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War Is Peace

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 20, 2006 1:21 PM

Yesterday marked three years of war in Iraq -- but not to President Bush. To Bush, it was "the third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq."

In fact, as Nedra Pickler noted for the Associated Press, Bush didn't use the word "war" at all in his brief remarks .

To hear Bush tell it, what's going on in Iraq -- whatever it is -- is fundamentally about progress, victory and peace. "We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq," he said. "And a victory in Iraq will make this country more secure, and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come."

Bush's avoidance of the word "war" in the context of Iraq is the rule, not the exception. In the carefully chosen lexicon of White House speeches, that particular word is almost exclusively reserved for the "global war on terror."

So there is no war, except for the war that never ends, and we're winning.

It's a little reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, where the three slogans of the ruling party were "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength."

Since the disclosures about Bush's warrantless domestic surveillance program, Bush critics have been citing that other dominant slogan from Orwell's book: "Big Brother is Watching You."

But there are plenty of potential Orwell analogies in Bush's use of language, and his historical revisionism, as well.

Of Straw Men

Another aspect of 1984: the daily "Two Minutes Hate" aimed at Emmanuel Goldstein, the enemy of the people. Unlike the obvious contemporaneous analogue, Osama bin Laden, the Goldstein character was actually a straw man -- a made-up figure created by Big Brother just to be knocked down.

Jennifer Loven , in a bold departure for the Associated Press, wrote a whole story on Saturday about Bush's extensive and generally unchallenged use of straw-man arguments.

"When the president starts a sentence with 'some say' or offers up what 'some in Washington' believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

"The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

"He typically then says he 'strongly disagrees' -- conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

"Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed 'critics,' is just as problematic."

Just search the White House Web site for those phrases, and you'll find wonderful examples of Bush's straw-man use of " some people say ," " some say " and " some people in Washington ."

The Daily Buzz Word

As for today, Nedra Pickler writes for the Associated Press: "Progress is the buzzword at the White House as Bush headlines a campaign tied to the war's anniversary to buck up public support of the mission."

Yesterday's PR Blitz

David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker write in the New York Times: "Displaying a carefully calibrated mix of optimism about eventual victory and caution about how long American troops would be involved, the officials who marked the day -- including Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld -- sounded much as they had on the first anniversary of the invasion. At that time, the rebuilding effort had just begun, the insurgency was far less fierce, and the American occupation had suppressed, temporarily, the sectarian violence scarring Iraq today."

Cheney Live

Cheney held an unusual live interview yesterday morning with CBS News's Bob Schieffer. Here's the transcript .

Cheney said he intends to serve out the rest of his term and denied that any major White House staff shake-up was in the works.

Under repeated questioning from Schieffer, Cheney refused to disavow any of his now-discredited previous statements about the war.

Schieffer: "Mr. Vice President, all along the government has been very optimistic. You remain optimistic. But I remember when you were saying we'd be greeted as liberators. You played down the insurgency. Ten months ago, you said it was in its last throes. Do you believe that these optimistic statements may be one of the reasons that people seem to be more skeptical in this country about whether we ought to be in Iraq?"

Cheney: "No."

In fact, Cheney's optimism just continues. Apparently, now they're in their last throes for real: "Clearly, there is an attempt underway by the terrorists, by Zarqawi and others to foment civil war. That's been their strategy all along. But my view would be they've reached a stage of desperation from their standpoint."

Cheney asserted that no state of civil war exists in Iraq. But in Cheney's view, all the bad actors are terrorists. In fact, I'm not sure he's ever publicly acknowledged the increasingly sectarian nature of some, if not most, of the violence.

Cheney also quite astonishingly laughed off Schieffer's first question about his accidental shooting of a fellow hunter last month. "It's probably the first time the Secret Service have had to worry about a protectee shooting somebody else, instead of being shot at," he said.

Asked again about his controversial decision not to inform the public about the shooting until the next day, Cheney called it as "a tempest in a teapot."

For the record, Cheney's delayed reporting of the accident raised several questions that have yet to be answered, including: Did he have something to hide? Was he reckless?

Reality Check

Timothy M. Phelps writes for Newsday: "Three years ago today, President George W. Bush told the American people that the war with Iraq had begun, in order to 'disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.' . . .

"Today it is clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and independent investigators found that there was no credible evidence to support the allegation in other speeches that Saddam Hussein was plotting with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. Terrorism experts say that under the occupation Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists, and the results are beginning to show up in countries like Jordan and Afghanistan."

Aamer Madhani reports for the Chicago Tribune from Baghdad that the Bush administration's "rosy outlook belies the reality on the ground. The Iraqi armed forces remain dependent on the U.S. military, the Interior Ministry suffers from rampant corruption, the insurgency still plagues four provinces, and the Sunni minority feels marginalized. . . .

