Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
As soon as the news was reported that Gen. David Petraeus is succeeding soon-to-be-retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the media narrative was set in stone: the super-general who won the war in Iraq with the so-called surge can now work his magic in another theater.
It's hard to stop a locomotive meme—which is what the surge story has become. But the success of the surge in Iraq remains debatable to this day. Still, try injecting that point into media discussions of Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet with Petraeus taking over the Afghanistan war, it's worth noting the other side of the surge tale. So as a public service, here are a few analyses that question the surge hype.
The surge had two main goals. The first goal was to bring the level of violence down by increasing U.S. force levels in key areas, forging a tactical alliance with cooperative Sunni groups, and shifting to a counterinsurgency strategy that emphasized population protection. This aspect of the surge succeeded, though it is still hard to know how much of the progress was due to increased force levels and improved tactics and how much was due to other developments, such as the prior "ethnic cleansing" that had separated the contending groups.
The second and equally important goal was to promote political reconciliation among the competing factions in Iraq. This goal was not achieved, and the consequences of that failure are increasingly apparent. What lies ahead is a long-delayed test of strength between the various contending groups, until a new formula for allocating political power emerges. That formula has been missing since before the United States invaded -- that is, Washington never had a plausible plan for reconstructing a workable Iraqi state once it dismantled Saddam's regime -- and it will be up to the Iraqi people to work it out amongst themselves. It won’t be pretty.
I thought some of the surge-era deals in Iraq would unravel but I didn't think that would begin happening this quickly. It's only March 2009, and already Awakening fighters are fighting U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad.
Anyone who tells you that the Iraq war is over should be forced to memorize this paragraph from the Sunday edition of the Washington Post:
As Apache helicopter gunships cruised above Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood, former Sunni insurgents fought from rooftops and street corners against American and Iraqi forces, according to witnesses, the Iraqi military and police. At least 15 people were wounded in the gunfights, which lasted several hours. By nightfall, the street fighters had taken five Iraqi soldiers hostage.
That is Iraq 2009. Does it sound peaceful to you? Does it seem like the political questions vexing Iraq have been solved?
I've held off on commenting on the situation in Iraq during this unsettled transitional period. The bombings in Baghdad (another big one today) strike as painful but irrelevant. On the plus side, al Qaeda in Iraq has suffered some good hits. On the negative, the political situation looks as unresolved as ever. The other day an Iraqi friend gloomily predicted to me that the question of the next government would remain open until September, and then, once it was solved and the Americans were out of the way, violence would begin to increase.
My gut feeling is that Iraq is adrift, and that this slow centrifugal process ultimately will result in, at best, a loose confederation. In other words, not only do I think the glass is half empty, I am not sure how long the glass can take the strain of what it is holding.
But the truth is that I don't know and neither does anyone else. But as Tom Friedman used to say every year, the next six months in Iraq could be decisive.
Former Democratic Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton told CNSNews.com that the surge in Iraq may have “temporarily” achieved its military purpose of reducing violence, but its political intention of promoting “reconciliation” has not been accomplished....
“The purpose of the surge in Iraq was to reduce the violence, which it did, but it also had a political purpose and the political purpose was to encourage reconciliation, which has not happened,” Hamilton, current president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told CNSNews.com.
“So the military objective was achieved temporarily, we’ve had a resurgence of violence in recent days,” he added. “The political objective has not been achieved.”
The main reason the "surge" in Afghanistan is on is because the conventional wisdom tells us the "surge" in Iraq "worked."
The problem is, the Iraq surge did not work. Yes, the U.S. military perfectly executed its share of the strategy -- the restoration of some semblance of calm to blood-gushing Mesopotamian society -- but that was only Step One. The end-goal of the surge strategy, Step Two was always out of U.S. control -- a fundamental flaw. Step Two was up to the Iraqis: namely, to take the opportunity afforded by U.S.- provided security (see Step One) to bring about both "national reconciliation" and, as the powers-that-were further promised, the emergence of a U.S. ally in the so-called war on terror.
Step One worked. Step Two didn't. The surge, like an uncaught touchdown pass, was incomplete. The United States is now walking off the battlefield with virtually nothing to show for its blood, treasure, time and effort. In fact, another "success" like that could kill us.
Though the success of the surge is regarded in much of the media as an article of faith, it remains open to discussion and examination. Looking at Iraq these days, it's certainly arguable that Petraeus did not work a miracle there. And the mission he faces in Afghanistan is tougher. To achieve anything resembling victory in Afghanistan, he'll likely need far more success than the Iraq surge produced—in reality or myth.
