, has been that he is a softheaded idealist who thinks that he can charm America’s enemies. John McCain and his campaign, conservative columnists and right-wing bloggers all paint a picture of a liberal dreamer who wishes away the world’s dangers. Even President Bush stepped into the fray earlier this year to condemn the Illinois senator’s willingness to meet with tyrants as naive. Some commentators have acted as if Obama, touring the Middle East and Europe this week on his first trip abroad since effectively wrapping up the nomination, is in for a rude awakening.

These critiques, however, are off the mark. Over the course of the campaign against Hillary Clinton and now McCain, Obama has elaborated more and more the ideas that would undergird his foreign policy as president. What emerges is a world view that is far from that of a typical liberal, much closer to that of a traditional realist. It is interesting to note that, at least in terms of the historical schools of foreign policy, Obama seems to be the cool conservative and McCain the exuberant idealist.

Just as with his other policies, Obama takes a much more nuanced approach to the world, recognizing that the world is a complex place. In contrast, McCain seems to embrace W’s simplistic “good vs. evil” approach to most situation.

Obama rarely speaks in the moralistic tones of the current Bush administration. He doesn’t divide the world into good and evil even when speaking about terrorism. He sees countries and even extremist groups as complex, motivated by power, greed and fear as much as by pure ideology. His interest in diplomacy seems motivated by the sense that one can probe, learn and possibly divide and influence countries and movements precisely because they are not monoliths. When speaking to me about Islamic extremism, for example, he repeatedly emphasized the diversity within the Islamic world, speaking of Arabs, Persians, Africans, Southeast Asians, Shiites and Sunnis, all of whom have their own interests and agendas.

Obama never uses the soaring language of Bush’s freedom agenda, preferring instead to talk about enhancing people’s economic prospects, civil society and—his key word—”dignity.” He rejects Bush’s obsession with elections and political rights, and argues that people’s aspirations are broader and more basic—including food, shelter, jobs. “Once these aspirations are met,” he told The New York Times’s James Traub, “it opens up space for the kind of democratic regimes we want.” This is a view of democratic development that is slow, organic and incremental, usually held by conservatives.

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