"Even Iraqis who considered themselves optimists about their country's future say they fear the deepening Shiite-Sunni strife will push the country into a dark abyss."

No Civil War?

The BBC reports: "Iraq is in the middle of civil war, the country's former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has told the BBC. . . .

" 'We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.' "

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The issue of whether Iraq's sectarian fighting constitutes a civil war has taken on political significance. Polls have shown American support for the Iraq war dropping since the bombing last month of a Shiite shrine in Samarra led to widespread communal violence. Strategists in both parties have said that Bush will have a more difficult time sustaining support for the U.S. military presence in Iraq if the public believes that troops are caught in the middle of a civil war. . . .

"As administration officials sought to rebut the idea of a civil war, lawmakers, also speaking on the Sunday interview programs, supported Allawi's conclusion.

" 'I think . . . the former prime minister is correct,' Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on 'This Week.'

" 'I think we have had a low-grade civil war going on in Iraq, certainly the last six months, maybe the last year. Our own generals have told me that privately.' "

Redefining Victory

Doyle McManus writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Three years ago, as they ordered more than 150,000 U.S. troops to race toward Baghdad, Bush administration officials confidently predicted that Iraq would quickly evolve into a prosperous, oil-fueled democracy. When those goals proved optimistic, they lowered their sights, focusing on a military campaign to defeat Sunni-led insurgents and elections to jump-start a new political order.

"As the conflict enters its fourth year today, the Bush administration faces a new challenge: the prospect of civil war. And, in response, officials again appear to be redefining success downward.

"If Iraq can avoid all-out civil war, they say, if Baghdad's new security forces can hold together, if Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds all participate in a new unity government, that may be enough progress to allow the administration to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in the country by the second half of this year."

Poll Watch: Special Censure Edition

Christopher Dickey writes in Newsweek about the first major poll about Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's proposal to censure Bush for his warrantless wiretapping program.

"Four in 10 (42 percent) of the adults in the general public say they would support Congressional censure of the president, while half (50 percent) say they would not. Censure wins majority support from Democrats (60 percent) and one in five Republicans (20 percent) say they'd support it."

Newsweek also asked about impeachment: "In today's strongly polarized political climate, roughly one in four American adults (26 percent) say they think Congress should actually impeach President Bush and consider removing him from office. There is in fact no effort to do this on the Hill, and the public mood appears to be more a reflection of the passionate sentiment against Bush in some quarters rather than considered support for actual legislative action."

The Newsweek poll found Bush's overall job-approval rating at 36 percent, matching his all-time low in that poll. "[O]nly 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove."

White House Impersonators

Lies within lies?

The White House this weekend confirmed that two employees impersonated journalists with Fox News while scouting for locations for a presidential photo-op in Mississippi.

Spokesman Ken Lisaius told Christopher Lee of The Washington Post that the two will be verbally reprimanded for doing so.

But it appears the two may have pretended to be Secret Service agents, as well -- which would be illegal. Will they face any discipline for that?

Lee writes that the two men initially told Jerry and Elaine Akins that they were with Fox News. After the photo-op, they told the Akinses: "You know, we really weren't with Fox. We're government, Secret Service men."

Lee writes: "Tom Mazur, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said he did not know who the men were but they were not Secret Service officials."

It sounds to me like the two men were part of the White House advance team scouting for telegenic locations, rather than doing any kind of security sweep.

Karen Nelson broke the story in the Biloxi Sun-Herald on Friday.

Denver Three Watch

Speaking of people impersonating Secret Service agents: Remember the Denver Three? They were rousted from a Bush town-hall event last year after someone spotted an anti-war bumper sticker on their car. The man who ejected them threatened to arrest them if they did not obey his orders, and dressed like a Secret Service agent.

Press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly identified the person as a White House volunteer.

But Howard Pankratz writes in today's Denver Post: "A White House staff member was responsible for asking three people to leave President Bush's town-hall meeting in Denver a year ago, a U.S. Secret Service agent said during an internal investigation of the event."

Staff Shakeup Watch

Kenneth T. Walsh writes in U.S. News: "President Bush is digging in his heels about making big staff changes at the White House, even as Republican strategists fret that he doesn't realize the depth of his problems on Capitol Hill.

"Advisers say that the more the media speculate on the need for a reshuffling and the more GOP 'friends' make the case for new blood, the less likely change will be. Bush is very loyal to his inner circle and doesn't want any of his senior aides to be embarrassed by appearing to be fired or demoted. He also doesn't want to be pressured into anything."

