Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two weeks before the election, and stay the course has backfired

With violence in Baghdad and throughout Iraq skyrocketing this summer, George W. Bush expressed his stance as "stay the course" compared to "cut and run". In terms of United States politics, this was a massive error. Bush must have assumed that the Baghdad security plan would demonstrate some success before the elections. His generals have indicated otherwise. This is also an indication that the Bush adminstration fails to see what it can and cannot achieve in Iraq, both politically and militarily. Bush and his administration waged a public relations campaign earlier in the year that tried to show how much the president "got" that Iraq was complicated and troubling.

Then, the administration came up with a slogan and put a great amount of faith in the Baghdad security plan. That plan has been sent back to the drawing board, mostly because Iraq's police and military forces cannot handle their tasks in the clear, hold, build plan.

Was "clear, hold, build" just another slogan? Did it sound good, like "axis of evil"?

Peter Baker in the Washington Post notes:
But the White House is cutting and running from "stay the course." A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned "stay the course" into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that "stay the course" does not actually mean stay the course.

Instead, they have been emphasizing in recent weeks how adaptable the president's Iraq policy actually is. Bush remains steadfast about remaining in Iraq, they say, but constantly shifts tactics and methods in response to an adjusting enemy. "What you have is not 'stay the course' but in fact a study in constant motion by the administration," Snow said yesterday.
Remember that other election mantra, the one that said America could stand down when Iraq stood up? Iraqi police are heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias. The British left Amarah and the city quickly saw violence between Sadr's followers and Hakim's.

There are so many slogans, and the situation continues to degrade. It is becoming increasingly clear that the administration is adept at short, cutting slogans. They are incompetent strategists.

Ehsan Ahrari of Asia Times Online notes the slogan-drift (not even a mission-drift!) of this administration:
When weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, "spreading democracy to the Middle East" became one of the chief objectives of the Iraq war. In the worsening pace of civil war, the explanation from Washington was there was no civil war, just violence getting out of control. Recently, we were told that the US was not going to pull out of Iraq. "We don't cut and run," was the favorite line of top Bush officials.

Now, the new operative phrase is "flexibility", which sounds as though all options are being considered, including withdrawal. In
other words, defeat by any other name is anything but defeat. This is how the ultimate truth is being spun from Washington.

One of innumerable tragedies of the Iraq war is that America's top decision-makers never leveled with the American voters. What went right from the perspectives of President George W Bush and his top aides, including his super-secretive Vice President Dick Cheney, is that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks scared the daylights out of US citizens. The age-old notion of America's invulnerability to such attacks went out of the window. Consequently, the "Joe Lunchbuckets" and "soccer moms" of America readily accepted the fear rhetoric of the congressional elections of 2002 and the presidential election of 2004 as "facts".

But the moment of truth has finally arrived. The American people now know, first, that the Iraq war has entered a phase of no return. In other words, they have no trouble admitting that it is not winnable. Second, they also know that the old explanation that US troops would "stand down" from Iraq when the Iraqi security forces "stood up" is a hollow and unachievable slogan. Third, the American people also know that their men and women in uniform are not only being targeted by insurgents (the former "dead-enders" of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, the predecessor of Central Command's General John Abizaid), but also by other militias.
General George Casey and Diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad gave a press conference today expressing optimisim that Iraqi forces are 12 - 18 months from leading security operations, CNN's account, the transcript.

One passage from their press conference strikes me as odd. George Bush and others in his administration insist that tactics will change. However, note this from the Washington Post (my emphasis):
"The enemies of the American people believe that their will is stronger than ours and that they can win by outlasting us," said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who appeared at a news conference along with Gen. George W. Casey Jr. "We should not acquiesce, but instead make adjustments in our strategy and redouble our efforts to succeed."
Paul Reynolds of the BBC wrote:
The problem for General Casey is that he has said all this before. In July 2005 he predicted major troop withdrawals by this summer, only to have to accept today that he had had to reverse that trend when summer came because the Iraqis could not cope with the surge of sectarian violence in Baghdad.

He even said today that he would ask for more troops if necessary.

