Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

  "Progress in Iraq"

Almost exactly four years ago, in June 2003, the White House began to make excuses for the occupation of Iraq. On June 21st, 2003 we first heard Bush defensively use the rhetorical phrase "progress in Iraq" to deflect criticism of his failure to end the insurgency. These were the first echoes of the rhetoric of quagmire, which haunt us still.

I'm not speaking, incidentally, of Bush & Co.'s defensiveness regarding the grounds for invading Iraq. Embarrassment over that began growing even before Bush had declared victory in Iraq, as the administration pretended over and over again to have found WMD, only to backtrack. But that topic pretty well has disappeared from WH rhetoric, since it refuses to explain its pre-war lies.

No, I mean the false reassurances that Bush & Co. have been giving us about the internal situation in Iraq. Although the occupation was recognizably a debacle at least by the beginning of May 2003, never the less for several months after the invasion the administration concentrated on crowing about their "success" in overthrowing Hussein and spreading freedom. It is stunning now to re-read the news reports about Iraq from May and June 2003, and contrast them to the utter silence of the White House regarding the unfolding disaster.

In early June, 2003 in a speech to troops in Qatar came the first slight hints from George Bush that all was not skittles and beer:

Our forces are taking aggressive steps to increase order throughout the country. We are moving those Baathist officials that are trying to hang on to power. There are still pockets of criminality. Remember, the former leader of Iraq emptied the jail cells of common criminals right before the action took place. And they haven't changed their habits and their ways. They like to rob and like to loot. We'll find them. (Applause.)


"Right before the action..." refers obliquely to two massacres of demonstrators in Falluja in late April, which greatly inflamed the Iraqi resistance. Bush's accounts of the violence in Iraq have always been vague in the extreme, right from the very start. The other characteristic we see in that speech are the soaring predictions for a better, happier Iraq...at the end of the rainbow.

Criminal courts are now reopening. Day by day, the United States and our coalition partners are making the streets safer for the Iraqi citizens. We also understand that a more just political system will develop when people have food in their stomachs, and their lights work, and they can turn on a faucet and they can find some clean water -- things that Saddam did not do for them.


Sad to say, we're as far now from achieving those things as ever. Anyhow, this speech in Qatar was the barest acknowledgment that the burgeoning chaos in Iraq actually needed to be addressed.

It wasn't until June 21st that Bush finally saw fit to address the issue back home.

To get a sense of how late the (tacit) admission came that something had gone wrong, compare these articles that both were published the very same day. They describe the daily grind of the guerilla war in terms reminiscent of Vietnam. In late June we were also seeing news reports showing that the window of opportunity to shut down the Iraqi resistance was already closed, or nearly so.

In the midst of this, on June 21 Bush finally acknowledged in his weekly radio address that American troops were still fighting a dangerous enemy.

Making Iraq secure is vitally important for both Iraqi citizens and our own forces. The men and women of our military face a continuing risk of danger and sacrifice in Iraq. Dangerous pockets of the old regime remain loyal to it and they, along with their terrorist allies, are behind deadly attacks designed to kill and intimidate coalition forces and innocent Iraqis.


American troops had in fact been dying at a rate of more than one per day during May and June, unacknowledged by the President.

For the first time in over a decade, Iraq will soon be open to the world. And the influence of progress in Iraq will be felt throughout the Middle East. Over time, a free government in Iraq will demonstrate that liberty can flourish in that region.

American service-members continue to risk their lives to ensure the liberation of Iraq. I'm grateful for their service, and so are the Iraqi people. Many Iraqis are experiencing the jobs and responsibilities of freedom for the first time in their lives. And they are unafraid.


Progress in Iraq. Although almost unknown until that June day, the phrase has been used hundreds of times since then by the Bush administration. By mid July, 2003 it had already become the preferred catch-phrase for the administration's rosy scenarios:

Q Scott, earlier today, you said you saw steady progress in Iraq. It's been a very bad day. An American soldier killed, a pro-American mayor killed in Iraq, a little kid killed. Where's the progress?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are making some important progress in Iraq. There are obviously -- there are still some difficulties, there are some are there are loyalists to Saddam Hussein and his former regime, Baathists and others from outside the country that are trying to disrupt these successes. They oftentimes will target the success that we are making, so that's why you have seen some of these attacks.


