A Change in Tactics, Not Strategy
Wednesday, January 10, 2007; 1:14 PM
As Washington journalists debate whether to call President Bush's plan to send 20,000 more American troops into Iraq a "surge" or an "escalation," they are letting the White House get away with a much more momentous semantic scam.
The White House would have you believe that Bush tonight will be announcing a new strategy. But from all indications, all Bush will be talking about -- yet again -- is changing tactics.
A relatively minor increase in troops, a promise of greater cooperation from the Iraqi prime minister, a small infusion of reconstruction money -- not only have we heard all this before, but it doesn't amount to much.
Bush's overall strategy seems likely to remain wholly unchanged: To keep U.S. troops in Iraq as long as it takes for the Iraqi government to start functioning effectively. That means using American bodies and firepower, pretty much indefinitely, to prop up a country racked by civil war and chafing under occupation. That means the American death count ticks on, with no end in sight.
Bush is not wavering on that fundamental strategy, despite all the indications that it's not working and despite the dramatic loss of public support.
What the public, the Democrats running Congress, some Republicans and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have been calling for is an actual change in strategy.
They don't want American soldiers held hostage to sectarian violence and the Iraqis' inability to form themselves into a peaceful, Western-style democracy. They want the troops to start coming home. Their preferred strategy is to make it clear to the Iraqis that they'll soon be on their own -- and that they have to solve their problems themselves.
For the White House to call Bush's speech tonight a change in strategy is understandable spin. For journalists, however, there's no excuse.
Two other quick observations before I dive into the coverage:
1) It's not just, as The Washington Post points out today, that Bush is breaking with his generals; it's that he seems to me to be channeling Vice President Cheney. Unwilling to change course, Bush has apparently adopted Cheney's overheated arguments that failure would set off a domino effect of geo-political disasters.
2) The White House simply cannot answer the seminal question: Why should we think things will be different this time?
Breaking With the Generals
Why has Bush abandoned his rhetoric about listening to the generals? Mostly to make a dramatic move -- and to flout the Iraq Study Group.