OxBlog

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALKING POINTS FOR RUMSFELD: On Sunday morning, the SecDef did back to back interviews with Face the Nation on CBS and This Week on ABC. Before getting to what Rumsfeld said, let me give ABC and CBS some advice on how to catch up to Tim Russert and NBC in the Sunday morning race for the gold: Make transcripts available in HTML format. CBS provides a PDF version of the text, which means that all of the quotes below were retyped by yours truly, rather than cut and pasted. In contrast, ABC has the chutzpah to assert that viewers should have to pay for transcripts.

Anyhow, the real issue here is the SecDef and how he ought to strengthen his arguments for the administration's strategy in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the first question Rumsfeld got from both George Stephanopoulos on ABC and Bob Schieffer on CBS was "What do you say to Congressman Murtha?" Rumsfeld clearly had his talking points ready since he gave the exact same response to both questions.

The core of Rumsfeld's response was the idea of empathy. He told Schieffer,
"Try to put yourself in the shoes of other people...Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqis, the Iraqi people, who've risked their lives to run for public office and to go out and vote."
That's a solid point, although altruism isn't exactly the philosophy one associates with Rumsfeld. The SecDef did a little better with Stephanopoulos, however. On ABC, he told the audience to empathize with American soldiers on the ground "who believe that [their mission] is a noble cause, which it is". And of course, on both ABC and CBS, Rumsfeld cleverly turned the empathy prism around and asked the audience how the insurgents might feel if they knew that all they had to do to defeat the United States was run out the clock.

Yet perhaps because Rumsfeld is such a blunt person who has never been comfortable with the artificial etiquette of network television, the SecDef seems to delight in making outrageous statements that have the unfortunate effect of calling his perception of political reality into question. For example, before directly answering Stephanopoulos's question about Murtha, Rumsfeld insisted that Murtha's protest isn't that significant because there have always been those who wanted to bring the troops home -- in WWII, in Korea and in Vietnam.

In WWII? I'll assume that Rumsfeld is right and that someone must've called for an early exit from the Second World War. But do you know how comparing Iraq to WWII sounds? Ridiculous. Period. As for Korea and Vietnam, the analogy to Iraq shouldn't comfort the administration at all.

Moving on, the next big question Rumsfeld had to address was the issue of whether the Iraqi army will ever be ready to take over from us. To my surprise, Schieffer didn't even try to challenge the SecDef's assertion that there are now 212,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. But Stephanopoulos immediately shot back that only 700 are ready to fight on their own. To which Rumsfeld replied:
"Oh, George, that is a red herring that people have been flopping around here for weeks."
You should really listen to the podcast to hear the tone of voice Rumsfeld used to say that. He sounded like a Jewish mother who'd just been told her only son was becoming a Catholic.

Anyhow, Rumsfeld's first substantive point in response to the question was pretty good: The Iraqis are already fighting hard all across the country and taking very heavy casualties. But then the SecDef once again decided he wasn't going to play by the rules. When Stephanopoulos stated that even the best 20,000 Iraqis "can take the lead in a battle but need to be heavily supported by US forces", Rumsfeld responded:
Most of our forces need support. Most of NATO forces need support.
Say what you will about the Belgians and the Dutch, I'm pretty damn sure the Iraqis are nowhere close. And comparing American soldiers to the Iraqis? Huh???

Although quite proficient at pre-emptive warfare, I think the SecDef might do well to practice the art of pre-emptive question-swatting. Everywhere you look, it gets reported that only one Iraqi battalion, or around 700 troops, is ready to fight on its own without the Americans. That number is down from three battalions a couple of months ago.

Now, Rusmfeld may be right that the number who can fight independently isn't the best indicator of progress. But I think it looks very bad for him or the President to say that there are 212,000 Iraqis ready to go, then get confronted with the 700 figure and admit that it's accurate. Just say up front that more and more Iraqis are approaching self-sufficiency.

With regard to question-swatting, Rumsfeld should also know what's going to happen everytime he insists that the American mission in Iraq is making significant progress. The interviewers will immediately fire back with questions about the persistence of American casualties and about the number of suicide bombs. On CBS, Rumsfeld made a decent come back by arguing that Zarqawi's slaughter of the innocent actually costs him more supporters than it gains.

