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May 1, 2004

May Day, May Day! Team Bush Looks to Bail, but Where Are the Parachutes?

by Christopher Deliso

George W. Bush may have gotten off easy in his "cordial" chat with the 9/11 Commission on Thursday. Yet he will find it hard to live down the next celebration on the agenda: the one-year anniversary of the official end of the Iraq War, or the official end of "major combat," as he called it then. Unfortunately for Bush and chief spinmeister Karl Rove (who probably thought the stunt up), the universally known image of aviator Bush, alighting from a warplane onto an aircraft carrier beneath a giant banner reading 'Mission Accomplished,' can elicit only cringes one disastrous year later.

As the president sinks to his lowest standing ever in the polls, it's hard to keep a straight face when countenancing the gulf between Bush's crass PR stunt and the reality one year later. If he regrets nothing else, must the beleaguered president not at least regret having gone along with the "Mission Accomplished" caper one long year ago today? Apparently not.

The president is deluding himself. Just as had been predicted, last May's "Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush" action figure from the trigger-happy KB Toys is destined to become a collector's item – yet perhaps for the opposite reasons than the Bushies had hoped.

Bush: Dazed and Confused

At a press conference before the cameras on Friday, Bush looked dazed and fumbled for words when trying to do something as simple as commend Canada for its "support" on Iraq. He'd obviously been hit hard by the breaking revelations about torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the US Army. Declaring that this sort of thing "…does not reflect the nature of the men and women we've sent overseas," the president added, "…that's not the way the people are, that's not their character, that are serving our nation in the cause of freedom."

This meaningless and rather lame apology was soon followed up a truly remarkable stream-of-consciousness tangent that ended up endangering the syntactical smarts of not only Bush – but also of Canadian PM Paul Martin by extension:

"…there's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily – are a different color than white can self-govern.

"And the Prime Minister – I don't want to put words in his mouth – but I think he shares that great sense of optimism and possibility. And it's good to have a friend who shares that with us."

At that point, the president's oration was mercifully cut short by an invitation to "…to have the First Ladies come on up." Bush's scattered, vague and almost otherworldly appearance makes one wonder if there is anything to those wacky tales of post-coke seizures to account for his questionable judgment and that pretty harsh case of rug burn a couple years back. It would certainly explain a lot.

A Sinking Ship?

Besides the scandal over Army assault of prisoners, the full-on assault against the Bush Administration in the book world was compounded yesterday by the release of Joseph Wilson's memoir, in which he names three possible high-ranking leakers in the celebrated "Spy-gate" case involving wife Valerie Plame. Bush has also been kept busy this week with the 9/11 panel appearance, battling increasing criticism from rival John Kerry, and worrying about which key ally will be attacked next by al Qaeda.

America's confusing sort-of retreat from Fallujah is evidence that the once-confident occupiers are looking for the fastest way out of trouble – if not yet out of Iraq completely. That they can't seem to decide whether or not to leave shows, however, how difficult salvaging any shred of dignity is turning out to be.

But there is little hope that the War Party can find a way out of the Iraq mess that will preserve either a certain Bush victory in November, or even their credibility. Clearly, it's time to get out of Iraq. Writing in the American Conservative, Christopher Layne contends:

"…the administration has dug a hole in Iraq. It is time to stopping digging deeper. The war was a tragic, avoidable mistake, and those who opposed it have been vindicated. The administration should be held accountable, both for leading the nation in war under false pretenses and for its willful failure to think through the consequences of going to war with Iraq. As James Fallows recently pointed out in the Atlantic, the administration was warned about many things. It was warned by the then-Army Chief of Staff that stabilizing postwar Iraq would require the long-term commitment of several hundred thousand U.S. troops. It was warned by the Army War College that if American forces remained in postwar Iraq for any length of time, they would soon cease to be viewed as liberators and be seen instead as a hostile occupation army. And it was warned that Iraq was a singularly poor candidate for a "democracy transplant" because it lacked the essential prerequisites for a successful democratic transition.

"…The administration turned a deaf ear to these warnings because it considered them to be "antiwar" – that is, undermining its already decided-upon policy of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And, of course, the administration was correct: these warnings did cut the legs from underneath its case for going to war because they demonstrated that the administration's policy would lead the US into an Iraqi quagmire."

High Time for the US to Leave Iraq: de Borchgrave

Unsurprisingly, the idea of cutting our losses and getting out of the quagmire is starting to catch on. And it's (finally) being propounded by influential voices, too. In a UPI piece entitled "Looking for the Exit," veteran analyst Arnaud de Borchgrave paints a grim picture of the present and future of America's adventure in Iraq. Citing new Gallup polls that show Iraqis increasingly opposed to the occupation, as well as Bush's support for an Israeli "peace" plan that effectively ruins hopes for a viable Palestinian state, de Borchgrave concludes:

"…Arab opinion has been inflamed to the point where Palestine and Iraq are now two fronts in the war against what Charles de Gaulle used to call 'the Anglo-Saxons.' Osama bin Laden is probably thinking he's some kind of strategic genius."

The Iraq War is in its own right a self-destructive mess. Yet when compounded with unquestioning and total American support for Ariel Sharon's far-right policies, it becomes a recipe for unleashing terrorist retribution without end. This is all part of the plan, of course, for those eagerly awaiting an eternal, worldwide bloodbath.

Sadly, There's Little Fun in Mockery

We should get out while the getting is bad – before we're forced to get out when the getting becomes much, much worse. De Borchgrave cites Gen. William Odom, "the first prominent retired general to break ranks with President Bush's Iraq war policy," who recently called the Iraq occupation "untenable." To wit:

"…it was hard to disagree with Odom's description of Mr. Bush's vision of reordering the Middle East by building a democracy in Iraq as a pipedream. His prescription: Remove US forces 'from that shattered country as rapidly as possible.' Odom says bluntly, 'we have failed,' and 'the issue is how high a price we're going to pay – less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later.'"

And that is the issue precisely. While myriad foes of intervention have long been giving sober and clear-headed analyses of why the Iraq invasion was destined for failure, few listened. Maybe this will change, now that former intelligence chiefs like Richard Clarke and top generals like William Odom are speaking out. De Borchgrave adds that the pressure is mounting:

"…a company-size bevy of retired US generals and admirals were in constant touch this week with a volunteer drafter putting the final touches to a 'tough condemnation' of the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policy."

We can only hope that this censure is massive, immediate, and complete – and that it gets results. For as fun as it is to say "we told you so," and mock Team Bush for the colossal stupidity of the May Day airplane stunt, it's not only they who will suffer the fallout of Iraq and the failure to plan for an exit strategy. They may have forgotten to pack the parachutes, but as we saw on 9/11, there are many people on the ground when the plane finally comes crashing to earth.

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  • Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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