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Lowering the bar

By
May 2, 2007

A story in The New York Times makes it clear White House officials are giving off-the-record interviews designed to dampen expectations regarding Iraq. These officials are saying that the administration will make no interim reports on the situation until September, and that in any event people shouldn’t expect much in the way of military or political progress by then.

This is a welcome dose of realism after months of optimistic statements from the Bush administration, claiming we would know by the end of the summer if the latest troop escalation was “working.” As Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the American military in Iraq, has emphasized, the kind of counterinsurgency campaign his troops are now fighting takes years to “work” in any meaningful sense, assuming it ever does.

Of course, the purpose of this ratcheting down of expectations is to try to forestall the political firestorm over Iraq that gets closer with every passing month. That effort is almost certainly doomed to fail: Six months from now things in Iraq are likely to look very much as they do now. Furthermore, the odds that any marked change will be for the worse are far higher than it will be for the better (in a context like Iraq, real progress takes years under the best of circumstances, while all-out chaos is always just around the corner).

The hard political reality is that anything like “success” in Iraq, even as that term is defined down to levels that would have seemed wildly pessimistic when President Bush gave his “Mission Accomplished” speech four years ago, will require several more years of all-out commitment. That commitment will cost, at a minimum, the lives of several thousand more of our troops, along with tens of thousands of serious injuries, and hundreds of billions more tax dollars.

And of course this immense sacrifice may very well fail to achieve even the relatively modest goals the White House is now pursuing (the word “victory” has become noticeably absent from the president’s speeches).

Whatever one thought of the original decision to invade Iraq, the political question the nation now faces could not be clearer: Should we ask our troops to continue to fight this war, and our children to pay for it through future tax increases? (The option of paying for it ourselves would require some sacrifice on the part of the average voter, so it never seems to have been considered seriously.)

The American people have already answered that question, and their answer is “no.” The Republicans lost 30 congressional seats in last fall’s elections, while the Democrats lost none, largely because the American people were voting against the war. Every opinion poll shows that, by large majorities, Americans support the efforts of Democrats to force Bush to begin withdrawing our troops.

That pressure will only grow. As increasingly panicky Republicans are all too aware, this is still a democracy, which means America will begin to withdraw from Iraq no later than January 2009, even if bringing this about requires an electoral rout of the Republican Party in November of next year.

In the end, Bush’s failure to heed the will of the people isn’t so much an act of principle but rather an outburst of sheer peevishness. With Democrats in control of Congress, he’s no longer getting a blank check to fund his military adventures. He finds this frustrating, so he’s stamping his foot, covering his ears and taking his party down with him.

All this is exactly what one would expect in the way of a political farewell gesture from a spoiled rich kid who never grew up. Future generations of historians will note that George W. Bush made a mess of every real job he ever had — and, unfortunately for America, the presidency of the United States proved to be no exception.

–PAUL F. CAMPOS

(Paul F. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com.)