Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hell hath no fury like a viceroy scorned

Smoldering for months—that’s apparently what our former man in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, has been doing. I’m sure you’re thinking, “well, it’s been summer, it’s been hot, not ‘128 degrees in the shade, I’m a soldier on patrol in Diyala in full battle armor’ hot, but perhaps hot enough to be ‘smoldering’ if you chose your vacation home poorly and forgot to pack a swimsuit.” But that’s not what got El Paul muy caliente.

Bremer is steamed at his former dear leader for implying that de-baathification was all Paul. . . or at least so says the New York Times quoting the self-anointed Viceroy of Iraq’s reaction to the new Bush bio Dead Certain.

Judgments on the book (I have not read it) aside, I have several thoughts:

I will never quite get over the propensity these guys have for self-aggrandizement at the cost of loyalty. I guess you could say that if you took a job doing anything for the Bush Bunch then you might have some ‘splainin’ to do; on the other hand, if you really believe in what you are doing, then stand behind it and stop pointing fingers.

Of course, if I had anything to do with the making of the mess we now swallow hard and call Iraq, I think I would shut the hell up and hope that in 10 or 20 years enough people would forget who the fuck I was so that I might be lucky enough to order a Big Mac without fearing that some poor kid of a dead or maimed soldier spit on it behind the counter.

But, I guess it’s as Humphrey Bogart’s character dryly remarked in Nick Ray’s In a Lonely Place, “There’s no price too great for a chance at immortality.”

The interchange between the president and the viceroy, as documented in the, uh, documents given to the Times by Bremer shows a president that is either incompetent, an idiot, or a liar. Or, perhaps (OK, most likely), all three.

Bush’s thank you for the Bremer report that contained the plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” reads as follows: “Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence.”

What does that sound like to you? Here’s what it sounds like to me: Bush didn’t read the report. It sounds like the BS that allows you to sneak through another day as the “CEO President.” It’s the kind of crap that passes for decision-making and leadership in way too many companies (a few of which I have had the sad luck to work for, so I’ve heard and read shit like this first hand).

On the other hand, here’s what Bush had to say when asked about the decision to disband the Iraqi Army by Dead Certain author Robert Draper:

“The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn’t happen,” Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr. Draper asked the president how he had reacted when he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, “This is the policy, what happened?’ ”

What does that sound like to you? Here’s what it sounds like to me: Bush is lying. The construction of that first sentence—“The policy had been. . . didn’t happen”—strenuously avoids pronouns and specificity. It is not “my policy” or “our policy”—Bush has removed himself from the equation. And, rather than be specific about how or why or on whose orders, Bush just adds the clipped “didn’t happen.” It’s like magic or the rites of spring—flowers bloom, Baathists are turned loose with their guns, but without a salary or a purpose.

And what to make of “I can’t remember, I’m sure I said”? If you can’t remember, how can you be sure you said anything? I’m serious about that question. That’s the kind of statement you make when you’re revising history as you go.

Which is the big story here, isn’t it? In a piece entitled “Bush Shifts Terms for Measuring Progress in Iraq,” David Sanger writes:

With the Democratic-led Congress poised to measure progress in Iraq by focusing on the central government’s failure to perform, President Bush is proposing a new gauge, by focusing on new American alliances with the tribes and local groups that Washington once feared would tear the country apart.

That shift in emphasis was implicit in Mr. Bush’s decision to bypass Baghdad on his eight-hour trip to Iraq, stopping instead in Anbar Province, once the heart of an anti-American Sunni insurgency. By meeting with tribal leaders who just a year ago were considered the enemy, and who now are fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a president who has unveiled four or five strategies for winning over Iraqis — depending on how one counts — may now be on the cusp of yet another.

. . . .

It was the White House and the Iraqi government, not Congress, that first proposed the benchmarks for Iraq that are now producing failing grades, a provenance that raises questions about why the administration is declaring now that the government’s performance is not the best measure of change.

Why, indeed. Could it be because Plan A5 wasn’t really a strategy to “win” this war? The tactic of escalation—the “surge”—was half-baked at best. The idea that more and more troops could ever prop up the current Iraqi “government” was far-fetched at increases of 60 to 100,000—it wasn’t even a good joke at the president’s sub-30,000 level. The splurge was designed to buy the administration time on the domestic front—to run out the clock on Iraq so other items on the Bush agenda could continue to be pushed while it would be left to a future Democratic president to fend off questions of “Who lost Iraq?” Still flagging poll numbers and an inconvenient GAO report now requires that history gets another rewrite.

Remember, this is a president who came to his high office unable to even say the word “strategy” (OK, “strategery” was first used on SNL by Will Ferrell, but, if we are to believe the stories, it was quickly adopted by those inside the White House to refer to the political strategists’ power over policy decisions). There was no grand plan here beyond “Step one: Invade Iraq and topple Saddam; Step two: reap the domestic political rewards.” Indeed, as Michiko Kakutani notes in her review of Dead Certain:

[The book] ratifies what many other reporters and former insiders have said about this administration’s ad hoc, often haphazard policy-making process, while suggesting that the West Wing has grown increasingly dysfunctional over the years. . . .

For as much as the president and his staff like to criticize Bush the Father’s “prudent small ball” (their words, not mine) and claim a love for grand ideas, these guys are tacticians, and mostly reactive ones at that. The president might think he is all about conceptual five-dollar words like “democracy” and “freedom,” but everything he and two-bit brain trust plan is designed to influence domestic US politics and monetarily enrich family and friends. End of story.

Bremer’s inconvenient truths simply pull back the curtain a little more on this tiny sausage factory. You don’t want to think our government works like this, but take something bigger than a sound bite and savor events for a moment, and you’ll know it does.

And that’s my story—and I’m stickin’ to it.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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