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Strike Two

| 15 Comments

It seems to me that the dire condition of the Republicans in congress is due, almost entirely, to their own neglect and incompetence. Their current electoral disadvantage is largely a matter of their inability to respond appropriately to the propagation of two caustic memes: 1. That the US is losing the War in Iraq and the larger War on Terror; and 2. That Mark Foley's pederasty somehow tars anyone other than himself. During today's Meet the Press Bob Woodward was treated to a profoundly sympathetic interview by Tim Russert. Not only did Russert loft a few soft pitches directly over the plate, but it was clear that Woodward had been briefed on what questions would be asked so that he'd be able to prepare responses, ready with documentation and cites (something missing from most of his book). But the primary fault of the interview was that Russert failed to challenge the basic assumption of the book, without which it reduces to total incoherence: that the US is losing. If that assumption is challenged the entire premise of State of Denial becomes evidence of a state of denial by Woodward and his supporters, about the actual condition of the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. It's also an indictment of the mainstream media's ability to make sense of facts... a flaw from which the conventional wisdom would not recover were it given reasonable credence. And by their self imposed incapacity to make a defense one could almost suspect Republicans of complicity in their own demise...

The basic assumption of the Woodward book, quite apart from its disregard for academic validation and transparency, is simply the mind-numbingly foolish contention that because an enemy continues to fight with some degree of ferocity we must have the wrong strategy, and we'll lose the fight unless we change strategies by choosing to fight with less intensity ourselves. If we'd used this same analytical paradigm during WWII we'd have given up the Pacific Campaign and the advance into France, because the most ferocious fighting happened near the end of the war: at Iwo Jima and the Bulge. Furthermore Woodward's support of his thesis, the argument that attacks are increasing, avoids mention of the equally salient fact that lethality is declining. US casualties in Iraq follow the trend of offensive operations, but have generally been declining, while those of the Iraqi forces have ticked up by 30%. Furthermore, a close look at the casualty trend suggests that although average casualties have remained about the same since the fall of Baghdad, the variation has decreased. The peaks and valleys are no longer as high or as low as they were in the past. This suggests that the persistence of the opposition is based not on a growth in recruitment and resources due to anger at the US, but on the continued perception that if they keep up the fight the US will eventually just give up and go home. And it also suggests that, in spite of what Woodward claims, violence is being slowly contained. In other words they're still fighting with some ferocity because they have faith in Bob Woodward and the Democrats.

Of course, the US is going home eventually anyway... though not because we're losing. Rather, we are gradually handing off responsibility for the war to Iraqi security forces (h/t: Good Lt). What's happening, in other words, is something precisely analogous to what was happening toward the end of WWII... when the tide of war was turning decisively against the Axis causing them to reach deeply into their dwindling resources in a "hail Mary" attempt to influence perceptions. Al Qaeda itself recognizes this, even if Woodward doesn't. Thus, it becomes a question of whether one chooses to believe Bob Woodward or Al Qaeda concerning the state of the war.

Russert could have brought some of these issues up, but didn't. That's understandable in a sense. Selling the story that the US had lost in Vietnam, over the empirical fact that we were winning that war, established the American Mainstream Media dominance that secured positions, careers and privilege for the next thirty years. The ability to over-ride an empirical fact is one of the most profound demonstrations of power that can be imagined, so one can understand why Russert would have a desire to repeat the hat trick. But what one can't really forgive is the inability of the Republican establishment to effectively counter these memes, or even summon the desire to try. As they carp and grouse about who is responsible for an inappropriate but non-criminal act it's easy to see how they might swing wildly at a curveball delivered in the general neighborhood of the plate. But strike two is still strike two. There won't be any do-overs, and if they can't take advantage of reality to counter an outright defeatist fantasy perhaps they deserve to lose. Strike one was high and outside, strike two low and inside. Any bets where the next pitch will be?

15 Comments

A rather American-centric view of WWII.

The most "ferocious" fighting took place before America really got into the fight.

Battles on the Eastern Front like Stalingrad make the Bulge and Iwo Jima look like...fraternity hazings.

