Did anyone else get a "three bears" feeling during the President's speech last night?
Bush spun a fairy tale riddled with mobile straw men and Al Qaeda monsters. We'll be safe if we-- good children that we are-- follow the Prez without question.
Without questioning statements like this:
Today Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions.
Unless things have changed dramatically since February, that number is wildly inflated. Countering the "official" White House mid-January estimate of 136,000 Iraqi security forces, Senator Joseph Biden wrote in the Washington Post:
By one measure the Bush administration is right: As of today, there are about 136,000 "trained and equipped" Iraqis. But that measure is meaningless. Indeed, a year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted of 210,000 Iraqis in uniform and called it "an amazing accomplishment."
We should focus on real standards, not raw numbers. The real standard is straightforward: Can an Iraqi soldier or policeman do what we ask American soldiers to do -- provide law and order, protect the infrastructure, defend the borders and, above all, defeat the insurgency? There are nowhere near 136,000 Iraqis capable of accomplishing these goals.
Biden, whose own estimate ran between 4,000 and 18,000 acceptable Iraqi forces, then explained discrepancies in training and equipping those forces. Biden may have underestimated the available security forces (who knows for sure?), but I think that his point is right. The White House numbers exaggerate the readiness of Iraq to manage its own security.
Moreover, the on-ground security situation has worsened in the past months, and the demand for expanding the security presence has confronted the reality of Iraqi defections as well as increasing insurgent attacks on security forces and security leaders. Recruitment is not a current problem because the employment situation in most areas remains bleak.
Bush would prefer that we not question the other statements from the speech, thank you very much. And, by the way, those references to Afghanistan? Don't examine them too closely.
Other than the repeated references to September 11, the most notable elements of the speech were its condescending attitude toward the American people and lack of animation in the Fort Bragg audience.
Regarding the latter, at least the President's staff didn't have to screen away dissenters. No armed services members would risk the consequences of appearing to offer anything but respect to the Commander-in-Chief.
As to the former, here is a perfect illustration that came about two-thirds of the way into the speech:
I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.
Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.
Here's the condensed version:
We can't send more troops because it would look as if we planned to stay, and we can't give an exit timeline because it would look as if we planned to leave.
The first course of action would be too hot; the second would be too cold. Trust the President-- his fuzzy course would be "just right."
And, by the way, troops, the President will pay attention to "the sober judgment of our military leaders" just as long as they agree with him, and not one day longer. Just ask General Shinseki (Ret.) and his buddies.
Michael Froomkin at the always-enlightening Discourse.net enlisted his brother Daniel's "White House Briefing" column to brush away Bush's straw men. Go read them-- both of them. [In fact, you should make reading the Froomkin brothers a habit, like brushing and flossing.]
The Al Qaeda monsters are still out there and getting larger, thanks to Bush's foreign policy.
The story is over, the speech ended. Good night, and sleep well.
Would you like me to leave the lights on?