Bush's Iraq 'Strategy' seen as public relations exercise

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Sunday, December 4, 2005

The US commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq said that he had no knowledge of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq document released by the US President. This, along with speculation that the document was chiefly authored by a public opinion analyst recruited by the White House have led to some critics claiming that the drafted 'strategy' is targeting US public opinion, not the Iraqi insurgency.

The military, political and economic strategy for Iraq, outlined last week by President Bush in a speech at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, was based by a 35-page document titled the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. A metadata tag on the document posted on the White House website identified its author as a computer user 'feaver_p'. It is believed to refer to Dr. Peter D. Feaver, a special advisor to the National Security Council staff.

A political scientist at Duke University, Dr. Feaver analyzed public opinion polls about the Iraq war and attitudes towards war casualties. Dr. Feaver found that US public opinion will support military engagement abroad, despite growing casualties, provided that the public believed that the war was being fought for a worthy cause and that victory was achievable.

Dr. Feaver was one of the people who helped "conceive and draft" the document, according to a White House staffer, who said that Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, and her staff played a larger role. White House officials confirmed to the New York Times that the document's "creation and presentation strongly reflected the public opinion research".

The document "reflects the broad interagency effort under way in Iraq" according to an NSC spokesman Frederick Jones and had received major contributions from the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury and Homeland Security, as well as the director of National Intelligence.

On Friday, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, whose Multinational Security Transition Command is responsible for building Iraq's security forces, told reporters that he had seen the strategy document for the first time when it was released to the public. The White House had said that not all senior officers in Iraq had necessarily seen the document and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that he had read and critiqued the document on several occasions.

Earlier, replying to questions about the President's strategy, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that the document was an "inter-agency document" and an "unclassified version" of the administrations "strategy for victory in Iraq" published for the public to view.

Christopher F. Gelpi, of Duke University, who co-authored Dr. Feaver's work titled Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq, stated, "The Pentagon doesn't need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion." In their work together, Gelpi, Feaver and Reifler found that the most important factor which determines the US public's tolerance for US military deaths in a war is the public's beliefs about the likelihood of success, and a secondary, but still important, factor, was found to be the public's belief in the rightness of a war.

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