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January 09, 2007

Live-Blogging on Iraq Tomorrow
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Technology and toddler permitting, I'll live-blog the President's Iraq speech tomorrow night -- and I hope several other Arsenalistas will join me.

To keep your grey matter spinning until then, seven things to watch for:

1.  Specifics/benchmarks/goals:  Numerous Republicans and Democrats have said that their support for a surge would be conditioned on clear goals and benchmarks for what additional troops would accomplish.  How much of a nod to this will the President make?

2.  Complete strategy:  Sen Graham says that the President's speech will mark "a change in economic, political and military strategy."  Will that be laid out in comprehensive commitments, not just slogans, and will it include:

3.  post-de-Baathification:  a commitment to use US influence to offer a chance for all those Sunnis we pushed out of the formal economy to regain their access to it?

4.  economic aid:  this is really three questions.  How much of the $100 billion the Administration is supposedly set to request for the war will be for new economic assistance; how much of that will go to Iraqis, not to US or other Coalition contractors; and what blood of his own is the President prepared to give to squeeze this out of the stone that will be the Congressional appropriations process?  (It'll be terribly convenient to blame the Dems when economic aid fails to be appropriated.)

5.  Why 20,000?  and not 2,000, or 30,000, or 50,000?  The new Army/Marine counter-insurgency manual, which General Petraeus oversaw, endorses an old rule of thumb that successful counterinsurgency requires a ratio of at least one combat soldier to every 20 local residents.  Slate's Fred Kaplan calculates that we'd need 50,000 extra combat troops in Baghdad, assuming we moved every soldier currently in Iraq to the city, to achieve that ratio.  (Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman has said the number might be more like 13 to 1, in which case we have the numbers... if we abandon the rest of the country.)  

I don't really expect anything on this one. I think the answer is: because that's how many we could find by stretching and speeding existing deployments, without cutting into our thin reserves anywhere else or admitting that we are skimping other missions.  But it seemed like a good question to ask.  Watching which way the advocates of a larger surge -- from John McCain to retired general and prominent surger Jack Keane -- go on the President's proposal will be another interesting, if melancholy, pastime.

6.  What about the Maliki government?  I don't envy the Administration on this one.  We've got an Iraqi PM who doesn't seem to want the job and isn't the superhuman figure needed to create an avenue for, if not national reconciliation, a national armed truce.  But he's there as the result of a process we've called democratic.  How are we going to help Iraqis move off this dime -- which we have to assume is possible if we assume, for the sake of argument, there's any hope of a surge working.

7.  The sell.  Sheryl Stolberg in the Times today gives the messaging goods my junkie's heart's been longing for:

The president’s advisers are also mindful of polls showing that while the public wants the situation to improve in Iraq, it does not necessarily favor immediate withdrawal.

“They’re going to cast it as a choice between withdrawal and surge,” said one Republican strategist close to the White House. “The public is not for immediate withdrawal or even a quick withdrawal, but they’re not for the status quo. I think they feel as if the public is more likely to support the president’s position, which is putting a stake in the ground in Iraq and saying were going to try to win.”

The hope is that Mr. Bush can win over the public, and bring Congress along. But it might be a tough sell.

What magic is left in the speechwriting-and-messaging magic hats?

See you tomorrow night.


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I'd like someone to explain to me the value of "live-blogging" an event of this kind.

I don't mean from the standpoint of people seeking reassurance as to the correctness of for their own point of view. I get that. They want reassurance, and they want it now. An hour or even 30 minutes is too long. I even understand it from the standpoint of people looking for a cheap laugh, like the ones people sometimes get during Christmas Eve services when the local tenor attempts the high notes in "O Holy Night." Whem he fails it can be pretty funny, but propriety demands one's amusement be muted and not immediately shared. On the Internet we don't have to worry about that.

But does live-blogging increase at all anyone's understanding of a speech? Of the person who wrote it, or delivered it (in politics these are almost never the same person)? Does it have any political impact? Does it have value as a test of typing speed? Will the text of a "live-blog" ever be referred to in the future? Is live-blogging in any way superior to making notes on the speech and writing something afterwards? If so, why?

Personally I think live-blogging is a fad. Bloggers do it because they've seen other bloggers do it, and are afraid of being left out. A couple of years from now, maybe three, no one will do it.

I can only answer for myself. Because it makes me part of a discussion community; because I can test my insta-punditry skills and readers can decide for themselves what they think; and because my experience in writing, conceptualizing and interpreting this kind of political speech gives me something to add to the discussion.

Besides, isn't all of blogging -- not to mention commenting on other people's posts -- the kind of self-gratifying fad you decry? A very little of it makes a difference, most of it doesn't. Life is like that. The fun part is that you never know which is which -- AND I'm not pre-empting your favorite TV show to do it. See you tonight.

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