Friday, September 5, 2008

The "Surge"

"In the animal kingdom, the rule is eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined."

__- Dr. Thomas Szasz, "The Second Sin"

"Obama still refuses to admit that The Surge has succeeded."

This is a central John McCain (and campaign surrogates) talking point, one with which Bill O'Reilly has now fairly successfully hammered Barack Obama during their "O'Reilly Factor" interview (first aired Sept 4th, 2008 on Fox).

Many liberal political blog commenters have recently voiced concerns regarding the Obama decision to submit to a one-on-one Fox TV interview with the partisan, always-combative Bill O'Reilly. For example:

Of course, I watched the interview. And CNN just played a snippet. So? I still think it was a mistake and can guarantee you that the Right will be doing some careful, selective, manipulative editing on it. Expect to see a Republican ad with Obama saying "Yes, the surge worked…beyond our wildest dreams…"

How can that be helpful?
It is not. You never let an adversary frame the debate.

My response would have been:
"Bill, let me stop you right there. Arguing about the relative merits of this surge is irrelevant to the fundamental judgment issue, i.e., had we not invaded Iraq, had we kept our eyes on the prize in Afghanistan, we might well have largely wrapped things up by now, at a cost/benefit of many thousand of tragic deaths and maimings fewer and hundreds of billions of dollars less. We'd not have had the morally eviscerating infamy of Abu Ghraib, and bin Laden might well now be dead or in custody.

We might now be focused on electing a President, rather than simply a "Commander-in-Chief" — a blindered focus that assumes that our all-consuming national priority is now, and will indefinitely and inevitably comprise nothing more than threatening, starting, and managing wars at every turn, to the effective exclusion of every other substantive presidential leadership obligation, foreign and domestic.

So, I stand by the correctness of my original Iraq judgment. Senator McCain, recall, has taken pains of late to distinguish between the breadth and length of my experience and the cogency of my judgment -- finding mostly abstract fault with the latter, -- but the current ostensible reactive necessity and short-term arguable efficacy of the surge does nothing whatsoever to refute the soundness of my initial judgment with respect to Iraq. It only reinforces it. This surge is a tactical tourniquet applied to a festering wound that ought never have been inflicted.

Moreover, I might add the following point for the sake of charity and clarity: Let's assume the political inevitability of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, exclusive of its relative merits on threat-intelligence grounds at the time (and ignoring here the intel facts that have become utterly clear by now). What about the judgments of senior military commanders at the time who argued forcefully for a ground force size roughly three to four times larger than the Bush adminstration opted for? What became of them?

We know what happened, Bill. They were shouted down by Bush civilian neocon advisors -- none of whom had ever served in uniform -- and then cashiered out.

The prevailing "Shock and Awe" Bush administration "judgment" was that the world at large and our immediate adversaries would be so thoroughy cowed by our unparalleled technological military might as to fall in line forthwith and comply. The words of the belligerent neocon Michael Ledeen come to mind: 'Every ten years or so, the U.S. needs to pick up some crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.'

Well, five years later the seemingly intractable, egregiously debilitating human and financial carnage are plain for all to see. Our Middle Eastern adversaries appear to have not gotten the Memo. Today, the Afghan Taliban (and their Pakistani
tribal region allies), Iran, and Vladimir Putin all see relatively free rein to take advantage of the enervating upshot of Bush administration military and geopolitical naivete.

So, I don't think I have to listen to any lectures about the viability of my 'judgment' with respect to Iraq in particular and the threats posed by the larger world in general. I made the right call on Iraq at the outset."
Obama is simply gonna have to do better. Define Or Be Defined. It's the Law.

I now get hit up multiple times a day in my email inbox by the Obama campaign, asking for even more of my money, for my volunteer pound-the-precincts-pavement time, and for use of my spare bedroom in which to house transient campaign staff. Sometimes I have to wonder, given the serious concern I just proffered, if Barack is really up to the fight. Time is short. I wonder and worry that perhaps I'm going to just re-live my Quixotic Kerry 2004 effort.

This is one reason I'm not a Democrat.


