Blogs > HNN > On Getting Out of Iraq, X: GOP Congressional "Moderates," President Bush, and Their Political Strategy for 2008

Sep 1, 2007 2:38 pm

On Getting Out of Iraq, X: GOP Congressional "Moderates," President Bush, and Their Political Strategy for 2008

On August 23, Virginia Senator John Warner called on President Bush to withdraw about 5000 troops from Iraq in order to send a"symbolic" message to the Maliki government that it must reform and engage in reconciliation with other Iraqi factions. Warner is typically considered to be a Republican"moderate." So, too, is George Voinovich, the senior senator representing the state in which I reside, Ohio. In recent months and weeks, Warner, Voinovich, and other Republican moderates have criticized the war and occupation of Iraq but have opposed putting teeth into their calls for a new strategy and the redeployment of troops out of Iraq. They have repeatedly expressed deference to the" commander in chief," thereby effectively emasculating their own constitutional prerogatives regarding war and foreign policy. In so doing, they are misrepresenting the voters back home. The practical result of their"moderation" has been that the slim Democratic majority-which also faces presidential veto threats-has been unable to pass legislation that would force Bush to change course in Iraq.

It has become clearer to me in the past month or two that the"moderate" Republican position on the Iraq problem is entirely political. Namely, their political strategy has been and will be to call on Bush to withdraw some troops in order ostensibly to put pressure on the Iraq government to"meet the benchmarks." At the same time, they will oppose congressional measures to force Bush to do this. Thus Warner, Voinovich, et al will be in a position to say that they were morally correct and voter-responsive in calling for disengagement.

They of course know that Bush will begin to withdraw the"surge" troops in 2008. Why? Because he has to: the army is seriously overextended. Even the pliant generals acknowledge this. Not surprisingly, this partial withdrawal will be politically convenient insofar as President Bush and congressional Republicans will claim that sufficient success has been achieved in Iraq to justify the surge and continue the war-that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Republican base and some independents will be assuaged. At the same time, Bush and the conservative congressional Republicans will accuse the Democrats of being defeatists and of not supporting the troops. They hope that this strategy will serve to save Republican seats in the election.

Everything will turn on what is happening in Iraq. Despite the administration's spin, all the signs are that no decisive military progress has been made, that the political scene is ever more chaotic, and that the region is in turmoil.

Meanwhile, the mainstream chattering classes debate the pros and cons of the surge as though it just might be working, and they predict that Warner's call for a symbolic, token withdrawal is a significant sign of fissure in the Republican bloc (which it isn't). Most of the pundits essentially ignore the political strategy that Bush and the Republicans are following. Even the Democrats (especially the Blue Dogs and Bush Dogs) seem to ignore this strategy, mainly because they are blinded by fears that they will be accused of"not supporting the troops" or of being"soft on terror." Most of the public, meanwhile, is asleep-or just coping with a broken health care system, heat and drought, storms and floods, a financial crisis, and other woes.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 9/1/2007

Your friendly neighborhood Assistant Editor here: even though the post was lost (and I don't have a clue, either, except to point out that the delete button works fast), the comments still reside in our queue. I've found the "positive events" ones: let me know if there are other headings I should look for (there's no easy way to just look for all the comments on a post that no longer exists, I'm afraid, short of picking through the whole comments queue one at a time).

Mike A Mainello (August 29, 2007 at 4:07 PM)

Positive news gets very little publicity in the mainstream media. Give them a read. If you dare.

Al-Sadr suspends militia activity in Iraq

Crossing Anbar
We've been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs across the province.
The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq's second "port" in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high.
But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I'm convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…

Iraq's leaders agree on key benchmarks
Sun Aug 26, 2007 6:27PM EDT

Oscar Chamberlain (August 30, 2007 at 11:42 AM)
Then again:

You know, one of the serious problems in all of this is that there are few if any sources trusted on all sides of the debate. That makes it much harder to move from a this account/that account war of anecdotes to serious discussion.

Mike A Mainello (August 30, 2007 at 2:00 PM)

Thanks for article. It provided some additional information.

I agree that is difficult to know which news sources to trust.

Last year the NIE on Anbar was very negative, yet this year security in Anbar has improved significantly. After 9-11, I believe the intel community is going to be especially negative. Better to be wrong in that direction.

I truly believe it is getting better in Iraq and our commitment is vital.

I continue to appreciate your rational responses and wish all of your colleagues would be as cordial.

Jeffrey Kimball (August 30, 2007 at 5:18 PM)
Thanks guys, but, with all respect to your comments and views, you'll have to do better than that. We've had going-on-five years of this war and lots of data. When is enough enough for a realist? I addressed this in a comment in my original post, but if you want more data and analysis, see (just as examples of many many analyses) these recent ones:,0,2398496.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

Jeffrey Kimball (August 30, 2007 at 5:45 PM)
Clarification: I belatedly noticed that Oscar cited a BBC story similar to the WaPo story I later cited. Sorry Oscar.

