Murtha on Hardball

Following up today’s speech — I’m watching Congressman Jack Murtha on Hardball to get his response. I thought you might be interested, so I took notes. Quotations are approximate.

Murtha said that what the President presented today is not a plan. We went in with inadequate forces, then we didn’t have the appropriate people in the right places and we lost the support of the Iraqi people. 80 percent want us out.

The public wants direction. They want leadership, and they want honesty. We’re not getting honesty from this president .

Matthews says, the President says we should stay until the Iraqi military is trained enough to take over the fight.

He’s allowing Iraqis to set the timetable, says Murtha. They’re going to let us do the fighting, even though they said they want us out. If we don’t redeploy as I suggested we’re going to be there for 100 years. It’s not progressing. It’s not getting better. Let the Iraqi peple handle it themselves.

Bush is trying to tie what’s going on in Iraq to the worldwide network of terrorism, Murtha continued. But only 7 percent of the people fighting us in Iraq are al Qaeda.

Can you imagine if the French had stayed after the Revolution? We’d have run them out.

The number of casualties per day is increasing. We can’t win this militarily, because our military actions make enemies for us. All we get from this administration is rhetoric.

How long it will take to get an Iraqi army that can defend itself without our help?
asks Matthews.

25 years, says Murtha. From every measurment I can see we are not making progress.

Matthews thinks Bush’s new request of a $4.6 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraqi reconstruction is a trap for the Democrats, because if they vote for it they’ll be endorsing his Iraq policy but if they vote against it they’ll be accused of undermining the effort.

Murtha responds, They haven’t even spent the $18 billion we already appropriated for reconstruction, and some of that was used for the military. I can’t imagine what he wants the $4.6 billion for. They’ve only spent $9 billion.

Murtha dismissed the idea of any kind of trap. He believes the reconstruction spending is important, because it provides jobs for Iraqis.

Murtha points out that if troops numbers are reduced the troops remaining will still be a target. Supply convoys will still be vulnerable. It makes more sense, he says, to redeploy out of Iraq but retain troops nearby so that we can go back in if needed to go after al Qaeda or other terrorists who are a threat to us and our allies. But we need to get out of the fight between the Shia and the Sunnis in Iraq.

We still don’t have the kind of people we need, Murtha says. We don’t have translators, demolition experts, special forces, intelligence experts. We’re paying big money to recruit these people, and we still don’t have them. This effort has been so mishandled from the start. There are not enough troops to protect the Syrian border. This thing cannot be won militarily.

Matthews: Bush wants to stay with no time limits. But you’re saying we should gradually redeploy out of the country but maintain troops in the region to fight terrorism if we have to.

Murtha says that’s right. We need credibility, he says. This is a real war. People are getting killed. It’s time to admit we made a mistake. We need to repair our relations with the world. That’s what people are thirsting for.

Matthews: Do you trust the Cheney Rumsfeld crowd? On every pont they’ve been wrong about how this war would turn oujt. Do you trust them on the facts?

Murtha says, Just because they say it doesn’t make it so. Be truthful. I told them, it’ll backfire if you keep telling these stories. They aren’t being honest.

Is George Casey telling the truth? asks Matthews.

You know I deal with these guys all the time. I know how they feel. He said one of the problems in this insurgency is the occupation. We’ve become the enemy. He said one of our policies will be to start to withdraw.

Matthews: Bush said if any general needs more troops they only need to ask, and they’d get more troops.

Murtha: That’s not an honest statement. One general I talked to doesn’t have enough troops to protect the Syrian border. That’s one of our missions, and we don’t have enough troops.

These guys are sitting in theiir conditioned office saying stay the course. They aren’t out in the heat and the dirt. A very small portion of our citizens are making that sacrifice. In some ways it’s worse than Vietnam– we’re going to have a lot of people with post-traumatic stress.

Matthews brought up the news stories being written by Americans and planted in the Iraqi press.

This has been a problem from the start, Murtha said. The dishonesty of the people speaking for the administration.

What about support in Congress, Matthews asks.

Democrats sat behind me during the debate. Many Republicans come up to me privately and quietly. All of us want to find a solution.

