Thursday, December 21, 2006

He was for deferring to the military, before he was against it

In my Tuesday post, I revisited an ’05 speech by President Bush, to demonstrate the perishable quality of his Iraq rhetoric. And today, in the wake of the latest news about his contemplated troop “surge,” I will demonstrate again that what he said in the past apparently means little today.

Remember how he has always said that, on the issue of troop levels in Iraq, he defers to the wisdom of his military commanders in the field? Here’s just a recent sampling:

Dec. 4, 2006: “The force size will depend on conditions on the ground, and upon the recommendations of our commanders on the ground, absolutely.”

April 6, 2006: “I remember coming up in the Vietnam War and it seemed like that there was a -- during the Vietnam War, there was a lot of politicization (in Washington) of the military decisions. That's not going to be the case under my administration.” And if the military tells him that it can live with more troops or fewer troops, “that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Jan. 1, 2006: “I'm going to continue to rely upon those commanders, such as General Casey…(to) determine the number of troops we have on the ground in Iraq.”

June 28, 2005: “Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.”

April 22, 2004, via flak Scott McClellan: “He looks to our commanders in the theater to make (troop) determinations, in terms of what is needed.”

Well, apparently Bush was in favor of deferring to his military leaders before he was against it. Because in his year-end press conference yesterday, while discussing the potential for a troop “surge” (one that is reportedly opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the soon-to-be-retiring Gen. John Abizaid, and perhaps by other commanders in the field), Bush declined to repeat what he has always said before, about deferring to military opinion.

This time, all he said was this: “The opinion of my commanders is very important. They are bright, capable, smart people whose opinion matters to me a lot."

But the killer quote came from this anonymous Bush official, speaking to The Washington Post: “He (Bush) has never left the decision to commanders. He is the commander in chief. But he has said he will listen to those commanders when making these decisions. That hasn't changed.” (In other words, drop all previous Bush statements into the Orwellian memory hole. The new talking point is: He doesn’t “continue to rely” on the commanders to determine troop levels at all…in fact, he has never continued to rely on the commanders.)

Anyway, in political terms, Bush’s problem isn’t with the commanders. If he overrules their counsel, they’ll zip it and obey. No, his problem will be keeping his restive fellow Republicans in line. Unlike Bush, they still have to run for re-election, and they don’t want his Iraq debacle to be hung around their necks while he goes home to plan his presidential library.

A couple Fridays ago, for instance, I mentioned that GOP Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, who has to run again in ’08, had eviscerated Bush in a Senate floor speech, contending that the president’s war strategy in Iraq “may even be criminal.” I suggested that Smith probably would be joined by other Republicans down the road. Now he has, at least on the “surge” issue.

Yesterday, GOP Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota – you guessed it, he also has to run again in ’08 – announced that he would "stand against" a troop increase, because “I think it would create more targets. I think we would put more life at risk.”

When these kinds of Republicans go public in this manner, it’s a true sign that the wheels have come off. Ditto Rich Lowry, the conservative commentator. He just wrote a piece (hat tip to Howie Kurtz on this one) basically acknowledging that the mainstream media…drum roll…has accurately reported on the dire state of affairs in Iraq, and that his conservative brethren, who have “lost touch with reality in Iraq,” should learn how to deal with it. The last three grafs go to Lowry:

“Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right — that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war….

“The ‘good news’ that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak. The Iraqi elections were indeed major accomplishments. But the opening of schools and hospitals is not particularly newsworthy, at least not compared with American casualties and with sectarian attacks meant to bring Iraq down around everyone’s heads in a full-scale civil war….

“(R)ealism is essential in any war, and it is impossible without an ability to assimilate bad news, even bad news that comes from distasteful sources. Conservatives need to realize that something is not dubious just because it’s reported by the New York Times, and that the media ultimately will be wrong about Iraq only if - fully acknowledging how bad it is there- the Bush administration takes bold steps to reverse the tide.”


Meanwhile, is there any room on the next Saturday Night Live for a Sandy Berger skit?

It seems that Bill Clinton’s former national security advisor did some creative subterfuge back in 2003, when he swiped some classified material from the National Archives. According to a report released yesterday by the Archives’ inspector general, Berger (who pled guilty to a misdemeanor last year) hid the documents under a trailer at a nearby construction site, then returned a few days later to retrieve them and destroy a few.

But the real fascination is with his socks; specifically, the unresolved debate over whether Berger was seen at the Archives trying to slip some classified material into his socks (as a witness contends), or whether (as Berger contends), he was merely trying to adjust the hosiery because (as the report put it) “his shoes frequently come untied and his socks frequently fall down.”

I suppose this might prompt a sober debate over what is the best type of undergarment for document theft – Sandy Berger’s socks, or Fawn Hall’s bra? (As Oliver North’s secretary, she allegedly spirited away some of his materials back in ’87.) But when thinking only of the physical comedy possibilities involving a guy screwing up with his socks falling down, I am left to ask only this:

Where’s Chevy Chase when we need him most?