The futility, the arrogance, the stupidity and the terrible danger that underlie President Bush’s threat to veto any congressional war-funding bill that fixes a deadline to bring Americans home were rendered obvious by his own top brass as he was uttering the threat.
Bush would like Americans, 70 percent of whom now want U. S. forces brought home no later than next year, to believe that it won’t be very long now before we win and the men and women can come home but meantime a statutory deadline would somehow undermine the safety of the soldiers. But most people now know that is a fatuous idea. The House and Senate bills fully fund the troops and the war effort until the demobilization.
The new Iraqi commander and other military leaders said last week that there were two timetables for Iraq, one in Washington for controlling the politics and another for actually waging the war. They expected the new initiative in Iraq, the so-called “surge,” to buy some time for the administration’s war effort in Washington and with the American electorate. The hope is that the surge can pacify Baghdad enough in the next few months that the voters if not Congress will see that the war might still succeed.
The war itself? It will take five to 10 years “minimum” but probably longer to show real results, they said. That would be when the opposing religious and cultural forces destroyed each other or collapsed from exhaustion.
The president and more particularly Vice President Cheney do not intend to bring the war in Iraq to an end or even to make a feint toward withdrawal, and people at long last know that for a certainty, too.
Mere contemplation of leaving Iraq aborts the chief rationale for the Bush administration, spelled out first on the Project for a New American Century website as Cheney was installing himself as Bush’s running mate in 2000 and repeated subtly so often since, most clearly in the administration’s “National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002” and Cheney’s frequent ramblings. Iraq was to be toppled and U.S. influence cemented and extended throughout the region and across the globe. U. S. influence and military power would be built “beyond challenge” across the planet, as the National Security Strategy said.
That would be George W. Bush’s place in history, global dominion.
Cheney described the strategy in the summer of 2002 as the administration was starting in earnest to prepare the country for the invasion of Iraq the next year. The invasion of Afghanistan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his little band of confederates was proving tiresome and fruitless.
“The war in Afghanistan is only the beginning of a lengthy campaign,” Cheney said. “Were we to stop now, any sense of security we might have would be false and temporary.” He said the enemy was working in “more than 60 countries” and the United States had to go after them all. George W. Bush had a tall assignment.
So any congressional enactment now that does not give the president the perpetual and unfettered right to conduct war must be squelched.
Besides providing a chance for the massive occupation of Baghdad to show effect, “buying time” offers the administration one other prospect or perhaps a dozen prospects: a cataclysmic event somewhere across the tinderbox region that would herd people back into the fold. The massing of the 7th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea offers a golden opportunity. Iran, Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria all are opportunities.
But the military leaders, like the administration, make an awful miscalculation. You cannot conduct any policy, foreign or domestic, if nearly three of every four Americans believe that it is violently against their interest unless you are willing to sacrifice the morale and confidence of the nation. That is the reality today.
The reality also is that Bush and Cheney are willing to accept all those risks to hold on to the tenuous chance that some chain of events might yet preserve their great legacy. Lately, the defenders have taken to pointing out the few military deaths in Iraq, less than 3,500, compared with other major wars, as if that made the cost of war trivial.
But deaths do not measure the human cost. The ratio of grievous wounds to deaths, 16 to 1, is many times higher than any previous conflict owing to new medical strategies. The wounds, including huge numbers of permanent head injuries as the Washington Post reported last week, will carry the mortal legacy of the war far into mid-century.