Amidst growing criticism from Democratic presidential contenders, legislators, and the media over George W. Bush’s handling of postwar Iraq, the president is getting lots of unsolicited advice about what to do now. Most of it is wrong and would, if followed, turn the liberation of Iraq into something it is not now: a strategic disaster.
Specifically, Mr. Bush is being advised to cut his losses, even by some in his inner circle who should know better. Some critics would have the president admit that he was wrong to liberate the Iraqi people without the U.N.’s permission. They want him now to do whatever it takes to get the French and other Security Council members to help get us out of this mess.
Others profess a commitment to pay what is necessary to “support the troops.” But they say we should forego, or at least cut back, the $20 billion investment the president is proposing to make to help reconstruct Iraq. Still others are demanding that the troops be supported by bringing them home at once.
Fortunately, President Bush has another option available–one that has the potential to utterly transform this debate, secure the funds needed to consolidate the liberation of Iraq, and show the critics for what they are: (presumably) well-meaning but gravely misguided purveyors of flawed advice.
The alternative? Mr. Bush should go to Baghdad, at the earliest possible moment.
By so doing, the president will have an opportunity to see for himself the facts on the ground. Having just returned myself from a trip to Iraq and meetings with most of the senior civilian and military personnel in the theater, I can attest that there is simply no better way to take stock of the conditions that exist–and those that are being brought about, thanks to ever-more-effective collaboration between U.S. and Coalition personnel and the Iraqis.
Mr. Bush’s personal visit will also afford him a truly unique opportunity to convey a surpassingly important message to both our troops and the people they are helping to experience and secure freedom: We are unalterably committed to realizing that goal.
A presidential trip to Baghdad will also compel the American and international media to address the real progress being made on the ground in Iraq–not just the random attacks there and other over-reported setbacks. It should be accompanied by a call for news organizations once again to embed journalists with Coalition forces, ensuring that their success in securing the peace is as faithfully and as accurately covered as their success in winning it.
The impression that will be left of a courageous, visionary and determined president will demonstrate that his widely reported congratulatory visit to the U.S.S. Lincoln on its return from Operation Iraqi Freedom a few months ago was no tawdry publicity stunt misusing our military as stage props. It was, instead, just one of a number of examples that this wartime commander-in-chief is a leader. And the American people will have reason once again to have confidence in his leadership in both the global conflict known as the war on terror, as well as its Iraqi front.
If such a trip were to be followed by a report to a Joint Session of Congress, moreover, it is unimaginable that the president will be denied the funds he knows are needed to secure Iraq’s freedom and our huge stake in it. While congressional oversight of the amount and use of such funds would not–and should not–be dispensed with, the sense of freefall in support for his Iraq policy on Capitol Hill would surely be checked.
Naturally, a trip to Iraq at this time is not without risks. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell have safely made it, as have numerous legislators and, most recently, our delegation of retired senior military officers and civilian national-security experts. I am confident that those risks are manageable and that the president would be able to travel at will in sufficient security. In fact, by so doing, he would be demonstrating–in an indisputable way–that security is being established in Iraq, notwithstanding the random attacks and the distorted picture so often painted in their aftermath.
Given the huge stakes involved–for the future of Iraq, for American leadership and, frankly for Mr. Bush’s presidency–it is time to “Let W. be W.” And there is no better way to do that than for Mr. Bush to go to Baghdad.
–Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.