Open Thread for Thursday, May 14, 2016

Kind of a slow news day, but here’s what we’ve got:

  1. Amtrak driver says he cannot remember deadly crash — I find this quite credible. I don’t remember how I hit my head that night last summer. When even mild concussion is involved, amnesia is fairly common, I believe.
  2. Obama’s trade agenda clears a key hurdle in Senate — Looks like we MAY have a rational result out of all this.
  3. Jeb Bush Tries to End Storm on Iraq Remarks — Hey, I thought what he said initially was fine — but I would, right? Particularly since to me, Iraq wasn’t primarily about WMD. And he reflected my views when he criticized the way the aftermath of combat was totally botched. I found Jennifer Rubin’s “Nine ways to answer the Iraq question” interesting. I think Bush has tried something like four of them so far, and none are really working for him.
  4. Tom Brady lodges appeal against four-game Deflategate ban  — Not because I’m interested, but because I told y’all I’d give you more sports.

48 thoughts on “Open Thread for Thursday, May 14, 2016

  1. bud

    I thought what he said initially was fine — but I would, right? Particularly since to me, Iraq wasn’t primarily about WMD.

    Brad you are the only person outside the Bush administration that still holds that view. Jeb probably did a week ago and was telling the truth in the first interview but got so much pushback from his Republican challengers that he had no other choice but to flip-flop. Holding to his original position would have sunk his candidacy from the get go. Lindsey will get that message soon enough.

  2. Burl Burlingame

    WMD was a excuse, not a reason. On the other hand, anyone who expected the U.S. not to respond proactively after 9/11 was dreaming.

    But if you see Jeb, ask him this — “Given what you know now, would you still encourage your fellow Republicans to follow an economic strategy that results in a market crash like in 2008?”

  3. bud

    A few more:

    If you receive a presidential daily briefing suggesting someone is about to attack America will you ignore it and go on vacation?

    If as the commander and chief sworn to defend the United States and you are told that a SECOND plane has crashed into a major building complex will you find the nearest second grader and read a goat story to him?

    If a major American city is devastated by a major hurricane while your president will you sit continue to strum away on a guitar in sunny Arizona while thousands of American lives are in peril?

    This could get fun.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Hillary totally has the right strategy here. I mean, taking questions is just a bad idea because it gives people a chance to criticize you.

      However, if you’re going to take questions, you ought to at least prepare for them. It’s not really that hard. For instance:

      Press: “Candidate Caskey, knowing what we know now, would you have gone to war in Iraq?”

      Me: “Well obviously, with the benefit of hindsight, if I had known that my successor in office would have completely squandered the blood spilled and treasure spent by refusing to obtain a responsible SOFA in 2011 to secure Iraq, I would not have gone to war in the first place. If I had known that my successor was just going to abandon Iraq and let radical jihadits rise up in a power vacuum…then no. I would not have invaded Iraq to begin with.

      If you had told President Bush the benefit of hindsight…that his successor in office was just going to throw away all the hard-won results of battle, my guess is that he probably wouldn’t have invaded Iraq either.”

      1. Phillip

        Pretty good, Bryan. But slightly more honest of Jeb would be to say “If I’d known that my successor in office was going to simply abide by the wishes of the Iraqi government in not renewing my OWN SOFA agreement (as if what the Iraqi people wanted actually mattered—ha, ha) and not authorize the stationing of a now-hostile US military presence within Iraq, yeah, then I guess I wouldn’t have launched the initial invasion.”

        Seriously, though, what I keep trying to understand with this way you (and Brad I believe has weighed in on this as well) have of recalling the SOFA business, is…if what the Iraqis’ wishes were should not have been a factor at all in the question of extending the deadline that GWB (yes, it was HIS deadline to begin with) negotiated in the first place…then why bother with even caring about the formality of an “agreement”? If I understand this point of view correctly, apparently what Obama should have done after the Iraqi resistance to extending the SOFA, was to authorize essentially a second occupation of Iraq, yes?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Here’s the thing, Phillip. Not only was there no second occupation of Iraq, there was no FIRST occupation of Iraq.

          Going to the Pottery Barn principle, if you break the regime running a country, you have a responsibility to provide some sort of security framework to replace it. And we utterly failed to do that — at least, until the Surge. Hence the chaos that followed.

          I like what Bryan said, but as I’ve indicated before, if I’d known we were going to completely botch the aftermath, I wouldn’t have wanted to go into Iraq.

