WASHINGTON — President Bush is pulling out all the stops to keep the U.S. at war in Iraq as he enters the twilight of his presidency.
Winding up his summer vacation, the president is speaking only to risk-proof audiences these days — preferably veterans groups — and presenting another scary picture of extremists on our doorstep if we withdraw troops from Iraq.
The speeches are obviously designed to stay the course and are curtain raisers to Bush's mandatory report on the war to Congress by Sept. 15.
We are five years into the illegal war that he started and still cannot justify.
"I want our fellow citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism and extremism were allowed to drive us out of the Middle East," Bush told the American Legion in Reno, Nev., Tuesday.
He also warned that "the region will be transformed in a way that could imperil the civilized world," adding that Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology could lead to a holocaust.
"America will not abandon Iraq in its hour of need," he said. When pointing to military achievements, Bush hedged his bets by saying that military progress will take time to translate into political progress.
It is clear that there will be no surprises in the long-awaited report to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. Commander in Iraq, and by Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad. They are good soldiers and have their marching orders.
The administration also has started a new public relations push against any withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Called "Freedom Watch," the advertising campaign has a $15 million budget to try to turn around public opinion. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is working on the project, putting him back at his old stand trying to sell the war, having done such a good job the first time around.
In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, Bush likened the Iraqi War to the Korean War, to the 15-year war in Vietnam and even World War II.
There are parallels in the case of our deceptive interventions in Vietnam and Iraq. Both wars were drummed up under false pretenses with disastrous results.
In the case of Iraq Bush was listening to his fast-disappearing neo-con advisers when he unilaterally ordered an invasion of that oil-rich country in 2003 in defiance of international law. Most of the world opposed the illegal attack and still does.
As he has done so often in recent speeches, Bush inserted sleazy innuendo in his VFW remarks to link Iraq and the 9-1 catastrophe. The president often uses 9-11 as his justification for starting the war and for continuing it, even though there was no connection.
“Iraq is the central front for the enemy that attacked us and wants to attack us again," Bush said. "As we saw on Sept. 11, a terrorist safe haven on the other side of the world can bring death and destruction to our cities."
It's no wonder that Bush's credibility is in the basement.
The president also told the VFW that we left Vietnam too soon. The late Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford knew better.
Bush may remember that during the Vietnam debacle, the American people were in the streets denouncing that war which ended up taking more than 58,000 American lives and untold thousands Vietnamese lives. By the way, where was he?
No one in high places thought it was wrong to leave Saigon with the North Vietnamese at the gate.
It was time to go. At least the U.S. provided some sanctuary for thousands of vulnerable Vietnamese who had worked with Americans.
There apparently is no such open door for our Iraqi friends when we pull up stakes. The administration is allowing a mere 7,000 carefully screened Iraqis into the country. Those left behind who collaborated with the U.S. will surely be targeted.
The U.S. will have to leave Iraq, sooner or later, if not at Bush's command, then that of his successor.
Meantime, how many more people have to die before a complicit, comfortable Congress forces a withdrawal?
That is the question before the nation.
c.2007 Hearst Newspapers