Bush: Leaving Iraq Would Be a Terrible Signal
President Bush and senior military leaders seem to be drawing back from recent remarks which had given hope of a major drawdown in Iraq after their elections.
Early Pullout Unlikely In Iraq (WaPo, A1)
Iraq’s leaders and military will be unable to lead the fight against insurgents until next summer at the earliest, a top U.S. military official said Wednesday, trying to temper any hopes that a full-scale American troop withdrawal was imminent as Iraq moves toward elections scheduled for December. Both Americans and Iraqis need “to start thinking about and talking about what it’s really going to be like in Iraq after elections,” said the military official, who spoke in an interview on the condition he not be named. “I think the important point is there’s not going to be a fundamental change.”
The official stressed that it was “important to calibrate expectations post-elections. I’ve been saying to folks: You’re still going to have an insurgency, you’re still going to have a dilapidated infrastructure, you’re still going to have decades of developmental problems both on the economic and the political side.”
U.S. military officials in Iraq said last month that it might be possible to withdraw 20,000 to 30,000 of the 138,000 American troops by next spring if Iraqi civilian leaders managed to meet deadlines for drafting a new constitution and holding elections. On Wednesday, the military official said a significant spring withdrawal was “still possible.” But while primary military responsibility for some parts of Iraq could likely be handed over even before the elections, the official said, U.S. forces would have to play a lead role in fighting the insurgency for at least a year. Even if a new government is elected on time in December, “the earliest they’re going to be capable of running a counterinsurgency campaign is . . . next summer,” the official said.
President Bush said Thursday he understands and respects the views of anti-war advocates like a California mother camped outside his Texas ranch to mourn her soldier son fallen in Iraq, but said it would be a mistake to bring U.S. troops home now. “I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place,” Bush said. “I also have heard the voices of those saying: Pull out now,” he said. “And I’ve thought about their cry and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree.” Immediate withdrawal “would send a terrible signal to the enemy.”
Cindy Sheehan has been camped along a road near Bush’s ranch since Saturday, asking to talk to Bush about her son Casey and vowing to remain until his Texas vacation ends later this month. Casey was killed five days after he arrived in Iraq last year. He was 24. “I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan,” Bush said. “She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position, and I thought long and hard about her position. I’ve heard her position from others, which is: Get out of Iraq now. And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so.”
By Thursday, about 50 people had joined Sheehan’s cause, pitching tents in muddy, shallow ditches and hanging anti-war banners; two dozen others have sent flowers. Her name was among the most popular search topics Wednesday on Internet blogs.
A New York Sun editorial casts some doubt on their provenance, though.
[A]s sad as Ms. Sheehan’s loss is – and we don’t belittle it – she has put herself in league with some extreme groups and individuals. For starters, Ms. Sheehan has been posting on Michael Moore’s Web site, writing, “We have such a strong coalition of groups. GSFP, Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and the Crawford Peace House. I talked with John Conyers today and he wrote a letter to George signed by about 18 other Congress members to request that he meet with me. I also talked to Maxine Waters tonight and she is probably going to be here tomorrow.”
It turns out that the Crawford Peace House Web site includes a photo depicting the entire state of Israel as “Palestine,” and it carries a link to a report that when Prime Minister Sharon visited Crawford, the “peace house” greeted him with an “800-foot-long banner containing all of the United Nations resolutions that Israel is in violation of.” The Crawford Peace House site also features a photo of Eugene Bird, who has suggested that Israeli intelligence was responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out all have representatives on the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice, an anti-war umbrella group. They share that distinction with the Communist Party USA. UPJ organized the march during the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, at which a New York Sun poll of 253 of the protesters found that fully 67% of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement “Iraqi attacks on American troops occupying Iraq are legitimate resistance.” In other words, Ms. Sheehan’s “coalition” includes a lot of people who think the persons who killed her son were justified.
United for Peace is nonetheless flogging Ms. Sheehan’s story in the run-up to its big weekend of “civil disobedience” and “direct action” next month in Washington. That protest is timed to coincide with the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so that the people who were throwing rocks at Starbucks in Seattle to protest free trade back during the Clinton administration can now make common cause with the anti-war movement.
As Mark in Mexico observes, “Very quietly approach the protesters outside the Bush ranch in Crawford and ask them, individually and out of earshot of others, “What was Mrs. Sheehan’s son’s name?” I would wager that not 1 in 4 will know.”