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Walker's World: The U.S. consensus on Iraq

Washington (UPI) Dec 08, 2005
The current political arguments in Washington over what do in Iraq are becoming baffling to outsiders, as arcane as those disputes between medieval scholars about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

The debate hinges over such matters as withdrawal dates and timetables, as if Washington, rather than the Iraqi insurgency and the Iraqi political process (and they are not entirely separate), was the sole decision-maker. Equally, it will largely be up to the Iraqis to determine the speed and effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces to take over the burden of public order.

Much of the Washington argument is thus taking place in a vacuum, with little regard to the way political events and military training schedules inside Iraq, and political calculations in places like Tehran and Damascus, are likely to prove decisive.

And when the arguments inside Washington are dissected and analyzed, something rather interesting becomes clear. There is a large area of consensus that includes the Bush administration, and majorities of both the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress.

This consensus broadly accepts that much time and money has been wasted in the occupation/reconstruction effort inside Iraq, but that the United States and its allies must persevere to train and equip the local forces that would allow an elected and representative Iraqi government to run the country effectively and with luck, fairly.

The consensus hates the idea of an America that cuts and runs, but understands that the American public does not want to suffer the current rate of casualties with no real end in sight. The consensus wants an acceptable outcome in Iraq, without any sense of American defeat or scuttle, but equally with a clear prospect that at some date soon the casualties will very nearly stop, and the reserves and National Guard will no longer be called up to serve in Iraq for months at a time.

The consensus thinks that some troop withdrawals would be a very good idea soon. It would be splendid to have a brigade or two (say 5,000 to 7,000 troops) home for Christmas, which would allow them to stay to help secure the December 15 elections. The Republicans would very much like even more troops, say another 25,000, to come home next summer, before the mid-term elections. They would like most of the U.S. troops out of Iraq before the next presidential election.

The consensus goes on to accept that it would be disastrous were Iran to become a dominant factor in Iraqi politics, so some ongoing U.S. military presence in the region is probably essential, whether based inside Iraq, or in a friendly part of the region such as Kuwait or the Gulf.

The consensus also agrees that it would be a mistake to encourage Kurdish independence, since that would complicate matters for Turkey, an important NATO ally, and that the United States has an interest in maintaining close economic and political ties to Iraq in the future.

The dynamics and habits of partisan politics in Washington make it difficult for professional politicians to appreciate just how wide this consensus might be. But what helps to make it clear is to look at the two bookends that mark the perimeter of the consensus, by being outside it.

On the one hand stands the super-hawk, Republican Senator John McCain, who is prepared to send more troops, and to fight to the finish, despite the broad public view of McCain as a bit of dove because of his implacable and principled opposition to any American, civilian or military, being polluted by the use or official acceptance of torture.

In an interview with The New Republic, McCain is quoted saying "We cannot afford to lose. Just read Zarqawi. We lose it and they are coming after us."

"I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq. Overall, I think a year from now we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren't making progress, I'd be despondent," McCain went on.

McCain is not immune from the broad sense of dismay, so evident in the opinion polls, at the way the Bush administration has handled the war so far.

"We should never have said 'Mission Accomplished.' We should have never said 'a few dead-enders.' We should never have said 'last throes," McCain said. "Part of it is our own making, by creating expectations which obviously didn't come to fruition."

The other bookend is provided, in the public mind, by Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a Marine veteran and patriot who is devoted to the armed forces. He regularly visits the war wounded at Walter Reed hospital, and is legendarily close to the military men whose budgets he has nurtured in the appropriations committee, where he is the senior Democrat on the crucial defense sub-committee.

Murtha wants to withdraw all U.S. troops within six months. He has picked up some powerful support, including the House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and the intellectual firepower of former national security adviser to the Jimmy Carter presidency, Zbigniew Bzrezinski. Many of the Democratic Party rank and file, and a growing proportion of its members of Congress, are now shuffling into line behind Murtha, and the remaining allies in the Iraq coalition are paying close attention.

The Italians, South Koreans, Poles and Ukrainians have made it clear they will withdraw most if not all their forces next year. The British are slowly drawing down their forces, with the acceptable excuse that they are reinforcing and expanding the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The Japanese have agreed to extend their modest and largely non-combatant contribution for another year, but with small print that says they would be very pleased to start going home in June.

In short, the current consensus is not stable. There is a creeping move or readiness to move towards the Murtha position, among some Republicans as well as most Democrats, because of the suspicion that the American public is itself sick of this war and is ready to bolt the consensus view for staying the course until the elected Iraqi government has a chance to survive and make good.

That is why President George W. Bush has been out defending his position, rather more cogently and believably that he has in the past. He has talked of the need for reforms and a focus on small and achievable steps in the reconstruction effort. He has acknowledged that "mistakes were made." Rumor has it that he may be about to replace his secretary of defense in the new year (a move strongly urged by Senator McCain).

Bush has been trying to shore up the consensus, and it is beginning to look as if he just might make it, at least enough to stop the momentum of the Murtha position from building over the holiday season. Anyone who doubts that should keep an eye on the leading Democrat whose political ambitions and instincts tell her to stay very closely in tune with the mainstream of American thinking.

New York's junior Senator Hillary Clinton is still part of the consensus on Iraq, and while she is, that consensus is likely to hold. She remembers all too clearly what happened to the Democratic Party after its opposition to the Vietnam War tarred the party with the labels of pacifism and being against the military and not being safe custodians of the national security -- an image from which the Democrats have still not fully recovered. That Democratic sense of caution may be the best friend the consensus, and thus the Bush administration policy, can muster in the current political scheme.

Source: United Press International

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Bush Vows To Stay Course In Iraq
Washington (UPI) Dec 08, 2005
President George W. Bush took a tip from his role model Winston Churchill and offered a prospect of "tough days," "good days" and "bad days" ahead for the American people in Iraq in the coming months and years. But he said that in order to defeat terrorism it was necessary to stay the course there.

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