T Nation

Bush Getting Pessimistic

All is not well…but we’re winning, eh?

Bush shows pessimism on Iraq
President shifts tone as he makes case for U.S. policy

By Peter Baker

Updated: 11:16 p.m. ET Aug 23, 2006
Of all the words that President Bush used at his news conference this week to defend his policies in Iraq, the one that did not pass his lips was “progress.”

For three years, the president tried to reassure Americans that more progress was being made in Iraq than they realized. But with Iraq either in civil war or on the brink of it, Bush dropped the unseen-progress argument in favor of the contention that things could be even worse.

The shifting rhetoric reflected a broader pessimism that has reached into even some of the most optimistic corners of the administration – a sense that the Iraq venture has taken a dark turn and will not be resolved anytime soon. Bush advisers once believed that if they met certain benchmarks, such as building a constitutional democracy and training a new Iraqi army, the war would be won. Now they believe they have more or less met those goals, yet the war rages on.

While still committed to the venture, officials have privately told friends and associates outside government that they have grown discouraged in recent months. Even the death of al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq proved not to be the turning point they expected, they have told associates, and other developments have been relentlessly dispiriting, with fewer signs of hope.

Bush acknowledged this week that he has been discouraged as well. “Frustrated?” he asked. “Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy. This is – but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times and they’re difficult times and they’re straining the psyche of our country.”

Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said Bush and his advisers still believe progress is being made and the war will be won. “No question about it, the last three months have been much more challenging,” he said. “Are we always going to be pleased with the pace? No. There are days that are frustrating. But is the overall direction going the right way? . . . The answer to that is yes.”

Striking change
The tone represents a striking change from what critics considered an overly rosy portrayal of Iraq, and the latest stage in a year-long evolution in message.

With sectarian violence flaring into some of the worst bloodshed since the March 2003 invasion, the White House felt the need to connect with the anxiety in the American public. “Most of the people rightly are concerned about the security situation, as is the president,” Bartlett said.

But with midterm elections just 2 1/2 months away, Bush and his team are trying to turn the public debate away from whether the Iraq invasion has worked out to what would happen if U.S. troops were withdrawn, as some Democrats advocate. Using such terms as “havoc” at Monday’s news conference, Bush made no effort to suggest the situation in Iraq is improving. Instead, he argued: “If you think it’s bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself.”

Christopher F. Gelpi, a Duke University scholar whose research on public opinion in wartime has been influential in the White House, said Bush had little choice.

"He looks foolish and not credible if he says ‘We’re making progress in Iraq,’ " Gelpi said. “I think he probably would like to make that argument, but because that’s not credible given the facts on the ground, this is the fallback. . . . If the only thing you can say is ‘Yes, it’s bad, but it could be worse,’ that really is a last-ditch argument.”

As recently as two weeks ago, Bush was still making the case that things in Iraq are better than they seem. The new Iraqi government “has shown remarkable progress on the political front,” he said on Aug. 7, calling its mere existence “quite a remarkable achievement.”

The White House and the Republican National Committee regularly send e-mails to supporters and journalists highlighting positive developments. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, an article by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad argued that a shift in security operations in Baghdad has shown “positive results” and said that “this initial progress should give Iraqis, as well as Americans, hope about the future.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on a radio show this week that violence is largely limited to four of 18 provinces and that “the government now is starting to get its legs under it.”

But Bush has been ruminating on the different nature of Iraq and the battle with Islamic radicals and how hard it is to define victory. “Veterans of World War II and Korea will tell you we were able to measure progress based upon miles gained or based upon tanks destroyed, or however people measured war in those days,” he said in a speech last week. “This is different . . . and it’s hard on the American people and I understand that.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of the war, suggested this week the Bush team has only itself to blame for setting unrealistic expectations.

“One of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required,” McCain said. " ‘Stuff happens,’ ‘mission accomplished,’ ‘last throes,’ ‘a few dead-enders.’ I’m just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."

Such statements, he said, have “contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach.” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) offered a similar assessment. “I think we undersold how hard the war would be,” he told reporters this week. “I think we oversold how easy it would be to create democracy. I think we missed by a mile how much it would cost to rebuild Iraq.”

Series of benchmarks
Through much of the war, Bush and his advisers focused on meeting benchmarks laid out for rebuilding Iraq – writing a new constitution, electing a new parliament, bringing disaffected Sunnis into the government and training Iraqi troops. As long as those benchmarks were met, the president had tangible events to point to as evidence of progress.

