Monday, March 20, 2006

# Posted 11:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHENEY FACES THE NATION: I thought some explain might be in order for the grade I gave Cheney for his performance on CBS. Let's go to the transcript:

SCHIEFFER: Ayad Allawi...says that we can no longer mince words. Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. Do you agree with that?

CHENEY: I don't, Bob...Clearly there is an attempt under way by the terrorists, by Zarqawi and others, to foment civil war. That's been their strategy all along, but my view would be they've reached a stage of desperation from their standpoint.
Desperation? Rumsfeld actually began his op-ed in Sunday's Post by making a similar point. Reminiscent of "last throes".

But I must confess, I have made the same mistake myself. Four months into the occupation, I insisted that the insurgents' brutal tactics were a sign of their desperation. Surely, I reasoned, the insurgents understand that insurgencies are won by winning hearts and minds. The mindless slaughter of Shi'ite civilians accomplished exactly the opposite.

Instead, the insurgents have chosen a strange course that has inflicted great damage on the United States but also destroyed any hopes the insurgents might have of returning to power in Iraq. Perhaps they will drive us out. They are winning the war of public opinion in the United States. But if the GIs come home, the insurgents will only have a Shi'ite army and Shi'ite death squads to contend with.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, all along the government has been very optimistic. You remain optimistic. But I remember when you were saying we'd be greeted as liberators, you played down the insurgency 10 months ago. You said it was in its last throes. Do you believe that these optimistic statements may be one of the reasons that people seem to be more skeptical in this country about whether we ought to be in Iraq?

CHENEY: No. I think it has less to do with the statements we've made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does with the fact that there's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad. It's not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq.
I still support this war firmly. I am also more positive than most about our prospects for victory. And I even tend to resent one-sided media coverage as much as the VP himself.

But the bottom line is that young Americans are dying. And the American public doesn't know how to tell if we're winning or not. The value of a free election is much harder to measure than the distance to Berlin from Normandy.

There was nothing "basically accurate" about "last throes".
SCHIEFFER: Isn't it also a reality that the violence continues? They keep finding these people that have been executed. And isn't it also reality that they can't seem to put a government together? They can't seem to find a way, a compromise, to get this government together.

CHENEY: Bob, it took us a lot longer to put an effective government together when we tried to do it 200 years ago than it's taken the Iraqis.
I don't even know where to begin with that one. Maybe some of you history buffs in the audience can post some comments about the birth of the American political system.

SCHEIFFER: "Dangerously incompetent" is what [Ted Kennedy] is saying. I want to give you a chance to respond.

CHENEY: Well, I would not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security, Bob.

I think what Senator Kennedy reflects is sort of the pre-9/11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world and that part of the world...

[Our] kind of aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven't been struck again since 9/11 because we've taken the fight to them.

Senator Kennedy's approach would be pack your bags and go home, retreat behind your oceans and assume you can be safe.
I really, really don't like to say anything nice about Ted Kennedy, but the VP has given me no choice. Cheney's caricature of TK as an isolationist was just an underhanded way of avoiding tough questions about Iraq.

And talk about tempting fate. After a second successful terrorist attack on our home, that "aggressive, forward-leaning strategy" won't look so smart. During the 2004 campaign, the President carefully avoided suggesting that his policies were what prevented a second attack. I think that was a wise course of action.

So here we are, three years into the war. Public opinion is now beyond the control of the politicians. What happens on the ground is what matters.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Wikepedia (insert usual caveat) covers the history between the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution here. There wasn't an insurgency going on at the time, but politically, it was no walk in the park.

After Japan surrendered in WWII there was no insurgency either, and it still took about seven years before we officially gave them their country back.
Maybe some of you history buffs in the audience can post some comments about the birth of the American political system.

Well, off the top of my head, it took us 6 years or so of the Articles of Confederation failing before the Constitutional Convention was convened, another couple years filled with kidnappings, threats to secede and divisive rhetoric between the federalists/anti-federalists before the Constitution was approved, the Alien & Sedition act a few years later that strongly curtailed freedom of speech in practice, not just theory, 2 wars against other countries (Barbary/1812) to help unify the country, voting restrictions (on free white men) more severe than England at least until Andrew Jackson became President, slavery, an actual secession and civil war between two landholding armies, no rights for a minority (blacks) for the first 75 years, and not enforced for another 100, and no voting rights for women for ~130 years. Not to mention the constant westward expansion replete with extermination of other tribal societies that helped by uniting the country against a common enemy and occupied many otherwise un- or under-employed young men. I'm sure I've missed a number of things there.

