Friday, January 06, 2006

Let's play meeting

George Bush exposed himself to various points of view by soliciting advice from former officials and experts in foreign policy and international relations. Too bad it's two years and 10 months too late. Who else but Bush would do war planning more than two and a half years after declaring "mission accomplished"?

President George W. Bush reached beyond his tight circle of trusted aides on Thursday to solicit views on Iraq of former secretaries of state and defense, including some who have publicly criticized his policy.

The meeting, part of the president's effort to defend his policies on Iraq and the war on terrorism as he tries to recover from low opinion poll ratings, took place as insurgent violence surged anew this week in Iraq.

"Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq and I fully understand that," Bush said, adding that he had listened to their concerns and suggestions. "We take to heart the advice."

[snip]

Bush has to address the troop-withdrawal question because many Americans want to know when U.S. forces will pull out, but it can give information to the enemy, (former Secretary of State Lawrence) Eagleburger said. "Every time we talk about withdrawal you can see the ears of Osama (bin Laden) and his friends perking up," he said.
Well, we might be able to see that if Bush hadn't stopped pursuing bin Laden in Afghanistan to go off and invade Iraq. But it's not like capturing the head of al-Qaida and the architect of the 9/11 attacks would have helped in this war on terror thing we've got going on.

I'm sorry. That kind of talk gives comfort to the enemy. Until I wrote that, Osama bin Laden had no idea how important his capture would be to the United States' anti-terror efforts.

OK, enough fooling around. The point here is that Bush's soliciting several different opinions from qualified people is something that should have happened in early 2003 -- at the latest. Instead, Bush surrounded himself with people who told him what he wanted to hear and punished dissenters. He surrounded himself with war hawks who never saw combat and didn't bother to plan for post-invasion Iraq or prepare an exit strategy. If Bush had surrounded himself with qualified advisers and sought an entire spectrum of opinions in the first place, this type of meeting that the White House is so proud of would have been commonplace, and might have prevented the tragedy that is the Iraq war.

And make no mistake (remember when Bush started every other sentence with that phrase?), the White House is proud of this meeting. That's why an administration that does everything in secret allowed this meeting to be so high-profile. Make a big deal of bringing in experts from across the political spectrum, pretend to be interested in their advice, praise those in attendance, and then send them off to the 24-hour news networks to talk about what was said at the meeting and how engaged the president was in what they had to say.

Contrast this with how the White House is fighting to keep secret who met with Dick Cheney and formed the administration's disastrous energy policy. According to the administration, revealing that would hamper the ability of the executive brach to receive frank advice.

So this very public, very high-profile meeting was, in a word, bullshit. It was mere window dressing for the public, an attempt to capitalize on the tiny bounce in Bush's approval ratings that came after the White House dropped the arrogant swagger and started admitting mistakes that already were obvious to pretty much everybody. Don't expect to see any shift in the administration's policies that can be attributed to anything that was said at that meeting. And if Bush's numbers don't go up, don't expect to see another one.

This wasn't war planning, it was public relations. The only damage being controlled was the damage to Bush's image. Don't be fooled.

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