Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Truth and Consequences

In response to a post I wrote criticizing Vice President Cheney for repeating that the insurgency in Iraq is still in its last throes some 13 months after he first observed that dubious phenomenon, a commenter asked if I would prefer that Cheney wallow in the despair of the situation by proclaiming the mission unwinnable and unending.

I fully understand that the government must often put a positive spin on otherwise problematic situations. I do not fault government officials for stretching to provide such a gloss. As such, I never expected, nor would advise, Cheney to speak about Iraq in terms of it being a lost cause. That is, unless Cheney actually believes that to be the case. Because if Cheney has indeed concluded that the situation in Iraq is unwinnable, then I believe the American people would be better served to hear such a prognosis rather than some fantastical last throes business.

But assuming Cheney still believes in the prospects for "success" (or at least the possibility to maintain what he deems to be strategically crucial permanent bases), I don't blame him for not throwing his arms up in frustration. However, that doesn't require that he set unrealistic and exaggerated expectations either - especially because such reckless rhetoric, in the long run, endangers the maintenance of support needed to see the mission through (whether the "mission" be creating a thriving liberal democracy or establishing permanent bases). The problem is, when you are perceived as dishonest once, people tend to doubt the veracity of subsequent statements. Such is human nature.

But there is a second concern triggered by the frequently out-of-touch-with-reality spin put forth by Bush administration officials: on more than one occasion, those same officials have, by choice or inadvertant lapse, actually crafted policy based on that same outlandish spin.

Any careful - or casual for that matter - examination of the planning, expectations and preparations made in advance of the Iraq war would reveal that it was heavily predicated on a series of best-case-scenario outcomes. In fact, those that raised objections or suggested alternate planning based on various less than optimal contingencies were almost always shut out of the process. The results have been a potent mixture of strategic catastrophe and human tragedy.

Yet, at various times since those heady days, it remains unclear whether the Bush administration (those members of the administration that haven't departed and publicly repented that is) has been forced into pursuing better policy by the shocking dictates of reality, or rather if its members haven't burrowed further into the soothing refuge of denial.

Cheney's "last throes" comments were two such instances. The Cunning Realist reminds us of another: the February 2006 report entitled Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq which was presented to Congress by Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department. Some rather, er, interesting findings. First, this portion discusses a decision to reduce troop numbers as a result of the success of the Iraqi armed forces (page 3) [emphasis mine throughout]:

This decision was based on several indicators of progress but primarily the growing capability of Iraqi Security Forces. In the security environment in general, the single most important indicator of success in meeting security objectives is the failure of anti-Iraqi forces in their campaign to derail the political process and alienate the Iraqi people from democratic governance.

Terrorist attacks have failed to create and spread sectarian conflict

Hmmm, an article by the organization formerly known as Knight Ridder sounds a little less upbeat about that lack of "alienation" (via Swopa):

Many of the Shiite Muslim religious leaders who strongly backed the formation of the Iraqi government now are condemning it, warning that the country could descend into full revolt.

Their statements, observers said, reflect their effort to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular government, one they once encouraged voters to risk their lives to support. In the process, they hope to win back support from the populace, the majority of which is Shiite. [...]

"The government formed after the fall of the regime hasn't been able to do anything, just make many promises. And people are fed up with the promises," said Sheik Bashir al Najafi, one of the top four Shiite [ayatollahs] and one of several who suggested there could be a revolt. "One day we will not be able to stop a popular revolution."

In the Report's defense, the accutely heightened level of alienation and frustration might be something of a recent phenomenon, but the trends have been heading in this direction for some time, and this is certainly not the first manifestation. Same goes for the sectarian strife that the "terrorists" have failed to ignite and spread - at least as of....February 2006?

Another cringe-inducing passage (page 9):

Increasingly robust Iraqi political institutions will provide peaceful means for reconciliation and bridging divides. Inclusive institutions that offer power-sharing mechanisms and protection of minority rights will demonstrate to disaffected Sunnis, as well as other minorities, that they have influence and the ability to protect their interests in a democratic Iraq.

Joe Klein writing in Time (also, via the all-seeing eye that is Swopa):

"We have been pointed toward civil war since the new Iraqi constitution was approved last October and reinforced in the December elections," a senior U.S. intelligence official told me last week. "The Sunnis have united behind the insurgency because they don't believe the Shi'ites will give them a fair deal."
Back to the Report (page 23):

Insurgents have "failed to deter development of the Iraq Security forces" and "failed to damage Iraqi public trust in the Iraq security forces."

From a Reuters article (via him):

Kiosk-owner Abu Fadhil surveyed charred bodies after the second major bomb attack on his street in five days and came to the conclusion that he could never leave his life in the hands of Iraqi security forces.

"We should carry guns to protect ourselves. If we expect Iraqi security forces to protect us we will burn just like those innocent people," he said after a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people.

The attack was in the same spot where a car bomb and mortars killed at least 27 people last week in the busy commercial district of Karrada in central Baghdad. . . .

"The government is useless. Only days ago we suffered from a huge blast here. The interior minister has to admit they lost the war against the terrorists," said Abu Fadhil.

And, because you know he can't resist, Rumsfeld kicks something old school (page 24):

"The overarching term 'insurgency' is less of a useful construct today" because "previous synergy among enemy groups is breaking apart."

Yes, the insurgency that never existed, that later passed into its last throes (twice) is now a term made meaningless by the break-up of the constituent groups. As much as things change, they stay the same. The circle is complete. The eternal recurrence of the Bush administration.

Now can anyone offer reasonable assurances that a Secretary of Defense that has so stubbornly refused to acknowledge the true parameters of the insurgencies for so long really understands the gravity of the situation? Or is it just that he's passing on the tonic of propaganda to calm the restless American people?

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