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Note: A few paragraphs were cut from this piece, for space, by Reason editors. They have been included here, and are in red.

by Terry Michael | March 14, 2008

Who Says the Surge Is Working?
Weak-kneed Democrats, that's who.

The surge is smirking.

When it comes Iraq, neoconservative true believers have been allowed to set the bar of "success" below ground level. In this, they're aided by media siding with power instead of challenging it, all while congressional Democrats cower in their cloak rooms.

Approaching the fifth anniversary of "mission accomplished," we are a few improvised explosive devices away from the moment a 4,000th young American will die on some desert roadside.

As that new level of tragedy looms, far too many Democrats remain frightened by their "weak-on-defense" Cold War shadows, apparitions raised not just by the no-time-to-surrender bluster of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, but by the neocon-lite faction of the Democratic Party itself.

"Third way" Democrats lost their national security minds somewhere around 1985, when the World War II generation played the role of swing voters. Promoting "progressive internationalism"—interventionism by another name—Beltway-based operatives like those at the Democratic Leadership Council hallucinate a political center of "Reagan Democrats," who in reality disappeared with the Berlin wall. The middle of the electorate is now made up of generally anti-war Baby Boomers, who came of political age in the 1960s and Vietnam.

Proponents of the war and the surge even get to pick their own faux war “critics,” as they did last July when they heralded a New York Times op-ed by “liberal” Brookings Institution fellow Michael O’Hanlon, co-authored with another supporter of the Iraq War from the beginning, Kenneth Pollack. This pair described themselves as “two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq,” after they returned from parachuting into Baghdad. Audaciously, they feigned they were “...surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.” The entire neo-con establishment then trumpeted how even these “liberal critics” recognized success.

It's difficult to report on a debate not taking place, especially when an influential rump group of the "opposition" colludes instead of opposes. Except for a few pieces in left-liberal journals and blogs, Democrats have simply allowed neoconservative propagandists to define the terms of what has become a one-sided monologue about "victory," voiced by elective warriors who employed deception about phantom weapons of mass destruction to market a multi-trillion dollar travesty; claimed a paper tiger thug was our enemy, when the real culprits of the 9/11 attacks still hide in caves, not spider holes; imagined Iraqi embrace of pluralistic democracy, in a tribal culture with no indigenous movement for it; and fielded an imperial American occupying force, drawing jihadists to Baghdad while fomenting civil war that raged outside a surreal "Green Zone," as our puppet government dithered.

Those who took us to the wrong war in the wrong place at the right time seek redemption by claiming their surge is working. That’s as rational as placing a few dozen more cops on urban street corners and declaring victory in the self-defeating war on drugs.

Instead of making a case against the war, congressional Democrats shift their poll-driven attention to "the economy, stupid." Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who provided initial anti-war leadership, muzzle themselves with half-hearted statements like one she made on television February 10. "The purpose of the surge was to create a secure bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that." But then, she hastened to add: "The troops have succeeded, God bless them." So which is it, failure or success? Democratic "leaders" try to have it both ways, reminiscent of John Kerry in 2004.

The "liberal" newspapers which could have challenged the surge have used it either to justify their own support for the war, or have averted their eyes. The Washington Post's befuddled neocon editorial page engages in tortuous revisionism, pointing a finger at everyone except itself for failures of the war it helped cheerlead.

The New York Times, theoretically anti-war, fails even to attempt rational argument against the surge's "success," and yields precious column space to an architect of the war and editor of its propaganda organ, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

Taking cues from the neocon play book, cable-babbling correspondents and print reporters ask simple-minded questions of squishy Democrats, phrased something like this one from CNN's Joe Johns at January's Democratic debate in South Carolina: "Now that the surge is succeeding, how are you going to counter John McCain's case for the war?"

So the war rages on. Weak-kneed Democrats fail to stand against it, and Republicans act like the jilted lover in British singer Dido's "White Flag," taking comfort in denial: "I will go down with this ship. I won't throw my hands up in surrender. There'll be no white flag above my door. I'm in love, and always will be."

