George Bush came out swinging yesterday against the politicians who have made "false charges" and "baseless attacks" about the use of pre-war intelligence.
Harry Reid, politician and ironist, responded:
"Attacking those patriotic Americans who have raised serious questions about the case the Bush administration made to take our country to war does not provide us a plan for success that will bring our troops home..."
Left unexplained - how the Democrats unrelenting focus on the use of pre-war intelligence is going to substitute for a plan to resolve the situation in Iraq. Was it really only two weeks ago that Harry Reid forced the Senate into a closed session to discuss that?
Perhaps Sen. Reid was simply intending to commemorate the second anniversary of the leak of the strategy memo explaining how the Democrats could politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings for maximum benefit.
This political posturing by the Dems is understandable - their party is pretty well united around the desire to have a mulligan on the decision to go to war against Iraq.
However, on the slightly more topical question of where we go from here, the problem that crippled John Kerry continues to vex the Democrats - their anti-war base wants to declare Bush beaten and leave Iraq, while many of their leaders continue to argue that defeat is not an option. This conflict leads to such spectacles as the Sheehan v. Clinton showdown:
Unless the senator pushes for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, Sheehan wrote, "I will resist [her presidential] candidacy with every bit of my power and strength."
On the other side of the aisle, as Commander in Chief and Communicator in Chief Bush had two key tasks with respect to the war in Iraq: manage public expectations and deliver results.
As to public expectations, I am sure we can find a few quotes from him suggesting that the road ahead would be difficult. However, did Bush present something like a five year plan for Iraq with best case, worst case, and best guess estimates for the budget impact, level of troop deployment, and level of casualties? Maybe I missed it, or maybe it was under-emphasized.
Or more likely, Bush and his team believed, back in early 2003, that the results in Iraq would be quick enough and good enough that the absence of projections, timetables, and budgets would be overlooked. That gamble certainly paid off in the (relatively) conventional war against Saddam's army, where we had Mission Accomplished and the end of major combat operations by May 1, 2003. [My point is that the absence of planning and poor expectations management can can be trumped by great results. But if the great results don't follow, you have little by way of a safety net, which is Bush's current position circa late 2005. If the public developed unrealistic expectations and feel disapointed, they will blame their leaders. And of course media bias plays a role, but Bush needed to plan for that as well.]
And in a bout of pure speculation, I will add that many Dems undertook a similar gamble about a quick victory when they backed the war resolution in October 2002. Folks who sincerely believe that John Kerry had confidence in Bush's diplomatic skills and martial judgment, put your hands up. I don't see many hands!
Now, hands in the air if you think that John Kerry voted for the war to preserve the viability of his Presidential candidacy for 2004, when our adventure in Iraq would be a distant, pleasant memory and he could focus on health care and the economy. Oh, it's a forest of fingers! (And are some of those solitary fingers suggesting that Kerry is number one? Or am I number one? Where are my glasses?)
To stroll down memory lane and recapture the mood on October 11, 2002, let's reflect on this excerpt from the ABC Note, as they comment on the passage of the war resolution:
None of the Democrats likely to run for president in 2004 voted against the resolution, and only one Senate Democrat locked in a tough race this fall, Paul Wellstone, voted no. Meaning that last night's vote isn't likely to endure as a political issue anywhere outside of Minnesota — where we're not sure Wellstone's "no" vote is going to make him any more vulnerable than he already was.
Uncanny in their insight.
And my point is what? Bush did what he believed in, Democrats chose to vote expediently rather than lead, and here we are. Three years later Bush is still doing what he believes in, and Democrats are still looking to evade the Iraq issue.
If I were going to engage in pointless recriminations, I would shift the focus from the non-existence of WMDs, and investigate the pre-war assessments of a post-war Iraq - was this sort of insurgency predicted and ignored, did our intelligence agencies miss this as well, or (say it with me, Dems) did Bush Lie?
Oddly, a year ago those questions were meant to be a key part of the Senate Phase Two investigation into pre-war intelligence, if I can believe USA Today:
Panel to probe CIA failure to predict extent of insurgencyBy John Diamond, USA TODAYWASHINGTON — As it prepares to release a report highly critical of the CIA for overestimating the prewar Iraq threat, the Senate Intelligence Committee is beginning a new probe, this time into why U.S. spy agencies failed to foresee the strength of the postwar insurgency there.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., called the new investigation "phase two" of the committee's probe of the U.S. intelligence community's performance. "We're going to look into the prewar intelligence on postwar Iraq," Roberts said in an interview. Recalling classified intelligence briefings CIA officials gave the committee before the Iraq war, Roberts said the resistance to the U.S.-led occupation "was underestimated as to the perseverance of foreign terrorist involvement, Iraqi Republican Guard and Baath Party elements and on down the list."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Intelligence Committee, said, "At the time of the invasion, we were given nothing but rosy scenarios" about the postwar period. The optimistic predictions came not only from invasion advocates within the administration such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, but also from career intelligence professionals who are expected to give unbiased assessments, regardless of the policy implications.
U.S. intelligence was alarmist about Iraq's weaponry before the war. One key prewar report even raised the possibility that U.S. territory might be threatened with attack. In contrast, intelligence agencies were optimistic about a peaceful postwar occupation. But the two intelligence assessments had one thing in common: They served to help the Bush administration make the case for war.
Durbin said CIA officials and their Pentagon counterparts predicted that Saddam's forces would defect en masse as U.S.-led forces approached Baghdad and that the populace would greet the coalition forces as liberators.
"They were just wrong," Durbin said. "I came walking out of some of those meetings shaking my head and thinking, How can it be this easy?"
"Sen. Roberts' spokeswoman, Sarah Little, said the second phase of the committee's investigation would also examine how pre-war intelligence focused on the fact that intelligence analysts -- while sounding alarms that a humanitarian crisis that might follow the war - failed to predict the insurgency that would arise after the war."
It may be harder for Dems to unite around the notion that the CIA and Defense Dept. misunderestimated the insurgency. But I'd like to find out.