George Bush loves playing the war president. He loves strutting across an aircraft carrier in a tight-fitting jump-suit or dropping in on the new Iraqi Premier, al-Maliki for a few hours of chummy bravado. He loves showing Papa-Bush that he can hang in there when things get tough and that he won’t be pushed around by those niggling nay-sayers in the Congress.
Unfortunately, things are quickly unraveling in Iraq and, by many accounts, the war is already lost. Conservatives are jumping off the bandwagon faster than liberals and Bush’s approval ratings continue to plummet. Retired General William Odom summarized the Iraq adventure best when he said, "It is the greatest strategic disaster in US history."
Bush’s photo-op in Baghdad only proves the wisdom of Odom’s judgment. What looked like a triumphant visit by the Commander-in-Chief to the heart of a war zone, was actually a desperate attempt to garner support for a failed mission.
The details of Bush’s Baghdad-junket are similar to his trip to England last year, when he was surrounded by a phalanx of 3,500 fully-armed security guards who shadowed his every move from the time he touched down until the final lift-off. All the while, a squadron of Apache helicopters and F-16s kept circling overhead to ensure the Dear Leader’s safety. Providing security in Iraq has ben an equally daunting task.
Three years after “Mission Accomplished", the U.S. still does not control one inch of territory beyond the pock-marked parapets and block walls of their Baghdad fortress. Even inside the Green Zone, security is so stretched that Bush had to be spirited out of the country just 5 hours after arrival. What does that tell the world about the magnitude of America’s failure?
Bush would never have risked driving through the battered landscape of downtown Baghdad. Instead, he limited his movements to one small dot on the map in an ocean of resistance; Bush’s citadel of "democracy".
"My message to the Iraqis is this," Bush boomed. “We’re going to help you succeed. My message to the enemy is: Don’t count on us leaving before we succeed. My message to our troops is: We support you 100%. Keep doing what you’re doing. And my message to the critics is: We listen very carefully and adjust, and adjust when we need to adjust."
What gibberish. Bush’s promises are absurd given the enormity of the catastrophe he has created. By every objective standard, things were better under Saddam.
The media gobbled up Bush’s photo-op with their customary zeal. The visit was yet another successful Rove-coup that probably nudged Bush’s approval ratings upward, but achieved nothing substantive. The pictures of smiley-faced politicians glad-handing and chest-thumping appeared on the front pages of every newspaper in the country. They added to the festive atmosphere that began with the killing of terrorist-mastermind Abu al Zarqawi. By all accounts, it was a good week for the Team Bush.
But the war won’t be won by the White House public relations team and people are increasingly suspicious of Bush’s diversionary publicity stunts like his unannounced trip to Baghdad. The long litany of war crimes is finally wearing away at the fragile American psyche.
Haditha, Falluja, Abu Ghraib; these are the names that will forever identified with Iraq and engraved in the public’s consciousness. Their scars are bound to be felt long after the war is over. Brand Bush is now irreversibly linked to criminal renditions, abusive treatment of prisoners, and massive slaughter. Nothing Rove does will remove the stain of those atrocities from America’s reputation.
American elites are steadily abandoning their support for the war. Madeleine Albright, Brent Scowcroft, William F Buckley, Richard Holbrook are just some of the heavy-hitters who now see the futility of pursuing the present policy. President Jimmie Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of the war and the failure to provide even minimal security for the Iraqi people.
In an interview last week on the Jim Lehrer News Hour Brzezinski said that the invasion "was not worth it" and that it was a "major misadventure".
"This is worse than the bad days of Vietnam… We do not have a free and democratic government that is functioning… The authority we have installed is besieged and relatively helpless, and a civil war is beginning to mushroom, under the occupation which is unable to crush the insurgency, because it is a foreign occupation….We no longer live in an age of colonialism. We no longer have to assume the ‘white man’s burden’ in order to ‘civilize’ others."
Brzezinski finished the interview by offering a 4-step strategy for withdrawing from Iraq; something that the Democratic leadership should consider immediately.
1. Talk to the leadership about when to leave.
2. Set a date for withdrawal.
3. Let the government convene a conference of all Iraq’s Muslim neighbors about stabilizing Iraq and helping it to stabilize.
4 "Convene a donor’s conference of interested countries in Europe and the Far East who benefit from Iraqi oil on helping to rehabilitate Iraq. This would allow us to leave and still say that we basically achieved what we wanted—the removal of Saddam—though not providing a secular, stable, united Iraq under a perfect democracy."
Brzezinski poses realistic solutions for a situation that will progressively deteriorate into anarchy. His analysis cannot be easily dismissed. He is respected among his peers as a hard-edged Machiavellian strategist who is not given to flights of fancy. If he says the war is over, it is not because of some heartfelt connection with the Iraqi people, but because it is "unwinnable" and damaging to America’s long-term interests.
In an earlier interview, Brzezinski articulated his belief that the war has been a "moral setback" for America overshadowing our other activities in the world. He added that if we were unwilling to commit 500,000 troops and $200 billion a year, for an unspecified amount of time then victory would probably be unachievable.
He said, "There comes a point in the life of a nation when such sacrifices are not justified…and only time will tell if the United States is facing a moment of wisdom, or is resigned to cultural decay".
Brzezinski is right; America is at a crossroads. The moral squalor of our political system has never been more evident, nor the conduct of our leaders more vile. It’s no longer a matter of simply extracting ourselves from Iraq. Now, we’re fighting to pull what’s left of our country out of the ash heap.