Political Washington reacted to President George W. Bush's announcement Jan. 10 that he planned to increase troop presence in Iraq by 20,000 predictably.
Supporters, including many Republicans, saw it as a necessary move, proclaiming that losing Iraq would have long-term consequences for the war on terror.
Opponents, primarily Democrats but also a surprising number of Republicans, saw it for what it was &endash;- and wasn't. They slammed the plan for being little more than a repackaging of failed policies and were critical of its reliance on the Iraqi government, saying it lacked the "capacity to deliver on promises to take the lead in cracking down on violent militias and providing security in Baghdad." (Washington Post)
And while opponents have continued to stand firm in their commitment to withdrawing the troops from Iraq, they have ceded the main points of the argument to the president, allowing him to reframe his failed policies as a defense of Iraq and its people, staking out the high ground in the debate.
Forget for a minute that surge is about as accurate a description of the president's plan as the president's declaration before the war that Saddam had WMDs. The issue here is that opponents are fighting the plan on the wrong front, focusing on the Iraqi government and not on the question of whether we are acting as gas on an already raging fire -- inflaming a civil war, becoming a cause-celebre in the Arab world, creating new terrorists and further fraying already frayed international relationships.
The reality is that we have no idea what will happen if we leave, but the predictions of calamity being pushed by the president and hawks like John McCain are already happening and will continue to happen and worsen whether we are there or not. This war was lost a long time ago -- probably around the time that it became clear that our stated reasons for invading were fabrications.
The president, however, sees things differently, maintaining a stance that both ignores the reality on the ground in Iraq and the wishes of the American public. After an election in which the chief issue was ending the debacle in Iraq; after the release of a report by a group of Washington insiders calling for a complete change of direction (an end to the war and the involvement of Iraq's neighbors in stabilizing the region); the appointment of a new defense secretary and some other administrative shuffling, the president has announced a plan that is really nothing but more of the same.
The so-called new strategy, of course, sounds a lot like the old one, only it has been given a new gloss of paint and is being under girded by a rather disingenuous mea culpa on the part of our fearless leader. The president now admits that mistakes were made and that he is responsible:
"The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people -- and it is unacceptable to me," the president said in his Jan. 10 speech. "Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."
Call it the "Used-car-lot" policy -- you know, take an old clunker, polish it up, repaint it, hide the cracked axle or the rotting quarter-panel, all with the idea that some poor sucker will overpay and drive it off the lot. Only we're the poor suckers and the used car in this case is a major death trap that already has taken the lives of 3,000-plus Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
This is not about troop levels or the war on terror. It is about civil war in Iraq, a war we helped ignite through our own arrogance and shortsightedness and have been inflaming ever since. The issue from the beginning was the idea that we have a right to pre-empt threats that may or may not exist -- which is another way of saying we can attack whomever we want when we want if we can convince ourselves that a threat exists. It doesn't have to exist; we just have to believe it exists. Put another way, the president believes the nation should act like the crazy guy on the corner.
But that's old news. What we have now is a civil war fast devolving into total anarchy, a vortex of violence and hatred in which we are acting as match to gasoline, further inflaming the situation, with American soldiers caught in the crossfire. To send more troops in is not only foolish, but it is negligent and quite possibly criminal.
Enough is enough, Mr. Bush. Bring the troops home.
Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and Cranbury Press in New Jersey. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. See his blog, Channel Surfing, at www.kaletblog.com.
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