Bush's Premature Iraq Elation
George W. Bush is suffering from another severe case of premature Iraq elation. That's the inescapable diagnosis after a week which featured sunny statements from the President even as Baghdad and Basra descended into chaos.
On last week's fifth anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, President Bush was blissfully unaware of the tumultuous three-way Shiite conflict just days in the offing. Now, Bush is portraying setbacks as proof of success and escalating violence as a sign of a healthy democracy.
Even as the battle between Iraqi security forces and Sadr's militia was raging in Basra, President Bush on Thursday concluded, "normalcy is returning back to Iraq." (That normalcy includes a three-day curfew in Baghdad, intermittent shelling of the Green Zone, casualties at the U.S. embassy, and warnings to American diplomatic personnel to stay inside "reinforced structures") By Friday, the President called the carnage in Basra and elsewhere "a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."
Bush also jumped the gun on the Iraqis "standing up." On Thursday, President Bush lauded the ability of the Iraq security forces to operate independently of U.S. troops, a development which lasted less than 24 hours.
"Prime Minister Maliki's bold decision -- and it was a bold decision -- to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership, and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner. It also shows the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge. Iraqi forces planned this operation and they deployed substantial extra forces for it. They're leading the operation. Prime Minister Maliki has traveled to Basra to oversee it firsthand."
By that night, however, Maliki's offensive had ground to a halt. U.S. jets flew missions in Basra to support the Maliki government and its Shiite allies in battling Moqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Back in Baghdad, American armored units and aircraft fought Sadr's militia in the Sadr City and Kadhamiyah neighborhoods.
Even as his Iraq surge stands on the brink of unraveling, President Bush on Friday declared it a success. Deploying the "return on success" White House talking point (which last fall displaced "we're making progress"), Bush cited the looming Australian departure from Iraq as a positive sign:
"And by the way, we are withdrawing troops. It's called return on success. And our intention is to pull down five - you know, five battalions by July. Troops are coming out - five brigades, excuse me. Troops are coming out, because we're successful. And so, I would view the Australian decision as return on success - returning home on success."
So successful, in fact, that President Bush is all but certain to accept General Petraeus' recommendation to halt any further drawdown and maintain U.S. troops levels for the rest of 2008.
Of course, George W. Bush is far from alone in suffering from Iraq-style dysfunction. On Wednesday, the Pentagon itself echoed the President, citing the rising violence in Basra as a "by-product of the success of the surge." On Monday, surge architect Fred Kagan proclaimed "the civil war in Iraq is over." Just last week, former Bush officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority Dan Senor and Roman Martinez took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to announce the decline and fall of Moqtada Al-Sadr in a provocatively triumphant piece titled, "Whatever Happended to Moqtada?" And John McCain, George W. Bush's would-be successor, merely complained on Monday:
"We're succeeding. I don't care what anybody says. I've seen the facts on the ground."
Sadly, Americans have seen the symptoms of this Republican ailment before. On May 1, 2003, after all, President Bush stood before a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" and announced "the U.S. and our allies have prevailed." Two months later on July 2, 2003, Bush taunted would-be Iraqi insurgents, infamously challenging "bring 'em on."
Now, no doubt, President Bush and his Republican allies will once again try to treat their problem of premature emancipation by getting the American people to think about something else.
(Note: I first used the title expression in a piece Tuesday, "Moqtada Al-Sadr Answers the Wall Street Journal." Doubtless, others used it earlier. In any event, that and other puns and innuendos ("Iraq-style dysfunction, etc.) in this piece were entries in the 2005 "Name That Bush Scandal Contest.")