Little Green Footballs

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Reality bites

Gee, this took a while didn't it. It seems the White House is now almost accepting the reality of Civil War in Iraq.

Late last year, during a major address in Annapolis, President Bush introduced a new phrase for his Iraq policy: “Plan for Victory.” With those words emblazoned on a screen behind him, he laid out a possible exit path for American troops, who would gradually cede control to their Iraqi counterparts.

But that phrase has all but disappeared as scenes of horrific sectarian violence have streamed onto American television screens unabated. And when the United States commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, his testimony that “Iraq could move towards civil war” if the strife would not end overshadowed any talk of victory.

Those two words — civil war — further complicated what was already a daunting challenge for the administration: convincing battle-weary Americans that the war was winnable while acknowledging the grim reality of the bloodshed.

Bringing the public back behind the Iraq campaign has been a fundamental White House goal for at least the last year, crucial to reducing public pressure to withdraw troops before the White House believes the mission is complete. It would also bolster the Republican Party’s prospects during Congressional elections in November.

But the administration is to a point still battling early expectations — created in part by its own officials and supporters — that the fight would be relatively easy. And it must essentially make a retroactive argument that the campaign will be long and hard, with stakes that no longer address the threat of unconventional weapons that were never found, but, rather, the prospects for the fight between democracy and Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

Since the war began more than three years ago, the administration and its supporters have discussed it in terms that have progressively tamped down expectations. The long-derided terms like “greeted as liberators” (Vice President Dick Cheney) and “cakewalk” (former Reagan arms control official Kenneth L. Adelman), as well as talk of an insurgency in its “last throes” (Mr. Cheney), are a thing of memory. Now, mixed with optimism are statements from President Bush that “the violence in Baghdad is still terrible,” and from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States had made “tactical errors, thousands of them.”

But on Thursday, the administration faced a blunt warning about the possibility of a civil war in Iraq from one of its military leaders.

For some who have watched the public relations campaign closely, General Abizaid’s statement — which did include an assertion that Iraq would ultimately avoid a civil war — represented a tacit acknowledgment that there was no use spinning this conflict.

Yet it also risked feeding public calls to leave Iraq when Americans are especially supportive of a speedy troop withdrawal if the conflict devolves into an internal Iraqi war.

“ ‘Civil war’ is sort of a proxy term for wars we cannot win,” said Christopher F. Gelpi, a professor of political science at Duke University who has worked on gauging opinions on Iraq with Peter D. Feaver, a fellow Duke professor who took leave to become a special adviser to the White House, helping to hone the “Plan for Victory.”

“The problem they’re facing is there’s only so much their rhetorical strategy can do to reshape public perceptions of the very real events that are out there, and right now those events are very bad when thousands of Iraqis are being killed every month,” Mr. Gelpi said.

Underscoring just how hard the job of putting an optimistic face on the war is proving to be, the staunchest remaining supporters are voicing pessimism about the prospects under the administration’s current approach, increasingly calling for Mr. Bush to engage in a new and more aggressive strategy.

“Those of us who still back the war are worried and alarmed,” said William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, an early proponent of the invasion. “We need to win the war and if it’s not going well we need to change strategy.”
There you have it, William Kristol admits he's worried and alarmed and suggests we're losing. How long before Charles and his chickenhawk braves denounce him as a 'cut and run' defeatist?

Source: New York Times

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