New York Times: Another Iraq Photo Op


Iraq is a long way to go for a photo op, but not for President Bush, who is pulling out all the stops to divert public attention from his failed Iraq policies and to keep Congress from demanding that he bring the troops home. As Americans and Iraqis continue to die — and Iraqi politicians refuse to reconcile — Mr. Bush stubbornly refuses to recognize that what both countries need is a responsible exit strategy for the United States, not more photo ops and disingenuous claims of success.

With Congress launching a series of pivotal hearings this week, Mr. Bush’s eight-hour stopover in Iraq on Sunday won him major play in the news media, including photos of smiling American military forces with their commander in chief. But the facts of the visit undermined his claims that his troop escalation is working and deserves more time and more lives to bear fruit.

Mr. Bush’s only destination was an isolated, well-fortified air base in Anbar Province, not Baghdad where his so-called surge was supposed to bring stability and persuade Iraqi politicians that they had more to gain from reconciliation than score-settling. We suppose Mr. Bush could claim one success for his visit: he did manage to get Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to visit the Sunni-dominated province.

Mr. Bush pumped up his headlines by suggesting continued gains in security could allow for a reduction in troops as his critics have been demanding and most Americans desperately want. But this is a cruel tease and a pathetic attempt to repackage old promises. Mr. Bush has been dangling that same as-soon-as-possible drawdown for years. The Pentagon had a plan to do just that in 2004. Today, the troop level stands at 160,000, up 30,000 from the start of this year.

Despite all Mr. Bush’s cheerleading, a new report by nonpartisan Congressional investigators tells a much grimmer and closer to reality tale, concluding that the Iraqi government has failed to meet 11 of 18 military and political benchmarks to which it had agreed.

The report by the Government Accountability Office said that Iraq’s government has failed to eliminate militia control of local security forces, failed to increase the number of army units capable of operating independently, failed to enact long-promised legislation essential for political reconciliation and even raised doubts whether the government is capable of spending $10 billion in reconstruction funds.

And that was the buffed-up version. An earlier draft of the G.A.O. report had the Iraqis failing on 15 of the 18 goals, until the Pentagon protested that the grading was too harsh.

Mr. Bush clearly has no strategy to end this conflict, which has no end in sight. The American people deserve considered judgments not come-ons from their leaders. Congress needs to insist on a prudent formula that will withdraw American forces and limit the hemorrhaging.

Newsletter Signup