Thursday, December 28, 2006

Josh Marshall, prompted by Matthew Ygelsias, notices the dynamic of Bush's search for a "new" Iraq policy:

No actual policy or strategic imperative is driving the move to escalate the conflict in Iraq. The real causes are political and psychological.

To put it simply, the presidential is neither psychologically nor politically capable of leaving Iraq. The 2006 election made it clear the current course can't be sustained politically. Even his own party won't back it. That leaves escalation as the only alternative. All that's left is a rationale for doing so. And that's what the president is now working on.

That doesn't mean that in theory there couldn't be a good argument for escalation, only that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with why the president is in favor of escalation . . .

You can read Josh and Matthew as calling attention to the lack of rational thought in this process, and it is true that that President Bush does not appear to be engaged in rational thought about "how to win in Iraq", but, then, Bush was never so engaged.

One can also read it, though, as a process of collective thought -- the way a body politic "thinks" through an issue, in a sense. A whole lot of people, who have supported the War are being brought around, slowly perhaps, to a recognition of the reality that the Iraq War has been a complete disaster for the U.S., and there's nothing, which can be done, now, to rescue the situtation. This process of collective "thought" is the process of political storm.

There's a political contest going on, between alternative narratives, and that contest between narratives is divorced, for the moment, from analyses of what might change the military or political processes on the ground. Bush is not seeking, analytically, a way to change things in Iraq. Being a bit stunted intellectually, by a lifetime of laziness and incuriousity, he probably never concerned himself with such an analysis. He delegated that job. He's looking for a political narrative, which doesn't involve admitting that he has failed, miserably, in the principal enterprise of his Presidency. As Matthew puts its,
Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president's thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public's concerns about the war and concede that things weren't going well. At
that point, simply staying the course doesn't work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation.
The narrative of persistence -- "this is going to a long and difficult fight, but, if we have the determination to stay an indefinitely long time, we will win" -- is a particularly powerful one, for human psychology, but, as Matthew Yglesias notes, it was subverted by a combination of the passage of time without positive results, and the imperatives of the last political campaign.

If you are going to claim progress, you had better have milestones of progress to point to, to refresh your narrative, or the power of the narrative will erode. And, if you acknowledge that things are not going well, then erosion of your narrative accelerates. Neither Josh nor Matthew says it, but escalation has the potential to accelerate the erosion of confidence in a narrative of persistance.

First, changing strategy draws attention to the analysis of ends and means: "what's the goal, and how is what we are doing going to achieve that goal?" in an analytical sense.

Second, if you add resources, and the situation continues to deteriorate, that is hard to reconcile with a narrative that claims merely persisting will accomplish anything.

And, of course, as confidence in the narrative erodes, so, too, does confidence in the narrator(s).

There's been a lot of ridicule, from the Left, of the narrative of persistence. The Right's fall-back position is to blame the Iraqis and/or the Democrats (i.e. "Defeatocrats"). And, we may see many more politicians adopting the posture that we should give the Iraqis, deadlines for this and that, so that we can blame the Iraqis and exit, without admitting that the failure is, largely the fault of U.S. policy and the incompetence of U.S. officials.

Bush, himself, though, appears determined to draw attention to his own incompetence. Less forgiving narratives, than ones that implausibly blame the Iraqis, which feature Bush's incompetence, have the potential to create a political storm of immense dimension and scope.

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