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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

The Speech: Things Going Badly Calls for More of the Same

Monday in the daily web log readers made predictions about the Bush speech Tuesday night – see What's Up: Who Will Say What? for that. The speech was important for many reasons, among which was a poll by the Washington Post and ABC News which showed that fifty-two percent of us believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the nation into this war, a nine per cent increase since March.

So we had the speech, summarized here by Julian Borger in The Guardian (UK) - a view from the outside.
George Bush last night rallied Americans to the cause of the Iraq war, urging them not to forget the lessons of September 11" and arguing the fight was vital to future US security.

Addressing the nation from Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, President Bush confronted head on America's growing pessimism and uncertainty over the war.

Again and again in his primetime speech, the president attempted to bind the Iraq counter-insurgency to the broader "war on terror" started the September 11 attacks, trying to rebuild a connection in the public mind that has given way to scepticism [sic] about the justification for the invasion.

… The president set out a two track strategy for victory. The military track would be focused on accelerating the work training Iraqi troops.

The president spoke of three specific steps. Iraqi units were being "partnered" with coalition troops in combined operations. Second, coalition "transition teams" of coalition officers and non-commissioned officers would "live, work, and fight together with their Iraqi comrades". And third, the Iraqi defence [sic] and interior ministries would be given support specifically for counter-terrorist operations.

The political track involved supporting Iraqi politicians in formulating a constitution, involving more Sunni Arabs in the process, paving the way for referendum and elections. …
Yes, that was about it.

From this side of the pond? Our commanders say we don't need any more troops, a timeline for withdrawal is bad, and democracy is on the march. And no outright promise that we won't leave any permanent bases in Iraq. That was about it.

Even if all polling now shows a majority of us now agree that there was no solid link between 9/11 and Iraq, and most of us no longer think the war Iraq is worth the cost, in lives or even in money, we were told we were wrong - "Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country."

Shall we trust him on that?

The morning of the speech a suicide bomber assassinated Dhari al-Fayadh - the "dean" of the parliament in Iraq. He was eighty-seven and they got his sons too. This is the day that is the anniversary of us handing them their sovereignty. We lost two military near Baghdad, and CH-47 Chinook troop transport helicopter went down in Afghanistan and the neo-Taliban says they shot it down - sixteen to twenty more.

"We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins."

That's a pretty inclusive "they" - the usual "whoever is doing bad things" are they same guys who flew the planes into the building way back when. All the same folks. One supposes most people really do buy into the generalization. They all hate us. They're just terrorists. A simple way of summing it all up. No need to understand more.

The full text of the speech is here. Here's a by the numbers analysis: References to September 11th: 5 - References to WMD: 0 - References to freedom: 21 - References to exit strategy: 0 - References to Saddam Hussein: 2 - References to Osama Bin Laden: 2 - References to a mistake: 1 - References to mission: 11 - References to mission accomplished: 0

You get the idea.

From the left, Ed Kilgore here:
1.) At a time when a graceful, and even minimal, admission of past errors, from WMD to the invasion plan to every aspect of the DOD "reconstruction" non-plan, would have disarmed some critics, the best Bush could offer was: "Our progress has sometimes been uneven."

2) At a time when a significant majority of Americans no longer believe the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with a rational response to 9/11, Bush repeated the claim that it was all about 9/11 several times, and at least twice suggested the war kept "terrorists" from attacking America.

3) And at a time when the country, and even Republican Members of Congress, are begging the administration for some change of course in the plan for Iraq, Bush offered as his "news" warmed-over military transition initiatives that essentially build on the failed efforts of the recent past.

I heard one NPR analyst suggest that the major object of Bush's speech was to reinforce Republican support for his Iraq policies (which has dropped from more than 90 percent to about 70 percent in recent months). I don't know if the speech accomplished that objective, but it's hard to imagine it had a positive impact on much of anybody else.
Well, perhaps it did, but Digby over at Hullabaloo says this -
This makes Nixon sound like Cicero. The only news here is that he forgot to say "and then I had a choice to make: take the word of a madman, forget the lessons of September the 11th, or do what's necessary to defend this country. Given that choice, I will defend America every time," and "we will form a coalition of the willing and we WILL disarm Saddam Hussein." We've heard all the rest before. Ad nauseum.

I notice the props are having a hard time keeping their eyes open, though. Poor guys.
Yes, as our friend the Wall Street attorney notes - and he listened to it all while driving from Manhattan to central New Jersey - there was no spontaneous applause. Perhaps that was planned.

Did Nixon make a better speech with this?
My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said that we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war.

- I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Vietnam without regard to the effects of that action.

- Or we can persist in our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement if possible, or through continued implementation of our plan for Vietnamization if necessary - a plan in which we will withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom. I have chosen this second course. It is not the easy way. It is the right way.

It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace - not just in Vietnam but in the Pacific and in the world.

In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America.

... I recognize that some of my fellow citizens disagree with the plan for peace I have chosen. Honest and patriotic Americans have reached different conclusions as to how peace should be achieved.

... I share your concern for peace. I want peace as much as you do. There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives, and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam. It is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.

- I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam.

- But I want to end it in a way which will increase the chance that their younger brothers and their sons will not have to fight in some future Vietnam someplace in the world.

- And I want to end the war for another reason. I want to end it so that the energy and dedication of you, our young people, now too often directed into bitter hatred against those responsible for the war, can be turned to the great challenges of peace, a better life for all Americans, a better life for all people on this earth.

