President Bush, responding to increasing pressure from leaders of both major political parties and the American people, is finally considering how to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq without throwing that embattled country into chaos and/or civil war. It's about time!
As my loyal readers know, I questioned the wisdom of the Iraqi adventure even before our troops went into Baghdad. I asked what "victory" would look like and what we would do with Iraq after we "won" the war. Well, now we know the answers to those questions, and it isn't a pretty picture. The Bush administration clearly didn't have a comprehensive postwar plan in place and left the Pentagon in charge of reconstruction and nation-building for far too long.
That's why I found it ironic that the president spoke to a U.S. Naval Academy audience at Annapolis last Wednesday in front of a banner that read, "A Plan for Victory," in a contrived scene that reminded me of that premature "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard an aircraft carrier a couple of years ago.
But why be petty now that Bush is finally searching for a graceful way out of Iraq? We should be thankful that the administration is now attempting to find ways to cut our losses - more than 2,000 American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars - without abandoning the Iraqi people to blood-thirsty terrorists, including the remnants of the brutal Saddam Hussein regime.
Instead of his empty "stay the course for as long as it takes" rhetoric, the president provided some hopeful details about the training of Iraqi military and police forces and said he would begin U.S. troop withdrawals as soon as the Iraqis are able to defend themselves. Bush claimed that 40 Iraqi army and police combat battalions are fully combat-ready while 80 other Iraqi battalions are fighting alongside coalition (U.S.) forces. But a White House report accompanying the president's speech cautioned that "it isn't realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power."
That may be true but Congress and the American people are losing patience as the misguided Iraqi adventure drags on into its third year with no end in sight. Administration spokesmen are fond of saying that we'll stand down as Iraqis stand up for themselves, but what if they never stand up? Meanwhile, polls show that the American and Iraqi people agree about the need to withdraw American troops from Iraq as soon as possible. At the outset our 160,000 troops were seen as liberators but now, they're widely regarded as occupiers, a fact that helps to fuel an ongoing violent insurgency.
I heard an articulate presentation on the mess in Iraq at UNR last month in a speech by high-ranking U.S. Agency for International Development official Ted Morse, who was known as the "mayor of Baghdad" when he worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority during the first few months of the occupation. Morse asserted that the Bush administration left reconstruction in hands of the Pentagon for too long and completely disregarded a 14-volume postwar study prepared by the State Department, which has the cross-cultural expertise and language capabilities needed to operate effectively in foreign countries. I worked with Morse in Grenada 20 years ago and believe me, he knows what he's talking about.
Former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke proposed a coherent four-step Iraq exit strategy last Tuesday in a USA Today op-ed piece. He wrote that a successful strategy should: (1) emphasize our achievements, such as democratic elections, (2) link the phased pullout of U.S. forces to those achievements, (3) announce that we anticipate that the final withdrawal of U.S. forces will occur by the end of 2007 and (4) assure the Iraqis that we will remain engaged diplomatically and in other ways. I agree with everything except the announcement of a withdrawal deadline, which looks like a "cut and run" strategy that would permit our enemies to wait us out on the ground.
When the Republican-controlled Senate voted 79-19 late last month to urge the president to outline a strategy for "the successful completion of the (Iraq) mission," the handwriting was on the wall, and Bush responded on Wednesday. With his popularity below 40 percent and more than 60 percent of Americans opposed to his Iraq policy, it's high time for the president to get serious about a graceful exit strategy. If he fails to do so, Bush and his party will suffer heavy losses at the polls next year and in 2008.
President Bush finally paid personal attention to the "hot button" illegal immigration issue last week by visiting our porous border with Mexico. But while he talked tough on the need to control our borders, he continued to promote a "stealth" amnesty plan that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants in order to pander to so-called "immigration advocates" and businesses (and big campaign contributors) that exploit the illegals. Bush and his top advisers must realize that his temporary worker plan is a non-starter with a large majority of U.S. voters, including most American-born Hispanics.
n Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.