The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington), June 3, 2005 Friday
By GREGG HERRINGTON Columbian staff writer
Maybe it's presumptuous to attempt to describe where America's collective head is on any given day, other than those awful 9/11-type moments of national coming together. But I'm going to try anyway:
We're behaving the same way about Iraq that we act individually when faced with an unpleasant situation and ignore it in hopes it'll go away.
We're like a nervous father who doesn't risk alienating a teenage son by confronting him about his poor choice of friends, late hours and slipping grades. We're the wife who doesn't confront her husband about his increased drinking.
We want to be proud of what might ultimately be accomplished in Iraq and the region, just like the president says. But if we do think about it, we're mad that he got us into the war for unsubstantiated reasons and we're sad about casualties and worried about how deep we, our children and our grandchildren will have to dig to pay for it. So, we find something else to occupy our minds, like Social Security, Terri Schiavo, the pope, Michael Jackson, gasoline prices, summer vacation.
Anything but Iraq, where nearly 1,700 U.S. troops and 22,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, most of them since George W. Bush celebrated "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier.
Rose Garden end runs
Nor does the president talk about the war not in a public and realistic way. Tuesday, at a news conference, he was asked if he thinks "the insurgency is gaining strength and becoming more lethal? And do you think that Iraq's government is up to the job of defeating the insurgents and guaranteeing security?"
Note the present tense.
And Bush's response: "I think the Iraq government will be up to the task of defeating the insurgents."
Note the future tense.
He continued: "I think ... the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when they when we had the elections."
Note the past tense. The president's response about the insurgency today is a mishmash of past success and wishful thinking about the future.
A few weeks ago, when the "Downing Street Memo" surfaced in Britain and jeopardized the re-election of Tony Blair, it created barely a ripple on this side of the pond. It resulted from a visit to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2002 by the head of British intelligence. It said, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
It shows that several months before Congress even voted on giving Bush the authority to go to war in the event diplomacy failed, our troops were already as good as deployed.
Last week's 'quiet' debate
We don't have to favor immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops in order to discuss alternatives and exit strategies. That's what 128 U.S. House members seemed to be saying in a quiet debate on the night of May 25 over a proposal that would have urged the president to develop a plan for withdrawal from Iraq.
It had no advance hype, no support from the leadership of either party, and virtually no press coverage. It failed 128-300, with five Republicans and 123 Democrats, including Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, voting yes.
"It does not make sense to continue sacrificing the lives of our soldiers and allocating billions of taxpayer dollars to a poorly planned military venture with no apparent exit strategy," Baird said Thursday. "This amendment simply requested that the president communicate to Congress a plan for the eventual withdrawal of forces from Iraq."
At least, however briefly, Congress finally was debating Iraq.
One proposal making the rounds was initially laid out by Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times editor and columnist. He suggests partitioning Iraq into three sectors or states: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south. That idea, and others, should be part of the discussion, if only there were a discussion.