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Public must decide validity of GAO report or Bush’s spin

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For the past four years, many Americans have watched in disbelief as the Bush administration has led this nation into war with Iraq under false pretenses, scared the public with lame threats of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, waved the flag of patriotism in times of political need (rather than national unity), and has changed the terms of engagement in Iraq. All of this has been done to suit the political needs of this president. This past weekend Bush was at it again — going on a surprise photo-op and propaganda blitz in Iraq to build support for continuing his failed policy.

The question Americans must ask themselves is plain: When are they going to demand an honest accounting and assessment of the war effort and consequent action that puts the needs of the nation ahead of domestic politics?

In light of the much publicized report to be delivered to Congress next week by the Government Accountability Office, which states that 15 of 18 goals set by Congress to gauge progress made by the military and the Iraqi government have not been met, Americans already know the likely scenario. Though the GAO report is damning, Bush and the military will reject its findings and put a positive spin on their successes and plead for more time.

How can Americans find a voice to counter the president’s spin machine? Only by communicating directly with their congressional delegations to let this administration know that it won’t tolerate deception, outright lies and political power plays any longer. Furthermore, the public can adopt the attitude that anyone who continues to play games of deceit will be ousted at the polls in 2008 — and that impeachment is the next step if Bush and this administration continue to defy the public will, the congressional majority and common sense. It appears that only such a dire consequence will persuade this president to rethink his failed policies.

Americans surely recognize that Bush’s need to stick by his military occupation of Iraq derives not from a sense of a likely military victory there, but rather from the political consequences of having failed so miserably. A pullout without political stability is an admission of defeat, and Bush’s invasion of Iraq and consequent occupation will go down in history as one of the most egregious foreign policy blunders of all time. That’s a tough rap with which to be saddled, and it’s understandable that Bush and his advisors would adopt a strategy that hangs on to the purgatory we’re in now, rather than embrace such a hellish legacy.

Courage and honesty would dictate otherwise, if this president had either.

That the Iraq occupation has been a failure is clear. Almost all of our allies have left the scene. The invasion, based on faulty information and willful deceit, has seriously damaged our international credibility. We have more enemies than ever before, and weaker friendships throughout the world. Bush’s actions have helped swell the ranks of anti-American terrorists worldwide, and we have depleted our armed forces and our national treasury by a trillion dollars and counting — much of it in debt that will be a burden to our children for decades. (Bush will ask Congress for another $50 billion for the occupation, which is on top of $147 billion already slated for Iraq and Afghanistan this year, plus the $460 billion annual military budget. An interesting fact is that the United States will spend about as much as the rest of the world on its military this year.)

And yet this president would continue to deceive the public rather than acknowledge that the battle is going poorly. Such deception — with the war, as with numerous domestic issues — will be seen as Bush’s most pervasive legacy.

But let’s stay on topic. The original justification for the surge of military troops from 130,000 to 160,000 was that it would boost the effort in Iraq to achieve military and economic stability. Congress went along with the president back in January, but demanded accountability before it would continue funding the war. The president agreed with those demands because they were so politically reasonable he couldn’t refuse.

Now, he and the military are trying to reframe the terms of success or failure. The goals were unrealistic, they now say. Progress is being made, Bush and Gen. David Petraeus are likely to report, just not in the ways set up by benchmarks eight months ago. You can bet that Bush has learned from his “mission accomplished” fiasco, and that he won’t tout probable victory. But what he will do, as he has since things began to tour sour in Iraq, is to use fear to encourage Americans to stay the course. If we pull out, he and military generals will maintain, it will be much worse than if we maintain our occupation.

There is, of course, no way to disprove the statement. No one knows for certain what will happen if Americans begin a phased pullout; and there are those Americans still gullible enough to think this president has the nation’s best interest at heart. And that, unfortunately, is one of the questions Americans have to ask themselves: Is Bush protecting his legacy by keeping troops in Iraq so that the eventual withdrawal will happen under the next president and he can escape full blame? Or does Bush have a reasonable plan for a military and political victory in Iraq?

It is a question of judgment that each American citizen must make. To many, it’s an uncomfortable question to pose because it speaks of assessing one’s character and intent, rather than policy. But character has become the issue with this president. For too long Americans have gone along with Bush based on what he has promised, rather than what he has delivered.

Americans now know, however, that he is not above lying and deceiving. We have seen him praise loyalty over honesty, protect those within his administration for outing a CIA operative, for lying to Congress and for rigging the judicial system in the most partisan of ways. He has created a military mercenary system that operates outside governmental oversight, and has beefed up a military-industrial complex that already has far too much power and influence.

In addition to those broader concerns, Americans can ask whether Bush’s plan to continue Iraq’s military occupation will provide for long-term peace and stability? They can ask whether America will be seen as a friend of the region if Bush’s military occupation lasts through the decade? They can assess whether Bush’s military “surge” has facilitated the political and economic progress in Iraq that the president promised.

If those answers are in the negative, Americans will know this president’s intent and character and they must demand a change in policy in the most forceful terms. Otherwise this president and the Republican minority won’t heed the message.

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