President Bush may have unveiled a new strategy for the Iraq War, but pro-war critics of his administration are mired in the same quagmire they’ve found themselves in throughout his presidency.
Those who believe that the battle against Islamic fundamentalism is the most important calling of our time must once again choose between a president who agrees but won’t dedicate adequate resources to the daunting task of defeating this pernicious enemy, and an opposition party that does not take the threat seriously.
The gap between the grand ends President Bush has aimed for and the paltry means he has allocated for achieving them, in hindsight, was apparent since the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center themselves. On Sept. 20, 2001 President Bush spoke resolutely to a joint session of Congress and reversed a decades-old policy of passivity in the face of a growing terrorist threat and promised to “direct every resource at our command…to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.”
Rather than outline what type of sacrifice would be required of Americans to achieve this goal, President Bush asked for “patience, with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security” and “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” With his approval ratings sky high and Americans eager for action in the wake of Sept. 11, had he also called on able-bodied young Americans to enlist in the military so that the armed forces would have enough personnel to conduct the ambitious long-term campaign against terrorism that he envisioned, military recruiters would have been swamped with volunteers.
Now, more than five years later, President Bush finds himself leading a difficult war in the central front of what he rightly considers the “decisive ideological struggle of our time,” and yet he is forced to scramble to gather 21,500 troops in a last gasp effort to get the job done.
In his speech on Wednesday, President Bush said much to please supporters of an aggressive war effort. Despite anemic approval ratings, sagging public support for the war, a hostile opposition party in control of Congress, and constant ridicule by a media convinced he’s living in denial, President Bush stood firm and reiterated the importance of achieving victory in Iraq. He ignored calls to engage in empty diplomacy with Iran and Syria, vowing to “interrupt the flow of support” from those nations. And he finally embraced calls to add troops and to give them a freer hand to pursue insurgent groups and militias.
But the devil, as they say, is in the details. In the lead up to President Bush’s speech Frederick Kagan and Jack Keane, among the most prominent advocates of a surge, wrote that “Bringing security to Baghdad…is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.” Where does it leave Kagan and Keane now that the President has called for adding just over 20,000?
Furthermore, the plan is heavily dependent on the earnestness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a man who all evidence suggests is either unable to crack down on Shite militias, or actively in league with them. If President Bush is going to make the case that what happens in Iraq has direct implications on our own security, then it’s perplexing that he would make success there contingent on Maliki’s good intentions.
While there is much reason to view the President’s plan with skepticism (and sadly the pessimists have tended to be right about Iraq), the unfortunate reality is that the Democrats have not presented a plan to deal with the consequences of defeat in Iraq. As Sen. John McCain put it, “I believe those who are calling for withdrawal have the obligation to tell us what we do in the region when it descends into chaos…” Instead, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, in the Democrats’ response to President Bush’s speech, called for “the orderly redeployment of troops” without offering any constructive proposal for what America should do in the event that our troops leave, an all-out civil war erupts, a regional proxy war ensues, and terrorists begin using the western region of Iraq to build bases and plot attacks against the United States. Critics of the war may argue that this is precisely why the war was a mistake in the first place, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for the opposition party that is now in control of Congress to act responsibly and attempt to present a better alternative.
For years, pro-war critics of the Bush administration have argued for more troops and a “green light” for the U.S. military to engage insurgents. They were stubbornly ignored, but still largely supported the President given the alternative. Now, once again, those who view the struggle against terrorism and Islamist fundamentalism as the calling of our time are presented with a choice between a flawed proposal for victory by President Bush that may be years too late, or a policy of accepting defeat and withdrawing erratically.
With a healthy dose of skepticism, let’s hope and pray that President Bush’s policy proves effective.
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