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Tilting at Windmills

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June 29, 2007

THE WRONG 'MAIN ENEMY'....Oddly enough, the president used to be fairly responsible when describing al Qaeda's role in Iraqi violence. Not too terribly long ago, Bush described "the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda" -- not even the network itself -- as the "smallest" component of violence in Iraq.

And then, as the political winds shifted, so too did the president's rhetoric. In May, Bush declared that al Qaeda is "public enemy No. 1 in Iraq." Yesterday, he reiterated the point at the Naval War College, describing al Qaeda as "the main enemy" in Iraq.

The point, obviously, is to shift the political debate. If we're fighting those who were responsible for 9/11 in Iraq, the argument goes, then we can't withdraw. As such, al Qaeda is suddenly transformed from minor player in Iraq to the sole purpose for our ongoing presence, reality notwithstanding.

Glenn Greenwald recently had an excellent item explaining that several major media outlets are buying into war supporters' rhetorical shift. Thankfully, McClatchy demonstrated today that some journalists are still willing to fact-check the president.

Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Retired Major Gen. John Batiste, a former division commander in Iraq turned critic of the war, recently warned everyone about conflating al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents: "[W]e cannot attribute all the violence in Iraq to al-Qaeda. There's a tendency now to lump it all together, and call it al-Qaeda. We have to be very careful with that."

Unfortunately, the president disagrees, and hopes Americans won't know the difference. Kudos to McClatchy's piece for calling him on it.

Steve Benen 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Nobody listens to the little feller anymore anyway. "Chimperor" becomes a more apt moniker everyday.

Posted by: Baldrick on June 29, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Impeachment: When You Care to Give the Very Best

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on June 29, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Heh heh. I MEANT to take out the catcher with my swing instead of hitting a winning home run. And the surge was always about killing more of those al Qaeda rascals. In January when I said "sectarian violence," that meant "al Qaeda." Now I'm just deciding to use the words "al Qaeda." Means the same thing.

Look! Over in London a car almost exploded!

Posted by: cowalker on June 29, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

As such, al Qaeda is suddenly transformed from minor player in Iraq to the sole purpose for our ongoing presence, reality notwithstanding.

Since Al Qaeda IS a major player in Iraq, why shouldn't Bush say so? Even Reuters agrees Al Qaeda is a major player.


"Al Qaeda has a strong foothold in Iraq and is accused by the United States of trying to tip the country into full-scale civil war between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs."
"U.S. military officials say foreign militants, mainly from Arab countries, are the brains behind al Qaeda in Iraq."

Posted by: Al on June 29, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I believe Bush, he does listen very carefully to what his military advisers tell him, and makes any necessary adjustments. In fact documentation of this attention to detail predates the war. General Shinseki said we'd need "several hundred thousand soldiers" for post-war Iraq. Bush listened, understood, and made an adjustment. Somewhat later he heard the advice he was listening for from his new Army Chief of Staff.

Posted by: charlie on June 29, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Just a note here to remind people that the current political tack in Iraq is to try to split groups that have publicly identified themselves with al Qaeda from Iraqi-nationalist insurgent organizations and groups of former Baathists like the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

The reasoning is that the al Qaeda types have made themselves unpopular with other insurgent groups by assassinating some of their followers and pushing some of the more extreme elements on Islamist fundamentalism on them. The most spectacular mass killings of Shiites are also thought to have been most often produced by organizations pledging fealty of some kind to bin Laden.

The strategy may not work. And President Bush has such a long record of trying to link everything in Iraq to 9/11 that there is no reason to assume that isn't part of what he was doing at the Naval War College. What he said there, though, was at least not inconsistent with what the military in Iraq is actually trying to do.

Posted by: Zathras on June 29, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

".... hopes Americans won't know the difference"

Bush has made a good bet.

I'm afraid in regards to having any real knowledge about the 'rest of the world' most americans can't find their ass with both hands, let alone find Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan on a map.

Posted by: Buford on June 29, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Jeez, doesn't anyone read primary sources anymore?


Let's see about McClatchy's Landay's alleged debunking:

(1) Landay starts with the al Qaeda quote: "Al Qaida [sic] is the main enemy for Shia, Sunni and Kurds alike. Al Qaida's responsible for the most sensational killings in Iraq. They're responsible for the sensational killings on U.S. soil."

