Magazine article The New Yorker

THE POLITICAL WAR; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

THE POLITICAL WAR; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Article excerpt

Earlier this year, the United States Agency for International Development, or U.S.A.I.D., hired a team of independent experts to go to Iraq and evaluate the agency's programs there. The experts came back with a mixed review that included plenty of reason for worry: the reconstruction of Iraq was taking place in an ad-hoc fashion, without a consistent strategy, without the meaningful participation or advice of Iraqis, within paralyzing security constraints, and amid unrealistic claims of success. But something happened to the report on the way to publication. U.S.A.I.D. kept sending parts of it back for revision, draft after draft, weeding out criticism, until the agency finally approved a version for internal use which one member of the team called "a whitewash" of his findings. Another expert said, "It's so political, everything going on out there. They just didn't want to hear any bad news." Pointing out that some of the numbers posted on the agency's Web site were overly optimistic, he concluded, "They like to make their sausage their way."

This would be a minor footnote in the history of the Iraq war, if only the entire story didn't read the same. President Bush has been making the sausage his way from the beginning, and his way is to politicize. He forced a congressional vote on the war just before the 2002 midterm elections. He trumpeted selective and misleading intelligence. He displayed intense devotion to classifying government documents, except when there was political advantage in declassifying them. He fired or sidelined government officials and military officers who told the American public what the Administration didn't want it to hear. He released forecasts of the war's cost that quickly became obsolete, and then he ignored the need for massive expenditures until a crucial half year in Iraq had been lost. His communications office in Baghdad issued frequently incredible accounts of the progress of the war and the reconstruction. He staffed the occupation with large numbers of political loyalists who turned out to be incompetent. According to Marine officers and American officials in Iraq, he ordered and then called off critical military operations in Falluja against the wishes of his commanders, with no apparent strategic plan. He made sure that blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib settled almost entirely on the shoulders of low-ranking troops. And then, in the middle of the election campaign, he changed the subject.

No one can now doubt the effectiveness of the President's political operation. Here's one measure: between May and September, the number of Iraq stories that made page 1 of the Times and the Washington Post dropped by more than a third. During the same period, the percentage of Americans who support the President's handling of the war increased. It's the mark of a truly brilliant reelection campaign that these trends at home are occurring against a background of ever-increasing violence and despair in Iraq. The latest reports from mainstream think tanks, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, show every indicator of progress moving in the wrong direction. In July, the National Intelligence Council issued a classified and quite gloomy analysis of Iraq which had no effect on the President's rhetoric or on his policy. After a year and a half of improvising and muddling through, there seems to be no clear way forward and no good way out. …

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