October 4, 2003
The last week has been a steady cascade of bad news for the Bush administration. Here's what made the last week in September the worst for Bush since he "hit the trifecta" on 9/11. In a nutshell, Bush's political capital is gone.
The following twelve points were compiled out of the news from the last week. Most of them came from the October 3 issue of the New York Times:
- The security situation in Iraq is worsening and the generals have said so. Not only is the situation bad, but it's being reported as bad. The ambushes are increasing. Last month, the standard figure was given as 12 attacks per day, now it has risen to 15-20. And the military expects this trend to continue:
"The enemy has evolved — a little bit more lethal, a little more complex, a little more sophisticated, and in some cases, a little bit more tenacious," said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. "The evolution is about what we expected to see over time."
American forces are being attacked 15-20 times a day, counting roadside bombs, mostly in Baghdad and the surrounding Sunni stronghold to the west and north of the capital, Sanchez said. [more...]
- Bush is completely lost in the international arena. Iraq is not secure. The UN will play, but only on their terms. The inability to set up the commission to monitor the Iraqi oil revenue (one of the key issues of the last UN resolution on Iraq) is becoming a sticking point. The upcoming donors conference is not looking good and it is unlikely that the Bush administration will get much help there. Koffi Annan sees no point in sending people to risk their lives in a subordinate capacity. Basically, Annan is saying if the Security Council votes for an empty resolution -- we're out of there. This means no deal is better than a bad deal, to wit:
Mr. Annan made it clear that he shares the allies' goal of creating a democratic Iraq but sees no point in sending political specialists who would be risking their lives to serve in a subordinate and redundant capacity, two people who attended that meeting said. [more...]
As a senior United Nations official put it today, Mr. Annan wants to see the transition process "inverted," with authority transferred in a few months to some sort of provisional government that would spend the necessary time, perhaps two years, writing a constitution, carrying out a census and holding elections.
That said, the official added, "this is not a bargaining process."
"It is not axiomatic that the United Nations has to play a political role in every crisis there is," the official said. "It's perfectly O.K. if the United Nations doesn't play a political role in Iraq." [more...]
- There was no WMD in Iraq - Kay has got NOTHING. This fact has still not percolated through the national consciousness, but it is having enormous impact on relations with other nations. Bush and Cheney are playing to a domestic audience by insisting the WMD hunt is still a going concern. This is similar to Bush's blunder of going to the UN last month and trying to play them as if international affairs were identical to domestic politics. It doesn't work and either the administration can't figure this out or has decided it doesn't matter.
- Congress is putting off a quick vote on the aid package. The $87 billion price tag on Operation Iraqi Freedom - The Sequel is causing some real problems with the budget deficit. And it will only get worse when Bush has to go back again for mo' money in 6-9 months. And the Congressional noises about making the funding a loan repayable out of Iraqi oil revenue only makes the problem worse.
- Iraqi Governing Council is in a stalemate. They can't agree about much of anything in principle and have stated that there is no way they can put together a constitution in six months - the time frame currently being promoted by Colin Powell. This is sort of a mixed message when Chalabi is demanding a faster transfer of sovereignty to the Council. (see Bad News #9 below.)
- The Plame Name Blame Game is totally aflame. Some of the immediate fallout is the end of the honeymoon for White House Press Flack-in-Chief Scott McClellan. The already bungled investigation puts Ashcroft on the defensive amid calls for an independent probe and buries his current project of promoting the follow-on to the USAPATRIOT Act. The underlying problem is the falsification of intelligence about the non-existent Iraqi WMD program. It has nothing to do with Wilson or his wife. This is a self-inflicted wound, but one that will linger -- much like the FBI's failure to nail the anthrax attacker.
- Polls are going south. Bush as been in free-fall since July and has still not found his buoyancy level. The rate of fall has slowed down, but Bush has to deal with the uncertainty of where the bottom really is. The political capital from 9/11 is all spent and Bush's checks are now bouncing. There is a rock bottom support level for Bush down there somewhere, but until there is any certainty about it, nobody is going to lend the administration any support. And it's not at all clear that Bush is capable of accepting the political cost of halting his downward slide.
