In the face of a showdown with Congress over mandatory timelines for troop redeployments from Iraq, the White House and Pentagon struggle to retain their blank check.  

The art of the lowered expectation has long been a hallmark of Bush administration political strategies, so it’s little surprise they’re now applying it to the Iraq situation.  According to David E. Sanger of the New York Times, some of Mr. Bush’s top advisers now say the White House is scaling back its expectations for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government.  Ryan C. Crocker, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, describes al-Maliki’s situation as “trying to fight fires from every direction.”

“We have to be clear to him on where our priorities are,” Crocker told U.S. reporters by phone, “so that we can buy him the time he needs. And we have to buy the time now because he is going to need it in the future.”

If we haven’t made out priorities clear to al-Maliki by now, I doubt we ever will.  And this business of buying him time now so he’ll have it in the future sounds like something out of the worst Star Trek episode ever written.  But don’t be fooled–there’s a method to this madness.

Hiding Behind the Troops

If the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I’ll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won’t accept one.  I just don’t think it’s in the interest of our troops.

George W. Bush, April 27, 2007

This statement is typical of Mr. Bush’s fallback position in any debate–turn everything into a manhood measuring contest and hide behind the troops.  You’d think that as the notional leader of the world’s most powerful nation and having reached the ripe old age of 60, Mr. Bush would have abandoned this kind of schoolyard rhetoric long ago, but it appeals to the non-cognitive segment of his base, and it’s worked for him so far, so why should he change now?

Most of us can see the foolishness in deciding vital questions of policy through adolescent genital comparisons, but it’s somewhat harder to keep the discussion within the bounds of logic and reason when “support the troops” is invoked.  Very few of us, no matter how much we may object to that administration’s policies and strategies, wish anything but the best for our troops, especially the vast majority of them who have no say in the policies and strategies.  

If you believe the administration’s propaganda, the troops want to stay in Iraq and get the job done (whatever getting the “job done” might consist of).  If you buy the results of a Zogby Poll, the vast majority of troops in Iraq have wanted a withdrawal timeline for over a year.

At the end of the day, though, when it comes to matters of foreign policy and national security strategy, what the troops think or want or feel doesn’t matter.  Certainly, if America decides to put its all-volunteer force in harm’s way, it owes that force whatever it needs to accomplish the agreed upon mission and to sustain and protect itself (a pact, by the way, that the Bush administration and its sycophants in Congress and the Pentagon have miserably failed to live up to.)  

But it’s not up to the troops to determine where and when they go into harm’s way, or how long they stay there.  And as to the head troopers in charge–the active duty Generals–they’ve proven themselves throughout the course of the Bush administration to be little more than invertebrate yes men.  I had hoped that Petraeus might turn out to have something more in the lumbar department than his predecessors, but those hopes began to vanish like a blind widow’s silverware when he stage managed that outdoor market shopping trip in Baghdad for John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and a hundred of their very best heavily armed friends.  

Given Petraeus’s complicity in the neoconservative bait-and-switch “surge” plan (the “surge” that was actually a long term escalation), it’s fairly apparent that Bush didn’t expect Petraeus to win the war in Iraq.  Bush was looking for a pliant four-star who would help him spin the war into the next administration’s lap, and early indications suggest that Bush made a sound choice in that regard.  

But as I said earlier, Petraeus’s inputs on the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq aren’t pertinent.  The Iraq policy issue is now in the proper arena, a showdown between the executive and legislative branches.  The first veto will no doubt come by the middle of this week.  What happens then is anybody’s guess.  We hear rumors that some sort of compromise is already in the making, but these days we hear a lot of rumors that turn out not to be true.  

Moreover, one has to wonder what kind of compromise can be crafted given the basic nature of the opposing positions.  Mr. Bush wants a blank check that allows him to continue his war in Iraq indefinitely.  The Democratic Congress wants put a finite cap on the duration and intensity of U.S. involvement in that war.  I don’t see how anyone can square a circle that big.  The choice is between Mr. Bush and Congress, and in that regard, William Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general and former Director of the National Security Agency aptly framed the issue in a radio address last Saturday.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican. Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party. I speak for myself…

…Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President’s management of the conflict in Iraq. And they are right…

…We cannot ‘win’ a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did…

… No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq…

…I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

I appreciate General Odom’s sentiments, but as we have observed over the past six years plus, acts of courage on the part of the Bush administration and its supporters are rare indeed.  


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

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