          But usually, when people ask, “If you knew what you know now…,” they’re asking, “If you’d known we wouldn’t find the WMD…” and that’s an irrelevant question to me. The only answer I can give is, “If I’d known that, I’d have wanted the administration to play that down as a reason to go in.”

          Of course, I wanted that at the time anyway. I can’t remember writing about it at the time (this was pre-blogging days, so anything I wrote about had to rise to column or editorial level), but the over-emphasis on WMD concerned me. Not that I thought it wasn’t there — like everyone else, I assumed it was. But I wanted to hear more about the other reasons. Talking about WMD was an oversimplification of the situation. (And you know, I remember having the idle thought, “Boy, we’d really have a mess if, after all this talk, we couldn’t FIND any WMD.” But that was like, “Boy, we’d be in trouble is Nazis from Mars invaded the planet.” It wasn’t a serious concern.)

          The administration DID talk about other reasons to do in — in fact, I remember reading criticism along the lines of “Make up your mind why we need to invade instead of changing your story all the time.” Which I thought was ridiculous; I wanted MORE elaboration on other reasons, not less.

          Anyway, back to the original point.

          I don’t think anyone thinks of a SOFA that would have been anything like an occupation. More like a base of operations with a significant force that to go here or there in support of Iraqi forces in response to, for instance, something like ISIL.

          I mean, you know, did we continue to occupy Germany for 50 years? No. But we maintained a significant presence, in conjunction with NATO, and it kept the peace.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Scratch that last. I forget that some of my friends get upset over comparisons to anything having to do with WWII.

            Let’s compare it instead to the forces we’ve kept in the Balkans since the ’90s…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              That said…

              Our post-1945 experience DID cause me to be blindsided by our failure to keep the peace in Iraq after toppling Saddam.

              I figured, you know, we’re the United States. We know how to do this. We managed much bigger challenges in the late 1940s. We have service academies and war colleges that pass on the knowledge of how to run an occupation and do it right — right? Our military has public administration units, etc.

              But it’s like no one in Rumsfeld’s Defense Department bothered to look at a manual or anything. He thought they could do everything on the cheap. This is what happens when people who don’t believe in nation-building knock over a regime, apparently, and I was unprepared for that.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                On a semi-related note, is anyone else relieved to hear that chlorine gas isn’t a chemical weapon? That sure puts my mind at ease.

                I was going to ask the French soldiers at the second battle of Ypres for their comment on this historic announcement, but they were unavailable for comment, being dead due to a chlorine gas attack.

                1. Bryan Caskey

                  Now obviously, the usual right-wing nutjobs like this organization are going to disagree.

                  The modern use of chemical weapons began with World War I, when both sides to the conflict used poisonous gas to inflict agonizing suffering and to cause significant battlefield casualties. Such weapons basically consisted of well known commercial chemicals put into standard munitions such as grenades and artillery shells. Chlorine, phosgene (a choking agent) and mustard gas (which inflicts painful burns on the skin) were among the chemicals used. The results were indiscriminate and often devastating. Nearly 100,000 deaths resulted.
                  Since World War I, chemical weapons have caused more than one million casualties globally.

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            I believe the presence in Germany was because of its convenient location near the Eastern Bloc, not for fear of another German war.

          3. Phillip

            My point was more narrowly directed to Bryan’s restatement of what seems to me to be an obvious misremembering or misunderstanding of the issues surrounding the “second” or, extended, SOFA that Obama “failed to get.”

            Not re-arguing the original invasion…obviously we disagree about that. But to go your Germany point—in the Cold War years, (most of) the Germans, and most notably the German government, agreed to our presence there. (That’s that pesky “A” part of SOF-A) You keep talking about the SOFA but how do you get an agreement if you don’t get one side to agree? There are only two answers, A) the agreement is not made and you don’t keep forces on the country’s soil, or B) you impose by force against the will of the host country, whether or not you keep merely a “base of operations with a significant force” or a larger force. Obama chose A, but you seem to think he should have chosen B, but are reluctant to voice that out loud.

            I appreciate and respect the forthrightness of a position that says we should have invaded regardless of WMD’s or not (bad idea though I thought—and think–that was). All I’m saying is let’s bring that “saying what you mean” forthrightness about this persistent “Obama didn’t get a SOFA” mantra: America should have stayed in Iraq in larger numbers after the expiration of the SOFA, with or without an agreement. It’s the US presence in Iraq by any means necessary that is what Obama failed to maintain, not the “agreement” per se. Am I understanding this correctly?

