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Gratitude, Gambling, and Moral Response: President Bush and Others About Iraq

Scott Pelley interviewed President Bush for the CBS News' program 60 Minutes. Excerpts of some of the most interesting parts mixed with relevant quotes from Joe Biden, Tom Vilsack, Rachel Kleinfeld, David Rothkopf and Richard Clarke about presidential gambling, Iraqi gratitude, and moral responsibility towards Iraqis:
Time for withdrawal from Iraq? Any mistakes in Iraq policy?
BUSH: ... You know, some of my buddies in Texas say, “You know, let them fight it out. What business is it of ours? You got rid of Saddam. Just let them slug it out.” And that's a temptation that I know a lot of people feel. But if we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future.
PELLEY: Instability in Iraq threatens the entire region?

BUSH: If the government falls apart and there is sectarian enclaves and violence, it'll invite Iran into the Shia neighborhoods, Sunni extremists into the Sunni neighborhoods, Kurdish separatist movements. All of which would threaten moderate people, moderate governments, and all of which will end up creating conditions that could lead to attacks here in America.

PELLEY: But wasn't it your administration that created the instability in Iraq?

BUSH: Well, our administration took care of a source of instability in Iraq. Envision a world in which Saddam Hussein was rushing for a nuclear weapon to compete against Iran. My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the correct decision in my judgment. We didn't find the weapons we thought we would find or the weapons everybody thought he had. But he was a significant source of instability.

PELLEY: It's much more unstable now, Mr. President.

BUSH: Well, no question decisions have made things unstable. But the question is can we succeed. And I believe we can. Listen, I'd like to see stability and a unified Iraq. A young democracy will provide the stability we look for. I will tell you that if we just isolate ourselves from the Middle East and hope for the best, we will not address the conditions that had led young suiciders to get on airplanes to come and attack us in the first place.

PELLEY: You mention mistakes having been made in your speech. What mistakes are you talking about?

BUSH: You know, we've been through this before. Abu Ghraib was a mistake. Using bad language like, you know, "bring them on" was a mistake. I think history is gonna look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it.

PELLEY: The troop levels . . .

BUSH: Could have been a mistake.

President Bush seems to admit mistakes more candidly than before, but does not consider the Iraq war lost. He focuses on what is likely to happen, if the United States gives up. Many Democrats seem to think that Iraq is already lost, and the United States only has the choice of accepting defeat (incl. all of the negative consequences for US national security) now or accepting it later. Senator Joe Biden, is quoted in the Washington Post in early January:
"I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost," Biden said. "They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy -- literally, not figuratively."
Many commentators, for example this paper from Maine, compare President Bush with a gambler, who is faced with an unending string of bad hands, but keeps on playing in the hope to finally win. Likewise, former Counter-Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke wrote in The New Republic in December:
In The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deus ex machina or to eventually shift the blame. There is no need to do that now. Everyone already knows who is to blame. It is time to stop the adventure, lower our sights, and focus on America's core interests. And that means withdrawal of major combat units.
Regardless of what President Bush's motives might or might not be, the question remains: Is the so-called new Iraq strategy promising? Is the "surge" big enough to make a difference? How long to wait for any progress?

And what about moral responsibilities to Iraqis?
Do the Democrats and others in favor of withdrawal take into consideration the fate of Iraqis, if the US would withdraw ASAP?

The Democrat Tom Vilsack, governor of Iowa, made this comment on the Daily Show: "We created a culture of dependency. It's time to say to Iraqis, it's your country, you fight for it, you die for it." 
I don't know the right words to comment on such a callous statement, so let me instead quote one commentator at OneGoodMove, which hosts the video with Tom Vilsack's comments:
Holy crap, how callous can you get? Last time I checked, more Iraqis were dying than Americans. What a strategy. Pull the US out of Iraq, in order to force the rest of the world to clean up America's mess. And you wonder why America is so hated worldwide. This Tom Vilsack is horrible. He gives Democrats a bad name.
I think Vilsack's statement is worse than President Bush's response to Pelley's question: "Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?" Bush responded: "That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?"

