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Bush's Backpedaling 
Published: Feb 20 2004

New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning journalist who covers politics and media.

First, there were "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, then there weren't. First, we were going to go it alone without UN help, now we aren't. First, the United States opposed real elections in Iraq, now it doesn't. First, Saddam was a "grave and growing danger," then the war was really about "regime change."

Here's the latest from the Bush administration's Department of Corrections: Iraqi security forces, which we were assured were well-equipped to take over local security, suddenly aren't. After last Saturday's bloody raid in Fallujah, in which 23 Iraqi policemen were killed and many dangerous prisoners released, American officials now admit there's no way locals will be ready to take over by July 1—even as U.S. forces pull back, leaving Iraqi forces to go out on increasingly hazardous patrols.

The Bush administration, faced with a stinker of an economic situation, plans to run for re-election on a national defense-foreign policy plank. But how's it going to do that? Can anyone seriously trust any significant claim from this gang that definitely can't shoot straight—then insists that the goal was always to hit the wall not the target? With the administration now disowning claims about imminent threats, weapons of mass destruction and connections with Al Qaeda, it is reduced to pathetically claiming to have always supported regime change and democracy-building abroad—although Bush ran in 2000 largely on a plank opposed to such activism. In any case, the emperor's newest clothes prove transparent when contrasted with an October 2002 assertion by Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, as reported in The Washington Times, "that America would accept the continuation of Saddam Hussein's regime if Iraq disarms." Since we now know that Iraq, under pressure from UN inspectors, had already disarmed, which part of the Powell-Rice statement makes any sense at all?

What about Dick Cheney's pre-war assertion that Iraq's oil (along with its other resources) "belongs to the Iraqi people, needs to be put to use by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people and that will be one of our major objectives"? By all accounts, much of that resource base is being used to rebuild an infrastructure devastated by war and years of sanctions—although rebuilding involves paying typically excessive amounts to American contractors like Cheney's former (and future?) employer, Halliburton. Oh, and with six out of 10 Iraqis unemployed, the clean-up job is largely being handled by importing cheap migrant workers from Asia.

In December, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz declared that bids on 26 prime contracts were open only to countries that supported hostilities. This made explicit earlier administration threats to punish countries that opposed the war. But, on Feb. 11, the United States, desperately needing other countries to come in and take over the post-war bloodbath as U.S. troop casualties mounted and the U.S. presidential election loomed prominently, did an about-face. Now, all countries could bid on six billion dollars of Iraq contracts. "It's not necessarily a change in policy because this is how we normally do contracting," [a Pentagon] official said, in the Orwellian newspeak typical of this administration. "So there is no shift in policy here."

Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan, Bush's mouthpieces are now talking of delaying planned June elections because of instability in parts of the country.

What was once touted with the tired metaphor of a "road map" for Afghanistan now looks more like a guide to finding landmines by driving over them. In 2002, while trying to build support for the impending invasion of Iraq, the White House made certain claims about the just-concluded war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda: "The United States is committed to building a lasting partnership with Afghanistan. We will help the new Afghan government provide the security that is the foundation of peace." In fact, U.S. troops have been ferried out of that mess as quickly as possible, largely leaving hapless locals and foreign internationals to dodge bullets and bombs in a landscape torn by the same ethnic hatreds and warlord rivalries that predated the Taliban's rise. More than 400 of these international and local peacekeepers have died in the past half-year, while the main targets of the war, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, remain free—and Omar's Taliban is regaining strength steadily.

With so many things going so badly in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration has decided that Rummy's outfit is better at destroying than stabilizing, and taken the unusual step of turning over management of the security situation to the National Security Council, which is generally an advisory and coordination body. Anybody really believe that the likes of National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, who had trouble recalling basic information about the region when she assumed her post, is up to such an enormously complex challenge?

And of course, there's that popularity that never quite seems to emerge. Remember when Rumsfeld promised that our troops would be met with adulation? "There is no question but that they would be welcomed. Go back to Afghanistan—the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites and doing all the things that the Taliban and the Al Qaeda would not let them do." That was on Feb. 20,2003, in an interview with PBS's Jim Lehrer. (Thanks to the media watchdog group FAIR for excavating that one) Yet on Sept. 25, 2003, when quizzed by a reporter about these statements, Rumsfeld responded with a total disclaimer: "Never said that.... Never did. You may remember it well, but you're thinking of somebody else. You can't find anywhere me saying anything like [that].... I never said anything like that because I never knew what would happen and I knew I didn't know."

So there it is folks, the Bush Campaign 2004 slogan: "You Can't Blame Us When Things Go Wrong Because, No Matter What We Said, We Knew We Didn't Know What We Were Doing." Sort of has a nice ring of self-assurance to it.


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