But I do want to comment on Oscar's point about the "debate." Yes, we citizens have been debating the issue, but when do we treat it not as "he said, she said" and try to analyze in order to arrive at some facts and secure theories? In other words, in a debate, the two arguments are not always equal--there's logic and evidence we can apply. Here's an example from the National Security Network:

Drop in Violence?

For the past month, the Bush Administration and General Petraeus have asserted that a drop in violence is evidence that the "surge" is working. Unfortunately, the evidence is difficult to validate. Underreporting civilian deaths is, sadly, nothing new. A number of U.S. agencies differ with the Administration's assessment that sectarian violence is down and in fact there are inconsistencies within the Pentagon's own reporting. The Iraq Study Group concluded that in the past car-bombs that don't kill Americans, murders, and inter-ethnic violence were not tracked in order to demonstrate reduced violence. Recent analysis indicates that some of these trends continue. More importantly, the military has refused to show the public any evidence to support the claim that violence is down.

Around September 1, the numbers will be released for August. Will they include the 400-500 Yazidis killed by car bombs in Northern Iraq? Will they include the 50 Iraqis killed this week in Karbala? These gruesome statistics are central to understanding the impact of the civil war on the Iraqi people, and for making decisions about future U.S. presence. Americans need transparent statistics to understand whether recent claims of progress are credible.

Claims of a Decrease in Violence Cannot be Confirmed by the Military or Independent Sources

A draft copy of a GAO report concludes that there are differing opinions within the U.S. government on whether sectarian violence is down. “The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. ‘While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced,’ it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that ‘the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.’ [Washington Post, 8/30/07]

There were significant revisions to the way the Pentagon’s reports measure sectarian violence between its March 2007 report and its June 2007 report. The original data for the five months before the surge began (September 2006 through January 2007) indicated approximately 5,500 sectarian killings. In the revised data in the June 2007 report, those numbers had been adjusted to roughly 7,400 killings – a 25% increase. These discrepancies have the impact of making the sectarian violence appear significantly worse during the fall and winter of 2006 before the President’s “surge” began. [DOD, 11/2006. 3/2007. 6/2007]

According to figures compiled by the Associated Press, Iraq is suffering approximately double the number of war-related deaths throughout the country compared with last year. The average daily toll has risen from 33 in 2006, to 62 so far this year. Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2006. The AP tracking includes Iraqi civilians, government officials, police and security forces killed in attacks such as gunfights and bombings, which are frequently blamed on Sunni suicide strikes. It also includes execution-style killings — largely the work of Shi’a death squads. Insurgent deaths are not a part of the Iraqi count. These figures are considered a minimum and only based on AP reporting. The actual numbers are likely higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted. That said, the AP notes that UN figures for 2006 are higher than the AP’s. [AP, 8/25/07]

U.S. data on civilian violence is unreliable and excludes most acts affecting sectarian and ethnic cleansing. " No Iraqi data are reliable and US and Coalition data focus far too much on major bombings, major incidents, killed to the exclusion of wounded, and violent acts to the exclusion of most acts affecting sectarian and ethnic cleansing. No data can be fully trusted in terms of accuracy. More importantly, many current metrics are useful largely as measures for counterinsurgency in a nation filled with diverse civil conflicts and where the most violent insurgent acts are only an uncertain indicator of the trends in security and stability." [CSIS, 8/22/07]

The data does not include Shi’a on Shi’a violence in the South or Sunni on Sunni violence in the Sunni Triangle. “The data on the drops in attacks are complex, and it must be stressed that they do not count clashes or violence at lower levels between the tribes and Al Qa’ida or some forms of intra-Sunni Islamist feuding and fighting… These figures also ignore growing Shi’a instability in the south, and particularly in the southeast, and a growing threat from Iran.” [CSIS, 8/6/07]

U.S. officials continue to claim that violence is down but the numbers cannot be verified.

"While top U.S. officials insist that 50 percent of the capital is now under effective U.S. or government control, compared with 8 percent in February, statistics indicate that the improvement in violence is at best mixed. U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim." [McClatchy, 8/15/2007]

"Brig. Gen. Richard Sherlock, deputy director for operational planning for the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said violence in Iraq 'has continued to decline and is at the lowest level since June 2006.' He offered no statistics to back his claim, but in a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday he warned insurgents might try to intensify attacks in Iraq to coincide with three milestones: the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., the beginning of Ramadan and the report to Congress." [AP, 8/25/07]

The Bush Administration, Iraqi Government and General Petraeus Have a History of Reporting Overly Optimistic Results

