Annotate This: Commander Guy Bush

On May 2, President George W. Bush addressed the Associated General Contractors of America at the Willard Hotel in Washington. An appropriate venue: in the 19th century, favor-seekers waited in the hotel’s lobby for politicians to drop by after work. Thereafter, they were known as lobbyists.

So, Bush had a roomful of anti-tax, union-avoiding, OSHA-hating rough-and-ready entrepreneurs he could serenade with the lullaby of less government. At first, he said things like:

And, therefore, when you cut taxes, we not only – individual rates, we’re not only cutting them on the people who work for you or work with you, we’re cutting them on you.

On you? Never mind, he meant tax cuts.

Not very far into his presentation, though, he veered from the safe topic of moving money into the entrepreneurial classes and gave the “voice of the construction industry” what it probably didn’t much want to hear – a treatise on the progress being made in Iraq. Just in case the entrepreneurs didn’t believe him, Bush made his point by saying “progress” 14 times – almost as many times as the Republican presidential candidates mentioned Ronald Reagan.

Commander Guy

But even if they did believe him, they had to sit through what was, for Bush, an extremely long and detailed exposition. It was a little short on pithy, quotable Bushisms, so the media reaction tended to focus on one particular doozy. Speaking about a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, Bush asked “The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders?” As he said, “I’m the commander guy.”

A later, edited White House version of the speech, drafted in response to a flood of blogs and columns that made fun of this declaration, “clarified” his remarks by claiming what he actually said was, “I’m a commander guy.”

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter much. He isn’t a or the commander guy, he’s the commander in chief. So, he gets to command, unless Congress decides it’s had enough of his commanding and commands him not to. At some point in the near future, we’ll probably see who sits atop the military, even if it takes a Supreme Court decision to settle it. That should be interesting.

New Strategy?

In the meantime, though, Bush intends to follow his new strategy. We know it’s a new strategy, because he told the contractors it’s new.

So earlier this year I laid out a new strategy in Iraq. I named a new commander to carry it out, General David Petraeus. I want to give you some facts about the new strategy, and talk about why Iraq relates directly to the safety of the American people.

The most important fact about our new strategy, it is fundamentally different from the previous strategy. The previous strategy wasn’t working the way we wanted it to work.

Ah, it’s new because it’s fundamentally different from the old strategy, which wasn’t working the way we wanted it to work. The old strategy, of course, wasn’t working from the moment looters ran free in Baghdad in 2003, and it got steadily more not working over the next four years.

Bush was content with the old strategy for quite a while, though. During the first years of the occupation, the U.S. military was responsbile for the majority of Iraqi civilian deaths, and while you may not think that’s much of a strategy, Bush saw no need to change the course. When Sunni insurgents, however, blew the dome off the Samarra Golden Mosque in February 2006, the internecine warfare overshadowed whatever it was the American troops were trying to do.

Which, nearly a year later, led to the new strategy. And this is new how?

The most significant element of the new strategy is being carried out in the capital. The whole purpose is to secure the capital. My theory is, and it’s a good one, is that if the capital is in chaos, the country can’t – it’s going to be difficult for the country to survive.

Better in Baghdad

But it’s not difficult for the country to survive now because the new strategy is “working.” Bush then iterated a variation of a list he’s been reading since the invasion began – the number of successful missions the Army has carried out, and the number of bad guys killed. But this time it’s different, he said, because the residents of Baghdad believe it.

Baghdad residents see actions, they grow more confident. Interestingly enough, General Petraeus reported that in his short time he’s been there, and in the short time that this plan is being implemented – remember, it’s not fully implemented: three of the brigades are present, are in place; the fourth brigade has just moved into Baghdad and it will be in place relatively soon, and the fifth is on its way – that in spite of the fact that we haven’t fully implemented the plan, the number of sectarian murders in Baghdad has dropped substantially.