Anyway, back to the moral response issue: Rachel Kleinfeld, Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project, considers Iraq a lost cause and asks at America Abroad what a practical and moral response would be. In another post ("The Human Face of Iraq"), Dr. Kleinfeld raises concern that Iraq could witness a partition massacre like India experienced:
Given that an India like partition-massacre is likely to occur when we leave, I am frustrated by how little conversation I hear on any side of the political spectrum about whether we have a responsibility to the citizens of Iraq. We may well be serving that responsibility (and the same responsibility to our own troops) by pulling out--but I want to hear us talking about it in a serious way.
Dr. Kleinfeld's resettlement idea to create more ethnically homogeneous areas does not seem practical. She ends with a warning and a rather optimistic note about what a smaller troop level could achieve:
Any major troop pull out will still leave a security vacuum, and that vacuum is so serious that it might pull us back into the country in a few years--to separate warring Saudi and Iranian proxy fighters, to fight an entrenched terrorist group that is using a Sunni area to stage attacks, and what have you. We can't underestimate the security problem of leaving Iraq in chaos. But preventing that situation could be achieved by a smaller troop level than we have now.
And David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, argues: "Even If We Leave Now, We'll Be Back!" Summary at AMERICAN FUTURE

Iraqi Gratitude?
The CBS interview with President Bush continues:
PELLEY: Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?

BUSH: That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?

PELLEY: Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion.

BUSH: Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.

What "gratitude level" can the US expect given the huge number of casualties, the chaos and insecurity?
The Washington Post just reported about the
coordinated detonation of two bombs during the after-school rush at a Baghdad university killed at least 60 people Tuesday and wounded more than 140 in what university officials described as one of the deadliest attacks on academia since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The spate of killings, which also included a bombing outside a Sunni Muslim shrine in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood of central Baghdad, made plain the difficulties facing U.S. and Iraqi troops poised for their latest effort to tamp down rampant violence in the capital. It coincided with a report from the United Nations that said 34,452 Iraqi civilians died violently last year -- an average of 94 per day -- an estimate nearly triple the death toll provided by three Iraqi government ministries.
According to a Johns Hopkins Survey between 392,979 and 942,636 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred. Some have questioned the reliability of this survey, although it uses the same method like survey on Darfur and Congo. Those casualty estimates were not questioned.

Related: Iraqi Fulbrighters Speak about their Concerns and The "Blame America Last" Argument.

About Iran:
PELLEY: Your military officers say that Iranian agents today are killing American troops on the ground in Iraq. Is that an act of war on the part of Iran against the United States?

BUSH: I think what they're saying is, is that the Iranians are providing equipment that is killing Americans. Either way it's unacceptable. As I said in my speech the other night, we will take measures to protect ourselves. We will interrupt supplies. We will find people that if they are, in fact, in Iraq killing Americans, they'll be brought to justice.

PELLEY: Is that an act of war against the United States on the part of the Iranian government?

BUSH: I'm not a lawyer. So act of war is kind of a . . . I'm not exactly sure how you define that. Let me just say it's unacceptable.

The interview also includes some tough questions concerning Maliki's dependence on Muqtada al-Sadr, the Saddam execution, about congress maybe not funding the "surge," about the perception of dishonesty, and the current lack of support from the American people. CBS News provides the full transcript and a 20 minute video of  traveling with the president to Camp David and Fort Benning.

(Emphasis in bold added)


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Pinkerton on :

Either Bush has lost all touch with reality or, as Biden and many others have noted, he is stalling for time to hand this mess over to another president who will most likely be a Democrat. As in every business he led in the private sector, he left a big mess for someone else to clean up. The saddest part of all this is the coldness in his decisions. It doesn't seem like he cares how many of our military men and women are killed while he is stretching this war to the next administration, he is using them as fodder to protect himself and what he thinks is going to be his legacy as a hero president. He stands in front of out military men and women and uses them for photo-ops, shakes their hands when he's done and then sends them off to die in a war that we should never have been involved in. The blood on his hands mean nothing...just another mess that he thinks will be cleaned up by revisionist history books. When he said in the interview the people of the US are sacrificing and need not be taxed to pay for this war, where does he think our debt is going to go? Does he believe it just disappears when he leaves office? The damage that he has done to our country will take generations to clean up, if it can be cleaned up at all. The man is a pathological liar and lives in a world that is totally disconnected from reality.He belongs in a mental institution, not the Oval Office.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

What policy should the US implement in Iraq? And what would be the likely consequences of that policy for the region? I realize that there are only bad options for the US and Iraq, but I don't know which of those options is best.

