In yesterday’s press conference, President Bush trotted out one of his straw man friends —
I understand here in Washington, some people say we’re not at war. I know that. They’re just wrong in my opinion.
At least this straw man seems to have a backstory. Yesterday Bush told a group of (highly selected) journalists:
I ran into a kid the other day who used to work here and he goes to a famous law school, and he said, the problem, Mr. President, is people don’t believe we’re at war. I not only believe we’re at war, I know we’re at war.
Of course, at the moment much of the Republican party is pretending there is no war. And some people say the last thing campaigning Republican politicians needed yesterday was Bush dragging the Iraq debacle back into the limelight.
So why did he do it?
A headline in today’s Boston Globe says “Bush puts optimism aside in his assessment of war,” but the fact is he still says we’re winning. That’s not putting “optimism” aside. Yesterday’s press conference was nothing but an attempt to repackage Bush’s giddy delusions.
From the Boston Globe article, by Rick Klein:
Bush continued to back Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, defended the decision to keep fighting in Iraq, and rejected growing calls from Democrats and some Republicans to set a timetable for US withdrawal.
“My view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done,” the president said. “If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America’s security, I’d bring our troops home tomorrow. I met too many wives and husbands who have lost their partners in life, too many children who won’t ever see their mom and dad again.”
“Absolutely, we’re winning,” Bush said. “As a matter of fact, my view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done.”
With the body counts soaring, the country descending deeper into civil war and the central government consistently unable to assert itself, how can he call this winning?
The answer: It’s becoming increasingly clear that Bush sees the war in Iraq in very simple terms. As he himself said, he believes that the only way to lose is to leave. Therefore anything else is winning — anything else at all.
Even if no progress is being made — even if things are getting worse, rather than better — simply staying is winning.
So we’re winning.
Froomkin was the one who alerted me to Bush’s talk with the selected journalists. Here’s my favorite part — Bush’s explanation of why Iraq is not Vietnam.
What’s happening is I’m not â€” remember the pictures in the Oval Office, with them sitting over the maps, picking out the targets in Vietnam? That’s not happening in this war. The Commander-in-Chief, through the Secretary of Defense, must empower the military people on the ground, and the embassy, to work â€” and by the way, these guys are working very closely, which is important â€” to implement the strategy. And if tactics need to change, change them. Just keep us posted. And that’s what’s happening.
Abizaid, who I think is one of the really great thinkers, John Abizaid â€” I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to talk to him, he’s a smart guy â€” he came up with this construct: If we leave, they will follow us here. That’s really different from other wars we’ve been in. If we leave, okay, so they suffer in other parts of the world, used to be the old mantra. This one is different. This war is, if they leave, they’re coming after us. As a matter of fact, they’ll be more emboldened to come after us. They will be able to find more recruits to come after us.
Abizaid clearly sees this struggle â€” he sees the effects of victory in Iraq as having a major impact on other parts of the Middle East. He also sees the reciprocal of that, a defeat â€” just leaving â€” the only defeat is leaving, is letting things fall into chaos and letting al Qaeda have a safe haven. And he sees it as a â€” he sees that as an accelerating effect to creating incredible hostility toward people that are moderate in their view. They may not necessarily be as democrat as they want, but they’re moderate in their view about the future.
The only defeat is leaving. As long as we’re still there, we’re winning. Got that?
And I really like the part about “If we leave, they will follow us here.” I do remember jokes we told back in the day — If we pull out of Vietnam, the Vietnamese navy will attack Los Angeles. Nobody believed that, of course; it was just a way to underline how absurd the war was.
But does anyone really believe “if we leave, they will follow us here”? Why would that be true? We don’t exactly have al Qaeda pinned down over there.
I mean, we weren’t in Iraq on September 11, were we?
Sorry; I couldn’t resist.
Here’s another bit from Bush talking to the selected journalists:
My attitude about our â€” look, I’m into campaigning out there: People want to know, can you win? That’s what they want to know. I mean, there’s â€” look, there’s some 25 percent or so that want us to get out, shouldn’t have been out there in the first place â€” and that’s fine. They’re wrong. But you can understand why they feel that way. They just don’t believe in war, and â€” at any cost.
Now, if Bush really believes only “25 percent or so” thinks the Iraq invasion was a mistake and wants the U.S. out … well, as I’ve said elsewhere, Bubble Boy is in for a hard fall. The most recent Newsweek poll says 25 percent think we’re making progress; 65 percent say we’re not. The most recent CNN poll says 64 percent oppose the war and Bush’s handling of it. And 56 percent say the invasion was a mistake, according to the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll (all on Pollingreport.com).
