Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"It All Depends On What Your Definition Of The Job Is"

Over the past few days there have been reports that, along with the announcement of the anticipated escalation, Bush's speech tonight will spell out "goals" the administration will expect to see met in Iraq. Without consequences for failure that are either understood implicitly or stated clearly, "goals" is a can-kicker's euphemism for more of the same. Over the past few days I've been re-reading Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, which for my money is still the best book on Vietnam. For those who've never read it, I recommend doing so. While readers know my opinion on the Iraq-Vietnam parallels, I think it's possible to take the comparison too far. Some of the traps we fell into in Vietnam were less about that war specifically than about the mistakes leaders (particularly elected ones) have always made in wartime. Here's a passage from Halberstam (pg. 596) about the debate over escalation within the Johnson administration during 1965 that's both illustrative and relevant:
There were brief moments when the reality seemed to flash through. Once during the early-June discussions the President turned to General Wheeler and said, "Bus, what do you think it will take to do the job?" And Wheeler answered, "It all depends on what your definition of the job is, Mr. President. If you intend to drive the last Vietcong out of Vietnam it will take seven hundred, eight hundred thousand, a million men and about seven years." He paused to see if anyone picked him up. "But if your definition of the job is to prevent the Communists from taking over the country, that is, stopping them from doing it, then you're talking about different gradations and different levels. So tell us what the job is and we'll answer it." But no one said anything; it was not the kind of thing they picked people up on, and so the conversation slipped over to the other subjects, vague discussions of strategy, the difference between an enclave strategy and a security mission, and they did not define the mission.
Has Bush really defined this mission? Of what practical good is that definition if it consists solely of bromides and platitudes? I think Bush has defined the mission clearly, but his current definition of "victory" -- that magical day/week/month/year when the violence stops -- is a manifestly unrealistic justification for perpetual occupation. And so the debate over resources, especially inconsequential increments like 20,000 or so troops, is moot. What I really want to see from Bush's speech is at least a flirtation with reality; free from electoral considerations now, it's really the first time since the war started that he can do this. Reality means trusting the public's ability to understand this war beyond bromides about "victory" (really, when was the last time we heard Bush talk in detail about the various ethnic and religious issues we face in Iraq?). Reality also means defining the mission down, if even a bit. We know the administration has started to do the latter -- if only by cutting back on the utopian prattle about "democracy" in prepared speeches -- but I think it's essential that the President continue on that path, and not just by omission. Yes, he'll take flak for it. But I'd rather see the mission creep downwards than sideways or up. I also think this is his last chance to show a sliver of leadership, and perhaps apply a tourniquet to his legacy, before he leaves office.

Maybe that's my own version of utopian prattle. We'll see later tonight.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your post, and well written it is.

However, what if there is a well defined mission but the leadership can not share it directly with the American people? What if the mission is simply to destroy the Arab states of the middle east?

If it is, then we are doing "the job".

1/10/2007 5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A tourniquet to his legacy? A nice turn of phrase, but how do you tourniquet the aorta?

A great blog. I check in everyday.

1/10/2007 9:20 AM  
Blogger wendyo said...

Wow CR, I gotta say, I admire your ability to be charitable to Bush in this post (he doesn't deserve it, IMHO), but I don't hold out much hope that he will articulate a cogent plan.

The spectre of this upcoming speech brings to mind my feelings when they had him holed-up on 911 somewhere in Nebraska. I don't think it was for safety issues but because someone understood he doesn't really have the gravitas to speak about serious issues in an inspiring/reassuring way. In retrospect, once they prepped him to address the nation on that occasion, he performed better than I expected (but still, this isn't saying much).

Somehow I feel that if he had any clue as to where the country is on this, his head would explode on live TV from the pressure.

1/10/2007 9:44 AM  
Anonymous mary said...

Believe me when I say I sincerely hope Bush does what you'd like him to do. I really do. But I am also certain that it won't happen -- not just because Bush has very little idea of the religious and ethnic issues we face in Iraq, but also because he wouldn't be proposing more troops if he had any intention of coming to terms with reality, not to mention dealing honorably with the situation. As for your notion that Bush has defined the mission, It seems to me that his notion of "victory" has been downscaled continually over the past three years. The only constant, as far as I can tell, is that Bush is determined not to face up to the consequences of his actions. Come to think of it, I guess you'd have to say that this is a pretty clear mission statement. Good for Bush. Too bad for the rest of us.

