Democrats & Liberals Archives

Diminished Returns

Hundreds of billions of dollars spent, much of it wasted, thousands of American lives ended, tens of thousands wounded in body and mind. The army is stretched to the point that the surge cannot be kept up past April of next year. There has been a cost to this war, a great cost. We should expect something out of it. What are we told though? Keep on deferring your expectations until later.

Well, we've spent four and half years waiting. The time for waiting is over.

I'm not a defeatist by nature. I wouldn't be so angry at this Administration for the way it's handling the war if I didn't think winning was important and necessary. I don't recommend that we end our military involvement out of some wish to make all the efforts in vain. I recommend it because from where I'm sitting, there's not much evidence that we're getting much of anything for our hard work, our expensive investment, and our tragic sacrifices.

We came to make Iraq a stable Democracy, a beacon of freedom. We wanted to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, and deal a blow to the global terrorist threat. The surge itself, an eleventh hour attempt to redeem the war, has not been answered by a serious, broad-based political movement on the Iraqi's part to heal their divisions. Even as America's unyielding supporters of the war point out new agreements between the disputants, they neglect to mention that the government that formed these compromises has been boycotted by exactly those groups needed to make the agreement a success.

The GAO report indicates that the vast majority of these goals have not been met. The others will probably acknowledge the problems, while citing success in the Anbar Province to justify further war efforts.

I can understand why many Republicans don't want to lose this war, but what they fail to realize is that the chance for them to win it has long passed them by. With affairs as complex as wars, there are points past which further efforts cannot resist the weight of what's already been allowed to be set in motion.

This administration, in my opinion, took a self-defeating strategy into this war. It did not address the necessary issues to bring victory. Immersed in its own world of political maneuvering, the administration refused to even acknowledge many of the serious problems until American's patience wore out, and they lost an election over it. The administration continues to refuse to acknowledged that, except by it's furious and sustained efforts to resist what is the general consensus of the public, that this war should end.

Many of us, myself included, lobbied from the beginning for changes to bring a better outcome in Iraq. We sought to make this war work in the end. Unfortunately, the politicians on the right, and some on the left can't think past their fear of failure, just as they couldn't think past their most favored outcome, in their wisdom, to see the outcomes that would not favor their efforts. This was not a failure of American strength or commitment, but of America's leadership. Both this President and this Congress remain unpopular with the public because they do not have the courage that most American have to admit that this war is a failure, and that further military efforts will not change things for the better.

Will everybody like the Democrats for ending this war, will all the soldiers be grateful? Will the end of our military involvement be bloodless and painless for the Iraqis, will we avoid the consequences of such a devastating failure? The answer to all those questions is "no". It will not be easy to face up to the difficulties that this war's end is going to bring to us. We have to take a lesson from the post-Vietnam era, though. We got morning in America by pretending that we only failed because we didn't approach things with the proper enthusiasm and optimism, that if we simply decided never to quit, we'd win in the long run. We convinced ourselves that because our country was so great, that rules didn't apply to us, shouldn't apply to us. Nowhere was this stronger than in the Republican Party.

9/11 gave them the opportunity to apply this philosophy of rationalization, this policy of believing that American willpower and firepower can win any war, if applied long enough. And we went along, because it represented something of our wish, too. The Republicans could more purely and confidently express the boundless optimism that backed the whole war, and that was a seductive lure for many. It still is. Many folks in my party are afraid of being once again pegged as the ones who spoiled everything by admitting things were not as rosey as advertised, for not keeping faith that eventually we would win.

Trouble is, Vietnam's problems, and this war's as well, were built on that foundation as well, on a free-floating optimism in the ability of profound destructive power and undying perseverance to win every battle, every war, to fight every conflict America gets into as if it is World War II, where such confidence and technological power ultimately won the day. Different wars, though, represent different problems, and the problem of Iraq could only be triumphed over by a well-waged peace in the aftermath of the initial invasion. Waiting four years to stabilize the security situation, to get more troops into the country, to reconstruct the country in earnest, is what has lost us this war. We didn't solve the problems we need to solve, when they were simple enough that the resources we were willing to devote were enough to get the job done.

