Welcome (again) to the machine...


I've got a new "Think Again" column called "The Surge Numbers Speak, But Who is Listening?" here.

Lt. Col. Bateman writes:

I cannot second Eric's recommendation for HBO's Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq loudly enough. It is all that he says it is. For my own part (and to illustrate that this is a small Army), I would note that the segments containing 1LT Dawn Halfaker are worth watching regardless of how you feel about the military. She defines intelligence, human grace, and determination in ways that leap off the screen. I assure you, the real person is all that and more. I am honored just to note that Once Upon a Time, I was her professor. (Dawn attended West Point when I was teaching there.)

On General Petraeus' upcoming commentary before Congress: I think I need to write something a little longer to explain this, but everyone should know that my culture (in the Army, and this only applies to the Army) cannot say "no." We just can't. We are inculcated from our first days under arms to accept all missions. We never accept that we have been beaten, or even that we (taken as a whole I mean) even can be beaten. This starts when you are a cadet. Sometimes you will be assigned more material than it is possible to read, and more work than you can accomplish. This is done intentionally. It teaches us about making priorities, accepting risk, and making decisions up front. But it also, unintentionally, conditions us to accept loads that are too much. The process continues, again unintentionally, as you move through your career. You never tell your boss, "No sir, I cannot do that." You may tell him that you need additional resources (time, men, or material), but you always accept the burden. Always. It is the Army way. After a lifetime ... well ... you get the picture. You can be both a "Captain Trash" and do this as well, but it is a fine, fine line. Razor thin, one might say.

Bob's second point provides a lead-in to what I was planning to write today, which is to note that General Petraeus is not going to give a report that differs measurably from the one desired by his commander in chief. Time has a cover story on it this morning with a related Joe Klein column.

The whole build-up to the general's report reminds me of an NPR debate I did during the 2004 election when someone from a conservative foreign policy research institute argued that because Tommy Franks denied the fact that moving troops and intelligence agents out of Afghanistan and into Iraq had nothing to do with the failure of our efforts to capture bin Laden and defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Now, Tommy Franks was officially on the Bush campaign team at the time. And yet this fellow thought that because a military man made this case, that was all there was to it.

Of course, we've now had it confirmed by any number of intelligence agencies that Bush completely screwed up the real war in Afghanistan in order to fight his fantasy in Iraq, with catastrophic results for everyone concerned. Franks was simply doing his job, the truth be damned. Why all of a sudden everyone thinks Petraeus is going to play Diogenes no matter what the cost to himself, his future, and the institution he represents is understandable. Much of our media coverage of the president and his war is mere kabuki exercise. But what we've learned to our chagrin in this war is that generals do not speak the truth in public until they're ex-generals, and even then, they tend to do so softly.

Petraeus' past has demonstrated considerable concern for Bush's political needs in the past. Here's what Paul Krugman wrote a while back:

I don't know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn't gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don't think it's standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.

In the article, General Petraeus told us that "Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously." And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders "are displaying courage and resilience" and "momentum has gathered in recent months."

In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he'll do the same thing three years later.

You know, at this point I think we need to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the mess we're in. He is what he always was, and everyone except a hard core of equally delusional loyalists knows it.


Yet Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation's security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it.

Here ($).

To Bush, loyalty is all; competence, truth, etc., nothing. And what he needs right now is to get through his presidency without admitting that he has destroyed a country and lost a war ... for nothing. If Petraeus doesn't help with that, he'll be out of his job.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bob Wenning
Hometown: Chicago


I was struck by your comments yesterday here regarding the Bush Administration's ability to remain to sometimes escape media scrutiny because of the sheer volume of their screw-ups: I have to agree and I think this was the dilemma that faced the Kerry campaign in 2004 - what monumental screw-up do you focus upon? Iraq, of course. But what about the tax cuts for the rich, inheriting a huge surplus and turning it into a huge deficit, converting global sympathy after 9-11 for the US into global hatred, illegal domestic spying, the war on science, etc. It was a 'target-rich' environment and Kerry was unable to succintly get across to voters the height of Bush's incompetence and malfeasance.

Name: Thomas N. Beck
Hometown: Princeton, NJ

"The genius of this administration is to be so awful in so many ways no one can keep up with them."

Ah yes, what the late Herblock (writing about Nixon) called "the multiple bad things advantage." You criticize them about everything, and people who don't know better (even if they should -- the press, cough cough) think you're just being an impossible-to-please nitpicker instead of realizing that they really ARE awful at everything.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Basking Ridge, NJ

In this country, you're paid according to your responsibility, not your work. Whether CEOs deserve those supersized salaries is another question for another day.

That said, it's a pity that what is rewarded in the corporate world is penalized in education: getting people to do your work for you. Those who learn how to pay other people to take their tests and do their homework, those are the people who will succeed.

Name: Oracle
Hometown: Willimantic, CT

Looking at new Iowa TV ads on TPM for both Obama and Clinton, it is crystal clear she talks about "change" but never mentions a single specific change she backs; Obama cites 3 bills he sponsored and played a big role in passing -- in Illinois and the US Senate -- dealing with campaign financing, etc. This is specific. This divergence has been evident in the Democratic presidential debates too. Hillary Clinton takes no clear stands on any issue. She's all smoke.

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