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In Sum, We’re Screwed

Yesterday we looked at two opposing predictions. Fred Kaplan predicted that in today’s speech President Bush would at least move in the direction of a withdrawal timetable for Iraq, if not announce a timetable. And that was a smart prediction, for myriad reasons that Kaplan presented. It’s the smart move to make politically, and in the long run would prove to be the smart move to make strategically.

But Kaplan was wrong about Bush. The one who called it right was Seymour Hersh, who said on Hardball last night (transcript not yet available) that Bush believes God told him to invade Iraq, and he’s not going to leave until he has something that looks like a victory. He is still unclear about what that something will be, although he did acknowledge that it won’t look like the end of World War II, with a surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.

Most Americans want two things in Iraq: They want to see our troops win, and they want to see our troops come home as soon as possible. And those are my goals as well. I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. In World War II, victory came when the Empire of Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri. In Iraq, there will not be a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.

Bush made statements in the speech today that seem to rule out significant withdrawal of U.S. troops while there is still violence in Iraq, no matter how capable the Iraqi defense force might be. Example: “To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your Commander-in-Chief.”

It is true that most of today’s speech was given over to Bush’s assessment that the Iraqi security forces are much better than they were last year, and he says U.S. troops will be withdrawn as the Iraqis become better able to fight on their own.

As we make progress toward victory, Iraqis will take more responsibility for their security, and fewer U.S. forces will be needed to complete the mission. America will not abandon Iraq. We will not turn that country over to the terrorists and put the American people at risk. Iraq will be a free nation and a strong ally in the Middle East — and this will add to the security of the American people.

There needed to be a “but” or “however” or something after “complete the mission,” but let’s go on … he is giving himself some wiggle room for a partial withdrawal, but he’s not leaving himself any room to make substantial reductions in troop strength as long as there is an active al Qaeda (or similar) presence in Iraq.

And he’s still claiming that, somehow, the war in Iraq is going to prevent another September 11.

The terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th. Those terrorists share the same ideology with those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, murdered tourists in Bali, workers in Riyadh, and guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan. Just last week, they massacred Iraqi children and their parents at a toy give-away outside an Iraqi hospital.

This is an enemy without conscience — and they cannot be appeased. If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people. Against this adversary, there is only one effective response: We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory. (Applause.)

To keep terrorists from our shores it would have been cheaper and easier, and about as effective, to just hand out lots of rabbits’ feet. See Peter Daou for the antidote to “we’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” and “cutting and runnng sends the wrong message,” two points Bush made, once again, today.

In this speech there was no acknowledgment of the strain Iraq is putting on our military resources. As Kaplan wrote yesterday, “Top U.S. military officers have been privately warning for some time that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two without straining the Army to the breaking point.” I expect to hear more about this later today when John Murtha appears on Hardball.

Bush also did not acknowledge that the Iraqis themselves want us to go away. Seems to me that if the Iraqi government passes a resolution giving us, say, six months to get our butts out of their country, we have to comply. It’s their country. Bush doesn’t seem to have considered that possibility. I guess he figures God won’t let that happen.

Bottom line, Bush really isn’t listening to anybody except the voices in his head he thinks are Jesus, and he sees “staying the course” as something noble and heroic. So no graceful or dignified exit for us. Instead, we can look forward to continued waste of lives and resources until it finally winds down to some messy, inconclusive end.

HOO-yah, and amen.

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Après le discours

Think Progress provides a deconstruction of the “Strategy for Victory” document.

Oliver Willis provides a summary

There’s really no concrete definition of victory here, still. But it seems that they’re saying we don’t leave until Iraq is a full western style democracy… with ponies. Of course, Iraq is currently a hotbed of violence with 150,000 U.S. troops holding down the fort, and shows no interest in western style democracy, preferring to enshrine religious Sharia law than anything resemble the U.S. constitution.

So when do we leave Iraq? According to this document, apparently when candy canes and unicorns take command.

John Kerry gives a rebuttal (my live transcript; quotes approximate):

This morning we saw the full power of the presidency, to have the Naval Academy serve as a backdrop for a presidential speech. Reminds you of an aircraft carrier — mission accomplished.

The troops don’t belong to Bush’s point of view. They belong to America. All of us think they are doing an extraordinary job.

This debate is not about an artificial date for withdrawal. Several times in his speech today the President set up this straw man, and knocked it down. Instead, we are talking about an estimated timetable for success.

