Global Policy Forum

Finish What Job?

Los Angeles Times
August 22, 2006

President Bush emphasized no fewer than 10 times in his news conference Monday that U.S. forces would not leave Iraq "before the job is done." It's a clever piece of rhetoric, appealing to Americans' sense of duty as well as their pride. Just one question: What was that job again? Is it to end the sectarian violence in Iraq? Prevent terrorists from flocking to the United States? Bring democracy to Iraq and thus provide a beacon for reformers throughout the Middle East?

All of the above, apparently — and then some. Previous rationales, such as locating Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and avenging 9/11, are no longer convincing even to the president (which should give pause to those few still clinging to them, including some members of Congress). But on Monday, Bush had others at the ready.

At times, the loudest noise at his news conference was the sound of mission creep. In June, Bush conceded that a democratic Iraq will at some point have to stand or fall on its own. ("Success in Iraq," he said, "depends upon the Iraqis.") On Monday, however, Bush said U.S. forces would remain until the Iraqi people "achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society." Success may depend on the Iraqis, but it is defined by the Americans.

And the justification for continued U.S. involvement isn't just nation building. Success in Iraq, Bush declared, is central not only to the war on terrorism but to the grandiose strategy of fostering democracy in the Middle East and protecting the flow of oil. "A failed Iraq would make America less secure," Bush said. "A failed Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will provide safe haven for terrorists and extremists. It will embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers. In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales."

This debate is not, as the president would like it to be, over whether one supports or opposes "a failed Iraq." Of course no one wants a failed Iraq — just as no one wants a failed Somalia or a failed Haiti. Yet the U.S. has finite resources, and whatever effect they have in Iraq is blunted by the growing civil war there. The U.S. mission has a patchwork of goals — supporting democrats, providing transitional security and, above all, making it less likely that Iraq becomes an exporter of terror. Some goals are short term, others not; some are complementary, others in conflict; some may suggest a reduction in U.S. military involvement, others an increase.

In tying together several U.S. objectives in one vital "job," Bush is trying to make it harder for critics of an open-ended U.S. commitment to question any particular goal. The debate that needs to take place is about which, if any, of those objectives can justify the president's ominously open-ended commitment.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Withdrawal?
More Information on Justifications for War
More Information on the Occupation and Rule in Iraq


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