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June 26, 2005

Iraq - 8 Things to Listen for During Bush's Iraq Address
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This week President Bush will launch a PR offensive to rebuild public support for the war in Iraq with a speech during primetime on Tuesday night.  As misleading and disengenous as I have found most of the Administration's efforts to influence public opinion (think WMD, Social Security,  etc.) I actually think this is important. That's because, given the choices, achieving a stable Iraq in the next couple of years, if it's possible, would be a better outcome than withdrawing now, seeing that country descend to chaos, and having America's credibility as a military force undercut. 

But to succeed, the war will need higher levels of public support.  And any PR bounce achieved through a whitewash of the facts will be short-lived and will ultimately boomerang.  As discussed on Belgravia Dispatch and as Ivo Daalder points out at America Abroad, a major reason that support for the war is eroding is precisely because people feel misled about why we got in, how it's going, and how we're gonna get out.

Accordingly, there are a bunch things we all ought to be listening for when Bush addresses the nation on Tuesday night.  These will signal not just whether the PR push will work but may also reveal how the war effort is being handled and whether the Administration has what it takes to put us on a path to succeed.  If the subterfuge and misrepresentations continue, public backing for the war effort will slip, and we'll need to look again at whether a pull-out may be the best of a handful of unappealing options. 

What to listen for on Tuesday:

1.  Willingness to Face Reality about Conditions on the Ground. Will Bush admit how tough things are right now in Iraq, or does he continue to pretend he knows something that the global media, our commanders on the ground, and the cold hard stats on casualties don't? 

2. Honest Appraisal of the Iraqi Security Forces. If Bush argues that this is a short-term push before we turn things over to a rebuilt Iraqi security apparatus that will itself defeat the insurgency and let us go home, he is not being realistic. The numbers so far make this a Pollyanna scenario, at least for the next few years.  Bush needs to talk frankly about the challenges of building up Iraqi forces.

3.  A Characterization of the Insurgency. One difficulty in sustaining support for the war is the opacity of the insurgents.  Are these hardened terrorists who loathe America? Nationalists who want political power? Ordinary citizens frustrated by the occupation? Foreign provocateurs? All of the above? Is the insurgency in its last throes or likely to last for years (Rumsfeld has said both in recent weeks).  Particularly now that we're apparently in talks with the insurgent leadership, Bush needs to say something about who these people are.

4. A Rejection of Partisanship. Karl Rove's craven attempt to divert attention from dwindling support for the botched Iraqi operation revealed just how panicked conservatives have become.  That kind of desperation will not make for sound leadership on Iraq or anything else (as Kos points out, the attempt at diversion through random finger-pointing is no longer even confined to Democrats).

5.  A Commitment to Stronger Support for U.S. Troops. Bush needs to address how he is going to ensure that members of the armed services do not get shortchanged on the length and frequency of their deployments or the benefits they receive.

6.  A Plan to Buttress Flagging Military Recruitment Efforts. Staying, much less strengthening, the course in Iraq depends on being able to continue to recruit enough troops.  This has become a huge problem.  It also affects the military's long-term effectiveness, and its real and perceived ability to handle another crisis (never mind problems like forest fires).  Americans are worried about recruitment and a possible draft. Bush needs to confront this real concern.

7.  A Plan for Victory. Bush has to explain how we get from here (mounting attacks, a vigorous insurgency, too few boots on the ground and no prospect for more) to an Iraq that's stable (never mind democratic) enough to allow the Americans go home. Will we attract foreign troops? Put more Americans on the ground (and if so who and how)? Expedite the training effort somehow? He needs to outline this vision step by step, explaining why his plans are realistic.

8.  An Honest Assessment of Why Iraq Matters. The notion that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq to avoid fighting them at home was spurious when Bush first said it. Now, given the value of the American invasion and occupation as a recruitment tool for terrorists, that claim has lost all credibility. If Bush repeats this meaningless mantra, his message will fall flat. Even worse would be to revert, as Bush has in recent days, to the assertion of a link between Saddam and 9/11 -- claim so thoroughly discredited that even Bush himself disavowed it. Bush needs to explain why Iraq now matters on its own terms.


