I finally lost count of the number of times President Bush used the phrase "mixed messages" in last week's first presidential debate. He used it three times in one sentence and kept hammering it home like a broken record. As one commentator said, the president had 30 minutes of material for a 90 minute debate.
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The president told his "opponent," "You can embolden an enemy by sending a mixed message. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages. You send the wrong message to our troops by sending mixed messages." The president would do well to remember the adage, "People who live in glass houses, shouldn't throw stones." I have composed a short list of the president's own brand of mixed messages:
- The president sent too few U.S. troops to Afghanistan to hunt down the man who actually perpetrated the attack on our nation on Sept. 11, 2001. Troop commitment sends a message to the level of total commitment one has to achieving the overall objective. The president's father sent over 500,000 troops to throw Saddam out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War. Most of his father's war planners, with the exception of Dick Cheney, were all Vietnam vets. They knew the consequences of being less than committed to the end game.
That same president's son only sent 20,000 troops to hunt down Osama bin Laden and remove the Taliban from Afghanistan. The city of New York had more police on the streets during the Republican National Convention than the president sent to Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden is still at large. The Taliban is back in business in Afghanistan. The security situation in Afghanistan is so bad that candidates cannot campaign despite President Bush's rosy voter-registration statistics. Karzai is effectively the mayor of Kabul vs. the acting head of state Afghanistan. Afghanistan's economy is based on opium once again.
Meanwhile intelligence sources estimate al-Qaida is as strong as ever. While the president is proud of the fact that 75 percent of "known" al-Qaida operatives have been killed or captured, it says nothing of the "unknown" operatives. Given the fact that poor intelligence is the Achilles heel of this presidency, I'd say intelligence experts are more correct in saying we have no way of knowing the status of al-Qaida today.
- The president's conduct of the war in Iraq has been an inconsistent and flawed application of military power from the very beginning. The fundamental strategy for the war in Iraq based on the idea that the United States would cut off the head and the body would die. This is why our troops made a mass rush to Baghdad as resistance forces in pick up trucks and civilian clothes were shooting at their backs.
This flawed strategy explains in part why there was no plan to secure the country after Saddam fell. The president's team thought there would not be a security problem once Saddam was out of the picture. In fact, the only security that was provided was for the oil fields. The Brits stayed behind to guard the oil and the Americans drove full speed to Baghdad. Our troops had no direction to stop the looting or protect Iraqi civilians, and even if they had direction, there were not enough boots on the ground to do so. This sent the message that that the United States was liberating Iraqi oil, not the Iraqi people.
The oil is flowing (or trickling, due to sabotage) in Iraq, but the Iraqi people are still under the rule of violence and fear. Without a proper plan to secure the country and its borders, the Iraqi insurgency has morphed into a hydra of opposition that is killing and maiming American troops and innocent Iraqi civilians daily and it gets worse by the month.
- Fallujah. The president prides himself on being a champion for the U.S. military. Unfortunately he has committed one of the worst of all possible offenses of a commander in chief: Send troops into harm's way for a futile purpose. This president sent the Marines into Fallujah to root out the insurgency after four contractors were brutally murdered.
The Marines paid an enormous price to carry out this president's order. Over a dozen died and hundreds more were injured. Just as the Marines were beginning to make progress, the president ordered them to retreat. He sent in one of Saddam's generals instead and called off the Marines.
Today Fallujah remains an insurgent stronghold, and dozens of families are broken by the loss of their Marines. The insurgents know that this president does not have the will to fight and now the Marines know that this president does not have the will to fight.
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The net result of all of these mixed messages is that this president's so-called "war on terror" is starting to look a lot like a previous war where men with no actual war experience gave the orders. John Kerry fought in that war. John Kerry has been on the receiving end of "mixed messages" while fighting for his life and for the lives of his men.
Whereas George Bush says he understands the pain and difficulty in Iraq because he sees reports and watches the news on television. I suppose I understand now why this president has trouble grasping the realities of war – his only experience with it is from the vantage point of his office chair.