During a conference call with reporters on May 24, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, fielding questions about the use of toxic dispersants to break up the oil from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, made a clear promise: "We will conduct our own tests to determine the least toxic, most effective dispersant available in the volumes necessary for a crisis of this magnitude." Jackson said that she was "not satisfied that BP has done an extensive enough analysis of other dispersant options."
But a month later those tests have not been completed, according to the EPA. In the meantime, the total amount of Corexit—the brand of dispersant chosen by BP and approved by the Coast Guard—that has been dumped into the Gulf has reached more than 1.4 million gallons.
This just in. Joseph Wurzelbacher, the Ohio fellow who became oddly famous during the 2008 campaign as "Joe the Plumber," is joining the "Take Our Country Back Tour," the conservative political calvacade that has featured Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and right-leaning country singers. These rallies, according to organizers, are intended to encourage Americans to vote for candidates who believe "in the right of the American people—and only the American people—to determine the course and destiny of the United States of America." The next of these conservative shindigs is scheduled for June 26 in Oklahoma CIty. Beck and Karl Rove are headlining the gig.
A press release announcing Joe the Plumber's participation includes this quote from the right's favorite Everyman stand-in: "We need to elect 'Americans,' not Republicans or Democrats." The press release did not explain why JTP chose to put single quotation marks around the word "Americans." Nor did it note whether Karl Rove will present this same message, when he and JTP share the stage in OKC.
The press release also included this remark from the Uncertified Plumber Formerly Known as Wurzelbacher:
Growing up, my dad regularly had me read the newspaper,. With the dictionary right next to me, every time I didn't know a word he would say, 'Look it up.' That is part of my message to the American people: Stop listening to other people and 'Look it up!' You were blessed to be born in this country, with this blessing comes responsibility.
Yet last year, JTP hardly celebrated the importance of newspapers and the media. While covering the Gaza crisis for Pajamas Media—yes, you read that correctly—he said that reporters should not be allowed to cover wars:
I don't think journalists should be anywhere allowed war [sic]. I think media should be abolished from, you know, reporting... I think the media should have no business in it.
Wurzelbacher's main focus now, the press release stated, is "to bring back 'American pride' through individual responsibility, accountability, and self-education."
What went wrong with BP's Deepwater Horizon project? Well, it seems the problem was either the Bermuda Triangle, or maybe the Jews.
I suppose this is not unpredictable, but conspiracy theorists—including a leading white supremacist—have latched on to the eco-tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Richard Hoagland has long claimed that advanced civilizations have existed on the moon. (His Wikipedia entry states plainly, "Hoagland does not have any scientific training.") Now he's pushing a notion that's more down-to-earth. Energy investment adviser Christian DeHaemer blogged about Hoagland's latest:
I recently heard a recording of Richard Hoagland...Mr. Hoagland has suggested that there are cracks in the ocean floor, and that pressure at the base of the wellhead is approximately 100,000 psi.
Furthermore, geologists believe there are another 4-5 cracks or fissions in the well. Upon using a GPS and Depth finder system, experts have discovered a large gas bubble, 15-20 miles across and tens of feet high, under the ocean floor.
These bubbles are common. Many believe they have caused the sinking of ships and planes in the Bermuda Triangle.
That said, a bubble this large — if able to escape from under the ocean floor through a crack — would cause a gas explosion that Mr. Hoagland likens to Mt. St. Helens...only under water.
The BP well is 50 miles from Louisiana. Its release would send a toxic cloud over populated areas. The explosion would also sink any ships and oil structures in the vicinity and create a tsunami which would head toward Florida at 600 mph.
Now, many people have called Hoagland a fringe thinker and a conspiracy theorist. And they may be right... But that doesn't mean he isn't on to something.
At some point the drilled hole in the earth will enlarge itself beneath the wellhead to weaken the area the wellhead rests upon. The intense pressure will then push the wellhead off the hole allowing a direct unrestricted flow of oil, etc.
The hole will continue to increase in size allowing more and more oil to rise into the Gulf. After several billion barrels of oil have been released, the pressure within the massive cavity five miles beneath the ocean floor will begin to normalize.
This will allow the water, under the intense pressure at 1 mile deep, to be forced into the hole and the cavity where the oil was. The temperature at that depth is near 400 degrees, possibly more.
The water will be vaporized and turned into steam, creating an enormous amount of force, lifting the Gulf floor. It is difficult to know how much water will go down to the core and therefore, its not possible to fully calculate the rise of the floor.