No one suggests running in the face of car bombers or assassins. No one is talking about running in the face of a challenge. We are talking about how to succeed. What the President did not do is acknowledge the fundamental nature of the insurgency.

The insurgency will not be beaten in the face of a gun. Let me be clear; we support the elections. They are important for Iraq. The success of those elections provides a benchmark of success which allows us to withdraw some troops.

This comes to the fundamental issue the President avoided. It’s all well and good to talk about training until we are ready to leave. But this ignores what his own generals are telling him, and what Iraqis are saying. General Casey says it is the large presence of U.S. troops that feeds the insurgency.

45 percent of the Iraqi people believe it is all right to injure and kill Americans. 80 percent want us to withdraw. Elected officials say it’s time to reduce our presence. The President did not acknowledge that our presence on the ground feeds the insurgency.

None of us wants to leave a failed state in Iraq, but the strategy for exit is part of the stretegy for success.

Russ Feingold on MSNBC — The problem here is that the president put out the wrong document. It should be strategy for victory against al Qaeda. Iraq is not the be-all and end-all of our national security. This situation in Iraq is sapping our military’s strength and encouraging our enemies.

I would say that being confused about who attacked us on 9/11 is not a strategy for success. He is confused about the role Iraq plays in the fight against international terrorism.

The key question is how we get re-focused on the fight against terrorism. We need a flexible timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Bush’s policies are weakening our military and weakening America.

What needs to be fact-checked are Bush’s claims about the readiness of Iraqi security forces to operate independently of the U.S.

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Live Blogging Bush

Live blog of this morning’s speech at the Naval Academy — (note — quotes may not be accurate; check against transcripts)

[Update: Executive summary — “stay the course.” See major points on White House web site.]

Wow — he worked 9/11 into the intro. All of the students joined the academy after 9/11, he says.

He’s going through the thank yous — sounds like an Academy Award speech.

This is from yesterday’s Dan Froomkin

What does it say about the president of the United States that he won’t go anywhere near ordinary citizens any more? And that he’ll only speak to captive audiences?

President Bush’s safety zone these days doesn’t appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers.

Bush says:

Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. We must understand the enemy we face. The largest group of “terrorists” are rejectionists who are former Baathists. Many Sunnies rejecgted the democratic elections, but now those who advocate violence are being isolated by Sunnies. We believe that over time most rejectionists will support a democratic Iraq.

The second group are former Baathists.

The third group is the smallest and most lethal. These are foreigners and al Qaeda members. Our commanders believe they are responsible for most of the suicide bombings and beheadings. They are led by Zarqawi.

The third group is trying to establish an Islamic empire. They have nothing to offer the Iraqi people. All they do is kill the innocent and create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will. They will fail. America’s will is strong.

Those terrorists share the same ideology as the 9/11 bombers, the Madrid and London bombers. This is an enemy without conscience and they will not be appeased. If we weren’t fighting them in Iraq they would be killing Americans and others.

We will not accept anything less than complete victory.

We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy in Iraq.

Free societies are peaceful societies, so we are working with Iraqis to build a free society.

Security forces are on the offensive against the enemy.

Iraqi forces are being trained.

We’re repairing infrastructure.

We’ve included UN, coalition partners, other people.

Today I want to speak in depth about one aspect, the training of Iraqi security forces. Our goal is to train Iraqi security forces so that they can continue the fight.

When we defeat “terrorists” in Iraq, we’ll be safer at home.

In the past year, Iraqi forces have made real progress. Now over 120 combat and police batalions are prepared.

Now he’s arguing that Iraqi battalions are conducting operations on their own and are not just supporting U.S. troops.

He’s quoting an Iraqi soldiers who said that all he wants to do is kill terrorists.

He’s describing the territory under the control of Iraqi security forces. Lots of numbers that will be fact checked, I assume.

As Iraqi forces take control of their own territory, coalition forces can concentrate on training and going after high-value targets.

Descriptions of the training follow.

Hersh wins, looks like.

Some critics dismiss this progress, and point to the fact that only one battalion has achieved complete independence from coalition supervision. But that doesn’t mean more battalions are not ready to take the fight against the enemy. The facts are that Iraqi units are becoming more independent and capable. They will be in the fight for freedom today and tomorrow.

