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Works and Days

End of the Year Politics

November 22nd, 2007 - 9:55 am

Autumn in California

This is about the most picturesque central and northern California autumn in memory. Week after week goes on of bright skies, sunny weather, and days in the 70s. We are getting close to a point, however, that if the rains don’t come, we will be entering a pattern of 1976-7 drought.

I remember then that we turned our farm turbine pumps on in April and finally off in August—not a drop of ditch water from the mountains, but the water table dropping 5-feet a month. And that was about 1-2 million people less in the Valley than at present.

Very shortly California will be reaching the point of no return on some tough decisions: either make the necessary investments in infrastructure and a change of attitude to accommodate the enormous jumps in population, illegal immigration, and changed lifestyles, or witness a real drop in the standard and quality of life.

It’s not just that we spend rather than invest, or grow without planning, but the educational level and competence of the average California is in clear decline given the status of our therapeutic school and university systems. Gov. Schwarzenegger seems to be trying, by emulating the good governor Pat Brown of the late 1950s, but it’s awfully late in the game.

Yesterday I drove down I-5—still two lanes only, after nearly 40 years—and it was jammed packed, as cars pulled off the off-ramps, lined up to pay $3.87 for regular. We talk of our special green state status, but the three 1980s cars ahead of me were smoking and belching exhaust. The San Luis reservoir was about half empty, even thought over 100,000 irrigated acres have gone out of production on the West Side. Going eastward, I stopped in San Joaquin on the way home; no one spoke English in the store I usually visit. And the truck ahead of me on Manning Avenue was cruising along with two swaying trailers about 85 mph.

This is a great state, the most beautiful of the 50, but it is on the edge, and I don’t know whether it is going the way of Tijuana or Cairo or will end up like Victoria—or neither. It’s hard to think San Joaquin and Atherton are both California communities, but they are just 3 hours, and a world, apart.


Predictions

I used to think it would be very unlikely that Israel would preempt and bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But lately I’m not so sure. There is a growing sense the US probably won’t—given the election cycle, growing confidence it can line up partners for sanctions and embargoes, its concern about the spreading but still fragile success in Iraq, and sky-high oil prices.

The Israeli view may be that if they were to hit the facilities, oil will be largely left alone, and the price not affected, and the Iranians won’t send missiles against Saudi Arabia or US facilities. They also may figure that they did far better in Lebanon than they let on, and should Syria or Hezbollah send in rockets, it would then be open-season for them again for truly air punishing attacks in a 1-2 week all-out war on anything they chose in Syria and southern Lebanon—while the Sunni nations would publicly condemn them, but privately for the first time egg them on.

Turn-abouts

Pundits seem to think turn-arounds are slow things in war, and the militaries win or lose in gradual fashion. In fact, the change-about usually happens overnight. The US army lost two entire divisions in December 1944 in the Ardennes, but was on the Rhine by March. 50,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing in and around Okinawa—less than 90 days later the war with Japan was over. No need to juxtapose the terrible May and June of 1864 with September 1-2, 1864, and “Atlanta is ours and fairly won.” The WWI near disaster of March 1918 was followed in August with an unstoppable allied offensive that won the war. Seoul was gone by January 1951 (the great “bug out”), but by March 1951 Ridgway had retaken it for good. And on and on. The one constant is that nothing is constant in war, and once things shift, they can move in ways absolutely unforeseen.

Iraqi Catharsis

It is a tired game counting up all the mistakes in Iraq since 2003. What is left unsaid that much of our success may have been simply impossible in 2003. I don’t think had we reconstituted the army immediately, that the bruised Baathists would have cooperated, but instead would have fished around for another Saddam, or turned on the Shiites. Now, the exhausted tribes and ex-Saddamites know they can not win, know their allied al Qaedists are worse than Americans or Shiites, and are tired and attrited.

And the country itself may be undergoing a collective catharsis, as it sighs that it tried jihadism, sectarianism, war, insurgency, and terror, and now wants to experience something like Kurdistan or Dubai. Once someone on a block begins calling in the location of the local IED bomber, or rounds up his neighbors to oust a terrorist enclave—and that is replicated thousands of times daily in some sort of mass collective outrage—an entire war can change.

Central here are all the tens of thousands of now anonymous American soldiers who fought so hard and courageously all during 2003-7, without whose sacrifices the later surge and change in tactics would have been impossible. As we struggled to counter IEDs, bring in new equipment, learn that the tribes, not the mullahs, of Iraq, held the power, went through Sanchez, Bremer, etc, witnessed Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Moveon.org, “the war is lost” by Harry Reid, et al. they quietly kept fighting and so saved Iraq.

We also don’t seem to factor in $100 a barrel oil, and the extra billions that are pouring into the country. If they are not channeled into massive weapons systems, circa 1975-1991, then the region as a whole has a real chance that is unimaginable with a Saddam in Iraq.

And what some day will be the public reaction to all this? Something like, “I’m glad it was done (the removal of Saddam and the reconstruction), but I would never do it again”—something like the groggy patient after major surgery.

The tragic irony is that in the future the earlier hopes might yet come true, even a day late and a dollar short: Iran really is starting to seem shrill and isolated; without Saddam around, the Sunni world is lining up against Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria; oil may well finally be Iraq’s path to reconstruction; there is a renewed push for political reform from Pakistan to Libya.

Politicking the war

Last post I mentioned Democrats and their changing strategies on the war. That was confirmed when talking to various Democrats and Republicans last week in Washington—the mood over Iraq is changing and the opposition to the war is gearing up to redefine it not as un- winnable but not worth the cost.

One top Democratic Congressman lamented to me that the party of liberalism came across as illiberal in its trashing of the Maliki government, as if ‘those Arabs aren’t capable of running their own country.” And he worried about the Pelosi trip to Syria, the moveon.org ads, the Hillary sarcasm about Petraeus—all when it was far easier to get on board and stop the bit about incompetent Iraqis, trisecting the country, Bush is Hitler, and instead start taking credit for what may be a major American victory. I asked him the chances of all that—very slim he thought.

We still await former supporters of the 2003 war gradually to inch back to expressions of their erstwhile support. The subtext of their elegant triangulations will be something like the following: ‘For four years I have watched in horror as the brilliant removal of Saddam was squandered by an inept administration. I have been driven to my wits’ end by such incompetence and expressed my opposition serially to this misguided effort. But finally such criticisms were taken to heart and slowly they are finally listening to brave voices of opposition, and at last Iraq may well end up as I originally envisioned it.”

It will either be the above or “the violence is simply in a temporary lull” or “ there is no chance that tactical success can be translated into strategic stability”—until even that is untenable.

I don’t think Iraq will play a great role in the campaign as once promised, and instead the concerns will be financial—budget, trade, dollar problems—immigration (the Republicans will dodge the bullet of blindly advocating the deportation of every illegal, the Democrats won’ be so lucky, since they simply would not close the border), and energy ($100 oil hurts the Republicans more I think).

One thing to watch: how nasty and underhanded will the Clintons have to get to derail the natural addictive exuberance and charisma of the utterly inexperienced Obama? I say that not in cynicism, but because rarely have two public figures so justified their means by the ends, feeling that their own careers and progressive ethical agenda demand doing almost anything to achieve it for the greater good of all of us. Every time a wearied Bill Clinton speaks he simply restates the old theme—

“I suffered so much for the good of all of you.”

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