Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Refusing to Lose: President Bush on Iraq

President Bush is holding steady on his Iraq policy, despite the withrawal drive of congressional Democrats, and the defections of a number of key Republicans. This week's Newsweek has the details:

How do you manage the process of losing a war? Americans don't like the word "defeat"; certainly, President George W. Bush won't be caught using it. He continues to talk of victory in Iraq, to insist that anything less is unacceptable. But his circle of true believers seems to be getting ever smaller. It may be limited to Vice President Dick Cheney, maybe a military commander or two and a few diehard senators. For everyone else in a position of authority over the war effort, there seems to be a grim recognition that Iraq is a lost cause, or very nearly so. The real question is not whether America can win, but rather how to get out.

It is a dilemma without a right answer. Pull out now and abandon thousands of Iraqis to their deaths. Stay in and doom a smaller but still-significant number of American troops, while probably just postponing the day of reckoning, the seemingly inevitable bloodbath as Iraq collapses into full-scale civil war. And what, exactly, would withdrawal look like? Americans still remember the desperate images of the fall of Saigon—the iconic helicopter on the roof. Would Iraqis who cast their lot with the American "liberators" be seen clinging to tanks as they pull out of Baghdad?

This no-win reality is behind the current round of posturing on Capitol Hill. Some Democrats offer resolutions calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops within a few months—knowing that there's no real chance of the measure's passing and the president's accepting it. Some Republicans argue strongly to stay the course, while others (especially the ones up for re-election) look for a middle ground—a gradual drawdown of troops by March. There's no strong evidence that a partial withdrawal would be an effective endgame, but the president probably has, at the outside, until next spring to show that his surge plan can provide the security for Iraq's fractious politicians to mend their differences. By that time, President Bush may have no choice but to cut his troop force in Iraq for the simple reason that the U.S. Army is on the verge of breaking under the strain of a war that has lasted longer than World War II.

It's worth noting that very few of the war's critics -- most noteworthy the Democrats in Congress -- have developed a detailed planning document to guide the pullout. Today's Los Angeles Times has some eye-opening information on the withdrawal advocates:

Lawmakers who have led the drive to bring troops home from Iraq have not devised a strategy to deal with the widespread killings that could follow a pullout, recent interviews with more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans show.

Many of them acknowledge that Iraq may plunge into vicious sectarian fighting much like the ethnic cleansing that consumed Bosnia a decade ago. However, they said they would reject the use of U.S. troops to stop the killing....

Some proponents of a withdrawal declined to discuss what the United States should do if the violence increases.

"That's a hypothetical. I'm not going to get into it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said....

Opponents of a withdrawal have raised the specter of spiraling violence between Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis, a wider Middle Eastern war and a resurgent Al Qaeda to blunt the accelerating Democratic efforts to scale back military involvement in Iraq.

At the White House last week, President Bush warned of "mass killings on a horrific scale...."

Some Democratic lawmakers argue that it is the Bush administration's responsibility to develop a detailed exit strategy....

The reality is that they are in the best position to do the detailed planning," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a prominent voice on national security issues who is co-sponsoring the Senate withdrawal proposal with [Carl] Levin.

The president has rejected any discussion of a redeployment until after Sept. 15, when the top U.S. commander in Iraq is due to report on the success of the 30,000-troop buildup.

Other Democratic lawmakers who have criticized the president's war planning simply brush aside the need to confront the possibility of a bloody aftermath.

"I am convinced based on everything I have read it won't be a hell of a lot worse than it is now," said Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a Vietnam veteran who has helped lead the Democratic effort to force a withdrawal.

Reid, Reed, and Murtha? None of these guys knows what the hell he's talking about. So much for trusting war planning and strategy to the Democrats! It's more clear than ever that the Iraq war forms the basis for the Democrats' reelection planning for 2008. That's their timetable, and fearing political accountability, they refuse to answer questions on the consequences of a pullout for U.S. forces, the Iraqi people, and Middle East international relations.

Basically, the Democrats' line to the president is: "the American people have elected us to withdraw from Iraq, but it's your responsibilty to manage it." This is the leadership charade on the Iraq drawdown. In a post earlier this week, Angevin13 over at The Oxford Medievalist discussed the essential puerility of war opponents. Angevin summarizes Thomas Sowell's recent commentary article with this precise observation:

Those who kick, scream, moan, wail, whine and rant that we must pull out immediately are obligated (as I've said all along in these pages) to offer up an answer to the question, after a pull out, "then what?" - not only as it relates to the issue of the morality of a pull-out, but also to just how a premature withdrawal is in the interest of U.S. national security.

Sowell himself put things bluntly:

Those who say that the Iraq war has nothing to do with the war on terror seem not to notice that the terrorists themselves obviously think otherwise.

Terrorists are pouring men and military equipment into Iraq, with the help of Iran, and using suicide bombers there for some reason.

Terrorists recognize the high stakes in the outcome of this war, even if growing numbers of people over here refuse to.

To drive the United States out of Iraq would be a huge victory for the terrorists, attracting both recruits and support from around the world, and causing countries around the world to reconsider their ties to the United States.

I would add to Sowell's point that if Democrats think things aren't likely to be much worse -- or that violence will peak shortly after the U.S. exit --it's time to wake up to the horrendous potential for a more grave calamity: Reuel Marc Gerecht summarized the gravity of the situation last fall:

A forceful U.S. presence in Iraq was always the key to ensuring that Iraq's national identity had a chance to congeal peacefully--that the Sunni will to power was contained, that Shiite fear and loathing of the Baathists and Sunni fundamentalists didn't ignite into all-consuming revenge, destroying the Shiite center led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and that Kurdish separatism didn't flare. We're beyond that now. But we're not beyond checking the worst tendencies within Iraqi society.

We are certainly not beyond the chance that the Iraqis can govern themselves more humanely than they were governed under Saddam Hussein. Whoever thinks Iraq is hell on earth now is suffering from a failure of imagination. If we leave, it will, in all probability, get vastly worse.

Outside of the top echelons of the military, President Bush and the "few other diehards" in Washington are apparently the only officials who really appreciate the upcoming stakes in Iraq. For now, the president is winning, but public opinion is becoming increasingly dour. And should we withdraw before the military situation is stable, we will be a defeated nation, our enemies will triumph, and the Iraqis will suffer.

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