The Democrats don't get it. George Bush is determined to stay in Iraq up until the last hour of his presidency and pass on this hot potato to the next president to deal with. He has set them up with a "fund the troops" strategy, that recently secured the requisite funding for a troop "surge" on the promise that General Pretraeus will report to him in September on whether it is working or not.
Meanwhile, Bush has worked hard to create the aura that it is working by brow-beating the media into adopting a "progress" focus on areas of Iraq other than Bagdad and to agree with the generals that "progress" has been made in places like Anbar province west of Bagdad. Not only have they gone along with him, but they physically have gone along, since Katie Couric, the CBS Evening News anchorwoman, finds herself in Iraq reporting on the war - and perhaps saving her job in the process.
Couric's talks with General Pretraeus have convinced her that he will report to Bush the surge is working. How could he not, since he is reporting to a president that has clearly only wanted to hear what has served his purpose in pursuing the war all along? Nevertheless, even she admits that Pretraeus believes that both in Bagdad and to the south, there is still considerable resistance to the U.S. presence and strong patterns of violence based on the civil war that is occurring. But I am betting that he won't have an answer to questions such as: how long will the troops have to stay there to pacify the other areas; what it will take in U.S. lives and resources; and how this severely limited notion of "success" contributes to the political settlement that must be the basis of U.S. withdrawal?
With regard to a political settlement, in the past few weeks, Iraqi president Nouri Al Maliki has, in effect, told his critics in Washington to go to the devil, that they may drive him to seek "other allies." This was in response to the view, also widely held among many Iraqi leaders, that he is running, essentially, a Shiite sectarian government. Those who want change seem to be turning to the 2004 transitional president Ayad Allawi as a nationalist, not a sectarian, leader. Al Maliki's response was that to force a change now would "paralyze the government." However, since a political settlement depends upon knitting the Shiite and Sunni together, political leadership is at the heart of the matter. The problem, however, is that the Shiites have not only the political power - which they don't want to give up - but the guns to enforce their position of supremacy. In this context, the build-up of U.S. troops is only aiding and abetting a one-sided government - and stoking the opposition in the process.
So, George Bush sneaks into Iraq on Labor Day, both to shore up Al Maliki and build a stronger image for his position that the surge is working. But his visit also provides diversion from the Labor Day view of his domestic leadership of the economy. In late August, he characterized the economy using the words, "working, robust, thriving, booming and the envy of the world." But Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont recently noted that since Bush has been in office three million manufacturing jobs have been lost; three million American workers have lost their pensions; five million more have slipped into poverty; nearly nine million Americans have lost their health insurance; entry level wages for male and female high school grads have fallen by 3.3 percent and 4.9 percent respectively; and wages and salaries are now at the lowest share of GDP since 1929. And the Petraeus set-up will give Bush the legitimacy to continue to dump resources into Iraq, rather than deal with these domestic problems.
Democrats have to come to grips with the fact that it is better to pull the plug on Iraq spending now when it is still clearly Bush's war. If they wait, not only will their leaders be the targets of media criticism that could savage future election victories, but the damage to the domestic issues will be much greater. Where is the courage?
Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Center, and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park.