Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Durbin response

President Bush gave his speech on the new strategy for Iraq.

Senator Dick Durbin (D, Ill.) gave the response. I found a full transcript at CNN.
What's with the Reader's Digest version that the Southwest News-Herald (Chicago area) provided on its Web site, anyway?
Good evening.

At the end of October, President Bush told the American people: Absolutely, we're winning the war in Iraq. He spoke those words near the end of the bloodiest month of 2006 for U.S. troops.

Tonight, President Bush acknowledged what most Americans know: We are not winning in Iraq, despite the courage and immense sacrifice of our military.

Indeed, the situation is grave and deteriorating.

The president's response to the challenge of Iraq is to send more American soldiers into the crossfire of the civil war that has engulfed that nation.

Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election. Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction.

In ordering more troops to Iraq, the president is ignoring the strong advice of most of his own top generals. Gen. John Abizaid -- until recently the commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan -- said, and I quote, "More American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future," end of quote.

Twenty-thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost.

It's time for President Bush to face the reality of Iraq. And the reality is this: America has paid a heavy price. We have paid with the lives of more than 3,000 of our soldiers. We have paid with the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. And we've paid with the hard-earned tax dollars of the families of America.

And we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government.

We Americans, and a few allies, have protected Iraq when no one else would.

Now, in the fourth year of this war, it is time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation.

The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.

The Iraqis must understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges that lie ahead. And they must know that, every time they call 911, we are not going to send 20,000 more American soldiers.

As Congress considers our future course in Iraq, we remain committed, on a bipartisan basis, to providing our soldiers every resource they need to fight effectively and come home safely.

But it's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so that they can begin coming home soon.

When the Iraqis understand that America is not giving an open-ended commitment of support, when they understand that our troops indeed are coming home, then they will understand the day has come to face their own responsibility to protect and defend their nation.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Senator Durbin, when you were at White House yesterday talking to the president, did you actually use the term "civil war" with him? And, if so, did he react to you using that term?

DURBIN: I used the term. I talked to him about -- I said exactly what I said here. I think 20,000 troops are not enough to end this civil war in Iraq, and they're too many lives to put at risk. He didn't address that particular issue.

I don't think very many people dispute the fact that this is a civil war; one that finds its roots in 14 centuries of sectarian strife.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] this idea? Do you think that the White House might actually change its position on it or scale it back?

DURBIN: I don't know. But I'll tell you this: I think that it's important that we finally have a voice.

It's been four years since we voted on the use-of-force resolution. If you look at the purpose of our invasion of Iraq, frankly every single element is unnecessary today. There is no Saddam Hussein. There are no weapons of mass destruction.

What we're talking about now is to really bring Congress into the debate, the American debate, about what's going to happen next in Iraq.

And we believe that if we can bring forward a resolution that really brings the president's policy before Congress [to] ask for bipartisan support; that's a debate that's long overdue.

QUESTION: Senator, isn't the argument that Democrats -- you guys are making over and over again that the American people voted in November [inaudible] not just debate, not just to talk, but actually to do something? And you have the power now in some ways to actually do something.

So how will you use that -- not just talk, not just debate, not just have a [inaudible] of the Congress or Senate resolution -- but actually use your powers?

DURBIN: There are limited opportunities for Congress to act. A commander in chief has extraordinary authority to move troops to certain places in the world, and the president is going to use that authority.

First, we're going to bring before the Congress this question about the policy and try to have a bipartisan debate and a conclusion as to whether this policy is supported by Congress, and then watch for the reaction from the American people and from the president.

In the meantime, there will be oversight by our committees.

I won't rule out further action by Congress. I hope I've made it clear here -- and all of us have made clear -- that whatever action we take will not be at the expense of the safety of our troops who are in the field.

But there may be a way to engage the White House on a policy debate at a new level past the first resolution.

QUESTION: But as a practical point, these brigades could be [inaudible]?

DURBIN: Oh yes, yes. That's right. And it probably will happen right away. [Democratic Sen.] Jack Reed, who of course has some background on this, says that it's likely that several thousand troops are going to move in a few days and then, maybe a week or two, another thousand troops will move.

So that's going to happen, even while Congress is in the midst of this debate.

The thought that we could stop this in its tracks, I don't believe is practical. ...

QUESTION: In addition to withdrawal, the Iraq Study Group ... said that the U.S. should talk to Iran and Syria...


QUESTION: ... you know, bring them into the fold with Iraq. And President Bush said -- he basically refuted that recommendation as well. How do you respond?

DURBIN: I think that's a mistake. If there's any surge that we need, it's a surge in diplomacy.

We need to have countries in that region, in the Middle East, who are interested in the stability, ultimate stability of Iraq, to get involved in its future.

We can't do this alone. The Iraqis, as I've said in this statement, have to really resolve that they're going to make their own nation strong and defend it.

But for its long-term future and the stability of its borders, we really need to engage other countries. I don't know how we can boycott countries in that region.

We need to at least sit at a table and find out if there is some common ground. That's the only way that I think we're going to find any long-term stability.

QUESTION: Was there any part of the plan that you thought was useful [inaudible]?

DURBIN: Well, the best part of the plan is that, now, finally, [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki] is engaged, according to the president. Now, finally, he is making a commitment.

That's long overdue. many of us, for a long period of time, said to the White House, you can't keep telling this man we're going to stand with him regardless of what he does.

And I sensed today, in my meeting with the president, as well as in his statement now, that they are getting a little impatient with Maliki. I think it's about time.

