The Mission Creep

Reactions to yesterday’s press conference, in which the President vowed repeatedly to “complete the mission” in Iraq:

PRESIDENT BUSH EMPHASIZED no fewer than 10 times in his news conference Monday that U.S. forces would not leave Iraq “before the job is done.” It’s a clever piece of rhetoric, appealing to Americans’ sense of duty as well as their pride. Just one question: What was that job again?

Is it to end the sectarian violence in Iraq? Prevent terrorists from flocking to the United States? Bring democracy to Iraq and thus provide a beacon for reformers throughout the Middle East? …

… At times, the loudest noise at his news conference was the sound of mission creep. [Editorial, Los Angeles Times]


For a moment there, I was almost encouraged. George W. Bush, the most resolutely incurious and inflexible of presidents, was reported last week to have been surprised at seeing Iraqi citizens — who ought to be grateful beneficiaries of the American occupation, I mean “liberation” — demonstrating in support of Hezbollah and against Israel.

Surprise would be a start, since it would mean the Decider was admitting novel facts to his settled base of knowledge and reacting to them. Alas, it seems the door to the presidential mind is still locked tight. “I don’t remember being surprised,” he said at his news conference yesterday. “I’m not sure what they mean by that.”

I’m guessing “they” might mean that when you try to impose your simplistic, black-and-white template on a kaleidoscopic world, and you end up setting the Middle East on fire, either you’re surprised or you’re not paying attention. But that’s just me. [Eugene Robinson, “President on Another Planet,” Washington Post]


One exchange did not inspire confidence. A reporter asked,

    Mr. President, I’d like to go back to Iraq. You’ve continually cited the elections, the new government, its progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You’ve had to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?

Bush responded,

    You’ve covered the Pentagon, you know that the Pentagon is constantly adjusting tactics because they have the flexibility from the White House to do so.

The reporter–who was not asking about tactics–interrupted:

    I’m talking about strategy.

Bush then said:

    The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That’s the strategy.

Actually, that’s not a strategy. That’s a goal. A commander in chief should know the difference. A strategy is how one goes about–in a general way–accomplishing goals. Tactics are how one implements the strategy. [David Corn]

I’ve blogged about the Administration’s confusing goals for strategy before
. It’s plain Bush does not know what the word strategy means.

Pretty much regardless of what he was asked, Bush had the same answer: That anything short of his policies is tantamount to surrendering to terrorists and would be disastrous.

Bush seemed much happier reframing the questions than answering them.

“And the question facing this country is, will — do we, one, understand the threat to America? In other words, do we understand that a failed — failed states in the Middle East are a direct threat to our country’s security? And secondly, will we continue to stay engaged in helping reformers, in working to advance liberty, to defeat an ideology that doesn’t believe in freedom?” he asked. [Dan Froomkin, “President on a Mission,”]

In this case Bush confuses execution with intention. If you disagree with his policies, it must be because you disagree with his intentions for Iraq. He can’t admit that whatever we’re doing in Iraq shows no promise of fulfilling those intentions. I’ve written about this disconnect before, too, such as here. And here’s a Washington Post op ed from last May by law professor David Cole, who says that the President’s “war” against terrorism is all about rhetoric and symbolism, not substance. “Tough talk in news conferences, overheated charges that evaporate under scrutiny and executions for symbolic purposes will not make us safer,” Cole wrote. Yet that’s all we’re getting from this President.

The sad thing is that he’s right about what a catastrophe it would be if Iraq became a failed state, or a satellite of Iran, but seems to me it’s heading in that direction anyway.

The exchange I described in the last post, in which Bush tried once again to associate September 11 and Iraq, got considerable attention in the press. Jim Rutenberg writes for The New York Times,

The White House has argued that the Iraq war remains potent politically for Republicans when they cast it part of the broader war on terror, although the administration has found it at times difficult to make that case.

When Mr. Bush referred to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in reference to a question about Iraq today, a reporter pressed him, asking, “What did Iraq have to do with that?” Mr. Bush responded somewhat testily, “Nothing,” and added, “Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.”

In the run-up to the invasion in March 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney did call attention to the theory, since discredited, that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers might have met in Prague before the attacks with an Iraqi intelligence officer.

In general, however, Mr. Bush struck a different tone than the vice president has used in recent weeks, including Mr. Cheney’s suggestion two weeks ago that implied that Ned Lamont’s victory in the Connecticut primary against Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut would embolden “Al Qaeda types.”

I watched a little bit of Hardball last night — as flawed as Hardball is, at least it hasn’t been taken hostage by JonBenet Ramsey news, as has Countdown — on which Rick Santorum claimed there was a meeting in Prague, and we did too find WMDs in Iraq, and Chris “Tweety” Matthews sat there like a bump on a log and didn’t challenge him. Grrr. But Tweety and others pointed out Bush’s words — “Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack,” leaves open the possibility that Saddam Hussein was associated with the attack, somehow, even though there is no proof (outside of neocons’ fertile imaginations) of such association.