- Bush is looking increasingly disconnected with reality. It used to be that Bush's goofy "what-me-worry" act was a plus. Never let them see you sweat is a good tactic -- except when not sweating is a sign of being so isolated from reality that it becomes a form of paralysis. Like the free-fall in the polls, only a positive act by Bush can arrest this problem. Giving speeches insisting he was right when the facts are otherwise looks goofy now. If he keeps this up, people will be justified in asking if he's out of touch with the nation. [more...]
- Ahmed Chalabi has wandered off the reservation - he's pushing for immediate sovereignty and getting bitch-slapped by Condi Rice for his pro-French attitude. Here's the LA Times lead on the poodle obedience problem:
After supporting Ahmed Chalabi for years, the United States has grown disenchanted and made a serious effort during the past two weeks to rein in the former Iraqi exile leader, pressing him specifically to stop embarrassing President Bush with calls for a speedy handover of power in Baghdad, according to senior U.S. officials. [more...]
- Cronyism in the plundering of Iraq is now an open issue. Senate voice vote unanimously for open bidding on Iraq contracts -- meaning they see the rampant cronyism as being political poison. Cronyism as an issues is not going to go away because of the occupation funding problem with Congress (see #4 above). There's not going to be enough money to tide the occupation over until the election and the looting by Bush cronies has the potential to become a fatal political liability when the occupation goes broke (again, sigh.)
- The oil price thing -- OPEC lowered the production cap (thereby guaranteeing oil prices will stay high) and our gallant allies the Iraqi poodles voted for it. This one is far more serious than the media have let on. First of all, this totally screws the hawks out of buying off the rest of the establishment with the promise of an economic revival driven by falling oil prices. (Remember the neo-con fantasy of paying for the war Iraqi oil revenue?) Secondly, the stupid neo-con saber rattling against the main OPEC partners is now going to be paid back in spades with limited economic warfare against the world economy. And finally, the Iraqi poodles have figured out that it is more in their interest to play along with OPEC than to be totally subservient to US attempts to manipulate the world oil prices.
- The collapsing situation in the UN guarantees military manpower problem will not be solved. The "tyranny of fixed numbers" is going to be causing a manpower crunch for the military that is already far worse than the problems that wrecked the Army during Vietnam. The chances of getting foreign troops serving under US command has now dropped to zero. Which means that the administration is faced with the inescapable problem of either drawing down troop strength in Iraq or paying the domestic price of increased mobilization of National Guard reserves. As the study by the Congressional Budget Office shows, we just don't have enough troops to sustain a lengthy occupation at the current force levels. [more...] So that means the Iraqi resistance can win just by waiting for us to exhaust our military resources. And the rest of the world is content to let Bush stew in his own juices in the hope that he'll be gone from office in fourteen months.
Good news for bush
Just before the Plame affair blew up and wiped Iraq off the front pages, the latest Bush strategy was to promote "happy" news about the occupation. This never got much of a start because bad news will always trump good news in the American infotainment industry. For instance, celebrating the "civil affairs" work by the occupation troops just doesn't have much pizzazz. Watching paint dry in elementary schools will always be pushed aside by footage of burning Humvees or blown-up pipelines. With this sort of a non-starter as the administration approach, what really happened is the administration surrendered their ability to frame the news. And just look at what happened...
The upshot is that the good new for Bush consists mostly of more bad things not happening. We tried as hard as we could to scrape up some good news for the Texas flyboy, but this is about it:
- So many bad things are happening that some of the other bad things are being crowded out of the media.
- Unhappy army families haven't been in the news for a week
- Higher oil prices mean more money for the Texas independent oil producers.
- No further massacres of Iraqis have been reported... (oops)
- The Shia have not come off the sidelines... yet.
- The Turks and Pakistanis aren't contributing troops to complicate the security problems in Iraq.
- No major oil pipelines blew up this week (maybe because there aren't any left to shut down.)
- The Democrats can still fuck this up.
And if that isn't good news for Bush, I don't know what is.
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