The tsunami wave this will create will be anywhere from 20 to 80 feet high, possibly more. Then the floor will fall into the now vacant chamber. This is how nature will seal the hole.
Depending on the height of the tsunami, the ocean debris, oil, and existing structures that will be washed away on shore and inland, will leave the area from 50 to 200 miles inland devoid of life. Even if the debris is cleaned up, the contaminants that will be in the ground and water supply will prohibit re-population of these areas for an unknown number of years.
When he's not ranting at BP and the "Marxist Obama administration," Wickstrom writes about Jews drinking the blood of innocent children.
Actually, more somber-minded people are fretting about possible apocalyptic consequences of the oil leak. The Coast Guard has raised questions about the wellhead's ability to contain the oil beneath it. (That is, the wellhead could break further, and this could lead to a greater flood of oil—perhaps 100,000 barrels a day.) Environmentalists and scientists fear that the spill—with or without a total wellhead collapse—could turn the Gulf of Mexico into one large dead zone. In a world despoiled by BP, even the conspiracy kooks have real nightmares to worry about.
In honor of Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP, the smart analysts at MSNBC"s "First Read" have put out a list of the top 10 candidate gaffes of 2010. Though the elections are still months away, the list is full of doozies. One can only imagine what will be added in the weeks to come. And the winners are....
1. Gordon Brown's "bigoted woman": This gaffe took place across the Atlantic Ocean, but it impacted Britain's election this year and ensured that Gordon Brown and the Labour Party would be voted out of power. http://bit.ly/dvkqPQ
2. Martha Coakley's Schilling-is-a-Yankee fan: This statement in a radio interview showed that she was out of touch with Massachusetts voters. No Boston Red Sox fan would mistakenly say that Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan. This gaffe turned out to be the final nail in Coakley's coffin. http://bit.ly/5wSX3v
3. Sue Lowden and Barter-gate/Chicken-gate: This gaffe by Lowden -- touting that bartering for health care, like paying doctors with chickens, could benefit the health system -- contributed to her June 8 defeat in the Nevada Senate GOP primary, a contest in which she was once the front-runner. It also inspired videos like the one linked here. http://bit.ly/c3Ny8l
4. Vaughn Ward's Puerto Rico is a country: Ward once was a front-runner, too -- in an Idaho GOP congressional primary. But after a few gaffes -- like calling Puerto Rico a country when it's a territory -- he ended up losing this primary. http://bit.ly/bRaek3
5. Arlen Specter and the College Republicans: Specter mistakenly saying that he was endorsed by the College Republicans, instead of the College Democrats, highlighted his biggest weakness in the Democratic Senate primary he lost: He was a long-time Republican before switching parties. http://bit.ly/9yV2C3
6. Carly Fiorina's hairy situation: California’s GOP Senate nominee became the latest victim of the open mic, when she was caught dissing the hairstyle of fall opponent, Barbara Boxer. ("God, what is that hair? Soooo yesterday.") http://bit.ly/aBdedx
7. J.D. Hayworth's 'history' lesson: At a town hall, Hayworth served up this whopper: "As I recall, in MY history, Germany declared war on the United States not vice versa." In fact, as was pointed out to him by a questioner (who Hayworth didn't believe), the U.S. DID declare war on Germany on April 4, 1917. http://bit.ly/d9rQDP and http://bit.ly/aiHgia
8. Jim Gibbons -- the mistress and the airplane: ‘What's it to you? … You're full of s---': It was painful to watch as Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons tried to deny, deny, deny that there was a woman with him on a plane back from DC that was actually his mistress. Gibbons apologized but lost his reelection bid badly in the primary. In fairness, though this gaffe was hardly the only thing that did him in. http://bit.ly/9E1Rcw
9. Jerry Brown and Nazi propaganda: We've said it before, and we'll say it again, the first to bring up Nazis in politics, loses the argument. In a conversation with a reporter while out for a morning jog, longtime pol Jerry Brown, running as the Democratic nominee for governor in California, likened his fall opponent Meg Whitman and her big spending habits to Nazi propagandists. http://bit.ly/d48B2C
10. Bob Etheridge gets too close for comfort: It's never a good idea to grab, slap, pull, manhandle, or "hug, as in wrestling," another person -- no matter how annoying they are -- and especially if it's on camera (!!!). This might not have any effect on his re-election bid, but it provided a lesson politicians should already know: When the camera is on, it can be uploaded and sent around the world in minutes. http://bit.ly/deS68w and http://bit.ly/d7ayfu