Monday, August 08, 2005

Can GSAVE be saved?

I almost gave up last week trying to figure out exactly what was going on with GWOT and GSAVE. Was it all just about having an acronym with some uplift? No, it wasn't. It was the result of a long process of policy development/retrenchment within the Defense Department and National Security Council. They sensibly concluded that focusing all resources on killing and capturing terrorists wasn't enough.

But while "global struggle against violent extremism" may be a more nuanced - er, accurate - description of the nature of the problem, it makes a lousy slogan. It sounds even vaguer than a "war on terror." It addresses causes, not effects, and Bush doesn't do root causes. With GSAVE the aim is to stop people from being extremists - a worthy and neglected goal. With GWOT, the goal is to stop the extremists from blowing us up. Simpler and easier. You can see why Bush quickly switched gears and went back to the "terror" mantra.

But what of the underlying policy shift? Does Bush's repudiation of the slogan equal a rejection of the whole GSAVE package? Ed Kilgore postulates that it might, and that the conflict reflects growing divisions between the White House and Pentagon over Iraq:

...there's the constant drumbeat of suggestions from the Pentagon that things are going so swimmingly in Iraq that we might be able to begin bringing home troops by next spring--in sharp contrast to Bush's repeated argument that any talk of withdrawal prior to the military defeat of the insurgency, or a dramatic increase in Iraqi security capabilities, offers encouragement to the enemy.

A lot of Democrats think the Pentagon is finally getting out of denial. But on the Republican side of the punditocracy, there's neoconservative editor Bill Kristol , who thinks Rummy and the boys are turning coat and undermining Bush after having concluded that Iraq is a military disaster that's redeemable only by an Iraqi government that's showing us the door, even as Bush still holds out for a U.S.-led victory over the insurgents.

Is this, the most "disciplined" administration in memory, about to be torn apart on the issue it has made its very signature? Hard to imagine, but it's starting to look that way. It would sure be ironic if Rumsfeld finally got the sack not for his incompetent handling of Iraq, but for his belief that a change of course is necessary.