Landay "debunks" this saying: "U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops." which shockingly has nothing to do with what Bush said. Strike One for Landay.

(2) Landay write "The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues."

Oooh it SEEMED to do this, way to make a case pal. Of course Bush cited evidence in his speech that the "surge" had reduced violence and the Iraqi government has acted. In other words, there is evidence, Landay simply chose to ignore it. Strike Two for Landay.

(3) Landay also claims "The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times ... In his speech, Bush referred only fleetingly to the sectarian violence."

Well Bush used "sectarian," "militia," "extremists," or "insurgency" about the same number of times as he used al Qaeda. The speech is actually very clear about both sectarian violence and al Qaeda and the connection between the two. Strike 3 for Landay.

(4) Landay digs deeper: "[Bush] claimed that U.S. troops were fighting "block by block" in Baqouba, a city northeast of Baghdad, as part of an offensive to clear out al Qaida fighters. But Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. ground commander in Iraq, said earlier this month that 80 percent of the insurgents American troops expected to encounter in Baqouba had fled before the operation began, including much of the insurgent leadership."

Of course this doesn't mean troops were not fighting "block by block" in Baqouba to clear out al Qaida fighters. Strike 4 for Landay.

(5) Landay ends with a critic: "Critics of the war are questioning the administration's increasing references to al Qaida.'"We cannot attribute all the violence in Iraq to al Qaida.'"

But of course Bush didn't do that. Strike 5.

Posted by: Hacksaw on June 29, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Can we have the cat blog now? The trolls are starting to come out. We need Inkblot to defend us against them.

Inkblot! Inkblot! Inkblot!

Posted by: optical weenie on June 29, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

The Administration has been attempting to do this from the very start of the war - eliding the difference between al Qaeda and the "resistance" in Iraq. With unsupportable lies about "foreign fighters" streaming into Iraq, etc. The resistence is Sunni dead-enders, who don't want to accept the new order.

Since the start, al Qaeda or foreign fighters have made up 1-3% of the resistence in Iraq.

The website "al Qaeda in Iraq" which takes credit for bombings, etc. is not what you think it is, as the Washington Post exposed long ago.

This doesn't stop the media from playing along with the lies about al Qaeda in Iraq. "Liberals" do it just as much, either to appear "serious-minded" or just because the conversation has been dragged that far from the truth now, that to still sound mainstream you must accept the lies as starting points.

A few years from now, the media will all be saying, again, "well, EVERYBODY thought al Qaeda was fighting us in Iraq"... and it won't be true, but they'll say it.

Posted by: luci on June 29, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Silly optical weenie. Don't you know that you have to wait until Caturday to post cats?

Oh....fine. In the spirit of Catblogging...

An early Caturday for all (even the trolls)

Posted by: Kryptik on June 29, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

you non-26-percenters don't get it. haven't you ever heard of "unite and conquer"?

Posted by: w on June 29, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Since the start, al Qaeda or foreign fighters have made up 1-3% of the resistence in Iraq.

it's closer to 10%.

Posted by: DJ Jazzy Jazeera on June 29, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

If I found some 2 year old leftovers in the back of my fridge, I'd throw it out.

What I would not do is warm it up and serve it. That's just rude.

Posted by: DJ Jazzy Jazeera on June 29, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

If I found some 2 year old leftovers in the back of my fridge, I'd throw it out.

What I would not do is warm it up and serve it. That's just rude.

Posted by: DJ Jazzy Jazeera on June 29, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

The Frontline documentary ‘The Persuaders’ profiles, among others, Republican pollster Frank Luntz and his focus group methodology. If I remember correctly he is trying to gauge public response to the War in Iraq. He noticed that when the war is conflated with the fight against al Qaeda the focus group participants are more likely to back Republicans. This was some time ago, but it is still probably their best tactic.

Posted by: bellumregio on June 29, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Yesterday, he reiterated the point at the Naval War College, describing al Qaeda as "the main enemy" in Iraq. The point, obviously, is to shift the political debate. blah blah blah"

Bullshit. Read the LA times article today, with some real reporting, rather than McClatchey "fact checking" (where were the facts in the blurb cited?). Petraeus is refocusing on AQI, and away from JAM and other shiite militias, as part of a strategy to prepare for US withdrawal. The changing rhetoric matches a shift in the strategy.