And here we see the rhetorical twin to "progress in Iraq"—the notion that attacks by the Iraqi resistance prove that success is being achieved, rather than the opposite. The greater the violence, Bush & Co. began telling us that June, the surer the sign that the attackers are "desperate" to undermine the administration's successes.

Q Ari, why should Americans take at face value what Paul Bremer and others in the administration have said that the attacks against U.S. forces that we've seen seeing repeatedly over these past few weeks are basically the last desperate cries and acts of violence from a dying regime? Why shouldn't they believe that, in fact, it's evidence of a guerrilla insurgency movement that is really testing and challenging whether or not the United States was prepared enough for this phase of the conflict?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think that if you look at the Iraqi people, the Iraqi people are overwhelmingly pleased with the fact the United States has helped them to get rid of the Saddam Hussein regime. That was clear from their dancing in the streets, from the way they tore down the statues.


Desperation and progress; progress and desperation. They'd become rhetorical tropes by the time Cheney growled this to an AEI audience on July 24.

We still have many tasks to complete in Iraq, and many dangers remain. There are still some holdouts of the regime, joined by terrorists from outside the country, who are fighting desperately to prevent progress of any kind for the Iraqi people.


By late July, no discussion of Iraq was complete without the obligatory nod toward "progress".

The plan sets out ambitious timetables and clear benchmarks to measure progress and practical methods for achieving results. Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment. America and our partners kept our promise to remove the dictator and the threat he posed, not only to the Iraqi people, but to the world...In the 83 days since I announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, we have made progress, steady progress, in restoring hope in a nation beaten down by decades of tyranny.


Four years after "progress in Iraq" became a by-word, George Bush is still hearing reports about it. June 14, 2007:

General Dempsey has just come out of Iraq, where he is working with the Iraqi troops to prepare for -- to prepare them for the day when they will be responsible for the security of their country. He explained to me the progress that has been made over the years that he has been there.


Bush & Co. continues to feel reassured about the progress in Iraq. June 18, 2007:

President Bush had a nearly hour-long secure video teleconference with Iraqi leaders on Monday and came away impressed and reassured by the progress they're making on political, security and economic reforms, the White House said...

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, on Sunday called the situation in Iraq "a mixed picture, but certainly not a hopeless one." He noted frustrations among signs of progress, and cautioned against withdrawing troops too soon.


Too soon, evidently, would be any time before we stop seeing signs of "progress in Iraq". June 18, 2007:

Q But, Tony, can you give us some sense of why [the President] felt reassured, given that we've heard reassurances before?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, it is clear that you've got an environment now where the key leaders are working together on these issues. And, yes, we have heard a lot of these things before, but without -- and I'm not in a position to go into the details and what they were saying, but there are reasons we think they're very serious in moving forward on the key items.

Q But, Tony, we've heard that before, many times.

MR. SNOW: I understand. I understand.

Q I mean, why is there any more reason now to believe that they're serious about moving forward than there was the last time you said that? Or the time before?

MR. SNOW: I understand. But, again, I think -- let me put it this way, that you see that there are tangible efforts going on and I'm just not going to go into any greater detail...

Q Tony, do you agree with General Petraeus's assessment that it could take about a decade to stabilize Iraq, to fully stabilize --

MR. SNOW: Well, what General Petraeus was pointing out -- this is pretty much standard doctrine when it comes to counterinsurgency, is that counterinsurgency is something that does take a great amount of time. He says 10 years. That does not mean that you're going to have people on a forward combat operation posture for 10 years, but it does mean that -- he says that it's perfectly conceivable, and that tends to be kind of the textbook sense of how long such operations take place.

On the other hand, what he also said is, if you take a look at what's going on in the key areas of concern when we were talking about the Baghdad security plan -- what were they? They were Anbar and they were Baghdad -- you see signs of progress there.


Maybe you do, Mr. Snow. My eyes aren't that sharp.

crossposted from Unbossed

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