January 07, 2006

The Former Secretaries Meet POTUS

With apologies to all the assembled former Secretaries of State and Defense, it appears that their meeting with President Bush was nothing much more than a photo op, contrary to my earlier hopes. If the most heated exchange was Madeline Albright (hardly the most talented foreign policy practitioner in the room, sorry to say), lecturing Dubya on dropping the ball on non-proliferation and such (the Clinton's Administration's record on such issues rather, shall we say, underwhelming)--with a stock, lame rejoinder from POTUS ("I can't let this comment stand"!) well, forgive me if I found the whole exercise a tad on the lame side.

Rest assured, too, that no major new avenues were explored on Iraq strategy. Of course, after almost two lost years, the strategy in Iraq has improved very significantly over the past year, all told, particularly taking into account resource, political and other constraints. We are in discussions with some insurgents, doing our utmost to stoke divisions between Sunni nationalists and al-Qaeda terrorists killing innocent Sunnis in places like Ramadi. Meantime, we continue the train and equip effort, while remaining conscious that huge challenges remain ahead in terms of command and control, logistical back up, supply chains, ministerial competences, and more (like ensuring a multi-ethnic officer corp loyal to central authorities rather than sectarian interests). But were hard questions asked about troop levels, even keeping in mind the die has been cast and numbers will only trend down, in all likelihood, going forward? Or the specific measures being taken to de-militiatize increasingly autonomous areas like Kurdistan or the Shi'a south? Or how American and Iraqi forces might be better able to secure critical infrastructure, particularly of the revenue generating variety, like oil facilities? Or even, Bidenian and Albrightian huffing and puffing about a Contact Group aside, whether our dialogues with various neighbors were reaping as much fruit as really possible, or could perhaps be rendered more efficacious? Just to take one issue above, troops levels, did anyone deign to broach this angle:

In the past several months, General Vines said that the flow of foreign fighters infiltrating Iraq had diminished in part because of nearly 20,000 Iraqi forces now stationed in restive Anbar Province, a series of American military operation in the Euphrates River Valley and increased cooperation from Syria and Saudi Arabia in tightening border controls.

In the weeks leading up to the December election, however, General Vines differed with his boss, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the overall American commander in Iraq, over how and where to assign troops to ensure a peaceful and successful balloting.

According to interviews with several senior Army officers, who were granted anonymity because their bosses' discussions were confidential, General Casey wanted to build up operations along the border between Iraq and Syria, as well as the Euphrates River Valley, to make it harder for suicide bombers to infiltrate and explode themselves in Baghdad during the elections.

But General Vines and his field commanders said the center of gravity was Baghdad and its predominantly Sunni suburbs like Falluja, the officers said. General Vines wanted to position more forces there to increase the Sunni turnout, a major political goal of the Bush administration but also a means to help reduce the insurgency.

The two commanders eventually worked out a compromise to put troops in both places, the senior officers said. [emphasis added]

What's left unsaid above, of course, is that with more troops the tussle on placing the troops in the Fallujan heartland versus the border areas would have been mitigated somewhat. And while I acknowledge, as I said above, that the die has been largely cast on troop levels (for a huge confluence of reasons, many of them that make a lot of sense, the numbers are going to trend south now going forward), I still flag this as people like McCain were suggesting an increase of 10,000 rather than reductions below 138,000 (even post December 15th elections).

All this to say, this was more a photo op and P.R. exercise that 'no one in the room is for immediate withdrawal' kinda shin-dig (this last, it should be said, an important point to be made in a bipartisan setting notwithstanding its obviousness). That's all well and good, but I guess I had naively expected a tad more to emerge from this distinguished conclave. At the end of the day, Larry Eagleburger probably stole the show with his insouciant Gallic entrance (see photo below) and statement that they were all a bunch of "has-beens" anyway. A little jocular sarcasm sometimes puts things in proper perspective, doesn't it?

PH2006010502387.jpg

Posted by Gregory at January 7, 2006 06:58 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

An earlier administration summoned former secretaries and retired officers to help with an actual issue pending in Congress. When one of them, Dean Acheson, was asked afterward why the meeting had lasted so long he said, "We are all old and we are all eloquent."

Bush isn't the first President to use "formers" for a photo op following a quickie briefing; Johnson did this for several years. I am a little surprised that all of the people in Bush's meeting accepted this sort of treatment so tamely.