            1. Bryan Caskey

              My opinion is that Obama didn’t want any presence in Iraq, so he really didn’t push hard for a SOFA. He just kind of let it go by the wayside, and then said: “Golly, we couldn’t get those stubborn Iraqis to agree to anything, I guess we all need to come home.

              He didn’t want a SOFA, so he didn’t try. He wanted to leave, so he did. That turned out to be a bad idea.

                1. Bryan Caskey

                  Yes, I recall Obama being extremely interested in maintaining a significant presence in Iraq through the SOFA. That’s what I’ve thought has always defined Obama on foreign policy – his willingness to really try and push for US forces to remain in Iraq.

                2. Bryan Caskey

                  Since we were on the subject of asking people what they would do with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if someone would ever ask Obama: “Knowing what we know now, would you have tried harder to reach a SOFA to maintain a serious stabilizing presence in Iraq back in 2011?

                  If only there was some group of people who were paid to question elected officials.

              1. Bryan Caskey

                Oh, and just coincidentally, the Iraqi city of Ramidi has fallen to ISIS.

                Islamic State fighters took control of Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s largest province Friday, police in the city said, in what appeared to be a significant blow to a U.S.-backed military campaign to retake Iraqi territory from the extremist Sunni group.

                “The city’s fallen. They’ve taken it,” Maj. Omar Khamis al-Dahl, a senior officer in the Ramadi police, said by telephone.

                “We have not received reinforcements from the government, and there will be a massacre of these people like there was in Speicher,” said Dahl. He referred to a former U.S. military base near Tikrit where an estimated 1,700 Iraqi soldiers were captured and killed en masse by the Islamic State last summer.

                JV Team.

                1. Bryan Caskey

                  If ISIS holds Ramadi, then just looking at the map, I wouldn’t be surprised to see ISIS push southwest of Baghdad and try and take Karbala next.

  4. Kathryn Braun Fenner

    How about CNN’s asking the candidates to name their favorite living President. About half named Reagan, and the rest passed.

  5. bud

    This is the only one of Ms. Rubin’s answers that is even remotely within the ballpark of being correct.

    6. “Knowing what I know now, I would not have ordered it because the war was a horrible mistake.” The left will love that, and neo-isolationists will warm to it. No surprise that Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both take that view.

    A better answer: Based on the lessons of history there is an extremely low probability of military operations of this type to succeed. That, along with a wide range of credible evidence AT THE TIME that WMD were not present in Iraq it was clear then and even more clear now that my brother’s invasion of Iraq was a fool’s errand from the get go. As president, and even though he is my brother, I promise the American people that I will never repeat the same horrible mistake that George did.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, the military operation succeeded quite admirably. It was the aftermath of the military operation that was thoroughly bungled — you know, getting the country back on its feet after eliminating its government.

      1. bud

        Seriously? It’s not even possible to craft an argument with people who simply refuse to acknowledge the facts. We invaded a country that was harmless to our security. The fact that they were harmless was knowable AT THE TIME, not in hindsight. The Bush Administration had nearly 6 years to do nation building and when he left office there was still a huge amount of instability in the country and Americans were still dying. Billions of taxpayer dollars were still being spent each month. Troops were withdrawn from the place based on Bush’s timetable NOT Obama’s. Staying without a SOFA would have been a De-facto hostile occupation. ISIS was born out of the frustration of purged Sunni military members NOT because of American withdrawal. Continued American occupation in a very hostile place would have guaranteed thousands more American casualties with the most probable result comparable to what we have now. No American electorate would have supported that.

        Iraq was created in the aftermath of WW I. There has never been any logical reason for Iraq to exist in it’s current borders; it is just an artificial construct that ensures sectarian strife. That strife did not start with George W. Bush but he most assuredly failed to learn the lessons of history and thankfully Obama is at least trying to deal with this in a pragmatic manner rather that through a perpetual use of force. And at least few American casualties are occurring. And isn’t that a good thing?

      2. bud

        Here’s the correct analogy. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a resounding success. It was the aftermath of that brilliant operation that was messed up.

        1. Brad Warthen

          No, on two counts: First, that was the beginning of a war, not the end of one. No regime had been toppled. There was no collapse of order after a victory.

          Second, it was NOT a success, except in a tactical sense. It was a strategic failure. The idea was to deliver a complete knockout blow to the American fleet. That failed, because the carriers and their escorts were out at sea. The Japanese also failed to destroy our fuel supplies.

          Yamamoto saw the destruction of the U.S. fleet in that one stroke as essential to Japan having any chance at victory. That one stroke failed, and after Midway, Japan’s chances were dim, and getting dimmer.