[Update: — Molly Ivins, “Let the Truth-Telling Begin,” Truthdig:

The Bushies are having the hardest time trying to un-lie now. For example, at his Monday press conference the president asserted, “Nobody’s ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the [Sept. 11] attack.”

How true: What Vice President Cheney in December 2001 said about links between 9/11 and Iraq was that it was “pretty well confirmed” that hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence. On June 17, 2004, Cheney said: “We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down, we just don’t know. … I can’t refute the Czech claim, I can’t prove the Czech claim, I just don’t know.”

In July 2004, the CIA’s own report stated the agency did not have “any credible information” that the alleged meeting ever took place. The CIA said the whole concoction was based on a single source “whose veracity … has been questioned” and that the Iraqi official allegedly involved was in U.S. custody and denied the meeting ever took place. The 9/11 commission had already concluded that the meeting never occurred.

Cheney has a consistent pattern of exaggeration on intelligence related to Iraq. The tragedy is that at least half the American people believed Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9/11 plot—and most soldiers serving in Iraq still believe this.

Go, Molly.]

There were several questions about Katrina yesterday, also, and I plan to elaborate in the next post.

15 thoughts on “The Mission Creep

  1. Pingback: The Heretik » Blog Archive » Resident Alien

  2. “…or a satellite of Iran, but seems to me it’s heading in that direction anyway.”

    Of course this is why we are staying now. Don’t forget the oil in Iraq which Iran would like to control and the close proximity to Iran in the event we need to bomb the hell out of them.

  3. Folks, I read or have read just about everything available on our involvement in Iraq including Fiasco by Thomas Rick, Cobra II by Gordon and Trainor, Plan of Attack and Bush at War by Bob Woodward to name but a few. At the time of my retirement from the military, I was a member of the 377th Theater Support Command in New Orleans. This unit was responsible for ALL movement and logistics associated with our deployments into Afghanistan, Kuwait/Iraq, Somalia–the entire Middle East. Although I retired shortly before 9/11, I remained in close contact with many of the officers of the 377th. And, as a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, I have long-held beliefs that to make war absent a bona fide casus belli is nothing less than inhuman and certainly criminal. Since Bush’s questionable ascendancy to the presidency, I, and many others, have known that he intended to take us into a quagmire in Iraq for purely political reasons.

    Bush has always been a failure in business and in his personal life and someone–daddy or daddy’s friends–have had to bail him out. Daddy, in GW’s view failed to overthrow Saddam when he had the chance in ’91, and he was denied a second term. George W., of course, had to show up his father. We know from Clausewitz that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” Right thinking people might tend to believe that means something used when diplomacy has failed, but our recent history beginning with Lyndon Johnson demonstrates very succinctly that the meaning of the phrase is now “don’t change horses in mid-stream” or “you wouldn’t want to change the commander-in-chief in the midst of a war.” While it is true that our involvement in Vietnam began before he became president, Johnson, upon assuming office, quickly began amassing nearly a half-million combat and support troops in Southeast Asia. With Westmoreland continously announcing “progress” against the insurgency, the war dragged on. Johnson would claim to be pursuing a negotiated settlement, yet for all intents and purposes, this was empty rhetoric. Johnson used the “commander-in-chief in wartime” to assure his reelection.

    Nixon’s campaign for the presidency was based on the promise that he would end the war in Vietnam and bring peace with honor. With Kissinger already working behind the scenes to sabotage Johnson’s efforts at negotiations, Nixon himself would prolong the war until after his reelection. Peace was declared close on the heals of his second inauguration. This tactic of using war to stay in political office was not lost on George W. Bush. Bush, however, has taken this abomination of politics to new heights by extending it to retaining others of his party in office while denigrating those of the opposition. I suppose, we should say that Bush is probably not intelligent enought to have reasoned this out for himself and that it was Karl Rove’s brainchild.

    Without rehashing how we got into the war, suffice it to say that where we are today is the result of incredible hubris, lessons not learned, and a failure of honor. To think that we could overthrow and government and not have a plan to establish a new government is beyond belief, but that is what happened. There was no plan for the aftermath of the invasion and our troops, through fear or other reasons began to attack the civilian populace and behaved like common thugs–the same way Saddam Hussein had been. We destroyed, and we beat them up, we took their dignity and they rose up against us. Our generals, not being themselves products of Vietnam, fought back exactly as we did in Vietnam by using conventional tactics, refusing to acknowledge the kind of war we were fighting.

    I have just come from a town hall meeting with Sen. David Vitter who responded to a few questions about the war in Iraq–Afghanistan seems to be totally forgotten now. His responses were the usual Republican mantra but it demonstrated to me that the depth of his ignorance on issues that fundamentally effect our society is extraordinarily profound. I believe this to be true of all of our elected representatives in Washington and it disgusts me no end and I would like to see all of their heads on pikes lining Constitution Ave!

    I seem to have gotten carried away. I apologize for my verbosity but at the moment I am charged up. Thanks for “listening.”

  4. maha, are you confusing countdown with hardball? Hardball is Tweety’s show; Countdown is Olbermann’s.

    In the context of the article, it doesn’t really matter, of course, but it threw me for a second.

