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Too many restrictions

Bush on Iraq

In the event, George W Bush did not employ the controversial term “surge” (splendidly discussed here) in his speech last night. Instead he bluntly said:

This will require increasing American force levels. So I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.

Lest this be considered a satisfying victory for opponents of Unspeak, we must also concede that Bush also referred many times to “Al Qaeda” and “the terrorists”, as well as bringing up 9/11 again, as though it were somehow relevant. And observers must have been reassured to learn that the current situation is – guess what? – “unacceptable”:

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people and it is unacceptable to me.

But perhaps the most intriguing portions of Bush’s speech are precisely those where, in contrast to the directness of “committed more than 20,000 additional American troops”, Bush’s language becomes disturbingly vague. For instance:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

“Too many restrictions”? What exactly were these “restrictions”? The only clue we get is this:

In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods, and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

Are these really the only “restrictions” of which Bush was thinking? That US forces were prevented from yomping into certain “neighborhoods” (a surreally soothing term)? Bush’s sulky reference to “too many restrictions”, followed by his naming of only one kind of restriction, leaves it open for us to wonder whether certain other unnamed “restrictions” have also been lifted, perhaps on the rules of engagement. Also chillingly fuzzy is the following:

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

“We will work with others to prevent Iran…” Hmmm. I wonder who the “others” might be? I wonder what form this “prevention” is planned to take? But this is all reassuringly vague, mere dark murmurs of future war. In the mean time, Bush made a brilliant rhetorical stroke that pre-emptively armour-plated his decision:

Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue, and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.

Very clever: what this means is that no evidence in the future could possibly be interpreted as a failure of this initiative. More deaths are to be expected either way. Don’t go crying to Bush if things get worse.

Reponsibility is, anyway, a moveable feast, since Bush is the puppet of a higher power:

We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours.

Translation: God help us.

  1. 1  Aenea  January 11, 2007, 12:53 pm 

    It’s very WWI, isn’t it? We shall win by throwing more troops at the enemy ad infinitum.

    I hope the democrats do something and try and block funding, although one of them last night was moaning about it because if you cut funding then maybe the current troops will have equipment shortages blah.

  2. 2  dsquared  January 11, 2007, 3:03 pm 

    I’ve just realised that the root of “unacceptable” possibly comes from the Kuebler-Ross grief cycle (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). I think the idea is that since Bush has clearly been in denial about Iraq, he’s clearly been angry about it, and his overtures to Iran and Syria represent bargaining, his constant claims that it’s “unacceptable” indicate that his plan is to remain in the stage of “depression”.

  3. 3  sw  January 11, 2007, 6:18 pm 

    I really like your application of Kubler-Ross to Bush, but my understanding of her five stages is that they are not necessarily undertaken in definite developmental order (although “acceptance” before “denial” would be rather confusing – unless “acceptance” comes into being with some modicum of “denial”, coloured with a touch of “anger” and “depression”).

    These were originally intended as descriptions of the types of experiences one encounters with death. Whether or not this more flexible approach to the five stages is consistent with all of Kubler-Ross’ oeuvre, I cannot say. But with Bush, we certainly see some conflation of the categories: overt denial persists; anger in the form petulance seems to be a stable characterological trait, if we can trust his encounters with reporters to provide us with some sort of means of evaluating his character; bargaining with God, the Author of Liberty . . . My question, though, is: what is Bush grieving? What has he lost? The War in Iraq? His “legacy”? All the years he has wasted on planning, selling and orchestrating wars when he could have been cutting brush?

    Regarding “restrictions”: The threat to Iraqis – “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, now we’re gettin’ down to business – gloves off, this time” – is unmissable. There are some other nuances to this new soundbite, though. Like so many, Bush is blaming the Iraqis – not only have they failed to “stand up” so “we can stand down”, but they were pussies, putting “restrictions” on Americans trying to save them. Furthermore, implicit in Bush’s “restrictions” is the Viet Nam era complaint that the war is being lost on the home front, that the “restrictions” of whiny, troop-hatin’ blame-America-firsters are the real reason for the quagmire. Had he been able to prosecute the war without these “restrictions”, he would have won it. It is also a warning to the Democrats: put “restrictions” on me, and we will lose the war, and it will be your fault.

  4. 4  NEA  January 11, 2007, 6:54 pm 

    I wondered who the ‘Author of Liberty’ might be.

    At first I thought he meant John Stuart Mill, but his book is actually called, ‘On Liberty’.

    Then I thought of the once-popular band Duran Duran who had a song and an album called ‘Liberty’ in 1990. (“”Help me out/ I live in doubt/ Sort me out/ Yeah…. And you can touch me girl/ At your liberty/ …touch me girl…/(at your liberty)” More Bill Clinton than George W, I’d say, though.)

