As thousands of antiwar protesters began descending on the nation’s capital, the nation’s president prepared to leave town.
The White House in mid-week said President Bush was scheduled to travel to “TBD” (to be determined) on Friday after leaving Birmingham, Ala., and would be continuing on to “TBD” on Saturday. Clearly, Bush’s advisers decided it would not be smart to have the president holed up in the residence, surrounded by a marching sea of angry Americans wearing yellow “Bush lies, who dies?” buttons, especially not with the need to show compassion to victims of yet another hurricane.
Before leaving town, the president went to the Pentagon where, flanked by the very purposeful defense chief Don Rumsfeld and the ever-solicitous Vice President Cheney, he talked about the “major battlefronts” in the war on terror _ Iraq and Afghanistan _ and how the war is going.
Oh, ye of little faith. It’s going well!
With killing still going on in Afghanistan, 18,000 Americans there, the fledgling government struggling to hang on, the Taliban rebuilding and Osama bin Laden still loose, what is the progress?
Bush answered, “Afghanistan is a good example of progress being made. You might remember Afghanistan was the home base for the Taliban, as well as al Qaeda. And now we’ve got a democracy in _ into Afghanistan, and the world is better for it and safer for it. You bet we’re making progress.”
Satisfied with his response, he moved on to Iraq.
He said he had just been briefed on a “comprehensive strategy to achieve victory in Iraq.” The plan, as he outlined it, is to “deny terrorists a safe haven to plot their attacks.” These are the terrorists who have moved in to Iraq and become insurgents since the war began.
He said Iraqi forces will continue to be trained to assume more responsibility for basic security. American soldiers will hunt down big-name terrorists and adapt to changing tactics and conduct aggressive counterterrorism operations against terrorists. Americans will work with Iraqis to “bring all communities into the political process and become a strong democracy that protects the rights of its people and is a key ally in the war on terror.”
But, he said, U.S. generals told him this past week that as Iraqis prepare for a vote on the new constitution in October and elections for a permanent government in December, Americans must be braced for more violence. With nearly 2,000 Americans and untold thousands of Iraqis dead, the killing is not going to stop.
Bush said he knows millions of Americans (actually, a majority) no longer agree with him. “Listen, there are differences of opinion about the way forward. I understand that. Some Americans want us to withdraw our troops so that we can escape the violence. I recognize their good intentions, but their position is wrong. Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous and make America less safe. To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September the 11th, 2001.”
Thus, with finding hidden weapons of mass destruction no longer the rationale for war because there were none, Bush has come up with yet another reason.
Americans must continue to fight and die in Iraq because if they don’t, terrorists will “claim a historic victory over the United States. It would leave our enemies emboldened and allow men like (Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and bin Laden to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations. The battle lines are drawn, and there is no middle ground.”
It’s probably just as well Bush doesn’t mingle with Iraq war opponents. Despite years of opportunity, he still has not learned how to explain the war any better or why we must stay the course.
Instead of reading books on the history of salt, the president should be studying recent presidential history. Richard Nixon, who said he had a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, left office with war still raging; it finally ended in a U.S. defeat. Dwight Eisenhower won office in part by promising to end the war with North Korea. It ended in stalemate with an armistice and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed at its border for half a century.
Four years after 9/11, terrorist attacks are rapidly increasing in every part of the globe. Iraq has not become a synonym for a new democracy; it is synonymous with unending spasms of sudden, violent death.
(Ann McFeatters is Washington Bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)