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Where's the Outrage Over Escalation?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 2:28 PM

The American voters in November made it clear that it's time to start withdrawing from Iraq. Political leaders from both parties and any number of experts are increasingly coming to the realization that American soldiers are dying, day in and day out, in pursuit of an unattainable goal.

So what is President Bush about to do? By all indications: escalate. His "new way forward" in Iraq appears to call for more troops -- along with a series of other measures that might have helped if he'd taken them three years ago.

News reports suggest that Bush's plan is not likely to win enthusiastic support, even from within his own party. But my question is: Where's the outrage?

If the vox populi and the cognoscenti agree that throwing more American bodies at the problem will only result in more American deaths, then how is the apparent Bush plan anything short of a betrayal of the troops and an expression of contempt for the will of the people?

The Plan

Official word is that Bush hasn't yet made up his mind, but every indication is to the contrary: That Bush threw his support behind a "surge" in early December (see my December 15 column) and that in the interim, his national security team has been scrambling to find some post-hoc pretext to make it sound like there's a "specific mission" that such an escalation can achieve.

Yochi J. Dreazen and Greg Jaffe write in the Wall Street Journal: "White House officials say a troop 'surge' almost certainly will be the centerpiece of Mr. Bush's new strategy for Iraq to be unveiled mid-month. But while administration officials have gone to great lengths to emphasize that the extra troops will be in Iraq only temporarily, there is no clear definition of how long that might be. . . .

"The debate over how long the new forces should remain in Iraq stems from tension between the political and military aspects of the emerging proposal. Mr. Bush has staked his presidency on Iraq, and several White House aides say they believe he would be inclined to leave the extra troops there until improvement is evident. Senior commanders, by contrast, have expressed concern that leaving extra troops too long risks lasting damage to the U.S. armed forces."

Meanwhile, the intellectual architect of the "surge", Frederick W. Kagan, admits to the Journal: "If we surge and it doesn't work, it's hard to imagine what we do after that."

Justin Webb reports for the BBC: "The BBC was told by a senior administration source that the speech setting out changes in Mr Bush's Iraq policy is likely to come in the middle of next week.

"Its central theme will be sacrifice.

"The speech, the BBC has been told, involves increasing troop numbers."

But if Bush intends to say he owes it to the soldiers who have already died to step up the fight, there's a good indication that won't work either, as I wrote in my December 14 column.

Michael Hastings, Michael Hirsh and Richard Wolffe write in Newsweek: "The White House insists it knows that simply adding more troops isn't the answer. The plan being considered is far more nuanced than what has been reported in the media, a senior aide to Bush, who would only discuss the talks in Crawford anonymously, told Newsweek. He said it includes money for new jobs programs and reconstruction aid for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as well as efforts to further shore up his political base. . . .

"[T]he senior White House aide denies that the Pentagon is resisting any surge plan. 'The military leadership is committed to doing what is required to be successful,' he says."

Anna Mulrine writes for U.S. News that an escalation "would be hard to pull off. 'The big question,' says one U.S. commander at Baghdad headquarters, 'is what do they want us to do with these troops, exactly, that we're not doing already?' . . .

"In Washington, the word surge is increasingly accompanied by something akin to virtual quotation marks. It's more politically palatable than 'escalation,' with its echoes of Vietnam, and carries the implication of limited duration, or an ebb. But new troops will be on the ground for a while."

Here's Some Outrage

Okay, there's at least one guy in the traditional media who's outraged: MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Here's the text and video (from the Crooks and Liars blog) of Olbermann's "Special Comment" yesterday:

"If in your presence an individual tried to sacrifice an American serviceman or woman, would you intervene?

"Would you at least protest?

"What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them?

"What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them -- and was then to announce his intention to sacrifice hundreds, maybe thousands, more? . . .

"Mr. Bush, your judgment about Iraq -- and now about 'sacrifice' -- is at variance with your people's, to the point of delusion.

"Your most respected generals see no value in a 'surge' -- they could not possibly see it in this madness of 'sacrifice.'

"The Iraq Study Group told you it would be a mistake.

"Perhaps dozens more have told you it would be a mistake.

