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 Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bush's Speech on Iraq War Lacked Credibility on ALL Counts


Christopher Layne
(Christopher Layne is author of The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present)

Read here original article by Christopher Layne

30 June 2005

President George W. Bush's address on Iraq on 29 June 2005 comes amid growing US doubts about the war, and the administration's competence and credibility.

In recent weeks, there has been a palpable sense that events have been spinning out of control - both in Iraq, where the insurgency continues unabated, and at home, where the administration faces mounting opposition to the war.

Since the insurgency began, the Bush administration tirelessly has reiterated:

  • that progress is being made in Iraq;

  • the insurgency is being defeated; and

  • Iraq is on its way to becoming a viable democratic state.

Events in Iraq have told a different story, however, and their cumulative impact can be seen in the major public opinion polls that have been released in recent days.

For the first time since March 2003, a majority of Americans believe the Iraq invasion was a mistake, and disbelieve both the administration's assurances that things are going well in Iraq and its claims that the war there is part of the war on terrorism.

One poll even shows that a majority want the administration to set a firm timetable for the withdrawal of US forces.

Against this backdrop, Bush's task yesterday was to regain public and Congressional confidence. To make his case, he needed to explain why the Iraq war is in the US national interest and outline a clear strategy for victory. He failed to accomplish either task.

The President offered nothing new, and instead fell back on old - and discredited - arguments.

To make the case that the war is important to US security, Bush trotted out the old canard that there is a connection between 9/11 and the Iraq war.

US troops, he said:

"are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September 11, 2001 ...

After September 11, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war."

This is a stale argument.

From the moment the run-up to the Iraq invasion began, the administration sought to rally public support for its policy by suggesting that Saddam Hussein's regime somehow had a hand in the 9/11attacks.

Factually, however, there NEVER has been a shred of credible evidence of Iraqi involvement in al-Qa'ida's strikes on New York and Washington. Indeed, this was the finding of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

Still, it is perhaps not surprising that Bush continues to link the war in Iraq to the war on terror.

After all, as one senior official put it recently, this is an administration that believes the US "is an empire now, and we make our own facts".

Bush's speech was another such exercise in postmodern grand strategy: he not only made up his own facts, but also was disingenuous.

Before the invasion in March 2003, Iraq was not a haven for terrorists and had no connection whatsoever to al-Qa'ida.

Jihadist fighters entered Iraq only AFTER the US invasion. If Iraq is now a "front" in the war on terrorism, it is because the administration's own policies made it such.

The point cannot be made strongly enough: far from making America more secure against terrorism, Bush's reckless decision to invade Iraq has made the US less secure.

Indeed, just last week a CIA report concluded that Iraq has now become perhaps the most important training ground for Islamic extremists.

It would never have become such had the US not invaded.

Bush not only failed to advance a fresh argument that the war is in the US interest, but -- perhaps even more important -- he conspicuously failed to outline a convincing road to victory.

Here, again, the administration's strategy is more of the same: US forces will be reduced as more Iraqi forces are trained to fight the insurgency. There is, however, little reason to believe that the administration's "Iraqisation" strategy will work.

Recent reports have made clear that it will be a long time - if ever - before Iraqi forces are able to quell the insurgency without substantial support from US troops. Most of the Iraqi forces are poorly motivated, undisciplined, badly led and under-equipped.

If the readiness of Iraqi forces is the metric that determines when US forces can begin to come home, substantial numbers of US troops will need to remain in Iraq for a long time to come. (Whether the US Army can sustain anywhere near its current force levels in Iraq for much longer is very much an open question, especially given recruitment shortfalls and loss of junior officers.)

As a piece of political theatre, Bush's speech may temporarily stem the haemorrhage of public and congressional support for his administration's policy. But it cannot change the facts.

Iraq is a country in chaos and the Sunni insurgency reflects the fact that a communal/sectarian civil war already is under way there. There are no good outcomes in Iraq. No matter what the US does, Iraq is not going to become a stable democracy, and the Middle East is going to remain an endemically turbulent region.

The painful truth is that there is no realistic strategy for victory in Iraq.

Put simply, Bush has led the US into a strategic quagmire in Iraq. Indeed, to paraphrase the early 19th-century French statesman Talleyrand, it was worse than a blunder, it was a crime.

The Downing Street memos show that the Bush administration deliberately - and deceitfully - plunged the US into an unnecessary war against a regime that posed no real threat to US security, and that Saddam Hussein's ballyhooed weapons of mass destruction were never anything more than a pretext for an invasion that already had been decided upon for other reasons.

The memos also confirm what already has become apparent: the administration compounded its decision to go to war by utterly failing to prepare for occupying and reconstructing Iraq.

Now the chickens have come home to roost.

Instead of making up the facts, it is time to face them - no matter how painful. Spending more blood and treasure is not going to change the outcome in Iraq.

The only viable exit strategy is to leave Iraq.

The time has come to set a firm timetable for an early withdrawal.

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