Bush Fantasy, Obama Reality

032607 article conason Bush Fantasy, Obama RealityEvery dismal anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has come to resemble the last, at least for anyone who is still listening to George W. Bush. So redundant were the President’s March 19 remarks that they scarcely registered on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Each year at this time, he assures us that we are making progress, even if we don’t seem to have gotten anywhere except deeper into the quicksand of sectarian civil war. And each year at this time, he promises that we will see still more such progress in future months, if only, like him, we possess the steely character required to send other people’s children to war.

On the first anniversary of the invasion, the President noted, “There are still violent thugs and murderers in Iraq, and we’re dealing with them.” Back then, he mentioned the government’s interception of “a planning document” authored by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which complained: “Our enemy is growing stronger and his intelligence data are increasing day by day—this is suffocation.” Zarqawi was “getting the message,” he boasted. Being dead, Zarqawi can no longer get the message, but the war drags on.

On the second anniversary, the President said: “Iraq’s progress toward political freedom has opened a new phase of our work there. We are focusing our efforts on training the Iraqi security forces. As they become more self-reliant and take on greater security responsibilities, America and its coalition partners will increasingly assume a supporting role …. The progress in the past year has been significant and we have a clear path forward. “

On the third anniversary, the President conceded that the situation in Iraq might not look so great to the untrained eye of the ordinary citizen. “With continued reports about the tense situation in parts of that country, it may seem difficult at times to understand how we can say that progress is being made.” But he quickly followed that brief concession to reality by returning to his favorite theme. He remained “optimistic,” he said, “because slowly but surely our strategy is getting results. This month I’m giving a series of speeches to update the American people on that strategy. I’m discussing the progress we are making, the lessons we have learned from our experience, and how we are fixing what has not worked. “

This week, on the invasion’s fourth anniversary, we are still making progress, of course. “There’s been good progress,” said Mr. Bush on March 19, speaking of the latest effort to secure the streets and neighborhoods of Baghdad, from which he reported the appearance of “hopeful signs,” at the very least. The success of that plan will require “months, not days or weeks,” he warned sternly.

Yet somehow Mr. Bush didn’t seem to notice that the path of progress is going backward. Two years ago, he promised that the Iraqis were becoming “more self-reliant” in defending their own security. This year, he stressed that the escalation of our own troop presence in the Iraqi capital “is still in the early stages, it’s still in the beginning stages. Fewer than half of the troop reinforcements we are sending have arrived in Baghdad.” Things will surely get better when we have dispatched a few thousand more young men and women into that cauldron—and they will only get worse if we succumb to the temptation to “pack up and go home,” said the President.

Hearing once more Mr. Bush’s dispirited bleats for “resolve”—which sound increasingly like an excuse to postpone the ultimate withdrawal until the next Presidential inauguration—should make anyone long for a few words of honesty and sense. That is exactly what Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) provided in his response on CNN’s Larry King Live, which is worth quoting here.

“I think we all have to recognize that we’re not going to achieve a military solution in Iraq, that stability in Iraq is going to depend on political accommodations between the various parties—the Shiite, the Sunni, the Kurds,” said Mr. Obama. “We have got to redouble our diplomatic efforts, internally as well as externally. And that’s why I’ve put forward a bill in the Senate that would start bringing our combat troops home, beginning on May 1st of this year, with a target date of getting all combat troops out of Iraq by March 31st of next year.

“I don’t think there are any good options left in Iraq,” he continued. “There are bad options and worse options. It is my judgment—and I think it’s the judgment of most military and political experts—that the best we can hope for, at this point, is to make sure that we are seeing some sort of accommodation [among] the various factions. The only leverage we have to encourage those factions to start coming to the [negotiating] table is if we say we are not going to be there in an open-ended military commitment.”

In other words, the only way toward a diplomatic solution is to use the threat of our own withdrawal to push the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government into serious negotiations with the Sunni insurgents (not including jihadists such as Al Qaeda). Clearly, Senator Obama has read and absorbed the Iraq Study Group report—and understands that this “bad option” is considerably better than the worse path of escalation.