George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are determined to secure another $100 billion blank check for the Iraq War despite a growing consensus among intelligence and military analysts that the war strategy is in chaos and on course to gravely damage U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Having solidified support among congressional Republicans and still backed by a powerful right-wing news media, Bush and Cheney appear to have concluded that they can force congressional Democrats to back down over legislative language seeking a phased withdrawal from Iraq.
If the President does succeed in this test of wills and wrests the war funding from Congress without strings attached, Bush’s supporters will tout his success as a political rebound. Republican strategists also hope the expected Democratic humiliation will drive a wedge between the national Democrats and the party’s staunchly anti-war base.
Already, prominent Democrats, such as Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Barack Obama of Illinois, have drawn criticism from the base for showing a readiness to run up a white flag rather than face a continued barrage of accusations about undercutting the troops. Those signals have reinforced White House confidence than Bush can prevail.
Over the past week, Bush and Cheney have ratcheted up the rhetoric with the President declaring on April 16 that the Democrats were pushing legislation that “would undercut our troops” and accusing the Democrats of playing politics at a moment of crisis.
“America is not going to be safe until the terrorist threat has been defeated,” Bush said. “If we do not defeat the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they won’t leave us alone – they will follow us to the United States of America. … We should not legislate defeat in this vital war.”
On April 13, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, Vice President Cheney took an even tougher line calling the Democratic-backed war funding bill “irresponsible” and dressing down the Democratic congressional leadership in especially harsh terms.
“Although the current political environment in our country carries echoes of the hard left in the early ‘70s, America will not again play out those old scenes of abandonment, and retreat, and regret,” Cheney said. “Not this time, not on our watch. … We will press on in this mission, and we will turn events towards victory.”
But military and intelligence analysts do not expect that a Republican political victory over Democrats in Washington will lead to a battlefield victory in Iraq.
In an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post, retired Marine Gen. John J. Sheehan explained that he rejected a White House overture to serve as a special coordinator for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the so-called “war czar” – because he found the administration confused about what strategy should be pursued.
“There is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region,” Sheehan wrote. “Activities such as the current surge operations should fit into an overall strategic framework. There has to be linkage between short-term operations and strategic objectives that represent long-term U.S. and regional interests, such as assured access to energy resources. …
“We cannot ‘shorthand’ this issue with concepts such as the ‘democratization of the region’ or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to ‘win,’ even as ‘victory’ is not defined or is frequently redefined. …
“I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan – and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq. … These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff.” [Washington Post, April 16, 2007]
Sheehan’s account of policy chaos at senior levels of the administration fits with the view of many analysts that Bush and Cheney have put political goals – splitting the Democrats and retaining White House swagger on the war – ahead of a sensible strategy for salvaging the best possible outcome in Iraq.
A revamped strategy that involved redeploying U.S. troops either away from Iraqi cities or outside Iraq altogether would require recognition that Bush had botched his ballyhooed role as “war president” and Cheney had bungled his vaunted work as “crisis manager.”