But the last step in that original timetable, election of a permanent parliament last December, has come and gone with no end to the violence. When Bush mentioned that election at his news conference, he depicted it not as progress but a sign that Iraqis want progress. “It’s an indication about the desire for people to live in a free society,” he said.

Bush used to mention the number of Iraqi troops trained as another barometer to watch, suggesting that once a new army is in place, it could defend its country. He does not mention those numbers anymore. According to the Pentagon, 294,000 Iraqi troops have been trained, just shy of the goal of 325,000 by the end of the year. Yet no U.S. official expects to turn over the war entirely to the Iraqis by then.

?Deeply concerned?
Instead, Bush has publicly emphasized how much his administration is changing tactics to deal with the evolving threats in Iraq, and he has privately reached out for advice about further steps to take. He had lunch at the Pentagon last week with four Middle East experts to solicit ideas about how to stabilize Iraq.

“I would say he was deeply concerned about how many lives are being lost, both American and Iraqi, and how much this is costing the American taxpayer,” said Eric Davis, a Rutgers University professor who was among those invited, who urged Bush to launch a New Deal-style economic program in Iraq. “He would like to see progress sooner rather than later.”

Its tough to make the world a better place when terrorists want to keep a people in bondage and your own people don’t have the will to squash evil. Guess it’ll take a nuke up our asses before it dawns on the sheeple that this is a fight to the death.

You tried, Mr. President. But all great ideas and efforts are opposed by the scum of the earth.

Headhunter

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
Its tough to make the world a better place when terrorists want to keep a people in bondage and your own people don’t have the will to squash evil. Guess it’ll take a nuke up our asses before it dawns on the sheeple that this is a fight to the death.

You tried, Mr. President. But all great ideas and efforts are opposed by the scum of the earth.

Headhunter[/quote]

By the way, he finally admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

He didn’t seem happy about it either.

Oh the truth hurts…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hstBefXjrs0

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
Its tough to make the world a better place when terrorists want to keep a people in bondage and your own people don’t have the will to squash evil. Guess it’ll take a nuke up our asses before it dawns on the sheeple that this is a fight to the death.

You tried, Mr. President. But all great ideas and efforts are opposed by the scum of the earth.

Headhunter[/quote]

I guess daddy was right.

little irish:

I think I can answer my question. However, I’ve heard your side of the aisle castigate him for being unrealistic in his appraisal of the situation in Iraq.

If he admits to being frustrated or that the war isn’t going as well as he likes, do you have more or less confidence in him?

Are you going to give him credit for being “more realistic” as you see it?

I find it interesting to note that there is a segment of the population who he could never make happy. That is why one has to be selective in whose criticisms you listen to.

Some guys move from criticism to criticism without acknowledging where they have been proven wrong. They also don’t give credit when it is due.
All under the guise of proving “that they were right in the first place.”

Another example is when the President stated that he had “learned from” his mistakes. He stated that he should never have stated “bring it on.”

I remember the lack of praise he received “for finally doing this.” The silence was deafening.

JeffR

[quote]marmadogg wrote:

I guess daddy was right.[/quote]

No. In hindsight, he should have finished saddam then and there.

Oh, and Daddy didn’t have 9/11/2001 staring him in the face.

JeffR

[quote]JeffR wrote:
little irish:

I think I can answer my question. However, I’ve heard your side of the aisle castigate him for being unrealistic in his appraisal of the situation in Iraq.

If he admits to being frustrated or that the war isn’t going as well as he likes, do you have more or less confidence in him?
[/quote]

I don’t have any confidence in him at all based on the last six years. “Confidence” has nothing to do with it.

To me, it is watching the fall of a man who did not deserve the office and has really hurt this country in the long run.

So call me vindictive, but I’m enjoying it. The only terrible part is that he sacrificed many lives to prove that he was/is inept.

You could say that. He’s confronting the truth, which is far better than going the Vietnam route of, “Don’t worry, we’re winnin I swear”.

Of course. Just like Clinton would never make super-conservatives happy, and they impeached him for far less serious things than Bush has done.

There are few things I give him credit for, but there are a couple. The fact that he never repaid the holyrollers who helped in his reelection is something I like. His idea of giving amnesty to the immigrants who are here I liked…and invading Afghanistan was good, except that I disagree in the fashion it was done.

