Murtha on Hardball

Following up today’s speech — I’m watching Congressman Jack Murtha on Hardball to get his response. I thought you might be interested, so I took notes. Quotations are approximate.

Murtha said that what the President presented today is not a plan. We went in with inadequate forces, then we didn’t have the appropriate people in the right places and we lost the support of the Iraqi people. 80 percent want us out.

The public wants direction. They want leadership, and they want honesty. We’re not getting honesty from this president .

Matthews says, the President says we should stay until the Iraqi military is trained enough to take over the fight.

He’s allowing Iraqis to set the timetable, says Murtha. They’re going to let us do the fighting, even though they said they want us out. If we don’t redeploy as I suggested we’re going to be there for 100 years. It’s not progressing. It’s not getting better. Let the Iraqi peple handle it themselves.

Bush is trying to tie what’s going on in Iraq to the worldwide network of terrorism, Murtha continued. But only 7 percent of the people fighting us in Iraq are al Qaeda.

Can you imagine if the French had stayed after the Revolution? We’d have run them out.

The number of casualties per day is increasing. We can’t win this militarily, because our military actions make enemies for us. All we get from this administration is rhetoric.

How long it will take to get an Iraqi army that can defend itself without our help?
asks Matthews.

25 years, says Murtha. From every measurment I can see we are not making progress.

Matthews thinks Bush’s new request of a $4.6 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraqi reconstruction is a trap for the Democrats, because if they vote for it they’ll be endorsing his Iraq policy but if they vote against it they’ll be accused of undermining the effort.

Murtha responds, They haven’t even spent the $18 billion we already appropriated for reconstruction, and some of that was used for the military. I can’t imagine what he wants the $4.6 billion for. They’ve only spent $9 billion.

Murtha dismissed the idea of any kind of trap. He believes the reconstruction spending is important, because it provides jobs for Iraqis.

Murtha points out that if troops numbers are reduced the troops remaining will still be a target. Supply convoys will still be vulnerable. It makes more sense, he says, to redeploy out of Iraq but retain troops nearby so that we can go back in if needed to go after al Qaeda or other terrorists who are a threat to us and our allies. But we need to get out of the fight between the Shia and the Sunnis in Iraq.

We still don’t have the kind of people we need, Murtha says. We don’t have translators, demolition experts, special forces, intelligence experts. We’re paying big money to recruit these people, and we still don’t have them. This effort has been so mishandled from the start. There are not enough troops to protect the Syrian border. This thing cannot be won militarily.

Matthews: Bush wants to stay with no time limits. But you’re saying we should gradually redeploy out of the country but maintain troops in the region to fight terrorism if we have to.

Murtha says that’s right. We need credibility, he says. This is a real war. People are getting killed. It’s time to admit we made a mistake. We need to repair our relations with the world. That’s what people are thirsting for.

Matthews: Do you trust the Cheney Rumsfeld crowd? On every pont they’ve been wrong about how this war would turn oujt. Do you trust them on the facts?

Murtha says, Just because they say it doesn’t make it so. Be truthful. I told them, it’ll backfire if you keep telling these stories. They aren’t being honest.

Is George Casey telling the truth? asks Matthews.

You know I deal with these guys all the time. I know how they feel. He said one of the problems in this insurgency is the occupation. We’ve become the enemy. He said one of our policies will be to start to withdraw.

Matthews: Bush said if any general needs more troops they only need to ask, and they’d get more troops.

Murtha: That’s not an honest statement. One general I talked to doesn’t have enough troops to protect the Syrian border. That’s one of our missions, and we don’t have enough troops.

These guys are sitting in theiir conditioned office saying stay the course. They aren’t out in the heat and the dirt. A very small portion of our citizens are making that sacrifice. In some ways it’s worse than Vietnam– we’re going to have a lot of people with post-traumatic stress.

Matthews brought up the news stories being written by Americans and planted in the Iraqi press.

This has been a problem from the start, Murtha said. The dishonesty of the people speaking for the administration.

What about support in Congress, Matthews asks.

Democrats sat behind me during the debate. Many Republicans come up to me privately and quietly. All of us want to find a solution.

In Sum, We’re Screwed

Yesterday we looked at two opposing predictions. Fred Kaplan predicted that in today’s speech President Bush would at least move in the direction of a withdrawal timetable for Iraq, if not announce a timetable. And that was a smart prediction, for myriad reasons that Kaplan presented. It’s the smart move to make politically, and in the long run would prove to be the smart move to make strategically.

But Kaplan was wrong about Bush. The one who called it right was Seymour Hersh, who said on Hardball last night (transcript not yet available) that Bush believes God told him to invade Iraq, and he’s not going to leave until he has something that looks like a victory. He is still unclear about what that something will be, although he did acknowledge that it won’t look like the end of World War II, with a surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.

