President Bush answered some reporters’ questions about Iraq today. I checked the White House web site, and the transcript isn’t posted yet. But Susan Jones of CNS provides a glimpse:
President Bush says he fully understands that if the American people think he doesn’t have a plan for victory in Iraq (as Democrats have been saying), they won’t support the war effort.
So on Wednesday, Bush once again explained the stakes — stressing how victory in Iraq is vital to U.S. national security.
At a White House press conference, the president said America’s goals remain the same – to establish an Iraqi government that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself. But he said the methods of achieving those goals are flexible and depend on “dynamic events.” …
… He said he will send more troops to Iraq if Gen. Casey says he needs them to achieve victory, adding that he has “great faith” in Casey to give the best advice.
So is there a plan? Or is “flexibility” a euphemism for “there is no plan”? So far all we’ve gotten from Bush is that there’s a plan for victory, which is to obtain victory. Exactly how we’re going to do that, however, depends on whatever General Casey says it depends on.
At Huffington Post, Marty Kaplan provides another glimpse:
At his press conference today, President Bush rallied his remaining base — those scattered cult members who can always be counted on to agree with whatever he says. To all other Americans, his message is: It’s my way, or the die-way.
If you missed the broadcast, here’s the gist of it:
I’m the decider.
Except for deciding how many troops we have in Iraq, in which case, General Casey is the decider.
Except for deciding what benchmarks the Iraqis have to meet, in which case, Prime Minister al-Maliki is the decider.
Except for deciding what “getting the job done” in Iraq means, in which case, Muqtada al-Sadr and Osama Bin Laden are the deciders.
Except for deciding if it’s “stay the course,” or “strategy for victory,” in which case Karl is the decider.
I’m looking forward to the Baker-Hamilton report. If it agrees with my strategy for victory and getting the job done, I will read it. I call this attitude “flexibility.”
Earlier today, Simon Jenkins of the UK wrote,
This country has been turned by two of the most powerful and civilised nations on Earth into the most hellish place on Earth. Armies claiming to bring democracy and prosperity have brought bloodshed and a misery worse than under the most ruthless modern dictator. This must be the stupidest paradox in modern history. Neither America nor Britain has the guts to rule Iraq properly, yet they lack the guts to leave.
Jenkins says the “coalition” is getting out, whether they admit it or not.
US and UK policy in Iraq is now entering its retreat phrase. Where there is no hope of victory, the necessity for victory must be asserted ever more strongly. This was the theme of yesterday’s unreal US press conference in Baghdad, identical in substance to one I attended there three years ago. There is talk of staying the course, of sticking by friends and of not cutting and running. Every day some general or diplomat hints at ultimatums, timelines and even failure – as did the British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, on Monday. But officially denial is all. For retreat to be tolerable it must be called victory.
The US and British are covering their retreat. Operation Together Forward II has been an attempt, now failed, to pacify Baghdad during Ramadan. In Basra, Britain is pursuing Operation Sinbad to win hearts and minds that it contrives constantly to lose. This may be an advance on Kissinger’s bombing of Laos to cover defeat in Vietnam and Reagan’s shelling of the Shouf mountains to cover his 1984 Beirut “redeployment” (two days after he had pledged not to cut and run). But retreat is retreat, even if it is called redeployment. Every exit strategy is unhappy in its own way.
The Bushies lied us into Iraq; now they’re going to try to lie us out of it. The problem is (as I wrote yesterday) I doubt very much the Commander in Chief will allow any significant movement out of Iraq as long as he is president. He will not allow it because he is weak. He is too weak to admit he is wrong; he is too weak to give up his beloved “war president” prop. You can argue — and I have argued, as well — that Iraq was invaded to get votes and aggrandize presidential power. Of course, that is true. But above all, I strongly suspect, Bush is desperately trying to hang on to the last shreds of his much undeserved post-9/11 glory. He’s like a cult leader who would rather kill his followers and himself, by fire or Kool-Aid, rather than give up that glory and return to being a mortal man.
