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November 19, 2005


Speaking of National Journal, the Blogometer is always interesting once you realize it's a center-right review of Left-Right Blogistan, preferring controversial to thoughtful posts (which exist on both sides). It's no exaggeration to say their definition of Left would include Harry Truman and Sam Nunn if they opposed Bush.

There is little question now that the wind is at the back of Iraq war opponents -- many of the most vocal being bloggers. From Pres. Bush getting sidetracked by the Cindy Sheehan protest, to his clumsy Katrina response, to the Dems' stepped-up challenges on Iraq, to the focus Plamegate put on the WH and pre-war intel, it is not hard to see how the public has become more skeptical of the Bush admin. over the past couple months. Now many on the left are touting Rep. Jack Murtha's (D-PA) House floor speech as a crystallizing moment in what they see as the American public's belated turn against the war.

That remains to be seen, but plenty of war supporters are nervous. While there is some hand-wringing going on among them, a number of them have moved quickly to discredit Murtha, bringing up earlier positions incongruous with his hawkish reputation. To call that an uphill battle would be an understatement; the media has him pegged as an Iraq war supporter until recently, and whether Dems follow Murtha's example is entirely out of their hands.

Bob Graham joins the parade and takes on Bush:

The president's attacks are outrageous. Yes, more than 100 Democrats voted to authorize him to take the nation to war. Most of them, though, like their Republican colleagues, did so in the legitimate belief that the president and his administration were truthful in their statements that Saddam Hussein was a gathering menace -- that if Hussein was not disarmed, the smoking gun would become a mushroom cloud.

The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his veracity. Caveat emptor has become the word. Every member of Congress is on his or her own to determine the truth.

As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was predicated as any other member of Congress.

I, too, presumed the president was being truthful -- until a series of events undercut that confidence.

Andrew Sullivan captures the bitter enders (the 35% who still back Bush):

MURTHA'S "COWARDICE": A Republican fights back:

"Why do Democrats get a free pass? Why isn’t anyone else entitled to their opinion? Murtha is obviously pressing the Democrats’ attack on President Bush. His past heroism doesn’t make him right when he engages in partisan politics. Are you so naïve as to think he wasn’t picked to deliver the surrender message because of his past military history? Passing on another marine’s opinion is just as relevant as his and just as fair. Liberals like you won’t be happy until President Bush is impeached. You can’t win an election legally, so you resort to slimy tactics in an effort to win. If it takes losing the war and wasting all those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom, it is worth it for you. What do you care? You live a privilege life made possible by our military’s sacrifice. And you show your appreciation by stabbing us in the back."

I think this email does indeed represent the bitter core of the Bush-Cheney GOP.

This whole sorry Murtha episode makes me think that the Republicans are better at opposition than at governing. The wars enabled them to hide it for a while because Bush was seen as leading a proactive military campaign. But the wars, and the propoganda campaign that deceived the public about Iraq, were based on a strategry of destroying enemies (internally and externally). There was no thought whatsoever in the aftermath about building something (literally and figuratively)that people would support. The incompetence in Iraq and New Orleans made that painfully clear. Now the only thing the Right can fall back on is their Hun-like oppositional stance, but people are becoming willing to discuss substantive solutions.

So here's a (strictly hypothetical, because I don't think it will come to this) question.

What if both houses of congress were to pass Murtha resolutions. Given Bush's radio statement today, he's not ready or willing to withdraw (and I'd be interested in talking about why not). But the Constitution is clear, Congress gets to declare war. Does Congress get to undeclare war? What if Bush vetoed the Murtha resolutions (which, in my hypothetical scenario would not have passed with a veto-proof majority)? Wouldn't that be a clear usurption of power?

Congress would withhold funds. The resolution or its veto would be seen as symbolic, nothing more. But if in theory the Congress meant it, and Bush vetoes it, then he'd be impeached and convicted as the final arbiter of who usurped whom.

All in theory.

Diageo & Hotline poll The breakdowns are interesting, and it’s clear why the GOP are pushing back hard on Iraq. If they don’t, they’ll lose more GOP support. Bush is losing his base, which explains why DSCC and DCCC relased their GOP rubber stamp report.

From Hotline:

-- 60% of voters think the nation is on the wrong track and 41% of GOPers agree; that GOP "wrong track" number is the highest we've recorded. The previous GOPer "wrong track" high was 29% in Oct.
-- GOPers "strongly" approving of Bush's job has dropped to 37%, the lowest since this poll began, in Jan., down from 59% in 3/05.
-- Asked why voters disapprove of Bush, the top reason is Iraq. This is also the top reason among GOPers (34%).

