More than two and a half years ago, those opposed to the invasion of Iraq were vilified for condemning President Bush after he landed on an aircraft carrier off the West Coast and prematurely spoke of victory standing in front of a titanic banner that read “Mission Accomplished.”
Here we are, more than 2,000 dead American soldiers later — and counting — as the mission lingers and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel isn’t even a flicker. And the longer it persists, the greater chance it has of becoming the costliest war in our history, while critical domestic agendas and vital Homeland Security programs are shortchanged and overlooked.
Last week, in Annapolis, the president spoke before a receptive audience of U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen — he is, after all, their Commander-in-Chief — to defend, for the umpteenth time, and outline his war strategy, but refused to broach U.S. troop withdrawal.
Bush said that military commanders on the scene, not Washington politicians seeking “an artificial timetable,” would determine the policy for troop withdrawal.
At one point the president said, “Iraqi forces have made real progress…” but Army General George W. Casey, commander of the multinational force in Iraq, had previously contradicted Bush at a Senate hearing, stating that only one of 100 Iraqi battalions formed since 2003 is adequately prepared and capable of operating independently.
“A time of war is a time of sacrifice,” the president noted. That kind of rhetoric is easy to utter when you — and those who authorized the war at the outset — have sacrificed nothing but their reputations.
Prior to Bush’s remarks, the National Security Agency issued a report, which warned that deadly violence is a prospect for Iraq “for many years.”
The question then is how much longer will American soldiers be victims of that deadly violence?
Even most opponents of the war don’t want the president to hastily cut and run because it could put American and Iraqi lives in jeopardy, but, it’s rather obvious that it’s going to take many years for the Iraqi Army to sufficiently defend itself from insurgents, terrorists and native factions that desperately want equitable representation in the new government.
Before the chest-beating speech, nearly two-thirds of Americans polled disapproved of Bush’s Iraq policy. In its aftermath that number shrunk a bit, but the president’s popularity is still at the lowest level of his presidency, due largely to the situation in Iraq.
This war was an unequivocal mistake from the onset. The unprovoked attack on Iraq in March 2003 was nothing more than delayed retaliation in response to the worst attack on America in history. It had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nor did our soldiers come across any evidence of weapons of mass destruction that dictator Saddam Hussein was supposedly stockpiling to use against us. Incidentally, in the speech Bush never alluded to those motives, which, perhaps, he finally realizes, few still believe.
The only reasons the president got nearly unanimous approval from Congress for the Iraqi action was because politicians were undoubtedly troubled about post-9/11 backlash back home. Voters would have judged a “No” vote as opposition to terrorist retribution. More politicians, however, might have voted against the attack if they were not suckered in by faulty intelligence.
With the GOP suffering a few losses in last month’s elections and hoping to avoid additional reductions in next year’s Congressional elections, it’s reasonable to speculate there will be an announcement about troop reduction just in time for voters to remember that move when they go to the polls eleven months from now. While President Bush continues to rehash his “stay the course” policy, it’s only a matter of months before that course will be changed for political gain rather than common sense.
It’s all in the timing, just as the president went on the stump to defend the war to bolster his image in the eyes of an American public that is growing more and more restless with each attack on American forces.
Not much — except the number of GI deaths — has changed since May 2003. It’s the same old whine in a brand new bottle.
It’s time for President Bush to realize that though pulling out troops may not be a plan for victory, it is, ultimately, a sensible strategy to save American lives that would begin to put an end to one of the biggest blunders in U.S. history.