Friday, September 14, 2007

The President's Magical Mystery Tour

Response to last night's presidential speech from the right side of the blogosphere has been rather muted. Take a look at this Memeorandum snapshot from earlier this afternoon -- very telling. It's mostly liberal bloggers commenting, and reaction from the war-supporting crowd -- what little there is of it -- is relatively subdued:

Allahpundit, on the troop drawdown: "It’s a variation of 'declare victory and go home': declare progress and withdraw the guys you had to withdraw anyway due to manpower constraints."

Jules Crittenden, alternately crestfallen ("Bush didn’t do that good a job driving those points [Iran, oil supply, crowing Islamists] home, as well as the genocide thing, America’s standing in the world.") and defiant ("I’m not sure that he had to. We’ve already seen growing support for the war, and a growing desire to win reflected in the polls.")

Rick Moran thinks Democrats in Congress are "cynically exploiting the unpopularity of the war," but also sees nothing new or useful in Bush's speech.

Ed Morrissey calls the speech "superfluous."

Mike at Flopping Aces puts up a photograph of Bush meeting with his speechwriters before the address, and posts excerpts with a link to the complete transcript, but does not comment.

On the left, there is a concerted effort being made to find the 36 countries Bush told us have troops on the ground in Iraq. Spencer Ackerman got an official listing of the 36 nations from the White House, which includes Iceland's one lonely soldier -- soon to be none! Indeed, Spencer and others at the TPM family, like David Kurtz, have been busting their butts to get an exact count of Bush's "Freedom Buddies."

Fred Kaplan at Slate calls the speech "the worst ... he's ever given on the war in Iraq, and that's saying a lot":

Every premise, every proposal, nearly every substantive point was sheer fiction. The only question is whether he was being deceptive or delusional.

The biggest fiction was that because of the "success" of the surge, we can reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15 by next July. Gen. David Petraeus has recommended this step, and President George W. Bush will order it so.

Let's be clear one more time about this claim: The surge of five extra combat brigades (bringing the total from 15 to 20) started in January. Their 15-month tours of duty will begin to expire next April. The Army and Marines have no combat units ready to replace them. The service chiefs refuse to extend the tours any further. The president refuses to mobilize the reserves any further. And so, the surge will be over by next July. This has been understood from the outset. It is the result of simple arithmetic, not of anyone's decision, much less some putative success.
The speech was rife with evasion and fantasy from the outset.

"In Iraq," he declared, "an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival." This sounded as if some well-established government were under attack from an outside force. In fact, a U.S.-installed regime is racked with divisiveness as a result of sectarian clashes within its own society. That is a very different thing. As Gen. Petraeus has said many times, there is only so much U.S. military force can accomplish under such circumstances.

The New York Times called Bush's explanation for a troop drawdown "a carnival barker's come-on." By contrast, the Washington Post has an unbelievably wimpy post that acknowledges Bush's delusions and deceptions (albeit calling them "omissions" rather than delusions and deceptions) and then concludes that continuing the war is the "least bad plan."

Tristero approvingly quotes the last few lines of the Times editorial:
... [Bush's] only real plan is to confuse enough Americans and cow enough members of Congress to let him muddle along and saddle his successor with this war that should never have been started.

and then suggests that if Times management wants to "do its small part to ensure that the US doesn't repeat the mistake of wars 'that should never have been started,' "
[t]hey can terminate David Brooks's and [...] Thomas Friedman's contracts, effective today, and hire as replacements Jessica Tuchman Mathews and Barbara Ehrenreich. They should fire Michael Gordon for his credulous and intellectually disengaged regurgitation of Pentagon statistics and assertions and they should let Elizabeth Bumiller go for her utterly worthless, utterly biased I-use-the-term-loosely reporting. They can also retire the thoroughly misleading references to Al Qaeda in Iraq that grossly distort the situation and only serve the propaganda interests of the Bush administration.

Most importantly, and also most unlikely, they should call for the impeachment and removal from office of George Bush, Dick Cheney and the entire Bush cabinet. There isn't enough paper in the world to list the reasons why they should go - and go now. And there are no good reasons for them to stay a moment longer.

More commentary worth reading:

Steve Benen:
Bush’s White House address wasn’t just unpersuasive and dishonest — though it was both of those — it was also a bad joke. He demands that we reward failure. He insists that his record of getting every aspect of this conflict wrong thus far justifies more faith in his judgment. He implores us not to believe our lying eyes.
We did, however, get a new catchphrase. Joining a pantheon that includes “Mission Accomplished,” “stay the course,” “freedom is on the march,” “new way forward,” and “turning the corner,” we now have “return on success.”
This was particularly offensive in relation to the end of the surge build-up. Bush insisted, of course, that he’ll be bringing an unstated number of troops home next summer, as part of this “return on success.” We already know that’s patently false — some troops are coming home because Bush doesn’t have a choice. Gen. Petraeus admitted as much on Monday.

Phillip Carter at Intel Dump:
In an effort to put lipstick, mascara, and a pound or two of pancake makeup on a really ugly pig, President Bush told America last night that the surge was working so well that he could start bringing U.S. troops home by Christmas. Well, one brigade at least. And, he agreed with Gen. Petraeus that we could reduce force levels to pre-surge levels by next summer[.] ...
A pig wearing makeup is still a pig. First of all, it's a bi[t] disingenuous to take credit for troop rotations that would happen anyway. That's kind of like the president taking credit for people coming home from work at the end of the day. Sure, he could extend these units again in-country, so I suppose we should be grateful for their return, but it has absolutely nothing to do with results on the ground or with policy decisions.

Second, there remain serious, deep questions about what these troops are actually accomplishing. According to the Times, senior military officers disagree over the actual effectiveness of the current troop levels, with Gen. George Casey arguing that fewer troops might work better. Of course, Casey tried that from 2004-06 as the top commander in Iraq, and it didn't work so well. But maybe fewer troops plus smarter counterinsurgency practices would work — that's something that Casey never really tried. And that's basically the direction we're heading in April 2008, when the surge runs out and we're stuck trying to make something work in Iraq with 2005-06 force levels.

I'd like to be more optimistic about the "bottom up" reconciliation which is being touted in Anbar and elsewhere. But I'm not. And yesterday's targeted killing of Sheikh Sattar is only part of the reason for my skepticism. I think the tribes, insurgents and militias at the heart of this effort are acting out of cold-blooded interest, and that we cannot count on them to stick with us when the going gets tough, or when we need them to do something which cuts [against] their short-term interest. I also think it's a very dangerous strategy, to build forces at the provincial and local level who can (and do) oppose the national government. We are basically sowing the seeds of civil war with this strategy, and doing little to mitigate the risk.

And finally, do not overlook Joe Gandelman's superb analysis and round-up at The Moderate Voice. Any voices I neglected to mention here are probably covered there.

1 comment:

Seven Star Hand said...

Hey Kathy,

Very useful posting, thanks. Also, your "Magical Mystery Tour" title is much closer to the truth than you might believe.

Want to know the true significance of the number 36 in Bush's speech? There obviously are not 36 countries fighting in "Babble on." So why did our Bonesman President use it in his speech last night?

Discerning the truth about the USA