Friday, December 8, 2006

Bush on Iraq: Mr. Hide or Dr. Jekyll?

We won't know for a couple of week, when the president is likely to announce his Santa Clause strategy for Iraq to the nation, but I wonder if the pushback is a negotiating tactic -- with himself, even -- or a sign that Bush intends to remain thick-skinned and bunkered against difficult realities.

Evidence of the latter is easy to see, as it comes in a news conference with last best friend concerning Iraq policy, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, giving visual assurance that Bush does not stand alone (although the New York Times includes a somewhat contrary picture of the two, backs to the camera, walking out of the room).

Evidence of the former is tougher, though words seem to take on whatever meaning a cunning politician wants them to. So, there may be no "direct talks" with Iran and Syria, but indirect talks conducted by third parties are semantically possible and often these are more productive (hint: Blair was in town, he believes in engaging these two states, and he is not a member of the U.S. government).

If you buy that, then characterizing the state of affairs when minimal forces remain in Iraq and are not primarily engaged in combat duties by, say, late 2007 early 2008 could easily be characterized as having been achieved by a) conditions on the ground and b) Iraq's ability to pick up the slack (hint: Al-Malaki says his boys will be ready by June). Mission Accomplished!

The point/counterpoint debates and "gotcha" screamfests have nothing to do with what may be going on. We already know that the administration doesn't always believe what it says in public -- Rumsfeld is not here to stay, alas. It is also very difficult to appear to be moderating if one is constantly baited about how extreme and one-dimensional one is. Smart negotiators don't tell a kidnapper how stupid they were to give up hostages for a pizza and a pack of cigarettes. Even dumb ones probably don't.

This president has shown little desire to give up on some ideas easily, but he does. We hear nothing these days about Social Security reform -- but we would if someone got in his face. He doesn't bring up immigration policy, but hit him with a bar rag and you would hear that tune again.

The next meaningful words coming from his mouth will be around Christmas. Until then, this is all just looks like dodging and weaving the crossfire and I put very little stock in any of it.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Though I hope you're right, I'm sadly convinced that you're wrong about George W. Bush, at least as of this date. After 6 years, he seems more in thrall than ever to a voice of certainty that only he can hear. One saw this realization on the shocked and chastened visage of Tony Blair last week in his White House visit. And it is tempting to see Maureen Dowd's little confection this morning as the prescriptive answer, the hope that it's just not sinking in yet, but maybe will at some point. But this is pointless, I fear. Bush described himself, 10 days ago, just before the ISG report came out, as a man looking into a mirror on a ranch in Texas at some future date, determined to like what he sees. This is his metaphor, not mine, not Dowd's. The Washington, DC establishment now realizes what it has on its hands with this president, whose moods and dysfunctions have made us all a nation of co-dependants, tiptoeing around an abusive dad, afraid to say "boo", afraid of waking him up from his bender. That is the true meaning of the ISG Report, which Democrats are hiding behind in their onging fantasy of maintaining congress and winning the next presidency without ever having to stand for something--an ethos for which Hillary Clinton is the perfect candidate. And Republicans like McCain and Giuliani, are rejecting it primarily because it comes too close to suggesting the severe limitations of war as creative force, as the well spring of democracy, or even permanent security. For a party and a nation that tend to believe this myth, that's a dangerous theme. So, what we're really waiting for here is not for Bush to wake up or give in. We're waiting for the ambitions of both Democrats and Republicans to finally override the stalemate, with the only tool left to them by the Founders, to deal with a man straring into a mirror. The threat, or the reality, of impeachment. If ever there was a purpose for that tool, it is now.