George W. Bush admits he has no evidence that a withdrawal timetable from Iraq would be harmful. Instead, the President told interviewer Charlie Rose that this core assumption behind his veto threat of a Democratic war appropriation bill is backed by “just logic.”
“I mean, you say we start moving troops out,” Bush said in the interview on April 24. “Don’t you think an enemy is going to wait and adjust based upon an announced timetable for withdrawal?”
It is an argument that Bush has made again and again over the past few years, that with a withdrawal timetable, the “enemy” would just “wait us out.” But the answer to Bush’s rhetorical question could be, “well, so what if they do?”
If Bush is right and a withdrawal timetable quiets Iraq down for the next year or so – a kind of de facto cease-fire – that could buy time for the Iraqis to begin the difficult process of reconciliation and start removing the irritants that have enflamed the violence.
One of those irritants has been the impression held by many Iraqi nationalists that Bush and his neoconservative advisers want to turn Iraq into a permanent colony while using its territory as a land-based aircraft carrier to pressure or attack other Muslim nations.
The neocons haven’t helped by referring to Bush’s 2003 conquest as the “USS Iraq” and joking about whether next to force “regime change” in Syria or Iran, with the punch-line, “Real men go to Tehran.”
By refusing to set an end date for the U.S. military occupation, Bush has fed this suspicion, prompting many Iraqis – both Sunni and Shiite – to attack American troops. Another negative consequence has been that the drawn-out Iraq War has bought time for foreign al-Qaeda terrorists to put down roots with Sunni insurgents.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal would bring peace to Iraq. The greater likelihood remains that civil strife will continue for some years to come as Iraq’s factions nurse their grievances and push for a new national equilibrium.
But the counterpoint to Bush’s veto threat against a withdrawal timetable is that his open-ended war is doomed to failure. To attain even the appearance of limited success would require American forces to effectively exterminate all Iraqis who are part of the armed resistance to the U.S. occupation.
After all, the only logical reason for not wanting the “enemy” to lie low is so American troops can capture or kill them.
That has been Bush’s strategy for the past four-plus years – longer than it took the United States to win World War II – and the military situation has only grown increasingly dire. Meanwhile, anti-Americanism has swelled around the world, especially among Muslims.
But a long, bloody stalemate is the likely result from Bush’s stubbornness. With little fanfare, the Bush administration has essentially abandoned its earlier “exit strategy” of training a new Iraqi army so as “they stand up, we’ll stand down.”
Bush’s much-touted “surge” – beefing up American forces in Baghdad and other hot spots – is an indirect acknowledgement that the training was a flop. The “surge” is a do-over of the war’s original approach of relying on American troops to bring security to the country.
The “surge” also places American troops in lightly defended outposts in Iraqi neighborhoods, rather than concentrating U.S. forces in high-security barracks. The Pentagon acknowledges that this approach will put Americans in greater danger, both from insurgents and from Iraqi police whose loyalties are suspect.
The prediction of higher U.S. casualties is already coming true, as al-Qaeda-connected terrorists and Iraqi insurgents adjust their tactics to kill the vulnerable Americans. On April 23, two suicide truck bombers rammed a U.S. Army outpost near Baqubah, exploding two bombs that killed nine American soldiers and wounded 20 others.
As Iraq’s temperatures begin to soar into the 100s, the American troops will have to fight the heat as well as the insurgents. The secure base camps were well equipped with air conditioning, water and other supplies that won’t be as accessible in the remote outposts scattered throughout hostile neighborhoods.
Supplying these American troops will be another invitation for ambushes and roadside bombs.
The chances that U.S. troops will kill Iraqi civilians will rise, too, as may have happened earlier this month when an American helicopter gunship killed an Iraqi mother and her two sons in Baghdad Al-Amel neighborhood. [Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2007]
Bush’s insistence on an open-ended U.S. occupation also plays into the hands of foreign al-Qaeda terrorists who are estimated to number only about five percent of the armed opposition.
Captured al-Qaeda documents reveal that the terrorist group has had trouble building alliances with Iraqi insurgents. So, al-Qaeda has pinned its hopes on keeping the U.S. military bogged down in Iraq indefinitely while those bridges are built and a new generation of extremists is recruited, trained and hardened.
In addition, having the U.S. military focused on Iraq protects Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders holed up on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
An announced date for American withdrawal would put non-Iraqi al-Qaeda operatives in a tighter fix. Without the indefinite U.S. occupation, al-Qaeda would find it tougher to recruit young jihadists and would likely face military pressure from Iraqi nationalists fed up with foreign interference of all kinds.
That is why al-Qaeda leaders view Bush’s open-ended war in Iraq as crucial to their long-range plans for spreading their radical ideology throughout the Muslim world. As “Atiyah,” one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants, explained in a Dec. 11, 2005, letter, “prolonging the war is in our interest.”
[To read the “prolonging the war” passage from the captured Atiyah letter at the Web site of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, click here and then scroll down to the bottom of page 16 and the top of page 17.]
Military and intelligence analysts have told me that the “surge” is already recognized as a failure by U.S. military officers stationed in Iraq. “It’s just another layer on top of what they’ve already been doing,” one well-placed U.S. military source said.
In this view, the “surge” is more a political tactic than a military one, a way for Bush to argue for more money without strings, one more time. Presumably, after the “surge” collapses in obvious failure, Bush and his advisers will point to another mirage on the horizon.
Or, as comedian Lewis Black has put it, “Keep false hope alive.”
Given what the Iraq Study Group has called the “grave and deteriorating” conditions in Iraq, why not give a timetable for American withdrawal a chance? It potentially could help achieve three goals:
First, it might tamp down the violence from Iraqi nationalists who, if Bush’s “logic” is right, would lie low for a while. Second, it might pressure the Iraqi government to get serious about reconciliation during a respite from the violence. Third, it might help isolate al-Qaeda and deny the terrorist group the recruiting advantage from the open-ended U.S. occupation.
There also would be an incentive for the Iraqi nationalists to cooperate in reconciliation, because the United States could reverse its withdrawal plans if Iraq descended into chaos as a failed state or became a haven for al-Qaeda. At minimum, an announced U.S. withdrawal would change the current depressing political and military dynamic in Iraq.
So, a Bush victory in the funding showdown with congressional Democrats might lead to some high-fiving at the White House and mean that President Bush will have saved some political face. But the prospect of an open-ended war will condemn Iraqis and American soldiers alike to nightmarish months ahead and the certainty of many more deaths.
In effect, they will be asked to die for W.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'