2020 on :

[quote="joerg"]What policy should the US implement in Iraq?[/quote] [b]Withdrawal In Dignity[/b] The best solution and still hard enough. Not only America, all western nations will have to accept, that Iraq's fate is not in our hands. First step: US-Forces move north and secure Kurdistan - backed by NATO and Turkey. This might also bring back the initiative against Iran and Syria. Second step: Thin out the troops Third step: Every once in a while declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies! (Ferengi Rule of Acquisition No. 76, though some say it's 77)

Pinkerton on :

Like you, I'm not sure if there is a winning policy for Iraq. There has been so much damage done and it is so out of control, trying to walk out with a so-called victory is near impossible. Damage control is all we can hope for, IMO. For one thing, we've lost most of our "coalition of the willing" to help us, so we are left with whatever we can salvage. Just like he did with the cherry picking of intelligence to prove there were WMD in Iraq, Bush cherry picked what he wanted to hear regarding our options for achieving any semblance of a victory in Iraq. Bush says that he wants to hear other options, but he dismissed everything the experts were telling him when it came to this new "surge" he wants to implement. For now, I like Biden's plan, which has been rejected by many, but seems to make sense to me. He wants to maintain a unified Iraq by decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions. The central government would be responsible for common interests, like border security and the distribution of oil revenues. The plan would bind the Sunnis by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenues. It would increase economic aid but tie it to the protection of minority and women's rights and the creation of a jobs program. It would require a regional non-aggression pact, overseen by the U.N. Security Council. And it would allow us to responsibly withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2007. As in Bosnia, where the Dayton Accords allowed the country to remain whole, it divided it into ethnic federations, which gave it time to strengthen the central government. In that case, they allowed each federation their own armies. I'm not sure if that would work in this situation, at least not until there is some control or stabilization in the country. The US shouldn't leave the area until the stabilization is complete, but they don't have to stay in the country to achieve that. Granted, I know this is a long shot, but at least it's a plan that can work...not a band-aid treatment of sending in more troops to be used as targets in this civil war. By bringing in the U.N. to oversee this operation, it takes the Americans out as the occupiers and gives the Iraqi's a chance to run their own country. This may be the only way to let everyone save face. The victory goes to the Iraqi's and the region, not the US.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks. I have not studied the Biden plan, but scanned the fact-sheet [url][/url] and the website Plan For Iraq by Senator Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb: [url][/url] You write: "The US shouldn't leave the area until the stabilization is complete, but they don't have to stay in the country to achieve that." I don't think that is possible. IMHO, US troops would need stay in Iraq. Since you brought up Bosnia. The Dayton agreement was reached in 1996. NATO stayed until two years ago. Then the EU took over. Germany still has some 900 troops in Bosnia. I don't know how many other European troops are still there. This is from State Departement. "On December 2, 2004, the nine-year NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded successfully. NATO’s intervention in the Bosnia conflict--using force for the first time in Alliance history--led to the Dayton Accords and put an end to a costly and destructive conflict in the heart of Europe. In the nine years that followed the intervention, over 500,000 servicemen and women from 43 nations and every continent, including 90,000 Americans, served in Bosnia and Herzegovina without losing a single soldier to hostile action. The people of Bosnia have welcomed a continued international security presence as they take the remaining steps on the path toward integration into a Europe whole, free, and at peace. The European Union (EU) has established a military mission, Operation ALTHEA, to provide this support. Initially, the EU will have 7,000 soldiers, the same size as SFOR at its conclusion, and 80% of the soldiers will be the same as in SFOR. Most of the roughly 1,000 American troops recently in SFOR have returned home. Some will remain behind to form the core contribution to the new NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo, which is headed by an American. The end of SFOR is a demonstration of the progress Bosnia has made in the nine years since Dayton and a concrete example of cooperation between NATO and the EU. It provides the first significant use of Berlin Plus arrangements, which gives the EU access to NATO planning and assets. " [url][/url] Are Americans willing to keep the troops that long in Iraq, which is much bigger and more dangerous Bosnia obviously? In other words: Since there is still a need for troops in Bosnia after more than ten years, how long will US troops need to stay in Iraq? Besides, the Bosnian Serb war criminals Karadzik and Mladic are still free rather than in Den Haag. Iraq has even more fellows like them. Neither the Shiites nor the Sunnis in Iraq are unified. Biden might be able to make a deal with some Shiite and some Sunni group, but there could be plenty of militias, who do not feel bound by those agreements.

