Editorial: Time for Bush to show leadership in Iraq

Leadership is a tricky business, as President Bush has discovered.

For whatever his true reasons were, Bush sent American troops 3 1/2 years ago to overthrow Saddam Hussein and help convert Iraq into a democracy. The overthrow part went well. The democracy part hasn’t.

Now the president has announced he will order 20,000 additional troops to Iraq in an effort to curb the escalating violence there.

Hardly surprising is the fact that his decision has come under intense criticism from political opponents – now the majority in Congress – who have found in the war a fertile point of attack. When the majority of Americans indicate that they have lost confidence in the war effort, the newly powerful Democrats (in particular) are looking to play this one to their advantage in any way possible.

Closer to home, this new deployment will not include Oregon National Guard troops, some of whom were already scheduled to go to Iraq, but both Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Sen. Gordon Smith have indicated their strong opposition to the president’s move.

“I hope that history shows that I am wrong and that the president is right,” Smith told CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer last week. “But what my belief is, is simply that this surge is too late and too little, and that it perpetuates the status quo. I think the Congress needs to use its influence to refocus the American war on terror.”

Smith vented his frustration before the war in December when, at the end of the 109th Congress, he took the Senate floor and delivered a scathing indictment of President Bush’s policy in Iraq “that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day.”

The war effort has been frustrating and, frankly, appears to have been badly mismanaged. It’s also left us with a national debt $3 trillion higher than when Bush took office in 2000.

Though news reports do not always reflect the entire reality of the situation, the ongoing reports of inadequate equipment, morale problems and the steady drumbeat of escalating troop deaths have been a downer, almost since Day One of this war.

As we’ve said before, this is war and war is never nice. Those who have experienced the real thing can certainly testify to that with more fervor than those who haven’t.

But the trend in this war, after the initial successes of removing Saddam and his henchman, has been steadily downward. It didn’t take too long for the resistance movement to gain strength and begin the covert guerilla conflict that has been plaguing our troops for the last three years. Our enemies don’t play by any rules except their own and, consequently, it is almost impossible to win a conflict if you don’t meet them on their level.

Problem is, those who could effectively deal with them, the Iraqis, haven’t – either because they have been unable to or because they haven’t wanted to very much.

President Bush’s proposal is to pump another $1.2 billion into Iraqi reconstruction and economic growth by providing (long overdue) infrastructure improvements and jobs. That does make some sense. One key to the establishment of a stable government and military presence is to establish a consistent revenue flow from Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Of course, the opposition forces don’t want that to happen, so it’s been a fight just to get the black gold to the tankers.

President Bush is a leader who depends on others to help him make decisions. He is not gifted at taking a complex problem and breaking it down. Rather, he depends on advisers to do so for him. He then takes the information he’s been given and makes the call.

The problem, as has been evident almost from the beginning in this Iraq conflict, is that Bush apparently was listening to the wrong people if we were to have any realistic of making this Iraq thing work.

So now Bush is responding to a long-unheeded call for more help in securing the country of Iraq. Democrats, who see their victory in November as a referendum on the unpopular war, have already made it clear they oppose any more troops going to Iraq.

Politics aside, the big problem now is to do what’s right for America. It’s not about saving face any more. It’s about what’s good for We, The People, mired in this very complex and difficult situation.

If there’s a chance of establishing some sort of stability in Iraq, we need to finish the job. Bush needs to pay close attention to people who actually understand the culture and thought processes in the Middle East and listen to his military leaders who actually understand what’s happening in Iraq.

If the president’s going to fix this situation, it’s time to do it right and get out. He needs to define a clear objective, both for ourselves and for the Iraqis. They need to understand that it will be to their benefit for us to meet that objective. We need to set up a situation in which if we fail they fail, and those in the majority lose.

Can we completely eliminate the insurgency? It’s doubtful. But what Bush must do is make it clear to the Iraqis now in power, and to the people who, we’d like to think are for freedom from tyranny, that there are clear rewards in freedom and heavy costs if this effort fails. It’s time for them to get serious about solving this.