Lordy, he said we’ve turned a corner. He said that.

So basically he’s arguing that the Iraqi security forces are way improved and are going to be able to take on more and tougher missions, etc. He’s working up to saying “as they stand up, coalition forces can stand down.”

Bush said, “When our mission of defeating the terrorists is complete, our troops will come home to a proud nation.” Yep, Hersh called it. It’s “stay the course.”

Bush said: “We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission.”
Says he’s willing to send more U.S. troops, if the commanders ask for them.

No artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington, he says.

He’s not leaving himself any wiggle room. He wants victory. He’s quoting Joe Lieberman. We need to do something about Lieberman. He says that withdrawal will send a message that America is weak.

Bush said, “America will not run from car bombers or assassins as long as I am your commander in chief.” Big applause line.

Some critics say I have no plan except to “stay the course,” he says. Yep, that’s it.

I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq, and when terrorists cannot plot nasty plots.

He’s preaching the Neocon gospel. Our own security is best preserved by spreading democracy. Germany and Japan are democracies now. Freedom defeated the ideology of communism and freed eastern Europe and all.

I’m telling you, Hersh nailed him.

Advancing the ideal of democracy and self-government created our nation. We will meet the challenge of our time and answer histories call. Freedom is the destiny of every man, woman, and child on this earth.

He thinks he is Democracy Jesus, in other words.

There’s only one way to honor the lives lost, which is to complete the mission.

He’s done. They’re playing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Bottom line, he may have established some markers to enable some drawdown of troops, on the basis of improved Iraqi security forces, but he’s clearly planning on staying until the “terrorists” are defeated and Iraq is an established and stable democracy. He’s trying to remarket the war as it is without actually changing policy.

David Gregory on MSNBC is saying the document released this morning contains nothing of substance that’s new; it’s just a sales job. The one new thing is calling the Sunni die-hards “rejectionists.”

Once we’ve got a transcript we can fact-check the specific claims he made about the security forces.

Hardball note: Jack Murtha will be on Hardball tonight. Could be interesting.

Dana Priest of the Washington Post on MSNBC is saying that there was nothing new militarily in the speech.

Will this and future speeches have any impact on public opinion? Some of the major polling organizations will probably manage to find a bit of a bump, but I can’t see how this speech will make a big difference.

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Stay the Course?

I plan to live blog the President’s speech, but here’s a preview from CBS News.

“No war has ever been won on a timetable,” according to a new White House strategy document (pdf file) released just hours before the speech. …

… The 35-page plan, titled “Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” raises expectations for troop withdrawals, reports CBS News White House correspondent Peter Maer. The administration expects but cannot guarantee that troop levels will change over the next year, but any reductions will hinge on the political process, starting with Iraqi elections next month.

In the sidebar:

“It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy … to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power.”

Sounds like “stay the course” to me.

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Good News from Iraq!

We know there’s good news from Iraq, because U.S. propagandists plant it in the Iraqi press! Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi write in today’s Los Angeles Times:

As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Every day we do get more and more like the old Soviet Union, don’t we? Note this:

U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon’s efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably “bleeds” into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.

Who’s in charge of this effort, you ask?

The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.

The Lincoln Group bills itself as a “strategic communications and public relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments.” Macho propaganda. According to Source Watch, Lincoln Group and two other firms received contracts from the Pentagon to conduct “psychological operations” in Iraq. The contracts combined could add up to as much as $300 million over five years.

On a related note, Lincoln Group Executive Vice President Chrstian Bailey was also New York City co-chair of the 2004 Republican National Convention. See also Billmon from last June–great background stuff. (I wrote about Lincoln Group last June also, but the post was one of about ten days’ worth of content my old web host “lost.” I should probably investigate.) Anyway, according to Billmon,

According to O’Dwyer’s Newsletter, a PR industry tip sheet, the Lincoln Group was formerly known as Iraqex, but changed its name in March to match that of its corporate parent, the Lincoln Alliance Corporation, a DC-based “business intelligence” firm. …

… in October 2004, the firm was awarded a one-year $6 million contract from the Pentagon to do PR work for the military in Iraq, with three six-months options for another $12.2 million. O’Dwyer editor Kevin McCauley was quoted as calling it “a blockbuster — in terms of dollars — for PR . . . Those are big numbers, even if one is operating in a war zone.”

