Monday, June 26, 2006

It's The Singer, Not The Song

I must admit that my head is spinning from the circularity plaguing the reality-defying media narrative emerging from Washington over the past week or so. It would be enough to make Orwell blush, and his writing seem overly cautious and quaint in retrospect. First, the media was consistently repeating the "cut and run" Democrats spin as put forth by the GOP - as the Dems were mercilessly lambasted as weak, terror-appeasing, prone to surrender, confused, divided and in a general state of disarray because they put forth a plan for measured withdrawal from Iraq that was supported, ironically, by almost every Democrat in the Senate. Oh, and did I mention that - according to that same up is down conventional wisdom - this plan would be wildly unpopular with the American people, who, poll after poll indicate, support a similar plan in large numbers.

Then, the much-touted "free and sovereign" government in Iraq put forth their own version of us "cutting and running" that we will now refer to as an "honorable victory." That plan came complete with some rather controversial provisions on amnesty for insurgents that attacked US troops (made the more disagreeable by the fact that said troops would still be on hand in Iraq to be attacked - with impunity from the Iraqi side - for at least a few years more). Since then, such version was perhaps edited for content by our man on the scene (and possible author of the initial plan itself) to water down some of the bitter elements.

Following with the logical progression of an undulating loop, the Bush administration brought its own product to market in the form of a leaked plan put forth by General Casey to begin forging a timetable for a steady reduction (hinting at withdrawal) of US forces from the region. Would this count as the same "cutting and running" type of timetable that the GOP accused the Dems of ignominiously supporting just days earlier? For one too wedded to logic and rational thought, perhaps. But please keep in mind that when Republicans say it, it's strong, unified, decisive, bold and above all, brave. The type of plan that will make us safer. You think I'm being cynical? See if you can follow along on Greg Sargent's bizarre ride:

OK, this is getting downright surreal. Here's the analysis in the LA Times's piece on the leaked troop reduction plan:

Last week, Congress debated two Democratic proposals that called for Bush to begin a troop drawdown, resolutions that divided the party. Public acknowledgment of the Casey plan by administration officials could leave the Democratic Party's leaders in an even more awkward position, having backed a withdrawal plan already embraced by the White House — in effect leaving the party with no Iraq policy distinct from the administration's as the parties head into the midterm elections. (Emphasis added.)

Just try to wrap your brain around that logic for a word is being leaked that the top commander in Iraq is "projecting" just what Dems pushed for and just what the GOP derided relentlessly as embracing "retreat" and "surrender." So how does the media react? By refusing to even acknowledge the political context of this at all.

And now the LA Times casts the fact that the Republicans are being forced by pressure from the Dems to start down the road toward troop reductions as something that will be bad for...Democrats!

Got that? Me neither.

In response to this cut-and-pasting of cut-and-run plans, there has been much discussion regarding whether the leaked Casey version signifies an authentic intention to withdraw troops, or is it merely campaign fodder for the GOP to use to assuage the growing discontent with the trajectory in Iraq among likely voters come November. I can't say which is which, though I have been operating under the assumption (perhaps naively) that some form of reduction would be necessary in the near future due to issues related to the looming "meltdown" of key components of the armed forces (National Guard/Reserves) as predicted last summer by retired general Barry McCaffrey. Which says nothing of financial demands, the exigencies of other hot spots (Afghanistan, Somalia) or domestic political concerns.

I think these logistical factors, coupled with the reality of American public opinion, at the very least makes some sort of withdrawal an attractive option. All things being equal, Matt's probably right about how to square the circle when he says this:

...I think the current administration is really quite deeply committed to an enduring military presence in Iraq and to exercising considerable influence over the Iraqi government. If that can be accomplished in a manner consistent with drawing down 75 percent of our troops then, obviously, Bush will do that. Saying he wants to stay in Iraq forever isn't equivalent to saying he wants 120,000 troops to stay there forever (that would be a lot). But if it isn't possible to draw down to that level, then we won't draw down.

The wildcard here would be if Maliki and the Iraqi government are actually - and independently - intent on tying us to a timetable for total - not symbolic - withdrawal. What would we do then? Perhaps we have anticipated such a possibility. Our ability to provide logistical assistance, air power, armored capabilities and advanced artillery support - and our lack of helping the Iraqi armed forces to do for themselves on these fronts - serves the purpose of making our military presence a necessary, if unattractive, "evil" for much of the indigenous population for years to come. That is, unless those services can be obtained from a more palatable friend or neighbor.

Regardless of the actual course of future events, a little perspective and context from our major media outlets in the reporting of these developments would be nice. I see, from Swopa, that the Dems are starting to fight back in order to try to hammer the tortured logic of the dueling narratives back into place. And that's refreshing. We'll see if there is any corrective in the media's follow through.

And while I'm chiding the MSM (and risking the wrath of Lee Siegel), I thought I might as well make one more request. If we're going to let the GOP put forth their own withdrawal plans (one from the White House and one via proxy in Iraq), then some questions should be asked beyond those aimed at matters of proper chronological attribution and the hypocrisy of the vitriolic rhetoric aimed at the Dems for proposing essentially similar plans themselves.

During his recent trip to Iraq, Bush repeated this phrase describing the truly misguided "flypaper theory":

I've told the American people, we will defeat the enemy overseas so we do not have to face them here at home.

If that's his position, and the GOP tries to make political hay with voters this election cycle with their own dubious withdrawal scheme (whether or not such plans are real or illusory), shouldn't someone ask the various GOP personalities why this axiom no longer applies?

Why does the GOP suddenly want to face the terrorists at home? It's their rhetorical messy bed, let them lie in it.

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