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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Losing two wars


Time to come home


One War Lost, Another to Go
By FRANK RICH

IF anyone needs further proof that we are racing for the exits in Iraq, just follow the bouncing ball that is Rick Santorum. A Republican leader in the Senate and a true-blue (or red) Iraq hawk, he has long slobbered over President Bush, much as Ed McMahon did over Johnny Carson. But when Mr. Bush went to Mr. Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania to give his Veterans Day speech smearing the war's critics as unpatriotic, the senator was M.I.A.

........................

They know the voters have decided the war is over, no matter what symbolic resolutions are passed or defeated in Congress nor how many Republicans try to Swift-boat Representative John Murtha, the marine hero who wants the troops out. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey last week found that the percentage (52) of Americans who want to get out of Iraq fast, in 12 months or less, is even larger than the percentage (48) that favored a quick withdrawal from Vietnam when that war's casualty toll neared 54,000 in the apocalyptic year of 1970. The Ohio State political scientist John Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs, found that "if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline." He observed that Mr. Bush was trying to channel L. B. J. by making "countless speeches explaining what the effort in Iraq is about, urging patience and asserting that progress is being made. But as was also evident during Woodrow Wilson's campaign to sell the League of Nations to the American public, the efficacy of the bully pulpit is much overrated."

Mr. Bush may disdain timetables for our pullout, but, hello, there already is one, set by the Santorums of his own party: the expiration date for a sizable American presence in Iraq is Election Day 2006. As Mr. Mueller says, the decline in support for the war won't reverse itself. The public knows progress is not being made, no matter how many times it is told that Iraqis will soon stand up so we can stand down.

On the same day the Senate passed the resolution rebuking Mr. Bush on the war, Martha Raddatz of ABC News reported that "only about 700 Iraqi troops" could operate independently of the U.S. military, 27,000 more could take a lead role in combat "only with strong support" from our forces and the rest of the 200,000-odd trainees suffered from a variety of problems, from equipment shortages to an inability "to wake up when told" or follow orders.

.............................

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week. No one speaks more eloquently to this point than Mr. Benjamin and Steven Simon, his fellow National Security Council alum. They saw the Qaeda threat coming before most others did in the 1990's, and their riveting new book, "The Next Attack," is the best argued and most thoroughly reported account of why, in their opening words, "we are losing" the war against the bin Laden progeny now.

"The Next Attack" is prescient to a scary degree. "If bin Laden is the Robin Hood of jihad," the authors write, then Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "has been its Horatio Alger, and Iraq his field of dreams." The proof arrived spectacularly this month with the Zarqawi-engineered suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman. That attack, Mr. Benjamin wrote in Slate, "could soon be remembered as the day that the spillover of violence from Iraq became a major affliction for the Middle East." But not remembered in America. Thanks to the confusion sown by the Bush administration, the implications for us in this attack, like those in London and Madrid, are quickly forgotten, if they were noticed in the first place. What happened in Amman is just another numbing bit of bad news that we mentally delete along with all the other disasters we now label "Iraq."

.......... The only hope for getting Americans to focus on the war we can't escape is to clear the decks by telling the truth about the war of choice in Iraq: that it is making us less safe, not more, and that we have to learn from its mistakes and calculate the damage it has caused as we reboot and move on.

Mr. Bush is incapable of such candor. In the speech Mr. Santorum skipped on Veterans Day, the president lashed out at his critics for trying "to rewrite the history" of how the war began. Then he rewrote the history of the war, both then and now. ...............

THAT'S the alternative that has already been chosen, brought on not just by the public's irreversible rejection of the war, but also by the depleted state of our own broken military forces; they are falling short of recruitment goals across the board by as much as two-thirds, the Government Accountability Office reported last week. We must prepare accordingly for what's to come. To do so we need leaders, whatever the political party, who can look beyond our nonorderly withdrawal from Iraq next year to the mess that will remain once we're on our way out. Whether it's countering the havoc inflicted on American interests internationally by Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo or overhauling and redeploying our military, intelligence and homeland security operations to confront the enemy we actually face, there's an enormous job to be done.

The arguments about how we got into Mr. Bush's war and exactly how we'll get out are also important. But the damage from this fiasco will be even greater if those debates obscure the urgency of the other war we are losing, one that will be with us long after we've left the quagmire in Iraq.
The question isn't so much that the war is over, recruiters could tell you that

The desperate commercials now aired by the military with kids begging their parents to enlist only invite brutal rejoinders like "hell no, you're not getting killed for George Bush". While they're billed as persuading parents, they sound like preparation to tell your kid hell no.

The question is how it ends.

posted by Steve @ 2:26:00 AM

2:26:00 AM

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