The White House Jive

Yesterday we learned the “surge” isn’t working. Big surprise. Today, Eugene Robinson says the White House is pulling a bait-and-switch.

White House spokesman Tony Snow was purposeful on Wednesday in stomping, trampling, tap-dancing upon and otherwise giving a definitive beat-down to any expectations of a serious, fact-based reassessment of Iraq policy in the fall. Never mind that the White House raised those expectations in the first place.

The September scenario has been a rhetorical mainstay for the administration and its supporters, a major argument for ignoring all the bad news from Iraq and giving Bush’s troop escalation a chance to work. Let’s wait for Gen. David H. Petraeus, the man who’s now running the war, to submit his progress report. At that point, went the White House argument, the “way forward” would become clear.

The fog of war seems to have closed back in. “I have warned from the very beginning about expecting some sort of magical thing to happen in September,” Snow told the White House press corps, whose collective recollection was somewhat different. “What I’m saying is, in September you’ll have an opportunity to have metrics.”

Just doin’ the White House jive.

This is not about what’s good for America, or for Iraq. It’s not about bringing Democracy to anyone. It’s not about victory. It’s not even about defeating terrorism.

It’s about Bush’s ego. It’s about keeping troops in Iraq as long as he is President so he doesn’t have to admit he has failed.

I’ve said many times that the whole point of the “surge” was to short-circuit support on Capitol Hill for the Baker Iraq Study Group plan. The ISG plan, tepid as it was, might very well have been supported by a veto-proof majority in Congress. If it had, it would have meant that Bush no longer had total control of the U.S. military action in Iraq. And that’s the one and only reason the ISG was kneecapped by the White House.

Now, my suspicion is that at least some Democrats in Congress realize this. I can’t prove it, but I believe it to be so. They just don’t think they have the political capital to come out and say “the President of the United States is a psychopath.” So they keep making speeches about how they hope the President will see reason and start playing well with others, knowing full well he’s not capable of either. These speeches are not for Bush, but for the media and the constituents.

There’s not much else the White House can do to postpone the inevitable except kick the can down the road, and they hope they can keep kicking that can until January 2009. You might recall that less than a month ago the White House was talking about a “post-surge” strategy. And this “new” strategy, as explained by David Ignatius, sounded remarkably like the same shit that was in the old “Strategy for Victory” they trotted out in December 2005. And that strategy was just the same old talking points, warmed over, that they’d been repeating since, oh, about summer of 2003, as I recall.

But this most recent “new” strategy was run up a flagpole just about three weeks ago, and I guess no one saluted. It was so lame even the hawks didn’t pay much attention to it. The terminally clueless David Ignatius wrote on May 22, 2007 (this year, note):

The post-surge policy would, in many ways, track the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, which senior administration officials say the president now supports. It also reflects the administration’s recognition that, given political realities in Washington, some policy adjustments must be made. The goal is an approach that would have sufficient bipartisan support so it could be sustained even after the Bush administration leaves office in early 2009.

Notice they even tried to package the “post-surge” plan as something like ISG Lite (less filling! tastes great!) just to increase its marketing appeal, even though it resembled the Baker-Hamilton report about as much as a table resembles a horse.

Senior officials discussed the outlines of a “post-surge” policy late last week in what they said was an effort to build bipartisan support from Congress and the American public. Their comments appeared to be a trial balloon aimed at testing whether a Baker-Hamilton approach could gain traction in Washington. The description of a post-surge policy focused on elements that Democrats say they would continue to support, such as training the Iraqi military and hunting al-Qaeda, even as they set a timetable for withdrawing combat forces.

As I said, it was so lame, and so obviously just the same old hash in a new can, that even Republicans in Congress brushed it off. So now in less than three weeks the White House has gone from talking “post-surge” to kicking the surge can further down the road. It’s all they’ve got left.

Every now and then someone will demand to know what Petraeus could possibly say in September that will make a dime’s worth of difference to anybody. And the answer is, nothing. The “September strategy” never had anything to do with what Patraeus might say. It’s all just theater.

Waiting for General Petraeus’s September report is a bit like watching the first act of Il barbiere di Siviglia and waiting for the bass/baritone playing Figaro to trot out and sing “Largo al factotum.” Except without the orchestra, of course. You know exactly when he’s supposed to enter and every note he’s supposed to sing. The only question is whether he can get through all the “Pronto prontissimo” stuff without tying his tongue up in knots. It’s just a role, in other words.

I see that Arianna Huffington is writing about Petraeus ex machina. I think it’s closer to say the role was originally envisioned to be ex machina, but the script is already in rewrite. Whatever he says, Bush supporters will spin it as “preliminary” and the detractors will say enough is enough. Harry Reid is already calling Petraeus “out of touch.”

I say the real drama is doing on in the head’s of Republicans in Congress. Will they stand by Bush, or cut him loose? They’ve got the summer to think it over and make up their minds. The bloodshed, of course, continues.