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---If the subterfuge and misrepresentations continue, public backing for the war effort will slip, and we'll need to look again at whether a pull-out may be the best of a handful of unappealing options.---

After the Sunday talk shows, the PR strategy seems obvious: the president and his advisers continue the happy talk, while Rove & Co. smear the Dems to keep the moderates in line. In other words, same old same old, only more so.

How much more BS does Bush have to dump on us before you say 'enough'? After 4 1/2 years of brazen deceit, I'm through giving this president the benefit of the doubt, and I'm through trusting him with our soldiers.

I honestly believe that the president thinks we're in a movie. Senator Hagel said as much the other day.

"Willingness to Face Reality"

Game over. In the past 5 years, I haven't seen any evidence that Bush possesses this particular skill.

Can't disagree with any of those eight points, but -- man! That's a helluva lot to expect from the fraternity boy. Any *one* of them would rate front-page treatment: "Bush Signals Change In Course", something like that.

I've got a bad case of disinfo overload from the cabal, so I can't quite recall a particular instance, but surely somebody can cite other speeches from the First Citizen that were hyped up as "important", and turned out to be anything but. Anybody out there got a precedent?

Iraq - 8 Things


Hey, it's the new and improved Democracy Arsenal Lite, with 20% less stuff in lists than the Regular Democracy Arsenal!


For those interested, even if only for the sake of argument, for a detailed and honest assessment of the situation in Iraq and its prospects in the future from someone who remains committed to detail and honest despite seeking to convince others the US should stay the course in Iraq for the indefinite very-long-haul future, I highly recommend the speech Dr. Anthony Cordesman (longtime Middle East military specialist and sometime adviser to Senator McCain) gave on June 24 at the Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) that is currently airing on CSPAN.

Archived audio can be found on the CSIS front page,

Archived video from CSPAN can be found simply by typing "Cordesman Iraq CSIS" into video search box on the CSPAN frontpage,

Also, extended transcriptions (including his full opening statement) and summaries of his many interesting takes on the situation can be found on my blog:

Some highlights:

1) His refreshingly blunt assessment at the outset:

"The fact is that this is a country with no proven political experience, whose leaders are learning on the job to be politicians, to govern, to deal with the divisions in their society. Iraq is 5 to 10 years of instability, regardless of the military outcome. It is a country which will require some 5 to 7 billion dollars a month in US expenditures per month for at least several more years. In the best possible case, thousands more of Americans and Coalition partners will be killed and wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. And if you ask me to assign odds, I would say 50-50 under the best circumstances, simply because none of us have a basis on which to assign odds."

2) His view that military operations presently can only contain, not destroy, the insurgency and his scathing comment,

"So anyone talking about breaking the back of the insurgency is fundamentally misreading the situation or misportraying it deliberately. It is not happening, and it is not the goal of a military operations to date."

3) His contrarian view that the disbanding of the Iraqi army, rather than being a (if not the) critical mistake in early US post-conflict operations, was largely irrelevant in regard to that component of the Iraqi army which joined the insurgency.

4) His insights on the foreign jihadist problem in Iraq such as: (a) The foreign jihadists since the January legislative elections have been trying to provoke civil war through attacks on Shiite and Kurdish civilians, (b) the jihadists--the footsoldiers, at least--aren't coming the Gulf countries in significant numbers but rather recruiting is coming a lot from North Africa and the Sudan (a new trend), and (c) Iraq is but one training ground for jihadists amidst insurgencies in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya, and elsewhere in Central and South Asia.

5) His blunt assessments of the aid programs to date: (a) "There is too much corruption, too much inefficiency, and too much waste in the process.” and (b) US aid administrators have to stop using "Russian standards of performance", trumpting overall expenditures and local success stories that don't fit in any systematic plan.


P.S. To Rosignol, sorry that I'm ruining the new and improved Democracy Arsenal trend to put less stuff in lists. :)

Here's the speech that will buy him some time and unity.

I'm not convinced we can "win" in Iraq (not that anybody has defined "winning" in specific terms), but at least we could forego tearing each other apart in American politics while we sort it out.

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