Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, July 07, 2006

  Some clues for a clueless president

On July 4, George Bush delivered a bewildering message to assembled troops: "You're winning this war" in Iraq. Everybody knew that's not remotely true, though nobody interrupted his speech to say so. Later that afternoon, Mister Bush held a birthday party for himself. It was an act of hybris, or at least folly, as everybody knew his birthday actually came days later. It would have been considered rude to say so, I think, so the event proceeded as scripted.


In between, Bush gave a revealing interview to Stars & Stripes. Too bad it has gone almost unnoticed, because the questions asked were blunt and entirely foreign to the president's experience. Anyway, Bush's pat answers depicted a man supremely indifferent to the most basic concerns of the troops he had just gotten through lying to.


The interview happens to be a brilliant self-portrait of a strutting peacock. On the one hand, we see a serious journalist asking serious questions. On the other, an actor delivering rehearsed lines as if from a stage.

For normal humans, a 60th birthday would be a good time to reflect on one's life, take stock of successes and failures. It's as good a time as any to think about one's contributions to the world.


George Bush, however, whose balance sheet tilts heavily toward failures, shows no inclination to ponder any of it. That's nowhere more transparent than with his most colossal failure, in Iraq. Mister Bush's policy has been to declare over and over that he'll continue doing, or not doing, whatever created the Iraqi quagmire in the first place.


There are plenty of clues that would tell a more reflective president that the U.S. is not in fact winning a war which three years ago Mister Bush declared victory in. Since Mister Bush can't make anything of this unwelcome information, I thought I'd identify some of the more salient clues I found while perusing the news on his actual birthday.


Let's begin with the Stars & Stripes interview. By soliciting questions in advance from the troops about their pressing concerns, the interviewer inadvertently exposed what is NOT on the President's conscience. It happened to be whatever the interviewer asked Bush about.


1st Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


President Bush has met hundreds of families of fallen soldiers, but he has yet to attend a servicemember's funeral, he said Tuesday.


"Because which funeral do you go to? In my judgment, I think if I go to one I should go to all. How do you honor one person but not another?" he said.


Evidently the President, who did not serve in Vietnam, never learned the custom of paying respect to all the dead from a war. He is happier honoring nobody, and seems to think everybody else is as well. Neither has George Bush ever figured out the significance of mass casualties. Something of their significance (however little) might have impressed itself on his conscience, if he had tried to fit even a few of the more than 2500 funerals into his busy vacation schedule.


Hint to the President: When casualties are so frequent that you can't find the time to attend all the funerals of soldiers killed in a war you started, it's a clue that the war is not going well.


2nd Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


One soldier now serving in Iraq asked how many times he would have to return to the war zone in the next five years. Bush said he did not have an answer.


Second and third deployments to Iraq have been no more popular than first time deployments. In the military, as in life generally, people typically like to have some hope for the future. Given Mister Bush's open-ended commitment to occupying Iraq, this was a natural question to ask. Imagine what the troops, reading this interview, will make of the fact that the President offered no reassurance whatever that deployments will not continue at this pace for at least another five years.


Hint to the President: When you can't predict some improvement within the next five years in a war you started, it's a clue that you can't realistically claim you're winning it.


3rd Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


Another soldier asked if Army rotations in Iraq could be shortened from one year to six months.


"In asking that question through the chain of command, the response I get is that it's important to manage the Army flows in such a way that we can sustain our efforts, and they believe -- they being the planners in the Army itself -- the best way to do it is for a year. And therefore ... my answer to the troop is that really depends on what the leadership recommends."


Readers of Stars & Stripes will be puzzled by the insinuation that Bush has been asking this very question up and down "the chain of command". The soldier just wanted to know if the President was going to intervene with top brass to shorten rotations in Iraq.


Hint to the President: When career soldiers are trying to find new ways to get sent home from the war zone as soon as possible, it's a clue that the war you started is going badly.


4th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


Bush was asked if a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be acceptable in return for a cease-fire by insurgents.


Bush called the question hypothetical and deferred comment to Gen. George Casey, commander of Multinational Force-Iraq.


Media outlets have reported that Sunni insurgents have offered such a trade-off. Bush said, however, "I'm not sure they have or haven't. ... I will tell you that whatever decisions I make will be made upon the recommendations of commanders and with one thing in my mind: Can we win?"


Either Bush is so out of touch with the peace negotiations in Iraq that he's unaware of the most basic proposals; or he prefers to appear that way rather than address them; or he expected the journalist to pretend along with him that the proposal is merely hypothetical. Anyhow, it's up to the President rather than Gen. Casey to decide whether to make such a trade-off. What's with passing the buck?


Hint to the President: When you tell the troops that you are asking yourself "Can we win?", it doesn't make a lot of sense to declare "You are winning". Anyhow, the fact that servicemembers are following peace negotiations more closely than you are, and are trying to ascertain whether they'll provide grounds for leaving Iraq, ought to indicate that you are not in fact winning the war you started.


