"The future of a vital region of the world and the security of the American people depend on victory in Iraq." -- Bush, in his radio address 12-9-06
Bush may have received the ISG report with the politeness of a condemned man before his executioners, but he really has no intention at all in voluntarily changing course in Iraq and bringing our soldiers home. In his radio address this weekend, Bush tried to paint the highly critical report as a validation of his Iraq strategy, instead of the accurate portrait of the stunning failure of the invasion and occupation the rest of the country and the world immediately recognized as a rare truth about the consequences of our nation's involvement there.
The bipartisan, mostly pro-occupation panel meant for their presentation to be a complete repudiation of Bush's assertions throughout and since the campaign that there is some sort of 'victory' to be had in Iraq if we just "stay the course" and dig ourselves further into the shifting sand. Yet, Bush is not ready to bow his head before his elders, represented by his father's foreign policy mogul, Baker, and admit he was wrong in Iraq. Kenneth Walsh of USNews wrote yesterday that pappy and pals were 'disappointed' and 'concerned' with Junior's reaction to the ISG report. "We have a classic case of circling the wagons," he quoted a former adviser to senior Bush, complaining, "If President Bush changes his policy in Iraq in a fundamental way, it undermines the whole premise of his presidency. I just don't believe he will ever do that."
There is no one who believes Bush will ever step down willingly from the piles of rubble and humanity that he climbed on to bullhorn his way into his make-believe role as the world's savior. It's hard to believe that anyone who actually knows Bush as his father does, would ever expect Junior to accept responsibility for his failures. The perennial loser from Crawford was always afforded a way out of responsibility by his daddy's minions. Bush left his National Guard post without completing his duty after he was offered a position in his father's friend's political campaign. He was gifted with an oil company and a baseball team which he passed on after he ran them both into the ground. He leapfrogged from a negligent governorship in Texas to lead the nation after his father's Supreme Court Justices awarded him the presidency with their halting of the counting of votes in Florida.
It's really not surprising at all that Bush would treat Baker's ISG report as another bailout, rather than a indictment of his illegal fiasco. In his address, Bush claimed that the 77 recommendations in the report were actually an endorsement of his Iraq 'strategy'.
"The Iraq Study Group's report also explicitly endorses the strategic goal we've set in Iraq: an Iraq that can "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself," Bush told Americans Saturday. "Given the current situation in Iraq, achieving this goal will require much time and will depend primarily on the actions of the Iraqi people," he said.
Bush then latched on to the report's dubious conclusion that if the unrest and chaos which has flourished, unabated since the early days of the invasion and overthrow of Saddam's regime, got worse because we withdrew our forces, we would have to return to supposedly accomplish what we've been unable to effect in the three years of occupation. "If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos," Bush said, "the long-range consequences could eventually require the United States to return."
What Bush really wants from the ISG and Americans is another chance to pretend he's working toward some sort of "victory" in Iraq, and to recast himself as a commander in a "long war" against 'terrorists' everywhere instead of accepting the apt label of a disgraced loser who manufactured a diversion from the hunt in Afghanistan for the original suspects in the 9-11 attacks. But, the ISG report is not just another administration position paper, or some rubber stamp of the Bush/Rumsfeld policy which has led us to this point.
The ISG report is a recommendation to begin to withdraw our forces from Iraq, without waiting indefinitely for Iraqi forces to 'stand up' before our soldiers begin to 'stand down'. It specifically calls for the "gradual" reduction of 15 American combat brigades in Iraq, by early 2008. The only troops the report envisions remaining in Iraq are advisory brigades, (another dubious proposal which would leave our soldier's safety and security entirely in the hands of the Iraqi forces) which provides the only remaining thread for Bush to justify continuing his military muckraking there outside of the fuzzy reference to "special operations forces" which would remain to battle the 2% to 3% of "al Qaeda" the military claims are associated with the violence in Iraq.
The advice from the ISG, that there is still some room for some "success" in Iraq, is more of a pipe dream that relies on the unlikely adoption of the entirety of the group's proposals, rather than a piecemeal cherry picking Bush's feint praise for the report suggests will be the way he uses the recommendations.
No one really believes the Maliki government will take on the militias to the degree necessary to end violence which is fueling and perpetuating the civil war. No one really believes the Iraqis will somehow begin to perform any better than they have for the three years we've been arming and training them to combat each other. What other possible response can anyone expect from the armed resistance to the Maliki regime as we escalate our military assistance and direction of the new government's suppression of their opponents? The approach is very much like what the U.S. did with our assistance and direction of Saddam's regime in the past; and in Vietnam as well, as Nixon argued then for a "decent interval" to train the South Vietnamese troops in an endeavor which lasted years and claimed thousands of more lives.
Without the immediate formulation of a plan to begin to withdraw our troops, our military will be left vulnerable to the very collapse of the Iraq house of cards that every side is warning about today. Bush is already rejecting key recommendations from the report which the members of the study group have said are essential elements to reconciliation between the warring factions in Iraq and a reduction of the violence there. Bush is determined to "stay the course" in the face of his Iraq failure, putting our troops at further, unnecessary risk defending themselves as they remain deployed in the middle of the warring factions.
Bush said in his address this weekend, that he was "looking forward" to Iraq policy reviews from the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Council, who he's cynically tasked to produce proposals to counter the Baker group's. "I look forward to receiving their recommendations," he said. The NYT reported Saturday that Bush intends to continue to rely on outgoing defense chief Rumsfeld to advise him until successor Robert Gates is sworn in. Clearly, Bush is clinging desperately to his old, discredited Iraq approach. Even as he postures with a change in the Pentagon leadership, he's intent on crafting a "way forward" with the same cabal of reasoners who took our nation to Iraq and stubbornly keep them bogged down there, instead of taking heed of the will of the American people expressed in the last election demanding an end to the occupation.
It is now the responsibility of the new Democratic majority to challenge Bush with every lever at their disposal, and follow the will of the folks who allowed them to ascend to power to change direction in Iraq and lead our troops home. He shouldn't be allowed to weasel out of that judgment by bullying them about the consequences for Iraqis of such an exit. Our legislators should concern themselves with the safety and security of Americans first and foremost as they chart their own course for our troops, crafting their resolutions and conducting their hearings to hold the administration accountable for their deployments in Iraq and elsewhere.
Looking for some sort of "victory" in Iraq should not be at the top of the Democrats' agenda as they set themselves to the task of cleaning up the litter and waste left from the republican's power binge. After the new majority succeeds in removing the republican's hands from the throat of our democracy, they will be better able to release our soldiers from their misguided indenture to Bush's folly in Iraq, with or without his cooperation.