Since the invasion of Iraq, in March of 2003, George W. Bush's rationale for the occupation has continually shifted. On August 22nd, the White House once again changed its criterion for success. As disturbing as this is, what's more disturbing is the new justification: keep Iraq from becoming another Vietnam.
America invaded Iraq as retribution for the alleged complicity between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and because Iraq was said to harbor weapons of mass destruction that were an imminent threat to the U.S. The Bush Administration's original justification for the occupation was to find the WMDs. When none were located, the rationale shifted to establishing Iraq as a model democracy. When Iraq's new government floundered, the criterion changed: the U.S. would train Iraqi forces until they provided the security needed for the fledgling government to function. As the Iraqi security forces faltered, U.S. forces were bolstered - the "surge" - and it was implied they would remain until the government matured.
On August 22nd, Bush again changed the rationale and compared Iraq to Vietnam. "One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens." "If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened... Unlike in Vietnam, if we withdraw before the job is done, this enemy will follow us home. And that is why, for the security of the United States of America, we must defeat them overseas so we do not face them in the United States of America."
Fortunately, the Iraq Study Group, a non-partisan body, assayed the prospects of the occupation last year. Their report observed, "There is no action that the American military can take that, by itself, can bring about success in Iraq." They cautioned, "The United states should not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq."
On August 22nd President Bush made the open-ended troop commitment the ISG recommended against and claimed, "Iraq is one of several fronts in the war on terror -- but it's the central front." Disturbingly, Rudy Giuliani and other front-runners for the 2008 Republican nomination for President share Bush's position that Iraq is the center of the war on terror.
There are three problems with Bush's argument. The first is that most observers believe we are primarily fighting Iraqi insurgents rather than Al Qaeda. The second is that the Administration is determinedly pursuing a strategy the ISG strongly recommended against because it would weaken U.S. security. And, there is a critical third problem: it is a continuation of his "war on terror." In her July 29th New York Times article terrorism expert Samantha Power observed that this Bush Administration policy has been counter-productive: "The administration's tactical and strategic blunders have crippled American military readiness; exposed vulnerabilities in training, equipment and force structure; and accelerated terrorist recruitment. In short, although the United States has not been directly hit since 9/11, we are less safe as a result of the Bush administration's rhetoric, conduct and strategy."
Despite compelling arguments to the contrary, George W. Bush intends to continue to deploy large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq. Remarkably, the Republican Party has adopted Bush's fight-them-there-not-here stance. The basis for this is not a clear-eyed understanding of the nature of Islamic terrorism, but rather Party orthodoxy.
Many leading Republicans, including Presidential candidate John McCain, agree with Bush that the U.S. made a mistake withdrawing from Vietnam. They believe that if American troops had stayed, they would have won the war. They argue that Vietnam was not lost because of poor decision-making and squandered opportunities, but rather because the U.S. lost the will to continue. Many claim that Richard Nixon had no choice but to bring that war to end, because defeatist Democrats turned public opinion against it.
This Republican orthodoxy sees a parallel between Iraq and Vietnam. The U.S. could have "won" in Vietnam if it had the will to persevere. The U.S. can still "win" in Iraq if we stay the course. Therefore, Giuliani, McCain and most of the other Republican presidential candidates are unwilling to countenance any withdrawals on Bush's watch. They see themselves as real men, while war opponents are cowardly defeatists.
Thus, the terms of the debate over Iraq could not be clearer. Republicans see Iraq as the forefront of the battle against Islamic terrorists and argue that success is dependent on America's will to prevail. War opponents see Iraq as a dangerous distraction that has made the U.S. less safe. They contend that national security is dependent upon our leaders regaining their senses and insisting on a rational decision process: one that has clear standards for success and holds people accountable for bad decisions.
In the early days of the Bush Administration, they boasted of their "faith-based" initiatives. Little did any of us suspect at the time that Iraq would become a faith-based initiative. Now, this has become the Republican rallying cry, keep supporting the Administration and we'll eventual have "victory." No matter what the cost there must be no more Vietnams.