Will Bush Exit - or Escalate?
November 19 2003
"Watch what we do, not what we say," was the retort of Attorney General
John Mitchell to reporters questioning Nixon's commitment to desegregation.
Though mocked for cynicism, Mitchell was right. Even as Nixon's men were
railing at the radical idiocy of forced busing for racial balance, they were
desegregating six times as many schools as LBJ.
Bush's tough talk, too, about staying the course – "We're not leaving until
the job is done, pure and simple" – may not be a smokescreen to cover a
strategic retreat from Iraq. Bush may be in earnest.
Ten days ago, Sen. John McCain warned of a possible defeat in Iraq more
disastrous than the fall of Vietnam. He called for 15,000 more U.S. troops.
Pentagon response? It leaked plans to cut U.S. forces by 30,000 by May.
Another sign Bush appears to want to toss this hot potato to Iraqis is the
enlistment of Iraqi police and military at an almost reckless pace. Have
these scores of thousands of soldiers and cops been vetted for loyalty?
Also, our man in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, was called back to Washington
urgently, then sent back to speed up the transfer of power. By June, the
Iraqis are to have their own provisional government.
Thus, the emergent wisdom is this: Jolted by U.S. casualties, the
coordination and lethality of the latest attacks, now running at 30 a day,
and faltering home-front support, the White House has begun to advance its
timetable for withdrawal.
Yet, it is impossible to believe Bush is about to "cut-and-run," as his
enemies contend. It goes against his natural instincts, and his interests. A
rapid pullout would risk a bloodbath against all who cast their lot with
America, civil war in Iraq and a humiliation more devastating to U.S.
credibility than the fall of Saigon. Should Iraq collapse, Bush would risk
defeat in 2004 and enter the history books as a failed president who had
blundered into the most ill-conceived war in U.S. history.
Surely he knows this. Which is why I believe Bush and his War Cabinet may
have another strategy in mind, which is this. The president intends to draw
down U.S. forces to a hard core of fighters, perhaps 90,000, backed by U.S.
air power, a force 15 times as large as the mobile U.S. force in
Afghanistan. This force will carry the brunt of battle in a new war against
the guerrillas and terrorists, and be less concerned with winning hearts and
minds in the Sunni Triangle than killing enemy fighters. Operation Iron
Hammer is the dress rehearsal for the new war.
An Iraqi assembly will be elected and a leader chosen upon whom the United
States can rely to fight a "long, hard slog." This leader will, with U.S.
training, rapidly expand the Iraq army and police forces. Unlike Vietnam's
President Thieu, who was abandoned in 1973, this leader, like Hamid Karzai
in Afghanistan, will be able to call on U.S. firepower to win any battle
against attacking guerrillas.
Goal: Convince undecided Iraqis, who cannot wish to be ruled by Saddam and
the Baathists, or Islamic radicals, that America and her allies are going to
win the war, so it is wiser and safer to cast their lot with us.
Do not rule out the possibility that Bush escalates rather than retreats,
that he puts his faith in winning the war rather than consigning Iraq to the
Iraqi electorate and hoping for the best. Use of bombers near Tikrit and
gunships around Baghdad may be harbingers of the war to come.
The enemy strategy also seems clear. Roadside bombs, firings on helicopters,
the sniping at U.S. troops, the mortar and rocket shelling of our
installations are designed to ratchet up casualties and break America's
Attacks on U.N. and Red Cross headquarters, the Italian military base and
the Jordanian Embassy are designed to terrify aid workers into fleeing and
peel off U.S. allies, to make reconstruction fail.
But in their attacks on Iraqi police, the enemy may, as the Viet Cong did
with the massacre of Vietnamese civilians during the Tet Offensive in Hue,
convince Iraqis they have to take sides, even if they would prefer to wait
and see who is going to win.
Bush is being pushed to hand Iraq over to a United Nations he distrusts, to
NATO allies who failed to help, to Arabs who opposed his war. With his
presidency and place in history on the line, my guess is Bush puts his chips
on what he believes has never failed him – the firepower of the Armed Forces
of the United States.
Just a hunch, but we may not be headed out of Iraq. We may be headed into
the third and longest Arab-American war in a dozen years.
© 2003 Creators
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