Forget about Freddy Krueger, Dracula or Frankenstein. The truly old-timers may even put aside Wolfman as played by Lon Chaney. The new millennium spectres may be viewed these days discussing their current Iraq policy on C-span.
Is anything more bloodcurdling than President George W. Bush mangling the text of his rawhide Baghdad response? "Saddam Hussein's sons did not escape the raids," he gloated Wednesday at his press conference, "and neither will other members of this despicable regime."
A day earlier, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz took his chilling act before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Not unlike the president, this powerful Pentagon official is the architect of a foreign policy no one elected him to design. As frightening as his testimony was, Wolfowitz was even scarier with what he omitted telling the senators.
The senators wanted to know how long the U.S. will remain fighting in Iraq, how much it will cost and just how many American soldiers would be needed? As of Friday, 248 GI's have been killed, as the pace has quickened, with no end in sight. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) pleaded with Wolfowitz to provide answers to these critical questions.
The current situation is untenable, Sen. Biden said, with the U.S. "paying the lion's share of the cost, providing the lion's share of the troops, and taking nearly all of the casualties and the blame."
Wolfowitz and his fellow Pentagon deputy, John Bolton, danced merrily around the specifics. The Iraq situation was fluid, they said, and they gave every indication that their plans had gravely underestimated its viscosity. It should have surprised no one that the toppling of an entrenched police state such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq would leave a vacuum of anarchy in its wake. Yet the Pentagon planners dangerously miscalculated the post-Hussein requirements to re-establish local police and fire protection, state security and such creature amenities as running water, lights, traffic control and garbage pick-ups.
The big issue Biden put to Wolfowitz and Bolton concerned the $4-billion monthly tab required to keep some 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Will this billing run well into 2004?
"We don't have reason to expect a dramatic change in that number," Bolton said before waxing vague. "I wouldn't want to predict beyond the next couple of months because the situation is so variable." After a stinging exchange, Sen. Biden, no stranger to the melodramatic, threw up his hands. "Oh, come on now. Does anybody here at the table think we're going to be down below 100,000 forces in the next calendar year? When are you guys starting to be honest with us?"
Are more U.S. troops required?
This politically loaded question got the day's lone straight answer from Wolfowitz. "We don't need more American troops," he said. "What we need most of all are Iraqis fighting with us."
More troops are needed after all, it turns out. Since the American public has no stomach for this naked escalation, Wolfowitz has fashioned an alternative plan. This unilateral administration that kissed off the United Nations and essentially invaded Iraq alone with Britain now seeks vital international support. "In fact, 19 nations are now providing more than 13,000 troops on the ground," Wolfowitz said, an average of less than a battalion. "Coalition support is significant, and it continues to increase."
The president spoke of this impressive international support at his press conference. "Our coalition forces are taking the fight to the enemy in an unrelenting campaign that is bringing daily results." The president's rhetoric flashed back to World War II when the Allied forces gave chase to the Axis of Evil. But what nations comprise this juggernaut "coalition?"
With some 9,000 troops, the Poles are supplying the bulk of these forces - at U.S. taxpayers' expense for about $240 million. Other nations signed up include Spain, Japan and Ukraine, and even smaller units from Hungary, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, the Philippines and Nicaragua.
"It is much better to have Iraqis fighting and dying for their country than to have Americans doing this job all by themselves," Wolfowitz said. "There is no shortage of Iraqis who are willing to help us."
Presumably these Iraqi conscripts will be Shia and Kurds, thrilled that Saddam Hussein has been put to flight. If history serves, these anti-Hussein Iraqis already view Wolfowitz not as a hero but as an infidel with a sharp eye on the oil fields of Iraq.
They're no fools.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.