Reading Politics Into Everything

I can’t help it. Nowadays, when I read press statements, or when a source (credited or not) puts news out, a little movie runs in my head about how the decision was made to release the information. When I read this today, the movie played right on cue:

Via Drudge – General: U.S. likely to begin drawdown of forces in Iraq next year

The US military will probably begin withdrawing some forces from Iraq by next March after a political transition to an elected Iraqi government is completed, a top US commander said Tuesday.

AFP wire reports: Lieutenant General John Vines said that any drawdown would depend on conditions on the ground and that an abrupt large-scale withdrawal would be unwise. But he said as many as four or five brigades would probably come out in March.

“I suspect we will probably draw down capability after the election, because Iraqi security forces are more capable,” Vines said in a two-way press conference via video link from Iraq.

The Bush administration has been under pressure (a lot of pressure) lately to put a time table on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Over and over again, the president has stated that the troops will come home when the mission is complete. It has been his position from the beginning. I admire this. He has principals and commitments and he’s sticking to ‘em. The media really plays this up too. They portray the Bush administration as people who won’t budge, won’t compromise, won’t stop until they get their way. Truth is, I don’t believe there are as many strong-willed people in the administration as the media likes to believe. I think there are people who (contrary to the president) do read public opinion polls. I think there are personnel who worry about putting out good news on a daily basis, and I think there are PR folks who attempt to send small messages and float trial balloons through others to see how the public (through the media) will react. In other words, this administration is no different than previous ones.

OK, here’s what the little movie in my head looks like.

I see a small group of administration officials sitting in a room talking over the issue of troop withdrawal and the media’s unrelenting pressure to force the White House to give a date (preferably a date, an hour, minute and the second) as to when our men and women will leave Iraq. They’re all reviewing the latest poll results and they’re nervous. They are convinced that the public wants to believe that the troops will be coming home soon. They decide to find a military General in the field who will go on record and hypothesize about troop withdrawal. They make sure that the General gives a pseudo-withdrawal date, that he mentions how many troops could be coming home, and the reason for their release from combat duty.

Presto, instant news. Instant grist for the mill. Red meat for the media meat eaters.

Now the administration waits to see how the media will report the story. Will the news spread in such a way as to have a temporary lifting effect on the presidents job approval numbers? Is it enough? Will they need to bring out a few more high ranking military types who will go on record? Maybe they’ll need to book a General to visit with Tim Russert, or another high profile talking head? Maybe there’s a Senator who will make a statement? Will any of this buy the White House time to formulate additional stories to further improve public opinion?

All unanswerable questions.

So, that’s the movie I see in my head. My hunch tells me I’m not very far off the mark. After all, at the end of the day, it’s politics…it’s about keeping a majority in the next election cycle (2006) and laying the ground work for a good nominee with a tight message for 2008.

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