America can do better than this, but to do so, it has to stop mourning it's military innocence. America is going to lose some wars. Some of it's policies, regardless of the good intentions and tough attitudes behind them, are going to fail and even become counterproductive. If we try to B.S. ourselves out of admitting that, we will lose the objectivity necessary to cut short failing policies, before they inflict more harm on our interests. An admission of defeat, when it's necessary, takes strength. It is obvious to most Americans that our leaders need to be stronger, strong enough at least to admit that America is seeing little benefit out of continuing this war.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at August 31, 2007 6:34 AM
Comment #231192

A wonderful, heartfelt post, Stephen, but let’s be honest. Our current administration will never, I repeat, NEVER agree with your statement that admitting defeat takes strength. Dubya in particular is notorious for not admitting any shortcoming, and defeat is the ultimate in coming up short. This war will not end while this adminstration remains, which means either waiting until January of 2009 or impeachment. Which would you prefer?


Posted by: leatherankh at August 31, 2007 9:22 AM
Comment #231195


An admission of defeat, when it’s necessary, takes strength. It is obvious to most Americans that our leaders need to be stronger, strong enough at least to admit that America is seeing little benefit out of continuing this war.

Well said. Of course those who support our involvement in this conflict will decree that it takes even more strength to stick it out. The strength to admit that one is wrong or is simply not capable of accomplishing a feat requires a different sort of strength. It requires a degree of common sense and enough intestinal fortitude to eat some humble pie. Of course an admission of failure means that one will have to live with a bit of humiliation for awhile. Living in denial is nothing more than a blocking mechanism which allows those in denial to delay dealing with the obvious. They are delaying the inevitable in hopes that a magic cure will appear out of nowhere. I learned a long time ago that admitting when I was wrong is much more productive and a lot easier on the conscience than stubbornly fighting the angst of knowingly living in denial. Our individual little denials are petty compared to the catastrophic damage being done as a result of Bush policy. But the principals are the same.

In this case the denials are serving no obvious benefit to us as a whole. However there are a small group of people becoming extremely wealthy at our expense. We can not prove that this is the motivation behind our continued involvement. But you have to admit it sure does raise an eyebrow. At any rate deny ability and the continuance of massive monetary returns for a few are very poor reasons to sustain the status quo. It is long past time that our congress play some hardball with an administration which relies on obfuscation to continue a mis-aligned agenda.

Posted by: RickIL at August 31, 2007 9:50 AM
Comment #231207

From a NyTime’s op-ed:

Bush used the August vacation — when lawmakers were largely laying low at home — to reassert his determination to stay the course. The White House also let it be known that it plans to ask Congress for more money — perhaps another $50 billion — beyond $600 billion already requested to maintain the counteroffensive in Iraq into spring 2008. Some people think the administration will get it.

$650 billion? And there are Republicans in the other threads about Katrina that don’t think its worth a fraction of that to rebuild New Orleans or fix education or healthcare. I don’t mean to stir up that argument again, but at this point is there anyone who wouldn’t want to see that money spent some other way? If at all?

Posted by: Max at August 31, 2007 1:29 PM
Comment #231208

Another great, related op-ed, from the Times

Two years ago today, Americans watched in horror as a great city drowned, and wondered what had happened to their country. Why wasn’t the government of the world’s richest, most powerful nation coming to the aid of its own citizens?… As late as Thursday evening, The Washington Post reported, the convention center “still had no visible government presence,” while “corpses lay out in the open among wailing babies and other refugees.”

Meanwhile, federal officials were oblivious. “We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy,” declared Michael Chertoff…. Today, much of the Gulf Coast remains in ruins.

Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? The Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — the mixture of neglect of those in need, obliviousness to their plight, and self-congratulation in the face of abject failure — has become standard operating procedure. These days, it’s Katrina all the time.

Consider the White House reaction to new Census data on income, poverty and health insurance. By any normal standard, this week’s report was a devastating indictment of the administration’s policies. After all, last year the administration insisted that the economy was booming — and whined that it wasn’t getting enough credit. What the data show, however, is that 2006, while a good year for the wealthy, brought only a slight decline in the poverty rate and a modest rise in median income, with most Americans still considerably worse off than they were before President Bush took office.

Most disturbing of all, the number of Americans without health insurance jumped. At this point, there are 47 million uninsured people in this country, 8.5 million more than there were in 2000. Mr. Bush may think that being uninsured is no big deal — “you just go to an emergency room” — but the reality is that if you’re uninsured every illness is a catastrophe, your own private Katrina.

Yet the White House press release on the report declared that President Bush was “pleased” with the new numbers. Heckuva job, economy!

Mr. Bush’s only concession that something might be amiss was to say that “challenges remain in reducing the number of uninsured Americans” — a statement reminiscent of Emperor Hirohito’s famous admission, in his surrender broadcast, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” And Mr. Bush’s solution — more tax cuts.