Yes, indeed, as the car bombers and other mass murderers move out of the capital and into the provinces, Baghdadians can breathe freely. Some of them. Mostly, the ones behind the new U.S.-built concrete walls or those protected by local militia and private guards. Except when that doesn’t work either. Like this past weekend when at least 52 were killed and 80 were wounded in a car bombing at a food market in southwest Baghdad. Perhaps that’s Bush’s idea of a substantial drop, but there are doubts that Iraqis see it that way.

Al Qaeda

No matter, because Bush then revealed that a secure and prosperous Iraq wasn’t actually what he had in mind anyway.

For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it’s whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11. I strongly believe it’s in our national interest to stay in the fight. (Applause.)

He can’t or won’t stop trying to make the link between al Qaeda and Iraq—a link which was thoroughly discredited. To the extent that al Qaeda operates in Iraq now—and most observers believe that Sunni fundamentalist are a minute portion of the insurgency—that link exists because of the U.S. invasion. So, any new strategy that means to stay and fight al Qaeda will, in all likelihood, continue to destroy Iraq while making negligible gains in the overall battle with Islamic extremism. But Bush is not interested in victory, he’s interested in fighting, as he clearly stated. However, Bush’s strategy, although it’s definitely new, is not predicated upon victory, as he reminded the contractors.

We have a strategy to deal with al Qaeda in Iraq. But any time you say to a bunch of cold-blooded killers, success depends on no violence, all that does is hand them the opportunity to be successful.

So, don’t breathe a word about suppression of violence to al Qaeda, or they’ll just get cocky and blow something else up. We know that, he said, because in making Anbar province safer, we stumbled across the truth.

According to the document we captured – that is a document from al Qaeda, the same people that attacked us in America – their objective is to find safe haven in this part of Iraq. They would bring them closer – that would bring them closer to their objective, their stated objective, which is to destroy the young Iraqi democracy, to help them build a radical Islamic empire based upon their dark ideology, and launch new attacks on the United States, at home and abroad. That’s what they’ve said they want to do.

So, we must stay in Iraq, not trying to reduce the violence, but staying anyway, apparently to get our troops to draw fire from the terrorists. We cannot leave, Bush said.

Al Qaeda terrorists who behead captives and order suicide bombings in Iraq would not simply be satisfied to see us gone. A retreat in Iraq would mean that they would likely follow us here.

This mantra is a favorite of congressional Republicans in opposing any sort of withdrawal plan, and Bush is fond of it himself. They’ll follow us here. But the question that has loomed, unasked, over this lunatic assertion is: if they want to come to America why are they squandering their lives in Iraq? The best way to attack the United States is to actually attack the United States. Of course if they did that, then what would be the rationale for staying in Iraq? Don’t ask.

Strategist Guy

But Bush isn’t much given to pondering the point of the mission. He’s a strategist because people say so.

I’m asked all the time about strategies. I liked what James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton reported back after a serious investigation of Iraq. I liked their ideas. And it’s something that we should seriously consider. And their idea was, is that at some point in time, it makes sense to have a U.S. presence configured this way, embedded with Iraqi forces, training Iraqi forces, over-the-horizon presence to provide enough security to know that people will have help if they need it, but put the — more onus on a sovereign government of Iraq, a presence to keep the territorial integrity of Iraq intact, a special ops presence to go after these killers who have got their intentions on America. It’s an interesting idea.

By the way, in the report it said, it is — the government may have to put in more troops to be able to get to that position. And that’s what we do. We put in more troops to get to a position where we can be in some other place. The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear – I’m a commander guy.

Or, the commander guy. Or, maybe he’s only what the British people said about him a few years back: 37% thought he was “stupid” while 33% argued that he was “incoherent.” A tough choice, I’d say, but on the basis of this speech, I’d award him both sobriquets.

In the end, Bush’s strategy is what it’s been all along: shoot people till they love us. We’ll be paying for this man’s strategies for a long time to come.

Alec Dubro is the senior editor of www.TomPaine.com, the creator of The Washington Pox and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus
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