In an Oval Office address tonight, President Bush repeated once again his strategy to win in Iraq.
In response, there were comments like this one:
While I appreciate the president's increased candor, too much of the substance remains the same and the American people have still not heard what benchmarks we must meet along the way to know that progress is being made." — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
This statement echos the oft-repeated criticism that "Bush doesn't have a plan", which is usually supplemented by polls of the American people that do nothing but show the average American's ignorance. At least half of Americans are totally ignorant of politics. I'd bet half couldn't even name the current Secretary of State. So throwing out a poll saying that 60% of Americans don't think that President Bush has a "clear" plan to win in Iraq doesn't really mean much.
This would be comical if it weren't. Senator Reid knows full well that the President has had a plan from the beginning. The plan has always been:
* Overthrow Sadaam
* Provide security with our Military
* Push forward the political process
* Train Iraqis to take over security
* Push forward with reconstruction
* Draw down our forces as the Iraqis are able to handle it themselves
What is not clear about that plan? You can criticize the plan, or criticize how effectively the plan has been carried out, but stop this utter nonsense about there not being a plan.
Obviously, the plan has not been executed smoothly. Wars never go smoothly. The enemy adapts, we adjust, the enemy adapts, we adjust again. It's the natural flow of any competition.
The overthrow of Saddam was the one piece where we mostly knew what to expect. We made quick work of that. Then there was relative peace for a few months before a combination of Baathists (Sunni's from Saddam's regime) and Al-Qaeda terrorists started reeking havoc. It is defintely fair criticism that the U.S. underestimated the intensity that this "insurgency" would have.
Reconstruction went slower than expected as well, for two reasaons: 1) We didn't know how bad the infrastructure for water and electricity was until we started trying to fix it, and 2) Insurgents constantly attacked reconstruction projects and workers.
It was impossible for the reconstruction to happen without security. But without the reconstruction, the economy was held back, and there was a lot of discontent and unemployment, fueling the insurgency. It was a vicious cycle that could only be broken out of with enough increase in security to stop the attacks on the reconstruction. That is now finally the case in many parts of the country.
Politically, the Iraqis have advanced quite well. They have a Constitution and a newly elected government in less than 3 years.
Overall, progress has been slower than we would have liked, but progress is definitely being made, and retreat before a stable handover of security to the Iraqis is made would be disastrous.
Patience is called for.
Finally, this whole idea of "benchmarks" is absurd. It's not like we can say that since 200,000 Iraqi's are trained, we can just replace our troops with Iraqi's man-for-man. First off, the Iraqi military basically has no Navy or Air Force, and little in the way of Armored vehicles or logistical support. So some of our troops will be needed for years to come as these gaps are slowly filled. Secondly, the focus right now is on training as many infantry battalions as possible, so we will be in a position to draw down a significant number of U.S. troops sooner rather than later. But most of the Iraqi troops so far are being used to secure territory that our troops have cleared of insurgents. More are needed to actually replace our troops. Third, the Iraqi army needs time to develop cohesiveness and officer leadership.
There will not be a specific point where we can declare victory and remove all our troops. The handover will be a gradual one taking several years, and based on conditions on the ground.
This is the reason setting any benchmarks would be a guess at best. Setting benchmarks would do nothing but give political opponents something to criticize as soon as one wasn't met (hmm, perhaps that's why political opponents are calling for benchmarks?). And the whole idea of benchmarks is to end up with a timetable by which our commitment is finished. This is dangerous for several reasons.
For one, the terrorists in Iraq would have a date to lock in on to give them hope. If they can just hold on until that date, maybe America will pull out and they will prevail. Second, it gives the American public a date at which their support can end. Even if conditions don't warrant it, Americans will want to pull out. Third, it puts the focus on pulling out, not on achieving victory (defined as a stable handover of a functioning democracy) in Iraq.
If we botch Iraq, if we leave before we finish the job, and most importantly, if we show the world that we don't have the will or stomach to keep our word and do what we said we would do, our foreign policy will be permanently damaged until we display that we again have the will. Of course displaying that will again will mean going through another Iraq or worse. And much of the gain from Iraq, and the 2000+ lives that were sacrificed there, will be completely lost.
(Already, a Japanese official has been quoted that if China wanted to take back Taiwan, America couldn't stop it. If we tried we would run away as soon as 2000 lives were lost)
If we finish the job, if we show we are willing to pay the price, if we hold our ground and help establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, one that will be an ally in the war on terror, and if we convey that we are willing to do so again if needed, then our diplomacy and leverage will be strengthened, and we will have a better chance of avoiding having to do it again. This is the Reagan model of Peace Through Strength.
Like the war or not, the quickest way to get our troops back home after a victory is to throw support behind it 100%. Can you imagine how disheartening it would be if you were a terrorist in Iraq, and all you heard was how the U.S. was united against you, and you never heard all this talk from U.S. politicians of how soon the U.S. troops were going to pull out. (We already know how during Vietnam, the North Vietnamese gained great hope and kept on fighting because of the anti-war movement in the U.S.)
Think about it a bit, and you will realize that ultimately you are either for victory or defeat.