President Bush spoke at the US Naval academy today. His theme? Well, Bush wants to close off talk of troop withdrawal from Iraq:

These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders — not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington. (Applause.)

Some are calling for a deadline for withdrawal. Many advocating an artificial timetable for withdrawing our troops are sincere — but I believe they’re sincerely wrong. Pulling our troops out before they’ve achieved their purpose is not a plan for victory. As Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman said recently, setting an artificial timetable would “discourage our troops because it seems to be heading for the door. It will encourage the terrorists, it will confuse the Iraqi people.”

Senator Lieberman is right. Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a message across the world that America is a weak and an unreliable ally. Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a signal to our enemies — that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends. And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorists’ tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder — and invite new attacks on America. To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your Commander-in-Chief.

Is anyone really talking about an artificial deadline? What kind of withdrawal plan would NOT constitute “cutting and running”?

Since June, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has been calling for a “flexible timeframe for the completion of the military mission in Iraq” and offered December 31, 2006, as a “target date.” Feingold argues that US troops are fueling the insurgency and hurting the army. His proposed legislation, as the Senator pointed out today in a response to Bush, would require the administration to establish “clear and achievable benchmarks” for withdrawal.

On November 17, Representative John Murtha (D-PA) went even further than Feingold. Murtha called for immediate redeployment of US troops, based on his belief that the war is destroying the army, that American troops in Iraq are prolonging the violence, and that such a withdrawal would increase the security on the ground. Murtha is certainly no wimp and apparently has very close ties to the military that he once served. Many political analysts thus interpret his plan as the unofficial line of much of the US officer corps. This clearly worries the White House — enough that lines about “cutting and running” are appearing in presidential rhetoric.

Did the President offer any “clear and achievable benchmarks? Well, Bush said this today:

I will settle for nothing less than complete victory. In World War II, victory came when the Empire of Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri. In Iraq, there will not be a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.

Once again, it appears as if the President is arguing against a strawman position and offering mere platitudes in a debate calling out for serious thinking.

If Bush thinks he is engaging Feingold or Murtha, then he needs to explain how their positions differ from his own — in the 2000 campaign. At that time, Bush said that the US needed

“to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious.”

That statement, by then-Governor George W. Bush, was offered in the second debate against Al Gore.

Bush liked this line so much that he used some version of it in many, many foreign policy speeches and in all three debates against Gore.

Note, by the way, that Governor Bush probably would have opposed the mission to democratize Iraq:

I’m worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. You mentioned Haiti. I wouldn’t have sent troops to Haiti. I didn’t think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation building mission, and it was not very successful. It cost us billions, a couple billions of dollars, and I’m not so sure democracy is any better off in Haiti than it was before.

The White House continues to claim that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, and says that those commiting violence are terrorists, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe them.

In any event, it is absolutely 100% clear that the Powell Doctrine is dead.
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