Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why Bush Doesn't Want A Timetable For Withdrawal

The House of Representatives has voted to approve a bill that'll provide extra cash for the US military in Iraq. It also uses that T word - timetable - to call for American forces to withdraw by next March. Because of that, President Bush says he's going to veto it.

On the face of it, this seems a faintly bizarre way of reacting to things. Bush has been given the extra money he wants to give the so-called 'surge' - the additional security effort in Baghdad - a chance to work. And he's also been given a deadline by which the troops should be home, something that should be popular with just about everybody.

But no, Bush is going to use his veto for just the second time since he took office. He and his Republican friends are talking darkly about not wanting to sanction a "surrender" in Iraq. That kind of language isn't really helpful in getting to the heart of what's going on there. The US (and Britain for that matter) won't be leaving because they've been defeated militarily, they'll be leaving because they can't do anything much about the situation on the ground - which is now a civil war, rather than a war between 'us' and 'them.' So the "surrender" argument is pretty bogus.

The real main reason why Bush doesn't want a timetable for withdrawal is because it will make him look a failure. Not only will it make him look a failure, but it will make him an actual failure. Because that's what he is, at least when it comes to Iraq. Over the last four years, there's always been the glimmer of hope that a corner might be turned, and that Iraq might gradually improve to the sort of stable democracy Bush and the rest had in mind in the first place. Pulling the troops out and leaving it to the Iraqis to sort out amongst themselves, would remove that hope, and finally condemn Bush to spending the rest of history in the bargain bucket of failed presidents.

But there's a second reason too I think. Not one that Bush is probably that bothered about, but one that I believe diplomats and some politicians and military officials are. The Republican leader in the House, John Boehner, put it like this: "We can walk out of Iraq, just like we did in Lebanon, just like we did in Vietnam, just like we did in Somalia and we will leave chaos in our wake." Somalia's been without a stable government in 16 years, ever since a dictator was deposed. As the latest battle for control of Mogadishu continues, with neighbours such as Ethiopia heavily involved, the prospect of Iraq remaining a failed state in bloody anarchy for the next decade and more seems horribly likely. Whether keeping US troops in Iraq for longer can avert that seems pretty doubtful. But the lesson of Somalia is that standing by and watching Iraq destroy itself is not an option.

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