Wednesday, October 29, 2003

In Black and White: One of things Bush is often criticized for, and fairly, is his unwillingness to see things in shades of grey (e.g., with us/against us, good/evil). Oddly, though, when Bush acknowledges ambiguity, the left doesn't seem to notice. The most obvious case of late is the "mission accomplished" flap; liberal pundits are making great hay out of the idea that Bush essentially declared victory on the USS Lincoln months ago, and that the administration was blindsided by the post-war struggles. Not the case, of course. Bush was quite clear in that speech that "We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."

Another idea that TNR floats today is that the administration sees the resistance in Iraq in the same black and white terms:

[I]mplicit (and occasionally explicit) in the comments of the president and other high-ranking administration officials is the idea that this resistance is all indigenous--i.e, deposed Saddam loyalists who can't stand the thought of Iraq becoming a liberal democracy. Would that it were. Unfortunately, if one thing's become obvious during the attacks of the last several weeks, it's that there's an increasingly foreign dimension to them. According today's press accounts, for example, at least one perpetrator of yesterday's attacks (and probably many more) was Syrian, not Iraqi.

Why would the administration be so intent on creating the false impression that the terrorist attacks were an exclusively indigenous affair?

Want the short answer? They're not creating that false impression. The administration's position is much more nuanced, but certainly not unclear, and not creating a false impression of a simple, post-Baathist resistance. From the President's speech last month:
Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime, who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows. Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations. We cannot be certain to what extent these groups work together. We do know they have a common goal -- reclaiming Iraq for tyranny.
From Scott McClellan's press briefing Monday, responding to the question of who is perpetrating the bombings in Iraq:
I think that our military leaders in the region in Iraq have been specific about saying that what we have are holdouts of the former regime who are in Iraq and foreign terrorists who have entered the country. We also have a number of criminals that were let loose when Saddam Hussein's regime was falling.
From the Reuters report on this week's attacks:
Bush has blamed "foreign terrorists" and forces loyal to Saddam for the unrelenting violence.
[Emphasis added above.] Enough? TNR goes on claim, after setting up the straw man, that the administration is "unwilling to concede" that the resistance goes beyond Baathist holdouts because such a concession would suggest
a) that a complete breakdown of planning prevented American forces from effectively sealing Iraq's borders shortly after our initial invasion; b) that a glaring lack of manpower is preventing American forces from sealing Iraq's borders even today; and c) the recent spate of attacks is attributable to a) and/or b).
Considering the administration does explicitly concede the point, what does that do to the argument that supposedly "follows" from that point? Look, I don't dispute the possibility that sealing the borders was (and remains) a problem. That in itself doesn't indicate a "complete breakdown of planning." (The museum looting indicated that, remember?) In addition, I concede the lack of manpower in Iraq, but the needed manpower is decidedly not military; the reinforcements should be explicitly civil in nature, mainly to take a burden off soldiers who are doing civil/community infrastructure projects. But TNR should at least display the intellectual honesty to make their case on these points, instead of resorting to a false proposition that, at rock bottom, amounts to "Bush won't admit it so it must be the case."

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