Iraq goes off the rails, we stay on the sidelines

February 18, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

One-hundred-and-forty-one-thousand of our fellow Marylanders voted last November to give Roscoe G. Bartlett, who was born during the Coolidge administration, another term as a congressman. They chose Bartlett over Andrew Duck, a 20-year Army veteran. Democracy guaranteeing that people get exactly what they deserve, here's what the voters of the 6th District got: a Republican who supports President Bush on the war in Iraq, even when he thinks Bush's decisions are bad.

"It is certainly my hope that the surge [of 21,500 additional troops] will help stabilize Iraq and permit the establishment of a democratic republic," Bartlett said Friday. "My expectation is that the surge will be meaningless. I fear that it will simply place more of our brave young people in harm's way without any compensating benefit."

Some would call this patriotism. Others would call it the garbled thinking of a partisan hack.

I think it's just more enabling of a president who has a serious problem with judgment.

While 246 members of the House of Representatives, including 17 Republicans, voted for Friday's nonbinding resolution disapproving of Bush's escalation of the military effort in Iraq, Roscoe Bartlett and 181 other deep-thinkers, including two Democrats, backed the president.

That's 57 percent opposed to the surge, 43 percent in favor.

I saw this vote described in at least one major newspaper as a "stunning rebuke" of Bush's strategy in Iraq.

But it's hardly that. Not at this point. Not given the November election results. Not in light of the recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicating public approval of Bush's war policy at about 26 percent. Not, more importantly, with more than 3,100 Americans dead and more than 21,000 wounded in action, and thousands - hundreds of thousands, if you believe a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study - of Iraqi civilians killed. The United Nations has declared a humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the war having created nearly 4 million refugees so far, and one estimate puts refugee growth at 50,000 per month.

We are headed toward the four-year anniversary of what some have declared the most monumental foreign policy debacle in U.S. history, with an aftermath that clearly will be long and even more costly, likely requiring a Western peacekeeping presence for decades to come. And that's assuming the peace can be established.

That's the problem with Bush's military expansion. There's no parallel effort toward peace that seems at all plausible at this point and worth the investment (risk) of additional troops.

Maryland's other Republican congressman, Wayne Gilchrest, a Vietnam veteran, voted for the resolution Friday, saying what was needed was a "surge of diplomacy" that would include talks with Iran and Syria. But such talks need to be based on a global credibility that the United States has lost for the time being, at least while Bush occupies the White House.

By now, it should be obvious to everyone that the United States was unprepared for this war. The Bush-Cheney administration arrogantly and stubbornly believed that Iraq could be invaded, destabilized and stabilized again in a relatively short time - and without asking much of most of the American people: no new taxes to pay for the war, no great sacrifice on the home front to support the effort and no call for more volunteers to replace the troops who are serving multiple tours.

A report in Newsday last month said one in three service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan has served more than one tour, and that's a higher percentage than at any time since the Vietnam era. "Nearly 800 Americans have died while serving at least a second tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than 25 percent of the total U.S. [deaths]," the newspaper reported. "And with President Bush's call for 21,000 more troops in Iraq, the number of GIs serving at least three tours is sure to increase, experts say."

The president, meanwhile, seems bewildered by the suggestion that only a small number of Americans are shouldering the burden for this war.

Sacrifice?

What's that?

Last month, Bush had a face-to-face interview with Jim Lehrer on public television.

"Why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and American interests to sacrifice something? ... The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military, the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point."

"Well, you know," Bush said, "I think a lot of people are in this fight. They sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV each night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war."

Anyone who supports George Bush on the war at this point must be just as clueless as the president. It's long past time to take the car keys away from the president and designate another driver, but all the "new" Congress can come up with, four years into this bloody mess, is a wishy-washy, nonbinding resolution of disapproval. That's not a stunning rebuke. That's enabling.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays on "The Buzz" on WBAL Radio (1090 AM).

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