  6. Phillip

    Jeb doesn’t have to say anything, controversial or not, about Iraq in order to tell us where his mindset is. His foreign-policy advisor cast of (mostly) retreads from his brother’s team tells you all you need to know: a Jeb Bush administration would largely follow in his brother’s footsteps. If you liked W, you’ll love Jeb.

    Forget W as the albatross around Jeb’s neck: that’s nothing compared to the 18-ton weight that is Paul Wolfowitz. Could Jeb have picked a more discredited advisor?

  7. Phillip

    True, and we both know that my view about the wisdom and outcome of the Iraq adventure is shared by such a tiny minority of Americans and even fewer worldwide.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      As for my position on those issues, I feel the way Malcolm Reynolds felt about being a Browncoat: I may have been on the losing side of the argument. Still not convinced it was the WRONG one.

      I hold quite a few views that are not majority views. Don’t you? And does that make you think you’re wrong?

      Actually, what it does with me is make me think a little harder about it — especially if some of those in the majority are people whose opinions on such matters I really respect. I go back and recheck my reasoning. I do this constantly.

      But it doesn’t make me assume I’m wrong.

      1. bud

        I hold quite a few views that are not majority views. Don’t you? And does that make you think you’re wrong?

        I can’t speak for Philip but I certainly do (have not majority views). But in terms of Iraq any American president must eventually answer to the will of the majority. If the president doesn’t consider that then he will be ousted. So like it or not that has to factor that in to the equation. Bush had his 6 years. He was supported for about the first 2. So he actually got 4 extra years. Fair or not he got his chance to try his approach and it failed. It’s ridiculous to blame any of this on Obama. No president could have been elected in 2008 by offering to occupy Iraq. McCain was defeated soundly on that idea.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          It is kind of strange to see Phillip make the Doug argument: more people like X, ergo X is better. Haley/Sanford got more votes than The State has readers, for example.

          1. Phillip

            Wasn’t making that argument, Kathryn. Merely answering the “says you” riposte to my observation that Wolfy (and the rest of the gang that brought you 2001-2009) will indeed weigh Jeb down both in the primary season and beyond, should he be nominated. Even leaving aside the argument about who was right or not in those years, Jeb seems to gone out of his way to guarantee a rerun of W, at least on foreign policy. I don’t think that is gonna play in 2016.

  8. Bart

    Had to comment on this one. I personally do not want to see another Bush or Clinton in the White House other than being there on a guided tour and not allowed to go beyond the roped off areas. To go even further, I don’t want to see another Kennedy make a run either.

    The lack of leadership on both sides is discouraging and so far, I don’t see anyone on either side who is capable of effectively leading this country. There is truly a dearth of quality within the ranks of the declared candidates to the point that Donald Trump is just as qualified as any other candidate and that is absolutely pathetic.

    If a candidate with the combined best qualities of Brad, Bryan, Doug, Silence (where is he?), Phillip, Mark, Kathryn, and Burl (yes Burl, I do respect your background, experience, and opinions) along with a couple of others was running, he or she would have my support and it wouldn’t matter which party they represented. For the first time since I registered to vote and have diligently exercised my right to vote in every election since then, I am seriously considering sitting this one out.

    From my humble perspective, the United States is at a critical crossroads in our history. I do believe the next 8 years will define permanently what shape and direction this country will take and maintain for the foreseeble future. Maybe it is time to officially put the sign up that tells everyone to “KEEP OFF OF MY LAWN”.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Thanks, and welcome back!

      Hillary is far and away more qualified than any of the other candidates. I’m a Bernie Sanders fan, though. Hillary has WAY too much baggage, and a lot of it is of her own making.

      1. Bart

        She may be well qualified but considering the ones seeking the presidency, being the best qualified is a not a great distinction if you the best out of a group of the least qualified. Unfortunately, that is what we the voters have been subjected for decades.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Yeah, the GOP seems to have a lot of people running who fit Andy Borowitz’s description of having nothing better to do. Does Carly Fiorina really think she has a shot?

      1. Bart

        Sorry, you were included in the “couple of others” category. Just to be clear, I may not agree with you on many things but I do appreciate the counterpoint position. As Hercule Poirot would say, it exercises the “little gray cells”.

  9. Burl Burlingame

    There were well-defined, detailed plan scenarios on how to occupy and stabilize Iraq. They were drawn up under Clinton. But the Bushies scrapped them in favor of the Deliberate Chaos policy.

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