Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The President And His Labyrinth

It's not the first time that the Bush administration has played the part of Lucy from the Peanuts teeing up the football to my Charlie Brown rushing in for a hearty kick, only to have the ball yanked away at the last minute. Some lessons just never sink in. The most recent example may be the non-inclusion of a timetable in Bush's much anticipated speech on the future of Iraq policy delivered today. Matt Yglesias' take:

Based on my quick first read of the Bush "Victory Strategy" for Iraq, I don't really see the groundwork for the big 2006 troop withdrawal that lots of commentators have been expecting. Instead, the "strategy" seems to consist of exactly what the strategy thus far has been -- denial and spin aimed at shoring up domestic political support for a mission whose goals are ill-defined and unrealistic. At the moment, troop levels in Iraq are very high as a result of a pre-election surge, so we may well see tens of thousands of soldiers leave the country next year but still have over 100,000 troops deployed.
If Matt's read is true, it would contradict much of what Fred Kaplan wrote (which I cited and expanded on yesterday) regarding the imminent and inevitable draw-down of substantial numbers of troops over the next 12 months. But there is more than one way to read Bush's speech today.

First (and most likely in my opinion), this could be an example of saying one thing and doing another. Refuse to concede rhetorical ground to your opponents, claim to be "staying the course" while behind the scenes the predetermined pullout begins. This makes political sense as well. While many were waiting to pounce on this change of course and embrace of the dreaded "timetable," Bush throws a curveball (or what looks like a curveball) and wrongfoots many pundits and commentators. It has the added benefit of maintaining the facade that any pullout will be based on facts on the ground. No timetable here, but, wow, serendipitously, the Iraqi forces are coming up to speed in time for us to pull out substantial numbers of troops in time for the Midterms. Call it the luck of the fortunate son. But it wasn't based on a preconceived timetable. Honest. To suggest otherwise would be like putting forth "the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city." Or something like that.

Second, Bush's speech could be an indicator of the disconnect between himself and his political coterie on the one hand and the people that will actually be making the decisions on the other. In other words, Bush is so isolated from actual events that he believes what he is saying even though behind the scenes, preparations are being made to carry out the withdrawal in contravention of his rhetoric. Either he believes in the "progress" he is touting, or believes that the military can maintain its current commitments indefinitely - or both. According to him, we will stay as long as it takes to and no sooner than "when our mission of defeating the terrorists is complete." Whatever that means. This is a variation of the Bush in a bubble theme, which has been enjoying something of a revival lately with some of Seymour Hersh's writings, as well as others who suggest that Bush is slightly detached from reality vis a vis Iraq and can't get a read on the situation because of his notorious distaste for bad news. I find this option less compelling than option one, though there could be elements of this in option one and three (more below).

The third option would be the Occam's Razor approach. As Matt claims, Bush meant what he said and we will be involved at more or less the same troop levels far into the foreseeable future. This is a definite possibility, but if I had to bet, at this point I'd stick with option one. As Heather Hurlburt points out, there were enough hints in Bush's speech about replacing our troops with Iraqi troops to suggest option one is the present course. From Hurlburt:

"We will be able to reduce our troops levels in Iraq without losing our ability to defeat the terrorists." hmmm

Ah, the new code word is "artificial" timetable.
You see, it's all about the kind of timetable we're talking. This sort of lines up with the administration's rush to claim credit for the Biden plan. Regardless, the truth will be revealed in one form or another over the next year-plus. In the meantime, the show must go on.

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