whirling dervishes Bush spinners out-do even whirling dervishes

Bush spin machine at max rpm

Here we go again

When George W Bush launched his Iraq "surge" in January, he sold it as new strategy that would give the Iraqi government "breathing space" to make the "hard decisions" needed to achieve "reconciliation." Put another way, he would buy time for the Iraqis with more American blood and treasure.

Having been bamboozled by Bush before, the Congress wrote into the funding law a set of benchmarks to judge success of the effort, a sort of checklist, if you will.

It's been clear for some time now that the surge — on its original terms — is an abject failure. Yes, some places in Iraq may be safer than before, but there has been no progress on the political front. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) leaked a draft of its report to the Washington Post, and received for its trouble enormous pressure from the White House to make it less damning.

changed assessment
Benchmark assessment before and after White House pressure

So now the loyal Bushies are doing what they do best — trying to weasel out of being accountable for failure to meet the criteria they, themselves, have set. They have been relentlessly focusing on the "good news" from Iraq, namely the security improvement in Anbar province. They hope that all this happy talk about "bottom-up reconciliation" will distract attention from the utter failure of their top-down policy.

The Congress put a huge about of trust in General David Petraeus and his reputation as a straight-talker. That may be true, but he is also politically savvy, and he will have to say in his report what Bush wants him to say: There's progress ("light at the end of the tunnel" if you will), it just needs more time, and pulling out now would be catastrophic. Gen Shinseki can attest to what happens when you don't toe the party line.

Bush visits the troops in Anbar Bush, Gates, and Condi visit the troops in Anbar

On his way to Australia, Bush and his "war cabinet" dropped in to Anbar province for a visit. It wasn't any kind of fact-finding or consultation — it was a photo-op, pure and simple. It was designed to produce White House photos of Bush surrounded by smiling troops. The benevolent and popular Commander in Chief visits the forces!

It's worth noting that Bush chose a vast, sparsely populated region for his drop-in, not daring to point Air Force One anywhere near Baghdad.

See Bush. See the happy troops. See Bush spin. Spin, spin, spin.

It is so dispiriting to see Bush use the troops as props. They're props on the stage for his photo ops, and they prop up his ego by cheering, smiling, and clapping. Frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach.

Bush's real Iraq strategy has been clear for a long time: stall for time and dump this mess in the hands of the next president. No matter what Petraeus or anybody else says, it will be "stay the course" until 20 Jan 2009. This PR exercise is designed to keep just enough Republicans in line to prevent any veto-proof legislation from passing.

Dead Certain

In a new book by Robert Draper (Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W Bush), Bush, in fact, 'fesses up that he's playing for time, "To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence ... stay longer."

The reality is that the Iraq war will still be going on when the next president takes office, no matter what. The truly sad thing is that Bush's determination to avoid acknowledging what a disaster Iraq has become is that we can't really have the debate about which bad choice that remains to us will keep a bad situation from becoming much worse. There are legitimate goals that ought to guide us in figuring out what to do next: preventing Iraq from becoming a terrorist safe-haven ("Al Qaeda" and the like), a client state of Iran, or the spark that ignites a devastating regional war. But as long as Bush keeps talking about "success" and "winning" the mess just continues and people keep dying.

The reality is that Iraq's army and police force are simply incapable of taking over security and fending off terrorists. That is the plain conclusion of a comission of retired US military officers led by retired Marine General James Jones:

Conclusion: The Iraqi armed forces—Army, Special Forces, Navy, and Air Force—are increasingly effective and are capable of assuming greater responsibility for the internal security of Iraq; and the Iraqi police are improving, but not at a rate sufficient to meet their essential security responsibilities. The Iraqi Security Forces will continue to rely on the Coalition to provide key enablers such as combat support (aviation support, intelligence, and communications), combat service support (logistics, supply chain management, and maintenance), and training. The Commission assesses that in the next 12 to 18 months there will be continued improvement in their readiness and capability, but not the ability to operate independently. Evidence indicates that the ISF will not be able to progress enough in the near term to secure Iraqi borders against conventional military and external threats.

The sooner Bush drops the charade and the spin game, the sooner everyone can get to work on getting us out of this mess.