Bush: We're Not Leaving Anytime Soon
A day after the Administration does everything it can to play down expectations in Iraq in the aftermath of the al-Zarqawi killing, and fending off perhaps what it may feel will now be a push by the new government to say “thanks, we can now handle it from here”, Bush squashes any withdrawal talk.
In fact, the administration is now looking for ways to take advantage of elimination of al-Zarqawi by forgetting about troop withdrawals and instead seeking a military victory in Iraq. And for those of you yesterday who said we should all support Bush and put politics aside, it only took less than a day for the White House and GOP to look for ways to manipulate the killing into a political club against Democrats at home this fall.
President Bush said Friday that it's not yet clear that Iraqi forces will be able to take control of their country's security within 18 months as the new leader there has said.
Making that determination depends on an assessment of the new government in Baghdad, which just on Thursday installed a new defense minister and other top national security posts, Bush said.
But whose assessment is Bush referring to? The Iraqis own assessment of their capabilities, and determination of when they want us to leave, or “the Decider’s”?
"I think we'll get a realistic appraisal about the capacity for standing up Iraqi troops as this new government begins to function," the president said, appearing here with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a staunch U.S. ally in Iraq. "Now they've got a defense minister which will give us time to assess their command-and-control."
Silly me. Now it becomes clear. Even if al-Maliki says “OK George, time to go; thanks;” Bush is saying that he will have final say on when the United States draws down any troops. He will determine how successful American efforts are to track down Al Qaeda in Iraq, and he will determine when the Iraqis can stand up so that we supposedly can stand down.
Yet the administration is grossly overestimating al-Zarqawi's importance to the insurgency and Al Qaeda with these "prince of Al Qaeda" remarks. They seem to be thinking wrongly that his elimination significantly changes the facts on the ground in Iraq to the point that a renewed committment can lead to a military victory, when in fact we still will have a sectarian civil war going on. The PNAC crowd sees this as a second chance to prove that they were correct. These guys in the White House are seizing upon yesterday's developments to ramp up, not down the military effort regardless of what the Iraqis may want now, particularly al-Maliki and Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who both will want us out of there before Bush is willing to go.
One consequence of yesterday’s track-down of al-Zarqawi is that voters may now think that with the primary identifiable enemy eliminated in Iraq, it is time to start bringing the troops home, especially given the warnings of some experts that al-Zarqawi’s elimination will actually refocus insurgent attacks now back towards American forces.
If before November voters see that the Iraqis want us to start leaving, and the only impediment to that is Bush’s insistence that we stay against the wishes of the host country, whatever benefit obtained from yesterday’s killing will evaporate. It will prove to voters that Bush has no intention of ever leaving Iraq and its oil, and that the permanent war party doesn’t really care about the wishes of the locals to set their own course and determine their own futures. If you want to see an early indication of the problems ahead, note that al-Maliki's op-ed in today's Post laying out a strategy towards an Iraqi democracy never mentions American troops, and envisions that Iraq will reach a "tipping point" soon in its ability to take over. He and Bush are clearly not on the same page here.
Get ready for the "we can win in Iraq" drumbeat from the conservatives and the clubbing of Democrats who argue for withdrawal. Will Democrats be ready to answer?