Despite the recent (but too-little-to-late) publication of the Iraq Study Group’s report, President George W. Bush has said that he will wait until after the new year to announce any possible change of policy in Iraq. This is assumed to be for the benefit of incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, so he can get his feet wet over the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the President does not have two weeks.
Every day, there are several things happening that make every day precious in trying to “win victory” in Iraq.
1) Iraqis are dying. Every day, innocent men, women, and children die in Sunni bomb blasts and Shiite executions and attacks. Each person who dies has friends and relatives living in Iraq who cannot help but become just a little more hardened against the other side. And every day, many cross the tipping point into a willingness to commit violence. Worse yet, every day many are losing hope.
2) Americans are dying. And because of this, every day Americans are losing hope in victory/success/whatever in Iraq and losing faith in the administration, its people and its policies. Not that this means anything to a lame duck President who has already sacrificed his party’s Congressional majority for the sake of his legacy (i.e., “success” in Iraq). However, I hope there is a tipping point at which Bush realizes that he is a public servant and that the will of the people, even if it’s wrong in his opinion, is his mandate.
3) Iraqis are leaving their country. According to the best estimates, more than 6.5% of the pre-war population of Iraq has left. Approximately 75% of those who have left have gone to neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria. They are refugees, but not in the sense that we imagine refugees. These are the most intelligent people in (or should I say “from”) Iraq. They are the best and the brightest: professors, doctors, attorneys, engineers, etc., leaving both because they have the resources to do so, and they are being targeted by militias and terrorists.
4) The insurgents and terrorists are succeeding. The country is in a civil war; people argue this point by saying that the government still stands and the police and military are still obeying orders. The point they don’t bother to bring up is the fact that the government only stands because it’s inside the American-fortified Green Zone. A government’s legitimacy depends on the respect it gets internally and externally. Internally, I doubt many Iraqis feel the government is giving them what they need—not security, not order, not opportunity, not electricity. Externally, not even the presence of the U.S. military deters those who would destabilize the country. No one who wants to is afraid to enter Iraq and begin fighting against the government. Moreover, the police and military are hardly part of the solution; many of them are the same militiamen who participate in sectarian intimidation, kidnapping, torture, retaliatory attacks, and executions.
If there is still a chance of success in Iraq (and that’s a big IF), it is slipping further away each day. The President is building his legacy of failure day by day as his arrogance keeps him blinded to good counsel. As cited in U.S. News & World Report, a recollection of a member of the Iraq Study Group paraphrased Bush as saying: You have to speak to the American people with a simple message here. They understand what victory is, and if you come off it, they’ll think you’re giving up.
Evidently he’s also the decider about how much of the truth we can handle and how much spin we need to keep us in his camp. Mr. President, we also understand what victory is not; it’s not what we are currently seeing in Iraq. And the possibility of it is running fast the other way.