National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Bush Buys Time On Iraq

WASHINGTON — President Bush and his spokesmen continue to say that Iraq is a "sovereign" nation and that the U.S. is there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

At a May 24 news conference, the president also said U.S. troops would go home if the Iraqi leaders asked them to leave.

Does anyone believe a nation under foreign military occupation is really sovereign? Not likely. There are other indications that the U.S. is in Iraq for a longer haul than the American people would like.

"We are there (in Iraq) at the invitation of the Iraqi government,"Bush told reporters. "This is a sovereign nation. We are there at their request."

What a charade.

The president also told reporters it would be "catastrophic" if the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq. And he made it clear that the U.S. would be very persuasive in urging the Iraqis not to ask American forces to leave Iraq in its present chaotic stage.

He explained it this way: "We work closely with them to make sure that the realities are such that they wouldn’t make that request."

I asked a White House press spokesman whether the U.S. would support a referendum among Iraqis on whether the U.S. occupation should continue. He declined to answer.

At the same time, Bush knows that his victory in winning congressional approval for a $120-billion war-funding bill is a temporary triumph.

Time is running out for his disastrous policies in Iraq. The political pressure even from Republican ranks is growing for a change in U.S. policy.

The New York Times reported last week — and White House press secretary Tony Snow confirmed — that Bush has told recent visitors he is seeking a model for Iraq similar to the American presence in South Korea.

The three-year Korean War ended with a ceasefire in 1953 and the U.S. still has some 28,000 troops in South Korea.

A Korean model would mean that American troops will remain in Iraq for years to come. Snow would not discuss the possibility of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

Meantime, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — now under the new chairmanship of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.– is issuing a series of reports about U.S. intelligence and its role in the lead up to the war.

A recent report from the panel said that analysts had warned Bush in January 2003, a couple of months before the U.S. attack, that a war in Iraq could provoke sectarian violence and cause Iran to assert its regional power in the Persian Gulf. The analysts also predicted a surge of hostility in the Arab world as the result of any U.S.-led military operation.

When asked about the report, Bush replied, "We were warned about a lot of things, some of which happened and some of which didn’t happen."

The president said he made the decision to depose Saddam Hussein after weighing the risks and rewards. But he added: "I firmly believe Iraqis are better off without Saddam Hussein in power. . .(and) I think America is safer."

Tell that to the families of 3,433 American dead and to the 25,549 Americans who have been wounded and to the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in the war.

Bush said he will await an assessment in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to determine his next move. Apparently the buck will stop with Petraeus, who also will report to Congress.

The administration is obviously looking for a bone to toss to the outmaneuvered Democrats and to appease those restive Americans who want the U.S. to pull out of the Iraqi debacle.

In a sign of growing desperation, Bush is falling back on the al Qaida threat and the need "to fight them there," not here.

"They have made it abundantly clear what they want," he said. "They want to spread their ideology. They want safe haven from which to launch attacks," he added. "They are willing to kill the innocent to achieve their objectives, and they will fight us."

Speaking of ideology, Bush should look in the mirror. He bought into the neoconservative ideology which maintained that the U.S. is the only superpower and should dominate the Middle East.

Some of the leading neo cons have found their escape hatches at colleges and think tanks and other safe havens, now that their grandiose geo-political plans have collapsed in disaster.

Meantime, the White House has become a tight little sanctuary for a few remaining hawks. And Bush seems determined that the war he started will not end on his watch.

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  c.2007 Hearst Newspapers

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