And, of course, those making excuses for the debacle are blaming everybody but Dear and Glorious Leader Bush. For example, Jenkins says, Iraqis — “They are telling the world that the occupation will have failed only through the ingratitude and uselessness of the Iraqis themselves.” This is a theme picked up by war supporter Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute:
It’s been coming for a long time: the idea that fixing Iraq is the Iraqis’ problem, not ours — that we’ve done all we can and now it’s up to them. …
… The implication of these arguments is clear: The United States should prepare to leave Iraq, after which the Iraqis will work out their own troubles — or they won’t. In any event, we can no longer help them. This notion is wrong and morally contemptible, and it endangers American security around the world.
The current crisis in Iraq is no more just an Iraqi problem than it has ever been. The U.S. military destroyed Iraq’s government and all institutions able to keep civil order. It designated itself an “occupying force,” thereby accepting the responsibility to restore and maintain such order.
A strong statement. Then Kagan’s moral courage fails, and he blames the military for the policy:
And yet U.S. Central Command never actually made establishing order and security a priority.
And that is because, oh thou bleeping idiot Mr. Kagan, it is not up to “U.S. Central Command” to establish priorities. That’s the job of the damnfool civilians whose damnfool idea it was to invade Iraq to begin with. And chief among those is “The Decider,” George Bush.
It is the responsibility of the leaders of government, not the military, to understand why war is engaged and what outcome is desired. And most of the time, when nations go to war, military strategy is crafted with that outcome in mind. Leaders of government are supposed to think about what assets of the enemy they want destroyed, and what they want preserved. They’re supposed to decide if the enemy population should be killed, imprisoned, or befriended. There may be political considerations given to what cities or regions are attacked first. These priorities should be communicated clearly to the generals, who are charged with the job of giving the political leaders the outcome they want.
Instead, we had a Commander in Chief who wants more and more power with less and less responsibility. And lo these three years, nearly every complaint about Iraq is met with a speech about how the President “listens to the generals.”
So what our view is, we continue to support the generals in any we can, and in any way they find fitting. And we also understand that based on changing conditions in Baghdad and elsewhere, they may be asking for different things at different times and we’re going to supply them; we’re going to support them fully.
Have you ever noticed that when President Bush is talking about Iraq in the abstract — about victory and glory and all — he’s the proud and courageous and resolute leader. But ask him about specifics, and suddenly, he’s just playing a supporting role.
See also today’s Harold Meyerson column:
The president has fled the field from “stay the course,” signaling not just the unwinnability of his war but the bankruptcy of his political strategy. For as the president and his party grope for an alternative plan of action in Iraq, Karl Rove’s bright line between Republican resolve and Democratic defeatism has become irreversibly fuzzed.
“Stay the course,” after all, was never intended to have a free-standing existence. Republicans invoked it only in dialectical contrast to “cut and run,” their caricature of the Democrats’ preference for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, or for partitioning it into three separate quasi-nations, or for redeploying our troops to neighboring states — or, more simply, of the Democrats’ mounting conviction that our presence in Iraq was growing more pointless each day.
In a strenuous attempt to make lemonade from lemons, George Bush attacked the Democrats for failing to articulate a clear, compelling alternative to his war, though his war created so cosmic a debacle that there were no compelling alternatives.
Meyerson then names several Republicans, explains the many ways they are backing away from George Bush’s War, and concludes — “As Iraq descends into a Hobbesian bloodbath, it’s every man for himself within the Grand Old Party.”
Sidney Blumenthal wrote in May that Bush doesn’t take his commanders’ advice as much as he claims to:
Stung by the dissent of the former commanders of the US army in Iraq who have demanded the firing of secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, Bush reassured the audience that he listens to generals. “I make my mind up based not upon politics or political opinion polls, but based upon what the commanders on the ground tell me is going on”, he said.
