So finally we have a glimpse of President Bush’s new plan for Iraq. And who can be surprised that the new plan is basically to do what he did under the old plan, except more.
Twenty thousand more, to be exact. That’s the amount by which Bush wants to bump American troop strength. The reinforcements, he explained in his televised speech Wednesday night, would largely be used to secure Baghdad. Baghdad is, of course, one of the less secure cities on Earth, epicenter of an insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqis and Americans.
The decision to increase troop strength is remarkable coming, as it does, from a president who has consistently defended existing troop levels as adequate to get the job done. But then, he’s also a president who has consistently said he could not think of any mistakes he made in prosecuting the so-called War on Terror.
Yet, there he was, belatedly admitting that he has pursued a flawed strategy based on false assumptions. “Where mistakes have been made,” he said, “the responsibility rests with me.” Contrary to a prediction his critics have often made, this admission of error and acceptance of responsibility did not cause Bush’s lips to fall off.
I’ll be honest: I have no earthly idea whether an influx of 20,000 troops will be sufficient to cure what ails Iraq and its capital city. Your humble correspondent is not an expert on military force levels. Nor, for that matter, are the vast majority of the other pundits who will happily opine on this question in days to come. I’d love to be able to say whether bringing in more troops will pacify Baghdad long enough to get the electricity turned back on. And, for that matter, whether turning on the electricity will, at this late date, make a difference.
But the fact is, I don’t know. Tell you what I do know, however.
I know that we’ve been misled to an awful intersection of history where there are no good options, only options in varying shades of bad.
I know how tempting it is to say we ought to wash our hands of this mess and bring our men and women home.
I know that it still strikes me as wrong, for reasons both moral and pragmatic, to come in, blow up these people’s country, then walk away and leave them in the rubble.
Most of all, though, I know this: I do not trust my leaders. And politics is not the only, or even the primary, reason. No, at the end of the day, this is a question of character.
From the beginning, the architects of this war have shown a frightening nonchalance toward truth, a troubling willingness to treat fact as optional. Where reality has collided with political expedience, political expedience has invariably won. Where it has been inconvenient, it has simply been ignored.
It happened when the administration linked Iraq to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks even though one had nothing to do with the other. It happened when the White House used discredited intelligence to make the case for war. It happened when the president airily dismissed gloomy intelligence reports that did not jibe with his preferred view. It happened when he kept insisting we “stay the course” even after it became apparent to everyone with eyes that the course led straight off a cliff.
So now, here comes Bush with sober mien and chastened air asking for one more chance to get it right. And if you sense in this corner a reluctance to comply, well it has less to do with the merits of his proposed strategy than with the fact that it is his proposed strategy. Bush is a man who has heretofore shown only arrogance in the face of monumental and fatal misjudgments. Now he comes before the country asking us, in effect, to trust him.
And for the life of me, I can’t think of a single reason I should.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His e-mail address is: [email protected]