Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bush: here’s a bad idea to distract you from my really bad idea

When unpacking President Bush’s Wednesday address, there is so much to get one distressed and disgusted. . . and yet, there is so little.

Bush, who seems to have dropped the term “New Way Forward” for fear of being laughed out of the room, spent most of his airtime last night rolling out a plan that wasn’t a plan at all: he will send more soldiers to do exactly what they have been doing for years—with no fixed deadlines for their return and no true objectives for their mission. “Clear and hold” has been, as even Bush admitted, the strategy in many parts of Iraq at many points during this quagmire; the difference now is that the “hold” part is now supposed to go on for, well, forever.

In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.

I kept waiting for the “until” part, but Bush never provided that. We will have a force to clear (of who and what is another point of “debate”—terrorists and insurgents? Give me a break), and troops enough to hold what has been cleared. . . and, it seems, that’s as far as the plan goes. It’s a level of “strategic” planning that rivals the initial invasion. Apparently, we need only wait for Muqtada al-Sadr to send candy and flowers.

That, in and of itself, was awful enough to make me fume, but there was something else in the speech—not buried so much as hidden in plain sight—that made this little “surge” (or “escalation,” to call a spade a spade) look like nothing so much as a sideshow (speaking of which, was anyone else reminded of Cambodia last night?).

It’s funny to think of Iraq as a sideshow for the real circus—almost as funny as it was to hear Bush invoke Joe Lieberman as his example of bipartisanship, or watch the President pretend that he paid any attention to the Iraq Study Group report—but a few words in the speech, coupled with some ominous actions in the region, made it seem that this misdirection play was the only thing strategic offered by George Wizard Bush last night. In other words: please ignore the war behind the curtain.

I noted last fall that the US had sent an additional naval strike group to the Gulf, and there is now a third aircraft carrier readying for deployment to the same waters. Bush admitted as much on Wednesday while more overtly expanding his threat.

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

Al Qaeda, the last time I checked, doesn’t have an air force, and there is no such thing as the Mahdi Navy, so the presence of two or three carrier strike groups and—as so obviously added by Bush—Patriot air defense systems are not there to fight any “terrorists” or “insurgents.” Rather than heading the advice of the Baker Commission and engaging Iraq’s neighbors diplomatically, Bush used last night’s address about the Iraq escalation to threaten a new war—if not outright declare it—most directly with Iran.

Or maybe the administration is not going to declare a war so much as try to provoke one. Within hours of Bush’s speech, US troops invaded the Iranian consul in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil. Kurdish authorities have blocked access to the area, but Reuters reports that Americans carted off five employees along with computers and documents.

And there you have the real “new way forward.” The escalation of the Iraqi conflict? It would be a stretch to even call it a tactical change. But by engaging Iran militarily, Bush did show us the depth of his strategic thinking. While everyone is debating about his “surge,” he will have cover to launch a horrible new crusade.

As I queasily predicted back in March, the way forward is pointing increasingly to the east.


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