On May 1, 2007, the anniversary of his infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, President George W. Bush received a spending bill from Congress that set limits on American involvement in Iraq’s civil war. As promised, Mr. Bush promptly vetoed the bill. His resolution to do so is motivated partly by his belief that withdrawal from Iraq as mandated by the bill could turn that nation into a ‘cauldron of chaos.’
A simple definition of chaos, easily available on the web, is the following: ‘a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.’ Does Mr. Bush believe that order and stability now characterize Iraq, and that that nation will descend into chaos if U.S. soldiers depart? As early as January 22 of 2004 the CIA was predicting civil war in Iraq; today few people outside of Mr. Bush’s rose-colored-glasses inner circle deny that Iraq is indeed in the midst of a bloody civil war. With the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds locked in centuries-old rivalries, and the so-called government of Iraq, with heavy U.S. backing, fighting everyone, Iraq can easily and accurately be described as chaotic.
Perhaps Mr. Bush could look at the confusion surrounding the wall he wanted built around part of Iraq, to ‘protect’ some neighborhoods. The government of Iraq protested, and construction ceased, or at least it had the last time anyone looked. Walling up neighborhoods does not seem to be the most effective security measure available, and doing so without the consent of the government of the nation you are occupying also seems like a dubious course of action.
Mr. Bush’s fears of chaos would seem to indicate a concern that, without the presence of American soldiers, Iraq citizens from rival groups may demonstrate hostilities. In the month of April, since Mr. Bush’s much-vaunted ‘surge’ got underway, at least 1,600 Iraq’s have died, the vast majority of them ordinary citizens (approximately 160 police or military officers were killed).
Chaos in Iraq is further described by a State Department report showing a 30% increase in terrorist attacks around the world, with most of the increase attributable to violence in Iraq. An estimated 45% of all terrorist activities were centered around that beleaguered nation.
Mr. Bush and the members of his administration continue to avoid reality, or even the most cursory look at the facts that are right in front of them. The view of events is not quite so obscure to other observers. When retired Marine Corps Gen. John (Jack) Sheehan turned down Mr. Bush’s request that he take the thankless job of ‘war czar’ (whatever that is), he clearly described his reason for doing so. Said Mr. Sheehan: “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they are going.” He was one of five, four-star generals who said ‘no thanks’ to Mr. Bush when offered this dead-end job.
Another reason for his veto was given by Mr. Bush: “Success in Iraq is critical to the security of free people everywhere.” An interesting statement, for certain, but he did not bother to elaborate on how success in Iraq is so critical for the security of the rest of the world. Nor has he ever done so.
The desire to prevent Iraq from descending into a ‘cauldron of chaos’ may be Mr. Bush’s new mantra, but we must not forget his tired old standby, his accusation that not funding the war equates to not supporting the troops. On April 3, 2007, Mr. Bush derided Democrats for proposing a bill he would veto; he said that the money his request would authorize was needed for new equipment and equipment repair, among other things. Let us look back to December 9, 2004, when Mr. Bush’s callous and incompetent Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was speaking to soldiers in Kuwait on their way to Iraq. Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, a scout with the Tennessee National Guard, asked Mr. Rumsfeld the following question: “We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we’ve always staged here out of Kuwait. Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” Why indeed? Mr. Rumsfeld had no response except the highly disingenuous statement that “you have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” Since this was a war of choice, certainly its start could have been delayed until the soldiers had what they needed to protect themselves. Where, one wonders, does this fit in with Mr. Bush’s self-righteous call to provide funding to ‘support the troops?’
A more recent example is also telling. The term ‘Walter Reed Medical Center,’ once associated with the military’s best efforts to assist injured veterans, now only conjures up images of the medical and bureaucratic neglect of injured, suffering veterans against the backdrop of rodents, insects, black mold and rotting walls. When he visited that facility just a few months before conditions there were exposed to the world, Mr. Bush spoke fine but empty words about supporting the troops: “We owe them all we can give them. Not only for when they’re in harm’s way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service.” As evidenced by Mr. Wilson’s questions to Mr. Rumsfeld, and the recently-exposed conditions at Walter Reed, the U.S. government clearly does not give its soldiers ‘all we can give them’ either when they are in harm’s way, or when they come home.
And now Mr. Bush is saying that Congress, which has blithely funded every war appropriations bill he’s asked for since the start of his Iraq catastrophe, is not ‘supporting the troops,’ or providing them with what they need to do their jobs.
This raises more puzzling questions. Mr. Bush, in his speech of April 16, surrounded by families of soldiers, said this: “The families gathered here understand that our troops want to finish the job.” One asks: what is ‘the job,’ and what will constitute its finish? Also, do the troops really want to finish this undefined job? The Military Times published a poll on December 29, 2006. Active-duty service members were asked a variety of questions. In response to the question, ‘Should the U.S. have gone to war with Iraq,’ 41% said yes, 37% no, 9% had no opinion and 11 % refused to answer. In response to the question, ‘Regardless of whether you think the U.S. should have gone to war, how likely is the U.S. to succeed,’ 13% said very likely, 37 % said somewhat likely, 31% responded not very likely, 10% not at all likely. Eight percent had no opinion or did not answer. With only half seeing any possibility of success, it is unlikely that all the troops want to ‘finish the job’ as Mr. Bush falsely claims.
One of the provisions Congress insisted upon in the now-vetoed bill is that there be consequences tied to Iraq’s failure to reach certain milestones. Mr. Bush has said that Iraq has been informed that America’s commitment to that nation is not open-ended, but he has failed to say what circumstances would bring that commitment to a close.Further, he has said he will veto any bill that contains a timetable for withdrawal. However, on June 5 of 1999, Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, said this about U.S. military involvement in Kosovo: “I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.”
Perhaps the most hypocritical statement that Mr. Bush made in vetoing this bill was the following: “It didn’t make any sense to impose the will of politicians over the recommendations of our military commanders in the field.” It must be remembered that in December of 2006, the month after the elections in which the Republican Party lost control of both the House and Senate, and when Mr. Bush first began making noises about a ‘new way forward’ in Iraq, General John. P. Abizaid, commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, announced plans to retire. Mr. Abizaid was a strong opponent of increasing the number of American soldiers in Iraq, saying that such a course would only increase that nation’s dependence on American support. It appears that Mr. Bush, by nominating
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has imposed his will (that of a politician) on the military commanders in the field (good-by Mr. Abizaid; you should not have disagreed with Mr. Bush if you wanted to keep your job). And so Mr. Bush’s political spin continues. If the military commanders in the field do not agree with Mr. Bush’s assessment of the situation, and with his opinion of how it should be handled, simply change the commanders to those who will. Instead of Mr. Abizaid arguing against a troop ‘surge’ we now have Lt. Gen. Petraeus talking about an ‘enormous commitment’ to the Iraqi imperial disaster.
One can only wonder where it will all end. Mr. Bush’s speechwriters create clever phases like ‘mission accomplished’ or ‘cauldron of chaos’ and expect Congress and the American public to accept them at face value. This is not surprising, since for the first several years of the war Congress and the public did so. There is, sadly, no realization on the part of Mr. Bush and those riding his war train over the cliff that the public has seen through much of his deadly façade, and in doing so changed the Congress to one more reflective of its will. As Howard Dean expressed it, “this veto ignores the will of the American people, military experts, the Iraq Study Group and Congress.” It is now the responsibility of Congress to continue its efforts to defund Mr. Bush’s disastrous military misadventure, bring all U.S. soldiers home and leave the Iraqis to form a government of their own choosing. This will happen ultimately; the U.S. government will determine how much innocent blood will flow before it does.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