Bush Speech Prompts Fresh Debate on Iraq
Faced with eroding support for the war in Iraq, President Bush acknowledged the difficulty of the conflict and vowed to stay the course of American military occupation in a speech at Fort Bragg, home of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and Special Forces, on June 28.
‘“Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed,’” he said. ‘“Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it.’”
With Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican whose district includes the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, joining former presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, as a sponsor of House resolution calling for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the president was under pressure to articulate some military objectives.
He responded by defending the status quo, and asking Americans to slog it out.
‘“Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing US forces,’” he said. ‘“Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave until the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they need to do is wait us out.’”
Many soldiers agree with the president, including Eprhaim Grubbs, a National Guard Army reservist from High Point who is stationed at Camp Anaconda near Balad in northern Iraq.
‘“We set objectives that may or may not include time as a criteria for success,’” he said in a July 1 e-mail from Iraq. ‘“Our objectives here in layman’s terms are to stabilize the country with a functioning government and create a sustainable infrastructure throughout the country. I agree with the president that we should not advertise a redeployment timetable for strategic reasons and I believe the strategy we have to gradually turn over responsibility to the Iraqi people as they become better qualified to accept it is the right way to do it.’”
A recent poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicated that only half of Americans believe US soldiers should remain in Iraq as long as necessary, while 46 percent believe they should come home as soon as possible ‘— the highest level of support for withdrawal since revelations of torture emerged at Abu Ghraib in the spring of 2004.
North Carolinians polled between June 24 and June 26 for the Raleigh News & Observer have proven to be more ambivalent about the war with 13 percent unsure of whether a timetable should be established for withdrawing US troops from Iraq, while 43 percent expressed approval for such a plan, and 44 percent expressed disapproval.
Greensboro and Winston-Salem respondents tended to be more supportive of the war than their counterparts in Charlotte, the Triangle and other parts of the state, with 39 percent supporting military withdrawal and 48 percent opposing it.
Congressional Democrats have largely declined to sign onto the Jones-Kucinich resolution for withdrawal, but expressed immediate criticism of Bush for drawing connections between the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the war in Iraq in his speech at Fort Bragg.
‘“The terrorists who attacked us ‘— and the terrorists we face ‘— murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent,’” Bush said, adding later: ‘“Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania.’”
The implied connection made by Bush led to verbal sparring between two members of the North Carolina congressional delegation.
Rep. Robin Hayes, a Concord Republican who is a textile mill owner and operator and whose district abuts Fort Bragg, told CNN on June 29 that ‘“Saddam Hussein and people like him were very much involved in 9/11.’” When told that no investigation has ever found links between Saddam and the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Hayes reportedly responded: ‘“I’m sorry but you must have looked in the wrong places.’”
Rep. GK Butterfield, a Democrat whose district covers the northeast corner of North Carolina, released a statement on the same day refuting Hayes’ claims.
‘“Congressman Hayes, Vice President Cheney and President Bush are ignoring the facts by holding up the tragedies of 9/11 as a justification for the war in Iraq,’” he said. ‘“Extensive research reveals that the facts are clear ‘— Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorists’ attacks.’”
Butterfield, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a military veteran, added that he does not support setting a deadline for military withdrawal from Iraq.
In the Piedmont Triad, one political observer was paying particularly close attention to Bush’s speech.
Ralph Baldwin, who served as an infantry soldier in an Army reconnaissance unit in Vietnam in 1970, said Bush’s acknowledgement of the hardship experienced by soldiers in the field in Iraq rang hollow for him.
‘“I thought he gave some lip service to it,’” he said, ‘“but this is a man who deserted his post while I happened to be in Vietnam.’”
The 57-year-old Baldwin, who lives in Reidsville, is the co-chair of the Greensboro Peace Coalition and a professional singer who is currently portraying Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in the Barn Dinner Theatre’s classic country tribute show.
He disputes the contention made by supporters of the war that withdrawing American troops would plunge Iraq into chaos and sectarian violence.
‘“If we admit that we made a mistake and ask the rest of the world to come in ‘— instead of sending bullets and bombs and hold a gun to everybody’s head, we send aid,’” he said. ‘“If we put the same amount of effort into medicines, food and building schools, the Iraqis can handle their own security. They’re going to sit down and say, ‘We’ve thrown out the Americans.’ They could then turn their energies toward resolution of their differences.’”
Baldwin remains pessimistic about the prospect for withdrawal in the foreseeable future although he believes public support will continue to decline. Either way, he believes military veterans have a special responsibility to speak out about the realities of war.
‘“When you go to war and kill people, it gives you some moral authority to say something,’” he said. ‘“The reasons wars are allowed is because only a small minority of people are affected by them. I always say, ‘If you think it’s such a good idea, why aren’t you there?’ And they can never answer that.’”
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