    But I had decided he must mean the surrealist poet Paul Éluard, who wrote a poem called ‘Liberty’, all about writing the word ‘liberty’ on lots of rather improbable things, including not only walls, as usual for graffiti, but also his dog, his friends, and, tellingly ‘soldier’s weapons’, ‘sand’, ‘the desert’ and ‘blood’. Also ‘bushes’.
    And the penultimate stanza has the line “hope without memories”. That is Bush’s escalation plan summarized decades before it was even conceived. No wonder — I thought — Bush is a fan.

    So thanks for clearing that up.

  5. 5  Graham Giblin  January 11, 2007, 11:05 pm 

    Bush’s speech is so rich in rhetoric and so destitute of content that it deserves a comprehensive analysis. And a prize. It looks as if all of the effort over the last few weeks has gone into formulating not the strategy but the speech itself. It is designed around pavlovian triggers and buzz-words. It is dense in words like “relationship”, “commmunity”, “patience”, resolve”, “sacrifice”, “freedom” and concepts about America’s destiny.
    Interestingly, it references the neo-con creed expressed in the name of their club, the Project For a New American Century: “Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new [American] century”.
    I think it is drawing a long bow to suggest that God, or rather the “Intelligent Designer”, is the “author of liberty”. I don’t know where that comes from.
    But the most questionable claim I have found yet is this:

    And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed.

    (There’s that fundamental American need for “redemption” again.)
    I don’t understand this exactly but I’m asking myself is he referencing Korea or Vietnam? No, what does he mean by this except to ring a bell for the dogs?

  6. 6  John Fallhammer  January 12, 2007, 5:19 am 

    The term “author of liberty” appears in the song “My Country, Tis Of Thee”, identifying God as the sponsor of the American nation. Which is nice.

    Anyway, I haven’t been paying much attention but I first heard “surge” in “surge-and-run”, in contrast to “cut-and-run”. The idea being that a short-term increase in strength would enable the ground to be cleared of opposition fighters enough for a quick and comfortable withdrawal. This would make some sense but it doesn’t seem to be what Chimpy is actually offering.

    Maybe I just have a filthy mind, but everybody I’ve read seems to be ignoring the sexual connotations of “surge” (whether followed by a quick withdrawal or not, though I would wager that’s what was in the minds of the lads in the Pentagon). What’s being proposed is a climax – a great sticky money-shot all over Baghdad and Anbar to complete the rape of Iraq. That might be why he didn’t use the word in his speech.

  7. 7  Graham Giblin  January 12, 2007, 8:03 am 

    You’re right and it’s no accident that the language of both war and sport is sexually charged (“going in hard”, “the battle will be long and hard”, “penetrating enemy strongholds” etc.) just as it’s no surprise that rape is part of the sport of war. George Carlin characterised the reluctance of the American military to leave Vietnam as, “Pull out doesn’t sound manly to me, Bob!”

  8. 8  Steven  January 12, 2007, 3:50 pm 

    SW, your further readings of “restrictions” strike me as very apt.

    NEA, Duran Duran are still popular around here. It’s a marvellous theory that Bush is a fan of Eluard.

    John F:

    I first heard “surge” in “surge-and-run”, in contrast to “cut-and-run”. The idea being that a short-term increase in strength would enable the ground to be cleared of opposition fighters enough for a quick and comfortable withdrawal.

    Actually this does seem to be what Bush is implying. From the speech:

    we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear the country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale. Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

    So – to leave now means we’d have to stay longer. Interesting. A “surge”, on the other hand, means we’ll be able to pull out real soon. I think you’re on to something.

  9. 9  Brenda Schwarcz  January 14, 2007, 4:35 pm 

    With regard to “restrictions” …

    If I remember rightly (and I’m sure that I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong) doesn’t the Iraqi constitution set out very clearly the areas that the US military can “occupy”. In Bagdad this seems to be the Green Zone. In other words, the US military have the right to mount raids etc. in certain areas against “insurgents” but not the right to occupy them after.

    If I’m right, is Bush going to change the Iraq constitution? (At the request of the Iraqi government, of course).

  10. 10  Wisdo  January 25, 2007, 2:52 pm 

    When bush speaks about the “author of liberty” he is talking about God. His god. The Christian one. (which is the same one as the Jewish one and the muslim one but with different sales reps).

    Therefore “God help us” is a correct, literal parsing of his speech.
    Bush is saying we will roll a pair of dice made of human lives and pray to god it comes up snake-eyes. IF not – well theres always the next escalation. Which, presumably will require a “terrorist attack” to take place, rather than the simple expedience of nabbing a few “terrorist suspects”.

    BTW Helen Thomas has been calling the increase an “escalation”, I hope it catches on.

  11. 11  Wisdo  January 25, 2007, 2:55 pm 

    ..And another thing. What is the “additional carrier strike group” in aid of? What exactly can a big nuclear powered aquatic airfield do to help a situation almost exclusivley involving close-quarters urban fighting?

    Answer – its for Iran, not iraq. I hope the author of liberty has an eye on that one too.

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