A new semester and a new year normally come with a host of resolutions. The most popular may be getting better grades, losing weight and getting more exercise. But for members of President Bush’s administration, the resolution should be to fix the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
The New York Times reported Saturday that the president would likely speak to the nation Wednesday and outline “A New Way Forward” in Iraq. Although not yet announced and subject to revision, it appears this new strategy will include a surge of American troops to attempt to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad, as well as a $1 billion jobs program.
Such a plan undoubtedly will be controversial. This country has fought a war while asking the few who’ve voluntarily joined the military to sacrifice a great deal. Generals have previously suggested that their equipment is broken and so too are the troops, both mentally and physically. Surging some 20,000 troops or more into the region will once again strain families under the burden of longer and more frequent deployments with the potential to be recalled to duty once their enlistments have ended.
Skepticism surrounding this plan should also be focused on Iraqi leadership. In June 2005, President Bush said, “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” Yet the Iraqis seem incapable or unwilling to do that. The chilling evidence of the sectarian strife in the country was never better expressed than Saddam Hussein’s execution. The mob scene and taunting even led America’s pal, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, to state that the manner of the execution was “completely wrong.” If there is this much conflict over the timing and execution of the brutal former leader of Iraq, what hope is there that a free and stable Iraq is somehow right around the corner?
This administration has some serious believability issues in terms of Iraq. Just before the election in November, the president proclaimed his support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, only to replace him just after the election. The president has also said he listens to the generals in the field and gives them what they want in terms of troop levels, but he used U.S. Army Generals John Abizaid’s and George W. Casey’s lack of desire for more troops as a reason for their replacement.
The new year has brought a new plan for Iraq, as well as changing political control in the 110th Congress. Democrats hold majorities in both the House and Senate with the ability for greater oversight of the tactical situation on the ground, as well as the enormous fiscal burden the war has caused.
Their task will be difficult, as well. Voters, including many of the college-aged generation, desire change and will hold the Democrats to that. Oversight in the Iraq war will not be enough. While calls for funding cuts of the war may be premature, the reality on the ground must improve quickly under new military leadership or the clamor for phased redeployment will be impossible to ignore. Withdrawal of troops has so far been framed as defeat by hawks, but that will change if the new way forward produces the same results.
President Bush must realize the situation in Iraq is his legacy issue. Forget the era of privatization of social security or meaningful immigration reform being permanently attached to the page of history that will be Bush’s presidency. The effect the Iraq war has on the entire Middle East, as well as the foreign policy relationship America will have with allies around the world, will measure Bush’s success, or lack thereof.
While the debate over the initial justification of the Iraq war has become mind-numbingly pointless, the crossroads this nation has come to in terms of the way forward is crucial. This new year and new way forward will either bring success or a determination that troop redeployment is necessary, with American patience for achieving either outcome growing quite thin.
Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.