White House Officials Admit They Don’t Buy Bush’s Iraq Rhetoric

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President Bush has made two main claims when attacking the Democrats’ push for an Iraq withdrawal timeline. The first is the Dems are legislating defeat. “The American people did not vote for failure and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership bill would guarantee,” he said recently. The goal, obviously, is shame and embarrassment. No one wants to be a surrender monkey.

The second claim is that a bloodbath, both within Iraq’s borders and without, will follow an American withdrawal. “[Withdrawal] could unleash chaos in Iraq that could spread across the entire region,” the president has said. “It would be an invitation to the enemy to attack America and our friends around the world.” In a different appearance, he said, “The security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq.” The idea here is to convince Americans (1) we have a moral obligation to protect the vulnerable, and (2) we have a national security reason to keep on fighting.

According to a new Newsweek article, however, the second claim is mostly PR pablum, and high-level officials within the administration know it.

One senior administration official with extensive knowledge of the region, who didn’t want to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters, tells NEWSWEEK that the chances of a regional war in Iraq are low in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. When asked if a regional war would break out, the official said: “Possibly, not probably. It’s more likely that other powers would support their favorite militias, as they’re doing already.”

What’s more, the ethnic cleansing many fear would tear through Iraq in the absence of U.S. troops is mostly fantasy.

The senior official said the genocidal bloodbath that Sen. John McCain outlined recently was also unlikely, pointing to the militias’ ability to secure their own neighborhoods after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in early 2006.

The Newsweek writers speculate that the reason Bush keeps pushing this doomsday talk is that it is a good way of keeping the pressure on the Democrats. It’s all politics, they argue. I disagree. I think Bush believes his own spin. I think the positions he espouses now are the inevitable positions someone would hold if they believed almost messianically that they were doing the right thing every step of the way, and did not bother to hear dissent, from external experts or White House staffers, at any point.

It’s psychological. (Cognitive dissonance? Correct me in the comments.) Bush already believes the war must go on, so he has to buy shoddy reasoning in order to square his belief. It reminds me of how we got into war: neocons in the administration believed the war had to happen, so they got on board with bad intelligence (either they believed it, or pretended to) in order to justify their belief.

(And PS — I am legitimately scared at the idea of ethnic cleansing in the wake of our departure. But can the violence really get worse that it is now?)

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