The Self Made Pundit

I'm just the guy that can't stand cant. ___________

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Monday, December 05, 2005

President Bush's recent Iraq war strategy speech may have been a disappointment to those who were hoping for something substantive, but it now appears that such expectations were unrealistic.

I confess that I was one of those who was disappointed by Bush's speech on Wednesday and the accompanying 35-page strategy document entitled National Strategy For Victory In Iraq. Neither the speech nor the strategy document gives any sign of changing our bumbling approach in Iraq.

Admittedly, though, part my disappointment was due to my originally mistaking a web page that summarized the classic science fiction film Plan Nine From Outer Space for a summary of Bush's plan. After realizing my mistake, I reviewed Bush's actual strategy document, which contained nothing as bold (or even as connected to reality) as Plan Nine's strategy for zombie warfare orchestrated by grave robbers from outer space.

Bush's actual speech and strategy document struck me as little more than Bush returning to his cheerleading roots and shouting V Is For Victory. News reports about the purpose of the speech, however, indicate that the speech and strategy document were not intended to be anything other than cheerleading.

We should not be surprised that Bush's speech and the strategy document that was released with the speech did not present any new substantive approach. As The New York Times reported on Sunday, Bush's new strategy is nothing more than a public relations offensive:

There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

Although White House officials said many federal departments had contributed to the document, its relentless focus on the theme of victory strongly reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June and has closely studied public opinion on the war.

Despite the president's oft-stated aversion to polls, Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented the administration with an analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly behind the victory theme in the speech and the plan, in which the word appears six times in the table of contents alone, including sections titled "Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest" and "Our Strategy for Victory is Clear."


The role of Dr. Feaver in preparing the strategy document came to light through a quirk of technology. In a portion of the document usually hidden from public view but accessible with a few keystrokes, the plan posted on the White House Web site showed the document's originator, or "author" in the software's designation, to be "feaver-p."

Thus, it appears that the strategy showcased by Bush's speech and the accompanying strategy document was actually a strategy to win the war for public opinion -- not to win the war in Iraq. As The New York Times reported:

"This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency," said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver's colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. "The Pentagon doesn't need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion."

So, perhaps to be fair to the Bush administration, we should not criticize his V Is For Victory speech and strategy document for failing to set forth any new approach for winning the war in Iraq. That is not what they were intended to do. Instead, we should judge the speech and document for what they were designed to do -- to fool us into thinking victory is just around the corner.

Judged on these terms, Bush's V Is For Victory speech and strategy document may not prove totally unsuccessful. Making fools of people that take it seriously is one of the few abilities that the Bush administration excels in.
I know that I, for one, feel foolish having searched through Bush's speech and strategy document looking for signs of a new strategy in Iraq.