From the beginning, Iraqex/Lincoln Group has been strangely tight-lipped about its work in Iraq, refusing to talk to the press except through its own hired mouthpiece, who had this to say to the industry trade mag PR Week (11/14/04):

    “For various different security reasons, we can’t disclose information except to say we are very qualified to work on the ground in Iraq,” [the spokesman] said. “We have more experience working in Iraq than any other firm or organization anywhere in the world.”

Puffery aside, though, some details of Iraqex’s operations have made it into the press, such in as this story from the Chicago Tribune (“Word Warriors, 2/4/05), which inadvertently highlighted the fact that the most experienced firm in Iraq has a penchant for hiring GOP political hacks with absolutely no experience in Iraq:

    When [Jonathan Blessing] and another political consultant who had been working for the Bush campaign in Illinois heard about an opportunity to work for a company doing public relations in Iraq, the two jumped at the chance . . .

    Blessing and Swift are working for a private company called Iraqex, a subcontractor for the U.S. Department of Defense . . . Swift worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Illinois, and Blessing worked for the state GOP.

Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into Iraqex’s hiring policies — other than that the company clearly knows the buttered side of the bread from the dry. But things get more interesting when we look at the Lincoln Group’s corporate parent, Lincoln Alliance.

Lincoln is, if anything, even more shadowy than Iraqex, as is the relationship between the two. The Lincoln Group’s website — while offering virtually no info about the firm’s history, owners or officers, does mention that it was formed in 1999 — long before Iraqex was even a gleam in Christian Bailey’s youthful eye. And it clearly has interests that extend far beyond trying to spin the latest collateral damage in Iraq.

Billmon goes on to speculate what those “interests” might be, and it’s fascinating stuff. But now let’s go back to the Los Angeles Times — apparently, the State Department has been running workshops on how to be a free-press, American-style journalist, and the revelations about planted news stories are embarrassing.

“Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it,” said a senior Pentagon official who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media.

And they aren’t just planting stories:

Military officials familiar with the effort in Iraq said much of it was being directed by the “Information Operations Task Force” in Baghdad, part of the multinational corps headquarters commanded by Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were critical of the effort and were not authorized to speak publicly about it.

A spokesman for Vines declined to comment for this article. A Lincoln Group spokesman also declined to comment.

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

And Big Brother loves you, too.

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Hersh v. Kaplan

Tomorrow (I assume) we’re going to find out who’s right about Bush’s plans for Iraq–Seymour Hersh or Fred Kaplan.

Yesterday Kaplan posted an article on Slate predicting that Bush’s speech at the Naval Academy tomorrow will set the agenda for withdrawal from Iraq.

Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces—which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own—have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason—a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.

Kaplan presents a case — a very strong case — showing that the administration is already planning to begin a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. It does seem to me that politicians from both parties are moving toward a consensus on withdrawal even as they accuse each other of treason and/or misleading. All the signs and portents say it’s time to talk exit strategy.

However, what about Bush himself? Does he see what everyone else sees? And Seymour Hersh says no.

On Hardball this evening, Hersh said Bush is not going to withdraw. Bush is committed to what he’s doing, Hersh said. Is he even listening to advice from others? Hersh said it’s hard to say, but he thinks most of what Bush learns about what’s going on in Iraq comes to him through a big filter named Dick Cheney. Hersh said Bush thinks God is talking to him. He doesn’t care how many body bags come back. He’s not interested in contrary opinions. There is an underlying fear that Bush is a utopian without realistic information or ability to change with shifting circumtances.

Who do you think is right, Kaplan or Hersh?

Today Bush said he rejected plans for a quick withdrawal, and said that the pace of withdrawal will be determined by military commanders. Bloomberg reports:

Americans “don’t want me making decisions based upon politics,” Bush told reporters in El Paso, Texas, where he was inspecting border patrol facilities. “They want me to make decisions based on recommendations from our generals on the ground.” …

… “We will make decisions about troop levels based upon the capacity of the Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy,” the president said in Texas.

