Our Plan for Glorious Victory in Iraq

[Update: Here is the transcript of the press conference, and here is Skippy’s translation.]

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.”

Regarding the “Hobbesian bloodbath” — just read the most recent posts by the two Iraqi bloggers on my blogroll — Riverbend and A Star from Mosul.

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 – and casualties – 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 —a meeting joined by the Vice President and the national security team—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?)

See also:

The Next Six Months

Mark Benjamin, “U.S. generals call for Democratic takeover

Drew Brown, “Some active-duty troops voice their dissent from U.S. policy in Iraq

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 Pentagon’s Predictions

Ron Hutcheson and Margaret Talev, “Announcement draws skeptical reaction in U.S.

Mark Tran, “US soldier to voice Iraq conflict opposition

23 thoughts on “Our Plan for Glorious Victory in Iraq

  1. I watched Bush’s opening statement and could hear his admission that he had made mistakes, but I’m sure that is only as a political ploy, hoping to gain a few votes for the repugs in the elections. I truly hate the man and believe that the screw up in Iraq is reason enough to vote against every rupug around, besides the others documented by maha and others. However, I also believe we need to leave Iraq when there is at least a semblance of order. We may be there a decade. It may be left to President Obama to craft and exit strategy that will work.

  2. I also believe we need to leave Iraq when there is at least a semblance of order.

    However, IMO we’re in a catch 22 — our presence is the chief cause of the disorder. And we’re not going to be there a decade. Even if we try, we’re not going to be there a decade. Events will see to that.

    Our choices are these: We can leave hard, or we can leave harder.

  3. But…but….WAAHHH, what about the PRIZE [oil control] if we leave???? The Bush buddies are determined to collect ‘their prize’ come hell or high water, come dead bodies in every Iraqi street, come thousands more American deaths, come whatever may.
    Even if Bush has to eat crow to stall leaving Iraq….. then his handlers will force him to eat crow before they’d cut and run from that tantalizing prize .

  4. “He is too weak to admit he is wrong; he is too weak to give up his beloved “war president” prop.”

    Leaving Iraq won’t force him to do that. He’d still be a “war president ” for the “War on Terror”. You know, the one that goes on forever and is the reason we have to throw away the Constitution.

  5. But…but….WAAHHH, what about the PRIZE [oil control] if we leave????

    That’s exactly my thought. Until Bush can come clean about why we’re really there (hell will freeze over first), I don’t waste a lot of time listening to that clown.

    The cover reason – Terrorism – is just smokescreen and diversion. We’re not leaving until either 1) the last drop of oil is sucked out of the ground, or 2) the costs of doing so become so high that Bush’s masters give up or move on to another find.

    Why is it, that when we invaded Bagdad, only the Oil Ministry was protected from looting? Why are we building a massive embassy in Bagdad plus four permanent bases? It’s going to take a massive failure on our part – and not just the low level civil war we’re seeing today – for us to abandon this investment. And in this effort, Bush is expendable.

    I like the thoughts expressed in this DKos diary, A Cardboard King.

  6. Is it possible that Mr. Bush’s brain operates similarly to the brains of the following? During the Israeli/Lebanon war, an Israeli official said Lebanon should be grateful Israel is systematically wiping out Hezbollah strong points and weapon stockpiles.

    Or, an American government official justifying the use of nuclear weapons. If a nuclear bomb were to drop on New York city, it would be a positive step, an inexpensive first step in urban renewal which that city is in dire need of.

  7. It boggles my mind why on earth they let Bush out for these pressers. The one issue that’s sinking the Republicans more than any other is Iraq, and so that’s what he talked about.

    I cannot imagine Bush reading James Baker’s recommendations, and I’d bet serious money that none of them will ever see the light of day. That would just be too embarrassing. He’ll nuke the whole world before he lets Poppy’s friends show him up.

    BTW, if you want an alternative transcript to today’s presser, I highly recommend norbizness.


