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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bush: To Hell With the Facts on the Ground

At his press conference yesterday, President Bush heard the following question:
I'd like to go back to Iraq. You've continually cited the elections, the new government, its progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You've had to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?
Here's his answer (well, part of it -- he rambled in John Kerry fashion for quite a while):
THE PRESIDENT: The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. The tactics -- now, either you say, yes, its important we stay there and get it done, or we leave. We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President. [Emphasis added.]
This is a remarkable statement, and one that Democrats and the President's two other vocal critics in Washington (George Will and Chuck Hagel) should make a point of hanging around his neck, for three reasons.

First, the President said, point blank, that no matter what happens, we're staying in Iraq. Come civil war, come peace, come what may -- we are staying in Iraq. For all his talk about how he makes decisions based on the facts and the commanders on the ground, he finally told the truth yesterday: it doesn't matter what happens, We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President.

Second, the President and his lieutenants have repeatedly stated things like "We'll stand down when the Iraqi security forces are ready to stand up." Well, he just said that we aren't going to be standing down, so long as I'm the President. Elementary logic (the contrapositive form, I believe) tells you that either the stand-down policy no longer has effect or the President does not think that Iraqi security forces will be ready to stand up before January 20, 2009 (for what it's worth, all of World War II lasted only slightly longer than the period between Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq and January 20, 2009). Six years, and still, not enough standing up for us to leave. And this is the President's "forward strategy of freedom". [Update: An additional part of this point involves incentives. The President and his supporters have criticized proposals to set a date for leaving Iraq on the grounds that it would give insurgents the incentive to simply wait us out. Well, swearing that We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President entails its own incentive problem: it tells both the government and the various factions in Iraq that they don't need to get serious about dealing with their security problems themselves, since they can count on our military to address them. Unless, of course, our military's presence is making things worse by stoking the insurgency -- in which case we should leave for that reason alone.]

Third, the President's statement makes clear that his plan for dealing with the unmitigated mess he and his faithful deputies have caused is, quite literally, more of the same: We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President. The problem with this "plan", of course, is that We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President is not actually a plan. Rather it is the result of a plan -- or would be, anyway, if the President had one.

As Joe Lieberman has pointed out, he will be President for years more. It's a corollary that the Democrats fail to criticize the President for his planlessness at their peril. They should focus like a laser beam on yesterday's rare honest statement of policy. If I were running the DNC's advertising this year, I'd have ads up all in competitive areas over the country, showing Bush say We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President, over and over, the way Pat Buchanan did with the first Bush's no-new-taxes pap in New Hampshire back in 1992. Make sure people know just how lost the man is. Make sure they know what his Republican supporters in Congress are actually supporting.

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