Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stumped Indeed

In D.C. and on the campaign trail, this is what counts for political analysis. I'm going to go ahead and reprint this entire section, so you can see for yourself this dissection of the political implications of the situation in Iraq, in response to an idiotic question about "naysayers" in the media:

As you note, the media has reported the improving security situation in Iraq. I happened to have supported President Bush's proposed surge, but felt that both the White House and its critics made too much of sending an additional 30,000 troops. It was an incremental move, though in Washington it was played as a radical new policy.

As you suggest, Democrats, especially those running for president, are having a hard time acknowledging that the situation is improving, and that it made sense a year ago to increase troop levels. It is a sad reflection of our poisoned political discourse that all facts and reality must be spun. Just as the president's opponents can't admit when things get better, the president can't admit when things get worse. In both instances, their stubbornness insults the intelligence of the American people -- and the sacrifice of our troops in Iraq, who don't have the luxury of choosing to ignore reality.

Speaking of spin, I would caution against overselling the surge's accomplishments, lest we engage in what the president in a different context has called the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The situation in Iraq is better than a year ago, but it is still abysmal when measured against the expectations created by the administration in 2003. Remember all that talk of a beautiful democracy shining like a beacon in the Middle East?

Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003. Almost five years later, Iraq remains so perilous that the White House considers it a great victory to reduce the numbers of horrific suicide bombings. Maybe some people in Baghdad ventured out at midnight to celebrate the New Year, as John McCain proudly noted recently, but it's pathetic that this is noteworthy.

Iraq's political leadership, meanwhile, hasn't taken advantage of the greater security afforded by the surge to resolve fundamental sectarian differences and strengthen national unity, one of the Bush administration's reasons for sending more troops in the first place.

So yes, PM, Democrats need to stop being churlish and acknowledge things might be improving. But Republicans shouldn't pretend this fiasco has somehow turned into another occupation of Japan.
This is the "fair and balanced" mode of journalism, wherein it is determined that because there are two sides to an issue and that each side is represented by a partisan political party, the only "correct" stance on the issue is some muddled position in the middle. See, the real problem is that silly Democrats refuse to acknowledge that the surge has actually improved the security situation, and that Republicans make too much out of the improved security. We should all meet in the middle and acknowledge the success, but nod our heads grimly and seriously at the thought of what work there is left to do in Iraq! What a freaking crock. In the real world, critics of the surge are demanding to know whether the additional forces-which, by the way, are unsustainable-have had such an impact or whether it was the desire of the Sunni to turn against Al Qaeda and play for greater positioning against the Shiite dominated national government. They are also wondering what's going to happen when we begin to draw down those forces without solving fundamental problems in Iraq politics and society. Supporters of the surge, who are mostly the same conservative, neo-con and Republican stalwarts who have always supported the war and always will no matter what is happening, are still busy trying to convince everyone that stability is right around the corner while smearing anybody who has reasonable questions about Iraq as defeatists, or traitors or whatnot, while at the same time offering absolutely no ideas for what out troops are supposed to be producing in Iraq, no conditions for when they can leave, and no timetables for how long we should expect them to be there.

But in the "serious" world of respectable political journalism, it makes complete sense to ignore the reasonable questions about the situation in Iraq, ignore the bad faith of the war supporters, and come up with a simple-minded and "reasonable" conclusion. This is considered cutting through the "spin", and it's why we went to war in Iraq, why we remain in Iraq, and why we won't be getting out of Iraq anytime soon. Don't get me wrong. There are tons of respectable and intelligent national security journalists out there, but the ones who follow the people who are actually running for office-and telling us what we should be thinking about those candidates-remain unburdened with any actual knowledge of national security or world events, and they are more than willing to afflict us with their ignorance.

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