When President Bush appeared at the White House in a joint appearance with Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush stood and began to outline his “new way forward” for the United States in Iraq. As he spoke, the President of the United States had the expression of a man with the fear; his eyes were set in the expression of someone stuck in a moment he can’t get out of, quagmired in something he didn't anticipate and can't conjure a way out of.
On Monday President Bush finally, fully looked like that which he has been for some time: a man with few options on the situation in Iraq. The way he looks suggests there’s been a hunt for wiggle room as events unfold in the killing grounds of Baghdad and the volatile Anbar province.
The president and some in his inner circle have in the days since the release of the Iraq Study Group made a big show of deliberation over its findings. The administration has given lip service, at the very least, to the kind of thoughtful consideration and consultation with others that should have been a part of the White House’s handling of the crisis all along.
President Bush is gearing up to deliver a Major Statement on the war sometime between now and Christmas. We can only guess at its content, but all the digesting and chin-pulling now underway can’t disguise the need for something that is a true departure from the policies of the past. This time he’s going to have to do more than repackage old goods in pretty paper for the holidays. Wrapping the old intransigence inside a new slogan won’t do. Some in his party are announcing their discontent. Sen.Gordon Smith is the latest in the GOP to break ranks with the administration’s stand on Iraq.
The method and style of our departure can be described all kinds of ways. But the bottom-line reality will be the same. Whether it’s cut and run or cut and walk, turn, shift, stroll, saunter, sashay, glide, flee, slide, creep, drift, levitate, ambulate, tiptoe, sprint, astral-project, vamoose, depart or dash, the working reality is, or should be, the same:
Within a time frame that needs to be defined and adhered to regardless of the politics on the ground in either Baghdad or Washington, it means to cut and leave – to realize the gravity of a national error and to fully undertake its correction by removing its proximate cause: our military presence in the country, as destabilizing as it is constructive.
It means using the leverage of that time frame to concentrate the mind of the Iraqi government on doing what must be done to remain a government.
It means understanding that there’s no way of knowing if Iraq can work as a democracy until the enforcer’s shadow is out of the picture.
It means that when we leave, whenever we leave, the contours of the Iraqi government will reshape themselves to suit the traditions and values and cultures of the people of Iraq, whether we like it or not.
It means that neither the United States, nor any other member of the phantom coalition, can be the indefinite guarantor of ideals the Iraqi people fail to embrace of their own free will.
It means recognizing and accepting that there’s absolutely nothing we can do to prevent “our enemies,” in the broadest and most imprecise sense of the word, from characterizing our military departure from Iraq as a victory, whenever it happens.
But it also means having grown as a nation, to ourselves and to our allies, by having experienced both the tragedy of error and the power of will to mitigate the impact of that error, and to fix as much of it as possible.
It means beginning to put this nation on a road to a real reconciliation -- red states with blue states, hawks with doves, the Sunnis and Shiites of America -- of one of the most profound differences between us as Americans.
It means a start to restoring America’s place in the world, regaining the moral high ground and existential pride of place that makes this nation what it is.
It means taking some solace in knowing that by altering the present course, it saves us from the scale of personal agony and national woe that traumatized this nation in the years of Vietnam.
It means nothing more or less than learning from the mistakes of the past.
Image credit: White House (public domain)