Karl Rove doesn't control everything and everyone in the world...

Posted by: pnut on June 29, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

What Bush seems to be implying is that, by recklessly invading Iraq, he has managed managed to make increasing numbers of Iraqis identifying themselves as al Qaeda. Or maybe not, since most of the violence seems to be directed at each other. That's makin' progress.

Posted by: Qwerty on June 29, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

"The Press" should change it's motto from "We report" to "We parrot."

Thank Gawd for McClatchy, but unfortunately, since they don't publish in the "major media markets" of LA and NY nor in Washington, their most excellent reporting from before Shock and Awe to now is not influential on either TV or Congress. Too bad. Wish they could buy the Washington Times from Moon.

Anybody know George Soros? If he really wants to influence national policy, he should finance a DC paper (the Washington Tribune maybe?) for McClatchy. The Moonie Times gets quoted more than McClatchy.

Posted by: Cal Gal on June 29, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

From the original source linked to by Hacksaw:
The sum total of political progress made by the Iraqi government since the surge began:

"Even in a long-established democracy, it's not easy to pass important pieces of legislation in a short period of time. We're asking the Iraqis to accomplish all these things at a time when their country is being attacked. I make no excuses, we will continue to keep the pressure up. We expect there to be reconciliation. We expect them to pass law."

In other words, NOTHING was accomplished.

"On the benchmarks not related to legislation, they're doing better. Prime Minister Maliki promised to provide three brigades to support the operations in Baghdad -- and he did. Iraqi leaders promised to give military commanders the authority they need to carry out our plans, and for the most part, they have. In addition, Iraqis have helped reduce sectarian violence and established joint security stations. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense is working hard to improve its logistical capabilities. It's going to spend nearly $2 billion of its own funds this year to equip and modernize its forces. The Iraqi government appropriated $2 billion so their force can become more modern, so their force is more ready to take the fight to the enemy."

Three brigades were provided. For the most part Iraqi military commandeers now have the power to command their troops. That's setting the standards bar pretty low. "Helped reduce sectarian violence" is meaningless. Exactly what was done and what was the result? Are the "joint security stations" accomplishing anything? "Working hard" doesn't mean the same thing as "succeeding," or even "making progress." More Iraqi money is going to be spent. Maybe some of it will buy weapons that will be used by legitimate soldiers rather than being scarfed up by corrupt officials or sold/given to death squads.

"With the help of our troops, the Iraqi security forces are growing in number, they are becoming more capable, and coming closer to the day when they can assume responsibility for defending their own country. Not all this progress is even, and we're going to keep pressing the Iraqis to keep their commitments. Yet we must keep in mind that these benchmarks are aimed at improving life for the Iraqi people -- and that is the standard by which they should be judged."

We've heard all this unsupported verbiage about the readiness of the Iraqi army and police force for the last three years. Meaningless, and also meaningless to talk about pressure when there are no definite consequences for failure.

"To evaluate how life is improving for the Iraqis, we cannot look at the country only from the top down. We need to go beyond the Green Zone and look at Iraq from bottom up. This is where political reconciliation matters the most, because it is where ordinary Iraqis are deciding whether to support new Iraq or to sit on the fence, uncertain about the country's future. I'm encouraged, and more importantly, the people in Baghdad are encouraged by what we're seeing. Citizens are forming neighborhood watch groups. Young Sunnis are signing up for the army and police. Tribal sheiks are joining the fight against al Qaeda. Many Shia are rejecting the militias."

Numbers? Supporting evidence? The only assertion that I have heard supported by actual events is that the tribal sheiks are turning definitively against al Qaeda. So now al Qaeda is less of a threat than it was before. They have lost important Iraqi support. With incredibly high unemployment rates, what other work is there for young Iraqi men? But when they join, do they show up? Do they moonlight with death squads?

"Much of the progress we are seeing is the result of the work of our Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance. PRTs in Anbar are working with Iraqi judges to restore the rule of law with new trials for terrorist detainees. The PRT in Ramadi helped the provincial council pass a budget that appropriates more than $100 million for capital expenditures so people can begin rebuilding their province and people can begin work. PRT in Kirkuk is extending micro-loans to finance reconstruction and help stimulate job creation.

