Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Plausible Deniability: Bush Looks for the Escape Hatch

If, after all this time, Bush still needs to justify the war, it ain’t gonna happen. But, of course, answering the questions of people like me was not the point. The objective was to repackage the lines that have worked before and shore up enough support to push the approval ratings for the war just past the magic 50% mark.

But perhaps the most important objective of the speech is not even that you buy the arguments. You’re just supposed to believe that Bush is trying to sell you. Here’s what I mean. This was packaged as a “stay the course” speech. The media, even most of the actually liberal media, are dissecting the speech as if that is what it really was. But it wasn’t. This was the speech in which the Bush administration have begun to lay out the path of withdrawal. But you are supposed to believe that Bush really wants to stay.

In this speech, Bush didn’t actually say in so many words, most of things you’re supposed to believe he did. He didn’t say that Iraq was the center of the war on terror. He didn’t say that there would be democratic Iraq. He didn’t say that the war itself made us or anyone safer. He not only did not spell out metrics by which we would measure “success” in Iraq, he didn’t actually say, in so many words, that we are winning or will win in Iraq.




Amidst the “disassembling” of Bush's speech at Fort Bragg last night, there will be much talk about the implied hookup of Iraq to 9-11.

After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.

The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden.

They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail.

After September 11, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult and that we would prevail. Well, it has been difficult and we are prevailing.


Number of mention of “terror” and its forms: 29
Number of mentions of WMDs: 0

There will be some talk about Bush’s attempt to imply that the war in Iraq is creating a new wave of democratization in the Middle East.

As Iraqis make progress toward a free society, the effects are being felt beyond Iraq's borders.

Before our coalition liberated Iraq, Libya was secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. Today the leader of Libya has given up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we have witnessed elections in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.


Note that he didn’t say that the war in Iraq caused the elections in Palestine or Libya to disarm. He didn’t actually commit the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy. He just lined it up and let you do the assuming.

Lots of people will point out that Iraq wasn’t a hotbed of terrorism before we invaded. Fewer will note that Bush did not specifically disagree. “Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden: This third world war is raging in Iraq. The whole world is watching this war. He says it will end in victory and glory or misery and humiliation.” Nowhere in this speech does Bush actually say that Iraq is the central front on the war on terror.

Others have also opened salvo on Bush for what he didn’t say. Slate is upset that Bush “did not lay out a strategy, except to continue along the same shrapnel-strewn path and hope for the best.” David Corn in The Nation feels that “Bush mentioned no metrics (as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call them)--that is, concrete indicators--to demonstrate that he holds a more accurate view of the war than, say, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who days ago exclaimed, ‘The reality is that we're losing in Iraq.’”

Corn is getting close to the mark. But here’s what we should say.

If, after all this time, Bush still needs to justify the war, it ain’t gonna happen. But, of course, answering the questions of people like me was not the point. The objective was to repackage the lines that have worked before and shore up enough support to push the approval ratings for the war just past the magic 50% mark.

But perhaps the most important objective of the speech is not even that you buy the arguments. You’re just supposed to believe that Bush is trying to sell you. Here’s what I mean. This was packaged as a “stay the course” speech. The media, even most of the actually liberal media, are dissecting the speech as if that is what it really was. But it wasn’t. This was the speech in which the Bush administration have begun to lay out the path of withdrawal. But you are supposed to believe that Bush really wants to stay.

In this speech, Bush didn’t actually say in so many words, most of things you’re supposed to believe he did. He didn’t say that Iraq was the center of the war on terror. He didn’t say that there would be democratic Iraq. He didn’t say that the war itself made us or anyone safer. He not only did not spell out metrics by which we would measure “success” in Iraq, he didn’t actually say, in so many words, that we are winning or will win in Iraq.

He hedged his bets. “In the past year, we have made significant progress….Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made. … The progress in the past year has been significant, and we have a clear path forward….We have made progress, but we have a lot more work to do.”

Here is the only concrete message in the entire speech.

Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer.


This was the only actual plan of action laid out in the speech. It was the only standard set. I’ve been saying (in my head) for a while now that the Bush administration is looking for the door out. And I think we are seeing just that in progress.

So then the obvious question becomes, what does he hope to achieve out of all of this. (Note, the question of what did he hope to achieve before the war is a bit moot.) Firstly, we will note that since the talk in March of last year of building 14 “enduring bases” in Iraq, there has been no talk of changing those plans. Next we will note that there has been no talk of altering any of the financial arrangements by which large sections of the formerly state owned Iraq industries are privatized.