Posted by: Zathras at January 7, 2006 10:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: "...Of course, after almost two lost years, the strategy in Iraq has improved very significantly over the past year, all told, particularly taking into account resource, political and other constraints."

Political constraints? Bush wanted the war, and got it. And f*cked it up. Foreign politics was less under his control, of course, which is why his office is called 'President of the **United States**', and not 'President of the **World**'.

Resource constraints? Many, all of the administration's choosing. They wanted to fight a war on the cheap, they didn't want to prepare for real opposition. They deliberately did not start a serious ramp-up in September, 2001, even though it's now obvious that they regarded 9/11 as giving them the opportunity to go with the war.

Posted by: Barry at January 7, 2006 10:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

He doesn't consult: He's isolated, in a bubble, surrounded by yes-men.

He consults: it's a photo-op, a publicity stunt.

Jesus, man, you and I both know they isn't any thing Bush could possible do short of drop dead that would satisfy you.

What's with the Old World cynicism anyway? At one time I too thought that was a sign of sophistication and deep thinking.

That was a mistake.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at January 8, 2006 06:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good Lord, I need to to preview that before posting! Please substitute:

"Jesus, man, you and I both know there isn't anything Bush could possibly do short of drop dead that would satisfy you."

for the third paragraph above.

Personally, I blame the Bushmill's.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at January 8, 2006 06:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the picture of Eagleburger. I saw a head-and-shoulders picture of him on the news and thought he was leaning on something, possibly a cane. Nice to see my guess confirmed.

Posted by: Linkmeister at January 8, 2006 06:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

He doesn't consult: He's isolated, in a bubble, surrounded by yes-men. He consults: it's a photo-op, a publicity stunt.

the problem is that Bush didn't "consult".... there was a 40 minute presentation by Bush and his generals, follwed by 10-15 minutes of "back and forth" --- in other words, each attended got about 70 seconds each--and that time included Bush's responses.

And that was it. Literally all of the decision-makers in the administration "went to other meetings", and these luminaries were given a choice ---- tell Stephen Hadley (who is not considered a senior policy maker) what you think, or go home.

indeed, this exercise didn't merely confirm the "Bush Bubble", it exacerbated the perception by making it appear that the "Bush Bubble" was inside a second "bubble" inside which his time advisors exist. Was Condi Rice really so busy that she couldn't sit down and talk with a few of the former Secs of State for a couple of hours? Is Rumsfeld really that arrogant that he thinks that he has nothing to learn from the collected former Secs of Defense that were there?

*****************

of course, there is always the possibility that the Bush Bubble exists not to keep Bush "isolated" from others, but to "contain" him at this point. Rummy and Rice may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they are smart enough to know the difference between "faith based foreign policy" and policies that have some connection with objective reality.....

Posted by: lukasiak at January 8, 2006 03:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Jesus, man, you and I both know there isn't anything Bush could possibly do short of drop dead that would satisfy you."

For myself, I'd be quite satisfied if he resigned and turned himself in for trial by the world court, followed by US federal court.

What would he have to do to satisfy you?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 8, 2006 06:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas

Thanks for proving once again one of the great truisms of our time:

"Conservatives think Liberals are misguided and wrong,
and therefore seek to convince them otherwise.

Liberals think Conservatives are evil and criminal,
and would lock them up given the opportunity."

Posted by: NewSisyphus at January 10, 2006 10:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Newsisyphus, are you somehow suffering from the illusion that Bush is a conservative?

I'm more libertarian than liberal myself. Bush has gotten us the biggest government ever, on borrowed money, and interfered in the lives of private citizens more than ever.

He isn't a conservative, he's an aristocrat.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 11, 2006 07:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Newsisyphus, are you somehow suffering from the illusion that Bush is a conservative?

I'm more libertarian than liberal myself. Bush has gotten us the biggest government ever, on borrowed money, and interfered in the lives of private citizens more than ever.

He isn't a conservative, he's an aristocrat.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 11, 2006 07:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Newsisyphus, are you somehow suffering from the illusion that Bush is a conservative?

I'm more libertarian than liberal myself. Bush has gotten us the biggest government ever, on borrowed money, and interfered in the lives of private citizens more than ever.

He isn't a conservative, he's an aristocrat.

Posted by: I Thomas at January 11, 2006 07:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, I kept getting server errors that made it appear it hadn't gone through.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 11, 2006 07:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

kjgkjkjlghlkhgklhlkmhlkg

Posted by: mugu at January 16, 2006 12:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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