"And the PRT in Ninewah has created more than 1,000 jobs through infrastructure projects that range from renovating a hospital to paving roads to building a new soccer field. This bottom-up approach to reconciliation and reconstruction is not headline-grabbing. You don't read a lot about it. But it is making a difference in the lives of Iraqi citizens, it is ongoing, and we need to make sure it continues."

The first PRT in Iraq was started in November 2005.
Here's what was said at the time besides hopeful noises about the PRTs.
"The Corps of Engineers is the lead agency in the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, or IRMO, which has $18 billion in reconstruction projects throughout the country. A recent report issued by a government auditor found that, while significant progress is being made, contracting problems, mismanagement and insurgent attacks are hampering the effort.

"At a Sunday news conference in Baghdad’s Green Zone, new IRMO head Dan Speckhart told reporters that progress was being made."

So why do I think this administration wouldn't recognize progress or a failure to progress if it bit them on the butt?

Anyway at the end of the speech Bush says we have to stay no matter whether the Iraqi government comes up with a political solution or not. Period.
"And so if we withdraw before the Iraqi government can defend itself, we would yield the future of Iraq to terrorists like al Qaeda -- and we would give a green light to extremists all throughout a troubled region.

"The consequences for America and the Middle East would be disastrous. In Iraq, sectarian violence would multiply on a horrific scale. Fighting could engulf the entire region in chaos. We would soon face a Middle East dominated by Islamic extremists who would pursue nuclear weapons, who would use their control of oil for economic blackmail, and who would be in a position to launch new attacks on the United States of America."

So why even bother to specify benchmarks since we have to stay until Iraq can defend itself, even if that means a hundred or two hundred years? That is why Bush insists that there be no consequences for missing benchmarks and no firm schedule for withdrawal.

Now compare this speech to his January speech on the surge and compare how many times al Qaeda was mentioned in each. Of course he wants to emphasize al Qaeda now because the only progress being made is the elimination of al Qaeda, now that most Iraqis have finally come to distrust it. How long until someone in the administration is saying, "Who could have imagined that after al Qaeda was defeated that Iraq would dissolve into civil war?"

Posted by: cowalker on June 29, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Borrowing whatr I posted over at Big Media Matt's:

I think I just figured out what this new "call everyone al Qaeda" news straegy is about. It looks like the Amercian strategy du jour is to once again team up with the Shiite majority to crush the Sunni ability to make war while largely leaving the Shiite militias (including the Mahdi Army) alone. Ou operations are now primarily in the Sunni Triangle, having left Baghdad to the tender mercies of the Shiite Interior Ministry, which is why beheaded Sunni corpses are starting to pop up everywhere in the capital.

The "al Qaeda 24/7" terminology is to both justify and obscure our crusade against the Sunnis, perhaps also to fool our temporary Sunni allies in Anbar to hold their fire while we take out their suburban Baghdad brothers.


A further thought...This could easily be intended to let the Shia crush Sunni resistance just long enough to hold the ship together past the September scrutiny, then we switch to the "Kill Iran" theme for '08 and attack the Shia. Makes sense to me, as it is an idiotically short term solution geared solely to American politics. Classic Bush.

Posted by: Daddy Love on June 29, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know if this is what's going on or not, but this LA Times article may give you an understanding of why they'd be shifting the language to talk about Al Qaeda all the time.


Posted by: Xanthippas on June 29, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Can we have the cat blog now?

Well, Strannix has kitties...

And in a nod to Ira Flatow, I have (Science) Friday catblogging, with pictures of my lazy owners.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 29, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

As soon as AQI is eliminated, the Shiite and Sunni insurgents will be able to attack US troops without worrying about AQI in their midst causing trouble.

That's some plan.

Posted by: Disputo on June 29, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK
.... changing rhetoric matches a shift in the strategy....p-ant at 2:31 PM
The only change is the r rhetorical shift to calling the insurgency al Qaida. The new strategery is to blame al Qaeda for all the insurgent attacks in order to build support for the war in the US were 41% of the people are still so deluded to think that Saddam was behind 9-11. It's just more of the same ol': obfuscate, obscure, and occlude. In his speech to The Naval War College, he mentioned al Qaeda 18 times, the Insurgency 0, and insurgents 3 times. Even bitter-enders can't spin away the Bushshit coming from their Dear Leader and the minions in his regime. Posted by: Mike on June 29, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Associating the Iraqi Al-Qaeda with the 9/11 Al-Qaeda is similar to, but not as bad as, associating today's Republican party with Abraham Lincoln's Republican party.

