October 31, 2005

The Troubled State of Bush

In Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to "reeducation camps." Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there. As one who orchestrated the end of our military role in Vietnam and then saw what had been a workable plan fall apart, I agree that we cannot allow "another Vietnam." For if we fail now, a new standard will have been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten, and our next global mission will be saddled with the fear of its becoming "another Iraq."

--Melvin Laird, Richard Nixon's Secretary of Defense, in a must-read Foreign Affairs piece.

Iraq Remains Critical

Back in October of 2004, I wrote a a long post in this blog supporting the re-election of George W. Bush largely based on the central importance of Iraq. Then and now, I believe to my core that the stakes in Iraq are immense, and could well determine America's standing on the global stage for score years or more. Despite my revulsion at Abu Ghraib, my contempt for hubris-ridden, reckless Administration officials like Donald Rumsfeld, and my fear that George Bush's lack of foreign policy expertise could have him proving an emperor with no clothes--I calculated that the alternative would be materially worse. After all, judicious observers took away from many of John Kerry's campaign utterances regarding Iraq that he would do his utmost to extricate us from there with, shall we say, a purposeful rapidity--one not necessarily linked to achieving our war aims. Put differently, a so-called decent interval, rather than a conditions-based withdrawal schedule. (Previously, I have explained why I suspected Kerry's worldview helps evidence such a view). Indeed, Kerry is now on the record calling for the "bulk of American combat forces" to be out of Iraq by end 2006. Such an announced timetable would prove a terrible signal of weakness to the still quite potent Iraqi insurgents. Many would of course opt to keep their powder dry and fight another day. Iran and Syria would be disincentivized to behave better vis-a-vis their Iraqi neighbor. Shi'a and Kurdish militias would similarly be less incentivized to integrate into a multi-ethnic, national army. Chances of large scale sectarian and/or ethnic conflict would ratchet up. And so on.

This said, I suppose it's no secret that this blog has become rather disenchanted with President Bush and his administration. Indeed, I no longer really count myself a supporter, truth be told, for some of the reasons I will spell out below. But on Iraq, Bush deserves significant credit nonetheless. With the Iraq war increasingly unpopular, and Bush's poll numbers hovering in the high 30s and low 40s, the easier path to tread would be that Kerry advocates. Start bringing the boys home, the better so the restless American public espies some exit from the Mesopotamian morass on the horizon. To Bush's significant credit, he is instead continuing to see the effort through. And not merely in some mindless, 'stay the course' fashion.

Yes, the post-blitzkrieg start to the Iraq occupation, defined by Rumsfeld and Co.'s seeming disdain for anyone with regional expertise, their manifest failure to comprehend the massive scope of effort nation-building entails, the various tactical blunders experts had forewarned against (wholesale de-Baathification and disbanding of the Iraqi Army, among others), the breezy transformationalist nostrums (leading to far too few troops in theater initially)--all contributed to, at best, a lost year and, at worst, perhaps a fatal wounding of the Iraq project. But now, however, things are taking a decided turn for the better. As Fareed Zakaria puts its succinctly here:

The simplest proof of the myriad American errors is that, starting around May 2004, Washington began reversing course wholesale. Troop withdrawals were postponed. The decision to hold caucuses and delay elections was shelved. The American-appointed Governing Council was abolished. The hated United Nations was asked to come in and create and bless a new body. In recent months, the reversal is wholesale. The United States has been bribing tribal sheiks, urging the Iraqi government to end de-Baathification and make a concerted effort to bring the Sunnis back into the political process.

Indeed. Take Zal Khalilzad's tremendous efforts as our man in Baghdad. Largely as a result of his tireless work, Sunni buy-in to the political process is on an uptick of late, the potential show-stopper issue of Kurdish federalism is still being kept in check, and the constitutional process, though very bumpy, rambles on in generally positive direction. In addition, Ayatollah Sistani has been able to keep a lid on the worst temptations of crude majoritarianism--that is, large scale, indiscriminate Shia revanchism. Particularly given that our counter-insurgency efforts have improved of late as well, it is even possible to argue that we are winning, if very tentatively, in Iraq. It's a slow, hard grind--but, make no mistake, progress is being made. Yes, as John Burns' (one of our very few journalistic national treasures) points out today, there remain pitfalls aplenty and Sunni alienation, of late mitigated somewhat, is still very real and very prevalent. A civil war is still quite possible. And Sunni tactics may be all that is changing, feigning buy-in to, for example, piggy-back on 'train and equip' to be better armed for the advent of sectarian conflict post a possible U.S exit, say. So we must be hugely cautious in our optimism. And realize that the Iraq effort must still be counted in years. But, yes, Bush is trying--and trying hard--despite Katrina (this could have proven a relatively easy excuse to pack it up and go home), despite the polls, despite the cries for 'phased' withdrawal from many quarters. Let's us at least give him credit on this score.

Still, one must look at foreign policy choices through a prism of cost and benefits. And the costs of the Iraq imbroglio have been immense. 2000 of our countrymen and women are dead. Well over ten thousand wounded. Our allies have lost many of their young to this war. God knows how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and scourge of large scale suicide bombings. Our moral position in the world has suffered grevious blows because of detainee policies and legal memoranda defining torture down that eager enablers like the John Yoos and Albert Gonzalezs and Don Rumsfelds facilitated. (History will not be kind to these individuals, and many Americans will come to be tremendously embarrased by this dark chapter in our national history). Billions and billions of dollars are down the drain (even more if you count the impact of higher oil prices, some of which is at least an indirect result of the Iraq war). Strained alliances. I could go on, of course, but it is clear the costs have been enormous. And yet. If, and what a big if it is, if an Iraqi democracy can emerge, it may have all been worth it. For, along with several key issues like managing China's rise to great power status, the specter of radical Islamic jihadism presents one of the great national security challenges of our time. In a chaotic region marked by unresolved regional disputes, corrupt ruling elites, authoritarian political governance structures, massive economic inequalities, demographic trends marked by huge amounts of frustrated young persons searching for political space and economic opportunity--Iraq is where the United States, via the happenstance of history (9/11 leading to greater concerns about Iraq's assumed WMD capability)--has taken a stand to attempt a lofty project of democratizing the Middle East.

Look, there have been all the easy cat-calls that the Wolfowitizian project was but some risible utopic Leninist excess. To be sure, it is certainly ambitious in the extreme. It may prove to have been a fantasy, ultimately. And, yes, why should people not be angry? The Ken Adleman's spouted on about "cakewalks," the Shinseki's were ingloriously dispatched for daring to call it right on troop levels, leading neo-cons have now conveniently moved on off-stage to post-Iraq life (as George Packer memorably put it in the pages of the New Yorker a while back: "Good luck guys!"). Still, now that that a dose of realism has been introduced into the Iraq project, with Rummy no longer given free rein to blunder about, real progress is slowly being made in Iraq. Not to mention the region at large. No, I am not one of those who believe that Lebanon is on an inexorable democratic course, or that Egyptian democratization is racing ahead all A-OK, or that the House of Saud has discovered how cool and groovy democracy is. Lebanon could plunge back into civil war in the years ahead, Egypt, even were it to become increasingly democratic, could fall under greater Islamist sway, Saudi Arabia's future remains highly problematic. But, again, slow progress on all these fronts is being made. And Bush's intervention in Iraq is a very important reason why (not to mention that we continue to avoid a repeat attack on the American homeland, a major and under-appreciated accomplishment, despite the embarrasment that UBL remains at large).

Bush's Major Shortcomings

Despite this, however, I have become increasingly dismayed by this Administration's tone-deafness, bunker mentality, mediocrity, vindictiveness, and other short-comings. There have been many 'the Emperor has no clothes' moments of late. The federal response to Katrina, beyond the massive incompetence of the local and state authorities, was an international embarrasment. Not least for the cronyism displayed by the 'heck of a job Brownie' absurdities. And, to add insult to injury, Bush followed this up with Harriet Miers! A decent, kind and smart woman, to be sure, but prima facie not Supreme Court timber. The fact that she had been Bush's lawyer reinforced the sense of a reckless simpleton provincializing our highest institutions so as to be comforted by the company of intimates and to award loyal retainers. This was painfully unserious and unprofessional. George Will put it very well here:

Miers's advocates tried the incense defense: Miers is pious. But that is irrelevant to her aptitude for constitutional reasoning. The crude people who crudely invoked it probably were sending a crude signal to conservatives who, the invokers evidently believe, are so crudely obsessed with abortion that they have an anti-constitutional willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade with an unreasoned act of judicial willfulness as raw as the 1973 decision itself.

In their unseemly eagerness to assure Miers's conservative detractors that she will reach the "right" results, her advocates betray complete incomprehension of this: Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path that the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result.

