Arguing with Bush and Blair
The news conference of Bush and Blair on Thursday evening was unexpectedly dominated by Iraq.
I’m going to just pull out some passages worthy of comment, not in order.
In fact, the first is from the end:
‘Q: Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?
PRESIDENT BUSH: It sounds like kind of a familiar refrain here. (Scattered laughter.) Saying “Bring it on.” Kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. That I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner. You know, “Wanted dead or alive,” that kind of talk.
I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted. And so I learned — I learned from that.
And, you know, I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time. And it’s — unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice; they’ve been given a fair trial and tried and convicted. ‘
Well, first of all, it should be pointed out that only the very lowest level of perpetrator at Abu Ghraib has been punished. And not very much punished at that. The soldier who set snarling dogs on detainees got six months. As I remember, Iraqis were outraged. What would you get for selling a dime bag of pot? And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone have not in any way been held accountable. Or General “My god is bigger than yours” Boykin, either.
The US media were saying that Bush apologized for his flip rhetoric. But look again. He did not. He said he had been “misinterpreted” in some parts of the world. (Which?) How do you misinterpret “bring it on?” And, why in the world is he apologizing for saying he wanted Bin Laden dead or alive? What has that got to do with Iraq, anyway?
The people who were angriest at Bush over the “bring it on” remark were the military and the families of the military. George Washington, who actually led his troops, might have been entitled to talk like that. Someone who spends most of his time in the White House gym isn’t.
But if Bush was going to express any regrets, why is it over his faux cowboy rhetoric? Wouldn’t his biggest regret be over 20,000 Americans killed or wounded in Iraq? Wouldn’t it be over the 2400 plus fresh caskets in Arlington and other cemeteries around the country, the earth above them still bulging slightly from the newness of their perch, and the young men in wheel chairs or the ones who will eat with a straw from now on?
Here is another interesting bit:
BUSH: ‘All I can report to you is what General Casey, in whom I have got a lot of confidence, tells me, and that is the Iraqis are becoming better and better fighters. And at some point in time, when he feels like the government is, you know, ready to take on more responsibility and the Iraqi forces are able to help them do so, he will get on the telephone with me and say, “Mr. President, I think we can do this with fewer troops.”
We’ve been up to 165,000 at one point. We’re at about 135,000 now.
Actually, he moved — actually moved some additional troops from Kuwait into Baghdad. Conditions on the ground were such that we needed more support in Baghdad to secure Baghdad, so he informed me, through Donald Rumsfeld, that he wanted to move troops out of Kuwait into Baghdad. So these commanders, they need to have flexibility in order to achieve the objective. ‘
Bush is admitting that things are so bad militarily in Iraq that US control of the capital itself is in doubt, so that reinforcements have had to be brought quickly from Kuwait. He is telling us this as a reason fro which he won’t set a timetable. But what it reveals is how bad the situation in Baghdad really is. And he is saying that no timetable under these circumstances would be worth the paper it was printed on. After all, if the US troops started leaving Baghdad and the guerrillas started taking over even more of it than they already have, could Bush afford to just let the capital fall?
BUSH: ‘ The prime minister met with key leaders of the new Iraqi government that represents the will of the Iraqi people and reflects their nation’s diversity.’
The Sunni Arabs are about 20 percent of the population, more or less. The three self-identified Sunni Arab parties– the Iraqi Accord Front, the National Dialogue Council, and the small Reform and Reconciliation Party, together have 58 seats in parliament, nearly 21 percent. There are 37 cabinet posts. 4 went to the main Sunni parties in parliament. That is about 11 percent of cabinet posts. And even if the Defense minister ends up being ethnically Sunni Arab, he is likely to be an unrepresentative technocrat, and that still only brings the total up to 13.5 percent.
This new government was supposed to be an opportunity to reach out to the Sunni Arabs. But some Sunni Arabs are so upset about being stiffed in their proportion of cabinet posts that 15 walked out when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presented his government to parliament. I saw Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on Aljazeera this week insisting that the “Resistance” has a right to defend Iraq from foreign occupation or words to that effect, and urging that the US talk directly to the guerrilla leadership. Well, I guess that is a sign that the new Iraqi government is more representative. I’m not sure it is what Bush was going for.
Blair was just as bad, and more dangerous for being smoother. He once again tried to justify the invasion of Iraq with reference to a terrorist threat to Europe. But Iraq was not a significant source of terrorism in Europe before it was, like, invaded and occupied by the UK! And, he tried to argue that the UN is unwieldy and unworkable because it is too slow to deal with a fast-moving terror plot. But Blair’s problem with the UN is not that it was slow. The UNSC quickly passed a resolution on Iraq when requested. It was that it would not go along with an illegal war of aggression.