Friday, September 22, 2006

The Bush plan for Iraq is like watching a movie backwards

We won before we didn’t. The Bush administration must hate chronological order as much as it hates post-war planning. Here is Michael Kinsley’s take on the administration’s war efforts so far:
Harold Pinter wrote a play a while back called Betrayal. … The plot was a fairly mundane story about an adulterous affair among affluent London literati. What gives the tale its haunting magic is that Pinter tells it in reverse: starting with the couple breaking up and ending with that first, ambiguous flirtation.

Return with me, if you will, to May 1, 2003. That was the day Bush
landed on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, and—under a banner declaring
"Mission Accomplished"—declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have
ended" and "the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.)" (This
is from the official White House transcript.) The White House claimed that the
banner was somebody else's idea and that Bush didn't declare victory in so many
words. But Bush did use the word "victory," saying that Iraq was "one victory in
a war on terror ... " And as I recall, the occasion was pretty triumphal.
Perhaps you remember differently. And in his radio address two days later, Bush
used the term "victory" unabashedly.

Soon, however, the concept of "victory" became more fluid. There is not
just one victory, but many. Or, as then-press secretary Scott McClellan put it
in August 2004, "Every progress made in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam's
regime is a victory against the terrorists and enemies of Iraq." And there was a
subtle shift from declaring how wonderful victory was to emphasizing how
wonderful it will be. "The rise of democracy in Iraq will be an essential
victory in the war on terror," the vice president said in April 2004.

During his 2004 presidential campaign, Bush said repeatedly that one reason
to vote for him over Sen. John Kerry was that he, Bush, had "a strategy that
will lead to victory. And that strategy has four commitments." By October 2005,
these four "commitments" had been honed down to three "prongs." Then they
metastasized into four "categories for victory. And they're clear, and our
command structure and our diplomats in Iraq understand the definition of
victory." It's nice that someone does.

It was during the 2004 campaign that Bush offered his most imaginative
explanation for why victory in Iraq looked so much like failure. "Because we
achieved such a rapid victory"—note that it is once more, briefly, a
victory—"more of the Saddam loyalists were [still] around."

On May 1, 2006, the third anniversary of "mission accomplished," White
House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked whether "victory" had been
achieved in Iraq. He said, "We're making real progress on our plan for victory.
... We are on the path to victory. We are winning in Iraq. But there is more
work to do." Democrats should shut up because their criticism of the president
"does nothing to help advance our goal of achieving victory in Iraq." (Once
victory is achieved, presumably, it will be OK for Democrats to criticize.) And
make no mistake: "[W]hen the job in Iraq is done, it will be a major victory."

On Aug. 28, criticizing "self-defeating pessimism," Vice President Cheney
said there are "only two options in Iraq—victory or defeat." On Aug. 31, Bush
said that "victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more
sacrifice." He predicted that "victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our
enemies"—which, as a tautology, is a safe bet.

Which brings us to last week, and Bush's television speech on the fifth
anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. "Bush Says Iraq Victory Is Vital" was the
Washington Post's accurate headline. And Bush was eloquent. "Once more into the
breach, dear friends, once more … " Well, maybe not that eloquent. But his point
was the same as Henry V's: Don't give up now! "Mistakes have been made in Iraq," he conceded. He even conceded that "Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks." But let us not, for mercy's sake, learn anything from five years of experience. Instead, let's just pretend it all never happened. After all, we
won this war back in 2003.

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