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Raghida Dergham

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President Bush's Address, entire page

On the surface, it appears as though President George W. Bush, while revealing his new Iraq strategy, is betting on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to rescue his presidency, his party and America’s grandeur, while escalating militarily by adding a mere 21,000 soldiers, when the real task at hand requires many times that figure. It appears as though his strategy is based on further embroiling America in the Iraqi quagmire, without a Plan B for withdrawal, when necessary. In fact, when scrutinizing his words, Bush seems to be adamant on informing Maliki that if he wants American forces to continue to help the Iraqis, he needs to break away from Iran and the extremist Iraqi militia with which he has an intimate relationship, such as the militia of the young Shiite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. Should he be reluctant, or should he decide that the better address for Iraq’s salvation and security is Tehran rather than Washington, then the US has the option of redeploying its forces and its aircraft carriers in the regional waters. The American President’s hints about the enchantment of the already present aircraft carrier are an implicit message to both Tehran and Baghdad that the US is not without options. Bush’s deliberate rejection of the Baker-Hamilton report’s recommendation to engage in a diplomatic dialogue with Iran and Syria is a clear indication that he is not about to make any deals with those who participated in turning Iraq into a living hell for him and the US forces. In fact, he pledged to interrupt supplies used against the US forces flowing into Iraq from Syria and Iran with tangible consequences. He warned al-Qaeda network and its likes that he is not about to retreat defeated from Iraq to offer them a victory over the carcass of American prestige. He also pledged that he would never leave the Arab region a prey for terrorism so that it curses the moment that that brought to it George W. Bush waving his perceived divine mandate to topple tyranny and dictators and promote freedom. The pressing question now is whether Bush’s resolve and insistence on ‘victory’ is possible simply by a limited increase in the number of troops-even if they are qualitatively different and of superior capabilities-or if the American administration has a secret Plan B in store whose essence is the needed surprise in the decisive battle of the Iraq War.

The Democrats, who control Congress, do not want that victory the Republican President is referring to; a victor that will not look like the one known to our fathers and grandfathers, as he said. The Democrats want to produce and manage the ‘victory’ which ensures a kind and gradual withdrawal from Iraq. That is why they oppose the increase of troops because reinforcing the forces on the ground undermines the chances for a soft and kind withdrawal accomplished through hidden messages and quasi-deals with players such as Syria and Iran.

What the Democrats say, in short, as expressed by Democrat Senator Dick Durbin following Bush’s speech Wednesday night, is this: that “America has paid with a heavy price” and “gave the Iraqis so much” since it “delivered them from a despot dictator” and helped them “setting out a Constitution” and conducting “elections” while also “protecting” Iraq. Now, after four years, “It is time for Iraqis to stand up and defend their own nation. The Iraqi government must “disband the militias” and begin to assume responsibility.

What Durbin also said is that the time has come to put an end to the pattern of calling for a rescue and a bailout; not every time the Iraqi government calls the 911 emergency number — it will get some 20,000 additional US troops.

He said that what is taking place in Iraq is a civil and sectarian war, hinting that it did not result from the US invasion and occupation, but that it is a sectarian war with roots stemming from the sixth century; it not a product of today. He added that “20,000 additional troops are not enough to end a civil war” and centuries of sectarian wars.

This statement is important, not only because it reflects political outbidding and a fundamental difference with the Republican president, but also because it involves deep-rooted differences over Iraq and the nature of the American mission in Iraq and in the region.

The Democrats of today are isolationists, whereas the Republicans are traditionally the bastions of isolationism. After all, a great many of them in the Senate supported the decision to go to war with Iraq, among them the former candidate for the presidency, Senator John Kerry, and the potential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton. Today, they want to disown this failed war, pack up and leave honorably from Iraq.

Bush is telling them that there is no honorable way of withdrawing from Iraq. He is saying that withdrawal in itself is not honorable for the US. He is telling them that withdrawal means defeat for America and victory for the terrorists. He is right about that. But some immediately reply to him: ‘this is of your doing, and the country no longer trusts you.’

Admitting that he made mistakes in the Iraq War and that he bears the responsibility for these mistakes personally, as he did in this speech, will not help George W. Bush when it comes to those opposed to the war, or when it comes to the political opposition. His political reputation is tied to dragging the US into this war under false pretenses and justifications. His personal reputation is marred by his characteristics, namely, his stubbornness and his belief that he was chosen by God to spread freedom and democracy. But there are many Americans, Democrats and Republicans among them, who believe that a cabal of neo-conservatives hijacked and held the American President hostage and embroiled the US in the Iraq War for their own narrow political and financial interests.

Even those who agree with Bush on the need to combat terrorism, at least in the wake of September 11, 2001, really hate him and are furious because they believed that if the Afghanistan War had been completed, then the al-Qaeda network would have been dealt a deathblow. But the neo-cons convinced Bush to invade Iraq, and therefore transformed it into a major front in the war on terror. This is an unforgivable sin for the vast majority of Americans angered by the Iraq War.

