Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LUTE SPEAKS....Our soon-to-be war czar agrees with the intelligence community: the surge hasn't had any effect so far and isn't likely to in the near future.

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions "have shown so far very little progress" toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, "we're not likely to see much difference in the security situation" a year from now.

....As the president's point man on Iraq, Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the leverage to force them to do so. "I am concerned about the capacity of this government," he said. "But I haven't passed final judgment on them."

Italics mine. Question: Is the promotion of Lute a sign that the administration is making moves in the direction of abandoning the Maliki government and hitching its star to someone else? If you want to change direction, after all, the easiest way to do it is to bring in a new guy, wait a couple of months, and then announce that after careful review he's recommending a new course. It's a time honored strategy.

I guess we'll see. But while we're on the subject, it's worth mentioning that both Swopa and Eric Martin have scoffed at my suggestion that there's an emerging new political alliance that might manage to wrest control of the government from Maliki sometime in the next few months. I can't say that I blame them, either. After all, factional fighting in Iraq is Byzantine; it's hard to believe that any alliance could survive if it excluded the party formerly known as SCIRI; it seems unlikely that Sistani would countenance any alliance that increased the power of the Sunnis, and equally unlikely that Sadr would join such an alliance without Sistani's blessing; and the alliance members are probably just selling a bill of goods to any American willing to listen to them. What's more, the Kurds are key to everything, and who knows what they'll do?

So great big shakers of salt are recommended here. Still....I can't help but think that something has to happen. Maliki seems like a dead man walking, and eventually someone's going to make a deal that would have seemed unlikely on its face a week before — and I wouldn't be surprised if this includes some kind of weird volte-face from Sadr. I wonder if Lute is sending a signal that the Bush administration won't be too crushed if this happens?

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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I have full confidence that the Bush admin will continue to stay the course, blaming Iran, AQ, liberals, the French, the Syrians, and Peter Pan for their continuing failure that is Iraq.

Posted by: Disputo on June 8, 2007 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

don't forget blaming the Iraqis for failing to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity we've handed them.

Posted by: thersites on June 8, 2007 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

This is analysis, thoughtful as it may be, is second-generation pony-wishing, to a certain extent. No longer 'maybe Iraq will suddenly change for the better', but 'maybe Iraq will suddenly change'. It's true the future in Iraq is less predictable now than it ever has been. But unpredictability offers no assurance that there will be major change, either on the ground there or in Bush's thinking. It's just as likely that Iraq is about to enter the guerilla equivalent of slogging, trench warfare, without any direction at all.

Posted by: lampwick on June 8, 2007 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

"I am concerned about the capacity of this government," he said. "But I haven't passed final judgment on them."

So which government was he talking about?

Posted by: idlemind on June 8, 2007 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

Question: Is the promotion of Lute a sign that the administration is making moves in the direction of abandoning the Maliki government and hitching its star to someone else?

The administration could probably care less. Whatever happens, the hook has been set--and swallowed by most--that blames Iraqi's. Not to excuse the Iraqi's, but please, remember who is ultimately responsible for this fiasco.

Posted by: has407 on June 8, 2007 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

This is analysis, thoughtful as it may be, is second-generation pony-wishing, to a certain extent.

That's putting it mildly. I mean, Kevin, we all love you, but this stuff begins to sound like House of Leaves after a while, you know? A fictional record of one character's musings upon another character's intrepretation of a documentary film that never existed. Eventually you have to break down and admit that it doesn't matter what the fuck happens in the puppet government. We went in there to show the world that he who dies with the most oil wins, and that we want to win. Byzantine, schmyzantine. The whole point of the Iraqi government Rubik's cube (much like our own) is to keep earnest, well-meaning people like yourself distracted by the courtly intrigue long enough for the powers that be to smash and grab whatever they wanted in the first place.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on June 8, 2007 at 5:20 AM | PERMALINK

volte-face???

Posted by: sal on June 8, 2007 at 5:38 AM | PERMALINK

I just cannot wait until someone uses the term 'Lute fisk'...

The end of the article was funny:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) also questioned Lute about Vice President Cheney's role. Lute responded that Cheney is "an important participant in policy development" and that "I'll be working with the vice president and his staff."
"Well," Clinton replied, "I wish you well. Because certainly that's turned out to be a difficult situation for many."

