In a speech marking the fourth anniversary of the United States' invasion of Iraq on Monday, President Bush said, “Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won. It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through.”
Presumably, the president was speaking to both the Congress, which is currently debating a war-funding bill, and the American public, which has—by way of last November's midterm elections—directed the Congress to fix the president's many mistakes in this, one of the two most bungled wars in U.S. history.
Bush is right about one thing: Winning a war requires the resolve and courage of the American people. But if that were all it took, the United States would have prevailed years ago, when resolve was its peak, when many Americans believed what the president and his people told them about why we were at war, how long it would last and how much it would cost. If that were all it took, American servicemen and women wouldn't be dying in Iraq at a rate of more than 90 per month nearly four years after Bush so arrogantly and incorrectly told us the war had been won.
No, it also requires, as Colin Powell tried to tell us not so long ago, overwhelming military force. And it requires careful planning. And it requires expert diplomacy. Unfortunately, Bush and his civilian leadership team chose to occupy Iraq with something far less than overwhelming force. The postwar period was not carefully planned. And there's been no diplomatic effort to speak of. In short, the war in Iraq has been botched at every turn.
Now Bush is asking for patience. He's asking for an open-ended commitment from the Congress and the public, and for us to trust that he knows what he's doing. He's earned none of this. His administration has been deceitful, conniving and incompetent—not the best way to engender trust and patience.
The Congress—all the Democrats and some of the Republicans—must stand up to the president. Many of these politicians bear responsibility for this deadly fiasco. Cowering in the shadow of his popularity in 2002 and 2003, they gave Bush a blank check to wage war wherever he wanted even though they were skeptical of the rationale. Now they must right that wrong while staring another formidable opponent in the face: the propagandist who wields “the troops” as a political weapon.
War opponents have one tool in their bag: funding. They don't have the authority to compel the president to withdraw troops, but they can refuse to give him any more money. That's why Bush and others who support continued warfare are now equating proposals to place conditions on appropriations to being hostile to the troops.
Members of Congress must not give in to this trickery. They must make the case that withholding funding for the war is the best thing for the troops because it will bring them home. They must continue to remind the public that it was the president who presided over a war effort that shortchanged the troops in the equipment department. You'll recall Donald Rumsfeld's glib response to the soldier who asked about armor: “You go to war with the Army you have.” And it's Bush who's sending troops back for too many tours of duty because he's strained the military nearly to its breaking point. And it's Bush who's presiding over a military healthcare system that's inadequate at best (Veterans Affairs), scandalous at worst (Walter Reed Army Medical Center).
Republicans often admonish Democrats for failing to articulate an alternative to the president's plan. That alternative is clear: Withdraw the troops as soon as possible. Democrats should return the question: What is the alternative to withdrawal? The status quo? There is no viable long-term plan at work in Iraq. The current strategy is a greater military presence in Baghdad. Sure, that might quell violence temporarily, but only until the troops leave. So, what, are we there forever? Do we really think a ragtag Iraqi police force will be able to stop a civil war—when the world's most ferocious military has failed to do so? Seriously?
All that will save the Iraqi people now is intervention by competent, mature, non-American diplomats who can bring the warring factions and Iraq's neighbors to the table in an effort to stop the bloodshed and chart a course for reconciliation.
President Bush created the conditions for civil war. He built a new incubator for terrorism where none existed before. He alone has made the region a more volatile place. Why on earth would any right-headed person ever think he could be the solution?