5th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


From beginning to end, the Stars & Stripes interview gives the impression that George Bush as not thought at all about the nature of the Iraq War, which, you'll remember, he started. Another story very much in the news yesterday gave us a glimpse of an Army officer who, by contrast, has reflected deeply about the conflict.


A Fort Lewis Army officer who refused to serve in Iraq could face seven years in prison under charges filed Wednesday.


The Army accused 1st Lt. Ehren Watada of missing his brigade's troop movement to Iraq, twice speaking contemptuously of the president and three acts unbecoming an officer....


Watada said he was morally obligated to obey the Constitution, not what he claimed were unlawful orders to join in an illegal war. He also released a DVD statement criticizing what he said was the "wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people."


Military personnel are obligated to refuse to obey illegal orders, though upholding that obligation is always perilous to one's career. The officer in question came to this decision by a roundabout route, and perhaps reluctantly.


[He] joined the Army in the spring of 2003 as the invasion of Iraq was launched....Watada said he initially supported the war because he believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. While he had some early concerns about the conflict, he felt it was important to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.


As the war progressed, Watada said, his feelings changed after reading articles that asserted the war was illegal. He became convinced that there was "intentional manipulation of intelligence" by the Bush administration.


Another report in Watada's hometown paper gives further details about what could be called over-reaching by the Army in the charges leveled against him.


Watada was charged with missing movement, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer....


[His attorney] said he welcomes the contempt and conduct charges because they stem from comments Watada made against the war and provide him with an opportunity to raise constitutional free speech issues.


"I can't understand why the Army wants to make a martyr out of him and give him a platform," to continue to speak out against the war in Iraq, he said....


[Watada's father] said Army officials had been telling his son that he was going to have to serve 20 years for refusing to deploy with his unit. But he believes they were just trying to break down his resolve.


"He just was not going to go because he had firmly made up his mind that killing Iraqis was just something he could not do," he said....


The younger Watada is not a conscientious objector and has stated his willingness to fight in combat, as long as it is not in Iraq. He twice tried to resign his commission as an Army officer or be allowed to serve somewhere else, including Afghanistan.


Hint to the President: When the mainstream press publishes respectful stories about an Army officer who refuses to be deployed to Iraq to fight a war you started, and these reports explain carefully that the officer considers the war illegal, it is a good clue that you are not winning that war.


6th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


Meanwhile a young Marine in Colorado, Joshua Christianson, threatened to kill himself with an assault rifle because he feared he might be deployed to Iraq.


"We may never know what caused him to do this," said Loveland police Sgt. Rae Bontz, referring to the standoff...Next-door neighbor Gale Stiner said he walked outside to get his newspaper about 6 a.m. and saw Christianson in the middle of the street holding the weapon. The Marine said hello and asked Stiner how he was doing. "He was pretty calm," Stiner said. "I wasn't really afraid."...


"He's not willing to go back to the Marines," [a family friend said.] "And he was recently promoted."


Lizotte, the high school friend, said Christianson liked to drink and go to parties. "He was crazy, but not in a bad way," said Lizotte, who has known Christianson for about five years. Lizotte said she was disappointed to learn that Christianson had threatened to kill himself. But she said she's not giving up on her friend. "He's still a good guy."


Hint to the President: When a Marine threatens suicide rather than deploy to Iraq, and the press describes him as rational rather than deranged, that is a clue that you are not winning the war, which you started by the way.


7th Clue that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq


Well, there are a lot of clues that Mister Bush hasn't convinced many American servicemembers that things are going well in Iraq. Perhaps the Iraqi government, dependent as it is upon U.S. military support as it tries to negotiate an end to the civil war, has some soothing words to say about its sponsor. Here are the Prime Minister's latest thoughts about the U.S. military presence in his country:


Iraq's prime minister urged the U.S. military on Thursday to keep "reckless" troops from serving in Iraq in order to prevent abuses like the alleged rape and murder of a teenager and her family by U.S. soldiers in March.


Expanding on calls for an independent inquiry and a review of foreign troops' immunity from Iraqi law, Nuri al-Maliki said commanders should do a better job in preparing their soldiers.


"There needs to be a plan to educate and train soldiers, and those who are brought to serve in Iraq shouldn't bear prejudices nor be reckless toward people's honor," Maliki said.


Iraqi Army and Interior Ministry units, notoriously corrupt and ruthless, are themselves implicated in many atrocities committed during the civil war. It's deeply ironic, then, that al-Maliki has lost patience with the behavior of American troops.


Hint to the President: When your hand-picked Prime Minister says he doesn't trust the training of the troops you're sending to Iraq, it's unwise to brag that you're winning the war. And, incidentally, you're ultimately responsible for the war and all that has transpired in it. Perhaps you could reflect on that.


Crossposted at Unbossed and at Daily Kos.

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