By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press
In a stunning declaration last week, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the country’s most prominent veterans’ organization, affirmed that “the war in Iraq is not lost”—a statement on its surface that sounded as if it were issued from the White House press office to persuade Congress and the public to allow the “surge” in troops more time to succeed. President Bush, meanwhile, in his weekend radio address acknowledged that political progress on the national front in Iraq was moving too slowly, but insisted “positive steps in cities and towns are offering hope for future stability,” the Associated Press reported. Then days later, he assured the VFW in a Kansas City stump speech that “a free Iraq” is within our grasp, and warned “if Americans succumbed to the ‘allure of retreat’ they will witness the death and suffering the sort not seen since the Vietnam War.”
Sounds like Nixon talking to the walls before he left the White House. Hey, Mr. President, look at the rising body count! Hard not to draw an analogy to the Mekong Delta.
Putting a smiley face on disaster in Iraq flies in the mug of reality, and has been a hallmark of the Bush Administration ever since Bush declared victory in May, 2003 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
Recent news reports note that Pentagon officials are now conceding that the demand for troops in Iraq could soon outstrip the supply. “The Army has nearly exhausted its fighting force and its options if the Bush Administration decides to extend the Iraq buildup beyond the next spring,” the AP states. And as the Bush Administration presses to deploy more soldiers in Iraq, the Army “has shortened the duration of several of its bedrock training courses so that troops can return to fighting units on the front lines more quickly,” the Boston Globe reported Sunday, quoting senior training officials. “The whole intent is to get the soldier into the unit where he can be used faster,” Col. Joe Gallagher, who heads up Army training plans, said in an earlier Globe interview. “Time will tell if something is missing.”
Indeed, it is. Bush’s failed “shock and awe” campaign in the Middle East also has taken a bite out of Homeland Security. U.S. troops are now firing more than a billion bullets a year in both fighting and training for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, causing a nationwide ammunition shortage for police departments throughout the country. Dozens of police and sheriff’s departments “are struggling with delays of as long as a year for both handgun and rifle ammunition,” according to an AP survey.
Expect more hyperbole next month, when the White House unveils its Iraq “progress” report and plans for gradual troop withdrawal. The New York Times, quoting an administration official, reports that the Bush Administration seeks public support to keep American involvement in Iraq “on a sustainable footing” through the end of his presidency. Bush’s Wednesday warm-up speech was the start of a forceful White House blitzkrieg intended to spin debate on Capitol Hill for staying the course until Bush heads for Kennebunk or Crawford.
No surprise here. The tactic leaves an exit strategy to a successor, likely a Democrat. For now, at least, some of the Democratic presidential candidates are not taking the easy bait and calling for a swifter withdrawal. Hillary Clinton has said that a withdrawal could be a “massive, complicated undertaking…It’s so important that we not oversell this.”
Withdrawal clearly will take time, but it starts with a concession that this war is lost. The only end game here is a boat ride home, and the resolve for more thoughtful foreign policy strategies in the future.