From the NY Times’ Scott Shane: White House seeks a strategy for victory, at home and in Iraq.
While White House officials said the National Security Council document contained contributions from many federal departments, its creation and presentation strongly reflected the public opinion research of Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June.
Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented to administration officials their analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believe it would ultimately succeed.
That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly reflected in President Bush’s speech, in which he used the word victory 15 times and the podium was festooned with signs declaring “Plan for Victory.” The strategy document was infused by the same mantra, with victory repeated six times in the table of contents alone and sections labeled “Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest” and “Our Strategy for Victory is Clear.”
“This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency,” said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver’s colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. “The Pentagon doesn’t need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion.”
The role of Dr. Feaver in preparing the strategy document came to light through a quirk of technology. In a portion of the document usually hidden from public view but accessible with a few keystrokes, the plan posted on the White House Web site showed the document’s originator, or “author” in the software’s designation, to be “feaver-p.”
According to Matt Rozen, a spokesman for Adobe Systems, which makes the Acrobat software used to prepare the document, that entry indicated that Dr. Feaver created the original document that, with additions and editing, was eventually posted on the Web. There is no way to know from the text how much he wrote.
To head off the predictable objections of rational Bush supporters, I’m not claiming that this is some huge scandal, and yes, I’m aware that all politicians craft their public statements with an eye to manipulating public opinion. What I find noteworthy about this is that it adds to the growing weight of evidence that for the Bush White House, domestic politics, the gaining and holding of power, is the only thing they actually focus on. Mayberry Machiavellis, and all that.
Faced with eroding public support because the war is turning out to be a dumb idea, does the Bush team focus on figuring out how to actually win the thing? Maybe by making some tough decisions, like replacing the architects of the current failure with some of those smarter people who were predicting this outcome from the beginning? By changing course, maybe, to something that seems more likely to succeed?
No, of course not. That would involve a tacit admission of error, and the Bush team is so focused on maintaining the illusion that he’s qualified to be president that they avoid such admissions at all costs. Instead of doing something that might actually increase the odds of victory, the Bush team prefers to continue with the same failed policy, while running a new ad campaign to convince the public that down is up.
It’s the same thing a big HMO does in the face of eroding customer satisfaction: Don’t spend money on actually improving the quality of care. Instead, spend money on slick TV ads in which caring “doctors” gently touch the shoulders of smiling “patients.”
I love the smell of public relations in the morning. It smells like… victory.