Students of warfare will tell you that the stroke of actual violence is sometimes only the coup de grace. The build-up can be key: creating divisions in the enemy camp, sowing confusion and uncertainty with disinformation and propaganda, putting the enemy off-balance. Sun-Tzu has a slew of great aphorisms illustrating the point.
Unfortunately, those things seem to be happening here, in the United States, at least as much as in Iraq.
The Stratfor strategy intelligence site said yesterday that the White House is beginning a climb-down from its bellicose rhetoric on Iraq and looking for the least damaging way to do so. Or maybe not? The President has called a meeting of what amounts to his war cabinet down in Crawford, Texas on Wednesday. Officially, they're slated to talk about military 'transformation.' The personnel involved, however, make it look more like a meeting -- perhaps a key one -- on Iraq.
What's going on? Who knows? And that uncertainty applies to pretty much everything about administration Iraq policy right now. What we're doing, how we're going to do it, why we're going to do it. Everything.
The administration's approach to building up to this conflict turns out to be a reductio ad absurdum of its notorious addiction to secrecy. They say it's premature for the president to discuss why, when and how we might be going to war or what the costs might be because he has not yet made a decision about whether to do it at all. Until then, everything's under wraps. Yet this is belied by numerous statements that make the president's decision -- in favor of war -- seem quite clear. In fact, if the president hasn't made a decision he is making his country play the fool on the world stage since he and his advisors are clearly threatening war. Either he's not leveling with the country when he says he hasn't made a decision or he's engaging in a classic case of talking loudly and carrying a very little stick.
"I want him to make the case when he's decided to go in," said Ken Adelman this evening on Crossfire, summing up the administration line. "That will be the time to make the case." In other words, persuade the public after you've signed off on an attack. But this isn't persuasion or even explanation. It's just an announcement -- the presidential equivalent of a declaration of war.
You build support for a war policy so that you go into it with a unified nation behind you. You don't commit yourself and then go see if you can convince anyone that it's a good idea. In any case, the issue here isn't really a matter of the quality of the president's presentation. It's the palpable and widespread doubt that the president's team really knows what they're doing. They're working up their Iraq policy like they crafted the botched plan for the Department of Homeland Security, with a half dozen suits working away in secret in some windowless room in the White House, ready to spring the whole thing on the public fully formed, and then hope -- really hope -- that everyone is wowed into falling into line. Adelman again sums it up nicely: "I think that once the president ... says that we absolutely have to go in. ... I think that the view of Americans, 90 percent of Americans would say that's a very good thing." Truthfully, it's another example of the big bluff from the White House.
Let's be honest. There's a more logical explanation for the president's weird reluctance to talk details. The White House has walked very far out onto the plank committing itself to 'regime change' by war. If they have to climb down from that rhetoric now the country will be embarrassed and humiliated. At best they have tenuous support within the country. They have virtually no support anywhere else in the world. And to date they have no credible war plan that withstands both military and geopolitical scrutiny. Like Adelman, they say that once the president gives the go-ahead all of this will change. Keeping up the no-decision's-been-made charade puts off having to admit that that's not true.