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December 4, 2005 - The President Explains Everything, and Other Things Happen

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The siege of Harfleur in 1415 - "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, or fill the wall up with our English dead."


As mentioned elsewhere, Wednesday, November 30th was the day of the big presidential speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. We were finally going to get the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Any number of waggish types had been commenting that we should have had one of those three years ago, and this was an odd time to be getting around to coming up with a plan. Sputtering conservative Bush supporters were saying we had one all along and this was just something the treasonous liberals thrust on the administration, claiming you just trust the president - he doesn't owe anyone an explanation of anything - and wondering why the people who don't much like Bush, his policies or this war, or most of what his has either attempted or done, felt they had any right to know the plan. Why should he have to explain anything? I think the idea is having a plan made public aids and abets the enemy, or some such thing.

But he gave the speech - even if he might have been seething that he had to explain anything to anyone, and might have been wondering just who these people are who think they have a right to know such things.

Be that is it may Fred Kaplan puts the speech in perspective here


From December 1941 to August 1945, the U.S. government mobilized an entire nation; manufactured a mighty arsenal; played a huge role in defeating the armies, air forces, and navies of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; and emerged from battle poised to shape the destiny of half the globe. By comparison, from September 2001 to December 2005, the U.S. government has advanced to the point of describing a path to victory in a country the size of California.



The problem Kaplan points out, as do may others, is that although the speech and its accompanying thirty-five page booklet of bullet points is called a "strategy for victory," neither term is defined. "Yes people want to what do we do now and when can we start to pull out - under what circumstances, with what sorts of troops remaining, to what end, for how long?"

In short, that's asking just what we are doing and why we are doing it, nine hundred and forty-seven days after the war started and after more than 2,100 of our guys have died for… well, for what? What's the general idea here? Even if some think such questions are impertinent, some don't. Yes, this is Cindy Sheehan territory. Maybe she was just disrespectful of the awesome office of the president, but the question may, possibly, have some legitimacy. Or not, depending on your point of view.

What we got?


"We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission."

The mission?


"When our mission of training the Iraqi security forces is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation."

And there was this variation - the mission will be complete "when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy."

And there was this variation - "I will settle for nothing less than complete victory."

Kaplan points out the obvious questions all this raises. Is our job done when the Iraqis can fight the bad guys on their own - or when the bad guys are defeated? Which is it? And how will we know when they're defeated?

Ah, the president's answer –


In World War II, victory came when the Empire of Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri. In Iraq, there will not be a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.


Three conditions, when met on some specific day in the future, mean we can call that specific day V-I day, of course. And any fool can see each of these conditions is, shall we say, all subject to interpretation. Whether any one of these conditions is met is, really, a judgment call.

In short, the war is over when we say it's over, and for now, we're "staying the course." There will be no timetables of any kind. We will not "cut and run."

You got things like - "Pulling our troops out before they achieve their purpose is not a plan for victory." But if "achieving their purpose" is something you cannot specifically measure, just what is the plan to get to that goal of "we now think things are better?"


Are we there yet?  No.  Are we there yet?  No.  Are we there yet?  Maybe.

But we know this - "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins, so long as I am your commander in chief. ... We will not abandon Iraq."

Yeah, but we won't know when leaving Iraq is not abandoning Iraq. It's all in how you see it.

So we'll keep on keeping on - "This will take time - and patience." And troop levels will be adjusted, up or down, by commanders' assessments of facts on the ground, "not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."

In short, we'll keep making it up as we go along. Heck, that worked for Indiana Jones in the first movie.

Bush is gambling most folks are comfortable with that, and gambling no really bad thing will happen before his term ends - say a barracks blowing up like the one that blew up in Beirut and took out hundreds of our guys and spooked Reagan into getting us out of Lebanon. It could go well from here on out.

You never know.

Of course the hallmark of this gang is having that positive attitude - expect the best and ridicule the worriers - we will be greeted as liberators, they will toss flowers and sweets at us, the oil there will flow freely and pay for this all, we'll be out in six months. That's how they do planning. They're visionaries, not pessimists.

