President Bush is hearing two different arguments from two of his bigshots overseeing his mess in Iraq. Last week, Bush listened to two contrasting visions of the U.S. future in Iraq – neither of which the voters last November voted to embrace. In fact, both visions are so far away from what the public wants that it appears no one is listening to us anymore. That goes for both the Administration and Congress.
Gen. David H. Petraeus participated by video conference from Baghdad, dominating the conversation and making the case to keep as many troops as long as possible to cement any security progress. Adm. William J. Fallon, his superior, argued instead for accepting more risks in Iraq in order to have enough forces available to confront other potential threats in the region.
To recap, the surge was born of a review Bush launched after the disastrous midterm elections saw both bodies of Congress transfer majorities to the Democrats. Over the weeks that followed, the president was forced to acknowledge that his strategy was failing – something that the public had already come to realize and transformed into Democratic victories at the polls. But rather than listen to the voting public’s and elected officials’ calls for withdrawal, Bush opted to assume his cowboy stance, guns blazing, and take a final gambit to eke out victory.
In doing so, Bush overruled some of his commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff by putting in place a new team led by Fallon, Petraeus, Crocker, and a new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates. One day after his speech, Bush cabinet members, Rice and Gates, were bombarded with questions during hearings on Capitol Hill. In response to the length of the surge, Gates responded, “We’re thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years,” Gates testified.
Yet, the defense secretary soon extended deployments in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months. The generals told Gates that the extra brigades flowing to Iraq had stretched the military close to the breaking point. Since troop depletion was a concern, the only way to keep the buildup going was to extend the length of deployment, which Gates did by approving the longest overseas combat deployments since World War II.
Gates — who earlier said no one thought the surge would last 18 months — did a complete reversal by stretching the length of service to enable the surge to last almost that long. What is it about “get out of Iraq” that is so hard for our officials to grasp? Our Nation was forced by failure to make a painful and devastating decision in 1975 to leave South Vietnam.
After 25 years of involvement by the United States in a civil war in Vietnam, our policy was deemed a failure. The consequences were tragic and beyond description for the Vietnamese people. Many of us who grew up in that day and age remember the daily pictures of panic and flight, of the North Vietnamese Army crashing the gates of the U.S. Compound, and of thousands of South Vietnamese left to defend for themselves.
We are today involved in a civil war in Iraq, but instead of two entities as in Vietnam, three entities – the Kurds, Shi’as, and Sunnis – continue to battle each other. We are on the same path in Iraq as in Vietnam because Bush won’t deal with what the public wants – the end of the war. Bush’s tremendous ego renders him incapable of admitting a mistake.
Tomorrow, the Bush Administration and its lackeys will no doubt argue that the surge is beginning to succeed, but that we need more time. And, Congress, unable to get off dead center and follow the mandate of the public, will no doubt cave to the pressure of providing billions more in funding to keep the surge and the war going.
And the result? Bush will slowly slink out of the White House in January 2009 handing over his mess to a newly elected president. When we finally exit, our credibility will be damaged even further, we will debate for years the policy and strategy, we will blame segments of the citizenry, and we will fail to learn from the mistakes of the past.
But the real price to be paid will continue to be that of the victims in this case – Iraq and its people.