Clinton's showing some spark.

Posted by: grape_crush on June 8, 2007 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

Puppet governments are on the march across the Middle East - Somehow doesn't ring as well as Democratic governments are on the march, but, then truth doesn't always make fine bumper stickers.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on June 8, 2007 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Saudi Arabia didn't think this through before they got their little puppet, Bush, to invade Iraq.

Posted by: freelunch on June 8, 2007 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think so, Kevin. In what I heard of Lute's testimony he seemed to stress the capacity rather than the willingness of the government to make political compromises. He acknowledged Iraqi political realities, which I haven't heard an administration spokesman do before. There might well be a volte-face, but I doubt it will be to pick another faction to attempt the same impossible goal: political reconciliation.

Posted by: Wagster on June 8, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

"...there's an emerging new political alliance that might manage to wrest control of the government from Maliki sometime in the next few months."

NO way...there can be no political alliance in the power vacume that exists in Iraq. All the waring parties have the finacial, technical, and man power to continue fighting. Iraq is a failed state currently being occupied by bush.

Posted by: jerri on June 8, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

And yet Petraeus says the surge's success is "breathtaking."

Translation: using little lies to set up the big lie in September that will keep the US in Iraq forever, which is exactly what the Bushiites and Iraqi government want.

The Iraqi government knows that it will never survive an American withdrawal, now or ever. So they will never meet any of the benchmarks and they will never lift a hand to quell the violence in their own country.

The Bushiites, led by Cheney, want a permanent large presence in Iraq to control or destroy Iran, which is why they supported Iraq's illegal, immoral, and destructive war against Iran in the 80s and why they supported Saddam's massacre of the Kurds and terrorization of his own people. Thus, we will never leave as long as the GOP remains in control of the White House or has enough members of Congress to scuttle any attempt to end this predictably foul war.

Posted by: anonymous on June 8, 2007 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

"After all, factional fighting in Iraq is Byzantine; it's hard to believe that any alliance could survive if it excluded the party formerly known as SCIRI; it seems unlikely that Sistani would countenance any alliance that increased the power of the Sunnis, and equally unlikely that Sadr would join such an alliance without Sistani's blessing; and the alliance members are probably just selling a bill of goods to any American willing to listen to them. What's more, the Kurds are key to everything, and who knows what they'll do?"

That is an excellent analysis. "Civil war" would get a whole new meaning if SIIC were to be excluded. I'm surprised by your final paragraph then. I don't have the ability to see into the future either, but why can't Maliki continue to be a "dead man walking" for a long time to come?

Posted by: dws on June 8, 2007 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. ("Scapegoat") Lute? Is that the one?

Posted by: Luther on June 8, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

I may be wrong, but my understanding was that Lute's main function was to facilitate cooperation between various agencies and departments involved in the war. If so, his opinion on overall progress is much less important than Petraeus' opinion.

Incidentally, Kevin left out a key qualifier when he paraphrased Lute as opinining that "the surge hasn't had any effect so far and isn't likely to in the near future." In fact, Lute only mentioned lack of progress in reconciliation various factions. Lute didn't say that the surge had no good effects at all.

There are many other areas where some believe the surge has had good effects, such as killing and capturing more terrorists, improving safety in Baghdad, helping to encourage Sunni tribal chiefs to oppose al Qaeda, encouraging some residents of Baghdad to move back to their homes, etc.

Posted by: ex-liberal on June 8, 2007 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not as familiar with the troll-nanigans on Kevin's threads, but for the sake of clarity, I engage:

Incidentally, Kevin left out a key qualifier when he paraphrased Lute as opinining that "the surge hasn't had any effect so far and isn't likely to in the near future." In fact, Lute only mentioned lack of progress in reconciliation various factions. Lute didn't say that the surge had no good effects at all.

Uh, the whole point of The Surge is that it will calm violence enough to create space for the various Iraqi factions to forge a modus vivendi. That is, to "reconcile." Petraeus has said repeatedly that there is no military solution, only a political solution which must come via...reconciliation. So "only pointing out progress in reconciling various factions" is death knell material.

There are many other areas where some believe the surge has had good effects, such as killing and capturing more terrorists, improving safety in Baghdad, helping to encourage Sunni tribal chiefs to oppose al Qaeda, encouraging some residents of Baghdad to move back to their homes, etc.

