On the eve of George W. Bush’s latest attempt to rally the dispirited and angry nation in support of the prolonged conflict in Iraq, the question before Congress is starkly simple: What are the people’s representatives obliged to do about the bad judgment and bad faith of this President?
Mr. Bush’s bad judgment will be manifest to most Americans if, as expected, he insists on dispatching another 20,000 combat troops to Baghdad. Evidently he shares the illusion, fostered by Senator John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and both men’s neoconservative supporters, that a tardy and nominal increase in troops will somehow improve the chances for “victory.”
Bad judgment is the original sin of this war, dating back to the exaggeration and misuse of intelligence data by the President and his advisors. Early in 2001, they foolishly decided to go to war against Iraq and then made sure that “the facts” about weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda were “fixed around the policy,” in the words of the famous Downing Street memo. They arrogantly brushed aside the reluctance of our traditional allies. They stupidly rejected the advice of experienced military commanders and civilian experts.
Now they reject the advice of generals both active and retired who say that the proposed “surge” of 20,000 troops will prove useless or worse. And, of course, they refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming popular verdict against the war delivered in last November’s midterm election, as if public support for a foreign military adventure doesn’t matter.
Even the President’s most dedicated supporters have been forced to admit that he and his government made disastrous mistakes in battling the insurgency and running the occupation. But from the beginning, bad faith has exacerbated the effects of bad judgment—and not only in the fabricated case for war.
Before the invasion, Mr. Bush promised that he would take military action only as a “last resort” to disarm Iraq. That was a lie. Since the invasion, he has repeatedly pledged that he would increase our forces in Iraq only if his military commanders told him they needed additional troops. That, too, has turned out to be a lie: For months, the generals have told both the President and Congress that sending more soldiers will only result in more American dead and wounded, without quelling the sectarian violence.
Two months ago, appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid said he saw no reason to send more troops. “I’ve met with every divisional commander—General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey—we all talked together,” he testified. “And I said, ‘In your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?’ And they all said no.”
More recently, Gen. George Casey, who commands all U.S. forces in Iraq, said that as long as U.S. forces “bear the main burden of Iraq’s security,” the Iraqi government will avoid making “the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias.”
Instead of listening to those commanders, the President has replaced them with more agreeable officers who will endorse and implement his escalation.
Even more troubling than the prospect of more Americans returning home dead and wounded is the suspicion that they will be sacrificed to save face for the President, his associates and their neoconservative advisors. Almost nobody in the White House believes that the “surge” will lead to victory, according to informed sources who suggest that the Bush gang merely wants to delay the inevitable withdrawal until the next administration.
That sounds like the kind of criminally insane reasoning once used to send more troops to Vietnam.
Senator Edward Kennedy has announced that he will introduce legislation forbidding the President from sending additional troops to Iraq without Congressional approval, by using the constitutional appropriation power. As he points out, the original Authorization to Use Military Force contemplated the disarming of Saddam Hussein, not the insertion of American forces into an Iraqi civil war, and as such is now “obsolete.” His proposal would not reduce support for the troops already in the field.
The great liberal lion rightly insists that the people’s representatives should obey their will and must not rubber-stamp a deadly Presidential error without debate. The dwindling caucus of Bush supporters in the Senate may well decide to filibuster the Kennedy bill. Like Mr. Bush and his claque in the media, they may also try to blame his policy’s failure on its critics. The public has no more patience for those diversions, as they demonstrated last fall when they rejected the Republican “cut and run” attack rhetoric.
Still, there will be some Congressional Democrats who hesitate to confront the President, fearing the political consequences. But hiding behind that excuse is just as unconscionable as sending thousands more young men and women to their deaths to save face. For anyone who no longer supports this war, or never did, the only moral choice is to say no.