Along the Tracks

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Bush's Biggest Error

As a strong supporter of the War on Terrorism, and action in Iraq, I have been dumped on by the anti-war crowd as "unthinking," "jingoistic" and "blinded by Bush's lies," among other, less printable, accusations.

Yet, truth be told, almost all serious criticisms of the Bush administration's foreign policy (and domestic policy, although that is not my focus here) has come from those who support the larger goals of holding terrorists and terrorist-supporting nations accountable, rolling back the proliferation nightmare, and creating a free and peaceful Muslim world. All three are intertwined, and the execution of this policy involves economic, diplomatic, intelligence and military facets. Most criticism from us in the pro-war camp comes on the way the Bush administration has used these tools.

I certainly don't mean to "toot my own horn" here, as I was far from alone in this: But nearly six month ago, I called for renewing major combat operations in the Sunni triangle to eliminate these Baathist holdouts and the foreign jihadists they were attracting. This was about the same time that the White House was complaining how all the improvements in Iraq were being ignored and each insurgent attack was being overamplified. Frankly, I agreed that the media was failing in its reporting on Iraq - but not necessarily in agreement with the administration. I wrote my Twenty Questions the Media Will Not Ask Concerning Iraq a short time before, and noted in the post that only complete reports on the situation would provide the American people the information needed to understand - and make political choices based upon - the Iraq of the present and the future. The media failed, and its failure in fact reinforced the Bush administration's refusal to adapt to the situation on the ground. The media took the mostly Sunni attacks and blew them out of proportion; Bush and crew got defensive, and refused to acknowledge what was clearly a problem.

Now, we reach the tail end of April, and all the battles that were inevitable are facing our troops in the short time before the June 30 handover of sovreignty. This artificially compressed schedule didn't sneak up on anyone, and it looks pretty clear in retrospect that the administration decided to start "cleaning things up" in March. However, thanks to six months of dithering, the insurgents were entrenched and well organized and armed, the foreign fighters which numbered in the hundreds last fall number in the thousands now, and the relatively few radical Shiites were able to solidify contacts with Iran, form militias and disperse units across southern Iraq. Thus, the battles now approaching are probably an order of magnitude more difficult than they would have been last fall.

Bush failed to destroy the insurgents and allies last fall, leading to months of further death and destruction for American and coalition forces, private aid workers and contracters, and Iraqi civilians. Now, the strengthened and more dispersed armed insurgents we simply must defeat will be able to inflict greater casualties on our troops, and greater suffering on the general Iraqi population.

The failure of last fall was, in my opinion, the greatest mistake of the Bush presidency, and if there was a candidate out there who could articulate costs of this failure, and a plan to resolve it ("cut and run" or further dawdling does not count as a "plan," Mr. Kerry), I would transfer my political support in a heartbeat. Those troops in Iraq have to come first and foremost, and setting them up for greater casualties due to a refusal to admit insufficient planning or adapt to circumstances as they arise is inexcusable.

Since, however, there appears to be no second option for Americans but Kerry's wishy-washy "plan" to internationalize the effort - rather than to destroy the rebels - I must continue to place my support with Bush, though now conditional.

Bush's foreign policy goals have been bold and uplifting, but in the execution, his administration has too often been short-sighted and rigidly fixed to preconceived notions and plans. Historians will hold this against him.

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