As my Ma would say, the boy’s got no more notion of what’s going on than a hill of beans.
I believe when you get attacked and somebody declares war on you, you fight back. And that’s what we’re doing.
Iraq attacked us, when?
Anyway, that’s where my â€” that’s what I’m thinking about these days. Upbeat about things. Upbeat about the elections. As I said â€” I’m sharing with you what I said in the press conference â€” I’m not breaking a lot of news here, but I said, look, I understand the conventional wisdom, it’s over. You’ve got people who are dancing in the end zones and they’re measuring their drapes in their new offices. It’s not over. We’ve got the issues on our side.
I just hope they’re not dancing in the end zones and measuring the drapes at the same time.
And you talk to â€” admittedly, my focus groups are not broad, but people always say to me, thank you for protecting us.
As he says, the focus groups are not, um, broad.. I think the White House must keep a staff of people who will pretend to be a focus group and thank Bush for protecting them. From time to time, these same people also tell Bush stuff like “some people don’t believe there’s a war.” It’s what keeps him going. Otherwise he gets very moody and yells a lot.
Although many hopes are pinned on James Baker’s yet-to-be-released recommendations for policy changes in Iraq, Sidney Blumenthal writes that Bush is fixin’ to ignore them.
Baker, the ultimate cold-eyed realist and authority figure who field-marshaled the strategy in Florida that secured the presidency for Bush, has publicly suggested in the past three weeks that he will offer policy changes. Since then, Bush has plunged into rhetorical contortions to explain that he is â€œstaying the course,â€ that he is altering his â€œtacticsâ€ and, finally, that he never said â€œstay the course.â€ He has adopted the Groucho Marx doctrine: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes or, in this case, ears?
Bush is engaged in a shadow politics of fending off Baker that he canâ€™t admit and that require new disingenuous explanations for rejection even before receiving Bakerâ€™s report. But will consummate political player Baker permit a dynamic in which he is humiliated and join the ranks of the dismissed and discarded, like â€œgood soldierâ€ Colin Powell? If Baker, taking his cue from Bushâ€™s rebuke, simply closes ranks, what would have been his point, except to highlight his failure at an attempted rescue? By undermining Baker, especially beforehand, Bush sends a signal that he is determined to maintain his counterproductive strategies in Iraq and the Middle East. Yet his tightening coil will trigger further attempts among U.S. allies and Arab governments to disentangle themselves.
There is much speculation about what Baker will recommend, and even if Baker’s recommendations are really more than a pre-election feint to make people think Bush will change his policies. But, he won’t. I said it yesterday, and I’m saying it again now — Bush will not be changing his policies in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Bush held a press conference that can only be interpreted as a preemptive repudiation of Baker. Of course, other motives underlay the press conference as well. It was an effort to repackage Bushâ€™s unpopular Iraq policy on the eve of the elections and to demonstrate that he is in charge of circumstances that have careened out of control.
In his remarks, Bush digressed at length to give rote explanations that were elementary, irrelevant or misleading. His supposed admissions of error were attempts at deflecting responsibility. Rather than stating the facts that his Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq had forced the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the civil service (by banning those with Baathist Party membership, which included nearly every bureaucrat), he passively said, â€œWe overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people.â€ And: â€œWe did not expect the Iraqi army, including the Republican Guard, to melt away in the way that it did in the face of advancing coalition forces.â€
In BushWorld, nothing that goes wrong is ever Bush’s fault.
One year ago today we were marking the two thousandth American in uniform lost in Iraq. James Dao wrote in the New York Times (October 26, 2005):
Sgt. Anthony G. Jones, fresh off the plane from Iraq and an impish grin on his face, sauntered unannounced into his wife’s hospital room in Georgia just hours after she had given birth to their second son.
For two joyous weeks in May, Sergeant Jones cooed over their baby and showered attention on his wife. But he also took care of unfinished business, selling his pickup truck to retire a loan, paying off bills, calling on family and friends.
”I want to live this week like it is my last,” he told his wife.
Three weeks later, on June 14, Sergeant Jones was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on his third tour in a war that is not yet three years old. He was 25. …
… as the nation pays grim tribute today to the 2,000 service members killed in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, their collective stories describe the painful stresses and recurring strains that an extended conflict, with all its demands for multiple tours, is placing on families, towns and the military itself as they struggle to console the living while burying the dead.
In the year since, another 810 American soldiers have died; this includes 97 this month.
Update: A sober cartoon.