Anger over U.S. "timetable"
The domestic political reaction to the worsening bloodbath in Iraq is having some interesting consequences. The usually stubborn President Bush finally bowed to pressure by declaring that he is not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq. Even though he is toning down the "stay the course" rhetoric, he says he remains confident of ultimate victory. Those are appropriate words from our Commander in Chief, but the timing is a little off. For the next few months, he must hew to a careful balance between voicing concern about military setbacks on one hand, and maintaining a calm reassuring attitude on the other. Now that he has put the heat on the Iraqi government to crack down on (mostly) Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen, we can find out whether the Iraqis are ready to shoulder a bigger security burden. Ironically, the Iraqi prime minister Maliki rejected U.S. "timetable," Good for him! The more heated words that are exchanged between Baghdad and Washington, the greater will be the prestige of Iraq's fledgling government. Just to make sure that no one thinks there is an outright rift, today Maliki and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad jointly announced that they see eye to eye on this matter.
Facing tough questions from reporters about the shift in U.S. war policy in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld got a little testy during his press conference yesterday: "You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult." NBC's Jim Miklazewski bore the brunt of the SecDef's ire. Goodness gracious! It reminds me of Yosemite Sam with his six guns a-blazin'. See Washington Post.
After a series of incidents in which the mainstream media reported news in a blatantly negative way or ignored contrary opinions in editorial pages, the Defense Dept. launched a new Web page -- For the Record -- that is designed to set the record straight. Good! Hat tip to Strategy Page via Instapundit.) For example, it explains that Rummy's above-cited "back off" retort was
referring specifically to journalists who were seeking to create a perception of major divisions between the positions of the U.S. and Iraqi governments. He was not referring to critics of the administration's Iraq policy.
In the Washington Post, Frederick Kagan takes sharp exception to the idea of pinning the blame squarely upon the government of Iraq: "This notion is wrong and morally contemptible, and it endangers American security around the world." He says, rightly, that by liberating Iraq in 2003, the United States assumed a burden to maintain security that cannot be casually tossed away. I think it would be more fair and accurate to state that we are simply in a difficult transition phase in which responsibility for security is inherently ambiguous. Success in such a situation will require some hard bargaining, including warnings to our Iraqi partners, but above all it will require a solid degree of trust between Washington and Baghdad. But I would grant Kagan's basic point that we should not presume to put the entire burden on the Iraqis via an arbitrary "timetable" for making progress in the same way that domestic critics of the Bush administration have been doing.
John Krenson, the new blogging partner of Donald Sensing, writes that this is a "gut check" moment for the U.S.:
The key to our success in Iraq is our center of gravity -- our public will. If we have the will then we will win. If we falter then we will lose. The enemy knows it and therefore our will is their primary target. They are targeting the American and Iraqi will to persevere. As of today, the enemy is being very successful. We have the resources to win. So the important question today is do we have the will to win.
Full commitment from all sides -- in words, resources and action -- will change the momentum back in our favor. Trying to win based on a "quick as we can, cheap as we can" attitude is flawed. It is time for that to change. It must change.
The "will to win" is a hard concept for many war critics to grasp, but I have emphasized it has fundamental from the beginning of the Iraq war. To me, one of the best indicators of willpower is the degree to which leaders put their own fortunes at risk in pursuit of the greater good of the community. If our military commanders in Iraq asked for an emergency deployment of an extra 10,000 or 20,000 troops, would President Bush oblige them, even at the risk of defeat in the November elections? Now there's a tough question to answer.
Personally, I am not too troubled by all these harsh polemics over war policy. In a democratic nation such as ours, that is what is expected, and indeed it is necessary. In the end, whether you like to admit it or not, the upcoming congressional elections will be regarded by all parties to this conflict as a referendum on the American will to prevail. Just because the optimal outcome of a peaceful, united, democratic Iraq seems less and less likely for the foreseeable future does not mean there is nothing to fight for. As Secretary Rumsfeld said, it's a messy world out there, and you can't expect nice, neat happy endings. Voting Republican means striving for victory against the forces of darkness and hatred, or at least holding them off while we regather our wits.