Shadow Presidency

The White House wants to shut down Central London for three days for the President's visit:

White House security demands covering President George Bush's controversial state visit to Britain have provoked a serious row with Scotland Yard.

American officials want a virtual three-day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protestors. They are demanding that police ban all marches and seal off the city centre.

But senior Yard officers say the powers requested by US security chiefs would be unprecedented on British soil. While the Met wants to prevent violence, it is sensitive to accusations of trying to curtail legitimate protest.
Secrecy surrounds his itinerary during the trip, which starts on 19 November. He will stay at Buckingham Palace and his staff want The Mall, Whitehall and part of the City closed. Besides provoking a civil liberties backlash, the Met fears such a move would cause traffic chaos and incur huge loss of business across the capital.
Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens said his force was facing "a very tough" time over the visit, which will see the biggest security operation ever mounted in Britain.

He told the Breakfast with Frost show a balance had to be struck between the President's safety and protestors' right to make their voices heard.

"We are on the highest alert that we have ever worked at," he said. "We are working two-and-a-half times harder than we did at the very height of the Irish terror campaign."

I'm even more convinced than ever that the President is not in control of his Administration. The efforts to which his coterie goes to isolate him from any dissent or even the slightest whiff of criticism is astounding. Jacob Weisberg notes in Slate that the lack of postwar planning in Iraq is a good example:

An even more important question is how the Bush administration failed to prepare for what it knew was coming. How did the world's greatest military power plan the invasion of a country without also planning its occupation?

David Rieff's Nov. 2 article in the New York Times Magazine offers pieces of an answer. The neoconservative Iraq hawks inside the Pentagon�Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith�thought our troops would be welcomed as liberators and that the Iraqi National Congress could run the country for us (a view Gideon Rose demolished in Slate back in April). Wolfowitz, in particular, was known for his view that fixing Iraq would provoke a reverse-domino effect of democratization throughout the Middle East. Those who bought into this wishful thinking didn't want to hear about the potential problems.
The result was that a few charismatic, outside-the-box thinkers were able to bamboozle the president into mistaking their roll of the dice for a mature judgment. No wise old head (where was Brent Scowcroft when we needed him?) took the president aside to explain that winning a debate in the Cabinet room isn't the same thing as having a sensible policy. (Bush's tax cuts are another example of a similar phenomenon, driven by a different set of ideologues: the supply-siders.)

Back during the 2000 campaign, George Will and others argued that presidential intelligence didn't matter. This notion was reinforced after Sept. 11, when it became fashionable to argue that Bush's "moral clarity" was preferable to the ability to comprehend many sides of a complicated issue. In fact, presidential intelligence does matter. The intellectual qualities Bush lacks�historical knowledge, interest in the details of policy, and substantive (as opposed to political) judgment�might well have prevented the quagmire we're facing in Iraq right now. A more engaged president�one who understood, for instance, the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites�surely would have asked about Plan B.

And via Josh Marshall, the latest Newsweek piece on how we were sold the war points out that Cheney is a force unto himself within the administration:

Cheney has long been regarded as a Washington wise man. He has a dry, deliberate manner; a penetrating, if somewhat wintry, wit, and a historian�s long-view sensibility. He is far to the right politically, but in no way wild-eyed; in private conversation he seems moderate, thoughtful, cautious. Yet when it comes to terrorist plots, he seems to have given credence to the views of some fairly flaky ideologues and charlatans.
Nonetheless, it appears that Cheney has been susceptible to �cherry-picking,� embracing those snippets of intelligence that support his dark prognosis while discarding others that don�t. He is widely regarded in the intelligence community as an outlier, as a man who always goes for the worst-case �scenario and sometimes overlooks less alarming or at least ambiguous signs. Top intelligence officials reject the suggestion that Cheney has somehow bullied lower-level CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency analysts into telling him what he wants to hear. But they do describe the Office of the Vice President, with its large and assertive staff, as a kind of free-floating power base that at times brushes aside the normal policymaking machinery under national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On the road to war, Cheney in effect created a parallel government that became the real power center.

Newsweek is playing catch-up to Marshall - see his earlier stories, about the myth of Republican competence and the havoc that Cheney wreaks, unchecked within the Administration.

So we have a weak President who lets various factions (neocons, Cheney, social conservatives, and the political wing) impose policy and he lacks the gravitas to actually bring them to heel. Consider that the political wing, which arguably has the most influence since their goal is to re-elect in 2004, has seen the Iraq war as a liability to the point that conservative and liberal critics alike are taking seriously the idea that Bush might cut and run from Iraq:

The immediate danger is that the American mission in Iraq may be the first and most dire casualty of this administration's parsimony. In these pages a few weeks ago, Lewis Lehrman felicitously observed, "prudence counsels that to desire the Bush Doctrine is to desire the indispensable means to make it effective." So far, the Pentagon has shown little interest in developing and deploying the indispensable means to make the Bush Doctrine effective. The stunning victory in the war to remove Saddam has been followed by an almost equally stunning lack of seriousness about winning the peace, despite the vital importance of creating a stable, secure, and democratic Iraq. That is what the Bush Doctrine of "regime change" means, or should mean: Not blowing out the bad regime and then leaving others to pick up the pieces, but staying long enough to ensure that a good regime can take its place.