There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people in need, so it shouldn’t even try. “I don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system,” says Mitt Romney, as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works.

And I’m not sure that faction is losing the argument. The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause.

Posted by: Max at August 31, 2007 1:43 PM
Comment #231218

I think the over all point I’d make about the Republicans is that you can’t judge whether they’re succeeding with any efficiency, if you buy their arguments. Their aim is to convince their people that they’re not failing.

Scapegoat some Democrat for the war. Blame the inherent nature of government (as you see it) for the fact that you fail to do what people expect of it. Browbeat people into defering judgment when the facts are plainly against you. And whatever you do, don’t acknowledge that your foreign policy is a failure, because foreign policy is supposed to be the Republican’s killer app, no pun intended.

The only problem is, the Democrats are scared of looking weak on this issue, if they grapple roughly with Bush on this issue. Of course, though, they look weak for not doing it, because their party’s rank and file are unmistakeable in their preference, and the independents I’d guess these people are trying not to lose actually agree with us for the most part.

If I had my guess, this is what’s going on: our politicians are judging their politics according to the majority of their experience in Washington, which for most of them was during the ascendancy of the Republican’s power in Washington, and during a time where manyDemocrats in the rank and file sided with Republican foreign policy.

Essentially, they’re living in the past. They’re running from the party’s mercy-killing of Vietnam. They’re running from the legacy of that divisive war, neglecting the fact that the Republicans have essentially inflicted the damage on themselves and healed most of our divisions with their policy.

If it weren’t for the fact that Bush has pushed the situation into such an urgent crisis, I’d say “give them time”. The Blue dogs, though, need to get with the times. We have to lead now, not nervously follow in their footsteps.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 31, 2007 3:28 PM
Comment #231219

Stephen: Your article is well thought out and written in so far as it goes. I would label it Democrat Lite. If we in America absorbed all the lessons you have mentioned it would be nice, but we would not learn what is in my opinon the two most important lessons to be learned.

The first has to do with the arrogance that clouds our perception of events. We see the destruction and devastation that our actions have caused to the people of Iraq but somehow that is not quite as important as the damage that we have inflicted upon ourselves. This was highlighted again in the Presidents attempt to link the possible conquences of leaving Iraq to the aftermath of Vietnam. He was saying, look past this American arrogance and see what could happen in Iraq without acknowledging that as in the case of Vietnam, the war in all likelyhood will be far more destructive than the aftermath.

The second and most important lesson to learn is that we must never again allow the invasion of another country to be planned in the boardrooms of corporate America. I believe that you are not to keen on conspiracy theories and I know that there is not sufficient evidence to convict these conspiraters in a criminal court, but the circumstancial evidence would get a conviction in civil court faster than O J could show that the glove doesn’t fit.

How many people know that Cheney’s arrangement with Halliburton is basically a paid leave?

How many people know that had it not been for the War in Iraq, in all likelyhood Halliburton would have been forced into bankrupcy in 2004. As it was, they had to spin off a large segment of the company and allow it to enter chapter 11 to stay solvent. Even with the profits generated by the war they are barely staying afloat.

This week, the government has asked to enter evidence in a court case that should be scrutinized very closely. May be I am making to much of the situation, but I think it should be investigated anyhow.

In the case against Oscar Wyatt and his now defunct company Coastal Inc. who is being prosecuted for giving kickbacks to Saddam in the oil for food scandal, the judge has allowed evidence to be introduced by the government that suggests that Wyatt tipped off Saddam about the impending invasion of Iraq which included our troop strength and the actual date that the invasion would be launched.

When I read the article, I ask myself, How and why on Earth was the owner of a rather small and insignificant company privy to this detailed information in advance of the invasion? Did all of the CEO’s of oil companies know this information in advance of the invasion? Why?

Perhaps I am missing a key part of the puzzle that explains all of this. But, in my opinion, the government in it’s zeal to scapegoat Wyatt has revealed information that could lead straight to the big fish.

On the scapegoating of Wyatt, the main charge against him is providing kickback to Saddam for oil contracts.

In the 1990’s, the price of doing business with Saddam was palm grease for oil. Halliburton, Ingersol Rand and at least a dozen other American companies were providing kickback to Saddam.

Posted by: jlw at August 31, 2007 3:32 PM
Comment #231220

Geeze!! How do we get rid of these: ’ ??

Posted by: womanmarine at August 31, 2007 3:36 PM
Comment #231221

Trying again. I’m talking about the code glitch that displays apostrophes as something else? It wouldn’t even let me post it!!