  5. Merciless, I think maha was saying Countdown was covering the JonBenet story while Matthews was using Hardball for only political stories. Which was true, I listened to it while on the computer. And Santorum was being just as much a jackass as you could imagine.

  6. I wish I had been confusing Countdown with Hardball, but I wasn’t. I started to watch Countdown last night but gave up after they went on, and on, and on, about JonBenet.

  7. I hate to put words in Molly’s mouth, but Cheney has a consistent pattern of deceptions.

    I gotta admit I’m enjoying watching Bush get taken apart..I see it as divine retribution/ the law of reaping and sowing.. Bush needs to be humbled.

    Oh yeah, almost forgot..another 4 dead servicemen killed in Iraq in the past 2 days. I’m sure glad my children aren’t dying for Bush’s bid for glory. Let’s roll..Bring em’ on!

  8. he doesn’t have the slightest idea what the word means.

    The poor child has never had to accomplish anything tangible in his life. I don’t think he grasps even the basic concept of a strategy. He thinks a strategy is explaining what he wants and letting the help figure out how to do it.

  9. Strategy is lacking on both sides. The Republicans want to stay on a course of failure, and the Democrats want to publish a “timetable” on leaving. Let me say this. The war is immorral, illegal and one of the most devisive things that has happened since Vietnam. The Democrats voted for it along with Herr Bush’s friends. Now that we are there, we are there. We invited the terrorist’s in. We need diplomacy and we need to work with the UN, NATO and all nations that want peace in the middle east. If we just leave, the terorists will use Iraq as a base, exactly the way they used Afganistan. Iran will take half the Shiitte population with them. The democrats are as fumbling and inept as the republicans. We need new people, people that have a brain, and know what time it is. We need true campaign reform so that corporate and special interests groups don’t finance polititians multi-million dollar campaigns. We won’t get “government of the people” until that happens. Meanwhile, there is not a whit of difference between the parties, if you believe that there is, you are just kidding yourselves.

  10. Strategy is lacking on both sides. The Republicans want to stay on a course of failure, and the Democrats want to publish a “timetable” on leaving.

    I disagree; I think Jack Murtha’s “over-the-horizon” redeployment plan is a perfectly good strategy. Other individual Dems have given more thought to strategy beyond a timetable. The problem for Dems is that they have absolutely no power to DO anything, and because the situation in Iraq is fluid any strategy they might propose would likely be inoperative before they actually get any power.

    Meanwhile, there is not a whit of difference between the parties, if you believe that there is, you are just kidding yourselves.

    Wow, you must be new here.

    Get a clue, son: The Democrats are the only alternative to the Republicans you are going to get. You can whine and bitch about it all you like, but that’s the reality. We either reform the Dems or move to Canada.

    It’s my position that reform is possible, but we citizens need to make some changes in our political behaviors before the Dems can change. If you are waiting for the Magic Candidate to come along and save the government, however, you’re a fool.

    Before arguing with me, please read some of my earlier posts on the Democrats, in particular:

    Bad Actors

    Can Dems Find Their Mojo?

  11. The poor child has never had to accomplish anything tangible in his life. I don’t think he grasps even the basic concept of a strategy. He thinks a strategy is explaining what he wants and letting the help figure out how to do it.

    “Strategy” is just a word that Georgie uses to sound impressive. It’s like someone who tosses out French phrases or big words but doesn’t know their meaning.

    I had a boss who was a rich kid (others gave him the apt nickname of “weenie”). He gave me endless insights into Bush’s psychology – the two could’ve been brothers psychologically. I was stunned to realize that this guy thought that all he had to do was say something, and everyone would somehow believe it was true, or it would somehow materialize, no matter how ridiculous. He often came across as King Canute, cluelessly commanding the ocean.

    Like Bush he had a fancy MBA from a well known private school, but clearly never had to create anything tangible in the real world all by his lonesome self. He took great pride in what he thought was his unsurpassed ability to deceive others, which often blew up in his face. He also took great pride in a former job where he was charged with gutting a particular business, throwing dozens of people out of work. His contempt for people below his family’s station was barely concealed.

    I really resented having to carry this immature, toxic parasite everywhere – telling him what to say at meetings, or even directing his efforts – essentially me managing my superior. When I lost this job, he fought hard to retain me, because I was his crutch.

    My point is that until you experience someone as pathetic as this, it’s difficult to believe they exist and rise to high position. And I think that’s a large part of the problem with this country: Bush the skilled deceiver, has spent his life crafting an image that significant numbers of the public want to believe in.

    His appeal is to people who aren’t particularly bright, and who are taken in by his moronic patter of words like “Strategy”, and the infantile personality that goes with it.

  12. Speaking of deceptions, did anyone notice how the administration was manipulating the media on the story of a possible underground nuclear test in N. Korea because someone doing satellite analysis saw a roll of wire next to an unidentified hole in the ground? The story was planted by the administration, IMO, because who else is doing analysis of satellite intelligence? The media, naturally, asked the idiot-in-chief, so he got his sound-bite of warning N. Korea not to do it. Expect the fear-mongering to be racheted up to a screech as the election approaches.

Comments are closed.