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The Analogy Quagmire
Bush spoke extensively of the ideological struggle against al-Qaeda, comparing it to the enemies that this country has faced down in the past. From a White House " Fact Sheet" released this morning: "Today, The Violent Islamic Extremists Who Fight Us In Iraq Are As Certain Of Their Cause As The Nazis, Imperial Japanese, And Soviet Communists Were Of Theirs -- And They Are Destined For The Same Fate."
But ideally the media coverage of the speech will remind the public that the group called Al Qaeda in Iraq is only one of large number of players on the Iraqi battlefield, that its affinity with its namesake organization does not appear to extend much beyond a desire to end the U.S. occupation -- and that it wouldn't even exist had Bush not invaded in the first place.
As seven soldiers wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday: "What soldiers call the 'battle space' remains the same . . . It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers' expense."
Bush also ratcheted up his rhetorical attack on the critics of the war, going so far as to speak on behalf of the American troops in Iraq: "They have a question: Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?" he asked.
Is Bush right? Do the grunts see withdrawal as pulling the rug out from under them -- or as giving them a ride home?
It can be hard to keep up with this White House. Just as I was filing yesterday's column about the White House's desperate efforts to prop up Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (despite the growing realization that his government is a failure), Bush was backpedaling on Maliki. Sort of. And then in today's speech, he was front-pedaling again.
Bush's remarks to reporters in Canada yesterday were widely interpreted as a backing away from Maliki.
Michael A. Fletcher and Megan Greenwell writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush pointedly declined Tuesday to offer a public endorsement of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, expressing his disappointment at the lack of political progress in Iraq and saying that widespread popular frustration could lead Iraqis to replace their government."
Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times that "it was a striking attempt by the White House to distance itself from the Maliki government before September, when the president's troop buildup faces an intense review on Capitol Hill. . . .
"Mr. Bush is already facing skepticism within his own party over the troop buildup, and will almost certainly confront repeated attempts by Democrats to force an end to the war. So he seems to be laying the groundwork for a new message, one that says, 'We're doing our job in Iraq; don't blame us if the Iraqis aren't doing theirs.' . . .
"Experts say Mr. Bush does not appear to be trying to force Mr. Maliki out, if only because there is no obvious alternative. Rather, they say, the president's remarks are aimed at a domestic audience. Back in January, Mr. Bush sold the troop buildup to the country as a plan that would tamp down violence and create 'political breathing space' to allow the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to create a unity government.
"Now Mr. Bush is admitting publicly what anyone who follows events in Iraq can plainly see: that plan is not altogether working."