BushCo want to make this a partisan fight, so that the BushCo nutso core vote stays in tack.

This whole sorry Murtha episode makes me think that the Republicans are better at opposition than at governing.

The GOP is better at opposition (whether in the minority or against the bogeyman of choice) than at governing. It works for them in campaigns. What keeps GOPers together is a common hatred of whoever is disagreeing with them at the moment.

And they claim that the Dems don't have a positive agenda. Republicans don't know how to do anything but use fear and smear.

In theory, yes. In practice, the Constitution is culturally obsolete when it comes to the power of the purse in wartime. The framers took for granted the 18th century attitude toward soldiers as dregs of society, not Our Boys and Girls. But there are other ways, even short of impeachment, that a sufficiently annoyed Congress could make a war unsustainable.

A couple of thoughts on Peter Wehner's argument in the National Journal article, that no one would launch a war on a lie that was sure to come out.

1) So far as I can tell, the WH crowd really did believe that we'd be greeted with flowers. If we had been - if post-invasion Iraq had gone even remotely like they imagined - the prewar deceptions would be a dead issue.

2) If they reflected on their deceptions at all (and they're not a very self-reflective bunch), they surely never expected to get caught in a huge bright-line lie. After all, if even a dozen rusty gas shells left over from the Iran-Iraq war had turned up, that would be enough to say that "Iraq had WMD." We'd still be arguing over the incompetency of the war, but not really the deceptions going in.

If you go back to before the war, I think that the general consensus of impartial observers was that Iraq probably *did* have "some" WMD. After all, they'd had it in the past, and Saddam acted as if he still did (hassling the inspectors instead of saying "check me out, I'm clean").

The prewar question wasn't so much whether Saddam had WMD but whether he was a clear and present danger. It was perfectly possible to assume that he still had some, but had been effectively defanged and needed only an occasional slap to keep him in line.

Proviso that the above applies only to the WMD story line, not the al-Qaeda link story line. The al-Queda link claims always struck me as odd (even if understandable on a level of cynical politics), not only because Saddam was a secularist with no affinity to Islamic fundamentalists, but because terrorism - i.e., truck bombings and the like - was never part of Saddam's MO. Unlike Iran, Libya, and Syria, all of which have had many links to terrorist groups over the years, Saddam had hardly any. But the petard that Bush has ended up hung on is more WMD than al-Qaeda links.

So, what we are seeing now is poetic justice in a big way. Bush's Splendid Little War turned into a quagmire, AND the tissue of exaggerations and deceptions he used to justify it turned out to hinge on an easily-grasped non-fact, Iraqi WMD.

-- Rick

and they're not a very self-reflective bunch

No they're not, are they? if they were they'd not go after Murtha.

The repugs are counting on the Iraqian elections to save their butts. I have a feeling they're putting their eggs in the wrong basket because the upcoming election (in Iraq) is going to be a bigger boondoggle than the Florida fiasco.

The sheer ineptitude of these guys is awesome - how did they ever graduate from trikes to 2-wheelers? Even apart from badmouthing Murtha, if the point of last night's charade was to try and split Dems, why not bring up Murtha's own resolution for a vote? (Even at Redstate.org, some people are wondering about that.)

Of course, they may have had a lurking fear that a Murtha vote might turn into a runaway train. But even so, pulling a phony stunt vote was a firecracker guaranteed to blow up in their collective face.

-- Rick

Even Brooks on the News Hour cringed at the attacks on Murtha and said all his contacts did as well. It really did seem like the Joseph Welch moment, a comparison that is invoked way, way too often. And Jean Schmidt! Poetic justice.

This is going to come back to haunt the GOP. They have really lost any sense of how one governs, if they have had any at all since the Howard Bakers were replaced by the Tom DeLays. Clearly episodes like this tear at the fabric of trust. Dems who had resisted seeing the modern GOP for the hyenas they are can no longer avoid it. And ineffective hyenas--they had to put off the tax bill, the Patriot Act, the defense budget. Will they be able to reconcile the House and Senate budget bills? Not likely, in my book, not with the leadership huddled with their lawyers and the Jean Schmidts being pushed front and center.

