Comedy gold tonight on CBS as the president hints that he’s being scapegoated by his critics; that the problem with Iraqis is that they’re insufficiently grateful; and that he’s a “flexible, open-minded person” — with an oblique jab at Clinton’s legacy obsession thrown in for good measure. The soundbite tomorrow, though, will be the part where he says he has the authority to surge no matter what Congress does. That’s not quite true: if they passed an amendment to the original Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq freezing the troop numbers at the current levels, that would (arguably) make any surge deployment orders unconstitutional. They’d need 60 votes to do that, though, as the Republicans would surely filibuster it. And even if they had the votes, they don’t have the stones.
Also ominous: his noncommittal answer to the question of whether Sadr is an enemy of the United States. There’s always a risk of reading too much into presidential statements, but I took it to mean we won’t be targeting him if he doesn’t target us. Which is exactly what Sadr wants to hear.
His counterfactual about how Saddam would have responded to Iran’s drive for nukes is on the money, though.
Exit question: Why was the president of the United States forced to watch video of the execution on the Internet with the rest of us schmucks? Is our intel in Iraq so poor now that the CIA couldn’t get its own copy from the Iraqi government?
Update: Sunni jihadis and Shiite militias are half the problem. The other half is the Iraqi government, which is now so distrusted by the American military that the Baghdad operation is being organized with a novel command structure — including a “crisis counsel” comprised of Maliki, Iraqi ministers, and Gen. Petraeus in supreme command of the Iraqi military and Iraqi generals being paired with American babysitters — to make sure Sunni and Shiite commanders don’t go renegade. Quote:
“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad closely involved in negotiations over the plan, expressing frustration. “We are being played like a pawn.”…
A major worry among the Americans is that their own efforts to clear areas of the city will be used by militia groups, or even by the Shiite-dominated government forces, as an opening to grab territory and to seed the newly cleared area with their own allies. The concern centers on both Sunni and Shiite armed groups, but particularly on the Shiites. “We are doing their bidding unknowingly,” one American military official said.
“You go clean the area, but then it’s backfilled by JAM,” he said, in a reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia of the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. “That’s the heart of the problem.”
Update: Speaking of executions, the two men found guilty with Saddam have now been hanged.