Most Americans want two things in Iraq: They want to see our troops win, and they want to see our troops come home as soon as possible. And those are my goals as well. I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. 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.

Bush made statements in the speech today that seem to rule out significant withdrawal of U.S. troops while there is still violence in Iraq, no matter how capable the Iraqi defense force might be. Example: “To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your Commander-in-Chief.”

It is true that most of today’s speech was given over to Bush’s assessment that the Iraqi security forces are much better than they were last year, and he says U.S. troops will be withdrawn as the Iraqis become better able to fight on their own.

As we make progress toward victory, Iraqis will take more responsibility for their security, and fewer U.S. forces will be needed to complete the mission. America will not abandon Iraq. We will not turn that country over to the terrorists and put the American people at risk. Iraq will be a free nation and a strong ally in the Middle East — and this will add to the security of the American people.

There needed to be a “but” or “however” or something after “complete the mission,” but let’s go on … he is giving himself some wiggle room for a partial withdrawal, but he’s not leaving himself any room to make substantial reductions in troop strength as long as there is an active al Qaeda (or similar) presence in Iraq.

And he’s still claiming that, somehow, the war in Iraq is going to prevent another September 11.

The terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th. Those terrorists share the same ideology with those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, murdered tourists in Bali, workers in Riyadh, and guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan. Just last week, they massacred Iraqi children and their parents at a toy give-away outside an Iraqi hospital.

This is an enemy without conscience — and they cannot be appeased. If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people. Against this adversary, there is only one effective response: We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)

To keep terrorists from our shores it would have been cheaper and easier, and about as effective, to just hand out lots of rabbits’ feet. See Peter Daou for the antidote to “we’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” and “cutting and runnng sends the wrong message,” two points Bush made, once again, today.

In this speech there was no acknowledgment of the strain Iraq is putting on our military resources. As Kaplan wrote yesterday, “Top U.S. military officers have been privately warning for some time that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two without straining the Army to the breaking point.” I expect to hear more about this later today when John Murtha appears on Hardball.

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.

HOO-yah, and amen.

Après le discours

Think Progress provides a deconstruction of the “Strategy for Victory” document.

Oliver Willis provides a summary

There’s really no concrete definition of victory here, still. But it seems that they’re saying we don’t leave until Iraq is a full western style democracy… with ponies. Of course, Iraq is currently a hotbed of violence with 150,000 U.S. troops holding down the fort, and shows no interest in western style democracy, preferring to enshrine religious Sharia law than anything resemble the U.S. constitution.

So when do we leave Iraq? According to this document, apparently when candy canes and unicorns take command.

John Kerry gives a rebuttal (my live transcript; quotes approximate):

This morning we saw the full power of the presidency, to have the Naval Academy serve as a backdrop for a presidential speech. Reminds you of an aircraft carrier — mission accomplished.

The troops don’t belong to Bush’s point of view. They belong to America. All of us think they are doing an extraordinary job.

This debate is not about an artificial date for withdrawal. Several times in his speech today the President set up this straw man, and knocked it down. Instead, we are talking about an estimated timetable for success.

No one suggests running in the face of car bombers or assassins. No one is talking about running in the face of a challenge. We are talking about how to succeed. What the President did not do is acknowledge the fundamental nature of the insurgency.

The insurgency will not be beaten in the face of a gun. Let me be clear; we support the elections. They are important for Iraq. The success of those elections provides a benchmark of success which allows us to withdraw some troops.

This comes to the fundamental issue the President avoided. It’s all well and good to talk about training until we are ready to leave. But this ignores what his own generals are telling him, and what Iraqis are saying. General Casey says it is the large presence of U.S. troops that feeds the insurgency.

45 percent of the Iraqi people believe it is all right to injure and kill Americans. 80 percent want us to withdraw. Elected officials say it’s time to reduce our presence. The President did not acknowledge that our presence on the ground feeds the insurgency.

None of us wants to leave a failed state in Iraq, but the strategy for exit is part of the stretegy for success.

Russ Feingold on MSNBC — The problem here is that the president put out the wrong document. It should be strategy for victory against al Qaeda. Iraq is not the be-all and end-all of our national security. This situation in Iraq is sapping our military’s strength and encouraging our enemies.

I would say that being confused about who attacked us on 9/11 is not a strategy for success. He is confused about the role Iraq plays in the fight against international terrorism.

The key question is how we get re-focused on the fight against terrorism. We need a flexible timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Bush’s policies are weakening our military and weakening America.

