Topic: For policy wonks...
|Rethinking It All - Feckless Reassessments Portending Little Change|
Something is afoot - as Sherlock Holmes would say, "Come, Watson, the game is afoot."
Wednesday, December 20, brought the new issue of the National Review, one of the two journals where one goes to find what Cheney and the neoconservatives think we should think, and what this country really ought to be doing. The other journal is the Weekly Standard, but after Jon Stewart neatly eviscerated its editor, William Kristol, on The Daily Show, those folks may lie low for a bit. Its just no fun to be hung by the absurdity of what you've said is so turning out to be well beyond foolish. Reality and logic do seem to matter after all. They laughed at him. That's no fun.
National Review editor Rich Lowry knows better than to face the guys at Comedy Central. In fact, in a stunning about face from the smug and condescending "we're winning big in Iraq and everyone else is wrong" columns the one always finds in his journal, the new issue brings us this - "Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right - that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war."
What's gotten into Rich Lowry? This is very odd. These folks never say such things. The "pessimistic press" may have been right all along?
On the other hand, the National Review has a website, The Corner, where there's a running stream of analysis from their array of writers. One of them is Stanley Kurtz. He explains the real problem. They were duped. The mainstream media faked them out -
Stanley Kurtz should turn down all offers to appear on The Daily Show. His position - that the media's ridiculous and perhaps treasonous refusal to pay more attention to repainted schoolhouses and such things, and its single-minded focus on insurgent attacks, ethnic rivalries, collapsing infrastructure, ineffective government, and corrupt police forces - was the real problem. That single-minded focus on the bad stuff made us ignore them, so we missed the bad stuff, and how were we to know bad stuff was really happening? As "not our fault" arguments go, this one may be beyond parody, actually. Jon Stewart might have trouble with it. What can you say? Sometime the jokes just write themselves, but that doesn't make them good jokes.
And the spin continues. Robert Farley notes here a sudden flurry of conservative arguments that the real problem in Iraq is that our troops have been hamstrung by rules of engagement that are too strict - they have to worry about not killing civilians, particularly women and children, and its driving them crazy and means we'll lose this thing -
Where to begin? Brutality is best in dealing with angry insurgency is an approach that doesn't even rise to the level of needing a refutation. The appeal of such an approach is only visceral - it's lizard-brain stuff. But they just throw it out there. As Kevin Drum notes - "One way or another, conservatives are going to find a way to blame the Iraq disaster on liberals. I imagine they'll keep floating one theory after another until they finally find one that sticks." This one may not.
But the president has some ideas. Wednesday, December 20, he held a press conference to let us know what he'd been thinking about - a massive increase in the size of the military, which would take time, and perhaps sending thirty thousand more troop into Iraq, which wouldn't, as we'd keep folks there beyond their return rotation dates (many in their third rotation) and shuffle others around and speed up those in the pipeline. And by the way, "we're not winning" the war in Iraq. On the other hand, we're not losing either. So expect rough times and lots of casualties and he'll get back to us next month with the actual plan to assure victory, and he might even explain what victory in this case means.
The big news was his saying "we're not winning." A month ago he said we were, we surely were.
This may be a grammatical issue -
The actual exchange went like this -
Ah. Garance Franke-Ruta explains this -
Is that clear? It isn't? That may be the point.
And there's that other confusion about the recent midterm elections. The president said everyone was wrong about the results of that election. Sure, the Democrats won control of both the House and Senate, but that wasn't a rejection of the war at all - people were really saying they expected a victory, and wanted a change in policy that would give us that. They liked this war lots - they just thought the strategy should be adjusted a little, here and there. The press just foolishly read it the other way.
Steven Benan doesn't agree - "[T]he electorate just isn't where he thinks it is. 70% of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war, not because people want a different strategy, but because Bush rejects the one strategy with majority support - get the troops out of Iraq." But he's not the president, is he?
And we have our clear objectives -
- "We began the year with optimism after watching nearly 12 million Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a unity government and a free future. The enemies of liberty responded fiercely to this advance of freedom."
- "And I want the enemy to understand that this is a tough task, but they can't run us out of the Middle East; that they can't intimidate America."
- "What is going to happen is we're going to develop a strategy that helps the Iraqis achieve the objective that the 12 million people want them to achieve, which is a government that can - a country that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself."
- "A free country that will serve as an ally in this war against extremists and radicals."
- We're in Iraq to build a democracy.
- No, we're in Iraq to find a permanent base for US military forces in the Middle East or, at a minimum, to demonstrate resolve detached from specific policy goals.
- No, we're in Iraq to build an internally stable government.
- No, we're in Iraq to create a government that will take America's side in regional disputes.
But that wouldn't be winning, would it? No one has sufficiently defined what winning exactly is in this case. But we know what it isn't. Perhaps that will have to do.
John Dickerson, the political editor at SLATE, was bothered by something else that occurred to him regarding this press conference - What Has Bush Learned From His Mistakes? His answer is nothing -
And we didn't get one. This is no surprise. He's a politician. What puzzles Dickerson is "why Bush is keeping up this avoidance act while at the same time trying to rebuild his trust with the country." By not answering this specific question, Dickerson says he is trading away "perhaps his only chance to get people to listen to him again."
And he shouldn't do that -
Yep "fool me once"… no, watch the president saying it himself - "There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."
Close enough, or as they say, close enough for government work.
But we are getting a double dose of spin so we let our guard down -
But that is clearly not enough to turn things around. At best that is "only enough to keep people from thinking he's not delusional." It's not a plan. It's looking busy.
The recommendation -
And pigs might - might - fly. Dickerson rightly points out that White House officials and Bush supporters "have always thought questions about mistakes and lessons learned are merely press attempts to make Bush whip himself in public." And they should get over it. That's unlikely. The January "new way forward" speech will just be another speech.
The game is not afoot, really.
Fred Kaplan offers an analysis of what is afoot. That would be "the hottest briefing in Washington these days," a fifty-six-page PowerPoint presentation, Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq. This is by Frederick Kagan, the military analyst of the American Enterprise Institute. The president thinks it's wonderful.
Fred Kaplan does not and explains why in The Urge to Surge -
This is followed by a detailed analysis of why the numbers just don't work. They don't.
Consider this -
But this seems to be the plan. This is what we'll be told is January is just what we'll do. And that's what is really afoot.
Actually what's really afoot - enlarging our military, already larger than the next twenty militaries in the world, combined - is getting the empire thing right. Getting the number of Imperial Storm Troopers right, and in the right places at the right time, to fight the Rebel Alliance, is hard work when you have to operate in a pseudo-democracy with a somewhat free press and elections at awkward times and all the rest. No, wait. That was Star Wars, where the Rebel Alliance was the good guys - Luke Skywalker and Yoda and all. Things got switched around. How did that happen?