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August 28, 2005 - No Agreement in Iraq, Dissatisfaction on the Home Front, and No One Doing Much

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From the New York Times we get this:


Talks over the Iraqi constitution reached a breaking point on Thursday, with a parliamentary session to present the document being canceled and President Bush personally calling one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders in an effort to broker a last-minute deal.

Mr. Bush intervened when some senior Shiite leaders said they had decided to bypass their Sunni counterparts, as well as Iraqi lawmakers, and send the document directly to Iraqi voters for their approval.


From the Associated Press we get this:


[Shiite negotiator Ali] Al-Adeeb said Bush personally telephoned Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and asked him to make compromises on parts of the consitution that would purge former members of Saddam's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from government jobs and political life and on federalism, which the Sunnis strongly oppose.

A second Shiite negotiator also confirmed the Bush call but asked that his name not be published.

Al-Adeeb said al-Hakim told the president that the Shiite bloc was made up of several groups "and they might reject the constitution if the article on the Baath Party is removed.''


The AP follow-up: "The White House confirmed that Bush made the call prior to the midnight Thursday deadline."

Juan Cole: the president bas been "reduced to pleading with a pro-Iranian cleric to please make nice with the ex-Baathists. And he isn't even succeeding in the plea!"

Typical comment from a critic here:


You can bet he wasn't expecting this when he strutted across that aircraft carrier two years ago - or even last year, when Karl Rove had him entering campaign rallies last year accompanied by the theme from "Top Gun."

On the flip side, though, can you imagine the high-fives that were being exchanged in SCIRI headquarters after the call? Al-Hakim will be dining out for years on the story: "So the U.S. president said, 'Please, Mr. Hakim, can you help us?' And I said, "Ahh, I don't know, Mr. President, I'll have to give it some thought..."


This isn't going anywhere.

The poll numbers are tanking. The president's approval ratings are somewhere between thirty-six and forty percent, depending on the poll, with disapproval running about fifty-six percent.

A bad week.

Here's a literary comparison from Michael Signer: Death of a Salesman, 2005.

After a rundown of the situation, this –


Most of the problems about America's situation in Iraq can be traced back not to faults in intelligence, to the Bush's failure at international diplomacy, or to internal disputes in Iraq. They're instead rooted in an earlier, domestic catastrophe: the Bush Administration's failure to convince the American people of the moral rightness of invading Iraq.

It's August, so it's worth remembering this is the month that Andy Card said was, "from a marketing point of view," a bad time to introduce new products.

If they know so much, why was the Bush Administration so bad at selling us this product?

Americans are willing to suffer great numbers of casualties when they believe there's a cause that, morally, rises to the level of mass sacrifice. Osama bin Laden famously said America in Somalia was "paper tiger" that "after a few blows ran in defeat." This belief underlies the ferocity of Al Qaeda's attacks.

The American people want to be convinced by their leaders that they should summon collective moral passion for a military engagement. We tend to approach casualties in a binary fashion -- either they are good (and worth dying for) or not (and worth protesting against -- by the way, Cindy Sheehan is back).


If you click on the item there are embedded links that document all that. And Signer notes that although the casualty level is low compared to the Civil War and the two world wars, although at about Vietnam War levels, he says this:


... unlike many other countries who routinely support grandly bloody conflicts almost as a matter of national culture, Americans apply a high moral standard to casualties: we will not tolerate casualties if they're the result of a conflict in the morally gray area between - which explains why we are convulsing over fewer than 2,000 casualties in Iraq.

Moreover, American constitution-making and nation-building only works when Americans are solidly behind the efforts. Americans fall behind these efforts when they are convinced of their moral rightness. We were more than willing to plow billions of dollars into the Marshall Plan, and to rebuild Germany and Japan, because we were fully convinced of the moral rightness of the missions.

The Bush Administration sold the American people on this war in a hurried, political-blunderbuss sort of way. They worked through politicians first, rather than going to the people. They staged the first vote in Congress a mere three weeks before the 2002 Congressional elections, meaning that the votes (and the "deliberation" that went before them) were shot through with intensely political calculation.

The Administration could have gained more public support for military action in Iraq by focusing less on WMD and more on the stories of Saddam's brutalization of Iraqis, and the fact that his hostile posture threatened our post-9/11 pax Americana.

But, alas, they didn't. They jammed a conclusory war down Congress's throats and presented the package to the American people (the ultimate arbiters) as a done deal.


Singer say we actually were willing to accept this war on faith, but we never really had "that burning, moral passion that has undergirded our greatest military campaigns; the absence of which has gradually corroded our weakest ones (Vietnam, Korea, smaller engagements like Panama, and, now, Iraq)."

Undergirded? Whatever. You see the point. We're losing faith. It been going on for a long time now.

What we face now?


1) A successful Iraq constitution could well take many years of patient cultivation. In America (which was far more stable and internally cohesive), we took ten years. And each of our states (like Iraq's regions) developed their own constitutions in the meantime. But the Bush Administration can't be that patient in Iraq because they need to have a deadline, because they want to get out, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war.

2) To truly establish rule-of-law in Iraq, and stamp out rebellion, would require large numbers of troops, perhaps gained through a draft. Americans have supported drafts before, especially where we've had moral passion for the engagement. But the Bush Administration would never consider a draft, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war

3) To truly win in Iraq (rather than leave behind a fragmented and faltering country) we might well have to suffer more casualties, in the 10,000-or-more range, over the next few years. The American people would certainly grant that sacrifice, if they were behind the war. But the Bush Administration is panicking, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war.