And they're at it again - and counting on the American people loving the optimist and hating the sourpuss pessimist with his defeatist "realism." We're a "can do" people. Nothing is impossible. Cue Frank Sinatra singing "High Hopes" and all that.

Is this what most people would call a strategy? They're counting on most people not being able to tell the difference between a strategic plan and hoping for the best, kind like the difference between careful retirement planning with a 401(k) and savings and investments, and buying a lottery ticket twice a week. Lots of folks buy lottery tickets. That's the audience here. You never know.

Kaplan is one of those sourpuss realists who suggest a real strategic plan would deal with these four issues –


- The American occupation itself is strengthening, legitimizing, and radicalizing the insurgency. This fact - acknowledged by nearly everyone but the president - is what makes the issue of troop levels so complex: Our troops are, in one sense, fighting the insurgents and making Iraq more secure; but in another sense they're bolstering the insurgents and making Iraq less secure. The net effect - both of the continued occupation and of a withdrawal - is debatable, but the president will fail to engage the debate as long as he pretends the dilemma doesn't exist.

- The Iraqi security forces have no doubt improved in the past year, mainly because it's only been in the last year or so that realistic training measures have been put into effect, thanks mainly to Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who has since been rotated out of the country. But how much they've improved, how effectively they might fight on their own as a national army, is not at all clear -especially given recent reports of death-squad tactics and the persistent growth of sectarian militias.

- The persistence of the war - long beyond the point when its planners thought it would be over - is straining the U.S. military to the breaking point, in terms of recruitment, morale, troop rotation, and the operations, maintenance, and procurement of its weapons systems. This is the main reason many military officers have called for getting out of Iraq - because "staying the course" for much longer is physically impossible. Steps can be taken to remedy this situation, but they would require momentous political decisions, and President Bush has done nothing to prepare the public for any such measures.

- Finally, the war in Iraq, even the war on terrorism (of which it has lately become a part, though it wasn't before Bush invaded), does not carry the same moral or strategic weight as the Cold War, much less World War II. In today's speech, Bush once again likened al-Qaida to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. There is no question that al Qaeda and its allies constitute a potent menace, but they do not rule a massive landmass or control a mighty industrial army; they cannot launch a blitzkrieg across Europe (or any other continent).


Details, details, details...

This is the sort of thing these guys scoff at. This is an administration of hope. They like to keep things simple. They (sometimes not well defined) hate us for our freedoms (which can be limited domestically to keep us safe), so we have to defeat them, and not appear weak, and never back down, or they come here and do bad things.

Is it more complex? Only defeatists think so.

We'll see.

So we didn't get much on what the war was all about, geopolitically and culturally and economically, and what winning means is a tad vague, but we'll somehow know it when it happens, or we'll say it happened if things seem close enough for government work. And what will it take to get to this vague "there?" Just keep doing what we're doing, optimistically. Doubters should shut up, and so should folks who want who, what, when where, how and why. That's not what we do.

Some speech.

And how was this covered? Associated Press was odd. Sometimes when you went to the Deb Riechmann story you got the headline Bush Counsels 'Patience' for Victory In Iraq, but then sometime you got Bush Maps Out Iraq War Strategy.  But it was the same story.  Headline writing is left to who knows who.  You didn't get "Bush Repackages Previous Empty Rhetoric Hoping This Time Someone Thinks We Have A Plan for the War."  But AP did run this photo here and there, and that sums things up nicely.

The AP opens with this –


President Bush, facing growing doubts about his war strategy, said Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle but that "this will take time and patience." He refused to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Bush said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is set to change, by making fewer patrols and convoys, moving out of Iraqi cities and focusing more on specialized operations aimed at high-value terrorist targets.


Well, yes, that was a note that tactics will change - fewer guys busting down doors and more bombs falling from the sky.

And AP does note there wasn't much else there –


Bush's speech did not break new ground or present a new strategy. Instead, it was intended to bring together in one place the administration's arguments for the war and explain existing strategy on a military, economic and political track. The president's address was accompanied by the release of a 35-page White House document titled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

"Americans should have a clear understanding of this strategy," Bush said. He said the document was an unclassified version of the strategy that was being pursued in Iraq.


This stuff had been classified?  Why?

Well, a lot of the speech was good news. We were told the Iraqis were really stepping up to the plate. It's going real well. They may have some sort of army one day.