Posted by: womanmarine at August 31, 2007 3:37 PM
Comment #231228

Womanmarine, the only way is to compensate for the problem. The problem is that the machine code for the apostrophe is different in MS Word for example, and an ASCII word editor. The software WB operates on uses the ASCII codes. When copying and pasting material from other word processors or web sites, the character codes are different than those used here, thus, quote marks, apostrophes, and dashes do not appear as intended.

The best way to avoid them is this, when copy-pasting material from another source, do the paste, but before saving it or posting it, rekey the apostrophes, dashes, and quote marks in the text. This will permit WB’s software to substitute its own ASCII codes for these characters and they will render properly on WB.

One day, a fix for this will be forthcoming.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 31, 2007 4:26 PM
Comment #231229

Stephen D., one of my chief criticisms of this administration is its lack of ability to do cost-benefit analysis in any kind of responsible and valid way. Illegal immigration, Iraq, military downsizing and weapon upsizing, tax cuts, and foreign aid all have failed the cost benefit analysis that would have forecast their positions as being inefficient and/or ineffective.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 31, 2007 4:29 PM
Comment #231231


Thanks. So it’s not my browser, that’s good to know. But it sure makes me cross-eyed :)

Posted by: womanmarine at August 31, 2007 4:45 PM
Comment #231239

I agree that humility is important in foreign policy. The trouble is, it tends to be very difficult to get Americans to take what is essentially a fairly inhibited track nowadays. We emphasize folks telling it like it is, as opposed to figuring out what they’re talking about, then talking about it.

Your second paragraph, the one about allowing the boardroom to plan wars seems rather rhetorical to me in wording. I think the better way to word is this: The interests of the country should come first, and be established first in the clearest way possible. The Defense contractor’s priorities come second and yield to that of our defense.

I’m not a Democrat Lite. For me it’s a matter of getting things done. If we get into a war, even if we find ourself regretting it midway through, we should be mindful of the fact that any time we want to change a policy, we got to find the way to get from here to there. The Republicans made the mistake of thinking that politics could sit along side policy, or even take the drivers seat, rather than remain a secondary priority.

If the Democrats want to remain true to their priniciples, politics must come second to policy, and getting things done right.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at August 31, 2007 6:04 PM
Comment #231351

” If the Democrats want to remain true to their principles, politics must come second to policy, and getting things done right.”

Stephen: I could not agree more with this statement. However, as I see it, a majority of the Democrats in Congress have compromised their principles and politics has become second to policy, and that policy is not being done right.

This compromising of principles began during the Reagan Presidency when government policy shifted dramatically towards business and in particular, corporate interests. Under Reagan and a Democratic Congress corporate taxes were cut in half and then cut again. Credit restrictions were weakened which led to the self destruction of the unions.

In 1992, both major parties nominated corporate sponsored candidates. Since then, nearly every candidate has been corporate sponsored. Today, Democrats recieve as much or more corporate money than Republicans.

My remark that the Iraq War was planned in the corporate board rooms is retorical. I should have spelled it out more clearly. I don’t know if PNAC is incorporated or not. Never the less, the war was planned in PNAC’s boardroom and Dick Cheney was the presiding officer.

How many corporations hire a man to be their CEO who has no prior business background or experience? Cheney delivered big time for Halliburton while he was Sec. of Defense in 1992. The military would no longer supply logistics support for their troops in theaters of war, corporate contracts from then on.

Cheney and friends devised and perpetrated two of the biggest lies ever told to the American People. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and Saddam was involved in 9/11.

From a foreign policy point of view, it made more since to leave Saddam in control of Iraq while we fought the war against Islamic Terrorists. He was no immediate threat to us and if you want to include them, nor Israel.

Dick Cheney was well aware of what was going on in Iraq. His company was making millions off of Saddams oil as were other American companies in the 1990’s. This was about to end and they knew it.

Right before the war:

U.N. inspectors were on the verge of giving Saddam a clean bill of health on WMD’s.

The sanctions were going to be lifted.

Saddam had signed a oil deal with the Russians that was going to cut the American companies out.

Many American soldiers have died. Many more Iraqi’s have died.

Posted by: jlw at September 1, 2007 1:27 PM
Comment #232636

It may be contrary to good manners to call you out on this, but your writing is reminiscent of a school boy rant. Your not doing anything by spueing regurgitated rhetoric and drawing extremely biased conclusions. You draw on random and irrelevant trivial points and try to glue them together with nonsense and contradictions as though it constitutes an intelligent argument. Though you touch on some valid political issues - I think your inherent bias overpowers any valid message you might have, except for that you ARE a defeatist and an anti war activist.

