This is a post I wanted to do yesterday; but then decided I didn’t want to profane the Fourth by writing anything political. For at least one day a year, we ought to be able to show some unity.But I just finished reading Larry Diamond’s fascinating and disturbing book: Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq. And it left me absolutely livid about the fact that Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense.You should read Diamond’s book; if you don’t have time, he wrote an earlier and much briefer version of his basic argument in Foreign Affairs last fall.Diamond, probably America’s top expert on democracy-building, spent several months working for the Coalition Provisional Authority (the Pentagon-run U.S. occupation entity) in early 2004. And he came away with an indictment of the early and continuing mistakes, mostly attributable to Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides, that we and the Iraqis continue to pay for today.Most of his litany of errors is familiar, but Diamond puts them, and their consequences, together in a way that takes your breath away. Totally aside from the decision to invade in the first place (which Diamond opposed), Rumsfeld’s Big Mistake was his stubborn determination to go into Iraq with about one-third the number of troops that every military and civilian expert told him would be necessary to secure the country. As a result, Coalition troops could do little or nothing to deal with (a) the systematic looting and lawlessness that destroyed what was left of Iraqi civil authority, and paralyzed the economy; (b) a massive influx across unprotected borders of Iranian and Sunni Jihadist agents and fighters; (c) the formation of a vast array of sectarian armed militias, fueled by another bad administration decision to disband the Iraqi army; (d) a decisive erosion of Coalition credibility among Kurds and Shi’a who remember their abandonment by the U.S. to Saddam’s vicious reprisals after the First Gulf War; and (e) a security situation that made reconstruction efforts physically impossible.Aside from that Big Mistake, Diamond catalogues a bunch of subsequent blunders, including an inability to take seriously and accomodate the pro-democracy views of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, probably the most important figure in Iraq; an abrupt 180-degree shift in policy from a breezy assumption that the U.S. could turn Iraq over to exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, to a reluctance to relinquish control at all; and a consisent pattern of doing the right thing, if at all, several months too late.Even the famous “purple-finger” election of January 2005, Diamond says, carried the potential seeds of disaster, thanks to a Bush administration decision in favor of a national proportional representation system, with no provision for local districts. This decision guaranteed Sunni under-representation in Iraq’s first popularly elected government, while eliminating any incentive for the kind of inter-communal political parties that might have emerged in mixed-population areas of the country.Diamond hasn’t give up hope about prospects for the ultimate emergence of a stable Iraqi government, but has laid out an urgent series of U.S. policy changes (which the DLC recently endorsed) necessary to make it possible, including a decisive repudiation of the idea that we want a permanent military presence there.We all know George W. Bush cannot admit mistakes, though he is capable, now and then, of unacknowledged flip-flops. His single biggest mistake with respect to Iraq, before, during and after the invasion, was his and Dick Cheney’s categorical trust in Donald Rumsfeld and the people around him. I for one will have trouble expecting things to get better in Iraq until such time as Rummy walks the plank. Maybe the White House will suddenly announce that Rumsfeld is desperately needed for another job–perhaps some presidential commission on what the military should look like if and when we colonize space. After all, they’ve already found ways to offload Wolfowitz, Feith and Bolton.But any way you look at it, Rummy’s got to go, especially if this president ever intends to make something other than a very bad joke of his 2000 pledge to introduce “a responsibility era.”
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
You might have missed a potentially significant political story involving a non-candidate for president, so I wrote about it at New York:
One variable in the fraught and complex 2024 presidential election has now been put to rest: Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has announced he will not pursue an independent or “unity ticket” candidacy for president this year, as USA Today reports:
“Manchin made the announcement during a speaking engagement at West Virginia University for his recently created nonprofit group Americans Together, which is aimed at connecting and empowering moderate voices.
“’I will not be seeking a third-party run, I will not be involved in a presidential run,’ Manchin, 76, told the crowd. ‘I will be involved in making sure that we secure a president who has the knowledge, has the function and has the ability to bring this country together.’”
He argued that “the system right now is not set up” for candidates not affiliated with either major political party to win the presidency but said that in the “long game” there could be room to make a third party viable.
Manchin’s vow not to be “involved in a presidential run” seems also to preclude a vice-presidential candidacy, which had seemed a possibility if No Labels, the nonpartisan organization with which Manchin has been closely associated, winds up sponsoring a ticket headed by a Republican. His subsequent comment about the kind of president he wanted to help the country secure could indicate that for all his third-party flirtations and ideological heresies, Manchin might endorse a second term for Joe Biden. He could not possibly have been talking about Donald Trump by referring to a president who had “the ability to bring this country together.”
In any event, Manchin’s decision was good news for his party’s 2024 prospects. There’s likely a ceiling on Trump’s support well short of a popular majority, so it’s a strategic imperative for Biden to corral anti-Trump voters without too much competition from minor candidates, and particularly from a well-known Democrat.
The announcement obviously takes away one option for No Labels, which is reportedly in the process of interviewing potential candidates, even though the group has not formally decided whether to undertake a campaign (it has, however, secured ballot access in 13 states so far).
It also likely means Manchin has run his last campaign. He chose not to run for a third full term in the Senate this year, likely because West Virginia had turned so bright red that even a relatively conservative Democrat would have no real chance of winning, particularly in a presidential-election year. With no electoral base, the 76-year-old former governor will wind up his Senate service and presumably retire to his houseboat. His family already dodged one calamity this year when Manchin’s wife, Gayle, survived a serious car accident. A futile presidential run would not have improved their quality of life.