Pinkerton on :

Yes, we will need some troops in Iraq, but they won't be the "controlling force". I understand the need to leave some troops behind, along with an equal if not a majority of troops from around the world. It will turn from US control occupation to a diverse NATO or EU operation. It will make all the difference in the world and I think the Iraqi people would rather have a "world" face on this than a "US face. Does that make sense? I also think Americans will be happier with that situation because it will lift some of the burden from us and our military and it will also help us to gain back some credibility with the rest of the world. It's time for some humble pie. I think the majority of Americans are willing to do that....Bush, on the other hand is still busy trying to point the blame everywhere but where it belongs, in his lap.

Sebastian on :

"BUSH: ... You know, some of my buddies in Texas say," This sentence encapsulates why Bush is detested in Europe. This guy does not understand shit and does not take his job seriously.

David on :

I disagree that CBS posed "tough questions" to President Bush. This was a puff piece and a disgrace to "60 Minutes". But thanks for linking to my hometown paper - The Portland Press Herald. Mainers overwhelmingly reject Bush's escalation of the war. BTW, George W. Bush is despised in Maine even though (or maybe because?) his parents live here in Kennebunkport for part of the year. We've had more than our share of young men come home without limbs from Iraq, or in flag-draped caskets.

Pinkerton on :

Sebastian Bush is clueless when it comes to foreign policy. In fact, he's clueless when it comes to any policy. Can you imagine how difficult it is for the majority of Americans to watch our country being destroyed piece by piece because of this man? It's not just because of the war, he is destroying our Constitution. This is a man who is so clueless and so protected by his minions that he can't even fathom the damage that he has done. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think he could do so much harm in so little time, this includes foreign policy and domestic policy. Recently, Senator Biden said that if Bush pursues a war in Iran or Syria, he will face impeachment. I hope that wasn't just rhetoric, I hope he is serious. He is putting our entire country in danger with his so-called war on terrorism. He makes stupid statements like "we have to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here". My gosh, we ARE fighting them here. Everyone of our military who come home in a flag draped coffin is HERE. In fact, we've made it easy for them....we're delivering the victims right to their doorstep. How convenient for Osama, no need to send suicide bombers to kill Americans, we just offer them up to him. At least the Europeans rest easy....he's not there. We have to live with this moron.

Sue on :

Pinkerton, the US is not being "destroyed piece by piece." Get a grip. I initially supported the Iraq war because of the WMD claim and my belief that Saddam would eventually do something stupid (because his previous behavior was stupid). The WMD claim proved false, and I am very sorry about the suffering of Iraq, but I still cannot say categorically that we should not have deposed Saddam. We cannot say what would have happened had we not done so. I also cannot accept the argument that Iraqis bear no responsibility whatsoever for slaughtering each other once Saddam's tyranny was lifted. If anything, we overestimated that society's capabilities of functioning without violence and repression. And yes, I do blame them for that. The truth is that the US will lumber on, whether or not Iraq is a success. If defeat in Vietnam didn't "destroy" us, failure to install a democracy in Iraq certainly won't either. What I do know is that hysterical accusations of US "imperialism" fail to take into account the fact that the US citizenry is deeply uninterested in ruling foreign lands and doesn't want to export large numbers to do so, the way the British had to do. And finally, Pinkerton, please don't ask for understanding from foreigners because you will never get it. As long as the US is powerful it will be hated. It was hated by Europeans in the 80s (I remember being a student in France) and it's hated now. Nothing has really changed.

