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March 24, 2006

Krauthammer, Defending the Spin Offensive
Posted by Michael Signer

I want to step back from Administration's spin offensive on Iraq.  Everyone has noted how distracting and unreal and Vietnam-like it is.  But I want to talk instead about how it's dangerous.  I don't think our collective national mind can contain the two opposing ideas of (1) it's going fine and we're gonna win, (2) it's not going fine and we need an entirely new goal.  For this reason, by concentrating the national mind (or by attempting to) so intensely on #1, the Administration is actually hurting us and the Iraqis.

When you start caring mostly about a political win -- as in the President's current five-day long political campaign to turn around public opinion on the war (and, in doing so, to attack the media) -- you stop attending to events.  Opinion and events, like oil and water, don't mix.  The aesthetic of the win -- of massaging and pushing and pulling public opinion -- becomes your paradigm, the way you see the world.  It becomes binary -- your friends and foes -- with a sliding scale between (people who you can persuade to become a friend).

To anyone who's worked on a campaign, all of this is so absorbing -- so seductive, in a way -- that it occludes any other way of thinking.  Put another way -- you cannot try and win public opinion and govern.  We think they're the same, but they're not.  At most, they coincide, overlap, cross-pollinate.  But they are fundamentally different behaviors.

The American people aren't stupid.  Spin does not create opinion, not really.  Policy does.  If the Administration's spin offensive consisted of transparent, hard thinking about practical options, they would start to "win."  Even if "winning" is no longer a sensible way of thinking about the conflict.

All of this is apparent in a startling op-ed in today's WaPo by Charles Krauthammer.  Over my morning coffee, I looked at the headline -- "Of Course It's a Civil War" -- as a great, cracking, evolutionary step forward in this neocons' perspective, a policy parallel to Fukuyama's very public recent admission of neocons' flaws.

But I was wrong.

Instead, the Krauthammer piece reveals this thoughtful but tendentious man so mired in the spin offensive that even he can't reason through Iraq.  Here's what he writes:

Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves?

Getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves.  In a deft (and, one supposed, entirely unselfconscious move), Krauthammer swallows the very real policy issue -- how to invest Iraqis in a legitimate political process, how to stop them from fragmenting a state into three (or more) entities -- up into the spin offensive's goal -- "winning" the war for Ameria by having the "Iraqis" "stand up."  (The ironic quotes are the only way to reclaim facts from spin).

Krauthammer goes on and on with a disconnected series of policy thoughts (give Sunni's "carrots," recognize that "this kind of private revenge attack has been going on at a low level since the beginning of the insurgency," give Sunnis a "sense of security and dignity in the new Iraq") that fail to knit together into an overall policy strategy.  And this is because Krauthammer -- like the neocons and Administration he defends -- is distracted by his overall goal, which is to criticize the critics.

It is still with some eye-rubbing that I watch as our President persists in advocating for a "win" in Iraq.  This is not the Iraqis against Americans.  This is an unnatural Iraqi state splitting apart.  The policy debate is whether, why, and how we want Iraq to remain a strong federal state.  If we do (and we have not had the debate yet), what are the options for investing these parties in the central government?  If we do not, how do we go about transitioning Iraq to a relatively peaceful, Bosnia-style, tripartite state?  And, if that happens, how do we avoid a massively strong and dangerous alliance of Iran with the new Shiite state/province?

That's policy -- not spin.  And that's how the Administration will "win" -- by talking about real options to address real problems.


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Yikes. That is weirdly close to that Onion story that everyone has been citing: "Rumsfeld: Iraqis Now Capable Of Conducting War Without U.S. Assistance."

I think I need to go for a long walk now.

Krauthammer is either clueless or dishonest. And I'm do tired of trying to figure out which. It is hard to believe that anyone paying serious attention could believe that one of the opposing sides in this civil war consists of those who are "standing up" for the "new Iraq".

First is the Sunni insurgents who are most opposed to the breakup of Iraq. That is because they will be the big losers politically and economically in such a breakup. They want a central state, but not the Shiite and Kurd dominated one the US has attempted to build. Rather they want one over which they would have more control.

As for the current top dogs in the new Iraqi state, their support for the Iraqi state - this "new Iraq" - is tactical and temporary. All the Green Zone jawboning is a sideshow and a diversion. They seek to control the state in the near term, only so they can proceed to divide up its effects among themselves. They are "standing up" for nothing but their own favored groups. That's why there are still no Iraqi forces to speak of that the US trusts enough to take over the fighting. It's not a question of "training". It's a question of finding people who are not in it only for the sake of themselves and their own partisan group - people who are not determined merely to take US guns and loot, and use them to ethnically cleanse, execute vendettas, terrorize rival tribes and sects, and press for sectarian advantage.

And the government that would be imposed by Sciri or the Sadrists is likely to be no less oppressive than a state run by ruggedly authoritarian and secular Baathists, conservative Sunni clerics, or Taliban-like Salafists.

Whatever the merits of these neocons might be, it is certainly not in the area of practical solutions to difficult problems. They don't pay any attention to details, and their policy recommendations are a combination of broad philosophical positions, wooly ideological agendas and cynical public relations moves - untroubled by nagging complexities and real-world messiness.

I trackbacked to my response to Krauthammer's column above.

This is clearly their backup plan in case the PR blitz fails. If you cant beat a civil war, then join it. Kind of sick how Krauthammer rejoices in Shiites and Sunnis murdering each other as an exit strategy for the U.S.

I disagree totally with your view of what the Bush Admin. is saying re: Iraq.

First of all, it is not "all is going to be fine and we are going to win". It is more like "this is really tough and will be for some time but we will win".

It is about time Bush combats the lie in the media that "all is lost" in Iraq! It is a lie and the media is every bit as much the enemy as is al Qaeda.

I don't base this view on stupid emotion. My step-son just returned from his third tour in Iraq. His first two tours were spent in tough combat. Kyle is a marine and not political at all. He told me that neither he nor his buddies would even talk with the press.

Say what you want. But talk to the men who have been there and a very solid majority will tell you the picture you get on Iraq by the press is a lie and only the President can seek to balance the perception.

It is high time he exposed the liars for what they are.

John Sorg

John Sorg, while it's of course Marine policy that Marines don't speak to the media unless they've been ordered to, this is not going to help persuade the media of anything useful. It's defaulting one of the most important battlegrounds to the enemy.

The Marines would do far better to put a camera on every Marine's helmet, and release all the videos after one week's delay. If the public saw what the Marines saw they'd give their total support. And it wouldn't tell the insurgents anything useful.

It's silly to talk about Bush exposing liars. Bush wouldn't know the truth if it was shooting at him point-blank. He's a politician. The Marines' helmet-cams are truth.

Even the Republicans admit that the only thing that gets them going is the thrill of the campaign. This is from the NYTimes article recently written by Nagourney and Bumiller:

Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that without the focus of a campaign, the White House had lost its edge.

Chuckles the K. is clearly immoral, probably delusional, and a real mean prick, according to folks who've worked for him. But 'nuff said, real issue is unbelievable ability of warmongering GOPer to twist facts and logic to suit every ocassion -- and get away with it.

The only the Chuckles is right about is that it is ridiculous to trifle about the existence of civil war in Iraq. Civil war? Since when was beheading civilized? Regardless of what kind of war it is, one thing should be made very clear by vertebrate Democrats, that is that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, Gonzo, and others responsible for its conduct, should be tried for war crimes and profiteering immediately.

Anyone who doesn't recognize the disaster looming in Iraq (think Srebenica x 100) is clueless or a liar.

Here's an upbeat assessment replete with impending genocide.

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