Wednesday, George W. Bush confirmed what many of us have long suspected – our plan for Iraq is based upon a “Talking Heads” hit. The President’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,“ was lifted from the lyrics to “Road to Nowhere.”
“Well we know where we’re goin’
But we don’t know where we’ve been.
And we know what we’re knowin’
But we can’t say what we’ve seen.
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want.
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out.
We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside.
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride.”
The Administration doesn’t know where it’s going because it doesn’t know where it’s been. It’s incapable of learning from mistakes because it refuses to recognize them. Despite being consistent only in its ineptitude, Bush asks us to believe, “the future is certain. Give us time to work it out.”
In his speech Bush stolidly reiterated his stay-the course mantra. “No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one.” Nonetheless, his Administration continues to send mixed signals. Last week, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice suggested that U.S. forces might start withdrawing “fairly soon.” Next, Lieutenant General John Vines, who is in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq, said it was possible 50,000 U.S. forces could leave by the end of 2006. Then both Rice and Vines backpedaled saying a “premature withdrawal” would be "destabilizing."
Meanwhile, the various Iraqi factions met at the Arab-League’s “Reconciliation Conference.” Surprisingly, they agreed on something, “We demand the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with a timetable.” However, a couple of days later, Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, warned, “any premature withdrawal will send the wrong message to the terrorists.”
The Administration’s ambivalence is a direct result of the public’s antipathy towards the Iraq war. A strong majority wants our troops to come home. While George W, personally, could care less what the voters think, Republicans running for reelection in 2006 are worried. Just before the Thanksgiving recess the Senate passed a resolution that next year should mark the beginning of the end of the occupation of Iraq. Thirteen of the fourteen Republican senators running for reelection voted for it.
Bush continues to maintain, “Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.” Congressman John Murtha disputes this. Murtha, a Vietnam vet and decorated Marine, is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense. A self-described defender of the “Pentagon and our troops,” the Pennsylvania congressman has long-standing relationships with top Pentagon commanders. On November 17th, Murtha called for withdrawal within six months. Point by point he contradicted all the Administration’s claims of progress. “[Iraq] is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion…The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.”
The Bush Administration maintains that we cannot summarily leave the country. We must wait until the Iraqi army is reconstituted. Many experts feel that this either cannot be accomplished or it will take a painfully long time. Writing in the December 2005 “Atlantic Monthly” James Fallow concludes, “There is no indication that [a viable Iraqi security force] is about to emerge.”
The crux of George W’s dilemma is that he has never had a plan for Iraq. He’s had plenty of ideologically fueled wishful thinking, but he has never had an overall strategy. Republican insider Henry Kissinger once observed, “If you don't know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.”
It would be one thing if leaving Iraq simply meant that we would look stupid to the rest of the world for having launched the invasion to begin with. But what’s at stake is more than humiliation. On November 20th New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, nailed our dilemma in “One War Lost, Another to Go.” (http://select.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/opinion/20rich.html) Rich pointed out that the real problem with deteriorating public support for the occupation of Iraq “is that the public, having rejected one [war], automatically rejects the other… The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll.” We are being diverted from the real war on terror.
The gravity of this situation forces Americans to confront harsh realities: Our lives are in peril. We must have a real plan for the war on terror. Meanwhile, we have a President who leading us down the road to nowhere.