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Russert Watch: Being General George Casey

03/19/2006 05:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To paraphrase Kanye West, George Bush doesn't care about the commanders on the ground.

Today's Meet the Press was the latest and most pathetic example of Bush's "Whipping Boy" Iraq political strategy. Anyone who's at least moderately adept at reading the White House's political approach to the war knows that Bush has been engaged in an ongoing effort to covertly deflect blame for the bloody mistakes of the Iraq War onto the soldiers on the ground. Do the list: Abu Ghraib, al-Qaqaa, troop levels, you name it.

If this weren't the case, then General Casey would never have been thrust into the line of fire this morning to commemorate the third leathery gimp suit anniversary of the war.

Backing up, I want to preface today's Russert Watch by saying that I refuse to criticize either Russert or General Casey regarding the discourse of today's show. In the context of Iraq, I believe strongly in Colin Powell's famous quote to the president: "You break it, you own it." We can sift through the cast of characters, but this is Bush's war and Bush's war alone.

Here's how the Whipping Boy strategy games out as follows:

1) When the shit flies, and Bush's Iraq policy is criticized, Bush says he listens to the commanders on the ground.
2) The commanders are fed Bush talking points and threatened with replacement (The Shinseki Corollary) unless they repeat the points.
3) The commanders repeat the points due to coercion and their duty to follow orders.
4) When the shit flies, and Bush's Iraq policy is criticized, Bush says he listens to the commanders on the ground.
5) Bush has an excuse and the commanders get screwed.

So as I document General Casey's Meet the Press appearance this morning, I'm going to attribute every delusional quote to "PRESIDENT BUSH". It's only fair, because what I heard this morning weren't views indicative of a four star general in the midst of the chaos of Iraq.

The statements made on Meet the Press by General Casey reeked of a pre-scripted Thomas Kinkade view of Iraq painted by White House political operatives and fed to the General. The sad difference between Bush and the General is the unfortunate fact that General Casey had to face a well-prepared and highly embarrassing debunking at the hands of Russert and Rep. John Murtha, while Bubble Boy is only subjected to the soft bigotry of sympathetic audiences and an occasional press conference in which he rarely calls on reporters who are considered to be unfriendly.

I'm more convinced than ever that the commander was being forced -- coerced -- into repeating the same delusional and incompetent talking points Bush has been making for years. And reprinting the words don't do full justice to their impact. You have to have heard the tone and pacing of General Casey's speech pattern to fully understand that, in my opinion, he didn't buy half the things he said today.

PRESIDENT BUSH on Operation Swarmer:

They've had pretty good success there in terms of weapons caches that they've found and people that they've, they've detained. So again, one of a continuing series of operations that we will continue to run here to keep the pressure on al-Qaida.

Russert quoted from this week's Time Magazine which revealed Swarmer was nothing more than a militarily ineffective political photo op. The reality...

...no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

Hardly the Biggest Assault Since Shock & Awe. The upside, Time reported, was that the embeds and troops got their hands on some homemade bread. A change of pace from the usual cake.

PRESIDENT BUSH on the political process:

And they have gone through three national polls in a year and in each one, the levels of participation increased, the levels of violence decreased, and each time the terrorists and the foreign fighters--the same groups that are trying to foment* sectarian strife right now--failed to stop the election, the referendum and the, and the election in December. [* the word "foment" was also used by Cheney today on Face the Nation. Place your bets on how many times Bush will use the word this week. I've got my money on four times.]

Violence, of course, has increased as a result of the Iraqi government's lack of inclusion of the Sunnis. Muqtada al-Sadr is calling the shots from behind the scenes. And the sectarian civil war has resulted in the return of mass graves to the Iraqi landscape. Though, with over 30,000 estimated Iraqi civilian deaths in three years, mass graves never quite disappeared after Saddam's capture.

Allawi and everyone in the world says Iraq has become a civil war. PRESIDENT BUSH:

I, I do not believe, one, that we are in a civil war right now; two, nor do I believe that a civil war is imminent or necessarily inevitable.

I honestly think Bush slid down a portal behind a White House filing cabinet and inhabited General Casey's body. Next up? General Casey will take up puppetry and John Malkovich will become jealous.

The possession of General Casey was best exemplified during the "timetable" versus "benchmark" debate.

MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday, "President Bush vowed for the first time to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year." [...] When the Democrats suggested last year setting a timetable, the president and others said that would send the wrong message to the enemy. Why have things changed?

PRESIDENT BUSH replied:

Tim, I don't, I don't see what the president said about passing off parts of Iraq to the Iraqi security forces as a timetable. What the president said has, has been our strategy all along. [...] I think he's putting a, a, a benchmark out there for us--and it certainly is a very achievable benchmark--but I don't see it as a timetable at all.

Can anyone explain how Bush's statement isn't setting a timetable? "End of the year" is a reference to time, isn't it? That is, unless Bush is actually an multidimensional entity like Q from Star Trek and lives outside the realms of time-space. Not meeting a timetable would bring the same political consequences as not meeting a benchmark, no? So boiled down, it's the same damn thing.

Either way he happens to slice it, he's flip flopping on his "emboldening the enemy with a timetable" comments. Except in the case of Meet the Press, General Casey is the unfortunate subordinate who's forced to take the heat for it.

The most egregious example of a commander taking a hit for the Bush administration came during this painful exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: The new book, "Cobra II," says that in April of 2003, General Tommy Franks said to draw up plans to have just 30,000 American troops on the ground at the end of 2003. Did you ever imagine that three years into the war there would still be 130,000 Americans on the ground after sustaining 2300 American deaths and 17,000 American injuries?

GEN. CASEY: Did I ever imagine? I, I certainly couldn't come up with a number of 130,000, but did I think that there would be a fairly substantial U.S. presence here for a period of time after the war ended.

Quoting it here in print doesn't do justice to the pain in General Casey's voice as he answered Russert's question. The pregnant pause between Russert's question and the General's reply can't be illustrated with words. But the rest of his statement was a brief glimpse at the reality which many outside the White House bubble understood and which the Bush sycophants and apologists didn't foresee. General Casey knew that we'd be in Iraq for a long while. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I can't bring myself to believe that every U.S. commander bought into Bush's pitch that the invasion and occupation would be brief and smooth.

Call me idealistic, but there's no chance in hell General Casey would willfully define the increased insurgent activity as "interesting shifts"; activity in Baghdad as "bustle" as in "hustle and bustle"; and, with a turn of phrase direct from The Big Book of What The F**k? by Donald Rumsfeld, describe the ever shifting status of the Iraqi forces as "not uniformly good [...] generally good."

You can't convince me otherwise.

And then there was Rep. John Murtha, who, as usual, presented the most sober, articulate, and lucid view of the Iraq War. As a military man, Murtha recognized Casey's (PRESIDENT BUSH's) statements as political rhetoric -- a statement which inspired the thesis of this edition of Russert Watch.

And, of course, there was this exchange which speaks for itself:

REP. MURTHA: Here, here's what you should do, Mr. President. First of all, you should fire all the people who are responsible for that, which gives you international credibility.

MR. RUSSERT: Including his secretary of defense?

REP. MURTHA: Well, he, he should--well, let's say he should offer his resignation, because he certainly...

MR. RUSSERT: And it's sure to be accepted?

REP. MURTHA: I would accept it, that's exactly right.

MR. RUSSERT: What about the vice president?

REP. MURTHA: Well, you can't fire the vice president, so I think he'll, he'll have to handle this himself.

MR. RUSSERT: Should he offer his resignation?

REP. MURTHA: Yeah.

I'm captivated every time I hear Murtha speak. Very rarely do we get a modern politician on the national stage who is as spontaneously inspiring; who can speak with Murtha's level of extemporaneous precision, organization, and clarity.

If there are any congressional Democrats reading this article today, I urge you to, 1) pay more damn attention to the environment! We're dying out here! And, 2) elevate Congressman Murtha to a leadership role immediately. He represents the voice of disillusioned citizens everywhere who are starved for bold leadership and decisiveness. Likewise, Senator Russ Feingold is of the same quality.

And finally, on this third anniversary of the beginning of the war, I'd like to dedicate the day to my stepbrother, a Marine who has experienced Iraq firsthand in places like Fallujah and Ramadi. If he happens to be reading this, I think I speak for everyone who questions the war when I say that no matter what is said about the White House's conduct or the war in general, we will always stand behind you and your comrades no matter what. We've got your back and we thank you. Cheers, my brother.