As President Bush faces increasingly mounting pressure over the future funding of the Iraq War, and stands opposed to to the majority of Congress and more than 60% of the American population about extending the Iraq War beyond 2008, the president decided some weeks ago it was time to tear the wrapper off Al Qaeda In Iraq.
It's becoming clear that a fast-moving shift from the United States in sidelining the Sunni-led insurgency, to embracing it as an ally in restoring a non-Shia balance to the Middle East is about to take place. President Bush is trying to pump up flagging support for the Iraq War, and the 'War On Terror' in general, by making the deliberately vague and pretty well absurd claim that the same enemy who attacked the United States on 9/11, is now the number one threat to the United States in Iraq.
Bush needs to do this, re-market and re-package the Iraq War in the homeland, so when the US is seen to be making peace with the Iraqi insurgency, it can be claimed that the insurgency is no longer the greatest threat to the future of Iraq, or to American forces, and, in fact, the US is now working with members of the insurgency in fighting their common enemy : Al Qaeda.
If Bush can successfully sell this back home, and probably even if he can't, and the likelihood isn't strong, he will be able to extend the Iraq War through 2008 by claiming that the US and the Sunnis and the Shia and the Kurds have now all got Al Qaeda forces in Iraq on the run and the war must continue to finish them off.
Here's Bush recently attempting to resurrect the near mythical Al Qaeda threat :
President Bush on Wednesday declared al-Qaida "public enemy No. 1 in Iraq," placing increasing emphasis on the terror network forever associated with the deadliest attack in U.S. history.Here's Dana Millbank's reality check :
The president also seemed to offer another definition of success in Iraq _ not a lack of violence, but a livable level for citizens.
In a speech to construction contractors, Bush put a heavy focus on al-Qaida, which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. In doing so, he sought more bluntly to cast the unpopular Iraq war in terms that U.S. citizens could connect to their own lives.
"For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it's whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11," Bush said. "I strongly believe it's in our national interest to stay in the fight."
On Capitol Hill and across the nation, support for the war has long eroded as sectarian bloodletting gripped Baghdad. In the eyes of Democratic lawmakers and much of the war-weary public, U.S. forces have been dragged into a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis.
"The recent attacks are not the revenge killings that some have called a civil war," Bush told the Associated General Contractors of America. "They are a systematic assault on the entire nation. Al-Qaida is public enemy No. 1 in Iraq."
"Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed," he said. "And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not no violence. ... But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives."
Before the November election, Bush insisted to the media that the United States was "absolutely winning" the war. In December, he said the United States was neither winning nor losing, then clarified that he meant the U.S. was not succeeding as fast as he wanted.
The White House has repeatedly characterized success as an Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself.
President Bush is at odds with the American public and a restive congressional majority over the Iraq war, and even some Republicans talk about imposing new requirements that could trigger a troop withdrawal.
It's time to play the Qaeda card.
In a speech about Iraq yesterday morning at the Willard Hotel, the president mentioned Osama bin Laden's group -- 27 times. "For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it's whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11," Bush told a group of construction contractors.
Never mind all that talk about sectarian strife and civil war in Iraq. "The primary reason for the high level of violence is this: Al-Qaeda has ratcheted up its campaign of high-profile attacks," Bush disclosed.
The man who four years ago admitted "no evidence" of an Iraqi role in the Sept. 11 attacks now finds solid evidence of a role in Iraq by the Sept. 11 hijackers.
"I don't need to remind you who al-Qaeda is," Bush reminded. "Al-Qaeda is the group that plot and planned and trained killers to come and kill people on our soil. The same bunch that is causing havoc in Iraq were the ones who came and murdered our citizens."
This new line of argument would seem to present some difficulty for the White House, and not only because, as the Pentagon inspector general reported last month, al-Qaeda had no ties to Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003. More to the point: If the problem in Iraq isn't sectarian strife, then why is the U.S. military building walls to separate Sunni enclaves from Shiite neighborhoods?
On the Hill, Republicans took a Qaeda cue from the White House. "I can't understand how my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, knowing that al-Qaeda is in charge over there, knowing that they want to destroy us, knowing that Osama bin Laden wants to destroy America, that you want to pull out," Rep. Dan Burton (Ind.) railed on the House floor.
If Democrats are intimidated by the Qaeda card, they didn't show it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), an hour before visiting the White House to meet with Bush, gave an Iraq speech on the House floor. "This administration," she said, "should get a clue."
Bush not only wants to clear the way for the Sunni insurgency to now openly partner with the US in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, and using that as a gateway to bring the rebellion in from the cold, with the backing of Saudi Arabia, but it is a clear push by the president to try and link up all the dangers in Iraq to US troops to one clear and well known enemy : Al Qaeda.
The reality is too hard to sell in soundbites. Bush Co. don't want to have to explain that US forces are coming under attack from Sunni insurgents, rogue Iraq police and soldiers, angry Shia militias who don't want Americans in their neighbourhoods, or that Shia death squads are sectarian-cleansing entire suburbs of Baghdad, or that Sunnis are attacking Shia, and Al Qaeda is attacking both and US forces, and who knows who is setting off car bombs in Kirkuk.
Bush Co. needs a simple, clear identifiable enemy for the re-packaging of the Iraq War as something worth more American blood and billions. Al Qaeda, therefore, must be the new Nazis.
This attempt at rejigging the public focus on what is happening in Iraq is really only for US audiences, and a decreasing slice of the US population at that. Most of the rest of the world seems to have a clear understanding of the real enemy that the US faces in Iraq : Iraqis who are demanding the occupation of their country end, and all US troops leave, sooner rather than later.
On the end to the occupation, at least, most Iraqis are now united.
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