By Jim Lobe
"The United States will not relent in
the war in Iraq and will hunt down insurgents one
at a time if necessary."
President Cheney, addressing combat
veterans at the 73rd national convention of the
Military Order of the Purple Heart held in
WASHINGTON - Has the
US public lost so much confidence in the George W
Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war
that its current strategy - to the extent one
actually exists - is unsustainable?
Bush himself besieged by anti-war protesters on
his seemingly endless and ill-timed vacation at
his Texas ranch, that appears to be the big
question, just two weeks before the resumption of
official business back in Washington.
Republican lawmakers, who face mid-term elections
in 15 months, and the military itself, which, as a
result of the Vietnam debacle, has taken as an
article of faith that the loss of civilian support
must be avoided at all costs, appear increasingly
restive and unhappy with the course of events.
"There are more and more voices within the
party and military who are beginning to
acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is not only
not improving, but is actually getting worse,"
said Jim Cason of the Friends Committee on
National Legislation, a lobby group that opposed
"The administration is under more
and more pressure from within - especially from
the Pentagon and influential Republicans on
Capitol Hill - and it clearly hasn't figured out
what to do about it."
Media coverage of
the war has turned particularly gloomy over the
past several weeks, and particularly since the
August 3 killing of 14 US servicemen in one deadly
The front-page headlines
tell the story. "In Iraq, No Clear Finish Line,"
which ran in the Washington Post, was soon
succeeded by "US Lowers Sights on What Can be
Achieved in Iraq," which was then eclipsed by a
more general analysis Thursday entitled "US Policy
on 'Axis of Evil' Suffers Spate of Setbacks".
Among other points, that article noted
that the administration's blunders in Iraq had
clearly strengthened the strategic position of
North Korea and especially Iran, whose influence
with the new government in Baghdad has been
growing steadily, much to Washington's discomfort.
As for the other "court paper" of the US
capital, the New York Times, a searing critique of
Bush's policy by columnist Frank Rich entitled
"Someone Tell the President the War is Over"
appeared virtually everywhere on the Internet
almost the instant that it was published last
And an analysis Thursday, "Bad
Iraq War News Has Some in the GOP [Republican
Party] Worried over '06 Vote," argued that even
among staunch war hawks in Congress, Iraq was fast
becoming a political albatross of Vietnam-like
Even arch-hawk Newt Gingrich,
former Republican Speaker of the House of
Representatives, admitted that the near-victory of
the Democratic candidate and Iraq veteran who
denounced Bush as a "chicken hawk" in a solidly
Republican district in Ohio earlier this month was
a wake-up call for the party.
opinion polls have been telling a similar story. A
Newsweek poll taken two weeks ago found that
confidence in Bush's handling of the war had
fallen to an all-time low of 34%, which, as Rich
pointed out, was roughly equivalent to the
approval rating of former president Lyndon
Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War after the
1968 Tet offensive that is widely believed to have
marked the "tipping point" in public opposition to
Washington's intervention in Indochina.
earlier Associated Press-Ipsos survey found
somewhat more support for Bush's Iraq policy -
38%. But that was also an all-time low for that
survey and was also conducted just before the
killing of the 14 Marines.
Another poll by
USA Today, CNN and Gallup published a few days
later found majorities believe that going to war
in Iraq was a mistake and had made the US more
vulnerable to terrorism, and now favor withdrawing
US troops. A third of those questioned said they
wanted all troops withdrawn immediately.
Growing tensions within the administration
and among its supporters have also contributed to
the sense of disarray that has taken hold.
When senior military commanders began
floating the idea that Washington could begin
withdrawing substantial numbers of its 140,000
troops in Iraq by next spring, Bush himself
dismissed it as mere speculation.
exchange, in addition to further alienating the
officer corps from the White House, spurred a
spate of new attacks by prominent
neo-conservatives against Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld, whom they have always blamed for being
insufficiently committed to "transforming" Iraq.
"What the president needs to do now is
tell the Pentagon to stop talking about [and
planning for] withdrawal, and make sure they are
planning for victory," wrote William Kristol in
The Weekly Standard, adding "... to win, the
president needs a defense secretary who is willing
to fight and able to win."
Writing in the
Washington Post, Frederick Kagan, a military
analyst at the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), also denounced against any talk of
withdrawal as "dangerous and unwarranted", arguing
that the "light infantry" and police forces being
trained by Washington will "be dependent on
significant levels of US military support for
years to come".
Yet even Kagan's AEI
colleague, economist Kevin Hassett, suggested that
Iraq had now become a major political problem for
Bush and the Republicans, one that prevented the
public from recognizing how well the US economy
"Why Are Americans Sour
About Everything?" he asked in a column this week
for Bloomberg. "Iraq," he replied, noting the
imminence of next year's election campaign.
To the surprise of many observers, Bush,
who has spent three weeks at his ranch desperately
avoiding meeting with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of
a soldier killed in Iraq who has emerged as an
anti-war icon, has done nothing to dispel the
While his media
supporters have mounted a predictably nasty
campaign to discredit Sheehan, Bush's failure to
meet with her because "I think it's also important
for me to go on with my life" appears surprisingly
The passivity of his handlers in
permitting Sheehan to dominate news coverage from
the Texas White House in Crawford has also
surprised observers and bolstered the impression
that the administration has both lost its
political touch and has no answers to the kinds of
questions Sheehan and the public at large are
While the administration's
predicament clearly favors Democrats, signs that
Iraq is fueling potential political problems for
them are also on the rise. While prominent
Democrats in the House of Representatives, unlike
their Republican colleagues, have already lined up
in favor of a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, the
party's most prominent figures in the Senate, from
which the 2008 presidential candidate is likely to
emerge, have until now generally remained hawkish
on Iraq, lest they be considered "soft" on
On Wednesday, however,
Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold, a normally
cautious lawmaker who is considering a
presidential bid, broke ranks with other likely
candidates, including senators Hillary Clinton and
Joseph Biden, by calling for the withdrawal of all
US troops from Iraq by the end of 2006 and calling
his party colleagues "too timid" in challenging
Bush on the issue.
His challenge came as
some party members have expressed growing anxiety
over the deepening rift between grassroots
Democrats who support withdrawal and more hawkish
party leaders who have echoed Bush in asserting
that US credibility would suffer irreversible harm
if Washington failed to pacify the country.
(Inter Press Service)
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