I met an old friend and colleague on K Street the other day and she looked a bit weary. She told me that her son’s tour in Iraq had been extended because of President Bush’s surge and she expressed concern that his planned wedding although a year away might have to be postponed. Actually, the wedding worry was just a cover up for what really bothers her nearly every minute of every day — his safety.
She was too much a trouper not to present a facade of confidence about his welfare. Besides, it would be bad luck to even discuss it. Instead she talked about some of the interesting aspects of a foreign assignment that under any other circumstance would be a wonderfully educating experience in the cradle of civilization. She detailed some of the problems of accommodating more and more troops, including make shift sleeping arrangements and lack of equipment, an old story in this war.
“He had to lend his sidearm to his superior who didn’t have one,” she chuckled, shaking her head. “Did you know that the Iranians have disbursed new kinds of bombs that can pierce any armor?” She explained as though she were an old veteran herself, that “of course the more armor you put on, the slower the vehicle becomes, making it more vulnerable.”
Then suddenly she stopped, looked at me and asked quietly, “Why is this president so stubborn?” In her tone was the unmistaken note of motherly despair, one that is now echoed by millions of other Americans who can see no end to or even reason for this debacle the president so glibly calls “winnable.” There can be no victory, nearly every expert agrees, only continued chaos as long as American troops are present.
“He is like a child who puts his hands over his ears,” my friend said demonstrating, “and shouts, ‘I’m not listening! I can’t hear you!’ ”
Her analysis more and more has become the norm even among those publicly still loyal to the White House but privately skeptical. Longtime bridges of cooperation and friendship are coming down quicker than one can say Saddam Hussein. Vic Gold, a longtime Republican figure, a close friend of Richard Cheney and a collaborator with his wife, Lynne, in at least one literary venture, recently was quoted as saying that he felt the vice president was out of control. In a forthcoming book titled “The Invasion of the Party Snatchers,” Gold, a former aide to Sen. Barry Goldwater and a friend of George Bush senior, is excruciatingly critical of the Bush-Cheney administration.
No less a loyal ally than Sen. Sam Brownback, the conservative Kansas Republican running for president, conceded to reporters recently that the White House has spent too much time looking for a military rather than a political solution. It is anyone’s guess as to how long it will be before the dam of resentment among congressional Republicans bursts, flooding the chambers with enough votes to override any veto of legislation ordering withdrawal.
The parallels between the two commanders-in-chief from Texas, Lyndon Johnson and George Bush, grow daily. But key among them has been the utter refusal even in the last months of their presidency to understand the futility and even wrong-headedness of their commitments no matter how sincere they were in making and pursuing them.
The questions being asked by my friend who has been an observer in close proximity to seven presidents are the same ones that were asked in the 1960s when she first came to Washington. The non-answers then are the same non-answers today. Johnson left it up to Richard Nixon to end the misery of Vietnam and it finally took Congress and Gerald Ford to accomplish that in an atmosphere of shame. Remember the frantic rush to the helicopters at the embassy in Saigon as the North Vietnamese entered the city? Bush has indicated it will be up to someone else to get us out of Iraq. That’s just wonderful.
“Do you think we will be able to have that wedding in 2008,” my friend asked, “or will he be assigned to more time over there?”
It is an answer no one can give. But a betting man would put his money on an electorate so angry over this mess the answer would be yes to the wedding. One has to believe that there is no escaping the chaos that will ensue no matter when withdrawal comes — the sooner the better.
–DAN K. THOMASSON
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)