Bush, Iraq and the "soul" of our nation

The "will of the people" notwithstanding, Bush says the U.S. will stay in Iraq as long as he's president.

Published August 21, 2006 3:50PM (EDT)

George W. Bush said this morning that the United States must fight the ideology of al-Qaida with the ideology of a government that "responds to the will of the people."

But about the "will of the people" in the United States?

In a CNN poll conducted earlier this month, 57 percent of Americans said that the United States "should set a timetable for withdrawal by announcing that it will remove all of its troops from Iraq by a certain date." Only 40 percent said the troops should stay in Iraq "as long as necessary without setting any timetable for withdrawal."

The president and his allies in the Republican Party are doing all they can to pretend that Americans don't think that way. During an appearance on "Meet the Press" Sunday, John McCain said that "most Americans" reject the idea of setting a "date certain" for withdrawal from Iraq. And during his press conference this morning, Bush dismissed support for a troop withdrawal as an opinion held by "a lot of people in the Democratic Party."

The strategy is familiar to anyone who has been watching this White House over the last five and a half years: Marginalize and demonize, then wrap it all up in fear. Bush insisted that no one in his administration questions the "patriotism" of those who advocate a troop withdrawal, and he called the debate an "important" and "honest" one. At the same time, he insisted that the United States won't pull out of Iraq while he's president -- that's 882 more days, but who's counting? -- and he warned of grave consequences if American troops were to leave before "the job is done."

We didn't hear the president say "stay the course" or "stand up, stand down," today. The new mantra -- the only one he can have at this late date -- seems to be "it could be worse." "If you think it's bad now," Bush said at one point, "imagine what it would look like" if the United States left before the Iraqi government can impose stability on its country. There would be chaos in Iraq, instability in the Middle East and the threat of terrorism back home.

And things would be different how?

Bush has to know that his words ring hollow. He has to know that he has lost the American people, at least when it comes to his war. But unprepared to acknowledged the disaster he has created, the president suggested today that the problem is ours, not his. "If we ever give up" on Iraq, he said, "we will have lost our soul as a nation."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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