And the public? People who weanted an explanation of why we are in Iraq didn't get it. Instead they were told that we will stay until the job is done, which is essentially forever. That is why Murtha's criticism was so telling--he just came out and said we can't do it, it can't be done militarily, which anyone who follows the news knows is true.

I'm so glad to see the appearance of "Enough is enough! Vote Democratic" bumper stickers. They can have their base. We get the other 65%.

Re: the counterfeit Murtha resolution: I agree, they would have had a real chance to split the Dems if they had brought up Murtha's actual resolution. But I don't think they could have, at least yesterday (the last day before break), because they probably would not have had enough votes from their own party to shove the actual Murtha resolution down the dems' throats without real debate. That would have been perceived by too many, esp. in the MSM, as so undemocratic as to merit severe denunciation.

I think the Republicans did the only thing they thought they could do in 24 hrs.: Get a near-unanimous, pointless vote on a resolution that has similar language to Murtha's (none of the cable talking heads were pointing out the difference--Murtha had to do it himself on Hardball), so they could put a full stop to the sentence on their own terms before the break. That could serve to stanch the flow of blood, and to "tamp down" (as the Times said) the enthusiasm generated by Murtha's "thunderclap" on Thursday.

Of course, Jean Schmidt's idiotic attempt to malign Murtha using the words of a member of the Ohio House of Representatives (a Marine Corps Reserve Colonel) gave the Dems their second vicotry of the day. The first was successfully defining the whole charade as a stunt.

Like so many other vocal folks here and elsewhere, I can scarcely contain my glee over what Rick calls "poetic justice." And not just with Bush and not just over the war. We foes of the Administration (and GOP leadership in general) have had such a glorious couple of months of almost too-good-to-be-true news - indictments and victorious off-year elections and scandals and missteps and the ever-crashing approval polls - that we're practically giddy. Whirling all about the Republicans is the aroma of losers. Three days in a row, I've had people come up to me in a parking lot and comment favorably on or give the thumbs-up to my Worst President Ever bumpersticker, something which has never happened previously.

So I don't mean to throw cold water on all these "just desserts" discussions we're having more and more frequently these days. But even though that smirk seems to have been wiped permanently off the president's face, I'm wary. Maybe it's because events and trends have so often juiced me up for political victory in the past only to turn sour in the proving grounds of the ballot box or elsewhere. (I remember too well how joy at LBJ's March 1968 announcement turned to ashes seven months later.)

I'm not counseling pessimism here. We've certainly had enough of that. Bush's incompetence and GOP over-reaching and political thuggery has widened from a crack in which to insert a wedge into what must seem an alarming chasm for Republican strategists. The fighting spirit and tactics of Harry Reid (whom I admit I was mighty skeptical about until very recently) adds to the anticipation of a reversal of fortune. The mood of rank-and-file Americans seems to favor change, perhaps tidal. Nothing does more to renew confidence than a string of good news.

But over-confidence has burned us so often in the past. If I had DHinMI's experience I might come up with a proper sports analogy at this point. Rather, let me just say, no matter what happens, it's going to be a hard slog to winning next November.

Rather, let me just say, no matter what happens, it's going to be a hard slog to winning next November.

I agree with you here, and I feel that once again I must attack the gullibility of the American public for falling for the bunker mentality being used over and over on them by the repubs! It is just amazing the amount of fear that Americans must harbor that the Goering technique can be so successful so many times. Can it happen yet again with this evil administration and this Iraq war subject? We will see soon enough.

In summary, many times I have posted the following quote below, and it is again appropriate here! Does this not sound like our politicians both before the Iraq and before the Vietnam wars, as well as the Repubs just over the last few days? Maybe the Dems need to publicize this quote as an example of what is being pulled over on the public??

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
-- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

A cautionary splash of cold water is always in order, because a year is a long time.

Looking at it in purely political terms, the sensible thing for Bush to do would be to start moving troops out, and get the remaining ones off the roads, holed up on bases in the Kurdish north or whatever. The public metric of this war is almost exclusively US casualties - reduce those, and people won't much notice if Iraqis are getting blown up.

Of course, even this cynical approach requires cashing a reality check, and I'm not sure that Bush is up for that.

Still, a year is a long time.

-- Rick

A year is a long time, but not long enough to erase a 5 year decline in trust. That's especially true in someone who is untrustworthy.

I keep having the same two reactions to the turn of events in the last month (or, since the Lewis indictment).

