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Many Democrats Wrong on Iraq, Again

By Brent Budowsky
August 22, 2007

Editor’s Note: Before leaving for an August recess, the Democratic congressional leaders vowed to return with renewed determination to challenge George W. Bush on his Iraq War policy and his extraordinary claims of presidential power. Now, however, they are signaling another round of posturing and equivocation.

In this guest essay, former Democratic congressional staffer Brent Budowsky challenges the party's Washington establishment to finally act on principle, not political calculation:

Here is my answer to Kenneth Pollack, Michael O’Hanlon and the latest tragic evasion and spin on the Iraq War currently circulating in high Democratic circles:

The Aug. 22 story in The Washington Post is accurate and fits with what I am hearing privately. Many Democrats are again missing the first principle of the matter and treating Iraq in political and tactical terms.

The latest view from Democrats is to conform their politics and tactics around the proposition that the Iraq escalation is working but the Iraq leaders are not.

Confronted with an obsessed and intransigent president, Republicans in Congress who are endlessly submissive to presidential power and disastrous policies, and a Democratic national security establishment that is incoherent and careerist, the most likely outcome in September is this:

The president will win full support for the full escalation without any effective limitation in what would be the third disastrous Democratic failure in the new Congress, the first being its surrender on Iraq before the May recess, the second being its surrender on the Constitution before the August recess.

This need not be. However, at this time, it is the most probable outcome, unless something changes. Let’s first understand that this was never a surge; that was a propaganda term. It was an escalation currently on course to continue for at least a year and a half, and very possibly longer, if Congress submits again.

Let’s get this straight: Any success in Anbar is not because of the surge, but because of the deals made with Sunni insurgents who shortly before the deals were killing Americans, and who are now receiving American aid. This would have happened with or without the surge.

Second, in my view, history will show these deals as a catastrophic mistake. Setting aside the moral and strategic issue of giving money and (directly or indirectly) weapons to those who were recently killing Americans, the end game of these deals depends on the end game of Iraqi politics.

If one believes, as I do, that the government of Iraq (no matter who is prime minister) is unable ever to reach a reconciliation that includes Sunnis and Shi’ites, the aid America is now giving to Sunni insurgents will ultimately be used to kill Shi’ites, and possibly Americans, in escalated sectarian war.

Thus, the emerging Democratic spin is incoherent. One cannot argue that the Iraqi political system is failing but the surge is succeeding. If the Iraqi political system continues to fail, the surge, or more accurately the escalation, must also fail, because, in effect, America is today arming all sides in the sectarian war of Iraq.

If one believes the Iraqi government will not achieve reconciliation, the end game of the status quo is this: We will be asked to continue escalated American military force forever, with the argument that if we do not, there will be genocide when we leave.

If one believes the Iraqi government will not achieve reconciliation, by arming all sides of the sectarian war simultaneously, we will be told that we must stay forever militarily, because the more we arm all sides, the greater the genocide when we leave.

In purely military terms, under the escalation there have been short-term gains in some areas, short-term setbacks in other areas, and a shifting of al Qaeda attacks from some areas to other areas.

In purely political terms, the escalation has had the exact opposite of its marketed intent: Iraqi reconciliation has moved backwards, as parties view our simultaneous aid to all warring factions as reason to avoid, not achieve, reconciliation.

Don’t be surprised if there is a phony Iraqi government initiative designed to win the vote in September. Don’t be surprised if all Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian warriors make soundings of reconciliation so they can continue to receive American aid, and don’t be surprised if Maliki is replaced through a coup or no-confidence vote, in time for the congressional vote, in September.

In short, they all take our money (and in fact our weapons) as they position to kill each other when we leave, and, in the meantime, take our aid and wait us out.

In truth, a growing faction close to President Bush privately favors a new “Iraqi strongman” to establish some form of authoritarian rule.

Even the ubiquitous Mr. O’Hanlon raised this possibility in one of his many media interviews recently, though to be fair to him, since he hedges his bets more than a Wall Street hedge fund, it was hard to tell whether he favors it, would tolerate it, opposes it, or is merely keeping his options open for future op-eds and media shows.

The big winner of the entire policy has been the government of Iran. The latest entrant into this quagmire is our supposed friend Saudi Arabia, criticized by American officials for its support for insurgents, then rewarded by those same officials with massive new arms sales. This is Kafkaeqsue.

The Heart of the Dilemma

The problem with the Iraq war is the Iraq war.

The reason some of us opposed it from the beginning, unlike the fossilized Democratic national security establishment that has been incoherent or supportive at various times — and unlike the radical discredited neoconservative national security establishment and the inept mainstream Republican national security establishment that often opposed the policy privately but supported it in practice — is this:

Centuries of history prove the tendency, very deep in Iraqi society, not only to break apart, but to fight wars within itself, sectarian faction against sectarian faction.

