Friday, November 11, 2005

The next bait and switch on pre-war intel.

I am completely wrong.

A lot of what George W. Bush had to say today was more or less what he has said in the past. The transcript is available here.

The expected references to September 11, Hitler, Stalin, communism, etc. were all made throughout a lengthy speech. The most familiar slogan of this administration's "strategy" for an independent Iraq was reiterated:

I have said, as Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down.

What the media latched onto was the response the president has made to critics on the war and on the decision to go to war. He quotes from John Kerry:

Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hand is a threat and a grave threat to our security."

John King on CNN said that a Republican strategist noted this was an argument made from a weak point of view.

It is really an argument from an impoverished point of view. A weak argument made by a chief executive who does not know the full degree of peril we now face.

James Fallows has one Marine Lt. Colonel state the following in the Atlantic:

"On the current course we will have two options," I was told by a Marine lieutenant colonel who had recently served in Iraq and who prefers to remain anonymous. "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our army, or we can just lose."

The president says critics of the war want to re-write history. That is true, and a position he can argue with some success. What critics of this war need to focus on is re-writing the current war policy. John McCain seems to realize this. The anonymous Marine colonel seems to realize this.

But how muddled will the weekend talk shows be when left and right attack each other on pre-war intelligence?

No doubt the administration wanted the media to grasp at this point. Stevenson and Cloud's much quoted excerpt from their New York Times story today set the stage for the weekend talking points:

"It will be the most direct refutation of the Democrat charges you've seen probably since the election," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to outline a strategy that has not yet become public and will play out over several weeks through presidential speeches, close coordination with Republicans on Capitol Hill and a stepped-up effort by the Republican National Committee.

The administration has used the media's newscycle with adroit efficiency. In a lengthy speech loaded with common talking points, a few grafs of new material near the end leads the stories.

Will the Democrats (and the sensible Republicans) address this newscycle fodder, or will they talk about solving the Iraq mess? The administration most likely wants the conversation to be about the consensus on pre-war intelligence to protect the president who may or may not really believe in this plan.

If the president believes in this plan, he counters the aforementioned Marine colonel, numerous experts on counter-insurgency, generals currently serving in the theatre and outside experts more versed than I. (Read Fallows in the Atlantic for more on this.) If the president does not believe in the simple rubric of standing down when the Iraqis stand up, then he cannot come up with something better. Perhaps because his defense secretary has been slow to address the requirements of counter-insurgency -- and this president is slow to clear the deck when it comes to his staff.

In a phrase: don't take the bait, commentators. There were baits and switches before the war, and there is one at play now. In an overzealous and heartfelt attempt to right their wrong (the sin of omission), the left has tried to replay 2002 and 2003. That period needs to be addressed, but only when the best possible Iraq strategy is in place.

Perhaps George W. Bush believes too much in his administration and the rightness of his cause. I am puzzled by the man, for I believe he is quite intelligent. He's listening to some bad advice though. The one lesson from 2002 and 2003 we can implement is not to buy the talking point. A deep, experience-centered debate needs to address 2006.

In the mean time, our brave men and women will continue their difficult work trying to "stand up" Iraq without the best and most effective support otherwise possible from this administration.


Blogger A Christian Prophet said...

I would have preferred the President speak to attack Democrats the way the Holy Spirit speaks to them: no praise is due those who forgo the right for the expedient.

7:48 PM  

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