Petraeus and Bush's Coming Iraq Blame Game
In the Washington Post today, Dan Froomkin offered readers a preview of the fate that awaits General David Petraeus at the hands of President Bush. Petraeus should prepare for his designated role as Bush's Iraq fall-guy come September because, as Froomkin noted, "he has a tendency to celebrate his generals when they're providing him political cover -- then stick a knife in their backs when they're no longer of any use to him." And as I wrote last December, outsourcing responsibility - and blame - has been President Bush's m.o. since his ill-fated Iraq invasion in 2003.
Froomkin pointed to Bush's cowardly finger-pointing at Iraq campaign architect General Tommy Franks during last week's surreal interim progress report on the surge:
Last week, Bush rejected any blame for the chaos that ensued in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion. So whose fault was it? Bush pointed the finger at Gen. Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief at the time. "My primary question to General Franks was, do you have what it takes to succeed? And do you have what it takes to succeed after you succeed in removing Saddam Hussein? And his answer was, yes," Bush said.
That's the same Tommy Franks to whom Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom in 2004.
And when virtually all of Bush military line of command, including the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposed his "surge" proposal late last year, Bush responded not by listening, but by removing the top two commanders responsible for Iraq and replacing them with more amenable leaders, including Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus.
Petraeus, as it happens, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post just five weeks before the 2004 election describing what he called "reasons for optimism" in Iraq. Now Petraeus is Bush's "main man." Maybe he should be watching his back.
Of course, appropriating undue credit and deflecting much deserved blame as been a hallmark of George W. Bush's tenure as the Iraq "War President." As I wrote in "Iraq and the 7 Habits of Highly Defective Presidents," unable to define the objective or even what constitutes victory in Iraq, President Bush at almost every critical turn in the war pinned responsibility for success or failure on others:
For example, the politically unpopular prospect of increasing troop levels has been a decision "for the generals." Ever since effectively disemboweling former Army Chief General Eric Shinseki for his January 2003 statement that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand soldiers," President Bush has laughably claimed he would look to his general to request more boots on the ground. In January 2006, Bush repeated that "I'm going to continue to rely upon those commanders, such as General Casey...his recommendations will determine the number of troops we have on the ground in Iraq." By October, the President was still singing from the same hymnal, proclaiming "if the generals tell me they need more troops, I'll send them."
From almost the moment the invasion was launched, Bush treated political developments in Iraq no differently. The make-or-break decisions of 2003, including the dissolution of the Iraqi army, privatization of state-owned businesses and the harsh policy of de-Baathification, were left to Paul Bremer, Bush's man in Baghdad. That August, Bush told the American Legion Convention that "The coalition provisional authority, led by Ambassador Paul Bremer, is implementing a comprehensive plan to ensure a successful, democratic Iraq, and a better future for the Iraqi people." But in 2004, as Ayatollah Sistani led Shiite resistance to Bremer's plan for Iraqi elections, the writing of a new constitution and the handover of sovereignty, a cornered President Bush turned to the United Nations of all places to save his bacon:
"At this moment, United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is conducting intensive consultations with a wide range of Iraqis on the structure of the interim government that will assume control on July the 1st. We welcome this U.N. engagement."
Fast forward to 2006 and President Bush is again making the case that success or failure in Iraq squarely hinges on someone else. Despite the misgivings of his own national security advisor, Bush this past November hitched his wagon to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, claiming "he is the right guy for Iraq."
Of course, one of the corollary benefits of naming those vested with responsibility for new strategies is the opportunity to conveniently blame them for later failures. For example, President Bush moved to quickly sack Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following the GOP's 2006 midterm election disaster. Whereas Bush claimed on November 8 that "win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee," Rumsfeld concluded that his dismissal was based "the outcome of the election."
WaPo's Froomkin is almost assuredly correct that General Petraeus will fall victim to the Bush administration's Iraq blame game. After all, President Bush's habit is to evade accountability by naming names and farming out responsibility. And with this President, bad old habits die hard.
For a detailed look at how George W. Bush runs the Iraq war liked a failed business manager, see:
"Iraq and the 7 Habits of Highly Defective Presidents."