Other than that though, me and him are pretty polar, so don’t expect me to support him.

[quote]
Another example is when the President stated that he had “learned from” his mistakes. He stated that he should never have stated “bring it on.”

I remember the lack of praise he received “for finally doing this.” The silence was deafening.

JeffR[/quote]

Learning from your mistakes is fine. However, this is serious business, and making mistakes has killed many Americans in Iraq for a war that even he now is begining to think is a quagmire (speculation on my part of course, but I think he may see it like this).

Now, everyone makes mistakes. But when your intelligence said, “The region will be unstable, and a civil war is very possible”…you don’t ignore that.

Nixon made mistakes too. He learned from them. He also got impeached. I think it’s time for Bush to get the same.

The sad thing is that I don’t hate the guy. He seems like a decent guy to drink with, or to have as a neighbor. Just not as President.

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
By the way, he finally admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
[/quote]

I keep noticing this meme that Bush “finally admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.” The administration has said this many times. This is not a new “admission.”

[quote]JeffR wrote:
marmadogg wrote:

I guess daddy was right.

No. In hindsight, he should have finished saddam then and there.

Oh, and Daddy didn’t have 9/11/2001 staring him in the face.

JeffR

[/quote]

H.W. said that finishing Saddam was the easy part or did you forget that?

After 9/11 we should have had Osama Bin Forgotten’s head on a stick but that got F’ed up too.

You and your assertions are busted.

Get over it. This is not a team sport.

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
All is not well…but we’re winning, eh?

Bush shows pessimism on Iraq
President shifts tone as he makes case for U.S. policy

By Peter Baker

“He would like to see progress sooner rather than later.”[/quote]

I’ve agreed since the beginning that shock and awe was the wrong way to go about this and I think a lot of the protraction we see is a direct result of Rumsfeld’s decision making. No President should apologize on behalf of his SoD and then allow said Secretary to show up to work the next day. However, I still have concerns/criticisms of the left side of the issue as well though;

  1. This isn’t Vietnam, the price we’ve paid (in both time and lives) is much smaller and, more importantly, this isn’t a war we can afford to lose. If we have to occupy 5 countries for 10 yrs. each, successively, and sacrifice 100,000 lives to win the war on terror, are we even capable of doing this? Especially, if 3 yrs. and 3,000 in Iraq is ‘too much’? Not that we should sacrifice lives whimsically, but the fact that they’re fighting radical insurgents and having an effect isn’t exactly whimsical.

  2. How long can Iraq ‘teeter’? I liked the author’s description of being in a civil war and/or teetering on the edge. Pick an event that would define a civil war like the assassination of a president or the fall of Baghdad and stick to it, when it happens, then you’re right, until then, you’re just teetering. And if it weren’t teetering on the brink of civil war, wouldn’t this thing be a success?

  3. This goes along with 2, I think Bush’s inability to declare Iraq a success is further confounded by the inability of the left to declare it a failure. Control was turned over to the Iraqi gov’t., elections were held, Iraqi forces are being trained en masse at or near quotas… I agree it’s not a stand up and cheer success, but at what point is it actually a failure?

[quote]FightinIrish26 wrote:
JeffR wrote:
little irish:

I think I can answer my question. However, I’ve heard your side of the aisle castigate him for being unrealistic in his appraisal of the situation in Iraq.

If he admits to being frustrated or that the war isn’t going as well as he likes, do you have more or less confidence in him?

I don’t have any confidence in him at all based on the last six years. “Confidence” has nothing to do with it.

To me, it is watching the fall of a man who did not deserve the office and has really hurt this country in the long run.

So call me vindictive, but I’m enjoying it. The only terrible part is that he sacrificed many lives to prove that he was/is inept.

Are you going to give him credit for being “more realistic” as you see it?

You could say that. He’s confronting the truth, which is far better than going the Vietnam route of, “Don’t worry, we’re winnin I swear”.

I find it interesting to note that there is a segment of the population who he could never make happy. That is why one has to be selective in whose criticisms you listen to.

Of course. Just like Clinton would never make super-conservatives happy, and they impeached him for far less serious things than Bush has done.

Some guys move from criticism to criticism without acknowledging where they have been proven wrong. They also don’t give credit when it is due.
All under the guise of proving “that they were right in the first place.”