As for trends in our Iraq casualties...they seem to reflect how hard we are engaging the insurgency at a given time...

I don't think Woodward's book has even been translated into Arabic yet.

I'm sorry, but if you expect the American people to go along with your logic, you'll need a better metric. Your World War II analogy is faulty. The metric there was territory held. When Germany was completely occupied, the war was over.

The metrics that people can easily understand are a decrease in the number of military casualties and a decrease in the number of civilian casualties, and a measurable increase in security. We're barely seeing the first, and not seeing the second and third at all.

I'd have more sympathy, but there's been continuous claims of victory "just around the corner" since Hussein was overthrown. At this point, it seems clear that victory will require much greater resources than we currently have.

Unless there is a willingness for the White House to commit to the costs necessary to secure victory (and that means a real war footing), then it seems that we're simply coasting forever while huge numbers of Iraqis (and a fair number of Americans) die.

In my opinion, Bush has to come clean and tell the American people what victory will cost - sharply higher taxes and all. At that point, the American people decide, victory is either worth it and vote the Republicans in, or it's not, and turf them.

Choose a course of action, spell out the costs, and let the voters decide.

Same goes for the "withdraw now" crowd. Don't sugar coat. Let people know what the cost may be to those who've thrown their fate in with the Americans. Worst case, America accidentally facilitates a genocide of the Sunnis. Spell out what our moral obligations are to the Iraqis. Be honest with the possible costs, and let the voters decide.

Jeez, who am I kidding. Both sides believe (know) that Americans can't handle the truth... So status quo, here we go.

Boy:

What does this have to do with anything? The same logic would apply to the Soviets, obviously. Had they adopted Woodward's orientation they'd have just surrendered when the Reich started shelling Stalingrad. The point is that the analysis is dumb as a bag of rocks.

As for trends in our Iraq casualties...they seem to reflect how hard we are engaging the insurgency at a given time...

Uhh... precisely.

Tom:

I'm talking about reality. What are you talking about? Most humans (not to mention American humans) are familiar with the concept "no risk no glory". Moreover, it's a matter of common sense that if you hit someone they're going to hit you back.

Again, what are you talking about? I expect Americans to understand that. Maybe they won't, in which case they'll probably put us in the midst of WWIV, or we could lose.

And it's not a matter of territory. I assume you know that, but again if American's don't grasp that we'll probably lose.

I'd have more sympathy, but there's been continuous claims of victory "just around the corner" since Hussein was overthrown. At this point, it seems clear that victory will require much greater resources than we currently have.

Don't know about that, but I always figured it'd be challenging. The issue is whether it'll require more patience and wisdom than we have.

Maybe.

The Athenians lost to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. Who knew?

In my opinion, Bush has to come clean and tell the American people what victory will cost - sharply higher taxes and all. At that point, the American people decide, victory is either worth it and vote the Republicans in, or it's not, and turf them. Choose a course of action, spell out the costs, and let the voters decide.

Yeah, that approach would have really cut the mustard in 1776. I don't deny that it might be part of an effective strategy in 2006, but by no means is it enough. And the Democrats are nowhere close. Indeed, they haven't even taken the first step.

eez, who am I kidding. Both sides believe (know) that Americans can't handle the truth... So status quo, here we go.

What are your plans for the next decade?

1. That the US is losing the War in Iraq and the larger War on Terror; and 2. That Mark Foley's pederasty somehow tars anyone other than himself.

I disagree, since I don't think that the theoretical entity we call "the public" really believes either of those things.

While accusing Republicans of "governing by fear" (another thing "the public" doesn't believe) Democrats have gotten maximum leverage out of apathy, guilt, conspiracy, and nihilism. They are in one of their Popular Front phases when disloyalty to the Democratic Party (in favor of Naderism and such frippery) is absolutely not tolerated. They still have a powerful establishment media in their corner, even though that institution has taken some terrific blows over the past few years.

The Republicans have responded with lethargy. Maye they intend to let the blogs do all of their fighting for them.

The Republicans have responded with lethargy. Maye they intend to let the blogs do all of their fighting for them.

