Blame it on the military, but make it look like you're supporting the troops. That's been the convenient gambit of failed emperors throughout history as they witnessed their empires decline. Not surprisingly, then, it's become the standard rhetorical trick employed by President Bush in shirking responsibility for the Iraq debacle of his making.
Ignoring the fact that we have a system of civilian control over the military, which is why he, the elected president, is designated the commander in chief, Bush hides behind the fiction that the officers in the field are calling the shots when in fact he has put them in an unwinnable situation and refuses to even consider a timetable for getting them out.
He did it again Monday, responding to the prospect that both houses of Congress seem in agreement on setting guidelines for the "progress" that the president continually proclaims is at hand. "I will strongly reject an artificial timetable (for) withdrawal and-or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job."
This is disingenuous in the extreme, because Bush is the Washington politician who plotted this unnecessary war from the moment the 9-11 attack provided him with an excuse for regime change in a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack.
It was Bush who sent the troops to invade Iraq with the mission of ridding it of weapons of mass destruction, which he should have known Iraq did not have, and to end ties with al-Qaida that, the record shows, he knew never existed. And it was the Bush administration that micro-managed every aspect of the occupation to disastrous consequences, ranging from the de-Baathification that isolated the Sunnis to premature elections that put Shiite theocrats in power. The economic reconstruction of Iraq has been a failure for everyone except the U.S. corporations that have ripped off U.S. taxpayers to the tune of many billions of dollars.
It is only now, when all of those policies for the economic and political reconstruction of Iraq have come a cropper, that a military surge has been ordered to provide a social order for Iraq that this president's policies have destroyed.
This president has been denied nothing by Congress in the way of financial underwriting for this boondoggle, yet he seeks to cast even the mildest attempt to hold him accountable for the results as unpatriotic. That is all that the Democratic congressional leadership has proposed with its timetable — marks to measure progress on the ground in a war that, as Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye pointed out, has lasted longer than World War II. It is a very limited, nonbinding attempt to hold the president accountable, for it does not ban him from using any portion of the whopping $124 billion in new funds — it requires only that he publicly and specifically defend his claims of progress.
It's a claim of progress that, until now, has not been met with any congressional review, even though it is the obligation of Congress to judge the effectiveness of programs paid for with the funds that Congress alone can appropriate. If the proposed timetable were in place, then it would be more difficult for the president to claim success for his surge, as he did Friday, insisting that, "So far, the operation is meeting expectations," and then confusing his audience by conceding that recently, "We have seen some of the highest casualty levels of the war."
It's gobbledygook, and the Democratic leaders of Congress have finally decided to call the president on it. "The longer we continue down the president's path, the further we will be from responsibly ending this war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Not content any longer to take Bush at his word, the leaders in both the House and Senate finally posted some specific benchmarks of progress, accompanied by a nonbinding suggestion of an end to U.S. troop involvement in this quagmire within a year's time, if genuine progress is not made. Even that minimum restraint on the president's ambition was accompanied with the caveat that sufficient troops would remain in Iraq to protect U.S. installations, train the Iraqi army and fight terrorists.
The proposal was the softest the Democrats could offer without totally repudiating the will of the voters who brought them to power in the last election. If the president vetoes this authorization bill, then the onus is on him for delaying funding for the troops and showing contempt for the judgment of the voters, who will have another chance in less than two years to hold the president's party responsible. But that will not restore life to the 85 U.S. soldiers killed so far in April alone, or prevent even greater sacrifices to Bush's folly.
E-mail Robert Scheer at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Robert Scheer, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.