In each case, the two versions are very different, and have different goals, but it's the Name Recognition that counts, and that's something that's been repeatedly exploited by the GOP.

Think about it - would Dubya or his daddy have been elected if their name had been "Benedict Bush"?

Posted by: jeffk on June 29, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

While it's true that Al Qaeda is responsible for a tiny fraction of all the violence in Iraq, it's also true that they are the biggest threat to political unity in Iraq.

Al Qaeda are the jackasses blowing up the mosques - which is really the strongest force that's tearing Iraq apart at this moment, keeping the cycle of violence spinning at an ever increasing rate.

If we can't at least stop Al Qaeda in Iraq - then there's really no hope there.

The other dishonest thing about this whole mess: referring to them as "Al Qaeda" - when, in fact, they're loosely affiliated, and actually call themselves "Al Qaeda in Iraq" - it's a completely separate group that's just trying to steal Al Qaeda's "brand name".

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on June 29, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think "blame AQ" line is misunderstood. Rallying US support for Iraq by highlighting AQ may be a component, but it's part of a signal that Petraeus is sending to Sh'ias and Sunnis: we're concentrating on killing Al Qaeda, a goal that everybody can agree on, so back off and let us do our job. Then we're going to draw down and you Shias and Sunnis can work out your differences however you see fit. I have a hard time buying the sincerity of the drawdown talk; to me, it looks more like DoD psyops meant to neutralize our other enemies for the time being and buy us some time to finish off one enemy (AQ). If we make an actual or apparent dent in Al Qaeda, Petraeus is probably going to point to it as a reason for staying the course instead of leaving. So I see this as another too-clever Petraeus move, and not just Bush party like it's 2002 nostalgia for AQ.

Posted by: China Hand on June 29, 2007 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

McClatchy does lots of good work. What a contrast to the wretched WaPo etc.

Posted by: Neil B. on June 29, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

There is a lot of ambiguity about Al Qaeda, right, because many groups just call themselves that ...
(But many don't, that are called AQ by spokespersons, I presume ...)

Posted by: Neil B. on June 29, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

While reading the comments to the Glenn Greenwald essay, I saw this and thought it worth sharing here from Steve and Molly:

"Glenn's original post is correct to raise the issue of how the media sources its pieces regarding who the US Military is fighting in Iraq. The clear and recent change in the language used by the US Military, constantly referring to Al Qaeda is troubling enough. But the press's practically unquestioning repetition of these statements, in full acceptance that the reality has shifted simply because US spokesmen say so, is doubly so."

The writer says they "spent ten months in Iraq in search of the answer to a single question: Who is it behind the attacks on US and coalition forces? What we found is that it is primarily and overwhelmingly Iraqis who are fundamentally fighting to end the occupation of Iraq. It is complicated, but it is also that simple."

"For some of the nuance, more information ," they recommend their "documentary film, "Meeting Resistance" - the culmination of this ten months of reporting."
Their website is www.meetingresistance.com.

Very interesting find.

Posted by: consider wisely on June 30, 2007 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Lotus has plans: the Elise is going to get a detuned Exige engine (220 BHP without an intercooler), a new Exige SR model will feature launch and traction control systems, California series Elise and Exige models are in the pipeline for the boulevard cruising crowd, and Lotus is also going to inject some luxury into the Europa. But the big news which isn't the Esprit is the Lotus Eagle, which will be "a mid engined four seater" made of aluminum for the luxury lifestyle set. Lotus CEO Mike Kimberley said there will be seven (count 'em, seven) versions of the car, and in a crow eating first for Lotus, the car will have paddle shifters. Lotus had previously sworn never to include them on a car, citing purity of the driving experience. But what does the market care for driving purity? (Insert maniacal laugh here.) The Eagle arrives at the end of 2008. The much anticipated, exceedingly long awaited Lotus Esprit was sent back for reworking by Kimberley, who said it didn't have enough...

Posted by: wwdbfjphrz on November 8, 2007 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK



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