Saturday, June 18, 2005

President Bush on Iraq: We Will Settle For Nothing Less Than Victory

More than two years ago, President George W. Bush proudly declared that major combat operations were over in Iraq.

Today, with more than 1,700 deaths and 15,000 casualties suffered by U.S. and coalition forces, Bush stated during his weekly radio address, "We will settle for nothing less than victory.”

But what does that mean? It’s possible that many are asking that question today, and perhaps beginning to wonder why the conditions for victory weren’t more fully explored during the quick ramp up to war those several years back.

In any event, support for the war in Iraq is reaching an all-time low.

About six in 10 in a Gallup poll taken in early June said the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops - the highest level of support for withdrawing U.S. troops since the war began.

Meanwhile, the insurgency is becoming ever more clever and sinister in delivering guerrilla-style attacks on coalition troops and Iraqis tied to the reconstruction. IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices – are particularly hazardous and difficult to defend against.

These fearsome homemade weapons are responsible for many of the more than 1,700 deaths and 15,000 plus casualties suffered by U.S. and coalition forces since the invasion of Iraq two years ago this month. And they're getting more deadly and numerous.

"They've gone up exponentially in number and they're getting more powerful all the time," said Lt. Col. Michael Kurilla, whose 24th Infantry Regiment's First Battalion patrols the western half of this northern Iraq city that has the highest number of attacks by insurgents of any city in Iraq.

As the military is experiencing difficulty in filling its recruitment goals, some reports find the morale of the U.S. military in Iraq to be low and the state of security to be sketchy at best. Newsweek’s Baghdad bureau chief describes the situation in the bleakest of terms:

Living and working in Iraq, it's hard not to succumb to despair. At last count America has pumped at least $7 billion into reconstruction projects, with little to show for it but the hostility of ordinary Iraqis, who still have an 18 percent unemployment rate. Most of the cash goes to U.S. contractors who spend much of it on personal security. Basic services like electricity, water and sewers still aren't up to prewar levels. Electricity is especially vital in a country where summer temperatures commonly reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet only 15 percent of Iraqis have reliable electrical service. In the capital, where it counts most, it's only 4 percent.

The most powerful army in human history can't even protect a two-mile stretch of road. The Airport Highway connects both the international airport and Baghdad's main American military base, Camp Victory, to the city center. At night U.S. troops secure the road for the use of dignitaries; they close it to traffic and shoot at any unauthorized vehicles. More troops and more helicopters could help make the whole country safer. Instead the Pentagon has been drawing down the number of helicopters. And America never deployed nearly enough soldiers. They couldn't stop the orgy of looting that followed Saddam's fall. Now their primary mission is self-defense at any cost—which only deepens Iraqis' resentment.

The four-square-mile Green Zone, the one place in Baghdad where foreigners are reasonably safe, could be a showcase of American values and abilities. Instead the American enclave is a trash-strewn wasteland of Mad Max-style fortifications. The traffic lights don't work because no one has bothered to fix them. The garbage rarely gets collected. Some of the worst ambassadors in U.S. history are the GIs at the Green Zone's checkpoints. They've repeatedly punched Iraqi ministers, accidentally shot at visiting dignitaries and behave (even on good days) with all the courtesy of nightclub bouncers—to Americans and Iraqis alike. Not that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have much to smile about. They're overworked, much ignored on the home front and widely despised in Iraq, with little to look forward to but the distant end of their tours—and in most cases, another tour soon to follow. Many are reservists who, when they get home, often face the wreckage of careers and family.

Because of the casualties, the reports from the field, analysis from experts, and nose diving polls, Congress finally seems poised to take a serious look at coming up with a timetable for withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced plans to introduce a resolution calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq beginning in October 2006. The effort follows a failed Democratic amendment to a spending package requiring the Bush administration to provide an exit plan within 30 days. The Democrats’ amendment was killed by Republicans in committee.

The bipartisan resolution is sponsored by Reps. Walter Jones Jr. R-NC), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Neil Abercrombie (D-HA), and Ron Paul (R-TX). Rep. Jones told reporters at a press conference yesterday that at least 7 other Republicans told him they plan to study and consider the resolution carefully.

Republican leaders have rejected calls for troop withdrawal and will try to prevent the bipartisan bill from reaching the floor as well.

A recent statement by Rep. Jones (yes, the Freedom Fries guy) may best sum up the uneasy mood of the nation:

"The American people are getting to a point here. How much more can we take?" he added. "Have we achieved our goals, and if not, what are those goals?"


The Sore Loser said...

So what do the men of Dumpster Bust recommend? More troops, less troops, complete pullout?

Eric Berlin said...

After the decisions that have been made over the last three years, there's no easy answer.

That said, I don't think it would be appropriate to announce a troop reduction in the current environment. We're basically stuck there until we can have a lengthy stability that would allow for troop reductions.

What's your take, TSL?

The Sore Loser said...

Well, the left is often accused of wanting it both ways -- arguing that there should be both fewer troops and more troops. There's some truth to this criticism but it isn't entirely fair. I assume that what people of the left really prefer is either more troops or less troops rather than the status quo, but I'm genuinely torn as to whether it would be better to have more or less troops. Clearly, it would've been better to have had more troops 2 years ago. Now, I still lean in the direction of escalation. More troops would help control the insurgency, and a pullout now might destroy Iraq's fragile political process. U.S. troops may be the only thing preventing all out civil war.

Eric Berlin said...

That sounds about right. The major mistakes and failures are several years old already (except the prisoner abuse scandals, arguably).

The only problem with escalation is that we can't do it... not enough troops.

A strong solution would be for the administration to come clean and say, "We have to go in deep and hard until it's safe enough for the world to bring our troops home." Then we could spend (even) more money on incentives and bonuses to recruit and keep the troops we need, invest in more boots on the ground with proper armor, etc. and stay until the job is done right.

It's a mess is what it is.