Blowing in the Wind
10.22.2006 -- The generals who told President Bush before the war that Donald Rumsfeld's shock-and-awe fantasy would not work were not enough to persuade him to change his strategy in Iraq. The rise of the insurgency did not do the trick. Nor did month after month of mounting military and civilian casualties on all sides, the emergence of a near civil war, the collapse of reconstruction efforts or the seeming inability of either Iraqi or American forces to secure contested parts of Iraq, including Baghdad, for any significant period.
So what finally, after all this time, caused Mr. Bush to very publicly consult with his generals to consider a change in tactics in Iraq? The president, who says he never reads political polls, is worried that his party could lose some of its iron grip on power in the Congressional elections next month.
It is not necessarily a bad thing when a politician takes stock of his positions in the teeth of an election. Our elected leaders are expected to heed the will of the American people. And this page has been part of a chorus of pleas for Mr. Bush to come up with a more realistic approach to Iraq.
But the way this sudden change of heart has come about, after months in which Mr. Bush has brushed off all criticism of his policies as either misguided, politically motivated or downright disloyal to America, is maddening. For far too long, the White House has looked upon the war as a tactical puzzle for campaign strategists. The early notion of combining Iraq and the war on terror as an argument for re-electing Republicans robbed the nation of any serious chance for a bipartisan discussion of these life-and-death issues. More recently, the administration seems to have been working under the assumption that its only obligations were to hang on, talk tough and pass the problem on to the next president.
The Iraqi government, which has had a hard time adopting most aspects of American democracy, seems to have eagerly embraced this administration's lessons on how to deny politically unpleasant realities. Just the other day, The Times reported that the Pentagon had decided there was nothing wrong with a program in which phony "positive news" was planted in Iraqi newspapers. And news reports said that the Iraqi government had decided to stop reporting civilian casualties to the United Nations so there would be no record of the war's increasing toll on ordinary Iraqis.
The way the Bush team is stage-managing the president's supposed change of heart about "staying the course" is unfair to the Americans who have taken him at his word that real progress is being made in Iraq - a dwindling but still significant number of people, some of whom have sons and daughters serving in the conflict. It is a disservice to the troops, who were never sent to Iraq in sufficient numbers to protect themselves or the Iraqi people. And it is a disservice to all Americans, who have waited so long for Mr. Bush to act that all that is left are a series of unpleasant choices.
And it is happening in the midst of a particularly ugly, and especially vacuous, election season. There is probably no worse time to begin a serious discussion about Iraq policy than two weeks before a close, bitter election. But now that the discussion has begun, it must continue, as honestly and openly as possible. It is time for the American people to confront all the things that the president never had the guts to tell them about for three and a half years. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/opinion/22sun1.html - The New York Times