Indeed. Will well summarizes why so many us were so profoundly disturbed by Bush's pick. How could this come to pass? Was it because Rove was busy staving off Fitz, Libby was imploding causing Cheney to be distracted, an ineffective Andy Card was not seized of the train wreck careening towards the White House (high time for a Howard Baker, by the way, to replace Card)? Who was really manning the ship of state, one anxiously wondered? Still, perhaps Bill Kristol is right and Bush has bottomed out. In Miers' disastrous crash and burn lies an opportunity (Luttig! McConnell!). And, of course, it should be mentioned that Bush has made good picks like John Roberts and Ben Bernanke, so the record is not by any stretch universally bad. Still, that he would have pushed Miers for SCOTUS was profoundly disturbing to many, and for good reason.

That Character Thing

So let's assume the very best, and hope last week was a Bush-bottoming of sorts (by no means a forgone conclusion). Alas, there is still a nettlesome issue of character. After all, Bush came into office promising a return to the highest standards of ethics in government. Clinton had dishonored the office, not only because of his dubious legalistic maneuverings surrounding Monica, but also because he had twice allowed genocidal outrages on his watch (Rwanda, Bosnia). But the stock market had done swimmingly, and IPOs were all the rage! After 9/11, Andrew Sullivan had pointed us to this wonderful W.H. Auden poem that seemed to sum up the emptiness of the Clinton years as the 9/11 zietgeist took hold:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

We had high hopes coming out of the immense trauma of 9/11. The country was united, and comprehended readily the peril she was faced with. A sense of moral strength and fortitude and national purpose seemed in the air. Perhaps the cheap Vegas-ification and Hilton-ization of the country would slow--as well as the endless gab-fests about flipping real estate and NASDAQ stocks. Now, almost half a decade on, we are disabused of such homilies. Instead, we see encroachments of Clintonian parsing and technicalities infecting the Bush Administration--most notably with regard to the Plame/Libby scandal. In September of 2003 White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "[i]f anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." By the very next day, Bush decided to inject a legal standard, however: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of." Fast forward to July 18th 2005. Bush again: "[i]f someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration". So now a showing of commission of a crime was necessitated. I ask you: how likely is it that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney were not at all involved in the leak? This is why Bush had to walk away from McCellan's original statement. Yes, perhaps Libby's alleged perjury prevents a showing of legal violations by others. But this is not exactly a showcase of high ethics and honorable behavior by the White House.

Look, any reader of this blog knows that I think very little of Joe Wilson. But I must say, it is a testament to the insecurity of this Administration and their vindictiveness and win at all costs mentality that they would have created a mini-Valerie Plame war-room in the Office of the Vice President--with someone of Libby's import ringing up journalists to impugn his credibility via his wife. Attack Wilson full on the merits, by all means, as his credibility was always rather low. But don't compromise his wife, a covert CIA employee, even if the damage wouldn't be anywhere near Ames or Pollard-like in scope. The rule of law matters, outing CIA agents matters, honor and honesty and fair play and integrity matter. We now have the first indictment of a senior White House official since the Ulysses Grant era. How sad, especially as it wasn't nearly worth it. I mean, none of this Plame fingering was really needed, finally (the biological and chemical WMD fears were always more compelling than the nuclear angle to begin with, and in a post 9/11 climate, were more than adequate to make the case for war.).

Constructive Suggestions?

More on all this soon, but tonight I want to end on a constructive note, as I know these are difficult times for the President. So a few quick words of advice for the President, just five suggestions really.

1) Newsweek reports you watched the first 20 minutes of Fitzerald announcing the Libby indictment on television. Do this kind of thing more often. Watch the cable shows. Read some of the papers. Yes, even Frank Rich or Maureen Dowd (you can skip Krugman). Get a sense of the national mood and dialogue a little bit more. Put differently, get out of your cocoon some. There is certainly not an out and out sense of devastation through the polity, but more and more people are concerned about the broad direction the country is heading. Try to better understand why.

2) Let people in the White House, including junior staffers, occasionally drop by and pay you a visit in impromptu fashion when your schedule allows. Ask them for their take on various policy issues where you often only get advice from the same, senior staffers. And let it be known you are willing to hear the bad news with the good--and that you appreciate out of the box thinking.

3) Consider appointing a new Chief of Staff at the White House. Even if you are happy with Andy Card, new blood might not hurt. Previous Presidents go through many Chiefs of Staff for a reason. The job is exhausting and high pressure. He might even welcome the break. If you decided to replace him, look for someone in the Howard Baker mold.

4) Reach out beyond Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for advice. There are a lot of other smart people out there Mr. President. There are pillars of the New York establishment, like Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chief (and former Goldman Sachs head) John Whitehead. There are former Secretaries of Defense like Mel Laird, Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, George Schultz. Cross the aisle and get feedback from the Sam Nunn's, Dick Holbrooke's and Zbig Brezinski's. Widen your net some. And yes, Brent Scowcroft, your father's best friend, deserves some one on one time with you too.

5) Signal you are not bull-headed and overly stubborn. How? Well, change course on some policy positions once in a while. For instance, support the McCain Amendment on acceptable standards for the treatment of detainees (this will also serve to signal your independence from your weakened Vice President). In similar vein, you have of late been better explaining the stakes at play in Iraq as an epochal struggle against a new form of fascistic ideology. Recall, when America faced down the Soviets in the Cold War, we also marshalled all the assets of our so-called 'soft' power-ie, propaganda tools, USAID cultural centers in far-flung capitals spreading our values, Voice of America beaming our message to eager listeners beyond the Iron Curtain. Yet, it must be said, we seem to have not taken this aspect of the struggle against radical Islam as seriously as during the struggle against Communism. For example, your point person on this matter, Karen Hughes, waited to handle family matters for many months before assuming her position. What signal does this send about how importantly we view our public diplomacy efforts? And how effective, really, are so called 'listening tours' in Jakarta or Cairo? They can't hurt, but big, bold strokes would go much further. For instance, consider announcing Guantanamo will be closed going forward. No, perhaps not tomorrow, or even next year--but after all the detainees have either been sent to home countries for detention wherever possible, or have been tried by authorized tribunals. Indefinite detention for years, without even any charges being pressed, is simply not in keeping with bedrock American values. Yes, even for the most dangerous and rotten scum on the face of the earth like some currently held at Gitmo.

There are myriad other issues and policy decisions to be made, of course. The point here is to be able to say, 'hey, I made a mistake.' 'I can change course.' You've done it on Iraq war strategy. Let's roll out the learning curve into other areas too. Part of this will come from getting advice from a wider circle. More soon, but this is just to throw a few ideas out there and get a discussion going. You're around for another 39 or so months, presumably, so let's try to make a better go of it, no?


Posted by Gregory at October 31, 2005 01:24 AM | TrackBack (7)
Comments

A report issued today by Congress, and which has just hit the European papers. It should be in a short while in the US papers as well:

US `had no policy' in place to rebuild Iraq (FT)

The US government had "no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines" in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country's reconstruction.

Posted by: judyo at October 31, 2005 01:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A nice long rambling post for a Sunday night - it's good to have you back. I could comment on several aspects but let me limit myself to one: I have a subtle but significant dispute with your treatment of the "John Yoo's", etc. on "torture." I am a McCain man, and even if I weren't I would strongly favor the McCain amendment. If anyone has been involved in condoning or facilitating breaking bones, hitting with baseball bats, even waterboarding, I think they should be drummed out of the service and prosecuted as war criminals. That said, I think you continue to play a three card monte game on this issue -- I do not and will never agree that panties on the head or fake menstual blood are the equivalent of beheadings or true torture. We have gone around and around on this issue and I know I am not going to change your mind, but for me this issue is easily addressed by recommending we follow the golden rule - don't do to prisoners what we would not done to ours. If insults and sleep deprivation will get us intelligence that will save lives I am reluctantly willing to allow our enemies to inflict this on our troops. I think that is what Mr. Yoo, Mr. Gonzalez and yes even the evil Rumsfeld thought they were agreeing to.

Posted by: wayne at October 31, 2005 02:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe Andy Card will go, out of exhaustion.
But for the rest, I'll wager Bush takes none of your suggestions. He's not up to it.

Posted by: Skeptic at October 31, 2005 03:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Maybe Andy Card will go, out of exhaustion.
But for the rest, I'll wager Bush takes none of your suggestions. He's not up to it.

Posted by: Skeptic at October 31, 2005 03:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I continue to be amazed at your tenacity, Greg, in trying to find a way to dream that this administration can possibly take a significant turn for the better. Sure, they'll probably make some tactical advances but, let's face it, Bush is just not up to this job, and despite his figurehead status, the reality is, he still has the authority to screw things up until his term ends.

