Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Campaign To Sell More Troops and More War

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So Pres. Bush has decided to spill the open secret that he is indeed going to be calling for a troop surge -- like there was ever any other possibility. The New York Times reports that he is opting for the hard-sell approach:

The White House is planning an aggressive effort to sell Congress and the American public on President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq, beginning with a prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday night, followed Thursday by a presidential trip to Fort Benning, Ga., and appearances on Capitol Hill by the secretaries of state and defense.

With Democrats vowing to oppose any plan to send more troops to Iraq, and some Republicans openly skeptical, Mr. Bush and his aides are already in the thick of an intense sales pitch. It began on Monday, when the president had back-to-back meetings with Republican senators, urging them to hear him out before passing judgment on his plan.

One unnamed Bush official told the NYT, “It’s not just one speech. ... This is so complicated you couldn’t do it all in one speech. So there will be an ongoing and sustained effort to educate the American people.”

The arrogance just makes you want to scream. These are the same people who went into Iraq without a plan other than toppling Saddam Hussein. They created the insurgency! They turned Iraq into one vast laboratory for the production of terrorism -- and they are going to "educate" the American people?

Not likely, especially with poll results like the one conducted January 5-7 by the Gallup organization:

The exact way in which the American public reacts to the president's speech is unknown at this point. It will depend on the specific content of Bush's speech, the persuasiveness of his case, and the way in which the media coverage of the speech plays out in the hours and days that follow it.

Going into the speech, however, it is known that the American public in general opposes the concept of an increase in troops in Iraq. A number of polls have shown that when given a choice between a set of alternative ways of handling the troop situation in Iraq, only about 10% of Americans opt for the alternative of increasing troops. The rest opt for withdrawal of troops either immediately, within a 12-month timeframe, or by taking as much time as needed.

At the same time, it would not be unusual to find that support for the president's probable call for more troops in Iraq -- once the proposed policy shift is made public -- will be higher than this baseline minimum. This assumption is based on the fact that the action will no longer be hypothetical, but will have the institutional weight of the presidency behind it after the Wednesday night speech. A surge will, in essence, have become the stated policy of the country. It is particularly likely that Republicans will increase their support for the policy after the president's announcement.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Jan. 5-7, 2007, provides support for this possibility. The poll finds that only 12% opt for a troop increase using the traditional four-alternatives question, little changed from past polling. But the poll included a separate question that summarized a possible "surge" announcement, and found that 36% support the idea of such an increase, while 61% oppose it.

Even if, as the poll suggests, support for a surge goes up a bit after Bush's speech because the action is no longer "hypothetical," 61% opposed to 36% in favor is still a very large gap to overcome.

In the event, Bush won't be getting any assistance from Tony Blair.

It looks like the "new strategy" hinges on a very slender reed: al-Maliki's promise to "commit Iraqi forces against all perpetrators of violence, including Shiite militias."

... The mission will include an understanding that joint U.S.-Iraqi forces will confront the Mahdi Army -- the biggest, best-armed militia and one that Maliki, a fellow Shiite, has been reluctant to face down -- as well as other illegal armed factions, both Shiite and Sunni.

The United States hopes to avoid conducting large-scale operations that take it into Sadr City -- the capital's sprawling Shiite slum, with about 2 million people who overwhelmingly support Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr. "Iraqis will take on this plan and lead it. We will be there to support them and be there to help them hold it," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the plan.

But in practice, U.S. forces have often ended up in the forefront of joint combat operations.

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