Monday, October 08, 2012

Chess? He can't even handle Candy Land

Two Sundays ago, Ava and I noted the strange disappearing of Michael R. Gordon from the public affairs programs:

Equally curious is who you don't see.  Gwen Ifill doesn't know a damn thing about foreign policy so asking her to moderate the segment was laughable.  Equally laughable was not going with a NewsHour foreign policy guest for the segment.
In fact, we're thinking of one in particular: Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times.
Gordon's appeared multiple times on The NewsHour.  Strangely, he wasn't booked for the segment on foreign policy last week.
Why would that be?
If you're wondering, he's not suddenly press shy.  To the contrary, he has a new book to sell, one he co-wrote with Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. The book came out Tuesday.
Generally, that means you can expect to see and hear Gordon all over PBS and NPR. Strangely, that has not been the case.  No NPR coverage last week of the book.  No come on The NewsHour for a discussion.  Frontline loved to have him on in the past but now now.  Charlie Rose?  He has appeared 12 times in the last ten years on Rose's PBS and Coca Cola program.  But he was no where to be found last week.
Did Gordon show up at the PBS office party loaded on booze with little Gordon hanging out of his fly?
No, he did something far worse than that.
He dared to criticize Barack -- the ultimate media faux pas.

Gordons book with Trainor notes how badly Barack screwed up Iraq.  See people who pay attention to Iraq -- whether it's Gordon and Trainor or Trudy Rubin -- damn well know reality.  It's not as cute as ths spin but reality is rarely, if ever, cute. 

The only way Barack was going to come out smelling like a rose on Iraq was to dispense with it immediately.  Check the archives, we made that point in real time.  We stated that he needed to immediately withdraw troops -- all troops (something he's still not done) -- from Iraq.  We meant immediately but even sticking to his campaign 'promise' (which Samantha Power explained to the BBC in March 2008 wasnt a promise) would have allowed him to claim the mess wasn't his.

Picture the country of Iraq as a used car.  Barack buys the White House and someone left the car behind in the garage so he puts in an ad in the paper and sells it.  The car ends up falling apart.  Not Barack's fault.  He never drove it.  Never pretended to.

Now instead picture Barack buying the house and finding the car in the garage but instead of attempting to unload this car, he decides he's going to work on it and tool around with it.  When he then tries to unload the car, the condition of the car is as much his fault as the previous owner.

Barack isn't that smart but, like a lot of charasmatic people, he's been led to believe he is.  And that's been his downfall as president.  It's why he's listened to the wrong people (those who flatter, not those who challenge) and why he's repeatedly bit off more than he could chew.  It's that mistaken self-appraisal which leads to things like ignoring the pressing need to address the economy one year after another.

Barack couldn't leave well enough alone.  He kept tinkering.

Let's again note John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq’s first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."

Someone respecting democracy, someone even just taking a hands off approach, would have backed democracy by allowing the voters to be heard.  Hell, the White House could've done nothing at all.  By saying 'we have no opinion,' they would have stopped blocking France's attempts to get the United Nations to set up a caretaker government and would have stopped backing Nouri who had created a stalemate -- one that would last over eight months -- for his own selfish reasons.

Not only did he undermine democracy by backing Nouri al-Maliki -- who came in second in the 2010 elections, he also created the second and ongoing political stalemate in Iraq.

What ended Political Stalemate I?

The US-brokered Erbil Agreement.

When Nouri's State of Law didn't come in first in the 2010 elections, when it came in second to Iraqiya, per the Iraqi Constitution, he lost first crack at prime minister-designate.  To give him that second  chance, the US came up with a contract after speaking with various political blocs.  Nouri would get a second term in exchange for his agreeing to do various things for the politcal blocs.

Nouri used the legal contract to grab a second term and then trashed it.

The White House was in charge of that contract, the adminstiration went to political blocs using the word of the US government, promising the US government would back and support this contract, swearing it was legally binding.

That's why they agreed to sign off on the contract.  They didn't trust Nouri.  That's why they didn't hand him a second term when he was stomping his feet for months.  They trusted the US government, they trusted the White House to keep their word.  That's why they signed off on a contract granting Nouri a second term.

The administration swore by that contract and when Nouri trashed it, the White House did nothing.  It didn't even lodge an objection.  He trashed it immediately.  By the summer of 2011, the political blocs took their concerns public and Iraqiya, Moqtad al-Sadr and the Kurds called for a return to the Erbil Agreement.

The US did nothing.

Barack tried to negotiate to keep US troops in Iraq but failed at that.  (The White House is back in negotiations on this.)  So most -- but not all -- US troops left at the end of 2011.

Gordon and Trainor make their case for how the White House managed to lose vast abilities to influence Iraq.  The book's well worth reading, I recommend it.  But you don't need to read it today to grasp the point the authors are making.

All you need to do to grasp the point is follow the news.

Dar Addustour notes that Nouri was received by Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, in Moscow today as the two, in the words of Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh, improve diplomatic and military ties between the two countries.  Iraq's most recent diplomatic move with Russia prior was the arrest of Russian bikers, the torture of Russian bikers.  So this is a big step for Iraq.  Al Mada reports that Nouri is hoping to replace American influence with Russian influence.  AGI adds that "the two heads of government will be addressing the Syrian escalation.  Both countries have been accused by members of the international community if backing the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime."

Here, we're not calling for war on Syria.  We've refused to step in and join the public stoning of Assad.  Here we've questioned a great deal of the march-to-war reporting including the ludicrous reports by Kelly McEvers -- in fact, we were calling that out months before others began noting it.

So don't misread this as, "War with Syria is needed!"  Or desired.

But war on Syria is the goal of the White House.  And they have attempted to strong arm Iraq into seeing things their way.  Not only has that not happened, but they've now pushed Iraq closer to Russia.  Russia, of course, has been blocking war on Syria.  Kitabat reports that Nouri's hoping Russia can help with air defense which would further weaken the relationship with the US government.

We'll get into Iran in the next entry but it's worth noting that the White House whined and pouted and whined for months that Iran was sending ammunition and weapons into Syria via Iraqi airspace and they stomped their feet insisting Iraq should be checking the planes.

And Iraq did nothing.

The only reason they finally changed that and started searching Iranian planes?

Because Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee publicly floated cutting off all funds to Iraq.

Kerry and the other senators on the Committee he chairs are the only American officials demonstrating leadership on Iraq.  They are the only ones who also appear to understand that diplomacy is not just whether to go to war or not, they're the only ones who seem to grasp that diplomacy is a well stocked tool box with many options to be utilized.

It's a damn shame Barack thought he knew everything.  Clearly he doesn't.  And that point become more obvious to everyone -- except Barack -- each day.

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