Unknown said...


I know he is trying to prove he is a docile, unassuming negro - but his tractability will be mocked as well. O'Reilly is a no win - ask the Native Americans about that sort of accomodation.

Anonymous said...

That was an excellent post. It was a very bad decision to go on that show without having a clear game plan against O'Reilly's tactics. That interview will be in a McCain campaign commercial very shortly.
Obama has to step up in interviews and in ads.
He currently has a radio ad circulating in the DC region warning women that McCain doesn't support Roe v. Wade and warning that he will make abortions illegal. This line may galvanize a decent percentage of women who identify themselves as feminists, but for a bigger segment, it will fall on deaf ears. Most people, men and women, don't consider the legality of abortions as directly affecting their daily lives. No one wants to think about an abortion until they are faced with making that big choice.
Instead, his commercials need to focus on the fact that right now, the Bush-appointed, Republican head of the FDA is attempting to re-word the pharmaceutical definition of contraceptives as being abortifacients. This would then allow pharmacist/pharmacies the legal right to refuse to fulfill prescriptions for any contraceptive. This fact is something that modern day women, Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative can relate to.
The rate of abortions in this country has steadily decreased over the past several years because of the availability and education regarding contraceptives. The current Bush policies, supported by McCain 95%, are moving towards limiting (or eliminating) consistent, easy access to contraceptives to all women. This will galvanize huge numbers of men and women because although a person may not think of themselves as likely to choose to terminate a pregnancy, the fact is that a large percentage of women of child-bearing age and their male partners depend on contraceptives.
This is an example of an ad, based on facts, that would hit home for a large number of people regardless or ethnicity, location, gender or socioeconomic status.
Obama, you must do better!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I saw that and don't know why he said it. He could have framed it differently as you said. It really gave them a talking point.

The DNC and are going to have to go at McCain with some attack ads, as he deserves it.

Anonymous said...


Excellant blog. Take nothing for granted. I hope the important people read this. Well stated.

femme said...

I don't think you or my fellow commenters are giving Senator Obama enough credit. You can be sure that there is a game plan and it is being executed. The fact is that it doesn't matter what Obama's answer was because it would have become a talking point either way. The overall strategy is to reach the undecideds, independents and "leaners" who tune into Fox News (they're not all Hannity/Limbaugh/O'Reilly Republicans) so that they can hear Senator Obama's policy positions from the Senator himself. Interest is sparked and those who are not solidly with the Republicans will want to know more (leaving no stone unturned).

Barack Obama is not John Kerry or Al Gore (and I'm not being derogatory here) nor is he Sarah Palin (aka not ready for prime time or anything else for that matter). Just relax and make sure you do your part by getting folks registered and out to vote.

BobbyG said...

@femme -

Thank you for contributing your thoughts.

I would only counter that, if "it doesn't matter what Obama's answer was because it would have become a talking point either way," then why not give the answer that makes the most rational sense, and is entirely logically consistent with his stance on the Iraq debacle since Day One? Why give O'Reilly an opening, one that is already being spun incessantly by the McCain supporters as evidence of Obama's equivocation and fuzzy-headedness?

"Just relax and make sure you do your part by getting folks registered and out to vote"?

Spare me the anonymous lecture. [1] I will "relax" on November 5th. [2] I spent the day today in the 104 degree heat canvassing a neighborhood for hours for Obama and Dina Titus. What exactly did you do on his behalf? Register voters? Canvass neighborhoods? Write personally attributable, constructive unpaid blog posts?

"You can be sure that there is a game plan and it is being executed."

Suboptimally in this instance. He's gotta do better.

Jason said...

Bobby, I agree with most of what you wrote, but to make a broader point Obama lost the argument when the word "surge" was coined.

The word has a strong mental image and internal logic associated with it that prevents other arguments from taking hold in people's minds.

To start, "the surge" is singular. It is difficult for people to think of it as more than one event for this reason, despite the fact that militarily, the surge was much more than an increased # of troops, it was a large-scale change in tactics. Arguing that "the surge" was more than an increased number of troops is very difficult for this reason, regardless of the facts.

