Mission Unaccomplished

President Bush kicked off a campaign to reverse falling public support for the war in Iraq with a prime-time speech this week to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. The essence of his address: “We have made progress but there is a lot more work to do.” Indeed, there is and it’s not going terribly well.

The president’s rhetoric underscored how the war has morphed from removing the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be nonexistent, to creating a stable and democratic Iraq.

He misleadingly conflated Iraq and 9/11. Saddam Hussein proved to be no threat to us; no connection between Iraq and 9/11 has ever been shown; but, as the president accurately said while skipping over how we arrived at this point, we are fighting a war on terrorism in Iraq that we have to win because it has become a magnet for jihadists and a training ground for those who really do mean us harm.

Bush is sticking with his strategy of using the U.S. military to buy time in Iraq in hopes that Iraqis will flock to support a new constitution and a new government to be elected in January, and in hopes that sufficient Iraqi security forces can be trained to take over to suppress the insurgency.

That strategy is straining our military, a fact that the president acknowledged indirectly when he urged anyone thinking of a military career to enlist. And the president was disingenuous in saying, “If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them.” The military is aware that the Army chief of staff who did say that was pushed into early retirement.

Bush has rightfully dismissed demands in Congress for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal; it would say to jihadists that the war is winnable if only they can hold out. Bush’s speech was unusual in that he several times mentioned terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, whose name has been notably absent from the presidential vocabulary.

Bush is resolute, even stubborn, so there’s every reason to believe him when he says we will not abandon the Iraqi people to men like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — nor will we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden. “For the sake of our nation’s security, this will not happen on my watch.”

We are making progress in Iraq, but at a rate that indicates a successful conclusion of this war will be on the next president’s watch.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)