First of all, Lute's point, and the data is confirming this, is that the safety situation hasn't really improved. Some neighborhoods of Baghdad got better, but then other parts of Iraq got worse. And even the gains in Baghdad are receding.

As for the claim that The Surge got tribal chiefs to oppose al-Qaeda - that is absurd. First of all, the recent moves of the Anbar Salvation Council pre-dated The Surge. Second, tribal leaders have been trying to get US cooperation on this for years.

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 8, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

A volte-face "from" Sadr, or 'by' Sadr?

Posted by: ferd on June 8, 2007 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Eric Martin, just for your information, "ex-liberal" is not posting in good faith. He/she/it posts neocon bullshit that's already been rebutted a zillion times in these threads as a deliberate insult.

Just FYI.

Posted by: Gregory on June 8, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Eric: Uh, the whole point of The Surge is that it will calm violence enough to create space for the various Iraqi factions to forge a modus vivendi. That is, to "reconcile." Petraeus has said repeatedly that there is no military solution, only a political solution which must come via...reconciliation. So "only pointing out progress in reconciling various factions" is death knell material.

Please, the actual goals or successes of any Bush plan are irrelevant to ex-liberal's analyses, which require only some dishonest twisting of the truth which he can spin into some positive plump of the Bush mantra he holds dear.

Posted by: anonymous on June 8, 2007 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Eric Martin, the person you just smacked down is not someone I even bother to engage or acknowledge. He is a water-carrier for the Bush maladministration and he also thinks constitutional abrogation is just peachy so long as the Idiot Prince, aWol Bush is doing the abrogating.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 8, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

OK, got it. Thanks for troll PSA Gregory and anonymous.

But you know, it's Friday. And he looked so pathetic - like a starving little scamp. Trolls gotta eat too ya know...;)

Posted by: Eric Martin on June 8, 2007 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

I repeat . . .

Petraeus: I put my finger in a hole in the dike and water stopped pouring through it!

Breathtaking success!!!!

(But please don't look at the other five holes that sprang up in its place or the hundred other ones I didn't have fingers for.)

Ex-liberal: See, Petraeus says the surge is a success and he's in the best position to know!

-------------

As Bush's newly appointed water-carrier in Iraq, since nobody else was willing to take a doomed job and lie about it, he's in the best position to carry Bush's water.

Posted by: anonymous on June 8, 2007 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Don't the wingers realize that this whole 50-years-just-like-Korea line is tantamount to admitting that the Irag clusterf*** is unwinnable? After all, the Commander guy has always maintained that the goal of the war is a "free, stable, democratic Iraq that is able to defend itself" (pretty close to accurate quote). So, if we must maintain a substantial force there for 50+ years, isn't that the same as saying that their stated mission is unattainable?

Posted by: southend on June 8, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a landslide combination:

Hillary Clinton for president.

Barack Obama for vice president.

Posted by: greatidea on June 8, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Ed Wong of the NYT wrote an article a few days ago that was a real eye-opener. Its probably behind the subscription wall now. In any case, it was extremely depressing & sugests that all of the ink spilt re Malaki & who is up or down & how things may play out 3, or 4 or 6 mos from now may be irrelevant. Import factions in Iraq are just biding their time. Here is the beginning of the article. " PERHAPS no fact is more revealing about Iraq’s history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the streets.
The word is “sahel,” and it helps explain much of what I have seen in three and a half years of covering the war.
It is a word unique to Iraq, my friend Razzaq explained over tea one afternoon on my final tour. Throughout Iraq’s history, he said, power has changed hands only through extreme violence, when a leader was vanquished absolutely, and his destruction was put on display for all to see.
Most famously it happened to a former prime minister, Nuri al-Said, who tried to flee after a military coup in 1958 by scurrying through eastern Baghdad dressed as a woman. He was shot dead. His body was disinterred and hacked apart, the bits dragged through the streets. In later years, Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party crushed their enemies with the same brand of brutality.
“Other Arabs say, ‘You are the country of sahel,’ ” Razzaq said. “It has always been that way in Iraq.”
But in this war, the moment of sahel has been elusive. No faction — not the Shiite Arabs or Sunni Arabs or Kurds — has been able to secure absolute power, and that has only sharpened the hunger for it.
Listen to Iraqis engaged in the fight, and you realize they are far from exhausted by the war. Many say this is only the beginning.
President Bush, on the other hand, has escalated the American military involvement here on the assumption that the Iraqi factions have tired of armed conflict and are ready to reach a grand accord. Certainly there are Iraqis who have grown weary. But they are not the ones at the country’s helm; many are among some two million who have fled, helping leave the way open for extremists to take control of their homeland.
“We’ve changed nothing,” said Fakhri al-Qaisi, a Sunni Arab dentist turned hard-line politician who has three bullets lodged in his torso from a recent assassination attempt. “It’s dark. There will be more blood.”[snip]