He gave no indication he will offer a timetable for a troop pullout and said his speech will outline the progress being made on training Iraqis to take over the defense of their country against insurgents who have been targeting the Iraqi government as well as the U.S. military.

“I know there are a lot of voices in Washington we’ve heard people say pull them out. That’s a huge mistake,” Bush said. “I want the troops to come home, but I don’t want them to come home without achieving victory and we have got a strategy for victory.”

But Hersh says the top generals in the Pentagon — the four-star guys — are afraid to speak the truth to Rumsfeld and Bush. He said this on Hardball and in his recent New Yorker article

Many of the military’s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has “so terrified the generals that they know they won’t go public,” a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that “things were fucked up.” But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.

Most likely, Hersh says, the military will pull out boots on the ground and substitute air power, which has a whole lot of new risks, as he explains in The New Yorker. But the war will continue, with us in it.

I believe tomorrow’s speech is scheduled for mid-morning. I plan on live-blogging, so drop by if you don’t watch it yourself. I’ll look at the Chimp’s face so you don’t have to.

But what’s it gonna be, do you think? Will he make noises to lay the groundwork for troop withdrawal, or will he want to stay the course?

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Moron, Idiot, or Nefarious Bastard?

Is Dick Cheney guilty of war crimes? Today former Colin Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson participated in a BBC radio program and said that is an “interesting question.”

“It is certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror, and I would suspect that it is, for whatever it’s worth, an international crime as well,” he told the programme.

Wilkerson accused Cheney of ignoring a decision by President Bush on the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror.

He said that there were two sides of the debate within the Bush administration over the treatment of prisoners.

Mr Powell and more dovish members had argued for sticking to the Geneva conventions, which prohibit the torture of detainees.

Meanwhile, the other side “essentially wanted to do away with all restrictions”.

Mr Bush agreed a compromise, that “Geneva would in fact govern all but al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda look-alike detainees”.

“What I’m saying is that, under the vice-president’s protection, the secretary of defence [Donald Rumsfeld] moved out to do what they wanted in the first place, even though the president had made a decision that was clearly a compromise,” Col Wilkerson said.

He said that he laid the blame on the issue of prisoner abuse and post-war planning for Iraq “pretty fairly and squarely” at Mr Cheney’s feet.

But what about Bush?

“I look at the relationship between Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld as being one that produced these two failures in particular, and I see that the president is not holding either of them accountable… so I have to lay some blame at his feet too,” he went on.

I think we’re seeing how much of a weenie Bush truly is. One some level he may realize that Dick and Rummy are screwups, but I think he’s afraid to try to be president without them.

Wilkerson said yesterday that President Bush was “too aloof, too distant from the details” of post-war planning. And much of the muck that we call “U.S. foreign policy” is the result of exploitation of that detatchment by underlings.

Anne Gearan of the Associated Press wrote,

In an Associated Press interview Monday, former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson also said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that “the president of the United States is all-powerful,” and that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant.

The foundation theory of the Bush Administration is, “Our shit don’t stink.” If you understand that’s where they are coming from, they almost make sense.

You’ll like this quote:

Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded aides. Wilkerson said that Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because “otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard.”

I’m seeing hands go up for “nefarious bastard.” But “fool” probably would work as well. I think it’s entirely possible that Cheney and Bush both believed their own hype about the dangers of Saddam and his mighty WMDs. If so, in a strict sense of the word, they didn’t lie. Bush is, I suspect, just too lazy and detatched to have questioned what his staffers put in front of him. And Cheney is just plain delusional.

I stumbled on this paper about delusional thinking —

One common misconception about delusions–reflected in the DSM-IV definition–is that the thinking processes of delusional individuals are defective, or different from those of normal people. In fact, research suggests that delusional people use the same rules of reasoning as everyone else. Indeed, once a normal individual forms a belief, he or she is also reluctant to change it, and will actively seek out confirmatory evidence (“confirmation bias”) and ignore contradictory evidence. Rather than making false inferences, then, some experts now believe that delusional individuals have different experiences from other people, and that their delusional beliefs stem from their attempts to understand these experiences. Thus, it might be more useful to conceptualize delusions as disorders of experience. Delusional individuals also tend to be more alert, and indeed hyperattentive to their environment, and to notice coincidences that other people would likely think of as trivial.