"And you threw their wisdom back, until you finally heard what you wanted to hear, like some child drawing straws and then saying 'best two out of three . . . best three out of five . . . hundredth one counts.'

"Your citizens, the people for whom you work, have told you they do not want this, and moreover, they do not want you to do this.

"Yet once again, sir, you have ignored all of us. . . .

"First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.

And Some More Thoughts

Author Jane Smiley writes on Huffingtonpost.com that "the 'surge' is a classic example of a loser's strategy, and it is about to be put in place by a bunch of losers. The 'surge' is about saving face rather than achieving an objective, and, let me say it right here, it's a guy thing. It's like 'going down fighting', except that those who are going to be going down aren't going to be those who want to save face.

"People always comment on how stubborn George W. Bush is, or how stupid he is, or how ignorant he is, but what they don't comment on is how selfish he is."

And a White House Briefing reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent me this e-mail two whole weeks ago: "It seems that you, and many others who comment on the President, have a difficult time understanding his motivation regarding Iraq. It seems irrational if viewed in the context of what appears to be the indisputable facts on the ground. Why would a President deliberately ignore sound advice based on rational investigation? . . .

"He's not stupid, and he has shown in the past that when defeat looks him in the eye he can do a 180 without a blink. So what's up? I don't have any more insight than the next person, but one thought that keeps rattling around in my head is this.

"Early on, when things started to go south in Iraq, Bush said something along the lines of solving Iraq would be left up to the next President. I know it wasn't that blatant, but it gave the impression that he was perfectly willing to leave his successor with the whole mess if things didn't 'work out' for him. Ever since that comment, I get the distinct impression that Bush is just trying to run out the clock in order to avoid facing an acknowledgment of the worst foreign policy disaster in this nation's history.

"I fully expect for him to continue to assert that we can have success in Iraq, in spite of any evidence to the contrary, until the day he leaves office. He will stall, patch things together, anything to avoid the appearance of an acknowledgment of failure. He knows that Iraq is a failure, but if he leaves office still maintaining that we can 'win' or 'succeed' there then history will not judge him so harshly.

"Obviously we will have to change course, but he's not going to be the guy to do it. He will then maintain that someone else 'lost' Iraq because they didn't have the courage and determination to stick it out. As with everything in his life, from his National Guard service to his serial failures in business and life in general, it's all about him - not the country, not the job, not our reputation in the world or our hard won and universally admired heritage of concern for basic human rights. He's not trying to save this country or Iraq, he's trying to save himself and his 'place in history'. He's completely wrong of course, but given his history of privilege and never having to suffer the consequences of his long record of bad decisions, it does kind of make sense.

Losing the Troops

Robert Hodierne writes for the Military Times: "The American military -- once a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war -- has grown increasingly pessimistic about chances for victory.

"For the first time, more troops disapprove of the president's handling of the war than approve of it. Barely one-third of service members approve of the way the president is handling the war, ac cording to the 2006 Military Times Poll. . . .

"Just as telling, in this year's poll only 41 percent of the military said the U.S. should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place, down from 65 percent in 2003. That closely reflects the beliefs of the general population today -- 45 percent agreed in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll. . . .

"Almost half of those responding think we need more troops in Iraq than we have there now. A surprising 13 percent said we should have no troops there."

Here are the results from the mail survey of active-duty personnel

Greg Sargent blogs for the American Prospect: "This is a very, very important poll. It's the most comprehensive measure in some time of the troops' attitudes towards the most important policy question of the day: Whether the U.S. should escalate its involvement in Iraq.

"Yet there hasn't been a single mention of this poll in The New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Associated Press, as best as I can determine. . . .

Throw Casey to the Wolves

In an astonishing reversal, the White House appears to be throwing formerly beloved Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Baghdad, under the train.

David E. Sanger, Michael R. Gordon and John F. Burns wrote in Tuesday's New York Times: "In interviews in Washington and Baghdad, senior officials said the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department . . . failed to take seriously warnings, including some from its own ambassador in Baghdad, that sectarian violence could rip the country apart and turn Mr. Bush's promise to 'clear, hold and build' Iraqi neighborhoods and towns into an empty slogan.