There are few things I give him credit for, but there are a couple. The fact that he never repaid the holyrollers who helped in his reelection is something I like. His idea of giving amnesty to the immigrants who are here I liked…and invading Afghanistan was good, except that I disagree in the fashion it was done.

Other than that though, me and him are pretty polar, so don’t expect me to support him.

Another example is when the President stated that he had “learned from” his mistakes. He stated that he should never have stated “bring it on.”

I remember the lack of praise he received “for finally doing this.” The silence was deafening.

JeffR

Learning from your mistakes is fine. However, this is serious business, and making mistakes has killed many Americans in Iraq for a war that even he now is begining to think is a quagmire (speculation on my part of course, but I think he may see it like this).

Now, everyone makes mistakes. But when your intelligence said, “The region will be unstable, and a civil war is very possible”…you don’t ignore that.

Nixon made mistakes too. He learned from them. He also got impeached. I think it’s time for Bush to get the same.

The sad thing is that I don’t hate the guy. He seems like a decent guy to drink with, or to have as a neighbor. Just not as President.[/quote]

Me thinks The Young Irish Lad has it right once again,only those with Rose Colored glasses would think otherwise!!!

Here’s an a-political question of semantics. We declared war on Terrorism, which is a movement/ ideology/ concept. How does one beat a concept? How does one measure success at defeating an idea/ belief such as this? As long as one person is able to conceptualize militant anti American sentiment, then we have not won. But how do we do this? Remote viewing?

Simple. Demonstrate that evil and destruction are not practical. Going up against the United States (along with capitalism itself) is simply not practical. Ideas defeat ideas. Freedom defeats terror.

We WILL eliminate this stain on our planet. It takes time; don’t give up!

HH

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
Its tough to make the world a better place when terrorists want to keep a people in bondage and your own people don’t have the will to squash evil. Guess it’ll take a nuke up our asses before it dawns on the sheeple that this is a fight to the death.

You tried, Mr. President. But all great ideas and efforts are opposed by the scum of the earth.

Headhunter[/quote]

Hmmm, sounds a lot like the message Himmler sent to his Fuhrer after all was lost.

[quote]JeffR wrote:
marmadogg wrote:

I guess daddy was right.

No. In hindsight, he should have finished saddam then and there.

Oh, and Daddy didn’t have 9/11/2001 staring him in the face.

JeffR

[/quote]

Please effR, explain to us again how 9/11 was linked to Iraq?
How Islam fundamentalism was linked to the secular state of Iraq?

You keep pushing the same lies after Bush has giving up on them.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
Its tough to make the world a better place when terrorists want to keep a people in bondage and your own people don’t have the will to squash evil. Guess it’ll take a nuke up our asses before it dawns on the sheeple that this is a fight to the death.

You tried, Mr. President. But all great ideas and efforts are opposed by the scum of the earth.

Headhunter[/quote]
Isn’t it tougher when you have a president creating the terrorists, terrorist havens, and terrorist training grounds :frowning:

Oh and it was obviously a bad idea (occupation in iraq creates terrorists, enabled iran, etc.) and by all accounts a horribly planned “effort”.

So technically those opposed simply want to fight the war on terror, step one: stop creating boatloads of terrorists (which might lead to a reduction in terrorism–something this admin hasn’t done.)

[quote]JeffR wrote:
Another example is when the President stated that he had “learned from” his mistakes. He stated that he should never have stated “bring it on.”

I remember the lack of praise he received “for finally doing this.” The silence was deafening.

JeffR[/quote]
He enticed the enemy to kill our troops.(Which they did, even at one point asking the president if had any more requests) Kind of hard to praise ignorance this high.

[quote]lucasa wrote:
but at what point is it actually a failure?[/quote]
The plan was to establish a jeffersonian democracy with a small force in 3-6 months for 1.5 billion dollars to prevent terrorism.

So at what point is it a failure?
Now. Big time.

We’ll essentially try to contain a low-level civil war for the next two years…that’s bush’s new plan.

[quote]100meters wrote:
lucasa wrote:
but at what point is it actually a failure?
The plan was to establish a jeffersonian democracy with a small force in 3-6 months for 1.5 billion dollars to prevent terrorism.

So at what point is it a failure?
Now. Big time.

We’ll essentially try to contain a low-level civil war for the next two years…that’s bush’s new plan.

[/quote]

Or, failing that, keep it out of they public eye.