In his speech Thursday night, Bush referred to Al Qaeda 12 times.
Not once did he mention the word "victory" in his speech. But 13 times he talked about "success." And 12 times he talked about Al Qaeda. Never once did he call it Al Qaeda in Iraq-just Al Qaeda. As if they were one and the same.
As if Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri are hanging out in caves in Iraq somewhere.
As if defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq means the end of Al Qaeda itself.
He conjured up the possibility that Al Qaeda would take over Iraq and then threaten America.
But this is an impossibility even in Iraq, by Bush's own logic. He talked about how the Sunnis in Anbar province were "suffering under the Taliban-like rule of Al Qaeda, and they were sick of it." He mentioned that local Sunni leaders "pledged they would never allow Al Qaeda to return" and that "it cannot count on popular support."
So, if the Sunnis can't stand Al Qaeda in Iraq (which is made up of fanatical Sunnis), and the Shiites can't stand Al Qaeda in Iraq, and Al Qaeda in Iraq only has a few thousand troops, as General Petraeus acknowledged, what threat does Al Qaeda in Iraq actually pose-either to the Iraqi government or to the United States?
What Bush won't say, but is logical to infer, is that if the United States were to pull out of Iraq, the Shiites and the fed-up Sunnis would vanquish Al Qaeda in Iraq in a hurry.
But Bush can't admit this because that would shred the main fig leaf he has left for his occupation.
Nor can he admit that the very presence of the United States in Iraq serves as a recruiting magnet for Al Qaeda worldwide, as even the CIA has recognized.
No, he has to make Al Qaeda in Iraq appear to be a direct threat to the United States. And so, at the very beginning of his speech, he said, "We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours."
Al Qaeda in Iraq doesn't threaten the very survival of America. And the sectarian forces that are challenging the Iraqi government are vying for power. They want to rule their own country, not ours.
Note how Bush has downshifted his rhetoric. Not once did he mention the word "victory" in his speech. But 13 times he talked about "success."
"Success in Iraq is essential to our security," he said. And in case you didn't catch his drift, three paragraphs later he said, "The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States."
He introduced a weak sister to "peace with honor" that Nixon and Kissinger invoked in Vietnam. "The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is 'return on success,' " he said.
And like Nixon and Kissinger, Bush started talking about enemy body counts. U.S. and Iraqi forces, he said, "have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January." Somehow the resort to body counts is not reassuring.
Bush let on that the American presence in Iraq will be long term. Permanent military bases, anyone?
You bet: Iraqi leaders "understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my Presidency," Bush said. "These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship."
Bush also alluded to the oil issue a couple of times. He stressed that he would insist that Iraq meet its benchmarks, and the one that is most dear to him is the passage of the oil law, which will privatize 75% of that sector and offer it up to ExxonMobil and other multinationals.
And he recognized the strategic importance of oil, which is one big reason Bush invaded in the first place. He wouldn't admit it back then. But now he's using any argument he can find: If the U.S. pulled out, he said, "extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply." There you have it.
Another Bush obsession is Iran, and he mentioned it five times. "A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran," he said. Maybe he should have thought about the problems of strengthening Iran's power before he decided to invade Iraq in the first place. He probably thought, we'll deal with that later. We'll just attack them, too. And he may yet.
Bush did call the bluff of some Democrats. Many have been saying for a long time that the United States should change its mission and rather than police a civil war should instead restrict itself to fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq and training the Iraqi security forces.
Bush is down for that. And he can justify having 130,000 troops perform these tasks.
"General Petraeus also recommends that in December, we begin transitioning to the next phase of our strategy in Iraq," he said. "Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces. ["Overwatching" is the word of the week.] As this transition in our mission takes place, our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks, including counterterrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces."
The only way to end this war and occupation, the only way to spare more American lives and treasure, is to recognize that Iraq is not an outpost of the Pentagon. It is not another property of the empire. It is a sovereign country that Bush illegally invaded and recklessly occupied. And that invasion and occupation have not made us any safer.
Now the people of Iraq want us to go home. And a growing majority there believes it's justifiable to kill U.S. troops.
You can't win a war that way. You can't even have "success" there.
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
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