Also, "the surge" is a concept with its own internal logic and narrative. Most people's view of Iraq is that there are good guys and there are bad guys, and more good guys means fewer bad guys. Ideas like the surge also being a change in our counter-terrorism tactics are more abstract and less likely to settle in for that reason.

The intuitive logic of all this, more good guys = fewer bad guys and the surge as a singular event, is so powerful that Democrats already lost the argument many months ago and can't do much to change that.

Responding as you suggest sounds like a good strategy to me, but it would still be seen by many as Obama trying to deny the success of the surge and not admit that he is wrong (which plays into another narrative, the politician who doesn't want to admit he was wrong).

My ideal response would be the following: "First, let's define why violence went down in Iraq. Part of it was the surge, the extra troops. But our generals say that it was more than the surge.

It was a change in counter-insurgency tactics. It was forging alliances with Sunni groups like the Anbar Awakening. But all of this misses the main point. [then dovetail into your response]

BobbyG said...

Jason, thank you for that reasoned reply. The other weakness of my proposed Obama pushback is that -- standing on its own -- it's speculative, in that the upshot of the surge "is what it is," (to the extent that it can be objectively determined and honestly reported) that facts on the ground today "are what they are" (again, to the extent they are knowable to us, and also to the extent they are stable), and both the morality and strategic wisdom of Bush's decision to attack Iraq are today moot issues for many people.

Still, Obama consistently (and correctly, in my view) opposed attacking Iraq, so every U.S. blunder and reactive tactical necessity that followed are the consequences of an egregious error of presidential judgment. Obama is under ongoing adversarial fire for the adequacy of his "judgment," and by not pushing back, in the manner I advocated -- and certainly along with elements of your observations -- he only added fuel to that fire.

femme said...

BobbyG, I am definitely doing my part and I'm happy to hear about your efforts. But why the vitriol? My comments were not meant to be derogatory and I am sorry (and amazed, really) that you took it that way. That being said, I find it hard to believe that you don't see that no matter what Senator Obama says or how he says it, it will always be a talking point for O'Reilly and his kind. The reason for this is that they lie, as Rachel Maddow so aptly put it this past Friday.

I think you and I are on the same side. If I am correct, antagonism between us is not necessary and counterproductive. We need to relax and work together. So let's take it on Nov. 4th!

BobbyG said...

@femme -

"Vitriol"? Sorry you took it that way. My reaction to your - anonymous, btw - post was that it sounded condescending, the whole "relax, we know what we're doing" bit that is a particular pick I have had with a lot of know-it-all Democrats since 2004.

"I find it hard to believe that you don't see that no matter what Senator Obama says or how he says it, it will always be a talking point for O'Reilly and his kind."

What I can I say? That I don't find it hard to believe your ignoring the fact that I clearly addressed that point in my initial reply to you? Scroll back up.

e.g., if you're gonna be damned-if-you-do / damned-if-you-don't "why not give the answer that makes the most rational sense, and is entirely logically consistent with his stance on the Iraq debacle since Day One?"

I don't find anything about the very real prospect of a McCain presidency worth "relaxing" over. Sorry. Sorry as well to have "antagonized" you.

But, implicit in your comments is that Obama and his campaign are above criticism. He is not. I will continue to work diligently for his election, right up 'til the polls close, just like I did for the hapless John Kerry. But I will continue to speak out against counterproductive tactics when I see them.

femme said...

Not at all condescending; it's not in my nature. As for what you termed my "anonymous" posting, I don't know what you mean by that. I didn't know I had to have a profile somewhere.

As for my implicit comment (your words), you're dead wrong on that. In fact, you couldn't be farther from the truth.

At any rate, I'm glad to know we're on the same side. That's good enough for me.

BTW, I linked to your blog from the mudflats blog. Guess I'll go back to where I came from. Take good care.

BobbyG said...

@femme -
Peace, awright? Yes, you are anonymous. I am an open book, fully accountable to everyone for what I write. My Google / Blogger ID maps to a fully identifiable person. Yours does not. That's all I meant.