Friday, February 02, 2007

The best plan is to have this plan succeed

Brent Scowcroft, testifying on Iraq before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, used a familiar obnoxious analogy: “When you’re training your child with training wheels on the bicycle, how do you know when to take the training wheels off? I don’t know.”

Bushies are beginning to use admission of the mess that Iraq has become to their own advantage, by suggesting that it’s so completely impossible to comprehend what’s going on there that there’s no point in even trying to set up standards to measure whether we’re making progress or not. Chuck Hagel repeatedly asked Scowcroft for such a standard, getting this response: “It would be nice to be precise and to have all these benchmarks that everybody can see and so on. This is not that kind of a problem. We’re in a mess, and we’ve got to work our way out of it.” He went on to list various things that needed to be accomplished to work our way out of it. “Then,” responded Hagel, “how do you measure that?” Scowcroft: “The way you measure anything.”

Such a disconcertingly unhelpful response has not been heard since Rumsfeld last trod those halls.

The em-messification of Iraq is also now being used as a reason not to call it a civil war. Last year, it wasn’t a civil war because it wasn’t that bad yet; now it’s just too messy. Secretary of War Robert
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this morning said that civil war is “a bumper sticker answer to what’s going on”.

Naturally, he couldn’t comment on the new National Intelligence Estimate, because he held a press conference without having read it, an old Rumsfeld trick. The NIE’s summary (pdf), the only part we’re allowed to see, while saying Iraq is actually more fucked up than the term civil war implies (“does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict”), does say that the term “accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.”

National Security Adviser Stephen “Boo” Hadley also squirmed his way out of using the term civil war at a press briefing today:

Q: Can you call it a civil war, and why haven’t you?

HADLEY: We know what kind of fight we’re in. We know the facts. That is described well in this NIE, and we have a strategy to deal with those facts and to try to succeed.

Q: Is it a civil war?

HADLEY: I will tell you what this NIE says.

Q: I want to know why you avoid using that term.

HADLEY: Because it’s not an adequate description of the situation we find ourselves, as the intelligence community says. ... And what we’re doing is saying, if you’re going to run policy, and if you’re going to explain it to the American people, we need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq, and what is our strategy to deal with that.”

Because the Bush administration is all about getting across complexities. Known for it, really.

Hadley continued to embrace sophistication and complexity when summing up the NIE: “one of the things you should conclude from this NIE is the best plan is to have this plan succeed.”

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