Thank you, everybody.

Fact-checking Durbin.

Bush said we were "absolutely" winning the war in Iraq? The context suggests that Bush was answering in terms of the war on terrorism generally.

Q Are we winning?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely, we're winning. Al Qaeda is on the run. As a matter of fact, the mastermind, or the people who they think is the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks is in our custody. We've now got a procedure for this person to go on trial, to be held for his account. Most of al Qaeda that planned the attacks on September the 11th have been brought to justice.

Extremists have now played their hand; the world can clearly see their ambitions. You know, when a Palestinian state began to show progress, extremists attacked Israel to stop the advance of a Palestinian state. They can't stand democracies. Extremists and radicals want to undermine fragile democracy because it's a defeat for their way of life, their ideology.

People now understand the stakes. We're winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle right now is Iraq. And as I said in my statement, I understand how tough it is, really tough. It's tough for a reason; because people understand the stakes of success in Iraq. And my point to the American people is, is that we're constantly adjusting our tactics to achieve victory.

Criticize the President for ducking the question if you like (it's clear from the broader context that the reporter very probably meant the Iraq war rather than the war on terror), but to claim that Bush referred to the Iraq war with his answer seems either dishonest or just silly (in a politically calculating manner, admittedly).

Crossfire of a civil war that "has engulfed that nation"?
I'll let that one slide as hyperbole. The violence remains primarily in the Sunni Triangle region and al-Anbar (in western Iraq), the two areas for which the troop level increases have been planned.

The American people didn't vote for escalation? The war wasn't on the ballot. People voted for a variety of reasons, and most pundits thought that the Foley scandal and the border issue hurt specific Republican candidates. Polls indicate majority disapproval for the handling of the war, but results concerning the strategy that is on the table are close.
Durbin's spinning.


(CBS/AP poll, Jan 2007)
Durbin calls the 20,000-plus troop surge "the wrong direction," but offered no alternative (keeping levels the same or reducing them are directions other than increasing the troop levels, but Durbin doesn't narrow down his preference). The hole in Durbin's speech recalls a portion of the president's speech, where Bush called on the opposition to offer a better plan to accompany criticism.

The truth is that "Americans" did not vote for any particular direction on the Iraq war. The left wing of the Democratic Party prefers withdrawal, but Lieberman didn't beat Lamont in Vermont by advocating withdrawal (for example).

Durbin's quotation of General Abizaid is accurate, but should be considered out of context.

Here is why:

MCCAIN: Did you note that General Zinny who opposed of the invasion now thinks that we should have more troops? Did you notice that General Batise, who was opposed to the conduct of this conflict also says that we may need tens and thousands of additional troops. I don’t understand General. When you have a part of Iraq that is not under our control and yet we still — as Al Anbar province is — I don’t know how many American lives have been sacrificed in Al Anbar province — but we still have enough and we will rely on the ability to train the Iraqi military when the Iraqi army hasn’t send the requested number of battalions into Baghdad.

ABIZAID: Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the core commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American Troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.

(Think Progress)

Abizaid's comments were not made in the context of a different strategy. The new strategy calls for smaller groups of U.S. servicemen to accompany Iraqi troops in pacifying hot districts in Baghdad. The plan itself encourages an increased Iraqi role in controlling sectarian violence.

The past problem was that Iraqi forces have not performed their role sufficiently well in stopping the violence. Yet Durbin thinks it's fine to give them the job right now anyway.
Apparently Durbin uses a completely different measure in judging the competence of the Iraqi military as compared to the U.S. military.

The other issue is that the Iraqi armed forces are not as well equipped as U.S. forces. Not even close. That's going to take time to change.

Durbin says that 20,000 U.S. soldiers cannot end the "civil war" in Iraq. Isn't that a straw man?

The additional troops are intended to help Iraqi troops, whose numbers continue to gradually increase, hold and pacify the worst parts of Baghdad (and al-Anbar), while cutting supply lines to the insurgents from Syria and Iran.

Could it be that 20,000 is sufficient for that task, Senator Durbin?

Durbin wants Mr. Bush to face the reality in Iraq. Then Durbin goes beating around the bush with talk about American sacrifice and all manner of other things that Bush has long since acknowledged. Is that the reality that Durbin is talking about?

I don't think so, somehow. I think he was getting at what followed several sentences afterward:
The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.
Well, isn't that exactly what this troop surge is designed to do? Wasn't Durbin paying attention?

This effort was made based on Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's decision to permit U.S. forces to engage the militias where necessary. The plan has carrot and stick.

Durbin, I suspect, has only stick for our Iraqi allies (our enemies in Iraq might discern a carrot for themselves in Durbin's speech, however): You're on your own. We're leaving. Sink or swim. Toodles.

But it's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so that they can begin coming home soon.
So, Durbin would not be in favor of sending troops to help with relief efforts if Iraq sinks into a civil war reminiscent of the one in Congo? The troops will never be deployed if Iran manages to seize control of Iraq's oil reserves? There will be no deployment to Turkey or Saudi Arabia if those nations are threatened by an ascendant Iran?

Or is Durbin just planning a furlough for the troops before sending them out in even greater numbers into more dangerous conflicts? Maybe via a draft, as proposed by Charlie Rangel (D, NY)?
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rep. Charles Rangel, a fierce opponent of the Iraq war, on Thursday called for a new military draft, saying everyone between 18 and 42 should be asked to share the burden of wartime responsibilities.
That one's hot off the presses, by the way. January 11, 2007.

Democrats: Pathetic on war issues.

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