The public generally believes that we're losing in Iraq, or are at least prepared to believe that if no one offers a counter-argument. I agree that Republicans might be slogging off on the blogosphere, but if that's the case I suggest we chart our own route and let them go hang. My agenda isn't inherently conservative or "liberal" (although it's definitely liberal in the classical sense). I don't care about maintaining one particular elite as opposed to another. And I'm tired of fighting for people unwilling to fight for themselves.

I'm not sufficiently satisfied with being a Democrat that I'm willing to vote for Democrats, and I profoundly mistrust them. I haven't changed my party designation to Republican, for some reason. If this continues I probably won't.

It's just possible that they'r lethargic because they don't really believe their own principles. I'm a child of the '60s. Who needs that crap?

Tom West,

Lower taxes have been raising more revenue. That fits in with the ideas of some economists who say that that tax rates over 20% only produce tax avoidance.

So if higher rates produce less government income would you still be for them Tom? Or if lowering rates further increased economic activity (as seems the case) and generated higher tax revenues would you be for lowering rates to increase government income and generating more economic activity?

Other than our guerilla war with the American Indians the American people do not have much stomach for guerilla wars in other places.

The only consolation I have is that if the Dems get in they will screw the war so badly that they will nevedr get another chance for the brass ring in American politics. Unfortunately a lot of blood will have to flow for that to come true. I expect to see a number of blood baths in the next two years as Dems retreat.

What are you talking about?

I'm talking about the fact that at this point, you need a clear metric by which the Americans can gauge whether winning or losing. In World War II, the efforts of the Nazi's were not the metric, it was ground held. If we gained ground, we were winning. If we had one square mile of France in 1946, we were losing.

Obviously holding ground isn't a metric in this battle. What is?

I mentioned the metrics that people are insinctively using, and by those measures, we are losing. So, Demosophist, what clear metric of victory/defeat are you going to provide as a counter? If you don't provide any, people will use those provided by common sense and the media (who also need a nice unambiguous metric to present in a newscast) and deduce we're losing.

Note: the the insurgent's change of focus to civilians and the increasing number of attacks is not an umambiguous metric. People on the winning side could easily be deciding that that's a winning or less costly tactic as well.

(Personally, I think the metric that matters is the numbers of Iraqis that are getting killed, as the ability to set up a civil society depends on the ability to provide security to them. If that's too high, we've essentially failed, no matter how safe American soldiers might be.)

What are your plans for the next decade?

Personally, I fully expect to wait two years as things get marginally safer for the American soldier and even worse for the Iraqis followed by a barely disguised "cut and run" pullout under the next administration, whereupon we see an even bloodier civil war.

However, that's simply a dart thrown against a large wall of possibilities. I'm desperately hoping that somehow we'll achieve victory, but I can't see one metric that unambiguously points in that direction.

Lower taxes have been raising more revenue.

We're on the right side of the Laffer curve? Oh please!

Yes, we've been raising more revenue in the last year (hurrah), and the Clinton year bonanza was just noise. So was 2001-2005. In fact, it's all noise, except for 2006. That's proof. (And of course, the increase would never have happened without the tax cuts.)

The economy (and revenue) go in cycles. At stable tax rates, revenues go way up and down.

(By the way, Laffer is obviously right - 0% taxes and 100% taxes produce 0 revenue, and with a number in the middle, we're producing positive revenue. The question is where on the curve are we?)

Anyway more importantly, Laffer was also talking about longer term tax revenues. If you need money tomorrow, not 10 years from now, you add taxes and accept you pay a price later on. And if you want to, say, double the size of a volunteer force, you're going to have to lay out serious money for soldier's salaries, plus equipment, plus staff, plus demobilization costs at the end of this, etc.)

The only consolation I have is that if the Dems get in they will screw the war so badly that they will nevedr get another chance for the brass ring in American politics. Unfortunately a lot of blood will have to flow for that to come true. I expect to see a number of blood baths in the next two years as Dems retreat.

If they get in, it'll be because MSM has so dominated the discourse with it's steady drumbeat of memes that any challenge was quelled. I don't see the Dems learning anything other than that what they do won't matter because "they're covered".

