Columnists Fail to Offer ‘Surge’ of Support for New Iraq Plan

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By: Dave Astor

Many syndicated columnists have now weighed in on President Bush’s Wednesday “surge” speech. Not surprisingly, most liberal and centrist writers gave the address a thumb’s down. But even conservative pundits didn’t offer ringing praise.

Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Washington Post Writers Group wrote: “Listening to George W. Bush announce his fantasy-based escalation of the war in Iraq … I flashed on something Bush’s hero Winston Churchill once said: ‘A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.’ By that standard, President Bush is no fanatic.

“True, he scores off the charts on the part about inflexibility of mind. But the Decider changes the subject all the time. First, the way to fight the ‘war on terror’ was to invade Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime was sheltering Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Before finishing that job, Bush decided to invade Iraq, which had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And now, with Iraq mired in bloody chaos, he seems to be changing the subject yet again — to Iran.”

Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald and Tribune Media Services (TMS) wrote: “So finally we have a glimpse of President Bush’s new plan for Iraq. And who can be surprised that the new plan is basically to do what he did under the old plan, except more. … The decision to increase troop strength is remarkable coming, as it does, from a president who has consistently defended existing troop levels as adequate to get the job done. …”

Pitts added: “Bush is a man who has heretofore shown only arrogance in the face of monumental and fatal misjudgments. Now he comes before the country asking us, in effect, to trust him. And for the life of me, I can’t think of a single reason I should.”

A conservative commentator, Victor Davis Hanson of TMS, wrote: “This was not Churchill, not FDR, and not JFK Wednesday night, and there was not quite enough about winning and victory — but the content was still good enough. … [The increase in troops] could make things far worse by offering more targets and creating more Iraqi dependency if we don?t change our operations. But if the surge ups the ante by bringing a radical new approach on the battlefield as the president promises, then it is worth his gamble.”

Thomas Friedman of The New York Times wrote today: “Mr. President, you want a surge? I’ll surge. I’ll surge on the condition that you once and for all enlist the entire American people in this war effort, and stop putting it all on the shoulders of 130,000 military families, and now 20,000 more.”

The former Iraq War supporter added that “if the rest of the world saw all of us sacrificing to win this war, we might actually be able to enlist them to help a little.”

David Brooks of NYT and the New York Times News Service (which also syndicates Friedman) discussed the spin behind Bush’s speech: “The administration could not go before the world and say that the president had decided to overrule the sovereign nation of Iraq. Officials could not tell wavering Republicans that the president was proposing a heavy, U.S.-led approach.

“Thus, administration officials are saying that they have adopted [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s] plan, just with a few minor tweaks. … All of this is designed to soothe the wounded pride of the Maliki government, and to make the U.S. offensive seem less arduous at home. It?s the opposite of the truth.”

At Universal Press Syndicate, Georgie Anne Geyer commented: “The president, far from taking any guidance from the anti-war November elections or polls, has used them as another stepping-stone to his imperial dreams. Far from heeding the report of the James Baker III/Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group, with its exacting equations, he seems to have used those 79 recommendations to decide what NOT to do. Finally, the president — who has said repeatedly that he ‘always listens to his generals’ and, according to The Washington Post, ‘has disdained micromanaging the war effort and second-guessing the commanders’ — no longer is listening to them, either.”

Creators Syndicate has the largest stable of Op-Ed columnists — liberal and conservative — and a number of them weighed in on Bush’s address.

“It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing,” said Molly Ivins. “We have lost. … A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country — we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80% of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38% of active military want more troops sent). We know this is wrong. …”

Roland Martin of Creators added that “when it comes to Iraq, we are sort of like the big brother or sister who refuses to let our younger sibling learn from his or her own mistakes, preferring to do the work ourselves. As Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has asserted, as long as we maintain such a large presence in the country, the Iraqis will have no reason to assume command of the decisions. … And on Wednesday night, Bush further made it plain that he runs Iraq — not Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.”

Another Creators columnist, Susan Estrich, wrote Thursday: “The president looked awful and sounded worse last night. Other than admitting he had been wrong not to send more troops in the first instance — his version of his mistake in this mess — the president had nothing new to say and nothing new to offer. … So what if the country is against him? So what if the Congress is against him? So what if Iraqi leaders, whom he claims he is relying upon, don’t want the additional troops? George Bush is going to send them anyway. How do you stop a president who has lost touch with reality?”

Alexander Cockburn of Creators said Democrats could stop Bush if they cut off funding for the war, but he doesn’t see that happening. After slamming Bush’s speech and “surge” plan, Cockburn wrote: “Despite the urgings of Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rep. Jack Murtha, and some others, [Democrats] shirk the opportunity the voters gave them last Nov. 7. Although heavily pressured by their constituents, a majority of the Democrats in Congress dread White House accusations that to nix the funds would be to leave U.S. troops in Iraq defenseless. So instead they will contrive symbolic votes in protest against Bush’s escalation, OK the money, and then spend the run-up to the presidential election in 2008 piously saying ‘we told you so’ as the bad news and the bodies come home from Iraq.”

Conservative columnists with Creators offered Bush at least some support.

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle and Creators wrote that things could get worse in Iraq if the U.S. leaves. She did say she’s “skeptical” that the U.S. troop escalation “necessarily will help. … More troops can only make a difference if the military brass allows U.S. troops to hold areas they have cleared, a change Bush signaled [Wednesday] night. Also, Bush’s proposed spending increases on Iraq reconstruction could give Iraqis a stake in this regime’s success.”

But Saunders added: “If you think the world hated America for going into Iraq, imagine how the world will look at an America that flees an imploding nation. … They will see wholesale bloodshed, an ally that cannot be trusted and an army that doesn’t know how to win.”

Creators columnist Oliver North, who expressed opposition to the “surge” earlier this month, had some kind words today for Bush’s speech. He wrote: “The most important statement of the speech was an accurate description of the present situation. Said Bush: ‘The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time.’ The president went on to acknowledge that ‘only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people,’ and that ‘failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.’ He’s dead right on all counts.”

But North added that the escalation could still fail without the cooperation of Congress, the Iraqi government, and other countries reluctant to trust Bush.

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