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President's address, plan short on both bark and bite

A delayed response due to the need for a lengthy cooling-off period.

President Bush addressed the nation last week, offering his long-awaited plan for a “new direction” in the Iraq conflict. However, despite taking an extra month to come up with this (presumably) superior plan, the President’s speech – and the strategy it laid out – rang disappointingly hollow.

Laying aside the question of how many American troops gave their lives for what the President ostensibly knew to be the “wrong” plan (and wrong direction) in Iraq while he took his time coming up with the “right” plan (in the form of the new direction), the plan itself – and the dubious commitment to a foggy objective that it presents – is woefully short both on methods and on goals.

Addressing the nation with an appearance much more resembling a deer in the headlights than a confident wartime leader, President Bush acknowledged the obvious, saying, “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.” He added, “it is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq,” and called the situation “unacceptable” – but correctly maintained that “failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.”

The language used by the President regarding the desired results was even less optimistic, as his usually colorful descriptions of “victory” were almost completely replaced with toned-down, almost plaintive references to the need to “succeed” in the current conflict.

The troops in Iraq have fought bravely indeed, willingly giving up their own lives for their mission and for each other, while wholeheartedly embracing the dangerous and deadly assignments with which they were tasked on a daily basis. However, since the quick and efficient taking of Baghdad, and toppling of the late Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party regime, the President’s “strategy” has been largely devoid of a clear, defined, coherent objective, and, as a direct result, the troops on the ground in Iraq have been suffering from the lack of a clear, defined mission.

Dutifully patrolling the same neighborhoods, taking the same fire, and being blown up in the same places by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) set by the same people has given the American military the appearance of conducting a daily mission in that country. However, that is virtually all that it has accomplished, aside from providing an ever-increasing body count, which now tragically sits at just over 3,000 young men and women.

If this new strategy did little more to establish a clear mission for our fighting men and women in Iraq, it did even less to establish a standard for success in the region. Just what the definition of “success” is – much like “victory” before it – remains as nebulous and unclear as ever.

The President did speak of some short-term goals. Securing Baghdad is to be the highest priority. Provincial elections are to be held, although, with the admission that the 2005 national elections did not provide the expected galvanization of the warring population, it is difficult to see this as anything more than yet another symbolic gesture. Iraqi police and troops are to be trained more quickly, and are to have more American embeds to ensure that training and mission execution is effectively carried out. This is a worthy goal, to be sure; however, the speed with which Iraqis can take over the entirety of their national security – and the effectiveness with which they can do so, when so many in the growing security apparatus have very disparate allegiances – is uncertain to say the least.

The President did acknowledge that, in the past, “political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence.” Pledging a change in the rules of engagement, he promised that, “this time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods.”

A radical alteration of the ROEs is indeed necessary if America is to pursue a victory that includes successfully stamping out terrorism, murderous sectarian violence, and endless efforts to destabilize the elected Iraqi government. The mantle of political correctness, and the fear of media response and of “world opinion” has caused the administration and its leaders to relegate this conflict – like every major conflict since World War II – to a mythical “limited war,” where there is no real use of American might, and where our enemies are allowed to use civilians as shields and churches as places of refuge, armed with the knowledge that we would rather let them escape and kill more troops and civilians another day, than risk the collateral damage or injured feelings that actually taking the fight to the enemy and seeking battlefield victory could result in.

While the President was filming an interview for 60 Minutes in which he was badgered into (sort of) admitting that his “decisions have made things unstable” in Iraq, Vice President Cheney, in his appearance on Fox News Sunday, did a much better job of explaining the importance of actually winning the war in Iraq, saying that “the most dangerous blunder would be if…we took all of that effort that has gone in to fighting the global war on terror and the great work that we have done in Pakistan, and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia…and saw it dissipated because the United States now decides that Iraq is too tough and we’re going to pack it in and go home, …[leaving] high and dry those millions of people in that part of the world that have signed on and supported US…in this global conflict.”

Unfortunately, we are in danger of doing just that, due in part to the new direction’s lack of direction (or method of achieving the missing objective), as well as to the apparent need of Congressional Democrats to oppose the President regardless of his course of action – even if it is a course which they themselves recently advocated.

One case in point is Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.), who not long ago told Tim Russert that, above all, “we need more troops on the ground” in Iraq – then, in response to the President’s speech, which stated his intention to provide a “surge” of 21,500 more troops, came out against her own suggestion, penning a letter, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in which she vehemently opposed sending any additional troops to Iraq, and asserted that “the proper course is to start withdrawing from Iraq,” adding in remarks to the press that it is “time for the President to realize that his policy on the Iraq war is over.”

The President’s former policy is indeed “over,” although the “new direction,” on its face, does not seem to be very different from its predecessor. What was needed before, and appears to still be needed, is a clear objective and a definition of victory – both politically and militarily. Given that, and given the ability to operate without the superfluous restrictions of political correctness and excessive concern about “world opinion,” it is possible that we could succeed, although success would also require a force of will, and a willingness to endure a lengthy conflict, which have heretofore been missing amongst the American public and her representatives.

However, should these be lacking, then victory – or even success – in Iraq has already been forfeited. If that is indeed the case, then America might as well concede the fight, bring her troops home, and docilely await the coming storm of terrorism and attacks on her homeland. For that is the greatest truth of the President’s address: that an early exit from the region, leaving behind an unstable (or, more likely, chaotic) situation, would leave Islamic extremists, emboldened by the knowledge that America could be defeated, “in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions,” and in possession of “a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people.”

And that is not an acceptable outcome.


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