I stand for total victory in Iraq.
Some say that I blindly support President Bush and everything he does. I do not. Nor do I publicly lambaste his missteps the way others, like Peggy Noonan, do. This blog, I hope, will explain to my readers and friends how I can hold several seemingly incongruous positions on Bush and the War.
* The United States, the free world, in fact, was justified in invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam * The war in Iraq was not successful in its early days despite the perception of a rout * The administration's greatest failure was kowtowing to the left * The symptom of that kowtowing was establishing a defensive posture instead of continuing the attack * Donald Rumsfeld failed the President by refusing to return to an offensive strategy * The key to victory is ruthless aggression * Republicans should limit criticism of Bush to recommendations that will achieve victory
Following 9⁄11, President Bush told Peggy Noonan in a private meeting that every night he goes to bed expecting to be woken and told that Saddam has unleashed a WMD in America. I don’t believe he was lying or exaggerating to her. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton cited the same intelligence that kept Bush awake at night. In her support for the war, Hillary Clinton was unequivocal: Saddam is a threat to his neighbors and, through terrorists, to the United States directly. Having experienced terrorism’s capabilities first hand, President Bush had no choice but to take America to war. He also had no choice but to win quickly.
Early Flaws in Iraq
The military, the White House, Congress, the press, and the people told themselves that first 100 days of the war were an overwhelming success. But on the night that the US Army overran the last of Saddam’s palaces in Baghdad, I saw the seeds of the next four years planted. I was on the phone with my, then, girlfriend watching young Iraqi men, some in uniform, walking and laughing through Baghdad’s streets even as US troops took hot showers in Saddam’s palace. I said to her, “I know this sounds cold, but we should be shooting those people, not letting them walk away. We will fight them again.”
That was April, 2003. I was right as much as I wish I’d been wrong. (I think I blogged about it, but a back-up problem in 2005 lost a lot of files from that period.)
War is for the ruthless. Not the cruel or criminal, but ruthless. Once a government commits to war, once an ounce of American blood spills in war, the President is obliged to achieve unconditional surrender of the enemy, whether that enemy is a traditional state or shadowy terror group. In Iraq, America’s hatred of war – a flaw – drove us to declare victory (“mission accomplished”) and go home. But in May 2003, the job was only half done. There was still the shadowy terrorist group to deal with.
Instead of dealing with the terrorists and thugs head on, the Pentagon and the White House succumbed to liberal pressure to back off quickly. We stopped shooting long before the enemy ever did. By declaring victory too soon, we prolonged the war by at least 2 years, in my opinion. I expected that opposition to a new government would end in 2005.
Kowtowing to the Left
The early flaw, then, was being kindhearted to our own detriment that that of the Iraqi people. The left in America and elsewhere was all for this. They wanted us to get our heads handed back on a platter, but their public mantra was to be kind to everyone so that everyone will like us. All that huggie, smarmy crap they feed us every time an enemy threatens to kill us all. “Just try to understand where they’re coming from.”
The President and the Pentagon had reservations about this, I’m sure. But they didn’t want to be seen as killers. They hoped to extend the positive press by becoming every Iraqi’s buddy. The Pentagon flooded the media with photos of dirty, tired soldiers accepting freshly picked dandelions from smiling Iraqi children. It made me feel good, too. I know the kinds of people who were on the ground, and they are decent, loving human beings doing a horrible job. But the images were deceiving.
Going on the Defensive
As we know now, as some of us feared then, the monster was licking his wounds and steeling his resolve to fight back. He had bent, not broken. We, on the other hand, were like the boxer who, after four rounds of scoring with many landed blows, decides to skip and hop and put on a show for the audience rather than putting his opponent on the canvas and hitting the shower. We danced and aped for the crowd, but the challenger was finished.
Another analogy is the hated and dangerous “prevent defense” in football. This a horrible strategy in which a team with a lead concedes the entire field, save for their own end zone. The Rams tried this in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. The Pats covered 70 yards in half a minute and kicked the winning field goal as time ran out.
The defensive strategy got a lot of good people killed and wounded.
By June of 2005, it was clear that the strategy of waiting for the enemy’s bullets to run out was failing. Bush had just won re-election. He controlled Congress. The press were afraid to mount a charge against him, as his poll numbers rose after the election. The time was ripe for a surge. The left would have balked at throwing in another 50,000 or 100,000 troops, but Bush could easily have ignored the complaints.
Rumsfeld, though, is a very proud man. The defensive hunker was either his idea or one he publicly endorsed. Going back on offense meant admitting that he’d made a mistake when he put on the prevent defense in June 2003. For more than a year, Donald Rumsfeld held George Bush prisoner in a failed strategy. Bush should have fired him after the 2004 election, but one of Bush’s strengths and flaws his fierce loyalty to those loyal to him. Rumsfeld stood by Bush, and Bush would do the same for Rummy. After losing both houses of Congress, though, even Bush had had enough. He realized that Rumsfeld’s loyalty ended where Rumsfeld’s pride began.
Back on the Offensive
Unlike the Rams in 2002, Bush had time left on the clock—two years, in fact. After firing his defensive coordinator, Rumsfeld, he let the new SECDEF describe a fairly bold (but not bold enough) tactic: The Troop Surge.
The left screamed bloody murder over this. Democrats claimed a mandate to get out of Iraq immediately (which wasn’t true), and here was Bush doing the opposite. Again, if liberals are angry, you’re doing something right.
The surge is working. Liberals like Dick Durbin and Michael O’Hanlon have admitted that the surge is working, that things are getting better in Iraq, and that the media and other liberals are lying to the American people about it.
Of course, things are getting better. We’re on offense. If Bush remembers to attack until the final buzzer, he will walk away with total victory. It will have taken too long and cost too many lives, but it will be victory nonetheless.
Which is why Republicans must knock off the “Republicans hate Bush, too” talk and focus on victory, on outcomes. Politically, vilifying a Republican President whom we’ve vocally supported in two elections is really, really stupid. The mistakes he made were made during his first term, and we all saw the writing on the wall in April 2003. The Republicans who now claim to “hate” Bush show their own selfish stupidity with the comment. What they hate is that the GOP lost Congress, and Bush is the easiest person to blame. Do they look in the mirror? Did they write letters to the editor every day for three years decrying the unbalanced, anti-American spin in the news? Did they have the courage to tell their friends, “We should have killed more of them when the war started instead of claiming ‘Mission Accomplished’ and popping champagne?” No. They watched their 401Ks return to pre-9⁄11 numbers and ignored everything they could about politics.
And I’m one of them. Like most of the right, I left the President blowing in the wind for a couple of years. I worried about my life and let him deal with his.
We all let him down, the same way Rummy did. We told him everything was okay when it wasn’t—Peggy Noonan included. So before you go claiming to “hate” Bush, think about this: if you had reservations about your neighbor painting his siding so close to the Webber Kettle, does that mean you don’t try to rescue his kids when the house catches fire? Your neighbors have sons and daughters and spouses and daddies and mommies in harm’s way. When the war was “popular,” you offered philosophical reasons for your “reservations,” but, by and large, you enjoyed the American prestige. Now the house is on fire, and you sit smugly in your living room, watching it burn, gratified that you can now say, “I told you so.”
Keep your mouth shut. Remind us when this is all over that you had “reservations.” No, you didn’t shout from the rooftops, “Don’t do it.” You didn’t write long, logical essays about why Saddam is not a threat. You simply kept silent reservations and waved your six-inch by four-inch American flag some American Legionnaire handed you at the Support the Troops rally. Your President is now the only man alive who can bring them home victorious. Hating him might have to wait.