Using a decidedly friendly military audience, President George W. Bush’s primetime speech concerning the situation in Iraq was a letdown.
Despite a Washington Post story indicating that the president’s “aides have concluded that recent events in Iraq have contributed to an erosion in support for the president — and that he needs to shift strategies,” Monday’s speech was not any sort of shift, but instead the familiar “stay the course” message.
President Bush was certainly right about one thing: We must support our returning troops.
During the same day as his speech, Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson was speaking before members of Congress about a $1 billion shortfall in the medical services budget for this fiscal year. While it is important to correct a budgetary bureaucracy where this year’s funding is based on outdated statistics from 2002, returning troops deserve the best care we can provide.
Also, setting some sort of arbitrary timetable for troop withdrawals would be a mistake. Certainly there is validity in saying that setting such a policy could embolden the insurgents to wait us out.
That being said, where the president failed was in providing specifics on his statement that, “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” While a necessary component of coalition troop withdrawal is a capable and independent Iraqi security force, the president’s statement that, “Iraq has more than 160,000 security forces trained and equipped for a variety of missions,” is misleading.
Representative Curt Weldon (R-Penn.) and Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) were recently on NBC’s Meet the Press, following a trip to the Iraqi region. They indicated that the numbers of trained Iraqis able to fight on their own without American support is not at the numbers that are being reported to the American people. Sen. Biden stated the Iraqi troops in this category numbered “three battalions. You are talking about thousands, Tim. Not tens of thousands.”
Considering the disparity between administration figures and the facts on the ground, the question remains as to how long it will take to train enough Iraqis. I don’t think anyone has the answer to that, but there are fundamental steps we need to take to hasten the process.
Paramount to gaining any stability is a need to concentrate more efforts on the infrastructure of Iraq. A survey by the United Nations and the Iraqi Planning Ministry indicated that, “The electrical supply to 85 percent of households is unreliable,” nationwide unemployment is near 20 percent and median income is $144 per year. It is difficult to imagine why many Iraqis would want to join the struggle for their country in the absence of tangible indications of what they are fighting for.
Next we need our administration to be completely honest about the difficult situation ahead. You may have forgotten, but in May of 2003 the president stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln before that notorious “Mission Accomplished” sign. At the time, some 139 servicemembers had given their lives, while now the number is upwards of 1,700, as well as 12,000 Iraqi civilians killed, at a price of $200 billion.
Two years later, the reality is the mission is nowhere close to being accomplished, nor are things getting better. Vice President Cheney, with whatever credibility he can muster after stating that the Iraqi people would greet us as liberators, now believes the insurgency is “in its last throes.”
In what seems to be a contradiction, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated this past weekend on the talk show circuit that the conflict “could go on for a number of years.” This dichotomy of views within the administration is disheartening at best and an indication of blatant ignorance at worst.
Perhaps the biggest doubt about the president’s speech is his floating rationale for this conflict. Originally we were told it was about weapons of mass destruction, which have not been found. Then it evolved into democracy for Iraqis, although it is not clear they want or even believe in it.
But now, somehow, we are expected to believe the rationale is to fight the kind of terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, despite a congressional inquiry and Sept. 11 Commission which failed to see links between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the hijackers.
This stuff is just too far out to believe anymore. But one person I do believe is Colin Powell, who stated before the invasion, “You break it, you own it.”
Aaron Hill is a juniormajoring in economics.