"This left the president and his advisers constantly lagging a step or two behind events on the ground."

And whose fault is this? Certainly not the president's.

Sanger Gordon and Burns write: "Over the past 12 months, as optimism collided with reality, Mr. Bush increasingly found himself uneasy with General Casey's strategy. And now, as the image of Saddam Hussein at the gallows recedes, Mr. Bush seems all but certain not only to reverse the strategy that General Casey championed, but also to accelerate the general's departure from Iraq, according to senior military officials."

But get this: Casey's offense, in Bush's eyes, was evidently not that he was unreasonably optimistic -- it was that he wasn't optimistic enough!

"[A]s Baghdad spun further out of control, some of the president's advisers now say, Mr. Bush grew concerned that General Casey, among others, had become more fixated on withdrawal than victory. . . .

"In a telephone interview on Friday, General Casey continued to caution against a lengthy expansion in the American military role. 'The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias,' he said. 'And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, which are at base their problems.'"

That sound realistic -- but it's certainly not what Bush wants to hear.

After a visit to the Pentagon a few weeks ago, Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine commandant, told marines about the president's message, the Times reports.

"'What I want to hear from you is how we're going to win,' he quoted the president as warning his commanders, 'not how we're going to leave.'"

Bush's Judgment

The president has repeatedly expressed his unconditional support for Casey -- going so far, in fact, as to use Casey as a cudgel in the mid-term elections against those who argued for troop withdrawal.

Here's Bush on June 26: "And so I did visit with General Casey, and I came away once again with my trust in that man. I've told the people here around the table that the decisions that I will make will be based upon the recommendations of people like General George Casey."

Goaded by the Right?

There's some evidence to suggest that Bush's forsaking of Casey was the result of some goading from the conservative media.

Here's Bush in September, in a closed-door session with conservative journalists, as reported by Rich Lowry in the National Review. Lowry, who was even then calling for more U.S. troops in Iraq, asked Bush to respond to that argument.

"Bush: The answer to that question is, if General Casey feels like he needs more troops, we'll send them. . . .

"I'm constantly asking General Casey that question. I've got direct contact with him through secure video.'

"Q: What if he's wrong?

"BUSH: Then I picked the wrong general.

"Q: You wouldn't override his decision in any instance?

"BUSH: Well, how -- I mean -- I query him thoroughly. I'm certainly not a military expert, nor am I in Baghdad. I talk to Zal [Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador] all the time. In other words, we get -- and I ask for data. So I know how to ask questions. I think I'm pretty good about filtering out which is real and which is not."

Lowry also blogged about that interview: "Asked if generals might be inhibited in asking for more troops because it might be such a politically unwelcome request, Bush used a dismissive expletive for the notion. He expressed his conviction that his generals know he has what it takes -- briefly showing his fluidity in Spanish -- to get them the troops they need even if the politics isn't favorable. To increase Gen. Casey's comfort level with him, Bush said he had invited Casey and his wife to spend time with him informally."

And here's Fox News's Brit Hume with Bush on December 4:

"Hume: 'Is it fair to say, then, that the approach in Iraq has been more a reflection of what Casey and Abizaid wanted than of anybody else over there? Or anybody else in the military?'

"Bush: 'I think from the military tactics that they are the chain of command through Rumsfeld to me.'

"Hume: 'Right.'

"Bush: 'Now they listen to all kinds of people on the ground and they are very thoughtful, decent, honorable men, who understand that -- what the mission is and understand that it is their obligation to design the tactics to achieve the mission.'

Domestic Politics

Here is President Bush himself on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page today, about working with a Democratic Congress over "the next two years -- one quarter of my presidency, plenty of time to accomplish important things for the American people.

"Together, we have a chance to serve the American people by solving the complex problems that many don't expect us to tackle, let alone solve, in the partisan environment of today's Washington. To do that, however, we can't play politics as usual. Democrats will control the House and Senate, and therefore we share the responsibility for what we achieve."

Bush rehashed the op-ed in a brief Rose Garden statement this morning, flanked by his Cabinet.

