"The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th .... After September the 11th, 2001, I told the American people that the road ahead would be difficult, and that we would prevail."Tuesday night, the president's explanation of the U.S. "mission" in Iraq was one of bravado and simplism:
"Our mission in Iraq is clear: We're hunting down the terrorists ... and we have a clear path forward. To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents."But our mission is a more complex than that. We're not only "hunting down the terrorists," we're also talking with them, as Defense Sec. Rumsfeld confirmed this weekend.
Frankly, the fact that U.S. officials have met with leaders of the Iraqi insurgency strikes me as a positive development. This dual approach of fighting the fight while exploring diplomatic options has been used in previous military conflicts.
But for Bush to cast our "mission" in such a deceptively one-dimensional way shows the White House is more interested in spin than it is in leveling with the American people and explaining the broader U.S. strategy.
The very fact that insurgent leaders agreed to meet with U.S. officials suggests that there is at least some degree of pragmatism in the insurgents' calculations.
And yet Bush made no mention of these talks as one strategic track that America is pursuing. Instead his rhetoric Tuesday night painted a picture of the insurgents or "terrorists" (W.'s preferred term) that suggests that any such talks would be pointless:
"We're fighting against men with blind hatred ... who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality .... The terrorists do not understand America."Yes, but do we understand them? The fact that we're engaging in talks with insurgent leaders suggests that we're trying to. Such talks will help determine whether or not some of the insurgent militias can be convinced to lay down their weapons and assume some role in the government.
Bush's description of the enemy ("capable of any atrocity") is a far cry from Rumsfeld's words two days ago. Here is how Rummy described the enemy when asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace about reported meetings between U.S. officials and insurgent commanders in Iraq:
"Well, the first thing I would say about the meetings is they go on all the time .... if you think about it, there aren't the good guys and the bad guys over there. There are people all across the spectrum."Rummy's starting to sound like one of those "liberals" who believe that terrorists need "therapy and understanding."