But the key point is that it looks bad to start out optimistic and then be reminded of everything going wrong. Instead, administration officials should begin by showing that they understand public and media concern with the mission's steep cost in American lives and the persistence of terrorism in Iraq. But. But guerrillas wars are won politically, not on the battlefield. Thus, the indicator that really matters is that Iraq is going from
A successful election in January to a drafting of a constitution, to a referendum on the constitution with the biggest turnout anyone could've imagined, and the Sunnis participating...In less than a month there'll be an election. And then there will be a new government that will be in place for a period of time. That's progress. That's significant progress.
Yes, yes it is. But that message won't get through until administration officials are more candid about the persistence of casualties and terrorism, so that journalists can't chalk up easy debating points by reminding them that things aren't perfect.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Every single war in the US has had a significant movement against getting involved and then that has wanted to surrender and pull the troops out. Copperheads during the civil war (in the North), various elements in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

There is always a fifth column, and in every war since 1910 it has been the left (WWII had the left oppose it while Molotov-Ribbentrop was in effect, and then they subborned it again once it was being won so as to give the Soviets an advantage). Highlighting that traitorous enemies have always opposed wars in the US, including WWII, is a legitimate and non-insane point.

Iraq is just as important as WWII, as we are facing a genocidal enemy that wants to wipe uss of the face of the earth and that will if given the time to assemble its forces.
 
In almost every instance, the anti-war movement has been led by the left. But I think it goes way too far to describe the left as a "fifth column" or traitorous.

Also note that before WWII, most anti-war isolationism came from the right. There were outright Communists who had only Stalin's best interests at heart, and they continued to exist after the war, but I think the left as a whole has been firmly patriotic, albeit while embracing strategies with which I often vehemently disagree.
 
I think a lot of Rumsfeld's attitude might come from having to give the same answers to the same damn questions forty or fifty times.

The DoD has held at least one major press conference a while ago explaining the categories of Iraqi troop readiness, explaining patiently that part of the issue is that they raised the bar a couple of times, and pointing out that the second level is currently in combat across the nation, but still he gets the same questions, over and over again.

Frankly, I'm amazed that Rumsfeld hasn't just whacked some questioner over the head by now.
 
BTW, you're a lot more gracious about the "left as a whole" than I would be. For the past three decades, in every foreign conflict, military or just political, the leftist movement has taken the side of the opposition. Try and think of an exception. Treason? No. But calling them "firmly patriotic" stretches the term "patriotism" pretty thin.
 
"Oh, George, that is a red herring that people have been flopping around here for weeks."

"You should really listen to the podcast to hear the tone of voice Rumsfeld used to say that. He sounded like a Jewish mother who'd just been told her only son was becoming a Catholic."

David, that's some great writing; That's what I enjoy about oxblog!
 
I will not get into the prewar stuff and the many reasons I was against this. I will say that their might have been a time to do it. I am still not convinced that this was it and the process was pretty horrid.

I remember hearing about the Pros being back in control after the Clinton years. One thing that did not happen is that the people who ran things in the 80's seemed to forget that the world changed a lot in those years.

As for Murtha, Regardless of if you accept his approach. The big reason it caused a lot of trouble is that he is believed to be the ear for many of the generals in the DOD. They by law cannot criticize the leadership. It is true that Murtha has talked of problems before now.

It is also true that it was said around the same time the generals conceded that a military solution was impossible. That only a political solution would lead to the end of the insurgency.

Murtha's true goal was to have a viewable policy with set goals(measurable) to put accountability into the process. I also think that the message that you need to step up and lead to the government and soldiers is a positive step.
It means that the opposition needs to join the political process.
It set a six month time table for redeployment as goals were met. It left a rapid reaction force in place and an over the horizon force 24-48 hours out. It sought to decrease our footprint in the daily lives of the people.

Many mistakes happened and still more will occur without accountability then success is the administrations to shape. The falling support for the war is not so much the lefts problem as it is the administration failure in Public relations. Its failure to cast the operation in worst case form instead we got rosy predictions all of which have failed to materialized on the ground.

I think the Murtha plan has its merits and it is a moderate position with some good characteristics.
 
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