Point Austin: Kickin' Ass

As Bush 'plays' for another year of war, Congress dithers

Point Austin
Visiting Australia recently, President Bush supplied a handy measure of the seriousness with which he approaches his job, not to mention the profound responsibility he holds for hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi lives, when he bragged of the war to an official, "We're kickin' ass!"

Earlier this year, speaking to writer (and former Chronicle writer) Robert Draper, Bush was similarly chipper. "So now I'm an October-November man," reports Draper in his new book, Dead Certain. "I'm playing for October-November." Bush explained that by this fall Congress and the rest of the political class would be persuaded that there is no alternative to a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq, because, "One, it would serve as a reminder to the region that we're a force of stability. Two, it would remind certain actors that the United States is something to be reckoned with – Iran, for example, if they continue on the course they're doing. ... That's where my head is at."

On the cusp of October, listening this week to the drone of Bush's latest messenger-general, David Petraeus, it appears that the president has won his February wager. Dazzled by all those medals on the general's chest, not to mention the date – 9/11 – that fills them all with sanctimony, the members and senators barely laid a glove on Petraeus. The headlines duly reported that the Great Man contemplates troop reductions "some time next year" but warns grimly against a "quick pullback." By next summer, said Petraeus, we might reduce our forces to the level (130,000) they were at before this year's 30,000-soldier surge – when the president asked for just six more months.

Petraeus didn't mention that he really has no choice – his overextended military simply can't sustain 160,000 troops far into next year.


As Commanded

The unsurprising translation is that there is no prospect of a serious withdrawal from Iraq before January 2009. Bush got his surge, the general has rubber-stamped the results, and there will be no effective opposition from Congress. I asked Austin's designated congressmen for their judgments of the "surge" and if they foresee any prospects for withdrawal.

Lamar Smith didn't bother to reply. Michael McCaul delivered the following boilerplate: "After hearing from the general and ambassador, no one can deny the positive advances being made in Iraq by America's Armed Forces. It is my hope that with these advances we will soon see some of our troops come home. America must continue to increase political and diplomatic efforts to achieve a sustainable resolution on the ground in Iraq, as well as stability in the region. It is time to move forward with the Iraq Study Group recommendations."

That's McCaul's abjectly polite way of saying the White House has ignored the ISG, with predictable results. But since he and his GOP colleagues continue to vote in lockstep for more war and more war, it's difficult to see why the administration should take any notice of their diplomatic hesitations.


Shock and Awe: the Sequel

Lloyd Doggett has strongly opposed the war, from before its inception, and on Monday he delivered a blistering floor speech: "As usual, this president is dead certain, and dead wrong. What he seeks is war without limits – war without end. Under his direction, General Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker propose a war that continues for probably another decade – the George Bush trillion-dollars, 15-years war."

Later, I spoke to Doggett about the prospects of antiwar action in Congress. He could offer only "enough hope not to dash idealism altogether and turn it into cynicism." He said there had been little movement in the House since the spring, and the current project is to persuade his colleagues not to rush into additional war appropriations in the intimidating wake of the administration's "propaganda surge." The administration is claiming that it won't really need supplemental military appropriations for Iraq this year. If the Dems have any spine, they will hold that line while public pressure (and Iraqi outrage) continues to build.

There's also a darker undertow. The looming threat is, as Doggett puts it, that "Cheney will ultimately be successful in expanding the war into Iran." Petraeus balked Tuesday at Joe Lieberman's suggestion that the U.S. might need to invade Iran, responding bluntly that within Iraq the Army has its hands quite full. That's the smallest of comforts – Air Force and Navy attack plans leaked last week cite 1,200 Iranian targets.

Bush may well take it into his movie-cowboy head to deliver more remote-control shock and awe, this time to the Iranians. We can comfort ourselves with the illusion that we won't really be slaughtering innocent people by the thousands. We'll just be "kickin' ass."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Congress and the War, Iraq War, Lloyd Doggett, Michael McCaul, Robert Draper, David Petraeus, Lamar Smith

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