I could make a lot of points here in reply to Mark's generalized indictment against both the Bush administration and the United States as a whole, but let me make the following statements:
* To once again try and invoke the sacrifice of Andrew Bacevich's son as well as his grieving father's remarks for political points strikes me as every bit as repugnant as what Cindy Sheehan did following the death of her own son Casey. Bacevich's arguments against the war were made long before his son died and I will be more than happy to debate them on their merits. I will not, however, attack a grieving man whose son is not yet one month dead for being angry. Unlike Mark, I'm not willing to resort to that level of base opportunism.
* Invocations of traditional anti-war tropes like what happened at Walter Reed and the issue of body armor are red herrings for Mark's argument, and rather late red herrings at that. If he wants to debate them on their merits, I'm up for it and I probably agree with him on much of it. That said, they're basically filler for the real reason that he is writing this post: to declare the war in Iraq lost and to call for an immediate US withdrawl. Let's not beat around the bush by majoring in minors. He admits as much in the comments and I don't have any problem with that, so long as he removes some of this filler and tells us what's really on his mind. The issue of body armor, for instance, is brought to the fore by intelligent people because they want our soldiers to be equipped to the best of our ability possible so that they can win in Iraq. Mark clearly doesn't want that anymore (as evidenced by his comment about the need to bring the troops home), so his comment about the body armor at least is insulting.
* Infiltration of the Iraqi security forces by the insurgency has been an ongoing problem for the last several years now - I would refer you to the Fallujah Brigade for details. It certainly hasn't been a secret, as the well-documented involvement of some Iraqi police and interior ministry units has illustrated. However, one of the effects of the surge has been that the infiltration issue is gradually being addressed rather than ignored as it had been under Petraeus's predecessor General Casey. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes in an outstanding criticism of how the war in Iraq is understood in the United States:
For example, after my first night on patrol—when the civilians we saw were clearly happy to see U.S. troops and felt comfortable around them—a conservative journalist might write a piece countering the stories about Iraqis hating us and wanting us to leave. Fine—but what about polls indicating that a shockingly high percentage of Iraqis think it’s okay to kill American troops? What about neighborhoods where U.S. troops would encounter a very different reception? On the other hand, a liberal journalist could write a very funny piece about the Iraqi army’s sloth and trigger-happy approach to the world, and conclude that we need to leave immediately because the Iraqi security forces are hopeless and at least a withdrawal will put some fire in their belly. Fine—but what about Iraqi soldiers’ improvements? What about the likelihood that pulling out would guarantee the Iraqi army’s failure?
I think it's pretty clear now that all of Mark's concern about the fate of the Iraqi people in general or the Chaldean Christians in particular doesn't amount to a hill of beans in terms of actually caring about their fate enough to want to do something about it. And given Mark's preference for an isolationist foreign policy, I don't want to hear any complaints about Darfur either. If he wants to inadvertently empower al-Qaeda and its allies, he can't very well complain about their results. Awhile back he criticized Derbyshire's "To Hell With Them Hawks" attitude, but now his position is virtually indistinguishable from it near as I can determine.
* Andrew Sullivan, with whom Mark seems to increasingly identify with these days on matters of foreign policy (both in admiration and apparent support of Ron Paul and in their Ahab-like fixation on the evils of the Bush administration), is quite frankly full of crap when he talks about how Iraq has been a boon to al-Qaeda. While it is certainly true that Pakistan is deteriorating and may well be a nuclear-armed Taliban by the end of the year, the Bush administration is not the sole cause for these events. Pakistan's deterioration is the result of a complex array of social, political, and religious factors that date back to at least the 1980s if not earlier. Moreover, if anyone thinks that a United States defeated in Iraq is going to be in any position to politically or militarily oppose a nuclear Taliban short of anything resembling a nuclear detonation on American soil are beyond delusion. So far, Americans have comforted themselves with the knowledge that maybe India will do the hard work for us, but this approach (much like its Middle Eastern analogue of how maybe Israel will destroy the Iranian nuclear program and spare us all the trouble) is a dangerous one in international affairs. Has it not occurred to anyone that maybe the bright boys in New Delhi harbor similar hopes that a Islamicized Pakistan will attack America first, thus bringing an overwhelming US military response and saving them the trouble?