What needs to be fact-checked are Bush’s claims about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to operate independently of the U.S.

Live Blogging Bush

Live blog of this morning’s speech at the Naval Academy — (note — quotes may not be accurate; check against transcripts)

[Update: Executive summary — “stay the course.” See major points on White House web site.]

Wow — he worked 9/11 into the intro. All of the students joined the academy after 9/11, he says.

He’s going through the thank yous — sounds like an Academy Award speech.

This is from yesterday’s Dan Froomkin

What does it say about the president of the United States that he won’t go anywhere near ordinary citizens any more? And that he’ll only speak to captive audiences?

President Bush’s safety zone these days doesn’t appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers.

Bush says:

Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. We must understand the enemy we face. The largest group of “terrorists” are rejectionists who are former Baathists. Many Sunnies rejecgted the democratic elections, but now those who advocate violence are being isolated by Sunnies. We believe that over time most rejectionists will support a democratic Iraq.

The second group are former Baathists.

The third group is the smallest and most lethal. These are foreigners and al Qaeda members. Our commanders believe they are responsible for most of the suicide bombings and beheadings. They are led by Zarqawi.

The third group is trying to establish an Islamic empire. They have nothing to offer the Iraqi people. All they do is kill the innocent and create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will. They will fail. America’s will is strong.

Those terrorists share the same ideology as the 9/11 bombers, the Madrid and London bombers. This is an enemy without conscience and they will not be appeased. If we weren’t fighting them in Iraq they would be killing Americans and others.

We will not accept anything less than complete victory.

We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy in Iraq.

Free societies are peaceful societies, so we are working with Iraqis to build a free society.

Security forces are on the offensive against the enemy.

Iraqi forces are being trained.

We’re repairing infrastructure.

We’ve included UN, coalition partners, other people.

Today I want to speak in depth about one aspect, the training of Iraqi security forces. Our goal is to train Iraqi security forces so that they can continue the fight.

When we defeat “terrorists” in Iraq, we’ll be safer at home.

In the past year, Iraqi forces have made real progress. Now over 120 combat and police batalions are prepared.

Now he’s arguing that Iraqi battalions are conducting operations on their own and are not just supporting U.S. troops.

He’s quoting an Iraqi soldiers who said that all he wants to do is kill terrorists.

He’s describing the territory under the control of Iraqi security forces. Lots of numbers that will be fact checked, I assume.

As Iraqi forces take control of their own territory, coalition forces can concentrate on training and going after high-value targets.

Descriptions of the training follow.

Hersh wins, looks like.

Some critics dismiss this progress, and point to the fact that only one battalion has achieved complete independence from coalition supervision. But that doesn’t mean more battalions are not ready to take the fight against the enemy. The facts are that Iraqi units are becoming more independent and capable. They will be in the fight for freedom today and tomorrow.

Lordy, he said we’ve turned a corner. He said that.

So basically he’s arguing that the Iraqi security forces are way improved and are going to be able to take on more and tougher missions, etc. He’s working up to saying “as they stand up, coalition forces can stand down.”

Bush said, “When our mission of defeating the terrorists is complete, our troops will come home to a proud nation.” Yep, Hersh called it. It’s “stay the course.”

Bush said: “We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission.”
Says he’s willing to send more U.S. troops, if the commanders ask for them.

No artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington, he says.

He’s not leaving himself any wiggle room. He wants victory. He’s quoting Joe Lieberman. We need to do something about Lieberman. He says that withdrawal will send a message that America is weak.

Bush said, “America will not run from car bombers or assassins as long as I am your commander in chief.” Big applause line.

Some critics say I have no plan except to “stay the course,” he says. Yep, that’s it.

I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq, and when terrorists cannot plot nasty plots.

He’s preaching the Neocon gospel. Our own security is best preserved by spreading democracy. Germany and Japan are democracies now. Freedom defeated the ideology of communism and freed eastern Europe and all.

I’m telling you, Hersh nailed him.

Advancing the ideal of democracy and self-government created our nation. We will meet the challenge of our time and answer histories call. Freedom is the destiny of every man, woman, and child on this earth.

He thinks he is Democracy Jesus, in other words.

There’s only one way to honor the lives lost, which is to complete the mission.

He’s done. They’re playing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Bottom line, he may have established some markers to enable some drawdown of troops, on the basis of improved Iraqi security forces, but he’s clearly planning on staying until the “terrorists” are defeated and Iraq is an established and stable democracy. He’s trying to remarket the war as it is without actually changing policy.

David Gregory on MSNBC is saying the document released this morning contains nothing of substance that’s new; it’s just a sales job. The one new thing is calling the Sunni die-hards “rejectionists.”

