Monday, December 12, 2005

Talkin' happy talk and W.'s new candor:

The talking points from the defenders of the administration this week are that the president is being more candid about what's really going on in Iraq and this is helping him turn the corner on his abysmal poll numbers, now up to a whopping approval rating of 40%. On Meet the Press David Brooks said he was frustrated by the way the administration had been talking in public about Iraq versus the very "serious" way they talk about the realities of the war in private. Now, according to Brooks, the president is no longer insulting the intelligence of the American people with happy talk and is seriously making an effort to get real about the problems facing us in Iraq. Larry Diamond is quoted in a story in the Inquirer as saying W. is now being helped in his understanding of what's actually going on over there by ambassador Khalilzad and Condi Rice. He says, "I think there's been a serious gap in his understanding. He's not being fully apprised, or fully grasped the reality."

The Inquirer article by Ron Hutcheson says Diamond's assessment is "disputed" by White House aides. "They said Bush had always been aware of problems but chose not to talk about them publicly." So, either, he has been out of the loop since the beginning, or he has known what was going on all along and decided to keep it from the rest of us; that's some defense.

I've been hearing a lot about this new "candor" coming from the administration but I haven't seen any evidence of it. Scott McClellan says W. has learned from his "experiences" but doesn't call them mistakes. It appears this effort to appear to be candid is enough for the media to begin to parrot the administration line, though. The terms of the debate have shifted to the Brooks view that W. & Co. is serious about what's going on over there now and we need to stop listening to all these "knee jerk" anti-war types calling for a withdrawal. [I heard Phoebe Mar on Talk of the Nation a little while ago talking about the "rejectionists" and "Saddamists" who she was hopeful would be marginalized in the upcoming election if Sunnis came out in large numbers to vote. No more talk of "insurgents" now that the spin machine has eliminated that very negative appelation from those violently oppossing the Shiite/American government. Let's bring back the "dead-enders!"]

More candor:

Today, in Philadelphia, Bush said Iraq was a direct threat to the US and he would settle for nothing less than victory to protect the American people. That's candor? After two and a half years of fighting, after having accomplished the mission of overthrowing Saddam and his vicious robot planes and aluminum tubes, Iraq is still a mortal threat to the American people? In his speech on Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations---where he declined to take questions from foreign policy experts---W. again conflated 9/11and Saddam again---he threw in Pearl Harbor for good measure---and then touted the towns of Najaf and Mosul as examples of progress in Iraq. He cited the construction of a brand new soccer field in Najaf with new sod and lights. Wow! Lit soccer fields are all well and good, but those lights really don't help much if there's no electricity. By the way, what is it with the soccer fields anyway; I mean, is the measure of progress in rebuilding New Orleans going to be how many basketball courts are built? (Remember New Orleans, W.?)

In an unusual move, W. actually took a few questions at the World Affairs Council and when asked how many Iraqis had died since we invaded he said he thought about 30,000, all killed by insurgent attacks, of course. (Iraqi Body count says 30,000 are a result of the US invasion) When W. and his troupe of jokers come out with this sort of stuff you really wonder if they really get it, like David Brooks says they now do. When Rummy said the other day at John's Hopkins that the media was presenting a "jarring contrast between what the American people are reading and hearing about Iraq and the views of the Iraqi people; " I think he what he really meant was he and the rest of his bunker mates were jarred by what they see on the TV and read in the papers about Iraq, which is so diametrically opposed to their happy talk.

For instance, W. said that in Najaf things are peaceful and the Iraqi security forces are in control. What he didn't seem to know was that the "police" in Najaf are Mukada al-Sadr's Mahdi army: you know, the ones that we fought in Najaf and Baghdad back in April 2004 that contributed greatly to one of the highest casualty rates for a one month period in the entire war so far. How can things be going in the right direction when a "radical cleric" such as Sadr is in charge of an entire city?

In another speech on Dec. 9th at a fund raiser for a GOP candidate in Minneapolis, he pulled out the old post-WWII Japan comparison claiming that the fact that an enemy his father fought is now one of our best friends and a democracy has convinced him that, "Some day, 50 or 60 years from now, an American president will be speaking to an audience saying, 'Thank goodness a generation of Americans rose to a challenge and helped people be liberated from tyranny. Democracy spread and the world is more peaceful for it.'" David Sanger writes one of his senior aides said, "It may sound too simple, but it's a comparison the president believes in deeply." (That doesn't sound like he's learning from his "experiences" and adjusting his policies.)

The real war will not be televised:

Despite all the good news coming out of the Mosul and Najaf, the slaughterhouse known as Baghdad is still a mess. Last Tuesday two suicide bombers were able to get into the main police academy and blow themselves up killing 43 police trainees and wounding 100 others. The infiltration of the police by the insurgents is almost total and still the only viable security forces in Iraq are elements of the Iranian Badr Brigade and the Kurdish Peshmerga, the 215,000 Iraqi ready to go notwithstanding.

By the way, I think it's funny that Rummy is so upset about how the media is portraying what's going on in Iraq because he'd be a lot more exercised if stories like the one by Sabrina Tavernise in NYT back on Nov. 11th were the norm, which it's not.

Tavernise wrote of the gruesome scene in the cafe after a man wearing a belt of explosives blew himself up during the breakfast rush at the Qadouri Restaurant, which occurred right after a six day sweep of the border town of Husayba that was intended to prevent these sorts of things from happening:

"The scene at the Baghdad restaurant, though grimly familiar, stood out in the gruesomeness of its details. The plaster ceiling had fallen in and was soaked with blood, and the tiled room smelled like a butcher shop...Several workers and police officers discussed the identity of a human face, ears and scalp shorn of its skull that had been hanging on a piece of plaster from the ceiling. Some said it was the bomber, others said it was a diner...Outside a man placed the face in a piece of brown cardboard and took it away."

If the media was really showing the horrific details of what's going on over there on an hourly basis, there's no way W. & CO. could possibly delay the withdrawal of our people out of there. They've learned their lesson from Vietnam and the dangerous conditions on the ground help to prevent the press from venturing out of their hotels too often without an armed escort of Army or Marines which kind of limits how much is allowed to get out. No doubt, the editors back at home make sure things don't get too graphic either, which is why Travernises' article is so remarkable.

[Strangely, last night on my way back from watching my Dolphins beat the bageezahs out of the San Diego not-so-super Chargers, a clerk at the Wawa where I stopped to buy a New York Times said he wasn't reading the Times anymore because of Tavernise's article.]

We have to go:

Yes, I have been advocating the withdrawal of our troops ever since we took Baghdad, but I don't want to leave a basket case and endanger our position in the world any more than the right wingers do. Whatever position we may have on the Iraq war, we all want things to go the right way over there. I want the Iraqis to have a stable government and live in peace as much as W. does, but the way we're going about it clearly isn't working and staying-the-course, which is what this new candor is really all about, isn't a plan, is just more of the same.

Back in November newly released recordings from the Nixon administration showed that when news of the secret bombing of Cambodia came out Nixon's strategy was, "Publicly, we say one thing. Actually we do another." This is the present administration's real strategy for victory. Say we have a plan to withdraw some time in the future, with a token draw down right around the '06 midterms, but continue building bases and dig in for the long term.

If they were really going to be candid about what's really going on they could start by dropping the whole "victory" strategy charade and come up with a viable, realistic plan to extricate us from this massive disaster without completely destroying our military and international reputation along the way, but that's not on the table. The hope is that the more secular Shiites---aka Ahmad Chalabi---can counter the Iranian backed Shiites and they'll do our bidding as long we keep the money flowing. That's not the Iraqi future the administration is selling to us.
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