Topic: Selling the War
The siege of Harfleur in 1415 - "Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more, or fill the wall up with our English dead."
As mentioned elsewhere, Wednesday, November 30th was the day of the big presidential speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. We were finally going to get the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Any number of waggish types had been commenting that we should have had one of those three years ago, and this was an odd time to be getting around to coming up with a plan. Sputtering conservative Bush supporters were saying we had one all along and this was just something the treasonous liberals thrust on the administration, claiming you just trust the president - he doesn't owe anyone an explanation of anything - and wondering why the people who don't much like Bush, his policies or this war, or most of what his has either attempted or done, felt they had any right to know the plan. Why should he have to explain anything? I think the idea is having a plan made public aids and abets the enemy, or some such thing.
But he gave the speech - even if he might have been seething that he had to explain anything to anyone, and might have been wondering just who these people are who think they have a right to know such things.
Be that is it may Fred Kaplan puts the speech in perspective here -
The problem Kaplan points out, as do may others, is that although the speech and its accompanying thirty-five page booklet of bullet points is called a "strategy for victory," neither term is defined. "Yes people want to what do we do now and when can we start to pull out - under what circumstances, with what sorts of troops remaining, to what end, for how long?"
In short, that's asking just what we are doing and why we are doing it, nine hundred and forty-seven days after the war started and after more than 2,100 of our guys have died for… well, for what? What's the general idea here? Even if some think such questions are impertinent, some don't. Yes, this is Cindy Sheehan territory. Maybe she was just disrespectful of the awesome office of the president, but the question may, possibly, have some legitimacy. Or not, depending on your point of view.
What we got? "We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission."
The mission? "When our mission of training the Iraqi security forces is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation."
And there was this variation - the mission will be complete "when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy."
And there was this variation - "I will settle for nothing less than complete victory."
Kaplan points out the obvious questions all this raises. Is our job done when the Iraqis can fight the bad guys on their own - or when the bad guys are defeated? Which is it? And how will we know when they're defeated?
Ah, the president's answer -
Three conditions, when met on some specific day in the future, mean we can call that specific day V-I day, of course. And any fool can see each of these conditions is, shall we say, all subject to interpretation. Whether any one of these conditions is met is, really, a judgment call.
In short, the war is over when we say it's over, and for now, we're "staying the course." There will be no timetables of any kind. We will not "cut and run."
You got things like - "Pulling our troops out before they achieve their purpose is not a plan for victory." But if "achieving their purpose" is something you cannot specifically measure, just what is the plan to get to that goal of "we now think things are better?" Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? No. Are we there yet? Maybe.
But we know this - "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins, so long as I am your commander in chief. ... We will not abandon Iraq."
Yeah, but we won't know when leaving Iraq is not abandoning Iraq. It's all in how you see it.
So we'll keep on keeping on - "This will take time - and patience." And troop levels will be adjusted, up or down, by commanders' assessments of facts on the ground, "not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."
In short, we'll keep making it up as we go along. Heck, that worked for Indiana Jones in the first movie.
Bush is gambling most folks are comfortable with that, and gambling no really bad thing will happen before his term ends - say a barracks blowing up like the one that blew up in Beirut and took out hundreds of our guys and spooked Reagan into getting us out of Lebanon. It could go well from here on out.
You never know.
Of course the hallmark of this gang is having that positive attitude - expect the best and ridicule the worriers - we will be greeted as liberators, they will toss flowers and sweets at us, the oil there will flow freely and pay for this all, we'll be out in six months. That's how they do planning. They're visionaries, not pessimists.
And they're at it again - and counting on the American people loving the optimist and hating the sourpuss pessimist with his defeatist "realism." We're a "can do" people. Nothing is impossible. Cue Frank Sinatra singing "High Hopes" and all that.
Is this what most people would call a strategy? They're counting on most people not being able to tell the difference between a strategic plan and hoping for the best, kind like the difference between careful retirement planning with a 401(k) and savings and investments, and buying a lottery ticket twice a week. Lots of folks buy lottery tickets. That's the audience here. You never know.
Kaplan is one of those sourpuss realists who suggest a real strategic plan would deal with these four issues -
Details, details, details...
This is the sort of thing these guys scoff at. This is an administration of hope. They like to keep things simple. They (sometimes not well defined) hate us for our freedoms (which can be limited domestically to keep us safe), so we have to defeat them, and not appear weak, and never back down, or they come here and do bad things.
Is it more complex? Only defeatists think so.
So we didn't get much on what the war was all about, geopolitically and culturally and economically, and what winning means is a tad vague, but we'll somehow know it when it happens, or we'll say it happened if things seem close enough for government work. And what will it take to get to this vague "there?" Just keep doing what we're doing, optimistically. Doubters should shut up, and so should folks who want who, what, when where, how and why. That's not what we do.
And how was this covered? Associated Press was odd. Sometimes when you went to the Deb Riechmann story you got the headline Bush Counsels 'Patience' for Victory In Iraq, but then sometime you got Bush Maps Out Iraq War Strategy. But it was the same story. Headline writing is left to who knows who. You didn't get "Bush Repackages Previous Empty Rhetoric Hoping This Time Someone Thinks We Have A Plan for the War." But AP did run this photo here and there, and that sums things up nicely.
The AP opens with this -
Well, yes, that was a note that tactics will change - fewer guys busting down doors and more bombs falling from the sky.
And AP does note there wasn't much else there -
This stuff had been classified? Why?
Well, a lot of the speech was good news. We were told the Iraqis were really stepping up to the plate. It's going real well. They may have some sort of army one day.
The facts there are in some dispute, but the president said he was sure this was so. Trust him?
Well, you could trust his wife -
Feel better now?
Read the whole speech here if you'd like.
As someone put it - the new strategy is that the old strategy is working.
Fine. What did you expect?
See also In Sum, We're Screwed, with this observation -
See also Going for a St. Crispin's Day address, Bush channels Walter Mitty.
And note this from the US the Army War College's W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane - from their new 60-page report. US troop presence in Iraq probably cannot be sustained more than three more years. And in those three years? This -
And so on and so forth...
And this from Barry R. Posen, the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT who will become the director of MIT's Security Studies Program in 2006 -
Too late. The new strategy is the old one, but now we say it will really, really work, if you believe.
Also note this -
Folks are climbing down off the fence. The utopian idealists and the pragmatic realists are forming teams. Get in the appropriate line.
The rest of Wednesday was not nearly as interesting. This decade's answer to the fifty's Joseph McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, published the first draft of his blacklist - but it was just media operations he considers "guttersnipes" and "smear merchants" - the New York Daily News, the St. Petersburg Times and MSNBC - purveyors of "defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites." No individuals yet.
And note here O'Reilly warns America about the vast conspiracy to get rid of Christmas: "There's a very secret plan. And it's a plan that nobody's going to tell you, 'Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.' They'll never ever say that. But I'm kind of surprised they went after Christmas because it's such an emotional issue."
It's the ACLU and the secular Jews like George Soros, of course.
And that congressman from Pennsylvania, the decorated Marine and long-time friend of the military, who proposed a drawdown in Iraq, must have loved Hitler, as in this: "These pinheads running around going, 'Get out of Iraq now,' don't know what they're talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, 'Ah, he's not such a bad guy.' They don't get it."
See this on Philip Tetlock's new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? And see this on hedgehogs and foxes in general.
Also Wednesday the Los Angeles Times reported the US military is secreting paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by US information officers. The whole item is here - these stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists." The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor - and those employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives. The Times quotes a senior Pentagon official - "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."
Armstrong Williams. Enough said.