You see where this is going.

Thursday the 25th Jon Stewart had as is guest on "The Daily Show" the facile and experienced, well-traveled and hyper- knowledgeable, and staunchly pro-war Christopher Hitchens as his guest, which was odd. You might note this exchange


Stewart: But there are reasonable disagreements in this country about the way this war has been conducted, that has nothing to do with people believing we should cut and run from the terrorists, or we should show weakness in the face of terrorism, or that we believe that we have in some way brought this upon ourselves...
They believe that this war is being conducted without transparency, without credibility, and without competence...

Hitchens: I'm sorry, sunshine... I just watched you ridicule the president for saying he wouldn't give...

Stewart: No, you misunderstood why. That's not why I ridiculed the president. He refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults, and falls back upon platitudes and phrases and talking points, that does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people needs to convince."


You can watch the whole thing here - Stewart dismantled him. No pleasantries at the end. Hitchens' comment as the walked off the set? "It's been real."

Actuality it was. This just isn't working. But only the comics can say that - and Cindy Sheehan, who is, of course, a flawed messenger. And Chuck Hegel, a Republican with lots of medals from when he fought in Vietnam. No Democrat would dare.

See this from Fafblog:


Fafblog Interviews: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

FAFBLOG: So what's up, Democrats?

JOE BIDEN: What's up is the war in Iraq, which is terribly mismanaged, Fafnir.

FB: Oh wow! Are you guys against the war, too?

JOE LIEBERMAN: Oh no, we're not AGAINST the war!
HARRY REID: We're all FOR it!
BIDEN: It's the best worst idea in the world, and we're gonna run with it to victory!
HILLARY CLINTON: Watch me eat a bug!

FB: So we can actually win the war! That's great news!

REID: Sort of!
BIDEN: Maybe!
CLINTON: I can wrestle a buffalo!

FB: I'm confused.

REID: The problem is troop levels, Fafnir. The US invaded without enough boots on the ground!
LIEBERMAN: Just another couple hundred thousand soldiers on the ground and hey, we should have this thing wrapped up in no time!
BIDEN: Just like I told George Bush all along! I told him in the Oval Office, "You're gonna go in without enough troops and you're not gonna plan for the occupation and it's gonna be the biggest mistake of your presidency and I'm gonna vote for it!"

FB: Wow, that all seems so prescient.

BIDEN: And then Batman jumped in through the window and said "Senator, the Justice League needs you right away!" and I said "Shut up and move, rich boy, we've got a moon to save!"
CLINTON: I have eaten the heart of a gorilla!

FB: So how come you guys voted for the war if the president was gonna screw it up?

REID: We were misled!
LIEBERMAN: We were deceived!
BIDEN: We were given the impression that the war was actually a match of bareknuckle fisticuffs between a mustachioed Brooklyn brawler and a plucky midget Irishman!
CLINTON: Wanna see me punch out a yak? 'Cause I will!

FB: Will the lies never end. But where will we get the troops from now, Democratic Party? Aren't we runnin out of em?

REID: We've used up plenty of REAL troops, sure, but what about FAKE troops? Why isn't the military pounding the streets looking to recruit new mannequins, crash-test dummies and hand puppets?
LIEBERMAN: Our nation's rich supply of blow-up dolls has barely begun to be explored for national security purposes.
BIDEN: To say nothing of our nation's patriotic trained seal and dolphin population! When will the Pentagon deploy the 101st Fighting Shamu Brigade?
CLINTON: I can tear a boulder in half with my teeth!

FB: Yknow you're right! An that's not even countin what our friends in the fungus kingdom could do.

LIEBERMAN: And you know, Fafnir, if we could train the Iraqi forces to replace our forces more efficiently, we could end the occupation that much faster.

FB: That's such a great idea I can't believe nobody's thought of it before! How do we do that?

REID: Voodoo!
LIEBERMAN: Santeria!
BIDEN: Giant samurai robots piloted by magical fairy children!
CLINTON: If elected I promise to rampage through New York City and swat biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building until my grisly and untimely demise!

FB: Now I like everything I've heard so far today but for some crazy reason most Americans think we should just start pullin our troops OUT of Iraq. Are most Americans crazy?

REID: They're not crazy, Fafnir.
LIEBERMAN: They're just weak, willing to expose America's flabby underbelly to the curved scimitars of a thousand swarthy terrorists.
BIDEN: We can't blink, man! That'd be like... like losing an arm-wrestle to Allah or something! Game over, man! Then they know we're pussies!
CLINTON: I will go back in time and become Richard Nixon and lose the Vietnam War twice as hard as anybody!

FB: Yknow you guys got tons a great ideas but you won't be able to do anything with em unless you win some elections again. How're you gonna do that?

REID: By listening carefully to the American people, and then ignoring them.
LIEBERMAN: By forcefully arguing against the direction George Bush is taking this country!
BIDEN: Just before we vote for it again. ...


Not too far off the mark.

So the one or two maverick Republicans, a few comics, and the ordinary folks, a majority now, those fed up with this all - but not anyone from the "opposition party" - are the ones left to fix this?

Seems so.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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