Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ugly Truths

The Bush administration's director of public diplomacy was undiplomatic enough to state the obvious about U.S. policy in Iraq:

A senior U.S. diplomat said the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq but was now ready to talk with any group except Al-Qaida in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television aired late Saturday, Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department offered an unusually candid assessment of America's war in Iraq.

"We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," he said.

A high-ranking Bush admin talking head said, Nonsense. It's not our policy to be arrogant or stupid:

"I can only assume his remarks must have been mistranslated. Those comments obviously don't reflect our policy," a senior Bush administration official said.

There's a lot of that "mistranslation" thing going around, apparently:

Fernandez told CNN he was replying to a question about how people will assess the United States in the future, and he said he thought that was how the country would be judged.

He was defending U.S. policy in a region where everyone dislikes the United States, he said, and was doing so in an aggressive way that was faithful to U.S. policy and trying to put it in the best light.

He was "not dissing U.S. policy," he said.

"I know what the policy is and what the red lines are, and nothing I said hasn't been said before by senior officials," Fernandez told CNN. "Nothing I said during this interview broke new ground."

He referred to comments made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March as an example.

Rice, during a visit to Blackburn, England, acknowledged to journalists that mistakes had been made in the war.

"I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration," she said.

"I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure," Rice said. "But when you look back in history, what will be judged" is whether the "right strategic decision" was made.

Which raises the obvious question: If the strategy is rotten, how is changing the tactics going to help? Or, put another way: If changing the tactics isn't helping, maybe something is wrong with the strategy. But this is something that George W. Bush is incapable of understanding:

US President George W Bush has said military tactics in Iraq will keep changing to deal with insurgents.

But the US would not abandon the goal of building a strong democracy, Mr Bush said in his regular radio address.

Maybe the problem, or one of them, is that Bush does not know what a goal is:

President Bush on Saturday reviewed Iraq strategy with top war commanders and national security advisers, but indicated little inclination for major changes to an increasingly divisive policy.

"Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal."

"Victory" is not a goal. If the goal is a secure, stable, democratic Iraq that is responsive to the will and wishes of the Iraqi people and compliant with U.S. economic and geopolitical interests, then no amount of tactical or strategic tweaking will help, because the goal is impossible, and so is victory.

And that brings us to Dan Froomkin's "ugly truth":

It's often said that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But there may be nothing that goes against President Bush's nature more than doing just that.

When it comes to Iraq, Bush's political strategy in the run-up to the mid-term elections has been to stress the possible downsides of the "cut and run" approach -- civil war, increased carnage, instability at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq as a base for terror -- while refusing to acknowledge that his "stay the course" approach, ironically, appears to be delivering all those things and more.

Now, a presidency that has been all about aggression risks a major public rebuff as a sizeable majority of the Americans appears to have accepted what Bush can't: That his brassy approach has backfired -- and that it's we who are getting beaten up.

Evidently, something needs to change. But what?

The Bush White House (and its press corps) often confuse tactics, strategy and goals. Tactics are what you use in the service of the strategy you choose to achieve your goal. Even the best tactics, in pursuit of an ill-chosen strategy, will not achieve the desired goal.

Bush's goal is a stable, secure, democratic Iraq. His strategy is for American troops to stay there until that happens. The tactics are getting those troops killed.

And while the president has been talking about adjusting tactics lately, he can't accept that his strategy may need changing -- or even his goal. At least not yet.

Froomkin's "At least not yet" assumes that Bush may yet accept that his goals and/or strategies in Iraq need changing. But that is something Bush will never accept, in my view. His mind is encased in cement that long ago hardened into concrete.

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