Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The War Is Over Because Bush Said So

The night the U.S. military launched its campaign to oust Saddam Hussein from power, President George W. Bush clearly spelled out America’s war aims.

“We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people,” he said in a somber televised address from the Oval Office.

Six weeks later a triumphant president gave his famed “mission accomplished” speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” he announced. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

A little more than a year later, after receiving a note that “Iraq is sovereign” from then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush reiterated his mission accomplished theme.

“We pledged to end a dangerous regime to free the oppressed and restore sovereignty – we have kept our word,” he said.

In other words, the job is done.

Yet nearly four years after first declaring victory and three years after Iraq was given its sovereignty, the American death toll continues to rise. More than 3,200 troops and hundreds more civilian contractors have paid the ultimate price for the liberation of Iraq, many of those deaths coming after the president’s pre-war goals were met.

Now we’re bogged down in a raging civil war between al-Qaeda-sponsored Sunni insurgents and Iranian-backed Shiite extremists. Rather than accepting reality, the president has simply recast old Republican “cut-and-run” taunts.

“It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home,” the president said Monday on the fourth anniversary of the invasion. “That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating.”

As usual, he’s wrong.

According to an ABC News poll, a majority of Iraqis say attacks on American troops are “acceptable.” A staggering 78 percent of Iraqis oppose the U.S. presence in their country. While the military component of Operation Iraqi Freedom was a smashing success, we have lost the battle of hearts and minds.

Iraq has ratified a constitution and elected itself a permanent government. Only Iraqis can resolve their country’s conflict. Functioning government and flourishing democracy cannot be inflicted on a people – they have to come from within.

Facing a reckless and out-of-touch president, Congress has finally taken the initiative to dial down American involvement in the war. An Aug. 31, 2008, deadline for troop withdrawal is gaining support in the House and Democrats in the Senate are mulling an end date of their own. Meanwhile, the White House has tried to move the debate to within the framework of yesterday’s bad ideas.

Ending the costly and now pointless American involvement in Iraq, White House press secretary Tony Snow said, would be a “victory for our enemies.”

But what Snow and the Republican echo chamber overlook is each day we stay in Iraq the terrorists win many new recruits. Each time it looks like we’re managing affairs for a so-called sovereign Iraqi government, those who oppose liberty win. Each time American troops patrol neighborhoods that should be policed by Iraqis, the prospect of legitimate self-governance becomes increasingly bleak.

Absent a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal, progress won’t be made. We spent 20 years trying to standup Vietnam and it failed. If the Iraqi experiment is to work, Iraqis must do it themselves.

What more does Bush want? What conditions will he next attach to the Iraq War? Toppling Saddam, eliminating (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction and establishing democracy weren’t good enough?

The mission is accomplished, Mr. President. It’s time to stare down reality and do the right thing.

Christopher Truscott can be reached at chris.truscott@gmail.com. He’s favored a 12- to 18-month timeline for about two years now.

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