Inter-Iraqi violence appeared to be the main threat identified by both men.

The thrust of the briefing was one of reassurance, perhaps to US voters as they prepare for the mid-term elections in a state of doubt. Whether it convinces is an open question.

And how much the tactical briefing will pre-empt the review of Iraqi policy that the Baker group might precipitate also remains to be seen.

It showed perhaps the limits in the options facing people at the sharp end.
There is an ambitious set of goals for the Iraq government in the next year. It seems as though we have stumbled into a timetable with benchmarks, even though the Bush administration said that this would be a significant error. The New York Times details the goals:
America’s top military and civilian officials in Iraq said today that the Baghdad government has agreed to a timetable for a series of milestones to be pursued in the coming year, including cracking down on Shiite militias, completing a “national compact” between competing political groups, persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and settling contentious issues like the division of oil revenues.
Whether this set or a significant amount of this set will be achieved is questionable.

Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, Oct. 24 -- Iraq has ordered its security forces to crack down on unlawful acts by armed factions, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday in a rare public rebuke to the Shiite militias allied with his government.

Although the statement was bolder than usual for Maliki, it fell short of directing that the illegal militias be disbanded, a move that American officials are increasingly urging as sectarian bloodletting and other violence soar.
Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times sees more trouble on the horizon for Amarah:
Amarah, the southern city racked by weekend fighting, is among the areas all but handed over to Iraqi forces. Authorities braced for more violence with the discovery of Hussein Bahadeli's bullet-riddled body, which bore signs of torture and was found in a rural field near the city, said an official at the forensics department of Amarah's main hospital.

Bahadeli was kidnapped Thursday, presumably to avenge the slaying of the provincial director of intelligence a day earlier. Hundreds of heavily armed black-clad militiamen loyal to Bahadeli's brother, Al Mahdi militia leader Sheik Fadhel Bahadeli, swarmed the city, attacking police stations and fighting gun battles on Thursday and Friday that left as many as 25 dead.

In possible retaliation, unidentified gunmen early Friday morning shot and killed a police officer as he left home in downtown Amarah and abducted another whose body was later found with several gunshot wounds.

Witnesses described the atmosphere in the city as tense, but Lt. Col. Sharhan Hassan, spokesman for Iraqi forces there, denied reports that a curfew had been imposed or that fighting continued Monday.

"The army is deployed in the city to protect the people if anything might happen, and so far there are no armed conflicts in the city," he said.

Al Mahdi army militiamen, loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, are fighting militiamen loyal to other Shiite clerics and factions for control of southern Iraq. Though Maysan province's governor is a Sadr loyalist, forces loyal to cleric Abdelaziz Hakim dominate the security apparatus. Hakim leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite rival to Sadr's organization.

British forces vacated Amarah this summer, handing over de facto control to Iraqi forces.

Decades-old tensions between followers of the Hakim and Sadr clerical families have at times turned bloody, introducing another volatile dynamic in a country already reeling from sectarian and insurgent violence.
Adapt to win. Clear, hold, build. Stay the course. Stand up, stand down.

A tale told by George W. Bush. Full of sound and furry, signifying nothing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you see the AP article on Fantasy Congress?

4:42 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

No, but I just Googled it and it looks fantastic.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

Stay the Course hasn't backfired. It has been back stabbed by liberals who don't understand that tactics and strategy are always in a state of flux.

The old European set piece form of warfare where neat lines marched into the fire died in the American Revolution. Military leaders today don't just try to bulldoze through the enemy. They try to out think them and adjust their tactics and strategies to fit the situation.

Bush has had to cope with the enemy in front,the terrorists, and the enemy in the rear, liberals, the media and Democrats. I think he has stood up to them pretty well and the in the long run he will be proved correct.

8:33 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I agree that warfare is in a state of flux. Bush goofed by setting up a dichotomy between "stay the course" and "cut and run". It was overly simplistic (on both sides) and actually played into the moderate impression that Bush is naive concerning Iraq. It was a major political mistake, and they are trying to step away from it with only a handful of days before the election.

There's more nuance to this than I have portrayed, and I will post an addendum later this morning.

9:58 AM  

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