First, I don't understand why it wasn't obvious to more people before March, 2003 that Bush/Cheney wanted a war and they were going to have one. The arguments that they made were fundamentally preposterous, I never could understand why so many people bought the idea that Sadaam was an "imminent danger" or that there was some kind of link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Second, what seems finally to be bringing the Republicans to grief is the clear evidence that politics is all: they have zero interest in maing the country work. Their sole interests are money and power ad infinitum and the ends justify the means. Like the garbage pretexts for war, this has been obvious for some time and on many fronts.

Americans trust their President, especially in war time. That was the hurdle to get over in 2004, as well to stop a war in 2003 when the WH was determined to take us there. You must not underestimate it, or you will never understand what happened then. But you must not underestimate what it means to lose it, as is happening now.

A year could be a long time for a president (Reagan, Clinton) who saw the value in reversing a disastrous course. It's a miniscule period for a group of ideologues who have sworn to their base they will never budge an inch. Any attempt to extract troops from Iraq will lead to howls from the same group that got Harriet Myers tossed aside.

It's also not long enough when some areas of trouble (like Abramoff, and maybe Fitzgerald) haven't even done their worst damage yet. To say nothing of, all this bad news occurs while the economy, on paper, is growing. Imagine the effect of an almost-inevitable housing-bubble burst (and recession).

Moreover, the image of the entire GOP is now set in many people's minds: they don't care about governing; they only want to line their pockets; they lie with impunity. Why would anyone disbelieve the Plame/Wilson smear, when they can see what's done to Jack Murtha? As some blogger wrote a few weks back, this administration knows only one mode: week before election, get the smear out so it can't be rebutted.

Yesterday was one of the ugliest days in the House in my memory. I recall the comment of one Democrat in late Fall '94, near the election, after the crime bill had failed. Asked if he thought the Dems might lose control of the House, he said "We've already lost control". The GOP is showing contempt for the institutions of government, and, while it's disappointing anyone could not see that, a significant majority is well aware. I don't see them coming back to Team Bush.

I've always thought the whole Bush era was roughly like the Carter period -- an inter-regnum built on fluke, when the country was clearly desiring a move to the policies of the opposite party. Bush's re-election seemed to argue aganst that, but, recall, in neither of his two "wins" did he score as many EVs as Carter did in his hair-thin victory -- and this near-immediate collapse argues for my original view. Maybe 9/11 simply made the Cartyer analogy move in slightly slower motion...but the ugly (for Republicans) outcome still lies ahead.

But you must not underestimate what it means to lose it, as is happening now.

Can anyone think of a MAJOR political party switch happening during an election in wartime when an incumbent did not admit mistakes/defeat (Johnson in 1968)?? Now the big question to me is do the American people see what is happening today as a real war and these times as war times?

Does anybody know when Bush will share some of that sacrifice he is so fond of?

The polls say bad, but they are taking food from hungry children so you know they aren't scared at all.


One of the underlying issues with the WMD search is Bush's inability to pick a side. As terrible as both of these sides are, I honestly believe if either the Cheney/DOD side or the State/CIA side had had complete control, we'd be better off than we are now. Cheney and Rummy would have installed Chalabi with a fraudulent election and by ensuring he was the only broker with the Americans. He would have struck down his enemies (most Baathists and the Allawi/Janabi crowd the CIA had supported). But he would have been able to keep the Shiites sufficiently happy to put together a Shiite dominated military.

If State/CIA had had complete control, you'd have had someone like Janabi, someone who could have brought in the Sunnis, in alliance with some non-exile groups. Again, you'd have had someone ruling with a steel fist and illusory legitimacy, but you'd have been able to move to establishing a monopoly on violence.

But as it happened, you had DOD and State fighting with each other for 2 years (indeed, still today). You had them discrediting each other's favored leaders, thereby adding to the animosities between groups who SHOULD have sided with the Americans. And, most importantly, this prevented anyone from developing a legitimate Iraqi army.