John Dickerson writes in Slate: "White House churn is not the problem. There has been plenty of fresh blood. Realistically, a shake-up only means one person: Karl Rove. Andy Card may need to go, but he's not the power in the White House and Bush orbit that Rove is. Rove is the chief political tactician, enforcer, and policy guru. If he doesn't go, nothing has been shaken up. If he does go, anyone replacing him would have a hard time filling his shoes, especially so fast. Also, to be effective, Rove's successor is going to need a very strong personality to tell the president and Cheney when they're wrong and have it stick. (A staffer brought in to tell them when they're right isn't needed; there are enough of those.) George Bush likes routine, and it seems impossible that he'd be able to trust this new super-player enough to get anything done in the small amount of time he has left to accomplish anything."

Fred Barnes writes a Wall Street Journal column urging Bush to rejuvenate his presidency "by shocking the media and political community with a sweeping overhaul of his administration. The impact would be enormous because it's exactly what his foes have been demanding and exactly what he is not expected to do. And it would give him a chance to escape the political doldrums that may otherwise doom his presidency through its final 34 months."

Barnes recommends that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice replace Cheney; that Cheney replace Rumsfeld; that Sen. Joe Lieberman replace Rice; and that Rove and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman switch jobs.

No Agenda Watch

Dan Balz and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post that the governing party has no national platform around which lawmakers are prepared to rally.

"In January, Bush laid out a modest menu of ideas on health care and energy independence, but Congress has made little movement on them. Senior White House officials consulted with lawmakers earlier this year about jointly crafting an agenda that would allow Bush and Republicans in Congress -- both suffering from depressed public approval ratings -- to get off the defensive. A Republican familiar with the process said these discussions did not result in a consensus."

Peter Wallsten and James Gerstenzang write in the Los Angeles Times: "A growing Republican chorus is calling for a staff overhaul inside President Bush's beleaguered White House, but some conservatives say such a change would stop far short of fixing what they view as a serious flaw: an unfocused domestic agenda.

" 'You mean they have a domestic policy?' quipped Michael Tanner, director of health and welfare studies at the libertarian Cato Institute."

Scooter Libby Watch: Could Get Ugly

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "Lawyers for Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide are signaling they may delve deeply at his criminal trial into infighting among the White House, the CIA and the State Department over pre-Iraq war intelligence failures. . . .

"Court papers filed late Friday raise the possibility a trial could become politically embarrassing for the Bush administration by focusing on the debate about whether the White House manipulated intelligence to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. . . .

" 'The media conflagration ignited by the failure to find WMD in Iraq and in part by Mr. Wilson's criticism of the administration, led officials within the White House, the State Department and the CIA to blame each other, publicly and in private, for faulty prewar intelligence about Iraq's WMD capabilities,' the court papers state."

Blogger Jeralyn Merritt has the document.

Today's Speech

In his Saturday radio address , Bush previewed today's speech: "On Monday, I will give a speech discussing how we are working with all elements of Iraqi society to remove the terrorists and restore order in Iraqi cities, to rebuild homes and communities, and to achieve the stability that can come only from freedom. I will also share some concrete examples of how this approach is succeeding -- evidence of real progress that is too often lost amid the more dramatic reports of violence."

Sabrina Eaton writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "When a president's popularity plummets as Bush's has, other politicians often avoid public appearances with them. Prominent Ohio Republicans including Sen. Mike DeWine, Sen. George Voinovich and Rep. Steve LaTourette say they're skipping Bush's speech because of prior commitments."

Bubble Watch

The White House has released word that Bush will actually take questions, presumably unscreened, from the nonpartisan audience at the City Club of Cleveland.

Janet H. Cho wrote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last year about the City Club's august history. "From presidents to sultans, politicians to celebrities, activists to business leaders, the nonpartisan club has welcomed the world."

And apparently there's some deja vu all over again with Bush's visit.

Sanjiv Kapur, president of the club, told Cho: "President Reagan initially did not want to appear at the City Club because questions were not prescreened." But Reagan's aides eventually booked him into the City Club precisely "to rebut any impressions that the press was then conveying that he was not able to handle appearances where the message was not pre-controlled," Kapur said.

In the New York Times this morning, Elisabeth Bumiller tries to make the argument that Bush's willingness to take occasional questions from audiences not stacked with supporters is a "big change." And indeed, it is a change.

But today would make only the fourth time in four months that Bush has done so. Most but not all of the questions still turned out to be softballs. And Bumiller neglects to mention that the vast majority of Bush's appearances are still carefully controlled. For instance, all of Bush's talk-show style "panel discussions" still exclusively feature people who agree with him.

Bush's last press conference was almost two months ago.

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