At the risk of stating the semi-obvious, George W. Bush’s decision to go on national television tomorrow night and announce a plan to deploy 20,000 more U.S. troops in a long-term operation to “secure” Baghdad and some Sunni territory as well, is as mystifying as anything “the decider” has done in the course of his mystifying presidency.Hardly anyone thinks this deployment will work, even within the Pentagon and the White House, as the vast number of blind quotes in the news media questioning the decision makes clear. (Fred Kaplan’s exhaustive review of the operational implausibility of the Bush plan is definitely worth reading). It’s also clear the Maliki government, on whose willingness to fully commit Iraqi forces the slim chances of the whole enterprise rest, is being dragged kicking and screaming into line with Washington’s edict. And that’s hardly a surprise, since “clearing” Baghdad of “terrorists” or “extremists” or whatever Bush chooses to call them, will inevitably involve armed clashes with the Mahdi Army, one of the pillars of Maliki’s political base.Even fans of the idea of deploying more troops typically think the troop levels Bush is talking about will be insufficient to make a difference, other than convincing Iraqis that we’ll never, ever leave. And then there’s the little matter of Bush’s willingness to give American public opinion a big middle finger; as new polls indicate, despite relatively strong (if probably temporary) Repubublican rank-and-file support for the escalation, it’s anathema to the coalition of Democrats and independents that flipped Congress in November.The big symbolic factor in Bush’s decision is supposedly this: he’s finally abandoned the old stay-the-course rap, even if he doesn’t acknowledge the shift tomorrow night. But the strange timing of the escalation strategy helps illustrate something about the administration’s post-invasion Iraq policies that has often been obscured by the consistent happy-talk: they’ve repeatedly flip-flopped, but almost always far too late.Think about it. Rumsfeld took us into Iraq absolutely determined not to conduct an occupation, assuming instead that he could turn over the country to Iraqi exile politicians. That determination barely outlasted the invasion itself. When chaos broke out, administration talking heads first welcomed the phenomenon as the natural exuberance of a liberated people, and savaged anyone who suggested an organized insurgency. When that claim became increasingly absurd, the Bushies described the insurgency as a temporary rear-guard action by Baathists with no real popular base. Then they shifted to a description of the newly-recognized insurgency as composed primarily of “foreign fighters” recruited by al-Qaeda (which, BTW, was thereby “pinned down” in the “flypaper” of Iraq, and couldn’t conduct terrorism operations anywhere else, until they did). When the indigenous Sunni insurgency was finally acknowleged, the administration suggested its increasing ferocity was a sign of desparation. For many months, the president’s men dismissed intra-Pentagon arguments for adoption of a counter-insurgency strategy. And they finally started talking about “clear, hold and build” strategies–and have now placed their chief advocate, Gen. David Petraus, in charge of the “new direction” in Iraq–when the conditions necessary for successful counter-insurgency have all but vanished.What has united all these horribly belated “decisions,” of course, has been the administration’s remarkably consistent resistance to empirical evidence of failure and folly. And by that standard, there’s nothing about the “new direction” that really breaks new ground.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.