Let's consider the costs of Iraq more carefully. If we had managed to obtain an Iraqi democracy which looked like it was the result of internal pressure, of an indigenous movement that we merely helped along or supported, or if we had overthrown Saddam after he had clearly and unequivocally violated international law (which we could have done, I believe, during the first Gulf War, when his crimes were fresh in the minds of the people of the world and he actually had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons) --- then the democracy thing might have sparked a renewal in the Middle East. However, the political fallout of our actual Iraq debacle will be a continued association of the Iraqi government, however democratic, with American attempts to violently impose our will, with American torture, disdain for Islam, etc., etc. This will have massive political ramifications for us for an indefinite future --- Islamic civilization has a LONG memory when it comes to things like this.

We did this in the wrong way, at the wrong time. We should have relied on covert means or operated merely in a support role. I agree that pulling out now will result in an even worse debacle ... but we should not have gone in the way we did in the first place.

Posted by: Mitsu at October 31, 2005 04:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

>>That said, I think you continue to play a three card monte game on this issue -- I do not and will never agree that panties on the head or fake menstual blood are the equivalent of beheadings or true torture.

I seem to recall that some people at Abu Ghraib were KILLED.

Posted by: T. J. Madison at October 31, 2005 10:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are myriad other issues and policy decisions to be made, of course. The point here is to be able to say, 'hey, I made a mistake.' 'I can change course.' You've done it on Iraq war strategy. Let's roll out the learning curve into other areas too.

I agree with Mitsu, and I think the final paragraph of your piece explains why.

Bush may have changed course, but he hasn't acknowledged doing so, and said "hey I made a mistake." And, at this point, its too late for him to do so and for it to have a significant impact.

Clinton maintained his political viability despite people's low regard for his personal conduct because the American people agreed with and understood his priorities. Bush's political viability has always rested on the "character" issue --- he was politically viable despite the fact that people disagreed with his priorities and ideas. This was truly a "faith-based" presidency----people followed Bush because they believed in him, and they have lost that faith.

The indictment of Lewis Libby was the "tipping point" -- although not quite as dramatic as Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre, it signals the end of Bush's effectiveness as a president in the same way as the Massacre did for Nixon. THoughtful conservatives like yourself need to start calling for the resignation of Bush and Cheney, and the installation of someone like Colin Powell through the constitutional process used during the Nixon years.

(BTW, I agree that there are signs of progress in Iraq --- the most important being that the administration is once again hinting at attacks on Syria and Iran. Its that mindset--- the fact that this administration will not learn from its mistakes, and will see any "sucess" in Iraq as vindication of its policies --- that spells doom for the Iraqi adventure. If someone like you were running things in the White House, I'd be willing to "stay the course" in Iraq. But three more years of blockheaded "one step forward, two steps back" policies in the Middle East will leave us in far worse shape by 2009, and "immediate" withdrawal is the only viable option that will reduce the damage to the USA caused by the Iraq fiasco.)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 31, 2005 10:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Lukasiak endorses our mission in Iraq???

Posted by: wayne at October 31, 2005 11:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So this was the guy who was supposed to restore honor and dignity to the White House? What a joke.

Posted by: Dave Thomas at October 31, 2005 12:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

if we pull out now, we will not have inserted the seed of democracy into the cradle of civilisation.

Posted by: snacknuts at October 31, 2005 12:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In a comment above, p.lukasiak complains that 'Bush may have changed course, but he hasn't acknowledged doing so, and said "hey I made a mistake."'

Implicit in this complaint is the assumption that such an acknowledgement would have served the country, whereas it seems far more plausible that it would only serve the President's domestic opponents (and, of course, give the complainers a warm glow of vindication).

When President Clinton abased himself, his defenders claimed that he should thereby earn forgiveness, but his detractors were unmollified.

Posted by: sammler at October 31, 2005 03:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

why skip Krugman?

Posted by: David at October 31, 2005 03:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good to have you back - and good posting

I do wonder about this section

"Our moral position in the world has suffered grevious blows because of detainee policies and legal memoranda defining torture down that eager enablers like the John Yoos and Albert Gonzalezs and Don Rumsfelds facilitated. (History will not be kind to these individuals, and many Americans will come to be tremendously embarrased by this dark chapter in our national history). "


This focus on any and all US excesses during this conflict is very odd.

Surely the moral position of France and her associates in the "Keep Saddam in power - Oil for food is good business" imbroglio should harm their moral position in the world.

Maybe we will have to wait until the battered wife that was the Iraqi people can stand up and say "Thank You USA!" for people to stop this endless carping on US excesses

History, if fair at all, will be much kinder to Rumsfeld than it will to Chirac and Schroeder

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at October 31, 2005 03:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

why skip Krugman?

Posted by: David at October 31, 2005 03:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Lukasiak endorses our mission in Iraq???

hardly. But I would not be advocating an "immediate" withdrawal from Iraq if we had leadership that was considered credible by the international community, and was based on policies and ideas that are as sensible, sane, and responsible as Greg consistently espouses.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 31, 2005 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A good post, honestly felt. Some definite quibbles.

Krugman.

Right from the getgo, he was the first person to LOUDLY and PERSISTENTLY point out that the Bush economic plan of both having tax cuts and a balanced budget was a flat out lie. He was right about this before anyone else, so he deserves a lot of credit for that.

Clinton had dishonored the office.

Well, I agree - but as far as I'm concerned, Bush, with Abu Ghraib, with the economic lies, with the misleading of getting into Iraq (WMD's, don't want the (wake-up call?) to be a mushroom cloud, etc), are far more severe and damaging than Clinton's dishonor.

And then, as far as genocide's go - Bush has his own in the Sudan.

So no points to Bush on that score either.

Also with Clinton, the 90's - for whatever reason - ended on a high note for most people, not a low note. We had some success with Bosnia, and working with our allies, people were employed, making good money, and the nation, for the first time in over 30 years, was running a surplus.

Good times.

But this administration managed to piss a lot of that away.

Now, given the situation we are in, the administration is doing a much better job in Iraq now, I would agree. And your recommendations for the future are also good.

But when the administration is silent on cuts to food stamps for kids, as opposed to raising taxes a bit on the wealthy - well, this administration has its priorities tragically backwards.

Posted by: JC at October 31, 2005 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have read your posts referenced from Winds of change. On the whole I have not been impressed. I take great umbrage at your conservative domestic policy issues. This post is a very good one. Alas I have little faith in Bush taking your suggestions.

Many of your ideas have been made elsewhere but all hinge around the same thing. This President is not intellectually curious enough to make these type of changes. This is a man whom held the position of loyalty enforcer in his father's administration. This temperment is reenforced by his being an alcoholic and the exigencies necessary not to lapse. Lastly, he is born again.

The result of this mix is a man of immense inflexiblity. Each failure around him(Cheney, Wolfowitz, Frist, De Lay, Libby, Abramhoff) is a sinner to be saved not a cancer to exorcised(how else explain that Rove remains). To expect him to make changes is not reasonable.

The outside chance you have is Ms Rice(this is predicated on the hope she does not get caught up in the Libby indictment). She has clearly moved forward the N Korea nuke talks, has gotten in a competent Ambassador in Iraq, has Bolton "on a short leash" and has proven to be a capable articulater of positive policy. (I personally think, as a black women the threat she represents to Rumsfield and Cheney is something they are going crazy about. In light of Libby and the fact they are in a position to be sacrificed it is even more disconcerting). The question remains even as a trusted(?)family retainer is she bold enough to suggest changes outside of her sphere of knowledge and is he amenable to it

As an aside
Do you really believe Bush could read Dowd after her last column? Talk about a Siren

Posted by: Robert M at October 31, 2005 05:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is no way Bush could read Dowd if he starts with the picture preceding her magazine article. Talk about a call from the Sirens.
Please do not post this if my other post is simply caught up in your filters

Posted by: Robert M at October 31, 2005 05:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For commentary on both the War on Terror and the mess in New Orleans, readers may wish to try my blog.

Posted by: Solomon2 at October 31, 2005 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I won't rehash my points of agreement and disagreement with Greg right now, but I did have a question.

Presidents are responsible for what happens in their administrations, whether they personally directed it to happen or not -- and no President personally directs more than a small fraction of what his administration does. The executive branch of the federal government is far too big for that. This President, however, has be most accounts been extraordinarily disengaged from the nuts and bolts of policy in most areas, including the conduct of the war. Iraq was Rumsfeld's war to start, became Rumsfeld's and Bremer's war later and now appears to be Khalilzad's, Centcom's and Rumsfeld's (in about that order) war. This doesn't mean Bush is not due credit or that he can escape blame for things that go right or wrong in Iraq. The question is, when things go wrong, how realistic is it to expect Bush to change them?