I don’t know about the “different experiences” part, but can’t you just see Cheney obsessively sniffing out anything, corroborated or not, that confirmed his beliefs about Saddam Hussein? Cheney’s are the actions of a delusional man. And he had enablers at the Pentagon Iraq Group who were just too eager to give Cheney what he was looking for. One big dysfunctional family.

Cheney cherry picked intelligence with a certainty born of delusion. Whatever confirmed Cheney’s beliefs were hyped, and whatever contradicted them were ignored.

In his BBC interview, Wilkerson indicated the Secretary of State must’ve had about the same prewar Iraq intelligence that the Senate did. That is to say, some critical parts were left out.

Mr Wilkerson told the BBC he had believed intelligence supported the claim Iraq had a WMD programme, and had then initially accepted the administration’s argument that the major western intelligence agencies had been fooled.

He said he had recently been troubled by disclosures that one key informant was unreliable, while the evidence for claims that Saddam Hussein had contacts with al-Qaida may have been obtained by torture and was the subject of internal dissent prior to the March 2003 US-led invasion.

Mr Wilkerson said a statement from an al-Qaida detainee that allowed Mr Powell to present “some pretty substantive contacts” between Iraq and al-Qaida to the UN security council was “obtained through interrogation techniques other than those authorised by [the] Geneva [convention].”

“More important than that, we know that there was a Defence Intelligence Agency dissent on that testimony even before Colin Powell made his presentation,” he told Today. “We never heard about that.”

Now an increasingly isolated Cheney is still pushing for torture, absolutely certain he is right and everyone else is wrong. No amount of empirical evidence would shake him, I suspect. Bush is isolated in his own bubble, in a “gray world of religious idealism.” And neither one of these guys has the mental clarity to make rational decisions.

Can we survive three more years like this?

See also : David Corn; transcript of BBC interview.

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Home Alone IV

Here are a couple of articles that ought to be read together … one is today’s Dan Froomkin, who gives us an exit strategy roundup.

President Bush does have a plan for withdrawing troops in Iraq — and pretty much everyone agrees with it, the White House insisted yesterday.

It’s just that they won’t say exactly what that plan is.

The White House’s latest positioning on this issue came in response to an op-ed in The Washington Post on Saturday by Sen. Joseph R. Biden , the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, headlined “Time for An Iraq Timetable.” …

Biden still blows, btw.

The White House’s new rapid-response team quickly fired out a press release in which Scott McClellan asserted that “There is a strong consensus building in Washington in favor of President Bush’s strategy for victory in Iraq.”

In fact, McClellan insisted that Biden had just “described a plan remarkably similar to the Administration’s plan to fight and win the war on terror.”

But the White House press release neglected to even address Biden’s central point about timetables and provided no new details, not to mention a blueprint. Up until now, the president hasn’t done much more than repeat: ” As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down .”

Froomkin describes exit-plan noises coming from the State Department and the Pentagon, all of which amount to turning domestic security over to Iraqis, one way or another, in order to reduce troop levels to under 100,000 in time for the November 2006 mid-term elections. One plan involves switching to an air war, for example.

At the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh also discusses the air war plan. But this is the part I found most riveting (see especially the last paragraph):

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.

“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.” …

… Speaking at the Osan Air Force base, in South Korea, two days after Murtha’s speech, Bush said, “The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. . . . If they’re not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I’m going to make you this commitment: this is not going to happen on my watch.”

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”

Cheney and Bush both are living in their own fantasy lands. No good will come from this. I trimmed a lot of really juicy stuff from the Hersh article, btw, so be sure to read the whole thing.

This Wednesday Bush is scheduled to give the first of a series of speeches on Iraq in an attempt to re-market the war to the public. I’m curious if he will be able to change his language and offer something tangible, as opposed to the empty rhetoric of “victory” and “resolve.” If Bush can’t adjust his act now, he never will.

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Word Bombs

An editorial in today’s New York Sun attempts to refute yesterday’s Frank Rich column. In this effort the Sun has compiled an impessive amount of verbiage, complete with nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases, and several direct and indirect objects. And righties are linking to the Sun in the simple faith that somewhere in that alphabet soup there must be some real arguments against Rich.

Not exactly. Let’s take a look (below the fold)… Continue reading

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