Yet currently serving US military commanders have been explicitly telling him for more than two years, and making public their view, that there is no purely military solution in Iraq. For example, General John Abizaid, the US commander, said on 12 April 2004: “There is not a purely U.S. military solution to any of the particular problems that we’re facing here in Iraq today.”
Newsweek reported on 22 May that the US military, in fact, is no longer pursuing a strategy for “victory”. “It is consolidating to several ‘superbases’ in hopes that its continued presence will prevent Iraq from succumbing to full-flown civil war and turning into a failed state. Pentagon strategists admit they have not figured out how to move to superbases, as a way of reducing the pressure â€“ and casualties â€“ inflicted on the U.S. Army, while at the same time remaining embedded with Iraqi police and military units. It is a circle no one has squared. But consolidation plans are moving ahead as a default position, and US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has talked frankly about containing the spillover from Iraq’s chaos in the region.”
Yet Bush continues to declare as his goal (with encouragement from his polling expert on the NSC) the victory that the U.S. military has given up on. And he continues to wave the banner of a military solution against “the enemy”, although this “enemy” consists of a Sunni insurgency whose leadership must eventually be conciliated and brought into a federal Iraqi government ….
In fact, the famous “Strategy for Victory” released by the White House in November 2005 (which was not, in fact, a strategy but a set of goals) discussed political, economic, and security “tracks,” so Bush could have been downplaying military victories in favor of political solutions lo these many months, if he had chosen to do so, and pretended that was the plan all along. Of course, a real leader would have been strong enough to look the American people in the eye and say “from now on we will be pursuing a political rather than a military solution.”
Peter W. Galbraith wrote in the New York Review of Books (March 9, 2006):
Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush’s shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.
Reviewing Paul Bremer’s book My Year in Iraq, Galbraith wrote,
Bremer says that Bush “was as vigorous and decisive in person as he appeared on television.” But in fact he gives an account of a superficial and weak leader. He had lunch with the President before leaving for Baghdad â€”a meeting joined by the Vice President and the national security teamâ€”but no decision seems to have been made on any of the major issues concerning Iraq’s future. Instead, Bremer got a blanket grant of authority that he clearly enjoyed exercising. The President’s directions seem to have been limited to such slogans as “we’re not going to fail” and “pace yourself, Jerry.” In Bremer’s account, the President was seriously interested in one issue: whether the leaders of the government that followed the CPA would publicly thank the United States. But there is no evidence that he cared about the specific questions that counted: Would the new prime minister have a broad base of support? Would he be able to bridge Iraq’s ethnic divisions? What political values should he have? Instead, Bush had only one demand: “It’s important to have someone who’s willing to stand up and thank the American people for their sacrifice in liberating Iraq.” According to Bremer, he came back to this single point three times in the same meeting. Similarly, Ghazi al-Yawar, an obscure Sunni Arab businessman, became Bush’s candidate for president of Iraq’s interim government because, as Bremer reports, Bush had “been favorably impressed with his open thanks to the Coalition.”
This tells us that Bush’s chief priority is his own emotional gratification. And I see no evidence that has changed. So as we go forward and try to figure out what out government is doing, keep that in mind. Whatever policies we adopt, Bush’s emotional gratification will be Job One.
As of now, what’s the plan? Who the hell knows? Today the Washington Post reported that more troops may be sent to Baghdad, but the New York Times reported that there are no plans to send more troops to Baghdad. (And why do I suspect General Casey got a phone call from the White House ordering him to retract the first story until after the midterm elections?)
Mark Benjamin, “U.S. generals call for Democratic takeover”
John Dickerson, “President Bush Renames His Iraq Plan”
Christopher Dickey, “A Brother’s Rage”
Tom Engelhardt, “Playing the Numbers Game with Death in Iraq”
Michael Gordon, “Iraqi Realities Undermine the Pentagonâ€™s Predictions”
Ron Hutcheson and Margaret Talev, “Announcement draws skeptical reaction in U.S.”
Mark Tran, “US soldier to voice Iraq conflict opposition“