I have chosen a plan for peace. I believe it will succeed.

... Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.

And so tonight - to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans - I ask for your support.
Same old same old, no?

Ah well. And Digby also notes that Tuesday morning the Republican National Committee sent out an email headlined "Democrats Still Wrong on Iraq." His comment? "Yeah. Find any of those WMD yet, flyboy?"

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, issued the expected -
Tonight's address offered the President an excellent opportunity to level with the American people about the current situation in Iraq, put forth a path for success, and provide the means to assess our progress. Unfortunately he fell short on all counts.

There is a growing feeling among the American people that the President's Iraq policy is adrift, disconnected from the reality on the ground and in need of major mid-course corrections. "Staying the course," as the President advocates, is neither sustainable nor likely to lead to the success we all seek.

The President's numerous references to September 11th did not provide a way forward in Iraq, they only served to remind the American people that our most dangerous enemy, namely Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose and Al Qaeda remains capable of doing this nation great harm nearly four years after it attacked America.

Democrats stand united and committed to seeing that we achieve success in Iraq and provide our troops, their families, and our veterans everything they need and deserve for their sacrifices for our nation. The stakes are too high, and failure in Iraq cannot be an option. Success is only possible if the President significantly alters his current course. That requires the President to work with Congress and finally begin to speak openly and honestly with our troops and the American people about the difficult road ahead.

Our troops and their families deserve no less.
Perhaps so. But nothing much happened with this speech.

Robert Perry on what Bush might have said -
My fellow Americans, let me explain to you what really went wrong with the Iraq policy and why so many young Americans have died in what looks like a futile war without end.

First, you must know that I have long obsessed about getting rid of Saddam Hussein, taking care of some unfinished business from my dad"s presidency. There"s also a lot of oil there and my neoconservative advisers wanted to project American power into the Middle East.

So when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, I saw my chance. Vice President Dick Cheney and I began merging references to al-Qaeda and Iraq. That way, the casual listener would start associating Iraq with Sept. 11 subliminally, even if there was no real evidence to support that connection.

We also decided to exaggerate the shaky intelligence we had about Iraq's WMD because we knew that would scare the American people into supporting a war against a country that wasn"t threatening us.

Next, I got rid of officials, like Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Gen. Eric Shinseki, who had doubts about the Iraq War plans. To keep British Prime Minister Tony Blair on board, we agreed to go to the United Nations, but only because we hoped that Saddam would reject a demand for U.N. inspections and give us a better pretext for war.

"When Saddam crossed us up by letting the inspectors in, we started a war hysteria inside the United States. When the French wanted more time for the inspections to work, we turned "France" into a dirty word, even renaming French toast and French fries into "freedom toast" and "freedom fries."

Before it sank into the American people that the U.N. inspectors weren't finding any WMD, I forced the inspectors to leave. Later, after the war was over, when your memories were getting a little fuzzy, I pretended that Hussein had never let the inspectors in and had shown "defiance," leaving me no choice but to invade as a "last resort."

In the first days of the Iraq War, when we realized "shock and awe" didn't have quite the effect we hoped, I had the U.S. military bomb civilian targets, such as a residential restaurant which we obliterated because of some sketchy information that Saddam might be eating there. We did this even though we knew that civilians would be killed. We were right about the civilians getting killed, but Saddam turned out not to be there.

All these acts that I"ve described to you tonight might well be considered war crimes, but I really don't care much about international law. Remember when I reacted to one question about international law by joking, "International law? I better call my lawyer." That's just the way I feel about treaties and other things that try to tie me down.

Some of my critics might say that I've been a dissembler, which means someone who doesn't tell the truth. But that's just politics.

Well, so now that I've leveled with you about how we got into this mess, I'm sure you feel you can trust me to continue protecting the American people and leading our great nation to victory in Iraq.

As I actually did say in my radio address on June 18, "I'll continue to act to keep our people safe from harm and our future bright. Together we will do what Americans have always done: build a better and more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren."
Well, this alternative speech was unlikely.

So on we go. And nothing will change.

Karl Rove teed it up last week with his comments in response to problem with public perceptions. Oppose Bush and you are a traitor undermining our troops. Question how we managing all this, and, for example, whether using torture is wise, or even effective? Same thing. You hate America.

UCLA professor Mark Kleiman has some advice for us, the madmen (and women) who would ask questions, and even would like answers -
Karl Rove is no fool.

The belief that we should respect our own laws, international treaties, and fundamental human rights, even when dealing with those accused of terrorism, is very much a minority view, and every time liberals speak out against torture they cost themselves votes.

Winning in politics is important, of course, and rarely more so than now, when the ruling party's contempt for the law, for fair play, and for the national interest create a profound threat to the Constitutional order.

But Vince Lombardi was wrong: there are more important things than winning, and maintaining human decency and national self-respect is one of them. I'm sorry to be on the losing side, but I'm not sorry to be on the side that doesn't want to win at the price of going along with torture, rather than the side that not only orders torture but uses its willingness to do so to gain political advantage.

Query for those opponents of torture who still support the GOP: Which side do you want to be on?
There are more important things than winning? Cold comfort. A war that even our closest ally knew from the start was both illegal and badly thought out - that comes with torture as a de facto policy?

That's what we have. And we're told to stay the course with this "trust us, it's important that we change nothing at all" speech.

Unacceptable - but what can you do?

Posted by Alan at 19:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 June 2005 20:11 PDT home

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