As the Iraq Study Group concluded, the Bush Administration has in the past underreported violence in Iraq in an attempt to show progress. "On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been 'significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq.' The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis.' The standard for recording attacks acts a filter to keep events out of reports and databases,' the report said. 'A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count…Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals,' The finding confirmed a Sept. 8 McClatchy Newspapers report that U.S. officials excluded scores of people killed in car bombings and mortar attacks from tabulations measuring the results of a drive to reduce violence in Baghdad. By excluding that data, U.S. officials were able to boast that deaths from sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital had declined by more than 52 percent between July and August, McClatchy newspapers reported." [McClatchy, 12/6/06]

There is a history of the Iraqi government underreporting death tolls. "Throngs of Iraqis were busily shopping for the weekend when a truck bomb and barrage of rockets ripped apart the market in central Karrada. Iraqiya television and most Western media outlets reported that 25 were killed and 100 wounded in the July 26 attack, of which virtually no images were shown. But less than a week later, the names of 92 dead and 127 wounded were posted on a list taped to a shuttered storefront. It was compiled by municipal and civil defense crews that led the rescue efforts. The disparity in official numbers and the ones posted in the market, and apparent differences between government figures and eyewitness accounts after other recent bombings, leaves many Iraqis feeling that the government is intentionally downplaying or trying to cover up the numbers of dead." [Christian Science Monitor, 8/3/2007]

The Iraqi Ministry of Health has stopped sharing data with the United Nations eliminating one of the few independent measures being published. "In the past, the Iraqi government has released official data on civilian injuries and deaths – an important barometer of the war’s human cost. But in an apparent reversal of policy, the government has refused to provide the United Nations with current data, which the UN requested for its new human rights report, released on April 25, 2007… UN officials said the Iraqi government gave no official reason for withholding the data. But unofficially, the government expressed concern that the numbers would be “used to portray the situation as very grim,” said Ivana Vuco, a UN human rights officer in Iraq. High casualty figures would “further undermine their efforts to establish some kind of security and stability in the country,” she said at a news conference in Baghdad." [Human Rights Watch, 4/25/07]

General Petraeus has a track record of reporting overly positive news. General Petraeus had an opportunity to comment on the recent Iraq NIE and succeeded in getting some of the security judgments "softened." Moreover, in 2004 while he was in charge of Iraqi Security Force training, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post stating that "the institutions that oversee Iraqi Security Forces are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq." The op-ed was released six weeks before the Presidential election. [Washington Post, 9/26/04. Washington Post, 8/28/07]

Mike A Mainello (August 30, 2007 at 11:31 PM)
To summarize,

President Bush bumped up the number of Iraqi's killed before the surge so his post surge numbers would look good, but the Iraqi's under report the deaths. It seems like the President is trying to report accurate numbers based upon your logic.

Next, General Petreaus is going to be overly optimistic. I see you are trying to discredit the messenger. Interesting tactic.

Lastly, you have never answered any of my questions.

1. The volunteer force wants to remain in Iraq and finish the mission. Why is this wrong.

2. Should we have gone to war in WW2, Korea, and the Balkans?

3. Since Civil Wars are not a reason to intervene, do you think we should go into Darfur? It is truly a civil war.

Lastly be a honest with yourself, no matter what happens, you want the US out of Iraq. If it keeps improving it will make the democratics look bad. It is OK to admit this, just stop kidding yourself and trying to convince me (and your colleagues) that you only want what is best for the troops.

If 4+ years is too long, then based upon your analogy, there are many areas we should abandon. The war on poverty has been going on for 40+ years, should we give up? What about the cure for AIDs? I know this sounds stupid, but I believe that bringing democracy to Iraq is very important. When President Regan pulled the soldiers from Beruit and President Clinton pulled the soldiers from Somalia, it emboldened the terrorists. If this happens in Iraq, it will further embolden the radical Islamic terrorists.

You bring a lot of passion to your arguments, but you fail to debate. It is your way or the highway. Oscar asks questions and seems to listen. It is for this reason, I look forward to his responses. He makes me think and ponder my position. You on the other hand just try to shove your position down your opponents throat.

Jeffrey Kimball (August 31, 2007 at 4:57 PM)
Dear Mr. Mainello,
I have tried to answer your questions but when I try you ignore the answers, reject them out of hand, accuse me of not debating, and/or raise new questions of your own that often are not directly related to the main point of the original blog I posted. So, I've tried in good faith, and I say this in the spirit of friendly debate.

How about this? I'll answer one more of your questions (or statements) with a question. You say that the U.S. occupation army is a volunteer army whose volunteers have chosen to fight for Bush's goals and that these goals are in your estimation terribly important. Here's the question: if they are so important, so critical to national security and American ideals (never mind the cost-benefit equation) why doesn't Bush, why don't you, advocate the reinstitution of the draft, the mobilization of the nation, higher taxes, and so on---in other words, all that would be required to match the importance of those goals you favor?
Regards, J.

Jeffrey P. Kimball - 9/1/2007

This post and associated comments mysteriously disappeared on August 31 in the evening. The blog essay has been re-posted but the comments have been lost.