That same question applies to many other policy areas. Outside of key planks in his campaign platform -- tax cuts especially -- Bush has been a remarkably passive President with respect to policy. He never intended spending on farm programs or highways to increase or for DHS to become a bureaucratic tangle. These things and many others just sort of happened. A strong President knowing his own mind could address situations like this and turn them toward his preferences. The problem is that Bush, having few such preferences unrelated to his campaign themes, is not that strong a President.

As I suggest above, in any administration subordinate officials will -- and must -- be given authority to design and implement policies the success or failure of which will be charged to the account of their chief. Yet few such officials are given the kind of carte blanche that (an admittedly small number of) Bush administration officials have over the last five-plus years. The impression one gets is of a boat without a hand on the tiller, not occasionally as was the case in Reagan's or Clinton's time or as the result of one historic scandal as in Nixon's second term, but consistently over a period of several years as a result of limitations on the President's knowledge and interest. Course corrections in this administration, unless they can be accomplished very quickly or delegated entirely to subordinates, shouldn't be counted on.

Posted by: JEB at October 31, 2005 07:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Reach out beyond Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for advice. There are a lot of other smart people out there Mr. President. There are pillars of the New York establishment, like Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chief (and former Goldman Sachs head) John Whitehead. There are former Secretaries of Defense like Mel Laird, Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, George Schultz. Cross the aisle and get feedback from the Sam Nunn's, Dick Holbrooke's and Zbig Brezinski's. Widen your net some. And yes, Brent Scowcroft, your father's best friend, deserves some one on one time with you too"


Baker? Carlucci and Weinberger? Hell we've already got Negroponte - whats the plan, to win the war on terror by burning coffee collectives in Nicaragua? Selling arms to Ahmadinejad? And of all the Dems (besides Holbrook, whos very good) you come up with Brezinski? I think this is too weighted toward so called "realists". (BTW, you might look at Adesniks latest, and Krauthammers, both in response to Scowcroft)

Rather than the admin reaching out to the "stability" crowd, i think they should reach out to Democrats - bipartisanship has a big role in wartime, I think - the many Democrats who share the essence of the admins approach to war (as most of the men you named above do NOT) but who disagree on important details. And they should also reach out to the main voice of integrity and patriotism in the GOP - John McCain.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 31, 2005 08:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Say Bush is at 40%. That makes 60% on the other side. Suppose 25% of that 60% wants a more vigorous prosecution of the war. That would give those leaning Bush 40% + 15% = 55%.

My guess Bush is doing OK.

Posted by: M. Simon at October 31, 2005 08:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Say Bush is at 40%. That makes 60% on the other side. Suppose 25% of that 60% wants a more vigorous prosecution of the war. That would give those leaning Bush 40% + 15% = 55%.

My guess Bush is doing OK.

Posted by: M. Simon at October 31, 2005 08:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It matters little that Bush is polling at 40% at the moment because he isn't running for anything - and when he did he polled a lot higher : ) ( I guess Bush isn't so bad when voters compare him to what the Democrats had to offer )

Considering the incessant drumbeat of negativity from the MSM regarding Iraq its a wonder he's even at 40%

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at October 31, 2005 09:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thomas Barnett in his latest book (http://www.opinionatedbastard.com/archives/000583.html) has a pretty good discussion on troop levels. He argues that the value was correct for the invasion, but bad for the occupation (what he calls the Leviathan vs. SysAdmin problem). He also discusses the real motivation behind the Shinseki criticisms: to some extent, Rumsfeld was between a Rock and the Pentagon.

Anyways, I think Bush was trying to send the message that we weren't there to occupy Iraq, that the Iraqis had to run their own country. Perhaps that was a mistake, but I don't think it was an unreasonable decision.

Posted by: Pierce Wetter at October 31, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Torture, torture, torture.

Funny how people with the worldview reflected in this long navel-gazing exercise glibly assure us that the U.S. is torturing people and that Yoo and Gonzalez authorized torture, yet never come up with concrete examples.

And spare me the Abu Ghraib bit. Do you have any idea how many G.I.'s were hanged for rape or murder in the European Theatre of Operations in WWII? I suppose then, using the same standards on display here, that the Roosevelt Administration had a policy of rape and murder of European civilians? After all, troops did it, right?

Crime is crime. There is no, nor has their ever been, any U.S. policy to torture detainees. And people like this guy can't point to one case. Not one.

Posted by: New Sisyphus at November 1, 2005 12:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iraq.

Today we are in a situation in which a country with the largest, most advanced, best financed, best trained and most experienced military in the world cannot win a war against a "handful" of "terrorists". You believe that things are going in the right direction but consider the logic of our current plan.

Despite having AWAC planes, abrahm tanks, armored personnel carriers, cobra helicopters, F-16 fighters, b-1 and b-52 bombers, aircraft carriers, guided bombs, cruise missles and the worlds best psych-ops we have not crushed the uprising in Iraq. We have not secured a single border of a neighboring country and we have not secured a sector of the country.

The enemies of democracy in Iraq or both internal and external. The strength necessary to defeat the insurgents and to control the country is absolutely incomprehensible far away. We cannot arm the militias that make up today's Iraq army in a fashion in which they would be capable to truly take on the responsibility for their country due to the high risk of civil war. We will be losing an average of 100 soldiers a month for at least the next three years.

A political solution, which sounds wonderful, is just as far away. One reading of the proposed constitution proves this without a doubt. The constitution is utterly useless and before you say that the political process of getting a constitution passed is in fact progress, realize that thousands of people came out to vote not becuase they had even an iota of information about what they were voting for but because they were told to vote by religious leaders whose motives are more than suspect. This is hardly progress towards a democracy but more a slide towards theocracy.

I suppose if looking in the right direction is what one considers a vast step in the right direction then so be it. But when you look at the steep road ahead, a distant stare is hardly progress.

Posted by: tregen at November 1, 2005 01:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, I still strongly disagree on de-Baathification and disbanding the army. It needed to happen. Yes, the Sunni Arabs have to be brought in, but they also have to understand that they don't run the whole country any more, and aren't going to. (They also have to realize their true demographical position.) I see no evidence that refusing to disband the Army and the Ba'ath, thus leaving in charge all the Sunni Arabs who used to terrorize the country, would actually lead to a better situation. I greatly doubt that it would cause them to realize that the country was no longer theirs to play with and that they were no longer the rulers.

For another thing, do you really think that the Kurds and Shi'ites would sit still for that?

Posted by: John Thacker at November 1, 2005 01:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are former Secretaries of Defense like Mel Laird, Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, George Schultz. Cross the aisle and get feedback from the Sam Nunn's, Dick Holbrooke's and Zbig Brezinski's. Widen your net some. And yes, Brent Scowcroft, your father's best friend, deserves some one on one time with you too.

Giggle. Boy, you're funny. Attack Donald Rumsfield, John Yoo, and others for supposedly condoning torture, then you beg for him to seek the advice of those who helped create "extraordinary rendition" in the first place. You list all the big realists here, all the guys who couldn't give a flip about torture or genocide anywhere because it's "not our business." All the people who would be just about "bringing the boys home," which you claimed you opposed. I don't get your advice at all.

Posted by: John Thacker at November 1, 2005 01:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's see - the Iraqi Army was dominated by Sunni Moslems before it was disbanded.

Sunni Moslems are at the core of the insurgency and they are the least likely to support self-rule for the Iraqi people.

If you want Iraq to progress and our troops to be able to withdraw at an appropriate time, the LAST thing you'd want to do is leave the Army dominated by the tribe that is most hostile to our troops mission (and most likely to double-cross us). The old cliche "Fox guarding the henhouse" comes to mind.

Dissolving the Army and rebuilding it with Kurds & Shi'ites filling the ranks not only deprives the Sunnis of a tool they'd love to use against their fellow Iraqis, it makes their effort to regain power that much more difficult.

Posted by: BD at November 1, 2005 01:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When compared to all other wars of this magnitude the Iraq War has been exceptional. And, it is being waged by soldiers who must fight under the most extreme rules of engagement against an enemy which has no rules of engagement. An enemy which blows Iraqi civilians up, most of all children! An enemy which wear no uniform and behead it's prisoners. Geez, have some perspective the next time you want to rant how your ideal war should be waged or the humanity in abandoning Iraq's newborn life.

I agree with a commenter that we have the best trained, most experience military in the world but becaus our soldiers are forced to wage this war under the dictation of ACLU attorneys, legislated by a weak-in the-knees Congress while being blugeoned to death by the anti-liberation movement and Hollywood's magic, it makes it difficult for our miltary to acheive their full potential.

