Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"artificial timelines"

President Bush has been hammering at Senator Kerry recently, not always in the most forthright or even wise ways.

First, came "We're turning the corner." which seems to have disappeared when 1) we were reminded who led us down that original street/blind alley in the first place; and 2) that the new street (on either the Iraq or the economy issues) does not look all that better, much less different than the last one. In fact, did anyone actually notice us turn? It seemed more akin to one of those phantom turns mapping websites sometimes provide, indicating a turn when all that happened was a change in the name of the road with even the slightest change of direction. I have to imagine the administration probably felt the same confusion and panic as most of us do when that happens - it's like a bad road comedy.

President Bush, driving the bus of state:
"Okay, the road map says there is a turn coming up."
The nation:"I don't see anything"
President Bush: "Nope, it's definitely coming - just a few tenths of a mile right after the repeated and massive tax cuts to the wealthy and declaration that Iraq is sovereign."
The nation: "I think that map may be a bit out of date or misguided - there doesn't appear to be any turn ahead."
President Bush: "No, we're coming up on the turn right now. It's right here according to the directions. And it'll be an easy Sunday drive compared with this rough road we've been on. Sorry about that right turn back there in Albuquerque.
The nation (with increased agitation): "But there doesn't appear to be anywhere to turn!?!"
President Bush (calmly doing nothing): "Here it is. Hold on to your hats, everyone - this is going to be quite a turnaround."
The nation: "What? There's no road! Don't turn!! (bracing itself and averting its eyes). Wait - what happened? We didn't turn."
President Bush (as if nothing is wrong): "Whew. That was close, we almost missed that corner. Well, I hope you're all happy that we're now back on track and we haven't even lost much time now that we've turned that corner."
The nation: Sigh. Okay, remind us who helped book us on this trip. Oh, that's right, Ralph get up here, right now. (Travel Agent approaches). I thought you said this outfit was the same as the other one?
Ralph the Travel Agent: Yep. Just the same. No difference. Even after this incredible detour with all the sudden and inexplicable right turns, the rough ride, the noxious bus fumes, all the extra charges, and the passengers we've lost and the pedestrians we've hit, I stand by that - in fact, I'm negotiating right now to plan our next trip and this time, the driver and his friends are actually helping me to do my job for me since, well, as it turns out, I was not asked back by my previous employer.
The nation: (Throwing up hands in exasperation).

Of course, that effort was closely followed by, "Results matter." I have to think someone was fired over that one. I think most would agree that results should actually matter. Given that there is not a great deal that the President can unequivocally point to as an accomplishment either as President or as Governor (or the Vice-President as VP or Congressman, though perhaps as Defense Secretary), and that the President is still very nip and tuck with Senator Kerry among American voters, one might argue the President is wrong on that count, quite luckily for him.

Now, we have "artificial timelines" not six weeks after perhaps one of the most artificial, arbitrary, and politically motivated of timelines for "handing over" "control" of Iraq, in spite of continued widespread unrest, largely unmet reconstruction goals and unspent (or "unaccounted for") reconstruction funds, and, to top it off, not knowing exactly who we would be handing over Iraq to mere weeks before the deadline (not to mention the fact that we did a rush job to hand it over a few days early to defuse the incredible danger created by the artificially imposed deadline).

(From AP via Yahoo, emphasis added)

'"Kerry said this week that he hoped to begin reducing U.S. troop strength in Iraq within six months of taking office, if elected, but that it would depend on broader international assistance, better stability in Iraq and other factors.

Bush dismissed the plan as a politically driven one that would cut short the mission and aid the enemy.

"The key is not to set artificial timelines," Bush said while campaigning for re-election in Niceville, Fla. He said the Massachusetts senator's plan would signal the enemy that, "Gosh, all we've got to do is wait them out."'

Wow. Now _that_ is unmitigated audacity, to have the President criticize Senator Kerry for suggesting a plan to bring some of our troops home a year from now barely moments after the mother of all artificial deadlines. It's not like Senator Kerry said, "We're bringing the troops home six months after I'm elected, come hell or high water" so that the opposition in Iraq could just wait it out, as the President suggested. I believe the plan was to be able to start bringing troops home in six months by arranging additional support from other nations, allowing our overextended and overburdened servicemen and servicewomen a welcome and well-deserved respite from their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without actually reducing troop strength in either location.

I have to say, at this point, I'm a bit perplexed. The President's political team used to be brilliant, scintillating even - they continually were able to turn factual and ideological sows' ears into political silk purses. But now, they seem to be stepping in their own messes at every turn.

Perhaps all the previous successes at saying whatever they wanted and having it picked up and parroted by the press as facts may have led to some untimely overconfidence? Or is it a sign of desperation, having bet everything on an ill-advised war and a tax-cut for every season (albeit, if not for every person) economic policy, they now find their talking points cupboard is bare?

Or, worst of all, is it possibly another cunning political tactic? With little ammunition left, they've attempted to inoculate the public by exposing us all to weak versions of real criticisms, thereby diluting the effect of very real and very serious criticisms of the President's performance and policies. It makes it a lot harder to correctly question the President for a lack of results or artificial timelines or, in the turning the corner case, for Senator Kerry to say that things will get better in the future when the President and his team have already said all of those things, however cynically or disingenuously. It takes a lot more work and ends up making the opposition look long-winded in having to explain away what the President has already claimed in making the counterclaim that is actually the real one (opening doors for shallow criticism from the likes of Saletan or Kaus) or, worse, to sound like preschoolers - "But vooootersss, the President used artificial timelines fi-rst" or, in the separate question of flip-flopping, "I know you are, but what am I."

Here's hoping that Senators Kerry and Edwards can somehow sidestep the President's schoolyard bully tactics, dismissing them with humor and panache, while appropriately redirecting the attention of the American people to the tremendous challenges that the President has created for us. We might just be able to face those challenges honestly and together.

(Edited to add the link to Kevin Drum's nice catch of Saletan's latest folly in Political Animal)

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