Deaf and Dumb

Bob the Reptile says the White House isn’t listening.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley visited Capitol Hill just before Congress adjourned for the Fourth of July. Meetings with a half-dozen senior Republican senators were clearly intended to extinguish fires set by Sen. Richard Lugar’s unexpected break from President Bush’s Iraq policy. They failed.

Hadley called his expedition a “scouting trip,” leading one senator to ask what he was seeking. It was not advice on how to escape from Iraq. Instead, Hadley appeared interested in how previous supporters of Bush’s course had drifted away. In the process, though, he planted seeds of concern. Some senators were left with the impression that the White House still does not recognize the scope of the Iraq dilemma.

Some senators were “left with the impression”?

Worse yet, they see the president running out the clock until April, when a depleted U.S. military can be blamed for the fiasco. …

Based on what Hadley said, one senator concluded that “they just do not recognize the depth of the difficulty they are in.” That difficulty entails running out of troops in nine months. Hadley increased latent fears of the U.S. military being made the fall guy — a concern shared by many retired and some active senior officers, including a current infantry division commander.

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I hadn’t heard that we’d run out of troops in April.

The tone set by Hadley signaled that the White House did not understand that Lugar, in his fateful speech on the Senate floor the night of June 25, was sending a distress signal to Bush that a change in policy can be instituted only by the president and that it is imperative he act now.

Constitutionally I don’t believe it’s true that “a change in policy can be instituted only by the president.” Congress has plenty of authority to shape war policy, even beyond “the power of the purse,” if they’d only use it.

As the first in a succession of Republican senators to be critical of Bush’s Iraq policy, [Sen. Chuck] Hagel feared the worst when he returned home to conservative Nebraska for Fourth of July parades. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by cheers and calls for the troops to be brought home. Perhaps a White House scouting trip into the American heartland might be worthwhile.

Novak is trying to make the point that the Administration is clueless about Iraq, but you can say the same thing about congressional Republicans who see that a change in Iraq policy must be made and who beg the President to make that change. The Creature has been president for, what, six and a half years? Have they not noticed he doesn’t care what they think?

Last week Ron Brownstein wrote in the Los Angeles Times
that the Libby commutation illustrates that “Bush hasn’t abandoned his pugnacious approach to governing. If he can implement his ideas, he does, whether or not he’s built consensus for them.”

The Libby decision’s clear implication is that unless opponents can make it politically unsustainable for Bush to maintain his current direction in Iraq, he’s likely to resist anything beyond cosmetic change — no matter how much his support in Congress and the country erodes.

Brownstein points to Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who made headlines with a strong speech against the war a few days ago. However, Lugar doesn’t plan to change the way he votes.

But in subsequent interviews, Lugar indicated that despite his rejection of Bush’s policy, he will not support legislation to change it. Instead, he said, Congress should avoid direct confrontations with the president, while trying to persuade him to reassess.

With that conclusion, Lugar echoed the flawed logic he applied as Foreign Relations chairman from 2003 through 2006. On Iraq, Lugar minimized public confrontations with the administration to maximize his private access to it. He retained a more critical perspective on the war than most Senate Republicans, but his committee too often stood silent as Iraq disintegrated into chaos.

Lugar risks compounding that mistake. Like other uneasy Republicans, he hopes to persuade Bush to change course in Iraq. But Lugar might have as much luck persuading a boulder to stop rolling downhill. A president willing to ignite such a firestorm over Libby is surely willing to endure even more heat over Iraq.

David Sanger writes in today’s New York Times that the White House is considering another cosmetic change in policy.

White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

In other words — a non-withdrawal withdrawal.

Four more Republican senators have recently declared that they can no longer support Mr. Bush’s strategy, including senior lawmakers who until now had expressed their doubts only privately. As a result, some aides are now telling Mr. Bush that if he wants to forestall more defections, it would be wiser to announce plans for a far more narrowly defined mission for American troops that would allow for a staged pullback, a strategy that he rejected in December as a prescription for defeat when it was proposed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

The White House now is making noises about a “post-surge redeployment.”

President Bush has repeatedly said that he wants as much time as possible for his 30,000-troop increase to show results. And publicly, administration officials insist that the president has no plans for a precipitous withdrawal — but the key word seems to be “precipitous,” and they appear to be recalibrating their message.

“I think it shouldn’t come as any surprise that we here in the administration, and in our conversations with Congress, and in our conversations with generals on the ground and policy makers in Iraq, are thinking about what happens after a surge,” Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters on Friday, at a briefing where he was peppered with questions about the defection of Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.

