Leave it to the next guy – that’s President Bush’s new exit strategy. Echoing the recommendations of Gen. David Petraeus, the military’s top commander in Iraq, Bush announced yesterday that he will indefinitely halt troop withdrawals from Iraq in July. After five years, more than $500 billion spent, more than 4,000 American lives lost and an untold number of Iraqis killed, it’s about time that we realize that the war in Iraq can’t continue this on this course. And if that requires that the Democratic-controlled Congress start backing up its rhetoric with action, then so be it.
Coming on the heels of a two-day visit to Capitol Hill by Petraeus and U.S ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Bush’s announcement yesterday virtually guarantees that as many as 140,000 U.S. troops will still be fighting in Iraq when he leaves office in January. Between now and July, the additional 30,000 troops who went to Iraq as part of the flawed “surge” will return home as promised, but the rest will stay. Whining about America’s impatience, Bush declared that Petraeus must “have all the time he needs” to throw together some kind of peace in Iraq.
But this war doesn’t deserve our patience. After five years, what does America have to show for its efforts? Sure, violence may be down in Iraq – compared to the anarchy that prevailed after the baseless and botched invasion. And sure, last summer’s “surge” brought uneven security to a few regions. But then again, its goal wasn’t just to reduce bombings and roving gangs; it was supposed to open the door for political stability. That hasn’t happened.
There are two things the war in Iraq has caused, though: an oversized bill and a lot of dead bodies. There are the potentially thousands of U.S. troops and the tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead. And already, the war in Iraq has cost more than $500 billion. But if you factor in hidden costs like the future health care and benefits payments that will be paid to veterans of the war, the actual cost to taxpayers could climb as high as $2 trillion, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.
The people who are paying for these costs are us – America’s youth. The debt will be ours. The soldiers are our friends and family. The international mess left behind will be the duty of our generation’s politicians to clean up.
Bush shouldn’t be trusted with free reign to further all of these things, and Congress must lend the opposition as it promised it would in 2006. And at the front of the pack has to be Michigan’s Sen. Carl Levin, whose position as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee affords him the power to change the war’s course.
There is no silver-bullet solution to end the war in Iraq. However, it’s obvious that what Bush has been doing for the last five years hasn’t worked. Allowing him to continue without timetables and with an open checkbook is irresponsible and counterproductive.
If Bush wants to guarantee that troops will be in Iraq come January 2009, Congress needs to guarantee that Bush’s exit strategy isn’t just his own exit from the Oval Office.