Eighty-three percent of Americans think GW Bush is not coming clean on how well we're doing in Iraq. That's an amazing number.

Remember, it's three and a half years since 'Mission Accomplished'. The Administration has had years where the picture of the war the American public saw was the picture they sent. Only long afterwards did an alternative version come through: one where it didn't matter that we captured or killed Saddam's sons, Saddam himself, and Zarqawi. Our generals have been saying that the next six months are critical and they have been saying that for years. Eventually the hype dies away, and we see that American casualties are up, Iraqi casualties are up, and we still can't deliver electricity to the national capital. Condi Rice had to change to a special airplane with anti-missile technology.

Bush counted his chickens years ago and the eggs are turning out to hatch monsters and dragons instead. But Bush has already told us his metric for victory. He says we stay in even if Laura and Barney his dog are the only people supporting him. That isn't one of the solutions his dad's fixer James Baker will supply, and that's not about a victory over Islamic terrorism. That's about a victory over Oedipal demons.

Polling of Americans views on Iraq only tests the success of media outlets campaigns to distort the reality of Iraq. Polling Americans does not actually inform us anything of the reality of Iraq itself.

One would think that that would be obvious.

This simply doesn't fly:

The Administration has had years where the picture of the war the American public saw was the picture they sent.

OIF has arguably been the most transparent war in the history of warfare. Or are you forgetting the embeds that went in with the first troops themselves, from every major network and a few independants as well? We've got soldiers posting videos of firefights on YouTube, and daily briefings and reports available on the Internet for just about every statistic you can think of collecting. We have a whole legion of military bloggers telling the world about life on the front line, and their counterparts in the Islamic world telling us their views on the situations; we can freely get CNN and al-Jazeera.

Where, exactly, do you get the idea that the Administration had a stranglehold on windows into the war?

"The Administration has had years where the picture of the war the American public saw was the picture they sent"

Huh? All those local stringers the media hires (and rarely know anything about) would argue differently. I think Kevin Sites might have something to say about your supposition- recall the wounded jihadi getting shot on camera in Fallujah? Did that get passed through the Rove's email before hitting the airwaves?

You know, this whole subject really makes me mad. The media fixtures make it all the time- whining about how they have to embed with the military as though its their god given right to beging with. And why do they have to embed? Not because the US government forces them to- but because the other side will cut their heads off if they hit the street. So because the media is basically too cowardly to risk doing any real reporting, they rely on the military to protect them and then bash them for it. Either that or hire locals of dubious motivation to do their work for them. Or the ever popular hanging around the hotel in the Green Zone waiting for a press conference. Oh, but its all Bush's fault they cant find ways to do legitimate investigations.

For the first year of the war, no matter what individual reports came back from Iraq, the narrative as a whole was dominated by 'Mission Accomplished' and 'spider hole of denial' and 'sovereignty handover' and purple fingers. Go back to 2003 and look at that triumphalist rhetoric again. Cheney's "last throes" remark was (says Google) in May of 2005.

Yes, Americans could have been watching Al Jazeera, but how many of them were? The public by and large trusted the Bush Administration's repeated assertions that 'Freedom was on the March'. How many Sunday talk show appearances did the Iraqwagmire crowd get? Damn few. So it was all the more shocking to them when the eyes of the blind were opened. American casualties, up. Iraqi civilian casualties, up. Election year rumors of troop reductions, already squashed (instead of in December). Freedom of Iraqi women, way down. There's really no item on which the Bush Administration's plans appear to be successful with the exception of the President's own determination. Sorry, guys, but determination doesn't win wars. "Stay the course" is becoming a punch line.

How do people like Mark Buehner, here in the USA, talk about the cowardly journalists? The Iraq War has claimed a record number of journalists' lives. How many right-wing bloggers have shown such devotion? (I'll give you one: Michael Kelly.)

Things are not going well in either Iraq or in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the NATO CIC has said that we are at a tipping point: that we have 6 months to improve or we will lose 70% of the Afghans to supporting the Taliban. That is not an analysis of MSM, or Ted Kennedy, or Cindy Sheehan. That comes fromeGen Roberts. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=2542382

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