I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hey! Did you hear a train whistle?
President Bush’s portrayal of a wilting insurgency in Iraq at a time of escalating violence and insecurity throughout the country is reviving the debate over the administration’s Iraq strategy and the accuracy of its upbeat claims.
While Bush and Vice President Cheney offer optimistic assessments of the situation, a fresh wave of car bombings and other attacks killed 80 U.S. soldiers and more than 700 Iraqis last month alone and prompted Iraqi leaders to appeal to the administration for greater help. Privately, some administration officials have concluded the violence will not subside through this year.
The disconnect between Rose Garden optimism and Baghdad pessimism, according to government officials and independent analysts, stems not only from Bush’s focus on tentative signs of long-term progress but also from the shrinking range of policy options available to him if he is wrong. Having set out on a course of trying to stand up a new constitutional, elected government with the security firepower to defend itself, Bush finds himself locked into a strategy that, even if it proves successful, foreshadows many more deadly months to come first, analysts said.
Military commanders in Iraq privately told a visiting congressional delegation last week that the United States is at least two years away from adequately training a viable Iraqi military but that it is no longer reasonable to consider augmenting U.S. troops already strained by the two-year operation, said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.). “The idea that the insurgents are on the run and we are about to turn the corner, I did not hear that from anybody,” Biden said in an interview.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who joined Biden for part of the trip, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others are misleading Americans about the number of functional Iraqi troops and warned the president to pay more attention to shutting off Syrian and Iranian assistance to the insurgency. “We don’t want to raise the expectations of the American people prematurely,” he said.
“I am pleased that in less than a year’s time, there’s a democratically elected government in Iraq, there are thousands of Iraq soldiers trained and better equipped to fight for their own country [and] that our strategy is very clear,” Bush said during a Rose Garden news conference Tuesday. Overall, he said, “I’m pleased with the progress.” Cheney offered an even more hopeful assessment during a CNN interview aired the night before, saying the insurgency was in its “last throes.”
Several Republicans questioned that evaluation. “I cannot say with any confidence that that is accurate,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), a member of the House International Relations Committee. “I think it’s impossible to know how close we are to the insurgency being overcome.”
A Western diplomat in Baghdad said victory would have to be won in a drawn-out struggle that will have peaks and valleys. “We should not expect some big-bang breakthrough so that one day the insurgency ends,” he said on the condition of anonymity. “We should expect a long grind-it-out.” After all, he said, “this is the hardest thing we’ve done to try to rebuild a state almost from zero.”
“If you pull back far enough,” he added, “you see a positive trend. . . . The negative is we’ve had some really spectacular car bombs, really gruesome car bombs and we’ve had a terrible civilian death toll. . . . The overall trend lines for the last six to seven months are better, but not so much better that we can say it’s over or we won.”
The “trend line ” says that under the pile of horse shit, there lies a pony, and they’re just going to keep on digging and digging and digging…