If ever there were a moment for serious discussion about the Iraq war, this is it. People want President George W. Bush to explain how he will extract the troops and contain the bloodletting and chaos the war has unleashed. Washington's dwindling band of allies and Iraq's neighbors are also waiting to hear. Pretty much everyone in the world wants answers except the president.
With the White House refusing to lead, lawmakers in both parties have begun to talk about the best way to end the war. But instead of seizing the opening, Bush and his team continue to spout disinformation and vacuous slogans about victory and, of course, more character assassination.
This time, the hit man was Eric Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, and the target was Senator Hillary Clinton. In May, Clinton wrote Defense Secretary Robert Gates with a reasonable question: Had the Pentagon done any planning for withdrawal from Iraq? What she got back was a belligerent brush-off. Edelman wrote that "premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq."
Using such an insulting tone with a senator would surely lead to dismissal by any president who respected the constitutional system of government. But so far, not this one. As for premature, most of the world thinks this pointless war has dragged on far too long. Public? We thought open debate - especially about such life-and-death issues - was a pillar of democracy. And as for the charge of reinforcing "enemy propaganda," this is sadly business as usual for a member of the Bush administration.
The president, Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld make it a habit of accusing their critics of lending comfort to "the enemy." Bush relied heavily on that notion to get re-elected in 2004.
More recently, the official who was supervising detention policies for Rumsfeld publicly urged corporations to boycott law firms that had the effrontery of providing the bare-bones representation permitted to the inmates of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
The aim of these attacks is to avoid truly engaging criticism of Bush's Iraq policy. So it was particularly galling to hear Bush accuse Congress of denying support to the troops because the initial Pentagon budget bill got snared in the Senate's debate over Iraq last week and was not passed.
It is Bush who has denied the military what it needs, first by shortchanging the Pentagon on troops and armor and then by stranding American forces in a civil war with no achievable military goal and evaporating political support.
Bush denied Americans a serious debate about starting this war. It's far past time for a serious and honest debate about how to end it.
© 2007 The International Herald Tribune