One area that is not getting a lot of play at the moment is Afghanistan where all is not hunky dory either. Basically there is no security in that country either, Karzai is the mayor of Kabul, the rest of the country is basically bandit country and the number of attacks against Karzai's joke army and the mainly American NATO army are steadily rising. Essentially it is becoming a narco state controlled by warlords who will fight for whoever pays them. Iraq of course is completely untenable militarily and that is what I suspect Murtha has been told by his contacts in the Pentagon which basically hates Rumsfeld as much as the CIA hates Cheney. We have about 160,000 troops there living in redoubts and essentially guarding themselves, the American administrators and contractors in the country and the Iraqi govt we are propping up. There are also perhaps another 40,000 private security guards. And we still can't make the country secure. There was a very good piece in the LA times a few weeks ago by Zbig which described it perfectly. Bush and co for reasons that are still not entirely clear has taken what was a serious but manageable problem that was essentially regional in character and turned it into an international debacle for the USA. That's it in one sentence and at long last a majority of our, let's admit it, narcissistic and gullible fellow citizens are finally waking up to the fact. Thank god.

John from CT -

Yeah, things are starting to skid in Afghanistan, too. I think it gets less play partly because our loss rate is lower, but mainly because there was a real consensus (both domestic and international) on going into Afghanistan - it wasn't something foisted on us.

emptywheel -

Interesting point. I think the Cheney approach was so unrealistic that we'd have wound up in an equally big jam, whereas the State/CIA approach at least was in contact with reality. (After all, they didn't want to do it at all.)

The situation in Iraq (and, as John from CT points out, increasingly in Afghanistan) does bear out the old adage that even tyranny is usually better than anarchy. We've managed to achieve the improbable: life for most Iraqis is worse than it was under Saddam.

-- Rick

While people here think the GOP lost yesterday they are wrong. They won, big time. You see American voters will never accept military defeat. They might now be against the war and why we got into it but they won't call it quits either.

Harken back to 72. McGovern said he would quit the field under the terms on the table in Paris which were essentially the same terms as when Nixon took office. Most Americans hated the war yet Nixon won the biggest landslide in history. Voters would not call the game over. Nixon got his victory, on the backs of 26,000 dead, so he took the Paris terms so he could go off to China.

Withdrawl will start after the December election. We will never leave. We will keep bases there forever. Never declare defeat. No close race in 06 will go to fundamental critics of the war. By 08 there will be at least one more significant terror attack on the US and we will be killing tens of thousands of Muslims wherever is convienent and the voters will love it.

no matter what happens, it's going to be a hard slog to winning next November.

And we won't win if we don't do something about those voting machines.

One of the underlying issues with the WMD search is Bush's inability to pick a side.

EW, that is such a key insight about the entire administration, not just about Iraq. I hate to put it this way, but his management 'style' is very much like a wheel that's empty in the middle, incoherent, weak - all spokes radiate in to...pfft....nothing. The administration has been that way all along (except for the political operation). Last night's shenannigans reminded me of the Novak column from soon before our '04 election which floated the idea that administration officials were considering declaring victory in Iraq and withdrawing after our election - just let the Iraqis 'fight it out' (something like what Murtha has suggested). That's Bush's management style in the WH, too - let 'em fight it out! It didn't occur to him that you argue things out BEFORE you make policy. D'oh!

Withdrawl will start after the December election. We will never leave. We will keep bases there forever. Never declare defeat. No close race in 06 will go to fundamental critics of the war. By 08 there will be at least one more significant terror attack on the US and we will be killing tens of thousands of Muslims wherever is convienent and the voters will love it.

This is the likely scenario under the political paradigm of the last 5 years, namely stressing the unrealistic without competent opposition. I agree that if competent opposition remains lacking, this scenario will continue. HOWEVER, with the correct learning options somehow getting such real facts to voters and taught by a competent opposition, a different paradigm could result. It all depends on whether the majority of voters believes the Repub B.S. or the real facts if they hear these facts at all!

rapier -

This is why I suggested, a couple of weeks ago, that we should blame the Iraqis, in order to frame getting out of there as quitting in disgust. As jonnybutter pointed out, this is implicit in Murtha's language - he also cleverly said "redeploy," which sounds like a manly, military thing to do.

Is this unfair to the Iraqis? I don't care. I can't imagine many Iraqis will care either, so long as we go our way and they can go theirs.

-- Rick

One of the underlying issues with the WMD search is Bush's inability to pick a side...

It's easy -- who did he speak to last.

How many times since 2000 has someone mentioned how important it is to be the last guy to get President Bright-and-Shiny-Things' attention, just before the action deadline?

And some of this Administration's fascination with forcing deadlines -- from 12.12.2000 onwards -- stems from the need to have one before JuntaBoy can generate a decision.

Character is destiny, and character now be seen chomping on the Presidential ass.

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