The endless, meaningless blather from the Washington establishment

Just as has been true since the Iraq invasion was first unveiled, the Beltway conventional wisdom about the surge has proved to be completely false.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published September 14, 2007 5:10PM (UTC)
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(updated below)

It has been extremely difficult over the past several months to pay any attention at all to the discussion of Iraq from our political and media stars. It is all just complete blather, and never means anything. All of these stern and worried and tough words spill endlessly from their mouths -- they all proclaimed in May that September was the Day of Reckoning: there would be bipartisan, forced withdrawal if the political benchmarks weren't met -- only for the same thing to happen over and over. The conditions are not met; Bush proclaims we are staying; and the Washington Establishment submits.


Just look at the Serious behavior of The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt in the last week alone to see how barren and worthless their words are. Last Sunday, Hiatt came closer than ever before to admitting failure in Iraq, ending his Editorial by asking:

If Iraqis are not moving toward political reconciliation, what justifies a continuing commitment of U.S. troops, with the painful sacrifices in lives that entails?

Thus, argued Hiatt, if the President cannot answer that question, and "if there is to be no political accord in the near future," then we must change our Iraq policy to "limit troop levels to those necessary to accomplish" very specific and more modest goals.

But today, Hiatt admits that what he said just five days ago were pre-conditions for supporting Bush's Iraq policy have not been met: "the president failed to acknowledge that, according to the standards he himself established in January, the surge of U.S. troops into Iraq has been a failure -- because Iraqi political leaders did not reach the political accords that the sacrifice of American lives was supposed to make possible."


Thus, by Hiatt's own reasoning on Sunday, it means that there is no justification for "a continuing commitment of U.S. troops." So does he embrace that conclusion? Of course not, because nothing he says matters; all that matters is that we stay in Iraq and do what the President wants:

Mr. Bush's plan offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal. It's not necessary to believe the president's promise that U.S. troops will "return on success" in order to accept the judgment of Mr. Crocker: "Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse."

This is how it goes endlessly with people like Hiatt: (1) If X does not happen, there is no justification for staying; (2) X has not happened; (3) we must stay. That is why nothing they say has any meaning. Staying in Iraq is always the only real goal. Everything else is just pretext and blather to continue to do that.

Just look at the virtually unanimous consensus among our political and media class from last May, just four months ago. They all banded together to assure Americans that, come September, if the benchmarks were not met and there was no political reconciliation, that would be the end of the line for the war. Worried and principled Republicans were willing to wait until September, but come September, they would join with Democrats and end the war, or at least force a significant withdrawal.


Yet regardless of one's views regarding the latest claims of "military progress," everyone agrees that this allegedly necessary condition -- benchmark fulfillment and political reconciliation -- has not happened. It is not even a close call. As Hiatt himself said today, even Petraeus and Crocker "emphasized that political accords will be slower in coming than Washington has expected, if they are achievable at all."

Yet it does not matter. Even though the condition they all proclaimed must be met in order to stay has not been met, they still all insist we must stay. It's always the same:

(1) If X does not happen by Y date, there is no justification for staying, they proclaim;

(2) X has not happened;

(3) We must stay.

Here is but a tiny sample of the consensus that the political Establishment spewed in May. If you listened to any of this, you wasted brain cells, because it all proved to be completely meaningless, as always:

David Gergen, CNN, May 10, 2007:

But I think, overall, Anderson, what we're seeing is what we talked about last week. And that's the emergence of a consensus on both sides, and in Congress and in the White House, that, probably, Congress will go ahead and fund this, put some benchmarks in. They will fund it until September.

But that's going to be the critical month, when there's going to be a resolution by both Democrats and Republicans on two things: Are we making enough progress on the battlefield? And has the Maliki government and Iraq made enough progress to justify going on?

If either one of those tests fail, that's when we're going to see the moment of starting to disengage. Republicans are -- clearly do not want to go over the waterfall with this president, if, by September, things haven't cleared up. . . .

It sent a very clear signal to the whole country that the Republicans are not going to stand by. And they're not going over this waterfall together with him. He's got to get this thing straightened out by September, both on the military side and with the Iraqi government.

National Journal, May 5, 2007:

Congressional Republicans are increasingly looking to September as the deadline for political progress in Iraq before their support for the war starts to buckle, and Senate GOP leaders have been conveying that message to the White House, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., told National Journal.

By September, Republicans want to see evidence of stability in Iraq, including a more effective army, a working oil-revenue-sharing agreement, and government control over the militias that are attacking opposing factions, Hagel said.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who has complained about a lack of dialogue between the White House and Congress on the war, said that the Bush administration is hearing out Republicans' worries about the Iraqi government. "I think the administration is listening more in terms of what's being done behind the scenes," Voinovich told NJ. "There's a lot more going on than what's out." . . .

Republican patience could run out even earlier than September if the Iraqi parliament takes a scheduled two-month summer recess in July and August, especially if it has made little headway on political reconciliation among the country's factions.

If the parliament recesses anyway, GOP support on Capitol Hill could dissolve, according to Voinovich, a key swing vote. "One thing [President Bush had] better make sure is that that parliament doesn't go on a two-month vacation," he said. "If that happens, the stuff is going to hit the fan, big-time. I think all hell will break loose, here, all over."

David Broder, The Washignton Post, May 31, 2007:

Meanwhile, a significant movement is developing in the Senate to make Baker-Hamilton's recommendations the official policy of the government. A resolution to that effect, co-sponsored by Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado and Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, will be introduced in early June, with at least six other senators -- three from each party -- endorsing it. . . .