Posted by: bikenut53 on June 8, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Eric Martin: Petraeus has said repeatedly that there is no military solution, only a political solution

This is freqently stated, but it's not correct. Petraeus has said repeatedly that there is no purely military solution. In oter words, any solution will include both miltary and political aspects.

Posted by: ex-liberal on June 8, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

southend: After all, the Commander guy has always maintained that the goal of the war is a "free, stable, democratic Iraq that is able to defend itself" . . .

Actually, that's a more recent iteration.

According to the self-proclaimed "Decider," the goal was a free, stable, democratic Iraq that would spread democracy throughout the region and address the root causes of terrorism.

Of course, that was an even later iteration of the original goal to destroy Saddam's (non-existent) WMDs and we know how well that all worked out.

And yes, this is pretty much an admission that Bush has accomplished none of his original goals, except one: get revenge on Saddam.

Posted by: anonymous on June 8, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Peter Pace and other top brass being replaced.
Stephen Hadley no longer involved with Iraq or Afghanistan
When Bush is away, Cheney can play.

Posted by: Mike on June 8, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

bikenut53: President Bush, on the other hand, has escalated the American military involvement here on the assumption that the Iraqi factions have tired of armed conflict and are ready to reach a grand accord. Certainly there are Iraqis who have grown weary. But they are not the ones at the country’s helm; many are among some two million who have fled, helping leave the way open for extremists to take control of their homeland.

I wonder if they will be as tired as the Palestinians are today 50 years down the road.

We'll probably find out if Republicans keep winning the presidency.

None of the GOP candidates seem to be able to cope with reality very well.

It has always been thus of such arrogant racists and bigots who think only Americans treasure their sovereignty and only Americans will fight to the death for their freedom.

Posted by: anonymous on June 8, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

"...Is the promotion of Lute a sign that the administration is making moves in the direction of abandoning the Maliki government and hitching its star to someone else?..."

Yes. I think they are trying to get Allawi back. We first became disillusioned with the Iraqi government when we realized that the Shia were far more interested in a separatist theocracy. We do not want Southern Iran to become a separate theocratic state closely aligned with Iran.

"...What's more, the Kurds are key to everything, and who knows what they'll do?..."

I've got a hunch that we are carefully pressuring the Kurds into some sort of political alliance with the Sunni Arabs and using Turkey to help with that. If you could get the Sunni Arabs + Kurds + Some Other Shia Leader(s) together and do it using the current political process that would be dandy. I thought for quite a while that the administration could care less how many bits Iraq devolves into as long as the oil gets pumped out, but now with the Iranian tensions being high I think they want it to stay intact.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on June 8, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Even *if* the administration does realize its little war is going terribly and all the money and people sacrificed are just down the proverbial rat hole, Bushco will *never* admit that it was their failed adventure. But as soon as a democratic administration starts exit procedings, they will put up such a howl and bludgen the public with the democrats having lost.
Incredible hypocrites. Why is John Q Public blind to their lies?

Posted by: Erika on June 8, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: This is freqently stated, but it's not correct. Petraeus has said repeatedly that there is no purely military solution. In oter words, any solution will include both miltary and political aspects.

It is correct, in principle, because the so-called "military solution" is in place, but the "political solution" is not, meaning the only thing lacking now that can prevent failure, according to Petraeus, is a political solution.

Of course, nothing will prevent failure IMO, but we will never get a chance to see whether any "political solution" will facilitate success because Bush refuses to implement that solution by enforcing the political benchmarks that for the foundations for that political solution.

Thus, under either plan, withdrawal or "staying-the-course (aka, get more American soldiers killed), failure is certain.

Bush has ensured that.

Posted by: anonymous on June 8, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

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