Published on Wednesday, October 25, 2006 by Portland Press-Herald (Maine)
President Bush: 'We've Never Been "Stay the Course"'
by Theo Stein
We all know by now that President Bush has trouble reconciling inconvenient facts with the beautiful truths that inhabit his skull, but the White House's latest attempt to deny reality is, frankly, nuts.
During an interview on ABC's "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos asked where James Baker's Iraq proposal fell between "stay the course" and "cut and run." Bush's response: "Well, hey, listen, we've never been 'stay the course,' George." Huh?
For those of you just back from a long trip to Mars, "stay the course" is, in fact, the semantic formulation the GOP has used to differentiate itself from the "cut and run" Defeatocrats. Not only has the president, his spokespeople, his enablers and the right-wing punditocracy used "stay the course" innumerable times, it aptly describes the administration's tragic approach to the Iraq occupation.
Nevertheless, on Monday, press secretary and cheerleader-in-chief Tony Snow said it was inaccurate to describe U.S. policy in Iraq as "stay the course."
The transcript included this mind-bending exchange:
Question: "Is the president responsible for the fact people think it's stay the course since he's, in fact, described it that way himself?"
The abandonment of this rhetorical buttress on which the GOP based its entire campaign strategy Ð while disgraceful in its dishonesty Ð would be a blessing for both the United States and Iraq.
There can be no hope of intelligent dialogue on strategies to salvage what increasingly looks to be a hopeless situation when the administration refuses to admit change is required.
The midterm elections have forced on Bush an accountability moment. A Newsweek poll conducted Oct. 19-20 showed 65 percent of Americans feel we're losing ground in Iraq, while 54 percent believe invading Iraq was a mistake. A poll of Iraqis conducted by the University of Maryland showed 78 percent believe the U.S. presence is causing more violence than it prevents, while 71 percent support a withdrawal within a year.
Among the unforgivable tragedies of this war is the real possibility that the erosion of the president's domestic political base, rather than an objective assessment of what's best for the Iraqi people, may be what forces him to acknowledge reality.
Most foreign-policy observers no longer make any pretense about American "victory" in Iraq. The discussion is centered on finding the least-worst option.
With "stay the course" abandoned, Bush has two choices. He can escalate the U.S. effort in Baghdad in hopes of restoring security in the capital, or he can begin the process of disengagement while pushing for a political power-sharing arrangement Iraqis can live with.
Given how the war has stretched the U.S. military, escalation is not a realistic option.
Step one should be cashiering Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose failure to provide sufficient military forces for the war and occupation all but doomed Iraq to its current agony.
The United States also needs to abandon its unilateralism, and bring in Iran, Syria and Iraq's other neighbors, all who have much to lose if an all-out civil war erupts.
Iraqis must themselves be convinced to crack down on the sectarian death squads, which are now busy murdering the innocent.
The country's leaders need to hear in clear, unambiguous terms that the United States intends to withdraw its troops over a period of 18 months to two years, and that our willingness to stay longer depends on their ability to reach difficult agreements on disarming the militias, protecting minority rights and equitably apportioning oil revenues.
With so much blood spilt and so many blunders committed, merely avoiding disaster may itself be a long shot.
The coming elections may be a referendum on the president, but Democrats and Republicans need to be ready to work together on what comes next.
What Bush cannot be allowed to do is prolong the ongoing lunacy in the hopes that he can simply bequeath it to his successor in 2008.
For the sake of this country and the one we currently occupy, Americans must come together over this principle.
Acknowledging reality is the right place to begin.
Theo Stein is an editorial writer for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and can be contacted at 207-791-6481 or: email@example.com
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