It appears that President Bush has found a way to dismiss the dismal reports about Iraq, due to be issued by the General Accounting Office within a matter of days. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino explained it all: "A bar was set so high, that it was almost not to be able to be met."
Grammatical criticisms aside, that statement seems to open the door for Mr. Bush to discount the reports that Congress required and continue with his disastrous 'stay the course' policy in Iraq. The report is just that: information about Iraq's progress toward pre-set benchmarks. It is intended to assist Congress in directing U.S. involvement in the war, but there is nothing in it that mandates any action. Mr. Bush can read it or not, and is certainly free to ignore it. One fears that that is exactly what he plans to do.
The objections that Mr. Bush has begun to raise include the fact that the benchmarks are, in essence, 'pass-fail' grades: either they have been met, or they have not. The president says that they do not allow for any demonstration of progress.
A benchmark is an achieved milestone: either it has or hasn't been accomplished. If 90% of the steps required to achieve a particular benchmark have been accomplished, that benchmark has not been met. One of the preset benchmarks was passage of a law concerning use of Iraq's oil; that law has not been passed. It does not matter how much debate has been held, how many drafts of such a law have been written, or even if some of the diverse and disagreeing groups have begun to move toward consensus. The benchmark is passage of the law; that has not been achieved, so the benchmark has not been met.
Because of this inherent quality of benchmarks, Mr. Bush appears dubious about the report, even before it is issued. An internal White House memo says that the GAO report will not present a true picture of conditions in Iraq. It further states that the established standards (benchmarks) were "designed to lock in failure."
The various benchmarks were established for a reason: they have been deemed necessary steps toward achieving peace in Iraq and there was a desire and expectation that they could and would be met in time to be included in the long-planned and anticipated September report. If Mr. Bush felt they were 'designed to lock in failure,' he could have raised that objection before this point. That he is doing so now is disingenuous.
In a pre-emptive move of his own, the president went to Iraq to personally assess the war. This supposedly dramatic visit will, he seems to hope, deflate the already weak Democratic Congress when it gets the report. That the spineless Democrats can be any further weakened is unlikely; they will probably read the report, make a wide variety of statements decrying the continuing loss of U.S. and Iraqi life, express fury over the millions of people displaced by America's imperial war of choice, and then vote for whatever war funding Mr. Bush requests, all in the name of 'supporting the troops.' They will then, by some inexplicable logic, point to it all as a victory.
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Mr. Bush further attempted to pre-empt any possible Congressional calls for real action in Iraq (sorry, Mr. Kucinich; it seems no one is listening), by saying that troop cuts are possible at some point in the future. This apparently is dependent on whether or not security in Iraq improves. Hopefully no one thinks this is anything new. Mr. Bush has said all along that once security improves to some undefined level, and when Iraqi forces can maintain it, U.S. troops can start coming home. He apparently wants security levels in Iraq to be what they were before his war. Iraqi citizens should be able, at a bare minimum, to live in their houses without fear of foreign soldiers breaking in. Mr. Bush seems to miss the fact that the people of Iraq will not be safe in their homes until U.S. soldiers go home. It is their presence that is keeping security levels so low.
Proponents of the president's escalation policies will proudly point out the fact that in some areas where thousands of U.S. soldiers have been added, the death rate for Iraq's people has dropped. They do not look at the cost to the people of Iraq: a foreign nation occupying their country, with free access to their homes at any time of the day or night; millions of people fleeing their homes in numbers that have increased dramatically since the much-vaunted 'surge;' limited or no electricity or running water. This, according to Mr. Bush, is what liberation is all about.
The president, while making the most of his photo-op in Iraq, said this: "[W]hen we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure." High sounding words, indeed, but like much of what is uttered by Mr. Bush, they are without reasonable meaning. A 'position of strength' can only be interpreted as additional U.S. soldiers occupying America's newest colony. The president has never realistically defined 'Success;' his desire to force Iraq to follow a democratic model that the Iraqi people have never expressed an interest in can hardly be described as success. "Fear" describes the condition the Iraqi people have lived in since the U.S. invasion. Certainly there was fear of Saddam Hussein, but his atrocities pale in comparison to the constant random violence that has wracked Iraq since the American invasion. Mr. Bush seems to see failure as the inability to break Iraq's people and subjugate them to America's oil lust.
Last spring, when the Democratic-controlled Congress first caved into White House rhetoric about 'supporting the troops,' its members looked to the September report as the defining moment for war funding. Even many Republicans, hesitant then to oppose Mr. Bush, said that progress must be shown by September or some action must be taken. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Who among the Democrats will actually oppose continuing the war by voting against funding? Who will simply continue spouting empty words and meaningless phrases, and then ensure that dedicated U.S. soldiers and victimized Iraqi citizens will continue to be fed into the meat grinder of this war? Which Republicans will either recognize that hitching their wagon to the falling star of Mr. Bush's war policies is a career disaster, or will see that the Iraqi people must be allowed to resolve their issues by themselves, and vote against further funding? Which will continue to blather on about 'victory' without ever defining, much less understanding, what that means?
No one with any knowledge of the situation in, and history of, Iraq can feel any optimism that the civil war there will not continue with horrifically tragic consequences for an extended period of time. This situation was caused by Mr. Bush's imperial designs on that nation, but it cannot be ended by the U.S. without a level of carnage not seen in generations. The withdrawal of U.S. soldiers, as quickly as can be safely accomplished, will be a major step toward ending the war. It will allow the Iraq people to determine their own course, whether that results in the partitioning of the country, or some kind of unified government. Whatever the outcome, it must belong to the citizens of Iraq. The alternative is a long, deadly war, that will only end when the people of Iraq, with tremendous loss of life, finally submit to America's designs for them. This will increase the threat to the U.S. from Iraq's neighbors who will have watched Iraq's demise at the hands of Mr. Bush. Their desire to avoid the same fate may result in them using the president's own model of 'pre-emption,' with tragic consequences. The result of the successful conquest by the U.S. of Iraq will cause wounds to the world that will take decades to heal.
Because of this, Congress must heed the words of the forthcoming Petraeus report, even as Mr. Bush dismisses, or gives some bizarre interpretation, to them. It must be remembered that, following the 2006 elections when the American voters demanded a change, the president announced his 'new way forward:' escalation of the war. More of the same was to be something new. The members of Congress on both sides of the aisle must put aside partisan considerations and do what is best for the United States, Iraq and the world. A new way forward is indeed needed, one that takes U.S. soldiers out of a civil war zone as quickly as possible.
Robert Fantina is author of 'Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776--2006.'
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