It’s not called the “silly season” for nothing; as Christmas approaches, the media are full of undemanding fare, light, humorous and content-free pieces.

Then there are other stories that look as if they should be humorous but aren’t. Witness today’s op-ed in The Australian by Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard (from which it’s reprinted): “At last, a plan for victory in Iraq”.

This could easily be satire. A president is faced with an overwhelming consensus that his invasion has been a disaster and that he needs to set in motion a plan for withdrawal of American forces, and how does he respond? By sending in more troops — another 50,000, according to Frederick Kagan — embedding them among the Iraqi population, and pursuing military victory ahead of political reconciliation.

But Barnes, and presumably Bush too, are deadly serious.

Some background here is useful. Fred Barnes was White House correspondent for many years at The New Republic, for which he provided a conservative voice on a generally liberal magazine. He left in 1995 to help establish The Weekly Standard, a News Limited venture that is said to lose over a million US dollars a year for Uncle Rupert and his shareholders.

So this is not some random emanation from commentator-land. Barnes knows what he is talking about, and his assessment of George W Bush’s intentions matches the other evidence of the last fortnight: that the president has no intention of accepting the key recommendations of the Iraq study group, and that measures such as the removal of Donald Rumsfeld are purely a sop to public opinion, not evidence of any change of thinking.

Yet the idea of pursuing military victory Iraq, while packaged as something new, is of course the same failed strategy that has soaked the country in blood for the last three years. “Conquest first, reconciliation afterwards” amounts to ignoring the wishes of the Iraqis in the service of a crazed imperial ambition that is further than ever from having any coherent justification.

Peter Fray

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