This was known long before the war began, ignored by an ignorant president with the arrogance to believe that an aggressive preemptive war followed by a corrupt Roman-like occupation could prove history and demographics wrong. It was known by a fossilized, careerist, and incoherent Democratic national security establishment with too many who want to be secretary of state, and too few who combine clarity with political courage.

This was known yesterday; it is known today; it will be known tomorrow. The great issue is how many Americans must die before our policy matches the history, culture, politics and realities of the country we invaded so casually and are trapped in so catastrophically.

The situation today is identical to the various interludes of delusion throughout this war when progress was claimed to be right around the corner. The statue of Saddam fell; Saddam was captured; the Iraqi election was held; Zarqawi was killed. These were all short-term successes that changed nothing, each met with crowing victory claims by the president, by incoherence from the Democratic security establishment, and by submission from the Congress.

Each meant nothing in the end, except to provide rationale for the body count to rise while the carnage continued.

At every step, truth was falsified, false hopes were raised, and failure continued. At every step propaganda was used to create heroes, from Pat Tillman to Jessica Lynch — legitimate heroes in real life, used as public-relations pawns with tissues of lies, deceptions and frauds.

At every step, every American commander became the most brilliant, even when their private advice was ignored. Every successive American commander had his hour of profound deification, when they were the smartest, the best, the greatest. Generals Franks, Abizaid, Sanchez, Casey and now Petraeus were all deified by the propaganda machine and turned into public-relations pawns for continued disastrous war.

Our current commander, Gen. Petraeus, is a great military thinker from a great military organization, the 101st Airborne, with a near-perfect record of failure in Iraq. His original efforts early in the war led to ultimate sectarian conflict within his regional command. His next mission for training Iraqis to “stand up so we could stand down” failed terribly, obviously. He allowed American weapons to fall into the hands of our enemies through mismanagement during his tenure.

In September of 2004, shortly before that year’s presidential election, Petraeus injected himself into the campaign on behalf of the president through a pre-election op-ed in The Washington Post. He gave glowing reports about the Iraqi military, Iraqi police and Iraqi leadership that look ridiculous now, three years later.

Petraeus is a good man and great military thinker with a record in Iraq that was so failed and flawed that only in the George Bush era would such a record be deified, and only with such incoherence from the Democratic national security establishment and such insiderism and laziness from the major media could such a deification of past failures be accepted.

Now we learn the “Petraeus report” will not be the Petraeus report, but the White House report. We learn he will not tesfify about his report but before the White House rewrite of the report.

With the latest maneuvering the administration will try to time his pre-report testimony with — you guessed it — the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Is there no shame left in Washington?

Meanwhile, every hour this escalation goes forward, our military force structures around the world are further destroyed. Troop rotation schedules move from destructive to cruel. Unmet short- and long-term needs for healthcare, disability and training escalate along with the war.

Recruitment lags and lower goals are met with lower standards that are so severe that obese criminals are encouraged to sign up for combat. Desperate commanders are forced to give aid to those recently killing Americans, with total troop levels actually higher than the announced surge through rotation abuses and greater reliance not only on Sunni insurgents but on mercenary forces and subcontracted security personnel.

Meanwhile, the new British prime minister will soon announce that nation’s withdrawal, while the war in Afghanistan deterioriates; the beneficiaries of that war are warlords, poppy merchants, and the Taliban and al Qaeda, who are recruiting and expanding within nations we call allies. Our Afghanistan mission and the true battle against terrorism are eroded by our terminal obsession with Iraq.

This is the situation the president, Republicans in Congress and some Democrats are now calling a “success.”

Iraq Alternative

There is a better way — a way that’s not easy, but possible, with a greater chance of true success.

The escalation should be ended, now, with a very careful and orderly reduction of troops starting immediately and proceeding into next year. Nothing precipitous; that is a straw man from a desperate administration. What is needed is a reversal from a war without end and an endless escalation to a careful and orderly de-escalation proceeding in phases that would involve both some reduction and some redeployment of American troops.

Whatever chances of reconciliation exist would rise with this new policy. Instead of providing aid to the different warring factions, Iraqis would know that there is a finite limit to how many Americans we will sacrifice while they continue their sectarian wars.

Note: This change would allow even more aggressive and intense American attacks on al Qaeda in Iraq, strengthen our mission in Afghanistan and allow escalated American attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and on the border with Pakistan.

A redeployed American military would also allow far stronger interdiction of arms coming into Iraq from Syria and Iran, while dramatically lowering American casualties and raising the pressures on Iraqis to reconcile with cease-fires and broad agreements with each other, if they choose.

Moving to a course of deescalation, now, and rejecting a course of escalation, into 2008, is far wiser and far better for our security, our troops and our true battle against terrorism than further continuing this catastrophic policy of presidential intransigence and Democratic submission hidden by the latest generation of political spin.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be read on The Hill Pundits Blog and reached at [This article first appeared in The Hill.]

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