At Fort Polk, Louisiana, yesterday President Bush took another step in his ongoing campaign to induce amnesia in America’s collective memory. Gone was talk of smoking guns, mushroom clouds, and imminent threats that characterized the rush to war more than a year ago. Instead the president declared "we will not live in the shadow of gathering threats."
President Bush rightly praised the extraordinary service and sacrifice of troops and families from across America. Yet he offered no new hope – and no new plan – to make sure that our soldiers in Iraq are better protected and effective in their mission. The administration, in fact, has no overarching strategy for moving beyond the exclusive use of force in Iraq.
These outstanding soldiers are the country’s first major redeployment of forces to Iraq – 120,000 over the coming months. They will not be our last.
- Sending troops into a potential civil war. As the troops at Fort Polk prepare for duty in Iraq, the Bush administration still lacks an effective plan to win the peace – a product of its failure to heed warning signs of the insurgency we now confront. The Interim Governing Council has all but declared the administration’s current political transition plan dead. Now – in a complete policy reversal – the administration is pinning its hope on the United Nations to break the political deadlock and guide a transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis. Without an effective plan, as the United Nations’ top envoy has warned, the risk grows that Iraq will descend into civil war within months.
- The ‘central front’ of terror. Also missing from the president’s remarks: Claims about a formal relationship before the war between al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. But if Iraq was not an al Qaeda hotbed before the U.S. occupation began, times have changed. The evidence shows that the presence of U.S. soldiers has attracted foreign fighters in the aftermath of combat, and that they are responsible for some of the suicide bombings that have caused American casualties. Troops from Fort Polk and elsewhere are headed to a country where a plot to destabilize the country by attacking Coalition and Iraqi targets has just been uncovered. The discovery of a memo attributed to terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi confirms that the U.S.-led war has opened Iraq as a new front on the war on terror, rather than the "central front" repeatedly referred to by the president.
- Ill-equipped on the frontlines. While the president promised to make sure America’s soldiers are "well-equipped," the administration is still struggling to provide the type of equipment essential for urban warfare, including lifesaving body armor and upgrade kits for Humvees. According to the Department of Defense, more than 8,000 soldiers continue to be without body armor and 3,000 Humvees still need to be retooled to better protect occupants from bombs and explosions. The shortage has even forced parents and communities to hold "bake sales for body armor" to raise money to buy and ship the equipment to soldiers in Iraq.