Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Here's Bush today:
I'm giving a speech tomorrow that outlines the progress we're making in training Iraqis to provide security for their country. And we will make decisions about troop levels based upon the capacity of the Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy.
And I will make decisions on the level of troops, based upon the recommendations by the commanders on the ground. If they tell me we need more troops, we'll provide more troops. If they tell me we've got a sufficient level of troop, that'll be the level of troops. If they tell me that the Iraqis are ready to take more and more responsibility and that we'll be able to bring some Americans home, I will do that. It's their recommendation.
Secondly, we want to win. The whole objective is to achieve a victory against the terrorists. The terrorists have made it very clear that Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. See, they want us to leave before we've achieved our mission. You know why? Because they want a safe haven. They want to be able to plot and plan attacks.
This country must never forget the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. And a victory in Iraq will deny the terrorists their stated goal.
Finally, a democracy in Iraq, which is now emerging, will serve as a fantastic example for reformers and others. And as democracy takes hold in the broader Middle East, we can say we have done our duty and laid the foundation of peace for generations to come.
We should listen to what Bush is actually saying here because he lays it all out. Notice that he has to predicate everything on the idea that we are winning. (In the press conference he said it very emphatically: "secondly .... we wanna WIN) He deeply believes, for both political and ideological reasons, that winning is the only thing that matters.
Last night I heard Newt Gingrich throwing around the phrase "surrender to the terrorists" on O'Reilly. His successor as Speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert wrote earlier:
Murtha and the Democrats ''want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world." And he said, ''We must not cower like European nations who are now fighting terrorists on their soil."
This is significant because Rove long ago convinced Bush that he can continue in Iraq as long as the American people think we are "winning." It tracks with his own belief in the bandwagon effect and it's backed up by some academics who have advised the White House that "staying the course" is possible as long as they handle the PR effectively.
In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.
Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: "Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?" and "Can the United States ultimately win?" In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls -- such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level -- are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.
"The most important single factor in determining public support for a war is the perception that the mission will succeed," Gelpi said in an interview yesterday.
I suspect that Gingrich and Hastert's "surrender" talk is aimed at Bush as much as the Democrats, to keep him from going soft, but it's also setting the stage for the inevitable "who lost Iraq" argument down the line. Guys like Gingrich want to clearly be on the "never give up, never give in" team after the smoke has cleared so they can pretend they are brave warriors worthy of leadership. I think Bush actually believes this crapola, however. It fits his schoolboy vision of the way the world works.
Here's Bush in 2003:
The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.
It's one of their more ridiculous beliefs and yet it is the foundation of neocon thinking about how to deal with terrorism. They honestly think that if we stay in Iraq that we will prove to the terrorists that we are tough ... and then they will not be able to attack us anymore. As unbelievable as it is, this simple-minded psychological diagnosis of the problem is one of the main reasons why we are stuck in this quagmire.
But Bush doesn't stop with that simple delusion. He also believes that he has been called to this battle by something much more important than the mere will of the American people. As Seymour Hersh writes in this week's New Yorker:
Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.
Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.
“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”
According to this report in the NY Daily News, Bush doesn't trust his advisors anymore. (Not even his wife, after all she failed him on the Miers debacle.) He's going to stick with the simple script that has him being chosen by God to lead this battle against evil. Hardliners are going to manipulate him with that by doing what Gingrich did last night --- characterizing a withdrawal as "surrendering to the terrorists."
What he is going to do is what many in the military have long wanted to do, which is revert to a greater reliance on air power. If anyone is succumbing to political pressure it's the wild-eyed Rummy whose management of the war has turned out to be a cock-up of epic proportions. We're going back to our tried and true: Bombing the shit out of anything that moves. From Hersh:
A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.
Now that's the nice, clean, surgical kind of war the American people like. No American casualties and fun pictures of buildings going "kaboom!" And it takes the pressure off of our near-broken Army. The Air Force may have problems with Iraqis using their air power to play out old grudges against non-combatants, but the American people can be successfully snowed on that one. The Iraqis will be standing up and we'll just be enforcing the conditions of our glorious victory.
“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson’s views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield.”
That is what we call "winning." And we will keep plenty of troops on the ground and planes in the air for years to come to ensure that the war stays "won."
digby 11/29/2005 02:00:00 PM