A major motivator behind those on Capitol Hill unwilling to accept the President’s plea to wait until September for a decision on the war relates to the basic issue of trust, not to mention intense skepticism resulting from repeated benchmarks heralded with great promise only to end in more failure.
The President’s appeal to await an evaluation of the surge in September would seem quite reasonable if viewed in a vacuum. However, it is now clear that a large body of lawmakers on the Hill and the majority of American voters they represent do not believe that President Bush can be trusted to change course if the report by General Petraeus in September is discouraging.
How many other times have we heard there is an election, a constitution, a new Iraqi government, a new prime minister, a change in tactics, a need for more troops, etc., accompanied by calls to wait just a little longer, especially since the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis in June 2004? More and more Americans are simply tired of hearing the same rhetoric to a backdrop of continued violence, lawlessness, corruption, political gridlock and military failure out in Iraq, while American dead and wounded pile up alarmingly--not to mention the $10 billion per month price-tag for US taxpayers.
Some observers this week have leveled the oft-heard charge that the American public just does not understand the need for more time. Yet, Americans already have given the Administration far more time to set matters straight in Iraq than it took to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II. If there is any problem associated with time, it relates to the Administration’s inability to comprehend how dismal the overall effort in Iraq has proceeded during more than four long years. At what point does the White House plan to concede that it’s vision for Iraq is not likely to emerge anytime soon—if ever?
It also is important to note this week that the “Initial Assessment Benchmark Report” contains considerable spin as opposed to straightforward analysis relating to the actual situation on the ground in Iraq. Indeed, maximizing the positive and minimizing the vast amount of deeply disturbing indicators may well preview the sort of approach General Petraeus will take in September, inevitably coming under considerable White House and Pentagon pressure to provide enough “good news” to sustain current policy.
Additionally, even if the September report is reasonably fair, most legislators and the majority of the American pubic seriously doubt that the President would take appropriate action toward a change in policy that would, almost certainly, require an exit strategy. Indeed, they fear that what the President, who again spoke on Thursday of winning and rolled out the laundry list of alleged terrors connected with leaving, was really saying was that we cannot pull out, period. In fact, the President seems unable to step back from his emotional involvement in the war in a way that would allow him to make the dispassionate and objective judgments needed to determine what should be done at this late stage of the game.
As a result, with a President clearly unwilling to face up to the troubling situation on the ground, the Administration may well view waiting for the September report as another useful halt in the political action that buys enough time for it to fashion a “Plan B” designed to stretch out the timeline still farther, effectively moving the goal posts once again. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in the face of the President’s inability to assess the overall situation in Iraq with real objectivity, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concluding—many very reluctantly--that some sort of deadline for withdrawal is now a must in order to exercise any control whatsoever over this unfortunate situation.
Wayne White, currently an Adjunct Scholar with the Middle East Institute, was Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia until 2005.