The mistakes of the Iraq War are catastrophic, beginning with the summoning of terrorism to the Iraqi arena to somehow contain it there, passing through the slippery and deceitful excuses made to trick the American people and the world, and ending with the cataclysmic failure of the only remaining superpower in Iraq. This does not, however, mean that the war in Iraq has ended in an American defeat in the war on terror. It does not mean that the Iraq War has ended decisively in the dissolution or division of Iraq. The jury is still undecided on that one.

The American president swore to protect the “territorial integrity” of Iraq in his speech, and this is quite reassuring at this juncture, if not reassuring enough. What is more important is that there is still no victorious or defeated party in the Iraq War. It is true that a brief glance at the current situation would indicate that the US has been defeated in Iraq because it still is not victorious, though it is the superpower. What is also the case is that the other powers have not won a decisive victory in Iraq – not powers like al-Qaeda or the forces pledging allegiance to the former tyrant, Saddam Hussein, and not the small or large militias such as Muqtada al-Sadr’s, and not even Iran, at the end of the day.

Iran has benefited from the Iraq War and remains now a benefactor from the continued presence of US forces in Iraq. But Iran is not victorious over the United States nor is it at all secure if the US decides to pull its troops out from Iraq. Even the Baker-Hamilton report talks about this aspect; that an American withdrawal from Iraq could ignite sectarian and ethnic strife within Iran. This is in addition to another important aspect: that an American withdrawal would leave Iran to inherit its miserable investments in Iraq and fight the likes of al-Qaeda as in its immediate neighborhood.

In other words, one of America’s most potent weapons against Iran is the weapon of immediate withdrawal from Iraq. This was part of the primary message that was delivered to Tehran by offering its friend, Nouri al-Maliki, one last opportunity- along with an ultimatum- to take up clear and detailed tasks within an implied time schedule.

The other most important weapon is the aircraft carriers which can more than intercept supply lines; they can close off the Straits of Hormuz in the event of a military confrontation with Iran. The US excels in this field, and Iran understands the language of superiority, when it is forced to.

The American Administration’s new strategy sent this stern message to Tehran just as it sent it to Damascus. The message is clear enough: there is no reward for blackmail nor will there be forgiveness for what has passed; no dialogue to win the good favor of some and no room for bargaining. George W. Bush substituted the recommendation to provide incentives for Iran and Syria to cooperate with the US for the sake of an honorable withdrawal from Iraq with explicitly holding them both responsible for supporting the militias who are killing Americans in Iraq. This is a refusal to bow before dictated necessities and circumstances in Iraq and it is an important barometer of US policy toward the other issues related to Syria and Iran in the region, starting with Iraq and ending in Palestine and Lebanon.

The American policy, as Bush sees it, is based on an indispensable US victory in Iraq because failure would be a disaster for the US and a victory for the terrorists, the Islamists and for chaos.

What Bush hinted at, when he alluded to the States in the region, was the pivotal roles that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf must play in supporting the Iraqi unity government and their role in preventing the region from becoming a sanctuary for extremism and terrorism. He talked about the “ideological struggle”, making it clear that the States and the peoples of the region must decide what they actually want then work for it themselves. He admitted to his mistakes as a prelude to turning a new page in the aftermath of the lessons of these errors. He said that the new military, political and economic strategy focused on shifting the responsibility to the Iraqi government but supported with new tactics and the momentum of additional soldiers. He spoke of a strategy of two parts: one is centered on Baghdad, where the burden on the government is countering the Shiite militias; and the other is in al-Anbar, where the burden is on the Sunni leadership to counter al-Qaeda and its likes. Both efforts will involve an essential role for the US forces. He set objectives, alluded to a timeframe, and warned the Iraqi government.

Making do with just 21,000 troops means either that the American President is making yet another blunder to be added to the chain of mistakes he has made in Iraq intentionally or not or that the Administration is planning a military escalation as a cover for withdrawal. And this is a classic technique in the art of war. Either that, or George W. Bush has another hidden secret plan he is mobilizing and preparing for while the world is distracted by the very publicly declared strategy that the President revealed in the speech which put his presidency and legacy at risk.

Bush’s adventure is in his betting on extracting Maliki from Iran. It is a bet similar to that some Americans, such as James Baker, are waging on Damascus; that it actually could be peeled off Tehran by the temptation of a deal with Israel for the Golan Heights. Some of those readings are utterly wrong and some are excessively optimistic or woefully ignorant of the patterns of alliance in the Arab region.

This does not deny at all, however, the responsibility of the Iraqis because four years have passed since the war which brought down Saddam Hussein, as perceived by Iraqi government. And the United States is right to refuse to apologize to the Iraqi government-which came to office thanks to the US invasion. This does not deny that the sectarian war is an Iraqi war regardless of whether there are any foreign powers behind it. This does not deny that Iraq is broken and shattered and that it will not be repaired except through an Iraqi decision, governmental and by the people of Iraq.

It is not true that Iraq is an exclusive American responsibility any more than it is true that the US is the only wrongful doer in Iraq. The truth is that admitting errors has begun and the stage of holding accountable those who erred, whether oneself or others, has begun, and that choices are by no means limited, contrary to the insinuations, analyses and the wrong assumptions.