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "In an op-ed in Wednesday's editions of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Bush proclaims that his deep tax cuts have kept the economy strong while shrinking projected deficits. 'The bottom line is tax relief and spending restraint are good for the American worker, good for the American taxpayer, and good for the federal budget,' Mr. Bush writes. 'Now is not the time to raise taxes on the American people.'

"He also writes -- for the first time, but with no details -- that the budget he presents to Congress in February will propose a way to 'balance the federal budget by 2012 while funding our priorities and making the tax cuts permanent.'"

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "But Mr. Bush's budget plans in the past several years have consistently failed to take into account two major costs in the years ahead: the war in Iraq and the cost of restraining or repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax."

As for Bush's insistence that tax cuts shrink deficits, even some of his top economic advisers admit it's not true.

As Patrice Hill wrote in the Washington Times in October, for instance, Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Ed Lazear "conceded that the tax cuts have not prompted more people to get work and contribute to the economy, while they cut deeply into government revenue and contributed to record budget deficits that have not shown much improvement until recently.

Lip Service?

Richard B. Schmitt writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Setting up what could become the first showdown between the Bush administration and the new Democratic Congress, the Justice Department has refused to turn over two secret documents, describing the CIA's detention and interrogation policies for suspected terrorists, to the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who asked for the documents in November, said Tuesday that the department's response suggested that President Bush's promise to work with the new Congress 'may have been only political lip service.'

The Death of a President

Here is the text of Bush's eulogy for the 38th president.

Tom Shales writes in The Washington Post: "The current president praised Ford for making an unpopular decision -- the pardon of Nixon -- and sticking to it. That was also a theme of Bush's most recent radio address. Some reporters saw it as Bush's thinly veiled attempt to compare his own unpopular pursuit of the Iraq war with Ford's action -- and a way of saying both men were courageously standing on principle."

Among the many stories comparing and contrasting the Ford and Bush administrations, Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey wrote for Newsweek about the striking parallels -- unless you look past the words, of course.

"Just like the Ford team, [the Bush team] believed they could clean up the West Wing after impeachment and partisan wars, drawing on their own talent and experience to set a new course. After Monica, they thought they would end America's latest 'long national nightmare.' . . .

"Cheney went on to contrast his current and past experience with the Clinton years. 'In my office, I have a picture of John Adams, the first vice president,' he observed. 'Adams liked to say, 'The facts are stubborn things.'

"'Whatever the issue, we are going to deal with facts and show a decent regard for other points of view. This is not about questioning people's motives or their good faith. The days of the so-called war room and the permanent campaign are over.'

Who Would Eulogize Bush?

Struck by the presence of a former member of the White House press corps among Ford's eulogizers, Dana Milbank wonders in The Washington Post which of today's White House reporters would have the best Bush stories for his funeral.

"The current president would probably have Hugo Chavez deliver his eulogy before he would bestow the honor on a member of the White House press corps," Milbank writes. Nevertheless: "To help Bush choose, several current and former White House correspondents, though in no way encouraging the president to shuffle off this mortal coil, yesterday offered sample eulogies they would be willing to give many years from now."

No. 1 Villain -- and Hero

The Associated Press reports: "In a testament to how divided Americans are about their president and how strongly held those opinions are, George W. Bush earns two titles in the latest AP-AOL News poll, conducted by Ipsos: villain of the year and hero of the year.

"The poll asked adults to name a famous person to be named the biggest villain of the year, and allowed respondents to pick any name. Some 25 percent of adults picked George W. Bush as the biggest villain of the year. The poll also asked a similar question asking respondents to name a famous person as the biggest hero of the year, and Bush received the largest number of mentions, at 13 percent, of all respondents.

New Definition of Success

On CNN last week, White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend was pressed to admit that the administration's failure to capture Osama bin Laden was . . . a failure. But she wouldn't.

Stand-Up Guy

Michael Saul writes in the New York Daily News about Rep. Charles Rangel's appearance with a Bush impersonator during "'Laughing Liberally,' a traveling lefty comedy show that stopped at Town Hall."

"More than any other President that I can think of, you have really, truly shattered the myth of white supremacy," Rangel said.

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