By: E&P Staff
An article posted on Saturday (and updated Sunday) reported the results of our survey of major newspapers’ editorial pages which revealed a rather shocking finding: Very few of them felt compelled in the past week to comment, pro or con, on a decision that could prove absolutely critical in the history of the Iraq war.
This, of course, is President Bush’s reported plan to send 20,000 or more additional U.S. troops to Iraq. Reporters, and columnists, at many of the papers have followed the idea for weeks, but the big city editorial pages (as so often in the past in regard to buildup or pullout plans) have largely punted.
Notably among those silent papers was The New York Times, a paper whose coverage in the run-up to the war helped make it possible. True, it has been very critical of the conduct of the war in the past, and as E&P tallied it up today, all seven of its regular opinion columnists have come out against the “surge” — a rare point of unanimity. But the editorial page remained silent.
Tuesday it breaks that silence, with an editorial that expresses skepticism about the results of any escalation and whether the president would justify it adequately — but stopping well short of opposing the idea. The Times, in fact, has called for a last-shot troop increase before. Now it says Bush’s plan “needs to concentrate enough forces in Baghdad to bring some security to streets and neighborhoods, giving Iraq?s leaders one last opportunity to try to bargain their way out of civil war….
“Mr. Bush is widely expected to announce a significant increase in American troops to deploy in Baghdad?s violent neighborhoods,” the Times observes. “He needs to explain to Congress and the American people where the dangerously tapped-out military is going to find those troops. And he needs to place a strict time limit on any increase, or it will turn into a thinly disguised escalation of the American combat role.”
Last March, the Times had declared, “For the present, our goal must be to minimize the damage, through the urgent diplomacy of the current ambassador and forceful reminders that American forces are not prepared to remain for one day in a country whose leaders prefer civil war to peaceful compromise.”
But some papers — not so famously “liberal” — have spoken out boldly against the coming escalation. Even the hawkish Washington Post expressed a measure of opposition. Steve Smith, editor of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., pointed to his paper’s editorial on Sunday. So, below, we reprint both his letter and the paper’s editorial.
To E&P: Of course I never expect The Spokesman-Review to be surveyed when you look at the nation’s “major” papers. But I did want to point out that some of the smaller mid-size papers, including ours, have been much more outspoken about the war, perhaps because we’re a bit closer to the ground. Spokane is a military town, but still comments on this Sunday’s editorial, copied below, have been uniformly supportive.
We stopped one hair’s breadth away from calling for an immediate pullout. But it’s a thin distinction. Thanks, Steve Smith.
Here is that editorial:
On March 21, 2003, Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy of Houston was among the first U.S. soldiers to die in the Iraq war when the helicopter he was riding in crashed in Kuwait, killing three other American Marines and eight British Marines.
Three days before that, the gung-ho Kennedy, 25, called his mother to tell her he was headed into action. After the crash Kennedy?s father said, ?He gave his life in an effort to contribute to the freedom of the Iraqi people.?
Indeed, the invasion was called Operation Iraqi Freedom and a plausible argument could be made at the time that war could be waged under that banner. But since then, the original justifications ? and enthusiasm ? have melted away like insurgents in the night.
Heading into this weekend, at least 3,004 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq conflict. More than 25,000 have been wounded ? many grievously. What can political leaders tell the parents of the 3,004th casualty? How can they justify expanding this aimless operation?
Sometime this week, President Bush will answer those questions, or at least attempt to. Early indications are that the president will send a ?surge? of troops to help control the uncontrollable. Military leaders don?t want them, nor do they think an escalation will help.
On Nov. 15, Gen. John Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee, ?I?ve met with every divisional commander. General (George) Casey, the corps commander, ([Lt.) General (Martin) Dempsey ? we all talked together. And I said, ?In your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?? And they all said, ?No.?.?
The generals believe that our very presence on Iraqi soil is part of the problem and that expanding it will only exacerbate the chaotic violence. Bush?s mantra throughout the 2004 election was that he would give the generals whatever they needed to succeed. Soon, he?ll be sending them as many as up to 20,000 more troops over their objections. Then again, those generals are being replaced with more compliant leaders.
But replacing the leadership won?t change the outlook of those doing the fighting. A recent Military Times poll found that active members of the military, who were once strong supporters of the war, have grown pessimistic. Only 35 percent approve of the way the Bush administration has handled the war. Two years ago, 83 percent believed the war would be successful. Now, it?s 50 percent, but even that group thinks it will take at least five years. Only 41 percent said we should?ve invaded.
We could send 20,000 troops or 120,000, but it wouldn?t matter. There is no military solution to a country hopelessly infected with sectarian violence, a ruthless insurgency and opportunistic terrorists. Iraq?s leadership is not enthusiastic about a U.S. escalation, either. In Iraq, there will be no victory, certainly not as the president currently defines it. There will be no graceful exit. Iraq is going to descend into all-out chaos. It?s just a matter of when. We can?t even be sure that Iraq will end up being a Middle East ally.
It?s time to turn this over to the diplomats and cut our losses. For what do we tell the next group of soldiers and their families when they ask: ?What are we fighting for??
Related E&P Column by Greg Mitchell:
— ‘Times’ Warp: Paper Backs Escalation In Iraq