Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Off The Cliff

Bush’s speech last night on his “clear vision” for Iraq landed with a thud, according to these observers in Salon.com. And these are not all left-wingers. Some snippets:

  • Michael Lind, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and author of “Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics.” George W. Bush began and ended his speech with a brazen lie. He claimed that the United States is in Iraq to fight al-Qaida…. Before the war, Bush, Cheney and the neoconservatives did all they could to convince the American people that there was some link between Saddam Hussein’s tyranny in Iraq and al-Qaida. They succeeded in deceiving a large number of Americans. Now Bush is trying the same trick again. He is trying to justify his failed and unnecessary war in Iraq by parading, once again, the corpses of those murdered by Osama bin laden and his followers in New York, Washington and Bali. The shamelessness of George W. Bush is matched only by his contempt for the intelligence of the American people.
  • Karen Kwiatkowski, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Air Force (ret.), served in the Pentagon’s secret intelligence unit, the Office of Special Plans, under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush has a five-step strategy toward Iraqi deoccupation. The soldier-scholars in the Army War College audience must have been wondering, “Where’s the rest of it?” No mention of deoccupation, only the mush of “We went to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay as an occupying power.” And more troops will go to Iraq, more violence will be committed, and we will build a brand new American-style maximum security prison for the Iraqis. Afterward, we’ll have a photo op as we bulldoze the cursed Abu Ghraib and build a city park in its place…. The Soviet invasion and subsequent puppetry in Afghanistan lasted 10 years, and four changes of leadership. Monday night, President Bush again asked the American people to be patient. After listening to his vacant, unrealistic and uninspired presentation to a controlled military audience, I think I understand why.
  • Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration; senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. My central concern is that the president has not yet recognized the mistakes he’s made and therefore does not have a basis on which to improve the situation. He played fast and loose with the number of troops. And I think we’re going to have to put more troops in Iraq in order to provide the security necessary to rebuild the infrastructure. Then he talked about how he’s going to go to NATO and thank the 15 countries who provided support and, as he said, almost 20,000 troops. Well, 10,000 of them are British. That means you have to divide up 14 other countries to account for the other 10,000. The president is trying to give the impression that we have a lot of international support, when we don’t.
  • Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East studies and the CFR-Baker Institute report on post-conflict Iraq at the Council on Foreign Relations. The most disheartening aspect of the speech was the president’s determination to continue to link the 9/11 terrorism with the Iraq war. He backed off a little, by saying that “Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror,” but insisted upon defining “our terrorist enemies” in Iraq as those determined to impose Taliban-like rule country by country. Until the president makes clear that we have lost much support in Iraq — not because of religious extremists, but because of a basic lack of law and order — it will be difficult to fashion a truly workable strategy for success.
  • Michael Rubin, former political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. President Bush successfully contextualized Iraq as an essential component of the war against terror. His reminder that the U.S. cannot afford to fail is important, especially in an election year where Democrats and Republicans alike seek to make Bush’s management of the Iraq war a campaign issue. Bush was wise to let Iraqis know that Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA] would not simply transfer itself into an embassy on June 30; it will be a mistake if any American continues to occupy CPA headquarters in Saddam’s Republican Palace on July 1. There were significant omissions in the Bush speech, however. Before the war both the State and Defense Departments underestimated the trauma of President George H.W. Bush’s abandonment of Iraqis in 1991. Iraqis remain unconvinced that the U.S. will stick to its rhetoric and will not once again cut-and-run. While Bush rightly says that, “Whenever people are given a choice … they prefer lives of freedom to lives of fear,” he ignores the fact that Iraqis will not again put their necks on the line if they doubt U.S. committment to their future. Comments by both Secretary of State Colin Powell and CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer in the past week suggesting that the U.S. might withdraw its troops shook Iraqi confidence in the U.S. Iraqis — who fear the worst — will notice that Bush did not roll back Powell’s statements.
  • As’ad AbuKhalil, Arab media expert; professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus. George W. Bush is certainly concerned about his reelection. His plummeting popularity in the polls explains his need for “a major” speech on Iraq. He may have sounded convincing to those in the U.S. who know little about Iraq and who do not follow foreign affairs closely. But for Iraqis (and Arabs in general) Monday’s speech will go down as yet another desperate effort to be added to the series of U.S. propaganda campaigns that followed Sept. 11 and the two subsequent U.S.-led wars….Bush and neoconservatives still foolishly refer to a “free Iraq” as a model for the region. They may be right — if other Arab populations are eager to incorporate into their lives daily car bombs, shootings by soldiers at checkpoints, torture of prisoners by liberating armies, the rise of fundamentalist groups and violent militias, clerical control of political affairs, and many empty promises of democracy. Colonization does not work in the 21st century, and the Iraqis who suffered under Saddam will settle for nothing less than full independence.