  8. I think Bush is going to escalate the conflict, he’s probably going repeat the Fallujah massacre in Baghdad with brute force….He’s got nothing to loose at this point. He might just let a new Congress loose the war in Iraq by being responsive to the will of the American people by calling for withdrawal. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that somebody other than Bush will bear responsibility of defeat in Bush’s mind. That’s where James Baker comes in.. He’s going to engineer the excuse through failed benchmarks.

  9. I think you have something there, Swami. But I believe the escalation will be for the purpose of wresting control of the oil.

    For several months now, I have noticed GWB inserting a new phrase into his speeches when he refers to Iraq. I also remember Cheney using the same new phrase. It is about the terrrrrists ‘winning’ if we ‘cut and run’ and then terrrrrists can use all that oil to fund their terrrrrrism. [talk about projection!] Here’s the new phrase repeated in today’s presser:
    “If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves,….”
    I think the administration is setting the stage with a ‘plausible rationale’ [like the WMD marketing of ’02] to escalate the situation whereby he just out and out commands our military to take control of the oil.

  10. A slip by King George in a news conference a few months back revealed his mind, I think. He said that it would fall to his successor to make final decisions in Iraq. Maha said yesterday – that ‘his lips will fall off’ before he admits he made a mistake. That’s well said. So George will let a few thousand more GIs make the trip home in a box, so his successor can quit the war, and George can claim in his memoirs – that we were on the verge of winning, but his somebody else (a Democrat) lacked his resolve.

    George will retire to obscurity in 2008, but the Republicans don’t want their power to fade with George. Two more years of failure in Iraq, and the Republicans will be in SERIOUS trouble. From here on out, the Republican party machine is at war with the administration in a fight to prevent the total destruction of the neocon machine.

  11. He’d still be a “war president ” for the “War on Terror”.

    Yeah, but that “war” is just a metaphor.

  12. For Bush, it’s not about Iraq anymore. It’s not even about democracy anymore. It’s about him. His “legacy.”

    The Republicans decided THEY would make Clinton’s “legacy” by impeaching him, knowing full well that the impeachment would make all the history textbooks. Bush is now in a situation where it is painfully obvious that he will leave office having completely broken one country (Iraq) and seriously damaged another (ours) and that unless something really big happens, this is what is going to go into the textbooks about him. He is frantic to reverse this dynamic that is utterly beyond his control, but doesn’t know what else to do about it except make speeches.

  13. 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

    I have mixed feelings about pulling out now for mainly this reason.

    With all due respect to the fact that the lives on the line are not mine, I believe that We are responsible for the looming civil war and the consequences thereof, and therefore the only honorable thing to do is to make our decision, whatever it is, based on ‘what is best for Iraqis’ and not ‘what is best for us’.

    Right now I am not sure what is best for Iraqis. What is clear is that the place is not going to settle down of it’s own accord after we leave because the majority of the fighting now does not eeven involve us – it is Iraqi on Iraqi. However, it is not clear that our presense helps much at all – it probably keeps the conflict from escalating in the short term but what are the longterm prospect?

    I dont know the answers to to these things, but I agree that the idea that “oh well, we’ve done our bit. It’s up to them now” is dishonorable – you don’t walk into another person’s home, wreck the place, and then tell them to clean it up. Even if we pull out we are obligated to use every other lever to try and stop the violence.

  14. r4d20 — I agree that we have a responsibility to do the best we can for Iraq, but more and more people who understand the region say that our keeping troops there is not the way to do that. We have to look at other options.

  15. BRING EM’ ON! …..Yep, the glory days. Mr. High-Test. Do not gaze upon me….I bet he shagged Laura that night.

    But now he’s trapped like a rat in a box, and like Hitler, Koresh, and Jones he’ll pull as many down with him as he can to aviod answering for his evil-doing. Yep, bring em’ on!

  16. I agree that we have a responsibility to do the best we can for Iraq, but more and more people who understand the region say that our keeping troops there is not the way to do that. We have to look at other options.