I don’t mean to “grade your paper” so to speak - but your conclusions are so sensationalized that it makes one wonder if you have any life experience at all. The problem with guys like you is that you want instant measurable gratifiacation. 2 years ago you were advocating a “timeline for withdraw”. War isn’t a video game kid - it’s not a 10 minute game in the rumble pit we’re playing here.

You need to set aside your personal bi-partisan political bias and speak intelligently from an educated perspective. I’d be inclined to believe some of what you say - but you need get out of your dorm room or out of your cubicle and go fight a war before you open your proverbial “mouth”.

Posted by: Miltiades at September 12, 2007 11:55 AM
Comment #232641

I think it was Sun Tzu who said that nobody every brilliantly protracted a war. This is one example where that remains true. Most of the wars we’ve fought are relatively short. Fight longer, and the toll it takes on the homefront and the battlefield reduces the chances of success. You can’t keep up morale forever without good results, at home or in the field. It’s damn expensive to keep an army working out in the field. Armies have to be replenished, fresh soldiers have to be brought in and taken out. The longer the war lasts, the more difficult doing this gets as a practical matter as equipment breaks down, soldiers become battle fatigued, and patience on the homefront for results wears down.

It’s important at this point that the war be seen merely as difficult, and not as futile. Difficulty can be overcome. To see this as difficult, though, progress must be made on a strategic basis, not merely tactical.

What’s made the Iraq war so unpopular is that it seems like the only progress we get out of it runs in reverse. We started with total military dominance of the battlefield, and have gone backwards every since. The surge may have improved security in some places, but it has not undone the backwards step that we made in allowing the situation to degenerate into civil war.

If we can’t undo that, if it’s going to continue to happen for years from now whether we stay or not, I’d rather we admit the screw-up and withdraw. I’d rather we start now while we still have the ability to do this with some kind of control, rather than wait for our forces to get on the razors edge of readiness.

What’s going to happen if America doesn’t withdraw soon is that we’re not going to be able to handle anything else than Iraq. We’ll be unready to handle any emergent threat out there in a prompt fashion.

In fact, whether we like it or not April spells the beginning of the end of the surge. Past that, it’s been confirmed by multiple sources, America simply runs out of forces that it can reasonably rotate into Iraq, and one brigade a month has to come out.

I’m not going to talk to you as if I’m some master general, but it seems to me a dangerous, foolish strategy that puts us in a position where we have no choice but to move troops out, good resolution or not.

Right there, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner, the kind of mistake that loses wars. This is part of what galls me about the way this war has been led. They say they’ve got everything under control, but this is one aspect where they’ve never gotten it right, not even now with the surge. They have neither the soldiers to fight the war they want, nor even the structure or numbers to keep in what they’ve wanted in there. On this count, the Bush administration has been fundamentally, even criminally negligent. They ask the country to stick with the war, but neglect to ask them for the soldiers and themselves for the structure to make sure that sticking with the war actually gets results.

I ran out of patience with this a long time ago. I will not ask soldiers to win a war for America that the generals and CINC haven’t planned well enough to win. I will not sacrifice our ability to defend our country for the sake of a poorly chosen, dysfunctional war that we’ve long ago failed to win.

Don’t think I don’t wish we won Iraq. Don’t think I ever wanted to lose it. I just don’t think winning Iraq at this point is worth the price it’s costing us.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 12, 2007 2:01 PM
Comment #232792

Miltiades- Suppression of the opposition through

stringent control, or the hint of Censorship and a

policy of belligerent Nationalism, or even advocating

such a system of oppressive, dictatorial control,

reminds me of a Reactionary or Dictatorial Person.

I see no proposals for reform, or open to new

ideas for progress, nor do I see any tolerance for

behavior or ideas from others. Just a thaught

Posted by: -DAVID- at September 14, 2007 5:45 AM
Comment #232793

Stephen Daugherty- You are correct in your assessments on Iraq. All anyone need do is look at
the brutality Saddam used for keeping control of
his Country over the years. No need any further
explanations because for some,(seeing does not mean
some folks will believe what they see.) As we saw
from the above post. We have seen a Dog & pony Show
as I mentioned the other day, an many other people
seem to be saying the same thing. Now we are being
treated to the Pea under the Shell Game an will
most likely see games until President Bush leaves
office, there by leaving the War in the Democrats

Posted by: -DAVID- at September 14, 2007 6:46 AM
Post a comment