At any rate, Sullivan's reference to Anbar as an al-Qaeda sanctuary is anachronistic. Assuming that Mark ever cared enough to actually follow rather than criticize the war, he would know that the situation in Anbar has improved dramatically (as acknowledged by Joe Klein, among others) from last year due to resistance by local tribes led by Sheikh Abdul Sattar and his followers. I personally doubt that Mark even follows the news from Iraq closely enough that he knows where Anbar is, but that's neither here nor there.
* Mark brings torture into his rant against the Iraq war, which I think says a lot more about how these issues have become conflated in his mind with his general hatred of Bush than anything else. He also says that torture has become "a legal and everyday part of the American approach to war," though I'm not sure how that jives with his prior claims that the military is untainted by the evils of the Bush administration because they successfully protested a number of the proposed interrogation techniques. To state that torture is an "everyday part of the American approach to war," however, is to horridly overstate the case by the most maximalist views available on the issue. How this statement is all that different from the Vietnam-era trope that all of our soldiers were war criminals is completely beyond me.
* As far as Bush's incompetence goes, this has already been acknowledged and I do not think that I am alone in agreeing with every word that Bottum wrote. This part stands out in particular, though:
The reason is President Bush. His administration has mishandled the logistics of the war and the politics of its perception in nearly equal measure, from Abu Ghraib to the execution of Saddam Hussein. Conservatives voted for George W. Bush in 2000 because they expected him to be the opposite of Bill Clinton--and so, unfortunately, he has proved. Where Mr. Clinton seemed a man of enormous political competence and no principle, Mr. Bush has been a man of principle and very little political competence. The security concerns after the attacks of September 11 and the general tide of American conservatism carried Republicans through the elections of 2002 and 2004. But by 2006 Bush had squandered his party's advantages, until even the specter of Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House was not enough to keep the Republicans in power.
Victor echoed much the same criticisms in his Akagi Bush post, so please don't keep acting as though we are blind to the man's flaws. We simply don't have the borderline hysteria and paranoid fantasies of him preparing to declare a dictatorship that Mark was quite willing to harbor as soon as the opportunity arose. That is a necessary distinction between criticism and hatred, at least in my mind.
Mark invokes a cult of personality as evidence that conservatives are unwilling to accept criticism from Bush. While I do think that the lionization of Rumsfeld by some conservatives (notably talk radio and National Review) due to the fact that he was so hated by the press prevented them from recognizing the folly of his policies in Iraq until it was too late (as can be seen from the fact that the surge strategy we are currently pursuing and enjoying at least some success at is the direct inverse of that which he and General Casey pursued in 2006), the idea that Bush is protected among his supporters by an invincible cult of personality is patently false. If you don't believe me, start talking with most conservatives about Bush's immigration policies and see how much vitriole you receive. If you want anyone who was maintained by a cult of personality among his supporters, it was Rudy Giuliani until the debates intruded and the reality of his positions made them incapable of being ignored. Actually, now that I think of it there is another candidate whose supporters maintain a similar mindset: Ron Paul, and Mark was happy to embrace him despite some still-unsettled racial remarks that I'm absolutely certain he wouldn't be nearly as charitable about were they coming instead from Michael Ledeen.
* Mark ends with a comment about Iraq that is just as applicable to Afghanistan. As a result, I think that it's worth posing the question to him of why, if Bush is so evil and the deaths of our troops are nothing more than a sacrifice to his cult of personality, does he continue (I presume) to support military operations there? And under what circumstances, if any, might he favor extending military operations to say Pakistan, which is universally acknowledged to harbor al-Qaeda.
I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for an answer.