Hall of Mirrors
Like Orson Welles in "The Lady from Shanghai" trying to find the real killer among the dozens of images in the hall of mirrors, Americans and Iraqis are having a hard time figuring out what the US administration's real policy on Iraq is.
Consider the following observations from Sunday's NY Times in the context of recent threats by administration officials that PM Maliki has two more months to show some progress, and widely leaked reports that one of the options being considered by the bipartisan Baker commission is the installation of a military government under a Saddam-like strongman.
The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, senior American officials said. Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised
"Carried out over the next year" doesn't quite jibe with the demand to produce results in the next two months, does it! What is this statement above, just smoke?
Although the plan would not threaten Mr. Maliki with a withdrawal of American troops, several officials said the Bush administration would consider changes in military strategy and other penalties if Iraq balked at adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks within it
What could be meant by "changes in military strategy" other than withdrawal? We've tried everything else already. And what other "penalties" might we have in mind? Forcing Maliki to live outside the Green Zone?
Further, are these remarks actually addressed to Maliki at all?
The idea of devising specific steps that Mr. Maliki would have to take was described by senior officials who support the plan but would speak only on condition of anonymity. Their willingness to discuss a plan that has not been fully drafted appeared intended at least in part to signal renewed flexibility on the part of the administration, and perhaps also to pre-empt the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, a commission led by James A. Baker III and charged with formulating a new strategy in Iraq
"Flexibility" is an image the administration desperately needs to project to the American people, who are tired of the President's stubborn "stay the course". At the same time, the President can't allow a perception that the Baker commission is now calling the shots, though he also needs their bi-partisan cover for the reversal of policy which is certainly coming.
Managing perceptions while solving an intractable real-world situation are purposes that are inevitably going to clash. That's when you bring in the master-obfuscator
But Mr. Rumsfeld was quick to play down expectations: “There’s no doubt in my
mind but that some of those projections we won’t make; it will be later, or even earlier in some instances. And in some cases, once we meet the projection, we may have to go back and do it again
Who can blame PM Maliki for calling the President last week and saying "what are you talking about, over there?"
Finally, all the verbiage may boil down to putting the blame for our mistakes on the Iraqi government
Officials are also considering a timetable for the Iraqi Defense Ministry to have in place systems for paying, feeding and equipping its units, jobs that are still overseen to a large degree by American advisers and by contractors, some of whom have not performed well, officials said
How ignoble, when a bully ends up blaming his victims!