Buy Time and Pray for a Miracle

That’s essentially what the Bush administration’s strategy for Iraq amounts to, if the public statements of the administration, including Bush’s speech to the VFW today, are any indication. (“Fact sheet” available here.)

President Bush began the speech by likening the war in Iraq to the wars in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The president went into detail describing his view that in its essence the war against Japan was an “ideological struggle” rather than a traditional war against one of the most advanced societies on Earth that had attacked the U.S. homeland. Bush focused on the democracy-building aspect of the aftermath of defeating Japan, and likened it to the current effort in Iraq.

The president ignored the fact that the “ideological struggle” against Japan was won after we dropped two nuclear bombs on its territory. He skirted the role of the Japanese emperor in uniting Japan’s ethnically and religiously homogeneous population behind the U.S. forces who occupied the islands after V-J Day. He ignores the fact that Japanese politics were not fractious like Iraq’s, with the faction displaced by democracy fearing that the depredations it visited on the other factions would be returned in kind under democracy.

Moving to Korea, Bush ignores the fact that U.S. forces accepted essentially a stalemate in that conflict, with Eisenhower signing an armistice that allowed the “forces of tyranny” in that conflict to remain in power with U.S. acquiescence in Pyongyang.

In the most contentious turn, Bush waded into the Big Muddy of the Vietnam analogy, pointing out (paraphrasing) that “the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of Southeast Asians.” As Jim Henley has pointed out, the price of America’s involvement in Vietnam was also paid by millions of Southeast Asians who perished as the conflict raged.

However, it is also worth remembering that U.S. soldiers stopped dying after we left, and that the “dominoes” that were to have fallen from India to Japan didn’t fall. The United States won the Cold War just a decade and a half later. Our defeat in Vietnam did not prevent victory in the Cold War, and defeat in Iraq will not ensure defeat in the struggle against terrorism. Meanwhile, does the president believe we should have stayed in Vietnam? At what enormous cost in blood and treasure?

Bush then amplified the oddity of turning to the Vietnam analogy by introducing body counts to the debate over Iraq, noting that US forces are capturing or killing an average of 1,500 “al Qaeda terrorists per month” since the beginning of the year. This again is a paraphrase since I don’t have a copy of the Bush speech, but if that figure is true, we are creating an awful lot of new terrorists, since even by the almost-certainly-inflated statements of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia itself, they only had 12,000 fighters as of November 2006.

It seems unlikely that the president’s speech is going to change many minds about Iraq, but the “the surge is working” narrative has already caused a small bump in support for the war. It seems incredibly doubtful that the Democratic Congress will be able to do anything to force the president to move in the direction of withdrawal.

At this point the smart money would probably bet on having over 100,000 troops in Iraq when the president leaves office. If we get out without a total meltdown, the president will be revered in hawkish circles as a visionary. If the next president–or a subsequent president–withdraws and chaos ensues, the Bush people will claim that it isn’t their fault, that things were moving in a positive direction when they left office.

Probably the smarter money would say what folks at the Pentagon and in the intelligence community are saying–that we’ll likely have troops in Iraq for another 10 years. Ted Koppel told NPR that a senior military official told him that Hillary Clinton had admitted that if she is a two-term president, we’ll still have troops in Iraq at the end of her second term.

Given the views of the candidates who have a realistic shot at the presidency, it’s tough to see how any president would get us out entirely much sooner.