Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Clueless, and Planless

President Bush, in an extended interview with ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas that aired Tuesday, flat out contradicted himself about the role of US troops in trying to quell sectarian violence in Iraq—and it took him about one minute.

VARGAS: But what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the U.S. troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?

BUSH: No. The troops are chasing down terrorists. They're protecting themselves and protecting the people, and — but a major function is to train the Iraqis so they can do the work. . . .

And then, three questions later:

VARGAS: And if in fact the violence continues, will the Americans be forced to take a more active role in suppressing it?

BUSH: Well, the Americans are very active right now taking a role in suppressing it.

Is this surprising? Is it surprising that when GW is allowed to talk without a tiny adviser shoved in his ear that he would dump a bunch of nonsense on us? No, I guess it shouldn’t be. But here’s what still surprises me. . . Vargas tries to ask the same question about five times, and that question boils down to, “What’s the plan, Stan? Does the US have a policy in place to deal with an expanded sectarian civil war?”

The answer is so clearly “No.” Bush never gives a clear answer, and when pressed, he clearly starts freelancing. I’m sorry, but I still find this amazing. After all the failures of poor planning experienced by this administration, you’d think they would start to plan—if for no other reason than it doesn’t look good back in the US when you don’t.

Instead, Bush and his team are like (forgive me) holocaust deniers. I know this is a terrible analogy to make, but with 1,300 Iraqis killed in just the last few days of sectarian strife (and tens of thousands over the last few years), there is a “small” holocaust of sorts going on—and, when he is asked about it, Bush refuses to acknowledge it.

VARGAS: What is the policy if, in fact, a civil war should break out or the sectarian violence continues? Are you willing to sacrifice American lives to get the Sunnis and the Shiites to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I don't buy your premise that there's going to be a civil war. . . .

Ignoring that the term “going to be” is absurd at this point—it’s not going to be, it is—Vargas asked a hypothetical, “What is your policy if,” and Bush refuses to even entertain the thought.

Perhaps he lacks “situational awareness,” a term the President has become overly fond of since his Katrina whitewash, er, report came out last week. He uses the lack of “situational awareness” as the reason things didn’t go better after the levees broke (he won’t say they went badly—just that they could have gone “better”). Bush actually says he didn’t have this necessary awareness till he watched some television

VARGAS: When you look back on those days immediately following when Katrina struck, what moment do you think was the moment that you realized that the government was failing, especially the people of New Orleans?

BUSH: When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help. It looked — the scenes looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our government was — could have done a better job of comforting people.

(What is the Clockwork Orange quote? “Nothing is really real till you see it on TV.”)

There is so much to say about this paragraph. One, if we are to believe the stories from last fall, Bush didn’t even see the suffering on TV until aids sat him down and showed him a compilation DVD—so his revelation wasn’t even in real time. Bush wasn’t concerned enough to hop on down to the situation room and get a briefing, wasn’t concerned enough to ask questions, and wasn’t even interested enough to turn on the TV that first weekend.

Second, a better job comforting people? Is that what the problem was? The government didn’t comfort people enough? This language shows that Bush still does not—or will not—grasp what happened to New Orleans.

Third, situational awareness has nothing to do with preparation. Hurricane Katrina telegraphed its punch by several days, and there was advance knowledge that a Katrina-sized event would likely hit the gulf floating around (sorry) for several years, and yet, the Bush administration had no plan.

Instead, it strikes me that when it came to Katrina, when it came to invading Iraq, and when it now comes to the spreading Iraqi civil war (which some, including National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, are already predicting might become a regional war), Bush and his team just ignore the “nattering nabobs of negativism” (or “realists”) and hope for the best.

So, lets put it down in plain black and white, real simple like, so George, Dick, and Donald can understand: Hoping for the best is not a plan.

Like the song says, you can look for the best, but you have to expect the worst. Anybody with a shred of experience in policy planning would know that. Of course, Cheney and Rumsfeld not withstanding, Bush has surrounded himself with people who don’t really have a shred of experience. Every critical staffing problem—be it in FEMA or the Coalition Provisional Authority—has been answered with a call for cronies, campaign contributors, and partisan hacks. And most major undertakings—the execution of policies—have been offloaded on to the private sector—outsourcing responsibility, abolishing accountability, and, crucially, eliminating any intelligence or learnings that might have filtered back had these been government programs.

So, let’s add this corollary to the above the statement: Hoping for the best is not a plan; outsourcing is not a policy.

And yet, the Bush Administration thinks otherwise. . . or just doesn’t care. . . or lacks situational awareness. Just look at Bush’s refusal to deal with the facts throughout the ABC interview, look at what stands in for policy with regards to port security and the DPW deal, or look at the 2007 Homeland Security budget. Republican Senator Judd Gregg (NH) said, “It’s a hollow budget and I can’t understand it.”

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) agreed:

The president in his State of the Union address said to America, ”The enemy has not lost the desire or the capability to attack us.” And yet a look at the administration's budget reveals an odd, odd, odd complacency. . . . The president's speechwriters and the administration's policy writers seem to be living in alternative realities.

Of course, Byrd is being too, too, too generous. He assumes that the administration has policy writers.

(t.o.t.h. to the Progress Report for link to the DHS budget hearings.)


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