Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush’s Surge Speech: no magic formula for success in Iraq


Bush insisted in his address to the nation that “In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq.” Oh dear, someone’s finally told him that his Magic 8 Ball isn’t really magic.

Actually, what that phrase is meant to convey is that the Iraq Study Group recommendations aren’t the magic formula he specifically ordered them to come up with, so he’s free to ignore it. Haven’t heard a lot from James Baker lately, have we?

He also said that some people’s “solution is to scale back America’s efforts in Baghdad  or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. We carefully considered these proposals.” Hands up anyone who believes he really did carefully consider those proposals. Or read any of the books on the shelves behind him. He gave the address from the White House library, using a room he’d never used before to demonstrate that this was a new position, according to this morning’s NYT. Maybe he should have delivered it from the bathroom.

Bush needed to show that he knew what had gone wrong before he could convince anyone that he knew how to correct past errors. But he wasn’t consistent about which Iraqis (and how many Iraqis) were responsible for the ongoing violence. At one point he said that “Most of Iraq’s Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace,” a dubious proposition (I’d say at this point most Sunnis and Shiites want to live apart in peace). But elsewhere he said “We thought that [the 2005] elections would bring the Iraqis together, [but] the opposite happened.”

At other times it’s not actually clear what he means by “Iraqis.” In the sentence, “Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people”, is it the Iraqi government, the military, the average Iraqi. And aren’t the people the Iraqis need to “secure their people” against also Iraqis? It’s just not clear what he’s saying should happen, and who should make it happen.

It just now occurs to me that he didn’t mention the Kurds once.

He also forgot Poland. And Britain and whoever else remains of the Coalition of the Willing (COW). Evidently they’re totally irrelevant to the New Way Forward (TM).

He’s sticking with the myth that everything was going swimmingly until the Samarra bombing, which was evidently a Sunni/Al Qaida plot to get Shiites to form death squads. So, what, there were no death squads before last February? I think his belief in his own omniscience is such that he thinks that because he only noticed that things were going wrong in February, nothing was actually going wrong until that moment.

His continuing failure to understand the way things work in Iraq led to the single scariest sentence in the speech: “These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations  conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.” Gain... the trust... oh dear lord.

He’s less sanguine about Anbar, which he describes as another Afghanistan or as what Iraq could become if we don’t follow his plan, a terrorist state run by Al Qaida. Makes you wonder why he’s only sending 4,000 more troops. No it doesn’t: he thinks he can win in Baghdad with enough troops, but has no idea what could possibly work in Anbar.

It’s hard to tell what he’s saying the surge (a word he refrained from using) would accomplish. It would create “breathing space” for the government, it would “break the current cycle of violence” (because the 20,000 troops wouldn’t be engaging in any violence themselves?), I don’t really know what those things mean, how we would recognize if the surge was succeeding or failing. Which is of course the idea.

He says he’s told Maliki and other Iraqi leaders that “America’s commitment is not open-ended.” Just until January 2009, and after that he doesn’t care what happens.

When he talked about Iran and Syria, he said, “We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria”, which might just refer to tightening the borders, but he went on, “And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq”, which sounds an awful lot like a threat to invade or bomb both countries.

He mentioned exactly one member of Congress by name. Joe Lieberman.

It was a largely unrhetorical speech, delivered with little affect. It was a defiant speech in that it defied every bit of advice he’s been given, the results of the November elections, and, of course, reality itself, but he was very careful not to look defiant or sound defiant, to talk of staying the course or accuse anyone of wanting to cut and run. Neither did he make any grandiose promises that will be used against him in a few months time when things go wrong. He may finally have realized he isn’t going to win anything that anybody will call a victory.

You know what else he didn’t mention? Saddam Hussein’s execution.

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