GOP: Between Iraq And A Hard Place genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Playing whack-a-mole

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has stepped up efforts to bring calm to war torn Baghdad and put an end to the rampant sectarian violence. Unfortunately, the news coming from Iraq indicates that the campaign isn't succeeding as U.S. casualties are headed for a monthly record and the number of death squad attacks on fellow Iraqis continues at an alarming pace. The New York Times reports that a leading general has conceded that the plan isn't working and he is calling for a reevaluation of the American strategy.

BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 — The American-led crackdown in Baghdad has not succeeded in reducing a “disheartening" level of violence across the capital and a new approach is needed, a military spokesman said today.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman for the American military in Iraq, said that the strategy of concentrating on a limited number of highly troubled neighborhoods had not slowed sectarian violence in the city as a whole.

General Caldwell said that attacks in the Baghdad area went up 22 percent during the first three weeks of Ramadan in comparison with the three weeks before.

The news couldn't be worse for the Bush administration and GOP candidates across the country. It’s well known that the Rove strategy for the 2006 midterm included an effort to connect the war in Iraq with the war on terror but the increasing violence is only heightening voter dissatisfaction with the handling of the war and undermining the message that Iraq is the main front in fighting terror. Even if voters believe that Iraq is the focal point in the war on terror, the lack of success is leading voters to conclude that neither the Iraq war or the war on terror are being properly managed. Those conclusions cannot be good news for the Republican Party.

General Caldwell’s statement comes at a politically sensitive moment, when attacks on American forces have been increasing and many Democrats are making the situation in Iraq their central issue in the fall Congressional campaign.

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told reporters in Washington today that the general was not saying that the effort in Baghdad had been a failure.

“What he said is that the levels of violence had not been lowered in a way that met our expectations, and so what we’re doing is we’re adjusting to bring them down, which is what you’d expect," Mr. Snow said.

You can be sure that if Tony Snow has to clarify what the general meant to say, then the Bush administration must realize they need to be in full scale damage control with less than three weeks until the midterm election. I could be wrong, but it does seem that voter sentiment has reached the tipping point and it is doubtful that they will alter their conclusions about the war effort. In fact, it is hard to imagine what news could alter the mood of the electorate at this late date.

In Baghdad, General Caldwell said that violence had begun to return to some of the areas that had been the focus of the crackdown, as Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda “push back."

He said their strategy seemed to be that “if you want to discredit this government, go back and strike at those areas" that officials have announced as newly peaceful.

He said that American forces had recently returned to the Dora neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad, which had been held up as one of the prime successes of the crackdown.

Reading between the lines, I would equate the strategy with what John McCain has called a game of whack-a-mole whereby we are chasing insurgents from neighborhood to neighborhood because we haven't committed the troop strength necessary to control the entire city. Further, the Iraqi forces continue to prove ineffective...and may be actually participating in the sectarian strife. Frankly, the Bush administration's intransigence must bear the bulk of the blame as they refused to listen to those who argued that we would need a much larger troop presence to win the peace. To call for more troops now will only be met with more criticism and it would be a tacit admission that the war strategy was badly flawed...a perspective now held by a large majority of Americans.

Daniel DiRito | October 19, 2006 | 11:58 AM
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1 On October 20, 2006 at 12:29 PM, William wrote —

Find out how other Americans feel. Our foreign policy index is an amazing way to gage public opinion about American foreign policy and the current state of affairs, and from the way things look, the public may just be at a tipping point. Read on…

Here at Public Agenda, we’ve created a new tool to track Americans’ opinions on foreign policy issues, providing a basis for political commentary. Similar to the Consumer Confidence Index, the Foreign Policy Anxiety Indicator provides policy makers, journalists and ordinary citizens with the public's overall comfort level with America's place in the world and current foreign policy.

An essential tool updated twice a year, the Indicator will consistently provide much-needed information on the public’s perception of more than two dozen aspects of international relations.

In a world strewn with violence and highly-charged international issues, Americans are broadly uneasy about U.S. foreign policy. The September 2006 shows the Foreign Policy Anxiety Indicator at 130 on a scale of 0 to 200, where 0 is the most confident, 200 the most anxious and 100 neutral.

Eight in 10 Americans feel the world is becoming a more dangerous place for Americans, yet they're also skeptical about most of the possible solutions, such as creating democracies or global development. Only improved intelligence gathering and energy independence have substantial support, with energy firmly established as a national security problem
for the public.

In fact, the public lacks confidence in many of the measures being taken to ensure America’s security. Less than 33% of Americans give the U.S. government an “A" or a “B" grade for its execution of the following foreign policy issues: reaching goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, maintaining good relationships with Muslim countries and protecting U.S. borders from illegal immigration. And these are just a few of the findings of the survey.

These are some of the other startling findings:

- 83 percent say they are worried about the way things are going for the United States in world affairs (35 percent worry "a lot", with an additional 48 percent saying they worry "somewhat.")

- 79 percent say the world is becoming more dangerous for the United States and the American people

- 69 percent say the United States is doing a fair or poor job in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world

- 64 percent say the rest of the world sees the United States negatively

- 58 percent say U.S. relations with the rest of the world are on the wrong track

Want to learn more? Go to to download the report.

Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group devoted to public opinion and public policy. The confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index is developed in cooperation with Foreign Affairs with support from the Hewlett and Ford foundations.

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