Please show some respect. Our soldiers have enough idiocy from the media, movie stars and the music makers to deal with in fighting this war they don't need us ordinary Americans to trash them.


Posted by: susan at November 1, 2005 02:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's rare to read a blog entry which hasn't the slightest hint of insight or sense anywhere on it, but this is one. (Not counting KOS, DU, Alterman, or any of the obvious suspects, of course.) And the comments are even worse. What a waste of time. I wonder what's gotten into Reynolds, anyway? His links have been crap lately. It's almost enough to make me nostalgic for the days when he was pushing Wonkette uphill.

Posted by: big dirigible at November 1, 2005 02:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Iraqi Army was mostly a bunch of conscripts held in check by Iaqi Intelligence Service agents holding guns to their heads in every platoon. They self-disbanded the minute it was clear they could get away with it. The remainder were Baathist Sunnis who are still fighting us.

More troops might have helped, or they might have just made things worse. They would almost certainly have entailed higher casualties, even just from accidents, which are one quarter of the total.

I think there was really only one big mistake made: not holding elections in 2003. They woul have been a mess, but they would have gotten the political ball rolling.

Posted by: TallDave at November 1, 2005 02:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Upon due reflection and a careful reading of your 'advice' I am reluctantly edging towards the pompous ass critique as outlined in your testimonials.

Can't we all get along ? ---Rodney King and now Greg.

Tastes great but definately less filling.

On the most simplistic level, did you really assert that Bush could learn something from reading a Maureen Dowd column, or was that merely an optical illusion ?

Maureen Dowd ? I think that thought alone probably invalidates everything else, as it casts serious doubts on your grasp of both history and reality. Please please please ---- RETRACT !!!

Posted by: dougf at November 1, 2005 03:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What an intellectually dishonest post you've put up here. You had your opinions as to what alternative courses could have been taken (e.g., troop levels). Fine. We know how the chosen course turned out. However, you cannot simply assume that an alternative course would've worked out better. Larger troops levels had their own risks -- internal and external to Iraq. By tying up few resources in Iraq than we did, you will never know the mischief avoided externally, or the political dynamic that would have been unleashed internally. You just get to armchair quarterback and assume your genius status. The real world doesn't work like that. You choose one path and you never know exactly what you have encountered on the other.

There is a lot to question about Bush's prosecution of the War on Terror. However, when you question it, don't engage in the fallacy of assuming your choices would have worked out swimmingly.

Posted by: retrofuturistic at November 1, 2005 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

Sorry, but any characterization of our casualties in the 3 yr long Iraq war as "immense" is off base by a mile. The plan after the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review was to "win-hold-win" two major regional conflicts, the first in 90 days while holding the second theater at bay until war I was won, then transferring all our available troops after victory to the second theater and winning again in 90 days (war II). (And this stupidity we called a "plan".) The Iraq portion of this scenario envisioned at least 20,000 casualties in 90 days. After 3 years we still are only half that (7500 severely wounded, 2000 dead ---- 8000 men wounded who return to full duty within 72 hrs doesn't count as a casualty in this regard).

You say, "Still, one must look at foreign policy choices through a prism of cost and benefits. And the costs of the Iraq imbroglio have been immense. 2000 of our countrymen and women are dead. Well over ten thousand wounded. Our allies have lost many of their young to this war. God knows how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and scourge of large scale suicide bombings. Our moral position in the world has suffered grevious blows because of detainee policies and legal memoranda defining torture down that eager enablers like the John Yoos and Albert Gonzalezs and Don Rumsfelds facilitated. (History will not be kind to these individuals, and many Americans will come to be tremendously embarrased by this dark chapter in our national history). Billions and billions of dollars are down the drain (even more if you count the impact of higher oil prices, some of which is at least an indirect result of the Iraq war). Strained alliances. I could go on, of course, but it is clear the costs have been enormous."

Just what the hell do you think is enormous, immense, catastrophic? All of these events pale in comparison to WWII and even to VietNam. Dozens more atrocities were prosecuted in VietNam than we have prosecuted in Iraq, and we have been significantly more vigilant than we were in VietNam. World War II cost us the equivalent of 2 trillion dollars in today's funds. VietNam cost us close to 1 trillion dollars in today's funds. We are still only 20% of those figures and our economy acts like it hasn't even felt the shock. None of your characterizations or those of your commenters are based in reality.

You can't make people do anything. They have to choose their fate. Do you honestly believe the Muslim world will change their attitudes of over 30 years of "Death to America" in less than 2 years? Would you immediately give up your Democratic Party principles if we were defeated in war and happily make your way down the Soviet Pravda boulevard of forced propaganda bearing no relation to reality (I forgot that today's newspapers have brought us this already without the Soviet government presence), pogroms of intellectuals, forced collectivism of your property and gulag reeducation for the masses, sometimes for years, just because your parents or grandparents weren't Communists? Didn't think so. The only way you would change is if you recognized the pain of resistance was worse than the future offered by freedom in Iraq. And the only way you would recognize that was when it was choked out of you.

You people are dreaming if you think there is a better way than we are following in Iraq. Like there is some Magic Bullet or Holy Hand Grenade of Enlightenment which can be provided to the people of Iraq to make them accept success, tra-la, tra-lee. Every alternative offered by international or US domestic opposition expects the insurgents to choose to cooperate willingly or abdicate the defense of Iraq to people who refuse to defend her anyway. They wouldn't be insurgents if they were willingly cooperating. You won't change their minds. You can only kill them to prevent them from killing others. (This ain't rocket science and I know because I am a rocket scientist).

The Men in our and Iraq's new military prosecuting this war are doing so against terrorists who are ruthless, hateful and filled with religious fervor for Death, at any cost to their countrymen and us. Failure to stop them means extermination of the American way of life, eventually. If you don't support this conflict right now, when will you? After the first hundred thousand American civilians are dead from jihad, or after the 10th million?

Get over your opposition and start supporting winning and our survival for a change.

Subsunk

Posted by: Subsunk at November 1, 2005 03:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Susan said :"When compared to all other wars of this magnitude the Iraq War has been exceptional. And, it is being waged by soldiers who must fight under the most extreme rules of engagement against an enemy which has no rules of engagement. An enemy which blows Iraqi civilians up, most of all children! An enemy which wear no uniform and behead it's prisoners. Geez, have some perspective the next time you want to rant how your ideal war should be waged or the humanity in abandoning Iraq's newborn life.

I agree with a commenter that we have the best trained, most experience military in the world but becaus our soldiers are forced to wage this war under the dictation of ACLU attorneys, legislated by a weak-in the-knees Congress while being blugeoned to death by the anti-liberation movement and Hollywood's magic, it makes it difficult for our miltary to acheive their full potential.

Please show some respect. Our soldiers have enough idiocy from the media, movie stars and the music makers to deal with in fighting this war they don't need us ordinary Americans to trash them."

Well said.

Posted by: Infide at November 1, 2005 03:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

(1) Even if we do manage to make Iraq into a shining democracy -- and the odds are still decidedly against it -- it will be remembered as the biggest Pyrrhic victory in the history of the human race if it allows the current malignant government of Iran to get their hands on the Bomb, and either the desperation of that government or its eventual collapse then leads to some of those bombs falling into the hands of terrorists. Ditto if our being stuck in Iraq prevents us from being able to deal properly with the consequences of the fact that North Korea and Pakistan already have the Bomb. (I remain convinced that the only possible way to get the North Korean government to give up the Bomb will be to assure them that they will be protected from the wrath of their own people if they give up power peacefully -- and the only way to do that will be for the US to be prepared to occupy all of North Korea if the Kim government ever DOES give up power.)

(2) Laird, I see, is still conveniently rewriting the history of the Vietnam War. At the time we left, there was still no evidence whatsoever that the government of South Vietnam was any more popular with its people -- or any more capable of resisting North Vietnam militarily -- than it had been when we went in. Even George Will wrote in 1975 in National Review that enough was enough.

(3) Lest we forget, the major reason Clinton failed to take action in Rwanda and Bosnia is that the Right would have screamed bloody murder if he had -- just as they were screaming about his "leaving us stuck in Somalia" (screams which were directly responsible for his refusal to send troops to Rwanda immediately afterward), and about his getting involved in Kosovo (or, for that matter, in Bosnia -- remember Charles Krauthammer's indignation on that subject? And remember all the yelling from the Right about how he was trying to "wag the dog" and distract public attention from Monica by his military actions in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and even in the Iran and Afghan airstrikes?) Clinton's real mortal sin was his failure to prevent -- by threats of nuclear attack, if absolutely necessary -- North Korea from acquiring the Bomb. A sin which Bush is now repeating in Iran.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 1, 2005 03:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What crap!

