Bush should give America 'whole picture'
You have to give President Bush this much. Unlike the previous occupant of the Oval Office, who offered insincere promises (by Christmas — well, maybe late spring) concerning when U.S. troops would be finished in Bosnia or Kosovo (they’re still there), President Bush is willing to tell the American people that Iraq “will take time, and require sacrifice.”
And he put a price tag on the immediate operation, although like most government cost estimates that sound shockingly high at first blush, the $87 billion will probably turn out to be a lowball estimate.
Whether it is reassuring for an American president to proclaim “we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary” to achieve a still-undefined set of objectives whose achievement looks to be measured in terms of decades rather than years is another matter.
In declaring Iraq now the “central front” in the war on terror, President Bush sidestepped troubling questions that have been percolating ever since the American invasion in March. Would Iraq be a “magnet for terrorists” if not for the American occupation forces there? Given the shaky-at-best connection between Saddam’s vicious regime and international terrorism before the invasion, has the war actually increased terrorist activity? Has war with Iraq, and the perceived need for long-term occupation, diverted resources from seeking and fighting active terrorists?
These questions might seem like sour grapes and hindsight if not for the fact that the president seems to have committed the American people and a military that looks increasingly overstretched to an open-ended war against a tactic rather than a concrete, discrete enemy — a war with only the vaguest of objectives and no obvious exit strategy.
A conference call with White House chief of staff Andrew Card and other journalists was hardly reassuring. He did say there’s “no reason to believe” a special supplemental appropriation like this one will be needed next year, but couldn’t make an absolute promise. He resisted a timeline for U.S. troop deployment and stressed again that this will be a long war, a different war.
Card accentuated the positive, noting that guerrilla attacks are occurring mostly in the “Sunni triangle” between Baghdad and Tikrit. He said most Iraqis are pleased that Saddam is gone and in most of the country there are heartwarming stories about cooperation between American troops and Iraqi people.
No doubt many of those stories are true, although they’re hardly the whole picture. With all due respect, the president owes the American people a lot more specific information, especially about what would constitute victory and when it can be expected and what are the milestones of an exit strategy.