Bush The Cheerleader
By Ray McGovern
Clearing House" --
-- When President George
W. Bush was asked at his news conference last Wednesday whether
we are winning in Iraq, he answered, "Absolutely; we're
winning." The disingenuousness was almost enough to provoke
sympathy for the beleaguered president as he lived through
another bad week with further diminished credibility.
A letter winner in cheerleading at Andover and Yale, the
president knows how tough it is to keep spirits up when it
becomes clear that his team is not winning, but the bedlam in
Iraq has become the supreme test. Some of his fellow
cheerleaders have quit cheering, and even the Fox News Channel
is having trouble putting on a brave front.
And small wonder. For example, on October19 USA Today
the main challenge succinctly:
The mistaken war and botched
aftermath have created such a mess that the only credible
course change must be predicated on this painful question:
Is there an achievable goal that makes the further sacrifice
of American lives worthwhile? With each passing day, that is
looking less and less likely. ... What, exactly, is the goal
that U.S. forces are fighting and dying for?
Is it to referee a civil war in
Iraq? At the press conference Bush said:
Our job is to prevent the
full—full-scale civil war from happening in the first place.
It is one of the missions, is to work with the Maliki
government to make sure that there is a political way
forward that says to the people of Iraq, It's not worth it.
Civil war is not worth the effort—by them...And so we will
work to prevent that from happening.
Is that it? Or is it, as the
president let slip, to prevent "terrorists or extremists in Iraq
[from gaining] access to vast oil reserves" in Iraq and denying
them to the U.S. How often were we told that oil had "nothing to
do with it!"?
The president did say that too many children "won't ever see
their mom and dad again," and that he owes it "to them and to
the families who still have loved ones in harm's way to ensure
that their sacrifices are not in vain."
He owes to people like the family of Jeremy Shank. In a small
town in Missouri last month, Rev. Carter Frey eulogized young
Shank, who was killed while on patrol in Iraq. Frey stressed
that Shank was one of those who "put themselves in harm's way
and paid the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I can have
freedom to live in this country."
Really? Many patrols like the one
Shank was on appear to be aimed at stopping Shia and Sunni from
killing each other—stopping what the president calls "full-scale
civil war." Two months ago Bush’s national security adviser
Stephen Hadley told the press, "It's no longer about insurgency,
but sectarian warfare." Is that what Jeremy Shank and other
young men and women are paying the ultimate sacrifice—or the
penultimate one of living the rest of their lives without arms
What else could be their purpose? To continue the pursuit of
evidence of weapons of mass destruction or ties between Iraq and
al-Qaida? Or is it really, as the Bush administration suggests,
to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq and the wider Middle
East? Really? How long will we let our young soldiers be mocked
and used? How long will we allow President Bush to treat them as
disposable soldiers—like toys a rich kid gets for Christmas?
Time To Bring Them Home
There are basically two choices: (1) "stay the course" (or the
same concept with a more felicitous label); or (2) withdraw.
Let's look at them both:
(1) Those of us who have "been there, done that" know what is
meant by "stay the course"—or whatever updated formulation the
Bush administration uses that implies action short of
withdrawal. Its name is Vietnam. It means more violence month by
month—as we have witnessed recently—until there are 50,000 more
of our young troops, and a million more Iraqis, dead. From the
president's own words we know his intention is to keep our
troops in Iraq until the end of his term. A year or two later,
our helicopters will be lifting the remainder of the American
presence in Iraq off the rooftops of the billion-dollar embassy
we are now building in the Green Zone. The name is Vietnam. It
is a no-brainer for anyone who knows the first thing about
"insurgency"—or, more properly, resistance to foreign
occupation. More and more violence—guaranteed.
(2) Withdrawal: It is more difficult to predict what will happen
if we withdraw our troops from Iraq over the next year or so. A
lot depends on how we go about it. The steps outlined below, the
result of brainstorming with my colleagues with Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and others, would
in my view hold the promise of much less violence and killing:
(a) Show a modicum of respect
for the opinions of the Iraqi people, two-thirds of whom
want U.S. forces out of Iraq immediately, according to a
recent poll commissioned by our Department of State. It
seems the height of hubris and incongruity for U.S.
officials to pretend, as they do, that they know far better
what would be best for the Iraqis. Another poll had 60
percent of the Iraqi people saying they would shoot an
American on sight, if they had the opportunity.
(b) Publicly disavow any intention of having permanent—or as
the Pentagon now prefers to say "enduring"—military bases in
(c) Publicly disavow any intention of having special rights
over the oil under the sands of Iraq. (These last two steps
will be difficult for the Bush administration, since those
aims formed the bulk of the motivation for attacking and
(d) TALK. Yes, talk. It is bizarre that the Bush
administration does not let the State Department talk with
"evil" forces—like North Korea, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and
(perish the thought) "insurgents" in Iraq. If Ronald Reagan
could talk with the Evil Empire, and conclude very important
arms control and other agreements, surely the George W. Bush
administration can engage resistance forces in Iraq. The
Arab League states have shown themselves eager to facilitate
such discussions. Indeed, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
did precisely that in October 2005, when he invited all
interested states and factions to a meeting in Cairo. The
U.S. boycotted those talks, and made it difficult for its
clients in Baghdad to attend.
Following these four steps would
attenuate the violence and damage that can be expected, however
well-planned our withdrawal. Most importantly, then—and only
then—we can expect the Arab League countries, the United
Nations, the Western Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis and others
to do what they can to facilitate our withdrawal with as much
grace as can be mustered at that point. Why? Because they like
us? No; we have frittered away the strong support rendered us in
the wake of 9/11. They will help because most of them have even
more interest than we in a more stable Iraq—and just as much
interest as we in the oil there.
Bottom line: It seems virtually certain that there will be more
violence in "staying the course." That being the case, it can no
longer be a moral decision to say, in effect: Let's let those
kids from the inner cities and the farms stay the course for us;
who knows, maybe they'll be lucky!
I cannot resist the temptation to recall that all of this was
entirely predictable—and predicted. Almost exactly a year ago we
took strong issue with Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld's insistence that the war in Iraq was "winnable." We
noted at the time that "most of those with a modicum of
experience in guerrilla warfare and the Middle East are
persuaded that the war is NOT winnable and that the only thing
in doubt is the timing of the U.S. departure."
When will they ever learn; when will they ever learn?
Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst
from the administrations of John F. Kennedy to George H. W.
Bush. He now works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the
ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C.
This article was first
published at TomPaine.com
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