Posted by: Ed Poinsett at November 1, 2005 03:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"the various tactical blunders experts had forewarned against (wholesale de-Baathification and disbanding of the Iraqi Army, among others), the breezy transformationalist nostrums (leading to far too few troops in theater initially)"

There are very good arguments for the administration's decisions on these issues, as well as when to hold elections, etc. You can draw up the pros and cons of each position and it isn't that obvious which path to take. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I don't see - after all the hard work and physical courage the Iraqis have shown in their efforts to rebuild their country - how anyone can sneer at this progress toward democracy. They are returning to Iraq instead of fleeing, they are investing in real estate and durable goods, they are arguing and negotiating, they are volunteering for their police and military. I think we should have at least as much hope as they do.

Any nation-building effort is a wicked problem, with all the uncertainty and complexity that implies. This is not to say we shouldn't criticize where needed, but it's unfair and unhelpful to assume that if someone came to a different conclusion than you, they must be arrogant or stupid.

Considering it has only been two years, and Iraq is still beset by jihadis sent by her neighbors, transitioning from a police state to a nascent representative government has been blazingly fast by any standards of nation-building. So let's give the Iraqis some credit, and a fighting chance.

Posted by: Yehudit at November 1, 2005 03:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I see from your latest commenters that the Right, or a lot of it, has decided to come out in force in favor of the US government flatly legalizing torture -- something we've never had before, not even during the Indian Wars, the war against the Filipino resistance, or Vietnam. Never mind that FDR's administration refused to allow torture even of captured Japanese troops -- despite the atrocities routinely carried out by Japan against our own POWs -- precisely because that administration wanted postwar Japan as a friendly independent state rather than a permanently occupied and resentful one, and knew damn well that this could not be achieved if we were seen torturing Japanese POWs. And ever mind that such "soft power" -- of the sort we destroy by displaying ourselves in the eyes of the world's Moslems as being willing to legitimate torture of them -- is even more necessary to win the overall war against Islamist Megaterrorism, since we can hardly occupy the entire Moslem world. (Particularly, I may add, without a draft. Given that the military -- given its problems in Iraq -- is already straining to satisfy its needs with an all-volunteer force, how long do the right-wing optimists think we can keep that up?)

But then, the sudden new wave of right-wing commenters attacking Djerejian in this thread -- some of whom can't spell -- leads me to conclude that one of the more hysterical right-wing blogsites has just decided to attack him. Which one?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 1, 2005 03:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also, many Iraqis simply don't care about Abu Ghraib, and resent the rest of the Arab world trying to make political hay out of it. They say "where were you, my Arab brothers, when Saddam was torturing and killing us? And now you want to make a big deal out of a few criminals with panties on their heads." This is almost a direct quote from several interviews/articles/movies from that time. They also don't get why it bothers the Americans so much. "These are bad men anyway. I was in one of Saddams prisons, I wouldn't complain if some girl undressed in front of me" etc etc.

Everyone in Iraq has at least one relative tortured killed imprisoned or exiled by Saddam. They can tell the difference between Saddam and Abu Ghraib. I am not claiming this opinion is universal (it's a country of 25 mil. after all) but my impression from what I read is it is not a tiny minority either.

Look at all the outrage over Abu Ghraib at the time and notice just how much of it came from Iraq.

Posted by: Yehudit at November 1, 2005 04:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I got here from Instapundit, who simply said this.

In your world, disagreeing with someone is "attacking" them? Ah, the tolerant open-minded left.....

Posted by: Yehudit at November 1, 2005 04:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for the ignoramuses on this thread who are denying that there's something unusual going in the torture department where this particular administration is concerned: well, even if you ignore Andrew Sullivan's interminable and detailed documentation of it, we have the Administration's remarkable threat to veto the entire military appropriations bill if it includes the McCain-Graham amendment outlawing official torture -- despite the fact that the amendment was backed by 90 Senators, Colin Powell, 28 other high-ranked retired military officers ( http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2005/10/051003-letter-to-sen-mccain.htm ), and, last but not least, Melvin Laird, in another section of his article that Djerejian hasn't yet quoted:

"Vietnam, however, should be a cautionary tale when fighting guerrilla style, whether it be in the streets or in the jungle. Back then, frightened and untrained U.S. troops were ill equipped to govern their baser instincts and fears. Countless innocent civilians were killed in the indiscriminate hunt for Vietcong among the South Vietnamese peasantry. Some of the worst historical memories of the Vietnam War stem from those atrocities. Our volunteer troops in Iraq are better trained and supervised, yet the potential remains for a slaughter of innocents. Reports have already surfaced of skittish American soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians in acts that can only be attributed to poor training and discipline.

"To stop abuses and mistakes by the rank and file, whether in the prisons or on the streets, heads must roll at much higher levels than they have thus far. I well remember the unexpected public support for Lieutenant William Calley, accused in the massacre of civilians in the village of My Lai. The massacre did not occur on my watch, but Calley's trial did, and Americans flooded the White House with letters of protest when it appeared that Calley would be the scapegoat while his superiors walked free. The best way to keep foot soldiers honest is to make sure their commanders know that they themselves will be held responsible for any breach of honor.

"For me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have occurred in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay have been a disturbing reminder of the mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam. The conditions in our current prison camps are nowhere near as horrific as they were at the 'Hanoi Hilton,' but that is no reason to pat ourselves on the back. The minute we begin to deport prisoners to other nations where they can legally be tortured, when we hold people without charges or trial, when we move prisoners around to avoid the prying inspections of the Red Cross, when prisoners die inexplicably on our watch, we are on a slippery slope toward the inhumanity that we deplore. In Vietnam, I made sure we always took the high ground with regard to the treatment of enemy prisoners. I opened our prison camps wide to international inspectors, so that we could demand the same from Hanoi. In Iraq, there are no American POWs being held in camps by the insurgents. There are only murder victims whose decapitated bodies are left for us to find. But that does not give us license to be brutal in return."

Bush, undaunted, is also theatening to veto the military appropriations bill if it includes any amendment requiring an independent commission to look into the things we have already done. Why do you suppose that could be? And -- for the benefit of fools like "Yehudit" -- Abu Ghraib involved a teensy bit more than panties on the head. The photos that haven't yet been released led every member of Congress who saw them (including the Republicans) to come out white-faced and shaking, and to agree that they must not be immediately released lest they turn the entire Moslem world against us in a rage.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at November 1, 2005 04:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My Bruce, what an intellectual you are. One cannot help but notice, however, that for all your words, you have again failed to name one instance of where it has been found that the U.S. adopted torture as an actual policy and has inflicted that torture on any person.

Sure, the Bush Administration is against the McCain bill; but disagreeing with you and the Arizona senator about the merits of a bill is not, last I checked, the same as ordering torture.

Sullivan has documented nothing save the same innuendo that you traffic in. Since 9.11, the Bush Administration's policies in the War on Terror have been upheld--again and again--by the judicial branch, Congressional oversight has revealed no breach of law, and abuses have been uncovered and ruthlessly prosecuted by the executive branch, i.e. the President's men. (That's not a very effective way of running business for torturers, is it? Authorizing it and then prosecuting those found guilty of crime?)

The "slaughter of innocents" you describe with relation to Vietnam as a cautionary tale relating to Iraq is also not a policy of torture--it is a regrettable by-product of war, especially an anti-insurgency war, and, further, one that our current practices do everything they can to avoid.

Then, of course, drearily, comes the "winning" argument...Abu Ghraib. Yes, there were criminal abuses, which were uncovered by the Army, prosecuted by the Department of Defense and fully investigated and stopped. Again, by the President's men.

That is not a U.S. policy of torture. It's individual criminal acts.
Again, U.S. servicemen raped and killed civilians in Europe during WWII. Just two weeks ago, the U.S. apologized to the decendents of some Jewish folks who had all their belongings taken by an entire U.S. Army unit just after the war's end.

By your reasoning, the above proves that the U.S. had a murder civilians policies and treated Jewish people just as the Nazis did.

Only an intellectual of such stellar quality could make such a moronic leap.

You are right about one thing, though. I did get the spelling of a word wrong. Nice catch!

Posted by: New Sisyphus at November 1, 2005 04:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1) Watch the cable shows. Read some of the papers. Yes, even Frank Rich or Maureen Dowd (you can skip Krugman).

This advice is patronizingly silly. It presumes the President doesn't have an accurate information source currently. This is absurd. And Frank Rich and MoDowd simply cannot write columns without substantial factual inaccuracies. I don't want the President to spend time with gibberish.

2) Let people in the White House, including junior staffers, occasionally drop by . . . for their take on various policy issues

Of course this would work in a West Wing TV show, but in the real world, we expect decisions to be made with the knowledgable advice of experts, professors, scientists, and scholars.

