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We've Lost

from davidcorn.com
September 19, 2004
News from the Green Room: "We've Lost"; and Kerry Campaign Lags on the Analogy Front
I know. I said I would not be posting until Monday. Well, I am a little bit early. I was pressed into service by Fox News this weekend to discuss the rigmarole over CBS News and the disputed Jerry Killian memos. But my trip to the studio produced some interesting information. Not about the Air National Guard business. On air I did point out that it was quite amusing that George W. Bush was quoted that day in the Manchester, New Hampshire, Union Leader saying, "there are a lot of questions about the documents and they need to be answered." Fine, I remarked. Fox News should invite Dan Rather on for 30 minutes to answer those questions and also invite Bush to answer all those questions remaining about his military service. I also conceded the documents may be fakes, argued it was highly unlikely that Rather and Co. knew they were phony (as some conservative Rather-bashers have been suggesting), and explained that there is plenty of indisputable evidence indicating that Bush did not meet his obligations and (at the very least) gamed the system.

But that's not what I want to share with you.

While leaving the bureau, I ran into an acquaintance who is a former military officer. He is a rather knowledgeable chap about Iraq, who has been there several times since the invasion, and he has many contacts and friends within the highest ranks of the Pentagon. What do you think of the latest news from Iraq? I asked him. "We've lost," he said without pause. Lost? Yes, he said, adding, "but this is not just my view." He told me that the previous day he had been visiting with a pal who is a top commanding officer of the Special Forces. My friend told this commander that he had concluded the United States was a goner in Iraq. The reply: "I knew this was lost five months ago." Oh shit, my friend thought and waited for the explanation. The commander explained that back then he was driving the six-mile stretch that runs from the Green Zone in Baghdad (where the US diplomatic and military offices are headquartered) to the Baghdad airport. An IED went off and took out the car in front of him. "If we cannot secure the road to the airport, we cannot win this thing," the commander told my friend. After recounting this conversation to me, my friend said, "A bomb went off today on the road to the airport."

It is good that military commanders generally keep their noses out of politics and respect their civilian leaders. But there comes a point when they ought to speak their mind for the sake of the troops and for the sake of national security. I don't know how many senior-level commanders have a view of the war that contradict the happy-talk that Bush spouts on the campaign trail. But if this is a prevalent view--or anything approaching a consensus--the public (and the electorate) deserves to know.

Speaking of speaking out, today on Fox News Sunday, Senator John McCain said that on Iraq Bush had been "perhaps not as straight as maybe we'd like to see." He noted that Bush had made "serious mistakes" in Iraq and these foul-ups have led to "very, very significant difficulties." McCain noted that Bush's claim that Iraq is on the road to stability and democracy "may not be accurate." On Face the Nation Senator Chuck Hagel, another Republican, declared, "The fact is, we're in deep trouble in Iraq...and I think we're going to have to look at some recalibration of policy." He added, "I don't think we're wining."

Perhaps it is time for responsible Republicans--don't laugh--to hold hearings on the Hill where they ask the senior military people for their assessments of what is occurring in Iraq. Bush seems lost in his own world of self-protecting spin. If top military commanders do believe the United States is losing in Iraq, then they should be part of a very public discussion about what to do--or not do--next.

After chatting with my military vet pal, I encountered a Kerry campaign aide who I had earlier seen on television defending the campaign. He had stuck to the script: Bush hasn't told the nation the truth, and Kerry will and, what's more, Kerry has plans to bring health care and jobs to Americans from sea to shining sea. This Kerry adviser was repeatedly asked to spell out Kerry's plan for Iraq, and he replied that Kerry would start by telling the truth and making decisions based on the assessments of the military commanders on the ground. He also noted that Kerry would work harder than Bush to bring more international partners into the picture.

On a Washington street corner, he now asked me how he had done. You have a tough job, I responded. The Bush campaign has succeeded in convincing the mainstream media that the key question is, what is Kerry's plan for Iraq? Not, say, what is Bush's plan for Iraq? If Kerry is so fortunate to win on November 2, he won't take office until January 20, and the situation in Iraq could be dramatically different. Any specific plan he tossed out now could be--and probably would be--totally irrelevant at that point. Yet Republicans and echo-chamber reporters keep asking Kerry to state precisely how he would undo Bush's mess.

"I have two young daughters at home," I said to this Kerry aide. "If one takes a glass jar and throws it on the ground of their bedroom and smashes it into thousands of pieces, I don't point my finger at the other one and say, 'Okay, what's your plan for cleaning this up.'"

"That's a good analysis," the Kerryite said to me. "Have you said that on air?"

I was flattered, naturally. But I was a wee bit worried that such an analogy was not commonplace among Kerry's crew. I told him that I thought I had made such comments on radio or television, but, then, I yap so much about this stuff on and off the air that I can't quite recall whether I had launched this analogy into the great public debate that is cable talk.

But in case I haven't, let me do so (in a way) with this blog entry. If you happen to hear Kerry or any of his surrogates talk about broken glass in the next few days, remember you heard (or read) about it here first--unless, of course, someone else already made this point earlier. I'll leave the Googling to you. But it does seem as if the Kerry of today is finally taking advice from the Kerry of Vietnam: he is turning his boat toward the enemy fire and moving straight in. He has been ratcheting up his criticism of Bush's war in Iraq--both Bush's decision to go to war and his management (or lack thereof) of the postwar challenges. That appears to be a better strategy for Kerry. But good strategy is only part of the game. The other is performance. And Kerry doesn't have much time to get it right.

A personal note: Traffic on the site has been rather good in recent days. Still, I ask you--particularly the regulars--to help spread the word. Please tell your friends and foes about this site and pass along items (maybe even this one) you deem worthy. Thanks for the support.