Politics and Iraq

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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on American politics and how they may influence the effort to stabilize Iraq.

(Seamans) Question? Are election-year politics now dictating our handling (or MIS-handling as the Democrats say) of President Bush’s postwar efforts to stabilize Iraq? The tragically rising American casualty toll has, quite apparently, set off a race between the speed with which Iraqui police and security forces can be trained and how many G.I.’s they can replace to return home before the presidential election a year from now. Another question is whether such a withdrawal would be premature—would it result in an armed struggle between warlords and religionists for control of whatever government emerges. Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois democrat, said Bush’s people “will leave a note saying it’s now Iraq’s problem.”

The more our casualty toll climbs, the more the public is expected to pressure Bush to stop the loss of young American lives in the cause of what Bush’s critics call a failed Middle East policy. A sure sign of that growing pressure was the fire-alarm trip to Washington by Paul Bremer, Bush’s viceroy in Iraq. Bremer returned to Baghdad with a new plan—set up a provisional government even before a Constitution is written and train Iraquis as quickly as possible.

It’s apparent that Bush (even though he doesn’t read the newspapers or watch tv news) has become proactively sensitive to the visual impact of our losses. As commander-in-chief he has, in effect approved orders to bar news camera coverage of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. Media coverage at Arlington National Cemetery also has been restricted.

The longer a substantial American force remains in Iraq (remember that Donald Rumsfeld says it’s “going to be a long hard slog”) the more reserve troops will be needed. A large National Guard call-up is scheduled for January that will cause more economic and family problems for Bush. And what will he do if we run out of reserve troops? Will Bush face the spectre of calling for a Draft?

Rumsfeld promised to train more than 60,000 Iraqui security officers in six weeks to replace American troops. Experts say it would take at least a year to train a security force to a minimal standard. Also it’s not enough time to screen the recruits as well as American officials would like to weed out Saddam sleeper agents. Putting an inadequately vetted and trained force on the streets even as the guerilla war is getting worse could create more problems than it solves.

If Iraq is not stabilized after American troops are withdrawn then, as Rahm Emanuel suggested, Bush can blame the Iraqui people for not solving their own problems.

This is Bill Seamans.

(Host) Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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