Tomorrow (I assume) we’re going to find out who’s right about Bush’s plans for Iraq–Seymour Hersh or Fred Kaplan.
Yesterday Kaplan posted an article on Slate predicting that Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy tomorrow will set the agenda for withdrawal from Iraq.
Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forcesâ€”which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its ownâ€”have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treasonâ€”a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
Kaplan presents a case — a very strong case — showing that the administration is already planning to begin a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. It does seem to me that politicians from both parties are moving toward a consensus on withdrawal even as they accuse each other of treason and/or misleading. All the signs and portents say it’s time to talk exit strategy.
However, what about Bush himself? Does he see what everyone else sees? And Seymour Hersh says no.
On Hardball this evening, Hersh said Bush is not going to withdraw. Bush is committed to what he’s doing, Hersh said. Is he even listening to advice from others? Hersh said it’s hard to say, but he thinks most of what Bush learns about what’s going on in Iraq comes to him through a big filter named Dick Cheney. Hersh said Bush thinks God is talking to him. He doesn’t care how many body bags come back. He’s not interested in contrary opinions. There is an underlying fear that Bush is a utopian without realistic information or ability to change with shifting circumtances.
Who do you think is right, Kaplan or Hersh?
Today Bush said he rejected plans for a quick withdrawal, and said that the pace of withdrawal will be determined by military commanders. Bloomberg reports:
Americans “don’t want me making decisions based upon politics,” Bush told reporters in El Paso, Texas, where he was inspecting border patrol facilities. “They want me to make decisions based on recommendations from our generals on the ground.” …
… “We will make decisions about troop levels based upon the capacity of the Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy,” the president said in Texas.
He gave no indication he will offer a timetable for a troop pullout and said his speech will outline the progress being made on training Iraqis to take over the defense of their country against insurgents who have been targeting the Iraqi government as well as the U.S. military.
“I know there are a lot of voices in Washington we’ve heard people say pull them out. That’s a huge mistake,” Bush said. “I want the troops to come home, but I don’t want them to come home without achieving victory and we have got a strategy for victory.”
But Hersh says the top generals in the Pentagon — the four-star guys — are afraid to speak the truth to Rumsfeld and Bush. He said this on Hardball and in his recent New Yorker article —
Many of the militaryâ€™s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they donâ€™t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has â€œso terrified the generals that they know they wonâ€™t go public,â€ a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that â€œthings were fucked up.â€ But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.
Most likely, Hersh says, the military will pull out boots on the ground and substitute air power, which has a whole lot of new risks, as he explains in The New Yorker. But the war will continue, with us in it.
I believe tomorrow’s speech is scheduled for mid-morning. I plan on live-blogging, so drop by if you don’t watch it yourself. I’ll look at the Chimp’s face so you don’t have to.
But what’s it gonna be, do you think? Will he make noises to lay the groundwork for troop withdrawal, or will he want to stay the course?