Pinkerton on :

Sue So, you are blaming the Iraqi's for the mess in their country? My gosh...unbelievable. We go in and bomb the living daylights out of that country, cause total chaos, fail to train their armies, fail to equip our own military properly, torture prisoners in Abu Ghairab and allow those who perpetuated those tortures to go scott free, cause them to distrust and hate us....and this is THEIR fault? Unbelievable. Saddam was contained. He was not a threat to the US before we invaded. There is evidence from the inspectors that there was no WMD. In fact, SH wanted the inspectors to stay, it was Bush who pulled them out so he can follow through on his war plans. SH was not a threat to us and WE have managed to kill many, many more people in Iraq than SH ever did! Not to mention, it was SH who kept Iran in we have to deal with them, too. US citizens may not want to rule foreign lands, I agree...our power hungry president and his ilk do. You don't think Bush is destroying, or at least TRYING to destroy our Constitution? You had better do some reading, my dear...and I don't mean Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh. You might want to check into a little detail that Alberto Gonzales put into our "Patriot Act". There is a little detail in there about being able to pick judges without the approval of Congress. It seems that Attny. Gen. Gonzales feels the Federal Judges are unqualified to make ruling affecting national security and that all security policy should be deferred to the President. He shows no rulings to back up his statement. This is in retaliation for the judges rulings that would allow prisoners at Guatanamo who challenged the law that President Bush put in place in October to authorize military trials as opposed to Federal trials. Now, something tells me that no prisoner would get a fair military trial. It would be a Kangaroo court. I think the one who needs to get a grip is you...the MAJORITY of Americans have already seen through the lies and deception of this president, maybe you should start paying a little more attention yourself. I would also venture to say that I am a lot older than you. Our foreign policy under Bush has made us hated worldwide because of his policy of pre-emptive attacks on a sovereign country and his disregard for the Geneva Conventions. We are hated and called warmongers because this is what Bush has made us. Europeans don't hate Americans, they pity us because of Bush. They hate his policies because he is a dangerous man, a stupid and dangerous man. Now that Saddam is dead, do you feel safer? Ask the Iraqi's if they feel safer now? You might want to bring a flashlight, gun, bullet proof flak jacket, bodyguards, and an armored vehicle with you, though, before you knock on any doors for that interview. Oh...water, too. I suggest you leave your American flag tucked in your pocket, just to be on the safe side.'s the Iraqi's fault.

Sue on :

Pinkerton, I'm sorry but I just do not believe that the United States was loved and admired by all before the advent of the Bush administration and the Iraq war, because my own experience tells me differently. Furthermore, please don't patronize me ("Fox News, Rush Limbaugh"). You don't know anything about my viewing and reading habits or my background. I do accept that the US bears some moral responsibility for the current chaos in Iraq. I also believe that Iraqi car bombers and sectarian murderers also bear a significant moral responsibility. Why is it so hard for you to admit this? As far as the majority seeing through the "lies" of the President: they may not like his policies because they have failed, but that doesn't mean the majority shares your highly exaggerated sense of the Bush menace. No president has the power to singlehandedly "destroy" the Constitution or "make us" anything. Overheated rhetoric like yours does not help when people like me try to explain to foreigners who do not understand our legal system and the political separation of powers why no, Bush is not Hitler, and no, the US is not descending into fascism. And if you think so, frankly, you're the one who needs to read more.

Pinkerton on :

Sue Well, actually the majority of Americans do feel that Bush is a menace, which is why the Republican party was hit so hard in the last elections. I happened to do a lot of phoning for our party and all our calls were directed to those who voted Republican or Independent in the past. I must tell you that more than 75% of those calls had responses over the dismay they felt for being duped by President Bush and their anger over being lied to by him to get into this war. The Iraq war was the biggest reason (we asked this in the survey) for those Republicans and Independents who voted Democrat in the last election. My views are not highly exaggerated, they are correct. Just because you spent a little time in France does not tell you how the "world" or even "Europe" felt about the US before Bush came into power. France isn't exactly the European bell-weather, as much as they would like to think they are. I don't every remember calling Bush Hitler or saying that we are descending into fascism. Aren't you being a little...I don't know...hysterical? It's funny that you would say that though, it sounds very, Rush-like. Before you start telling me to read more, maybe you should try reading my comments a little more carefully, and try not to put words that I didn't say into your reply. It's difficult to make an argument when you are distorting my comments. You might want to work on that, dear. As long as you are educating foreigners about our government, why don't you mention how Bush has ignored the Geneva Convention. Why don't you send them a transcript of the hearings with Alberto Gonzalaz so they can hear all about the things he and Bush has done to dismantle our Constitution? The information is out there, you just have to be curious enough to look for it.

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