3) Consider appointing a new Chief of Staff at the White House . . . in the Howard Baker mold.

Howard Baker was from the "realist" ideology - as was Brent Scowcroft. This current Bush presidency is not limited by the "reality," but rather has a huge vision of a better world brought about by exchanging tyranny for self-determination.

4) Reach out beyond Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for advice.

Maybe the President has stuck with them because they share his viewpoint. Too many people assume that the President has to be told what to do, instead of considering that the President has a vision he expects others to carry out. The John Bolton nomination shows he is capable of delegating difficult tasks to strong-wlled people he trusts to carry out his vision.

5) Signal you are not bull-headed and overly stubborn. How? Well, change course on some policy positions once in a while. . . For instance, consider announcing Guantanamo will be closed going forward.

Nope. Never. The thing is this: In 50 years, will the Middle East be more stable than it is now? If George Bush's vision becomes reality, he may be a candidate for Mt Rushmore. Closing down Gitmo is denying a weapon in the battle for the future.

Bush changed his mind on Harriet Miers, even though he could have strong-armed her through the process. Using all tactics available to defeat the enemy should not be subject to flip-flopping.

Posted by: GoLakers at November 1, 2005 05:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While I appreciate your obvious intellectual investment into the Iraq situation, I can't help but feel that the policy makers that chose to ignite the Middle East firestorm have invested very little intellectually. I think I could almost get past the run-up BS if they had at least developed and executed a decent plan. Watching from the sideline I can only conclude that the 'plan' was extremely naive/flawed or that we still don't know why they really went in.

Posted by: Tim Pearson at November 1, 2005 06:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tim Pearson said, "We still don't know why they really went in ..."
(to Iraq)

I have before me a book published in 2002 entitled THE THREATENING STORM: THE CASE FOR INVADING IRAQ by Kenneth Pollack, published by Random House. Mr. Pollack was the Clinton Administration's chief advisor on Iraq. He carefully outlined the reasons we should go into Iraq. His thinking was developed during the Clinton Administration by people from the Party which is not now in power.

I have heard so many ignorant statements from critics of this effort in Iraq blaming the President for not knowing what he is doing, yada, yada, yada. I'm sorry, but it was not a new concept that Bush brought to the Whitehouse. It was a bi-partisan idea all along. There was a lot of thought over a number of years that went on. The President found the case persuasive and made the call to go.

Those who really know a lot about the Middle East and Iraq might disagree and have some good reasons. Fine. But a lot of people who think they are so much smarter than Bush don't really know much about it. And a lot of what they know ain't so.

Iraqi democracy may fail in the end. If so, the head-in-the-sand approach of much of Europe will have helped ensure that failure. If the West were united on Iraq and Iran and Syria we would have some powerful leverage. I believe the Iraqis are going to succeed. But it will be a few years of struggle.

We Americans see all problems solved in one hour on our TV shows and we think everything must happen instantly or we are failing.

Posted by: Bob Silver at November 1, 2005 10:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Luckily the choices made in how this war is waged are not made by leftist anti-war protestors. If all they ever see is a quagmire then you can't expect people like that to really follow through in a serious situation such as war.

Posted by: Josh at November 1, 2005 11:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: Though I disagree in many respects, thanks for doing such a thorough job of putting your thinking out here for all of us to read and ponder.

Laird is fundamentally correct. But I wonder where he got the notion that there is a "rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today"? Academics, think-tankers, NGO folks or former war opponents seeking continued justification for acts of moral and political expediency, I suppose.

"Get where it is today?" In addition to the post-war horrors catalogued by Laird, Vietnam remains among the poorest nations on the planet, generations since the war consigned to the most appalling poverty and stunted opportunity. Comparing its fate to the post-war success of South Korea, Japan and West Germany brings into starker relief the cost of abandoning it.

I do business and travel extensively throughout Asia, including Vietnam. This country and it's wonderful people have incredible potential. But both remain imprisoned in an inconceivably inefficient and corrupt police state. No amount of sanctimony from comfortable Westerners half a world away about how 'wrong' the war was can compensate for this shameful legacy of the era's anti-war movement, a legacy few recognize, and for which even fewer accept responsibility.

Posted by: cosmo at November 1, 2005 05:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

... etc etc ... 5) Signal you are not bull-headed and overly stubborn.

And a pony!

Posted by: Doug at November 1, 2005 08:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

I don't usually comment when I agree with a post, but you've gotten so much flak in these comments that I feel compelled to thank you for writing this. You're one of the most (or only?) intellectually honest bloggers out there, and your analysis is first-rate. It's good to have you posting again.

One small quibble though: ...Dowd over Krugman?

Posted by: Andrew at November 2, 2005 03:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When watching Eric and Dan guest-blogging, I felt that Dan was out of place on your blog. Basically, he's an intern/trainee at a intellectual brothel called the Manhattan Institute, posting his 'analyses' of terrorism from the perspective of a college senior with neither training nor experience to distinguish him from the frat boys hanging out around the beer pong game.

I guess I was wrong - Eric was the one out of place here.

As for:
"After 9/11, Andrew Sullivan had pointed us to this wonderful W.H. Auden poem that seemed to sum up the emptiness of the Clinton years as the 9/11 zietgeist took hold:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night. "

After five years of Bush, anybody who reads this and thinks of the Clinton administration as a 'low dishonest' decade is somebody whose judgement and/or morality isn't worth anything to me.

Good bye, and well - I hope not good luck for you, but for us, those Americans who actually deserve it.

Posted by: Barry at November 2, 2005 03:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have a lot of respect for you, and I understand your central point, which is even for a Bush supporter (as I am and you once were) there is much to criticize.

However, I think you are risking going the overboard route, and even contradicting yourself without realizing it. You claim to understand the mortal threat that Islamic radicalism poses for us, but then you write this:

"For instance, consider announcing Guantanamo will be closed going forward. No, perhaps not tomorrow, or even next year--but after all the detainees have either been sent to home countries for detention wherever possible, or have been tried by authorized tribunals. Indefinite detention for years, without even any charges being pressed, is simply not in keeping with bedrock American values."

WHat point is there in closing down Gitmo, except a meaningless gesture to placate those who will not be placated?

First, the "abuses" there, if anywhere, were a chimera; a leftist created and media fed fantasy. Ask an prisoner in an AMERICAN jail whether they'd like to transfer to sunny Gitmo, and I'd be shocked if than 90% did not say, "Sign me up!".

Second, where are you going to put the ones that a) their home country does want, b) you cannot trust their home country to hold? Where? These aren't Germans being kept somewhere in Iowa, who will just go home and build Volkswagons after the war. The war is ongoing, and as I believe you have said, will be most likely going on for years. And, just to be clear, we never let any German go until hostilities had ended. When the Islamists and their 'moderate' supporters give up the war they are waging against us, we can talk about prisoner exchange.

Look, my point here is that you are falling for some of the vacuous symbolism and idealism that the left adores and which puts us in so much danger. Allowing suicidal maniacs who have pledged our destruction by any means neccesary to go free is also not "keeping with bedrock American values". In fact, keeping with American values in war would have meant being a lot more decisive and a universe less politically correct than we have been so far.

There is no easy way out of this conflict, because those we are facing will not let us out easy. Do we not understand this yet? Part of their whole MO is to make us make horrible choices because they know how it affects us, and they use it against us. Part of the reason they 'play' the psychopath is because we are so unlike that, that it becomes a weak point for us.

I have no desire to follow them down the psycopath path, but at the same I don't want to sit trembling in my basement, fearful of making anhy move at all to defend myself. PArt of the reason why is because if we do not deal with this threat decisively NOW, we are going to have to become a whole lot more vicious dealing with it later on. The terrorists have been getting the kid glove treatment so far, based on both their actions and historical precedent.

Now, before anyone reacts to that last statement as some sort of ridiculous hyperbole, think about it for a moment or two.

Sorry for the rant, but not for the sentiment...

Posted by: Captain Wrath at November 2, 2005 05:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"GREG DJEREJIAN OFFERS advice for President Bush."

Thanks, Instapundit, for a waste of my time reading this long, pompous joke without a punch line. Drudge's post on Dowd was hilarious; Krauthammer's take-down of Scowcroft was masterful. Planet Belgravia's crushing gravity just sucks.

Posted by: The Family at November 2, 2005 05:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From no policy to a reasonably good one in a year during a war?

Sounds pretty good to me.

BTW how can you arrive at policy until you know the magnitude of the job?

Estimates not meshed with reality? Try doing a large scope hardware/software project.

Managing reality is not easy.

Perhaps taking a year to "get the feel of the place" though costly was not a bad idea.

