Sunday, March 19, 2006

Happy (!?!) anniversary

I wrote a print column today about the Democrats signing up Iraq war vets to run for Congress this year. The jury is still out on whether the "fighting Dems" can succeed, particularly since most of them are challenging incumbents. But let us paint for a moment on the larger canvas:

As the war in Iraq enters its fourth year, the public mood is so sour that even Republicans are starting to believe that their congressional majorities, particularly in the House, might be in serious jeopardy in the November '06 elections. One new poll released today reports that only 29 percent of Americans support President Bush's handling of Iraq; another, released a few days ago, reports that 66 percent believe the U.S. is losing ground in preventing a civil war in Iraq. And before Bush defenders start complaining that all these polls are "biased" or creatures of the "MSM," I'll also point out that, in the latest Fox News poll, only 34 percent of Americans are optimistic that Iraq will ever have a "free, stable government."
And while checking out the Sunday shows, it's not hard to see why the domestic mood is so downbeat. Anyone hoping for straight-shooting candor was quickly disappointed.
Exhibit A: Dick Cheney. No surprise there. On CBS, he was asked to revisit his 2005 contention that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes" and his prewar contention that U.S. troops would be "greeted as liberators." He replied that statements such as his "were basically accurate and reflect reality."
Exhibit B: Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Casey is a military man, not a political leader, so he probably deserves a little slack. But there was something downright Clintonian about his repeated parsing of words.
At one point, on NBC, he was asked about Bush's May 1, 2003 declaration that "all major combat operations have ended." How does that statement square with what happened the other day, when Operation Swarmer, a joint U.S.-Iraqi assault against insurgents, supposedly the biggest U.S. air assault since 2003?
Casey's answer: "I wouldn't categorize Swarmer as a major combat operation."
Maybe it all depends on what the definition of "major" is. Swarmer was staged with American helicopters, planning, logistics, artillery, and medical evacuation teams, and today is Day Four of the operation. But since only 80 people have been reportedly arrested, and 20 of them released, Casey now says "it got a little more hype than it deserved." He omitted the fact that the hype was stoked by the military briefers in the first place.
And later in the NBC interview, Casey was asked about a remark he made last November, when he said Iraq would not be stabilized without "several more years of a major American presence." His answer: "It depends on how you define 'major American presence.'"
Casey didn't parse on one key point, however. He was asked whether he agreed with a weekend statement by ex-Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, who declared that "we are in civil war...we are in a terrible civil conflict now."
Casey replied, "I don't think he's correct."
How ironic. On October 1, 2004, Allawi was being lauded as "a brave, brave man," whose "credibility" was not open to being "questioned." In fact, it was wrong to criticize "the brave leader of Iraq." The speaker was President Bush.