I listened to Bush’s speech tonight on the radio while driving home from work. I thought it was a great speech. I must say that I am pretty much in 100% agreement (well, alright, 100% may be a little high) with the things that he had to say.
Like I said here, even Clinton is saying that we must be successful in Iraq. Europe is now also doing a lot more to help. Bush quoted German Chancellor Schroeder, who said at the White House yesterday, “There can be no question a stable and democratic Iraq is in the vested interest of not just Germany, but also Europe.”
Regarding any thoughts of backing down in Iraq, Bush said, “not on my watch”. Failure in Iraq would be a disaster. Where would we go from there? Bush said tonight that the terrorists want to turn Iraq into the next pre-war Afghanistan, which they can use for terrorist training to launch their worldwide terror campaign. We simply can’t let that happen.
Bush also said that we can’t set an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal. He said it would send the wrong message to (1) the Iraqis, (2) American troops, and (3) the terrorists.
Even for the longer term, I don’t see us withdrawing completely unless the elected Iraqis insist on it. Think how long that we have been in Germany and Japan. What, 60 years now? The same is true of South Korea. All three of these countries are now not only democratic, but very prosperous. They are also positive democratic influences on their regions of the world. Look how fast democratic west Germany was able to integrate with the authoritarian east Germany.
Bush said tonight: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
But even as they take over more and more, I see us moving on to bases in Iraq, rather than leaving completely. The Iraqis can then handle the day to day patrols and security, and American troops will only help in the more difficult fights. We could also continue to provide advanced training and intelligence gathering support. So we will continue in the role of an enabler for Iraqis to have a genuine democratic state right in the geographical center of the corrupt and authoritarian Middle Eastern states.
We could reduce the troop levels down to say 30,000. We have had over 50,000 troops in South Korea since the 1950s, so a similar level in Iraq is sustainable and affordable.
So if you are thinking that we need to consider a hasty withdrawal in the next year or two, I think that this won’t happen. I expect 5 years from now we are still be there, and we may be there a decade or two from now. But our troops should be out of harm’s way (on bases) long before that.