[T]he White House is cutting and running from “stay the course.” A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned “stay the course” into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that “stay the course” does not actually mean stay the course.
Instead, they have been emphasizing in recent weeks how adaptable the president’s Iraq policy actually is. Bush remains steadfast about remaining in Iraq, they say, but constantly shifts tactics and methods in response to an adjusting enemy. “What you have is not ‘stay the course’ but in fact a study in constant motion by the administration,” Snow said yesterday.
Political rhetoric, of course, is often in constant motion as well. But with midterm elections two weeks away, the Bush team is searching for a formula to address public opposition to the war, struggling to appear consistent and flexible at the same time. That was underscored by the reaction to a New York Times report that the administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to disarm militias and assume a larger security role. The White House initially called the story “inaccurate.” But then White House counselor Dan Bartlett went on CNN yesterday morning to call it “a little bit overwritten” because in fact it was something the administration had been doing for months.
Josh has worthy things to say at his own site. I would add that constantly changing strategy is what people do when they have no strategy at all. People strategize in order to anticipate what the enemy will do and build plans to account for it. The fact that this administration plainly acknowledges now that they cannot see one step ahead of our adversaries in Iraq should be taken as nothing less than a total failure on the part of our war planners.
Let’s be clear, only an idiot would claim that nobody anticipated the general contours of our current morass. Many did. The problem, and the eternal shame of the knuckle-chewing rabble known as “war hawks” in latter-day America, is the lunchroom egg fight that has somehow taken the place of what we used to call foreign policy debate. For their trouble the people who tried to steer policy in the right direction were shouted down, demonized, painted as appeasers and lovers of Saddam and thoroughly shut out of the planning process by the idiots and magical thinkers at the Pentagon, particularly the OSP, and Cheney’s gang of neoconservative poseurs.
Halfway responsible leaders like Eric Shinseki and, while I resist putting too much stock in his WMD-tarnished star, Colin Powell knew the right thing to do from the start. It stirs up a feeling other than pride to know that we sat Shinseki next to the neocons’ own Modern Major General Paul Wolfowitz and chose to go with the preening Gilbert and Sullivan character. Explaining to future historians how exactly that happened will take some work and more than a little chagrin on our part.
Let’s be clear – if all we’re doing is maintaining the same level of forces and trying to play “whack-a-mole” with insurgent attacks in multiple cities, then we are not “adjusting to what the other side is doing.” As Philip Carter notes, if we aren’t pushing forces out into the cities under fire, getting our best troops to act as advisors to the Iraqi units, and seriously address the political and economic issues in Iraq, then we’re not going be successful.
I stand corrected. While the government wants you to think that they have no plan whatsoever, in fact they do have a plan. It is just the same stupid stay-the-course plan that has done us no good for three years running.