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Bush Is Holding the Troops Hostage to “Success”

Bush on troop withdrawalIt has always been the case that the President as Commander-in-Chief can direct American troops to occupy indefinitely another country in which Congress had foolishly and without limit authorized US military intervention. Until Congress withdraws that authorization or places binding limits on how US forces can be deployed, for how long and for what purposes, that will remain true.

Still, it was shocking to hear how the President chose to explain this to American troops in Iraq. George Bush essentially said that except for the additional surge forces who must be removed without replacement unless we break our word to them — again — and the President left that option on the table — most of our troops cannot come home until they have achieved “success” as he, and he alone, defines it. It was the most blatant statement of unilateral, unchecked executive power Bush has yet uttered.

The President described his come-home-on-your-shields policy in the starkest of terms:

Return on success; the more successful we are, the more troops can return home.

The logical, unspoken corollary must therefore be: the less successful they are, the fewer troops can return. And if there is limited or no further success, then few or none can return home. The iPresident’s policy is thus a recipe for a permanent large occupation, rather than a plan for troop withdrawal.

By using those terms, the President told America’s troops that the only way they could come home would be to succeed in achieving goals that few other than George Bush, Dick Cheney and their fantacist neocon advisers pretend can actually be achieved. Yet the goals themselves are not merely elusive, nor even unclear; they are essentially unstated.

The most we got from the President is that through some unexplained process, the “local” reconciliation he claims but cannot prove for Anbar, let alone attribute to the surge or anything the troops have done, can be spread not only to other regions but move “bottom up” to the national level. How this occurs is a mystery, even to Petreaus and Crocker, and there is no precedent cited for this miraculous transformation.

Troop withdrawal is thus being held hostage to an unachievable mission. Bush will allow withdrawals only if General Petraeus can take whatever “success” fell into his lap in the Sunni-dominant Anbar Province and extend it into mixed regions of displaced Sunnis and triumphal Shia. Since Petraeus was given this “gain” by the Sunni sheiks for reasons that have nothing to do with the surge, how can this be replicated elsewhere? Our troops must also extend this mystery process into Baghdad. There is no credible evidence that such extensions are occurring now on any meaningful scale, nor is there any logical reason to believe they will.

What, for example, does it mean to extend local reconciliation (which has not truly occurred) into national reconciliation in Baghdad, where systematic “sectarian cleansing” murdering and forced removal of members of other sects by militias has continued during the surge, resulting in transforming the capital city from mostly Sunni and mixed neigborhoods to mostly or exclusively Shia neighborhoods? Various rival Shia militias and splinter groups/gangs now control large parts of the city, just as they control most of the cities in southern Iraq and areas outside the Kurdish North and Sunni Anbar. The central government is essentially dysfunctional and cannot control the militias or even direct the government ministries controlled by the militias.

No one has explained how the Anbar bottom up model applies in these other regions. What must our troops do in these militia controlled cities and neighborhoods to achieve “success” so that they can come home? The President did not say.

It has never been more apparent that the President of the United States is holding American troops hostage and making impossible demands for their return. Is there any other way to view this? The President is demanding that they achieve essentially unattainable goals, at the cost of their lives, all so that Bush and Cheney can avoid admitting they made the worst strategic blunder in US history and have the satisfaction of handing the catastrophic consequences — and blame — to the next President.

“Success” therefore means making sure the next Administration is blamed for the consequences of extracting America from this disaster. And for that shameful goal, another 1000 US troops will probably die.

What are you going to do about this, Congress?

For reactions from Democrats, see Senator Reed’s Democratic response, this from the Speaker’s Office, this from Congressman Reyes, which was delivered in Spanish. Other responses are from Sen. Obama, from Sen. Clinton, from Sen. Edwards’ paid commercial, and from Sen. Dodd and others as we get them.

Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley