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Bush must do more than draw lines in the sand
Block News Alliance


August 18, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush is in the perfect place to keep drawing lines in the dirt - his barren Texas ranch.

For all the criticism of his decision to take a nearly five-week vacation during a nasty war, he at least has something in common with the long-suffering U.S. troops in Iraq. Heat.

The lawmakers who have deserted Washington in this abnormally humid and miserable August also are feeling the heat. About Iraq.

Republicans and Democrats alike will return to work next month deeply troubled about what they heard back home. Americans are out of patience with Bush's inability to explain what his strategy is for the mess in Iraq.

Yes, we've been told many times that this president doesn't govern by the polls. (One might wonder when "steadfast" becomes "stubborn.") But Americans at last are asking why so little that the president predicted about Iraq has proven true.

No weapons of mass destruction. No cheering crowds of Iraqis welcoming an American occupation. No influx of other countries ready to join with America. No evaporation of the insurgency. No end in sight to horrendous American casualties.

And, most recently, no Iraqi constitution by Aug. 15. No agreement on whether Iraq should be a secular or an Islamist state. None on how to divide power among the Shiites, the Suunis and the Kurds. Not even a stipulation that women and men must be equal citizens.

Like his father before him, who threatened Congress with an "or else" if it didn't cut spending, this Bush could not come up with anything to back up his "or else" if the Iraqis didn't meet the deadline of drawing up a constitution.

The issue is not whether Bush meets again with the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq as she is camped outside his ranch. The issue is not how many times Bush rides his beloved bike while on vacation. The issue is not how many pro-democracy speeches Bush gives. The issue is not even how long we are going to demand the ultimate sacrifices from our soldiers without knowing why.

The issue is whether this administration knows what it's doing in Iraq, whether it can communicate anything that Americans will believe and whether our nation will be any better off when this nightmare is over. Forces that might never again be contained in our lifetime have been unleashed in Iraq by the Bush administration.

Bush constantly argues that Americans must continue dying in Iraq to make sure that those who have died or been horribly maimed and disfigured didn't die or have their lives changed forever in vain. The goal, he says, is democracy for the Iraqi people. The goal, he says, is fighting the war on terror in Iraq so that we don't have to fight it in America.

Such arguments are like Texas dust in August. They blow away when held up to light. If one American man or woman dies in Iraq, why must more die to make sure he or she didn't die in vain? What about the ongoing deaths of innocent Iraqis? How are we going to impose democracy on people who can't seem to get past millennia of hatred for one another? How can we keep fighting insurgents when more keep springing forth? Why will being mired in Iraq make us safer here?

What are we to believe when frustrated generals tell us U.S. soldiers will come home next year and the president pooh-poohs that by saying that's just a way of telling terrorists to wait to take over Iraq until we leave? Are there enough troops there or not? Are they adequately equipped or not? Is this all about cutting and running just before next year's congressional elections?

Bush was so eager to overthrow Saddam Hussein, he gave no heed to the difficulty in building a new Iraq, with its centuries of smoldering tensions. He now admits, grudgingly, that Iraq is more complex than expected, although the administration has yet to concede that a major reason for the mess is its own bungling. Too few U.S. troops were put into Iraq immediately to prevent chaos.

And now Bush founders in his efforts to explain why we continue to stay. In his determination to "go on with my life," as he so awkwardly put it in insisting he has a right to take August off, he piles on the grief of thousands of American families whose lives Iraq has changed forever. Make no mistake - going to war in the Middle East was Bush's decision, not theirs.

What's next? Bush must give a helluva speech to the United Nations next month. It must break new ground. He must be ruthlessly convincing in his resolve that Americans will leave Iraq with some form of stability while demanding that the Iraqis must govern themselves, even if it's not the kind of all-inclusive capitalistic democracy he envisioned.

Perhaps, while in Texas, with his poll numbers at an all-time low, Bush will realize that there's a time when drawing new lines in the sand must end.


Ann McFeatters is Washington bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade.
E-mail amcfeatters(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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