President Bush is not frustrated over the slow progress in Iraq, the White House insists. But a lot of other Americans are — apparently including U.S. troops.
The Pentagon’s top general says troops suggested to him during a recent trip to Iraq that they are among those who are worried.
White House spokesman Tony Snow took pains to deny a report Wednesday that Bush had privately expressed frustration with the Iraqis for not appreciating American sacrifices made there, and with the Iraqi people and their leaders for not supporting the U.S. mission.
“We don’t expect ... an overnight success,” Snow said when asked Bush’s opinion on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Just when success might come — and whether it is even possible — are key questions for war-weary Americans. And the latest setbacks in Iraq come as congressional elections approach.
Troops are also disgruntled over Iraqi efforts, according to questions put to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visited the country over the weekend.
One asked how much more time the Iraqi government should be given to achieve the political unity needed to stabilize the country.
Another wanted to know whether U.S. forces will stay if Iraqis descend into all-out civil war.
And a third ended a question about continued U.S. troop deployments to Iraq by asking, “Is the war coming to an end?”
Pace said his talks with troops reassured him that they are proud of what they’re doing and satisfied with what they’ve accomplished.
But he also said he detected among them “some frustration at the Iraqis for not yet grasping the opportunity that’s in front of them.”
Rival Shiite and Sunni sects have failed to reconcile their differences and establish an effective government capable of taking over security responsibilities for the country.
Pace said the troops feel, “‘We’re doing our part. When is the (Iraqi) governance part going to kick in?’ And that’s a fair question.”
Pushing Iraqis along for three years through formation of an interim government, the writing of their constitution and election of the current government — only to have the fighting worsen — has grown old for many in civilian and military quarters.
Levin calls for Iraqi compromise
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sounded one of his recurring themes at a recent committee hearing: Iraqi politicians must get the message that U.S. troops can’t stay indefinitely, and should make political compromises to stop insurgents and avoid all-out civil war.
“There’s a certain irony if military and political leaders seem to be losing patience with the Iraqis,” said Charles Pena, a fellow at the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and George Washington University’s homeland security institute. “We’re the ones who created this situation.”
“It’s perfectly logical for Americans and the president to be frustrated” by lack of political progress in Iraq, said CATO Institute’s Christopher Preble. He blamed Bush’s “grave error” in assuming that Iraqis would unite after Saddam Hussein’s fall.
Eric Davis, a Rutgers University political science professor and former head of the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said he’s disturbed that the Iraq debate is “increasingly being turned into a referendum on George Bush.”
Suggestions that Iraqis own some of the blame infuriate him as well.
“This whole ‘blaming Iraqis’ thing is a simple way of trying to weasel out ... to say, ’They’re not really trying to make political change, so we should leave,”’ said Davis, one of several outside experts invited to a Monday meeting of Bush’s war cabinet.
Snow refutes Times report
Snow worked hard to knock down a New York Times report Wednesday that Bush seemed frustrated with Iraqis during Monday’s meeting.
“I’ve spoken with the note-taker in the meeting. I was in the meeting. I’ve talked to others in the meeting,” he told White House reporters. All attending took exception to the use of the word “frustrated” to describe the president’s thinking, Snow said.
Sectarian tensions have been rising following the Feb. 22 bombing at a Shiite shrine, which triggered a wave of reprisals against Sunni mosques and clerics and sent tens of thousand of Iraqis fleeing from their homes.
U.S. generals say Iraq could slide into a full-blown civil war if the killing isn’t tamped down. Though they’d hoped U.S. troop levels could be reduced this year, officials have extended some tours of duty, sending 5,000 additional Americans to Baghdad to help with security. The total there now is some 133,000.