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Will Pitt: Bush Extends Hand With Fingers Crossed

Bush Extends Hand With Fingers Crossed

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Thursday 04 January 2007

George W. Bush has been loath, over these last years, to acknowledge the existence of an opposition party within American government. There has been, until recently, little need for him to do so. His GOP allies have maintained an iron grip on the activities of Congress, save for a small blip of time that began with the party switch of Senator James Jeffords and ended with the 2002 midterm elections.

That little hiccup has become less than a footnote, because the Republican Congressional majority has, almost without fail, given Mr. Bush everything he has asked for. The Democratic minority has suffered along with no voice in government, denied even the ability to hold rump hearings in any room larger than a basement broom closet. When Mr. Bush did deign to acknowledge the existence of Democrats, he did so in the most crudely partisan of fashions. "The Democrat approach comes down to this," said Bush on the eve of the November 2006 midterm elections. "The terrorists win, and America loses."

Those November midterms, however, fundamentally altered a political landscape that was once so comfortable and unobtrusive for Mr. Bush. The American people, by a staggering margin and with astonishing volume, repudiated virtually everything Bush and his Republican Congressional allies have pushed upon the country over the last six years. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, the staggering epidemic of corruption within the ranks of the Congressional GOP, the secretive usurping of basic rights - all this and more combined to strip Mr. Bush of those Unitary Executive powers he and his people have been working so hard to establish.

The opinion page of Wednesday's Wall Street Journal carried an editorial, titled "What the Congress Can Do for America," that was allegedly penned by Mr. Bush. In it, he acknowledged the new realities facing his term and the last years of his administration. "Tomorrow, members of the 110th Congress will take their oaths of office here in Washington," read the editorial. "Together, we have a chance to serve the American people by solving the complex problems that many don't expect us to tackle, let alone solve, in the partisan environment of today's Washington. To do that, however, we can't play politics as usual. Democrats will control the House and Senate, and therefore we share the responsibility for what we achieve."

It is difficult to ignore, despite the pleasant language of bipartisanship proffered by this editorial, the simple fact that Mr. Bush has never been very interested in working with anyone who does not share the ideologically absolutist policy ideas his administration has relentlessly pushed, even in defiance of swaths of undeniable and unavoidable facts. It is hard to believe, therefore, that his my-way-or-the-highway style of leadership has become a thing of the past.

Nowhere in the editorial is this more evident than in the section dedicated to the ongoing fiasco of Iraq. Bush, helpless as ever to avoid conflating Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, once again combines these two unrelated realities as a cover for his misguided and disastrous decisions. "Our priorities begin with defeating the terrorists who killed thousands of innocent Americans on September 11, 2001," read the editorial, "and who are working hard to attack us again. These terrorists are part of a broader extremist movement that is now doing everything it can to defeat us in Iraq."

These lines are rich in denial. Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11, and the invasion of Iraq has obliterated the planetary goodwill enjoyed by America after that wretched day. The foolish decision to occupy that country has left us with an intractable quagmire dominated by a religious and sectarian civil war, inaccurately described here as "a broader extremist movement," whose conclusion is far from certain. As always, we are also given the note of fear - they are "working hard to attack us again" - that Bush still believes is enough to inspire the kind of knee-jerk trust he has relied on for so long.

"Ultimately," read the editorial, "Iraqis must resolve the most pressing issues facing them. We can't do it for them. But we can help Iraq defeat the extremists inside and outside of Iraq and we can help provide the necessary breathing space for this young government to meet its responsibilities."

The Iraqi government, in fact, is today nowhere near having the power necessary to bring the invasion-inspired violence under control. Iraq's officials share loyalties with the very militias doing the killing, and its prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, longs to be freed from his position. "I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term," said Maliki in an interview for the same Wall Street Journal that carried Bush's editorial. "I didn't want to take this position. I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again." This confused and conflicted stew is no recipe for long-term stability in that country.

"If democracy fails and the extremists prevail in Iraq," read the editorial, "America's enemies will be stronger, more lethal, and emboldened by our defeat. Leaders in both parties understand the stakes in this struggle. We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war."

Within this last sentence, and the idea that such a "bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war" even exists, lies the central conflict facing Bush and the opposition Congress before him. No such consensus, bipartisan or otherwise, can be found in Washington today. The Iraq solution Bush is apparently preparing to present involves a so-called "surge" of thousands of troops into Iraq, an action which only a handful of GOP congresspeople believe is viable. Everyone else sees this for what it is: an escalation, for political cover, that carries little to no pragmatic military use.

Not even the soldiers see this "surge" as anything other than a disaster in the making. A Fox News story published Wednesday reported, "As President George W. Bush contemplates a 'surge' in US troops in Iraq and an expansion of the nation's armed forces, several former military officers warn that either decision could place an almost fatal strain on an already stressed force and may reduce recruiting standards in a push to meet numerical goals."

The report went on to quote two retired Army colonels whose fears over this surge were made manifestly clear. Army Col. Douglas MacGregor, a decorated combat veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, said: "Surge? Yes, we can. It will break the force, which in my estimation is broken already. It will leave you with no strategic reserves." Army Col. David Hunt echoed this sentiment by saying: "Everyone we met was on a second tour, at least, and many were on their fourth or fifth combat tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The soldiers are tired; the families are going nuts. It's not the solution."

Mr. Bush will also be facing a large body of Congressional Democrats who believe withdrawing troops, not "surging" them, is the solution to the problems in Iraq. Senator Russ Feingold intends to open the 110th Congress by introducing legislation that seeks to establish a timetable for this withdrawal. "The American people sent a strong message in November to fix the administration's failed Iraq policy," said Feingold. "So far, the administration has ignored that message and is considering sending more troops to Iraq - something that would run counter to our national security and the wishes of the American people. Congress can't afford to make the same mistake. We must redeploy our troops from Iraq so that we can focus on serious threats to our security - in Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere - that have only grown while this administration has been distracted in Iraq."

In the final analysis, we see in this Bush editorial the same fantasies and empty rhetoric that have become the defining realities of this administration. He clings to the belief that we can "win" in Iraq, even as the violence and chaos unleashed by his invasion makes any talk of victory a laughable exercise in fantasy. The hand he supposedly extends in bipartisan friendship comes with crossed fingers, carrying only the same fistful of failures and lies that inspired the November electorate to push him aside.

Mr. Bush has finally acknowledged the existence of Democrats. That is, perhaps, all we can expect from a man whose whole world is framed by delusions, deceptions and the stubborn desire to have everything his way. The American people slapped the crown off his head two months ago, but from everything we see in this editorial, he is the only one left who hasn't noticed it is gone.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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