What Bush hopes to actually accomplish for the Iraqis is less clear. In his speech , he even began to step away from the much fabled reconstruction.

We are improving roads and schools and health clinics. We're working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity and water. And together with our allies, we will help the new Iraqi government deliver a better life for its citizens.

In the past year, the international community has stepped forward with vital assistance. Some 30 nations have troops in Iraq, and many others are contributing non-military assistance.

Thus far, some 40 countries and three international organizations have pledged about $34 billion in assistance for Iraqi reconstruction.

More than 80 countries and international organizations recently came together in Brussels to coordinate their efforts to help Iraqis provide for their security and rebuild their country. And next month, donor countries will meet in Jordan to support Iraqi reconstruction.


Now it’s all about what the international community will do, not us.

Five days ago, Bush held a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. It concluded with this exchange.

Q Mr. Prime Minister, I am a presenter on radio in Iraq. My question is for you. For more than two years we've started a change in Iraq, but the process of building is very slow. There are secure cities in Iraq, Samarra and Kurdistan. When will you begin the reconstruction in Iraq? When do we begin to establish the first bases of reconstruction? And you know that if you started reconstruction in Iraq it will mean that young people will have something to do, and they will leave terrorist activities. So the question is for Mr. Prime Minister. There were discussions held with the President Bush, and the most important thing you discussed with him we want to know about it.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Sometimes we don't tell you things, you know. No, we discussed a lot of important things. We discussed democracy, we discussed having the constitution there, and we discussed security, we discussed reconstruction.

We are spending reconstruction money, but, you know, you need to ask that to the government. They're in charge. It's your government, not ours. This is the government that is -- that has got the ministries in place that spends the money. We're willing to help, and we have helped. And I want to thank the Congress and the American people for their generosity in helping Iraq rebuild. And we're spending money.

But, remember, your question kind of made it seem like -- that we're in charge. We're not. You had elections; 8.5 million people voted, and this good man is now in charge of the government. I don't want to be passing the buck, as we say, but we're more than willing to help reconstruction efforts, but this is a sovereign government --

PRIME MINISTER JAAFARI: Thank you, very much.

PRESIDENT BUSH: -- with an elected Prime Minister by the people of Iraq. And so we want to look forward to working with the government. Our role is to help. His role is to govern and lead. And we've got the money allocated. Obviously, it's important to get electricity to the Iraqi citizens and clean water to the Iraqi citizens. And, you know, I was pleased to see the other day when I was reading that there's a lot of air traffic in and out of the airport now, quite a lot of air traffic. In other words, there's commerce beginning to develop. We want to be helpful. But the responsibility rests with the people who the Iraqi people elected. And that's you, Mr. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER JAAFARI: Thank you, Mr. President. Of course, there were many points discussed with the President, Mr. Bush, in our special meeting, and we talked about so many facts. It was the first meeting between us, so we talked directly about the democracy in Iraq and the constitution, the achievement of the constitution, and we decided to continue the case of security until everything is well established.

And at the same time, we thought that there is a Marshall project after the Second World War that contributed -- the U.S. contributed in that and in the Truman's government when they presented assistance to the German people. German people had selected Hitler in a democratic process that had a 98 percent result, however, we are quite happy with this hospitality of the U.S. So Germany was able to work.

The Iraqi people did not elect Saddam Hussein. In fact, they suffered a lot from Saddam Hussein before he attacked the geographical adjacent countries. He took their money before he took the money of Kuwait. He occupied Kuwait, in fact, as he did, and there is a lot of indications to tell us that the Iraqi people are innocent of all that had happened. They have to pay off their -- so many debts, and we hope that all countries will stand beside us to correct this unexceptional [sic] situation. They did not commit any crime against any people, they are peaceful. But it was Saddam Hussein who committed the crimes. And he brought about so many debts and losses to the Iraqi people.

We look forward to the international community to stand beside us, and we believe that this is a humanitarian stance. And we hope that Mr. Bush will try to redo a Marshall Plan, calling it the Bush Plan, to help Iraq, to help the Iraqi people. And this would be a very wonderful step that they stand beside us.



“When will you begin the reconstruction in Iraq? When do we begin to establish the first bases of reconstruction?”

When do we begin?

Please note that the question was specifically posed to Jaafari. Yet Bush, compelled by some force of guilt or conscience, broke in to make clear that it wasn’t his responsibility.

Bush desperately wants to wash his hands of the whole mess, take what he came for, and get out as soon as possible.

Watch for it.

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