Posted by: M. Simon at November 2, 2005 02:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guantanamo: 'Honor Bound To Defend Freedom'

NOW PLAYING at The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC

For more info: www.studiotheatre.org

Posted by: Steve Franco at November 2, 2005 09:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I visit your blog on occasion. But this post shall make me a daily reader. Thank you for your thoughts.

Posted by: Chris at November 4, 2005 03:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You advise Bush to make some policy changes to show flexibility, welcome new people into his cocoon, and listen to differing views even if they are critical?

Those changes require a man of character, courage and especially self confidence. You must be talking about someone other than George W. Bush.

Posted by: kimster at November 4, 2005 07:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A few weeks ago, it was Zogby who found that if a presidential election were held today and it was Bill Clinton and Bush, Clinton would win by over 10 points.

That terribly immoral decade is one that most Americans would give their eyeteeth for, and for its president.

Bill's affair with Monica and his lying was immoral; Bush lying this country into a war goes beyond immorality. There's no word in that class that does it justice.

Posted by: kimster at November 4, 2005 07:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"reckless simpleton"

Sums it all up in 4 syllables.

Yeah, those Clinton years were terrible. Those long years of peace and prosperity, balanced budgets, unemployment so low that there was talk that we had reached full employment. It was just horrible.

Perhaps you warmongers need war to slience the aching nihilism in your souls. Of course, others will fight the war while you cheer from the sidelines. But the rest of us would rather get on with our lives. Your Sturm und Drang schtick has worn very thin. Whatever it was you were trying to achieve, you've failed. You are destined for the dustbin of history.

Posted by: Brian at November 4, 2005 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"reckless simpleton"

Sums it all up in 4 syllables.

Yeah, those Clinton years were terrible. Those long years of peace and prosperity, balanced budgets, unemployment so low that there was talk that we had reached full employment. It was just horrible.

Perhaps you warmongers need war to slience the aching nihilism in your souls. Of course, others will fight the war while you cheer from the sidelines. But the rest of us would rather get on with our lives. Your Sturm und Drang schtick has worn very thin. Whatever it was you were trying to achieve, you've failed. You are destined for the dustbin of history.

Posted by: Brian at November 4, 2005 07:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"reckless simpleton"

Sums it all up in 4 syllables.

Yeah, those Clinton years were terrible. Those long years of peace and prosperity, balanced budgets, unemployment so low that there was talk that we had reached full employment. It was just horrible.

Perhaps you warmongers need war to slience the aching nihilism in your souls. Of course, others will fight the war while you cheer from the sidelines. But the rest of us would rather get on with our lives. Your Sturm und Drang schtick has worn very thin. Whatever it was you were trying to achieve, you've failed. You are destined for the dustbin of history.

Posted by: Brian at November 4, 2005 07:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

5 recommendations for bush? why don't you tell him to be clinton or reagan or george h.w. or gore, or ... you get the idea. he's in his situation b/c that's who he is. you don't like bush now that you finally see his true character from his incompetence and true moral corruption (hint: not the religious kind). welcome to the critical thinking side. it only took you 5 years to get to where at least half of the population were already before his screw ups. look critically at a person's character and you will know how he will act. you have a lot of education, i guess education doesn't necessarily mean smarts.

Posted by: jk at November 5, 2005 05:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with your 5 suggestions to the administration. But I can't see any of them actually happening. Bush has shown that loyalty is more important to him them anything else, e.g. Miers and his backtracking on the connected/crime link to Plamegate. The only time that he has ever let someone go is when they told him the truth e.g., Lindsey and O'Neill. It is depressing really because I am a Libertarian Republican, and personally I feel that this administration has sold the soul of the party. And while I agree that leaving Iraq now is the worst idea being pushed, I just can't see Bush 'staying the course' and finishing the job. Iraq needs a political solution and he is still trying to swat bees with a sledge-hammer. Sadly, his past behavior has made him a political liability for the international community at large to the point where helping America is seen as helping the enemy. I wish you where right, but I don't think that you are.....

And one more thing, WILLIAM D. NORDHAUS wrote a great paper on the costs of war with Iraq back in 2002. With the way things are going now his worst case situation is looking more and more likely day by day. You can check it out here: http://www.econ.yale.edu/~nordhaus/homepage/AAAS_War_Iraq_2.pdf

Posted by: Randall Bennington at November 5, 2005 06:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is a thoughtful, useful and pointed commentary on the short-comings of the Administration coupled with what I regard as first rate advice on how the President can start to turn things around before his presidency becomes a total and irrelevant shambles. It would be great if the President would heed the advice and suggestions put forward by the author. It would change everyone's perspective of an Administration coming down in flames with the potential to take a good part of the GOP with it as it crashes to the ground. I note that there is one small error of fact in the commentary: it was USIA and not USAID that operated U.S. libraries and cultural centers abroad.

Posted by: Rob Michael at November 6, 2005 04:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Everyone in Iraq has at least one relative tortured killed imprisoned or exiled by Saddam."

Whoever said that, can I please get a source for this?

@ New sysiphus:

"Crime is crime. There is no, nor has their ever been, any U.S. policy to torture detainees. And people like this guy can't point to one case. Not one."


How about this:

"US detainees 'murdered' during interrogations
October 25, 2005 - 12:37PM


At least 21 detainees who died while in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan were the victims of homicide and usually died during or after interrogations, according to an analysis of Defence Department data.

The analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, released today, looked at 44 deaths described in records obtained by the ACLU. (...) The 44 deaths represent a partial group of the total number of prisoners who have died in US custody overseas; more than 100 have died of natural and violent causes.

(...) To date, there have been more than 400 investigations of detainee abuse, and more than 230 military personnel have received a court-martial, non-judicial punishment or other administrative action."

See also:

Number of Army Probes of Detainee Deaths Rises to 33

This is interesting, too:

"US forced to import bullets from Israel as troops use 250,000 for every rebel killed
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
Published: 25 September 2005

US forces have fired so many bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan - an estimated 250,000 for every insurgent killed - that American ammunition-makers cannot keep up with demand. As a result the US is having to import supplies from Israel.

A government report says that US forces are now using 1.8 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition a year. "


Enough to inflict some 'collateral damage'.

Policy? Maybe not. Torture? It definitely hurts / kills. It's WAR, after all, but you 'have to break some eggs to make an omelet', right? :(

Not everythings gets noticed / reported, though:


"Reuters says US troops obstruct reporting of Iraq
Wed Sep 28, 2005 11:16 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq, including increasing detention and accidental shootings of journalists, is preventing full coverage of the war reaching the American public, Reuters said on Wednesday.

[Reuters Global Managing Editor] Schlesinger referred to "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq."

(...) U.S. forces acknowledge killing three Reuters journalists, most recently soundman Waleed Khaled who was shot by American soldiers on August 28 while on assignment in Baghdad. But the military say the soldiers were justified in opening fire.

Reuters believes a fourth journalist working for the agency, who died in Ramadi last year, was killed by a U.S. sniper.

(...) The U.S. military had failed even to implement recommendations by its own inquiry into one of the deaths, that of award-winning Palestinian cameraman Mazen Dana who was shot dead while filming outside Abu Ghraib prison in August 2003.

(...) In most cases the journalists were held for long periods at Abu Ghraib or Camp Bucca prisons before being released without charge.

At least four journalists working for international media are currently being held without charge or legal representation in Iraq. They include two cameramen working for Reuters and a freelance reporter who sometimes works for the agency.

A cameraman working for the U.S. network CBS has been detained since April despite an Iraqi court saying his case does not justify prosecution."


And so it goes...

Posted by: jay at November 8, 2005 04:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Then and now, I believe to my core that the stakes in Iraq are immense, and could well determine America's standing on the global stage for score years or more."

Hell, let's just spray some more white phosphorus on them. I mean, if it's that important and all.

Posted by: Billmon at November 8, 2005 07:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jay -

Thanks for proving my point. I ask you guys to come up with one instance of torture-as-policy and you post articles about homicides and how many bullets we're buying.

On the first (oh how tired I have become having to repeat this) individual crimes are not government policy. Again, American G.I.'s committed murder in much, much greater numbers during the course of WWII than the 21 possibilities your article mentions. By your logic, that makes our prosecution of WWII one in which we used torture and murder of the European civilian population as policy.

CRIME is CRIME, not GOVERNMENT POLICY. Individuals and small groups have gone too far and crossed lines. They have been aggresively sought out and punished.

What are your other points? That we are buying bullets so obviously we are killing little children in their sleep? Or that American soldiers should cooperate with a notoriously anti-American propaganda group that parades as a news source?

Nothing you have there is persuasive, just more innuendo and passing crime off as elements of official U.S. policy.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at November 8, 2005 10:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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