Mark it down as yet another more miscalculation by President George W. Bush — one of a slew of political gaffes committed by his administration in conducting the war in Iraq. This time the error lies in miscalculating the length of time US soldiers and Marines would have to remain in Iraq.
The grim reality four years into the conflict — and with no end in sight — is that American troops fighting in Iraq are likely to stay there for many more years to come. In a recent speech US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said that American troops would be staying in Iraq for at least another decade. Gates, in fact, foresees a “Korea” type solution for Iraq.
The American secretary of defense did not elaborate as to what he meant by a Korea-type solution, leaving reporters to speculate if he meant that Iraq would become divided into a north and south, with a heavily fortified demilitarized zone separating the two regions, while one side tries to acquire nuclear weapons. Or is the secretary of defense referring,instead, to an unfinished “police action” as the Korean War came to be known?
In either case, it does not look as though American forces are to be withdrawn from Iraq anytime in the near future, in any case not until the administration begins to make some sense of the mess they created there. In recent months the president has started losing support even among his traditional base, the military.
“Bush will go down as the worst president since Grant. His leadership has been solely based on business, not on what is right or wrong, and certainly with no concern for human life on either side,” wrote a former US Marine — we shall call him Bill — in an e-mail to me.
In fact, the president’s policy on Iraq is leaving a huge number of serving soldiers as well s veterans frustrated because people they know in the Army are now preparing for third tours of duty in Iraq. Many soldiers have tried to get out of the Army when their enlistments ended, but have been held in active duty by the “stop-loss” that has been in effect for the past three years. This is a law Bush passed to prevent soldiers from leaving the Army in time of war.
“Three combat tours is inhuman!” says Bill. “You have seen combat. You know the stress. We who have been there, know full well the toll it takes,” he told me.
“One tour is more than enough and leaves life-long scars that take years to heal. Two tours in an outrage, but three tours is beyond belief.”
This comes at a time when the Pentagon admitted that it is unable to handle the medical strain placed on its personnel by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The numbers of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder issues alone are overwhelming the defense department’s medical staff’s capabilities to care for wounded veterans. Military doctors and psychiatrists are leaving the service for jobs in the private sector.
Some are starting to say that President Bush must reinstitute the draft in order to give relief to the overworked and overstretched military. But that is unlikely to pass muster with Congress. Bill, the former U.S. Marine officer, says the president must send closer to one million troops if the situation in Iraq is to be fully controlled.This is more in line with the numbers called for in pre-war estimates, but which were turned down by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The alternative, according to Bill, “is to pull out of Iraq and let the Iranians and Syrians fight over what is left.”
Regardless of how one looks at it American forces are unlikely to be withdrawn from Iraq anytime soon. Even with a Democratic president in the White House.
The Democrats are making the Iraq war a major issue in the2008 presidential elections, but the reality is very different from campaign promises. National Public Radio’spolitical analyst Ted Koppel pointed out that, during a recent debate among democratic presidential candidates,Hillary Clinton was asked what she would do if the war was still on when she became president.
According to Koppel, Clinton said she would bring the troops home. She never said she would bring “all” the troops home.There is a subtle difference between bringing some troops home and bringing all the troops home.
Still, according to Koppel, Hillary Clinton is reported to have told a retiring Pentagon official that she would not be surprised if American forces were still in Iraq at the end of her second term in office, if she were re-elected. That means nine years from now. Nine long years during which time many more American servicemen and women will lose their lives as will many Iraqis.
As Bill laments, “Not one [of those running for President]from either party is capable of the kind of courage and leadership that will be required of the American president to bring this fiasco to a close with any degree of success.
Claude Salhani is international editor
and a senior political analyst with United Press
International in Washington, DC.