Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bush Almost Admits Failure

Sometimes politicians say things without really understanding what they're saying. Here's what President Bush told Peter Baker of The Washington Post:
President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.


In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point. "We need to reset our military," said Bush, whose administration had opposed increasing force levels as recently as this summer.


A substantial military expansion will take years and would not immediately affect the war in Iraq. But it would begin to address the growing alarm among commanders about the state of the armed forces. Although the president offered no specifics, other U.S. officials said the administration is preparing plans to bolster the nation's permanent active-duty military with as many as 70,000 additional troops.

In late 2001, the United States had enough troops to finish the job in Afghanistan and enough forces in reserve to handle any situation in the world if needed. We also had enormous foreign policy leverage with a number of difficult nations because we were initially quite successful in Afghanistan and it was not certain if or when the rest of our military might be used elsewhere. A number of nations were being very cooperative in that period; even democratization had more potential in that situation. Instead of understanding the enormous advantage he had, which included several diplomatic opportunities, Bush started pulling troops out of Afghanistan in preparation for an unneeded, optional war in Iraq. Not only was Afghanistan put on the back burner, so to speak, but Bush and his administration spent more time on politics and their ideological agenda than they did on planning for the war in Iraq. The consequence is that there is now a real danger of accomplishing almost nothing in Iraq or Afghanistan after five years of war.

The issue of expanding our military forces is different than the issue of sending more troops to Iraq. At this point, it is a waste of time to send more troops to Iraq; it would simply endanger the quality of our armed forces and would frankly put a weakened military into the hands of the next president at a time when Bush's foreign policies fiascoes may in addition be creating problems for the next two or three administrations; it's time to limit the damage Bush has caused.

Let me rephrase it differently: in a sense, Bush is admitting the failure of his own foreign policy and yet he would risk creating a deeper problem and further passing on his failures to the next president by dragging out the war in Iraq. Our broken foreign policy and our strained military, not Iraq, must now be the top priorities Bush should be addressing. Although Bush probably will not admit it, it is directly because of his blunders that we may have to increase the troop levels of our military for some unknown period. I suspect, that without understanding fully what he is saying, George W. Bush is making the case for drawing down our forces in Iraq.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I hope you're right, but I have very strong doubts.

I think there are two motives for Bush's move: 1, he hopes to keep his legacy from being that he broke the military; and 2, he wants to buy more time in Iraq with a big-headlines move to beef up the military, because he's still convinced it's winnable if only we don't quit prematurely.

An Army buildup, he hopes, will assuage right-wing hawks in his party and in Congress, and fend off calls for early withdrawal. I think he especially doesn't want John McCain to the right of him in the Senate, taking de-facto control of the agenda to boost his presidential chances.

In fact,if Bush gets another 70,000 troops authorized, they couldn't make any difference in Iraq or anywhere else for two to three years minimum.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., you're probably right but I'm just pointing out that Bush's rhetoric and even decisions are increasingly making the case for the obvious whether he understands it or not. Even some of the wild schemes being discussed in the White House are, in essense, admission of failure even if Tony Snow and others refuse to characterize those schemes as such. No doubt, Karl Rove is working on how to spin it though he increasingly is out of tune with the public.

Still, Bush is under enormous pressure to change. He could still surprise us though he may flap his arms for a time before he makes the changes.

The troop increases in Iraq, if they happen, are just a shell game that depends on extending tours; that stresses the military even more. The longer the war continues, the more repairs our combat divisions are going to need and those repairs are likely to take several years; on that basis alone, Bush will have an increasingly hard time continuing the war.

As for increasing the size of the Army, it's important to understand that Bush has so badly damaged our foreign policy and damaged our military, we might actually need more troops whether it's down-sizing some of the useless military projects that Rumsfeld started (or continued, in some cases) or increasing the military to handle the 'wobbly way forward' beyond Iraq that Bush is handing to the next president regardless of where things may happen next.

Bush has truly opened Pandora's Box and I'm not sure we can simply stand on the sidelines if, for example, more situations like Darfur occur.

I'm not advocating military action or anything like that but our foreign policy has lost enormous credibility and it limits what we can do unless we can reestablish our credibility, and a temporary increase in the military may be one way to do it. In the next five years, maybe we can mitigate that by creating a true peacekeeping force and by increasing the number of things that the State Department can do. Maybe the Navy can increase it's capacity to deal with world class disasters; a few key responses can clearly help lower tensions in trouble spots, and not just in the immediate vicinity of giving aid. One thing Bush could do in his last two years is do a better job of repairing some of our alliances but even if he wanted to do so he's probably not capable of doing it.

A fair number of foreign policy experts are predicting a sharp increase in worldwide problems for the next few years as a direct result of Bush's fiasco. Maybe they're wrong and I hope they're wrong, but I doubt it. Look at a world map and you see trouble brewing, and Condi Rice has little ability to put out small brushfires with sheer diplomatic skill; that could easily mean more drift and damage for the next two years (Colin Powell, despite being shafted by Cheney and Rumsfeld on major policy, was actually quite good at putting out small brushfires).

The next president is going to need some major diplomatic efforts but he or she is also going to need a functioning military and probably some way to reestablish credibility however it happens. That doesn't mean military action. More than likely, in the next three or four years, we'll probably have no choice but to stand aside during a new conflict or two and simply hope the conflicts die out quickly with or without diplomatic efforts (that could mean another Rwanda).

Democrats need to find a way to address this stuff; it's not a fun subject. In fact, Bush's talk about legacy is pathetic. Democratic oversight or not, it may not be until the first year of the next president that we learn just how badly Bush has damaged our country.

4:07 PM  

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