Desperation in the White House
By Joseph Galloway
McClatchy-Tribune Information Service
The power brokers in Washington carefully arranged fig leaves and tasteful screens to cover the emperor's nakedness while he was busy pretending to listen hard to everyone with an opinion about Iraq while hearing nothing.
Sometime early in the new year, President Bush will go on national television to tell a disgruntled American public what he has decided should be done to salvage "victory" from the jaws of certain defeat in the war he started.
The word on the street, or in the Pentagon rings, is that he'll choose to beef up American forces on the ground in Iraq by 20,000 to 30,000 troops by various sleight-of-hand maneuvers -- extending the combat tours of soldiers and Marines who are nearing an end to their second or third year in hell and accelerating the shipment of others into that hell -- and send them into the bloody streets of Baghdad.
These additional troops are expected to restore order and calm the bombers and murderers when 9,000 Americans already in the sprawling capital couldn't. They're expected to do this even when Bush's favorite (for now) Iraqi politician, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, refuses to allow them to act against his primary benefactor, the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shiite Muslim Mahdi Army militiamen who kill both Americans and Sunni Arabs.
This hardly amounts to a "new way forward," unless that definition includes a new path deeper into the quicksand of a tribal and religious civil war in which whatever Bush eventually decides is already inadequate and immaterial.
The military commanders on the ground -- from Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, to his generals in Iraq -- have said flatly that more American troops aren't the answer and aren't wanted. For them, it's obvious that only a political decision -- an Iraqi political decision -- has even the possibility of producing an acceptable outcome.
The White House hopes that its much-trumpeted reshuffling of a failed strategy and flawed tactics will buy time for its luck to change miraculously. That this time will be paid for with the lives and futures of our soldiers and Marines -- and their families -- apparently means little to these wise men who've never heard a shot fired in anger.
This president has made it painfully obvious that he has no intention of listening to anyone who doesn't believe that he's going to win in Iraq. He'll march stubbornly onward without any real change of course until high noon Jan. 20, 2009, when his successor will inherit both the hard decision to pull out of Iraq and the back bills for Bush's reckless, feckless misadventure.
The midterm election that handed control of Congress to the Democrats can be ignored. Bush's own approval rating in the polls, now at an all-time low of 27 percent, likewise means little or nothing.
Only Bush's definition of reality carries any weight with him, and therein lies the tragedy -- both his and ours.
James Baker was sent to Washington by the original George Bush, No. 41, to salvage something out of the mess that his son, No. 43, has made of his presidency and the world. The Baker commission labored mightily and produced, if little else, some truth: The situation in Iraq is dire and rapidly growing worse.
It's also clear, however, that Bush the son is paying no more than lip service to the Baker report. He doesn't want Dad's help, and the idea that he once again needs to be rescued from the consequences of his mistakes -- as he had to be so often back in Texas -- can only have hardened his resolve to stay the course.
What will happen in the coming year if the congressional Democrats begin to do their job, issuing subpoenas and holding oversight hearings into the looting of billions from the national treasury by defense contractors and other fat-cat donors to the Republican Party?
What will happen if everything that Bush does to string things along in Iraq fails (as has everything he's done there so far), and the Iraqis ask, order or drive us out?
Did you notice that at every stop on the president's information-gathering tour last week, there was a very familiar face looming over his shoulder? There was Vice President Dick Cheney, looking as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Should the president suddenly have an original thought or seem to be going wobbly, Cheney will be right there to squelch it or to set him straight.
It can be argued that Bush understood little about war and peace and diplomacy and honesty in government. Cheney understood all of it, and he bears much of the responsibility for what's gone on in Washington and in Iraq for the last six years. Keep a sharp eye on him. Desperate men do desperate things.
Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national bestseller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young