In echo of Warren Harding's "A Return to Normalcy" speech of 1920, George Bush last week declared, "Normalcy is returning back to Iraq."
The term seemed a mite ironic. For, as Bush spoke, Iraqis were dying in the hundreds in the bloodiest fighting in months in Basra, the Shia militias of Moqtada al Sadr were engaging Iraqi and U.S. troops in Sadr City, and mortar shells were dropping into the Green Zone.
One begins to understand why Gen. Petraeus wants a "pause" in the pullout of U.S. forces, and why Bush agrees. This will leave more U.S. troops in Iraq on Inauguration Day 2009, than on Election Day 2006, when the country voted the Democrats into power to bring a swift end to the war.
A day before Bush went to the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, to speak of normalcy returning to Iraq, he was led down into "the Tank," a secure room at the Pentagon, to be briefed on the crisis facing the U.S. Army and Marine Corps because of the constant redeployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
As The Associated Press' Robert Burns reported, the Joint Chiefs "laid out their concerns about the health of the U.S. force." First among them is "that U.S. forces are being worn thin, compromising the Pentagon's ability to handle crises elsewhere in the world. ... The U.S. has about 31,000 troops in Afghanistan and 156,000 in Iraq."
"Five plus years in Iraq," the generals and admirals told Bush, "could create severe, long-term problems, particularly for the Army and Marine Corps."
In short, the two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wearing down U.S. ground forces of fewer than 700,000, one in every six of them women, to such an extent U.S. commanders called Bush and Dick Cheney to a secret meeting to awaken them to the strategic and morale crisis.
This is serious business. With the Taliban revived and the violence in Iraq rising toward pre-surge levels, the Joint Chiefs are telling the commander in chief that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are worn out.
Crunch time is coming. And what is President Bush doing?
He is flying to Bucharest, Romania, to persuade Europe to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, which means a U.S. commitment to treat any Russian attack on Kiev or Tbilisi like an attack on Kansas or Texas.
Article V of the NATO treaty declares that "an armed attack against one or more (allies) shall be considered an attack against them all." Added language makes clear that the commitment to assist an ally is not unconditional. Rather, each signatory will assist the ally under attack with "such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force."
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