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The Ugly Truth

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 20, 2006; 1:46 PM

It's often said that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

But there may be nothing that goes against President Bush's nature more than doing just that.

When it comes to Iraq, Bush's political strategy in the run-up to the mid-term elections has been to stress the possible downsides of the "cut and run" approach -- civil war, increased carnage, instability at the heart of the Middle East, Iraq as a base for terror -- while refusing to acknowledge that his "stay the course" approach, ironically, appears to be delivering all those things and more.

Now, a presidency that has been all about aggression risks a major public rebuff as a sizeable majority of the Americans appears to have accepted what Bush can't: That his brassy approach has backfired -- and that it's we who are getting beaten up.

Evidently, something needs to change. But what?

The Bush White House (and its press corps) often confuse tactics, strategy and goals. Tactics are what you use in the service of the strategy you choose to achieve your goal. Even the best tactics, in pursuit of an ill-chosen strategy, will not achieve the desired goal.

Bush's goal is a stable, secure, democratic Iraq. His strategy is for American troops to stay there until that happens. The tactics are getting those troops killed.

And while the president has been talking about adjusting tactics lately, he can't accept that his strategy may need changing -- or even his goal. At least not yet.

Growing Doubts

Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post: "The growing doubts among GOP lawmakers about the administration's Iraq strategy, coupled with the prospect of Democratic wins in next month's midterm elections, will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war, according to lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and others involved in policymaking.

"Senior figures in both parties are coming to the conclusion that the Bush administration will be unable to achieve its goal of a stable, democratic Iraq within a politically feasible time frame. Agitation is growing in Congress for alternatives to the administration's strategy of keeping Iraq in one piece and getting its security forces up and running while 140,000 U.S. troops try to keep a lid on rapidly spreading sectarian violence."

Abramowitz and Ricks write that "In recent remarks about Iraq, Bush has sounded a more flexible tone, saying he is open to suggestions for changes and emphasizing that his commanders adjust tactics constantly."

But that flexibility only extends to tactics, not strategy.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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