    That is a completely legitmate point of view. I’m not 100% sure its would be best to leave, but I lean towards leaving. One reason is that I think the end result will NOT be “Iraq as a terrorist haven” but instead will be “Iraq as a puppet of Iran” which isn’t great for us but better for the Iraqis (compared to years of Afghanistan style civil war).

  17. >> Bush’s chief priority is his own emotional gratification

    I have to say that it’d depressing when I hear you loopy, fantasy world libs, that believe if we just sit on our hands, the world will continue as it is, and we’ll all live in hippie peace.

    Do you hear the rhetoric of Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela? Have you read up on the radical Islam ideology? Do you realize that WE are their targets for murder and destruction? Oh sorry, I guess that’s all just a fantasy. I’m sure if we sit down at the United Nations and talk it through that everything will be just peachy.

    The libs claim to be the party of reason, but yet they can’t see past their political spite for GW. They’re so honed in on winning a political race that they don’t realize what’s happening in the world around them.

  18. This is become so obscene that it leaves me uncomprehending. This has to have been the most stupid military adventure of all time. The price won’t have been paid for this idiocy when our childrens children are dead. GWBushit will be remembered throughout history as the “leader” who made hitler look like a piker. Napoleon was a genius and well mannered individual compared to this creep. I can only shake my head. For a country of smart people we sure seem to have problems getting quality help at the top. I mean bushit is a fucking moron. What a mess.

  19. Do you hear the rhetoric of Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela? Have you read up on the radical Islam ideology? Do you realize that WE are their targets for murder and destruction? Oh sorry, I guess that’s all just a fantasy. I’m sure if we sit down at the United Nations and talk it through that everything will be just peachy.

    Do you hear Kruschev banging his shoe at the UN. Do you hear the communist countries talking smack to us? They did, we didn’t go to war to prove anything, and where are they now? In nascent democracies and capitaistic countries. Just because someone is threatening us doesn’t meant they have the means to accomplish those means. Although I will give you the fact that current realities are that it is more of a reality now because of the proliferation of arms and such. We are less secure and less safe now because of Bush’s approach to not sit on our hands but get out there into Iraq and get our hands dirty.

  20. When I read comment #17 by Justin, my sense of fairness was offended. Justin spat out demeaning interpretive nonsense, lumping those [who see the world differently than he does] into some dismissive category he created in his head. I right away felt myself focus on actively engaging and pushing back at him for his unfair and untrue categorization of ‘us’.

    Hmmm, I wonder if this Mahablog comment section action/reaction might offer a bit of a clue into the etiology of unpalatable developments on the world stage, the very real ‘us-them’ issue which Justin highlighted. Has American foreign policy been so insultive and dismissive of different cultures that other peoples became intently focused on ways to ‘push back’?

    Has radical anti-Americanism grown because our society acts ‘righteously’ dismissive of and insulting toward those who live and believe differently?

  21. I have to say that it’d depressing when I hear you loopy, fantasy world libs, that believe if we just sit on our hands, the world will continue as it is, and we’ll all live in hippie peace.

    I have to say that it’s depressing when I hear you brainwashed, fantasy world wingnuts believe that if we just trust George W. Bush he’ll lead us to DisneyJesusLand.

    Do you realize that WE are their targets for murder and destruction?

    I was in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. I suspect I realize the dangers better than you do. I also realize that Bush’s policies have failed, are continuing to fail, and will fail in the future. We are NOT safer than we were on September 10, 2001. Every second Bush stays in the Oval Office, the United States becomes poorer and weaker. That’s why I don’t like him.

    So, Justin, why do you hate America? Is it OK with you that are army has been run into the ground in a pointless war? Why do you want America to be poorer and weaker and in hock to Japan and China? Do you enjoy it that the President of the United States has to hide behind China’s skirts to make North Korea settle down? Why is this OK with you?

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