1/10/2007 12:45 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Iraq did not work out like the politicians have hoped. But it was still a victory for our politicians. Our politicians will not make the mistakes from vietnam. They will not start a draft and they will not allow tens of thousands of US troop casualties. We are building a multi-billion dollar refinery in Kurdistan and the Iraqi government is about to privatise the oil industry in the hope the security situation improves. We will be set up then to exploit the Southern oil fields. The bombing of the Sunnis in Baghdad indicates that Bush is going to go with the 80 percent solution. We are going to let the Shites consolidate power (except for Kurdistan) and hope for the best. After this surge our troops will bunker down in their bases and only come out to violently put down any insurrection. This is a "victory" our elites can live with. From a power projection standpoint, although we can't control the Southern oil fields we can make sure nobody else can...and we can also point out to Syria, Iran, Palestine, Somalia(whoops...already there), etc. Don't mess with us or we will turn you into Iraq. To our political elites and Military industrial complex this is cleary a great victory. Who has suffered? So what if a bunch of third world citizens are dead, hungrey, sick, or unemployed. Our political elite never cared about would have to be a moron to believe that. The democrats will be fully behind this plan. There is almost complete bipartisan support for continuing in Iraq. After we return to our bases and withdraw troop size under 100,00, this will disappear from the headlines and the Iraqi infighting will be downplayed to convince the public that victory has been achieved in Iraq. I don't think the Saudis we very happy with this...I believe that is why their US ambassador and Bush family friend resigned(of be with his family, lol)And why the Saudis started leaking plans to support the Sunnis when we pull out. I bet we promised on our dear mother's grave that we will not be leaving Iraq. Ever. I repeat...there is no way on this god given Earth that the US military will be leaving Iraq. All our politicians have to do to prevent voter opposition is to make sure there are no mass troop casualities and we can go on like this forever. This will be the plan going forward. I predict huge suffering for the Iraqi people the next 10 years. If Iraqis have the means and haven't left already. They better get out now.

1/10/2007 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iraq is a diversion. As the army attacks Iraq, the US gov't erodes rights at home by suspending habeas corpus, opening our mail, stealing private lands, banning books like "America Deceived" from Amazon, rigging elections, conducting warrantless wiretaps and starting 2 illegal wars based on lies. Soon, another US false-flag operation will occur (sinking of an Aircraft Carrier by Mossad) and the US will invade Iran, (on behalf of Israel).
Final link (before Google Books bends to gov't demands and censors the title):
America Deceived (book)

1/10/2007 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

"We are building a multi-billion dollar refinery in Kurdistan and the Iraqi government is about to privatise the oil industry in the hope the security situation improves."

This agrees with my take as well.

The Iraqi 'Government' is on the eve of passing legislation that will turn state-controlled oil extraction over to the big 3 western petroleum conglomerates and they'll sure as hell want security services after that happens.

Hence permanent bases (and the world's largest U.S. Embassy at $500 billion).

With oil, it's an odd twist: they won't brook a nationalized resource (excepting Norway) but they sure like having the U.S. Armed Forces there to make sure things go their way. So we pay for the privilege of having gas at $2.85/gallon plus we pay a few hundred billion a year for the military infrastructure to secure its delivery.

Let's turn this inside out: what if Hans Blix and Scott Ritter had prevailed, certified Iraq as being free of weapons of mass destruction and U.S. forces stood down.

In a dramatic nod to free markets, Iraq crude trades openly on the world markets beginning March 17, 2003.

Because the markets hadn't been destabilized, prices don't spike.

In July 2000, average price of gas was $1.54.

For July 2001, average price for gas was $1.39.

My guess: had we not invaded Iraq, oil would be less than $40/bbl at present value (perhaps even less than $30/bbl) and gas prices would be stabilized around 2003's nominal price of $1.65/gallon.

That's .30 gallon less than the nominal price in 2004 and .60 less than the nominal price in 2005.

For 2006, let's use an average of $2.65/gallon, or a $1.00/gallon premium on top of the theoretical $1.65.

Assuming a constant demand of 1 million barrels of fuel (jet fuel and gasoline) per day, that translates into the following 'opportunity' costs which show up as a hidden surcharge at the pump:

2004: $6.022 billion
2005: $12.044 billion
2006: $20.075 billion

Factoring in the cost of the Iraq operation at about $100 billion a year, Messers Bush and Cheney's adventure represents a 1% 'tax' on the economy.

Imagine the screams from the WSJ edit page if they had the guts to come clean and propose a 1% across the board tax for energy?

Most importantly, what happens to these numbers if we strike Iran?

1/10/2007 4:07 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

Iraq is no diversion. Iraq is a resource weapon for the powerful. Our politicians easily control the population with fear mongering and propaganda. If anything the civil liberties arguments are the distraction. The only great thing about Kissinger was he occasionally spoke the truth. Most politicians aren't bold enough to state the truth.
Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.

1/11/2007 7:22 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Agreed. Here's a shout out to all those who control the money: a 1% ding on the GDP to pay for these Bush Wars may not seem like much, but it represents a 50% drag in terms of real growth at 2%.

'Doubling down' in the Middle East puts GDP growth at risk. With a non-growth economy, I don't know how we're going to service all this debt without firing up the presses.

1/11/2007 11:36 AM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

"By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens."
John M. Keynes

Without firing up the presses?

From Doug Noland's "Credit Bubble Bulletin" column at

"Total CP has increased $344 billion, or 20.9%, over the past 52 weeks."

"Total CP has expanded at a 27% rate over the past 20 weeks."

If that ain't firing up the presses...I'd hate to see what firing up the presses means.

1/11/2007 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Zero net real GDP growth and double digit inflation. Where have we seen this before?

1/11/2007 7:41 PM  
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