A few days ago, the White House launched a new
phase of its propaganda siege for the Iraq war.
The opening salvo came on July 27, when the commander of American
forces in Iraq said that continuation of recent trends would make possible
"some fairly substantial reductions" of U.S. troop levels in the spring
summer of 2006. Those reductions, Gen. George Casey proclaimed, will happen
"if the political process continues to go positively and if the development
of the security forces continues to go as it is going."
Gen. Casey's statement, which made big news, was the start of a media
offensive likely to last for the next 15 months, until the congressional
elections. We might call it Operation Withdrawal Scam.
Overall, the strategy is double-barreled: Keep killing in Iraq while
hyping scenarios for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
President Bush has always made a show of rejecting calls for a pullout
timetable. Yet the current media buzz about possible withdrawal from Iraq
is not without precedent. Some appreciable publicity along similar lines
came last fall from a journalistic source who has eagerly done some of
Karl Rove's dirtiest work.
"Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is
strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year," Robert Novak
wrote in a column that appeared on Sept. 20, 2004. "This determination
not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal
stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go."
Novak's column did not stop there. With a matter-of-fact tone, it
reported: "The military will tell the [U.S. presidential] election winner
there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That
leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to
reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get
out. Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's
decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his
national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term
That assessment from "well-placed sources in the administration,"
trumpeted by Novak's column at the start of the fall campaign, received
some media pickup at the time. And Novak didn't let it rest. He followed up
with an Oct. 7 piece that asserted: "Nobody from the administration has
officially rejected my column." In no uncertain terms, Rove's most useful
columnist stood behind his claim that Bush's policymakers believed "U.S.
troops must leave Iraq" in 2005.
While the Bush campaign denied Novak's claim, it was helpful to the
president. He continued his resolute warrior posturing, while the deniable
"leak" falsely signaled flexibility and fresh thinking that could
lead to a
U.S. exit strategy for the Iraq war.
Still pledging not to "cut and run," the White House can gain from
spin that indicates withdrawal is much more likely and more imminent than
previously believed. A double-barreled approach continuing the war
effort while suggesting that a pullout is on the horizon aims to provide
a wishful Rorschach blob to commentators and voters.
During the next 15 months, political benefits will beckon for the Bush
administration to keep saying things that seem to foreshadow a drastic
reduction of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Floated withdrawal scenarios
will be part of an enormous hoax.
As the war drags on and U.S. public opinion polls show widespread
unhappiness about it, Republicans in Congress will be eager for media
coverage to become more reassuring before next year's November elections.
That's where Operation Withdrawal Scam comes in.
The Bush administration has already boosted or lowered U.S. troop strength
in Iraq for military or political purposes. And it has acknowledged plans to
make such adjustments again later this year. "Any troop reduction isn't
likely to start soon; in fact, overall troop numbers are likely to go up somewhat
before they begin to head down," the Wall Street Journal reported
on July 28, in connection with a referendum on an Iraqi constitution set for
October and national elections scheduled for December.
Spinners in the White House must have felt gratified that the main headline
over the Journal's front-page article was notably upbeat: "U.S.
Opens Door for Big Pullback in Iraq Next Year."
That "big pullback" is actually quite a longshot. But even such
unlikely occurrence would not necessarily mean less American involvement in
the killing of Iraqi people. If American troop numbers drop next summer in
Iraq, the subsequent U.S. military role there could be as deadly as ever
or even worse.
Bush administration officials, and their enablers in the news media,
say that Iraqis will take up burdens now being shouldered by the occupiers.
Such "Iraqization" could change just the style of carnage like
Vietnamization that occurred in the last several years of the Vietnam War.
During a much-heralded visit to Guam in July 1969, President Nixon
announced that the U.S. government would "furnish military and economic
assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we
shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary
responsibility for its defense."
Such proclaimed doctrines of replacing American soldiers with natives
are real crowd-pleasers in the USA. But such measures may do nothing to
reduce the amount of blood on Uncle Sam's hands. Three years after Nixon's
mid-1969 pronouncement, the U.S. troop levels in Vietnam had fallen to
69,000. Yet during the three-year withdrawal of nearly half a million
American soldiers, the tonnage rate of U.S. bombs falling on Vietnam
No matter how many troops it has on the ground in Iraq, the Pentagon will
be set up for a major role there. A recent letter in the New York Times
shed more light on the Bush administration's intentions than hours of network
punditry. "My brother-in-law just returned from a stint in Iraq with the
Minnesota Air National Guard," wrote Ronald M. Asher II. "Although
he couldn't tell me where in Iraq he was stationed, he did say that the level
and type of construction going on at the air base convinced him that the United
States military planned on being there for a very long time."
Operation Withdrawal Scam has begun. It will be a long maneuver.