March 25, 2008—Passing the grim milestone of 4,000 dead American soldiers in Iraq -- not to mention hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis -- George W. Bush can now see a clear path to the finish line of his presidency, with no accountability lurking in the shadows and almost no chance that he will be forced to relent on his “stay-the-course” strategy.
Indeed, the only marginal hope for Bush facing any accountability at all – for deceiving the American people into an unprovoked war in Iraq and abusing his constitutional powers – may be the diminishing chance that a battered Obama survives Clinton and manages to defeat McCain.
Then, at least, Bush would be forced to relinquish the presidency to a politician in Obama, who spoke out against invading Iraq in 2002, who said that to attack a non-threatening nation in the Middle East and to risk bloody sectarian chaos across the region would be “dumb.” (By contrast, Clinton voted to authorize the war and remained a staunch supporter until she began preparing to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.)
If Obama does recover from his bruising nomination fight against Clinton and somehow wins in November, Bush would have to shake the hand of the first black president in U.S. history, a liberal Democrat to boot. He would have to face the fact that his failed leadership had contributed to an extraordinary repudiation of his party by the American people.
Yet, as the ugly Democratic primary fight grinds on, the odds of an Obama victory continue to slide, albeit not to the near-zero level of other potential means of imposing accountability on Bush.
Congressional Democrats, who don’t hold firm on much, have stuck with their determination to keep impeachment “off the table,” defying the demands of many rank-and-file Democrats.
Though winning House and Senate majorities in 2006, Democratic leaders also have resisted investigative hearings on the Iraq War, turning their backs on the precedent of Sen. William Fulbright’s examination of the Vietnam War four decades ago. They have not even released a long-overdue report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on how the White House misused U.S. intelligence information to build the bogus case about Iraq's WMD.
In 2006, a key Democratic election argument was that the Republican-controlled Congress had let Bush and the Executive Branch operate with virtually no oversight. But the Democratic-controlled Congress has done only slightly better.
While Democratic leaders have stood firm against public demands for holding Bush accountable, they have caved in to Bush's demands for more Iraq War money with no strings attached. After declaring they would not give Bush another “blank check” for the Iraq War, they repeatedly have done just that – and plan to do so again this spring.
Bush also has signaled that after the 30,000-troop “surge,” which began in February 2007, ends in July 2008, troop levels for the remainder of the election year will stay at about the same number or slightly higher than when the Democrats took control of Congress, at about 140,000 after the “surge” versus 132,000 before.
In other words, whatever its short- or long-term achievements inside Iraq, the “surge” accomplished an important political success for Bush back in the United States. It put the Democrats on the defensive for much of 2007 and bought Bush time to continue the war through 2008.
Acknowledging the 4,000th U.S. military death in Iraq, Bush promised to continue the war for the rest of his presidency and employed the same kind of emotional phrasing that has driven the conflict for more than five years.
“I will vow so long as I am president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain; that, in fact, there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made; that our strategy going forward will be aimed at making sure that we achieve victory,” Bush said on March 24.
So, U.S. policy is back to the status quo ante, the same situation that existed before the “surge,” an open-ended war in Iraq in pursuit of a vaguely defined mission, “victory.”
Surely, too, the rest of 2008 will be filled with rhetoric reminiscent of the attacks on the patriotism of Americans who objected to the invasion in 2002-03 or who urged that the conflict be brought to an early conclusion.
Whenever some political candidate urges troop withdrawals from Iraq, there will be accusations of “surrender,” “betrayal,” and “clutching defeat out of the jaws of victory.” One can even expect more neoconservative calls for expanding the war to Iran.
The specter of that wider war with Iran returned with the recent resignation of Admiral William Fallon as the chief of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East. Fallon had been a major obstacle to neocon hawks in the Bush administration who believe that a bombing campaign against Iran is the only way to curtail the country’s nuclear ambitions.
Fallon resisted this war fever, but other military commanders favored by the White House have resumed the tough talk against Teheran.
For instance, when a rocket barrage hit the heavily fortified Green Zone on March 23, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus quickly put the blame on Iran.
Petraeus alleged that the attack was made with “Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets” and represented a “complete violation of promises made by [Iran’s] President Ahmadinejad and the other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts.”
Iran has routinely denied responsibility for such attacks, although Teheran’s Islamic government is known to have close ties to leading Shiite politicians in Iraq, including anti-U.S. Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr and U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Most likely, the rocket barrage, which reportedly killed 15 Iraqi civilians, was a reaction to U.S.-backed raids on al-Sadr's stronghold of Sadr City, atttacks that disrupted a long-standing suspension of hostilities that al-Sadr proclaimed in 2007. That unilateral truce has been credited with helping to bring about a substantial drop in violence inside Iraq.
Though many U.S. military observers believe that the likelihood of Bush ordering air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities in the final year of his presidency remains low, it does appear that the chances for that wider war have not disappeared.
They also are likely greater than either the chances for ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq in the near future or for the president to face meaningful accountability for his actions.
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This story was published on March 25, 2008.