Once we’ve got a transcript we can fact-check the specific claims he made about the security forces.

Hardball note: Jack Murtha will be on Hardball tonight. Could be interesting.

Dana Priest of the Washington Post on MSNBC is saying that there was nothing new militarily in the speech.

Will this and future speeches have any impact on public opinion? Some of the major polling organizations will probably manage to find a bit of a bump, but I can’t see how this speech will make a big difference.

Stay the Course?

I plan to live blog the President’s speech, but here’s a preview from CBS News.

“No war has ever been won on a timetable,” according to a new White House strategy document (pdf file) released just hours before the speech. …

… The 35-page plan, titled “Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” raises expectations for troop withdrawals, reports CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer. The administration expects but cannot guarantee that troop levels will change over the next year, but any reductions will hinge on the political process, starting with Iraqi elections next month.

In the sidebar:

“It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy … to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power.”

Sounds like “stay the course” to me.

Good News from Iraq!

We know there’s good news from Iraq, because U.S. propagandists plant it in the Iraqi press! Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi write in today’s Los Angeles Times:

As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Every day we do get more and more like the old Soviet Union, don’t we? Note this:

U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon’s efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably “bleeds” into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.

Who’s in charge of this effort, you ask?

The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.

The Lincoln Group bills itself as a “strategic communications and public relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments.” Macho propaganda. According to Source Watch, Lincoln Group and two other firms received contracts from the Pentagon to conduct “psychological operations” in Iraq. The contracts combined could add up to as much as $300 million over five years.

On a related note, Lincoln Group Executive Vice President Chrstian Bailey was also New York City co-chair of the 2004 Republican National Convention. See also Billmon from last June–great background stuff. (I wrote about Lincoln Group last June also, but the post was one of about ten days’ worth of content my old web host “lost.” I should probably investigate.) Anyway, according to Billmon,

According to O’Dwyer’s Newsletter, a PR industry tip sheet, the Lincoln Group was formerly known as Iraqex, but changed its name in March to match that of its corporate parent, the Lincoln Alliance Corporation, a DC-based “business intelligence” firm. …

… in October 2004, the firm was awarded a one-year $6 million contract from the Pentagon to do PR work for the military in Iraq, with three six-months options for another $12.2 million. O’Dwyer editor Kevin McCauley was quoted as calling it “a blockbuster — in terms of dollars — for PR . . . Those are big numbers, even if one is operating in a war zone.”

From the beginning, Iraqex/Lincoln Group has been strangely tight-lipped about its work in Iraq, refusing to talk to the press except through its own hired mouthpiece, who had this to say to the industry trade mag PR Week (11/14/04):

    “For various different security reasons, we can’t disclose information except to say we are very qualified to work on the ground in Iraq,” [the spokesman] said. “We have more experience working in Iraq than any other firm or organization anywhere in the world.”

Puffery aside, though, some details of Iraqex’s operations have made it into the press, such in as this story from the Chicago Tribune (“Word Warriors, 2/4/05), which inadvertently highlighted the fact that the most experienced firm in Iraq has a penchant for hiring GOP political hacks with absolutely no experience in Iraq:

    When [Jonathan Blessing] and another political consultant who had been working for the Bush campaign in Illinois heard about an opportunity to work for a company doing public relations in Iraq, the two jumped at the chance . . .

    Blessing and Swift are working for a private company called Iraqex, a subcontractor for the U.S. Department of Defense . . . Swift worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Illinois, and Blessing worked for the state GOP.

Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into Iraqex’s hiring policies — other than that the company clearly knows the buttered side of the bread from the dry. But things get more interesting when we look at the Lincoln Group’s corporate parent, Lincoln Alliance.

Lincoln is, if anything, even more shadowy than Iraqex, as is the relationship between the two. The Lincoln Group’s website — while offering virtually no info about the firm’s history, owners or officers, does mention that it was formed in 1999 — long before Iraqex was even a gleam in Christian Bailey’s youthful eye. And it clearly has interests that extend far beyond trying to spin the latest collateral damage in Iraq.

Billmon goes on to speculate what those “interests” might be, and it’s fascinating stuff. But now let’s go back to the Los Angeles Times — apparently, the State Department has been running workshops on how to be a free-press, American-style journalist, and the revelations about planted news stories are embarrassing.

“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,” said a senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media.

And they aren’t just planting stories:

Military officials familiar with the effort in Iraq said much of it was being directed by the “Information Operations Task Force” in Baghdad, part of the multinational corps headquarters commanded by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were critical of the effort and were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

A spokesman for Vines declined to comment for this article. A Lincoln Group spokesman also declined to comment.

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

And Big Brother loves you, too.