But for that to happen, we need to defeat the increasingly dangerous Baathist and international terrorist groups operating in Iraq. There aren't enough American troops there today to conduct the kind of counterterrorist and counterinsurgency strategy that is needed. In an effort to compensate, the administration has pursued one illusory quick fix after another. First there was the illusion--now dispelled--that international troops would come in and substitute for American forces. With U.S. troops scheduled to rotate out of Iraq in March, Pentagon planners counted on the introduction of two new international divisions. This expectation was fanciful, as we pointed out two months ago. It was unlikely that many foreign forces were ever going to participate in the aftermath of a war their governments did not favor.
The president has publicly dedicated his administration to keeping U.S. forces in place as long as necessary to build a democratic Iraq. It would be helpful if the Pentagon implemented a strategy consistent with the president's stated goals. Or we can cross our fingers and just hope it all works out. But that's an irresponsible risk to take. Failing in Iraq would be a strategic calamity worse than America's retreat from Vietnam 30 years ago. As Senator John McCain put it this week, the only acceptable exit strategy is victory. The president calls our effort in Iraq "a massive and difficult undertaking." It is that, and it is also a necessary and admirable one. The question is whether Bush will see to it that his Pentagon does what it takes to make that undertaking succeed.

That's Bill Kristol writing in the Weekly Standard, mind you, explicitly asking whether Bush will do what it takes to succeed. Note that ALL the major Democratic candidates - who opposed and supported war alike - have consistently said that now we must stay the course in Iraq. Other bloggers who have noted this are Matthew Yglesias, Glenn Reynolds, Armed Liberal, Tacitus, and Kevin Drum - all of whom supported the war. And Al Gore, no dove on Iraq himself, made the point this weekend that the Administration appears more interested in the illusion of security for political expediency rather than actually making hard choices to guarantee that security.

And things ARE going badly in Iraq. That much is clear from the increasingly erratic decisionmaking of the front line. The recent AP article evoked disturbing memories of military reprisal tactics[1] we haven't seen since the 1960s:

An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed Friday � apparently shot down by insurgents � killing all six U.S. soldiers aboard and capping the bloodiest seven days in Iraq for Americans since the fall of Baghdad.

In retaliation, American troops backed by Bradley fighting vehicles swept through Iraqi neighborhoods before dawn Saturday, blasting houses suspected of being insurgent hideouts with machine guns and heavy weapons fire.

"This is to remind the town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them," said Lt. Col. Steven Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment...

Late Friday, U.S. troops fired mortars and a U.S. jets dropped at least three 500-pound bombs around the crash site, rattling windows over a wide area in an apparent show of force.

Billmon and Tacitus are in agreement that machine-gunning houses of suspects and conducting tactical airstrikes just to let the locals know who's boss is not a strategy, it's desperation.

and do such tactics work? No - from the Washington POst:

None of the U.S. tactics in Thuluiya has worked. In June, the town was the target of a massive helicopter and tank sweep as troops raided houses in a search for Hussein sympathizers. Of more than 400 detainees netted in the raid, called Operation Peninsula Strike, two remain in custody, according to Iraqi police.

When U.S. commanders took a softer approach, funding repairs to schools and the police station and recruiting local policemen to provide security, attacks continued. A father killed a son who had informed on behalf of the Americans. Attacks on U.S. soldiers at a bridge prompted the Americans to bulldoze a swath of date palms and fruit trees along a major roadway. U.S. troops carried out sporadic raids; eight Thuluiya residents have been detained in the past two weeks, residents say.

Efforts to get Iraqis to handle security in town foundered under a wave of mistrust. The police have been all but sidelined. "The Americans don't have confidence in us," said one officer, who declined to give his name for fear of getting fired. "They think we know who is doing the attacks but are not telling them."

The officer and his comrades said U.S. commanders no longer meet with local leaders in town but invite them to their base at a large airfield north of the town. Since a wave of car bombings last month in Baghdad, no U.S. official has visited the police station, they said. "The Americans are afraid," the officer said.

The bottom line is that things are a mess, and its because the President has not been strong enough to make decisions on what is best for teh country. With Iraq, with the economy, with the relationship of the Executive Branch with the Legislative (including accountability and oversight), and in civil liberties, the Administration has routinely allowed the ideolouges to come in with easy fix solutions based on politicized intelligence and pandering to the powerful interests who are needed for 2004.

[1] Another AP story reveals that the soldiers are getting radicalized towards the population (including debasing the honorary title hajji as an epithet for Iraqis, body searches of women by male Coalition troops, insulting the Qur'an, cutting down date palms, and many other incidents). Given the lack of postwar planning and the extreme under-manned status of the troops, the decision-making process has moved downwards to the level of individual soldiers. Therefore this kind of aggressive behavior and over-reaction is not surprising. The soldiers aren't bad people, but they are under enormous stress, and they are forced to see the average Iraqis solely as a threat. This makes their main mission of winning the peace essentially impossible. It's a cycle of violence that they are trapped in and it will approach the IDF/PA type of interacton as the situation worsens.

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