Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush and his advisers still believe progress is being made and the war will be won. "No question about it, the last three months have been much more challenging," he said. "Are we always going to be pleased with the pace? No. There are days that are frustrating. But is the overall direction going the right way? . . . The answer to that is yes."
The tone represents a striking change from what critics considered an overly rosy portrayal of Iraq, and the latest stage in a year-long evolution in message.
And perhaps it would have helped if the reporter had clarified the words "overall" and "direction" with Bartlett after he made that comment. The Iraqis might be surprised to learn that a gradual and ceaseless increase in the death toll among civilians from sectarian violence is considered "going the right way", and our soldiers might similarly be interested to know that a steady increase in violent attacks on them by Sunni and Shiite insurgents and militants is also considered "going the right way."
Fred Kaplan has a less restrained but more accurate assessment of the new "approach" in his piece at Slate aptly titled "What a Moronic Presidental Press Conferance!" He starts out lambasting President Bush's failure to understand Hamas or Hezbollah, but then moves to Bush and Iraq:
Here, as a further example of this failing, is his summation of Iraq:
I hear a lot about "civil war"… [But] the Iraqis want a unified country. … Twelve million Iraqis voted. … It's an indication about the desire for people to live in a free society.
What he misses is that those 12 million Iraqis had sharply divided views of what a free society meant. Shiites voted for a unified country led by Shiites, Sunnis voted for a unified country led by Sunnis, and Kurds voted for their own separate country. Almost nobody voted for a free society in any Western sense of the term. (The secular parties did very poorly.)
The total number of voters, in such a context, means nothing. Look at American history. In the 1860 election, held right before our own Civil War, 81.2 percent of eligible citizens voted—the second-largest turnout ever.
...it's no news that Bush has no strategy. What did come as news—and, really, a bit of a shocker—is that he doesn't seem to know what "strategy" means.
Asked if it might be time for a new strategy in Iraq, given the unceasing rise in casualties and chaos, Bush replied, "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. … Either you say, 'It's important we stay there and get it done,' or we leave. We're not leaving, so long as I'm the president."
The reporter followed up, "Sir, that's not really the question. The strategy—"
Bush interrupted, "Sounded like the question to me."
First, it's not clear that the Iraqi people want a "democratic society" in the Western sense. Second, and more to the point, "helping Iraqis achieve a democratic society" may be a strategic objective, but it's not a strategy—any more than "ending poverty" or "going to the moon" is a strategy.
Strategy involves how to achieve one's objectives—or, as the great British strategist B.H. Liddell Hart put it, "the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy." These are the issues that Bush refuses to address publicly—what means and resources are to be applied, in what way, at what risk, and to what end, in pursuing his policy. Instead, he reduces everything to two options: "Cut and run" or, "Stay the course." It's as if there's nothing in between, no alternative way of applying military means. Could it be that he doesn't grasp the distinction between an "objective" and a "strategy," and so doesn't see that there might be alternatives? Might our situation be that grim?
The question is, of course, rhetorical.
Kenneth Pollack, joining the unfortunate company of conservatives who would like for us very much not to look behind the wizard's curtain, thinks that how we got into this mess is an issue for history (and perhaps the voters). I will say that one thing that historians will spend much of their time puzzling over is how much of the nonsense the administration shilled to us about Iraq, they themselves actually believed. It's clear they believed in a large part of it or we might have actually had a professional corp of diplomats and aid workers and a large contingent of soldiers in Iraq when we toppled Saddam Hussein. It's far too late for us to "get serious" about Iraq; whatever poor Democrat lands in office in 2008 will inherit an intractible conflict from Bush (who also thinks strategy consists of never admitting defeat even when you've lost). But the members of the Bush admininstration could at least stop passing the peyote juice around.
What's not unknown is what Bush seems to believe. Like us he seems to have bought it all, hook, line and sinker.