Grim and getting grimmer — that’s my “take away” from this afternoon’s roundtable discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations about the situation in Iraq three years after the invasion (per yesterday’s item, now with Gareth Porter’s “Lessons of Vietnam” appended).
Asked by Jane Arraf (former CNN Baghdad Bureau Chief) whether the latest violence in Iraq is a turning point in the war there, Stephen Biddle (senior fellow for defense policy at the council) replied: “It’s an acceleration of what we’ve seen before rather than a fundamental break. What’s changed is the intensity of the fighting.”
In other words, the brink of civil war is, in fact, a civil war. And here was the topper from Steven Simon (senior fellow in Middle Eastern studies and co-author of “The Next Attack: the Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right”): “I’m in my usual state of suppressed panic.” Which got a laugh.
Since the council will be posting a transcript and audio of the roundtable, probably by tomorrow, I’ll link when it goes up rather than report a summary of what was said by a lot of well-informed people, including the fourth roundtabler, Noah Feldman (a professor at New York University School of Law and a former senior constitutional adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq).
Ted SorensonI’d rather describe my short conversation with Theodore Sorensen, right — JFK’s great speechwriter, close friend, special counsel, and biographer — whom I buttonholed after the roundtable to get his take on the Bullshitter-in-Chief and the cronies of his regime. Out of politeness — we were within earshot of diplomats and other high-minded types — I didn’t characterize the Bullshitter et al that way. But if I had, I don’t think Sorensen would have minded.
“I have lived a long time,” he said, “and I have seen a lot of administrations. But I have never seen an administration as incompetent — and as mendacious — as this one.”
The emphasis was his. I asked Sorensen, who will be 78 in May, if I could quote him. He asked, “Who are you with?” I told him I’m a freelance journalist and blogger, and that I’d be posting his comment on my blog. He smiled. “Yes,” he said, “of course.” He could have backed off, but he didn’t. Now that’s menschy.

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