Has the 'Tipping Point' on Iraq Been Reached?
by Jim Lobe
the U.S. public lost so much confidence in the George W. Bush administration's
handling of the Iraq war that its current strategy to the
extent one actually exists is unsustainable?
President Bush himself besieged by antiwar protesters on his seemingly
endless and ill-timed vacation at his Texas ranch, that appears
to be The Big Question, just two weeks before the resumption of
official business back in Washington.
Republican lawmakers, who face mid-term elections 15 months from
now, and the military itself, which, as a result of the Vietnam
debacle, has taken as an article of faith that the loss of civilian
support must be avoided at all costs, appear increasingly restive
and unhappy with the course of events.
are more and more voices within the party and military who are beginning
to acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is not only not improving,
but is actually getting worse," said Jim Cason of the Friends
Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a lobby group that opposed
administration is under more and more pressure from within
especially from the Pentagon and influential Republicans on Capitol
Hill and it clearly hasn't figured out what to do about it."
coverage of the war has turned particularly gloomy over the past
several weeks, and particularly since the Aug. 3 killing of 14 U.S.
servicemen in one deadly bombing incident.
front-page headlines tell the story. "In Iraq, No Clear Finish
Line," which ran in the Washington Post a week ago,
was soon succeeded by "U.S. Lowers Sights on What Can be Achieved
in Iraq," which was then eclipsed by a more general analysis
Thursday entitled "U.S. Policy on 'Axis of Evil' Suffers Spate
other points, that article noted that the administration's blunders
in Iraq had clearly strengthened the strategic position of North
Korea and especially Iran, whose influence with the new government
in Baghdad has been growing steadily, much to Washington's discomfort.
for the other "court paper" of the U.S. capital, the New
York Times, a searing critique of Bush's policy by columnist
Frank Rich entitled "Someone Tell the President the War is
Over" appeared virtually everywhere on the Internet almost
the instant that it was published last Sunday.
an analysis Thursday, "Bad Iraq War News Has Some in the GOP
Worried over '06 Vote," argued that even among staunch war
hawks in Congress, Iraq was fast becoming a political albatross
of Vietnam-like dimensions.
arch-hawk Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House
of Representatives, admitted that the near-victory of the Democratic
candidate and Iraq veteran who denounced Bush as a "chickenhawk"
in a solidly Republican district in Ohio earlier this month was
a "wake-up call" for the party.
opinion polls have been telling a similar story. A Newsweek
poll taken two weeks ago found that confidence in Bush's handling
of the war had fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, which, as
Rich pointed out, was roughly equivalent to the approval rating
of former President Lyndon Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War
after the 1968 Tet offensive that is widely believed to have marked
the "tipping point" in public opposition to Washington's
intervention in Indochina.
earlier Associated Press-Ipsos survey found somewhat more support
for Bush's Iraq policy 38 percent. But that was also an all-time
low for that survey and was also conducted just before the killing
of the 14 Marines.
poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup published a few days later
found majorities believe that going to war in Iraq was a mistake
and has made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism, and now favor
withdrawing U.S. troops. A third of those questioned said they want
all troops withdrawn immediately.
tensions within the administration and among its supporters have
also contributed to the sense of disarray that has taken hold.
senior military commanders began floating the idea that Washington
could begin withdrawing substantial numbers of its 140,000 troops
in Iraq by next spring, Bush himself dismissed it as mere speculation.
exchange, in addition to further alienating the officer corps from
the White House, spurred a spate of new attacks by prominent neoconservatives
against Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, whom they have always blamed
for being insufficiently committed to "transforming" Iraq.
the president needs to do now is tell the Pentagon to stop talking
about [and planning for] withdrawal, and make sure they are planning
for victory," wrote William Kristol in The Weekly Standard,
adding, "to win, the president needs a defense secretary who
is willing to fight and able to win."
in the Washington Post, Frederick Kagan, a military analyst
at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), also denounced any talk
of withdrawal as "dangerous and unwarranted," arguing
that the "light infantry" and police forces being trained
by Washington will "be dependent on significant levels of U.S.
military support for years to come."
even Kagan's AEI colleague, economist Kevin Hassett, suggested that
Iraq has now become a major political problem for Bush and the Republicans,
one that prevented the public from recognizing how well the U.S.
economy is performing.
Are Americans Sour About Everything?" he asked in a column
this week for Bloomberg. "Iraq," he replied, noting the
imminence of next year's election campaign.
the surprise of many observers, Bush, who has spent three weeks
at his ranch desperately avoiding meeting with Cindy Sheehan, the
mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who has emerged as an antiwar
icon, has done nothing to dispel the growing malaise.
his media supporters have mounted a predictably nasty campaign to
discredit Sheehan, her presence at "Camp Casey," the spot
where she and her supporters are conducting their vigil in Crawford,
Bush's failure to meet with her because "I think it's also
important for me to go on with my life" appears surprisingly
passivity of his handlers in permitting Sheehan to dominate news
coverage from the Texas White House has also surprised observers
and bolstered the impression that the administration has both lost
its political touch and has no answers to the kinds of questions
Sheehan and the public at large are raising.
the administration's predicament clearly favors Democrats, signs
that Iraq is fueling potential political problems for them are also
on the rise. While prominent Democrats in the House of Representatives,
unlike their Republican colleagues, have already lined up in favor
of a gradual withdrawal from Iraq, the party's most prominent figures
in the Senate, from which the 2008 presidential candidate is likely
to emerge, have until now generally remained hawkish on Iraq, lest
they be considered "soft" on national security.
Wednesday, however, Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold, a normally
cautious lawmaker who is considering a presidential bid, broke ranks
with other likely candidates, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and
Joseph Biden, by calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from
Iraq by the end of 2006 and calling his party colleagues "too
timid" in challenging Bush on the issue.
challenge came as some party members have expressed growing anxiety
over the deepening rift between grassroots Democrats who support
withdrawal and more hawkish party leaders who have echoed Bush in
asserting that U.S. credibility would suffer irreversible harm if
Washington fails to pacify the country.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service