On Wednesday President Bush will give a speech about our current situation in Iraq. Though he has been giving the same speech about staying the course and "we'll stand down when Iraqis stand up", expect this speech to be a bit different. Though they will never admit it, Bush administration officials must recognize that Rep. Murtha's comments about redeploying our troops have had an effect on the debate about Iraq. Suddenly we have seen a shift from some administration officials about when that "stand down when Iraqis stand up" might happen. Seemingly, it is when American public opinion says so and has little to do with the actual readiness of Iraqi security forces. Recent comments by Secretary Rice and others have chipped away at the notion that we will really stay until the situation improves. From the Los Angeles Times:
U.S. Starts Laying Groundwork for Significant Troop Pullout From Iraq
By Paul Richter and Tyler Marshall, Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — Even as debate over the Iraq war continues to rage, signs are emerging of a convergence of opinion on how the Bush administration might begin to exit the conflict.
In a departure from previous statements, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that the training of Iraqi soldiers had advanced so far that the current number of U.S. troops in the country probably would not be needed much longer.
President Bush will give a major speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in which aides say he is expected to herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out U.S. forces.
The administration's pivot on the issue comes as the White House is seeking to relieve enormous pressure by war opponents. The camp includes liberals, moderates and old-line conservatives who are uneasy with the costly and uncertain nation-building effort.
Now it should be clear to all that Iraqi forces have not made miraculous strides in the last few weeks. To suggest otherwise is nonsense. The Iraqi security forces are, for the most part, just as inept as they were a few months ago when the Bush administration was saying that we were in it for the long haul and wouldn't abandon the Iraqi people. Suddenly, however, we're declaring Iraq ready to go, and we're doing so right when political dissent against the war has been coming from all sides. Very convenient.
And all of this is unfortunate. Leaving now would be bad for America's security image in the world (the weakening of which precipitated our battle against terrorism in the first place), and would be bad for the Iraqi people since security forces are simply not ready to take over. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the notion that our withdrawal would make the insurgency wither substantially, as all groups in Iraq seem to agree that the coalition presence is the major impetus for violence and that lacking an American target, the terrorists would quickly be seen for what they are: murderers and criminals.
That is not to say that things would work themselves out if we left, for a sectarian power grab conflict (a nice phrase for a low-level civil war) would undoubtedly erupt, but a lack of foreign targets in Iraq would quickly change the dynamics of good versus bad in Iraq. Some clarity in that regard, for the Iraqi people, would do the country some good. If Iraqis hate the terrorists but resent the American presence, they will be silent. If they have only the terrorists to resist, I think we would see results.
Again, all of this is an unfortunate outgrowth of a poorly implemented plan for remaking the Middle East. The Neocon plan for spreading democracy through the Middle East was and is a noble one that I support, but its admirable vision has been tarnished by a Bush administration which almost willfully chose to undermine the success of that vision through poor implementation. We needed more troops from the outset, but now find ourselves stuck with not enough boots on the ground to win, and just enough not to lose. That is not a tenable position for our military. On that account, Murtha is right to call for a redeployment of forces.
So what are we left with? We have an Iraq that hasn't improved much in the past few months, which still lacks an adequate state security apparatus, and suddenly the Bush administration has decided that since it is losing ground across the political spectrum, we can just declare victory and come home. That is a weak option, but among our feeble choices, it may unfortunately be our best.