wapo keeps an eye on bush's iraq rhetoric
The Washington Post has been paying close attention to Bush's rhetoric and the
moving goalposts shifting justifications for the war.
Dan Balz had a page-one story yesterday noting that Bush's optimistic rhetoric downplays the real risks of his policy on Iraq and the economy, to mention only two.
His poll ratings are down, his administration's credibility on Iraq has been challenged and the economy continues to limp along, but everywhere he looked yesterday, President Bush saw reasons for optimism.
Whatever the issue, whatever the question that came his way in his first formal news conference since the start of the war in Iraq, the president had essentially the same answer: "We're making progress." But threaded through that display of self-confidence was another, more sobering message that his advisers hope Americans will accept: "This is going to take time."
His upbeat appraisal across a wide range of problems belied the challenges that have confronted his administration in the past month and the political toll they have begun to take on his presidency. If confidence alone produced results, there might be less for him to worry about.
For the first time in months, there are glimmers of optimism among Democrats, based on their sense that Bush may be vulnerable in his bid for reelection. The energy with which Bush's political team has been attacking the Democrats as too far left to be trusted to run the country suggests they understand that the longer the problems in Iraq and at home fester, the more likely it is that Bush will face a genuine fight to win a second term.
Bush pointed to the deaths of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's sons last week and to the advances he said have been made in dismantling the al Qaeda terrorist network as evidence of progress, but with U.S. casualties continuing to mount in Iraq, he knows he will need to show more soon or risk losing the public's confidence. The same holds with the economy.
Yesterday's news conference, coming three days before Bush leaves for a month of vacation and political travel from his Texas ranch, was designed to buy him time.
Bush had little new to offer [Ed: Does he ever?] on why bringing stability to postwar Iraq has been so difficult or why his tax cuts have not done more to turn around an economy that has been losing jobs since the beginning of his presidency. Nor did he have new initiatives, policies or proposals. He spoke for nearly an hour in the White House Rose Garden, and for the most part, it was a pep talk designed to tamp down criticism from his opponents.
...Bush tried to defuse the continuing controversy over his address, but left unanswered why, if that intelligence was as sound as he said, it has been so difficult for U.S. forces to locate weapons of mass destruction or clearer evidence of an ongoing weapons program in Iraq.
Today, in another page-one analysis, Dana Milbank and Mike Allen catch Bush backpedaling even more in his rationale for his invasion of Iraq:
President Bush, who has mostly stopped talking about Iraq's weapons, said at a news conference Wednesday that "the rise of a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to the stability of the Middle East, and a stable Middle East is critical to the security of the American people."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that "the battle to secure the peace in Iraq is now the central battle in the global war on terror, and those sacrifices are going to make not just the Middle East more stable, but our country safer."
And Vice President Cheney, in a speech last week, said Iraq "will stand as an example to the entire Middle East" and thus "contribute directly to the security of America and our friends."
In an interview yesterday, a senior administration official expanded on that theme, saying the United States has embarked on a "generational commitment" to Iraq similar to its efforts to transform Germany in the decades after World War II.
The Bush aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, outlined a long-term strategy in which the United States would spread its values through Iraq and the Middle East much as it transformed Europe in the second half of the 20th century. As outlined, the U.S. commitment to Iraq and the Middle East would be far more expansive than the administration had described to the public and the world before the Iraq war.
...The vision described by the official represents a change in the administration's emphasis in describing the U.S. purpose in Iraq. Before the war, Bush at times stressed the limits of the mission, promising to "remain in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day more." At that time, Bush justified the conflict largely by asserting the need to strip Hussein of chemical and biological weapons and disrupt his nuclear ambitions.
...The newly emphasized rationale is not as clear as the emphasis on the threat Hussein represented. Though the United States seeks to transform the Middle East, some key allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have resisted democracy.
The Bush adviser spoke of an open-ended commitment to Iraq as the United States helps to build its economy and its infrastructure. "When we're talking about resources, this is something that isn't going to be firm for years out into the future," the aide said.
...In a crucial departure from the analogy, the official did not envision a decades-long military presence in Iraq such as the half-century presence in Germany necessitated by the Cold War.
All that's well and good, of course, and may even have a point, but the obvious question remains: That argument wasn't the one Bush advanced to justify his decision to go to war. He certainly didn't embrace a "decades-long military presence," although skeptics warned just such an action might prove necessary. Had he been making that case back in January 2003, without all the ominous talk of mushroom clouds spouted by Bush and his advisors, it's doubtful that Bush's march to war would have enjoyed the support it did.
And with new warnings about al Qaeda terror plots, there's reason to suggest that the Iraq war may have distracted allied attention from the real war against terror and actually spurred al Qaeda recruitment. So much for the "flypaper" theory.
And now, Iraqi scientists maintain that Saddam didn't have the weapons Bush kept claiming he did.
It's all about the same stuff -- perhaps there was an honest case to be made for invading Iraq as part of our long-term strategic goals. But for one reason or another, Bushs didn't make that argument; instead, he conjured an immediate threat apparently out of thin air. Now that the invasion is over and we're committed, Bush tries to pretend that the reasons he gave don't matter, and deigns to reveal what his real reasons were all along.
Even if you agree with the strategic rationale, though, shame on you if you condone Bush's mendacity in selling the war to a doubtful public. It's their sons and daughters who are dying, and they deserve an upfront assesment of the costs and benefits. Yet while Bush likes to crow about the benefits, his administration is still reluctant to come clean about the costs, to the annoyance of even Republican senators.
Before the war, Bush liked to cite Saddam's pattern of deception. Well, there's a pattern here, all right. A truly despicable one.