Monday, January 14, 2008

You Had A Whole Week And That's All You Got?

When news first broke that Wingnut Welfare Queen Bill Kristol had scored a regular gig on the OpEd page of the NY Times, my reaction was a common one among those of us in the reality-based community: I don't mind another conservative getting the gig, but why this one? Why can't it be someone who might actually have something intelligent to say?

Apparently, some combination of the big stage and a possible sudden awareness of his own track record has cowed Kristol into avoiding making any more grand predictions. He's now content to phone in some cheerleading. Last week's column was a piece of Huckabee puffery, notable only for a misattributed quote. And this week's?

Hold on tight ... Yes, it's ...

The Return of the Son of the Revenge of The Surge is Working!TM

Kristol's effort (and I believe that sets a new record for generosity) consists of adding a paragraph or two to the beginning and end of a dusty piece of spin that's been uttered a million times already. Probably even by him.

It's also been debunked the same number of times. Kristol's basis for claiming success for The Surge is a small handful of statistics showing decreasing violence, according to carefully chosen boundaries:

Attacks per week on American troops are now down about 60 percent from June. Civilian deaths are down approximately 75 percent from a year ago. December 2007 saw the second-lowest number of U.S. troops killed in action since March 2003.

Leaving aside the slipperiness of picking different comparison dates for each metric to hold up against today, not to mention that 2007 was, overall, the worst year yet for US troops, the thing that really annoys me is that Kristol always leaves the larger points unaddressed. I am getting tired of typing this rebuttal out over and over again, so, since Bill Kristol can get paid for cutting and pasting his own words, I'm going to do the same thing for free. Here's an excerpt from something I originally posted elsewhere:

The main thing that motivates me to retort when I hear the simplistic phrase "the surge is working!" is just that: it's simplistic. Most people who utter it fail to acknowledge several key points:

o The violence is down, but only in comparison to when it was at its worst.

o Ethnic cleansing has to be recognized as a partial explanation for the decline of the sectarian aspects of the violence.

o Part of the reason that some groups aren't attacking us, or being blatant about attacking other groups, is that we're bribing them not to. Part of the bribery consists of weapons, and some of the rest -- cash -- is probably being spent on weapons. This does not seem likely to enhance future prospects for reduced violence.

o There aren't a whole lot of reasons to believe that the effects of the surge will last once the required troop draw-downs begin.

o The original purpose of the surge was largely to provide breathing space that would allow the national government to assume control. If anything, the national government seems even farther from that than it did when the surge began.

o Life in Iraq is still, overall, miserable. Electricity is a sometime thing, clean drinking water is unavailable in many areas, unemployment is near 50%, and the one source of revenue -- oil -- is not secure from sabotage and has not been settled as to its distribution. Additionally, many of the best and brightest have fled.

I'll grant that each of these points is subject to some debate, but I think it would be completely unrealistic to deny that all of them have some substance, at least.

The simplicity of the trope has a further problem: it carries the implication that the overall situation is now a success; i.e., invading Iraq was the right thing to do and well worth the effort. The reality of the situation is: Iraq is now one of the least stable countries in the world, especially once the US presence is removed, and the US has paid dearly to achieve this unhappy state of affairs. We've got thousands of our own dead, tens of thousands wounded, and run up a trillion dollar tab on our China-funded credit card. Parts of our military are exhausted, our image in many places around the world is in tatters, and we've aggravated the problem of anti-American terrorists.

You're probably aware that we have an election coming up. I am deeply worried that the incessant parroting of "the surge is working!" will result in an under-informed voting public making bad choices as a result. For the sake of national security and pride in our country, we need a big change in the way we do business with the rest of the world. If everyone who chortles "the surge is working!" would also be honest enough to add "in the sense that we've averted a complete catastrophe and now have only an unmitigated disaster to clean up," I'd be a lot more comfortable. Just saying the first part prolongs the impression in the voting public's mind that everything is an either/or choice.

Back to my original point: If all Bill Kristol is going to do with his space on the NYT's OpEd page is put up recycled crap that is easily disputed using more recycled crap, what's the point of him having this gig?


Anonymous said...

You should be writing a weekly column in the Times yourself. At the very least a letter to the editor.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks, TC.

I keep hoping that they're going to admit that they're reading this blog. After all, I link to them enough!

What else do think they could be doing? Maybe they're just too shy to leave comments.