Monday, October 23, 2006

Bush's Iraq Strategy Is Unraveling

By Joseph L. Galloway
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
October 23, 2006

There he goes again. Vice President Dick Cheney last week delivered his opinion of how the Iraqi government is doing: "If you look at the general overall situation, they're doing remarkably well."

This from the sagacious leader who a year ago declared that the Iraqi insurgents were "in the last throes" of their struggle.

Cheney's assessment last week came when the bodies of Iraqis slaughtered in sectarian violence were clogging the morgues of Baghdad and Balad and the Interior Ministry announced that it was firing 3,000 special police on corruption and other charges.

It came as more than 70 Americans had been killed in Iraq in the first three weeks of October. That makes this one of the deadliest months for our soldiers and Marines in the 3 1/2 years of war in Iraq and brings the total to more than 2,770 dead and more than 21,070 wounded.

The Iraqi government stands by silently as private militias with ties to various members of that government, or to Iran, roam the streets killing anyone with the wrong name and taking potshots at the American soldiers trying to restore order.

When the Iraqi premier visited Washington, President Bush, far from turning up the heat on him, declared that he fully supported him and his government, and added that he had no intention of cutting back the commitment of U.S. troops.

Even the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad conceded Thursday that the Iraqi government that Bush supports and Cheney thinks is "doing remarkably well" hasn't succeeded in stemming the sectarian murders that have made Iraq's capital the center of slaughter instead of governance.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told a television audience that the United States should send an additional 100,000 troops to Iraq and ought to obtain that force by increasing strength of the Army and Marines by the same number, 100,000.

The news from Afghanistan is equally grim: The Taliban are operating in the south in battalion-size elements against an understrength Afghan army of only 30,000. Taliban and al-Qaida fighters take shelter in parts of Pakistan that aren't controlled by the central government. NATO has taken over command of the border fight and is already begging member governments for reinforcements.

The president's answer to metastatic terrorism last week was to sign a bill reinstating military tribunals to try suspects vacuumed up in the worldwide war against terror; suspending habeas corpus for defendants being given drumhead courts-martial in Guantanamo; and permitting and excusing so-called "alternative methods" of interrogation.

By confusing and conflating the war in Iraq with the global fight against terrorism, Bush, Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created with their mistakes and misjudgments an ever-growing jihad against our troops and our interests.

In the wake of 9/11, Bush declared that there was an "axis of evil" — Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

He chose to deal with the weakest and least threatening of the three evils, Iraq, and then got our forces bogged down in the middle of a civil war that threatens to shake that country apart and drown it in blood.

With our military unable to muster more than two or three brigades — fewer than 10,000 troops — to deal with any other firefights that erupt elsewhere, we have few options to deal with the other two evils. Iran is working hard to build nuclear weapons, and North Korea has begun nuclear-weapon testing.

Faced with all of this, plus various ethics scandals wafting off Capitol Hill, the electorate seems more than a little angry with a Republican Congress that seemingly has delivered nothing that wasn't intended to benefit them or their party.

Nevertheless, Bush and political spinmeister Karl Rove pronounced themselves as confident that Republicans would maintain control of both chambers of Congress as Cheney is that the Iraqi government is doing remarkably well. We can only wonder what sort of exotic cheroots our leaders are smoking.

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young."

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