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The President's June 28, 2005 Address, is now available from the White House web site. I read through the entire speech twice before preparing these remarks.
As the President refers to the beginnings of â€œthis warâ€?, I think it would be helpful to read his speech in light of his certification to Congress he was required to supply at the start of the invasion of Iraq, and the address he gave to the American People at the formal start of the Iraq War, whose air campaign may have informally started in July 2002.
I believe the President made a number of misleading or unintentionally ironic comments, the worst being:
Claim: â€œThe war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. â€?
Response: While the President was referring to the â€œWar on Terrorâ€?, we chose to formally launch the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, on our timetable, without enough armor. No evidence for a link to 9/11 has ever been found. In fact, I'd assert that the mounting evidence for President Bush deciding on war in Spring of 2002 and illegally commencing the air war for the invasion in July 2002 is much stronger than the purported evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaeda. In the case of the rush to war in Iraq, an independent commission investigating how policy makers used the Iraq intelligence can lead us to the truth.
Assertion: â€œThe only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch.â€?
Response:Leaving aside the many lessons of 9/11 forgotten by the Administration, but documented by the 9/11 Commission and the Government Accountability Office, I am saddened that the President could say this with a straight face when he knows very well that:
1) His CIA director claims to know where bin Laden is, but says we can't get him because it would violate a country's sovereignty (probably Pakistan's). The President wants us to believe that we can smash a country to bits that had no role in 9/11, but can't arrange a snatch operation for bin Laden in Pakistan? Heck, we kidnap people in Italy! Why do we care about Pakistan's sovereignty when major al-Qaeda figures find shelter on Pakistani soil? Could we at least stop aid to Musharref's dictatorship until they give us permission to nab bin Laden?
2) Also, prior to the Iraq War, the Pentagon not only knew where Zarqawi and his chemical weapons terror camp was, but they drew up three plans to take him out. They were nixed by the White House. Why? Why not stop a known terror camp with Ricin? According to MSNBC,
â€œMilitary officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawiâ€™s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.â€?
Another case of abandoning the â€œWar on Terrorâ€? to obsess on Iraq. Think of the three nixed chances we had to rid the world of Zarqawi based on hard evidence the next time he cuts off someone's head.
Claim: â€œThey failed to break our Coalition and force a mass withdrawal by our allies.â€?
Response: When the President announced the war on March 19, 2003, he proudly noted there were 35 countries contributing troops. According to the watchdog group GlobalSecurity.org, as of March 2005, the coalition is down to 25 countries, has this tally of countries who have either withdrawn troops since March 2003 or are planning to leave this year:
Countries which had troops in or supported operations in Iraq at one point but have pulled out since: Nicaragua (Feb. 2004); Spain (late-Apr. 2004); Dominican Republic (early-May 2004); Honduras (late-May 2004); Philippines (~Jul. 19, 2004); Thailand (late-Aug. 2004); New Zealand (late Sep. 2004); Tonga (mid-Dec. 2004) Hungary (end Dec. 2004); Portugal (mid-Feb. 2005); Moldova (Feb. 2005)
Countries planning to withdraw from Iraq: Poland (starting Jan.05 and completed by end.05(?)); the Netherlands (Mar. 05); Bulgaria (end of 2005, depending on circumstances); Ukraine (entire contingent, in stages until mid-October 2005), Italy (Sept. 2005)
Countries which have reduced or are planning to reduce their troop commitment: Ukraine (-200 during Fall04 rotation); Moldova (reduced contingent to 12 around mid-2004); Norway (reduced from ~150 to 10 late-Jun.04, early Jul.04); Bulgaria (-50, Dec.04); Poland (-700, Feb.05).
Since most of the departing countries never committed very many troops to begin with, I'll let the President's claim of â€œfailed to prevent a mass withdrawalâ€? stand for the time being. But the coalition is being worn down, and who knows how much longer UK and Australia will stick with us?
Rather than trying to parse every paragraph of this speech where the President failed to show what victory means in practical terms or articulate a strategy to get there, I'll close with an audio clip from PBS's NewsHour which featured a lineup including Richard Lowry of the National Review Online. While Rich Lowry gave the President high marks for moral clarity, he faulted the administration for lacking realism and flexibility in dealing with the Sunni resistance. In addition, even the editor of National Review Online felt he had no better option than to pronounce Vice President Cheney's â€œlast throesâ€? remark as â€œabsurd.â€?
Hopefully the President will soon learn that the Iraq problem is not a simple PR problem. He's had two years of a blank check of blood and treasure without lowering the overall strength of the resistance. He's going to be overdrawn unless he offers an eventual, specific way out.