The facts there are in some dispute, but the president said he was sure this was so. Trust him?

Well, you could trust his wife –


Bush's wife, Laura, said earlier Wednesday she "absolutely" would like to see an acceptable resolution there. "We want our troops to be able to come home as soon as they possibly can," she said during an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" while giving a White House Christmas tour.

"It's really remarkable how far they've come," she said, "but I really feel very, very encouraged that we're going to see a very great ending when we see a really free Iraq right in the heart of the Middle East."


Feel better now?

Read the whole speech here if you'd like.

As someone put it - the new strategy is that the old strategy is working.

Fine. What did you expect?

See also In Sum, We're Screwed, with this observation –


Bush also did not acknowledge that the Iraqis themselves want us to go away. Seems to me that if the Iraqi government passes a resolution giving us, say, six months to get our butts out of their country, we have to comply. It's their country. Bush doesn't seem to have considered that possibility. I guess he figures God won't let that happen.

Bottom line, Bush really isn't listening to anybody except the voices in his head he thinks are Jesus, and he sees "staying the course" as something noble and heroic. So no graceful or dignified exit for us. Instead, we can look forward to continued waste of lives and resources until it finally winds down to some messy, inconclusive end.


See also Going for a St. Crispin's Day address, Bush channels Walter Mitty.

And note this from the US the Army War College's W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane - from their new 60-page report. US troop presence in Iraq probably cannot be sustained more than three more years. And in those three years? This –


"It appears increasingly unlikely that U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces will crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased U.S. and coalition withdrawal."

"It is no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long U.S. forces remain."

"The United States may also have to scale back its expectations for Iraq's political future," by accepting a relatively stable but undemocratic state as preferable to a civil war among Iraq's ethnic and religious factions.


And so on and so forth...

And this from Barry R. Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT who will become the director of MIT's Security Studies Program in 2006 –


... the expectation of an open-ended American presence lends internal and external political support to the insurgents and infantilizes the government and army of Iraq, producing at best a perpetual stalemate. The Bush administration's plan is to hang on and hope for a lucky break, or at least hope to make it to the end of the president's second term without an obvious catastrophe. Meanwhile the steady grind of rotations to Iraq will cause good soldiers and officers to quietly exit the Army and prospective recruits to decline entry. The American public may look up in three years and find that the option of staying the course is gone, and the conditions for departure much less controllable. Surely the steady drumbeat of American casualties combined with the gap between the political progress claimed by administration spinners and the actual state of relations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds will erode public support for any enduring commitment to Iraq. Then the strategy that both the Bush administration's mainstream supporters and its mainstream critics fear the most may be the only one available - precipitous withdrawal. The United States must try another strategy while it still has the political and military resources necessary to influence the pattern of disengagement and the aftermath.


Too late. The new strategy is the old one, but now we say it will really, really work, if you believe.

Also note this


House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday embraced a call by a prominent member of her rank-and-file to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, two weeks after she declined to endorse it.

"We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable," Pelosi said. "That is what the American people and our troops deserve."


Folks are climbing down off the fence. The utopian idealists and the pragmatic realists are forming teams. Get in the appropriate line.


The rest of Wednesday was not nearly as interesting. This decade's answer to the fifty's Joseph McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, published the first draft of his blacklist - but it was just media operations he considers "guttersnipes" and "smear merchants" - the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times and MSNBC - purveyors of "defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites." No individuals yet.

And note here O'Reilly warns America about the vast conspiracy to get rid of Christmas: "There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."

It's the ACLU and the secular Jews like George Soros, of course.

And that congressman from Pennsylvania, the decorated Marine and long-time friend of the military, who proposed a drawdown in Iraq, must have loved Hitler, as in this: "These pinheads running around going, 'Get out of Iraq now,' don't know what they're talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, 'Ah, he's not such a bad guy.' They don't get it."


See this on Philip Tetlock's new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?  And see this on hedgehogs and foxes in general.

Also Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by US information officers. The whole item is here - these stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists." The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor - and those employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives. The Times quotes a senior Pentagon official - "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."

Armstrong Williams.  Enough said.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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