War rhetoric ren­o­va­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Pres­i­dent Bush has struck a new but cau­tious bal­ance be­tween im­pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance in the war in Iraq that threat­ens his party’s prospects on Nov. 7.

His tweaked war pos­ture at a re­cent news con­fer­ence was not ex­actly back-ped­al­ing from “stay the course,” a sta­tus-quo phrase nei­ther he nor the White House uses th­ese days. In­stead, he has sent sig­nals to Iraqi lead­ers that his and Amer­ica’s pa­tience in the long war “is not un­lim­ited.”

In plain street lan­guage: It’s time for you Iraqis to kick butt.

In re­marks that re­flected grow­ing pub­lic dis­ap­proval of the war, and to some de­gree Demo­cratic de­mands that he pres­sure Iraqi lead­ers more, Mr. Bush said, “I know many Amer­i­cans are not sat­is­fied with the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq. I’m not sat­is­fied ei­ther.”

The elec­tion was a week away and polls showed vot­ers had turned in­creas­ingly pes­simistic about the war, in­clud­ing 36 per­cent of the Repub­li­cans (in The Wash­ing­ton Post poll) and 60 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents who say they will vote for Demo­cratic can­di­dates by about 2-to-1.

To some ex­tent, Mr. Bush’s re­marks on the war was a cal­cu­lated mes­sage to his party’s most em­bat­tled House and Se­nate can­di­dates that they, too, could ex­press in­creas­ing im­pa­tience with the course of the war and the Iraqis’ han­dling of the in­sur­gency if it would help them blunt the Democrats’ cam­paign of­fen­sive. Many were al­ready do­ing so.

Mr. Bush’s nu­anced sig­nals came one day af­ter Gen. Ge­orge Casey, the top U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der in Iraq, out­lined a step-bystep time­line un­der which the Iraqis would for­mally take over war op­er­a­tions in the coun­try’s prov­inces in about 12 to 18 months.

There would con­tinue to be “some level of [mil­i­tary] sup­port” from the U.S., but pre­sum­ably it would open the way for U.S. troop with­drawals as the Iraqi army grew in size and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s tougher rhetoric came in one of the blood­i­est months of the war when nearly 100 U.S. troops have been killed by an in­ten­si­fied in­sur­gency that seeks to in­flu­ence the out­come of the elec­tions by killing as many Amer­i­cans as they can.

And in that re­spect, the ter­ror­ists have been suc­cess­ful. The killings have so­lid­i­fied the war as the No. 1 elec­tion is­sue, giv­ing the Democrats in­creased am­mu­ni­tion to fire at their Repub­li­can op­po­nents and clearly throw­ing Repub­li­cans and the ad­min­is­tra­tion on the de­fen­sive.

But the White House’s re­cent ini­tia­tives, to­gether with Mr. Bush’s ad­mis­sion of im­pa­tience with the Iraqis, may change the po­lit­i­cal de­bate, if only on the mar­gins. It as­sures vot­ers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s flex­i­bil­ity as it threads its way through the war’s thorny com­plex­i­ties, mov­ing to­ward a strat­egy that will more quickly shift the war’s bur­den onto Iraqi shoul­ders and thus to a par­tial U.S. exit.

This is a war that will likely last a long time (the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army’s con­flict in North­ern Ire­land lasted 37 years), but the brunt of it must be born by the Iraqis, with U.S. troop train­ing, air power sup­port when needed and an in­ex­haustible sup­ply of weaponry and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port to de­feat the ter­ror­ists in their midst.

Many Amer­i­cans want us out of Iraq now, but most want us to leave in a way that gives the Iraqis a chance to de­fend them­selves and their young democ­racy. They showed us that’s what they want when, de­spite ter­ror­ist threats of death, they turned out by the mil­lions to ap­prove a Con­sti­tu­tion and elect a rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment.

More than 2,800 brave Amer­i­cans — and tens of thou­sands of Iraqis — gave their lives to this cause and this war against ter­ror­ism. Our im­pa­tience is un­der­stand­able. But leav­ing be­fore the Iraqis can fight this war on their own so they can re­main a free and sov­er­eign na­tion al­lied with the United States, would mean that our best and bright­est have died in vain.

The ter­ror­ists will not go away if we leave now. They will re­sume their deadly plots on the U.S. once again. This is no time to sound the call for re­treat.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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