The neocons will never give up their love affair with a fatal fantasy. And they'll take the rest of us down with their ship, as long as timid Democrats and a compliant press let them.
A former DNC press secretary, Terry Michael directs the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and writes opinion at his "libertarian Democrat" blog,

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Washington Post to Readers:
Stop Us Before We Kill Again

Post (war) Partum Depression?

by Terry Michael, March 20, 2007

People! Listen up. If there’s a journalism shrink in the crowd, please proceed immediately to the media tent. The editorial page editors of The Washington Post seem to have dropped some really bad shit on this otherwise fun and fabulous fourth anniversary of their first Iraq war trip. They’re having these, like, uh...reality-based flashbacks about no actual WMD’s, and non-threatening paper tiger thugs, and tribal, theocratic cultures that don’t seem to be into flower power. If you’ve got any anti-anxiety stuff to help ‘em out, man--pills, or whatever--they could really use it. Please help, man. Peace and love. Rock on.

I live in Washington, DC. I know surreal when I see it. And I saw it in vivid blotter acid color this past Sunday on the editorial page of a paper that once helped bring down a president who also undercut America’s moral authority several decades ago.....

.....[Click here for Permalink to this piece on this site]



Also at...

Take the Lead Where are the Gordon Smiths?

by Terry Michael, Thursday, January 11, 2007 - Page A21

[Democrats vamp, instead of providing principled opposition]

It's hard to get out of a deal with the devil.

That's the congressional Democrats' dilemma, as they continue to treat the Iraq war as a speed bump on their pathway to the perks of restored power, rather than as a moral question to which voters loudly demanded a moral answer two months ago.

Take Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware. "There's not much I can do about it," responded the Democratic "leader" on foreign policy, when asked on one of the Sunday venues for pompous pontificators how he would respond to any attempt by President Bush to escalate the war in Iraq (or "surge," if you prefer it in Orwellian newspeak).

This is a man who sees a future president during his morning look in the mirror. Sadly, the glass reflects an empty.....

.....Full text as:
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by Terry Michael, March 24, 2006

Bush Beast Bites Back
The self-correcting rough justice of bad policy and demagogic politics

Bushed Bushies?  No. It’s the president, stupid.

Enough of this nonsense about White House staff fatigue and bad communications strategy leaving “W” misunderstood by the masses. Leave the six-year-curse-for-two-term-presidents to the fertile imaginations of sound-bite historians. And discount the President’s own suggestion (at his March 21st press conference) that he may call in a late-inning relief pitcher (as one newspaper headline aptly characterized it.)

George Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet for a very simple reason: the self-correcting rough justice, in a transparent democracy, of bad policy and demagogic politics.

Dr. Frankenstein would understand. Dr. Bush’s beast is biting back..... read the complete text, choose either....
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The non-debate on the war
Published August 25, 2005
By Terry Michael

"Teach your interns the role of journalists is to question power, not propagate it." That advice arrived recently from retired New York Times columnist Tom Wicker. While Mr. Wicker's words are important for my journalism students, they're a timely reminder for the Baby Boom leaders of America's newsrooms
— who should have learned more than they did in the '60s, when the best and the brightest gave us Vietnam.

The most influential interpreters of our public affairs are accepting, rather than expanding, a noose-tight frame the Washington political culture is enforcing to limit permissible discourse on the war in Iraq.... read the complete text, choose either:
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"Anti-War" Poseurs:
All Whine, No Spine
Published November 23, 2005
By Terry Michael

With two-thirds of Americans mis-trusting George Bushs handling of the Iraq war, and a solid majority telling pollsters we should never have picked this fight, when will liberal Democratic politicians find the courage to join the anti-war parade their constituents have organized?

It took a hawkish Vietnam veteran, from a blue collar Pennsylvania congressional district, to force a debate left-liberal legislators didnt have the guts to pursue when it would have made a real difference, when it could have saved thousands of young American lives before the neo-conservatives led us into their elective war to make the world safe for democratically elected theocracies..... read the complete text, choose either:
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'White Flag' beats false hope
Published: Monday, February 7, 2005
By Terry Michael

His foreign policy may resemble fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson's, who was willing to burn distant villages to save them. But George Bush has decided he's not just William McKinley, bearing the white man's burden in Iraq; he's now Woodrow Wilson, ready to make the whole world safe for what America, with all its awesome military power, can't dictate: pluralistic democracy with individual liberty.

How he came to that conclusion of grandeur can be found in an unlikely place; the lyrics of popular singer Dido. In the hauntingly beautiful "White Flag," a losing lover indulges herself in this bittersweet bravado: "I will go down with this ship. I won't put my hands up and surrender. There will be no white flag above my door. I'm in love and always will be."..... read the complete text, choose either:
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