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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Who Exactly Is the U.S. Fighting?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 8, 2004; 12:25 PM

Throughout the widely noted morale boosting and heavily caveated optimism of President Bush's speech to Marines in California yesterday, the president was framing his arguments in terms that are in dispute.

As the transcript shows, Bush's speechwriters were reasserting that the thousands of people who U.S. troops are fighting and killing and being killed by in Iraq are terrorists who also threaten the United States.

"Our success in Iraq will make America safer for us and for future generations," Bush insisted. "As one Marine sergeant put it, 'I never want my children to experience what we saw in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania.' He said, 'If we can eliminate the threat on foreign soil, I would rather do it there than have it come home to us.' That's why we're on the offensive today in Fallujah and Mosul, Ramadi and north Babil. We're getting after the terrorists. We're disrupting their plans. . . .

"As election day approaches, we can expect further violence from the terrorists. You see, the terrorists understand what is at stake. . . . When Iraqis choose their leaders in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists are really fighting is the will of the Iraqi people."

But reports from Iraq suggest that the insurgency is largely fueled by Iraqis who are opposed to the war and the occupation, not would-be suicide bombers who would otherwise be threatening U.S. shores.

As Tom Ricks reports in The Washington Post today, the debate within military intelligence right now is about whether the growing insurgency is being organized by former Baathists abroad -- or is just the work of individual, increasingly furious Iraqis.

Ricks writes that "U.S. military intelligence officials have concluded that the Iraqi insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognized from Syria, where they said former Saddam Hussein loyalists have found sanctuary and are channeling money and other support to those fighting the established government."

Ricks describes a contrarian view as well. "Not everyone with first-hand knowledge of the intelligence is convinced that the United States really has a strong grasp of the nature of the insurgency, especially the idea that the insurgency is being directed from the top down. Some Special Forces officers contend that many of the small-scale roadside attacks with bombs or rocket-propelled grenades are mounted not on orders of a hierarchical organization, but rather by Iraqis working more or less alone who feel they have been humiliated by U.S. soldiers, or who simply dislike the occupation."

The Coverage

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush told Marines on Tuesday that Iraqi insurgents have suffered a 'severe blow' but are not defeated, as he sought to boost U.S. troop morale and prepare the public for a violent run-up to next month's election in Iraq.

"Speaking at a Marine base in Southern California that has lost 269 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush said Americans should expect 'further violence' as the Jan. 30 election approaches, but he predicted victory in the aftermath. . . .

"After the speech, Bush met for nearly two hours with families of soldiers who had died in Iraq. This weekend, Bush will visit injured soldiers at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, the White House announced."

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush made an emotional visit on Tuesday to the Marine base that has been home to nearly a sixth of all the American troops killed in Iraq. Yet even as he praised the role of American forces that retook Falluja last month, Mr. Bush spoke cautiously about the ability of Iraqi forces to defend themselves. . . .

"It was Mr. Bush's first visit with troops here since he flew onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Lincoln as it returned to San Diego 18 months ago, when he declared the end of active combat in Iraq under a sign reading 'Mission Accomplished.' White House officials now concede that they learned a hard lesson about the price of raising expectations about quick military victories. . . .

"The White House cast the visit to Camp Pendleton as part of the president's effort to thank soldiers and families separated during the holidays. But administration officials also say they have been increasingly aware of the complaints surrounding long deployments, and of the emotional and economic toll of action in Iraq that has now gone on for two years, including the buildup of forces in the Middle East in the months before the invasion in March 2003."

Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "The visit came amid troubling signals about the morale of American forces, with the holiday season approaching and families strained further with more troops slated to be sent to Iraq.

"Troops who originally were told they would serve 10-month deployments in Iraq have seen their tenures extended to a year or longer. On Monday, eight Army soldiers who have been forced to serve longer than their initial commitments sued the government over the so-called stop-loss policy, which allows the military to keep troops in the field if their units remain deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Though specialists in military law say that suit is unlikely to succeed, it highlights a troubling issue that Bush may have to confront throughout his second term. With the military spread thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with Bush committed to an all-volunteer army, the administration must be careful to maintain the morale of the troops."

James Sterngold writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Bush, who frequently has spoken in the past tense of victories achieved, talked of 'eventually' stabilizing Iraq and commented almost wistfully about defeating the enemy in the future. He also said returning troops need more help than they are getting, a particularly poignant theme at this sprawling base, which has been hit harder than most -- 269 Marines killed in action in Iraq and thousands more wounded."

Helen Kennedy writes in the New York Daily News: "Standing before a sea of camouflage-clad troops at Camp Pendleton, he urged people visit a new Pentagon Web site (americasupportsyou.mil). The site has links to groups that send care packages and letters to troops, provide grief counseling and build special houses for soldiers whose legs were blown off in the war.

"It was the first time Bush has asked American civilians to contribute at all to the war effort."

What's With the Jacket?

Bush wore a specially embroidered sand-colored military-style jacket yesterday, raising many eyebrows.

The jacket, complete with epaulets, appears to be a Marine tanker jacket, an all-purpose, all-weather uniform regulation jacket.

Bush's was specially stitched with the inscription: "George W. Bush, Commander in Chief." Here's a picture. It is also embroidered with the presidential seal and the American flag.

Intel Watch

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post on the House's approval of landmark legislation to restructure the nation's intelligence community.

"The House vote and today's expected Senate action will save Bush from the political embarrassment of a Republican-controlled Congress rejecting a major bill he supports. Throughout the fall, lawmakers complained that the White House was sending mixed signals, allowing top Pentagon officials to criticize the legislation publicly and privately even as Bush said he backed it. . . .

"The bill would create a director of national intelligence, who would replace the director of central intelligence as the president's senior intelligence adviser."