Here’s something to watch:

Senator Lugar said yesterday on CNN that he would support a significant withdrawal that left “residual forces” in Iraq to ensure that “the whole area does not blow up.”

That approach would mean abandoning the current mission of using those forces to patrol Baghdad and try to reimpose order, which was Mr. Bush’s stated goal in January.

Asked whether he could support an amendment proposed by Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, that would put in legislative language the Iraq Study Group’s call for a withdrawal of combat units by March 31, 2008, Mr. Lugar said it was “worthy of a lot of discussion.”

John Hamre, the president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who was headed to Baghdad over the weekend to begin preparing another Congressionally mandated report, an independent assessment of the Iraqi military, said, “The political power of Salazar’s amendment is its ambiguity.”

“What does it mean?” Mr. Hamre asked. “That we will immediately implement all 76 provisions? I doubt it. It’s a way to give political cover.”

We need to be on guard for legislative “compromises” that defuse the Iraq War as an issue without actually resolving it.

By July 15 the administration must deliver an interim report to Congress on Iraq. Congressional Democrats plan to introduce a number of Iraq proposals before August:

House speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to introduce a bill within weeks to authorize troop redeployments to start within four months and to be completed by April 1, 2008, a formula Bush has already blocked once with a presidential veto.

Senate Democrats will introduce their own attempts to force Bush to accept troop withdrawal timelines, extend rest periods for troops between deployments and curtail his congressional authorization to wage war.

Senate sources said veteran Senator Robert Byrd, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will frame an amendment to a Defense Authorization bill that would sunset Bush’s authorization to wage war in Iraq in October — five years after it was granted.

Meanwhile, Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed will propose an amendment that would require a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days of becoming law, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Democratic tactics appear designed to fracture the president’s firewall of Republican support for his Iraq policy.

Based on Bush’s past behavior, I predict that the White House will do something with the appearance of making concessions without the substance of an actual concession. A redeployment from high-casualty areas into lower-casualty areas would enable Bush speechwriters to put words like withdrawal and redeployment into Bush’s mouth, and would likely reduce casualty rates, but would leave troops in Iraq. This policy easily could be explained in a way that would satisfy Victor Davis Hanson and other war apologists. They’ll grab whatever rhetorical crutch the White House hands them, and will believe it and be grateful for it.

Update: Think Progress, “Rove: Iraq Will Not Be A Big Issue In The Next Election“:

Rove appears only to be interested in creating the impression that the troops will be coming home by election day 2008 rather than actually instituting a real redeployment policy.

7 thoughts on “Deaf and Dumb

  1. We’re about to enter a foggy cloud of rhetoric, which will serve to delay any action for months while protecting political butts. Lots of competing proposals for doing something, various levels of vagueness and new semantic constructions, ‘serious discussion’, but no action.

    It would be good if the Democrats could agree on a simple statement and ‘put a stake in the ground’, hold it, and make everyone else react to it.

    My off-the-top-of-the-head one would be “All the troops home by April.” Or maybe “National Guard units home by Christmas.” I don’t know. Get the warmongers to argue why it can’t be done, instead of why, or whether, we should do something. But until the Democrats start banging a drum for a clear “pull ’em out” stand, the White House will draw the discussion into a morass of vague blather, where people like Lugar can talk a good game, but do nothing, while our troops keep dying.

    Sadly, I know that, as a Democrat, ‘I don’t belong to any organized political party.’

  2. Yes, its time the dems came up with a simple plan like bring the National Guard home…now that would be refreshing. The dems also need to not let bush get away with the photo op of him and the speakers having a non negotiating meeting. bush’s uninvolment in the process should be updated everyday. bush should not be allowed to delegate his Iraq policy to anyone…not his war tzar, not rove, not cheney, not any of those yes men generals. This is bush’s war.

  3. The bright side is that Iraq is now an unquestionable failure.. Mr. Bring -it- on got us whupped soundly ( he shouldn’t of listened to the Lord). I know it’s not a well received idea, but the best solution is a simplistic and immediate withdrawal of all troops, and the sincere admission of defeat. Regroup and come back facing the world situation from a base of reality, and as an equal partner among nations. America needs to be humbled..arrogance just doesn’t cut it on the world stage. People don’t respond favorably to bullying

  4. Bob Gates cancelled a 4 country tour of Latin America so he could attend WH meetings. Something’s up. Bush may not be capable of taking criticism or advice, but he is capable of violent changes in direction. One thing we can be sure of – no matter how well justified, it will in the end, be just as stupid.

  5. Bush does not give a fuck about anything and that has always been the problem. Unless we all give a fuck and kick his butt out of office we have 18 more months of this and my son will go back for another year in iraq- ain’t being american jus great

Comments are closed.