President Bush in a few days will present the results of his painful monthlong examination of the options for continuing his mistaken adventure in Iraq, but there's little evidence that he's discovered any new way forward.
The word in the halls of the Pentagon and inside the Beltway is that The Decider will choose some sort of temporary bump in the numbers of American troops currently assigned to fight a war without end and without purpose.
Does anyone, including the president, really believe that an additional 10,000 or even 30,000 soldiers and Marines on top of the 140,000 now in Iraq are somehow going to make Baghdad more secure, or clean up the Sunni insurgents who control much of Anbar province?
This isn't a new way forward, nor is it a recipe for the victory that the desperate architect of an unnecessary and costly war seems to believe is waiting out there to rescue his legacy. It's no more than a continuation of George W. Bush's urgent flight from reality.
The idea of so small a bump doesn't even meet the suggestions of the only two outside advisers who promoted the idea of a surge of as many as 50,000 additional U.S. troops for at least 18 months—neo-conservative think tanker Fred Kagan and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane. It doesn't come close to the 100,000 more troops that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona—who hopes to be his party's nominee for president in 2008—has advocated, nor does it satisfy the majority of Americans who no longer have any trust in Bush's conduct of the Iraq war or those like-minded voters who turned Congress over to the Democrats in the November mid-term elections.
What on earth is this president thinking?
The word is that he'll go on national television and promote the idea of sacrifice for the national good and victory in Iraq as somehow crucial to the global war on terrorism. More of the White House line: Fight the terrorists over there rather than on the streets of New York and Washington. More of what the late Harry S. Truman would have called horse manure.
The U.S. military commanders who a month or so ago told Congress and the public that no more American troops were needed in Iraq—that more Americans would in fact only take the pressure off the weak Iraqi government to make the necessary hard decisions—are being replaced.
Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, will retire ahead of schedule and be replaced by Adm. William Fallon, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command. The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, will be replaced at the same time.
The Baker Commission's recommendations for a new diplomatic initiative and preparations to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq will draw no more than lip service when the president speaks.
Their months of labor, a gift from the elder George Bush intended to provide his son some sort of cover for a strategic retreat from the disaster he's created in the Middle East, will be ignored as an inconvenient truth.
Those who've sacrificed the most—America's Army and Marine ground forces and their families—will be asked to continue bearing the burden and paying an even higher price in dead and wounded for a president's ego and intransigence.
The very troops who will make up the temporary bump in U.S. forces in Iraq are those who've already paid that price over and over. They'll be found by a sleight-of-hand maneuver: ordering units already tapped to return to Iraq to go there earlier than scheduled.
That isn't even robbing Peter to pay Paul. It's robbing Peter to pay Peter.
George W. Bush believes that he can buy another couple of years of violent stalemate so he can hand off the disaster to whoever succeeds him in the White House on Jan. 20, 2009. How many more Americans and Iraqis must die to ensure that Bush's parting words as he retreats to Crawford, Texas, will be: I never cut and ran. I stood tall. I kept America safe.
The problem with that scenario is that it, like all the others drawn by George Bush and Dick Cheney, is far too rosy. The way forward in Iraq is a spiral toward an even bloodier future, and the real decisions are the Iraqis', not George Bush's.
It's too little, too late, Mr. President.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: email@example.com