So Who's Gonna Be the NID?

Babington writes: "The White House has not signaled yet whether CIA Director Porter J. Goss, the former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, would become the director or whether he would remain at the agency.

"The new national director would be subject to Senate confirmation. If Bush nominated Goss, confirmation hearings could focus on his decision this summer to bring four GOP committee aides to the CIA and their roles in the unexpected retirements of senior officers in the clandestine service."

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "Lawmakers have informally circulated the names of several potential candidates, including a pair of retired members of the Senate with extensive involvement in intelligence and national security issues: Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Warren B. Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee and was a member of White House Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board after leaving Congress.

"At least three members of the Sept. 11 commission are also often cited on Capitol Hill as possible candidates: Mr. Kean, who recently announced that he was stepping down as president of Drew University in New Jersey and has not disclosed plans; Mr. Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and now director of the Wilson Center in Washington; and John F. Lehman, Navy secretary in the Reagan administration.

"Another possibility is the elevation of the current director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, to the job of national intelligence director, although Mr. Goss could expect a bruising confirmation fight given the reports of turmoil at the agency since his arrival there this year, with the departure of several senior career intelligence officers. At least one influential Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, the principal Republican architect of the intelligence bill, has said that she would not support Mr. Goss for the new job."

How Much Authority Will the NID Get?

Dana Priest and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post that "the new chief would not be directly in charge of any operations. . . .

"The new director would have competition for the president's ear. The director of a new national counterterrorism center would be a presidential appointee who would report directly to the president on counterterrorist operations."

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times that "the ultimate success of the spy chief will depend in large part on bureaucratic skill and the level of support provided by President Bush.

" 'Unless the president really gets behind the new director and, in effect, tells the [agency heads] they've got to cede authority' to whoever gets the job, the intelligence chief is likely to struggle, said retired Navy Adm. Stansfield Turner, who served as CIA director under President Carter."

Stephen J. Hedges writes in the Chicago Tribune: "The skill that person exerts in wresting control of the 15 government intelligence agencies, some of which have grown accustomed to operational autonomy, will go a long way toward determining whether the reforms will work or just become just another layer of bureaucracy."

David S. Cloud writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The national intelligence director's clout could depend to a large extent on whom President Bush appoints and whether his choice has stature within the administration. Among those said to be under consideration are Porter Goss, the current CIA director, and White House homeland-security adviser Fran Townsend. Some of the bill's supporters worry that while President Bush has endorsed the measure, his administration often has seemed lukewarm to many of the changes."

Eye on Iran

Warren P. Strobel writes for Knight Ridder newspapers: "As 150,000 U.S. soldiers battle to stabilize Iraq, some officials in the Bush administration are already planning to turn up the heat on another member of the president's axis of evil.

"Officials in the White House and the Defense Department are developing plans to increase public criticism of Iran's human rights record, offer stronger backing to exiles and other opponents of Tehran's theocratic government and collect better intelligence on Iran, according to U.S. officials, congressional aides and others."

Cheney in Afghanistan

John Lancaster writes in The Washington Post from Hamid Karzai's inauguration in Afghanistan.

"In Tuesday's hour-long ceremony, Karzai and the Bush administration appeared eager to showcase the country's democratic rebirth three years after the fall of the Taliban.

" 'We gather to mark a historic moment in the life of the nation and in the history of human freedom,' Cheney said at a news conference with Karzai beforehand on the grounds of the presidential palace, a turreted stone structure set against distant, snow-dusted mountains. 'Now the tyranny is gone, the terrorist enemy is scattered and the people of Afghanistan are free.' "

At the Bagram air base, Cheney told soldiers: "Freedom still has enemies here in Afghanistan, and you are here to make those enemies miserable."

David Gregory of NBC News had an interview with Cheney at Bagram.

Civil Rights Commission Watch

Randal C. Archibold writes in the New York Times: "Ending speculation that she would put up one last fight with a president, Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the United States Civil Rights Commission, resigned yesterday, a day after President Bush appointed a new head of the advisory agency."

Matt Stearns writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "A Kansas City lawyer long at odds with the civil rights establishment is President Bush's choice to chair the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

"Gerald Reynolds, a black conservative who was assistant secretary of civil rights at the Department of Education early in the Bush administration but never won Senate confirmation to that post, replaces Mary Frances Berry as head of the bipartisan commission. The panel historically highlights the need for civil rights enforcement but has no enforcement powers itself. Its members are not subject to Senate confirmation."

Cabinet Watch

John Mintz and Lucy Shackelford write in The Washington Post that Bernard B. Kerik, President Bush's nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, is facing allegations about his conduct 20 years ago, when he was third in command of the security staff at a hospital complex in Saudi Arabia.

Mintz and Shackelford write that "nine former employees of the hospital have said that Kerik and his colleagues were carrying out the private agenda of the hospital's administrator, Nizar Feteih, and that the surveillance was intended to control people's private affairs. . . .

"The former employees said their allegations shed light on the extent of Kerik's loyalty to his superiors. . . .

"If confirmed, Kerik would run a Cabinet department with investigative units, including the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

Gambling Man

Gerald F. Seib writes in his Capital Journal column in the Wall Street Journal that Bush is a high-stakes gambler, and "the next four years won't be for the faint of heart. . . .

"In practical terms, Mr. Bush has sketched out three giant projects for his second term: begin to privatize the Social Security system, overhaul the tax code to make it simpler and more efficient, and change the Middle East by forcing democracy into the heart of the region. Oh, and he'd like to put legal limits on lawsuits along the way. All this, of course, while taming a raging insurgency and holding an election in Iraq.

"The betting already has begun on where Mr. Bush will have to cut back his ambitions, and how fast he'll be forced to do so. Don't count on it. Mr. Bush may fail, but failure is more likely than retreat."


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