Shopping for Approval

The President searches diligently for experts who will tell him what he wants to hear, and he may have found them. Michael A. Fletcher and Thomas E. Ricks write in today’s Washington Post (emphasis added) —

President Bush heard a blunt and dismal assessment of his handling of Iraq from a group of military experts yesterday, but the advisers shared the White House’s skeptical view of the recommendations made last week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, sources said.

The three retired generals and two academics disagreed in particular with the study group’s plans to reduce the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq and to reach out for help to Iran and Syria, according to sources familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was private….

…White House officials emphasized that although the experts gave a bleak assessment, they still believe the situation in Iraq is “winnable.”

In other words, the ISG report is dead. The study group might has well not have bothered.

During yesterday’s White House meeting, Bush asked all the questions, except for one at the end from Cheney, a source said. But Cheney took copious notes throughout, filling several pages, he said. “They didn’t really reveal their own views” in their questions, said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, one of the five participants.

Bush asked questions? Wow.

As a whole, the group of retired generals and academics who met Bush tend to be skeptical of the Iraq Study Group’s proposals, and so were able to give him additional reasons to reject its recommendations.

Which is why they were selected to speak to Dear Leader.

I think the ISG’s recommendations fall way short of a sensible plan, or else I’d be a lot more upset about the President’s intransigence than I am. If it weren’t for the fact that people are actually dying because of this nonsense, it might even be funny. But the point of the ISG was not so much to recommend the best way out of Iraq, which IMO they didn’t, but to give President Bush a means to correct his mistake in the most face-saving way possible. Bush clearly doesn’t see that that the ISG was trying to do him a favor, which is more proof that the boy has completely slipped his tether.

Fletcher and Ricks’s article gives the names of only four of the five advisers. Just for fun I looked for the names of the Fawning Four in the index of Ricks’s book Fiasco. They are:

Gen. John M. Keane, ret. Keane is the general Rumsfeld wanted to replace Gen. Shinseki as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (p. 69), although Keane declined the offer (p, 169). Shinseki had butted heads with Rumsfeld on a number of issues (pp. 68-69). However, Keane was not keen (heh) on invading Iraq to begin with (p. 33) and he tried to warn Rumsfeld to deal with the growing insurgency before it was too late (p. 172).

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, ret. was critical of Rummy’s invasion plans (p. 119) and was concerned the adventure would turn into another Vietnam (p. 129). Now he is an NBC and MSNBC military analyst, among other things. Since the ISG report was made public, McCaffrey has warned against the ISG’s advice to pull out combat troops from Iraq but leave a large number of “advisers.” “We are setting ourselves up for a potential national disaster in which some Iraqi divisions could flip and take 5,000 Americans hostage, or multiple advisory teams go missing in action,” he said. He could be right about that.

Gen. Wayne A. Downing, ret. Downing allegedly schemed with a staffer of Sen. Jesse Helms to arm Ahmed Chalabi and his followers (p. 23) and also had pushed a plan to invade Iraq with only 10,000 troops (p. 37).

Eliot A. Cohen, an expert in military strategy at Johns Hopkins University, in the past Cohen was a supporter of Paul Wolfowitz (p. 16); he may still be, for all I know.

According to The Armchair Generalist, the fifth advisor is Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow in Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Based on an article by Biddle in Foreign Affairs (“Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon,” March/April 2006) Biddle thinks “Iraqization” is doomed to fail (he makes a good argument on that point) and that America’s only option is to use our military to crack down harder on the Sunnis et al. to make them behave (why that wouldn’t amount to digging the hole we’re in even deeper, Biddle doesn’t say).

More from Fletcher and Ricks:

The White House gathering was part of a series of high-profile meetings Bush is holding to search for “a new way forward” amid the increasing chaos and carnage in Iraq. Earlier in the day, Bush met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other high-ranking officials at the State Department, where he was briefed on reconstruction and regional diplomatic efforts in Iraq. …

… The carefully choreographed meetings are coming on the heels of the release last week of the Iraq Study Group’s report, which pronounced the situation in Iraq “grave” and recommended fundamental shifts in how the Bush administration handles the war. To stem the deteriorating situation in Iraq, the report said, the administration should shift the focus of its military mission from direct combat to training Iraqi troops, while pressing harder for a diplomatic solution by engaging Iran and Syria — something Bush has pointedly refused to do.

Yesterday’s meetings are to be followed today by a videoconference with military commanders before Bush receives Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi at the White House. On Wednesday, Bush is scheduled to meet with his outgoing defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and another group of military experts.

Coming amid growing public discontent with the war and the defeat of his party in last month’s congressional elections, the president’s very public review of his Iraq policy is expected to culminate in a major address in which he will lay out what the administration has billed as a “new way forward” in the nearly four-year-old conflict.

Ooo, wouldn’t it be perfect if he gave that speech in Jackson Square? And does anyone actually think that “the new way forward” will contain anything whatsoever that’s new? And in the outside chance that it does, that Bush will actually follow up and carry through whatever promises he makes and not forget the whole thing in a week or two?

More juicy bits from Fletcher and Ricks:

The military experts met with Bush, Vice President Cheney and about a dozen aides for more than an hour. The visitors told the officials that the situation in Iraq is as dire as the study group had indicated but that alternative approaches must be considered, said one participant in the meeting. In addition, the experts agreed that the president should review his national security team, which several characterized as part of the problem.

“I don’t think there is any doubt in his mind about how bad it is,” the source said. …

The group suggested the president shake up his national security team. “All of us said they have failed, that you need a new team,” said one participant. That recommendation is likely to fuel Pentagon rumors that Bush and his new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, may decide to replace Marine Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

See John Aravosis for more snark on the national security team.

H.D.S. Greenway writes in today’s Boston Globe:

The president says he is disappointed at the slow progress of success. But there isn’t going to be a success in Iraq, and the job now is to manage and mitigate failure. The Iraq Study Group understands that, but there is little evidence that Bush does. He has commissioned other internal reviews to lessen the impact of the study group’s conclusions. He apparently finds it difficult to comply with so many distinguished, bipartisan Americans and senior statesmen, several of whom served his father, who understood what would happen if we occupied Iraq.

Essentially, Bush is going to continue to listen to panels and reviews until there is a sufficient body of recommendations that amount to what he wanted to do, anyway; then he’ll cherry pick out those recommendations and claim he is following expert advise. We all know this already. All of the choreographed meetings and advisory panels and even Cheney’s note-taking are just a charade. I don’t know why they bother; they ain’t foolin’ anybody except the Kool-Aiders.

Related to Iraq — there’s some really good commentary by Avedon at the Sideshow — Stephen Biddle could learn a thing or two from Avedon, IMO — Atrios, Digby, and Poputopian that I recommend highly.