Bush stalling while Americans die
By Joseph L. Galloway
When 11 Republican members of Congress trooped over to the White House this week to speak frankly to President Bush about the Iraq War, it may not have popped the bubble around The Decider but it did pry a few bricks out of the wall that has kept unpleasant truths at a distance.
It seems that the representatives let their leader know that there will be a public reckoning of both American military progress and Iraqi political progress at the end of this summer.
The underlying message is that bad news on either front this September - when the U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus has promised an assessment of how the surge, or escalation of U.S. troop strength, is working - could provoke further defections of Republicans on the Hill.
For the moment the Republicans will uphold the president's vetoes of Democratic war funding bills that set a timetable for beginning the withdrawal of American troops, but that could change.
It was hardly an accident that the president soon afterward signaled a new willingness to negotiate with congressional leaders on benchmarks for action by the Iraqi government and parliament to settle such issues as sharing of national oil revenue, tamping down sectarian violence, disarming murderous militias and ensuring that Iraqi army, police and parliament serve a nation and not their religious sects.
The president was quick to add that he was prepared to veto a second war funding bill if it comes to him with troop-withdrawal deadlines.
The news from Iraq was hardly encouraging. Iraqi parliamentarians are thinking about taking a 2-month-long summer vacation break from squabbling and doing nothing. The level of violence is rising, both in attacks on American troops and suicide bomber attacks against innocent Iraqis.
Four of the five U.S. Army brigades being added to the force in Iraq have already arrived. The fifth brigade is expected in June. Both the newly arrived and those soldiers who were already in Iraq have had their tours of duty extended from 12 months to 15.
On a recent day when improvised explosive device blasts killed a dozen American troops, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said we could expect to see the carnage get worse in coming summer months.
If it wasn't for bad news, George W. Bush wouldn't have any news at all, and neither would the American and Iraqi peoples.
The president can't turn loose of some of his favorite talking points, however, and we will repeat them here and offer some alternative views and a small correction or two:
-We can't just withdraw our troops and leave Iraq for fear of a much worse sectarian bloodbath than the one the president's invasion and occupation provoked and sustains. If we leave the whole region will go up in flames.
(A majority of Iraqis say that it is long past time for U.S. troops to leave their country, a sentiment shared by a majority of Americans as well. And as long as we are doing "if's" what if our leaving shocks the Iraqis into a real effort to find some way to live together peacefully just as they did before we invaded? What if our costly and deadly experience in Iraq doesn't inflame the neighbors but convinces them it's a good place to avoid?)
-We are there in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda - the people who murdered thousands of Americans on 9/11 - and it's better to fight them there than here at home.
(The terror group the president refers to is, to be precise, an outfit that calls itself "al-Qaeda in Iraq." It is homegrown Iraqi and came into being well after we invaded Iraq. The real al-Qaeda terrorists - none of them Iraqi - who hatched the plot that killed more than 3,000 Americans on 9/11 don't live in Iraq. They live along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. We once had them and their boss, Osama bin Laden, in our sights but let them get away because we didn't have enough U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The president then turned his attention to Iraq and diverted 90 percent of the resources from trapping the real al-Qaeda where they live. He chose to invade the one place where al-Qaeda didn't live or work and where, under the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, they weren't really welcome.)
The whole thing gives rise to serious doubt that President Bush can achieve anything more than a larger disaster by hanging tough and stalling for time in Iraq.