POLITICS JUNE 7, 2004
FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
For months now, President George W. Bush has responded to calls that he send more troops to Iraq by saying that force levels are decided by the officers on the ground. Monday night's speech was no different: "General [John] Abizaid and other commanders in Iraq are constantly assessing the level of troops they need to fulfill the mission," he said. "If they need more troops, I will send them." And, on Sunday, when former Middle East commander General Anthony Zinni, whose own contingency plans for invading Iraq called for 300,000 soldiers, told "60 Minutes" that he thought we needed more troops, the White House's reply dripped with condescension: "Obviously, General Zinni, retired General Zinni, has every right to voice his opinion. But President Bush is gonna listen to the active commanders on the ground--General John Abizaid, General Rick Sanchez, and others who are actually on the scene and know exactly what needs to be done to be successful," White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said.
But the president doesn't seem to be listening very closely. When Abizaid testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, he dutifully said he had enough combat troops but then pointedly elaborated that he's short of practically everything else. "There are certain types of troops that we don't have enough of, and we still don't have enough of them, and we've got to figure out how to get them," Abizaid said. "And they're [military police], and they're [military intelligence] guys. ... And they're civil affairs people." Of course, since combat troops have been filling the gap left by these troops, this was another way of saying Abizaid is short of forces, period. What's more, Abizaid pointed out that the security situation is likely to deteriorate after the June 30 handover of sovereignty, when an untested interim government will have to negotiate between the behind-the-scenes influence of the United States and the increasing anti-Americanism of the Iraqi people. "It could very well be more violent than we are seeing today," Abizaid said, "so it's possible that we might need more forces." One might think it prudent to send the forces that the combatant commander believes necessary before the expected deterioration of security. So, either the president should send more troops to Iraq or find a more honest explanation for why he won't. Or else he could stick to his platitudes and hope General Abizaid doesn't testify again anytime soon.
ABU GHRAIB IDIOCY WATCH
"Some of those people should probably not be in prisons in the first place."- -Senator Trent Lott, speaking on May 24 about the abuse at Abu Ghraib, implying that certain prisoners ought to have been killed on the battlefield "Nothing wrong with holding a dog up there unless it ate him. [They just] scared him with the dog."--Lott, on intimidation at Abu Ghraib
"This is not Sunday school. This is interrogation. This is rough stuff."-- Lott, after being reminded that at least one prisoner died as the result of abuse at Abu Ghraib. (Thanks to thejacksonchannel.com.)
DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU MEAN BY "MUCH PLAY"
"Nerve agent detected in separate incident"--headline, page A1, The Washington Post, May 18 "deadly nerve agent sarin is found in roadside bomb"--headline, page A14, The Washington Post, May 18
"American officials also announced that they had discovered an artillery shell in Baghdad several days ago loaded with the deadly nerve gas sarin. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted cautiously to the discovery, saying more extensive tests were necessary."--from an article on page A1, The New York Times, May 18
"Army discovers old Iraqi shell holding sarin, illicit weapon"-- headline, page A11, The New York Times, May 18
"You probably missed the news because it didn't get much play, but a small, crude weapon of mass destruction may have been used by Saddam's terrorists in Iraq this week." --William Safire, The New York Times, May 19
THE ATTACHED ONE, WE HOPE
I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein." --President Bush, May 25
A few weeks ago in this space, we noted congressional Republicans' tendency to portray Democratic criticisms of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy as a kick in the collective gut of America's troops and even as a potential threat to their lives. Since then, it has only gotten worse. Republicans now freely portray their Democratic colleagues as something close to traitors. For instance, Representative J.D. Hayworth said on May 6, "I disagree in the strongest possible terms with those who attempt to politicize this conflict and, in essence, place in jeopardy our men and women in uniform."And, when Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha recently declared the Iraq struggle to be "unwinnable" without a change of strategy, Republican Mark Foley publicly fumed that "disparaging what our soldiers are doing in Iraq is tantamount to giving comfort to the terrorists and comfort to the enemy." (Never mind that Murtha is a decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars and presumably has more than sufficient empathy for our troops in the field.) But the standard for this thuggish rhetorical tactic was set last week by--who else?--House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called George W. Bush incompetent and said he had bungled the execution of the Iraq war. "Nancy Pelosi should apologize for her irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric," DeLay frothed in a statement. "She apparently is so caught up in partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk." DeLay might have a touch more credibility were he not among Washington's most famous partisan haters, but the question neither he nor any of his fellow patriots have answered is how, exactly, Capitol Hill sniping puts American lives at risk. Nor have they explained what they plan to do with the millions of traitors who criticize President Bush by voting in November--for John Kerry.
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This article originally ran in the June 7, 2004, issue of the magazine.