Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile politely asked George W. Bush on the tarmac in Sydney what he saw during his stopover in Iraq. “We’re kicking ass,” our chipper President replied. So, after four long years since his memorable words of “bring ’em on” and “mission accomplished,” the President continues on his own merry course.
Bush returns to direct the national “debate” on the progress of his “surge” strategy in Iraq, which features reports by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The President is already kicking some ass, but on his own political turf. The White House, we know, has been engaged in the preparation of the Petraeus and Crocker reports. Can there be any surprises? We have formal Congressional hearings, but they promise little in the way of real inquiry–or real opposition. After the testimony, the President will address the nation and, once again, put his imprimatur on “the course.” Bush is engaged: He has the microphone and the national stage.
As Bush expands Petraeus’s role and strategy, Congress will find it difficult to challenge, let alone oppose, the mountain of authority the President is erecting.
Congress’s Government Accountability Office has reported on the failure to achieve eleven of the eighteen legislative, security and economic benchmarks established in Congressional legislation, approved by the President and accepted by the Iraqi government. But the story has been overwhelmed by other news surrounding the impending review and seems destined to be ignored.
The authors of the GAO report interviewed Petraeus, Crocker and other government officials and made multiple trips to Iraq, including several as late as August. Overall, the report noted that “key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.” The news already has floated into media heaven and will likely not be heard again.
The White House’s choreography is impeccable. In August, Bush addressed the American Legion in Reno, Nevada, facing his typically captive and approving audience in a flag-draped setting. After warming up his crowd with Pollyanna promises of better medical care and better pensions, he launched a typical jeremiad on his plans to spread the blessings of freedom and democracy. He offered his familiar message promising to fight terrorism there so we don’t have to fight it here.
The military naturally has a large stake in the surge. A commission of military experts presented a one-size-fits-all report. Retired Marine General James Jones testified that Iraqi police forces are dysfunctional and hopeless. The Iraqi military has some promise but is nearly two years away from being effective and on its own. Still, the commission concluded that the only course is to do more. Shades of Vietnam and the light at the end of the tunnel.
The report was ambiguous enough for Senator John McCain to find “progress”; he said it would be a mistake for Congress to set a firm deadline for withdrawing troops. General Jones dutifully told the committee, “I think deadlines can work against us, and I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest.” “I thank you,” replied an obviously satisfied McCain. Senator Hillary Clinton noted the report’s emphasis on the lack of any political progress, which, she said, buttressed her view for a firm deadline. General Jones had no reply for her.