These senators are centrists -- the kind who can exert leverage on their colleagues. But the man who can do the most to catalyze the shift among Republicans is Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the widely respected former chairman of the Armed Services Committee. . . . If Warner shifts, many other Republican senators will move with him, and the policy will change. I think that time is coming soon.

Anne Flaherty, Associated Press, May 25, 2007 -- "U.S. Democratic, Republican leaders predict change in Bush's Iraq war policy":

Republican and Democratic congressional leaders both forecast a change in President George W. Bush's Iraq war policy as the president prepared to sign legislation Friday providing funds for U.S. military operations through Sept. 30. "I think the president's policy is going to begin to unravel now," said the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. . . .

At a separate news conference, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell predicted a change, and said Bush would show the way. "I think the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall and I think the president is going to lead it," he said.

U.S. News & World Report, May 21, 2007:

A Gallup Poll last week showed that while the approval rate for the president's handling of the war is a low 30 percent, congressional Democrats, at 34 percent, don't score much higher. Republicans, at 27 percent, rate even lower. That means that come September, when General Petraeus must deliver his own progress report to Capitol Hill, Republicans may be more ready to talk about withdrawal.

National Journal's "Insider Poll" of D.C. Democrats - May 12, 2007:

Q: If the political and military situation in Iraq has not significantly improved by September, will Congress enact legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq?

Democrats (32 votes)

Yes: 59 percent

No: 41 percent

Sen. Olympia Snowe's Press Conference, May 10, 2007, in Iraq:

Our legislation provides for within 120 days that General Petraeus would come before the Congress and report in terms of whether or not the Iraqi government has met these benchmarks. And if they have not achieved them, then General Petraeus would be required within 14 days, to submit a plan on phased redeployment of the troops associated with the Baghdad security plan, as well as a change in mission for all the other troops, consistent with the stated objectives that were set forth in the Iraq Study Group plan.


September is looming as a key month in the U.S. political debate over the war in Iraq. Congressional Democrats and a growing number of Republicans say they will take a hard look at how President Bush's military surge strategy is working in Iraq by then and whether changes will be needed to the U.S. approach. . . .

"If by September we do not see clear signs of progress, then I think we have to face reality and start planning for a complete change of mission," said Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Another moderate Republican, Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, told NBC's Today program that other Republicans may press for changes in Iraq if the president's surge strategy does not produce quick results.

Smith was one of only two Senate Republicans to support a Democratic funding bill that included a troop withdrawal timetable.

"I only speak for one Republican senator, but I know what I hear from many Republican senators, and that means that many of them will simply change their votes and Chuck Hagel and I will not be the only ones calling on the president to put the troops in a new place," he said.

The Washington Post, May 8, 2007 -- "September Could Be Key Deadline in War":

Congressional leaders from both political parties are giving President Bush a matter of months to prove that the Iraq war effort has turned a corner, with September looking increasingly like a decisive deadline.

In that month, political pressures in Washington will dovetail with the military timeline in Baghdad. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, has said that by then he will have a handle on whether the current troop increase is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq's warring factions. And fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1, will almost certainly begin with Congress placing tough new strings on war funding. . . .

"September is the key," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds defense. "If we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, September is going to be a very bleak month for this administration." . . .

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who has taken a hard line in Bush's favor, said Sunday, "By the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B." . . .

"There is a sense that by September, you've got to see real action on the part of Iraqis," said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). "I think everybody knows that, I really do."

"I think a lot of us feel that way," agreed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

And on and on. Everything they said in unison was completely false. And they do not even have the defense that it was difficult back then to see that it was false. Go read what virtually every blogger was saying back in May and it was painfully obvious that the Establishment was both deceiving itself and deceiving the country yet again. What they fear and hate more than anything is withdrawal from Iraq because staying at least allows them to avoid their own Day of Reckoning: when they are forced to accept how disastrous was the war that they all enabled.


That is why what they say -- all of their sober prognostications and warnings and analyses -- is meaningless. All of the talk about "worst options" and alleged fears of what will happen if we withdrawal and our "strategic interests" all just mask the simple truth that we are going to stay -- even when their own premises amount to an acknowledgement that there is no point in staying -- because we are staying to protect the reputations and credibility and egos of the Washington Establishment.

As much as our political class disgraced itself with its obsequious support for the invasion itself, and further disgraced itself with its complicity in the endless claims (including from the General Whose Credibility Must Not Be Questioned) that things were going well when the opposite was true, their behavior over the last twelve months -- when even they admit that the war is a failure and keep promising to support withdrawal only never to do so -- is the undeniable evidence of how corrupt and worthless they really are.

We continue to wage one of the most absurd wars in history -- one in which all of the original justifications have long ago vanished and nobody can identify any specific purpose in staying, yet one which continues with no remote end in sight. Put another way, we have exactly the war that befits our political establishment.

UPDATE: The Beltway Three-Step, as danced by Fred Hiatt:

(1) Hiatt on Sunday: "If Iraqis are not moving toward political reconciliation, what justifies a continuing commitment of U.S. troops, with the painful sacrifices in lives that entails"?


(2) Hiatt today: "It's impossible not to be skeptical that the necessary political deals and improvements in Iraqi security forces will take place."

(3) Hiatt's conclusion: "Mr. Bush's plan offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal."

Translation: Nothing justifies the continued loss of U.S. lives by staying. But we should sacrifice their lives anyway so we don't have to withdraw.

Glenn Greenwald

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