Now, I'm gonna end up sounding like a Cheney/Rumsfeld stooge at points here, so let me make it clear I am not by any means trying to say that people should just ignore or refrain from drawing conclusions about what is going on in Iraq. And I'm not saying that we should turn the other way if the Iraqi government enslaved a part of its population and/or refused to give women voting rights for 100+ years. But I do think that most observers either lack perspective or ignore it. Partly it makes sense, as an editorial saying wait 20-30 years before drawing conclusions isn't gonna be very provocative. And there are examples of where countries can slip back into authoritarian traditions (Russia/Putin) when things don't go perfectly as planned. But overall, to attack a strawman, expecting a functioning democratic government within 3 years in a country that does not have that tradition is irrational.

When any power vacuum opens up, its usually the most ruthless groups that seize control. As they are steadily discredited in the eyes of the populace, the more pragmatic groups come to the forefront and begin to run the government. In Iraq's case, the ex-Baathists/mujahideen have been discredited - even the parts of the country where support for them should be strongest, people have slowly realized that they offer no plan for the future. When they had control of Fallujah, it became a ghost town. On the other side of the coin is fundamentalist Shiism represented by al-Sadr. If/when they are in power, they also lose the support of the population - see Iran. (Thus, my opinion is the quickest way to get Muslims to turn against the fundamentalists is to let the fundamentalists take power.) The key is in making sure that free elections continue and you get to that second/third rounds where people can start judging groups on their performance. South Vietnam provides a useful example here on the general point, as it took a few governments to find one that worked. Unfortunately, even as the South Vietnamese were becoming competent and the VietCong were defeated, public opinion soured in the US so much that we not only pulled troops out but any air or material support, leaving them defenseless when multiple (8 or 12 I forget) divisions from the NVA overran them.

The Vietnam comparison is probably a bad one to use, because it will focus attention there instead of on the point I intended to make at the beginning. When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the Iraqi political process, it is coming together much, much quicker than ours did 200 years ago. It is going to take more lives and money, and whether or not this is worth it is a valid discussion. (I say it is, because there is a very good chance of a large-scale terrorist attack in the US in the next 10 years, and if we pull out and the perception is that trying to jump-start a democratic government in the region didn't work I really fear the American response will involve going in, killing a large number of people and leaving, if not ouright nuclear attack in places.)

On the media criticism as a whole, I believe it is accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Yes, the media does play up the sensational violence while ignoring the little steps of progress that as a whole make up for it, but they do that at home too. The difference is that here people can watch the news and see a murder here, a fire there and a trial as the only stories and realize they are exceptions rather than the norm.

The other problem, and I really think it is a huge one with no easy solution, is that its not so much that you can blame the media for making Iraq look bad, because it is bad, but you can blame people and the media for having no idea what goes on either historically or in other countries. It is bad when Cheney uses "Bob, it took us a lot longer to put an effective government together when we tried to do it 200 years ago than it's taken the Iraqis." to cut off a legitimate question, but no one is gonna sit there as Cheney goes through the difficulties faced by 100 different countries as they democratized, or 50 different countries in the Middle East/Africa/Latin America that have problems as bad as Iraq if the media focused on them. (Dammit, I'm gonna sound like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men here) Something like Abu Ghraib, while tragic, does not compare to dozens of other examples in the world today, and countless others in the past, most relevant being Abu Ghraib before Saddam was removed. Now, it is a very difficult argument to make, not only because I am against torture and killing prisoners (both morally and it doesn't get good intel) but also because it makes me look like I am excusing or condoning the actions. But seeing the amount of ink spent on the US killing I think 6 prisoners there versus the thousands killed by Saddam at the same facility makes me think that most of those bringing it up care more about knocking the Bush Admin/America down a peg than the welfare of people in other countries.

Thanks to anyone still reading, and sorry for the rambling. I tend to do that at 3:30 in the morning ;) EDIT - I see tbrosz has done a much more succint job of replying to the same passage.
It is very tiresome to hear this administration respond to criticism by claiming that the critic by claiming that the critic has a pre-9/11 mentality.

Kind of reminds me of this comment by Fidel Castro:

"All dissent is opposition. All opposition is counterrevolutionary."
Thanks Bishop, I did read to the end and I agree with everything you said. It seems to me that the biggest problem the White House is facing is unreasonable expectations.

Of course, the White House should take some blame for that. Early on, they used those unreasonable expectations as a shortcut to winning public support. Even now, they consistently put the rosiest face on events, making people wonder, as bad news continues, whether they were caught flatfooted and just don't want to fess up.
I love David's writing because he can admit to being wrong.

And he also changed my opinion about the war thanks to his well reasoned arguments.
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